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All things unsaid

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Dinah has often been characterized as rather temperamental – what old women like to call incorrigible and modern behind her back – but that doesn’t mean that she’s overreacting. Not at all.

Honestly, only half of the anxiety she's feeling is due to the train fiasco, she thinks, as she sets her small suitcase down on a bench nearby. The other half is all Lucy-Ann and Philip’s doing for organizing this entire trip in the first place, in such a terribly cryptic way.

For example, if one is to belgin a letter with Oh, I have the most wonderful news!, it should not be followed by But you must hear it from us in person, when both said persons are far away.  It’s shamefully inconsiderate.

Then again, the picture Lucy-Ann painted is an entrancing one, full of ocean winds and Craggy-Tops and old adventures like in their childhood. We might camp in the old house again, while it’s still summer, and maybe relive the good old days. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Wonderful, indeed. It would have been wonderful if a sudden rockfall hadn’t forced the train to stop and be delayed for a day, stranding Dinah hours away from the city and only one station away from Craggy-Tops. It would have been wonderful, also, if there were a blasted telephone in Craggy-Tops, so that Dinah might call Philip and Lucy-Ann.

Oh, well.

The station she’s currently in is a mess of people hurrying back and forth, and a train is already whistling in the distance, which only serves to push the crowd lingering near the tracks towards Dinah, who is really, really not enjoying how these hols are starting out.

It’s been nearly four years since all of them lived together with Mother and Bill, and it’s been much too long since she’s seen the others. Although that’s not to say that she isn’t aware of every single detail of their lives; Lucy-Ann is the most dutiful letter-writer Dinah has ever met, keeping all four of them connected, and even with Jack’s last ornithology trip – to Australia, this time – Dinah doubts a letter ever failed to meet him.

Philip’s plans to pursue Veterinary Medicine were postponed some years ago, when Mother needed him at home, and his stay in the house quickly brought about a chicken pen and a small tribe of goats. Dinah is sure that he has many more creatures than that, of course — but even Mother probably can’t quantify them. Since then, Dinah suspects that the continued postponing of Philip’s study plans has something to do with being only an hour away from where Lucy-Ann is currently studying to be a schoolteacher, but that’s another matter.

The train rushes, screeching, into the station, and Dinah turns her head away as the wind buffets everything in its way. She really ought to stop sulking in the station and see if there’s a possibility to hitch a ride. She did bring trousers, so the walk from the main road to Craggy-Tops itself shan’t be too horrid, if she can only get someone to drive her close enough. There are already people descending from the train – someone must be in the same predicament as her, and driving in the right direction…

Gripping her suitcase, she trudges into the crowd, children running past her, adults shouting after them. Near the first carriage is a gaggle of complaining people yelling at the conductor. As she looks around, her eyes find a tall redhead man with a face full of freckles, and at his side—

“Blow your nose! What a noise! What a nose!” Screech.

Kiki sees her before Jack does, craning her white neck and bobbing her head up and down in excitement. “Hallo, hallo!” the parrot shouts, drawing alarmed stares from the people around them. “How do you do, hallo!”

“Dinah!”

In a second, she is being joyfully hugged by Jack. He’s certainly more tanned than the last time she saw him, nearly a full year ago – Australia does do that to one – but his green eyes are just as cheerful as ever as he grins widely down at her. Kiki jumps up and down on his shoulder, wings flapping.

“Oh, Kiki,” Dinah says with a bright smile, and her horrid mood vanishes. “It’s so lovely to see you both!”

Jack looks over her head at the crowd excitedly. “How did you know I was here? Have you come with Tufty? And Lucy-Ann?”

“No, unfortunately.” The reality of the situation sinks in again, but at least she’s with Jack, now, and somehow it doesn’t seem as irritating as it did a few minutes ago. “I got here only half an hour ago. It’s such good luck that we found each other!”

“We could hitch a ride,” Jack says, watching the groups of people leaving the platform. “I’ve just got a rucksack; you?”

“That’s what I was thinking.” Dinah lifts her suitcase towards him. “It’s light; I’ll manage. Have you just arrived in England?”

“The day before yesterday,” he replies with a grin. “I’m still knackered. But I think the prospect of going to Craggy-Tops has killed any tiredness in me!”

They make their way through the station building to where cars are milling about. Dinah has never been to this town; after all, Jo-Jo never wanted to take her in the car anywhere – which, in hindsight, was probably for the best.

Jack manages to find a helpful couple with a car soon enough. The elderly man and woman are happy to help them, although the man seems rather startled by Kiki. The wife, on the other hand, wastes no time on patting Dinah in the back and smiling at them brightly as if they are family already.

“Of course we can take you, dear! I’m afraid there shan’t be much space up front, but if you don’t mind being a bit jostled, the back of the truck’s not bad.”

“Oh, we don’t mind at all,” Dinah tells her hastily.

“We’ll veer off West a few miles before town, but if your Craggy-Tops is on the coastline I daresay you’ll be at walking distance,” the old man says, nodding. “They’re loading up our truck now, but if you wait here we’ll drive past and get you.”

With one last pat on the woman’s part, the couple crosses the busy street, leaving them behind.

“Well, I’ve spent the past year hitchhiking, so why stop now?” Jack grins, and sits down on the front steps of the station, looking up at her. “How’s the city been treating you, Dinah?”

“Quite well,” Dinah replies, joining him on the stairs. There’s something terribly unfair about today’s fashion, which has all but eliminated trousers for women from the market, but that hasn’t been stopping her, much to the chagrin of her nosy landlady. Oh well, who’s laughing now? At least she can sit on the steps comfortably. “I’ve been promoted. I’m Head of Sales now.”

Ambition is valued in business, and while Mother may have hated her job in the city, Dinah thrives in it. She left shortly after Mother started to recover, and now she’s able to send Mother money, rather than the other way around, for the first time in her life. Perhaps, soon, there’ll even be a chance to pursue other, more ambitious dreams.

“I can’t imagine life in the city,” Jack says, pulling her attention back to reality. “But then again, I don’t think I’ve lived within a hundred miles of a city for the past three years.”

Dinah laughs. “It will be nice to relax. I loathed Craggy-Tops when I lived there, but I think it shall be lovely for a short while.”

“If it’s the four of us, it’s always jolly.”

He says it in an offhanded manner, a small smile on his face as he looks towards the busy street, but Dinah can’t help letting a comment slip. “A bit different, maybe.”

Jack meets her gaze. There’s something there – a guarded sort of awareness, the same kind she can feel in herself. She doesn’t know how to approach the subject of Philip and Lucy-Ann; how to put into words what she thinks – what she knows – is happening, or how she feels about it. She doesn’t think Jack knows how to do either of those things, either. Jack has always been better with birds than with people, after all.

