AN: This is actually the second version of this chapter because the first one I wrote just annoyed me. Hopefully this one is better.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland
Lucy sighed, stamping her feet to keep warm. The ration line seemed longer than usual, filled with mothers hoping for a chance to finagle a little extra meat or sugar in this week before Christmas. With Edmund and Eustace stuck helping Uncle Harold fix a leak in the roof – that is, Edmund fixing the roof with Eustace awkwardly attempting to help – and with Aunt Alberta out visiting friends, Lucy was on her own to gather the family's weekly rations.
Despite the cold and backstrain from standing still so long, for Lucy the worst part of waiting in line was the time to think. With the grey, cold weather and the melancholy atmosphere from a queue of weary, worried women, Lucy's thoughts could not help but turn melancholy. Christmas in war-time held its own grief, whether in England or in Narnia. Lucy sighed. At least in Narnia we were rarely apart at Christmas. In fact, if Lucy remembered correctly, the family had only been apart their first and last Christmas in that wonderful land.
Narnian Christmases had seemed more real, somehow. Though there were a few exceptions, war usually ceased for the holiday. Families gathered together, thanking Aslan for their blessings and exchanging gifts, with the expectation of a visit from Father Christmas always exciting even adults. And, as the sun rose on Christmas Day, the Birds would sing out and all the Narnian who could would ring small bells outside in the crisp air, celebrating the peace Aslan had granted them that year.
Christmas had been a time for family and friends. The kings and queens would spend the morning privately, without the servants who were spending Christmas with their own families. The four would gather in Lucy's room to open gifts, and then Peter would throw off the mantle of High king and make cinnamon-toast and omelets for breakfast. In the afternoon the four sovereigns would visit with their friends, many of whom would be staying in the wings of Cair Paravel, bringing them presents and warm embraces. Mrs. Beaver would insist they stay in the Beavers' quarters for an hour of hot cocoa. The knights' young children would clamor for the candy Edmund always brought especially for them. And Mr. Tumnus could always be cajoled to return with the kings and queens to play a jolly tune on his pipes in front of a warm fire.
Lucy blinked back tears as she reached the store counter and presented her ration coupons. Numbly retrieving the groceries, she wandered the streets back to Uncle Harold and Aunt Alberta's house. Lucy had missed her friends the first Christmas after returning from Narnia, but she kept hope that Aslan would return her to her land, she just had to keep faith. The Christmas after their return to Narnia, where they had found centuries had passed and all their friends were gone, had certainly been harder, but at least all four Pevensie children had been together. Peter had made breakfast, Susan had saved enough ration cards for hot cocoa, Edmund had used his connections to get a few pieces of sugar-candy for the neighborhood kids, and Lucy had painstakingly carved a simple hand-pipe to play by the fire. But now…
"Lu?" She looked up at Edmund's worried face and realized that she had made it back to the front of the house without realizing it. Her attempt at hiding her upset from her brother was completely unsuccessful and, before Lucy knew it, the groceries were out of her arms and shoved at a slightly confused Eustace with a distractedly-polite request to take them inside. Edmund gently took her arm and led her to the relative privacy of the large holly bush in the backyard. "What's wrong, Lu?"
Lucy knew that, of anyone, Edmund would understand what she was feeling – he probably felt the same way. "Oh, Edmund, I just…miss Narnia. I miss the Beavers, and Mr. Tumnus, and Caspian, and Reepicheep. I miss…I miss Peter and Susan. At least last year we four were together for Christmas." This year, though, Susan, and their parents, were still stuck in America, and Peter was staying the holiday with the Professor, who had come down with a light case of pneumonia and could not be left alone. "And…oh, I know Aslan said he was in this world, but we still don't know where and I miss him."
Edmund pulled her into a hug and let her cry against his shoulder. "I know, Lu, I know." They stood there for a long moment, Lucy softly crying and trying to draw comfort from her brother's presence.
"Um, can I help?" The two Pevensies looked up as Eustace stood nervously to the side, obviously wanting to help but also incredibly uncomfortable being near a crying girl. Narnia and Aslan had changed Eustace from the annoying brat he had been, but he was still a ten-year old boy.
Lucy, though warmed by his concern, was still too upset to answer and just buried her face against Edmund's chest. Edmund answered, wearily. "Thanks, Eustace, but it's not really something you can fix." Or understand, was the unspoken continuance – Eustace would get to return to Narnia.
To his credit, Eustace nodded and let them be. But Edmund's unspoken words had lit an idea in the younger boy's mind that would bear fruit five days later, on Christmas Eve.
Christmas was not a big celebration in the Scrubb household – Eustace usually just received presents from his parents on Christmas morning, without any such nonsense as Father Christmas or trees or stockings or anything fun. The lack of preparation or decoration increased the melancholy feel in Lucy and Edmund, particularly as Christmas Eve dawned. Eustace, however, was suspiciously excited, enough so that even Lucy noticed, distracted by her dreary mood though she was.
