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Barriers to the Soul

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I.
Somewhere along the way, the barriers broke down.

It's hard to say if it was after they battled a witch dressed in white and green, or when they saved that baby unicorn from a boulder giant, or simply when they knelt next to each other, smiling as they were anointed friends of Narnia and declared to be Lord and Lady of Cair Paravel. But at some point, Tam Fox stopped waiting to be rescued from this strange place they had tumbled into, and Tim Drake peacefully exhaled and accepted that as dangerous as this place could be, they were both alive and not about to die any time soon.

And as Tim promised, the ache of missing friends and family did fade a little over time.

And it was strange how they both ultimately got what they wanted. (Tim didn't like it when that Lion predicted things, but Tam noticed that the foretellings always came true.)

Tim got to save people. Not just people, but talking beasts and lively fauns. Wood nymphs and centaurs and marshwiggles. Sometimes they came to him. No masks, but sometimes mystery. Sometimes he couldn't resist old habits and he just patrolled and found things to fix. After all, part of him was always Robin and patrol was patrol, be it in a sprawling city or an enchanted forest.

Tam got to take control of her life. It was amazing how much respect one could garner for simply being human here. There were languages to learn, and people/animals/creatures that were so grateful for any time she  could negotiate and ease an argument. And running a castle was just kind of cool. Not bad for an interning International Linguistics major. Not bad at all.

And so it became a rhythm. Tim would go out to literally hunt for trouble, and Tam would solve it from right where she was. Sometimes the scouts would bring him home bleeding and bruised, but Tam was getting better at fixing that too.

"You know, if you actually used your sword like Galadin told you to, instead of just having it there for show while relying on your staff, you might have thought to cut through the vines and you wouldn't have warts all over your back, ninja boy."

"... Duly noted."

Getting in the swing of international relations felt surprisingly familiar too. Granted, the Calormen prince Asheesh flirted a lot more than say, Mikalek, but Tam didn't mind the way it seemed to wake Tim up a bit, keep him on his toes. And it brought up a very good point, one that they had somehow managed to avoid until then, despite their living together, working together, and generally ruling together...

"Lord Drake has asked to court you. Now that the treaty with Calormen is written and done with, he feels this would be an appropriate time."

She could see the surprise on Twitterfeet's face. Like many Narnians, her assistant assumed that some things were just unspoken between her and Tim. Tam sighed. It was easy for things to go unspoken when they weren't happening.

"Tell him that so long as he doesn't use the next crazy sword-weilding-toad-dwarves attack or mushroom plague as an excuse  to stop and never bring it up again, he may. So yeah. Yes. We grant permission for m'lord to court us."

They never seemed to get that the plural third-person thing was supposed to be sarcastic. Oh, well. It was fun anyway.

She met him in the garden. They walked through the maze, and they talked. At first, Tam wondered if Tim really intended to do anything differently from how they always began their day, but it soon dawned on her that Tim wasn't talking shop. He was keeping the topics to their friends, to the relationships around them.

It was--honest to Aslan--suggestion #23 in the Olde Narnian Courtship Guide.

And it worked. Talking of the newborn ducklings of Mr. and Mrs. Wattlefeathers, turned to talk of parenting, which turned to talk of parents, which became Tim actually talking about his parents which was a genuine first start.

Somewhere along the line, the barriers came down.

He began with numbers 23, 16, and 32 (personally yet casually delivering song-flowers and whistling reeds, skipping stones at Mistwater Lake and explaining the memories the mystic ripples unveiled, and sending her breakfast in bed on what promised to be a strenuous day). 

He eventually worked his way up to the harder numbers, the more specific ones, 57, 68, and the bold 83. (Hunting the white stag together, staying up all night  stargazing with a centaur philospher and privately discussing it over a picnic-breakfast as the sun rose, and finally... starting a Narnian cultural fair in the market square in her honor, complete with dwarven trumpets, dryad ballads, and beaver-baked berry pies.)

And as was custom for a lord courting a lady, he kissed her hand after each completed ritual. And as was custom for a lady welcoming the courtship of a lord,  Tam always angled her wrist just a little more, and slid her hand a little closer, letting the place where his lips landed get just a little higher, signalling that he had risen in her esteem and basically, "Yes, I liked that. More please, and soon." It was fun, and besides, Tim wouldn't take a hint otherwise.

