A/N: Hello again, all! It's been forever and a year since I've really even thought about Jason and Elizabeth, and, until just yesterday, I had no ambition whatsoever to write for them again. However, Jules is sneaky. She told me about the first Christmas prompt here while we were on the phone just before I got in the shower. (I know this is going to sound weird, but I do some of my best thinking while I'm washing my hair. It must be the scalp massage.) Anyway, this idea for Winter Wonderland concerning Elizabeth practically slapped me in the forehead, and I had to run with it. Or fall... as you'll soon see. Now, a warning here: this piece is a little left of center compared to what you're used to reading from me, but, if any of you have been following my work since I stopped penning Liason fics, you'll know that I've become very much interested in the supernatural, the strange, the odd, and the unexplained. While this isn't so much that, it also isn't normal either. Anyway, I have no idea if I'll continue with the prompts, if I'll write three other stories. Time will tell. However, I can inform you that I just looked a couple of days ago, and I discovered that I have four chapters of Heartbeats written that were never posted and five one shots. Though I'll probably never end up posting a poll that allows you to vote for a one shot to be extended, I thought I'd, at least, post what I have written for Jason and Elizabeth. There's no sense leaving stories saved on my flashdrive, just taking up space. Someone should enjoy them. So, I think that's it. I hope you all are doing well. Have a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season, everyone!

Feliz Navidad,
~Charlynn~

Running Late
A Liason Holiday One Shot

CFFC09 Prompt #1: Winter Wonderland

"There has been a noticeable spike in brain activity today, Doctor. Should I schedule another round of tests..."

"No, that's alright," he sighed. "Of all people to know that you should never give up on a patient, it would be me, but it's been almost three years, Nurse. She's never going to wake up."

* ~ *

She wasn't sure why she was out here, wondering around in the woods. She should have been at home – with her children, with Lucky. They were her family, her life, her everything. She wasn't allowed to have anything else, because she wouldn't allow it.

Yes, she had work, but nursing was a means to an end. She went to nursing school so she could provide for Cameron. It wasn't her passion. No, she killed that. Relegated it to the very outside fringe of her existence, dismissed it, ignored it. A single mother struggling to pay her bills shouldn't throw her money away frivolously on painting supplies, and a wife and mother of two had more important things to do in her spare time than to express herself on canvas, so that part of Elizabeth had shriveled up and died... just like so many other aspects of her personality.

She really didn't have any friends now either. Some were dead. Whether or not their deaths were her fault, Elizabeth could no longer distinguish, and a part of her wasn't ready to face the ugly truth if she was. Others she had pushed away, disconnecting and hiding from their knowing glances, perceptive questions, and there were the friendships that she purposely trashed and ruined. She didn't deserve them, so she went out and found the one way to make sure they could never be salvaged again. It was her modus operandi, Lizzie's modus operandi.

For a while, she had curbed her self-destructive ways, found distractions and cloaking spells to hide from the true visage that stared back at her from the mirror, but they were gone now. Tossed aside. Perhaps, they had run away. Whatever the reason, she could, once more, see herself for who she really was. Useless, unlovable, not good enough. If her sham of a relationship with Jason had taught her anything, it was her place. She had given him everything, sacrificed so much to be with him, but he pushed her away. He didn't want her, and, now that her eyes were open and clear again, she didn't blame him. She didn't even want herself.

So, maybe that's why she refused to go home. Her presence was poison. If she could spare her boys just a few minutes away from her, she would. She wasn't good for them anymore. No matter what, she still loved her children. At least, she thought so. That's why she was still fighting, pushing for Lucky to marry her again. Though her memories were dim, shadowed too much by the present, Elizabeth could still recall a time when she was happy, when everything in her world wasn't shattered and falling apart in her quivering hands, and, when she closed her eyes and tried to recall those better days, she was positive that they were better because of Lucky. Because he was there to take care of her, to lover her, to share the burden of life with her, and, so, that's what she needed again, not for herself but for her boys. If she was going to be better for them, she needed Lucky to make her that way.

At the same time, though, she couldn't stop her self-destructive habits. Things were so bad that it was only when she hurt herself that she could actually feel anything. Every other emotion had been burned out of her heart. She was numb inside except for when the pain bit through the haze of coldness.

But she was tired of fighting. Tired of struggling, of striving, so, for a few minutes that evening, she just wasn't going to. She was going to walk through the snow covered woods, disappear from everything that made her who she was, and just forget. Her body moved by memory, the sting of the wind and the tiny, frozen drops of moisture falling from the sky kept her awake, and she simply closed her eyes and allowed the monotony of her day – needy patients, crying patients, dying patients – to fade away. She never saw the danger in front of her until it was too late, and she was falling, falling, falling down.

