"Whence The Petrel"


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Author: Lady Primrose Roxton
Series: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World
Date: 10/2002
Part: 1/1
Rating: R
Codes: R, M/R
Catagory: Angst, Drama, Romance
Disclaimer: All process servers may contact my attorneys: Canna, Bell, & Raptor, 1 Zanga Mall Drive, Suite 47.


A/N: This is my response to the Fourth TLW Fix Fanfix Challenge at Hats off to Carolyn for the great archive of TLW fic. Dedicated to Tara for the encouragement, laughs, and all late-night IM-ing a person could ever handle :-)

A/N2: The Great War, the war to end all wars, achieved a level of violence and suffering unsurpassed in its one-on-one barbarity and violence. The following story contains my interpretation of Roxton's early experience in what we now call World War I. Some alteration of the battles' details and geography have been necessary for my plot, but I wish to in no way diminish the sacrifice of all those who fought in that war, on the battlefields and off.

A/N3: I gleaned much information for this story from "Shell Shock and Its Lessons" By Grafton Elliot Smith and Tom Hatherly Pear, Manchester University Press, England, 1917. It is on-line in its entirety at this website: . It is a totally fascinating look at post-traumatic stress disorders and their treatment during WWI. Also, what I don't know about windmills, electricity, etc., well, you can guess it's very little ;) Indulge me if you will in believing the nifty little explanation I came up with on how George's lovely creation works. "In Flanders Fields", a lovely and haunting poem, was written by John McCrae. Thank you!

by Lady Primrose Roxton

England expects every man to do his duty.
Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758-1805)

War ...
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing.
Edwin Starr - Soul Singer

He hated the smell of wet wool. Its uniquely pungent odor always wafted into his memory and pushed up thoughts that were kinder to have been allowed to wither to dust. Wet, muddy, moldy, sweat stained grey-green wool decorated with dark stiff patches was the worst. Hung on the leftovers of persons slung over bits of wood and wire. Contrarily mingled in with ever-present damp, the lingering scents of cordite and creosol. One for the killing, the other an attempt to preserve lives for later killing.

The memories of those smells whirled about his head like the water that flowed through their camp, dampening everything from the clothes on their backs to the contents of their packs to the woolen blankets they had been sleeping on. The rain had started in the night, halfway into the first watch, which he had taken because he always took the first watch. He did it to let the others rest, knowing that they were tired. It was his responsibility to ensure that everyone got enough rest to maintain their edge, for to lose that sharp awareness of their surroundings was to invite death. And, no one else was going to die; he was going to make sure of that.

The morning had come only by virtue of a slight lightening in the leaden sky, heavy with stormy potential. The rain fell steadily, and the air was viewed through the haze of huge raindrops made the world grey, washing out even the brilliant greens of the jungle flora. The wind blew stronger and stronger by the hour. Not even Veronica could remember such weather ever descending on the Plateau and staying for so long. Even their camping spot had turned out to be near a small volcanic vent that gave off a peculiar odor that wafted over them when the gusting wind shifted a bit. It had been a very long week.

"I just don't understand it," Challenger muttered as he packed his instruments in his rucksack. "The barometric pressure keeps falling and falling, and the wind speed is rising. If we weren't hundreds of miles inland, I'd swear we were experiencing pre-hurricane like conditions," he noted to Roxton, who was putting out their miserable excuse for a campfire. They'd barely got the wood burning enough to make coffee that morning.

"A hurricane, George?" Roxton replied with surprise. "I'm not much for understanding weather, but don't those have to form over oceans?" He ruthlessly suppressed the recently stirred feelings he had long practice in burying. Now was not the time for a trip down memory lane.

"Yes, and generally, they don't venture too far inland, for they lose the energy of the forces that made them," Challenger replied shaking his head. He gestured, "The Inland Sea is the only large body of water we have, and by all rights, it ought to be too small to generate the air and wind patterns necessary to create a hurricane. But..." he trailed off.

"But, what?" Marguerite came up, shivering in her soaked linen jacket. She nestled up against Roxton for warmth, and he put his arm around her automatically. Neither paid any attention to Challenger's slightly taken aback expression at this public display of affection.

Roxton rubbed Marguerite's shoulder and tugged her even closer. She was soaked through and shivering for warmth, but managed a small smile for him. His heart, heavy with the morning's unwelcome memories, lightened a bit, and he smiled back. "George thinks that this storm might be a bit more than just really bad weather," he said looking up at the heavy sky.

"Why am I not surprised that the weather is something more than it appears," Marguerite shook her head. "Why now, George? Is this storm from one of your shifting planes of reality?" The others had come up as Marguerite spoke, and the six of them stood in a rough circle, looking expectantly at Challenger.

"Frankly, I'm at a loss to explain this odd change in the heretofore relatively stable weather patterns of the Plateau," Challenger said ruefully. "The fluctuations in barometric pressure have been phenomenal, as well as the abrupt changes in temperature. There is no way that this pattern of weather could have been generated here on the Plateau. It had to have been transported from somewhere else."

"You mean Marguerite's right?" Finn's voice was incredulous. Marguerite gave flat look at Finn, who shrugged and rolled her eyes.

"I believe her to be essentially correct," Challenger replied, holding up his hands to demonstrate. "The Plateau is a rough oval, surrounded on all sides by physical barriers, so its weather is contained to a relatively small area, and our new weather fronts come from very limited sources."

"That's why the prevailing winds usually only change once a year, " Ned nodded.

"Precisely," Challenger agreed. He gestured with his hands again, "The buildup of the storm over the Inland Sea has intensified beyond any weather that we've experienced since we've been here. Veronica, do you ever remember anything like this ever happening?"

"No," Veronica stood next to Ned, her expression worried. "My parents never mentioned anything like this to me, and I've never seen any reference to such severe weather before. The only thing we've ever had were the rainstorms, which can be fierce and sudden, but nothing like this long build-up, and this is the wrong season for the heavy rainstorms anyway."

"Do you think it's going to get worse, Challenger?" Malone asked, tugging on his pack.

"Oh, most assuredly it will get worse," Challenger replied grimly. "Just how much worse, I don't know. I must take more readings. I need to measure the wind shear and the temperatures at the Inland Sea, the Highlands, and the Krux Mountains. And, we must take them all at relatively the same time."

