“Ho’d dis, Mommy.” Calliope holds out a plastic block to me, part of a set she’s trying to fit through the right shaped holes on the toy in front of her. I take it and stare at her face, which is screwed up in concentration as she decides which slot the plastic star in her other hand will go through. “Here?”
She points at an opening and looks at me for approval. I give her an encouraging smile.
“There’s only one way to find out.”
She looks at the star she’s holding one last time, then places it against the hole. The five points slip through easily, and she turns wide eyes back on me.
“You did it!” I celebrate along with her, scooping her into my arms. I wrap her up and kiss every inch of her face while I tell her how proud I am over and over again. Her laughter chimes gloriously in my ears. Her smell fills every breath I take, and it starts an uncontrollable chain reaction. At first, it’s almost cleansing… But it changes. It starts with an unexpected wash of unease that quickly and irrationally unravels into paranoia, then fear, then…
“Christian!” My hands lock down as Calliope moves to pick up another toy, and she whines while she tries to struggle out of my grip. I pull her against me and scurry to my feet, turning panicked eyes on the windows laying dark and dormant behind the curtains of the hotel room. The hairs on the back on my neck rise and an eerie, invasive feeling overcomes me, like I’m being watched. Maybe there are cameras in the room. Maybe they’re waiting for us to leave, or tracking the movements of our security team.
“Ana?” I spin towards Christian’s voice just as he steps into the room, and the moment his eyes fall on me, his face melts with concern. “Come here.”
I don’t move, so he takes the few steps it takes to close the distance between us and wraps both me and Calliope in his arms. She starts to struggle again, but my hands stay firm.
“Ana, give her to me.”
“Ana…” He reaches up and grasps my face, cupping my chin so he can tilt my head up and force my eyes to his. He holds my gaze until I start to breathe again, and my grip relaxes. Calliope stops squirming. He slides his hands against her sides and pulls her out of my arms, resting her on his hip. I start to protest, but his lips cut me off before I’ve even formed the first word.
It calms me.
“What happened?” he asks, pulling away from the kiss.
“Nothing. I just…” I pause, pressing my lips together and shaking my head as I struggle with just how ridiculous I’m being. “I just smelled her.”
His eyes narrow. “Okay… I don’t really know what I can do about that…”
My shoulders deflate a little and I bury my face into him to try and hide my growing anguish. “I don’t think I can leave her.”
I feel him take a deep breath, and release it as though he’s been waiting for this to come all day. Honestly, he’s probably been waiting for it since we left Seattle. “You don’t have to.” I shoot a pointed look back at him, but he maintains every ounce of sincerity. “You don’t have to.”
“Christian, this is the biggest night of your life. I’m not missing it.”
“This isn’t the biggest night of my life.” He tilts my chin up again, refusing to let me hide from him. “Not by far.”
Somehow, even with the phantom of a tremble still haunting my lip, I manage to smile. The real kind that makes the cold trepidation in his eyes warm a little. I stare back into the depths of those dark gray irises and go through the breathing exercises Flynn gave me for situations just like these.
“That’s better,” Christian whispers when he feels me relax. He sweeps a hand over my cheek, then turns for the door. “Mackensie!”
“Yes, sir?” Our nanny pops her head through the open door and Christian holds Calliope out for her.
“Will you give her a bath and put her to bed, please?”
“Sure thing.” She takes my daughter and turns her toward me. “Say good night to Mommy.”
“Nigh-nigh, Mommy.” I smile again and lean in to kiss her on the cheeks, but when Mackensie turns and leaves the room, the uncomfortably familiar feeling of dread fills the void she leaves behind. Automatically, I reach down and cradle my stomach protectively. Christian pulls my hand away and draws my eyes to his again.
“Have I told you how absolutely beautiful you look tonight?”
“Not yet.” My eyes move down to my dress. It’s a deep emerald green, with a long flowing skirt that’s cinched at my waist, a plunging neckline, and long sleeves that hide the barely healed scar on my shoulder. “Kate bought the dress…”
“I’ll have to remember to thank her. You are absolutely breathtaking, Anastasia.” He smiles and pulls a flat box from the inside of his tuxedo jacket and holds it out for me. “This is for you.”
I turn nervous eyes down to the hinged lid he pulls back, and feel my breath catch when I see the necklace laid on the black velvet inside. Three thick rows of diamonds make up the chain, and there are tendrils of increasingly large diamonds and emeralds cascading delicately towards the center, which would fall between my cleavage. It’s gorgeous, and so, so over-the-top.
“H-how much did this cost?” I breathe.
Christian frowns. “Don’t worry about it…”
I swallow thickly, unable to move. I know if I reach for it, my fingers will tremble, and Christian will notice. I know if I look at him, he’ll see the sudden alarm in my eyes. So I just stand there and stare at it, and that gives me away just as much as the other stuff would.
“I-I—” I tuck my lip beneath my teeth, and he reaches out to tilt my face up to his. His eyes meet mine, immediately searching.
“Red,” he mutters when he doesn’t find the answers himself. I press my lips together, and draw in a long, uneasy breath.
This is Flynn.
After I lost it that first night back home, Christian went with me to go see Flynn the next morning. Last time, after Lincoln, he was looking for answers. He wanted Flynn to tell him how he could fix me so we could get back to normal. This time, the only thing he’s cared about is keeping me from shutting him out again. From hiding from him. And so now we have a safeword. Any time Christian says it, I have to tell him what I’m thinking. I’m not allowed to lie, and I’m not allowed to hide the ugliness. And has to make that safe for me. Whatever confession I have to give, he has to respond with love.
It’s actually managed to build a very deep sense of trust between us. So, in the spirit of that, I take a deep breath and continue.
“Luke told me awhile ago that I had been targeted before because of my wedding ring. It’s just… there are going to be photographers at this event tonight, and I don’t think I want to be seen in…”
I let the words trail off because I know he’ll fill in the blanks himself. He does, and I wait for pain or rejection to color the heart-stoppingly beautiful features of his face, but it doesn’t come. He nods, closes the lid to the jewelry box, and reaches down to take my hand.
