Let Me Be Me
Thank Heaven for little girls, Hook thought in amusement as he waited patiently in the brush. He decided once and for all that he liked Wendy Darling, and that Peter Pan had done him an immense favor by bringing her to Neverland to act the part of a mother. If he could, he'd try to not kill her in his quest to eliminate Pan, but he wasn't making any promises. Before Wendy's arrival, getting to Peter had been nearly impossible. Pan and his Lost Boys had been feral, living only for the moment and their next big adventure. Coming across them unawares on the island was unheard of, and they never kept to any predictable routine. Once they'd pegged the pirates as mortal enemies, it had been nearly impossible to capture any of them.
But now… Hook smiled evilly to himself as he thought about how different it was now, since Wendy came. The headstrong mother hen had changed Pan and his boys more than she realized (more than Pan himself realized, else he'd never stand for it). Hook figured that Tinker Bell saw the change, and that's why the pixie disliked the little girl so much. No, Wendy had taken charge the moment she arrived, bringing her rules and ideals, coercing the hapless boys into conforming to them.
Rules and ideals – they were noble concepts and good things to have, but only if you knew when it was time to break the rules and throw your ideals out the window. If you couldn't adapt your sensibilities to the moment, you became a slave to those rules and ideals; you became vulnerable and predictable.
Peter Pan, the Eternal Youth, so-called Lord of Neverland, and nemesis of Captain James Hook, had become both vulnerable and predictable. And it was all thanks to Wendy Darling. Yes, he would have to spare her, so she could see just how much she had mattered to Pan once the boy was dead. Perhaps I'll leave her his heart and a nice bouquet of flowers….
She had instilled some of her ideals in the boys, giving them a moral and social compass they'd lacked. The boys had previously had a sense of right and wrong, and generally did what they thought was right – but they'd mostly done what they'd wanted to do without a care for anyone else. Life had been a game for them. But now they did what was right because Wendy said it was right and not because they felt it was so. That made Pan vulnerable. The boy always had had buttons that Hook could push, to goad him into reacting the way he wished, but the buttons had been difficult to find and generally changed from day to day. But now, they were easy to find and they were the same every time.
Wendy herself was his biggest vulnerability – capturing her as bait was a guaranteed way to lure Pan to him, and he came faster and worried more for her than for any other Lost Boy. She filled his head with ideas of what was proper and how one should act. They were lessons Pan frequently forgot, but he was quick to fall into line when she became vexed at him, so eager to maker her happy was he. And Wendy's naïve nobility was so easy to manipulate. She had too much faith in an adult's word, still believing that if a man swore as a gentleman, then by some magic it must be true. Pan knew better, he'd always known that adults lie faster and better than children; but once again, he deferred to Wendy in the end. Hook stifled a chuckle as he recalled some of the arguments between Wendy and Pan over whether to trust Hook's word. Pan always had the right of it in the start, but somehow the girl always managed to make him give in. She'd make a formable wife to some hapless man someday. Hook wouldn't be surprised if she managed to talk Peter into leaving with her and growing up, just so she could marry him and continue nagging him until she drove him into an early grave. Now that's a fun thought, Hook mused gleefully. It would be an excellent incentive to let him live, if I knew that would be his fate.
But it was Wendy's rules that were going to kill Peter Pan shortly. Like most housewives and mothers that Hook had known, she had a passion for cleanliness and order (passions which Hook shared). The boys were to be in bed at certain times and take their meals regularly. They took naps and had story times according to her schedule. It was odd that in a land that ignored the passage of time, there could live within it a child so ruled by the hands of a clock. Like all boys, Pan and his followers protested the rules and took glee in getting around them, but in the end they followed along to please the little mother. And today – well today was bath day.
