IF EVERYTHING HAD BEEN DIFFERENT – Chapter 14
A very special thanks to Cris (our very kind translator) and Maria Celia for her professional consultancy, besides her infinte patience and tenderness towards us. We hope we have learned everything right!
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To all people who write or read Fics keeping TLW alive.
Also in Portuguese: "Se Tudo Fosse Diferente"
"For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."
Khalil Gibran – "The Prophet"
Challenger walked slowly enjoying the silence in the Treehouse. It had been so long since the last time he had felt so relaxed. The last few weeks had been particularly difficult, but George recognized the fact that all of them, no exceptions made, had showed what they were really able of doing whenever it was necessary. He was really proud of his friends.
The scientist walked to the balcony, extended his arms to stretch his muscles and stayed there for some time just observing the plateau landscape. He had never imagined that in a so wild place he would learn more about himself than in any renowned school.
"Back to work." – he thought.
He turned back, but was stopped by seeing Veronica accommodated by the chaise looking straight to him.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Veronica. I'm already leaving." – ill at ease, he lowered his head and started to walk away from her.
"It's a beautiful day."
George stopped, thankful for listening her stronger and recalling all those days he had spent so afraid of loosing her.
"Yes, it is a beautiful day" – he answered.
She looked intensely to him. Challenger had never seen before a so sad glance. He felt his heart shrug when he saw her tears running freely and in silence through Veronica's face. He ran to hug her.
"Forgive me, Challenger. I didn't want to hurt you."
"Ah, my dear, you are the one who needs to forgive this stubborn old man. I can't even imagine what would have happened if I really had lost you."
Veronica smiled while he kept her closer to him and rocked her for a long time.
Silently Ned was coming with Tommy by his shoulders. He saw the girl and the scientist hugged and just signed to the boy. - "Shhhhh." – and left on the opposite direction.
"Did Malone bring you here?" – he wiped away her tears carefully.
"Please, don't blame Ned. I insisted."
"You know very well that you shouldn't be here." – Challenger checked once more and noticed that Veronica still was running a low fever, and got serious - "You're going back to your bedroom right now."
"No, I won't." – she said, smiling, and snuggling herself against his chest.
"Just a little longer then." – Challenger was absentminded caressing her hairs – "How is...Tommy?" – she was touched by listening for the first time the scientist pronouncing the child's name.
"He's wonderful. Handsome, strong, tender." – she could spend her whole life talking about the boy.
"We need to take care of his academic knowledge."
"He's too young, Challenger." – Veronica protested.
"I know. Just kidding."
Ned carried Tommy to the kitchen where Veronica was finishing packing for the picnic.
"We are ready." – he announced.
"Good morning you three." – Marguerite and Roxton were arriving.
Marguerite got closer to Veronica and pulled her to the corner of the room.
"It had been some time since I want to ask you something." – Curiously the blond faced the heiress, who continued – "Well... do you remember... something I may possibly have told you, let's say... any confidence... not that I would make confidences to you... but... just in case..."
"Of course not, Marguerite." – the heiress sighed alleviated and Veronica smiled slyly. That would be a secret only between them both.
Marguerite noticed Challenger arriving with Summerllee and so she checked on Veronica's forehead speaking aloud.
"My God, Veronica, you are running a fever."
"Marguerite" – the blond slapped softly the brunette's hand.
Challenger almost ran towards Veronica.
"Fever?... You will not leave here if you are running even a low fever."
"Look to what you've done" – Veronica complained looking angry to the heiress, who was hiding her smile behind her hand - "I'm alright, Challenger. Marguerite is kidding."
"Is that true?" – the scientist questioned frowning.
"Enjoy your walk, kids."
Veronica answered to Marguerite with a smile and followed Tommy and Malone to the elevator.
When reaching the ground she stopped. It was the first time she was leaving since she had arrived ill about a month before. Malone got worried.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine, Ned." – she smiled.
From the balcony, Challenger observed the three of them entering the forest.
"So, George," – Summerllee got closer – "do you already know if he's human?"
"As a matter of fact, my friend, I didn't even try to know. Maybe in the future some scientist may get interested in researching about it. Personally I have more important things to do." – he paused – "Do you think she will someday tell him his origins?" – he asked, although he already knew the answer.
"I'm sure she will. And I believe he will be very proud for all the changes he had caused here."
Ned organized carefully their food – it was not much food, but they had several types of it – over the tablecloth where Veronica was playing with Tommy. The morning was warm and the child was just wearing diapers. They were talking about several things, but never got deeper in any subject. Sometimes, they would exchange a tender glance and when they would try to get closer, a jealous Tommy would stay between them and they all would laugh.
