Disclaimer: I don't own Pirates of the Caribbean or Alice in Wonderland. The former belongs to Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer, and the latter belongs to Disney, Tim Burton, and Lewis Carroll. I also don't own any characters, places, things, or ideas in these two fandoms. I am writing this fic for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain of any sort.

Summary: It seems everyone is keeping Secrets, but those are hard to hang on to when the Cheshire Cat gets involved. Jack/Mirana, Alice/Hatter

Rating: K+

Warnings: None

Pairings: Jack/Mirana, Alice/Hatter

Series: Pirates and Hatters

Sequel to: Pirates and Hatters; A Spot of Rum and Tea; Lovely, Dark and Deep

Author's Note: And the next installment in the Pirates and Hatters series is here, much sooner than any of the others, it seems. Jack and Mirana, I think, have taken up residence in my mind and refuse to leave, so the little story I wrote way back when to amuse my twin sister has turned into this sprawling epic of a series that just keeps growing. I'm enjoying writing their adventures and exploring their relationship, though, and hope you are, too! Thanks for reading!

-The Courtship Rituals-

fyd818

Time was being difficult.

The White Queen of Underland, Mirana, liked to think she and Time were on good terms. However, on this day, its fitful stops and starts were beginning to make her reconsider a few things. Or perhaps it wasn't really Time's fault - maybe it was because of her anticipation of teatime. It had been a good while since she'd had had such cause to be so excited for Brillig.

Standing from her desk, which was placed by the window in her spacious office, Mirana riffled through the pile of papers she'd gathered there. She wanted to make sure everything was in order, and she had everything, before she left for tea. It wouldn't do to show up without something, or in a complete disarray. If she'd learned one thing as queen, it was to always be immaculate and precise.

A gentle knock sounded on her door, and she took a moment to draw in a deep breath and force herself back toward calm. "Come in."

The door swung inward, and Mirana looked up to see the smiling face of her friend, Alice Hightopp. "Alice! Come in, come in." She motioned for the blonde to come forward while she finished gathering up her scrolls and papers. "I was just heading out for tea with Jack."

The other woman, originally from Above, smiled. "I know," she said. "I saw him a few minutes ago. He was asking me where tea was today. I think he's confused since Thackery has a mind to move the tea table wherever, whenever."

Mirana reached for the last stack of papers, but Alice hurried forward and picked them up. "Here, Majesty, let me help you." Occasionally she slipped back into calling Mirana by her title, instead of her name, even though Mirana had insisted more than once that, when alone, Alice could be informal. Some could not be trusted with informality, but she knew Alice could.

"Thank you, dear." Getting a better grasp on her own papers, Mirana preceded Alice out of her office and headed toward where she was sure she'd seen the tea table last. "I appreciate your help. I might have had to make two or three trips with all these papers."

"All these look like something for a business meeting rather than tea conversation," Alice replied. "Might I enquire?"

Mirana felt her cheeks warm a little. "Just some maps and things," she said vaguely. "Jack's going to stay in Underland, and since he brought his ship with him, I thought he might like to have a few maps so he could find his way around if he decided he wanted to do some exploring."

Alice looked down at the papers in her arms. "'Underland Courtship Rituals'?"

Of course that was the stack Alice picked up. "I thought since Jack would be staying, he'd like to know some of the general rules and rituals of Underland."

"I haven't heard of this ritual." The amusement in Alice's voice was just barely masked by intrigue.

"After Jack and I have finished with those papers, I'll let you borrow them."

Alice chuckled. "Seems a little late now, since Tarrant and I are already married. But it might make for some nice reading material."

It made Mirana happy that Alice felt comfortable enough to tease her. The Champion was like the sister Mirana had always wanted. Iracebeth had teased, but her jokes had been far more malicious than lighthearted, especially around her younger sister. Stopping, she turned toward Alice as the other woman paused as well. "I would appreciate your discretion on this matter. I am going to tell you something that I would prefer does not become common knowledge."

Suddenly serious, Alice nodded sharply. "I will breathe a word of it to no one." She fumbled slightly over the last two words.

Mirana smiled slightly. "It's all right if you tell Tarrant as well. I know there should never be secrets between a married couple." She drew in a deep breath to center herself, then looked directly into Alice's eyes and said, "Jack and I are going to enter into a courtship."

