Children in Jungles
Part One of Three
by Alexandra Page
Wendy was lost in the jungle. Giant black panthers stalked quickly and loudly past on all the neatly intersecting muddy paths around her. The sun blazed overhead and she looked around for any sign of him – of them. For the first time, the lost boys were actually lost and she didn't even know where to start looking. She hoped he was with them. She hoped they were not prisoners of his (her) enemy. She closed her eyes and listened for Peter's crow or the firing of cannons from the Jolly Roger or even the singing of the mermaids. All she heard all around her were the noisy honks of automobiles. Automobiles...in Neverland?
Wendy was actually lost in the city of London. Unable to fully resurface from regretful, recurring daydreams, she wandered around the dirty streets looking for the Mannox house where she had been employed (to her parents' contentment) as a nanny for the two young Mannox children, Caleb and Anna. She supposed she was grateful to remain in a mothering position rather than attend finishing school with the rest of her female age-mates, on the great and eternal quest to find a suitable, well…suitor. She had seen the outside of the house briefly when she had come for the interview but then she'd lost the little slip of paper the address was written on. She had thought, at the time, that Tinkerbell had stolen it as revenge for leaving Neverland so abruptly and (no doubt) for leaving a broken-hearted Peter in her absence. In Wendy's experience, "Tink" seemed to be the type who was exceedingly capable of holding a grudge.
She wandered up a pretty street where flowers bloomed in all the window boxes. She didn't think it was the right street – it did not look familiar, but it was a lovely street and she wanted to walk it all the same. The scent of flowers soothed her and the calm of the neighborhood settled deeply into her frazzled nerves - one brief moment of lucidity in her broken-hearted, whirlwind, increasingly confused mind. She thought about leaving London altogether and stowing away on a ship headed out of the harbor at one of the nearby docks. Soon. That same night, maybe. She could dress as a man and she knew she had enough sailing experience that nobody would notice for a good long while.
Where, one might wonder, had such skills come from? From the short time she had been Red Handed Jill, a member of Captain Hook's crew. She frowned at the memory. It was bad enough that Peter had never come to talk her out of leaving (too deeply in grief, no doubt, and therefore beyond reproach), but the fact that Captain Hook had never come after her (for revenge, you know) was unfathomable to her. News had spread fast throughout Neverland that the infamous pirate captain had clawed his way out of the belly of the beast that swallowed him up and that he had swum to the nearest shore and disappeared into the tropical forest. It might have only been a rumor spread by Hook's drunken, dejected crew members in port but nobody seemed to doubt it. The Indians heard it from the Mermaids who said they'd seen him swim to shore. Because of the good favor gained by rescuing their princess, Tiger Lilly's tribe warned the Lost Boys as soon as they heard. At that point, Wendy had already made up her mind to go. Learning that Hook might still be alive was only further incentive to get out of Neverland as quickly as possible.
She had known for a long time that she would need to leave. She knew that Peter would never grow up if he felt like he had a mother around to take care of him. She couldn't have, at that time, begun to understand why it hurt her the way it did that they didn't see each other in the same light. She was on the verge of becoming a young woman and he was childish but he was also handsome, strong and brave and absolutely wonderful. She knew that she'd loved him almost immediately, from the first night that he flew into her room looking for his shadow. She didn't know until she was gone from the fantastical, imaginative mental trappings of Neverland that she had in fact been in love with him not long after they'd begun their adventures together.
She also left because she realized sagely at her young age that her brothers Michael and John had been left in her care and that she could not properly protect them from all of the dangers of Neverland. She was their sister, not their mother or their father. They already had parents (so did she) and it was about time they were all returned to them safely. Peter had refused to fly them back to London from Neverland. Tinkerbell had volunteered, smirking over at Wendy all the way. Wendy did not hate Tinkerbell because she knew now that Tinkerbell's very adult fay love for the boy was just as unrequited as her own (maybe more so) and she quietly pitied the pixie during their last flight together.
When she first arrived home (about two years ago, now), even though it had been her idea to come home at all, Wendy was inconsolable. Her brothers went about their business as if nothing at all had changed, glad to be back from a fun but tiring journey. They acclimated without difficulty back into London society because they were boys and boys were simply expected and raised to be adaptable and steadfast. Girls, on the other hand, were only expected to be dutiful. Being back was not the same for Wendy. She knew that time worked differently in Neverland and that much more time had passed there than had passed here in London. She also knew that the other girls her age would not be able to relate to her living with a bunch of young boys in a giant tree or sword fighting with pirates or being taunted by mermaids. It would all make incredibly awkward teatime conversation and Wendy shuddered at the thought of it. She needed companionship just like anybody else and if she had known that her own whim to follow Peter Pan would ultimately craft the doom of her social life, she might never have gone with him to begin with. To be alone as a child is not as bad – you always have your imagination to keep you company. Now, though, as she felt the more creative parts of her mind slipping away and adulthood loomed so very large, "alone" also seemed more frightening.
She suddenly had a strange feeling of déjà vu as the sun filtered over the roofs of the surrounding houses in a certain way and she looked up at the house number on the door closest to her: # 225. She looked up at the street sign two houses away: Thurman Lane. This was the Mannox house, then. She had stumbled across it by blind luck and she took a deep breath and steeled herself, climbing up the steps and knocking resolutely on the door.
A short, prim woman answered the door, looking her up and down unashamedly, barely keeping her distaste in check. She had thin lips and a sharp nose. Her eyes managed to be the most unwelcoming shade of heather Wendy had ever seen. Her dark hair hung stiffly in a braid down her back and she wore a long black skirt, stylish shoes and a dark red blouse with buttons all the way up and a high collar. Wendy got the distinct feeling that this woman was unaccustomed to associating with people from any social class lower than her own. While Wendy's family was relatively well to do, they still always seemed to fall just short of the upper echelons of London society. Hoping she had the wrong house, she quickly introduced herself. No such fortune.
"I thought you would be older," was all Mrs. Mannox said, showing her through the door. The house was stately and dark inside. There was not a speck of dust anywhere. Wendy saw no traces of life at all except for the Braid of Doom swinging back and fourth in front of her as Mrs. Mannox led her up the steps to the nursery. Wendy wondered at all the photos on the walls. They were all of older people - no photos of young children to be seen. This did not seem like a house where children lived. Wendy winced as she thought of her own parent's housekeeping and the fact that it too reflected a place where somebody only wished no children lived. Wendy knew that her mother loved her. Her father, she was not so sure about. Maybe it was enough that he seemed to genuinely enjoy having two boys. Maybe that was just the way things were everywhere.
"Here is the children's room," Mrs. Mannox said abruptly, startling Wendy so that she clutched at her chest. Mrs. Mannox sneered at her jumpiness and opened the door to the room. Wendy tried to peer around her but the older woman stood in the way, a shadow silhouetted in the light coming from Caleb and Anna's room. "I expect them to be fed, washed and ready for evening church services by six o'clock exactly." Wendy raised her eyebrows and nodded once to show that she understood (and also secretly disapproved). Mrs. Mannox seemed satisfied and floated down the hallway into the semi-darkness of hers and Mr. Mannox's wing of the second floor. Wendy thought to herself that Captain Hook would like this woman. The thought annoyed her so greatly and so unexpectedly that she forced herself to push it to the back of her mind. She walked into the children's room.
