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And After Darkness, Light.

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There is no wrath in God. Julian of Norwich.

 

The two sisters sat in Susan's little sitting room, sewing. Susan was darning a pair of stockings, and thinking how much they must look like any other pair of sisters in thousands of rooms, all over England. Although – what on earth was Lucy working on?

"It's not something for that church, is it?" Susan's voice was disapproving. Bad enough that Lucy had insisted on going off to university to study medicine – of all the dreary, off-putting things, and why she couldn't have done a secretarial course like she'd done and got a nice job in a smart office, Susan couldn't think – but she had been pleased that Lucy had chosen Kings, which was quite near her, and she'd hoped they'd have time to go about together. Lucy was a dear thing, despite her queer fits, and it bothered Susan that they'd drifted apart. At least she'd stopped going on about those silly games they used to play, but somehow even after Lucy had started to grow up and be sensible, they hadn't returned to their old confidential terms. But surely, Susan had thought, if they spent more time together, it would bring them closer, and she could have such fun showing Lu how much fun London could be, taking her to parties and so on. Poor Lu – perhaps people didn't find her as striking as Susan, but she was very pretty in her own way, and if she'd only make a little effort, the boys would be mad about her.

But very few of Susan's grand plans had come to fruition, at least as far as Lucy went. She had insisted in moving into halls, though Susan would have loved to get a flat together ("It's very nice of you, Su, but it'll be easier to get to know other people this way,") spent a ridiculous amount of time in labs or the library, and far too much time doing settlement work in Somerstown, or somewhere ghastly like that, and had got very involved with that queer church there. Susan didn't hold with bells and smells – in fact, she didn't much see the point of church at all, except at Christmas (Christmas was OK, the carols were pretty, but Easter always made her feel vaguely sick, though she couldn't quite tell why, and Lu always cried, which seemed a bit over the top), and they'd none of them been that churchy growing up. But she supposed she could see why you might like it, in a pretty church in the country, with nice music. But in a grotty tin building in a seedy bit of London… No.

Of course, Lucy had been talking quite a lot about this theology student, James, she'd met there… Was it something as normal as that? It would be a relief if it was, because Lu could be so, so obsessive about things, and, Susan thought, she could easily end up becoming one of those funny old maids that hang around churches doing flowers, or something, and going a bit… odd. Becoming a nun, even. (Though something told her that even if Lucy was going to go a bit weird, it would be in some manner peculiarly her own. She couldn't even be abnormal normally).

"It's not for S. Athanasius', no," said Lucy, looking up from the long bundle of white fabric, and apparently deciding to ignore Susan's tone of voice. "It's a stole. For James – James Williams, when he's ordained next year. He asked me to make it; I told him I wasn't much good at anything other than plain sewing and if he wanted something fancy he'd much better get one from Watts, but he said he'd much rather have an honest bit of work by a friend than a piece of elaborate tat. I thought I'd better get on with it, because I'm awfully slow."

Aha. So the wind did blow that way, then.

"That's because you never sit still at home for five minutes to do any sewing," said Susan, lightly. "So – a friend, eh?"

"Of course he is. I've told you about him lots of times. He was on placement at S. Athanasius, and –"

"You know that's not what I mean," Susan laughed (finally, a conversation that was going the way conversations between sisters were supposed to go). "He sounds lovely, from what you've said." A trainee vicar wasn't what she wanted, of course, quite the reverse, but maybe he'd be just right for her serious sister. When had Lucy got so serious, anyway? When they were children, they'd been exactly the other way around. Which was why she'd found it such a release to leave home and not have to be the responsible one any more – perhaps Lucy felt the same, only in reverse.

"He is lovely," said Lucy, and there was a funny look in her eye Susan couldn't quite identify. "Sometimes he reminds me a bit of – well, never mind. But we're not any more than friends, if that's what you mean."

"You must be very close friends, though," said Susan, innocently, but Lucy didn't look as if she were deceived.

"We are. But not like that. I've no intention of getting engaged, or anything like that, before I've finished my training, and that won't be for years. If I do want to get married. I'm not sure that I do."

