Ultimately, the story of Peter Pan is a tragedy, for in no scenario can everyone be happy. – D.W. Taupin
The story ends in the nursery, all of the lights burning, laughter and happy shouting bouncing from wall to wall to wall. The window is open, curtains shuddering against the sill. Wendy's hand is clasped tight inside of her father's, his thumb brushing faintly against her skin, and though she can feel the cold winter air whisper against her back it does not bite or scratch. Rather the warmth of her home and her father's fingers and her mother's smile seems to form a shield around her and she does not mind the cold.
It is not until a few weeks later, when things have settled and she is preparing to move from the nursery (a step which burns fierce and saddened pride in her, to know that she is growing up) that her mother notices. They are sitting at the dinner table when suddenly her fork drops onto her plate with a loud clang and she leans forward to touch the corner of Wendy's mouth.
"Good Heavens, Wendy, you've lost your kiss."
There is hasty silence at the words; John's eyes snap to hers in both amusement and concern, for he is the only one old enough to understand what it means. Aunt Millicent gasps, scandalized, and her father shuffles uncomfortably in his seat. "Yes," Wendy answers quietly, not looking anywhere in particular and trying to ignore the quiet buzz in the back of her mind, "Yes, I—misplaced it."
Aunt Millicent frowns. "How do you misplace a kiss?"
Her mother cocks her head, smiling just a bit, but there is a quiet downturn to her lips that hints at a hidden frown. "Oh, it's quite easy to do," she chimes in cheerfully, reclaiming her fork as if nothing has happened. "Half the time I forget mine in the bedroom! Don't worry, dear, I'm sure you'll find it."
They begin again. Dinner continues, and Wendy clears the plate, and sooner rather than later everyone is headed for bed. It is her last night in the nursery, and she tries to decide if this is somehow important.
"Goodnight mother, father, Auntie," she bids tiredly, granting each a kiss on the cheek and then disappearing up the stairs. The boys are already in bed, each with their covers pulled up to their noses, eyes barely peeking above the lace.
"Tell us a story," they beg as one. "It's your last night, you have to!"
She hesitates, but only for a moment. Then she smiles, and lowers herself onto the window seat. (The window is open.) "Of course I will. What do you want to hear?"
They bicker over their choices; Nibs and Slightly prefer Cinderella but John and Michael want to hear Snow White, and Toodles and the twins prefer Sleeping Beauty. They're helpless when it comes to arguing so Wendy calmly dawns a headdress and offers the best adventure of all—that of Peter Pan.
"Once upon a time, there lived a boy who refused to grow up" skip the prologue "so he ran away to the Neverland, where he had many adventures in which good triumphed over evil" his eyes flashes red for a moment, did you see it? "but he was rather lonely." Because he needed a Wendy.
She tells of how he came to the nursery one night, and took them all away—over London, over England, to the second star to the right. They flew until morning. When at last they reached the Neverland they were chased by pirates—pirates, Wendy!—and John got his first kiss—well, I am rather dashing—and they battled Hook until he was—
"Old, alone, and done for!"
She tells the story and forgets no details, and there is an extra shadow on the wall but she does not notice. She falls asleep on the window seat and wakes n the morning with a blanket no one can remember giving to her; they move her things into her new room (it has no windows, at least none that open) and for the first few nights she is lonely.
But a month passes, and then another, and then Wendy begins to covet the little space she calls her own, where she is the master and captain. Where there are not little brothers underfoot, no parents, and especially no Aunt Millicent.
She begins school again in the fall. Everyone wants to know what happened—where had they gone? Where did her new brothers come from? Why did she wear an acorn with a hole in it around her neck?
Wendy tells them, "Yes, it was horrible. Mother and Father sent us to visit a relative and we were in a horrible wreck. The real parents of the boys died and no one knew how to contact Mother and Father for several weeks. Isn't it lucky that we made it home at all?"
They ask again about the acorn. She pretends she does not hear.
After school Aunt Millicent insists she sews for at least an hour, and to make it more bearable Mother embroiders with her. The three of them sit in the warmth of the fire and talk and laugh, and for those sixty minutes Wendy feels inexplicably old, and included, and linked to her mother and aunt in ways she's never been before.