I don’t know if I’m waiting for his fingers to shake with suppressed irritation, or tighten in a show of pain, but I definitely don’t expect it when he slips off my wedding ring and tucks it into his palm. He lifts my bare finger to his lips, and gently kisses the tattoo there. Then he moves to the room safe, locks the jewelry inside, and turns to reach for me.
He leads me into the main room where Taylor is gathered with Evan, Smith, Wyatt, and Harper. All five of them look up as we enter the room.
“Taylor, would you please go over the plan for tonight with Anastasia?”
He nods. “Smith, Wyatt, and Harper will remain here with Calliope and Mackensie. All three of them will have a communication line with me.” He reaches up and taps his ear to draw attention to the earpiece. “We have body doubles for both you and Mr. Grey, and I will be taking them through the hotel to the limo waiting out front, while the two of you are escorted to the car we have waiting for you out back. When you arrive, you’ll be taken through a private entrance we’ve arranged with the venue, and they’ll have you seated first. You will not be exposed to the public at all.”
I take a deep breath, actually feeling a little better now that I can visualize it. “Okay.”
Taylor gives me an affectionate smile, then steps to the side so I can start for the doors to our suite. I don’t move though, and Christian doesn’t push me.
“Are you ready?” he asks instead. Clenching my teeth in apprehension, I reach over for his hand and nod. He pulls me from the room, and the moment we’re through the door, all of my senses sing to life. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears, as my pulse starts to race. It’s like in a vacuum. Sound changes, the walls around me feel like they’re closing in. I have to focus to control my breathing.
When the elevator dings, I throw myself protectively in front of Christian. He simply wraps his arms around me and carries us both inside.
My thoughts move to Calliope as we descend to the ground floor. I want to think through every single way someone could try to get to her, and then double check with Taylor that he’s made preparations for it. Maybe even ask if he’s thought of anything I haven’t. But that isn’t healthy, so instead I look at the numbers and repeat each one in my head to keep my thoughts busy.
“Did you see the edits Stevens sent for Phoenix?” Christian asks, while Taylor and Evan murmur quietly to one another behind us.
I nod. “I have more to send back. I was planning on doing that tomorrow morning before we leave.”
“Are you happy with his performance so far?”
I press my lips together. Obviously, I haven’t been in any shape to go back to work, and since I’d already sent Jacki to New York to take over the newly rebranded Grey Library, Christian asked me to pick someone to step in while I was out. I chose Stevens, and when he asked the obvious follow-up in the meeting where Christian offered him the job, he’d told him I was taking extended maternity leave.
A few days after that, a card came to our house from my employees, congratulating me for our upcoming bundle of joy. Christian was standing right next to me when I opened it, but he didn’t say anything. He’s gone to every one of my doctor’s appointments, held my hand, and listened to the plan Dr. Baker and I have put together in complete silence. He hasn’t mentioned termination again, but he also doesn’t really talk about my pregnancy at all. Grace thinks that means he’s coming around, but I’m not sure. If he’s accepted it, he hasn’t said it, and the strange cold war surrounding this one thing that could be so good and healing for us right now, is instead incredibly lonely.
But I’m too much of a coward to say anything because I don’t want to fight with him again and drive him back to that– No. It’s fine. We’re fine.
I nod and squeeze his hand as the elevator doors roll back and our security leads the way into the brightly lit corridor on the other side. There’s a man and woman standing there, dressed identically to Christian and I.
“Your doubles for this evening, Mr. Grey,” Taylor says, gesturing to each of them. Christian reaches out a hand for the man, but I miss the introduction because I’m too focused on the handshake. Christian’s hands are much larger than this man’s, and his shoulders are broader. And my hair is a shade darker than the woman next to him. She might be a little taller than me too…
Will anyone else pick up on those differences?
Christian turns another concerned look on me when I don’t respond to something the woman says directly to me, so I shake away my daze and work my face into a smile. “Thank you so much for being here tonight,” I tell her. She responds in a thick, Swedish accent.
“It’s my pleasure, Mrs. Grey.”
“Shall we?” Taylor asks, gesturing for our doubles to start towards the lobby. They do, and when both Taylor and Woods fall in around them, I feel a shock of panic.
“Wait, I thought Evan was going to take us to the car!” I hiss, while the flashes from the paparazzi waiting outside the main entrance reflect like Christmas lights off the wall in front of us.
“No, I am,” a voice says behind us. I spin so fast I nearly disorient myself, and the grin Luke gives me as Christian reaches out to steady me has me instantly irritated. That irritation vanishes though when his jacket shifts, and I see the gun strapped to his chest.
He doesn’t even work for us anymore.
“Ready?” he asks, turning his gaze up to Christian. He nods and Luke turns to a door that tells us it is for staff only, and ushers us inside. Jade is there waiting, dressed in a gown the exact same shade of cherry as her lips. She squeals excitedly when she sees me and thrusts her arms around me.
“Oh my god, isn’t this place magical? I’ve never left the US before, did Luke tell you that?” Her joy is so innocent and resounding that I can’t help but be swayed by it. Even if it’s only a little, her smile brings me a sense of levity that is welcoming. When I glance at Luke, I can tell he notices the difference. And the smile I get in return tells me that I’m getting a glimpse of why he’s fallen so in love with her.
Christian takes my arm and leads me through the narrow hallways to the kitchen, then through a back-storage area to a loading dock that can’t be seen from the street. There’s a car there waiting for us, but we have to wait for Luke to clear the alley before we can step outside. It isn’t the limo our decoys left in. This car is much less conspicuous. The windows are tinted so darkly that I don’t know if you’d be able to see inside even if you pressed your face directly against the glass, and the door is so heavy when Luke pulls it back for us, that I’m sure it’s reinforced with bulletproof armor.
“You nervous, big shot?” Luke asks as Christian steps aside to let me crawl into the back seat. I catch his frown as I move past him.
“Like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Why? You know you’re going to win, right? You created perpetual motion. You’re literally going to be considered one of the fathers of modern science.”
“I know.” His response is confident, but uninterested, and Luke gives him a strange look as he climbs in after us.
