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Once a King or Queen in Narnia

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James Matheson: 3 June 1946 – 21 August 1979 "Beloved husband, father, and son."
Benjamin Williams: 22 August 1949 – 21 August 1979
Charles King: 7 February 1951 – 21 August 1979 "And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. John 11:26"

Susan remembered funerals in her girlhood, all pomp and circumstance and a good time had by all: a chance to feast, to tell stories about the departed, to celebrate a life lived long and well. An ache of sadness in the heart, but knowing that really their friend had moved on to a better place.

It was hard to be sad in Narnia, even in the face of death.

Funerals now were different. Matheson, Williams, and King: warriors who would have no feast, no funeral games to remember and honour them. England had very little colour compared with her memories, and CI5 had very little time to bury the dead and mourn them.

Susan stood in the grey, grey misting rain, holding herself immobile as the last lines of the eulogy whispered past her ears. There were not many of them at the grave side; security must always be remembered, and they'd lost too many good men over the past few days to be able to give the next villains an opportunity to take out even more. One enemy conquered and another will rise up. She remembered that from being a Queen, but somehow when she was younger, more idealistic, she'd thought that eventually it would end.

There were scattered tears on Murphy's cheeks, and Lake's jaw was clenched hard, gritting back the pain that would spew forth if he gave an inch. Susan wanted to take his hand, offer some comfort, but she knew he would not appreciate it. It was important, just now, to get through this without cracking; the world would fall apart if appearances were not kept up. Susan remembered holding herself iron-stiff, dry-eyed, at that triple funeral, the first funeral that was about sorrow and not celebration. She'd known then that to cry would break the world in two, and she'd never get it back.

She never did get it back, even though she didn't cry then. An orphan Queen, abandoned by her brothers and sister, left behind as they set out on their last adventure, together.

She watched Doyle and Bodie, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, stoic in the damp. No one would notice unless they were looking for it, but one of Doyle's hands brushed against the back of one of Bodie's, either offering or asking comfort. Dry heat pricked at her eyes and she almost hated them for having each other.

Susan would not cry. She'd given herself eight seconds of tears yesterday, eight seconds to mourn the man she'd planned to marry. Most of that eight seconds was calculated; the other agents expected her to break, as the girl. Might as well get it over so they wouldn't keep glancing sideways at her, waiting for the moment. She'd seen enough death at CI5 to know the pattern.

The rest of the eight seconds was compassion for her fellow agents: they were not allowed to cry, and she was. The tears she let out were for them, not for her. She didn't cry for herself. She never had.

She and Williams had had six dates. Three were interrupted by one or the other of them being pulled in by Cowley to cover an op. Standard life in CI5: Cowley came first, your partner came second, your love life third. It had been nice finally to date someone who understood that, who didn't complain when you had to leave in the middle of dinner to track down a mad terrorist, reason with a difficult MP, or play bodyguard to your boss simply because he was feeling lonely.

Did he have a girl? Cowley had asked Lake.

Yes, he had a girl! Lake had been angry. His partner was dead; of course he was angry. Four years together, and everyone knew Lake would be resigning. That was if he didn't eat his gun, but Susan was pretty sure he wouldn't. Lake had had the presence of mind not to mention that Williams had been breaking the non-fraternisation regs; it meant he was looking to the future, not lost in his grief. Look, I'll tell her. It'll be better coming from me, he'd told the Controller. His eyes had met Susan's, misery and self-blame writ large across his face. Susan had made up her mind to find the bombers, not for herself or for Williams, but for Lake. Maybe he would rest easier now that he knew it wasn't his negligence that had got his partner killed.

War hadn't used to be like this, gritty and cold and sharp. She remembered adrenaline singing through her veins in counterpoint to the bow singing in her hands; she remembered commanding battalions against those who would invade her beloved Narnia. Witches and giants; invading hordes of evil, stunted creatures –- it was easy to know who the enemy was back then. She'd been a child, playing at war. With Lucy's phial, anyone who didn't deserve to die could be healed.

They'd called her Queen Susan the Gentle, but even then she'd known she had to fight to keep her land of Eden. She hadn't fought hard enough. Now she was just plain Susan Fischer, fighting the forces of evil that threatened her native England; Eden was lost long ago.

