So, like most other people who were disappointed by the fact that Alice and Hatter didn't get together in the new movie, I decided to take matters into my own hands and write this one-shot. That being said, I still recommend people to go see Through the Looking Glass. I'm sad that it isn't doing nearly as well as I expected, so please don't allow disappointment over these two wonderful people not getting together to take your support away from the movie that had a lot of hard work put into it. Thank you for reading!
Of Muchness and Euphoria
Alice was unhappy.
Of course, that didn't mean she wasn't happy either. The sea was vast and abounding with numerous opportunities for her to witness unbelievable sights that half the world had only perceived through the mouths of sailors. She had rightfully earned the privilege to behold the wonders of the world herself by daring to be different from all the other girls who were far too hasty to settle down with an older rich man and serve as nothing more than a caretaker of his babes.
Her dear mother Helen had forsaken her title and possessions just for an expedition across the ocean by her daughter's side, and it made Alice so very proud of the normally proper woman who had probably dreamed of being free from the clutches of society for so long. She would much rather have a mother who supported her than one who had raised her as a spoiled and selfish brat, like horrid Hamish and the bitter Lady Ascot. Besides, the older woman seemed far joyous than she'd been in quite a long time. The last time Helen had smiled so much was when her husband was still alive and telling his stories.
Alice leaned against The Wonder's railing and took in the brilliant sunset that radiated across the horizon line like fine golden thread. Her most cherished part of the day was observing the sun sinking into the ocean while the sky darkened and brought about the most lovely shades of pinks, violets, and blues. It was the only moment she truly experienced peace.
Lately, however, she had been feeling rather off, as if she was no longer Alice anymore but instead a mere Almost Alice. She knew that if Absolem were around he would admonish her for losing her Muchness, but she couldn't help it.
The truth of the matter was that she missed her friends from Underland terribly, most specifically the Mad Hatter.
Alice had been so tempted by the Hatter's invitation to stay after she had slayed the Jabberwocky, but unfortunately she had business to take care of in her own world, business that a lovely person like Tarrant Hightopp shouldn't get mixed up in. Nobody in their right or even wrong mind would enjoy being involved in breaking off an engagement in front of a gawking and impatient party who had sacrificed their whole day just to support a couple that held no feelings of love towards each other in the slightest way possible. Even Alice, who despised the concept of impossibility, would state that the mere notion of marrying somebody as pompous as Hamish was the most preposterous and impractical idea that had ever been conceived.
While she didn't regret leaving Underland to speak her mind and defend her ideas, she did loathe the fact that she'd left the charming mad man behind. His melancholy eyes had stared right through her and put her heart in a sorry state, and they were just as somber when she'd left him once more to wander back through the looking glass and into her world.
Every morning, when Alice readied herself in her Captain's chamber to be presentable for her crew, she would eye her mirror for but a moment before he appeared in the glass beside her. His brilliant green eyes would light up while his ivory face widened to make room for his smile, one that he seemingly reserved for only her. Unfortunately, his presence was always only temporary. He departed as promptly as he'd materialized, leaving her hollow and livid with her cruel mind for teasing her with such an illusion. Having to depart from him once was hard enough, but twice had left her with an emptiness that couldn't be filled.
A single tear slid down her right cheek, leaving behind a wet trail that she hastily wiped away in frustration. Alice didn't like the vulnerability she felt when she cried. The last time she'd shed tears had been when she'd watched her dear Hatter dying. His skin had been frigid, his breathing shallow, and his face and hair had turned a sickeningly blend of white and gray. It was one of the most painful things she'd ever been through, having to see the person she cared about most fade from existence while knowing that she had been a source of his agony. She'd foolishly not believed him, had deemed the possibility of his family being alive as impossible when he'd turned to her for help. Even now, after she'd aided him in reuniting with his family, the shame she felt mercilessly twisted itself in her heart everyday.
"Did I not tell you that tears never accomplished anything? Stupid girl."
Alice peered down at the ligneous railing in both surprise and delight when she heard the cranky factual voice. Absolem looked right back up at her in his usual grumpy facade as his wings joined together on his back.
"Absolem! What are you doing here?"
"I'm helping you be The Alice again since you seem unable to do so yourself. Must I always come find you? It's rather tiring."
"But Absolem, I haven't a clue on how to get my Muchness back." Alice wistfully sighed and rested her fingers over the railing's edge. "I miss Underland and my friends. I miss the Hatter."
"Well don't just whine about it. Go back," he grumbled out in an irked tone.
Alice helplessly shook her head. "How can I? I'm in the middle of the ocean with my mother and we're not anywhere near the Ascot's home, not that I'd really be able to go there anyways after ripping his terrible contract up."
At this the butterfly irritably exhaled. "You don't need to be around that appalling place to enter Underland. You can find an entrance no matter where you are."
Alice felt like time had brought everything around her to a shocking halt. For a moment she could no longer hear the gulls, the water's gentle waves, or the vessel creaking beneath her feet. Was it truly possible that she'd somehow had the ability to return all along?
"How? How can that be? Why haven't you told me before?" A part of her was rather bothered about all the time she'd wasted moping around when an opportunity to go back had been present without her knowing it.
Absolem fluttered his azure wings until he landed himself gracefully on Alice's shoulder. "You really are a foolish girl. Tell me, what were your feelings before you clumsily fell down that rabbit hole?"
Alice recalled how embarrassed she'd been at having so many people staring at her while Hamish knelt down and held her hands with an enforced smile on his face as he asked her to join him in marriage. The pressure had been terrible, the expectations cruel, and all she'd wanted to do was escape. If McTwisp hadn't shown up and given her a reason to run off like he had, then it was very likely she'd have somehow been forced to marry that atrocious man.
"Well, I felt desperate to get away."
"Alright, and how did you feel in that hideous room before you entered the looking glass?"
She blinked in disbelief as realization slowly dawned on her. "Desperate to get away."
Absolem nodded. "And how about now?"
