They all still reacted to the cock crowing. It had been ten long years, growing up. They had never forgotten, not one of them. That was why, Nibs reflected, they never did sleep very well while in the country. They all heard a cock crow and immediately awoke, thinking he was there. Of course, he never was.
"Nick!" The twenty year old boy-man scowled at hearing his adult name. They all had them now, 'normal' names that weren't remarked on by Society. Only the other boys and Wendy-lady called him by his natural name. He would always be Nibs. He would even tell his wife to call him Nibs.
"Nicolas! For God's sake, pay attention to what I'm saying."
"What-oh, sorry, Father. I'm afraid I was lost in thought again."
"As usual," Mr. Darling muttered, but the small smile tugging at the corners of his lips said he didn't mind that much.
"I am sure you know, Nick, that this invitation to the Bakerly's ball quite startled the family. As you are the only one of your brothers here at the moment, and I do not want to deal with your sister's reaction, I will ask you to deliver this message to her."
Nibs blinked, trying to catch up with his father's words.
"Alright, what is the message?"
"She has been asked to lay off her spinster's cap and dress in something more befitting her appearance. It seems that Count Bakerly's eldest son desires to see her 'as she should be looking'; that is a direct quote from the note that was just sent around."
"Alright then, let me see if I have this straight. I am to tell Wendy she is to actually look decent tonight, I presume?"
"Exactly, Nick. Now go on, you'd best tell her soon, so she has all afternoon to fret over what she will wear." Mr. Darling smiled again, then called out as his adopted son was at the door to the parlor, "Oh, and Nibs? Tell her he expressly forbids any of those bland browns she has recently been wearing. I must admit I agree with him. She may have decided to don a spinster's cap, but there is no reason for her to be attempting to blend into the woodwork as well. That you may tell her is a direct quote from me."
"Of course, Father." Nibs returned the grin before completely exiting the room, nearly bumping into the very person he had been previously talking about.
"Come into the sitting room, I have something I must tell you."
"You have grown so secretive in your old age, Nibs. You normally would have just blurted out what ever you needed to say, instead of leading me away to where we might not be overheard." Her gray eyes, merry at the moment, still reflected the hopeless longing they all felt for him. She missed him most of all, they all knew. That was why she was still unmarried. Wendy was still waiting for him.
"Not secretive, and not old, miss spinster," Nibs teased, "I only wished to deliver my remarks in a more comfortable setting than the front foyer. Please, sit." He gestured her to the sofa, sitting beside her.
"Now then, I will get right to the heart of the matter. Count Bakerly's eldest son has decreed that to their ball tonight you will dress, direct quote, 'as you should be looking'. He expressly forbids you your brown dresses."
"He has some nerve, doesn't he?" Wendy remarked, leaning back and playing with the tassels of her shawl.
"Indeed he does-"
"Then I suppose I will not be going to the ball tonight. I have no dresses but brown."
"What about that pretty blue one Aunt Millicent bought you?"
"It was too small, she had to return it."
Nibs sighed, then brightened, a smile flashing across his face.
"Let's see what dresses you have, surely all of them can't be this same drab brown, and if worst comes to pass, you can always wear one of Mother's dresses, you two are of a size, after all."
"How would you know that, Nibs? You're acting more learned about feminine things than any of the other boys; you who used to tease me for braiding my hair at night!" Wendy chided him, grinning when he began to blush.
"Is it for Miss Renworth?" She questioned.
"Yes, actually. She, ah, well, suffice to say, I've noticed more than you thought, Wendy." Nibs looked away for a moment, "I'll prove it to you too, if you'd come upstairs with me and call Mother. I'm sure between the three of us we can find something so you can go to this ball." He flashed her his customary smirk before dashing up the stairs, leaving her at the foot.
"Very gentlemanly, Nibs!" She called up, "I should refuse to go now that I have been so abused by my own brother."
"Oh, so sorry Lady Wendy," he reappeared, loping quickly back down the stairs to hold an arm out for her, bowing, "Would you deign to accompany me up the stairs to your chambers so we may choose your ensemble for this evening? I have given word to the matriarch; she awaits our coming post-haste."
She put one hand on his forearm and gathered up her skirt with the other.
