*Oh man.. looks like I spoke too soon about the previous chapter being the last. I will put this down as the epilogue, per se. See what you guys think. If it fits fine, I'll leave it. I would have to agree with jon, there has to be something done about the ending to make it more, uh, to make it have a sense of closure I guess. No harm trying. =) Warning: Major N/V ship ahead.

"More coffee, Ned?"


Roxton looked at the almost-empty pot, then back at Malone.

"You sure you want to-"

A raven-haired whirlwind snatched the pot from Veronica's hand before he could finish his sentence. "Edward Malone, if you ever come between me and my third cup, you had better reconsider, because if you don't, I will-"

"You will what?" Veronica interrupted her tirade sharply.

Roxton and Malone ducked their heads under the table in silent laughter as the two women squared off. Challenger, as usual, was oblivious to the ruckus, his book inches away from his face.

"Roxton, stop laughing," Marguerite ordered, her gaze still locked with Veronica's.

Something that sounded suspiciously like muffled chuckles answered her before both men stood up, faces red with the effort of controlling their obvious amusement at the scene before them.

"Oh come on girls," Roxton chided teasingly as he took Marguerite by the arm, "play nice now. We don't need a catfight. There are enough dangerous species here to worry about without the inclusion of felines."

"Har har John, very funny," The scowl was instantly replaced by a look of surprise when John bent down, kissed her on the cheek, then walked off. She glanced at the younger pair, who had carefully averted their gaze the other way.

"Malone, the inland sea is taken," Roxton yelled from his room.

"Fine by me," the young man yelled back. Marguerite gaped before rushing into Roxton's room.

"What was that?!" she demanded as she closed the door. John turned to face her with an innocent smile on his face.

"I had to get your attention somehow. You were so occupied with the coffee, I couldn't think of any other way."

Marguerite just stood there silently until John sat on his bed with a sigh and proceeded to explain further.

"Look, Veronica and Malone need some time together, and I don't think they would want to leave this treehouse for a while, given the, uh, incident that.." He trailed off.

"Go on," Marguerite sat next to him, looking faintly interested.

"And so I thought we would, might as well, leave them alone for today, and make a trip to the inland sea. You've always liked it there."

"I like Brighton beach better."

"What? And miss play time with the raptors?"

Marguerite rolled her eyes and got up. She was at the door when she paused and said, "I'll get my things."

Roxton grinned.

Malone and Veronica had the whole place to themselves. Almost. But Challenger had been very engrossed in his lab work lately, so Malone's room was a safe bet.

The two of them sat facing each other, both slightly flushed, unused to their privacy and close proximity.

"I wonder how Jakum is," Veronica initiated the conversation casually. Malone immediately gripped his pant legs in an effort to calm himself.

It's over, it's over, I'm okay, they're just memories.

Veronica bit her lip, watching his silent struggle, and berated herself for bringing up the still-sensitive subject. One day, that was all it took to traumatize him, and then some. The memories were not decreasing so much as fluctuating in intensity. One night he could sleep without waking, the next, he would be found huddled under the bed, rocking back and forth, sobbing.

"I can't go through this," he would say on the nights of particularly bad nightmares. But the next day he would always appear at the breakfast table, eyes bloodshot, but otherwise acting like nothing was wrong.


"I'm fine," he took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

"But I'm not."

Malone looked at her, the wash of emotions on his face - confusion, guilt, regret - ended with abstract sadness. She lifted her hand and touched a fading bruise on his cheek.

"I never wanted this to happen, Ned."

"I know.. no one did."

"You know, when Jakum was dragging me to the jungle, I could still hear the traders. Everything they said. The yells and curses, the threats. You."

"I'm sorry Veronica." He buried his face in his hands, not knowing how else to tell her that he had to do what he did. For her.

"No, no. Don't be.. I should be apologizing, not you."

"Whatever for?"

So many reasons, Ned! "For leaving you behind."

"That was my idea."

"I know it was. But like I told Roxton, I could have escaped from Jakum, run back and help you. But I didn't. I was scared. And I still hate myself for that."

"Veronica, if it happened your way, we wouldn't be here now. And you know that. It was for the best."

Veronica smiled sadly. "That was what Jakum said when he and I were hiding."

Malone blinked back tears, remembering the lies they drummed into him when he was at his most vulnerable.

"They told..told me.. that they captured you, again. I-I almost lost it there. They, h-he, he said you, I betrayed you. .you didn't escape. It's hard to-to rationalize wh-when you are, you have, people b-behind.. when y- you are-"

He was stammering, shaking, clenching his fists so hard his knuckles turned white. Veronica pulled him in to her arms in an embrace, rocking him gently.

And they sat in such a position for a long time, reveling in the closeness and the comfort it provided. They did not speak, but just cried and released. It just felt like the right thing to do.

"You ok?" Malone's voice came out hoarse.

"Yeah." Hers was no better.

She leant closer into him, felt his warm skin under her fingers, inhaled his scent.

"Love you," she whispered.

"Right back at you."

He tilted her chin up gently. They stared into each other's eyes, before he tentatively brushed his lips with hers. She responded in kind.

"Challenger!" Roxton jumped behind the older man, nearly scaring him into dropping a test tube.

"John Roxton, I do wish you wouldn't do that, especially in my laboratory. What were you thinking man? Where did you come from anyhow?"

"Up the elevator George ol' man. You didn't hear it? Hmph, thought not."

Challenger stared at the English lord, noting his giddy exhilaration and light tone.

"Did something happen between you and Marguerite?"

"You never were the discreet one huh George?" He said and slapped him heartily on the back, almost causing him to drop the test tube again. Challenger grumbled under his breath as he turned back to his experiments. Roxton grinned before he decided to leave the scientist in peace.

As he made his way up the stairs, he saw Malone and Veronica emerge from the room, looking tired but happier than they had been for the past week and a half.

"Malone," he called. The young man turned and grinned.

"Hey Roxton, how was Brighton beach?"


Malone raised an eyebrow.

"It was!" Roxton feigned innocence. "And how was your time with Veronica?"


Roxton raised an eyebrow to match Malone. But Malone's warning glare made him erase the thought that had just crossed his mind.

"But you got things sorted out?"

"We did."

Roxton patted him on the back, gently, cautious of the still-healing wounds. Suddenly, they heard a commotion in the kitchen.

"Are you preparing dinner?"

"So what if I am?"

"Don't! You're a walking disaster in here!"

"It was only the soup the last time."

"That's the only one you cooked! Roxton, Ned, get in here!"

"Challenger, get up here now!" Roxton yelled.

"Whatever for?"

"Marguerite is trying to cook dinner again."

Challenger quickly placed his test tubes properly and ran up to the kitchen to avert the crisis at hand.

"You're all exaggerating."

"We aren't, now hand me that ladle before you kill someone."

FIN (maybe, should be, it is. Hope so.)