WARNING: As seems to be the case with most of my stories recently, this is turning out to be quite messy emotion-wise, so be prepared! On a side note: this is not slash, nor is it incest, so those of you who might be a little leery, no worries—please enjoy!
Disclaimer: I own nothing in this marvelous universe; it all belongs to C.S. Lewis and Walden Media.
Author's Note #1: Um…because I wanted to? :rubs head sheepishly: Actually, I've been working on this piece for quite some time, and although I know it's a very bad idea for me to post yet another multi-chapter piece when I have two others (and more) going on simultaneously…I couldn't resist. This will be another shorter one—two, maybe three, chapters long, and that's it. I hope you enjoy it as much as you have everything else I've written!
Author's Note #2: I'm in Grad School now, which means even less time to write during the week (and weekends probably, too), but I still want to write, because I love writing (and these characters :grins:), I just won't be getting new chapters out (and yes, I do have a new one for Keeping the Faith and Nighttime Demons respectively that I'm working on) nearly as quickly as I did this summer. Just a heads up!
Rating: T/M (for messy emotions)
Summary: The day before Edmund's eighteenth birthday in England, Peter finds himself feeling incredibly homesick…(Book and Moviebased)
Counting the Days
By Sentimental Star
Chapter One: Mending the Distance
(Oxford University, Afternoon, Late May 1948)
Tomorrow is his younger brother's eighteenth birthday. Well, second eighteenth birthday, to be strictly accurate. Somehow, like all their birthdays here, it doesn't have quite the excitement they often feel it ought. Living two lifetimes will do that.
Not that he will be home to celebrate it. He sent the present by post last week, in hopes of it reaching Finchley in time for Edmund's birthday, seeing as he is stuck at university for final exams.
He has just finished his last one today, and is now merely waiting for the instructor to dismiss them. Unfortunately, it looks as though they have another half-hour, yet, and he's already checked his exam twice through.
Now it is face down on his desk and he is gazing out the window next to his seat, idly spinning his pencil between his fingers.
It is a late-May afternoon, wonderfully sunny and warm; and it frustrates him that he is unable to go anywhere, particularly because Edmund's eighteenth birthday in Narnia had fallen on a day very much like this. The first thing the two of them had done that morning was go for a ride along the beach at dawn.
It had been Lucy's idea, actually. She and Susan had wanted to surprise Edmund with a banquet and a ball, and what better way to get him out of the castle than to rope Peter into the preparations, as well?
Not that they had even needed to ask. Edmund was Peter's most trusted advisor, and his dearest friend. Sisters were marvelous and lovely, but a brother, especially an only brother, was the best type of friend to have—and Peter and Edmund were closer than most.
That's why it chafes when Peter is stuck here, and Edmund is back at home with the girls.
Oh, he knows he will see his brother—and his family—at Commencement in three days' time, but that does not stop him from wanting to be with them right now…
In spite of everything, however, a warm smirk flits across his countenance as he recalls how very different the day (or, to be strictly accurate, night) their mother gave birth to Edmund was from today or that long ago day in Narnia:
(Flashback, Eighteen Years by British Reckoning)
It was a home delivery—their mother had wanted a midwife this time, rather than a doctor with all his drugs. Their father had agreed on the principle that physicians were wary about some of the newer drugs that had been released.
What they had not taken into account, however, was the difficulty Mum would have with the delivery.
He doesn't remember much of the time they spent waiting—then only himself, a two-year-old Susan, and their father.
He does remember Mum being in their parents' bedroom from the afternoon onwards, and blocks, and watching Susan, as well as playing with a rather distracted Daddy. But never anymore than that.
He knows he must have fallen asleep at some point, because when he woke, it was to see rain lashing at the windows, several nearby lamps lit, darkness outside, and Susan curled close to him under a blanket on the floor of the living room. Daddy had been asleep on his other side.
But it was not the rain or the howling wind that woke him. No, it was the high, thin wail of an infant that he vaguely recalled hearing when Susan was born.
