Disclaimer: Me no own.
Dedicated to Fierce Queen who unwittingly sparked an idea that started as crack, and evolved into a monster.
"When they were filled, He said to His disciples, 'Gather up the fragments that remain, so that none will be lost,'" John 6:12
They meet again in a land called England, in a year called 1943 A.D. It's summer, but a flimsy summer in comparison, and they're both shadows of themselves, but only one of them knows it.
The Macready has lined them up in the entrance hall, each in their best. Ivy, Margaret, and Betty keep giggling and checking each others hair. Mr. Welton, the groundskeeper, keeps squinting and rubbing his scant grey hair over a spotted dome. He worries his old hat between his hands, muttering some of the Macready's proverbs like "A straight back shows a sharp mind" and "Your first appearance is your only appearance; after that you're part of the wall."
Mr. Suiero, the stable master, rather wishes he'd stop. His own hat is stuffed into the pocket of his trousers; his brown vest is buttoned and face has been shaved for the first time in months. His balance feels a little better today. Even stooped and resting a tanned hand on the banister, he towers over the other servants. The maids liked to tease him that he was the manor Giant, but Mr. Suiero feels strangely insulted by this notion: he isn't that tall.
"Ah- Good morning to you all," Professor Kirke says, stepping from his study at the top of the stairs and casually lighting a match for his pipe off of the woodwork. The smell of pipe tobacco does wonders for Mr. Suiero's nerves, and he offers the Professor a small nod.
"Master Kirke," Ivy dips a curtsy, "How long will Mr. Pevensie be staying, if I may ask?"
"Well of course you may ask," Kirke replies, "As for an answer, I can tell you I'm not very sure. Perhaps a week. Perhaps longer. Whatever the case, we will all benefit from Peter coming around."
Margaret blushes as Betty nudges her.
Mr. Suiero suddenly develops a headache.
"He won't break any windows, will he, sir?" Mr. Welton wonders.
Mr. Welton's version of events places the Battle of Waterloo approximately three years ago, in this very house. On their last visit, the four Pevensies had shattered one stained glass window of historical significance, dismantled and strangely remantled three suits of fifteenth century French armour, shed scuff marks all across the wooden floors by eight running feet, and an introduced a mole family to the front gardens. Since then, the old groundskeeper has viewed the entire ordeal as something of a miniature invasion that was only barely beat off.
Professor Kirke puffs a little on his pipe, "No. No, I should say once we get him away from Edmund, there should be very little window-breaking."
Mr. Welton nervously smooths his comb-over, not at all convinced. "As long as he keeps from the garden..."
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about the garden," Kirke says, drawing on the pipe again, "It's Mr. Suiero who should be worried."
Mr. Welton lets out a sigh of relief and the maids turn as one to look jealously at Mr. Suiero.
Mr. Suiero asks in surprise, "I should, sir?"
"Oh, yes. Peter frequents the stables. When he's not studying, eating, or sleeping, he'll be there."
Betty suddenly squeals, running back from the curtains to stand beside Ivy and Margaret on the steps, where all three begin frantically smoothing their skirts and straightening their white caps. Mr. Welton rather looks like he's swallowed a whole lime. Kirke puffs on, looking very much like he's found peace with whatever situation might burst through his doors.
The sound of the Macready's voice becomes suddenly very prominent through the solid oak of the front door, and her footsteps more so. The door opens and the noise warps into the shape of words, which are her typical proverbs of greeting;
"-No shoutin'. Or runnin'. No touchin' of the historical artifacts-"
"May I disturb the Professor?" asks a second voice, clearly finding humor, and Mr. Suiero can't help but like this boy all at once.
The Macready holds open the door with one hand, allowing a young man with a heavy suitcase to step past her into the foyer. He's wearing a long grey coat over a white shirt and black trousers, blond hair fringing out of place of careful combing, a brimmed hat tucked under his arm, and blue eyes alight with travel. He's taller than the Macready, too, which seems like a prominent change, considering Margaret's little gasp and Ivy and Betty's wide eyes. He steps forward until he stands in front of the Professor and holds out a hand, which the Professor immediately takes.
"Good to see you again, sir," Peter Pevensie says, smiling.
