Summary: The press of curved silver against her cheek. Sharp. Blood pulsing under the skin. And beneath that, dizzying ecstasy, a kind of sickening thrill. The whisper of breath against her mouth, cool and metallic. "Wendy."
This is essentially the Hook/Wendy story I always wanted to read, but could never find (at least, to my satisfaction), so I eventually realised I would just have to write it myself. Props to anyone who catches the sneaky Jeeves and Wooster reference.
Seems that I have been held in some dreaming state
A tourist in the waking world, never quite awake
No kiss, no gentle word could wake me from this slumber
Until I realized that it was you who held me under
Felt it in my fist, in my feet, in the hollows of my eyelids
Shaking through my skull, through my spine and down through my ribs
No more dreaming of the dead, as if death itself was undone
No more calling like a crow for a boy, for a body in garden
No more dreaming like a girl so in love, so in love
No more dreaming like a girl so in love with the wrong world
('Blinding', Florence and the Machine)
- Prologue -
"Tell me a story."
The candles by the window flickered brightly in the pooling darkness, dripping hot wax onto the wooden frame stiffened by age and lack of use. It had not been opened in many years.
Crinoline creased between delicate fingers. "What kind of story?"
"You know. The kind you used to tell us."
A reflection wavered in the black glass. A heart-shaped face, framed by looping coils of dark-gold hair, gazed back. Pale and ghostlike that face seemed, dimly illumined by the murky glow from the candles that appeared as two points of light in the dark window. Round white shoulders were framed by paler material of a silken gown that clung like a shroud to the soft figure reclining in the window-seat like a tragic muse, or a painting from a Tennyson poem.
But the ethereal image was only an illusion blurred out of proportion by the frosted glass and the darkness of the winter night that had crept into the nursery. In reality, Wendy Darling's fair complexion was flushed with the warmth of the room's interior, the dress she wore was no shroud, but a fashionable garment of ivory silk and ruffled lace purchased from Oxford Street, and the pearls glowing softly around her throat and in her ears were an extravagance that bespoke of an impending social engagement.
The haughty curve of those lips softened slightly. "A story…" she mused aloud, smoothing the lines of her skirts that glided like water against her skin, silken and cool. The condescending expression in her blue eyes was chased away momentarily by an awakening spirit that glimmered through the fringe of long lashes. "Let me think… yes, I know one…"
And, just as she had done seven years ago, Wendy leaned forward and began to speak in hushed tones, something she had not done since they were children. She was startled at how easily the words came to her, though rusted and long out of use as she traced the sound of them around her tongue. The edges of her heart suddenly stirred with an imagination that had long lain dormant. She spoke until the candle tips had burned to low blue flames on the smouldering wicks and the melted wax hardened on the window frame. She lingered over the words, drawing out the rich syllables and low cadences. Infusing the narrative with all the details to make it deliciously haunting. She had to try harder to make them shiver with fright, to remember those vocal touches that froze the blood and thawed the soul. Michael had always liked the ghost stories. John the adventure stories. And she… oh, it was always the tales of piracy that had stirred her blood…
"… And Bluebeard saw the key that she had dropped in her rush to escape that gruesome chamber, and he knew that she had discovered his secret – the bloody fate that his other wives had met. The key clutched in his ferocious hand and murder flashing like black fire in his wild eyes, he began to climb the stone stairs, up… up… up…"
She saw at once that she had lost her audience. John's dark eyes behind the glasses were absent, his ink-stained fingers drumming idly against the window frame, but he did not interrupt. Michael was less reticent. "It's boring," he said, tossing his auburn hair lazily from his brow. Michael was now a languid, long-boned youth of fifteen with drowsy blue eyes that were already beginning to have a devastating effect on girls. "I have a good story. I heard yesterday that Charlotte Evans kissed Bernard Higgins outside the post office on Fleet Street - can you imagine? Bertie Mason who brings the paper saw them, and he told me they were there for ten minutes. Have you ever been kissed, Wendy?"
"Oh hush," she scolded in irritation, looking away so her brother would not see the heated blood burning beneath her cheeks. In fact she had - last week, at a party, Charles Quiller-Couch - grown bold on a couple of drinks and the loveliness of the night - had had the audacity to kiss her in the hall just before she left. The memory brought a confusing mixture of annoyance and embarrassment. It had been fumbling and awkward, his hands clumsy on her shoulders, the taste of cigarettes and crème de menthe on his mouth. She hadn't liked it at all. But he hadn't managed to steal the kiss that still lay hidden - tantalising yet elusive - on the corner of mouth. It glimmered, out of sight, waiting.
"Have it your way," said Michael carelessly. "You're always so severe, Wendy. I think a little kissing would do you good."
A strict reprimand rose to her lips, but Michael's words had drawn her mind inevitably back to a kiss before that – when she had been little more than a child, infatuated with a boy who neither wanted nor understood what she had so willingly offered in the fleeting press of her lips against his. So vivid still, the taste of salt and youth and fever; his firm, mocking mouth softening beneath her own as she clung to him with all the desperate intensity of love that a girl of thirteen could feel. She had been certain that her kiss would be left eternally on his lips and would have renounced it gladly – but he had not taken it and it remained with her still, locked away in that near-forgotten place with all her other dreams and missed opportunities.