Alice's free hand flew to her mouth to muffle her squeal. Her bright eyes lit up further as she stepped forward to impulsively hug her friend. "Oh, Mirana!"

The queen fluttered slightly, shifting her own armful of papers since they were precariously close to dumping all over the floor. Giggling ruefully, she waved a hand. "It all came about rather - abruptly. I told him I would explain the courtship rituals to him over tea today." She paused and swallowed hard, for the first time feeling a little prickle of pain inside her chest. "It is times like these I wish to renounce my throne," she whispered. "If I were not queen - well, it would make certain things easier." Sternly, she shook off that thought immediately and forced a smile back to her face. "But I am Queen, and at last someone has come to court me."

A happy smile once more grew on Alice's lips. "Everything will turn out wonderfully, I just know it," she said. "I wish you and Jack all the best. And I shall endeavor to keep everyone else away from the tea table to give you both some privacy." After sharing a wink, the two women continued on their toward the tea table.

Jack was already in the little Quiet Space off the Throne Room when the two women arrived. He was standing awkwardly by the table, hat in hand, looking torn between standing there waiting for the rest of the day or going ahead and taking his seat, at least until Mirana showed up. He looked relieved when they walked in.

"Highness, Alice." He bowed to both of them. "Joining us for tea?" he asked the latter.

"No. I think Tarrant and I will take the opportunity to have a private little tea party of our own. Nice to see you again, Jack. Mirana." With a little curtsy and a secretive smile, Alice left the room, discreetly pulling the door shut behind her.

For a moment Mirana and Jack awkwardly faced each other across the tea table, smiling shyly. It seemed like all the comfortable warmth and chemistry from the night before had faded away. "Please, have a seat." Mirana finally said. She headed for her chair at the head of the table, surprised when Jack helped her take her seat before he sat down. He really was a gentleman past that rough exterior.

After pouring the tea, Mirana reached for the papers she'd brought for him. First she presented Jack with the maps. "Here are some maps and charts," she told him. "I've marked some places you might not want to get close to, including the Outlands. There are some very nasty things out there that are better off left alone." Her thoughts briefly flitted to her sister, though she quickly redirected them to a less painful subject. Even after all this time, it still hurt to think about having had to banish Iracebeth to the Outlands.

Jack must have seen the look on her face, but he chose not to question her about it, for which she was grateful. Instead, he focused on the maps and charts, an intent expression on his face as he traced paths with his fingers. For the first time Mirana got a good look at his hands: tanned and scarred, they looked strong and work-roughened. He wore several rings, each more intricate than the last, and she knew there had to be a story behind each, just like his scars. She wondered if she'd ever get to hear about them.

"Looks like there are several interesting spots to explore," Jack said, pulling her from her musings.

"I've never been to any of those places," she said, somewhat wistfully. "I've been out of Marmoreal only a few times since it was constructed. And even before that, I've never been past Witzend."

She saw Jack mouthing the name as he turned back to the map, searching for it. She knew he would be working hard over the next few days to memorize all these new places and names. It made her glad she'd remembered to grab the maps and charts for him.

At last he looked up again. "Thanks for these. I know what I'll be doing later." With some effort, it seemed, he folded or rolled them all back up and set them aside. Then they stared expectantly at each other, each wanting to approach the same subject they had been avoiding this whole time, but each wanting the other to be the one to speak first.

Finally Jack broke their intense gazes and reached for a stack of the papers she'd brought with her. He pulled them toward himself, silently studying the cover page before going on to the next one. "There are a lot of pages here," he said.

Mirana felt her lips kink ruefully. "Normal courtships in Underland aren't that complicated," she said. "Typically a man meets a woman, they decide they'll court for a while, and it either works out, or it doesn't. Once it gets serious, there are some unspoken rules, but none are put on paper." She narrowed her gaze on the pile of papers before Jack, briefly wishing she could turn the teapot over them. Who had ever thought of making up such ridiculous things, anyway? "But it's different for a royal."

"I can see that," Jack said dryly. "Who ever thought all this up, anyway? I feel like I'm signing the bloody Pirate's Log all over again." He hesitated, then admitted ruefully, "Not that I read all of it. But I will read all of this," he hurried to assure her.

The moment of levity was what she needed. Laughing softly, she shook her head. "I trust you will," she said. "But if you don't - well, I don't think all those things apply, anyway. Just a few."

