Dead?

How could he be dead?

Peter knew how, of course, had been there as Captain Hook rammed his sword through the boy's body, had caught him and felt his last breath leave him. But still, part of his mind could not comprehend the fact that Rufio was dead.

He ascended through the skies of Neverland, aloft on his happy thoughts, but a tinge of sadness remained. He should be happy; he had done what he came for, after all. He had found his inner Pan, had reconnected with that part of him that had never really grown up, and he had rescued his kids, and now they were on their way home.

So he should have been celebrating, but he couldn't let go of the thought that he had somehow failed the boy.

"You know what I wish? I wish I had a dad . . . like you."

You should have, Peter thought, rushing to catch up with his kids. You deserved a dad like me. I wish I could have been that for you. I'm so sorry, Rufio. I shouldn't have let you die.

"What's wrong, Peter?" Tinkerbell flitted over to him.

"I'm just sorry that I couldn't have saved Rufio. I felt like he needed me the most."

"Aw, don't be sad! He came around in the end. Don't ever tell him this—well, I guess you can't now, but he was worried he wouldn't measure up."

"He was?"

"You should have seen him when he got here. He wouldn't say two words to anyone. Not because he was stuck up or anything; he was scared. It took a long time for him to come out of his shell. You know what did it?"

"What?"

"You. Stories about you, that the other boys told him. He decided that was what he wanted to be."

"He wanted to be me? But he hated me!"

"He loved the Pan that you were. That's why he didn't believe that you were the real deal. He felt let down. But you sure showed him!"

"Too little, too late," Peter said sadly.

Tink alighted on his shoulder. "He gave his life for you. It was what he wanted, the chance to show you how much he loved you. So don't be sad. He fulfilled his dream, and he's in a better place now. And it wasn't your fault. You didn't order him to do what he did—he did it on his own, out of love for you. He will live on in our songs and stories forever, the way you did."

"Well, that's good. He didn't die in vain."

"I have to leave you now."

"What? No! Don't leave me!"

"You can make it the rest of the way on your own. Go on, your kids are waiting for you!"

"My kids . . ." He was going to be a better father from now on. Whatever it took—if he had to quit his job, move to the country, center his whole life around them—that was what he would do. They deserved it.

He couldn't be a father to Rufio, not now. But he could be the best father he could be, to the kids he did have. He owed them that much. If it took the rest of his life, he would make it up to them.

And for the rest of his life, if anyone asked Peter how many children he had, he told them, "Three." The two he had raised . . . and the one he would carry in his heart, forever.