Chapter18

Who Am I?

You are no one to the people in this country. You're just our replacement foreigner.

Even several cycles after her encounter with Chalice, Allysia's mind was reeling, repeating those words over and over again like a broken record. She knew she should not be so concerned about it and tried to brush it off.

But she just could not.

It was something that she should be used to by now – everyone wanting her to be someone she's not. Her father's attempts were ignorable while her cousin's was fairly tolerable. But Terrence's…

As she dusted the bookcase, running the feathers over the sleek hardcovers, she found herself thinking back to her past. She recalled one time when Terrence gave her this dress as a present. It was this ridiculously frilly, girly thing that made her poor heart cringe.

"Um, Terrence, you really didn't need to get me this..." Allysia said, forcing a smile on her face as she stared down at her attire, at the overuse of ribbon and fabric.

Terrence frowned, his brows knitting together. "Of course I did. I can spoil you a little if I want. Why? Don't you like it?"

"Well it's not that. It's just that this..." She gazed down at the gift, unable to put the atrocity into words. "Do I really look okay?"

He stepped forward and placed a kiss on her forehead. "You look lovely, Allysia. I've always thought you looked cute in clothes like this."

At his words, at his gentle smile, she felt her heart melt. She could endure this. Just for today if it made him happy.

Like every day when he insisted she wear such things.

She never understood his insistences, but she never bothered to question him when he smiled at her like that.

"Well, are you ready for our picnic?"

Holding the basket up, she nodded her head. Before the two could walk forward, there was a loud squeal.

"Ally!" Allysia's heart froze. She dug her heels firmly into the ground and braced herself. Eclaire came hurtling towards Allysia's side, wrapping her arms around her neck and nuzzling her face against her cousin's cheek. "Oh, Ally, you look so adorable! I love your dress! I'm so happy you became interested in this style too."

Allysia only grumbled under her breath, unable to voice her protests in coherent words. How she secretly hoped her cousin would grow bored with her current obsession... but despite her prayers, Eclaire still was infatuated with such outlandish, cutesy styles.

Though the style of clothing made her cringe, Allysia couldn't help, but notice one thing – her cousin could pull off this style very well. Eclaire was absolutely radiant as any jewel, blonde locks shimmering a vibrant gold, her dress bringing out the emerald hue of her eyes, while Allysia looked as ordinary as a common pebble on the side of the road.

Terrence seemed to notice as well. Allysia felt a pang of envy thrum against her heart, but refused to let it show in her face.

"Actually, I got it as a gift for her." Eclaire released Allysia from her grasp and turned towards Terrence. His smile still graced his features, his eyes glinting in the sunlight.

"Well I commend you on your taste," said Eclaire. "This really suits Ally."

Terrence bowed his head gratefully. "Why, thank you. I'm glad you approve."

Allysia stood numbly to the side, watching the pair begin to talk, only catching snippets of the ensuing conversation. She tried not to notice the intensity in his gaze, giving Eclaire the attention he had never fully given her.

"No, I couldn't possibly! I would be intruding!"

"Nonsense. We have tons of food. Right, Allysia?"

She snapped out of her reverie. She shook her head and asked, "I'm sorry. I wasn't paying attention. What were you talking about?"

"I was just inviting your cousin to our picnic. I say the more the merrier! What do you say? Do you mind?" he asked.

Eclaire looked over to her, her gaze soft, yet curious.

'Yes,Imind.Greatly.'

There was no denying this seed of doubt blossoming in her mind, watching as his gaze on Eclaire never wavered for a moment.

But she brushed it off as her petty paranoia and insecurity. Terrence liked her for who she was. She had nothing to worry about... right?

Allysia smiled weakly and lied. "No, it wouldn't bother me at all."

"Allysia."

She perked up, snapping out of her daze with a languid blink of her eyes. She turned away from the bookcase and towards the source of the voice.

"I believe that one spot on the bookcase has been eradicated of dust. Why don't you relax?" said Blood. The foreigner nodded her head and sat herself down, absently twirling the feather duster in between her palms. "Are you alright? I have been trying to catch your attention for quite some time."

"I'm fine. I'm just… thinking. That's all," she replied, keeping her gaze on the floor. She glanced up for a moment, noticing him study her expression for a long moment before releasing a sigh.

