Chapter 1: An Unexpected Meeting
The sun was slowly following its course across the clear sky. It had been a terribly hot day where the air was so heavy – pressing down relentlessly on all animals and humans – that even if one stayed oh-so-still and took shelter in the shade of a tree or put their feet in water, they would find no relief and would sweated greatly, feeling dried up on the inside. There were no clouds, allowing the sun to beat its rays down on the Neverland.
Wendy struggled with her burden. She was returning from the stream where she had filled up her two buckets with water; she hoped to wash the house this evening, for all the boys were away, and she was allowed to work in peace. Setting down the buckets for a moment, Wendy wiped her forehead with the back of her hand; the weight of them and the sweltering heat were causing her to become very exhausted. But onward she struggled.
She would allow herself a rest once she reached the house under the ground. Perhaps she would get a cool drink, simply sit quietly, and put her small, blistered hands on the cool dirt walls to get a little comfort…
Wendy was so attentive on her journey and about what she would do once she reached her destination that she was very surprised when she glanced up to find an Indian boy standing before her on the path, watching her curiously. He appeared to be several years older than she, was very tall – more so than Peter, who towered above her – with long black hair that tumbled down his bare shoulders and back. Wendy yelped, and the buckets fell from her tired hands, spilling the water over the ground.
"Oh!" Wendy cried in dismay and bent down to retrieve the buckets. Now she would have to make another trip back to the stream.
"I am sorry, squaw."
Wendy jerked her head up and found herself gazing into a pair of black eyes as the Indian boy looked down on her worriedly. She could only stutter.
"Can I help?" he asked.
Wendy found her voice. "I-I need to fill these," she replied and raised slightly the buckets she held. She was stunned when both were taken from her hands. She simply blinked up at the boy.
"Shall I follow?" he asked a little uncertainly after a long silence had passed between the two and neither had moved but had only gazed at each other.
She rose to her feet and mentally shook herself. Where were her manners? Gathering her wits and composure, Wendy nodded. "Yes, thank you…warrior," she said as she turned and retraced her steps.
"I am called Running Deer," the boy introduced himself.
Wendy glanced over her shoulder at him. "Thank you for your help," she said politely and quickly turned her face forward again, blushing slightly.
"It is my pleasure, squaw," he replied.
She donned a face of dissatisfaction and requested, "Please, you may call me Wendy."
They passed on in silence. The leaves and twigs snapped and crunched under her bare feet while Running Deer treaded over them with not a sound. Wendy felt she should say something but was at a loss; she had never spent such a long period of time with an Indian before. Those with whom she had had brief contact hardly paid her any kindly respects and instead focused all their attention on Peter – the Great White Feather, they called him. And she could feel Running Deer staring at her, which made her very uncomfortable. She was relieved when they arrived at the stream. She halted by the bank. The water rushed past her and wound its way around part of the island before pouring out into the Mermaids' Lagoon over a waterfall.
Running Deer was silent, permitting Wendy to take the buckets and fill them with the cold water. He studied her closely as she did her task; she was different from any other girl he had ever seen before. His inspection was interrupted when he noticed the slight flash of pain in her eyes and she glanced down at her hands. He waited until she set both refilled buckets on the ground, then stepped forward and carefully took her hands into his own, and bent his head, examining her palms. Wendy's cheeks flooded with color, and she trembled a little at this unexpected contact; then she became quiet and still. She bit on her lip when Running Deer's thumbs moved over her tender skin and gently applied pressure. A few moments later, he raised his head and slowly released her hands.
"If you could wait…I will find some herbs for your hands…"
Wendy weakly smiled, but it was enough of an answer, and Running Deer quickly disappeared from her sight. She sat herself down and watched the bubbling water bound down the slight incline, tripping over the stones in its bed. How soothing the sound was; it made the girl relax and close her eyes in contentment. She did not know how many minutes passed before Running Deer gently touched her shoulder, arousing her from her half-slumber. Shaking her head and coming fully awake, she realized he had already been at work. He held a bit of bark in his hand on which he had placed a strange green paste. Wendy's gaze lingered on it for a moment before turning to Running Deer. He settled himself before her and requested one of her hands, which she gave. He gently rubbed some of the paste over her palm and fingers. She was amazed when it seemed to disappear after his fingers had run over it several times. Soon the pain in her hand began to subside. Wendy smiled thankfully at Running Deer, who gave her a brief look before performing the same treatment on her other hand. She could only smile as the pain left both her hands; and her spirits lifted.
With new energy she rose to her feet. Before she could say or do anything, the buckets were lifted off the ground, and Running Deer motioned with his head for her to lead the way. Wendy smiled and skipped lightly ahead, unaware of the pretty picture she made to the Indian boy who gracefully hurried after her; yes, she was not like the other girls who lived at the village.
As the two went along, the journey was much more pleasant and less awkward; they talked about nothing and everything. Both were a little startled at how soon they came to the house under the ground. Running Deer helped Wendy lower the buckets down through a tree stump and then took his leave. She felt a bit sad as she bid the boy good day. He once again watched her for a moment and touched her cheek so quickly and lightly that she was not sure if they had really touched, before going off and vanishing into the jungle. Wendy went to her tree and entered the house.
Wendy had completed her cleaning, and supper was cooking when Peter and the boys returned from their adventuring. She greeted them and sent them off to wash up. But she became puzzled when she turned her attentions to Peter who had been strangely silent since coming in with the others and kept his eyes toward the ground. She attempted to make conversation, but he scarcely said a word in reply; and when he finally gazed upon her, his hazel eyes shone with many emotions: anger, hurt, confusion, and accusation. Poor Wendy did not understand, nor could guess why he was so cold towards her, for he had never been upset with her. Helplessly, she could only return to tending the cooking.
Chapter 2: Reaching Out, Withdrawing
Peter floated restlessly about the house, at times darting about, a tingling sensation tickling his tummy. Once in a while he felt he would explode because of the many feelings inside him raging like a great storm. And no matter where he turned his gaze, somehow Wendy stole into his sight; her appearance did not calm him. She went about cooking supper. He pretended as well as he could not to notice her when she turned puzzled, hurt-filled eyes toward him on occasion.
He drifted onto his back and placed his hands behind his head, rising toward the ceiling, allowing his mind to play over the events of the day…
Peter had followed Wendy from a distance, taking cover among the treetops when she went out with a bucket in each hand. He had observed her in secret many times before, spying on her curiously, usually when he had become bored with the boys' playing and flown about the island aimlessly. Yet today had been one of the rare times when he purposely, unnoticed, spent the day with Wendy. Sometimes he intentionally would put things he knew she would delight in – such as flowers, a mermaid's comb, a juicy pear – in a place along her path and excitedly watch to see how pleased she was with his surprise. And then, filled with pride, he would whisper to himself, "Oh the cleverness of me!" He was not sure just why he did not make his presence known when he followed her; he simply did not.
As he had watched from above Wendy struggle to carry the water-filled buckets, he momentarily felt respect toward her as he realized how hard Wendy worked to care for him and the boys. A thought then tugged at his ear: he should help her, for it was what a gentleman should do. And she would be very happy with him. The image of Wendy smiling thankfully up at him had caused Peter to grin cockily and glow with pleasure that he could perhaps make her cheerful. But before he could descend to help her, the Indian boy appeared.
