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       Lost Boy, p.6

           Chanda Hahn
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  Louie gave Wendy a small smile and nodded. “I understand. Well, you get better, and come see me soon.”

  Get better? Wendy looked to Peter for some reassurance that she’d misunderstood Louie’s comment, but the guilty look on his face only confirmed her suspicions, and she took off in the opposite direction.

  Peter jogged to catch up with her. “Slow down.”

  “I’m not sick,” she spat out between clenched teeth, seething. “There’s nothing wrong with me.” That he had even put that idea into a stranger’s mind made her writhe with anger. Sick meant hospital, and hospital suggested a psych ward. She had read her diary. She knew what had happened to her during the summer her parents sent her away. The thought of returning to a place like Wonderland again frightened her.

  “No, no. I know you’re not sick, Wendy.” Peter reached for her hand and pulled her toward a block of shops along the main road.

  When passing by a toy store, her gaze fell on a teddy bear in the window. She didn’t move. He pulled on her arm, and she dug in her heels. Her breath was coming in shallow; why couldn’t she breathe? Air—she needed air. That stuffed animal was causing her a lot of anxiety, and she couldn’t comprehend why.

  An elderly man with graying hair and spectacles stepped out of the bookstore next door, a Saint Bernard at his heels.

  “Why, Wendy, Nana’s missed you.” The dog pulled on her leash and leaped up, pressing her giant paws into Wendy’s shoulders, almost knocking her over.

  “I’m sorry, but I think you have the wrong person.” Wendy staggered back, frightened, keeping a considerable distance between herself, the dog, and the old man. Tears welled up in her eyes, and her chest seemed to be compressing. “I can’t . . . I don’t—”

  Peter reached for her, but she held up her hand.

  “Stop, stay away from me. Whatever game you’re playing with me isn’t funny anymore.”

  “No, it’s not funny,” Peter said. “I would never do that to someone I care about.”

  She paused. “Is this some sick joke?”

  “No. I know it’s a lot to take in, but believe me when I say that you are unique.”

  Wendy couldn’t help the bubble of laughter welling up. “I’m so unique that someone tried to kidnap me.”

  “Exactly,” he said firmly.

  Wendy’s lip trembled. She couldn’t make eye contact with him without feeling as if she was falling down a rabbit hole, but he persisted with his explanation.

  “You have powers. Like me. That’s why those people tried to kidnap you and will stop at nothing until they have you. You just can’t remember. I need you to try and remember, Wendy.”

  “Powers? You have powers? And I—no, no. I don’t believe you.” She shook her head. “I can’t. Please just take me home. I need to go back.”

  “I know you don’t believe me, Wendy, but I promise you it’s true. You know me . . . Can’t you feel it?” Peter took a few slow steps toward her and held out his hand.

  She slipped her palm into his, as if transfixed, and he drew her into a nearby alley. Slowly, he pulled her close to him, and she moved in, willingly, longingly.

  “You know me,” he said softly. “And I know you.”

  Her heart raced at their closeness, her hands splayed against his chest. She blushed as his face leaned in, and she expected a kiss, closing her eyes as a whisper of air brushed against her cheek.

  “Open your eyes,” he murmured into her ear.

  Her eyes fluttered open, then widened as she glanced down to see the buildings and ground disappearing below them.

  “Do you believe me now?” Peter asked.

  She buried her head into his chest as she cried out, grasping him for dear life. He laughed and only held her tighter as they passed through a cloud.

  Moisture flecked across her skin and face, and she shivered. Peter didn’t speak, just held her as he moved through the air with her, her feet dancing across the clouds.

  “I can’t believe you can fly. Can I?”

  “You are,” he chuckled.

  “No, can I fly?”

  “I don’t know. It wouldn’t surprise me if you could. You are the most amazing person I’ve ever met. You probably could, from sheer stubbornness.”

  Feeling invincible, Wendy shifted in Peter’s arms. A look of concern crossed his face, and she laughed devilishly. “I guess there’s one way to find out.”

