The last thing Terence would have expected would be to fall in love again, least of all with one of his old-time friends.
When he'd first met Lucy Pevensie, he found her a sweet, charming girl, and he grew to love her like a sister. They would tease one another like any typical brother and sister, yet there was always an atmosphere of caring between them.
Terence didn't know what happened; it just…happened.
When Lucy grew and matured into a beautiful young woman, somehow he found himself seeing her differently. He began to notice her beauty and femininity, and something about her roused his heart, in a way it hadn't been roused since his time with his former love, Rhiella. Terence's heart was still tender from the first loss, and he'd thought for the longest time that he could never love another girl the way he used to love (and still loved) Rhiella.
While his attraction to Lucy wasn't nearly as intense, it was an attraction nonetheless.
Perhaps, the white-haired boy thought, just perhaps Lucy was the one to restore his belief in love, to bring light back into his life, to put his broken heart together again.
More than once, Terence made an honest attempt to tell Lucy aloud just how he felt about her, but for some reason his courage always failed him at the last second. He would end up saying something entirely different, or he would say nothing at all, or he would simply walk away without Lucy ever knowing he was there in the first place. Terence didn't know what was the matter with him, why he should be so afraid. He and Lucy had been the dearest of friends for ages; at any rate, they'd surely learned by this time to trust each other, to be honest with each other. But Terence was afraid—more afraid than anyone could imagine.
He feared to offend Lucy, to have her laugh in his face or deem him crazy. Worst of all, he feared that she would reject him, that she would not reciprocate his tender feelings.
Losing Rhiella was already painful enough by itself. Terence didn't think he could endure that kind of pain a second time.
One day, Terence decided that now was as good a time as any to tell Lucy the truth. He couldn't take the suspense anymore. So he wasted no time in seeking her out.
It took almost an hour to find her, but when he finally did, he had only gotten so far as calling out Lucy's name before the girl rushed up to him at once, clearly in an excited state.
"Oh, Terence," she cried, "I can't believe it! I simply cannot believe it!"
"What's wrong?" Terence asked, concern immediately gripping his heart. "Is…is everything all right, Lucy?"
"Wrong?" She repeated the word like it was foreign to her. "All right? Everything is more than all right, Terence!"
"What's going on?"
"Tumnus came to me today, and told me that he loved me!" Lucy's face shone with a brightness that rivaled the sun as she said this.
Terence stared at her, unsure of whether he'd heard correctly. "Excuse me?"
"It happened this morning, while I was out in the garden," Lucy explained. "I was alone, then Tumnus approached me out of the blue. We talked for a time, and then, quite unexpectedly, he took my hands in his, knelt down in the grass in front of me, and confessed—in a most beautiful, most sincere manner—that he loved me. Oh, Terence, you would not believe how long I've waited, how much I've hoped and prayed to hear those lovely words from his own lips. It sounds crazy, but I love him, too. I always have; I was only afraid to let it show."
At that moment, Terence felt his whole world stop turning, all time come to a halt. He stood like a statue on the spot, unable to move or speak.
"Oh, I am too happy!" Lucy went on rapturously, her lovely brown eyes brimming with moisture. "My greatest wishes are all realized; my very fondest dream has come true!"
At the same time, Terence felt his own dreams, wishes, and hopes begin to crumble. It felt as though his heart had plummeted to the floor and shattered into a thousand pieces. He wanted to weep, he wanted to scream; but he couldn't make a sound, and no tears granted him the relief of falling. Furthermore, he couldn't ruin this special moment for Lucy, couldn't spoil her happiness with his own selfishness.
So he forced himself to smile, and managed to say in a reasonably steady voice, "That's wonderful, Lucy."
"Do you really think so?" She looked at him eagerly.
He nodded mildly. "You know, I always did have that feeling you two were meant for each other. This confirms my suspicions."
"Oh, Terence!" Lucy didn't hesitate to throw herself at him, nearly knocking him off balance, hugging him tightly round the neck.
Slowly, somewhat awkwardly, he returned the embrace. But the embrace felt empty because he knew this was not about him and Lucy, as he had originally expected.
He felt sick inside, and somehow abandoned, as if a door had slammed in his face, leaving him in the cold.
Lucy was lost to him, and irretrievably so.
Now that he knew the truth of her feelings, now that he knew who her heart belonged to, there was no way he could tell her of his own desire for her. There was no way either she or Tumnus could ever know.
When Lucy's arms loosened their grip, she gazed up at Terence again, with a more serious expression this time, and said earnestly, "I hope this changes nothing between you and me."
