Summary: After two years, Alice returns to Underland, to face a destiny far greater than she could ever have imagined.
Pairing: Alice Kingsley & The Mad Hatter/Tarrant Hightopp
Disclaimer: I don't own any characters or locations from Lewis Carroll's novels Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, nor do I own any characters or locations from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. All rights go to Lewis Carroll, Tim Burton, Linda Woolverton, Disney, etc.
** A/N: Although this story was written first, this is actually Book Two of the Alice in Underland trilogy. As such, if you haven't read it yet, you might want to start by reading Book One, Alice in Underland: The Letters. It's still a work in progress but there's enough posted at this point to give this story the proper perspective as well as a much deeper understanding on what exactly went on between Alice and Tarrant up until now.
Alice in Underland: The Return
"You could stay..." the Hatter said softly. She turned to face him and couldn't bear to see such sadness in his eyes.
"Why is a raven like a writing desk?" she asked urgently as if her very life depended upon the answer. But the only response was the echo of the question repeated over and over, as she fell into darkness.
Alice Kingsley woke up with a gasp. It was that horrible dream again. The nightmare. "Absolem!" she called out, looking about her bedroom in an almost frantic manner. "Absolem! Where are you? Are you here?"
After a moment a beautiful blue butterfly fluttered over to her and came to rest upon her shoulder. "Hush, Alice. What ever is the matter now?" he asked.
"I...well...I had that dream again."
"I just can't work out what it means," she said.
"Honestly, you silly girl, how many times have we gone over this?" he sighed. "It means what it means. Only you can answer that question. What does it mean to you?"
"I don't know!" she whispered miserably. A lone tear made its way down her cheek.
"Now, now, none of that. You know how I hate to see you cry," Absolem admonished. "What has happened to you? I've been looking after you for the better part of the past two years and ever since you returned to England it's become quite obvious that something has changed. So what is it? This is not the Alice I know. Where has she gone? Hmmm? The Alice I know is strong and brave. She courageously went to the Red Queen's castle to try to rescue the Hatter after he got captured, knowing exactly just how dangerous that mission was, risking her very life, all because it was the right thing to do. The Alice I know tamed the Bandersnatch, an extraordinary feat no one would have ever thought possible. She valiantly retrieved the Vorpal Sword and brought it back to the White Queen in Marmoreal. And then on Frabjous Day, she embraced her Fate and did as she was destined to do. She stepped forward to be the White Queen's Champion and slayed the Jabberwocky, defeating the Red Queen and setting Underland free."
Alice smiled at the butterfly. "I remember that Alice."
"Indeed," Absolem said drily. He gave her a sage look. "It is the 22nd today, as you know. And you always wake up from that dream on the 22nd of every month. It has now been exactly two years since Frabjous Day, and two years since you left Underland. And what precisely has the Alice I know been doing all this time? She was off travelling around the Otherworld, carrying out her father's dreams, and those of her own. She had a vision and she achieved things others couldn't even imagine. She's seen more of this Otherworld than most, and had many adventures here. She's met suitor after suitor but has boldly gone with her heart despite the constant nagging from the women around her, who tell her she's 'turning into some kind of eccentric spinster' and that 'she had better marry soon, before the offers stop coming'. No, the Alice I know has ignored many of the odd conventions of this world, and she rejected the proposals of marriage from every one of those suitors, for she has never found anyone here that would quite do."
"Perhaps that Alice has come to the end of her adventures here and misses Underland...and...everyone who lives there," she murmured, blushing fetchingly when the butterfly smirked at her. "I miss it," she continued with a pensive frown. "I've missed it since the moment I left. I miss the Hatter. And I miss the White Queen too, and Chessur, the March Hare, the Tweedles, Bayard, the White Rabbit, the Bandersnatch, even Mallyumkin," she hastened to say. "I miss them all." She gazed at Absolem for a long moment then asked, "I know you've said so, but are you quite certain the Hatter...and everyone...are you sure they're receiving the letters that I've written to them?"
"I've told you they are, you foolish creature," he said, sounding both peevish and indulgent at the same time. "Honestly! How many times do I have to tell you that? I've seen it with my own eyes. You know I'm back in Underland when I'm not here with you. Hmmph. As if my life revolves around you," he scoffed. "For the better part of two years, you've asked me that question, over and over, and every time, I've told you the same thing. Yes, they've received your letters. You know that!"
"I know," Alice said quietly. "It's just...something feels...off. And besides that, being here, it's beginning to get harder and harder to believe in the magic that somehow sends my letters to Underland. Every night I write my letters and place them on my writing desk then wish them to Underland and go to sleep, and when I wake up, the letters are always gone. But after being here so long, especially being stuck in London again, when I wake up and see that there aren't any letters on the writing desk, it's sometimes easy to convince myself that it was all just a dream and there never were any letters written in the first place."
"Really, Alice!" he chided. "This is worse than I thought! You're questioning whether it's all just been a dream? All those letters? What is the matter with you, child? Have you forgotten everything? How many times have you coerced me to act as personal emissary between you and Tarrant, when you were unable to write to him? How many times did you call for me just so I could convey your messages to him explaining why you couldn't write? And what about all the times I relayed messages back and forth between the two of you? And let's not forget about the Christmas and birthday gifts I had to deliver to you both. Honestly! How can you still doubt it, after all that?"
"I'm out of sorts, I suppose," she replied, shaking her head.
Absolem sighed. "What ever am I to do with you?"
"Will you tell me about Underland?" she asked. "How is...everyone?"
"Everyone is fine," he said. "Well, not exactly. Not everyone," he said knowingly.
