Down the road, maybe half a mile from the darkened entrance to the forest, Yuuri spotted a deserted carriage stopped off by a oak tree. A blonde-haired woman — quite a thin and beautiful woman at that — clapped her hands over her head, seemingly calling to something in the tree above her.
Being the kind and accommodating person one expected he normally was, the teenager went over to help.
"Excuse me, is there something wrong? Did your carriage get stuck?"
The woman gazed at him through rosy-colored glasses and smiled suddenly at the sight of him — as if expecting him.
"Oh no, my carriage is fine. But my poor bothersome cat is stuck up in this tree."
"I can get him for you." Yuuri nodded, smiling back encouragingly before ditching the Bearbee stuffie and hoisting himself up onto one of the lower branches.
The blonde warned to him below, "Be careful now. He hasn't been declawed yet and he becomes easily frightened of strangers." Sweat dropping a little at the prospect of being shred to pieces, the boy continued his ascent until he could see the fluttering end of a thin pink and purple cat tail.
Wait a minute…
Examining the backs of his nails meditatively, Murata greeted him without moving his eyes or wavering on his grin. "I told you we'd meet again."
"What… are you doing up here?"
The other dark haired boy smoothed the front of his striped shirt absently, his grin widening almost as if he were struggling to hold back a very great laugh.
"Being stuck up in a tree of course."
Yuuri slammed a palm into his forehead. "Don't tell me you are her cat."
"Her name is the Duchess. And yes, I am his cat."
"B-but you just called her a him."
The cat-boy informed him, adjusting the right side of his glasses and making them flash noticeably. "The Duchess is indeed a male. Look under his robe if you want the proof." He chuckled pleased at the scandalized expression on the other boy's face. "If you are not too shy."
"…I thought it was a dress."
"You have a lot to learn, Shibuya. I bet the thought of a man kissing another man just makes you squirm."
Yuuri shrugged, answering honestly, "Well…I'd never…"
A thoughtful, soft voice from beneath the fluttering leaves floated up into his hearing. "Is everything going all right up there?"
"You're going to make me look like an idiot, aren't you?" As Murata grinned but said nothing, and did not move from his perch to play with the end of a black lock of his hair, Yuuri glared pointedly at his lack of cooperation. On the way down, a stray branch tore through his pants uniform.
…Can I go home yet?
"How unfortunate." The blonde (male apparently) scrutinized the ragged tear on the cloth then gazed upwards at him, frowning. "He doesn't want to come down, now does he? Oh well."
Yuuri blinked surprised when the other boy unexpectedly grasped his tan hand into his both pale and cool one, lifting it up at eye level.
"We haven't been introduced formally, have we?" Briefly, the same pale and cool manner of skin, lips pressed into the back of Yuuri's right hand. "I am the Duchess. But you are free to call me Sararegi, the name my parents gave me. And you are?"
A bit flustered by his forward gesture, Yuuri stammered on a couple nonsense syllables, uncomfortably conscious of the fact that the pink spots on his cheeks were now visible.
Light brown eyes — almost cat-like themselves — peered shrewdly above the gold-rimmed edges of his unusual glasses. "What a charming name. It suits you." He had not let go of Yuuri's hand.
"For being so valiant in coming to my aid, I would like to offer my services. Is there some place I can take you?"
For some reason, Yuuri couldn't shake this feeling of dread at his words. And staring too long into the other boy's eyes was beginning to make his knees weak. Slipping his hand free, relieved that the goosebumps went down as he did, the dark haired boy replied with a forced regret, "I appreciate your offer but I'm sure can get there on my own."
Sararegi smirked. Similar to the fashion of the Cheshire Cat. "I'm sure our paths will cross again, Alice. I look forward to it."
Why did that guy…creep him out…but also…was so beautiful?
Allowing himself to shiver from a cause he couldn't identify, the Japanese teenager examined his surroundings, careful not to step on the dancing twigs by his feet.
