Author's Notes: Hey! Look who's back from the dead! Never imagined after all these years I'd be posting here again, especially not for a story in a Fandom I'm not even entirely sure still has much of an audience left. One of the only good things to come out of Lockdown is that I'm writing again, for the first time in a long, long time. I also had time to re-watch The Lost World, and while I might have cringed through some of the acting, "special effects", and storylines, I also remembered why I fell in love with this show and these characters in the first place. So I decided to revisit this old relic of a fanfic and see if I could finally finish it. I half expected to find reading over this again to be a cringe-worthy experience, so I was surprised to find it actually stands up pretty well to the test of time and makes me kind of regret ever getting out of the habit of writing. So yeah, whether there's an audience for this or not I want to complete this story, and maybe even write a few sequels, because I finally got my muse back and I don't want to waste it. Apologies in advance if the writing style seems drastically different, it has been years since I've written anything, so my skills are pretty rusty, hopefully, it won't be too bad. Also, if anyone is out there reading this, I plan to upload this story to AO3, where the TLW content is dismal, under my new account name Vovin, so if that's of any interest to you, please feel free to follow me there.
While the Layton women were getting reacquainted in Avalon, back at the treehouse our explorers were gathered around the dining table in the common area, swapping stories of their latest adventures. Challenger, Roxton, and Marguerite took it in turns to explain to Malone all that they had learned about Thomas and Abigail Layton, about the Protectors, and their first encounter with the Mordren. Challenger recalled their adventure into the future, to New Amazonia, and their meeting with Finn. In turn, Malone recounted some stories of his solo adventures since leaving the treehouse. They discussed what had happened to each of them after encountering the time ripples, Roxton with his run-in with the conquistadors and Challenger with his terrifying visit to the year 4666. Malone explained that he'd been running for his life from head-hunters, when he lost his footing on the uneven terrain and tripped headlong down a steep hillside. Just as the reporter thought he would surely break his neck he'd suddenly found himself in the dazzling brightness of the distant future. Marguerite, feeling decidedly uncomfortable and guilty about the day's events, omitted the murderous druids and her ancestor saviour from her own account, stating simply that she'd been chased by a t-rex before her confrontation with the Bokra imposter. The entire time she was talking, she could feel Roxton's eyes boring into the side of her head; like usual, he could tell when she wasn't being entirely honest. I'll tell John the rest later, when we're alone, she silently vowed. For now, at least, she wasn't ready to tell the others the full story. Of all the things they discussed, by far the most interesting topic of conversation was what Summerlee had to share.
He admitted, apologetically, that already the finer details of his experience were growing vague in his mind, as each minute ticked by. It was as if some unseen force was willing him to forget the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, and his absence for the past few years. He remembered next to nothing of his time as a beetle, just that it had been unpleasant. Before then, he could recall being in a large, beautiful greenhouse which he had, at first, mistaken for the Botanical Gardens in London. He knew he'd spent time trying to reach out and send his friends a message but couldn't remember enough to say how or what he'd done to achieve such a feat. And he was adamant, that what had been a few years for the others, had felt like mere weeks to him.
"So, were you alone that whole time?" asked Malone curiously.
"No, no I wasn't alone," said Summerlee, his brow furrowing thoughtfully. "There was an old woman … a caretaker of sorts, living in the greenhouse … you know, I can't for the life of me remember what her name was!" he huffed impatiently, annoyed with himself. "She was the one who told me about Veronica, and the Protectors, and Avalon, and Marguerite, and each of the roles you all had to play in this Storm of Darkness."
"Hmm," said Challenger, rubbing his chin. "Who do you suppose this woman was? Some kind of Avatar, perhaps?"
Summerlee shook his head. "To be honest, I'm not entirely sure she was human at all. There was always just something about her, a presence, an energy, the way she talked about things, that made me believe that she was something more than she appeared to be."
"You don't think she was some kind of demon, do you? Like this Zoth character?" asked Roxton, ignoring Challenger's derisive snort at the suggestion.
"No, there was nothing malice about her, quite the opposite, in fact. At times, she almost seemed too innocent for someone who looked so wizened by time." He paused, his mouth pursed in thought, gaze low and faraway. "Honestly, I'm not sure I have the words to describe why she seemed so … different."
