It was two o'clock in the morning, a time when most had already turned in for the night and were beginning to dream. However, not everyone had been lulled by sleep's siren song yet. On a small island smack-dab in the middle of Disneyland, a youth was tied up and struggling. He had auburn hair and wore strange green clothes that made him seem elfin, with a small hat of the same sort. He was a prisoner and this island was his prison, even though he should have been free to roam Disneyland at night as he pleased. "Tink!" the youth cried out into the darkness of night, receiving no answer. The small green-clad fairy had probably either been captured or had fled and was now hiding, hoping it would all tide over. Peter Pan sighed greatly and let his head tip forward in defeat. Here he was, trapped on Tom Sawyer Island where he could not execute his mission or help anyone. He had tried flying whilst tied up, but there was some kind of strange barrier that was preventing his flight. The only way he could escape the island now was by boat. If he made it to the mainland of the park, he was sure he could fly there.
Peter heard twigs snapping and his body tensed with caution. Something was on the island with him, not the most welcoming of news considering it would be rather hard for Peter to fight, now that he was tied up. For a moment he wondered if the sound was caused by those creatures that now served the villains, the "Darklings", as some of the higher-ups had called them. Instead of those monstrous creatures, he was greeted by a small blue animal of some sort, and he almost instantly recalled what it was.
"Stitch!" Peter Pan hissed. The small blue creature peered up at him with inky eyes, equally alert. "Can you cut me loose?" Peter turned to show the creature the ropes that bound him tightly. Stitch didn't need to be told twice and immediately began using his long claws to cut the ropes, careful to keep from wounding Peter. Peter waited, tense and with bated breath. It was still not too late for him to accomplish his mission tonight, if he hurried. The small alien finished up the ropes in seconds and Peter rubbed his sore wrists. He then began to traipse through the dark of the island, not caring if his path took him through thick greenery. He knew where his location was and he soon located the side of the island where the boats were. He stumbled over to the boat, throwing himself inside as voices rang out through the night.
The voices came from the massive Sailing Ship Columbia, which was lit-up and taken over by now. Standing boldly where all could see, was Captain Hook. He and his men were approaching the island, probably heading there to reclaim Peter as a prisoner. Peter waited, barely moving or breathing as the ship stopped short of the side of the island.
"Oi, Jafar said he left Pan 'ere." one pirate said in the slow and cartoony voice of a typical dimwitted thug. Captain Hook brandished his hook hand, grinning wickedly and almost maniacally out at the dark island.
"Let's collect the little bilge rat, then!" Hook announced to his cheering crew as they clodded onto the island. With only a minute or two at most to spare, Peter threw himself onto the raft used to take visitors to the island and began sailing away as fast as he could from Tom Sawyer Island. It was just as he was docking and pulling himself up into New Orleans Square that he heard an anguished and enraged yell from the island.
"Sorry Hook, I've got a mission to accomplish!" Peter whispered under his breath, a mischievous and impish smile spreading across his face. The Neverland boy immediately took to the skies over Disneyland, turning around to survey the park once more. He noticed one of the fireworks that resembled shooting stars, used during the visiting hours for the fireworks show. In the after-hours of the park, it had become a cry for help, but Peter regretfully turned back around, unable to help. He had a special mission that could save the entire park if he was successful. With a hopeful thought, the green clad boy took off into the starry sky, a pang of regret lingering behind him.
Peter Pan was not the only one who watched that inky black sky tonight. A young man sat at the windowsill of a room at the Embassy Suites, peering out at the sky where he had watched the Disneyland fireworks only a few hours ago. Having just arrived in Anaheim from his home in Northern California, he and his family had spent the day at the hotel. As they all slept peacefully, he had stayed up to peer out the window into the night. He could've sworn he saw a firework, but decided his mind was playing tricks on him.
He was of an average height, about five feet and ten inches, or five feet and eleven. He was the only one awake of his party, currently cutting himself out of a picture. The picture was one of him from Disneyland last year, standing alone. He reached out to the nearby couch and pulled off it a picture of a handsome man he somewhat resembled, also standing alone. The man had thick brown hair, blue eyes, and a broad and infectious grin. Braden examined the picture before taping his own cutout beside the man and stared down longingly at the photo before turning to gaze out of the stars. It felt as though there was a hard lump in his throat and a single tear was making a bid for freedom.
