Peter was used to feeling stupid around his brother, when they were in Narnia. Usually when Edmund caught him sneaking out of someone's chambers in the morning, when they were older, and on those occasions when Urges took precedence over politics.
'Peter, you more than any of us need to be careful about alliances!' There would be scolding, and repentance, and it was understood that Peter would be tossing someone else's sheets within a week. Somehow he had never given Edmund the same lecture. He'd never had the opportunity. Edmund was too careful, if he was doing that sort of thing at all.
But that was before, a thousand years ago or one. They were boys again now, and he wasn't expecting, on their last morning in Narnia before leaving Caspian to rule in their stead, to spot his brother skulking in the corridor outside the young king's room.
Peter was up for an early breakfast, and planning to get in some swordplay with Reepicheep - the Mouse was a ferocious opponent, and his small stature only made him harder to beat, so it was good practice - when he saw the slight, dark-haired figure of his brother slinking past, dark circles under his eyes. Peter followed, curious, keeping to the shadows and doing his best not to make his presence known. Edmund had always been a bit of a mystery, and any opportunity to find out just what he was up to was not to be missed.
Edmund loitered outside Caspian's room for several minutes, looking less sure of anything than Peter had ever seen him before. Twice he raised a hand to knock, and Peter, from his vantage point in the lee of a statue, felt his stomach clench painfully both times. Just what did Edmund think he was playing at?
Eventually Edmund seemed to come to a decision, and turned on his heel. Peter pulled back into the shadows as his brother passed, and noted the heavy frown and slumped shoulders. Thoughtful, the High King made off in the opposite direction to meet Reepicheep, but he made a mental note to catch his brother later, and make a few inquiries. But he couldn't quite concentrate on his bout with the Mouse, and was soundly trounced. The defeat barely registered, he was that distracted, wondering what he would have done, what he could have done, if Edmund had summoned the courage to enter Caspian's rooms.
He didn't get a chance to talk to Edmund that day. Aslan made a door in the air that afternoon, after gravely informing Peter and Susan that they were too old, and could never return. That thought pushed all worries about his brother out of his mind, though suspicion began to niggle at him again as they said goodbye. The four of them each left Caspian with something to remember them by. From Lucy it was a simple smile, bright and cheerful, a silent promise to return. Susan left him with a kiss; a final benediction, a blessing on his reign, and a last goodbye to Narnia. Peter saw the pain in her eyes, and resolved to ask about that later, too.
He himself left Caspian his sword, Rhindon. He felt it showed that he trusted Caspian, to look after everything he'd once counted his own.
Edmund left the new King with nothing but a smouldering look. That was a promise, though not like Lucy's. That look suggested unfinished business that Edmund had every intention of coming back and finishing, and to his own satisfaction, if Peter knew his brother. It unsettled him, although not as much as the look Caspian gave Edmund in return. There wasn't time to consider it, in the excitement of leading a line of Telmarines through the door, and finding themselves back on the platform on a bright English morning, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of schoolchildren and the whistle of an approaching train.
All too soon, the girls were gone, the train whisking them away to school, Lucy tearful but smiling, Susan sombre and detached. Peter looked round for his brother, only to find the seat next to him empty.
Peter had never felt so ineffectual.
They'd only been back at school a week, but Edmund had successfully avoided him ever since they'd found themselves returned to England. Peter had spent some time pondering, that week, when he had a moment free from lessons and sports and the tomfoolery that had helped him settle back into life at home last time. But he watched Edmund from a distance, whenever he could, trying to get an idea of what was going on in his brother's head. He'd never seen his brother radiating such anger.
Unfortunately, an angry Edmund tended to lead to an angry Peter, through years of habit, and he found himself getting into rather more fights than was his wont. Most, admittedly, were of his own making, stemming from his inability, now, to submit to the authority of the bigger boys. Angry or not, Edmund always seemed to be the one pulling Peter out of them.
'You've got to stop this, Pete,' Edmund said shortly, dabbing a cold flannel over a swollen eye one afternoon in the San. 'This isn't doing any good, and think what Father will say when he finds out. And Mother, you know how disappointed she always looks. Just give it a rest.'