"Which means," Marguerite said resignedly. "We have to split up to take these readings. Let's go; Roxton and I will take the Inland Sea." She held up a hand to prevent Challenger from speaking. "Malone already has the barometer and thermometer in his pack. We can pick up the spare equipment on the way to the Inland Sea as we go by the Treehouse." Marguerite paid no attention to the amazement on the faces of her companions as they realized she'd volunteered for the longest journey. The trip to the Inland Sea by way of the Treehouse was fully twice the journey the others would have to take, as they were halfway to the Highlands now.

Roxton just shrugged and smiled, calling out as he turned to follow Marguerite, "We'll see you back at the Treehouse in a couple of days."

Trudging through the soggy jungle, glue-like mud clinging to their boots ankle high, both Roxton and Marguerite were silently lost in their thoughts. Marguerite saw nothing strange in wanting to get back to the Treehouse and change her filthy, wet clothing before going out again. She didn't even consider that she'd volunteered to do the hardest task of all. It was just, well, Challenger looked really tired, and she didn't want to separate Veronica and Malone, who'd just started to really communicate with each other after all that they'd been through. She would also have time alone with John. She had come to appreciate, if not actually like Finn, but didn't like her enough to give up this chance to be alone with the man she loved. There, it was getting easier to admit it to herself, if not out loud.

"You're awfully quiet," Roxton observed, pulling back a moisture-laden frond and allowing her to pass.

"Just thinking," Marguerite replied glancing at Roxton as she passed.

"Should I be worried?" Roxton's face betrayed nothing beyond a certain well-bred blandness, but his eyes shone with merriment.

"Always, Lord Roxton," Marguerite was not taken in by the innocent look he gave her, and punched him lightly on his shoulder and continued on.

Roxton laughed ruefully and rubbed his shoulder. "I had to ask," he muttered to himself, shaking his head. "I ought to know better," he continued to himself in a low voice.

Marguerite turned back suddenly, "Yes, you ought to." She took a couple steps back to where Roxton had halted. Slinging her rifle back up on one shoulder, she tilted her head back. Completely ignoring the rain that pummeled down on them, she raised one hand to Roxton's face and smiled, "But I'm glad you asked anyway."

"How glad?" Roxton brightened, his manner like a fire horse hearing the bell, immediately pressing the issue.

"You never give up, do you?" Marguerite didn't sound too annoyed at this last. The fact that she was smiling seemed to be a good indicator of that. "You always keep going, no matter what happens."

"Yes," Roxton's voice trailed off, his expression suddenly thoughtful, almost pained. He looked away from her, gazing up at the leaden sky. "I always keep going, always do my duty, no matter what happens," his voice hollow, almost bitter.

Marguerite's smile faltered, and she was unsure what she'd said or done wrong. She hesitantly moved closer to Roxton and touched him with her other hand on his shoulder. "Duty? John, what..." her voice trailed off in confusion and hurt.

Roxton looked over at her, his face a study of conflicted emotions that he worked hard to school into neutrality, but failed. "It's nothing," he finally got out.

"It can't be nothing," Marguerite said, her voice upset. "You look...lost..." she faltered, gazing up at him in distress.

Lost, he was indeed lost, as wave after wave of memory seemed to roll over him. Why? In God's name, why now. He seemed frozen into place, the pouring rain, the buffeting wind meant nothing to him. Even Marguerite's lovely face, filled with concern, seemed far away from him, though she stood right next to him, her hands on his arms. He was falling down the long tunnel, and her voice grew farther and farther away from him. The jungle sounds faded as his mind heard the heavy discharge of the gun emplacements, the whir of small arms fire passing overhead, the slurping sounds of mud being pulled away again and again from boots that marched through an endless series of trenches. The smells came to him, too. The everlasting stench of mud, unwashed bodies, cordite, and death.

"John!" Marguerite called firmly, more frightened than she wanted to admit. "John," her voice gentled as she placed both hands on the sides of his face. "Wherever you are, please some back. I need you to come back to me. Please," she added softly, touching her forehead to his, looking into his unseeing dark green eyes.

Slowly, uncomprehendingly, Roxton tilted his head to one side, looking at Marguerite as if he'd never seen her before. Tears stood in his eyes and he shuddered uncontrollably.

"It's all right now, John," Marguerite slid her hands around his neck and gently tugged him into her arms, moving one arm around his waist. "You're safe here now, my love," she murmured, stroking his hair and he continued to shudder. Slowly, his involuntary movements stopped, and his harsh breathing slowed. They stood there, motionless, for a long time. For Marguerite, the world had compacted down into one place, one time, one person. Nothing, not even the possibility of endless wealth, raptors, or escape from the Plateau could have moved her from that spot. John needed her, and she would let nothing stand in the way of her helping him.

Ever so slowly, the world came back into focus. Roxton realized that Marguerite was almost wholly supporting his weight as he had almost collapsed upon her. She was holding him in her arms, rubbing his back, and making soothing noises. The rhythmic movements calmed him, and he gradually found the strength to put weight on his feet.

As he shifted in her arms, Marguerite called out, "John?" He lifted his head and looked into her eyes. "Can you hear me now?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied in a voice that sounded rough as if from disuse. He looked at her, his eyes a study in confused pain. "What just happened?" he finally got out.

"I'm not sure," Marguerite replied softly. "You seemed to be somewhere....else...for a while," she finished hesitantly.

"How long was I out," Roxton's voice took on a tone that she hadn't ever heard before. He stood up and pushed back from her, and slight alarm showed in her face. "I'm fine," he said shortly. "Tell me, how long was I out?" the gruffness of his voice held the edges of suppressed violence.

"No more than thirty to forty seconds," Marguerite assured him, completely puzzled by his behavior.

He turned abruptly away from her and strode toward a tree, placing one hand on its trunk and leaning over, taking deep breaths. Fighting rolling waves of nausea, he barked in a low voice, "Don't lose it now, Roxton; you will maintain." The strain of just keeping himself upright caused sweat to run down his face, stinging as it fell into his eyes. Dear, God, he realized it wasn't just sweat that was stinging in his eyes. He lost his battle with gravity as he slung around and fell heavily to the ground, his back thudding against the tree. He was inured to the pain caused to his body, being totally occupied with the renting of his mind.

"Roxton!" called out Marguerite in horror, throwing her rifle and pack down next to him; she kneeled in the mud and gently touched his shoulder and face. "John," she whispered, her heart in her voice as she gazed at this strong man crying silently in the mud and rain. "John," she murmured again as she drew him to her close and cradled him against her breasts. Her John. She held him as the rain fell.