"Well, alright, but I have to call you on your inattentiveness. It's rude to ignore your employer and generous host." Allysia's muscles stiffened at the suggestion. He added in a teasing tone, "If you want to play the role as my maid, you could at least try a little harder acting the part."

She knew he was only teasing her, but for some reason, she couldn't help but get upset.

Allysia slammed the duster on the table and snapped, "Well, I'm sorry that I'm not a little perfect maid. It must be a shame that you have to deal with a disappointment like me."

Blood blinked, taken aback by her sudden ferocity. "Milady, that's not what I meant…"

"Oh, there's no need to lie! I understand perfectly. I'm not the kind of woman you're used to dealing with, am I? What do you want me to do? Flail over you? Serve you hand and knee? I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not that kind of person. I'm sorry I'm not your precious Alice. I'm sorry that I'm not the person everyone in this damn country wants me to be – who you want me to be. So just get over it, and stop trying to change me, Terrence!"

After that verbal slip, she slammed her hand over her mouth. Blood merely stared.

Before he could question her, she abruptly turned around, stormed off, and spat out, "I'm going out. I can't take this anymore!"

The Hatter remained silent, allowing the foreigner to storm out of the room, out through the quiet halls.

She had no idea where she was going. She knew she just needed to get out. While rubbing her stinging eyes, she felt her feet carry her through the halls of the mansion and out the door, stomping against the debris of the surrounding forest.

She paused for a moment to catch her breath and pull herself together. She never let something like this bother her, let alone this much. She just wanted these worries to go back to the dark recesses of her mind where they belonged.

Still, Chalice's words rung in her mind, igniting a feeling of doubt in her heart.

You are no one to the people in this country. You're just our replacement foreigner.

What was she to these people? What was she to anyone for that matter? Was she truly good for nothing, but a replacement?

"Ally-chan!" She flinched, her heart stopping in fear. She could recognize that voice anywhere.

She inwardly cursed, watching a white blur leap out of the brush and rush towards her. "Oh, Ally-chan! How I missed you so!"

Allysia managed to sidestep the surprise assault, sighing in relief as she watched the White Rabbit crumble onto the floor.

"Not that I can say the same... I'm sorry, Peter, but I'm busy at the moment. I need to get going now."

She was in no mood to deal with anyone right now, let alone that clingy rabbit.

Just as she was going to walk away, Peter wrapped his arms around her and forced her to halt. She swore under her breath, struggling to free herself from Peter's iron grip.

"Hey, let me go!" she shouted.

Peter obstinately shook his head and only held her tighter. "No, I haven't seen my dear Ally-chan in ages! Why haven't you visited me?"

'Let's see… to avoid you?'

She bit her tongue, finding that admission a bit too harsh and would only cause the White Rabbit to hug her even tighter. Struggling to come up with a politer approach, she lamely supplied, "Uh, you know. I've been busy and all… with stuff."

Peter complained, "But you've been spending too much time away from me! I miss you too much!"

Allysia remained unfazed by the confession. By the lack of oxygen reaching her lungs, the feelings remained unrequited. She managed to free herself from the rabbit's embrace, straightened out her clothes, and began to walk away. "Well, it's been nice seeing you, but I really need to get going. Bye!"

A pair of footsteps resounded behind her.

"No, please stay for awhile!" Allysia kept walking forward, ignoring him entirely. "Please... Please! Don't go! I don't want to lose you again, Alice!"

She froze in her place, her eyes wide with shock. She mumbled softly, "What did you say? Did you call me Alice?"

Peter's footsteps quieted down. He didn't say a word. She snapped her head around, blue eyes bright with rage.

"Is that why you missed me so much? Why you even like me? Because of my resemblance to your dear Alice?"

Peter flinched, his expression tinted with melancholy. He answered quietly, "No, of course not... You're both different. I don't know why I said that... I'm sorry..."

The foreigner scoffed. "Oh sure. Then tell me that you did not kidnap me and bring me to this country because I looked like her? That you really 'loved' me just for me!"

Peter froze in his place and looked downcast. His silence spoke volumes.

"That's what I thought," she croaked, her voice suddenly hoarse and her eyes stinging. "Maybe I should just go! No one here really wants me for who I am anyway! No one does! Everyone just wants me to be someone else!"