Peter had laid a hand on the hilt of his dagger, prepared to jump to Wendy's defense. The redskins were now their friends, but Wendy had never come upon one all alone in the jungle. He discovered he would not need his weapon, for the boy offered his services to Wendy. Peter watched the two with great interest. He had been startled by how bruised Wendy's hands were and the pain they gave her. It was the first Peter became aware of the pain Wendy could suffer from her work. It was a new revelation to Peter, for Wendy had never been troubled by bruises – unlike him and the others – or become ill.
His gaze had become intense when the boy, Running Deer he claimed to be called, took Wendy's hands into his own; he had stroked them slowly and gently, at times pressing down softly on her upturned palms; and she had winced. Peter had frowned, troubled by what he saw; no one ever done such a gesture to her before. And the boy was hurting her… He was stirred by a tide of emotions washing upon him time and time again, each new wave more powerful and intense than the last, as the minutes slipped by and the scene before him continued to unfold. He wanted to swoop down on the two and put the Indian in his place – for he had no right to hurt Peter's mother, to touch her like that… But he remained still and hidden against his will. Maybe it was his curiosity, or not wanting Wendy to know he was concerned about her, that kept him where he was. His chest had tightened with an unfamiliar feeling when he saw the relief and ease which replaced the pain on Wendy's face, and then she turned that smile, that smile when her eyes sparkled onto the boy; that smile that belonged only to Peter. He had gasped silently, and the emotions elevated even more at the look of admiration Wendy gave the boy when he had healed both her hands. In the throes of the new, unknown feelings racing through him, Peter gazed unfavorably down on the Indian boy at the unfamiliar looks the boy sent Wendy who skipped ahead of him. Peter did not understand them, but he could tell they were strange…it was not a look that a son turned to his mother, or an enemy bent on an enemy, or a friend gave a friend. It was something else… What, he did not know.
A fit of possessiveness toward Wendy seized Peter as he trailed the two. And pure hatred formed in his heart toward the Indian who was receiving attentions which rightfully belonged to him; he did not like this strange bond he witnessed between the two: the lingering glances they shared or the way the boy touched her cheek and said her name. The boy should not be permitted to do such things to her, for she was not his Wendy, oh, no! The thought was almost too much for Peter. He would not share his Wendy… The boy did not leave soon enough in Peter's opinion. He had glared fiery daggers after the boy; but his anger was replaced by distress at seeing the almost dreamy expression on Wendy's face as the boy disappeared. He felt a sense of betrayal; why did she look so? What was so interesting about this Indian boy? He could not compare to him, Peter Pan, who had taken on the fearsome Hook! He was not wonderful or clever, just a mere Indian boy. But those thoughts did not lighten his mood. He had absolutely no desire to see the Indian boy again, but he was not sure about Wendy…
He had lingered outside, sitting dejectedly on a rock. In the silence and isolation which covered him like a blanket, the feelings swam faster, fighting for dominion in Peter. By the time the boys returned and happily greeted their father, he felt exhausted as he did after a long day of fighting. Jealously burned in his chest toward the Indian boy; and toward Wendy he felt bitter, hurt, angry, uncaring. He grew more upset toward her, for she was the cause of all these feelings, which he rarely experienced, to come upon him all at once.
He had been cold to Wendy since he came inside; it was a wall of protection. He did want to reveal just how much she had broken him. He was strong, carefree, and, after all, captain. Yet he truly was not sure what to do with her. To admit he had seen everything and try to put into words how he felt about the Indian boy and–
With amazing swiftness Peter spun in the air to face Wendy's back when he heard her gasp, snatching him out of his thoughts. Even with her back to him, he could tell she was cradling one of her hands. Peter landed beside her and reached for the injured hand. Wendy was not aware of him until they touched, and she nearly yelped in surprise. She looked at him startled, but he was concentrating on her hand. Her forefinger was glowing red and swollen, the result of a burn from the pot boiling over the fire. He studied it intently. The hand which had once been smooth, soft, and pink was now red and slightly rough from her many chores she performed day to day. Gently, Peter caressed Wendy's small hand. On closer inspection, he could see the faint shadows of what was left of her blisters. A small wave of envy quickly passed through him regarding the boy who could make Wendy well. But he shook it off.
He also brought into his grasp Wendy's other hand and looked it over; it was just like the first. Peter softly ran his thumbs over her palms, massaging the hard skin. A chill ran down his spine, and he shivered.
"Do your hands still hurt?" the words escaped his mouth before he could stop them; his voice sounded strange in his ears. He was not sure how to describe it, but it made him frown in puzzlement. For a moment he had not sounded like a boy.
"No, Peter," Wendy answered in a soft voice. She secretly was thrilled; it was the first he spoke to her since his return.
The way his name floated down to his ears made Peter tremble once more; it was a pleasant sound. He raised his head and gazed at her wordlessly. Their faces were close together, allowing each to feel the other's warm breath on their cheeks. Peter tilted his head to one side, searching her face. Wendy was completely still, not wanting to destroy the moment. Her breath caught in her throat when Peter raised a hand and brought it against her cheek. She gazed at him with large eyes and smiled.
Peter blinked once, twice, perhaps feeling a little dazed. It seemed as though Wendy's face came closer and closer… And when her eyes sparkled at him, his heart leaped in some strange excitement in his chest. Both children stared at each other from lowered lids. The air in the room seemed to become stuffy and warm. Some force drew them nearer to each other.
"Wendy…" Peter sighed softly.
Peter froze. It was not the same; how the boy had said her name was different from how he did. Why did Wendy ask him to call her so? She had not done so with the other Indians. Those questions allowed the forgotten emotions to roar up once more, and Peter abruptly ended the moment of reconciliation between him and Wendy.
He pulled back quickly from her and took his hand away. He turned away from her and floated into the air. Immediately he reached for his pipes and proceeded to play a soft tune on them. His music filled the air for several long minutes. Suddenly he halted; now the only sound was the crackling of the fire. He listened hard. Then he heard it again: a tiny sniff. Peter turned his head, sneaking a glance at Wendy. She stood before the boiling kettle, stirring its contents with a wooden spoon slowly. She stood straight with her head held high. Then she rubbed her face on the sleeve of her nightgown and sniffed a third time.
Peter whipped his head around and resumed playing. Now the tune did not sound merry to him; and he was more upset than ever: at himself as well as her and Running Deer. The music danced about him, chanting:
You made her cry! You made her cry! You made her cry! The music mocked him.
It was truly a horrible realization to Peter; for never was he the cause of her tears before. Peter shook violently, heavy guilt another emotion added to the large load he already bore.
Sensing the house was starting to close in on him, Peter bolted out, going so fast he seemed like a shooting star. As he flew, his resentment gained the upper hand. And he wished that Wendy had never laid eyes on that Running Deer.
Chapter 3: Turmoil that Deafens
Wendy glanced over her shoulder in time to see Peter disappear from the house. For a moment she gazed at the empty room before turning back to the pot. As she resumed stirring the soup, she bowed her head, blinking back the tears which continued to flow like a steady stream from her eyes.
Drawing a shaky breath, she attempted to regain her composure. A dull ache that had settled itself in the pit of her stomach when Peter cruelly turned away from her now intensified. Wendy remained deeply hurt by his actions. His moods changed so quickly she was left in a daze.
She had thought it best not to find out what was troubling Peter since he would not speak to her, and she guessed he would deny anything was the matter. So she had continued with her cooking, once in a while glancing at the boy who had been floating lazily in the air.
