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The Uneasy Path

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Love is everything it's cracked up to be. That's why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more.
Erica Jong

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Chapter Two: Lucy and Caspian Discuss the Choice

Lucy the Valiant was not feeling very valiant at the moment; uncertainty and mild concern had filled her instead from the moment he'd spoken to her on the deck.

Caspian had brought her into the room with him, his hand warm in hers, only to pull away once the door shut and fix his eyes on the blanket Lucy had left unfolded, on the carvings of the sea chest—on anything, it seemed, but Lucy herself. She had blinked, confused and worried and slightly hurt, but before she had opened her mouth Caspian had said, "Wait—wait. I need a minute, Lu. Please," in a voice that shook more than it had out on the deck when he'd asked her to come in and talk with him.

Lucy had bitten her lip and nodded, having nothing to do but watch him as he sat on the bunk and buried his face into his hands. And she had waited, but nothing came, not even after she had shifted the blanket a bit and settled next to him on the bed. She had reached for one of his hands, tried to pull it away and hold in her own, and she had been stunned when Caspian had resisted.

It had been a small thing, not even pulling away; his hand had simply not moved, where normally it slipped easily and eagerly into Lucy's own at the slightest of touches. It had been enough to make Lucy pull her own hand away as if she'd touched an iron scarlet with heat, and her concern grew, gnawing at her stomach as she rested her head on her knees and watched her friend. Something important was happening, though she couldn't quite pit her finger on what it was, and she was a bit afraid, Lucy realized, of what he might say, and suddenly it seemed like far too long a time was passing as they sat in silence.

And then it was just a moment again, and a different one came after it. Lucy licked her lips once without realizing it before saying, quietly, "Caspian," as her fingers traced the seams on the bunk's blanket. "You're worrying me." She did not say, Please, stop, but the tone held the request the words lacked.

He looked up at her soft statement, and his face was filled with a fear that shocked her, so unexpected it was, and even as her worry increased her confusion surpassed it. "Oh, Lu—Lu, I'm sorry, I am," and then both of his hands were pulling Lucy to him. She closed her eyes at his movement, not wanting him to see how grateful she was that he pulled her to him instead of resisting her touch again. For Lucy, touching those she cared for was second-nature; her hand in Aslan's mane, or on Edmund's shoulder, or Caspian's hand in her own, fingers twined together, brought as much comfort to her as anything else might.

After a brief hesitation Caspian guided Lucy's head to his shoulder, and his arms slipped as tightly around her as if on their own they could keep her in Narnia if only they were strong enough. His thoughts felt so numerous as to be overwhelming, and he had no idea where to begin. It made him feel something unnervingly close to despair when he thought on never holding her so again; at the same time, it took more effort than he wished to keep his mind from thinking on how he might hold her in a few years should she stay.

Caspian also found that he was a bit more afraid than he’d like to have admitted, which made him a bit angry at himself as well. He feared wanting Lucy too much to be fair to her, putting a choice before her that she should never have to make, and he feared the silence that would bring a farewell with it.

It would be easy, so very easy, to just say nothing. To say only that he'd miss her, as he'd miss them all, to say that they, she and Reepicheep and her family, should go on. Painful as a sword in his side, oh yes, but still easy; the fear said that it was better to bear the pain of loss himself alone than put it on the shoulders of a lady who loved her family. Better to dream of lost love, perhaps, than to have the knowledge of love unrequited, part of him thought. It was so much, too much, and the fear was so strong that he opened his mouth, ready to break his heart, before his eyes fell on the carving of the Lion that graced the cabin's walls.

Time had seemed to stop for Lucy upon entering the cabin, a moment that stretched into eternity of fear and concern and distance. Now it was Caspian who felt as if the sun had stopped moving, all life held still. He did not suddenly lose all fear, nor did he gain any certainty that all would turn out as he'd have it, and the possibilities kept racing through his mind over and over as if they were mice (the stupid, normal sort in our world, not the Talking sort like Reepicheep that Narnia has) and his mind was a wheel.