Kirke claps him on the shoulder. "Yes, yes, I take it the journey went well?"
"Very well. I have some fairly interesting stories."
"Plenty of time for that, my boy. First, I've had the maids arrange a lunch for you, I'm sure the train food isn't as good as it used to be, and Mrs. Macready can take your things to your room, for now."
"Yes, thanks," Peter says, while the Macready snatches his things away and whisks them to some unseen destination beyond the stairs.
Mr. Welton sighs, and Peter zeros in on him almost immediately.
"Mr. Welton," Peter greets, surprising the old man, "You're looking well, sir. How's your wife? Sheryl?"
"Er- Well, Mr. Pevensie. Faring well."
"That's good. And Ivy, Margaret, Betty," Peter smiles, "You're all looking lovely this morning." Apparently, he doesn't notice how their faces turn a cheerful strawberry under his gaze; they each mumble some sort of response.
Then Peter turns to Mr. Suiero, and something happens.
Choking on a polite introduction, Peter goes whiter than a sheet and he has to take a step backwards. He nearly falls. At once, all of the servants are jumping forward in an effort to catch him. Ivy's scream shoots directly to Mr. Suiero's headache.
"I say!" says the Professor, who also has a firm grip on the boy, somewhere around his elbow. "Peter, are you quite well?"
Peter nods, but he has no color and can't seem to pull away from all the helping hands. The Macready, reemerging from the stairs to find the whole house seemingly falling apart, shoos Margaret away to fetch a tonic and Betty and Ivy flutter anxiously between helping the retrieval of the medicine and helping Peter.
Mr. Suiero finds that he's gripped hold of Peter quite tightly by the arm, and is so surprised by this, that he almost doesn't notice how Peter's eyes are looking anywhere but at him.
"Professor!" says Peter. He voice is awash with some emotion that Mr. Suiero thinks he can almost touch. The Professor reaches down and lays a wrinkled hand on Peter's head, pressing when tears streak down the young man's face.
"Yes, Peter," says the Professor, in a tone as somber as Mr. Suiero has ever heard it. "I have suspected as such."
Something communicates between the boy and the Professor in the moment, and Mr. Suiero steps away for Peter to wipe his sleeve over his face and accept the small tonic from a flushed and babbling Margaret.
"Away with you! Away with you!" exclaims the Macready. She flaps her hands violently at the three girls, Mr. Welton, and Mr. Suiero, making them all take a synchronized back-step. "This young man is needin' his rest and you're all losin' daylight! Away!"
Peter, reassembling himself rather rapidly from the floor, calls to the retreating servants, "I'm really all right. Sorry to worry you all," but the Macready is hearing none of it, almost lifting the young man in an effort to cart him in a manner much like his baggage up to his rooms.
Despite the Professor's warning that the Pevensie boy frequented the stables, Peter doesn't show up for the first three days.
It leaves Mr. Suiero unaccountably nervous. He starts to wonder if something he had said or done or maybe just his sheer height (all right, so the maids were right that he was about as tall as a giant, but still it wasn't that bad) were enough to send the young man into a sort of fainting spell. But the thing is, Peter Pevensie doesn't seem the type to suffer fainting spells- Mr. Suiero had watched him shake the hands of the Professor and Mr. Welton without flinching. Peter had the sort of handshake that all men hope their own sons will adopt: strong, sure, and confidential.
It isn't until the fourth morning that Mr. Suiero goes to unlock the padlock to the stables and finds that it's already been opened.
He quickly swings open the stable door, to find Peter Pevensie brushing down the old carthorse. The five other horses mill around him, nickering, watching, snuffling their graceful noses in the clean hay that coats the floor. Peter himself sits on a low stool, stroking slow and even down the old mare's dusty legs as she stands, as still as a statue for him to work.
The sun isn't even over the hills. The barn is lit by a single lantern on the wall, and as a result the circling horses move like ghosts around and around the glowing head of the silent boy, who never startles when Mr. Suiero bursts through the door, but continues with such a silence that Mr. Suiero thinks it's almost religious. The horses, which Mr. Suiero has worked with for years, never glance his way. They continue to circle the boy and the old mare like someone was walking them to get ready for a ride.