  “What do you mean?” Peter asked.

  With a hard thrust, Wendy launched herself away from Peter and out of his grasp, and she went plummeting toward the ground. His face went white and a look of terror filled his eyes, his hands clawing the air after her.

  She leaned back and relaxed. After all, it was only an illusion. She had convinced herself that’s all it was as soon as her feet had left the ground. It had to be—why else would the guy from her dreams be there? She wasn’t fearful because she couldn’t die in a dream. She knew she would either fly or wake up.

  Strong arms gripped her around the waist and jerked her up as Peter pulled her close to him before she was anywhere near the ground.

  “Don’t do that again,” he threatened, his voice furious.

  Wendy was surprised by Peter’s reaction but was able to read the fear behind his gaze. Fear because of her reckless behavior.

  “It’s okay,” Wendy teased, looking into his worried green eyes. “It’s just a dream.”

  He released his pent-up breath and pressed his forehead to hers. “If only this were a dream . . . But I need you to wake up. I’m sorry, Wendy.”

  “For what?” She grinned coyly.

  “For this,” Peter whispered as his lips claimed hers.

  It was the desperation that surprised her first, as if he was making up for lost time, but the kiss softened, his lips teasing hers, waiting, asking for permission. Why not? It was a dream she thought, and she met his desire with her own. She wrapped her hands around his neck and ran her fingers through his hair. Time stood still, and she refused to wake up.

  He breathed her name and pulled away, but the action pained him.

  Wendy squealed as he flew close to the tree lines and rooftops so that they wouldn’t be visible to anyone below.

  “I’m not dreaming, am I?”

  “No,” he answered, not breaking away from her gaze.

  “That’s what I was afraid of,” Wendy said, her shoulders drooping, trying not to despair. She became quiet, and Peter kept giving her curious looks.

  “Do people not see you?” she asked as they passed over someone walking their dog.

  He grinned. “People never look up.”

  Within minutes, they were at her house, and he touched down in her backyard. She could tell from the lack of lights inside that no one was home, but she still couldn’t disentangle herself from his embrace to go inside; she didn’t trust her feet to hold her weight.

  “Thank you!” she gushed, unsure if she was referring to their kiss or the flying. “This was like a dream.”

  “It’s not a dream. It’s real. I’ve tried to give you space and let you live a normal teenage life, but you can’t have that.”

  She shook her head. “I don’t believe that. If you hadn’t come to me in my dreams, then all of this—”

  “Still would have happened. They’ve found you twice now. The Red Skulls, they’re a part of Neverland Corporation and they’re the reason you don’t have your memories of your childhood. They are bad news and they will keep coming for you Wendy. They’ve come to your house before, but we put a guard outside and took care of them.”

  “Why were you guarding me?”

  “Because I care about you.”

  His sudden declaration was pushing her over the edge, making her question his motives.

  “How can you when you don’t even know me?” she said with disbelief, even though moments ago he had shown her he cared with a marvelous kiss.

  Peter reached for her hand and brushed the top of her knuckles. “I know you, Wendy. No
matter how many times I lose you, my feelings have always stayed the same, and I know that if you listened right now . . . to what your heart is saying, you’d know I speak the truth.”

  It was impossible to make sense of her heart at the moment. She felt it fluttering faster than a hummingbird’s wings, telling her he was right, though her brain was running on overdrive, refusing to listen.

  “This is so messed up,” she breathed out and moved away from him, wiping her eyes when he caught up to her. “I feel so broken.”

  “No, you are wrong.” He stepped in front of her and motioned to the town. “The whole world out there is messed up. Yes, as individuals we are broken, but you and me together—we’re whole . . . I’m your past, Wendy. Please don’t run from me.” He pulled her into a hug, and she surrendered, relaxing against him instinctively. “But I want more than anything to be in your future,” he whispered into her soft hair.

  She could tell that he had forced himself to loosen his grip, making it gentle enough so that she could pull away if she wanted to. If she had the choice, she’d stay in his embrace for all eternity.

