FINAL Author's Note: Holy crap. This is the end. As in, the end the end. For the actual writing part, anyway. Quick notes: I know this is slightly different from the movie. But who cares? Really, truly, honestly-- does it matter? Secondly, what do you guys think of a romantic Murdoch fic? Anh, screw it-- I'm writing one anyway. Look for that one in the next month or so. Should be as good if not better than this one. Oh, yes, and that thing about going from destitute to royalty-- I just figured that when Lightoller said he'd give Carrie a hand, and then Carrie shows up in nice clothes, you'd figure that she'd had some help from Mrs. Lightoller. Thaz all. Sorry for the confusion.

Thank-You Note: You guys, I could not have finished this story without those reviews. You were the ones that kept me motivated. I cannot tell you how much each and every review (save the sick one) meant to me. Thank you so much for taking the time to write them, and for taking the time to read this story. To sum it up: THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU!!!!!

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Mrs. Kristina Grissom for her continued support, NyanNyan for actually reading this (:-)), and James Cameron for the idea based on the movie. For my sources, I used (duh) the 1997 film Titanic staring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the (excellent/highly suggested) book by Walter Lord: A Night To Remember, and www.encyclopedia-titanica.org for crew biographies and notes about their actions on that fateful night. Finally, thanks to www.fanfiction.net for putting this up. Without ff.net, I never would have written this. Thanks.

And now, without further adieu or rambling, I offer you a final. . . Enjoy and Review!!!

EPILOGUE: HOMECOMING

What the hell was that!?

I stood up slowly, dusting off my sleeves-- they'd just been covered with dirt from the sand trap. . . wait a second. This was not my racing fire suit. This was. . . I stared in wonder at my wardrobe. I was wearing a simple Oxford blouse, sleeves rolled to the elbow, with my comfortable workpants. But I hadn't owned this ensemble in years. . . and what the heck!? Instead of my arms showing the somewhat flabby signs of aging, my skin was. . . well, fine, just as it had been years ago.

It was then that I looked up, and noticed where I was. It took a moment to sink in, but when it did, my heart seemed to swell so much that it felt as though it would burst. Such a feeling of joyous ecstasy arose in me that I could hardly breathe; tears rose to my eyes and I had to fight them back.

I was standing on the deck of the R.M.S. Titanic.

At least, that's what it had to be-- no other ship I'd ever been on had been this large. And the enclosed deck I was on looked exactly like the one that Thomas and I had marched through eons ago to get to the bridge. . .

"Fancy seeing you here."

Shocked, I jumped at the voice and turned; Harold Godfrey Lowe was strolling toward me, dark fifth officer's uniform absolutely pristine. I was frozen solid as I watched him approach, gaping. "No." I shook my head; he had to be less than two feet away from me, looking young as the day I'd first seen him. Grinning, he bent slightly and kissed my cheek. His lips were warm, and shockingly real.

"Last time I'll get to do that." he said cheerfully. "Welcome home."

"You're dead." was all I could say, shaking madly.

"So are you." he returned matter-of-factly. I gaped at him; he smiled kindly and said, "Thomas figured you might have been rather stunned, so he suggested that I come and take you to the entrance."

"Did--" I could hardly breathe. "-- did you say Thomas?"

"Come on," he told me, offering his elbow. "Looks like he was right."

Hesitantly, I reached up to take the offered arm. "Lowe?"

"Yes?"

"I'm on the Titanic, aren't I."

"You most certainly are."

"And I'm going to see Thomas?"

"Affirmative."

"So if both you and Thomas are here. . . doesn't that mean that everyone else-- or most everyone else-- will be here, too?"

His smile was so kind. "Why don't you find out for yourself?"

I realized we'd been walking, and looked up to see the doorway of the entrance before us. This was the lower entrance-- going in would show you to the near bottom of the stairs. I saw multitudes of people beyond it, but forced myself not to look too hard. Instead I looked back at my guide. "Harry. . . thank you."

He removed my hand from his elbow and kissed it. "You're quite welcome." He released my hand, opening the first door for me. "Go to him, Stevenson."

