‘The past beats inside me like a second heart.’
– John Banville, The Sea
Edmund is leaving the one place where he’s his truest self. He’s walking away from the man he loves, for ever, because he has no other choice. And it hurts; the pain is so great there is nothing in his life before this moment, either here or in England, that has ever hurt as much.
The tears flow down his cheeks; he’s unable to keep them back, no matter what he tries, and although he’s willing them to stop before either Lu or Eustace notices they keep on coming. He can still taste the last lingering traces of Caspian’s mouth on his – and, if he isn’t careful, the tears will drown that out, too.
All too soon he and they are back in that bleak little room in Cambridge. They’ve been gone almost half a year, and yet not even a single second has passed here. It’s the way it’s always been. Edmund shoves the thought that it will never happen again as far to the back of his mind as he can manage as his eyes remain fixed on the painting. He starts forward, as if to pick it up, but Eustace gets there first and Edmund is denied even that. But he is mesmerised by it, all the same; the Dawn Treader is still visible, his last link to Caspian. Then he blinks, and it is gone. And it is all Edmund can do to keep himself from screaming.
Some of it must be visible on his face, because both Lu and Eustace are looking at him with concern. But Edmund has no way to articulate how he’s feeling; there is no comparison he can make that either of the others have a realistic hope of comprehending. Like them, he’s walked through a tsunami without so much as a drop of water on his clothes and skin to show for it. But although Lu might have shared the desperate impulse to sprint back, Edmund doubts she wanted to throw herself into Caspian’s arms and beg to be allowed to stay with him. No, Edmund thinks; this is a special torture, just for him. He’d forced himself to keep going, forced himself to forget any chance there is of Aslan changing his mind, and passed through the portal without letting himself look back. It’ll be back to ‘normal’ for him now. Or as close to that as he will ever be again, now that he is gone.
Edmund would give anything to stay. He and Caspian discuss it, lying in each other’s arms with the Dawn Treader rolling from side to side beneath them. When Caspian broaches the subject, it is clear from his tone that he finds this painful and would prefer, like Edmund, to ignore its inevitability. But he still tells Edmund that he wants him to live, properly live, when the time came to go on without him. Edmund finds it almost impossible to speak, let alone find the words to express what he wants to say. But somehow, he manages. He asks Caspian, in turn, not to hide away from the good things in life just because he, Edmund, isn’t there. He almost spills how he doesn’t want to live, not if it means living without Caspian, but something stops him. Instead, he buries his face in Caspian’s neck where it meets his shoulder, lets his lover comfort him as much as he is capable, and tries not to think about what it will do to them both to have to leave for ever.
When the time came, it had hurt every bit as much as he’d feared it might, and more. And now he’s trapped here on this side of eternity, with Caspian separated from him for ever. At the thought of it Edmund touches his fingers to his lips, which are still moist from the last kiss Caspian gave him, and tries to remember.
Memory is all he has, after all. And each memory of Caspian is more precious than diamonds. Edmund wants to burn the memories, and the strong, deep emotions that go with them, into his brain. If he can’t have Caspian, then at least he can have this. And although the Lion told him he’d never get to go back to Narnia, it doesn’t stop him from spending time standing in front of that picture. Waiting, and hoping…
When it becomes clear this is the end, Caspian catches him up in a fierce embrace so tight that, for a few seconds, Edmund struggles for breath; the kiss that follows is hard and desperate; deep and demanding. Edmund doesn’t want to think about anything except the way Caspian’s lips feel moving over his own, and how Caspian is kissing the breath out of him. He wants nothing more than for this kiss to last for ever.
Of course, it didn’t.
Things never happen the same way twice. Because of that, Edmund knew the painting would never give him a route back to either Narnia or Caspian. But it was the beginning of a plan. And for a broken-hearted Edmund, whose heart was full to bursting with love and grief for the lover he’d been forced to leave behind, it was the only one he had.
Caspian tears his lips away and stands staring down at him, his dark eyes full of intense emotion. Edmund can’t bear the idea of moving, in case Caspian changes his mind and kisses him again.
‘Edmund… Ed, I—’
Caspian’s voice breaks, and he doesn’t finish. And before he can try again, time runs out for them both. And Edmund will never know what Caspian had meant to say.
Edmund knew what he meant to Caspian. He’d known almost from the beginning; it hadn’t quite been love at first sight, but it had been a very close thing. And the forced time apart had done nothing except intensify how the two of them felt about each other. So, when Caspian hauled him on to the Dawn Treader’s deck from the Great Eastern Sea, Edmund had needed only one look at him to know nothing had changed. The strange electricity between them was very much still there. As soon as they were alone, Caspian had proved his love for him in the only way that mattered. Over the following months together, the bond between them had strengthened and deepened; they’d become almost inseparable. Edmund knew he loved Caspian, and he knew this as clearly as he knew Caspian loved him.
Caspian had even given him the words, whispered in his ear when Caspian thought they were both going to die. After the danger was over and the two of them had come together, for a while – punctuated with fierce kisses as Caspian had taken Edmund apart with mouth and hands and body – it was all Caspian found himself able to say.
But when it came time to leave, when they were on that beach in each other’s arms trying to say goodbye, perhaps it hurt too much to acknowledge their parting was a reality. Because now they were facing the one thing they had hoped to be able to avoid, Caspian could not make himself speak. And so, Caspian’s intense dark eyes lingering on his (and a kiss where Caspian’s mouth, tongue, and body had said everything that his words had failed to do) were what Edmund had to sustain him through a lifetime of longing.
And Edmund stepped through the door in the wave.