The boy didn’t have a bit of magic. Not anymore.
Fiona sighed, watching through the crystal ball as a seven-year-old child—her child—struggle to raise the full bucket of water out of the well. He was small and slight, perhaps a little underfed, yet was still heartbreakingly cute. His sorrowful brown eyes were the same ones that haunted her in every dream she had, the ones she remembered staring back at her as she held him close as a babe…but he had no magic. He was no Savior, her son. Not after what she’d done to him.
I was trying to protect him, Fiona told herself for the thousandth time. Yet she’d spent seven years searching for her son, for the boy whose name she didn’t even know. Finding him in the crystal ball had been almost impossible; it had taken her years of working magic on the Dark Realm for her to be able to do so at all. She’d studied and studied since learning of her son’s fate, but the books she had used to learn were beyond her reach, now. Everything she had learned had been focusing on protecting her son and destroying the one destined to kill him, and she’d left the part of finding people to Tiger Lily. Even worse, everything she had learned had been fairy magic. Light magic. And since her transformation, none of that seemed to work for her.
So, she had had to reinvent magic and re-learn from scratch. Fiona did know that no fairy had ever gone dark before, not before her, and that meant she tread upon untouched ground. It might have taken her seven years to find her son, but she had found him now, and soon she’d find a way to escape her exile. Then they could be a family together. Forever.
“I didn’t want to leave you. My beautiful boy.” The whisper escaped as she cradled the crystal ball in both hands, watching as the boy finally wrestled the bucket out of the well, filling the one he had brought along with him and standing on his toes to put the original one back. Then he picked up his own bucket, lugging it inexpertly off to the east, towards the shops on High Street.
After a few minutes, the boy bumped into the baker. Fiona concentrated hard listen to the short conversation, curious to see how the boy would handle the hulking man who clearly looked down upon him.
“Where are ye takin’ that water, laddie?” the baker demanded gruffly.
“To my aunts’,” the child answered, his voice so quiet that Fiona had to cast still more magic on the ball to hear him. He was frightened, her boy was, and he shouldn’t ever have had to be frightened.
And why was he with his ‘aunts’? Malcolm didn’t have any sisters. He’d been an only child. Had her husband remarried? The thought made her heart twist in her chest, and Fiona felt furious darkness coursing through her veins. She wanted to destroy this man who glared down upon her son, wanted to make him suffer for intimidating her boy.
“Who might ‘ey be? I ain’t seen ye ‘round here before.”
“The town spinsters,” the boy whispered, and Fiona wanted to shake some confidence into him.
Where is Malcolm? Does he let people bully our son like this? Surely he would not. He loved us both so much. They had been so certain that they had a bright and brilliant future ahead of them, that they would raise their child in the light of their love. Blue had ruined everything when she’d exiled her, hadn’t she? That bitch had made it so that her son would grow up with only his father, and Fiona knew how easily led Malcolm had been. He’d always wanted someone to follow, and what if Blue had said something to him that turned him against their precious boy?
“Eh,” the baker spat. “Strange ‘uns, those two.”
Fiona burned to hear her son speak up, but he only shrugged, cringing away the butcher ever so slightly. She wanted so badly to be there, to flatten that fat bully of a butcher into goo, but only her magic could leave the Dark Realm, and not for very long. The spell was even now becoming unstable, with the image’s edges growing blurrier and blurrier. She could barely see her son, now, but even the distance couldn’t hide the way that the baker snatched the bucket away from her boy…or the way he walked away crying.
She had to reach him somehow.
Years passed, and Fiona began to find cracks in the magic that held her in the Dark Realm. She could escape, but never for very long—never long enough. And it was too late. By the time she could first slip out, her son would have been a man…and even in the Dark Realm, she had heard about the terrible war that had ravaged her homeland. By the time she was able to return to the Frontlands, all she heard was tales of how the population had been decimated during the twenty years of war, about how every boy and girl over the age of fourteen had been required to fight. Her son, her magicless son, would have stood no chance against such creatures, and that was all her fault.
