Edmund has always been a bit off, unlike the rest of his impeccable, beautifully-developed family.
Where Peter is a brilliant golden boy, tall, broad-shouldered, handsome, and just plainly good, Edmund is not.
Girls do not giggle when he walks by or glance over shoulders at him with reddened cheeks and shy smiles.
Boys do not clap him on the shoulder in passing greeting or crow over various athletic victories with him.
And neither is he charming and popular like Susan, with her large, clear eyes and glossy, dark hair, nor simply adored like sweet, determined Lucy.
Some people happen to be outsiders in their homes and Edmund is one of them.
And sometimes Edmund does things he should not.
Edmund does a lot of things he should not. He's always been a bit of the black sheep of the family, that one.
He smoked a cigarette before, enamored with the romance of its innate physicality, the simultaneous consciousness and unconsciousness of release marked by wisps of smoke, glowing redly behind ashen decay.
He's sitting hidden among thick trees with this boy, a boy he likely shouldn't be with, a boy with a wicked smile and wicked, dark eyes. A wicked laugh, too — low and mocking, with a delicious quality that leaves Edmund angling for more. He leans in unconsciously, until they're close, very close, but the boy still doesn't pull back, only grins.
"Try it," the boy says.
Edmund takes the proffered cigarette without thinking, trying to imitate the easy way he's seen it held between fingers. Actually smoking it is an entirely different matter, and he ends up choking, bent over with watery eyes.
He does stay hunched over longer than necessary when the boy pats his back sympathetically, especially when the boy pauses and slowly lets his hand drop to linger on the small of Edmund's back.
They're so close, with only half a breath between them, engulfed in a haze of tenuous intimacy.
"Hello there," one murmurs.
Someone once warned him about the dangers of smoking.
"You don't know where it will lead," they had warned, “this gateway,”
and maybe it is, this heady sensitivity that if he just leans forwards, he will know the taste of smoke on another boy's lips.
So, yes, he kisses him, a tentative brush of chapped lips, but still softer than anything he's ever known, and they're soon tangled in each other, fingers curled in the scratchy wool of their jumpers, tugging each other closer, even as their noses bump awkwardly and their teeth click in boyish exploration.
But the other boy is the one who breaks away first, gasping for air, still pulling Edmund close.
"Why, Edmund," he says, grinning despite the distinctly breathless quality of his voice. "And I thought you were a decent boy."
They last longer than Edmund ever expected, sustained by glances across crowded rooms, by lingering brushes where neither pulls away for a second too long, by heady, stolen moments behind trees and doors, tangled up in each other.
Edmund’s fingers may begin innocently in his lap, but they will end up curled in the hair above the nape of the boy’s neck, and every time, he is surprised by the softness hidden in a boy known for his sharpness.
And he is surprised by the gentleness of how the boy’s hands rest on his hips and the sweetness of how he licks into his mouth when contrasted against the roughness of how the boy will push him down onto the bed and the way the boy will shy away from his eyes.
But when Edmund looks down from his perch on a window sill, the boy kneeling between his long legs, wicked smile and dark eyes distorted and hazy with strands of something he can not quite define, or rather, does not want to name — a quiet almost-desperation that bleeds through the boy’s bittersweet adoration, lacking all of the sly, cynical callousness that only the young and unknowing exposed to what they can not yet understand have, this cynical callousness that usually characterizes the boy — he looks and he sees and he knows and he understands.
He sees that this boy is afraid and utterly lost, and that this boy will grow and achieve the construct of success with a loving wife and sweet children, and he will have great, even glorious moments, and he will live, and he will be happy, but he will not be content.
And when he dies, he will die as someone he was not.
Edmund knows — he knows this boy and he knows how this story will end.