A few meters away was a lagoon, crystal clear, and the exotic and colorful flowers would trim that moment even more. Veronica looked around for a while and reflected about everything around her. She breathed deeply and felt really happy and well for having her life back. She felt blessed. Nobody could be so happy in the world than her in that moment. Then she turned her attention to the boys who were with her. As if a magic light covered the three of them, she felt touched, thinking about everything she had lived and everything she still could live with them.
All of a sudden, she took off her sandals and, without thinking, ran and dived into the water. It had been several days since she was dreaming about satisfying that wish. Tommy was sat and started to clap and laugh, shrieking in delight.
Caught by surprise, Ned was worried. But when she came back to the shore, her smile was so bright that his apprehension vanished and his blame for her simply disappeared from his mind. Without leaving the water, she extended her arms to Tommy.
Excited, the boy crawled on all fours as fast as he managed to until reaching very close to her. She caught and kissed him repeatedly while he laughed heartily. As if they were exchanging secrets, she whispered in his ear while she took him to the center of the lagoon. Ned observed them noticing that was one of those moments exclusively for Veronica and Tommy and that he should not interfere.
He thought about how it would be if Veronica was not with them anymore. Distractedly he relaxed against the tree, opened his journals and started to write.
"Maybe in a given point in time I could have doubted about her recovery, but I also found out things that I didn't know I had inside me: the faith that somehow supported me during all those difficult days, and the certainty that faith could move mountains and change hearts. Everything in our lives is part of my continuous learning."
Ned still observed Veronica and Tommy for sometime. There was no doubt they were having fun, but he was not sure about what was happening. More and more concentrated, Malone continued to write, as he had not done for a long time.
All of a sudden, his thoughts were interrupted by a tiny water fountain. As if he was awakening from a dream he looked around him a little surprised until he instinctively reached to the gun by the holster around his waist. He smiled when finding out that Veronica and Tommy were still laughing and having fun. The girl caught Tommy closer to her and asked him.
"Where's Ned?" - Tommy smiled pointing to where the journalist was.
She put the boy lying with his belly flat on the water and came dragging him by his arms. She stopped and pleaded to the journalist.
"Leave those things and come to play with us!" – It sounded almost childish and Ned forced himself to refuse the invitation.
"I've not come prepared to swim today, sorry... We can setup another day!"
"We never really know about another day, Ned..." – She insisted, sounding much more mature than she usually allowed herself to sound, but always in a tender tone. - "Tommy would enjoy..."
The journalist smiled and thought about refusing once more. But seeing them both so happy, and Veronica glancing him exactly in the tender way he loved, he finally gave up knowing that it would be impossible to refuse that particular invitation.
"Ok. You two turn around." – Malone said, pretending to be serious.
Veronica turned back while Tommy continued to observe Malone over the girl's shoulder. The journalist undressed what was not necessary to wear and jumped into the water.
"Ow! It's cold!"
Veronica smiled and got closer, carrying Tommy besides her. By impulse, she inclined and kissed Malone tenderly. He was not exactly caught by surprise but, for sure, felt warmer.
"Hey..." – Ned looked to the boy who was observing them with curious eyes and a finger on his mouth. - "He didn't interrupt us this time."
Veronica gently caressed Tommy's damp hair. She looked to Ned, a little bit shamed, and asked.
"Is it better now?"
"For sure the temperature improved a lot..."
Sun rays were now over the lagoon and Ned observed Veronica walking away carrying Tommy who was moving his short legs. He almost asked where were they going, but he preferred to wait. She stopped a few meters away. Then she whispered into Tommy's ears who appeared really concentrated on her orientation.
"Ned, get ready..."
"Ow... what are you...?"
Malone grew paler when saw Veronica releasing Tommy who disappeared underwater. The journalist was petrified. He was not sure if he should go after the boy or if he should be frightened seeing the bright sight of Veronica observing that all.
Before he could decide what to do, Ned saw Tommy emerging just in front of him. Quickly he caught the panting child. But when he turned back to look for Veronica, Tommy started to struggle him wanting to go back to the water. Still a little bit frightened, Ned started to smile when seeing Veronica laughing as a child.
"Don't worry!... He learns fast..."
Malone hesitated still a little while, but did as the girl had done before, and left Tommy by the water. When the boy kept afloat to go to Veronica's side, he was coughing a little because he had swallowed some water. She just teased him, but did not console him. Ned tried to excuse himself, but she interrupted him patiently…
"Don't let him notice that you are not sure... Transmit your trust to him and he will manage to get it!"
