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The Adventures of the Boy David and Captain Cook: The Real Story (as narrated by Wendy C., 13-and-a-half)

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The story says: “This has all happened before, and will all happen again.”

The story said...

The story said that the Boy Pan would never age or grow up. Why would there ever be a need to, when there was music to be made and adventures to be had?

Those who'd seen him could attest to how he looked - lithe and boyish, clad in a tunic of green leaves and the juices that ran from the trees, with a shock of tousled, ink-dark hair - and how he sang at all hours of the day. He was a legend, a pocket force of nature, a cheerful whirlwind who couldn't keep still. His eyes were a stainless innocent's. His bright, happy thoughts defied gravity.

With his help, children of all ages discovered they could fly, and - holding his hand, following the incredible beauty of his voice - they took their first tentative steps into the star-filled sky, and found their way to fabled Neverland.

The only times he was ever said to take on an adult aspect, his unmarked brow creasing thoughtfully, something flashing from his dark eyes that was not entirely childlike, or in fact childlike at all, was when he spoke of his nemesis, the pirate captain of the Sea Witch whose crew marauded across Neverland's seaways and her shores: the brooding, magnetic Captain Cook.

 

*

 

You might be only 13, but you totally know things.

Like how to tell when someone’s messing with you online, or how to get around town by yourself, using the short-cuts that adults have forgotten, or when your mom is feeling a little sad and needs a hug.

There’re some things you’re too old for, and others you’re not old enough for. Juliet was only 13 when she met Romeo, but that was a couple hundred years ago when people needed to marry when they were teenagers; this doesn’t happen now in the 21st century.

One thing you’ll never be too old for is stories! Worlds you can disappear into - where you’re a princess from a far-off land, or a brave orphan trying to find her real family, or a clever child thief living off the streets of Cairo. When you were tiny Mom used to read you plays and Charles Dickens and Black Freighter pirate comics. And after you learned to read yourself and the boys came along, you’d read to them. You’d curl up with little Jamie in his bunk bed, Danny hanging upside down to listen, and you’d make worlds out of pages and ink for them.

At first you read them baby books, The Runaway Bunny and Papa Please Get the Moon for Me. When they got bigger, they asked for stories about detectives and adventure and you read them Boys' Own Adventures and Sinbad the Sailor.

(There’s this book called The Lost Boys which you started reading to them before you realized it was about vampires, so you ended up reading it by yourself. You find out it’s a movie tie-in with this blond actor called Kiefer Something, who’s actually not bad looking when he’s not in vamp-face? It’s a PG-13 movie and Mom won't let you rent it, you watched clips of it on Youtube instead.)

Okay, so maybe you don’t have many friends. Most of the kids at school think you’re weird because you prefer the library to the mall and want to hang out with your little brothers all the time.

Your dad shakes his head at you occasionally. Sometimes he says to Mom, when he thinks you aren’t listening: Wendy’s gotten too old to continue staying in the boys’ room; it's time for her to grow up and have a room of her own.

You know what? You could care less about growing up. Who wouldn’t want to stay a kid forever?

 

*

 

Then one night everything changes.

Mom and Dad go out a lot. Dad's a lawyer, Mom's a trust fund baby, they like to entertain and get dressed up and see their friends. You're supposed to be old enough that the boys don't need a babysitter anymore. They stick around long enough to make sure everyone eats their dinner and brush their teeth, then it's, "Bye, kids, be good and listen to Wendy, we'll be back real soon," and they even are sometimes.

This evening Danny's feeling a bit low - he's having a hard time in school this year, his homeroom teacher keeps picking on him - and you try to cheer him up.

What Danny and Jamie love most these days is to play pirates! They eagerly help you drape the sheets up over the top of the cupboards to make the mainsail and prop wooden toys along the sides of the floor like a ship's deck. You tie pirate kerchiefs around their heads, and soon everyone’s jumping from the bunk beds to your bed to the floor and back again, the boys waving their curved plastic swords and yelling “Ahoy, mateys!”

Nobody hears your parents coming in. Mom has to shout really loud before you disentangle yourselves from the sheets, straighten your costumes and scramble out into the open.

"Daniel! James! What's all this mess in here?"

Danny nudges Jamie meaningfully, and Jamie tries his most innocent smile.

"We're playing pirates, Mama! Look, this is my pirate sword!"

Sadly, the cute doesn't always work. Mom sighs. Diamonds flash when she puts her hand over her eyes.

Dad snaps, "Boys, I want this place cleaned up in five minutes and everybody in bed, no arguing!" He pauses to glare at you. "As for you, Wendy Claudia Darling, you're supposed to be looking after them, not joining in their silly games."

He looks at Mom, pointedly. "She's old enough to know better ... she needs to grow way up."

You help the boys take the sheet down, but you're so mad it takes a while.

 

It's late when you're finally done. The boys climb into bed with you. The window's open like it always is. The warm night wind from the park outside blows into the room and fills it with endless summer.

You could stay here forever, with your brothers and the stories they love. "Don't ever want to grow up," you mutter.

"Don't want you to," Jamie whispers, and puts his little arms around your neck.

You guys have lived in this house all your life. In the summer, you watch the shadows on the wall above you when you want to fall asleep, like you do now.

The branches from the trees in the garden sway in the wind, birds fly past, leaves whirl by, your brothers' heads bob and shift. It's nice, it's familiar, sometimes you pretend the shadows are ships sailing through the clouds high above your house.

But you've never seen the shadow that looks like this.

The shadow clearly belongs to a boy. Taller than your brothers but full of the same boy-energy, it stands with its hands on its hips, proud and happy, big enough to fill the whole wall.

"Wendy, look!" says Danny.

You all look, fascinated. Then you glance over at the open window, but weirdly there's nothing there to cast the shadow.

You get out of bed and approach the boy-shadow. It's slightly taller than you, the rumpled top of its head looks like it's wearing a cap. It makes you a quick, quirky bow, and you laugh disbelievingly. Something sticks out from its hips - like maybe a straight tail, or –?

"... It's a sword," says someone’s light, amused voice behind you, and you snatch back your curious hand and spin around.

Impossibly, there's a boy sitting on the windowsill of your second floor room. He's maybe a year older than you? He's dressed in green. He is wearing a cap perched on his dark curly head. Dangling from his hips is what looks like a real sword.

"Who are you?" Jamie asks for you, since you’ve somehow lost your voice.

"I'm David," the boy says, easily, "though I've many names. The Native Landers call me The Pan, or The Boy, which is kind of what The Pan means. And the Boy David is what the pirates call me, or most of the pirates, anyway."

Danny asks curiously, "What do the other pirates call you, then?"

The Boy shrugs. "Gentleman Neal Starkey calls me That Freaking Kid. Actually, he says an even worse word, but you guys don't wanna hear it. And the Captain actually doesn't call me anything."

"You got pirates where you come from?" Jamie asks. In the dark, his eyes shine, completely unafraid.

Actually, you're not afraid either. The Boy David's smile is happy and uncomplicated. As he perches on the sill, he hugs one leg unselfconsciously like Danny does sometimes, and even though you have no idea how he got up here, you're filled with curiosity and excitement.

"Totally, lots of pirates," the Boy tells Jamie. "You might think pirates are mean, but these guys aren't too bad. There's the Jolly Roger, the pirates there trade with the Native Landers sometimes, and with us. Llook, they sold me this spyglass!"

He unhooks a bronze-colored tube from his belt, and pulls it so it becomes a telescope. He jumps lightly into the room and hands it to Jamie, who says, "Wow!" and puts it to his eye.

Outlined in moonlight, the Boy David looks like he's the same age as Danny. "Then there's the other pirate ship, the Sea Witch. My Lost Kids think they sailed off for good last month, but I know they'll be back."

"Where do you come from, David?" Jamie asks, pointing the telescope at him. Danny manages to wrestle it away and takes a turn.

The Boy turns to point out of the window. "Over there, way beyond the clouds,
a place called Neverland."

"Where there are pirates?"

"Yep!" says the Boy. "And wild and talking animals, too. I'm the leader of the Lost Kids, we live in a hideout in a jungle near a beach, in the coolest place in the worlds."

"You guys don't go to school?" Danny's voice is envious. Jamie snatches the telescope back.

"Sure we do," the Boy says. "I teach the kids to hunt and fish and lay traps in the jungle and to make drums from coconut shells and animal skins. We learn which fruits are safe to eat, and how to travel through the trees, and when to talk to the mermaids and the Neverland Phoenix and all the creatures of the earth and air."

Danny wants to know, "But where are the teachers, the adults?"

The Boy shrugs. "Don't need them," he says. "In Neverland kids can do what they want. They don't want to grow up, and they never need to."

"Cool," says Danny, and it actually does sound way cool.

It also sounds like your voice is working again. "Why did you come here?" you ask him, as your brothers fight over the telescope.

"I came to get him," the Boy says and points to the wall beside the bed, where the shadow you'd seen earlier stretches against the white.

You realize that it's the Boy's shadow - it's a perfect match for him, the same height and slimness and the outline of that cap. But for some reason it's not behaving like a shadow should - it's capering and waving merrily, while the Boy is standing still, hands on his hips.

"Stop it, you're scaring her," the Boy says, and his shadow sketches a mocking bow towards you. "Seriously, it's so disobedient," he tells you. "It runs away all the time and I have to look everywhere for it. One time it climbed to the top of the Marble Mountains and I couldn't find it for weeks. Another time the mermaids nearly fed it to the Sea Dragon. And now it's come here, to America and to you."

He whistles, and the shadow bows again and leaps into the air, and finally attaches itself to his feet.

"And now I must be off!" he says. "Boys, if you don't mind –?" He holds out his hand for his telescope.

"David, don't go!" Jamie says, and the Boy laughs.

"I gotta get back to the other kids! But I'll come visit you some day, if you like. All you need to do is clap your hands and think of me – like this –"

The Boy claps his hands in a rapid pitter-patter, and there's a sudden breeze from the window –

– and there's a fairy in the room!

She looks like every fairy you've ever believed in. She's tiny and sparkly and has tiny sparkly wings that beat as quickly as your heart's beating right now. And she's making a tinkling sound.

"Hi, Demi!" The Boy says, cheerfully. "Demi, say hi to Jamie, and Dan, and Wendy D. Kids, this is Demi Tinkerbell, who looks after us all in Neverland."

"Wow oh wow, she's so so pretty!" Jamie says, and Demi swoops and loop-de-loops above his head and he whoops with delight.

"Oh, David! He's adorable, can we take him with us?" Even her voice is tiny and sparkly.

"Don't think we can," the Boy replies. "He's too little, his parents won't be happy."

"Oh, please, just for one night?" asks Demi, and "Please, please!" says Jamie, "I wanna see pirates and mermaids and the Big Dragon, and pirates!"

Danny says, "I want to see them too!"

The Boy looks at you. His eyes are bright green, like forever youth.

"Is that okay with you?" he asks. "We can all go, just for one night. You guys can come back any time you want, your parents won't even know you're gone."

