Summary: People pass through our lives like butterflies.
Disclaimer: Me no own, you no sue!
AN: I was talking to Nat and Autumn, and I said that people come and go like butterflies… Which put this idea in my head. Written for the Stolen Moments community's Session One Fic Challenge.
Stolen Moments (on the off chance you haven't gathered this) is my YahooGroup, which will contain fic challenges, art challenges, etc, as well as stories I've written that aren't posted anywhere else (except at maybe a great delay), where I post Lurking in the Shadows every Saturday in a prompt fashion, and it's open to all Suspian fanwork and discussion. There'll also be a monthly writer's workshop - basically, come one, come all, participate and have fun, sorta place. Any questions? Feel free to email me.
Flames leaped in their primitive dance as she watched, the snapping of their song mixing with the crickets and chirps of night. She was in Narnia again, and thought she was strong enough to handle it this time. Thought that this time, no matter how brief it would be – that she could cope. But she couldn't. Things were too different, yet still these were her people suffering and dying and fighting. Eventually she would have to leave. Aslan didn't want the Pevensies in Narnia for too long. At least, she didn't think so, despite the fact that He was love. How could He want them to stay here, when all humans ever brought was mischief and strife?
The White Witch, she had been human, and the Pevensies had been called to Narnia to save the innocent from such. It took man to cancel out man. Monsters they were all, just look at what the Telmarines had done. Of course it would take a Telmarine to rule them, to bring all this business to a stop. But again, the Pevensies, they were there to cancel out more of mankind's insanity. Her musings on the evils than men bring were interrupted not by Edmund or Peter as they generally were, but by another man.
"Good evening Your Majesty," he was standing, holding a waterskin in his hand as well as a food pouch, "may I share this meal with you?"
Scooting aside, she nodded, making room for him, "Of course."
Caspian sat, not quite looking at her, but not at the fire either, "Do you not get fireblinded by staring into the flames?"
"I've never thought much about it," accepting the water skin, watching as he pulled out a round of bread, which he tore into two pieces.
"Ah," was all he said, holding out the larger piece of bread to her, only keeping a third for himself.
She was uncomfortable in his presence, here was a member of the race of man, a bringer of strife. Susan wished sometimes she had been born Narnian rather than English. Life would have been simpler perhaps, had she been a faun or dwarf. Or maybe a Horse or gryphon. But no, she was a daughter of humanity, always working towards and hoping for better from her fellows. Caspian's small gesture, of making sure she had more to eat than himself was touching, and she remembered that not all people were hard.
Splitting the dark heavy bread, even though her stomach was pained, she held out some to him, "You've taken too little. You need to keep your strength up."
He waved his hand, "If your royal siblings are anything to go by, then you must be half starved. I have enough Your Majesty."
Breaking off small chunks, Susan ate slowly, easing the cramps in her belly, the dark rich flavor of the hearty bread filling her. Caspian hadn't said anything further, leaving her to her thoughts, and she wasn't sure if she was grateful or not. Wondering why it was that man had to seek power, why it was that they couldn't live simple lives the way Narnians, Beasts and all of Nature alike did, was troubling. Her fear was going back to England, seeing the world crushed by man, hearing girls at her school talk in hushed whispers or cry over a fallen brother or other family member – Susan wasn't sure she could go back to that.
"I was taught," accented words broke the stillness, "that staring too long into the light will cause blindness. An inability to find the light elsewhere beyond what I had been gazing at for too long beforehand."
Unsure if the Telmarine was speaking of being unable to see past the fire, or something more… nebulous, Susan kept her own counsel.
He dug in his pouch again, pulling out a handful of nuts, then held the pouch out to her, "In the darkness there is more than can be seen if one is blind to it. My instructor always told me to not be dazzled by the light, no matter what comfort it brings. To use the light, but not keep it at my back so I am not outlined and easy to see for that which lays in wait in the dark. But to stand in the shadows, a place where the light can be seen, used, and protected all at once."
"Your instructor told you quite a lot," trying to puzzle out who Caspian was, who he really was. Would he be good for Narnia? Could he balance the greed of man against the innocence of Nature?
Chuckling with a bit of self-depreciation flavouring the words, "I was trained by the finest in all the Telmarine army."
