Chapter 52

“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. 

“Come, love.”

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?”

“I’m alright.”

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.”

“You do?”

“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.

“What’s wrong?”

“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.

The End.