They were quiet for a moment as Edmund stared at the table
"So, should we make up some mundane argument and tell Lu that we've worked past it?" Edmund asked, finally meeting Caspian's gaze.
"I would actually like to know why you've been avoiding me," Caspian said.
Edmund blinked. "Me? You've been avoiding me."
"No, I -" Caspian sighed. "Okay, so we've both been avoiding each other." He looked at Edmund meaningfully. Expectantly.
And that was when the destructive urge reared its ugly head again, after being held in check for so long. "Yes," Edmund snapped.
"I have been avoiding you because I don't see the point of this expedition."
"My father's finds were capable advisors," Caspian explained calmly. "I know they would help me rule Narnia well."
Caspian was so taken aback that he simply stared at Edmund.
"Because as far as I know, every Telmarine ruler before you were not a friend of the Old Narnians, so who is to say your father's friends would be any different?"
"I could convince them," Caspian said. "They'll listen to me."
"Like Miraz did?"
When Caspian's jaw clenched, Edmund knew he had hit a nerve, and although it was what he intended, he felt the guilt of bringing up such a sensitive topic.
"My uncle was a power-hungry tyrant," Caspian's voice was tense, like a clenched fist, only just holding back. "there was no reasoning with him."
"Or maybe you simply weren't capable."
Caspian rose slowly. "Do you think you would be a better ruler, you and your sibling who run off to your own country when things get hard?!"
Edmund was on his feet as well. "That's not true!" His fist banged on the table.
Caspian was walking around the table to him. "You only ruled for fifteen years, hardly enough time to fully stabilize a country after a hundred years of tyranny."
"That was an accident," Edmund nearly snarled. "And we came back to help you."
"Only when I called," Caspian was right in front of him now, their height difference glaringly obvious. "And then you left, when I needed you. I had a family again and you left me."
His voice, so deliberate and controlled before, was now on the edge of breaking.
Edmund looked up at his deep brown eyes that now swam with tears and something in him shifted.
This argument, meant to hurt Caspian and push him away, had somehow cathartically pushed them closer together than ever.
He gently, cautiously, lifted a hand to cup Caspian's cheek, thumb brushing away a tear that had escaped. Caspian's entire body seemed to sigh at his touch.
"I didn't want to go," Edmund said, the gravel in his voice surprising him.
"I know," Caspian breathed, ghosting a hand over Edmund's forehead, pushing his hair out of his face.
And as though they possessed one mind, Edmund stood on his toes a bit and Caspian lent down a bit, and their lips touched just a bit before they pulled away.
The tender look in Caspian's eyes, however, sent Edmund up for more and they kissed for real this time.
Caspian held Edmund's face in his hands like he was afraid he would break, and Edmund gripped Caspian's collar like a lifeline,
and the kiss was everything they needed it to be: a half-made promise wrapped in a lot of hope, backed by conversations in torchlit tunnels and one to three years of longing.
When they broke apart, they looked at each other, mouths half-parted in wonder and surprise.
"I suppose we can tell her we've made up," Edmund said, breaking the intensity for a moment.
Caspian's laugh at that sounded like it had been trapped in his chest for too long. He leant down and pressed his smiling lips to Edmund's again.
"I'm sorry I said all that," Edmund said, more seriously. "I was just afraid of telling you the truth."
"What truth?" Caspian asked with a small grin.
"That I've been wanting to do that since I saw you tackle a soldier off a horse in battle that one time."
Caspian shook his head, smiling. "We will need to talk about what this is, but for now, we must tell Lucy we are now on good terms."
"Very good terms, in fact," Edmund said, kissing him again.
The next few weeks were some of the happiest of Edmund's life. Between the battles and new islands to explore, he and Caspian would sneak off together whenever they could.
They found spots where no one came, the space behind the food rations, the galley at night when the cook had gone to bed, and - when truly desperate - the lowest levels of the ship.
Edmund was feeling better than ever, more confident, less in his head.
"Good morning, Drinian," he said when he ran into the captain one morning, hair slightly mussed and Caspian's scent on his skin.
"Might I have a word, Your Majesty?" he asked.
Edmund sobered. "Is everything alright?"
Drinian pulled him aside. "Your Majesty," he began. "You know I have a lot of respect for you, however, I am concerned that your relationship with Caspian may do more harm than good."
Edmund blinked, he thought that no one had noticed. "What do you mean?"