Accidentally she burned herself when her finger brushed against the hot pot. She was quite used to such injuries, but this time she was so surprised – for she had been deep in thought – that a sound of pain escaped her mouth. She had examined the wounded finger, but before she could bring it to her lips to cool it and ease the pain, she was startled to discover her hand in Peter's possession. She had gazed at him in shocked surprise, speechless. She only watched with growing amazement as Peter studied both her hands as he caressed them gently. She was touched by this display of concern, for it was a new side of Peter revealed.
Wendy thought how similar this scene was to when Running Deer did nearly the exact same thing earlier. The realization that two boys had fussed over her today caused her stomach to do several flip-flops, for nothing of such had happened before. As she gazed at Peter's bent head over her hands, a blush ran across her cheeks as she wondered if she and Peter looked like one of those romantic pictures in her fairy-tale book of a knight kissing his lady's hands.
Wendy cannot hold back a shiver as she recalls how unusual Peter's voice had sounded when he asked her if her hands still hurt. It had been so…different. She had been stunned by the look he had turned to her; she had been able to only gaze back at him with breathless anticipation. When he brought his hand up to her cheek, she sensed acceptance and…something else in his gesture. Everything had felt peaceful and right at that moment. And then…she was aware of how much Peter despised her. He had breathed her name, so sweetly, so softly (Wendy could not help but be excited by the sound of it falling from his lips); then almost immediately afterward, his face darkened, his eyes hardened, and he swiftly turned away from her…
In Wendy's recalling that horrible moment, a single tear sneaked down her cheek unchecked. She drew a shaky breath. She knew she must have done something terribly wicked to cause Peter to be so displeased with her. But what had she done? What had she done to him? Wendy could not come up with anything.
Coming out of her trance, Wendy discovered the soup to be boiling over. With a cry of dismay she removed the pot from the fire and set it on the table to let it cool. The room became full of boys who returned from washing for supper and cheerfully helped their dear mother set the table and prepared the last of the meal. When all was done and everyone was seated, Peter's seat at the head of the table across from Wendy was empty. It was not the first time Peter showed up late; yet Wendy could not help but be a little concerned. She and the boys began to eat.
While laughter and cheerful chatter flew back and forth at the table between the boys, Wendy was silent, eating little from her plate, becoming lost in her own thoughts. While she pondered and wondered about Peter's behavior and what deed she must have unknowingly done to trigger such reactions from him, there was one thing she scarcely dared linger on and by which she was truly perplexed.
She could not forget what Peter had done before he suddenly became cold to her once more. With his hand on her cheek, he had tilted his head to one side and – had it been her imagination – or had he leaned in toward her? Just the mere wonder caused Wendy's heart to beat a little faster and her pulse to pound. Had he been about to…? Wendy shook her head slightly, banishing such thoughts, and was about to return her attention to her food when she became aware of how strangely quiet it was.
Raising her head, she glanced around the table to discover all the boys had halted eating, some with food halfway to their mouths, eyes wide with wonder and unease. She followed their gazes to where Peter stood just beyond the entrance of his tree. He was staring at the group with a dark frown. Wendy felt her heart freeze, and she swallowed hard. Never had any of the children seen Peter so upset before, who leveled a hard gaze on each child in turn. None was brave enough to break the silence. They watched him stalk to the table and sit down wordlessly.
The rest of the night passed in mostly frightened silence with the boys tiptoeing around Peter, hoping not to worsen his mood. Even Wendy quietly went about cleaning up the table. Peter simply sat before the fire, sharpening his dagger, when Tinker Bell lighted on his shoulder and delivered a message; he then quickly put away his weapon and flew to his tree. Despite the absence of Peter, the mood was still one of uncertainty in the house under the ground.
Tonight Wendy told the boys their bedtime story in a more quiet voice and shooed them into bed right after its conclusion instead of allowing any late playtime. After tucking them in, she settled herself in her rocker before the fire and bent over her sewing – a pocket for Curly. As she pulled the tread through the worn piece of cloth time and time again, she replayed in her mind all that she had done this past day, attempting to pinpoint where she had failed Peter. It must have been sometime today, for Peter had been very much lighter of heart the day before…
Wendy stared into the dancing flames of the fire for a moment and then jumped when something landed in her lap. She turned her head and watched as Peter marched to his bed and lay down, facing the wall. A light frown on her face, she turned her attention to her lap and scooped up in her hands the item Peter had tossed there: it was a lovely Indian necklace made of bright colored beads and small shells. Wendy simply gaped in astonishment.
Chapter 4: Tortured Souls
Wendy slowly made her way through the jungle, a basket balanced on her hip, filled with clothes she would wash in the stream. She glanced up with a bit of unease at the sky; filled with dark looming clouds, it threatened at least rain, if not a storm. It had been dreary and dark and cool for the last three days. As of now, though, no rain had come. This weather easily lowered the moods of the children.
Things were just as unpleasant at the house under the ground. Wendy was paralyzed by Peter. His mood had not lightened at all since the night he had unceremoniously delivered the Indian necklace to her. Indeed, he had only grown more upset, angry, and wild as the days went on. He no longer pretended nothing was amiss. It seemed all happiness had left him. He never laughed or smiled. Now a constant frown darkened his face, and a fire of emotions – none of them happy, obviously – burned in his hazel eyes. He took delight in nothing. He spent longer periods of time flying aimlessly about the island than usual, as the space of the house under the ground was too small for him. He would sometimes miss the evening meal completely. He at times came in long after all the others had gone to bed. Other times he would rise before the others and was gone when they awakened. The boys were immensely unnerved by their father's new, strange moods. They were quick to obey and please him. Even Tinker Bell wisely stayed out of Peter's way – though he took absolutely no notice of her anymore. He and the boys had paid many visits to the Jolly Roger recently. The boys told their mother that never had they seen Peter fight so long and hard with Hook before. Many a time the battle was only between the pirate and the boy, while all the others simply watched in awe.
"You would not believe the rage in father!" Tootles reported.
"Yet it never seems to be really directed toward Hook," Nibs said. "Father is never satisfied when we leave; he is just as tense and upset as before."
"Maybe there is someone he hates more than Hook!" one of the twins wondered.
Wendy was chilled by the thought. Oh, but it was true. Peter hated her. He hardly spoke to her. When he was around her, he seemed to be in pain almost; sometimes he would gaze at her with loathing or hurt, but he always turned away from her. Wendy learned quickly not to wear her necklace in his presence, nor dare ask how he had gotten it or from whom. The first and only time she had done so, he had gazed at her, his face darkening, and great shudders rocked his body. He had dropped his eyes to the necklace resting round her neck, and she had feared he would explode with bottled-up rage. His hand had missed the hilt of his dagger; Wendy had not known what he would have done if his reach had not missed, but she had been thankful. A small screech had escaped his lips, and then he had bolted out of the house.
Poor Wendy was completely at her wit's end. She had obviously done something very wicked to deserve such treatment from Peter. But she had no clue as to what. She could get nothing out of Peter, who kept his mouth shut as tight as a clam when she tried to question him. She seemed no longer able to please him. Even when she humored him and in turn ignored him, the boy settled in a worse mood. There was no hope of reconciliation as had been the day this all started.
With a long sigh, Wendy cleared her head with a shake and set down her basket by the stream's edge. Rolling up her sleeves, she began her task. Only a few minutes passed when Running Deer found her bent over her work. He remained concealed behind a tree on the other side of the water. He watched her in secret for a long while. He thought she seemed tired. Her hair was unkempt, and her face was slightly pale, her eyes troubled.
