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Imagine Me and You

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Alice jolted awake, breathing hard. She could feel goosebumps prickling all over her skin, a mate to the shivers racking her body. That had been one of her worst nightmares to date, excepting of course those about the fire. . .or maybe not. After all, this one had dealt with the loss of one close to her as well, hadn’t it? She closed her eyes in an attempt to calm herself, but that just brought back the image of Victor standing before her on the street, staring at her with baffled, blank eyes – no spark of recognition, of life within them –

She gasped, eyes snapping open again. Quickly she turned over, needing to reassure herself that this wasn’t the dream, that everything was fine.

A familiar head of black hair lay on the pillow beside her. Alice reached out and touched it, eliciting a happy murmur from its owner. She relaxed as the thick, soft, slightly-greasy strands tangled in her fingers. Victor was here. Her beloved was by her side where he belonged. And he remembered her, and everything about himself. The days of him being an empty shell were long gone. The nightmare was merely that, nothing more.

“Alice?” Victor’s voice was muffled, dulled by sleep. “Are you all right?”

Alice scooted closer to him, wrapping her arms around his fragile-looking body. “I’m fine,” she whispered, kissing the side of his head. “Go back to sleep.”

Victor turned over in her grasp, pulling her close. “You’re sure?”

Brown eyes full of warmth and love gazed upon her. The last of the tension dissipated from Alice’s stomach. “I’m sure.”

Chapter Text

It was a dark and stormy day. Thunder growled outside the parlor window, a sure sign that the weather wasn’t going to improve anytime soon. Victor sighed and pressed his head against his makeshift pillow. “How’s your book?”

“Poorly written and ridiculous – fortunately for the author, that’s enough to keep me reading,” Alice commented, idly laying her free hand on his hair. “How are you down there?”

“Fine,” Victor said, watching lightning flash across the sky through the rain-blurred glass. “Though rather tired of all this miserable weather. I wanted to have a picnic today.”

“You’re not the only one,” Alice groused. “I was hoping for a chance to enjoy the summer while it was still here. And while I was still small enough to fit through the front door.”

Victor allowed himself a smile at that, but didn’t comment. He’d learned the hard way that Alice could be a bit touchy about the subject of her expanding belly. Mrs. Winks had assured him such mood swings were a normal symptom of pregnancy, but it was really one he would have rather done without. Alice’s sarcasm was not something he liked having directed at him too often. “Perhaps it will be sunny tomorrow and we’ll get the chance,” he said instead. He grinned up at her. “Remember the summer we spent together in Houndsditch? When everyone said it was the hot–”

Something kicked his cheek.

Victor jerked his head up, eyes wide. Had he just – his fingers probed the side of his face. It hadn’t been particularly hard – barely a kick at all – but something had quite definitely kicked his cheek through Alice’s dress. He looked up to see his wife’s jaw hanging open slightly, her expression as gobsmacked as he felt. “Was – was that–”

“If it wasn’t, my stomach’s taken to rumbling in a most unusual manner,” Alice said. She seized his hand and pressed it against her belly. “Do it again. Please do it again.”

For a moment, Victor wondered what she was talking about. And then, plain as day, the kick repeated itself, as if in response to her plea. Alice stared down at her belly. “Well then. I – I think it’s actually become a baby.” She blushed and rolled her eyes at herself. “If that makes any sense at all.”

“It does,” Victor assured her in a rather breathless voice. Oh God, this was – he’d felt it moving a bit before, but those had been tiny flutters, like the proverbial butterflies in the stomach. This was clearly from a creature with arms and legs just like them. This was – this was a child.

Their child.

His eyes met Alice’s again, now full of wonder and joy. She laughed faintly. “Funny time to realize we’re truly going to be parents, hmm?” she whispered, cheeks still a little pink.

“Yes,” Victor agreed, before capturing her lips in a kiss.

Chapter Text

"Bayard!"

Victor tugged on the leash, frowning. Bayard ignored him, sniffing industriously at the wrinkled cardboard box lying abandoned at the crossroads. Victor's frown deepened. This isn't like him. He's curious about everything, yes, but usually he comes right back when I call. What's so fascinating here? "Come on, boy," he said, tugging the leash again. "It's just an old box. If you want something to chew on, you have your bed at–"

"mew. . ."

Victor froze. Had that been – The noise repeated itself, just barely at the level of hearing. "mew. . ."

In one long stride, Victor was beside his dog and staring down. Huddled in the corner of the cheap cardboard container was a tiny kitten, dingy white and splattered with black – mud? Surely a cat couldn't be spotted like a dalmatian. . . . It shivered as it looked up at them, tail tucked low and eyes wide. They were of two different colors, Victor noted – the left green, the right blue. "mew," it whimpered, voice high with fear.

Bayard woofed back, then stuck his nose in the kitten's face. Victor expected it to scratch, but it just cowered away from the much larger creature. At least, until a large pink tongue came out and licked it, sending it toppling onto its side and meowing in confusion. "Easy with him, Bayard," Victor said, crouching down. "Or her. . . ." He checked the kitten's backside as well as he could. "Him. The world clearly has not shown him its best side." He presented his hand to the kitten for sniffing. "Poor thing. . .I bet you and your litter were left here as 'free,' and everyone got chosen but you, hmm?"

The kitten sniffed him, then timorously butted its head against his fingers. Victor petted it gently, and was pleased to hear a soft purr. "Yes, see? Not so scary after all."

Bayard ruffed in agreement – before opening his jaws wide around the tiny body. "What – hey! No!" Victor cried, pulling him away. The kitten squeaked and curled up on itself. "Dr. Wilson told me that you liked cats – and not for dinner!"

