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Chinks and Chasms

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If I was dead,

and my bones adrift

like dropped oars

in the deep, turning earth;

"I was once a Queen, you know," she whispers to the musty walls of the cellar, the water dripping down the walls adding rhythm to her words. There are two rings on her hand - green and yellow bands, respectively, placed side by side on her fingers, a dying prayer with an empty answer.

The walls don't reply, and Susan lies quietly on the wooden floor, feeling it rise and fall, and rising and falling with it. Once upon a time, the feel of the sea was familiar to her experienced feet, the scent of saltwater enveloping, the sound of flapping sails a song paired with the glowing red and gold of the Narnian banners, the Lion shining above like a promise-

She found the rings cradled by rubble and a tightly tied handkerchief with the initials P.P. on it, as if she needed a reminder that it had belonged to her brother - and she hadn't had to open the dusty cloth to know what it contained, hadn't needed to look at the rings to recognize the profound dilemma they enclosed, didn't need to feel the distant tendrils that called her back to Narnia in a whisper that had never been so loud -

And she hates herself for being bewildered at Lucy's constant insistence that she remember, that she reminisce, that she drown herself in the knowledge that once, once we were Kings and Queens, hates that she did not need to hear Once a Queen of Narnia, always a Queen of Narnia to feel satisfied with her existence - hates that she had found peace when her siblings had found none, hates that their need for a distant world now in the past had wrenched them out of theirs and into another, snatching her own peace from her and leaving only their broken, pale bodies behind.

She craves the green hills and the looming castles and the merry Talking Beasts, and suddenly there is no color in the streets of London or the skies of America, no peace in the music on the radio or in Dinah Shore singing don't bury me in this prairie, because her family is buried in some unremarkable field along with a few hundred other tombstones, and it means nothing, nothing, because the sky in England is grey and the birds don't twitter words she understands and how could she possibly live a life so dull, so empty, how could she live -

And without thinking she finds herself in the Wood Between The Worlds she heard the Professor speak of, once, when she was so much younger and cared for these things - didn't someone once say someday you'll be old enough to believe in fairy-tales again and she had laughed, laughed and fixed her lipstick, laughed and laughed because life was good and the War was over - and she wondered if she ought to remain there, in the sleepy haze of trees, wondered if Aslan would take her back, if she was allowed to break the rules after already having broken them all so thoroughly, thought she might lie down on the grass that was too alive and die there, allow herself to be consumed with time and sleep and absorbed into the roots of the trees -

But she had found herself in a pool, and touched the green ring, and gone, because she did not want to die in the bark of trees she did not know, in the treacherous peace of a forest that was not a forest - and there was no way to know where she was going, only a begging plea to Aslan whispering take me back -

And maybe it's because it's the end that she thinks of another end, of another time; when she had walked with a straight back and wise decision through a door between the worlds, listened to Aslan speak of chinks and chasms between existences, thought herself strong enough to survive that life with the cards dealt to her, and held hands with those now long dead and abandoned by her wayward soul.

or drowned,

and my skull

a listening shell

on the dark ocean bed;

She has appeared in a small island town which she explores thoroughly with the vain hope that she has somehow landed in some obscure part of Galma - didn't the Galmians always dress like this, even though their accent was quite different? She walks around the circumference of the island until she is sure, watches the people and hears their tongue and wonders at the large ships with words in English written on them, tries to swallow down the horror of watching long, jagged lines of half-naked, scarred men being dragged into the fields, tries to understand where she has been taken to - when she has been taken to, because this is all so familiar and yet so horrifyingly unreal -

Still, it takes nearly a week of being a stowaway in a dark cargo ship travelling to Lord knows where, a rugged servant's gown having replaced her modern clothes, days spent in the dark crouching and hoping that escaping the island might take her somewhere where people recognize the words Narnia and Aslan and Calormen, anything... it takes her being discovered by a burly ruffian of a man who drags her up to the deck by her hair and throws her bodily on the floor, gasping and crawling in search for safety, being pulled again to the Captain's cabin only to see a large map of her own world lying open upon the table -

And she can't help the tears that stream down her cheeks, never thought that seeing a picture of her own world could break her so, never thought that she would be so devastated at the sight of the words Caribbean and Atlantic spelled out in dark ink. She doesn't think to ask the year; she doesn't have to. She knows this is her world and somehow the rings have brought her here, and they are both on her fingers but they are drained of power - maybe used too much, or used too little, and Peter's handkerchief carves his initials in embroidery into her chest, stuffed into her dress, and she clutches it so that it may not be lost in the swirling depths of the sea as they hoist her over the side of the deck and toss her down onto a broken raft - too afraid to watch her die at once, perhaps, but more afraid of the bad luck a woman is said to bring to a ship.

