Three weeks before the coronation, Caspian began having serious doubts about it all. He had previously been confident that he would be able to rule Narnia peacefully, to make the Narnians and the Telmarians get along and live in peace. Now, however, Caspian was wondering whether the two groups would be forever separated by their hatred for one another. He had to deal with complaints day in and day out from both sides; neither group was willing to make concessions.
"It is just impossible! I will never be able to get them to get along!" The king-to-be ranted at Peter one day as they were wandering the halls of the castle. Since the last battle, Peter had become Caspian's primary confidant as the former high king seemed to sympathize with the challenges and demands of his position. "I can't even walk outside without being swarmed by a crowd and bombarded with complaints!"
"It's not an easy transition for them." Peter reminded him quietly.
"It's not easy for me either!" Caspian shouted, throwing his hands into the air in exasperation. He stormed down the hallway, stomped into his room, slammed the door shut with an echoing bang, and flung himself face first onto his bed. He pulled a pillow over his head and attempted to drown out the sounds of his servants walking through the corridor outside his door.
Several hours later, Caspian was pacing his room, trying to figure out a way to free himself of the troubles of being in charge for a few days when the door creaked open. Peter stood in the doorway, clad in full hunting gear. "Get dressed. We're going hunting." He said. Caspian hurried to his closet to change into more appropriate clothing. "I have everything ready and the horses are waiting by the gates. I made excuses for you as well, so you need not worry about abandoning your duties." Caspian jumped out of the closet and almost ran into Peter, who had moved closer as he spoke. Caspian caught Peter's bright eyes and froze. After a moment, Peter looked away and began walking toward the door, leaving Caspian with the feeling that he had just missed something incredibly important, and no idea what it was.
He hurried after Peter, who it seemed had not noticed Caspian's absence. "… that you would decide not to go, but I assured him that you needed this hunting trip. I also ensured that we would have no guard and could leave through the back to prevent being followed. An escape from kingly duties does not involve being followed around by a royal guard, you know." Caspian grinned to himself, realizing that Peter must have done this many times while he had been High King of Narnia.
"Where are we hunting?" Caspian asked as he fell into pace beside the blond.
"Wherever we like." Peter replied smugly, his eyes darting to the side to catch Caspian's for a half a step. Caspian attempted to smile in return, but his foot caught on the corner of a rug and he stumbled, but Peter caught his arm, preventing him from falling. Caspian did, however, find himself much closer to Peter than he was comfortable with. Peter's arm was stretched across his chest as he held Caspian's bicep, and Caspian's arm had wound itself around Peter's neck in his own attempt at breaking his fall. It suddenly became hard to breathe and neither boy moved a muscle. For just a split second, Caspian thought he saw Peter's lips move closer, then he was placed on his feet and he shook it off, deciding he had probably imagined it.
As Peter promised, the escape from the castle went smoothly and they weren't followed. Both boys were completely silent for the remainder of the journey to the stables and out of the castle grounds although Caspian kept opening his mouth to say something, anything, to Peter but he was never able to come up with anything that sounded remotely intelligent in his head.
There was plenty of daylight left when Caspian and Peter reached the edge of the woods. Caspian was feeling more cheerful already as he watched the other man pace between two paths, deciding which they would be following.
"These tracks are at least three days old. We're never going to find anything along these trails."
"We are no longer hunting?" For as hard as he tried, Caspian was unable to keep the sadness from creeping into his voice. He had been looking forward to a nice, long hunt alone with Peter.
Peter's eyes glinted mischievously as he swung himself back onto his horse. "I don't recall saying that we were calling off our hunting trip, Caspian." He winked before kicking his horse into a gallop. Caspian, laughing, spurred his own mount to follow.
The path quickly vanished behind them as they chased the trees and created a path of their own. Peter halted in a clearing and slid from his saddle as Caspian finally caught up on his own horse. They unsaddled their horses and left their riding equipment in the shade of a large tree.
"Where are we, Peter? I have never come to this part of the forest."
"This is where I used to come to hunt." Peter smiled at Caspian over his shoulder. "When I found the pressures of being a king too much. The only one I told of this place was Lucy. She never found any sense in hunting, of course, but she understood my desire for an escape."
"Did she come with you on your hunts?" Caspian asked, knowing that he shouldn't be jealous of Peter's sister, yet still feeling resentment that Peter had not saved this clearing specifically for Caspian himself. Turning away under the pretense of removing his horse's saddle, Caspian mentally shook himself; Peter had been high king of Narnia thousands of years before Caspian's ancestors existed, the was no logical reason for his jealousy.