Running Deer had seen quite a bit Wendy since their first meeting, and they had quickly become friends. He heard about the troubles regarding Peter and dried the many tears she shed as she wondered what she had done. Running Deer never voiced his own opinions regarding her friend but, instead, comforted her as best he could, reassuring her she could always come to him if she needed a friend. Wendy had thanked him generously.
Now, as he watched the girl, Running Deer could not hold back a pang of anger towards Peter Pan, who caused Wendy such trouble and tears. How could anyone cause that sweet, innocent child grief and suffering? How dare he! She deserved to be merry and full of sunshine, to laugh and dance and smile. Surely this Peter Pan did not deserve to be called a friend of Wendy's.
Finally, the Indian boy came out of hiding. As he drew closer, Wendy lifted her head from her work, and, spotting him, a beautiful smile broke across her face, the tiredness and sadness disappearing momentarily. The boy was amazed by this transformation, and he willed his heart to stop racing as he returned her smile and greeted her.
Neither Running Deer nor Wendy was aware of the pair of eyes spying on them with intent interest. The eyes narrowed, flashing dangerously at observing the girl's reaction to seeing the boy, and then quickly vanished.
Wendy jumped in surprise when she left her tree and encountered Peter's furious gaze as he stood across the room with his fists positioned on his hips. She swallowed hard, not knowing what to expect. At first she stood where she was, holding the basket full of cleaned laundry, and simply gazed silently back at him. When the unbroken silence had lasted for many long minutes, Wendy finally ventured to set the basket down by her rocker. Calmly, slowly, she put away all the newly-washed clothes. All the while she was aware of Peter's steady burning gaze on her. She was caught off guard when the shirt she was folding was ripped from her grasp. She was unable to hold back a moan as it landed on the dirt floor. When she turned to Peter, she forgot all about the discarded shirt.
Peter stood very, very close to her, his eyes fixed on her neck. Wendy's eyes widened. She realized her mistake too late. Her hands were quicker than Peter's, and in a second had removed the necklace and held it behind her back. She gazed with a bit of fear at Peter. She was met with coldness as he seemed to look right through her, searching, frown deepening at whatever he found.
"Peter," she said in a threadbare whisper.
He jolted as though burned. "Don't," he practically growled through his teeth, ice melted by fire. "Just don't."
An unexpected wave of courage came to Wendy, and she touched his shoulder. He jerked away.
"Don't touch me!"
"Why?" Wendy demanded, taking a step forward. "What have I done?"
Peter only pressed his lips into a firm line and looked away.
"What's wrong, Peter?" Wendy persisted.
The boy only flinched at hearing his name falling from her mouth; he cramped his eyes shut, a strange expression sweeping across his face. He then turned away. Wendy mutely watched the distance widen between them.
"You must really hate me, Peter!" she suddenly burst out in a half-angry, half-sad voice.
Peter halted abruptly, his back straight and stiff. He eyes stared at the wall in shock.
Wendy nearly regretted her words, but what was done was done. "The boys no longer know how to react around you. You are pleased with nothing I do. You hardly speak to me. I have done nothing –"
Peter rounded on her sharply. "Nothing!" he yelled, advancing on her. "Nothing! You have done…something! I am youth, freedom, joy. But ever since you did… Never did I know true hatred before. There are enemies worse than Hook. What are those things which I never knew before? I shouldn't have them. And it's because of you! What have you done to me?!" He glared at her.
Wendy matched his glare with her own. "I am sorry!" she said.
A dead silence fell. Peter's glare turned to confusion.
"I am sorry," Wendy repeated, quieter this time. "I am sorry for whatever I have done that caused you to be so…different, upset, cold, and angry! I promise I won't do it again. You don't have to be upset over these things you dislike. We can be friends again. Everything can be just like it was."
Wendy was unable to hide her unease as she watched Peter take a menacing step toward her. Never had she seen him so angry.
"Everything can be just like it was?" he said in a dangerous voice. "Oh, of course, nothing will be just as it was! You will not go back!" he accused her.
"I do wish you would explain yourself!" she retorted. She wiped her eyes across her sleeve. She would not cry in front of Peter.
"And then you will tell a story and make it all better," he jeered.
Wendy lost her temper. "You expect us to know your every wish and fulfill it. Yet you are never satisfied with us. You don't deserve any of it! I don't know why I've wasted crying and worrying over you. You, you brat! Spoiled little brat! I hate you!"
She had reached her limit and raised her hand to give him a hard slap. But before she could hear the sound of her hand meeting his cheek, Peter grabbed two handfuls of her long hair, and she yelped in pain.
"I hate myself!" he breathed.
Perhaps it was Wendy's cutting words that pushed him over the edge, or the frustration that she had no idea what pain she caused him. Perhaps it was the mixture of anger, hurt, and fierce jealousy overwhelming him, or a new, unfamiliar, overpowering instinct which he obeyed without thought. Or maybe seeing Wendy smile at Running Deer earlier was the last straw. Whatever it was, Peter roughly brought Wendy's head toward him as he moved forward, causing their mouths to meet in a hard kiss.
Wendy was only aware of fire surrounding her. She never knew if she remained frozen to receive Peter's heated kiss, if she fought him, or if she responded. She only knew cold surrounded her when Peter pulled away – was it a second or an eternity later since their lips had come together? When she opened her eyes Peter was gone. Her knees buckled, and she fell to the floor.
Chapter 5: When “Parents” Become Strangers
Peter shifted restlessly in his perch in a tree. He rubbed his forehead wearily. Unconsciously his hand wandered to brush his hair, then, realizing what he was doing, snatched it away with a fierce jolt. A deep blush rose in his cheeks, his pulse pounded, and a shiver ran down his back; he could still feel the fire which burned his scalp from where Wendy’s small fingers had run through his messy curls. The boy shuddered.
Even here, alone, in the quietness of the forest, Peter felt no peace of mind. Wonderings raced through his head, making him dizzy. What, what had happened? What was happening to him? He was half-ashamed of his behavior; yet he had been unable to help himself. He had fought for control, but he had snapped under Wendy’s sharp words and…what had he done? Was it a thimble, she had called it? He had given her a thimble.
“How dare she,” Peter whispered to himself, “believe I have wronged her. It is she who has ruined everything.” Peter squeezed his eyes shut, recalling, against his will, how much Wendy seemed to enjoy the company of her new friend, Running Deer, more than she did his. They no longer stayed up after the children had gone to bed, talking; she no longer gave him bright smiles or laughed with him as they would when playing with the others. She had changed, and now she only blossomed around that Running Deer. Now it was he who would cheer her up from her downcast state.
“I used to do that,” Peter mused. “I could make her smile and laugh.” It was painful watching the old Wendy come out in the presence of the Indian boy. Suppose he will take your place? a voice taunted him. Immediately Peter shook his head jerkily, sending the frightening thought away, not wanting to dwell on it. No, no, no. It was impossible. Wendy would never do such a thing.