But the fearful, angry men do not know that she knows how to swim, and so she holds her breath as she is tossed into the cold waters, and hoists herself up onto the raft, and watches them heave a sigh of exasperation mixed with relief, and then she watches them move away, their sails propelling them forwards and leaving her behind, floating in unknown waters with a circle of emptiness written on the horizon around her.

She thinks of dying at sea - the Atlantic, she suspects, some few hundred years before she is meant to be born (she has gathered this from the way they dress, and the simplicity of the ship - they do not know steam, and their pistols are primitive, and indeed the slavery she has witnessed is proof enough that they know nothing of her time) - and she is suddenly aware that she will not; she hasn't felt this alive for years, had nearly forgotten what it felt like to have her lungs stretched out as far as they could bear, to have her heart pounding in her chest with painful violence, had nearly forgotten that she is very much alive, that there is still fire in her veins and the way her hair clings to her face, dripping salt water, is something she does not remember being aware of since she dove into the waters near the ruins of Cair Paravel and was embraced by the Narnian Sea...

And she remembers Aslan's words, resounding in her head as she left Narnia forever, more vividly than any of her own in any world, in any time, because the last moments were always the ones that mattered most - just like she remembers, all too vividly, the violence of her own silence when Edmund called in one last vain attempt to get her to listen.

Jack Sparrow finds her floating, rising and falling with the waves, and in the light of an orange lantern she looks like a strange, shivering, drenched ghost.

if I was dead,

and my heart

soft mulch

for a red, red rose;

The Black Pearl is the sort of ship Lucy had often remarked she wished they could have seen again - more narrow than the Splendor Hyaline, and much darker - charred, even.

She thinks they may just leave her there to die, given the reaction of the previous ship's crew, or take her for their own and use her at will; but their captain strides forwards and eyes her with strangely distracted eyes, having snatched the lantern from one of his subject's grubby fingers, and he eyes her up and down more like a man might inspect an interestingly-shaped rock than how a man might eye a woman he desires - and the notion is both relieving and unsettling at once. He's taller than she is, but not by too much, his hair a mess of dreadlocks - black, lined with grey - falling down his shoulders, a bandana peeking out from beneath a tricorn hat, his beard braided in with beads that match the ones attached to his hair - and he looks so strange, so oddly comical, with his large coat hanging from his shoulders and his kohl-lined eyes examining her so suspiciously that she almost wants to laugh - albeit hysterically, overcome with exhaustion and thirst as she is - and she suddenly realized that these must be pirates.

The realization is less alarming than she would have thought it would be.

She's astonished at their generosity; or whatever it is that hides behind the apparent generosity. She hears rumors among the crew that Captain Jack Sparrow has gone soft over the years, that he has a thing for high-born women, that he's likely to send them all to their death with his random whims and little consideration for the safety of the crew and they can't possibly afford to lose the Pearl again.

Jack promises to take her as far as their next port: some obscure place she's never heard of, but she doesn't really care. The truth is that she has no objective, nothing more to do than to finger the rings in her hand and hope that someday they might work again, might whisk her away to the world she actually intended to find herself in.

But instead she finds herself in the roughness of the ropes of the ship and the burning blisters they leave on her palms, in the smell of rum and sweat and salt that once upon a time she may have found detestable, but which now is oddly relieving - it's the undisguised scent of being human, and she prefers it a million times over the scents of her perfumes and powders at home... or wherever, whenever it is that she comes from. She finds herself in the floors she scrubs with a scratchy, worn rag, in the sourness of the rum she tastes for the first time, in the wild roar of the wind in her ears and the rise and fall of the waves -

She finds herself, and realizes how long it has been since someone has called her Susan instead of Miss Pevensie, Susan instead of Su, Susan instead of Queen Susan the Gentle... she has wanted to be Susan for so long; Susan who learns to climb the rigging and helps ration the food and threatens to cut off any hand that dares disturb her while she sleeps - she does, after all, have better training in fighting than any of the pirates do - Susan who doesn't speak much, because she's always liked being quiet, really. Susan who doesn't mind the sun or the wind and relishes in the rain and finds her sea legs again...

