Antea Copyright February 2001
Many thanks to Dotty- we all know endings are the hardest! :)
They were all ready. Challenger had finally finished developing his new "latex" material for the balloon. He had already tested it under all kinds of weather conditions, and now it was ready to be put to some good use. Everyone was packed and ready to go, except Veronica.
"Don't worry Veronica." Ned said comfortingly. "If this thing works, we'll be back in no time with another expedition."
"That's what you think." huffed Marguerite.
Veronica was depressed. She had gotten used to the five of them living at the treehouse, she wasn't sure if she wanted to go back to the way things were before the Challenger expedition arrived.
The six of them finished packing all they could fit into the balloon, and were ready for take off.
"I'll miss you Veronica." Summerlee said, with tears in his eyes "You have saved us many a time and without your help, this expedition would have never survived." he hugged her warmly.
"Yes, thank you for everything you have done for us. You will be greatly missed and always remembered." Challenger managed to get out, between small sobs that were poorly covered up.
"Thank you for teaching me about your wonderful world Veronica. I've learned a lot from you." Roxton hugged her and gave her a peck on the cheek.
"Well, I guess it's my turn to say good bye." Marguerite said with a jaded look on her face. "I know we've had our fair share of fights, but I sincerely mean this when I say that I will actually miss brawling with you." Marguerite looked rather embarrassed, but managed to give Veronica a little hug.
"I'll miss all of you so much." Veronica could hardly say those words. She knew they would all leave her one day, but she hoped it wouldn't be so soon. When everyone climbed into the balloon, Ned decided now was the best time to say good bye.
"I'm not too good with good byes Veronica..."
She remembered all too well. The last time they all tried to leave the plateau in the air balloon, Ned chose to stay behind with her. She wished he would do the same thing this time.
They embraced, and Veronica nuzzled her head deep into Malone's shoulder, breathing his musky scent for the last time.
"I love you." he whispered in her hair.
"I love you too Ned. Come back real soon." Veronica sniffled into his shirt.
Malone climbed into the balloon with Roxton's help. Suddenly, from out of the bushes, came a large group of raptors. Everyone jumped out of the balloon but Marguerite. Her skirt was caught on some of Summerlee's plant samples and she struggled to get undone. It was too late. The weight of the others was removed from the balloon, and it rose into the sky.
"Roxton!" Marguerite screamed.
"Oh, no! We've got to get her down!" Challenger hollered to the rest of the group, who was still busy trying to fight off the raptors.
One of the dinosaurs lunged for the balloon, but missed it by an inch. By the time the last dinosaur was shot, Marguerite was high into the sky.
"Great. I bet this was her plan all along." Roxton said dryly.
"Marguerite doesn't know how to work the balloon. I guess we'll just have to wait until the flame runs out." Malone stated.
"But that could take days." Summerlee said while following Marguerite's path with his binoculars.
"Then we'll just have to wait days." was all Malone could decide.
Veronica didn't mean to feel happy-she did feel scared for Marguerite-but this meant that she would have the explorers' company for at least another few days- if the latex held up that long. Roxton and Challenger kept lookout for the balloon while the rest of the group made their way back to the treehouse. They'd take turns watching over Marguerite's journey.
As soon as the balloon had lifted from the ground, Marguerite knew it wasn't going to be her day. As she soared through the sky, she hoped that her friends would be devising a plan to get her down.
She slid lower and lower into the basket, until she was sitting on the floor. Marguerite brought her knees up to her chest, hugging her legs and thinking about all the things she'd do if she ever got out of this mess. Marguerite wanted to make it back to London, but without Malone's knowledge of flying this balloon, she wouldn't have a chance. She didn't really want to leave the plateau, turthfully. Sure, she wanted to be back in civilization, but with the company of her new friends. She knew that would never truly happen. As soon as they would get back to the plateau, they'd all go their separate ways- never looking back.
She loved Roxton. She made up her mind. For the past 22 months, she had fought down her feelings for him. Tried to tell herself it would only lead to trouble, she could live independently and didn't need anyone's help. It was useless. Over these past few months, she had gradually started to melt the ice from around her heart. She loved him, and she was sure that he returned her affection. Marguerite decided that if she got out of this alive, she'd tell him her feelings.
It started to rain and the only thing Marguerite had to keep herself dry was piece of canvas; leftover from the first balloon. She managed to hook it over the basket, making a little tent for herself. Then, for the first time in years, she cried herself to sleep.
It was Malone and Veronica's turn to watch over Marguerite's balloon.
"Are you mad at Marguerite?" Veronica questioned her companion.
"Well, she didn't have much choice. If Marguerite had climbed out of the balloon in time, we wouldn't be here. And if she did, we might be half way to London" he replied. "So, no. I'm not mad at Marguerite."
Ned looked up at Veronica with a big grin on his face. "Are you?"
