Chapter 13: Meeting and Missing

Aunt Millicent's heart went bad.

That's what Mr. Locke had said—something about a lack of oxygen flowing into it. He'd admitted he didn't have enough information to firmly diagnose the problem, but he'd nevertheless given Aunt Millicent a bottle of pills to take for the pain—a new German-patented medicine, he explained, that was quickly becoming known as "the wonder drug." Aunt Millicent herself seemed to be growing quite fond of the pills, seeing as she never left the house without them. Furthermore, Wendy had noticed that such a sudden scare of health brought her aunt to visit the Darlings much more often than usual; certainly it was nerve-racking to be living alone in a house with young Slightly, where if something happened again, there would be little aid. Aunt Millicent had found a new security in the Darling house.

Then there was Wendy's heart, which had not grown bad, but confused.

For you see, after returning home from the Locke manor on that cold and hectic day, Wendy had discovered a small piece of parchment crumpled in her coat pocket. It was certainly not a mere scrap of paper, and when she'd read what had been written on it in haste, she'd felt all together pleased and guilty.

"North of the Round Pond, next Saturday, 1."

William's note was short but clear. And how clever he must have been to both write and tuck it into her pocket without anyone ever noticing. Admittedly, Wendy's initial reaction to his little message was one of contentment—she'd scanned the narrow handwriting on the paper several times, smiling at the thought that she hadn't simply been imagining the spark between them. It was real. But letting aside this rapture, she could still feel her guilty conscience tugging at her heart, reminding her of society's unspoken law. Would Wendy not disturb the social ladder by trying to climb it?

Rather undecided on what to do, she'd placed the note face-down in her vanity drawer, so that every time she went to retrieve a bobby pin, or ring, or necklace, she would see it there resting among her accessories; this morning was no exception. She'd just finished changing into her school uniform and was now seated at her vanity, her lashes lowered to the open drawer. She'd intended to retrieve a pin for her hair, but of course, she'd spotted the note peeking beneath a few jewels, most of which she'd inherited from her own mother.

A week had passed since Aunt Millicent's scare. Which meant a week had passed since the note had been written. Which meant tomorrow was Saturday.

Wendy brushed aside the hairclips and grazed her fingers over the parchment wonderingly. She felt the creases, almost as if she were reading Grail, and finally caught its edge to turn it over.

"Get on it, Wendy!"

She turned her head to the door, letting the note fall back in place.

"Well?" John stood at the doorway, rapping his fingers loudly against the wall. With a slicked-back hairdo, his dark school suit, and that scrutinizing stare, Wendy had taken him as their father at first glance. "Why not take a few more hours deciding what jewelry to wear? We're only twenty minutes late!"

Wendy blinked and stared blankly at John for a moment, taken aback by his sudden—and rather rude—entrance into her room. After narrowing her eyes at him a bit, she turned back to her vanity, picked up one of the hairclips that had been lying on William's note, and shut the drawer quickly.

"Goodness, John," she finally spoke to him as she fixed the clip into her hair. "If you're so worried about being late, go on your way."

"Really? Go on my way?" John retorted, mimicking Wendy's voice. "Do you suddenly wish not to have the company of your brothers? Are you too stately for us, now that you're such a good acquaintance of the Lockes?"

Wendy whipped back around, setting a wide-eyed glare on him.

"How dare…" she started over her breath. Stammering up in anger, she peeled her eyes away from him and mindlessly took to brushing the lint off her skirt. "I really don't know what's gotten into you, and I don't know where you've come to such an idiotic statement about the Lockes, but I certainly don't want your company, if you're going to be so cross with me. I can walk myself to school."

"Oh come off it, Wendy." John took a step into the room, narrowing his eyes at her. "I've seen the way you've been acting since coming back from the Locke manor. So concerned about your looks. Walking around with a noble expression on your face. Acting as if the chaps nodding their hats at you on the street were invisible. You don't even say a word at the dinner table anymore. Is it that our family conversations are just too unsophisticated for you now?"

"Oh, John, don't you dare!" Wendy demanded, marching toward him in anger. She could hardly believe her ears. "You know I'd never do such things. And if you didn't, I'd wonder whether you've been living under a rock your entire life!"

John looked down at his older sister, who came merely up to his chin, thanks to the abrupt growth spurt he'd experienced just a year ago.

