A/N: And so we come to the end of the 2nd instalment. The story (and this Malice) will continue in Iracebeth of Crims. Where I promise there might be actual femslash, to the tune of at least a kiss! Thanks to everyone for sticking with this and hopefully wandering down the intriguing path that is Iracebeth, to see exactly what and who lies underneath the mask. I also hope to dig quite deep and try get to the root of that pesky darkness, after all, as all good therapists would say... you need to get down to the root. ;-)
As always, thank you to the following commenters that I couldn't reply to directly: MaliceLoverEntotale, roflroflrofl, K-Dog, .7, TheEternalSinner, Lisey, Roxie, celina, and Liquid Summer.
And thank you, of course, to everyone else for reading as well.
As always, do enjoy!
The climb back up was as laborious as it was tiring, Alice barely managing to open her eyes.
"Welcome back," the sarcasm in the voice reflected in his face, the empty vial dangling in his paw. "You weren't supposed to drink the tea, you idiot, but I suppose your incompetence is hardly any great surprise."
"I had to be convincing, Nivens, I am sure you'd do better. You've only had ten years, what's ten years more?"
"She let down her guard, she only does around you, though quite exactly what she sees in you, I'll never really know."
"Perhaps she sees acceptance where there's usually but censure…"
Nivens rolled his eyes, "Yes, you are saint. I can't imagine how I failed to tell."
"Is she here?" Alice enquired testily.
"Yes," Nivens seemed to cower, "she is in the throne room. But Alice, I must warn you – she's much changed."
"Ten years in exile will do that to a person."
"No, what's occurred is something unexpected… but by all means go see it for yourself."
The walk along the corridor passed mostly in silence, except a quick, "What happened to the guard?"
"He's one of us. Most of the army is loyal to the queen but to the one she was, they still follow her orders for the moment, but they all long for the return of her… good days."
Outside the door, he stopped, "Are you certain, Alice? What if this is not the answer? If you enlist her help you must reveal the truth and there's no telling what she'll do. Even chained and shackled, she will plot and scheme."
"Then I will take away her shackles." At Nivens' horrified look, Alice clarified, "I cannot do this were she to resist. She is the key, I cannot explain how I know but I can feel it. She needs to want to help me, only she can heal."
"Heal? Alice, she is not Mirana, never has been."
"Oh, but that is where you're precisely wrong. You said yourself you'd hoped that they weren't the same but ultimately it has proven otherwise. It seems they're both doomed to travel the same path. I had a dream, a crazy dream, and yet I've seen it many times, it's just that I have never known its meaning. It's clear now though – I must understand."
"Their true nature, where the darkness comes from, what it craves and what will… satisfy its need."
"That is a treacherous road to meander."
"I am well aware, but even so, I know that I must try."
"Be careful around her, Alice. Never trust her. No matter what she says or how she seems."
"Mirana or Iracebeth?"
"Indeed," Nivens appeared lost in thought. "You are learning but your task just got much harder. Now you must keep your wits about you twice as much."
"Worried about me?"
"Humph," Nivens turned to hop away, "I highly doubt it. I am more concerned with saving my own skin."
"I will be careful, I promise. 'Tis a fine coat."
"Yes, well, I groom…" As if remembering the circumstances, he threw a glare her way with a mutter. "What a shame you can't simply distract people to death."
She swallowed a smile, took a breath and pushed the door, the creak so loud in the stillness of the castle. She was greeted by a sight so unexpected that she knew surprise was evident, something confirmed by the smirk written all over the familiar face. "Well well, hello… Um. It's been far too long, quite many a year judging by your looks. You, just as I, appear a little… transformed."
"What happened to your head?" Alice blurted out, blushing instantly.
"My head, why what an excellent starting point of discussion – my bulbous head and the tumour pressing on my brain."
"It's gone…" Alice waved a hand in the direction of the red queen's head.
"It's gone? Well, that's matter of opinion. The better question is how something disappears when it never was."
"Never was?" Alice frowned.
"Yes, a rather brilliant concoction, I am proud of my sister. That lie was far more clever than anything I could've cooked up. Matters of health, so awkward, don't inspire conversation – her ruse ensured nobody would ever dare ask."
"What truly happened and what caused it… but something tells me, dear Um, that you are dying to know."
"I couldn't care less."
"Oh but you do. It is the reason why you brought me here, because only I hold all the answers. So let us both be upfront. I will tell you everything, the truth, what we both know and what she doesn't…"
"And in exchange…?"
"And in exchange… I only ask one thing."
"Ah ah ah," Iracebeth shook her finger, chain jangling, "I will reveal my favour in the end."
"You're crazy if you think that I will acquiesce to your request."
"Well then, my dear Um, we'll have no bargain. So ask yourself one thing – how far is it you're willing to go? What price will be too high to save her? What will she be if she continues her decline? And when you know, when you're willing to face the truth, when you accept your… pitiful feelings for her won't be nearly enough to overcome this… well, then, Alice Kingsleigh, you come visit me again."