Alice sat in her favorite chair in all of the windmill. It surpassed the entirely comfortable loveseat, though the chair itself wasn't all that comfortable, or comforting, for that matter. It even won her over against the plush armchair that sat next to the largest bookcase she had ever seen, its shelves filled to overflowing with books written in Nonsense and Outlandish. No, neither of these chairs Alice enjoyed more than the one she sat in at the moment. It was the one next to the Hatter's chair, and that was enough to content her to choose it over the most elegant and the most comfortable in their home.
On this particular evening, everything in Underland seemed to slow down in anticipation for the night. (It may not have been so, however, for Time was a tricky fellow, liable to run fast or slow as the notion struck him.) Even the March Hare was less twitchy and sat remarkably still at the table where the small group gathered daily at tea-time. Why Thackery decided to remain at the table well past the ending of the tea party, Alice didn't have a clue, but it was just as well- as long as he was out there, he wouldn't be inside, wrecking the interior of the windmill. The Dormouse, Mallymkun, was nowhere to be seen, and that was fine with Alice as well. Mally had never grown fond of Alice since she took Tarrant's attention quite frequently, though it was not her fault. Tarrant adored Alice, doted on her, and gave in easily to her whims, no matter how silly they may be. Being mad didn't harm that giving-in, but Alice never minded his madness. It was endearing, of sorts, and she found she rather enjoyed his child-like innocence.
She grew a bit bored and restless, just sitting and thinking. She usually was content to sit and think, or stand and think, or even lie and think, but this day was not a Thinking Day, apparently. Today was a Doing Day. What was she to be Doing, she wondered to Herself. Should she go visit Queen Mirana in Mamoreal? No, much too late for that, Alice argued with Herself. What about Chessur? Surely he could use some company. No, no, Herself said. If the Cat wanted company, he would come and visit. Alice sighed and bid Herself goodbye. Goodness, she thought. She was becoming as mad as...
The Hatter! Yes, that is what she could do. She could go find Tarrant and see what he was doing this evening. With that cheerful thought in mind, she found Herself again and the two set on their way through the windmill to find their dear friend.
The first room Alice came to was the kitchen that adjoined the sitting room. Pots, pans, and various cookery were strewn about everywhere: in the floor, on the table, on the oven, in the breadbox; seemingly everywhere but in the cabinets. Knives were jammed into the wall on all sides, from Thackery and Mallymkun's games of Who Could Make A Bigger Mess and a curious form of what Alice would guess was catch, but with hot metal eating utensils and a porcupine. There were plenty of creatures crawling cordially (Three C words, she must remember to tell Hatter!) around her feet and some daring to crawl on them, but no Mad Hatters among the crowd. Alice shook off the creeping things and stepped out of the kitchen into a hallway that led to many rooms, most of which changed themselves many times a week to avoid Sameness. The first room held a piano-forte, which would have been tempting, if not for the giant spider sitting on the bench and playing a tune that Alice had never heard before. She closed that door to let the spider alone, lest it tire of insects and desire to have her for its meal. Across the hall, at least five doors were locked, and three were completely without a keyhole that could be seen. Sometimes the Doors played tricks on the inhabitants of the windmill, just to prove to themselves that they had Importance, too. The blonde gave up on those that were locked, deciding not to provoke them into declaring House Arrest.
Suddenly, a rumbling began deep within the walls of the hallway, as it sometimes did. It grew in volume until Alice felt that the entire structure was surely going to come down around her head. Poor Hatter wouldn't know where she was, and he would be so worried... Then, as suddenly as it began, it stopped, and a door to her far right creaked open. Alice, with all her muchness and curiosity, drew silently closer to the door, hoping to glimpse inside without the What that was inside glimpsing her. Much to her surprise and disappointment, the room was empty, and Alice sighed and made to shut the door. Before she touched the handle, however, a strange feeling of pulling overwhelmed her and immediately found herself inside the now-shut room, hanging by seemingly nothing but her feet from the ceiling.
"Oh dear," Alice said to herself. "However shall I get down?"
"Do you mean, however shall you get up?" came a voice.
Alice looked all around her, the golden locks swaying with the movement, but was unable to tell from what or who the words had come from. "Who is speaking?" she called out.
"I am who I am."
"But who are you?"
"You are the one who barged into my room, are you not? So who are you to be asking me questions?"
"I wouldn't need to ask you questions, if you would only answer mine!"
"I answered your question, stupid girl. I am who I am, which is me. Now who are you?"
Alice bristled at being called "stupid", especially by an unnamed, unknown voice. "I didn't barge in, the room pulled me in!" she explained with an air of annoyance.
"Nonsense. I have never seen this room to have arms of any sort, and even if it did, I am quite sure that it could neither push nor pull. You're telling tales."
"I am not!" cried Alice indignantly.