There’s the rattling of an engine nearby, and she looks up to see a blue pick-up truck turn the corner, struggling to make its way through the crowds of people leaving the station and crossing the street to get to it. Guiltily, Dinah is glad of the distraction. Standing up, she seizes her suitcase. The truck stops nearly in front of them as a gaggle of someone’s grandchildren hurries past, pushing a pram.

Jack says nothing more as they climb into the back of the truck, only offering her a helpful hand as she swings her leg inside. There are a few boxes wrapped in paper and plastic, but otherwise there’s quite a bit of space and it shouldn’t be too uncomfortable. Dinah turns to look through the window into the cabin, but the sun is behind them and reflected off the window, it’s almost blinding.

“Well, we’re off to Craggy-Tops!” Jack says, leaning back against the cabin. “Off to the sea and the wind and the waves!”

“Off to Craggy-Tops!” Kiki pipes up, dipping her head against Jack to avoid the wind ruffling her feathers. “Off to Craggy-Tops, and the see and the weasel.”

Jack laughs and scratches her poll. “And the birds!”

Dinah smiles. Off to Craggy-Tops, indeed. As the truck leaves the crowded station and sets off towards the countryside, she raises her face to the sky and can already smell the sea.

.

When Dinah wakes up, the sun is gone. The air has chilled, and shadows have fallen over the back of the truck. For a moment, she fears that she’s somehow slept the day away, but then she sees the stone ridges on either side of the road and realizes that they’ve just reached the mountains. The sun has sunken into the grey clouds above – that’s more like the Craggy-Tops she remembers.

Sitting up, she looks at Jack. He’s still sitting with his back to the window, sleeping, and Kiki’s head is tucked under her wing next to him. His watch reads three p.m., just about forty minutes since Dinah remembers falling asleep, which ought to be all right – the fork in the road towards Craggy-Tops must be close ahead.

She tightens her jumper around her body. The mountains look taller than she remembers, probably because it’s been years since she’s been here. The truck speeds down the highway, jostling them a bit more than she had expected, and little flashes of green and white crop up between the rock on either side, plants and streams surviving even in the salty wind.

There’s a particularly violent jolt as the street curves, and Jack starts awake, looking around sleepily. He meets her gaze and then closes his eyes again. But the street isn’t supposed to curve here, Dinah realizes suddenly.

She turns to look through the window at the elderly couple. With the sun hidden, it’s finally easy to see through. The man is staring straight ahead, and beside him are a few more boxes. And... the old woman is not there.

A sudden jolt of alarm runs through her. When she looks at the driver again, she realizes it isn’t the elderly man at all.

Heart pounding, she reaches towards Jack and shakes him awake. Kiki squawks, upset at the interruption, but Jack blinks blearily at her.

“Jack, I think we’re on the wrong truck.”

He pushes himself up so he’s sitting straight, rubbing his face. “What?”

“I think we’re on the wrong truck.”

“That – that’s not possible,” he says, brow furrowed. He turns to look through the window. “We— oh.

They stare at each other blankly for a moment. Kiki cocks her head and stares at them, too. Then the car swerves suddenly with a screech of wheels, and Dinah finds herself clutching Jack’s arm as they fall sideways in the cargo bed.

“I don’t think we’re in the right part of the mountains, either,” Dinah breathes, nearly lying on the floor of the truck, Jack barely clinging to one of the walls in front of the window. How could they have been mistaken? The truck stopped

But not for them, she realizes with a jolt of horror. There were many people on the street in front of the station, so many that cars had to stop many times to allow them to pass. And with the racket of it all, the driver likely didn’t even notice two strangers climbing into his truck.

“Dinah,” Jack says, his tone tense. “We need to get off this truck.”

Dinah follows his line of sight and sees what Jack is seeing: the driver, taking a swig from a bottle that is most definitely liquor. The truck swerves again, curving on the straight road, and Dinah looks around desperately. There are no signs of nearby inhabitants, although the once steep walls of the cliffs have evened out somewhat, shadowy paths winding through them, clusters of grey-looking grass cropping out here and there through veils of mist. There might be paths there, although the cliffs give her no idea of how close or far they are to anything familiar.

“I don’t believe he’ll be stopping anytime soon,” Dinah tells Jack. “We’ll have to alert him.”

There’s no other choice. Jack reaches forward and raps on the window once, twice, three times.

The man’s head turns suddenly, blotchy face and reddened eyes meeting theirs. And he lets out a scream.

For a moment, the car turns so precariously that Dinah is sure they are going to crash into the rock, but then they pull up abruptly and are pressed against the window, breathing heavily, hearts pounding. The man leaves the engine running but jumps out of the cab, and when Dinah manages to peel herself off of the window, she realizes that the man is holding a knife.

It’s a long, sharp knife, and the way he’s holding it makes it clear that he sees them as a threat. That, combined with his reddened eyes and stumbling gait, make it clear that he’s too far gone for any hope of civilized conversation. Spluttering curses, he reaches over the truck towards them.

Dinah reels back, snatching her suitcase from the corner. Behind her, Jack fumbles with his rucksack, and Kiki is screeching, circling overhead and swooping down towards the driver. The knife glints as he stabs at the air.

“Kiki!” Jack yells, and the parrot flies towards him. Dinah is already climbing down from the truck alongside him, the suitcase dragging behind her.

He grasps her arm and they run, towards the shadowy, misty paths between the rocky walls of the mountains. Behind them, the driver yells obscenities, stumbling after them.

Kiki yells them right back.

.

Everything is covered in mist when they finally look around. Walls of rock are all around them, and Dinah suddenly feels smaller than she ever did in the city. Even Kiki’s poll is flat against her head. But when Jack looks at Dinah, it’s with a kind of gleam in his eye that she hasn’t seen in a very, very long time.

“I don’t know where we are,” he says, but his eyes are fixed on hers intently.

Wordlessly, Dinah kicks off the shoes from her feet, and as he watches, opens her suitcase and pulls out her worn walking shoes. They’re cracked around the layers, laces frayed into an ugly brown, but she matter-of-factly puts them on and when she straightens again, Jack is grinning.

“I suppose we’re on an adventure, then,” she says, and grabbing his arm, pulls him along to where the cliffs level out into something climbable.

.

By the time they’ve finally found their path out of the hollow of the cliffs, and are ascending to the top, they’ve found a comfortable way to attach Dinah’s suitcase to a length of rope that Jack mysteriously has in his pack, so that she can carry it on her back. It looks awkward, but feels more comfortable than getting blisters on her hands from carrying it, and anyway she needs both hands to climb properly.

“We need higher ground, Kiki!” Jack calls out to the parrot as she soars above them, cutting through the mist. “Tell us what you see!”

