A/N: I'm not sure if Mr. Pevensie was ever given a first name or not. I don't recall one, so I researched it a bit and couldn't find an offical name, so I named him John. If this is incorrect and he does actually have a name in cannon, please let me know! Enjoy! :)
John Pevensie didn't sleep much, anymore. Every time he closed his eyes, sleep would slowly seduce him into nightmares of blood, death, and war. He had only been home for a couple of weeks before the dreams started. He knew that they would—after all that he'd seen, how could they not? He had just hoped that they would be something that he would be able to keep from his wife and children. The horrors that he experienced were things that he never wanted his family to hear about.
Helen knew, of course. After three nights of seeing her husband thrash around in his sleep and wake up in cold sweats, she was easily able to guess what was wrong. She never mentioned it, though, instead waiting for John to come to her. For that, he fell in love with his wife a little bit more. There were some things that he didn't think he'd ever be able to talk about, and he knew that he would take those memories to his grave.
After a couple of weeks of nightmares, John decided that sleep was fairly overrated. He would go to bed with his wife, wait for her to fall asleep, then slip out from under the covers and pace the house until sheer exhaustion won over. The more tired he was, the less he would remember his dreams.
He thought that it was a fool proof system. That is, until one night when Peter happened upon him in the kitchen.
John was pacing around, rummaging for something to eat, just so his hands would have something to do other than fidget. All of a sudden, his eldest son plodded into the kitchen sleepily. Surprise spread across his face at seeing his father, but he quickly masked it.
"Dad?" Peter asked. "What are you still doing awake?"
"Couldn't sleep," John said nonchalantly, taking a seat at the table. "And I could ask the same of you."
"Edmund had a nightmare," Peter answered easily. "I came downstairs to heat up some milk for him."
Guilt automatically flooded John's senses. He'd been so distant with his children since he'd returned home. Part of it was just the normal readjustment back into civilian life, but there was also another part, one that shamed him to his very core. His children were so very different than when he had left them, and he wasn't sure how to interact with these new children. Instead of trying, however, he had more or less shut down. He needed to get his head together before he could be any kind of a father to his children again.
Besides, John thought ruefully, Peter seems to have taken on that role quite nicely.
"That's nice of you, son," John said lamely as Peter swiftly moved around the kitchen, putting some milk on the stove.
"It's what he always needed to help him calm down after…" Peter trailed off, looking lost in a flood of memories. "Anyway, it helps him relax."
"Good," John said. Peter narrowed his eyes at his father, as if he could stare the truth right out of him.
"Are you all right?" Peter asked, finally. "You've been acting strangely these last few weeks."
"Have I?" John answered, trying to keep his voice steady. "Well, it's nothing to worry about. I've just been tired, I suppose."
Peter looked suspicious, but said nothing.
When, John wondered, did Peter learn to see right through me?
After the milk heated, Peter moved to put the hot pan in the sink. As he moved, he accidentally burned his finger on the side of the pan and dropped it with a hiss of pain. The pan made a huge clatter as it fell, and John jumped about three feet in the air in surprise, eyes wild as he automatically looked for the source of enemy fire. Once he realized that he was in Finchley, not France, he closed his eyes, forcing the memories back.
Once his breathing calmed down, he opened his eyes again, but didn't look up, knowing that when he did he would be forced to see the pity that was undoubtedly in his son's eyes.
"Dad," Peter said softly, moving to sit next to his father at the table. "You should have said something. If you're…reliving the war, that's something we should know about."
"I'm fine," John said harshly. "It's nothing that concerns you."
"Okay," Peter said, backing down. He knew that it wasn't something his father wanted to discuss. "I should get this up to Ed, anyway." He moved to exit the kitchen, but paused at the doorway, turning around. "Just…if you ever need to talk…" Peter offered.
John was touched at the humble offer, and smiled up at his son, the first genuine smile he'd given anyone in days.
"Don't worry about me," John said, getting up and running a hand through his eldest son's hair affectionately. "I'll be fine." He almost believed himself, too.
Peter disappeared upstairs, and John followed a couple of minutes later, determined to get at least a little bit of sleep, all too aware of how much his body was craving it. He stopped outside of his boys' room, listening in to make sure that Edmund was okay.
"You're safe, Ed," John heard Peter say. "I'm safe, and the girls are safe in their room."
"Aslan's mane, Pete," Edmund said, shaking. "There was so much blood."
"It was a dream," Peter said, and John could hear him pick up the glass of warm milk and hand it to Edmund.
"A memory, is more like it," Edmund countered, cuddling into his older brother after Peter made himself comfortable on the bed. Edmund placed his hand on Peter's stomach, tracing lines over his shirt. "I can still find the scars on your stomach. They're faint, but they're still there if you know where to look."
Scars? John thought with alarm. Where would they have gotten scars?
"I know," Peter said softly. "You always told me that our scars tell the stories of our lives."
"Yes, well, forgive me if I'd rather not remember some chapters," Edmund said dryly.