Caleb and Anna were standing solemnly by their beds as if awaiting orders. They both had dark hair like their mother and they looked up at her with a resignation in their eyes they were entirely too young to have. On the other hand, there was also a certain frankness to the way they were looking at her which made Wendy hopeful that they had some reserve of strength that helped them to cope with their mother. Caleb was about a foot taller than his little sister and Wendy knew from the interview that he was seven years old and Anna was six. Caleb was a handsome enough child and had sparkling blue eyes. He wore little grey trousers and a white shirt and brown vest. Anna's hair was long and curly, tied behind her head with a yellow ribbon. She looked miserable in an outfit that looked like a miniature version of the one her mother was wearing. Her eyes had no shine to them whatsoever and they were a considerably lighter shade of blue. Both the children were very pale and they looked ill. Wendy frowned and then, remembering that these were children, smiled at them warmly.
"Hello. My name is Wendy," she said, kneeling on the ground in front of them. They looked startled, clearly unused to adults coming down to their level to speak with them. Caleb looked suspicious but Anna just looked frightened. They both said hello timidly and Wendy continued to speak to them in an instinctively calm and soothing voice until they seemed to relax a little.
"I am new in this household," Wendy said conspiringly, "So I'll need both of you to show me the ropes and tell me where everything is, what time different chores are and the like. Can you help me?" she asked, knowing children loved to be helpful. Caleb took the initiative to tell her when they were to be awake in the morning, asleep at night and everything in between. All the while, Anna seemed to enjoy showing her where every single thing in the house was kept, to Wendy's amusement. They seemed to perk up significantly at the prospect of dinner and Wendy made them a stew with ingredients she found in the estate's well-stocked cupboards. After stew, Wendy made certain they were both washed and properly dressed for church services and, grudgingly, she attended the services with them and their mother.
This was the way of things for the next several months. Wendy would arrive at the Mannox house, help Caleb and Anna complete their schoolwork, feed them and prepare them for church services. She was quietly expected to attend services with them, although she detested it and also hated seeing the children sit through it while their mother sat there looking equally bored yet clearly determined to raise her children to be God fearing individuals. Wendy had already made up her own mind about right and wrong a long time ago. She feared pirates, giant crocodiles and spiteful pixies. It was, she thought, enough fear for one person. When she finally came home each evening from her work, she fell exhausted onto her old bed and gladly let sleep overtake her.
Near the end of autumn, it became clear (even to Mrs. Mannox) that to send Wendy home every evening through the dangerous London streets in the freezing cold just to have her return the next morning was both cruel and unusual. So, with the help of her father and her younger brother Michael, Wendy moved most of her belongings into one of the spare rooms in the Mannox house, on the second floor across from the children's room. Only Wendy's mother seemed sorry to see her go, insisting that she see her at least once a week for tea. Wendy agreed, knowing that soon once a week would become once every two weeks, once every three weeks and so on. Nobody expected Wendy to move back into her parent's house, ever. It might have felt liberating if it wasn't so very cold outside.
The children were thrilled - with a quiet dignity as befitted their wealthy station, of course. Over the summer and through the beginning of fall they had warmed considerably to her and now the three of them were quite happy and contented in each other's company. They had long since settled into a rhythm of sorts. In the evenings, the children's natural intuition told them that Wendy was just as bored during church services as they were and the three of them commiserated by making funny faces at each other as they sat together on the pew behind Mrs. Mannox and her high society, more feminine companions. Wendy always sat in the middle and Caleb and Anna would lean around in front of her to make faces at each other. Wendy was becoming very adept at not laughing aloud during the services. As they went about the other aspects of daily life, they begged her, as children do, to tell them stories. Being the storyteller, how could she refuse them?
The first time she told them a story about Neverland it was only because she had completely exhausted all her other stories. The children's ears, it seemed, were larger than her memory. She had not actually intended on telling them about Neverland at all - about Pan and his lost boys and Hook and the mermaids and everything else…but their eyes were so earnest as they listened and they were so fiercely loyal to her and to Peter when she talked about Captain Hook that it warmed her soul in spite of the warning in the back of her mind and she supposed it might not do any harm after all for them to know about her adventures. She even helped them draw a large map of the island one evening with bits of colored chalk and some oil pastels they had nicked from the children's father's office downstairs. The map was terribly off scale but it was still an attractive bit of work and so it was hung up with much ceremony across the top of the balcony's French doors, between the children's two small beds.
Things felt particularly peaceful whenever they had a day in the house without Mrs. Mannox lurking nearby to spoil their good humor. At first Wendy was worried that Mrs. Mannox might be sad that another woman was spending so much time with her children while she spent so little. It became increasingly evident over time that this was not the case. Even so, Wendy still felt a little guilty. The older woman was their mother, after all. Soon enough this small guilt gave way to joy as they began to prepare for the holidays in the Mannox household. Wendy helped Anna begin to make an entire family of corn husk dolls to decorate her side of the nursery and Caleb enthusiastically taught them how to carve a perfect Jack-O-Lantern using only a penknife and an old silver filigree spoon.
This is, in fact, how we see them now, through their bright little bedroom window as a light autumn drizzle falls. Wendy and Anna are putting the finishing touches on the hair of the youngest corn husk girl and Caleb is carving a jagged grin onto the biggest pumpkin he could find among the fruit and vegetable stands in the market place this morning. There is an easy grace about the way the three of them move around each other…a comfort level that would, in any other household in the city, suggest loving moments of bonding between a mother and her children.
She does not know. Because of how it felt to leave Peter and Neverland behind, Wendy has unknowingly set her mind against falling in love again anytime soon. And it is simply too late. She thinks that she cares for them as any other nanny would care for the children of the house. She thinks to herself smugly that Mrs. Mannox might see the way she is with them and learn something, even if unconsciously. She believes that she is still a stranger enough to Caleb and Anna that she will, one day, be able to leave without it breaking any of their hears. And she is wrong. She loves them deeply and they adore her. No thought in her head or belief in her heart can make it otherwise. This is why, in the dark of the following night, it will hit her so very hard when they are abruptly and quietly snatched away from her and this world.
The first snow started early the next morning. It unnerved Wendy, though she couldn't put her finger on why. She had woken up and seen it out the window in the glow of the lamp lights against the inky purple, pre-dawn sky. As soon as she realized that it was snow and not ashes from nearby chimneys, her heart started to race and she began to cry semi-hysterically, quickly muffling the noise with one of her lumpy goose feather pillows. Her heart clenched and unclenched and she felt like she was going to die. The snow was evil. It must be, to inspire this kind of fear in her. Yes, that was it. This was some sort of evil, otherworldly snow and nothing good would come of it. As soon as she had that thought, she hiccuped a small laugh and realized how insane it was. Snow was not evil. Nothing bad was going to happen. What was wrong with her? She had always been so excited about the first snow of the season as a child! Fondly remembering times she played with her brothers in the snow around their childhood home, Wendy was able to calm down enough to fall fitfully back to sleep for another couple of hours, curled up tightly around one of Anna's stuffed animals, with the quilt pulled up over her head.
Caleb and Anna had woken up at their normal time, despite their missing nanny's usual, gentle wake-up call. Upon seeing the fluffy white flakes all around through their window, they roused her from sleep immediately and, after a bit of hot eggs for breakfast followed by the considerable ordeal of bundling up, they had danced around in it by the fountain in the courtyard at the back of the house. Sufficiently distracted from her episode earlier that morning, Wendy made snow angels with Anna as soon as there was a decent dusting covering the ground. Caleb, ever the strategist, busied himself making small snowballs and storing them underneath a bench across the patio from the fountain. As soon as his silly sister and nanny were done making angels, there would be war. They laughed and played all afternoon.