The pirates had found this suspiciously convenient waterfall quite by accident, but then, they found most everything in Neverland by accident, so they hadn't been surprised. The scene seemed deliberately designed for bathing, yet it also appeared to be a natural creation (which also seemed normal for Neverland… just look at Hook island in Kid's Creek Bay). There was a small cliff with a small waterfall going over its edge, the flow being about ten feet high and three feet wide at the bottom. There was a wide rock at the base that a person could stand quite easily upon while letting the deluge pour over them – a perfect shower. A foot below the rock was a pool of water, but where it drained from there was a mystery since there were no surface outlets. It was a combination bath and shower, in a sunny area yet concealed on all sides below the cliff by thick hedges and brambles. If it hadn't been for Mullins coming upon it from above via the cliff, they never would have bothered forcing their way through the brush to discover this place.
It had been a few weeks ago when Mullins had come to Hook with this discovery, adding that a Lost Boy was using it as a bath. The pirates had crept here and watched as the boy finished and left, to be replaced not long after with another boy. Hook had decided to stay his hand until he had devised the best way to exploit this discovery. It presented a potential ambush site, and he didn't want to run them away from it by attacking half cocked.
The children's habits here were strange. They came on random days as a group, bathing in their swimming clothes together. The girl insisted that if nothing else, they use soap behind their ears before they left, and the rest of the so-called bath time was spent splashing and playing. But once a week, like clockwork, they came one at a time in the morning to take a proper bath. He'd observed their weekly ritual three times, and he still hadn't found what he wanted. The ambush would be perfect: each boy (except twins and Michael) came alone and took their time washing and drying, leaving them vulnerable; the sound of the waterfall would mask the approach of booted feet; and Hook knew that while one boy bathed, there were no others even within earshot of the pool. The only problem with the plan was Pan. He'd seen all the Lost Boys take their turns. They'd even been present when Wendy had bathed, though the men had all obligingly turned away from seeing the little girl nude. They came in the same order and at pretty much the same time of day. But Hook had yet to find Pan here. The boy had to wash – Wendy wouldn't allow him to get out of this, bath time being as ingrained a duty to her as bed time and meal time. The question was: when did he do it?
Hook glanced eastwards, noting the glow that preceded sunrise. They'd never come this early before, but Hook was determined to sit all day if they had to, to catch Peter Pan alone and unarmed. He himself was hidden in the brush nearest the waterfall, Mason and Jukes were atop the cliff, hidden with a net, while the rest of the crew were hiding at intervals around the pool, thereby surrounding the place and covering any exits. Even if the brat flew, which was likely, he'd find Johnny net waiting to embrace him. The trap was set; now they waited for the right prey to step within.
There was a slight rustle to Hook's left, and he heard Starkey murmur "He's here." The Captain looked up and grinned when he saw the brown-clad youth hovering over the pool.
"Steady, men," Hook murmured back, more to keep himself in check than his men. The plan was to wait until Pan was busy with his bath, when he'd be most likely to let his guard down. Then Hook would strike and the boy's death would be assured.
Peter alighted by the pool, stifling a yawn and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He hated bathing and using soap. To him, it seemed an awful waste of time to clean up when he was just going to get dirty again. He could be waking the early birds right now and racing them to be the first to catch a worm, but instead he had to stand under the cold water and scrub a week's worth of hard-earned dirt off his body.
The things one does for love, he thought wryly as he sat on a stump and began removing his boots. It was for Wendy he did this, for the girl that had become the mother his heart had missed for so long. He loved it when she smiled at him, knowing he'd pleased her. When she became cross at him, it filled him with fear that she'd leave – so he always tried to make her happy. Tinker Bell insisted that if he was going to bathe then he had to do it early in the morning, when both night and day creatures slept. Peter went along with her suggestion, since at that time everything was asleep and there was nothing to play with. Tink also said that it was wrong to look at someone naked and to let them see you naked, and Wendy agreed with her. Peter didn't know about things like that, but if those two agreed on anything, it must be true.
Peter untied his hair, running his fingers through the tangled knots. Wendy would brush it for him when she woke, which made washing his hair worth the effort. He'd sit at her feet while she worked on it, and for that time her attention would be completely his. It was nice, every once in a while, to sit back and let someone else take care of him, to comfort and love him. It was lonely being the leader all the time and being responsible for everyone else. Not that Peter would have it any other way… but sometimes to let go was nice.