"Peter." Peter puts down the brush and turns around on the stool so that Mr. Suiero can see his face, which is frowning. "Call me Peter, sir."
"Peter." A gelding walks between them and tosses its head. The carthorse snorts. "What are you doing?"
"I used to ride all the time." Peter has turned back to brushing, standing so that he can reach around and smooth out the mare's mangled mane. "Back when we stayed in the country. Edmund and I raced each other around the foothills. When we found a creek or a pond, we stopped to drink alongside our mounts. Lucy was hard-pressed to keep up on her little palfrey."
Mr. Suiero can't help but remember that the stable doesn't have a palfrey.
"I've never seen them act like this," Mr. Suiero says, nodding to the circling horses.
Peter isn't facing him, but suddenly Mr. Suiero gets the unparalleled understanding that the boy is smiling. It reads off of his shoulders and the sudden jump of motion in his hands. And like the smile, Mr. Suiero has a brief flash of why before it shutters out.
"Sorry for worrying you the other day," Peter offers.
"Yes, you did give us a scare."
"Low blood sugar, high sodium intake," Peter pats the old mare on her belly. "Edmund's always yelling to me about it."
Not enough sits on the front of Mr. Suiero's tongue, but he swallows it just in time and only nods.
"So," says Peter, now braiding the mare's mane into the sort of knotted braids that warhorses favored, "I've broken into your stables, tended to your horses, and you have yet to raise your voice."
Mr. Suiero stares, wondering if he heard correctly. "There's nothing to raise my voice about, sir."
"Peter," corrects Peter. He adds, "Feel free to raise your voice when I'm an upstart."
Mr. Suiero says nothing.
"I can't keep this up for long, sir," Peter says. "Usually it's Edmund who acts the upstart to draw people out."
He would be, Mr. Suiero thinks. Too late, he realizes he's said it out loud.
Peter stops and turns around. The horses stop circling. A single ray of sunlight slips through the rafters and casts around the stable.
"You're right," Peter tells Mr. Suiero. The reflection of the sunrise in his eyes is unnerving. "Edmund would be."
Peter is a brilliant rider. It appears to Mr. Suiero that the boy might not be riding as much as fusing himself to his mount. Mr. Suiero almost feels guilty for how often he has to spur on his horse just to keep up.
Far ahead, the boy lets out a war-whoop and launches over creek. Mr. Suiero finds himself laughing. They fly through the bushy foothills, jumping fallen logs and streams and turning on a dime around the winding paths of the woods. Mr. Suiero expected Peter to fall off his mount long ago- he's riding the old carthorse bareback, despite Mr. Suiero's strict advice not to.
He needn't have worried; the old mare is transformed under Peter's hand. She's outstripping everything and finding a grace that no carthorse is meant to find.
"Hi! Go, Phillip!" Mr. Suiero yells, and they surge ahead to meet Peter by a mountain stream. The boy smiles broadly as they pull up and greets them with a welcome goad.
"Do you always let your guests trounce you?"
Mr. Suiero's natural laugh is a deep-bellied bark. It startles the maids and annoys the Macready, but Peter's smile nearly doubles when it erupts out of him now.
"Always," Mr. Suiero replies, swinging off of Phillip and drawing the reigns over the horse's head. "Or else that's bad manners." Tying Philip to a young Ash, he reaches down to slap his hands around in the stream and splashes some on his face, blotting with an old handkerchief. It feels good in the unnaturally warm wind whipping through the trees.
Peter laughs. Mimics him. The mare, barely winded, snacks on tall weeds a little ways from them.
"And anyway," Mr. Suiero says, "What's with this noble speech all the time? You're not from England with an accent like that."
"I spent some time in the country," Peter replies.
"It's not a country accent either."
"Well, it can only be one or the other," Peter says. He combs his fingers through his hair and flicks water back into the running stream. "You've the same accent."
This revelation makes Mr. Suiero pause. "I hadn't realized I had an accent."
"No one realizes they have an accent. If you ask an American if they have an accent, they would tell you no, but think that an Englishman does. Ask an Englishman, and he would say no, but Americans do. We're all deaf to what makes our voice different."