Yuuri had assumed Twig Forest had meant the trees were bare. The trees in fact were full and lush with leaves of varies shades of chestnut and emerald — that 'Twig' had simply meant the thin brown laughing nymphs jigging in circles around his sneakers. He should really stop guessing that there was logic in these circumstances.
— BUT if he knew the pattern of where this was all going, he should be meeting up with…
As if on cue, a glossy coral painted cottage with dark orange shingles and shutters came into view separated from the thicket.
Shooing away the lingering beasts at his feet who had tried to bite him in spite and approaching a sand-covered walkway, Yuuri could clearly hear the sounds of wonky instrumental music coming from beneath the crack of the coral-colored front door. Before he could knock, the door flew open itself, slamming him in the nose.
"…Ah." Gripping at his face, Yuuri didn't scream in pain but was about to fall to his knees when someone grasped him back up to his feet by the collar.
"A guest! We have a guest!" A female started shrieking.
"What a unique pattern! Where did you get it?"
A muscular orange-haired man in a green vest, the one speaking and grasping the lacy collar around his neck, examined the shift of the apron tied around Yuuri's waist, fluffing up the crisscrossing blue material approvingly. "I would like to have that tailored to a little something of mine sometime."
With a near shriek of mortification, the teenager stared down at his own body magically clad in a pale blue knee length costume with a white pinafore lined in red. Even more embarrassing was the large black and white striped stockings rolled all the way up to the tops of his knees. He tore viciously at the black ribbon bound around his left wrist.
"No…! No! No, I'm a guy! Guys don't wear dresses…!"
Before Yuuri could be successful in removing the stubborn knot of satin ribbon, a tall woman with a long magenta ponytail yanked him from the man's reaches and forward to her so that they were almost eye to eye. Her crystal blue eyes blazed almost manically.
"Are you a friend of the Caterpillar?"
Petrified of the infamous inventor when she was too close for comfort, even if she had pinned on a headband with ludicrously huge and furry mouse ears, Yuuri swallowed hard.
"Why does he not answer me with full sentences?" Anissina gave a defiant stare to another occupant of the cottage. The brown-haired man in the oversized top hat lodging all the way at the end of the long table littered with empty teacups nodded towards him. "Don't worry, she asks that to every stranger she meets," he assured Yuuri.
Yuuri brightened immediately at familiar gentle brown eyes. "Conrad!"
"No. Yuuri. Mad Hatter, must keep up," the older man chided patiently, lacing his rust colored gloves in front of him, against his jumbo upturned collar.
"Yeah. Um. I think I'm suppose to be Alice. So Yosak is…?"
Yuuri glanced at the other man who winked happily in his direction.
"March Hare. Nice to meet ya, Alice."
"And Anissina must be the Dormouse…?" He eyed the strong clench she still kept around him and she loosened it slightly at the concerned look.
"You still didn't answer my question."
"I saw The Caterpillar outside the forest before I entered, up near the Fork In The Road. He should still be there I think."
Somewhere on top of a mushroom, someone sneezed violently for the second time.
"That little bastard HAS been hiding all this time hasn't he? TWENTY YEARS! Well, he's not getting away THIS TIME!"
After a moment, a very windswept Yuuri coughed and brushed his bangs out of his eyes.
"She'll be back soon." Conrad informed no one particular, sipping on an bone-dry but yet still steaming teacup. Yosak pulled out a seat for Yuuri, offering up another empty cup. "Would you like to join us for our celebration?" Yosak asked.
"What are we celebrating?" Confused about the steaming cup, he nevertheless accepted (it seemed like the polite thing to do, if not a little foolish), about to taking a pretend gulp of whatever hot invisible liquid there was when the brunette reached across his empty plate to smoothly steal the cup from Yuuri's hand and drink as if nothing had happened.
"Another day to which the Mad Hatter has not been discovered by the Queen."
