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Fic: After the End is the Start Again

Title: After the End is the Start Again
Word Count: 2050
Fandom: Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Rating: PG
Characters/Pairing: Alice/Hatter
Notes: Thanks to divajess for the quick beta!
Warnings: None
Disclaimer: Characters and universe are first Carroll's, then Burton's, then Disney's. Not mine.
Summary: What happens next in a few little vignettes.



After the End is the Start Again


Alice was quite sure that the open market in Mumbai was the very best place she had been in this world. It was all heat and noise and colour--barely controlled madness. She was fascinated by beautiful embroidered cloths and intricately carved figures of monkeys and elephants and strange creatures with too many arms or not enough eyes. There were bins brimming with the exotic spices and teas that perfumed the air around her. She wandered for hours and hours, until her toes ached and her shoulders were burdened with presents for every single person she'd ever met.

On her way out, a winking light at the farthest stall caught at the corner of her eye, and so she turned to have one last look for the day. The sun had caught on the gems of a peculiar little bracelet, a thin golden ring that latched at the top at the place where the metal curved around two stones that were brilliant green in one light and golden yellow in another. She paid the vendor and clasped the thing around her wrist, tracing the stones with her finger, quite transfixed and suddenly, alarmingly homesick for a place that was not London.

~*~*~*~


She had always thought London a rainy place to be, indeed. Growing up, she had even become used to forgetting the look of the sun in February all together, the cold mist and rain forever seeping in through her clothes and into her very bones, cloaking everything under a blanket of relentless damp chill that stayed with her even at her favourite spot near the drawing room fire. Even in May, all daffodils and daisies in full bloom, when the day seemed the most perfect one for a picnic, from nowhere, the sky would sometimes cloud up, and the rain would come ever so suddenly, soaking through her boots and muddying up the hem of her dress, and her mother would tisk and fret and warn her off the carpets.

But London rain, she decided, was at the very least polite (as all in London are); it did not often go where it ought not to. London rain did not come in through closed windows or make the walls move or push the carriages from the roads. Beijing rain was not so very interested in western manners, and Alice had begun to wonder if the savage stuff had even started falling from the bottom upwards. She spent long weeks trying to learn contracts in Mandarin whilst dodging large drops that bullied their way through the roof and puddles that seeped in from the floorboards.

Her umbrella was no match for it as she traveled to meet with the foreign merchants at the close of her very fist deal in China. It came sideways that day, spraying her face and soaking her hair. She worried that she'd done the wrong thing, that she'd made some sort of mistake. But, as she held tightly to the sealed leather envelopes that held her father's dream and months of her own hard work, she ran a finger around the winking yellow-green stones from the bracelet at her wrist, and she remembered why she had come here and why she had left there. She still had work to do.

~*~*~*~


In only a manner of minutes, Alice realised that real pirates were not nearly so much fun as the storybooks had made them out to be. She had been at sea for a little more than a week on the journey back to England when the sounds of panicked shouts and clanging weaponry from above woke her from a sound sleep. She crept from her bed as quietly as she could manage and hid behind a stack of crates on the deck, watching helplessly as the crew, her crew, fought and fell. She heard the thumping of her own heartbeat in her ears, and she looked to the heavens for some guidance.

In the quickest of seconds, the moon's crescent changed, slid sideways in the night sky and bared its teeth in an all-knowing grin. Alice shook her head at herself and counted to six as she lifted a sword from a fallen friend and remembered. She remembered the feel of the cool hilt warming to her hand, of the muscles in her shoulders and legs and arms doing what they must, of climbing, climbing, climbing. And, when she brought down the blade this time, she felt a spray of warm blood at her face and heard the sick sound of a human body falling to the floor. She hadn't a moment to think before her blade was swinging again and again, and before sunrise, all was finally quiet--even the sea.

~*~*~*~


Benjamin Thacker joined the company shortly before her return to London. Lord Ascott had assured Alice that he was one of the finest businessmen he'd ever known, and he arranged a meeting for her first week back, so he and Benjamin could brief Alice on what the home office had been up to. Shortly after introductions, Lord Ascott left them to their tea and conversation with a clap at Benjamin's shoulder and a not-so-subtle wink in Alice's direction.

Alice thought Benjamin was fine enough to look at. He was not too tall and not too thin, and he had a respectable chin and sturdy hands.

For weeks, they got on well at the office during the day. And every evening, he would walk her home, holding an umbrella over her head if it happened to be raining. He was kind and clever, and even her mother began to leave them alone in her father's study as they sat talking of contracts and cargo and sometimes the theatre.

