Please see first chapter for disclaimer, rating, warnings, pairings, etc.
Author's Note: And so, here it is! We have, at last, come to the end of Shades of Grey. I feel like I should say something noble and "in memorial"-ish, but all I really can say is that I had a marvelous time writing this story, and thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Each one of you have made this my most reviewed, most favorited, most alerted, and most hit story, and it's simply blown me away. I can't thank all of you enough, and there are no words to convey my gratitude, other than thank you so, so much. While writing this epilogue, I changed it three or four times, but was happiest with the way this version turned out. I hope you all like it, and thank you all again, you're amazing!
*~Twelve Years Later~*
Margaret Williams stood silently by the fresh mound of dirt, her gloved hands properly folded before her, heavy skirts damp with rain. Next her stood her husband of a decade now, a man who loved her, appreciated her, who did not and would not cheat on her. Their children, daughter Alice and son Charles, stood silently next to their parents, not understanding what was going on.
For not the first time, Margaret lifted her head and looked around. Three years after her sister had vanished (something she still did not completely understand), she had received the first letter, delivered by a white rabbit in a blue waistcoat. The creature had arrived in her room without warning or explanation, offered her a letter, then vanished through her mirror.
For a while Margaret had been afraid to open the letter, a deep part of her fearing that to do so would seal the truth that she had somehow become mad, as mad as her lost sister. But when she opened the letter and saw the handwriting, she had immediately gone to her mother to share the letter.
That was when the correspondence had begun between Alice and her family. Margaret had told her sister about Henry, whom she had met after divorcing the imprisoned Lowell, and Alice had come through her sister's mirror long enough for the wedding before vanishing again. She had visited on five other occasions over the past twelve years, and each time she looked different, yet exactly the same. Whereas Margaret and Helen were growing older, Alice never seemed to age, looking as young and beautiful as when she had vanished.
It was with a heavy hand and angry heart that she had penned the letter to tell Alice that their mother was dead. Almost the moment the white rabbit had vanished through the mirror Margaret regretted the words she'd written, for her anger was misplaced. Yes, Alice was not present when their mother died, but it wasn't her fault. Margaret could just have easily been away on a business trip with Henry. She had been waiting for the rabbit to return, or better yet for her sister to arrive, and had almost been late for the funeral.
It had been almost five years since Margaret had last seen her sister. It would seem that that would not change today.
The service ended with still not a sign of Alice. She lingered for a little longer than everyone else, hoping, hoping… But apparently it was not meant to be.
The soft hail from behind her made Lady Williams turn in surprise. For a moment she saw no one, and felt her hope fade out. But then she saw a flash of blue and blonde from behind the tree at the top of a nearby hill. "Alice?"
Her little sister appeared from behind the trunk of the tree, picking her way carefully down the hill until she stopped just before Margaret. For a while the two women silently regarded each other, Margaret noting how little her sister had changed, Alice how much her sibling's appearance had altered.
And then Margaret looked closer at Alice's face and gasped. Her eyes were as blue as a clear afternoon sky, shining with small silver specks that glittered and sparked even though the clouds hid the sun. "Alice, your eyes…"
Her sister didn't seem to hear. Her gaze moved past Margaret to the fresh grave, where she went to kneel. It was only then Margaret got past the startling change to her sister to notice that Alice had brought someone with her - a little girl in blue, with hair as blonde as her mother's, but who was silently studying the world around her with wide green eyes.
Ignoring the mud, Margaret knelt next to Alice. "Alice…" she breathed.
At last her sister broke from whatever reverie she had been trapped in. Turning from the grave, she looked at Margaret, her eyes shining with tears. "I'm so sorry I wasn't here," she said. "When she - or for the funeral." Looking down, Alice smoothed her left hand across her dress, and at last Lady Williams spotted the ring there. It was a simple band, two slender silver lines encasing some sort of stone that was changing colors before her eyes - grey to blue to purple to green to gold and back around. For a moment she was tempted to rub her eyes, just in case she was seeing things. She could hardly believe she had never noticed it before, even, for hadn't it always been there?
"Margaret," Alice said at last, "how much of what I've told you in person and in my letters did you believe?"
Her first instinct was to say nothing at all. After all, it was ten kinds of mad to think that another land existed beneath the one she was familiar with, where animals and flowers could talk and Jabberwockies came to tea. (Or was it the Disappearing Cat that came to tea? Margaret could not remember for certain.) Despite how incredibly mad it all sounded, however, she had to admit that she did believe at least some of it, for she had met her sister's husband. And, with all his eccentric behaviors and strange manners, it was difficult to believe that he could have come from anywhere but another world. "A good bit of it," she finally admitted.