Yuuri sensed this was a very serious thing. He leaned over to the orange-haired man, lowering his voice as he asked, "What did he do?"
Yosak shook his head sadly, digging into his front pants pocket and presenting openly with his palms, a broken pocket watch. Yuuri stared it solemnly for a minute before exclaiming, "I've seen that watch before!" His fingers skimmed over the gold face. "It was Gun…I mean, the White Rabbit's watch."
"The Queen will also being look for you." The teenager jolted in his small wooden chair.
"Why me? Who is the Queen?"
Completely disregarding his question, Conrad gazed up pensively. "The Queen probably already knows you are here." A thunderous KNOCK! banged against the cottage door.
"It's probably the Queen's men."
Yosak nodded meaningfully to Conrad who in turn nodded back, sipping again and repeating, "The Queen probably already knows you are here."
"I guess it's too late to try to escape."
The brunette smiled encouragingly at the younger male as another KNOCK! reverberated. "Correct, Alice."
"Can't I at least change out of this dress?" Yuuri begged, frowning disdainfully at his costume as Conrad said, "No time." Conrad's finger tapped against the pocketwatch.
"But my clothes are right there."
Sitting neatly folded on the long table indeed was Yuuri's school attire. His black sneakers sacked together side by side on his black gakuren.
"That is the wood for our fireplace."
The redhead moved forward, probably intending on tossing the clothes into the giant fireplace nearby, but Yuuri beat him to it, snatching his uniform sternly to his chest. On the way out, as everyone else was being led out by young men in uniforms shaded in dark and light red colors, Yuuri took a couple free moments to throw off the gingham blue dress and change into his original clothing.
"This land is called Morgif… for a famous battle that was won."
Conrad whispered into his ear as they approached the mile high doors leading inside the giant castle, "The Queen's kin won the battle over the mightier lords. It is a legend that has been told over hundreds of years. Whatever you do, you must be careful not to offend the Queen. It will most certainly result in your death."
Making an agreeable noise in his throat, Yuuri nervously fisted sweating hands, heart hammering against his ribcage. The Queen of Hearts. Famous for killing off people at random. This couldn't be good.
Through more doors, the Queen's men, Yosak, Conrad, and Yuuri walked slowly down a single red carpet surrounded by groups of expensively dressed and powdered women in ball gowns, men he couldn't tell apart from aristocrat or servant, and ordinary adult citizens with different animal suits and fake ears.
The plush red path lead up to two gold thrones on top of carpeted red stairs. A male figure stood commandingly in front of the biggest one with the higher back. He, adorned richly with a frock coat, ruffles, blood red and burgundy tones of dyed linen to contrast the yellow blond of his hair. His bright green eyes flicked sharply over to one of his guards who bowed at the look and turned to face the court.
"His Majesty von Bielefeld, Queen of Hearts."
As the court inside the audience room bowed and curtsied respectfully, he glanced deliberately over to Yuuri, his large eyes skimming the teenager from head to foot doubtfully as if to expect some fatal flaw about him.
"Is this the boy you spoke of earlier?" Wolfram directed his question to two men behind him, both identically dressed like court jesters including the bell-caps but with different body types. Yuuri immediately recognized them as Stoffel and Raven.
As they gestured their 'yes' silently and in unison, the Queen sneered.
"He wears black as if he were royalty."
"Why is black royalty?" Yuuri had not meant to speak his question aloud.
It caught Wolfram's attention however.
He stared down at the other boy, eyes narrowing, but at the same time unmistakably captivated by his entirety.
"No one else in this kingdom or beyond it has hair or eyes as dark as yours. To have both and to be seen with the same color of clothes is unheard of."
Emerald green eyes suddenly sparked in a victorious manner that Yuuri grew uneasy about. The blond Queen smiled contemptuously, coming down the stairs, announcing, "I decree that this boy belongs to me as of this moment. If any man or woman so much as touches him, they will be sentenced to death by decapitation. It would be my pleasure to do it myself."