'You don't have to help,' Peter retorted, a touch defiantly, and spat blood into the basin. 'I never asked for help.'
'You never do. You need it, though.'
'You think I can't take care of myself?' Peter demanded, glaring.
'I know you can't. What is this about, Pete? You can't dominate everyone. This isn't Narnia,' Edmund hissed, keeping his voice low so that Matron wouldn't hear. 'Thompson isn't Cas-'
'This isn't about Caspian,' Peter insisted. He whirled around, blood still on his mouth and his teeth, and grabbed his brother. 'Not everything is about that Telmarine upstart!'
'So it is about Caspian,' Edmund said calmly, pulling away and straightening his uniform, his face unreadable. 'We're too far away for that to matter now. Grow up,' he added, his voice distant.
'I did grow up,' Peter snarled, before noticing the set of Edmund's shoulders. The younger boy was staring out of the window at the line of trees bordering the rugger field, but his eyes were glazed. 'Ed?'
The only response from Edmund was a sigh. Peter reached out a hand to his shoulder, but it was shrugged off.
'Fine,' Peter said at last, exasperated. 'But I'm not the only one fighting, so you can get off your high horse.'
'Yes, well,' Edmund said, dabbing once more at his split lip. 'You're not the only one who has a problem with other people throwing their weight around.'
'I don't stand out so much though. You, you're ... I don't know what's wrong with you, Ed, but I've caught the boys in my class talking. Watch yourself.'
Edmund didn't answer, and Peter stared at the back of his head for a long time, wondering. He'd seemed so normal, arguing and trying to put Peter down, until he'd mentioned Narnia. Peter was prepared to admit his brother had a point, at least about the dominance thing. He turned around and reached for another cloth to wipe at the blood crusting on his hairline.
'Why should I watch myself?' Edmund asked eventually, still staring out of the rain-spattered window. 'What are they saying?' He seemed almost amused, Peter thought, and yet strangely detached, as though he really didn't care all that much one way or the other what the bigger boys said. And that was different, Peter knew - Edmund in Narnia was always much more concerned with appearances than Peter had been.
'Just ... things,' Peter said awkwardly, not wanting to repeat the vile jokes and speculations he'd heard.
'Could you possibly be a bit less articulate?' Edmund asked with a weary sigh, and Peter just knew he was rolling his eyes, so he turned his attention to his bruised knuckles and waited, knowing Edmund wouldn't leave it there. He wasn't waiting long.
'I know what they're saying,' Edmund said quietly, half-turning. 'I'm not deaf, Pete.'
'Then why haven't you done something about it?' Peter demanded, turning again to regard his brother in confusion.
'I rather thought that's what all these terribly honourable fights you've been getting into were about,' said Edmund. He shrugged.
'I'm hardly going to stand by and let them say things like that about my brother, am I? You should know that,' Peter said accusingly. 'You're the one who was always so worried about reputation.'
'I had to be, given what you used to get up to,' Edmund answered, smiling slightly. He winced in pain, and dabbed once again at his lip.
'You're changing the subject.'
'Because there's nothing to say. I don't need to pay attention to gossip. Not here.'
'If you ignore them, they'll only think they're right,' Peter pointed out, perfectly reasonably he thought. But his brother turned away again, and resumed his staring out at the sky. 'Ed ...'
'I'm all right, Pete. You needn't worry about me.'
'You look tired.'
There was an awkward pause. Peter kicked his heels against the metal bedframe. At last, Edmund spoke.
'I'm not a liar, Pete.'
And with that he was off, marching out of the San. at high speed. Peter watched him go, confused. What on earth had he said to upset Edmund now?
By the time Christmas rolled around, Peter had come to a few conclusions. He lay in bed, staring at the snow falling outside, and considered.
He was sure Edmund had Urges, just as he himself did. After all, they'd grown up, hadn't they? And Peter had certainly found his attention caught many a time by ambassadors' daughters back in Narnia. It had always been a point of contention between them, Peter's willingness to favour the ladies of the court. Edmund had never approved. Peter rolled over, turning his face from the window. Across the room, he could hear his brother breathing softly. Asleep, he thought.