She landed harshly, jarring her body, but nothing in particular hurt, and Elizabeth was sure that nothing was broken. Except for her. Standing, she moved to dust off her long, winter, winter white coat, but she was no longer wearing it, and, come to think of it, she was no longer cold. Glancing around her, she realized that, instead of being at the bottom of an abandoned mine like she would have guessed, she was standing in a never ending hallway at the MetroCourt, wearing a blue dress and black heels. Her hair hung down her back, rich and full, unlike the disorderly, sloppy bun she knew she had been sporting just moments before.

Something strange was going on, something she couldn't explain, and she didn't like it. Searching for answers, Elizabeth attempted to open the nearest door to her, but it was locked. On and on and on down the hallway she moved, twisting knobs only to discover they were all shut and impossible to open. Finally, she gave up, slid down a wall until she was sitting on the floor, and began to cry. She cried out of fear and confusion, and she cried for all the mistakes she had made on her way to that very moment. She cried an ocean of tears, drowning herself in her sorrow and staining the delicate silk of her party dress.

"Can you swim?"

With fluttering lashes, she opened her gaze only to stare, open mouthed, at the sight before her. It was Lulu. There was no mistaking her former and, if she had her way, future sister-in-law's facial features, but, at the same time, it wasn't her either. She had fur on her face, whiskers by her mouth, pink tinted ears that sat on top of her head instead of on the side, and a tail that was almost as long as her entire body.

As the mouse-girl continued to return her unwavering gaze, Elizabeth struggled to find her voice. Finally, she managed to croak out. "Excuse me?"

"I asked if you can swim. You made this," Lulu gestured towards the glistening pool that now separated them from the one open door on the opposite end of the never ending hallway. "Now, you have to help me get across."

"Do you know who I am?"

"Of course," the mouse-girl answered immediately, her searching glare becoming one of intense suspect and scrutiny. "Did you hit your head, Elizabeth; do I have cheese on my face or something?"

Rather than answering her, though, she simply slid over to the water on her bottom, gesturing for Lulu to follow. Getting into the pool, she floated on her back and waited for the she-mouse to climb on top of her. Slowly but steadily, she swam them to the other side, talking the entire time.

"When I was a little girl, I had a cat. She was unwanted, a stray, just like me, but I loved her. I played with her, gave her warm milk every morning and night, and I allowed her to sleep with me in my bed even though I knew my mother would be furious if she found out. My sister, though, she was jealous. And then, one day, my cat was gone."

"Do we really have to talk about cats," Lulu asked, sounding both annoyed and fearful. "They're hateful creatures."

Elizabeth ignored her. "Later, I found out that Sarah lied and told my parents that she was allergic to my cat, so they got rid of her. Gave her away, killed and buried her, I'll never know. She was the first thing that ever really loved me, but I destroyed her. I destroy everything I care about."

"That's it," the she-mouse announced, pouncing off of Elizabeth's torso. "I don't know what's wrong with you, but I hope you don't act like this in front of the Queen. It's no wonder you always end up alone. You drive people away, Liz, even those who care about you. I asked you not to talk about cats, but did you listen? No! You just kept on rambling, unconcerned about my feelings. You're selfish, and I'd rather drown on my own than rely upon your help to reach the other side."

And, with that, Lulu was gone, down, down down into the depths of the pool. Elizabeth kept swimming.

It seemed to take an eternity to reach the other side, but, as she stepped up onto the other ledge, the pool disappeared, and she could only recall her journey in the vaguest of memory flashes. Her dress and shoes were dry, too, which relieved her. After all, it was winter outside, and she didn't want to get sick. Plus, the she-mouse had said something about the Queen. She couldn't face the queen with wet shoes.

She had almost reached the open door when a flash of white pushed her aside. "I'm late; I'm late," the familiar voice exclaimed agitatedly. He was so distraught, she was worried for him. However, before she could even lift a comforting hand and lay it upon his white, fur suit, the man jumped around and whispered, "you're late, too, Elizabeth."

"Patrick?"

"Of course it's me," he said, surprised that she seemed to doubt who he was. Elizabeth observed his button, wiggling nose, his tall, floppy ears, and his uncovered, furry feet which were far too big to be human, but, still, there was no denying the male-rabbit's identity. It... he was Patrick, only different, just like Lulu.

"What's going on around here?" Leaning in closer to the neurosurgeon, she asked conspiratorially, "have I lost my mind?"

"How should I know," Patrick raged, tossing up his arms. "All I know is that my gloves are missing, and I can't go before the Queen without my gloves." Narrowing his rabbit gaze at her, he accused, "you took them, didn't you?"

"No," Elizabeth protested, defending herself. "I swear I didn't."

But Patrick ignored her, and, instead, he simply turned around and hopped off, talking to himself. "I'm late; I'm late; I'm late."