"Of course not," said Terence, fighting to not let his true emotions show. "I understand perfectly, Lucy. I just want you to be happy, you and Tumnus both…whatever you decide."
She smiled again, looking extremely touched. "Oh, thank you, Terence," was all she said, and then she turned away, leaving him to himself.
Terence wanted to call after her, to beg her to not go, to tell her he loved her and that he refused to give her up. But he held his tongue, and he stayed his hand as well.
~ * ~
Later, Terence lay on his four-poster bed in his private chambers, even though night had not yet fallen. The youth lay on his back, his eyes fixed on the canopy of the bed but not really seeing it. Presently, he rolled onto his side, so that he was now facing the wall. So, he thought morosely to himself, that was it, then. It was over, before it even began.
It was as though someone had flipped a coin between him and Tumnus, and he was the loser.
First Rhiella…and now this.
Terence didn't think it was possible to have his heart broken a second time, but broken it was, indeed.
The pain and grief that enveloped him were beyond description. It felt as if his insides had turned to ice, while his chest felt like a white-hot knife had been thrust directly through it. He felt inexplicably weary, as if someone had opened a spigot in him and drained him. He felt like he was choking, like he had been swimming underwater too long and he couldn't get to the surface. He felt like he was going to be dreadfully ill, there and then.
Whoever had said there was no greater pain in the world than that of a broken heart, Terence wholly agreed with him.
Terence closed his eyes, shutting out the world, trying vainly to forget everybody and everything. Presently, a familiar voice addressed him.
Terence knew it to be Tumnus's voice. Sure enough, when he opened his eyes and looked the other way, the young faun stood by his bed, watching him intently.
"Hello, Tumnus." Terence's own voice sounded foreign to his ears.
"I thought I'd find you here," Tumnus said as he moved in closer and joined his companion on the bedspread.
Very slowly, Terence raised himself to a sitting position. "What do you want from me, mate?"
"I just want to talk, if that's all right with you."
Tumnus hesitated for a moment, looking uneasy. He averted his gaze from Terence's, his fingers toying absently with the fringe of his scarf.
"Well," said the faun, speaking very slowly, "I never told you this…in fact, I never told anyone…but it concerns Lucy and me. This is going to sound crazy, but I swear that it's the truth. You see, Terence, Lucy and I are…"
"I know," Terence cut him off quietly. "Lucy already told me."
Immediately Tumnus looked up again, looking genuinely surprised. "Oh, she did?"
"Yes, she did. Just this morning, in fact. She said that you two are now an official couple."
Tumnus hesitated, as if something he wanted desperately to ask, but was afraid to, hovered on his tongue. "And…you have no objection?" he managed to say at last. "To us being together, as we are?"
"What objection could I possibly have?" was all Terence could find to say.
"You're not angry?"
"Why should I be angry?"
Terence could swear he saw a flicker of hope in Tumnus's china-blue eyes as the faun went on, "It truly doesn't bother you that Lucy and I are involved with each other like this?"
Of course, it bothered Terence. It bothered him tremendously. He loved Lucy, too, and Tumnus was taking her away from him. But he could never tell Tumnus that, so the boy merely replied, "If you and Lucy honestly feel you belong together, who am I to hold you back? I respect your decision, Tumnus. If you feel you need my blessing, you already have it."
The biggest smile in the world spread over Tumnus's face. Terence had never seen his mate look so…aglow. "Do you mean it?" Tumnus asked eagerly.
"Since when do I say things I don't mean?"
The next thing Terence knew, Tumnus had him engulfed in his arms. "Oh, Terence—thank you!" Tumnus cried exuberantly. "I knew you would understand! I just knew you would!"
Terence said no more. He allowed himself to be hugged, but he felt an unbearable weight press down on him until he could hardly breathe. His throat and eyes were on fire, and he prayed with all his might that he wouldn't break down in Tumnus's presence. When Tumnus finally let him go and all but leaped off the bed and danced out of the room, Terence buried his face in his hands and groaned.
What was he going to do?
He couldn't deny that he still loved Lucy, even now. Despite knowing the truth about her and Tumnus, his heart continued to yearn for her. But he also knew that he couldn't force the girl into anything.
He couldn't make her love him.
She was a person, not a piece of property; she deserved to be free. As badly as Terence wanted her, he couldn't be selfish.
And then there was Tumnus—his very best friend in Narnia, and one of his very few friends besides. The faun had been there when Terence had no one else. Throughout his life, Terence had essentially been on his own. He could scarcely imagine what he'd do if he didn't have Tumnus. More than a friend, Tumnus was his brother. He trusted Terence. Terence would sooner slit his own throat than betray such a trust.
