Well, here is the last chapter to "When All is Lost." I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed writing this story and hearing from all my readers. I'm glad that everyone has come to love the characters. This chapter will have some mature references, but I'm pretty sure it falls within the rating.
No promises here, but there's the chance that I may post a few vignettes of what happened afterward under a different title. Several people have specifically asked me for them. They'll probably be a mix of drama, romance, and a little realistic angst. I promise that I won't be killing any characters, though :) To those who aren't interested, I still thank you for reading this story.
Some of you have also mentioned that you're going to go back and read it again now that it's complete. Please tell me if you see any inconsistencies. In a story this long, it's sometimes hard to catch everything.
Thank you again for all your support. And an enormous thanks to MadLizzy for all her help with this story.
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After Raoul had left the hotel without a goodbye, the press had also disappeared. The knowledge that they weren't about to be pounced upon by photographers calmed Christine's nerves. She, Erik, and Gavin remained in the same rooms over the next month, the criminal trial ruining their attempts at complete peace and relaxation. Despite Erik's insistence that he hated the 'talking box,' he watched the news nearly every night, following the developments at the courthouse.
Frederick was quickly declared unfit to stand trial. Erik had glared upon learning that, his hands curling into fists and the fiery gleam returning to his eyes. "There will never be justice," he had practically growled. "Every institution in the world is corrupt."
"They said that Frederick is barely functional," she reassured him. "He might have suffered several strokes. He'll need care for the rest of his life."
"If he ever becomes sane again, I will be the first thing that he sees."
She'd sighed and leaned back. Erik calmed down a few hours later, the anger in his eyes fading to weariness. "After all these years, I merely wish it to be over," he'd muttered.
"I do, too," she'd replied, resting a hand on his arm. "And it will be."
At some point, Christine discovered that she wouldn't have to testify. The government more or less told her that she could go home and resume her life. Erik wanted to stay in London until Leonie's trial was over, though, and she felt the need for resolution as well.
Much to his annoyance, Gavin was required to stay in the city. He was called to the courtroom over a period of two days and had returned from the trial looking exhausted, tugging at his white shirt collar as though it were strangling him.
"How'd it go?" she'd asked.
"Falcon has some brutal lawyers," he'd replied. "It was hard keeping Erik out of everything I said. But I really tried."
"Did you see Leonie?"
"Yep. And if looks could kill, I'd be long dead."
Christine had caught sight of Leonie on the news a couple of times. The older woman's hair was carefully styled over the right side of her face. She appeared paler and thinner, the wrinkles of age more evident on her visage. Still, her eyes were emotionless, and the visible side of her mouth remained in a straight line. Only once was a statement from her given to the press.
"I merely served as a figurehead and spokesperson for this company," she'd written. "I was completely unaware of any wrongdoings by lower level management and had no power over any of the day-to-day operations. My heart goes out to any victims of this accidental and unfortunate tragedy. But why the government wants to use an elderly, retired woman as a scapegoat is far beyond me."
Christine rolled her eyes at hearing that.
Erik spoke, his teeth gritted. "I should have-" He paused in the middle of the sentence. "I should have erased her from our lives."
"You did what was right."
"Did I? Perhaps it would have been better for mankind if I had killed her."
"I don't know," she replied. "Let's wait for the verdict."
Erik wasn't quite finished. "You know why she will not speak to the press herself?" He sounded all too pleased.
"Because she will sound atrocious with half her mouth torn apart. Watching her attempt to form coherent sounds would be far too amusing."
"Oh, Erik." She managed to hide her slight satisfaction; Erik was vengeful enough for both of them.
Raoul was also called in to testify, but Christine never knew what was said. She trusted her friend to try and keep Erik's name out of his statements. Still, she worried that the pressure of the courtroom might cause Raoul to break down. Erik had noticed her staring at the television with her knees drawn up to her chest. "What is wrong?" he'd asked, glancing at the screen.
"I'm worried someone will say something about you."
She hesitated. "Yes."
Erik had been silent for a moment, and she hoped that he wasn't devising creative ways of keeping Raoul quiet. "Yes. It would be a miracle if Chagny kept his mouth closed. Perhaps we should change locations. It is not wise to remain in one place for so long."
She slowly nodded, feeling more secure with that idea. "Yes. If Gavin helps, we could get another room. Maybe after I get my brace off, we can go."
Also wary about staying there for the duration of the trial, Gavin agreed to move to a cheaper hotel on the outskirts of the city. He also accompanied her in a taxi to get her ankle examined. Their several hour absence had unnerved Erik. "If anything happens to her, I will kill you," he stated, towering over Gavin.
