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Authors: Brianna Shrum

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Never, Never (8 page)

BOOK: Never, Never
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Bibble sighed and looked up at James, abandoning his twig. “I don't think so. It's your experiences, you know, that age you. After Flobbins died, I took it rather harder than anyone else; it was more or less my fault, creating that horrid Grap. It made me grow up quite a lot more than anyone else, and Bobble didn't like that I was older than him, so we tried to reverse it, spending all our time
with the fairies and splashing the mermaids and doing silly things, like we did when we first got here. It didn't work.”

James was silent. He shut his eyes, thinking that maybe if he didn't see Neverland, then for a moment it wouldn't be there, and neither would Peter, and neither would this whole problem.

“I'm sorry, James; I wish you could.”

“So do I,” James whispered, more to himself than to his friend.

“Come on, come back to camp. Food's on soon.”

James took Bibble's hand when he offered it and tried not to notice Bibble struggling to help up his greater weight. They headed back to camp, and James didn't even eat the nothing that Peter had brought for supper.

F
OR THE NEXT SEVERAL
N
EVERDAYS
(
WHICH WERE
sometimes a month's worth of normal days, and sometimes only an hour's worth), they carried on as usual, provoking the Indians to battle, splashing around with the mermaids, killing the occasional pirate (though James usually found ways to conveniently disappear during those particular ventures), and dancing with the fairies.

One night, however, when Peter was in a dark mood, which was not unusual as of late—recently all his interactions with James had consisted of varying degrees of hostility—the forced gaiety and civility came to an abrupt halt.

The night was black, and the Lost Boys and hordes of fairies were playing near a roaring red fire that crackled and spat little bits of ash at them when they got close. It was casting strange, colorful hues and shadows on
the ground and the timber, which James was enjoying, until he noticed the way they played on Peter's face. He was brooding, which he generally only did when he was alone with James, so easily distracted was he when in the presence of the other Lost Boys, of whom he was still quite fond. But not tonight. Tonight, James's presence— and he had no doubt that he was, indeed, the catalyst— was so offensive to Peter that toxin radiated out of him, even in the company of the others.

Peter's mood became blacker and blacker until every fairy had wisely disappeared from the party, and the air smelled vaguely like smoke and sulfur. James was becoming so uncomfortable that it was impossible for him to sit idly and enjoy the fire. He rose quietly from his seat.

“Where are you going?” Peter said, voice toneless.

“I'm not entirely sure.”

“Sit, then,” he said, baring his teeth in a poor mimicry of a smile.

“I'd rather not.”

“Why not?”

James clenched his jaw, shaking from fear and anger. “Am I required to explain my every action to you now, Peter?”

Peter was silent, flipping his dagger over and over in his hand, staring at the licking flames. He looked up at the dancing boys, and the look alone was enough to stop the frolicking.

“We're going to have something special tonight, boys.”

There was no answer, no sound, only the crackles from the fire and the gentle breathing of the wind. The silence dragged on until Tootles piped up. “What is it, Peter?”

“Tonight,” he said, “we are going to have a Thinning.”

EIGHT

J
AMES RAISED AN EYEBROW
. “A T
HINNING?

“Yes.”

The Lost Boys stood there, in varying states of confusion. Slightly scratched at his belly and Bibble pursed his lips, looking rather more worried than the rest of them.

Simpkins said, “Peter, what exactly is a Thinning?”

Slightly looked very important and he rolled his eyes at Simpkins. “I can't believe you don't know what a Thinning is.” But he didn't elaborate.

James smirked. Slightly was of the opinion that he knew everything there was to know about everything, but generally that wasn't true.

Peter stared at his dagger. The firelight glinted off it in an eerie way, casting a ghostly glow on his face. Shadows danced across the bodies of the Lost Boys as they stood there, looking at Peter. Peter rose slowly from his seat on the log by the fire, flipping his knife in his hand again.

“James. We need to have words.”

“But what about this ‘Thinning?'” said James, muscles tensing.

“That's precisely what we need to speak about.” Peter tilted his head toward the dark woods, leaves undulating and shifting slowly between deep green and silver and black. The air tasted metallic now. James shifted toward
the wood, then leaned back, conflicted. One piece of him, the piece that couldn't help but wish for Peter's approval, wanted to follow him into the trees, but the other, larger piece of him deeply feared what would await him there. Pan was eyeing his blade a bit too fondly for James's taste.

“Then, speak,” James said.

“Are you commanding me?”

James dug his fingernails into his palms, sure that if he pressed any harder, he would break the skin. “I'm not leaving.”

Peter's brow shadowed his face and he sneered, the fairy part of him showing itself. “You defy me again.”

“Peter, be reasonable.”