Bayard looked at him, then down at the kitten. He wuffed and grabbed the side of the box in his teeth, then began dragging it along the path. "No!" Victor snapped, starting to get annoyed. He tightened his grip on the leash. "The box is not a toy either! Stop! Bad!"

Bayard stopped, whimpering. Then his ears pricked as he seemed to get an idea. He bounced up to Victor and grabbed his sleeve. "Bayard–" Victor began into a warning tone, only to be dragged firmly towards the box by the husky. Bayard put his hand right over the mewling kitten, then released his sleeve and looked up at him expectantly.

Victor stared first at the kitten, shaking under his fingers, then at his dog, who was giving him all-too-literal puppy dog eyes. "The man at the pet store said he got along well with cats," Dr. Wilson's voice echoed in his head. "He even retrieved a kitten that had gotten under the desk when some children were playing with them both." "You weren't trying to bite it," he whispered, understanding now. "You were trying to pick it up. You – you want me to take the kitten home?"

Bayard barked and wagged his tail. Victor blinked, then shook his head, trying to clear it. Bayard wanted the kitten. His pet was asking for a pet. Maybe Alice is right and I do treat him a bit too much like a child. And what will she say if we show up with a random stray? Especially in her condition?

Another "mew" from the kitten got his attention. He looked down to see it staring back at him. It licked its nose with a very pink tongue, then butted its head against his fingers again. On the other hand. . .I've never thought it really fair that our belated wedding gift from Dr. Wilson was a pet specifically for me. He smiled and scooped the kitten up, holding it close to his chest, before tugging again on the leash. Bayard bounded to his side, tail now a white furry blur. "Okay, boy. We'll at least see what Alice has to say."

Chapter Text

He was – tiny.

Alice couldn’t help but marvel at that fact. Her newborn son -- Chester, as they'd decided to christen him -- seemed barely bigger than your average loaf of bread. Victor had told her that this was typical of his father’s bloodline – children starting out minuscule, than shooting up like weeds once they reached the growing years – but still. She cast her mind back to the intense pain that had wracked her body not a hour ago. Could a baby this small really have caused that?

A soft gurgle drew her attention back to Chester. His size wasn’t the only indication that he took after the Van Dort side of the family – he was a very pale child, with a few strands of black hair plastered to his head and a nose that could only have come from his father. The only contribution she seemed to have made to his appearance was his eyes, which were the same bright green as her own. It was a bit disconcerting to have them staring up at her from out of a tiny copy of Victor’s face. Disconcerting, but also pleasing. She’d carried the boy in her womb for nine months – he ought to look at least a bit like a Liddell.

The bed creaked as Victor settled onto it. “How is he?” he whispered, as if frightened a normal conversational tone would somehow harm the fragile little life cradled in Alice’s arms.

“Quiet,” Alice replied. “I think he’s as exhausted as I am from all the mess and fuss of being born.” Indeed, Chester’s eyes were beginning to flutter. Alice began rocking him back and forth gently to soothe him further. “Poor little thing.”

“I’m not surprised. That was – q-quite the production,” Victor commented, shaking his head. “And I was only watching.” With a grin, he added, “And being asked why we thought this was a good idea.”

“You never did say,” Alice teased, smirking up at him. “Too busy worried I’d squeeze all the blood out of your hand?”

“A bit,” Victor allowed, chuckling. His eyes turned again to their child. “But now. . .well, I think he himself makes the perfect case for this being an excellent idea.”

Alice nodded as Chester drifted off to sleep. “Yes, he does indeed. I say we keep him.”

Victor pressed his lips to her temple. “I agree.”

Chapter Text

“Where’s Daddy? Where’s Daddy? . . .There he is!”

Chester laughed, squirming around in his crib. Victor grinned and covered his face with his hands again. “Where’s Daddy? Where is he?”

“You’d think he’d know you were still there simply by the sight of your hair sticking up over your fingertips.”

Victor looked up to see his wife observing him from the doorway, smiling. “He seems to be enjoying himself regardless,” he replied, turning back to Chester and sticking his tongue out at him. Chester laughed, waving his little arms. “Who’s a silly baby? Who’s a silly baby?”

“All babies are silly,” Alice said, coming over to join him. “It’s all part of being a baby.” She waggled her fingers at Chester, who tried to capture them in his surprisingly-tight grip. “Lizzie told me she used to play peek-a-boo with me,” she added in a softer voice. “Until the day I managed to grab some of her hair in my excitement and nearly yanked it out of her head. She admitted it took her a day or two to want to come near me again – and even then, she always made sure she had her hair tied back.”

Victor chuckled. “Poor Lizzie.” His smile faded. “I – I don’t recall anyone ever playing peek-a-boo with me. None of the people looking after me were really the type.” He looked down at Chester, who looked back up at him with Alice’s wide green eyes. “Silly thing to regret not having in one’s life, right?”

“Silly, but understandable,” Alice told him, putting a hand on his shoulder. “But we’re hardly going to let the same thing happen to Chester now, are we?”

Victor grinned again. “Not at all.” He reached out and stroked his son’s cheek with a finger, making the baby smile. “He really is wonderful, isn’t he?”

“Yes,” Alice agreed quietly. “And all the more so for being so easily amused. You just wait until he’s grown up and demanding things from shop windows.”

“I’m sure we’ll be able to handle it,” Victor said with a smirk. “That is, as long as he doesn’t mind his toys fading after a few hours.”

“Oh, we’ll only be able to get away with that for a year at most.”

Chapter Text

"Perfect! Good boy, Bayard!"

Bayard ruffed and licked Victor's face before bounding off to the next plot. Victor sifted through the freshly-turned earth, grinning. Nothing like a husky's paws for getting the garden ready for planting. Poking a circle of small depressions into the soil, he pulled out his seeds and neatly dropped them in before covering them up. "That's the tomatoes taken care of," he declared with a glance over his shoulder.