By now Jack was just flipping through the pages, skimming their contents. She honestly couldn't blame him, for she'd done the same thing when she'd first been presented with the Guide for Royal Courtship. She remembered protesting that it shouldn't be that complicated, and feeling terribly put-out when she realized it was, at least for her. In fact, for a long time she'd desperately tried to avoid a courtship, simply because of the rules that would be forced upon her and her potential suitor. But now she couldn't avoid it, because there was nothing in the world she wanted more than to court the enigmatic Captain Jack Sparrow.

A few emotions flickered across his face as he lingered on one line or another, but finally a wickedly handsome grin turned up one corner of his mouth. "This one shouldn't be a problem." His free hand dropped to his waist, where she just noticed he was carrying a cutlass. She realized she'd instinctively trusted him so much she hadn't taken notice that he'd been carrying a weapon.

Leaning over a bit, Mirana peered over his arm to see what he was talking about. The defense of the Queendom is important, but nothing is more important than defending the Queen herself. She silently lifted her gaze, realizing Jack was staring at her, his dark eyes intense. Did he really feel that strongly about her already?

Slight irritation oozed into her as she forced her gaze away from his. She had never really paid attention to that part before - after all, she had an entire army that protected her. But the idea that a single man had to put her life before his, especially since she was supposed to (and did) care for him more than any other, was suddenly something that made her anxious. What if it came down to Jack having to lay down his life in order to save hers? The thought made a cold tingle run up her spine.

Jack ducked his head. "I'm sorry, luv." He focused his gaze on the paper again, his expression troubled. "I didn't mean to insult you, or hurt your feelings. Or did you not want me carrying my sword in the castle?"

Mirana felt a different kind of tingle entirely at hearing him call her luv. "No, it's fine," she said. "I'm just wondering how we can whittle away a few of these Rules and Rituals."

An indefinable gleam entered Jack's eyes, but he didn't say anything. He simply offered her that little grin and flipped yet another page. "Most of this seems straightforward to me. Some of it isn't so different than the Pirate's Code, really."

That was a bit surprising. "Really? How so?"

Leaning his elbows against the table, the captain focused his gaze toward the window, which faced out over the water. "Usually a pirate's most important possession, besides his life, is his ship. If you think about it, without a ship a pirate's not really a pirate. Now I mean no offense when I make this comparison, but here it says that a mate's most important priority should be his queen. And I'm not trying to compare you to a ship, luv, don't get me wrong. But I guess what I'm trying to say is I can see why caring for you, making you the most important thing in my life, would be so easy to do." He regarded her solemnly for a few more beats before his teasing grin returned. "Except, of course, for the rum. Nothing's more important than that."

Once more Mirana marveled at his ability to inject much-needed levity into the most serious of situations and conversations. "You know, I still haven't gotten to try any of this rum yet. I don't know if it's worth it or not."

Relaxing back into his seat, Jack reached up to slightly curl the ends of his moustache as a roguish grin brightened his face. "Ah, we'll have to remedy that soon, then. I brought a few barrels along with me on the Pearl."

"I look forward to that." Reaching over, Mirana turned to the last page and tapped it. "There. You've made it through the whole thing."

"But I didn't read the whole thing!" Jack's protestations, however, didn't seem quite as strong as they could have been.

"Does it really matter right now?" Mirana shoved the papers aside with a sigh. "I meant what I said last night. I'm not asking you to change for me. I know you're a pirate. I understand that, and I respect that. I know - if you did follow these rules and rituals to a letter, you'd have to change. And the truth is, I like you just the way you are now. It's not fair to ask you to do that, to change for something that - as much as I hope it will - might not work out. Then where would you be? Where would either of us be?"

"But how can I be allowed to court you if we're not following the rules and rituals and rights and whatever else it is you have?" Jack's eyes were twin black flames of frustration.

Mirana quietly folded her hands on top of the table and stared down at them. She noticed the polish on her right thumbnail was beginning to chip. She'd have to fix that - later. "I always think of them as guidelines more than actual rules," she whispered.

To her utter shock, Jack started laughing. It started out more as a snort, as if he were trying to hide his reaction, but then it turned into a full-on laugh that had her smiling in response, even though she had no idea what was so amusing. He was so full of mirth that Mirana didn't have the heart to interrupt his merriment until at last his laughter died down to the occasional chuckle. "What was so funny, Captain?" she demanded.