"We should be going." John eased his tall, gangling frame from his cramped position on the floor, sweeping back the dark hair that fell untidily over his brow. He was taking the early train back to Oxford the next morning, and it was evident that he was impatient to return to the hallowed walls of academia at Balliol College. His visits from Oxford were becoming less and less frequent these days, and on the rare occasions he came home, he spent more time buried in Kant and Descartes than in the company of his family. It was with a slight pang of sadness that Wendy recalled the many nights they had curled up together with a novel open between them. Now he retreated to the philosophies of Burke while she delved alone into the adventure stories he had formerly devoured: Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Heart of Darkness, Gulliver's Travels, The Jungle Book and She.
She rose, following her brothers into the hall, when something cold and wet pressed into the palm of her hand. She glanced down. Nana was almost completely blind now, and so unsteady on her legs she spent more time lying down than on her feet. Wendy ruffled the dog's ears, burying her face in that warm, soft fur. "Dear old Nan," she whispered. "I wish things could stay as they were." Nana whined in sympathy and licked her hand.
At twenty, Wendy knew she should be married. She just happened to be fortunate that her mother and father were somewhat subservient to her whims and had not yet forced her into the arms of someone she actively disliked. Men had reckoned little in her life thus far – the bolder lads who followed her with admiring eyes and came up to talk to her at Charing Cross were easily (and disdainfully) ignored. Though that period of grace had come to an end. All would soon change, sooner than she had wanted…
Only one boy had ever left a lasting impression on her mind and heart; a secret, treasured memory of flashing green eyes and mocking laughter. But the stately, well-mannered girl of twenty could not dwell on the childish dreams of her thirteen-year-old self. She was far too sensible, and life was far too busy to indulge in such wistful imaginings beyond the few stolen hours buried in the faded pages of her beloved novels. And even that fleeting pleasure was becoming harder to find time for thanks to the determined force with which her aunt thrust her into society. Wendy told herself firmly that imagination had no place in this age of enlightenment and rationality.
Yet beneath the polished, refined surface, there was always the lingering, unshakeable sense that there was more to life than the pristine etiquette of the Edwardian woman – this stifling existence of tedious social engagements, idle gossip, the stiff and unimaginative books opened by cold-chapped fingers within the narrow, confining walls of the girls' Finishing School. Her life was so placid and smooth, strait-laced and uninspired. Instinct whispered that life should be something imaginative, unbounded, limitless, full of excitement and danger and passion and suffering and meaning -
She envied John and Michael, who were free to engage in social and intellectual pursuits without the dreaded word of husband always hanging over them. It was boy's adventures that she curled up with in the window-seat, daring exploits of explorers and adventurers, not the well-thumbed copies of cheap romances that made their furtive way through the eager hands of the girls at Finishing school. Sometimes she allowed herself briefly to wonder how differently her life might have turned out had she been a boy and able to engage in a world that was not constrained in polite conversation and the stays of a corset.
"You need to be married, Wendy," Aunt Millicent had told the night before, after an evening glass of brandy that always had the unwelcome effect of loosening her tongue and sharpening her eyes. "You're becoming a burden on your parents. It's strange for a girl of your age to be unmarried; people will talk. Girls get queer notions if they're left alone for too long. Though thank goodness you were never one of those women who talked about employment."
Wendy said nothing. She had never confided (not even in John) her secret, barely-acknowledged desire to become a novelist. "Don't look like that, Wendy. There's no use putting on those airs if you end an old maid." Ringed fingers tilted her chin up to the light as her aunt scrutinized her carefully, eyes black and beady as those of a hovering bird of prey. "You're pretty enough, but too choosy, I think. Your father tells me the banker's boy wants you. You should take him. You will only get older and less pretty as time goes on."
Wendy shook away the unpleasant memory, refusing to acknowledge the nagging, persistent truth of it that turned her heart cold. Before going down the stairs after her brothers, she pushed open the door to the first bedroom.
Mary Darling's eyes were languid with the traces of fever, her complexion translucently pale, but still she smiled with serene tenderness at the sight of her daughter glowing with youth and beauty, though the expression was far too dignified and reserved for a girl of twenty. Wendy's unruly waves had been coiled and smoothed to satin curls, a few of which still provokingly fell forward, kissing her brow. The pearls gleamed in her ears. Some traces of girlhood stubbornly remained in that face, refusing to entirely leave her large, soft eyes, the petulant edges of her pouting mouth. That prim mouth and the upturned way of holding her chin gave her a defiant, haughty expression that always made her appear rather spoilt. Yet in unguarded moments, an indefinable blend of resolution and imaginative spirit still glimmered through the faultless demeanor of politeness and decorum that Aunt Millicent had so strongly imposed upon her.
"You look lovely," was all Mary Darling said.
Wendy knelt at her mother's bedside in a rustle of chiffon, white skirts settling around her like an unfolding lily. "I wish you would come."
"It's just a little cold," she said. "It will be gone soon enough. The doctor says just a couple more days in bed and I shall be much better. Now go and enjoy your night. All your father's friends will be there." A pause in which she idly traced her daughter's hair, smoothing back the soft curls. "That Charles Quiller-Couch is a nice boy. Your father says he has the best head for numbers he has ever seen."
"Yes," said Wendy stiffly, maintaining strict discipline over herself, refusing to betray any reaction. "He is perfectly nice." And handsome, in an easy, pleasant-faced way. And perhaps there was something appealing about the way his chestnut curls fell over his brow. But she was unable to regard it in anything other than a detached, dispassionate manner, as one might admire a finely-done painting. All material and no matter.
Her mother looked at her carefully. Her voice was very gentle. "You could do worse, Wendy."
Wendy met her mother's searching gaze with an expression of supreme calmness. Mary Darling sighed."Sometimes I wonder what is going in that head of yours, child. Do you know why I fell in love with your father?"
