As soon as I was in the air, I felt eleven bazillion times better. I felt a pulse of panic in my chest only for a moment as I realized I didn't know the way to Neverland; I had followed Teaken on my first journey there and all I remembered was wet clouds and a sore neck. The panic melted away almost immediately as I realized that the life inside me somehow knew the way, and it was guiding me straight there. Straight home.
I flew faster than I ever had before, and didn't stop to take in the beautiful cloud formations all around me, or the incredible way that the stars bounced their light off of the ocean's surface and the restless waves tossed it back, like an interstellar game of catch. All of that happened in my peripheral vision, my eyes were set straight ahead towards home and Teaken.
The lump in my throat seemed to shrink as I saw the landmass in front of me at last. I put on a burst of speed, willing the air particles to move aside and let me through faster; I didn't have time to spare for friction.
The life inside of me gave a jump and a twist as soon as my eyes caught sight of the Tree. I couldn't help but gasp and place one of my hands over the small bump beneath my belly button.
"That's right," I breathed. "We're almost there."
As I dropped lower through the cloud cover of Neverland, I shivered as something passed through my body. The feeling of death and dying was in the very air of the island. I slowed, and my mouth dropped open at the state of the foliage on the island. Nearly everything was brown and rotten. Trees and ferns that weren't dead were quickly dying, and even the crystal clear waters of the mermaids' lagoon had turned murky and thick with rotten seaweed and dead and dying sea creatures. I couldn't stop a gasp from escaping my mouth when I saw what I was almost certain was the body of a mermaid floating face down on the surface. I mean, we weren't ever going to be the best of friends, the mermaids and I, but I never would have wished this on them.
God, what had happened since I left?
A horrible thought hit me as I tipped downwards and headed towards the Tree: Was this my fault? Had this happened because I had left the island?
"Oh God, please no," I whispered to myself, feeling nauseated by the possibility. I stretched out my hand and reached for the closest vine that hung near the top of the Tree. As soon as my hand touched it, the vine curled and dried. I gasped and yanked my hand back, even as more vines rose to embrace me and pull me in. It seemed the Tree was happy to see me return.
"No, look what I'm doing to you!" I said, trying to pull away. "What is happening here? What've I done?" I was so shocked by the turn of events; I couldn't pull away from the Tree's hold until it had already deposited me at the window to my room. The vines unwound from me, and crumbled to dust. "I'm sorry," I choked, tears flooding my eyes. There was an indulgent groan, and another vine lowered and gave me a gentle shove towards my window. I sniffed and smiled, wiping the tears from my face as I ducked my head and stepped down into my room.
I wobbled a bit on the soft mattress that lie beneath the window, and put my hand on the wall to steady myself. The flowers growing there immediately folded in on themselves and fell to the floor in gray pieces. I gasped and yanked my hand away from the wall and pressed it against my stomach as I felt a strong swoop in my womb, as if the baby had turned a cartwheel.
I nearly fell again when I looked up and saw a figure sitting silent and still in the corner of my room.
"Teaken!" I gasped, trying to slow my pounding heart. "You scared the hell out of me. Don't you know better than to sneak up on a pregnant woman?" I teased.
Teaken didn't move.
"Teaken?" I asked, immediately worried but distracted by the task of trying to lower myself to the floor without falling over.
I looked up from the floor, still balancing on the bed. "I'm sorry," I said slowly, watching him. My heart finally kicked up to a more normal pace when he finally raised his eyes to mine. "I had to see my brother. I had an attack of conscience, and I flipped out a little bit." I admitted, giving him a small rueful smile.
Teaken sighed and stood, making his way over to me. I expected him to give me a hand off of the bed, but he stopped in front of me and wrapped his arms around my waist, resting his head against my distended belly. I was more than a little taken aback, and I dropped my hands onto his shoulders hesitantly.
"I needed you," Teaken mumbled into my stomach. "Things are falling apart, and the Boys are looking to me," he tightened his arms. "And I don't know what to say, what to do. I just needed you, but you were gone."