Before the White Rabbit could utter a word, Allysia was already gone, running deeper into the forest.

{ღ}~{ღ}~{ღ}

After what felt like an eternity of running, Allysia finally collapsed onto the ground, trying to stop these tears from flowing. Her breath came out in harsh, uneven bursts. Her eyes stung.

No matter what she did, all she could think about were Chalice's words, what Peter called her.

Alice. That was all Allysia was to them. She was nothing more than their replacement. At the thought, she tugged her knees into her chest, burying her head in her knees.

"Ally, that you?"

Allysia didn't move a single muscle. All she wanted was to brood and cry in peace.

The voice did not seem deterred by her lack of response. She felt a finger poke her head. "Ally! Earth to Ally! Are you sleeping or something?"

She intrinsically slapped the hand away and looked up, glaring at a pair of crimson eyes.

She blinked in surprise and quickly wiped her face. Her voice cracked as she said, "Ace? What are you doing here?"

"Trying to find you! I've been looking everywhere! Ha ha ha, I felt like I was walking in circles!" Ace replied cheerfully and seated himself down beside her.

'Morelikegettinglostasperusual.'

She rolled her eyes and asked, "Why were you trying to find me?"

"Just trying to be a good person and help out that silly rabbit! Mr. White was frantic trying to look for you!" At the mention of Peter, Allysia stiffened. "Haha, Peter is a funny rabbit... saying silly things he doesn't really mean!"

"Oh, he meant it. He's right too. All he and everyone care about is this so-called Alice. I'm merely her replacement," she mumbled crossly under her breath, looking down to stare at her shoes.

The Heart Knight released a trill of laughter. "That's not true! Just as Alice was our friend before, so are you! You both are very different!"

"How so?" she challenged.

Ace paused for a moment, considering how question in his mind. "For one thing, Alice had an excellent sense of direction. You're just like me! You get lost very easily!"

Allysia's expression fell completely blank. "Gee, thanks."

Still, she seemed unconvinced. Ace pondered for a moment, tapping his finger against his chin.

"It's just that... you're different. I don't know how to put it. You are just... Ally. There's no way I'd even think about calling you Alice," he said lamely, shooting her a bright, smile.

Allysia stared at him for a moment and snorted, "Nice try, but I'm not buying it. You're just saying that to make me feel better. I keep being told that I happen to look like her anyway..."

"Hmm... I guess. Haha! I'm not really good at comforting people, am I? I've never been very good with my words," Ace admitted with an abashed laugh.

Allysia grumbled in agreement, but felt a smile threaten to curve her lips. It touched her that Ace had at least tried to cheer her up, though she would never tell him.

He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Hmm... Oh! I got it! I know exactly what to do to make you feel much better!"

She had no time to react. Before she knew it, Ace tackled her to the ground, pinning her body down with his own. She was rendered into a quiet daze, looking up at his smiling face, seeing it hover inches from her own.

She swallowed. "A…Ace? W…what are you doing?"

Ace's grin only widened. "I told you that I was never good with words... I've always been a man of action, and I'll make sure you feel much, much better."

Her whole body stiffened when Ace pressed his lips onto her neck. Her cheeks flared red, and she squirmed underneath him, struggling to break free. Ace was much too strong for her, quashing all chances of escape. He continued to pepper her neck and jaw with kisses, laving the sensitive flesh with his tongue.

Then his mouth moved towards her lips.

It was only a fleeting moment of contact, a teasing brush of his lips, not enough to exactly be considered a true kiss, but it was enough to make her breath escape from her lungs. Her mind fell completely blank, forgetting all about Chalice, Peter, everyone. An alien sensation shot through her veins, making her fall still and mute. Her senses were even more aware of his proximity, of the heat pervading through his coat.

The two merely stared at each other, his scarlet orbs staring down at her bright blue ones. His eyes darkened, flashing with an emotion she failed to identify.

Before Ace could lean forward and close what distance separated their lips, a startled squeak interrupted him.

The two snapped their heads towards the voice, noticing a shocked Dormouse stare at them with wide eyes.

"W... What's going on here, chu?" Pierce asked, his cheeks tinted a slight pink. Allysia's exploded into bright red.

Unfazed by their suggestive position, Ace merely smiled his usual smile and rolled off the mortified outsider. "I was just comforting, Ally! That's all!"