But with all the fears and questions, Caspian realized, there was something else. The fear was so great that he felt as if he were made of it, his heart and mind covered by dark, swirling clouds such as those that surrounded the horrible island where dreams became real. But there was something else, small and nearly hidden and drowned out, that began to make itself known in his mind. It was something that demanded attention, small as it was, as much as the fears howled for it. Caspian was momentarily reminded of moving into light after escaping that hellish island where nightmares became real.

The small part of his brain that wasn't torn up with the fears reminded him of walking with Aslan, and he felt a warmth, as warm as Aslan's breath had been, spread through his chest, bringing calm with it. Caspian's gaze began to take in Lucy, and it occurred to him that saying nothing would not spare Lucy the pain of parting from something—from people, for she loved all the crew—that she loved, just change for certain who she parted from. And that was enough, and suddenly the part of him that was focused on the calm, on the memory of Aslan's breath, and on the chance that Lucy might say, "Yes," was louder than the fear.

It was the part of him that noticed, despite the voice whispering so many things in his mind (whispering that she would never be his queen, that she'd never leave her family or a round world for a Telmarine king) that Lucy was warm and soft, yet strong, in his arms.

Caspian breathed out and felt like time had begun again as he let one hand start to gently stroke Lucy's hair in a soothing manner, noticed that somehow Lucy managed to smell like rose and lavender as much as the sweat and salt and dirt that all the crew lived with, and smiled a very small amount as she looked at him with her concerned gaze. "I am sorry, milady," he repeated, far more softly than he had before, and he began to let the words flow as they would, worrying less about finding the correct ones and more about being as truthful with Lucy as she had always been with him. "I have been—you do know, Lucy, that I should never choose to hurt you, do you not? That I'd never wish anything on you but blessings and that I'd cut off my own arm before hurting you? You do know that?"

There was a something that Lucy could not identify in his voice that made her bite her lip for a moment, but Caspian seemed calmer than he had yet since they entered the room. And it was an easy question, one she didn't require even a moment to think on. Lucy spoke a bit slowly, but only because she was searching his face for the cause of what was going on, studying his eyes and wondering at the emotions flitting across them. (Wondering about something else that she couldn't let herself think, for it would only hurt. We never stay.) "I know that, Caspian. Of course I know it. Why would you need to ever ask? Tell me what's wrong? Please? I promise," and her tone became teasing as her right hand rose towards his shoulder, "that I shan't be cross with you, if you're afraid I shall yell."

Her fingertips rested lightly on the fabric of his tunic, worn thin enough from so many washings that Lucy could feel the heat of his skin through the light touch. She felt herself flush and realized that she was noticing how blue his eyes were and how his stubble had grown through the day. For a moment, she considered pulling her hand back, but Caspian’s hand covering her own stopped the action before it started.

He smiled, a little, and replied, "Well, you are rather frightening when you're cross." The words were teasing, but the tone was just barely wrong, somehow a bit off and not right. Lucy could do nothing but watch him as he lifted her hand away and held it firmly in his own.

Silence filled the cabin, but it was brief this time before Lucy said, very simply, "Tell me."

Caspian took one slow breath and thought on oceans of shadows and one speck of light, of the feel of Lucy's palm, and inclined his head in a nod. “Lucy, I—you love it here, do you not?”

She blinked once, sure she’d heard him incorrectly, for it was a question she couldn’t imagine anyone ever needing to ask. “Of course I do,” Lucy answered, her tone a little more deliberately patient in a way that made Caspian inwardly wince.

“Well, I—that is—you can stay,” he blurted out, finally, inelegantly, and watched as Lucy’s eyes widened. He was sure, certain, that he looked like an idiot, but he couldn’t stop the words from rushing out now that he’d started. “If you like. Stay in Narnia this time, instead of leaving, stay for good. You could go back with us and be Queen again, like you should be.”

