Author's Note: Now that we've gotten to the end, I'd like to give some credit to Mara Trinity Scully, because it was something she said in one of her comments on my story "First Kiss" which gave me the very first glimmerings of an idea for this story. So thanks!
Silence filled the room quite as completely as the firing of the revolver had done. The occupants of Wendy's bedchamber were momentarily frozen, as if in tableau.
The gun fell from Aunt Millicent's hand with a clatter, her arm still extended as if she were frozen in place. Then, with a halting step forward, still staring in horror at the dead, unblinking eyes of Captain Hook, she said softly, "A noise woke me." She looked around her as if suddenly emerging from a dream. "I hid in the doorway," she told Peter, as if feeling some deep need to explain herself. "I ... I killed a man!"
She walked slowly forward, as if compelled, staring fixedly at Captain Hook. As she drew near in the dim light, she gasped, "It is Dr. Carew!" Glancing around the room in disbelief, looking for some explanation that would erase all of this sudden and incomprehensible whirl of strangeness. With his long hair, Captain Hook of course looked quite different from the elegant gentleman who had so frequently conversed with her over mutton cutlets at luncheon, but there was no mistaking the features of his face, which she had so often admired in her soft, romantic heart.
But Peter paid the older lady no attention whatsoever. Captain Hook was no longer an issue, and so his only concern was for Wendy, who did not appear to be moving even so much as to breathe. "Wendy!" he sobbed. "Don't die! You can't die!" His tears dripped down to land upon Wendy's peaceful face, wetting her lashes with the moisture from his own eyes.
Gathering Wendy into his arms, Peter pressed her to him as if attempting to pass his own strength and warmth directly into her body. Her arms dangled from where he held her, and her head rolled heavily backward until Peter pressed it firmly against his own bare shoulder. "Wendy!" he cried, rocking her in some instinctive desire to comfort both her and himself. "Wendy!" The skin of her face was cool against his neck. All traces of her fever had departed. She did not move.
Aunt Millicent seemed to come to herself suddenly, realizing that her niece lay upon the floor, held by a boy scantily dressed, it seemed, in nothing but leaves and vines. This seemed quite an inexplicable development, and quite improper as well. It might be noted that Aunt Millicent seemed considerably more concerned about the impropriety of her niece's embrace with a scantily-clad young man in her bedchamber than she was about the dead gentleman whose eyes now stared at some faraway place no living person has ever seen. But, in that elegant lady's defense, the problem of a dead gentleman on the floor was considerably outside her sphere of understanding, and so she focused on that which she could understand.
"Unhand my niece!" demanded Aunt Millicent. "She is not even properly clothed! Nor are you!"
"Clothes?" shouted Peter. "Clothes? Wendy is dead! And you care about clothes!" Cradling Wendy's head close to him, Peter continued to weep, and continued to rock.
"Dead?" Aunt Millicent felt suddenly as if it were she who had been killed. Her body felt quite leaden, as if all meaning for life had left her in one horrible moment. Yes, the kind Dr. Woodhouse had warned her of this eventuality, but to have it occur so unexpectedly soon! For the beautiful Wendy who had been once so filled with life ... for her beloved niece to be gone ... it was simply unimaginable. The young lady had been the center of her life for so long now that her absence felt like the absence of Aunt Millicent's own heart.
Pressing another desperate, tear-flavored kiss to Wendy's lips -- perhaps it takes more than one to work -- Peter whimpered, "It works in your stories, Wendy! Why won't you wake up?" He pressed another kiss to her lips, and another, and another, convinced that Wendy's stories were true, convinced that he could save her just as so many princes had saved so many ladies in the tales Wendy had told him.
Peter looked up at Aunt Millicent in grief and betrayal. Wendy would not wake up, and the world was a very very wrong place to allow such a horrible thing to happen. But as he looked up at the older lady who stood nearby with her hand pressed to her trembling mouth, Peter felt something against the side of his neck which was wet with tears.
He felt a breath. A breath against his neck. Wendy's breath.
"It worked!" he cried, pressing several kisses to Wendy's mouth as if to ensure that she continue breathing. Now, in truth, it would be difficult to say whether Peter's kisses did truly awaken Wendy as he believed, or whether Wendy had been breathing softly throughout the entirety of his lamentations and he simply had not noticed. But Peter's belief was the most true explanation from the perspective of the heart, and so let us believe as he does.
