Summary: This chapter is a MuseFic of the rewrite of the original Too Old for Neverland story, in which the Writer and Wendy spin up a new draft and work some of the kinks out of the worldbuilding.
MuseFic is in black, the original draft is in blue, and the new draft is in green.
NOTE: This is a MuseFic in which the Writer, the Muse, and her fictives work to create the rough draft of a story (or just worldbuild). There will be spoilers for the story being drafted, which will most likely contain plot holes, retcons, and other inconsistencies.
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Too Old for Neverland
The story mists were sluggish and thick, drifting through the faux-living room like fog. They thinned a bit near the Writer as she worked but otherwise the room was empty, echoing with the sounds of a distant ocean.
The woman who wasn’t quite Wendy walked in from the mists. Her form fluid and ever-changing, but seeped in a sense of Home. She crouched beside the Writer and the creative mess that was expanding around her, shooing away the horde of unnecessarily poetic flourishes.
“You’re building me a world,” said Wendy, frowning as she looked over the index cards spread out on the wooden floor of the faux-living room. “Why?”
The Writer shrugged without looking up from where she kneeling, deep in the outline of the not-really-a-book flash fiction collection. “Why not?”
“You have plenty of other universes that need your help,” Wendy picked up the card for The Tao of Names, “Mine is so tiny and so… empty.” The card had only the title on it and a note in blue marker that said ‘letting go of the past.’
“Which is why it’s not a bad place to start learning how to do this whole ‘writing’ thing properly.” The Writer started adding new notecards to the layout, adorned with various colored notes to indicate future stories. “I have the feel of your world and the basics of it. Now I just need to unwind it into prose.”
Wendy plucked up the draft of Too Old for Neverland from the nothing where it had been waiting and flipped through it as the Writer worked. It was hard to remember how much of her world had ever made it onto the page and what was still out in the mists.
Once The Writer was satisfied with the layout and general flow, she snapped her fingers and transferred the cards to the Endless Whiteboard that helpfully unfurled from the Story Mists.
“So the plan is to start with the keystone fic,” the Writer circled Too Old for Neverland on the board, “and then expand the story outward using the drabbles. I’m going to be rewriting it since it’s– err, a smidge old.”
“Thirteen years old,” said Wendy with a laugh, “I can’t decide if that’s unlucky or not.”
“It’s accidentally appropriate, I suppose. But it’s gone to the developmental editor and back, so now it’s time for me to rework it into something better, something closer to what I meant it to be.” The Writer summoned a lap desk out of the story mist.
“So what is it meant to be?” Wendy handed the draft to the Writer who curled up on the interdimensional couch as it faded in from the mists. The Writer absent-mindedly took the Diet Coke the sofa offered as she settled in to work.
“An introduction to the idea of you and Peter and the kids he steals away. I wanted it to touch on the vague outline of things, but explain very little– so that the reader has a sense of the ‘verse but mostly just curiosity and questions about what’s going on.”
“Then it needs to be longer,” Wendy said, glancing at the whiteboard and its rainbow of doodles. “There’s not enough to let people know what they’re getting into. You wrote this long before the rest, so my world is nothing but hints of shadows.”
“It’s still just shadows now, honestly, but the story doesn’t have to be that long, it just has to be effective.” The Writer rolled up her sleeves, got out her red marker and got to work.
They were too old for Neverland, those lost scarred souls that balanced on the edge of Growing Up. The runaways, the cast-offs, the stumbling death of innocence and faith. They were His Lost children, and He gathered them home.
“It’s close but overly poetic.” The Writer frowned down at the not-really-a-prologue opener. “Also, I’m not sure capitalizing the He/Him/etc. makes sense, even if Peter doesn’t have a proper name to use instead.”
“Try this.” Wendy leaned over and twisted the middle sentence around.
Cast-offs and runaways, desperate to be someplace else, anywhere else with a burning need that echoed across the void.
“Nice,” said the Writer. “I don’t know that ‘void’ is right, but I don’t want to drown them in details. Hmm, maybe just ‘down the Path’ instead.”
