On the occasion of the terrific portrayal of Eustace in the film, The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, and written for Sushi/Makinhistory for the 2010 Narnia Fic Exchange. Rated T for oblique discussion of mature topics.
With gratitude and admiration to the creator of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis. I claim no ownership interest whatsoever. Any original content in my derivative fiction is in the public domain and may be used freely and without notice to me or attribution.
Autumn Term, Experiment House, 1942
Eustace Scrubb stared glumly at the clipboard in front of him and the neat sheet of paper clipped to it; they felt strange in his hands. He tried to ignore the weary patience of the police matron looming over him and offering him a pencil. Jill Pole was at his elbow, silent and staring at the foreign-seeming objects.
There are no pencils in Narnia. No clipboards. No well-meaning Bobby trying to gently prod him into identifying who should be contacted to come and collect him from the chaos of Experiment House and its raving Head and her gang ranting about escaped convicts, broken walls suddenly repaired, bright swords, and loose lions.
Next to him, Pole giggled. She was a bit overwrought and, if pushed too far, she'd burst into tears or start babbling. The Bobby talking to her was trying to probe where Pole should go while Experiment House closed for the inquiry. Pole's father was, last they'd heard, in North Africa as part of the British spearhead moving west with the joint Anglo-American Operation Torch. Her mother was somewhere doing something with codes and had not left a forwarding address.
By the Lion, he'd been through this transition before and had had the High King of Narnia to help him through those rough waters of the first days back. Pole shouldn't have to be putting up this rot when the miracle of Narnia was still in them, when he could still feel the power of Aslan in her. They should be celebrating and crying and writing letters and sending telegrams, not sitting on a kerb talking to police officers.
The thought of going back to Cambridge and Harold and Alberta was too awful. He didn't want to see his mother and father now. Eustace still wasn't sure about this whole organized COE thing – a lifetime with Harold and Alberta made him wary of priests and smells and bells and Jesus and whatnot. But he believed in Aslan and that was just the sort of nonsense that his parents didn't hold with at all. He'd be drinking cod liver oil and Chinese herb tonics for a week as Alberta tried to medicate him back into a dragon.
He and Pole needed somewhere to go where they could be together; he knew she needed him, and he remembered enough of the return only three months ago from The Dawn Treader to know that he needed Pole, too. They needed to go somewhere that the well-meaning police would release them to. That meant they could not go to someone who was still in school, which ruled out his cousins. They needed an adult who could come and get them or meet them at a railway station, and that person needed to be close to Experiment House and have a house or a flat for privacy.
No sooner did he think it than Aslan gave him the answer.
"Officer, I should like you to contact a family friend who can come and collect me and Miss Pole here," Eustace told the police matron, jerking his head in Pole's direction. He tried to imitate the sort of authority that his cousins used in speaking. Caspian had had that command, too, and Eustace pushed away for the moment the pain of losing his friend. He would grieve for Caspian later.
"Miss Polly Plummer, Bedford."
Aunt Polly even had a telephone on the exchange. Eustace wrote the name and number with a flourish. "If Miss Plummer is not at home she might be reached at her place of work, the Whipsnade Zoo, where she is an assistant curator."
The police matron took back the clipboard with a smirk. "Perhaps we should have Miss Plummer here to advise us on the escaped lion?"
"Miss Plummer is, of course, very knowledgeable about lions," Eustace replied with dignity. "I am certain she would be happy to assist in your inquiry."
At this point, keeping serious was impossible for Pole and she burst out into a laugh hinting at hysteria.
Eustace reached out and clasped her hand, while using his free hand to search his pockets for a humbug. Bother that, of course they were long gone.
It took a few hours but, eventually, Aunt Polly marched on to the Experiment House grounds, spaniel at her heels, and the milling constabulary of Aylesbury parting before her. She very, very carefully inspected the outer wall and door for signs of escaped lions and other circus animals. She announced that she, an expert in African wildlife identification and management, saw nothing but bird droppings. English songbird droppings, to be precise. Eustace could see her mouth twitching as she said it, but no one dared cross Aunt Polly, especially when she spoke so convincingly and threatened to swing her carpet bag.
Declaring Experiment House free of lions, Aunt Polly swept him and Pole to the car park to her little roadster. Eustace thanked her for using a week's worth of petrol ration to come and get them.
"No problem at all," Aunt Polly assured them. "I shall declare this as an official consultation for necessary zoo and police business. I merely need to fill out the correct paperwork to receive an additional allotment."
The spaniel, Simon, the carpet bag, and the bags he and Pole had packed, settled in the front passenger seat. He and Pole squeezed onto the back ledge, cheek to jowl, and elbow to knee.
From her carpet bag, Aunt Polly produced sandwiches, a tin of biscuits and a canteen filled with white wine. "You're famished, I expect," Aunt Polly said briskly, as they turned out on to the motorway. "Eat before you drink that wine, or you'll get silly or sick, and I won't have either."
Pole's eyes got very big. She did not realize that once you were a Friend of Narnia, the others all treated you like a grown up. Sometimes, this was awkward because, unlike his cousins, Eustace had not spent years and years in Narnia so he wasn't really that much older than ten. Maybe eleven, or twelve at most. But, he usually did not want to remind them of the discrepancy as it often had its advantages, like now.
