With Every Heartbeat
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters, or the Robyn-Kleerup song the title is taken from
NOTE: WARNINGS FOR SLASH AND INCEST
Summary: Peter and Edmund love each other dearly, as brothers, and liege and vassal. Warnings for slash and incest.
The first time it happened, Peter was just trying to hear his brother's heartbeat. He had no idea that it would become so much more.
It had been just another battle out of one of the many they'd already been in, once again wedged in yet another long and heartbreaking campaign, where none of the sides could emerge as victor, and yet, still had to be done, just because. Edmund never believed that such had been a valid enough explanation, but he trusted in him, and Aslan, and did his best to make their plans into a reality. That methodology hadn't done him much good, however, as they'd had to bring him in for the third time in as many battles on a blood-soaked stretcher because he could no longer walk, and Philip couldn't bear him without doing further injury.
There was just so much blood…Peter hated the sight of it all the more because it was all Edmund's. Thank the Lion that Lucy and her cordial was there, else Edmund might not have been able to make it out alive. And if he hadn't…if he hadn't, Lion help him, Peter didn't quite know what he'd do except follow Ed over. Even thinking it he knew it was unforgivably selfish, and yet Peter would druther imagine death with Edmund than life without him.
But even after Lucy had dribbled a drop or two of cordial past Ed's lips, his brother had refused to wake up, merely sighing once his body relaxed, finally released from its prolonged pain. Peter knew in his head that Ed was just asleep, nothing more, but he couldn't stop his hands from the fleeting touches and light strokes to constantly reassure himself that his brother was still alive. And when Edmund stirred, which he did quite occasionally, Peter would freeze, not wanting to wake his brother, and yet repeatedly delighting in that brief show of life.
He had just turned twenty-one, Edmund eighteen; both important ages in their other world of the Spare Oom, and yet, Peter thought, a little ruefully, both birthdays had been celebrated on the road, in this campaign. It was his greatest wish to end this by the week of Susan's birthday at the very latest, and give her this respite from worry as the Gentle Queen ruled Narnia alone while three of her siblings were off at war. Lucy's title of Valiant did not come without its own share of blood shared and blood spilt, as much as any of her siblings would wish it otherwise.
It was with this thought in mind, and a lighter heart, that he fell asleep on his knees beside Edmund's cot, his arms still loosely wrapped about his brother's waist, quietly treasuring the gentle up-down motions. Peter had never thought of it this way, but if he was Edmund's heart, as his brother had frequently proclaimed, then Edmund was his soul.
When he awoke a few hours later, still before daybreak, it was to calloused hands threading through his hair, stroking the gruff beard he had begun to grow out. Peter awoke, blinking groggily, but his ears pricked at the sound of soft, light laughter. He hastily scrubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat upright, ignoring the protests of his aching back.
It was Ed, awake and laughing and alive, smiling benevolently down at him.
"Oh, by Aslan, were you lying there on the ground the entire time? You honestly have known better than that by now. You're just lucky Oreius didn't see you like that; he would not have forgiven Your Royal Highness this." Those loving hands ran through his hair again as their owner continued in his speech.
"And were you in your armour the whole time as well? Honestly, brother! What ever will the Gentle Queen say when she hears how her Magnificent brother has turned into quite the barbarian?" Ed's lips quirked up, and his dark eyes sparkled with mirth.
Peter's voice caught in a sob, and before he could think twice about it, he launched himself at his brother, snuggling into the warmth of his chest, ear cocked to hear the strong thrum of his heartbeat.
"Ed, Ed, Ed…" he whispered, his hands tracing the unbroken skin with trembling fingers.
Lips pressed against his hair as an arm curled protectively about him. "Aye, brother," Edmund murmured. "'Tis me."
It might have been then. Peter had glanced up at his brother, his heart in his eyes, while Edmund had smiled right back down, the love and sacrifice so clear and evident, that Peter fell in love with him in an entirely different way.
"By the Lion, Ed, I love you," he declared, before pressing his lips against his brother's.
After the initial start, Peter had moved to turn away, brain finally catching up with his fit-to-burst heart, but Edmund held him there, held him tight.
"How could you ever think this would make me love you any less?" Ed asked in return, voice suspiciously thick.
It made Peter's heart bow with feeling, and then he was scrambling into the cot alongside his brother, just as Ed's hands were grappling expertly with the catches and lacings of his armour, careful to remove each piece with as much care as he had haste. Thankfully they were all made of Dwarven silver and would not rust on the plain mud floor where they were discarded. Peter's chain mail they hastily threw into the cot beside which would have been Peter's, had the older man cared to use it. Edmund's own armour had long been removed by the healer's careful hands as they freed him from its trappings, having allowed his crushed body to breathe that much easier before Lucy could reach him.
They loved as they fought, with a ferocity and almost insane fervour, and yet every thought, every act, was with the utmost tenderness. When they were joined in a way that should have been impossible, Edmund was once again gasping for breath, but this time it was Peter, and not broken ribs, that were the cause.
"Oh, Peter, by the Lion-"
"My brother," Peter breathed over Edmund's lips. Somehow that title seemed to summon up more affection for the man lying beneath him than any other. Edmund's dark eyes were shining as he looked up, hands outstretched. Peter immediately acquiesced, crouching over him, and pressed more than their lips together.
He had always assumed his relationship with Ed was about as perfect as it could get, but when confronted by this unexpected development, he was startled into realising just how much more they could be. He had never felt more complete except here, within his brother's arms, clasp this tightly close, sweat and little else separating their bodies.
And when he saw Ed's face in release, he could think of not one instant where his brother had looked more beautiful.
"Edmund," Peter whispered into his brother's ear, "Ed."
Dark eyes blinked sleepily up at him, and he smiled. "Peter," he murmured, a rare form of bliss curving his lips.