If it's possible to feel fuzzy warm and icy cold at the same time, that's what zipped through my abdomen at Teaken's words. I ran my hands over his shoulders, wrapping one arm around him and threading the other up through the hair on the back of his neck and holding his head to me. "I'm here now. What happened? Are things getting worse?"
Teaken sighed again and gave me one last squeeze before pulling away and offering me a hand down off of the bed. I took it, and when my feet were safely and steadily on the floor, Teaken pulled his free hand over his face as if wiping off his exhaustion. "Something's happened to Peter," he said, and took my hand in his again. He laced his fingers through mine and pulled me towards the door. "I don't know how to explain it, you have to see."
I nodded at him and let him lead me through the door and through the winding halls and stairways until we stood at the door of Pan's room. Teaken stopped and turned halfway towards me, his hand hesitating on the door. "He's…not normal," he said. "I don't want you to be too shocked or anything, in case…" he trailed off and gestured to my rounded stomach.
I nodded again, at a loss and now worried about what was behind the door. Teaken took a deep breath, and dropped my hand before he pushed the door open. I saw a body lying in a hammock and Nibs standing guard at its feet. I took a tentative step inside of the room.
Then a lot of things happened at once.
First: I saw Peter, or what had become of Peter, and my mouth dropped open with a whimper I couldn't contain.
Second: Peter (who, Teaken would tell me later, had been lying perfectly still on his hammock for a day and a night) opened his eyes and screamed.
Third, the life inside of me went absolutely berserk.
I cried out, my hands immediately wrapping around my middle and my knees going out from under me. Teaken didn't know who to help, poor boy, and danced between us in a panic.
"Mary! God, Peter, what the hell is happening?" He yelled, his hands fisted in his hair.
My lungs desperately pulled at the atmosphere, I couldn't get enough air. I knew what I felt was happening, but my logical mind wouldn't except it as truth. I'm not sure why I thought logic had any place in Neverland, for crying out loud, but I couldn't process irony or sarcasm at that moment either. All I could process was that the life inside me was growing at an exponential and excruciating rate, and somehow I knew it was because I was too close to Peter.
"Teaken," I gasped, my nails digging into the floor as I tried to push myself to my feet. "Out!"
"Mary, what?" Teaken asked, his eyes still glued to Pan as the boy's rigid body pulled tighter and arched up in the hammock. "Nibs! Restrain him, don't let him hurt himself!"
Nibs scrambled to do as Teaken ordered, and Pan began to thrash his head back and forth as Nibs held his arms down. "He's too strong," Nibs grunted. "Holy god he's strong! I need help!"
Teaken made to move towards Pan and Nibs, but I reached out and snagged his ankle in a death grip. "Teaken!" I hissed. "Get me outside!"
Teaken stopped and looked down at me, then looked up at Pan, and seemed to finally put two and two together. He hauled me up against him and pulled me across the threshold, slamming the door behind him. I breathed out in relief, sagging against him, and Teaken tightened is arms around me as he turned his ear towards Pan's door. The screaming had stopped, and there weren't any more sounds of struggle.
"Nibs," Teaken called. "Are you all right?"
"He's stopped thrashing," Nibs said from inside the room. "But…his eyes are open, and they're…they're just staring. And they're wrong, all wrong."
"Stay with him," Teaken called through the door. "I'll be right back."
He tucked me more securely against his side, and walked me back in the direction on my room. "Can you walk all right?"
I nodded, feeling stronger the further we got from Peter's door. My abdomen still hurt, and the life inside of me was performing an Olympic gymnastic floor routine, but I could walk.
"What was that?" Teaken finally asked when we reached my room and he lowered me onto my bed.
I shook my head, still holding onto one of his shoulders. I took a deep breath, and squeezed my hand tightly on his shoulder as the baby did an impressive triple twist and pummeled my ribs in the process.
"Is it the baby?" Teaken panicked and placed his hand over hers on her stomach. "Is it ok? Are you ok? What's happening? Why did that happen to Peter? Are you in pain? What do you need?"