"Very sensible of you to ring me up, Eustace," Aunt Polly said. "Aslan called you this morning?"
"Yes," Eustace said, his mouth full of egg sandwich.
"How long were you there?"
Eustace looked at Pole. She shrugged, her shoulder bumping his chin since they were so close. "Two months?" Pole said tentatively. "Maybe three, or four?"
"How much time had passed there, Eustace, since your journey on The Dawn Treader?"
"Fifty years," Eustace whispered. Caspian was dead. His friend. And Caspian had had such a wretched life, with his wife murdered, and son missing, and he never was able to return to the End of the World and sail the Sweet Sea and see again the wall of lilies and water. Eustace found tears springing in his eyes.
"I know it is an adjustment," Polly said, so very kindly Pole started sniffling too. "Your cousins are all in school, so we'll send them telegrams straight off, but you probably won't be able to see them until the holidays. I sent a wire to Digory; he is teaching right now but he shall give some excuse and we'll all spend the next few days together."
Eustace unscrewed the cap on the dusty canteen. From what he knew of Aunt Polly, it was probably dust that had collected, not in her attic, but during some expedition to Africa. He took a sip of the sweetish wine and handed the canteen to Pole.
"Now, tell me everything."
It was very late when they finally arrived at Aunt Polly's row house in Bedford. He and Pole unfolded from the cramped back of the roadster and stumbled into her parlor, too spent to do more than stare at the unusual decor. Eustace had never been here before, though Edmund had told him of it. "African tribal masks and drums; Indian art; Chinese silks; photographs of her expeditions. You can spend hours just looking at her walls and albums."
The spare bedroom was on the first floor, adjoining her parlor. He and Pole bickered over who would get the bed in the bedroom and who would get the blanket and pillow on the divan in the parlor.
Aunt Polly hugged them both, inhaling deeply of the scent of Narnia. "The Lion is still in you! So, stop arguing, split the difference if you cannot agree, and get some sleep!" With another hug, she went upstairs to her own bedroom. Simon gave them both a good night lick and then followed Polly up the stairs.
"You take the bed tonight, Pole, and I'll take it tomorrow?"
"Agreed." They shook hands on it then took turns in the washroom.
It felt very odd, changing into pyjamas, brushing his teeth, and doing all those ordinary things that he had done only yesterday and then not for three months or more. Peter had said not only did time pass differently between Narnia and here, but time took longer in Narnia. A day was hours longer, and weeks, months and years were measured in tens and hundreds, not sevens and twelves. How long were three Narnia months? He didn't know, but it felt like six months, or eight here.
They murmured their good nights and it felt strained, though Eustace couldn't pinpoint why. Pole shut the bedroom behind her and he tried to get settled on the divan in the parlor.
It was all a relative thing. The divan was nicer than anything he had slept upon in Narnia. But, he kept tossing about and it just wasn't comfortable. Maybe that was the problem, he decided. It was too comfortable. There weren't the rocks poking him in the sides. There weren't the sounds of the insects buzzing and the frogs croaking, and Puddlegum snoring. There wasn't the smoky smell of peat and cooked eel.
There was no Pole next to him, sharing the one warm blanket between them.
Eustace realized that what was really wrong about the whole arrangement was that Pole was not at his back and, just then, the door to the spare room opened.
He sat up and looked over the back of the divan. She was in the bedroom doorway, looking as out of sorts as he felt. "Can't sleep either?" he asked.
"No." She shuffled toward him, tying her dressing gown around her. "The bed is too soft."
"It's too quiet too."
She nodded. "And, I keep rolling over expecting to pull the blanket back from you."
"I was not the blanket thief. You were," he retorted. They always argued about this.
She scowled. "Fine. Be that way," and turned to go back to the bedroom.
Eustace flailed out of the divan, grabbing the pillow and trailing blanket. "Pole?"
She pivoted back with a questioning look, taking in the pillow and blanket he was clutching.
"Maybe we could kip out? On the floor of your room? Like in Narnia? I mean it's not the same of course, but it might help us sleep."
Pole brightened and, bouncing on her toes, pushed the door of her room wider. Through the doorway he could see that her pillow and blanket were already on the floor.
There were no rocks, but it was a good, hard floor. There was a real pillow and the blankets didn't smell of smoke and travel. After months of practice, it was routine. First Pole set the ground cover out just so, since she didn't like sleeping on the bare ground (or floor) if she could help it. Then she lay down, curled on her side, facing outward, and it was his turn. Eustace threw the blanket over her and she grasped the corner while he crawled underneath it. He settled next to her, side by side, back to back, and pulled the blanket up to their heads. It was just as they had done it so very many times before, but under Narnian stars instead of Aunt Polly's plaster ceiling of her spare room.
"I'm glad you were there, Pole. Thanks."
And as it had been all those other nights before, for weeks and weeks, in the place where time was different and slower and longer, Eustace fell asleep to the rhythm of Jill Pole's breathing.
When Professor Kirke joined them later in the week, they went over the whole journey again. The Professor and Aunt Polly were both very interested in their descriptions of the Lady of the Green Kirtle.
"She might have been Jadis," Polly, said, explaining their concern. "The Empress of Charn who followed us into Narnia and who became the White Witch."
"But Aslan killed her," Eustace argued.