You swallow. All fairy tales start like this, with an ordinary girl getting an offer to go somewhere extraordinary.

"No adults? Sounds like a plan," you tell him, and take his outstretched hand.

 

 

"We get there by flying," the Boy says, and you laugh disbelievingly. "No, seriously! All children are born knowing how to fly, and then we grow up and forget. But all you need is to remember, and believe, and think happy thoughts."

"And fairy dust," says Demi, and flutters in a circle around the three of you. You feel something shimmer down on your hair, sparkle along Danny's pajama pants.

Then Jamie is laughing, and rising impossibly into the air, opening his arms wide.

"Ice cream!" he shouts. "And balloons! And stories, lots of stories!"

"Cotton candy! Sparkly lights!" Demi says and catches his fingers. They spin in a slow, giggling circle up to the ceiling.

Then Danny is calling, "Wendy, Wendy, look at me!" And he’s flying too, his bedroom slippers pedalling in the air like he’s riding an imaginary flying bicycle.

The Boy David's still holding your hand. He takes a step upwards and then another, as if he's walking up an invisible staircase. "Sometimes it helps to sing," he says softly, and starts to hum.

His voice is crazy beautiful:

I'm not asking for an explanation,
All I know is that you take me away,
And you show me how to fly.

"I can't," you start to say, before you realize you can, you're doing it, you're airborne.

"Ohmigosh," you say. It comes out squeaky and you don't even care. You can feel your blood in your veins, your heart beating in your body. All you can think about is how this can't be happening. Kids aren't meant to fly.

And even then: your feet aren't touching the ground.

"Ready?" the Boy asks.

You nod. He grins, quick and happy, and before you can blink he's leading you out through the window and up into the night sky.

 

*

 

Maybe this is how being drunk is like. You wouldn't know, but it's like nothing you knew is even real any more. You're rushing in the dark, the lights of your city are spinning below you, your brothers are shrieking with glee somewhere above.

Beside you, the Boy David is holding your hand. His fingers are tingly, as if his touch is made of magic, and maybe it is. The wind combs through his hair, but his cap stays in place.

And he's singing, like his voice is magic, too.

The edges fade away 'Till there's no more shades of gray,
You only have to whisper anything at all.
You opened up my eyes, You turned my lows to highs,
And that's the only way that I know how to fall.
Not gonna analyze and try to fight it,
Don't even care if it makes no sense at all,
Cause with you I would fly...

Gradually, you realize the city lights aren't below you any more and you're flying over open, strange seas. Little lights swoop down to join you: one or two at first, then in threes and fours, and soon there are a cloud of sparkling fairies flying beside you, calling to Demi and to each other.

Jamie giggles and does a back-flip in the center of the fairies, and then floats down to hold your free hand.

Above you, the stars are singing along with the Boy:

Nothing brings me down when you're around
It's like zero gravity.
The world just disappears when you're here
It's zero gravity.

You lose track of time. Everything's warm and safe, like it was when you were small, and Mom would let you rock Jamie to sleep. You see the night start getting brighter, though, and eventually the song of the stars gets softer and more far away.

After a while there's a slice of pink on the horizon that gets pinker. Something that isn't water gets bigger and greener, and before you know it you're watching the sun rise over Neverland.

"It's so pretty," Jamie murmurs beside you, looking bright-eyed and rested like he hadn't stayed awake all night.

You dip lower, so you can see rolling green hills, mountains beyond them silver and gold, a sparkling stretch of beach around a quiet bay.

"Welcome," the Boy David says softly. It sounds like the land itself is singing a welcome to you guys too.

Your party swoops even lower, and you see a ship anchored in the waters of the bay.

It's flying a black flag with a white pattern, which looks like –

"– Pirates!" whoops Danny, and the fairies echo him: "Pirates, pirates hoy!"

"The Sea Witch," says Demi, warningly. "David, we should beware."

"No no no, I wanna see!" Jamie squeals.

The Boy says, steadily, "Okay, Jamie, you want to see the pirates, we're going in for a look. Steer true, and hold on tight to your happy thoughts."

Like balloons on a string, the five of you dip lower. You see the graceful sweep of the ship, the wind filling her sails, and below the black-and-white flag are three figures on deck. One's tall and blond, one dark-haired and all in black, and one is wearing a huge pirate hat that covers most of his face. All of them wear pirate scarves and long swords.

“Who's that, David?” Jamie asks, but it's Demi who answers.

“The fellow in the hat is the Captain of the Sea Witch, Captain Cook. His first mate Mr. Skib always wears black, and the Captain's swordsman is Gentleman Neal Starkey.”

"So the pirates aren't kids?" Danny asks curiously.

"Yeah, and that's why when we battle, the Lost Kids always win. Let's go lower," the Pan says, and as you guys swoop further down you hear the crashing noise of the waves, and men's voices raised above.

"... I still say we should try the hills above One Eye Deep, that's where they came from the last time."

"Nah, that's where they want us to think they are," the blond guy says. "We should look in the volcano for the kids’ hideout."

The Captain says nothing. Instead, he looks up as if on instinct, right where the five of you are flying past the ship.

"Ahoy, me hearties!" the fairies titter.

Mr. Skib says a bad word. The Captain holds onto his hat. You get a glimpse of a red beard, green eyes, and a metal hook where his right hand should be.

Gentleman Neal shouts, “The Captain will get you, if it’s the last thing he does!”

"He can try," the Boy says and touches his cap to them cheerfully.

As you speed off you hear something that sounds like a clock ticking. You look behind you, and you see shapes in the water beside the Sea Witch.

"What's that?"

"Crocodiles," the Boy says. His teeth flash in a fierce grin. "Lots of them in the waters of Neverland."

You stare at the Sea Witch as it gets smaller in your field of vision. You can't be sure but you think you see flares - it sounds like the pirate ship is firing on the crocodiles.

"Are those guns?"

"Yup. Their gunner Anderson isn't bad, but he doesn't usually manage to hit anything."

"Crocodiles aren't scary!" Jamie announces. "I think tigers are way scarier."

The Boy shrugs. "The pirates are plenty scared of the crocodiles," he says. "It was a crocodile who bit off the Captain's hand, years ago, and swallowed his watch. You can still hear the tick, tock if you listen hard enough."

You think you can hear it, it's super creepy. Tick, tock.

"How come the pirates are after you guys?"

"We don't really know," says the Boy, too-casually. "Justin thinks the pirates want to round up all the Lost Kids and make us slaves to the adults who live in the Land beyond the Sea. But I think the Captain wants revenge because I remember him from before he lost his hand. That's why the Sea Witch doesn't leave Neverland, it's lying in wait for us. For me."

You're kind of taken aback by this, and not a little grossed out, to tell the truth. You wobble, and the Boy steadies you.

"Don't worry, that's the last we need to see of the pirates," he assures you. "Let's head to the hideout and you guys can meet the gang."

 

*

 

The Boy David's hideout isn't in the volcano or some hillside like the pirates have guessed. It's deep in the heart of the jungle in the middle of Neverland.

You guys have to hike there, and at first you think it'll be disgusting in your pajamas and bare feet. But the jungle floor is thick with grass and soft earth, and the trail’s easy, as if the trees are parting to let you guys through. Sunlight filters down through the leaves, and flocks of birds flit across the bright blue sky.

Jamie and Dan point to multi-colored reptiles that crisscross your path and the monkeys leaping from tree to tree. Suddenly you realize there's a small boy with them, swinging on a vine with a tiny purple monkey clinging to his neck.

"Hey, it's Diego! Hi, buddy!" David says, waving, and the kid waves back.

"Hey, David! Did you manage to find your shadow?"

"I did, the rascal! Who else is on patrol today?"

"All of the Small Time Rush," the kid says. "They're waiting for you to chow in the den." He squints down at them. "Hey, you didn't say you'd be bringing guests back!"

The Boy David says, "Can you tell Britts we're expecting three more to chow?"

"Sure," says Diego. "I'll put the word out," and off he swings into the canopy of trees.

"Come on, it's not far," the Boy David says to you all, and he pulls Jamie onto his back.

Up the next slope is a dense part of the jungle. Hanging from one of the trees is a ladder of vines. You follow Jamie and the Boy up the ladder, up and up, and then someone helps you scramble onto a wooden platform.

"Hi," a dark-eyed girl says. "I'm Miley. Welcome to the Lost Hideaway!"

It's a whole village high above the jungle floor, big huts and little ones and rope walkways strung from tree to tree. Miley leads you and Danny around a low net of vines which some kids are using as a trampoline to fling themselves squealing into the sky.

Demi hovers above your head and points toward a bigger structure in the distance. "Chow house!" she says, and the boys let out a whoop.

"Here come the Lost Kids," the Pan says, grinning, as kids come pouring out of the houses.

You can't remember them all. The tall blond girl is Mama Britney, the three boys with dark, curly hair are Kevin and Nick and Joe, the boy with blond bangs that he hides behind is Justin.

Chow is eggs and sausages and fruit you've only read about, red bananas and sweet mangoes and peaches you peel with little pearl-handled blades. Danny and Jamie eat more than they ever ate at home and there's nobody to tell you not to eat with your hands.

After breakfast, Nick asks, "You wanna come with us to see the magic waterfall? It's super cool!", and you spend the morning shrieking and chasing each other in the rainbow-colored waters of the fairies' falls.

Afterwards Miley brings you sandals and a tunic made of animal skins and stretchy cottony leggings like everyone else's wearing. They fit you all perfectly. She says the fairies taught the kids to sew stuff and that she can show you how. She also teaches you how to open a coconut, and you wonder what else you might learn if you stayed forever.

In the afternoon the Lost Kids go hunting. Danny and Jamie announce they're going with them. You're a bit nervous about this but you don't want to be a spoilsport, and the Boy assures you they'll be fine. "We'll bring fairy dust, so we can fly back if there's any trouble," he says. "Though you should come with us, Wendy, it'll be fun."

"She can come with me instead," Demi says. "I'm going to see the flower fairies, we're making a tapestry for Sir Cliff's ball."

Justin says he'll go too, and the three of you think happy thoughts out of the jungle and over the mountain range to the fields where the flower fairies live.

According to Justin, the fields are filled with flowers all year round. The fairies are as pretty as Demi, and they serve you tea that tastes like bubblegum and laughter. It looks like they're all hard at work on a huge loom under an oak tree.

You nudge Justin. "What’re they making?"

Justin says, "A History Map for Sir Cliff's Ball! They do it every year. When it's done, it shows a picture of Neverland's history."

You inspect the tapestry. It looks like the Boy David fighting the Pirate Captain in a swamp. "What's that picture from?"

"Looks like a scene from one of our campaigns last year, where David managed to steal the Pearl of the Orient from Captain Cook." Justin grins at the memory. "Now that was a cool raid! The Captain spent a lot of time looking for buried treasure in the Salamander Swamp. Man, was he bummed when we managed to snatch it from under his nose!"

You remember the Captain, and the question you asked the Boy. "Someone was saying how the pirates want to sell all the kids as slaves. That true?"

