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Authors: Brianna Shrum

Tags: #General Fiction

Never, Never (9 page)

BOOK: Never, Never
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The Chief patted him heavily on the back and left him there, walking back to camp. James slumped his shoulders and sighed, and it was a breath made of fear and anger and utter anguish. Then he started to walk away from the Indians and into nothingness.

“Wait,” he heard a sweet voice say. He stopped.

“James Hook.”

“Tiger Lily.”

He could barely see her at first, in the darkening night. As the flavor of metal snaked its way deeper into his throat and the leaves turned a darker shade of silver, the sky darkened as though ink was dripping down into it from space.

When she stepped closer, his breath caught in his throat. The Indians and Lost Boys had met occasionally beyond the throes of battle, but, as he'd said to Bibble, he'd deliberately avoided Tiger Lily since he'd noticed her beginning to grow up by years, and looking it. She'd gone off from time to time with Peter and he'd seen a blurry figure of her here and there, but that was it. For his own sake, James hadn't really seen her up close since that night so many years ago, the one he preferred not to think about, the night he found out that he was never going home again. Whereas, since he'd seen her last, he had aged five years, Tiger Lily had aged nearly ten. She couldn't have been more than a year or two younger than him now.

Her hair was longer than he remembered and fell in black waves to her waist, which was gently curved and impossible to look away from. The rest of her was delicate but strong, like her namesake. She smelled like rain. She cleared her throat lightly, and James realized that he had forgotten himself.

“You know me,” he said.

“Of course I do. I've seen you around with Peter. And I'd never forget that night, when I was just a little girl. I'd never seen a boy cry like that before.”

James was glad, then, for the dark. It hid the deep red in his face. He coughed. “Yes. Well. Not my finest hour.”

Tiger Lily stepped a bit closer, and James thought his windpipe might constrict until he couldn't breathe at all.
He decided, then, that avoiding her all those years had been a wise decision.

“You're bleeding.”

“Am I?” Then James could feel the sting across his throat, where the blade had apparently sliced his skin.

“Wait here,” she commanded, stretching her hand out. As if it were possible for him to do anything else. When she returned, she was holding something wet. She gestured toward the black earth, and James sank down next to her. Then she pressed to his throat something he determined must be a sort of cloth. He hissed at the prickling pain, and Tiger Lily rolled her eyes and touched his bare skin with her free hand. James swallowed hard, a buzz of excitement flooding him with her fingers touching his throat, her chest moving lightly up and down less than an inch from his.

“Where did you get this?” she asked.

“Courtesy of Peter Pan.”

He saw something strange flicker in her eyes, and she looked away for an instant. Then, she regained composure of herself. “Is that—is he why you're running in the middle of the night?”

“Yes.”

“I am sorry.”

He didn't know why she should be apologizing, but didn't press her.

“I just—I wish I knew what to do.”

Tiger Lily bit her lip. “I cannot offer you anything. Once my father has made a decision, it's final. I'm sorry.” She hesitated for a moment, reconsidering, he hoped. But then she started up with the cloth at his neck again, swallowing what looked like guilt.

He caught her hand as she washed the blood away from his throat, and she looked up at him.

“Never apologize to me,” he said, voice gravelly and tired. Older. “Thank you for your kindness. Now and years ago.”

She stared intently at him, and he felt his heart quicken. Then, he let her go, hearing yet another crow somewhere off in the direction of the Lost Boy camp, but likely closer. Tiger Lily heard it too.

“Be safe, James Hook.”

Tiger Lily disappeared then, and he was left alone again, mouth agape, foolishly sweaty, and not from running. But he pushed her face from his mind and made himself consider instead the very immediate threat that was likely heading toward him. He looked up at the stars and breathed deeply, dreading, fearing.

Anticipating.

With the Lost Boys and Pan turned against him and the Indians refusing to help, there was only one place he could go.

NINE

J
AMES HEARD NOTHING AS HE CREPT ALONG, SAVE FOR
his own footsteps and eventually the gentle sloshing of water against the shore. He questioned over in his mind if this was the decision of a wise man or an impetuous boy. Was there any wisdom to be found in seeking safety amongst a band of thieves? Thieves who would know he'd been part of the Lost Boys for years. Perhaps it was better for him to try to survive on his own. He chuckled darkly at that. Neverland was not a place for anyone desiring to live in solitude, with its dark corners and mirages of light. So, despite his misgivings, he soldiered on.

The salt smell of the ocean found its way into his nose, evoking horrible, painful memories of a moment years ago. It still haunted him, the face of that pirate before Pan slit his throat. The first kill he'd ever been a part of. And the face of that pirate was the reason he was here now, yards away from the
Spanish Main
.

