A/N: Here's where it gets good. Since I enjoy providing the soundtrack to the chapter, "In My Arms" by Plumb sets the mood nicely (and is the source of the occasional quote here and there).
Peter was driving Whicker further into the fray, slashing Rhindon furiously at the onslaught of horrid flying things and giant lumbering fiends. He had never encountered monsters like them before, and had no name for them, but they swirled in bizarre inhuman ways that made his eyes swim from the moving mass of darkness. There seemed no end to their number, rather they multiplied the more he bore down on them.
With the tide of monsters came an overwhelming feeling of horror that stiffened Peter's body and made it impossible to swing his blade. He opened his mouth to cry out but no sound came forth, only silent screams. I will die, die unless I can fight!
His eyes darted feverishly around for assistance, but he could only see darkness and demons around him. No. Not all. There, at the edge of his vision, he could see Edmund, fighting with all his might, consumed with battle rage as he was wont to do, but this time it was a losing fight. They were too many, even for a King, even for Aslan's Chosen, and they were descending upon Edmund like a huge black cloud of bees, ready to deliver their stinging blow. Edmund could not hold onto his blade under their crushing weight, and he was helpless. Just as Peter was.
He watched them tear Edmund to pieces before his eyes, destroying his brother, whom he had sworn to protect. Look after the others. I will Mum. Except when I can't. Except when I let him die.
Darkness overcame Peter, and just before he fell underneath its surface, his mouth opened and he cried, "Edmund!"
Castles they might crumble, dreams may not come true…
Surely this was no afterlife? Although his vision was clouded with a great mist much as he had heard heaven was like, Peter felt a great dread like a weight over his shoulders. He shuddered uncontrollably. Through the mist he heard what sounded like someone breathing very heavy. Then –
A terrible scream like a thousand shrieking demons filled his ears, and it was no use to cover them. As his head rang with the inescapable clamor, Peter could feel the oppressive dread lift and fly away from his body. He never knew how wonderful it felt not to feel as though one was about to die.
Peter found that he could move again, and slowly his vision was returning. And Edmund swam into his sight – beautiful, breathing old Ed, kneeling over him with the strangest look on his face. Peter thought he must look that exact way.
"You're not dead," Peter murmured. "You're not dead." He scrabbled for Edmund's hands – the exact location of his arms and legs was still a little fuzzy – and caught hold of his brother's fingers, which were shaking slightly. "Help me up?" asked Peter, and Edmund pulled him up to a sitting position, holding his hand as though he would never let it go.
"What in Aslan's name was that?" Peter glanced around, but all he saw was darkness. It did not swirl at all, though. He felt around for Rhindon, till he put his hand on the familiar, comforting edges of its hilt.
"A Boggle," said Edmund in a trembly voice. "I've read about them. They like to come out at night and bother people. They – they bring visions. Nightmares. You think they're really coming true when you're in them." With the hand that was not clutching Peter's, Edmund reached up to touch Peter's face, assuring himself that he was real. "I heard you. I heard you call my name. That was how I – got out –"
Edmund looked sick. Peter wondered if Edmund's nightmare had been anything like his own. "Was it very bad?" he asked, as if that would even begin to describe the terror of it.
"Yes," said Edmund plainly. Peter knew he would not freely speak of it, for Edmund had never talked about the dreams that often made him cry out in the night when they had journeyed together before. Nor had he explained the things Lucy saw when she crept in to kiss him goodnight and found him asleep, clutching the bedsheets and sobbing "No! No!" as he thrashed about in the bed. Did he think no one else had dark dreams, that he would be ridiculed or scoffed at if he shared them? Didn't Lucy ever crawl into bed beside him, as she had with Peter and Susan, after awaking from yet another vivid dream about the Stone Table? Did he not see Susan's face on the mornings when she had dreamt of home, and Mum, and a soldier bringing a death notice about Dad? Or did he think Peter was immune to such things, that he would never have troubled visions of failing his Aslan-given duties to his family and country?
Well, Edmund might not want to share his, but Peter did. "Ed, I dreamed we were in battle. I was losing, and paralyzed, and you – you were losing too. And I couldn't do anything at all to save you from the demons. I let you die. Now tell me yours is worse than that."
Edmund never loosened his grip on his hand. "It was worse. And that's when I heard you shout my name. You must have called out in your dream. I woke up, and I saw the Boggle leaning over you. It looked like a horrid scarecrow, all rotten and foul. It was – well, it looked like it was trying to swallow you up." He paused.
"And?" urged Peter. "How did you get rid of it?"
