A/N The last one... Thanks, it's been a pleasure.

Saludos y que estén bien.

Read you around.

...

Chap. 37 Paths.

APOV

The voices are familiar except for a couple of them, especially his. And he talks too much, like… all the time.

"Cricket, do you remember him?"

My own mythical animal, half cricket half woman, a crickaur, looks at me with disapproval.

"No, but he's insane, like you."

"Maybe a boyfriend?"

"Or an obsessed creepy neighbor. Who knows? What I know is this, you two shouldn't reproduce."

"Oh, you are mean."

I miss you so much, Anastasia. Why haven't you woken up?

It's been a while since I'm here, living inside my own mind as I've desired so many times before. Here I have peace, here no one judges me, or hurts me, or abandons me. You can't control that out there, where the ones you love sometimes walk away without even looking over their shoulders to check on you, they just… leave. Like my mother did.

Nevertheless I heard her voice once, she was here, she even cried. Ironic.

Oh, there he is.

I know Planet Ana is beautiful but come back to us, to me, please Anastasia.

So he knows where I am. He knows me. Why can't I remember him?

"Do you remember the other one?"

"Of course cricket. Paul. I know he's rotting in hell, the voices told me."

"Can you please elaborate that differently, 'the voices told me' sounds pretty schizophrenic."

"You know you are actually a voice, don't you?"

"Don't insult me, I'm a lot more than that."

There is a cliff in front of the ocean in my personal wonderland, every time I hear his voice I go there and sit to listen. He talks to me about what is going on in the real world, the things he'd like to do with me, he even sang a couple of times. So corny and romantic… kind of oversweet. My type.

Last time he read me one of my stories. I recognized it immediately but the truth is I'm not interested in my inner world anymore, I spend most the time sat at the cliff's edge listening to him.

Oh no, I think I'm falling in love with him. Is that even possible?

There is Kate!

Ana, you've already shown me how much you love me, to the point of putting your own life in danger. So do it for me, come back my friend, we all need you, we all miss you.

You're lying to yourself in there, those unicorns and rainbows are not real, the real shit is happening out here. And the elections will be soon, the world is counting on us for its survival. Wake up, please.

Merciless as usual. I feel tempted, however I remember the fear, the nightmares, the frustration, the worries. No, I'm sick and tired of the real world.

"Coward."

"Cricket, why?"

"Coward. You are better than that."

"Always judging me."

"That's my job. You created me with that purpose."

"I… what?"

"You were little but wise enough to know that cowardice is never the answer to the many questions life poses. -Don't let me succumb when the going gets tough-, you said."

Anastasia.

"Oh, there he is. See you later cricket."

It's been three weeks baby, the doctors say you should have awaken two weeks ago. I know you are scared but they are both gone, they can't hurt you anymore.

They? What is he talking about?

The police found Frederick Clayton last night. He panicked and shot at them, the most stupid thing to do since there wasn't evidence against him, they just wanted to know his version. So now he's in jail.

But, I'm not here because of that.

Anastasia, the ocean has turned dark around you. Can't you see it? Just wake up, baby. I miss you. I love you.

'The ocean has turned dark…' What is that supposed to mean? It sounds familiar, like something I could have said, like something I actually said, a veiled promise.

The water changes its color, getting darker, and I start remembering. Over and over, the memories speed up as they play in my mind. I grab the back of my head with my hands hunching over in agonizing pain.

Shit, Christian! That's Christian's voice!

"Cricket, CRICKET!"

"Calm down, I'm here."

"What can I do? How do I go back?"

"You know what to do."

"You're worse than the damned Sphinx, stop with the riddles and tell me what to do."

"What you usually do when you know what you want."

"What? To jump? From the cliff? Couldn't you come up with something safer?"

"To pursue what you want is never exempt of risks."

"Darn philosophical crickaur."

She nods. "Don't forget about me."

"How could I? You are the vigilant I put in my mind foreseeing what I'd go through."

And with a last, quick look to my inner world, I jump without thinking it twice. I don't care anymore about the nightmares, the permanent stress, or my abandonment issues; all I care about is Christian and his sustained fight to get me back.

I open my eyes slowly in the clean, sterile environment of a hospital room; the horrible scent of disinfectant filling my nostrils. All my body aches as I notice I have tubes in and out my body making me feel uncomfortable.

And there he is, smiling nervously at me and pushing a button on the bedside.

"Welcome back, Anastasia."

I smile weakly while the world dips and blurs. A strange woman is talking to him.

"That's normal, she'll be alert for only a few minutes the first day, but will gradually stay awake for longer and longer periods. Be patient."

I want to see him but my body disobeys me. Though I try I cannot open my eyes, so I squeeze his hand.

"I'm here baby, take it easy. Dr. Bartley said you'll recover all your physical skills slowly, one by one."

I finally manage to open my eyes. This time, I get to see him better. He looks dreadful and has lost weight, his beard is now a mess. My poor pirate.

"Hi." I whisper.

"Hi."