Wendy shook her head. Her father was dear and awkward and foolish and affectionate; she adored him with all her heart. But he wasn't someone she could imagine a woman falling in love with. He wasn't green-eyed, laughing and daring and brave. He wasn't (cold and cruel and ruthless) –
Mary Darling's mocking mouth softened with reminiscence. "He had kind eyes."
Wendy said nothing. She too was haunted by eyes, eyes green as summer (a piercing blue gaze that cut like ice in the darkest depths of her nightmares) –
Mother's soft hand cupped her face, white fingers cool against her cheek, tilting her head upward. Wendy wondered how she could be so peaceful, so effortlessly content, and suddenly recalled some words spoken in a nursery long ago on a cold winter's night just like this one... A drawer of dreams, she thought sadly.
"I think I have a drawer, too." The words left her before she was aware of it.
Mary Darling's soft, beautiful dark eyes were filled with loving warmth. "Never give up on dreams, Wendy."
She worried the pearls at her throat, dissatisfaction tugging at her prim mouth. The lace confines were constricting on her figure that was full and soft rather than slender. But she never would have revealed her discomfort, carrying herself with the stubborn feminine poise that social etiquette demanded. Her small white hands were folded neatly together. An outward image of perfection, a sensible young English lady engaging in the steady rise and fall of light conversation and delicate laughter, partaking in the champagne drunk from thin-stemmed glasses. All opportunities she could never have dreamed of before her father's promotion, opening doors for her that would make her the envy of any young girl, or so her aunt kept telling her. Effervescent, vacant pleasures so bent on maintaining stability, fearful of shattering that fragile façade of reputation. Smiles veiled by lace, emotions imprisoned in hollow-boned corsets. How light and empty it all was.
Excusing herself politely, Wendy detached herself from the group of people – wives and daughters of her father's associates whose names she kept confusing – and wandered around the drawing room in an attempt to appear occupied without having to engage in conversation. She was already feeling light-headed, whether from the champagne or the tight pressing of laces against the bones of her ribs that made every inhalation a challenge, it was impossible to tell. She was tired, and would much rather have sought out the library where she imagined curling up in a comfortable chair by a glowing fire, a book open in her lap, but this was a party and she was a guest, so she must smile with aching persistence and be polite to everyone.
John seemed to be having a better time than she was. "Of course," he was saying, "If one follows the Rousseauian school of thought, in which Man is an essentially benign creature, entirely opposed at a fundamental naturalistic level to witness the sufferings of others, and then applies those doctrines to -" Wendy smiled slightly and moved on.
Michael was busy regaling the latest exploit that had gotten him suspended again from Eton - something involving sneaking into the Drones club and stealing a policeman's helmet. The group of girls that surrounded him hung on every word, breathless. Wendy tossed her head with preening contempt, light-brown ringlets falling over her ears. Her pearl earrings swung with the movement.
A barely discernible tremor shivered through the rigid line of her shoulders. She had been anticipating and dreading that voice all evening. Charles had been trying to get her alone as persistently as she had been trying to avoid him. But she knew the moment could not be put off any longer. She met his look with her characteristic gaze of straight, steady dignity that was too direct for politeness. The slightly pursed mouth and haughty curve of her chin only added to the impression of aloofness. But her expression softened at the evident nervousness in his eyes. He was awkward and sweet and earnest, and after all, Wendy thought, she could not cling to a childhood memory forever. Taking her softening as silent affirmation, Charles caught hold of her hand, his tense, eager grip tight on her delicate bones.
"I've been hoping for a chance to speak to you. After what happened last week, I thought you might be angry –"
Wendy felt a moment of shame. She was being perfectly horrid. Had it been her mother here, Mary Darling would have been courteous and gracious, her beauty and softness casting a gentle glow and light over the assembled company. And here she was, being ungrateful and disagreeable, and all because... because…
None of this was his fault. She could not bring herself to reproach him.
"No," she said, though still quietly and firmly trying to ease her hand from his grasp. "No, I am not angry."
"Because I wanted to apologize… it was frightfully bold of me. And I won't do it again – not unless you ask. It's only that… I do like you, Wendy. More than like you. As a matter of fact, I feel –"
Suddenly Wendy wished herself back home, wished herself a hundred miles away. A gathering, secret dread began tying knots inside her abdomen, though her smooth, guileless expression did not betray it for a moment. The breath rattled in her chest, unable to escape the tight pressings of her corset.
"Charles –" she managed at last. She could feel the pressure closing around her like a vice.
"Let me see you," he said quickly. "Tomorrow. I will call round in the evening, at eight."
At that moment, Wendy gave in. She felt the whole thing sliding hopelessly into inevitability; her mother and father's exchanged glances, Aunt Millicent's pointed remarks, Charles' entreating persistence. She saw the rest of her life stretching out interminably before her like a play long-rehearsed: all the dinners and dances, the polite chatter and tedious gossip, the settling into mundane routine. Day after day, year after year. All the while telling herself, this is what I must do. This is what is expected. She took a deep breath and allowed the jaws of society to swallow her whole.
"Tomorrow," she said dully.
And tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, she thought wearily. All the tomorrows for the rest of my life.
But she merely allowed herself a gracious smile and allowed him to lead her to his father, Edward Quiller-Couch. After all, it was expected, and she never did anything to step outside the confines of what was right and proper.