"Strange this … woman … never mentioned Finn to you," said Challenger.
"Why would she," interjected Marguerite, "it's not like Summerlee has ever met Finn."
"That's true enough, I suppose." Challenger glanced toward the balcony. "Gracious! It's almost dark!" He frowned in concern. "I had hoped Finn would be back by now."
"You don't suppose something's happened to her?" Marguerite asked anxiously, feeling a pang of guilt as she recalled the last time she'd seen the future-born girl.
Finn had revealed the truth about Zoth and saved Marguerite from making a decision that could have destroyed the Plateau and everything they knew and held dear. Marguerite had found herself transported to where the Mordren held John captive, while poor Finn had been left behind with that Zoth creature. Oh, please don't be dead, Finn, she thought desperately. Please, please don't make me be responsible for the deaths of two women today!
"I'm sure she's fine," Roxton hurried to reassure her, settling a comforting hand on her shoulder. "She probably just wound up a few miles away from the treehouse, that's all."
Challenger was out of his seat. "I'm going to go look for her," he said determinedly.
"Oh, George, be reasonable," Roxton protested, getting to his feet, and stepping between the scientist and the elevator. "Most of our weapons are missing, and all of our spare ones are packed away and down in the perimeter. By the time we get organised it'll already be dark, and we'll be no good to Finn then!"
As concerned as the hunter was for his newest friend, he was also exhausted and aching from being chased all around the jungle by conquistadors, then knocked out and subsequently dragged around by Rannik and his men. A casual glance around at his friends told him they weren't favouring any better than he was. Malone had the look of a man who hadn't had a decent night's sleep in quite some time, likely a consequence of him travelling alone and having no-one to watch his back at night. Summerlee sat with his elbows propped on top of the table, his shoulders slumped with a weariness that probably had less to do with his age and more to do with his sudden, miraculous return to human form. Even Challenger was moving with an uncharacteristic stiffness and seemed to be lacking his usual boundless energy. And since the initial excitement of her reunion with Summerlee and Malone, Marguerite had gradually grown quiet and subdued as the day stretched on. This was hardly surprising, considering only a few hours earlier he'd carried her unconscious form into the treehouse. And before that she and Veronica had been doing God knows what in order to save the Plateau. She was probably more exhausted then all of them combined. There was also a look in her eyes, an expression which made Roxton suspect that something else had happened to her today, something serious enough that she felt she needed to keep it to herself. The last thing any of them needed right now was to go traipsing around the jungle in the dark. Finn was smart and resourceful. Roxton was certain she was capable enough of fending for herself for one night. She's certainly survived worse, that's for sure, he thought grimly.
"Look, I promise," the hunter continued, "if Finn isn't back by first light tomorrow then we'll mount a search party for her. And with Summerlee and Malone back, we'll be able to split up and cover more ground. Maybe we can even use the balloon to speed up the search. But for right now, I think the best thing we can do for Finn, is get a good night's rest. Hell knows we could use it after the day we've just had."
Challenger still looked uncertain, glancing between the elevator and his friends.
"Really, George," Summerlee piped up, "from what you've told us about this young woman, she sounds more than capable of surviving a single night in the jungle by herself."
Roxton felt a surge of affection for the elderly botanist as he reiterated John's exact thoughts on the matter.
"Very well," Challenger said reluctantly. "At first light then."
As night fell over the Plateau, the explorers shared a simple meal together consisting of fruit, nuts, and dried raptor meat. Roxton, Malone and Challenger kept conversation flowing, recounting to Summerlee some of the adventures they'd gotten up to in his absence. All throughout the meal, Roxton's eyes drifted to Marguerite again and again as she remained quiet and picked at her food. Once everyone finished eating, they quietly said their goodnights and one by one drifted down to their sleeping quarters. Summerlee found that his old room had changed very little in his absence, while Malone discovered a few traces of the newest treehouse resident who'd apparently been bunking in his room. There was a copy of Lewis Carroll's 'Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There' by the bedside, along with a stack of small cards marked with letters of the Alphabet, with small holes punched through them. Hoping that he wouldn't be woken up in the middle of the night with a crossbow aimed at his face, Ned Malone settled down for the night.
