And, at long last, here it is! I was kind of grasping at straws, so please let me know if something needs improvement.
Thanks for all of your kind comments!
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"All right, one more time," Peter said wearily, trying not to glare at the fairy who had just presented him with her back, "What are you going to do, Tink?" Tinkerbell crossed her arms and remained stubbornly silent. Peter rolled his eyes and ran a hand through his hair, or tried to; it couldn't really pass through without running into a knot. Probably about time to cut it again… He shook his head sharply. Off topic. "Look, I know you don't like it. I don't either. That said, d'you have any other ideas?" Tinkerbell spun back to face him, her tiny face contorted with fury. Peter shrugged, trying not to look as upset as he felt. He hated fighting with Tink. "That's what I thought. So what are you gonna do?"
Tinkerbell seethed at him for few moments, apparently too angry to speak. "Stay here and keep watch", she finally grated out.
"Right. And, ya know, maybe think about being nicer to other girls." Tink's eyes widened with surprise, and then narrowed into dangerous slits, but before she could move past her rage enough to manage speech, he was flying away. "Just a thought!" he called back, speeding up through the dark canopy of leaves and out of her sight.
Maybe she was right, though. He didn't know anything about this girl, except that she seemed pretty smart and talked about interesting things. He'd liked her, sure, but if he really wanted to be honest with himself, it was an instinctive kind of like. No real reasoning behind it at all. But… he still had to at least test the waters. If things continued in the way they were going, they would be desperate pretty darn quickly. If this girl wasn't someone he could use, he had to know about it in time to find someone else.
He was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn't notice the house until he'd overshot by a bit. He cautiously floated back, surprised to find that he was feeling a little bit… nervous? Of course not. Still, anyone else might have been nervous; the house was enormous, with what seemed like thousands of dark, eerily empty-looking windows. What on earth could people do with all of these rooms? he wondered, his forehead wrinkling in disbelief. More importantly, how was he going to find the girl? She might not even have a room with a window!
Feeling… no, not nervous… very slightly worried, Peter glided down to one of the few lit up windows and peered inside. A grown-up lady was sitting rather stiffly on a couch, staring fixedly at a box that glowed with a pale, flickering blue light. She had dark hair that had been swept back and a carefully beautiful face. Peter stared at her for a few seconds, then blinked and looked away quickly, disgusted with himself. Okay, so she's pretty. She's also boring, and old, and a girl… Plus she isn't pretty. His face suddenly felt very hot.
"So you can fly."
Peter managed to not fall out of the air, but it was a very close thing. Instead, he shot up some 20 feet purely out of reflex, and then darted around a corner of the house. Right then, it occurred to him that the voice had come from below him, and he cautiously peeked out. The girl was staring up at him, her face very pale in the growing gloom. He grinned, mostly out of relief. "Oh, good," he said, gliding back down to land in front of her, "I've been looking for you."
The girl raised an eyebrow, "Oh yeah? Well I've been looking for you, too."
Peter laughed. "I don't live around here." The smile dropped from his face upon seeing her smug expression. His eyebrows came down, and he eyed her warily. "What?"
"Oh, nothing," she said casually, "I just know exactly who you are, that's all."
Peter stared at her for a few seconds, waiting for the punch line. "Okay…"
"Peter Pan, right?" Peter just continued to look at her, though his heartbeat suddenly lurched into double-time. Maybe bringing Tink would have been a good idea, after all. He was officially and completely out of his depth. The girl studied his face carefully and then grinned. "Yes!" she cried, jumping up and punching the air above her head, "I knew it!"
"Okay, I'll bite," Peter said, irritated by her victory display, not to mention extremely confused, "How did you know?"