"Of course she didn't." Peter chuckled at Caspian's suggestion. "Lu hates hunting. She tolerates it as much as can be expected, but I would not presume to expect her to wish to accompany me on such a "barbaric" trip. No, I believe I am the only one who even knows of this clearing's existence. Except for you, I suppose." There was a smile in Peter's voice as he finished his sentence, and Caspian to grinned into his saddle.
"So, how did you find this clearing?"
"Oh, I was out for a ride one day and happened to stumble upon it." Peter said evasively, giving Caspian the impression that Peter was holding back the true story. "Come, if we stand here chatting all day, all the good game will have gotten away!"
Caspian turned to once more face Peter. A wide grin was fixed on Peter's lips and he was impatiently gesturing for Caspian to hurry as he began to leave the clearing, his sword swinging in his hand. Grabbing his own sword, and noticing that it was shorter and thinner than Peter's, Caspian rushed off to follow him.
They formed a tacit agreement to keep silent while tracking down their potential kill. They walked along, side by side, following the moose tracks as they weaved between trees and around bushes. At one point, the tracks doubled back and Peter and Caspian found themselves walking in their own footsteps.
"We have already been here, Peter. Would it not be a good plan to change to less clever prey? Moose are rumored to be the smartest in these forests."
"There is no way this moose knows we are tracking it." Peter insists. "It is just wandering around the trees."
Caspian decided that since Peter had spent many of his free days during his reign as high king of Narnia hunting, it would be foolish to press the point. Peter had already decided that they were going to bring down this moose, and Caspian did not want to ruin the mood. They happily followed the moose tracks for several more hours before Peter's shoulders sagged in defeat.
"I think the moose knows we are hunting it." After a long pause, Peter turns to look at Caspian. "I am sorry it took me so long to realize... We should get back to our horses."
Peter turned around and took three steps before he stopped, scratched his elbow, and started walking in a different direction. Caspian stood perfectly still as Peter walked in a complete circle, his eyebrows bunched together in confusion. There were moose tracks and footprints going in absolutely every direction. Giving up on retracing his steps, Peter threw his head back and searched the skies, but it was still too bright for his to use the stars as his guide.
"I believe we came from this way." Peter muttered unconvincingly, setting his feet on one of the tracks and beginning to walk with a very obviously forced optimism. Caspian, who couldn't remember which way they had come from either, decided that it was better to follow Peter and hope for the best.
It wasn't until clouds began to darken the skies that Peter seemed to accept that he was hopelessly lost. "Peter, we need to find cover."
"What?" Peter looked around at Caspian with confusion burning in his eyes. He turned his face toward the sky and stared at the storm clouds hovering there. "Oh."
Sensing that Peter was too confused to lead them properly to safety, Caspian decided that it was time for him to take the lead. "There was a cave not too far back this way. Follow me." He turned and began walking back the way that they had come, not pausing to wait for Peter, but rather assuming that he would come.
The walk to the cave was short, but the rain began falling before they could reach the safety of cover. Both boys were soaked to the bone by the time they finally ducked into the cave. Peter sat down by the mouth of the cave, staring blindly into the sheet of rain just outside.
Caspian walked through the entirety of the cave to check for other inhabitants before he sat down next to Peter. For several minutes, the only sound was that of the rain pounding into the grass mere feet away. Caspian broke the silence with a small cough.
"I must apologize, Caspian. I should have listened to you sooner, and now we are lost in the middle of the woods with nothing to eat or drink in this disastrous weather."
"Peter," Caspian turns his head slightly to look directly into Peter's gentle eyes. "You are not to blame for this. Today was nothing more than you rescuing me from my anger. It was never a question of catching that moose, Peter, but of being able to feel free again."
Caspian held up a hand and Peter's argument caught in his throat. He stared at Caspian with confusion written in his gray eyes, and Caspian found it difficult to look away from the light orbs. The color brought a memory from the depths of Caspian's subconscious that he was unaware that he still possessed.
'Caspian is four years old, sitting in his window as lightning flashes across the sky. The storm has been raging for several hours already, and Caspian has been watching every minute of it. The sea is thrashing, its waves a dark, enticing gray. The waves crash onto the sand and explode on contact, sending drops of water in every direction. A hand strokes his hair and lips press against his scalp. A soft voice begins to sing softly as arms wrap around the young boy. He wraps his arms around his mother's neck and lets her carry him to bed, where she will read him a story about the high king Peter and his siblings who saved Narnia from the White Witch. His eyes remain focused on the waves as he leaves, hypnotized by the deadly gray water.'