Alice, sitting on the bench with a squirming black-haired bundle in her arms, grinned at him. "Excellent work." Her eyes roamed over the line of remaining brown squares, each marked with a tiny inked sign. "Potatoes, peppers, cucumbers, celery – you're determined to grow a little of everything, aren't you?"

"I enjoy it," Victor replied, patting Bayard on the back as the dog cheerfully dug through the loam. "Good work, boy. Go on to the next one. Go on! Besides, it's less we have to buy at the market," he added as the husky bounced a square up. He nodded in the direction of Chester, who was staring up at the sky with wide green eyes. "And with him needing new nappies so often. . . ."

"Tell me about it," Alice groaned, shaking her head at their son. "Everyone else peppered me with advice about what to dress him in, and how many toys he should have, and whether or not I should hire a wet nurse – but Nanny just told me, 'They shit half the day and burp up the rest. Make sure you've always got something to wrap 'round his bottom before you don't have a day dress left.' The only truly useful information I got."

Victor snickered. "Well, to be fair, he also sleeps and cries."

"The latter far more than the former." Chester laughed, pinwheeling his arms. "Oh yes, you do like keeping your parents up all hours, don't you?" Alice cooed, bouncing him on her knee. "You're lucky your father is a born insomniac." She suddenly smirked in Victor's direction. "You know, we could probably also put all those soiled nappies to good use in this garden."

To his own shock, Victor considered it a moment. Then he shook his head rapidly to clear away the attack of madness. "I think Bayard will be sufficient for – fertilization, thank you," he replied, busying himself with digging holes for the potato peelings he'd scavenged from the kitchen trash. "Him and Splatter, if we can train them to go in the right spots."

"Cats really just do as they please," Alice said, shifting Chester so she could reach down and give the cat snoozing at her side a stroke. Splatter purred in his sleep. "But there's no harm in giving in a try. And at the very least, I know he'll be happy to chase off anything that considers your garden good for a nibble."

"So long as he doesn't chase off all the pollinators as well. I've seen the way that cat looks at butterflies and bees. One of these days he's going to come in with a swollen tongue because he tried to eat the wrong thing."

"I'd worry more about Chester getting that idea into his head." Chester giggled and flexed his fingers toward the nearby rose bushes. "No, don't try it now! Eating bees is not funny, you strange child."

Victor laughed softly before returning to his planting. Funny – after the mess with Emily and Victoria, I never dreamed I'd ever be in the middle of a scene like this, he thought, covering up the peels as Bayard threw dirt around in the pepper plot. Dog digging in the yard, cat napping in the sun, wife entertaining the baby nearby, a garden to plant, a warm spring day to enjoy. . .it's perfect, it really is. Somehow, I've become normal.

He directed Bayard to the next square of earth, then licked his lips and touched his throat, aware of a growing dryness. Well, he had been working fairly hard in the sun. . . Picking up the glass he'd brought with him, he spat into it, then closed his eyes and concentrated. A couple of moments later, he opened them in triumph and took a healthy swig of the cool water that now filled his cup. Well – almost normal.

Chapter Text

"WAAAAAAH! WAAAAAAAAAH!"

"And people say roosters are annoying. . . ."

Alice sighed as she levered herself up off the pillow. She knew most people would be horrified to hear such words coming out of her lips – how could she compare her month-old baby to a rooster? But, somehow, she felt that she spoke for every mother in England when she said them. People liked to pretend babies were all sunshine and delight (well, most people – she still smiled whenever she remembered Nanny's extremely unsentimental view), but Alice had rapidly learned they were equal parts misery and terror too. And almost always at night. "I'm coming," she called to the persistent wailing on the other side of the nursery door. "Just hold your–"

A hand on her shoulder stopped her. "No," Victor said as he sat up, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. "I'll go see what he wants. You get your rest."

Without even waiting for her to reply, he threw back the covers and got up, padding over to the door. Alice watched as he disappeared around the other side of it. Part of her felt like she should protest – he needed his sleep too, especially considering he was the one who periodically struggled with insomnia – but, well. . .it was nice not to have to get up herself every single time. And besides, that had sounded more like a "I'm lonely and want attention" cry rather than a "I'm hungry" cry (she was learning, slowly, to tell the difference). Daddy was more than capable of handling those. Alice let herself flop back down, pulling the covers over herself and attempting to find her way back to dreamland.

The wailing quieted after a minute, replaced by a soft murmuring and steady footsteps – yes, it appeared that Chester simply needed a bit of walking and bouncing before he would consent to sleep. Unfortunately, even that was just loud enough to keep her awake. Or maybe it was her maternal instincts, insisting that she ought to at least peek at her baby. Alice groaned and sat up again. "Was this what it was like for you, Mama?" she addressed the floor. "No wonder you and Papa slept like the bloody dead once you finally got the chance."

No chance of that for her, though, until she had a short walk herself, it seemed. She got up, located her slippers and dressing gown, then sneaked her way over to the nursery door. Victor had left it open a crack – she gave it a tiny push, then peered in.

The scene was one she was familiar with – Victor walking Chester in circles around the nursery, humming some nameless tune as the infant gazed raptly at his face. Alice smiled – oh yes, Chester was definitely his father's son. From the moment he'd been born – even before, if all those times his restless fidgeting in the womb had only quieted upon hearing Victor's piano counted – he'd adored anything even remotely musical. It didn't matter if it was Beethoven's Fifth or "How Doth The Little Crocodile" – if it had a melody, he was hooked. Perhaps it had been passed down with Victor's dark hair and pale skin. Alice simply counted herself lucky that Wonderland had what seemed like a never-ending supply of little ditties and nonsense songs for her to use when he fussed. Trying to get him back to sleep would be a nightmare otherwise.