She'll learn, thought Susan – though it was odd that she hadn't, already. Maybe she had, and just hadn't worked it out yet. "Well, of course you're far too young to think of settling down," Susan said sensibly – and was rewarded, as she expected, by a glower from Lu. "But who's talking about settling down? I'm just pleased you've got such a good, close friend. I've been worried that you don't, much, outside the family."

"I've got lots of friends!" protested Lucy, indignantly. "And when I went to Peter's Commem. ball, I could have danced every dance, if I'd wanted to. I'm just not bothered about having crowds of boys fussing over me."

All of this was true enough. "I know," said Susan, soothingly. "It's just you've never seemed all that close to any of them." Odd, that; Lucy seemed to get on better with their peculiar cousin Eustace, and even that funny little girlfriend of his – Joan, was it? – than any of her old school friends, or the new ones from college. It was almost as if they shared some sort of secret that bound them together, like –

Silly to wool-gather like that. "May I see what you've done?"

"Of course," said Lucy, "But it's not very exciting. A gold cross on the back. You're supposed to kiss it when you put it on."

Kiss it? Good grief, and Lucy didn't think there was anything special about this James asking her to make it?

"And I'm doing a sort of scroll-work round the edge, look," Lucy added, oblivious. "But I thought I'd do it in whitework, and it's driving me round the bend. It's nearly done, though, and then it'll just need backed, and so on – do you think I should put some sort of cord round the edge? It'd make it a lot tougher, but I don't suppose he'll actually use it that much, whatever church he goes to is bound to have matching sets."

Susan examined it critically. It was a strange, snaky pattern; not quite knot work. She had the queerest feeling that she'd seen something like it once before, but… Celtic work at the British Museum, probably. It was an odd thing, though; if you looked at it, you could almost imagine you saw figures, like – "Lions?"

Lucy looked at her oddly. "I didn't think my embroidery was that bad! They're supposed to be bunches of grapes and vines. I suppose it's so small it just looks like blobs, but why you should make it into lions… Look, Susan, I know you don't like talking about what happened when we lived with the Professor, but –"

Susan felt oddly light-headed, as if her chest was too tight. "Well, I'm sure James will like it, anyway," she said brightly. "I'd like to meet him some time. Why don't you bring him to one of my parties?"

"Oh. I'm not sure he'd…" said Lucy. "He's got finals coming up, and he's awfully busy. I mean, I'll ask him if you like, but you mustn't take it personally if he doesn't come. He's a whiz at Greek, and absolute hot stuff on Patristics, and everyone says he ought to get a first with one hand tied behind his back, but –"

"He has to stick at it," said Susan. "It's OK, Lu, I remember what Peter was like at that stage. There's no hurry."

"You could always come to Mass in the vac some time. He comes back, then, and thurifs. Fr. Hall says you shouldn't let a well-trained thurifer escape."

"There'll be plenty of time," said Susan, vaguely wondering what a thurifer did, but not particularly anxious to go to 'Mass' (how ridiculous to call it that and not Holy Communion!) and find out. And why anyone should think a church service more of a draw than a party…?

*

But when she did meet James Williams, it was at a service, though not Mass at the ugly little tin church in Somerstown. It was the day she buried her family.

It was a warm, sunny day, with a light breeze, and Susan hated it even more for that.

Susan was coping tremendously well, and being very brave. Everyone said so. She had cried the first evening, but not at all since then. She had to hold together, because no-one would put her back together if she fell apart. There was no-one left who could. And what good were tears, anyway?

She accepted, mechanically, the condolences of the congregation – a very large congregation – and didn't even attempt to work out who was there to mourn whom. It didn't matter, anyway.

At the tea afterwards – the hotel had done a very good job, she thought drearily, it was absolutely what a funeral tea ought to be – though, she caught the eye of a tall young man with pale skin, rather long dark hair, and strong aquiline features. Handsome, but not in a matinee idol sort of way; he'd probably look even better in ten years. He looked a bit like – no, it was gone. Someone she'd known once. But of course she had shaken hands with him earlier, it was –

"James Williams," he said. "I worked with Lucy in Somerstown, we're – we were – good friends. I'm so very, very sorry."