Alice pondered about how much she savored her life on the sea as she followed in her father's footsteps. She esteemed in being educated about unique islands and countries, and appreciated not being treated as a senseless woman. Regardless of the glorious spectacles though, she felt rather lonely and regretful. Even with her powerful imagination, she couldn't joke with a mountain or laugh at the sea, and having tea time by herself in a forest or meadow just made the void she had grow even larger. She loved her mother so much, and was beyond thrilled that they had been able to sail together for awhile, but she yearned to find the mad man with bright orange hair and fascinating emerald eyes. There were so many more tea times to be experienced, so many riddles to be pondered over, and she never did figure out why a raven was like a writing desk. She deeply inhaled and glimpsed up at the darkening sky, where she could view enough stars to form a picture of him smiling down at her, and the ache suddenly felt far worse than ever before.
"I'm desperate to get away," Alice whispered, and she heard Aboslem's wings flutter in approval.
Helen cleared her throat, causing her youngest daughter to visibly flinch in humiliation at having been caught apparently speaking to herself. "Alice, whoever are you talking to?"
Time seemed to not care that he was making things quite difficult for the young captain. Alice hesitantly turned around, unsure of what to even say to her mother and business partner. "Mother, I-"
The older woman held out a gloved hand, stopping her daughter in mid-sentence. "I don't want any excuses. You are clearly not well, so I want you to go to your room."
"Let me finish. You will go to your room, walk through your mirror, and find the happiness you deserve."
Alice was quite sure she'd finally gone Mad. She knew she was gaping like a dying codfish, for her mother smiled in amusement, the lovely wrinkles around her eyes creasing together over her dimples. "I , well, I know about the other world, Alice. Your father believed in it, and although it took me a little longer, I supposed I do as well. I'm a stubborn woman, you know."
"And not quite as big a fool either," Absolem testily stated. Helen nodded and kept the smile on her face, but it was quite evident that she found the whole ordeal of a chatting insect to be extremely abnormal.
It was almost too much for Alice to take in. Her mother was aware of Underland's existence, and hadn't fainted or twitched an eye at Absolem conversing with them. She breathed in a few lungfuls of air to converge her senses before she spoke. "How did you know I wasn't lying? Why do you believe me now?"
"I followed you after our argument on the night of your return from China," the older woman began, "and I must admit that I was rather skeptical and worried when I saw you engaged in a discussion with a butterfly, but when he replied back, I realized that maybe, just maybe, you're one of the sane few in this oblivious world of ours. After he flew away and you followed after him I suddenly understood that your stories of blue caterpillars and smiling cats might not be as insane as I believed them to be." Her eyes glistened as fond memories filled her head. " I would hear you sometimes, talking in your sleep, and you always sounded so happy even though you claimed to have nightmares. Ever since you were a little girl you spouted things off from your dreams, muttering about some Wonderland or Underland, and even something about a Hatter?"
Alice connected her fingers behind her back and stared into her mothers eyes with sincerity."His name is Tarrant, and he is somebody I deeply care about."
Helen knowingly smiled with a twinkle in her eyes. "Perhaps in the same way I cared about your father?"
Alice felt a strange feeling in her heart. It was beating at an alarming rate, and her cheeks had grown incredibly warm, as if there was a fire beneath her skin. She had always thought that her relationship with Tarrant was only that of a deep friendship, but now that word just didn't seem correct anymore. Truthfully, the idea of them just only being friends for the rest of her lifetime greatly saddened her, and that terrified her a great deal.
"I-I don't know. It feels so strange."
"Then perhaps you should go find out now. Don't keep your Hatter waiting, and come visit me soon, won't you darling?"
Still in a state of disbelief, Alice caught her breath and gripped the railing tightly. "You won't question my judgement or choice? You trust me?"
Helen laughed. "Of course I do. You're a brilliant woman with a good head on her shoulders. If you trust your heart enough about this man, then I shall as well. Just try and introduce us sometime, alright?"
When the young captain wordlessly nodded she was tightly embraced by the woman who had supported her when others laughed in her face. Helen kissed her daughter's head before she stepped back with a proud smile. This was different than those few years ago when she had watched the youthful blonde embark on her trip to China. In a way, it seemed like Alice had finally become a woman who was following her heart.
"Go on. I'll take care of the crew."
"Honestly, what is it with women and their emotions?" Absolem huffed out in annoyance, prompting the two women to giggle over his disgusted attitude. He flew off the blonde's shoulder and towards her cabin, signalling the young woman to pursue him. Alice quickly followed, but as she reached for the handle of her door, she turned around once more and exchanged a wave with her mother, and then she stepped into the awaiting dim room.
"Would I always have been able to enter the mirror?" Alice inquired as she changed out of her uniform and into a lavender dress. A violet ribbon encircled her waist, soft fabric covered her shoulders, and a dip in the top bared her long neck and the top of her chest. She had brought the outfit to wear on formal occasions, and now seemed as good a time as any to don the simple but lovely dress. She wore neither a corset nor stockings, and was content with flat black shoes that were hidden beneath her slim gown.
"Only when you wanted to," Absolem dully responded, as if he was being asked a question that he'd heard hundreds of times before. "Now please stop dawdling and hurry up. Time waits for nobody. You know that."
"He might if he's in a very good mood." She allowed her hair to rest on her shoulders, which had grown out a little more since being cut."I wonder if the others will recognize me without the long curls," she thought to herself in amusement. Alice watched Absolem roll his eyes and fly through the looking glass before she glanced around her cabin once more to commit the room to memory.
The Wonder had been her home for over three years, but she didn't feel as sad as she thought she ought to be. Even though it was her father's ship, it was still just a vessel that held nowhere near the amount of value that her relationship with Hatter and the others did. She was excited, pleased, and confident that she'd made the right decision this time, and she was certain that her father would approve of her choice as well. Alice stared at the glass surface for but a few seconds before she pressed though, unsure of what to expect.
She was just as tiny as the first time she'd walked through a mirror. This time, however, she was in her cabin. Everything towered over her except for the minuscule door on the opposite end of the room that only somebody of her size could fit through. Thankfully, this time she didn't have to worry about bumping into egg men that could crack so easily, or chess pieces that wanted her out of the way as they spouted off nonsense and terrible jokes.
Instead, her eyes caught sight of one of her officer boots, but for some reason it had a door in the front and windows along the sides instead of buttons. A plump woman with a scarlet face shrieked at a group of children to go inside while they laughed and teased her for not being able to catch them. A goose hurriedly waddled by, flapping its feathers and honking while a young boy cradling a golden egg chased after it, repeatedly demanding that the large bird stop and succumb to surrender.