The delicate, lacquered shoes were cutting into her feet with every step she took. Wendy removed them carefully, wincing slightly as her toes were freed from the constricting pressure, supporting herself on the beam of the door. The nursery had the sad, neglected air of long disuse. All remained as it had been, the beds aligned along the wall, the white curtains framing the unopened window, but all was too tidy, too ordered. Like her life. Always inside the lines, always conforming to the patterns and plans. So steady and self-conscious, it made her want to –
She started slightly as John appeared before her. It was strange now that both her brothers, at eighteen and fifteen respectively, towered over her. John's collar was loosened, his bow-tie askew. He crumpled her fingers within his own. "Night, Wendy."
She felt a sudden rush of wistful affection towards him. Of her two brothers, she had always been closest to John. And yet… he was so different now, so thoughtful and solemn. She loved the man, just as she had loved him as a boy, yet every time he returned from university he was more and more a stranger to her. And he had found something he loved, made something of his life, while she was bound to obligation and marriage. It was only strong pride that held her back from asking him, Do you remember Neverland? Do you remember the adventures we had, when anything was possible?
Leaps and spirals and flights of imagination. She had written so many stories, pages and pages filled with vivid and colourful characters experiencing wild and magnificent adventures. Heroes with John's intelligence and Michael's streak of rebellion. Heroines as beautiful as mother. Yet the villains had always eluded her. She could never bring them to life. They were always so trite, so lackluster. Merely tired caricatures that she could never seem to imbue with life. She made them coarse, inelegant, blustering (never slender and refined and eloquent) –
She caught sight of her face across the room in the nursery mirror, grave and serious and subdued. A face where mischief and laughter had long been absent. The force of it struck her now more painfully than ever. What was this strange nostalgia that had stolen over her on this winter night? Perhaps it was having them all back together under the same roof, reminding her vividly of the children they had once been. Before dutiful routine. Before polite society. Before marriage. The very word turned her cold inside. It had a terrifying finality to it. No escape. No way out. She had never loved, never would love since –
Her mouth tightened with quiet disdain at her own romanticism. But in spite of herself and the unyielding pragmatism she had grown into, she found herself in the nursery at the chest of drawers, falling to her knees in a billowing movement of white silk, scrabbling for the small key and forcing it into the rusted lock (like everything in here, so neglected, so disused). The drawer opened with surprising smoothness (as though it were meant). Wendy's fingers came across the acorn Peter had given her so long ago in the mistaken belief that it was a kiss. Sudden despair filled her. Despair at her life, at herself, at how easily she had abandoned everything that had once mattered to her and slid so smoothly into the dull role demanded of her. When had she woken up to see this girl in the mirror, so stiff and cold, when she had once been carefree and laughing and happy? (so much like Peter) On a sudden, rebellious impulse, she tugged the string of pearls from her throat, flinging them from her with a contemptuous motion. She picked up the acorn and fastened it around her neck. In after years, she had fashioned it into a locket, a place to store secret memories and treasured dreams that were once so precious to her –
Never give up on dreams, Wendy.
I already have, Wendy thought. The moment I turned my back on Neverland, closed my heart and decided it was time to grow up –
It had been her eighteenth birthday when she had finally closed the drawer for the last time, and turned the key in the lock for good. She had put her stories away, along with other childish things. They remained in the dark, gathering dust. The stories she had written with such meticulous care, lovingly recreating every cherished memory and setting them to words. Her own years were traced in those pages; the scrawled handwriting of her earlier years to the elegant, slanting hand learned with painstaking repetition. She ran a white hand over the papers, slim fingers tracing the scrawled titles with a tender reverence. The Battle of Slightly Gulch, The Tale of the Poisonous Cake, Tinker Bell's Leaf, The Never Bird, The Mermaid's Lagoon…
She curled up in the armchair, the manuscripts scattered across her silken lap, eyes half-closed, lost in memories. Adventure, danger, excitement, fear, love… How bright, how alive Neverland seemed in comparison to this surface existence she dully walked through. Sometimes it seemed this world was a dream and only Neverland was solid and real. She was adrift, afloat, unwilling to resign herself to this shallow, impersonal life with its swarms of cold, lonely people. Yet what other choice awaited her? She was too old to abandon sanity and principles now. I waited too long, she thought. The time for choosing Neverland had come and gone. She would be a stranger to Peter now, one of those dreaded adults that were so laughable to him, and so beyond his understanding. What was it that was lacking inside herself that made him abandon her and never return? Had she not been strong enough, not brave enough, not good enough?
But I never forgot. She was held in stasis, waiting, always waiting. The thought of leaving inhabited and civilized regions to face danger and adventure… But she had never gone back. It was lost to her forever.
What would she be had she stayed in Neverland? Sometimes she thought about that other Wendy, the Wendy that could have been forever young and free. Would she be more alive? Would she love? Would she hurt?
Everything certain blurred away into a mist of imagined longings. Past dreams pushed against her life in the waking world, struggling to be made manifest. Which was the reality? The nursery began to pale and recede. Water surging like billowing clouds in the depths of her mind, she found herself falling into a hazy state of half-consciousness. She shivered, haunted by a half-remembered dream. A nightmare of silver loveliness, of smiles.
The memory was like a hook catching on her skin. Lost in the heady scent of darkness, breathing in the enveloping completeness of it. A tall-masted ship emerging through the gloom. Foam crashing against its sides, an icy sea surging beneath the moon in a steady ebb and flow, salt spray misting the wooden decks and black sails fluttering in the cold wind. Fractured moonlight on the water. A dark presence that reached out and touched her with a pale hand half-covered by the edges of fine lace, and the gleam of metal, its piercing bite startling her into wakefulness –
Wendy's eyes opened.