Wendy was once again saved by Peter's kiss.
She still did not move, however, and lay very cold and still. Her breath against Peter's neck had been barely a whisper of sensation.
"She is alive," he told Aunt Millicent, who breathed a most unladylike sob of relief, which sounded rather like a most inelegant hiccup. "But something is wrong with her."
"She has been very ill," explained Aunt Millicent, her expression still deeply sad as she stepped nearer and knelt beside Wendy and Peter upon the rug.
"Ill?" asked Peter in confusion. "She told me so, before, but what is it?"
"She is dying," the older lady explained gently.
But Peter shook his head stubbornly. "No!" he insisted. "I will save her! My kiss will save her!" Peter shifted Wendy in his arms so that he could see her face more clearly. "I will save you, Wendy. I will. I promise."
Aunt Millicent gently put her hand upon the young boy's bare arm, explaining with obvious sorrow, "There is nothing we can do for her now. The doctor has said so."
Peter gazed down into Wendy's pale, peaceful face, unable to even see her chest rising with her meager breaths. He tried to think, but his thoughts kept getting muddled. He thought of Hook's taunt on that subject, and his face set in determined lines. He would think! He would!
"I have an idea," he at last said to the older lady who knelt beside him. "I think I can save her, but I have to take her away right now, before she ... while she ... it needs to be right now."
"Where would you take her? And what would you do to her? I simply cannot permit this, young man!"
"But I think I can save her!" Peter objected impatiently. "If I take her now, I think Neverland can save her! But we must go now ... before something bad happens to her. I must go now!"
Aunt Millicent hesitated, torn most terribly between the advice of her head and her heart. Her head insisted that allowing some strange leaf-clad boy to abscond with her near-dead niece in the darkest of night would be not only the greatest of improprieties but also a disservice to the trust Wendy's parents had placed in her when they'd given their daughter into her care.
Aunt Millicent's heart, however, said that her very dearly beloved niece was dying, and that if there was some small chance that Peter could save her, then she should let him try.
Not accustomed to listening to her heart, and feeling still some bruising from the last time she had done so in entrusting her feelings to Dr. Carew, Aunt Millicent struggled for a long moment, but even she realized there was little time to lose. Wendy looked quite nearly dead already, and so if she were to give her charge into the care of this Peter Pan, Aunt Millicent would need to do so now.
"Go!" she finally cried, more than one tear hovering within her eyes. "Go! Save her, and keep her safe, as I have not been able to do."
But Peter shook his head a moment, insisting, "This was Hook's doing, not yours." Aunt Millicent had not the slightest idea of who "Hook" might be, but this was not a time to ask questions. She understood that the boy was saying that she was not to blame for her niece's endangerment ... and perhaps one day she would come to believe what he said. But that day would not be this day.
She would not have guessed in that moment, but that day would come in the future partly through the support and caring given to her by a different doctor entirely, and one far more trustworthy, for the kind and generous Dr. Woodhouse was of an appropriate age and was not, in fact, a pirate in disguise, which was a considerable point in his favor.
"Go," Aunt Millicent said softly to the young man she barely knew. "Save her if you can."
And so Peter stood somewhat awkwardly, holding Wendy's body in his arms. Though she was some years older than he was now, she had become so frail and thin that her weight was inconsequential. The only difficulty presented by her greater age was that she was rather taller than would have been easiest for Peter to carry.
But Peter was determined, and so he held Wendy to his mostly-bare chest and walked to the open window. He glanced back only once, and did not throw Hook's motionless body even the barest glance. Instead, he smiled to Aunt Millicent and said, "Thank you."
And then Peter flew from the window with Wendy in his arms, leaving Aunt Millicent to run to the window in awestruck wonder. She stood framed in the window, watching the skies into which they had disappeared, and thinking with growing hope in her heart, A boy who can fly ... perhaps he can save her after all.
