It's as if she's woken from a very strange dream. Suguru's hand is solid in hers, and only when she steps down from the rails does she realize her legs are shaking.
“Let’s talk,” Suguru repeats, his voice low, imploring. Izumi remembers him as a curt boy who never knew how to say the right thing. Now, of all times, he chooses his words with care. Suguru holds her to his shoulder when she cries, lets her muffles her screams in his collar. When she finally collapses against him, he tells her again: You’ll be okay.
In all the times they’ve spoken, Suguru has never been capable of lying.
The first thing Peter says to him when they meet again is, “I want to eat ten donuts.”
Tootles says, because he hadn’t been expecting that, “I don’t want to fly.” The instant the words leave his mouth, he tenses; he won’t rescind the words because he does mean them, but despite what happened the last time he defied Peter he still fears being rejected.
“I don’t feel much like flying anymore,” Peter tells him carelessly. He tosses his head back, grinning wide, and the smile he sends Tootles is the same empty one he used when he was standing in front of Donkey’s dead body. This time, though, they’re sitting by a clear stream, the wind gently stirring their hair, and Tootles can sense Donkey’s presence like a warm blanket around his heart. I love you, he hears, even though there’s nothing but silence around them.
Tootles doesn’t want to fly, but this time Peter isn’t asking him to. “Okay,” he says, taking Peter’s hand. “Just this once.”
They eat ten donuts, five each, and when Peter is on his last he finishes half and presses the rest to Tootles’ lips. “Eat,” he says, in the voice Tootles has never been able to resist. His eyes crinkle at the corners. Tootles opens his mouth under the insistent pressure of Peter’s hand and tastes cinnamon and sugar on his tongue. Before he can swallow, he’s caught again, and this time it’s Peter’s lips against his, demanding attention, sweeping up crumbs from the edge of Tootles’ teeth.
The last time this happened, it ended with Tootles coughing up blood. He still remembers the burning pain, the terror of wanting to scream but not being able. He remembers how Peter had forced his teeth apart and yanked his tongue from his throat with cold, detached force. He wonders if Peter remembers it too.
If so, it doesn’t seem to bother him. He brushes Tootles’ fringe back and kisses him lingeringly – as if he means it. “What are you thinking about?” he asks after. It’s a dangerous question.
Tootles takes his hands. “I love you.”
In their past life he’d always said it brightly, with conviction. Even so, it had been an empty confession. His current incarnation speaks less, but thinks more; he doesn’t love himself the way the Boy tells him he should, but there are things he wants to try and people he wants to see, so he won’t fly. He wants to be loved, not through the pretty words Peter tempts him with but through the warmth he can feel in his heart when there’s nothing but silence around him. He loves Peter, but he doesn’t want to die by his hand. He is, altogether, quite a different person from the boy Peter had professed to love before.
“I love you too,” Peter gushes, hugging him tight. He sounds exactly the same, except this time he isn’t asking for things Tootles doesn’t want to give.
Perhaps that is the only difference which matters.
They can never truly die, not while Wendy is with them. Tootles still lacks the intelligence to fully comprehend the workings of their world, but he’s sure Peter knows. Peter always knows. He always shows up when one of them is feeling weak, when they’re all starting to look up longingly at the sky.
“Let’s go shopping,” he says, clambering up that long pole of his. “Just for a bit.”
The Boy accompanies them everywhere they go, holding Wendy’s hand and staring daggers at Peter. Tootles responds by reaching up and looping his arms around Peter’s neck to distract him. He doesn’t like the thought that they might start fighting, even if Peter has stopped carrying knives around, and Peter doesn’t push him away, something that fills his chest with joy. Donkey teaches him that words have layers and actions speak, so Tootles never stops listening for the small concessions Peter makes that whisper, I love you.
“Try this,” Peter suggests. He holds up a thick green coat, far too extravagant for someone like Tootles. He can’t help himself, Tootles thinks; it’s who he is. Peter will never stops suggesting things a fraction too far removed from reality. He’s optimistic, hopeful, relentless – and he always has a plan ready at hand. He’ll never run out of ideas, but he can’t tell the bad ones from the good. When he gets hooked, he’s stubborn. It’s startling for Tootles to realize that he knows Peter, enough to list everything he likes about him to the Boy when asked. No matter what, there’s something I can do. Don’t you think that’s simply wonderful?
The Boy had laughed, looking fondly at each of them in turn before stretching his left hand out to the sun. “That’s not a bad way to look at it,” he’d admitted, “as long as you don’t get carried away.”
“That’s what we have you for,” Wendy had said, with Echo nodding emphatically behind her.
Peter was the one who voiced what Tootles had felt at that moment, when it was just the two of them sitting on a bench at the park. “He might not be here forever, that Boy. You shouldn’t rely on him too much.”
“I won’t,” Tootles had promised. Wendy and Echo and even Rufio are very taken with the Boy, but Tootles remembers feeling his foundations turn to quicksand. Nothing stays the same forever; one day this incarnation of him may also pass. He hopes the one which takes its place is stronger than him, because no matter what the boy says, it might be Tootles left alive until the end next time. This Peter is different, but there are days when even Tootles thinks of flying. He knows that Peter is trying, in his own way, to stay grounded with all of them. Small luxuries like this coat are Peter’s idea of a truce.
Then again, if Tootles acquiesced to everything Peter suggested he’d be no different from his predecessor.
“I don’t need this,” he says, pushing the coat back into Peter’s hands. “I know you love me.”
“I do,” Peter agrees easily. “So? Don’t you want the coat? It’ll look gorgeous on you! You’ll make the stars envious!”
Tootles shakes his head. “Not right now. It’s nice to dream, but I’m happy as I am.”
He finds Peter sitting on a large rock at the top of the northernmost cliff in Neverland. The wind is strong today, and something about Peter’s airy smile makes Tootles’ hands grow cold and clammy. Tootles rests his chin on Peter’s shoulder and settles against his back. They remain quiet long enough that the stone crumbles under them. Time works differently here; it's a sign that whatever Peter is thinking about is something he feels could affect the course of their lives.
“I want you to love me,” Peter says at last. He tips his head back, turns to press his lips to Tootles’ neck. “I don’t want to harm you, but I want you to love me enough that you’d let me.”
Tootles considers this while Peter raises cold fingers to his cheeks. “The Boy wouldn’t like that,” he says, knowing this is a non-answer. He corrects himself: “I do love you.”
He can’t say what Peter wants to hear, but unlike before, this doesn’t fill him with dread. His Peter won’t rip his heart out through his throat for daring to voice an opinion he doesn’t like. He turns just enough to catch Peter in a kiss, swiping his tongue over the roof of Peter’s mouth before pulling away. Peter pulls him back down in an instant, sucking the breath from his lungs as he does so. “If you love me,” Peter says, “don’t tell me to stop.”
True love isn’t supposed to come with conditionals. It’s okay, Tootles says silently, squeezing Peter’s arm. It’s okay that we’re not perfect.
Peter sighs. He hugs Tootles tight enough to break bone. “I want to eat a donut.”
It’s a concession. Tootles hears, I love you too.