Butterfly Kisses

"Butterfly kisses after bedtime prayer; sticking
little white flowers all up in her hair.
"You know how much I love you, Daddy, But if you
don't mind I'm only gonna kiss you on the cheek this time."

It was the foretold date in the Oraculum—the day of an important and joyous union between Underland's Champion Alice Kingsleigh and her own Champion—the Mad Hatter, Tarrant Hightopp. And it was on Frabjous Day, nonetheless!

Alice Kingsleigh had been in Underland for three Underland years. During that time, she found two permanent homes—one in the White Queen's palace, and the other newly built next to Tarrant's own home. She was also a fully-inducted member of the White Queen's Court, with a satisfying job in the trade and rebuilding department. She had exciting tea times every day, learned to duck to avoid flying objects without even thinking about it, and never had to wear a corset again.

From day one back in Underland, it was open fact that Tarrant had intentions to properly court Alice. As though keeping the still-shrunk Alice in his hand for the rest of the day, refusing to give her any uplekuchen until it was bedtime was any indication. That, or keeping her close two days later at a ball in her honor and scaring potential suitors away with red eyes and strings out Outlandish even Absolem had trouble comprehending.

And it took three years of protection, possessive behavior, and five sword duels to the near-death for him to propose to Alice.

It was during another ball (for no real reason; Mirana loved any excuse to throw a ball) that he proposed; Alice had left his sight for a mere moment and a Lord of the Court had asked Alice to dance. Seeing how it would have been rude to refuse, she accepted and they danced for a full ten seconds before Tarrant stalked up, eyes blazing with possessiveness, and asked as politely as humanly possible to step in.

Absolem had been present at this ball because he had taken a peek at the Oraculum and decided that he needed a bit of excitement. He was settled on Chessur's head as the Lord literally looked down on Tarrant and told him, "You may not. It is high time Lady Alice danced with someone of her own class."

Aaaand, cue the 'kaboom'. Not from Tarrant, but surprisingly, from Alice. The 'dignified' Lady of the Court pushed back from the Lord, drew her fist back and drove it into his face. The snapping sound of a nose being broken resounded over the chatter and music. The Lord went down like a chopped tree. Alice loomed over the Lord, shouting about how Tarrant was a hundred times the man the Lord was and that the Hatter was the man she loved and if the Lord knew what was good for him, he would keep his tongue to himself before she kicked the shukm out of him.

It was perhaps the first time in Underland history that Absolem and Chess burst out laughing at the same thing.

When Alice had finished shouting at the Lord in English, Outlandish (courtesy of Tarrant, thank you very much), and something called 'French', she turned to Tarrant, whose eyes were a pale violet. The Hatter blinked once, his eyes shifting to pinkish lavender—the color of love—and fell to both knees in front of Alice, holding his hat out to her.

"Marry me."

Well. Unorthodox, but exciting nonetheless. Alice said yes, Tarrant put his hat on her head, and everyone shouted, "CALLOO, CALLAY!" in congratulations. There was a joyous round of the Futterwacken and drinks all around, and everyone went home smashed and giddy in the wee hours of the morning.

The planning was hectic.

Mirana insisted on being the wedding planner for the whole affair. Which would mean everything would be over-the-top, with a dash of madness. Alice barely had a moment of peace outside of anything wedding-related, and when she did, it was occupied with sleep. No detail was left unturned. Absolem witnessed Alice pulling at her hair in frustration because Mirana wanted her to choose between white and blue, or silver and cobalt for the decoration theme, and he knew that Alice really couldn't care less if she and Tarrant were married on top of Thackery's tea table, let alone the damn color scheme.

A week before the wedding, Alice literally shoved the maids and Ladies out of her room and locked the door behind them before collapsing on her bed and crying in her arms. Absolem had seen enough. He fluttered in through the window and landed on the bedspread in front of her. "…Tears solve nothing, you know. I believe I have said this many times."

Alice lifted her head to look at him and wiped her eyes dry. "Sorry," she said, sniffling a little. "I'm just a little…stressed, is all." She sat up, wiping at her eyes with her fingers. "I'm alright."