She finds herself, even as the Pearl found her.

And Jack is a strange, hovering mystery, a man whose mind no one can truly comprehend - he ambles about the ship, barking orders to everyone - orders that range from the practical to the ridiculous -, eternally twirling a bottle of rum between his fingers and eyeing that strange compass of his that never points North.

They pass small islands that dot the ocean, little more than sudden dunes of sand with occasional plant life, some larger than others with fresh water that they use to their advantage. She helps Gibbs convince Jack that he must have something other than rum to drink, helps carry barrels of fresh water onto the ship, does her best to exert her straining muscles in the face of the men's derision, and nighttime finds her standing on the deck with her arms hanging over the starboard, feeling the cool wood and the fresh breeze.

And she thinks of the land that was once Telmar, almost a thousand years before she first set foot in Narnia, a land that was spoken of in mocking terms to hide the quiet horror of the history it bore - tales told among the more vulgar folk who had no fear of speaking of wild men turned to dumb beasts, whose sense of propriety gave way for admonishing the young with terrible truths of what had come to pass when a society grew too cruel -

She wonders if it was pirates such as these that found their way into that neighboring country and wonders at the strangeness of such a world, that she should be a Queen in one life and a pirate in the next.

Aslan spoke of chinks and chasms between worlds, said that there were many in old times, remarked that those men had fallen, risen, blundered, dropped right through -

And so when they reach the first port, crawling with activity, masses of people and ships spreading out as far as the eye can see, she walks up to Jack and informs him that she does not intend to leave them.

He stares at her for a long moment, a gold-encrusted smile barely visible between his lazy lips, and then tosses her a cutlass - abandoned by one of the others, no doubt - and disappears down the plank with a wavering strut.

"Welcome to the crew, lass."

or burned,

and my body

a fistful of grit, thrown

in the face of the wind;

They stop by an island where the sand glitters like stars and the sun is scalding, burning, and Jack is following his compass with an earnest, determined step that she has come to recognize as what makes him Captain Jack Sparrow. His crew follows behind him like loyal servants, answering more to the passionate glint in his eyes as he searches for treasure than to the sharp orders that erupt from his mouth occasionally. And it's bizarre, really - that his footsteps are so steady while his voice is so slurred, his smile so sinister when his eyes are so clear, that he should act prone to anger but be reluctant with violence - he is a walking contradiction, a sea-enamored wayfarer, a man with the ocean running through his veins.

She finds herself a bow in some cave on the island, likely made by long-annihilated natives - she has studied enough history to know how it has happened, how it is happening, and swallows down the discomfort she feels at the knowledge - and when she tries the bowstring again for the first time in what feels like two lifetimes, there's a fire in her heart that she had almost forgotten existed.

They camp on the island that night and she watches the bonfire and Pintel and Ragetti dancing in circles near the seashore and she wonders at a death like this - drunken in the sand intermingled with blackened ashes -

And there were pirates once, just like these, who wandered too far into an island upon a storm, and killed and raped the natives - natives like the ones that were bound to have built her bow - and drank and killed each other, and she wonders if this could be the island... if it hides some chink or chasm in it, a door into another world, a door into her Narnia, where her people may still linger, still singing tales of their Queen Susan -

But she does not know what year she is in (neither does she think the others do, for that matter) and she wonders if their times are parallel, wonders what might happen if she were to go there now, if she would appear before her own time, before Jadis ever set foot in Narnia, before Archenland was even born...

She wonders at a death long before her time in a world that does not yet know her - realizes that it seems to be her fate, either way, be she in Narnia or in her own world, if she can really call it her own - stands on the deck of the Black Pearl with the wind making her hair fly loosely like a cloud about her head, tastes the salt on her tongue and closes her eyes and she is almost on the deck of the Splendor Hyaline, her servant's gown turned into silken frock, the merry voices in the distance not the motley crew but the dancing of fauns -

And she misses them all so much that she feels her heart may shatter and burst all over the sea.

