MFB23: The Comfort of a Caress

When Peter was done with his bath, he asked Mr. Griswold to find Per and assist him with bathing, too, then crossed the hall to his bedroom, toweling his hair. He stopped in his tracks as he entered and saw Edmund sitting before the fire with a tea tray set out on the hearth.

“Ed,” he gasped in surprise, “what are you doing here?”

“I brought you some chamomile tea, to help you sleep. The water should be almost ready,” his brother replied, checking the kettle.

“Oh! How… How thoughtful of you,” Peter responded, rather breathlessly, as his heart churned with conflicting emotions. He had just been thinking of Edmund, dreading the prospect of spending the night in his spacious, comfortable, yet lonely room, and his pulse had quickened at the mere sight of his brother. However, he feared that he might lose what little self-restraint he possessed if he did not watch himself very closely. Peter tried to control his breathing as he hung up the towel to dry, then took an extra moment to comb his hair, hoping to calm his nerves, but his trembling fingers soon entangled the comb.

“Here, Peter — I can do that for you if you sit down,” Edmund offered.

“Um… Thanks, but… I can get it,” Peter declined, obstinately tugging at the tangle. Ed watched for a moment longer before he stood up in exasperation.

“Hi! You’re going to rip your hair out like that, and how would it look for the High King to have a bald spot under his crown?” he pointed out, grabbing Peter’s hands to keep them from doing any more damage. “Sit down by the fire and I’ll work it out for you.”

Finally relenting, Peter did as he was told, closing his eyes as Edmund’s nimble fingers began to pull apart the knots. However, not looking only made him more aware of Edmund’s slightly heavy breathing as he focused on the task, well as the heat of his body as he leant close, so Peter opened his eyes again to watch his brother’s face — his tongue sticking out between his teeth while his brow furrowed in concentration — as the warm glow of the fireplace lit up one side of him. Peter swallowed hard, feeling his throat turn dry, and gripped his hands on his knees so that he would not be tempted to grab his brother as he had before.

“There! Finally. You really need to be more careful with that, Peter — what would you have done if I didn’t happen to be here?”

Peter couldn’t very well tell him that he wouldn’t have been so clumsy to start with, and was glad that Edmund had only asked the question rhetorically. Now the younger boy was busy retrieving the kettle to steep enough tea for both of them.

“Felicity insisted on sending up something to eat, too,” Edmund mentioned, pushing the plate of biscuits closer to Peter. “I hope you’re hungry.”

“Thanks. It’s just the thing,” Peter answered, and tried to distract himself by spreading jam on a biscuit. “I say, Ed, you could have just had someone bring me the tea, you know. You must be tired from taking Per around the castle.”

“Oh, I’m all right,” Edmund replied, handing Peter a steaming cup. “Besides, I wanted to. I felt like I’d left you to do all the catching-up work today, while I spent my time gallivanting around — Mrs. Dumplesugar actually accused me of ‘gadding about,’ if you please! — with Per. What did Oreius have to say?”

Peter informed him, in between sips and nibbles, of the various mundane business affairs which he had taken care of that afternoon, trying hard not to gaze too deeply into the brown eyes that were fixed upon his own, knowing that he could easily become lost in their depths.

“And we received a letter from the Governor of the Lone Islands, asking for some lumber to replace the masts of several ships,” Peter recounted. “Apparently, that storm that rolled through before we left for Archenland had knocked up their fleet pretty badly. I asked the Dryads if there were any ordinary pine trees or maybe even some Talking Trees that had fallen in the storm that we could let them use, so they promised to look around and let us know tomorrow. Then I had Marcius help me compose a letter to King Lune, thanking him for his hospitality and offering ours in return. I think he may bring some of his hunting dogs this time — I suggested that our Talking Dogs might be able to teach them a few tricks, and he seemed to fancy the idea.”

Edmund listened with well-feigned interest, although in truth he was observing Peter’s face as various expressions flitted across it in quick succession. The High King’s questioning look as he had asked the Dryads for advice was re-created for an instant here, his look of formal gratitude to their erstwhile host there, and his own grin of humour, inviting Edmund to smile as well, at the end. Edmund had always been of the opinion that Peter was the best story-teller of their family, and remarked silently to himself now how engaging his older brother could be — not realising, of course, that Peter was trying his very best to be engaging because his sole audience was his beloved younger brother.

