Chapter 3: In which things are remembered
Peter coughed and sputtered as he crawled onto the cave floor, safe at last from the crocodile. Looking up, he saw a most strange sight, eerily familiar. Two forget-me-not blue eyes peered imperiously down at him from the shadowed, towering form above.
Something twisted uncomfortably inside Peter's mind, and a flicker of recognition passed suddenly through him. "Captain...?" he murmured, voice gone soft with half-memories. "Captain... something... I know you, Captain... pirate... Captain..."
"Hook, boy!" growled the menacing figure, brandishing the metal claw that still managed to gleam dully in the dim light. "Your memory truly is as wretched as she said." Tones of disgust and disbelief mingled in the resonant, cultured voice. After a moment, he reached down to lift the boy up, hook beneath the soft flesh of the chin, left hand clamped firmly on the golden arm. He confiscated the boy's dagger in a swift, practiced motion. With a rather ungentlemanly snort, he commented, "It's a good thing I aborted my flamboyant demise after all."
A sudden desperate lightness filled the boy's eyes, and the words spilled out of him. "It's you! You're not gone! We can still play and have our battles!"
Hook raised an eyebrow, the metal pressing more firmly into Peter's throat, cutting off the spray of words. "I would have thought it a cold day in hell before you missed me, boy."
Peter's mouth compressed, and he looked down suddenly. "Lonely," he whispered, his words clipped. "Tink...mad at me. Gone."
Hook stared at him. Loneliness? From the golden boy of Neverland?
"I told you, Captain," came the cool voice from far behind him, echoing off the cave walls, "he is on the cusp from all his visiting of the mortal world. The seeds are blossoming - now is the time. The memory spell can only counteract so much, after all."
"I admit I had my doubts, madame," Hook called back, leveling a considering look at the boy. "But clearly, I should not have." He grabbed Peter's right arm with his left hand, and began dragging him forward. "Come, boy, you have an appointment with a very clever lady."
Peter struggled briefly - a token effort, really - and his curiosity soon got the better of him as they moved deeper into the dank cave. "Who is she? What's she do that's so clever? Is she as clever as me?"
Hook cast a sharp glance at the boy, who was beginning to bounce ever so slightly in his eagerness. Peter seemed thoroughly unbothered that he was being hauled into a rather intimidating dark abyss by his mortal enemy. He seemed, rather, to simply be pleased at the company. "Remarkable," Hook muttered.
After several turns, they stopped in a chamber whose oppressive darkness was barely relieved by glowing lichen upon the dripping walls.
Peter laughed. "What a fantastic hiding place! They'd never find me here!"
"Who, boy?" asked Hook.
Peter's face fell in a wave of confusion. "Friends? Mermaids… no, other children, my friends...we play hide-and-go-seek sometimes. I think. They have names..."
Hook growled sharply, "They're gone, boy." His words came sudden and swift, almost pulled from him. "Just like everyone else who has left you. No fairies. No mermaids." His voice dropped low, cruelly intimate. "No friends."
It was Peter's turn to stare, eyes glistening suddenly.
Ah yes, Hook recognized the feel of those whispers in his mind - this was the beginning of his part in the workings with the witch, probably due to the spell on the clear-gemmed ring he now wore. He let the coldness weave through his voice, let the smooth, silky words flow. "There is no one, Peter," he breathed, "who cares about you."
Despair, gray and vile, choked Peter, weighed him down as surely as metal chains. He could not draw breath with the weight of it.
A sudden memory blazed in him, straightened him, let him gasp out, "Wendy cares about me!"
"Does she now?" Hook cocked a disdainful eyebrow. "And where is dear Wendy?"
Silence came from Peter then. His eyes closed suddenly, and wetness streaked onto his cheek.
Hook's voice was cold, precise, uncaring as the black depths of the sea. "You are alone, Peter."
A small muffled sob burst from Peter then, a failed attempt at bravery. He tried to pull away from Hook in his misery, but Hook's grip was firm. Desperation vibrated through the boy.
But suddenly, the human contact of the captain registered, however rough that contact may have been. "You...you're here with me."
A small smile twisted Hook's lips, satisfaction pumping through his veins. "Yes, I suppose I am, aren't I? For now."
The boy stepped closer to him, raising his right hand to touch the strong arm that held his, clearly preferring Hook's familiar harsh presence to no presence at all.