"I know," Gavin replied, shaking his head as he helped her down the hall. They had few problems during the short trip. Her brace was removed, and she was given advice not to overuse her ankle for another few weeks. When she got back to the room, Erik had pulled her close and kissed her. He was rarely so bold with his affections, usually waiting for her to initiate contact. She hoped it wasn't the last time that he acted first.
An evening later, they quietly changed hotels. She and Gavin kept their heads low. Erik held her hand throughout the taxi ride, his free hand staying near his jacket pocket and his muscles tense. Gavin checked in when they arrived, and she and Erik had dodged into their room. The interior wasn't nearly as nice with chipped paint, cracks in the ceiling, and a few holes in the bedspread, but she appreciated that there were fewer security cameras.
Once they were inside, she dead-bolted the door and embraced him. "We made it!" Erik nodded once, but his eyes remained alert. Sometimes Christine wondered if his paranoia would ever completely disappear. She was given reason to be optimistic, though.
Overall, he seemed healthy when they were alone together. His shoulders were often relaxed, and his eyes didn't burn with that frightening glow. He rarely coughed, and his breathing was steady. She occasionally asked him how he was feeling, and Erik always curtly replied that he was perfectly fine. If his cough did ever return, they would deal with it then. There were plenty of safe treatments for things like allergies and asthma. Christine hoped that the remedy lay with a clean environment, nutrition, and rest.
His place was now beside her every night. "It is good to not awaken and have nothing," he'd said upon first waking in her arms. After that, she'd started calling him to sit with her each night. One evening, Christine had emerged from the bathroom after brushing her teeth and saw that he'd settled onto the bed by himself. His thin body was almost lost within the thick comforter, and his head sank into the large pillows. They'd stared at each other, his eyes uncertain, and then she'd jumped in beside him with a smile the size of London.
They often shared kisses and caresses throughout the late hours, and she felt the driving need to be as near to him as possible. Erik was slightly bolder when the lights were off—when she could no longer see him. He kissed her neck and allowed his cold, trembling hands to trail down her waist, his fingers brushing against her cotton pajamas. Her love for him continued to thrive and grow.
One night, she nearly lost herself in the warm, euphoric feelings. Erik had frozen. Noticing his motionlessness, she had stilled her wandering hands and looked into his eyes. Christine hesitated as her composure returned, wondering if she'd done something wrong. He finally spoke in a barely audible voice. "I know you will never leave. I know that is true now."
"I won't ever leave," she reaffirmed, letting a hand rest on his cheek. "I'm going to be your wife." She felt him nod beneath her fingertips.
"I believe you." His hand rested over hers. "But I have had very little that was ever mine. Everything has always been taken. And—I know that it is asinine ritual—but I wish to know that I may keep you. I wish to wed you."
"And time…" He tapered off.
"Nothing. I simply need more time."
She pressed her lips to his and continued to stroke his cheek. "It's fine. We're fine." For several reasons, including one that could be disastrous given the present situation, she knew that it was better to wait. With no more questions, Christine went back to fervent kisses and massaged his shoulders until he relaxed again.
"I wish to wed you as soon as possible," he'd murmured right before she closed her eyes.
Sometimes Erik slept, and, for the most part, he was a quiet sleeper. Every so often, he would flinch or twitch. She didn't know whether it was a reflex or if he was experiencing some horrible nightmare of a memory. Although parts of his past were still a mystery to her, she was worldly enough to makes guesses about what might have happened during those ten atrocious years.
Some nights he wouldn't sleep. She awoke one time to see his yellow eyes staring down at her in the dark. "If you can't sleep, you can get up," she offered. "I don't mind. You won't wake me."
"I wish to stay here." Erik sounded almost defensive, as though he thought she would force him to move.
"All right. That's fine." She'd kissed him and gone back to sleep, eventually getting used to the idea of his constant gaze upon her.
The trial continued after they had changed rooms, but the press gave little information about what was occurring. While Christine was reading a novel that Erik had 'purchased' from a bookstore, she saw him suddenly jump from his chair and stare at the screen. An older man with a grey moustache was passing by, oblivious to the cameras as he went inside a brick building. Lines of age and exhaustion were evident on his face.
"What's wrong?" she asked. "Who's that?"
"Emerson," he murmured.
She looked back at the television in shock, but the man had disappeared. "He came to testify then." She bit her lip. "I don't know whether to be grateful or hate him."
"Why would you ever hate him?"