Something solemn and brooding makes Peter's voice very different at this moment, and Mr. Suiero notices it immediately.
For the first time, he dreams.
For the last time, he wakes and forgets.
On one particular day, he finds Peter in the gardens with Ivy, Margaret, and Betty. Ivy and Betty are leaning over his shoulders, one to each side, and Margaret sits primly (red as a rose) in front of them with her hands fisted in her lap. Peter holds a large board with plain white paper tacked on, and occasionally lifts his eyes to look at her, but otherwise buries himself in the work.
The day is hot, so all four of them are dressed down, but not improperly so. Peter's jacket is folded and off to one side. His shirt cuffs are rolled up to his elbows. He looks entirely ignorant of the shy admiration radiating out of his subject.
Ivy and Betty are not.
Before Mr. Suiero can sneak away from his fate, two giggling voices call out his name, and he answers the summons. Grudgingly, he makes his way over, and smiles when Peter grins up at him.
"Is it?" Peter asks, checking his wristwatch. "Huh."
"Peter is a terrific artist," Ivy says, pouring Mr. Suiero some lemonade that they had been keeping cool in the shade of a hedge. "So detailed."
And it is detailed, but realistically, like something from a medical book. Every muscle and fold is mentioned on the page, to some degree, and nothing is missing. If Margaret were to see it, she would think she was looking in a mirror.
"You should see Lucy's drawings," Peter says. "Or Susan's paints. They're eons better than this."
Peter laughs, messes up a line, and has to redo it. "As Edmund would say; he has to be bad at something.'"
The girls all laugh. Margaret's snort is a little hysterical. Mr. Suiero suspects she's had enough attention from those blue eyes today.
"Well, if you're about done," Mr. Suiero says, "The Macready wanted Margo in the kitchens."
"Oh!" says Margaret, blushing again. She jumps up and makes as if to run off, then remembers herself enough to turn to Peter, curtsy, and say, "."
"It was my pleasure," Peter says amiably, but she's already taken to her heels, and is halfway to the main house. Peter looks vaguely amused.
"Peter drew a picture of you, too, Mr. Suiero," Betty says. She fishes a picture from the paper pool at Peter's side and holds it out for Mr. Suiero to take. When he unfolds it, he feels his eyebrows drift into his hairline.
"I have four legs?" he asks Peter.
"You do," Peter responds. "And a tail."
Betty and Ivy laugh, but Peter meets his eyes long enough to know that nothing in this moment is worth joking about.
Mr. Suiero pockets the drawing with an uncertain smile.
"What?" Mr. Welton asks Mr. Suiero that evening, while the two are taking a smoke by Mr. Suiero's fireplace and listening to the owls in the woods. It's the sort of thing they always do when Mr. Welton is avoiding his wife or when Mr. Suiero is too occupied by his muddled thoughts to notice another human being is sharing a meal with him. Both events occur often.
Mr. Suiero chews the end of his pipe, watching the fire. "Nothing."
Mr. Welton snorts and flicks ash on the rug, but Mr. Suiero doesn't much care. "Ain't nothing if you're so worked up about something."
Mr. Suiero thinks for a moment, inhaling smoke and breathing slowly out. "That Pevensie boy…"
"That Pevensie boy," Mr. Welton agrees, lighting a match on the arm of his chair.
"I'm not sure if I like him."
"Well, Mr. Suiero, I doubt any of us have to like him. He's not our guest."
"He doesn't—Unnerve you? In any way?"
"In plenty of ways." Mr. Welton laughs at Mr. Suiero's surprise. "Did you think you were exclusive? You should have seen the lot of them three years ago. Talk about unnerving!"
"No one knows. Well, the Professor might know, but you know how he is about secrets. Three years ago, we get this group of kids: wild, loud, always yelling or playing or screaming. The boys were always fighting and the girls were always upset about something. And then they broke that window." Mr. Welton puffs for a second. "They never were the same."
Mr. Suiero is confused. "In what way?"
"Freakishly polite. An about-turn, if you ask me. Adopted this strange way of talking. Not just what they were suddenly talking about, but how they talked. Accent and everything. Like a switch had been flipped. No one knew what to think of it. The Macready was sure they were up to trouble until the very day they left."
