(Author's Note: I hope you've enjoyed this online novel of a fanfic as much as I've enjoyed writing it, even if it didn't get the feedback I'd hoped it would. I liked writing it, and that's what counts. Here's the last chapter. Also, if anyone has a Spotify account, look up Neverland 3 Soundtrack: Thimbles and Acorns in the search bar and you'll find the many selections of songs that go with this fanfic if you wish to listen to them. It has been a privilege and a pleasure, dear normals! Enjoy! ~Doverstar)
The Lost Boys, Aaya, and the Darlings were all very ready to leave the Jolly Roger as soon as dawn arrived.
They returned to the home under the ground, thoroughly exhausted. Aaya went back to her tribe, knowing they would be worried, and as soon as the group reached their dens, they each collapsed in their rooms on their beds, all of which had never felt so comfortable before.
Wounds could wait until they awoke. There is no cure like sleep.
Peter was the first up, of course. His arm was stinging and his heart pounding as he lurched into a sitting position in bed. He'd seen visions in his slumber, dreadful things. Worst of all of the unspeakable images, he'd seen Wendy killed before him in his dream by an iron claw, and he'd been immobile the entire time, forced to watch as she screamed his name. It was only his adrenaline playing with the mineral dust and exhaustion in his subconscious, but it was frightening enough.
In his dazed position he shot into the air, hitting his head hard on the earthen roof of his room. Rubbing his head, Peter drifted slowly to the ground, mind a little cloudy.
It was one of those nightmares where, when a person you hold dear in it dies, you feel as if you have to make sure it really was all in your head. This was why Peter rushed out of the room and slowly peeked into Wendy's, pushing the curtain back to check on her.
She wasn't asleep, peacefully in her bed, as he'd thought she would be, and for a moment his heart quivered with terror.
Then he saw her shivering on the floor, sitting with her head in her hands.
Peter blinked. "Wendy?" He entered the room and walked over to her swiftly, crouching in front of her. "What's happened?"
Wendy looked up at the sound of his voice and he saw her eyes red from crying. "I-It was horrible! I was...it..." she went back to sobbing into her hands.
Peter felt awkward and shared her unhappiness, unsure what to do for her when he didn't know the problem. Arms slung over his knees as he crouched, he looked at the ground and the wall, thinking of what it could be. The first suggestion was obvious, and came out almost as soon as it flickered in his mind.
"Were you dreaming?"
Wendy's eyes came up again and she nodded numbly, sniffling.
"Me too," Peter murmured gently. "What was it?"
"H-Hook...killed my brothers. H-He killed everyone, s-so... so quickly, a-and you were the last!" Wendy broke down crying again. "It was so real, Peter!"
"It was just a dream," Peter reminded her. "Look at me, I'm alive, Wendy. I'm fine. And so are your brothers."
Wendy shook a little longer, then seemed to calm down, sitting on the bed, quiet for a few minutes. Finally she blinked at Peter with her glittering blue eyes. "What did youdream of?"
Peter's eyebrows pinched as usual. "Doesn't matter. It's over now. None of it was real."
"Was it your mother again?"
"It doesn't matter," Peter repeated a little more firmly. When she looked back at him with a confused expression, he added, "...Sorry. I don't wanna talk about it."
"I understand," said Wendy. "I'm ever so glad it all turned out the way it did, Peter," she said quietly. "We could have been dead by now." She shuddered. "Neverland is...a dangerous place."
Peter was quiet for a few seconds before nodding very slowly. "That's why you're going back."
Wendy stared at him. "What?"
"You almost died last night," Peter whispered. "I can't keep you safe."
"You already have," Wendy told him stubbornly. "I'm here, aren't I? And Hook is dead. Peter, it wasn't your fault, what happened to me on that ship."
Peter didn't answer.
"It was my decision to come to Neverland with you," Wendy insisted. "It isn't as if you forced us into it. We don't have to leave right away, you know..."