Hook switched his grip suddenly, placing his left hand gruffly around the boy's neck, drawing him close enough to wrap his right arm across the boy's chest, with the hook conveniently in the boy's line of sight.
Peter struggled, small cries escaping him as he twisted fiercely against the captain, his hands scrabbling against Hook's arms.
"Now, now," said Hook, drawing the smooth metal of the claw to press against the boy's still-wet cheek, "enough of that. There's no one," he whispered, "no one to care if I marred that pretty face of yours, and my hook could be feeling...spirited."
Peter froze, Hook's words slicing more deeply than the claw could. No one to care? No, there was no one, no one at all...Tink didn't care anymore, and there had never been anyone else, or had there? He couldn't remember anyone... Despair swirled again within him, clenching his belly, making it so hard to breathe.
With a soft gasp, Peter turned abruptly away from the hook, burying his face against the bend of the captain's right arm. Muffled words came as hoarse whispers, a piteous chant. "No one...no one...no one..."
As Peter was firmly pressed against him, Hook was overcome by a most peculiar feeling. Assuming it was another part of the witch's spell (and she had warned him such things might occur), he did not fight it and allowed his left hand to raise from the boy's neck and rest gently atop Peter's head.
"No one," murmured the captain, his voice deep, "but me, Peter."
Peter's hands raised suddenly to wind about the captain's arms. Hook quickly ascertained that it wasn't an attempt to escape, but rather a seeking of comfort from touch. Most…novel. A not unpleasant warmth filled Hook's chest as Peter's small body shook silently against his.
Ah, it was exactly as the witch had predicted! So obvious - how had he missed it all these years? But then, he was no witch, after all, to see such things, to know such things. Though he had been getting close with that last encounter before the crocodile, reminding Peter that Wendy would leave him. Well, before the girl gave him that accursed "thimble". Now, there was a clever little thing...pity he hadn't been able to entice her to join the crew. Still, the boy was a fine prize in his own right. A very fine prize, indeed.
Hook marveled for a moment at the boy, who had been for so long a fearsome adversary. He barely came up to Hook's chest, and he had been so very easy, in the end, to take down. So vulnerable, if only one knew where to press.
"I see you've brought our guest, captain." The witch was suddenly there, a chill presence standing serenely next to the captain and his quivering bundle. "Excellent - we have much work to do, and time is short."
"What is wrong with him, madame?" Hook meant his question to be merely inquisitive, but it came out as something more. Concern, almost. Certainly something he hadn't felt in some time for another human besides himself. Hook closed his eyes briefly. Well, at least the witch had warned him. As sacrifices went, this one was fairly pleasant. He simply hoped it wouldn't interfere with his pirating.
The witch made a derisive noise, as she placed a clear gem in her hand and closed her eyes. "The memory spell has been cleaning up his mind for so long, striving to retain that crucial innocence. Idiot fairies. They should know better than to try to make a mortal child fey. They had to expect it to collapse some time." She paused. "Though I suppose they might have had something else prepared to transition him when it did." She spared an almost sympathetic glance for the boy. "Though perhaps not - fairies aren't known for their long-term planning." She closed her eyes again, sinking back into her work. "Fortunately, I'll have something in place for him shortly, if all goes well."
Hook looked again at Peter, his breath catching. The boy was a heap against the dank ground, huddled into a corner in fetal position, body compressed into as small a space as it could, eyes searching in the semi-darkness, but never resting. Blood trickled from his nose. Soft whimpers and moans rattled through the boy, pathetic cries of anguish. He had begun to scrape his hands across the rough surface of the floor again.
Hook could not keep his silence. "What could he have experienced that could cause such...imbalance were it remembered?"
The witch opened her eyes briefly, and regarded the captain. "Have you ever lost someone, captain?"
"Of course," he replied. "Haven't we all?"
She continued to look at him calmly. "Do you remember the pain of that first loss when it was fresh? What it felt like to know that wound in that moment?" Her voice began to build into the cadence of a litany, a storyteller's lilt wending and weaving. "Do you remember," she breathed, "the stab of anguish, the weight of despair? The crazed desire to do something - anything - everything? Do you remember," she whispered, her words thrumming with intent, "the helplessness, the fear, and the betrayal? Do you remember what it is like," her voice was so low that it seemed to resonate with the very stone of the walls, "to have no defenses - none at all - for these feelings inside of you?"