The lads took Lake to his local; getting drunk and raising a glass to the departed was the time-honoured CI5 method of dealing with the death of a partner, no matter how Kate Ross railed about the danger of denial and unintegrated sorrow. Susan once pointed out that no one expected agents to live long enough for mental health to be a large concern, but Kate was so horrified that she demanded Susan undergo another round of mandatory psychiatric testing. Cowley apologised, later, for which Susan was grateful. Her primary fear had been that she would be sacked due to Kate's interference.

Susan came along to the pub to keep an eye on Lake, but mostly because she knew she shouldn't be alone just now. Peter, Lucy, and Edmund were never far away, and closer now than ever. She wished their faces weren't overlaid with the memory of coffins being put in the ground, and of trembling hard to keep from screaming.

Bodie was willing to buy her drinks as long as she was willing to keep deflecting his flirting. Doyle was on her other side, eyeing her up lazily as she ignored his partner's increasingly humorous come-on lines. When Doyle tired of the game, he was the first to tell a story about the departed: a difficult undercover op with Matheson that ended with Doyle stealing Matheson's girl. Pennington told the next story, about Williams's first solo stakeout. The MP he was shadowing, suspected of passing intel to the KGB, had an unexpected bodyguard who was a little more intelligent than the run-of-the-mill bouncers, and Williams found himself bound hand and foot, gagged, and dumped on CI5's doorstep, discovered at five the next morning when Cowley arrived. Susan smiled, remembering Williams telling her the story. They traded stories long into the night, until last call, and Lake was ready to fall out of his chair.

There were hoots and catcalls when Susan took him in hand and said she'd drive him home, but they were more muted than she'd expected, and Bodie offered his shoulder getting the man out to the Escort. Lake threw up in the bushes and when Susan fetched him some water he just looked at her, eyes dull with pain.

"Does it ever stop hurting?" he asked her when she'd pulled up in front of his flat. His voice was that of a little boy, drunk and trusting.

"Yes," she lied, and wrestled him up the stairs and into his room.

Once, Susan had commanded battalions ready to die for her. Now she commanded the duty roster of CI5 agents, support personnel, and computer technicians. She didn't have a partner. Few of the female agents did.

Since she had stopped being a Queen, Susan had learned a new skill: watching. She watched the political manoeuvring of the various security agencies; she watched the complex dance of MPs and government paper pushers vying for power; she watched her fellow CI5 agents; she watched Cowley. She'd learned that she was good at picking up details that seemed obvious to her, but escaped many others.

Cowley tended to shift around the duty roster without consulting her, and she came up for driving/bodyguarding duty much more often than most of the other agents. She decided, tentatively, that it was because he liked her, or at least because she didn't annoy him. They didn't talk much in the car, but it was a comfortable silence for the most part. Sometimes he'd ask her for her opinion of this agent or that one. She didn't know what he did with the information she offered, although a few days after she told him how Briery fucked up the Goodridge op then managed to cover himself, Briery disappeared from the hallowed halls of CI5. It occurred to her that some might consider this ratting out a fellow agent, but Briery didn't deserve the title of agent, not if he couldn't face up to his mistakes. Susan didn't tell Cowley her suspicions of how close Doyle and Bodie had become, but it wouldn't have surprised her to learn that he had his own thoughts on the matter.

Every Sunday, she drove her boss to church. Well, every Sunday that Cowley could spare the time with so many ops going, so really it came out to maybe every third Sunday. She sat next to him in the pew and wondered just how blasphemous it was that both of them were armed in a house of God. She would have refused the communion, except that she had to follow Cowley up to the altar anyway and it would have become awkward. The wine made her think of Aslan's blood on the broken table.

Sometimes she hated that Aslan lived and her siblings didn't.

A few months after Williams's death, she was driving the Controller to a meeting in Whitehall, and Cowley asked her if she thought she would ever marry. She smiled for the first time in weeks, and even she could hear the wistfulness in her voice as she said no.

"Why not?" he asked gently.