While we drive through the autumn drenched streets of Stockholm, Jade points through the windows and beams with excitement back at Luke each and every time she spots something new. He stares back at her, glowing. Absolutely soaking in every ounce of her radiance.
Christian looks at me as though he’s worried I’ll start to cry.
“I’m trying,” I whisper to him, grateful Luke is currently lost in his own little world.
“I know.” His fingers untangle from mine so that he can brush them through my hair and rest gently against the side of my head. My eyes shift to his and the look of understanding and love that pours over me is like catching the very end of a rope right before you know you’re about to fall. I swallow and inch closer to him, as though immersing myself in his aura will ward off the trepidation. He leans in and presses his lips to my ear. “I don’t have any expectations, Anastasia. I’m just going to love you.”
I breathe him in as he pulls back and stares into the depths of his eyes, looking for any hint of insincerity. There’s only devotion. I haven’t seen any sign that he may be losing patience with my constant breakdowns or increasing worry that I may be slipping too far, the way that it was last time. He hasn’t buried himself in work, trying to come up with his next powerplay that will once again elevate him beyond the reach of his enemies.
In fact, he’s barely worked at all.
All GEH business is currently being conducted out of my house. Ros shows up at my door every day at the same time that Flynn does, and while I have my session with him on the sofa in the living room, Ros disappears into Christian’s office. They work until my time with Flynn is done, and the moment he leaves, so does Ros, and Christian turns his full attention back to Calliope and me.
“I love you too,” I whisper through the darkness between us. He smiles, presses his lips to mine, and kisses me with all the love I need to feel to remember I’ve got him back for good.
“Wait, where are we going?” Jade asks when the car suddenly turns down a side street and the long line of limousines filling the road leading up to the venue disappears behind us. Luke shoots a cocky look down at her.
“We’re VIPs, baby.” She rolls her eyes and shakes her head, then plops back into the seat and crosses her arms over her chest with disappointment. The back sides of the tightly packed buildings that make up the alley we turn down to get to the back entrance are much less scenic than the public street.
The car stops outside an unassuming brick wall set with an industrial looking door. There’s a woman waiting there in an impeccable black gown. She smiles as Luke pulls back the door and Christian steps out, eagerly reaching out a hand for him.
“Welcome, Mr. Grey. I’m Eva Karlsson, and on behalf of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, let me just tell you how happy we are that you were able to attend tonight.”
“The honor is mine,” he replies as he shakes her hand. She beams and turns to me, but before her hand can wrap around mine, Luke starts impatiently pushing us towards the door.
“Okay, inside, inside, inside…” he repeats to us over and over again. Eva looks shocked and indignant as he practically shoves me past her, but Christian moves so quickly in response to his orders that she doesn’t have time to argue. In fact, Luke keeps his urgent pace as he leads us through the maze of hallways, so she doesn’t even really get the opportunity to offer Christian the welcome speech she has prepared for him before we emerge in the ballroom where the ceremony will take place this evening.
The room is enormous, filled with dozens of round tables that are set with fine china and glittering centerpieces. Though a few people have already begun trickling in from the ruckus that’s going on behind the doors on the other side of the room, it’s mostly empty, and as we’re led to our table near the stage, I glance at the entrances all around us. Taylor stands at one and Woods is already posted at the other. Both of them are checking tickets for every person who enters.
Their plan seems to have gone off without a hitch, and as I’m settled down into a seat between Christian and Luke, I start to breathe easy again.
Until I start thinking about Calliope…
“Christian!” Grace calls, hurrying across the ballroom with open arms for her son. He turns to go to her, so it’s Luke who sees the shift in me. While the rest of our family starts towards us, he reaches up to touch his earpiece.
“Harper, you there? You got eyes on the baby? Go to her.” He reaches up and peels the clear rubber out of his ear and hands it to me. I scrunch my brow together as I take it, but when I hear the small, sleepy sounds Calliope makes on the other end, I shoot him a grateful look.
“Hey, beautiful,” Kate says, coming around the table to give me a hug. “How are you?”
She glances over at Luke, who shrugs, and after taking a long breath, she leans down to kiss me on the cheek. “I’ll come take Christian’s chair when they call him up there, okay?”
“If they call him up there,” Elliot argues. “Let’s not forget there are three other people nominated, and one of them discovered a new wavelength frequency, so let’s not count our chickens, okay?”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Elliot.” Christian rolls his eyes, and Elliot chuckles before sliding into a seat next to Kate. He accepts hugs and congratulations from my father and Kim next, who both come around the table to me once they’ve passed my husband off to Mia. Ros comes next, then Welch and a few other high-ranking GEH engineers. And just as everyone starts to settle down, he turns and comes face to face with his father.
They stand there, staring at each other for a moment. Then slowly, Carrick’s face breaks into a glowing smile. “I am so fucking proud of you, son,” he says, and Christian’s lips go tight.
“Thanks, Dad.” They hug, and it lasts much longer than I’ve ever seen them embrace before. I think I see Carrick whisper something into Christian’s ear, and he nods before he pulls back and claps his father tightly on the shoulder. Grace reaches a shaky hand for her husband as he comes to sit next to her, and I feel a wave of elation when I see the profound sense of satisfaction that shines back at me behind Christian’s eyes. He takes a seat and reaches for my hands, kissing the back of my fingers before entwining our fingers and tucking them both into his lap.
Dinner is served and it gives us the chance to forget about the stakes of tonight and enjoy each other’s company. We’re served a special kind of fermented fish as an appetizer that we’re told is a Scandinavian delicacy. I have to have it moved as far away from me as possible, because the smell immediately makes me want to vomit, but that just seems to provoke Luke and Elliot. No one else will touch it, so they start piling it on their plates.
“First to puke loses,” Elliot says, glancing at my best friend. Luke raises an eyebrow.
“What does the winner get?”
“To be Master of the Universe, obviously.”
“My million-dollar prize,” Christian offers, and Elliot’s face breaks into a huge grin.
“Oh, fuck yeah.” He takes the last scoop of fish and gives Luke a taunting smile. “You ready?”
Luke nods and picks up his fork. Mia gives them a count down and once she says, “go!” they both start shoveling food into their mouths. Elliot immediately starts to gag. Luke’s like a machine.