"I do love you, Ed, my brother," Peter whispered. "And I don't think I'll ever quite be able to stop."
Ed snuffled, rummaging closer to his bare chest. "That could hardly be bad news for my ears, could it?"
There was no waffling about it, no requirement of proof. His declaration was accepted as baldly as it was given. And with each passing moment, whether Edmund knew it or not, Peter fell a little bit more in love with him each time.
Both Peter and Edmund had been too young when they first left the land of the Spare Oom to have heard tales about the awkward 'morning after', and perhaps that was for the best. They awoke without fuss, one after the other, and began their morning ablutions as usual, the only difference being an added level of tenderness in the gazes they laid on one another, the smiles and touches taking on an added meaning. Surely, surely, by Aslan, a love like this couldn't be wrong?
It was only when they emerged from their shared pavilion, and were about to seat themselves in the mess hall, did a long-forgotten more catch up with them. Edmund made a move to sit on the hard wooden bench, and couldn't quite hide his wince. Suddenly, it was as if their eyes were opened, and they realised that all of their subjects were Animals. While the Narnians might be too loyal to ever say a word against them, it didn't help the lurch in their hearts, or the pained guilt. And what of their sisters? What would they say when they found out? And it was, only a matter of time before they did. Already, Lucy, seated across the table from them, was narrowing her eyes at them, although it was more out of concern than suspicion.
"My King," Ed said urgently, "Peter, breathe!"
Peter awkwardly sucked in a lungful of air, not having realised he'd stopped. He stared at his brother's face, coloured a bloodless ashen grey, and couldn't find an answer as to when their love had come to this.
"Ed," he whispered, "Ed, I don't know what to do, I don't- I can't-"
"We ride again after breaking fast-"
"You can't even sit without flinching, and it's nobody's fault but mine, Edmund! I should never have-"
"You will not say another word, Peter Lewis Pevensie!"
Shocked, it wasn't the hard, clipped tone of his brother's voice, but rather the quaver in it that had him freeze.
"You will not go down that path! I will slap you silly if I have to, by Aslan's mane you know I will, for I will not hear another word of this!"
Peter just stared at his brother, wondering how he'd ever been this lucky to have such a jewel for a brother. If for nothing else, he envied Edmund for his utter faith right now.
"But Ed," he begged, "how do you know?"
Edmund's carefully constructed façade revealed itself to be exactly that: a façade. It crumbled under his gentle prodding, and Ed looked as lost as he did, and so broken and guilty.
"I don't," he whispered, finally giving voice to his doubts. "I cannot imagine- you love me, Peter, just as I love you; is that not as it should be? Shouldn't we be able to love each other, this completely, and this whole? You're my brother, after all. You have always been at my back and side, more times than I could ever care to remember. There is no one else in the world I trust more than you. That I know, and know well. I hope you do as well. But I do not- I do not know what else- where else- we can go. From here. I don't know, Peter. It can't be wrong. It shouldn't be. But- "
Words failed him at that point, and he looked so pained that Peter immediately regretted ever bringing it up in the first place.
On the opposite side of the bench, Lucy looked between her guilt-wracked brothers for some sign, any sign, of just what was going on. Neither of them could meet her eyes, and all of the surrounding Animals were staring resolutely at the ground. Even though this was obviously an intensely private matter, it was plain the Animals knew what her brothers were talking about, even if she didn't. Lucy didn't like the idea of her brothers having open secrets like this, but she thought it over carefully, and came to the realisation that Peter and Edmund would never share a decision with their subjects without first telling her and Lucy. It must have been something the Animals had inadvertently found out, perhaps because they were...animals?
Edmund sighed and looked up again, trying a smile for his older brother. "We can't let this affect our campaign."
"You can't even sit upright, let alone ride!" Peter exclaimed.
"My comfort is of no consequence," Ed insisted. "My only regret is that I won't be riding with you today. I'm afraid I'll have to leave to your own thoughts this time, while I ride with mine. I don't think this is a matter either of us can give the other advice for."
If either of you require advice, brothers dear, your lovely little sister is right here, Lucy wanted to snipe, but Peter and Edmund were lost in a world of their own, staring into each other's eyes and communicating the words they could never say aloud, not in front of their subjects like this, or even her.
Sudden realisation seized her, giving her a reason behind this new level of intimacy, and stealing her breath without warning. It took all of her control not to gasp aloud and bring her brothers' guilt-laden eyes to her. She quickly stood and excused herself, claiming she had to get ready. Neither of the boys even realised she had left.
Peter sighed, his shoulders sagging. "You're right," he conceded.
"We'll just keep- you know. Being normal. And stuff," Edmund floundered.
He nodded. "You're right. We're brothers. This is not- is not-"
Edmund nodded along bravely. "We need to make the ford crossing before midday."
"I'll just go speak to General Oreius."
"I'll have the camp struck."
Peter stood, and then gave his brother a hand up. If either of them noticed their hands lingered clasped for a longer time than usual, neither of them said anything, but quickly went their different ways.
Once their Kings showed that they were rather resolute to not act differently, despite the events of last night, the rest of the Narnians gradually began to calm. They did, after all, dearly love their monarchs, and the solid partnership between their kings in particular had saved their tiny nation countless times. That said, they weren't quite ready for their kings' partnership in the field to extend to their bedrooms.
Philip rode as smoothly as he could, trying not to wince each time his Human winced at every jolt and bump in the road. Edmund, called Horse-Hearted, rode bareback nearly all the time now to scrimp on the need for tack, and Philip had never regretted forgetting the lug of leather until now. Edmund put on a brave face, never once complaining and hiding his flinches as well as he was able.
