Author's Notes: I wasn't planning to head this far into the angst end of this story, but I made the mistake of leaving Edmund alone, and the next thing I knew he was crying. -Shrugs helplessly- So I tried to make Peter fix it. Then I changed my mind. I'm not really sure where I'm going with it after this, so I guess we'll all see.
As a side note, Edmund's comment about his intelligence is meant to be his own thoughts of the moment, not a personal observation. I very much believe the opposite. ^_~
Chapter 3: Tears
By the time they made camp that night, Sir Giles had shared the story of the Witch turning him to stone and Edmund's poor attempt at saving him at least six times. By the time everyone in their party had heard it, Edmund had long been busy pretending he couldn't hear what they were saying. More than one of the soldiers had begun to watch him almost thoughtfully, and there was something different in the way they spoke to him now. Not that they hadn't always been polite, but now there was a tone of ... respect maybe, that hadn't been there before.
He wasn't sure that he deserved it, and gaining it after betraying information about Aslan and his siblings didn't seem to be a very good reason to him.
Aslan never seemed upset though, even after hearing what Edmund had told the Witch. Even though it was valuable information, even though it had led the Witch straight to them, he never so much as gave Edmund a stern look. Edmund noticed Aslan's eyes on him once or twice, but it was usually when he had excused himself to avoid yet another telling from Sir Giles, and Aslan's gaze seemed only thoughtful then.
Peter on the other hand, seemed to enjoy listening to the story, whether it was because Edmund hated it so or for another reason was hard to say. His brother never mocked him, just listened quietly and smiled every time he heard Sir Giles' tale. His smile only faded later into the night, when he began to stare at the river again with that same haunted expression.
Edmund retired to his tent shortly after supper, not wanting to hear more of Sir Giles' tales or find more soldiers staring at him. He wasn't tired, and it felt strange to lay in his hammock without Peter nearby, which he found strange more for the fact that it felt wrong at all than anything else. Peter hadn't come to bed as of yet, and he didn't seem to be showing signs of coming soon.
Edmund sighed, rolling over onto his side to stare at the empty hammock across from him. He felt strangely dependent on Peter now, in a way he hadn't been before his rescue from the Witch's camp. Maybe even since before then, when he'd been shackled in an icy prison and silently praying, over and over, for his older brother to save him. He didn't have to forgive him, so long as he would save him.
Even if he deserved nothing from Peter.
His eyes burned suddenly, and he blinked harshly. Now was not the time to cry. His time with the Witch was over now. She was gone, his family was safe, and Narnia was free. He had no reason to cry over what he'd done. He had no right to cry, for it had all been his own doing.
The sound of footsteps made him look up sharply, reaching for his sword even as a hand parted the door of the small tent. Peter stopped, and they stared at one another in equal amounts of surprise. "Still a bit jumpy, are we?" Peter asked finally, his tone light as Edmund slowly pulled his hand back.
"Sorry," he mumbled, sounding hoarse.
Peter hesitated. "Ed, are you ... ?" He paused, frowned, and stepped closer. "Edmund, are you crying?"
"No." He sniffled anyway, and silently cursed himself for it.
"Oh, Ed ... "
He closed his eyes, not wanting to see the look of disappointment on his brother's face. "Sorry," he whispered again, swallowing hard.
A hand brushed against his hair, faltered, and at last settled gently on his head. "Edmund, you've got nothing to be sorry for," Peter said softly.
He scowled at that, struggling to sit up and nearly tumbling from his hammock instead. He scrubbed a hand fruitlessly across his eyes and sniffled. "Don't lie, Peter. It's not very becoming of a king."
"Neither is blaming yourself for something that isn't your fault," Peter retorted.
He glared at him, vision still blurred with tears. "Did you listen to anything I told you before? I chose to tell the Witch about Mr. Tumnus. I chose to tell her about all of you. I lied about coming to Narnia because I ... I didn't - "
To his dismay, Peter's expression remained calm. "You didn't what, Ed?"
He looked away, wishing Peter would swear at him instead. This ... kindness was killing him, slowly and painfully. Or maybe that was the point? "I didn't want you and Susan to make fun because you didn't believe me, the way we did Lucy," he said at last. "So I lied. Even though I knew it would hurt her, even though I knew it was all true, and I'd promised the Qu - the Witch that I'd bring you all to meet her. I didn't want you to tease me."
Peter said nothing, and Edmund closed his eyes blissfully, reveling in the silent condemnation.
"Why didn't you take us with you to meet her, like you'd said you would?"
He sighed at the soft question, opening his eyes to stare at the floor. "Because I didn't want to share her," he said simply. "I thought she liked me, and she was going to make me special. I didn't want to share that, especially with you. I was being a selfish prat, the way I've always been."
But the words didn't feel quite right, and he didn't know why.
He hadn't wanted to share the Witch with his brother and sisters, or anything she had promised him. And he'd left because wanted to be warm, and safe, and eat Turkish Delight with someone who thought him wonderful. Someone who didn't dress him in girl's coats or lecture or ignore him or yell at him because they favored Lucy.