"I miss you, Dad." the young man said in barely a whisper, turning to glance from the photo to the sky once more. The stars were twinkling so brightly, almost winking at him through the thickness of night. He wondered if his father could see those stars too, and he leaned against the window as he pondered this further, gazing out towards Disneyland. The picture remained in his lap, speckled by a single tear as his face pressed partway against the cold glass.
There was then a rapping on the window. Braden recoiled, falling to the carpet and picking up the picture of his father as he scrambled backwards a few feet, eyes wide. He heard a tap again. Someone was knocking to come in, like a normal person would with a door. Though it seemed foolish, Braden was filled with a powerful conviction and made his way to the window. He could now see who it was as he stood. There was an auburn-haired boy outside the window as he opened it, a boy with strange green clothes that looked familar...then when Braden took a closer look and saw how the boy was floating, he knew who it was at once. Peter Pan was outside of his window. Braden flipped the latch and let the Neverland boy in.
"Oh boy, Ted, I'm glad I foun-" Peter began excitedly, stopping as his eyes flitted across Braden. The figure in front of him seemed slightly smaller and somewhat...different than Ted. "Hey, you look a bit different...and smaller than you were last time. You look...more like you're younger! I thought you grew up!" The Neverland hero flew a circle around Braden, getting a better look at him.
“That's probably because I'm not Ted." Braden explained in a low voice as realization dawned on him. "Ted was my father. I'm Braden."
"What?!" Peter cried, shocked. "You're Braden? You were so small when I last saw you, and now you're almost grown up, too! What's happened?" Braden nodded quietly as though to confirm this, feeling a bit dazed. His dad had known Peter Pan? What exactly was going on here?
"What are you looking for my dad for?" Braden asked nervously, locking gazes with Peter. "If there's any way I can help you..."
"Can I talk to him?" Peter asked, sitting with his legs crossed in the air. Braden lowered his head slightly, avoiding eye contact now.
"My dad died." Braden said in a low voice then, keeping his gaze averted. Despair and sadness flickered across Peter Pan's face as he surveyed the solemn young man in front of him. Braden's curiosity then got to the better of him and he looked up to Peter Pan again.
"Why are you looking for him?" he urged, quiet. "I was saying tha if there's any way I can help you, I will. If my dad can't do it, maybe I can do it instead. I'd love to help you out."
"Help is what we need." Peter began reluctantly. "I need his help...in fact, Disneyland needs his help. Things are becoming urgent."
"...Disneyland?" Braden asked, eyes flitting with surprise. "Did my dad work for Disneyland or something? I don't think Mom ever mentioned he worked there. How would I be able to help?"
“If I tell you, you must promise to keep it a secret” Peter warned. Braden nodded vigorously in return, determined. It felt like something special was about to take place and he checked to make sure his brothers were still sleeping before he turned back up to meet Peter's eyes.
“Disneyland is under attack." Peter began, slowly and cautiously as though afraid Braden would be put off of the task he'd offered himself for. "The villains aren't satisfied with how things are, what with good always conquering over evil. They've been taking some of us hostage, threatening us to back down and leave. They're looking for the King now."
"...Do you mean Mickey?" Braden asked in a light whisper, eyes widening. Mickey Mouse would be the one character fit for the position of King of Disney, what with him being Walt's most signature creation and the very figurehead of the Disney corporation. If any one character was given kinghood, it would be the kindhearted mouse.
"Of course." Peter whispered back, risking glances out the window. "They know he's seen Walt lately, so they want to put an end to whatever plans the two have of restoring things to how they were."
"Walt?" Braden interjected this time, mystified and awed. "Mr. Walt Disney?" Walt Disney was perhaps Braden's biggest inspiration and influence, with his work being responsible for Braden's mechanism of coping with the loss of his father...by consuming himself in Disney, something his father held dear. The idea that there was some way to contact him left Braden feeling nervous and excited.
"Yep!" Peter whispered back, eyes bright. "Only two people would be able to converse with him. The King of Disneyland, which is Mickey, and the current Guardian Seeker...who should have been your father."
“Guardian Seeker?” Braden queried then. The term had a kind of power to it, much like the kind of power he'd felt in speaking both Walt and Mickey's names. It was a word that seemed to physically invoke hope and happiness when spoken. It was something that inspired.