"The only way you can get rid of a Boggle," Edmund said. "Surprise it. I had no time to reach for my sword. I just came up behind it and kicked the living daylights out of it."
Peter sat for a moment, absorbing all of this. "By Aslan, Edmund, that's the third time you've come to my rescue. I suppose 'thanks' doesn't quite cover it?" He looked closely at Edmund, scanning his face for any traces of distress from the ordeal, as Ed seemed doggedly determined not to talk about it.
"You shouldn't thank me," insisted Edmund. "I couldn't let it – do anything, to you. I just saw it and knew it wanted you, and I just – fought like the dickens to stop it from getting you." His face flickered with grief, memories crossing his forehead in visible shadows and worry lines. "At least, this time I could do something."
"This time?" Peter searched his brother's eyes for the frankness Edmund could not hide from his gaze. "Were there – times you couldn't?"
Edmund nodded, regretfulness written all over him. And suddenly all the words spilled out of him. "In my dream, you know. There was – a Hag and she cast a spell on you and then she turned into…well, nevermind – but I'm no sorcerer, Peter, and I couldn't undo the spell and so you – froze to death."
His eyes shone almost black in the darkness before dawn, as the scant moonlight was almost gone.
"That was just a dream, Edmund." Please, don't look like that Ed. Like you're cornered and can't get out of it. Peter took him by the shoulders and looked straight into Edmund's dark haunted eyes. "It wasn't real. It's over now. I won't them get either of us." He gripped Edmund firmly, hoping he could hear him and believe.
Edmund looked lostly at him for a long moment, then crumpled into his arms. Peter caught him instinctively and pulled him close in a tight embrace. Edmund was trembling from head to foot, drawing in great shuddering breaths, and Peter could feel his heart racing against his side through their thin shirtsleeves. "I thought I'd lost you," Edmund breathed into him.
Peter was afraid he would say exactly the wrong thing, so he simply held his brother and kept out the dark world and all its shadows.
Clouds will rage and storms will race in but you will be safe, in my arms…
The first pinkish tinge of sunlight started to peek through the trees, though the woods themselves were yet dusky and still. Neither of them slept, yet it was refreshment enough to know that they were safe from the terrors of dreams so long as they clung to each other.
Peter from time to time would glance at the dark head of curls that was nestled under his chin, wishing he could keep Edmund safe in his arms for all time, knowing that of all of them Edmund was the one who needed that safety the most, who pleaded silently for someone to heal his wounds. His heart was torn, knowing someday he would know the truth from lies and be able to accept their love without fear.
While Peter lingered there offering what comfort he could, he breathed in deeply and felt growing consolation for his own phantasm from Edmund's turning to him for protection and reassurance. He couldn't remember the last time Edmund had hugged him like this, like he truly needed him. It had been years – back when Ed was just a little lost boy, first sent away to a boarding school outside of London – years since Peter had been this close to his young brother. And for the first time in years, Edmund reminded him of that little boy who use to adore him…not just grudgingly obey or respect or follow him to prove he could do anything Peter could do…but truly love him. He missed that Edmund. More than words could say. And so he held onto him with all his might.
When one is King, there are few moments in which to let one's guard down and simply be completely laid bare before an other. And in Edmund's stark embrace, Peter did not have to be a High King. He just had to be a brother.
Storybooks are full of fairytales, of Kings and Queens, and the bluest Skies…
"It is morning, at last," Edmund said, his head turned against Peter's chest to look towards the eastern horizon. "I am always glad to see the sun rise."
"I know what you mean," Peter replied quietly, and Edmund twisted his head to look up at him with a keen glance. "Well – it's hope," he explained, feeling foolish. "A new day, a fresh start. At least that's how the stories always went."
Edmund nodded, though he looked as though he had been secretly hoping for a different answer. He sighed. "It's so peaceful here. Hard to believe evil is still lurking out there somewhere."
Peter drew his gaze from the filter of sunlight on the edge of the trees to stare hard at his brother. "Ed," he said thickly, "you don't have to…I mean…there may be things waiting for us worse than Boggles. You can still –"
"No, I couldn't, even if I wanted to," said Edmund, conviction in his voice. "I'm here by Aslan's wishes. Not mine. He'll – he'll give me the strength for all those things, when the time comes."
Edmund was right of course, but that didn't mean Peter wouldn't still worry. He gave Edmund one last squeeze before standing up and pulling him with him. "Right you are," Peter assured him. "And – Ed – you do know – I will be there, beside you, no matter what. Don't be afraid to ask for help." Peter smiled. "It's kind of what brothers are there for."