It was a slow process to awareness after an incident, he recalled. It was such a nice, sanitary word, incident. Covering a multitude of sins, all wrapped in tidy, clean linen that didn't make anyone uncomfortable. You could even mention it over tea with a close friend. John had an incident last week, but he's fine now. The doctors are simply marvelous at the clinic. Another Bourbon biscuit, Judith? The look of horror on the face of Mrs. Arbury that caused Mother to turn and see him standing in the doorway, followed closely by the quickly shuttered look of fear from his parent that had caused him to laugh almost maniacally.

"Don't worry, Mother," he had drawled finally. "Cook has the sharp objects well hidden. I've just stopped off to pick up my clothes. I've been reassigned." And he had left, not speaking to his mother for a long time after that.

Reassignment. They'd given him a desk. A desk to serve as 'worthwhile' employment for the poor shell-shocked Major. Damn, and it had been nothing until Parsival. At this thought he focused his eyes on the woman holding him. Parsival herself: Miss Smith, Baroness von Helfing...Marguerite. He catalogued her features dispassionately as he watched her, much like a hawk with its prey.

Noting that he had finally awakened, Marguerite looked down at the man in her arms. "Hello," she finally said, wondering at the odd look in his eyes. "I was beginning to think you were going to sleep all day." Garnering no response, she tried again, "Do you want to try getting up? It's still a bit to go to the Treehouse, do you think you can manage it?"

Roxton realized that she was speaking, her voice coming down that tunnel again. He remembered the tunnel well; if you spoke like you were actually next to the person, the tunnel would amplify the sound and pass it along, making it all seem normal to them. Tricky thing that. He'd first tried to shout down the length of the dark recess, but the others had made such a fuss. Telling him it wasn't necessary to shout and to not get upset. Didn't they hear all that noise that interfered with talking? But, he knew to keep his voice down at night. The sounds floated up and over, giving sharpshooters a chance to center on you. Her mouth was moving again. He had to shut his eyes and concentrate...there, he could hear her now.

"...need to get up, John. I hear raptors," Marguerite urged him as she pulled up her rifle and shot the bolt.

She lent him a hand and tugged with her surprising strength and he somehow got vertical again. She was talking, but the visual noise completely blocked out the aural ones. He found his rifle shoved into his hands, and he automatically chambered a round, sensing rather than being actually aware of the danger. He stumbled after her down the path, the odd sensation of walking in the tunnel but seeing her close made him dizzy again.

"...going to go around to the left," Marguerite held his face in her hands and was speaking slowly. "You stay by the tree and watch for them. I'll try to get them all, but there's at least three, maybe more." Roxton's face still held incomprehension. "John!" she called sharply. "Do you hear me? I have to circle around, or they're going to get us. Wait here, and you can take out the ones that get passed me, all right?"

Somehow, he managed to nod and pull his rifle up to ready stance position. The jagged edges of color began to slowly solidify into recognizable patterns, and his ears were now filtering the sounds or actually the lack of sounds properly. Marguerite was right; there were several raptors on the hunt, and their prey was of the two-legged variety. He waited for a sign from her. Several rapid reports from her weapon were all he needed to know and he braced himself for the follow-up by the wily reptiles. If they ran true to form, the surviving members of the pack would almost always circle back on the prey that dared to fight back.

The rustle of bushes to his right produced a large female that he promptly dropped with a shot through the eye. But, there was another, and it was too far away to come to this little clearing. It was coming back to where Marguerite was. He couldn't risk a shot in her direction, and he began stumbling on numb legs to try and head it off. He wanted to cry out to her, find out where she was, but he knew the sharpshooters would just zero in on his location and then he would be of no use to her. The slap of the rain was the only sound now, broken periodically by gusts of wind that almost howled in their intensity. Big storm coming, and that meant only one thing. They would be coming over the wire at the height of it, using the blinding rain and darkness as their cover. They had to make the Treehouse before nightfall, or they would be caught in the push.

Another noise came from the left, and then Marguerite burst out from the undergrowth shouting, "It's right behind me!" and lunged forward to Roxton's feet. Like clockwork, Roxton fitted his rifle to his shoulder and sighted in the predator as it moved toward them. He idly noted that it was going so slowly, as if running through treacle. The length of time he had to aim was luxurious, almost wasteful. He heard Marguerite screaming something, but his attention was fixed on the yellow/green eyes of the beast set on making them its dinner. The uncanny intelligence he saw there fascinated him, even as he finally pulled the trigger. The hit and subsequent fall of the raptor was almost anti-climactic. He let his rifle drop and looked down at Marguerite, still prone at his feet, her chest heaving from the effort of outrunning the beast.

"Well, are you going to help me up or stare at me the rest of the day?" Marguerite finally said with irritation.

Wordlessly, Roxton held out a hand and helped her up. Something prompted him to say, "Are you all right?"

"Oh, just wonderful, thank you. I've always dreamed of running completely mud-soaked through the jungle in utter terror being chased by a raptor. How do you think I am?" she finished sourly.

"You look fine to me," Roxton replied shortly. "Let's get going. We've a bit to go to the Treehouse, and we still need to get started to the Inland Sea before it gets dark." The tunnel had receded for now, but he knew it was there, just waiting for him.

"You mean, you want to start for the Inland Sea tonight?" Marguerite's voice could only be described as shrill. "You've got to me kidding me. By the time we get back to the Treehouse and get changed, it will only be an hour or so before sunset."

"Then we'd best hurry then," he replied in a voice devoid of any inflection whatsoever, and strode off without a backward glance.

Marguerite stared at his rapidly disappearing form. Something was wrong, but he'd never admit to it. Deciding to bide her time, she hurried to catch up to him.

"Damn, damn, damn," he muttered to himself as he quick-timed it through the mud toward the Treehouse. She'd noticed something was off. Bloody intelligent woman wouldn't ever let go of something once she began. No doubt she was at this moment figuring a plan of attack on him to find out what was going on. Well, it wasn't going to work this time. He'd had it with all the approaches. He'd been ignored and isolated, he'd talked his bloody head off with "friendly" sessions with endless doctors, and he'd been oh-so-usefully employed in a position that had kept him far away from the front. None of them had helped. He'd done it himself before, and he'd have to do it again.

He reached the gate and opened it, and was unsurprised to find Marguerite right behind him. She could keep up if she had a mind to. Wordlessly, he held the gate open and she passed through it with a slight nod of acknowledgement. Oh, she was going to be that way? Fine with him.