"The Guardian Seeker is the one who helps us most in this world." Peter explained as Braden cocked his head to the side. "Guardians keep the villains in check and protect Dream Disney. They keep things running the way they should be."
"Dream Disney is what we call the park after it closes, because that's when everything comes alive." Peter whispered, a kind of wonder in his eyes. "It's when we're allowed to have the park to ourselves and roam about it. It was called that by the former guardians of Disneyland, your father and grandfather, because they described it as being almost like a dream."
“Wait, my grandpa and dad were both Guardians?" Braden gasped, eyes widening slightly in amazement.
“Of course!" Peter replied back with a nod. "Your great-grandfather was a guardian too, but there were no parks to guard yet, so he just protected Walt's ideas and consulted him on a matter of things. He was sort of like a personal bodyguard, only he wasn't hired by anybody. When Disneyland opened, your grandfather was the first to actually have a place to guard. With your father being dead now, I believe it's your turn."
Braden took a double take and stared at Peter.
“Me?” Braden asked, shocked. "Really?"
"You're the next in line in the family." Peter responded quickly. "You have the power and potential for it. I could feel that power when I was at Disneyland and I believed your father had returned, at first. But it was you all along who possessed that power."
“I dunno...” Braden began, tentative. "I mean, I've never had any proper training or anything. I don't really know what to do...or what I'm getting myself into, here."
“Please Braden, we need you.” Peter begged, eyes pleading. “Our world, your father and grandfather’s kingdom...it’s in danger. We've been needing the Guardian Seeker to return for a while. If you're the one, you can save us all."
Braden peered out the window. He could swear he saw one of the shooting-star looking fireworks that had played during the show earlier. If the park was really closed, then...
“All right. I’ll do it.” Braden said in a determined and bold new voice. His courage had found him again and he was ready to do whatever it took to protect Disneyland, a place his father clearly valued. “What do I have to do?”
“Come with me.” Peter whispered, sailing over to the open window. Braden stepped onto the sill, but was then pushed back by Peter, who shut the window and drew the curtains. He hid behind the twin bed closest to the window and Braden crouched behind the dresser as the silhouette of a monstrous being appeared against the curtain a minute or two later. Braden's heart thudded in his heart as the silhouette departed. He crawled over to where Peter hid.
"What is it?" he whispered in a low tone, not wanting anyone...or anything to hear him.
"Darklings." Peter whispered back in such a way that he had to lean close to Braden's ear for the young man to hear him as a second silhouette passed by the window. "They must be looking for me. We can't go out to the park with them prowling around. They must have followed me here."
“Stay here for the night.” Braden offered, still taking care to be quiet. He gestured to the space underneath the bed, which was hidden from view by the bed's hanging bedspread. Peter rolled underneath the bed and looked back at Braden, who gave him a thumbs-up.
"The blankets and bedspread are long enough to keep you hidden." Braden whispered to the Neverland boy. "Just make sure to stay quiet so no one hears you. I'm sharing this room with my brothers." Braden then slipped into bed and made sure the blankets were still low on the side of the bed facing the door. With that final thought, he fell asleep.
The next morning, Braden woke before anyone else and could hardly believe what had occurred the night before, at least until he risked a peek under the bed and saw Peter snoozing underneath it. That was all it took for him to eat breakfast as quickly as he could. Presently, he was jogging back up to the hotel room while the family still ate, under the premise of getting sunscreen before they headed out to catch the Disneyland shuttle from their hotel's stop. He slid to the floor of the room and peeked under the bed, where Peter still slept.
"Peter!" Braden whispered urgently. Peter awoke in an instant, eyes wide as though expecting danger.
“I’m going with my family to Disneyland. We’ll be back later, okay?” Braden briefed. Peter nodded, then ducked down. The door to the bedroom had opened, and Braden slid out from underneath the hanging bedspread and blankets to see who it was. Gage was there, grinning mischievously. Gage was twenty-one years old, tall and brown-haired like their father, with the same blue eyes and a stubbly face at the moment.
"H-hey Gage!" Braden greeted shakily, trying to refrain from sounding too suspicious to his older brother. "What are you doing up here? I thought you were eating with the others."
