Ten Trips Through Wonderland
Summary: Prompts 1-10 from ElJay's Ten Prompts Group
He would not have seen it end this way. An ignominious end to the last of the Hightop Clan. Losing his head to the whim of the Bloody Big Head Herself. Not living to see vengeance exacted for the events of Horunvendush day those many years ago. But he rested easy in the knowledge that it would be exacted in spades.
For his faith in her was absolute.
She would succeed, not because it was foretold in the Oraculum, but because he had witnessed the return of her muchness. The return of Alice.
And while the break of dawn on the morrow could well see his head roll, his heart, already given, would follow Alice into battle.
When he asked her to stay, with that mad, hopeful, almost plaintive look in his eyes, she immediately knew what her answer would be. Must be. For she was a good daughter, who would not leave her mother to worry, a good sister, and sister-in-law who would dutifully return. She even felt she owed a duty to that miserable dolt whom she most definitely was not affianced to.
Because in the end, her muchness went only as far as stockings and corsets, and most certainly did not include throwing her staid life away to embark on a half-mad life with a half-mad man in a half-mad land.
So she made her excuses and tried very hard not to see the light of hope extinguished in the Hatter's eyes as she lifted the vial to her lips.
And would her mother live her life for her, she wondered. Or her sister, with her unfaithful dog of a husband. Or Hamish? Would they be a comfort to her as she went on existing, after giving up the experience of truly living. Would they comfort her as she waited for the love of her life to appear, knowing that she had already met him, and left him, a lonely figure on a chessboard a world away?
The purple liquid stained the squares of the chessboard where she poured it out on the ground.
How's that for muchness?
Helen Kingsleigh recognized the tilted scrawl the moment the postman delivered the tattered letter. She no sooner slammed the door in the poor man's face then she was ripping open the envelope and tossing it to the floor, desperate to get at its contents. After all this time. Finally. The dear Lord has rewarded me for not giving up hope. She scanned the letter for the three words she most wanted to see: I'm coming home.
I do hope you'll forgive me for not having written you in so long. I wasn't even aware it was possible until now. I know you must be wondering where I've gotten to, ever since that party at the Ascots'. It's hard to believe that was over a year ago. You wouldn't believe me if I wrote you of all that has happened to me since then. The first thing you must know is that I'm well, and that my life is full and happy. I've gained a purpose to my life that I never would have known had I simply returned to my dreary life in London to become Lady Ascot. I have just become engaged, mother. That's right, I am to be married to a wonderful man. I know he is not precisely who you would have chosen for me, but he makes me desperately happy. He's a master of his trade, and is employed at court, so you needn't worry at all for my fortunes. I'm sorry to have left without a word like I did. I can only imagine how you and Margaret must have worried. I can comfort you only with the fact that I continue to be well and happy. Be the same. I shall write again. Love,
I do hope you'll forgive me for not having written you in so long. I wasn't even aware it was possible until now. I know you must be wondering where I've gotten to, ever since that party at the Ascots'. It's hard to believe that was over a year ago. You wouldn't believe me if I wrote you of all that has happened to me since then. The first thing you must know is that I'm well, and that my life is full and happy. I've gained a purpose to my life that I never would have known had I simply returned to my dreary life in London to become Lady Ascot.
I have just become engaged, mother. That's right, I am to be married to a wonderful man. I know he is not precisely who you would have chosen for me, but he makes me desperately happy. He's a master of his trade, and is employed at court, so you needn't worry at all for my fortunes.
I'm sorry to have left without a word like I did. I can only imagine how you and Margaret must have worried. I can comfort you only with the fact that I continue to be well and happy. Be the same. I shall write again.
Helen desperately searched the floor for the envelope; her last hope. The tears began to fall as she read the one word of return address:
At first Alice found the Red Queen to be more obnoxious and foolish than the force of pure evil that had been described to her. To be sure she found the queen's treatment of the animals in her court to be just the other side of deplorable, and the constant toadying of those around her caused Alice to feel slightly ill. Though she supposed she had little room to talk, since at the moment, Alice was counted among the toadies.
So she went along with the flow, trying not to crack a smile every time she introduced herself as "Um from Umbridge." She even giggled slightly when the queen demanded a pig belly for her aching feet.
Her false sense of security was dashed, however, when the queen ordered the prisoner to be brought in.
The Hatter cut a pathetic figure, bound hand and foot. He moved slowly, as if each step caused him physical pain. And was that the Hatter's own bizarre natural coloring, or did she detect bruises?
They had tortured him. To find out her whereabouts they had tortured this harmless, half-mad man?
They had all been right. She had been wrong. This woman was the devil.
Down with the bloody Big Head.
Light streamed through the windows of the palace at Marmoreal, bringing a new day to the inhabitants of the White Court, and awakening one Alice Hightop from a most interesting dream. She yawned and snuggled into her husband's side, resisting the breaking dawn for just a few more moments.
"I had that dream again," she informed him, not checking to see if he was awake. He was always awake before her. "Is it normal to have the same dream every night?"
"Don't ask me," he replied, placing a light kiss on her forehead. "I'm the mad one, remember?"
She giggled. "No, really. It's the same every night. I'm on a boat … no, not a boat … a great ship. I'm waving goodbye to my mother and sister and we sail off into the sunrise. We're heading East, I think. A huge ocean stretching out in front of us. I'm not sure where we're headed, but I'm sure it's somewhere grand."
"Are you wearing a hat?"
Alice thought for a moment, "I don't remember. I don't think so."