Their fingers brushed when she finally took the pouch from him, his eyes widening incrementally, then he glanced away. Straight into the fire. Feeling bad for his apparent discomfort, "And sometimes we look to the light, knowing we'll be blinded, just because we need to be reminded of something other than shadows."
He shook his head, "No, sometimes we look to some other light, for there is that which blinds us all."
"And what would that be?" pressing him, seeking to understand this strange young man who was most likely Narnia's future.
Rather than answer Caspian pulled out a dagger from his boot, and a wetstone from his beltpurse. The steady scraping of oil, stone, and steel rasped steadily, adding another layer to the songs of the night. Occasionally, Caspian would flick his thumb over the edge, testing it, then go back to smoothing the blade until it met his standards. Sighing, Susan went back to staring into the fire, every now and again looking around the trees and the small campfires that were held there. At the edges of her vision, Susan realized that Caspian was right, things looked too dim because her eyesight had been reduced from looking so long into the fire.
The longer she looked away from the fire, the more she saw. Edmund was leaning against a tree trunk, standing in shadows, watching everything, scanning the forest from where he stood, head cocked. Standing sentry, doing his part to protect his people and his family. Of her siblings he knew the dark, but he also knew the light. He always listened to both sides, trying to understand all, or at least give them a chance.
Lucy was curled into Peter, whose arm was wrapped around her small shoulders, letting her sleep in peace despite the tension in the air. A war was on, a fight, and Peter was waiting for action, ready to act at a moment's notice. Rhindon was sheathed but the sword was not on his belt, the hilt near at hand and easy to draw, waiting, just waiting, while keeping things in the light, guarding them that way.
A minotaur was pacing outside the light, and Susan only caught sight of him because a small glimmer hit his battle harness from time to time, giving away his position. If she had still been blinded from the fire, she wouldn't have seen him at all. Others were moving, the soft rustles of leaves beneath their feet or the brief flash from firelight or moonlight hitting a bit of metal. The twinkling fluttered in the dark, like small butterflies.
Looking back to Caspian, his sword now over his knee, it too receiving dedicated care, and Caspian blend into his surroundings, even though he was right there, bathed in firelight. Concentration shone on his face, dusky skin turned ruddy, his dark eyes black, a small lick of flame dancing in them.
"What blinds people then?" asking him.
He didn't raise his eyes, diligent, "Many things Your Majesty. Fear. Hate. Ignorance. Lust. Greed. Anger."
"Such horrible things, don't you think?"
Glancing up at her finally, his hands pausing, the gray stone shining wetly where it was held in his fingers, "To be sure. But there are other things that blind."
"And what," shifting so she could face him fully, "would those be?"
Setting the wetstone down, Caspian tipped his head back, eyes closing, frowning in thought, "Beauty, love, responsibility. We…" he huffed, searching for the words, "we seek some things or stumble upon them, and cannot look away. The wonder we feel when we catch the such… higher emotions and reasons… in our sight, within our grasp. It makes it hard to see anything outside of that. And ultimately it makes us lose that which we held so dear."
Adjusting her skirts, "And what do you hold so dear Caspian, that you fear being blinded?"
Her question took him aback, it was obvious from how he flinched, "I have lived long in shadows Your Majesty. All I have is my honour and duty. My responsibility. Those things that I built my life around are long gone, and I must find new foundations."
"And those could blind you to new things, couldn't they?" picking out a piece of unidentified dried fruit, nibbling it. "To only see that what you should do, what you must do, what then of what you wish for? It would be so easy to lose yourself in forgotten possibilities that new ones, when they arise are swept away."
"Your Majesty –"
Waving her hand at him gently, "Please, no more honourifics."
"As you say," inclining his head, "in my position – and yours – responsibility is the mantle that is necessary for everything. The self matters very little when weighed against the needs of others. Privilege is only another word for bondage. But it is a prison that is needed, and I would not pass that role onto someone else. Not for fear that they would be incapable, but because I do not wish others to be so… tied."
Susan thought about his words, they were far deeper than she had been willing to give him credit for initially. It seemed that Caspian was far more than she had thought or wanted to believe. He saw what leadership really was – a cage. Yet, he had the chance to flee it, and he had not. For the sake of others, for the sake of the Narnians and his own people.