"I…" I clear my throat. "I…"

"What is it, baby? What do you want?" He grasps my hand, squeezing it tightly. We are back to normal, more or less, he's preoccupied and I'm the one causing it.

I try to speak but my throat and mouth are so dry. I sigh annoyed.

"Don't worry, according to the doctors everything will be alright… you'll be fine."

"To run a marathon?" I croak. I don't know why I said that, I've been dreaming about running marathons with Christian and all of a sudden I'm worried about not having the possibility.

His eyes widen and he remains immobile for a couple of seconds, then I see something really strange, something new and scary and painful. There are tears in his eyes.

Something bad happened to him in a marathon, something traumatic. "Or not."

He smiles and hugs me carefully, there is an IV attached to my arm. "It's not that Anastasia, it's… I'm so happy you are back, I've missed you and your unexpectedness so much, for so many days."

Oh, Christian.

Running my fingers through his soft hair, I fall asleep again, I'm so weak.

Five days later I feel a lot better. Everybody has marched in front of my bed letting me know their opinion about what I did. Keyword: STUPID. Obviously, Kate thinks different, she knows she could have died and all I did was to trade her life for mine.

"Christian, I'm sorry. I had to."

"No, that's not true, you could have told me. What you did was monumentally stupid. Bordering on insane."

There it's again, that word. His eyes blaze a bleak, chilling gray, he's mad. I told you. Cricket, where have you been? Taking a nap, you're exhausting.

I sigh and Christian closes his eyes regretting his outburst. He grasps my chin. "No more heroics, eh?"

I shake my head. Paul is dead, so… I guess I can promise this.

Oh, but the pedodator, that awful woman. What if I run into her again? I hate her so much that I could do something crazy. "I don't know about that Elena Lincoln. I want to murder her."

He smirks. "What have happened to you during these weeks? Where is my sweet Anastasia?"

I smile happily, he's being playful, he's more relaxed.

"Well, I guess you won't have that pleasure, she's in jail now. Carrick found incriminating evidence that she had seduced a few boys from the Youth Suicide Program she was supporting."

Outrageous. She was taking advantage of vulnerable kids like she did with Christian. The pedodator in action. This means it wasn't just the grudge against the Trevelyan-Greys what made her act like she did, vulnerable kids awaken something evil inside that woman, good Carrick stopped her.

He looks at me, his eyes filled with what, pain? I grab his hand. "It's not your fault."

"I could have prevented it." He sighs.

I know exactly how he feels, I know everything about guilt. "You are still struggling, Christian. Don't be unfair to yourself by feeling that you allowed that." The road to recovery from abuse is long and full of obstacles, but he shouldn't walk through it alone. I understand him, I'm with him, we can help each other.

Mm, maybe I should go to planet Ana more often, good things happened while I was there. Stupid thought. Cricket, don't use that word, hard limit. Oh, that's a useful concept, a short way to send a long and categorical message.

The nurse enters the room. "Prepare to go to physiotherapy in five minutes."

"Let's go, Anastasia."

Suddenly I realize Christian hasn't left my side for one second. "Christian, your Company… What are you doing here?"

Christian snorts. "If you think for one moment I'm going to let you out of my sight, you are very much mistaken."

"But I'm fine."

He frowns and cocks his head to one side. "Maybe tomorrow. Don't worry, Ros is taking care of everything. I realize I don't need to obsess about every single detail. I can delegate from time to time."

I beam at him, that means vacations, soon. Although I have a lot of work to do. Oh no, the manuscripts, I still have two more to read.

"Relax, I negotiated a new deadline, March 15th." Right, his spooky ability to read my mind.

"That means I have to work for you until April." Now he's the one beaming. Bastard.

"Christian, did you know I was hearing you?"

Christian runs one hand through his hair in surprise. "I dared to hope. Did the ocean darken?"

I nod and he smiles. "Good. Your story made the trick then. Now I'm waiting for my hot chocolate, you said you'd come back to make me some."

He winks and I blush. Mm, chocolate.

"I miss this." He bites my little finger and I giggle, then stop suddenly as pain radiates through my head. Dr. Bartley said I have a linear skull fracture and it will take a few months to go back to normal, headaches will be common.

"I miss that too."

Three months later.

"Hey." Christian's voice calms me after my sudden awakening from a nightmare. He tenderly folds me into his arms, caressing my back. "You're safe now."

"Christian." My tears start to fall.

"Hush. I'm here." He strokes my hair and I weep into his neck, feeling so vulnerable and safe at the same time. Only him can provide the soothing feeling that allows me to go back to sleep.

This is my second nightmare after the whole Paul's debacle, and it's horrible. Dr. Greene assured me they will gradually disappear, or at least will be less and less frequent, but I know they won't ever really go away. It's okay, I have Christian now as he has me to avoid his own ever-haunting nightmares. They are just part of us like an arm or a leg is.

We both know firsthand what abuse is about, both violently marked in the very center of our souls, but the important thing is that we no longer allow that to define us as victims, no, we are survivors. Survivors that were able to accept that there is also love in this world, there is also hope and wonder determining the steps we make ahead, the steps that form our personal and collective paths.

The end.