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       Lost Boy, p.21

           Chanda Hahn
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  Wendy recognized him instantly—Peter.

  “You’re back!” Wendy tried to step over a cement pylon to rush toward Peter, but Jax grabbed her arm, yanking her back.

  “Let me go!” Wendy cried, pulling hard.

  “No, don’t!” Jax warned, but Wendy clawed at his hand, and he released her. She crawled over the large cinder blocks and beams as she made her way to where Peter levitated above the wreckage. His hands on his waist, he stared at the Red Skulls who were passing through the room. He didn’t make a single motion to help or hinder.

  “Peter?” Wendy called out, stepping in front of him and noticing his clothes for the first time. Gone were his jeans and casual jacket, replaced by the pressed black uniform of the Red Skulls. His eyes no longer held their usual hint of laughter, instead that was replaced by darkness.

  Peter looked at her. No, not at her, through her. What was going on? He raised his arm and pointed the dart gun her way.

  “No, Peter, stop!” Wendy yelled. She dropped her gun and kicked it aside, then raised her hands to show him that she meant no harm. She heard Jax swear under his breath.

  “That’s not Peter anymore, Wendy.”

  She didn’t listen to Jax’s warnings. “Peter, we’re your friends,” she said, desperate to break through to him.

  Peter’s mouth turned upward into a smile that chilled her bones. She saw his finger move on the trigger, and she closed her eyes and waited for the impact as the person she loved betrayed her.

  Heat flew past her cheek. She opened her eyes to see Peter falling from the ceiling, hit by one of Jax’s fireballs, and landing in the rubble. Peter leaped up, silent and blank-faced, and thrust himself at Jax, grabbing him around the waist. Then, he lifted Jax up and flung him across the room.

  Jax grunted as he hit the wall, his body creating spiderweb-like cracks spreading out from his point of impact, before sliding to the floor.

  “Jax!” Wendy screamed as Peter, possessed by whatever Neverland had done to him, continued his onslaught.

  She spared a glance at the shifter, but she was gone—where, she had no idea, but she couldn’t follow her. Not when she was worried about Peter, who had grabbed Jax by his boot and lifted him through the broken ceiling into the night sky. Higher and higher he flew until he was nothing more than a speck in the air. Then, he began to grow larger as Peter let go and let Jax drop to his death.

  “No!” she cried out. Doing the only thing she could think of doing, she reached for the shadows. One after another, they came out of nothing, out of nowhere, and they wrapped themselves around Jax’s falling form. He disappeared mid-descent, reappearing mid-air, inches from the ground.

  Peter howled in anger and flew back like a man on a mission, straight toward Jax.

  Wendy tried to rush to him, but a young Red Skull stepped out in front of her, blocking her path.

  “Why are you in such a hurry to save them?” the teen wearing the Red Skull uniform taunted her. “You never were the hero.”

  “I’m not their hero. I’m just their friend,” Wendy said, taking in the clawed fingers, the tiger color of her eyes, and a familiar smirk.

  “Then, where were you, friend, seven years ago when you abandoned me?” she hissed.

  Wendy could finally place her, and her breath caught in her chest. “Lily?”

  She remembered the time, years ago, reaching through the padlocked doors to grasp her hand, trying to pull her through to safety. But then, the Red Skull had ripped the girl from her hands, and Lily had taken a piece of Wendy’s nightgown with her. In Lily, she knew she was facing years of resentment and hate.

  Lily’s face turned to one of disgust, and then she punched Wendy in the stomach. “You’re nothing. Pathetic. Weak.”

  Wendy’s mouth gaped open in pain, her eyes flicking over Lily’s shoulder to see what was happening with Jax and Peter. Jax had regained his footing and was fighting off his friend, doing everything he could to stay out of Peter’s reach.

  She was tired of everyone assuming she was weak. She wasn’t a helpless child either. Without looking away, careful not to draw attention, Wendy summoned the shadows again and saw that Lily couldn’t see them as they gathered near. Good. It gave her an advantage over her.