"Do you have proof that this room pulled you in?"
"I'm hanging here, aren't I?"
"How do I know that you simply didn't walk in and plant yourself upon the floor?"
"The floor?" questioned a very confused Alice. "I was under the impression that I was on the ceiling."
"You are quite stupid, aren't you? If it was the ceiling, you would not be able to stand so, would you?"
"Well, no, I suppose not."
"You suppose not?" the voice mocked. "Are you unaware of your current state of being? You certainly are stupid, then. If you are standing, which youa re, and youa re not falling, which you aren't, then logically, you are on the floor, and not the ceiling- do you follow?"
"Of course I do," answered the other heatedly.
"Very well then, you would agree that you are standing on the floor of this room, and not the ceiling, correct?"
"Yes... I mean, no... I mean... Why am I upside-down, if I am on the floor?"
"How do you know that you are not right-side up?"
"I can see my hair hanging toward the floor- I mean, the ceiling- and hair does not normally hang up."
"Are you sure it's hanging up? Looks like it's hanging down to me."
"It is, but if I'm on the floor, then it's hanging up!"
"There is no law stating the floor can't be the ceiling and the ceiling the floor. Stupid and narrow-minded," the voice concluded.
Alice huffed and crossed her arms. This was becoming quite annoying and she very much wanted to leave the room. She could not find the door, however, no matter where she searched- which wasn't much, considering the entire room was empty, save the chandelier. Alice sat and glared at a wall, hoping whoever was inside the room with her could somehow feel the heat from her eyes.
After a long silence, the quiet grew loud and drove Alice mad, so to speak. "Where am I?" she finally asked.
"You are here," came the answer.
"But where is here?"
"Where you are."
A different approach may work better, Alice thought. "Am I still in the windmill?"
Satisfied that she had finally gotten a straight answer from the speaker, she grew silent again, until she asked, "Does the Hatter know of this room?"
"Yes, the Hatter knows. He was the one who built it, you know." This was stated matter-of-factly, and it caught Alice off-guard.
"He built this?"
"Are you deaf? Are you dumb? I told you the answer before you asked the question, yet you asked anyway. Do you have a complex?"
"I most certainly do not have a complex!"
"That is yet to be determined, I believe."
"Why did Hatter build this?"
"To gather Thoughts. They like to run around and cause chaos, but here one can gather his thoughts, if he has a two to help him place them in a cargo box."
"A cargo box?"
"For the Train."
"Wherever do you find a train in Underland? Wherever do you find a train in the windmill?"
"You don't, it finds you. It's easily lost, however, if you don't concentrate on gathering Thoughts."
"How do you know which Thoughts are yours?" inquired Alice.
"By their lullabies. Wouldn't you know if it was your Thought once you've slept a good night on it?"
Alice found herself lost for a reply, because she couldn't say she had never slept on a thought before. So she remained brooding next to the chandelier, wishing Tarrant would find her. Then she had an idea. "Can I see the Thoughts that Hatter has gathered?"
Nothing was spoken, but the room began to glow and images swirled around her, ghosts of memories, thoughts, and wishes all jumbled together. They sped by, voices mingling in discord, until Alice couldn't take any more and shouted, "Stop!" Immediately, everything stopped, and all was quiet. Alice walked and viewed in detail the stilled images.
Most of the older memories, which had a darker ring of colour around them, contained tea parties, endless tea parties. The more recent memories contained her, which had a sort of golden ring about them. The thoughts contained her as well, and these dated from her first visit to just yesterday: she found an image of her pouring tea, and as she grew closer to the picture, she could hear the words, "Alice looks quite lovely today." Walking along the lines of thoughts, the sounds rose in volume.
"I wonder what Alice is doing today?"
"Hm... maybe she'll like this..."
"What if she wants to go back to the Aboveland? What will I do then?"
"I do wish Mallymkun would stop being so jealous..."
She was surprised to find that most of his thoughts revolved around her. Then she came to a strange-looking memory, and stopped. It was her, sleeping in her bedroom, the sheets tangled against her body. She thought that maybe this one was mute, until she heard the thought: "She'll never know... she must not! After all, she wouldn't... couldn't! I'm simply a madman... and she's so Alice... I do so lo-"
Before this thought could run its course, everything grew dark and she felt the previous sensation of being pulled. Everything remained black, and she heard a door slam- in anger or frustration, she couldn't tell. Instantly, she felt herself being pulled again, but this time swiftly, by a pair of calloused hands. By the creaking of the wooden floor, she could tell she was again in the hallway of the windmill, and she also had a feeling that she had finally found the Hatter, or rather, the Hatter found her. The two stopped and and another door was opened. No lights were turned on however, and she felt herself being led inside the room. She was picked up, causing an "Excuse me, what are you doing?" to emerge from her mouth, but no answer came from the other. Alice was set surprisingly gently down on to what she felt was a bed. Tarrant didn't join her, nor did he move from the spot in which he was standing. The only sound in the room that Alice could hear was the sound of her own soft breaths and his louder, more agitated ones.