She remembered envoys coming to Peter, foreign princes and kings who wanted her hand in marriage to solidify alliances. After the fiasco with Prince Radabash, Peter had pulled her aside and told her he wouldn't sell her off unless she wanted it. She'd laughed, then. She hadn't expected she'd ever want to, because who would ever want to leave Narnia? And there was nobody in Narnia that she wanted to marry. She'd hoped Peter would find somebody, doubted that Edmund would ever have much interest in a woman, and rested her hopes on Lucy. Given enough time, Tumnus would surely overcome his shyness and propose. She received the envoys graciously but always refused.

There had been one, though. A king's younger brother, he could hardly propose when the king himself had been refused. A dark man from the southern lands beyond Calormen, with a wide, flashing smile and an easy laugh. She had promised to visit him the following summer, and they had parted with laughter and kisses.

Susan wondered, sometimes, if that were where the fall from Eden had started: putting aside childish things and longing for the forbidden fruit of adulthood. It was not long after that that they had found the lamppost, had found their way back to the wardrobe and shed their adult bodies. Narnia was for children, and she was no longer a child.

"I would have married Williams if he'd asked," she told Cowley. "He would have asked, I think, if we'd had longer." She wondered if this were true, or just a story she told herself, like the story of witches and lions and talking animals.

In the rearview mirror, she saw Cowley raise an eyebrow at her. "Williams," he repeated.

"Williams," she confirmed.

He was silent for a long minute. "Why did I not receive your resignation when I received Lake's?" he asked at last.

Their eyes met for a moment in the mirror. "What good would that do, sir?" she asked.

He nodded, thoughtful.

Cowley partnered her with Jax for a protection job, squiring some foreign VIPs whom certain parties would have preferred dead. The job went on for too long, and they were living on coffee and adrenaline, jumping at shadows. When the shootout finally occurred, it was a relief. The four gunmen managed to wing one of the VIPs, but Susan got the wounded man to hospital in plenty of time, leaving Jax to deal with the villains –- three dead and one alive, so at least Cowley would have someone to interrogate. She was still wired by the time Jax got to the hospital, and she could see he was just as bad. The adrenaline singing through her veins this time had acquired a sour note. She wasn't sure which of them suggested going dancing.

She loved and hated the feeling after a kill: loathed the excitement, bright and harsh behind her eyelids; loved how alive she felt, how connected. She felt like a live wire, dangerous and sparking, spitting fire and warmth. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears, a staccato dancebeat even though they never made it to the dancefloor, only made it to Jax's flat by the grace of some kind deity. She slammed him against the wall and kissed him, feasting. She wanted only one thing, and she writhed under him on the bed until he gave it to her, and came with a curse on her lips.

When Jax collapsed over her, the adrenaline ebbing slowly out of both their bodies as they panted their surprise, she could not but agree with his slow, "Oh, fuck."

He tried not to hurt her as he pulled out of her body, and she gritted her teeth. Jax's eyes went wild, a little feral, when he saw the blood on his sheets, on his cock. His head jerked up to stare at her, and she wrenched away.

"Susan…" he began, and she was horrified that he was going to try to be gentle about this. Of course he was; Jax was a good man, one of the best. She was willing to bet that this was a first for him as well –- at least, the part where he wasn't in love with the woman he'd just bedded.

"It doesn't mean anything!" she snapped. She was not going to cry, not over something so trifling. She'd lost her innocence years ago; holding on to this remnant in the hopes that she'd be allowed back into the presence of the divine was ridiculous, a child's dream.

She let Jax approach her, wary, and held still as he enfolded her gently in his arms. "I'm sorry," he whispered into her hair, and she could feel him trembling still as well.

"I'm not," she muttered. I'm NOT, she insisted to herself.

Brian Pennington: 4 December 1950 – 28 June 1980 "Dum vita est spes est"

The next time she drove Cowley to church, he asked whether she believed in God. Remembering burying her fingers in a warm, comforting mane, she said, "I believe in God, sir. That's not the same as worshiping him."

Cowley frowned. "Why not?"

She wasn't sure how to explain in terms that weren't "lion" and "abandoned" and "dead." She tried to put it into his language. "I don't understand why he put the tree in the Garden. If he's omniscient, he knew what would happen."