As the sun began to set again, though, butterflies began to beat their wings inside Wendy's stomach and they did not stop. She dressed Caleb and Anna for church services and, miserably, the three of them followed Mrs. Mannox and her small band of tea party women through the dark London streets to their church in the small blizzard. They sat. They endured. They were too tired from the long day to bother making silly faces at each other. One of them would nod off and get prodded back to wakefulness by whichever of the other two noticed first. The service this evening was all about what a blessing children were. Wendy found herself becoming uncharacteristically irritable. She glared at the back of Mrs. Mannox's head and hugged the now sleeping Caleb and Anna to either side of her. They snuggled against her in their sleep. The wind wailed outside and hail tapped against the fragile stained glass windows.
During the entire walk back to their home, Wendy clutched the children's hands tightly and jumped a little at the smallest movement or noise in the otherwise quiet, snow-covered London streets. The wind had died down and the stars shone beautifully against the cleared sky but Wendy was not fooled. Others were walking back to their homes from the church too, talking amongst themselves calmly and smiling at one another. "What a lovely service that was," she heard them say to each other in passing. It was driving her mad. Could none of them feel that something was horribly wrong? The stars were shining, but they all looked to Wendy like they were in the wrong places. Everything was just a little bit off. It was strange. It would have made her wonder out of pure curiosity if it was not presently terrifying her. She shivered, sighed and followed Mrs. Mannox up the steps into the house with the little dark haired whelps in tow.
After Wendy tucked Caleb and Anna into their beds three times over with multiple blankets, she stalked around the house locking up all the doors and dragging various chairs and other small pieces of furniture in front of them. She didn't even have to explain herself to anyone, since Mrs. And Mr. Mannox had already retired. She also double-checked the latches that locked all the windows. She looked out every window she checked, taking note of what angle of the front and back yard and the surrounding streets she could see from each one. If anyone had said to her that it was all in vein, she would have slapped him.
As she made her way around the first floor of the house, determined to seal up the whole place, Caleb sat up in his bed upstairs in a sweat. The room felt unbearably hot to him. His and Anna's room was right above the kitchen and it always felt too hot to sleep over the winter months. Their mother had always forbidden them to go to sleep with the doors open, warning them that they would catch a chill and be dead by morning. He had always believed her. Don't children believe their mothers? Now, though, he felt sure that nothing would happen to either of them under nanny Wendy's watchful eye and that, if he was caught opening the door, she would defend him to his irate mother. He slipped quietly out of bed and reached behind their Neverland map, unlocking the doors and pushing them open a small bit for some cool air so that he could sleep.
When she returned to her own room, Wendy undressed and slid a white slip over her head. She brushed out her long, dirty blond hair and washed for bed. Not that she was going to sleep tonight. She most certainly was not. She sat down at the vanity in her guest bedroom and took out some paper and a pen, writing a short letter to her mother. She could not have said exactly what she thought was going to happen, but in case she disappeared tonight she wanted her mother to know how happy she'd been living here in the Mannox household with Caleb and Anna. In addition, if anything happened to her, she expected her mother to keep an eye out on them as they continued to grow up. She signed it "all my love, Wendy," folding it in thirds and placing it under a small blue bottle of perfume on the vanity. She sat for a moment, considering, and then penned several other letters of the same sort to each of her brothers, her father, Peter and even Captain James Hook. She spread them all out on the desk, her mother's included, with the names showing so that they could be easily sorted and found. She looked at them all laid out together and, despite her best efforts to maintain a useful level of adrenaline, felt a little calmer. She slipped into her bed with a children's book Caleb had lent her and a small silver dagger Pan himself had given her once. It was a beautiful weapon. There were three little garnet gemstones along the black hilt and the leather wrapping had many mysterious little puncture marks all over it. She had always wondered at that. Whatever their origin, the dagger was fastened securely to her ankle with the bit of yellow ribbon she usually tied Anna's hair back with.
It is difficult to determine exactly when she fell asleep - especially since she was fighting it so hard. It might be that she never actually fell asleep completely, drifting in and out of sleep and dreams. Wendy was standing on a dock by the edge of a small, unfamiliar sea village and a storm was brewing out on the ocean. There was a ship approaching and Wendy could see the silhouette of a man aboard. He nodded to her and she nodded back and felt glad that he was home. Caleb and Anna should have been standing with her at the dock, but they were not there. Where were they? She looked all around and, going white, spotted them floating lifelessly in the water near the edge of the dock. She heard someone screaming and didn't recognize her own voice until she sat bolt upright in her bed in London, letting out a strangled cry. She gasped for breath and her breathing became more regulated as she took in familiar, safe surroundings. She shivered in her bed and the hairs stood on the back of her neck as she realized there was a cold breeze snaking its way under her bedroom door, pushing the hair gently away from her face. There should not have been a breeze floating through such a safely locked house.
She sprung from her bed and stumbled across the hallway in blind panic, pushing through the children's door frantically. The sight before her would haunt her forever. Their two beds, messy with the covers pushed away, sat empty on either side of the balcony doors. She could see even in the semi-darkness of the room that they were gone. The darkness was tinted a ghoulish yellow green as light from the outside street lamps flickered gently through more falling snow. She ran to the balcony doors and yanked them open, breath catching in her throat as she began to imagine all the terrible things some burglar could be doing to her Anna and Caleb right then. She looked out into the London night and scanned the little walkways and alleys for any sign of the monster who had made off with her charges. All the streets were empty and the starry night was perfectly still. The stars were, in fact, particularly bright and mocking. Especially that one there to the left…and then it finally hit her. In slow, horrified motion, Wendy backed up a few steps from the doors and suddenly realized why she could see out the doors.
The Neverland map was gone. She looked slowly around the room, too stunned from disbelief to do anything but stare. Anna's coat was missing, and so was Caleb's knapsack, as well as their shoes and the two small wooden play swords Wendy had fashioned for them from scrap wood. In a cold sweat now, Wendy's eyes fell upon a small piece of parchment laying on Anna's writing desk. She approached it as though it might suddenly jump up and bite her. There on the paper in the ever-endearing penmanship of the conscientious little girl was the following message:
NANNY WENDY CALEB AND ME ARE GOING TWO PETERS HOUSE HES NOT A STRANGER BECAUSE YOU KNOW HIM AND YOU CAN COME TWO WE WILL ALL HAVE FUN - ALL MY LOVE ANNA
Wendy watched the paper float silently to the floor. There was a dim rushing in her ears, like water along the side of a ship. She stood and the room swayed. She felt hot and there were little fuzzy points of light moving all around her head. She swatted at them, making her way once again to the window. She looked into the sky and gasped to see that all the stars had gone out. She felt the vast expanse of space and time and knew full well how very far away she was from the children. It sunk into her bones and her heart like a chill. There was nothing but darkness. Everything in the room around her was being swallowed up by that darkness. "It must be the same thing that got all the stars," she mused. That was her last conscious thought before she fainted gracefully by the open window. It was too much for her, really. A new, powdery snowfall began to cover her hair in the lamplight, her silk dressing gown billowing lightly and perfectly as it fell with her, molding to her shape in the cold as she lay still. She looked like the very saddest of angels and this is exactly how Captain James Hook found her.
Captain Hook was a patient man. Nobody knew it except for Smee, but that still must count for something. So, two hours later when he was walking down the cobblestone road the Mannox house happened to be on, looking for signs of Pan, the tightly closed windows and doors did not frustrate him. He only needed to discover one opened window to determine where Pan had taken a child from tonight. He was hoping to discover some sort of pattern in the children Pan chose so that preventative measures could be developed or preemptive strikes taken against the fey child. He was beginning tonight, by arriving shortly after one went missing. It was too dangerous to confront the boy in person, stopping him from taking any child at all. A bloody fight would ensue. Innocent people in the city of London could be hurt. Not to mention, it would be rather disconcerting, he imagined, for all these other flightless mortals to suddenly look up and see two people flying around. Sword fighting no less -what a racket that would make! People did not recover quickly from sights and sounds such as these.