His eyes, indeed, were faintly red, and he had plainly been crying. Susan, even in the depths of her misery, felt a stab of pity for him. "She often spoke about you, Mr Williams. And about S. Athanasius'."

Mr Williams nodded. "Everyone there's devastated. Fr. Hall's over there somewhere, I know he'd like to tell you how much Lucy meant to everyone… but only if you feel up to it. I know he's going to write, anyhow. Um," he looked at her, as if trying to work out how she would react, "We've all been praying for you, of course, and for your brothers, and your parents, and Lucy, too."

"Prayers for the dead?" she said, suddenly angry, "What good do you think that'll do? If prayer could give me them back, I'd see the point in it. Not otherwise."

Mr Williams flinched, but said, "It's all right to be angry. I'm angry. Lucy was such a marvellous person, and then all the others, too… But prayer helps the living, as much as the dead. I know we shouldn't judge these things, but I've never met anyone who needed prayers said for her soul less than Lucy, but saying them… it reminds me that she's not gone into nothingness, but to God."

"I don't think much of your God, if he could let something like this happen," said Susan, bluntly. Mr Williams merely bowed his head, and then said "Miss Pevensie – if you ever… I mean, if you wanted someone to talk to. About Lucy. Or, anything, really… I mean, I'm not trying to exploit your grief in order to sell you religion, but… Well, anyway, if there's ever anything I can do, unlikely as that sounds, let me know. Well. There's my address, anyway."

He gave her a card, and said ruefully, "I'm not usually this rubbish at being pastoral."

"You're not here to be pastoral," said Susan. "You're here because you loved my sister. I'm glad you're here for that, and not the other. I've had enough professional consolation to last me six lifetimes, at least."

His mouth twisted, and he blinked and nodded, and might have said something more, but at that moment, Aunt Alberta came bustling up with some problem about the buffet that Susan didn't quite follow – something to do with the cheese - , but which Alberta seemed to think was Susan's fault, and Mr Williams sloped back to join Fr Hall.

It is, unfortunately, a myth that grief makes people nicer.

*

She dreamed, that night and for several nights after, of lions that pursued her endlessly through barren hills. Her feet were bare and torn, and after a while she wanted to lie down and be caught, because even being eaten alive could hardly be worse than this unending chase, but somehow she couldn't stop running.

*

She had, helped by one of her friends from the office, simply bundled up the few possessions Lucy had had in her hall of residence, and taken them back to her flat. The clothes had gone straight to Oxfam, unexamined, but the books and the other odds and ends were sitting in a crate in a corner of her little sitting room. They were so terribly few; even Edmund had left more, though in his case it was mostly detective stories, law textbooks, and a fine collection of old progammes from rugby matches. One Saturday afternoon, because she couldn't bear sitting and pretending to do the crossword a moment longer, she opened the crate; Lucy's little workbox was lying on top. Susan opened it, and found the stole, still not quite finished. Of course, she thought, James Williams had been wearing an ordinary black suit and tie, not a clerical collar, he can't have been ordained yet.

She couldn't think of anything she wanted to do less than work on something which was strongly associated with the church and with God, who, if he existed, was obviously a complete bastard, but… Lucy would have wanted James to have it. And he had obviously been very fond of her, had perhaps even been in love with her. It was nearly done, anyway, the embroidery was finished. It just needed backed and – yes, there was a paper bag with a neat bundle of cord to pipe round the edges. It was a golden yellow, like sunshine and baby chickens and any number of other cheerful things Susan didn't particularly want to think about. She stared at the white-work, and wondered if she would see lions again, but there was only a slightly clumsy – perhaps the eye of affection could manage to call it abstract – attempt at vines and grapes.

She couldn't imagine why she had seen lions in it which, come to think of it, would have been pretty weird on a stole. Susan didn't know much about the church, but she was fairly sure that wasn't a normal thing to put on vestments.

