Disclaimer: For the last time – I don't own it. And do I regret it? Naaaah.


At last, the journey ends. The road leads back to the doorstep. The dream is over, and all those sorts of phrases.

Once again, this is something I've been planning for over two years, and have been waiting for about that length of time to write. It's a happy and sad thing at the same time; like waiting so long for a film, and watching it, and enjoying it and suffering in it, and then it's over, and you feel hollow, yet so happy for having watched it.

Yes – this is much like when the credits began to roll up the screen, at the end of Tolkein and Peter Jackson's 'The Return of the King'.

Or the same thing with 'Deathly Hallows'. Or 'The Amber Spyglass'. You get the idea, I'm certain.


I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time. For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout Camp, watching falling stars. And yellow leaves, from the maple trees that lined our street. Or my grandmother's hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper. And the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand new Firebird. And Janie... and Janie. And... Carolyn. I guess I could be really pissed off about what happened to me, but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain. And I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday.

American Beauty, written by Alan Ball, directed by Sam Mendes.

She knelt beside him, resting her arms on his knees and her head on her arms, and Tom found that he was smiling in spite of himself at her crooked smile. "You aren't a hero, and I'm not beautiful, and we probably won't live happily ever after," she said. "But we're alive, and together, and we're going to be all right."

Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve.

Samuel walked out to Lindsey then, and there she was in his arms, my sweet butterball babe, born ten years after my fourteen years on Earth: Abigail Suzanne. Little Susie to me. Samuel placed Susie on a blanket near the flowers. And my sister, my Lindsey, left me in her memories, where I was meant to be.

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold.


Epilogue

My dearest Celandine,

As soon as I had read your letter, I knew that I must reply to it at once and send you all of my joy and well wishes, and those of Raoul as well; we are both truly delighted at your news. How marvelous to hear that you are expecting! You said that you have not told Monsieur Leroux yet, though. I understand your reasoning all too well, but I do not think that you should keep it a secret from him for much longer, since soon you will not be able to hide it in any case. Your husband will be overjoyed at the prospect of being a father, I am certain of it! And, when you tell him, you can be secure in the knowledge that you have already chosen a name – I agree when you say that Gaston is a fine name indeed, should it be a boy. Gaston Leroux: how grand it sounds!

And as to your questions, Philippe told us that the Comte du Barry is doing much better now – though perhaps that concern was not foremost in your mind – but he is not yet ready to be released from the hospital he is staying in, although Philippe makes sure that he receives proper care, and he is not ill-treated. Heaven knows that none of us wish for that, even taking into account Louis's former disposition. Philippe, by the by, has chosen to travel Europe for a time, which is why you find us in the mansion for now, at least.

You are certainly right about it being the season of fruitfulness, in the meantime – or have you not heard the news from Spain yet? A letter came from Carlotta Guidicelli two weeks ago; or rather from Carlotta Piangi, I should say. You remember the harlequin at the masquerade ball? It seems that Carlotta certainly did. I would hardly have believed it myself, but there it was on paper, more than once, and written in Carlotta's hand, so I reason that it must be true. She says, of course, that the only reason she accepted his proposal was because she wished to see more of the world than she could ever do as an unmarried woman, since they are already going on a concert tour around Europe; but I know the truth, her love spills out into the words of her letter despite herself. I am glad for her, gladder than I can say. Piangi sounds like the sort of man Carlotta has secretly always dreamed of, without either of them realizing it, since he not only loves her but respects her and allows her free reign over her life, just as he has over his. I think that – if you will excuse my choice of words, Celandine – that her greatest fear was to be trapped in marriage to someone she could not love, and be unable to do as she wished or go where she wanted. Now, all her fears are over.

But there is more news still. Besides informing me of her marriage, she was also asking my permission for something - you'll recall those manuscripts of sheet music left to us in the will, and how I gave them to her as a parting gift, I'm certain. Well, she says that she wishes to take them with her on the aforesaid tour, performing them all, so that all can hear the music that should have been heard and applauded so many years ago; and Piangi will do his best to sing the songs, or at least the male parts, since he took singing lessons as a boy and a youth and is really quite good. She asked for my assent in doing so, saying she'll give every credit to the composer of the works, and of course I agreed; but truly, she doesn't need my permission. I can think of no one with more right to play that music, or with more ability to do so. Besides, she says that at the end of the tour she'll bring them back here again, so that they can be kept safe for when the children are ready to begin to learn to play their instruments.

I am flattered, even though she didn't specify whose children, exactly.

Also, there is a more material reason behind her decision. She told me, quite plainly, that although it is exceptional music indeed (and as she is a shrewd connoisseur of that particular field, we must believe her), she is getting tired of being praised for performing other people's work, and in truth has already been working on her own compositions. In some ways, Carlotta is very much the same as ever! But I wish her every happiness, and all my love.