"And breaking a window did all this?"
Mr. Welton shrugs. "Window that old? With that much history? Probably some curse laid on them."
"Oh, pshaw, Welton! You aren't telling me you believe in magic?"
"You'd believe in it, too, if you met all four of them at once," Mr. Welton says darkly. He lets a smoke ring loose so that it circles around Mr. Sueiro's head. "They knew things. Things like advanced physics and astronomy and politics. Things no children should know. If it ain't magic, it can only be the Devil."
"Perhaps they just got to a point where they were comfortable enough to settle down and play nicely."
"Suiero you poor, addled fool," Mr. Welton shakes his head, "You ain't never seen those four sword fight."
Mr. Suiero reflects on a sudden image that springs into his mind of a little girl, no older than nine or ten, a large helmet falling over her eyes as she struggles to lift a lion-headed sword in front of her. He mentally waves it aside and has to laugh at the idea of Lucy Pevensie ever sword fighting.
"Got an accent, too," Mr. Welton adds suddenly. He sends a shrewd sideways look at Mr. Suiero. "The same as yours."
"Everyone has an accent," Mr. Suiero says.
They puff in companionable silence for a few minutes. More images, clearer and clearer, walk in circles through Mr. Suiero's mind. There is no rush to their stately pace, and he wonders what the devil any of them can mean—Images of bleeding fantasy creatures, images of two boys and two girls and a monstrous Cat, images of a lantern, standing silently in the middle of the woods and burning with a fire too white to be fire.
Then, "You still don't remember anything?" Mr. Welton asks.
He remembers winter and snow and being stark-naked in the middle of the fields, trembling and dizzy and unable to stand without an extra pair of legs aiding him. He remembers sudden cold and sudden despair and suddenly no idea of why.
Only the initial despair, the amnesiac mourning, moaning and sobbing in the arms of well-meaning strangers. Calling for Aslan and wishing that he knew who that was.
Peter receives a letter and runs to the stables to show Mr. Suiero.
"It's from Edmund and Lucy!" Peter exclaims, breathless. His shirt sleeves are rolled all the way up his arms today, and his pant legs are curling up towards his knees. His feet are bare and dusty from the road down to the manor and the letter is unopened without a return address, but dead certainty covers his voice. Mr. Suiero is learning that the best way to read Peter Pevensie is through that strange and familiar accent—never by his blue eyes.
"Good," Mr. Suiero says, because he doesn't really know what he's intended to say, but feels like he needs to say something. "That's good."
Peter smiles and sits in a large bale of hay, tearing open the letter right in front of Mr. Suiero. There are a few sheets of paper folded up inside, and Peter laughs, eyes lining the first few words with obvious delight.
"Ed wrote it."
He settles into the hay and continues, reading most of it to himself, but occasionally telling Mr. Suiero bits of information or comments on Edmund's and Lucy's lives with "The Scrubbs". Meanwhile, Mr. Suiero works his way around the stables, feeding the horses, and brushing the horses down. He is just about to lead the first horse out to warm them up, when Peter leaps up from the hay and lets out a strangled shout.
The horse startles, looks about to rear, when Peter says something in a language Mr. Suiero has never heard before.
Like magic, the animal settles with drooping eyelids, and shakes its mane.
Peter doesn't even seem to know he's said or done anything—He's staring down at the letter with wide eyes and the same pale, stricken look that he had days ago, when he first arrived.
"Sit!" Mr. Suiero barks. He's suddenly at Peter's side, shoving him backwards into his throne of hay. Peter lets himself be seated. He puts his blond head in hands and begins a low string of muttering that Mr. Suiero is almost certain is Latin, but no Latin that he's ever heard. The horses begin to neigh along with him, meeting the trembling pitch of his words. Mr. Suiero backs up a little, unconsciously gripping down when he hears Aslan; like a prayer.
And he longs to ask, but he has waited this long.
"What is it?" he asks Peter. "What do you need?"
Peter tears away from him, standing, turning wildly, gripping at his hair—Mr. Suiero has never seen Peter so out of control. He reminds him of a young lion, pacing around like he's search for weakness to rush through. In a low voice, dripping in that accent that suits the strange language perfectly, Peter says, "I need to be home."
