Alice realizes a few good many things at once;
The first is how grown she has become. Because she truly, really, didn’t feel this was yesterday - or the day before, or the day before that one. And then again, perhaps she did and had just yet to notice the slow progression that had come to a climax within the second that Alfred spots blood.
The second is that Alfred is dying - and Alice can’t do anything for it. She’s no doctor, no priest, no Jesus, and no God. She is just a girl, and the last remnant of her life from before the war is fading in front of her eyes.
The third is the full understanding that she doesn’t want this world. Not without her parents, or Alfred’s mother, or playing pretend, or Alfred. Alice doesn’t want to be grown - she doesn’t want the world to grow - she doesn’t want anything more than this garden and Alfred, forever.
So she finds herself doing anything to get closer to her dear rabbit and nearly crying as she begins to break the small barrier of space he’s been keeping between them so often tonight. “Drink me!” she begs, and Alfred only gazes at her with terror in his drooping eyes.
“And lose you, too?”
Even as she responds, the only words she hears within her own head is that Alfred is going to lose her - if he leaves, and she stays, the deed will still be done. If they both leave, then perhaps they have some chance. “I’ll be there, always, with you!”
“They’re calling me!” Alfred exclaims, and Alice feels her heart breaking. “Not you,” he whispers, and sadness clings to the simple words.
The tears begin to fall, finally, finally, from two pairs of glistening eyes. “I hear them calling, too,” Alice says, quieter than Alfred had been. To her, there’s only one choice, one way. Cheshire Puss was quite right - whichever way you go, you’ll end up somewhere. Alfred’s path may be decided, but Alice’s isn’t until she makes her choice. So she dives for Alfred’s lips.
Most diseases, as Alice knows, are spread through the liquids of the body. The snot, the spit. One cough into the air and you catch a common cold; one lip upon another and you can find your final bed.
Alfred, to his credit, tries very hard to dodge Alice’s movement - but he is slow and sluggish, handicapped by his illness. And so Alice is in a full embrace with Alfred at last, even if only for a moment. All she can think the entire time is how nice this is if for nothing else than to be this close to the last person in the world she loves so deeply as Alfred.
The White Rabbit is fast because he is late - and so reigns true for Alfred. He shoots to the other side of the room as if distance will save his friend from the choice she has made for them both. With tears streaming down his cheeks, all he can manage is, “Oh, Alice.”
There isn’t a sound. Not a word more of Alice in Wonderland is spoken. But Alice swears she hears the ticking of a new clock, one set to ring perhaps much sooner than it would like. And yet, it feels as though time has stopped.
She brings a hand to her lips, as it begins to occur to her that she’d never done such a thing as she had just done. Kissing was a thing for adults, and truly she’d hadn’t considered it until recently. She looks over to Alfred and sees him doing the same, but his hand is trembling. There is an anger in his eyes that mixes with the sadness. “Why would you do such a thing, Alice?”
There’s a pause before her words spill out of her. “I won’t stay here without you.”
Alfred shakes with frustration. “You are supposed to stay here! Nobody asked you to-”
“What is here, Alfred?” Alice shouts. “What is ‘here?’ Everyone I love is gone! Gone, gone, gone!” Her voice trembles to the beat shared among her heart, and the ticking noise, and Alfred’s shaking hands. She places a hand over her heart. “Gone,” she whispers.
Alfred stares in shock. “Nobody asked you to die,” he finishes. His voice breaks more and more with every word. Silent sobs begin to wrack his body. “Don’t you get it, Alice? We aren’t going anywhere! We won’t see each other! Gone is all we will be! You have done nothing but started a clock that didn’t need to start.”
“We will go to Wonderland,” she says, her words strong.
“Grow up!” Alfred yells. And then he coughs. And he coughs. And he doesn’t stop for a long time.
Alice doesn’t wait for him to finish. She finds herself on her knees, holding her friend as his body convulses violently. Red stains her dress, she’s sure, but she doesn’t look to see. Holding him is all she wants, all she needs. She feels so at ease - at home.
“I don’t want you dead,” Alfred cries, before heading into another coughing fit. Alice doesn’t respond but decides to recite the trial scene. This time, there are no alterations to the script of the story. She repeats it word for word, paragraph for paragraph. And she is almost to the end when she begins to cough.
“My voice is just tired,” she says, and it is. But that won’t be the reason forever.
“Finish it,” Alfred replies, his tears long stopped.
“‘So Alice sat and tightly closed her eyes. ‘What a curious dream I’ve had,’ Alice said.’”
There’s a pause. A moment of silence. Alfred is nearly completely still on his bed. When he speaks, he sounds like a mouse with how quiet his words are. “I’m glad we finished it.”
Alice nods. “I know you would like nothing more than to finish what you start.”
“No,” Alfred whispers. “There are many things I would have liked more than that.”
Alice looks down at the dying boy and finds his bright eyes looking right back at her. He struggles to sit up, and Alice almost pushes him right back down. “Stop it,” he mumbles when she attempts to gently coax him back into his cot. “If I cannot have my first choice, I will have my second. I will finish whatever I have started before I depart.”
So he leans forward, into Alice, and finds her lips in the same manner that she found his. But his Alice does not run away. She leans in just as much if not more so, climbing into her dying rabbit’s lap. It’s unlike anything she or he has ever felt before - it’s messy, and it feels obvious that they would need practice to make it enjoyable. And yet, somehow it’s perfect as it is, just being so close.
“I think I would like to stop time right here,” Alice says, and the words fall right into Alfred’s open mouth.
“We’re out, Alice,” he says, before leaning back in for just one more short kiss. It’s just a peck - perhaps what would have come of the bunker if he wasn’t dying, and she didn’t want to die, and they still felt like they had all the time in the world.
Alfred pulls away and puts his ear against Alice’s beating heart. She cradles his head with the same tenderness one cradles a newborn. “This is the last sound I want to hear,” he mumbles. “So perhaps if I am conscious without you ever again, I can convince myself it never stopped.”
“Oh, Alfred,” Alice sighs.
“Hearts are just clocks, y’know,” he says, and Alice is sure that he’s going to follow that up with another statement, but instead he coughs into her chest. This time, she sees the blood as it splatters her blue frock.
“Lay down, Alfred,” Alice orders, “Rest, now.”
He doesn’t hesitate, but he pulls Alice with him, his ear never leaving her heart. “The nurse will come,” he coughs.
“She’ll see the blood and leave me be,” Alice replies.
“She’ll take you to Ward D, that’s what-” Alfred breaks another sentence with a cough.
“I’m going to sleep, Alfred. Stay with me, here, and fall asleep with me,” Alice requests.
“Okay,” Alfred whispers.
But when Alice awakes, Alfred is very much gone.