But he'd been scared, too. When Mr. Beaver had mentioned Aslan, and the expressions on the others' faces ... A prophecy about all of them. Was that why she wanted to meet them? Edmund wasn't particularly smart, but he wasn't stupid, either. Part of him had begun to wonder why they all had to meet her. And ... he wasn't sure why, but ... he didn't want them to.
"Is what Sir Giles said true?" Peter asked suddenly. "That you told her where we were going because she was going to hurt him?"
He stiffened. "Yes," he said shortly. "I thought if I told her, she'd let him alone."
A hand settled on his shoulder, shockingly warm, and he jumped, looking up into Peter's face in surprise. His brother was watching him solemnly, his eyes dark and serious with something he couldn't quite name. "Edmund, no matter what you say, I'm not going to hate you."
To his horror, he felt fresh tears welling in his eyes. "Why the bloody hell not?" he burst out. He swallowed, blinking hard in a vain attempt to make them go away. "Just ... just ... yell at me already. Tell me I'm horrible. Say you never want to see me again. Do something!"
There was a low, soft sigh above him, and arms came around him slowly, holding him in place as he struggled to his feet, struggled to pull away. Peter's chin came to rest on his head. "I'm not going to yell," Peter began, his voice deliberately quiet, "Because I don't need to even if I did want to. I'm not going to call you horrible because you're not. And I would never, ever say I don't want to see you again. Not after I almost lost you." His voice cracked slightly, and his arms tightened a little.
"What I am going to do," he continued, "Is tell you that yes, I'm upset that you ran off, and that you lied, and that you went to someone you hardly knew because you thought she could make you special. I was terrified thinking of what she might do to you Ed, no matter what anyone said about you choosing to go to her. God Ed, you're - " He cut off, sounding frustrated. "You're ten bloody years old. And maybe that doesn't excuse you running off with a total stranger when you know better than that, but ... it still means something. I should have kept a better eye on you, I shouldn't have been mean to you. This whole mess was as much my fault as yours."
"It was not!" Edmund snapped, struggling again. "I'm perfectly capable of being responsible for myself, you know!"
"I never said you weren't," Peter sighed, looking faintly annoyed when Edmund finally managed to pull away. "But a lot of what happened was honest mistakes. You didn't know Mr. Tumnus had gone against the Witch, or that you were giving him away. And how could you? You barely knew what was going on when you met her. And by the time you did, you were already her prisoner. You're lucky to have made it out of this alive Ed, really you are. It's practically a miracle, really."
Edmund could see the look in his older brother's eyes, could see that Peter was saying this because he was relieved and happy he was safe, not because he was mocking him. But the words still stung. "Right, because obviously I can't be trusted to get myself out of my own messes," he said sarcastically before he could stop himself.
Peter sighed again, and there was a pinched look to his face that he always got when he thought Edmund was being particularly childish. "That's not what I said."
"But it's true, isn't it?" Edmund looked away, swallowing. The knowledge of what had nearly happened, how close he'd come to dying a cowardish traitor tied to a tree, still haunted him. If Narnia's soldiers hadn't rescued him ...
"Ed, do we really have to do this now?" Peter groaned. "It's late, it's been a long day, and we're both tired."
Edmund stiffened. "You're right," he said finally, his tone flat. "What was I thinking? We need sleep."
"Ed - "
"It's late, Peter," he interrupted, and inwardly he cringed at how cold he sounded.
"Edmund, please. I thought we agreed to try and get past all this?"
That made him turn, scowling. "We did," he said shortly. "But it seems the problem still hasn't changed, which means we won't."
"And what problem is that?" Peter demanded, scowling down at him.
He wanted to scream at him, tell him to stop acting like a grown up when he wasn't. There wasn't even a full three years between them, and Peter had no right to act like he knew everything when he so obviously didn't. Or to assume that he didn't know what the problem was himself, just because he was younger. Being younger had nothing to do with maturity, and after everything that had happened, he felt ages older than his brother and sisters now. He wasn't the eldest, but that didn't mean he didn't know things.
And Peter could never see that.
But Aslan's words still echoed through his head, a gentle reminder. "You are each here to learn something, Edmund. And what each of you learns individually will one day help you all, help Narnia itself. That is the nature of true wisdom."
"You don't listen," he said finally.
Peter's brow furrowed. "What?"
"You don't listen," he repeated, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. "You always assume you know what's going on, but you really don't. You're not the only one who knows things, Peter. And being older is circumstance, it doesn't make you smarter." He hesitated, looking away. "You used to, but you stopped listening a long time ago."
Silence lingered, and though he wasn't looking, he knew Peter was struggling to say something that wasn't going to start them fighting all over again.
" ... I'm listening to you now, aren't I?" he said finally.
Edmund shook his head, sighing softly as he turn back to his hammock. "No. You're not. Good night, Peter."
"Edmund - "
"Good night," he said firmly, rolling over and pulling the blankets up over his head.