Jack's chuckles stopped as abruptly as his laughter had started. For a moment he stared at her with narrowed eyes, as if wondering how wise an idea it was to share with her what had been so amusing to him. At last he cleared his throat and said, "That's another pirate rule, you know. The Code is actually more a set of guidelines than actual rules."

Mirana wondered if it really could be that easy. Granted, she couldn't take such a relaxed view on all of Underland's so carefully stipulated rules, but what would it hurt to bend this one? After all, as long as Jack didn't kill her (and she was pretty sure she didn't have to worry about that happening any time soon), she didn't see any reason why they should adhere strictly to the Rituals. There were some things they should heed, of course, but most of the Guide didn't even apply to them. She had been told several times that she was a very unique queen, and apparently pirates were a unique breed in and of themselves, as well.

Jack leaned forward, one of his large and rough hands covering her small, soft one. "What are you thinking, luv?" he asked anxiously.

She smiled. "I'm thinking that pirates have a surprisingly rational grip on how things should be done." Reaching across with her free hand, she rested it on his atop hers. "As far as I can see, Jack, as long as you don't kill me, rob me, or otherwise try to harm me physically, I don't see why we can't tweak or ignore most of the Guide." The hint of Darkness that always lingered at the back of her mind - the Darkness that was a constant threat to her family line, that her sister had so willingly given in to - growled in pleasure at the thought of throwing away the rules for once.

Seeing the change in her expression again, Jack engulfed both of her hands in his. "What's wrong? What happened?"

Blinking hard, she forced herself to come back to the present. "Not everything in Underland is as perfect as it seems, Jack. Not even I. Eventually you will hear of it, so I'd might as well tell you now… I have an older sister, Iracebeth of Crims - the Red Queen. Our family can trace its lineage back almost to the Beginning of Underland, all of us Royals to some degree or another. But with each generation grows the Darkness, as we call it - a fragment of our minds that is so evil we are almost constantly at battle to repress it. My sister - well, she lost her battle. She gave in to the Darkness, and she nearly destroyed Underland because of it."

Jack's face was drawn with sympathy. "What happened to her?" he asked softly.

"She's most often known as the Bloody Big-Head. She - well, she was overthrown. Her Champion and mine went head-to-head in battle, and mine won. I was forced to banish Iracebeth and her Knave to the Outlands." She shifted her hands slightly to firmly grasp Jack's. "Just like Racie, I have that Darkness inside my mind. I've - experimented with it in the past, I admit, but I've always tried to prevent it from taking over me, as it did my sister." Mirana knew she should get to the point before poor Jack jumped out of his skin, as he looked inclined to do. "Every time I bend the rules, tell a White Lie, or do anything that does not strictly follow the rules set down by my predecessors long ago or toes the line of the Vows I took, the Darkness gains a foothold. I then have to battle it back down again."

This time Jack's expression was alarmed. He didn't withdraw, but she saw a spark of something she couldn't identify in his eyes. "It would appear I have, yet again, found a way to make a complete mess of things."

"It isn't entirely your fault," Mirana said honestly. "Almost daily I'm faced with some decision or another that would have led me to this path eventually. Some of Underland's rules are, I must admit, horribly outdated. I happen to think this is one of them." She made a face then. "I shall have to bring this matter up to my Court, though," she said with distaste.

Jack's brows drew together. "They're not going to like it, are they?"

Mirana lifted her shoulders in a delicate shrug. "Whether they like it or not, I am going to court you, if you'll have me."

"Of course I'll have you! The question is whether or not you'd have a pirate like me." This time it was his turn to make a face. "I have many scars, Mirana. Not all of them external."

She had seen glimpses of scars in the little time she'd known him, if his sleeve fell back a bit, or the front of his shirt gapped open. "So do I," she whispered. "Your scars make no difference to me, if mine make no difference to you."

Eyeing her with something a little too much like doubt, he shook his head. "I can hardly believe someone as good and pure like you has scars, luv."

"I only tell White Lies, Captain," she said. "I have seen a few too many things to come out entirely unscathed. Even if you cannot always see them, the scars are there." She couldn't keep the stiffness from her tone entirely, to her chagrin.

"White Lies, eh? Seems we'll be getting along better than I thought we would." The slight grin on his face assured her he was teasing - or was he? She couldn't really tell.