*

She finished the stole, and then realised she had thrown James Williams' card away. But Fr. Hall, the priest from Somerstown, was in the book; she explained herself, and listened numbly as he offered his condolences, and told her what a remarkable person her sister had been (sometimes Susan, mean and hateful though it was, had the resentful feeling that everyone had thought her much the dullest of the family, and wondered why she'd been spared when the others were gone). He did, indeed, have an address for James.

"I'm worried about him, actually," said Fr. Hall. "He's – well, I wouldn't say he's gone to pieces, in fact he got the best degree in his year, but… He was very close to your sister, as I'm sure you know, though they weren't engaged –I suppose she was a bit too young for that, though that was the funny thing about Lucy, I could never remember how old she was. Sometimes she seemed like a schoolgirl and sometimes – but I am a bit worried about James. He's doing far too much. Oh, I'm sorry – as if you didn't have troubles enough."

"It's all right," said Susan. "Quite nice to be reminded that I'm not the only one left who cares, actually."

"You're never that. Even if you were the last person left in the universe, you still wouldn't be, because God always cares… God bless you, my dear."

She ought, she supposed, to have felt angry or patronised – it was the usual pious guff –, but Fr Hall had sounded so transparently sincere that instead she felt, just a very little, better.

*

She had meant just to put the stole in the post – she had no desire to see James Williams again, for all he had been friends with her sister – but she thought of Lucy, and how she had called him "lovely", with that funny distant look in her eyes, and she thought of James saying "it reminds me that she's not just gone into nothingness." Prayers for the dead, prayers at all were absurd, but this was something she could do for her sister, even now.

She dreamed of the lion again. This time the beast was closer, but still she ran and ran, beyond exhaustion. Once she dreamed of Lucy. "Oh, Su, don't be an idiot," she said, and stamped her foot as she had sometimes done as a kid, when she had understood something the rest of them were too slow to see. "Can't you see it's all right? Or it will be, if you'll only let it?"

Nothing was all right. But all the same, she was comforted, a little, and told herself that it was because it was good to be reminded Lucy had been a real, and sometimes rather bloody-minded, person, not some sort of bloodless plaster saint.

She wrote to James Williams, and suggested they meet for lunch.

*

He looked very tired and, oddly, very young, far too young to be on the verge of ordination. "I'm working at a homeless shelter at the moment," he said. "Sorry if I'm a bit bleary, we had a bit of a rough night last night. No serious bother, but I didn't get much sleep."

"That's OK… Is this part of your training? I didn't think vicars…"

"This isn't formally part of it, no. I'm filling in the time before I'm ordained and can go off to my parish – in Poplar. But it is one of the things they like you to do. One of the more useful things, actually."

Susan felt vaguely embarrassed, "Talking of ordination… I said I had something that Lucy would have wanted you to have. I found it in her work-box, and well, I finished it off, but all the embroidery's hers, and – "

She realised she was gabbling, and broke off, to fish out the small, neat brown paper package out of her handbag. "Anyway. You don't have to open it in public if you don't want to."

"No, I'll open it now," said James, and un-knotted the string.

He did not cry. It might have been easier to bear, thought Susan, if he had. All he said was, "Thank you. Thank you so much," and, smoothing out the fabric, lifted it – the only possible word was 'reverently' – to his lips, and kissed the embroidered cross. Then he folded it up, and suddenly coloured.

"I'm sorry. How appallingly melodramatic and sentimental of me."

"No, it's all right, it wasn't melodramatic at all, it was – rather lovely" said Susan, though she did find herself wondering if life had always been so surreal, and she'd just never noticed it. There had been something absurdly – well, archaic about the gesture, it wasn't something she could imagine any of her friends doing, above all with such naked sincerity. Like a young knight kissing his maiden sword, like Caspian kneeling before –

Caspian.

There was a roaring in her ears, as if every lion in the world was in the restaurant with them, and her past seemed to come crashing in on her.

Caspian. Lions. Narnia. The lion. Aslan.

She began to cry.

*

She began to cry, and couldn't stop; not hysterically, but steadily, as if all the tears she hadn't cried since the horrible day when her world had fallen apart were all coming at once. Men, in her experience, didn't deal well with crying women, but James – she couldn't even try to go on thinking of him as Mr Williams – was better than most.

