This was published on LiveJournal a few weeks ago, so a few people might have seen the story before. I'm reposting it here for archiving purpose.
Enemy At Two O'Clock
Enemy At Two O'Clock
Author: Chocolate H.-D.
Disclaimer: Not mine. No money made.
Beta: The ever genius mayalaen over at LiveJournal
Characters: Edmund, Peter, with cameos of others. No pairings.
Rating/Warnings: PG-13; angst, some fluff and h/c.
Spoilers: Pretty vague for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Summary: Witches, opposed empires, simple school bullies -- enemies wear many faces, in Narnia and England. And being sick, sometimes feels like being at the mercy of a powerful enemy, too.
A/N: Title is a variation of a Bill Watterson quote from his comic strip series "Calvin and Hobbes."
Prompt: Write a story in which a protagonist is taken over by an unseen enemy (interpret at will) involving the elements of fire and water. Story must be told from two different point of views and play out over the maximal time span of two days. 2501—5000 words.
The enemy was upon them.
Not on their doorstep, not upon their land's border, it was right here, right in their middle.
And he was burning.
Edmund moaned as flames licked at his skin. He couldn't see them, but he knew they were there--unbearable warm and suffocating, turning his head away from the cold that suddenly enveloped his forehead, his cheeks. It hurt--hurt almost as bad as the flames, so he did the one thing he could think of: get away.
Be that as it may, he was too weak to move, every limb too heavy, too lethargic. It refused to obey his command. A low whimper stole itself from cracked, heat-dried lips, and he curled up on himself. The flames did not leave him, still trying to burn the skin off his bones, the flesh. Only the cold vanished unexpectedly. It came back before he could enjoy its lacking, and he struggled anew, tried anew to get away.
Instead of succeeding, iron clamps closed about his wrists, unforgiving and unrelenting, and doomed his already weakened attempts to fight to fail. The clamps pinned his hands and his arms to the ground, his sides, and the cool intensified, causing him groan in pain. The groan hurt his raw throat, made him fight harder. Let me go, he wanted to say. And it hurts, please, no more.
His tongue was too thick, too large to fit his mouth properly. Coarse. His throat was so dry and--
Cold hands touched his face, and he startled. Cold, so cold.
Someone somewhere whimpered, but he did not think it was him.
"Hush, Ed. Stop struggling," someone spoke over the deafening roar of the flames. He could not say whom.
He knew there was the enemy and it was out to deceive him, to confuse him, to weaken him. Seemed like the enemy was succeeding, too.
"Please let her help."
Help. He gasped. Peter. They had to help Peter. The enemy would have gotten to him by now, he was sure of that, but he couldn't move, couldn't speak, and they wouldn't--he couldn't breathe. Flames eating up all his precious air, except he had to... He had to warn his king, had to. The enemy would get him, too, and Peter had to listen. They had parted on bad terms, certainly, but he... He did not want Peter to die.
He didn't want the High King to die because he himself was foolish, had sent him away. No, he didn't want to--a deep cough tore through him, shaking his whole body. The enemy was getting stronger. It must have been the smoke, with flames still dancing hot on his skin. His lungs burnt.
"Peter is fine, darling. He will be home soon, I promise."
It was nothing against the fear that caught fire in his chest. He had to come back. Peter had to come back, so Ed could apologize.
Something squeezed his wrist, and he screamed.
He was burning. Peter would soon be, too.
"--have to stop. You're making yourself more ill--"
The enemy would soon catch up with the High King. He hated it. Wanted to claw at his skin, tear his hair out.
"--down, you have to brea--erstand, Ed? Edmund? You have to calm--listen to me--"
But the call of the darkness, of sweet, sure relief, was louder, so he listened to it instead, followed. Sorry, Pete. So sorry…
When he opened his eyes the next time, the flames were gone. The flames and the pain, although he still felt as weak as a newborn kitten. His mouth was still dry. Wary eyes darted over the ceiling, confused. Where was he? These were not his chambers these wer--
Out of the corners of his eyes, he saw movement.
Edmund tensed, causing his muscles to protest promptly. He swallowed a pained groan. Where was the enemy? Where did it hide? Why did it? It almost had him. Cautiously, he forced his head to turn, slowly, and Aslan, did it hurt. But Aslan would not help him here, as this was not Narnia. This was his room back in England, as he was looking at the back of his mother, pouring water into a white porcelain bowl on his nightstand.