You were asking about Meg Giry, and how she has fared since last we parted. Would it surprise you to know that she is engaged? Madame Giry took her on a trip to America, with Cecile – our old maid, you'll remember? - and while there they met a gentleman named Timothy Burton while watching a performance of Giselle…and I am sure you can guess at the rest of the story. Just imagine, Celandine: he is the manager of perhaps the largest opera house in America, and as soon as he came across Meg he was apparently smitten, as far as I can tell from her letters. He proposed to her at a production of one of the ballets they were doing that season that he had invited her to – I don't believe even Meg herself could have thought of anything more romantic.She sends her regards to you, and those of her mother and Mr. Burton as well. If all goes as planned, they should be coming for a visit from May to July, for Meg longs to show him the opera house in Paris before their marriage in the early autumn. It would be truly delightful if Carlotta and Piangi were there at the same time, for she said they would almost certainly perform there. Then we would all be together again, as we had been before. But for now I am as happy now as I could ever be.

My love to you, and to your husband, and to my niece or nephew to be, forever and ever,

Christine.

"I thought that you might be here."

Christine looked up to see Raoul walk into the room, his white hair gleaming in the sunlight. She smiled and put down her pen.

"Where else would I be?" she teased, standing up from her desk to greet him.

"Oh, I admit it was a foolish statement. At least I must be grateful that I will always know exactly where my wife will be, though she has a perfectly good morning room to write her letters in." He planted a kiss upon her forehead. "And a perfectly good parlor to do her sewing in, and a perfectly good library to read in. We need not have such a big house, for all the time you seem to spend in most of it!" But he was smiling as he spoke, and kissed her again.

"Well, dearest husband, you have plenty of places to be other than this room, and yet you always come back here, and not only for my company, I believe," she replied glibly, slipping away from him and seating herself once more. He beamed at her, and then looked down by the desk.

"How has he been?" he asked, bending over the cradle by which Christine had had her desk placed, to look at its still sleeping occupant.

"Sleeping most of the day away," she replied, reaching for her pen again. "Which reminds me, I must add a postscript to my letter for Celandine; she was asking about his health." And thank you for asking about Charles's health. He has had a cold or two, but other than that he is as bright and sunny as ever,she wrote quickly.

"Hello, little lad," Raoul was saying in the meantime, reaching down to stroke their son's hair. "You're lucky to have such a doting mother, and such a concerned aunt! Other boys are not so fortunate, you know!" She smiled yet again – how much I am smiling now, and wanting to as well! – as she added to the postscript in flowing letters: How lucky we are to have him, and each other; I could hardly believe that such happiness could ever be!

"Ah, he's awake!" Raoul said, more softly than before, as a little yawn, right at the corner of her thoughts, cut through them quickly enough.

"And can you blame him, with such a racket going on above him?" she quipped as she put down her pen and got up once more, to peep down into the cradle as her son blinked his moist eyes up at the two of them, one sapphire blue and one tawny yellow. He reached up and his tiny fingers brushed one of the chimes that she had hung over the cradle, to move in the wind or be rung by the cradle's occupant.

There was a moment of peace as the two of them contemplated the glorious sight of their child, and then Raoul broke it, however softly, with a question. "So Meg is definitely bringing her fiancée to see Paris?"

"With an escort, of course; Madame Giry certainly isn't going to let them out of her sight for a moment until they're properly wed! But you know as well as I that Meg couldn't let him do without seeing the opera house in Paris."

"Too true. Think of it, Christine; if fate had been different, he might have first seen her dancing upon the stage and rising from the grave." Raoul pulled a face that made her giggle to see. "At least their tastes are the same; they both have a liking for the macabre."

"Oh, hush," she replied softly, reaching past the chimes and down into the cradle, for Charles was reaching out his arms to her as he always did when he wished to be picked up. "Meg seems happy with him, and that is what is important, regardless of the tastes they both share." She lifted her son out and cuddled him close to her. He cooed and reached out for one of her ringlets, straining and squealing.

"Here," Raoul said, reaching out his own arms, "let me have him for a while. You are right, of course; I could walk through halls of palaces and yet would think only of this room, and the two within it."

"You would not be content, even if the halls you walked through were golden?" she asked mischievously, even as she passed Charles over and his lace robe ran through her fingers.

"They certainly would never be as golden as my little boy's hair," Raoul replied, and he walked over to the window, where the late afternoon sun made his white head as shining as the hair of their baby son.

Christine smiled at the sight of them – it truly was surprising, how often she smiled now, when there had been times when she had thought she never would again – and then sat down once more at her desk. She pulled another sheet of paper towards her, and began to write once more; but now it was a letter addressed to someone other than Celandine; a letter she would never send anywhere except to leave upon a certain gravestone.

Erik,

It is perhaps a year or so to the day since the mansion burned and you left us – left me. There were times when I thought that I would not write this – after all, are you in any position to receive it? – but in the end there was really no question. And I do believe that, somewhere, you will be able to know what it is that I am saying.

I miss you, Erik, and I am not ashamed to deny it, but it is not as terrible as it was in the weeks after the fire and my marriage. How good Raoul was to me, then! He understands what it is to lose someone you love, and he understood, too, that I loved you as well as him. But he does not hold it against me. He knows that it is possible for me to love you and to love him, and he knows how it is done as well, though it is something of a mystery to me. Raoul says that I have a great capacity for love, and that it is perfectly possible for such a thing to be. I am so lucky to have Raoul, for he helped me not to give in to my guilt. He is so strong, stronger than ever others might have thought him to be. Oh, Erik, if ever you hated him, hate him no longer, for he is more noble and virtuous and kind than ever his grandfather was!