"And her followers tried to bring her back in King Caspian's time," Professor Kirke said, gravely stroking his beard. "Jadis did not live as mortals on Charn. Even after killing her entire world and everything in it, she preserved her existence with magic. She was at Narnia's birth and she ate from the Tree of Youth. So, perhaps she remains so bound to Narnia that she continues to endure even if Aslan did kill her."
"She may do so by changing form," Polly said. She tapped a finger smartly on her tea saucer. "This Green Witch you describe is very different from Jadis. If possible, she sounds even worse."
"Their appearances are different," the Professor said slowly. "However, there are some disturbing similarities in the methods both used. That is what makes me think they might be the same being, or related by some magical succession."
At this, Polly and the Professor exchanged a serious, knowing sort of look. Eustace shivered and Pole sniffed a little. The atmosphere of the kitchen table became strained and uncomfortable.
"We'll just be off to bed then," Pole announced suddenly. Together, they marched off to the spare bedroom and shut the door firmly behind them. They took turns in the washroom. Eustace had not decided if that was more or less convenient. It was, as Alberta would say, more sanitary than camping for three months or more in the rough wild, but more expectations came with things like a door you could shut and running water.
"I hope you didn't mind," Pole explained as she spread their blanket on top of the spare room bed. After a few nights on the floor of her room, he and Pole had moved to the bed, sleeping on top of the bed covers. They could still hear the Professor and Polly's voices in the next room.
"I'm glad you spoke up. I didn't want to hear them talk about the Prince and the Green Lady, either." Eustace thought maybe Aunt Polly and the Professor were thinking about how Jadis had tricked Edmund, too. He'd not told Pole how the White Witch had lured Edmund into betraying his family with bewitched sweets because that tale wasn't his to tell. This was one of those times when Eustace did not think he would ever be grown up enough to hear the sort of talk that Aunt Polly and the Professor were having.
"Seeing what she had done to him was bad enough," Jill agreed, clambering into their bedroll. "I don't need to hear others talk about it. It's awful to think she kept Rilian for over ten years."
Eustace slid on to the bed next to Pole, turned on to his side, with his back to her, and drew the blanket up over both of them, the way they always did now, and as they had always done.
He was having nightmares – about the Green Lady and her voice, about how her diseased magic felt in his ears and his bones, about being pawed and cooked by the Giants, and about the creak of the boat in dark water. That was another thing that was good about waking up with Pole at his back, under a warm, soft cover, and hearing the sounds of her peaceful sleep. Even though it was night in the room they shared, the dark of the Underworld faded when he was in Pole's light.
When Eustace woke up the next morning, Pole was still asleep. The Professor had gone back to the university and Aunt Polly was making breakfast before she left for work at the Whipsnade Zoo.
"My divan is comfortable," Aunt Polly commented dryly as she spread a little jam on her toast. "I have slept on it myself."
"It's not that." Eustace was embarrassed that maybe Aunt Polly thought he was spurning her hospitality. "We just got used to sleeping together in Narnia."
Aunt Polly looked at him very seriously over the rim of her tea cup. But she didn't say anything more. In a vague sort of way, Eustace knew it might seem strange. He knew you shared a room with your siblings but he didn't have any brothers or sisters. You shared a room with dorm or flat mates, if you had them. And, you shared a room with your wife, though Harold and Alberta had separate beds and his father usually slept in the spare room. But he and Pole were ten years old and Narnians and it seemed like some of those rules maybe did not apply or at least applied differently.
"Do you want us to stop?" Eustace felt he should ask, though he really wasn't sure what they would stop, or if they could. They were just sleeping and they needed to do that.
"That is a decision for you and Jill," Aunt Polly said. "But, I would recommend you find an alternative, as you eventually will be returning to school."
It took two weeks for the inquiry and for Experiment House to reopen, which was time enough for several long letters with his cousins and many long conversations with Aunt Polly and the Professor.
The night before they went back, he and Pole followed Aunt Polly's advice and tried splitting up. They tossed a coin and she took the floor and he took the bed. After midnight, they gave up and he joined her on the floor.
Side by side, on top of one blanket and under the cover of the other, Pole at his back. That was just the way it was.
"What do you think we'll do, Pole?" Eustace supposed they would get accustomed to sleeping alone, eventually.
"Something will present itself, Scrubb." Pole's confident pronouncement ended with an uncertain, "I hope."
The first day back was awful. Well, school was fine, for school, better than he'd even expected. Most of Them had been expelled, lots of other students had withdrawn, and their nutter of a Head was gone. The new Head started straight off with lots of assessments and tests to see just how much geography and Latin and arithmetic and European history they didn't know. The testing took very little time, because, as all the students knew, Experiment House had been a good place to learn how to hide and move quickly and quietly away from trouble; academic success had never been an aptitude encouraged in students.
Eustace caught up with Pole during lunch. She was nodding off into her soup.
"This is not going to work, Scrubb," she said through a yawn.
He rubbed his eyes and nodded. The potato was watery and tasteless; he shoved it away impatiently. Eustace never thought he'd miss smoked eel. "I fell asleep just as my alarm clock sounded. It's stupid, too. All my dorm mates and the Hall Prefect are gone."
This had been one of the other effects of the changes at Experiment House. The Head had made Them the Junior and Senior Prefects, and the Heads of the School – who had now all withdrawn or been expelled. There was no one to mete out unfair punishments, harass you, or patrol the corridors. There'd been a whole system of fagging and servitude and it was all gone because the overlords had been sent down.