It felt like a punch to the gut. And he stared.
"Oh, darling, you are awake."
His mother looked tired. Worried. But this was a dream. He couldn't be here.
He did not want to be. Peter. Peter needed his help, and he could not--
She took a seat on the side of his bed, touching the backs of her fingers to his forehead. Nodded to herself. Took his hand in hers. It was cold.
"You are quite ill, but your fever broke last night, Edmund. You are going to be all right."
He could not think. More so he could not help if he was sleeping. He wanted to tell her, tell her to pinch him, but his throat hurt, and his lips were so dry, and there was no sound coming out as he moved his lips.
"Yes, let me get something to drink."
No, he wanted to say, no, I just need to wake up, mother. Wanted to say, He needs me, I can't be here, but the movement of his lips stayed mute. Soundless. Then they didn't even move as they closed around a straw. His mother's hand supporting his too-weighty head.
"Take small sips, darling," she murmured, pressing a gentle kiss to his brow. There were dark shadows under her eyes, but the smile shaping her lips was anything but.
She took the straw away. Edmund blinked.
"That's enough for now."
Her hand was still too cold when she touched her hand to his cheek. He turned away. And stared.
There they were. Susan. And Lucy.
On the other bed. The one that belonged to Peter, if this had not been a dream.
Brother, my king.
"They have been here since last night."
He didn't turn his head back.
"Your sisters did not wish to leave your side, and there was nothing I could say to leave the room."
He didn't have to in order to hear the smile in her voice.
This wasn't a dream. He knew it now. They weren't back there, no longer in Narnia. Just England. A dream. His fists tightened and he squeezed his eyes tightly shut.
And Peter still wasn't here.
"Tell me what's wrong. Are you hurting?" He didn't have to open his eyes to hear the worry in her voice either. "Edmund, honey, please do not work yourself up again. It could cause you to relapse. You do not wish to do that, do you?"
He blocked her out.
Stupid. So stupid. Why did they have to fight like that? Why did he have to be so stubborn? Why did he tell his brother to bugger off when Peter had tried to make up? Why had he not gotten up to say goodbye, instead pretended to be asleep when the older boy came to him still?
Why, why, why?
Now he was…
A painful cough ripped through him like a knife, burnt his throat, his lungs as it shook his body. He tried to breathe deep, but the coughing only got worse, left him hungry and desperately gasping for air.
"Shh, hush, it's all right..."
Nothing was all right. Oh, Aslan, why didn't he just swallow his bloody pride and say he was sorry? It was a stupid dispute in the first place, so, so stupid, and now…
A hand on his chest. Petting. "Edmund, your brother is all right. He is fine."
Someone moaned. Was it him?
No, he knew Peter wasn't okay. He couldn't be. There was still the enemy out there, a war, and Peter he was, he was--
"Ed." Susan. She took his other hand. "I swear to you, Peter is fine."
"He's going to be home soon." Lucy. Oh, Lucy. You can't know that. "I'm sure he's just as worried about you. Please, Ed. Calm down."
"That's right, honey. Good. Calm down, shh, your brother is fine. Hush now. That's it… breathe."
He fell asleep listening to their steady stream of words. But they were just words, and words did not mean much at all. He never opened his eyes during all of this.
It was dark when he finally arrived.
It was dark, and he was wet, and cold and tired, oh-so-tired, yet very happy to have made it. The snow, at times along his march, had reached almost to his knees where it lay disregarded off the roads and on the pavement. Sometimes even on the roads. He hadn't been walking alone like the last bloody two and a half miles, which was fortunate, considering it was easier to kill time like this than all alone.
It was also less eerie.
They had been lucky. Everyone on that train had been.
He eyed the snow with an unexpected, yet sincere sense of gratitude. If it had not been for the fluffy powdery white--he shivered with a cold that had nothing to do with tonight's frosty weather. Better not think about that.
They were at war. He knew that.
He also knew that it was nothing like the battles he'd fought in Narnia. For Aslan. For their Kingdom. And for his sisters and brother.
No. There was nothing noble about war, not in the real world.
