AN: Just to prevent any confusion: this takes place after Prince Caspian, but sort of disregards books post-Prince Caspian. Some of it might still work, it's just sort of irrelevent. Agewise, Peter is about to graduate uni, so early 20s, Susan's 19ish, Edmund's 16ish, Lucy's 13ish. Any other questions, just ask! And please don't forget to review! :)
When Goodbyes Lose Their Meaning
Susan was writing to Peter when Charlotte got back late that night, smelling of rum and buttered croissants. Susan sighed as Charlie giggled a goodbye to whomever had walked her home – some boy, no doubt – then fell onto her bed, stretching her arms and legs as far as they would go. It wasn't that Susan could blame her for these late nights, because she certainly understood that she could never understand the pain unless, heaven forbid, she were in the same situation. It was only that she didn't like it in the least. She worried for Charlotte whole heartedly and wished more than anything she could get her out of Paris. It was just a poisonous environment for her. As if the bad taste left in the city by the war wasn't bad enough, there were the smoky clubs and never-ending parties and the chatty men. And none of the men were any good, of course. Charlie was too good for every single one of them, yet she accepted their amorous whispers and flowers as if there were nothing better in her life.
"Charlotte, what are you doing for Christmas?" Susan asked over her shoulder, not turning from her letter. There was a long pause, and Susan thought maybe she had fallen asleep. She rose and shut the door, turning the lock against the revelers still shouting in the hall. That accomplished, she saw Charlie's round eyes watching her. "Well?"
With a frown, Charlie demanded, "Why would you ask me that?"
"Because I want to know what your plans are. It's coming up, you know."
"Oh believe me, I am well aware! I surely don't need you reminding me how painfully alone I am in this awful country. Did you know, there are paper snowflakes hanging from the trees along the Champs-Élysées? I mean, really, there's a war going on! Can't they think of something better to do with their time then to sit there . . . and snip away . . . at pieces of paper? It's shitty, is what it is. I think I'll write them a letter."
"Are you planning on staying here then?" Susan didn't mention that she had no idea what war Charlie was talking about; it was 1948.
Charlie sighed, gave a sardonic laugh and demanded, "Where else am I to go? I can't go home. There's not enough time, and I couldn't afford it even if I had a home to go home to . . . that's a lot of homes." She started laughing and, unable to control herself, laughed herself right out of bed. She landed hard on the floor. Susan gasped; tears fell silently from Charlie's eyes.
"Oh, Charlie, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you," Susan apologized, rushing to her friend and helping her to her feet. Charlie could now hardly stand though and fell back onto her bed.
"You didn't. Only I'm too drunk to talk about Christmas right now. Or the holidays. Or you going away and leaving me, even if it's only for a month, because really Susan you're the only good thing in my life."
"Ohhh," Susan sighed. She quickly joined Charlie on the bed, wrapping her arms around the smaller girl's shoulders and hugging her tightly.
"Now that's not entirely true—"
"Entirely! It is entirely and you know that and I shall be miserable here without you."
Susan frowned and insisted, "But you see, that's why I asked what you were planning! I want to take you home with me." Charlie hiccupped, then pulled away, though her movement was slowed by the drowsy effect of just enough rum.
"Well you see, I had already thought of it because I can't bear the thought of you being here all alone on Christmas. So I wrote my brother – Peter, my older brother – because I've told him all about you, and –"
Charlie wailed, "But Susan, I can't afford a train ticket and you can't afford a spare just like that."
"That's what I'm trying to explain, if you'll let me finish. I wrote my brother Peter because I've been telling him all about you and I was asking if he thought Mum would loan me the money, and he just sent it himself."
"What?!" Charlie repeated. Her brain was too slow to formulate a more coherent reaction at this precise moment.
Susan nodded with an excited grin, "He did! He said he didn't mind helping a friend out, and he agreed with me that you didn't need to be spending the holidays alone here. He's a student too, but he's working. About to graduate, you know. We're all very proud of—but anyways, he sent the money and—"
"But what did he say?" Charlie interrupted, staring at Susan wide-eyed. The concept of someone just buying her a train ticket was as foreign a concept as an English family actually wanting her, a poor American art student, to join them for the holidays.
"Oh, he only joked that it's his Christmas present to you and to tell you Happy Christmas," Susan laughed. She kissed Charlie's cheek and, seeing that she was now too contemplative to be upset, rose and returned to the desk chair.
"This is Peter?" Charlie pressed, trying in her hazy state to get Susan's brothers straight.
Susan hunched back over her letter, but nodded, "Yes, my older brother."
"And your younger brother is Edmund."
"What have you told Peter about me?"
"Not everything!" Charlie gasped, jumping up. Even under the influence, she could recognize that her deterioration of late into the world of parties and socializing – and really, Susan didn't even know the half of it! – was certainly not what she wanted Susan's family hearing of her.
"Oh, not everything. I've painted a very lovely picture of you, don't worry," Susan assured her, and it was only partially a lie. She had told Peter about the deaths in Charlotte's life, and about the ex-fiance, because it had been he that Susan had asked for advice in what to do to help Charlie. She had told him that Charlie was struggling to keep her head above water in Paris, and that she feared Charlie would be completely lost to an awful world if she didn't intervene somehow and soon. That was really what had probably led Peter to hand over the money for the train ticket: clearly Susan was extremely distressed about her dearest friend.
But aside from this, it was true that Susan had bragged to her brother – and to her mother – about Charlotte until Peter had demanded to know if Susan hadn't fallen in love with this girl. She had told him about the creativity, the compassion, the beauty and intelligence and wit. She had explained how entirely elegant Charlotte was, how she seemed absolutely regal, and that word in particular had stood out to Peter.
"A lady of Cair Paravel?" Peter had joked in his last letter, and Susan now answered enthusiastically, "Absolutely. Cair Paravel would be honored to have her in court. She would make a fine princess or queen, I have no doubt."
Charlie had stripped down to her undergarments, and was now slipping beneath the covers, saying, "When you write, tell him that I owe him . . . my . . . I don't know. Think of something for me, will you?"
"You can tell him when you see him," Susan laughed. "Sweet dreams, Lady Charlotte."
"Sweet dreams, Lady Susan," Charlie returned groggily before passing out entirely.
It seemed two of the Pevensies were bringing someone home for the holidays this year, and Peter was all out of money for train tickets.