And when Peter shouted for the Army to form their ranks and stand their ground, their enemy just broaching the horizon, Edmund merely grit his teeth and bore down the pain, giving Philip his head as he drew his sword and readied his own battalion. The Narnians watched their Kings surge to the front line, each on their respective mount, swords held aloft, and remembered the blood and tears they had already spilt for Narnia. No matter what, their two Kings would not falter, and they would not fall. It was how they had always stood: for Narnia, and for Aslan.
Peter led the first charge, as Edmund steadied his ranks about him, urging them into the second wave. The collision of their forces was fiercer than the roaring of the sea. The voices of the two brothers engaged in mêlée combat soared above the din, and their lines swarmed about them, to their standards, and to Narnia's banner. Philip pranced high above the enemy men, making use of every sharp-hoofed kick while his rider swiped down with his silver sword like a scythe on either side. Beside them, Peter roared like Aslan Himself atop Flisk, who gored and bit and tore with every fibre of his being.
And then one bolt flew, a second and third following. Peter always thought Father Time had been unkind then, for in the time he took to turn his head and stare wide-eyed at the coming barbs, Edmund had somehow managed to muscle Philip through the colossal tide of men and Animals, and take all three bolts for him. When Peter later remembered the thudding sound of the bolts hitting his brother's body, crunching through leather and mail, he would get violently ill. As it was, he didn't have time for that now. Above their heads, the calls of Eagles sang out as they dove with unerring accuracy, striking at the cowardly enemy who wouldn't dare meet their opponent on the field face-to-face.
"Edmund!" Philip was screaming. "Edmund!" The chestnut stallion was being swept away by the titanic mess of army, trying not to rear with alarm and unable to keep his Human's body from falling off his back, while keep his stance against the flow of fighting at the same time.
Peter lunged. "ED!"
The dark-haired man miraculously managed to rally, even as he swayed dangerously on Philip's back. The three bolts piercing his flesh studded his chest in a broken line.
Peter faltered, unable to distance himself from his brother's obvious pain.
Edmund did not fall. His hand clenched in Philip's mane as he hauled himself upright. "Narnia!" he bellowed. "For Narnia, and the Lion!"
Around him, the Army roared their approval as they surged forward again, unleashing claws and paws and teeth and fangs. Finally, overwhelmed, the enemy fled in wailing terror. Peter grit his teeth against the hung sight of his brother, and nudged Flisk forward.
"Ride, old friend. We need to secure the perimeter."
The unicorn started, clearly knowing how much his brother meant to him, at this time more than any other. "But Your Majesty-"
"I am begging you, Flisk." Peter couldn't raise his voice; was too drained to plead any way else. "As High King, Narnia's safety is my main priority. We've been here too long already, old friend, please." His voice cracked. "Perhaps, the faster gone, the faster we'll get back."
Flisk took off without another word, hooves digging deep into the turf as he galloped as hard as he could. Only the speediest of Animals, like the Wolves and the large Cats and the Eagles soaring above, could follow.
Left behind on an emptying battlefield, Edmund pressed his lips into a line against the pain, and adjusted his grip on his sword hilt.
"Send out scouts to secure our flank," he ordered, despite the rasp in his voice. "The order is…is for no survivors." Despite the wounds he had sustained, the pains he had suffered, for nearly three months now, Edmund still found it difficult to condone wholesale slaughter like this.
"Edmund," Philip said, "you need to get to Queen Lucy, right now. Your injuries-"
"They look worse than they feel," Edmund interrupted gently. "They have missed any vital organs, you know that as well as I do, Philip. I won't bleed out, not unless they are removed-"
"Oh, don't say that!" the Horse cried, shifting nervously, even as he was careful not to jostle his rider. "Don't say another word about it, Edmund! You'll jinx yourself if you do. By Aslan, you do have the worst luck in this world and the next!"
Despite his exhaustion, Edmund managed a slight chuckle for his old friend. "I'm afraid there are far too many people who agree with you, Philip. But we've got to keep at it, at least until Peter returns, and the scouts from the rear vanguard confirm the enemy isn't trying to double back. Narnia needs us more than I need my sister at the moment, I fear."
Philip whickered softly and shook his head, muttering something to the effect of, "Surely not as much as I fear," and continued nattering all the while about stubbornly noble kings who were too damned self-sacrificing for their own good. Still, for his peace of mind, the young man ordered a fox to speed back to their camp, hidden behind a knoll, and tell his sister to prepare the healer's tent for incoming wounded.
It seemed to take Peter too long a time, and yet it was barely more than twenty minutes before Peter returned, Flisk rearing in the mid-afternoon sun, bearing news of their impending victory. Just a few more days, and they would be ready to begin the long trek home. The cheers that greeted the pair were deafening.
Edmund was just relieved to see his brother return, safe and unharmed. When he heard the call of the quail he had sent with the rear guard, in counter-melody to Peter's rallying cry, his blade dropped from limp fingers. He didn't hear its metal hit the ground with a resounding clang. Neither did he hear Philip's alarmed neigh, or Peter's hoarse scream, or the roar from his concerned Animals. He didn't feel the ground he landed on. He was nothing at all.
"How many times?" Peter whispered, head bowed as if in prayer, as he was once again kneeling beside his brother's cot. "How many times, Ed, before Aslan decides He's had enough?"
Edmund had no answer. He wasn't even awake. He was fast asleep in a healing rest, face at peace. Once again, Lucy had barely managed to get her cordial to him in time. Pulling out the bolts had been the worst part, since it was obvious they were stemming back a scarlet tide that hadn't wanted to be dammed. Even now, Peter still wore shirt-sleeves that were stained up to his elbows in his brother's blood. Once the bolts had been pulled, the blood hadn't stopped gushing until Lucy had tipped the cordial down his throat. Even then, it seemed like every passing moment was one moment too many, until Edmund's wounds finally sealed themselves. Despite the healing cordial, his body recorded every hurt, and the scars would never fully fade.
"Edmund," Peter croaked. "How could you? For me, or Narnia, or any other? Edmund, won't you…won't you try harder to live?"
