Peter hadn't been the same. Not since the first time. Edmund supposed that was only natural, seeing as it was difficult for himself to make the transition, and he hadn't been High King, nor 25 years old when they went back to England. Knowing all that didn't make it any easier to watch his older brother self destruct in a way entirely unfamiliar to him, didn't make it easier to bear the harsh words and treatment. Edmund could handle it, of course, it was his duty after all to handle it, to be where his brother needed him when his brother needed him. It was how he had acted since...well, since he'd changed, after the White Witch and all that. It had been simpler, easier to do that back when Peter had treated him as an equal and had appreciated everything Edmund did for him.
Not anymore. Anymore, Peter yelled at him and got angry at him over the slightest of details, picked fights with anyone and everyone, no matter their size or age and for any perceived slight or insult. Edmund could remember when Peter had stood down opposing forces, kings and messengers and generals, all trying to rile the great Peter the Magnificent, and unable to do so no matter what was said. Even taunting or threatening Edmund hadn't worked. Now, if a boy so much as looked at his older brother sideways, he had a fist full of Peter smashing into his face. And of course, Edmund being Edmund, the boy had a very loyal and very fighting-adept younger brother to deal with as well.
That was nearly always how it happened, Peter beginning the fight and Edmund ending it, or at least getting involved, and Ed knew that this one would be no different. They had just gone to the store to pick up a few things for their mother; it sounded easy and simple enough, but had turned into something far more involved when a boy Peter had once been friends with but had managed to alienate since coming home from Narnia, did the unthinkable. He insulted not only Peter, but also Peter's mother, and Edmund.
And now, Ed found himself leaping into yet another fray, thinking simultaneously that he was damn tired of saving his brother's behind and that his mother would have a fit. A fist smashed into his right cheekbone and Edmund saw stars for a moment. It took him another moment to realize that there were now more boys in the fight, and that he and Peter were outnumbered three to one. Not that they hadn't been up against worse odds in the past, but those times had included swords and shields and armies.
Peter was certainly holding his own, fists flashing out at his attackers, teeth bared in a war grimace all too familiar to Edmund. He looked ferocious, and if Edmund hadn't seen him in far more intense situations, he might have been frightened. As it was, he was too preoccupied with his own fight to consider his brother too much. Another fist clipped his chin, followed closely by a driving punch to his stomach that knocked all the wind completely out of him. He hated showing weakness as he dropped heavily to his knees, panting, trying weakly to fend off blows raining down on his face and ribs. He heard Peter shouting and realized that all of the boys had abandoned his older brother completely in order to focus on him. He struggled to stand, lashing out, grunting in satisfaction as his fist connected sharply with something that cracked and gave way, then found himself lying on his back on the ground.
"Oy! Stop it!" He heard being shouted, his older brother, presumably, then something large and heavy smashed into his face and he knew only blackness.
Peter wasn't sure what had led to this moment. He knew that he'd been having a hard time adjusting to life in England -hell, who wouldn't?- but he hadn't fully realized how destructive it was until this moment. This moment, when he was watching his younger brother get the snot beat out of him because he, Peter, had launched himself into a completely unnecessary fight.
"Oy! Stop it!" He shouted, realizing even as he did that every single one of the half a dozen boys was surrounding Edmund. His stomach sank as he tried to throw them off, not certain how much damage was being inflicted upon his little brother. He screamed when he saw the rock crash into Edmund's head. Suddenly, the boys seemed to realize that the fight had taken a rather serious turn and disbanded quickly, leaving a bereft Peter kneeling next to his bruised and bleeding younger brother.
"Ed! Edmund, oh Lion, I'm sorry, Ed, please!" He gasped, gathering his limp younger brother into his arms. Edmund stirred and moaned, blinking owlishly up at him with swollen eyes.
"'S okay," he slurred, struggling to sit up and wincing at the movement.
"Take it easy," Peter admonished worriedly, but Ed stubbornly waved him off.
"Not that bad," he muttered and proceeded to stand. He was a bit wobbly for a second before regaining his balance, and Peter watched protectively, hands outstretched should he stumble at all.
"Pete. Stop. 'S okay." Peter shook his head, tucking an arm under Edmund's, smiling slightly as his brother tensed then finally shrugged into the touch.
"You have to stop, Ed," Peter whispered after a moment's silence, and he could feel Edmund shifting underneath him. He was only slightly startled when Ed pulled himself up to his full height, considerably closer to Peter's than he'd realized, and stared him down, deep brown eyes blazing.
"No, Pete, you have to stop," he spat, more angrily than Peter had heard him in ages, "but until you do, I'll be at your back." Peter nodded, tears welling in his eyes as he took in his battered, but defiant brother.
"I'm sorry," he repeated, and Edmund quickly enveloped him in a hug, though he winced at the contact.
"You'll always be High King to me, Pete," he whispered, and Peter cried some more, then helped his brother limp home. It was a long walk.
Susan had hoped things would change after that day. She knew they had changed for her, and for Lucy. Peter had been half-dragging Ed by the time they stumbled through the door, and Susan had been horrified and shocked by Ed's appearance, bloody, bruised, and battered. Peter was sporting a few bruises himself, but nothing as extensive as Edmund's, and he had guiltily stared at the floor the entire time they'd been easing their younger brother onto the couch.
He'd been hurt, of course, the gash above his eye (that Ed had conveniently forgotten was there) had required six stitches, and he couldn't smile or frown without wincing for weeks, but somehow Peter had remained impassive, even through the rather hysterical lecture their mother had given.
Susan felt like her family was tearing apart.
It was terrible watching Edmund consistently, repeatedly try to get through to Peter, to get his brother to snap out of his clearly dangerous state of mind, and it was even more terrible to see Peter shove him away, every single time.
Now, as they walked through the train station towards the train that would take them to school, Susan knew that they needed to talk, though she knew that Peter probably wouldn't really like what she had to say.
"Peter! Peter, I need to talk to you," she said, grasping at his elbow. Peter turned and looked at her, exasperation evident on his features, and waved Lucy and Edmund ahead when they stopped uncertainly.
"What's this about, then?" He asked, looking at Susan with one eyebrow cocked. Susan sighed, knowing that Peter probably wouldn't listen to her.
"It's time you stopped acting like such a jerk, Peter," she said quietly, and Peter's face darkened.
"What exactly do you mean by that?" He muttered, voice low. Susan looked intently at him, holding his eyes.
"I mean you need to watch your temper, Peter, and you need to treat Ed like your brother! You've been shoving him away from you ever since we got back, and you fly off the handle at anyone who so much as looks at you wrong. Peter..." Susan allowed her voice to trail off. Peter shook his head.
"Su, everyone treats us like children, and we have to pretend that we are, that we've never been adults. And not just adults, Susan, royalty. They treat us like children."
"Peter, it's not as if you've been acting like an adult lately. How would High King Peter the Magnificent respond to someone insulting his mother? I know that you wouldn't have reacted so violently in Narnia." Peter shook his head in denial, clearly upset by her words, jaw clenched. He stalked past her without another word, and Susan sighed. She watched, biting her lip, as Edmund said something to Peter and was ignored.
Five minutes later, she was watching her brother start yet another pointless fight, was unsurprised when Ed barrelled past her to join in the fray.
Five minutes after that, they were finally waiting for their train to come, and Susan was just relieved to have her brothers acting like civilized human beings.
Another five minutes and they were in a different world.