Disclaimer: I own nothing in this marvelous universe; it all belongs to C. S. Lewis and Walden Media.
Author's Note: I'm finished! Tra la la! I'm finished! Well…with my thesis (and my Master's Degree), anyway. And to celebrate, I've decided to post! So, sit back and enjoy the completed version of Unchanging!
Reviewers: All 17 of you, thank you!
Summary: Wherein Eustace is idiotically noble and Peter makes a promise he should have long ago…(Book and Moviebased) (Brotherfic) (NO Slash)
By Sentimental Star
Chapter Two: Unspoken
As Peter neared the halfway open door of his little brother's room, he became increasingly aware of the muffled voices within:
"Edmund. Talk to me. You know this won't make it go away…!"
Well, that was Lucy. He winced as he realized his argument with Edmund had hurt Lucy, too. Her voice was just as thick as his had been a few minutes ago.
Ed's was worse: "Just go away, Lu," his voice was husky and strangled and completely lacked all ire. "There's nothing else you can do."
A dull thud reached Peter's ears from inside Edmund's room and his lips twisted into a sad smile that more closely resembled a grimace when he realized Lucy had just hit their brother over the head with a pillow. "Don't you dare give me that rot, Edmund Pevensie! There has to be something I can do!"
He winced even more at Lucy's tearful demand. With a tight face, he slowly made his way over to the doorway and stood there, the scene within twisting his stomach—and heart—into knots.
Edmund lay sprawled across his bed, face buried in the pillow that Lucy hadn't snatched, and he clutched it to his body with such force that his shoulders trembled.
Of course, that may have been due to the (mostly) silent sobs his little brother was trying desperately to repress.
Lucy immediately dropped the pillow she had been holding, her white face stricken. "Oh, Edmund…!" she cried, leaning over as tears abruptly poured down her cheeks and gently rubbing his back.
A soft noise by the door drew Peter's attention to the third, almost unnoticed occupant of the room.
She was a young girl—certainly, much younger than Susan and, possibly, Lucy, too. She looked about their cousin's age and, with a sudden flash of insight, Peter realized this was the girl Eustace had wanted to introduce them to.
Now that he was looking at her, the girl's brown eyes flashed to his, surprisingly alert as she took in his rumpled appearance and the careful control on the verge of crumbling as he watched his distraught siblings.
A feather light brush against his arm and she motioned him outside. Peter drew back to let her pass and then followed her to an alcove out of sight from Edmund's door.
As soon as he reached her, she spun around to face him. "Peter?" she inquired carefully, looking for affirmation.
Peter inclined his head. "And you're…Jill…aren't you?" They kept their voices quiet.
She nodded, her strawberry-blond hair brushing against her cheek. "Scrubb wanted to introduce you, only…um…" She bit her lip, a slight flush coloring her cheeks, clearly reluctant to bring up the row that was such a sore spot at the moment.
Peter winced, realizing, once again, that Eustace had been right. He shut his eyes, "I'm sorry," he apologized softly. Then he opened them. "I've been incredibly rude today. It's just-"
Jill waved him off. "It's all right. Scrubb explained it to me." She cautiously surveyed him, taking a closer look at his worn countenance. "And since you're here and Scrubb's not, I'm assuming he successfully made an idiot out of himself trying to comfort you."
Her response startled a reluctant snort of laughter out of Peter. "That's one way to put it, yes."
Jill sighed, muttering something about thick-headed boys with absolutely no sense of tact…before flushing to the roots of her hair as she realized she'd essentially insulted him, as well.
Peter gave her a lopsided grin. "It's all right," he repeated her words back to her, "I tend to be thick-headed, as my brother often reminds me."
"As your brother and sisters often remind you," Lucy's tearful voice came from behind them and they both spun around to face her where she stood in Edmund's doorway.
"Lu…" Peter began, starting towards her.
Lucy shook her head, fixing him with a furious glare (which was rather belied by the tears streaking down her cheeks). "I'm mad at you, Peter Pevensie."
Jill slipped away from him to place an arm around her new friend's shoulder. Peter winced. "I know. I'm sorry."
Lucy's lips quivered and she pressed them tightly together in a thin line. "You don't even know what this is doing to us, do you?" she demanded.
Peter winced again and remained silent.
No. He didn't. But he did have a fair idea. He somehow thought apologizing again wouldn't help, though.
Jill hushed Lucy, urging her forehead down to rest against her neck. "No anger, Lu," she murmured. "No anger…or you may just regret that for the rest of your life."
Lucy stiffened. Peter frowned. Neither made a sound.
Jill glanced up at Peter, shrugging apologetically. "I'm sorry. I know it's probably not my place to interfere, but I have a brother, too. An older brother, and he's already part of the RAF." As she spoke, her arm tightened around Lucy, but she didn't look away from Peter…or his (slightly stunned) gaze. "I was so mad at him, I remember, when he went away. I wouldn't speak to him for days, and when we went to the train station…" her voice softened, "I forgot to say goodbye."