Fortunately, he seemed perfectly content with Victor's impromptu creation too. As she watched, his little green eyes fluttered, then closed, tiny head nodding. Victor noticed too, and – after one last circuit around the carpet to be sure – brought him back to his crib. He gently deposited Chester on the mattress, then leaned on the side, watching him sleep. Alice sighed softly. Another crisis averted. She was just about to creep back for a bit of shut-eye herself –

When she heard a sniffle. Uh-oh – was Chester hungry after. . .no, wait. That hadn't sounded like the baby. Frowning, she turned back to see – "Victor?"

Victor started, jerking his head around. "Alice!" He hastily wiped his eyes. "I thought–"

"I couldn't get back to sleep," Alice whispered, slipping in through the half-open door and tip-toeing her way to the crib. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Victor said, shaking his head. "Nothing at all. It's just. . . ." He looked down at Chester again, still thankfully asleep. "I put him to bed, and – and I don't know why, but it hit me all at once. Just – how close I. . . ." He bit his lip, fresh tears glittering in his eyes. "I – I could have missed this."

Alice wasn't sure what, precisely, he was talking about – his time as Thirteen, his near-miss after Scraps's death, his failed marriage to Emily, even perhaps his engagement to Victoria – but it didn't really matter, did it? When so much of your life was close calls. . .she rubbed the near-invisible line on her wrist, remembering a spoon, a fire, Rutledge, Houndsditch. If things had gone differently at any point. . .well, all right, she would have loved for things to have gone differently in regards to the fire, but she also loathed the idea of having to trade Victor for her family. She bit the inside of her cheek. It was – it was so unfair. Why couldn't she have both? Why couldn't Chester have living grandparents and an aunt? Why was tragedy the only way she could find the love of her life?

Victor's fingers wrapped around hers. "Alice?"

Now it was Alice's turn to wipe her eyes. "I'm all right," she assured him. "But I understand completely. I don't – I don't like to think of how close I came to – to none of this happening." She squeezed his hand, offering and taking comfort in one simple gesture. "But it did happen. I'm here, you're here–" She nodded at the crib. "He's here. Despite everything, we're all here." She leaned up against him. "We haven't missed this."

He nodded slowly. "I know." He dropped her hand to wrap his arm around her shoulders. "And I'm so grateful."

She pressed herself against him, slipping her arm around his waist. Below them, Chester slumbered peacefully. "So am I."

Chapter Text

"So – we should probably discuss what we're going to call the baby, shouldn't we?"

Alice snorted. "We probably should," she agreed. "Unless we're keen on just calling them 'Baby' for the rest of their life."

"I don't think they'd be very pleased with us if we did that," Victor said, smiling. "Any ideas?"

"Well," Alice said, settling back in her armchair, "I think we've got a girl's name all sewn up, don't we?"

Victor nodded, perching himself on the arm. "Oh yes. I've known that for a while now. I mean, it's rather obvious, isn't it?"

"If you're us, anyway – and given we're making the final call, we're the only ones that matter," Alice said with a decisive nod. "So, a girl's settled then. Emi–"

"Eliza–"

They both stopped midway, blinking. They stared at each other a moment. "Wait, you don't want to–" they started in perfect unison, then stopped again. Alice held up a finger to forestall a third attempt. "You first."

"All right – I thought for sure you'd want to name a daughter after your sister," Victor said, leaning over her with puzzled eyes. "I mean, you and Lizzie – you're so close, even with a ten-year age gap. And her having died."

"I know, and I wouldn't mind using hers as a middle name, but. . ." Alice drummed her fingers against the chair. "The thing of it is – Elizabeth, to me, is always going to mean my sister. There's no disentangling them. And if we have a daughter. . .she's going to be her own person. I don't want to be thinking of my sister every time I call her name." She squeezed the end of the chair arm. "Specifically, I don't want to be thinking of what happened to Lizzie."

Victor winced. "Oh – oh dear. Yes, that's a good point. I didn't consider that. I was just thinking in terms of honoring your family."

"Hence why I'd use it as a middle," Alice said, patting his hand. "Same with my parents' names, honestly. I don't want to look at our child and be constantly reminded of tragedy. I mean, it's not as bad as I thought it might be, given they can meet their grandparents on my side now. . .but still. It's an awful lot of baggage to load on a small baby."

Victor nodded slowly. "I understand. I don't want the past to drag down our child either. It's got enough of a pull on us."

"Mmmm – so I guess your reasons for not wanting to call a girl 'Emily' are similar?" Alice guessed.

"Sort of. . .you're right, I'll probably never stop thinking of 'Emily' as belonging to my corpse bride," Victor admitted, rubbing the back of his head. "But I was thinking more in terms of. . .you can argue that my adventure with her brought us together, but. . ."

It clicked. "But it feels weird to name a girl in memory of her when you're not married to Victoria."

Victor looked away, shoulders hunched. "Right. S-sorry if that sounds insulting."

"No, no, I understand," Alice assured him. "It's exactly the reason I was awkward when Victoria first presented me with Emily's flowers to carry at our wedding. Emily was your adventure, not mine. I felt a bit like I was intruding."

"You weren't," Victor assured her, turning back. "Like I said, if I hadn't met her, I also almost certainly would have never met you. I'm glad you carried her flowers – even if it was just in the registrar's office," he added with a chuckle.

"Yes, hopefully her ascended spirit wasn't too upset with us for not having a fancy wedding," Alice said, giggling. "But it does sound like Emily has a mite too much baggage around her as well for a first name. Which leaves us with a bit of a dilemma."