Terence considered leaving the Cair altogether, but dismissed the idea as quickly as it had struck him. He couldn't possibly leave. Lucy and Tumnus would raise hell to find him, and besides, where would he go? The Cair was his home; he had no other. Furthermore, only a coward would run away. No…the only logical thing to do was to simply deal with it. Terence had to accept the pure, simple fact that Lucy was in love with Tumnus, and not in love with him.
If her decision hurt him, he'd just have to bear the pain with as much grace and dignity as possible. After all, he was not the one who mattered in this situation.
Very slowly, Terence lifted his face from his hands once more, as the finality of his decision sank in and the shattered remains of his heart were silently locked away.
Yes, the youth thought dismally, it was the only way.
He would not meddle in Tumnus and Lucy's affairs. He wasn't going to try to stop them, or stand in their way. He would keep his silence and never drop a hint to them, or to anyone.
It was among the hardest things he'd ever had to do in his life…but it was the right thing to do.
~ * ~
As the weeks went by, Terence stayed well clear of both Tumnus and Lucy. He feared that if he got too close to either of them, he would do or say something that would betray his true feelings and destroy everything. More than once, the boy was compelled to literally bite his tongue. Every now and again, however, he would catch sight of Lucy and Tumnus together, holding hands or embracing warmly, or simply smiling at one another, their affection as plain as the broad daylight. Sometimes it made Terence sick to his stomach.
Terence began to spend more of his time at the Cair by himself. The other residents were lucky to see him at meals, though Terence never had much of an appetite anymore; mostly he just sat there and poked at his food. Every day, he looked a little thinner, a little paler, his dull eyes growing ever duller. He never smiled anymore, or made his usual jokes anymore.
On the whole, the youth acted as if life were suddenly extremely serious business and he wasn't allowed to be happy or have fun anymore, as if joy and gaiety were something taboo.
The others grew very concerned for him, including the soldiers, along with King Edmund and Queen Susan. Even King Peter noticed the change in Terence's disposition.
The Beavers were especially worried. Once, when Beaver and Terence crossed one another's paths in one of the corridors, Beaver called, "Hoy, there, Terence—what's eating you, boy?"
"Nothing," Terence lied, deliberately looking away from his small, fur-covered companion.
"Oh, come on, mate, what's wrong?" Beaver persisted. "Whatever it is, you can tell me."
"It's nothing, Beaver. I'm fine."
"You don't look 'fine' to me, mate. You look like you haven't got a friend in the world."
"Really, Beaver, I'm all right. Don't worry about me." Even as he spoke these words, hot tears pooled in Terence's eyes and a fist-sized lump settled in his throat. Ashamed to be seen crying like a child, the youth turned and hurried away, in spite of Beaver's calls for him to come back.
Not so much later, he stumbled upon Beaver's wife, Mrs. Beaver. "Terence, dear, are you all right?" Mrs. Beaver asked very gently, regarding him with motherly concern.
"Of course, Mrs. Beaver. I've never been better in my life."
Mrs. Beaver didn't seem to buy it. "Are you sure you feel all right, dear? You're looking a little ill to me. Haven't you been eating or sleeping well?"
"Don't worry, Mrs. Beaver. All is well. I'm well enough off." With that, Terence walked away from her, too, before any further questions could be asked.
Mrs. Beaver didn't try to stop him or persuade him to stay, but there was sorrow and heartfelt pity in her beady black eyes as she watched the poor boy leave.
~ * ~
Finally, one day, while Terence was pining in his room, slumped down in his special chair next to the fireplace (even though no fire was alight), there was an unexpected knock on his door. Terence tried to ignore the sound, but whoever was there seemed insistent. When he could resist no longer, the young man sighed and arose wearily to his feet.
To his genuine surprise, Tumnus himself stood there when he drew the door aside. Lucy was with him.
"Tumnus? Lucy? What are you doing here?" Seeing their faces, Terence asked tentatively, "What's wrong?"
"That's what we would like to know, Terence," said Tumnus, rather curtly. He was the first to brush past Terence and enter the room; he didn't even wait for Terence to give his consent. Lucy did likewise.
"Nothing is wrong," Terence said as he closed the door again.
"Oh, no?" Tumnus folded his arms as he gave Terence that look, the look that clearly said: "Do I look that stupid to you?"
Now Lucy stepped in. "You've been ignoring us for nearly a month, Terence," the girl said, sounding a little angry herself, and deeply hurt.