He remembers squirming out from underneath the blanket, in his excitement not realizing he had accidentally kicked his father's stomach, and then scampering across the living room floor to his parents' bedroom. He'd reached as high as his three-year-old height could manage, and opened the door to peek into the room.
The midwife—a kindly, elderly, neighborhood lady—had put clean sheets on the bed and was opening the window to air out the room. The musty scent of wet earth filtered in.
Outside, the wind was quieting and the rain slowing. Inside, Mama looked up from where she was sitting up on the bed and rocking the baby. She smiled when she saw him, and called out wearily, "Come in, darling. It's all right."
So he had slipped in, and scurried across the floor to his parents' great bed. Gripping the sheets, he had attempted climbing onto the mattress with the new baby and his mother—who hid her amusement by asking, "Where's Daddy, Peter?"
His father had answered softly from the doorway, "Daddy's right here," and moving swiftly, had crossed the floor to pick up Peter (who was still in the process of climbing the bed) and place him gently on the mattress—all with one arm, too; in the other, he carried a still sleeping Susan.
By then it had been very late, but he was wide-eyed and eager, excited about this newest addition to their family.
As the midwife puttered about, tidying, Mama had smiled again, tilting her head up to kiss Daddy on the lips when he carefully leaned down (while Peter made a face).
Looking back at Peter, Mama had laughed softly, before gingerly shifting the bundle she was holding so he could see the little baby she held. "Here, darling. Meet your baby brother."
He remembers going very still then, and watching the tiny creature wiggle in the blankets. Then the baby gave a small (rather adorable, Peter thinks now) yawn, blinking his large, dark brown eyes sleepily up at his big brother.
In that instant, Peter fell hopelessly in love with him.
His smile is vaguely nostalgic as he comes back to himself at the university, and he quickly brushes his hand across his cheeks to dry the moisture that has gathered there, suddenly very grateful he is turned towards the window. He doesn't think he wants to explain to the professor why he is crying. Had Edmund been here, he probably would have fondly called him a "sentimental idiot."
He doesn't remember Susan's birth very well, he reflects. Just a faint impression of…something. Something warm and wonderful. Of course, he had only been one year old at the time.
Lucy's birth he remembers just as clearly as he does Edmund's, perhaps more so. He had been five, then, and very much the older brother. He remembers he thought her the sweetest baby in the world.
So much of his life has been wrapped up in his three younger siblings. He barely remembers a time when it was just him—in fact, he doesn't. There always seemed to be a younger sibling toddling around after him.
They grew older, of course; all babies do. But he has never stopped trying to protect them, trying to be "big brother."
He supposes he succeeded, though really, he sometimes wonders if it isn't his fault that Susan forgot Narnia.
He knows Edmund would slap him over the head for thinking that. Certainly, his younger brother has time and again patiently pointed out that even if Su had forgotten Narnia, she hadn't forgotten them necessarily, and wasn't that important, too?
Peter smiles again, wistfully. By the Lion, how he misses them.
It is several hours later when he returns to his room and the dorm is quiet. Many of his fellow students are at supper or playing billiards. Some have even already headed home.
Normally, Peter is one of those—flying into his room as quick as his legs can carry him and rapidly packing all of his belongings, before grabbing the earliest train home.
But he has Commencement in three days, and is therefore expected to remain on-campus for the duration. His fellow graduates may not mind, but they aren't literally aching to see their siblings. Nor are they (probably) missing a birthday they usually always manage to be home for.
As he nears his door, and idly switches his now rather lighter pack back and forth between his hands, he wonders if he shouldn't call Finchley, anyway, just to hear the voices of his family.
He is already half-decided when he goes to unlock his door, and when he pushes the door open to reveal an empty room, the other half of his decision is made for him.
As soon as he steps inside, the phone on his desk begins to ring.
Peter gives a small start, and quickly makes his way over to the desk, smile tugging at his lips. He shouldn't get his hopes up—really, he shouldn't, but he has a feeling…
When he picks up the receiver and hears the voice at the other end, he laughs out loud. "Pete?"
