Author's Note: The final chapter. This one has been edited and revised quite a bit, though I think most of the changes are subtle enough to not be obvious.

Thanks: Thanks again to my husband and Mara Trinity Scully for their beta-reading. And thanks again, also, to those who have taken the time to review.

Disclaimer: These characters don't belong to me. This fic, however, is mine. Please don't take it without my permission.

Chapter 17:
The Story and the Storyteller

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 pretended not to notice 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 talented 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.

And 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 clear blue 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 and her embroidered pouch now hung rather loosely upon her wrist.

"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 stayed on after the holidays to live at home, instead of returning to boarding school, 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.

* * *

"Peter?" Wendy smiled her most lovely smile at him. "I have a Christmas gift for you, Peter." And she pulled the silver thimble from the embroidered pouch suspended from her wrist.

Peter held out his hand, and she set the engraved thimble upon his rather dirty palm. And they smiled at one another.

"I brought you an acorn," explained Peter, "but I think I left it behind in your bedchamber. It was a particularly handsome acorn."

"Oh, Peter, do not worry." Wendy took his free hand in hers and looked out at the wonderful Neverland that stretched in all directions, as far as the eye could see. "You have given me so very much more."

* * *

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 periods when she was taken prisoner on the Jolly Roger, which did happen from time to time. Red Maggie became rather fond of taunting Peter by kidnapping Wendy as often as possible.

And if Wendy upon occasion told tales of Captain James Hook, it certainly could not mean that the pirate himself might someday return to the Neverland, or so Wendy innocently believed. For it is remarkably easy to forget lessons even once they have been learnt. Particularly in Neverland, which is so endlessly diverting.

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 could 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.

Except two.

- The End -

Author's End Note: There you have it. The story is finished. A few of the chapters were entirely new, while a few chapters were barely changed at all, but I think the large and small changes all combined to make this story more what I had wanted it to be from the very first. I was very disappointed by the first draft, but I'm now quite fond of this revised version. It's much more something I can feel proud of. I hope you enjoyed reading it.