"I am not blind," he said dryly. "I know what happens on my ship. And normally, I would not disapprove, Caspian seems very happy.
However, I understand that you and your siblings never stay for long."
There it was again: the ticking clock that swung above their heads like a hypnotist's prop.
"I am merely concerned for Caspian's heart at your departure," Drinian finished.
Edmund nodded but didn't know how to respond. "Thank you for being frank with me, Drinian. The problem has been on my mind and I am grateful Caspian has around him those who care about him."
And with his diplomatic phrases at an end, he quickly took his leave with a nod to Drinian.
He had just made his way to the bow when Caspian appeared. "Good morning, darling," he said quietly, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek.
Edmund looked around the still mostly empty deck. "Someone could have seen that," he hissed.
Caspian shrugged and smiled at the bright blue horizon.
"You're in a good mood," he commented, joining him at the railing.
"So were you, two minutes ago," Caspian said.
He looked at Edmund. "What is it?"
"Nothing." It really was nothing; if they worried about Edmund's eventual departure, they would ruin their time together.
So Edmund smiled at Caspian, a real, soft smile that he hoped expressed everything he could not say.
Then came Ramandu's Island. Throughout their conversation with Lillandil, Ramandu's daughter, Edmund noticed the way Caspian looked at her and felt a slight twinge of jealousy.
Once their objective was clear and they had cast off again, Caspian pulled Edmund aside.
"I know you're cross with me," he began.
"I'm not cross with you," Edmund said.
"Well, I'd be cross if you looked at Lillandil like I did," Caspian countered.
"I'm not cross," Edmund repeated. "I quite like her really. I think you should take her up on her offer to go to Narnia with you."
"What? But she was clearly implying -"
"Yes, I know what she was implying -"
"Do you want me to marry her, Ed?" Caspian's question was quiet, but that did not take away from its bluntness.
"You could do worse," Edmund shrugged. "She's pretty, well-spoken, has friends in high places..."
"I don't understand." His eyes were almost too much for Edmund to handle. "I care about you, Ed, and I don't want to marry a woman I only just met, I -" He sighed. "I lo -"
"I'll be going back soon," Edmund exclaimed, panic rising at the almost declaration. "I don't want you putting all your hopes on me when we both know I'm not going to be here much longer.
I'm only suggesting you make plans for the future. You will need to marry and provide heirs and you were clearly attracted to her, so -"
"Is this jealousy then?" Caspian asked, who had looked at Edmund nearly dumbstruck has he spoke.
"No," Edmund said. "It's me being realistic and a good advisor. I'm not saying her specifically, but someone. Someone you can get along with, someone you can trust."
He sighed and pressed his palms to his eyes. "I was hoping we could just bask in ignorant bliss until the very end, but..."
Caspian laughed. "That doesn't sound like us."
Edmund looked at him and smiled. "No, you're right. It doesn't."
So while the last couple days aboard the Dawn Treader were not quite as filled with secret smiles and sneaking into dark corners, the understanding between them was like a sturdy,
but no less soft mattress - not as decadent as a plushy surface but much more practical.
Side by side in the rowboat, arms straining with the oars, Caspian and Edmund rowed closer and closer to their goodbye.
They walked up the smooth beach towards the towering wave, Aslan's presence blanketing them comfortingly.
And they did not ask if Edmund could stay, for they knew the answer.
"This is our last time here, isn't it?" Lucy asked tearfully.
Edmund's hand grasped Caspian's without turning his head.
"Yes, child," Aslan's sweet, deep voice rumbled.
Too soon, it was time for goodbyes. Edmund threw his arms around Caspian, kissing the corner of his mouth quickly as he passed. Caspian held him close. "I love you," he whispered.
The words didn't scare Edmund this time. "I love you too." They pulled away, the sturdy understanding in their eyes.
Edmund led Lucy and Eustace toward the opening in the water. Only once they were inside did he turn back.
As the water closed over the entrance, he took his last look at Caspian, who stood tall at Aslan's side.
When they finally left their Aunt and Uncle's, Lucy and Edmund had one last look at the painting. After having been on the real thing, it seemed to have lost its magic.
Or perhaps that was simply because it was no longer a door to Narnia.
Among all the regrets and wishes that piled up in Edmund, a prominent one was that he would never get to see the king Caspian would become.
He would have been very happy to know that his favourite Caspian - thriving, happily exploring new islands - became the Caspian known to history: Caspian the Seafarer.