Disclaimer: I still own nothing and am making no money.
"When is she going to wake up?" Lucy's voice whispers, finally breaking through the oblivion that has encompassed me for who knows how long.
"Now," I say, opening my eyes. "What's going on? Where am I?"
They all three stare at me, and I start to get a bad feeling. What is so terrible that it doesn't even have them teasing me for fainting?
Then I notice someone else. "Professor? What are you doing here?"
He looks at me gravely, an expression I've hardly ever seen on his face. "As I am something of an expert on Narnia, Susan, your family thought it might be best for me to be here when you woke up.
Narnia. The Wardrobe. Caspian. Oh, Caspian. Memory floods back, nearly crushing me with its weight.
My hands scramble around the bed, feeling desperately. Lucy holds up a piece of fabric. "Are you looking for this?"
Caspian's shirt. I reach forward, yank it out of her hand, and bury my face in it. It still smells like him.
Hands touch me, hugging me, but I don't respond. I don't need comfort, I don't want touch, I just need to be alone.
"Susan, maybe we should talk-" Peter begins.
"No." I cut him off. "Leave me alone."
I raise my head from the shirt, determined to end this once and for all. It's already over, anyway. "No. Go away. All of you, go away. This is all your fault, but it's done now, and nothing you say or do will change things. As far as talking about things goes, this never happened. Understand? It never happened. End of story. Now leave me alone." Speech finished, my face returns to the shirt.
After a minute's pause, I hear them all get up and leave, and I wait for the tears to come. But they don't. I feel like I'm living in a dream, one from which I can't wake up no matter how hard I try.
Caspian. Memories flood me. Seeing him for the first time, watching him and Peter fight and nearly kill each other, before Lucy stepped in…
Fighting in Miraz's palace, him running off to confront his uncle and save his tutor, and me being so afraid, for our army, yes, but even more so for him. Knowing why and being powerless to fight the feeling…
The first time I hinted at my feelings, when Lucy and I were riding into the woods. He tried to give me my horn, but I refused… and then how he came flying in to rescue me. Riding on a horse with him, feeling him pressed so close, and how giddy I felt, like a little schoolgirl…
And then all the bad memories, all the painful and sad memories, swarm in and eclipse the good ones tenfold. Losing him… knowing that I'll never see him again, the pain of that knowledge… for a few moments, my head spins. I never thought that something like this could hurt so much. I don't know how long I sit there, silent and unmoving, holding his shirt to my chest.
But damnit, I'm a queen and I'm going to act like one. I'm an adult now. I sit up and take a deep breath, then change my clothes. I put the shirt in my things and go downstairs, locking Caspian away in my luggage. I even manage to smile at everyone. "Ready for school?"
My siblings look at me like I'm nuts, and I sort of feel that way myself. But moving and talking and smiling is making the pain and the memories recede a little, and the relief from that is overwhelming. And in that moment, I want to forget. To let of all the pain, because I can't see how it's worth it to hold on to that. Maybe I was right about what I said earlier. "This all never happened, understand?"
And over the years, it gradually becomes that way. It never happened. By pushing all thoughts of Narnia, Caspian, and everything connected with them out of my mind, and with my siblings honoring my demand to not speak of it, I make myself forget. I don't really know how it happens, but eventually I don't remember anything from Narnia, Caspian included. It all fades away, and I live my life normally, as though all of that never happened.
But sometimes late at night, when I'm falling asleep, or in the morning when I'm barely awake, threads of thought and memory taunt me, always remaining just out of reach. I can sense that they're important, vitally so, but I can never quite grasp what they are.
And during the long days, days that all seem the same, I have a strange, empty, sad feeling all the time in the chest, as though a part of me is missing, but I don't know why, and eventually I just learn to ignore it.
And there's a shirt, a man's shirt made out of some strange material that I can't find in any store in London. I don't know whose it is, where it came from, or even why I have it, but I can't get rid of it. Every time I convince myself to throw it away, when I pick it up and smell the strange, overpowering and yet familiar scent that it's had for all these years, all thoughts of getting rid of it just fly away and tears come to my eyes, but for what reason I don't know. At any rate, I still have it.
Sometimes my siblings try to talk to me about a strange place. They say we went there once, and had many adventures. The memory of the place hurts me, so I refuse to think about it. I laugh it off, asking them teasingly if they still play those games we had as children. And with each laugh of mine, their faces get darker and sadder. Once Peter even yelled at me, but when I, for reasons unknown to me, I burst into tears, he apologized and they dropped the subject.
Eventually, one day about ten years later, my family convinced me to go on a trip with them. I don't often spend time with my brothers and sister, because when I'm with them, the sad, achy feeling becomes so acute that I can hardly bear it. But for some reason, this time I've agreed to go with them.
"Peter," I say now, working away on something for my job while the train rattles beneath us, "where are we going, exactly?"
There's a pause, and he looks at Edmund and Lucy, who look back at him. All three seem nervous.
"Well," Ed begins finally, but just as he starts speaking there's a horrible screeching sound coming from the train. I leap to my feet, reaching over my shoulder as if for an arrow to fire – but that's absurd, I can't shoot a bow! – and I open my mouth to cry out, "What's happening?"
Before I can speak, there's a loud crash of metal, and this time, true oblivion overtakes all of us.