Kiki squawks from above faintly. “Wipe your fee-ee-eet!

Dinah looks up at the grey sky. It isn’t cold, not with their walking, but she really hopes the mist will clear somewhat as the day progresses or the dark will bring truly terrible conditions. “Do you think we’ve got the direction right?”

“Well, it’s been a while since we’ve been in these parts,” Jack says, looking around pointlessly. “I don’t think we’ll know until we can actually see where the coast is.”

“The station shouldn’t have been more than an hour away,” Dinah muses, as Kiki swoops back down and perches on a rock just ahead of them, gnawing on a pebble. “By car, that is. If we were going in the wrong direction for forty minutes…”

“There is some advantage to being on foot. The mountains get in the way of the roads, anyway, and we did our fair share of exploring around these parts.” Jack sits down on a rock and setting his rucksack on the floor. He pulls out a water bottle. “I imagine that once we can see where we are in relation to the coastline, we should be able to find our way. Water?”

She takes it from him gratefully. She emptied her own bottle in the train, a fact she now bitterly regrets. There are sandwiches in her handbag, though; she’d intended to eat during her trip but had never gotten to doing so. She’ll save them for later – in these situations, food is precious.

 “Tufty and Lucy-Ann probably would have come eventually,” Jack says, rather remorsefully, putting the bottle away once they’ve both drunk from it. “It might have been better to wait at the station.”

“Who knows, with Philip,” Dinah says with a roll of her eyes, although she doesn’t really mean it. “He’s always too busy with animals to think of humans.”

“I’m sure Lucy-Ann will keep him on his toes,” Jack says.

Dinah doesn’t know what to say to that. It’s not something she’s prepared to talk about, really; not something she knows how to talk about. She prefers to think of Philip and Lucy-Ann as something happening in a vacuum – separate from the reality of the four of them, having adventures together; or of her and Jack, wandering the cliffs alone.

It was easier to do in the city, far away.

She finally musters the strength to look up, but Jack is already looking elsewhere. She wonders if he is feeling at all like she is. If the prospect of finally arriving at Craggy-Tops brings him just as much dread as it does joy.

“Dinah!”

Jack is looking upwards, his voice almost a whisper. There are birds perched in patches of discolored grass overhead, too far for Dinah to make out, but Jack clearly recognizes them. In a second, he’s pulled out his camera.

“Razorbills. They’re nesting.”

Letting go of the whirlwind in her mind, Dinah walks over to where Jack is standing. The birds are lovely, small and black, with white bellies and legs. They seem to stare at them suspiciously from the crevices above.

“They only lay one egg each year,” Jack says quietly, eyes glued to the binoculars. Kiki sits quietly on his shoulder, accustomed to his birdwatching by now. “They come in pairs – see, here comes the other one, now. Mates for life. Gosh, I haven’t seen them in years. I’ve been away for too long.”

“No razorbills in Australia?”

“No,” he lets out a low laugh. “Not at all.”

.

A lot has happened to Jack in Australia, she learns, and yet nothing at all. While he can tell her all about bird species and the rarities of the continent’s flora and fauna, he mentions very few people by name, and from the way he clambers up the rock to catch a closer glimpse of the birds nestled above, Dinah knows that he’s still the same Jack who used to live with them in the cottage for all those years, before they all left home.

“I prefer birds,” she tells him, hands in her pockets as he clambers down, dusting the dirt from the palms of his hands. He cocks his head at her, much like Kiki, who is currently pecking at something she found in a patch of grass.

“Pardon?”

Dinah shakes her head. It was more of the end of a thought than a sentence she meant to speak out loud. “I prefer birds to, say, mammals,” she explains. “I’ve never been put off by them the way I am with Philip’s animals. I suppose it’s because they’re less… crawly.”

Jack laughs almost evilly. “Think of how many crawly ones must live in Craggy-Tops now.”

She makes a face at him.

Ahead, the rock grows steeper and suddenly climbing is no longer a leisurely activity, more something that involves strategically hauling their luggage onto jutting rocks and pulling themselves up after it. Dinah goes first, ignoring the dirt that digs under the fingernails she once kept neat for work, feeling her trousers scrape against sharp edges as she scrambles onto flat ground above. The mountain seems to go on forever. If only the mist saw fit to recede somewhat, they might know where they are.

“You’re fast for someone who hasn’t been climbing in a while,” Jack says, infuriatingly less out of breath than she is as he alights on flat ground, but he looks rather impressed. “I suppose it’s the hotheadedness from the business world. I always thought you’d do well in a role like that.”

He takes the lead in the next climb, throwing his rucksack ahead of him and then doing the same with her suitcase, but it takes Dinah a moment to move after him. An odd chill has settled over her bones.

“A role like what?”

She tries to make it sound nonchalant, but it isn’t a nonchalant question at all.

From above, Jack can’t see her face. “Where you get to speak your mind,” he says, and then teasingly – “Tell people what to do, and use your authority.”

“Funny,” she says rather coldly. He’s teasing, she knows, but she can’t help it. “You’re not the first one to say that. It seems that all anyone focuses on is how mean they think I’ll be.”

Jack laughs, oblivious. “You’re just intimidating, Dinah.”

Dinah stops fumbling with the rocks and straightens, back taut like a bow. “Well, maybe I don’t want to be intimidating,” she snaps, glaring up at him. Her heart is pounding. “Maybe I’m sick of receiving such awful backhanded compliments as if I ought to be thankful for them.”

Jack turns to stare at her with wide eyes. “Dinah, I didn’t—”

“Forget it,” Dinah says sourly, returning to the task at hand, kicking at pebbles that go crashing down. “I don’t care.”

“Dinah—”

“I said forget it.

She hates this. She hates it. As they climb up the last of the cliff, Dinah can’t even muster the strength to look at him, although she can see, from the corner of her eye, that he’s slowed his pace and waited for her to catch up with him so that they can reach the top together. She hates that this is always how it ends; either with a man so furious he calls her a bitch, or men like Jack – too respectful, too hollowly kind to even begin to try to understand.

She hates that hearing those words from Jack makes her feel so hurt.

Through the mist, the sky darkens, and soon what seemed like a fun labyrinth turns into a more sinister maze of rocky pathways, each one leading to a more frightening, shadowy death. Somewhere behind the grey, the sun turns red as they reach the top of the cliff, but there’s nothing to be seen – only muted shadows beyond a thick veil of mist.

From somewhere in the wilderness below, however, Dinah can feel the forceful push of ocean wind. The tide must be going down by now, she thinks. The waves are pulling back from Craggy-Tops and the cavernous mysteries beneath it. It’s strange not to be able to see it.

