It's done, it's done! I feel strangely empty now. But accomplished. I hope you find this little titbit into the not-too-distant future of my Alice and Tarrant satisfying and a little informative. It's not much, but I didn't want to get too detailed about their further journeys. Just enough to clear some matters. Thankyou SOOO much to everyone who stuck with me to the end, who cried and squeed and were outraged at Alice's supposed 'marriage', you make me proud to be a crazy fan girl. Thankyou to everyone who left even the shortest review, just so I felt loved. Thankyou to those who left a paragraph long review, you all made my day every time I read them.
He was beautiful at dusk.
In those first wispy hours of the morning, just after waking, he was most often sombre-faced and a little bit tetchy. By breakfast he was complacent and conversational. In those hours after lunch, when Time was not important and the name of it less so, he was filled with a vigorous energy that shook the earth around him.
But at dusk, without ever trying, Tarrant was at his most beautiful.
She would never be tired of looking at him: his skin like milk – which she'd found upon some experimentation, actually did taste something like it – became pearlescent when infused with the moonlight. He had a habit of stretching out in his sleep and tipping his head back into the pillow, which meant that the bridge of his nose and the arch of his throat were struck by the moon and set alight. Sometimes his lips were turned up in a grin, and in those moments she'd have to resist the urge to kiss them and rouse him. Other times, when the day had been a challenge and he wanted nothing more than to disappear into sleep, his mouth would be nothing but a flat horizon under his nose. Those were the nights when she'd thread her fingers into his hair and massage his scalp. Sometimes she'd accompany the rhythm with a riddle. Most of the time this melted the frown; other times it didn't. But no matter his expression he was always fascinating enough to occupy her time in those doleful hours when sleep evaded her.
Tonight was another matter.
Alice had more than learnt his sleeping face off by heart. If she closed her eyes she could see him etched onto the blackness of her eyelids. It felt as if it were more than the usual mess in her mind that kept her awake that night. Carefully climbing from the bed Alice pulled on Tarrant's robe and wound it tightly around herself. The smell of it made her feel safe, and the downiness of the fabric kept her warm against the cool night air as she opened the door to the balcony. A breeze crept in and swept over Tarrant's face. His nose twitched and his eyes flickered, but he stirred no more than that. The little balcony that jutted out like a defiant chin off the side of Tarrant's home was her usual comfort place. In the few months since they'd left Marmoreal and made his old house fit for permanent residence it had become a favourite spot. They would eat breakfast whilst perched upon the railing, chatting and twittering like birds. They would dance in slow circles upon the grainy wood when the rain was good enough to drench them. It provided the most spectacular view of anywhere Alice had yet to see in Underland. To others it mightn't have been so grand, but to her it was just as inspiring as the Water Fall Hills that lay beyond the White Queen's home. Alice took a breath deep enough to let her taste the night air, and leant against the railing. She could just make out the shimmering outline of the White Castle and felt a gentle humming inside herself. No wonder Tarrant had chosen this place. Snud it gave a stunning, if distant, view of the castle. Queast it faced Witzend, the home of Tarrant's friends. Both were equally as lovely to view in any light of day.
She began to think of the months that had passed them by. She'd never been very good at keeping track of normal time, and she was more than happy to find that here in Underland Time was not at all bothered by her ignorance of him. There were days when she'd felt like doing nothing more than sitting on this balcony and watching the clouds rove, and had roused from her daydreaming hours later to find that the day had not passed her by at all. She could not say the same for poor Tarrant, who despite having declared a supposed truce with Time, could not seem to find enough hours in the day. When he'd first taken up his old position of Hatter to the Queen she had been sure to give him few jobs and plenty of time to do them. It had been over five years since he'd done any millinery after all, and she hadn't wanted to pressure now that a fair time had passed the demand for his work had begun to blossom again. People from beyond Marmoreal and even the Outlands had begun to remember the terrific work of Tarrant Hightopp, the last of the best clan of Hatters, and word had spread about his return. At first he'd been reluctant to take any more work, remembering his promise to Alice, but she'd been adamant about encouraging him anyway:
"I said I would fix you and I'm not quite done yet," he said worriedly.
"I'm not a cloak that needs mending," she scolded him, "I'm much better now than I was. Besides, you should do what you love."
"I love being around you."
"Yes but that doesn't pay anything, unfortunately."
"I don't hat for the money, nor would I ever accept coins in my purse for loving you."
"Well then hat for the joy of it and love me because you can. I'm all right Tarrant, truly." She pinched his arm playfully. "I'm tired of seeing your face anyway."
He laughed and the conversation dissolved as they tumbled around tickling one another.