With a final, resigned sigh, Peter pulled off his shirt, unclasped his belt and removed his shorts. He dashed to the pool and dove in, making a gigantic splash. The water was bitterly cold and he was instantly wide awake. He began swimming around briskly, warming himself with his exertions and having a bit of fun before he got down to business.
Hurry up, boy, Hook thought impatiently as Peter did laps around the pool. He was just deciding to invoke the contingency plan when the boy swam to the falls and pulled himself out of the water to stand on the rock. It was obvious that Pan was at ease: he never looked around, going straight for the cascade to stand under it, letting the water flow over him.
Hook smirked as he stared at the boy's bare backside, deciding that now was the time. He stepped confidently out of the brush, drawing his sword with a predatory gleam in his eye. As long as Peter stood on the rock, he was safely out of sword reach. That's why Hook had brought the net. He glanced up at the top of the short cliff and nodded to Mason, who hefted the net and prepared to cast it the instant he saw Pan. Ready at last, Hook stood at the edge of the pool and called out.
The rushing water was loud, but not so loud that it could mask the sound of Hook's voice. "Pan!" came the call, and Peter spun in surprise. He froze momentarily in shock when he saw Hook glaring at him, a cruel, triumphant smirk on his face. In an instant, Peter took in the situation: pirates ranged to either side, his clothes and dagger behind Hook by the stump, himself exposed and unarmed against five pirates. He reacted immediately, choosing flight over fight, and launched himself into the air. He didn't see that the men's mouths opened in shock and that Hook dropped his sword, nor did he hear the gasps and shocked expletives the men muttered. He strove for the freedom of the sky and cried out in denial when the netting fell over him. It wrapped around him, constricting his movements as he became entangled in it. He was falling then, and even as he realized this he splashed into the pool's cold water and sank.
Hook, stunned by what he'd beheld, stared helplessly as the youth leapt into the air. He saw the net cocoon the body, saw the child fall into the water and sink. But he stood and stared at the pool, confused, as the form below the surface struggled in its bonds.
"It couldn't be," he whispered, "there's no way!"
"Cap'n!" Mason yelled as he and Jukes scrambled down the cliff to join the rest of the crew. "You gonna let 'im drown?"
Hook blinked and shook himself as Mason's words registered. That couldn't be Pan. I have to know! With a growl, Hook threw his hat and coat to the side and dove into the water.
It was only eight feet to the bottom, not far to swim but plenty far enough to drown. In moments, Hook had reached the wriggling shroud. He could see the eyes wide with fear and desperation as small hands worked frantically, seeking the opening to the net. Hook snagged the ropes with his claw and surged towards the surface, towing the bundle with him. He found air and pulled the child's head out of the water, feeling a flush of relief when he heard the gasp of breath, followed by a hacking cough as small lungs sought equilibrium. Now to find out what in perdition is going on.
Peter took a deep breath to calm his coughing and tried to gather his thoughts to consider his options. It was hard, though; his every instinct was screaming at him to get away. He'd had numerous close calls with drowning in his life, and that wasn't even counting his dealings with the treacherous mermaids. But he was still shaken by this latest one. He forced himself to remain still, knowing that if Hook's strong arm released him, he'd sink again. He was too tangled in the net to be able to swim. So he let himself be pulled along as Hook swam for the shallows, and as soon as they were on dry land he began struggling to free himself of the man's embrace.
"Smee!" Hook yelled. "Fetch my cloak!" He held up the writhing bundle to examine his catch and verify what his eyes had shown him for an instant before. "Impossible," he breathed as he took in the child's body. He narrowed his eyes and glared. "Who are you, girl?"