It rose from the beach like a behemoth, moonlight casting the boat's large but elegant shadow on everything near it. The wood was beautiful and dark and solid, the lines carved by a master, and for whatever reason, James was so struck by it that he couldn't rip his gaze away. Deep in his soul, he knew that the master carver had been him, back when he was a boy and the world had still been simple. Back when he'd nothing to fear when he fell
asleep, and had spent his nights dreaming of being the captain of the
Spanish Main
, swashbuckling and sailing the sea.

Faint notes of music rose up from the ship and spilled over the edges, getting louder and louder as James approached, until he was assaulted by it. It was not music in the typical sense, but noise, really. Raucous sounds and drunken men belting out notes he was sure were supposed to be following some sort of tune. Somehow, the hullaballoo was not intimidating; it was inviting.

Mirroring what he'd done years ago, he scaled the side of the ship, not as easily as he remembered Pan doing it, but effectively, and that was all that mattered. His muscles were burning by the time he reached the top, and he peeked his head over to eye what he would be walking into.

The air smelled strongly of whiskey and of men who hadn't bathed in far too long a time. It was filled with coarse merriment as well, making the otherwise offensive odor almost charming. There were at least thirty men on board, perhaps more, all in various states of debauchery, some dancing, some singing, some passed out, and some on the verge of passing out, but nursing their drinks anyway. It was a night for revelry across the island, it seemed.

James took several deep breaths and hoisted himself over the ship's edge, landing with a monstrous
thump
on the deck. All at once, everything stopped.

The pirates blinked at him for several tense moments in silence. The only sound was of the waves lapping against the ship's hull. James was frozen in a crouch, terrified, trying with everything he had to look proud. Then, the man he'd encountered on the beach years before stepped forward. His eyes crinkled in a smile as he walked up very
close to James and bowed his head, then crossed his hat over his heart. “Captain,” he said.

It was a scene that was very familiar to James, as he'd remembered it nearly every night before he fell asleep since it had happened. The part that followed, however, was new. The rest of the men looked to the one in the front and knelt in turn, each whispering the word, “Captain,” as they did.

James was dumbstruck. Eventually, they all stood and looked at him.

“I'm, I'm—” he stuttered.

“Aye,” said the leader, the one with smiling hazel eyes and a gold tooth. “Ye be Captain James Hook.”

Captain
. So, it
had
worked. He'd dreamt himself the captain, night after night in London. Sailed with this particular crew, commanded and pillaged and plundered with them, on this very ship. He'd fancied himself Captain James Hook, and here, that was who he was.

“I am,” James said, though at that point he could barely form words. “And I know you. But, I'm sorry. I don't quite recall your name.” He felt blood rushing to his cheeks at this, but it had been an awfully long time since he'd dreamt of them. It'd been an awfully long time since he'd dreamt at all, really. He hadn't dreamt a thing since leaving London. So the fellow's name was something buried in some dusty corner of his mind, and he was left standing there, rather embarrassed.

“Starkey, Captain,” the pirate said, not blinking at the question. “And this be Bill Jukes.” Jukes stepped forward and extended a muscled and heavily tattooed arm. James smiled widely, shaking his hand. It felt more real now than it ever had in his dreams, the massive man's hand flexing around James's like he could crush it if he wished, light of the moons glinting off his bald head. “And Smee.” A portly little redheaded man with spectacles too small
for his face stepped out from the crew and bowed grandly, flinging his hat out. He came up smiling, bright and warm. James was sure he would take a liking to this fellow.

Starkey introduced each pirate then, name by name. It struck James that somehow this crude band of pirates had many more marks of gentlemen than did the Lost Boys.

“We've been waiting for ye, Captain,” said Starkey.

A tingling warmth spread over James from the crown of his head to the tips of his toes. A feeling he hadn't had since the last time he'd been home. “Have you?”

“Since before any one of us can remember.”

A smile broke out on James's face. He took another moment to examine Starkey, seeing an unfamiliar deep scar that ran from his left ear down to the right side of his chin. But he also couldn't help but notice a familiar look in his eyes, in the way they creased at the corners, and in the way he held himself, all authority and knowledge. He couldn't place it yet, so he decided to pack the feeling away for another time and to play the role of captain for a moment. He puffed his chest out. “Where are the captain's quarters?”

He didn't know how true to his dreams the ship really was, but if it drew from them at all, his captain's quarters should have been something to behold. James followed Starkey from the quarterdeck back to a little room set off from everything else. When Starkey pushed open the door, James realized that the room was not little at all. It was massive, exactly as he'd dreamt it, down to the tapestries.