Roxton stared up at the dark ceiling. He was stretched out on his back in his small bed, his thin blanket draped haphazardly across his legs. Despite his exhaustion, sleep evaded him. His thoughts were restless. He couldn't stop replaying the day's events over and over again. Couldn't forget how narrowly he'd escaped death. He was worried about Finn, about Veronica. He wouldn't be able to relax again until he knew for certain they were both safe and well and under one roof. He was worried about Marguerite. Worried about what might have happened to her after they'd been separated. Worried that she might be having second thoughts. What if she regrets accepting my offer of marriage? The thought filled him with terror. He had been so happy this afternoon when she'd accepted his proposal. If she changed her mind – if she rejected him–!
A sudden, loud creak of a floorboard being stepped on, startled the hunter from his spiralling thoughts. He sat up on his elbows and glanced toward the end of his modest room, feeling his breath catch in his throat as a vision appeared before him in the dim light. Marguerite stepped through his makeshift doorway, dressed in nothing but her long white nightgown, her dark hair tumbling freely down her back and over her bare shoulders. My God, she's beautiful, he thought in wonder, devouring her pale figure with his hungry gaze. As happy as he was to see her, he was also concerned; she'd never before come to his room in the middle of the night. Not even since that incident in the cave a few weeks ago, when they'd finally, at long last consummated their feelings for each other. How many nights had he spent laying here longing for her to join him? Fantasizing about what he would do with her if this exact scenario played out. But Marguerite did not look like she was here to seduce him, in fact, if anything, she looked anxious and unsure of herself, as if she was seconds away from turning tail and fleeing back to her own room.
"What happened?" he asked in a hushed voice. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she returned softly. "I just … I … I don't want to be alone tonight."
Roxton felt a thrill of excitement race through him. "Come here," he said, hastily shifting aside as much as his narrow bed allowed him, trying to give her space to join him.
She hesitated for just a second before closing the distance between them and climbing into the bed next to him. Heart soaring like a kite and pounding in his ears, Roxton wrapped her in his arms and drew her in close.
"I've got you, I'm right here," he whispered tenderly, hearing her soft answering whimper, and feeling her fingers twist in the fabric of his undershirt.
He lay back down, pulling her down with him. He spread his blanket over her with one hand, so it covered more of her than it did himself. She lay with her head pillowed on his chest and tucked under his chin, her hands were clenched in his threadbare undershirt, and one of her legs were curled over his thigh and knee, while the other was stretched out straight next to his own. As he held her close, he felt all his worries from a few moments before, melt away. She was here. Safe in his arms. She hadn't changed her mind; he was sure of it. He heard her take a shaky breath. He pressed a kiss to her forehead, stroked his fingers through her hair, and waited.
"Do you think Veronica and Finn are alright?" she asked at length.
He took a moment to consider his answer. "Well, if Summerlee's right, then Veronica is in Avalon with her mother, which means she's probably happier now than she has been in a long time. As for Finn … well, she survived for years all on her own in that awful New Amazonia, and she's spent enough time around us on the Plateau to know how to stay out of trouble. I'm sure she'll brag all about her night alone in the jungle, when we find her tomorrow, and drive us all quite mad as she tells us all about it in exaggerated detail."
Roxton was elated to hear Marguerite's soft huff of laughter.
"I hope you're right," she murmured.
He pressed another kiss to her forehead. "That's not the only thing bothering you, is it?" He felt her shift slightly against him, her hand coming up to fidget with the buttons of his shirt. "Talk to me, Marguerite. Tell me what happened."
Slowly, hesitantly, she told him. About the druids, and the cave, and the woman who looked like her, who had saved her life; the woman who had taken her place at the sacrificial altar.
"I just left her there," said Marguerite, voice choked with emotion, eyes wet with tears. "I left her to die … in that horrible cave … where her body would be trapped for eternity."
"You didn't have a choice. She told you to go."
"I never should have listened, I should have done something, I should have stopped them!"
"There's nothing you could have done."
"You don't know that. I was a coward. You should hate me!"