"Caspian?" Peter touches his shoulder and Caspian lurches back to the present. There is a hot, stinging sensation in his throat and his eyes are burning with regret. His mother had not lived past that night and Caspian lived with his uncle since. "Caspian, you're crying."
Peter sounds as though he doesn't quite know what to do anymore. Caspian blinks and swipes the one tear that had escaped his left eye with the back of his hand. "There was something in my eye. I apologize." Caspian knows that Peter knows he is lying, and is grateful that the other man does not push the topic. "Is there any way of starting a fire in here? I am starting to feel a chill from the rain."
Peter gets up instantly and begins to investigate the far corners of the cave. He somehow recovers a large bundle of wood and many dried leaves. "they must have been blown in here before the storm." he begins to arrange them in the center of the cave and Caspian moves to help construct a fire pit. While reaching for the last piece of wood, Caspian found his hand momentarily in the grasp of Peter's fingers. All of his muscles seized up in response to the touch.
Peter snatched his hand back after several tense seconds and Caspian let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. After moving the last branch into the crude fire pit, Peter pulled his flint out of his pocket. and began attempting to create sparks. After the tenth try, the sparks finally caught hold of one of the dry leaves and Peter bent quickly to blow gently on it, shielding the small flame with his hands.
Caspian watched as Peter's breath caressed the tiny flame until more sparks seized hold of the timber. The fire grew until it was consuming the wood. It was far from warming their icy bodies, but both men were grateful for the happy light that was now jumping along the stone walls of the cave.
"I am going to get more wood." Peter announced, rising to his feet and striding purposefully to the cave mouth. "We will lay them beside the fire to dry out until they are needed to keep the flame going. Don't let the fire go out while I'm gone." He added with a laugh before stepping into the torrent of rain. Peter was gone only a few moments, but Caspian felt as though he had been sitting alone in the cave for hours before Peter finally returned with a bundle of wet wood clutched to his chest.
After placing the new wood around the fire, Peter hunched his body as close to the flames as possible, determined to soak in any warmth he could. Caspian can see Peter shivering uncontrollably in the firelight and remembered something he had been told many years ago. "We need to take off the wet clothing, Peter."
The look that Peter gave Caspian was one of pure indignation. "You aren't serious, are you? I'm freezing."
"We need to get rid of our cold clothing and warm it by the fire. We will catch a chill if we do not warm them up." Caspian pulled off his shirt and lay it by the fire. "It is important that we warm our clothing, Peter."
Peter remained frozen for several moments, his widened eyes seemingly fixed on Caspian's now bare chest. He looked confused and Caspian suddenly felt embarrassed, although he couldn't identify any reason for it. Peter pulled his gaze away and pulled his own shirt off to lay it beside the fire as well. Curling in on himself, Peter turned away from Caspian and hunched his body over the flames.
In an attempt to entice the warmth into his body, Caspian sat with his legs nearly touching the edge of the fire pit. His pants were dangerously close to the sparks leaping from the burning wood, but Caspian could already feel the cold being chased away. Peter's eyes were fixed on Caspian as the flame reached out its fingers in an attempt to grab Caspian's clothing.
With Peter's eyes watching his every move, Caspian felt as though everything he did looked foolish, although he could not identify the source of this feeling. Why should it matter what Peter thinks of him, anyway? Questions kept swirling around Caspian's brain like mosquitos with no answers anywhere to be found.
"Caspian? Did you hear what I said?"
Caspian's head shot up from the flames he had been staring at and focused on Peter with some difficulty. "I apologize. My mind was elsewhere."
"I was just saying that I thought we should get some sleep. The storm doesn't look like it is going to let up anytime soon and we should be rated if we are to get back to the castle tomorrow."
"You think the storm will last all night?"
"It has already been several hours and it hasn't changed at all yet." Peter shrugged. "I just thought it would better to assume we cannot wait out this storm."
'Several hours?' Caspian looked outside, but there was no change in the weather. Their shirts, however, were now completely dried and Peter pulled his over his head that very moment. Caspian tried not to look too surprised that so much time had gone by without his noticing and merely copied Peter in replacing his shirt on his back.
"I know it is not the best of sleeping arrangements, but we do have our hunting bags to use as pillows." Peter looked apologetic as he arranged his own bag in a crude imitation of a pillow and attempted to comfortably curl up on the rocky floor.
Caspian laid his bag by Peter's and imitated the other boy, hoping not to show his discomfort on his face. "Peter?"
"Thank you for today. It was a pleasant trip away from the castle with you."
