My Little Peter Pan
(Another for the war… special attack: Belle deals with mood swings.)
My Little Peter Pan
“You’re being quite unreasonable.”
Belle gave a small huff and crossed her arms over her chest, trying to gather as much dignity as she could while sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce (as the kids called it—and in a dress no less) at the small wooden table, surrounded by little boys in costumes and enough fairy dust to make her sneeze. The boy at the other head of the table—dressed in green wool and leather and squeezing his hat between his fingers—jumped up from his seat and flung the cap across the room.
“I’m not being unreasonable!” he screamed, voice high in childhood and strained with emotion, “There’s no reason why you can’t stay!”
“No!” he stomped, scooping down to send a plate slamming against the cave wall, “No! You have to stay, Belle. We need a mother, you’re our mother! You can stay and take care of us, and you’ll have a home,” suddenly his angry mask slipped off, and a little pang shot through Belle’s heart. No matter how hard he tried to slip his features calm, he couldn’t stop the shake of his jaw, or the little tear that scurried down his cheek, “We love you Belle…”
And for a moment she was tempted to say yes, to wrap her arms around him and around their whole little makeshift family hiding underground in the woods and kiss each forehead before they got tucked in for sleep. She wanted to bake for them and let them get pudgy on sweets and tell them stories of far away lands so they wouldn’t be frightened by thunder in the night. She wanted to teach them to read and show them how to properly hold a sword and how to grow up to be good men.
But it wasn’t her place. She wasn’t a parent (and the little Peter Pan had a parent, one that loved and missed him very much), and though she’d spent the last few months of her life dealing with tantrums similar to this one (it must run in the family), she didn’t know how to be a parent.
Her place was at home, at her village. Standing next to her father as he grew old and one day taking his place to lead. She didn’t need Gaston, she’d discovered, she could do quite well on her own. Her place was not here—hiding in an underground cave amid roots of a hollow oak, cleaning up after children that refused to grow old and dealing with snobbish fairies and cranky pirates.
So, with a shuddering breath, she said, “I can’t.”
And just like that the anger was back. Bubbling slowly to the surface and darkening his young eyes to a point that was almost familiar.
“Jus’ let her go,” Tinker Bell muttered, waving a small hand in her general direction, eyes never wandering from the blue berry juices she was using to decorate her legs, “She don’ want to be here, boy, she don’ love you or any o’ you other brats. Let ’er be.”
Peter picked up a hunk of hard bread lying on the table and chucked it at her, with a quick, “You’re a liar, Tink!” The yellow fairy just managed to dodge the weapon—which wasn’t much smaller than her own torso—and that’s when the fighting started. The boys started taking sides, hair was pulled and limbs were bitten, shouts echoed and chunks of dirt fell off the ceiling and into their meals.
Belle grit her teeth, wiped off the dirt and dust that had settled onto her dress, and stood as much as she could in the clustered room. She took a moment to try and calm herself, chanting in her head that these were only children, and had not been raised by society but by the wilderness, when she managed to glimpse the little Peter Pan slug another of the children hard in the stomach.
“That’s it!” she screeched, and suddenly the room was much quieter, much stiller, and two dozen round eyes peeked up at her, belonging to little boys who no longer found it safe to breathe. Belle gave two deep breaths, closed her eyes, and sat both her hands squarely on her hips. When she opened her eyes and they hadn’t moved, she shot one pointer finger at the ground, “Sit.”
They quickly scrambled to get back to their spots, and she could’ve smiled if it weren’t for the way Peter was staring at her from across the room.
“You all know this behavior is unacceptable, and I don’t care how much you live like beasts,” (her throat almost caught at the word, but she refused to stumble in front of them), “you will not act like one. You are good, decent children and it’d do for you to start acting like it. Whether you like it or not one day you’ll have to grow up, and when you do you can’t be on acting like this. Now, you all clean this up while Bael and I have a little chat, alright?”
They nodded and some smiled, and as they started cleaning she couldn’t help but find herself grinning back. She pushed Peter into one of the other rooms and turned back to them, “Do a good job and maybe I’ll make some dessert, hmm?”
She went to follow Peter, but a boy dressed as a rabbit (Nibs, she remembered) tugged at the bottom of her dress, so she bent down to look him in the eye, wiping a bit of smudge off his cheek.
“We were bad,” he murmured, “and you got mad at us ‘cause we were bad. Why are you still making us sweets?”
Belle’s mouth opened but she found no answer came out, as really, she wasn’t sure herself. It wasn’t really the young boys’ fault, she figured, they didn’t know better, so there was really no use in punishing them.