Pole was resting her chin in her hands, her eyes half closed. She suddenly blinked and repeated, "You have the room to yourself?"
"For now…" Oh. "What about you?"
"Shirley Williams, that's all." Pole nodded decisively and she brightened. "And she's all right. I'll give it a go, what?"
He thought of protesting. Surely, they'd get caught and be expelled. But, why not at least try? The girls' wing was just on the other side of the central stairway. It wasn't that far. There wasn't anyone to conduct patrols. And Pole was a terrific actress, too. She'd figure something out if she got caught.
Eustace nodded. "I'll make sure the door is unlocked, just in case."
And that night, an hour after curfew, the door to Eustace's dormitory creaked open and Jill Pole slid into his room and bed.
"Budge over, Scrubb."
"Not a one."
"I set the alarm so you can get up before anyone else and slip back."
He had already set out the blankets. Pole arranged the bottom one to her liking. Then, as always, the two of them lay together, side by side, on top of one blanket and under the cover of the other, Pole at his back.
All term and the next, Pole snuck into his rooms most nights. One weekend, when Pole's dorm mate left, Eustace decided to make the run.
"You sure, Scrubb?" Pole asked when he whispered his plan during study hall. Experiment House had become a very serious place over the last year. When it turned out, certainly no surprise to the students, that none of them knew anything that they were supposed to know, the new Head sacked a lot of the teachers as well. There was a lot of classwork and homework, laboratories and mandatory study times. There was maybe even less supervision than before, because there wasn't anyone to do the supervising. The Head made up for it by working them all to death, with rigorous physical education at the end of the day. They were exhausted but, all in all, it was a big improvement.
"It could be dangerous. You might get caught."
"Oh, you know me, Pole. I laugh at danger and drop ice cubes down the vest of fear."
"You're brave as the Lion, Scrubb," she agreed, laughing at his joke. "But you're a rotten sneak."
Eustace was caught before he even left his own hall, caned for being out after curfew, assigned an additional thirty pages of worksheets, and had to write I will not venture out of my dormitory like a thief in the night 1,000 times. In Latin.
After that, Pole made the trip. She was so good, she was only caught a few times, and each time she pretended she was sleepwalking and blubbed.
The summer hols were terrible without Pole. Alberta was stuffing nerve tonics and cod liver oil down his gullet every day. It only improved when Pole came to stay and then he went to see her, and then when they both went and stayed with Aunt Polly in Bedford. (He told Harold and Alberta he was going to stay with Pole's Aunt. Pole told her mother that she was going to visit Scrubb's Aunt.)
Planning ahead, Eustace badgered and whinged and became a right dragon until his parents relented and agreed to pay for him to get a single room at school. He sent an apology to Aslan for that wretched behavior. Eustace found he had to really work at it to be that awful. It would be worth it, though. A term without sleep and he and Pole would both turn into dragons.
On the return for the new term, however, he and Pole discovered that the outer door to his hall had a new lock. This proved to be no obstacle to Pole.
"I thought this might happen so I asked Susan to show me how to pick locks," Pole explained. "And Edmund found me a set of picks."
Eustace couldn't figure why a King and Queen of Narnia had learned how to open locks without keys or knew where one would buy thieves' tools.
She proudly displayed the picks. "I'm joining Girl Guides, too."
"I don't think you need to improve your outdoor camping and survival skills, Pole."
Pole smacked him with her pillow. "For tracking and stealth, you prat."
"So you can sneak into my room and steal my blanket!" Eustace crowed.
Pole smacked him again for that one. "I am not a blanket thief."
The older they got, the easier it got. By the following year, they were both junior Prefects, Eustace continued to have his own room, and they always volunteered to patrol the dormitory halls after curfew. Patrol was a very unpopular assignment among the Prefects because all that any sensible student wanted to do was collapse in an exhausted stupor after the mandatory five mile jog before bed.
There wasn't anything that Pole couldn't overcome. She knew the entire floor plan of the school by heart, could pick the lock of every broom closet, and put two years worth of Girl Guides to good use. She moved as silently as a wood Dryad through the school at night.
It was the hols, the War was over, and most of the American GIs were gone. They'd left their mark though. You heard it in the music on the BBC that had started normal broadcasting again, in the popular swing and the jazz records, and in all that lewd dancing that went along with the music.
Pole had picked up the Lindy and Jitterbug in Girl Guides, and the two of them started practicing at night before bed. That meant there were loud thumps coming from his room sometimes over the term. They were both Prefects, though, and so no one ever asked about it except the Head Boy, and Jill started teaching him to dance, too.
Edmund was the one who found a dance hall a couple miles from where they were all staying that did not have a No Jitterbugging sign in the window. So they all went and it was really a brilliant time. It was smoky and loud and the floor got a little sticky from the spilled drinks, but it was terrific fun to finally dance in a place where you weren't worried about banging your shins on a desk in your dormitory.
Lucy looked very modern in her men's trousers. She went about the hall and rounded up the men for darts in the back. Between games, she would coax on to the dance floor anyone who was free, the old gaffers, and the vets who were missing limbs and eyes, the shy schoolboys, and the sad women who had lost their men in the War and the plump little schoolgirls. It could have seemed scandalous or odd, but it wasn't at all. It was just Lucy, who shined so bright and was so merry and gay and everyone who saw her wanted to be in her light for a little bit.