  Lily tossed her braid over her shoulder and shrugged. Her arms at her side as claws extended from the tips of her fingers. “They thought of destroying us,” she whispered, her voice filled with hate and venom. “But I was not easily killed. Those of us that didn’t burn in the fire were imprisoned. Years. I spent years in hell, wanting nothing but revenge on the ones who abandoned us. You and the boys. Now, it’s your turn to endure what I endured.”

  Wendy lunged and tried to get around Lily, but the girl swiped with her claw. Pain ripped through Wendy’s abdomen, along with claw marks to match, and she fell to her knees. Her frantic mind worked hard as she processed what Lily was freely telling her.

  “What did you do to Peter?” Wendy asked as her hands clutched at her stomach.

  “Newest recruit,” Lily sneered. “He was so easy to reboot. His mind is so malleable, and we had a little help from one of yours. Hook wanted to gift wrap him for you and the boys, to show you what your future is.”


  She brought up her clawed hands, still dripping with Wendy’s blood, and gave it a quick sniff. “Are you afraid to die?” She laughed, and Wendy realized that despite the girl’s willingness to brag about her plans, she knew very little about Wendy.

  “That’s where you’re wrong,” Wendy answered, letting confidence fill her. She placed her hand over the bleeding wound and looked at her blood. She needed to avoid taking another hit like that. Wendy made a small motion with her hand, and the shadows moved in closer. “Death is not the end. It’s the beginning.”

  She rushed toward Lily, her hand reaching for the girl, and the shadow pushed its way into Wendy. Wendy almost faltered as the shadow joined with her. One minute, she was in front of Lily; the next, she and the shadow were passing through the shadow realm.

  Everything was gray, cold, dark as the shadow moved Wendy through the other world. It was only seconds, but those seconds felt like hours as she reappeared behind Lily; the shadow moved away. Wendy picked up a piece of the rubble and smashed it into the side of her head. She crumpled to the ground.

  “Sleep that off,” Wendy said and ran across the room to help Jax with Peter. Both the boys were bloodied and injured. Peter’s eyes were crazed as Jax knocked him into a brick wall with a blast of fire. Wendy could see the blistered and seared skin underneath the tattered uniform. She flung herself between Peter and Jax, holding her hands up between them.

  “Stop! You two are friends; you don’t need to fight like this.”

  “I am not his friend,” Peter choked out, blood dripping from his lips. A cough wracked his lungs. “He is the enemy.” He looked at Wendy, a sneer forming. “You are the enemy. The disease that plagues the earth and needs to be got rid of. Squashed like cockroaches.”

  “No, you’re wrong,” Wendy said softly, coming to kneel by Peter. His chest was oozing. It didn’t look good at all. “I’m your friend. Well, more than your friend.”

  Peter’s head hung at an odd angle. “Will you die for me?”

  He lunged forward and wrapped his large hands around Wendy’s neck, digging his fingers into her throat. She gagged and fell backward, his body falling on top of hers.

  A soldier came in and yelled at Jax to get on the chopper, as the rest of the troops began to retreat. A flash of light appeared next to the prone body of a lost boy, and like Onyx, he disappeared. Wendy was able to follow the blur of light as it streaked out the hole in the ceiling. Security doors began to close, locking the building down. If the Red Skulls didn’t leave, they’d all be trapped inside; that was their one chance to escape.

  Wendy’s vision began to dim. She couldn’t breathe. She struggled against Peter, pulling at his fingers, and he tightened his grip further. The shadows came
to Wendy’s aid and attacked Peter. He let go of her neck and batted at the dark shadows that only they could see. Not only were they both able to pan, but they both could see the shadows without specs.

  “Go away. Get away from me.” His eyes were wide; terror ebbed from his body.

  Wendy gasped and tried to pull herself back up. The shadows were driving Peter away from her and trapping him in the corner. She couldn’t understand why he was so terrified. Peter screamed. Jax stormed over to him and lifted his fist. Wendy turned away as she heard his fist connect with Peter’s jaw, knocking him out cold.

  Lily regained consciousness and got to her feet. She leaped high into the air and landed softly in front of Peter, her hands transforming into long claws. She glared at Jax. “You’re a traitor.”