“I knew something was up.” Gage said, grinning back as Braden gulped. "Honestly Braden, you're a terrible liar. You've never needed sunscreen a day in your life. Now you expect me to believe you don't have something to hide here? Now what's under the bed?"
“If I tell you, will you promise to keep it a secret?” Braden asked, completely abashed. He had forgotten how sharp and perceptive Gage was, explaining the mysterious looks Gage kept shooting him at the breakfast table.
“Of course.” Gage avowed, shutting the bedroom door and walking over. Braden opened the makeshift curtain and gestured for Peter to come out. Peter waved to Gage, who flinched with surprise for a moment before grinning broadly.
"Wanna explain why the real Peter Pan is under our bed?" Gage asked, turning to Braden with a curious look on his face. Braden frowned slightly before he explained the whole situation about Disneyland, the Darklings, and the Guardian Seeker to his brother. By the end of his discussion, Gage was wide-eyed and awed.
“So tonight you’re leaving?” Gage then asked as his eyes flickered between Braden and Peter, then to the bedroom window. Braden moved closer to the door, hearing footsteps approaching. Braden nodded back as a response as a voice rang out from the door.
“Everything all right in there, boys?” their stepfather asked in his kind voice. “You sure are taking a long time for some sunscreen. We're going to miss the shuttle at this rate!”
“I lost it. But Gage helped me find it.” Braden replied, hastily taking the actual bottle and rubbing some on his arm very fast. By the time their stepfather opened the door, he was busy rubbing sunscreen on his right arm.
"I thought you'd said you were bringing it downstairs." Braden's stepfather pointed out as Braden cursed inwardly. "I don't think Ian was being entirely honest when he said he'd put some on, and the little ones still need to." Braden inwardly then sighed with relief when Gage appeared with the bottle.
"Sorry, I've had to put some on as well." Gage explained. "Leave it to Braden to lose the sunscreen and have us both holed up here, looking for it." Their stepfather chuckled and as they left the room, Braden gave the bed a secret glance, knowing what he was about to do tonight.
It was exactly four and a half minutes until the clock struck one-thirty in the morning. The rest of the family slept, but Braden paced about nervously, waiting for the time he and Peter were destined to depart. Ian and Edmund slept on, ignorant of what took place, but Gage watched his anxious younger brother with a kind of unease to him.
"Braden, you will be careful, won't you?" Gage asked vigorously. Braden nodded just as vigorously as his response as a figure appeared in the window. Peter was back from his small excursion, this time accompanied by Tinker Bell, who seemed to hide behind Peter's shoulder when she saw Braden smiling and waving to her.
“Tink, this is Braden." Peter introduced as Tinker Bell risked another peek at Braden. "He's with us, the one the King was talking about. Mind sprinkling some fairy dust on him so he can help us out?" The small fairy looked reluctant, but she zoomed a circle around Braden, leaving a powdery golden residue that seemed to melt into him. Peter floated over to Braden, grinning.
“Now you gotta think of something happy.” Peter instructed, moving slightly higher to the roof. “And then you’ll be able to fly!”
Braden closed his eyes and thought deeply. The memory he finally settled on was a Christmas memory of he and Ian unwrapping brightly-colored parcels. The resulting effect was that he began to feel very light, in fact, perhaps too light...
“You’re doing it!” Peter cried brightly. He offered his hand to Braden, and Braden took it. “Now, all we have to do is leave a DMI behind.”
“A what?” Braden asked, perplexed. This detail had not yet come up, and he had no idea what Peter was talking about.
“Disney Magical Identity.” Peter explained, pulling out a small device with a touchpad. "The King told me to make sure you get this. Place your hand on this part, here."
Braden put his finger on the touchpad and recoiled when a carbon copy of himself appeared, sleeping beside Gage. He and Gage shared a surprised glance before Braden looked back down at the device. What sort of power was this?
"This projection of you will take your place while you're in Dream Disney, just in case." Peter explained. Gage looked down at Braden's DMI and back up at the real Braden, who lingered near the window.
"Be careful, baby brother." Gage warned. Braden grinned and gave him the thumbs-up, who returned the gesture. The nerves building up in him, Braden looked out the window and all the way down to the ground some few stories below, but closed his eyes and recalled his father's laugh before he leaped out of the window.
