Peter Pevensie learned to be a man from his father.
Arthur Pevensie was called upon to serve, and he went. He did not weep where the children could see it, though Peter thought he might have heard him, once. He was never certain whether or not it was a dream.
Arthur Pevensie went to war dry-eyed, chin held high. Kissed his wife goodbye and hugged each of his children. He told Peter that he was proud to serve-- that it was important to fight for what you believe in, and fulfill your duty for your country. That he was the man of the house, now, and he needed to look after his mother and siblings. And so, Peter realized that being a man means to sacrifice for the people you love.
He did not learn that it was possible to make the circle of people you love smaller than an entire nation.
Susan Pevensie learned to be a woman from her mother.
Helen Pevensie bid her husband goodbye, and she did not seem to grieve overly long. She shed tears, yes-- she was a woman with a heart, after all. But she did not let her heartbreak show for long in front of her children. Most tears were saved for moments of parting.
Helen Pevensie’s husband left to go to war, for that was his duty. She was left to do hers: To keep the home and nation running. To raise a son trying to fill his father’s too-large shoes, a daughter growing quickly into a woman, a wounded boy she didn’t know how to guide, and a young girl with her head in the stars. Susan learned from her mother how to manage a home on a tight budget and fraying nerves; how to smile and keep calm and carry on as though there wasn’t a war on, all while focusing on the practicalities.
When Helen whispered her goodbye before sending her children away, she called her eldest daughter a beautiful young lady with a good head on her shoulders. Susan resolved in heart to do her best to live up to the expectation.
She did not learn the lesson of how to keep her mind sharp while allowing an ear to listen to her heart.
When Susan and her brother were thrown into Narnia, they did not think they would ever see their parents again. When Peter and his sister were told they were to rule, they realized that both their siblings and their fledgling kingdom would need them to act as guardians.
And so they tread the paths their parents laid out for them, never seeing that the way was more tightrope than road.
Thankfully, they had one another to serve as a safety net.
Narnia, ca. 1014
The Pevensie siblings had faced no small number of trials over the course of their rule-- Narnia was no tame country, after all, and she had needed reclaiming from the Witch's grasp. Still, Peter was convinced this most recent tribulation was one of the worst. While he’d been away in the North fighting the giants, Susan had fled Calormen and a marriage with an entirely unworthy prince. Edmund and Lucy had been forced to defend her honor, Narnia, and Archenland when Prince Rabadash had ridden out to try to claim with force what he had not won with his heart.
Peter, distant as he'd been from the action, had only learned of it in letters from his siblings after the fact. There was nothing he could do to defend his family from the recent hurt-- nothing he had done-- and he could not help but hate himself for it. All three of the other sovereigns were perfectly capable of protecting themselves, yes, but if Peter was doing his job right none of them should have to.
There had been nothing for it, though, and so Peter had sent letters back to the Cair full of barely-disguised worry and finished the Northern campaign as soon as he could safely manage.
Now, he was home, and it was clear that the entire adventure had taken its toll on his siblings. Edmund was up to his ears in diplomatic wrangling, trying to convince allies and possible enemies alike that no, Narnia wasn’t about to go turning all foreign rulers into donkeys. Peter could tell that a portion of his brother's devotion to the task was borne of a wish to stave off his feelings. The guilt over his inability to keep Susan from being taken advantage of and the losses at Anvard would take time to recover from. Lucy was having nightmares again from the battle and the caring for the wounded after. Brave as she was, her tender heart could not help but ache in times like these-- and Peter could tell that part of the ache was from fretting over their sister.
Susan was clearly hurting the most, but with the way she carried herself, no one would have known it. She had thrown herself into planning a celebratory dinner when she heard of Peter's impending return, and she had been nothing but graceful and charming since. Her thoughts were clear as she directed the staff to decorate in this manner or that, and her smiles dazzled everyone in attendance when they gathered to eat. Peter doubted even Lucy could see entirely how burdened the older Queen felt by the business with Rabadash.
He saw it, though. He recognized the tightness in her smile; the dead look in her eyes. He caught her expression faltering when no one was looking-- and he knew, too, that she could see the tightness in his own shoulders; the ghosts he could feel haunting his every footstep after another long bout of fighting.