"Never!" he said vehemently. "She made her choice, Marguerite, she chose to save you. Veronica needed you, we all did. Her sacrifice helped save us all. Don't expect me to blame you for saving your own life." He sat up and changed their position, rolling them until he was propped up on both of his elbows while she lay beneath him. He cupped her face in his hand, stroking his thumb over her cheekbone. "You came back to me, Marguerite, that's all that matters."
She stared up at him, her pale eyes glistening with tears, her lower lip trembling slightly. "I was so scared!" she quietly sobbed. "I thought I would never see you again."
"I know," said Roxton, wiping a wayward tear away from her cheek, with his thumb. "But I'm right here, and I'm never going to leave your side again, ever."
Her arms came up and wrapped around him, pulling him down at the same moment he lowered his weight more firmly on top of her, sealing her mouth with his own. He kissed her long and hard, pouring all his pent up emotions into the action. All of his fear, all his love, and all his gratitude. She's alive. We're alive. And nothing is going to tear us apart again. She clutched at him desperately, one of her hands was snagged in the hair at the base of his skull, while the other was latched onto the fabric that covered his shoulder blades. They broke apart, panting. He scarcely had time to fill his lungs before she was drawing him down into another kiss, this one more frantic than the last. He groaned softly as she arched up beneath him, rubbing against him in all the right ways. God, how he loved her. He licked hungrily into her welcoming mouth, feeling a savage joy when he heard her gentle moan of pleasure. For a little while they lost themselves in each other, kissing and caressing, rejoicing in the simple pleasure of being together. Eventually, Roxton reluctantly took control of their fervent embrace, slowing down their kisses, cooling Marguerite's fiery passion, and reigning in his own raging lust. As much as he would like to follow this to it's inevitable and pleasurable conclusion; that's not what he wanted tonight to be about. Tonight was about comfort and reassurance. Roxton needed her to know that he wanted more from her than just her body. He needed her to know that she could come to him when she was frightened and vulnerable, needed her to know that he would happily hold her safe in his arms and ask nothing of her in return.
"I love you," he whispered, gazing down at her beautiful face, combing his fingers through her dark tresses.
"It's late … and we're both exhausted … and Challenger expects us up at first light. We should get some sleep while we can."
Without waiting for a reply, he changed their position again, rolling them until Marguerite was once again draped half on top of him, pillowed against his chest, and wrapped securely in his arms. Gradually, he felt Marguerite relax completely, melting against his side like butter. Her fingers no longer clutched at his undershirt, as if she was afraid he would vanish into thin air, instead they drew random patterns across his chest and played idly with his buttons.
"Good night, my dear," he whispered, pressing one final kiss to the top of her head.
"Good night, John," she returned, a smile in her voice.
Within minutes, both hunter and heiress were asleep. Safe and secure in each other's arms.
The sound of the jungle dawn chorus gradually filtered into Marguerite's dream, gently rousing her from her slumber. She tried resisting against it as best she could, tried to sink back into that cocoon of warmth and comfort that came from the oblivion of sleep, but alas, dawn was tugging at her eyelids. Her mind felt thick and slow, thoughts trickling like honey. It took her several long minutes to get her bearings. She became aware of a line of heat at her back, and of a heavy weight draped over her waist and curled around her chest. She noticed her left hand was tingling from pins and needles. I've probably lain on it funny, she mused drowsily. For some reason, her bed felt lumpier than usual, narrower too, and her blanket was distinctly scratchier than normal. The room smelled different too. She could detect faint traces of gun oil, leather, and a distinctive masculine musk that could only belong to one man. She smiled, her eyes fluttering open at last. She gazed around at the modest space Lord John Roxton had claimed as his own, over three years ago. Memories of the night before rushed back to her, and Marguerite felt herself flush like a schoolgirl, as her heart overflowed with love and affection for this sweet, gentle man. What did I ever do to get so lucky? Consumed with a sudden need to see his face, Marguerite tried picking her head off the pillow to turn to him. She'd barely raised her head half an inch before she was met with some kind of resistance and promptly dragged back down. Confused, she tried moving again, only to be met with the same results. Dammit! He's fallen asleep on my hair! She realised incredulously. I'm trapped!
For several long minutes, she silently struggled to free herself from his dead weight but to no avail. The great lump seemed to be using almost the entire mass of her hair as a nice soft pillow. Oh, this is getting me nowhere!