I had to laugh at that typical male outburst. I pat his hand. "Yes, I think so, I think so, I'm not sure, I don't know, a little but I'm ok, and maybe some water?"
Teaken stared at me for a moment before he realized I was answering his ridiculous inquisition outburst, and jumped up to get me some water from a pitcher on the corner table. He pulled a new and unopened blossom off of the wall and poured some water into it before handing it to me. The moment my hand touched it, the blossom disintegrated and the water dripped down my hand and into my lap. I whimpered in frustration and fear as Teaken's eyes widened.
"It's happening to you too," he whispered. "The same as Peter."
"What happened to him?" I asked, pulling the pitcher from Teaken's hand and drinking straight from the spout.
"The island is happening to him, and you too it would seem." Teaken raised his eyes to the window. "The magic is being transfused into him and now you. It's storing itself up in you, like, like a…"
"Like a giant battery," I whispered, my hands rubbing over my belly. A battery to power what, I wondered? For the baby growing in my womb like a weed on Super Miracle-Gro?
"Yes," Teaken nodded. "That's what has been happening all along, I think, since this started. The island was dying, losing its magic, so it started storing it up in Peter, and in us. That's why we changed, why we grew, why I stopped forgetting. But now it's happening almost all at once; much faster. Ever since," Teaken flinched and swallowed hard. "Ever since Slightly died."
I blinked and stopped all thought processes. I looked up at Teaken with my mouth agape and eyes wide. "What?"
Teaken's eyes were riddled with pain when they briefly met mine before dropping to the floor. He shook his head slightly and stood, holding his hand out. "We need to make sure you're ok, c'mon."
I just stared at him. "Slightly is dead?"
He dropped his hand and sighed. "This is important, Mary. If the baby is in trouble then we're all dead. I don't know anything about what you need or what it needs, so we need to go to someone who can help us. Now get up."
"I'll tell you about it on the way, all right?" Teaken said, his jaw tight and his eyes averted.
I swallowed, then nodded and took his hand. He pulled me up and helped me out the window and onto to branch. I held onto one of his arms as he delved a hand into his pouch, pulled out a pixie dust pill and popped it onto his tongue.
"Where are we going?" I asked quietly as his eyes closed in concentration.
"To the Indians." Teaken picked me up into his arms, and I held on, awaiting his take off. We stood on the branch for a few minutes, and I finally looked up into Teaken's face, wondering what was taking him. His eyes were screwed tightly shut, and his head was shaking side to side as he grunted in frustration.
My heart broke as I realized he was struggling to latch onto any happy thought. I did the first thing my instincts told me to, and pulled his face towards mine. I placed a gentle kiss on his lips, and opened my eyes to see his smiling back at me. He kissed me again, and then rested his forehead against mine. I felt us slowly rising into the air as he breathed a 'thank you' into my hair, and we were off.
Smee waited until he was certain that no one near him was screaming in death throes before peeling his hands off of his head and slowly opening his eyes. He'd seen that wretched boy throw one of his curved blades in his direction and had hit the forest floor faster than gravity alone could allow. The sound of other pirate's bodies dropping around him was not conclusive enough to comfort him. After all, those rhythmic thumps could have been bodies followed by separated heads, but as Smee carefully shifted his eyes and then his head side to side, he saw neither decapitated bodies nor bodiless heads in his immediate surroundings.
Blowing out a loud breath of relief, Smee wiped his drenched forehead and sat up. Other pirates around him were grumbling to themselves and dusting off their clothes as they rolled to their feet. He scanned around the group before searching for his captain.
"Oi, Smee, get off yer useless arse and help me with this bloomin' scabbard." One of the pirates called as he fought with his tangled belts and buckles.
"Of course, one moment, on the way," Smee mumbled as he scrambled clumsily to his feet. On his way to help the aggravated pirate, Smee stopped in his tracks as he finally laid eyes on their captain.