James sensed the open doors of the second story balcony before he looked up and saw them. He felt a chill as he pondered the simplicity of it all. Boy comes, boy lures, boy leaves with new plaything. Time worked much differently in Neverland. Sometimes when they were returned, it was apparent that the children's parents hadn't even known they were missing. Sometimes they did, though, and the reunions were of tearful relief. Even though Hook would never admit it to anyone, his heart hardened every time he saw it happen. He had been in this business for too long. It was meant to be punishment and it was. He had thought in the beginning that he had been lucky – that this assignment, in terms of punishment, had been lenient. However, he was starting to see how cruel it really was. The isolation was something he would never get used to. Also, despite the ruthless reputation he had gained throughout Neverland, it always felt counter-intuitive to him to bloody a child, no matter what kind of child it was. Mortal, fey…it made no difference. But that wasn't the worst part.
Captain Hook the pirate had nobody to be relieved to see alive again. Nobody to gather up in his arms after nights or mere hours of worry. No small, shining eyes to remind him of his own. Nobody to have a concern for, to wonder about, to be enraged on behalf of, to fight for…nobody to fight for. Nobody to live for. Nothing to fight for. Nothing to live for. "Old, alone and unloved," the familiar mantra ran through his mind. He did not even argue with himself about it anymore. It simply was. As he aged, it sounded like a prayer but still felt like damnation.
Hook floated lightly up to the second story balcony doors and stopped short. The children's mother seemed to have fainted in the doorway. Hook frowned and reached a hand down gingerly to brush the snow from the young woman's hair. As his fingers touched the first few strands of hair, his stomach flipped and he thought to himself "I know this woman." He shook himself, then, realizing this was highly unlikely and gathered her up, carrying her away from the window and laying her on one of the small beds. The fact that there were two small beds was highly disconcerting. Usually Pan only flew off with one child, leaving its siblings behind. In fact, he had not taken more children than that since…since the Darling children. He returned his attention to the girl on the bed. She was beautiful. And firm-she did not look like someone who had bore one child, much less two. She was also looking slightly bluish. Breathing, but only barely. Hook shut the windows and laid blankets over top of her. Then, his hands massaging the sleep out of his eyes, he sat down on the floor next to the bed and sighed. She would live. He would leave, return with the two children and finally have to endure the look of relief on her face as she pulled them to her chest.
Just then, a breeze snuck under the closed doors and swept Anna's note off the desk and onto the floor by Hook. He picked it up and read it. Then he dropped it, his mouth hanging wide open. Wendy. Nanny Wendy. Surely not…he turned and looked at her sleeping face. He looked more closely. His heart started beating wildly and he knew that it was her. "Wendy Moira Angela Darling," he whispered in a reverence that was alien to him.
He felt suddenly indignant that Pan had made off with Wendy's charges. Indignance turned to anger as he paced now around the room and soon it was coming off him in waves. He gnashed his teeth, he glared and he glowered into space, infuriated that the stupid boy had caused this girl any more harm than he already undoubtedly had. The color of his deep blue eyes had long since bled to red and he paced with his good hand on his sword at the ready, imagining slicing Pan from head to toe the very next moment he saw him. At the peak of this murderous mood and menacing stance, Wendy's eyes fluttered silently open. That is when the screaming started.
The first and only three screams were cut short by Hook leaping to her side and smothering a hand over her mouth. Which she naturally bit. He cursed and pulled away from her and she fell with a loud thump off the other side of the small bed, scrambling to her feet, the dagger suddenly in her right hand. She stood pumped with adrenaline and ready for combat and Hook looked genuinely surprised, which annoyed her. He eyed the dagger and, overwhelmed with sudden curiosity, said, "That dagger is mine. Where did you get it?" She just smirked at him.
"You'll get it back soon enough," she said more bravely than she felt. He just raised his eyebrows.
"Indeed!" he replied, barking a laugh. Wendy fumed.
"MS DARLING! WHAT IS ALL THAT RACKET?" a male voice suddenly boomed from the foyer, heavy feet stomping up the stairs. Wendy's eyes went wide. So that was what Mr. Mannox sounded like. Hook took advantage of her momentary distraction. He reached over the bed and pulled her across it, spinning her around so that her back was against his chest, pinning her arms to her sides with one arm around her and holding his sword against her throat. The dagger she was holding seemed to clank to the floor of its own volition, likely sensing it was no match for the sword. He held her very close and she let out a small hiccup of fear.
"Lie," Hook growled into her ear. Wendy inwardly agreed that this might be the best course of action, for her own sake and for Mr. Mannox's.
"I had a nightmare! I'm sorry!" she yelled back quietly to Mr. Mannox.
"Well of all the childish things," Mr. Mannox grumbled, thudding back down the steps to the master bedroom. Wendy breathed a sigh of relief and then felt the blade against her neck and remembered that she was, in fact, in the middle of a real life nightmare.
"Let. Me. Go," Wendy said in a low, dangerous tone. If it had been a lost boy threatening her, he'd have cowered and cringed at this point. But it wasn't. It was Captain James Hook and he invented the low, dangerous tone. He pressed the blade harder against her neck and Wendy squirmed against his hold.
"In. A. Moment," he replied mockingly. "How old are the children?" he asked. Wendy was so surprised by the question that she answered automatically. "And are they fair haired?" he asked.
"No, they're dark haired. Why?" she asked, puzzled and wary. Hook snorted.
"Ask me if I feel the need to explain myself to you, Ms. Darling!" he shot back. Wendy felt disappointed. It was a bit pathetic that an infamous pirate captain was here in this well-appointed yet dreary flat in London, bickering with her, a lowly nanny. She shook her head slowly and slumped in his grasp like a rag doll. The children were gone and now she was at the ridiculous mercy of one of her worst enemies. Time slowed down and the rushing noise in her ears began again. She could see Captain Hook begin to shake her by the arms, but she couldn't feel it. She could see that he was questioning her, demanding answers, but she couldn't hear them. The blackness was starting to eat away at Hook and the rest of the nursery and she was glad. Let it have him. All of it. What did it matter if Caleb and Anna were not here where they belonged?
James watched her faint for what he surmised was the second time that night and caught her, laying her slowly back down on the little bed. He frowned, feeling concerned and impatient. She was clearly going to be of no use to anyone for the next couple of hours. He did not have time to stay here and wait for her to regain consciousness again, likely only to come back at him with the dagger – his dagger – the one Pan had stolen from him when he had first been in Neverland. He had wondered where it would wind up. Now he knew. He supposed it was appropriate, since she hadn't been much good with a long sword anyway. A reluctant smile came to his lips, remembering Wendy's brief stint upon his ship as Red Handed Jill. How magnificent she had been!
He had to get back to his ship and his crew. He had already been gone longer than he thought it would take to come to London and do some investigating. He looked to the nursery doors, then to her…then back to the doors…and once more to her, an inquisitive look on his face. Would it work? Was there enough dust left? Was it the same, if someone was unconscious? After all, he had no way of knowing whether she was dreaming happy thoughts or sad ones. He supposed they'd be sad, given the current circumstances.
He himself had so few happy thoughts that he doubted it was enough to keep them both in the air. He was no scientist. He did not know how these things worked. Neverland physics were very likely different from London physics. He knelt by Wendy at the side of the bed, feeling a momentary twinge of pain for her loss and worry. Of course, not having experienced this during the past several years, he mistook it for hunger and took a swig from the flask of rum tucked inside his coat. She sighed in her sleep. Her sighs sounded like the tide coming in and the wind pushing waves against the shoreline. The sounded like his own. "Physics be damned," he nodded curtly to himself, his decision already made. As it would turn out, his thoughts were enough to sustain their flight. Sometimes recklessness is born out of unconscious happiness.