But all good things were eventually to be disrupted.

With Tam, it was always spider-people.  With Narnia, it was always witches. So with Tim, it was the worst of both.

Glumtrotter brought her the news. The lady of the gray cloak was defeated, but the venom from her henchman had spread so quickly through Tim's body, made him so weak, that they didn't dare move him.

There was one drop left in the cordial.

The ancient treasure of Narnia that could cure anything save death, and there was one drop left.

He wouldn't take it.

Why wouldn't he FREAKING TAKE IT?

Tam screamed and ranted as she left on her horse and galloped to the edge of the Western Wood.
The Lion crest on his tunic was matted with black blood that seemed to have drained directly from his face, and yet his lips remained stubbornly closed, as if his lieutenants had tried to force-feed him the elixir of life.

"Stupid, STUPID dragon-loving, spider-smiting, ninja-brat! Why? Just tell me why!"

"...no."

But she already got it. His mother, his father, his girlfriend, his best friend, almost half his loved ones... he would have sacrificed himself before any of them. Still would.

So when Tam spoke again, it was gentler, softer, but still insistent:

"Tim... don't save it for me. We don't get to choose like that... whether I die before you or not. The point is that we live so long it doesn't matter. And Tim, I want to do that with you. I want you there with me. So what if we lose the miracle fix? We're alive now. Live with me, Tim."

Somewhere along the line, the barrier fell down.

His lips opened, and the last drop of Narnia's greatest healer splashed onto his tongue.

"Tam?"

"Yes?"

"We're gonna feel really stupid if this doesn't work."

It was the height of cynicism. The cordial had been working slower as they got down the last dregs, but it never stopped working.

"I'll feel stupid. You'll be dead. Now shut up."

"Tam? If I live through this--"

"Oh, shut u--"

"Will you marry me?"

"..."

"..."

"You're asking NOW?"

"You said... when we were under that stars that morning... that this place brings out the best in us. In so many ways, that's true. But there's one bad thing that I seem to do so easily here."

"Oh?"

"Waste time. I get scared of a million things I can't even name, and I waste time.  Our... our friends here believe we've been together a long time. We should have been. I'm not saying marry me once I 'm healthy, or a year after... but I don't want to kid around anymore. I love you, and this is where we're going, isn't it?"

Somewhere along the line... that became very true.

"Yes. I love you too, and yes, that's where we're going, silly hero."

By the time both their heartbeats settled, he was well enough for a kiss, and it tasted like Christmas morning.

It took a year and a half. A year and a half of honesty and seriousness, and even nightmares due to dredging up harsh memories. On Tam's part, it took a lot of patience and a lot of calm, but eventually the kiss on her hand fell by the way-side, replaced entirely by a kiss on the cheek, lips, or palm. (That one confused her at first, until she looked it up again: Lone Islands symbolism for "my life in your hands.")

It was strange what you could learn about someone in a year.  You could discover that one sensitive place between neck and shoulder at the beginning, and only learn their favorite vegetable at the end. Find out how fond they've always been of alligators in the middle, and realize you've gradually come to realize they're ticklish over time.

And each detail, each intimacy provided a thrill, and Tam knew the only thing that might match the bright teasing in his wide blue eyes was probably the smile on her own lips.

The wedding was very distinctly Narnian. Harps, ballads, and their horoscope presented on a crisp scroll from their centaur friends.  Tim made a "Warlocks and Warriors" joke, but only Tam caught it. She wasn't surprised. She'd learned seven months ago that he had been a geeky child.

One of the best things about it was how almost nothing changed and everything changed.  They still woke up frazzled in the morning, mourning the loss of coffee, one of the simpler things they'd left behind a world ago. But waking up with each other every day was another world of a difference.  Tim still went out hunting trouble. Tam still stayed solving it.  But instead of curling up up by the fire with just a book and quill, she curled up with him.  As Tam scribbled on parchment balanced on her knee, Tim rested his head on her leg, book in hand. 