/Of all the people it could possibly be…!/ he thinks, amused.
"What's so funny?" his younger brother demands, a definite hint of irritation coming through.
Peter is still chuckling. "Nothing, nothing, I'm sorry, Ed. Really I am, it's just…" he breaks into another momentary fit of laughter before gasping out, "I was just thinking of you, and wondering if I shouldn't call home, and now here you are. I shouldn't be surprised anymore."
He knows Edmund will hear the warmth and gladness in his voice.
"Of course you shouldn't be," Edmund replies smugly. "I am your second-in-command, after all."
And suddenly, it doesn't matter that there are miles between them, or that the only physical connection he has to his brother at this moment is the phone he is holding. He sees him as he knew him best—when they were kings of Narnia (no matter that they are still kings of Narnia): straight-backed, tall, quietly confident and fiercely loyal, every inch Narnia's Just King.
Apparently, he's been silent a little too long. A note of concern creeps into Edmund's voice.
Steadfastly ignoring the sudden wrench of longing in his heart, Peter smiles. "I'm fine, Ed. Just thinking." He places the strap of his bag over his desk chair, before pulling out the chair itself and dropping down into it. "What's going on?"
"'What's going on?'" Edmund affects indignation. "Nothing's 'going on.' Can't a chap call his brother without having any particular reason?"
Peter grins. "When it's you? No."
There's a faint snort on the other end of the line. "Oh, that's friendly."
He smirks warmly. "Of course."
He can just imagine his brother rolling his eyes. "You're in rare form today, Pete. Glad to be finished?"
/Glad to hear from you, more like/ is what he wants to say, but what he actually says is, "You have no idea," leaning back in his chair with a groan and rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand as he does so.
Edmund laughs softly. "No, but I can guess from the way you're acting."
Peter shakes his head, even though he knows his brother cannot see him. "I swear, Ed, sometimes I think university is harder than being king."
He can hear the grin in Edmund's voice when the other young man speaks. "Only you would say something like that, Peter. Frankly, I think you were born to be king. The rest of us just stumbled along behind you."
"Somehow I doubt that, Ed," his voice softens. "I never could have done any of it without the three of you."
He doesn't need to see his brother's face to know Edmund is blushing as the younger man counters softly, "You know very well we would have been lost without you there, Pete. Don't sell yourself short...Actually, there is a reason I'm calling, and it's for more than bashing your ridiculously low sense of self-worth."
Peter snorts faintly. "Indeed, o esteemed one? And what is that?"
His brother says nothing for a few minutes, and Peter can just imagine him twisting the telephone cord around his fingers in the silence that follows. "Ed?" he asks, bemused. This is the shyest his brother has been with him in a long time.
When no answer is forthcoming, Peter starts to worry. "Ed? What is it? What's wrong? Are the girls all right? Is everything-"
"I received my present," his little brother's interruption is abrupt and tight.
"Oh…" his panic subsides, but his anxiety soars. "And…?"
Edmund's reply is thick and full of emotion. "You bloody dolt, did you have to send something like that when you're too far away for me to even hug you properly?"
Peter relaxes back into his chair and chuckles thickly, relieved. "So you like it, then?"
"He loves it!" a chipper voice calls suddenly in the background. "The first thing he did when he opened the package was put it on his finger."
Peter laughs. "Is that Lucy?"
He's sure Edmund is rolling his eyes again. "Whatever was your first hint?" retorted dryly. "She just came into the kitchen a minute ago, actually."
"Yes! Now shove over so I can talk to him," Lucy's warm voice reenters the conversation.
"As you command, my sister," Peter hears him respond gallantly over the phone; probably with a bow, too.
He grins. "You're just as bad as I am, Ed."
"Can I help it if our little sister is too adorable to say "no" to? Ow!"
Peter laughs as Lucy starts scolding Edmund. "You'll find your little sister is not so adorable when she's irritated. Now, shoo! And don't touch that cake, either! Mum said you're not to have any until tomorrow!"
