Water flashed by beneath Wendy, a slatey colour that belied the bright blue sky above. Wendy glanced up, saw storm clouds massing overhead. Well. That hadn't been there when she'd set out for the pirate ship.
Below her, bright fins flashed, spraying her with water. A very beautiful and very human-looking face peered out of the water at her, and Wendy suppressed a shiver and gripped Belle's hand tighter, ignoring the sidhe's protests. She really didn't want to risk being dropped into the water, especially not now that the merrows were out. And Belle seemed to have a rather…physical sense of humour, and an almost limitless capacity for holding a grudge.
As they touched down lightly on deck, Wendy felt the first shivers of apprehension tickle up her spine. The deck was deserted but for herself and Belle, with not a pirate in sight.
"Great," Wendy whispered, realizing with a writer's instinct for a sudden plot twist that she'd walked straight into a trap. Whether it had been set for her or for Peter or whoever might have the misfortune to stumble into it, the pirates had definitely been expecting someone to come after Mikey, and they'd obviously guessed that the rescuer or rescuers would be flying. Belle might even be in on the plot. She definitely seemed bigger, inflated with glee.
Not for the first time since this had all started, Wendy found herself wishing she was back home, safe and warm in her own bed, reading all of this in a book and losing herself in a perfectly safe adventure, with Mikey snoring somewhere in the nursery and Jon safe beside her - on the floor. In his sleeping bag.
Wendy forced herself not to look at Belle, who was giggling at the blush crawling steadily up Wendy's neck. What now? She could either plunge on, get captured – or worse – and look like the silly brainless heroine she was beginning to suspect she was, or she could chicken out and go home like a good little girl.
Leaving the trap wide open for Peter and Jon to spring.
Wendy took a deep breath and tried to feel brave, wondering if Melly would mind if Wendy borrowed her skin for a while. Because she couldn't – and wouldn't – go back now, to let the boys face danger she didn't think she could take on herself. She'd never forgive herself if anyone got hurt. And, of course, there was Mikey to think of too. There was no way, having come this far, that she would give up and go back, not when her little brother could be locked in eh brig, scared and cold and lonely and –
It would just be easier if brave, sassy Melly could do the rescuing, instead of Wendy St. Clair, who wanted nothing more right now than her favourite stuffed toy, or, better yet, to never have come on this adventure at all.
Wendy swallowed hard. Never? Never to have seen the neverland? Never to have seen mermaids, met pirates, flown on the good grace of a fairy, nearly been killed by elves? (She hastily amended this last to 'discovered the true nature of elves'. Though it had been exhilarating, the last thing she needed was a reminder of just how dead she could be while she was busily trying to give herself a pep talk.) Never to have explored an opera house, seen fairy glamour for what it was, set foot on a pirate ship?
Never to have met Peter?
No. She wouldn't wish that for anything.
"All right then," Wendy whispered, risking a glance at Belle, who flashed her a brilliant smile and a thumbs-up. "Let's go."
Minutes later, Wendy had to admit to a painful lack of knowledge about ships, despite having seen so many pirate movies that she could probably write one herself. But she had, finally, found the doors to the captain's cabin. She'd started belowdecks, and had stumbled accidentally into a room full of hammocks containing sleeping pirates, before Belle had grown fed up and hauled her back abovedecks. However, this was not before Wendy had examined the brig and found it empty. Despite the easy explanation for the empty deck that the sleeping pirates provided, Wendy couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. Wouldn't a watch have been set? And where was her brother?
Well, the answers might lie behind this door.
Wendy took a deep breath, reached out, and turned the handle, trying not to look at the grotesque knocker leering down at her. The doorknob, a solid ball of clear glass with rusty copper fittings, swiveled with a shriek of metal as she turned it, and the door swung open under her touch, offering her a glimpse into darkness. Wendy swallowed past the knot of apprehension tangling in her esophagus. Why would a pirate captain leave his door unlocked if he was, to all intents and purposes, sleeping?
It was at that moment, though, that Belle reached the limits of her patience. Jangling exasperatedly in fairy, she gave a hard shove in the middle of Wendy's back, causing Wendy to stumble forward into the door, which swung wide to reveal the cavernous mouth of the cabin. Wendy clutched at the door for a moment, but it couldn't support her weight, and she fell, with a shout, into darkness.