She wonders what Philip and Lucy-Ann are doing, and then banishes the thought. Behind her, Jack squints, apparently equally frustrated. His brow is still furrowed from their earlier argument, and Dinah feels a splintered sort of feeling that she isn’t entirely comfortable with.

“I don’t suppose we’ll make it out of here before dark,” she says, her tone clipped.

Jack seems to have come to the same conclusion. He walks over to where his things are, and extracts a woolen sweater. He tosses it at her.

Dinah catches it. It’s worn and frayed, likely from years of use.

“Pillow,” Jack says simply, and sets out to find the softest patch of scraggly grass on the clifftop. He has a torch – she can see a little white halo of light moving about the solid shadow of the mountain in front of him, not quite reaching the depths of its crevices.

Dinah shivers. Kiki is perched stiffly on Jack’s shoulder and hasn’t said a word, perhaps sensing the tense atmosphere. She keeps cocking her head at Dinah accusingly, which only serves to irritate her.

Clutching Jack’s sweater tightly in one hand, Dinah sits on the cold rock and opens her suitcase. There’s a little water left, which they should drink before sleeping, but not much to eat. Ignoring the hunger in her stomach, she settles for pulling out a blanket and a few of her rolled up clothes. She ought to be wishing she were in Craggy-Tops right now, around a warm fire, but not even the hunger is enough to dispel the tension from her mind.

She’s always been the most insecure out of all of them, she feels. Philip has always had this innate sense of self-worth, and Jack has always been too focused on birds to care about what anyone else thinks. Lucy-Ann is too compassionate to ever spare a thought for her own flaws. But Dinah – Dinah generates anxieties for all four of them, sometimes, grinds them into her teeth and keeps them there, secret, until they make her head hurt and her eyes sting.

“This isn’t right.”

She whips her head around to see Jack standing nearby. His arms are crossed in front of him, but he’s looking away, like he can’t quite meet her eyes.

She raises an eyebrow. “What?”

“This isn’t right. You and I – we don’t have rows, Dinah.” His voice is low and tense, but not angry. It makes his words cut right through her. “You know who I am; you know what I mean when I say things. You know I don’t mean it like – like whoever else meant it.”

Dinah digs her fingers into the sweater, and when the words escape her, they don’t quite tremble. “Do I intimidate you?”

He pauses, his eyes glued to hers. “No,” he says, finally, and his mouth quirks slightly at a corner. “But I expect the Queen wouldn’t intimidate me if I’d known her for as long as I’ve known you.”

She allows herself a weak smile. It’s dusk now, and the clouds make only his eyes gleam, his face pale. She thinks, oddly, that she can’t see his freckles anymore.

“Most people think I’m cold-hearted,” she says. “I don’t want you to think that.”

“I don’t. I never have.”

And he’s telling the truth, she knows, when he reaches out and touches her arm lightly as he passes her – just a brush of his palm against her forearm, like he does with Kiki sometimes, when it’s been a while since the parrot has spoken and he wants her to know that he hasn’t forgotten her. It’s a small gesture, but Dinah feels something in her heart constrict nonetheless.

As he continues looking for a place to settle down for the night, she presses the worn sweater to her cheek tentatively, but it doesn’t feel unfamiliar. It’s as if this has been her pillow all along.

Chapter Text

They sleep side by side under a large outcropping of rock, trying to block out the humidity with clothes and blankets, the torch tucked between them. It’s a nest that resembles more what a pair of cats might make out of rags, but it works for the time being, and with her feet tucked into a pile of shirts, and the solid presence of her suitcase at her side, Dinah feels quite warm. In a small ledge just above them, Kiki nestles uncomfortably for the night.

Jack falls asleep quickly, on his back, head turned slightly away from her. His red hair falls nearly to his eyes, and in the pale light, his freckles fade into his skin. There are two tiny, new scars on his chin that she has never seen before; maybe from an encounter with a bird gone wrong, or just from shaving. It’s strange, to think that so much has happened to him and she hasn’t been there to see any of it.

It’s strange to think that they’ve grown into adulthood so far apart.

In the distance, Dinah hears nocturnal birds calling out to each other. Were he awake, Jack surely would have known their names. As it is, though, Dinah just curls to her side, suitcase at her back, and lets her head rest near his shoulder.

Perhaps, some years back, she might have rested her head on his arm. But they aren’t children anymore.

.

Dinah wakes up to the sound of Kiki singing Don’t forget the gum drops, mum loudly, as if an ad for a wireless programme is playing in the distance. For a moment, she feels utterly displaced, and nearly hits her head against the rock above as she tries to sit up. The light just beyond is bright, and the space beside her is cold.

When she emerges, she sees that the mist has left during the night, and she would never have guessed that it's the same place they chose to camp in the night before. The grey, wet-looking rock is suddenly rich brown and full of hardy life cropping out from between the cracks, birds pecking here and there in ridges higher up. The sky seems to have opened up completely, dark grey turned to pale white with patches of blue here and there, entire formations of birds soaring in the distance.

And there’s a horizon, finally. The cliffs look out towards blue, blue water – cold, crashing waves that push and pull at rocky beaches below. The air is full of salt, and the wind is as comforting as it is cool – the smell of Craggy-Tops, of being nearly home.

She finds Jack lying on a rock, binoculars glued to his eyes. Kiki lets out a happy noise when she approaches, and Jack just grins, not moving his gaze from the birds that are circling above. He points to a half-eaten bag of biscuits.

“Found them in my bag; they’re still good,” he says. “I figured they’d do for a nice outdoors breakfast.”

Biting back a smile, Dinah takes some and sits down at his side. She’s chewing on one of the rather dry biscuits and giving half of one to Kiki, when whatever Jack’s looking at flies away and his binoculars finally leave his face.

“Morning,” he grins up at her.

“Morning.”

As it turns out, Craggy-Tops is much further south than they had hoped, but it’s not an impossible distance to walk; not for two people accustomed to long unwanted stays in the wilderness, at any rate. Dinah estimates that they’ll reach Craggy-Tops the next morning at the latest, which makes for a rather hungry time, honestly – but not an unbearably horrid one.

The way down from the cliff is simple enough in theory, although in practice it’s a much more treacherous affair. Jack goes first, and for the first few minutes all she can see is his red hair, Kiki’s poll, and his rucksack bobbing up and down as he finds their way down the rocky path.

Dinah is unceremonious. As soon as they’re relatively close to level ground, she kicks her suitcase down ahead of her, and picks it up again only once she’s reached the bottom.

They share the last of the water about an hour later and then fill their bottles in a small waterfall that springs from the rock, lounging against a wall of moss, already able to glimpse the thin line of the ocean ahead. It shan’t take them much longer to reach the beach.

“I don’t want to work in sales all my life,” Dinah admits, once she’s caught her breath from the cold water. It leaves her in a rush, like a confession.