Alice wandered across the floor, striding past three little kittens who each only had one mitten on as they feverishly searched for the other half of the pair with bulbous tears falling down their whiskered face. A man trotted proudly on his auburn horse while he patted the yellow feather protruding out of his hat, and another young boy sprinted past her as he carted a beautiful golden harp. The instrument had the face of a woman who was crying out for help, but the boy kept trying to cover her lips with his fingers.
"Move everybody! Move!" he warned, prompting all the people and Alice to curiously look in the direction he came from. A dirty colossal foot stomped on the ground towards the fleeing child, causing the floorboards to creak beneath its heavy weight. Alice's eyes widened as she tilted her head back and peered up at a giant man with an enraged scowl on his face.
"Fe Fi Fo Fief. Give me back my harp, you little thief!" he bellowed out in accusation before he advanced forward and split apart more of the wooden floor. The mother and all her children sprinted away from their home on stubby legs, watching in despair as the cozy boot plunged into the now gaping hole in the floor.
"Move!" Absolem ordered as he soared past the shrunken girl. Alice hastened her feet as fast she could towards the other side while continually glancing back to make sure she wasn't about to be squished. When she finally reached the door she wasted no time in flinging it open. She turned around once more to see if there was anybody she could grab onto and pull to safety, but it was too late. What was left of her bedroom floor had completely fallen through, along with the giant and anybody else unlucky to be nearby. Her heart sunk for the poor children.
"They'll be fine," the butterfly assured her when he noticed her crestfallen face. "They've only fallen to a deeper part of the ship. It will provide more room and prevent anymore giants from reaching them, unless that stupid boy climbs back up the bean stalk again. Now, go through."
Alice wondered how Absolem was so sure that things were alright. Curiously, she peeked over the edge and saw with relief that the villagers were indeed safe. The giant man was unconsciously sprawled out on the floor, unaware of the children giggling and running across his broad stomach. She sighed and tried not to shrink at the impatient glare her flying friend shot at her.
Alice walked through the door, only to feel a terrible dread as she stepped on air and began her lengthy drop to the ground below. She screamed and helplessly kicked her legs as trees rose up to greet her, their thick branches slowing down her fall until she landed in a pile of pink roses. There wasn't really any pain, but merely a dull ache on her arms, legs, and stomach from her unfortunate plunge.
"He could have at least warned me again," she muttered while plucking scattered petals out of her hair and off her dress. Alice stepped out of the flowers and analyzed her surroundings for some notion as to where she was. Judging by the towering white castle nearby, she could only assume that she was just outside of Marmoreal, which was a splendid place to start in her search for the Hatter.
As she made her way towards the castle gates, she felt her dress being insistently tugged on around her ankles. Alice glanced down, a smile spreading on her face when she saw McTwisp pulling on her with his little white paws.
"Alice! You're back, and so soon this time!" The white rabbit ecstatically declared as she hunched down and allowed him to bounce into her arms. "I'm so glad! Underland isn't the same without you!"
"Hello McTwisp," Alice greeted with a tight hug and fond smile. When he jumped back to the ground she straightened up and beamed at him. "I've come back for much longer this time. Have you seen the Hatter by any chance?"
The rabbit's pink nose twitched as he considered her question. "Well, I believe the last I saw of him was when he was strolling through the Queen's garden with his father. They were planning to discuss reopening a hat shop together. A brilliant idea, really. Why don't you go check on him?"
"If he's with his father then I don't wish to interrupt them." Alice really did want to find him, but she'd hate to ruin a bonding moment that had been needed for a long time. Hatter was overjoyed to have his family back, so she wanted to give him some privacy before whisking his attention away.
"They should be done by now. Besides, he will so delighted to see you! After you left he seemed rather dismal, so you'll be a wonderful surprise for him!"
Alice felt overcome with guilt once more for knowing that she had hurt him again. "Thank you. I'll go look for him right now," she promised her small friend before she bid him farewell and carried on her way.
The walk to the castle grounds was fortunately not a lengthy one. The palace was just as beautiful and grand as she remembered it to be, and the kingdom's citizens were friendly and welcoming. She was greeted at the gate by two guards who bowed their heads in respect to the one who had rid the land of the Red Queen's tyranny. A few members of the White Queen's court paused in their stroll to also curtsy and bow to the Champion, which both flattered and embarrassed Alice at the same time. She didn't think of herself as a hero, so every time she was shown a great amount of respect she was always unsure on how to reply. She didn't wish to been seen as rude or impolite, so usually she would just wave with a smile or return the greeting so that others wouldn't view her as somebody who couldn't be approached or confronted.
When she finally made it past the walkway and entered the gardens, she had to pause and summon her thoughts in order to recall which path to take. It could be an eternal maze if she wasn't careful, and she didn't want to call the Queen away from important matters just to be navigated through the walls of trees and rose bushes like a child. Once she was sure of what direction to go in, she promenaded along the ground towards her favorite spot while keeping an eye out for a tall hat or jagged orange hair. She felt the excitement building up in her with each step she took, along with a terrible case of the nerves. Alice didn't understand why she felt so apprehensive, but her joy in seeing her friend again greatly outweighed the unnecessary anxiety that unpleasantly bounced around in her stomach.
After a few minutes of twists and turns, she arrived at a white gazebo that marked the center of the maze. She was greatly disappointed when she didn't see him lounging about, wondered if she'd somehow missed him, or if he had left the gardens a while ago to join the rest of his family. She decided to relax for a moment and admire the breathtaking view of Mamoreal's sunset, stunned by just how different it was from the one she'd watched on her ship hundreds of times. For some reason the one in Underland just seemed to have more vibrant colors, and the stars that followed after were so much brighter than the dim ones above London or China.
As Alice marveled at the view, she was alerted by the sound of approaching footsteps. She turned around, expecting to see Mirana or maybe even the Tweedles, but instead she was met with the sight of a disoriented Hatter. His emerald eyes weren't as vivid as they usually were, and his lips were turned down like he had a troubling thought that he was struggling to make sense of. He seemed so out of sorts that he didn't even notice Alice.
The Mad man's expression metamorphosed entirely when he finally regarded her presence. Hatter's irises seemed to practically glow, and that smile he wore only around her stretched across his cardinal red lips to reveal the gap-toothed grin that Alice adored. "Alice! It's you!"