"Roxton, get off me!" she hissed, nudging him gently with her elbow.
Roxton startled awake with a grunt. He sat up in a daze, leaning heavily over Marguerite and gazing about in confusion. As the hunter's bleary eyes scanned his room for signs of danger, Marguerite hastily scooped her hair free from his side of the pillow. Finding nothing untoward, Roxton slumped forcefully back down behind her. He tightened his grip on her waist, drawing her body closer to his own, and burrowed his face between her neck and shoulder.
"Mmm! It's a good thing," he mumbled, voice thick with sleep.
"What is?" asked Marguerite in confusion.
"That I've decided to marry you," he added cryptically.
Marguerite couldn't help but smile. "Why's that?"
"Because I want to wake up like this every day for the rest of my life," he explained adamantly.
"Is that so?" said Marguerite. "I'm not so sure I would like that."
Roxton was instantly sitting up again, leaning his weight on one elbow. He rolled her onto her back, frowning down at her with a hurt expression on his handsome face.
"Why not?" he demanded, his tone sullen.
"You fell asleep on my hair," she accused, smirking up at him.
His features softened as he realised she was teasing him. "Did I? That must explain why I slept so well last night."
"You better not get used to it," she said, poking him in the chest for emphasis. "My hair is not a pillow! And I have no intention of waking up every morning, for the rest of my life, with my head pinned to the pillow by your thick noggin!"
"Very well, I promise to be more careful about where I lay my head tonight," he said, gazing down at her with a lopsided grin tugging his lips.
"Tonight?" she repeated, arching a sardonic eyebrow. "Why, Lord Roxton, how very presumptuous of you."
"Presumptuous? Perhaps. I prefer to think of it as more hopeful. After all, you seemed to enjoy my company well enough last night." He waggled his eyebrows. Marguerite bit her lower lip in amusement. "Did you sleep well?"
"Very well, thank you. Though, I was a little squashed," she said, wriggling. "This bed is hardly built for two."
"As I recall, your bed is a little bigger."
Marguerite scoffed. "Barely!"
Roxton made a contemplative sound, shifting until he was stretched out on top of Marguerite, his weight braced on his elbows and knees, caging the heiress in with his body from all sides. He brought a hand up to her face, caressing her cheek with his thumb.
"Then I'll just have to build you a bigger bed."
A startled laugh escaped Marguerite. "Lord Roxton, are you offering to build me a marriage bed?!" she asked incredulously.
"I suppose I am."
Marguerite laughed again. She raised her arms, twining them around his neck. Roxton felt his mouth go dry, as nimble fingers found purchase in his hair, tugging and twisting, sending his nerves ablaze. He found himself ensnared by her large grey eyes, gazing up at him through long, dark lashes.
"You really are too adorable for your own good," she whispered, pulling his head down, closing the scant few inches separating their mouths, and drawing him into a heated kiss.
"Roxton!" called a loud and decidedly unwelcome voice. "Roxton!"
Startled, the couple broke apart. They could hear the sound of heavy footsteps quickly approaching. Roxton rolled off of Marguerite. He made a mad grab for the blanket, yanking it up to Marguerite's neck just in time, as their resident red-haired scientist barged headlong through the makeshift doorway. An indignant yelp of "George!" escaped the hunter's lips as the man in question stumbled to a halt midway into the room.
"Oh … ugh … I beg your pardon!" Challenger looked mortified. Scarlet-faced, the scientist spun around, so that his back was to them, throwing up a hand to shield his face as an extra precaution. "I … eh … Finn isn't back yet and … well … you did say we'd leave at first light."
"Really, George, you could have knocked!" Roxton scolded.
The hunter looked most perturbed. He was leaning possessively over Marguerite, as if trying to further shield her from view, despite her being fully covered by the blanket. Marguerite was silently shaking from suppressed laughter, her hand clamped tightly over her mouth, eyes watering with tears of mirth. The entire situation was just too hilarious.
"Yes … of course," Challenger muttered awkwardly. "I'll remember that for the future."
"Right well … we'll be up in a moment … if you just let us get dressed," said Roxton with equal awkwardness.