I killed him. I was trying to save him, and I killed him. Fiona felt too numb to even properly grieve. She didn’t listen to the rest of the stories, not about how a new Dark One had taken on the ogres and somehow won the war, saving all the children. She didn’t care about that. She had doomed her son, and that meant she really was as dark and as evil as Blue thought she was. She had fulfilled the prophecy, albeit not in a way that she had ever wanted to. Even though she’d stripped her boy’s fate away, she had killed him all the same.
She put up no fight while being pulled back to the Dark Realm. Not that time.
Soon enough, she started taking children. Fiona didn’t really think about it, not at first. She just wanted to. And the first two she took were abandoned, with nowhere else to go. They came with her happily, eager to explore a new world and be with someone who might care for them. Yet Fiona quickly learned that her dark little realm was hesitant to produce creature comforts for children; she tried and tried to be kind to them, and yet quickly found herself becoming more and more terrible. She wanted to protect them, wanted to raise them to be strong, and yet everything seemed to go wrong. Eventually, she set them to harvesting the dark fairy dust that the world was just so eager to create, thinking that she could use it to escape.
Of course, that attempt blew up in her face, just as she should have known it would. Blue wouldn’t have sent her somewhere that she could escape with dark magic, would she have? Damn her to every hell there is! Blue had sent her to a place that only made her darker, that made even her love for her son sour and turn ugly. My dead son. She couldn’t get his seven-year-old face out of her mind. Fiona hadn’t been able to find him after that, and she’d never known why. No amount of dark magic, no seeing spell, had led her to him, and her heart still ached for the boy she had burned to protect.
Yet now it was her body burning as the magic tried to tear her apart, and it killed four of the children whom she had brought there. Two survived, however, but the boy was glaring at her.
“What are you staring at, child?” Fiona snarled before she could stop herself. “Get back to work!”
She hated them all, she’d realized. She wanted a child to love, but they weren’t her children, so they didn’t matter. And Fiona wanted more than anything to hurt someone right now, because all the darkness had brought her nothing. Taking power to protect her son had made her lose that son. Losing that son had meant he died in a war she couldn’t stop, and now even dark magic failed to free her.
Her hands came up, power crackling in her palms and ready to rip the boy to pieces, when the little ingrate snorted. “If I’d realized you were just as crazy as him, I’d have stayed with Pan.”
“With who?” Curiosity made her pause. Had this boy been the one she’d taken out of that wretched little jungle world? He’d been desperately wishing for escape, and she’d given it to him. Ungrateful little snot. Hadn’t his name been Edmund, or something like that?
“Pan.” The boy actually had the audacity to sneer. “He’s as crazy as you are, but at least we aren’t working in mines on Neverland.” A roll of wrong-shaded brown eyes. “And he’s more powerful than you.”
“Of course he isn’t, you adorable little fool. No one’s more powerful than I am.” Except for Blue, a traitorous side of her mind pointed out, but that wasn’t true anymore, was it? Blue might have exiled her and taken her wand, but Fiona had learned things about magic that Blue would never know. And she didn’t need her wand any longer, either. Still, she was interested. Someone so powerful might prove able to get her out of this constricting little realm. So, she stepped forward and smiled. “Do tell me about this…Pan.”
The boy just shrugged. “They say he’s a demon. He’s certainly not a witch, anyway. I’ve met those.”
“Neither am I, you silly idiot. I’m a fairy. A dark fairy. And there’s no such thing as demons who can take human form. There’s only darkness corrupting men.” Fiona knew that for a fact. She might not have been able to remember everything she’d studied, but she knew that demons couldn’t look human.
“They say he was a man.” Edmund chewed his lip. “Or Tiger Lily said so, anyway. She said he was a man before he became Pan, but she might’ve been lying. Pan says she lies, but on the balance, I’m more likely to believe her. She’s not rotten to the core.”
“Tiger Lily?” Shock made her stumble back a step before Fiona could catch herself. She hardly heard the rest of what the boy said. “Tiger Lily is in that damp little jungle?”