But that was a bit of an odd one too. They were no strangers to boys' dorms, either of them, and what such living conditions necessitated, but he'd never once overheard Edmund. Perhaps he was just quiet.
And then there was that last morning in Narnia. He pulled the blankets up, shivering a little, and remembered. What had Edmund been doing? Why?
The logical answer didn't fit somehow. Ed wasn't like that. He couldn't be. He was his brother, for Aslan's sake.
Peter burrowed further under the blankets, and determinedly wrenched his thoughts in a totally unrelated direction, and before long he was asleep.
Everyone's spirits were high the next morning. Though the snow hadn't lasted, the girls were due home, and so breakfast was a cheerful affair.
'We shall have to get the tree decorated this afternoon,' Mother said, pouring the tea. 'I'm sure Lucy will like that. Unless she's perhaps too old now.'
Father snorted behind his paper, but said nothing.
'I suppose that means you want us to go and fetch the tree this morning, then?' Peter asked her, contemplating his porridge.
'If you wouldn't mind, dear. The two of you ought to manage, the way you've shot up this term.'
Peter smiled, but Edmund merely poked disconsolately at his breakfast. Peter glanced at him, and frowned. His brother was still looking too thin, his collarbones visible under his hand-me-down jumper. He still looked tired, too. It was just a good thing Mother hadn't noticed, he thought, or else she'd be spending the entire holiday fretting.
'Anything interesting happening in the world today?' Peter asked Father, attempting to distract himself from worrying over the state of his brother.
Father peered at him over the top of the paper - it was more often Edmund who enquired about current events - but cleared his throat and said, 'Would you like me to give you the headlines?' with a smile.
'There's not much today,' Father said, scanning the page he'd just turned. 'New carpet factory opening; legal trouble over that murder trial - you remember, the one in the Cotswolds; two men arrested for indecency in some public bathroom or other, disgusting business, that; new Roman coin exhibit at the museum ... not much else, really.'
Peter, with one eye firmly fixed on his brother as usual, was the only one to notice the flinch at the word 'disgusting'.
'Come on, Ed,' he said with forced jollity, pushing his emptied porridge bowl away. 'Let's go and fetch that tree. Can't be disappointing our sister, now, can we?'
Edmund shot him a sharp glance, but finished his last mouthful and stood up. 'All right then,' he said. 'Let's deck the halls and all that.'
'Ed,' Peter asked at last, as the house came into view. They'd been silent throughout the trip down to the market, and Edmund had refused to meet his gaze the whole way there. On the way back, of course, it had been impossible, with six feet of fir tree between them. 'Are you all right?'
'Just tired,' Edmund answered, stifling a yawn. 'Come on, I expect they're back by now. I'm dying to see Lu, aren't you?'
Peter stopped abruptly, and stared at his brother. There were times when being his High King prevented him from doing just what he'd like to, for example, right now, when Peter could think of nothing better to do than to grab Edmund and shake him, hard, until he admitted what was wrong. 'Ed ...'
'Pete. Leave it.' Edmund scuffed his feet through the slush, one hand in his pocket, the other clinging to the tree.
Sighing, Peter lifted the tree again, and began the struggle back up the hill.
Edmund and Peter helped Lucy dress the tree that afternoon, and they chatted brightly about this and that, inconsequential things, nothing even closely related to what Peter wanted to talk about.
'Su's been made a prefect, haven't you Su?' said Lucy, smiling brightly at their sister, who was sitting in Mother's chair and peacefully hemming her school skirt, which had needed to be let down again.
'I told the boys that already, when I wrote,' said Susan, shaking her head a little. 'Remember? I asked you to write as well, but somehow I don't think you ever got round to it, did you?'
Lucy pouted. 'I had too much else to do!' she complained.
'Nothing ever changes, does it, Lu?' Peter teased, ruffling her hair. 'You were always too busy. Remember when we had that party for the ambassador from the Lone Islands? And you were so caught up in your dancing that you forgot about the council that you were supposed to attend to meet the envoy from the Black Dwarfs?'