Some months later, her bow breaks, and Jack finds her clutching its halves, one in each hand, as she leans over the side of the ship and squints at the steadily sinking Sun. They have battled against a slave driver's ship that carried enough weight in gold and sinister malice in its plans to tempt them to overtake it, and they leave it burning in the background, a pillar of smoke against the blue sky, a beacon and signal to all those of its like.

"All bows break someday, love," Jack says, and she's infinitely thankful that he doesn't mock the primitive weapon in her hands; as if he suddenly understands that it's more than the smooth wood that she has discovered broken.

"Not all bows," she whispers. She cannot die like this.

if I was dead,

and my eyes,

blind at the roots of flowers,

wept into nothing,

She sits with Jack against the steps on the deck and he hands her his bottle of rum which is more liquid than emptiness, and there's a look in his eyes that both fascinates her and saddens her. She takes the bottle from his hands and holds it carefully against her chest, Peter's handkerchief fast against her heart.

"The sea's running out of space," he says in a low voice, one hand in the air before him, caressing the air like a madman, though the stare fixed on the horizon is one that is painfully grounded. "Soon there won't be much left for people like ourselves."

"People like ourselves?" she echoes.

He grins at her with a glint of gold, and he reaches out to stroke her hair with his rough fingers, brushing against her cheek - a movement not so tender as it is reflective. "Runaways, love. We're runaways, you and me."

She watches him stand at the helm with the sunset to his back and the way he holds himself, stiffly yet loosely, rings clinking on his fingers, eyes shining black towards the darkening sky, and it occurs to her that perhaps they are both tired of running.

And if her family saw her now, she's sure they wouldn't recognize her; her hair is bleached by the sun, skin darkened by exposure, hands rough from months of working on deck, stronger than she has ever been - her accent, still high-born as they call it, her gait still queenly, and Gibbs often jokes that if she were to lead a mutiny he'd back her in the blink of an eye - she wears men's clothes on deck but braids her hair like the dryads taught her when she was a child: as a crown around her head; and her green and yellow rings of faded colors are always on her fingers... rusted, broken dreams. She is named Second Mate by the Jack sometime after her long stay, and the crew learns to silence their qualms about having a woman on board - those who doubt are more expendable than she is.

She is some years older than she was in Narnia on the year they all disappeared through the wardrobe once more, and it is as if she has grown differently this time around, away from the responsibilities of court and country and the silks and riches of a Queen; she is older now than she has ever been in any life, and she thinks that she might like this version better.

Jack finds her at night on deck with her hands folded on the Pearl's old, blackened wood, and he is different when he is alone, when the stars shine into his eyes - there's a poetry to him and a quietness that only appears when all are asleep and she is at his side; his madness and his loneliness and his passion for the ocean, all encompassed in the darkness of his gaze...

She supposes, later, that this is why she tells him about her other world, the world where animals spoke and trees danced with her at night, and she begins it by I was once a Queen, you know, and he stays in silence much like the musty walls of that cellar long ago did, but when she looks up into his eyes she knows that he believes her - as if he knew all along - and he tells her of a world that's made of sand and death and despair, and she knows that she's not alone.

And she thinks of those pirates who would someday appear in Telmar, drunk and confused, meant to begin a society that would end up invading the world that she and her siblings had fought so hard to create - and she hates them, hates them for having what she does not, for their ability to glimpse into the world that Aslan had given them and then taken away, for having set foot on those wild lands with unworthy feet, detests their savagery and wildness and wonders at the fact that they are meant to be there while she dies here - lost at sea.

She leans against Jack's table in his cabin, spreads the maps wide and looks over the dark ink - maps are different now than they are in her time, and she finds it difficult to recognize this world that will someday be hers with all the borders that contradict what she has spent her entire life learning - and knows, with Aslan's words still ringing in her ears, that the place, the chink, the chasm, is somewhere in the Pacific -

He serves her rum and the sky outside is stormy, and the men are moody with the weather like this, the ship rocking to and fro, and she wonders if it could be them - if they could become lost in the storm and end up in another world, in her world; if she is somehow meant to become the mother of a race that would later destroy her own, if this is why she finds herself here, with these men, with this man, wonders at the light in Jack's eyes when he looks at her and looks at the maps and wonders if it's worth telling him, worth instilling in him the hopes of a universe that extends far beyond his own - wonders if she ought to break him the way travelling has broken her, has left her permanently unsatisfied with the mundane, the monotonous, wonders if she ought to explain that she fears she may never stop running away -

"How would you like to die, Jack?" she asks him as the Pearl speeds over the waves and the crew sleeps in silence downstairs.