Peter chuckled and ran a hand soothingly through his little brother's hair. "Yes, we did get into our fair share of trouble, didn't we?"
"Trouble?" Edmund asked incredulously. "You nearly died…several times! I'd say that's a fair bit more than trouble. It seemed like the High King's favorite activity was giving his siblings heart attacks."
"The same could be said about you," Peter countered.
Died? John thought, confused. How could they have possibly come that close to death?
"Fair enough," Edmund laughed. "I just…I came so close to losing you. And Lucy, Susan, and I…what would we do without you?"
"I'm here," Peter reassured him. "I'm not going anywhere."
"I loved fighting…but I hated it too," Edmund said.
"I know," Peter said quietly. "The thrill of battle never could quite surpass the fear of keeping you three safe, or the pain of leading Narnians to their death."
"We were lucky, Lucy's cordial saved so many of our own," Edmund said. "The opposing sides always lost so many more."
"Death sanctioned by Aslan is still the end of a life," Peter said wisely. "We mourned all of the fallen."
"That's the way it should be," Edmund agreed sleepily, pausing before continuing. "We were really good at it, weren't we?"
"The best," Peter replied proudly.
"Do you ever think about fighting? Here, I mean. When you turn of age?" Edmund asked softly, as if he was almost afraid to hear the answer.
"What? You mean enlisting?" Peter asked.
John's heart stopped at the word. He would do anything to protect his son from having to see the kinds of horrors that come with war. He held his breath as he waited for Peter to answer.
"No, not really," Peter replied. "I mean, I've thought about it, of course I have. We both loved it. But…Narnia is a part of me, so much more so than England is. I would lay down my life for my country in a heartbeat, but my country is and will always be Narnia."
Oh yes, John thought, Narnia. Helen wrote to me about their imaginary land. They must be talking about a game they played in the country, there's no way they could know what a real battle is like.
"Plus," Peter added, "things here are so…different than what we're used to. Guns, and bombs, and airplanes…sometimes I wonder if anyone stops to think about the fact that regardless of whether you shoot an ally or an enemy, you are taking a life. War is so impersonal here. How can you value life if you don't even have to look someone in the eyes before you take theirs?"
John backed away from the door as if he'd been burned. Is that what they think? He thought morosely. How could they even comprehend what it's like to kill? To have lifeless eyes haunt your dreams? How could they dare pass judgment?
He turned to continue on to his bedroom, but stopped when he heard his name. He knew he should keep going, but curiosity won in the end. He turned back to the door to listen.
"He's not sleeping," Peter said. "I just saw him in the kitchen, and he tried to pretend like it was nothing to be worried about."
"I've heard him walking around at night, but I didn't realize that he did it every night," Edmund said, concerned. "Did he say why?"
"I think he rather would have had a tooth pulled than talk about it," Peter said dryly. "I'm just worried about him. I dropped the pan of milk in the kitchen and he looked like he was right back in the thick of things. I haven't seen anyone look like that since…"
"The first winter after the White Witch?" Edmund guessed.
"Yes," Peter said, "the only difference is that you were willing to let us help you. Dad…he's just shut himself off from the rest of the world."
"It's understandable, really, when you think about what he must have seen," Edmund said thoughtfully.
"I understand it," Peter said, "I mean, if anyone could understand it would be us, right? We've both been there. He's just so stubborn, I wonder how long he'll continue on like this before he makes himself violently ill."
"Stubborn, huh? That doesn't run in the family or anything," Edmund joked.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Peter said with a grin. John could hear the clink of the glass being set down on the bedside table. "All done?" Peter asked.
"Yes, thank you," Edmund said sincerely. "You didn't have to do that, you know."
"Of course I did," Peter said, running a hand through Edmund's hair affectionately. "What kind of a brother would I be if I didn't? Now, do you think you'll be able to get back to sleep?"
"Mmhmm," Edmund said, pulling the covers up to his chin and snuggling into his pillow. Peter smiled before moving to get into his own bed. "Peter?" Edmund said after a few minutes of silence.
"Hmm?" Peter asked, sleep threatening to claim him.
"I love you, you know."
"I know," Peter said, smiling at the rare proclamation of affection from his younger brother. "I love you too."
John backed away from the door, slowly walking into his room with a frown. He had more on his mind than ever.
The next couple of nights were tricky. He had the feeling that his children were plotting ways to get him to talk to them. Each night, one of his four kids would stumble into him, pretend to be surprised, and then offer to talk. He would have thought it was sweet, if he wasn't so terrified of talking.
"Daddy?" Lucy asked one night, playing up all the cuteness that a ten year old could muster. "Why are you so sad?"
"I'm not, sweetheart," John said, but even he didn't believe himself.
"It helps to talk about it, you know." Lucy said wisely.
"I'm fine," John reassured her. "It's nothing you need to worry about."
"I understand why you might not want to talk to me," Lucy said, sounding so much older than her ten years. "But at least talk to Peter. He'll understand."
"I don't think anyone could understand," John said softly.