"No. If it wasn't for her, you wouldn't be here right now." she answered, returning the grin. They watched the sun come up in each other's arms.
Roxton was worried. He couldn't get a wink of sleep all night. He kept picturing Marguerite alone and scared in the balloon. He woke up in cold sweats because the last image he saw was not a good one.
"Challenger!" Roxton yelled.
"What is it old boy?" inquired the professor, running into the younger man's room.
"Challenger, if we don't get Marguerite down from there, she'll crash into the mountain. She doesn't know how to elevate the balloon, and she's about half a day's flight till she reaches the lowest peak. If we don't stop her, she'll crash into the side of the mountain."
"Ok...I think I've devised a plan that could bring her down." Challenger replied.
Marguerite woke up to the sound of the basket's bottom brushing against the trees. She was getting closer and closer to the mountain's side, and it wouldn't be long before she crashed.
"Great. Just great. We finally have a sure way of getting off this blasted plateau, and I screw it up." she mumbled to herself.
Just then, she had an idea. There was a long piece of rope in the balloon just in case they ran into trouble, and Marguerite was going to take advantage of it. She was going to wait until she reached a large tree, and lasso the rope around it, tying the other end to the balloon. Maybe that would save her some time until her friends arrived to help her down.
She found the perfect one. A big sycamore. She made the lasso, and waited for just the right time to swing the rope around it.
Challenger and Summerlee had to go watch the horizon for any signs of Marguerite, so, before they left, Challenger explained his idea to Roxton so he could tell the others.
"Ok. Now, see here." Challenger said, pointing to a hastily drawn map of that side of the plateau.
"This is the exact place that we have to stop the balloon before it reaches the mountain. I made the net last night with the help of Summerlee, and if we could just tie it to four trees, it can serve as a web to save Marguerite. Once the basket is over the net, we shoot down the balloon, which will fall into our little mesh life saver."
"But Challenger, if you shoot down the balloon, how will we be able to get off the plateau? You've spent four months working on that material, how will you be able to make up for the time you spent on it?"
"Don't worry my boy; the only thing I'm interested in is getting Marguerite down and unscathed." Challenger replied to the younger man, who gave him a look of sincere gratitude.
Challenger knew the feelings Roxton had for Marguerite and vice versa. When they had returned from that mystical village in the fissure, they couldn't keep their eyes off each other. He knew something must have happened before the rest of the group had gotten there to save them. Challenger was working to help save Marguerite and bring her back to them- to Roxton. He had saved Challenger many a time, and now it was time for Challenger to do a favor for him.
Marguerite was a few feet above the trees, the wind slightly moving the basket. She wished the group had concocted a plan to get her out of the damn balloon. She once again crouched inside the basket and closed her eyes, trying to imagine life back at the treehouse. If she wasn't in this stupid balloon, she'd probably be having lunch with the rest of the group- eating fruit and dried raptor and laughing as Roxton's arm squished into the melon while he reached for a glass...That reminded her. She hadn't eaten since the previous night when she was able to find a piece of fruit in one of the bottom crates. Her stomach growled and she searched for something to appease it.
The group left the treehouse just after lunch, with all the necessary equipment to get Marguerite down. Roxton, Malone and Veronica were to tie the netting to the trees; Summerlee was supposed to look out for the balloon and tell Challenger when to shoot it down. They had everything planned out. The only problem was finding Marguerite. They lost her early in the morning, and no signs were found as to where she could have floated off to.
Once again, Roxton was nervous. He was leading the group, and after the first hour, started to pick up the pace. They hadn't caught one glimpse of his Marguerite and he was starting to worry that maybe they were too late.
Finally, they came out of the woods into a clearing, where they spotted the balloon a few feet above the trees- apparently Marguerite did some quick thinking, and managed to tie the balloon to a large tree trunk. Roxton was finally able to breathe. They ran to the spot where she was hovering over the jungle.
"Marguerite! Don't worry! We're here and we have a plan to get you down!" Roxton hollered.
They saw Marguerite's head pop up over the side of the basket. "Roxton, Challenger! Get me down!" was all the distressed heiress was able to get out.
For the last 28 hours, Marguerite was nervous that the balloon's flame would run out before her friends got there.
Challenger explained to the frightened heiress "Ok Marguerite. We're going to tie this net to some trees a little farther up. When we say so, you untie the rope, and I'll shoot the balloon down, which will fall into our web."
"Are you crazy?! If the balloon falls, I fall with it and I'm not going to get all black and blue!"
"Just trust us Marguerite! We're pretty sure this is going to work. All you have to do is untie the rope when we say so." Roxton tried to comfort her.
"Fine. But if I come out of this with so much as a scratch- you'll never live to hear the end of it!"