* * *
And so Peter and Wendy flew into the air, away from all things ugly and ordinary. Away from tapestried pillows and never-ending piano lessons. Away from corsets pulled tightly for special occasions and mutton cutlets for luncheon. Away from Oxford Street and Whitechapel and workhouses. Away from pink and white wallpaper in hyacinth designs with pomegranates. Away from St. John's Wood and Kensington and Regent's Park and Bloomsbury. Away from glass cases filled with pinned butterflies. Away from polite small talk with Miss Elizabeth Crawford and her elegant mother. Away from Gibson Girl hairstyles and fashionable clothes. Away from motor cars that frightened the horses. Away from Mrs. Eliot and her daughter who did not need help with her embroidery. Away from parties with tea and punch and cakes of which a proper young lady could not partake lest she appear indelicate. Away from well-dressed people who stepped over young men starving upon the sidewalk. Away from worrying what the neighbors should think. Away from the niceties of table manners. Away from the proper things to say and the proper way to live and the proper thoughts to think and the proper ways to do absolutely everything.
Peter held Wendy's body close to him as he flew, her hair streaming behind them in waves that gleamed silver as water in the moonlight.
And as they flew, as they flew further from all they left behind, and flew closer to Neverland, Peter felt Wendy's skin grow warmer, her breath stronger and more even. She still had not moved, but her chest now visibly rose and fell with each breath, and this was quite enough to bring a relieved smile to Peter's face. He flew fast as ever he could, sure that his idea had been right, and that Wendy could be saved by Neverland.
What Peter did not realize, of course, was that it was not precisely Neverland which was bringing Wendy back toward health. In her own world, Wendy was only a storyteller -- a magical and wonderful storyteller, to be sure, but still only a storyteller. As they neared Neverland, the land peopled by the characters in Wendy's stories, the land carved and shaped by her own thoughts and dreams, Wendy ceased gradually to become merely a storyteller, and became also a part of her own story.
And so as Peter flew onward toward Neverland, Wendy's flesh bloomed, so that her body was no longer so sharply boned in his arms as it had been when they had started their journey.
Wendy would have become heavier during this process if her health was the only boon returning to her, but it was not. As their flight continued, Wendy's body grew smaller, shorter, her face more rounded, and faint freckles reappeared upon her nose and cheekbones.
It was as they approached Neverland upon the horizon, the sun casting the clouds in shades of pink and yellow, that Wendy began to stir in Peter's arms. Blinking her eyes in confusion, Wendy asked, "What happened, Peter?" and then turned her head to see Neverland below them in all its beauty.
Peter landed on the very highest peak of Neverland's highest mountain, so that they could see the Neverland stretching around them on all sides. Setting Wendy upon her feet, Peter was pleased to see that she stood strong and healthy under her own power.
"Why am I back in the Neverland?" Wendy asked, looking about her with dazed eyes.
"Look at your feet, Wendy," Peter replied in what seemed to be not an answer to her question. But when Wendy looked down at her feet, she saw her once-ankle-length nightdress pooling upon the ground around her. Pulling her arms up, she saw that her sleeves too had become impossibly long.
"What has happened to me?" Wendy's voice now sounded frightened.
Pushing up one of her sleeves, Peter took her hand in his and looked into her anxious blue eyes. This alone seemed to comfort her some small amount, and so Peter then spoke. "You were ... you called it 'ill'," Peter tried to explain. "I was afraid you would die. So I brought you back, and now you are well again!"
Wendy shook her head in complete befuddlement. "But ... how...?"
Peter sat down, pulling her down to sit cross-legged beside him. "Well, I heard Hook talking." He thought about telling her the story of Hook's second-time death, but then decided that it could wait until another time. "He said that you healed him and you healed me, with your stories. And he said you healed the Neverland. So I thought if I brought you here, maybe it would heal you, too. And it worked!" And then Peter grinned, impressed with his own cleverness.
Looking down at her smaller hands and feet with wonder, Wendy insisted, "But why am I smaller?"
Peter shrugged. "I don't know. But it isn't bad, right? You look like you did when you were here before." He seemed entirely unconcerned by this change, just as he had been unconcerned by the changes in the Neverland. It simply was not in Peter Pan's nature to fret over such trivialities.
Wendy, however, still considerably influenced by the "real" world which required logic and reason to answer all questions, puzzled over the entire situation at some length.
What she did not realize, of course, was that such questions cannot be answered by logic and reason. The Neverland is a place of imagination rather than logic. And so, since in her stories and in her imagination Wendy was not ill ... she therefore was not ill in the Neverland. And since in her stories Wendy had not aged ... she therefore was still a child in the Neverland.