Sometimes she catches herself watching the stars. For the first few weeks, before the pixie dust wore off, she would wake up feet over her bed, hovering in the air and surrounded by thoughts of family and pirates and love. Now she simply drags her eyes back down and reminds herself that he has forgotten her and she must forget him.
Soon she has been home for a year. The memories of Neverland are not as fierce as they were before, not as bright and burning. She has grown an inch and turns fourteen on a Friday. There is a party at home—just the family—and after she's unwrapped all the gifts and eaten her cake and retired to her room she tries to decide if she feels excited or sad, if growing up has become natural and exciting again or if she still clings to eternal sunshine.
Aunt Millicent still claims that being a writer isn't decent. Wendy still claims she doesn't care. They debate the issue hotly over their embroidery, Wendy's words hot and defensive, Aunt Millicent's calm and condescending. Mother mostly listens and smiles and afterwards assures Wendy that she and George will support any decision their daughter makes, with bells on.
So she writes a few silly poems and a few sillier stories; her teacher insists she write what she knows, so the pages are filled with fights and flying and fear—but the good kind, the exhilarated kind, the breathless and wide-eyed kind. The kind that comes from the crash of sword on steel, of fingers around your neck and a hook looped in your belt.
The writing is terrible at first. But she improves. By the time she is sixteen she's a prolific and structured writer, her word infused with enthusiasm she rarely recaptures in speech. Only little Michael still likes listening to her stories; the rest find themselves too old, too bothered by other worries to hear of the likes of Cinderella (and that's not how it goes anyway, Wendy, she just puts on a shoe).
"And then what happened?" Michael asks, as if he has not heard this story a million times before.
She smiles and kisses his cheek. "And they all lived happily ever after, darling."
He considers thoughtfully, and then wonders aloud, "Do all lives end happily ever after?"
Wendy hesitates. Even all these years later, still she does not know. (The window is shut, and there are every shadow is accounted for.) "I don't know," she says at last. "I'll tell you when I get there."
She gets up and turns off the nursery light. If there are shadows now, she cannot see them.
The story ends on the Jolly Roger, sprinkled with golden fairy dust and cowering from the winter winds. Beneath the Lost Boys' cheer, one can hear the low grumble of an alligator chewing.
"Oh," Wendy says, "The cleverness of you!" Peter grins, and laughs a little, and tips his hat at her. If he's very still, he can still feel her kiss humming on his lips, settled in the corner of his mouth. She smiles at him, perhaps a little sadly, and reaches up to brush the exact origin of the buzz. "You've acquired a hidden thimble, Peter," she teases him.
He frowns nervously. "Do you want it back?" He asks, fidgeting with his sword.
She shakes her head with a laugh, stepping away as she brushes hair from her eyes. "Don't be silly, I gave it you. It's yours now."
Peter cocks his head at her, leaning casually against the railing and folding his arms across his chest. The Lost Boys begin shouting—the sun has begun to push passed the clouds and warm the water. Soon it will be warm enough to swim. Peter knows that if he can keep her talking for long enough, they will all forget any notions of going home. It is the way of Neverland. "What am I to do with it?"
She comes to stand alongside him, her eyes firmly on the Lost Boys as they try to toss John overboard (to "test the water"). She offers a half smile. "Defeat pirates, I expect," she giggles. "But then, you've already done that!"
"There are always more adventures to be had," he tells her happily. "I shall invent more pirates."
Wendy blinks over at him, a puzzled frown on her mouth. "Is it that easy?" She asks, mildly bewildered. "Here, in the Neverland?"
"It is for me. Watch!" He holds out his hands and wishes that he were holding a flower and then suddenly, he is, like it is most natural thing in the world; only Wendy is looking down at his hand because it seems to her that he has been holding it the whole time.
She takes it with a smile and a curtsey and tucks it into her hair. Something whispers at her that it is time to go, only she can't quite recall where she was destined. "Boys!" She calls in warning, "Be careful!" She turns to Peter with a baleful smile. "They're horribly wicked."
"We ought to kill them," he agrees promptly, to which she shakes her head with a smile.