Well, he had certainly been no help. She was no closer to finding any answers, and, needing to know what was going on, Elizabeth decided to simply follow the male-rabbit, walking through the same doorway that he had just passed through. Once she stepped upon the threshold, though, she didn't enter into one of the MetroCourt's hundreds of rooms. Rather, she found herself in a lush, balmy garden, the snow that had been falling in and around Port Charles all week nowhere to be seen. There were trees so tall that she couldn't see the dark, night sky above them, and flowers, wild and unnameable, abounded everywhere possible. Tiny, woodland creatures darted in and out of the dense underbrush. She recognized squirrels and chipmunks, raccoon, groundhogs, and she even saw a few deer.

"Hey, you there!"

Twirling wildly, she almost lost her balance as she collided with a fallen log beside her. On top of the log sat a caterpillar of regular, tiny size, and she wondered where the voice had come from, but then the caterpillar spoke to her, apparently again, and, if she had been shocked before by both Lulu and Patrick's appearances, she was nearly dumbfounded by the creature before her.

"Care for some," the caterpillar asked, nodding its small head towards the end of an elaborate looking pipe.

"Alexis?"

"What, have I suddenly grown horns? Of course it's me," the caterpillar remarked, and there was no mistaking the haughty, impertinent tone of the lady-lawyer.

"Do you really think it's wise of you to be smoking?"

"I already had lung cancer without ever smoking a day in my life. What harm could it do?"

She really couldn't argue with the caterpillar's reasoning. While she knew there was a fly in the logic ointment somewhere, she simply couldn't figure it out. So, instead, she commented, "what happened? You're so... small."

"And I would have to say that you're impossibly large, grotesquely so, even," Alexis sniped. "Forget my previous offer. I no longer feel like sharing with you. Now, if you'll excuse me, there's somewhere I have to be."

"You're going to see the Queen, right? Everybody seems to want to see the Queen."

"Nobody wants to see the Queen, Elizabeth," the caterpillar informed her. "We all just know our place in life."

And, with that, Alexis slid off the log and disappeared into the green, green, green foliage. Worried, Elizabeth sat down upon the log she had just, moments before, nearly tripped over. Plopping her chin in her hands, she wondered about what Alexis had just said, ruminating over the idea that everyone had a place in the world. She didn't, of that she was positive. For a while, she thought her place was with Jason and her boys, but then he left her, pushed her away, decided he didn't want her... just like everyone else, so she was sent scrambling back into the former tailspin of her life to pick up the pieces of an existence she no longer wanted but needed. But maybe that was her place. Surely, there was someone out there who could tell her the truth, who could look objectively at the mess she had made and tell her what to do.

Brightening with an idea, Elizabeth sat up straight. "I know," she murmured to herself. "I'll ask the Queen."

With hope restored, she stood up and began to walk. Although she didn't recognize the garden, and despite the fact that she had no idea where the Queen was, she simply allowed her feet to carry her. It was like they knew where they were going... even if she didn't. As she moved along, the ground beneath her was illuminated by patches of light that seemed to float above her, keeping the sky and the stars still hidden but making sure that she didn't fall. Coming into another clearing like the one before, she was shocked to find Lucky and Nikolas both together, but, like the others before them, their appearances were distorted. They were extremely rotund and wore silly hats on top of their heads. Their clothes were uniformed and colorful, blocks of red and yellow, and, when they talked, they alternated phrases, completing each other's disjointed thoughts.

"First the rabbit," Nikolas offered.

"Then a mouse," Lucky continued.

"And now a girl," they said together.

In perfect tandem, they took a step forward, closer to her.

"This is Tweedledee," Lucky introduced his brother.

"And he is Tweedledum," Nikolas returned the gesture. "We are on our way to see the Queen."

"Would you like to come with us, Elizabeth," Lucky offered.

"You know my name?"

The brothers shared a conspiratorial glance. Once more, they spoke at the same time. "Everybody here knows everybody else's names."

"If the Queen has decreed it," Nikolas explained.

Picking up his train of thought, Lucky finished, "then we must obey it."

"And your names? Why aren't you Lucky and Nikolas here like Lulu is Lulu, and Patrick is Patrick, and Alexis was Alexis?"

In sync, the brothers shrugged and answered, "the Queen decreed it."

They seemed so entirely oblivious to her presence there with them, despite the fact that they were having a conversation – if one could even consider the dialogue they were sharing to, in fact, be a conversation, that Elizabeth felt insignificant, invisible. She would have thought such an experience would have been preferable to the spotlight she had seemed to live under for the last countless amount of years, but it wasn't. Needing them to really see her, to really notice her, she said the one thing she could think of that would disrupt the brother's idyllic relationship.

"Lucky... I mean, Tweedledum, I'm sleeping with Nikolas, with Tweedledee."

Lucky looked at his brother. "No, you're not. He's awake."