"Mmm." Victor leaned on his hand, staring at the bookcase. "I suppose we could give a girl two middle names."

"Bit of a mouthful, though, isn't it? Something Emily Elizabeth Van Dort. People would get bored halfway through introductions." Alice pondered the ceiling. "Perhaps we should look into other E-names? Sharing the first letter counts as a kind of tribute, right?"

Victor's brows furrowed – then popped back up again. "How about – Emma?" he suggested, straightening with a little smile. "That's close to Emily. And then we can use Elizabeth as the middle, like you said."

"Emma," Alice said, testing the feel of her on her tongue. "Emma Elizabeth Van Dort." She smiled back at him. "I quite like that. Emma it is."

"Great." Victor leaned down for a quick kiss. "Now – are we going to have the same trouble with a boy?"

Alice laughed. "Hopefully not. Here, you tell me what you think I'd name a boy."

"Er – well, you've ruled out Arthur for the first. . ." Victor scratched the back of his head. "Griffon?"

"Oh, not bad," Alice said, giving his hand a squeeze. "But I was actually thinking – Chester."

Chapter Text

"Food's here, milady!"

"Oh good," Alice said, scooching herself up farther against the pillows. She was reasonably sure that she could have made it down to the dining room to eat, but Dr. Lawn had been insistent she stay in bed for the foreseeable future, and frankly she was still pretty sore down there, so. . . "Milady?" she repeated, smirking. "Playing butler, then?"

Victor chuckled as he approached the bed, moving with care as not to jostle her dinner. "More a serving maid. . .how are you feeling?"

"I've been better," Alice admitted, rubbing her leg through the covers. "But I've been much, much worse too. How about you?"

"I'm just fine," Victor replied, setting the tray tenderly on her lap. He turned his gaze toward the little crib that had been set up by the bedside, and the snoozing bundle of baby within. "And how is he?"

"Out like a log," Alice said, smiling. "He's already had his dinner. Or, well, the first course anyway – Mrs. Winks warned me to expect him to want more soon enough. I think we're going to have to consider sleeping in bursts."

"At least I'm used to being up at all hours." Victor settled himself on the edge of the bed, reaching out to brush Chester's cheek with a finger. "When do we move him into the nursery, then?"

"Mrs. Winks said she put Hattie in hers after about a week – once she was sure she was going to thrive," Alice said, uncovering her plate. The smell of roast chicken, green beans, and mashed potatoes filled the room. "Oh, delicious. . .that sound reasonable?"

"I certainly don't know any better." Victor watched Chester for another minute, then sighed. "I am sorry."

Alice blinked, knife in hand to tackle her chicken. "Sorry for what? Victor, you sat with me through the whole process and got me food. You've done more than is expected for any husband."

"No, I mean – I'm sorry that Chester was born today. N-not that I'm not glad he's here," Victor added hastily, waving a hand. "It's just – so much for not remembering tragedy, huh?"

Alice scrunched up her forehead. "Still not following."

Victor raised an eyebrow. "What – Alice. It's November 5th."

"Oh." Right – she'd genuinely forgotten in the blur of pain and joy. "Good old Guy Fawkes day," she said, covering her embarrassment by slicing into her chicken. "Sometimes I wonder if Bumby planned that deliberately – hoping the attack would be blamed on some random out-of-control reveler. God knows Oxford had its share of little accidents from bonfires and drunkards every time the holiday came around."

"I wouldn't know – we never celebrated it in Burtonsville," Victor said, rolling his eyes. "Galswells didn't approve of it."

"Galswells doesn't approve of any holiday."

"Not true – he was in favor of Christmas and Easter." Victor rubbed the back of his head. "Just, er, not so much Christmas trees and Easter egg hunts. He called them 'excessive ornamentation' and 'frivolous rituals,' respectively."

Alice shook her head, chewing. "How your village ever got away with having the May Day picnic with him in charge is something I will never understand."

"Couldn't find anything in the Bible specifically against flowers, I suppose," Victor replied, leaning on his hand. "Or perhaps he knew that we had to have one holiday, otherwise we'd all burst."

Alice shook her head again. "Burtonsville has to be the most miserable place in the country to grow up. I'm glad all three of us are well away."

"Me too," Victor agreed. He stood up and leaned over Chester's crib. "But – how are we going to handle his birthday? Excepting – everything else – for a moment, what happens when he sees the other boys going around with Guys, begging for money or wood, and wants to join in?"

"I intend to teach him early on about fire safety," Alice responded, spearing a green bean with her fork. "And I'll make it clear we're not going to have any fires on our property that aren't safely behind a grate. If he wants to help build a friend's, he's welcome. Preferably with his father's help."

Victor smiled briefly – then his face grew solemn again. "And – what about everything else?"

"Well." Alice set down her fork and held up her hands, as if weighing something. "On the one hand, we have the fact that today is the day that Angus Bumby broke into my house, defiled my sister, killed her and my parents, and burned my family home down, leaving me naught but madness for ten years." She brought her left hand down to the tray. "That's terrible and a memory that will forever haunt me. But – on the other hand, today is also the day where I shoved the bastard in front of a train, ending his reign of terror and avenging my family and the Houndsditch orphans." She dropped her right hand and raised her left again. "That has always been a very satisfying memory. And now, in the future – I get to remember that today is the day that my son was born. That I, quite officially, had a family again." She lowered her right hand again, until the two were equal. "Two good memories versus one bad. I think that balances out nicely."

Victor smiled again. "It does," he said, sitting down beside her again. "And – thinking about it, I have another good memory to add to the scale."

"Oh?"

He took her hand, pulling it to his heart. "Being pulled out of what I feared was eternal darkness by the most beautiful pair of green eyes I'd ever seen."