Tenderly, as if holding his lover, Wolfram seized Yuuri's face between his pale greedy fingers, still smiling. Without thinking, Yuuri slapped his hand away roughly.
Every person in the audience room gasped in a horror-struck harmony.
The Queen of Hearts himself looked nonplussed.
"No one has ever committed such an offensive action against me."
"It won't be the last time."
As the court gasped again at Yuuri's impudence.
Young black eyes mirrored back into shocked green found themselves weighed heavily by an unpleasant sadness.
"What happened to you?" Yuuri said, "You've never been this selfish or possessive."
"What is this idiocy you speak of?" Wolfram gathered back his once thunderstruck wits, now looking extremely angry. "Regardless, it is written you are now my King. Instead of being a prisoner, you command supreme authority of this land. Be thankful that I have spared you."
He pointed to a trio of huddling maids, yelling, "Sew something decent for your new King that bears our colors! Make haste, fools!"
The quivering girls fled from the audience room into the abandoned corridor, shutting the doors behind them.
Reluctantly, Yuuri's wrist became victim to Wolfram's persistent hand as the blond forcefully dragged the other boy up towards the thrones. As Yuuri was shoved unceremoniously down onto the smaller one, the Queen of Hearts smirked back composed and confident towards his guests.
"The time has come. Bring the accused forward."
Below, Conrad stepped forward, tilting his hat up to acknowledge him. Wolfram waved to his guards. "Bring forward the object."
Grudgingly, Yosak handed over the gold watch to a sandy hair colored boy.
Somewhere in the court, someone began weeping passionately. Yuuri spotted Günter sobbing onto a woman's dress, blowing his nose profusely into purple silk.
"You have been accused of murdering time." Wolfram's eyes glittered all too happily at the prospect of to condemning the brown-haired man. "How do you plead?"
"There's nothing to condemn him for." Yuuri interrupted, rising from the chair and running down the carpet-stairs, holding up the watch and its detached faceplate. "See? It just needs to be put back together." With a small click, the pocket watch re-started its eternal ticking.
As the court quickly broke into obvious gossip, the rabbit suited Günter swung up from the crowd to tackle Yuuri, thanking him again and again through his tears. As the teenager laughed, giving a reassuring hug back to the small man, Wolfram's face darkened to a nasty color to graciously match the hues of his clothes.
"What did I just get through informing everyone! OFF WITH—!"
A feminine hand clapped over his open mouth, cutting off his sentence. The blond scowled lightly at the voluptuous also blonde woman (in a slinky white gown dotted with very bright red hearts) at his side.
"You must forgive my little Wolfie-chan, Heika. He gets easily excited sometimes, much as he did when he was in diapers." As Cecile giggled at her son's evident displeasure, Yuuri got a horrific image of a baby Wolfram ordering someone to lose their head. "Are you asking for this man's pardon?"
Yuuri glanced at Conrad who smiled appreciatively and the teenager nodded. "It was an accident. And the watch was fixed. Shouldn't he be pardoned?"
The court murmured against themselves in favor of their King's decision.
Seeing he was beat, Wolfram harrumphed, crossing his arms and turning his head away from Yuuri with his nose in the air.
Cecile clapped her hands, grinning.
"Then it's settled. This young man is pardoned. Now that that is taken care of," she waved to everyone, "Let the ball begin as planned."
As the guests separated and snatched up their drinks from the servants with trays, the maids who bore a striking resemblance to Doria, Sangria, and Lasagna, slipped a familiar-looking dark red sash around Yuuri. They disappeared, leaving the boy a bit frazzled from the sudden intrusion to his space.
Conrad appeared in front of him as he swept into a low bow before Yuuri. The black-haired teenager simpered, rubbing the back of his neck quietly.
"Is Wolf…erm—" Yuuri winced at Conrad's unexpected sharp look to rival Wolfram's, "—the Queen of Heart's Mother…a queen of something…?"