He nodded. "What had to happen. There couldn't be Christ, couldn't be grace, without the Fall."

She smiled a little wryly. "I'm glad you understand it, sir," she said. "I'm sure that Adam and Eve would have preferred to spend their lives in Paradise."

"But there's no choice," he argued, "no free will. What sort of paradise is that?"

"A lovely one," she answered wistfully. He did not understand, and he would not. Bodie had once said that Cowley was on first-name terms with God, and Susan didn't know how an adult could do that. Cowley's world made sense to him, and he knew his place in it: keeping England safe at all costs.

Cowley wasn't as comfortable in his world view as she'd thought, because that wasn't the only time they discussed religion. After Pennington's funeral, Cowley asked whether she thought God would forgive the sins he had to commit in the name of keeping law and order. It was the closest Cowley would ever come to admitting he felt responsible for Pennington's death. She knew Cowley sometimes had to treat them as cannon fodder; she hadn't known that it stayed with him.

She wondered what Aslan would think of Cowley. "I don't know, sir," she said finally. "Do you think so?"

He sighed, a long, tired breath. She studied the lined face in the rearview mirror: Cowley was getting old, and the pressure of the job was affecting him more each year. "I pray so," he admitted.

"You believe you're doing the right thing."

"...Sometimes, I do," Cowley said, looking out the window, his voice distant. "Even five years ago, I believed it. These days..." Cowley was an old man, she realised, rushing ever closer to dying. He was such a larger-than-life presence that she'd never thought of him as mortal. He stood in judgment upon all of his agents, he decided when and how they would live and die. He was aloof, alone; he was their God, and he had a Plan, and Susan had found purpose in abiding by Cowley's Plan. There were thousands of people who were not dead because of the work that CI5 did. It was a good Plan, but Cowley was not really God, and his truth was not The Truth.

"Even if you don't believe it," she told him, "we do." Again, she wasn't sure if it were a lie, another story she was telling herself. She thought of Doyle, who had joined CI5, joined the secret police, because he believed Cowley's mob was more moral than the lot over at the Met. Bodie, who had set up Cowley as God, who did not complain even when Cowley sent him out to die, whose loyalty was caught and would not falter even in the face of evidence. Murphy, in hospital, beaten to a bloody pulp by IRA sympathisers –- who had not, thank God (or Cowley) found out that he worked for CI5. Pennington, who died hoping that he could save the man he'd been set to protect. They all believed in Cowley's Plan. They believed they were doing good.

As to Susan, it had been a long time since she had known what she believed. She worked for Cowley because it was a Queen's job to protect her people, and once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen, even if she'd lost her country and her people and her faith. She couldn't stop being a Queen of Narnia, even if Narnia was just a story she told herself.

"Is the intention more important, or the action?" she asked into the silence. "Your intention is to make this country safe for its citizens."

"And to do that," Cowley said quietly, "I've imprisoned, tortured, and even killed many of those same citizens."

She hoped Peter had never felt like this, as High King. Moral ambiguity wasn't so much an issue in those days, though. Sometimes, she was jealous of her siblings for never having to grow up.

Finally, she offered, "I'd rather it were you, sir. Rather it were you than somebody who doesn't worry." There was a pause as she considered her words carefully, and then said, "I wouldn't trust anyone else to do your job."

Cowley nodded, slowly. "Thank you." In the rearview mirror, the look on his face said plainly, Neither would I.

They were almost back at HQ when she added, "When you leave, sir, I'll be leaving, too." When you die, because they all knew Cowley wouldn't retire, that he'd leave the safety of his precious England to mere mortals only when God insisted. Susan didn't know who'd take up the mantle; she didn't really think anyone should have the kind of power that Cowley and CI5 did.

The work they did needed doing, though, and they both knew that Cowley would burn uncomplaining in hell if it came to that, because he couldn't help doing what he thought was right.
Jax tracked her down in the rest room, finally. She had avoided him since that night, almost four months now, and she was inclined to continue avoiding him.

He sat down next to her. She was looking over a file for an op Cowley wanted her to plan, foiling a suspected badger job that involved a Secretary who should have known better. It would have been childish to ignore him, but she was sorely tempted to.