"I'm awake," Nikolas agreed. "And you're not sleeping either."

"No, that's not what I meant," she screamed in frustration. "I'm having an affair with him. Sex. I betrayed you."

"You don't know me, Elizabeth," Lucky told her.

"And we don't know you," Nikolas finished. "At least, not anymore."

And, with that, the brothers disappeared into the forest, switching back and forth with their thoughts as if they shared the same brain – one half witted, illogical brain.

Feeling dismissed, she returned to her own journey to meet with the Queen, ruminating the entire time over her confrontation with Tweedledee and Tweedledum... as they referred to themselves. She had shared her big secret, unburdened herself and her guilt, but Lucky had ignored the admission, believing it to be a lie. But what if it wasn't the truth here? So many things were different. Nothing made sense, but, if she could be free of the remorse and the pain of her actions in this strange land, if she could get a fresh start, she would take it, and she would hide away in a distant corner where no one could find her and where she wouldn't be able to hurt anyone else, least of all herself.

It was this thought that was giving her hope when she first encountered the grinning cat-man. He was a tabby with thick, warm striped fur, but his face was almost human in nature, ever smiling. He had large teeth, and he seemed to be laughing at her, mocking her. "It's never that simple, Elizabeth." Since when did cats have Australian accents? "You can't run away and hide from your problems. If anyone would know that, it would be me." She knew that smile, she knew those teeth, and she knew that voice.

"Ethan?"

But before the cat could answer her questions, it disappeared. Blinking her eyes as if all she needed to do was clear her vision and Ethan would be back again, Elizabeth, instead, found that she was now in a different place all together. The entire dining room of the MetroCourt had been cleaned out, and all the tables had been replaced by a single, long one. Sonny, wearing a ridiculously large top hat, sat at the front of the table, with Dominic to his right and Max beside him. Only Dominic looked like a rabbit, bulkier than Patrick and with a brown fur suit inside of white, and Max was a tiny dormouse. Fitting, really, when she thought about it. They were drinking tea and having a mad time of it, singing and yelling and dancing in their chairs.

Suddenly, spotting her, Sonny called out, "Elizabeth, won't you join us?"

"Me?" Since when did Sonny want to spend time with her, and, for that matter, since when did she want to spend time with him? Despite knowing somehow that she didn't like the man before her or, at least, that she no longer did, she moved anyway and sat to his left, taking the teapot from him and pouring herself a cup.

"We are honored to have you here as our guest. This is a very auspicious occasion."

"Really," she questioned, curious. "Why? What's happening?"

"Why, we're having a tea party, of course," Dominic answered excitedly. "I would think that would be quite obvious," he remarked to Sonny.

In turn, Sonny agreed. "You'd think." After a moment of thought, he turned back towards her. "Now, Elizabeth, tell us. Why are you here?"

"I'm here to see the Queen."

The three animal-men gasped. "The Queen!"

"But she is not here," Max pointed out.

"No, but I'm trying to find her."

"Drink your tea," Sonny suggested, "and, while you do, we'll help you figure out a way to get to the Queen."

"Why are you helping me," she asked. "You don't even like me?"

They all three gasped once more. "You think I don't like you," Sonny challenged, "but we're sharing tea, are we not?"

"You are," Max answered for him.

"He even allowed you to pour," Dominic reminded her.

"Friendship is deceptive, Elizabeth. Truth is distortable. Stop listening to your brain, and have some cakes," Sonny suggested.

"Yes, cakes," Max exclaimed.

"They will help you see the truth," Dominic informed her.

"But, wait," Sonny shouted in distress. "We don't have any cakes. You must go see the Duchess' cook. She will make you some cakes, and the cakes will show you your way to the Queen."

With that, he grabbed her tea cup from her hand and tossed it over his shoulder. When it broke, she was standing in front of what she somehow knew to be the Duchess' house. Walking up to the front door, Elizabeth rang the bell. The Duchess answered, dressed in all her finery, and shoved a wailing baby in her arms.

"Oh, thank goodness you're here! I must be off to see the Queen."

"You know the Queen?"

"Why, of course," the Duchess answered, and Elizabeth wasn't surprised to see that she recognized her. The Duchess was Robin. "We're family."

With that, she swept out of the house, slamming the door behind her as she left and leaving a distressed and worried Elizabeth in her wake. Whereas she had come to the Duchess' home to find the cook and have some cakes, she now was responsible for a crying babe. In the back of her mind, she knew that she was a mother, that she had two little boys of her own, but, in that moment, Elizabeth had no idea how to care for a child.

"Stick this in that child's mouth before it makes my baking cakes collapse," a well known voice ordered her as the apparent cook stormed out of the kitchen. It was Epiphany. "And eat this one yourself," she instructed her. "I've heard you want to see the Queen. The rabbit knows his way there. Give him his gloves back, and he'll take you."