Susan danced with her brothers and her pilot boyfriend, who seemed a bit smarmy to Eustace and Edmund didn't like him much. He was a great dancer though, and was very nice to Pole without being a flirt. The man knew how to dance with Pole the same way that Edmund and Peter danced with their sisters. You couldn't describe it, exactly, but you could see it. So, Eustace was able to sit back and enjoy how well they looked doing some pretty complicated flips and turns without worrying about it.
Edmund and Peter had come with their girls – though Peter's girl was really a woman and it was stupid to call her Peter's girlfriend and she didn't like it either. She had a house and a real job, too. She and Peter didn't dance so much. It seemed like they knew just about everyone in the place and so they went around and talked to people and Peter wrote things down in the notebook he always carried.
Edmund and his girl danced and argued. They seemed to like quarreling, but Eustace thought it was pretty tiresome to listen to them.
They got back to the house really late and everyone went their separate ways and since Pole had been bunking with Lucy, she came to his room. Eustace hadn't given much thought to the arrangements before, but now the shuffling that had happened before they left for the club made a lot more sense.
Lying there on top of their blanket and under the cover of the other, Eustace could hear faint sounds and he knew they weren't the noises of the house settling. It wasn't surprising, really. Not after what they'd seen that night and what he had guessed about his cousins. They had been Kings and Queens, and he'd learned a lot about the English, French and Russian royalty in history now that Experiment House was actually teaching. He didn't imagine it had been that different when his cousins had ruled Narnia as monarchs.
"I suppose they were all old in Narnia," Pole said, speaking his thought aloud.
"They were there a long time," he replied. "When they left, they were older than they are now."
"I think they are all glad to be able to act more their real age. They don't have to hide it so much."
He knew what she meant. You could see it in how Susan let her boyfriend light her cigarette and in how she arched her neck when he kissed it. There was a way that Edmund's hand lingered on his girl's hip and how Peter and his girlfriend (and he was really going to have find a better word for her) danced during the slower music. They were all enjoying themselves. It wasn't something Eustace had ever seen before – grown up couples doing grown up things who liked being with each other and who were being affectionate. Harold and Alberta never were affectionate, not to him, not to each other. He wondered how his parents had ever managed to produce him and they must have thought it all pretty distasteful.
And then it hit him in the way that things sometimes did. He and Pole were fourteen, they were lying in a bed together, in the dark, alone. And she was a girl. Was she expecting the same sorts of things his cousins were doing? Was he?
Another sound came through the walls.
And Pole, Aslan bless her, did the one thing that he most needed. She giggled. And then he started giggling, too. They laughed a long time into their pillow because it might have been uncomfortable but mostly it was just really funny.
Eventually, Pole flopped over on her back, laughter spent. They stayed that way for a while, staring at the bed canopy.
"If I tell you something, Scrubb, can you promise not to get mad?"
"I'll try," was the best he could do. He'd been trying to figure a way to get words out himself. Pole was always the braver one this way. He hoped they were thinking the same thing.
"I'm not ready to be as grown up as your cousins."
He let out a huge, relieved sigh. "Me either, Pole." The sounds now were just those of the night, an old house, and their creaky bed. "It does seem good fun. For grown ups," he added quickly, not wanting Pole to get the wrong idea. "When you're grown up."
"I do like that about them. The way others talk, you'd think being with someone was all nasty and wicked and not nice at all." Pole finally said after a long pause, "Seeing them so happy makes me think I'd want to do those things, some day."
"I think I so, too. Some day. When I'm more grown up."
They settled again into their bedroll the way they always did, side by side, on top of one blanket and under the cover of the other, Pole at his back.
Winter Term, Experiment House, 1947
The problem about growing up was that you really couldn't predict when it would happen and some of it was pretty damn awkward when it did. Peter had taken him aside over the summer and provided some blunt, practical information, so Eustace was prepared, even if he'd hoped it might just pass him by. It turned out that Susan had given Pole the same lecture.
And when it all finally started in, it was as embarrassing as he thought it would be. But, Pole was an absolute brick about it and said that sooner or later, something similar was going to happen to her, too. And, sure enough, it did, and when it did, Pole was scarlet with embarrassment and so then it was his turn to be the brick about it.
And that was that.
Pole started to look a little less like a pole and Eustace could tell he was changing, too, though he'd never be the Gibraltar rock that Peter was. It didn't matter over much to the two of them. The bed got a little more cramped, but not so much as they were going to change a habit of the last five years.
Their fellow students were another matter.
They were lying in his bed together as they always did, one blanket beneath, under the cover of the other, side by side, Pole at his back.
After the fifth sigh and sixth toss, Eustace finally asked, "What's on your mind, Pole?"
"I was wondering if I should say anything."
"Can't stop now, then."
She sighed a sixth time. "Dorothy Jones asked me today if you and I were going."
Pole's seventh sigh was directed at how thick he could be sometimes. "Together. Out. If we were a couple."
Eustace burst into a deep guffaw and Pole rolled over and punched him in the arm with her hard little fist.
"Ow! Pole, I wasn't having one on you."
"Then stop laughing!"
