Mad World

Chapter 8

(TW: a little gruesome for a moment of this chapter; at the break. Take caution!)

At dinner I am utterly silent. The food in front of me doesn't rouse any sort of appetite in me and I stab at it angrily with my fork to keep up the pretense of eating.

Daphne, obviously enjoying the fact that I'm getting no love from Cassius when she is, overtly flirts with Cassius, dropping casual hints and innuendos here and there. If I didn't have an appetite before dinner, I certainly wasn't going to touch my food now. I stare in horror at the two of them as Daphne trails her hand from his shoulder down south until it disappears under the table.

I scoot my chair back before I know what exactly what I'm doing. Everyone abruptly turns their attention to me. "I-I'm not going to watch you two get freaky while I'm eating. It's bad for the digestion," I falter.

Cassius, at least, has the good sense to look remorseful. But before he can speak I nail him with a look, one with enough venom to poison a rhino, and storm from the room. I seem to have a habit of storming from the Dining Room, but I'm not about to ponder how that must make me look to the other girl's at the table. For all I'm concerned, they are just counting down the days till one of us fails a Test.

I wander the empty halls of the Manor, debating with myself whether or not I should step out of bounds once more, though it is pretty dark by now, when I run- quite literally- into someone.

I look up to see a tall figure looming over me. He is dressed in a beige tailored suit that smells like sandalwood. As I focus on the wearer of the suit, I see a hard-edged face staring down at me. "Hello," he says, his bass voice rumbling.

It is the first time I have seen him. Peter III. Cassius' father.

He smiles warmly, but it does nothing but give me the chills. He has sandy hair, streaked with gray, and a lined face. His eyes, like Cassius', are golden. But where Cassius' look would now warm my bones, his father's stare makes me feel as though I've just had ice water dumped down my back. "Who have we here?" he wonders.

"I'm Morgan," I supply weakly.

"Ah, the one that barely made it," he smiles as though he is giving me a compliment. "And so pretty. I'm glad Cassius fought to keep you here. Now I can see why." He chuckles and my stomach shrinks.

It's not that he isn't attractive, because he is. As handsome as his son, that is not what makes him so scary to me. He has the face of an angel, and I have to remind myself that this is a man that did who knows what to a kitchen boy for breaking a dish. This is a man who upholds a tradition of kidnapping girls to fight for a marriage they didn't ask for.

"Why are you not at dinner?" he asks, as if just now realizing he shouldn't have run into me at this time.

"I'm not hungry," I say, trying to figure out how to get past him and to my room. "So I was just going to go to bed."

"Nonsense," Peter says, waving me off. "Come, follow me. I'd like to speak with you."

I bite my lip, wanting to do nothing but run away screaming, but nod, seeing no other choice.

I follow Peter silently through the hallways, studying him as he walks. His steps are sure and confident, like his son's. He is broad and muscular, tall and overbearing-- definitely an intimidation factor, and one of the scariest people I have seen since arriving in Neverland. We arrive at the library; a room I've only barely been in since arriving, when I'd sit and read with Gabrielle in silence. He leads me to a bookshelf in the back and does something I can't see. The shelf jumps to the side and I gasp.

Peter looks over his shoulder at me and smiles, smug that he has surprised me. He steps through the entrance and holds his hand out for me to take. His skin feels like worn paper and I shudder at the contact. He doesn't seem to notice, or at least pretends not to.

Inside is a small room with a desk with two chairs facing it. The room itself has a sort of warm quality to it, from the maroon walls to the lush carpet, to the gold-gild framed photos of he and his family. I stop to admire a large painted portrait of Cassius. He looks a little younger than he does now, his features more boyish. I smile before I can help myself. Despite his serious expression, the painter has captured that light in his eye, that mischievous look that promises trouble.

"You're fond of him," Peter says. It isn't a question. I whirl and look at him, now sitting in the high-backed chair behind the desk staring at me, and blush.

He smiles. "Many people are. He will be a great leader when I have passed."

"I don't disagree," I say confidently. It has been painfully clear how well-suited he is to lead a place like Neverland. I think back on the evening he told me to look at the land not as it is, but how it used to be-- how it could be once more.

Peter cocks his head and studies me. "You are different than the other girls," he observes.