"Why of course, milord, now then, let us go greet the matriarch and plan my ensemble."
Once upstairs, Nibs viewed his sister's closet with distaste.
"None of these will do, Wendy. They're all the same brown. What did you do, manage to get a cheap commission for the lot because Madame Vulpitine couldn't find anyone else to order something from the bolt?" A glance at her, face red, confirmed his theory, and he turned contrite.
"Gad, I'm sorry, Wendy. I didn't mean it that way. I just-"
"Wendy, darling," their mother interrupted smoothly, "You know we have no need of the money you may have saved."
"I was planning on keeping it for myself, Mother. I don't want to be a burden on you and Father, what with the boys' school bills." Wendy tried to explain, sitting down on her bed.
"You'll do no such thing. There's no reason for you to need to save the money, your father and I will never consider you a burden! You're our daughter, Wendy, and we love you."
"I know that Mother, of course I know that. I just want to be able to do something with myself. I'm feeling useless. I'm not pretty, so no one wants to marry me; I'm not a man, so I can't even go into a trade!"
Mrs. Darling sat down beside her daughter and reached up a hand to stroke her cheek.
"Wendy! You are beautiful. As for the trade, you could always write books; Mary Shelley did. You have all those wonderful stories about Peter Pan and everything in Neverland." Mrs. Darling was shocked when Wendy pulled away.
"But how am I supposed to know Peter wants to be written about? He hasn't visited in ten years! He told me he would never forget me! He said he would come back for the stories, and he never has." She took in a shuddering breath.
"I love him, Mother. I've been waiting for him to grow up. That's why I rejected all those offers; I was waiting for my Peter. Now it's too late, I'm too old; no one wants to marry me, not even Mr. Millway. I'm going to be the spinster aunt, and-and-" She couldn't say any more, and with one look at Nibs, promptly burst into tears.
"Mother, I'll handle her...perhaps that dress you got last week; that might do."
Nibs crouched down beside his sister, awkwardly pulling her into his arms.
"Shh, Wendy. It'll be alright. You may not end up as the spinster aunt; Bakerly's son seems interested in you, enough to notice your clothing. He could be a likely prospect."
"Nibs!" Wendy jerked out of his arms, spots of anger appearing on her tearstained cheeks.
"For all you know he could just not want to have any wallflowers at the event, and knows that if I look respectable I'll be asked to dance! And as for prospects, I need to see the man first. I-I...what a foul thing to say! Just push me up on the auction block why don't you, and sell me to the highest bidder, I'm halfway there already!" Her outraged howl brought Tootles and Michael running in to defend their sister, but Nibs shook his head and motioned them out the door.
"Wendy-lady, if you'd stop attempting to strangle me, you'd notice I got you to stop crying." Nibs remarked matter-of-factly.
Wendy gave a little laugh as she let go of his neck and pulled him in for a brotherly peck on the cheek.
"You always were the bravest and most levelheaded, Nibs. Curly or the Twins, the dears, would have already been dead. John would've stood there, he never knows what to do with crying women, I'm afraid. Tootles and Michael would've had Mother do something instead. You've got your heart set on my going to this ball, don't you?" She questioned him as she rearranged her skirts into a more lady-like position.
"Indeed I do. Though the letter was rude and the invitation horribly late, I still think you should go, all the rest of us are." Nibs replied, sitting back on his heels.
"Yes, the Bakerlys are arranging a small party for those too young for their introductions, so that their younger children don't have to peer down the stairwell at us."
"A very good idea, it will make the Twins, Tootles and Michael come out of their Musketeering for a night, at the very least. They haven't done anything else since coming back from Eton."
"Musketeering?" Nibs questioned.
"Yes, haven't you noticed their habit of sticking together like the Musketeers? Tootles is like Athos, First is like Aramis, Second is like Porthos and Michael is like d'Artagnan."
"The Musketeers?" Nibs chuckled, "Like in The Three Musketeers? Wendy, remember, I'm a man, when in the world would I have time to read books?"
"Oh you! I know you read it; I saw it in your room last week. Now then, I'd best see this dress that Mother picked out for me." Wendy turned, gesturing their mother into the room. Mrs. Darling had been waiting in the corridor, listening to them talk. She could rarely get Wendy to open up like this anymore; her not-so-little girl was keeping secrets. She respected that, but was glad Wendy still had someone she could tell them to.