  “I’ve been called worse.” He shrugged.

  The streak of light came back into the room and stopped in front of Wendy, and she could see that it belonged to a Red Skull. An inhumanly fast super soldier. He picked up Peter, smiled wryly at Wendy, and she knew what was going to happen. She could read the victory on his face.

  “No!” Wendy cried, but he leaped up in the air, and with a flash of light, they were both gone. She couldn’t lose him to Neverland.

  “Give him back,” Wendy yelled, running after him, but was cut off by a side attack from Lily, who was ticked off, the side of her face swollen and her eye bloodshot from Wendy’s blow to her head.

  “No, we have need for his DNA,” she said, then turned to Jax, growling, “The next time I see you, Jax, I will kill you.”

  “And I you,” Jax warned, his fists clenching, his hands glowing red with power. Lily smirked as the flash of light appeared again, and the soldier whisked her away.

  Wendy could feel Jax’s anger radiating from him, or it could have been the heat permeating from his hands.

  “Do something!” Wendy yelled, pointing through the hole in the roof, at the four helicopters flying away with the remaining boys.

  He flung a blast of fire in front of the chopper, and it swerved to avoid the flame. The helicopter almost ran into the second helicopter, nearly colliding with it.

  “No, Jax!” Wendy commanded, grabbing onto his arm as he released the second ball of flame. It went off course and crashed into the bungalow house, which exploded. “You will kill them all.”

  He pushed her away. “It’s better to be dead than taken alive by Neverland. They will just strip them into soulless mercenaries.”

  “You don’t get to make that decision for them,” Wendy said.

  “I’m the only one that can,” Jax argued.

  “You weren’t the only one on that island, Jax,” Wendy challenged. “I was there too. In fact, I died there.”

  “Then, you should understand more than anyone what we’re sentencing them to.”

  “I do, but still, you do not get to make that decision for the boys.”

  Jax came to his senses and ran his hand over his face. “I’m sorry, but I think like a soldier first.”

  “That’s your problem,” Wendy spat and started running through the building, looking for anyone left behind. There were signs of destruction everywhere—walls half collapsed, furniture overturned, and glass everywhere, but it was silent except for the fading hum of the helicopters as they retreated.

  And then it was quiet. Wendy was running, calling their names but getting nothing in return. “Ditto . . . Fox . . . Slightly!”

  Silence greeted her.

  She continued her search. The smoke and her tears made it difficult to see. She stumbled in the dark and saw a hand buried beneath stone rubble, where she had last seen her brother and Tootles.

  “Tootles . . . Michael!” Wendy began digging, pulling off the rock and debris. Jax silently aided her attempt at a rescue. The hand lay still, and with each rock that she lifted, her hope dwindled.

  Jax lifted a board, blocking the view of what was beneath with his body.

  “Wendy, don’t,” Jax said turning toward her to shield her view.

  “Is it . . . is it . . . ?” She couldn’t finish as a river of tears and anguish came over her. She dropped to her knees, her hand covering her mouth.

  “There’s nothing you can do here. He’s gone.”

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  They laid five to rest that morning by the sun’s first rays. Jax and John’s shovels echoed against the river rock as they finished digging the last and final grave. Five of the casualties were teachers and staff members who had left the hidden safe rooms in an effort to help protect their students. Neverland had no use for adults and didn’t take the same care to keep them alive. Wendy hadn’t known them as well, but their deaths still weighed heavily on her, each one a lodestone around her heart. But she would use that pain to forge a wall to protect herself and build upon her hatred for Neverland.

  The other casualty was a lost boy—Fox.

  It was unfair. Life. Death. It came for them all, but she struggled with the idea of it coming so soon for Fox. She bit on her thumbnail as Tink, semi-recovered from the drug-induced dart, held a formal ceremony for those who had passed.

  Wendy could see that there were more than a few mounds along the embankment. She wondered how many of them were boys killed by morphlings or the Red Skulls. Was that their lot in life? To continue to battle against Neverland and be picked off one by one until there weren’t any of them left? That seemed like a horrible way to die; she would know since she’d had her share of deaths.