Absolem sighed. "Of course you're not, stupid girl, even that brainless Thackery could tell." He fluttered up to the top of her head. "I can see that you are stressed, but I want to make sure you are crying simply for release, and not from surrender."

"What do you mean?" she asked. She felt Absolem flutter in her hair.

"You have no doubts about the marriage." It was a challenge, not a question.

"Of course not!" Alice cried. "I love Tarrant! I want to marry him so much! It's just…" She broke off, wringing her hands.

"Yes?" Absolem coaxed. Alice wiped her eyes again.

"…I don't need all of this!" she said, gesturing around her room, which was filled to the brim with samples of cake, champagnes, teas, dresses, flowers, and a thousand and two other things she needed to make decisions on. "Absolem…I just want to marry Tarrant. I don't care if we're wearing our teatime clothes and Thackery is in charge of all things food! All I care about are the vows and the groom. That's it!" She poked at a sample of cake. "…That's all I want…"

Absolem made a thoughtful sound. "…Did it occur to you to tell the White Queen about your feelings?" he asked.

"I couldn't do that," she said mournfully. "…Mirana has been so good to me…she's done so much for me! I couldn't ask her to take this all back!"

"Yes, you can." Absolem tugged on a few strands of her hair to get his point across. "It is like you said—this is your wedding, stupid girl. All you have to do is tell Mirana your plans. Tell her what you want. Apologize if you must, but for the love of Marmoreal, take what I have been attempting to teach you and grow a pair!"

Alice sputtered, dropping some good porcelain on the floor. "Absolem!" she gasped.

"…It is an expression I heard in Otherland," he replied. "Does it not apply?"

Alice's face flushed a she picked up the pieces of the porcelain from the floor. "…No," she meeped, her voice tight. "…It applies…in a sense."

"Good." Absolem flew off of her head and onto the tip of her nose. "Now. Clean yourself up, draw up your own plans, and go to the Queen. And no more tears, unless they are of joy!"

Alice smiled and twitched her nose, watching Absolem flutter off. She dug around for a pencil and a piece of paper and began to write down what she wanted for this wedding. "Thank you, Absolem," she murmured to herself.

Queen Mirana was quite put out when Alice handed her the list of things that she specifically wanted for her wedding, saying that she didn't want all of the hubbub and wanted it to be more simple rather than extravagant. But after voicing her disappointment, she smiled and hugged Alice, saying that she wished the girl had spoken up sooner and let her know.

And Alice then vowed to follow Absolem's teachings to the "T" every day, and to never question him again.

Alice decided that she wanted the wedding to be nothing like her sister's wedding. She had been a bridesmaid and nearly fell asleep during the ceremony. And don't even get her started on the eye-wateringly boring reception. So instead, she wanted the ceremony to be colorful and romantic; with lots of color combinations and flowers. The reception would be much like one of Thackery's tea parties, only with less throwing of dishes and foods, she hoped.

Mirana approved all of it, and the newer and simpler plans were put into action. Alice had ordered a simple wedding gown in the palest shade of blue that they had, had the ceremony hall ordered to be filled with colorful flowers (non-talking, of course), and put Thackery in charge of the banquet, a move that made the mad hare twitch and stutter for about two minutes before barging into the kitchen and shouting out orders in broken English and garbled Outlandish.

Best of all, Alice finally got to spend some time with Tarrant, who had been missing her terribly and was happy as a buttercup to get away from the tailor, with whom he had been having arguments about his attire with to the point where blood had been shed. Alice assured Tarrant that she trusted him with his own attire, and was just happy to be with him. Absolem recruited Chess to make perfectly sure that no one would bother them with anything when they wanted to spend a romantic dinner together.

It was the night before the wedding, and Absolem was keeping watch over the married-to-be when Chessur materialized next to him, smaller than his normal size.