Peter didn't know how to answer that. He was highly insulted, though, that Hook not only didn't remember him, but the man also had called him a girl. "Have you been drinking, Codfish?" Peter snapped in annoyance. "Let me go or I'll take your other hand!" He saw Hook's face darken in anger, then saw how the man's eyes traveled down his body again, staring at him in a way that made Peter uncomfortable. He flushed in embarrassment and looked away, only to realize with horror that all the pirates were gawking at him. "At least give me my clothes back, Captain," he mumbled, trying to cover himself in the net.
Hook dragged his eyes away from the naked girl in his grip and realized that his men were also staring at her. He yanked his cloak from Smee and hurriedly wrapped her in it, net and all, hiding her from their eyes. "Collect her clothes, you perverts!" he barked. "My apologies, miss," he said politely, looking back at the girl, "but you look a lot like Peter Pan. Can it be that you are his sister?" Hook was sure he'd have heard by now if the boy had any blood kin, but he found himself desperately praying that this was the answer to his mystery.
The bit of gratitude Peter had felt towards Hook for covering him evaporated, replaced by anger. "I'm not a girl!" he yelled, "I'm Peter Pan!"
Hook gave the girl an impatient shake. "Quit with this foolishness! We've seen you naked, and you are without a doubt a female. Not even the unluckiest bastard in the world would be cursed enough for me to make that mistake from this close up. Now who are you and where is Pan?" The girl stared at him in confusion, and it dawned on the man that perhaps she really believed that she actually was Peter Pan. Or perhaps by some witchery, this is Peter Pan…
"Mr. Jukes," Hook called, deciding that further investigation should be done back on board the ship. "Please fetch the chains, so that I can fit the lady with an ankle bracelet. I wish to set her down without worrying that she'll fly away."
"Would you STOP calling me a GIRL!" Peter yelled, tired of this stupid game. He struggled within the double envelope of net and cloak, desperate to get away. He had better things to do than hang around Codfish and be insulted. "I'm Peter Pan, the boy that never grew up, and I'll prove it!"
"Really?" Hook said with a smile. One way or another, he wished this mystery solved so he could find and kill Peter Pan. If this girl was hiding Pan, he'd disprove her claim and use her as bait for the real Pan. If she, somehow, was Peter Pan in feminine form… Hook really wanted to know. "Tell me, my dear, what proof do you have?"
"I'll fight you," Peter challenged. "Only I can beat you, and when I do you'll believe me."
Hook laughed and the other pirates heartily joined in. "I'll not fight a woman, much less a pre-pubescent girl! You'll have to do better than that."
Peter growled, "Why do you think I'm a girl? Have you gone blind?"
Before Hook could answer, Mason saw fit to chime in. "Ya ain't got the proper equipment ta be a man, lass."
"Equipment?" Peter echoed in confusion.
"If yer really Peter Pan," Mason continued, "surely ya've noticed you've got a piece of yerself missin'."
Peter's confusion shifted to worry. "A piece of myself? What piece? Where did it go?"
"Ya ain't got a …" Mason barked, but Hook cut him off with a snarl.
"Shut it!" Hook yelled, then turned back to stare at the bewildered prisoner. "Do you know what the difference between a boy and a girl is?"
Peter thought for a moment, "Well, Wendy's a girl and the Lost Boys are boys. You're a boy…"
Hook rolled his eyes and gave the girl a shake, "Do you know why Wendy's a girl?" Surely even Peter Pan isn't that naive.
"Because she's our mother. She likes to cook and take care of us. She wears a dress and picks flowers…"
"Physically!" Hook shouted. "What part of her body makes her different from, say, Nibs?"
"Under her clothes?" Peter asked hesitantly, taking a guess. Both Wendy and Nibs had two arms, two legs, heads, hair… all that stuff seemed to be the same.
"By Pew!" Hook sighed, trying not to get aggravated. He didn't want to have to explicitly say it in front of this girl. It was bad enough they'd beheld her naked, to have to discuss the male anatomy with her would make an inappropriate situation intolerable. "Yes, under her clothes and under his clothes, they are different."
"Really?" Peter breathed, fascinated and suddenly curious. He'd seen the boys without shirts, but not Wendy. And he'd never seen either completely uncovered. "How?"