A frown distorted Peter’s features as he turned his mind to the Indian boy in question. To his growing irritation and confusion he noticed that the strange glances Running Deer gave Wendy did not cease as time went on. In fact, they intensified. Peter still had not the faintest idea what these looks meant, but he was livid that the boy would give them to Wendy. And lately, Running Deer had spied on Wendy without ever making his presence known as she went about the island, having no idea he and Peter himself followed her. The only relief Peter found in the situation was that Wendy seemed completely unaware of the attentions the boy paid her, and she did not know the necklace was from him. Oh, Peter knew it was from him. Never had any of the Indians given Wendy a present before. And Tiger Lily had quickly claimed it was not from her when she had delivered it to him that night long ago. Knowing that a boy would dare give Wendy – his Wendy – such a gift had quickly worsened Peter’s mood. Thankfully he had nearly forgotten about the necklace until he saw Wendy wearing it today. The mere sight of it had brought a towering wave of memories and emotions back to him. He did not know what exactly Running Deer wanted with Wendy or from her, but whatever it was, he would not let Wendy give it to the boy. He would not lose her.
Suddenly Peter burst out laughing, dry and humorless it was. “‘I promise I won’t do it again. We can be friends again. Everything can be just like it was,’” he mimicked Wendy’s words in a high-pitched, almost shrilling voice. He slammed his fist against the tree branch and ignored its painful throbbing. “She won’t want everything to be just like it was before. She’ll be all stubborn and refuse to give up her friendship with him. How like a girl,” he grumbled, “they say one thing then go off and do another.”
“You must really hate me, Peter.” A strange pang hit him in the stomach as Wendy’s self-accusation echoed in Peter’s head. Was that what Wendy really thought of him…that he hated her? He had never been accused of hating before. It was a common and accepted fact that there was no respect lost between Peter and Hook: they were sworn enemies. But to be accused of hating one from his own band…it was unthinkable. But did he not hate Wendy? Of course, he didn’t, though, granted, he was not on the best of terms with her now, but he could never truly hate her. If there was anyone he did truly hate, it was Running Deer. It was becoming harder and harder not just to demand a duel between them, fighting until the bitter end. But he managed not to let those moments of near madness win out. It would do no good should the Indian boy fall at his hand. The alliance between him and the Indians would be broken, and the grudge would be ten times as strong as it had been before. And Wendy… Peter shook his head weakly. He dared not imagine what the friendship between him and her would be like thereafter.
Annoyance settled in as he recalled what she had called him: a “spoiled little brat.” Peter tossed his head defiantly. He was hardly spoiled – he had just always been the leader. As for being little, he chuckled to himself, for he was taller than all the children. And he most certainly was not a brat, whatever that was. He was the greatest there ever was. Wendy had no right to call him that.
He ought to banish her from the house under the ground for her treachery. A part of the boy’s heart twisted at the thought, but Peter paid no attention, pretending that it would be the greatest thing he had ever done. He would show that he did not need her, that he should not get so upset over a simple girl who was tearing him to pieces. She would have to survive on her own in the forest. He would not help her return to London if she desired to. She would not go to the pirates for help, for they were enemies. The fairies, well, she had never socialized with any other than Tink. The Indians might help her, even offer a place for her to stay.
Peter’s eyes widened, and he sat bolt upright. If she did stay with the Indians, then he would see her all the time… Peter’s jaw tightened at this realization. No, banishing Wendy was a terrible idea.
Attempting to put the matter regarding Wendy and that boy away, he thought about going and paying a visit at the Jolly Roger. It was true he no longer got any satisfaction from those trips, and it was never Hook’s face he saw before him when he fought with the captain, but he no longer wanted to think, and going off to see the pirates was the best antidote for his condition.
The boys voiced their grudging approval as Nibs claimed the three marbles knocked out of the circle by his taw. Ever since John had taught them how to play Ring Taw – “wondrous,” Slightly called it after seeing it – the Lost Boys could not get enough of this game while John and Michael developed a renewed interest in it. Currently they were in the middle of the seventh game of the day, and counting…
“Do you think father will ever be himself again?” Curly asked sorrowfully.
Slightly shrugged, “You can never tell with him,” he mused. “You know how he can have such mood changes.” He sighed with the others in relief when Nibs’s taw failed to hit any marbles and came to a stop outside the circle.
“Has he ever been like this before?” John said as he stepped forward and examined the fifteen marbles scattered about the ring before taking up his taw and aiming.
“No, he has hardly ever been upset over anything, let alone any of us,” Tootles said, gasping as John’s taw knocked Slightly’s taw out of the circle.
Everyone cheered, except Slightly, who unhappily forfeited one marble to the grinning John.
“You don’t suppose,” Michael wondered, “if he and mother had some sort of quarrel, perhaps?”
All the boys looked at him thoughtfully.
“They have always gotten along,” John said, scratching his head.
“But obviously something isn’t right between them,” Nibs objected.
“What sort of things do parents quarrel over?” Curly asked John and Michael.
“Oh, you know, parents argue over the state of leaving your dirty clothes on the floor,” Michael said.
“They can go back and forth about allowing smoking inside the house and risk causing the house to smell,” John interrupted.
“They disagree over accepting or refusing an invitation to dinner,” Michael went on.
“The father sometimes will accuse the mother of being too bossy while she claims he is too lazy,” John piped in.
“They even are at odds when it comes to sending the children to bed or letting them stay up for a few more minutes!” Michael exclaimed.
“And then if the dog should be allowed inside or kept outside,” John said softly, a faraway look in his eye.
No one spoke for a while. The only noise was the occasional sound of marble meeting marble and the scuffling of boys as they moved to take their turn.
“So how long will it be until they make up?” one of the twins asked as his brother shot and collected one marble.
“Who knows?” Curly shrugged his shoulder.
They all sighed and shook their heads as one.
“It must not be easy being a parent,” Tootles said.
The others voiced their agreement, but soon wonderings regarding their dear father and mother were forgotten as the game continued.
Wendy gazed disbelievingly up at the ceiling, not moving a finger since she first fell. She was in shock half-wondering if it had all been some weird fragment of her imagination. However, the now dirty shirt lying on the floor and her tingling lips proved her wrong. A longsuffering sigh fled her lips. She did not know what to make of Peter’s unexpected behavior. One moment he was fuming at her and then the next kissing her. What a strange, difficult boy he is, she thought. She turned his words over and over again in her mind.
He said she had done something, caused him to have things which he had never known before – should not have. What “things” was he talking about? And then his rebuff of her offer for everything to be as it had been. He accused her of not wanting to have everything as it used to be. Wendy frowned. Perhaps here was a clue to solving the mystery. Peter believed she would not want to go back… Did he mean whatever she had done had changed things? But should she trouble over such things now? She was through with worrying and crying over the boy. She would no longer be concerned about him. He had made his point. What was the use in trying to reconcile if she apparently would not want to in the end? She refused to be in this tug of war anymore, where she gained ground only to fall back.
Lost in thought – and still a bit dazed – Wendy eventually slowly got to her feet and started making the evening meal.
Something was different. The boys were instantly aware of a change in the air when they began to eat. Wendy was unusually quiet that evening, seemingly preoccupied with a slight thoughtful frown on her face. And Peter…the boys thought he was not as furious as he had been previous nights; while unrest and anger lingered on his face, there was a sense of vulnerability about him as well, a questioning fear. He watched Wendy through most of the meal, while she on her part hardly addressed him and never looked at him. The boys were simply puzzled, for it seemed father and mother had exchanged roles of who watched the other and who ignored the other. They were ill at ease concerning this new twist and exchanged between them many a puzzled look. Needless to say, they were relieved when the meal ended and they were allowed to escape above ground, leaving the strange storm which hovered over the house.
Wendy went about clearing the leftovers from the table without a glance toward Peter, who sat by the fire making with his dagger a wooden figure from a small block of wood. The heavy silence was interrupted when Nibs came down.
“Mother,” he said, coming to her side where she was wiping down the table.