It had been a long time since Susan had felt she could really trust men, but James was all right. He put an arm round her shoulders, and passed her a hanky, and when she muttered something about being stupid, he only said, "Susan, you've been through something that would drive a lot of people insane. It's OK to cry. Tears are good. They stop us having to find words for the pain."

James was all right. Lucy had trusted him, and Lucy was a good judge of people. Never wrong about anyone, in fact.

Never wrong. Oh, God… James had no idea why she was crying, because it wasn't just that she'd lost her family. She'd lost everything else as well, and she hadn't so much lost it as thrown it away.

"I don't want to leave you at home on your own," he said, as he steered her to a taxi. "Would anyone come and stay?"

But there was no-one she'd trust with this; and no family, only Alberta and Harold, who were impossible for many reasons.

James said, considering, "I'll take you home, and I'll stay for a bit, if you don't mind. I mean, if there's really no-one else – some neighbour? No?"

Lucy had said James was lovely, and he had looked like Caspian, thought Susan; she was aware that this wasn't being sensible, but – she'd tried sensible for so long, even when she'd been being what her brothers had called silly it had been sensible in other peoples' eyes, and all it had done was let her down, leave her frightened and alone when all she had been trying to do was to stop feeling powerless and frightened.

"I trust you," she said, "Lucy trusted you."

The taxi driver had looked at them oddly, but had made no comment.

"The cabbie disapproved of me. I wonder if it would have been better or worse if this was three months later and I was in a collar," said James, lightly, as he guided her up the stairs. "Got your latch-key?"

Susan let herself fall onto the sofa, not even bothering to push aside the mess of her sewing, rousing herself only when James, who had evidently succeeded in locating the milk, passed her a cup of tea and a glass with an aspirin dissolving in it.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Susan shook her head. "I can't." She couldn't even think, not clearly. I'm as bad a traitor as Edmund ever was, she thought. If only she could see them, and tell them how sorry she was. As if they were being punished for her… no, that couldn't be right. Lucy, Peter, Edmund, their parents… Professor Kirke and Miss Plummer, Cousin Eustace and Jill… She couldn't, having remembered Aslan, doubt that they were anywhere but in his country, but she… She had been left behind, she was being punished, because she'd tried to get on with living, and not get trapped in dreams, and after all, he'd said they were to draw closer to their own world… (though a small, cold voice asked her if, say, Edmund, with his law degree and his alarming enthusiasm for rugby and hard-boiled detective stories, or, still more, Lucy and her medical degree and settlement work in a nasty area of London had given much indication of retreating from reality, whereas she…) She was, she realised, furiously angry, and not only with herself. And she had a pounding headache.

"I don't deserve this," she mumbled, "no-one does, where does he think he gets off using people like chess pieces…" She realised that James was looking at her, concerned though not, thank God, embarrassed. He worked in a night shelter, she thought miserably, he was probably used to lunatics.

"I'm all right, really," she said, "I've just got a splitting headache."

"Should I ring for a doctor?"

Susan shook her head. "It'll pass if I go and lie down quietly."

James was still looking doubtful. "If you're sure… Are you on the phone? No? Well, would you mind awfully if I called round this evening? I won't make a pest of myself, but it'd put my mind at rest."

"It's… if you like. Isn't it your day off?"

"That doesn't matter."

"Your Fr Hall's worried about you," she said, muzzily, as she lay on her bed and watched James carry in a jug of water, a glass, and a damp towel. "I think he thinks you're trying to kill yourself with over-work."

"Fr Hall is a fine one to talk. His idea of relaxation is writing rude things in the margins of liberal theology journals. In Greek… Do you think you're going to need a basin? I'll open the sash a crack, and then draw the curtains, is that all right? Then, with your permission, I'll drop round in a few hours."

He was half way through the door when Susan said "You were in love with Lucy, weren't you?"

"Try to get some sleep," he said, as if he hadn't heard, and let himself out.

*

She had thought that her head and heart were too sore for sleep, but though she lay at first in stunned misery, she drifted into a nightmare.