“It’s a little odd to have a prologue in a short story, isn’t it?” The fuzzy edges of Wendy’s description settled into something more static as she settled into the opposite end of the couch. She gnawed thoughtfully on the end of her faded blue hoodie string. “Does it even need to be there?”
“You’re a ‘once upon a time’ sort of story, so I think it fits? We could move it out and just have it as the ‘verse tagline. But it’s what the drabbles will be doing in the collection: giving a little glimpse into the world that’s followed by something longer.”
He was too old for names, but they always tried to name him. He wasn’t sure what comfort it gave them, none had ever fit him well. Old man, Peter, Gabriel, and once Ford Prefect, although that boy had been laughing when he said it.
The young had no grasp over the power of names.
“This… doesn’t work at all,” the Writer muttered and crossed out the whole mess. “Douglas Adams in-jokes aside, there has to be a better way to explain the concept of Peter and touch on the magic of names.”
“Do I get to point out that this is my ‘verse, but the introductory story makes it out to be Peter’s?”
“I plead the fifth. Now, let’s see…”
He was too old for names, too deep and broad to bind, but the children tried to name him anyway, oblivious to their failures. Every time he stepped off the path and into the realms of men, names swarmed him and hung off-kilter on his shoulders.
“Hah, so that’s why the name fits when you talk about him,” said the Writer as a plot hole suddenly clicked closed. “You aren’t just saying a name, you’re saying what he is in the same way you Call the kids back out of Neverland. It’s the whole of the thing, not just the part. Or at least most of the whole.”
“So ‘Peter’ isn’t going to have any power over him, unless I’m the one saying it.” Wendy hummed thoughtfully as she looked over the assorted teas the sofa had offered. “I don’t see how that helps the plots any.”
“Not for the stories we have so far, but it’ll be useful some point in the future. Pansting is like that, it all just falls together as I go.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it.” The last bits of Fae had faded away and Wendy was slowly settling into the person she might have been before the bargain. She was still just a rough outline, but it was an outline that was apparently fond of tea.
A soft crescendo of chimes brought his attention back, focusing on the here and now. Focusing on the scruffy boy who watched the cars go by with calculating eyes. As he slowed and pulled over, Campana shivered and in a heartbeat, she was a dusty blue sedan filled to the brim with moving boxes, and always had been.
Safe, she sang. Comfort. Peace. The car knew somehow, to lure them closer with a soft mimicry of home. Feral and fae, she was his fair Campana just so long as it pleased her.
“This is too vague a description for Campana, maybe.” The Writer scanned down the rest of the fic. “Yeah, there’s almost nothing here that defines her, plus I’m not seeing much that sets what time period we’re in.”
“This one was in the early 80’s, from what I remember. Did you ever decide when I’m from?”
“Sometime after 1904 when Peter Pan first hit paper, but that’s as far as I got. You’ve got a wide range of possibilities, I don’t tend to start limiting things until I figure out how it fits into the ‘verse. So. Campana.”
“In name only,” the Writer objected, doodling various methods of transportation in the margins. “Actually, maybe this is okay. She’s not really part of the story, so much as a set-piece. I’m tweaking this line though…”
Safe, she sang in the purr of her engine and the way the sunlight ran down her sides. Comfort. Peace. She was a soft mimicry of whatever they needed to see.
“Peter’s done, Campana’s done… So we’re left with the kid, who is given neither a name nor a description.” Wendy was not overly impressed by the Writer’s ability to solidify things.
“He doesn’t need one,” the Writer shrugged, “he’s a placeholder for everyone Peter’s ever taken. It’s his emotions that are the key to the scene, not who he is beyond that.”
“So we’re not following his story?”
“…I wasn’t going to? But I guess I should check with the Beta readers and see. The plan was to hop from this to Wendy and the unLost, leaving the boy to disappear into Neverland.”
He envied Campana, who wore her name like shoes, slipping a tiny part of herself into being his mode of transportation, in whatever shape was needed. Feral and fae, she was his fair Campana just so long as it pleased her.
A soft crescendo of chimes from the car brought his attention back, focusing on the call they were following and not the itch of chains around his neck.
Focusing on the scruffy boy watching cars go by with calculating eyes.