A cold breeze swept through the nursery, stirring her hair about her shoulders. The papers were lifted from her lap, fluttering across the room and landing in scattered disorder across the floor. She moved across the room, a glimmer of a white dress. Walking through the pages that lay spread around her feet. Waking through her own past that swirled around her in bewildering confusion. A strange, elusive, dreamlike state had descended over her; she moved with the slow, liquid fluidity of a somnambulist. As one entranced, she approached the window. The window that had not been opened in seven years. Ice spiderwebbed across the surface in filigreed traces. The lights twinkled outside like distant stars.
Wendy looked out of the window, her eyes large and grave. A breath, a whisper curled around her shoulders. As though another presence were in the room, soft and deadly sweet. Impelling her to madness.
Slowly, hesitantly, she placed her hands on the frosted glass. The pane of ice burned her palms. Drops of snow pierced the darkness, glinting almost silver. Her eyes fell on the small metallic catch, rust creeping around its edges. Her outstretched fingers trembled.
The curtains caressed her legs in billowing white folds, with the insidious coolness of a lover's touch. An unsteady exhalation escaped her lips.
Here then was a crossroads. A window to her fate.
Did she dare…?
Something held its breath. Something dark and tense and waiting.
And Wendy Darling opened the window.
The air that hit her lungs on that first inhalation was sharp and clear, searing through her chest like a blade (she had been suffocating for so long). The snow on the balcony was crystalline and untouched, cracking slightly beneath her delicate slippers as she stepped outside. Her fingers curled around the ice-tipped railings, the bottom of her gown slithering wetly across the cold stone. Wendy stood under the cold chill of the moon, gazing out at the view that opened beneath her.
London sparkled, a flawed, incandescent diamond. She looked out over the glittering, frost-ridden night. In the far distance she could see the Thames that curled like a black ribbon, threading its way past the bright lights that illuminated the Houses of Parliament. Over the sound of the traffic clattering past in the street below, Big Ben tolled its sonorous announcement of the hour. Above, the clouds floated by, high and icily. The moon glimmered, fleeting and mirror-faint through the veils of mist. It was a night for flying, for dreams. Soaring, tumbling through the icy, star-strewn sky, Peter's hand warm in hers, his wild, joyous laughter ringing in her ears. Taking her back, back to Neverland.
Neverland. That word of mysticism and enchantment. Wendy closed her eyes, her heart aching with the wonder of it that was forever lost to her. If she could only turn back time, to the days when she had lived on dreams, when adventures had been reality…
Where are you, Peter, she wondered sadly.
The longing to see those dappled forest-green eyes was an almost physical ache inside her. His laugh that rang with captured happiness. How earnestly she had tried to recreate those memories in the pages of her beloved stories! Always telling herself, I must remember these things. I must remember them to tell to my children, and my children's children…
He was not perfect; she had known that even as an infatuated girl. He was wild and wayward, and callous with the unconscious narcissism of childhood. But he was also merry and brave and spirited, a bewitching aura of magic and adventure surrounded him. The most vivid, alive person she had ever known. In her dreams they flew over seas in a moment, the isle appearing lush and green in the midst of the dark, swiftly turning ocean. If she could think one happy thought –
I just want to fly, she thought wistfully. One more time -
The white curtains stirred in the breeze. A shadow rippled darkly in those whispering folds, like an arm upraised, sharp and curving –
Wendy shivered. It was cold, much too cold. The clouds hung heavy with ice and snowflakes. Shrouding her in oblivion, all while Neverland receded further and further away with every second that passed, as she grew older with each moment that elapsed… until, perhaps, one day she would forget there ever was a Neverland, and would think of it only as some idle childhood fancy, a mere game… she shivered again… coldness… forgetfulness. Could she ever forget? No, never!
"Never," she whispered aloud. The word was repeated back mockingly. Never… never… never…
Wendy looked up hopefully, but the sky remained vast and remained still, the soft breath of snow wrapping around her shoulders. Ahead in the distance she could see it, Second star on the right and straight on till morning. It glimmered, waiting. In sight, and so unreachable.
No fairy dust would carry her through the air. No Peter would hold her hand. She would not fly tonight. She would never fly again.
With a sigh, she turned back to the nursery.
There was a movement of black in the corner of her eye (a shadow) Wendy turned –
And felt something cold and sharp and hard curve around her bared shoulder, twisting her body painfully. She spun fast, blinded by white and shock, the metal (silver) cutting into her skin. Her back hit the wall painfully and a cry escaped her. The world tilted nauseatingly, and she caught a blurred glimpse of the city opening beneath her feet, dizzyingly close yet terrifyingly distant. The shadow leaned over her, breathing in her ear. An icy hand pressing against the silk that covered her lower back. She wrenched her body, straining to get away from it, him –
"Do cease struggling, you tiresome girl." A light, cultured voice, edged with faint amusement.
A ghost stirred in Wendy's memory. There was something horribly familiar about that odd, almost effeminate grace, the deadly cold aura that chilled her heart, even the decadent scents of closely-pressed tobacco and wine, suffocatingly near. Moonlight glinted off polished buckled boots, high and supple… her eyes travelled upward… a long, tailored coat of claret brocade, the ruffled white shirt beneath… features shrouded by the wide brim of that crimson-plumed hat –
Her lips froze around his name. "Captain Hook."