"All clear on the Western front," he said lazily, his tail swaying back and forth. Absolem made a brief sound of indifference, and Chess's grin broadened. "I must say, old man," he drawled deviously, "your affection for our dear Alice astounds me…you normally shy away from favoritism…and yet I cant help but notice your protectiveness over Alice."

Absolem's wings twitched. "I haven't the slightest idea what you are talking about," he replied stiffly. Chess laughed softly, leaning his head on his crossed paws.

"You're the bearer of truth, Absolem," he said humorously. "…That is why you make for such a horrible liar." He laughed again before sighing with a purr. "They do make for such a lovely couple, don't they?"

"Indeed," Absolem replied, happy for the subject to change. They sat in silence for a few more minutes, watching Alice and Tarrant converse over a light supper.

"…You know that I don't tell secrets, Absolem," Chess spoke up again, his green-blue eyes glowing in the dim lighting. The butterfly gave Chess a glare of impending doom, and the grinning cat laughed again before vanishing.

"Bloody cat," Absolem muttered. It was a curse upon him that Chessur and Absolem were the only ones who truly understood the other. No one else in Underland could ever figure the two out, but they always knew about each other. And it was infuriating sometimes, especially now.

He turned his attention back to the couple, who were getting up from the table. Tarrant took his hat off and bowed at the waist. Alice laughed and straightened Tarrant up to kiss him on the cheek. Tarrant stroked her hair and said something that Absolem didn't catch, then kissed her forehead and led her back into the palace.

Absolem enjoyed the solitude for a little while before he heard the very essence of Underworld tell him that Alice wanted him right now. He fluttered over to her window, where she was leaning out of, looking around for him. He flitted over to her shoulder and landed.

"Hello, Absolem," she said, sounding a little too quiet, considering her big day was tomorrow. Absolem flickered his wings.

"You wanted to see me?" he asked gently. Alice smiled.

"How did you know I wanted to see you?" she asked. Absolem's wings tickled her shoulder.

"They don't call me Absolem the Absolute for nothing, dear girl," he replied, smirking. Alice laughed.

"Right," she replied. "Moment of stupidity. Wont happen again."

"See that it wont." Silence. Through that silence, Absolem could sense a tension from Alice, like she was weighing her thoughts, which Absolem knew were about him, in some way. "…Are you going to tell me what's bothering you?" he asked. Alice took a deep breath an exhaled, her eyes shining in the moonlight.

"…Back up in Otherland," she began softly, "the traditional wedding consisted of the bride being escorted down the aisle by her parents…" Absolem had a feeling he knew what was bothering her.

"…And…your parents will not be coming," Absolem finished. Alice nodded.

"Right," she said. "…Mother…" She scoffed. "She wouldn't come, even if I asked her to. That, and she would never approve of Tarrant OR where I live." She wrung her hands together and rested them on the windowsill. "…And Father…he died some years ago." She gave Absolem a sad smile. "…He would have walked me down the aisle, I know that for sure. He would have adored this place. He and Tarrant would have gotten along so well." A silent tear ran down her cheek. "…Absolem…I wish my Father was here for me…"

She broke off into quiet sobs, her shoulders shaking with the effort to stop the tears. Absolem fluttered off of her shoulder and onto the windowsill. He didn't tell her to stop crying this time; it was a legitimate reason for her to cry, and he would have to be a heartless cad to tell her it was insignificant.

"…I can do nothing to give him to you tomorrow," he said softly. "I'm sorry." He fluttered his wings with surprise when Alice cupped him in her hands and held him up to her chest very gently, despite her sorrow.

"I know…" she said. They remained in silence for the longest time; Alice holding Absolem to her, and Absolem hoping like mad Chess was not here to see him in this undignified position. After awhile, Alice held Absolem up in her palms and smiled at him. "…Absolem?"

"What?" he replied. Alice nibbled her lip for a moment, then swallowed.

"…Will you…walk me down the aisle tomorrow?"

Well. The all-knowing Absolem was caught off-guard. Next comes Thackery's sanity. Absolem blinked up at the young lady, who was staring at him with shining dark eyes with anticipation, then nodded.