Without another word Alice bounded across the gazebo and threw herself in Hatter's arms, her feet dangling off the ground as he lifted her up and securely latched his arms around her waist. "It's me! I'm back!" She laid the side of her face against his shoulder, basking in the warmth of his embrace and the fact that she was with him once more. "Oh, I've missed you terribly!"
"And I've missed you, my Alice." He lowered her to the ground and jovially grinned at her, not noticing the pink on her face at his endearment. She silently chided herself for being silly and blushing, but she couldn't help it. She was just so happy to see him again. "What has brought you back this time?"
"Well, I actually came to see you. I was rather sorrowful when I went back home because I realized that I just missed you so much." She shyly patted down the front of her dress even though there wasn't a reason to do so. "Absolem found me and noticed how unhappy I was, for I'd temporarily lost my Muchness, you see. Anyways, he was kind enough to guide me back here just so I could find you."
Fear gripped her when his smile faded away, and the green in his eyes dimmed. He was speechless as he stared at her in utter disbelief, with his mouth gaping open and eyes unblinking. "You missed me? You came here just to see...me?" When Alice nodded, his eyes glowed the brightest she'd ever seen and he grinned so widely that she found herself smiling along with him. She laughed as he pulled her into another hug, though this time he spun her around and buried his fingers within her blonde locks. "Thank you for doing so! Oh, I'm so happy!"
The gardens echoed with their laughter until the spinning and hugging stopped and Alice was planted on her feet once more. "Oh, yes, we must go see the White Queen! She will be overjoyed that you're back, and so quickly, I must say! Of course, she isn't the one only who is happy with your return and you being the right size and all and your shorter hair looks lovely and so does your dress but I didn't say anything earlier because I was shocked at your return you see and I'm so glad that-"
"-you're back." Hatter blinked and shook his head to empty his rampant thoughts.
"Yes, I am, and hopefully for quite a long time," Alice reinstated with a reassuring smile. She held out her arm, and with a grin he linked his own through hers. "Shall we be off to the White Castle then?"
"Indeed we shall!" the Hatter cheerfully lisped. The two began their trek back to the palace through the Queen's mesmerizing gardens. Alice very much liked all the alabaster roses and precisely trimmed verdant hedges that served as walls to the natural maze. Of course, it was far easier to navigate out of the garden than to get in, for all one must do is focus on the castle and use it as a guide to exit.
"So I heard you and your father were planning to open a hat shop together. You must be terribly excited," she finally said with a congratulatory pat on his arm.
"Oh, I am! It fills me with pride to know that he accepts my work, and compliments it so nicely."
"I know that's what you've always wanted." She was rather elated for him and his personal accomplishment in receiving his father's approval on his own work. "You know, I don't believe I told you this, but when I had the Chronosphere, I traveled back to a time when you were quite small." She felt Hatter watching her with interested eyes.
"So, what happened during this, mmm, time of my Smallness?"
"Well, you actually looked upon me with some of the largest eyes I've ever seen, and hastily guided me to your family's shop. You asked your father to properly hat me before you showed him your own little hat, a lovely tiny thing that you were proud of before he, well-"
"-discarded it in the waste bin." Hatter's eyes turned a soft shade of blue as he recalled the shameful moment. "My poor hat, and you saw it."
Alice pulled him a little closer and laid her head against his arm so he didn't revert into a mood of disappointment. "Well, what you didn't see after you left was how he pocketed it so lovingly. Oh, he really did look proud of you Hatter. I'm sure a part of you knew he kept it all those years. You did find it after all."
There was silence for a moment as he seemingly contemplated the memory. He couldn't recall Alice being there, of course, but he felt a tad bit thrilled that she'd actually seen him so young. It was a private time, and yet he wasn't bothered that she was the one he led back to the shop. It was almost as if he had discovered a unique memory of himself through her story, and she had even made the image better by informing him of his father's hidden pride. When he glimpsed down at her and noticed how she was smiling at him, his heart thumped much too hard against his chest.
To avoid concerning her any further, Hatter made no mention of the abnormal pounding, nor of the sickly heat that made his cheeks feel like a fire had erupted beneath his ivory skin. Truthfully, it wasn't the first time such an instance had transpired. When she'd stood on the balcony of Mirana's palace the night before the prophesied Frabjuous Day, he'd had the strangest feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was a pleasant sickness that he'd wanted to savor for as long as he could, but eventually it turned into a dull pain after his Alice returned back to her world. While she'd been away he'd felt lost and confused, and his world twisted about cruelly when he discovered the remnants of his first hat, bringing about a disturbing Madness that had completely shattered what little mentality he'd had left.
When Alice showed up at his doorstep and they'd embraced, he'd felt an overwhelming happiness and sense of hope, that is, until Madness fully gained control and dragged him into a darkness that nearly killed him. He'd have been the first of the Hightopps to die if it wasn't for Alice. She'd done so much for him that he couldn't possibly think of how to pay her back, and the fact that he was burdened by an ill sensation in his stomach and feverish symptoms around her once again made him realize that he simply had to talk to Mirana. He needed advice, and quickly.
"Hatter? Are you alright? I'm sorry for bringing the memory up. I didn't mean to upset you." Concerned brown eyes searched his as Alice lifted her head away from him to make sure he hadn't gone fully Mad again. She wouldn't be able to bare the thought that she'd caused him distress after going through so much to bring him back to his energetic self.
Hatter lifted his free hand up and tousled her golden hair affectionately, prompting her to laugh sweetly. "I'm fine. Promises and all. I just realized that I haven't had tea time yet. Terribly important thing to miss, you know."
"Oh, is that all?" She didn't fully believe him but played along anyways. "Well, then we shall have to have tea later. I missed mine today as well."
He guffawed until he snorted, earning giggles from the young blonde beside him. "Yes, yes, but not until after we see Mirana."
"Then let's hurry," Alice encouraged. They picked up the pace and jaunted towards the entrance, only impeding their movement when they arrived at the castle's vast doorways. Two guards saluted the Hatter and Champion before the doors were pushed open and trumpets blown, followed by an announcement of the pair's arrival. She sighed and the Mad Man tittered in amusement.
"They do like to be fancy, do they not? I suppose it's to make us feel more important."