I passed through the first door, and the man at the main door pulled it open, the grand staircase area past it. I smiled warmly at him, recognizing him from so long ago. I moved again, this time through the intricately designed wooden and glass archway.

My breath caught in my chest; not only was the place breathtakingly beautiful, but there were people everywhere-- all watching me. There was a hiatus between them that formed a pathway up to the stairs, but I didn't dare look that way yet.

Somehow I knew to keep walking, so I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Still fighting shock, I looked to my left, at the smiling multitude. I recognized the first group, and nearly gasped. "Hartley!" I managed, and actually stopped before him and his band. Wally held his violin in one hand, but reached out to me with the other; we shook hands.

"Welcome home, Carrie." he said gently, his smile so happy.

"Thanks. Hey, guys," I nodded to his other band members before releasing Wally's hand. I turned back to keep walking, knowing that there would be more time for hi's later. However, in turning, I nearly ran smack-dab into--

"Watch it there, lass." Tommy Ryan caught me as I started to trip, a grin etched across his face.

"Tommy," I whispered, staring up at him numbly, memories of his death rushing back. "Oh, God-- Tommy Ryan!"

"Good t'see y've remembered my name." he joked, beaming down at me. "Y're lookin' right as rain, Carrie. 'Tis good to see you again."

"And you," I said, clapping him on the shoulder, still trying to process the fact that this was my old friend, here and now. "We'll talk later."

There was Fabrizio, over by the banister, with his Swiss girl. He grinned at me, waving slightly. I waved back, smiling as well. My God, it was Fabrizio! Last time I'd seen him. . . last time I'd seen any of these people had been more than fifty years ago. Trembling, I finally looked toward the steps.

The first thing I saw was First Officer Murdoch.

He looked crisp and clean in his officer's uniform, and a sweet smile lit his face and eyes as he watched me, hands linked professionally behind his back. Against my will, my eyes began watering. "Hi, Will." I whispered, trying not to think of him so many years ago, putting that pistol to his forehead, and. . .

"Hello, Carrie." his voice was quiet and kind.

Suppressing a sob, I put my arms around him and hugged him-- screw the fact that everyone else in the room was staring. He returned the embrace; all I could remember was the very man I was holding tumbling over the side of the deck to hit the icy water. "It's a blessing to see you again." he told my ear.

"It's a blessing to see you," I told him, and sniffled.

But with that sniffle, I inhaled the faintest trace of aftershave and pipe smoke.

Murdoch nearly seemed to sense this, and slowly pulled out of the embrace. Though he smiled at me, his eyes flickered to the solitary, silent figure five steps above him. I looked to my right, and hadn't noticed before just how close we were to the man, who was about fourth of the way up the stairs, just as he had been that one evening when I'd met him for dinner.

He was dressed in the heavy overcoat I'd seen him last wearing, the same slightly spotted necktie, same dark vest. He looked, however, a little younger. His hair was a little darker, and his face seemed somewhat smoother. But, glory be, it was still him. The gentlest of smiles fought for dominance over his lips, and his gentle, loving brown eyes were locked with mine.

I stood there, frozen, not sure if I should run to him for fear that this was just some kind of dream, and that I'd wake up at any moment. "Thomas." was all I could manage.

His lips parted as if to speak; my foot found the first step and I went up one, two, three, four steps until only one of them separated us. "I've waited," his voice was so quiet that it couldn't have carried past anyone's ears but out own. It was gentle, and it shook slightly. "for fifty years, Carrie Stevenson. Waited to hold you again, to. . . ." he trailed off, eyes pleading.

Trembling, I whispered back, "What if this is just all a dream. . ."

I broke off as he reached his hand out, slowly, his eyes never leaving mine. I could feel his hand trembling as our fingertips touched, lightly at first, and then he pressed his palm onto mine.

The tears came crowding back as I remembered our last moments together, when I'd done the exact same thing to him. His palm trembled, and it was warm. "A dream couldn't do this," he whispered, and our fingers intertwined.

My shoulders shook with suppressed sobs. "Thomas," I choked out. "It's really you."