“Oh my god, it’s so bad,” Elliot groans, struggling with everything he has not to lose what he’s managed to get down. His face is beat red, he keeps involuntarily cringing… he looks over at Luke like he’s suddenly concerned he might not be human. “What the hell, dude?”
Luke swallows the very last bite and tosses his fork on his plate. “I have to live off Jade’s cooking now, nothing phases me anymore.”
“Hey!” She slaps him across the chest and he laughs, pulling her into him and smothering her with kisses.
“Oh my god, you smell like that disgusting fish!” she says. The indignant look she tries to give him through the smile she can’t hold back makes me giggle, and Christian squeezes my hand under the table.
“More champagne?” the waiter checks as he passes by.
“Water for her, please,” Christian says, nodding to me, and Grace winks at me from across the table. I turn to look at him, for any sign of what he’s thinking, but the lights dim, and the first speaker takes the stage.
The speeches are endless. Presenters, nominees, past winners, foundation members… the ceremony drags on for hours. I spend the beginning listening to Mackensie read to Calliope, and then her soft breathing as she falls asleep. But once Luke takes his earpiece back, I lean into Christian and fight the jet lag and pregnancy hormones that make me want to sleep. I’m just about to lose that battle, when they finally call Christian’s category.
I hold my breath as they talk about all the amazing progress that has been made in the field of physics this year, and my heart starts to pound in my chest when they bring up Endurance.
“And so without further ado, please help me welcome this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics, Mr. Christian Grey.”
The room erupts in deafening applause and somehow, Kate’s shriek of exaltation still manages to ring around the room. I turn to Christian to find him already looking at me, a look of determination set on his face that doesn’t match the taste of victory in the air. He holds tight to my hand as he gets out of his seat, dragging me with him, then pulls me into a deep kiss that is entirely inappropriate for the venue. I can hear the vague whoops and hollers echoing through the still ringing applause, but he doesn’t let me go until Elliot reaches out and physically grabs onto him.
He pulls back and the hard lines I’d seen in his face right after they called his names have smoothed out into complete serenity. “I love you,” he says.
“I love you too.”
The carefree smile that touches his lips as he squeezes my hand and steps away from me makes my heart skip. I stay on my feet, following him with my gaze as he makes his way onto the stage. True to her word, Kate slips into Christian’s empty seat, and pulls me down with her just as he begins to speak.
“Good evening,” he begins. “And thank you to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for this incredible honor. It’s one I humbly have to share with my entire team. Frederick Welch, my head engineer. I had an idea, and his brilliance is what made it a reality. The outstanding team of scientists who led this discovery with noble hearts and unrelenting belief. The weight of their contributions is so significant, that it seems inadequate for me to be the one standing before you tonight. My contribution was mostly paying for it, and even that was made possible through the tireless efforts of my COO and dearest friend, Rosaline Bailey. GEH will become Endurance, but I am not Endurance. This team is Endurance. And because of the excellence this team represents, and the work I know that they will continue despite their already resounding success, I have found peace in the decision I’ve made about the future of the technology and the company that controls it.”
There’s a curious murmur around the room, and both Carrick and I exchange confused looks.
“I am resigning as CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings,” Christian says. “Effective immediately. Rosaline Bailey will step into my place and all future communications regarding the evolution of the Endurance project will come from her and the GEH team. I have no further comment.”
And that’s it.
He turns around and walks off the stage. The crowd devolves into an uproar as people try to figure out what just happened. Even me. Did he just… did he just give up GEH? I turn to Ros, and when she looks back at me, a single tear rolls down her cheek.
“Is this real?” I ask her, noting that she doesn’t look particularly shocked. When she nods, I scramble out of my seat and fight my way past Luke and through the throngs of people and camera flashes until I get to him. His hand closes around mine at the same time Woods grips onto my back and Taylor slides up on his other side. They push us through the chaos to the back entrance we came through, then lead us quickly through the hallways to the car that’s already waiting for us.
“Wait, what about everyone else?” I ask when he pulls open the door for me to get in.
“They’ll find their way back to the hotel.” I glance nervously back at the doors, but climb into the car and slide across the seat to make room for Christian. I can hardly even wait for the door to close behind him.
“What the hell did you just do?!”
“What I should have done years ago, but was too selfish to do.” He takes my hands in his and looks deep into my eyes. “When I finished Endurance, the moment I succeeded, I knew that I was going to get everything I ever wanted. Those deep wants, the ones that come from all that trauma in my childhood. But when I had that realization, I didn’t feel anything. There wasn’t any profound sense of relief or life-affirming accomplishment. It felt like anything else. Like completing the state project, or signing a lucrative contract. And while everyone around me celebrated like it was the greatest day of their lives, I just wanted to get home to you. The only thing that makes me feel the way I thought Endurance would make me feel… that I thought GEH would make me feel, is you. Is looking into your eyes, tasting your lips, hearing you tell me you love me… That’s what I care about. That’s the only thing I care about. I don’t choose GEH, Anastasia. I don’t choose the hell that comes along with the ambition and ruthlessness GEH brings out of me. I don’t want to be that person anymore. I choose you. I choose Calliope.” He swallows, then slowly reaches down and places a hand over my stomach. “I choose our family.”
I think my heart may have burst.
“You mean… you—you–”
“Without GEH, I can be here for you every step of the way. I can carry you through this pregnancy. I can make this safe for all three of you. I promise you, I am going to get you through this, no matter what it takes, because… I want it too.”
“I do. I really, really do.”
I let out a loud, sharp sound that’s somewhere between an exalted laugh and sentimental sob, then take his face in my hands and crash my lips to his. He kisses me back, telling me over and over again how much he loves me.
“It’s not going to be like last time, Christian,” I whisper against his lips. “I’m going to do everything Dr. Baker tells me to do. I’m going to be perfect, I swear to you.”
He pulls back and gives me a pointed look. “Can I get that in writing?”
I laugh and start shaking my head, the disbelief still hanging over me like a bad feeling you can’t shake. “What does this mean for us? Is it going to go back to the way it was before Endurance? I mean, when we thought we were going to lose everything?”