His perfection was terrible. The sharp jaw, the elegant nose and finely-turned mouth, all devastatingly familiar, all just as she remembered (remembered oh-too-well). Elaborate coils of black hair framing a pale, lean face. But it was the forget-me-not eyes that caught her and held her paralyzed. The bluest eyes she had ever seen. She could never have forgotten those eyes.
Breathless stasis. Both remained still, trapped in frozen solitude. The world receded and there was only him and him alone. White silence.
"Wendy… Darling," he breathed, emphasizing her surname in a way she was not sure she liked.
Wendy tried to speak. Her voice was frozen in her throat. Her mind caught in a blizzard. No… not you not you not you…
She recalled with startling clarity that first sight of him seven years ago at the Black Castle, his face so ruthless, so derangingly handsome. She had been little more than a child then, yet the image was burned indelibly into her memory. A lingering presence, there in the back of her mind, always. A cold, unbreakable cord, he had wrapped himself around her thoughts, calling to her with the drawling command that had almost ensnared her even as a girl…
Dark-gold lashes swept down, brushing her ice-kissed cheeks. When she opened her eyes again, Hook was still there. Frozen in time; he hadn't aged a day. Still so unchanged, even down to the flash of gold in his ear, a rakish touch that belied his affectations of aristocracy. His entire appearance a marvelous deception.
"You – you cannot be here. This is a dream." This is a nightmare. A shadow. A torment of the imagination.
A light, melodious laugh. It sent shivers down her spine. Her heart shuddered in a way it had not done seven years ago. "All evidence to the contrary, my dear girl."
"No," she said, "I watched you die -"
"I haven't forgotten," he retorted coldly, biting out each word. The hook curved into her skin. Her breath came short, teeth gritted against the searing pain of his hold. Sharpness rippling through her. That edge tracing her skin like the thinnest of knives. A silver leash. Wendy inhaled in fright.
"So you have come for revenge."
Those blue eyes, so light and languid, now burned like ice. "Aye, seven years I have waited -"
The wall was hard at her back and shoulders, the frost melting against her flesh, running in icy rivulets down her back, soaking through the satin. She heard its hiss. So cold… A panting breath, the warm mist fogging the window. Dimly through the blurred glass, she could see into the nursery, down along the hall where John and Michael would be sleeping –
John - Michael - she had to warn them –
They had to run. Now –
Wendy tried to tear herself away, but her struggles seemed only to amuse the captain as his grip tightened. Possessing. Her shoulders wrenched. Metal on bone. Once, she might have begged him to release her, but she had changed in the intervening years, become stiffer, haughty, scornful.
"Let go!" she ordered imperiously. Her voice rang out, clear and sharp in the frosty night. The words hung in the air as Hook's expression turned suddenly menacing. An amused, dangerous, predatory look as he regarded her lazily.
"Oh no, my beauty. I think not. Not now that I have you again."
She twisted against him, realizing how hopelessly she was trapped. Her waist a frozen hourglass bound in whale-bone confines and the intricate crossings of lace, the stays of society that had no place in a world of imagination and adventure and terrible, terrible danger –
"I once thought you had a sense of honour –"
"You wish me to be… magnanimous?" His smooth voice was like ice melting down her neck.
"I wish you to be a gentleman. A gentleman would unhand me at once."
"Dear girl, I am no gentleman. I am a pirate."
Wendy swallowed hard, fear sealing her throat. Appealing to any sense of decency he might possess was futile. His heart was cold as ice. He was utterly without pity, utterly without mercy. She had learned that lesson long ago. Never again would she be drawn in by the deceptively polite exterior. Hook was the villain of the story. She had been dazzled by him for a moment perhaps, but it had been Peter. Always Peter.
"I'll scream," she said. "I'll call for help. They'll come running."
His elegant brows arched upward. Ice-blue eyes held her frozen against the wall. "No," he said finally. "No, I think you are above the tedious vulgarity of screams."
"You're right," she replied with more conviction than she felt. "I'm no coward."
Long, elegant fingers gripped her chin in a brutal hold. There was something horrible in the sight of those fingers, so startlingly pale, so slender and refined; the thought that the hand of one who paraded himself as a cavalier could be capable of such villainous horrors. The heavy silver ring on his middle finger was cutting into her skin. Tears stung her vision.
"Let me look at you." The cool sound of his voice, so caressingly familiar with its slight edge of cruelty.
The silver hook curved around her jaw. Her head was forced to one side, breath fogging the space between them. She shuddered in that tight, hurting hold. The blood beating hard in her throat. A hand tangled in her loosened hair, twisting it above her neck. Her world narrowed to the poison-blue of those narrowed eyes. A lowered, scrutinizing gaze stripping away her flesh, the damp silks that clung to her skin. Slowly, his mouth curved beneath the drooping black mustache.
"Such a little doll you've grown up to be. And I thought you were so violently opposed to growing up." He sneered, cutting, treating her like a fool. That and his mocking words stung her strong sense of pride. The first icy intensity of shock over, Wendy met his gaze steadily, determined not to show how afraid she was.
"I had to grow up," she retorted in a clear, cold voice. "Not everyone can keep playing childish games -"
His irises blazed. She sizzled under those blue crescents. She wondered how Peter had ever dared provoke him. No game, this. It had been once. But now –
He pinned her arm behind her back, twisting it cruelly. Dragging her to him like the pull of a drowning current. His closeness was dizzying, cool darkness gathering at the corners of her eyes. His cold breath against her ear.
"Tell me… Wendy. Do you still like stories?"