The explorers left Marguerite and went a little farther up the slope. Roxton, Malone and Veronica managed to harness the netting into the trees, tying it very tightly on to the trunks, so there was no possible way it could fall. Challenger and Summerlee walked about twenty more feet up the hill to get a clear shot. Roxton ran back down to Marguerite to tell her when to untie the rope.
"Ok. Marguerite, when Challenger gives me the signal, just release the rope."
"Roxton...I don't think this is such a good idea..." Marguerite told him as she noticed the flame begin to wane.
"Come on Marguerite, we talked about this before. I made sure the net was tied real tight to the trees. I don't want you fall."
"But Roxton, I don't think the flame has much longer to go!"
Roxton wasn't listening to the last few words Marguerite said. He was too busy watching Challenger's signal.
"Ok Marguerite, NOW!"
Marguerite unfastened the rope, and the balloon started towards the contraption. Just as she had presumed, the flame started to die out, and the balloon started dropping lower and lower.
"Oh, Christ! She's not going to make it!" Roxton yelled to the rest of the group.
"WHAT did you say John?!" Marguerite screamed.
She had known this wasn't a good idea. They should have just waited until the flame burned out entirely, and let the balloon slowly dropped to the ground. Now, she was either going to crash into the canopy of the trees, or into the side of the mountain. (Which would be worse- she had already experienced crashing into trees...)
In no time, the balloon was over the netting and Summerlee gave Challenger the signal. If he didn't shoot precisely, the balloon would probably end up on the jungle floor.
"All right, now George!" Summerlee demanded.
Challenger made a nice, clear shot through the material, and the balloon cascaded into the open net. As soon as it dropped, Roxton ran over and yelled up to Marguerite if she was ok. There was no answer.
"Oh God!" Roxton screamed. "Marguerite!" He struggled to cut the netting down. Out came the basket, the balloon, but no Marguerite. "Where the hell is she?!"
"What? What is it Roxton?" Veronica came running down from her place next to Summerlee.
"She's not in here."
"What? How can that be?" Malone asked running up behind Veronica. "She was in the balloon when we shot it down, she couldn't have just disappeared."
Just then, the explorers heard a muffled scream. "Roxton! Get me the hell down!"
"Where are you?!" Roxton hollered into the sky.
"In this damn tree! Over here!"
The explorers looked about twenty feet down the slope and found Marguerite clutching a large branch in one of the trees.
"Haha! Marguerite- now's not the time for monkeying around!" Roxton bellowed heartily.
It was sort of funny to see his love dangling from the tree tops- he was just glad she was alright...
"NOW you imbecile! I think I twisted my ankle falling out of that stupid balloon!" Marguerite screamed bitterly.
Roxton was climbing up the tree in no time- the branches were close together and thick- thankfully- it would make his job a lot easier. He reached Marguerite just in time, for her hands slipped off of her branch, and she fell into the hunter's arms.
"That's the last time I listen to you guys and your brilliant ideas!" Marguerite said with a piercing but grateful look on her face.
He slid his arm around her waist, helping her down every branch- trying to keep the weight off her foot with each step. When they reached the last branch, Challenger and Summerlee were ready with bandages.
"Oh, so you knew I was going to get hurt." Marguerite said with a smirk.
"Just a precaution my dear." Summerlee replied while he helped her to the ground.
Marguerite only twisted her ankle- it would take a few days off of her feet, which was fine by her. She was in no hurry to go out and try the air balloon again. Roxton had to half carry her, half act as a crutch for the rest of the walk back to the treehouse. Marguerite was glad he was the one to volunteer. Now would not be the right time to talk to him of course, but at least she got to bask in his company before she told him her feelings and he was scared away.
After two days had passed at the treehouse, and Marguerite's ankle was still sore, Summerlee and Challenger examined her painful foot.
"I think you might have fractured it my dear." Summerlee observed.
"Great. What are we going to do about that?" Marguerite asked sharply.
"Well, we could make a home-made splint. I think that's the best solution. I'll ask Veronica and Malone to go out and find some wood." They left Marguerite alone in her room.
Suddenly, she heard a loud knock on her door. "May I come in?" a familiar, rugged voice inquired.
"Sure." Marguerite answered. This would probably be her only shot with him- she hadn't found much one on one time with Roxton since they got back to the treehouse that unlucky day. After this meeting- he probably wouldn't want to see her again- but she had to tell him. All her life she was only loved for her money. Every man that she ever thought loved her, only cheated her out of her fortune. Now, she finally found a man whom she could spend the rest of her life with and she was probably going to blow it.
Roxton came in and sat at the edge of her bed. "Challenger told me that your ankle is fractured." he stated.
"Yeah. Veronica and Ned are out getting wood to make a splint for me." was all she could say.
Her voice started to tremble with anxiety, and Roxton could sense it. "What's wrong?" he asked with concern and love on his face.