"I was laughing because Sims asked me the same thing about you. He wants to ask you to the dance next week."
Pole went really quiet. "He does?"
"What did you tell him?" Pole asked in a very small voice.
"I expect the same thing you told Jones. That we're not going."
The question had truly startled him and Eustace knew that his stunned, open mouthed shock was the answer Sims had hoped for. In fact, Eustace hadn't said anything at all. Sims just grinned in relief and slapped him on the back. "Thanks, Scrubb. I wasn't sure, so thought I'd better do right by you and ask first."
"I told Dorothy the same thing. That we weren't going." Pole plucked at the coverlet. "Sims?" There was a whole conversation in her one word.
"Sims is a good bloke," Eustace said. He really wasn't sure how he felt about this, so he'd decided to not think about it at all. He and Pole weren't going, not like his cousins did, certainly. But, he and Pole did sleep together. It was odd to think that they might be going with another person but still share a bedroll.
Pole, like she usually did, said what he was thinking. "I didn't say anything to Dorothy about all this, of course." She waved her arm about the room and the bed they shared. "That seemed too complicated."
"I didn't say anything to Sims, either. It's nobody's business but ours." Eustace tried to settle the coverlet over them again, but Pole was still squirming too much. "Besides, I wouldn't want you to get a reputation."
Her snort sounded almost contemptuous. "That's awfully nice of you, Scrubb, but I'm more concerned about a decent night's sleep than I am about a silly school reputation."
Eustace couldn't help thinking that saying it now was one thing, and suffering through the mean looks and rude comments would be something else.
"Besides," Pole added, "aren't you worried about your reputation?"
"I think it's different for boys. Not that it should be," he amended hastily when Pole started grumbling. This was, he decided, the sort of conversation that only Narnians would ever have.
"I just worry that someone might see you around my room and the boys will start bothering you," Eustace said. "Or that your dorm mate will be a snitch."
"If boys start bothering me, you hold them down and I'll poke them with Lucy's dirk." That solution was even more Narnian. Pole continued, "And Shirley won't be saying anything since Robert Ballard is with her when I'm here."
He rolled over and stared at the back of Pole's head. "Really? I didn't know they were going."
"Sometimes, Scrubb, you can be really thick."
"Thick as an Ettin," he agreed.
Pole flipped on to her back and grinned up at him, "But you have better aim."
"I don't blub like they do, either."
It had all been just like it had always been. And then, suddenly, it wasn't. Eustace realized Pole was lying down, on her back, and he was propped over her on an elbow and they were in his cramped bed and her nightdress was an old flannel, but she looked pretty in it and…
He pushed quickly away, flopping on to his back, even though there wasn't enough room in the bed for them both to be like that, but it helped that now he had to concentrate on keeping his balance and not falling to the floor. Eustace was really glad it was dark so Pole couldn't see how embarrassed he was. If I don't look at her, it will go away.
"So, do you think I should go to the dance with Sims if he asks?"
Pole's question helped him focus more. It was harder to say than it should have been. So, he repeated what he'd said before, "Sims seems like a good bloke."
The bed quivered as Pole giggled. "What?"
"I was just thinking about how I would end the dance. 'Good night, Sims. I'm going to Scrubb's room now.'"
Sniggering at the prospect of that conversation helped, too.
"You'd probably use his first name," Eustace said. He pitched his voice higher, imitating Pole, "'Good night Arthur dear, I'm going to Scrubb's room now.'"
"I would not call him dear," Pole retorted, sounding irritated. "Arthur is bad enough."
"Not as bad as Eustace," he said. It was a sore point. Eustace Scrubb was the name of a dragon, not the boy he was.
Pole took his hand and squeezed it gently. "Eustace Scrubb is a fine name."
He returned the squeeze. "Thanks, Pole."
The Tower Clock chimed in the quad. By silent agreement, she released his hand and they turned over, side by side, one blanket beneath, under the cover of the other, Pole at his back.
"I don't think Arthur Sims will understand," Pole said into the dark, to the wall she faced.
"If he doesn't understand, he doesn't deserve you, Pole"
It turned out Sims didn't deserve Pole. Sims asked Pole to the dance and she went with him. Eustace went too, but by himself because he didn't want to be tied down to one girl in case Dorothy Jones was a rotten dancer. Jones wasn't a bad dancer, but she wasn't as good as Pole. Some of the other girls were very good dancers and even prettier than Pole. So Eustace danced with lots of girls and thought he might have disappointed a few of them when he didn't ask any of them to go with him. But really, where would the two of them go and he didn't feel up to explaining that even if they did go somewhere, he was still sharing a bedroll with Pole at night.
A few nights after the dance, Pole came into his room a little later than usual. She had been crying.
"I'll box Sims!" Eustace snarled, raging against the boy who had been mean to Pole.
"Don't," Pole said in a miserable whisper. She was curled up in a tight little ball on his bed. "Sims is a good bloke, just like you said. He's just not the right bloke."
Pole started blubbing again and Eustace felt angry and helpless and he hated just lying on top of one blanket, under the cover of the other, side by side, back to back. So, he rolled over on to his back and pulled Pole against him and put an arm around her shaking shoulders. She was stiff for a second and then buried her face in his shoulder and cried quietly until she fell asleep.