He shakes his head. “No. Ros and I have agreed to a very generous severance package and… I still own the patent on, well, almost all of GEH’s technologies. Including Endurance. We’ll be collecting royalties as long as those technologies are in use.”
“So… we’re good?”
He laughs. “Our great-great-great-great grandchildren will be good.”
There’s a turbulent storm of emotion building inside of me that’s becoming harder and harder to suppress. I push my lips together to keep them from trembling, and his eyes melt with concern.
“It’s all just hitting me. No more business trips.”
He smiles. “No more business trips.”
“No more long hours.”
“No more long hours.”
“I’ll have you. Always.”
“Always.” He scoots closer to me, and cups the sides of my face with his hands. “I told you after I finished Endurance that the only thing I wanted was to be with you. Now I will be. I’ll be a better husband. I’ll be a better father. I’ll be a better man. From this day forward, I’m giving myself to you, the way you’ve always, wholly, given yourself to me.”
The sincerity beneath his deep timber resonates in my soul in a way that brings me peace. That gives me visions of futures I’ve never seen before where we’re wrapped up in only each other, in only our children, and we’re blissfully happy about it. There aren’t dark figures lingering in the shadows. The pictures aren’t painted with a slightly ominous shade. Everything is just washed in golden light, wrapped in feelings of serenity and contentment. As I once again imagine picking up a slightly bigger Calliope and tossing her into a pile of leaves while Christian chases two little vaguely outlined children around us, my eyes well with tears.
“I can’t believe it,” I sniff, dashing the tears away. “You did it. After all this time, you really, actually did it.”
He frowns. “Did what?”
“You’ve given me the world, Christian.”
He blinks and stares back at me, a smile slowly crossing his lips as love shadows every line and curve of his face. He leans in and hovers a few precious centimeters from me, then slowly pushes his lips into mine. It’s the most meaningful kiss we’ve ever shared. So deep, so sweet, so tender… It’s the kind of kiss they write epic poems about, and it’s that kiss that leads us into our happily ever after.
65 thoughts on “Chapter 52”
I’m writing this before reading the chapter. I’m literally crying. I don’t remember the last time a story got to me that much to shake me up. I’m sure I’ll love whatever you’ve written but I’ll be happy to let a more constructive review after reading the chapter. In some way I’m a little sceptical about how are you going to wrap all the things that need to be wrapped in one last chapter, but I’ve always had faith in you and this time is not different, so we’ll see after.
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I’m sooooo stupid that I left the review incomplete.
Here it is the full review:
Before anything, I just wanted to thank you once again for being such a dedicated author to us. I really look forward to Mondays now (who manages to do that, girl!?) and I feel the need to re-read everything at least three or four times every week because my mind keep running around new scenarios every little while. Really, you are just a incredible, terrific author and even though I feel you should totally try to publish something, I feel extremely grateful that you post every week here, read our comments and interact with us, it feels like a little family/community and I love that. Annnnnd also looking forward to something every week makes every new chapter a lot more interesting, you know, great things may come to those who wait.
I wasn’t here from the beginning but I was almost all the journey, before you decided to create your own webpage, on that hold of the story that had me really sad but, at the sime time, so happy for you as an author to try to give my favourite chapters a real shot and I’ll also be here every new Monday if you decide to post your original here. I’m 100% sure it’ll be worth the shot, knowing you.
I’m also like you to know that I’m blaming you on my extremely high expectations at love after reading all your characters. Christian is the most insanely prototipe of man so I know is nearly impossible to someone like that to walk among us mortals but I’m hoping, okay? 🥺 even some Elliot or Luke would be okay, but well, you must point high, don’t you?
Being serious again, thank you, thank you a lot for these wonderful years, Tara! ❤️
Lots and lots of love,
I love our writing te way you told this story .I hate to see it end ,I’ve totally enjoyed reading this storyline.I can’t wait till Monday.I would like to say Thank you for writing this story.
OMG….ugly crying here in the corner. So perfect. I can’t wait to read the epilogue next week to see how everything gets tied in a bow. You are a phenomenal writer and I’ve said your take on these characters are better than the originals (IMO that is!). I can’t wait to read your originals coming soon I hope!!!!!!
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I AM NOT CRYING. YOU ALL ARE CRYING.
will probably read again and leave another equally dramatic comment.
Cannot wait for the epilogue. THANK YOU THANK YOU FOR THIS STORY!
Awesome! Hope Ana lives and makes Christian and Ana’s sacrifices worth it.
Excellent as always. What about Grey Publishing? I guess Stevens will be running it? Won’t he get bored? I thought he would give Endurance to that government but keep GEH and reduce his hours.
He is going to drive Ana nuts being home all the time lol. Sorry to see this end. I know we have an epilogue but Monday’s won’t be the same. Thank you Tara for this wonderful story. Can’t wait to read your original
Oh my gosh! What just happened?? Are you going to write after the outtakes? Please say yes!
I shed a tear or two, but their happiness is something to smile about. Thank you!
OMG….this is bitter sweet. I can’t believe he gave up GEH. I don’t know whether to laugh/cheer or cry like a baby! I’m so sad to see this story end. It has been an amazing ride. I love your writing. Thank you so much for taking us on this journey ❤
I can't wait for the Epilogue and the Outtakes 🙂
You have an amazing talent, Tara 🙂
Enjoyed this chapter until I saw the end. Monday’s will be full without your updates.
I loved, loved, loved this story and I am so happy that you came back to finish it. Although, I’m sad to see it end.
A beautiful ending with Christian getting his Nobel prize. The shocker was his announcement that he is stepping down from GEH and that Ros will be now in charge. Even Ana was shocked by that one as I think we all were.
I just am wondering how her pregnancy turns out and how she and the twins are?
Thank you again for the absolutely wonderful story. xx
Now that I’m a little less emotional, I have to congrat you because you did manage to wrap it all up! In some way I feel like there are some things on hold between them, like the thing about the vasectomy. Either way, I know it’s something that can be resolved easy behind the scenes so I’m not that worried.
