Kayla is the first one to leave.
I wake in the morning from a dreamless sleep and wander to the dining room where there are plates laid out for our breakfast, like they usually are. But now I notice her plate missing from the table. Daphne and Gabrielle say nothing as I sit and look at my plate of eggs and waffles. Cassius doesn't join us for the meal. I wonder if he's sad that Kayla ratted him out, even if it was just a dream.
After breakfast, I return to my room where I meet Alice and sit, staring at my reflection dully in the mirror as she fusses around me. I am wearing jeans today, though I had to really fight Alice for them, and a sweater. I have now asked her repeatedly to just leave my hair be, but she insists. She twirls it expertly into a braided mess on top of my head, a concentrated look about her face. I watch her for a few more moments before saying, "How did you come to Neverland? Were you born here?"
She looks surprised, but keeps her focus on my hair. "No, I was taken here a very long time ago."
"By Peter?" I ask.
She smiles slightly. "Not the one you know."
I furrow my brow and think that over. "So you're old," I guess. Maybe it's true that no one in Neverland ages but Peter and his Wife.
She laughs and works her deft little fingers through my hair. "I don't look it, do I?"
She doesn't. If I have to guess, I would put her at nine, maybe ten. "Aren't you lonely?"
Now her fingers pause. She meets my gaze in the mirror, an odd look on her face, as if she has only just considered that fact. "I didn't used to be," she says so quietly that I barely hear it.
"What changed? Did your friends leave?"
She shook her head and began working on my hair again, snapping back into focus. "I suppose you could say that, yes."
"Why can't you give me a straight-up answer?" I ask, staring at her in the mirror until she meets my gaze once more.
She is silent. At last she heaves a great sigh and says. "No, she hasn't left."
"Who hasn't left?"
"Morgan," she says, "I think you've already figured this out. Do you really want me to say it?"
"She's your twin." It isn't a question.
Alice nods, her face carefully blank. "When Peter II took over, he would only allow one of us to stay with him. He picked me and threw Mary out."
I cant stop pacing. Through this house made of glittering gold and splendor that so beautifully hides the horror beneath the walls. I want out, I want out, I want-
I round the corner and collide into someone, falling backwards and hitting the wall behind me painfully. I stare up at Cassius, who looks bowled over to see me in such a hurry. "Going somewhere?" he asks, holding out a hand to steady me.
"She has a sister," I say viciously.
He is trying hard to wipe the emotion from his face- and failing. He clearly wasn't expecting animosity. "Who?"
"Alice!" I almost cry. "She has a twin sister, who is out there alone in Neverland."
Now, his face is as blank as a clean canvas. "And?" he prompts.
"It isn't fair!" I shout.
"Take a look around, Morg!" he replies with as much vehemence as me and I take a startled step backward. "What do you see in this world that's fair?"
I stare at him a moment in utter disbelief. He is right; nothing in this world is even close to fair.
I shove him and he falls back against the wall before I turn and walk away, simmering in my anger for the moment.
After escaping through the small pantry window once more, I meander through the trees at a brisk pace, wanting to distract myself for the moment. Gabrielle and Daphne have both chosen to ignore each other as well as me, actually seeing this as a competition now, and on top of it all Cassius and I haven't spoken since the day I shoved him after our fight.
It has been a very lonely few days.
I try to retrace the steps that I had taken when Cassius and I were being chased, thinking back to every detail during the run: my lungs filling with fiery air, Cassius' hand in mine, the sound of his voice as he said my name...
I expel a breath and kick a stone out of my way. It's hopeless. I remember next to nothing of the chase.
And that's when I hear the screams. I turn and search the area, but see no one. The forest is now deathly quiet and the hairs on my arms rise with the threat of danger. Someone is in trouble in these woods. Someone needs my help.
The screaming starts up again, this time much louder, and I am sprinting toward the source of the noise before it is lost once more.
I finally come into a clearing in the woods and see the small girl that helped me when I first woke up in Neverland, the one who was separated from her twin sister and thrown out to survive on her own in these woods. It's her.
She is curled into a protective ball and there are men in familiar black gear holding baton-looking weapons in their hands. They laugh as she trembles and raise their weapons for another blow.
Without thinking, I race through the clearing and throw my arms around the girl's small body. She feels like a bundle of bones and hair curled against my chest. They immediately throw me off of her, only yelling once in surprise at my sudden appearance, but I fight my way out of their grip and shield her body once more. "Leave her alone!" I cry.
Their laughter only increases. "And what do we have here?" one of them says. His helmet prevents me from seeing his face, but his voice sounds hoarse and deep.
"Batting practice was getting boring with just one blonde," the second says. His voice is much higher pitched.
I fear the small girl is already rendered unconscious and won't be able to run away when I tell her to. In my head I try and come up with as many different possible routes of escape as I can, but I know that they will all be fruitless. I consider telling them that I am a Bride, but I'm unsure if they'll merely kill me for being out of bounds without assistance.
In order to gain more time to think, I take a deep breath and look at the soldiers. "How dare you! She's just a girl."
"If you want us to use you instead, sweetheart, we sure will," the first man says with a hard laugh. His hand deftly grabs my wrist and twists with such strength that I have to bite my tongue to hold in a scream. I can feel the small bones under my skin screaming in agony and fight against him as he pulls me toward him, raising his baton-laden hand behind his head, ready to strike.