Making their way to the elevator, they unlocked it and ascended to the Treehouse. The air of their home was slightly musty, which puzzled Roxton. It was an open-air could it get musty after only a few days of being uninhabited?

Marguerite disappeared to her room, undoubtedly to take a long shower and change into some different clothes. Seemed rather silly to him; they would just get dirty again in no time. But, you could never convince her of the futility of her actions. Deciding that he might as well do the same, he stripped, got a pitcher of water, and mucked off the heavier dirt. Wandering over to his clothes press, he took out a pair of trousers and a clean shirt and pulled them on. Indifferently swiping his brush through his damp hair, he tugged on his boots, slipped into his weapons harness, and considered himself good to go.

Finding his way to the kitchen, he found some dried raptor and a few pieces of fruit. Chewing on a tough strip, he turned as Marguerite came in. She came over and plucked a piece of jerky from his hand and said, "Gourmet dinner again, I see."

"Help yourself," he muttered with a wry look as she sailed over to the table and sat down to pick through the plate of fruit that had been left there.

"I usually do," Marguerite assured him blithely, gave a disappointed moue toward the jerky, and switched to an apple. "So, are you ready to go?" she asked, biting into the fruit.

Roxton looked at the woman before him, convinced it was some sort of test, but could discern no substantiation for his suspicions from her neutral countenance. "You're ready to leave?"

"Yes," she replied pleasantly.

"Now?" he confirmed, eyebrows raised.

"Yes, now," Marguerite assured him, her eyes wide.

Roxton turned to look toward the balcony, noting that the light was fading fast. The never-ending rainstorms had caused early nightfall. He knew the gloomy half-light wouldn't last long enough for them to get far, and the years they'd spent on the Plateau had indelibly imprinted upon them that it was too dangerous to travel at night. Then he saw something and he walked past Marguerite toward the balcony, keeping close to the wall.

"What is it, John?" Marguerite asked.

"Shhhh," Roxton gestured for her to keep quiet. There it was again, like the glow of cigarettes in the night. This platform dwelling was great for observation; he just wished he had a Lewis gun mounted on the balcony. As it was, they were sitting ducks should any vaguely observant enemy soldier decide to look up. The wind howled and the rain spat from the sky, but the light failed to reappear. He eased back from the balcony, and turned to Marguerite, "I thought I saw something, but it's gone now." He then proceeded to let down the woven mats that served as blinds, carefully aligning them so there were no gaps before lacing up the ties that held them together. He walked around, looking at them from different angles, then nodded with satisfaction. No light would get through there. "You can turn on the lamps now," he said, still gazing at the blinds through the gloom.

Marguerite was now totally puzzled by Roxton's behavior, but trusted his instincts better than anyone she had ever met, even her own. If he thought there was danger, she'd back him, no matter how strangely he was acting. "Do you think we're being watched?" she asked quietly, as she turned on just one lamp far from the balcony and came back to near where he was standing.

Roxton shook his head, "I don't know. I just feel something's wrong."

Drawing closer to him, Marguerite put a hand on Roxton's shoulder, "All right. Do you want to talk about what happened today?"

"No," he replied shortly, fending off the impending sense of panic. The tunnel was approaching fast and he didn't want her to see him disappear into it. "It was nothing; I was a little disoriented, that's all."

"You passed out, John," Marguerite said firmly, her grey eyes emphatic with her concern. "And when you came to, it was like you could barely move or even hear me. I know you know what's happening here. You need to tell me."

"Why do I need to tell you, Marguerite?" he shot back angrily. "Am I not entitled to a little privacy? Are you the only person allowed to have secrets?"

"I just want to help you," she persisted, pushing down her panic at his almost angry voice. She could take a lot of things, but she had found that just a little of Lord John Roxton's true anger could vanquish her in almost an instant. She tried to touch his face, and he shied away from her, a grim look coming over him. Her heart shattered, but she kept from crying.

Roxton turned away from Marguerite, gazing out into the gloom of the stormy night that had finally fallen. "I just need to be alone right now, Marguerite," he finally said tightly.

"All right," she whispered, looking at him, at last unable to keep several tears from slipping out of her eyes and down her cheeks. She turned to go.

"Marguerite," Roxton cried out hoarsely, just as she was about to leave the room.

She turned back and saw that he had crossed to her, holding up one hand, reaching out to her, but was somehow unable to take the last step toward her. From somewhere within hitherto unknown depths of herself, she found the courage to go to him and face anger and dismissal again.

The tunnel had descended on him again. It was dark and dank, and the death smell had returned. So close were the walls, he could touch them. No one had ever been able to pull him from the tunnel. It had won each time. He had always had to wait for it to leave, with the knowledge that it could and would return whenever it felt like it. There were no rules, no honour, no sense of fairness...nothing...just the death smell and the walls pushing in.

He was down, absolute despair in his face, and a certain powerlessness that was something she had never seen. Guilt she had seen there, anger, shame, horror, but nothing like this. It was if he had lost something that could never be found again, and he lacked the means to even tell her what it was that he had lost.

"John," she spoke in a low voice that bespoke both her tears and her resolve to help the man she loved. "What shall I do? How can I help you?" she moved slowly as if to sooth a skittish animal. She held out a hand toward the one that he still had raised and gently put her palm under his, touching him ever so slightly. At her butterfly's touch, he started, but didn't pull away. He looked at her now, and she could see the tears that fell down his face in the dim light.

"It's come back, Marguerite," he finally got out. "I thought I destroyed it, and the bloody thing's come back. I can't find the way out again; it's blocked off."

Marguerite moved forward again, pulling his hand to her cheek and nuzzling it, "Are you lost, John?"

"Always," he half sobbed, half spoke. "There's no way out this time. I've tried to forget them, and I have to remember." He shook his head and closed his eyes tightly. "I see them there, laying there, just where they fell. No blood, no bullets, just death. All death, no life. Mud and death."

Finally realizing what he was talking about, Marguerite was utterly at a loss as to how to continue. She put her other hand up to his face and gently touched his cheek, guiding him to look at her. "There is no death here now, John. Just us. We're here, and we're alive. And, it's all right to be alive."

"No, it's not," Roxton replied almost normally. "Nothing will ever be right again, Marguerite. They were there for me, and then they all were dead. I made them stay. Hold the line, do your duty. I killed them. Me," he finished brokenly.

