Darkened eyes never shift from the stars. Lucy always finds him if he’s gone for too long; if there are ever nights when she needs his weight pressed against her own to find comfort in one more foreign bed.
None of this is theirs.
Edmund wonders, as she pads to him, bare feet light on weather-worn stone (they really must look into fixing that one day), and blankets swallowing her small form. He wonders with his eyes turned towards the heavens (if such a thing does exist, does it exist up there?) where Narnia is in relation to home.
To Earth, to Britain, to England, to London.
Where is Narnia in relation to Finchley or the Professor’s house?
He only shifts when the blankets fall across his own back, and instinct has his own pale fingers gripping the fringe.
It startlingly reminds him of a home he has resigned himself to never seeing again.
Edmund does not blame Lucy for wanting him nearby, not when she presses against him, curls her own arm about his and drops her head to his shoulder with a sigh and he too feels warmer.
“I’m sure one of the- that we could get you something made.”
“What about yourself?” Because Edmund still cannot help but to quip at her. He feels her tense, just for a moment, the second that she is split between fight and flight.
“What about myself?” Somehow, because it is Lucy, she sticks to that innocent in-between. (It is not quite so innocent as it is learned; and he regrets she may have learned it from him.)
“It’s hardly fair, or practical, to use me as a cure for whatever it is that keeps you awake.” He will not- cannot- look at her now and see her crumble under his words. Where once there had been some cruel sliver of pleasure at rocking Lucy’s world with truths, is the heavy weight of the world he had almost lost. Of the lives he had ended.
He must have said the right thing because Lucy does not have a response to that.
Edmund falls back upon the wonders of a new world.
[He will later murmur questions to Susan and Peter in a very similar situation, about whether this planet, much like their own little Earth, is hurtling through the terrifying infinity of space.]
“Be honest Ed…” Lucy begins out of a startling nowhere, but she is still pressed against him and he is still grateful for her warmth. “Were you just telling me what I needed to hear earlier?”
At that, his heart clenches.
He remembers how it had stuttered in time with her panicked breaths.
His hand seeks hers out.
Earlier it had gripped so very tight and firm so that she would look at him.
“It’s not easy, is it? Not really.”
Hours ago, Edmund had insisted, yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
“If it were, you wouldn’t have fought it long enough for us to get to you.”
Now he must wonder where his conviction had wavered.
When Susan had asked him, it was almost born of selfish desires. It was because she wanted to know more than Peter.
It was because she’s still a scared little girl, far from home and her mother, not knowing if her dad will ever come back.
It was because she’s scared, even now, that Peter will ride away, same as their dad, and never come back.
She’s scared of a letter home with their family name on it; hand written, but impersonal.
Our deepest regrets and most sincere sympathies.
“What was it like for you?”
She has, after all, admitted to him, in the too still glow of a steady candle flame, that even months, a whole year later, she’s dreaming of him, of Peter, of Lucy, of Aslan, Mr Tumnus and the beavers (Mum and Dad goes unsaid) pinned beneath a blade she is too weak to lift. That Lucy does not have her gift to save them.
She dreams that none of them can be saved.
Edmund doesn’t tell her that he dreams much the same (there is a nagging that insists Peter and Lucy do too.)
It is impossible to ride to war and not come back drowned by the horrors.
Instead, Edmund sits on her bed, his legs folded beneath himself as Susan’s palms are pressed against his. Proof that he is real. Proof that she is real.
“It’s like a book,” he tells her, slow and steady and soft. “One that’s not quite finished, with those empty pages at the end that just make you sad.”
When Peter had asked him it was with terror in his eyes and blood in his hair.
When Peter had asked him Edmund’s own sword lay in the grass, silver coated red, looking for all the world as though it may never shine again.
They were on their knees, metal plates pressing too tight, chain mail too heavy for such young shoulders.
They could not stop watching, stop listening as a wolf panted its final breaths twenty feet away.
Peter, he realised, was far more scared for himself than Edmund had ever known him to be.
He realised, just barely on time, that Peter, too, is still a scared kid, away from home and his mum, wondering if his dad will ever come back.
Peter, Edmund has realised, is angry and scared and feels so very alone.
“I’m not nearly as brave as I seem.” Peter laughs bitterly, punctuated by a gulp as nails claw at the muddy terrain beneath them.
“None of us are.” He is dismissive, attention spent on keeping them ducked behind a fallen boulder while fingers made for pickpocketing tie a torn strip of a spare shirt about Peter’s bicep.
“If anything,” Peter grinds out, eyes clenching tight, “you’re braver than you seem.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment and pretend you’re not half delirious from the pain.” Edmund’s never felt a colour before, but now, he’s sure he’s white, even as he brushes red hands against blades of grass.
An equally bloody palm snatches at his wrist; Edmund lacks the heart to allow Peter to miss, so he stills.
“I’m serious, Ed.”
“So am I.” Just for a second, that single, split moment when the conviction of his words still hang in the air, they can almost believe that they’re back home, that Peter’s only hurt himself playing rugger and soon Susan and Lucy will arrive with worried cries and the three of them will get Peter home.