"I'm simply stating what I see," he hissed quietly, tucking his hands coolly into his trouser pockets.

Wendy's burning blue eyes shifted from John's slightly curled mouth to his own dark brown pupils. She knew resorting to accusations would be low, but she was beyond composure.

"You're unbelievable," she sneered. "Do you even realize, you're one to talk? You're just as obsessed about money as father is. You never want to help with the boys, never want to spend time with them. For heaven's sake, you rarely even let them step into your room! And let me remind you, dear brother, that the only reason why we leave so early every morning is because we make a detour of nearly six blocks just so you can escort your little princess to school."

Wendy ended to catch her breath, just as Nibs appeared at the doorway. He peered from her to John with furrowed eyebrows.

"If you and the boys are ready," she went on in a lower voice, "then there's no use in wasting your impatience on me." She went to the edge of her bed and sat down to tighten the laces of her boots, trying to avoid any more confrontation.

There was a long silence before she finally heard John's heavy footsteps leave the room, and when she looked back up from her boots, she saw Nibs still standing at the doorway.

"You better get going," she insisted, trying to tame her shaking voice.

Nibs stared at her a moment longer, with bags under his eyes that strangely made it seem as though he were about to cry. He said nothing, however, and eventually disappeared from the doorway.

Wendy let out an exasperated sigh. She rested a hand gently on her side as the ribs of her corset creaked in accordance to her contracting stomach.

How dare he say such things, she thought furiously. Of course she didn't think herself superior to anyone. Who did he think she was? Better yet, who did he think he was?

John had gotten his own room just a year after Wendy moved into hers but, unlike her, seemed all too ready to leave the nursery. In fact, it was practically his decision to move, what with all the bickering he went to Mr. and Mrs. Darling with about the other boys' rowdiness. Wendy had noticed that without her lead, he'd grown tired of his brothers' games, and soon, his most prized possession was no longer his wooden sword, but the gold hand watch Mr. Darling had given him for his thirteenth birthday. When their parents had finally heard enough of his complaining, they cleared out Mrs. Darling's tiny sewing niche and put him there—next to his sister. And from then on—as long as he was in the house—this was where he'd spend nearly all his time, save for the occasions he came out to discuss some businesslike matter with Mr. Darling (He'd recently gotten an internship at the bank, which was clearly strengthening their father-son bond.). Much to Wendy's alarm—and she could also see a concern in her mother's eyes—it appeared that John was rapidly approaching adulthood, even prematurely. Of course, he was at an age where a form of maturity was to be learned, but he carried much weight on his shoulders; fulfilling a high expectation at the bank (being the branch manager's son) and maintaining impeccable grades in school (with the ambition of transferring into the London Boys' Academy) couldn't have been easy. Sometimes, when his door wasn't shut, Wendy could glance into the dimness of his room and see him hunched over his desk, working tediously beneath the flickering light of a candle. Other times, when she lay in bed at night, she could hear scratching and bumping against the wall as he drew books on and off his shelf. It seemed there was hardly a time he wasn't working.

And not only that; there was also Susan Crandell. At fifteen years old, this is who Wendy's brother claimed was going to be his future bride—the one he insisted upon walking to school everyday; whose frizzy brown hair and squeaky voice the boys scoffed at as they and Wendy trailed behind on the street; a bashful schoolgirl who simply couldn't resist the sweet-nothings he whispered in her ear and the fresh roses he picked for her in the nearby park. It was as though John bore their relationship in the same light as his work—it had to be perfect. He had to make sure he said the right words, made the right gestures, listened to everything she had to say. It had to be the fairytale pursuit.

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"Whatchoo drag me out fo' again? It's bloody sprinkling ou' here ya know!"

William had been looking out across the vast pond for a long time, but finally broke his gaze to answer the question.

"I'm meeting someone," he said, turning to Abram and eyeing the chocolate bar he was obscenely gnawing on. "Haven't you ever heard of etiquette?"

Abram narrowed his eyes at William, but lowered the chocolate bar from his mouth and folded the wrapping back over it. "You mean like the time you got into that dogfight with Andrew in this very park? What I would've given to see that…" His sentence trailed off as he shook his head and laughed, shoving the half-eaten candy bar into his pocket.

William bit gently on his lower lip, relieved that any sign of a wound had finally disappeared. Sure, it'd made him an icon at school, but what could any other stranger on the street have thought?