"Oh, mother, it's beautiful!" Wendy cried, nearly bowling Nibs over in her rush to stand up.
"Wendy," Nibs said, "You do realize the dress is still brown?"
"Yes, but it's not the same shade. He said not to wear dull brown. This certainly isn't dull, Nibs!" Wendy seized the dress from her mother's arms and turned to her mirror, admiring herself.
The dress was deep chestnut brown that made her eyes sparkle and her hair gleam, even in the uneven sunlight streaming through the window.
"This will show Bakerly's son. It's not dull, but it's brown. It's perfect!" Wendy proclaimed.
"Good. We have the dress, but you do realize we'll have to do your hair, Wendy; your caps won't work with this gown." Nibs remarked.
"Bother it," Wendy grumbled, sitting back down on her bed with the dress still in her arms, "You knew I'd fall in love with the gown and be unable to wear my hat, I take it?"
"Exactly. Now I'll leave and send Betty in so you can get ready. It's already six o'clock. Remember, Cook said she will hold dinner until seven, but no later."
Wendy was more nervous than she had been since her first ball. Why, she didn't exactly know; she had been to hundreds of balls, after all, every single one since the first much like the one before it. The only changes came in what dress she wore, how tight her corsets were laced and whether she had to refuse another offer of marriage. Otherwise they were all the same. She wouldn't have admitted it to Nibs or any of the others, but she was curious about the Count's eldest son. There had been rumors he had been kidnapped years ago and only now managed to return to his family. Some even said he had been kidnapped by pirates, but she didn't believe that in the least. Pirates would have no use for a noble boy, especially keeping him as long as they were said to have kept him.
Once they had gone through the introductions, Count Bakerly had glanced around and explained to her befuddled father that it seemed that his son had gone mingling in the crowd. He got bored with things like this easily, Count Bakerly hastily said, it came from only coming back to polite Society a year before.
Wendy hadn't been surprised to find herself ensconced once again against the wall. Even dressed as she was in a brighter brown, she hadn't been able to give up a cap, though she had needed to convince her mother to allow her to borrow the matching hat. She was a spinster, after all, and just because her current hats wouldn't work, it didn't mean she couldn't wear a matron's cap and be just as ignored. She liked it better that way.
Unfortunately, even against the wall and bored almost to tears, she was inexplicably nervous. Her right hand played with the chain holding Peter's acorn. Aunt Millicent had thought she had been tamed of this bad habit, but she had not. It always comforted her to think of Peter. His smile and laugh still filled her dreams. She would end up being the spinster aunt with silly tales of a boy, she knew. But at least the men would back her up. If only she could find a fairy in the garden and go visit Peter! Every time she thought she had one, it turned out to just be a firefly.
She barely registered the person coming to sit beside her. Only the clearing of a decidedly masculine throat brought her back to her senses and away from the fairy wedding playing in her head.
"I do think, miss, that I told you expressly not to wear brown." The voice was barely cultured; there was a decidedly American twang to it that for what ever reason sent shivers down her spine. She looked up quickly but then ducked her head back down after viewing clear green-gray eyes looking at her solemnly.
"It is not dull brown, or completely brown. It is a compromise, milord. I take it you are Count Bakerly's eldest son?"
"Indeed. You always were a stubborn one."
She looked up again at him to view his eyes crinkling in an oddly familiar way.
"I believe this belongs to you."
She stared in surprise as he handed her a small silver thimble.
"A thimble, what do you mean by this, milord?"
"It belongs to you, and always will, as this belongs to me."
Wendy could only sit stunned as he leaned forward and kissed her directly on the lips.
"What is the meaning of this, sirrah?" She asked, scandalized, inching backwards in her seat.
"Wendy, you've forgotten me?" Wendy looked at the man again and became caught in his pained gaze. There was something familiar about the pain there...
"You made me promise I would never forget you, and now you've forgotten me. That's friendship for you!" The man muttered, breaking his hold on her gaze as he leaned back.
"But I've never met you before, milord, and here you are criticizing my clothing and kissing me like we are married!"