"So I've noticed," I say, trying to keep the bitterness out of my tone, and failing. I walk to one of the chairs facing him and drop into one. I am so tired; I want nothing but to sleep off this feeling of hurt and betrayal inside of me that Cassius and the other girls have sparked.

"You must be hungry," he says, pulling out a plate of cookies from behind him and pushing them across the great wooden desk and toward me. "Here, they're fresh baked."

I take one, not wanting to be rude, and nibble it. It is delicious, but has an odd aftertaste that I cant quite pin. "Thank you," I say in between bites.

He smiles as if I have just given the punch line of joke and continues to study me. "My Vivian was different, like you. She stood out among the others. I knew almost right away that she would be my Wife."

I furrow my brow. "Did you?" I ask. "Know that soon, I mean. What about the other girls?"

He waves a hand. Though the movement is casual, confident, his face is too emotionless for it to be believable. "They failed soon enough. All I needed to do was wait it out, and the one who remained was my Vivian." I have to remind myself that the women who failed were cast out to the forest to die or become Lost Boys. "I see much of myself in Cassius, just like I see much of you in my Wife. Cassius is a smart, brave boy. He knows what he wants, and how to get what he wants." He speaks of his son with more affection than I would have thought.

A voice in the back of my mind tells me that this very well could be a test. Perhaps to gain his father's trust and approval?

"I dont think he likes me very much," I sheepishly admit. I have finished the first cookie, and Peter presses another into my hand.

"And why is that?" he wonders as I bite into the second cookie.

"He doesn't treat me the same," I say after a few bites. "They are flowers. I am a weed."

"Meaning you are more durable," he says. "The other girls are fragile, my dear. I dont think, though, that you are nearly that breakable. I think Cassius knows that as well."

I furrow my brow. I'm feeling a bit hazy, the sleepy feeling amplifying until I can hardly think straight. "I don't feel well," I say.

I see Peter look at me with a concerned face. "What's wrong?" he asks, studying me.

"I'm so tired," I say, shocked when the words come out a bit slurred.

He looks relieved. "You told me you were going to go to sleep. There's some sleepy tisane in these cookies to help one accomplish that." He stands and offers me a hand. "I will walk you back to your room," he says.

Once we arrive back to my room, I am almost dead on my feet. Whatever is in those cookies work like magic. I thank Peter for his hospitality and cookies and open my door.

"Sweet dreams, my dear," he says quietly before closing the door between us.

The man has a face, but I can not make out the details. He might have blue eyes, maybe brown, maybe deep red. He might not have eyes. His pallor changes from black to silver to white. I realize that I am bound to a metal lab table, wearing nothing but a hospital gown, and I am truly afraid. The fluorescent lights shining from the white tiled ceiling are dimmed and my head is screaming in both terror and pain.

"Morgan," he states in a voice smooth as honey, harsh as nails. "We only want his name. Who is the next Peter? What is his real name?" The accent is thick, warped somehow.

Cassius, immediately comes to my mind, but I push it back. I squirm and try to break free of my restraints, all to no avail.

"Let me assure you that I will cut you limb from limb if you keep your silence," the man says dangerously when I am silent, a promise I know that he will keep.

It is immediately apparent that this man is not good. He wants to hurt me. He wants to hurt Cassius. "I don't know," I say. It means to come out as a whisper, maybe even a confident retort, but instead it comes out as more of a moan.

"You're lying," the man says and I see the gleam of something sharp. Before I can take in another breath pain hits me, sharp, calculated. I feel the warmth of blood leaving my skin, running onto the table and soaking my hospital gown.

My eyes fly open and I scream-- shocked at the pain the wound is actually causing me. I look down at my arm and see that he has slit the skin there, from the line of my wrist vertical to the crease of my elbow. Blood flows freely from it, pulsing a deep almost purple color. I open my mouth to scream again, but it is cut off by another slash to my other arm. I gasp and try to jerk my arm away, but the restraints hold strong.

"Tell me," the man says.

"Stop!" I scream. I am now lying in a pool of blood, I can hear it dripping onto the tiled floor in a slow trickle.

Another cut to my gut. Another scream.