Lucy's breath caught in her chest. "He didn't…oh, he didn't, Jill!" Her heart was hurting for her newly acquired friend.
Jill gave them both a lopsided smile. "No. He didn't. He's all right now, just a little homesick. But for a while there he had been declared missing in action, and whenever I think of that time…" she swallowed, and pressed a hand to her heart, "it always hurts." She graced Peter with another lopsided smile and gave Lucy a firm squeeze, "I'm only saying this because I know how uncertain war can be. But then…" this time she really did raise Lucy up from her shoulder and smiled warmly and fully at her, looking between the older girl and Peter, "you two—and Susan and Edmund—know that better than anyone, don't you?"
For three full seconds, Lucy and Peter stared at her, stunned speechless. Two seconds later, they were still gaping and Jill groaned, smacking a hand to her forehead, "Eustace didn't tell you, did he?"
Both jaws snapped shut simultaneously and brother and sister vigorously shook their heads, causing her to laugh in slight embarrassment, tinged with disbelief, "Well, it's not like we've had a chance to explain it today. The short version of it is…yes, I've been to Narnia. Ugh. Of all the times for Scrubb to go noble on me…"
At this, Peter's tired face filled with gravity, "My lady, if my royal cousin has in any way offended you-"
Jill laughed again—brightly—waving her hands as a slight blush coated her cheeks, "No, no, it's fine! He's done nothing of the sort! I just wish he'd explained it to you so we wouldn't be standing here when you're supposed to be in there…" and she indicated the direction of Edmund's room with a wave.
Peter froze as he realized Edmund had probably heard their entire conversation and, therefore, knew he was nearby.
"Lu," his voice came out as a croak, "Lu, how is-?"
"I think you should talk to him, Peter," Lucy interrupted softly. She set her jaw. Before Peter even registered her movement, she was there, hugging his ribs as tightly as she dared. Her voice was muffled as she spoke into his chest, "Don't you dare break his heart again!"
Peter coughed and cleared a throat gone tight with emotion. "I won't," he promised thickly, patting her on the shoulder.
…Which was all well and good, until he was once again standing in the doorway—alone this time—watching his little brother's entire body shudder with barely restrained sobs.
Quietly gulping air into lungs that did not seem to want to expand, Peter hesitantly crossed the room, stumbling halfway and cursing softly as he suddenly collided with a haphazard pile of history books.
He froze, balancing on one foot, as Edmund forcefully stated around a choked cry, "Go away, Lucy!"
Peter pressed his lips firmly together, in hopes of staving off their trembling, before massaging feeling back into his bruised appendage and carefully limping over to the bed. Gently, he draped his hand across the back of Edmund's neck, resting it there as he waited (and hoped) for Edmund to acknowledge him.
He did not have to wait long: Edmund drew in a sharp breath, rolling up and onto one side as he squinted up at his comforter.
Immediately, his younger brother blanched, and Peter felt his own eyes burn as the fourteen-year-old quickly sat up and scrubbed away his tears. "Pe-Peter…" Edmund turned from him sharply, keeping his back turned. "I-I'm sorry. I-I didn't realize…" he coughed and cleared his throat in a vain attempt to regain his equilibrium, "I didn't realize it was you."
Peter merely shook his head. Once. Twice. And sat down on the mattress beside his brother with eyes too old for his body. "How many times have you done that?" he murmured brokenly, reaching out to touch his brother's arm in a wordless plea.
Edmund sniffed and scrubbed vigorously at his cheeks with the heel of his palm, "Done what?" his voice was thick and scratchy, but mostly steady; he still did not turn around.
Peter smiled sadly and reached up to lightly nudge Edmund's stubborn chin, urging his gaze back around. Gently, he touched the puffed up skin below Edmund's eye, causing his little brother to start. His face twisted into an expression of barely restrained sorrow, "Done that. Ended up crying after we had an argument and then hid it the moment I found you."
Edmund glanced away. "More times than I probably should have," he muttered, catching an errant tear with his thumb.
Peter's throat tightened and guilt welled up within his chest. "I'm sorry," he choked, squeezing his eyes shut as Eustace's words were unknowingly confirmed by his brother. "I am so, so sorry."
Edmund turned back around to glower at him in confusion. "Why are you sorry? It's hardly your fault I'm an overemotional idiot."
"But I should have known! You've always been more sensitive about things like this, and I just dismissed you!"
Edmund opened his mouth to give an angry retort (though, indeed, it was born more out of frustration than anger)…then slowly shut it, narrowing his eyes at Peter and frowning pensively. "You're not just talking about today—or yesterday—or even the past four years…are you?"
Mutely, Peter shook his head. Sliding his hand off Edmund's cheek and letting it fall into his lap, he gazed down wordlessly at his upturned palms. The air between them grew taut with the younger teen's frustration and confusion. "Peter…we've gone over this already. I thought we were well past this."
"We were well past this!" Edmund jumped at his brother's sudden shout. Peter's voice broke, and all the fire went out of it as it softened, "We were…I thought…we were…" The older boy's voice shook, "I thought we got everything bad between us out of the way; I thought I understood…!"
