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The Uneasy Path

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Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it enkindles the great.

- Comte DeBussy-Rabutin


            Caspian held her long past the time her tears stopped falling; even then, her body shook as if she were somehow managing to freeze in the warmth that came from this wonderful, lily-sea-filled place, and he held her more tightly yet. Perhaps a blanket—but no, her skin was warm.

            This was a cold that came from within, and it was one that Caspian knew far too well. He had felt it more than once in his life—at the news of his Uncle having killed his father, at the news of his own impending assassination at Miraz's hands, at the fear no one would come to answer the horn, when the Pevensies (when Lucy) left the first time, when he feared they'd all (when Lucy, too) would leave the second, the never-ending chill of fear that he was a fake, that he'd never been meant to be king, blood or not, and that someday Aslan would realize it...

            He understood the cold that came from within, and so he held her tightly and kissed her crown, golden hair looking even more like true gold in the darkness and shadows of his cabin, as if the light reflecting off of the rich wood of the walls showed Lucy as she truly was—and it hit him all over again.

            For Aslan had said that Lucy, too, had aged on this journey, and Caspian had known it.  She'd come to him once already, shyly, saying she needed larger tunics. (He has swallowed hard upon looking at her, realizing why, realizing Lu must be binding her chest, and quickly turned away to pull out larger ones for her from a trunk before hurriedly leaving.) Edmund and Eustace had as well, of course—as had all of them—but with Lucy and Edmund...

            It had been more than the rest, too fast, and he remembered how Lucy, once before, had smiled at him and his surprise at how she easily lifted a jug that he knew would have been too heavy for her a mere two weeks before. "It's the air," she'd said, tilting her head back to the sun and letting it warm her face. "Narnia's, I mean. It remembers us, and what we once were, what we looked like. It happened the last time, too, but we weren't here long enough for it to do much but strengthen us and remind us...of what we are." What, not who, she'd said, and he'd wondered a little—and now he saw clearly.

            She should be, he thought, around 13 by now.

            She looked like she was closer to 15—closer to his own age.

            In some ways, he wished he'd realized this when he was not holding her so close.

            Caspian was but a man, as he well knew, and a teenaged one at that.  But Lucy was in pain. It was easy to push the thought of her body's new form to the back of his mind to consider later if needed (ha! If needed—he'd consider it, to his shame, and what it might mean, though he'd never dare disgrace her by considering it in inappropriate fashions. With her already in his head and heart, though, he doubted he could help but think of this new realization.)

            Then he realized Lucy had stopped shaking but was still sitting sideways on this lap, her eyes closed and head on his shoulder and—if he was right—just breathing him in. (Him, he corrected himself, and the sea, and the scent of wood and oils and cedar and preservatives and the scent of human sweat that the very wood seemed to have absorbed and mixed with the salt of the sea and the warmth of the sun into a perfume that was natural and, if not sweet, then not sour either.)

            "Thank you," she whispered a few minutes later.

            As she made no move to rise he only kissed her head again, quickly and briefly, and whispered into her hair, "Aught I can do, milady Queen."

            It almost made her laugh, and it did bring a half smile to her face, and for that Caspian was glad. Reluctantly, he loosened his arms—but only slightly, enough that she could pull away if she wished.

            Apparently, she did not.

            Lucy was a tactile person—many the times he'd drawn comfort from having her hand on his shoulder or in his own, though he knew she often touched others on the crew...

            But did she touch them as much as she did him? Edmund, certainly—Eustance, now that he allowed it, almost as much—but Caspian thought (and hoped he was not fooling himself) that her hand had lingered on his shoulder for a second more than on others', that she'd held his hand that much more tightly.

            Oh, Lion help me. The trip back would be more difficult, he now realized, than the trip forward—and in very different ways.

            But Lucy, he reminded himself, had her own reasons to stay, though he knew them not—and for now, the best he could do would be to support her and be there for her in all ways he could. (And somehow, though he suspected that now she would deny jealousy, he thought one way he could help her would be once he made her believe that the Star's Daughter, lovely as she was, was returning with them (if she was) for Narnia, and not as his wife-to-be. Or was that his own hope again?)

            It took him a moment to realize Lucy had just said his name for the second time.

            "Aslan, I'm sorry, Lu. My mind was a million miles away for a moment," and the look on his face, so crestfallen and truly apologetic, brought a gentle, reassuring smile to Lucy's face and a warmth to his heart. Even now, she comforts me too.

            He had felt many things for Lucy since he'd first heard of her in childhood tales, and more yet since meeting her both in winning his thrown and this second time, with them both older.  Perhaps too many things.

            It was not the first time he felt wonder, but it was the first time he realized that this woman—whatever she looked out on the outside—truly did have more years than he and that she had a—a gift, a talent, a quirk—he didn't know what it was, but it was something lovely, something like her being a healer, yet having nothing to do with the flesh.

            It was something he found himself feeling very humble before, as she gently murmured, voice low and a little hoarse from her tears, "Silly man. There's no need for apologies. Mind's drift. And we...have been here a while, I think," she concluded, glancing out her round port window to see how the light had shifted. "I have kept you to myself for comfort while you have a ship to tend to too long," and he felt himself anger a little—at whom, he knew not—at the words.

            "Hang it all, Lucy, I'm not the captain, and you're more important than me hanging over Drinian's shoulder. Don't you know that?"