When she saw the amused, quiet contempt on his face, her hatred overpowered her fear. "Yes," she said shakily. "There is one I distinctly recall… of a pirate who was defeated by Peter Pan… perhaps you've heard of it?"
Hook's anger flashed, steel-bright. But he mastered himself with an effort, his marble face unmoving. "I think you were less tiresome as a child."
"I think you were more frightening when I was a child." It was a lie, but one almost worth telling for the glimpse of raw fury that flashed across his features. She gasped a breath and the silver bit in sharp. Hot blood, cold night air. She winced at the pain and a look of brief satisfaction flared in his agate eyes. Steaming and breathing – piercing cold –
With a burst of savage energy she had not realized she possessed, Wendy tore herself from his grasp and staggered backwards, veering dangerously close to the balcony's edge (a Wendy bird –) Lily-hued silk tangled around her legs. Beneath the hollow-boned constraints of her tight corset, she could not breathe –
She glanced down. The world slanted to one side. Black sky and bright lights. The snow-slicked streets below. A roar of traffic at her feet, churning the dirt-blackened ice. It was a dizzying fall. She could imagine how it would feel; the rush of air, like falling through endless diamonds, the cool blue of his eyes emblazoned across her lids before the sharp pain of darkness swallowed her whole…
The frost stung like needles on her exposed shoulders. Already Hook was coming towards her, approaching with light grace, as though every movement had been meticulously calculated. He moved with the effortless ease of a born gentleman, a hard smile playing around his lips.
The ice cracked beneath her slippers. Wendy inched back another step. Her silk gown whispered in the icy breeze. Her fingers curled around the cold railings behind her.
He laughed; a deep, throaty sound. His eyes gleamed beneath the hooded lids. Carefully lazy, softly alert. Waiting to see what she would do next.
Her hands braced on the metal. Slid sideways until she felt the frosted urn behind her. A hideous ornament of Aunt Millicent's, but never had she been more grateful for its presence than now. Numbed fingers traced the rounded dome until she had it in a firm grip. Without hesitation, she hurled it across the balcony.
The ceramic splintered into a hundred pieces, the shards quivering across the ground with ringing reverberations that shivered to a halt at the captain's booted feet.
Hook started to laugh, his shoulders shaking beneath the metal-threaded brocade. "Do you really think you can hurt me?" That old, drawling arrogance, familiar as the ache of an old wound.
"No," Wendy said, and waited.
There. Running footsteps. Halting outside the nursery door.
"What now, Captain?" she asked. "Will you fight your way through an entire household?" Her glance went to the edge of the balcony. "Or you can leave that way."
That voice, overbearing and querulous, but now achingly welcome. A lifeline. Wendy's heart strained beneath the lace confines. Through the door of the nursery was warmth and safety, the world of tedious prudery and reason that could yet save her from this – him –
So close, reachable… she need only call out a desperate appeal, and Hook would be gone forever –
So why did she hesitate –?
Her lips parted –
The piercing bite of metal at her back, between her shoulder blades stilled her. Deadly cold lancing through her skin. A coil of black hair slid across her cheek. She jumped and felt a soft laugh reverberate through his chest.
"Get rid of her," Hook breathed in her ear. Merciless fingers hooked around her hip, dragging her in deeper. Locked hopelessly against him. "Or I will."
"Wendy, what on earth are you doing in there?"
From outside, Aunt Millicent was rattling the door. The door Wendy had not locked. Breath escaped her cold-stiffened lips in a hiss. Her lungs burned and the silver hurt. She could feel him behind her, pressed close. A magnetic field, a cage around her body.
"I'm fine," her voice trembled. "I just dropped something." The captain crooned a murmur of approval in her ear. It froze her blood.
She heard her aunt's sigh of irritation. "Do be more careful." Then the sound of retreating footsteps. Chill silence descended. Her chest was stinging with the cold sharpness of the night air. She was alone. Alone, with –
Hook. Her villain of ice and iron and dark imagination. A living, breathing contradiction of aristocratic courtesy and murderous intent. She had forced him down into the murky depths of nightmare for so long now, something forbidden and deadly to be forgotten in the glaring light of day. Never to be feared again. She had thought him dead. What kind of watery grave had he crawled up from to return to haunt her now? What kind of being was it that even death had could not hold down?
Do you really think you can hurt me?
She twisted to face him, pressed against his chest, against the heart that would never beat. His ice consumed her very soul. She looked up at him fearfully, all pretense of bravado gone. "What do you want from me?" she whispered at last.
His lips were soft against her ear. A cold thrill passed across her skin. His vice-like hold a piercing blade of silver sliding into her heart. "I told you once. You are my obsession."
"You're lying." She could hear the breath in her ears, thick and heavy. "You would only use me to get to Peter –"
Hook's dark brows lifted in a terrible parody of offence. He pressed a hand to his scarlet breast with an elaborate flourish. "My dear girl. I am a man of feeling."
The cruel mockery of hearing her own words was too much to bear. "I know what you are," she cried, shaking; "You're a liar and a murderer and a villain, and all of Neverland knows it. And if you try to take me, all of London will know it too – my brothers will spread the truth far and wide, and then they will come and rescue me; them, and Peter. Peter will defeat you again, and I'll laugh when he does -"
His blue eyes flared, blood-hot, at the mention of Peter. "I know Pan. He is far crueller than I could ever be."
"He never tried to kill me."
"He never tried to remember you either, did he?" She winced. His voice turned low and callous, the words like jagged edges of ice being dragged over her skin. "Pan no longer cares about you. Did you think you would be any different to those that came before? Oh, yes. There have been others. And more will follow."