Lucy simply stared for a moment before delight crossed her face. “Oh, Caspian, can we? That would be wonderful—it’s all we’ve wanted, any of us, since—and Edmund’s lonely in school, even when he won’t admit it to anyone but Peter—“ And then she stopped, the look on Caspian’s face making her heart sink without yet knowing the reason. “…Caspian?”

And again, the carvings on the wall held his attention instead of her face. “You, Lucy,” he said finally, voice soft and carefully even. “You may stay. But only you.” He glanced at her for a moment, and he expression made him look at the Lion on the wall again. “Edmund—Aslan was here. He and I spoke, and I said—I said lots of things, but I told him that the thought…the thought of losing you was breaking my heart more than aught else.”

Lucy sucked in a swift breath, feeling as if a ravine had suddenly been dropped between her and Caspian, or an unfamiliar river that she didn’t yet know how to approach. “Caspian—“

“He said you could stay,” he cut her off, desperate to get it all out now that he’d committed himself to saying it. “But Edmund and Eustace—they can’t. They have things to do, he said, but—but you don’t. Not where you need to be in England, I mean. ”

He finished, wondering if he'd just managed to insult her, and was met with silence. When he could bring himself to look at Lucy again—Caspian’s heart broke at the look on her face, the way she looked more torn than he could imagine feeling, and suddenly he was horribly afraid he’d made the wrong choice in telling her. “You would be Queen,” he said after a moment, slowly and uncertainly, eyes now as fixed on her face as they had previously avoided it. “I—we could work as you and your siblings did, if you’d like. I would be King, and you Queen.”

Lucy’s mind whirled and raced with too many thoughts, too many protests, too many hopes, and now her eyes were the ones drifting all over the room, as if she thought she’d find the answer hidden behind an object or in a shadow. Despite that, she could not keep herself from saying evenly, “And your wife would be so fond to be mere consort, I am sure.”

Caspian winced at that, though he tried to get her to meet his eyes again. “I have no plans to wed any time soon,” he said quietly, and meant it.

“Really? I think Ramandu’s daughter would be surprised to hear that.”

At that, his eyes widened, so unexpected was the remark. “Lucy, are you jealous?”

“I’m—no, I’m—oh God,” she said helplessly, finally, and buried her face in her hands. It was then Caspian realized she was overwhelmed and near tears, and immediately he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close.

She wept for a bit, and he held her silently until she spoke again. “No. And yes. I don’t know. I’m—I can't think on anything of this, it feels like! I’ve never thought to have this offered, and to be in Narnia again is all I want, all I desire, but I—how can I leave my family? What would happen there?” she asked, suddenly, lifting her face to look at him.

Caspian closed his eyes for a moment and then forced himself to answer. “Aslan said—he said that obviously your siblings would know the truth, but anyone else—they would think you kidnapped or such, and eventually…” But he couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence.

It was enough, though, and Lucy closed her eyes to keep more tears from falling. “Oh, my father—my mother—how could—Caspian, what kind of person would it make me to do that to them? To Ed, to Peter and Susan? How horrid would I be?”

“Not at all,” he answered, voice fierce enough to surprise them both. “You’re never horrid. You’re Lucy, and you’re loving, and you worry entirely too much about other people and too little about yourself, and you have the right to choose your own world and life. Aslan would not offer the choice if it were wrong, Lucy. He would not let you stay if it would be horrid. He couldn’t.”

Silence fell again, but this time Lucy only held herself, arms tightly holding herself as if to ward off the decision and pain as one could cold. “And yet,” she whispered, finally, looking at the deck beneath her boots.

After minutes where neither moved, she looked at him again. “What—we would be like siblings, then, as rulers?” Lucy inquired, eyes unreadable.

And here Caspian could do nothing but breathe initially, afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid of hurting her. He reached for her hand, holding it tightly, and then answered. “You would be Queen, and I King. But I don’t—I shan’t ever be able to think of you a sister, Lu. I’m sure of that. I’ll love you and protect you as your brothers would have you protected, but—“ He smiled, then, and shook his head a little when he saw how surprised she looked. “We would be friends and kin. Unless—if ever you should wish to change that, when time was right—well,” he finished lamely, “we could.”