She landed with a jarring thud on her chin, and was stunned for a moment. She tried to sit up, and fell back, lights flickering on and off before her eyes. From somewhere in the cabin, a voice said, "Usually, one uses the stairs."
Wendy got to her feet and rubbed her chin, checking to make sure it wasn't broken or bleeding. It seemed to be neither. "It's hardly my fault," she pointed out, unable to keep a tinge of accusation from her voice. "I was pushed."
"Really." The voice sounded amused. Wendy turned to face it, trying to place it. She'd heard those smooth, almost oily tones before, the darkly attractive undertones and the hint of mocking superiority that could only belong to –
The hiss of a match being struck, and a tiny golden flare revealed the beguilingly innocent features of the pirate she'd faced earlier that day.
Apparently oblivious to Wendy, the pirate lit a candle and blew out the match. As he paced the room, lighting candles as he went, the cabin and its opulent splendor were revealed piece by piece. Wendy was knocked sideways by the sheer amount of glitter, glint, glisten and glow in the room. Gold and silver trinkets, tossed carelessly about in garish clumps, reflecting light like disco balls and making the candles seem ten times brighter – and richer. Two tall marble vases in the corner, veined with red, threw back the light in a dancing shimmer that made them look almost alive. The table in the corner was carved extravagantly and held a scattered handful of rubies, some as big as Wendy's fist. A red-upholstered mahogany – well, throne was the only word for it – stood in a corner by an actual antique harpsichord. Wendy couldn't even find the words to describe most of what crammed the room from wall to wall, like the world's most expensive jumble shop. She goggled for a moment, trying to figure out whether to believe the evidence of her eyes.
"It's not a glamour," the pirate mentioned, offhand, as if reading her mind. "One of the benefits of being a pirate captain." He'd finished with the candles, and now took a seat on the magnificent throne, moving a brass telescope in order not to sit on it. "Do sit down."
Wendy nearly refused, but a twitch of the pirate's scarred eyebrow made her realize: this wasn't a showdown from a fairy tale. She was at his mercy, and if he said she should sit, she would sit. Until she figured out where Mikey was – and what this guy's motive was – she'd play along.
Finding an overstuffed ottoman, she pulled it up so that it was facing the pirate, and sat down defiantly. The pirate nodded approvingly. "I'm afraid we got off on rather the wrong foot. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Hook, and I am the captain of this unsightly tub." He leaned forward a little, and smiled most disarmingly at Wendy. "But you may call me James."
Wendy felt a furious blush beginning to sneak up her neck, ready to ambush her face. In a vain attempt to cut it off at the pass, she said quickly, "Wendy Darling. A…pleasure to meet you."
"Oh, the pleasure is all mine." The pirate – Hook – somehow managed to appear both sincere and sinister, and Wendy couldn't help a little shiver as he said, "Darling, hmm?", a small smile creasing his thin lips.
Wendy nodded. And, behind her back, crossed her fingers.
The pirate captain – Hook, or James, or whoever – scrutinized her for a moment, before apparently deciding either to believe her or just not to bother. The small smile spread into a large, easy grin that, somehow, reminded Wendy of Peter. And hard on the heels of that thought came another. Well, they are brothers, after all. The shock from trying to reconcile this knowledge with the person in front of her left Wendy momentarily dumbfounded.
The pirate – James – continued as though he had not noticed, which, perhaps, he had not. "Some tea, then, Wendy Darling?"
Wendy shook her head, hoping that this refusal wouldn't get Mikey into further trouble.
"No? Cocoa, then?"
The wave of homesickness that washed over her at the thought of hot chocolate was enough to make Wendy consider instead of refusing out of hand. She didn't trust this James, not one whit, but there was really nothing she could do but play along until she found out where Mikey was. And, after all, she would not be opposed to a mug of hot chocolate right now. "If you don't mind."
James laughed merrily, without a trace of wicked intent or malicious glee. "Such manners! My dear, in an age where rudeness is de rigueur, you are a breath of fresh air." He clapped his hands, twice, not waiting for Wendy to reply. "Smee!"
The cabin doors swung wide, letting in a gust of cold air, smelling of thunderstorms, which put out a few of the candles, along with a small boy with hair that looked like it hadn't seen a comb since he'd joined the pirate crew. If he'd bathed since then, Wendy surmised, it was likely because he'd fallen, or been thrown, overboard. He was wearing clothes that were nearly two sizes too large and an eyepatch that really didn't suit him. As he entered the cabin, he flipped the patch up, revealing a perfectly good eye beneath it.