Mr. Suiero nods. "The Professor can arrange it—"
"-The professor cannot arrange it!" Peter says. It should sound angry, but comes out helpless instead. Peter's pacing becomes less like stalking and more like a fruitless search for his mother. "I need to be with mo Provis and m- my sister, but they need—" He cuts off, stops moving completely to run a hand through his hair, over his face. Mr. Suiero waits, somehow anticipating Peter's next move before it happens.
"I'm sorry," Peter finishes levelly. He turns back to Mr. Suiero and meets his eyes. "I need to make a telephone call. Please, excuse me."
He tries to walk by Mr. Suiero, but the man grabs him by the arm and turns him back around so that they're facing one another. Peter's eyes are sharp. Mr. Suiero's are sharper.
"We have the same accent."
"We do." Peter doesn't even try to deny it.
"Why is that?"
Peter says nothing, which is easier for Mr. Suiero to read than Peter's blue eyes. They are the sort of eyes that stunt thoughts with awe, and Mr. Suiero feels a strange sort of loyalty stirring in his chest. There is a dynamic here that he does not understand, but Peter is following it, and Mr. Suiero is following Peter, and they might circle each other forever if Peter doesn't speak.
The first of each month is the day Mr. Suiero goes to the Macready for his cheque, but on the first of July, the Macready is in town with Peter and Betty, stocking up on cuts of meat and fresh vegetables. No doubt Peter is posting a letter to his siblings after the mysterious upset of their last missive. No doubt Betty will be trying to hint to Peter to ask Margret if she likes him.
On days like this when he's waiting or without work, Mr. Suiero will wander the grounds. Sometimes he'll wander for hours, ignoring the compulsion to rear up on nonexistent hind legs, pitch forward into the breeze like he's a ship in a storm. Run.
England seems to have something against running, particularly grown men running, which Mr. Suiero feels he'll never adjust to. He's outside, for heaven's sake; what better place to break out and move?
Especially today, on July first, when the sun is such a blazing thing, visiting from Africa or some other world. Golden and magnificent and taking up Mr. Suiero's whole view of the blue sky. He's hiking through the fields on the Eastern corner of the grounds, nearest the hills and the farthest from the stables. As he steadily mounts a hill, the world seems to shrink, and he's standing level with the trees, looking out over the land and feeling…
Dismissed. Unattached. The strangest feeling that something should be happening below. That the movement of air through the tree branches almost looks like waving.
"Aslan," Mr. Suiero tries, just for the sake of hearing that name aloud. The sound solidifies the identity. Mr. Suiero looks down and sees the bend of the tall grasses. He realizes that this is where he was found. The cut of the trees, the slant of the sky against the hill, and Mr. Suiero on an island in the middle of the wide land, that is attached but somehow separate.
His only answer is an intensified urge to gallop home.
The town goes into a panic as a virus is passed around. The Professor brings in a doctor to check the staff, and surely enough the Macready, Betty, and Peter are all showing symptoms.
After the initial hilarity of the Macready's indignation passes, the household falls into a week where no particular schedule is kept, no guests arrive, and no business is conducted. The Macready stays in her room all day, very ill and coughing like a dog barks. Betty is sent home for her mother to watch. Peter wanders around, passively refusing to rest in bed. He floats past Mr. Suiero, when he and the Professor are considering a new thermal blanket for the horses coming autumn. The Professor says Peter's name, but the boy is in a sort of daze, reaching up on a shelf to pluck an old, blistered copy of The Tales of Peter Rabbit, before turning and mutely exiting the office.
"I might call to have Edmund or Lucy speak to him," the Professor says.
Mr. Suiero says nothing and wonders why this is relevant to him, the stable master.
Professor Kirke appraises him. "You're wondering, no doubt, why I'm telling you this."
Mr. Suiero has to relent, feeling scolded.
"That is simple. I fear that if Edmund and Lucy cannot tell him what to do, you may be the only asset we have left."
"I?" Mr. Suiero wonders. He begins to feel a little angry. "Sir, I'm not his parent."
"Good lord," Kirke replies, eye bugging. "As if they could tell him what to do!"