"Yes, but is it necessary? It's in the evening and I don't want anybody woken up because of our visit." Alice mentally noted to make a request of the guards to no longer announce her the next time she stopped by. Besides, what if she had wanted to surprise Mirana? Now the whole idea was ruined, and all because of the idea of being proper.
The halls suddenly echoed with multiple barks as Bayard and his family raced towards the Champion with their tails wagging and Mallymkun clinging onto Bayard's collar for dear life. The pups had grown much larger since Alice had last seen them, so she was nearly knocked over by their kisses and cuddling.
"Yes hello! So wonderful to see you all again as well!" The canines barked in greeting and continued their friendly assault of her personal space. "My, you've grown so much, and you certainly look like your father!"
Mallymkun twitched her whiskers irritably at the human's return. "Why are you back already? I suppose your London finally decided to kick you out. Sounded like a terrible place anyways."
Alice smiled politely at the mouse. "I've missed you too, Mally."
"What? What nonsense are you spouting off now? On the contrary, I want you to leave already!" The female rodent yanked out her minuscule sword and waved it challenging at the towering girl. "One on one, you and me! Want a taste of the blade, do you?"
"Oh Mally, that's enough. Come now, we all know you don't hate Alice as much as you pretend," Hatter softly admonished.
Mally huffed out and plumped down on Bayard's back, arms folded and form hidden by the canine's neck. She didn't despise Alice at all; if anything, she actually respected the blonde girl immensely. However, to admit to such a thing would be a swing at her pride, and that was something she wouldn't risk. She stomped her paw down as Bayard vibrated with laughter. "That's enough out of you!"
Alice spotted a figure of pure white gracefully gliding towards her out of the corner of her eye. She beamed at the regal and beautiful queen, her smile only shrinking a little when she noticed the former tyrannical Red Queen trailing closely behind her younger sister. Iracebeth's head had somehow miraculously diminished in size. It was still quite bulbous of course, but at least it was getting a little closer to the normal size of a human head.
"Oh I'm so pleased to see you again!" the White Queen greeted with a gentle embrace to her Champion. "Racie is also delighted that you're back, aren't you sister?"
Iracebeth straightened her form up so she didn't appear shorter than her former foe. She had to bite the inside of her cheek to prevent herself from proclaiming that she was absolutely not happy about seeing the blonde. She didn't loathe the woman, but it was rather humiliating to face the person who had bested her twice, not to mention she was sickeningly loved by so many in Underland already. Even the Bandersnatch had chosen "Um" over the Red Queen, which left a rather foul taste in her mouth.
"Oh, I'm elated."
Hatter frowned at the sarcasm in Iracebeth's voice, not appreciating the snarky tone being used towards his Alice. However, his closest friend didn't seem even remotely affected by the attitude, so he refrained from going off in a rant against the "bloody bighead". His eyes met Mirana's for but an instant before she was in front of him and nodding towards one of the private rooms along the hall. He bobbed his orange head and gently touched Alice's arm.
"My dear, the White Queen and I are going to one of the chambers for a discussion of significant importance, so I shall return in but a moment, if you'd be so kind as to wait for me."
Alice was a bit confused but nodded. Besides, he was allowed to have his own business just like she was allowed to have hers. "Of course. Take your time."
"Oh, yes, yes. It's about a future event, is all. Highly important. Be right back." The Hatter walked awkwardly after the Queen, his steps rather unsure and nervous.
Cheshire eventually popped up as he usually did and floated about while he asked how "The Alice" had been after returning to the world above. He informed her that the entire Underland population was buzzing about how she saved Time and that they were so lucky to have a Champion as fine as she.
"I really don't think I'm that great," Alice replied with a blush, though she was secretly pleased at the high praise. "I wouldn't have been able to accomplish anything at all without the Hatter or any of my other friends. You've helped me out many times Chess, not to mention that you saved Hatter from being executed."
The Red Queen tutted in disapproval. "Now, now. Must we always focus on the past so much? I did apologize, did I not?"
"That doesn't excuse all the innocent lives you stole,"Mallymkun bitterly grumbled out. "You almost took my head as well, mind you!"
"Oh, the Executioner would have missed. Your head is dismally small."
The little mouse yanked out her sword and aimed it at Iracebeth with a glare. "I dare you to say that to me again you pompous ignorant son of a-"
"Mally! Please, calm down," Alice hastily urged. "Things are fine now, so we must learn to get along. I don't think anybody shall fear losing their head ever again, right?" She raised her eyebrows expectantly at the red-haired woman as a caution to not cause further trouble.
The Red Queen felt a spark of rage at being talked to in such a manner, but she also understood that she was no longer the one in power. She was surrounded by followers of her sister, and ones who would be unafraid to take her down if need be. Even the tiny rodent could be a threat if she wanted to. Iracebeth took a deep breath to quench her anger before she spoke her next words carefully."Of course. Not a fan of skulls anyway. Dreadfully boring things that I no longer wish to look at anymore."
Alice cringed at the terrible word choice, but it was probably the best they were going to get from the former tyrant. Just as Mally was about ready to swing her weapon around, Hatter and Mirana stepped out from their conference room to join the others. The White Queen noticed the fresh tension in the air and eyed her older sister with pleading eyes when she suddenly eyed the small sword being pointed. Iracebeth haughtily stuck her nose to hold on to whatever pride remained and traipsed right over to the white-haired woman, refusing to appear intimidated or controlled.
"So Alice," Mirana began as she gently touched the Red Queen's arm and strolled forward in her usual graceful manner, "where shall you be staying during your time here? Your quarters are still available upstairs if you desire them."
The blonde was tempted to take the White Queen's kind offer in residing at the palace, as she'd much enjoyed doing so the last time she'd fallen down the rabbit hole, not to mention the view had been quite splendid. She was just about to accept when she felt a gentle touch on her forearm and noticed Hatter staring at her with excitement twirling in his jade eyes. "If you'd like, you may stay with me," he suggested. "Of course, if you'd rather stay here then that's wonderful as well, or perhaps you could travel between both places?"
Suddenly, the idea of sleeping in a giant hat-shaped house was the far more appealing proposal. Alice had missed Hatter terribly, and the thought of having tea and scones together every day made her feel quite jovial. Besides, he was rather evident in his excitement over her temporarily lodging in his humble home, so she didn't have a single reason to turn down his kindness. She simpered at her truest friend and nodded her head, causing his eyes to glow just as brightly as earlier. "I would be honored to stay with you, Hatter."