Wendy woke up in a small, dark room. She'd dreamed she was a bird, sailing over the ocean and through the cold winter stars. She looked around, only slightly disoriented. She did not wonder where she was. She already knew. The floor rocked gently beneath her feet as she looked around the room for her (his) dagger. It was, of course, nowhere to be seen. She sat back down on the small feather mattress on the floor and decided in a depressed fashion that it would not matter if she slept for another hour or two before she murdered the captain of the Jolly Roger. She groaned in drowsy misery and fell unconscious as soon as her head touched the pillows again.
Meanwhile, in his stately cabin, James Hook polished the dagger thoughtfully. Sleep (or rather lack of sleep) made his eyelids heavy in the pre-dawn hours and he polished the jeweled weapon carefully to avoid slicing up his remaining hand. He'd need that hand to knock some sense into Ms. Darling. Not that he would ever strike her. She didn't need to know that, though. He grinned in good humor. Setting the dagger aside on his writing desk, James stumbled groggily to his bed, flopped down and took a long swig of whatever was in the bottle on the trunk against the wall. He looked out the small porthole above the trunk and saw the first orange-red rays of dawn spilling over the watery horizon. He sighed and shook his head slowly, lying back down. A few more hours of sleep were in order, before he woke up to face the girl's inevitable wrath. "No," he reminded himself, "the woman's inevitable wrath." This was, in his mind, for whatever strange reasons, a much more enjoyable kind of doom. Wendy would not be happy. He imagined, smiling to himself, that she might even try to kill him. He stretched peacefully on his bed. Tomorrow morning he would explain the situation and once more induct Red Handed Jill onto his crew. It would be an easy task.
"This is not going to be an easy task," James mumbled morosely to himself the next morning, trying and failing to yank open her locked cabin door. It was a chilly, rainy spring day in Neverland and he was getting soaked to the bone waiting for her to suck up her courage and face him like a …well, like a pirate. Wendy had locked herself securely in her little room and made no signs of coming out, possibly ever. He had knocked, coaxed, banged, yelled and threatened for at least half the morning already. He worried that she would starve, or loose her mind completely. He worried that she would hate him, even though he was only trying to help. He worried that she might try to take her life. This last thought was particularly alarming and, succumbing to panic, he threw himself against the door, finally breaking through it in a crash of torn red-purple velvet and splinters.
He should have been furious with her. She lay asleep on the bed, peacefully unaware of his presence or her broken cabin door. He should have been murderous, tempted to plunge his dagger into her while she dreamed in her bed. He should have even been ravenous, seeing her there in nothing but a thin night gown that was slipping slightly off her shoulders as she moved in her sleep, her hair falling loosely over her beautiful face in the morning light. He was none of these things, which made him wonder if he was quite alright. To his great annoyance, the only feeling he could manage to summon was relief. She was still here and better yet, still breathing. It was enough, right then. She stirred and her eyelids fluttered open, taking in the sight of him and showing no reaction whatsoever. He frowned. There should have been something…maybe not something good, but something. He took a step closer, intrigued by her seemingly trance-like state.
"Oh, where are they?" she suddenly moaned in anguish, covering her face with her pale hands. James was at her side immediately, kneeling by her bed, concern tightening his normally handsome features into a sympathetic grimace. He was not practiced in these matters. Usually he simply returned the children to their mothers, who either did or did not realize they had even been gone. He did not usually see their suffering, if in fact they suffered. This was both novel and terrible. He remembered all the times he had felt bitter or even jealous during the emotional reunions he'd witnessed. Guilt would have to be added to the growing list of new feelings later. Now he had more pressing matters to be concerned with. Hook's mind worked quickly. What did Smee usually do, if he found his captain in such a state? Perhaps…but no, it would not do to have an inebriated Red Handed Jill upon his ship. That would be chaos itself - especially when he knew how grief was apt to become fury on a woman's whim. What else could be done? Suddenly, he thought of the cure and left the little cabin, heading down to the cook's quarters.
Wendy opened one eye curiously and sat up in her bed, perplexed. Yes, by all accounts it had been a rhetorical question, but part of her had still half-expected the captain of the ship to offer an answer or two. The fact that he didn't just struck her as plain rude. After all, if he hadn't killed her yet, what was she doing here at all? Would he also refuse to speak to her? She needed to find Caleb and Anna and return to London right away. Too much time in Neverland, she knew, did things to a person. If Captain Hook didn't have answers or help to offer, why on earth was he being so…hospitable was not quite the right word. She frowned and lay back down, too tired to wonder anymore. She stared at the ceiling and felt sleep begin to reclaim her.
Right then, the captain himself came into her small room with a cup of something steaming. Although Wendy pretended to be asleep, whatever he had in that cup smelled good and familiar, like something her parents used to drink with breakfast. Her stomach growled and she ignored it. It was probably poison anyway. She kept her eyes closed. He smirked.
"Ms. Darling, if you continue to pretend to sleep I will pour this scalding concoction straight onto you. Do you understand?" he asked.
"Mr. Hook…do what you will. What does it matter?" she replied, turning on her side to face away from him. He nodded, placing the steaming cup on a little trunk by the bed and turning to her again. He abruptly picked her up off the bed, to her surprise and displeasure, placing her back down harshly on the floor in front of him. She was so shaken from the sudden movement that she almost fell over, had he not caught her and straightened her back up again.
"Drink that," he said, motioning to the cup. "It will make you feel better – I promise, " he said, sitting on another trunk by the bed.
"The promise of a pirate," Wendy sneered. "Splendid. I will most certainly not drink that."
"I will be forced to insist, in that case, of course," he said, smiling politely. She paled visibly, knowing that he would force the hot liquid down her throat without remorse. She crossed her arms, shaking her head. It was a matter of principle. Besides, if he was going to kill her she preferred an honest stabbing to a deceitful poisoning. He stood up and leaned over her.
"Listen to me you silly girl. If I wanted you dead, you would be dead by now. Agreed?" He crossed his arms too and they had a very childish staring match before she finally nodded her head slowly. He raised his eyebrows, waiting for her. She picked the cup up off the trunk and took a tentative sip. She made a face.
"It's bitter," she said, frowning. She took another sip. "I like it." Pouting, she sat on the bed and clutched her new favorite drink to her as Hook let her have her thoughts to herself. When he sensed that she'd had quite enough of them, he added some of his own.
"Now then, while you are on my ship, Ms. Darling, I expect you not to cause more trouble for me than you're worth. Also, I have taken great care not to kill you in your sleep and I would appreciate you returning the favor," Hook said, with a sideways glance. Wendy's head perked up and she regarded him evenly, nodding once and taking another sip from her cup. Hook smiled. It would go more smoothly for him if this woman held illusions of equality - she would be more cooperative that way. At least, this is what he chose to tell himself.
"I will try, captain," she said unhappily, looking down and pressing the warm cup to her cheek in the chilled cabin. He laughed and it startled her. She glared at him and he continued.
"Yes, see that you do. On that same note, I would appreciate it if Red Handed Jill did not murder, maim, seduce or otherwise destroy any of the other men on my crew. Do I have her word?"
"Yes," Wendy said. "And I can expect the same in kind, I assume?"
"That would be fitting, I think," said James softly. Wendy sighed in quiet relief. "You know that we have much to discuss," he said offhandedly. Wendy nodded, dejected, taking another long sip.
"Yes, I suppose we do. Perhaps it could wait until later?" she asked, not feeling up to having the necessary conversations with him in her nightgown, completely disheveled.