“I don’t think ‘scruffy’ is the right word here, but I can’t think of anything better.” The Writer flipped through the synonym lists. “Ruffled? Unkempt? Battered seems too over-the-top.”
“I thought we were focusing on the emotional,” pointed out Wendy as she poked around in the misty corners of her own backstory.
Focusing on the boy watching cars go by with tired, calculating eyes.
As they slowed, Campana shivered and in a heartbeat, she was a dusty blue station wagon and always had been. Wood-paneled and slightly battered, filled to the brim with moving boxes she was the right sort of harmless to temper his fears.
“You’re going to try and set the time period with a car type.” Wendy was not impressed.
“Station wagons were everywhere in the 80’s,” the Writer objected. “But, yeah, I need it to be obvious this was before cell phones and GPS, since Peter needs a believable reason to need a navigator. I meant the story is pretty much tailored to be the thing that this specific kid is willing to believe, but still.”
A dogeared map was in the empty passenger’s seat, half-folded and lined with highlighter.
“…Meh? It’ll do for now.” The Writer checked off the paragraph and moved on.
“Did you want a ride?” He had his own magic, a sympathetic twist much like the car. He looked familiar, comforting, a canny mimicry of someone they had trusted once. The boy eyed him with a frank assessment of the possible threat, then ambled over.
The Writer winced. “Okay, we need to make that opening line slightly less creepy. Somehow.”
“But it still needs to meet the requirements of a wish,” Wendy said. “He has to ask if they want to go Away and they have to mean it when they say yes and get in the car.”
“So if a kid changes their mind and gets in just trying to mug him or go somewhere specific, it won’t work?”
“A bargain is a bargain, they have to make it.”
“Well, hmm.” The Writer broke out the colored markers and doodle paper. “Then I’m just going to write everything I can think of… and we’ll pick the best of the mess.”
There was a long pause (and much doodling).
“Looking for a ride?” He had his own magic, a sympathetic twist much like the car. Everyone saw someone who felt familiar, comforting, a canny echo of someone they had trusted once. Even if that someone was only in their dreams.
The boy eyed him with a frank assessment of the possible threat, then ambled over. “To where?”
“You’re rearranging the conversation?” Wendy frowned.
“A little, I’m trying to tighten it up a bit. I want to keep things under a thousand words and I know I’m adding words once we get to you. Plus I thought up something fun while I was testing out all of the bazillion creepy openings.”
“A ride. I’m headed out on a cross-country trip and my partner called in sick. I just need an extra pair of eyes.” He didn’t take them all, only the ones who’d stepped past hope and were already on the long descent. “You don’t have to come the whole way, I just need help until I hit the midpoint.” The others, he simply chatted with, passed on a few dollars to help them on their way and left. “I can pay, if you need it.”
“Where’re you going?”
The Writer dumped the entire section in the trash and started over.
“Away,” he said, but that was never what they heard. It became whatever they longed for when they dreamed of escape, somewhere better, somewhere safe. Everything was molded by what they needed to hear. “I had a friend who was helping me move, but he broke his leg and I’m short a navigator.”
“And you’re asking me.” Sarcastic insults layered over the spark of hope he’d seen a thousand times before.
“You looked like you could use a ride.” He didn’t take them all, only the ones who’d stepped past hope and were already on that long descent. Couldn’t take them, unless they meant it when they stepped into the car or the cart or the boat and said Take me Away.
“I have to admit, it makes my brain hurt a little to work with the concept that nothing the Fae say or are is actually what’s happening.” The Writer leaned back from the keyboard with a sigh. “The whole idea that they are just too big for words or existence, really, is a bit boggling.”
“I love how the further we get into this the more complicated you make my life,” said Wendy. The endless whiteboard was slowly filling up with worldbook notes as the story unwound. “Why can’t it be Peter’s turn for headaches? I vote that he got some of the humanity I lost when I made the bargain.”
“I haven’t even decided how much humanity Peter has, so let’s save that for another fic, I just want to finish this one first.”
There was the measuring look again, then that brief flash of sorrow in the eyes that signaled the end. The death of one life and the birth of another. He could almost see the last bits of home flake off and fade away. The boy was his now, as soon as he stepped into the car.