His palm left mine, and one of his arms slowly slid around my waist, pulling me close against him. His right hand moved up to touch my cheek, fingertips at the hairline behind my ear. At the same time, I found my right arm curling around his shoulders, left hand locking around the back of his neck, pulling each other close. We stared at each other, breathless, noses less than an inch apart.

My heart was pounding; adrenaline flooded my veins and odd lightning forks shot through me as I stared in to his hungry eyes, knowing that my expression mirrored his. "Carrie." his voice was husky, roughened, and then the distance between his lips and mine was completely diminished.

The dull roar I heard in my ears as we kissed took me a moment to decipher-- the people were applauding. All of them were, as Thomas and I stood on the step and shared our first kiss in God knows how long.

It had been so long since I'd felt like this, since I'd felt the rush of heat and adrenaline accompanied with the utter bliss and feel of his wonderful kiss. I trembled in his grip, and was surprised to feel his tears mingle with my own. Finally we pulled back in order to breathe, staring at each other in wonder through heavy eyelids, before turning somewhat embarrassedly to the rest of the people, still in each other's arms. I noticed Jack then, standing at the top of the stairs. He gave the tiniest of waves with a wicked grin; I couldn't help but to smile back.

The rest of the room was beginning to buzz with chatter; Thomas looked down at me again, eyes gentle. His right hand took my left, and pulled it up to where he could see it. "You still have my ring," he murmured.

"Like I'd have gotten rid of it." I said back, and he kissed me again. His hand wrapped around mine, but when he pulled back, his eyes were serious. He said, "You nearly did."

"But you helped me out." I said, one arm still around him. "That was you, wasn't it? Who sent Lightoller?"

"In a way." he said, and the smile faded slightly from his face. His hands took both of mine, and drew them up to his chest. "Carrie, listen . . . my marriage offer still stands." He swallowed, eyes pleading for me to consent. "If you'll still have me."

Even if I'd been planning on saying no, the look on his face would have changed my mind. "Of course." I whispered. "Oh, Thomas, of course I'll marry you." His eyes welled with tears; he sniffled, and a smile broadened across his face. "I love you," I added quietly.

His shoulders shook; he managed to gulp back a sob. "I love you," he returned, and then we were lip-locked again.

After a moment: "Would you two mind?"

I recognized the voice, and Thomas and I pulled away slightly, grinning.

The voice came again: "Take it to a stateroom, why don't you?"

"Lights!" I cried, looking toward the second officer, trim and handsome in his uniform. Thomas, one arm around me, drew a handkerchief from his pocket and passed it to me.

"Hello, Carrie." Lightoller grinned back at Thomas and I. "Nice to see you two together."

"It's good to see you," I returned, quickly wiping my eyes with the handkerchief. I sniffled, trying to clear my nose. "Sorry," I apologized. "I must look awful."

"Not to me you don't." Thomas' voice was barely audible, lips pressed against my ear. An altogether not unpleasant shiver went through me; I grinned and tightened my arm about him.

"You look splendid," Lightoller assured me. "I was sent to tell you-- Father Byles informed me that he'd be proud to do the honors of matrimony, if the two of you still wish it."

"That would be wonderful." Thomas said, clearing his eyes with the handkerchief I returned to him. "Thanks, Charles."

"You're quite welcome. He'll be in the first class dining saloon." Lightoller beamed at us, for a moment, then winked. "Congratulations, you two."

"Thanks," Thomas and I said at the same time, and then he beamed down at me. "We'd best get a move on toward the dining saloon." he murmured, kissing my forehead. "After the ceremony, I'm sure you'll want to spend some time with everyone."

"As long as I'm with you," I murmured back.

Thomas smiled, kissed my cheek, and offered his elbow to lead me down the steps.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

"Jesus!" I cried as his hand suddenly went behind my knees, forcing me backwards. I fell back and onto Thomas' other arm and gaped up at him; he was suppressing laughter as he hoisted me upward.

"Isn't it commonplace to carry the bride over the doorstep?" he murmured, eyes shining with mirth.