Jack looks at her from over the water bottle, eyebrows raised in askance.

“I’m going to study Geography.”

She waits for Jack to reply, but he only looks at her in expectant silence, devoid of any skepticism or derision. The idea, previously guarded to protect the sanctity of such a fragile idea, spills out of her. It might be silly to get caught up in thoughts of the future, especially given their objectively grave situation in the cliffs, but she can’t help it. The plan isn’t one she’s shared with anyone, really, except perhaps in a few vague allusions to Lucy-Ann once in a letter. But now, with Jack listetning, it seems to blossom.

“Did you know that there are less than a dozen female geographers in England? They’ve started new programs in Cambridge and Oxford, and there’s a society of women explorers in America. I think that if I try, I might be admitted to a university, and become a geographer. It’d be quite different from sales, of course – but I… I want this.”

“I think you’d be incredible,” Jack says with a grin. “Do it. Maybe we’d be able to get out of these cliffs faster.”

“It’s a year of new beginnings, I suppose,” she says without thinking.

The intensity of the statement is not lost on him, she knows, but she moves away before she can see his expression. It isn’t the time to speak of what awaits them in Craggy-Tops; not now. But the weight of it settles hard on her shoulders, and it’s not until they’re already following a rocky makeshift path to the beach that there’s any conversation.

“Have you told Aunt Allie yet?”

“I expect she’ll support me – and Bill would be delighted, I’m sure. But I feel like Mother’s always felt a bit strange about the way I’ve decided to live. She herself didn’t want to work, you see; given the chance, she’d have been at home with us. I think there’s a part of her that thinks I’d be better off with the same.”

“I don’t think she’d hold you back,” Jack says, brow furrowed. “She’s proud of you, and anyway I don’t think getting married could keep you away from a career.”

Dinah snorts. “If there ever were a man who’d be happy marrying a working scientist, that is. Beaus are different, but marriage…” she is, after all, a challenge. The temperamental and cold girl all men want to conquer, as if they’d earn a medal. A medal that still isn’t quite valuable enough to them. “My lifestyle isn’t exactly convenient.”

“You want to live in the city.” 

“I don’t care where I live. I just want to know that I can have dreams – dreams beyond learning to cook pumpkin pie, or getting a twin-tub washing machine. That I’m more than that.”

“You are more than that.” Behind her, Jack is smiling at her, and the fondness in his eyes makes her heart ache. It’s been far too long since she’s had a chance to speak to him like this.

“What about you?” she finds herself asking, as he finally falls into step with her. The path is no longer so narrow.

He gives her a wry look. “Do I look like marriage material to you? I travel the world looking for birds; I don’t… wear a suit, or drive a car, or have a house. It’d be unfair for any woman.”

There’s a thick stretch of vegetation as they near the water, mist and waterfall and ocean having settled to create the perfect scenario for life to thrive. It’s a scratchy, tall pile of life, Dinah finds, pushing her way through the grassy patch. Being tall, Jack can see where they’re going, and he holds onto her shoulder as if he’s worried she’ll get lost; but she’s the one who spots the holes in the ground – burrows of some sort – and steers them away from them until they’ve finally emerged on the other side, and the dirt gives way to pebbles again.

“I think it’s stupid,” Dinah tells him bluntly, suddenly.

He looks at her, puzzled. “What is?”

“You don’t need to have a suit or a car any more than I have to be excited about Formica worktops or washing machines. It’s stupid.”

Jack grins.

.

They follow the birds to the ocean.

Dinah has always suspected that Jack doesn’t need binoculars at all: his eyes can spot any bird at any distance and he can name them, regardless of how far away they are. He calls out names to her and to the world in general as he sprints down the last of the steep path, as if he’s introducing her to old friends.

In a way, he is, Dinah thinks. He used to do much of the same thing when they lived here.

Kiki soars above them, telling the other birds not to forget their gum drops, and what a noise, what a noise! There isn’t sand – this beach is rocky for a few miles yet, but Dinah peels her jumper off nonetheless and lets it flutter in the air behind her, the taste of salt on her lips. Jack is a red dot in the distance, wheeling around like a bird himself as he catches sight of new ones perched atop tall pillars of rock.

She doesn’t want to reach Craggy-Tops, she realizes suddenly. She wants to stay like this, even with the mild hunger gnawing at her stomach, and the humidity sinking into her skin. Here, it doesn’t matter what life is like in the city, or at home. Here, reduced to nature and the never-ending cycles of life, she need not worry about the future, or about herself, or about whether it’s selfish of her to begrudge Lucy-Ann and Philip their happiness, to weigh it against her peace of mind.

The wind pulls her hair around her head, and it cuts against her cheeks, stinging and salty. She is nothing but sensation, and the sight of Jack running ahead of her, calling out birds the same way he always does.

Eventually, he falls into step with her, fingers still closed around his binoculars, his green eyes bright. Black and white birds fly overhead and settle down on the cliffs nearby, mingling with each other.

“I don’t generally get to do this, you know,” Jack tells her.

“Do what?”

“Have another human near me while I watch them,” he glances up at the sky, at the circling birds. They’re razorbills like the ones from yesterday, she realizes, come to nest in the cliffs.

“Well, if they travel in pairs, you should too,” Dinah replies.

If he keeps his gaze on her a bit longer than usual, she pretends she doesn’t notice.

.

There is a lot that goes unsaid, after all, she realizes, as they stop to rest again, this time with their feet dangling in the water. It’s windy, but it’s not so cold anymore. The salty wind chills her cheeks, but Jack’s arm is warm against hers, and it’s comfortable in a way no other company has ever been, really. No other man would dare sit so close, nor would any other man feel so familiar wandering the cliffs day and night in a sudden, wild adventure.

There is a lot that the four of them can do that no one else possibly could.

Jack talks about birds a lot, but also about Australia, and he asks her about the city in a way that feels oddly ornithological anyway, which is amusing. Sometimes she wonders if he looks at people the same way that he looks at birds. But no, his gaze is fixed on hers intently, and when he grabs her elbow to make sure she’s steady as she stands up to stretch, it doesn’t feel patronizing. Instead, he follows it up by looking down at the water.

“How deep, do you reckon?”

“Too deep,” she laughs. And it is, probably. Which is likely the only reason Jack waits until they reach the sandy beach in the early afternoon to take on the waves.

The beach is a pale sliver of white against the muted grey of land, and as soon as they set foot on it everything is warmer, the weakest sunlight intensified tenfold by the brightness of the ground beneath them. Dinah kicks off her shoes and digs her toes into it; it’s full of small rocks that dig pleasantly into her skin, like a peculiar massage. The suitcase ends up half-buried beside Jack’s rucksack, and when she looks up he’s already sprinting towards the water, calling for her over his shoulder, and she finds herself following just as eagerly.