Justin grimaces. "That's what I heard Mr. Skib say once. They never managed it, though. One year they caught Kendall in the forest around the volcano? But we laid in wait for Peek when they dropped anchor and then we managed to trade him for Ken." He shivers a bit. "Slavers? Bleurgh. The worst kind of adults, man. Much worse than pirates."

You ask, curiously, "What happened with the crocodile and the pirates?"

"You mean about the Captain's hand? Dunno, it happened before I came to Neverland. You should maybe ask the fairies, they can remember from way back."

You look sidelong at his profile. "When did you come to Neverland, Justin?"

"Me? A couple years ago. Four or five, maybe?" Justin scratches the back of his neck, you get the sense he’s not real good with numbers. "We don't get older in Neverland, though. We stay kids for as long as we want. Cool, huh?"

It is cool, seductively cool. You have to ask, "How about your parents?"

"Mom's dead, and I never knew my dad," Justin says. "Got bounced around foster homes. I wasn’t ever really good at studying, and adults said I was too loud, I like to sing, you know? And I got sick of changing my last name. So finally I found my way to Neverland, and here I'll be Justin Bieber for as long as I darn well like and I’ll never go back."

There's nothing you can say about this. Compared to how special Neverland is, your own world's a pretty grim place.

Justin sings about how he'll never say never, he'll fight till forever, and you have to admit you really like his voice.

Dinner that night's a rabbit that Danny shot himself – "but not a talking rabbit," Jamie says, excitedly. The boys don't stop chattering about their hunting trip and how cool it is that they learned to shoot a bow and arrow.

And when they ask you, "Can we stay one more day, Wendy?" and the Boy David raises his eyebrows at you, you nod and say, "All right."

 

*

 

You sleep in a hut with your brothers, and nobody tells you you're too old for that. You all lie down on pillows soft as a cloud, with the sound of the jungle outside, and dream of fairies and flying, and talking animals which run free.

The next day it's Justin's turn on patrol. Nick and Joe announce at chow that they're going to see the Native Landers on the other side of the mountain to trade for new bows for the Lost Kids’ tribe. Danny's eyes get huge, and Jamie claps his hands together and jumps up and down.

"I wanna go, can I go?"

The Boy David says, "Gosh, kids, I actually need to go get something from the mer-folk of the Crystal Circle today."

"It's okay, boss, we can look out for Danny and Jamie." Nick looks at you, and amends this to, "And Wendy too, if she wants to come with us?"

"I want to see the mermaids," you say, because cool as hanging with your brothers and learning how shoot a bow and arrow sounds, it's probably not as awesome as visiting with the fairies was yesterday, and seeing the mermaids with the Boy David would be today. Besides, Ariel is your favorite Disney Princess.

The Boy David frowns, as if he's thinking twice about this plan, then says, "Okay, in Neverland you get to do what you want. But you need to be careful - mer-folk are tricksy."

"Hey, everyone in Neverland is tricksy. Fairies are totally tricksy," Demi says, winking at you, and the Lost Kids all laugh.

You gear up, with a pocketful of fairy dust each, and trek to the launch point which the Boy tells you is called Siren Rock: "...after all those travellers who don't manage to get away from them," he says, slyly.

"No, really?"

"Yeah, I am kidding, mostly," the Boy agrees. "The mer-folk are tricksy but they're not mean. They, uh, they just don't get along with kids, exactly."

Say what? “Are they adults then, the mer-folk?"

"Mer-folk? Yes, kind of. I mean, they're old as old. I don't know if they were ever kids, I've never seen any mer-kids. And, well, mer-folk seem always very focused on adult things."

Not sure what he means by this, but it sounds interesting. He sprinkles a circle of fairy dust over you both. You let the anticipation of seeing actual mermaids give you wings.

The Boy David sings as you fly over the electric blue ocean:

Once I spent my time playing tough guy scenes
but I was living in a world of childish dreams
Someday these childish dreams must end
To become a man and grow up to dream again

You ask curiously, over the sound of the rushing waves, "How do the Lost Kids come to Neverland?"

The Boy David says, "Some of them find their way to us by themselves. Neverland's got different pathways in for kids who want to stay kids, maybe kids who've been badly treated by adults?" He tugs your hand a fraction, correcting your course. "Sometimes we find them when we visit your world, and invite them to come with us."

You remember Justin, and how your world treated him. With some difficulty, you ask him, "Don't they all stay?"

"Some do. Justin, I know he's a stayer. Some just visit for a couple of nights like you guys! And then there are those who stay for a while."

"Why do they decide to leave?" Because you can't imagine kids who have no mom or dad, or who've been mistreated by adults, would ever want to leave this paradise.

The Boy David says, a little awkwardly, "Well, here kids don't grow up, so after a while if a kid decides they've had enough of being a kid, like they want to do things in your world like write a book or be in a movie, or, you know, fall in love? Then they have to leave, and we wish them well."

You think about this. You guess it'd be difficult to write a book here in Neverland, and you realize that you might actually want to do that some day. (And, though you tell everyone you don't ever want to grow up, it might be cool to fall in love one day too.)

"You ever want to do things in our world?"

"I sang when I was there," the Boy David says, smiling, "but I can sing here, too, the way I want to and not the way other people want." He frowns, and maybe his happy thoughts waver a little, or maybe it's the choppiness of the waves, you can't be sure.

"You can fall in love here too!" someone shouts out, a high ringing voice that comes from nowhere.

"Didn't realize we'd get here this early," David murmurs, and calls back, "Chrisstina, can you please show yourself and greet our guest?"

"Gladly," the voice says. There's a turbulence in the waves, and something surfaces with a violent splash. A gorgeous girl flips up into the air for a split second, all seaweedy blonde hair and pale skin, before she splashes down again. You see the tippy-tip of her tail in the water. "Hello, New Girl," she says to you, and blows you a wet, rose-colored kiss.

"Wendy, this is Chrisstina," the Boy says. "With two ‘s’es, mind. Chrisstina’s the mer-maiden of this circle.”

You don't see the outcrop of rocks until you're already there, made of crystals that are almost transparent, that sparkle in the sun. The Boy draws you down, and you rest your legs on solid rock.

"Well, that's my title, but I'm no maiden," Chrisstina says. She rests her forearms on a nearby rock. You remember Ariel wore a purple bikini top, but clearly the Disney dress code was much more G-rated than the original, because this mermaid looks like she's totally naked under her long golden hair.

"She doesn't want to know, Lady," David says patiently. "Is Adamm around? He has something for me."

(You can hear the two 'm's. Maybe it's mermaid convention to spell their names funny, that's another thing that wasn't in The Little Mermaid.)

Chrisstina drawls, "Your problem, little David, is that you don't want to know, either. All you Lost Kids, playing at being better than adults, when all you are is afraid of grown-up things."

"Who says he’s afraid?” you blurt out, kind of shocking yourself. The Boy David looks at you like he's a little shocked too.

"Well, that's where you're wrong, little lady," Chrisstina says, grinning. It's ... not a nice grin. "He's afraid of love and making love, they all are. They all run away from it. But they don't need to run away from love, and neither do you."

David crosses his arms, rises in the air to make his point. "She's not running away, Chrisstina, I told you, she's just visiting. Please be nice."

"But she's so pretty, though!" Chrisstina pouts. "Isn't she, siblings?"

"She is," says several overlapping voices. Dark heads bob around the rocks; you see shining eyes and skin and flashing tails. Definitely not Disney territory, this.

A dark-haired mer-man says, "Sassy! We like sassy."

"Sexy, too," says a redheaded mermaid who doesn't remind you of Ariel at all.

Chrisstina flips herself out of the water and up on one of the rocks beside you. Idly, she sweeps her hair away from her bare breasts. "She's made for love, just like you, Boy David. Such a pity you won't love us! We want to love you."

You can't believe what she's saying, what they've all been saying. You can't look away from her. You feel hot everywhere.

"It's not about love," the Boy says. He actually sounds kind of flustered himself. "And you know that sort of talk totally won't work on me. Now, please, I'd like to see Adamm."

Chrisstina looks at him, sidelong and sly. "If you won't love us, Boy David, we know someone whom you might love if you let yourself. If you stopped making yourself blind and stupid." The mer-folk snicker, not-nicely. Then she looks beyond him. "And right on cue, here's Adamm with thing you guys made when you last came to visit."

"Adamm?" There's relief in the Pan’s voice, and he rises up into the air to see.

It only takes a second. "Haha, sucker!" shrieks Chrisstina, and a huge waterspout digs ten feet out of the ocean and smashes into the Boy like Neptune's fist.

“David, help!” you try to say, but your cries are lost as a second fountaining gush of water smashes over you and catapults you out into open sea!

 

 

There’s rushing water all around you and over your head and you can’t breathe. It’s like you’re in some spinning whirlpool, you don’t know which way is up. You flail out with your arms and your legs and try to remember how to swim up and out and how to fly –

fairy dust, left-hand pocket, happy thoughts, fly up and away

– and it works at first and you heave out of the ocean like a flopping fish, and then you splash down.

You swallow water. And, oh gosh, there are mer-people around you and they’re going to try to drag you under again, and you launch yourself back into the air, trying to look for the Pan.

You can't see him, the sun's gone behind the clouds, everything's gray and muggy, you can't even see the Crystal Circle anymore. In the distance there’s a dark shape of a ship and you frantically aim yourself in its direction.

No sooner do you do this than something comes whistling out of the air and something wet and stretchy envelopes you, catching you like a butterfly in a net.

You thump down onto something soft and sack-like, and everything goes dark and swimmy.

Finally your head clears, and you find yourself sprawled out on the deck of a ship. All you see in front of you is someone’s polished, pointy-toed boots.

Which you think you recognize.

A couple of pirates take the net away, pull you to your feet, and deposit you, shaking and dripping wet, in front of Captain Cook himself.

You weren’t really frightened before because you were too busy trying to keep from drowning, but you’re really frightened now. You don’t think you’ve ever been this frightened of someone, not since you were eight and you’d gotten lost at Six Flags and a creepy old guy came over and tried to talk to you.

But you’re not eight any more. And even though the Captain is taller and creepier than Six Flags Guy, you want to show him you’re not afraid of him.

Captain Cook takes off his hat with his hook-hand and bends close. His face fills up your vision, and you realize something: underneath his big red beard, he isn’t actually very old at all. He definitely has less wrinkles than Dad, less than Assistant Principal Wilkins. He could be the same age as Ben, the college student who temps at the library on weekends.

His eyes are green and full of time.

“Welcome to the Sea Witch, little lady,” he says. “What were you running away from, that you had to look to us for rescue?”

Your teeth are chattering, but you manage to answer. “Mermaids,” you say. “Tried to drown me.”

“Really?” The Captain raises an eyebrow. “I’m surprised they didn’t try to make you fall in love with them, that’s their usual opening gambit.”

“I think they tried to do that too,” you confess, before you realize that you’re not sure how much you should be telling the Pan’s arch enemy. Whom you didn’t expect to be this young. Or, actually, this non-evil.