She was in a church, not one she recognised, though for a moment it looked like the parish church Professor Kirke had sometimes taken them to, and then it briefly looked like St Paul's, where she'd gone to a carol service last Christmas, but it wasn't either of them. There was a great crowd, all milling about – there didn't seem to be any pews – and she thought she glimpsed Peter in it, but when she tried to go to join him, she ended up back at the porch, surrounded by a group of people she didn't know, and who looked vaguely displeased to see her. She seemed to have come in mid-way through a service: up at the altar the vicar was standing with his back to the congregation, and as he turned round to face them, hands outstretched, she saw it was James Williams. "But he isn't a vicar yet," she said, ridiculously, and the others turned disapproving, silent faces on her, and looked away again. Then, as sometimes happens in dreams, she found that although she had not moved, she was standing in front of the altar, book and cup of wine and plate of bread before her and her hands raised over them as if she were the priest, and Edmund and Eustace were standing either side of her, and Edmund said quietly out of the corner of his mouth "Go on, Su, everyone's waiting for you," and she said, in horror, "But I can't, I'm not allowed, and anyway I don't know how," and Eustace said, in his old annoying manner, "What's that got to do with it? You've got to!"

The dream shifted again. She was still standing, hands raised, but she was out of doors, it was a warm spring night, and – oh God – she was standing in front of the Stone Table, and she was looking down at Aslan, bound and helpless in front of her, and she had a knife in her hands… "No, this isn't what happened," she protested, but no-one took any notice. The crowd from the church was there, looking at her, waiting to see what she was going to do, and out of the corner of her eye she saw two girls crouching behind a bush, watching her in horror. Lucy and – no, it couldn't be herself, because she was over here, where the White Witch had stood, pushing back her long black hair before she struck. Susan's own hair was in her eyes, and she moved to tuck it away, but her hands were already moving downwards to stab Aslan, who neither moved nor spoke but only looked at her out of sad dark eyes.

"No," she said wildly, "I don't want to, I didn't mean to," but her hands were moving as if they belonged to someone else, stabbing over and over again, and there was blood everywhere, over her hands and clothes, and her face was wet with her tears and his blood. She opened her mouth to tell Aslan that she was sorry, that she couldn't help it, but she heard a voice – her own voice, broken and angry and hateful – saying "Why couldn't you leave us alone, we were happy, all I ever wanted was to be safe and happy and in charge of my own life, how dare you make us love you and break our hearts and expect me to do things and not tell me what you actually wanted and then blame me for not doing it, none of us could ever be at home in our own lives again, how dare you, you took everything I ever cared about away from me and expected me to want you in exchange. I hate you, I hate you, why won't you just leave me alone, why won't you stay dead?" and her hands were still moving, she was stabbing Aslan over and over again, even though he was dead, and she saw her younger self watching her, the frightened white face between curtains of long black hair, and she realised that she had meant it, that she had wanted to do this for years, had been doing it for years.

It was absolutely horrible.

"Help me," she said, to no-one in particular, because there was surely no-one left who could or would help her now. But she let the knife fall, and collapsed into a sobbing heap by Aslan's body. The crowd had gone, and she was utterly alone, her horrible words echoing in her head. "All I ever wanted was to be left alone."

Well, she had been, now.

*

She lay in the half-light of her bedroom, heart hammering, and tears damp on her face. She raised her hands, and was half surprised that they weren't stained with blood.

"It was only a dream," she said aloud. "I didn't really do it. I didn't mean it, I would never –"

She stopped, because she knew that was a lie. Or partly a lie. She would never, she thought, really dare to. But the urge had been real. To blot out, to deny, to tear Aslan and Narnia out of her life, that had been what she had been doing. It hadn't made her appreciably happier, when she thought about it, and it had poisoned her relationship with her brothers and sister – but she had been successful all right. Or rather she had been taken at her word; Narnia was torn out of her life and gone, irrevocably, and there wasn't even anyone left who she could talk to it about. She had got what she wanted, and the taste of it was like ashes in her mouth.

