She let her eyes scan her home, from one of Malone's journals left open on the table, to the half-built crib in the corner. Roxton's tools lay sprawled on the floor where he'd left them so suddenly that morning, when Challenger had come bounding into the treehouse with the wonderful news. They were finally going home.
She'd taken them as far as the cave entrance, led them through the jungle and helped Marguerite carry her pack but when she'd seen the path ahead of them, seen that they were really, finally leaving, she couldn't bring herself to take one more step. Grabbing Marguerite's hand, she'd stopped them with her silence and immediately they knew that it was the end of the road for her. Marguerite's eyes welled with tears as she hastily dropped her hand and stepped backwards, away from her, into Roxton's chest. Through the haze of tears Challenger had stepped forward, grasping Veronica's arms and embracing her like a proud father as he kissed her forehead. He'd promised her a return expedition and she had absolute faith that he'd deliver on his promise. Roxton hugged her, with Marguerite still pressed against his chest and she smiled at how much they'd changed since she met them. Roxton had been the quintessential arrogant and priviledged English Lord, whilst Marguerite had been the most insufferable and self-centered human being Veronica had ever met. Now they stood together, kind, gentle and as giving as any brother or sister she could have ever asked for. Marguerite's tongue could still be as cruel as ever and Roxton could still put the wrong life first but she had grown to love them.
Veronica agonisingly pulled herself to her feet and made her way slowly down the stairs towards the bedroom that had once been Marguerite's. She pulled one of the older woman's silk, embroidered scarves from atop her retan divider and hugged it to her chest as she sat on the edge of the bed. Roxton's vest was still draped over the chair and a pair of booties Marguerite had been knitting, were sitting on the dresser by her jewellery box. Veronica had been looking forward to welcoming a new member to the treehouse, she'd been looking forward to the sound of a child to brighten up their more scary and dark days. But now, as tears slowly started to form in her eyes, she realised that she would never meet the child she had so anxiously been awaiting. Lying herself down in the centre of their bed, she dragged her knees up to her chest and hugged the scalf as tightly as she could as her thoughts finally drifted to Malone.
When she left them he'd been standing with his back pressed against the cold stone entrance to the cave, his arms crossed over his chest and his features stern. She didn't know what to say to him because everything that had needed to be said had been said. She was at a loss for how best to tell the man she'd come to love, that she was content with the fact she may very well never see him again. Though she wasn't content, far from it, but that was not what he needed to know if he were to return to London as he was meant to do. He needed to tell the world their story and he couldn't do that from a treehouse in the centre of a lost wilderness.
For five years, Veronica had grown accustomed to living with a family. She'd grown accustomed to sitting back and letting Roxton and Marguerite rip each other's throats out, as opposed to getting herself tangled up in the centre of their bickering. She'd grown accustomed to dodging Challenger's runaway experiments and Marguerite's terrible cooking. Most of all, she'd grown accustomed to Malone's ever watchful eye, making note of everything with a sharpened pen and a promise to never forget. As she lay on Marguerite and Roxton's bed, she couldn't imagine what life was going to be like now, without the constant excitement of five opposing personalities under the same roof. And she finally realised how quickly time could change a world, her world, that was now more empty than it had ever been.
"I don't know if Marguerite would like you to crease her scarf like that." Veronica heard Malone's voice from the doorway and without a thought, she rolled her eyes.
"She left it for me, I really don't think she'd..." Her voice trailed off and she quickly rolled off the bed. "Malone!" She gasped. "What are you doing here? Where are the others? Didn't you get through? I thought-" Malone lunged forward and grabbed her arms.
"Whoa." He laughed. "Slow down."
"But what happened? I thought you all-"
Malone stroked her cheek, silencing her with a gentle smile. "They're gone, Veronica. They made it through."
"But why aren't you with them? What about your book?"
"I just couldn't leave without you."
"It's alright. Roxton has my book, he'll see that it's published." He smirked. "And that Marguerite doesn't edit it too much." Veronica let a genuine laugh out through her foggy eyes. "But I couldn't leave you here, alone."
Without another word, Veronica wrapped her arms around his neck and laughed with delight as he hugged her back and suddenly, her world didn't seem so empty.