"But I -"
"You grew up, my darling girl. You couldn't possibly interest him now. I, on the other hand…" Icy fingers traced her cheek, slow, silken. She tensed all over. Blood pounded under her skin. "He has forgotten you, my beauty. But you have not forgotten him, I think. Which means you should be most useful. And the thought of using Peter's darling Wendy as a means to bring him down is rather fitting… is it not?" He allowed himself a laugh at his own dark humour.
"You've forgotten one thing, haven't you?" said Wendy.
She forced her voice to remain calm, swallowing down her hatred and fear. "It's been years since I even set foot in Neverland. What makes you think –"
"I'm aware of that," he hissed. "But the last thing I recall, dear girl, is you. Pan had a Wendy, and he defeated me. It was the one thought I clung to in the depths of that –" he broke off, and an expression crossed his face that frightened her more than anything else she had seen from him that night – "I began to think you would never open the window."
Wendy felt sick with horror. How long had he been planning this? How long had he watched her, in secret, awaiting his chance? Her body sank helplessly into that arctic hold. Black lace on white skin. Touching and melting. His eyes like diamonds. So hard and cold.
"You know his hiding places –"
"You know his secrets –"
"You will make things a lot easier by being cooperative."
She summoned one last effort. "Kill me now then, because you'll get no secrets from me."
Wendy closed her eyes, dreading what he would do next. His breath was cool against her closed eyelids. She flinched when the hook was raised, but when it touched her skin, the sensation was startling, like a fallen snowflake landing on her upturned face. "Of course…" Hook murmured, his cruel touch turning suddenly languorous. "We need not be enemies in this." His fingers were ice cold. Burning. A chill as severe as the touch of that sharp, silver hook. Wendy stared at him and said nothing. "Pan has abandoned you, my beauty. He has humiliated me, wounded me, killed me… he is the true villain of this story. We should not have to suffer from his cruelty."
The curving hook ran an icy caress down her neck. Sliding along the cool dip of skin offered by her light gown. Wendy drew a quickened breath. There was a strange, sharp, torturing satisfaction in the touch. Curling black hair, damp with sleet, fell down the hollow of her throat as he leaned over her, unbearably close.
"I offer you the chance to join me willingly," the captain breathed in silken tones. "Would you not like to pay him back? Come with me… Wendy."
"Do you mean…" her voice faltered – "becoming a pirate?"
Thin lips twisted in a grin. "Precisely."
Wendy stared at him; at the noble, aquiline features, the mass of dense, dark curls tumbling over his shoulders. Forget-me-not eyes regarding her, desultory and amused. The lazy, long-limbed arrogance as he lounged indolently, gleaming with immaculate cruelty.
"Captain," she said, "You are a fool."
Hook's handsome, effeminate face turned ferocious. Blue eyes flashed like lightning. His hand curled around her bared shoulder, fingers biting into her skin. Pins and needles darted through her veins. That touch drained and burned her. A ruthless smile rose to his lips. "So it's to be the hard way, is it?"
"You cannot take me. You cannot fly. You have no happy thoughts –"
His cadaverous face grew livid with a terrible, pale wrath. "I don't need happiness, girl," he growled. "I need retribution."
Wendy thought quickly, weighing up her chances. She knew that Hook would take her – he had set his mind on her and she did not have the strength to fight him. And better it be her than John or Michael. But she would not betray Peter. John and Michael would discover her absence. And in Neverland, Peter would rescue her as soon as he learnt of her imprisonment; she just needed more time –
"Peter will find me," she said. "And he will kill you. Again."
"Your naivety is charming."
"Do you really think you can do anything in Neverland that he isn't aware of?" She drew herself up. "Especially taking me?"
The press of those fingers, so cold. Her flesh tingled. "You seem very certain, my pretty, spoilt darling."
"I am certain. In fact… if he does not come… I will tell you everything you want to know. Willingly."
"And if he does?"
"You let me go. Unharmed." Untouched.
"A wager?" A light flared in his narrow eyes that fixed on her with a mingled expression of curiosity and greed. "An intriguing proposition, my dear girl. But why should I not just torture the information from you? The end result will be the same."
"You could," Wendy agreed. "And you know I will resist. For as long as it takes. Long enough to make you appear a fool in front of your men. With their mockery and Peter's wrath facing you…" She trailed off, seeing she had his avid attention. "But if Peter does not come to save me, if he abandons me, then I am bound by no loyalty to him." She met his icy gaze. "I will be yours to command."
Delight played across his features. "All right, my beauty. We shall see who has the right of it in the end. If Pan does not come for you in one day –"
"Three days," she said suddenly.
He paused, considering her. "Three days…" he said slowly. "Very well. In that time, I will do nothing to you. I give you my word. But after that…" His smile caught the light, like the glint off the surface of a knife. A chill ran through her veins as she saw how he was relishing this. The chance to shatter her of her last, final illusions. A vindictive game, an old obsession. She braced herself in dreaded anticipation, waiting for the next move.
The captain drew a skull-corked vial from the folds of his claret coat, a viscous liquid swirling inside. The colour of spilled wine. Spilled blood. And Wendy realized what he was about to do a moment before he did it. Too late, she pushed against him. Metallic gold-threaded brocade met her hands. His grip on her steel-tight and unrelenting –
Her head forced back –
Memory flashed through her - take your medicine -
The last thing Wendy remembered was the touch of sweet poison on her lips. As the slow, drugging darkness rolled over her, she reflected dimly that it tasted of vengeance.