"I'm sorry," she said, helplessly. "But what good is that? I can't undo it. No-one can."

*

She must have fallen asleep again; she seemed to be sitting alone in a desert, but this time it was night, a night with no stars. There was utter silence, and a cold that seemed to strike at her heart. Her face was streaked with dried tears and worse, her clothes stiff with she could not bear to think what, she could feel it caked on her hands.

Susan. A voice, calling her name.

It wasn't Aslan's voice, it wasn't anyone's voice she recognised, but there was nothing ghostly about it, it was a man's voice, warm and substantial. She felt sure there was someone sitting beside her, but there was no-one there when she turned to look; and yet the feeling of a human presence did not diminish.

Susan. She knew the voice, somehow. It didn't sound like Aslan in the least, and yet… It was a voice she had never heard before and that had somehow been there, just too faint to hear, all her life. When are you going to stop tormenting yourself? the voice asked, quiet and insistent and a little sad.

The gentle sadness, after all that had passed, was incomprehensible, and she said, furiously, "You ask me that?"

Silence, and Susan felt that her voice had some how sounded more petulant than she meant it to. And her assumption that the accident had been engineered to punish her seemed, suddenly, monstrously egoistical. But why, then – why all those people frightened and hurt and killed; all those left to grieve?

That's better, the voice seemed to say, but didn't I tell you: I won't tell you any story but your own?

Silence. Until Susan, unable to bear it no longer, burst out "But why are you talking as if you aren't angry with me?"

Because I'm not.

Silence again, and Susan wondered if she'd heard wrong.

I don't want to punish you. I want you to come to me so I can make you whole.

Susan still said nothing; she could not even work out exactly what she felt. Hope, yes – and doubt; perhaps she was simply dreaming and this had no significance (only she knew, dream or not, it mattered). And yet: how could this be just set aside? It was like – like going to confess to a great crime and being treated like, like a child that had fallen down in the mud and got dirty and hurt itself, and found its mother was too relieved to be angry, and only concerned to clean it up and put sticking plaster on the sore places.

There was something like a noise in the darkness beside her, as if the Other was laughing, very softly, under his breath. Very like.

"But how can you expect us to bear it? Is there no other way?" And she thought, how can we ever stand being forgiven; to be put so hopelessly in someone else's debt, so reduced to mere naked dependence, like a child…

Oh yes, there's another way; but you tried it, and you found you didn't like it. My way is the only one left… Forget about forgiveness if it bothers you; I don't need to forgive you, because I never stopped loving you.

"None of it matters, then? My family's deaths, their pain, all the people that died with them?"

The voice said only I know their pain. I bore it with them. It matters. But it is not for ever – indeed, it is swallowed up in joy.

Susan shifted uneasily; here, then, came the last, and worst. "But that doesn't help. How can we put it aside? How can I ever forget the pain? Or Ed, and Peter – they were so angry with me, and I can't blame them for that… And how can you forget what… what I did to you?"

And now the voice was laughing. Oh Susan, Susan, dear heart; that is less than nothing against how much I love you, how much I love you all. If I could bear more for you I would, and it would still be less than nothing.

There was such naked tenderness in the voice that Susan was almost angry again, and then she realised that the anger wasn't anger, it was fear of being overwhelmed by that relentless love. But the alternative was being alone in the cold, sterile dark; there was hardly a choice left. And then she was overwhelmed.

She felt she was weeping; not hysterically, as before, when she'd dreamed she was Jadis and worse than Jadis, but quietly; she felt, though she could still see nothing, herself gathered close and held, and the voice was saying soothingly, It was necessary, but it will be all right. It will be all right. Everything will be all right… Be comforted. Be clean. Be whole. And sleep, dearest sister.

*

She slept, and woke, and found that her headache was gone; more than that, she felt at peace, for the first time since she could remember. She got up, and splashed some water on her face, and went to inspect the larder. There wasn't all that much – she had been neglecting her domestic arrangements shockingly, she thought, but there were half-a-dozen eggs, some milk, and a decent hunk of cheddar. A cheese omelette would do very nicely.