She had words to say to her old friend, after all. And perhaps some very homicidal magic. Fiona felt an anticipatory chill roll down her spine; even if she couldn’t get this Pan creature to help her escape, she could at least find out why her son’s fairy godmother had let him die in the Ogre War. Fiona was a realist; she knew she had doomed her son when she’d stripped him of magic and then been unable to protect him. Yet a small corner of her heart had always hoped that Tiger Lily might protect him in her stead.
Tiger Lily hadn’t, of course. Fairies apparently didn’t care about unimportant children. If they did, Fiona never would have been able to take so many of them. She had half-hoped one of Blue’s minions would stop her, yet something around two hundred years had passed in the Enchanted Forest, and none of them had even tried.
“Yeah.” He gave her droll look, and Fiona rolled her eyes when he volunteered no more. She could try to frighten answers out of him, and while that could be fun…she had better things to do.
“Why? Why would she be there?”
“Dunno. Pan doesn’t like her, though. And she most assuredly doesn’t like him.”
“Well, that does sound promising.” Fiona discarded all notions of intimidating the boy and felt a real smile forming. “Tell me more about Pan and this ‘Neverland’.”
“You told me your father abandoned you, but what about your mother?” Cora’s words were quiet, muffled with the way her head was tucked against his shoulder, and Rumplestiltskin almost chose to ignore them.
You’ve told her too much already, Nimue’s voice whispered inside him. He’d realized over the years that she always showed up when he was growing difficult. The rest of the time she left the whisperings to Zoso, but the more he resisted, the more often she spoke in his mind. Thus far, she hadn’t said much in regards to Cora, which a part of Rumplestiltskin knew was a bad sign. He wanted to believe that was just because he had been the Dark One for so long and understood the darkness so well, but deep down, he knew better.
“She left.” Rumplestiltskin shrugged. It was unimportant, anyway, this information he’d given Cora. “Or died. It doesn’t matter.”
“Why not?” Fingers played with the laces on his shirt, sending a shiver down Rumplestiltskin’s spine.
“She’s long dead, I’m sure.” Pain welled up, but he pushed it down. The past doesn’t matter, he told himself firmly. “I never even knew her name.”
“But weren’t you curious?” Cora sat up, giving him an enticing look at her breasts. “Wouldn’t you even want to know her name? My mother died when I was small, and I badgered my drunk of a father until he told me everything.”
He felt his eyes narrow. “Mine didn’t stick around that long,” Rumplestiltskin muttered darkly. “There’s likely nothing to know, anyway. She didn’t even bother to name me.”
“Well, then I suppose that I won’t be gaining a mother-in-law, will I?” Cora’s laugh was soft, but there was nothing soft about the kiss she leaned in to give him. It was hard and demanding, just like the woman herself, full of lust and darkness both.
And that was what he wanted, wasn’t it?
Tiger Lily was the one decent person on the entire island. Baelfire didn’t know why she was there, but he sought her out as often as he could. She was pretty good at scaring the Lost Boys away, even if Pan wasn’t really afraid of her. Still, Pan mostly left her alone, which meant she was a good person to hide with when Bae had to get away. She was nice, anyway, and he thought she was lonely, too.
Neverland, after all, was a lonely place. No one really wanted to be there, except for Pan, and maybe Felix. Sometimes Bae wasn’t even sure that Pan was happy with the world he ruled. He certainly didn’t act happy between his power games and tormenting people. Smirks and laughter aside, Pan often seemed as miserable as the rest of them. Bae wasn’t stupid enough to ask, though. Asking questions of Pan was something he’d learned not to do forever ago. Time didn’t really make sense in Neverland, but Bae knew that a lot of it had passed. Some of the other boys were convinced that it hadn’t, but he’d talked to new boy from the Land Without Magic, and he’d said that it was the 1940s there. Some big war was going on, and according to Ed, it made the Land Without Magic even worse than this place. Bae wasn’t sure which he’d prefer, but either way, he knew that time was passing in real worlds. Unlike here.
“Tiger Lily? You there?” Anyone with sense approached Tiger Lily’s cave carefully; she didn’t like most of the Lost Boys, and her darts hurt like the devil.
“Baelfire?” The tall woman showed herself after a moment, her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What are you doing here?”