And when the servants left, it was just the two of them, the fire, and their clothes scattered (in Tim's case, neatly folded) by the edge of the hearth.

They celebrated the changing of the seasons.  Narnians, as a general rule, had a certain fear of winter that neither Tim nor Tam could fully understand, but both their jaws dropped to the snow-covered earth when they met Father Christmas. Tam closed her mouth first. And never let Tim forget it.

Three years later, when it came time to re-draw up their treaty with Calormen, Tim sat up straight and smiled serenely as Tam politely informed Prince Asheesh that she had no desire to become one of the prince's wives.

"We regret to inform you that we must decline because we already have one husband--and while becoming quite accustomed to him--we do not wish to acquire more at this time. But thanks anyway, Prince."

Tam worked very diligently at keeping her face calm and Lady-ish. Laughing was not an option. Even if Tim did look as though he'd be preening, had he the feathers for it.

Excited first months merged into calm years.

As calm as was possible given--y'know--the dragons, giants, the occasional witch and the bi-yearly revelry of Bachus  ...mmm... Tim always surprised her that time of year. In very, very exciting ways...

Much later, when the first unicorn to be born in twenty years poked it's nose out into the world, Tim and Tam listened to the centaur Cheriosophus read the sky. The star Alambil smiled on the tiny creature and as the two humans sat and listened, their hands and arms covered in the afterbirth.  Out of the corner of her eye, Tam saw a flash of gold and swore she heard the rumbling purr of a Lion.  

When she woke the following morning, she realized Tim had been out all night. She found him in his study, looking out the window into the dawn.

"You talked to him?  What did he say?"

"It wasn't really... I'm not supposed to--"

"Sorry. What did he basically tell you?"

"It's... nothing lasts forever. But it's gonna be okay."

It was true.  They'd seen tree spirits die and dryads mourn. They'd seen gryphons go to permanent roost and stars fade.  But new dragons hatch, talking mice are born, spring arrives, and valleys and rivers are discovered anew. It seems pointless to fear the end when one has seen the new beginnings that arise every day.

Tim wasn't afraid anymore. Tim wasn't angry anymore.  And Tam enjoyed the things she could control and accepted that there are far more things she couldn't.

And that was how they lived... for a time.


II.

Sayings and prophesies intermingle in Narnia.  There is a saying--sort of a prophesy--that the greatest changes occur during the hunt for the white stag.

They are close--so close--to finding it when they find a bent and twisted pole of iron at a crossroads.
It might have been something... vaguely, maybe... resembling a lamp post a long time ago. But to the Lord and Lady of Care Paravel, it simply looks strange. As it it belongs not to their reality, but to a half-forgotten dream.

"Hey, guys! I think I found something! The heartbeats sound right!"

Kon. The name races to the forefront of his mind, though he hasn't actually thought about that life in... how long?

Soon enough, Tim and Tam hear hear a sound too, the whisk of wind that accompanies a flyer and the quick dash of footsteps crunching the autumn leaves.

Two hunting parties meet at the crossroads and stare.

The Titans look as fresh and real as if he had left them but fifteen minutes ago instead of fifteen years ago. Kon, Bart, Cassie... even Dick is with them. 

It is so striking, so overwhelming that for a moment, Tim cannot think it is anything other than a trick. It wouldn't be the first time a witch or a foul magician has cast illusions on his mind hearkening back to his former life.

He draws his sword and pulls Tam behind him. (It's always best to hide her behind him, so that the enemy does not notice when she draws her dagger.)

"Tim?"

Dick's voice is... completely accurate. He knows that. Despite all the years. Despite not even being able to completely recall his face mere moments ago.

Tam tugs on his sword arm. It's no illusion. She sees them, hears them too.

Oh Aslan, he thinks, only beginning to understand everything good and bad about to happen.

"Yes. It's me."

They look like they want to poke him to see if he's real.

How must he look to them? He was blessed (cursed) with a baby face, but fifteen years doesn't leave a man unmarked.

It's Tam who breaks the silence by inviting them to the castle for dinner.

"Alright! Food! Didyouknowthattransdimentionaltravelincreasesmetabolicrateby75percent?"

He missed them. So, so much.