Around the cake she ate, and Elizabeth mumbled, "but I don't know where his gloves are."

"Shoo, shoo, out with you," the cook ignored her protests. "And keep the babe, too."

She did, and she didn't particularly mind, for she was cute, and, with the cake in her mouth, she no longer wailed. As soon as they stepped outside, though, the child turned into a pig, and it certainly wouldn't do to go see the Queen with a pig in her arms. So, Elizabeth set the pig-child down, and it skittered off into the woods, squealing as only a pig can.

Dusting off the front of her blue dress, she whispered to herself, "this place does indeed get stranger and stranger."

"Strange is as strange does," a voice responded behind her, making Elizabeth jump. Whirling around, she came face to face with Luke. If anybody would be able to make sense of the craziness she was embroiled in, surely it would be him.

"What is this place, Luke?"

"Luke? I know of no such thing. Whereas a fluke is a bird and a duke is a hat, a Luke is nothing here nor there."

She frowned. "Are you drunk?" Rolling her eyes, Elizabeth complained, "oh, who am I kidding? Luke Spencer is always drunk to one degree or another." But, still, he looked more like himself than anyone else she had thus far encountered. "Do you know the way to the Queen?"

"The White Queen has fled, the Red Queen went poof, and the Queen of Hearts has none. However, the Queen of the worms, oh, she's a special sort."

Somewhat disgusted, Elizabeth asked, "the Queen of worms? Who is that?"

"I smoked the bottle with her."

"You mean you drank the bottle with her?"

Grinning gleefully, Luke yelled, "Tequila!"

"You make absolutely no sense. It's like you're just rambling incoherently." Narrowing her gaze at him, she questioned, "you're not having another heart attack, are you?"

"Jabber, jabber, jabber. You jabber, and I the Jabberwock. Sometimes we jabber so much, we forget to listen to ourselves talk." Suddenly, Luke clapped his hands together. "Be a good girl, Elizabeth, and give my regards to the rabbit with the watch."

With what could only be described as a giggle and a skip, Luke rounded the bend in the road and was out of her sight before she could ask him what he meant. But then she knew! Glancing down at her own hands, she found the white rabbit's missing gloves. Everything was coming together. She knew that, to make sense of her life, she needed to find the Queen and that the rabbit would take her there as long as she gave him his gloves back. Luke, though he spoke nonsense, had provided her with said gloves. She was so happy in that moment, if he would have come back, she would have kissed his jabber-spewing cheeks.

The only issue she now had was how was she to find the rabbit? It had been so long since she had last seen him, and Elizabeth knew that she'd never be able to retrace her steps back to the spot where they had first met. However, if she had learned one thing while being in this strange land, it was that everything seemed to work itself out if you just gave it enough time. If only her own life progressed so smoothly...

So, with that in mind, Elizabeth simply started to walk. She followed the dirt road outside of the Duchess' house until it turned into the very same never ending hallway she had first encountered. Down and down and down she moved, past door after door after door, but never a soul did she see. Becoming tired, Elizabeth went to sit down only to find herself getting screamed at.

"Hey, watch where you put that thing! You could crush a girl."

Springing back up to her feet, Elizabeth gasped in shock. There was someone... She had nearly sat on... Immediately apologizing, she said, "I'm so sorry. I didn't see," but then she stopped talking as soon as she noticed who exactly it was beneath her. "You?"

"I'm always here, Elizabeth. Even when you turn your back and forget about me, I'm always here. Don't forget that."

"Trust me, there's no possible way I could forget you, Sam."

And she couldn't. Despite the fact that they had somewhat made peace between them, there was a part of Elizabeth that would always hate the other woman. She blamed her for so many things, but, most of all, she hated her because she had Jason. Again. Still. Always, it seemed. Here, though, wherever it was, that animosity was tempered somewhat by the other woman's appearance. She was pieced together, cracks visible in her countenance as if she had been broken before and glued back together or made from the parts of several different bodies. And she was shaped oddly as well, her face larger and wider than the rest of her form, making her legs and arms and torso seem almost cartoonish in appearance. Glancing down at her own body, Elizabeth was reassured that she still looked the same, and she was grateful for what she saw.

Suddenly, it dawned on her. "You're Humpty Dumpty here, aren't you?"

"Maybe, but, really, what's in a name? None of the men I'm ever been with have dumped me, at least, not for long. They just keep coming back for more. And then there's you who can't even hold onto Lucky. That's sad, Elizabeth, pathetic even."