Yes, there are many unsaid things between them. Like the fact that she isn’t shocked when he takes off his shirt, even though the sight of his exposed skin surprises her, and she’s never really seen him like this since they were children. Like the fact that it just feels natural when he threads his fingers through hers and pulls her deeper into the cold water, and she shivers in the cold and laughs and laughs.

Like the way his green eyes are fixed on hers the entire time, his head tilted towards her, not towards Kiki, when Jack’s head has always been closer to birds than it is to humans.

They wade deeper into the cold water until it doesn’t feel cold anymore, and Dinah pushes her hair back so it doesn’t stick to her face, and closes her eyes. Jack’s fingers are around hers, and she wonders at the fact that she doesn’t ever want to let go.

“The others would have liked this,” he says eventually, when she opens her eyes. He’s staring southwards, towards where Craggy-Tops awaits.

“We should bring them here, too,” Dinah replies, ignoring the unease in her stomach. “Later.”

And she means it, really, even if it’s her own weakness that keeps the reluctance in her alive. Because this might be her and Jack’s place, now, in an odd way, but it’s not theirs completely until the four of them are here.

“Later,” he repeats, and for a moment his gaze lingers, until he’s dragging her underwater and she’s trying not to choke on water and laughter.

In the end, their clothes dry in the wind as they climb back up the beach towards the rocks, leaving them shivering but no longer sopping wet. Jack has pulled his shirt back on, but as he reaches the end of the beach, he lets out a loud, boyish whoop.

Dinah flings a shoe at him.

.

Their time spent swimming has its consequences, and sunset comes before they have any hope of catching sight of Craggy-Tops. Dinah wants to believe that the fact disappoints her, but there is only so much lying one can do to oneself. Instead of wasting time on such thoughts, she finds a clump of rather scratchy brambles that is somewhat sheltered from the wind and makes a nest of blankets and clothes there.

Jack, in the meantime, strokes Kiki’s poll and replies to her nonsense with words of his own. It’s an oddly calm image against the backdrop of Dinah’s raging emotions.

Being just the two of them, the absence of Philip and Lucy-Ann is far from painful – after all, they’ve lived apart for a long time – but it is evident. This is not the same adventure they might have had, had it been all four of them here. This is a creature of its own; the sort of adventure neither of them have had before. Not dangerous, perhaps, but strange. Not uncomfortable – not at all – but it has taken on a dynamic that Dinah isn’t quite sure she’s ready to analyze.

And somewhere out there in the darkness, her brother and Jack’s sister are together in the emptiness of Craggy-Tops.

She makes her way to Jack. The shoes are back on her feet, but they feel all wrong now, with sand from the beach between her toes. Jack has his torch in hand, and sets it on the rock beside him, illuminating their surroundings as much as possible.

“Do you ever get lonely?” Jack asks suddenly. “Living alone, in the city.”

“Well, the city is full of people, Jack,” Dinah says teasingly.

She expects Jack to roll his eyes, but instead he’s frowning pensively. “I’ve wondered—” he says, in an odd voice. “If it was just me.”

“Just you?”

“I’m not… not a people’s person,” he says. “But it’s not the same, when it’s with Tufty, or Lucy-Ann, or you.” He kicks at a pebble towards the edge of the cliff, and it disappears into the dark. “It’s different, somehow. Easy. And – and I know I can’t possibly expect any of you to travel with me, that would be mad, but…”

He trails off, but Dinah understands – understands it in a fundamental sort of way, like Jack has put into words something she hasn’t quite been able to say herself, in the days when the gaping emptiness of the city struggles to overwhelm her. It clutches at her heart and twists tighter and tighter around it, until she almost wants to gasp.

…but the world isn’t an adventure without you. It hangs there, unspoken, and Dinah wants to pluck it from the air and say it, but her mouth can’t muster the words.

She thinks of him, far off in Australia, wandering the wilderness with only Kiki for company. Perhaps there are some who go with him; photographers or other ornithologists, sharing the same passion and skills. But it isn’t the same. Jack, the boy with the red hair and the green eyes and the freckles and this almost unhealthy obsession with birds, so unbearably far away from the only ones that could possibly understand—

And herself, sitting in the office, perhaps in a pub if her friends manage to persuade her, at dinner parties and chatting with roommates and carrying out errands and paperwork, so much paperwork. The intensity, the rush of independence and competence and efficiency and—

“It’s not just you,” she says finally, and her voice sounds strangled.

Jack’s head is tilted towards her again, and his hand reaches out, brushes against her shoulder, so familiar.

“You could come back,” he says quietly.

And she knows the comment isn’t meant for her – he’s repeating a memory of what’s he’s been saying to himself, the reluctant dreams of a traveler, the option he knows he himself could never settle for. You could come back home.

Home, to the cottage that hasn’t been her home for three years, although it holds half of the people she holds dearest. Home, where both she and Jack know their natures could not possibly allow them to stay – where adventure, however present it is in their lives and in their characters, cannot seem to exist the way it did when they were all children together. Home, where Philip and Lucy-Ann have found a connection that the rest of them have not, have bonded themselves to each other in a way that Dinah cannot begin to fathom the repercussions of—

The words escape her before she can stop them, as if the sentence had formed ages ago, even while she was still on the train.

“I think Philip and Lucy-Ann might get married.”

The strangeness of the sentence on her own lips nearly makes her flinch.

Kiki nibbles on the collar of Jack’s shirt, but Jack doesn’t react. He turns and looks at Dinah, and in the darkness she suddenly wishes he were closer, so that she might examine the emotions on his face. As it is, she has to make do with the barely-there light of the torch.

“I think so too,” he says. And he looks so calm that Dinah feels a fierce flare of frustration and shame. “Do you approve?”

She swallows. “I don’t think there could be anything better.”

Because it does make sense; all those years going on amazing adventures together, and then only Philip and Lucy-Ann living mere hours away from each other, corresponding often, seeing each other often, both grown from the children they used to be… it isn’t surprising at all. She can’t possibly imagine either Philip or Lucy-Ann settling for anything less; and she certainly can’t imagine someone else joining them.

And yet…

“How can it…” she struggles for breath, suddenly, as if the question is choking her. “How can it still be the four of us?”

Jack frowns. “It’ll always be the four of us.”

She shakes her head, and hates herself for it. But she’s begun already, so she might as well continue. “But it won’t be the same, Jack, can’t you see? I know this is more than any of us could hope for, and I’m terribly happy, but I can’t help it. I know they would never mean it – but this changes everything.

It makes her sick to speak the truth so openly; to reveal both the ugliness of the facts and the ugliness of her own emotions. It disgusts her, and it terrifies her to have him so close to her, looking in. She's suddenly terrified of seeing her emotions reflected in his eyes.