“Yes, Nibs?” she said, turning to him.
“There is an Indian who wants to see you,” the boy explained.
It seemed the air got a tad heavier at these words.
Nibs watched as Wendy seemed to digest this information. He glanced over at Peter and noticed that he was tense, eavesdropping apparently as his head was turned slightly toward him and Wendy. Returning his gaze to Wendy, Nibs was surprised to discover she also was observing Peter. He watched, fascinated, as Peter turned his head more and met Wendy’s eyes. Nibs felt suddenly like he was intruding.
“Thank you, Nibs,” Wendy said, all the while holding Peter’s gaze. “I’ll go up right away.”
A dark scowl came over Peter’s face, and he turned away sharply. Slight understanding lighted Wendy’s face. It quickly disappeared, and she went to her tree and above ground. Nibs closely followed, not sure what he had just witnessed, but very glad to make his escape.
Peter stared hard into the dancing flames. He felt immense betrayal. She had gone to see him, all the while watching Peter. What kind of message was she sending? He glared down at the half-finished wooden figure in his hand before tossing it in the fire and then lowered his head as hot tears slid down his face.
Wendy shivered in the cool night, wishing she had thought of bringing her shawl. Looking around, she noticed the boys setting up for another game of Ring Taw. The Indians, who nightly guarded the house, were there, too. She did not look around much further when her eyes alighted on Running Deer coming toward her, his dark eyes twinkling and a pleasant smile gracing his lips. This was the first time he had come here to her knowledge. And he specifically wanted to see her…now?! This thought along with the unexpected sight of Running Deer caused Wendy to flush deeply, and she unconsciously smoothed her nightgown with one hand and her hair with the other. She could only gaze at him, speechless, waiting, when he halted less than a foot from her. Silently, he offered his hand to her. For a moment, she stared blankly at it with a bit of uncertainty. She returned her gaze to his face with weary suspicion.
“Come with me,” he said softly. Reassurance shined in his eyes, along with something else that pleaded for her to take his hand.
Wendy studied his hand for a moment more, then slowly placed her hand in his, meeting his eyes. She returned his smile and let him lead her away from the other Indians and the boys, who watched curiously, and into the forest.
Chapter 6: Respite for One, Realization for Another
"Who was that?" Tootles whispered wonderingly.
With their mouths hanging open, the other boys only shook their heads, staring wide-eyed after their mother, who had disappeared into the woods hand in hand with an Indian boy.
"I did not know Mother was good friends with any of the Indians," one of the twins mused.
"Did you see the way he looked at her?" Curly asked, his eyes thoughtful. He was given blank looks in return. "It, it was like how Father looks at her sometimes…" he shrugged helplessly, unable to find the right words to explain.
"Like he wishes her to be his mother?" John voiced slowly.
"Yes!" Curly agreed instantly.
"Why would he want that?" Michael asked. "She is our mother already."
"I hope she does not want to be his," Nibs said.
"Father would probably not approve," Slightly put in.
The boys all remained quiet for a few moments, lost in their own thoughts of the mystery which had hung over their family the past two weeks. They shrugged their shoulders as though to rid themselves of such heavy thinking and started another game of marbles.
Wendy did not speak as she followed Running Deer through the dark island. She was filled with anticipation and excitement.
Running Deer kept his gaze halfway on the path before him and halfway on the girl he led by the hand. He could sense her bubbling curiosity. His heart pounded with uncertainty and nervousness as they went on. Finally, he came to a halt.
Looking about, Wendy discovered they were on a small hilltop. The churning ocean rolled lazily before them, the waves breaking against the rocks. Straining her ears, the girl thought she heard very faintly the mermaids singing. She lifted her eyes to the night sky filled with millions of stars and the moon smiling down on her.
As Running Deer had hoped, the quietness, peacefulness, and beauty of the night view caused a smile to come to Wendy's face, and the lingering worry and wonder of the day's events slipped away. Though she could not explain it, the girl felt as if she had been to this place before.
Freeing her hand from the Indian boy's gentle grasp, she lay down on the soft, silvery grass. For a long while, a contented expression was on her face as she gazed up at the night sky and listened to the waves far below. Slowly her eyes closed.
Running Deer set himself down a foot or so away from her and watched her out of the corner of his eye with great interest. He was relieved he had been able to for a little while draw her away from the dark cloud that had caused her eyes to lose their sparkle, her smile to have a hint of sadness, her head to be bowed instead of held high, and weariness to characterize her step instead of cheeriness. For a little while he had been able to get her to forget momentarily about the troubles at home and Peter. She deserved much better…
Wendy turned to her friend and flushed at meeting his stare. "Running Deer, thank you." She smiled shyly.
The boy grinned at her. "You are welcome, Wendy," he said softly.
Turning away from Running Deer's shining eyes, she traced patterns the stars made with her finger. "How old is your sister?" she asked curiously, recalling something he had shared earlier today.
"Fifteen," he replied, his eyes still on her.
"Fifteen! And she is to be married?" Wendy gasped, dropping her arm and looking over at the boy once more.
"Yes." Noting her stunned expression, he asked, "Girls do not marry so young where you come from?"
Wendy frowned, trying to recall the customs regarding marriage back in London. "No, I think not. My mother was nineteen when she married." She was silent for a moment. "I shall never marry," she added lightly, "for here I'll never have to worry about such grown-up things! I shall not grow up." Nodding firmly, she returned her attention to the star-filled sky.
She did not see the Indian boy's eyes become troubled as he thought about what she had said. It was true, Running Deer realized. Wendy would not grow older while here in Neverland. She would remain young, while he would grow older as the seasons passed, for the Indians were not blessed with eternal youth. Perhaps she would never see him the way he saw her…
"How are the boys?" Running Deer changed the subject.
"They are well." Wendy rolled onto her stomach and cupped her chin in her hands, "though nowadays they are not as noisy or ruddy. We all try not to disturb Peter. The boys spend more time outside the house."
"Peter has never been like this before?"
"No. And the boys have no idea what is wrong with him. He does not talk about what is troubling him, and if he hints at it, he speaks in riddles," Wendy sighed.
"Maybe he feels threatened in some way," the boy suggested, thinking hard.
Wendy shook her head. "I do not think so; what is there for him to fear? There is peace between him and your people – for otherwise I doubt you and I would be friends. And the boys and I have not turned against him." The girl shook her head. "I am through with wondering and worrying about what is troubling Peter, though. I have tried many times to discover what the matter is. But he is so stubborn, refusing to tell me. I cannot help him if he does not open up!"
"Why do you stand it?" Running Deer frowned. He went on upon seeing Wendy's puzzled look, "Why do you let him treat you so? Why do you keep on trying to find out what's wrong even when he lashes out at you? Why do you hope for things to be right between you two while he pushes you away, as though he does not wish to make up with you? Why do you stay, instead of leaving the house, getting away from his changes of mood?"
"Oh, no!" Wendy protested immediately. "I could not leave him and the boys. They all are very dear to me. I have to hope that things will be right between him and me. A mother does not desert her family, even in tough times."
"Even though he has hurt you and given you cause for sadness?" Running Deer asked.
Wendy met his intense, questioning gaze, her eyes soft and wistful. A smile touched her lips. "He is my friend, even if he has wronged me and I him, somehow," she explained quietly.
"Do you not hate him?"