"Because he was going to kill you."
"He was being kind."
Christine shook her head. "I don't know. I still can't like him for that." Erik didn't say anything else.
Her feelings toward Emerson warmed after she learned that he had given 'damning evidence.' It was also discovered that some former employees of Falcon were beginning to come forward, perhaps testifying against Leonie in a bargain to get short sentences for themselves. The trial seemed to move quickly after that. The newspaper headlines read, "Theft? Murder? What Next?" and, "Organized Crime, Inc."
She grew tense and was unable to concentrate on almost anything unrelated to the trial. Sometime she would stand behind Erik and watch him compose, attempting to make sense out of the messy notes. He never seemed to mind, even when she briefly interrupted him for a kiss. On some nights, they took short walks around the hotel together, and she was able to clear her head. Erik never liked being enclosed in one space for very long, and he acted pleased with her company as they glanced over the window displays of closed stores.
And then, one day late in spring, it was announced that there would be a verdict. Her heart had jumped. She couldn't sleep that night, preferring to lean against Erik's shoulder and make him help her with a crossword puzzle. They got all but four words that involved British sitcoms, and Erik declared that a television-obsessed moron had designed the puzzle. She'd tossed it aside and waited for morning.
The next day came. That afternoon, Christine prepared herself for the verdict, staring wide-eyed at the television screen and gripping Erik's left arm. One word could bring them peace. If there was an acquittal, she knew that Erik would consider administering his own penalty upon the woman. And she couldn't bear the thought of waiting for him to return from another death mission. She didn't want any more murder—not because she had any warm feelings toward Leonie but because it would be another chip in Erik's fragile soul.
She held onto Erik as the reporters waited. He was intently staring at the screen with a clenched jaw. Horrible, painful silence continued.
Christine released a frustrated cry. "Just read it!"
And then it came.
"Guilty!" she exclaimed. Leonie Neumanns had been convicted of fraud, bribery, false imprisonment, and conspiracy to commit murder. Christine's heart pounded wildly, and she threw her arms around Erik's neck.
Erik didn't react for several moments. "She will want a new trial," he muttered.
"I know. But it's a start! She's been declared guilty in front of everyone."
"I suppose. Yes. It is a start."
An hour or so later, Raoul gave a speech to the media. He looked dignified in his dark tailored suit, his combed hair moving lightly with the breeze. "I apologize on behalf of everyone involved," her friend stated into the microphone. "No words can describe some of the horrors that occurred because of Falcon's irresponsible and despicable actions. And no words can make up for what has happened. All I can offer you is the promise that wrongs will slowly be righted over the coming months and years."
Erik turned away from the television. "He is merely saving his precious face."
"I can't really blame him for that," she murmured, silently wishing Raoul the best.
Gavin knocked on the door late that afternoon and asked her if they both wanted to go out for a celebratory dinner. His giant grin was evidence of his mood. Christine told him that she would ask Erik, and Gavin gave her a cheery goodbye and left.
"Gavin wants to go out to eat," she said, knowing this conversation wouldn't have an ideal end. "As a celebration."
"I see." Erik paused and then gestured to the door with his hand. "You may go."
"I want you to come with us."
"You know that is impossible."
She frowned. "Your black mask might make people a little nervous. But maybe if -"
"And the sight of my face would make them fall over dead," he snapped. She looked down. Erik softened his tone. "Go. Enjoy your evening. I will wait here for you."
He watched as she stared at him for a long, uncomfortable minute. Christine finally kissed his right cheek, slipped on her shoes, and left the room. After turning off the television, he sat in a chair to wait for her and attempted to concentrate on his composition. It would only be an hour. Two hours at the most. He had learned months ago that she would wilt if he kept her isolated.
She was back in three minutes. He sharply looked up as she entered the room. "Did you forget something?" His mouth was dry.
Christine shrugged. "I told Gavin we could have dinner another time. I wanted to spend the evening with you. This is our celebration tonight. We could go for a walk. Or we could stay here and order something…"
She was beautiful in the dim lighting, her long blonde hair splayed like beams of light around a sky-blue turtleneck. And she had come back. He jumped up, sensing that she wished to go outside. "We could find a place for the violin," he suggested. "It has been some time."
Her face brightened. "All right!"
He grabbed the violin case, and they departed, a half-moon lighting their way. Cars, buses, and the occasional pedestrian passed by them; he kept careful watch but sensed no threats. The shadows of the older brick buildings placed them in a protective cocoon. They were both isolated and surrounded, and it was somehow perfect.
