It was Susan who always went on about how it seemed unfair that they, having grown up once already in Narnia, had to grow up all over again once they returned to England. Edmund had never felt so strongly about it as she did - he had noticed that she had a tendency to talk like that whenever she had a spot on her nose or something like, and he did not have those kinds of problems, nor did he think he would care much if he did - but on his third trip to Narnia he found himself inclined to agree with her (of course, technically, it was his fourth visit, but he did not like to think much of the very first).
It had been surprising, on their second trip, to find that so much time had passed since their first, but Edmund thought that it was even stranger to come back to a Narnia that had only aged three years. Their friends had been long dead when they had last visited, and it was a little hard to comprehend the long lapse of time. But here was Caspian again, his smile as quick and his hair as golden as it had been before, but he was changed also, steadier, wiser, older. He had grown up, and it made Edmund feel uncomfortably left behind.
But the longer they were on board the Dawn Treader, the easier Edmund found it to believe himself older than he was. Without Peter, he was the eldest, and he felt he should take responsibility for Lucy and, much as he loathed the thought, Eustace. And he was called 'your Majesty' and given work to do on the ship and no one at all treated him like a child. Before long he began to be surprised, when he woke in the morning, to find that there was no beard on his cheek. He dreamed of Cair Paravel, and the weight of a crown on his head, moonlight, whispers, kisses, and when he woke to find himself just Edmund Pevensie, it was almost a disappointment.
* * * * *
Caspian shaved every morning, awkwardly holding a razor in one hand and a small mirror in the other, a basin of water held tightly between his knees. Edmund watched him carefully, pretending still to sleep, eyes just barely open behind his too-long hair (it had needed cutting when they left for Cambridge, and after weeks at sea was looking quite disgraceful). It was dim and shadowy in the cabin, but his eyes adjusted easily enough, revealing the strong line of Caspian's jaw, his tanned face, the curve of his back as he hunched over the mirror. He ached for things that used to be, before he stopped being grown up, things that he would not - perhaps could not - even put into words as he was now.
"I say, Edmund," Caspian whispered one morning, not turning away from his task, "are you awake?"
Edmund closed his eyes tight and did not answer, and after that morning he did not watch again. It did not matter, really, for even with his eyes shut he could see Caspian clear as anything, golden and warm and near.
* * * * *
"Caspian is a dear, isn't he?" Lucy asked one afternoon. They were lying out on the deck in the sun, feeling deliciously lazy as they looked up at the clouds, occasionally commenting that this one looked like a Dwarf or that one looked like Susan's old horn.
"Lu, you think everyone is a dear," Edmund said. "But Caspian is a good sort."
"Not everyone," said Lucy. "Oh, Ed, look there! It's just like Mr Tumnus - see his scarf trailing behind him?"
"Dear Mr Tumnus?" said Edmund.
"Oh, do stop," Lucy said, but she sounded suddenly tired, and when Edmund glanced over at her, he saw that her eyes were shut. He almost thought her asleep when she blinked them open again and spoke softly. "I miss that Narnia."
And Edmund knew she meant old Narnia - their Narnia - and he wondered if she missed their friends or if she missed being grown up like Susan did, like he thought he might. "Me too," he said after a long while, and she reached over and squeezed his hand tightly. He closed his eyes then and listened to the water splashing against the side of the ship and the loud voices of the crew and the sharp whistle of the wind, and he felt very far from home.
* * * * *
On occasion, Caspian treated them with an edge of awe. Lucy commented on it once, and Caspian laughed and told them that sometimes he just remembered exactly who they were.
"We're just your friends," Lucy said.
"But you're legendary too," said Caspian.
Edmund found it disconcerting to catch an odd look of admiration in Caspian's gaze, a strange catch in his voice, although Lucy seemed to find it flattering. When he had been running all over the ship that day and was sunburned and tired and feeling a little out of sorts (although he tried his best to hide that part these days), he hardly felt that he had done anything to attract the sort of look that Caspian gave him.
"I can't help it," Caspian said to Edmund the evening after Lucy's remark. Eustace was asleep in the bunk, and they were sitting on the floor, whispering as quietly as they could. "I know you are just you, of course. But I can't help thinking of who you were sometimes, and of everything you did when you were on the throne. I must say, it's a bit intimidating."