"Yeah," I said, putting my arms around his neck to steady myself. "but it's also commonplace to give the bride a fair warning!"

Thomas grinned, then studied the door for a moment. He said, "I do believe we've made a mistake."

"How so?" I asked, examining the door to see what he was looking at. We seemed to be at the right place; the gold plated letters read "A-36" quite clearly.

"I don't have a hand to open the door." he said, grinning.

"The worst of mistakes." I told him, and removed an arm from his neck to crank open the door handle. "I'm disappointed."

"Like hell you are."

I gaped at him; it was most out of character for Thomas to say such a thing. "Excuse you?" I said, wide-eyed but grinning.

He smiled at me, stepping into his stateroom, letting me down. "Think about it. I've been around your friends for fifty years." He closed the door behind him, one arm still around me.

"Ah. That explains a lot." I looked around the room. It was of the same beauty it had been in 1912. Charts covered the desk and the coffee table; a cozy yellow light set the deep woodwork to glowing. Through the windows in the back of the room, a black ocean stretched as far as the eye could see, the stars twinkling in a deep, blue sky. An odd shiver passed through me.

"Something wrong?" Thomas asked gently, feeling the shiver.

I swallowed, captivated by the view. "Why here, Thomas? Why the Titanic?"

"I don't think anyone can answer that one." he told me, steering me in the direction of the sofa. Both of us dropped down onto it, a little weary. "But I've spoken with the people here, and we've all come up with a rather reasonable conclusion." His arm was around my shoulders; I looked up and into his sincere eyes. He said slowly, "We believe that heaven-- for this can't be hell-- is the place where a person experienced the best time of his life." His thumb stroked my knuckles; I practically melted under their touch, remembering him doing this years ago.

"But it was also the worst place." I said, putting my hand over his that was on my shoulder. I fought to keep my lower lip from trembling. "It's where I lost you. And Jack, and Fabrizio, and Murdoch--"

"We haven't come up with an answer for that, either," he said quietly. His deep brown eyes seemed to smile into mine. "But I'm not complaining."

I snuggled farther into his grip. "God, I missed you."

"And I you." he pulled me closer and leaned forward at the same time; my arm slid up and around his shoulders as he kissed me. I kissed him back, feeling tears well up in my eyes. Finally he drew back slightly, eyelids heavy. Voice slightly husky and gravelly, he said, "I never thanked you, Carrie."

Struggling not to breathe too hard, I managed, "Thanked me for what?"

"For-- for everything." He swallowed, shoulders rising and falling slightly. "For all the help you gave that night. And for everything you did for me. . ." his fingers pushed slightly into the hair behind my ear, eyes so full of love. ". . . and for building my ship. Your ship. I. . . I mean to thank you properly."

I couldn't stop a smile from growing and spreading on my lips. "What exactly did you have in mind?" I whispered.

Without another word he bent his head to kiss me; before I knew what had happened we were both on our feet. We stumbled toward his suite blindly, lips still locked, and Thomas closed the door with his foot.

When at last his fingers began to trace down my throat toward the first button of my Oxford blouse, I had a revelation:

I remembered that day, so long ago, when all I'd wanted to do was get home. It was before I knew Thomas, the day Jack and Fabrizio and I had won our ticket and were so thrilled to be heading to America. I'd thought that was home, with its purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain. And it wasn't, not really. In fact, none of the places I'd been had earned that title.

Then I'd found Thomas' arms. Being in them was being loved and cherished, a feeling that I was none too familiar with. I'd thought that that was my home.

But now I was on the Titanic again, for eternity, with not only Thomas, but all the friends I'd ever had-- the officers, and Jack and Fabrizio and Tommy. We were once again on the floating palace, the ship of dreams, beautiful and terrible all at once. Alone in the darkness with Thomas, two gold bands shining on the fourth fingers of our left hand, I found a sense of completeness that I never could have dreamed of when I was a bumbling young woman in my early twenties. It's here, I thought as I clung tight to Thomas' neck and let the tears of joy roll down my cheeks, thanking both him and God. It's right here.

I was home at last.