Once the healers had proclaimed Edmund to be on the mend, their shared pavilion had quickly found itself evacuated of souls. Even Lucy, who oftentimes stayed, at least for an hour or two to keep him company, had found somewhere else to be. Peter couldn't blame her. When Edmund was injured to this extent, he was morose at best, and downright suicidal at his worst. There had even been a time where it had taken Lucy's screams and Edmund's half-dead sobbing to bring him back to his senses.
But Peter was also somewhat thankful for the current respite. Lucy, bless her heart, was amazing, but he just wanted time alone with his brother. Time to wallow in guilt and the pain of loving someone this much.
"If for the sake of no one else…I know it's selfish and unkingly to even think it," he said in a rush, "but if only you would live, Ed. Live for me, or the girls. I can't live without you, Ed, not my baby brother. I can't- can't even think of a life where you aren't there. That would make it- a life forever paler, a life forever lacking. I wouldn't be able to- I'm not that strong, Ed. I'm not like you. So- so, I'm begging you, Ed. Please, please don't leave me."
"You…have got to be…the biggest…idiot-"
China-blue eyes widened in astonishment as Peter slowly began to raise his head, and stare at the sight before him.
'Edmund,' he mouthed, but couldn't voice it.
"You're an idiot…Peter. Do…don't you think…that I…can't stand to see…your getting injured any more…than you…can stand mine?" Edmund was saying. His throat sounded parched, so Peter stumbled to his feet to pour him a tin of water. He held it up to his brother's lips, biting his own when most of the liquid sloshed down his chest rather than ended up in his mouth. Clearing his throat, Edmund started to speak again, his voice slightly stronger this time.
"I…wasn't any less selfish…or unkingly…as you claimed to be, Peter," he murmured. "I don't possess that nobility. It…it was never a matter…of sacrifice and love. It was selfish, pure and simple. I couldn't…couldn't bear to see your blood spilt this carelessly, not while it was in my power to prevent it. So…so the truth is, Peter, I'm not…as strong as you think I am. Not by half."
Peter pressed his lips to Edmund's brow. "Oh, Ed," he sighed. "I love you, so very, very much. In spite of all the weaknesses you think you are, which really are your strengths. Can't you see it for yourself, Ed?"
The younger man's face turned a light shade of pink, and he looked away, not meeting Peter's eyes, muttering something uncouth under his breath. Peter chuckled. "What was that, Ed?" he asked, blue eyes brimming with mirth. "I don't think I quite heard you that first time. Speak up, would you? What was that again?"
Edmund's lips twisted downward in what was undoubtedly a pout. Peter bit his lip and tried to hold his breath. Susan's pouts moved their Court, Lucy's their country, but Edmund's, Peter felt, could move even Aslan himself.
"I was saying," Edmund said, "that your kiss wasn't meant for mine forehead, but elsewhere."
Peter reddened slightly, but replied, "And where might that be, brother dear?"
Edmund's pout grew only more pronounced, and he weakly folded his arms across his thankfully uninjured chest. "Where do you think?"
Even though his heart soared at the indirect order, Peter still couldn't quite bring himself to make that move. "Ed," he started weakly.
His brother seemed to sense his reluctance before he had even voiced it, and sighed out of equal parts disappointment and understanding. "I know," he murmured, "by Aslan, Pete, I know." He hesitated, and then spoke again. "Will you at least- I don't know if I can sleep alone tonight-"
"Of course!" Peter blurted, wanting nothing more than to erase the hurt on his brother's face. "Of course," he said again, softer, hoping to soothe the pain. "I'll stay, Ed, as long as you need me to. And even when you don't want me." He attempted to smile. "You know what I'm like, Ed, even better than I know myself."
He rose to his feet with a groan, and pulled his shirt over his head, still soaked with Edmund's blood, and pitched it aside. He wouldn't be able to stand the stains, and would burn it in the morning. Then, he rummaged about his packs for a nightshirt, and sat down on the other side of Ed's cot to pull off his boots.
His brother was watching him with a fond smile. "Did you decide to undress for bed properly this time?" he asked impishly.
Peter winced at the reminder. "I don't think Oreius has even forgiven me after finding out about the last time that happened."
Edmund laughed quietly at the memory, reaching up to draw him down beside him. "You do know that half of his blustering is an act to at least get you to consider stop giving him a heart attack with those stunts you're so fond of pulling mid-battle?"
Peter snorted. "Our royal person? Stunts? Your telling me this, brother dear, is like the pot calling the kettle black!"
"I resent that," Ed retorted, still grinning. "Most of the time, I can't even help it."
"You wouldn't be you if you could," Peter gently corrected, eyes softening as he once again took in the healed form of his younger and dearest brother. He took a deep breath, and released it, shuddering.
His eyes shot open to meet Edmund's, dark with concern. "Have you caught a chill? Aslan, you really should have spoken up earlier-"
This was why he loved Edmund so much, Peter thought as his brother fussed over him, dragging the rough blankets over their twin bodies. His ability to read anyone was legendary, and yet even the Just King could have his blind spots. But Peter loved him all the more for them. They made him fallible, since no one save Aslan could claim otherwise. And they made him human. They made him Edmund.
He wrapped his arms around Edmund's bare torso, delighting in the feel of warm flesh and a beating heart, even as he felt sorrow surge through his veins for every thick wad of scar tissue his fingers ran across.
"You're being silly about things. Whatever you're troubling yourself with is plain rubbish," Edmund said warmly, flicking him on the nose. "You're my brother, the High King. I wouldn't hesitate to do it all over again."
The words cut him to the quick, and Peter's grip on his brother tightened. He now knew that Edmund hadn't heard his desperate plea earlier, had still been asleep. He wasn't sure if he had any right to ask it of Ed, but he still needed to know, so badly.