"Ah, Wendy, Wendy, Wendy. I'm sorry; I truly am that I couldn't come to hear the stories myself. I had some growing up to do." He smiled and she finally recognized him fully. But it couldn't be...
She couldn't get over her shock.
"But you're grown up!"
"Yes, one does that here," he remarked casually.
"But you're older than I am! How can that be? How are you related to Bakerly? And how-"
"One question at a time, Miss Darling." Peter teased her gently, "Come on, first I'll take you somewhere we can discuss this further."
As he stood and led her out into the garden, she began to marvel. He really had grown up. His hair was still that same gorgeous blond-brown and curling, though now it was over his collar. Unfashionably long, but she still thought it was gorgeous.
He sat her down on a wrought-iron bench in the center of the garden maze, and then seemed to have a long conversation with the hedge. Wendy realized after a moment he must be talking to Tinkerbell.
"There," Peter turned away from the hedge and walked back over to her, "Tink will warn us if anyone comes near. I don't want them all to hear. Not even my parents know the truth. I told them about Hook and they made up the rest for themselves."
"Now then, I'll try to explain the aging as well as I can, but I don't understand it myself. I visited you once last year, or tried to, but you were at a party. I'm afraid I tracked you to the party and watched you. You were having so much fun without me! I couldn't stand it, and went back to Neverland, determined to grow up. I wanted to be able to have fun with you too. So, here I am. All grown up, and ready for you, Wendy."
"But Count Bakerly?"
Peter leaned back against the wrought-iron and stared up at the stars before responding.
"Is my actual father. I'm actually Lord Peter of Panukibejon, I guess it's some estate my father ownssomewhere. I could only remember that I was Peter of Pan-something, so I became Peter Pan. When I was six and they were planning on shipping me off to Eton for school I left and wound up in Neverland. I managed to age myself then, but once I got to age twelve I didn't think I wanted to get any older, after all, my oldest cousin was twelve, and he seemed old. So I stayed in Neverland, training the Boys when they came and fighting Hook. I've been told I was missing seventeen years. A long time, it seems. I unknowingly aged myself that much right before I came back here, to see you. I was taught everything I needed to know as an adult last year, or most of it."
"How are you going to explain to your parents how the boys and I know you?"
"Easy." Peter twisted his neck to look at her, "The boys were kidnapped by pirates like I was, and so were you. You were just smart enough to get yourselves out. The newspapers didn't say how you went missing or how you actually came back, after all. I already told them I must have been on a different ship; that was why I didn't escape with you."
"Oh, the cleverness of me!" Peter said with a little laugh, tossing his head back.
"Quite." Wendy said dryly, "Now then, how exactly are you going to tell the boys that you're here to stay?"
"By telling them I'm marrying their sister."
"So, that's your proposal?" She asked delicately.
"Yes, I thought-" Peter fully looked at her again, and gulped. Oh, damn.
"Wendy, I didn't mean it like that, really, I-I-I-" He recognized that look. It was the same one he had given her when she told him she was Red-Handed Jill. He was doomed. He could only watch in horror as the rage completely filled her gray eyes.
"Oh, really? What did you mean, then?"
"Err...did you know your eyes look like storms when you're mad?" He blurted out, "And I meant to ask you nicely, but it wouldn't come out any other way. I'm not used to being grownup and having to ask for things. I do want to marry you, so we can have fun together." He stood and then shocked her yet again by getting down on one knee, completely oblivious to the wet grass.
"Wendy Moira Angela Darling, will you marry me?"
"But what?" He asked hesitantly, overjoyed at her response but afraid at what she might mean by it.
"You need to take me flying again."
"Fine by me. Now?"
"Yes, now. So, do you want to now?" He stood, then stopped at the irate chiming coming from the tree, and pulled a box out of his pocket, blushing.
"I almost forgot. Here, this is for you, I hope it'll fit."
She took the box from him gently, opening it. Wendy proceeded to stand rooted to the spot in shock. It was gorgeous. The square cut ruby reminded her of the sunrise over Neverland.
"Oh, Peter-" She looked up at him then back down at the ring in her hand, realizing belatedly that they were at least two feet off the ground.
"Milady?" He asked, taking the ring from the box and slipping it on her finger, then bowed, holding his hand out to her.
"Shall we fly?"