He looked out across the pond again, where a mist of light fog was beginning to settle. Alright, so maybe it wasn't the best meeting place, but he'd choose a nice patch of the park over the clamor of a tea house or, even more, the restriction of his own house any day.

"So who are we meeting, then?" Abram asked, following William's long gaze. "It has to be someone important, considering the way you're staring as if King Arthur himself were approaching."

Hearing this, William let out an amused grunt. "Wendy Darling," he answered, his eyes still fixed across the pond. "And we aren't meeting her. I alone am meeting her. You're here to keep me company until she comes."

From the corner of his eye, William could see Abram's eyes widening and his jaw dropping slightly.

"Pardon me?" Abram let out, his voice sounding oddly like a yelp. "You've got me out here in the beginnings of a London winter, and I'm just here to keep you entertained until your real company arrives. Bloody hell, Will…" Mumbling to himself quietly, he pulled out his chocolate bar again and resumed eating.

"Come on, Abe, it's not like you're my pawn. I figured it'd be nice to see you again, with you having gone missing and all. That fiancé of yours has nearly swallowed your life whole."

Abram cringed, but he still couldn't help laughing at William's remark. "Swallowed my life whole? I wouldn't put it that morbidly." He stood silent for a moment, looking down at his chocolate bar thoughtfully. "Wendy Darling. Isn't that the girl who came to your house with her sick mother?"

William opened his mouth to speak, but he paused as he spotted a figure coming along the opposite side of the pond.

"It was…her aunt," he answered, although a bit mindlessly. Holding his stare across the pond, he pushed Abram away slightly and added, "She's here."

"Where?" Abram regained the distance he'd lost on William when he was pushed, craning his neck forward and narrowing his eyes at the approaching figure. "Not that middle class girl with the hat…?"

William flicked his eyes back at Abram irritably. "I'll meet back with you later."

Remaining silent, Abram took one more glance at Wendy before turning to leave. "Nice seeing you," he called over his shoulder, strolling away casually.

It wasn't hard for William to catch the sarcasm in his voice, and he stared back at his friend considerately before turning forward again. Loosening the cashmere scarf around his neck a bit and straightening his coat, he started towards Wendy, who was now only a yard or so away. A genuine smile played on his lips as they neared each other, and even through the light fog that was still lingering in the air, he could see Wendy's teeth flashing white as she grinned back at him. She wore a long black coat and a plain dress, and part of her face was shadowed by the brim of her rather cushiony looking hat. She looked nothing like she had at the opera, but she did look a lot like she had the day she came to his home with her mother and aunt—simple. It was, surprisingly enough, what William liked most about her.

"Hello, Mr. Locke." Wendy greeted him when they finally reached each other at the side of the pond. Tilting her chin upwards so that her face was no longer covered by her hat, she looked up at William with bright, round eyes.

"Good afternoon, Miss Darling. I'm very glad you came." William lifted her hand and kissed the back of it, discreetly inhaling the scent of lilac.

"How could I not, after how clever enough you were to have put that note in my pocket?" She smiled and held his stare a moment longer before looking around at their surroundings. To no surprise, there weren't many people around. "This weather is quite unfortunate, I must say. It seems we're going to be having an early winter."

"Yes, I suppose so." William looked down at her, noticing a few tiny drops of mist settled on her lashes. Glancing around, he added rather hesitantly, "We can head towards a teahouse, if you wish."

To this, Wendy shook her head. "Oh, that's quite all right. If you don't mind my saying so…I've spent far too many days in teahouses."

William cracked a smile, delighted by Wendy's response. "All right, then," he said, holding out his arm. "Shall we take a walk?"

Wendy nodded and slipped her arm around his, keeping a respectable space between she and William as they made their way onto a stone path. She was so very well learned.

"You've noticed," William stated, "that each time we've met, there's been some interruption to break us apart." He paused, observing Wendy's nod and smile. "But now that we're here, won't you tell me a bit more about yourself?" He reached over and pulled up the brim of Wendy's hat playfully, so that he could see more of her face.

"Well, you already know I can't play the piano and that I have an Aunt Millicent." Wendy laughed, pulling her hat down properly. "I do live in a house full of mischievous boys. I've seven younger brothers."

William stared down at Wendy, his eyes widening. "Honestly, seven? I suppose there's never a quiet moment in your house."