Pierce slowly nodded his head, inwardly hoping the scary knight never comforted him in that way. He dropped his gaze to his twiddling fingers and awkwardly shifted in his place.

"W...Well I just went looking for Ally-chan because everyone at the scary Hatter's place is a bit worried, chu. If you're fine then I guess I should go…"

"NO! PIERCE DON'T LEAVE ME!" Faster than any of them thought possible, Allysia leapt to her feet and clung to the Dormouse's arm. Pierce and Ace merely stared, surprised by her suddenly frantic behavior. She cleared her throat, recollected herself, and tried to smile. "I... I mean I'd feel better if you escorted me back to the mansion, Pierce! If I went with the knight, I'd be lost."

Ace grinned. "Hahaha! So true!"

The Dormouse blinked, slightly confused by her behavior, but smiled brightly nonetheless. "Okay! I will take Ally-chan back!"

Allysia sighed in relief, inwardly grateful that Pierce saved her from a potentially dangerous situation. Who knows what would happen if Pierce hadn't interrupted when he did? She shuddered, afraid to think about it further.

The two waved goodbye to the Red Knight and began to make their way back to the Hatter territory.

{ღ}~{ღ}~{ღ}

"Thanks for letting me drop by that store really quick. Are you sure the gift is okay?" she asked in concern, hugging the bag close to her chest.

Pierce nodded his head. "It's perfect, chu! Ally-chan is so considerate!"

Allysia chuckled nervously and dropped her gaze to the floor. At the moment she felt far from it...

"Hey, rat, what are you doing with onee-chan?"

From her side, Pierce squeaked in fear and dove fearfully behind her at the appearance of the two twins.

"I... I was only doing what everyone was supposed to do, chu! I f… found and brought Ally-chan back!" Pierce stammered, cringing in fear at the twin's gaze.

Dee and Dum scowled. "Why did it take so long to find her?"

"We were all worried! We bet you were the one that took Ally-chan away from us!"

Pierce's face blanched and he cried, "No! I did not do that! I did not!"

"We should punish him, shouldn't we, brother?" Dee retrieved his gun.

Dum smiled and followed suit. "Oh yes. Punish the Dormouse!"

"Really, guys. Don't bully, Pierce! He was only helping me get back. He didn't..."

But Allysia's defense fell on deaf ears.

Before she knew it, the Dormouse behind her released a terrified howl and darted away. The twins shouted in excitement and chased after him, gunfire resounding in the halls. Allysia sighed and watched the three run away, a pang of worry unfurling in her heart.

"I hope Pierce will be okay... The twins better not take their games too far and hurt him," she mumbled aloud.

"I wouldn't worry about the Dormouse that much, Allysia." She jumped in surprise, looking to see Elliot appear by her side. "He's a part of our mafia after all. Despite his cowardly ways, he's still very strong."

"Wait... Pierce? Pierce Villiers? Our Pierce Villiers is part of this mafia?"

Elliot was nonplussed by his inquiry and met her wide gaze with a hint of surprise. "Oh, you didn't know? Yeah, the mouse is part of our mafia and used to stay with us... that is until the twins and that cat scared him out of here."

"But what in the world does Pierce even do here?"

"He's our undertaker."

It was said so casually, so matter-of-factly that she was rendered completely speechless. She could not even imagine that clingy, cowardly mouse was part of the mafia, but as their undertaker? She mentally refused to believe it.

"But are you okay? We were all very worried about you. Did something happen between you and our boss?"

At the mention of the Mad Hatter, her heart twisted in guilt. She replied, "I'm fine. Nothing really happened. It's just that I had my own personal issues to work out."

Elliot examined her expression for a moment, brows knitting in worry. "Well are you well enough to report to Blood your safety? Or would you rather me do to?"

"I can do it myself, Elliot... I think that'd be best."

The March Hare nodded is head in acceptance. Allysia inhaled deeply and walked towards Blood's door. Elliot quietly tagged along by her side. Their walk there remained impeccably silent, broken by the light patter of footsteps.

Not that she minded. She welcomed the stillness, giving her proper time to think and go over what she wanted to say in her head.

Finally, they arrived. Allysia's breath stilled. She looked over to Elliot, who nodded his head in encouragement. She swallowed, opened the door, and stepped inside.