The same thing happened a few more times, over a few more terms – different boys Pole went with for a little while and then split with and cried over. Since she was the one doing the splitting, Eustace didn't understand why she was the one crying about it. He decided it was one of those inscrutable girl things that Edmund had warned him about.
Eustace danced with lots of girls, got drinks for some of them at dances and carried their books, and even held hands with a few of the pretty ones and kissed their cheeks. But, he never promised anything and they never lasted very long. He really didn't like to think that he might be a dragon and make them cry.
"I'd say that maybe we should start going together," Pole said as she cried into his shoulder about a good but not right bloke named Charles. "But that could get so complicated."
"Especially when we stopped," Eustace agreed, handing Pole another handkerchief from his nightstand. "I think the other Narnians would be angry when you decide I'm not the right bloke."
She shuddered, sniffed and laughed, all at the same time. "Scrubb, I don't want our friendship ending with me cutting you up into strips and telling everyone that you just walked over a very sharp cattle grid in an extremely heavy hat."
He laughed. "You've been rehearsing that line, haven't you?"
"Maybe a little."
The Tower Clock in the quad chimed midnight. Eustace blotted the last of Pole's tears, combed her damp hair away from her face, collected the wet handkerchiefs, and put them by his alarm clock. "Ready to sleep now?"
"Yes," Pole whispered.
She turned away, facing the wall and Eustace settled against her. Side by side, on top of one blanket and under the cover of the other, Pole at his back. In the dark, she groped for his hand and found it. He laced their fingers together and gently rubbed little circles in her knuckles with his thumb; Pole pressed her back to his. Eustace fell asleep to the rhythm of Jill Pole's breathing, still holding her hand.
Winter Term, Bradford, 1949
They had been up practically all night, plotting what to do in the wake of the strange apparition that had materialized during dinner.
Narnia. Peter was sure the apparition was a Narnian and a King besides. Worlds and ages made no difference to the High King. He just knew when he saw one who sat the throne of Narnia by Aslan's will. He had known when he had met Caspian the first time. He knew now, even if the vision was barely a ghost.
With dawn only a few hours away, Edmund ordered everyone to bed or they'd be no good for the clear thinking that had to be done. Everyone was kipped out all over the house, Lucy was with Polly; Edmund, Peter and the Professor were sharing the spare bedroom.
By habit, he and Pole argued about the divan and settled on the floor in the parlor. But, they weren't side by side, back to back, yet. Eustace was lying on his back and Pole was curled next to him in the crook of his arm. It was something they had started to do when she cried sometimes; it was much nicer to do it when she wasn't blubbing. Besides that, over the last school terms, her body had changed in feel against his. He liked this slightly softer Pole on the outside who was still the same Pole on the inside. Her hands were resting on his chest and he could feel her fingertips on his skin. Her blowsy hair tickled his nose; he ran a thumb along her face, pushing the hair away, just a little.
"Do you think we will go back?" Pole asked, whispering in his ear. The words were a thrill. "To Narnia? You and me? Or, might we be too old?"
He sighed and Pole rose and fell against him. "I don't know. We're older than my cousins were when Aslan told them they couldn't go back. But…"
Pole finished for him in the way that should be irritating, but wasn't. "I think Aslan would have told us if we were not to come back."
"Yes." Her hair was very soft between his fingers. "It's strange to hear about the rings after so long. Though that's only part of the problem."
Pole nodded into his shoulder. "We still have to find the right pool to Narnia in the Wood Between The Worlds."
"We'll just do the best we can."
"I think Aslan will help us." Pole said it so stoutly, he smiled. "Though, I would like to see a few other worlds first before we find Narnia."
He laughed, finding his heart and mind too full for words.
She grumbled sourly, misinterpreting, as always, and tried to pull away with disgust. Eustace clasped her closer. "I wasn't funning you, Pole. I'm just glad we'll be together on this adventure, maybe our last one in Narnia and in other worlds."
Then, like his cousins, the Professor, and Aunt Polly, they would take what Narnia had prepared them to do and make their own adventures here. It was exciting.
"Oh," she mumbled and relaxed against him, closer than before. "Well why didn't you say so."
"I just did." On an impulse, he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. It was the sort of thing that always seemed pointless when he'd see his cousins do it, but now seemed right. "And I know you won't let me go ringing any forbidden bells either."
"I certainly will not!"
She kept her hand in his.
This time, he was going to say it. "I forgot in all the excitement, but I wanted to tell you that you looked really pretty tonight, Pole." It had been bothering him that he had said that to other girls over the last term, but never to Pole, that he could remember.
Pole went too quiet for too long.
"What?" he asked, suddenly wary when all he'd meant to do was say something nice that he should have said before.
"Really? You thought I looked pretty?"
"Yes," Eustace repeated firmly. Then, because he realized how she might take it, he added, "And I don't mean that you aren't pretty other times. You are. You just looked really nice tonight."
She propped up on an elbow to stare down at him. Her hair was falling around her shoulders and her eyes looked enormous and he was concentrating hard on staring at her face – his cousins always mocked the men who would look at a woman's breasts and not at her face. Not that Pole's breasts weren't worth looking at. He was sure they were. If he'd ever looked at them. And it was really hard not to look because the flannel nightdress she was wearing gaped when she moved.
"And you look even prettier now." He'd blurted the words before he could stop them and wished he could clamp his hands over this mouth but his arms were too tangled up around Pole.