Wendy averted her eyes from his and was quiet for a moment. "Brat! Spoiled little brat! I hate you!" The words came back to her and she frowned. She had spoken the words in a moment of frustration. She had kept her feelings bottled up until she could hold them in no more. But she knew she had not really meant it when she claimed to hate Peter. Wendy lifted her eyes to Running Deer's. "No, I do not," she replied in a calm, certain tone.
Her face became concerned as she watched Running Deer's eyes close briefly, and a strange expression fleeted over his face before vanishing. He turned his face away from her and sighed heavily. The girl was puzzled by the Indian boy's reaction to her answer, and she wondered if she had offended him in some way. She could not guess that her sincere answers to his questions spoke volumes of things he had mused to himself regarding her and Peter, and he was saddened to finally know his conclusions were correct. But Running Deer gave nothing of his thoughts or feelings away when he brought his gaze back to her and smiled.
"He is unworthy of your friendship," he stated quietly.
Here Wendy laughed and shook her head. "No, I am not deserving of his friendship, for he chose me to bring here."
Running Deer objected firmly. "Before, he only knew the companionship of the boys of his band. You are the mother and friend he never had. He does not realize how precious a thing he has, the fool," he mused.
Wendy blushed, though she did not understand the meaning of the last part of Running Deer's words, and she did not know if he spoke to her or to himself. "Peter is not a fool," she softly said. A brat, and an arrogant, spoiled one, yes, but not a fool, she added silently to herself.
Running Deer simply smiled at her jumping to Peter's defense and chuckled quietly. "I meant no offense; forgive me, Wendy."
She nodded simply, still confused.
He did not explain himself, though he saw the questioning in her eyes. Instead, he got to his feet and offered her his hand. "It is late. You are probably tired."
Wendy covered a yawn with her hand and rubbed at her eyes, suddenly feeling a bit sleepy, and became aware of the chilliness in the night air. She accepted his hand and was pulled to her feet.
Running Deer kept a gentle hold on her hand as he walked her back. An air of sadness came over him as he accepted the truth; he had answers to questions he had pondered over for quite a while. And he resignedly knew Wendy would only see him as a friend; they could never be more. She would remain a little girl, and he would grow still older. He came out of his thoughts when they reached the edge of the clearing where the trees that served as entrances to the house under the ground and the Indians keeping watch were.
"Thank you for everything tonight, Running Deer," Wendy said, squeezing his hand and giving him a smile.
"You are welcome," he replied and returned her smile, though his seemed almost sad. Slowly the smile melted away, and he stared at her for a silent moment. Wendy shifted her weight from one foot to the other, growing uncomfortable by his unreadable gaze. The boy brought his free hand up to touch her cheek. "Good-bye, Wendy," he said with sad finality. He hesitated, and then dared to do something he had longed to do ever since the day he had first met Wendy.
He kissed her. It was brief and sweet, with Running Deer's lips pressed gently against her soft ones for a short moment before pulling away. Wendy stared up at him in shock; a dawning expression slowly came over her face, as though she thought she understood but not completely. He placed a finger against her mouth when she attempted to speak.
"Good-bye, Wendy," he repeated softly. He smiled again, nodded to her, and then disappeared into the night.
Wendy leaned against a tree. She slowly touched her mouth in disbelief. She had been kissed twice in one day! Peter had been mean to her and then for some unexplainable reason kissed her. And Running Deer he had been strange tonight. Asking about Peter, claiming he did not deserve her friendship. He had seemed sad when he bid her farewell. As though they would not again have times as they had shared in the past. And then, he, too, had kissed her. It was all terribly confusing to the girl.
Like one in a dream, she walked to her tree and entered the house. Her feet barely touching the floor, she put down her bedding and floated down on the soft covers. Her mind a-whirl with questions and wonderings, she closed her eyes and, before drifting off to sleep, swept a finger over her still tingling lips.
The small fire died slowly, crackling and sending sparks up into the air. All was quiet and still, with all peacefully asleep. Except one, who watched the sleeping girl with bright, half rage and half-frightened hazel eyes.
Chapter 7: Fire-Extinguishing Match
Three days later…
Tonight Peter, Wendy, and the boys were guests of the Indians. The full moon had risen and shone down brightly on the gathering. There was much food along with music and dancing.
Peter was moody, watching the Indians performing before him and the others closely. He had been unusually quiet during the feast. Wendy, on her part, was torn between enjoying the evening and worrying about Peter. She had thought about what the possible cause of this divide between them was, but remained unsure. He acted more like a wounded bear than ever, causing the boys and Wendy to try not to offend him. They were all nearly at their wits' end. There was only so much more she could take.
The Chief came over to the disheartened guests and invited the boys to come watch some of the braves take part in matches of wrestling and of fighting with daggers. All the boys pleaded with Wendy to let them go, but she only permitted Slightly, Tootles, and John to go with Peter.
The four boys silently followed the tall Indian as he led them to a small clearing nearby. A large number of young braves were gathered there. Several large circles had been drawn in the dirt. A pair of braves stood in each circle in the midst of either a wrestling match or a fighting match with daggers. Others stood around the circles, watching the contests and waiting for their turn to participate.
The Chief and the boys halted by one of the circles. Two youths were in the middle of a fighting match, moving very swiftly, the sound of their daggers clashing against one another. John, Tootles, and Slightly watched the match with deep fascination, actually becoming a little dizzy by the whirling spectacle. They were startled when one of the daggers flew out of one brave's hand and landed a foot or so from where the boys stood. The defeated brave was down on one knee, panting. The other Indian boy helped him rise and said something in their native tongue, clasping him on the shoulder.
When the defeated brave moved away, the boys were allowed to see the victor as he acknowledged the clapping of those who watched.
"It's him!" Tootles whispered, his eyes widening. Slightly and John nodded simply, gaping and wide-eyed. As one the three sneaked a glance at their father to discover he had stiffened, with his arms folded across his chest, his eyes hard as he leveled a glare at the Indian boy. Almost literally seeing the storm cloud descending on Peter, the three inched away slightly.
The Chief moved forward, smiling and clapping loudly. "Perhaps one of our guests would like to challenge our champion," he half-suggested, half-asked, turning to Peter, John, Tootles, and Slightly.
Without hesitation or a word, Peter stepped into the circle, his attention focused only on the Indian boy before him. A gasp went up from the others, melting into an excited murmur. He picked up the dagger from the ground without taking his eyes off the boy.
Tootles, Slightly, and John gaped, sensing the heavy tension that fell over the two boys in the circle. The Indian boy met Peter's gaze with surprise, understanding, and a strange resignation in his eyes.
The two walked forward until they were less than two feet apart.
Peter drew in a deep breath. His body trembled slightly. Standing here face to face with the boy who had recently become the bane of his existence was almost too much. All the feelings he had experienced rushed to him. The anger, jealousy, confusion, suspicion, possessiveness, fear, hurt – all of it crashed over him. This was the boy who dared to desire something from Wendy which Peter would never allow.
At last, he would find satisfaction in this battle. He would face his foe instead of imagining the conflict. Things would be settled once and for all. He barely was able to wait for the Chief to begin the match before lunging forward.
Snapped out of her thoughts, Wendy turned from blankly watching the dancing Indians and looked up to find Curly standing next to her. "Yes?"
"Do… Could we please stay here tonight?" he asked, nervous and a little fearful.
Wendy was unable to hold back a sigh as a weary smile touched her lips. "So you all can stay up past your bedtime?" she teased, lifting one eyebrow.
Curly fidgeted. "Oh, no…well maybe a little," he admitted.