She set to grating cheese, and was just about to beat the eggs when the doorbell rang; of course, she had forgotten James.

She opened the door to him.

"Good Lord, you are looking better," he said sounding pleased. "I, um, brought you some flowers; and I'm glad to see you looking so well, but, well, now my mind's at rest I suppose I should push off and not intrude…"

Was he blushing?

"Don't be silly, come in," she said, taking the flowers. "Daffodils, how sweet of you! Have you had supper?"

"Well, no, but…"

"Would you like some? I was about to make a cheese omelette; nothing fancy, but there's enough for two. Please stay if you can. I feel I ought to make some recompense for your chivalry earlier."

"Oh, there was nothing to it, I was glad to. Playing good Samaritan's all part of the service," he said, and laughed. "But if you're sure, I'd love to."

The unexpected supper was very pleasant. James, having got over his unaccountable shyness, was easy to talk to; he had a number of funny stories about things that had happened to him during his training, and she told him some stories about her brothers and sisters, when they were all growing up together. The loss still hurt, she found, but the horrible strain around the memories was gone.

He only became solemn again towards the end of the meal.

"You asked if I was in love with Lucy," he said abruptly. "I don't think so. I certainly loved her, very deeply, but… well. I don't think she was an easy person to be in love with. And she was always so, so single hearted, if that makes any sense. She was the nearest I ever expect to see to a great mystic, but while I revere Lady Julian, I don't think I'd have fallen in love with her, either."

"Lady Julian?"

"Julian of Norwich. Fourteenth century writer and mystic – one of those few people who experience God directly and clearly, while the rest of us have to find our way with a few clues through the shadows and images, and the odd brief moment of revelation… Wonderful woman, and a very clear thinker. But Lucy… I don't know. I think she was the sort of person who always saw the path directly to the top of the mountain, while the rest of us are forever having to detour round crag and precipices and getting confused in the fog. I was angry, but... if anyone could go straight to the heart of things, it was her."

"You sound strangely reconciled to that," said Susan, blinking a little at his tone, which was almost happy.

James shrugged, "Things are the way they are, I suppose. There's plenty of work for me to do, while I'm on the lower slopes; and I don't think it matters much, in the end, if you take the long way round. It's got its own charms."

Susan found herself laughing. "I suppose so. Cheese omelettes, for one thing."

"Well, quite," he said, with a funny solemnity. "Even the best authorities are lamentably silent on the question of whether there are cheese omelettes in heaven… And, you know, I try to cling on to what Julian wrote: 'All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well…' Not that that means that she didn't know about the price of suffering and sin, because – hey are you ok?"

"Yes," said Susan, carefully keeping her voice from shaking, "It's just… I think I know what she means. I think I've just found out."

He smiled. "You do seem different from this morning. Maybe one day you'll tell me about it… Look, would you let me invite you for dinner one evening soon? I'm a lousy cook, but there are some nice little French places in Soho."

She smiled, and felt as if something had unclenched around her heart. "That would be lovely."

*

A few months later, she stood at the back of a cathedral, waiting for James to emerge from the knot of new deacons. It had been a strangely impressive service, she thought, and she said as much to James, who was white-faced, and as exhausted as if he had done a hard day's work, but radiating happiness. They stood for a long time in silence, gazing up at the warm light flooding in through the west window.

Susan hesitated, wondering if he would think her unhinged, and then said, "It's funny, but I felt as if Lucy, well, as if she was there with us."

"Of course she was," said James, simply, and added, "Communion of the saints, remember. Who on earth prepared you for confirmation? I don't think he knew his job very well."

"Oh, it was at school," said Susan vaguely. "It probably wasn't old Mr Greene's fault. I wasn't very interested."

"You can't expect Protestants to make that a particularly living doctrine," said Fr Hall, materialising as if out of nowhere behind them. "I've been looking for you young people everywhere. Come on and be sociable, the party's got started without you…"

"Just a moment," said Susan, and ran back to the little candle stand, where she lit a candle, and said a quick prayer. Then she turned away, went out through the porch and, taking James' arm, they walked across the close to join the festivities.