"Look," Jax said awkwardly, abruptly, "could I take you out to dinner or something?"

She blinked at him, nonplussed. Finally she managed, "A little late for that, don't you think?" and was surprised to see a touch of hurt on his face.

"I don't normally do this, you know," he said. He was avoiding her eyes. "Just... it doesn't feel right, leaving things like this."

She sighed. "How else could we leave it?" They both knew it had been a mistake, and rehashing that didn't seem like a productive avenue of pursuit.

This time he looked full into her eyes. "We could leave it as friends," he insisted.

Susan didn't have friends among the other agents, not the male ones, anyway. Lake had been the closest thing, and then only because he was Williams's partner. "Friends," she echoed weakly.

"I don't usually do, er... that, without at least a few dinners," Jax continued. "Maybe it's too late... but maybe it's not."

When she'd started work at CI5, almost every single male agent on the squad had asked for a date. She'd turned them all down flat, established herself as aloof –- or the more standard "frigid lesbian" –- and gone about her job. Jax was the only straight man on the squad who'd never bothered her. If she'd thought about it, she'd assumed it was because he knew what it was to be an outsider, too.

"Friends," she emphasised.

Jax shrugged, acquiescing, then flashed her a big smile, and her heart stopped. "Friends," he agreed.

Nancy Orsling, 14 February 1974 – 14 September 1981 "Aged 7, Beloved daughter and sister"

Susan sat by the window in Cowley's office, the taste of failure in her mouth as she waited for the Controller to get off the telephone with the Minister. Below in the street, three children kicked a football. A tenuous ray or two of sunshine struggled through the clouds every once in a while, making the children shout aloud.

Somewhere in Devon a policeman was at the door of some poor unsuspecting family, and she remembered only too well how that story went. A child had died today, and it was her fault. Cowley had asked her to plan the op, just a matter of coordinating four agents for the takedown of a suspect. It should have been easy enough; choose the agents, then lead the apprehension and arrest. Instead they had ended up with a railway carriage of hostages, seventeen children and three adults. Shots fired.

And Cowley had told her coldly, when she asked for orders, that it was her op and she'd damned well better sort it out for herself. "Without loss of life, do you hear, 5.2!" he'd added, voice tinny through the R/T.

She swallowed hard now, remembering sending Julie –- no, 6.7; if Susan didn't think of her as a call number, she'd never be able to command her to do this -– unarmed in a nursing sister's uniform to distract the villain while Doyle attempted to take him out from the other side of the carriage. The dread that left her white-knuckled. It was Julie in there, alone: Julie, who always had a smile for everyone; whose cheerful sense of humour had dragged Susan out of more than one slump; Julie, who had once cried on her shoulder because she'd taken Bodie at his word and let him further into her affections than he'd meant her to. Would Susan be able to forgive herself if her plan failed? Then things had deteriorated quickly and the memories came as a series of images, like stop-photography: the bomber with Doyle and a child hostage, attempting to make his escape; Bodie breaking cover and orders and barrelling toward his partner; Doyle using the distraction to shove the child behind him; the flash of the gunshot; Bodie's body jerking backwards in the impact; the spreading pool of blood. Susan almost hadn't noticed placing a bullet in the man's shoulder, so sick did she feel at Doyle's shout of anguish. But training held, and Doyle had dragged the gunman away from the little girl while Susan ran to his partner.

Cowley replaced the telephone in its cradle and glanced up at her. "Get us a drink, lass," he said quietly, and she fetched the bottle of scotch and another glass from the cabinet, tactfully not remarking on the empty bottle in the rubbish bin. If Cowley were showing his weakness, there had to be a reason; nothing was ever simple with the Controller.

She sipped at the best scotch she'd ever tasted and braced herself. Cowley had returned from hospital, where he'd raked Bodie over the coals for putting his concern for his partner ahead of the success of the operation. Then he'd returned here to sort out Susan's mess with the officials he had to answer to.

His words now were wholly unexpected.

"I'm sorry, Susan." She looked up at her boss, startled. He had never used her Christian name before, and she had never heard him apologise.