Wendy just smiled and placed her hand into his, her other reaching back to pick up the hem of her dress while his arm came to curve around her waist.
"Once we're done here, my dear, do you want to..." He whispered in her ear, and Wendy giggled. What he planned would be scandalous and lead to their being talked about for a month at the very least, but she couldn't help but love it.
Nibs was completely bored. Miss Helena Renworth had fallen ill at dinner and was not at the ball. How could he do anything without his darling to court? He at least remained faithful, all her other admirers had gone on to other amours, seeming to completely forget that they had once been solely interested in Hele-er, Miss Renworth. Nibs hastily corrected his thoughts. It was better to not even think of her that way, lest he blurt out her name accidentally.
But had to admit, Helena was a beautiful name for a beautiful girl. Her brandy eyes and port hair got him drunk without having even had a drop of liquor. He was so addled around her, no sentence he said ever made sense. But her words, cool and refreshing as winter's breeze always served to revive him to sobriety. She was-
"Nibs, stop sighing. You're liable to blow yourself over." He came out of his musings as John talked to him briskly.
"Like you don't sigh enough for the two of us, John." Nibs commented.
"True, true. But at least your interest is in the country." John muttered, moving his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose.
"Still wishing Lily was here?"
"Yes. I can't get her out of my head, despite that I couldn't understand a word she was saying." John cracked a small grin at this, "I wonder how Wendy did it, really." He remarked with a sigh.
"Stayed with us. When I look back on it now, I can see how much she wished to stay with Peter. Too bad he didn't want to grow up."
"Even if he had, people would think it odd, their being brother and sister, though adopted."
"True. Very true, that." John said, casting his eyes around the ballroom.
"Speaking of Wendy, have you seen her anywhere? I promised Father I'd dance with her."
"Not recently. Last I saw her she was sitting along the wall, having refused my offer to dance, she said she was too tired. We just got here! She's not there now, but she could have walked out to the garden, or gotten into a conversation with someone." Nibs said, looking over and realizing his elder sister was gone. Blind panic took him, she had told him quite pointedly that she was going to remain in that seat the whole evening, or until Count Bakerly's son came back, since he was the only reason she was here. Nibs looked back at John, and the older man quickly came up with a plan.
"Will you go check the garden? I'll see if she's anywhere else in the ballroom; she could have gone to see Michael or the others, so I'll check there as well. Meet you back here in fifteen minutes?" At Nibs' affirmative nod, John strode off.
Where could she have gone to? Nibs wondered as he walked out into the garden. She wasn't much of a dancer, he knew, and besides, she hadn't been on the floor. No, that would have made it too easy to find her. His worry grew the deeper he walked into the garden. It got darker, and he remembered in great detail things he had gotten up to in the dark recesses of a well kept garden. Wendy would never have gone willingly with anyone into the garden's depths; she was still too enamored of Peter. He only hoped he found her in time, if she was here. Nasty things could happen in the gardens during a ball. Very nasty things. Worse as what ever Hook could have dreamt up; socially, at least.
He saw a flash of a pale color and stopped. The garden was too dark to see things clearly in, but he could have sworn he had just seen some of the decoration on Wendy's dress. Faint murmuring reached his ears, and he started walking again, stride increased. He either was about to get in the middle of something that was none of his business or save his sister from a potentially awkward situation.
Unfortunately, he didn't know which yet.
Finally it seemed some part of his brain caught up with the rest of him.
How could he have seen Wendy's dress? The garden was a maze. But he had distinctly seen the bottom edge of someone's dress...and someone's shoes.
The only way he would have seen someone's shoes the way he had would be if they were flying.
How in God's name...flying? You could only do that with happy thoughts and pixie dust. There were no fairies around, even in Kensington Gardens...unless...
Nibs broke into a run, completely forgetting decorum and that it might be someone else.
But when he got to the center of the maze, there was no one there. He looked up into the sky, and saw nothing, not even a speck in the sky to indicate someone was flying high above.
Defeated, he turned and went back into the ball, to report that Wendy hadn't gone into the garden.
"What do you mean, she wasn't out there? Nibs, I checked everywhere in here. Mother even checked the retiring rooms. Wendy's nowhere inside." John said, turning to his adopted brother with grave eyes.