"Ed," he whispered, "Ed, I know you're true. This foolhardiness is in your blood, in the blood flowing through your veins."
His brother gave out a choked laugh. "Pot," he quipped.
One side of Peter's mouth twitched, but he didn't give in to the amusement. "You're going to die, Ed, if you keep going down this path. Can't you- can't you live?"
In retrospect, it had been such an easy question, that it shouldn't have caused that much grief. It shouldn't have been that difficult to answer. But Edmund froze, whatever words caught on his tongue lost as he stared at his brother with an old, unhealed hurt. He startled Peter when he flung the blankets off and made to get off the cot.
"Ed!" Peter exclaimed, scrambling to reach him. "Ed, please, wait! You were wounded, and just healed-"
Thankfully he caught up with Edmund when he did, else his brother would have fallen face first into the muddy ground as his knees buckled. Edmund just grit his teeth against his weakness, resolutely turning his face away from Peter's.
"Ed," Peter coaxed, just holding his brother. "Please, Ed, whatever I said, I didn't mean to hurt you. I didn't, I swear. Please, Ed. What did I say wrong?"
"What you said wrong?" Edmund's voice was cold and dark. "What you said wrong indeed." He turned to look at Peter, and his near-black eyes bored straight into his soul.
"When we were sworn in as Kings of Narnia, Peter, we swore our lives to her, yours and mine, and to Aslan as well, the Great Lion, we swore our deaths."
"We swore to put Narnia above all other things, friends or family, and her safety was to be our first priority. I thought you understood what we were charged with, Peter, when you rode off with Flisk to secure the front, leaving me to make sure the rear vanguard was safe. I wouldn't have failed at my duty, Peter, not when you charged me with it, and Aslan as well. But now-" he bit his lip and turned away. "You're asking me for the impossible, Peter. When I risk my life for yours, it isn't you that I'm worried about, but Narnia, and her High King as well. I can't be both your King, Peter, and hers."
Peter felt completely lost. He'd never thought of it as that way. As her High King, he had felt his and Narnia's purposes would always run a true course, together. He never thought they would divert on such a matter as this.
And the truth of the matter was, that Peter couldn't ask this of Edmund any more than Edmund could ask this of him. It was true, that Aslan and Narnia deserved nothing less than their highest fealty. The difference between them was that Edmund had understood that a long time ago and had accepted it as the sacrifice that it was, while he was only just beginning to realise it.
He choked back a laugh, but there was no humour in it. "Oh Aslan…if this is how it feels to be Just…I think I'm quite glad I wasn't called thus. I don't think I could ever be, now knowing what it means."
Edmund smiled. It was shaky, and weak, but it was nevertheless still a smile. His hands reached up to card through Peter's sweaty blond locks.
"Aslan may have called us to Narnia together, but we all came to serve a different purpose, even if it is toward the same end."
Peter promptly buried his face into his brother's shoulder. "By the Lion, Ed, how did you ever get to be this wise?" he asked, voice muffled against Edmund's skin. He glanced up to meet his eyes, and was caught by the heartbreakingly tender look in them. Edmund trailed gentle fingertips down the side of his cheek.
"It was only because of a certain older brother who raised me to the man that I am today," he whispered.
Peter had to kiss him then, despite the earlier decision he'd made not to. It was unfair, so unfair– this was his brother, in whom resided the other half of his soul, in whom all his hopes and dreams were placed, his brother, whom he cherished above all others.
The second time they moved was with an overwhelming sadness in the knowledge that what they had could not be. Peter was crying by the time they were done, although he would never be sure if it were from the utter comfort he received from his brother's arms, or the desperate wish that they could be more, that this, could be more.
"This will never change," he adamantly vowed, still clutching Edmund's shoulders, the sweat already cooling.
Edmund only sighed, his breath heavily stirring the golden locks he rested against. "Oh, Peter," he began, tone already distant, "haven't you realised? This is what it means to be a King. To be willing to give up…for your country…anythi-"
His voice broke, and Peter was reaching up, smothering his face with kisses, tasting the salt beneath his lips as Edmund bitterly wept.
"I love you," Edmund rasped brokenly, "I have always loved you."
"This will never change, Ed," Peter breathed. "I swear it."
But it did. Everything did, on a simple hunt through their lands, a-chase for the legendary White Stag. Instead, it led them to four children, none of them past the age of fourteen tumbling out of an old applewood wardrobe and spilling over the floor in a heap of gangly limbs.
Peter rose to his feet on shaky legs, legs like twigs, with arms that weren't much better, as he stared about him at a crueller world. Beside him, in a messy puddle on the floor, were Susan, Lucy, and Edmund, the younger boy at least making an effort to help his sisters up. Lu he could, easily, but Su, two years his senior, was much taller, if not that much larger.
He gave his older sister a small smile. "This will take a bit of getting used to again," he said, gesturing to all ten-years of the frame he currently inhabited.
Peter felt the bottom drop out of his stomach from that realisation. His brother…was a child. He…was a child. How could he ever make anything right, now? He flexed an arm, his heart nearly breaking with disappointment when none of the right muscles resurfaced.
He spun about rapidly, barely able to keep his balance. Then he glanced down, much further than he'd had to in many years past, to meet his brother's concerned eyes. Despite the changes, despite everything, Edmund still knew him best. His breath caught in a sob. Was there ever anything he could sneak past his brother-?
"Peter, what's wrong?" Edmund asked, tugging insistently on his sleeve. Peter glanced down again, distracted by the foreign clothing he wore, so fitting to his too-thin frame. His gaze slowly filtered his brother's appearance in the same strange clothes, taking in the knobbly wrists sticking out of threadbare sleeves, and the bony ankles covered by darned socks.
