Peter Darling(5)By: Austin Chant
Inside, it smelled faintly sour. Tink made a disgusted sound and crawled under Peter's collar. There were weapons everywhere, and beds tucked into cubbies in the walls, furs and rough straw pillows spilling out onto the floor. One bed was occupied, and Peter recognized its occupant at once by his hair, which was almost the same color as Peter's. "Curly?"
Curly didn't answer. He was shivering and wrapped in several furs despite the warmth of the room, his eyes pressed shut. He had grown as much as the others, but huddled up as he was, he looked like a little boy still. When Peter felt his forehead, he found it cold and damp.
Peter snatched his hand back and wiped it on his trousers, grimacing. "What's wrong with him?"
"He got sick about a week ago," Ernest said. "It's been getting worse and worse. He hasn't been able to speak since yesterday." He placed a hand on Curly's shoulder, rubbing it gently. "We've been trying every cure we know of, but nothing helps. Slightly remembered a story about a flower that only grows on the night of a fairy commune. If you make a tea with it, it can heal any illness." Ernest fixed Peter with a grave look. "I don't know how much time he has left. That's why we're going immediately. The mermaids told me there's a commune up on the mountain tomorrow night, and it'll take all the time we have to get there."
"I could just fly there," Peter said.
Ernest looked startled, and almost disappointed, like Peter had ruined his fun. Then he shook his head, collecting himself. "You wouldn't be able to see it from the air," he said. "They choose short trees for their communes so the canopy hides them."
"It doesn't matter. I could still fly up there faster than you could walk."
Ernest's face pinched. "I'm the leader. It's my responsibility to find the flower."
Peter smirked at him. "So you'll admit that I'm the leader if I find it first?"
"You've never even seen the flower."
"Neither have you."
"You disappeared for ten years," Ernest said. "Who's to say you won't disappear again and leave Curly to die?"
"Who's to say you won't fail to get up the mountain, in which case he'll die anyway?"
Ernest turned red. "I don't care who you think you are," he said through gritted teeth. "I'm going, because I don't trust you. That's final."
"Fine," Peter said. "Come if you want. See if you can make yourself useful." Then, because he was annoyed by the insinuation that he was untrustworthy, he reached over and patted Curly on the shoulder as Ernest had done. "I'll be back soon, and you're not allowed to die while I'm gone."
He turned on his heel and went up the stairs to the surface.
Tink laughed beneath his collar. "What's so funny?" Peter asked.
"You," she said. "Grown up. What a joke."
The Lost Boys were still gathered where Peter and Ernest had left them, looking like children whose parents have been shouting in the other room. Peter scowled at them, and they cowered. It didn't make him feel particularly powerful.
Ernest stepped up to Peter's side and folded his arms. He had added a bow and quiver to his arsenal and looked forbidding. "Change of plans," he said. "The lot of you are staying here and looking out for Curly." He glowered over his shoulder at Peter. "Pan and I are going up the mountain."
Peter supposed it wasn't such a bad distraction from his real quest. He'd get the flower, fix Curly, and then the Lost Boys would fall in behind him when he resumed his war with Hook. Just like old times.
For a while he skipped over the treetops, Tink on his shoulder, while Ernest struggled through the underbrush. He stepped from branch to branch, hands in his pockets, enjoying his view of Ernest's tribulations.
"Are you all right down there?" he called.
"I'm fine," Ernest replied evenly. Peter had to admit he was making good time for someone limited to the ground, and he had barely broken a sweat so far, despite trekking upward into the foothills. "Weren't you supposed to be the boy who never grew up? You look grown up to me."
Peter didn't have an answer; he was fairly sure he had pretended to be immortal to impress the others, but couldn't admit that. "I decided I'd rather be stronger than stay a boy forever," he lied. "There's some things a man can do that a boy can't."