It was a grand cabin, filled with luxury, and several degrees warmer than the deck. There was a large bed in the corner of the room, draped in heavy crimson fabric, a blanket that looked like it could envelop you without a bit of effort, and an oak desk, upon which were the goblets—the golden ones he'd dreamt of what seemed
like an eternity ago—filled with a beverage he could drink all he wanted now. A laugh bubbled out of him, despite himself. The room itself was swathed in reds and golds— large and perfectly gaudy curtains, rich dark wood on the floor, plush red rugs by the bed and under the window. He curled his toes in the soft rug, sighing at the feeling. It had been quite some time since he'd set his feet upon something that didn't wish to scratch at him or tickle him. In the corner hung a long red jacket and an extravagant wide-brimmed hat that matched it perfectly, a hat pulled straight from his childhood imagination.

James walked to the corner and pulled the jacket off its post, then draped it over his shoulders. He set the hat atop his head, quite unaware of anyone else around him. Then he made his way over to the floor-length mirror on the other side of the room and stared at himself.

His hair was long and wavy, much longer than his mother had ever let him keep it back home in London. And he was already taller than he'd been just hours before. He reached up to touch his face. There were small whiskers there, stubble really, where they had never been before. Despite only having been aboard the
Spanish Main
for a short time, he already smelled like the sea.

It struck him then that he was staring at a mirror image of his father. And that affected him deeply. He suddenly choked back a deep sob and turned away from it, breathless. James stood that way for a moment, chewing on his knuckle to ward off any threat of emotion, and then turned around to face the mirror once again.

He was his father. But he was also a captain, and he believed that to his very core.

“Starkey,” he said.

“Aye, Captain?” Starkey peeked into the room, at the front of a crowd of pirates. He seemed inordinately delighted at the simple address.

“What is it that we do aboard the
Spanish Main
?”

“Plunder, sir. And pillage, and sail.” He belched loudly, then, and raised a hand to cover his mouth. It seemed odd that he was embarrassed at all. “And drink, sir.”

“What do you plunder and pillage?” James said, eyeing the mirror once again, adjusting his hat upon his head.

“I, er, I don't rightly know.” Starkey's eyebrows knit together, leathery cheeks stained so little that no one but the boy who'd known him all his life would notice. “It seems to me that we've been planning to plunder or pillage something or other for quite some time. But, more often than not, we end up just waiting here.”

From the corner of his eye, James saw Jukes start to laugh and Smee shift his weight nervously.

“That will have to be remedied,” said James, chin in the air.

“Aye!” Starkey said, eyes lighting up once again, furrow disappearing.

The crew behind him echoed him with a thunderous, “Aye!”

Those with goblets raised them, and a good amount of alcohol was wasted in the general sloshing that followed. Slowly, the band of pirates dispersed back out onto the ship and resumed carousing, as though there was nothing out of the ordinary going on that night. Perhaps there wasn't. Perhaps James being there in his captain's quarters and in his pirate garb was the most perfectly natural and ordinary thing that had gone on since he'd got to Neverland.

James sat on his bed—he'd never been so happy to hear that word—and kicked off his ratty shoes. They were really more like hastily sewn together leaves than shoes, and they fell apart almost immediately upon contacting the ground. He lay back then, allowing himself to be enveloped by the bed's softness.

He hadn't realized until then just how exhausted he was. Adrenaline will do strange things to a boy's—man's— body. There was tiredness that seeped into the marrow of his bones, the kind of tiredness that does not come from a day's run, but from years of hardship.

He touched his face again, trying to get used to the strangeness of whiskers. Whiskers and a hard jaw line. He hadn't had those even that morning. He wondered, not for the first time that day, just how much older he'd gotten since the suns had come up. It was difficult to say. Perhaps as much as a year, perhaps a bit more. He swallowed down the grave fear that welled up inside him at that undeniable truth. He was getting older, and the acceptance didn't give him any sort of freedom or peace, only a heavy, terrifying knowledge. Back in England, everyone was moving slowly toward death together. But here in Neverland, it seemed he was hurtling toward it faster than anyone else, and there was something frightening, and strikingly lonely, about it. He shut his eyes.

His fingers trailed down to the angry, swollen stripe across his throat, and he opened his eyes once again. It was a clean line; the sharp stroke of the dagger had seen to that. And he doubted heavily that it would become infected; Tiger Lily had seen to that. But he could feel the depth of it and knew that it would be a scar he would always bear. On the outside and in his very soul, a stain that would never be lifted. It was another defining moment in his life, like the murder of the pirate. The face of a Pan staring at him, desiring his blood, affected him in a way that no other murderer's face ever would. For somehow, in the darkest depths of him, as Peter was trying to murder him, a piece of James wanted to give him whatever it was that he wanted.

His fingers left his neck, and he turned over on the soft bed. He'd liked the idea of the pillowy mattress at
first, but just as it had been impossible to sleep without one the day he'd come to this wretched place, he found it infeasible to sleep in one now. No noises of wildlife, no shivering in the cold. It was a strange thing for him to have to get used to comfort. But, as time (if you could call it time) wore on, the pirates' singing became a coarse lullaby, and he drifted into sleep.

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