Disclaimer: Because I forgot for the prologue this will be a blanket disclaimer for my story, everything you recognize is not mine! this includes Tarrant sadly, but the Prince and Tarrant's family I do claim.

The Outlands: Chapter 1

Alice's giggles stopped abruptly as she took in the splendor of the Hatter's suite. Here was a suite built for royalty, with its high ceilings, elegant paintings and tapestries, regal fireplaces, and beautiful marble floors decorated with plush rugs and carpets. The entire suite was done in the same color scheme as the rest of the castle: whites, creams, grays and blacks predominant. Alice was stunned, she'd only seen the front room and already could tell that his rooms were far more elegant and luxurious than her own.

Seeing her face, Tarrant hastened to explain, "They were originally the Queen's son's rooms, but after he was killed in the Red Queen's takeover they were given to me to use whenever I wished."

"Why would the Queen give you her son's rooms?" Alice wondered aloud, awe in her voice as she continued exploring the suite.

Tarrant cleared his throat nervously, "That's part of what I wanted to explain to you, Alice. Please come sit with me in the living room," Tarrant went through the archway to the left of the door they'd come through and waited patiently for Alice to choose a seat from the comfortable looking couches and armchairs situated around the fireplace.

Once both were situated, Tarrant cleared his throat again and faced Alice, who was sitting across from his in one of the armchairs, "I suppose the best place to start is with my real name, it's high time you learned it, I'd say."

"So you aren't really named 'Hatter' then?"

Tarrant laughed, a rich, deep sound that stirred the butterflies in Alice's stomach once again, "No, I was given that title when I became Hatter to the Queen during her reign. My true name is Tarrant Hightopp."

Alice smiled, "Well it's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Hightopp," standing to shake his hand.

Tarrant took her hand gently and kissed it, "The pleasure is mine all mine Miss Kingsleigh, and please call me Tarrant."

Alice giggled, blushing sweetly, "Well then, it's only proper that you call me Alice in return."

Tarrant smiled and released her hand, noting the brief flash of disappointment in her eyes as she returned to her chair and he continued with his story, "Now do you remember the clearing we walked through while you were still gerbil-size?" at her nod he sighed, "That was once my home, the village of the Hightopp clan."

Alice's eyes widened in shock then softened, "I had wondered... I'm very sorry Ha-Tarrant."

He smiled a little sadly at her, "Would you believe I didn't always look like this? When I was a lad I fell ill and my looks changed drastically. The doctor said she had never seen anything like it, both the disease and my vast changes. We all hoped that when I grew well again, my appearance would return to what it was, but alas it did not. My family did their best to ignore my new looks and taught me the hatter trade as was custom. It was while I was apprenticed to my father that the Queen came to visit, looking for a lad to work at her court. Both my parents were thrilled she took me in, didn't seem to mind my odd appearance at all. They had been so worried, although they tried desperately to hide it."

"What did you look like? Before you fell ill?" Alice asked softly, curiosity bright in her eyes.

Tarrant smiled a little, his eyes growing distant, "Like my father. My hair was a deep, dark red and only a little wavy, I had perfect teeth and light hazel-green eyes. My skin was tan and I didn't have injuries all over my hands. There's a picture of me hanging in this castle somewhere with the rest of my clan, but I've never seen it."

Alice stood, moving quickly to his side and sitting down, taking his hand in her own, "Tarrant listen to me, it doesn't matter to me what you look like. To me this is who you are, this is your true self and I wouldn't have you any other way."

Tarrant smiled warmly and kissed her forehead lightly, "Thank you, Alice."

"You're very welcome, so what happened? You know, after the Queen brought you here for the first time?"

"Well, for a few years I kept mostly to myself. Even if the Queen had accepted me, that didn't meant the rest of the court did, at least out of sight and hearing of the Queen," Tarrant paused, his eyes briefly flashing a golden-red, Alice ran her thumb over the back of his hand gently.