"It would be my honor," he replied sincerely. Alice gave him a smile brighter than the moon.

"I wish you were my size so I could kiss you!" she exclaimed. Absolem cleared his throat.

"Yes, well, no need for that," he replied, his wings shivering. "Shall I change my form for you, or shall I simply fly next to you?"

"Whichever is fine with me," Alice replied. "I'll just be happy you're there." She lifted up her hands out the window and Absolem flew out of them. "I'll see you tomorrow, Absolem."

"Goodnight, Alice," Absolem replied. Alice blew him a kiss and turned to go to bed. Absolem hovered in the air for a few moments before flying off to another window on the other end of the palace, seeing Tarrant standing on a small balcony outside, staring into the horizon. He fluttered down and landed on the brim of Tarrant's hat.

"Oh!" Tarrant said, his eyes shifting upward before he took off his hat to smile down at Absolem. "Absolem! Such a surprise! What brings you here?"

Absolem stared at the grinning mad fool for a moment, then fluttered up to be eye-level with the Hatter. "I have just one thing to say to you, Tarrant," he drawled. The Hatter blinked and nodded. "If you ever hurt Alice, I will kill you."

After taking just a short moment to register the shock on Tarrant's face from his statement, Absolem flew off of Tarrant's hat and into the gardens, where he planned to take his sleep in the white cherry blossom tree. He found a nice comfortable bunch of blossoms and nestled in.

"You don't favor Alice, my vanishing striped arse."

Absolem growled to himself, keeping his eyes closed. "Go. Away. You ignoramus," he bit out. He heard Chessur laugh and settle somewhere close to him.

"Oh, don't be like that," Chessur purred. "I'm just happy to see you express a disposition other than cantankerousness."

"…Need I remind you that I am the only one who knows how to keep you in corporal form, in case I wish to strangle you with your own tail?"

"Enough said." Chessur stretched and hovered over Absolem. "…You will keep watching over her, wont you? Our Champion? Our Alice?"

"Need you really ask?" Absolem replied, sounding a bit tired. He could tell Chess was grinning right now.

"I suppose not," Chessur replied. "Until tomorrow, old friend." The cat vanished, leaving Absolem in solitude. Blessed, quiet solitude. He breathed in the scent of the cherry blossoms and sighed.

…And damn it to the Outlands, he couldn't figure out what form to take at the wedding tomorrow.

Alice stood in front of the mirror as Mirana fussed over her gown. "Mirana, it's fine!" she insisted. Mirana stood up and sighed, smiling at Alice.

"I just want it to be perfect!" she said, clasping her hands in that way that made it seem she found something romantic. Alice reached up and pushed a lock of hair behind her shoulder, nibbling her lip. "…Alice, is something wrong?"

"Oh…no," she replied, wringing her hands. "…Just a minor detail overlooked is all…nothing too big…" Mirana gave Alice a sad look.

"'Minor detail'?"

Alice blinked when she heard the familiar voice of Absolem and turned around to see him in a human form, dressed in a long extravagant robe-like coat in vivid blue with a pattern similar to that of his wings. He gave Alice a stern look. "I'll do my best to not be insulted by that statement, stupid girl."

"No need for rudeness, Absolem!" Mirana chastised. Alice didn't care; she hopped off of the short pedestal and hugged Absolem around the waist. Once more, the butterfly froze for a moment, completely unused to physical displays of affection, before petting her head.

"…You really must stop this uncouth behavior," he admonished. Alice pulled away and gave him a shining smile. He petted her head again and held up something in his other hand—a wreath of white cherry blossoms. She eyed it curiously for a moment, then Absolem rolled his eyes and put it on her head, rearranging the small blossoms around in her hair. The Underlandian blossoms shone like jewels in her hair, creating a lovely halo effect.

"THAT was what I was looking for!" Mirana gushed. "Absolem, you have once again proved that the smallest detail creates the greatest effect!"

"Indeed," Absolem replied dryly. He plucked a tiny piece of lint off of Alice's dress and flicked it away. Mirana smiled and glided to the door.