"Because if you're headed somewhere altogether grand," Tarrant explained matter-of-factly, "you should be hatted properly for the occasion."
"Perhaps I'm underdressed."
The Hatter rested his chin atop his wife's head. "Or perhaps, you're headed home. Where is grander than Marmoreal? Then you don't have to worry about being properly hatted. I shall make all the hats you should need when you arrive."
She looked up at her husband, wondering, as she often did, at his wisdom-masquerading-as-madness. She smiled serenely. "Now that, husband, is a wonderful thought."
They had made so many promises to each other during their year-long engagement, that Alice doubted either of them remembered them all:
"I promise to never make you wear a corset," then he'd whisper in the rough outlandish brogue that made her insides shiver, "all the less for me to take off."
"I promise never again to clean up you workshop." Honestly, men could be so territorial. Especially when ribbons and lace were concerned.
"I promise to never make you dance a quadrille." He promised dutifully, but still couldn't fathom her violent dislike for such a perfectly boring dance.
Her hands framed his face after stopping a particularly violent rant. "When you fall mad," she solemnly swore, "I'll always be there to catch you."
But when Mirana, before a crowd that seemed comprised of all of Underland, asked them if they promised to love, honor, and keep to only each other, so long as they both should live, suddenly that was the only promise of their lives that seemed to matter.
Periodically, he knows, he loses himself. Comes with the territory of being half-mad. He inhabits the annoying middle ground between those who are fully sane and those who are too sunk in insanity to care.
But he does care.
Ever since she returned.
It frightens her, he knows, when that switch is flipped and his Outlandish mad self comes out to play. He can be a nasty bugger; a violent, unpredictable sort, driven by memories of guilt and rage and death. He's only too happy to scream and rail and visit violence in return on whoever is closest.
And she is close. She is his closest. And he wants to keep her there, beside him, but for the fear of the other coming out and scaring her, harming her, making her run from him in fear, maybe never to return.
What would it be like to lose himself in her, he wonders. To lose himself in her cool and tranquil waters, rather than in the blazing fire of madness that periodically consumes him.
And each time she draws him back from that mad place, he thanks his lucky stars, or bats, or teatrays or whatever celestial orbs rule his fate that she has not been scared away. Not yet. Those tranquil waters are still there, waiting for him to be ready. Waiting for her to invite him in.
The first time she was placed in his arms, he knew he was smitten. Pacing the floor, he marveled at the impossibly small bundle of life he held in his work-roughened hands.
"Happy Birthday, little one. You've already met your mother; she's the impossibly beautiful one over there who did all the work. Well, I'm your father. I'm a little 'round the bend, but your mother says all the best people are, and you should always listen to your mother because she's usually right."
"Usually?" a tired voice chuckled from the bed.
"Alright, almost always," he corrected. "Starting tomorrow I shall make you your first bonnet. Blue will suit you, just like your mother. And when you are older I shall teach you all manner of things like how to hat, and how to make tea, and when the boys come round you I shall gouge them all with hatpins."
"Tarrant. Don't you think your getting a tad ahead of yourself?"
He moved to sit next to his exhausted wife. "Nonsense. Can never be too careful where my daughter is concerned … Alice, love?"
"Yes, Tarrant," she stifled a yawn.
"Is this real?" His face was full of hope tinged with terror. "Is this really truly real? You're not dreaming this are you?"
Alice laughed, lifting a hand to caress her husband's face. "Nope. Too sore to be a dream. This is our life, Tarrant."
He felt a burning behind his eyes, the well of emotion threatening to overflow. He was no longer the last of his clan. They live through me. Through her. He placed a kiss on the tiny brow and was rewarded by a sleepy snuffle.
"Lara Hightopp. Welcome home."
"Hold on tight."
If she had realized what the Hatter was doing while he was doing it, she would have put up more of a fuss.
As it was, before she knew it, she was being flung an impossibly far distance, balanced precariously on the brim of a hat, over a river. In her panic she dimly heard a cry of "Down with the Bloody Red Queen!" before she landed with a bone-jarring thud on the far riverbank.
It was then that it occurred to her that the Hatter would have a devil of a time getting over there.
It wasn't until she saw the numerous red guards, more than she could count, surrounding the hapless hatter and spiriting him away, presumably to the clutches of the Red Queen, that she realized escape had never been his intention.
He was a sacrifice. He was sacrificing himself so that she could escape.
Feelings rose in her. Guilt. Impotent Rage. Fear. She crawled under the hat and curled into a ball, hugging her knees to her chest.
And as she tried to settle in for the night, her mind kept returning to the Hatter, what they might possibly be doing to him, and how, at the first opportunity, she was going to rescue him. From under the nose of the Bloody Red Queen if necessary.
He realized early on that Alice had an amazing gift of stillness
This was a quality the Hatter, half mad as he was, was in sore need of. All the comings and goings and unwelcome voices that swirled in the maelstrom of his untamed mind seemed that much quieter when she was near.
The simple caress of her hands on his face brought the voices down to a dull roar in the background. The first time she pressed her lips to his, he marveled at the softness and sweetness of it, but also, the stillness in the moment. The raging demons in his mind faded into quietude.
The first time they lay together, she welcomed his body into her own with the same generosity, selflessness and love with which she welcomed his heart; offering a safe, calm harbor for both.
He was awestruck in the moment, how it was just the two of them. Their bodies fit like they were made to come together in this precise way. And this time, when the crowding in his mind dissipated, he saw clearly what he wanted; her, this way and in all ways not just now, but forever.
A dream so simple it was mad to even think it: he would have Alice for his wife.