The girl laughed softly. She knew the real reason the boys wanted to spend the night at the Indian village.
"I suppose if Tiger Lily and her father consent, it will be all right," she permitted.
The boy's face brightened with a beam, and he hugged her thankfully before rushing off. The twins, Nibs, and Michael, noting his leaving Mother and the happy expression on his face, quickly went after him.
Wendy shook her head and chuckled as she shifted her position on the bearskins. She feigned interest as her eyes returned to the Indians before her. She would not be able to stay much longer. She now wanted only to return to the house under the ground and sleep. And try to push away the troubling, lingering thoughts she harbored regarding Peter.
Peter did not jump back quick enough; Running Deer's dagger caught his shoulder and arm. But the boy did not scream at the hot pain which settled there, rendering his arm to hang nearly lifelessly at his side. The pain was nothing compared to the fierce emotions which had been bottled up in him for so long and were being released during this fight.
As soon the blow was dealt, Peter only fought harder, the rage and jealousy turning into a determination he had never possessed before. He panted heavily as he and the Indian boy went on, seeming to be equal, unable to beat each other. Peter only gnashed his teeth at this. This would not, could not, end in a draw. One of them must be defeated.
John, Slightly, and Tootles watched all with bated breath. They were the only ones who watched the match with a sense of dread instead of excitement. Peter and Running Deer both moved so quickly that they were almost nothing but a blur to the observers. Their daggers clashed time and time again.
The two boys suddenly cried out as their daggers met a final time, and Running Deer's flew from his hand. He and Peter stumbled away from each other, breathing heavily, staring down at the weapon on the ground.
There was a long, heavy silence in the clearing. It was the Chief who laughed and led the clapping. He stepped forward to congratulate Peter; yet his presence went unnoticed.
Slowly Running Deer retrieved his dagger. He hesitated as he knelt in the dirt. Peter's eyes were hard as steel as he watched the Indian boy before him. For a short moment they gazed at each other knowingly. Running Deer nodded slightly and dropped his gaze as he rose and walked off.
A sigh exploded from Peter. Suspicion lingered in his eyes, but he understood the boy's gesture. Finally, the burning anger cooled, and for the first time in a long while, he felt some satisfaction.
Wendy yawned and rubbed her eyes sleepily. It was quite late, and she had left the boys at the village. She looked forward to the nice quiet of tonight without having to fuss over the children. She stepped into her tree and zoomed down into the house under the ground, which was lighted by a small fire.
Wendy was startled by a low groan coming from a dark corner. Going to investigate, she was horrified to see Peter sprawled on his bed, his shoulder and arm red with blood. His face was twisted with pain.
"Oh, Peter!" the words came out as a whisper. For a moment, Wendy could only clasp her hands to her mouth as she gazed at the suffering boy with wide eyes. Then she regained her senses and sprung into action.
She lighted a candle and set it near Peter so she could see better. She got some water, gathered some rags and supplies, and sat on the edge of Peter's bed. He hissed sharply, and his eyes flew open as she started to wash his shoulder. He tried to shift out of her reach.
"Hold still," she instructed, trying to work quickly, thoroughly.
"It hurts!" Peter tightened his jaw.
"I'm sorry. But this will help."
Suddenly Peter sneered up at her. "Will you use the same salve that boy used on your hands? And when I am well, you will thank him, for if you did not know how to make it, I would not become better. I would sooner die!"
Wendy refused to rise to his bait. Instead she asked with a calmness she did not feel, "And what will become of Neverland, the boys, me?"
Peter did not answer but let Wendy work in peace for a time. As she bandaged his shoulder and arm, a frown darkened his face.
"You will leave when you are done, will you not? You'll go back to the village and leave me here alone," he accused her. "Go back to him. See if I care, Wendy."
Wendy rose to her feet quickly, her face flushed with anger. If he wanted to push her away, she would not fight back this time. Let him have his way. "If you truly wish for me to leave you here all alone with your wound only half-bandaged and to never come back, then I shall grant it!" Wendy's voice became higher and more excited with each word. Tears came unbidden to her eyes. She turned away from the boy.
It was the first time she had heard him speak those words in a long time. She looked at him sharply. His eyes were lacking their earlier hostility, and new vulnerability and fear shone in them along with another emotion she had never seen before: regret.
"I missed you," he added in a softer tone.
Wendy wiped her sleeve across her eyes. "Then, please…one minute you tell me to leave and the next you say you're sorry. What am I to think? Do?" she demanded with a half sob.
"Stay, please. Wendy…"
She sniffed and dried her cheeks with her hand. Then she silently sat back on the edge of his bed and resumed bandaging his shoulder and arm.
Peter rested his head on his pillow. "I missed you," he repeated in a whisper. "I've missed your smile, laugh, and sparkle in your eyes. Our long talks..."
Wendy breathed deeply, hoping this would not end the same as it had in the past. "How you would stay up late with me before the fire. You would work on your wood carvings while I sewed," she murmured.
"I thought you would no longer be my mother," Peter confessed.
For a moment Wendy simply gaped at him. "Why did you think that?"
"Because of how that Indian boy made you so happy and looked at you. He wants you to be his mother."
"Running Deer?" Wendy chuckled.
Peter's eyes were serious as they bore into hers. "Yes. He wanted that and…something else from you. I could see it in his eyes, how he watched you." He frowned thoughtfully.
"Oh," was all Wendy could say as, finally, everything came together and she at last understood. She became lost in her own thoughts, stunned that Peter was jealous of her friendship with Running Deer and that he had sensed the boy wanted something from her.
"Will you give him what he wants if he asks you?" Peter asked fearfully.
"No, Peter," she answered after a moment, recalling Running Deer's farewell.
He studied her closely. "Do, do you wish to be his mother, Wendy?"
"No, Peter," she said firmly, letting him read the truth in her eyes.
Pure contentment filled the boy's face, and Wendy smiled a little as she got up and put everything away.
"Wendy…" Peter paused before going on. "You will always be my mother, won't you?"
She had her back to him, so he did not see the strange flicker in her eyes which vanished when she turned to face him. "If you wish it, Peter," she replied softly. She sat back down beside him.
He nodded firmly. "I do. I never want to fight with you again."
Wendy readily agreed.
"We'll make a pact to never fight ever again," Peter said solemnly. "First cross your heart."
As one they crossed their hearts.
"Give your hand."
They clasped their hands in warm, friendly shake.
"And a thimble to seal the pact."
Wendy had no time to voice a protest or question before Peter had propped himself up with his good arm and elbow and carefully used his hand to bring her head down towards him, an eager light in his eyes. Her eyes widened as their lips touched. This kiss lacked the harshness and fire and ice from the one before. This kiss was everything Wendy had ever secretly dreamed of late in the night. The taste of rainbows was on his lips, and shooting stars raced from where Peter's fingertips brushed her skin. With his gentle, feather touch, he branded her.
She drew away first, causing Peter to sigh in protest. She blushed and got to her feet a bit unsteadily.
"Go to sleep, Peter," she urged, uncertain of what to say.
He detained her a moment as he grasped her hand.
"Good night, Wendy-lady." His words set her heart racing.
"Good night, Peter."
As she lay down to sleep, Wendy wondered if Peter would truly get over being jealous of Running Deer or if he would always be suspicious of the boy. She sighed softly. She wondered what would change between her and Peter because of all this. Or perhaps nothing at all would change. He would always be the boy who would not grow up; and she would always be only his mother. Only time would tell.