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The Uneasy Path

Chapter Text

***

"A Brother may not be a Friend,
but a Friend will always be a Brother."
Benjamin Franklin

***

This was not how it was supposed to happen.

 

For a moment,Caspian felt that deep within the marrow of his bones as he watched the door to the cabin that had been his and had been Lucy's and now would be someone's again and--

 

Oh.

 

Edmund's face looked as if it had been carved from stone; only his eyes, when they landed upon Caspian, gave a hint of the emotions the younger man was keeping held tightly within himself.

 

And Caspian knew that he had been right, and that Edmund might never forgive him for what he had done in the past half of an hour. (And yet—and yet,when the door closed behind Edmund without Lucy following him out, Caspian's heart skipped a beat. This had to be dealt with, first—if it could be, to any extent it could be—but then—but then he would see Lucy in the cabin that seemed to be hers for at least a while more. Or so he hoped, even knowing from holding Edmund's gaze that the hope might be shameful.)

 

Caspian was still as Edmund walked towards him, a little surprised to find he was almost frightened of the elder king. For that, he saw clearly,was what the man before him was; the younger man Edmund his friend was not present on the deck. King Edmund the Just, however, brother of Lucy the Valiant and second to the High King, was, and Caspian dropped his eyes a bit when the shorter, younger, elder man stopped in front of him. The silence that followed when the leather boots stopped sliding on the wooden deck felt thick and heavy, even as Caspian was logically aware that the waves were rocking against the ships' sides same as ever, that there were all the creaks and groans and distant murmurs that had come to be merely background after months of this small place being home.

 

It was Edmund who broke the silence first, voice low and even and saying only, “Walk with me.”

 

Caspian was not sure if it was a request or a command, but he knew he'd obey either, and so he only nodded and followed his king as the latter led him up to the crow's nest. It was cramped—just barely big enough for both of them, and not even Reepicheep could have fit in as a third if needed—and it was as close to privacy as one could get beyond in the Queen's Cabin. (And oh,Caspian realized, again, that he had come to think of it as that, and the hope that was warring with guilt in his stomach made its presence known all over again.)

 

Edmund seemed to be in no hurry to talk, only gazing out at the sea, and Caspian found himself wishing to fidget, to start to say something,anything, to apologize—and yet, he knew not what to say.

 

And so he waited for a while, eyes on the king whose eyes were staring at the waves towards the east. He waited until he could bear it not more, and then Caspian whispered, “If I must beg your pardon, King Edmund, I would—I would do so before you leave. I would have us part as—“ And he stopped, not sure how to follow that.

 

Edmund, however,smiled grimly, and Caspian's heart began to ache. “As brothers? Aye, well, I suppose odds are equally good we'll end up that no matter what as that we'll not. Though should events play out that brothers we are, I doubt I'll be there to greet you as such.” His tone was carefully low and nothing else, not bitter, but his shoulders were tense and his eyes—Caspian had to shift to see them,and he resisted sucking in a breath to see the pain held within.

 

“Edmund—“


“Oh,I doubt she even is letting herself think of the possibility now. Or won't admit it. Bloody stubborn woman never would forgive herself if she stayed for just a man.” His lips quirk into an unhappy smile. “Even a king. Oh, aye,” he added, a bit bluntly, finally turning to look at Caspian. “The Queen Lucy has decided to return to the Cair where once she was châtelaine and to the throne she sat on as Queen and Empress. And you will remember that she is so,” Edmund finished, his voice a slight hiss.

 

Suddenly Caspian realized that if it had actually come to a fight on Deathwater Island that he might very well have not walked away without help of Lucy's cordial. This was an ancient king being exiled from his land as his sister-queen was allowed to stay; this was a brother being forced to accept that he'd have to deliver home to the rest of the family the news of his sister's disappearance, knowing his parents would think it her death.

 

And he ached inside, realizing that he was at least as responsible for the choice Lucy had made as Lucy herself. And so he swallowed hard before saying helplessly, “I will, Ed—my lord. I promise I shall. She is not second to me, nor should I ever think it so. If anything, I owe her my fealty.”