"I can think of something far worse," she disagrees.
They race, laughing, towards the children; for a flash Peter feels guilty, knowing he has tricked her, knowing that he asked the Neverland to keep her here and it is trying to please him. He pauses for a minute as she leaps off of the boat in hot pursuit of the Boys; he can almost see something fall off of her shoulders as his home cleanses her memory of London.
He thinks of her mother, sitting by the open window but we can't both have her, lady. He leaps in after her.
Later, that night, Wendy is restless; she cannot sleep. Something pulls at her memory; some task she has not completed; some place she was supposed to be. She leaves the fort and goes to the Fairy Tree, and falls asleep beneath the glitter of dust. He watches silently, from the highest branches of the tree, and in her dreams she does not rise. Often the other Boys do, as they dream of happy things—Peter fears that if given the option, his Wendy-lady would only sink.
In the morning she comes home and there is something slightly changed about her; she is still his Wendy; she still tells stories and is a mother to the boys and says things like "perfectly charming". But she is a little more heartless, and a little more carefree, and a little more Neverland-saavy. When they go to see the mermaids she chats with them like they are old friends, not afraid of being drowned for she knows they can not touch her. Of course they cannot, she is Wendy Darling and this is Neverland.
It takes several weeks before Peter really notices that she has become less and less inclined to give him thimbles and kisses, that she is mother only in name, that she flies without any help from him. She becomes more and more another part of this place—he cannot quench the fear that soon she will become like Tiger Lily, defined by the Neverland, a part of the Neverland, inextricable from the Neverland.
Slowly, quietly, the things that made Wendy Wendy begin to fall away, leaving only a gay, heartless child with wild twigs and leaves in her hair and a quick smile that's always willing to laugh and have fun. The guilt eats him, for he knows it is his fault.
"I want always to remain a girl," she tells him haughtily when he asks what she wants most in the world.
Her answer makes him oddly sad. He cannot for the life of him figure out why.
He does not notice, but Peter Pan has grown. He is taller, fuller, hairier. Wendy looks at him sideways sometimes with a curious, puzzled look, as if she does not know who he is. It takes him a while to realize that he has to look down at her, rather than straight across.
He tries to push these worrying thoughts from his mind. But it cannot be denied; Wendy crows better than he, now, and it has fallen him to play both mother and father. She is not his Wendy-Lady anymore; she is a Lost Girl, fearless and hungry from adventure.
The year Wendy would have turned fifteen, were they anyplace else, Peter realizes that he is almost a man. He is taller now, and his voice deep, and the antics of the Lost Boys are no longer exciting and fun, but tiresome and childish. Wendy takes them on wild adventures through Neverland, spinning wild tales of intrigue and danger.
He does not try to fight age, for it has already come. He leaves Wendy his sword and a kiss and takes the Jolly Roger. The crew, scattered, hurry back to the ship as soon as they hear a new captain has commandeered it. He walks among them hesitantly at first, not knowing what to do and still uncomfortable with the term Captain Pan.
But he grows to like it, the rhythm, the power, the control. If they disobey him he simply runs them throw, or shoots them, or tosses them off the plank. Now there is no Wendy to interfere with his disciplinary measures. No women to get in his way.
He realizes, then, that of course it was Wendy's fault. Had she not lured him to her window? Had she not stolen his boyhood from him and claimed it for her own? Had she not tricked him into falling in love with her, only to snatch her love away?
It was the woman's fault, and she must pay. She becomes his obsession. She is the leader of the Lost Boys, the beacon of adventure and childishness, and she taunts him with quick battles that never lead anywhere.
Somewhere along the way he stops remembering her stories, her smile, the way she looked when they were dancing. Somewhere along the way she becomes what he had been to Hook (before she ruined everything and she must pay for that crime). He spends his days tormented by her, by the thought of her, feeling inside of him that if he doesn't get her, defeat her, quench the cheerful glint in her eyes.
He loved her as a boy and he hates her as a man. It is the way of the Neverland.
Tink stays by him, always. She couldn't leave him, and after a while Peter decides not to let her. He keeps her caged, just in case. She doesn't mind; she stopped producing fairy dust a long time ago.
