Author's note: Thanks for all the reviews and follows. This is the final chapter. The Matthew/Alice thing is something I have had in my head since S2. Lawson is in many respects the anti-Blake. Old fashioned, stable, dependable, and responsive to those around him - the sort of person that would never hurt those he loved. I've thought for a long time he could make a suitable partner for either Jean or Alice, but for very different reasons.
A few days later Alice sat in her apartment, reading. She lived in a spacious modern apartment which she had meticulously decorated in shades of powder blue and cream. It was her one indulgence in deference to her professional success. She didn't need that much space, or anything elaborate, but she enjoyed living there. Things had returned to normal, a quiet routine of work and home life. She had done her best to put Matthew out of her mind. This was the uncomplicated life that she preferred. Early in the evening there was a knock at her door. She opened it to find Matthew, leaning on a cane, his face stoic. Alice could feel a seed of panic growing in her mind. She had not planned for this. Alice gave him a cursory greeting and let him in. Matthew looked around the room.
"Nice place you got here."
"Thank you. What can I do for you?"
"You could ask me to sit down for starters." Alice motioned to a chair, then furrowed her brow. "How on earth did you get here?"
"Took a cab. Since you won't come to see me, I thought I'd pay you a visit."
Alice nodded. "Tea?"
"That won't be necessary, I won't be staying long. I'm here on urgent police business."
"Shouldn't you be talking to Superintendent Carlyle?"
"This one is out of his hands. Alice, if I said or did anything to offend you..."
"No not at all! I've just been busy, nothing more."
"I don't believe you."
A flash of anger welled up in Alice's mind and quickly cooled. He was calling her a liar, right to her face. But he was right. She felt bad for treating him the way she did, even if it was necessary. It never really occurred to her that he'd notice her absence. Blake said said so, but he tended towards the dramatic.
"Matthew, I've made some enemies at the hospital over the years. I'm not sure it's in your best interest to be seen out and about with me."
Matthew snorted. "You've made enemies? I've arrested half of Ballarat!"
"You're used to being in the public eye. I prefer to avoid it."
Matthew stared at her. "What the bloody hell happened in that bar? What did someone say to you?" Alice looked down, suddenly realizing she was fighting to hold back tears. This was much harder to do than she thought it would be. She'd let her guard down and now he could see right through her. She wished he'd just left her alone.
"Your life is only going to be more difficult with me in it." It was another lie. Her life was the one that had gotten difficult. It was her fault, not his, but there was no way to separate the problem from the man at the center of it.
"Bloody hell Alice, don't you think I should get a say in that?" He was standing and shouting now. "Couldn't you have at least bothered to tell me what was on your mind before disappearing? At least give me a chance. If anyone says a mean word to you, from the hospital, the police station, the bar, I don't care where. You tell me and I'll set them straight."
Alice was angry now too. She hadn't needed protecting since she was twelve and she wasn't about to start. "I can defend myself you know!"
"That doesn't mean you always have to!" Matthew softened his voice. "Alice, I didn't come here tonight to bother you. I've enjoyed your visits, and I miss them. I want us to be friends."
"What did you come here tonight for? I thought you were on police business." Alice wanted him to finish his business and leave.
Matthew sat back down. He paused for a long minute, and took a deep breath before he spoke. "The annual Victoria Constabulary Ball. As Superintendent I'm required to suffer through it every year. I thought I was done this year. But on account of my retirement, and that thing that happened with Charlie, they are presenting me with some sort of award."
Matthew grimaced at the mere thought, but continued. "It's in Melbourne. There's dancing, but I'm afraid I won't be of much use on that account."
"I don't like to dance."
"Well, it shouldn't be a problem for you then. That is if you can stand to be seen out and about with me."
The last statement stung, but she let it pass. The whole conversation seemed to have gone off the rails. "You are asking me to come with you? To a ball."
Matthew put both hands on his walking stick and leaned forward. "It's a miserable night full of drunken cops and bloody politicians and bad speeches. I need you there to keep me sane."
Alice could not help but smile a little at that. "Well you make it sound so fun."
Matthew looked serious now. He stood up again. Alice could not help but notice how much difference three weeks had made in his recovery. He cleared his throat. "Alice, it would be my honor if you would accompany me to the Constabulary Ball."
He held out his hand and Alice's chest tightened. It hadn't seemed like such a scary prospect when he was complaining about it a minute ago, and suddenly it seemed like something much bigger. She looked up and his eyes glimmered with the same kind patience that had made her feel at ease when she showed up at his house with groceries all those months ago. She got the sense that he would stand there with his hand out for days if that's how long it took her to make up her mind. She decided not to make him wait that long. She stood up and took his hand, and couldn't help smiling a little. "It would be my pleasure."
"Alright. I'm glad that's settled. Can I borrow your phone? I need to call a cab."
"No," Alice said softly. "Let me drive you home."
"Thanks. Say have you eaten dinner yet?"
"No, I'd forgotten all about it."
"Good we can go get something to eat. My treat."
Alice froze at that. She did not want to end up in someone's cross-hairs just for having dinner with him. Nothing had really been resolved with his visit, he just somehow had distracted her from the problem at hand.
"Alice. It's going to be fine, I promise. If anyone has a problem with either of us, they are going to have to get through me. And I haven't lost a fight since I was fourteen."
Alice did not hesitate to call Jean this time. In matters of fashion, Jean was a local expert, or at least the only expert Alice knew. Jean was more than happy to oblige, and they ended up spending the better part of a weekend searching for the right dress and accessories. Afterwards, she sat with Jean and Blake in their kitchen while Blake delivered a primer on the local dignitaries she was likely to meet along with some of the police ball rituals. Alice hoped she wouldn't be caught too off guard by anyone.
But in the end, Alice knew she would be on her own. They could only help so much. As she stood alone outside of the ballroom of the Menzies Hotel, she tried to think back on how she got into this awful predicament. Everyone seemed to be looking at her as they walked past, looking but never saying a word. It was everything she feared it would be. She debated leaving, when a familiar voice called her name. Alice turned around to see Matthew, back in his uniform for the first time in months. He looked proud.
"I thought you'd never get here."
Matthew just stood there, staring. This did not make her feel better about the situation.
"You're staring. Everyone is. Have I done something?"
"It's not what you've done it's..." Matthew seemed to have trouble finding what to say. "Alice, you look stunning."
Alice could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. Her voice was almost a whisper. "I'd prefer not to be noticed."
"Well you're out of luck there. No one is going to overlook you tonight."
Alice looked apprehensively towards the large bronze doors. String music was leaking through. She looked back at Matthew. He smiled. "It will be fine. Trust me. We'll manage."
Matthew walked up beside Alice and offered her his arm. Alice took it, gladly. She started to think if she could at his side for the whole evening, she might get through it. She gave him a determined look. "We'll manage."
"Once more unto the breech, then." Matthew held open the ball room door and they both walked towards the music.