"She is the Queen of Hearts."
"But I thought he was."
"She is informally. The Queen of Hearts has quite the reputation of ensnaring the devotion of others."
Yuuri spied the blonde woman flirting with two well-dressed men over her wine glass. "Glad to see not much has changed…" he whispered, smiling embarrassed.
From above the celebration, a sulking Wolfram had not left his spot on his throne, one long elegant leg crossed over the other, hand cradling his chin. Not particularly assured by his attitude, the black-haired teen climbed back up the stairs, addressing the other boy who did not even spare an acknowledging glance at him.
"Why aren't you down there having fun with everyone else? Cecile-sama is."
Emerald green eyes scanned the party, landing on his Mother who was turning courteously bright-eyed and pinker with every wine glass drunk from. "Her version of leisure is not shared. I would never parade myself in such a manner," Wolfram grumbled.
"I guess you are right." Yuuri chuckled, the low melody causing the Queen to give a sideways look before resuming his pretense of not caring.
"What is this?" Cecile waved to the boys, drawing most of the court's attention to them and calling out, "You are not to be excluded for this celebration! Wolfie-chan, show your enthusiasm to your new King and grace us with a little dance!" The blond blushed hot red under the collar, mumbling his protest, slouching down. Perhaps even hoping that one of the servants would conveniently drop a glass so that they'd all stop staring — but had not anticipating the other male to haul him from his chair.
"No— I— " Wolfram protested.
He wretched away from Yuuri only to have his right hand held in another more relaxed grip.
The other boy smiled at him, unflustered. "Should I be the guy or should you? I've never been very good with leading."
Could have fooled me.
Wolfram inhaled awkwardly, puffing up his chest and stiffening his spine to signal his advance. Dutifully taking the female role of the dance, Yuuri surrendered to no exact facial expression as the blond cautiously slide an comfortable arm, a snug fit, around his waist as they drew closer.
The steps were simple. The music commanded nothing from them but to follow its indulgent rhythm. Give a performance to satisfy those watching.
"You look familiar somehow."
Wolfram's eyes studied his own black eyes with abnormal patience, a patience that rarely could be found in his complicated character, desiring motive, a key for ambiguity.
Something too complicated, too real for Yuuri to even begin to understand.
It was too real, this intimacy, their bodies paced to the orchestra, a raw feeling in his diaphragm naturally clenching at the base of his throat and warming it. "…yeah."
A bit caught up in the moment, hazily, he leaned into Wolfram's forehead, closing his eyes. "This is nice…" he murmured. "We're not fighting…"
Flushing from his chest to the place on his forehead where Yuuri seemed most intent on staying, the Queen gulped, panting and tightening his arm instinctively. "Yuuri—"
"Well, this is most certainly touching." A soft, familiar voice trickled into Yuuri's hearing.
To their left side, the Duchess made his existence known, smirking like the preceding, almost private scene had been very entertaining.
Protectively thrusting Yuuri behind him, retrieving his sword from the leather scabbard attached to his hip, Wolfram bared his teeth enraged at the unwelcome intruder.
Not at all appearing dismayed as the new King, Sararegi spoke to him ,unwearyingly, "I told you our paths would cross again, Alice. Or should I take to calling you Yuuri-heika?"
"Wolfram, stop it. I'm sorry about this, Sara—" The Queen's green eyes widened appalled at the other boy's lack of conversational tact.
The darker-haired boy asked genially, respectfully holding out his hand for the bespectacled male to shake. "It's nice to see you again. I'm sure he didn't mean anything by it— will you put the sword away?" Yuuri hissed over his shoulder to Wolfram who clenched his jaw together severely, growling, closing his mouth over his teeth and jamming his sword into his sheath wordlessly.
"It is perfectly okay, Yuuri-heika. His Majesty von Bielefeld and I do not having a stirring history. I dare say this response to my company is expected."