 

Edmund snorted, then, and it was a bit more of Edmund his friend, if still an angry and hurting one. “Right, Lu'll bloody well accept that. She's not,” and it was sudden, almost, as Edmund looked more sharply at him, “staying because of you.” Caspian must not have controlled his face as well as he thought, for Edmund gave a tired sort of laugh. “Oh, I know you care for her. She's too young for you, but she's also too old, and she's well aware of it. And as I said, I believe I see more of what is likely to happen here than she does. She is my sister,” and here there was nothing but grief on Edmund's face, even as his voice continued even as ever. “I think I know her better than anyone else but Aslan, and sometimes better than she knows herself. She loves you, but she doesn't know how yet. And she's afraid to love you and let you love her beyond in friendship. Perhaps you'll convince her, perhaps you won't; I'll place my bets, but even so I'm well aware Lucy has ever been her own woman.” And then he sighed and looked so tired that Caspian could not help but reach out and rest a hand hesitantly on his friend's shoulder.

 

Edmund stilled, a little, but he did not move away from the touch; Caspian chose to believe this had nothing to do with the small amount of room either of them could move about in. “She is staying,” the Just King continued,softly, his eyes now staring longingly towards the West as if he could see the shores by Cair Paravel itself if he looked long enough,“for Aslan and Narnia. And I am not so cruel as to remind her of duty elsewhere, even if—“ Edmund's jaw worked once, slowly, and Caspian feared what might have been said in the cabin below them.

 

“--She has made her choice. She shall stay. Eustace and I shall go on with Reepicheep, and—and I think I, at least, shall never come back.” Aslan had not spoken to Edmund, but he could feel the age settling on him. He had glanced one too many times in the water and seen his face and eyes look too much like Peter's and their father's to not know that he was also too old to travel back and forth between worlds.

 

It was, perhaps,the only thing that made him able to leave that cabin and shut the door behind him, even after—after Lucy had—no. He wouldn't think on it; what was done was done, and things could not be unsaid. Especially as they had been true.

 

“If you ever hurt her,” Edmund said finally, evenly, “I will make you suffer for it. Come what may and hell to pay, I will find a way, Caspian. Do you understand?”

The older man's temper flared, for a moment, and he felt himself start to stiffen, was ready to open his mouth with a retort and--

 

And he saw more clearly than ever how weighted down Edmund's very shoulders were with grief, with the weight of the tasks before him, and he swallowed hard. “I swear to you, my lord and king,” Caspian whispered instead, “that I should rather die myself than be the cause of any pain to her.”

 

Silence fell between them again before Edmund nodded once, briefly, and turned the half-way about needed to face the other man straight on. “You are her family now, whatever role she may choose for you to fill.” The words were true, and yet Caspian's heart felt cold, a bit, realizing that Edmund had been honest with him; they might likely marry, for all sorts of reasons, and it was equally likely that he'd watch her grow old alone or marry another and never be aught but something like brother and kin to her.

 

Caspian reminded himself, though, that she was staying, and all else could wait. He could wait. As long as he needed to or forever, if needed, and now there was a chance.

 

And he reminded himself, as he slowly reached out to clasp his brother-king's arm, of the cost of that chance. “I did not wish this pain for you, my king,” he whispered, and Edmund allowed himself to smile a little, sadly, and lean in enough to return the embrace. (For, in Narnia, one of the lovely things is that when you need to beheld, to be hugged, by someone you love, none will think the less of you or mock you for doing so, even if you should be young men holding each other. Narnians do not fear showing their friends that they love them in all ways, and they do not stop for fear of others thinking the love might be that of lovers rather than friends. They do not fear love at all, really, and know well it comes in all forms.)

 

“I know,brother,” Edmund whispered back, once, and then turned away to begin the climb down to the deck.

 

And it was time,then, Caspian realized. Edmund slowly approached the bewildered Eustace and the Mouse who looked both sad and wise, and Caspian breathed slowly as he moved toward the door of the Queen's Cabin to knock upon it.

 

It was time for the King, his cousin, and the knight to say farewell to their friends and their Queen.