Hook nodded, grimly silent, muted memories of his own replaying painfully in his mind.
"Peter has lost so many during his time here, captain." She closed her eyes and resumed her concentration on the gem in her hand. Her voice was gentle as she continued, "He is remembering them all now, as if it is the first time for them all."
Hook turned to stare at the boy in a fine shock of empathy. It was…harrowing to witness. Each cry, each sob and shudder seemed to produce an echo in Hook's own body, a ripping torture of feeling. At last, swallowing once, he spoke. "I would not wish this upon my worst enemy."
"Not now, you wouldn't," replied the witch softly, her fingers absently trailing to the clear gems along her throat. "But it is what it is. Enjoy this part of your revenge, pirate captain."
Hook snarled at her, eyes flashing. "I cannot enjoy this...this atrocity, madame. What kind of monster do you think me?"
A small smile creased her lips. "As I said, you are the very sort of man I have been looking for. But give me a moment, captain - once I complete this, we can end the boy's suffering." She gave him a considering look of approval. "And yours."
Hook flushed, but held his peace.
She began to sing, low and throaty and haunting, strange sibilant syllables, harsh and hissing, that made shivers of some unidentifiable emotion run along Hook's spine.
The boy's sudden moans sliced through Hook's thoughts, causing his breath to hitch. He couldn't just let the boy sit there all alone, not like this.
He approached Peter, extending a hand to touch the boy's shoulder. "Peter," he called softly.
Peter cried out, curling away from the touch like a wounded animal. A hoarse, sobbing chant issued from the boy, "Alonealonealonealone..." It trailed off in a despairing gasp.
Hook paused, uncertainty flooding him. He had never been good at comfort. Helplessness clenched his jaw - but then he felt a pulse from the ring on his ring finger. It was an urge, light but directive. Well, if witchery could help this situation, he would gladly take it. His chest ached with a most unpleasant sensation as he watched Peter.
He moved closer to the boy, sitting next to the small form. He was close enough to feel the spare warmth from Peter's body, but not yet touching. "Peter," he called again, his voice deep, calm as the sea.
Peter's breath halted for a moment, then resumed its thready pace. He was listening, though still shaking uncontrollably.
"Ah, boy, what have we done?" Hook murmured.
With a sudden inspiration, he wrapped his arms around Peter and placed the boy into his lap, holding him tight as Peter fought in a frenzied panic. He held the boy close enough to feel the wild heartbeat pumping so furiously in the young chest.
"Peter," he whispered, "I am here." His voice was so low, more a soothing rumble than something audible. "I am here, Peter. I am with you. I will not leave you."
Peter froze suddenly. A moment stretched between boy and man, as the man hoped with an intensity he had not felt in a long, long time.
With a sudden low wail, Peter buried himself in Hook's chest, the hot wetness of his tears coating Hook's skin.
Not quite how I had imagined seeing Pan's tears, thought Hook, a thread of wryness permeating what he recognized, after a moment, as abject relief. A most curious lightness filled his chest as he stroked the back of Peter's head while the boy sobbed into him. Holding Peter to him, he murmured into the boy's hair, "I am here, Peter. I am here."
Under Hook's touch, Peter quieted and the rhythm of his breathing softened, became more regular. Hook remained sitting, lost in his own thoughts, feeling the tempo of his enemy's heartbeat against him, beating so strong, that enemy - that boy - sleeping so trustingly in his arms.
Him, of all people.
A peace settled over him that he hadn't known in a very long time. The fates were very strange indeed.
"Captain," called a voice of frost and ice, "we are ready."
Hook jolted awake, his sudden movement startling Peter into alertness.
"The boy is needed here," said the witch. "Now."
Panic tightened every muscle on Peter's body. "Don't leave me, please don't leave me!" His words were rushed, frantic, piteous, his hands clinging tightly to the captain's arms.
The words came from Hook's mouth before he could think. "We'll go together, my boy."
And with that, they stood together and walked towards the witch, Peter's right hand wrapped tightly around the captain's left. A most peculiar feeling filled Hook - like possessiveness, but warmer, fuller. He pondered it as they approached.
The web shown bright against the wall by the witch, a luminous weaving with strange stones and feathers and shells embedded in it.
The cave rumbled ominously, threatening.
"The land responds, captain. We must begin."