She watched him struggle for words, and wondered just how much he'd had to drink today. He looked tired, even more so than usual, his face grey behind the glasses.

"I've been aware for a while now," he began carefully, "that Bodie might put an operation at risk if his partner were in danger." He was silent for a long moment. "I factor that into my planning these days. You didn't know."

Susan stared. Bodie and Doyle were the best team Cowley had, but what Cowley was saying meant they were a walking risk to CI5. He met her eyes and nodded, silent grief flashing across his face. "I should have dealt with the problem long since," he admitted. "I should have dissolved the partnership."

Dissolve the partnership... Bodie would never stand for it. He'd resign, and Doyle most likely wouldn't stick around long without his partner. CI5 would lose its two star operatives, and the truth was that CI5 simply couldn't afford that loss. Bodie and Doyle, two of forty-odd agents, accounted for nearly a sixth of the squad's successful operations.

Cowley, seeing that she understood, nodded again and gulped at his scotch.

"Can't you ask Doyle to straighten Bodie out?" she asked, helpless, into the silence. "I'm sure Ray will have already had a few choice words to say about today's debacle..."

The old man was staring off into the distance, and Susan was suddenly tempted to dash the glass from his hand. She didn't like to see Cowley, their lord and protector, like this; it was too real, too raw. He was supposed to be strong for them.

"Aye," he whispered, far away now. "But it won't work. It'll happen again. And the worst thing is... I hate to ask it of them. I hate to ask them to choose, every time."

Susan went very still. So Cowley knew. Cowley knew about Doyle and Bodie, and he hadn't put an end to it. Perhaps couldn't bring himself to put an end to it.

Cowley cared deeply for the two of them, everyone knew that –- everyone, perhaps, except the agents in question, whose lives he risked on a regular basis. But Susan had not realised just how deep those feelings ran. Cowley was putting CI5 at risk, Cowley was putting England at risk. Cowley was the strongest person she knew, a veritable God to all his agents, and he was crumbling under the weight of his own humanity.

She didn't want to see this. She didn't want to know this. She wanted him to be the inflexible ruler he'd always been, a steady compass.

Being a leader, as she'd learned today, meant sending other people to die. She felt even further away from Narnia; it had never been complicated like this in Narnia.

And why was Cowley telling her this? Why was he letting her see this weakness, the cracks in his foundation?

Cracks... There was a table, once, a cracked table covered with blood, and it had taken her quite some time to understand then, too. Slowly, the puzzle came together, and finally she straightened, no longer uncertain.

She didn't realise that she had come to the decision until the words were out of her mouth. She would just have to be the strength he lacked, the strength he was asking her for. It was what a Queen did, after all. "You're going to have to take them off the street," she told him.

Susan left the Controller's office quietly amazed.

They had talked about where the two men's strengths lay, and how CI5 could continue to utilise their skills. She would no doubt soon be taking orders from one or both of them.

She was exhausted. The adrenaline crash left her in the Rest Room, staring blankly at yesterday's paper.

"Let's get you home," Julie said quietly, and Susan let herself be led out to the car park. "I've seen Bodie. He'll be all right," Julie added.

Susan didn't answer. There was a child dead, and she'd managed to forget for a little while; now she felt guilty for forgetting.

When they pulled up to the kerb outside Susan's flat, Julie said, "There would have been a lot more people dead if that bastard had succeeded in bombing the station."

There were stories people told themselves to make themselves feel better in an awful, cruel world, and Susan knew in a few minutes she'd start to tell herself the "we saved hundreds of lives today" story, but right now she was remembering a policeman coming to her door to tell her that her whole world was gone.

She wondered how Julie coped, what stories she told herself to make things okay. She wondered if she could ask.

"Want me to stay?"

"I won't be fit company," Susan said. She wished she could cry, and then it would be over. But she hadn't cried, not really, not since a train crash had torn her heart apart.

"I'll stay anyway."

Susan looked over at her friend. Then she smiled. Why not? As Julie chattered away up three flights of stairs, Susan felt her spirits lift. She could do this. They would gossip a little, and drink a little too much, and Julie would complain that Bodie hadn't even noticed the cakes she'd dropped off for him in hospital, and maybe, just maybe, she would tell Julie about Jax. And the sun would rise again tomorrow, here, even if it didn't rise anymore in Narnia.