When I wake up, I don't know where I am. I can hear birds chirping, and feel warm sun on my face, and cool grass beneath me. The grass will stain my clothes, I think to myself, so I open my eyes and sit up.
And gaze around me in wonder.
It's a paradise. The trees are taller and more majestic than I've ever seen, the sky bluer, the grass greener, the sun yellower, than anywhere on earth. A brook babbles a short distance away, and I turn to see the clear water running joyfully along. Birds chase each other through the sky. The sun that filters through the tree leaves makes the light look green, almost heavenly.
As surely as I know my name, I know this place is not on Earth. But where can it be, I ask myself. The only place I've ever been besides Earth is Narnia.
Oh. My. Heavens. Narnia. Narnia.
I speak the name, hearing it, tasting it, drinking in its glory. But even as I speak, I know that this place is not Narnia. It feels different, smells different, looks different. The joy that had momentarily overtaken me recedes, and but my usual feelings of loneliness don't return fully. I should be panicking – I'm alone, in a strange place – but I'm not. I'm calmer than I've ever been in my life.
I stay seated and look around me. Memories are trickling in, things I have not thought of in ten years returning to me. I remember everything, even Caspian, but somehow the memories no longer hurt. This place is above hurt, above pain, above fear, above everything like that. But it's not Narnia. I stand, looking toward the bright sun.
"This is not the Narnia you knew," says a voice that I once thought I'd never forget. "But it is indeed Narnia still."
I want to turn slowly, but my body whips around. And there he is, standing in all his glory.
"I would be angry with you for forgetting me, but Aslan has explained it all to me," he says, stepping closer. "Because you loved me, although you did not remember, you were brought here when the trains crashed and you died. Yes, Susan, your body is dead," he adds, seeing my expression, "but you are more alive than you have ever been before."
"And my family?" I ask. Suddenly, they are very important to me. How could I have forgotten how much they mean to me, how much I love them?
"They're all here too," he promises, stepping closer still.
"Caspian," I say, "I'm sorry."
"I'm not," he says, startling me. "Well, I was at first – and very angry, too, I might add, but you did the right thing. I never would have been so strong, Susan. We both did our duty as we were bid, but now, we are free."
"Caspian, I wasn't that good," I tell him, wanting him to know everything. "I didn't want to do it. I was mean to my brothers and sister, and to you. I was a terrible person. How can you forgive me after that?"
"Yes, Susan, you were a terrible person," he says gently but matter-of-factly. "But you regret it, and you have asked for forgiveness. That's all behind us now. This place is above all of that. The only thing that matters now is that we're all here together at last." He takes my hand in his.
I process this for a minute, watching his thumb rub circles against my palm, then raise my eyes to his.
"Caspian. I understand completely if you don't, and I don't blame you at all if your answer to this question is no. But I have to know for sure, one way or the other. Do you still love me?" I hold my breath for his answer.
Before he can speak, I hear my name shouted. "Susan!" It's Lucy, running up the hill to us, waving frantically. Peter and Edmund are right behind her, as well as our parents.
"Lucy!" I shriek in joy. Caspian drops my hand, and I turn and run towards my sister. We hug so tightly I'm afraid I'll crush her, but Lucy is strong. "Oh Susan, I'm so glad you're back."
"Me, too," I say, and look about. The clearing has filled up now. I see Mr. Tumnas, the Beavers, the centaurs and all the others who fought for Narnia. I see the DLF, the Badger, Caspian's tutor, and so many others whom I know and love. My heart swells at the sight of them. How, how could I have forgotten?
"Susan." The deep voice of Aslan makes me solemn. I turn towards him, but I don't have the courage to look at him. Instead, I look at the ground. The clearing has grown silent.
He doesn't say anything, and after a few minutes I can't stand it anymore. "Aslan, I'm so sorry. I did terrible, terrible things and I don't know how they can possibly be forgiven. I wish more than anything I could take them back, but I can't. Even though I don't deserve it… Will you forgive me?"
There is a moment's pause, and then I feel something cool and sweet blow over me. It lasts for a long time. When it finally ends, I feel refreshed beyond anything I have ever felt before. For the first time, I raise my eyes to his and smile. Aslan smiles in return.
"Susan, you are forgiven. Welcome home." He puts his great paw on my shoulder for a moment, and what feels like a current runs through me, warming me from the inside out. Then he turns and walks to Lucy, who cries out with joy and throws her arms around him. This is the cue for everyone else to begin talking again, which they do, all over the clearing.
Aslan's words are spinning in my mind, but a tap on my shoulder reminds me that Caspian still needs to answer my question. I turn back to him, about to apologize or explain, but then realize that I don't need to. He understands, I can see it in his eyes. He is happy for me, and in that happiness, I am joyous.
"Oh, Susan," he says, smiling. "Of course I love you." I'm about to say something, but I change my mind. Instead, just as I did ten years ago before I walked through the trees, I fling my arms around Prince Caspian and kiss him. And in that moment, I realize that Aslan's words are true. I'm finally forgiven and free. And because of that, I'm home.
A/N: Well, that's the last chapter! I hope you have all enjoyed the story. Thanks to everyone who has reviewed, favorited, or read. This is the last time you'll get to tell me what you think, so review and let me know. Thanks!