Alice smiled. "A good bit of it does not mean all of it." Turning to the little girl, who had been politely standing behind her with her small hands clasped together at her waist, she wrapped her arms around the blonde's shoulders and drew her forward. "Helen, I would like you to meet your Aunt Margaret."
Studying Margaret with those curious, intense, unearthly green eyes, Helen smiled a gap-toothed smile and held out her slender hand. "Hello, Aunt Margaret."
Reaching out, Margaret gently enclosed that small hand in hers. "Helen," she repeated softly.
Very gently, Alice smoothed her hand over her daughter's hair. "I wish Mother could have met her," she said. "I think they would have liked each other."
Those words reminded Margaret of where they were and why they were there. "That reminds me - why didn't you come to the funeral?"
Alice's features darkened slightly, and her ring went a very dark green, almost black. "I got your letter," she said. "Don't think I haven't been wanting to come back. But - Time moves differently where I live, so much of it passes before I go back, even if I'm only here for a few hours. And while it hurts to leave Tarrant for that long, I could do it. But I couldn't leave Helen, even though I've done it before, but she was younger then, and - to be honest, I was afraid of bringing her here with me." Her now-foreign eyes sparkled with tears. "And I admit that I was afraid of coming back. We've both changed, Margaret. I don't belong here anymore, and neither does my family."
Margaret swallowed hard. "Does this mean I will never see you again?"
Reaching out, Alice gently squeezed her sister's hand. "I'm not saying that. I admit that I would love to see you again, more often. But - just in case that doesn't happen, I want you to have this." She pulled something out of the pocket of her blue dress, and when Margaret took it she realized it was parchment. "Don't unroll it here in the mud. Wait until you get home." She smiled tremulously. "I've remembered things since I went home," she said. "Things that happened to me as a little girl, and as I got older." She gently tapped the parchment. "That is my story, Margaret. Exactly as it's happened." Reaching up, she unhooked the golden locket from around her throat and held it out, and with a start Margaret realized it was their mother's. It had vanished the same day as Alice had.
She started to take it, but shook her head and folded her younger sister's cool fingers around it. "Keep it," she said. "I have what you gave me to remember you by. It's only fair you keep that to remember me by." Looking to little Helen, who stared back with the solemn regard of someone thrice her age, she said, "Take care of your mother, Helen."
"I will," the little girl promised. "Fairfarren, Aunt Margaret."
Margaret looked from her niece to her sister, swallowing back the tears threatening to fall. "Fairfarren, Helen. Alice."
The two sisters embraced tightly. Then Alice stood, took her daughter's hand, smiled, and walked off. Margaret watched until they both vanished over a hill, leaving her sitting in the middle of a muddy cemetery, clutching a roll of parchment so tightly it was in danger of ripping.
She turned at the sound of her husband's voice, smiling when she saw him. "Henry." She accepted his hand up. "I'm sorry I've kept you waiting."
Henry gently squeezed her hand and guided her toward where their carriage was waiting for them. "It's all right. She was your mother. I'm just sorry your sister never came."
Margaret glanced down at the scroll in her free hand and smiled. "She came. And I think I finally understand everything that has happened." She looked over her shoulder one last time before entering the carriage, and for a moment she could swear she saw a blonde woman standing atop the hill, waving and smiling. And next to her, an arm about her shoulders, a man in a top hat, frizzy orange hair peeping out from beneath its brim. And between them, a little girl with blonde hair, green eyes, and an endearing grin.
She would never be able to share her sister's Adventure. But at least she knew now, without a doubt, and as mad as it seemed, that everything would be all right.
I don't know the exact correlation of Time in Underland and time in Otherland, but I personally think that the two hardly match up, i.e. a week in Underland passes in six hours of Otherland time. I think since Time is so picky, he just does his own thing and doesn't care about trying to match up with Otherland. That's why things seem so disjointed from Margaret's point of view, since Time passes differently for her sister and things have happened differently where she comes from.
I am currently at work on my next multi-chapter project, which is as-yet untitled, but the first chapter should be up within the next week or two. It's not a sequel to Shades of Grey, but I can promise many exciting things and new explorations for Alice, Tarrant, and their friends. So until our next Great Adventure, I say Fairfarren all, and thank you again so much for your amazing support for me and this story! ~fyd