Whenever Caspian remembered Edmund, he remembered the sea. He specifically remembered the float-like feeling of rocking, sometimes slow, sometimes deep and uneven, as the sea moved beneath them. The air smelled like water, but not like lakewater which was what he was used to. It smelled wilder, stranger and exciting, so it stayed in the back of his mind at all times, even when he felt safe and secure, if there is a storm we might die.
That was what he remembered when he remembered Edmund.
He remembered the constant gentle movement, it never being quiet enough to be called silent, but not invasively loud either. He remembered the cool cabin air and the feel of that short thick hair tickling his chin, his lips, his nose and he would breathe in the warmer, more human scent of an impossible being whose legs would tangle in his so tightly it almost made his feet numb.
Edmund clung without clinging. He pressed his back to Caspian and tucked both hands under the pillow, but he grunted and shuffled in his sleep if Caspian didn't hold him. When they kissed, he loosely placed his hands on Caspian's waist and seemed so preoccupied with the movement of lips that he would twitch in surprise if Caspian's hands went below his belt. He nuzzled and stroked and challenged Caspian, but he was reserved too. He was a chaste devil. There was something of the dark about him, but it was hidden behind a wall of blinding light.
Caspian sometimes forgot that he was laying alone in bed, when he became too caught up in reconstructing his hammock in the Dawn Treader, in which he had comforted Edmund and kissed him and shared one hurried, blessed, impassioned moment of relief and release as the noble mouse and Edmund's cousin slept soundly a yard and a half away. He remembered it all so perfectly that when he rolled onto his side and realized with a start that he was in his bed, in the castle, alone, it came as a shock. A hurtful one.
Where was Edmund? What was he doing? Was he remembering Caspian too? A part of Caspian hoped desperately that he was and that he would find a way to come back, but another part hoped fervently that Edmund could forget him. Love and duty were irreconcilable, and Caspian could not give Edmund the kind of life he needed. He could not give him an honourable home. Or a child. He could not give Edmund a family. He could not change the law just for the sake of sharing Narnia with Edmund.
If Edmund ever returned. Which he would not.
There were days Caspian could cope. There were days he could not, not without drowning the loneliness in solitude beyond the company of his court.
Whenever Edmund remembered Caspian, he remembered the ocean. He stood at the bay on holiday with his younger sister and was struck by the barrage of sensation that the briny wind brought; snippets, a lamp on a table, the creak of wood, the smell of dry biscuits and the taste of salt on his tongue. The faint trace of wine on Caspian's breath and the sound of his muffled chuckling, the way he had pressed his face between the pillow and Edmund's cheek and sighed. Edmund had forgotten that. The way Caspian tried to be quiet but couldn't quite contain those wistful sighs and gasps.
He had cried only once, but they stopped when he was no longer able to smile or laugh. It seemed he was incapable of any kind of expression now. Eustace called him sullen. Lucy had been alarmed and concerned, but she could not know why, she was too young. None of them could know why. And he could never let them find out.
It felt wrong. That the most profound thing to ever happen to him had to be kept a guarded secret. It was shredding his heart, and he could not bear that shredded heart, he could not confess. So long as he did not have Caspian, he was alone.
He had tried to tell himself he was overreacting. Sailors far out at sea, not seen a woman (who wasn't his sister) in days, that sort of thing. But he always knew the truth. Flings did not hurt the way love did. This was love. Adolescent, intense, overwhelming forbidden love.
Maybe that was why Aslan separated them. Maybe that was why he couldn't go back. Because, he knew, in reality, he was only risking Narnia's future if he stayed.
But why? Unicorns danced and grazed in the glades, animals spoke, mice fenced, why couldn't two kings fall in love and grow old together?
Because the throne needed an heir, probably. Edmund wondered if Caspian would – who Caspian would love after him. Would he marry a girl with dark hair and freckled skin and thick pink lips? Or would he seek out someone who looked completely different? What would their child look like? Would Caspian buy his child a chess set?
Thinking about it tightened the lead ball in Edmund's chest and he stopped himself before it went further.
'I will not.'
Cornelius touched his forehead, exasperated. 'You must, your majesty. You have been of age for three years, and the people expect it.'
'If you force me to take a wife, I will resent her, and you, for the rest of my reign, and the people will more than likely suffer for my suffering. Let me heal.'
'Your majesty …'
'Let me heal.'
Caspian fell, rather than sat, down on the throne, and he was acutely aware of how petulant he looked, but his frustration would not bear patience. He allowed his hair to fall forward and cover his eyes, and only saw Cornelius's feet as the man bowed and left the throne room without another word.
Aslan watched the swell and crush and volatile roil of the ocean and he thought of those boys. Unforgivably young and old at the same time. He had pulled them through years and they had survived as he had expected. And one day they would return. But until then, he had to watch them suffer.
He watched the time pass and followed the line of it like a cord; Caspian's life in correlation with Edmund's, their ending, their new beginning. They could hold on until fate brought them back together, but in the meantime they had to live in self-induced purgatory.
Aslan considered interfering, but there was nothing within the bounds of wisdom and honour that he could do. They died on the inside before they died on the outside. But like any build toward the end, like any tower that fell, the more profound the passion and the suffering, proportionally speaking, the climax of relief was intensified a hundredfold. If they lived their lives together, eternity would be lessened.
But at the end of a life on earth lay a life in heaven, and heaven was not heaven until they knew what it was to live on earth among the realities of time, distance, rifts, walls, mortal pain, subjugation.
Heaven was not heaven until they knew what they would give to have each other back.
Aslan did not believe that he felt pleased with their having passed the test of time and heartache. That their heavens truly did overlap. He told himself that it was not of consequence to the larger populace of the afterlife or the existing present in the world of the living. But he was pleased. He did want them to be reunited and he was glad to see them once again, bewildered, Edmund touching Caspian's sleeve as if to make sure he was real, Caspian stroking Edmund's hair, staring into his eyes, half-terrified when moments ago he had been ready, happy even, to welcome his final breaths. Age had once again given way to youth, but youth as they remembered it. Youth that was no sullied by romance.
And Aslan had given them privacy as they deserved it. As they had deserved it for decades. And they fell into each other, as currents merged, currents swirling into an onslaught of force, dragging in its wake entire small populations. Coral and smoothed stones, the graze of stubble on a cheek, the rumble of the weakest wave on low tide, the brush of fingertips on a sensitized neck, the colour of the deepest ocean, the black of eyes blown wide with eternally pent-up longing, the smooth slip of a stingray's glide through the blue depths, the slide of one leg between two, the bobbing of a seahorse among the seaweed, the probing of a tongue in a mouth long kept defensively shut. The push and pull of the tide. The unstoppable crash and swell of waves in a storm. Sharks feeding.
Fingers interlaced, palms pressed together, hands gripping each other, in desperation in case they are cruelly parted again. They will hold back nothing. They will miss nothing. They will spend their long-lasted fear and desire in one fell swoop in case they are once again told that one must leave.
And then eternity will make itself known. They will realize that the time has come when they cannot be parted.
And then peace will finally settle on two of the most restless hearts of Narnia, and the end will become the beginning, as it always has, in someone's great circle.
Aslan watches the sea. It dances. He smiles, the forever shadow, the risen sun. He moves along the shore and the sea reaches out to him and retreats again. Waves upon waves.