Lucy was not the only one with nightmares. The two eldest Pevensies found, over the years, that neither of them slept early nor well. There had been many nights since they started ruling Narnia that they’d spent talking rather than sleeping-- unable or unwilling to let themselves rest.
So when the celebration of his return finally ended, Peter didn’t bother to head to bed. He changed out of the festive clothes into something more comfortable and had two cups of hot cocoa sent to the library. If the unspoken tradition between the two eldest Pevensies held up, Susan would meet him there.
She was already in the room when he arrived, her legs tucked underneath herself as she sipped at her mug. Her smile was more obviously feigned when she flashed it his direction.
“Peter,” she greeted softly, and he was glad she used his name and not a title, for once, “I’m glad you’re home."
“Su,” he responded, grabbing his own mug and settling next to her on the couch, “I'm glad, too. Food’s much better here than out on the field.”
That earned a huff of something like laughter as she leaned against him, “You can’t beat home cooking. And I suspect you’re looking forward to sleeping in an actual bed-- When you finally sleep, at least.”
He offered only a noncommittal hum in response to that, drinking his cocoa to avoid having to comment. That was answer enough for Susan, whose gaze softened all the more as she took in the blatant exhaustion in her brother’s body language.
“How bad was it, Pete?”
“Not Beruna.” Which was a good thing. Although, objectively, the Pevensies had faced battles far worse than Beruna in terms of losses, there were few that had been as traumatic. They had been so young, then. Everything had scarred more easily.
Not that they were lacking in scars, now. Peter took another sip, squaring his shoulders and forcing himself to continue even as he avoided her watchful eyes, “Not Beruna, but not-- good, either.”
“I heard you lost Ampeius. I’m sorry.”
“Hm.” That wasn’t something he wanted to talk about. Easier instead to turn their attention to what was causing the strain in her instead, “I heard Kiranos fell at Anvard. How are you?”
The smile that touched her lips this time was bitter, “About as well as anyone can be, with innocent blood on their hands.”
“This wasn’t your fault, Susan.”
“A man I-- I could have-- loved led an army against our people and our allies because I refused to marry him. I fail to see how this isn’t my fault.”
“A terrible man managed, against all odds, to manipulate you into thinking he was actually charming-- No easy feat, I assure you. He's a prince of a kingdom with a well-documented history of trying to overrun ours, sister. He was just looking for an excuse to start a war. You can’t blame yourself for losses caused by someone else’s aggression.”
“Is that what you’re telling yourself about Harfang?”
Susan’s glance his way was far too knowing for him to try and lie. He knew his smile was tired as he turned properly her direction, “You know how I am with guilt.”
How they both are, really. It’s why they found themselves here so often, trying to breathe away the hurt until it was something easier to tuck away in their hearts.
“I know.” Her voice was soft as she took his hand, squeezing lightly, “I am-- very glad you’re home safe, Peter.”
He shifted to press a fond kiss against her temple, before leaning his head against hers, “I’m glad you are, too.”
They fell into a companionable silence, after that, drinking their hot cocoa. More words would come later. He would say what he could about the losses in the North; about the latest horrors haunting his psyche. About the way each death felt like a failure of his duty to defend. She would tell of the ache of her inability to find a good man to wed and provide for Narnia's legacy; of a heart that had start feeling just enough to be broken. Of the guilt she could not stand, knowing she had let her emotions cloud her usually clear judgement. There would be tears, though neither of them would admit to it in the morning.
And, come the morning, they would be able to breathe just a little easier for having been able to share some of the load with someone who understood.
The thing about Narnia was that she was no more tame than Aslan Himself. To bring about the Pevensies’ Golden Age, she had needed reclaiming by charm and by sword. Susan had won their kingdom over with her love and practicality. Peter had earned his portion with blood and bravery. In time, all of Narnia would consider them family, and they thought the same of the kingdom.
The lessons they learned from their parents served them well as guardians of their new home. And when those lessons failed, they had each other. No matter how many times they slipped off the tightrope between human and monarch, they still found, gratefully, that the other would be there to catch them and help the brave the heights again.