Jack's fingers drummed on the tabletop, a sharp, staccato sound. Then he sighed. "So we're once more faced with our choice. Should we follow the Courtship Rituals, or not?"

"We'll follow the ones that apply to our - unique situation," Mirana decided.

Leaning toward her as he pushed the papers away, Jack smiled. "Sounds perfect, luv."

Mirana put up one hand, resting her fingertips against Jack's lips. "Not yet," she whispered. "But soon."

He caught her wrist as she started to pull away, pursing his lips to kiss her fingers before he let her go. "Aye," he said, resigned.

A whooshing swirl of blue fur appeared beside Mirana. "Ahh, such happy occasions," the Cheshire Cat sighed, grin firmly in place.

"Should've known you'd be listening in," Jack snarled. His fingers flexed around the hilt of his sword threateningly.

Chess purred, crossing his paws casually beneath his chin. "Good luck," he said, noting the movement.

"You're worse than that bloody monkey," the captain growled.

Monkey? She made a mental note to ask Jack later what he meant by that. "Aren't you supposed to be at Tarrant and Alice's tea party?" Mirana prompted reproachfully.

"I am," Chessur conceded. "But I wanted to be the first to give you the good news."

"What good news?" Mirana asked warily.

A frantic tapping at the door preceded its bursting open by less than a second. Alice stood frozen in its frame, her eyes gloweringly focused on the Cat. "Has he told you?" she asked breathlessly.

"Told us what?" Mirana asked. She and Jack traded a confused look.

Tarrant appeared behind Alice, his eyes glowing orange the moment they rested on Chessur. "'As he tol' them?" he demanded of Alice.

"No," Mirana, Jack, and Alice all assured at the same time.

Catching another look from the hatter, Chess's grin diminished in size and humor as his pupils contracted a bit. "Excuse me," he said, and vanished in a puff of blue-grey smoke.

"Blasted Cat," Tarrant and Jack grumbled simultaneously.

Mirana and Alice shared a small smile at the similarities they saw in the two that the men themselves didn't seem to be able to observe.

"What's so important that everyone in Underland has decided to crash in and tell us?" Jack inquired, leaning back in his seat and making a steeple of his hands.

Alice's cheeks flushed bright pink. She glanced at Tarrant, then back to Mirana, her hands fluttering and then twisting together before her. "Well, we were going to wait to tell you, until Chess took off, and we knew we needed to try to get to you before he did, because this is something we needed to tell you ourselves-"

My goodness, she's rambling just like Tarrant. "Alice," she prompted softly.

The blonde's flush grew brighter. "Sorry," she whispered. She fluttered her hands a couple more times, glanced at Tarrant, who nodded reassuringly, then finally burst out with the truth. "Tarrant and I are expecting a baby!" Pressing her palms to her flaming cheeks, her eyes darted nervously between Mirana and Jack.

"Alice!" Rising as quickly but gracefully as she could out of her chair, Mirana hurried over to hug her friend tightly. "Oh, Alice!" She wasn't sure what else to say.

She hadn't realized that Jack had come up behind her until he reached around her shoulder to lightly brush Alice's. "Congratulations," he said, a grin on his lips. "I would say rum all around, but I doubt you should drink any, since you're - well - in the family way." He shrugged and grinned.

Tarrant stepped forward and gently wrapped his arm around Alice's shoulders. She leaned into him, her glowing face tipped up to gaze into his. For once, he looked the picture of sanity. "We were wondering if, perhaps, you wanted to be our baby's godparents…?" He trailed off, shifting his eyes between Mirana and Jack.

The word godparents, plural instead of singular, brought a funny feeling to Mirana's stomach. A kind of warm happiness that was matched only by the honor of being asked to be the Champion's child's godmother. "Of course," she whispered. "I'd be honored."

Jack was standing with his mouth open, eyes almost as wide, looking absolutely dumfounded. When he realized everyone was staring at him, he finally nodded, a quick, choppy motion that set the beads on his headscarf rattling.

As Mirana stood looking at her dear friends and suitor (she had a suitor!), she smiled and thought that surely, everything was at last all right in Underland.

~The End~

I figure there will be one more fic (entitled Scars, and is almost completed) between this one and the multi-chapter fic I promised you at the end of Lovely, Dark and Deep. Thanks again for checking this one out, and I hope you enjoyed it!