Alice decided to blame the fact that she was a new mother and thus still a bit emotionally volatile for her blush. "True," she said, blinking back some threatening tears. "Conclusive proof that we have many more reasons to celebrate this date than deride it." She grinned at him. "So – would it be terribly bad manners to ask if we could possibly have a cake for dessert? It is Chester's birthday, even if he can't partake."

Victor laughed. "I'll see what Mrs. Winks and I can do." He pulled her into a kiss. "I love you, Alice."

"I love you too, Victor."

Chapter Text

"You know, it's still a bit hard for me to believe we're up to three."

"Well, we're not quite up to three yet," Alice pointed out, turning a page in her book. She patted her swollen belly. "Judging by the state of this thing, and Dr. Lawn's estimate, we're at about two and three quarters."

"Rounding," Victor said with a little shrug. He carefully completed the final feather in his robin's tail, then put down his quill and cracked his knuckles. "I still remember how anxious I was with just one."

Alice smiled. "You weren't the only one. I think I spent the majority of Chester's first month alive terrified I was going to break him somehow."

"Same," Victor nodded, recalling the first time he'd held his son – how he'd frozen at every little squirm, barely daring to breathe lest Chester be knocked from his arms. "He's turned out to be a lot hardier than we thought, hasn't he?"

"Oh, God, yes," Alice laughed. "Remember the Christmas right after he turned two? The last thing I expected when I waddled into the sitting room was to see you halfway up the chimney, stopping him from climbing up after Father Christmas!"

"I don't think I'll ever forget," Victor said, pressing an amused hand against his face. "I never guessed a two-year-old could climb that fast!"

"He is your son," Alice pointed out, smirking. "I guess with your looks came your spider-like ability to cling to walls."

"I'm just very good at finding handholds, that's all." Victor shook his head. "I almost thought I wasn't going to grab him in time. Made me seriously wonder what we were doing, having another one!"

"I know – lucky for us Emma's been a rather more sedate child." Alice pretended to wipe sweat from her forehead. "We dodged a bullet there, as they say."

"Wait until she turns two before you say that," Victor replied. He got up from his desk and joined Alice on the couch, pressing his hand against her belly. A little foot kicked back against it. "This one certainly seems lively. . .we still need to choose names for them," he added. "Were you still thinking Griffon for a boy?"

Alice's expression went strange. "Well. . .no, actually," she said, marking her place in the book and setting it down. "I wanted to talk to you about that."

Victor blinked. His wife's face was puzzlingly grave – like she was discussing their wills instead of their future child. "Did – did you come up with something else, then?"

"No – and I'm not going to." She took his hand, clasping it between her own. "I want you to choose the baby's name. Boy and girl, first and middle. I don't want it to have anything to do with me or mine this time around."

Victor looked from her hand to her face and back. "I – I don't quite understand," he confessed, rubbing the back of his head. "You – don't want to name the baby?"

"We have two children already," Alice said, rubbing his fingers. "Of their names – well. Our son's first name is a tribute to my best friend in Wonderland; his second and our daughter's second, ones to my deceased family. Your sole contribution is Emma's first name. It – it feels unfair, that's all." She pressed her fingers to his lips before he could reply. "And I know it's irrational, and that you're happy to let me honor Cheshire and Papa and Lizzie. And that Chester looks exactly like you, so obviously your contribution to their lives has been noted. But rationality has never been my strong point. And it'll make me feel better if you get to name this child all on your own."

Well, if there was anything Victor understood, it was irrational guilt. He nodded slowly. "All right then. Though, ah, I feel compelled to point out that I was the one who suggested Griffon back when we were having Chester."

"True, but you were guessing what I would name a boy," Alice countered. "What would you name a boy?"

Victor stroked his chin, pondering the question. What would he name a boy? He'd never really considered the issue, certain that "Griffon" would be their next son. What names did he like? He already knew "William" was off the table. . .Daniel? Edward? James? Harold? Ugh, definitely not Harold. . .John? Lawrence? Maybe, but he wasn't sold. . .Dennis? Dav – not David, never David. Nor Columbus either. It was bad enough they'd accidentally named the cat after Jack Splatter – he wasn't bringing those bloody Monroe twins in with his child. Maybe if he went to the other end of the alphabet. . .Zachariah? Walter? Vin –

One eyebrow went up. Hmmmm. "I – I think I like Vincent," he said, leaning on his hand. "Vincent Van Dort. Sounds good, doesn't it?" He smirked. "Maybe that's why Lord Everglot kept calling me that."

Alice snorted. "Did he also call Victoria 'Vincentia' on the regular?" Her face turned thoughtful. "Vincent Van Dort, though. . .it does sound nice. What about the middle?"

"Still thinking." Vincent Lawrence Van Dort, perhaps? Mmmm, no, he still wasn't sold. But he did like the L-sound. . .maybe Lester? Or Lionel? Or – aha! "What about Louis?"

Alice's brow crinkled. "Fine – but which spelling?"

Oh, right, that name came in two forms. . . Victor mentally weighed the two. Louis versus Lewis. . .he shrugged. "Which do you prefer?"

Alice pouted. "I told you – it's not about what I like this time."

"I'm still choosing the name," Victor reminded her. "But I genuinely don't have a preference for the spelling." He reached around to rub her back. "And it'll make me feel better if you help choose one thing. You are the mother."

Alice leaned into his touch. "All right, all right – I've always thought it looked better 'L-e-w-i-s' instead of 'L-o-u-i-s.'"

"'L-e-w-i-s' it is, then," Victor nodded. "Vincent Lewis Van Dort."

"Vincent Lewis," Alice repeated with a nod of her own. "Now, how about a girl?"

Victor grinned. "Vincentia Louisa?"