Merely a horrifying beast that roared its ugly head and left nothing but grief, death, and pain in its wake. If it took leave at all.
So, luck. He was home five days too late. But he was home, safe and sound. Peter grimaced. And wet. Impossibly wet, as his hands fumbled for the keys, cold hands brushing his heavy coat. Good Lord, how could anything be this sodden? He thanked Aslan as he had the door open, a comforting warmth enveloping him as he stepped in.
He didn't bother with switching the light on, as the first thing he did after closing the door to not let the precious warmth out, was get rid of the coat. It was, on top of sopping wet, bloody heavy. He left it in a heap on the floor, swiftly removing his shoes. The house around him was night quiet.
"Peter Pevensie! How often have I told you lot not to drop clothes in the hallway?!"
Before he could open his mouth to... do whatever, he was wrapped up in a firm embrace.
He curled his arms around his mother's slender figure, smiling. "Mother."
"Oh, Peter." She pulled back a tad, her hands cupping his face. Eyes overly bright. "My Peter."
"It is all right, mother." And it was. He was home. Everything was okay. His smile dimmed. Not everything, but at least something. "How is he?"
His mother didn't pretend not to know whom he was talking about. She patted his cheek before kissing his forehead and eventually letting him go. Taking a step backwards. "His fever went down a few hours ago. He is still weak, but he will be just fine."
"Good. That's good. He still cross with me?"
Peter tensed as his mother's face fell with sorrow. "Oh dear, I think he did not believe your sisters and I when we told him you were all right. He took a turn for the worse as the news came in that they..." She trailed off, shaking her head and clearing her throat. "I fear he made himself more ill with worry over you."
Oh, Ed. What have you done?
It must have shown somehow, his worry, too, for his mother lovingly petted his cheek. His shoulder. "Love, no, it's not your fault. He was delirious with fever for a short while, and thank the Lord, asleep for most of it, even if his sleep has not been peaceful. But I am sure, now that you have returned, safe and sound, he will recover more quickly."
He embraced her this time, impulsive and quick and tight, and her shocked-yet-delighted laugh was the best thing he had heard in days. When they parted, he asked about the girls. "They are fine. So very worried for Edmund, and you, darling, but fine. They are asleep upstairs."
Peter looked at her. "In Ed's room."
She laughed again. "Yes. I came down here to make fresh tea for your brother. Come, and after I put away your coat, I will make you a cup as well, then you can go to bed." She smiled. "You must be exhausted."
And he was. Headache driving spikes into his brain.
Sleep would be Heaven.
But he was also cold, and the cold wasn't just dancing across his skin. It was in his bones, deep down nestled right at his core. He nodded. His mother picked up the coat still on the floor, touched her hand to his arm, and slowly walked away. He watched her go longer than he could see her. Eventually he snapped out of this trance, went into the kitchen. Hot water was just starting to boil over the open fire.
He stood there like this until his mother returned with a blanket, which she draped over his shoulders. Directed him to a chair and set him down. "Edmund is deeply asleep," she spoke as she turned her back to him, fetching another cup to the one already waiting on the table. "His breathing is much easier, but you might want to take one of the girl's beds tonight."
The chuckle made it past his lips. "I see." But that was okay. Where else would they be, and after the past few days, he'd gladly sleep on the sofa. No problem at all. He silently watched her preparing the tea, stuffing the fine filter with aromatic leaves and small pieces of fruit, walking to the kettle to check on the water, until she eventually filled the teapot with it.
The scent floating through the room was marvellous.
Peter watched as she dribbled a spoonful of honey into one cup before sighing. Bemused, and already turning to walk to their store room, his mother said, "Someone must have rediscovered her sweet tooth again."
Little rascal, you. He pulled the blanket tighter around him, smiling. It was astonishing how quickly the cold had been push away, the sense of being home thawing him like the summer sun would the snow.
"Peter dear, could you come over here for a moment? I can't reach it myself." She smiled, amused, and for a blink of an eye, the fatigue in her face, her eyes was gone. "Someone must have put it away in too much of a haste to keep it out of harm's way."
He smiled back, already unwrapping himself from his woollen shelter and standing up. "Of course, mother."