She sighed, "Then you will find that people come and go, flitting through life. It is only those we truly know who stay for the longest time - though they too disappear..." Feeling sad for Narnia, for Caspian – a man who could have been just a man, and herself, "Consistency? A state where those you love never leave you? That idea is a paradise, some hoped for thing. When the foundation you build your life upon finally leave... All you're left with... is the butterflies..."
"Sad thoughts for a young woman," he agreed, "and sad that they have such a ring of truth." Sheathing his sword, Caspian moved closer to her, close enough she could smell the sweat and dirt that were on his skin, "Yet you have your family. Tell me then, will I be one of those brief butterflies, entering and exiting your life, leaving nothing but a faint memory of my passing?"
Pursing her lips, Susan wondered what his meaning was. Did he mean her personally, or her and her family? His face was unguarded, and she saw the innocence there, he was well aware of how the world worked, yet he hoped for more. Was he hoping then for her to stay? For she and her family to remain, as they had for many years in Narnia? Caspian's hope was faint, but it shone in his eyes, blinding Susan to anything outside of it.
Reaching up, she lay a hand on his cheek, "I don't know."
He registered surprise, shock, and elation at the contact. Then all of that was subsumed as the realization of her words hit him. Susan could see the very moment he understood. That he couldn't depend on the Pevensies to stay, that he could hope for it, but could do no more than that. In a flash that was gone too, because Susan smothered it, leaning up so that she could kiss the corner of his lips, giving him what comfort she could. Yes, responsibility was a mantle, a cage, and she was caged by her need to ensure that the new hope for Narnia wasn't embittered by loss.
Swallowing audibly when she leaned back, Caspian stared at her in wonder, "My Queen I…"
His jaw was stubbled lightly, but beneath that the skin was baby soft, "Shh," rubbing her thumb over his cheek.
Caspian nodded, covering her hand with his own, taking it and pressing his lips to her knuckles. They sat there not saying a word, holding hands, neither looking anywhere but at the other. Fatigue made itself known, and Susan stifled her yawn. How long had she been up? Too long.
With a bit of maneuvering, Caspian pulled off his cloak, wrapping it around her shoulders, "I am sorry that it is not the silk sheets you are most likely used to," his voice soft, "but it is better than nothing."
Giggling, nose scrunching, "I don't sleep on silk sheets!"
"Neither do I," lips quirking, "but I thought in your time, that such things would be the norm?"
"No," laying down, reaching for his hands once more, "they tickle too much."
"This would be a bad thing?" he stretched out, facing her.
Wiggling around, Susan let him distract her, as she was distracting him, "Well I don't think I could sleep very well if I kept giggling. Could you?"
With mock seriousness he thought it over, "No," shaking his head, "I do not believe that I could. But as I am not ticklish, I do not think it would be such a problem."
The coronation was a time of festivity, all were smiling, all were dancing. Susan wasn't. She was tired. And she knew. Pain was a thick bloom in her heart, how could she leave her people again? How?
She loved them too much.
It would kill her, she was sure. But she smiled when she was spoken to. Comforted with words and gestures where it was needed. In the end, Narnia didn't really need her anymore. Susan needed Narnia, but she wasn't useful any longer, she'd served her purpose. Smoothing the way for Caspian, listening to his unspoken words. Providing a dream for him, of what a man outside of a cage could have.
Blinding him to despair or hate or greed or lust. He had in turn blinded her, she'd seen something, felt something, hoped for something that she'd never have. Susan knew that when she left, she would always be nothing. She'd looked into the light, and it had burnt her, leaving nothing behind. So, Susan threw all of herself, what little there was left, into giving all she had to Caspian. All of it, sacrificing all so that in the end, imprisoned as he was – he was still free on the inside.
Free to hope. Free to dream. Free to love.
Aslan joined her in the garden, but she wasn't aware of His presence until He spoke, "My child, are things so bleak?"
Startled, Susan whirled, "Humanity is a bleak thing, and I'll be going back there, and soon."
It wasn't a question. Just a statement of fact.
"Then if there is so much darkness, why not shine in the night My child?" blinking slowly, Aslan rested on His haunches.
"There's nothing left to shine with Aslan, I'm empty now," gripping her skirts, "I don't know if I have anything left to give to anyone else. It's all here."
"And why would you leave so much behind then?" cocking His head, His voice a soft purr.