He couldn't hear any more of this. She was so close to convincing him to let her stay, and that was, he knew, the wrong thing to do for her. The selfish thing. Tinkerbell had warned him against trying to protect her, but this was a different kind of protection. This kind hurt.
"You're going home," Peter said swiftly, before he could change his mind, standing up with his back to her. "Today."
Wendy looked down, her eyes filling with tears. She thought he didn't want her. "Why, Peter?" she asked finally.
Peter turned to look at her. "Because the window was open."
Her eyes grew distant then, as if she were deep in thought. Peter waited for her to say, 'I told you so', but she didn't. She looked at her lap and fell silent for a while, and Peter couldn't tell whether she was happy or confused or a mixture of everything.
Wendy kept her eyes downcast. "It will be a memorable story to tell them," she said quietly. "But I shan't like the ending very much." Her tears fell then.
Peter sat beside her with an inward sigh. "I know."
The next day, preparations were made for the Darlings, Peter, and Wendy to be escorted back to London.
Wendy tried to convince the Lost Boys to come with them one last time as they stood on the edge of the highest cliff on the island, outside the Kaw village, saying their goodbyes and readying themselves for the flight to the second star. "My mother and father should like very much to look after you all," she told them.
"We don't go about with grown up people," Curly said with a teasing clap on Peter's shoulder.
Peter glanced at him and made a comical face, shaking the hand off.
"Besides," Nibs added, "what's London got that could ever be better than Neverland?"
"A frightening lack in pirates," John muttered dryly.
Slightly blinked. "He's got a point."
Tootles elbowed him.
Twins and Michael were having a very hard time saying their farewells to each other. The two young boys had become great friends.
"Are you sure you don't wanna come with us?" Michael checked.
"If the rest are staying in Neverland, I ought to stay too," Twins mumbled.
"We stick together, us Lost Boys," Tootles added with an amused expression.
Peter rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"Now that Hook is gone, we should be a great deal safer," Aaya said, standing beside Curly. "You don't have to worry about us."
"She's right," John exclaimed, glancing excitedly at his sister. "Wendy, with Hook dead, we could..."
"No, John," said Wendy quickly. "We must return to our parents. Think how worried they must be."
"Was father the worrying type?" Michael asked, looking a little dazed and blinking a few times. "I can't remember."
"Having all your children gone for..." Wendy racked her brains, trying to add up how long they had been in Neverland. She couldn't recall. "...For this long would make any man a worrying type."
"The star is flashing, Peter," Tinkerbell said, fluttering near his head. "It will lost its power soon. The moon is nearly half and half again."
Peter glanced at the sky and nodded. "All right. No blubbering, you lot," he ordered his men quietly. "It's time we were leaving."
The Lost Boys shook hands and referenced inside jokes with John and tussled Michael's hair and nudged him playfully, a male's goodbye, and Wendy gave each of them a curtsy, a smile, and some of the younger she hugged, even Tootles, whose ears turned red as soon as she did so. She embraced Aaya, of course.
"The Kaw people will miss you and your stories," Tiger Lily said with a weak smile.
"Then you shall have to teach them to make their own," Wendy replied brightly, with forced optimism. "Perhaps it will become a tradition."
Peter watched all this with a completely neutral face, but inside he was in a battle, not between common sense and his innocence, but between his longing for Wendy and his duty to do the right thing. They belonged with the parents who waited for them all this time. Even if his heart ached as he watched Wendy glance to the star with her eyes shining at the thought of seeing her family again.
Curly raised his eyebrows, coming up beside Peter and murmuring quietly, "Are you all right, Peter?"
Peter didn't reply, didn't nod. He didn't have a proper answer for what he was feeling.
The Darling children had all drank from his mineral dust spring in his den earlier in the afternoon, and Tinkerbell had sang the tree-spirit song so that it would allow them to fly only for the journey.
Their companions were still waving and shouting to them as Peter led the three young visitors into the sky, toward the second star to the right.