“Well, out of the frying pan and into the fire,” the Captain says, and takes hold of your wrist with his big hand. He pulls you, not ungently, towards the ship’s rail, and you both peer over.

You can see the mer-folk have already swum towards the side of the ship. Bare skin, glistening scales, white teeth flashing in the dark water.

They call, teasingly, to the Captain.

“Oh, Captain, our Captain!”

“Captain Cook, Captain-with-the-hook, give us your hook.”

Someone swims alongside the ship. A flash of golden hair: it’s Chrisstina. “Our poor Captain,” she says archly. “So many years you’ve sailed these waters and you’ve never taken any of us to wife, your bed’s so sad, so empty, your nights so cold."

She makes a little moaning sound that sounds like cats fighting, or doing the other thing. "You only spar with children because you’ve nobody to put your hook into, nobody to rut with and empty yourself into until you can’t see straight. One day you’ll forget yourself and put it into that child, just like you want.”

You feel the Captain tense, and his grip tightens around you, making you gasp.

“Maybe I'll forget myself and gut you like a fish, ever think about that?”

She tosses her hair. “You’re all talk, Captain. And who knows, maybe I’d like you to tear me up with the hook on your hand, and the big hook between your legs.”

Lazily, effortlessly, Chrisstina flicks up onto her back. Her white breasts bob in the currents. She flips her shining tail at him, thrusts up into the air – below the dip of her navel, at the place where the flesh of her belly becomes red-blue scales, you see a wet, glistening hole that kind of pulses, pink and shiny like her rosebud mouth. It looks like – in a rush, you suddenly realize what it is.

Beside you, the Captain clears his throat. “Swim away, little fish. There’s nothing between my legs for you.”

She pouts. “You’re so unadventurous. Or, I know, maybe you might prefer my cousin instead.”

The water whirls around her, and a man's head surfaces. He does this amazing backward flip into the air like a dolphin, dives headfirst and holds his muscular rear tail up like a display. You can’t see if he has another hole, if it looks like Chrisstina’s, or if you even want to see –

“That’s enough,” the Captain roars. “Mr. Skib, Mr. Starkey, tell the men to ready arrows, I’ve a taste for mer-flesh tonight!”

“I know you don’t just want to fill your belly, my Captain,” whispers the mermaid. "You should give in to me, especially since the Boy's running with my brother the Siren."

The Captain lets loose another warning shout, and the mer-folk dive deep and vanish into the dark ocean.

You look up at the Captain. His face is like stone. Abruptly, you feel something hard against your waist. At first you think it’s the hilt of his sword and you squirm to get away from it before it bruises you, and then he curses and lets go of you and you can see his sword’s hanging on the other side. Oh crap, it's so not his sword.

Your legs turn to water. This is something you know about, too, though only from books and in kind of imprecise terms like manhood and ravishing. Suddenly the hook on his hand isn’t the scariest thing about his body.

The Captain takes a step toward you and you cringe. You can’t believe you felt his thing, oh my God. Was it directed at you, or Chrisstina, or her cousin –? And now it’s only you here, what’s he going to do with –?

You watch the Captain stop, watch his eyes change. On another man, you might have said they became kinder.

With effort, he says, “Don’t worry, little one. There’s nothing here for you, too. The story’s wrong about me.” Then he turns and walks away, and you slide against the ship’s rail with relief.

Somewhere under the sound of the sea, the surface of the sea, you hear a faint, ominous tick, tock.

 

 

You're still sitting on the floor against the rail, teeth chattering, wondering if it'd be supremely wussy to faint or throw up, when you see something green in the overcast sky. It's moving very fast, coming in over the port side of the ship and headed towards you.

"Sorry I'm late," the Boy David says, landing in front of you. He runs over, kneels beside you and puts his hand on your shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"Better late than never," drawls a voice from behind him.

David stands up slowly, his face becoming a mask, and turns around.

"Captain," he says, his voice very calm.

You clamber to your feet too. The Captain stands in the middle of the ship’s walkway, arms casually folded. He’s still hatless, and his red hair is blowing in the wind.

"Seems I picked up something that belongs to you," he says, pointing at you with his chin.

"Thanks," the Boy says, not sounding very grateful. “She belongs to herself, though.”

The Captain says, "You weren't looking after her very well, David. I'd turn in my hero card, if I were you. Those mermaids are dangerous, you know you can never really trust them."

Then his eyes do the changing thing again. "Speaking of which, I hear you've been spending some time with the Siren. Not sure that's in your interest, Sirens just want one thing."

"And so do you, Captain," says the Boy David. His back's to you so you can't see his face, but his voice sounds kind of choked and weird. "You've always wanted your revenge on me, for as long as we've known each other."

"No," the Captain says. "Not for so long. And I've never wanted revenge, not for my hand, or on you. Unlike the mer-folk, I'm not your enemy."

The Pan's hand goes to his hip where his sword hangs. "You're the enemy of Neverland. That makes you my enemy, Captain Cook."

Cook draws his own sword in one fluid move. He holds it like the steel's as much an extension of his human hand as the hook on his other.

"I might be the enemy of Neverland," he says, slowly, "but never yours, and I'm going to keep coming after you until you're ready to remember."

The Boy draws his sword too, the first time you've seen him do that. "You come after me or my people, and I'll be ready for you," he says quietly.

They stand there for a moment longer, swords almost touching, and then the Boy David shakes loose the fairy dust, grabs you around the waist, and jumps you both off the side of the Sea Witch.

As you take to the darkening skies you think you can hear the Captain say, "And I'll be waiting."

*

The flight back to the Lost Kids' jungle hideout is a silent one. You're shivering from cold and shock, and the Pan holds you and sings and thinks happy thoughts for you both.

When things get messed up,
You lift my head up,
I get lost in the clouds.
There's no sense of time with you and I,
It's zero gravity.

When you get back Britney helps you take a bath in a jungle pool. You try to relax, but that isn't nearly enough to wipe the memory of the mer-folks' threatening sex talk, or the Captain’s green eyes.

Dan and Jamie chatter excitedly about their visit to the Native Landers, but nothing sinks in. And you can't sleep with the boys that night.

Miley lets you bunk with her in her hut, but you can't close your eyes without seeing Chrisstina's bare breasts and white, pointed teeth, without feeling Captain Cook against your side.

You end up lying awake and watching the stars over Neverland.

 

*

 

When the sun rises you have no appetite for chow.

"Maybe you're ill?" Miley frowns, like nobody gets sick in Neverland. "I'll get Demi, she'll know what to do."

Demi stares cross-eyed at your tongue and waves her wings at you. "Homesick," she says, finally. "Nothing for it, child, you weren't made for Neverland. You can leave your brothers here, though."

You stare back at her. "Are you kidding? I'm not leaving them behind. Our parents will go crazy."

Demi shrugs her tiny, graceful shoulders. "You sure? They love it here, they're made for being forever kids. You, though: a little trash talking from the mermaids and you're all, ooh, sex, maybe I want me some of that."

You feel yourself blush. "No, eww! It wasn't like that at all! They just, they ..." You have no words for how they made you feel.

Demi pats your arm, kindly. "It's okay, little 'un. Some of us gotta go back, it's just how it is. But for those kids who don't wanna grow up, there'll always be Neverland, and there'll always be a Boy Pan, despite anything the Captain and pirates might do."

You remember something. "It's so weird... When we were on the Sea Witch, the Captain said he was an enemy of Neverland, but wasn't David's enemy."

"Well, that's a lie," Demi frowns. "I mean, that's part of the story of Neverland. Neverland's part of the Boy Pan, the Pan is part of Neverland, can't have one without the other."

Suddenly, the story’s become a lot darker. "So David can't leave here ever, otherwise all Neverland will die? Even if he gets sick of mermaids and fairies and wants to become a singer in the real world, he has to stay?"

Demi shrugs again. "Neverland always needs to have a Boy Pan. And David's our very best one. He's so great with the fairies and the talking animals. He's made to be a forever kid."

" 'Our very best...' Wait." You shake your head. "You mean there was a Boy Pan before David?"

"Yup." Demi flutters her wings. "I'm still young as far as fairies go, but I remember a couple of Pans back."

"What happens to them?" You're thinking maybe Neverland has a deep, dark secret, and it sucks the life out of each Pan like a bad vampire movie.

"Well," Demi says, "the first Pan I remember, his name was Peter. He fell in love with a girl in your world, the great-granddaughter of one of the first girls he brought here to Neverland... Now the second Pan, he actually killed someone." She shivers. "There hadn't been a murder in Neverland since ever! And then, luckily, there was David, and he's been here ever since."

"Justin didn't tell me any of this," you say.

"Ah, Justin hasn't been here for long enough. Also, when a new Boy Pan takes up the mantle, it's like Neverland reboots itself. I mean, David likes to sing, so now that he’s the Pan all Neverland sings to him. And the people who live here... they don't forget, exactly, but the way the story works, most of them kind of remember that this Pan was always their Pan, you know?"

You think about how life must have been for David since he became the Pan. If he met someone in all the bedrooms in your world and wondered what it was like to love her.

Or him, because maybe that's what the business with the mermaids and the Siren called Adamm was about.

"It must be so lonely," you murmur, surprising yourself.

"Oh, there are a hundred and one things to do," says someone's light, beautiful voice. "Plus, he's The Boy Pan, man. It doesn't get more awesome than that. Until, you know, it doesn't."

You look at the man in the doorway. He has straight, dark hair, his torso is bare and milk-pale like Chrisstina's was. He's standing on two legs, but they're made of hard, shiny-looking scales like the hide of a fish, or a dragon.

"Long way from home, Adamm," says Demi, and of course it's him.

"Heard the Boy Pan had some trouble yesterday," Adamm says, leaning against the doorframe. "And I know my sister tried to harm you, Lady. I'm very sorry that happened. I'd like to make amends."

"Tried to seduce her first and then to harm her!" Demi snaps. "You mer-folk are all sex-crazed, and that means you too, Siren, you're not an exception. Don't know why David trusts you or hangs out with you."

"Because we both trust the song," says Adamm, “and we both love Neverland. And because I want what’s best for him."

“Not sure you do,” says Demi, “but I’ll go get him for you so you can be on your way.” Her tiny wings beat in the air like a dragonfly’s.

Over her shoulder, she says, “You behave yourself while I’m gone – poor Wendy’s sick thanks to your kin, so you’d better not give her more cause.”

“Is that true?” Adamm asks you as Demi flutters away. “I’m so sorry. What is it, maybe I can help?”

It’s hard to figure out what’s actually wrong: you feel squirmy and hot, and, and kind of dirty. At the back of your mind is what Chrisstina said, how the Captain reacted on the ship, but it’s hard to think about how these things made you feel. Harder still to tell a grown-up, especially Chrisstina’s brother.

But Adamm looks at you with understanding blue eyes, and somehow you believe he wouldn’t judge or lecture like adults in your world do. Plus, David obviously trusts him.

So you end up telling him everything that happened.

Adam waits till you’re done, and then asks you, gently, “Did my sister scare you?”

“Kind of,” you say. And at the same time... “It was confusing.”