"No," Terence didn't hesitate to object. "I've just—" He faltered.
"You've just, what?" Tumnus demanded, arms still crossed over his chest.
Vainly, Terence attempted to push his long, thick white bangs out of his face. At length he managed to say, "I've just been giving you two space, that's all. You know, breathing room."
"Did we ask for breathing room?"
With a long, tremulous sigh, Terence merely closed his eyes and hid them within one hand. "Please, Tumnus…I…I don't want to fight with you."
Maybe it was the sorrowful tone of his voice, or his stance; or maybe Tumnus and Lucy could sense that something had been eating away at Terence's soul these last few weeks; or it could have been the pure, simple fact that neither of them could stay mad at him, because the faun and the girl's countenances quickly began to soften, like the sun softening the snow. Lucy ended up being the one to advance on him.
Terence didn't shy away when she touched his shoulder, but he didn't look up, either.
"Terence," Lucy said quietly. "Please, talk to us. We know there's a problem. Won't you tell us what it is?"
"What have I done, mate?" asked Tumnus. "What has Lucy done?"
Now Terence did raise his head, and he gave Tumnus a look that was almost amused. "Neither of you have done anything wrong," he assured the faun, while in his heart he added, Except fall in love.
"So you avoid us like the plague, for no particular reason at all."
Terence recoiled at Tumnus's words, as though the faun had brandished a whip at him. "No," the boy protested feebly, "that's not it…"
"Well, what is it, then?"
"I…I…" Once again Terence trailed off into nothingness, not having the heart to lie to his friends, but not having the heart to tell them the truth, either.
Tumnus just shook his head, clearly disappointed, and muttered, "That's what I thought."
His face flushing red-hot with embarrassment and shame, Terence closed his eyes once again and bowed his head abjectly to his chest. "Forgive me."
After another long moment, Lucy asked, "Don't you care about us anymore, Terence? About any of us?"
"Oh, Lucy, of course I do," said Terence softly, stung by her insinuation. "You all mean the whole world to me. What reason would I have to suddenly stop caring about you?"
"Well, you've certainly acted very differently," Lucy countered, "ever since Tumnus and I—" The young queen stopped in mid-sentence as it dawned on her.
Immediately Terence felt the blood drain from his face and his heart drop to the soles of his boots. From their friend's stricken expression, Lucy and Tumnus now realized the truth.
A dead silence filled the room. No one knew what to say.
When Terence could move again, he numbly made way for his chair by the hearth and sank into it one more time. With his elbows resting atop his knees, he buried his face in his hands. Tumnus and Lucy only stayed where they were and watched him, their faces a jumble of emotions. Ultimately, Tumnus went to him first. Squatting down on his haunches alongside the chair, the faun asked in a low voice, "Is that what this is all about, Terence? My relationship with Lucy?"
Terence saw no reason to keep up the charade anymore. "Yes," was all he mumbled into his palms, sounding defeated and tragic.
He readied himself for the tongue-lashing, the ostracism from both his friends that was certain to follow. But instead, he felt a light touch on his shoulder, and Tumnus asked as softly as ever, "Why didn't you tell us before?"
Slowly, Terence withdrew his hands and turned to his mate, and his face was a study in grief. Visible pain was evident in every handsome feature. In a voice that was almost too quiet to be heard, even for Tumnus's sharp ears, the poor boy replied, "Because you were both so happy, mate. I couldn't spoil it for either of you. I didn't want to get in your way."
Tumnus merely stared at him, while Lucy echoed incredulously, "In our way?"
Dredging up the words from that deep, dark well of despair inside him, Terence said resignedly, "I'm going to let you two go."
"Let us go?" Tumnus repeated the words like they were alien. "Just what do you mean by that?"
"Now that you and Lucy have each other, there's no need for me to linger any longer." Terence shook his head. "I've thought long and hard about this, Tumnus…and I've decided that it's the best thing for us all."
"How can that be the 'best thing for us all'?" Lucy demanded.
"I'll only serve as a stumbling block, Lucy. You don't need me to hinder you, and neither does Tumnus."
"Have Lucy and I ever considered you a hindrance before?"
"Of course not, Tumnus. You have always been the sweetest friends anyone could have asked for. These last few years I've spent with you have been among the best of my life, and I wouldn't trade them for all the gold in Calormen. But this is different. Your paths have taken a new turn. You have a dream, something very special and beautiful going on…and I can't be a part of it." It almost killed Terence to say this out loud, but he knew it was the only solution to this problem. The boy could feel his throat burning, new tears pooling up in his eyes, as he whispered, "It's time for you to move on, friends. And I'm not going to hold you back."