Wendy would not look at him as they flew. She no longer seemed afraid of heights, but kept her eyes on the luminescent portal before them, face completely relaxed. She was trying very hard to be dignified and refined and indifferent-looking, yet inwardly she was devastated that they were leaving the Neverland. Leaving the black-haired, starry-eyed boy that flew with ease alongside her.
Where Wendy refused to make eye contact, Peter kept glancing sideways at her, trying to guess what she could be feeling, trying to get her to meet his eyes, but she was stubbornly looking ahead. It made him unbelievably frustrated. Yes, this was hard, but did that mean they had to make it worse by pretending it didn't bother them? If she could act so careless about it, so could he!
The blast from the second star made his teeth tingle and his fingertips cold as the four children shot through it. They came out blinking in flight, eyes irritated by the sudden lack of brightness.
Peter looked down on London with complete distaste. This place, he was realizing more and more each day between visits, was nowhere near as wonderful as the Neverland. Neverland was adventures and eternal youth. The ordinary world was just that: ordinary. Boring. Dull. Lifeless. Full of bitter greediness and thick disappointment, killing and dying. In Neverland, this things were dampened by a considerable length of excitement and adrenaline. What children experience when they are all alone, left to their own devices, caught up in their own little world. That was the atmosphere in Neverland. A mixture of every child's wonder and playfulness, spotless imagination, flawless arrogance, and a touch of blissful ignorance-these were ingredients for the very definition of being young: innocence.
And Peter, instead of hating the toll it had taken on him, found himself preferring this atmosphere as he swooped over the snow-covered, gray city. Neverland was calling him back almost a second after he'd left. Back to the innocence he'd been fighting for so long.
Looking at London now, his old home, Peter knew with absolute certainty that Wendy had been right all along. Innocence was to be cherished. He couldn't imagine a day without it. A day, he decided with a contemptuous face, which would really be a full 24 hours of being tainted with the horrors of the world, otherwise known as all grown up. It sounded like cruel and inevitable torture.
As they neared the Darling home, Wendy's heart dropped like a stone, and she stopped her flying pattern abruptly, causing Michael to bump into her.
"The window," John mumbled, looking ill.
"Wendy?" Michael glanced at his sister nervously.
"It's closed." Wendy said numbly, her face pale. "Peter, it's..."
Peter had already flown to the window, his eyes on her as he did so. "I closed it," he said quietly.
Wendy only looked back at him, waiting for an explanation, though she felt she already knew why.
"I wanted to show you all you didn't need your parents," Peter began, Tinkerbell flying to his side. "But you proved me wrong. It was open when I came. And it would be open now if I hadn't interfered." He met Wendy's gaze. "Your mother's always gonna want you."
She smiled, but it was bittersweet.
Peter pulled the window open and the children all flew into the room as quietly as they could.
It looked somehow darker than it had when they'd last come. Their mother was still asleep in her chair, and you needn't wonder how she had slept so late into the day, because grief is one of the most exhausting things in the universe, and this should be common knowledge. Mrs. Darling had decided that sleeping and dreaming of her children was a far better way to spend her days than to be awake and know, as she thought she knew, that they were gone and would never return. George Darling had the day off, but was downstairs with their maid, Lisa, uncharacteristically helping her to make tea for his wife, who he planned to gently wake up upon bringing her the drinks.
"We should break it to her gently," John whispered. "We don't want her fainting."
The boys began to rush toward their old beds, trying to be as silent as possible.
Wendy stayed where she was, face long.
"Come on, Wendy!" Michael hissed, pulling at her hand.
Wendy glanced twice over her shoulder at the window, where Peter lingered, floating a few feet outside it so that he could see the scene taking place in the nursery with discreteness.
Peter looked back at her, drawing courage from her blue eyes and willing himself to remain calmly certain about returning them to their home.
Finally, still trying to make sure Peter remained in sight, Wendy climbed into bed and pulled the covers up.
Mrs. Darling went on sleeping, face far from peaceful as she did so, more tears falling from her eyes as she murmured in her slumber.