"Uh … yes … very good." With that, the scientist beat a hasty retreat.
Marguerite managed to contain herself for a few more minutes before finally bursting into raucous laughter. Roxton turned to her with a reproachful expression.
"What were you trying to do with the blanket?" she asked at length, voice breathless from laughing so hard. "Protecting my modesty?! I dare say the man's seen me in my nightgown a time or two!"
"A simple thank you would be nice," said Roxton, annoyed.
"Thank you?!" cried Marguerite. "You made the whole thing look more incriminating than it really was!"
Roxton's eyes widened in dismay as he realised she might just be right. Marguerite dissolved into fits of laughter again.
"Poor, George!" she chortled. "I think we've just scarred the man for life!"
"Keep your voice down!" he hissed pleadingly, face feeling decidedly hot.
"You should have seen your face," Marguerite continued, not heeding his advice. "You looked like a little boy who'd just been caught with his hand on his–!"
"Marguerite!" yelped Roxton, smothering her subsequent cackle with his hand.
Despite his own embarrassment, Roxton felt a grin spreading across his face. It was good to see Marguerite in such high spirits, even if it was at his expense, especially considering how upset she'd been last night. He waited for several minutes, letting her get the last of the laughter out of her system, before finally removing his hand from her mouth.
"Are you quite finished?" he asked, arching an eyebrow.
She gazed up at him with a dazzling grin, her eyes sparkling. "Mmhmm."
Unable to resist, he ducked down and captured her smile in a kiss. He kissed her for several long minutes before he reluctantly withdrew. Much as he was inclined to stay here all day, wrapped up with Marguerite in their own little world, his conscience was nagging at him; they still had work to do. Finn was out there somewhere, and it was up to them to find her and bring her home.
"It pains me to say it, my dear, but we had better be getting up," he said. "We still have a Finn to find and the threat of further embarrassment will only keep Challenger at bay for so long."
Marguerite heaved a sigh, sounding as put out about the situation as John felt.
"Fine! But I'm not going anywhere without a cup of coffee first!"
Roxton chuckled. "Of course not. If we deprived you of your morning coffee we would only be punishing ourselves."
"Ugh!" cried Marguerite, offended but amused. She swatted him in the chest in retaliation and rolled away, swinging her legs off the bed and resting her bare feet on the floor. "You know, I had a dream about Finn last night."
"Oh, really?" said Roxton, sitting up. "Do tell."
"She was in that village you boys found a few years ago, the one Veronica and I had to save you from, with those amazon warriors."
Roxton frowned. "What was she doing there?"
"Fighting, of course," said Marguerite, amused. "Taking part in an initiation battle, like the one Veronica and I had to fight in, to prove herself as a warrior."
"Did she win?"
"This is Finn we're talking about, so of course she won."
"Were you fighting too?" asked Roxton, Cheshire cat grin spreading across his face.
"No, I wasn't there. None of us were, in fact. Just Finn," said Marguerite, eyebrows drawing together in contemplation.
"Hmm. Odd dream."
"Yeah." She glanced back at him over her shoulder and noticed his gaze was lingering over her figure. "What?"
"Oh, nothing," he replied, eyes coming up to meet hers. "I was just thinking about that little leather ensemble you had to wear on that particular adventure. I don't suppose you happened to keep it?"
Marguerite smiled, bringing her face close to his. Roxton's eyes dropped to her mouth.
"Why?" she asked, voice low and sultry. "Are you planning on tying me up?"
Roxton closed his eyes and sighed. "Are you ever going to let me live that down?"
"Not on your life!"
She pressed one final kiss to his lips before standing up and sashaying her way out of his room, granting him a parting glance as she stepped through the doorway. God, I love that woman, Roxton thought happily.
Roxton was climbing the stairs, fully dressed, and ready for another day, when he heard the familiar rumble of the elevator being activated. Perhaps that's Finn now, and we won't have to go hiking through miles of jungle to find her, he thought optimistically. That would certainly make Marguerite happy. He continued his way up to the common area, finding two of his treehouse companions already awake and seated at the dining table. Arthur Summerlee and Ned Malone had the sleepy, harried appearance, of two men who had been bullied out of bed by a certain red-haired visionary. Malone was sipping at a steaming cup of coffee, while Summerlee was munching on a piece of toast.