The drop was perilous, but Braden's memory of his father prevailed and he rocketed back up the distance he'd fallen, watching an awed Gage in the window before spinning to find Peter. Flying was so easy and wonderful, making him feel as free as a bird.
"What now?" Braden asked, still avoiding the ground. He peered up and saw some of the rooms still had lights on in them. "Is it just me that's going to fight them? Wouldn't it be better if I could make a team? Maybe if there was a team of Guardians instead of just one?" He wasn't sure why he was saying this, but there was a feeling he got in his heart, like that was exactly what he needed to do next.
"If that's what your heart tells you, then it's got to be right." Peter agreed as the two of them floated in the air. "Just be careful about who you pick."
Braden's hunch then led him up to a window with a light on that was a floor above his own room. He flew up to the window and peered inside.
There was another young man about his age sitting on the bed, watching sports on the television set. He was taller than Braden and more muscular, with golden-brown hair and blue eyes. He was wearing plaid white and blue shorts and a blue shirt, eyeing the television set attentively. Braden pulled in a breath and tapped lightly on the window, watching as the young man turned to face him, eyes widening. He jumped up at once and moved to the window, sliding it open.
"Are you flying?" the young man asked. Braden noticed that he was speaking with an Australian accent and deduced the boy had come a long way for his vacation. Braden offered a smile to him.
“Yeah...um, can I come in?" Braden asked curiously as Peter Pan appeared behind him. "I've got...sort of a wild story to explain."
“Well...yeah, come in.” the other boy offered, a bit surprised but otherwise thrilled. Braden didn't have loads of experience talking to people yet, and wondered how in the world he was going to bring up the whole situation with Disneyland. Braden clambered inside of the hotel room and looked right at the boy, bold.
"I'm Braden Young, Disneyland's new Guardian Seeker." Braden introduced boldly, extending his hand for a handshake. The boy accepted it, shaking his hand back as Braden sighed.
"I'm Kaleb Aubrey and er, what's that?" Kaleb asked as he peered back at Braden.
“Well, Disneyland needs help.” Braden began, taking in a breath. “You see, the park comes alive at night when it's closed. The villains are plotting to take over the park and maybe even the world, because in the world of Disney, good always triumphs over evil and they're tired of it, so they send these creatures all over the park and have them sabotage rides and take characters hostage. I happen to be descended from a line of Guardian Seekers, and my great grandfather apparently knew Walt Disney. Basically I'm going around and trying to recruit people for the team and I was wondering if you wanted in."
There was a tentative and poignant silence. Braden cursed inwardly, figuring he had spoken too much too fast and had put the other boy off of it. But mysteriously, Kaleb grinned at him brightly.
“So an adventure?” Kaleb queried. Braden nodded his head.
“I guess you could call it that.”
"I'm in." Kaleb replied at once, still grinning brightly. "I've always wanted an adventure and you look like an honest sort, so I want to be a part of this. Can I fly now?"
I'm incredibly lucky, Braden thought to himself as Kaleb was being sprinkled with Tink's fairy dust. Kaleb, being such an upbeat guy, had taken to the skies rather easily and he followed Braden as he flew another two floors higher and peered in the window. There was a girl with brown hair in here, sleeping. Braden rapped gently on the window until the girl got up sleepily to peer at him. Her eyes widened and she approached slowly, staring at Braden. From his position in the window, Braden could admire that even though she was sleepy and had no makeup on, she was very beautiful. She opened the window slowly to peer at them.
"I must still be asleep somehow, because I swear you two are floating outside the window." the girl said as she peered at them both. "But just in case I'm not, it would have been both more polite and romantic if you had thrown a pebble at the window first. I could have been undressing up here."
"Sorry." Braden admitted, face flushing slightly. "I wasn't thinking about that. I kinda...er...we need your help." Just as he said this, Peter Pan and Tink appeared, causing the girl to gasp and cover her mouth for a moment. She peered around at the two of them then.
“Maybe you should come in.” she said uneasily, letting them glide into the room. There was only one bed in her hotel room and a few chairs. Kaleb sunk into one, but Braden remained on his feet, looking the girl right in the eyes.
“Everything okay in there Kelly? I thought I heard you talking.” a woman’s voice called from the front room. The girl, Kelly, went to the door and opened it a bit.