"No," she shook her head and tugged him into her arms, but he was unresponsive. She took his face into her hands and looked him straight in the eyes. "John, look at me. No matter what happened, I know you didn't kill them. It's not who you are," she insisted.

"You mean I'm an officer and a gentleman?" he gibed bitterly. "Do your duty, Roxton. It's what's expected of you, old man," he added with a humourless laugh.

"Yes, you did your duty," she said evenly. "Why is that wrong? You are an honourable man."

"Honour and duty are no protection against chlorine gas," he shot back, tugging out of her arms, unable to allow himself their comfort any longer. He deserved the walls closing in. It was fitting.

"Gas," Marguerite echoed, horrified.

"Charming invention," Roxton noted, wiping sweat from his brow. "Better weapons, faster death, the war of the future." She was receding further and further away as the tunnel reclaimed its own. "They have a name for it now. The Second Battle of Ypres. It makes it sounds so grand and noble, instead of a house of carnage." His half-smile held no amusement, "Do you know it only takes about ten minutes to die of asphyxiation induced by chlorine gas? Very efficient," he stopped and began coughing hard. The smell had returned to the tunnel. His hell was now complete.

"John," Marguerite tried to reach for him again.

"No," he shook his head, still coughing. "You can't pull me from the tunnel, Marguerite. I belong there," he finished and slumped down to his knees. "If I belong anywhere that is."

The despair that had written itself on John's face sifted into Marguerite's being. She had no idea what to do for him. He was slowly going away from her; she could see him pulling further and further back.

"John, you need to go to bed," she moved toward him slowly. "You need to rest," she added, thinking that it might help for his body to slow down.

"No rest," he shook his head. "No sleep, they come over when you sleep, catch you at your post. One through the brain and you'll sleep a long time, solider."

"Roxton," she finally called in a strong voice, steeling herself to make the tone harsh. She had to get him to move, to do something. "You will get up and take yourself to your bed. I am not going to have you lolling about on the floor like this. It's disgraceful. A man of your class, acting like this."

He looked up at this last, "A man of my class. Now what would that be then? The class that doesn't have to die to prove that they do their duty? How convenient for me then, isn't it." He got clumsily to his feet and looked at Marguerite, exuding anger and contempt.

"Just go to bed, Roxton," she choked out, unable to meet his eyes. "I'm tired of listening to your complaints." She prayed hard that this would push him far enough to at least go and get some rest.

"Fine," he said as the last walls of the tunnel collapsed around him. He turned and discovered that he could move even with the tunnel debris all around him. Marguerite's wavering voice sounded in the distance, but he had kept her safe, the tunnel wouldn't get her. His room was so far off, but he trudged there, uniform in order, keeping his bearing straight and his stride even. He was ever an example to his men. His bed was so distant; he wondered how he had made it to it. He fell onto it, rolling over onto his back, almost instantly unconscious, but not resting by any means.

Marguerite made it over to a chair and slumped into it. Dear God. What was she to do? How could she help him? She didn't understand what was happening. The stories she had heard about the atrocities at the front had always been uninteresting to her. She had her own horrors to get through, thank you very much. But this, this was heart rendering and she completely unable to ignore it, even beyond the fact that it was "John" who had been involved. How had he survived? More to the point, how did her live with surviving when others had died, yet again? And, why did he never mention it to her before. They had been through so much together, but still there were things they didn't know about one another. She silently laughed at herself. Secrets. Her bloody secrets - his bloody secrets - always coming back to haunt them. Would they never be free?

A sudden fierce gust of wind actually rocked the Treehouse, and she stood up in alarm. That had never happened before; their huge host tree had always been rock solid. She ran to the blinds and pulled back one edge and peered out into the storm. The rush of the wind and the blast of rain shocked her. She looked down at the floor and saw that the gap between the blinds and the floor was letting in the rain and the water was flowing down to a low place in the floor, making a puddle. She turned on some more lights and then ran and got some towels. Placing them at the edge of the Treehouse, she tried to redirect the water. Thinking that it was a very lucky thing that they had re-thatched the roof recently, she hoped that it would hold. They had not expected hurricane force winds.

Just then, the lamps she had lit went out. Cursing under her breath, she made her way to the kitchen and found a candle and lit it. Muttering to herself about Challenger and his stupid inventions, she descended went to the electrical box to see if the connection had failed, again.

"I am not an electrician," she groused as she examined the board. Everything was connected. As she had been instructed ad nauseum by Challenger, she shut down the small breakers, then flipped the main breaker off and then on again. When she flipped the small breakers on, nothing happened. Just to make sure, she did the whole procedure again. Nothing.

"Damn it to hell," she swore shaking her heard. The wind that was howling there must be screaming on the hill where the windmill was situated. The wire must be down somewhere. A tree or branch could have fallen on it. She would have to go out and find where the break was. They couldn't survive without the electric fence. Storm or no storm, their enemies would instantly be upon them if they knew that their defenses were down.

"Marguerite Krux to the rescue," she shook her head ruefully. "If this ever got out, my reputation would be ruined." She went to her room and tugged on her spare coat, worn and thin as it was, it was better than nothing. She grabbed her still damp hat and her candle and walked down the hall to John's room.

Peeking around the edge of the door curtain, she saw that he was asleep. The dim light from the candle shone on his face, still tense and troubled, even in sleep. She walked a little closer and dropped to one knee in front of him. "Sleep, my love," she whispered. "I'll try to take care of everything, all right?" She resisted the urge to stroke his hair, instead, just lightly touching his hand, then getting up and leaving his room. She had to go now, or she would never be able to make herself leave.

As she stepped out of the elevator into the storm, Marguerite decided that she was not the stuff heroes were made of. She most definitely wanted to go back up into the Treehouse and not stir an inch until the storm had breathed its last. But, there was no one left...she was it. John was in no shape to do anything. Even if he had been awake, she would have never allowed him to leave the Treehouse. She trudged through the night, the wind catching at her hat so that she had to jam it firmly on her head. The rain-soaked wool felt cold to her scalp, and in a few short moments, she was soaked to the skin from the driving rain. She kept her rifle to the ready and had checked and re-checked the loading of her pistol. Her ammunition holders were full and she'd dumped more into her backpack, along with as many tools as she could find that she vaguely recognized as what Challenger and the others used when working on the windmill complex that was their power supply. The very last item was a lantern that she hung on her pack. She was none too sanguine that it would stay lit while she attempted to diagnose the problem with the electrical system, but it was all she had.