For so long, months, maybe even years now, she had been jealous of the woman before her, one way or another, but, as they stared each other down, Elizabeth came to a very important realization. "At least I'm real. You've pretended to be someone you're not for so long, you really don't know who you are anymore. You mold yourself into the woman you think men want you to be, changing yourself to please them instead of finding someone who can appreciate you for who you really are. I might be alone, and I might be unwanted, and maybe I'll never have the relationship that I need, but I'm still me – mistakes and triumphs, bad days and good days, I'm still Elizabeth Imogene Webber." Smuggling, she turned away. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to find the white rabbit. I have his gloves to return to him."

She could hear Sam protesting as she sauntered off, but the words the other woman said did not register within her mind. While on the inside she was falling apart, tearing herself apart, she still wasn't anywhere near Sam's level, and, for that, Elizabeth was thankful. Evidently, contrary to her former opinion, she was able to feel more than pain. She could also feel loathing. It wasn't the cheeriest of emotions, but she'd take it.

Eventually, Sam's voice faded until the only noise she confronted in the never ending hallway was the sound of her own steps, muted and nearly silent on the carpeted floor. On and on and on, she walked until it got to the point where she questioned whether or not she was indeed going anywhere at all. To prove that she was actually moving, Elizabeth started to watch her own feet. She watched as she lifted the left and put it back down a pace in front of its former position, repeating the same process with her right foot. Left; right. Left; right. Left; right.

"Omph!"

Rubbing the top of her injured head, Elizabeth lifted her gaze to find that her never ending hallway had finally, in fact, ended, and, before her, an elevator stood proudly, its wide doors closed tightly shut. Pressing the down button to her right, Elizabeth waited for the lift to open. Several seconds went by, and she could hear the elevator's hydraulic system working as it chugged, chugged, chugged its way up to her. With a silver sounding ping, the doors slid open, she stepped on, and then she was on her way down, down, down before she could even choose a floor.

"Now you've made us extremely late."

"Patrick," Elizabeth cheered, so excited to see his white, furry self she nearly hugged him. It was a good thing she didn't, though, because, upon closer inspection of the white rabbit's face, he looked no more pleased to see her than he had hours, days, weeks (she really wasn't sure how much time had passed) before.

"Did you find my gloves?"

"Yes, here they are," she answered, handing him the accessories he so desired.

"See, I told you that you had them."

"But I didn't," she proclaimed innocently. "Luke," at his perplexed glance, she corrected herself. "The Jabberwock had them. He gave them to me to give back to you."

"We'll see if your mouth speaks the truth or not when you see the Queen," Patrick warned her.

Feeling almost giddy, Elizabeth asked, "are we almost there?"

"We are always there. It's the Queen, though, who must decided whether there is the place to see her or not."

"I don't understand."

"And that," the white rabbit told her, "is why we are late."

When the elevator stopped at the lobby, they both got off, and she followed him around as he seemed to search for a place to stand. Why they couldn't just sit and wait for the Queen, she didn't know, but she had already angered him enough; she didn't want to do anything else to incite his wrath. So, she obediently copied his steps, his movements, his ways until she was distracted by three others.

They were all dressed oddly, their clothes square and resembling that of which would be worn by Jacks, not the family, mind you, but the playing cards, and they were wandering about the lobby, pricking their fingers upon the thorns of the white roses and dripping their own blood upon the flowers until they turned a deep, crimson red. Never did they wince in pain; never did they say a word of complaint.

Stopping to talk to one of the men, Elizabeth asked, "why do you do that?"

"The Queen decreed it."

Upon hearing the man's voice, Elizabeth brightened. Why, it was Matt, Patrick's brother, but the two men didn't greet each other, and Matt didn't seem to notice her. Instead, he simply continued to bleed upon the roses, intent upon his task. Bored and still confused, Elizabeth moved so that she could look out the lobby's windows, hoping a glance at the world outside of the MetroCourt would grant her some much needed answers, but there was absolutely nothing but pitch blackness beyond the glass.

As a second card dressed man tiptoed by her, she stopped him. "Is it not winter here?"

"Of course it is," he answered her, and, again, she recognized him. This time, it was Milo. "But the Queen doesn't like snow, so she decreed that it would not be anymore. You see, snow does not please the Queen's shoes."

"Her shoes?"

"Yes, her shoes," Milo repeated. "There is nothing the Queen loves more than her shoes, not even the King."

She had more questions for him, but, before she could ask, Milo left her alone, and she was forced to track down the third card dressed man, hoping he would be more forthcoming than the last two. Since he looked like Spinelli, Elizabeth believed she would be in luck. However, she should have known better. Everything in this strange place, especially her preconceived notions, was wrong.

"Can you tell me who this Queen is?"

"Her Highness," Spinelli questioned, evidently rhetorically, because he started to answer her before she could press him further. "She is she, and she is her, and she is the Queen."