Lucy giggled. 'They were so cross! And that one, what was his name, you know, I'm sure he had the longest beard I've ever seen on any dwarf - he was almost cross-eyed and vibrating.'
'And then you laughed,' Peter said solemnly.
'I couldn't help it!' Lucy protested. 'He just looked so serious, didn't he, Ed? Like Father when he's had one of his days.'
'Yes, well,' Susan interrupted, sewing patiently. 'School is always busy.'
Peter and Lucy both turned to look at her. 'She's always like this now,' Lucy confided. 'Always changing the subject. Why don't you want to remember, Su?'
It was Edmund who answered, pausing with an arm outstretched to hang a bauble from the tree. 'Sometimes it's easier not to think about it,' he said quietly.
'It's all right for you,' Susan said, her needle stopping for a moment. 'You'll get to - to go back, one day. Peter and I shan't.'
'Now hang on a tick,' said Peter, startling even himself. 'I never once said I wanted to forget about Narnia. Even if I can never go back.'
'It would be easier if I knew I couldn't,' said Edmund, still calmly bedecking the tree and not meeting any of his siblings' gazes. 'As it is, I never know if I'm about to get whisked off. It's very disconcerting.'
'Well, I don't know what on earth you're talking about,' said Lucy stoutly. 'I hope every day Aslan calls us back. If Narnia needs us, we have to go back.'
'Yes, Lu,' said Edmund. 'And that's hardly a comfortable place to be in. Don't you ever worry that next time, we won't win?'
Peter had to agree with Lucy. The thought had certainly never crossed his mind. For one thing, Aslan surely would never have sent them to some conflict they couldn't prevail in.
Susan was regarding them all, tapping her fingers lightly on her knee, sewing forgotten. 'Mother and Father are in the kitchen, if you'd forgotten,' she hissed. 'And this is stupid. Why bother wondering about something you have no control over? If - if Aslan wants you back, he certainly won't give you any warning.'
'And Pete won't be there, or Su,' Edmund continued, ignoring his elder sister in favour of the younger. 'It'll just be you and me. What if we're not enough?'
The silence that followed was uncomfortable. Lucy slid a tentative arm round Edmund's shoulder. 'It'll be all right, Ed. We'll always have Aslan on our side, and that's always going to be enough, isn't it?'
Susan sighed, and returned to her sewing. Peter took up another bauble and headed for the tree, but as he hung it from a high branch, he couldn't help whispering 'that's not the only reason you want to forget'. Lucy looked sharply up at him, then at Edmund, who hadn't heard him. Her expression softened. He wondered if she knew, as she always had in Narnia, what he was talking about.
It must have been some time into the small hours of the morning when Peter awoke to the sound of gentle, stifled sobbing. Blinking and shifting under his blankets until he could espy his brother's bed, he waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. Edmund was not in his bed. Peter sat up, peering around the room until he saw a slight figure in pyjamas, huddled into the far corner. He got up, padding to his brother's side, and eased down beside him. This was going too far. Nothing could be allowed to make his brother cry. But this wasn't something he could charge in and chop the head off. Some tact was probably required.
'Still not sleeping?' he asked gently. Edmund's shoulders hunched closer. 'Ed, what is it? Are you having nightmares?'
'No,' came Edmund's soft answer. Peter caught a tiny gleam as of a tear-filled eye glaring at him, before his brother's face turned towards the wall.
Perhaps that was a little too tactful. Peter tried again. 'I saw you at breakfast,' he began. There was no response at all to that, so he threw caution to the winds, and got to the point. 'It's him, isn't it? He's what you don't want to remember.'
'It's nothing to do with you,' Edmund muttered, wiping his nose on the back of his hand and pulling a face. 'Leave me alone.'
'I shan't,' Peter declared. 'You're my brother, and something's upsetting you, and I want to know what it is. Tell me, Ed.'
'It's none of your business,' Edmund said, struggling to his feet. 'I'm going to bed now.'
