She was raised on the stories of danger and adventure, fairies and pirates and children who ran away from home to just have a taste of what it’s like to live an extraordinary life. She was an only child, not like the children who ran away in the stories, so when she played out the stories she played all the parts herself. In the privacy of her bedroom she was at once the girl whisked away, the spirit of youth and his band of lost boys, the pirate bent on his destruction and his crew of swashbuckling crooks, and the loyal but wildly independent fairy.
So she wasn’t surprised when he came to her bedroom window one night, taught her how to fly, and took her away to play with him. She didn’t care when he would forget she was there on the journey over, because she knew the way. She didn’t even blink an eye to discover that the Lost Boys were all different from the ones whose names she’d memorized — of course all of those boys had left to grow up.
Silly boys, she’d always thought, who would willingly do that?
It was so much more fun having more children to play games with. It had been a little exhausting playing every part herself, after all. And even better since these children could really play out all of Peter’s adventures since many of them had been there, or at least Peter had and could tell them when they got something wrong — which he often did. The only trouble was that Peter’s adventures was the only game they ever wanted to play, because that was the only game that Peter ever wanted to play. Even when they ran out of adventures to act out, Peter asked her to come up with new ones for them to play.
One day, when Peter got tired of playing one of his old adventures again, he told her to come up with a new one for them. But where it used to feel like an honor to decide what they would play for the day, now it was starting to feel like a chore. It wasn’t that Peter thought she came up with the best ideas, it was just that he was too lazy to think of anything himself.
So she told him, “Why don’t you think of something to play yourself for a change?”
And he said, “Alright, I will.”
Before she knew it, they were sneaking their way to Pirate’s Cove where Peter knew the crew of the Jolly Roger would be coming ashore to replenish their supplies. Peter’s plan was to ambush them just before they were to load everything up onto their dinghies and steal the supplies. Then the Lost Boys would have a great feast and the pirates would have to scrounge up their supplies all over again. Peter thought this plan was very clever and amusing.
It seemed somehow cruel to her, though. And when they finally came upon the pirates getting ready to load their dinghies, tired and dirty from a long day’s work, she made her decision. Before Peter gave the signal, she rushed out of the forest and onto the beach, shouting to warn the pirates about the trap.
Everything happened so quickly then.
The pirates pulled their weapons and turned them on the trees where the Lost Boys had appeared. The pirates were ready for the fight this time, though, and were able to hold the Boys off long enough for her and two of the men to load most of the necessities onto the dinghies. They set sail under attack and the last pirate had to swim to catch up while the Lost Boys took what had been left on the shore.
Somehow she had ended up in one of the pirates’ dinghies, bobbing along the waves towards the Jolly Roger, watching as Peter loaded up the Lost Boys and disappeared back into the forest without even a glance in her direction.
As if he hadn’t even noticed she was gone.
The Captain assured her that Peter would be coming to rescue her soon and tied her to the mast to make sure he would see her when he flew overhead. When night fell, he locked her in the cabin nearest his so she could sleep. Days passed like that — tied to the mast in the morning, locked in a cabin at night, taking her meals with the crew — until Peter finally came.
"This is it!" the Captain gave the cry. The crew came barreling on deck with swords and pistols at hand, ready to battle.
And battle they did. Swords crashed and guns fired all around her, and she waited for her savior to cut the ropes and take her back to the mainland to play once again.
But he never did. It became clear soon that Peter hadn’t come to the ship for her, but rather to raid the Captain’s treasure stores. As soon as all of the pirates were occupied and the Captain distracted by Peter, three of the biggest boys snuck below deck to fill their pockets with gold and jewels.
Forgotten and betrayed, she lashed out with her free legs, tripping one of the fighting Boys and gaining his knife. She cut herself free of the ropes and the alarm warning of the freed prisoner was cut short as she fought the Boys back alongside the pirates, blocking off the thieving ones’ escape and making them empty their pockets before shoving them overboard to swim empty-handed back to shore.
A cry of victory not heard in some time went up from the crew and that night she celebrated as one of them.
She no longer spent her days playing games with Boys or tied up as a prisoner; instead she spent them working on the ship. Nights she spent sleeping in the cabin that was given to her, the key to which was kept in her own pocket. She still took meals with the crew, but instead of listening to pirates reassuring her that her savior would come to rescue her soon, she listened to them comfort her with platitudes about the selfishness and cruelty of children. Don’t feel too bad, they told her, it’s just the nature of children to be selfish, to only think of themselves regardless of how cruel it is towards the people who loved them.
Soon she believed it too. After all, hadn’t she selfishly flown off on her own to have an adventure without a thought to her family waiting for her back home? Just like the other children from the stories, who were also called selfish.
The more time she spent with the pirates, the more she could feel herself growing up. She liked working on the ship more than she’d ever liked doing her chores back home, and she found herself resenting Peter and Lost the Boys the same as the pirates did. After all, the pirates weren’t selfish and cruel like Peter was; they were all adults, which meant that they knew better.
Or so she thought. Until the day a group of them came back from their supply run, clutching a small barrel tightly.
A fairy! They announced gleefully. They’d caught a fairy!
At first she was just as excited as they were, until the Captain announced what they intended to do to the fairy in order to make it tell them the location of Peter’s latest hideout.
"You can’t!" she cried, and just as she did the barrel jerked free of the hold that had loosened in surprise at her outburst.
She watched as it wobbled and spun above their heads, tinkling angrily and golden dust spilling from it. The pirates just stared trying to figure out how to get it back down again without freeing the fairy inside.
And in that moment she realized that the pirates were no different from the Lost Boys she’d left.
It wasn’t that children were inherently selfish and cruel and that adults couldn’t be because they’d lived longer and knew better. It was that those Boys lived in a world where the only people they had to care about were themselves. That made them selfish and cruel, and they would eventually grow up and leave the Lost Boys to become selfish and cruel pirates.
Pirates who’d lived such selfish and cruel lives for so long, that they’d even forgotten that they’d once wanted to fly, nevermind how to do it.
And they’d made her forget too.
She made up her mind then and there and hurried after the barrel, letting it shower her in that magic gold dust. She rubbed it into her face and skin like water on parched skin and the pirates looked on in wonder as her feet lifted from the deck. She flew after the barrel and freed the fairy inside as soon as she caught it.
The pirates below cheered her and the Captain called up to her to grab the fairy and bring it back down so that they could get to work. Instead, she blew him a raspberry and tossed the barrel back down only to smack the first mate in the nose.
She laughed and the fairy laughed with her, and as soon as she heard it she knew that that this fairy was her own.
They flew to the edge of Neverland together and the fairy led her back home, away from selfish boys and cruel pirates, floating among the stars and leaving a trail of magic gold behind them.