"What? What do you mean?" she cried. "Who isn't fine? Tell me! Is it the Hatter? How is he?"
"You know I'm not supposed to reveal too much about the goings on in Underland. However...I will tell you one thing about Tarrant, but that's it," Absolem said solemnly. "What you choose to do with that information is entirely up to you."
"Yes, yes, I understand," Alice said quickly. "Tell me. Please."
"You know how Tarrant has often been called the 'Mad Hatter'?"
"Well, yes...but honestly, I don't think he's really quite as mad as he's believed to be..."
"Don't interrupt, you silly girl, or I won't tell you anything."
"I'm sorry," Alice said. "Please...do go on, Absolem."
"Well, they don't call him the 'Mad Hatter' anymore. He's recently acquired a new name."
"And what is it?" Alice asked eagerly.
"They call him..." He paused, as if weighing whether or not to tell her.
"Yes? What is it? Tell me! What do they call him?" she cried impatiently.
"They call him...well...they call him the 'Sad Hatter'. Not to his face, mind you. Everyone in Underland cares about him and would never intentionally hurt his feelings, you know. But it hasn't escaped anyone's notice that he's been quite sad as of late. Hence the new name."
"But...that's terrible news, Absolem!" she gasped. "Why didn't you tell me before? How could you keep such a thing from me?"
"You chose to come here, Alice. And as you've explained to me and to everyone in Underland through your letters, you had to see this venture of yours through. As such, it wouldn't do to interfere with your plans."
"Well!" she said. "I've been thinking about that quite a bit lately, ever since I got back to England. And you're right - something has changed, something big."
"And what is that, pray tell?"
"I've come to the conclusion that I've seen and done enough here. I carried out my father's plans, and the trade routes to China have been firmly established, quite successfully. I've done what I came back here to do."
Absolem gave her a knowing look. "Hmmm. That sounds like the Alice I know."
"After travelling the world and seeing as much as I've seen, I've realised one thing, with absolute certainty. I don't belong in this world. Not anymore. I never really did, but I had to make sure of it, and I had things to do. But you see, I've done those things, and now I'm sure." She took a breath then looked the butterfly square in the face. "Absolem, it's time for me to return to Underland."
"I see," he replied.
"Will you help me?"
"I will, if that's what you truly wish," he said. "And will this return to Underland be for a visit?" he inquired, gazing at her steadily.
"Not hardly," she said. "I always intended to go back...for good. I just needed to wrap things up here in this world."
"And you believe you've done that? You're absolutely certain?"
"Yes, I am. Absolutely," she declared with a decisive, unequivocal nod. "As I said, I've thought about this at length, and I am quite sure." She gazed at Absolem, a determined and resolute look in her eyes. "It's time for me to go back. Now. Today."
He stared at her for a long moment then nodded. "Very well then. I can see your mind is made up. I shall help you."
Alice smiled, and let out the breath she didn't know she'd been holding. Absolem could be so contrary and unpredictable sometimes, and she hadn't been entirely sure he'd agree with her conclusions.
"Thank you," she said, beaming at him. "Goodness! There's so much to do! I shall have to write a letter to my mother, so she won't worry when she discovers that I've gone." She jumped up and went to her writing desk. "Hmmm...what on earth shall I tell her?" she mused. Suddenly her eyes lit up and she began to write.
This will come as quite a shock to you, I imagine, but please know that what I am about to do is what's right for me. I have fallen in love and my soon to be husband and I are going to America. We have chosen to elope, because I don't know if he is someone you would necessarily approve of, but I can assure you that he is the kindest, most wonderful and most honourable man I have ever met and I know I could never be happy without him. I am not certain if we will be returning to England any time soon, but please don't worry about me. My intended has a thriving business in America and there is absolutely no doubt that I shall be well taken care of.
Please tell Lord Ascot that I'm terribly sorry to leave him and the Company in such a way, without warning, but if you could be so kind as to explain that I had to go with my heart, he'll understand what that means.
I love you, Mother, and I shall miss you. Tell Margaret that I love her and shall miss her as well. I know that you've had a difficult time trying to understand me and the choices I make, particularly as of late, but please be assured, I understand myself and know what's best for me. Once I am settled in America, I will try to write when I can.
your loving daughter,
"There," she said, nodding in satisfaction. "I think that will do."
Absolem, who had read the letter as she wrote it, snorted. "Quite. So you intend to marry Tarrant then?"
Alice spluttered, blushing fiercely, "I...no! I just wrote what I thought was a convincing enough story to keep my family from worrying about me. Really, Absolem!" she said reproachfully, still blushing. "The very idea..."
"Hmmm," was his response.
Embarrassed, Alice quickly changed the subject. "Now then, I must pack."
And that's precisely what she did. Absolem fluttered around the room watching her, hiding a smile. After she finished packing, she went into her dressing room and got dressed. She took more care than usual, though she would never admit that, even to herself. When she returned back to the bedroom, she made the bed then placed the letter on it.
"Alright. I'm ready," she said, finally. Then she faltered. "But...how am I to get to Lord Ascot's house and the rabbit hole from here without being noticed?"
"Magic, Alice," Absolem scolded, landing upon her shoulder. "Just take hold of your suitcase, close your eyes, and wish yourself there. I shall help you."
Alice did as he said, and with a woosh, off they went.
"Well? Go on! You can open your eyes now, you silly girl," Absolem tutted fondly.
She opened her eyes and gasped in surprise. She wasn't at Lord Ascot's house, nor was she at the rabbit hole.
She was in Underland.