  She shuddered, and he mistook its meaning.

  “Please, don’t get upset. You can ask anything, and I’ll tell you the truth. But you need to understand that once you learn the truth, you cannot go back.”

  This time, it was almost painful as he stepped away, never breaking eye contact. She was swept up in those endless pools of green so filled with pain that mirrored her own.

  “It wasn’t my intention to hurt you. I lost you once, and I don’t want to lose you again,” Peter said. “You need to remember, Wendy. Only then can we ensure you’re safe from Neverland.”

  Neverland. That word was like an arrow of paralyzing fear piercing her heart, causing her to stumble. Peter caught her and helped her to the back porch.

  “Neverland?” She’d barely breathed the word out and knew that she didn’t want to continue any further with that discussion. She wanted to be safe, and somehow, she knew that Neverland was the opposite of safe. “No. Stop. I don’t want to know.” Her movements became harried as she fumbled to unlock the back door and step inside. She needed to put a barrier between her and Peter, who wanted to thrust her dangerous past upon her.

  The house keys fell from her clumsy fingers, clattering loudly on the wooden porch. Peter scooped them up and held them away from her.

  “Give them to me,” Wendy demanded.

  Peter brought the keys to his lips, mumbling under his breath, “I’m sorry, Wendy.”

  “What?” Fear was riding down her spine at his whispered words.

  His eyes snapped open, and he swallowed, staring intently into her eyes. Wendy was becoming undone by looking into his.

  “You have a brother,” he said, holding the keys out to her.

  She snatched the keys and found the one that unlocked the door.

  “My brother? You mean John?”

  “No, not your stepbrother, your real brother. Michael,” he said, his voice softening, and he leaned on the door frame.

  “I don’t have . . .” Her chin lifted in defiance. “You’re wrong.”

  “Am I? Think about it. Ask yourself who you are, and when you’re ready for the answers, I’ll be there.” He brushed his fingers against her palm, slipping a thimble inside it.

  She didn’t know why, but the sight of the thimble made her well up with emotion. She closed her eyes as silent tears slide down her cheeks. Something cried out for Peter, and she didn’t know how to answer that yearning. She didn’t want to be the meek confused girl. She wanted to throw herself into his arms and kiss him again, and she had a feeling that she was going to embarrass herself and do just that when she felt a draft against her cheek, like a kiss.

  Opening her eyes, she discovered she was alone.

  Chapter Eleven

  Jax’s world spun as the fist connected with his jaw, and he briefly saw stars. Losing a step or two, he was able to regain his composure and attack with two quick jabs, followed by a roundhouse kick. His arc was beautiful, but he met air as his opponent ducked. He could see the leg swipe coming but was too slow. His other foot was knocked out from under him, and he landed on his back, face up on the mat.

  “Stupid and slow,” Hook said, his decaying breath blowing into his face. He peered down at Jax with yellowed eyes, a human monster wearing a Red Skull uniform.

  Jax kept his temper in check but could feel the slight trickle of something warm running down his cheek. His hand came away red with his blood.

  “That’s for failing in your last mission,” Hook sneered. “And disobeying a direct order.”

  “I didn’t.” He rolled over onto his knees.

  “You did.” Hook grabbed the back of Jax’s head and slammed it into the floor. “Because you disobeyed orders—my command—you blew your cover and we lost good soldiers. They had been with me since before you were born.”

  “It wasn’t my fault,” Jax lied, keeping his head down, not looking the man in his eyes—not challenging him. It was one of the hardest things he had ever done, when everything within him wanted to lash out and blow the place to smithereens, but he knew if he did that, his punishment would only be worse. Hook was teaching him a lesson, and he needed to make it believable.

  Stay alive for her.

  Live for her.

  You’re her only chance.

  He calmed his fury and stayed still as his platoon leader continued to put him in his place, to make him an example to the others in the D.U.S.T. Program. Jax could hear the murmurs of the newer recruits, and he could see their contempt aimed his way. There were so many. Soon, they would outnumber those at the Neverwood Academy. Or at least they would if they didn’t keep burning out. But he had more important things to worry about.