"Just call me Yuuri. You let me call you Sara."
The Duchess grinned, eagerly. "I suppose you are correct." As Yuuri replied with a goofy grin of his own, the other blond whispered furiously behind his back, "Cheater…!"
"A toast to prosperity among friends." The male Duchess retrieved two bottles and some tarts from a passing servant with a polished tray. Yuuri raised his in salute, completely ignorant of the label: Do Not Drink. Within seconds, a very giant-like Yuuri found himself thankful for the impossibly high ceilings of the audience room.
A miniature-sized Conrad beaconed below, calling up through his hands, "Eat the sugar tart, Heika!"
"My name is Yuuri— I mean, Alice— I mean…Aargh! I can't keep up!"
Obeying the older man's command nevertheless, he swallowed down the almost invisible ginger-tasting tart before shrinking rapidly back to the normal height.
The servant who had accidentally given Yuuri the wrong bottle argued with another servant about who was the culprit messing with drinks. Soon, every person in the entire room sought to fight with each other, the volume of their mingled voices rising higher and higher, unsteadily.
Yuuri's head started to pound like mad and agonizing.
There had to be some way to break the spell. From this dream. He had do something that would seem outrageous in his reality, something he wouldn't normally think of to do.
The Queen let out an undignified yelp that went unnoticed to everyone arguing in the audience room, sensing the cold palace wall as his back touched it with a muffled thump!. Another person's warm nose pushed rudely against his. If it had been anybody else, Wolfram could have slain them with his beloved sword easily within reach. But it hadn't been just anybody.
Yuuri summoned all of his determination, his need and his hope into the clumsy, hot open-mouthed kiss he bestowed without warning upon Wolfram's mouth.
Someone was pulling him away, on his limp hand, someone who bore calluses and strength in his joints, who held on tight with loyalty, someone more intimate …
Somehow he had gotten on his back. The person by his bedside, the one with callused hands, the one who rescued him from his dream, brightly haloed yellow by the light by the window, rose immediately as an other foggy taller figure hovered nearby.
Groaning from the sudden razor-sharp pain in his cranium, Yuuri squeezed his eyes shut, burrowing deeper into the pillows.
"You were playing that barbarous human game and Weller threw the ball. You must have been daydreaming, wimp. You've been unconscious since yesterday."
Glancing with one half open eye at a very drained looking Wolfram and then an equally looking worried Conrad, he said to the guilty brunette, rubbing the sore area without sitting up, "Nice throw..."
Conrad's brown eyes darkened over with concern when his godchild flinching when he pressed too hard and tried to get up too quickly. "I take full responsibility, Heika. It wouldn't have happened if I was holding back."
"If I found out that you had, I would hate you," Yuuri said, teasingly, smiling consolingly to his overprotective subject. "I'll be fine by tomorrow. It's just a bump."
"—That bled for hours."
Yuuri gave a fleeting cross between a glare and stare to the stubborn blond as Conrad went for the bedchamber door. "I will tell Gisela that you are awake."
Leaning down, Wolfram examined the back of Yuuri's head, frowning attentively.
"At the very least you are no longer bleeding." He lowered his voice, keeping his eyes trained to the dark blue coverlet of the mattress. "You were mumbling in your sleep. You mentioned Gwendal and your clothes… were…"
Yuuri had a spontaneous but powerful desire to subdue the melancholy forming in between Wolfram's speech — that died the moment the Mazoku reached over, twisting Yuuri's neck into a headlock and screeching, "Were you having indecent dreams about my BROTHER! You have me, you CHEATER! How dare you even consider someone else!"
As the throbbing returned to the point of blinding agony, he began to prefer the dream. At least they weren't fighting there.
Yuuri wondered mildly if trying a second time would work as well here…
Credit to the Alice references goes to Lewis Carroll. I used more then I thought I would. I hope everyone loved this. I loved writing it.