He dropped to his knees and buried his face into Edmund's chest, hating that his brother was so small, resenting that it would be years before they could even think of having what they'd had back in Narnia. He couldn't stand how easy it was for his head to reach Edmund's chest, when back in Narnia he would barely come up to his waist. He hated how easy it was for Edmund to be so gentle throughout it all, in spite of the veritable aching hurt Peter could feel ebbing from him, as he laid kind hands on the side of his head, and made shushing noises into his hair.
Back in Narnia, Peter had been High King Peter the Magnificent. Now, here in Spare Oom, he didn't feel half as magnificent as before.
It only hurt more that Edmund was still, above all else, Just. Faithful. Loyal, and unwavering. Everything he was not.
Peter had never thought of himself as selfish before Edmund. But that was how his relationship with his brother had always been: skewed. Edmund was the one constant in his life that he could, ironically enough, never predict. Just when he had thought they were as close as two brothers could be, just before Narnia, Edmund had collapsed upon himself and pushed Peter away. And just when Peter thought he'd lost Edmund altogether, not only to the White Witch but his own jealousy and bitterness, Edmund had been there by his side, to put him back together. Even when Peter had loved Edmund in a way entirely inappropriate for brothers to do so, Edmund had refused to judge him, merely accepting that facet of his love and loving him right back.
Edmund never reacted how Peter expected him to do so, but every move he made made Peter love him even more, and he jealously guarded his relationship with him. He couldn't stand it when Edmund would look outside their small family for company. He couldn't stand it when Edmund seemed so strong, even as Peter crumbled after the loss of Narnia. It meant that Edmund didn't need him, not if he could handle things on his own. And Peter couldn't stand for that.
The Prince Caspian episode, as he liked to call it, and the year preceding that, Peter felt, had been life-changing for him. He had pushed Edmund away, even further than Edmund had once pushed him, and just as there had been the last time, there had been dangerous consequences this time as well. Right before the combat with Miraz, as the two brothers- now once again Kings, if indeed Kings of Old- faced each other in their pavilion, Peter had sorely wanted to find the words to say, 'I'm so sorry for everything I've done this past year. I'm so sorry. I knew I was wrong. I don't deserve you. I love you. I love you.'
But there had been an unreadable look in Edmund's dark eyes that had choked the words in his throat. His brother's hands, once again small and soft, lacking all their hard-won callouses from a sword's hilt, buckled and laced him into his armour in a reversal of another time in Narnia, oh so long ago, and Peter couldn't help but remember it then, shuddering each time his brother's warm fingers brushed his skin.
"Not a word, Peter," Edmund had threatened, and even in that his voice had been soft, and gentle. "I won't let you say the words. You can say whatever you'd like, after."
"But-" Peter had started. They might have tarried too long for after, and after might not be for one of them-!
"After," Edmund repeated, holding his fingers to Peter's lips to still them. "I swear it, Peter, there will be an after. Have faith in Aslan." When Peter's face had fallen, Edmund had lifted it up again. "Have faith in me. In Susan and Lucy. In Caspian. We've been here all along, Peter. We're all in this together, and we'll get out of it in one piece, too."
"How can you-" Peter sobbed, not having a clue when his hands and risen to clutch his brother's shoulders. He was already wearing his gauntlets, and he knew it must have hurt the smaller boy, but Edmund didn't complain. He didn't even flinch. His touch was light on the side of Peter's cheek.
"That's because I have faith in Aslan to see us all through this. And I have faith in you, Peter. I've always had faith in you," he added, smiling sadly, "even when you might have lost that faith in yourself. I won't let you go out there thinking you're not coming back." Peter had just stared, not quite understanding how his brother could do that. But then he felt child lips press against his, cool despite the heat of the summer day, and the heat of their combined bodies.
"I love you, Peter," Edmund quietly declared. "You told me once that that wouldn't change. Has it?"
"Aslan, no." The words were falling from Peter's lips in a senseless litany before he could stop them. "Aslan, no, I've never stopped, I could never stop, I've always loved you, Ed, always, please, please, believe me-"
Lips pressed against his once more, silencing him. "You should never have to doubt me," Ed whispered, their breaths mingling.
Peter crushed his brother to him, kissing him voraciously with all the pent-up fervour of fifteen years. When they broke apart, he stared deep into his Edmund's dark eyes, and rested their brows together. He closed his eyes, feeling his face twist into a grimace. He felt light hands dust across his face, and could imagine his brother's concern.
Sure enough, the words, "Pete? What's wrong?" sounded soon after.
"We're only children again," he grumbled.
Edmund let out a wet chuckle, and cracked their heads together.
"Ow! Ed, what in Aslan's mane was that for?" he cried, rubbing his forehead.
Edmund hadn't stopped laughing. "Is that all your mind can think of, Peter Lewis Pevensie?" he demanded tartly, not quite able to hide his smile.
Peter just pouted. "I'm at that age," he muttered. "When you reach that age, you come back to me about what you're thinking about all of the time."
Somehow, by a miracle and a half, or really, what was just Aslan's grace and mercy, they made it out alive, their whole family, even Caspian. Peter couldn't begrudge the Telmarine prince a place in their family, not when he knew the benefits of having one this close-knit. He'd mostly gotten over his jealousy at this point, confident and content in the knowledge that what he and Edmund shared would be forever unchanging.
When they had returned to the land of England and Spare Oom, in what would be Peter's last time, he had felt readier to face the world out there, grounded by the love of his siblings, by the love of Edmund. He'd been able to look ahead, trusting the bond between his family, and in Aslan. It was Edmund's faith that sustained his, even when it faltered as Susan drifted away from them, and the Gentle Queen was forever lost to a pantomime of painted faces and hollow laughs. Even when he'd found out Ed and Lu had returned to Narnia, in what would be their last time, he'd learnt to smile at them without bitterness and jealousy, just warmth and love and understanding as he welcomed them back.