Hook dropped the bundle in exasperation as his men fell to the ground in laughter. Peter landed on her rear, the cloak falling away from the netting to expose her again. She sat up and curled her legs under her, trying to hide from their laughter. "It's not funny," she sulked, hurt at being laughed at by pirates. First I nearly drown, then I'm Hook's prisoner. He calls me a girl and now they think I'm stupid because I don't understand! "I hate you!" Peter spat, her voice cracking as she fought to not cry from embarrassment.
Hook spun, remembering that tearful, angry voice shouting that same phrase long ago. Peter Pan had said that to him as he wept, believing two of his friends had been murdered – right before he cut off Hook's hand. He knelt by the girl and peered at her face intently, trying to ignore for a moment the evidence of her gender. The loose, wet hair was unfamiliar, but her face – the eyes, the mouth, the cocky, irritated smirk she was fixing him with. "Peter Pan," Hook whispered, "is that really you?"
He remembered something then, a clash with Pan where he had nearly finished the boy. He let his eyes fall upon her right forearm and beheld a long, white scar running down it nearly from elbow to wrist. It had faded with time, but still stood out against the tanned skin. He then pushed her down onto the ground, face-first, and stared in wonder at the scar that ran diagonal across her back, from her left shoulder blade to the small of her back on the right side.
Peter shuddered as the man's cold hook traced her scar on her back, memories of that painful day stirring in her mind. Fearfully, she tired to push herself up off of the ground, to get up and fly away, but Hook's hand was pressed against her shoulder, keeping her pinned.
"Marooner's rock," Hook said softly, his voice loud in the clearing as his men watched in surprised silence. "I clawed you twice, when you offered to help me up. I tasted your blood that day."
Peter shook, the memory becoming clear. It only emphasized how perilous her plight was right now. "You clawed my arm, and I dropped my knife. When I tried to pick it up, you clawed my back. Then you licked your hook, and said my blood was sweet, like honey. Then I heard the croc's tick, and you left me behind, hoping the croc would smell my blood and come for me. I almost drowned that day, too."
Gall and brimstone, this is Peter Pan! Hook realized, convinced at last. Shakily, he got to his feet and stepped back to retrieve his sword. He turned to Mullins, who was holding Pan's clothes. "Giver her those rags, then back away. All of you turn around and let her dress." Mullins complied, dropping the items, sans dagger, beside the prone body. When the men had their backs to them, Hook stood over the girl, sword at the ready. "Get up. I'm cutting the net and I want you to get dressed. If you float off the ground so much as an inch, or otherwise try to escape, I'll not hesitate to cleave you from fancy rail to rudder stock, be you boy or girl."
Peter nodded her agreement and breathed a sigh of relief when the net parted at Hook's cut and fell away. She hated being restrained in any way, hated not being in control of her body and freedom. She quickly began pulling her clothes back on, not caring that Hook was watching. When she was dressed once again, she felt safer, less exposed and vulnerable. She pulled on her boots, then tied her hair back again in her normal pony tail. Finished at last, she looked at Hook again and smirked. "Now what, Captain Codfish?"
Hook stared at the Peter Pan he remembered, seeing again the boy he hated instead of the compelling girl he'd captured. "Peter Pan," he breathed in relief, "allow me to invite you for a stay on my ship."
"I decline, thank you," Peter answered mockingly, giving a bow.
"I insist," Hook snapped, putting the tip of his blade to the youth's throat for emphasis. "Mr. Jukes, please fit Mistress Pan with her anklets so that we may return to the ship."
"Aye, Cap'n," Billy answered, kneeling beside Pan. He smiled at her sheepishly for a moment before he bent to snap the leg irons around her ankles. "Shall I give her the matching bracelets, Cap'n?"
"By all means," Hook answered with a chuckle, liking the irritation that blossomed in Pan's face at Billy's tease.
Billy grinned. He held up the second set of shackles and waited until Peter, after a warning growl from Hook, raised her hands and let Billy fasten the restraints around her wrists. "They look stunning on you, ma'am," he said, unable to help himself.