"Peter," Edmund's words came in short, sharp breaths as he tried to speak around the bands constricting his chest, "Peter, calm down. You're not explaining yourself clearly. What did you think you understood?"
"You," Peter reached out as if to touch his face again, then curled his hand into a fist and dropped it back into his lap as sobs hitched in his chest. "I thought I understood you. I thought I knew why you went to the Witch. I thought I knew why you were so angry before we got into Narnia; why you hurt in ways I could never seem to soothe. I thought I knew why you hated me-!"
"Peter!" Edmund was standing now, a hand on his hip, and scowling fiercely. "First of all…I never hated you. And I'd thank you very kindly to get that thought out of your head right now. Secondly…where the bloody hell is this coming from? We've spent the past nineteen years getting reacquainted with each other and never once have you even mentioned something like this. So why-"
"That's exactly the point, Edmund!" Peter burst out. "I didn't mention it. I never spoke about it even once. I ignored you and went on my merry way thinking that everything would be perfectly all right: we'd made up before, why shouldn't we now? But I hurt you! I know I hurt you!"
Edmund glared at him incredulously. "Pete…what the bloody hell-?"
Peter shoved himself up violently off the bed and started pacing. "Oh, come on, Edmund…!"
"What, damn it? What? If you don't give me a straight answer soon, so help me, Peter, I'll-!"
"I'm talking about your bruises! I'm talking about the fact that you've kept mum for four years—four years—about where they came from and why you had them! I'm talking about the reason Eustace had to come to me tonight instead of you!"
Edmund was scared. Absolutely petrified. He understood with sudden frank, startling clarity why Peter was so desperately unhinged, stricken in a way he had ever only seen once before.
And this time, there was no sparking wand through his gut to justify it.
Peter knew. By Aslan…Peter knew.
He had to grapple with his voice, "How…how did you…?"
"I guessed," Peter's voice cracked, "I guessed, Edmund. And Eustace…he helped—he helped a lot…" Peter's voice was breaking up more swiftly now, and he stood in the center of his little brother's room with shaking hands, desperately wanting to draw nearer to Edmund but not daring.
The guilt was overwhelming.
Edmund shut his eyes, unable to move. He wasn't sure he could, even if he tried.
Peter's voice broke again. "How many years, Ed?"
Edmund took in a trembling breath and folded his hands tightly in his lap, opening his eyes and averting his gaze. "Since we started boarding school," he confessed softly.
"Boarding school? But that's…" Peter's brow furrowed as he did some quick arithmetic in his head. His eyes widened and his face went white. "Six years," he breathed, weakly sinking down onto the mattress beside his brother. He abruptly snapped his eyes up to Edmund's, "You've kept this to yourself for six years?"
His little brother shifted uncomfortably, frowning intently down at his hands. "Actually, I'd say it's more like eight."
Peter's face turned an ashen gray. "What?" he choked. "But that's…" He tightly shut his eyes. "Since you were six?" he asked, though, indeed, it was more of a statement.
"Since I was six," Edmund confirmed softly. "Since you started boarding school." He shrugged helplessly. "As I said, it's been a while."
"Edmund…" Peter's voice cracked. "Why…why didn't you ever tell me?"
Edmund looked away. "I didn't want to worry you," he murmured. "Besides…it's over now. It doesn't matter anymore."
Peter gave him a look of complete disbelief. "It doesn't matter? Of course it matters, Edmund! You know I would've-!"
"That's exactly it, Peter," Edmund replied, turning back to him, "you would have. But don't you see? I didn't want you to." He smiled grimly, with little real humor, "You know I've always been horribly stubborn."
"No," Peter shook his head. Sliding off the bed, he firmly grasped Edmund by his elbows and knelt in front of him, giving the younger boy a not-so-gentle shake. "You're a fighter. You are my fighter."
Edmund's smile softened. "You haven't called me that in a while," he murmured.
Peter's throat tightened all over again. "I know," he managed to get out, voice rather strangled. "Edmund…listen," his throat closed up, "please listen…"
Edmund winced at the plea his brother's voice broke on, but gave the older boy his full attention.
"I promise…" his blue eyes (that had gone gray) were stormy and tearful, but remained determinedly locked on Edmund's own, "I promise I won't ignore you…or your feelings…like that again. I swear it, Ed."
"You…" Edmund's voice cracked, and rapidly thickened, "Really? But what about…?"
Peter's gaze grew fierce and he squeezed his brother's elbows to emphasize his point, "Especially about joining the army."
With that promise, Edmund's overwhelmed mind reacted in the only way it knew how—he dropped his face into his hands and very nearly burst into tears.
"Don't," Peter's voice cracked again and he raised his hand to gently push back his brother's hair, "oh, Edmund, please don't. You've already…" his voice caught.
Edmund gave what must have been half-snort, half-sob. "You bloody blockhead," another sound, this one definitely more sob than laugh, "don't you realize that's all you needed to say?"
After that, Peter easily caught the fist intended for his head.