“Not surprised,” Adamm says. “She likes to be confusing. She wanted to scare you, but wanted to make you think about adult things too, so she could get a reaction out of you. She was trying to do it to David, too, and to the Captain.” He grimaces. “You and I know it’s wrong, what she did, but that’s the way mermaids are.”

You know he means love and sex though he doesn’t say the words. You feel hot, like you felt on the Crystal Circle. Your stomach cramps a little. There’s that dirty feeling again, but ...

... with it, a kind of excitement.

“Well, it didn’t work with David, but it did, kinda, with the Captain,” you tell him, because you’re not sure you want to deal with your own feelings.

“I’d say. Did the Captain’s, uh, reaction scare you too?”

“At first,” you say. “I’d never... you know. Felt anything like that.”

When you don’t say anything else, he says, “You think maybe it was directed at you? Or Chrisstina?”

You remember, unwillingly, the kindness in the Captain’s eyes, remember him saying The story’s wrong about me.

“No,” you say, slowly. “It happened because Chrisstina was teasing him about how lonely he was. She kept asking him why he was still in Neverland, hanging out with kids, whether he was afraid. I guess he just felt ... well. If it’s true that he doesn’t have, like, a girlfriend or a boyfriend, and she made him want one, then that’s why it happened.”

“You know, I think you’re right,” Adamm says quietly. “You’re a pretty smart girl, Wendy C.”

He takes your hand. His touch is cool and damp.

“And love and sex aren’t things you need to be afraid of,” he tells you. “It can be amazing, if it's with the right person. You don't have to be afraid of growing up because of it.”

You remember the mermaids teasing David about growing up. You ask, “Do you think David’s afraid?”

Adamm smiles. "Hey, I’m not sure the Pan is afraid of anything! He’s had lots of fun being a kid, but I don’t think he’s scared of grown-up things or of growing up. He just loves Neverland, and doesn't want anything to endanger it, that’s all.”

You frown. “Demi says that Neverland always needs to have a Boy Pan. Does that mean the Pan can’t grow up even if he wanted to?”

“That does seem to be how the story works,” says Adamm. “Though I will tell you, Lady Wendy, that lately David and I have been trying to find a way for Neverland to stand alone.”

“You’re kidding. Why would David want to do something like that?”

Adamm’s eyes stare straight into you. “Because he’d never want anyone else to have to be the Pan,” he says. “That seems to be how he works.”

You want to say, But of course other kids would love to be the Pan! but you don’t. Too many kids want things that are wrong for them. Besides, it doesn’t sound like it’s something you can just give up, even if David ever felt like doing that.

Adamm pulls one of many rings from his fingers and hands it to you. It’s heavy, and warm from his skin. It has a big, beetle-green stone with an Egyptian-looking eye carved into its smooth surface.

“This is our truth ring,” Adamm says. “David and I took months to make it in Triton’s Forge, far beyond the Crystal Circle. We sang all the songs of our hearts into the stone, and Triton himself forged it into a ring that could make the Neverland Phoenix finally tell us what we want to know.”

You look at the ring, and it looks unblinkingly back at you.

“The ring makes people tell the truth?” you ask.

“That’s the idea,” Adamm says. “You sing it a true song, and it shows the truth of your heart.” He puts his head on one side. “You wanna try it?”

“No!” you say, handing it back to him.

“Okay okay, I’ll show you on myself,” Adamm grins, slides the ring back on his finger, and starts to sing his Siren’s song.

I know the battles of chasing the shadows of who you wanna be
It doesn't matter, go on and shatter, I'm all you need
Broken pieces, break into me
So imperfectly what you should be

It’s beautiful, it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard. In response to Adamm’s song the ring lights up like a Christmas tree. In the air, above Adamm’s head, you see waves and a stormy sky, and Adamm as a boy holding his mother’s hand.

Lay here, it's safe here, I'll let you be broken open
Hide here, confide here so we can be broken open

You remember your mom holding your hand in the same way not so long ago, and how you felt so safe then, and then you’re crying and crying and you can’t stop.

After a while, someone puts their arms around you and holds you. At first you think it’s Adamm, but when you pull your hands away from your face you find out it’s actually the Boy David himself.

“Oh, Wendy,” he says, over and over, and pats your hair until finally you run out of sobs.

You’ve made his green tunic all wet. You’d be embarrassed if you didn’t feel so completely drained.

“Are you okay, honey?” Adamm asks over David’s shoulder.

"I think it's time for us to go home," you say.

 

*

 

The Lost Kids throw a grand dinner to say goodbye to the three of you. Mama Britney insists on roasting up three whole pigs, and there are twenty different kinds of fruits and sweets and jellies.

It’s a really huge party! The fairies all come, along with the Native Landers from the North Tribe, bringing cakes and breads and other gifts. Danny and Jamie introduce you to tribe chiefs Solly and Julia, and they tell you how cool your little brothers are.

Everyone gets up to sing and dance and trampoline on the huge net of vines. You consider telling a couple of the smaller kids not to use the trapeze right after eating, but it's just what your mom would say! Besides they wouldn't be able to hear you over Solly's drumming and Kevin's guitar.

Danny and Jamie disappear into the whooping crowd. You're not up for dancing or playing, though, and it looks like neither is the Pan.

You sneak glances across at him between bites of food. He's lost in thought. In the low firelight of the chow hall, the truth ring glitters on his finger.

The next time he catches you looking; he gives you a little wave, and then walks over.

"So, we've got everything all planned for tomorrow! Demi and Nick will go with you in the morning. You'll fly back over the seas the way you came, only in reverse, so that time will run backwards, and you get back to your bedroom the same night you left."

"Sounds good," you say, forcing a smile. It shouldn't hurt this much, you know this is what's best for you and the boys. Then ... "Hey, aren't you coming?"

David blushes a little. "Well, actually, I need to go up Mount Wisdom. I need to see the Phoenix in her lair - she's pretty old, I'm not sure how long this cycle is going to last before she starts nesting. And it'll take a couple of days climbing and flying if we want to take things at a safe pace, so Adamm and I should leave early tomorrow."

You look out into the crowd. Adamm's standing at the centre of the stage, wearing a huge blue coat with glossy feathers and jewels so you can't miss him. He's singing something and dancing with Joe and Julia in a really sexy way.

"Adamm said you guys were gonna use the truth ring on the Phoenix," you say tentatively. "To find out the truth about Neverland."

"Adamm said that?" The Boy smiles a little. "Well, it's true. We've been trying this for a while, and I think that we're really close now to an answer."

He doesn't explain more, and you don't know how to ask why he's doing this. Anyway, Adamm's kind of told you why: so nobody needs to have to be Pan.

Finally you settle for, "You know, my dad's a lawyer. If some of the kids wanted to come back to America with us, I'm sure he could help them find great homes, with foster parents who'd take care of them. And if not, my mom loves kids, and I know she'd love to adopt."

David's smile becomes sad. "Wendy, that's really nice, and I know you mean well. I know there are kids who might want to leave sooner or later, and we'll be sure to send them your way. But Neverland's a special place, and for many kids, this is where they're meant to be."

"If you really thought that," you say, "then you wouldn't have any problems giving up being the Pan and letting other people give it a go!"

"Did Adamm tell you that, too? Boy, you really did a number on him." The Boy David rubs his forehead. "Okay, here's the thing. I'm not sure I want to give up being the Pan, whatever Adamm says. Even if I did, I don't know how. The fairies tell me all I need to do is kiss a human. The mermaids say I need to lose my ... um, you can probably guess what they say."

He blushes behind his hand. "But anyway, what they agree on is that when a Pan finally gives up being the Pan, the nearest suitable kid needs to agree to be the new Pan, otherwise Neverland will destroy itself ... I need the Phoenix to tell me how to save Neverland, without passing the burden to kids who might want to leave one day and can't."

Then he takes his hand away. He looks older, worried, his face momentarily that of the man he'll never grow up to be.

You ask impulsively, "How did you become the Pan?"

“That's a good question, because I can't remember everything about before. The fairies say that's what happens when Neverland gets a new Pan. It’s like, the story just remakes the land into the image of the new Pan? But I wasn't always the Pan."

The Boy David leans forward, and now he looks young and carefree again. "I was one of the Lost Kids when I first came here. There was another Pan then. I loved being here, loved Neverland, loved all my friends, loved the Pan. I remember we did all these amazing things together, things out of stories my mom read to me as a child. I thought the story would never end - we swam with Sirens and played music with the Native Landers, and fought off the Captain and his pirates when they'd come to raid.”

You struggle to keep up with him. “You mean, Captain Cook?”

“No." David frowns, like he's trying to remember. "There was another Captain then. He died, and our Pan didn’t want to be the Pan any more. And Neverland and the Lost Kids needed a Pan, and I guess I was the best person for the job."

"Don't you remember this part?" you ask, curiously.

David looks down. "Actually, it was kind of hazy for a long time. Then last year on Free Man's Eve the pirates ambushed us, and Captain Cook had this guitar that he was trying to cast some kind of music spell with? Seems he needed the Pearl of the Orient to really power it properly, which was probably why it didn’t totally work. Anyway, we fought, and I managed to smash the Captain's guitar. But ever since then some memories have gotten clearer."

He shrugs. "Funny thing, that's when I started thinking about the Neverland problem. When I decided to ask Adamm to help."

"It sounds like a good thing you did," you tell him gently. "Being a kid is awesome, but maybe we're all meant to grow up some time and leave Neverland.”

The Boy smiles at you. "Sounds like you're ready to put childish things aside," he says. "Was it the mermaids, or Adamm? Or me?"

"All of those things," you say. "The mermaids showed me about sex, and Adamm told me it didn't have to be scary. And you showed me what real responsibility looked like." Okay, you officially sounding like someone's inspirational song-sheet and you could care less. "And Captain Cook, too."

"Really?"

You nod. "He showed me grown-ups get scared about sex too, even if they're still in Neverland. So, I don't think I'm scared anymore. I'm cool with falling in love someday."

"Good to know." The Boy David gets to his feet and holds out his hand. "One dance, then, before you leave Neverland?"

"Okay," you say, and try hard not to think about how maybe David never will.

*

 

The sunrise next morning is pink and gold. Your last breakfast with the Lost Kids is a silent one. Miley sniffles into her coffee, Justin can’t meet your eye.

You thought Danny and Jamie might be angry with you for making with the Pseudo-Mom Executive Decision to leave Neverland, but they’re surprisingly cool with it. They hug everyone goodbye, and Jamie doesn’t even cry when the Boy David musses his hair.

“Take care of your brother and sister, Jamie, I’m counting on you!”

“Will you guys come visit us, David?”

“Maybe,” the Pan says, grinning. “Open your window on a moonlit night, clap three times and say that you believe in fairies, and see who might pop by.”

“Or if your shadow runs off without you again,” you tease, and David turns his smile to you.

“I think I know why he found his way to you,” he says, taking your hand. “You and Dan and Jamie have really made friends here, and done good things for Neverland. And, you know, for me.”

You look down, for some reason you can't meet his eyes. On his finger, the eye of his ring looks at you accusingly.