“Okay, so this is the tipping point where the kid decides to go, but Peter is our POV and we’re trying to focus on the emotions. Hmm…” The Writer stopped to sketch out a mindmap of all the emotions the boy might be feeling.
“Shouldn’t he be refusing the call to adventure before he just hops in the car?”
“If this was a proper story? …Probably. But this is just a small glimpse into the larger arc and I maintain it doesn’t have to follow the rules.”
“You rely way too much on your drabbling roots.”
For a long moment, the boy didn’t answer. Children knew –even if they didn’t know— what the bargain he was offering meant. Few took it immediately, those that did were so far down the path that sometimes even Underhill couldn’t save them.
He waited patiently as Campana sang promises at the edge of comprehension.
“Yeah… Yeah, get me out of here.”
He could almost see the last bits of home flake off and fade away as the boy reached for the door handle. The boy was his now, as soon as he stepped into the car.
“Wait, why does Peter get to be the good guy?”
“Because he is? Sort of?” The Writer shrugged. “Look, you’re both good guys, just different kinds of good. I mean he’s saving them only to fade away later in Neverland, so– good-ish?”
“Peter is a placeholder for Death,” Wendy pointed out, “and I’m Life and you are setting Death up as the good guy.”
“One of the good guys!”
Wendy was not impressed.
“Wait!” She came running from the alley, frantic in her haste. “Wait!”
She could have been anyone, in faded jeans and a battered t-shirt that echoed his own ancient magic. Young enough for names, she’d sold hers for the chance to follow him.
“I sound so desperate,” Wendy objected, “I’m much more Fae in the other fics. Also, this makes me sound like a Peter groupie instead of an antagonist.”
“Which was why I pointed out that we were going to be adding a lot of words once we got to you.” The Writer broke out a fresh piece of doodle paper. “Now, let’s see if we can mold the introduction into something a little more coherent.
A teenage girl jogged over from the alley, in faded jeans and battered band t-shirt that echoed his own ancient magic. But she was dancing on the edge of familiar in a normal, grounded way he never could.
Young enough for names, she’d sold hers for the chance to win the children back.
“Did you just de-age me?” Wendy frowned and looked down, but she still hadn’t solidified enough for comparison. “Where is this in the timeline?”
“No clue., but it lays out why you’re there, how you have magic, and sets the stakes for the argument over the boy.” The Writer glanced over at the whiteboard. “I think I might want to tie in a little more of the backstory, but for now it’s enough to catch the reader’s interest. I hope.”
He could feel the boy waver and snarled deep below the crest of hearing. The engine revved in sympathetic fury.
“Don’t go, please,” she came closer as the boy edged towards the car.
“Okay, so it might be overly poetic, but I really like that line. But I don’t think a single word is really going to be enough to pause the kid, so it’s swap the order a bit.”
“Don’t go, please,” she came closer as the boy edged towards the car. If he was everything that they’d dreamed of as Away then she was all the things they’d wanted Home to be.
He could feel the boy waver and snarled deep below the crest of hearing. She couldn’t make them stay, no more that he could make them go, but the boy was his. Campana’s engine revved in sympathetic fury.
“And so, the battle for the boy begins!”
“It’s not much of a battle,” Wendy pointed out. “Peter asks him to go, I ask him to stay… the kid makes a choice and life goes on.”
“High-stakes result, low-effort fight,” the Writer admitted. “I have no idea how this is going to play with the beta readers. Maybe I need to add more witty banter?”
Wendy gave her a look.
“Right, right. Neither of you are really Wheedon-esque fictives, it was just a thought.” She frowned down at the draft. “This next bit is really not what I was aiming for, so I’m going to just redo the rest of the ‘battle’ in one fell swoop.”
“Why?” Skeptical and harsh. His, his.
“You won’t come back.” She leaned a hand against a street sign and caught her breath, “They never come back.” Mortal eyes, tinged with something fae, made him pause one foot inside the car.
“Who says I want to?” the boy snorted “Got nothing to hold me here.”
“Nothing?” There was that proffered hope, the chance to step back across the line he’d drawn. It shone bright and searing, and the car and driver dimmed before it. Home, she called to him. Remember.