"I'll take my place at the front," she announced. "Dont be late!" With that, she left the room. Alice took a deep breath and picked up her bouquet of multi-colored roses, holding them tightly in her hands.

"I take it you are ready?" Absolem asked, arching a brow. Alice nodded and reached out to hold onto his arm with one hand. Absolem led her out of the dressing room and down the white marble halls toward the ceremony hall. As they walked, Absolem took a glance at Alice.

The young woman looked so nervous, it was unnerving him. Her hand was tense against his arm, and she was still nibbling her lip, her nervous habit. The door to the ceremony hall came into view, and he could sense the waves of near panic roll off of her.

Making a quick decision, Absolem led her away from the door and around the corner to the next hall. Alice gave Absolem a questioning glance, and the elder butterfly pinched the bridge of his nose, mumbling to himself in Outlandish for a few moments before readjusting his monocle and turning back to Alice.

"My dear girl," he drawled, holding Alice's shoulders gentle in his hands. "What has you so nervous? What did we discuss last night?"

Alice sniffled a little and reached up to wipe an unshed tear away. "I don't know…" she said softly. "I…I'm just so…nervous…and sad…but so happy at the same time…I don't know what to make of it! I've never felt this way before!" Her eyes lowered to her bouquet. "…I don't know what to make of this…!"

Ah. Conflicting emotions. The feeling of this being too good to be true. Absolem sighed and pulled Alice to his chest, putting both arms around her. Alice hesitated for only a moment before she hugged him back. "This is really happening, Alice," he murmured softly. "It's not a dream…" Absolem glanced around for Chess in almost paranoia as he held her, feeling her slowly relax. "…Feeling better?" he asked after a few moments.

"…Yes," she replied, looking up at Absolem. "Thank you." She pulled back and straightened out her dress as Absolem smoothed out his coat, then straightened out her wreath.

"Good," he said, leading her back to the doorway with his hand on the small of her back. "Because if you pass up this chance at love, I will make you drink pishsalver until you're smaller than me and drop you down an anthill."

"…You would do that?" Alice said in a small voice. Absolem gave her a stern look, his blue eyes dead serious.

"That, and much, much more," he replied, his voice ominous. "I told you, I detest stupidity, and if you do not marry today, then I will label you as the stupidest little girl in Underland, if not the sorriest."

If she were four years younger, Alice would have been offended beyond words. But now, after knowing Absolem for those four years, she developed the ability to read into his words and not just hear, but listen to what he was saying. And right now, he was saying that he wanted her to marry and be happy. …Or he would follow through with his threats of torture for the sin of stupidity.

Absolem paused before the closed doors and straightened himself up again. "Ready?" he asked. Alice smiled up at him, then leaned up and kissed him on the cheek.

"Ready," she murmured. Absolem blinked, then smiled as the doors opened.

The ceremony was beautiful.

The ceremony hall was filled with colorful flowers, some of which sparkled like jewels. Sunlight streamed in through the windows, illuminating everything. It was beautiful in its simplicity.

Up at the alter, the White Queen was the only one wearing white; however, she had managed to incorporate a light sunshine yellow into her dress to match with the colorful theme. Tarrant was dressed in dark a blue and red kilt and jacket, with a pale pink vest over a purple shirt. The ribbon on his hat had been changed to one of multiple colors. It was almost eye-watering, in Absolem's opinion, but it was what Alice had wanted. He had a feeling the Queen's tailor was contemplating stabbing his eyes out with his shears.

Absolem had become aware that people were not only staring at Alice, but at him as well, wondering who he really was. Not that he could blame them; not everyone could find him, and he had only used his human form once before, but that was a couple of…centuries…ago.

He felt Alice grip his arm tightly, but he knew that it wasn't from fear—it was from anticipation. He glanced down at her again and saw that her dark eyes seemed to have brightened in color at the sight of Tarrant. The overall effect of her light blue dress that was made from the lightest (most comfortable) material, the jewel-like blossoms in her hair, and her beautiful face was like that of an ethereal angel.