“So, what all did you do with Per?” Peter asked, and then it was Edmund’s turn to fill him in on the hours that they had spent apart. Edmund wondered if his own narrative might be rather boring, but Peter listened with rapt attention, inquiring as to how Phillip had received the new squire and how Per himself had reacted to the different creatures he had met. Of course, the High King would have found an accounting of how many fish the royal household had consumed in the past month almost as captivating, so long as it came from his younger brother’s lips. They both let the last of their tea grow cold as they planned their activities for the next day.

“Well, I should let you get some rest,” Edmund eventually (and regretfully) stated, finishing off his tea in one gulp and stacking his cup and saucer on the plate, now empty except for a few crumbs.

“It is rather late, I suppose,” Peter responded, “but I do appreciate the tea, old chap. It’s quite calming.” Not to mention your company, in some ways, he added to himself. He had gazed upon his brother’s fine features to his heart’s content, and knew that they would haunt his dreams whilst he slept.

Edmund picked up the tray and set it on a corner of the hearth with the kettle, then hesitated, frozen for a moment like a statue on his knees. Peter had stood up already and was brushing some crumbs off of his bathrobe, sending them into the fireplace where the burnt logs had begun to fall apart.

“Pete,” came Edmund’s voice, tentative and slightly thin in the growing darkness, “would it be all right if… well, if…”

“If what?” Peter prodded, turning in puzzlement to his brother.

“Well, I… I don’t want to be a nuisance, but… if you don’t mind — that is, if I won’t keep you awake with my tossing and turning — would it be all right if I slept with you again tonight?”

Edmund had blurted out the last part rather quickly, so that it took Peter a moment to process what he was requesting, and then another moment to consider it.

“Ed… you’re never a bother, and you really don’t move around much in your sleep, but… I’m not sure that’s such a good idea…” he slowly answered, feeling torn. “You know we can’t help what happens in the morning, and… well… I just don’t think it would be… proper.”

Edmund bit his lip and nodded, telling himself not to be disappointed, but feeling let down nonetheless. The bees had been humming contentedly in his stomach ever since his brother had entered the room, but now they turned into angry hornets again, sending sharp stabs of pain through his body. Peter, squinting in the dim light to observe his reaction, was jarred to see him look so distressed.

“Ed, what’s the matter?” he demanded, urgently. “You forced me into sharing my bunk with you last night, too, didn’t you? You made sure that Per was with you when you mentioned it, knowing that I couldn’t jolly well say ‘no.’ And the night before — well, you were half drunk, but you wouldn’t leave when I told you to. Is something wrong?” When Edmund would not answer, staying stock-still on his knees, Peter knelt beside him and placed an arm around his shoulders. “You’re not still worried that I’ll leave, are you?”

“No. I know you won’t,” Edmund replied, in barely more than a whisper.

“Then what is it? What’s eating at you, Ed?” Peter pleaded, his brow furrowed in worry.

“I don’t know. I just…” Faltering, Edmund took a deep breath and expelled it. “I just feel better when I’m with you, and I can’t explain it any better than that. And I know, I usually get to spend the most time with you, but today was a bit different (what with it being Per’s first day here and all), and I saw you walking with Susan in the garden, and Lucy was curled up on your lap after dinner like she usually is, but we didn’t do any training this afternoon and hardly saw each other except at mealtimes, and I thought it might be nice to talk and catch each other up over tea, and then I wondered, if it was all the same to you—”

Peter brought his brother’s rambling to an abrupt halt by placing a hand, very gently but firmly, on Edmund’s cheek and turning him to face him. Something that the younger boy had just said had triggered a memory — an echo of something which he had said once before, while they were in Archenland — and the High King intuitively knew that it was more than a coincidence.

“Ed,” he asked, half amazed at his own suspicions, “do you want to sit on my lap?”

Edmund blushed so deeply that Peter could see the change even in the faint glow cast by the dying embers, and felt the heat rise in his brother’s cheek through his palm. The younger king would have liked to turn away, but Peter’s hand was not only preventing any movement but also filling him with such intense yearning that the pain of his longing now drowned out even the stings of the hornets.