Finally, Peter's innocence (innocence he was now taking pride in having) thrust impatience upon him and he very softly tapped his knuckles on the open window's glass, then flew out of view, back just against the wall beside the window itself.
Instantly Mrs. Darling was awake. "Wendy! John! Michael!"
The children, to their credit, almost moved then, but when she saw them in their beds she did not become as excited as they had expected. Nor did she run to pull them out and into her loving embrace. She sat back down in her chair, broken-hearted, sobbing into her hands.
You see, she saw them so often in her dreams that she thought, seeing her little ones tucked beneath their blankets, that this was the dream hanging around her still.
Then the winter cold of the outside world flooded in as a breeze through the open window, stinging the tears on her cheeks, and she knew she was no longer dreaming.
It was real.
They were here!
The mother leapt to her feet with less grace than a lady of her reputation should have, and cried out again in a desperately joyful voice, "John! Michael! Wendy!"
A moment later they were in her arms, and her tears were no longer tears of grief. George, hearing the ruckus, raced to the nursery and the same sort of reaction followed. During the merry reunion in the crushing embrace of their guardians, the children knew then that they had never been off of their mother and father's minds, and felt thoroughly guilty for both leaving and forgetting their parents at all in the first place.
Lisa, the maid, joined them and hugged each child, quite unprofessionally, showering 7-year-old Michael with kisses all over his face, and John laughed at his brother's expression before Lisa approached him with similar joy.
"I'm sorry, Mother," Wendy murmured as she threw her arms about her mother's neck. "I'm so sorry! We never should have gone. It was all quite amazing, so you see, we got a little distracted-"
"But where, Wendy?" Mary held her daughter at arm's length, interrupting Wendy's guilty rambling, her smile only wavering a bit. "Where were you? We were so worried..."
"We thought we'd never see you again!" Lisa added, biting back a sob; she was quite a dramatic and petite woman, and for once her master and mistress did not forbid her from adding her opinion to the conversation.
"Neverland!" Michael exclaimed. "We went to Neverland!"
George stared at his son, dumbfounded. "This is not the time for games, Michael."
"It isn't a game, Father," John insisted. "Neverland is real. So are the tree-spirits and Captain Hook...well, he was real, anyway..."
"You aren't making any sense, darling," Mary said, blinking.
"D'you remember all those stories?" Wendy asked, her voice suddenly quieter. "The ones Uncle Barrie told us?"
"Yes, of course," Mary nodded.
"Stories, yes, that was all they were," George added, but he sounded a bit uncertain. The looks his three returned children were giving him were so serious. They couldn't be telling the truth, could they? It was nonsense.
Then again, that kind of talk had made him the most guilt-ridden man in the entire city for the remainder of the time his children had been missing.
"They were true," John told them. "Every last detail. The pirates, the Indians..."
"Peter Pan," Michael added.
"Peter Pan?" echoed his mother.
"Real?" repeated his father.
"He is," Wendy said, and she had never sounded so firm when speaking to her parents. "And he's the most remarkable person I've ever met."
"And the bravest," Michael chimed in.
"And the best swordsman," said John.
"And the most arrogant," Wendy added with a smile.
Then there came a mock-indignant chortle from the window. "I can hear you, you know."
The entire family looked toward the sound, and saw Peter with his arms crossed, hovering above the windowsill, smirking that cocky smirk.
Mrs. Darling forgot how to speak.
Mr. Darling made a short gagging sound in the back of his throat and froze on the spot.
Lisa fainted right then and there, which is unfortunate because this meant supper would be ruined.
John looked at his parents with a large, amused smile and Michael snickered. Wendy just looked back at Peter.
"Mother," she said, "Father, I would like to introduce Peter Pan, the boy who won't grow up."
She drew them to the window, and Peter landed on the sill so that he wouldn't cause much more panic than he already had. But of course, Mr. and Mrs. Darling had already seen him airborne.
"Astounding," said George, watching him. "How on Earth do you do it?"