“Oh,” she breathed, and this time when she looked at him it was with realization in her eyes. (It was also with a rather unnerved expression, the sight of which made Caspian's heart sink. “Oh, Caspian.”

And he found he could do nothing but shrug and wait for her to say more.

Lucy asked uncertainly, “Would—is Ramandu’s daughter to return to Narnia with you?”

His heart sunk a little at her saying you instead of us, but he knew it was foolish to expect her to decide instantly either way. “If she wants to,” Caspian said simply. “But as a free woman and on her own desires for Narnia.” Not for me. If—if Lucy should choose to go back with him, he realized, and yet never sought romance with him, then it would break his heart. But Aslan never said that the chance for Lucy to stay depended on her love for Caspian, and he would never be so cruel as to think it did. But he could not bring himself to think of romance with any other, even the Star’s daughter in the near future. Not even if Lucy left.

“Oh.” Lucy rubbed at her eyes for a minute before whispering, “You know me so little, though. No,” she cut him off when his mouth opened to protest this, “it’s true. Or it is in some ways. My Narnia was less tame than the one you know now, and I was not just a fairy tale queen. I may not rule as you would. I may not agree with you in all things.” She was rambling, and she knew it, but the choice before her was so overwhelming her mind kept jumping from one point to another, fixating on tiny details instead of the whole.

“Then we discuss until we reach agreement,” Caspian answered, and let himself hope a little that her even thinking about this was a good sign, while also being concerned at how disjointed and unconnected the conversation seemed to be. Though he could not, he knew, fault Lucy for handling it so; he was all too aware that if he were in her place he'd have no better handle on his thoughts. The last few minutes alone had been hard enough, and all he had to decide on was asking the question.

She had to decide the answer.

Lucy nodded once, twice, and then pinched the bridge of her nose. A sigh that seemed to come from her toes was followed with a murmured, “Must—must I decide now?”

He breathed out, realizing again how tired she looked, how lost, and leaned over to press a chaste kiss to her crown. “No,” he answered, for Aslan had said nothing on the subject. “We can stay here for weeks if you need it.”

Her smile was wry. “No. You couldn’t. But I shan’t take weeks anyway. I—I need to think, Caspian,” she managed, and stood, forcing herself not to pace. “I need to talk to Edmund,” Lucy finished, softly, and dreaded the thought.

Caspian was human enough to be a bit disappointed, and yet he loved her all the more to realize that for Lucy the decision had as much to do with those she loved as it did for what she would long for the most herself—whatever it was she chose. “Of course,” he answered. “I will join the men and tell them—I’ll tell them I spoke with Aslan. And that for the moment we wait. And I’ll send him in here to speak with you.”

Lucy nodded and then looked at him, truly looked at him, as if she could see all he was—good and bad—and Caspian caught his breath to feel the—the strength, the power, almost, of that glance. “Thank you, my friend,” she whispered, and then glanced at the floor for a moment before looking up again. “I—Caspian…thank you for this, too. For asking me at all, I mean,” Lucy finished, and a weight lifted off Caspian’s chest.

If nothing else, he had given her the choice. And she had not condemned him for putting it before her.

It was something, and it was enough for him to give her a smile, one that was small and sad and a bit crooked. He leaned down to kiss her again, this time on the forehead, and whispered, “How could I not, lady? To do otherwise would be to decide for you, and I am not such a fool as to risk that.” It brought a tiny smile to her face, as he'd hoped, and he stepped backwards. “I’ll send him to you.

As Caspian stepped back out onto the deck and sought out Edmund’s gaze from among all those that had fixed on him, he felt both a surge of relief and a twisting, sick feeling in his stomach. The relief came from the fact that he'd brought himself to at least ask, that at least he would not think himself a coward and wonder, What if? in his years to come, and that she was considering it.

The sick feeling, however, came because Caspian suddenly had the strong suspicion, as he walked towards the Just King, that Edmund would not thank him for this as Lucy had.