The White Queen clapped her hands together while she smiled brightly in approval. "Well then, allow me to provide you with clothing that'll last you for at least a few days. I'm sure Hatter would be quite enthralled to make you some more, should you need them."
Alice was relieved that she wasn't being judged for being an unmarried woman sleeping in a single man's house. The people of London would have spread gossip and shaken their heads at her with disapproval, but the world of Underland seemed to view things quite differently, and for that she was glad. After all, staying at the Mad Hatter's was like staying with the White Queen, although Alice's heart didn't pick up pace when she thought of Mirana like it did when she imagined staying at the Hatter's. Regardless, she was pleased to finally have the opportunity to spend some much desired time with the Mad Man, and planned to make the most of it.
"Well, here we are! Home-sweet-hat!" Hatter stood off to the side in his modest foyer so Alice could have room for entry. The young woman beamed contently at him as she stepped through the door and admired the cozy dwelling with appreciation. She was pleased that she could actually enjoy her time here without having to worry about Tarrant slipping away from her forever. Of course, she wouldn't allow herself to become morose over what had almost occurred and instead appreciate what hadn't happened. Her tea-loving Hatter was alive and well, and she refused to have a lonely pity party for herself or him.
The door shut behind her, sealing them both in the brightly lit house. Glowing candles flickered from their spots along the walls to serve as a guide for the pair so they didn't have to blindly stumble around in the dark or trip over each other. "Well, you must be quite tired after such a long tumble. Come, allow me to escort you to your room." Hatter shuffled ahead of Alice with her bulking bags of clothes gripped tightly in each of his curled hands. She had tried to carry at least one, but he heard nothing of it. Mad or not, he was still a gentleman who refused to allow a lady to tote around her own luggage.
"Your home is lovely," Alice sincerely complimented as they walked down the short corridor towards her chambers. An assortment of torn fabric were formed into a collage shaped like a hat along the walls, and each head piece was different than the last. Only four of the creations had been made so far, but she was impressed by what she saw. "Your hats are so unique and clever!"
Hatter chuckled when they arrived in front of a shut door and grinned at her appreciatively. "Why, thank you Alice. My father and mother created those with me, if you can believe it. It was quite a thrilling experience to be certain." He set the bags on the floor to open the door before he picked them up again and walked in. Alice wandered into the room right after him, smiling when she noticed the rather comfortable four-poster bed with deep violet curtains tied around each of the posts. There was a bedside table with a ticking round clock of silver towards her left, and positioned adjacently from it was a hefty azure bureau with two wide doors donning whimsical brass handles. A desk snugly jutted out of the nearest corner, complete with paper, ink pots, and quills. The room wasn't extensive, but it was more than enough space for Alice. Besides, she would still be able to look outside through the diamond-shaped window that allowed moonlight to add more luminescence to the modest room. Drapes the color of her bed curtains had been pulled back and clipped onto two light-blue spheres to be held in place.
"I hope you find it to your liking," Hatter stated as he set her clothing satchels on the bed. He was about to open the packs and assist in hanging the outfits up so his guest didn't have to, but thought better of it when he realized it could perhaps be viewed as a breach of privacy, and he absolutely did not wish for her to be uncomfortable. "I'll leave the clothes for you to do whatever you wish with them."
"Oh, yes, thank you." Silence filled the room, and suddenly Alice felt the burden of exhaustion. Her eye lids grew heavy with drowsiness, the bed looking more and more appealing with every passing second. As if sensing how tired she was, Hatter advanced over to the mattress and pulled the soft sheets back for her so she could just crawl in and begin her rest. She smiled at his thoughtfulness and stepped forward to hug him, too tired to even think about the fact that they were in her chambers locked in an embrace. Hatter swallowed and returned the affection with his arms securely around her for but a moment before he pulled away. He ignored the fluttering in his stomach and smiled as he watched her cover herself with the blankets.
"Well, fair farren Alice. I shall see you tomorrow." As he turned to leave, her heard her small voice call out to him.
"Hatter, could you-could you perhaps tuck me in?" Alice blushed when he turned around and stared at her in what had to be disbelief or shock. She cleared her throat and rolled way from him, feeling foolish for asking for such a childish request. She truthfully had no idea what made her ask for such a thing, only that it had been so long since anybody had done so. She frowned at herself and just burrowed her head deeper into the pillow. "Please, just forget about it. I'm sorry."
Tarrant was surprised at her strange request, but he wouldn't deny her anything that made her happy. He ambled over to the right side of the bed and eyed her curled up body, halfway buried beneath the comforter and sheets in a dreadful state of embarrassment. Her back was to him, almost as if she was ashamed of her question, but he found no discomfort in her beckoning. With an affectionate smile he began to tuck the thick blankets beneath her slim form, her figure stiffening up as he did so. She rolled over so she could face him as he went about the meager task.
"When I was younger, my father used to tuck me in all the time," she began with a fond smile. "He was my best friend, always telling me stories by candlelight to help me sleep. Sometimes mother would stand in the doorway and watch us. Father always invited her to join, but she was more content with listening than speaking her own tales." Hatter hummed in approval at the sweet memory, remembering himself how it had felt to be tucked in and whispered loving thoughts by his own mother. He paused in his movements when Alice stuck an arm out and touched his hand. "You're my best friend now,you know, so there's nobody else I'd rather have do this than you."
Hatter smiled fondly at her and squeezed her hand right back. "And you're mine, dear Alice. I will tuck you in every night if that's what you wish. I can even tell you stories so you can have sweet dreams." He finished folding the sheets around her, studying her face and watching as her lids gradually lowered to make way for her deep slumber. "Good night, my Alice," he whispered, and then exited the room.
The house echoed with silence as the ivory man stood in the hallway with his back pressed against her door and eyes blankly staring ahead. He took a deep breath and advanced down the corridor towards the kitchen for some much-needed evening tea. He had rather hoped that Alice would have joined, but there were other nights she could enjoy the refreshment with him. She seemed far too tired, and after their modest conversation just now he felt he needed the time alone to try and sort his troubling thoughts out.