Susan looked away, up to the stars, "Because I don't belong here. I don't belong in England either. There's nothing for me there. I gave myself to Narnia," chewing her lip, Susan made herself hold Aslan's gaze, "my time, my soul, my heart. It needed what I had, so I gave it. And gave it gladly."
Aslan just gazed at her long and hard, His thoughts inscrutable. But surely He already knew all this. So why would He ask her, as though she had some choice? There was no way that she would be allowed to stay.
Whispering, "I would stay if I was allowed to. But I won't be, will I?"
"There are many things," Aslan rumbled, "I could tell you. Many reasons for going or staying. But I will say this then, rather than tell you all, you will not be returning to Narnia."
Hearing Him say that made her heart break, and Susan sank to the ground. Paving stones dug into her knees, but she didn't care. Clutching her chest, Susan wanted to die. She did die, all her hopes fled, dashed into nothing. The selfish part of her wanted to be angry. So angry. Instead, Susan gasped, huge tears forming and she sobbed.
"Why?" voice cracking, barely above a murmur.
"The time for returning," He sighed, padding closer, nosing at her chin, "is past. To leave, is to never return for you Susan. For this, I am sorry."
"Why can't I stay?" wrapping her shaking arms around His neck, "Why do I have to lose all that I am?"
Just like that Aslan was gone, not having said a word, leaving her embrace when the click of boots hit stone. It was as though He hadn't been there at all.
"Susan? My Queen? Susan?" Caspian's voice was worried, calling out into the night. Heels tapped the cobbles, then stopped, and Susan knew he'd spotted her, "Susan?!"
Hiccuping, trying to get control of herself, Susan smoothed her hands over her cheeks.
"My Queen," and he was there, his arms coming around her, "Susan, everything will be alright. Please, tell me what is wrong?"
Shaking her head, Susan clung, "It's nothing."
Caspian hauled her to her feet, and Susan tried hard to stop crying, to stop mucking up his doublet. It was just that she simply couldn't. She was grieving, because in truth – she was about to die. A Queen of Narnia was going to pass, and no one would know but her. To be sure she would breathe, to be sure she would go on with her life, but she'd no longer be herself. All of it was here, right here, and the embodiment of her Narnia, of her strength and will and love for others was holding her up, his arms cradling her close. Despite the impropriety.
"Then tell me of this 'nothing'," untucking his doublet, opening it so he could reach for the hem of his soft under tunic, Caspian blotted at her cheeks, "You have listened many times to my 'nothing', and I have felt all the lighter for it. Tell me, for burdens are best shared by two."
Drawing on her habit for seeming strength, Susan shook her head, "No, honestly Caspian. It's nothing. You'll be carrying enough burdens, you don't need to add something so trifling as mine to their number."
"I was searching for you," his voice brought her up short, fending off her ability to act as though she were just fine, "the press of people was too much for me."
"Oh," taking his hand, "you'll get used to it. It just takes awhile. You'll be fine."
"It would be better if I had someone to share it with," voice steady, "an equal that was… willing to share this with me."
Squeezing his fingers, Susan nodded, "You'll find someone."
He pursed his lips, "Your siblings will be leaving soon, will they not?"
It was like a fresh blow, "Yes."
"But you will not," he said it with such surety.
"Caspian, I –"
"You will not," his hands clamped over hers like twin vises, "we are not butterflies."
Mournful, Susan strove harder, struggling to find a strength she had given away, "Caspian, my place isn't here. I'm to leave as well. Besides," fighting to push the words between her lips, "we haven't known each other long enough for that to be so…"
But she couldn't manage it.
"The Council has already spoken, and the Narnians make demands," adamant, "the union would be ideal. Your experience, your standing –"
Crying out, "No! Aslan told me that to leave is to never return!"
Caspian reeled back, and Susan hated that she had said that, that she had quashed his hopes.
Surprisingly steady, "Then you will not leave."
"You will not leave," Caspian's voice was like steel, unbendable, unbreakable, "this is your place. And you will not leave."
Shivering, Susan stared up at the black of Caspian's eyes. There was no hope shining there. No belief. Nothing. Just absolute certainty.
"Said that to leave is to never return? Those were His words exactly?" cutting her off.
Nodding, not daring to think, "Yes."
"Then let us build new foundations of stone, and let the butterflies grace us with their touch."