“I’m a horrid person, aren’t I?” she asks quietly. Jack is looking at her, but he’s calm, collected – utterly unworried. There’s nothing but compassion there. “You’re a better person than I am,” she concludes, and she can feel the tears in her eyes.

“No,” he says simply. “I’ve just always known.”

“Known what?”

“That this was going to happen – and that it wasn’t going to happen to me.”

The sentence registers in her mind too slowly, and she knows she will have to analyze it later, but suddenly Jack’s arms are around her and her face is buried in the crook of his neck and he’s warm, impossibly so in the cold air of the cliffs. The sob tears itself out of her chest and through her throat and it sounds so pathetic against the night air that Dinah wants to crumple with shame at the sound of it.

“I don’t want to lose it,” she whispers. “I don’t want to walk into that house and see that it’s gone.”

Because home has always been the four of them together: the one space where she has a place, a role, where she doesn’t have to be intimidating or ladylike or any of the blasted labels anyone tries to place on her, where she can be with them, and know that they’ll want to be with her, and where no one is left aside, where no two are paired off with the privilege of loving more somehow—

“This is where it’s always been leading us to, Dinah,” Jack says quietly. “All of it, since the day all four of us met. We haven’t lost it; it’s just grown.”

Chapter Text

Darkness falls, and Dinah can’t sleep. Kiki is a pale shadow perched on a skeletal bush nearby, and Jack is a warm presence at her side, his face turned towards her as he sleeps, one hand resting on his stomach. He must have been tired. Now, he looks oddly statuesque in the pale moonlight that barely filters through the clouds. If she closes her eyes, she can feel his breath against her forehead, warm and steady.

It’s not much different from times they’ve camped together before, as children in a cave when they were stranded on a valley, on an island full of puffins, or heavens knows where else, when the four of them went on adventures. Except this time Lucy-Ann and Philip aren’t here, and so many things have changed.

And Dinah can’t sleep.

But it’s not about Philip and Lucy-Ann, really. It never was; not exactly. It’s about things staying the same, about still finding that adventure, about being the Dinah that went to the valley, and the island, and the circus, and the mountain, on all of those adventures. She’s not really the girl she was back then, quarreling with Philip and exploring caves, but that girl isn’t quite gone, either – she’s here, nestled in the bushes with Jack, feet sore from climbing cliffs, hair stiff from the salt of the ocean, still a part of the working woman she’s become. We haven’t lost it; it’s just grown.

Turning, she finds herself facing Jack’s sleeping face and closes her eyes. The air outside isn’t so cold, but she burrows deeper into the blankets nonetheless, her knees tucked against his leg. It’s strange, she supposes, for two adults to find themselves in a situation like this one, but it also doesn’t feel strange at all.

She closes her eyes, and she isn’t quite sure if she manages to sleep or not, opening her eyes now and again to see the brambles shivering in another direction, or Jack turn over in his sleep, once to give his back to her, a second time to face her again. The night feels long, but Dinah likes it this way – infinite and comfortable, like a Sunday morning that never seems to end, where sleep is a soft cushion away from reality, where Craggy-Tops remains far, far away.

The breeze pushes Jack’s hair away from his face, and the sky is growing lighter, and Dinah can almost see how red it is, can almost make out the freckles on his nose and cheek, trace the line of them all the way up to his ears. He has stubble that skims his cheekbones and settles around his mouth. He mustn’t have had a chance to shave in the last two days.

How must he have looked, travelling Australia with Kiki on his shoulder, and in other foreign countries the times before that? When he first left, to go to Scotland, had he seemed like the boy that she knew, even under the beard? Probably. Dinah realizes that she would like to know firsthand.

To be a geographer, and study the strange places of the Earth and what made them the way they are. To see Jack study birds. To hold his hand, in the ocean – to feel connected.

Because that is what they are: connected. Irrevocably. For life.

And Dinah – Dinah knows, suddenly, that Jack has known this all along. Consciously or unconsciously, he’s known it, in the way he’s looked at her and talked to her, in the way he’s crossed the world to get back to the three of them, and hasn’t blinked twice at being caught in the wilderness with her. In the way the very science he understands to track the birds all around them points to Dinah, to the fact that Dinah, as impulsive and imposing as she seems to be, might naturally come to the same conclusions, and come to see how all of this has grown, at what it has grown into

That this was going to happen – and that it wasn’t going to happen to me.

For all his wisdom, Jack is still an idiot. A humble idiot, thinking that he’s somehow undesirable for his love of birds, and his lack of a suit and a car; an idiot to think that that somehow keeps him away from what he himself has termed inevitable.

Because you can’t expect people to go through so much together and remain less than in love with each other. Because it’s only natural. Because that’s where it’s always been leading them to.

Heart pounding, Dinah sits up. The cold air hits her suddenly, and she shivers. At her side, Jack seems to feel the shift in temperature and moves slightly, pressing his cheek harder onto the sweater that has been their pillow, but he doesn’t wake up. Dinah is alone, and the sky is slowly, slowly turning blue.

She feels a mad sense of urgency, as if she herself were an ornithologist and found the rarest bird in existence, perched directly in front of them, ready to be seen and studied and photographed – and Jack knows, he must know, he must have felt it as well, all this time at her side, in the way he’s touched her and the way he knows her…

But he’s Jack, she reminds herself suddenly. He’s Jack, and he doesn’t know a thing about approaching such a subject. Dinah has always been the outspoken one.

So she acts upon the thought, before her fears have a chance to catch up with her. She reaches out and shakes him awake, her heart racing.

Jack blinks blearily in the almost-darkness, his hand leaving his side to touch her arm. “What is it?” he murmurs, voice slurred by sleep. “Dinah?”

And Dinah presses forward and leans down and touches his lips with hers, stubble rough against her skin and his suddenly pounding heart warm against her chest. And she’s trembling terribly, but she couldn’t care less.

Jack wakes up quickly after that, reaching up and taking her by her upper arms and pulling her back slightly, his breath leaving him in quick, surprised gusts. His eyes are so green, even in the shadows, and they stare at her like she’s a stranger, suddenly – like he’s not sure if he knows her – and for a moment, she falters.

“You said you’ve always known,” she says weakly. “That it could only be us.”

“Us?” Jack’s voice is trembling almost as much as she is. He pushes himself up on his elbows, suddenly, letting go of her. His chest is rising and falling rapidly, and his wide eyes terrify her.