"She wasn't out there, John, but I could have sworn I saw her dress and shoes-"
"Her dress and shoes? You mean someone stripped her and abducted her?" Mr. Darling asked, worriedly.
"No, Father. I saw what could have been the bottom edge of her dress and her shoes about seven feet off the ground. If I saw anything out there, it was someone flying."
"Flying? But-that can only be done with happy thoughts and fairie dust, and there are no fairies around."
"I know, John. That's why I'm so confused." Nibs said morosely, staring out the large windows.
"There's no way I could have seen what I saw, but I know I saw it. I-" Nibs stopped as he saw what he could have sworn was Wendy raced by the window.
"What, Nibs, did you see something?"
"No, I don't think so...I might need glasses after all." Nibs said, rubbing his eyes, only to see Wendy going the opposite direction across the window.
"Er...John?" He said after a moment. There was no harm in calling attention to it, after all.
"Yes, Nibs? Did you see Wendy?"
"Not precisely. It's hard to explain, really. I'll try, but-" Anything more Nibs would have tried to say was stopped by a sound that nearly stopped his heart.
A cock crow.
The musicians had paused for a moment, and that allowed the sound to come through, reverberating through the momentary silence in the ballroom. There never was silence in a ballroom. Ever.
When a ballroom was full enough to be labeled a 'crush', as this was, there was never pure silence. Either the musicians were playing, or at least one group was talking. The only other time there had been silence that Nibs remembered was when Lord Cowley had brought his actress-wife, and everyone was too stunned to speak. Lady Jacqueline had turned out to be perfectly nice and wonderful to talk to, but still, bringing one's mistress, though turned wife, to a ball hosted by one's own aunt! That had been quite brave of Lord Cowley, and the scandal of numerous months. There had been no scandals recently, so why was everyone so quiet?
Nibs turned, and was mildly shocked at what he saw. Mildly only for one reason.
He hadn't expected her to be kissing. It was Wendy, that much he was certain of. He had thought it would concern her, as she could not be found. She was one of the party kissing. The other he couldn't recognize, although it may have been because all he could see was the back of the gentleman's head. Surely, kissing someone at the top of the stairs was a little odd, but no reason for the complete silence.
Then he fully realized why it was so quiet. The pair was floating clearly two feet above the previously mentioned stairs. Nibs vaguely realized John and Father were trying to push their way through the crowd. He was too intent on watching the pair to join in.
They separated briefly, only enough for Wendy to rest her head on the man's chest, clearly whispering something that caused him to chuckle. That sound echoed through the still empty room, though the slight buzz of gossip was starting.
The man straightened, pulled Wendy to his side and opened his mouth, letting out a noise that made Nibs' heart once again stutter in his chest.
It couldn't be. It just couldn't be. There was no way. This man couldn't be.
"Peter?" Nibs whispered, unaware that the name was echoed by seven others.
"Peter?" Ears still accustomed to listening to fairy speech caught the surprised whispers, causing their owner to grin.
"Here we go, Wendy." Peter said quietly, and then turned again to face the crowd below them.
"As some of you know, I once said that that no one could catch me and make me a man. Miss Darling finally proved me wrong. She had held my heart for ten years, and I have held hers. I have only been able to fully stake my claim now. Miss Darling has done me, Lord Peter of Panukibejon, the honor of accepting my offer of marriage. So then, Boys, I do believe we have much to catch up on. We'll see you in the garden."
With the message delivered, (though terribly by Society's standpoint), Peter took Wendy's hand and flew over everyone's head to the open doors to the garden. He knew no one who looked up could see up Wendy's skirt, she had borrowed a pair of his pants just for this.
"That'll keep them talking for weeks, love." Wendy whispered to him.
"Good," Peter said with a smirk, landing lightly. He gave her a small kiss before putting her on her feet.
The pair stood, waiting for her family, and the assault of questions they were sure to face.
Lord Peter of Panukibejon and Miss Wendy Darling were married today in a small ceremony in Kensington Gardens. Curious lights were seen in the trees and bushes. Lord Peter called them 'fairy lights'. They are honeymooning on an undisclosed island. As a side note, Lord Peter was dressed in deep green. The bride wore brown.