  She wiped at the corner of her eye, and Tootles buried his head into her side, wrapping his hands around her. Michael stood tall and silent next to her. He hadn’t been taken by the Red Skulls and had kept Tootles hidden. John stood on her other side and kept giving Michael a curious look.

  Tink cleared her throat. “Um, does anyone have anything they’d like to add?” She looked around hopefully at their small group.

  It pained Wendy to see their numbers reduced to just a few. Jax, Tink, John, Michael, Tootles, Slightly, Ditto, and she were the only ones who had not been taken by Neverland.

  Tootles wasn’t in any position to speak, and Jax was angry. He had retreated inside himself and spoke very little. Tink looked to John for help.

  John cleared his throat and stepped up beside Tink. He looked around at the crying faces. “A thousand words cannot express, a thousand tears cannot digress, a thousand thoughts of you remain, for a thousand hearts your life has changed.”

  “That was beautiful,” Tink whispered as she gave John’s elbow a squeeze of gratitude while the teachers continued to cover the grave with rock.

  He nodded his head. “Yeah, it was out of a video game.”

  Tink rubbed her eyes. “I know, and very appropriate.”

  They stayed near the freshly covered mound, and Tink left a light brace on the grave. “To protect you from the darkness. And Fox . . .” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Wherever you go . . . stay away from the shadows.”

  The walk back was silent, filled with fear and doubt.

  As they left the woods and crested the hill, they could see the school. They were far enough away from the city that the police hadn’t noticed the raid on the school. The battle had come and left, leaving minimal impact on the world around them—other than the main building, where two huge holes remained in the roof. Contractors’ trucks had already arrived, and construction had begun on the building, but Wendy knew that they couldn’t stay.

  “What do we do now?” Tootles asked, looking up to Wendy.

  It was Tink who answered. “We move, to a new safe house. This location has bit the dust.”

  “There’s more than one safe house?”

  She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, we have backup plans for our backup plans. But we can’t stay here in case they come back. We have to load up on our necessities and head out. Then, we will make a plan. Figure out what our next move is.” Tink stopped at the front step of the school.

  “I think—” Jax began, but Tink cut him off.
br />   “You don’t get to think. You’re lucky I haven’t killed you yet, traitor. I still won’t trust you any farther than I can throw you.”

  “Well, I think you will have to trust me now since I saved your necks.”

  “No, you could have warned us. Told us Neverland was coming. You’ve been helping them for years. He knew just where to hit us, the weak spot in our defenses; we got hacked. How do you think he knew that? Luck? No, he had someone on the inside.”

  “Yes, I fed him information, but most of it was false. Old news.”

  “But still you knew he’d come.”

  Jax’s face turned ugly. “They were always going to come. It was never a matter of if, but when. I bought you time. I helped Neverwood by keeping their eyes off you.”

  Wendy stopped and stared at him, putting everything together. “You helped kidnap kids from my school . . . and all the other kids. You were there, in my school library. You were there the night of the car accident. It was you, on the side of the road. I saw you. My parents . . .” She trailed off, unable to speak.

  He looked away, shoving his hands inside his jacket pockets. “It was never supposed to go down like that. Your parents weren’t meant to die. But they sent a morphling after you, and I thought that if I got there first—”

  “You didn’t,” Wendy hissed. “And now my parents are dead, and Neverland has taken my friends.”

  “Your friends are not dead,” Jax sighed and looked over at her.

  “What did you say?”

  “They’ve just been recruited into the D.U.S.T program, unwillingly. Their systems will either adapt to the new PX drug, or they’ll die.”

  “And you didn’t adapt?”

  “They tried, over and over again, but my metabolism burns the drugs out before they can take hold, and they don’t have the same effect on me.”

  “What will happen to the boys?”

  “Neverland will put them in harvesting pods. If they’re strong, they will survive.”

  “Then, they still have a chance.” Her brain was working as she tried to process the facts so that she could formulate a plan. “What about Peter? How did they alter him so quickly?” Wendy fumed.

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