He contemplated lying, and then shrugged. “Looking for Ed. He disappeared a few nights ago, and I was kind of hoping he was hiding with you.”
“Why would he be hiding with me?” Tiger Lily cocked her head curiously, which only made Bae shrug again.
“Better than the alternatives?”
“I suppose that’s true enough.” She sighed, and then gestured him close to the fire, where there were a few logs to sit on. “Ed’s not here. I haven’t seen him since he was last here with you.”
“Oh.” He felt his shoulders slump as he sat down. “Do you think the pirates got him?”
Ed was about Bae’s age, after all, which meant he was old enough for Hook and his cutthroats to want to turn into a cabin boy or something else stupid. Of course, Bae knew how well that worked out, but he hadn’t thought to tell Ed. Ed had been supremely confident in his ability to survive anything and everything, and Bae hadn’t had the heart to disabuse him of the notion. Whatever witch Ed had faced in the past—although how he’d done that in the Land Without Magic, Bae wasn’t sure—he hadn’t had to deal with Pan for very long. He just didn’t get it.
“Maybe, but I haven’t seen Hook or his crew on shore in weeks.” Tiger Lily’s eyes searched his face. “Are you all right, Baelfire?”
“Sure. Right as rain.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re a terrible liar?”
He snorted. “Few times. Doesn’t matter, not here.”
“You’ve been here a long time, haven’t you?” Her smile was sad, but Bae brushed it off. Tiger Lily had been here for quite a while, too, but he knew he’d been there longer than she had. Still, that didn’t mean he was going to trust her. Trusting anything in Neverland was just stupid.
“I guess, yeah.” He wasn’t going to tell her about his escape plans, either. All he had to do was figure out a way to catch that stupid shadow, and Baelfire would be out of here as fast as it could carry him.
“Where were you from originally?”
That question made him narrow his eyes, but it wasn’t like Pan didn’t somehow know everything about him, so there was no reason to lie. Pan knew more about Baelfire’s family than Bae did, which was annoying because he never knew how Pan knew. Maybe Hook had told him. Hook was certainly happy to tell anyone who would listen about what had happened to Bae’s mother, and his story was always punctuated with long-winded speeches about revenge. Still, it meant that Tiger Lily at least wasn’t fishing on Pan’s behalf. “The Enchanted Forest.” Bae kicked some dirt around with his toe. “Like most people here.”
Of course, recently the shadow had been grabbing people from the Land Without Magic, and there was even one boy from Wonderland, but it was usually the Enchanted Forest. Bae knew why, but if Tiger Lily didn’t, he wasn’t going to tell her.
“So was I.” Her eyes focused in the distance for a long moment, and Bae thought she might look regretful. “A long time ago. Before I came here.”
“You came here willingly?” He couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping. Who in their right mind came to Neverland willingly? “You’ve got to be—”
A cheerful laugh cut him off. “Well, as exiles go, it’s certainly superior to the place some of us were sent.”
Tiger Lily shot to her feet right away, and Bae followed suit, twisting to see a dark haired woman clad in black standing in the mouth of the cave. She was smiling a rather creepy smile, one that sent a chill down his spine, but it was the absolutely terrified look on Tiger Lily’s face that actually made him wary.
“How did you get here?” Tiger Lily sounded like she didn’t mean to ask the question, but she had. “The Blue Fairy exiled you!”
“Oops.” A giggle. “Was that supposed to stick?”
“Baelfire, get back.” Tiger Lily stepped forward as if to shield him from the newcomer. After a moment’s hesitation, Bae complied. He had enough trouble here with the way Pan targeted him all the time, and didn’t need to buy more.
“Oh, why so worried for the boy, old friend? You can’t possibly think I’d hurt him.”
“I have no idea what you’d do.” Tiger Lily looked as angry as she did protective. “I don’t know you anymore. Not after what you did!”
“It’s funny you should mention that.” Another smile, this one even more dangerous than the first. “Because that’s exactly what I’m here to talk about.” Magic crackled in the air, suddenly, dark and dangerous. “And let’s just say that I’m not interested in letting you avoid answering my questions.”