  “Get up!” Hook yelled, pulling on Jax’s uniform, and then shoved him back to the ground. “Let this be a lesson to all of you.” Hook pointed at the young teens surrounding the training mat. “See what happens when you disappoint me?”

  Heads nodded. Others looked at the ground. A few stood taller.

  A nurse walked into the room with a tray of smaller injector pens filled with PX-3.

  “It’s about time,” Hook snapped at her.

  She stopped before each recruit and they eagerly took the pen from the tray and injected it into their arm, leg, or neck.

  A few sighs of relief came from the recruits; one boy lifted his head and groaned. It was addictive—the new drug they were using on the kids.

  After the disaster of previous trials, Neverland had figured out that tweakers, kids with addiction problems, were far more compliant than the average teen as recruits for their drug experiments. The morphlings would kidnap those kids, who might be terrified when they arrived, but after a few weeks in D.U.S.T, taking the PX-3 drug, they always wanted to stay. They had no interest in the experiment, but in the drug, intended to give them superhuman powers and adrenaline rush, which was nearly impossible to resist.

  Jax’s fingers twitched, but they didn’t pick up the injector pen when the nurse stopped in front of him. He didn’t need the PX-3. He was picked up on a raid a while ago and came in as a recruit. Neverland didn’t know he was an original, one of first PX-1 subjects. He faked all of his results and did what he could to pretend to be like the other recruits. Even faking taking the PX-3 most of the time.

  A hand clamped on his shoulder like a vise, and he slowly rose to his feet. He didn’t need to turn around to see that it was Hook’s hand on him. The nurse was still standing in front of him with the tray, waiting for him to take the shot.

  “Jax, I didn’t see you take your shot?” Hook said.

  Jax’s gritted his teeth. “Yes, sir.” He was hesitant about was what the new drug could do to him over time. He didn’t want to become addicted. He usually palmed the smaller injector pens and faked the injections.

  Hook leaned in. “You do want it, don’t you?”

  “Yes, I n—need it.” Jax tried
to play it cool, but his voice was shaking with anger, not need. He’d have to take it.

  His eyes scanned the recruits who had just taken their dose. One boy was doing backflips off the brick wall; another had picked up two of the other recruits and was lifting them both above his head. They were experiencing the kicker from their injection, a high before the crash, and it was the crash that kept them coming back for more. He watched as the one named Pilot darted around the room, his body disappearing in a streak of light as he moved at inhuman speed. There was a redheaded girl, Amber, who was practicing shifting into the form of other soldiers. They were very much like the lost boys, except that their gifts were only temporary. If they didn’t receive the continued PX-3, they would burn out and die. They always failed to mention that to the newest recruits.

  Jax’s eyes came to rest on the pen and the silver tray.

  “You’re not going to disobey another order, are you?”

  “No, sir.” Jax’s hand snapped up the PX-3 injector pen, and he stared Hook in the eyes as he injected it into his arm. He could feel the euphoria spread throughout and the immediate rush of adrenaline, but he held his face as still as stone. “I’d never do that.”

  “Good.” Hook sneered. “I may give you one more chance to prove your loyalty to Neverland.”

  “Yes, sir,” Jax answered. “I won’t let you down, sir.”

  “Good, wait for my orders.” Hook stormed off, leaving Jax to wonder how much longer he could survive working for Neverland.

  Chapter Twelve

  Safe in her bedroom, Wendy gripped the edge of the dresser as she replayed what had happened over the last few hours. It was a tailspin. She felt relief at being home, but a wave of fear and nausea hit her as she realized just how close she had come to disappearing or worse—she could have been killed. She didn’t know what the Red Skulls were going to do with her. Her life could have been over if it wasn’t for Peter. She looked up into the mirror above the dresser and stared at her reflection. She wasn’t gone, she was alive. All because Peter had saved her.

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