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The Never King: Chapter 7

WINNIE

I can’t breathe. I wasn’t made to run.

The sand is uneven beneath my feet and it’s making every step twice as hard as it should be. Tears are streaming down my face.

I hate fucking crying.

I don’t cry.

How far do I run?

Why am I running?

Haven’t they warned me over and over not to run?

The panic returns and this time, I think it’s all me. This might be a tight situation I can’t negotiate my way out of.

There’s a cliff in the distance rimmed in the glow of the moonlight. Mist from the ocean waves glitters in the devouring night air.

Suddenly Peter Pan is in front of me and the terror steals the air from my lungs.

I lurch to a stop before I slam into him. He catches me easily, his grip rough on my arms.

“What the fuck did I tell you, Darling?” His voice is edged in rage.

“I don’t know…I was…” I can’t catch my breath. I don’t know what is happening. “I was afraid,” I admit, even though I don’t remember becoming afraid.

Suddenly I just was, just like when I first woke up in the house and Vane came into the room.

For a split second, Pan softens.

I can sense it in the fading of the tension in his body. “That was Vane,” he says. “He has the ability to make people feel terror.

“He…what?”

“If it’s any consolation, he didn’t mean it.”

I laugh and for a split second, I hear my mother in my voice. The madness bleeding through.

“It’s not,” I say, “a consolation.” I swipe at a tear as it trails down my cheek. “Is it like…magic or something?”

Or something. Come on.” He gestures back toward the house.

“I want to go home.”

“Why?”

“Because…because you all are assholes.”

“And?”

“And…and I don’t want to be broken.”

Raw emotion leaks through my voice. I didn’t mean to show it but it came out anyway and now I can’t take it back.

Pan frowns at me. “How much you break is entirely up to you,” he says. “The more you fight it, the harder it’ll be.”

I snort. “Right. There is no easy way. I remember.”

He reaches out for me again. I dance away.

“Darling,” he says. “I’ll throw you over my shoulder and carry you back if I have to.”

“When do I get to go home?”

“As soon as I find out whether or not you can help me.”

The wind picks up and the waves crash against the shore so I have to shout at Pan to make sure he can hear me. “And when is that?”

“Do you always ask so many fucking questions?”

“When I’m kidnapped, yes!”

“Christ.” He runs his hand through his hair and turns away. “I’m beginning to think this is a curse.”

“Just tell me—”

“No.” He comes at me, grabs my arm, puts his shoulder to my chest and lifts me over his shoulder.

“Hey!”

“Fight me and I’ll tie you up and drag you back to the house.”

His arm is tight across the back of my thighs. I’m still wearing my t-shirt dress and the hem rides up. At any second, I could be flashing him.

But fighting him will only make the skirt ride higher.

I go limp against him, hanging over his shoulder and down the broad length of his back as he makes his way up the beach.

“Run again, Darling,” he says, “and next time I’ll let Vane chase you.”

My heart thuds loudly in my ears. It felt like I might choke on the terror. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be chased by Vane while his…magic…does what it does.

Am I really going to believe in all of this?

Peter Pan came on my 18th birthday just like my mother warned me he would.

He came and he took me away.

I can’t deny the reality of it any longer. The sooner I accept it all, the quicker I can figure out how to escape it.


Pan carts me back to the house and through the crowd of boys gathered around the bonfire. I can feel them all watching me, tossed over Pan’s shoulder like a conquest.

Pan doesn’t say anything to them and the guitar music picks up once we’re on the stone balcony of the house.

Inside, I’m tossed unceremoniously on the couch with my skirt bunched around my waist.

The twins notice.

I take my time fixing it.

Pan goes to the bar and pours himself another drink. When he returns with it in hand, he sits in one of the plush leather chairs across from me. If the leather is anything like the couch, it’s buttery soft to the touch.

Their house isn’t ostentatious, but there are some things that speak to wealth. Like the furniture, the bar, all that liquor lined up like trophies.

Some of the house is crumbling with age, but there’s beauty in it, like a cracked marble statue of some ancient Greek goddess.

Pan rests his tumbler of liquor on the arm of the chair and lays his head against the back and closes his eyes.

The twins give me a look that very clearly says, What have you done?

It was Vane. Not me. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have run if he hadn’t turned that power on me.

Bash pulls out another cigarette and lights it, takes a drag. Then he gets up and crosses the room and hands it to Pan.

Pan opens his eyes and takes the offering, pinches the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger as he takes a pull from it.

When he exhales, the smoke clouds above us and ghosts to the exposed beams.

To my left, the tree that has sprouted right up the center of their house lets a few more leaves loose and they flutter like feathers to the ground.

“Here’s what you need to know, Darling,” Pan says, but he’s still looking at the ceiling, his head lolled back against the chair. “The Darlings took something from me a very long time ago and they hid it and I want it back. You’re going to help me find it.”

“I don’t know where—”

“Quiet.” His gaze lands on me. Now in the light of the house, I realize he has eyes so blue they’re almost white and they are ringed in a circle of black.

A shiver dances across my shoulders and I tug my sweater closed.

“I don’t need your permission to root around inside your head and I’m not asking for it.” He sits forward. “But cooperate and we’ll all get what we want much sooner than if you don’t.”

He takes another hit and smoke ribbons around his face.

I think this is the first time I’ve really looked at him. When he showed up at my house, I was too deep in the disbelief to really take him in.

On the beach, he was shrouded in darkness.

The sleeves of his shirt are rolled up to his elbows, exposing black ink that covers both his arms and hands. The silver rings on his fingers glint beneath the light as he holds his glass in a death grip.

The tattoos are distracting and I’m grateful for it. It’s difficult to look him straight in the face.

When I look at him, my belly soars.

There is something about him that is disarming. Unnatural. Haunting. Like a barren tree growing in the middle of a dark lake.

Something that very rarely should be and yet is.

Just the sight of it tells you a story—I am indestructible. Unyielding.

It’s hard to look at him, but harder to look away.

“Do you understand me, Darling?” he says.

I swallow around a lump wedged in my throat. “Yes.”

“Good girl.” He gets up. “Put her back in her room.”

The twins share a look.

“Now.”

They move as Pan disappears from sight.

“Come on, Darling.” Kas pulls me upright as Bash starts down the hall. “We’ll tuck you in and we promise we’ll be nicer than Pan.” He ends this with a laugh that feels like it could be sarcastic.

They lead me down the hall to the back bedroom and chain me to the bed again. Kas is gentle, but I catch his gaze lingering on my body.

It’s an odd feeling, suddenly being held captive in a house full of boys.

A year ago, I’d call this a party.

Now it’s just the sum of a life lived in fear and delusion.

“For your first day in Neverland,” Bash says, “you did all right, Darling.”

“I’m chained to a bed. It isn’t like I had a choice in any of this.”

Kas’s jaw flexes. “We always have a choice.”

“If you need us, we’ll be within shouting distance, Darling,” Bash says and then they leave me in the flickering light of a lantern, the door clicking closed behind them.


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