Finally, he spoke. "Why?"
She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat and replied quietly, "Why what?"
"Tell me why you were in that room, looking at my thoughts!" he shouted angrily.
Alice flinched, and said, "I was looking for you, and it pulled me in, and-"
"What pulled you in?" the Hatter interrupted.
"The room," she answered, and continued, "And it began being quite contrary to my ventures on how to get out of it, and I couldn't find the door, and I just... It said you made the room for Thought-gathering, and I was curious..." She didn't like her friend's anger, especially when directed towards her, and she felt as if she was going to cry by the end of her rambling.
Tarrant noticed this, by way of her voice slightly breaking on the word "curious", and felt his anger dissapate in the threat of Alice crying. He had made her cry only once before on accident (and had learned about something horrible called PMS that women had in the Aboveland). The Hatter had apologized profusely for days, even though Alice had forgiven him shortly after she had cried. This, though... this was different. This would be his own fault, not that horrid Aboveland-disease, or whatever it was. He sighed and sat next to her on his bed. He wondered briefly if it was a good idea to have brought her to his bedroom, but it was the closest unlocked room to his Thinking Room in the hallway that Mallymkun and Thackery couldn't enter. Tarrant sighed and asked the inevitable question, "What did you hear?"
Alice seemed unwilling to answer, but hesitantly said, "Mostly things about me."
"What kind of things?"
"Just simple thoughts, I suppose." Unable to stop herself, she added, "There was one memory of you watching me sleep, and you pulled me out of the room before I could hear the rest of the thought."
His body stiffened. Alice panicked at this, thinking he was upset again, especially when he got up off of the bed. It seemed an eternity, but the Hatter finally found the lamp and lit it. He rejoined Alice on the bed, and her eyes widened when she took in the state of his own. Green, gray, blue, red, gold, and black dotted and swirled inside of his eyes. So many emotions, so many thoughts clouded them, that she didn't know what to say. In an impulse that later she would wonder where exactly it came from, Alice wrapped her arms around the man's neck and held herself there. The panicked note in the half-maddened man's mind fell away to a quiet melody that soothed him and he almost felt... happy. Content.
His own arms came around her waist and stayed of their own accord, much to his surprise. "Do you remember," he began softly, as to not harm the melody that played inside his head, "when you were about to drink the Jabberwocky's blood so long ago, and I asked you to stay. Do you remember what you said?"
"I said, 'What a crazy, mad, wonderful idea'."
"Exactly. Do you know why I asked that crazy, mad, wonderful idea?" What was he saying? Why was this coming from his throat? Maybe it was the melody causing him to say it. Shut up, go away!
Alice pulled back to look in his face, but kept her arms on his shoulders. His were still around her, as if he wasn't going to let go. "No."
Shut it, you're going to say it! Shut up shut up shut up shut up! "Alice Kingsleigh, I... I..." he faltered, unable to remember the word. Lose, loathe, ladle... it started with an L, he knew. He let his head fall, and couldn't bring himself to look at her, for fear of her condemnation- much like a child caught taking a cookie by his mother.
"Tarrant Hightopp," she began, feeling the name fall comfortably from her lips, even though she had never spoken his real name out loud, "you are the most mad, wonderful, honest, innocent, adoring man that I have ever known. I'll tell you a secret." And with this she brought her lips to his ear and whispered, "You're perfect."
Tarrant could feel his smile fall, just a bit. She didn't love (now he thought of the word, and the realization that it was too late to say it caused a shred of bitterness to slice into his contentment) him, or see that he loved her, but this was enough for now. As long as she was at Witzend with him, it was enough. After all, it wouldn't be logical should she love (another bitter strip making him bleed) him. The Thinking Room said it was so, and the Room couldn't lie. (But when did the Hatter ever pay attention to logic?) And so he sat, holding Underland's oblivious Champion, hoping that someday, he could find his own Logical Solution to all of this.
Alice, however, wasn't privvy to these thoughts of Tarrant's, and she only felt the warmth from the embrace, and her own feelings toward the Hatter. Friendship, certainly. There was a close bond between them, one that neither of them could be without. There was something else, too... something stronger... something that she was going to shove into the back of her mind and keep it there, until such time that she felt the need to explore it. It wasn't Logic, this feeling, and it worried her. This worry bit into the hug and caused her to give Tarrant a quick peck on the cheek and release him, mumbling something about sleep. "Goodnight," she called as she retreated from the room. Tarrant watched her go, and listened as her footsteps faded.
"Goodnight," he said, more to himself than to the ghost of her that seemed to remain in the room. "I love you."