Bibble cleared his throat behind James, and Tootles squeaked.

Peter started to hover above the dirt, a ball of rage. Lightning flashed across the sky. “I brought you here, James Hook. I rescued you from a dreary life in London and brought you to this place where you never have to grow up. You can be a boy forever, and what did you do? You spat it back in my face.”

James's voice rose to meet Peter's. “Rescued me? From what, exactly?”

“From growing up, I thought. But look at you. You've gone and ruined it all,
man
.” He said this last word with such venom that James felt the need to back away. “You betrayed me. You grew up.”

James's breathing rapidly shallowed. “I didn't.”

Peter shot higher into the air. “Fly up to meet me, James.”

James stared up at him, pulse of the island thumping harder and faster in the ground. It had been quite some time since he'd had the need to fly.

“If you aren't a man, come meet me up here,” he taunted.

Pan's fairy fluttered and bobbed beside Peter, giving James something bright to focus on for just a moment, before Peter flicked him away and sent him tumbling into the blackness. James was concerned, very briefly, for the little creature's life. But he didn't have much time for empathy.

The Lost Boys looked frantically between Peter and James, the face of Bibble the most void of color, the most strained. Bibble grabbed James's arm and urged him, “James, fly up to him. We can end all this.”

Bobble echoed him. Soon, there wasn't a boy among them who wasn't chanting for James to fly. James swallowed, looking intently up at the boy floating in the sky who was daring him to join him. He thought the challenge was ridiculous, but if flying would convince Pan, then fly he would.

James thought of the happiest memory he could, one of those he'd pulled every time he'd needed to fly so long ago. It was a picture, slightly blurred at the edges, of his father and his pregnant mother, doing nothing important, just eating breakfast with him, back when he was a boy. He shook his head, denying then that his boyhood was in the past. He was a boy still, and the flying would prove it. He focused again on his happy thought, feeling it warm him from his core. And when he opened his eyes, he was deeply alarmed. For he was not in the air, but on the ground still.

Pan called to him. “Fly up to meet me, Hook.”

James focused everything he had on floating from the ground, but flight would not come. A low rumbling panic set inside him and every muscle fiber, every pore, every hair began to tremble. He stared, wide-eyed, at Bibble, and Bibble's mouth fell open.

“What is it, Hook?” Peter called. “Can't fly?”

“I, well, I—” There was nothing left to say, but, “No.”

It was in that moment that Peter had him. Boys could all fly in Neverland. No adults could. There was no more denying the evidence. James Hook was no longer a boy.

Peter shot toward the ground. “Tennnnnnn-hut!”

James instinctively ran to fall in line, but Pan shot his hand out at him. “No. Not you. This is for Lost Boys only.”

James stepped back, looking crestfallen.

“Sound off!”

Bibble hesitated, flicking his gaze over to look at James, eyes dark and frightened. But then he said, “Bibble!”

“Bobble!”

“Slightly!”

“Simpkins!”

“Tootles!”

James felt a horrible emptiness at this, and Peter put a greater hole in him when he looked over James from his head to his toes. “And you, James. What shall we do with you?”

That soul-sucking quiet. The kind that pulled at his skin and set his ears to ringing.

“Shall I leave?” James said, his voice cracking.

“Not until after our Thinning.” Peter smiled.

“What is this Thinning you keep going on about?” James fisted and loosened his fingers over and over again, until the movement was compulsory and frantic.

“Well, you see, James, I've recently realized that not every boy who is Lost can respect authority.” He smiled wider, nostrils flared, the happy expression changing nothing in his eyes. “When Lost Boys start growing up, it is my job to keep Neverland pure, free, the way it was meant to be. The way I dreamt it to begin with. When Lost Boys start growing up, the responsibility falls to me to thin them out.”

A trickle of panic ran down into James's stomach as his mind churned wildly, attempting to figure any other
possible meaning for what Peter had just said. None of the other boys seemed to understand.

“You mean to—” James paused, drew in a deep breath, “—thin me out?”

Peter's eyes went feral then, and he went at James, dagger out. Panic assaulted James, but he was running on adrenaline. James sidestepped him and grabbed hold of Peter's back, thankful, for once, for his larger muscles, using the smaller boy's own momentum to fling him into the dirt. Peter rose, brandishing the blade, wild, aggressive, and looking like he wanted blood.

Bibble made an unintelligible, high-pitched sort of noise as the boy and the young man circled each other, each waiting for the other to slip. Peter flew into the air suddenly, then sped straight for James.

“Bad form, Peter!” he cried, frustrated that Peter would use his advantage against him. Peter kept coming nonetheless, and James jutted out his knee, catching Peter in the gut, but Peter's speed knocked James to the ground anyway.