Drafting the plans for the newest offices in Hong Kong was a slow and tedious thing to do, but Alice worked late, knowing that they must be ready by the morning in order to make the next day's post. Benjamin stayed with her, offering advice and fetching her papers or extra ink or anything else her task required. When they finally finished, and the documents were ready, Benjamin hugged her close, and Alice noticed that their noses were very close together.

He smiled sweetly at her before his face turned serious again, softly brushing the hair at her temples with gentle fingers. Before she could even process what was happening, his lips were covering her own. It was nice enough, Alice thought--pleasant, even.

But, when she pulled her face back to look at his, his eyes, kind as they were, were only the one shade of brown, and his breath did not smell of tea, and his sturdy hands were far too perfect--there wasn't a nick or a bandage anywhere to be found. She began to pull away, but he clasped her fingers in his and knelt down to one knee. From his pocket he pulled a beautiful ring, and from his lips he pledged to her his lifelong devotion.

Alice looked at his kind face and his lovely chin, and she wanted to love him. So, it was with a sad heart and tearful eyes that she told him that he wasn't the man for her.

~*~*~*~


Two weeks before she planned to depart back to the East Offices, she accompanied her mother to a garden party in Sussex. The day was a beautiful one, but she felt, as she always had, so very out of place in the company of this lot. She'd quite given up trying to talk with the other women her age, who had now taken to looking at her with openly pitying glances (Twenty six years of age and no husband, such a waste. She was always so pretty.) She longed to go inside where the men were surely discussing business and politics over cigars and brandy, but she knew her mother would never approve of such behavior in this sort of setting, so Alice took to wandering the gardens alone.

She found herself in a lovely spot with a bench situated among blooming rose bushes, and she sat, thinking of nothing in particular as she watched a ladybird crawl over a leaf. It ventured all the way to the very tip, almost dropping off the edge, but then it spread its wings and flitted back to where it started. Halfway through the ladybird's second journey, Alice was so captivated that she only barely noticed the rustling of the bushes at the edge of her vision. But, when the rustling happened again, she left the ladybird to its adventure and stood to investigate this new disruption.

She wandered up and down the rows, looking for something, but the things stayed still. Shrugging her shoulders, she started back to her bench and wondered if her newest little friend was still on its leaf. It wasn't, but she sat again anyway, hoping for just a few more moments before her mother or her sister would surely come looking for her.

When she heard footsteps on the other side of the hedge row, she took a deep breath and readied her nerves to get back to polite society. But, the figure that rounded the corner was neither her mother nor her sister.

She hadn't seen him in such a very long time, but he looked exactly as she remembered, all flaming wild hair and gapped-tooth grin and swirls of colour and light. He came closer and closer, and she had so many things she wanted to say to him, so many stories she needed to tell, but all she could manage was, "Hatter?"

He got close enough to take her hand in his, and she brushed her fingers over the callouses and the bandages; all she could do was gape. He looked so very well--the dark hollows under his eyes and at his cheeks were pink instead of the greyish purple they'd become during the war.

The Hatter smiled back at her and said, "I was having tea with the Hare, and I was investigating things that begin with the letter M, and I went through Marmalade and Marigolds and Mischief before I got to Missing and Moping and Muchness."

He stepped even more impossibly close to her, and his voice was a near whisper when he continued, "And I thought it had been so long, so very, far too long, in fact, and you were so dreadfully late for tea, and I thought..." His words trailed off as he looked at her with those eyes that matched the bracelet on her wrist, twinkling yellow and green and gold. He shook his head to himself and asked her, "Have you any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?"

At this, Alice did find her voice. Chuckling, she told him, "No. I haven't the foggiest idea," and she wrapped a hand around his neck and pulled him close, hugging him tightly. He smelled just like he should, of tea and cakes and the out of doors. She let her lips brush the side of his neck when she said, "I've missed you very much, you know."

"You have?" The Hatter asked, pulling back to look at her earnestly.

"Yes," Alice said. "I have."

"You didn't forget all about me?" He asked, and Alice shook her head. But, he wasn't watching her just then, instead mumbling at the ground, worrying the lace of his cuffs. "I was so sure that you would, that Alice would forget us all..."

She reached out, placing her hands on either side of his face, pulling his gaze back to hers. "Not even for a second," she said.

The colour of his eyes went from yellow to green, and he stepped back, pulling his jacket taut and straightening his hat. "You seem even more muchier than you were before," he said, looking her up and down. "You've kept your muchness, Alice."

Oh, she had so many stories to tell him.

He held his hand out to her, and smiling, she took it, knowing that wherever she decided to go, this time she didn't have to leave home to do it.

This time, home would come with her.

~*~*~*~ End ~*~*~*~

Tags: aiw (2010), fic, het
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