Alas, for the end has finally come! Thank you all for hanging on through thirty-odd chapters. You are amazingly tenacious, and I love you for it. Thanks to the fraction of you who bothered to review: without you, I never would have had the will to type the next chapter. Montparnasse took on a life of his own while I was writing this, completely leaving my rough draft, but somehow I managed to reach a relatively similar ending to my original. Thanks for your support, and I give you now, without further ado about nothing, the end of an era: the final chapter of Charmer of the Shadows.
Azelma's father mocked and berated her each time she staggered back down below deck, wiping at the corners of her mouth. He took his daughter's apparent seasickness as a personal insult, a smear on the good name of Thénard. Azelma herself did not bother to correct him when, upon reaching land, he began to complain that she was becoming fat and lazy. It was not long until the truth became apparent.
A boy was born to them that year.
Azelma was not very surprised and only slightly saddened when she awoke one morning to find that her father had gone. Dreaming of an upright life for her son, she took work in a mill, despite her very slight understanding of English. The other girls in the boarding house believed that her husband had remained in France, raising the money to join them.
In order to remain in favour and in residence at the boarding house, she was careful to keep the child silent, which meant many nights spent awake, rocking and whispering in French to him. It was on such a night that she decided on a name for her child.
"You are lucky," she murmured, "that my father abandoned us."
The baby blinked his black eyes at her. His father's eyes. Azelma smiled.
"And you are lucky that your father is dead. He is lucky to be dead. All he wanted was peace.
"Will you be like him, I wonder? He was once a good man. I would have you be a good man, too. I have an honest job now—God knows how long it will last. The work is hard and dangerous, and the pay is low, but I have a home, and my darling boy has a chance I was never given. A chance at an honest living, a chance at a future inside the law. What will it be like, I wonder, to be able to go out in the daylight, unconcerned at passing a cop, secure and comfortable in your own goodness? To go to a school and to learn, to be smart enough to— to attend a university! Or to open your own shop. You'd be the first Thénardier to do such a thing, you know." She smiled sadly. "You could run an inn, like your grandfather once did. But no, an honest inn, where the guests won't have to sleep with their arms around their luggage."
The baby's blinks were becoming slower and further apart. Azelma sensed that he was almost asleep. She smoothed a stray lock of his black hair with her forefinger.
"You will be devastatingly handsome, my darling, just like your father. You have his eyes. Beautiful black eyes... his heart was not so black as they all believed. There was a good man in there, buried beneath... something. Lost opportunities, or no opportunities, no chance at all to make something honest of himself. A love he did not know what to do with for a girl who did not deserve him. And then there was me, the replacement, following him through his shadowy little world, completely infatuated with him. He was enchanting, but he was dark. He never had hope. But you—you are his hope. Our hope."
The baby was asleep, one hand in his mouth and the other tangled in Azelma's tattered shirt. She clasped him closer to her heart and leaned down, her lips brushing his soft forehead as she whispered, "Montparnasse is still alive. A new Montparnasse, a better one, in America. I am registered here as Azelma Montparnasse, and you are my little Espoir. And you, my little charmer, will never live in the shadows."
She smiled into the darkness and repeated the word. "Never."