"Sir," and it is becoming difficult to reign in his temper, "I think it's best to not be put in such a position. I am your hired hand. Your horses are my charges. This boy, with all respect, is yours."
The Professor bows his shaggy head. A twinkle warns Mr. Suiero that victory does not loom for him, the employee in this moment.
"Peter is my student and my responsibility," Kirke agrees. "But, Mr. Suiero, you've been so addled for the past week that I can think of no better way to abate your anxiety than to permit you the power to take control of the situation."
As Mr. Suiero blinks, Professor Kirke adds, "And I rather think you'd be better at ordering about a Pevensie than I, at this stage."
"No," says Peter. Then, owlishly, "Yes."
Mr. Suiero watches as Peter cradles the receiver and stares off into space. Someone (either the little brother or the little sister) is speaking emphatically on the other end, and Mr. Suiero isn't very sure how much of it Peter is taking in. The fever leaves him in a zombie state, trailing around, not speaking much, barely eating, his brilliant eyes coated in a glassy glaze.
"What?" Peter asks distantly. His sibling repeats themselves. "Oh. No, I'm fine."
A loud, unmistakable snort punches out of the telephone.
"I miss you," Peter says. He leans heavily against the wall, sweaty and wrapped up in two different sets of bathrobes. "No," and he lets it out on a weary exhale, "I'm glad for you, really. It must have been amazing…"
Even hearing half of the conversation, Mr. Suiero knows that Peter's sibling is trying to change the subject.
Peter smiles. It looks painful.
"A few weeks, I guess," he says. Over-bright blue finds Mr. Suiero's face and the boy turns away with the phone, lowering his voice. "No, I know I said—Listen, Ed…"
And he reverts into that strange Latin, not tripping or slowing as he did with English. Mr. Suiero can almost swear that the voice of Ed is responding in the same language. The inflection feels off. Mr. Suiero fancies he can almost understand, but makes no remark.
By the end of the week, Peter is completed consumed by the fever. He does not recognize anyone or anything anyone says to him. He speaks that Latinish language and Macready (who has only been on her feet for two days) thinks he might be possessed.
"Possessed?" Mr. Suiero asks her. He just finished with the horses, which have been sorely neglected in this past week. A few hours in, and Macready is already at her wit's end.
"Aye," she erupts. Her voice sounds mannish and grisly. "By the Devil himself. Speaking in tongues and growling like some beast. I'm fetching a priest." She's actually fastening on her hat as she says it, but Mr. Suiero stops her.
"Let me see to him," he says. "I'll sort him out."
That was the plan, anyway. But he walks into Peter's room, and it's like stepping into the bowels of Hell; all hot and the smell of sick and a faint growling coming from the bed across the dark room.
Mr. Suiero closes the door and steps forward. "Peter?"
The growling stops at his voice. There is movement in the shadows. He resolutely ignores this, moving swiftly and assuredly across the room to throw the windows open, blasting light and cool evening air in. The jungle humidity evaporates almost immediately. Mr. Suiero turns and finds Peter standing to his full height, appraising him with dark eyes.
"Do you know me?" he asks Peter. The boy nods.
Mr. Suiero feels uplifted by this notion. "Good. And what is my name?"
Peter begins to say something, but stops. He looks suspiciously at Mr. Suiero, as if he's expecting some trap to be tripped.
"You are a palindrome," Peter says at last. "The same from both ends of the spectrum. You are the same, but I know you're different."
Mr. Suiero brings his hands out, palms up, and takes a step forward. "The professor thinks you've been working too hard. The Macready is ready to exorcise you. I think you need to rest, Peter."
"There's nothing to do but rest in this world." Water drips from Peter's face, sliding from his hairline and the corners of his eyes.
"You deserve it."
Peter shakes his head. It's violent, and Mr. Suiero takes another step, stilling as Peter looks up, because he doesn't want to make the boy startle.
As Mr. Suiero gently gets hold of Peter's arm, Peter says, "We're both less in this world, but I think I'm the only one who realizes how much less."