She hoped that Challenger and the others were holed up somewhere safe and reasonably dry. This was a horrible storm, and it only seemed to be intensifying. They hadn't reached the Inland Sea to take those readings George had wanted, but she was pretty sure the he would understand why. It didn't take a genius to see that the weather was deteriorating at a fast pace. She hurried as fast the wind and the path would allow, her terror feeding her need to keep her senses on high alert. She felt that she could hear every sound, feel every movement, despite the cacophony the storm produced. The blood pounded in her ears, her breath heaved, her muscles ached, but she didn't slow her pace.

Faster than she would have ever imagined possible, she found herself at the meadow where the windmill had been erected. Flashes of lighting through jagged streaks across the sky, and she muttered, "Oh, could this night get any better?" She decided to begin with the windmill itself, which was churning crazily. If she did not secure the windmill, it would tear itself to part in this wind.

She got close to the base of the mill and put her back to the wind. Four matches and a lot of creative curses later, she got the lamp lit. Sincerely regretting her lack of attention at the many times that Challenger had explained the workings of the windmill, she tried to remember something that George had mentioned to Roxton one day about the gear ratios of the windmill. She searched for the complicated series of levers that controlled it, finding something that looked reasonably correct to try. Normally, it functioned in a moderate mode, but Challenger had made switchable ratios for when the winds were higher and lower, so they would be able to maintain the same level of output for the power plant.

Fervently wishing for inspiration that didn't come, she yelled in a very Roxtonesque voice, "Oh, to hell with it, Marguerite! Pick one!" She chose the end lever, praying it would put the gears into neutral, so she could apply the brake, and shoved it down. A strange squealing sound rose up over the howl of the wind and the windmill's vanes whirled even faster. But, the gears slowed down, and she pushed the brake lever, stopping them completely. Heartened by this small success, she perused the rest of the levers, deciding the one to the far left must be the one she wanted. Crossing her fingers for luck, she tripped that lever. A great groaning sound shot through the air, and the windmill base shuddered as the gears bore down and took on the whirling vanes of the mill. But, George's windmill held up. She did a little dance of insane joy as the gears picked up pace, but the vanes whirled freely, no longer impeded by the improper ratio. She flipped off the switch to the dynamo to ensure she wouldn't get electrocuted when she found the break in the line. Now, if the blasted thing would only hold together.

Encouraged by her triumph with the windmill itself, she began working her way toward the dynamo. The connection between the windmill and the dynamo was fine. She followed the line of wire from the dynamo and sighed as she realized that she was going to have to go back into the forest. Juggling the lantern and her rifle, she carefully made her way through the mud, alternating between watching her path and checking the line of wire.

It didn't seem possible, but the wind and driving rain seemed to intensify as she made her way into the forest. Glad for at least a partial shield from the brunt of the storm, she followed the line of wire on its poles as it made its way to the Treehouse. About halfway back to the Treehouse, she found the problem. A large branch had fallen off a tree and had pulled the wire off the pole and the insulator. She could just make out in the meager light of her lantern the singe marks on the branch where the electricity shorted out. It had been unable to set fire to it due to the extreme moisture in the wood. Small favor, but she was willing to take it. Setting her lamp down, she shrugged out of her pack, then went to make a perimeter check.

She could almost hear Roxton's voice telling her how to check the area for tracks and signs of predators. It was soothing to think of his wonderfully rough voice explaining the ins and outs of making a camp. She'd heard the talk over and over, and she could recite it chapter and verse. She made a point of going over each detail in her head, imagining Roxton by her side, helping check off each point. Finding nothing that could point to immediate danger, she returned to the site of the line down and place her rifle within easy reach. She was glad that the wire had not broken, as she did not feel she was quite up to splicing it in the dark. She set about removing the branch and resetting the pole. It was going to be a while as she was going to have to re-dig the hole. The sooner I begin, the sooner it will be done, she muttered to herself, then laughed quietly as she realized another of Roxton's phrases had just come out of her mouth. It was a King Lear night, and she was just about crazy she decided as she pulled out the collapsible shovel from her pack and began digging the posthole.

"Sir," Sergeant-Major Thompson appeared at the door of his sandbag office.

"Yes, Sergeant-Major?" Roxton replied, looking up from the endless reams of paperwork that dogged him even to the very front of the war.

"The men are assembled for morning review, sir," Thompson stood at attention, the grime on his face incongruous with his military air.

"Very good, Sergeant-Major," Roxton stood up and tugged his uniform coat perfunctorily and placed his hat on his head, adjusting the angle by feel. He leaned over the lamp and blew it out, then followed the Sergeant-Major out into the pre-dawn gloom.

"Ten-hut," barked the Sergeant-Major and the men snapped to. He walked the line, carefully examining the presentation of men and arms. Uniforms were dirty, but had the necessary buttons; weapons were worn, but were much cleaner than the men. Down and back he walked, always with his back straight and his look piercing. They were tired, near the end of their seventy-day rotation, ready to fall back to support and get some decent food, even possibly get some sleep.

"Very good, Sergeant-Major," Roxton pronounced with a slight smile. "You may dismiss the men to morning stand-to."

"Yes, Major Lord Roxton," Thompson saluted smartly, and directed the patrols to their positions to avert a pre-dawn attack by the Germans. "Get a move on, Jenkins! We'd like to be in position before the Jerries attack," roared Thompson as he moved down the trench.

Roxton mentally sighed as he watched the men assemble for the morning stand-to, checking their weapons and readying themselves for another interminable day of this war that was supposed to have been over in a few months. The dawn gradually broke and the light flowed over No-Man's Land, illuminating the grey mud scattered with posts and twists of jagged barbed wired. Here and there were bodies, wearing uniforms of both sides, still slung on the wires. Left over from various charges over the past few days, the fighting had been so intense, the burial details had not been able to retrieve their dead. He would not leave them on the wire though; they had to be brought home. It was a standing order, and he never disobeyed orders.

As he went back to his office, he stopped as he noticed an extremely young and earnest corporal wearing a very obviously new uniform bearing a messenger bag. Orders from Headquarters no doubt.

"Sir," the corporal saluted smartly. "Orders from Headquarters. I'm to give them to Major Lord Roxton."

"I'm Roxton, Corporal," he nodded. The corporal saluted again for good measure and handed Roxton the orders from the bag. Dear God, they were getting younger everyday. "Carry on, Corporal," he stated as he scanned the orders.

"I'm to wait for your report, sir," the corporal still stood painfully at attention.

Roxton looked up and said, "At ease, Corporal...?"

