By the time she reached Neverland, Jane was cold and tired and soaked to the bone in freezing rain. She wouldn't be too surprised if she too got sick after this whole excursion. The wind whipped at her hair, burning her face and freezing her clothes to her skin. It hurt, she wouldn't deny that, but she harried on anyway.
As the clouds dispersed and the little island came into view, Jane's breath caught in her throat. She'd seen snippets of it in her dream, but she was no less surprised by the chaos that had been wrought. Everything, from the balmy wind to the brightest flower, seemed dead now. Or dying. The sea was frozen, great spikes of ice gripping at Hook's ship which still lay beached on its side in the shallows. The forest was black and frightening below her. The life had been sucked out of the land, leaving behind nothing but a shell of what it once was. Jane closed her eyes and bit her lip. This was awful; it was a nightmare. What had happened to cause this? Tinkerbell emerged from her pocket and Jane followed her to the boy's hideout. The jungle was deathly silent; even the beasts had gone still and it scared her.
Hangman's Tree sat snuggled in a little grove, tucked away so cleverly that it was nearly impossible to find if you did not know where to look for it. The only trace of its existence was a low hanging branch with a tattered noose swinging from its neck, the rest having been hidden away by a curtain of thick, mossy vines. She would have guessed this was Peter's doing, seeing as Hook had found it so easily before. The tree itself, which had always been rather distorted, seemed haunting now. Its limbs like reaching claws waiting for her, urging her into its grasp. Where once the sound of children's laughter had filled the grove, now only silence stifled the air. Where were the boys?
Her heart seized in her chest. Were they hurt too? Had Hook gotten to them as well?
Tinkerbell disappeared inside the twisted trunk and soon after a hidden door opened, revealing a dim light from within. Jane crawled into the opening, thankful that she was still small enough to fit and screamed as her hand slipped on the muddy roots. She slid headfirst down the hole, coming to land harshly at the bottom in a boneless heap. With a pained groan, she flipped onto her back and propped up on an elbow, rubbing her jaw. She'd hit something, she wasn't sure what but she was sure there would be a bruise there tomorrow. Looking around, she found herself in what she remembered was the main room. A few beds scattered here and there, a fireplace built into the tree's girth, a rickety table in the corner, and a couple of other doorways. It's looked relatively the same as the last time she was here and yet…different somehow. An enormous kettle was boiling over the fire. Wrinkling her nose at the noxious steam rolling out of it, Jane wondered what witch's brew the boys were concocting for supper, but once she took a look, she saw that it was only the washing. Unable to remember having ever seen a clean piece of linen on the premises, she found herself not so surprised at the smell.
She didn't see the boys, or Peter for that matter, which worried her. "Tinkerbell." She called out quietly, turning as she heard the familiar jingle from behind a looming bearskin. She pushed it aside and sighed in relief. There were the boys, curled up sleeping on the floor around Peter's bed. Tinkerbell sat by his head, her tiny arms wrapped around equally tiny legs as she stared at him.
Picking her way through the crowd of children lining the floor, Jane settled on the side of the mattress and removed the bag from her shoulder. She swept a hand over his forehead, and her breath hitched. His skin was close to molten and clammy with sweat and dirt. She lifted the blanket to see the outer edges of a makeshift bandage made of some type of plant. In the dim light, his entire side looked greasy wet with fresh blood. The bed was sticky with it and when Jane pulled the leaves aside, her stomach rolled violently. It had become infected, flaming red with spots of black and purple lining the edges of a puss swollen knot. Dread shivered through her with a coldness that was oppressing, and a vision of a sheet draped litter being taken to the brick morgue flashed through her mind. Angrily she pushed the thought away, rejecting the possibility, yet her lips moved in a silent fervent prayer. He groaned painfully when she brushed her fingers around it and flinched away. His shoulder wound, while smaller, was no better off.
"This is bad. I need to boil some water. Tink, get the boys out of here, they don't need to see this." Tinkerbell hesitated, unwilling to leave his side. Jane stood and scooped her up as well. "He'll be fine, Tink. But we have to hurry. If the infection spreads further, he will die."
She fairly flew out of the room while Tinkerbell worked at rousing the boys, and focused on finding a pot in the utter mess that had become their kitchen. She assumed it was a kitchen, there were cabinet sized holes carved into the tree wall, housing all manner of cutlery and dishes, all bent and worn from over use. There was a tub propped on a stool in the corner, where a wooden pipe stuck out of the wall to release a fresh flow of water. She wondered at the plumbing and who had built it. For such young boys, she would have thought it too advance for them. Did they have help somehow? There was even a rudimentarily built oven against the far wall, lined with brick and stone. It didn't make sense; these boys couldn't have been this architecturally advanced.