Peter moves so suddenly, that Mr. Suiero barely has time to think—the boy twists his arm so that he's twisting out of Mr. Suiero's grip, but also gripping back, in a way that would reverse the situation completely. But then Mr. Suiero is moving, too, and he counters Peter and Peter counters his counter and he counter's Peter's counter of his counter, and right when he thinks his brain might be able to take over the situation so that he isn't moving on some alien impulse, Peter hooks a foot behind his knee and pulls, and Mr. Suiero crashes to the carpet floor like a fallen tree, gasping.
Peter, tall, broad, and lit up by dying sunlight, shakes his head.
"Not as easy with two legs, is it, General?"
Mr. Suiero stares up at him, still trying to piece together what just happened.
Peter grins. "Trust me. In another world, you might have taken my head off."
"How did you do that?" Mr. Suiero struggles to his knees, still trying to catch his breath after being knocked onto his back.
"You should know that Edmund and Lucy got back home," Peter informs him. "But that's it for us. You and I are stuck here. You're lucky to not remember that."
Peter Pevensie pitches to the floor in that next second. He sleeps without any disruption for several hours, and the Macready does not go to fetch a priest.
Mr. Suiero is pulled from his cot inside of his cottage by a hand on his shoulder, but when his eyes open, there is no one there.
He caps his head and coats his arms, and takes the long-staff from beside the front door, lighting a fire for his lantern. The hike up the hill is unusually easy in the vast, open night, and he eventually blows out the lantern, so well lit is the ground by the stars. He is still sore from the beating Peter gave him yesterday and as he walks until a sweat breaks out over the middle of his back and behind his knees. A cold chill that is sourceless in this summer night rushes to his fingers and floods his toes. He finds himself in the fields in front of the Kirke Manor. He also finds Peter.
Peter, dressed in white pajamas, holds a sword in his hands. It's likely one from the many suits of amour lining the Professor's medieval halls. It gleams like a moonbeam and reflects white light onto Peter's face. His blue eyes are black, all the world monochromatic.
"What are you doing out here?" Mr. Suiero asks. His voice sounds abrupt and obnoxious in the peace below Diana. Peter raises the sword. For a moment, Mr. Suiero thinks Peter is going to try to use it on him.
"I can prove it to you," Peter says. His voice is desperate and calm and wild and contained and Mr. Suiero realizes all at once that Peter is asleep. He's sleepwalked into the fields and he has an increasingly sharp-looking sword and if Mr. Suiero hadn't come along, he might have been standing out here all night.
"Come along, Peter," Mr. Suiero says. "Wake up now. We need to get you back inside."
"You need to wake up," Peter says.
Mr. Suiero nods, "Yes, that's it. Wake up, Peter."
"You need to wake up," Peter repeats. The inflection that skips over you rings in Mr. Suiero's ears. He wonders what Peter is seeing.
"You're dreaming, Peter," he tries instead. Really, he'd like to shake the boy by the shoulder, but that blade is so steady Mr. Suiero is certain Peter could steadily swing it, too.
Peter shifts, the sword flashing mystically. It circles the crown of Peter's head, leaving a faint shadow of light, only for a second, and the sword continues to move, practiced, through an easy dance of metal and flesh. It melds around his neck and moves around him, and he around it, and the sword and the boy circle each other. Mr. Suiero is strongly reminded of a silent stable before dawn, and a ring of horses pacing, without pause or reason, around and around the mute student at their center. Warming up.
It goes on for several tense minutes. Mr. Suiero is just waiting for that sword to turn at the wrong angle or fall onto Peter's foot, but instead an intricate and masterful series of styles flood out of the somnambulist, and part of Mr. Suiero grows increasingly calm, almost filled, by the dance.
Tomorrow, Mr. Suiero will wonder which one of them was dreaming.
Tonight, he asks Peter everything he can, each answer becoming more fantastic than the next. Mr. Suiero finds himself smiling, bittersweet. The dreams of a sleepwalker are trying to become his past and foretell his future. The inventions of a child are trying to give him identity. And as Peter speaks, the dream stretches into a world all its own, under Diana, flowing and magic and aching with earnestness. In this dream, Suiero is Oreius and Peter is High King and they are not boy and man but Son of Adam and Centaur, Child and Father, and only one of them is dreaming.
The year is 1949 A.D.
The High King has departed.
But the Gentle Queen requires her General still.