She hears his boots before she feels him behind her, hands light but not exactly tentative as he places them on her naked shoulders - she has cut off the sleeves, annoyed at the way they tangle with her wrists.

"Anywhere but the gallows," he says, and she senses his smile rather than sees it, and shivers under the cold touch of the rings on his hands. The tattoos on his fingers are dark in the pale moonlight and she leans back against his body rather more freely than she might have thought she would.

She looks up at him, finally, feeling his hot breath against her neck, and he draws his hands over the cool skin of her arms and curls his fingers into hers, rough, dirty, rings scraping between her knuckles and his breath scalding - she wants, wants, she is more than a runaway, more than a Queen, she is Susan -

He presses his lips to the curve of her neck before he speaks again, his beard scratching at her skin in a way that makes her dissolve against him. "At sea," he murmurs finally, teeth sharp against her throat. "At sea - drowned or burning or shot; doesn't matter. The sea's to be me grave."

She thinks she may like death if this is how one dies - in moonlight, with his arms around her waist and his mouth on her skin.

I swear your love

would raise me

out of my grave,

in my flesh and blood,

She stands in the middle of the water, skirt pooling around her knees, the water nearly up to her thighs, warm in the sunset. They are one port away from Tortuga - the crew is exhausted but intends to sleep comfortably that night in order to leave enough energy for revelry at their next stop. The still earth is a relieving calm after the ever-moving floor of the ship, but she does not like the stuffiness of the inns nearby, needs the freedom of nature, well away from the noises of the city.

And Jack is already there, leaning with his back to a tree near the shore, boots crossed one over the other, a lazy grin on his face as he watches her stand in the water and sink down until she is covered in it, until she is one with it -

And she thinks of death like this, drowning in salt and crushed between waves, and when she rises he is with her, his hat and boots abandoned by the tree, his grin still on his lips and his fingers tracing the curve of her shoulder, and she realizes with a sort of calm understanding that Telmar is not meant for them - they will never be Telmarines - Jack was never meant to lose himself in a cave and begin a new civilization, and things never happen the same way twice, and she will likely die at sea much in the manner Jack has wished to.

She brings her lips up to his and tastes the rum in his breath, allows her hands to entwine with his hair, allows her body to feel the entirety of him pressed against her, water and salt swirling between them until they have sunk into it together and his teeth are at her clavicle -

And she thinks of towering buildings, the golden hue of Caspian's hair, the accents which had injected themselves into Narnian culture until even the Talking Beasts had adopted their idioms, and she wonders if that was not just the way it was meant to be - that pirates should find themselves in Narnia even as she has found herself among pirates.

On the edge where the ocean meets the land, he tangles sand into her hair and her crown is undone - her clothes are wrecked, her hands are deep into his shirt, and Jack would rather die at sea than in any other way, and indeed it feels like death, sweet overwhelming death when he becomes a part of her in the sunlit, orange beach -

Somewhere there is a captain who is not Jack Sparrow and who does not know Susan Pevensie, or Susan the Pirate, who will never know Queen Susan the Gentle, and whose children will learn to exterminate her legacy - except they will not manage it completely - and Telmarine-Narnian will become a term that lives on long after her own name fades into the blurry lines of history.

And Jack, Jack of ragged clothes and lips that nip and bite and a voice that growls into her neck, who moves as if he is searching for something, because he is always searching for something, he is always running, he is like her, chasing a glimpse of worlds and slowly becoming weary from the weight of all the knowledge of possible endings and multiple ways one may dream of dying - Jack lays his fingers against her yellow ring and her green ring and doesn't ask why she wears them, kisses them and kisses her until they board the Pearl again, and she need not close her eyes to dream of the Splendor, because the moon is high in the sky, and this -

This is a decent way to die.

like Lazarus;

hungry for this,

and this, and this,

your living kiss.