"Can I kiss you?" she asked suddenly.
He wondered what would happen if he said no. That would be awful. Especially awful because then there would be awkwardness and anger and they would have to pretend everything was fine when it wasn't. And he was sure they should not go into Narnia mad at each other. But, he was also worried because Pole was the best friend he'd ever had and he didn't want that to change, even if it meant not kissing her ever.
She frowned and looked hurt and he knew he'd waited too long. She tried to roll away from him and it was like losing an arm or some other part of himself. He wasn't going to let that happen and pulled her back closer.
"Besides being the prettiest girl I know, Pole, you're the bravest, to go ask me something I've been too cowardly to ask you myself."
Pole smiled and leaned down over him. Her hair was everywhere. Eustace really hoped that this wasn't going to be just a kiss on the cheek, because he'd had a few of those from her over the years, and if he wanted one of those, he'd get it from his cousins.
Of course Pole would be the first girl he ever really kissed; he thought it was probably her first real kiss, too. Not that it mattered. Because this was their first, real kiss together. It was a little dry to start and their noses didn't quite fit. So, it was awkward. And she was shy and he could feel her cheeks blushing, and his were too. But this was Pole. Always at his back, Pole.
Like riding a bicycle or archery, the more they did it, the better they were at it. And the better it felt. The taste and the sounds were terrific too and, as much as he was enjoying it, he could tell she was enjoying it too, which made it all even more fantastic. It was getting pretty warm under their cover and Eustace was so happy and he really wanted to discover more about this new softer Pole that was still his old Pole on the inside. But she sighed and pushed away at the same point he tried to ease from under her welcoming weight. It was one of the most difficult things he'd ever done, to let her go and pull back himself. He knew, though, in the same way she did, that it was time to stop and he was really glad they'd come to that decision at the same time.
He remembered what Edmund had said, a few terms ago, and thought that his cousin had seen this coming, even if Eustace hadn't. Edmund hadn't been prying or anything, just very serious and matter of fact, and explained it all in Narnian terms, about respect and talking through things and taking precautions. It wasn't the feelings and desire that were wrong, Edmund had said, but what you did or didn't do as a result of them.
The Just King had said to never forget that no means no, stop means stop, and Eustace recalled that night after their return from Narnia with the Professor and Aunt Polly and realized that was what they had meant – that Rilian's "No" and "Stop" had meant nothing to the Green Witch. Edmund had agreed and said that it was an awful thing that Eustace should never, ever forget. Eustace also now understood what Edmund had meant about how this sort of thing could make you stupid and that you shouldn't be making any decisions this important if you were already in a bed with your girl or didn't have clothes on. He and Pole weren't in a bed and they still had their nightclothes on, the way they were supposed to be, though they were a bit mussed. Still, it was pretty much the same thing.
"I'm sorry, Scrubb," Pole whispered, sounding all breathy, which was brilliant, and worried, which wasn't.
"I'm not," he told her, giving them both a little more space so they could catch their breath. "You shouldn't be either." He laced his fingers in hers and for good measure, kissed her hand, too. "We've got an important adventure first. We'll have lots of time after to sort the rest of this out."
Her fingers tightened around his own. "And you want to get it all sorted?"
"Don't be thick, Pole. Of course I do. You?"
"I did kiss you first," Pole said primly.
If he were Edmund or Susan, he would have said something smug then. If he were Peter, he would have said something very complimentary and gallant. Lucy would have laughed. But, he was just Eustace Scrubb and she was Jill Pole. So, he said, "And next time, I'll kiss you first."
They settled together as they always had for months and years, however they were counted, on a flat world or a round one, side by side, on top of one blanket and under the cover of the other, and Pole at his back.
Thanks to Snacky for the beta!
Thanks to Sushi for the terrific prompt. She requested:
What I want: Bookverse everything, por favor. An obscure or controversial pairing would be nice...Jill/Eustace! Lucy/Caspian! Digory/Polly! But if romance isn't your thing, I would love a fic about King Lune pre-Cor and Corin, or perhaps a bookverse about pre-Prince Caspian Caspian, or even a piece about a Golden Age-era battle or politics. I like politics and I like the nitty-gritty of history even more, so indulge me (or yourself, however it may be) and fill it up with detail. :)
Prompt words/objects/quotes/whatever: "Does it have to be this way? Our valued friendship ending with me cutting you up into strips and telling them that you walked over a very sharp cattle grid in an extremely heavy hat?" or "Well, he always says, when the going gets tough, the tough hide under the table." or even "Ha ! I laugh at danger and drop ice cubes down the vest of fear." All optional, by the way.
What I definitely don't want in my fic: Any hint of slash, incest, or Caspian/Susan.
For those who are wondering, this is not strictly compliant with the bigger story in progress, The Stone Gryphon, though, obviously, I have borrowed heavily from that work.
The dubious Lewis wiki timeline, identifies Eustace as born in 1933, making him 9 or 10 when he goes to Narnia on The Dawn Treader in 1942, and probably 10 when he and Jill travel there together. Yet, they are in at least their second year of school, so Eustace began boarding school very young. We'll just chalk that up to the oddity of Experiment House. The timeline identifies the train crash as seven years later, in 1949, making Eustace and Jill as old as 17 and very possibly too old for Experiment House although they state they are the only ones still in school.