"Sutton, Michael J., sir," the young man replied.

"At ease, Corporal Sutton," Roxton ordered. "You'll find Sergeant-Major Thompson over in the main trench," he gestured to the path leading to the main trench. "He'll set you up until I finish this report that Headquarters wants."

"Yes, sir," Sutton saluted again and wandered off. Roxton noted it was in the wrong direction.

"Uh, Sutton," he called out. "The main trench is that way," he pointed in the opposite direction that the corporal was heading. "You go much further that way, and you'll be finding out what Fritz is having for breakfast this morning," he added blandly.

"Yes, sir," Sutton was properly horrified and backed away as if he'd stepped near a land mine. He scampered toward the trench as Roxton chuckled and went into his office. Dawn fully broke as he ducked under the low doorway and shut the door.

The sun was pale and washed out in the April air, and there was just a slight breeze wafting over No-Man's Land from the German side. As the troops began to assemble for the morning hate, they noted low yellow-green clouds drifting toward them. The breeze picked up and the Allied trenches were soon enveloped in the heavy clouds. Violent coughing followed by spasms and paroxysms filled each trench. Within minutes, silence reigned again. Then, a great noise filled the air as the German troops, some not even equipped with their crude gas masks stormed over the wire and filled the trenches. They found few living opponents, and none of them had any fight in them, blinded and weak, unable to speak or even hold up their arms in surrender.

Roxton, hearing the noise, had pulled out his sidearm and carefully opened the door to his office. He immediately began coughing as the remnants of the gas still hung in malevolent bits of yellowish green clouds in the low areas.

"Sergeant-Major Thompson!" he called out as loudly as he could in his instantly hoarse voice. He stumbled toward the main trench.

"Here, sir," a weak voice called to him. Thompson lay slumped in the trench, red faced, gasping for breath, blood seeping from his mouth. Around him lay motionless soldiers, all apparently dead. "Gas," his mouth quirked ruefully. "We didn't even get a bloody shot off, sir. And, they're coming, I can hear them, they're almost here. You have to get out of here."

"I'm not leaving you here, Thompson," Roxton said firmly, placing an arm about his shoulders. But Thompson convulsed in a fit of coughing and streams of blood flowed from his mouth now.

"Have to go now, sir," he mumbled. "An honour serving with..." his voice trailed off as he slumped over Roxton's arms, blood smearing on his uniform jacket.

Roxton gently laid Thompson down and got up, taking Thomson's rifle with him, grabbing a clip from the dead Sergeant-Major's belt and heading off down the trench. Everywhere he went, he found the same scene. There were plenty of dead soldiers, but some were just dying. Red faced, gasping for breath, tearing at their uniforms as if they could force their burnt lungs to breathe. If they were coherent at all, to a man the told Roxton to leave them, save himself and report back this atrocity to Headquarters.

He stumbled on, just ahead of the wave of Germans, the dawn having broken into a nightmarish day. He stumbled through trench after trench, retreating to the back lines, looking for any survivors that he could help. There were none. And there, lying on the ground by an overturned campstool was Corporal Sutton, Michael J. His face was red and swollen, blood flecked his lips; his eyes stared, so confused and pain-filled. Roxton stumbled to a halt and promptly threw up. Then, the bombardment started. He could not longer hear the approach of the Germans, and Roxton vaguely noted that the shelling was coming from his own lines. The rounds were falling short. Then, he realized they were shelling the Germans that had taken over part of their trenches. He was now in German territory. He took a long look at Sutton, then ran toward his own lines. The shells fell fast and hard, and he realized that they were coming closer all the time. They were going to destroy his men. He had to get back and keep them safe. He had to return them to Headquarters. He was being derelict in his duty, running away from danger. He turned around and headed back to his men. The men who had died for him. He never reached them. Just as he turned to go back, a shell hit the bank in front of him, causing it to collapse. Barely able to close his arms around his head, the loose muddy dirt pummeled his body and piled over him, pinning him, then burying him.

Roxton awoke with a gasp, still able to feel the muddy dirt clinging to his body. His pulse raced, his face was sweaty, and he couldn't catch his breath. He sat up and shivered in the sticky warmth. He so badly wanted to go to Marguerite; she was all he could think of. He needed her. That damn tunnel still grasped for him as he stood and walked slowly to the door, grabbing hold of the jamb and pausing for rest. It was an effort just to breathe as the clay-like mud clung and blocked his nostrils. Stumbling out into the hall, he went toward Marguerite's room. Upon gaining her room, he was devastated to find that she wasn't there. Somehow, he forced himself to the living area, but she wasn't there either. It was so dark and the wind howled forcefully, and the rain showered down in torrents.

"Marguerite," he keened desperately. "Help me, please..." he crossed to the lamp and tried to turn it on to dispel the dark, but the switch did nothing. The electricity was out. He then realized where Marguerite was. In this weather, she was insane, but then again, he hadn't exactly been coherent and around to object, had he?

He found his rifle, donned his weapons harness, and pulled on his hat. He had to find her. She was all alone in the dark and wind and mud. So alone. No one should be alone. He made it to the elevator, murmuring her name all the way down. The tunnel slid unnoticed to the back of his mind.

Marguerite put the finishing touches on the pole, checking that the insulator was firmly attached and that the wire was tightly wrapped around it. She knock the worst of the mud off her boots with the shovel, then folded it back up and put it in her backpack. The storm raged around her, and she was glad to be finished. She still had to go back to the windmill and reengage the dynamo, but then she could head home. So worried about Roxton. Nothing else, save a periodic awareness to her surroundings to keep her safe, crossed her mind in the past couple of hours. She shrugged on her pack and started back on the trail to the windmill. This storm was incredible, so fierce and wild; she could barely walk the wind was so strong.

Gaining the meadow, she wasted no time in flipping the switch and making for the Treehouse. She took off her hat and tucked it into her backpack and the wind seemed ready to snatch it off her head. Bent almost double, she made her way out of the meadow and down the path through the forest. The mud was all churned up and she could hardly see, there was so much flying debris. Her lantern had long been blown out and she tripped in the dark every few seconds it seemed. Slowly, she made her way to the Treehouse, and was about home when the storm just stopped. Then, she heard a sound.