The two grappled for a bit, filling the thick silence with thuds and grunts. James threw himself from the dirt, slamming into Peter, causing the smaller boy to wince and cry out. Peter wriggled around, slipping over him with such quickness James could hardly see him. And in that one move, it was over. Peter was on top of James, digging his knee into James's chest. It was nearly impossible to breathe. James wondered if any of his ribs were cracked, if a lung was punctured.

Peter pressed his dagger to James's throat. James could feel the life within him pounding fiercely against the blade, the scratchy leaves clawing his back, a large stick digging into his shoulder where he lay. He stared up at Peter, mind unwilling to accept what his body was saying to it—that, in minutes, he would be dead.

“Peter,” he said, making one last desperate effort.

“Yes?”

“It seems bad form to kill me with that knife.”

Peter hesitated. He was very concerned with matters of fairness, James knew.

“What makes you say that?”

James drew in a hoarse breath, struggling against the blade, air coming thin and precious. “You know as well as I that you could kill me with one arm tied 'round your back.”

“Could I?” he asked, smirking.

From the corner of his eye, James could just make out the faces of the twins, mouths hanging open, eyes like the moons. “Of course,” he said, gasping for air. “You don't need a weapon. You can fly circles around me, you're infinitely cleverer, and you could quite easily kill me with your bare hands. It doesn't seem fair to use a blade on me.”

Peter lightened his suffocating touch, and James drew in a greedy, gulping breath. “That really
doesn't
seem fair, does it? I am quite clever and quite good.”

“Of course you are.”

Peter took his gaze away from James's face for an instant and looked off into the dark, lightening further the touch of the knife. James took what he knew was the only opportunity he would be getting tonight. He hurled all his body weight at Pan, and Peter was sent flying through the air. James jumped up from the ground and grabbed the stick that had been digging into his shoulder, and when Pan darted toward him, he swung it with all his might. There was hardly a contest in the area of brawn, so it connected with a sickening thump, and Pan fell.

Without looking back, James sprinted away. He had no idea where he was going or if Peter was behind him or if he was going to survive, but he ran on into the black. Trees smacked him in the arm, stinging him, cutting him,
and the entire forest shrank in around him. The metallic air assaulted his tongue. The wind pounded darts into his skin. He could hear no Pan behind him, but continued to run. Then, he stopped. At his feet, the river ran, babbling as it did. Beyond this river lived the Indians. He stuck out his foot, and hesitated. It seemed to him that no good could come from crossing that river. None could come from staying behind, either. James was frozen in space, having no inkling as to what to do.

There was a distant crow behind him that sounded more like a boy's than an animal's, and that sound propelled him across the water. Ahead, a small fire glowed, sending up a pillar of smoke that was white against the darkness of the sky. He crept closer and closer to the camp until he could see silhouettes of the people milling around. Eventually, he could see the general features of their faces. He was unable to enter the camp, however, because a large man whom James recognized as the Chief came out of nowhere and blocked his path.

“James Hook.”

He looked slowly up into the man's eyes. “Chief.”

“We grow weary of your provocations.”

The Chief was the same size as he'd always been, so James wondered for a moment if he himself had shrunk. He certainly felt small under the other man's hard scrutiny.

James took a step back. “I'm truly sorry for that, Chief. I beg no quarrel from you tonight.”

“Then what do you beg?”

“Sanctuary.”

The Chief looked at him for a while, dark eyes cunning and sharp. “Sanctuary from whom?”

“The Pan.”

“Unexpected,” he replied simply.

Stinging tears welled up in James's eyes, and he blinked to stave them off. “To both of us, sir.”

James looked down at the ground, knowing full well that nothing he had done these past years warranted any sort of special favors from the Chief. Of course, they weren't always battling; sometimes they would have grand celebrations and hunting parties and dances. More often than not, however, James was attempting, under Pan's orders, to provoke them to war.

“Look me in the eyes, Hook.”

James's gaze flickered upward.

“So, the Pan has turned on his boys?” The Chief crossed his arms, muscles like boulders, hard and bulging and bumping.

“Only on me. It seems I've been growing up.”

The Chief looked him up and down, crow's feet around his eyes wrinkling. “It does indeed.”

“He pursues me even now. I ask, though I know it is undeserved, that you allow me to join your ranks.”

The Chief shook his head. “You are not one of us.”

“I'm not one of anyone.”

He set a large hand on James's shoulder and looked straight into his face. “You're a different sort of boy—a man, Hook. I wish to believe you. But I cannot risk the safety of my tribe. Were I to shelter you and find later that this was another of your tricks and you meant only to ambush us, I would have no one but myself to blame.”

James closed his eyes slowly and opened them again. “Where am I to go?”

“You will find an answer.”

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