George Cowley, 28 February 1922 – 5 November 1983 "He gave his life to Queen and country"

Susan had known CI5 would change when Cowley died. In fact, she hadn't been convinced CI5 would survive Cowley's death.

Yet another funeral, and she felt hollow, standing next to Julie, watching the coffin lowered into the ground. He'd been their touchstone, their compass, their God, for so long. The one with the answers. The one with the moral certainty.

Somehow she wasn't all that surprised that even in death, Cowley was manipulating them. The Home Secretary had called a meeting earlier today; Cowley had named a successor.

Not even a king, and he gets a successor, she remembered thinking. Odds-on favourites were Bodie and Doyle, the Bisto Kids. Susan was willing to try working for them, even trusted them more than she would trust most, but she was ready to leave if the moral leadership faltered.

The Home Secretary had looked harassed and overworked, which he no doubt was. MI6 was breathing down his neck, eager to regain ceded territory from CI5. Several MPs had openly questioned whether any organisation should have such broad powers as CI5's brief gave them. Susan hoped the Bisto Kids had the political savvy to deal with the situation. Diplomacy in Narnia had been a bore, but she'd been better at it than her siblings. It wasn't an easy thing to learn; you either had the instincts or you didn't, and in this case if you didn't, you and your organisation were toast.

Then the Secretary had thrown a wrench into all her self-indulgent plans to wait and see how things turned out, because Cowley was a right bastard, and an even bigger bastard in death. Turned out that he'd decided that it wasn't safe to have so much power in the hands of just one man, so he'd appointed three people to succeed him.

Even then, the penny hadn't dropped.

Jax would be a good co-Controller, she decided when the Secretary turned to him to congratulate him. He'd balance out Bodie and Doyle's potential hot-headedness, and he had an ear for politics, as she'd learned in the four or five dinner dates they'd managed so far. He'd be able to help them navigate treacherous political waters.

She'd watched politely as the Secretary shook hands with Doyle, not listening to the inane words. She wanted this over and done with, wanted to escape and go and visit some graves she'd stayed away from for too long. She hoped, just a little, that her siblings missed her, even though really she hoped they were happy, wherever they were. Maybe with Aslan? And maybe Cowley was with him too. It didn't much matter if it was just a story she was telling herself, as long as it brought her comfort.

Then suddenly the Secretary had said her name, and she was blinking at him in confusion, her hand automatically responding to his hearty shaking. She darted a glance over at the others to see what was going on, but saw only surprise on their faces –- and pleasure, as well. Except for Doyle, who was scowling at her, and abruptly she understood. That bastard! Cowley had tied her to CI5, sealed her doom. She would have to make the same hard decisions he had, without any of the certainty he'd been able to draw on.

Doyle gave her a dark look, but Bodie tugged at his sleeve, shaking his head, a relieved smile on his face. And Susan understood that, too. Bodie didn't want this responsibility. He couldn't be someone else's moral compass, because he needed someone to be his. Cowley had filled that role, and Susan suspected that Doyle would from now on. Bodie had his own strengths, and Susan knew she'd have to learn how to use them, but he didn't want to have to make the life or death decisions for anyone else but himself.

Cowley had spared his fair-haired boy the heartache of having to live with the consequences of the responsibility he'd settled on the other three.

Thank God it's not me alone, Susan thought, as the first shovel-full of earth hit the coffin. And she thought of their coronation, and Peter and Edmund and Lucy smiling so wide their cheeks might split, excited and awed and humbled as they were crowned one by one the Kings and Queens of Narnia. Beside her, she heard Julie sniffle and felt a gloved hand take one of hers. Tears sparkled rivulets down Julie's face in the pale sunlight, and Susan blinked, surprised as she finally, finally felt the wetness on her own cheeks.

She dropped her little bundle of hothouse crocuses –- she had had to search London over for the flowers that had been the first through the snow when Aslan melted that first endless winter –- into the grave, and smiled tremulously through her tears. If I'm to be a Queen again, at least I won't be alone.