He's sitting under the open window, listening to the harsh winds of Tashbaan sweep through the opulent courtyard that borders their rooms. The rustle of Susan's skirts signal her approach down the long corridor from the Prince's rooms to their own quarters; a pathway he detests for its creeping shadows and dark corners which could so easily conceal enemies. It is, he thinks, a perfect metaphor for Tashbaan itself.
His sister rounds the corner and pushes aside the heavy curtains which make up the doorway to his suite, and her lovely citrus scent swirls around him, her pulse suddenly echoing in his ears.
She smiles, her feet carrying her through the muted light of the room towards his vigil near the window. Her dark hair shimmers almost blue in the shadows, but the intricate Calormen style is unable to truly render her foreign to him. She is much too dear, much too familiar, for him to ever mistake her for something other than who he knows her to be.
"Edmund," she exclaims softly as she draws nearer, brushing the long curls away from the smooth expanse of her neck. Her eyes shine with worry. "You look awful-"
He turns his face away, clenching his hands into fists in an effort not to reach out and take her in his arms, as every cursed nerve in his body is screaming for him to do.
He closes his eyes. "Please," he whispers, his voice hoarse from an evening spent in silent surveillance.
Though he doesn't watch, his other senses track her further approach - the perfume of her skin, the rush of her blood, the heat of her body make him dizzy, until she's standing over him, and her fingertips caress one clenched fist, lifting the hand up to press a light kiss to his knuckles.
"Edmund," she murmurs, and the ringing in his ears only increases, "please, don't. I know you would fight it forever, if you could."
He opens his eyes and surges to his feet, until she has to turn her gaze up to meet his.
"Your afternoon with Rabadash-" he croaks, trying desperately to ignore every impulse and focus on their purpose here, here in this land where they are so exposed, where she has so much to lose and their country so much to gain; but she shakes her head, guiding his hands to cradle her jaw, and the feel of her pulse under his touch is too much to fight against, so he pulls her close and lowers his lips to her skin.
His mouth touches her long neck and he breaks the skin, tasting her blood.
He's always tested the curse, always tried to withstand the hunger for as long as he could, but this journey in Calormen has been the worst struggle yet - here in this foreign country, with so much at stake, he's abstained for longer than he's ever had before.
And now, after so many long weeks without, it's painful to succumb once again, a sweet agony, as always, to know he is alive because his family simply won't allow him to die of thirst; to hold her against him and feel such guilt at the relief that comes with her gift.
Susan does not stiffen or cry out, but nestles her head against his shoulder and allows him to cradle her form. He sighs at the burn of her blood trickling down his throat, and feels, for the hundredth time, humbled by the trust she places in him in this moment. To drink enough to be truly satisfied would drain her dry and leech the life from her body, and he is forever steeling himself against the overpowering urge to do so; fighting the instinct which would leave his victim slumping, ashen-faced and lifeless, from his grip. But Susan rests her cheek against his chest and breathes evenly, so he manages to pull away the second he can bear it, though his hunger is barely dulled.
He smooths his tongue over the fresh puncture and kisses her throat tenderly, hiding his face in the crook of her neck, swallowing his shame until it's buried behind his eyes.
She sighs and looks up into his face again, searching for signs of his discomfort.
"There," she says, tilting his chin up to inspect his colour. "That's a bit better."
"You should lie down," he pleads, leading her to his bed, with its woven canopy in the ornate fashion of the Calormen capital.
Susan settles gently on the silk cushions, and catches his hand, pulling him closer.
"You should, too," she coaxes, and he is powerless as she peers up at him through long lashes, so he arranges himself carefully beside her. After a moment, he wraps an arm around her shoulder.
She sighs again, relaxing into his embrace.
"I dislike the slaves, Edmund," she says lightly, as if discussing something as trivial as her dessert preferences. "To claim ownership over other beings, and to punish them as they do here..." She frowns, delicate fingers plucking at an errant thread on his tunic sleeve. "Rabadash promised differently, at home, didn't he?"
She bites her lip, worry lines creasing the soft skin of her brow. His good-hearted sister, unable to truly believe in the Calormen prince's faults until the proof was before her eyes; and anxious now at her previous judgement.
"He is a cold man, Su," Edmund mutters, wary of the countless spies crawling through the palace. "A lesser man, a lesser ruler, than he seemed in the Cair."
She twists her head to look him in the eyes, her own brimming with doubt. "How can I know, Ed?" she asks, as ever full of concern for their kingdom. "Is this truly the answer for Narnia?"
This isn't the answer for us, he wants to cry, and he loathes the visions in his head of Susan's hand leaving his and reaching, by necessity, for the cruel and calculating Prince. This isn't the answer for you.
But he catches sight of the slight bruise already forming on her neck, and feels his stomach turn to lead as he considers the harm she suffers by his presence at her side. He is cursed, forever, punished as a traitor, and is now bound to her so many times over he's almost lost count. But her own life should be worth more than what he can offer - she deserves freedom. Can he really claim to be better for her than Rabadash would be?
Yes, the most selfish, most stubborn part of him cries. Yes, of course, always.
But he cannot bear to make this choice for her, to condemn Rabadash to keep her further to himself. So instead he looks away, out through the window into the darkening courtyard, and only supplies, "Aslan would say that no one can know what is to come."
She shifts so their bodies are aligned on the bed, their silhouettes so very similar in the dark. This is how they are, always orbiting around each other, and he struggles against the knowledge that he cannot balance with her forever.
She nods, considering his words. "He would," she acknowledges, fingers moving from his sleeve to his palm. "But I mightn't always listen."
He smiles, though his jaw still aches with hunger, because they both are destined to question Aslan's will, no matter the strength of their siblings' bold faith. Every kingdom needs its skeptics if it is to survive, and every Queen deserves to seek a truth for herself, as his elder sister always will.
The Calormen heat is stifling at any time of day, but the moon is rising now, so Edmund curls inward to Susan's warmth, turning away from the cruel Tashbaan night.