"Of course, Ms. Darling," he replied silkily, glad to have an opportunity to humor his hostage. It was the beginning of the end of his hard earned reputation, at least in Wendy's eyes. She suspected that she might be able to use this new attitude against him at some crucial point in the future and felt smug as she took her last sip of the precious steaming drink. "I will send Smee with some garments for you and I will see you for dinner at dusk, in my cabin."
"Alright," she replied, contemplating just how awkward an audience that would be.
"Ms. Darling-" Hook began.
"Wendy," she corrected him, looking up. "If you're bold enough to kidnap me, you're bold enough to call me by my first name." She stared at him, petulantly willing him to argue with her on the matter. This was a man, though, who had long since learned to choose his battles. Aside from that, he thought it was a beautiful name and he was secretly thrilled that she preferred him to say it rather than addressing her more formally.
"Wendy," he said in a low, suggestive voice. She blushed. "Wendy, I would like you to feel at home aboard my ship. You may go anywhere you like at any time, unless of course it is disruptive to the crew. If you become restless, I will be more than happy to assign you ship duties. Do you have any questions, before I leave you to your pondering?" Wendy stood quickly and motioned to her cup.
"Yes, where can I get more of this?" she asked, unashamedly. She would not normally be so forward, but she was frankly downright alarmed at the prospect of being without it for the remainder of the time she was aboard the ship, however long that might be. James chuckled.
"We'll see if you can handle that much first," he said, turning his back to her.
"But I feel fine," she said, beginning to follow him out the door to insist on knowing the location. He turned around suddenly and she almost ran right into him. He moved to take back the cup. He had to pull a bit, since she seemed reluctant to let it go. He gently uncurled her fingers from the cup and patted her hand.
"Give it an hour or so," he said, and walked out of the cabin. Wendy frowned after him, determined to discover the location of the stuff before the day was over. She ran her fingers through her mussed hair and waited patiently for Smee to bring her the things Hook had promised.
Little more than an hour later, James was severely regretting his earlier decision to introduce Wendy to one of his favorite vices. He was, in fact, beginning to get a headache. She followed him, looking an entirely new kind of tempting in a dress from Singapore that some tavern wench had left on the ship a few months earlier, at Mr. Starkey's shameless request. He had been very sorry to see it go, when Smee fetched it from his cabin, but admitted that it looked wonderful on Wendy. The dress was a deep, shimmering green with a paler green trim that laced up the bodice, which left little of her figure to the imagination of the flustered captain. James was trying to ignore both her and her figure. It was becoming difficult. The main problem was that he liked her incessant prattling.
"But Captain, what did you mean when you said I should give it an hour or so? Give what an hour or so? I simply don't understand. If you insist of being cryptic, then you shouldn't also then be surprised when I have little to no idea of what's going on even though I know that everyone else on the crew knows exactly what's going on because I can hear them all snickering at me as we walk past and I'm sure you have your reasons for what you chose to keep from me and not to keep from me but I am unclear as to how a silly little drink could be at the heart of such mystery since, you see, it seems harmless enough and it really is lovely and what is going on here anyway? Why have you taken me aboard your ship? I know I said earlier that I didn't want to know because I thought it would upset me but I think I'd like to know now and I'm already as upset as I'm likely to be and even though I'm not in much better spirits than I was when you saw me earlier this morning I do feel that for some reason I have a significantly larger amount of energy with which to deal with whatever it is that you have to say to me- that is if you have anything at all to say to me - not that I mind you being silent, since whenever you are talking you're usually just trying to trick or deceive me somehow and one does get awfully tired of that and - "
"WENDY MOIRA ANGELA DARLING!" James bellowed. He was on his last ropes as it was and he certainly was not in the mood to have his character assaulted by the likes of an exceedingly hyper Red Handed Jill. So on edge were her frail, young nerves that his sudden outburst startled her a great deal and she screamed. Then she started to laugh. She hiccuped, and, seeing his stern face, fell silent.
"Yes, mother?" she asked timidly, then burst out into another fit of laughter. The crew members stopped what they were doing, horrified, and the captain became red in the face. Wendy was oblivious. "You know, Captain Hook, only my mother calls me that and even though it is oddly still quite effective I have no idea where you got the idea to-"
"First of all," he growled, slightly playfully, "I am most decidedly not your mother." He had backed her up against a pillar in the middle of the ship, speaking in a low tone to her so that the crew would think he was threatening her. He wasn't really angry- actually quite the opposite, but it would likely be detrimental to his image if his men thought he had gone soft.
"Second, I will explain everything to you in due time, but you really MUST shut up for the next several hours so that I can re-collect my very scattered thoughts," he said, leaning over her and gazing down the length of her body in the gown as it glowed in the afternoon sun. Wendy's heart started racing and she found herself being not entirely displeased with his proximity. She looked up at him smugly and leaned in closer to him.
"And what, pray tell, has you so thoroughly distracted? Should I be concerned?" she asked smartly, emboldened by the way she felt in the dress and in his presence.
"Do not worry, Ms. Darling, it has nothing to do with you," he replied. Wendy felt as if she'd been slapped in the face. All the light and merriment went out of here eyes and she visibly slumped in such a fashion that James was immediately sorry that he'd said it. He was glad that the ranting had stopped, but he hadn't actually meant to be cruel. He felt guilty, which was followed quickly by resenting the fact that he felt guilty. As an unfair punishment, he dealt the final blow.
"Third and lastly, as long as you remain on my ship, you are never allowed to have coffee again." There it was. That would kill her for certain. He was not sorry. He would, in fact, be glad to be rid or someone who caused him so much confusion and emotional turmoil.
Coffee, Wendy thought. That was it! Wonderful coffee! Her parents had drunk it every morning when she was a child and it was a smell she was well familiar with. And now she knew what it was called! What was it that he had just said, though? Something about never being allowed to have it again, as long as she stayed on this ship…that was unacceptable. The solution was obvious. She had other business to attend to anyway. He turned to walk away. She dove after a sword hanging loosely at a fellow crew member's side, ripping it out of its ties.
"Hook!" she yelled. He turned back to see her standing there, ready with a sword. His jaw dropped and his eyes became wide. How dare she threaten or challenge him on the deck of his own ship? After all he had done for her, too! This would end right now and she was going to be severely punished later in his cabin for this affront.
"Why you ungrateful, miserable wretch," he growled quietly, stalking toward her. She held her ground and he could see that she was very serious.
"And what is the challenge, Wendy? Shall I cower in fear from your novice swords-woman skills?" he taunted her as he circled slowly around her. She kept him in her sights, taking deep breaths to focus herself. She could not believe she had just challenged Captain Hook to a duel. And now it was clearly too late to back down. What had she even been doing on this ship in the first place? It was an accursed place that made you forget what was important. She had to find the children. They were all that that mattered to her in the world, including Neverland. No, she was not going to die today. She looked over at the side of the ship and spotted land on the horizon. It didn't look that far.
Hook must have heard her thoughts, or seen her glance at the coast, because as soon as she made a dash for the railing, he was one step ahead of her and caught her around the waste, pulling her back from it. She elbowed him in the gut and it knocked the wind out of him. She jumped up onto the railing and he was back on his feet, grabbing her and turning her around to face him. Even though she was standing on the railing, the two of them were suddenly at eye level. She squirmed wildly in his grasp, trying to push his arms from her waist and started yelling again.
"No! Please! You can't kill me just for being insolent. I have children to find! Don't you understand? CHILDREN!" She started to cry and she squeezed his forearms with her beautiful, pale London hands and it turned James's stomach that she thought he was actually going to hurt her.