"What are you doing?"
We all whirl to see Cassius standing there. His eyes only meet mine briefly before returning to the armed men. He doesn't look angry, just curious as to why my head is about to be used as a piñata.
The man holding my wrist smiles, I see as I look up under his helmet. He has dark stubble running along his jaw. "Cassius. Come to join the fun? We've just come across two Lost Boys. This one is putting up a fight-" he jerks my arm and I can't help but cry out now- "but I'll subdue her."
Cassius' mouth is a hard line now, finally letting me know that he is not happy. "Actually," he says, voice amiable, despite his expression, "I've come to get my Bride, if you don't mind." His eyes zero in on the grip the man has on me.
His hand immediately falls from me, as if I've burned him, and takes a step from me as I fall to the ground. "I had no idea she was a Bride, Cassius."
Cassius is crouching beside me in an instant. "Did you bother to look at her?" he asks, obviously meaning that I am much cleaner than the limp girl beside me, my clothes much nicer.
He grabs my arm so swiftly that I wince before his skin touches mine, but he is so gentle handling my injury that I barely feel his hand at all. He inspects the bruises that are starting to bloom like a bracelet on my skin and looks into my eyes. His golden-fire irises are surprisingly gentle, with a protective edge. "Only you," he breathes, "would turn me against my own men."
He regards the two, now standing awkwardly a few feet away from us. "Don't ever," he says in a tone so seriously deadly that goosebumps roll up my arms, "lay a hand on one of my Brides again, or I will have you hanged from the nearest tree. Understand?"
The two back away quickly. "Yes, sir," they mumble repeatedly until they are out of hearing range.
Cassius goes back to inspecting my wrist as I stare at him. "How did you know-" I begin.
"I didnt," he answers before I finish. He looks up at me with raised eyebrows. "But you're lucky I found you, aren't you?"
I tug my hand gently from his grip, not breaking eye contact. "Thank you," I say, before turning and hurrying over to where Mary lay still on the ground.
I brush her tangled mousy brown hair from her face and shake my head. "She doesn't deserve this."
"It's the law," Cassius says quietly, coming to kneel on the ground next to me.
I look at him. "What is? Little girls starving half to death?"
He gives me such a measured look that I work my brain, trying to understand the hidden meaning his look is telling me, but come up with nothing. "No siblings," he says in answer. "Especially twins. She should have died a very long time ago."
I look down at her, heartbroken. She couldn't help who she was born as. "No siblings? Especially twins? That's why Alice was allowed to stay?"
Cassius says nothing, merely looks down at Mary, a placid look on his face. "Let's take her home," he says.
I look at him sharply, thinking that he means to take her home with us, but he is already on his feet and headed in the opposite direction from the Manor. I quickly scoop the small girl into my arms and hurry after Cassius' retreating form.
We walk through the trees in silence, but I don't mind. My mind is reeling with thoughts. No siblings. Especially twins. The way he had said it repeats itself over and over in my head. I wonder why? Why would that even become an issue in this world?
I stumble, the weight of the unconscious girl I am holding is causing my arms to burn with the effort of staying upright. "Where are we going?" I ask.
Cassius takes Mary from my arms without breaking stride. "I've already told you; we're taking her home."
"How do you know where she lives?" I challenge.
"It's where all the Lost Boys live. It's the only place they'll survive."
"Which is where?"
"It's connected to the pub we were at the other day. I know the person that takes care of all of them." His face is carefully controlled of any emotion.
"That's nice of him," I say. "Are you two close?"
His mouth twitches. "You could say that," is all he says.
"Is he the same person you were looking for at the pub?" I ask.
"Jules," is all he gives as an answer.
I open my mouth to say more, but Mary groans.
Cassius stops walking and watches her as she comes-to in his arms. When she does, she stares first at me with wide eyes and then at Cassius, who is holding her like a small child. "Good morning," he says pleasantly.
She screams and throws herself out of his arms, scooting away from the both of us.
"Goodness, you're like a howler monkey." Cassius looks like he's either very amused or disgusted.
"We wont hurt you, Mary," I say calmly. "We just want to take you home."
"What happened to those men?" Mary asks, looking from me to Cassius and back.
"Gone," Cassius says, his look now only holds amusement.
She looks relieved. "Good," she breathes. She looks at Cassius wryly. "You'll probably have to explain everything to Jules, you know. And get me painkillers."
He doesn't look pleased. "I'm aware, thank you, Mary."
She smiles. "This should be fun, then."
I furrow my brow, looking between them. "Wait," I say. "You two know each other?"
Mary looks me up and down before turning back to Cassius. "You don't tell her much, do you?"
Cassius doesn't look ashamed in the least. "I see no need to."
"We'll have to catch her up on a lot when she wins, then."
He looks taken aback by that. My eyes widen as I see his cheeks redden. "Nonsense," he finally says, "she's pining for home way too much."
"Catch me up on what?" I ask, ignoring the jab. "What is going on?"
Mary walks up and takes my hand. "Come on," she says, "let's walk."
To my utter surprise, Cassius slides his hand into my other, linking his fingers with mine. "Yes," he says, "let's."