She had to have used a ladder, for even Peter had to stretch to reach that particular preserving jar on the top ledge. The sticky liquid inside gleamed a rich, dark gold even in the dim light. He almost dropped the jar when the sound of, "Mother?" and a following cough out in the kitchen startled him.
"Edmund!" The alarm in his mother's voice was palpable. It echoed his own feeling of dread. Not that it was surprising. He remembered every single time when Edmund had fallen ill in Narnia, and never did he comply to stay in bed as he was told by his royal sisters, or the High King.
The clutter of perhaps a spoon drew him out of his thoughts. "Darling, what are you doing down here? You are supposed to be in bed, young man!"
"I woke up thirsty. The tea was gone."
Excuses. Peter grinned. Oh yes, Ed was good at that, not that it worked most of the time. His mother seemed to agree. "And I am here to make new tea, love. I just need to a little more honey."
"Do you...," a cough, "Do you want me to fetch it for you?"
"Lovely of you to ask, Edmund, but no, it's not..."
He stepped out of his hiding place, grinning. "I sure can handle to fetch a jar of honey." He held up said jar. "See? All done."
Their mother laughed, taking it from him and unscrewing the lid. "Thank you, dear."
He was still grinning at the boy a few feet away, waiting for the obligatory welcome that always followed a separation longer than, say, a day, but Ed did not move. Did not even blink. He merely stood there, completely still, and stared. And he looked terrible. Haggard, eyes unnaturally glassy, skin pale under a feverish flush. Paler than usual.
Peter frowned. "Ed?"
The empty flask in his brother's hand fell to the floor. It landed on its side, rolling a foot or two away before coming to a halt. It hardly left any wet smears along its way.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw their mother wipe her hands on a towel. "Are you well, Edmund?" The sick boy took a step back as she stepped forth, only to pitch forward again. Peter hurried to close the gap between them as well, but instead of falling down, the boy staggered along. Stumbled past a shocked parent--and right into Peter's arms.
For a blink or two, he merely stood there, blinking at the dark head. Felt the fever induced heat through both of their clothes, Edmund's forehead uncomfortably pressed to his right collarbone. He blinked again and unfroze, letting out a chuckle as his own arms came up and around the shorter boy. His brother was trembling. With exhaustion or something else, Peter honestly did not care as he held him close.
Over Edmund's head, he met his mother's eyes. They were worried, but also smiling, albeit her lips were not.
The former High King lowered his head to speak softly into the Edmund's ear. "I gather you are not quite as cross with me as you were before?"
If possible, Edmund's hold on him tightened.
Peter's arms tightened in response, one hand finding its way into dark, dishevelled locks. Gently combing his fingers through them.
"Oh, Ed, it's all right. I'm here, now."
His brother made as if to shake his head but couldn't, too exhausted to do so. He was trembling, fine tremors running through the weakened body. A horrible fit of coughing shook him abruptly, probably provoked by the exertion of getting out of bed and down the stairs, his shaky emotional state. The coughing sent Edmund to his knees and Peter with him as he gathered the distressed, sick boy in his arms.
The boy that all but curled up in his lap.
That was all right.
Peter smiled sadly, resting his cheek on the dishevelled mop of hair. He made soft shushing noises, stroking up and down the smaller boy's back, his hair, until the fit passed. "That's it," he murmured, pushing his brother's head down into the crook of his neck. He didn't even think about it, a body memory from doing this a hundred times before. Back then, in Narnia, not so long ago and yet half an eternity. "Just breathe with me, Ed."
And he did. Raggedly at first, then the breathing slowed, evened out until it was almost at a normal level. He looked up at his mother, draping the blanket around them both. "Thank you," he whispered, sensing even then how the tremors that wrecked the younger boy eased. She gave him a simple nod before going back to putting honey into the tea. Peter, in turn, looked back down at the miserable bundle that was his sibling.
"You do not do things halfway, do you?"
And he did not. Not now, not back in Narnia.
If he was sick, he was really darn sick, pneumonia instead of a simple cold. If he got hurt, it was never just a cut finger or a bump on the head. Edmund always went to extremes. Once he even went as far as dying, he thought darkly, feeling that ice-cold stab of fearguiltpainregretgrief he'd felt right that moment on the battlefield of Beruna. As if it had been yesterday, not half a lifetime ago.
He held on more tightly.