"Wendy, come down from there. We'll find them together- I promise," he coaxed her. Liquid crystals slid slowly down her cheeks and as he held her there he felt so overcome with new loyalty to her, old hatred for Peter Pan and a thousand other emotions that he unthinkingly pulled her against his chest and kissed her, deeply. He saw all the stars of the night sky behind his closed eyelids and when he didn't feel her pull away he kissed her even more fervently, pushing his fingers gently into her hair and melting against her. He understood now what all the poets wrote about and all the bards sang about. This must be what…no, he couldn't bring himself to think it. He was so used to being alone and he had no desire to curse himself by being presumptuous. Whatever this was, he never wanted it to stop. It was bliss and he never thought it was possibly or that he of all people would ever deserve to bear witness to it. He felt like he had been given a second chance at life itself and that his heart might burst out of his chest for sheer joy.
This is a large part of the reason that, when he stepped away and she slapped him so hard that he fell backward onto the deck, he stood up, dusted himself off, and pushed her off the side of the ship without pause. It was, unknown to her, his deepest fear to die alone and unloved. She had just reminded him of the fact that he would. She had to be destroyed, then, Wendy or not. It was also an automatic reaction to being struck at all aboard his own ship, much less in front of the entire crew, the humiliation greater than he could handle, especially after such a kiss as that one…Captain James Hook did not handle rejection well…
He peered over the side of the ship, seeing her resurface amidst the teal blue and start treading water. She was lucky she could swim. He glared at her while she stared up at him, her mouth gaping like a fish. He laughed cruelly at her and yelled down "Find them yourself, then!" His sneer faded when he saw her turn and start to swim toward the shore, intent on doing just that. He thought she would beg to be hauled in, like some pathetic, wet cat. When would he learn? This was Wendy. This was Red Handed Jill and she did not suffer fools. Or foolish hearts, apparently.
"Damn," he thought to himself, storming into his cabin. He grabbed a few things from his desk and crossed the deck to the railing. He yelled to Smee for a longboat to be deployed to shore. His crew looked at him as if he'd finally gone mad. Maybe he had. He didn't care. All he knew was that Wendy probably couldn't swim that far on her own and that it was his fault that she was down there at all. He tied his long, black, curly hair out of his face and secured his sword and a small sack to his side through his belt. Then he climbed up on the railing and, taking a deep breath, jumped in after her.
He was wrong about her not being able to make it to shore. She was halfway there already when she heard the second splash and saw a head bob above the water. At first she thought maybe in his anger he'd thrown another crewmember in, but then as she watched all the men look over the side of the ship and start bustling around getting a boat lowered for a shore excursion, she knew that it was he himself who had jumped into the ocean. She snorted and kept swimming, her youth and the caffeine coursing through her veins her strongest allies now. If Hook and his sword washed up on shore separately, he'd do well to sleep with one eye open if he ever made it to the island. She was officially a soon-to-be murderess. As soon as she dried off and found some coffee somewhere on the island.
By the time James made it to shore, Wendy was nowhere to be seen. He coughed and sputtered and his heart stopped beating when he saw her dress laying further down the beach. She had drowned and only her clothing washed up on shore! He didn't think he could bare it. He prepared his dagger in case this was the last of Wendy so that he could follow her. Then as he came closer, he noticed that all the buttons on the back of the dress were still fastened. No…re-fastened. Drowned women didn't return to shore to make certain their dresses and petticoats were in order. She was alive, somewhere on the island. In little more than her undergarments…and the sun was setting. She would freeze to death.
Wendy was lost in the jungle. She was, indeed, freezing. Her slippers made squelching noises as she tromped along surrounded by all the bright green foliage. She did not remember the way to the tree house. She did not remember the way back to the shore either, so turned around had she become. She might try climbing a tree to gain perspective, if her petticoats were not so cold, wet and stiff. She could still not believe he had done it. Of all the ungentlemanly things to do, pushing her over the side of the ship took the cake. Her anger warmed her a little and she felt a blush rise to her cheeks remembering the accursed (wonderful) and enraging (incredibly endearing) kiss. She would die in the jungle before she would turn back and meet up with whatever search party was surely following her.
James led the shore party into the thick of the jungle at the edge of the beach. He had little more than one hour to catch up with his hostage and set up camp on the island before the sun set. It was not safe to travel after dark, in Neverland. There were creatures and characters here that Wendy could not imagine, almost all of which Hook had had some run in with at one point or another. He shivered remembering encounters that had redefined his idea of danger. Pan himself, even though relatively harmless, came from a long line of much more aggressive fey. He signaled to the men that he was going ahead and that they were to pursue his course and set up a camp within the half hour.
Wendy had reached a rock outcrop at the top of a hill where she could look out over the island's beaches. She could see the Jolly Roger and she could even see the little longboat on the beach, not far from where she was now. She looked and listened very hard and thought she could barely make out the sounds of a few members of Hook's crew crashing clumsily through the jungle, certainly following her obvious trail. She was not good at concealing these things and, if she was being honest with herself, she might even admit that she wanted to be found/rescued. She was under no illusions that a nanny from London possessed any practical skills for surviving in the wilderness, after dark. She didn't even know how to make a fire, which was beginning to weigh more and more heavily on her mind as the cold of dusk seeped into her bones.
Her wet nightgown clung to her frame and she sat at the edge of the outcrop, hugging her knees to her chest and shivering. The coffee was wearing off and she was already beginning to feel a bit sluggish. She shook her head slowly, imagining how Hook might find her frozen form and mourn for her a bit before digging her a shallow grave on the beach and returning to his life, never to spare her another moment's thought. Again, if she was being honest with herself she might concede that after a kiss like that, she would in fact be spared several moments' thoughts in the advent of her demise. She heard a twig snap behind her and knew it was him without looking. He joined her at the edge and sat beside her.
"Wendy Darling, I am hereby recapturing you and returning you to the crew of the Jolly Roger at once, lest you freeze to death out here in the forest. Once you are back aboard my ship you will accept my help in finding your children, whether you want it or not. You will be allowed one cup of coffee each day – no more and no less. I am through negotiating with you, you selfish, spoiled brat," he finished dramatically, his arms crossed. He did not look at her.
"You pushed me off your ship, " she reminded him dejectedly. He looked down at her with a heavy heart, remembering the moment leading up to her "departure." She looked up at him tiredly, lightly gripping the sword she had never let go of. He noticed her hold on the sword and felt angry again.
"Just as I'll toss you off this very rock, you maddening temptress," he replied, leaning toward her, his eyes smoldering with anger and lust. She felt her heart begin to race and her breath came faster.
"Will you really, Captain?" she asked in a conspiring hush, leaning toward him as well.
"In a heartbeat, Ms. Darling," he replied, his lips now mere inches away from hers.
"Can you think of nothing better to take up the space of a heartbeat?" she whispered, closing her eyes and shivering again.
"Indeed," James replied, groaning inwardly at what would surely be the end of him. He couldn't convince himself to stay away from her. He closed the space between them and pressed his lips to hers again. This time she kissed him back and he pulled her against him, securing his arms around her. She slid her arms around his neck and relished in the feel of his mouth. She knew it would only lead to badness, but she was cold and afraid and he was so warm and willing to help her find Caleb and Anna. He smelled like pipe smoke and rum and sea salt. He was willful and intelligent and she liked that. Her list of reasons for turning down his seemingly genuine advances grew smaller with each passing moment.
The kiss turned more insistent and Wendy found herself sitting fully in his lap, with her hands on either side of his face, kissing him passionately. He growled lightly against her mouth and she ran her fingers through his hair.
"You'll be the death of me," he murmured into her hair, hugging her to his chest. She snuggled against him in the setting sun.
"Maybe this time it will be an accident," she replied, a small smile on her lips. She felt his chest move as he chuckled and kissed the top of her head lightly.