She didn't mind that he worked a little more often, because he did so in the White Castle and it was easy for her to visit him. What did linger in her mind was the smallest worry about his mental health. Yes, everyone knew he was completely himself again. Yes, he had been the right kind of mad for months now. Alice just worried that one day if he was pushed too hard, he might relapse. There was always a possibility for such things. Admittedly, there hadn't yet been a day when he'd come home without a smile on his face, even if he was a little tired. But that didn't stop her returning his enthusiasm for kisses and questions of how she was feeling. As long they kept an eye on each other and were together on those intermittent days of bleakness, she figured they would both be all right. Gazing at Marmoreal, she began to wonder when she'd be ready for work. They had yet to discuss her future beyond anything other than her getting better. With a wistful smile she recalled her first discussion with Tarrant after the night she came home from England:
"If I am to stay…there are a few things that must be sorted."
"Alice, you're ever the logical thinker these days. I must teach you how to talk nonsense again."
"Tarrant, I'm being serious."
"I know. You're serious far too often, you know. I myself try not to be serious for more than an hour a week."
"Sorry. Please go on."
"If I do stay here…I'm going to need some form of employment. I won't be a housewife."
He tried not to choke on her casual use of the word wife. "You – we could find you work in Marmoreal, later, if you wish. I'm sure Mirana would enjoy your company."
"And a house?"
"My home has been far too quiet for far too long. Even when I do talk to myself."
She made sure to look him right in the eye. "And am I to be loved here?" she asked, her hands sliding up his arms. "Otherwise I feel I will get terribly lonely."
He enfolded her into his embrace, noticing a curious sensation as their skin touched. It was definitely a kind of humming.
"Alice," he murmured, "I give you my personal guarantee that every creature in Underland will welcome you. However I can't guarantee they'll love you as much as a certain madman."
Tarrant was excellent at distracting her, she'd surmised. It was difficult to worry about the future when he led her on expeditions through Witzend forest, or they sat and drank tea by the edge of the Diamond Lake. She wanted to work, really she did. But her desire to avoid being stuck in a room with paperwork clashed with her apprehension of venturing out into the world again. Even Underland had its dangers, as her battle with the Red Queen had shown. Still, she had Tarrant and all her friends, and it was far better to imagine braving the unknown in Underland than it was to brave any place from her old life.
"My old life," Alice whispered, standing up a little straighter. "Isn't it curious to think that my old life was my young life?" She picked at her nails, contemplative. "Now here you are, Alice, older but somehow brand new." She thought of her mother and sister, of how they'd been so sure she'd be able to visit them. She wondered how much time had passed, if they missed her. She wondered when she would start to miss them. It was a strange feeling, to want to miss someone. It was like guilt; maybe she was too content here and someone had to be wronged to balance it out.
And that was when she thought about Henry.
Did she miss him? Was that what this feeling was, this pain that surfaced when she remembered him? Or was that simply the hurt associated with horrific memories?
She'd not had much experience with those in her life, except her father dying…and that was a pain akin to this, definitely. She'd expected a grand goodbye when she finally stopped imagining Henry. A teary acknowledgement, a wave on the whisper of fairfarren as he faded from sight. But there was nothing of the sort. So far, he had just come to her less and less. In the reflection of her teaspoon she'd see a smiling man, and then he'd vanish. Days would go by before she'd again spot him lounging in a tree above them. Now, it had been several weeks since she'd caught sight of his reflection, at the very least. She wondered what happened to imaginary friends – or husbands – when they were no longer needed. Surely they didn't just disappear? Was there a Heaven for ghosts that find themselves redundant? Henry had seemed so real, so tangible…but he had also been too perfect. A man that was both her father and the Mad Hatter? It wasn't what she'd wanted, really, more what she'd needed. Someone who would offer constant comfort and help her hide from her troubles. But Tarrant was a decent mix of what she needed and what she wanted. He made her confront her demons…he challenged her…he made her laugh.
He loved her because he wanted to, not because she'd imagined he would.
Smiling at the crazy mad wonderful thought she returned to bed, settling down so close to Tarrant that her nose brushed against his.
And then from the corner of her eye she saw a flicker of light – or was it movement?
Careful so as not to wake him, Alice craned her neck toward the end of the bed and peered into the darkness. There was a tall shape in the shadows. Heart pounding, she strained to see what it was, but after coming inside her eyes had not yet adjusted to the lack of moonlight.
And then it came to her, the wild answer, the thought that made her call out tentatively –
All she could hear was her heart thundering, the easy breathing of Tarrant beside her. And then –
"M'here, Alice…" murmured a sleepy voice very close to her ear. An enormous wave of relief flooded through her. That was just Tarrant talking in his sleep, and without opening his eyes he circled his arm around her waist and drew her into his chest. For one fleeting moment, it had seemed…but then the dim shadows came into focus and the tall shape at the foot of the bed was just – a hat stand.
Grinning, Alice curled her toes and sighed, pressing her face into his shoulder and at last feeling sleep take hold of her.
There was just she and her Hatter, each as half-mad as the other.