"When did things turn around, Tarrant? You obviously rose in the others' opinions at some point before the fall."

His eyes transitioned back to their usual acid green smoothly and he nodded, "Yes, things changed. You see I became great friends with Silvan, her Majesty's young son. He wasn't frightened by my looks and often came to my work to ask if I had time to play. I didn't at first but when her Majesty discovered what Silvan had been doing I was allowed time off from work to play with him during the day. We did all sorts of things: riding, swimming, sword-play, even making a hat or two as gifts for her Majesty.

"As more years passed and Silvan matured into a young man we played less often, now I was his sparring partner, confidant, and companion. We were close, Alice, like family even. The Queen had been inviting me to their private dinners and moved me to nicer quarters nearer her sons' rooms, the ones you now occupy actually," Tarrant smiled, his eyes far away.

Finally he continued, his eyes shifting to a golden-red again, "And then during a visit to my village for the annual Hightopp Festival, as a favor from the Queen to me, they attacked. The Knave with the Jabberwocky and many red card soldiers stormed the Festival, burning, raging, killing!"

His eyes had been growing darker and darker red while his voice grew harsher and more gravely, finally Alice grabbed his shoulders and turned him to face her, shouting, "Hatter!"

Tarrant's movements stopped, his eyes faded back to green and he squeaked, "I'm fine."

Alice took his hand in hers and squeezed it lightly, "What happened next, Tarrant?"

Tarrant kept his eyes on her now and continued telling her the story of his bloody past, "I had grabbed the Queens's reins and was pulling the beast out of the village when I heard my mother scream. I turned around and saw her kneeling next to the body of a young girl, maybe eight or nine, with black hair. She was sobbing and rocking the girl's body, ignorant of the devastation and destruction still erupting all around her, repeating 'Katrien' over and over again. Then she was struck from behind by a passing card soldier and dropped to the ground next to the girl.

"I couldn't do anything, and though it was tearing me apart inside, I turned my back on them and hurried the Queen out of the village to safety. In the chaos, the Vorpal sword was lost and the entire Hightopp clan, save myself, was destroyed.

"When everything was finally over and the enemy had left the Queen allowed me to return, both to search for the sword and check if any had survived. I didn't find the sword but I did find my father, standing over the bodies of my mother and the girl. He heard me approaching and spun, drawing a heavy longsword. I was shocked by his appearance, he was covered in smudge marks and burns, his face had tear-stains, and his hat was missing.

"When he saw that it was only me, he dropped the sword with a strange gasping sob I never expected to hear from him and said, 'They're dead Tarrant. Both of them. My beautiful Loraine and my sweet, innocent Katrien are gone.'

"I could see he was in shock but he didn't seem seriously hurt otherwise so I asked him if he would come back with me to the castle, he looked at me like I was crazy and said quite plainly, 'I'm not leaving them, Tarrant, but you can go back. Find those murderers and avenge your mother and sister's lives.'"

Alice's eyes were filled with sympathy and compassion, "Oh Tarrant, I'm so sorry! Did you ever see your father again?"

He shook his head and sighed, "No, I assume he's dead as well, that he died protecting their bodies."

Alice tightened her hold on his hand and he squeezed back gently before starting again, "I'm almost positive that day was what began my descent into madness, and what happened next did nothing to reverse it," Alice's confused look made him sigh, "Silvan offered to retrieve the Vorpal sword from the Knave before he reached the Red Queen with it, her Majesty wasn't happy but allowed him the chance. She asked that I go with him and I agreed, I had my own score to settle with him after all.

"But Silvan had other plans, he asked me to wait one hour, then come after him. He figured he would have gotten the better of the Knave by then and would then need my help to get him back to her Majesty. He wanted to prove himself I think, prove that he was more than a prince, he was a warrior.

