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The Never King: Chapter 2

PETER PAN

It takes me twice as long to get back to Neverland and the treehouse with a Darling thrown over my shoulder.

She’s light as a feather. Her rib bones are sharp enough to hurt.

This Darling is not well.

Perhaps her spiderweb cracks means she’ll be easier to break open.

It’s not carrying her that makes the trip harder—it’s the shifting between two worlds and my waning magic.

I have so little left to spare.

This one has to be the one.

I don’t know what happens if she isn’t.

I am this island. It won’t survive without me.

When I walk in through the open front doors of the house, the Lost Boys are waiting.

I’ve lost count of how many there are now and I can never remember half their names, but the ones who matter will be waiting for me in the loft beneath the canopy of the Never Tree.

I take the Darling up the wide staircase, hand trailing along the carved banister to keep me upright. Wrought iron lanterns flicker from their scrolled hooks.

I am so fucking tired.

I come into the loft to find Vane at the bar, the twins at the hallway. Leaves are floating down from the branches of the Never Tree. It’s growing thinner by the day.

The tree is dying.

Little pixie bugs glow bright yellow amongst the leaves that remain and whenever I see that glow, it reminds me of Tink and it makes me angry all over again.

“The room ready?” I ask the boys.

Kas nods, his eyes scanning the Darling, her arms hanging limply behind me.

The twins follow me down the hall and to the spare bedroom. Vane doesn’t come. Vane is only interested in making Darlings cry.

There is a lantern lit on a table by the window and the window is open allowing the ocean breeze to steal in.

I set the Darling on the bed. The frame takes no notice.

Bash closes the metal cuff around her wrist, the one attached to a chain bolted into the wall.

I collapse into the wingback chair and pull the steel case of cigarettes from my pocket, lighting one with the flick of the lighter. The flame dances in the darkness. I inhale, the flame following the current, and the tobacco crackles as it burns.

When the smoke fills my lungs, I feel infinitesimally better.

“How was she?” Kas asks.

If any of us has a bleeding heart, it’s Kas.

“More stubborn than I’d like.”

Bash is leaning against the wall just inside the doorway and light from the hall outlines him in flickering gold. “What about Merry?”

The ocean air turns cold. I lay my head back against the chair. “As mad as we left her.”

The cigarette burns to the end. I close my eyes as the sun reaches the horizon line.

The closer it gets, the further away the magic feels.

I am nothing in the daylight.

Nothing but ash.

“Watch her,” I order as I get up and make my way for the door. “But don’t touch.”

“We know the rules,” Bash says, a little annoyed to be told what to do. But Bash has always loved pretty things and this Darling is prettier than the rest.

“Don’t fuck the Darlings,” I say, just to be sure he hears me.

It’s the only rule we have.

We don’t fuck the Darlings because fucking Darlings is what got us into this mess.

We don’t fuck the Darlings.

We just break them.


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