"I know you better than most, dear Hatter, so tell me what is ailing you." Mirana seated herself on one of the golden velvet chairs and waited patiently for her friend to speak of his troubles. Tarrant sat across from her and pushed his stained fingers together as he concentrated on the precision of the words he was about to set free. So nervous was he that he took his trademark hat off and set it on his lap so he could have something to clutch on to. The White Queen just smiled sweetly at him until he finally began to talk.
"Well, your majesty, I was hoping that you would be able to offer me sound advice on strange emotions that have most fortunately or unfortunately plagued my mind."
"Of course. I'll do whatever I can to assist you."
He cleared his throat while Mirana continued to smile at him in patience and understanding. "Well, it, uh, seems that my Muchness is no longer just my Madness, you see. Lately, a strange feeling that I can only describe as bubbling tea has been brewing in my belly, and I feel quite warm all the time, like I'm laying about in some fire waiting to be cooked. What's odd, is that this only seems to happen when Alice is around, or when she somehow shows up in my thoughts."
The White Queen blinked her beautiful brown eyes as the corner of her deep scarlet lips turned upward. "Oh, and why do you think that is?"
This was the part Hatter had dreaded most, for he had a notion of what it could be but for some reason saying it out loud made things more frightening, and not in the terrifying manner one might feel if they were falling into an eternal abyss of some sort. No, he was just uncertain how he would sound, or if the idea was too ridiculous to be conceived. He tugged on his hat tightly. "I think, that perhaps, well, I might care for her more than anybody else, which is in no way meant to be disrespectful to you, of course."
"Oh Hatter, you're in love," Mirana stated softly with watering eyes while he swallowed to soothe his torrid throat. Hatter had thought that might be it, but sometimes romance could be confused with only friendship, and that was something he wished to avoid at all costs. The thought of losing Alice forever made his chest tighten so painfully that he would gladly allow his heart to stop ticking. He simply wouldn't be able to handle not seeing her again. "I'm so happy for you!"
"But, what if she is unhappy? Am I to tell her and take that chance? What if she laughs at me or thinks I'm merely Mad again?"
The White Queen shook her head. "Tarrant, you should know that she would never act in such a way. Do you know what she went through to save your life? You mean a great deal to her, so take a chance and tell her or you'll be regretful until the final days of Underland. Is that what you wish for?"
Regret sounded like a terrible burden to Tarrant, and he absolutely did not want to be chained by it. "No, not at all."
Mirana stood up and encouragingly held out her petite hands for him to take. "Then let's go back out and see Alice."
As Hatter sat in the dim room with his steaming cup of tea, he wondered if he really should speak to Alice, but he hadn't a clue when. He imagined her hand in his, the way her eyes lit up with laughter when he was nearby, and how wonderful her head had felt against his arm earlier. He took a sip with a trembling hand and allowed the hot water to calm his ill stomach.
The world outside echoed with crickets while the moon glowed brightly above with a calming presence. The light fell across the room and onto the foot of Alice's bed, where the blonde lay with her eyes fully open. She had slept, but not for very long, nor did she feel like sleeping any more. It could have been all the excitement of once more being in Underland that attributed to her restlessness, or the fact that she was currently residing in the same house of the man she cared a great deal for.
With a firm kick of her feet, Alice sat up and got out of bed, her bare heels contacting the chilled floor. She had fallen asleep in her nice dress, which was more than likely wrinkled all over, so she decided to change into actual night clothes that the White Queen had so generously bestowed upon her. She settled for a sky-blue sleeping gown that hung down to her ankles, providing her with both modesty and warmth for the cool night. An ashen robe had been provided to her as well, so she wrapped that around her slender figure for protection against brisk air before she exited her room and strolled down the hallway.
To her surprise, Hatter was awake and sitting at the kitchen table with his shoulders hunched forward and head lowered. He appeared to be lost in a cloud of deep thought, for he did not even glance up when she entered the room. It was only until Alice seated herself beside him at the table that he truly realized she was there. He smiled, glad for her company.
"Oh, can't sleep, can we? Perhaps I should have told you a story," Hatter teased as he took a sip of his now-cold tea. "I see you've changed your gown. I was wondering if you were really planning to sleep in your day dress all night."
She chuckled and propped her elbows up on the table. "Oh, I suppose you should have, though I don't think it would have helped as much. I simply can't sleep."
"Oh." He set his cup gently on the table and watched her with interest. "And why might that be?"
Alice felt quite unsure what to say, only that the room seemed to have grown much warmer within the last minute. The way his jade eyes twinkled as he analyzed her face made her cheeks feel like they were on fire, and the butterflies were flapping about in her stomach again. A part of her just wished to lean forward and rest her head on his chest, while the other part was a bit more keen on turning away. While she contemplated her actions and emotions, Hatter timidly reached out and gently tilted her chin up with his fingertip so that their eyes were focused intently on each other. She swallowed and licked her dry lips, not missing the way Hatter'e eyes glowed while his normally pale cheeks gained a rosy color. Alice remembered her mom's question, and suddenly she knew the answer without a doubt.
"His name is Tarrant, and he is somebody I deeply care about."
"Perhaps in the same way I cared about your father?"
"Yes, very much so," Alice breathed out, unaware that she had said so out loud. To know that she loved somebody just as much as her parents loved each other was a frightening but wondrous feeling. Not everybody was able to experience such a thing, so she felt incredibly lucky to care for somebody so much that it made her heart ache. Hatter wasn't just Hatter anymore, he was her Tarrant Hightopp.
Tarrant gradually lowered his hand from her chin but did not break his stare. "Alice?"
The blonde couldn't take the pressure anymore. Whenever a day at sea burnt her out or overwhelmed her, she simply had to go out on deck and clear her head. Fresh air always did wonders for her, and she was certain it would help her now. However, she didn't want to leave Tarrant confused and alone at his own table, so she stood up, tucked a loose strand behind her ear, and folded her hands in front of her dress. "Would you perhaps like to go outside and enjoy the evening air with me?"
With his gap-toothed grin Tarrant immediately stood up and set his trademarked hat over his unruly orange hair. "It would be my honor."
The late-night sky was glittering with luminous stars and an enlarged full moon that easily lit the path for the pair as they stepped out of the house for their stroll. The silence was a mixture of comfort and fretful anticipation as both of them silently contemplated on what to say to the other, unsure if their feelings would even be reciprocated. Alice just tried to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and the view of Underland at night. Unlike London, there weren't nearly as many lights or buildings, but the White Castle could be seen with the naked eye in all of its regal glory. The ivory palace stuck out in the darkness almost like a beacon of hope for those who were lost, and that was what precisely what filled Alice in that moment of doubt. She hadn't fallen through the sky twice just to keep her feelings bottled inside.