He came to the front of the alter and took one hand from the bouquet, kissed it, then passed it on to Tarrant before stepping up the alter next to Queen Mirana, who smiled at him knowingly and turned to the couple to begin the ceremony.

Absolem barely paid attention, his attention mostly on his own thoughts. Other than the impromptu task of walking her down the aisle, his position in the wedding was blessing the union and making the final pronunciation. It was more of a formality, really. But the look Alice gave him when he caught her eyes told him that his presence there meant almost as much to her as Tarrant's did. She smiled at him, and he smiled back, waiting for his moment of purpose.

At the end of the vows, Mirana stepped aside and Absolem stepped forward, holding out both of his hands. Alice and Tarrant put their ring hands in his own, and he spoke something older than Outlandish, about love's eternal and ancient power to overcome anything and lasting forever. The rings on their fingers glowed with a soft blue light and Absolem felt the pronunciation of marriage complete. He brought their hands together for them to hold.

"I pronounce this marriage blessed and final!" he announced to the hall. He smiled at the couple. "Tarrant, kiss your clanswoman."

The Hatter didn't need anymore prompting; he whipped off his hat, grabbed Alice into his arms and kissed her like there was no tomorrow as the hall erupted into cheers. Thackery was throwing around the decorations, Mally and McTwisp were sobbing into their clothes, and Chess had picked up Tarrant's hat to put it on. Tarrant swept Alice up in his arms and twirled her around.

"This is mah wife!" he announced to everyone. "Long live th' Hightopp Clan!" Alice laughed and hugged him tightly as he flounced out of the ceremony hall, everyone trailing after them. Absolem stood back, waiting until everyone was out of the hall, and then sat down with a sigh.

"Something amiss, Absolem?" Chess asked, appearing next to him, still wearing Tarrant's hat. Absolem shifted his gaze to the cat, then back into the empty room.

"Shouldn't you be at the celebrations?" he asked. Chess laughed.

"The longer I get to wear this hat, the better," he replied. "But shouldn't you be there, too?" Absolem made an indifferent sound. "…If you ask me…"

"And I didn't."

"…Nevertheless." Chess evaporated away and reappeared draped around Absolem's shoulders like a pampered housecat. "If you ask me, this day has affected you just as much as it has affected Alice."

"…What are you saying, you ingrate?" Absolem demanded. Chess purred and kneaded his paws and Absolem's shoulder.

"I'm saying," he drawled, "that you giving Alice away meant something to both of you." He hopped off of Absolem's shoulders and landed in the butterfly's lap. "Don't even think for one moment that I don't know that Alice asking you to walk her down the aisle was the same as her asking you to be her father, if only for a short while."

Absolem tensed, glaring down at the cat. "What would you know?" he growled. Chess only grinned more broadly.

"You are not the only one who can transcend the worlds Above and Under," he purred. "I have seen with my own eyes your affections for Alice, and her affections for you." He stretched, hopping off of Absolem's lab before the elder butterfly could shove him off, and sat on the floor, to Absolem's surprise. Chess almost never sat on the ground. He almost looked like a normal Otherland cat. "Absolem, my dear friend," he said, sounding quite serious, "I think it would be in your very best interest to consider not going back into the obscurity of your little mushroom patch, and to stay out here in the open with everyone else. You've been hiding behind your hookah smoke for far too long." He floated up to Absolem's eye-level. "Get your head out of the Oraculum scroll and into the action. You might actually enjoy yourself." With that, he vanished, hat and all.

Absolem sat in silence in the hall for a few more minutes. That damn cat hid it well, but Chess was just as wise as he when it came right down to it. Absolem stood up and smoothed his coat out before making his way to the reception outside, taking his time to walk there.

It was…loud. He doubted the White Castle had ever been so noisy. There were tables set up outside that were heaped with drinks, teas, refreshments, candles, and flowers. Thackery and a few of his relatives that had decided to crash the party were having a scone war, and poor McTwisp was stuck in the middle and a few moments away from having a heart attack. The other guests—mostly the Lords and Ladies of the Court—were standing to the side, completely unused to the normal Earwicket behavior and unsure of what to do. Alice and Tarrant were sitting at the head table, watching everything and laughing at the display. Mirana kept looking between the two entirely different guest groups—the mad ones and the nobles—and was wondering how to best integrate the two together.