Another tremor snapped him out of his depressing thoughts. Peter brushed a kiss to a fever hot temple. "Let us get you back to bed, Ed," he said, thus breaking the silence that had settled across the room. The ticking of the clock never slowed, never broke its stride. Just like his brother did not move. Instead, two hands fisted themselves into his shirt, gripping the fabric so tightly, as if they never sought to let go.
Only in the once more following silence did Peter become aware that his brother was mouthing words against his throat. Words which were scarcely audible, but there none the less. A frown suddenly shaped his brows. Lowering his head again, he listened closely for a second. A minute, until it all made sense. They weren't words, just one word.
And that word was, "Sorry."
Over and over. Like a broken record.
He did not need anything else. He knew what it was about. Could fill the gaps himself. Their fight before he left over a week ago, Edmund's refusal to reconcile, and now the fever playing tricks on his mind, probably thinking that he, Peter, wasn't coming back. That he could not make up again, even if he wanted to now. If he longed to do so, with every fibre of his heart.
It must have been bad, if Edmund was feeling this low.
"It's all right, Edmund," he was quick to assure. "I'm here now."
The whisper stayed with him still, lips still moving. There were no tears on that well-known face when Peter lifted a heavy head gently from his shoulder. Edmund did not meet his eyes. Not even when he pressed a brotherly kiss to his forehead.
"Don't do this," he said, quietly. Pleaded. "You are going to make yourself ill again, Ed. I know you, I know you did not mean it."
"I shouldn't... I didn't... I... I was..."
His breathing came in short gasps, and Peter sighed. Leaned his forehead against his brother's, waited until he finally, with no other option through utter nearness, looked at him. Brown eyes locking on blue. "Shh. Stop it, Ed. Just stop it. This much agitation, it's not good for you." When the young boy opened his mouth as if to speak, Peter shushed him. "Hush now. Less talking will help your coughing. Although, I can hear your bed calling."
Not waiting for an answer, he hooked his arms under Edmund's back and knees--bridal style, he thought--and stood. He groaned when his knees cracked. Ed's startled yelp covered it up, however, two bony arms flying around his neck. Holding on.
"Peter!" his mother exclaimed, except there was laughter in her voice and he gave her one of his most dazzling smiles. "Take him to your sisters' room, would you darling? I will strip the bed in the morning. If his fever goes down further, he might even be fit for a sponge bath." She stepped closer, stroked her younger son's hair. "I suppose your brother may even volunteer if you asked nicely, thus you would evade having your mother do it."
They both ignored Edmund's indignant sputter and their mother's laughter followed Peter up the stairs.
He found their sisters' room empty, of course, beds neatly made and looking like they had not been slept in at all. It must have been truly bad for their mother allowing Lucy and Susan to sleep in Ed's room, especially since he was ill. Perhaps it was because of it. Granted, there was always the girls' persistence to consider, which was a completely different issue.
Probably the truth held a slice of everything.
Peter carefully lowered his brother's form on Susan's bed, pulling the covers up to his chin. On second thought, he grabbed the covers off Lucy's bed as well and draped them over Edmund. The other boy watched his every move, dark eyes following him around the room like spot light. "Close your eyes, Ed," he said, shrugging out of his clothes. He knew what his brother was thinking. "I'm just going to wash up. I'll be back before you know it."
"You can drink some tea in the meantime and let me take your temperature," their mother said as she entered the room, holding a tray with teapot and the two cups, three white towels folder over her arms. She set the tray down before handing him the towels. "I set the rest of the hot water in the bathroom for you."
Peter kissed her cheek before he walked out. It was hard to ignore the murmur of his name when he did, but he felt like he could never get warm again without hot water to thaw his icy feet.
When he came out, thick clothes waited for him in front of the door. He pulled them on quickly, too afraid to lose too much of the water's warmth if he did not. Edmund had his eyes closed when he walked back into the girls' room, but he wasn't asleep. He'd watched over the younger boy long enough to know the difference.
"Yes, mother, thank you."
She was sitting on a chair that had not been there before. She was also whispering. "That is good to hear, love. His temperature stayed the same as it was an hour before. I will take that as a good sign." He did, too. "I presume you will take Lucy's bed for tonight?"