Peter was quiet for a few moments and Caspian worried that he had said something to upset the other boy. "Anytime you want to get away from the castle, Caspian, I'm all yours."
Caspian forgot how to breathe as the words reached his brain. He did not know why the words made his pulse jump and his mouth curve into a smile. Not knowing what to say on response, Caspian kept his mouth shut.
"You are going to be a great king. What you're doing here, uniting the Telmarines and the Narnians, it's amazing. Something I can't dream of being able to achieve myself."
Caspian was glad that Peter had his back to him, otherwise he would have seen the ridiculously huge grin that spread over his face at the words. "you achieved many great things as king, Peter."
Peter rolled over and looked into Caspian's face. "My siblings and I worked together to keep Narnian's living in a peaceful world, but we could not have done it without each other. What you are doing, Caspian, is something that would have taken all four of us to achieve. You are going to be the only king and you are uniting two completely different worlds. You will never be forgotten, King Caspian. Not for as long as Narnia breathes will you be forgotten."
Heat rushed into Caspian's face at the praise. He wanted to remind Peter that he and his siblings were written about in the books that Caspian marveled over in his youth, but the words got lost on the way to his mouth. "I love you." Fear clawed at Caspian's chest. He had not planned on saying those words, nor had he even realized the truth in them until they had already passed from his lips.
Peter's eyes widened until Caspian could see the imperfect speckles of blue hiding in the depths of the stormy gray orbs. "Caspian..."
The apology that Caspian was forming never reached his mouth. Peter's hand moved from his side and he gently touched Caspian's cheek. His eyes darkened to match the storm clouds that had chased them into this cave as he slowly moved his fingers to the hair that was falling over Caspian's eyes. He brushed at it and followed the strands back until his fingers had combed through Caspian's soft hair.
"I thought..." Peter began, but he seemed unable to form the right words to was a silent question burning a hole in Caspian's throat, but he too was unable to make words come out of his mouth. Instead, he moved his own hand to touch Peter's face. He placed his palm on Peter's cheek and his thumb ran questioningly across the pink lips that he could not tear his eyes away from.
Peter had his hand behind Caspian's neck now, and gently pulled Caspian toward him. He was not forcing Caspian, but the future king did not pull away.
Their lips met in a soft, questioning caress, neither man wanting to push too far. Peter pulled away and studied Caspian's face carefully. "I thought I was alone."
"I'm like you. You will never be alone again." Caspian murmured before capturing the perfect rosy lips in another kiss
Neither boy noticed the tall shadow standing at the mouth of the cave, as they were too wrapped up in their own perfect world.
The moose that had led the boys on a wild run through the woods saw them in the cave. He could not understand how the vision in front of him could be real. He turned away from the cave and ran as fast as he could back through the forest. His instinct to tell everyone what he had seen quickly overrode his shock. The words flew from his mouth as he ran through the trees. "High King Peter and Prince Caspian kissing in a cave in the woods!"
The entire forest heard him and was suddenly alive with whispers. The news was passing through every ear in every direction. A sudden, loud roar caused the moose to fall to his knees in fear. His eyes swept over his surroundings until he saw the great form of Aslan. Relief spread through his veins and he rose to his feet once more.
"What news is this I have been hearing from the others?"
"Sir, the High King Peter and Prince Caspian went for a hunting trip this afternoon. They were following me and I didn't know what to do. I ran them in circles and confused them until they agreed to leave me alone. I have just found them again in a cave not too far from here, sir. They were talking in hushed voices, and then they were kissing!"
The words tumbled from his mouth in a hurried jumble, but the great lion understood every word. "It appears I must have a talk with these boys."
Peter and Caspian found their way home the next day, relying on their sense of direction. Both boys felt as though they were floating as they walked together, discussing methods of getting the Telmarines to accept the Narnians. They had convinced themselves that they would be ruling the new world side by side, two kings of Narnia bringing back the peace that had long been forgotten.
Leading their horses instead of riding them, the boys stepped from the safety of the trees to see an incredible sight: Aslan was standing there in wait for them with what seemed to be the entirety of the Telmarine population at his back.
"We must discuss the future of the land, Prince Caspian." The great lion rose and walked toward the two boys. "Please follow me. Both of you."
Walking behind the lion, neither boy was able to find any scrap of the happiness they had been feeling mere minutes before. There was something in Aslan's voice that sounded like a condemnation for them both.
"I want to stay in Narnia, Aslan." Peter broke the uncomfortable silence after the crowd of Telmarines had disappeared behind the castle.
"I cannot allow this, Peter. You must understand."