One day, the ocean freezes over. The Neverland goes dark and quiet. Wendy is gone. Despite the cold, he continues to burn, remembering days when it was he that controlled the weather, he that rode the sun. He spends fifty days waiting for her to return, fifty days locked in his cabin sharpening is sword.
The sun pushes passed the clouds and sets upon the ice in bright, flameless fire. Captain Pan looks to the sky and sees her, dressed in a dress of leaves, tailed by her fairy and holding a young boy's hand.
There is a storyteller with her. Something in Peter clenches, for she has found herself a Barrie and he—o, evil day!—will die old and alone.
The story ends with a fairytale. A mother spins it, weaving bright strands into a ponytail of fantasy. Her hands work into the air, delicate fingers twisting into her own breath as she speaks. The daughter watches with fascination, her eyes following every gesture and mouth hanging loose on the hinges.
The tale tells of a boy, his green eyes bright and eager. He wishes never to grow up and never does. Until one evening he meets a lady, her brown hair soft and smoother than anything he's ever seen or felt, and quite without meaning to the young lady puts him under her spell. She tells him stories and he teaches her to fly, and together there was never a more incredible picture.
The mother finishes with a smile and a kiss and the words, "happily ever after". Her daughter falls asleep, and Wendy blows out the candle.
The truth of the tale is that the lady could not stay in Neverland. The careless life Peter had led her to was not enough; she wanted something more—what else is there? She did not know. She could only taste the faintest breath of more upon her lips, and with the same passion that she had thrown herself into the Neverland she set upon chasing it, this more.
Her first steps were taken alone, leaving only footprints in the sand. But soon the Lost Boys followed, and soon after that another joined their band. Peter didn't know what they were seeking, but it seemed to be a big enough adventure.
The search took them to the sand, to the sea, to the sky. It took them to the streets of London and through a nursery window. It took them to school and sweethearts and the bittersweet glory of growing up.
Everything calmed. The lady and the Lost Boys settled into routine, into life. But Peter could not. He grew, and hated growth; he learned, and hated knowledge. The other children learned to adapt, learned to find pleasure in the seeking, for they understood that more is in the path, not the destination; but he had lived for lifetimes believing that your worth was your accomplishments, not the ground beneath you.
Peter never forgot how to fly, and he never stopped believing in fairies. London and the world confused him, it's busy streets and oppressive classrooms that seemed to eat at his very soul. He could not understand, and he did not live—he simply grew older.
Eventually he married the lady. No longer did she have him wrapped in her magic; now he simply clung to her and her stories, which were the only things he understood. She no longer loved him— he was still a child, at heart, still foolish and innocent, while she had grown into a woman. But he came to this world that would not have him because she asked him to, and she could not turn away from him now.
A woman never ignores her duties.
They were not unhappy. But her life had become quiet and dull and routine; she had stepped into her mother's shoes without ever realizing it.
They had a child, and loved her. But they always kept the nursery window shut. No one would come, even if they left it open.
In a place across the galaxy, the Neverland fell into eternal winter, always frozen at the exact moment Peter had left for good. Not a soul could move from where they stood, rooted to the spot. Still the Neverland waited—empty, barren, desolate, no longer a place of beauty. Only a place of sorrow.
The world seemed a few shades darker—how could it not? No longer could lost boys be taken to a land of adventure and freedom; they must wander the streets, just as lost but half a happy. Girls, much too clever to fall out of their prams, grew up to be their mothers, and those that dreamed of adventure never learned to free the aching, clawing thing inside that cried out for danger and excitement.
The world needed a Neverland and Neverland needed a Peter and Peter needed—or thought he had, or once he had, or briefly had—a Wendy. And Wendy needed more.
She climbs into bed, Peter's body curling away from hers. He does not smell and taste of adventure anymore. He is not the boy she fell in love with. In the dark, Wendy pulls out her drawer of dreams and listens to their faint echoes sing; is this, she wonders, more?
Down the street, wet from rain, a little boy falls out his pram. He lies crying in Kensington Gardens until a fairy—a little glittering thing—comes to find him.
She says her name is Tink, and she's come to take him home.