They walked towards the edge of the hill just before the road curved down into a spiral. The two stood side-by-side, unsure of who would speak first.
Embarrassed at having spoken at the same time, they remained silent and took deep breaths. Alice stepped forward towards the path like she was about to descend down it, her face reddened and curls caressed by the light breeze. She felt silly for growing quiet after she'd finally gathered courage to give voice to her heart.
"I'm glad you came back." The blonde nonchalantly turned around to face the Hatter, feeling both bashful and flattered by his claim. "I really am. I feel empty when you're not around, like I've lost a part of myself." He took one step forward, his stomach twisting and turning while his heart threatened to break out of his chest, but still he pressed on, even with how intently his guest observed him. "It's strange, but I...well, I believe you're my new Muchness Alice. I know that you may not feel the same since I'm a bit older than you but who am I to say what you truly feel towards me and I am just glad that you came here to see me because my heart's ticking was a bit off and-"
Shocked at the rare usage of his birth name, Tarrant froze. He had rambled on so much that he hadn't even perceived how his precious Champion advanced closer and closer to him until she was right before his eyes. His irises glowed brightly at the timid smile she displayed at him, making him feel like he was the only one who seemed to matter to her. Her fingers hesitantly reached up and cupped both sides of his face, her thumbs rubbing against his cheekbones while Tarrant stared at her in loving disbelief.
"Have I gone Mad?"
He had asked her that very same question over three years ago during his imprisonment at the Red Queen's castle. Alice remembered placing her hands on his frightened face and reassuring him that he was, which was alright since all the best people were. Her father had always said so, and she believed in his words more than anything. So, just like before, Alice pretended like she was feeling his forehead for a fever before her palms returned to their former places against his cheeks. "Yes, but you have nothing to be afraid of. I've gone Mad as well, so perhaps we can spend our days being Mad together."
Tarrant pressed his forehead against hers, his alabaster eyelashes shutting as he listened to her breathing. "I-I think I might have found a way to discover how a raven is like a writing desk, but I can only do so with your permission, my lady."
Her chestnut eyes peered up at him in wonderment, her throat dry and face hot. "You have my permission, Mr. Hightopp."
With eyes closed, Tarrant tilted Alice's head up and pressed his lips softly against hers as his free hand snaked around her waist. She felt like she would melt, even though their lips were not moving against each other. She basked in the warmth of his mouth and how tenderly he was holding her, like she was so precious to him. The kiss was for but a moment before he pulled back, jade eyes focusing on her in a wondrous state of bliss. "Might I perhaps confess something?" When Alice nodded her head he continued. "Kisses are precious in Underland, and are to only be given to the person who you most desire. I have never shared a kiss with somebody until now. You're the one, my Alice."
"You're my first as well," Alice laughed. They sounded like mischievous teenagers who had snuck behind their parents' back just to experience something that was treated as common in London. She was thankful that she hadn't married her intended, as just the thought of hugging Hamish made her want to recoil in disgust. "I don't regret waiting for you." She bit her lower lip and bashfully encircled her arms around his upper torso. " However, I do believe that we haven't come up with an answer to your riddle yet. Perhaps we should think about it more?"
With his eyes enshrouded in pink, Tarrant delightfully molded his mouth against hers and pulled her against him so he could feel as close to her as possible. "I love you, Alice Kingsleigh," he breathed against her spread lips. He smiled when she pecked him and lifted her arms so that they were around his neck.
"And I love you, Tarrant Hightopp." She squeaked out in delight as her picked her up bridal style and proceeded to kiss her once more. Absolem regarded the spectacle from a distance, the corners of his mouth tilting up to form one of his rare smiles as he watched his companions experiencing much-deserved euphoria.
"Alice, at last."
Helen stood in her daughter's cabin for the seventh night in a row, analyzing the floor mirror with an unwavering fixation. Only a week had passed, but the men had started asking questions about their captain's abrupt disappearance. She had informed them that Alice had been called out for another excursion in the middle of the night, and was uncertain as to when she'd return. It was actually the truth, in a way. This Underland or Wonderland was far more real than she could ever believe in her younger years, and Alice was most likely on an adventure in said world.
It was strange how Helen hadn't worried as much about her daughter over a duration of three years than she had in the past week. She didn't know what she hoped to accomplish by observing the mirror every night, but it seemed a part of her routine now whether she liked it or not. She only hoped that Alice had found what she was looking for, and that she was happy.
Debilitated from the daily labors, Helen turned away to prepare for bed, only to halt her movement when she noticed a rippling in the surface that should have been solid. She nearly shrank back when her reflection was distorted by a hand reaching through, followed by a set of feet and finally a familiar face. Alice wasn't alone however. A ghastly pale man with the brightest orange hair and largest eyes Helen had ever seen was right behind her daughter, and she could only assume that this person was the "Tarrant" she'd heard about.
"Mother, it's wonderful to see you again!" the young blonde exclaimed before she hastily ambled over into Helen's arms and pulled the older woman in for a tight hug. The two lovingly embraced for a moment before pulling apart and looking over the other to see how each of them had fared during the separation. "You look wonderful!"
Helen beamed at her daughter, already able to tell how much of a difference there was. Alice was positively glowing, and the man behind her had the most adoring expression on his face.
"I must say, it is such a high privilege to meet you," Tarrant stated before he shook the woman's hand and tipped his hat off to her. "I'm Tarrant Hightopp. Such a pleasure."
He was an odd fellow for sure, but Helen could see that he had a good soul and cared about her daughter immensely. That was enough for her. "Helen Kingsleigh. Perhaps you two can tell me of your adventures over some tea?" Her heart swelled with happiness when she saw Tarrant and Alice intertwine their fingers. What she had somehow failed to notice upon their arrival was a silver band with a bright white diamond in the center, surrounded by an assortment of various covered jewels, and resting comfortably on her daughter's ring finger.
Upon seeing Helen's eyes watering, Alice smiled and leaned against her fiancee, truly content with how things had splendidly turned out in her life. "Tea would be lovely, mother. We have so much to tell you!"