A/N: Wrote this back on Leo's birthday in October, but I'm just now getting around from transferring it to here from my tumblr. I hope you enjoy it! -bows-
Six years after his birth, Leo was given something he had never seen before. It looked unassuming enough - flat, smooth, shaped like a rectangle. There were colors and lines came together to make a picture of a little girl and a rabbit. Or what he thought was a rabbit, but it was wearing clothes. At the top were what he knew to be letters that made words.
"Ah…Ah-lees… Alice," he finally said slowly, holding the rectangle at length. Standing right next to him was his mother, and she smiled a little, nodding approvingly when he looked up at her. He tried again. "Alice een… Woo…Wuh…Wuhnd…err-lahnd… Alice in Wonderland!"
Large, dark eyes looked up at his mother, filled with a sudden joy. "Alice in Wonderland!" he proclaimed to her.
Tresses of light-brown hair tickled against her cheek as Leo's mother nodded again. "That's right. So, do you like your birthday present, Leo?" she asked, squatting down and smoothing her skirts over.
Leo frowned slightly, considering. That is…what was he even holding, exactly? "Mama, what is this?" he said, countering her question with one of his own. If it was some toy, he knew nothing of it, and never saw the other kids in the village with one.
A light laugh left his mother and she picked him up, taking them over to the only armchair in the room. Leo knew that once his father used to sit there, not that he could remember much of that man. But the chair always smelled differently from the floral scent of his mother - it gave off something like smoke and old spice. She sat down in the chair and settled him on her lap, and he snuggled against her, still holding the foreign object with interest.
"It's a book," she explained simply. Her arms reached around him and prompted the rectangle to open. Within were pages, each one filled with color and pictures of the girl and all sorts of strange things. But everywhere were the words - here, there, everywhere, all saying something, and Leo wanted to know what. One of his little hands reached out to touch the pages, smooth and crisp and his eyes danced over each word, wanting to take them all in at once.
His mother's voice was light when she said, "Books tell stories, Leo. All these words come together and they make a story."
"Story… What's that," he almost whispered, liking the sound of it.
"Story is…" His mother broke off, and he heard her hum softly in wonder. Leo was beginning to wonder if she just made up the word when she just let out a defeated laugh. "They can be anything, really. Many things are stories, if you think about it that way. This is just one form a story can take."
Something that was everything and all around him. Leo was amazed, his childish lips forming a small 'O' in awe.
"Let me show you. I'll read it for you, okay?" his mother offered. "Here, we start at the beginning…"
For once the lights dancing before his eyes didn't bother him. For once, he wasn't really looking at them - he was completely and irrevocably within the world of Wonderland alongside Alice. A world he had never heard of nor even thought about existing. It was exhilerating and more than once when he mother paused, gauging his reactions, he tugged her sleeve frantically, eyes still on the book as he gasped, "Mama, Mama, what now, what now?"
When they reached the last page and his mother punctuated the story with a satisfied, "The end," Leo couldn't help but stare at the book. He waited for more, but it seemed like the story was really done. He frowned slightly, wordlessly taking the book from his mother's hands and flipping through the pages again, coming to the end and finding no more words.
"What're you doing?" his mother asked curiously as he looked dejectedly down at the pages.
"I want more story," he said sadly, laying the book closed on his lap. He liked this, the book and the story inside it, the way it made him feel strangely safe and enraptured by a world he was in but also not. It was an odd feeling that he wanted to savor much longer than it lasted.
"But you know, you can always read it again," his mother explained, pressing her lips into his thick black hair. "Stories come alive so long as you keep reading them."
He could do this all over again? What an amazing thing this "book" was! Leo nearly jumped in his mother's lap as he scooped up the book and hugged it to himself, wriggling down and running into the other room where they slept. He heard the scuffle of his mother's boots when she followed him, finding him nestled beneath the covers and the book opened up to the first page again.
"I want to try to read it this time!" he proclaimed to her in exhilaration, cheeks flushed in excitement. It was so exciting, knowing he could read this story whenever he wanted, could fall into Wonderland whenever he felt like it. To chase the White Rabbit, swim in the Pool of Tears, play part in the Mad Tea Party at any time!