"You'd be surprised," Lucy said, before kissing her father on the cheek and running back up to bed.
The night after that, Edmund came downstairs, pretending like he couldn't sleep.
"I heard you up, so I thought you might like some company," Edmund said. "I couldn't sleep either."
"Another nightmare?" John asked. "Peter said that you had one the other night."
"No, I just couldn't get comfortable, I suppose," Edmund said with a shrug. "Are you up for a game of chess?"
"Edmund," John said sternly, "It is 2:30 in the morning. You need to get some sleep, we can play tomorrow if you'd like."
"That's the funny thing about sleep," Edmund said cryptically.
"What?" John asked.
"We all need it," Edmund said pointedly, before disappearing upstairs.
The next night was Susan's turn. She came downstairs with the premise of getting a glass of water, running into her father in the kitchen.
"Oh, what are you still doing up?" Susan asked.
"Tell me, am I going to be ambushed every night?" John asked, ignoring her question.
"Ambushed?" Susan asked, feigning confusion. "I was just getting a glass of water."
"I appreciate your concern, but you are the children, and I am the adult. I'll be fine." John said, believing himself less and less as the nights dragged on.
"We're worried about you," Susan admitted. "Your dreams will never go away unless you face them. Talk to someone," she urged. "If not to me, then to Peter. We'll understand, I promise."
John looked at his eldest daughter, seeming so much older and wiser than he remembered. She looked so gentle and understanding, that in that moment he almost cracked. No, he reminded himself. I have to protect them.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I just can't."
"Okay," Susan accepted, kissing him on the cheek before taking her glass of water and heading back upstairs.
John thought a lot about what she said that night.
How could they understand? He wondered. They're only children.
He was still thinking about it the next night, when he became so restless that he went outside into the back yard and lay down in the grass, staring up at the night sky.
A few minutes later, he heard the back door open. Footsteps came towards him, and he didn't have to look to know it was Peter.
"Son, please, not tonight," John said tiredly.
"If not tonight, then when?" Peter asked. "We can't sit by anymore and watch you torture yourself like this."
"I'm fine," John said harshly, but Peter didn't back down. Instead, he lay next to his father in the grass.
"You're not," Peter said after awhile. "But you will be." He said it so confidently, so assuredly that for once, John believed it. "I know what it's like, to want to protect the ones you love. But, when you do it at the expense of yourself, you're only hurting everyone in the end. It's a hard lesson to learn. But, Edmund, Susan, Lucy, and I…we're not as young as you think. We're here for you, we want to help," Peter said earnestly.
"I—I don't want you to know," John said finally, his voice thick with emotion. "The things I've seen…the things I've done."
"You fought for what you believed in. There's nothing shameful in that," Peter said softly.
"So much death," John said, his voice wavering. "So much blood."
"I know," Peter said. And even though John knew that Peter couldn't, that there was no way he could possibly understand, he believed him.
So he cried. He cried for all the lives taken, the lives lost, the fallen comrades, the innocent dead, the pain and suffering and misery of war. And he cried for his children, who were no longer children. He cried for the first time since he'd been home.
Peter's arms wrapped around him, holding him tightly, patiently waiting for him to expel all the emotions he'd kept bottled inside for so long.
"You're safe now," Peter whispered. "We're all safe. It's over."
After his sobs turned into sniffles, John stared at the ground, embarrassed that his son witnessed such a vulnerable moment.
"It's okay," Peter said again, nudging his father before standing up. "Come on, let's go inside."
Once inside, they were met by Lucy, Susan, and Edmund who were waiting for them with a glass of warm milk.
"Lie down on the couch," Susan instructed, having already placed a pillow and a blanket there for him. He complied, too drained to argue.
"Drink this," Edmund said, handing him the glass. "It always helps us when we can't sleep."
"Thank you," John said, overwhelmed by his children's compassion.
"Now try and get some sleep," Lucy said. "We'll stay here with you."
"I don't know if I can," John admitted, looking utterly defeated.
"You can," Peter said, "just let yourself go."
"We've all done things, Dad," Edmund said quietly. "Terrible things." His siblings looked at him with compassion. "But it's over now, you have to forgive yourself."
"You were doing what you had to," Susan said gently, "and fighting for what was right."
"You did good," Lucy assured him.
"I don't feel like it," John admitted.
"You won't, for awhile." Peter counseled. "And I know that you need to come to terms with it in your own way, but you can't do that unless you start sleeping again. You'll just drive yourself mad otherwise."
"Sleep," Lucy pressed. "Everything will be all right in the morning, you'll see."
He believed her. As he closed his eyes, he relished the feeling of his four children surrounding him. His four, wonderful, beautiful children.
Helen was right when she told him that their children were very different than they were before he left, but he found himself appreciating the changes. After all, if they were the same children as before, he would still be pacing the halls, lost in a sea of memories.
He slept through the night for the first time since coming home, and when he awoke, his children were there to greet him.
Yes, he thought, as the sun streamed in from the front window, looking brighter than ever. I'll be fine.