Absolem heaved a sigh. Once more, it was his job to do everything. He strolled into the courtyard, passing the Lords and Ladies along the way and getting bows and formal greetings. Much as he hated the fact, he was revered in Underland as an Oracle and the resident wiseman and was treated like practical royalty within the higher class, while the 'lower class'—as in, the animals, Witzend Clans, etc—had a certain familiarity with him, which he found perfectly fine. Ergo, if he—the oh-so-revered Oracle of Underland—could mingle with the 'lower class', then they could, too.

And just as he thought—it worked. Absolem sat down at the head table on the other side of Alice and held out his teacup to catch the sugar cube Mallyumkun threw in it, and complemented Thackery—who had just now come out of the scone battle with his 'team' surfacing as the winner—on his tea-making skills, and the Lords and Ladies slowly relaxed and integrated with the other Underlandians.

Everyone ate, drank, and made merry for about an hour before Mirana announced that Tarrant and Alice were going to have their first dance. Everyone applauded as Tarrant led Alice to the dance floor and they began to waltz surprisingly elegantly (Tarrant was never one to be graceful on his feet; his grace was all in his hands). Everyone oohed and aahed over the couple, then slowly began to pair off to dance along with them. Nivens with Mally, Chess with the hat, Thackery with one of his cousins, Mathilda (a tawny-colored hare with schizophrenia), Mirana with the White Knave, etc.

Absolem remained sitting at the table, sipping pensively on what one would consider to be blue absinthe, watching everyone else. It was about ten minutes into the dancing that he realized that Chess was quite right—he was more of a watcher than a doer. But quite frankly, he had no real problem with it. He wasn't exactly a social butterfly, so to speak. He downed the last bit of his blue drink and sighed, content with looking up at the fairylights that illuminated the courtyard.

"Get your head out of the Oraculum scroll and into the action."

He scowled. Bloody cat. He looked over at the dance floor, where most people had sat down after some dancing, and the only couples still on the floor were Tarrant and Alice, Mally and McTwisp, and Mirana and the White Knave. He stared at them for a few moments before putting his goblet down and standing up to walk onto the dance floor and up to Alice and Tarrant.

"If I may," he said, tapping Tarrant on the shoulder, "might I ask Alice for a dance?"

Tarrant's first reaction would to tell exactly where Absolem could stick his hookah, but then he realized—it was Absolem, not some condescending noble. He smiled and handed Alice's hand to Absolem, then stepped back.

Alice smiled up at Absolem. "Well, this is familiar," she said, humored. Absolem rolled his eyes, then smirked, waltzing Alice across the floor with the elegance of a butterfly.

"So glad you remember," he quipped. Alice laughed and curled her arm around his shoulders in a hug. Absolem resigned to his future fate of physical displays of affection and sighed, curling his own arm around her waist.

"…You know what else is an Otherland tradition?" she asked softly, looking up at Absolem. The butterfly arched a brow.

"Do tell," he replied. Alice gave him a watery smile, her eyes tearing up.

"…The father-daughter dance."

Absolem felt his heart flutter like his wings, and reached up to wipe the tear from her cheek. "I am honored to assist you in upholding tradition," he said softly, then leaned down and kissed her forehead. Alice sniffled, then pulled Absolem closer to hug him with both arms. Absolem, in all his infinite wisdom, knew that Alice wasn't seeing him as a replacement father now—she was seeing him as a true father. Her father.

…And what an honor it really was.

"She'll change her name today.
She'll make a promise and I'll give her away.
Standing in the bride-room just staring at her.
She asked me what I'm thinking and I said "I'm not
sure-I just feel like I'm losing my baby girl."
She leaned over...gave me butterfly kisses with her mama there,
Sticking little white flowers all up in her hair."

Epilogue is next!