Marguerite couldn't look into his eyes. She started playing with a piece of lint on her blanket. Roxton placed his large callused hand on top of hers and asked again. "What is it Marguerite?"
Marguerite took a long, deep breath and tried to say the words she could never utter. "I...um..." she wet her lips and tried to look into his concerned and tender gaze. He brushed back a strand of hair from her face and stroked her cheek gently. "John, this is so hard for me to say, but I feel that you should know." she finally muttered.
"What? What is it?" he whispered.
"All my life, I have never been loved. I've been hurt so many times- that now, I just try to hide my emotions. I don't want to be hurt. I can't be. I just can't take it anymore." Marguerite said.
"I know. I know Marguerite. I don't want to hurt you." Roxton replied with more love in his eyes than she had ever seen before.
"I just wanted to say that...Maybe you have...I don't know. Because I know- I mean I feel that..."
"You're trying to say that maybe you love me?" he said with a look of total adoration on his face.
It was too much for Marguerite. She had to turn around. She couldn't face him for one more minute. Tears swelled in her eyes and she tried to push them away.
"Maybe that's what I'm saying. Maybe not." Marguerite said, apparently disappointed in herself for breaking down so easily. "But maybe, if you don't return some of my sentiments- I don't- and then we don't have to talk about this again."
A tear slid down her cheek and she brushed it off furtively. Roxton put a hand on her shoulder, beckoning her to turn around and face him. She refused, so he got up and sat down next to her- careful not to touch her hurt ankle.
"But Marguerite, maybe I share your sentiments." Roxton said trying to get a glance at her face.
Shocked, Marguerite gazed into his wide eyes and found there all the love that she ever needed. He kissed her cheek tenderly and they embraced, descending back onto the bed.
Challenger and Summerlee chose not to enter Marguerite's room until they'd see Roxton come back out.
"Well, it's about time!" Summerlee said gaily, when they had been in there for close to an hour.
It was obvious that for some time, Roxton and Marguerite shared mutual feelings for each other. They just waited until it was the right time to express their emotions.
Marguerite and Roxton lay in each other's arms late into the afternoon. They were so happy that they finally could proclaim their love for one another. They lay in her bed- Roxton stroking her luxurious hair- Marguerite caressing his rough, masculine hands until she forgot about the pain in her ankle and moved it.
"Oh- ouch!" she hissed.
"I'm sorry! Did I touch it?" Roxton asked.
"No. I forgot it hurt- I guess I should have Challenger and Summerlee make that splint for me." she said, annoyed that it was still fractured and she couldn't just lie in her lover's arms for the rest of her life.
They both got up and dressed, and went out into the common room where the rest of the group looked up from what they were doing with big grins on their faces.
"And what are you sneering at?!" she demanded from her friends, who could do nothing but steal smiles from each other until Marguerite asked "Challenger, do you think you could make the splint for me now?" She had gotten out of her room with Roxton's help for she could not bare to stay in there by herself one more minute.
"Oh, sure my dear. Just sit down in this chair, and I'll fix you up."
The splint was made and Challenger insisted that Marguerite use the crutch he made for her. It would be uncomfortable, but Roxton wouldn't have to help her around the treehouse anymore. (No matter how much he wanted to do it). As Marguerite sat there, watching Challenger bandage up her ankle, she was deep in thought.
"Penny for your thoughts, my dear." Summerlee wondered out loud. He always knew when she was in her own world.
"Oh, I was just thinking that maybe I don't really want to leave the plateau so soon..." She said, shifting her gaze towards Roxton, who met her eyes and smiled.
"You of all people- not want to leave the plateau?" Challenger said, almost astonished by Marguerite's words.
"Why, yes. There are many tribes and treasures that we haven't stumbled upon yet. Why go back to boring old London when we have so much unexplored territory right under our noses?" She said, almost astonished with herself that these words were coming out of her mouth.
"Why, precisely! Now you have it! Now you have it!" Challenger replied joyously. He was so happy Marguerite finally realized what I magnificent world they had waiting for them.
Veronica and Malone were unfortunately not there to witness Marguerite's fantastic discovery. After they brought up the wood to make a splint for Marguerite's ankle, they had gone out to the swimming hole to take a walk. The moon was full and it shone light on their trail.
"I'm actually glad that balloon left without us." Malone began. "I'm not too sure I want to leave the plateau just yet."
"Really?" Veronica asked- trying to keep the eagerness out of her voice.
"Yeah. I mean, I don't think I have nearly enough in my journals to write a full article about our adventures. We've only been here two years, but I bet I could come up with a lot more." He said, gazing into Veronica's wide eyes.
"I'm happy to hear that." she said.
They laid down on a nearby rock, watching the stars. Veronica knew her friends would have to leave her some day, and maybe, just maybe, she would be ready to leave with them when the time came.