Alice swatted his shoulder. "Be serious."

"Fine. . ." Victor settled in for another think. He had even less experience with girls' names was the problem – the only one he'd ever wanted to use, he had already. Maybe if he kept to the same initials, it would be easier. He couldn't use "Victoria," that would end up making things confusing. . .Vera? No, he didn't like that particularly. . .Venus? Better if they were Greek or Italian. . .Viola? Invited jokes of him barely resisting the urge to name a son Piano. . .but darn it, he liked it. Viola, then. And for the middle. . . Well, the only girl's name that was coming to mind that started with an L was "Lucy." Which probably meant something, so – "Viola Lucy."

Alice eyed him for a moment, then realized he was serious. "V. L. again?"

Victor shrugged. "Easy to remember."

"Fair enough. Vincent Lewis or Viola Lucy." She kissed his cheek. "Thank you for indulging me."

"My pleasure," Victor assured her. He glanced at the clock on the wall. "It's been an hour. . .shall we relieve Hattie and check in on the two children outside your womb?"

"We shall," Alice agreed, then grunted. "As soon as you help lever me off this sofa."

Chapter Text

"I just – I know I'm better than I was. That I've come quite far since my asylum days. But I still. . ." Alice knotted the bedspread up, grimacing. "Victor, the baby’s mother once tried to kill herself!"

Victor was silent for a long moment – rather too long, in Alice's mind, as she'd been kind of relying on him to have a comforting word or two. Then, suddenly, in the quietest voice she'd ever heard him use – "So did the baby’s father."

Alice blinked, doing her best to make sense of the words. He'd tried to – oh. Right, of course – except – "I thought you were of the mind that your attempt at drinking the Wine of Ages didn't count?" she asked, tilting her head.

"That's – that's not the incident I'm referring to."

Her heart seized, skipping a startled beat. Alice stared at Victor, eyes wide, bedspread totally forgotten in her hands. "What?" Victor had tried twice to remove himself from the Land of the Living? But – when? And why? He'd made no secret of the fact he'd been bullied growing up, and she had enough personal experience with his parents to appreciate how awful they were, but. . .he'd never even hinted

Victor nodded, his expression grave. "I – I p-promised myself years ago that I would n-never tell another soul, but. . ." He swallowed, looking away. "Just d-don't say anything until I've finished, all right?"

"Cross my heart," Alice said, doing just that with two quick swipes of her finger.

"Thank you." He turned his gaze to the ceiling. "It happened shortly after Scraps d-died. I was fifteen, and I – I took it hard. He'd been my only real friend for ages, and the way he p-passed. . .I was almost d-drowning in my grief." He pinched his nose. "About three weeks after the – the i-incident, Father had a couple of important b-business partners and their wives over for tea. I t-tried to decline coming down, saying I wasn't i-in the mood for company, but Mother insisted. A-as you might guess, I bungled my first impression – c-could barely speak, kept dropping my food, never looked a-anyone in the eye. . .and then, just as they were leaving, I t-tried to make up for it by getting Mrs. Harker's coat, only to step on the hem and t-tear it apart. I was mortified – and Mother was furious. She – she turned on me r-right on the front step. Started screaming at me about how I was an em-embarrassment, how I clearly d-didn't care about her and Father, how I should be o-over the d-death of a – a 'mangy old m-mutt. . .'" He shut his eyes tightly, steadying himself with a deep breath. "The whole town heard it – if n-not from her, then from the crier. He was yelling it all over by dinnertime. . .which consisted largely of her and Father just g-glaring at me, as if. . .as if I wasn't even w-worth as much as the chair I was sitting on. Which I probably wasn't. . ." He rubbed his cheeks, clearing the wet streaks that had appeared there. "By b-bedtime, I was convinced that when I'd l-lost Scraps, I'd lost the only creature who could ever l-love me. That I was d-doomed to be m-m-miserable if I stayed alive." He opened his eyes again, his stare a million miles and eight years away. "So, that night, I – I snuck into the washroom, found Father's straight razor, and came within an inch of slitting my throat."

A glistening spoon torn from the meaty fingers of Dee, looking as deadly as any sword in the flickering oily yellow light of Rutledge. . .a terrible scream ripped from Dum's mouth as she dug it into his cheek, he'd pay for soiling her poor Mr. Bunny. . .and then sharp, sweet agony as she tore into her own flesh, veins and arteries opening beneath the questing bowl. . .should have died should have died should have died Mummy Daddy Lizzie I'm coming home now. . . "What – what stopped you?" she whispered, her thumb running along her opposite wrist, picking out the old, faint line only she could see anymore.

A faint, humorless smile graced Victor's face. "Someone, somewhere, loudly closing a door. I was so tense – m-more so than normal anyway – that I panicked, dropped the razor, and fled back to my room. The delay was just long enough for me to realize w-what I was about to do and be horrified." He sighed deeply. "So I went and put the razor back in its place, and swore I'd never let myself get so low again."

Alice couldn't help raising an eyebrow. "I didn't," Victor said, noticing it. "Like I've always said, what happened with Emily was different. Yes, I was upset over losing Victoria, but – when I heard what I would have to do to marry Emily, I was thinking mainly of how we could make each other happy. About how colorful and fun the Land of the Dead was. I wasn't thinking of it in terms of actually dying at all. Back then. . .I wanted to die. I craved oblivion, because – because it was the only way to make the pain stop."

"Oh, Victor. . ." Alice gathered him into her arms, pressing him tight against her belly. "Why didn't you ever tell me this before?"

"Because I didn't want to tell anyone," Victor replied, squeezing her. "And I – I didn't want to look w-weak in your eyes. Yes, you tried to kill yourself – over the loss of your entire family. I tried to do so over my dog."