"Against my better judgment, I agreed. Understand Alice, that he was like my younger brother, I knew how good he was with a sword and I knew what it was like to want to prove yourself as more than what you first appear to be. When an hour had passed I followed him to the clearing he had found the Knave in, he had disarmed Stayne and was asking where the Vorpal sword was. I hung back, letting him take control. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the card soldier approaching but even as I shouted a warning, the card ran him through and Stayne drew his dagger. I charged, my hand and a half longsword raised, and struck down the card before striking Stayne in the side with the same swing. The dagger dropped, I could see he was injured but not mortally so," Tarrant blinked back tears and whispered, "Alice, I held Silvan while he died and the Knave escaped. Silvan, right before he died, smiled at me and said that he loved me like a brother and to tell his mom that he was sorry he failed and he loved her."

Alice turned and wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him tightly while he cried. After a moment his arms came up and jerked her forward so she was half on top of him, half on the couch. Alice was blushing but remained where she was, holding Tarrant while he cried and clung to her.

They stayed that way for a long time, enough that the lights dimmed magically at the preregistered 'bedtime.' Tarrant looked up from Alice's hair, taking in the lower lighting and crackle of the fireplaces next to the couch and in his bedroom. Looking down he smiled warmly at the girl now laying in his arms. She smiled back, her eyes warm and trusting.

His stomach in knots, Tarrant lowered his head to hers, lips brushing against lips in a feather-light kiss. Alice sighed happily, her arms looping themselves around his neck and kissing him back. Tarrant's heart leaped at her acceptance and trust in him and his arms tightened around her a little in response.

Tarrant nipped lightly at her lips then soothing it with the his tongue, asking entrance in the same motion. Alice moaned, her fingers tangling in his hair, Tarrant took the opportunity to slip his tongue in her mouth.

Alice's mind was in a fog, all she was aware of was him and what he was doing to her with his tongue and how wonderful it felt to be in his arms. Tarrant's growing arousal pressing against her backside snapped her out of the fog and she pulled away from him slightly.

"What are we doing, Tarrant?" Alice asked, her voice hoarse and deep.

He blinked a few times then gasped and pulled her into a tight hug, "I am sorry Alice, I'm afraid I got a little excited."

Alice giggled, "Well, yes I can see, or rather feel, that," he had the decency to blush, "I meant what is this? What do I mean to you?"

Tarrant closed his eyes and pulled back, his face a light grimace of pain, "Ah, Alice, I wish I had a definite answer for you," he opened his eyes again and met her gaze, "I know I care very deeply for you, I trust you, and I would gladly die to protect you. But I'm not sure I can tell you what you want to hear, not yet."

As he spoke her face fell slightly, lit up, then just seemed resigned, "It's alright Hatter, I understand. I'll go now," she made as if to stand but his arms were locked around her.

"Wait! Alice, please, I'm not trying to make you sad, just be honest. I meant everything I said, I just don't know if what I feel for you is really love," he was pleading with her now.

Alice turned back to him but there were tears in her eyes now, "Alice, I won't apologize for speaking the truth, but I will say sorry for upsetting you."

She sighed then, nodded, and smiled at him again, "It's alright Tarrant, really. I suppose I should go back to my room now, we have a long day tomorrow."

Tarrant hesitated before asking quietly, "Would you stay with me? I'll behave, I promise."

Alice laughed warmly, "What an idea!" he held his breath while she thought it over then, "You know, I would very much like to stay with you tonight, Tarrant."

Tarrant beamed at her, scooping her up and leaping off the couch to twirl her around in circles, making Alice squeal and laugh in delight. Finally he let her down but held her hand still so she wouldn't fall over.

"Come with me then, my dear, for you are right, we really should go to sleep," Tarrant said, a light teasing note in his voice.

"Alright, Tarrant," and she allowed him to pull her into the darkened bedroom for the night.

AN: I wanted to apologize to everyone for taking so long to update, I'll try very hard to be quicker about the next chapter! I also honestly have no idea where this story is going, so if you have any suggestions you can always message me. I won't guarantee that I'll use them all, but if I do I'll be sure to give the original thinker credit. :)