"Coming or going?" he asked, nodding at the still rumbling elevator.
"Challenger's gone down to …" Summerlee's explanation was cut off by a wide yawn. "… fetch the spare weapons."
"You feeling alright, old boy?" Roxton asked with a chuckle.
"Yes, I'm fine. Just a little out of practice with early mornings," said Summerlee ruefully. "I'm sure I'll probably be more hindrance than help on today's excursion to find your young friend, but Challenger's most insistent about my participation."
"Nonsense, Arthur, you'll do just fine," said Roxton, clapping the bespectacled professor on the shoulder affectionately, as he passed him on his way to the kitchen. "And we'll be happy for your company."
"You really have been greatly missed, Professor," Malone chipped in, smiling at Summerlee.
"Oh, well, thank you both," said Summerlee. "I've missed you all very much as well."
Roxton was filling a plate with fruit when Marguerite appeared at the top of the stairs. She was dressed in her purple blouse and a pair of jodhpurs. Her hair was tied up in a braid, no doubt in anticipation for a long day of hiking through the jungle.
"Good morning, my dear," greeted Summerlee.
"Good morning, Arthur!" she returned brightly. She paused on her way to the coffee pot to deposit a kiss onto the balding head of the elderly professor. "Good morning, Ned," she added, ruffling the journalist's hair, surprising everyone, especially Ned.
Roxton stared at her expectantly as she rounded the kitchen area. "Do I get a kiss too?" he asked, waggling his eyebrows.
She slowly stalked toward him, a dangerous smirk playing on her lips. Just when he thought he might be in trouble, she leaned up on her tiptoes and pecked him lightly on the cheek.
"Good morning, John," she said sardonically, sidestepping him and reaching for the coffee pot.
"Good morning, my queen," he replied happily. "You're in fine form today!"
"Yeah, Marguerite," said Malone, "I don't think I've ever seen you in such a good mood this early in the morning before."
"Don't worry, Malone," said Marguerite airily, pouring herself a cup of coffee. "I promise it won't last. I plan to be in a positively foul mood one hour from now when we're all trudging through the bloody jungle, looking for our resident scamp from the future!"
The three men laughed in response. Just then, the elevator began to rumble as it started its steady ascent. Roxton propped his hip against the kitchen bench, his attention fixated on the beautiful heiress standing beside him, sipping from her coffee cup. He took a grape from his plate and brought it to her lips, quirking an eyebrow inquiringly. To his delight, Marguerite obligingly opened her mouth and allowed him to feed her the grape, holding his gaze the entire time. He had just reached for a second grape, when the elevator came to a halt and Challenger stepped off, loaded down with weapons. To their astonishment, Challenger carried with him not the spare weapons, he'd gone to retrieve, but the weapons they'd all lost the day before.
"Challenger, you never cease to amaze me!" crowed Roxton. "How the hell did you find those?!"
"Oh, it was quite by accident, I assure you," replied George, laying his burden down on the table. "It was quite remarkable, I found them scattered in piles all within the perimeter of the fence. It's like someone or something just … returned them."
"How extraordinary," said Summerlee.
"Is everything there?" Marguerite asked sceptically.
"Seems to be," said Challenger.
Roxton had made his way to the table and was now inspecting his Webleys and rifle, making sure they were in working order. Marguerite sidled up beside him, sitting her half-empty coffee cup on a spare section of table, and taking a bite out of a green apple.
"Just another day on the Plateau," Malone noted wryly, "always full of surprises."
"Indeed!" said Challenger.
Marguerite rolled her eyes.
"Let's just count our blessings it was a nice surprise, for a change," Roxton observed with a chuckle.
"Yes that is true, we've been quite fortunate in that regard lately," said Challenger, giving Malone and Summerlee a significant look.
"Well, I can't argue with that," Marguerite agreed, brushing up against Roxton and smiling at the two recently returned members of their treehouse family.
Summerlee and Malone returned the smile, each of them grateful to be home among their friends once again. Before anything else could be said or done there was a sudden whooshing sound and a bright flash of light. Marguerite let out a startled squawk as Veronica Layton abruptly materialised out of nowhere.