"Blood... I'm back."

The mafia boss looked up from his paperwork, looking over to the uncharacteristically meek foreigner standing before him.

"Ah, milady, you finally return. We all were worried. Are you feeling better now?"

She nodded and seated herself silently down on the couch. "Hey... I just wanted to say that apologize for my earlier behavior..."

"It's alright, milady. I've faced much worse."

She obstinately shook her bead. "No, it's not alright. I've been taking my insecurities out on you, and it's not fair." She fell silent for moment. "In fact… I haven't been completely fair to you at all. It wasn't right for me to go off and yell at you earlier… or compare you to my ex. In the broad scheme of things, everything reminds me of him."

Blood leaned forward and asked, "If you don't mind asking, how exactly do I remind you of him?"

Allysia turned to face him, his eyes alight with curiosity.

Her lips curled into a wry smile. "As I said before, it's how you act, how you hold all these qualities I seem to lack – self-confidence and a sureness of who you are and of exactly what you want."

'AndunfortunatelyIwasn'twhatTerrencewanted.'

Her gaze dropped at the thought, and she exhaled sharply. "How Terrence and I met was something out of those corny romance novels. He literally came out of nowhere and saved my life from a horse that gotten lose and stampeded towards me. Soon after, we started dating. Throughout the entirety of our relationship, he'd give me the weirdest presents – all these girly, frilly dresses. My cousin was into those things, not me. But I liked him too to really mind. So I let him dress me in silky clothes Eclaire would wear, allow him to try to reform me into a proper young miss just like Eclaire. I never struck me as strange... until I realized who he was trying to make me be, how much time he had been spending time with her instead.

"By the time I figured it out, it was too late. Eclaire came wailing to me that he confessed that she was the one he loved, not me. To make a tragically long story short, I broke up with him. That was that."

"What about your cousin? Were you upset with her?"

Allysia shook her head. "She swore she never felt the same about him or had any idea he harbored such feelings. I forgave her easily. It's not like I could be mad at her anyway... the only one I was mad at was myself... and I still am." She hugged the bag tighter to her chest. "It was foolish of me to believe he'd actually want me. I will always pale in comparison to her, that sparking gem. Why'd anyone like a plain rock instead?"

No matter how much people try to dress her up and change her, she was and will always be this plain, dull thing thrown to the wayside for the glory of her cousin. That was just how things were meant to be.

For several moments, everything remained silent. Allysia couldn't find it within herself to say any more. Her gaze remained fixated on the floor.

"Well, he is even more pathetic than I originally thought." Allysia snapped her bead towards the Hatter. "You're actually more like a jewel that has yet to be polished and appraised, like a diamond hidden in the rough. That man is just too foolish to recognize it."

She released a half-hearted scoff. "Me? A diamond? Now that's going a bit too far, Blood. Even for you." Despite herself, the foreigner smiled in gratitude. "But thank you anyway."

Then she suddenly remembered. Glancing down at the bag, she laughed at herself, at her own silly worries and concerns. "To think I thought apologizing to you would be hard... I even got you an apology present..."

Blood perked up in interest, left his desk, and went over to her side. "Really? May I see what got me?"

She hesitated for a moment, but then conceded. She handed over the bag. "Sorry I couldn't put it in a nicer bag. I was kind of in a rush."

Still, Blood took the bag, peeking at its contents. He looked remotely surprised, lifting out a single white box.

He turned to her with an inquiring brow. "Boxes. You got me a bag full of boxes. Is this some sort of revenge for your unbirthday present? I never saw you as the vindictive type, milady."

"Why don't you open one of the boxes and find out?"

The Hatter scrutinized her expression for a moment and turned his attention back to the box. He gave it a quick shake. Deigning that there was nothing potentially lethal hidden inside, he opened the box.

His eyes widened, his composed front dropping ever so slightly. He could not believe what he was seeing. He reached inside and lifted out a single, pristine tea cup. He looked over at the foreigner, seeing she had averted her gaze, seeming overly interested with the seams in the hem of her dress.

"I noticed the old ones were kinda dingy so I bought you a whole new set. Do you like it?"