Blackblood knelt over the lifeless body of the Lost Boy whose throat he'd slit. He faced the forest in the direction that the other Boys had absconded with Pan's body. His long fingers combed gently through Slightly's blond, blood-stained curls, but as far as Smee could tell, the captain didn't seem conscious of the touch.
Abandoning the still struggling and accessory challenged pirate, Smee carefully made his way towards his captain. He stopped beside the man, and nearly choked on his own gasp-his captain had changed again.
Blackblood slowly closed his eyes and took a deep breath in through his nose: the picture of Zen and calm.
When his eyes opened and slid over to Smee, the first mate shivered and felt everything that was the opposite of calm. Blackblood looked younger than Pan looked now. His face radiated youthful energy, while his eyes held nothing but razor edged deadly intent. The focus was eerie and unnatural, and Smee could only stare.
Blackblood gave him a smile that was equally chilling and serene, and then looked around at the rest of his crew who were all standing and righting themselves and their weapons after having thrown themselves to the ground in avoidance of Grinz's deadly curved blade. Blackblood stood and turned back towards the forest, his fingers still curled in Slightly's hair. All the men's attention was suddenly garnered as they watched the dead boy's body raise half off the ground in Blackblood's clutches.
The captain turned, satisfied to have the pirates' full attention. Smiling still, he pulled his sword out of its scabbard. "Up, men," he called, and then turned the sword on the dead boy again and pulled it through Slightly's already ravaged neck, and severed the boy's head from his body. He started towards the forest, Slightly's head swinging in his left hand as his sword dripped a slow trail of partially congealed blood on his right side.
"Up, men!" He demanded again in a light, nearly falsetto voice. "And at them."
The pirates started forwards, following their captain into the forest without question, but not without apprehension. Smee was the only one to spare a glance for the headless Lost Boy as the clearing that would be his final resting place was cleared and quiet once more.
I hugged Teaken as hard as I could when he put me down. I clung to him and was afraid to let him go. After what he'd just told me, I was certain I would fall to the ground in a thousand pieces if I let go of him, and with the way he was shaking in my arms, I feared the same for him.
"I'm sorry," I said, my voice breaking.
"Why are you apologizing?" Teaken asked, trying to pull back and look at my face, but I held on.
"If I hadn't left," I whispered, afraid that it was true, that it all was my fault.
"Stop it." Teaken said tersely and peeled my hands out from around him. He pushed me back and held me at arms length. "Stop that line of thought right now. I mean it," he shook me a bit when he saw my eyes slide away from his. "Blackblood did this. You're helping. You're here to save us. I mean, look at you!" Teaken stepped back and gestured to my swollen belly. "Look at what you've done for us."
I covered my belly with my hands, and was surprised. I looked down for the first time since returning to the island, and nearly shouted. I…I was huge. I did let out a squeak of surprise when, as I watched, the life inside of me shifted, and I grew again. Visibly.
"Oh god, what is going on?" I cried, looking up with wide eyes at Teaken.
He took my hand and squeezed it. "That's what we're here to find out, c'mon." Teaken turned around and nearly walked right into a large bronze chest.
"Chief!" Teaken choked, back pedaling while pulling me behind him. "Hey, uh, Mary and I were just coming to-"
"The time has come." The Chief's deep baritone voice vibrated through my chest.
Teaken sighed and lowered his eyes as he nodded. "Yeah, I know."
I was lost. "Wait, the time has come for what? What time?" I asked, looking between Teaken and the Chief…although mostly at Teaken, because honestly the Chief scared the hell out of me.
"It's all right, he's here to help." Teaken said, his hand warm on my back.
"Help? Help what?" I asked, my hand tightening on Teaken's arm.
"You will follow me." The Chief leveled his cold dark eyes at me. "You will go back." He finished, shifting his lead glare to Teaken.
My grip turned to steel.
"Wait," Teaken asked while trying to prise my nails out of his forearm. "I don't think it's a good idea if she goes alone. She'll be calmer if I'm there, and the baby-"
"You must fight."