The girl straightened, still smiling, though the expression had taken on a skeptical edge. "Seriously? It's called Google, although I probably would have managed without it. Once I thought you might be able to fly, it wasn't exactly rocket science. You've had at least three major movies made about you, two of them by Disney, two officially recognized books, and God only knows how many unofficial ones." She paused, her eyes drifting upward as she tapped her bottom lip with her index finger. Finally she snapped her fingers and looked back at him. "Oh, and Tinkerbell has her own feature film in 3-D, as well as an entire line of products. Is Tinkerbell with you?" she added, her face lighting up, "That would be amazing. I'd love to meet a real fairy!"
Peter was still trying to get his head around at least some of what she'd said. Movies? What the heck was that? Google? Was she just making this stuff up? It sure sounded like it. "Uh…"
She cocked her head, looking at him with wide, concerned eyes. "Are you okay? You're looking a little… confused."
That snapped him out of it. He stared at her incredulously, "Lady, I didn't understand half of the words you just said! What the heck is a google?"
She smiled again, a wide, excited smile that made her eyes sparkle. It was somehow a very feminine expression, and made him take a reflexive step back. "It's really you, isn't it? Peter Pan! You have no idea how many times—especially after I started school, with all of those girls who were always talking about growing up-- I'd sit out by myself and pray that you would come and—" She frowned suddenly, her eyes fixed on some unpleasant memory. "But you didn't come. " The eyes slid back to him, dark, reproachful, and just a little bit suspicious. "So… Why are you here? Why now? And don't try feeding me more nonsense about saying 'I don't want to grow up' more than 100 times. Things don't work that way, and besides, I know for a fact that I've said more than that."
Peter opened his mouth hesitantly, and then shut it again. He actually felt sort of… awkward. That didn't happen often, and so it seemed about five times more unpleasant whenever it did. "I might need you to... erm, help out with something."
Apparently that was the wrong thing to say, because the reproach and suspicion turned to outright anger. "Oh, yeah. You want me to come and be your mother, is that right? Tell you stories and clean up after you until you get tired of me, just like you did with that Wendy girl in the book?"
The name hit Peter like a physical blow to the stomach, and he took another automatic step backward. Before he could think about the owner of that name, he kicked it to the back of his mind and focused on yelling at the child in front of him until the hard lump in his throat went away. "No! You'd make a horrible mother! For one thing, mothers have to be pretty!"
Her face was turning red, and she clenched her small hands into white knuckled fists. "Well, the leader of a group is supposed to be smart, so I guess we both got shortchanged, didn't we?"
"At least I'm not some stupid little girl who hates her life but doesn't do anything to fix it!" Peter shot back.
She flinched back as though he'd slapped her, and then bit her lip. She quickly looked down; just as swiftly, he averted his eyes. He'd made a girl cry. Crap. "Yeah," she said after a moment, her voice muffled and a little thick, "Well, you smell like old socks."
Peter shuffled his feet, still pointedly not looking at her. "Look—"
"Oh, just go away!" she cried, obviously trying to sound angry. She just came out sounding very small.
"No, really, I'm sorry, okay? And I do need your help. With something important." She snuffled quietly to herself for another minute, and he let the time pass without comment; he even refrained from tapping his bare feet impatiently. What was it about girls? Every single one he'd interacted with seemed dangerously unstable. He wasn't even sure how he'd managed to upset this one in the first place.
Finally the girl wiped her face and glared up at him with puffy, red-rimmed eyes. "And why would I want to help you?" she all but growled.
Peter folded his legs up to sit cross-legged in mid-air, and then raised both eyebrows and smirked. "Any questions?" She drew in a deep, shuddering breath as she continued to glower at him, but she couldn't seem to come up with a good answer, either. "There's also the pirates, the fighting, the eating whatever you want…" He paused as he remembered that he was talking to a girl. "Uh… and the mermaids, and the fairies, and the fauns—"
She blinked. "Fauns? I don't remember any fauns in the book."
Peter shrugged, put his hands behind his head, and leaned back on absolutely nothing. "They're pretty shy. And kinda boring. But they're there."
She seemed to consider. Suspicious black eyes met his. "And I won't have to be your mother?"