A smile tugged at his mother's lips. She went over and sat down on the bed next to him. He started to read, tugging on his mother's dress and asking for help when he couldn't pronounce certain words. When he got to the end as Alice woke up from her dream, he flipped the book over and started again. His mother laughed. "Guess that means you really like your present."
"Mm!" Leo hummed in agreement, looking up at her with glee. Within seconds he was sucked into the world of the story once more, feeling like he couldn't be any happier.
Ten years later. Leo pushed up his glasses, staring down at the wrapped object Elliot Nightray held out to him. It was simple - a shimmering sort of blue with purple ribbons crossing in the center of it. He let out an amused breath, smiling in defeat. "Alright. Who told you?"
The look Elliot was giving him was decidedly cross. "I found out from Mrs. Finn when I accompanied my father to Sablier when we wanted to make it official you were to become my valet. I saw over one of the documents with your information on it." He scowled, brows furrowing. "How do you leave out a detail like your birthday from me, you ass?"
"It's not like you particularly wanted to know when we met," Leo said. Then he pointed out, "Even I found out your birthday by accident. So you didn't need to get me anything when I hadn't done anything for you."
Elliot huffed, holding the present out insistently. "I don't care about stuff like that. Come on, take it," he said impatiently. "Took a lot of trouble to find it."
After a second and seeing that his best friend was quite serious, Leo rolled his eyes and took the present. He sat down at the edge of his bed and tugged at the ribbons, tearing away at the neat wrappings.
Ah. Smooth, flat, rectangular, filled with pages - Leo couldn't help but quirk a pleased smile to see a book in his hands. It was an obvious gift, a typical one since the raven-haired boy had read every single day since his sixth birthday. Even so, there was something about this book in particular, and Leo's eyes widened upon reading the title. "What…"
Elliot moved near him, sitting down on the bed as well. He gazed from Leo to the book, gauging his reaction. "Uh, does that mean you like it?" he asked. Leo didn't respond, his fingers slowly ghosting over the cover of the book. Elliot continued, "I see you with that Alice in Wonderland book all the time, and it was the only thing you brought with you when you came to be my valet, so I thought maybe…"
Oh yes, Leo remembered that. Even when those strange men came to take him out of his village, Leo had fervently insisted he go back to his house to retrieve one thing. All of them had been surprised when it was only a well-read children's book to end up in his hands. Leo never wanted to part from it. It had been a gift from his beloved, deceased mother that started his close, fond love for books.
Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There is what rested against his lap and Leo stared at it for a few moments more, taking in the bright colors and images, the face of a familiar girl… "I…I never knew there was a sequel to it…," he murmured, cheeks warming up in mounting excitement and happiness. His fingers twitched, longing to open the book, flip through the pages as eagerly as he had when he was a little boy.
At that, Elliot laughed a little. "Bookworm like you? Don't blame you, I guess, it was a children's book after all," he said. Quickly, he amended, "N-not that I'm saying you're a kid or whatever. I just thought you might want it since you didn't have it, and apparently you haven't even read it either…"
Leo shook his head, still in shock. "Yeah, I never have…" He looked up at Elliot, eyes shining beneath long bangs his mother told him to grow out. He suddenly had an idea, more of a feeling though, an impulse that prompted him to blurt out, "Read it with me."
Elliot looked at him, blue eyes blinking in surprise. "What? Are you serious?"
Nodding fervently, Leo held the book close to his chest, hugging it. "I have to know what happens! I want you to read it with me!" he said insistently, having a sort of childish tone that he never used before. "Agree to it, you have to, you gave it to me!"
"I…I guess, I mean it's not like I didn't read the first part, so I know what's going on…" Finally, probably after seeing how sincere Leo was, Elliot relented. "Fine, I'll read it with you. But only because it's your birthday," he added sheepishly, glancing away. "And you're not being fair with that tone, either. Looking like some little kid, really now…"
The smile Leo had on his face couldn't be happier. Finally, he could continue the story. "Thank you, Elliot," he said, threading his fingers together tightly with the Nightray's. Elliot didn't pull away, but his cheeks were growing pink, a barely-contained smile playing upon his lips as well.
"Happy birthday, Leo."
Because when one story ended, another always began.