Peter turned red, "You are so dead, Billy Jukes."
Billy's smile broadened as he stepped back, "You're really pretty when you're angry, Miss Pan."
That was it for Peter. It was too many insults for her to bear, and above all else, she hated being laughed at by pirates. She screamed in rage and leapt at the grinning Jukes, ignoring the pain in her throat as she brushed past the tip of Hook's sword and it parted her skin. Billy barely even had time to realize what was happening before she slammed into him, knocking him to the ground. Peter sat on the boy's stomach, pinning him, as she seized him by the throat and squeezed. "I'm a BOY!" Peter yelled as she throttled him.
"Enough!" Hook roared as he yanked Peter off his gunner. The girl continued to struggle, shouting what sounded like curses in another language. Hook wrapped his arms around her chest and squeezed, cutting off her breath until she stilled. He released the pressure a bit and growled into her ear, "Do that again, Pan, and I will knock you out and drag you to my ship. Do you understand me?"
"Yes," Peter wheezed, trying to catch her breath.
Mullins had rushed to Billy when Pan attacked, and helped the boy sit up while Hook reigned in the furious prisoner. He was a bit confused to see that Billy was still grinning, despite the dark marks Peter's fingers had made on his neck. "Something funny, lad?" he muttered as he helped the gunner up.
"Just relieved, Robert," Billy muttered back, leaning over to glance at Peter. He saw blood running down her neck and gasped. "Cap'n! She's bleedin'!"
Hook frowned and set the girl down, then spun her around roughly to get a look at her. His heart skipped when he first beheld the blood on her neck and he frantically wiped at it in an effort to gauge the severity of the wound. Peter jerked away at the painful examination, but Hook merely pulled her back and continued. After a moment, the man shook his head and smiled. "A scratch, albeit a nasty one." He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and folded it, then pressed it against the wound. "Hold this here, Pe… Pan," Hook stumbled over her name. It didn't seem proper to call her 'Peter', that being a masculine name. "It will cease bleeding after awhile; hold it there until it does." He grimaced and stood again. "Enough dawdling! The next brat will be here soon, and I want to be well away by then. Time to escort the lady to our ship!"
Peter remained sullenly silent, still upset that these stupid grown-ups kept saying she was a girl. If they insist on addressing me that way, I'll simply ignore them until they stop. She kept the cloth pressed firmly against her throat, a bit alarmed by how red it had become already. She glared at Mullins as the man tied a stout rope around her waist, and was relieved when he didn't make any comments or look at her strangely like Billy had. Another moment later, Hook had the end of the rope and, with a slight tug to indicate she should walk, they began a rather quiet journey to the longboat.
A few times along the way, Peter felt a strange prickle at the nape of her neck and knew she was being stared at. Each time, when she looked around, she found that Billy Jukes was watching her from behind and to the left. After the fourth time, Peter rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue, hoping a bit of rudeness would make him stop. Billy only smiled more and winked in reply. Fine! Peter thought viciously, a bit more rudeness. She remembered a gesture she'd seen Mason give once, one that had terribly affronted Hook and that Wendy had forbidden them to copy (had even threatened to switch them for it, which had been alarming enough to get her point across). Very deliberately, Peter raised her bound hands and extended the middle finger of her right hand, glaring at Billy.
The pirates that saw this coughed and snorted, trying not to laugh and attract Hook's attention. Billy's eyes widened a moment, and then he nodded and looked away. He didn't want to get Peter angry again, for many reasons, and he realized he must have been upsetting her more that he'd thought. He glanced at Hook, but the man continued to walk at the head of the group with Smee, holding Pan's leash. Thank heaven he didn't see that, or he'd lash me for provoking her again and… Billy frowned, not sure how Hook would punish a girl. He shrugged when nothing came to mind and spent the remainder of the trek deliberately not looking at Pan. But that didn't stop him from thinking about her. She was, after all, the first girl he'd ever seen naked, which made today a very special day, indeed.