Finally, she found a wrought iron pot just as the first lost boy emerged from the room, though with her back turned, she didn't notice him until she heard a somewhat frightened voice.
Almost dropping the pot, she turned in surprise and smiled. It was Slightly, standing timidly by the door. His hood was down and his messy blonde locks fell into his watery blue eyes. He looked scared to death, with a weariness about him that should not be seen on any child. Jane put the pot down. "Hey. Long time no see, huh?"
Maybe it was the familiar ease with which she spoke, or the gentle tone in her voice, or the slight dimple in her smile. Whatever it was, recognition dawned on him. This woman, this grown-up, was Jane. Jane was back.
Relief, happiness, excitement, all seemed to cross his face at once and in three quick bounds, he had crossed the distance between them and thrown his arms around her waist. "Jane! You came back!"
This exclamation alerted the others who quickly filed into the room one after the other. And after the initial shock of her appearance wore off, she was tackled again by the mass that was her boys. Jane dropped to her knees, engulfing them in her arms and holding them tight while they cried. Shouts of 'We missed you', and 'I was so scared', and 'Something's wrong with Peter', echoed around her.
"I know." She said, pulling away. "I missed you too. And don't worry, I came to help. Peter will be fine. But for now, I need you to stay in here."
They pouted, some looking a little defiant at being torn from their leader. Jane stood and took the pot again. "I could really use your help. Think you could get some water boiling for me?"
It was Cubby who took it from her with a gleeful shout of, "I'll do it!"
This of course started a fight as every boy clambered to help. Jane put fingers to her lips and blew a shrill whistle until every eye was back on her. "One of you get the water going." She said authoritatively. "I also need clean linens, scissors or a knife, and something I can use for a light."
The boys seemed to stare at her in amazement. No one gave orders but Peter, and though she sounded like Peter, she most certainly was not Peter. But, Peter was sick, so did that mean she was the leader now?
When nobody moved, Jane snapped her fingers. "Well, c'mon! We have to hurry, he's very sick."
That sent them flying into motion, no questions asked. Jane sighed and smothered down a smile. Rolling up her sleeves, she hurried back into the room with her patient. As she entered, she set about pulling the dirtied blankets from the bed and left them in a heap on the floor. His pants, which seemed to be the only thing he was wearing, were filthy, coated in dirt and blood and who knew what else. Slightly, the eldest lost boy next to Peter himself, came in with a large pan of steaming water and a few towels draped over his arms. She quickly blocked the wound from him and he frowned.
"It's ok Jane. I already saw."
She hesitated, but he was trying to be brave and she had to commend him for it. Besides, she would need another pair of hands larger than her fae companion's. "Are you sure?"
He nodded and she pried the cloth away again. He paled and swallowed thickly upon seeing the wound but after closing his eyes for a few seconds, seemed to recover easily. Relief as well as no small amount of pride swelled within her at this. "Hand me those." She said pointing at the pair of scissors stuffed into his pocket. He did and she plucked at the hem of Peter's pants. It came away wet and sticky and she grimaced. "You think you might be able to round up a needle and thread to sew these britches back together if I cut open the seam?" She asked as he went to stand beside her. "It might tear the wound if I try to pull them down, and the infection will only fester if we leave them."
Slightly nodded. "I'll get it from the town if I have to."
Jane set about cutting the seam and paused in thought. "Town?"
"Hook built a town in Pirate's Cove a little after you left. It's filled with nothing but whores and other pirates." He told her, an acidic tone to his voice and she held back a gasp as his foul language. A town? She would have to check into it later, it was likely they had a doctor of their own. And where there's a doctor, there's medicine.
"Don't they have a doctor?" She asked turning back to her work. "Why wasn't he seen when this happened?"
Slightly hesitated in answering, pulling at one of the ears of his fox fur. "Children…lost boys aren't allowed. There's a law." He muttered. She glanced back. "A law?"
He stared at Peter's face and his lip trembled. He was one of the smarter of the younger boys, he knew how bad it had gotten, knew Peter needed help. "If we enter the town and are caught…" He paused, unsure if he should tell her. Would she be angry? Afraid?
Jane snapped her fingers, drawing his attention and said sharply. "Slightly, what is it? What is the law?"
"If we're caught, we'll be hanged." He whispered morbidly. Her movements froze and she turned to him.