Even if Christian gave Ana that emotional speech about how he loves her, like really really loves her, I could see that he was a little nervous about all the stepping back thing. But I believe it’s the best decision. In a world where you have everything, why would you keep working long hours instead of enjoying your life with your family? Just remember to create some new hobbie for Christian because I think he’ll be getting to ofter into Ana nerves in the near future!
I’m trying not to see this like and end and more like a little wrapping up for the main drama, because it feels so sad to think about this like the Final-Final Shade. I’ll keep focused on the futuretakes, but not pressure about that!
Wonderful chapter, Tara!
Lots of love,
I’m already writing a futuretake that is becoming very very long and may end up being 3 chapters lol
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Wow! I can’t believe this is the end. Thank you Tara for creating and sharing such an amazing story! I can’t wait for the outtakes
Holy shot! That’s all I’ve got. It’s gonna take me a bit to absorb this chapter!
While I’m sad this story has come to an end, I thank you for all the time you put into it. Thank you for not giving up and finishing it. You are a truly talented writer!
I’m actually crying I didn’t realise this was the end,w I haven’t posted since the last book. You are an awesome writer, I hope you write more. You have managed to give substance to all the characters besides Ana and Christian. I know all good things come to an end, but I haven’t read a story in forever where I have loved the writing so much and couldn’t wait for the next chapter. Tara please keep writing you have a gift and I know I speak for many we never want you to stop.
I’d love to see when Christian hired on Luke for Ana when they were broke up.
I’d love to see when Christian thought Callie was dead. (I know her father describes it but I’d love to read Christians POV on it.)
Graces POV when Carrick had cancer
Rays POV when Ana told him about Christian and being pregnant.
Excellent ending to an excellent story. One of the absolute best, and I dare say better than the original. Your characters seem more ‘alive’.
I do have questions the direction of some of the characters went, but I suppose it needed to happen that way in order for the story to develop as it did.
Now, for outtakes, I’m voting for some Jade and Luke perspective. Then there’s Mia and her journey. I may also get shouted down for this but I’d like to see Lincoln. What was he feeling after the trial and all he put on the line for Christian. I always wondered why Christian reconciled with his family, and to a certain extent Elena, but never considered Lincoln.
I love that suggestion!
I’m so excited you’d consider an outtake for Lincoln. He wasn’t evil. He was a good guy looking out for his friends children, so why did the Grey’s abandon him…or was it his choice to cut ties. Elena I get, but Lincoln was the whistle blower. If he didn’t open pandora’s box the story may have developed differently.
I think that’s why Lincoln went so crazy. He just tried to do everything right, and he was the one who got screwed.
Beautiful! Simply one of the best stories of FSOG. It’s come full circle. He promised her the world in book 1 and now fully delivered in book 4. Love it!
Had me in tears while reading. Because it is The End, how much Christian loves Ana! I can believe Christian resigns from GEH because he chooses Ana and their family! They mean everything to him. Christian has enough of his successes, he cant wait to be home and spend every moment with Ana. He wants to devote himself to Ana and their family completely! It is indeed grand and epic love! Thank You So Much, Tara! It has been an incredible journey with you, I love all your works! You’re a very talented author. I am very lucky to enjoy your books and interact with you. Thank You, too, for your absolute dedication and precious time gifting us with your magic! Look forward to epilogue, I hope it is very long🥰 and outtakes. With❤💚
Thank you for writing this story.
Excellent ending so glad all is coming together for our couple; they’ve been through so much! Hope there’s a Teddy and Phoebe!
Wow I know I already commented but I have so many feels.
Part of me is happy he stepped
Down but part of me feels bad bc that was his baby. I know Ana and the kids mean more but it’s bittersweet.
He will need a part time job or maybe Ray can teach him carpentry or they can do a lot of fishing. Lol otherwise he will drive Ana nuts.
So many questions:
What about all the angst and how cruel he was when he found out she was pregnant? They need a counseling session on that.
The vasectomy issue? Hope he froze
Some sperm or gets it reversed.
What about Grey Publishing? Is Ana giving that up?
What about Ros and her safety? I thought he may have stayed on at least
as an advisor for Ros. I don’t like him giving it up completely but o understand he chose Ana.
The future take during the pandemic is that null and void now? I guess so bc the kids are closer in age and he is no longer there.
Does Luke work for them again or this was a onetime gig to make Ana feel safe?
I am sure I have more but those were the top of my head.
I would love to see a future take or outtake with both Ana and Christian visiting Flynn and discussing the twins, his reaction and then Flynn’s reaction to Christian stepping down.
I still want an outtake of the zoo with him and Elliott lol. Love me daddy daughter time.
I have enjoyed theses books so much and really appreciate you coming back and finishing this one. It is bittersweet. I look forward to your future writings.
Most of these questions are answered in the epilogue ☺️☺️
Oh that is awesome. I knew you wouldn’t disappoint. You are so wonderful.
I’m not a cryer…I’m over here ugly crying right now!
This has been such an amazing journey with you! This Ana and Christian are so so so much better then the 50shades version. Bravo to you and you’re writing!
Are you going to make this story available for a kindle download? I KNOW I would 100% buy it!
Also, please, please, please let us know when you put your new works out! I will forever support you, and your writing!
You have a fan for life here!
My heart is so heavy that it’s over, but I’m looking forward to the epilogue, and outtakes.
THANK YOU AGAIN, YOU’RE THE BEST! ❤️❤️❤️
And now I’m all teary. Thank you for sticking with me ❤️❤️❤️
Thank you so much for all these gifts. You are one generous and talented writer.
Hope to see all your books printed/ebook form so that we, all those who love you, could somehow suggest those to others.
I wish you good health, lots of love and creativity! Muchas gracias, de todo corazòn🥰🥰
Guess we’re approaching the end and you’re done with FSOG. these characters lend themselves to all sorts of story lines like no other and your stories have taken the lead. Thank you and should you ever dream of something else for them, even after all these years I will be happy to read and reread.
And just like that, it’s a wrap, folks. Tara, telling you thank you for the gift of this FSOG universe you have created seems inadequate. But in sharing your creativity and talent with us you have helped build a wonderful community of dedicated readers that has become a family. You gave us an ending that is truly wonderful.