            He felt badly the minute he said it, but the shocked look on her face faded into a mixture of two emotions; something thoughtful, and something...

            Something he did not dare to even try to name.

            "Now I do," she whispered, and after a moment she kissed his cheek, very lightly, yet closer to his mouth than she ever had before.

            Caspian could barely breathe, as he convinced himself the placement had more to do with the rocking and shifting of the Dawn Treader than her choice. (Ignoring the fact that Lucy had walked with ease, like she was dancing to the sound of the waves, on the decks since her first week here, ignoring the fact that balance had never been her issue in anything; the only time he'd seen her slip was when they were bound as by the slavers and she did not have her hands nor arms to steady her; the scar that had formed from where the gash on her leg from the slippery, sharp rocks had cut it still filled his heart with too many emotions to count.)

            Their eyes locked and she smiled at him, a smile that reassured and said, Everything will be fine, all shall be well, all shall be well, my friend, and this time he refused to be the one to break the gaze first.

            She did not either, merely asked after a moment, quietly, "Are you certain I might stay here, Caspian? It is your cabin, and-"

            "-and you are Queen, and I'll not hear another word about it," he said firmly. He almost added, Or Edmund will return and kill me, but caught himself in time, promising himself he'd bring no more grief to her eyes than what was already there, no matter how well Lucy had already hidden it.

            Ever the queen, and now most of all. The thought was intimidating—but she was Lucy, still, and he could not believe that the tales of her laughter and love were false, even if, perhaps, the tales of her strength and willingness to do anything for Narnia, the warrior queen who was closest to the Lion, the barbarian Queen of the North, who rode to war protect her land and people, were as well.

            Thinking on it, he wondered why it had taken him so long to admit to himself, let alone Aslan, that he had fallen in love with the woman inside the girl—girl? Young woman? He thought soon, and perhaps now already, the second was the more accurate by far—who was Queen and Empress and Valiant and still laughed with delight and made him dance with her on the deck, periodically playing a prank on one crewmate or another. (Never cruel ones; the one who faced the prank ended up laughing just as hard as the rest of the crew.)

            Lucy, the Empress, and Queen, once and always and yet now again.

            Lucy, ever Valiant.

            Lucy, who he'd once heard Aslan's rumbling voice call, "Lioness," and who had blushed when he'd asked about it and whispered only that if he really wanted to know, she'd tell him if he asked again in three months time. (Three months time—12 days from this one.)

            Lucy, the London girl.

            Lucy, who sometimes was also playmate and seemed to realize, without him ever having told her, how lonely a childhood he had lived, who let him experience parts of it, even now, with her, and who told him ever more stories of-

            -of the world she'd left behind, and his heart fluttered again, for now, Narnia was her world, the only one.

            All of these thoughts filled his mind in just a few seconds, distracting him as Lucy slowly shifted off of his lap, though one hand reached to hold his as she settled next to him, looking downwards.

            "We have much to talk about," she said finally. "And most practically..."

            He loved to see her blush, the one that could never hide due to her coloring of skin and hair both.

            "...Either on the island of the Star and his Daughter," and he caught the tiniest of twitches at the words, one he thought had more to do with the Daughter than the Star himself, "or on the Magician's Island, the one with the Duffers...I, um. Seem to be growing more. would provide me with clothing of—of a more complete wardrobe.  Appropriate for a woman."

            Caspian blushed slightly, and Lucy looked bemused instead of blushing from embarrassment as she had been dong mere moments before. "What are you thinking of? It's unfair to keep secrets, Caspian."

            Like hell he was telling her. "Just...that I hope they have things to your liking, milady Lucy," he said, recovering as he rose and bowed to graciously kiss her hand.

            And she laughed, the first true laugh he'd heard since this morning. "My lord and king, you lie to me," she teased, "and one day I'll get that answer from you yet."

            Caspian could not help but smile back, even as he sought the safety—for him, for her, for them, he didn't know—of the cabin's door. "One day, lady, I will tell you, if you ask again. But I believe it's my turn first, as the three weeks are almost up."

            And even Lucy could not pretend her cheeks were still rather red now, but her smile, though shy, remained. "Even Steven. Fair is fair. Perhaps we'll learn much about each other before we return home."

            At her calling the Cair, calling Narnia, that simple, one-syllable word—home-Caspian's grin could not help but widen. "Perhaps, my lady. But for now, I leave you to the rest I know you need, deny it," he continued you, cutting her off even as she opened her mouth to do just that, "though I suspect you will. And as I suspect I will rarely," and that was dry, "win any argument with thee, I would be grateful if thou wouldst be so kind as to grant me at least one, if only this one."

            Her smile returned, if slowly. "All right. But promise you'll come wake me for dinner and share it with me?" There was something behind the smile, hidden in her eyes and under her voice, that made Caspian pause before he forced a smile in turn.

            "I can think of no finer company," he replied, bowing once more—too deeply, and making her laugh, as he'd hoped—and closing the door behind him.

            For a moment he just stood there, eyes closed, thinking of that expression and tone again and reluctantly admitting to knowing it was fear and loneliness combined.

            Caspian made a promise to himself, then and there.  Before the ship was half-returned to Narnia, Lucy would no longer have reason to feel either.

            Hopefully, she'd never feel either again.