“Not so sure about that,” you mutter. You can’t shake the feeling that all you’re doing is running away.

“I am,” says the Pan, and squeezes your hand.

Then he lets go, and shoulders his little backpack of supplies for his Mount Wisdom climb. Adamm’s waiting for him with a backpack of his own; when he sees you looking, he gives you a little wink.

You step away and look at Demi. “I think we’re ready,” you tell her.

Nick, Miley and Justin climb down from the hideout with you guys, and walk you through the jungle to the edge of the trees. You recognise the launch point where you guys landed the first day. The jungle opens out onto a wide, shining beach, and beyond that, the sea.

From here, Neverland’s never looked more beautiful.

“Fairy dust time!” says Nick, and starts to root around in his pockets.

Miley and Justin go in for one last hug, and that’s when Demi lets out a muffled squawk.

You spin around, and suddenly the beach is full of pirates!

Someone puts his hand over your mouth so you can’t scream, and grabs you around the waist. You struggle, but it’s not doing much good.

You don't care – kicking! fighting! – you can’t see Dan or Jamie in the press of bodies –

– “Hold their arms, lads, so they can’t clap their hands,” says a voice you recognize. “And, Peek, for God’s sake, hang onto that girl! She’ll get away if you’re not careful.”

“Aye, Cap’n,” says the guy who’s got hold of you, and he hefts you sideways so you can’t kick him any more.

From your new position, you can see that Gentleman Neal Starkey’s holding Nick in a headlock, and Mr. Skib is rifling through Nick’s pockets for the pouch of fairy dust.
The Captain’s standing poised and calm in the center of the kids and pirates. His big pirate hat is atop his head. He’s holding a small leather sack, which is squirming around in his grasp. Oh no, he’s got Demi!

Nick pants, “Captain Cook! But, how...?”

The Captain snorts. “Why, we closely observed the Boy David after yesterday’s rescue mission. Next time, tell your Pan to focus less on the damsel and more on remembering evasive manoeuvres.”

“You’re lying!” Nick says.

The Captain shrugs. “Actually, I do that far less than everyone thinks ... Gentleman Neal, please do the honors,” and Gentleman Neal puts a bag on Nick’s head and ties him up with a piece of rope.

“And now, we need to leave a ransom note for the Boy David. Mr. Skib, if you please?” Mr. Skib stashes the fairy dust and pulls out parchment and a feather and starts scribbling against Gentleman Neal's shoulder.

Captain Cook paces around, dictating.

To the Boy David, the Prince of Stories, the Pan of Neverland, from your Nemesis, David R. Cook the One-Handed, the Captain of the Sea Witch, greetings. Very careless of you to have left your guests unguarded again! Also your assorted Lost Kids, and your unhappy pet fairy who is currently thinking decidedly unhappy thoughts. What else?”

“How do you spell ‘nemesis’?” Mr. Skib hisses, and Gentleman Neal rolls his eyes and tells him.

Cook continues, “If you want to see them alive again, the Sea Witch will rendezvous at Dead Man’s Beach at sunset tonight. COME ALONE. I want that in capital letters, Skibby, you’re good at making those.”

You're not sure if Mr. Skib can spell ‘rendezvous’ either, but you suddenly realize you can’t breathe because your vision is graying at the edges.

“Mr. Peek, she’s starting to turn blue,” the Captain warns, and Peek takes his hand away from your mouth.

“Where was I? Oh yes. If you don't, we'll make them walk the plank. Yrs faithfully, Captain Cook." The Captain gestures into the air triumphantly. "Now, Mr. Skib, let's fly the white flag of truce and leave this note in a prominent position in the jungle for the Pan to find.”

“Hah, you’ve missed him! He’s already left for Mount Wisdom – ” and you stop talking as if Peek's choked you. Oh God, you could smack yourself, stupid talky super-villains have nothing on you!

“Is that so,” the Captain drawls. “Well then, we’ll have to make sure the message gets across so he comes back from his quest in time, now won’t we.”

He leans back and gestures with the hook. Something soft is dropped over your head, and you see nothing more.

 

*

 

The hood stays on till you're on board the Sea Witch. In pirate stories the brig is a gross damp dungeon deep inside the ship, you're not surprised to find that's mostly accurate. Your small cell has bars and a sad-looking mouse that squeaks at you.

Not very soundproof, though. After some yelling, you discover they've locked Danny and Jamie up together and the other three separately.

"Dunno where Demi is, maybe in some little birdcage on Cook's nightstand," offers Justin, who's clearly watched too many super-villain movies before coming to Neverland.

You ask, "Did they take everyone's fairy dust?"

Seems they were smart enough to do that. Gotta say, Captain Cook makes a pretty thorough super-villain.

"Let's clap our hands," suggests Nick, and you all clap and yell and think happy thoughts, but clearly the story magic only works above water.

Hoboy, you guys might be in real trouble.

Weirdly, though, you're not at all afraid. You're actually kind of mad, and the pitching of the ship and the porridge you get for lunch just makes you even madder.

When finally the lanterns in the brig flicker and Captain Cook looms outside your cell, you've gotten really furious.

"How are you all holding up?" he asks.

You tell him coldly, “You are such a fraud.”

He looks surprised. “Really? How so?”

“Like you've locked us up here to scare us and make us think you're going to hurt us, but you actually won't." You take a deep breath. “Anyway, it's not working. I'm so not afraid of you."

"Well, you're real sure of yourself," the Captain says. He comes close to the bars of your cell.

You stand your ground, you won't back down, hey la la la. "Yep. Same as you're not really evil. You even said it yourself, people are wrong about you."

"Kid, you're so ruining my reputation. The story says I'm the evil scourge of Neverland's waterways, nemesis of the Pan." He raises his metal hook-hand. It shines in the dark. "I have a hook for a hand, I must be evil, am I right?"

You've never snorted before ever, but you manage to let one rip now. "I think you're just afraid to think outside the story. And you're actually afraid of David, too."

"Lady, he's the one that needs to think outside the story. And you're wrong about how I feel about him." Cook nods at you. "You should try to get some rest, because it'll be sunset soon."

 

*

 

You think you'd be too buzzed to sleep, or the cell bunk would be too gross to sleep on, but when you sit and lean against the wall for a second the next thing you know someone's calling, "Up and at 'em, Wendy C., it's time to walk the plank!"

Eww, you're lying down after all! You scramble to your feet and brush yourself down.

Standing outside your cell is Gentleman Neal holding a bunch of keys, which he waves at you.

"I said –"

"I heard what you said," you tell him. "And I could have said, You try and make me, except clichés aren’t really my thing."

There's a giggle in the next cell - Miley - and the Gentleman himself smiles. He has metal in his mouth and in his ears, tattoos all up his bare arms, it seems pirates here share fashion tips with biker gangs back home.

"Okay then, no more clichés." He unlocks the cell door and steps inside.

Along with the keys, he's carrying a long wooden block with cut-out semicircles. He pulls your wrists onto the wood and then snaps the other part of the block over and latches it tight. Voila, very low-tech wooden handcuffs! Try as you might, you can't wiggle free or clap your hands together.

Gentleman Neal's even taller than the Captain and just as broad, but you struggle anyway as he drags you out of the cell.

As you pass the other cells, you catch a glimpse of your brothers' frightened faces, and Nick yells, "Don't you hurt her –!"

Neal rolls his eyes. "It's this damn story, everyone's dialogue is clichés up the wazoo. For the love of Pete, sweetheart, stop struggling, I don't wanna hurt you, but if you make me carry you up this damn ladder I might hurt myself, okay?"

You make him do it anyway. It's a pretty long ladder, and he curses all the way up, saving the best for last as he reaches the top.

He dumps you on the ship's deck like a sack of potatoes, and you both pant and fight for breath in the crisp sea air.

Mr. Skib approaches, smirking. "Well, well, Gentleman Neal, methinks you should spend less time with that tobacco pipe of yours," he observes helpfully. "She looks light as a feather, it must be you that's out of shape."

"You gimme a moment, and I'll bend you out of shape," pants the Gentleman, straightening up.

Skib hooks an arm around Neal's neck and puts his mouth to Neal's ear. "Promises, promises," he whispers. The Gentleman snorts but doesn't pull away, and, well, it looks like not everyone on board the Sea Witch is as lonely as the mermaids say.

Maybe they're distracted enough – ? You scramble to your feet and try to make a break for it, but the heavy wooden block around your wrists makes you clumsy, and Neal snags hold of you easily.

"Look, I could put the sack over your head, so you better not try that again," he says reasonably, and you stop struggling.

It's bright up here after a day in the dark brig. Late afternoon, maybe. A stiff breeze is blowing. The Sea Witch's mainsail is up, deckhands rigging the sail and doing stuff with ropes. Looks like the Sea Witch went on a sail around Neverland after they picked you guys up, and now they're headed back to the rendezvous point in time for sunset.

The Captain's standing at the helm, surveying the distant Neverland coast. As you and Neal approach, the lookout at the top of the mast shouts down, "Dead Man's Beach ahead, Cap'n!"

"My thanks, Devin," says the Captain. "All right then, Mr. Skib, please take the wheel. Gentleman Neal, give it half an hour and then bring the other prisoners up here in the stocks. Chain 'em to the starboard side, prominently, because we'll need a distraction - the Pan will bring his Lost Kids and an army of fairies. Oh, and string the Tinkerbell's bottle from the mast, she'll appreciate the view."

"Aye, Captain," says Neal, and the Captain turns to you.

"As for you and me, Wendy C., we're going for a little sail."

 

*

 

Cook's plan seems to involve parking you on the Sea Witch's longboat, and tying you to the plank seats so you can't get away.

Ship's Mate Peek carries you onboard. You can tell Cook won’t touch you himself since that last time with the mermaids, and this just makes you surer that you're right about him.

So it's just you, Peek and the Captain on the boat when the crew finally lower it into the sea. Peek sits behind you to man the oars, and he slowly rows it away from the Sea Witch into the shallower waters of the lagoon.

Cook stands; he's wearing his sword same as always, but slung around his chest is a white guitar that looks like it could star in its own MTV music video.

"What's that? What's it for?" you ask, but the Captain doesn't answer. What kind of super-villain turns down the chance to spill about his evil plan, you don't even know.

You keep trying to make him talk anyway, you figure this might distract him, making it easier for David to sneak up on him. Finally, "You said you were Neverland's enemy – why do you hate it?" makes Cook turn and look at you.

"Why do I hate Neverland? You kids think everything's excitement and fun and games every day throughout the year. But you don't see how this goes on year after year. Nothing changes, we're slaves to the story, and to Time itself that stands still. The story says there'll always be Lost Kids, always be a Pan, and he needs a nemesis and pirates, and we're trapped into the roles we play forever and ever, till Neverland itself comes to an end."

You never looked at it that way. It must be scary and sad, being forced to replay the same role over and over, unable to move on or change, with no end in sight... "That's not true," you tell him. "Demi says people can give up being the Pan. And, you don't always have to be the Pan's evil nemesis. You're tired of plotting David's downfall and stuff? You can always walk away."