It’s the little things that did it for me: that even though she has healing to do, Ana is going to be just fine; how (f**king) proud Carrick is of Christian; that we got to learn Welch’s first name(!); your homage to the wonderful EL James with Elliot’s “Master of the Universe” comment; that Christian is finally letting himself just BE. All of it.
So while I’m sad this door is closing, I look forward to what you’ll do next and just be grateful you’re taking us along with you.
And much like Stephenie Meyer once said about Edward, it took four books, but you finally turned him (CG) into an optimist. 😍
You are one of the best. I will truly miss this story. I look forward to the epilogue and out takes
I don’t know where to begin. But I now know where it has ended and I am crushed. I think it is worse when a person knows where the end lies. I now dislike the number 53. (Go ahead tell me, am I taking this too hard?). 😞
I am not crushed for my favorite couple ever written in fanfic form. Your four books have been so delightful to read, so well organized, thought out and executed. When that is done right, the reader is taken on a journey and they love it. They feel the emotions that the characters feel, they go down those rabbit holes, they jump through the needed hoops, they fall head over heals for the characters who go through hell to be together. These books should have been movies. I have said it before, and I stand by it, here. The cast and crew would have been over the moon to do a fourth movie had it been these. And yes, I believe Jamie and Dakota would have been soooooooo on board with this version of Christian and Anastasia. 🤚 just stop- YES they could have pulled of the ages of your Christian and Ana. (Jamie looked so young in the first movie)
I am not crushed because you finished your incredible set of “Shades”, I am upset because there is so much more I want to know. In the words of Anastasia- “I need more, I want more”
Tara, I am hanging, just wondering about the incredibly hard journey that Ana has to make to get past the PTSD. Too look at the stories in totality- the toll on her was horrific. YOur writing of Ana’s panic and feelings after all of this is so spot on. It puts those of us who have had to deal with trauma in our lives or careers for various reasons into the very same room on the paper you have written the scene on. When Christian Grey says to Ana…..”Okay, I don’t know what to do about that…”. I was sure he was going to make a huge life change. Because he never ever wanted to have to say that to her. Giving her the world would not include him not knowing how to comfort or make her world right. And quite frankly the only way that I would ever believed that Christian Grey would walk away from Grey Enterprise Holdings, was if it involved the very life of Ana. (I am leaving Callie out of this for now). He would only do this for ANA. She is so fragile right now and I am just hanging onto my IPad, wondering how the hell Christian and Ana find their center again. What is the new normal and how do they mend the hurtful memories. The violent past. I know this is just a sentence that is being repeated in many comments …but my God Tara, there is so much I want to know. And the selfish part here: I only want you tell me the rest of the story.
Outtakes and future takes – may they flow from your talented brain to our screens for years. Years.
Yes I love Luke-
Elliott seems short changed in some ways- he and Christian would have been close I feel
That vasectomy BS deserved 5 chapters IMO. And it would be rocky……damn that pissed me off
A talk between Christian and her Dad- after Ana had been shot
The conversation where Christian really convinces Ana he is all in with the pregnancy- all in!!! There might have to be a smut warning on that chapter.
I would love a family future take that has the Grey men together talking about their “girls” Beer should be involved, slurring of words, and drunk mushy confessions…
(Sweet Baby Jesus- make Tara write 5 or six chapters about the birth of the twins). Amen. Now you know what that means when I use that SBJ phrase.
I have so many others that want you to write, but know that you are moving into a new adventure with new material. We as fans, would be foolish not to tag along.
Thank you for giving us “Shades”. Thank you for giving us your Ana and Christian and their story. I know you have given us your time and your talents for a long time now. Please know that I will try to return the favor ten fold as you continue to write….future takes, out takes, new material. ♥️ ♥️
Awh thank you so much for all of this. And I could write the next Fifty Shades and become EL James rich and I’d still come back here and write short stories and outtakes for these characters. I love these crazy kids 🥰🥰
“I don’t have any expectations, Anastasia. I am just going to love you.” BEST.LINE.EVER!!!
Omg I am crying happy and sad tears the ending , last chapter was perfect. Thank you so much for this but I can’t wait to read the epilogue and outtakes because I just can’t seem to get enough of these two!!!
I find it hard to believe that Christian is going to completely give up GEH and be only a husband and father. He’s such a genius he’d be bored out of his mind on the first day of his retirement, and he’s still in his early twenties! Maybe he could go around sprinkling Endurance on poor communities to lift them out of poverty or something…
I actually find I’m okay with the vasectomy, given the severe danger to Ana’s life if she ever gets pregnant again and because it his body. That being said, she does still need to have it out with Christian that he went and did it without giving her the time to mourn the lost possibilities.
I’m assuming Grey Publishing is still Ana’s. He was only talking about removing himself from GEH, not Ana, and he gave her carte blanche on how she wanted to run it. She probably won’t want to run the everyday operations now, but I would think she’d still want to be involved. Honestly, she’s taken so much time off in the time she’s been working in The Final Shade of Fifty, that I’m not sure she even counts as a full time worker…
I am curious about the Endurance fleet. Christian gave Ana the flagship, so is it still hers? Does he still have access/control of his own plane? I guess since it’s a fleet now, Ros can have a plane of her own and a few spares for any executives that need them.
I don’t know, GEH is basically in Christian’s DNA, so I can’t imagine him COMPLETELY removing himself from it, just taking a major step back. The fact that he owns the patents is still keeping his foot in the door, so to speak.
The epilogue will answer some of these questions.
I plan on coming back here for my customary late Sunday night review, but I wanted to first congratulate you on the accomplishment of finishing (for now) this amazing story. These past few years your story has been such a comfort and my favorite go-to read. I wish I could send you flowers or purchase this series or do more than write a few words in a review. A year and a half or maybe even two years ago, when you left this story and it disappeared and I never imagined or dared to hope you would be gracious enough to share your talent again. I am so thankful for the universe you created and I’m a bit broken-hearted to say goodbye to them.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
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Omg I didn’t see that coming but I’m glad he realized what truly was important to him.