Ned smiled. Maybe he should follow this advice not only now, but along his whole life.
"It seems like a personal victory..." – the journalist thought sensing the boy as excited as never before.
Some time later, they left the water behind and sat under the inviting shadow of a tree, where Malone cushioned his back, pulling Veronica against him and making her rest with her back cushioned by his chest, and they stayed there observing Tommy that in front of them was fighting hard trying to eat an apple. Ned involved Veronica with his arms and resting his face against her he rocked her softly. For a while they seemed to live there alone, and all the worries and angers vanished. Some time later she turned to be face to face with him. She started to talk, seeming to reflect.
"You know... sometimes I think about the day when I found Tommy... I started to believe in destiny... I think... somehow he came to unite us, all of us..."
And he continued in a very low voice - "...mainly to unite us both...".
"Uhum..." – she smiled.
Tommy was growing nervous by not managing to bite the apple. Noticing that, Ned extended his hand taking the fruit from him and cutting it in two halves. Then he took a spoon, scraped half of the apple, and handed it back to the boy with the other half. Veronica observed them both and her heart was fulfilled more and more with happiness. Now she was absolutely sure that there was someone as dedicated as her to take care of Tommy.
That walking became traditional in the life of the three of them. One morning Roxton and Marguerite saw Ned, Veronica and Tommy already leaving the Treehouse.
Roxton nudged Marguerite - "What do you think?"
She turned her eyes.
"Come on, Marguerite." – the hunter insisted.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah" – she annoyed answered.
"Veronica!" – Roxton yelled. Ned and Veronica stopped while the hunter and the heiress got closer. – "You know what? I'm teaching good manners to Marguerite and I desperately need a gentleman who can help us. Could you please borrow us Tommy?"
Malone smiled to the girl noticing the real intention of their friends. She hesitated, but after some seconds nodded her yes. Ned took off the backpack where the boy was accommodated, and handed him to Roxton who took him into his strong arms. Veronica got closer to the boy kissing his cheeks.
"Take care of them sweetie, alright?" – Then Ned took her hand and they both entered the jungle.
Marguerite took Roxton's hat and gave it to Tommy who started to nibble its brim.
"Not my hat!" – John protested.
"Let the boy, Roxton. He needs to learn as soon as possible to recognize low quality things..." – she teased.
Tommy, sat by his small chair by the table, was being observed by Roxton and Marguerite. Both had their chins sustained by their hands, side by side, as if they were dreaming awake looking to the boy. Until the point when Marguerite got awoken.
John faced the heiress seeming confuse. - "And now what?"
"Well, what are we gonna do with him?" – She drove her glance to the boy who was attentively observing them. – "Of course, if you asked to be the brat's baby-sitter you should have something in mind, or nothing, isn't it?"
Roxton smiled noticing that the word "brat" had come more softly this time. Gradually she was changing "little monkey" by the new expression "brat" in the last days, and even this was becoming a tender nickname. But he decided not to mention it or he knew her walls would be built up again.
"Well, you can consider it a good idea..." – he smiled discretely waiting for a reaction from her face still a little confuse.
"Good?" – She answered with a question, expressing a great surprise in her beautiful eyes. Her silence asked for a further explanation from John.
"Well..." – He got closer to Marguerite - "Challenger and Summerllee are downstairs… Ned and Veronica are out… I think we're alone..."
"Alone?" – She asked in a queer tone.
John nodded his head.
"You mean, we two alone, with the brat!"
"Come on, Marguerite! So, what do you think of it?"
Marguerite was not surprised to find out the real intentions of the hunter. - "Alright, let's start teaching good manners to the boy!" – she mislead him holding her smile while noticing the disappointing showing up on Roxton's face.
"What's wrong? Wasn't it why we asked Ned and Veronica to borrow him to us? So, why delay it?"
Roxton was growing irritated. Marguerite was managing to get what she wanted.
"Right..." – he answered seeming convinced after some thinking. – "But before we start he needs to hand me back my hat."
"But why? If this is the first step in our lessons: to recognize low quality things, I've already told you!" – she was trying to disguise her teasing tone of voice.
"Marguerite, I am not kidding. I want my hat back!"
"Talk to him. I'm not the one nibbling your beautiful hat."
John stood up and got closer to the boy, who was looking to him with curious eyes, already holding the hat firmly. Roxton advanced extending his arm to take the hat, but stopped swallowing hard, turning back to Marguerite - "But, if he starts...to cry?"