In books, this kind of speech makes bad guys burst into tears and swear to turn over a new leaf. You hold your breath.

Captain Cook is silent, looking at you. In the quiet, under the waves, you hear the threatening tick, tock.

"I can't," he tells you at last. "I'm bound to this place, same as the Pan, until one of us chooses to make an ending."

"Then let's end this now!" someone shouts, and Cook spins around.

The Boy David is soaring through the sunset sky. He lands lightly at the far end of the longboat, hands on his hips. The one-eyed ring glows on his finger.

"Why, it's the Pan! So good of you to drop by," the Captain drawls.

"I got your invitation. Had to cut short my trip to come here, so I'm not real happy about that." David cocks his head, looks at you over Cook's shoulder, "Wendy, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," you call back. You're not sure what else to say. Watch out, he's got a guitar?

"We can do this the easy way or the hard way," David tells the Captain. "I brought reinforcements, and we're going to take down the Sea Witch once and for all."

Reinforcements? You look towards the Sea Witch. You can't see much from down here, but you do see airborne fairies, a couple of the Jonas Kids, and the bright colors of the Native Landers. You hear the pirates' whoops and the rescue party's battle cries. Man, you hope someone's rescued your brothers and let Demi out of her bottle, because by now she must be seriously pissed off!

Here in the longboat, though, the Boy and the Captain haven't taken their eyes off each other. "Just you and me, Pan," the Captain says, "without your friends, your Lost Kids. And this time, I'm ready for you."

"What's that for?" David asks warily. "I mean, I know it's a guitar; didn't I smash the last one?"

In response, Cook plays a chord. The strings must be metal or something, 'cause they don't break even with the hook-handed strumming. The chord echoes over the seas like the long, lonely, high-pitched wail of some mer-creature.

The Boy frowns and shakes his head, as if the sound is affecting him somehow. "You wanna fight with music? It's a better idea than swords," he manages, taking a step towards the Captain.

The Captain plays another chord, longer and more jangling, and the sea churns in response. You hear the tick, tock again, louder.

"I never wanted to fight you," the Captain says. "You're not my enemy, David."

David takes another step closer, hand on the hilt of his sword. "Then why do you keep doing this?"

"The story's doing this. But with this song, if you'll listen to it, we can both remember, we can both be free –" The Captain unleashes a series of notes that are suddenly precise and beautiful, and they gather together like they're going to become a song ...

... And then you hear it:

TICK, TOCK.

Something big rams into the side of the longboat! If you weren't tied to the seat you'd have fallen to the floor; the Captain is thrown violently to the side.

David, who's lighter, who'd been moving, goes over with a surprised yell.

Splash! Tick, tock, tick, tock.

You're, you're too shocked to scream. You think you open your mouth –

– “Ah, fuck,” Cook says, and flings his guitar and sword to the deck. “Kid, you stay put –” In a flash, he dives into the lagoon.

Your voice comes back in a sudden rush and you scream your lungs out into the evening air.

Peek drops his oars and clings to your arm like a scared kid and if you weren't tied up you'd cling right back.

"Peek, help them!"

"I don't know how!" Peek says, but he unties you anyway. You both stare frantically into the churning water. Nothing – the waves splash and roil and you see struggling dark shapes that might be David and Cook and the crocodile but you can't be sure.

You keep screaming anyway. "Help!" and "Man overboard!" and "Get lost, you crocodile!" Which is ridiculous, but in the moment you can't think of anything else. You clap like crazy: "Julia, Adamm, Demi, over here, help us!" That's a better idea, but help doesn't come, it seems everyone's fully occupied on the Sea Witch.

Finally, something long and horrible floats to the surface. It's the crocodile!

You and Peek scream like little kids until you realize it's not moving. Its mouth is wedged open at an unnatural angle, and as it drifts closer, you can both see –

"– the Pan's sword," Peek says, in a hushed voice.

"David!" you shriek, and in response, the water surface surges apart and something shoots into the air.

It's the Boy David! Dripping wet, swordless, holding the Captain in his arms.

He doesn't look like any of his thoughts are happy, but he's airborne anyway, and in the dying rays of the sunset he flies back to the longboat.

He lands, lays the Captain gently down on the deck.

You have a split second of Oh my God he's dead! when Cook coughs and then spits up water, and there's a loud tick, tock that makes you and Peek scream again.

"Don't worry, it's only this.” David holds up a small round object that’s wet and slimy like the rest of him.

Cook struggles into a sitting position, and then reaches his good hand out to take the thing from David. "Hey, my watch," he says, muzzily, "You got it back!" Eww, who knows how long that thing was inside the crocodile, it must have gotten there when the croc bit off Cook's hand ages ago, and ... and, you think you actually might be sick.

"Kind of snagged it when I was fighting with the crocodile," David says, grinning. "Also, you're welcome."

You fight back the nausea. Not gonna puke like a baby, c'mon.

The Captain props his knees up so he can rest his sodden arms on them, and looks at the Boy beside him. "You're welcome, too," he says, levelly.

A strange look crosses David's face. Maybe he's just realised how close he's sitting to Cook. He doesn't, however, pull away.

"You jumped in to save me. Why did you do that, Cook? I'm your enemy, I've always been your enemy."

"I told you, I was never yours," Cook murmurs. "All I want for us is to remember what the story took away."

"Do you remember when the crocodile took that away?" The Boy nods to Cook's hook hand, and the watch that's slimy and gross from years inside the crocodile.

"Not enough," the Captain says. "I remember you were there, though. You remember that?"

"I think so," David whispers. "I remember you – and a Captain, not you, and the battle with the crocodile –" He stops. "Everything's kind of hazy, Captain."

"My name's David, same as yours," the Captain says. "I think you knew that once, and it took me a while to remember it myself."

"David," the Pan repeats. He looks very pale, water dripping from his hair and eyebrows. "I think I remember that now."

"Let's see what else we can remember," the Captain says softly. He puts down the watch and reaches for his guitar.

The sun's long set and the moon is rising over the lagoon. Cook's hook hand strums the guitar strings, and he begins to sing.

We keep floating towards the floor
Stuck in this pattern ever more Of sink or swim
But the oxygen is proving
More than words could ever say
To put these memories away So this is it
These rapid eyes will keep on moving

'Cause I, I can't seem to find
A way back inside every last thought of love we made
That still keeps me awake
Still keeps me from everything we had
That I'm trying to get back

Give me one more quiet night
before this loud morning gets it right and does me in
Is this story worth forgetting?

You think you hear a choir of fairies singing backup, mayday, somebody save me, and you hear David's ragged gasp, and then

– there's a huge flash of light on David's finger, and the whole boat is filled with green.

 

And in the green, you see, you all see...

...a tall man in a big pirate's hat, cutting and thrusting with a flashing sword, the Pan keeping pace with him.

Only, only the Pan isn't the Boy David. It's Cook, a much younger Cook, no older than fourteen, pale and rail-thin, red-haired and green-eyed and smooth-faced, laughing as he fights the Captain to a standstill.

At his side, holding up a lantern so Cook has better light, is an even younger David, wearing the same Lost Kids' costume of tunic and stretchy leggings as you're wearing now.

Back and forth go the Boy Cook and the Captain, between lanterns strung up across the ship, under a bright yellow moon. Pirates and Lost Boys yelling encouragement and curses around them. Clearly this isn't their first dance, and nobody realises it's their last.

But you know it when the Captain stumbles, and Cook thrusts forward – suddenly Cook's sword has sliced into the Captain's body! The Captain gasps, hands coming up to grasp the sword blade and coming away bloody.

Cook's face is a mask of shock. The Captain totters forward, Cook tries to catch him, and they both lurch over the side of the ship.

"Cook!" shouts David, and before the other Lost Kids can stop him, he flings himself over the ship's rail into the sea.

You put your hands over your ears, but you can still hear the tick, tock of Cook's watch.

You know what's coming next. Splashes, screams, and the water turns blood red.

After too long, young David surfaces from the water. He's carrying the Captain's pirate hat, and a semi-conscious Cook who's missing one hand.

A one-handed Cook, who's suddenly older –the beginnings of a red beard covers his face, his body taller, thicker, muscles straining the green tunic and leggings. The bulges of sudden adulthood are kind of scaring you, you can't imagine how young David must have felt.

Bravely, young David tries to fight through the panic, pulling off his own tunic to make bandages for Cook's bloody stump. "Try to hold on," he tells Cook, as Cook moans in pain. "I know it hurts. We'll get the fairies to come fix you up, you'll be okay soon."

Cook groans. "I didn't mean to hurt the Captain! It was an accident. And the crocodiles, and the blood, oh my God, I never thought..."

Young David holds Cook helplessly as Cook cries, covering his face with his remaining hand.

"It's okay, Cook," he murmurs, stroking Cook's face. "It'll all be okay. Tinkerbell will be here soon, she'll fix you up, you'll be fine. I know she can also make you a kid again. You just need to hold on."

Even you can see how Cook's leaning into David's touch. "I don't think she can," he sobs. "I don't think anything can make me a kid again."

David says, numbly, "Don't say that. You need to be a kid again so you can be our Pan."

"It's not so easy," Cook says, and takes David's hand. "Not when I can touch you like this, when I can feel these things about you now I'm older, things I shouldn't –"

"What are you saying?" David whispers.

Cook's face, under the beard, is bone-white.

"I'm saying... I'm saying I can never be the Pan again, not after I've killed someone, and not as long as I love you," he says, and David breathes in sharply.

"Don't say that," he mutters. "If you're not the Pan, then what will happen to Neverland?"

"Neverland needs a Pan," Cook says, painfully, "but I don't need Neverland any more.”

Young David’s expression is numb, devastated, he doesn’t know what to even think about this. But Cook isn’t giving him the chance to think, because he’s saying, with terrible, desperate hope, “And you don't have to either, if you like. We can go away together, David, anywhere you want..."

"But Neverland needs a Pan," young David says, numbly. "We can't go away when Neverland needs a Pan..."

... and the skies split open and light falls on them like rain, and in the east a huge fiery bird rears its head and spreads its wings across the horizon, and lets out a high-pitched cry like something being born...

(– Time itself lets out a final tick, tock and falls silent again –)

... and when the sky becomes normal, and a new morning dawns, young David's wearing the green.

Like a puppet on a string, he gets up, and the fairies surround him with happy thoughts and fly him away, fly fly fly, to the place all Pans go.

Captain Cook lies on the deck of the Sea Witch, confused and in pain. He's trying to remember why he's holding onto his pirate hat, and what the fuck's happened to his right hand.

 

...The green fades from the longboat, eventually. Not soon enough.

The Captain says, slowly, "Well, that was unexpected."

David holds up his hand. He’s pretending it’s not white-knuckled and shaking. "See this ring Adamm and I made? This is what it does. You sing, and it sees into you, and shows everyone what's there."

