The forest can be peaceful at times like this. Mary looks between Cassius and I, a funny expression on her face, as if she knows something that we don't. I give her a questioning glance as Cassius casts his gaze upwards, staring through the branches up at the steely sky. I close my eyes a cool breeze moves lazily past my face. Somewhere in the back of my mind I realize that there are never any animals around; never any birds singing. The only sound that breaks the silence is our footsteps as we travel through the trees.
"Those men," I say, finally, "why were they hurting you?"
Mary takes a deep breath, contemplating. "Well, because--"
"My father," Cassius says, and there is such a strong undercurrent to his words that I turn and look at him. He meets my gaze, his golden eyes serene. "He doesn't keep his aversion to the Lost Boys very secret."
"That's so sad," I say quietly. "It's not like it's their fault. It's not like your dad will let them be anything else."
Cassius sighs in agreement, his hand warm in mine. "Try telling him that."
"I don't see what he has against people being happy," I say, my brow furrowing as I picture the cold man that had drugged me with cookies. "This world would be such a beautiful place. It doesn't have to be like this."
We arrive at an oak tree, weathered but large and beautiful still. Mary kicks at a root sticking out of the ground and the oak splits down the middle, making an opening large enough for a person to walk through.
Once opened, a small boy steps out, stretching his arms and yawning. He has dark brown hair and dirt streaked skin. He smiles when he sees the three of us. "Hiya!" he says amiably.
It takes me a moment to realize that it is the kitchen boy, the one that broke the crystal platter.
"Henry," Cassius says with a small smile. "Is Jules around?"
Henry is looking at me now in confusion, obviously realizing that we have met before, but never like this. "No," he says, "he's gone to the Manor."
Cassius stiffens beside me. "Why?" he asks. "Why was I not told?"
Henry shrugs, taking his gaze away from me and looking to Cassius. "He didn't say."
Mary shrugs as well and takes a step through the tree. "Maybe your dad wants to make sure he's on his best behavior."
"Jules," Cassius says in a hard tone, "is never on his best behavior."
"Neither are you," Mary says, looking once between Cassius and I before she and Henry both disappear back into the tree.
I stand staring at Cassius as he stares at the now closed-up space. There is an odd look on his face, one I had only seen once before- when he looked out over Neverland with me and told me to imagine it as it could be; not as it was. Sometimes I feel like he looks at me that way, but can never exactly tell.
He turns to me now and drops me a half apologetic smile. "She can be a bit cryptic sometimes," he says.
"I can tell," is all I say in reply.
He sighs and runs a hand through his unruly black hair. "We should probably head back," he says, "before those two kill each other. I can't believe I'm not there to negotiate."
"Why doesn't Peter like Jules?" I ask, hurrying to catch up to Cassius, who has already started walking back.
Cassius thinks that over for a moment. "It isn't hate, I don't think," he finally says. "I think it's fear."
"He's afraid of him?"
"Always has been." Cassius looks up, a sign clearly telling me to take the hint and drop the conversation.
But I'm not going to let it drop. There's a gleam in Cassius' eye at the mention of Jules, or even of Peter for that fact. "Are you afraid of him?" I ask quietly.
Cassius gives one, hard, almost surprised laugh and looks at me. "Of Julius? No."
"Of your father," I clarify.
He rears back as if I've slapped him. "Quit it, Morg."
"Prying. It's going to get you into trouble." He sighs after a moment of silence though, and shakes his head, looking up to the sky once more. "I don't know," he finally says. "I didn't used to be afraid of anyone."
"But now you are?" I ask, trying to keep up with his long legged stride and swinging moods.
He gives another laugh, though this one seems much more sad. Or nervous. "I guess you could say that."
I stop walking. He turns and looks at me questioningly, saying nothing. His golden eyes are wide and one of his thick eyebrows is slightly raised. He really is beautiful. In this world of dust and shadows, he shines brighter than the limp sun in this graying sky. I catch myself staring at his full mouth and look down. "I don't know what you're so afraid of."
I feel a warm touch under my jaw as Cassius lifts my face till my gaze meets his. His brow is furrowed now, that sarcastic glint shines in his bright eyes. "Than you are dumber than I thought."
I pull my face from his grasp. "I'm not dumb," I retort.
"No," Cassius agrees, "you're not. You're actually unlike anything I expected when I first found you at the base of that river."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I ask quietly. The look he is giving me makes my heart stutter and skip.
He smiles slightly, though it is more sad than anything. He takes a step closer, his face merely inches from mine. He says, "You," simply, and my heart stops completely. "You," he says again, "were the one that always left me a step behind. The one that seemed to always know how I felt-" he shook his head then, his nose brushing mine- "no, that's not right, is it? It's like whatever I wasn't thinking, you were. Like the half that I was missing."
I know my eyes are very wide, but I can't control my face right now. I feel warm, I feel dizzy, I feel Cassius' skin against mine. I hear Alice asking me if I had ever thought about what I was leaving behind when I wish to go home and think, Now I know. I'm leaving behind a broken world, with broken people and a broken Prince with eyes that shine like the sun and a heart bigger than any I have known.
"Say something," Cassius says quietly.
I dont know what I want.
"I dont either," Cassius says.
I didn't know I said those words out loud. I sucked in a sharp breath when his lips met mine. "Cas. Wait."
I feel him smile. "Was that a nickname?" His fingers brush my neck and I shiver. His hand tightens in my hair and pulls me closer. "You tell me your leaving," he says, his voice raw, "and that scares me. I don't know why. But it does."
I make a noise in the back of my throat and fist my hand in his shirt. I want to kiss him. Now.
Our lips brush and a gun fires. I whirl toward the noise and Cassius' arm snakes around me, pulling me behind him.
I spot a man standing in the distance. Cassius tenses at the sight of him and I have to crane my head to get a good look at the stranger. He is large, built like a boulder, and dark, but that is about all I can tell about him. "Who is that?" I ask.
"Maxim," he says calmly, though I can tell he is anything but. "Captain of the Pirates."
"What does he want?"
Without taking his eyes off of the man Cassius takes a slow step back, guiding me with him, keeping me from the Captain's sight. "I don't know," he answers, "but I don't want to hang around long enough to find out."
A sharp object pricks my back and I wince, immediately tensing at the touch of the knife.
"What have we here?" a voice rasps in my ear as I'm tugged out of Cassius' grip.
He whirls just as the man presses the blade to my throat. "And you," he breathes into my ear, laughing when he sees the stunned expression on Cassius' face, "must be the Prince's favorite. My lucky day."