"Who you just admitted was really your only friend in the world," Alice responded, pulling away to give him a severe look. "After your parents made you believe that they would never love you for who you were. The next time I see Nell, I swear–" She stopped, forcing herself to take a deep breath. "You are not weak, Victor. Or, at the very least, you're no weaker than I was." She looked at her arms, the pain cherry-red hot in her memory. "I too just wanted the hurt to go away."

Victor nodded slowly. "I'm glad they stopped you. I don't – I don't like to think of the world without you in it."

"The sentiment is mutual, Victor." A tiny foot kicked at her stomach, and she smiled. "Yes, we know you agree," she said, pressing her hand against it. "You wouldn't even exist without the two of us."

The baby continued kicking, as if they wished to make sure she understood. Victor put his hand over hers. "I understand I can't just make the w-worry magically go away," he said softly. "Better than I'd like, honestly. But – if it helps at all – you are the strongest person I know, Alice. You have gone into the dark so many times. . .and come out triumphant. You deposed the Queen of Hearts, tore to pieces the Dollmaker, and killed the Jabberwock so thoroughly he's too dead to show up Downstairs. And – you saved me when Bumby tried to make me into less than a thing. I know in my heart that you will do anything for our child. That you will be an amazing mother." He smiled wetly. "You're already an amazing wife."

Alice ran her fingers through his hair. "And I know that a man who can duel an enraged conman with a fork and come out the better, punch and strangle Jack Splatter and walk away in one piece afterwards, stab Ol' Amos in the eye with a drawing quill and cement his reputation as the most feared swell in the East End, and fight off Bumby crushing his will with all his deepest fears enough to punch him the moment he tried to turn you on me, will be an amazing father. You survived the black too, Victor. You're as skilled a warrior as me." She poked his forehead. "Up here, anyway."

Victor laughed quietly. "Thank you." He leaned in and kissed her. "We'll make it through this."

The baby kicked again. Alice nodded, the anxious weight sliding off her shoulders. "Yes, we will."

Chapter Text

“And. . .there!”

Victor smiled as he carefully removed the tuning lever from the pin. “You’re all set, my darling,” he informed his piano as he slid out the mutes and stacked them in their little box. “Every string tuned to perfection.”

He tidied away the rest of his tools, then closed the lid. “I was so worried that my parents wouldn’t turn you over to me,” he continued, sitting on the bench and playing a quick scale. C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C rang out, clear and crisp. “You may not be a Harryhausen, but Johnson & Selick are equally as good. I thought for sure Mother and Father would prefer you to rot in their music room just so they could brag about owning you, rather than hand you over to someone who would actually use you.” G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G. “Fortunate that I’m their son, I suppose. And that, should they complain when I ask them for something, I can remind them they once left me with the likes of Bumby.” Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C, Db. “I missed you in Houndsditch. The upright there worked well enough, especially once I gave it a proper tuning, but – there’s nothing like your own piano, is there?” He swiped his finger up and down the keyboard, reveling in the sweet trill of the notes. “I shan’t ever leave you again, my sweet. Not if I can help it.”

“You know, I really shouldn’t be surprised in your choice of mistress.”

Victor considered it a personal triumph that he didn’t immediately bang his knees into the piano and undo all his hard work. He twisted his head around to see Alice smirking at him from the doorway. “Especially when I consider the passion you bestowed upon that upright that ‘worked well enough,’” she continued. “Why, you’ve been cheating on me since the beginning, haven’t you?”

“You always seemed quite eager to listen in,” Victor retorted, standing up to face her properly.

“Oh, I never said I disapproved of your little liaison,” Alice responded, grinning. She nodded at the piano. “All prettied up, then?”

Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab. . . “She’s ready for anything,” Victor confirmed. Then, on a whim, he extended a hand to Alice. “Care to join us for a ménage à trois?”

Alice stared at him for a full minute – not that Victor blamed her. He was having a hard time believing those words had just come out of his mouth himself. Then, biting her lip, she accepted his hand. “Why, Mister Van Dort, how forward! To invite your own wife to share the stage with your girlfriend! When said wife is so out of practice as well! If my mother were here, she’d – she’d probably regret pushing me into piano lessons,” Alice admitted, finally succumbing to her giggles.

“Or at least wonder if I was really teaching you an instrument,” Victor agreed with a laugh of his own. “Still, better this than your jokes about how we should just form a harem with Victoria and Christopher already.”

“Oh yes, God forbid she ever find out about those. . .” Alice looked up at him, cupping his face with her hand. “It’s – weird to hear you joke about such things. Especially after what happened earlier this year.”

“I know,” Victor nodded, grimacing as the image of his own face, befouled by Ruin, popped into his head. “It’s still a little strange to me. But. . .” He pulled her close, wrapping an arm around her. “I’ve spent my whole life doing my best to repress every last thought and feeling that had anything to do with – m-marital relations. My bad turn in January was just the worst of it. After so long keeping it all locked up. . .it’s k-kind of a relief to make a joke like that. Knowing it’s okay – that you’ll laugh, not berate me.” He smiled at her. “Makes me feel like – I’m that much closer to 'better.’”

Alice stretched on tiptoe to give him a quick kiss. “I’m glad. And I’m even gladder that I’m here to help you along the way.”

“Me too.” Victor pulled Alice over to the bench. “So…shall I demonstrate a few of my favorite techniques, Mrs. Van Dort?” he asked, sitting with a playful grin.

“Oh, please do, Mr. Liddell,” Alice said, plopping down beside him and rubbing his arm. “You know me – always curious.”

“I know – and I love you for it.” Victor kissed her warmly, before directing her attention to the keys. “All right – as a refresher, what I was just playing were a few of the major scales. . .”