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The Never King: Chapter 25

WINNIE

Peter Pan’s shirt smells like him. Like wild forest and heady nights.

I pull it closer to my torso to keep in some of my body heat while I follow him back through the woods.

When we emerge and the house comes into view, I pause for a second. It’s the first I’ve really looked at the house from the front. It’s massive, hugged on both sides by wild, tropical forest. Bright flowers dot the surrounding trees and several palms rise high above. All of the windows of the house are lit up, sending a golden glow into the descending night.

My mom said there was magic on the island. The illusions the twins cast were certainly magic, but now I know what my mom was really talking about. The lagoon, the swimming souls that looked like mermaids, and the house glowing with life.

I love it here, even though that feels like a leap considering I’ve barely been here at all.

There’s something about it that feels familiar, that feels like returning home after a long trip. A place to sigh with contentment.

I’ve never had that. Never in my entire life.

I follow Pan up the steps to the balcony and then into the loft. The giant tree in the center of the house is full of little fireflies.

“There you are,” Vane says. “Where the fuck have you been?”

Pan grumbles at him. “Out.”

Vane eyes me with his glittering violet eye. I can’t tell what he’s thinking and I’m usually so good at reading people. Maybe that’s why he’s so damn frustrating. I can’t get beyond his walls and see inside.

He is a puzzle box and I want to find the solution to break him open.

The twins come into the room. “Tilly is on her way.”

Peter Pan snaps his fingers at Vane. “Get the rest of the Lost Boys into the house and out of sight. Bash and Kas, get the Darling some dry clothes and help get her ready.”

My heart leaps to my throat and blood rushes to my head, pounding against my ears. This is it. This is how it happens.

I don’t want to lose my mind.

“Darling?” Kas stops in front of me. His hair is tied back again in a bun at the back of his head. There’s worry in his amber eyes.

“I don’t want to do this.”

He frowns at me. “The king gets what he wants.”

I gulp down air. “Please, Kas.”

He slips his arm around my shoulders and guides me toward the bedroom.

I’m shaking and numb.

This is how it happens. This is when it begins.

“Why does she have to get into my head? Can’t I just be like hypnotized or something? Don’t you think that if any of us knew where it was, we would have remembered by now? Please, Kas.” I grab his hands, squeeze.

“I can’t stop it, Win,” he says and tilts his head. “And you can’t either.”

Bash comes into the room. “Listen, Darling. You may be at risk of being knocked over by a stiff breeze, but in here”—he ruffles my hair—“you’re stronger than you think. And you’re going to let our dear sister get into your head and you’re going to help us find Peter Pan’s shadow. Okay? I believe that. I believe you’re different from every single Darling that’s come before you.”

I swallow against the lump growing in my throat. “You think so?”

“Yeah.” He grins at me. “We got to fuck you.”

Kas whacks him upside the back of the head and then Bash reaches over and does the same to his twin.

I want to help Pan.

I want to be the one that gets him his shadow.

But I don’t want to lose my head doing it.

I have endured. I’ve endured the sickness of so-called magic potions that only made me vomit for days. I’ve endured blades cutting into my flesh, the blood collected to paint across my ceiling.

I have endured and I can endure this.

I can finally end this curse for all of us.

“Okay.” I nod and pull Peter Pan’s shirt off. “I can do this.”

“That’s right,” Kas says. “I’ll go see if Cherry has some clean, dry clothes somewhere.”

When Kas is gone, Bash comes over to me and takes my hand in his. He fingers the bracelet around my wrist, spins it around my arm. “This isn’t just a regular bracelet.”

“I know. It’s a kiss.”

“Yes, but there’s more.” He smiles down at me, voice raspy and low as he continues. “It’s imbued with magic. It’ll protect you. You have nothing to fear.”

I know he has magic. Maybe he’s telling the truth.

I give him a nod.

Unlike my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother, I can come out the other side of this intact.

It’s going to be all right.


Cherry lends me a clean dress, but it sags on my shoulders so I fuss over it constantly so that my back isn’t bared.

“Darling,” Pan calls.

I come out to the loft where he, the twins, and Vane are waiting. The rest of the house is silent.

“Are you ready?” Pan asks.

“I think so.”

There is the distinct sound of horse hooves on the cobblestones outside the house.

Bash goes to the window. “She’s here.”

Even though I’m the one who’s supposed to be subjected to mental torture, I sense the twins’ shifting energy. They’re nervous to see their sister.

As we wait for them to come up to the loft, I try not to fidget but fail. I am a ball of nerves too.

Their sister is a queen. A fae.

I’m excited to meet her because of that but dreading what she’s here to do.

When she comes up the stairs to the loft, I hold my breath.

And when she finally appears, I can’t help but gasp.

She’s like a fairy straight out of a fairytale.

And she has wings. Large gossamer wings that arch from her back and flutter slowly beneath the light of the glowing lanterns. And when they catch the right lighting, they shimmer like the inside of an abalone shell.

Her dark hair is braided into several braids that are woven in and around a delicate golden crown where a single stone glitters in the center.

She has the twins’ high, sharp cheekbones and thin, straight nose. But her face is heart-shaped where theirs is more angular.

Turning her gaze on me, I notice her irises are the same shimmery, shifting color of her wings.

She’s magnificent.

She’s more myth than Peter Pan himself.

I blink several times as if to double check that my vision isn’t playing tricks on me.

“Tilly,” Peter Pan says and comes over to her. “I’m happy to see you.”

She smiles up at him, but some of the light fades from her eyes and it’s the first hint that something is amiss between them.

Does Peter Pan know?

She holds out her hand to him, fingers bent. He reaches over, takes her hand and plants a kiss to her knuckles.

That pleases her. Almost like being kissed is a display of dominance and she likes being the dominant one.

I suppose Peter Pan is at her mercy. She’s the only one who can dig inside my head.

Then she turns her gaze on the twins flanking me and all of the pleasure bleeds from her face.

Now her expression is cold and distant.

“Brothers,” she says.

“Dear sister,” Bash says.

“It’s nice to see you, Tilly,” Kas says.

She doesn’t respond and I can tell the short conversation leaves both of the twins wanting.

“Is this the Darling?” she asks and cuts her gaze to me.

It’s hard not to turn my face to the floor like a cowering idiot.

“Hi.”

“Have these feral boys minded their manners?”

Vane snorts.

I try to ignore him. “Yes. They’ve been kind.”

Except for when they were calling me a whore and fucking me over the table.

I’d take that over this any day.

In fact, I’d prefer it over just about anything else.

I want to go back to that, when the only pursuit was my own pleasure.

“Come, have a seat.” She gestures to one of the chairs and I reluctantly make my way across the room to it and sit down.

I fold my hands into my lap to hide my trembling fingers. My skin is clammy and my knee is bouncing.

“This shouldn’t take more than a few minutes,” she says behind me and a creeping sense of dread crawls over my shoulders.

My heart is racing and my stomach is knotted up and I think I could vomit if given a bucket to do it in.

Tilly reaches out for my head and I flinch.

“It’s okay. I’m just putting my hands here.” Her fingers sink into the threads of my hair so that they can press directly to my scalp. “Ready?”

God no. Not at all.

What if there is no memory of the stolen shadow? What if all of this is for nothing and all of the Darling women have had their brains scrambled for nothing more than a wild goose chase?

“Let’s begin,” she says and blinding pain cracks through my skull.


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