'Why don't you want to remember Caspian?' Peter said, grabbing Edmund's arm, preventing him from leaving. He was going to sort this out now. 'What happened that last night, Ed? Don't let me jump to conclusions by myself.'
'Why not?' Edmund's voice was cold. 'Everyone else at school did.'
Peter froze, and Edmund drew his arm away. Suddenly their conversation in the San. sprang to mind. 'You said you weren't a liar,' he said, slowly, willing his brother to deny the obvious conclusion.
'I'm not,' Edmund whispered harshly, voice edged with tears. 'But that doesn't mean I have to make life difficult by running my mouth off.' He threw himself down on his bed, and drew the covers up around his shoulders.
'So ... you and Caspian ...' Peter trailed off, with no idea of how to finish that sentence. Edmund didn't answer.
The Professor's new house was much smaller than his old one, and Peter found the quiet, just the two of them pottering around and discussing mathematics and Classics and eating scrambled eggs on toast, soothing. He could study properly here, away from anything that would remind him of his siblings, and at the same time, he could mention Narnia. He didn't have to have a guard on his tongue all the time.
'So,' said the Professor one morning as he applied himself to his breakfast. 'Tell me more about young Caspian. Are you sure that putting a Telmarine on the throne was the right course of action?'
Peter considered his answer. 'A Son of Adam must always be on the throne of Narnia,' he said eventually. 'Telmarines are Men, and he was the true heir under their law too. We had to have someone, and he was the best choice. The only choice. He loved old Narnia, but he was born of the new Narnians, the Telmarines.'
'So, he was a compromise,' said the Professor, shrewdly. 'I'll wager that didn't sit too comfortably with you, young Peter.'
'What makes you say that, sir?' asked Peter, spreading jam onto his toast.
'Just ... something in the way you talk about him, perhaps? And the knowledge that you dislike half-measures and politics,' the Professor added. He smiled. 'Your brother isn't as tight-lipped as he sometimes appears.'
'He is at school,' Peter said, ruefully. 'Even when it's clearly doing him no good to act deaf and dumb.'
'People at school were saying ... things. He could have done something about it, but he didn't say a word, and they never stopped-'
The Professor regarded Peter. 'What could he have done, though?'
'He could have denied it, at least.'
'Would he have been believed?'
Peter stopped for a moment. The Professor raised an eyebrow. 'I suppose not,' Peter was forced to admit.
'And what did you do?'
Peter rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes, suddenly feeling even more ridiculous than he ever did under Edmund's disapproving gaze in Narnia. 'Got into a lot of fights,' he said. 'Which was stupid, but someone had to care about his reputation.'
'About his honour?'
'How very Narnian of you, my king.' The Professor smiled gently. 'But surely at some point you have to trust Edmund's judgement?'
'I had to protect him,' Peter said. 'Especially since he wouldn't protect himself.'
'You grew up again,' was the first thing Peter said to Edmund when they were both unpacking their cases in their bedroom, settling back into home.
Edmund didn't say anything, but his face coloured, just a hint, as he searched out a sock from the depths of his luggage.
'So, what happened?' Peter didn't mean the whole story. He'd heard that, mostly from Lucy with the odd interjection from Edmund, in the sitting room earlier, when they were sure that Mother and Susan weren't around to listen in. He wanted to know what'd happened to Edmund. Because something obviously had.
'Nothing much,' said Edmund quietly.
Peter snorted derisively. 'Try again.'
'Honestly, nothing much,' said Edmund, neatly folding a jumper and not looking at his brother. 'We sailed around and we found some islands, rescued a few Telmarine lords, nearly died a few times. Eustace turned into a dragon, did we tell you that? I can't remember.' He smiled in a watery sort of way. Peter looked at him, and made a decision. He took the clothes from his brother's hands and plonked him down on the edge of the bed.
'Ed, Eustace was always a rotter; being a dragon can't have hurt him that much or upset you that much. Now tell me why you're looking like a wet cabbage. It's -' Peter hesitated just a fraction, remembering the last time they talked about this. 'It's Caspian, isn't it?' He felt nervous as he waited for his brother's response.