A few weeks ago, Christine had mentioned moving to a city, possibly to be closer to Mr. Lewis for a period of time. The idea hadn't appealed to him then, but perhaps it would create an environment where they could live during both the night and day. She could have her sunlight, and he could take her places after sunset. Yes. Yes, that could work. Her cheek rested against his shoulder, breaking him from his thoughts.
"Was Mr. Lewis disappointed?" he asked, glancing down at the top of her head.
"No. I think he was busy writing something on his computer. Maybe the first chapter of his book." She softly laughed.
"If he ever writes his book, tell him to kindly leave my name out of it."
"I think he's going to suggest that you were one of Falcon's creations."
"Ah. So I will be a villain, then. Excellent."
Christine looked up at him. "I could have him make you the hero."
He cringed. "No. Chagny can be that. The boy is perfect for the role. Let me be a ghost."
"Yes. A mysterious…thing that no one quite comprehends."
"I think that's kind of what Gavin was going for," she replied.
She tightened her hold on his arm. "But you're not a thing, Erik."
"Only to you."
They walked over a cobblestone pathway and beneath trees with white buds. There was a light breeze, but Christine didn't appear to be shivering. "This looks good," she said. They were in a city park of some type, near a wooden bench and an oval drinking fountain. No one else was in sight.
He tightened and rosined the bow before taking the instrument from its case and tuning it. He played some of her favorite classics, as well as his more recent compositions. Christine sat down and closed her eyes, a tiny smile crossing her face. At some point, he stopped playing and looked at her, feeling that the night could be perfect with one more addition. "Will you sing?"
She opened her eyes. "I'm a little out of practice…"
"It is fine. I merely wish to hear you again."
"Well…okay." He helped her warm up for several minutes. She then sang one of the arias that he had taught her a year ago. As her divine voice surrounded him, he remembered hearing her for the first time, the initial crack in a thick wall of ice…the first ray of light in a pitch-black chasm of hate. Until that moment, he hadn't known that he was capable of wanting anything except blood and vengeance. And then there had been unspeakable agony as he was suddenly faced with what he would never have.
Or thought he would never have.
Christine had stopped singing and was staring at his silent form. "Like I said, I'm really out of practice," she muttered with a soft laugh. "I guess I should—"
"You were fine."
She blinked. "I wasn't…wretched?"
"No. You were perfectly fine."
She laughed again. "I know I was terrible. I don't even think you were listening."
"I heard you." Now that he had so much more of her than her voice, perhaps the need for vocal perfection seemed less important.
Christine began to sing again, deliberately staying off-key and screeching at the higher notes. He looked down at her and tilted his head. She stopped singing, playing with him. "How was that?"
"It was…perfectly dreadful."
He held his arms open, and she embraced him. There were still many things he wanted to tell her. But he couldn't—not yet. Still, he searched for something…anything. And then he realized that she'd just given him the ideal words. Simple, succinct, and perfect. And he meant them with every part of his being.
He said them once, but they came out muffled.
"Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you."
One Month Later
She wanted to visit both her parents' graves before she got married and left Chicago.
At least that was what she told Erik.
The trip back to her home state had taken weeks. Erik had refused to be confined to an airplane, and so they had taken a ship. Desperate to get home to his wife, Gavin had bid them farewell and hopped on a plane.
Although she'd become a little seasick halfway through the journey, their cabin had been warm and cozy. In the evenings, they'd strolled on deck and admired the Atlantic Ocean. In some ways, it was the perfect trip back home for them, unrushed and quiet. The few other passengers didn't pay them much attention, and Erik was able to sneak off the ship unnoticed.
With Gavin's help-he'd already had two job offers- she'd rented a Toyota to drive back home and finish her business. Although her house wasn't officially sold, she didn't want to live in a place where old classmates might recognize her and prod into her business. She wasn't even sure how Meg would react to Erik. Meg was generally a sweet person, but Christine remembered her as being slightly shallow when it came to men. It would be better for them to start somewhere new.
Erik sat in the passenger seat while she drove. Generally, they stayed out from late afternoon to early morning, stopping to rest during the hours when the sun was highest in the sky. It was surreal to be back home after all those months—to be doing something as normal as driving. She sometimes felt as though she were in a daze. Erik would also become very quiet, and she once asked him if he was okay. He chuckled and said, "Oh, my dear. I do not know if I will ever be okay. But I am half-sane and quite content, if that is what you mean."
