Disclaimer: The Chronicles of Narnia were created and written by C. S. Lewis. Anything you might recognize is his creation. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is made.
A/N: Right. Other one-shot. NOT a drabble challenge this time. This plotbunny hit me when I was working on chapter 7 of CB (which is coming along nicely, btw), and refused to let go. And there simply is no reasoning with them bunnies... This is a companion-piece to "Not Exactly A Feast", though it is not exactly necessary to have read it. All you have to know is that 'NEAF' takes place after the failed raid on the castle and before their arrival at the How.
Susan, the Gentle
She was standing on a flat rock, looking out over the fields of Aslan's How. She hadn't noticed him yet; he could still back out and walk away. A part of him—the part that was embarrassed and ashamed and slightly scared too—wanted too. But a second part craved her understanding. And most of him wanted to show that he wasn't the spineless coward she'd seen today. The problem was he didn't know what to say. He wanted to sound remorseful and sincere, so anything light or witty was most definitely out of the question. Yet 'I'm sorry' didn't even begin to cover it.
He didn't have to break the silence. As if she'd felt his presence, Susan turned around and noticed Caspian standing behind her. Their eyes met, and Caspian tried to read hers. Were they angry for what he had almost done? Or disappointed, like the look she had given him before she'd walked away. Caspian saw both, mix with something else he couldn't quite identify.
"You're having a bad day, aren't you?" Susan said, turning her back to him again, and looking out over the fields again.
Caspian took this as a sign his company wasn't entirely unwelcome, and he took a few steps forwards so he was standing next to her. "You're… you're not angry at me?"
"A little." Susan admitted, and she shot him a sharp look. "But mostly I am wondering what you were thinking."
Caspian cringed slightly as she spoke the last word rather forcefully, betraying her annoyance at him. But he felt he deserved it, and swallowed hard before he answered. "I'm so sorry." He said slowly and sincere. "I…- I lost hope. I despaired. For a moment I thought she could make everything easier. She put images in my head…" Caspian saw from the corner of his eye that she had turned towards him, and he talked to the ground to avoid her eyes. "Images of me winning the battle. Of me being King." He stopped there, not wanting to make himself sound more selfish. Truth was Jadis had put many images in his head. Of glory and victory. Of prosperity and pride. Of a family and a Queen at his side. Of a powerful reign that outweighed even that of the High King. It had entranced him, amazed him. All he wanted, it was within his reach. Just one step…
"Do you know how much it cost us to defeat her?" Susan's voice was so soft it was almost a whisper, but to Caspian it was like she had shouted at him, and he hung his head.
"I know. I didn't mean for it to happen. When I realised what had happened-"
"You are lucky we found you in time." Susan cut him off, and Caspian felt her shiver slightly, though probably not because of the cold. "You've got Peter to thank for that, by the way. He didn't trust Nikabrik and followed you. Who knows what might have happened if he hadn't." Susan put a hand on his arm, which caused Caspian to look up and meet her eye. "She wouldn't have helped you, Caspian. She would have betrayed us eventually. The White Witch serves no one."
"I know that, now. I- I wasn't thinking straight.." Caspian silenced, hating how pathetic he sounded. He wanted to be a King, wise and just, like his father had been. And strong, confident and proud like High King Peter. Especially when Susan was around, he wanted to be strong... impress her... but something about her clear eyes made him spill the truth and say all that weighed on his heart. "Maybe I'm not strong enough to be King."
If anything, that softened her, and her voice had lost it's edge when she replied; "Do you think we were ready for it, when we were told it was our fate to rule Narnia? Do you think we never misjudged? Never made mistakes? Never showed weakness?"
Caspian blinked, but didn't answer. He had always thought about the Kings and Queens as shining examples, always strong, never wavering.
"Oh yes," Susan laughed mirthlessly. "When we learned about our future, I was so scared I wanted to leave Narnia to deal with it's own problems and go back home. Edmund, he was tempted by the White Witch just like you, and he caved…"
Caspian nodded. He had heard of that story.
"And Peter. When Peter accepted his future as High King he didn't know the first thing about battles or leadership. I suppose Lucy is the only person who's faith in Narnia never wavered. Which is why she's the valiant one." Susan bit her lip. "Look. We all make mistakes, we just have to make sure we learn from them. Edmund was deceived by the White Witch, but he made up for it. And today he was the only person who could resist her lure and get rid of her."
"Learn from it." Caspian repeated, and looked at Susan who nodded. She was so small, compared to him, but the effect that her presence and her words had on him were enormous. He had drank in everything she had said, their meaning strengthening him, her voice soothing him. "What do you suppose I must learn from this?"
Susan thought about that for a moment. She sat down on the rock, her hands tracing a flower that grew through the cracks. "That you shouldn't let yourself be led by fear and doubt." She said, wisely, her true age and experience shining through.
Caspian sat down on the rock next to her, mulling her words over. They were silent for a while, but it was a comfortable silence, and neither of them felt the desire to break it. Caspian was content just sitting there watching the sun sink lower and lower with Susan next to him. He glanced at her sideways, taking in her features. There was such a strength in her young face, a strength that was different from the pride of her eldest brother or the self-sacrificing courage of her youngest brother. It had nothing to do with fights and domination. Not that she couldn't match her brothers there, because—oh—she could… But it was more… calming and safe… strengthening. Gentle. Queen Susan the Gentle.
The silence was broken, and Susan looked up, a small smile on her face.
"For everything." Caspian continued. "For backing me up in the castle. For tending me in the woods. For… giving me strength now. Even after I didn't deserve it…-"
Susan put a finger to his lips to silence him, and the sudden body contact startled Caspian. His breath hitched and his eyes widened. Susan drew her hand back quickly, but the feeling remained as if her light touch had burned itself onto his skin and would never fade. His lips tingled and longed for more contact. His eyes were involuntarily drawn to her lips. They were plump and full and—Caspian suspected—soft. Susan might have realised what her simple gesture had awoken in Caspian, or maybe she had surprised herself too, but she bit her lip uncertainly, and a new bolt of desire shot through Caspian, who was now entirely unable to look away from how her teeth bit down softly on the soft tissue, pulling slightly.
He wanted to touch them, to feel if the were indeed as soft as he thought they were. His own lips still tingled where she had touched him, and he moistened them which only caused him to be more aware of them. He now realised too how close they were. If he leaned just a little to the side his shoulder would bump hers. Though there was no body contact, Caspian could almost feel her, as if her body radiated heat.
"I- I have to go."
Susan was up before Caspian had realized the meaning of her words. Caspian immediately missed the heat of her body next to him, but his lips continued to tingle. "Why?" He didn't want her to go. Not yet.
"I…have to talk to Peter. See if he's alright." She walked away hurriedly, but halfway she paused in her tracks and looked back at him, a smile on her face. "Goodnight, Caspian."
Caspian watched her step back into the How, the hem of her dress disappearing around the corner. Even though she was gone, he continued to stare at the door until the fog in his mind cleared a little. "Goodnight…" He replied belatedly. Then he dropped his face in his hands. What just happened?