Teaken stopped pulling at my fingers and stared at the Chief. "What?"
"You must defend your Tree and your leader."
The Chief turned, swept a hand up and pointed to something off in the forest. Teaken and I turned to follow his line of sight. Trees, bushes, and fern plumes rustled and shook in nearly a perfect line. As we looked, we saw another line of moving foliage to the left of that one, and another to it's right, and another, and so on. I counted eight lines moving towards the Tree.
"Pirates approach. He knows Pan is there."
My mouth dropped open and I suddenly understood the lines the Chief had shown us. They were being surrounded. Hook, Blackblood-whoever the hell he was-had finally found Peter and the Lost Boys' hide out, and he and his men were slowly surrounding the Tree.
"Ambush," Teaken breathed, and took a fast step back towards the Tree.
At the same moment the Chief grabbed my arm and my mood went from freaked out to officially panicked. "Wait! Teaken, wait, no! Come with me, you have to come with me!"
"Mary you'll be fine, the Indians-"
"Are strangers!" I yelled, trying to break free of the Chief's powerful grip. "I don't know them! Don't make me have this child alone, Teaken, please! I need you there with me! I can't do this alone!"
All of that wasn't easy for me to say. Since you've been with me this far into my story, you know by now that I have a healthy dose of pride. Well not then. Right then I was ready to dump my pride all over the ground and Irish dance all over it if it meant Teaken would just be there to hold my hand. I guess I had never realized how much I'd been counting on that to happen. Now that I was faced with a scenario without him there, I lost it completely.
Teaken hesitated. I knew that was a huge thing in itself. I mean, his leader, the boy he had respected and cared for and followed for almost his entire existence, was lying helpless and lifeless in his fortress that was being slowly surrounded by his one great nemesis…and he was looking at me like I was the air he was currently trying to force into his lungs.
I was tearing him in two. Once again I was making him choose, and after he'd begged me not to. I dropped my hand and stopped struggling against the Chief's hold.
"Go." I said, even as a sob rolled up my throat. "Go protect him."
Teaken's face filled with relief and gratefulness as he jogged over and took my face in his hands. "Thank you for understanding," he whispered as he pulled me close to him. I grabbed his hand with my free arm and clung, just for a moment. "They'll take good care of you, I promise. I wouldn't trust anyone else with you."
I pulled in a shaky breath and nodded.
"You can do this, everything will be fine." Teaken kissed my forehead and hugged me tightly. "You're my hero, Mary."
I put on a smile for him, and he grinned back. "Be safe." I told him, squeezing my hand.
"Be strong." He answered back. "I don't want to hear any stories of you screaming and begging for mercy." Teaken teased me with a smile. "I'd lose all respect for you."
"If I scream then I promise there will be no begging, only swearing and death threats." I promised.
Teaken chuckled. "That's my girl."
My breath hitched a little at that, I have to admit, and Teaken heard it. He tipped my face up to his. "You are, you know." He whispered. I smiled. That felt good to hear. He pulled me close again, and this time kissed my lips. That felt even better. When he pulled away, he kept his lips against mine and whispered again. "I love you."
The ground cracked underneath our feet, and a large Gingko Tree fell nearly right on top of us, but that was the sweetest moment of my life thus far, because I knew, finally, that I loved him too.
I opened my mouth to tell him so, but he held up his hand to stop me.
"Enough damage is done when I say it, God knows what would happen if…" he trailed off, but looked at me with hopeful eyes. I smiled, and he grinned back at me. "I know," he said, stepping away. "That's enough. I'll see you soon."
Teaken turned and jogged away from me, leapt up and flew out of sight as he left to rally his Boys. The Chief took my arm again, and this time I followed willingly, one hand on the life inside of me that was growing steadily more active. I had no idea what lied ahead of me, but I knew I would endure and survive it. I knew I would succeed and save Neverland because I wanted so badly to be able to tell Teaken I loved him, to say the words out loud. And after everything was over, after everyone was safe again, I would.