"Hanged?" Surely it wasn't true. No one could be so cruel as to exile a group of children upon threat of death? But she remembered the madness in Hook's eyes, knew how he longed for Peter's demise, yearned for it even.
Slightly nodded. "Hook's word is law there. He named himself King."
Jane scoffed and turned back to her patient with a scowl. "I'll go then. I'm no child, they can't exile me."
"But you're a lost girl!" Slightly exclaimed.
She smiled at him. "But they don't know that." Hesitantly, he returned her grin with a grim smile of his own.
She finished cutting the seams and Slightly hastily threw a towel over his leader's bare midsection as she pulled the tattered breeches away, wanting to preserve the older boy's modesty as well as protecting his own naivety. Jane did not give it pause.
"I'll tend his side." She said, handing him a freshly soaked rag. "While you wash the dirt off him."
Slightly nodded, eager to be of assistance. Jane wrinkled her nose as she glanced briefly at the raw flesh of the injury. She placed a hand against Peter's neck, noting how high his fever was. She would have to put a poultice over the wound and draw out the infection. But first she needed to clean it. A tinkling sound caught her attention. Tinkerbell, who had stationed herself on his pillow, softly brushed her hands through his bangs. It was a pitiful sight.
"It's gonna be alright, Tink." Jane murmured distractedly as she gazed down at Peter. And occasional groan parted his lips, and at times his eyes would flicker open briefly as if he wandered through a mild delirium. There were dark circles beneath the thick lashes, and his face looked gaunt and ashen beneath the thin layer of filth that had accumulated there. Don't let him die. The prayer went through her mind over and over. Don't let him die.
Long into the night, they worked over him with only the murmur of an occasional word spoken between them, while in his stupor, Peter groaned and twisted away from the gentle hands that diligently cleaned and worked at his savaged flesh. The muscles jerked in his side as the pain seared through the boy, rousing him momentarily to awareness. He stared with fever-glazed eyes at the small woman bent over him as she stitched the skin back into place. Weakly, he raised his hand from the mattress, reaching out to touch her but the effort cost him much in strength and almost as quickly his arm fell back upon the bed and he retreated again into the soft, dark world of oblivion.
Worry drew her brows together. Jane bit her lip and wished she had some sort of sedative to ease his suffering. She glanced at her assistant, who'd been by her side faithfully throughout the night. He yawned, his eyes bloodshot and worn. But he was a brave little thing and diligent in his work. He slumped with his back against the mattress as he dropped the dirtied rag into the equally disgusting water. Wiping her hands on a towel, she ruffled his hair fondly. "You've been such a big help. Why don't you get some sleep?"
He looked like he might argue but she smiled reassuringly. "The danger is past now; all that's left is covering him up. Go on."
With a shaky nod, Slightly stood and shuffled towards the door where he paused momentarily to glance back at her. Biting his lip, he crossed the room again and hugged her tight, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. "I'm glad your back." He said quietly. She released a gentle sigh and held him close for a minute. These boys, as old as they were, were still so young. They needed guidance, someone to rely on, someone to take care of them. They needed Peter.
She watched him go, a tired smile tugging at her lips, then went back to work. She laid a poultice over the wound, and then bound it all tightly in order to press the ragged edges of the freshly stitched hole closer together. Once the balm had been applied, Peter rested more easily, having entered into a deep sleep that even her ministering could not disrupt. She moved to his arm, and pressed her fingers around the flaming edges. Thankfully, this wound was not near as bad as the other. It wasn't infected yet, only swollen and even seemed to be trying to heal. The bullet must have only grazed him then. It wouldn't need stitching but she did apply the balm and wrapped it tight.
She washed the dirt from his face and with his cheeks devoid of the grime he looked more like himself, making her suddenly and acutely conscious of his near nudity. And while she'd just about seen her fair share of naked men from working at the hospital, they weren't Peter Pan.
His bronze-hued skin glowed in the dim lamp light. He was so small, she thought, smaller than she remembered. Tiny little blemishes and scars littered his body, a lifetime of living solely in the jungle imprinted on his skin. Wide shoulders tapering to narrow hips and slender legs. He couldn't have been more than fourteen, fifteen at best, yet he bore the battle markings of a full grown soldier. She wondered as she laid a fresh sheet over him, if this wasn't the first major injury he'd sustained.
The thought disturbed her and seeing Tinkerbell sleeping peacefully by his ear, she left, seeking the cool night air and misting rain to calm her jittery nerves. It was a long time before the shaking in her fingers ceased and she was able sleep.