A long moment of silence followed this speech. Both Tumnus and Lucy looked positively dumbfounded. Tumnus remained where he was on the floor, while Lucy stood like a statue.
But their shock was only temporary, and soon their eyes were glistening with tears as well.
Unable to stay there any longer, unable to abide the pain that was engulfing them all like a tidal wave, Terence stood up once more.
"I guess this is it, then," he said, when neither the girl nor the faun raised any objection. "I love you both, and I'll never forget you. Be good to one another. May you be happy in the life you have chosen."
With that, he very slowly and very sorrowfully made his way for the door. He didn't look back.
However, before the man had quite left the premises, Tumnus was suddenly on his feet and after him. No sooner had Terence begun to drag the door aside than Tumnus's hand was on it, slamming it shut yet again. Needless to say, this took Terence quite aback. He could only stare at the faun in disbelief, who stared back at him, his hand still pressed against the door.
"No," Tumnus said when he could speak. "No, Terence."
"I won't let you do this."
"Neither will I," spoke up Lucy, finding her tongue again at that very moment.
When Terence attempted to speak himself, Tumnus cut him off. "We're not letting you go, mate. We—we can't." The faun's voice caught at that last bit.
"Please, Terence," Lucy implored, as a solitary tear slid down her cheek, "we don't want you to go. We need you."
Terence could scarcely believe what he was hearing. His emotions were all in a confused mix, and he didn't even know whether the tears that were leaking onto his own face were those of sorrow or joy.
Placing his hands on either side of Terence's face, Tumnus looked the boy gravely in the eye and told him, "You're no less valuable to me than Lucy is. You're my brother, Terence. I love you…and I will never leave you. Please don't leave me. My dream—my very life—would not be complete without you in it."
Before Terence could say anything, Tumnus was hugging him very tightly, like he had no intention of releasing him. The faun's face dropped against his neck, and Terence felt the warm wetness of his tears.
This completely shattered Terence, and the youth felt himself go entirely limp in the faun's arms. Had Tumnus not been there, Terence would most likely have ended up flat on the floor. Almost without realizing it, the boy's arms snaked around the faun and clung fiercely to him in return. His own forehead came to rest against his beloved mate's neck, just under Tumnus's goatee, while his fingers curled tightly in the fur that streaked Tumnus's back.
They remained that way for what must have been ages, weeping together without the least bit of restraint; it was impossible to tell whose tears were whose.
At length, Lucy joined them. Without a word, she wrapped Terence and Tumnus in her arms and held fast to them both, her tears mingling with theirs.
It was unknown how long the weeping and embracing and fondling lasted. But when it was finally over, when at last the three friends had relinquished their hold on one another, Terence felt quite drained, yet strangely refreshed, as if washed by a cool, pure rain. When Lucy fished out her handkerchief, she remarked, "I highly doubt this thing will be of much use to us."
Tumnus only laughed thickly at that, while Terence smiled for the first time in a month.
After they had dried their tears, Terence said to his companions with a serious expression, "I'm sorry, Tumnus. I'm sorry, Lucy. I'm sorry I was…well, the way I was."
Tumnus squeezed his shoulder gently. "We're sorry, too, mate."
Lucy merely nodded.
"Do you forgive me?"
"Only if you forgive us in exchange," said the faun softly. "We didn't mean to exclude you, to make you feel like you no longer mattered to us."
"Tumnus and I wouldn't stay together," Lucy added on gravely, "if it meant losing you and your friendship."
Terence could see that she meant it, and the knowledge overwhelmed him and left him feeling humble. A part of him was yet disappointed that she preferred Tumnus to him, but the greater part was glad and grateful that the girl still cared about him, that she still wanted him in her life. While the pain hadn't gone completely away, it was no longer as potent as it had been a moment ago.
At a loss for words, Terence could only hug Lucy, and she willingly hugged him back. When they drew apart later, he smiled at her, and she was glad to see that it was genuine, without the taint of sadness from before.
Already, he was beginning to look like his old self again.
"Now, come with us," said Tumnus. "We'll all have a spot of tea together. We'll have those special ginger cakes with sugar on top, and I just so happen to have a few sardines handy."
"You look like you could use some nourishment," Lucy added, noting Terence's thinness and paleness.
"All right," Terence agreed. It only began to occur to the boy how ravenously hungry he was. "I suppose I could join you—if you have sardines," he said, with a meaningful look at Tumnus.
Tumnus grinned at his mate, and promised him, "By the bucketload."