“I think that’s what mommies are supposed to do,” Nibs continued, “They bake sweets ‘cause they love you, even when you gone n’ done something wrong.”
She bit her lip, “I guess that must be it.”
He ran off to clean, and Belle turned and pushed the grass curtain away to step lightly into the other room. Peter sat in the opposite corner, knees tugged firmly against his chest and eyes bright with fear, for no reason that Belle could imagine. Gently, as not to scare him further, she came up beside him, sat down, and ran a hand through his tussled hair.
“What did you call me?”
She started, eyebrows drawing and lips turning to a frown, “What?”
“In there, you called me Bael. Why?”
She bit her lip, not having caught her little slip up, “Oh … well, that was your name, wasn’t it? Baelfire. A long time ago, perhaps, but … it was you.”
“How do you know me?” he whimpered, pulling himself out of her reach and shoving himself back into the corner, “Are you here to take me away?”
Gone was the proud little boy who ruled over an empire. Gone the cocky, sarcastic, little wit of a creature too long a child. Gone the anger, and the sadness, of a child orphaned. In its place was a creature just of fear, and remorse.
Shakily, Belle held up her hand, palm up and reaching out for the poor lost boy, “I’m not here to hurt you, Bael. I promise, I don’t mean you nor your family any harm. Come now, sit with me, won’t you?”
He grasped her hand and she pulled him to sit next to her, linking their fingers and smiling down at him.
“I used to work for your father. I was his caretaker for quite some months. He only recently told me he had a son but … he used to mumble your name in his sleep. I didn’t know you were still alive until just last week, when you stumbled upon me. He talked of you as though it were many years ago.”
The boy—Peter Pan, Baelfire (Little Boy Blue, Jack Flash, Robin Hood, a thousand and one names had come and gone in the time in between)—clenched his jaw, eyes pointed toward their bare feet, “My father is dead.”
Belle’s lips twisted, a little tear trailing down her cheek of its own accord, “He misses you more than you know, sweetheart. He has a room for you, all set up, at the castle. All your clothes, toys, books. I thought it used to be yours until he told me.”
For a while Baelfire just watched her, with eyes too human, skin too smooth, hair dark and thick, and nose the small button of a boy. But still, unmistakably, undeniably, this was his child. Part of her wanted to break; wanted to crawl somewhere lonely and dark and cry over the would’ve-could’ve-should’ve-been’s and the maybe’s until she had no tears left to shed. Another wanted to take of his boy, just to damn him, be the mother he wouldn’t let her prove she could be.
“You loved him, didn’t you?”
Breaking seemed like the most viable option to her at the moment.
“Still do,” she corrected, and Bael scooted to lay his head on her arm.
“Why won’t you stay with us?”
“I can’t—I can’t but you don’t know how much I wish I could. It just isn’t my place. I don’t know how to be a mother.”
She wasn’t sure when he had started crying, “Just act like your mother did.”
“I didn’t have one.”
He looked up at her, chin resting on her shoulder, one of her hands moving back to tangle in his hair, “You neither?”
“No, she left one day, when I was very small. Too small to remember much. Just the way she smelled; not fancy perfumes like the other ladies in the court, but strawberries. She must’ve eaten a whole bucket every day.”
Bael smiled, though wet streaks still blotched his face, “You smell like peaches. I’d like to think my mum smelled like peaches.”
She gave a small chuckle, tapping a finger on his nose, “But you know Bael—I don’t blame my papa for my mother leaving. He raised me, still. He protected me. It wasn’t his fault, you know?”
And he did know, no matter how much he didn’t want to.
“Will you at least stay through the night?” he mumbled, fingers pricking at the material of her dress, “I think there’s a storm coming and you know how the boys get scared.”
“Of course,” she promised, cheek leaning on the top of his head.
“And in the morning, too? Tootles found some stuff to make breakfast with but I don’t know how.”
“Even if you don’t know how yet, I think you’d be a really good mum. And … I know you’re not my real mum, and that you can’t stay, but … there’s no harm in pretending, right?”
“None at all,” she murmured, lips pressing a soft kiss on his forehead, “And you know, one day I’m going to rule over my own land. Not much, just a village, and a little castle—but it’ll be enough. And they’ll be plenty of empty rooms for you and all the children. And we can bake breakfast every morning, and you’ll all learn to read in the library. And you can teach all the children of the village how to find food in the woods and track animals and make their own clothes. And one day, you’ll grow up to be the best knights in all the realms.”
He laughed, and she wiped away the wetness from his cheeks with her thumb, “Can pa live there, too?”
“If he stops being so stubborn, yes, he can,” she laughed.
“I’d like that.”
“I would too, love.”
And for a little while she let herself pretend.
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