There was only one correct answer to that question, and he didn't hesitate to give it. "Not if you don't want to, I guess." The fact that every other girl who'd come to Neverland with him had eventually ended up mothering the boys, whether they liked it or not, wasn't worth mentioning.
Another few seconds of thought. "Can I stay once I've helped you?"
No! Peter thought automatically, frantic; he checked himself before the word could reach his lips. She'll want to go home, he told himself reassuringly, The girls always want to go home eventually. She wouldn't be there long enough to get anyone he cared about killed. That was added to the fact that, once again, there was only one answer that would get her to come to Neverland with him. He shrugged amiably. "Sure. Why not?"
She pressed her lips together and frowned, obviously searching for something else to object to. Finally she grinned reluctantly. "Alright, just one more thing; what exactly is the problem?"
Internally, Peter flinched. Outwardly, he pulled a hand out from behind his head and waved it dismissively. "It's not a problem, really. Just need an outsider's perspective on something."
She cocked her head slightly, her expression puzzled. "But you said you needed help with something important," she said.
"It's important in the sense that it's messing up the rhythm of things," he explained reasonably. "So—"
"So it is a problem," she cut in, triumphant.
"If it makes you feel better to call it a problem, go ahead," Peter said, putting his hand back into place and stretching out his feet.
She frowned at him. "I'd like some specifics on this problem before I head off to a supposedly imaginary island in the sky, if you don't mind."
Apparently it was inevitable. "Okay, fine," he replied, affecting indifference. "I actually… don't really know what the problem is."
The girl blinked. "What? You don't even know what the problem is?"
"Aw, don't worry about it. I don't know what the problem is most of the time, and I still manage to save the day." He turned his head toward her and grinned widely. "Not a big deal."
She stared at him with wide, disbelieving eyes. "Was that supposed to be reassuring?"
The grin turned impish. "Not really. Anyway, you'd better make a decision quick."
Dark eyebrows arched. "Oh yeah? Why's that?"
"Chris!" called a female voice from the other side of the house. The girl—Chris—flinched. "Come inside now! You need to finish your homework and take a bath if you want to finish the Princess Bride tonight!"
Peter couldn't have kept the smugness off of his face if he'd tried, so he didn't bother. "Tick tock," he put in wickedly. She shot him a half-amused, half-irritated look, and then glanced back toward where the voice had come from, a small frown on her face. Hesitation. That was a good sign, one that meant he'd probably been right on the money when he'd guessed that she would eventually want to come back home—
And she turned back to face him, a wide, bright smile of utter delight on her face. "Finally. Let's get the heck out of here."
There was a second of uncertainty and surprise, but it was overwhelmed the next moment by relief; she was coming back with him, and, more importantly, he didn't have to sit still anymore. He shot up into the air, performed several loops, and then shot back down and scooped her up. She let out a great shout of surprised laughter, but the wind caught most of it up and whisked it away. As he streaked up above the trees once again, she wrapped her arms around his neck, which reminded him too much of W— of old times, which reminded him of Tinkerbell, which, in turn, brought about a somewhat unpleasant revelation. "Oh."
"What?" she asked, her voice breathlessly delighted in his ear.
"Uh… Nothing. I just can't remember where I left Tink." He thought hard for a few seconds, and then shrugged. "Oh well. She knows the way home." He came to an abrupt stop in mid-air, craning his neck in an effort to locate the right star.
"Well, I've just always wondered about… well, everything says that you find Neverland by finding the second star to the right and then flying straight on until morning. But, well, what exactly is the star to the right of?"
Peter was only half listening. "Hmmm? I'm trying to find it."
Chris sighed, stirring the curls on the side of his head with her breath. "No, what I asked was--"
"There it is!" he interrupted jubilantly, shooting up into the heavens. "You might want to hold your breath," he yelled as an afterthought, "The air gets pretty thin before the pathway opens up." He thought that she shouted something back, her tone decidedly testy, but the air rushing by them drowned out her words. He wasn't particularly interested, anyway.
He was going home.