He scrambled around in the dark, desperate to find his brother. Finally, smooth hands grasped his, and he felt his shoulders nearly fold with relief.
"Thank the Lion," he rasped. "Have you seen Lu? I can't find her anywhere. And I never thought I'd be thankful Su wouldn't come. I'd hate to think-"
Edmund's voice, small in the dark, asked, "Do you think it really happened, Peter? The train, crashing and everything?"
Peter pressed his lips tightly together and didn't answer. He fumbled to put his arm around Edmund's shoulders, and thankfully, his brother went into his embrace without another word.
"We've got to keep searching for Lu," he said. "Hopefully Mum and Dad are together, with the Professor and Aunt Poll, and Eustace and Pole."
He couldn't see anything in this night-black, but he knew Ed was biting his lip as he replied. "Hopefully."
"We'll just have to trust in Aslan that they're all alright," he said, touching his brother's soft hair.
Ed chuckled softly. "How far we've come, if you're the one reassuring me with Aslan."
Peter laughed. "Don't be that surprised, Ed. I learnt it all from you."
Once again, he could just sense his brother rolling his eyes at him. "Thank Aslan something got through your thick head, after all those years."
"Nearly twenty now, you think?" Peter teased. Then he pointed. "Look, there's a light, see it? We'll just keep walking towards it."
Tucked against each other, they made their way into a blinding white light.
When they managed to blink the spots out of their eyes, they froze, stunned.
"I know, Ed," Peter whispered, too terrified to speak any louder.
"But– it's impossible. Aslan said we'd never return, and He wouldn't lie to us."
Peter rummaged around his head for an answer. "Perhaps…perhaps this is heaven? Only it's appearing to us in a form that would seem most familiar?"
Edmund burst out laughing. "I would hope it seems familiar!" he exclaimed. "Peter, this is Narnia!"
At his words, Peter couldn't contain the joyful feeling bubbling up inside of him, and tackled his brother into the soft, springy grass. They rolled around, tussling playfully, mock wrestling, as they smothered themselves with the dirt of Narnia, the dust they had bled and nearly died for countless times.
"Aslan," Peter sighed, with a resounding feeling of being, "it's so good to be home."
"Peter." Edmund's voice sounded strange, and Peter didn't know why. Shouldn't he be happy, to have found Narnia again at last- "Peter, that last bit you said- that this was heaven? If this is heaven, does that mean we're dead? And that the train wreck really happened?" Peter didn't have an answer. "Oh, Lion. Peter, what's the last thing you remember?"
Memories of unfamiliar sights and sounds flashed through his head, and his lips moved woodenly. "You and Lu," he mumbled, "and my arms around you both. I tried– tried to get you two as far away from the train as I possibly could."
"But- but Lu isn't here with us," Edmund said, face pale.
"Sh-she was lighter, smaller than you," Peter tried. "Perhaps- perhaps she got far enough away. Oh, Aslan, I hope she did get far enough away!" He abruptly clutched his brother to him. "Susan will need her, a lot more than we do. At least we have each other. Su- she hasn't had anyone in such a long time."
"Do you think Aslan will forget about her?" Edmund asked in a small voice. "Because she forgot about Him?"
Peter kissed his brother fiercely on the brow. "Don't think about that, Ed!" he insisted. "Keep the faith you've always had, and trust in Aslan to do the right thing. He's always done so, by us." He kissed Edmund again, but was startled when Edmund flinched away.
"Ow, Pete! Watch your whiskers; those things are…"
Whatever Edmund was going to say concerning his whiskers was lost as he stopped mid-sentence, eyes wide and staring.
"Whiskers?" Peter echoed, raising a hand to his face. "But I just shaved…this…morning…"
He rubbed at the familiar scruffy growth covering his jaw, and stared down at his brother with increasing realisation. Only that there was a lot more to stare down at now, and a lot less difference separating them. "Ed," he whispered, "you-you're-"
There were tears standing out in Edmund's eyes– or what Peter could see of Edmund's eyes, since his long, floppy fringe hung past them nearly to his nose bridge. "I never thought I'd see this brother again," he rasped, before crushing Peter into a tight embrace.
It was an amazing reminder of how well they fit together. As the years had passed in Narnia, all those many lifetimes ago, Edmund and Peter had grown more and more into each other, rather than as their own person. Edmund had grown till he could fit rather neatly, with his head bowed, tucked beneath his brother's ear. And likewise, Peter's shoulders grew till he could comfortably encompass all of his growing brother into his arms. It had taken them years to perfect this. And now they had been restored to it all over again.
"How old do I look, Ed?" Peter asked, chuckling wetly. He didn't bother to swipe away the tears on his cheeks.
Edmund swatted at him playfully. "You know as well as I could never really tell after twenty-four. That scruffy beard of yours hid too much of your face."
Peter grinned. "Well, I can tell you're about twenty-six, which would make me just under thirty."
"Oh, Aslan, I've missed you."
In the end, they were never which one of them it was who said the words first, or made the first move. All they remembered was once again ending up in each other's arms, Edmund was making some sort of odd, rumbling sound that Peter would call 'purring', behind his brother's back- he was foolhardy, yes, but he didn't have a death wish- as he rubbed his jaw against the new-old fuzz on Peter's chin. Peter kissed him as his hand slid down Edmund's back, pushing out the arch and pressing their hips together. Edmund's grip on his waist tightened, and then slowly inched its way up his chest, resting just above his heart.
Startled, they flew apart, one hand connecting their two bodies, and yet still ready and alert, the other going crosswise their bodies to grip at hilts– that were once again restored to their rightful position. Their twin grips tightened around leather-wrapped hilts, Rhindon and Shafelm, unable to stop the relief and happiness from fleeting across their faces.