“I’m fine Aunt Jane, just talking to Amber on the phone." Kelly replied. "She wants me to watch some television show with her, so that's where part of the noise is." Her aunt replied, though they could not hear it as they watched Peter comically tried to reattach his shadow.
"Let me help you, Peter." Kelly suggested, getting a sewing kit and sewing the shadow back on to Peter calmly. Braden filled her in on the situation and she nodded as she sewed, taking a quick look over her handiwork before locking gazes with Braden.
"Alright, I'll become a Guardian." she replied with a smile as Braden grinned back. Braden's heart leaped as he realized he had two new members and he and Kaleb were about to head out the window when she spoke again.
"Where in the world are you two going?" she asked. Braden and Kaleb spun around to regard her as she pulled some clothes out of the dressers and peered back at them.
“To Disneyland.” the young men answered in unison, pausing to glance at each other when they realized they had spoken at the same time.
“Without changing into clothes?” Kelly pointed out.
“We’re wearing clothes.” Kaleb replied. He tugged lightly on his pajama shirt to demonstrate.
“We can’t roam around Disneyland in our pajamas.” Kelly reasoned, looking them over. “You two aren’t even wearing socks or shoes. Don't you think we might need to be in proper clothes if we're going to fight against villains and whatnot?
“Oh...I guess I forgot about that.” Braden replied sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head as Kaleb soared out the window. Braden remained in place for a moment, still feeling foolish as Kelly looked over at him.
"I'm going to...get changed." she said tentatively and Braden snapped back into focus and blushed apologetically, leaving the room. He headed into his own hotel room and retrieved some clothes, sneaking out quietly. He then flew into Kaleb's room and the two of them changed in there, since Braden feared accidentally waking up his brothers while changing. Braden shrugged off his white pajama shirt as Kaleb removed his shorts, pulling on a black t-shirt and blue jeans. He then pulled on his socks and laced up his black and blue Nikes. Kaleb was wearing Nikes too, he noticed, only his were solid black. Kaleb meanwhile, wore black jeans and a camo jacket. Braden then pulled on his blue pullover hoodie and joined Kaleb outside. Kelly soon joined them, wearing black jeans and a black zip-up hoodie.
"I thought black would be an advantageous color, seeing as we might not know what lies ahead." Kelly explained, eyeing Braden's pullover. "In any case, I'm ready to go."
"As am I." Kaleb affirmed.
"Alright, let's go." Braden said. He offered his hands to the two and they each took one of his hands, with Kaleb taking hold of his left while Kelly slowly took hold of his right hand. The three of them then bulleted up into the air and began sailing towards Disneyland, following Peter Pan as he led them there. Kaleb let out a whoop and Braden grinned as the cool air whipped their hair back.
“So where are you two from?” Kaleb asked casually as they soared through the night sky. “I’m from Melbourne, Australia.”
“I live in California, only I live north of here, in the Bay Area.” Braden replied as he twisted slightly through the skies.
“I live in Michigan with my aunt.” Kelly replied as she pulled off a maneuver similar to Braden's.
“What about your parents?” Kaleb asked curiously, turning to face her.
“They’re not around.” Kelly replied. Something about the sadness in her voice told Braden and Kaleb not to mention the issue again if they could help it. “How about you, Braden?”
“I live with my stepfather, mom, and brothers and sister.” Braden replied, wondering if he could keep this secret from them for long.
“Your parents split up?” Kaleb asked curiously, glancing at Braden.
“No. My dad’s...he’s dead.” Braden replied. The other two looked sympathetic, but Braden was already growing dangerously close to tears as he realized he felt that hard lump of sorrow in his throat. Just thinking about his father and how he would never see him again...
Quite suddenly, Braden stopped in the sky and began to drop like a stone. He screamed as the ground rushed up to meet him, but was suddenly no longer falling. A strong hand had taken hold of his wrist and he now hung in the air, stationary. He saw Kaleb, looking both surprised and pleased with himself for his swift rescue, while Kelly came and gently took his other hand.
“Perhaps we’d better fly like this.” Kelly said. “I assume you can’t fly if you think of things that make you sad.”
“Oh...right.” Braden replied sheepishly. He began to think of his siblings, but found he didn’t need to. Just the thought of adventure with his new companions seemed to lift him back into the sky as the trio made their way towards Disneyland.