Wendy smothered a giggle against her hand.
The boy, whom James had called Smee, made a very deep and exaggerated courtly bow to Wendy, and then turned to face his captain. "You wanted me, cap'n?"
"Yes. Smee, would you be so good as to fetch a mug of hot cocoa for our guest?" This was accompanied by a smile that left Wendy in no doubt that James was enjoying this charade immensely. "Oh, and would you relight those candles? They seem to have gone out."
Smee nodded, bobbing up and down a bit like a jack-in-the-box. "Yes, cap'n. Right away, cap'n. Do you like marshmallows in your cocoa, miss?"
"Very much, thank you. I'm Wendy. Pleased to meet you." She offered a hand, which he took and looked at blankly. Wendy couldn't help but smile, as she shook his hand, a the look of realization that bloomed on his small face as he enthusiastically pumped her arm.
"Pleasure's all mine, miss. Wendy," Smee answered cordially. "And now I'd best be going about my business, so if I might have my hand back…?"
Wendy released him instantly. "Sorry."
Smee nodded to her, then turned and hurried from the cabin, letting in another gust of rain- and electricity-scented air, dimming the lights and blowing out a few more candles as he left.
It was several long minutes before Smee returned with two mugs of hot chocolate, minutes that stretched out painfully as James tried to engage Wendy in idle conversation and Wendy tried to engineer a plan. Unfortunately, as they all hinged on knowing where Mikey was, and on having Belle (of whom Wendy had seen no sign since she'd been pushed into the cabin) on hand, she quickly discarded her plans one by one. It was almost a relief to allow James to distract her, to natter on about what she thought of the neverland, rather than have to face the jarringly obvious truth that she was out of her depth.
Wendy was halfway through her account of playing hide-and-seek with a trio of murderous elves when Smee entered the cabin, accompanied by a crack of thunder. Seconds later, it was followed by a flash of lightning so bright it sears Wendy's retinas, and as she blinked away the afterimages she wondered when electrical storms stopped following the laws of nature. Another roll of thunder quickly followed the lightning, though, and Wendy realized that she had merely missed the bolt that had cause the first thunder. The storm had begun in earnest.
James appeared not to notice that the storm had broken, merely taking the curiously wide-bottomed metal mugs from Smee and passing one to wend. She thanked him, then Smee, and put the mug to her lips – and then remembered where she was and nearly dropped it as she jumped from her seat. "You tried to trick me!"
James looked genuinely confused. "Pardon?"
"I'm not falling for that, you know," Wendy stormed. She was getting quite thoroughly fed up with playing these silly games. Well, she wouldn't stand for it any longer! She would not sit here and be made a fool of for one more instant! "You thought you could trap me? I know better than to eat or drink in fairyland!"
"Well, I never," Smee said indignantly, putting his hands on his hips and jutting out his chin, in a way that he probably though made him look grown-up and intimidating, but which looked so ridiculous on his childish countenance that Wendy would have been helpless in a fit of giggles if she hadn't been so angry. "Did you hear her insult your hospitality, cap'n?"
"I did," James answered, but he sounded like he was enjoying a private joke, not as if he were angry. "Wendy, please sit down. If you would rather not drink the cocoa, I won't force you to. But you will never know what you're missing. I can assure you that both the cocoa powder and water came from our stores, and won't trap you anywhere." An amused smirk quirked his features, and Wendy fought down an urge to smack it off of his smug face. "And our cook makes quite the best cocoa I have ever tasted." He gestured towards the ottoman, which had rolled backwards when Wendy had jumped up. Smee rushed over and rolled it back, bumping the back of Wendy's knees as he did, causing her to lose her balance and fall back onto the ottoman. She pouted, aware of how childish it made her look, but not really caring.
Until James spoke again. "And, truthfully, I have no reason to want to entrap you." Wendy, suddenly reminded that she was supposed to be the heroine here, and not the whiny useless kind either, sat straight up and met James' eye with what she hoped was a defiant look.
James winked, to Wendy's mortification, and continued. "Actually, I'm trying to achieve quite the opposite result. I'd like to see you, your brothers, and all of the other boys safely home. I'm not trying to trap you. I'm trying to save you."