"Oh, but Lu…!"
"Now!" and Peter can hear the laughter she's trying to suppress in her voice.
He smirks. "Best do as you're told, Ed. I'd like you in one piece when you come for Commencement, thanks."
"You and me both," his brother mutters.
"Edmund!" that's Lucy again.
Edmund finally laughs. "All right, all right, I'm going. I'll talk to you later, Pete. And thanks…for the present, I mean."
"Ed-" Peter begins, but his brother is already gone. He sighs. "He never gives me the chance to say good-bye," grumbled.
"That's because he misses you more than enough already," Lucy offers softly. "I think we all do."
Peter tightly shuts his eyes. /Me, too/ he thinks, but says instead, "You'll see me soon."
Lucy half-groans, half-laughs. "Not soon enough. Why can't you graduate tomorrow?"
A reluctant smile tugs at Peter's lips. "You'd have a bit of a problem, then, wouldn't you? You'd be at home, when you were planning on being here."
"I'm sure we'd manage something," she laughs.
Peter knows they would. Lucy and Edmund at the very least; he even nearly asks her to. What actually comes out is, "How're Mum and Dad?"
He's sure his little sister is rolling her eyes, and fondness colors her tone when she next speaks, "Oh, you know Mum…she's absolutely convinced that she's not done nearly enough for Edmund's birthday and is running around to all the stores, making her last minute purchases. I think Ed's given up trying to tell her that he doesn't need all that, and is just as happy not to be made a fuss of at all."
Peter laughs softly. His brother is easily the most unruffled person he knows, while their mother is the exact opposite. "And Dad?"
"He's finishing up that lecture he was working on in December, so he's barricaded himself in his study, trying to get it done. He's supposed to present it at the beginning of July."
"In the States?"
"Yes. He mentioned to Mum the other night that he'd like to try and take all of us, but I'm not sure how well that will work out. It's expensive going there this time of year."
"Any word on what Eustace, Jill, the Professor, and Aunt Polly are planning to do?"
"You mean about your graduation?" Lucy clarifies.
He nods, even though she can't see it. "Yes."
"Ed and I went over to Aunt Polly's last night for supper. She and the Professor are planning on coming the day before and staying the evening in a nearby inn. Eustace and Jill will be over here tomorrow afternoon for Ed's birthday, and then they'll be coming with us when we leave Saturday morning."
Peter is hesitant to ask this next part. "And…Su?"
Lucy's voice is sympathetic when she replies, "She's out at the moment with her new beau. Eric Tomlinson, Sarah's cousin? But yes, she's coming."
He releases a relieved breath. "Good."
"Oh, Peter, just because she no longer believes in Narnia doesn't mean she loves you any less. She just…has a hard time being around you sometimes, being around all of us," this last part added quietly before his youngest sister seems to shake herself, and continue, voice a bit louder, "But she tries Peter, and that's what matters."
Peter smiles wistfully. "You sound like Ed."
"Of course!" Lucy laughs. "I'm stuck with him for company since you're off at university."
"I heard that!" Edmund's voice, very faint in the background, comes over the receiver.
Peter hears Lucy laugh again, before she turns back to him. "Anyway, Peter, the plan for Saturday is that the seven of us will leave on the eight o'clock train and probably arrive around eleven or so at the station in Oxfordshire, with the Professor and Aunt Polly following in the evening." He hears the grin in her voice as she continues, "You do realize Ed's not going to leave your side for a moment, don't you? I think he's more excited about seeing you than he is about his birthday tomorrow. I told him to save some excitement or there wouldn't be any left for the rest of us."
The twenty-two-year-old chuckles, even as a sharp pang of homesickness hits him. "I'm looking forward to seeing you, too." He doesn't want to be here—at least not alone—but he says nothing to her, instead remarking, "I think I'm going to bored for the next few days, so a little distraction is always welcome."
"I think I should be insulted," Lucy giggles.
