A/N: I've been thinking of this one for quite some time, and I finally got around to answering the question: "Digory has had to wait for Narnia the longest (except for Polly), and how does hearing about the Pevensies' adventures make him feel?" So I expanded on that, and, well, here you go. A story about the Professor, who kind of gets jipped, becasue everyone (including myslef) is too busy writing about Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy...

Disclaimer: I do not own Narnia or the Pevensies, or Professor Kirke and Polly. I just love them all.

Burdened

"…And then Reepicheep climbed into his little coracle, and paddled out to the edge, and we could barely see him, he's so small you see, and the lilies were bigger than any lilies I've ever seen, and then he went over the edge, and we've no notion of what happened to him after that, and then we kept going South, I think—was it South, Edmund? —and we came out of the lilies and Aslan was waiting for us, and it was just like last time, He opened a door in the sky and we came through, and now we can't ever go back, though Eustace can…"

Lucy's voice washed over the Professor, and he drank the tale in, savoring it, like tasting a particularly fine wine. The voyage of the Dawn Treader was a story he had heard before, that summer when they had first returned. Edmund and Lucy had written him a long letter explaining all about their latest adventures, because they knew how he loved to hear their stories from Narnia. It had taken them years to tell him everything that had happened during their long reign and the Golden Age of Narnia, but he didn't mind.

How he missed the adventures. His own Narnian tales, of the beginning, the making, the Singing of the Lion, he had told to the Pevensies several times over. Lucy in particular loved to hear all about the broken lamppost and Fledge's first flight to the high walled garden and the apple tree in the backyard and how he had made the wonderful wardrobe that had been the means of the children's first adventures in Narnia. Digory found he never tired of telling her, no matter how many time she asked. Because he always got a Narnia story in return for his. And how he loved to hear Narnia stories.

He missed Narnia. He had only been there what seemed mere hours compared to the Pevensies lifetime there, but he sometimes wondered if he felt the ache more strongly than they did. It had been such a long time since he had seen Aslan, since he had gazed up in wonder at the growing Lamppost, since he had realized that he would never return to that wondrous place. He had borne the burden longer than any, and he was weary of it, the weight of the secret they must never share, the secret of Home.

The Professor leaned back in his chair, puffing heavily on his pipe as Lucy fell silent. There were tears standing in her eyes, but she did not let them fall. She came around the desk and threw her arms around the Professor. He smiled down at her, and hugged her back.

"Thank you, my dear," he said, stroking her hair.

"I know you miss it more than we could possibly imagine," she whispered. "Because you have been longest without it." Digory's eyes opened in surprise. She was so perceptive, so understanding. He looked up at Edmund who was leaning in the doorway to the study, a faint smile caressing his lips. Digory wondered how long the boy had been there, watching while he had been enraptured by his sister's tale.

"Peter's arrived, with Aunt Poly," Edmund said quietly. "She wondered if you would like to come down for tea, or if she should bring it to you here."

"We'll come down, won't we?" Lucy said, standing upright and brushing her hair away from her bright eyes.

"Yes," Digory said, smiling. "We shall come down and we shall all five of us sit around the big table in the kitchen and remember." He met Edmund's eyes, and saw his own longing, anguish, and calm acceptance of a life of impatience mirrored in the younger man's eyes. "How I wish you never had to bear this burden," he whispered as Lucy skipped ahead—there was nothing, he swore, that could bring that hopeful, trusting girl down. He rested his hand on the boy's shoulder, and Edmund's hand reached up to cover his.

"But if I did not have Narnia, Professor," he said in reply, "I would have nothing. The burden is just as much mine as it is yours. We share it, and perhaps the sharing is what makes everything bearable." He smiled a sad smile and slipped off after Lucy, catching her from behind in a laughing hug as they tumbled down the corridor. The Professor followed at a more stately pace, wondering at what Edmund had said. He was so wise beyond his years, those sad, old eyes in that young, thin face. Narnia had changed him, for the better, but it had also left him with the terrible longing that none of them had wanted and none of them deserved.

The Professor stopped, his thoughts catching up with him. Perhaps they didn't deserve the pain, and they didn't want it, but they were stuck with it until they found a way to return to the only home that would ever truly feel like Home. And perhaps Edmund was right; perhaps if they didn't have Narnia, if they didn't have this burden to bear, they would have nothing, just emptiness and disbelief. Look at Susan. As much as it pained him to think of that bright, shining, gentle girl, she proved Edmund's point—she had lost Narnia, and what did she have to show for it? No pain, perhaps, but no satisfaction, no memories, no Home. The Professor extracted his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his streaming eyes.

"Are you alright, Digory?" Polly's soft voice echoed in the hall, and he turned to her, a helpless plea in his eyes.

"I'm not strong anymore, Polly," he said. "I can't wait any longer…" She put her arms around him soothingly, encircling him in empathy—she knew exactly how he felt. They stood in silence for some time, calming each other, sharing each other's pain and longing, crying each other's tears.

"I know. It's been so long," she whispered. No one was more loving than Polly, and just being near her caused the others to fell less alone, to know that someone else was there for them. The Professor felt a smaller person sneak between Polly and him and wrap thin arms around his waist. He glanced down in surprise as his pain lifted slightly, and saw Lucy looking up at him, glowing.

"You just have to keep believing, and trusting," she whispered. No one was more faithful than Lucy, and just being near her caused the others to believe more strongly, to trust more faithfully. A solid strength manifested itself at his side, wrapping thick, strong arms around both him and Polly. Polly rested her head on Peter's shoulder, and he seemed to prop her more upright.

"You've got me. And I'll never let you fall," he whispered. No one was stronger than Peter, and just being near him caused the others to stand straighter, to square their shoulders to their burden. A quiet presence wrapped its arms around them from the side opposite Peter, enveloping them in calm. Edmund's wise eyes met Digory's, and he smiled.

"It's easier, if there are more of us," he whispered. No one was calmer than Edmund, and just being near him caused the others to breathe easier, to wait with more patience. The Professor closed his eyes, and allowed himself to stand, surrounded by Polly's love, Lucy's faith, Peter's strength, and Edmund's calm, and he knew everything would be okay, so long as they were together. They could wait as long as they needed to, they could bear the devastating weight of their terrible, wonderful burden, so long as they were together.

Digory smiled, and began to laugh. The others joined him and soon they were a hopeless pile, sitting on the ground, laughing and crying, and sharing with one another the blissful feeling of strength and love that came from family, that came from Home.

End

A/N: I guess it could be DigoryXPolly, if you squint really hard, but it was meant as noship... --shrug-- oh well. :) I'm trying to write one for Lucy next, and maybe it won't be sad, for once... :)