As they eat, they work out the time "zone" so to speak. Time passes quickly here. Slow there. They don't really need to be in any hurry to return.  It will be just as if they never left regardless.  But as they look Tim's way, he sees them eyeing him, wondering how he can talk of returning to that life as if he isn't a man in the middle of a completely different one already.

He looks across the table to Tam. They know what the others don't. Time is running out, and they are about to be transformed.  There is no way to be truly ready.

Cassie is the one who graciously thanks them on behalf of the team for the rooms. The team sleeps soundly, despite their confusion.

As the Lord and Lady of Care Paravel sit in loose robes by their private hearth for the last time, they break a long-unspoken rule--that only one of them is allowed to cry at a time.  There is no "strong one" this night. Just tears and speculation.

Because somewhere along the way, barriers fall apart completely. 

"Well, we'll be young again. No ache in your knee before it rains. You can actually be a ninja-boy again. That's something."

"You can finally compete with Tiffany again. You always said that the women at court were never enough of a challenge."

She nods before the silence reigns  again. The nod crumbles into a sob as she almost speaks, but thinks better of it,  and he can't help but ask,

"Tam? Tell me."

"I'm... I'm really glad we never had children."

He nods and pulls her close, holds her tight. In a painful, gut-twisting way, he's glad of it too.

They watch the stars move and the sun rise.

Tarva and Alambil sit at the far reaches of the sky, as distant from one another as could be. Cheriosophus would say that it signals a difficult change. A passing away.  Hummingbirds flit about in the distance, some carrying fire-berries to worn-out stars.  The sun climbs the horizon as their tears dry, and somewhere on the wind there is the rumble of a Lion.

Before the first lark sings, Tam take his hand and kisses his palm.

"Some things will be better and some things will be worse."

He nods and listens.

"You'll be richer. I'll be poorer. Technically. You will be a crazy bat-workaholic actually surrounded by other crazy bat-workaholics for the first time in forever, so your health is probably gonna deteriorate.  I, on the other hand, shall have allergy medicine and aspirin, so I will be infinitely healthier."

"And chocolate. And burgers."

"And chocolate and burgers. So my mood will be pretty good. Totally prepped and psyched for all the love and cherish stuff."

"And don't forget our youth.  We'll be further away from death."

"So we don't even have to worry about the 'do us part' part yet. Not bad, not bad."

"Silver lining in everything."

"Uhuh."

"For you, your dad and Tiffany and that insane roommate who's name you will hopefully remember by the time we arrive."

"And for you, Bruce and Dick and Alfred and that short squirt that you like to pretend you detest."

He grunts.
 
She giggles.

It's a man-grunt he learned from the centaurs. He's going to look ridiculous if he tries to pull it off looking fifteen years younger.

She looks forward to it. He can tell.

The Titans freak out for all of three seconds when they see an entire population of castle, village, and wood-dwellers crammed into the courtyard and outer gates to say goodbye.  Twitterfeet cries. Galadin salutes. Cheriosophus offers a final blessing of the stars.

The Titans follow the Lord and Lady of Care Paravel out into the wood. 

"You know.. Tim.. we... we talked about this last night. We don't have to leave right away."
 
Dick is trying to be considerate.

Tim shakes his head.

"It's not up to us."

Tim can control everything except the things he can't control.  As a boy, he understood this. As a man, he accepts this.

The Lion greets them in the form of a lamb.  It's not so much illusion as symbolism.  They all have sacrifices to make.

Tam takes his hand as they pass through a portal of tree branches.

He knows that in five seconds his friends will see that he is back in a seventeen year old body, in the very clothes he wore fifteen years to the day.  They will shout and clap him on the back, and they will all head to Wayne Manor as if it was just another mission. Because it is the way of things, they will forget and Tim won't.

But Tam's hand squeezes his, and Tim is reminded that he has brought home with him. Everything he truly needs.

So he musters his courage and, for the first time in a lifetime, breathes Gotham air.

But because he remembers the living stars, bacchanalian nights, wood-nymph ballads and a lion's purr, something in his memory persists...

... and he almost swears that the scent of Narnia lingers on.


f.i.n.

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