Edmund frowned just a little at first, and then looked up. 'He - I - we ... Pete, you know we were ...' Edmund sounded so plaintive that Peter took pity on him.
'I know,' he said, gruffly, trying hard not to think of that morning, and how he'd felt. Superfluous.
'It was just that once, you know, before we came home. And then ... on board ship ... He was afraid he'd brought us all out there to die, and I couldn't see what I was supposed to be doing there, I mean, he had it under control even if he thought he didn't, the voyage would have been fine without me ... they ended up needing Lu, you see, but not me. I don't know why Aslan let me go back, and I wish to God he hadn't,' Ed finished bitterly. 'He could have left it. There's bound to be some diplomatic disaster or some war in Narnia I could help with. Something I could be useful for. Some time without Caspian.'
'Without him? I thought -'
Edmund glared at Peter. 'You thought what, exactly?'
'I thought you and he -' Peter stopped abruptly, not wanting to say anything crude, and settled instead for 'I thought you'd want to see him again.'
'I thought so too,' Edmund sighed. 'I thought if I had another visit, we could sort out ... whatever it was. But now ...'
Peter waited. He didn't trust himself to say anything, for a start. He'd sort of thought that Edmund and Caspian ... well, that it hadn't been anything more or less than Peter's own explorations in that direction. He looked up at Edmund, though, and there was such pain in his eyes. What did that son of a Telmarine sow do to him? 'Did he hurt you?' he asked quietly, angrily.
Edmund looked at him sharply. 'Hurt me? Lion's Mane, no. No. I ... if anything, I hurt him. Look, Pete, just let me speak, all right?' Peter nodded. Edmund took a breath, and continued in a sing-song voice. 'We ... flirted, I suppose. And one thing led to another. And I know you know how things go when there's life or death situations, Pete, because I distinctly remember that tournament and that Ambassador's daughter ... but anyway. And we probably weren't as, oh, I don't know. As subtle, I suppose, as we could have been. Lucy knows,' he added quietly.
Peter was still trying to process the first part of the story, but - 'What? Edmund, for Aslan's sake, she's only - she's too young to know about -'
Edmund shrugged. 'She found out herself. It was in Narnia, Peter. You know that when she's Queen Lucy she's ... worryingly perceptive. You ought to know, she gave you enough lectures.' Peter blushed, and Edmund continued. 'And then ... there was this woman, on the Island of the Star. Ramandu's daughter. She was beautiful, Pete. Caspian watched her while we were there, even if he tried to hide it. She wanted to get off the Island, to come back with us. And I knew I'd be leaving, that he'd be alone, and he needed an heir, and so I talked to her. And I tried to talk to him.'
'You tried to arrange a marriage for your ...'
'For my lover?' said Edmund defiantly, when Peter hesitated at the word. 'Yes.'
'And then ...' Edmund took a breath, and whispered, 'then, he told me he loved me.' The younger boy - the younger man, Peter corrected himself - stood then, ignoring Peter, and left, leaving him alone amidst dirty socks and wrinkled shirts.
Rather than just sit there, Peter started to put things in drawers. He muttered as he did so.
'I can't believe he - of course Ed wasn't going to stay. How dare he -' He didn't hear the click of the door behind him.
'You never loved any of them, did you?' asked Lucy, shaking out a pair of trousers. 'All those women, and you never wondered what it would be like to keep any of them?'
'No!' said Peter, flushing with embarrassment to be talking about this with his sister, even if she didn't exactly seem like sweet little Lucy any more, and was more Lucy the Valiant than she'd ever been before. 'I didn't need a queen; I had you and Su.'
'Ed needed Caspian,' Lucy said quietly.
'What for? And why like that?' Peter was bewildered. How can he need someone else? He's got us. We were - I was always enough for him before.
Lucy smiled at her brother. 'Perhaps there are things that a brother can't be.'
A few months later, Peter was sitting alone in his room, trying to study his calculus notes. His Uncle Harold and Aunt Alberta, and cousin Eustace, were visiting, and he'd made a hurried excuse and escaped to the blessed quiet of his room as soon as dinner was over. But his longed-for peace was disrupted when a tap came at the door. He opened it to find his cousin Eustace standing nervously outside. He had to quell a flash of irritation, and remind himself that Eustace was no longer such a blot on the landscape. After all, he was a friend of Narnia now. If Aslan thought him worthy, who was Peter to turn him away?