Absolute silence reigned. No screech of birds, no monkey chatter, no dinosaur roars, no trickle of water, not even the gentlest whisper of wind. The only sound was the muffled crunch of his own footsteps. In the lush, vivid jungle, the quiet was anomalous and sent an eerie chill racing down his spine. A sudden, loud crack -- so intense he could feel it in his bones -- reverberated across the plateau. He turned, instinctively knowing where the sound had originated. Terror grabbed his stomach as he muttered, "the Treehouse", and took off in a dead run.

"Marguerite!" Roxton called. Her trail was there, a blind man could follow it, his excellent night vision useful for something besides tracking and killing wild beasts. He feared a branch or other object lifted by the wind had struck the Treehouse.

"Roxton!" Marguerite shouted back. "I'm here..." she went toward where she thought his voice was. Trust that man to not stay put, she muttered to herself.

They found each other almost simultaneously, each grasping the other.

"We have to go back to the Treehouse," Marguerite said as she looked hungrily at him. "This is the eye of the storm, and it won't last very long."

"What about the electric fence?" Roxton asked.

"I fixed it," she tugged him in the direction of the Treehouse. "Let's go!"

"She fixed the fence," he spoke to himself with a smile. Grasping hit hat with his free hand, and holding tight to her hand, he let her lead him home.

For once, there were no raptors or T-Rex's or even the odd stegosaurus to trouble them. They returned to the Treehouse, and dawn broke just as they opened the gate. Roxton could see a very wet, very muddy Marguerite. Marguerite likewise viewed a very dirty and wet Roxton. To each of them, the other had never looked lovelier.

"Do you suppose the storm is going to return soon?" Roxton said as he eyed the grey sky, then pointed to the large branch that had fallen off their host tree. It was probable that it was responsible for the noise they both heard.

"I don't know," Marguerite replied as they unlocked the elevator and got in.

"Then we should take advantage of the peace and quiet," Roxton said looking at her smiling.

Marguerite's eyebrows were raised, "Just what did you have in mind, Lord Roxton?"

He tugged her into his arms as they rose above the treetops. "To thank you," he said presently, reluctantly letting her go as they exited the elevator.

"For what?" Marguerite turned to him.

"Saving my life," he said looking at her intently.

"I didn't do any saving that I recall," Marguerite said sadly. "Everything I tried to help you with just made you more upset."

"But you didn't give up. You kept trying. And, I knew you'd keep trying, no matter how far back into the tunnel I pulled, trying to keep you safe," he explained.

"That tunnel," she moved to him. "That's where you went to punish yourself for surviving, isn't it?"

"I think so," Roxton replied hesitantly. "I'm not sure. It might be that because I was buried after a cave-in in a trench right after the gas incident."

"Dear, God," Marguerite intoned, utterly appalled. She touched his face and was deeply moved that he didn't pull back from her, although she could see he was so very sensitive about this. "I know you, John," Marguerite said firmly. "You did what you could and that would have been a lot; you could never do less."

"I did my duty Marguerite...Is that what you mean?" he replied bitterly. "My many duties. Lead the men in the fighting, ensure morale, make sure they're fed and got medical treatment, write the bloody reports." He looked at her with tears in his eyes, "Do you know what I was doing while my men were dying of asphyxiation from chlorine gas poisoning?"

She shook her head numbly.

"I was writing a damn report of the casualties that my unit had suffered from non-combatant injures." He laughed mirthlessly, "That meant those who had to be seen by the medics for rat bites, trench foot, and such things. They wanted the numbers for the bigger picture." Looking at her, he added fully crying now, "They died while I was filling out paperwork, Marguerite. And, when I ran from the Germans coming over the lines, I just left them there to die. I left them in my place to die, gasping for breath. When I finally got the courage to turn around and go back for them, I got caught in a trench cave-in. I couldn't even make sure they got back home to their families, because I just went crazy as a loon after that."

"You went through so much, John. Can't you see? Your poor body and mind, they needed a rest. After all that, they just needed a rest."

"Well, I got it," Roxton said grimly. "In spades I got a rest, and all the stares and polite, mealy-mouthed well-wishers that couldn't... wait to get as far away from me as they could. I got a bloody medal pinned to my chest, a medal for living when all the others died."

"You didn't die, John," Marguerite said softly. "And, I'm glad. I'm so sorry that those other men had to die, but I'm so glad that you lived. You know that I would have died if I never met you?" She held up her hands to stop him from speaking, "Perhaps I would have been living, but I would have completely died inside. When I first came on this expedition, there was so little left of myself, I would have been hard pressed to find it. There was certainly so little humanity and caring that it was patently obvious to you that I was quite a cold and calculating bitch, and you were right."

She shook her head ruefully, "It took almost three years, but you dragged out that last bit of humanity into the light and made it grow. You made me want things that I hadn't considered as possible for so many years." She touched his face gently, "All that you are, including the man who had to watch his men die and could do nothing, is what saved me. I love you for that, and I love you for who you are, which is an imperfect but good man that has been through more hells than any one man should have to endure, and yet, you're here, with me. That's all I want, to be with you, always."

Roxton pulled Marguerite close and held her. Tears tracked muddy trails down both of their cheeks as the clung together for a long while.

Sniffing slightly, Marguerite finally said, "I think I could use a bath. I feel like I've been in these clothes for days."

"Need some help scrubbing your back?" Roxton's voice held almost the right bantering tone.

"Are you offering?" she replied archly, raising her eyebrows, a smile curving her mouth.

"Are you accepting?" he shot back as he followed her toward the bathroom.

"Yes," she said simply as she tugged him inside and shut the door.

The storm eventually returned, but neither Roxton nor Marguerite paid much attention. The wind could howl all it wanted; they were together.

Gently stroking his chest, Marguerite said, "You did do your duty, John. There's nothing wrong with that. That's how war works. It's a bad thing, but following your orders is what ends it as quickly as these things can be ended."

"I know, Marguerite," Roxton replied as he ran his hand through her hair. "It's just that some part of me can't understand or accept that I was doing something so essentially useless while my men were dying."

"But, you went on to perform a very brave and selfless act, one that saved my life yet again, and saved so many other lives. And, you lost your reputation because of it. People have and will continue to question your honour, and I know how that hurts you. You kept fighting when you could; that's all anyone could ever ask of you, should ask of you. Even yourself," she finished softly.

"I think I'd like to believe that," said Roxton smiling a little. "I'll try to believe that."

Gazing at the ceiling, Marguerite spoke in a low voice,

"In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields."

"I love you," Roxton turned to Marguerite as he spoke. She smiled and came into his arms. The storm raged on.

~~~  FIN  ~~~

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