"You will need to risk it, Lord Roxton! I can assure you there is no T-Rex that can oblige me to enter that elevator and play of getting sick again." – she answered in a logical way.
"Well, so we are two who don't wish that." – he got worried recalling those apparently infinite hours.
"Unless..." – a cunning brightness took over Marguerite's eyes.
"What? What are you gonna do?" – he asked, already afraid, seeing the woman going towards Tommy. She skillfully took him from the little chair and caught him.
"Unless you really need to run and even though do not manage to get your hat!" – and having said that Marguerite left running through the house with Tommy laughing heartily in her arms, followed by a shameful Lord who was getting more and more afraid about what could result from the union of Marguerite and Tommy in that morning.
"Come back here, damn it! Marguerite! Tommy! You will see when I catch you both...!!!"
Malone was finishing the arrangements of all their things.
"Will he be fine?" – Veronica was worried.
"He's certainly great" – the journalist sat besides her passing his arm around her shoulders. – "If you need to get worried you should worry about Roxton and Marguerite. Tommy is much smarter than them both. By the way he is much smarter than we all." – Malone teased.
He pulled her to closer to him and she did not resist. Very carefully Ned made her lay down by the picnic tablecloth. He started to caress her face with his fingertips. She closed her eyes. He kissed her forehead, her eyes, her face, chin, the corners of her mouth, and then slowly and tenderly he finally kissed her lips. When she opened her eyes again, she saw herself lost in his blue eyes. They kissed each other with all their passion. Malone nibbled her ear softly and started kissing her neck insistently. She sighed pulling him to closer to her. Ned knew that if he continued he could not refrain himself any longer from that moment on. He stopped looking very seriously into her eyes and caressed her face with all his tenderness.
Then, the love that both saw in each other's eyes made any doubts they still could have vanish in that moment.
"We got reunited some months ago, and after that reunion we took an important decision: determine the birth date of the youngest inhabitant of the Treehouse. And today it has been eight months since we found out Tommy by the jungle. So, by my calculations (not very precise, I admit) he could be turning one year old today. And this is the date that we are celebrating with great happiness and a special dinner.
Roxton and Malone have made a rocking wooden horse. Summerlee named his newest and rarest specimen the name of Trebax Robustus Tommiensis – that means smart and strong - to reverence the little boy. Marguerite sewed a wonderful new cloth for him that made him look like an elegant young guy. Veronica prepared a delicious sweet cake that everybody is eager to taste. And I, although have made for him a beautiful rubber ball with the jungle rubber plants in my lab, still think I was the one to receive the greatest of the gifts.
And before I forget to mention: with everybody's collaboration Tommy now has his own bedroom."
Challenger still thought why he had written that in his scientific experiences journals, but smiled concluding that fact had enormous importance for them all and deserved to be written together with all the other notes he loved. He wore his jacket and went to meet his friends and Tommy dressing elegantly by the dinner room.
Sat by her chair, Marguerite was facing Tommy firmly, who, sat by his chair, was frowning trying to answer the angry look from the heiress.
Summerllee thought it was funny to observe them both in that strange game. The heiress was stubborn, but for some reason Arthur would bet Tommy would won in that curious fight.
Roxton was finishing arranging the food by the table.
But one person was missing in the group.
"By the balcony." – Ned said, a little clumsily trying to open up a wine bottle that was waiting for a very special occasion to be tasted. – "Could you please call her, Challenger?"
The scientist turned back going towards the balcony, where he found the girl using the blue dress that had belonged to her mother.
"You look gorgeous, dear."
She got closer arranging his tie.
"And you look very elegant."
"Dinner is ready."
"I'm going, Challenger." – she kissed his face. George smiled, leaving her alone.
Still by the balcony Veronica looked to the table where all the others were reunited. Finally she opened up her diary that she had kept against her chest and wrote:
For eleven years the house you've built up so lovely and where I was born was silent and sad. All of a sudden, I acquired new friends and life came back to this place: the noise, the lights, the confusions, movement.
And when I find you - and I WILL find you - I will introduce you to them:
Mom, dad, these are my friends:
Arthur Summerllee, the kindest and gentlest person someone could ever find;
Marguerite Krux, owner of a huge heart and a real lady;
Lord John Roxton, my dear, sweet and loyal friend. I could follow him fearlessly to any raptor's nest;
George Challenger, a brilliant scientist and a wonderful human being;
Edward Malone, my friend, my soul mate, my love;
Tommy Layton, my son."
THE END…For Now.
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This fic is continued in IEHBD - The Duel (To be published in English soon)
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Lady F., Lady K, TowandaBR