Her old house was completely cleaned out, but she didn't want to spend any more money on hotels. After getting into her bank account, she bought some sleeping bags, food, toiletries, and other necessities. Erik didn't seem to mind the present living conditions, contenting himself with her and his music. Considering the places he'd stayed, though, maybe this wasn't so bad.
His eyes lit up more than usual as he read over a newspaper one morning.
"What is it?" she asked.
He held up the front page for her to see. Leonie had been sentenced to sixty years in prison.
Christine saved that newspaper; she planned to laminate it.
After getting in touch with the real estate agent, she discovered that there was still one family who was interested in the house. The offer wasn't quite as much as she'd wanted, but Christine decided to accept it and move on with her life. After thinking it over, she chose not to even visit Meg. It would've been nice to see her friend again, but Meg would have a million difficult questions. Plus, the more people who knew they were there, the more difficult it would be to keep their privacy. Erik's sanity might disintegrate in the face of nosy neighbors.
During the last few days of their stay, he spoke in a commanding tone. "I wish to wed you."
She'd been folding a blanket and looked up with a smile. "We will." Christine frowned. "We need a way to make you some documents. I'm not sure how that works…"
"I assure you that it is no complicated matter to forge a few documents."
"We are not committing theft or murder. I am a phantom in this nation. How else do you suggest we get such things?"
"I…All right," she finally replied. "If that's the safest way we can get married."
"It is. The quickest way, too." The mask was off, and Erik's expression was one of longing.
It was then that she decided to visit each of her parents' graves before they left, to get their blessings for the union. She casually told Erik that they were buried at two different cemeteries, and he quickly agreed to accompany her.
They'd gone to her father's grave on the first evening. Erik had silently stood back as she placed fresh flowers by the headstone and wiped tears from her eyes. He still wasn't experienced at offering words of comfort, but his arms had felt good around her shoulders when she'd run back to him.
The next night she'd wanted to go where her mother was buried. Either she'd never told Erik or he didn't remember what also lay in that location. Only when she began to drive over the beaten road and toward a thick forested area did Erik sit up straight. He turned toward her. A raspy word escaped his lips. "Why?"
"This is where my mother is buried," she calmly replied.
"You know very well where this is!" he exclaimed. "Why would you come back here?"
"It is where my mother is buried," she repeated. "And I wanted to come here one last time. I wanted to see the house again. Please, Erik."
He stared forward as the headlights washed over the graveyard and gnarled trees, hands clenched into fists. She parked the car at the side of the road and turned off the engine. Silently, she climbed out and went through the gates, approaching her mother's headstone. Erik followed. After placing flowers on the grave and saying a few words of goodbye to the woman she'd barely known, Christine stood and looked off into the distance.
Without a word, she left the cemetery and made her way down the path and into the trees. Erik walked beside her, his shoulders tense as his eyes wandered over the woodlands. He said nothing to stop her, though, and she guessed that a part of him wanted to see it, too. The forest seemed to whisper as they made their way forward. The crickets had already begun their symphony. She braced herself to see the foreboding house again, to look at the dim dining room where'd she received her lessons and ascend the creaking stairs to the bedrooms.
At some point, Christine stopped and stared-at nothing. Hadn't the house been closer to the graveyard than this? She took a few more steps forward, confused.
And then she realized that the house was gone. It had been torn down, leaving only a rectangular brown spot with minimal vegetation to mark where it had once stood. Erik still said nothing. She sighed.
After a moment, Christine stepped onto the large patch where the house had once been. She continued to hear the whispers as she closed her eyes. A deep shiver ran down her spine, as though dozens of ghosts had simultaneously brushed against her bare skin. Goosebumps ran up and down her arms and torso. In her mind, she suddenly saw Maddy, Trenton, and the deceased members of Falcon. She saw her own parents. She saw Buquet and Darius and Nadir and Hamideh. Nadir nodded once at her.
She felt cold fingers brush against her cheek and opened her eyes. Erik was stroking her face and eyeing her with concern. "I am afraid there is little left of it."
"No. It's fine." She quickly stepped away from the former foundation and took his hand, feeling safer at his side.
"Does it hold such horrible memories for you?"
"Not at all. It's just a little overwhelming, I guess." She started moving in the opposite direction, clutching his hand as the faint whispers continued behind her. "Let's go back now."
"And then we can wed," he stated.
"Yes. We'll do everything we want now." She walked closer to his tall form, and he rested an arm around her shoulders.
The whispers only stopped once they climbed into the warm car together, freeing them to drive far away from the cemetery and the desolate woods.
And freeing them to spend many well-deserved years in the world of the living.