"I'm afraid it's not something I can teach," Peter said with a knowing glance at Wendy, amused.
The sun was already finished setting by now, and stars began to appear in the sky.
"Then the tales are true?" Mrs. Darling whispered; she was quite ready to believe. There was something in her eyes that showed she had, contained in her grown, womanly form, far more wonder than her husband ever would. "You haven't a mother? You live without aging?"
Peter met her gaze and nodded very slightly.
"Every child should have a mother," Mrs. Darling said quietly, feeling the ache of sympathy for him. And, with her tender heart and in this moment of joy at having her offspring back with her, she made a spur-of-the-moment decision to offer Peter the one thing he'd never had. "I should like very much to give you one, young man."
"Interesting idea, that." Peter was calm and his expression did not change. "Well, wouldn't you send me to school?"
She nodded. "Of course."
"And an office next, I s'pose."
"I'll be a man before I know it, eh?" Peter said with mock cheer, grinning at John, who nervously didn't laugh.
"All too quickly," Mrs. Darling said with a reluctant certainty and an inside-joke smile.
The length of Peter's smile shrank into a line that was not quite a frown, and not quite a small smile either.
"No." Then Peter said in an urgently-quiet voice, as if sharing some important piece of information, leaning down a bit, "D'you remember that sensation you get when you're running in a game of tag, or you're climbing a tree and you almost slip, and it's so exciting you can feel your heart pounding harder?"
Wendy watched her parents as they listened, knowing the charm of one of Peter's speeches.
Mr. Darling was actually the first to answer. "Yes. Yes, I do."
Mrs. Darling only nodded slowly, watching the enchanting teenager.
"That's what it's like to be a kid," Peter told them. "Every day in Neverland, that's what I feel. I can't give it up."
"But you need a mother," Mrs. Darling protested. "A family."
"Well, I've got a family," Peter said, his well turning to that charming wuh sound in his British accent. He said it almost scornfully, as if she should know this already. "My crew."
"His men," Wendy explained.
"The Lost Boys," added Michael.
"You mean there are others without a home?" Mrs. Darling gasped.
"They have a home too," John told her. "Their den. The home under the ground."
"And if it should fall in?" George asked, completely taken with the idea. Mrs. Darling looked horrified.
"That would be unfortunate," Peter said with a smirk. "But, see, that's the point. Every day is an adventure. If I stay here, I'll grow up. And growing up means the end of innocence." He shook his head slowly. "That's not me."
"But Peter, growing up is an adventure all its own," Mrs. Darling insisted.
Peter gave her a small, bitter smile. "Then that's one adventure I'm gonna have to go without."
"Peter," Wendy said suddenly, her voice strained and despairing, "when can you come back?"
Peter's eyes switched from her family to meet her gaze and his smirk disappeared.
Mrs. Darling looked at her daughter, then to the raven-haired boy, and said quickly, "Oh! Oh, heavens, we haven't alerted your Uncle to your arrival! Come, come, he'll be so delighted!"
"But what about..." began John.
"No fuss, John, dear, come along."
And she hurried John and Michael toward the nursery door. She had to pull George along, who was eyeing Peter and his daughter with obvious distrust.
When they were alone, Peter still took his time answering, lingering in the air now as he looked at Wendy.
"I don't know if I can come back," Peter said quietly.
"What do you mean?" Wendy asked, her voice thick with tears now. She couldn't keep them back any longer.
Peter hated to see her eyes sparkling with those tears. It made it harder to compose himself. Tinkerbell was silent in his coat pocket, but she could practically feel his heartache.
"Last time it took a year before I could get back here through the second star," Peter whispered, landing on the windowsill.
"Then I'll wait for you," Wendy decided, blinking furiously so that her tears wouldn't fall, but of course they did.
Peter smiled slightly at that, letting out a puff of air. "You'll be older."
"Only by a year."
"I'll stay the same."
"I don't care."