Uncle Harold and Aunt Alberta were going to be at some boring society Christmas party until late that afternoon, so the three children were left to their own devices. Normally this would include some discussion about Narnia, but neither Lucy nor Edmund felt up to talking about Narnian Christmases. Instead, they all just sat on the floor of the living room next to the fire and played a game of cards.
Edmund was winning handily when a strong knock on the door interrupted the game. Lucy thought that Eustace seemed overly eager to be the one to answer the door, but she idly put it down to the fact that he was losing badly. But she very much noticed when he returned with a grin that threatened to split his face in two. "So, you remember you told me a few weeks ago about how your Professor Kirke went to Narnia, when he was a boy, with his friend?"
"Yes," answered Lucy cautiously.
"Well," continued Eustace, "I spent some time looking up the friend, Polly, and I actually found out where she's living."
That intrigued Lucy. They had yet to meet the woman who had been one of the first in Narnia. "Is that who was at the door?"
Eustace gave her an annoyed look. "Let me finish!" Lucy shrugged and gestured for him to continue, hoping he wasn't keeping the poor woman waiting. "I gave her a call four days ago, we came to an agreement, and then I begged pleaded with Mum and Dad, and they agreed to house our special guest for the next few days." If it was possible, Eustace's grin widened. "And he just arrived."
Lucy and Edmund, who were expecting to be introduced to the Lady Polly, both started at that. "He?" exclaimed Lucy, her eyes widening as a tall, familiar figure stepped into the room.
Peter smiled. "Merry Christmas, you two."
There was a moment of silence, followed by Lucy and Edmund simultaneously launching themselves at their older brother. Then, after getting hugs and exclamations out of the way, the three Pevensies turned to Eustace. Lucy's eyes glistened, and she threw her arms around the younger boy. "Thank you, Eustace! This is the best Christmas gift ever!"
Eustace turned beet red. "I just talked with Miss Plummer and she agreed to stay with Professor Kirke so Peter could visit."
With a grin, Peter shook his head. "Oh, was she mad when she arrived. She yelled at the Professor for not calling or writing in seven years, for not telling her others went to Narnia, and for keeping me away from you for Christmas. Then she gave me a tin of cookies and told me to get to the train station. Quite a lady, I look forward to speaking with her more – but I was not about to pass up the opportunity to visit you!"
Soon, all four were sitting by the fireplace, laughing and talking and even singing. Aunt Albert and Uncle Harold came home, and they were even civil during supper and gave them permission to stay up in the living room into the night, as long as they did not talk too loud. Soon the hour approached midnight and the four children were still fondly discussing Narnia, and the Christmases that the older three had shared there. "I wish I could have been in Narnia for Christmas," lamented Eustace as the fire was growing dim.
Lucy paused. "Maybe you will," she said softly, remembering that Eustace would have at least one more chance to return to Narnia.
Eustace shook his head. "But it won't be the same. You had all those years there, and all your friends. I don't even know if Caspian and Drinian and the others will even still be alive when I go back, let alone if I can spend Christmas with them." His words brought back the melancholy of earlier – thoughts of friends long gone, of friends who may be having their last Christmas even as they spoke.
It was Peter who broke the threat of despair. "We will all be together to celebrate Christmas someday. All of us, everyone who has gone on, everyone who you may meet in the future. I promise you that."
His face as he said this was stern, but in the firelight Peter seemed to glow with a fierce assurance that what he said was fact, not a dream. Lucy felt a chill go up her spine. "What do you mean, Peter?" she whispered. Edmund and Eustace looked at the eldest Pevensie, also tense with anticipation.
"In Aslan's Country," he answered simply.
Lucy looked at him in despair "But we don't know how to get there from this world! We don't even know where Aslan is."
Peter's smile was warm, his eyes twinkled with a hidden secret. "Yes, we do."
There was silence, then the other three erupted into the loudest uproar they could without waking the sleeping Alberta and Harold. "What! Where, who?"
Peter laughed and kissed Lucy on the top of her head. "I'll tell you tomorrow." At the outraged whispers that the answer incurred, Peter shook his head. "None of that. Early tomorrow, we'll go out and I'll show you. But for now, we need to go to bed."
There was severe protest at this, but no one, not even Eustace, was willing to argue long with the High King. Still, Lucy tried once more to get a clear answer as Peter tucked her into bed. Again, Peter shook his head. "It's not something that can simply be told. It has to be experienced. I wouldn't have even mentioned it until tomorrow, but I thought you could use some hope." He smoothed the blankets and took her hand. "Lu, you've been strong for this long. You've muddled through a lot, particularly recently from what Eustace told me. It's just a little longer. Trust me."
Lucy nodded – though still anxious and disappointed, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she could trust Peter, especially with something like this. Peter smiled and gave the top of her head another kiss. Before he left the room, Lucy stopped him with a question, her eyes fixed on the painting at the foot of her bed. "Do you promise we'll be together for Christmas again?"
The smile could be heard in his voice. "I promise."
The next morning, Peter took them out into the cold, then into a building filled with people. There they found Aslan, and there Lucy wept in joy, and there they all had the merriest little Christmas until that day they would celebrate the Great Christmas, with all their closest friends and family…in Aslan's Country.
Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!