“I think—” she feels unsteady without him holding her, but she knows, doesn’t she? To not say it would be to lie. “I think I’ve always—”

But Jack’s expression changes, and the words die in her mouth, because it’s impossible to say them, and anyway Jack knows, Jack has always known, and she can tell from the way his confusion and shock turn to disbelief and genuine, overwhelming relief. He reaches towards her and suddenly his hand is on the back of her neck, and their lips are brushing against each other, and he feels so much like home that she aches for him.

“Dinah,” he says, his lips shaking against hers, like he can’t quite believe it, like she’s a miracle. “Dinah.”

She presses her hands against his chest and her fingers against the collar of his shirt, and he falls back until she’s lying over him, and his hands are in her hair and his lips are scorching against her own, and maybe it’s mad to do this so quickly, but hasn’t it been years, and hasn’t this been where it’s always led them, anyway?

Jack touches her like he has never known anything quite like her, and perhaps he hasn’t, and perhaps that makes Dinah feel a little less lost, suddenly, kissing down the line of his throat and feeling her own veins come alive. And when her fingers brush against his bare ribs he gasps against her mouth and the sound of it goes straight through her, until she pushes the blankets aside, and it feels

She doesn’t know where to touch first, her pulse is racing, and soon she’s watching the lightening sky over them, Jack’s mouth hot against her ear and then her clavicle, her own hands rushed against the buttons of her shirt, against the scrape of his trousers, against the muscles of his back, Jack holding himself up by the elbows and groaning into her neck like finally, finally, finally

His trousers are open and her hand is on him and he’s panting against her mouth, eyes squeezed shut, his fingers against the pounding of her heart. “I—” he gasps, meeting her gaze, wide and desperate and so full of affection it could make her cry. “Dinah—”

Dinah kisses him over and over, until her lips feel bruised from it and he’s shaking, and she kisses him as he buries his face in her neck, as he is hers, in her arms, whispering her name.

Then he kisses her neck again, as if to soothe the scrape of his stubble on her, and his mouth finds her heartbeat, and his hands explore her. No one else has ever known her the way Jack does, has kissed her the way Jack does, has stroked her the way he does, firmly and confidently and gently and lovingly, like she’s a country that needs exploring and yet is also his homeland, like she is everything—

This is what it was meant to become: hands shaking against his back and muscles tensing around his fingers, his red hair against her cheek and the warmth of him almost too beautiful to bear.

And it’s not about Philip and Lucy-Ann finding their way to each other, although their epiphany might have accelerated her own, because it would have happened regardless, with the right combination of time and ocean and mounting frustration, because they are the answers to each other, just like they were as children. Because no one else could possibly know what this feels like – together, Jack and Dinah, against rough rock and city clothes, overlooking the sea.

.

Afterwards, she lies there for a long time, watching the rising sun touch every one of the shades of red in his hair. He keeps a hand on her hip, almost as if losing contact might suddenly make him float away.

“Do you remember,” she says sleepily. “When you all arrived at the station that first day, and we went in Jo-Jo’s horrid old car?”

“I thought you looked like a wildcat,” Jack replies with a grin, though his eyes stay closed.

She smacks him on the head, and his grin widens. “You looked like a circus trainer to me, with Kiki on your shoulder like that.”

“People do tend to think that.”

The sky is greyish-orange, and Kiki is awake in a nearby bush, chewing on something. She seems to studiously avoid looking at them, and Dinah stifles a rather embarrassed laugh. At her side, Jack finally stirs and reaches into for a biscuit, giving it to Kiki.

He looks down at Dinah then, and presses a kiss to the corner of her mouth.

“We should keep walking.”

.

They make their way through the last of the cliffs hand in hand, and when the sun is high in the sky, they turn a corner, and there it is: tall and grandiose in its odd, ugly way. The one tower that had once stood against all winds is now partly fallen in, and the massive grey stones are covered in blackish, greenish plant life, the roof scattered with evidence of past bird nests. But it’s still the same old house that was once full of adventure – Craggy-Tops.

At the edge of the rocks, Dinah sets down her suitcase. Jack, having climbed down to the sandy floor beyond, halts and looks up at her. The wind tears through their hair and clothes, and the cries of the birds are loud all around them, and Jack looks happier than she thinks she’s ever seen him.

“Well, I suppose we’ve reached the end of the adventure,” he says, perhaps sensing the finality in her eyes. Kiki flies ahead of them, as if she remembers the place – and she sings Polly put the kettle on, which perhaps confirms it.

Aunt Polly and Uncle Jocelyn are long gone, but Philip and Lucy-Ann should be here, and perhaps there is some remnant of home to be found in the old bones of the house. And between her and Jack… in a way, nothing has changed, except she’s not scared anymore.

“Just the first of many,” Dinah replies, and reaches for his hand.

Jack calls out as they approach the house, Kiki circling the tower window, screeching. And by the time Dinah and Jack are breathlessly hurrying towards the door, racing each other like children, there’s a loud whoop and the door is pulled open: and there is Philip, grinning widely, calling for Lucy-Ann over his shoulder.

.

The old tower-room from their childhood has lost its roof, but they don’t mind. Now they have the added benefit of being able to see the stars, and anyway at this point Dinah thinks she’d miss them if she couldn’t see them.

Philip keeps an arm around her as Lucy-Ann pulls out the goods they’ve brought with them to eat, somewhat uncharacteristically affectionate, but Dinah doesn’t mind – perhaps Philip can sense the change too, and the magnitude of what has happened.

She doesn’t know quite what to say to her brother when he hasn’t told her anything out loud yet, but the way he looks at Lucy-Ann says everything she needs to know. It’s nice, to be like this and hug Philip; so nice that she almost doesn’t mind the mouse that peeks out of his shirt to sniff at her as she does so.

They prepare toast over a little fire in what used to be their bedroom, years ago, on the eve of their first adventure. As they eat, Philip is hovering near Lucy-Ann at all times, a hand on her lower back, helping her butter the toast and hand out plates, and if they notice Dinah and Jack sitting closer to each other than usual, they don’t say anything.

And when Jack has got the little fire crackling in front of them, and they’re all huddled in blankets next to each other, and Philip and Lucy-Ann announce their engagement over steaming cups of tea, it feels like the most natural thing in the world.

“Things shall change, shan’t they?” Lucy-Ann muses finally, a piece of toast in hand.

“They shall,” Jack says, smiling. He looks up at the stars above them, and Dinah feels his hand squeeze hers tightly under the blanket. “But not just yet. Right now it’s just us four, and jolly old Craggy-Tops.”

“And Kiki!” Philip says, reaching out to scratch the bird’s poll.

“And Kiki,” Jack laughs, and Kiki joins in.

As Lucy-Ann reaches for some tinned fruit she claims to have brought for tradition’s sake, Jack’s fingers stretch over Dinah’s, entwining with hers. Outside the tower-room, the wind still whispers as excitedly as it did in their childhood, and it sounds like adventure.