"Try sitting on a throne next to Peter the Magnificent," said Edmund, letting himself be a bit peevish because he was quite tired. "That's what's intimidating. The Magnificent! Can't compete with a title like that."
Caspian laughed, causing Eustace to stir a bit in his bed, but he did not wake. "I can understand that," he said. "But sometimes I think I should like to share my rule. It's an awfully big responsibility for just one person."
And it must be awfully lonely, Edmund thought. "But you're good at it," he said.
"I hope so," said Caspian. He seemed then, in the darkness of the cabin, very young.
"We should get some sleep," Edmund said, because he could think of nothing else.
"Excellent idea," said Caspian, yawning. He stood up quickly and offered his hand to Edmund, who took it, although he thought he could have managed to stand on his own. Caspian's hand was strong and his skin was rough, and Edmund held onto it longer than he needed to, although he did not think Caspian noticed. He dreamed that night of the spicy air of Tashbaan and a soft touch that he had once known, and he dreamed of Caspian too, and when he woke, to the snores of Eustace and the muffled shouts from up on deck, he felt unsatisfied, felt that his skin was too small, felt that it just was not fair.
* * * * *
Ramandu's daughter was beautiful, and although he was sure the look on his own face at seeing her was the same as the look on Caspian's, he was determined to dislike her. That proved difficult though, for although by the time they left her, Edmund had decided that she was too grave, too cold, too untouchable to be friendly with, there was nothing inherently dislikeable about her, apart from the way that Caspian looked at her.
Still, when they had sailed away, he allowed himself to think all sorts of unpleasant thoughts about her.
"The stars out here are so beautiful," Lucy said one night.
"I hate stars," said Edmund.
"Oh, Edmund," Lucy said, with no reproach in her voice. She rested her head on his shoulder, and he thought that for all that she was just a kid, Lucy might understand more than he usually gave her credit for.
* * * * *
On their last night on board the ship, Edmund dreamed of his fingers tangled in golden hair and warm lips pressed to his own and an empty throne at Cair Paravel, and his heart felt likely to beat out of his chest when he woke.
He felt older than ever that day, first having to deal with Caspian's irrational desire to go on to the World's End, then to see Caspian's tantrum (traitorously, he thought that he certainly knew better than to act like that at his age, let alone Caspian's), and then, later, to have to leave the Dawn Treader and Caspian and all his new friends.
Edmund was never terribly good with farewells, and it did not help that everyone was so glum, Lucy crying into her sleeve and Caspian with tears in his eyes, although he was trying to look dignified about it. He said goodbye and shook hands with everyone and tried not to think of how many years they might have been dead when he returned to Narnia again, and then tried even harder not to think of Peter and Susan, never allowed back in Narnia at all.
When it came time to say goodbye to Caspian, he had decided that a handshake and a quick farewell would be the least painful, but he found himself being tightly embraced instead, felt the tears from Caspian's eyes on his own cheek. "I do wish you could stay," said Caspian. "You're the best company I could ever want."
And Edmund did not know what to say to that, could not think what he should say to that, for the feeling that this was their final goodbye was heavy in his mind. There was a fuss being made by everyone else about getting Lucy and Reepicheep and Eustace into the boat, and Edmund knew he must do something or nothing, and do it quickly. He took a small step backwards, and Caspian dropped his arms to his side, sniffling in a not-quite-kingly manner, although Edmund knew that sometimes kings needed to be allowed to act that way. He thought that he should just turn and go, but he found himself stepping forward again, placing his hand on Caspian's neck, fingers just barely brushing against his hair, and he kissed him. He felt too old and too young, and as soon as he tasted Caspian's surprise he stepped back, and he apologised.
"I'm sorry as well," said Caspian, sounding more regretful than censorious, and he smiled a little, and Edmund knew it was all right.
"Ed, do hurry up," Eustace said.
"Just a moment," said Edmund, and he shook Caspian's hand and said goodbye and quickly joined the others in the boat. As the Dawn Treader grew smaller behind them, Lucy cried a little, and he held her hand tightly and tried to ignore the ache in his chest and the lingering feeling of Caspian's lips on his own, and he felt horribly grown up.
In the end, he was not really surprised to be told that he was not to come back to Narnia.