"One can only hope," he said, pulling her up alongside him as he stood. They looked out over the island in the sunset and Wendy shivered again, even though she couldn't feel the cold anymore.
"I couldn't find his tree house," she said, casting a concerned glance at her "captor."
"Well of course you couldn't," James said. "You've long since stopped being a child."
"Only children can find their way to it? But then, the last time I was here, how did you-"
"I followed you," he admitted sheepishly. "Don't you remember?" She looked away for a moment and then nodded.
"Because I was a child, and I could still find it, but you couldn't…" Wendy concluded, mostly to herself. James simply nodded, not feeling at all proud of his old battle tactics. Wendy looked up and saw that he was embarrassed. She placed her hands at the back of his neck, reached up and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. He started as if it surprised him, then he grinned saucily and pulled her roughly against him again, kissing her boldly. She smiled against his kiss and finally pushed away from him, taking his hand.
"Let's get out of all this darkness," she murmured, leading him away from the rock outcrop and off the mountain. They walked together in thoughtful silence through the jungle to the shore party's camp. When they got there a fire burned low in a circle in the middle of the makeshift tents and Mr. Starkey played some Irish fiddle tunes as the crew sung loud and out of tune about wenches in various ports they had said goodbye to and lamented forever after. Wendy blushed at the lyrics and James ladled them both some pungent smelling stew out of a cooking kettle that hung over the fire. Smee watched the two of them interacting and smiled but said nothing. When all the other crew members had turned in for the night, James and Wendy sat by the fire and he pulled a rolled up bit of parchment out of an inside coat pocket.
"I have something to show you," James said quietly. Wendy laid her head against his shoulder, her eyebrows pulled together slightly. Rolls of parchment carried by pirate captains were nearly always cause for interest. Everybody knew that. "I think this will help you to understand why I am so intent on helping you find your charges. I want you to trust me, Wendy." She sighed and lifted his hand to her lips, kissing it gently. He would never believe that she trusted him, even though it was self evident, by now. There was little reason for her to, certainly. Wendy had departed from reason the second she had challenged him to a duel. She had little use for her "right state of mind" here in Neverland. James unrolled the paper and held it out to her. She took it from him and read it in little more than a whisper by the firelight.
"Let it be known by those parties it concerns that it is decreed on this, the second of February, that one Captain James Angelo Hook of the Jolly Roger, in compensation for numerous crimes committed both at sea and on land, shall find himself until further notice in the employ of the British royal crown . He is henceforth bound to sail the Jolly Roger outside of royal jurisdiction to the uncharted island region of Neverland in order to pursue the fey child Peter Pan and to obtain from said fey child any kidnapped children previously gone missing from London and surrounding cities and evidently in the current care or company of Pan, to be reunited with their families of origin in a quiet and timely fashion, by order of her royal majesty, Queen Victoria."
Wendy looked up at him with a new sort of respect, very much impressed. It certainly explained a lot.
"Your middle name is Angelo?" she asked innocently. James raised his eyebrows.
"Are you…was that all that you….are you not at all surprised?" he asked, confounded by her lack of reaction. He searched her face for some sign of shock and found none. He felt slighted.
"A little," she admitted, nodding in a noncommittal way.
"A little," he scoffed, folding his arms again and turned away from her to glare into the fire. Wendy rolled her eyes and stood, stretching and walking behind him. She placed her hands lightly on his shoulders and instinctively rubbed small circles into his muscles. He snorted and she had to stop herself from laughing at the ridiculous way he was acting.
"Captain…what would you have me say? I have understood for the past several hours that you want to help me find the children. Why try so hard to have me believe that you are noble only to be disappointed that I am not more surprised by it? I'm afraid you cannot have it both ways -especially for the price of only one cup of coffee each day. Shall I act surprised that you are not the villain I once thought you? That, I think, would just offend you. Is there no pleasing you, James?" she asked, emphasizing her meaning by running her hands suggestively down his chest from where she stood behind him. He groaned and covered his face with his hand. He knew what she was doing. She would not, however, distract him from his disappointment for long. He sensed that she was being insolent again and decided she would be dully punished. In time. For now, he was enjoying the way her hands moved warmly over his tired shoulders. A smile snaked its way onto his clever lips…one she could not see.
"You're right, of course. It would wound me if you were very surprised. Especially after I've done such a steady job of convincing you that I am not, in fact, a lecherous, lustful old sea dog," he said thoughtfully, a splendid plan forming in his playful mind. He turned to her and placed his hands on her waist. "And, surely, you are convinced that I am not these things?"
Wendy sensed some sort of trap she was as yet unfamiliar with and it excited her terribly – so much so that she ignored the urge to slip out of his grasp and disappear into the jungle again. She knew there was some crucial concept trying to slide its way into her consciousness but she didn't know exactly what it was she was on the verge of knowing. It felt like something important. She also knew he was up to something but didn't want to hurt his feelings.
"Of course I don't think those things of you," she said, running her hands through his hair again and trying to sound comforting despite her mind trying quickly to work out mysteries shrouded in the darkness of inexperience. James let out a heavy sigh of mock-relief and drew his long arms around her middle, resting his cheek against her belly as she stood in front of him. There was a moment of pure peace and content. Then, in one fluid motion, he stood up with her tossed over his shoulder.
"Fool," he declared triumphantly and started toward his tent. She would have laughed, if the breath had not been knocked out of her. She smiled and pretended to beat her fists against his back.
"No, stop, don't, you mustn't…"she giggled, before seeing where he was heading. When she looked up and saw his tent coming closer into view, her stomach flipped even though she was already upside down. She felt like she was going to throw up.
"No, you really mustn't!" she said, still laughing quietly and blushing. She knew she didn't sound very upset. She supposed underneath it all, she wasn't. Although, she still felt that for the sake of common decency she might at least make a show of protesting. When he finally stood with her outside the door of his tent, he placed her gently on the ground and brought her hand to his lips.
"Now, if you would like, I shall walk you to the tent that has been prepared for you on the other side of the camp," he said, suddenly the human embodiment of neutrality. Wendy knew better. She was surprised to realize that he wanted this to be entirely her choice. This was rare and she knew that his consideration for her was something she should always treasure. On the other hand, his tendency to tease was a quality that she hoped to squash by morning. This was a crossroads, certainly, and patience had never been a virtue of hers. She leaned into him, again more boldly than she felt, and whispered silkily into his ear "The devil you will," before slipping into the darkness of his tent. He nodded once and smiled to himself. He smoothed his hair back away from his face, brushed off his coat and pulled a few ferns up from the ground around his feet, arranging them in a sort of haphazard bouquet. Then he joined her in his tent.
Several hours later, Wendy turned onto her side and looked in wonderment at the man snoring quietly next to her. It had been nothing like she expected. It was, in fact, the most wonderful and natural thing she could imagine. She felt silly, now, to ever have been anxious, even though she knew that could not have been helped. She watched his mustache move as he breathed in his sleep and the sound filled up the canvas tent like ocean waves. She felt connected to everyone and everything, in that moment. She saw her entire life clearly and in order and that everything she had ever done, said, though or felt had led inevitably and perfectly to this point, where she was close enough to watch him sleep.
Even before when she had been in Neverland with her brothers, she had always been fascinated by him. Lying next to him now, he was no longer a mystery. For that matter, neither was she. Later, she would feel that particular sadness that accompanies the inarguable end of childhood. For now, though, she was perfectly satisfied on several levels with the way the evening had progressed. She stretched her arms up above her head and smiled to herself as she caught a glimpse of the night sky through the tent's thin entrance. She fell asleep wondering if all the stars knew how lovely a place the world could be.