"I do not." Caspian said, looking between the lion and Peter. "Why can you not allow Peter to stay with me? I need him to-"
"I know what you believe you need him for, Prince, but I cannot allow him to remain behind. In this time of need, Narnia needs to be led by a king whose sole responsibility is his people."
Caspian struggled to understand. "My responsibility will always be to my people."
"You must provide the land with a ruling family. You must choose a queen who will become the gentle hand the people need. A king must have a queen by his side in these times."
"I do not desire a queen!" Caspian responded without hesitation. "I am sorry, but I desire none but Peter. I will never desire any but my Peter."
"Caspian..." Peter rested his hand on the future king's arm.
"No. I will not accept this!"
"You have no choice!" Aslan roared, his voice loud enough to cause Caspian's teeth to rattle.
"I understand." Peter said quietly, much to Caspian's dismay.
"Peter, I need you by my side. I need-"
"You do not need me. You will be the most magnificent king Narnia has ever seen. I have had my turn ruling this land, and now it is my duty to hand that responsibility to you. I cannot have a second chance at ruling. I must leave my land in your capable hands, my king."
A shiver ran up Caspian's spine at the tenderness in Peter's voice. The words were for Caspian's ears only, spoken in a soft whisper of air in Caspian's ear.
The pain and disappointment he felt at the words transformed into desperation. "No. Please no. I can't live without you by my side, Peter."
Peter cupped Caspian's chin in his hand and ran his thumb over Caspian's cheek. "I'm afraid that I must disagree with you. You are going to be a wonderful king for Narnia, with or without me."
Bitterness burned Caspian's eyes as he blinked rapidly to remove the fog clouding his vision. "I do not want to live without you, Peter."
Peter smiled sadly, not a trace of happiness in his lips, only a disappointing truth. "And I wish you wouldn't have to, my king. But I know you can do this"
Aslan rose to his feet once more and pushed his great head between the two boys. "It is time. Peter, you must lead your siblings out of Narnia today. All of you must leave."
Peter nodded, his eyes still on Caspian's distraught face. "I won't be coming back, will I?"
Caspian choked and spluttered, turning his face to the lion, who shook his head slowly. "You will never return to this land, Peter. Nor will Susan. Do you understand?"
"I do." Peter bowed his head, more to hide his eyes than anything else. Caspian's hand found Peter's cheek and he turned his face back. There were soft, silent tears leaking out of Peter's stormy gray orbs. The strong sea that Caspian had once glimpsed through those eyes was gone, tamed by this horrifying reality. The storm was over, and now the waves had lost their power, turning into sad ghosts of their former strength.
"Aslan. Hear me now. I will always wish for Peter to be by my side, as long as I am breathing. There will not come a day when I stop missing this king. My days will be counted in the hours since I last saw my Peter before me. This I can promise you now."
"Nevertheless, Peter and his siblings must return to their world. They do not truly belong here in Narnia."
Caspian fell to his knees before the lion. Peter looked away, unable to force his eyes to remain on his king, so broken before Aslan. The tears seeping from Caspian's perfect, brown eyes, leaking from those beautiful chocolate orbs that Peter had grown to love so much. "I am begging you. Please. Allow Peter to remain in Narnia with me. I cannot be whole without him here with me."
Peter fell to his knees beside Caspian, resting one arm on the future king's shoulders. "I am sorry, my king, but I have no choice but to go home. To my home." Peter pressed his lips to Caspian's temple and whispered in his ear, "I will see you in my dreams, my prince, my king, my love. "
Aslan seemed not to have heard the whisper, and nodded in approval of Peter's knowledge of his own fate. He walked away to stand before the assembled Telmarines in front of the castle. Caspian allowed Peter to drag him to his feet and lead him to stand beside the lion. Peter joined his siblings, his eyes never once leaving Caspian's tear-stained face.
Peter spoke the words volunteering his family to be the ones to test Aslan's portal, and Caspian choked back a sob. Watching Peter turn his back on Narnia and walk into the portal, Caspian could feel pieces of his heart falling away. Tears began to fall steadily from his eyes once more as Peter's foot reached the other side of the portal. His body passed through and vanished completely.
Caspian managed to keep himself on his feet as Telmarines volunteered to follow the kings and queens of old through the portal. Caspian closed his eyes and saw Peter's face imprinted on his eyelids. His throat burned with regret. He would never see that face again. He would never hear that voice again. He would never touch that hair again.
As Aslan closed the portal into the other world, Caspian turned away and made the futile effort of wiping tears from his cheeks. They were only replaced by more as Caspian mourned the loss of his Peter.
Walking into his castle, Caspian felt that the tears would never stop falling.