The man is close to my ear now. I am terrified. Why am I not dead? Why am I still awake? "Tell me, Morgan," he says quietly, "and the pain will go away."

I want so badly for this pain to stop. Distantly I think that it wont be much longer before I die; I've lost too much blood to ever make it out of this situation okay. But he's promising me relief of the pain and I almost whimper of the thought of having this hurt lifted from me.

"Go to hell," I whisper.

The man straightens, looking at the blood-stained knife in his hand. "Very well," is all he says, tone clinical. He twists his grip on the knife and in one smooth move slits my throat.

I wake screaming.

Even as I hear the door open and someone rush in, I continue to scream. I can't stop. I was dead, I am dead, I am-

I hug my arms to my chest and curl into a ball. The screaming has quieted but it hasn't stopped. I know I am in someone's arms, and even more distantly I know I'm alive, but I can't stop screaming. My screams soon turn into sobs as the arms around me begin to rock me back and forth.

"Come on, Blondie," an all-too-familiar voice says quietly in my ear. "Calm down. You're awake now. It's over."

I do no such thing.

He sighs. "Morg," he says, almost lovingly, "it wasn't real. It was a test."

That calms me some, or confuses me enough to where I actually look at him through bleary eyes. "A Test?" I echo.

He nods, looking relieved and, oddly, grateful. "To challenge your loyalty. If you pass, you wake up when you're killed so that you know it wasn't real. If you don't, you go into a deep, regular sleep. They probably won't remember it in the morning."

"They?" I know I should scoot away from Cassius, but I am groggy and shaken from how real it felt when he cut me open. How can they possibly put that impression on someone while sleeping? Cassius rubs my back soothingly.

"You're the only one that has woken up so far," he says.

I don't know what to say. I am still so upset by what I had just gone through I feel as though my voice has been taken from me. I want to yell: yell at Cassius, at Peter, at Neverland, at anyone that will listen. "It felt so real," I say instead, hugging my arms once more.

The smile that forms on Cassius' lips is not a happy one. "I'm sorry," he says, simply. "It's a nasty test, I agree. But you can't deny that it helps."

"Helps what?" I say, already denying that it helps anything, anyone.

He catches my gaze and holds it. He is good at keeping his emotions in check, but I've been able to read it in his eyes, and they are smoldering right now, like two flames in a dark room.

"It helps," he says slowly, "tell me who I can trust as my Wife."

Another scream pierces the air so suddenly that I jump and clutch Cassius' arm reflexively.

He is already on his feet, though. He gives me a smile, this one more like the one that he usually wears: a devil-could-care grin that wipes his face clean of any emotion.

"Congratulations, Morgan," he says, "you've done the one thing we agreed you shouldn't do: passed yet another test to stay here with me, forever." With that he leaves the room.

The next awake is Daphne, who is nearly insatiable. I follow Cassius down the hall almost instinctually to see who the next to wake up is; also, I don't think I am able to bear being alone right now.

She is screaming and sobbing uncontrollably, much like I probably was, though her hair looks perfect and her nightgown, a short jade green silk slip, makes her look more like she is going to a photo shoot rather than to bed. I only feel a slight pang of jealousy when I look down at my sleepwear: an overly large light pink T shirt with my hair in a loose, now incredibly mussed, braid.

I watch as Cassius walks dutifully across the bedroom and folds her into his arms. I feel another pang, one that has nothing to do with jealousy (I think). It is a pang of anger and guilt. Anger at myself for being so weak, guilt for letting Cassius hold me like a small child. Of course he is going to console all of his brides; that's part of his job description.

I hug my elbows to ward off the chill that has seeped into my bones and turn away from Cassius and Daphne's embrace. I walk back into the hallway, feeling oddly dejected. I cant get the image of Cassius' face out of my mind as he said "Congratulations, Morgan", as though he was both oddly relieved and immeasurably sad at the same time.

He is right though, of course. I shouldn't have passed. I should have been cast out a long time ago, to find my way back home. But for some reason, I am still here. I am passing, regardless of what anyone does or says.

They are flowers. I am a weed. A weed that wasn't going to go down without a fight. I furrow my brow as I enter my room, not sure what exactly that could mean. I want to go home... don't I?

A third set of screams rips through the air and I massage my temples gently. It's going to be a long night.

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