“I—I… No! O—Of course not. I’m much too b—big for that, and I… I’d crush your legs!” Edmund stammered in reply.

“Not likely,” Peter countered soothingly, although his own heart seemed to be beating in his throat. “I’m not that delicate, you know! And really, Ed… if only you knew… how many times I’ve wished Mother could have come with us to Narnia… how many times I’ve wished I could crawl into her lap again, like a little child… or Father, so I could ask him for advice…”

Peter’s voice trailed off and Edmund was left staring at him, shocked to hear such honest wistfulness in his older brother’s tone.

“Y—You do? I—I mean, you have?” he asked, with something akin to reverence.

“Yes, I do — even now,” was Peter’s unequivocal response. “Aslan may have made me High King over Narnia, but that doesn’t mean he made me any older or wiser, you know. And yes… sometimes, I still wish our parents were around to help us. To help me,” he amended.

Edmund gaped at him a moment longer before murmuring a breathless, “Oh, Peter!” and flinging himself at him. It nearly knocked Peter off-balance, but he managed to steady himself by clutching Edmund, who was now pressed against his chest and squeezing him so tightly that it hurt.

“Oh, Ed,” he whispered, stroking his brother’s back and marveling at the smoothness of its curve. There was so much more that he wanted to do to Edmund, to show his love for him, but for now he knew that he needed to restrain himself and stay within the confines of brotherly affection. It nearly broke his heart to feel Edmund’s slender arms wrapped around his back, conveying so much need, but he sternly reminded himself that he could not take advantage of his brother’s vulnerability or innocence again. With a tremendous effort of self-control, he pried those arms off of him.

“Here, Ed… let go,” he coaxed. “Let me sit down so I can hold you properly.”

Edmund sniffed and complied, almost in shock at the fact that Peter had offered the very thing that he had so longed for, and waited for his older brother to settle himself with his back against the wall. When Peter opened his arms invitingly, Edmund slid into them with no inhibitions whatsoever; it was only after he had wriggled into a comfortable position and sighed with contentment that the absurdity of their situation occurred to him.

“I suppose you must think I’m a big baby,” he said in a low voice, while the bees hummed and tickled his insides from the delightful touches which Peter’s hands were giving him. It bothered him that his brother might think of him as a child, but not so much as it would have if he were not wrapped in his loving embrace.

“Of course not,” Peter told him, and pressed a chaste kiss to his forehead — which was all-too-close to his lips to not do so. “We’re still just kids… I don’t care how grown-up Susan acts!”

This elicited a giggle from Edmund, and they both relaxed. Edmund rested his head on Peter’s shoulder, reveling in the strength he found there as well as the tenderness of his brother’s hands as they traveled over his arms, legs, and body. And Peter pondered with wonder that his beloved had wanted, all along, the very thing that he had wished to do above all else.

It was only my own impropriety, and the need to hide it, that had prevented me from giving him what he wanted, he realised. If I didn’t feel so drawn to Edmund — so much lust, he admitted, brutally, I would have been more affectionate towards him… He’d already noticed that I’d been avoiding him, and that probably made him miss it that much more! So now, I must learn to control my unnatural urges… to be able to be the brother he needs me to be. Oh, Edmund… it’s tortuous! But for you, I think I can do anything…

He placed another kiss on Edmund’s brow, pulling him closer. Edmund was in bliss as he closed his eyes and felt more comforted and loved than he could ever remember, or even could have imagined before. Having had a long, tiring day as well, it was not surprising that he soon fell asleep in his brother’s arms.

Peter sensed him grow gradually limp, and considered what he ought to do. After stealing one more kiss — this time from Edmund’s soft lips — he stood while still holding him and carried him to the bed, sliding him under the covers with some difficulty. He was relieved to hear his brother’s breathing still slow and steady. Then, with an almost unbearable burden of love in his breast, the High King slipped out of his room and into Edmund’s, choosing to stay in his brother’s bed for the night. He feared that he would not be able to sleep well, but recalling how the younger boy had clung to him with undisguised adoration, he soon drifted off into a pleasant slumber.

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