He got a small smile in return. "Thanks, Peter," muttered Edmund, gruff all of a sudden. He stepped back and took Peter's hand in his and gave it a firm grasp. "You're a brick. I've been blubbering all over you…"
"They will never pry it out of me," said Peter solemnly, the hints of a grin at the corners of his mouth. He brought Edmund's hand to his breast and pressed it there against his heart. "Brother's honor."
Something jagged and faintly red caught his peripheral vision. Peter looked down at their clasped hands. There upon Edmund's wrist was a long stripe of blood where the skin had been slashed. It was not a fresh wound.
Peter frowned, taking it in his hand. "Edmund. This is not from the Boggle, is it? This is a dagger wound. Who did this?"
Edmund bit his lip. "I –" He paused for a moment, and Peter expected him to fabricate an account of a mishap during sparring practice, or clumsiness during packing or some such nonsense. Instead, Edmund seemed to search for the courage to give him the truth. He glanced up, quickly looking back down, a profound sadness clouding his eyes. "I – Peter, there's a lot I never told you."
"I'll say! What's all this, Ed? The knife wound. The nightmares. Not talking to any of us, or when you do you blow up in our face!"
Edmund snatched his hand away from Peter. "It's not as simple for me as it was for all you! Can't you understand that?" One finger traced the laceration that coursed up his wrist. "I never was a part of your club to start with. I didn't just get a free pass to join, just because we all got to be Kings and Queens together!"
Peter stared at him. "What are you talking about? We're a family , Ed. Your family. The only one you've got. Why can't you just get out of your own head and join us for a change?"
Why can't you. Why can't you just do as you're told. Why can't you, why can't you, mocked the echoes of his words.
Edmund's eyes widened. Peter knew he had not missed the echoes either. He could see the paleness of his face, the dark heavy brows draw together in the old response, rebellious as ever. "It's just that easy for you, isn't it?" Edmund retorted. "Everything would always be so easy if I just listened to you. But I have to be difficult."
"What do I have to do to make things easy for you, then?" demanded Peter. "Shall I let you do whatever you like? Just go into your own world whenever it suits your fancy, just to call yourself the loner? Remember what happened the last time you did that, your Majesty? Shall I remind you?"
Edmund's face went even paler, and his mouth twisted in a cringe. But Peter couldn't stop. Visions of the Boggle's phantasm danced before him, throwing Edmund's lifeless body into his arms. And he knew he would do what he had to before it happened.
"I know!" exclaimed Peter, hating the taunting edge in his voice, trying to goad his brother into telling him something, anything. "I shall let the just King have – accidents with knives whenever he pleases. That won't be hard to explain at all, especially considering how quickly he jumps at the chance to hunt down a monster."
This wasn't fair, but neither was a brother who couldn't trust him enough to tell him when something was so desperately wrong.
"Or perhaps it would please him best of all to have no one to say no to him," continued Peter without mercy. "Shall I hand you the sceptre and crown you High King, see how you like that for a change? Crow over me, make me bow down and follow you for once? That's what you secretly wanted, wasn't it? When you went to Her?"
Edmund staggered back as if Peter had struck him. He was white as a sheet. His words came out no louder than a whisper. "I never meant – never meant it to go that far." His voice shook. "Never wanted any of it. Even when you drove me away, even when you looked at me as if I was the most poisonous snake on earth, I never wanted you to die."
"It is only for yourself you wish it, then?" Peter said, gesturing to the jagged proof written on Edmund's arm. He did not let his face betray the cold condemnation that flooded his body at Edmund's speech. He was good at being strong. He was so strong, he could push his own brother straight into the jaws of evil.
"There is much you don't know, Peter." Edmund half wrapped his arms around himself as though cold or fearful. Peter suddenly longed to take Edmund in his arms again and protect him from the cruel words he was so quick to throw at him. But it was too late for that. Edmund was drawing into himself as he always did when pushed. And for all his efforts, Peter had only succeeded in driving the wedge deeper.
Edmund took several steps back. His eyes - so vulnerable, overflowing with misery that Peter could not heal - betrayed the damage that had been done. "I wish I'd never told you anything," he said, still shivering. He turned, and Peter could barely hear his next words. "You never understand."
Peter did nothing to stop him go, watching the slight figure rejoin the just-waking camp deeper in the forest, until it had disappeared. Then his face fell in his hands, and his shoulders bowed with the weight of shame and regret, and the High King let himself be weak, alone.
Rains will pour down
Waves will crash all around
But you would have been safe, in my arms