Pairing: Uh... there's some Peter/Susan and just general all around inappropriate tension
Rating: PG-13 (oh my gaaawd call somebody, call an ambulance)
Warnings: Incest, offscreen. Also holy crap, depressing.
Summary: Basically, if you think about anything in Narnia for very long, it's horribly sad and unjust and heartbreaking. And I don't know how to write meta without making it into fic.
Thrust from the terror and privation of the Blitz into the panic of evacuation, the Pevensies became their own delicate family, stepping into new roles that few of them were prepared for. Peter found himself in the precarious position of father, an awful crushing responsibility only made worse by his lingering childhood vision of their real father as an infallible, god-like protector. He’s the one who lies awake at night worrying, who wants to save and fix and stand over his siblings. He doesn’t want to fight. When he learns that he’ll be this to an entire nation, to millions of people he’ll never meet, he already knows the taste of that slavery. Even tiny Lucy, he thinks as he cleans the wolf’s blood from his sword, will someday grow into a woman who can care for herself. Narnia will be helpless forever.
If he’s the father, Susan’s the mother, and it seems to him that she fits the role better. She’s as beautiful as their mother, and the wisest of them, just and giving, like a bottomless well of emotional healing. He leans hard on her, drawing up her strength to bear his burdens. It seems natural, even when he starts to see pain and longing in her perfect face.
Lucy thrives here, and everyone loves her; it makes him want to cry, watching the bleak determination of ruined London slowly leave her face, watching an entire country discover how worthy she is of adoration. She’s flighty and happy and irresponsible, hunting and laughing and giving her favors to half of Narnia and bits of Archenland, and he loves her hopelessly even while he’s scolding her. (It embarrasses him that she’s so free with her body, but that’s the Narnian way: a country full of nymphs and satyrs, all in love with his golden sister and her still-growing breasts.)
Edmund worries him. He doesn’t play as much as he ought to, and as grateful as Peter is for the gravity and intelligence that Edmund brings to Cair Paravel, the things he sees in Edmund’s eyes unsettle him. Edmund, Peter knows, is never far from his fears, and has never learned to forgive himself. When there’s a skirmish with the ogres and half the Royal Guard is killed pulling the Kings back from a tight spot, Peter goes to Susan and cries in her lap, but Edmund drops into a dark temper for weeks.
When Edmund, dark eyes still shadowed with blame, flings open the doors to Peter’s chambers, there’s a paralysis that holds Peter and Susan still. They’re both clothed, of course, what else would they be, but Peter sees on Edmund’s face that there must be something wrong with how they’re sitting. Disgust and horror unfurl between the Kings for a second, as Peter draws himself up from where he’d been lying against their sister, and then a terrible howling darkness fills Edmund’s eyes and he’s gone. The chamber doors sway closed without Edmund to hold them open.
After that there’s an unholy tension to his relationship with Susan, and neither of them will say it but her eyes are so sad. Because they can’t talk about it, they toy with it. Edmund left word that he was riding out the borders, but they don’t talk about that either. Crossing the last awful line is so anticlimactic that it’s easy for Peter to bury his guilt and sickness under the strange triumph in Susan’s face, and the feeling of home and right and family.
When Edmund comes back, he seems to have found some absolution, and he devotes his time to Lucy. Peter spends his time discovering that Susan is actually afraid and very frail, and that the boundless strength he thought to flow from her is only the stunted blooming of a girl who had just begun to explore her own power when she was given a kingdom, a horn, and a bow. He finds that she envies Lucy her dalliances; she’s never experienced these things, these touches and feelings, before. A soldier kissed her, once.
Peter wants to ask Edmund what he found, or found in himself, that makes him smile and keeps him up late, studying. He knows, though, that there’s no absolution for what he’s become, so instead he steels himself and breaks Susan’s heart and sends her to the court of Archenland with her sister for a year, to be Queen without being his Queen.
Edmund is angry with Peter for sending Lucy away, and he flings accusations that find their festering marks. Peter knows he’s slipped away from his two youngest siblings; he doesn’t know Edmund, and all his helpless love for Lucy is like loving a picture on the wall. Peter can’t defend himself, so he just asks, weary to the bone: have you? With Lucy?
Edmund hasn’t. The relief of this sweeps over Peter in a buzzing wave, and he barely hears Edmund continue: She worships you, Peter. It doesn’t matter what I think. She’d do anything you asked of her.
It’s all Peter can do to register the accusation, to feel his own guilt for abandoning them. If there’s something else under those words, some truth let free for a second from Edmund’s wise dark eyes, it slips away unchallenged.
Susan and Lucy return next summer. Lucy has a new chariot, and an enormous coat made from a Lapsed bear; Susan has a wain laden with gifts from nobles and princes. Lucy and Edmund immediately start planning a grand hunt, thick as thieves, and Susan greets Peter with dignity and gentleness. She’s met someone, a dark Prince from Calormene, a honey-tongued gentleman who begs permission to visit the Narnian court and throw himself at the feet of its raven-haired Queen. He’s given her several books of poetry. He’s the soul of chivalry and romance.
Even though it ends in tears, something changes in Peter while he watches Susan evaluate her would-be lover. Susan isn’t for him, and he can’t change that, so when he meets Tellera a few months later he throws himself into her guileless, smiling eyes like a drowning man grasping his rescuer.
Susan hates her. She claims that it isn’t Tellera she hates, that she just wants someone… smarter for Peter, but when Peter announces his decision Susan spits at him: at least Rabadash was human. Tellera is a nymph, gray-eyed and cool of skin, and Peter marries her in the fall, knee-deep in her spring, feeling that things might end well at last. Aslan is there, and if there’s a weight of sorrow in his breath as he kisses Peter’s forehead, Peter knows how heavy the sorrow of loving the whole world must be.
Tellera doesn’t fix everything, though. Susan withdraws, spending more and more time alone in her tower; Edmund and Lucy simply slip away from him, letting Tellera fill his life; and Narnia, at long last, begins to grow up. Councils form; Peter establishes strongholds and baronies to administer the kingdom. When Tellera conceives, Peter looks carefully at the nation he’ll pass on to their child, and discovers that it’s good, and his life’s work will stand.
So when they ride out, Peter and Susan gamely following Edmund and Lucy on the hunt they’ve been longing to join for years, they ride out laughing, carrying their longings like sweet aching fires that make the moment more beautiful. Edmund and Lucy wish for their brother’s love, and to return to the center of his life; Susan wishes to be a normal woman, beautiful and beloved, who has never kissed her brother with any passion.
Peter, with his heart full of the future, longs to see his son born, and look down over the flourishing land of Narnia with its millions of beautiful hearts, his numberless little sisters and brothers he’s guarded for so long. And, at the root of his soul, he wants to know his own brother and sisters again, without his mistakes and his shortcomings to color them.
In the end, of course, he can only have one wish.