I love him so, and I love our son, Charles. I can hardly tell whom I love most out of all three of you. That I should have so much love in me is astonishing, even to me; for I have given my heart to three men and each of them hold it so dear that it is wholly remarkable. We called him Charles after the Comte of that name. It seemed only right, after all, and had little meaning to anyone else; but how much meaning it has for us, and for you, Erik. He was born out of love, the great love that I have in my heart for all of you. Both of you have a hand in him, I feel, and both of you have blessed me with him.

When I have a daughter, Erik, I will call her Madeline, after the woman whom you are now buried beside, you taken out of your grave in the woods and her remains found in the graveyard of the asylum, together again at last. I will teach her to weave flowers into her hair, and to dance and to sing. Charles will learn to play the piano, to sketch, to compose. We will show them, and the other children that will come in time, the secret room in the de Chagny mansion, the house which you built and where I now sit in my son's nursery and write these words. We will let them read your book and the poetry and the love that made it and went into it. Carlotta will play your music that she brought back, that the world should have known and will know yet, she will never again taste a lie, she will always know the truth, and so will the world. Meg will be farsighted and show those around her the way forward, into the future. Cecile will guard all those around her from the flames that would destroy knowledge and the past.

And I, I can feel where you are. You are somewhere, I know, and you are waiting for me in happiness and in joy.

Perhaps I will write another letter to you, in a year's time. A letter a year, every year, for I will keep you alive and in my mind and in my heart.

I do not know what will happen when next we meet, Erik, but though I live and treasure living with every breath I take and every word I speak and every beat of my heart, I look forward to it. My husband and my son are with me, and you are with me too, this day and always.

Until then, Erik, owner of my heart with Raoul and Charles, I will part from you, for now, with something I have learned; an Irish blessing:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.


And that is the end of this story, and the beginning of others. What happened after that, I leave up to you, dear audience. The lives that were lived, the careers that were embarked upon, the friendships that may or may not have endured, the proposals that were accepted or refused, the number of children that were born after Charles and Gaston, or if they were born; the possibility of the secret story being passed down to those selfsame children; whether a certain fiery tempered, red-headed Spanish composer would have inspired a French one to write of a girl working in a cigarette factory; the memories that lasted and the love that remained when the story was done: all is entirely up to what you think is best.

Let it simply be said that they lived as happily as one could live, in this world, the one after that, and the one after that.


And that is it! L'epoux de cadavre is finished! Words really cannot tell you how happy I am to have completed this – not because I didn't like it, because I love it and have always loved it, even when I hated it and wanted to dash my brains out with the keyboard – but because it's probably the first large scale writing project I've ever fully finished! Now, about that novel…

Many thanks to everyone and anyone who has ever reviewed this humble little story. (I understand that 'little' is a relative term, considering the thing is 57 stonking chapters long
, but humor me here.) I'm sure you all know who you are, and if you don't…well, time to get some dried frogpills then! (Only joking, you're all completely awesome, and you've all earned my platonic luv!)

An especial mention for Mominator, who always sent me really nice reviews to which I could never reply, because the reviews were never sent when said Mominator was signed in (or so I deem) and so I couldn't reply straight away, and I always forgot afterwards. Yep, I'm an eejit. And loving it.

Thanks to all my constant reviewers who were always ready to gush out their feelings after they'd read the chapter. Their praise kept me warm at night. And kept my review box going 'ching'! Metaphorically, of course.

Thanks also to all the people out there who read this, even if you didn't review, since it helped a whole lot to know that this was popular. That also kept me warm at night. Popularity in writing is like a security blanket, with the added advantage that people don't stare at you if you drag your popularity all over the place.

I will be rejigging some of the chapters after this, but as I said before, the story is done. What happens afterwards is up to you. It's unlikely to the power of ten thousand that I'll do a sequel to it, so I'll only answer a few questions in replies to your squees.

1) I don't know who on earth Gaston Leroux' s mother really was, since I couldn't be bothered to do enough research and I doubt the information would be available in any case. However, coincidentally he was born in 1868 or thereabouts, which is about right for this time frame.

2) The same goes for Timothy Burton's great-whatever granddad. Just thought I'd put them in as a tribute to the two people who came up with the ideas that I combined. And I don't know which is the largest opera house in America. Any takers?

3) The Spanish cigarette girl? A little opera first performed in about 1875, by the name of Carmen. Who says our own Carlotta couldn't have inspired Geroges Bizet?

4) And finally, little Charles. Yes, you were wondering about him, weren't you? Once again – it's up to you.


But do not despair, now that this is over, gentle readers! Rather, turn to my other equally wonderfully stories, and perhaps even review them, and as you do perhaps you may hear faraway laughter and tinkling bells…

It's me, old chaps. Ching!

Once more, with feeling – reviews for the half-Irish Seamstress!