Less than a heart-beat passes before Peter presses. “You already come off so brave.”
“Can we just drop this? We need to get you out of here.” There is no argument when Edmund fixes him with such an intense and determined gaze and holds his hands out. “Can you walk? Or does his Majesty require his loyal steed?”
He thinks this humour tactic works so well with Peter because neither of them have anything else to cover themselves.
He doesn’t even know what he’s hiding.
“I hardly think steeds are better than their king at using a sword.” Peters nods at where Edmund’s blade lies, a discordant level of humour and sobriety.
“Are we even now?” They kneel, facing each other, and it strikes Edmund how much Narnia is breaking his heart; robbing each of them of a childhood, only to replace it with war and duties they had the misfortune to stumble upon.
Peter, face hard and not unfamiliar when smeared with blood blinks at him confused.
“I saved your sorry behind from the Witch, you got the wolf.” His head cants an imperceptible amount towards the creature drawing its last breaths “Makes us even, doesn’t it?”
“I hardly think-” Peter begins with a laugh in his breath, because he thinks they’re still posturing. “Edmund, that is hardly the same thing.” Until he doesn’t. “It’s not about being even- it’ll never- even if it were, Ed, you died so we could win that fight.”
“It was th-”
“No, Ed, listen… For twelve whole seconds you were dead and I didn’t have a brother any more…”
He doesn’t have to be told. Surely Peter already knows it’s the reason why he now sleeps with an extra three blankets, despite the perfect weather of their country.
“Pete, this is hardly the-”
“I just want to know if it hurt.” There’s something in those eyes that holds him, even with armour plates drawing ridges in his skin that is inconsequential against the fine pink line in his gut.
It is the thing that makes Peter want to protect them all, that goes beyond a parting promise to their mother.
(One day, as Edmund grips a sobbing Lucy because she is so wholly torn between two worlds, he will understand it as love.)
It is the thing that makes him tell the truth, even if Peter deserves the peace of a simple lie.
So he nods.
“It did.” He thinks he may not be strong enough for this. “It was- I’m not sure- I told Susan…” A deep, steady breath in, and out. (He pretends he misses the betrayal that he told Susan first.) “The worst part was not being able to breathe. Not enough air, but… too much all at once.”
Edmund levers himself to his feet, a slow and graceful rise so that, just for once, he towers over Peter. “Now can we please drop it?”
The first time Lucy had asked him was the first time she failed.
It was the first time she had arrived too late and watched as a young faun’s life faded away, right beneath her fingertips.
She had rubbed the skin on her palms raw in scalding water, with choked tears clogging her throat.
It was not the first time he felt as though Narnia were picking on them.
Edmund doubted also, that it would be the last.
He just wanted Narnia to be the Narnia that Lucy believes in, even if only for her.
“It’s not fair!” she had cried as he wrestled her away from the boiled water.
“It’s not fair!” she had cried as they fell against flagstone, wrapped about each other with too tight grips.
“Ed.” It’s almost as though the cosmos themselves have enchanted him this time. “Ed, look at me.” All it takes is the warmth of her palm against his cool skin and a gentle press against his cheek for his head to turn.
She smiles such a bittersweet smile when his eyes meet hers.
“Please just tell me the truth.” He thinks Lucy may well break his heart long before he could ever break hers.
(Sometimes Edmund fears the strength of her conviction, of her stubbornness and brash nature, and though Narnia is good and fair, he knows, elsewhere- someday- her faith shall lead her off a cliff.)
He wonders where his voice has gone- Edmund always had something to say against Lucy what seems a lifetime ago- and why he can only twirl the tassels that line the blanket’s edge.
(He just hopes he will be there to catch her.)
Lucy’s palm leaves his face so that she may shift to her knees and face him, head on. Immediately he misses her warmth and draws the blanket tighter about himself.
“I just want to be sure you don’t regret us saving you.” There’s a drum beating loud and clear in his chest as her fingers curl about his shoulders. “You don’t, do you?”
“Absolutely not.” He finds his voice in the distant and old parts of himself that curl his lips into a teasing smirk. “I would never have known just how boring Peter can get when you get him talking about politics.”
“Ed, do be serious.” She rolls her eyes at him, but he doesn’t miss the way she wrangles back a smile.
“But Lucy,” his own hands set themselves upon Lucy’s shoulders, a mimicry of her current position. “I’m always serious.”
She swipes his hands away and sets herself against his side once more. She fits as though she belongs there. “You’re more a blanket hog than you are serious.”
When Lucy retaliates with her own jokes, Edmund has learned, she has opted to bide her time to get the answer she desires. For that, he is grateful. Edmund knows there will come a day when he lacks the patience for Peter’s short temper and Susan’s mothering, and he will feel like remembering.
He fakes his offense quite well, wrenching the blankets back to himself. “Well, you can definitely sleep alone tonight then.”
“Fine with me. Susan’s bed is just as comfortable, and she doesn’t snore.”