He slipped away, just like the others, and Elizabeth was left even more confused than she was before. With every brush off, with every befuddling confession, she started to lose more and more and more of her previously gained hope. What if she never did get to see the Queen? What if the white rabbit was right, and she really was late, too late to get her questions answered. And what if the Queen, even if she did get to see her, couldn't help her? It was all just too much, and Elizabeth found herself sitting, sitting, sitting down.

A sigh escaped her lips.

"You sound like she looks."

Glancing up from her folded hands, Elizabeth was confronted with what was perhaps the oddest looking creature she had been confronted with yet. It was part bird with great wings, that much she could tell, and its voice was entirely human, but there were some aspects of it she couldn't distinguish. Yet, she could recognize the creature anyway. "Tracy?"

"In this land, I am Gryphon, though I have heard of this name, Tracy, that you mention. Unlike everyone else here, though, I do actually have some knowledge of other, lesser lands."

"And she," Elizabeth asked, referring to the other creature Gryphon had referenced in comparison to herself just moments before. "Is she aware, too?"

"It doesn't know anything. It simply exists."

And, to show its lack of ambition or knowledge, the other creature simply sighed. Though it stood on two feet, there was a hard shell across its back, and its skin, scaly and green, reminded Elizabeth of a turtle's. Its head, though, was almost a silvery blonde, and its eyes were kind, compassionate, and familiar. Approaching the she-turtle, she asked, "do I know you?"

"I would hope not," Gryphon snarked. "The mock turtle is nothing, because nobody remembers it. The mock turtle does nothing, because nobody has a purpose for it. The mock turtle isn't even a turtle anymore, because the Queen decreed it."

Again, a reference to the Queen. "You know her, the Queen," Elizabeth questioned.

"Everybody knows her. However, I'm the only one who knows what she is." Here, the Gryphon paused dramatically, prolonging her audience's anticipation. "She's a fraud. Without her, this place would continue on the same way it always has. She's not needed. We don't need her, but no one else is smart enough to realize this."

"Just you."

"Just me," Gryphon agreed.

"So, then, she won't be able to answer my questions?"

The Gryphon shrugged. "Oh, she'll tell you something, but whether or not it's what you actually need to hear, that we'll never know."

"I just want to know why I'm here."

"That's all any of us want to know," the mock turtle spoke for the very first time. Its voice finally made Elizabeth realize who it was.

"Monica!"

But the mock turtle either ignored her or simply didn't hear her. "But it doesn't matter why we're here if we're not here for the right reasons, if we're not with the right people, if we're not useful towards what is right and just."

Making Elizabeth jump, a fourth voice joined them. "Shoo! Get out of here," a recognizable male ordered. "You know the two of you are not to be here. The Queen wouldn't like it."

Grumbling, the Gryphon slithered off, and, silently, the mock turtle followed.

"I apologize, Elizabeth, but pay those creatures no mind. They speak nonsense, the both of them."

"That seems to be a common theme around here," she shared, grinning despite herself. "You know the Queen, I take it, Johnny?"

"Please, do not say my name. Her Highness decreed that I have to be her Knave, and, since that day came to pass, my sole purpose is to please her. I do not exist outside of my duties."

Now that he mentioned it, Elizabeth realized that he was dressed... formally. Gone were the casual clothes she had seen Johnny wear in the past, and, replacing them, he had on a slick, impressive suit. From the hat he wore crooked and tipped down over his left eye to the heels of his patent leather shoes, he was dressed in black. It was an odd sight in this even stranger land, for almost everything was bright, bright, bright, and colorful and alive.

"Come," the Knave instructed her. "You are no longer late, for the Queen has arrived."

He turned them around, and Elizabeth found that they were still in the lobby, but, somehow without her noticing, it had been altered to resemble a courtroom. Behind the counter, the Queen and her docile King's thrones were arranged, and a chair was placed before it for the witnesses to occupy. Off to the side, spectators gathered, including the white rabbit, his gloves on.

As the Queen lifted her gaze, she screamed, "off with her head," and, for the first time, Elizabeth realized that it was Robin, the Duchess, who was on trial.

"Wait, Maxie, what are you doing," she protested, shaking off the Knave's hand and running towards the Queen. While she wanted to rail against the very idea that the young blonde could be royalty of any kind, let alone one powerful enough to be considered all knowing and allowed to issues proclamations of beheading, there just simply wasn't enough time for such arguments. If she wanted to save Robin, if she wanted to save the Duchess, if she wanted to save her friend, she had to intercede immediately. "You love her. She's your cousin. Why would you ever want her dead?"

"Because I decreed it, that's why, and who are you to question me? And, for that matter, you are to address me as Her Highness or Her Majesty or something else that's equally as impressive. I worked hard to become the Queen!"

The chattiness that she always felt when fighting with Maxie revealed itself. "How, by lying flat on your back like you always do?"

