Summary: During the ball held in honor of the one-month anniversary of Alice's return to Underland, both she and the Hatter learn a few things about each other. A/T.

AN: My answer to my friend Audrey's challenge. A little bit of shameless fluff between our favorite Champion and her Hatter ^_^ Would anyone believe that this is the first time – EVER – that I've ever written fluff? Like, real fluff, not angsty fluff? It's… weird… O.o The song is "Winter Winds" by Mumford and Sons, by the way.

AN: EDIT: Well, I went back and re-read it… yup, it's still angsty fluff. WHY? WHY CAN'T I WRITE NORMAL FLUFF? DX

Disclaimer: Me no own.

We'll be washed and buried one day my girl

And the time we were given will be left for the world

The flesh that lived and loved will be eaten by plague

So let the memories be good for those who stay

This was pointless. Yes, she knew her friend loved to throw a good ball… but a party thrown in honor of the one-month anniversary of her return? Alice scowled at the woman standing in her doorway, who was currently gazing contently off in some random direction, hands poised and demeanor perfectly relaxed. She decided to vocalize her concerns to her oblivious friend. "Why, Mirana?" at her name, the White Queen turned toward the blonde, and her calm expression spread into a smirk.

"Weren't you told?" she asked, trying to maintain a straight face. As the Queen of White Lies (among other things), she should have been able to do this without a problem… so why was she having trouble? Excitement, maybe? The Queen mentally shook those thoughts from her head. "It's been exactly one month since your return to Underland, and I think that is something to celebrate!" She clapped her hands softly, and Alice chuckled. "You do look lovely, dear."

The Champion glanced down at her blue dress, not really caring what she looked like as long as she was wearing blue and her hair was down – or at least partially so; (she had lost the battle with Mirana, who insisted that she wear it up, saying that she looked even more beautiful with it done up). "Thank you," she responded to the compliment, "as do you." Alice sighed.

"Oh, come on; you don't even have to stay the whole time! It is your party, though." Mirana huffed, rolling her eyes in a very un-queen-like manner. This made Alice grin, and she could barely contain a laugh at the absolutely pitiful expression the royal was giving her.

"It's not my party! You just needed an excuse to throw a ball, and one simply fell out of the sky for you!" She threw up her hands, exasperated, and turned around to face Mirana, whose reflection she had been talking to in the mirror while she fixed her hair. "Literally!"

"And onto poor Tarrant…" An almost maniacal grin spread across the Queen's black lips, as Alice began blushing furiously. She was, of course, referring to Alice's rather unceremonious entry into the magical land the month before.

After making her way successfully through the Room of Doors and emerging her right-proper-Alice-size, the Champion had made her way directly through the Tulgey Wood. Well, not directly, as she had been run up a tree by a wild bullfrog (really, how was she to have known that a creature of that size could jump that high?). After hearing the animal's frantic snarling – since she had been very close to the dilapidated windmill – Tarrant and Mallymkun had come to investigate under the Dormouse's orders. The bullfrog had immediately retreated after seeing the madman, and both he and Mally stood there for a moment, trying to figure out what it had been so worked up about. The branch Alice had been sitting on, though, chose that moment to splinter under her weight (she had had a chat with the old oak later, slightly peeved and saying that she wasn't that heavy). The poor Hatter, who had been standing directly under her at the time, barely had time to react when one of the most beautiful women he'd ever seen landed on him, resulting in them both tumbled on the ground in a most compromising position.

The Queen coughed pointedly, breaking Alice out of the little reverie she had fallen into, causing her cheeks to heat once more. "Well, we really should be going. We're already going to arrive late, as it is!" The Queen clapped her hands once more and smiled as her friend glanced down at her dress once more. When Mirana had presented it to her, she had nearly had a heart attack. The elaborate piece of clothing was fit for the Queen herself, what with the elaborate beading, rich coloring, and full skirt that framed her perfectly. The only giveaway was the many shades of blue incorporated into the glorious creation.

"You're the Queen!" Alice took her friend's outstretched arm, and the two made their way from the room. "You're not allowed to be late for your own party."

"Exactly my point as to why we should hurry along."

