She awoke to the sound of tapping at her window. For a moment, she thought it was a bird, but it was not yet morning and the noise was far too inconsistent to be a bird. A rapid succession of rapping at her window, followed by a pause, then more rapping. Normally, she would just go back to sleep, this was England after all. She may not have wanted to be here, stuck with a family who merely tolerated her and still grieving her beloved, but that was the worst of the dangers. It wasn’t like Wonderland, where unexplained noises in the night were widely regarded as a very bad thing.
Slowly, quietly, she crept out of bed. Her toes curled as they touched the cold wood floor. It was still probably a bird or a branch blowing against the window, but checking was better than spending hours lying awake until a more agreeable hour. She was almost tempted to light a candle and find a book because she knew sleep would be impossible now.
She still saw him in dreams. Seeing Cyrus like that, smiling at her like they were the only people on earth, enthusing about their next great adventure, making up those little sayings, living, was almost more than she could bear. And Sarah couldn’t stand the other dreams, the ones were she woke up in a cold sweat, calling out to him, disturbing the perfect peace of her home. So really, she could do little else but check what was making the noise.
Then she reached the window and it was as though the dawn had broken. Somehow, through some miracle beyond all other miracles, he was here. Standing in a patch of moonlight, tossing pebbles against her window, so wonderfully and perfectly alive, he was here.
“Cyrus,” she whispered, her fingers tightening on the windowsill for just one moment before dashing out of the bedroom. She didn’t care about the noise she was making, didn’t care that she was wearing nothing but a nightdress, she just knew that somehow, he was here. Cyrus had come back to her.
She could barely believe it. The Boiling Sea was supposed to destroy anything it touched, but if anybody could survive, it would be Cyrus. For just a moment, she thought she was dreaming, this was too perfect to be true, but no, even in her wildest dreams had he returned from the dead.
Her body could barely contain her joy she ran out the door and towards him. All her hoping that the pain would go away, that she could one day move on it didn’t matter. The look on his face as she called to him was all she needed, she’d missed that smile. She’d missed him. His voice as he replied was more beautiful than music. She’d longed for the way he said her name, not like an obligation or a source of exasperation, but with love.
“Cyrus!” They were so close to one another and she never wanted to be parted from him again. They would leave here, find a new realm, continue on their adventures, everything would be just as it was.
She was so thrilled that she couldn’t feel that first embrace, she just knew he was there, holding her once again. She closed her eyes for a moment, content in the knowledge that they were together again, never to be parted, perfectly happy.
Then she heard the voices, felt the hand on her shoulder, and when she opened her eyes, Cyrus was gone. She couldn’t hear her father saying, “Alice what do you think you’re doing? It’s the middle of the night…” over her own whispered, “No,” as she sank slowly to her hands and knees.
And then the voices started again, she clasped her hands over her ears, but it did nothing to drown them out.
“Stuck in a fairy world.”
“Still playing with imaginary friends, at her age…”
“You have to give up this nonsense.”
“Not the first girl to make up a fantasy world, just the first to believe it.”
“The difference is that Cyrus isn’t real.”
“You have to start living in the real world.”
And then she heard her own voice, louder and more damning than any of the others, “I made it all up.”
It resonated in her ears, repeated ceaselessly, and by the time she had the nerve to look at the spot where Cyrus had been only moments before, she knew it was true. Wonderland wasn’t real. Cyrus wasn’t real. They never had been. They’d only ever been the delusional dreams of a lonely and forgotten little girl. Living in a fantasy was less painful than facing reality, so she’d convinced herself that her imaginary friends were real. None of it was real. None of it had ever been real She’d made it all up…
Somebody touched her arm, gentle but urgent. “Alice,” said another voice, soft and strong, yet touched with concern. The next thing she knew, she was lying in grass under a sky full of strange stars.
“No,” she said upon seeing the man next to her. “No. You’re not real.” She shut her eyes tight, couldn’t pretend anymore.
“Alice,” he said, reaching out to her again. She didn’t need to see him to push him away. She couldn’t go on living in a fantasy. “You’re going to be alright. It was just a bad dream.
“Why can’t you just leave me alone?” she said, wishing beyond anything for the hallucination to go away. “Go away.” She went to push him away again, her hand fell on his chest, she felt his heartbeat. It was enough to give her pause.
“If that’s what you want…” he said, his voice not untouched with reluctance, torn between wanting to stay with her and giving her the space she said she needed. He started to get up, move away from her, but she could still feel his heart, feel the vibrations when he spoke, and she knew that this was real. She knew fact from fiction and this, Cyrus, Wonderland, everything they had done, everything that they had overcome, this was all real.
“No,” she said, her voice sounding a bit weaker than she meant it to. “Stay.” Slowly, carefully, he embraced her, as if his he meant to protect her from all the little doubting voices.
“Alice,” he said as she felt the gentle rhythm of his pulse. She snuggled closer to him, every touch a reminder that Cyrus was flesh and blood. “I’m right here.” She knew it was true, but right now, so soon after her nightmare, all the little nagging voices, her father’s, Dr. Lydgate’s, Sarah’s, even her own, still worried at that little speck of doubt. “I’m not going to leave you.” She just had to focus on his voice, let his words and embrace drown out the nightmare. “Not again.” And she knew it to be true.