"That's it," the Queen raged, flying out of her throne and stepping up onto the counter. With a wickedly long, black painted nail, she pointed in Elizabeth's direction. "Forget the Duchess. Kill the bitch!"

"Wait, no! You can't do this! Maxie, this isn't right! I don't belong here. I don't belong here. I don't belong here."

She could feel the Knave approaching with a sword, she could sense the three card dressed men closing in upon her to hold her down as her head was cut off, but there was nothing she could do to save her own life, and there wasn't a single person there who would speak up on her behalf as she had done for Robin. Apparently, not even the King, Jax of all men to be married to Maxie, had the power or the inclination to speak against the Queen. After everything she had gone through, she was going to die, and it was in that moment, as she could hear the sword singing as it arched down, down, down towards her neck that Elizabeth realized she didn't want to.

She wanted to fight for her life, make it better, stop the pain, and leave behind all her destructive habits. Suddenly, the haze was lifted, and she could remember a time when she didn't need anybody, especially not Lucky, in her life to be happy, when she depended upon herself, and she had her boys to love and to love her, and that was enough. Somehow, she would find a way to paint again. Maybe she could teach Cameron and Jake how to paint, too. That way, it could be something they could do together. And she could make new friends and repair the relationships she had ignored and trashed along the way. She still mattered, her life still mattered, and there were things that still mattered to her.

* ~ *

"Elizabeth. Elizabeth! ELIZABETH!"

Thrashing upon her narrow bed, Elizabeth slowly woke to the sound of her own name being yelled. With fluttering lashes, she hesitantly opened her eyes, fearful of what she might be forced to withstand, only to gaze upon a face she never thought she'd see again. Immediately, she started to quietly cry.

"I'm dead, aren't I," she questioned, surprised when she heard how brittle and rusty her own voice was.

"No, you're awake," Alan informed her joyously. "I have to tell you, Elizabeth, after nearly three years, almost all of us had given up hope that you'd wake up, but you did, and I'm so glad."

"But you're dead."

He chuckled. "I have a pulse here that would argue to the contrary, but I'm sure you're just feeling disoriented still from the coma. Everything will make better sense in a few minutes."

Now, she was really confused. Scrunching up her face, she asked, "coma?"

"What, you don't remember?" When she simply looked at him strangely, Alan said, "you hit your head, Elizabeth. Jason got to you just in time before the MetroCourt lobby exploded, but, as soon as the two of you were inside the elevator, the blast snapped the wires, and the car fell down the elevator shaft. He tried to shield you as much as possible, but, when the car landed, you hit your head. You've been in a coma ever since."

Metrocourt. Jason. Elevator.

Her hands flew frantically towards her flat stomach. "My baby?"

"Three months later, Doctor Lee delivered a beautiful, healthy baby boy via cesarean. Jason named him Jacob. Now, granted, while I may be slightly biased, I have to say that my grandson is the smartest two and a half year old ever to be born inside this hospital."

Desperately, Elizabeth sat up and reached for Alan's hands. Clutching them, squeezing them so harshly that, no doubt, the chief of staff would lose all feeling within seconds, she demanded to know, "and Emily?"

"She's just down the hall, working. I can go get here if you want me to..."

Alan's voice trailed off as he noticed the instantaneous relief that washed across her face. Sadly, he asked, "where have you been, Elizabeth; all this time, where in your mind have you been?"

"Someplace horrible," she whispered, needing to confide in someone. "You were dead, Emily was dead, Jason pushed us out of his life. He didn't even want anything to do with his son. And I was doing horrible things to the people I care about, hurting them, hurting myself just to feel. For so long, it was just one terrible thing after another, and, then, and I know this is going to sound strange, but I'm pretty sure I spent a day in Wonderland, where all the characters were people I knew, and they were all trying to tell me these important things that suddenly don't matter, because I'm here, and none of that was real, and it's going to better. Tell me, Alan, that it's going to be better."

Lifting her hands, he kissed her knuckles, first the right and then the left before leaning forward and kissing her forehead. "It's going to be better now, Elizabeth. You fell down the rabbit hole, and you were gone for almost three years, but it's going to be better. I promise."

And, as she settled back down in bed, she believed him. It was snowing outside, Jason had claimed their son, and she had a second chance. As she drifted back to sleep, her body exhausted despite its thirty-four month coma, the last thing she saw was an upturned deck of cards. She smiled at the sight.

"Cameron was trying to teach Jake how to play Go Fish today," Alan explained as he noticed where her gaze had landed. "In the end, they ended up trying to get Jason to play 52 Pickup. He was willing... until he figured out how to play the game." For several seconds, he chuckled softly to himself. "Get some rest, Elizabeth, and, when you wake up in the morning, it'll be Christmas, and your family will be here waiting for you."

She did as she was told. After all, she was just a nurse. Who was she to argue with the chief of staff?