As much as I've enjoyed writing this story, this chapter will be the last one for a while (and maybe forever). Although these one-shots haven't always been chronological or cohesive, I've tried to bring the story to something of a conclusion in this chapter, which is set at the end of the movie.
"But what if we can't rescue Miss P?" Claire asked for the third time, her voice high and fretful, as she tugged on Emma's skirt. "What'll happen if we can't rescue her?"
Emma sighed, and her sighs were always extra loud because of her peculiarity, but this one was loud even for her. She turned away from the maps she'd been studying and put one hand on Claire's shoulder. "Claire, I told you, we're going to get Miss P back, all right? You act like your peculiarity is worrying."
Claire could tell that it wouldn't do any good to ask more questions, so she moved away and sat down in a corner of the deck cabin to pout and feel sorry for herself. Like every place on this ship, the cabin was a gloomy, frightening place – dank and smelly from being underwater for so long – and Claire drew her knees tight to her chest and hugged them. She had a good guess at what would happen if they couldn't rescue Miss Peregrine, even though the older children wouldn't tell her. Sooner or later, a different ymbryne would find them and take them under her wing. Ymbrynes had some trick of finding peculiar children who needed homes. Ymbrynes had a lot of tricks, but none of them were half so clever or half so wonderful as Miss Peregrine. Claire didn't want any ymbryne but her.
But Claire and her housemates added up to quite a lot of children – eleven, one higher than Claire could count on her fingers, and twelve, if you counted Jake – so perhaps they would be too many for one ymbryne and would have to be split up. Losing her housemates would be almost as awful as losing Miss Peregrine.
What had happened to Miss Peregrine was the worst thing of all, and Claire couldn't stop thinking about it, no matter how hard she tried. Miss Peregrine had become a falcon, and Barron had locked her in a birdcage and taken her away with him. Claire didn't know exactly what he wanted to do to her, but she knew it was something very bad, and just the thought of her Miss P in a cage was enough to make her stomach hurt. Combined with the motion of the ship, she felt like she was going to be sick, and if she was sick from her backmouth, it would get in her hair and be a horrible, stinky mess, and without Miss Peregrine there to wash it out for her, she would have to walk around with sick in her hair forever, probably, and even if they could rescue Miss Peregrine, they could never go back to their old house – never, never – because the Germans had bombed it, and –
Claire wasn't aware of the hot tears dripping down her face until she felt a hand on her cheeks, wiping them away. Enoch had sat down beside her in the corner and was now pulling her onto his lap. Claire felt relieved to have his company – Enoch could be very sweet to her when he thought nobody else was watching – and she buried her face in the front of his shirt to muffle her sobs.
Enoch just held her and let her cry for a moment. After her sobs had died down a bit, he rubbed her back and asked softly, "I guess this sort of harder on you, isn't it? You can't remember ever being away from Miss P, can you?"
Claire sniffled and wiped her nose with her hand, thinking about this. She was different from the other children in a way, though it had never seemed to matter before. They had all been old enough when Miss Peregrine took them in that they could each remember, at least vaguely, their lives before her. But they didn't talk about them often, so Claire only knew bits and pieces: Emma had traveled with a circus, and Olive had run away after accidentally setting her family's house on fire. Claire was the only one who couldn't remember her life before Miss Peregrine at all, because she'd been living with her since she was just a baby. She couldn't remember ever being separated from her... until now.
"I... I never had a before," she mumbled to Enoch, still sniffling.
"Well, you don't want one, Claire. Nobody's before was happy."
Claire put a hand on Enoch's long, gangly legs and gripped his trousers in one fist. "But I d-don't want an after, either."
Enoch knew exactly what she meant: she'd never known life before Miss Peregrine, and she didn't want to know it after her. He sat up straighter and wrapped one strong arm around her shoulders. "You aren't going to have an after, Claire," he said, his voice burning with determination. "We're going to rescue Miss P after we dock in Blackpool tomorrow. You'll see. Nobody's going to have an after."
The very next night, after a long, tiring day in Blackpool, Claire and the other children settled down to sleep on the very same ship, and yet it seemed to Claire like a completely different place. The motion of the ship, which had made her so queasy the night before, now felt gentle, like it was rocking her to sleep. But the best change, of course, was that Miss Peregrine was with them again. Just having her there made the entire ship feel bright and homey.
Emma and Olive had used their peculiarities to clean up and dry out two bedrooms below deck, one for the girls and one for the boys. Tonight Claire was sharing a big bed with Fiona and Bronwyn, and Miss Peregrine was there to tuck them in, just as she'd done every night for as long as Claire could remember. She looked exactly the same – her black eyes and upswept hair and quick, birdlike movements – and Claire's eyes followed her around the room as she folded their clothes and got them ready for bed, unable to get enough of looking at her.
Claire and the other girls all had to sleep in just their underclothes because they didn't have any nightgowns to change into. Every single thing they'd owned had been destroyed when the Germans bombed their old house, but it was just a house, and those things were just things. As Miss Peregrine sat down on the edge of their bed and smoothed the blankets over her, Claire felt a bit silly for ever getting so upset about it.
"Is tomorrow going to be a different day, Miss P?" Bronwyn asked, yawning. Bronwyn was sleeping in the middle of the bed, with Fiona and Claire on either side of her. Claire had always had her own bed at their old house, but she found that she liked how cozy it was, sharing a bed with her sisters. She didn't even miss her old doll and teddy bear.
"That's right, Bronwyn," Miss Peregrine answered. "All the days will be different until I make a new loop for us to live in."
"When will that happen?" Fiona wanted to know.
"Mm, I'm not sure yet, Fiona. We'll keep sailing on this ship for now and see if we can't find some nice new place to make a loop."
Claire's eyes widened as she thought about that. Tonight was September 4, and tomorrow would be September 5. Claire could barely remember living outside a loop, in a world where the days changed, and it was exciting – and only a little scary – to think that tomorrow would be a different day and that nobody, not even Miss Peregrine, knew for sure exactly what would happen.
But Miss Peregrine had some trick of making Claire feel sleepy, even when she was excited. She ran her long nails through Claire's hair as if she were casting a spell, and suddenly, Claire could barely keep her eyes open. "Go to sleep, now, girls," Miss Peregrine ordered gently. "It's quite past your bedtime." But as she shifted to stand up and leave, Claire shot out an arm and gripped her skirt with one fist.
"And... will you still be here when we wake up, Miss P?" she asked, her voice fretful.
Miss Peregrine smiled and touched her cheek. "Of course I will, Claire. Now, go to sleep." Claire smiled against the pillow and let her eyes slip closed then. It was a little scary to know that tomorrow would be a whole new day, but their ymbryne would still be there with them, and Miss Peregrine had some trick of making everything seem all right, no matter what had gone wrong. As Claire drifted off to sleep, it occurred to her that that was her greatest peculiarity.