"Yes, those moments are quite rare. The oldest and youngest of them are my only biological siblings, actually. My other brothers are adopted."

"Really? I myself was adopted."

"Were you?" Wendy tilted her head to the side curiously. "Well, you certainly fell into a magnificent family, William."

A smile appeared on William's lips, though it wasn't because Wendy had complimented his family; if he wasn't mistaken, it was the first time she'd called him by his first name.

"Yes," he responded through a sigh, letting his smile fade. "I suppose every time I try to defy my parents' orders, someone should remind me how lucky I am to have been taken in by them in the first place. I can't imagine where I'd be, otherwise."

"I think every child should be reminded of how lucky they are to have loving parents," Wendy replied, her voice a bit distant. She remained silent for a moment—apparently in thought—before speaking again. "It's funny. After the first months of their adoption, my mother and I would tell my brothers how they'd been sent to our home from the stars, that some magical pixies had delivered them right to our window. We never could have admitted that they'd been abandoned by their real mothers and fathers…" Wendy's voice trailed off, and even her eyes now possessed a distant stare. "Of course, they all stopped believing that story as they got older. What's strange is that none of us clearly remember the day we took them in. In my mind, it's almost as if it were a far off dream."

"Well, I think we all tend to forget things, especially as children."

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A ball of light flashed across the park, passing over a young couple walking along a stone path. It stayed high enough so that its glow was not seen, its bells were unheard, and its fairy dust was untouched by anyone below.

Tinkerbell knew exactly where she was going. She'd been on the same path so many times before that she hardly had to think about it—into earth, through London, across Kensington Gardens, to the Darling house, at the nursery window. The problem had never been finding the place; it was finding the person. And heavens, did that little fairy have a big heart. Not once in her countless number of visits to the Darling house did she find what she was looking for, but it never stopped her from trying. The nursery was the only place she could think of finding her beloved Peter Pan, and her hope in finding him had to remain strong, even through his three-year absence.

Landing lightly onto the tree branch stretching in front of the nursery window, Tinkerbell peeked in through the stained glass. She spotted one of the Lost Boys writing at a desk, though she didn't bother trying to identify him. They'd all changed far too much for her to recognize them anymore. The only ones she could still name were the Twins, since, of course, they looked exactly alike. They were settled in the middle of the floor, playing with cards. Another one of the boys was lying on his bed, prodding the ceiling with a closed umbrella. Her gaze flickered from one child to another, and she knew that none of them were Peter.

The vexed fairy slumped down on the branch, crossing her arms and furrowing her eyebrows in thought. Had the Indians' magic even work? And even if it had, would Peter still be able to fly again? Tinkerbell knew that there would be limits to the Indians' magic, but she had still let them send the dream to him, hoping it would help him remember. Neverland was hanging by a thread.

Author's Note: .x.gaspeth.x. Another chapter!

I want to say how truly flattered I am that people have continued to review and encourage me to continue this story, even through a time when it seemed like I'd abandoned it! I especially want to thank stants106 and kiachan, 'cause they really were the final boost I needed to crank out this chapter. .x.loves on them.x.

.x.more loves on everyone else, too.x. (including all who reviewed before chapter 13; I only tagged the peeps from chapter 13 and above. XD)

VV

The Sleeping Creature, IcyPinkOcean, look for the girl with the broken smile, Megan, jo (I'm honestly wowed by your review .x.huggles.x.), Eva Sumpter, Mandaius Meander, embracing, haydenlover19, Avanell (a naughty Wendy, eh? Shall think about it ) ), kasmira36, Anna, tinkerflyinbell1210, Akaru-Hime, Mearah-the-Moon, catins, maria, Cheery-O, emillie8cow, Marie Kenobi, Magical Love, Auriela, Lillith Evans, Claire, mabfairy, Shining Star of Valinor, Tristyn, SnarkyKat, Mellem, myxsecretxlove, ashley couch, curlygntx, HwkPeanut08, Elirrina, Katana Blade, kazema, Lysia Croft, misshotness, Ella.

Oh, and another special thankies to bellachaos, who pointed out my idiocy.Teehee. She noticed that Nicholas' age didn't coincide with how I explained the Lockes' situation when they first found Peter/William. So uhh, let's just ignore that little mistake until I get the chance to fix it, yeah? XD