Cook says, like he’s trying to deal with the onrush of memories, "So, it seems I was your Pan, once, and you were the littlest of my Lost Kids, and when I turned my back on Neverland, the story made me into your enemy. Usually boys grow up and choose for themselves? Only the crocodile swallowed Time, tick tock, and you became the Pan and never grew up and never remembered. And I grew old, waiting."

"I think I remembered you loved me when you followed me into the sea," David murmurs. He puts a hand on Cook's soggy knee.

"I think I always remembered, on some level," says Cook, "which is why I kept making these damn guitars and writing those memory songs. The story wanted us to forget, but I knew I needed to remember... And now I do, and so do you."

He holds out his remaining hand to David. Hope lights up his eyes.

"I still love you. You can still give this up, if you want. Maybe we all need to grow up some time, David."

"And force someone else to be the Pan? I can't, I need to think about this,” the Boy says. Abruptly, he gets to his feet, making the longboat rock violently, and takes off into the air. You see he’s having real problems getting airborne.

He traces an unsteady pattern across the moonlit sky, and then he's gone.

 

*

 

You and Peek manage to steer the longboat back to the Sea Witch. Cook doesn't help, he sits there like a toy whose batteries have all run down.

You're not surprised to find that the pirates and the rescue party have fought themselves to a stalemate. The Captain comes out of his funk to agree to the suggested temporary pirate/kid truce.

The Lost Kids are thrilled to find you alive and well, and your brothers and Miley and Justin hug you breathless. Demi, newly liberated from her glass jar, flies over to sit on your shoulder and nestle in your hair.

"Where's David?" Adamm asks you. He's wearing scaly battle armour and a dragon's-head replica helm.

"He had to kill the crocodile. I think he needed to be alone," you tell him, and repeat it for Joe and Britney and Solly. "I'm sure he'll be back, though."

"Well then, we should just all stay put until he comes back," says Britney. "Mr. Skib, in the name of this truce, can we get some dinner and blankets?"

"Let me speak to the quartermaster," says Mr. Skib, nicely. You think he’s quite sweet, even if he can't spell.

Adamm waits until it's just you and him and Demi, and says, "Wendy, what really happened?"

Of course you tell him everything, like he knew you would.

"Oh dear," Adamm says when you're done, and Demi mutters, "Holy crap, we better go find him."

"Yeah, I think we'd better. Wendy, can you make sure Cook's taken care of?"

Well, you agree Cook shouldn't be left alone. "I'll try," you say.

You watch Adamm, Demi and Nick head off into the night. You thought only kids and fairies could fly, but maybe Sirens can too?

The rules of Neverland are confusing enough! After a while, you go look for the Captain.

Peek has obviously said something to Gentleman Neal, because Neal's got Cook in one corner and pouring some smelly alcoholic drink down his Captain's throat. There’s a bunch of mugs on the floor around them. Cook’s drinking like a man who hasn't anything left to lose any more.

"Not sure this is such a good idea," you tell the Gentleman, who raises his pierced eyebrow at you.

"Sweetheart, I'm gonna forgive you for making me carry you up the stairs, but about this, a kid like you has no idea. The Captain just needs to forget."

"It's a shame, that's all, 'cause your Captain's been trying for years to remember," you say; where that came from, you haven't a clue.

It's pretty effective, though. Neal raises his eyebrow at Cook, and the Captain sighs loudly and pushes the mug away.

"So much for drinking my troubles away," he says. "You're right, Wendy, I did want my memory back, and now I have everything again I'm wondering if ignorance might have been better."

He looks so sad, so much older. You don't know how old he actually is, how many years he'd spent being the Captain, but it must have been a long, lonely time.

You surprise yourself by taking his hand. "Knowing is much better than not knowing.”

He's surprised, too, then he smiles. "I keep forgetting how smart kids are," he says, and lets you help him up.

 

*

 

You spend the night curled up with your brothers on a mattress on the Sea Witch's deck, Miley on one side and Britts on the other. Joe and Solly keep a watch roster - the pirates may have called for a truce, but no one’s stupid enough to totally trust them.

The Captain comes on deck in the morning. He’s changed out of his waterlogged clothes, and stands at the ship's rail, ignoring the buzz of crew about their chores and kids and Native Landers and fairies trying to keep out of the way. He refuses breakfast, and keeps his eyes on the horizon like he's planning on standing there all day.

At noon Gentleman Starkey goes over to speak with him; he accepts a flask of water and some food from Mr. Skib. Then Solly approaches, and they have a quiet conversation.

It seems Solly actually remembers Cook from before, from when Cook was the Pan. Solly was a little boy then; the Boy Cook, apparently, gave him a toy made from twine and beads, and Solly kept it for years. The story makes both men smile, and you have to smile too.

At last, you make your way over to the Captain. Peek found you a clean shirt, so at least you don't smell like the brig any more.

The Captain looks quite handsome in the afternoon light. Someone's polished the wristwatch and fastened it to a new length of leather - it shines from his right wrist, above the hook.

His eyes, though, are filled with an old sadness, which you finally understand.

"He'll be back," you tell Cook, after a while.

"His people are still on board, so I know he will. Whether he'll let himself be with me, though, or want to drive me away from Neverland forever..." Cook shrugs. "He always loved the Land and her people, even more than I did when I was Pan. I don't know if he could ever leave."

"I know he does love Neverland, but. I think he's also lonely." You struggle for the right words. "Being a kid is great. But being a kid forever, never growing up, never falling in love... You could get tired of that."

Then you remember something else. "The ring David has, he made it because he wanted to see if Neverland's connection with the Pan could be safely broken. He didn't want anyone else to be forced into being the Pan, like he was."

Cook turns to look at you. His eyes are green as the truth ring, as green as David's own.

"That's pretty heroic of him," he says. "But that's our David, always thinking about what's best for everyone else."

You both watch the sea for a long time. Once or twice, you think you see mermaids, or crocodiles, but you can't be sure.

 

*

 

The sun starts to fade, and there’s no sign of the returning Pan. The rescue party sets about preparing for another night aboard the Sea Witch.

The pirate crew get busy with the rigging of the ship's sails, with arranging for extra chow, re-lighting the oil lanterns along the port and starboard rails.

Cook doesn't move from his position at the ship's rail. He could have been the Sea Witch's masthead, his prominent nose sniffing the sea air, red hair blowing in the wind. Waiting for the Boy David to come back.

And then, as the red sun sets, finally, four figures appear on the horizon.

Adamm and Demi look tired, like they'd flown a long way. Nick is fresh and real excited about something. But you can't look anywhere but at David, and you bet everyone else is looking, too.

The Boy looks kind of messed up. His head is bare, his tunic’s torn at the shoulder. Even from far off you can see he's scraped his knee badly, and one arm is bleeding from the elbow. But he’s flying straight and true, like he'll keep going to the ends of the earth if needed.

Slowly, he dips from the sky to cross the length of the ship towards you, moving between the lanterns strung across her side. He floats from light to shade and back to light again.

As he crosses the lamplight you can see he's changing, growing taller and bigger and older before your eyes.

He stops in the final circle of light, where the Captain’s standing.

He’s now almost as tall as Cook, you can see how his chest and shoulders stretch out the green tunic. His face in the lamplight looks fierce, looks older: a man's face, all planes and angles and complicated emotion.

You see that his bare feet are touching the ground.

Not the Boy, then, not any more.

You can't believe it, and neither can the Captain.

"Now I’m ready," he tells Cook, and reaches up and kisses him on the mouth.

 

*

 

What happens when the Pan and his enemy Captain fall in love?

The story said he was the boy who'd never grow up. The story said the Captain would always be his hated nemesis. But the story can't be true forever. Boys grow up, they become men, they fall in love, and love is just hate in reverse.

Or so Cook tells you anyway the next morning, when he staggers back on deck, his arm slung around David's neck. He looks years younger than he did yesterday, and happier than you ever believed he could look.

It's really sweet how they kind of can't keep their hands off each other. Kind of like they're amazed that after all this time they'd finally managed to break free of the story and to write a new one by themselves.

"Never hated you, exactly," David says, grinning. You can't get over how he looks as an adult, how the same boyish features now fit in a leaner, older face. He's wearing one of the Captain's shirts and baggy sleep shorts, and he's now broad enough to fill them out.

He continues, "You were a worthy adversary! But you were a better friend, before, and, now, well. This is the best."

David's not so old he can't still blush. Heck, you think Cook's blushing too.

"Explain to me again how you got this banged up, because it wasn't at all me," Cook says, taking hold of David's arm and squinting at it in the sunlight. You all look at the ugly scrape on David's elbow. Cook rubs at it gently with his thumb.

David says, "Ah, I must have got this when I took a spill after the south ridge base camp at Mount Wisdom. I don't remember getting this badly scraped, though..."

"No, because you'd been flying and climbing all night and all morning –"

You say, "David, you went to Mount Wisdom?"

"Yes," David says. "And the Phoenix told me that if this was what I wanted, she'd help Neverland stand alone without the Pan."

"Just like that?" you ask, because no way it can be this easy.

David says, "Well, not permanently - Adamm and Demi and I, we're going to have to travel to Neverland's End to see the Old Man Beyond the Seas, he's the one who writes the Story of Neverland. It's apparently really far away, and there might be sea monsters and storms and all kinds of things. But, yes, after we make it there, it'll happen, the story will be changed for good."

"You know the Sea Witch is at your disposal," Cook says grandly, and David smiles.

"I had a feeling it might be! Anyway, Nick told me that a couple of the Lost Kids really want to be the Pan, so the Phoenix thought they can take turns till they're ready to grow up and pass the green along."

"So the story might change, but it'll also stay the same," says Cook. "And, believe it or not, it looks like we might actually get our happy ending."

"Believe it," David says softly, and takes Cook's good hand in his.

 

*

 

Now that the Phoenix has changed things, the Lost Kids decide to do the democratic thing by holding auditions for the honor of being the Pan and escorting you Darlings back to America.

Surprisingly, everyone wants you and Dan and Jamie to judge the auditions. Cook and David say they’ve spent enough time thinking about Panhood. Besides, they’ve got the rest of their lives to plan for, and you suspect that once they’re done with the Neverland’s End mission Cook is going to give up the Captaincy, too.

You can already imagine the new stories about The Grand Adventures of Gentleman Neal Starkey and Mr. Skib!

The Pan Auditions are hilarious. Justin gets on his knees and sings about how you're just his baby baby baby oh, which is catchy but at the same time kind of juvenile when you think about it. Obviously you're not going to be someone's always-baby, that's kind of the point about this story.

(Also, somehow, you don't think the world's quite ready for Bieber Pan, you're just putting that out there.)

Nick sings A Heart Full of Love" from Les Miserables. It's fantastic, and he ends up winning the green.

So that very night, he gets to fly you and Dan and Jamie back to the nursery in the quiet street where you live.

He has this look in his eye which you think you now understand. You never noticed how enticingly his hair curls across his forehead. He hugs all of you and tucks you into bed, all forever-Pan-like, but his hands are very warm.

You place a silent bet that he won't be the Pan for long.

And one night in the next year, you find him on the windowsill of your new room, smiling like a sunrise, and you discover that you're right.

THE END