Blood blinked in uncharacteristic surprise. He looked at the cup for another moment and smiled. "Why, yes I do. Thank you. This is considerate of you, milady. I'll be sure to treasure it." Her lips curved in relief. Blood placed it back in the box and put the bag aside. "Now getting back on topic of that uncouth heathen..."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! I thought we were done with that?" she said, clearly in no mood to talk about it again.

Blood grinned. "In a sense we are. I just wanted to ask a single question. Do I still remind you of your ex?"

"No, not really. You don't." Getting to know Blood better proved he was very different in every possible way. His confidence was more like narcissistic conceit and his sureness was more like arrogance and an overinflated sense of worth. Definitely different from Terrence's more selfless and humble personality.

Blood grin widened. "Good. I can assure you that I am unlike that fool... especially in one aspect."

"Oh really? How so?" she challenged. Allysia could think of several. She stiffened. Her whole body fell completely still when he twirled her hair between his fingers.

"Unlike him, when I see something I want, I will not hesitate to take it."

Before she knew it, Blood was on top of her, pinning her body down onto the couch, caging her with his arms.

"Blood, what the hell are you doing? Get off of me!" she shouted, struggling to push him off.

A chuckled resounded through his chest, rumbling against the tips of her fingers.
"Just simply proving my point. I bet a man of his questionable propriety had tried doing something like this you, hasn't he?"

"Of course not! Though he's a jerk, he was nothing, but a complete gentleman! He'd never even think of doing something like this to me!" she spat out.

The admission only seemed to please him more.

"Just as I thought. That's our second difference. Unlike him, who pretends to be gentleman" – Blood leaned forward, pressing his mouth to her ear – "I can assure you with absolute certainty that I am no such thing."

His warm breath tickled her flesh, sending an unprecedented shiver down her spine.

Before Allysia could retort or Blood could begin to harass her, there was a knock on the door.

"Hey are you guys alright?"

'Elliot!'' she thought brightly. If anyone could save her and her virtue from this compromising situation, he can! Like Pierce had been her savior from Ace, certainly Elliot could be.

"We are just fine, Elliot," Blood answered.

"Well is there anything you need? How about some tea?"

Allysia opened her mouth to speak, but Blood quickly covered it with his hand.

"Tea would be much appreciated. Thank you, Elliot." Blood called out to him, glancing over to her when she released a muffled, horrified squeak.

Elliot mumbled in understanding and left, his waning footsteps almost thundering in her ears. Then all was silent. Elliot, her one chance of salvation, had left her.

'Ishouldhaveknownthatjcouldtbeluckytwiceinoneday..."

"I hope milady wasn't thinking she could get away that easily." His breath was husky and warm on her skin. His gloved hand left her mouth and traveled down her bare arm, skimming down her side. "Because I am far from done with you."

Allysia froze in her place, her skin suddenly tingling at his touch. She clung tightly to her wits and growled, "Well if you haven't noticed, I am done with you."

Blood chuckled and teased, "My dear, I believe you are mistaking anger with arousal. Don't be ashamed to admit it."

If Allysia was angry before, now she was bristling with fury.

"Trust me. It's anger alright. Our business is done and over with. I'm asking nicely one last time – let me go!"

"But our business is far from done." Her anger was doused slightly by confusion. He added, "I need to thank you properly for the present... and I intend to do so quite thoroughly."

"Like I'd let you. I hope you don't thank everyone like this," she mumbled crossly.

"Jealous?"

"Absolutely not."

Blood chuckled in response. Allysia then came to a new sort of conclusion. If Blood was going to act like this, then this was the last time she ever did anything nice for him.

{ღ}~{ღ}~{ღ}

"Hey Allysia!"

At the sound of her name, she stopped in the middle of the hall.

She smiled and watched the Elliot hare run to her side. "Good morning, Elliot. What's up?"

He waved an envelope towards her. "There's a letter here for you!"

"Really? From who?" Elliot did not say a word and simply handed it over to her. Allysia stared at the red paper, the light, fragrant scent of roses. She blinked. "Why did I get a letter from the Castle of Hearts?"

Elliot shrugged his shoulders, equally perplexed. There was only one way they could find out.

With Elliot looming over her shoulder, she broke the seal and began to read the letter.


A/N Notes: I would have finished this sooner, but so many things got in the way – mostly school and weather related.

Oh well… it's out now. Also I want to announce I'll be on a short hiatus from writing. Real life… what can you do?

Thanks for reading~