“Nothing.” Flat and angry, a declaration against the world. Against the anguish of what was, instead of what could have been. His.
“This is all sorts of not-working.” The Writer sighed. “The beats feel disconnected and the whole he/him thing is starting to give me a headache.”
“The bones are there, you’ve just built one highly-improbable dinosaur out of them.”
“Right, so we need you to point out that the boy knows Peter’s not really what he seems, but is about to follow him anyway. You also need to try to remind him that there’s still hope of a better life on this side of the gates and offer him a way out.”
“Which he turns down.”
“Because Death always wins.”
“Sometimes wins, and he’s not Death. Right, let’s try this again then…”
“Why?” The word holds a depth it might not normally, if they weren’t there to amplify.
She leans against a street sign, head bowed to catch her breath, and he can see the weight of the question settle around her shoulders. He always says what they need to hear, but she’s still learning how.
“You won’t come back.” She looks up, mortal eyes tinged with something fae. She’s suppressing her magic, forcing the boy to admit to himself what they are. “They never come back.”
“Who says I want to?” It’s a reflexive response, too quick, too sharp, but there’s a short lifetime of pain built up behind it. The ones who truly fear the dark never call out loud enough to hear.
Away, away, sings Campana, to calm his fears.
“There’s still a place for you here, somewhere and somewhen” she says, offering the chance to step back across the line he’d drawn, “and I can help you find it.”
That was her bargain, as Away was his, and the truth of it was etched into each word. For a moment the hope of Home shone bright and searing and the car and driver dimmed before it.
But the boy was his.
“I’ve got nothing here,” the boy said, flat and angry, but no longer scared. A declaration against the world, against what was, instead of what could have been.
“Not quite where I want it to be, but much better.”
“That bit about me finding them a Home is new,” said Wendy thoughtfully. “But I like the balanced bargains and it makes more sense for why I can use the path to time travel.”
“And why you have your own false Neverland that’s Home to some of the unLost.” The Writer eyed the endless whiteboard, seeing the shadows of things that hadn’t quite finished worldbuilding.
“But I did lie to the kid, with ‘never come back’. That’s the whole point of me Calling them home, isn’t it?”
“I would argue that the kids you get back aren’t the same kids that went into Neverland, plus they never return home they always end up someplace else.”
“Semantics,” grumped Wendy.
“What I do best!” The Writer grinned and flipped to the last section. “Now to wrap up this draft…”
As the door closed, He grinned at her in predatory triumph. “You can’t win them all.”
“I can try.” She stepped back as he shifted out of park.
“Hey, we going or not?” The boy kicked the back of his seat, glaring at the woman standing sadly outside.
With a whirr of windchime gears he left her there, the man who wasn’t Pan, and the woman who wasn’t Wendy watched him go. They’d met a thousand times before and they’d always meet again, as sure as starlight. She had promises to keep.
“This part is actually pretty close, lemme tweak the dialog and see where we end up. Then I need to go back and fix all the tense contradictions. And capitalization issues. Arg.”
Wendy shrugged, she never liked losing, but the story was what it was. She’d win the next one. Maybe.
She steps away as the boy opens the door and takes his seat, picking up the map and not looking back.
He grins as the bargain settled into place and the path begins to reopen for them.
“I’ll never stop trying.” She says, frustrated and grieving for the could-have-beens. “Never.”
Which he already knows, even if she doesn’t– she can’t stop, even if she wanted to, no more than he could decide to take up gardening instead. They always have been and always will be, there’s no room in the magic for contradictions.
With a whirr of windchime gears, he left her there, the man who wasn’t Pan, and the woman who wasn’t Wendy watched him go. They’d met a thousand times before and they’d always meet again, as sure as starlight.
They had bargains to keep.
“Okay, I like that a LOT more,” said the Writer. “It’s rough, because, draft, but it’s so much closer to what I wanted the opening story to be.”
“You’ve gone and buffed my powerset again,” said Wendy with a sigh. “Always have been, always will be– only I’m not because I was human once.”
“Yes, for a tiny span of eternity you were not, well, you-that-is. But statistically, you weren’t!”
Wendy sighed and wondered if it was too late to let this be Peter’s ‘verse instead.
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