When she climbed within the world of her own story, when she became a part of her own tale instead of only its storyteller, Wendy's being had ceased to follow the logical rules she thought she understood. She would eventually forget such concerns, of course, for the Neverland does nothing so well as distract the childhood mind. But some small remnant of adulthood lingered in Wendy's mind, even if only for a moment.
And then it was gone.
And Wendy Darling laughed.
* * *
Some who believe only in facts and figures might say that Wendy Darling died that tragic evening in her bedchamber, and that imagining her departure to some finer place is but an effort to comfort those who grieve for her loss.
But those who see not only with their heads but also with their hearts know the truth of it.
Aunt Millicent knew the truth. Peter and Wendy had helped her to learn to see with her heart, and she learned to share that knowledge with others. When he was fetched soon afterward from boarding school to live at home, Slightly found her quite a changed woman, and a much warmer and happier mother. Dr. Woodhouse, comforting her in her grief at the loss of her niece, found her a much more kind and generous woman than would previously have been the case.
The entire brood of Darling boys knew the truth of it. Nibs, in particular, stood at the nursery window one evening and looked out at the night sky and wished them well, though there was a small lump in his throat that had once been his feelings for the girl who was not truly his sister.
And, if truth be known, Mary and George Darling in some part of their hearts did know the truth, as well. Though they grieved for their daughter's loss, they also wished her all happiness, choosing to believe that Peter had succeeded in saving her life as Aunt Millicent seemed convinced that he had done.
Those who had loved Wendy chose to think of her as happy and healthy in some wonderful place filled with everything she had ever imagined.
And they were right.
* * *
Having entered her own story, though she did not know she had done so, Wendy was in a rather unique situation. She still contained a great many stories within her heart, perhaps -- in fact -- an infinite number, for her talent as a storyteller was great.
And so Wendy's heart was filled with ever so many stories that she quite happily entertained Peter, the Indians, the Lost Boys who occasionally appeared in the jungle wide-eyed and confused, and even sometimes the pirates, during times when she was captured and taken prisoner on the Jolly Roger, which did happen from time to time.
And if Wendy upon occasion told tales of Captain James Hook, it certainly did not mean that the pirate himself might someday return to the Neverland, or so Wendy believed.
But as she told her stories, Wendy caused the Neverland to change ever so slightly, here and there, in an infinitely delightful number of ways. New rivers carved their ways through the jungle, elephants appeared to stampede in herds and then mysteriously went away again, trolls took up residence in one of the caves, for a time the Indians vanished and a tribe of African warriors who stood on one leg took their place, pink flamingoes flew sometimes over the lagoons, and any number of other thrilling changes occurred.
And each time a change occurred, Wendy and Peter and the other residents of Neverland simply accepted it and forgot that things had ever been any different. They enjoyed each day and each adventure and did not worry about such grown-up concerns as logic and reason.
For though Peter had indeed long been Neverland's undisputed king, holding sway over even the weather, it was also true that Wendy was the Neverland's hitherto secret queen, holding in her heart the very fabric and existence of the place which had been created from her stories.
With Wendy there to tell stories, Neverland would indeed go on forever, ever renewed, ever fed by her imagination, ever growing and changing in marvelous ways.
And because they were ever children in Wendy's stories, neither Peter nor Wendy ever aged, but instead stayed always as they had been when they first met, hovering on the edge of something more than childhood, but still retaining childhood's magic. They kissed many first kisses, always forgetting after a time that they had kissed before, and so each kiss was precious and new and surprising. Each kiss was wondrous and magical and first.
And so Peter and Wendy were perhaps the luckiest children who ever have been, for they lived first love for all eternity, never knowing that it should grow familiar and common.
For indeed Peter and Wendy never grew up and never grew old, but stayed together always in Neverland, enjoying joys that other children can only dream.
All children grow up, after all.
- The End -
Author's End Note: Okay, I sort of apologize for the sappiness of the ending there, but it's where the story was heading from the very beginning. I'm just a hopelessly romantic sap, myself. :)
So the story's done. Hope you enjoyed it. I know there was a lot of angst along the way, but I think it was worth it to earn the sappy ending. Thanks for reading, and review if you want to pay the piper. :)