A few months passed in utter silence. The old theater that had been condemned for so long was finally destroyed. All that was left of Erik's home was collapsed ruins, and yet nothing had been recovered from the rubble. All evidence of anyone ever living there had remarkably vanished. Forever. Those who knew the story of the underground home and Christine and Nathan's horrible descent into darkness now believed the infamous Agent Radford had finally lost his mind. It was a certain relief to them...infamy could never last long, and the fall is something that everyone secretly waits for in breathless anticipation.

Nathan did not wait long after that to leave the bureau. His heart wasn't in it anymore, or perhaps it never had been. He stood in his office for a long time with one cardboard box that held a dying ivy plant teetering dangerously on a stack of books, and he stared wearily at his empty office. The blinds were still torn and dusty, and the edges were nearly black.

"...You should invest in new blinds at least..."

Spinning around, Nathan dropped the box on the floor and his hand flew to the revolver that was no longer in his jacket.

His old boss stood behind him, and he blinked with confusion at Nathan's stunned expression. "What is it?"

Taking a moment to catch his breath, Nathan leaned back onto the desk and only then realized how his hands had been shaking. "...Nothing...I mean...did you say something just now?"

"Just that the blinds look a little rough. You spent way too much time in here." Concerned, but most likely relieved that Nathan was off the job, his boss looked at him for a long, tense moment. It was not in his nature to be kind, and he had no idea what to say...even to the one who'd once been his pride and joy... "Do you need anything else?"

The box was still lying on its side. The plant had shattered on direct contact with the carpet, and small bits of dirt were strewn to the door. "No...I'll clean this up... Sorry."

"Don't worry about it. I'll get it. Take it easy."

That was all the encouragement that Nathan needed. He gathered the box in his arms again and left without turning off the light. That would make it too final.

Since his years before high school, Nathan Radford had never been without a job. He had no idea what to do now...or where to go... The only thing that he did know was that he never wanted to work with the police force again. He felt unworthy... incapable... hesitating... If he hadn't hesitated, Ray might still be alive.

For some reason he felt like crying over that damned plant.

Europe was colder than he'd expected. Nathan had brought all of his clothes just to find that he had to wear half of them each night to keep from freezing. He didn't speak French or Italian, and while traveling through those countries he was constantly getting lost, led in random directions, and even cheated out of his money. By the end of the week, he hated the infernal continent more than anything else and wondered why he hadn't brought a translation dictionary.

Eventually, he settled in Paris for the remainder of his vacation that hadn't, in the beginning, even meant to be a vacation. For the past month, he'd explored most of Europe, searching for any sign of Erik or Christine among different places that he believed that Erik might be. Nathan knew him well enough to know that he would not have stayed in the country. Another clue came with the letters that arrived on Christine's farm, marked with foreign postage but with no return address. Her parents had turned in each of the letters, but no clues were found. Not even a fingerprint.

Around the time that Nathan gave up trying to find Erik, Erik found him.

It was appropriate, really. Nathan had not seen an opera since he'd gone with Erik. He had little interest in going again...but the hotel he stayed with provided a tourist package with free matinee tickets, and Nathan couldn't resist a good deal.

On his third night in Paris, he attended Faust. Not a box seat, it was in a far back section... He could barely even see the stage, but he was sure to buy a pair of opera glasses beforehand which, to Nathan's everlasting mortification, he mistakenly called "binoculars."

In his opinion, the show went rather well...if not a bit slow. But again, it was not Nathan's interest. Afterwards, he stood up, put his coat over his arm, and left.

He was about halfway to his waiting taxi when Nathan heard a voice behind him.

"Why do you not ride with us, old friend?"

With the same shock he'd experienced in his office so many months ago, Nathan turned...slower, this time... He had a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. Only one man had that voice.

Erik stood behind him, calm and matter-of-fact...as if it was not odd in the least. He was dressed nicely, the top of Parisian fashion. The mask was cold and black even underneath the streetlights, and the eyes behind it were fixated on Nathan's... What was that look? Triumph! Or amusement...or confidence...with a silent challenge?

However, Erik himself was not nearly as surprising as the woman on his arm.