"You know this isn't a good idea," Peter told her, though it was like having Hook cut his arm again. "I'll keep coming back and you'll grow without me."
"Then stay," Wendy whispered.
Peter watched her for a moment, enjoying being in her company with a kind of horrible sweetness, like the last hours of a snow day you know will be gone in the morning.
But he shook his head, still wearing that small, faint smile.
"Peter, please stay," pleaded Wendy around the lump in her throat. "Please. We can grow up together. It'll be a new kind of adventure, just like Mother said."
"Wendy," he said with a kind of tender firmness, his smile gone and tears pricking behind his own brown eyes, "I can't. I just want to be young. Always. To have fun. I have to go back."
"Then," she cried, though it made her shudder, "I'll come with you."
Peter could scarcely believe she wanted him that badly, and it made his heartbeat sound in his head and his fingertips tingle to think that she might. But he had to rip that sugary possibility, the possibility that she would go back with him, out of his mind.
"No," he said quietly, and she inhaled rapidly, more tears falling. Why did she have to make this so difficult? Couldn't she see it was killing him too? This was love? "You belong here. With your family. They need you." His heart practically shattered then as he added in a hurry, "Besides, if we've got to wait a year, what's the point?"
She caught her breath then, and bent her head while choking back a sob of hurt, hand to her mouth.
He turned, pained, preparing to leap into the air, tearing his eyes away from Wendy's heartbroken blues...but Tinkerbell's voice sounded in their minds.
"Wait, Peter! Spring!" she said.
Peter's eyebrows dipped and he halted. "What?"
"Spring. The star will be active again in spring. Every spring."
"How do you know?" Wendy asked, drying her tears reluctantly, trying to keep more from coming.
"I can feel it," Tinkerbell told her with a little less haughtiness than she usually used when addressing Wendy, sensing the girl's frailty just now. "Spring is a time of new life. Around springtime, the star should be as powerful as it is when the moon in Neverland is full."
Peter glanced at Wendy. Wendy glanced at Peter. Her eyes were filling up again just at the sight of him, and Peter's cockiness was nowhere in sight.
"Tink. Why didn't you tell me earlier?" Peter asked as she darted out of his coat pocket.
"Call it an immature relapse," Tinkerbell admitted with an amused look at Wendy, "of envy."
Peter turned to Wendy, unsure of what to say or how to begin.
"Spring-cleaning time," said Wendy, sniffling, "is usually when our school takes a holiday."
Peter smiled now, every one of his baby teeth showing. "Spring-cleaning time it is, then."
Wendy could barely believe he meant it. She would see him again after all? And so soon as spring! Why, that was only a month away! Her heart filled with happiness at the thought, but she had to be sure.
"Promise?" Wendy asked, trembling a little with hope.
"Then I suppose," said Wendy huskily, "it won't be so very hard to say goodbye. Just for a short time."
Peter grinned, landing in the nursery beside her and bowing teasingly.
"Goodbye, Peter." Wendy threw her arms around him and he stood still, then hugged her back with one arm.
He pulled away gently, reluctantly. "G'bye, Wendy."
Then Peter leaned in and kissed her without hesitation, without rushing.
The last of the mineral dust in her veins that had gotten her back home lit on fire inside Wendy, and her feet left the floor as Peter's exited the windowsill, both of them seeing stars and hearing music.
Then the flying boy with all his baby teeth, his first laugh, his raven-colored hair, starlit eyes and valiant demeanor shot ever higher, with a charming smile back at her, toward the second star to the right, his fairy zipping after him.
And the imaginative girl with chocolate-brown locks, a kiss around her neck, and a face full of childlike wonder leaned with both hands on the windowsill, watching her very first love vanish with a flash into the star that had tempted her to a land of innocence on a night that seemed so long ago.
"This is a frightfully grand story," Wendy said with a sigh, softly to herself, "but I do wish I could hear it again."
A voice came from the doorway.
"And so you will, my dear," said J.M. Barrie, thoughtfully. "You will indeed."