Peter turned to Hook, a look of pleading on his face. "I'm scared," he whispered, high and fast, his whole body shuddering. "Don't leave me here." His grip tightened fiercely around the man's hand. "Please don't leave me here."
Moved by some unfamiliar notion, Hook lowered himself to his knees to face Peter, his left hand a strong warmth on the boy's shoulder. "Peter, my lad," he said, his voice soft with a curious warmth, "you are the bravest boy I have ever known." He gave a gentle squeeze to the boy's shoulder. "The bravest. Do this thing - and I know you can, my boy, because you have done so very many brave things - do this thing, and I promise, on my honor as a gentleman, that we will leave this place together. I swear I will take you with me."
Peter's eyes locked on Hook's, and neither breathed for a moment as the cave walls shook around them.
"On your honor," said Peter, his voice tight with the need to believe.
"Yes," replied Hook, "I swear it."
With sudden decision, Peter turned to look at the witch, who stood so serenely by her web in the midst of land's quaking . Her eyes glowed a strange icy-blue, the color of snow that has been frozen for a very long time. In a liquid motion, she held out a set of battered wooden panpipes to Peter, so familiar and full of memory. "Play your pipes," she intoned in a voice thrumming with the power of winter, "Play them, Peter Pan, and think of Neverland."
Peter looked once more at the captain, who was still on his knees, waiting and watching. Something in his eyes eased the shuddering in Peter's core, made the ache lessen, dissipate. Peter took the pipes from the witch.
As Peter played, a green-gold light built around him, shot through with streaks of deep angry crimson, like instabilities.
"There, you see," murmured the witch to the captain. "I was right. Idiot fairies."
Hook raised an eyebrow, and inclined his head in agreement.
Peter, immersed in his playing, was oblivious to their exchange. As he continued, the green-gold light with its crimson cracks coalesced into a golden sphere floating at his chest, overlaid with his heart, brightening and dimming in time with his heartbeat. It suddenly detached itself, causing Peter to inhale sharply and cease his playing. The sphere shot towards the witch's luminous web, and with a sizzling shower of sparks, it embedded itself in the clear gem at the center, humming and pulsing.
The witch walked toward the web and pressed her body against it, chest at the height of the web's center. The light began to pulse, to shift, becoming a solid milky white that gently glowed with a steady thrum. The witch gasped suddenly, arching her back, and then the light was gone.
The cave ceased its volatile shaking as if it had never been doing such a thing in the first place.
In the back of Peter's mind, there was a half-heard sound of mourning, as if a thousand fairies were suddenly crying out all at once, and then were silenced. Peter moved back towards Hook, feeling stronger, less hollow as he approached the man.
The witch turned around, smiling at them both. Her skin and hair had blanched to the same milky white as the light had been, and the echoes of Neverland's power thundered in her voice. "Perfect, captain. It has gone just as I hoped it would."
"And this, madame?" Hook said, glancing down at the boy who had begun to shiver, but who nonetheless stood straight and tall and brave, waiting for the captain's will.
"This will go well if you are the man I believe you to be, captain. Take your boy. Leave this place. Neverland obeys me now, and I have no wish to delay you in your leaving."
Peter turned to him, shoulders squared, hope cresting in his eyes. "Can I go with you now?" The trembling overtook him for a moment. "Please," he whispered.
Hook drew the boy close to him, until both hand and hook rested gently on the boy's shoulders. He looked at Peter with what he realized was paternal feeling (wonders truly would never cease), and smiled, a small, wry, thoroughly roguish sort of smile. "Have you ever wanted," he said at last, "to be a pirate, me hearty?"
A sudden sparkle appeared in those boyish eyes, a look Hook had feared never to see again. "Yes," said Peter, an echoing smile appearing on his face, bright as a sunrise.
"Then, my boy," said Hook, standing up, "come with me. And we will have such adventures together, they will write stories of us forever."
"I like the sound of forever," laughed Peter softly, the simple golden sound rising gently from his hoarse throat.
Peter's laughter evinced an answering warmth from the captain, a novelty that filled Hook with such lightness, all he could do was laugh with the boy. And with Peter's shoulders tucked snugly beneath Hook's left arm, man and boy walked together from the chamber of the witch.
Thanks so much to my readers for your lovely, encouraging comments! This concludes this snapshot-story, and thanks again to Enola for the original inspiration for it.
Reference: "...were suddenly crying out all at once, and then were silenced" - purloined shamelessly from Star Wars