Can’t wait for the epilogue
Great story as always
Great chapter. I can’t believe it’s the last one I thought we had one more and than the epilogue. 😳
I thought you would get him out of the business, I loved that. Thank you. I’m going to miss them. I can’t think of any outakes until after the epilogue you might cover it.
Ray’s and Sawyer’s point of view of the rescue and Ana’s going in until they find out she’s awake.
After the epilogue I might have more!! 😬🤣
Thank you very much for sharing this incredible story of Christian and Ana, a plot like no other. Christian is finally at peace, he has achieved what he set up to do when he started his company, it was all for Ana. He is satisfied with what he has accomplished and now to concentrate his time and energy for those that are most important in his life. Ana the love of his life and the products of their love, Calliope and the twins.
Looking forward to read the epilogues and outtakes. I would like to read more of Christian pov on how he eventually accepted the twins. I figured they are the part of Ana she cannot give up not even for Christian.
Without Ana life is of no importance to him, he has to be ready for them and will surprise himself, how he will enjoy having a son.
Omg soo good!!! But would love to be in the session they had with Flynn… did they talk about the twins, the vasectomy, Anna thoughts on Christian being kidnapped, the way he treated her when she found out she was pregnant?? Feel like this could have been another chapter.
I hope the epilogue is huge (bigger than the last few chapters) maybe with a lemon too. I hope we see how the twins are born what the pregnancy was like and few funny moments too.
Surely Christian goes back to work a couple days a week or they travel for a bit.
Sad the story is over when I feel like it could keep going.
Looking forward to the outtakes 🙂
Ahhhhhh nooooo keep writing!! It’s soo good! What about Anna pregnancy journey?
Does Luke and jade get married?
What about Elliot and Kate do they have more kids?
Ok I’m a huge English nerd, so you’re going to have to forgive me for a second, but this is absolutely fantastic writing. There’s an illusion here to A Different Shade of Fifty that perfectly captures the growth of Christian’s character over the whole story.
In the first conversation Christian and Ana have (not the brief, rude one where he won’t tell her his name, but the one where they’re walking back from their first class together), Ana asks Christian, essentially, what he’s going to do after college, and he replies, “I’m going to rule the world, Miss Steele.”
In the last conversation they ever have, she tells him, “You’ve given me the world.”
And the summation of that is a man who started on a relentless quest for power, and ends with the realization that power is really letting go of his demons and letting himself be at peace with the woman he loves. Even talking it out now, there could be echos of something about the absence of love in his childhood driving him into darkness, and Ana’s love finally pulling him out. I don’t know so much about that one, but the symmetry between the first book and the last book is absolutely beautiful. Bravo!
So sad to see your books ending. Your story has been far better than E.L.James’ books. Your characters are far better defined and far more believable.
I had expected Christian to give the Endurance project to some group like UNICEF to benefit the world, but turning it over to Ros is more logical (and she certainly earned it!!!) I expect he will help the world through their Foundation. He’ll have as many speaking requests as he can handle and will certainly be asked to join boards of directors, too.
What happened to the Harvard lawyer that Ana moved out to Seattle to be her attorney? (I forget his name — Ashton?)
Does Ana’s book get published? by Grey Publishing or?
Are your books available as a print-to-order item? Are they a downloadable .pdf? I’ve saved them by copy-and-paste, but they’re pretty messy that way.
Thank you again for your wonderful tale, and I wish you tremendous success with your future projects, which I look forward to reading.
Try to keep the outtakes and epilogue going as long as you can!
Astor is probably still working in Seattle and I’d imagine Ana calls him whenever she’s doing something sneaky 😂😂
Your other questions will be answered in the epilogue.
I think my books are floating around in ebook versions in a bunch of 50 Shades fanfiction Facebook groups, but I don’t house any of it.
Amazing story, talented writer. I really hope that you will continue to share your beautifully written stories with us, and make our Mondays more bearable 😀
Just one thing: as far as I know, a Nobel prize winner is known and announced publicly weeks before the actual ceremony in Stockholm.
Yeah, but that wasn’t dramatic enough so in my universe that’s not how it happens.
Noooo. It’s not the end. It can never end! I really thought there was one more chapter before the Epilogue (a girl can wish)!
I’m so in denial!
Amazing job! I can hardly wait for the epilogue and outtakes!
I hope that in the chapters to come that we get to see how the babies do and a glimpse of the future for this family.
Thx Bunches Trudy
OMG Tara!!!!!!!!!!! I love it. I have followed this series for years and so glad I held out!! I do need an outtake or epilogue that shows the babies and Ana are safe!
Wow!!! I can’t believe this is the ending. It was great ending and I’ll miss the weekly updates. I loved the story followed it since the beginning and constantly go back to read different chapters. You did an awesome job with this story , can’t wait for the epilogue and the outtakes
Thank you Tara for this wonderful story. One of my favourite and probably the best FSOG fanfic out there. I hope you will publish your work; its so extremely worth it; better than most of the work out there. You deserve it! Best of luck with your future endeavours. It’ll be sad to read the epilogue knowing that this amazing story has finally come to an end 😒😢. Thank you 😀
On another note, I hope Ana and Christian truly compensate Luke. That guy would sacrifice his life for Ana, and yet she’s not even blood. They have such a strong bond, its so special 💞
I hope he purchases all the block of land around his home and build Taylor, Luke and Ray a home, so they are close by but also get to have their pricacy. Taylor and Luke for their loyalty and Ray so he is close by to Ana and the grandkids.
I cannot believe we’re at the end!!! I had a strange thought this week. What if, this entire time you have been setting up the release of your original work and it’s actually the Phoenix. I really wouldn’t put it past you to be so brilliant.
Really curious how far the epilogue will be set. It’s almost like Christmas Eve and I’m so excited to wake up to my (our) present. But I’ll probably read each paragraph super slow so I can hang on to this story for as long as I can. Strangely emotional about this journey coming to an end, but so grateful I can re-read a completed masterpiece.
Nah, Phoenix is a YA sci/fi fantasy novel— I imagined it a little like Hunger Games-esque. I’m definitely sticking to closed-hearted alpha males turning to liquid love when he meets his lady. Although, unlike Christian, X can tell a joke 🤣
And I can’t wait to read it! 🙂