No, he was not, but he wouldn't tell her that. For various reasons. Not that she would not find out anyway. She had eyes to see after all. "Seeing as Lu and Susan are camping out in mine," he said, dodging the actual question a little.
Her smile widened. It might have been the light catching her eyes in an odd way, but he could have sworn they twinkled with mischief. Even at this ungodly hour. "Meaning, I should expect to find you sharing with Edmund when I shall look in on you the next time."
Peter did not blush. It was, however, a close call. "Probably."
"Oh, do not look like that, darling." She chuckled quietly. "I've seen the lot of you. I don't know how it came to be, but I am glad to see you have grown so close again."
He glanced at his brother, still feigning sleep. Thought about the girls back in the other bedroom. "I am as well."
His mother nodded and stood. "I will go lay down for an hour or two. I am sure you will be fine by yourself?"
"I thought so." She stroked her younger son's hair, kissing him on the forehead. Ed did not move. Not even as she crossed the room to the door. "I am sure his sleep will be less troublesome tonight," she said, opening the door. "You know where to find me if something happens, Peter. I imagine I do not have to tell you to listen to your brother, Edmund?"
Without waiting for an answer, she was gone, the door closing almost soundless behind her. Peter burst out laughing at the squicking of his brother, then cut off as it turned into a coughing fit. He helped his brother to sit up, stroking his back in circles until the fit subsided. Exhausted, Ed leaned against him. "How? How did she do that?!" he rasped. "How did she know?!
"She is still our mother, Ed."
He did not say that Narnia had changed them. Changed them in ways their mother, anyone, could never understand. They were the ones who knew each other the best. Knew each other in another lifetime. Fifteen years. Fifteen years that their mother did not have with them, did not know about. Things that happened. He had already seen his siblings grow up once; had seen his sisters turn into beautiful, intelligent ladies, his brother into an admirable, outspoken young bloke.
It was one of the things that his mother was still to experience here. In the real world.
Where wars aren't noble.
He sometimes felt like he should be apologizing to her. Feeling guilty. Feeling strange knowing things about her children that she did not.
"But she doesn't know the real us. Not anymore."
Peter smiled sadly. Trailed fingertips along his brother's arm. "That's not her fault." It was not their fault, either. It just was. "Do not resent her for it. Try to put yourself in her shoes some time, Ed. How strange must it be for her when her youngest child can do more to sooth your fears than her? When you rather come to Su or I for advice or comfort?" How it might hurt her at times? How helpless it might make her feel, how lost?
He did not say the words, but they were very well implied nevertheless.
Edmund lowered his head, and Peter knew he understood what he was trying to say.
It was not because they loved her less. Or because she loved them less. It was because she simply did not know. They had changed, and it was not her fault that she did not understand. It just happened. Life happened. A life only the four of them shared. The memories of it.
And the dreams, more so nightmares, they were always one of their greatest enemies, even back in Narnia. Especially then. An enemy they couldn't fight, couldn't grasp, one that was just there and had them at its whim dangling over a yawing abyss, never knowing when they'd fall. Their mother had no part in that, not really. Only they knew what ghosts hunted them at night. It was what made her an outsider in her own family.
No matter that, it was their one advantage as well. They had each other. To catch and to watch their backs. Real world or Narnia, that was never to change.
He pushed the younger teen away for a moment, rearranging himself on the small mattress so he was sitting with his back against the headboard. Pulled Edmund to him again to ease him down until he was lying with his head in Peter's lap.
"I know," he murmured, already treading his fingers through dark locks. "Go to sleep. I am here now."
"Hush, we'll talk in the morning if you still want to. Be quiet now."
Arms came around his waist, hands fisting in his shirt. "Pete? Please?"
He swallowed, cleared his throat. "What?"
"I'm sorry. I did not mean to... to be mean."
"I know. It's all right. I'm sorry, too. Can you sleep assured now?" A tiny nod in against his stomach told him all he needed to know. He chuckled. "Good. Then go to sleep. It will help you to get better. And once you're sound again, I'll take you sledging."
"...Promise? Jus' the two of us?"
Peter laughed a real laugh for the first time in what seemed like forever at the childish tone colouring his brother's voice, feeling the weight of the last few days, the last hour, lifted from his shoulders. "Yes, I promise."
"Sweet dreams, Ed."
That night, the enemy did not return.
- END -