'Come in,' he said, gesturing at the chair and perching on the bed himself. Eustace didn't usually speak to him much, except on one subject. Peter had a bit of a premonition about why he was here tonight.
When the tale came tumbling from Eustace's lips, hurried and clumsy, it wasn't that much of a surprise. Peter even managed to contain the tiny pang of jealousy at the fact that he hadn't been there when he realised that Eustace had come to him first. To report, like anyone would to their commander. Their King.
It sounded like Eustace had reached the end of the story, when he described their return to Narnia, but judging from the boy's tone and by his face, there was still something left, something uncomfortable.
When Eustace hesitated, Peter leant forward. 'Yes?' he asked. 'And then what happened?'
'It was Caspian, on a litter,' said Eustace slowly. Looking up, a pleading expression in his eyes, he said, 'You ... you have to understand, Peter, he was very old -'
Oh. So that's what it was. It was odd to even be thinking about it. In a way he'd been thinking of Caspian, of everyone really, as dead, from the moment he left Narnia that last time. Who knew how the time would flow, anyway? If he ever went back, it wouldn't be to a time he'd known before.
'Caspian is dead, then?' he said, a little distantly. He tried to think straight, to think of Narnia. 'And Rilian is king?'
'And the Witch, she was definitely killed?'
'As far as I could tell, yes.' Eustace shuddered a little.
'Then it's all right,' said Peter, ignoring the treacherous sting in his eyes. 'And he's with Aslan now.'
Eustace left quietly, to go back downstairs, Peter supposed, and make polite conversation, or something. He sat on the edge of his bed, and let himself remember his realm. Even if he couldn't be there, she would be safe. Narnia still had a king, and the most immediate threat to her safety was vanquished. Peter was relieved, really. The succession he had helped to install was still functioning; his duty as High King, to ensure that his kingdom had a leader and a protector, was still being fulfilled. Then it hit Peter that he would have to tell Edmund. Eustace had told him so that he could tell the others. That was also his responsibility as High King. He sighed, and went looking for his brother.
Edmund was also trying to snatch a bit of quiet for studying in; he'd retreated to their father's study. He looked up when Peter entered the room, and put his pen down. He took in Peter's expression.
'Is everything all right?' he asked, concerned, and started to get up. Peter motioned him to sit.
'I've just spoken to Eustace,' Peter said, wondering how on earth to say it.
'He's been back to Narnia, with some girl from that school he goes to. Jill Pole, I think he said her name was.'
Edmund turned back to his books. 'That's very nice, Peter, but could we talk about it some other time? I have exams coming up. Anyway, wouldn't Eustace rather we all got together and heard him declaim the saga all at once?'
'Not this bit,' said Peter. 'I think he wanted me to tell you this bit myself.' And I wish like fury I didn't have to, Peter thought to himself. 'It's Caspian,' he said, meeting Edmund's brown eyes. Their steadfast gaze didn't falter as he continued. 'He died, Edmund.'
Peter watched as Edmund bit his lip viciously, and wondered how long his brother's control would hold. He's trying to be sensible, Peter realised. Would I even have to try, if it were someone I'd ... well, would I?
'How?' asked Edmund, with just the tiniest hint of a crack in his voice.
'Old age, I think,' said Peter. 'Aslan has him in keeping -' His eyes were stinging again, and though they threatened to spill over, he stayed dry-eyed as Edmund's control frayed, and his brother wept. He cried reluctantly, stony-faced and silent, and Peter wrapped his arms around him and held on. He held on until Edmund pushed him away, and then he picked up a pen, and went over the Latin exercises while Edmund composed himself. There wasn't anything to correct, but he did it anyway, because when things fall apart, it is the ordinary that puts people back together.
When the tears had dried, he took up the plate that Edmund's supper had been on, and returned it to the kitchen, thinking that responsibility and leadership die as hard as love.