Light laughter once again drew their attention away from each other, and the two men looked up, slightly apprehensive of what they would find. Instead they found Queen Lucy the Valiant standing before them in all of her joyous glory, a sparkling smile on her face as she stood there, hands on her hips with mock-exasperation.
"Honestly, you two-" she began, but was almost immediately bowled over by her two exuberant brothers.
"LU!" was the cry, and the young woman found herself abruptly smothered with scratchy kisses and warm hugs.
"Lu!" Ed exclaimed, holding his sister up, "Thank Aslan you're alright! We were so worried when we couldn't find you in the dark." He glanced at Peter out of the corner of his eye. "Peter thought he might have pushed you out of the way in time, but-" He bit his lip. "If you're here, then I guess not." He sighed. "Poor Susan. We've gone and left her all alone, again."
Lu took his hands in hers and gave him a wavering smile. "It'll be alright, Ed. We just have to trust in Aslan, that He'll take care of her, even if she's…there, and we're, sort of, here."
Peter grinned down at the two of them, and ruffled their hair. "That's exactly what I told him-"
"But he was being such a pompous prat about it, that I couldn't stand it- or him," Edmund interjected dryly. Peter chuckled at his words, not taking the slightest bit of offence, but Lucy's lips twisted in a wry smile.
"That didn't seem to be the case, since the two of you were necking like young lovers in the woods, and didn't even notice me till I came all the way up to you."
All the blood drained from Edmund's face at Lucy's description. Peter didn't even want to think how haunted he looked now.
Then Lucy burst out laughing, unable to hold her merriment at her brothers' expense back anymore.
"Oh, you should have seen your faces!" she cried, clutching at her middle and almost doubled over. "Honestly, Pete, Ed, did you think we were all blind?" she asked, gesturing to their audience- unnoticed up to this point- standing behind her in an amused row.
Ed turned a full scarlet, and Peter couldn't blame him as he felt his own cheeks heat up. Standing there were Mum and Dad, and the Professor and Aunt Polly, Eustace, and Pole. Mum and the rest of the girls were smiling, while both Professor and Eustace had kind looks on their faces. Dad was a little red-faced himself, but he seemed more embarrassed for having watched the show than taken aback by it.
"Honestly, you two, it was so obvious that everyone in Narnia knew about it the day after– including me! I'm sure it's even chronicled somewhere as well, although not in quite such blatant terms. It was the worst kept secret in Narnia, you know," Lucy scolded. "Even when we came back, and settled down for good, it was just so obvious that none of us could pull one of you away from the other for too long- instead we were all hedging bets on how long it'd take you two to kiss and make up," she concluded with a triumphant grin, causing both men to turn flush again.
"Lucy Alice Pevensie!" Mum said sharply. "Have you been gambling?" It seemed like Mum didn't care if they were supposed to be dead, or their daughter was now a Queen in her late twenties; she would still be Little Lu to her.
"It was Eustace," Lucy said immediately.
"Pole talked me into it!" her cousin sputtered.
"Aunt Polly gave me the idea-!" Jill protested, and by then it had gotten so ridiculous that they were all laughing, even Ed and him, even if their laughter was a little embarrassed.
Lucy turned back to them when they'd all managed to calm down somewhat, and gave them one of her most brilliant smiles. "So you see, Pete, Ed? I don't know what you'll were all afraid of the entire time."
Edmund smiled wearily at his little sister's innocence. "There was just…too much to be afraid of, Lu. We-we've only been too lucky, with you and the rest-"
"Welcome home, dear ones."
There was a moment where everyone just sort of froze, before Lucy grinned and flung herself forward.
"Aslan! Oh, dearest, dearest Aslan!"
Edmund and Peter just stood there, still too stunned to be able to move. They glanced at each other, their grins growing.
"Oh, it is good to be home," Professor Kirke declared, lending Aunt Polly his arm. "Oh, dearest Aslan."
He swept the Lion a bow, and beside him, Aunt Polly curtsied gracefully. When they rose, Edmund and Peter saw them for how they must have looked when they'd first come to Narnia, as a young man and a young woman, both in their prime.
"Oh-!" Lucy gasped, still half-buried in Aslan's golden mane. Eustace and Pole were standing right beside them, grinning as well, all grown up and dressed in their Narnian finery. Peter glanced at his parents, and his face nearly split in two with his smile when he saw them, all decked up in similar tunics and dresses.
Slowly the two of them strode forward, side by side. Peter only just recognised the familiar weight of a golden circlet on his head, and sighed in contentment at the sight of a silver crown, mirroring his, sitting atop Edmund's dark locks. Lucy smiled, and stepped away from the Great Lion so that her brothers could greet Him.
Even as they moved forward, the warmth and joy of returning to Narnia, and Aslan's presence suffusing their veins, Peter still felt a mounting terror grow in him. Edmund, beside him, seemed completely immune, as he glided forward with a look of calm on his face.
Suddenly, a hand reached for his, and Peter started. Edmund's hand was gripping his just as tightly, even as he continued moving forward alongside him, not once showing how frightened he inwardly was as well.
Finally, they were standing before the Great Lion, and Peter couldn't remember when was the last time he'd seen something that beautiful and terrible all at the same time. He sunk down to one knee, and felt his brother follow alongside him.
"Aslan," he whispered.
Golden eyes looked serenely out at him from the wisest face he had ever known. Aslan put one huge paw on each of their shoulders, and even though Peter could easily see the five silver claws hanging unsheathed over his brother's thin chest, altogether too near to Edmund's exposed throat, he tried to hold firm. Instead, he turned his pleading gaze to the one true ruler of Narnia. Not him, was his only thought. Not my brother. Not him.
"Welcome home, dearest ones," Aslan greeted them, in a deep-throated rumble. If Lions could smile, Peter was seeing it happen, right then and there. "In you I am well pleased."
I do have a couple of side-projects of this verse in the works, which I hope you'll enjoy as well. Do review! Cheers.