"Don't be. Take it as a compliment."
His little sister full out laughs. "Why thank you, big brother."
He is disappointed to hear the muffled bang of a door in the background and their mother's voice calling, "Lucy, darling, can you help me with these bags?"
"Coming, Mum!" Lucy calls, and Peter winces, pulling the receiver briefly away from his ear. "Sorry about that, Peter," Lucy's voice returns to its normal pitch. "It seems like Mum's back and with one too many groceries."
Even fainter in the background, Peter hears Edmund exclaim, "Mum! You didn't need to get me all this—your cake's beautiful!"
Their youngest sister giggles. "Guess Ed's decided to battle it out again. We'll see you in a couple of days, Peter. I'll give your love to Mum and everyone else."
"My love to you, too, Lu," he replies softly. His chest hurts—he doesn't want the phone call to end, but he knows they've been talking for at least half an hour already and that he should really be letting them get back to whatever it is they need to do. But…"Lu?" he asks quietly. "Can you get Ed back on the phone a minute, please?"
Lucy must hear something in his voice, because her own becomes that much tenderer. "Of course, Peter. You didn't get to wish him a happy birthday, did you?"
He rapidly blinks back tears, trying desperately to conceal the thick quality of his tone. "I didn't. Can you get him for me, please?"
"I will. Kisses, Peter," and then she's gone.
In the few moments of silence that follow, Peter takes in a deep breath and lets it out slowly, shutting his eyes as he once again leans back in his chair. Lion's Mane, how he wants to be home! He's never liked being separated from his family, and that is why he is graduating from Oxford instead of one of the universities on the Continent or overseas in America. He's closer to Finchley—and his siblings—that way.
There is the faint rustle of a cloth bag (probably one of their mother's purchases) as Edmund sets it on the kitchen counter and picks up the phone.
"Ed?" he grapples with his voice, attempting to keep it steady.
The younger man is likely rolling his eyes. "Who else would it be? Susan's not here right now, and I can't exactly be Dad, now can I?"
"No," it's strangled, and Peter fights to cover it up. "Your voice is not nearly deep enough, yet."
Edmund, however, has noticed and will have none of it. "Peter, what's wrong?"
He gives a rueful smile. "I miss you," admitted truthfully enough.
There's a sharp intake of breath a few seconds later. "Oh, Peter…"
Peter is forced to shut his eyes again. There is empathy in his brother's voice, affection. It makes him miss Edmund even more desperately now that he hears it. He wants his brother here right now, but doesn't quite trust himself to tell him that without begging the younger man to come up to Oxford.
"What brought this on?" it is asked gently, by an Edmund who knows his older brother far too well.
Peter presses his forehead against his free hand's knuckles, squeezing his eyes even more closely shut. His voice is nowhere near steady, "It's your birthday tomorrow, Ed. I won't be there. And…God, I don't know. I don't know. All of a sudden…" his voice cracks, "I just really, really miss you."
It is not easy hanging up. Edmund has always managed to avoid being the last one to speak to Peter whenever the family calls, and Peter, for the first time, understands why.
The two Pevensie brothers have—since Narnia—been far more closely linked than even their sisters. And although the bonds between the four siblings are nothing short of sheer miracles…Peter and Edmund have tasted each other's blood, smelled each other's vomit, and felt each other's trembling armor-clad and sweat-soaked bodies. They have a consciousness of one another—and one another's lives and safety—that only the battlefield can so indelibly etch into their hearts.
Separated, both brothers have an almost irrational fear of never seeing each other again. After all, how can you function properly when you are missing the better half of your soul?
Neither Peter, nor Edmund, says good-bye when they end the phone call. Instead, Edmund leaves his older brother with a promise that Peter dearly hopes he is able to keep, "I'll fix this, Pete. Trust me," (and it is here that he enters into a long ago vow he made whenever the two kings were forced to part) "trust my sword, trust my heart."
Perhaps inevitably, Peter falls in love with him all over again.