It was unmistakably Christine. The serene face below the piled, curly hair was happy and open. She clung to Erik with small lace gloves intertwined in the black material of his jacket. White and Black... She was smiling only a little, but genuinely, and regarded Nathan with sweet familiarity. Christine's dress was elegant and fitted to her so perfectly that it was unquestionably custom made.

Nathan did not know what to say. For weeks he'd envisioned a scenario... What he wanted to say had been planned, and now he was at loss. "...Hello..."

The look in Erik's eyes was far too unreadable. His other hand moved over Christine's, so gently...and she accepted it with a tender smile as she gazed up at him adoringly.

"Come. You must visit with us for a time... What are the chances that we should run into each other?"

The celestial beauty in Erik's voice was something that Nathan was always capable of resisting...but his confusion and curiosity took away the walls of defense, and instead he followed them to their car. It was black, sleek, and with a hired driver.

They did not live far from the Opera. Nathan was sure to watch what streets that they turned onto...in case he would have to remember them later. But one look at Christine's hand settled comfortably on Erik's arm was enough to make him second guess himself. And everything... What had really happened? What had he missed? Was it possible that Christine was, indeed, with him because she wanted to be?

If not, she certainly had become a good actress.

It was only when Erik helped Christine from the car that Nathan noticed a gold band on her wedding finger, and he nearly started with astonishment. When did this happen...?

Their house was not small by any means, and at first glance, it became obvious to Nathan just who must have designed it. It was nearly three stories, built of stone instead of brick, and a garden had been started just along the side...

Christine pointed out the flowers with a childlike delight that even Nathan found charming. "They just started growing! I planted them only last week..."

Gently, Erik raised his hand and brushed her cheek with his fingers, an affectionate gesture that seemed natural and yet so odd... His words were directed to Nathan. "She insisted on starting it herself."

Without replying, Nathan followed them into the house and was promptly shown into the sitting room. Christine disappeared to make tea, and he was left alone with Erik.

Unnerved, the once FBI agent kept his hands on his knees. At Erik's unbroken stare, he knew that not all questions he wanted to ask would be answered. "When did you come here?"

"Only a few months ago. Christine wanted to settle... She was weary of the travel. I did not wish her to be uncomfortable."

Awkwardly, Nathan's voice trailed. "I suppose you wouldn't..."

With a steady rhythm, Erik's hand barely tapped the side-table. "You retired. That is unfortunate." It could have been sarcastic...but it was said in a way that left Nathan to take it however he pleased.

Christine returned to the room a moment later, and Nathan felt himself relax. He accepted a small porcelain cup of tea and watched as Erik thanked her lovingly. Christine paused and touched his hand... They made the picture of a perfectly happy, married couple. That was what made everything so unsettling.

So Nathan did not take his eyes from Christine. If she showed any signs of distress, he did not want to miss any of it. He wouldn't be able to tell if she was here of her own free will...unless she let him know in some way. It could all be fake...a fa–ďade built out of fear and hopelessness...

Perhaps she could not escape...

Nathan kept his tone light. "This is an enormous house for only two people."

Blushing faintly, Christine met his eyes, but her voice was very soft and her hand remained on Erik's. "Soon to be three."

For a long moment the meaning of Christine's words did not register. Nathan stared at her with nothing less than absolute shock. He felt Erik's eyes burning into him, silently daring him to ask the question...to breathe a word about the past, in an attempt to ruin this bliss...this oblivion...

But Christine's eyes were clear, unassuming, and warm. She was happy here. She was happy...and he did not want to destroy that. He had known happiness once.

Nathan waited a long moment before replying, "Congratulations."

When he left the house, it was with a sense of emptiness. It was growing dark, and there was a lingering sound of laughter in the distance. Nathan paused on the street corner outside of Erik and Christine's home and inhaled slowly. Life was around him... Life was inside of that house, in one way or another...or would be... There was love, light, gentleness... There was no repression...and lies were not present... It was a world of magic, but free or not free of illusion...that was something that Nathan would never know.

Without a glance back at his enemy, rival, and conquest, Nathan continued onward towards the sunset.

Fin