"That's not what I—Oh, never mind." Alice huffed as she allowed herself to be dragged from her rooms to the large ballroom in the White Castle. They reached the large double doors in no time, and with a nod to the guards they were opened. Alice allowed Mirana to enter the grand room first (she was the Queen, after all), and she watched as a White Guard announced her, before escorting her down the steps that lead down to the room. Because the ballroom was actually one floor below where she was now, Alice could see very little of what was happening below and they couldn't see her. She briefly thought of taking off in the other direction, but Alice couldn't disappoint her friend like that. The royal had obviously worked very hard on this occasion, and there was no use having her efforts go to waste by having the guest of honor (Alice had scoffed when Mirana had used the term) refuse to attend. So, with a deep breath and a smooth to her skirts, Alice made her way to the top of the staircase.

Apparently, the ball had been in full swing for a good while, as the dance floor was packed with spinning couples and the buffet table looked to have been scoured at least once. The party was catching its second wind with the Queen's arrival, however, and new food and drink were quickly being brought to all. After a quick scan around the room, Alice was able to locate almost all of her friends having fun. Almost. She felt a frown tug at the corner of her lips as she failed to locate the Hatter – her best friend – but quickly tightened it back up with a nod to the guard.

Tarrant leaned against one of the white-painted walls in an out-of-sight corner of the large ballroom, praying that no one noticed him. It had not been his idea to come to this ridiculous ball in the first place (not that he didn't enjoy parties, but if Alice wasn't happy, then he had a tendency to be under the weather as well), and no small amount of near-begging on the Queen's part had convinced him. It was only when she had nonchalantly commented that, if he didn't come, Alice would simply have to find a new dance partner. The idea of Alice dancing with anyone but the greatest futterwacken-er (among many other Underlandian dances, of course) in all of Witzend nearly drove the redhead up the wall, and he agreed on the spot to attend. Now, however, he was regretting his decision. The ball had been in full-swing for a good hour, and yet there was no sign of the Champion. He began to question whether or not the Queen had used underhanded tactics to get him to attend for an entirely different reason.

"Presenting Lady Alice Kingsleigh, Champion of Underland!" came the guard's booming voice over the music and chatter. The crowd immediately began to clap enthusiastically, and Tarrant felt himself jerk up just in time to see her descent down the grand staircase. Everything around him seemed to slow down, and he vaguely wondered if Time was being fickle with him again as he watched her. Alice's golden hair bobbed on her back as she moved deliberately down the steps, hands clutching her skirts so she wouldn't trip over them. That dress… it was magnificent, and it was as though it had been made by Beauty herself for the Champion. Tarrant smiled when he realized just what she was wearing.

When she reached the bottom of the staircase, the White Queen materialized (not really, of course; she didn't have those… un-talents that slurvish excuse for a Witzender, Chessur, had)by her side, and the Hatter blinked. When did he miss her entrance? He must have been so wrapped up in his thoughts that he hadn't realized it. He could only assume that the two ladies had arrived together, based on how close they had grown in the last month. As he watched, the Queen said something quietly to Alice, who rolled her eyes in response. Mirana must have taken this as an affirmative, as the blonde was quickly whisked away by the arm out of Tarrant's line of vision.

He momentarily panicked, and took a step forward, searching the crowd for his Alice. This thought caused him to pause once more. His Alice? When did that happen? By the time he had collected himself enough for semi-clear thought, he had already caught sight of an unmistakable flash of blue among the waves of the white sea of dancers. What-? There was another flash, and this time Tarrant was able to get a better view of the Champion. She was, indeed, on the dance floor, twirling through the crowd with a man he had never seen before. He felt his temper flare as he took in his competition (He had to stop thinking like that, the small, sane part of his mind scolded. He chose to ignore it at the moment.); all two-and-a-half meter, long-brown-haired, Lord-ness of the- the leathcheann who had Alice in his arms. With a huff, Tarrant adjusted the lapels on his coat, straightened his ever-present hat, and made his way towards the dance floor.

Just one dance, she had said. Alice grimaced inwardly as she replayed her friend's words in her head. Right, just once. Of course. Why not? She gave a strained smile towards her rather-stiff dancing partner as he spun her around once more. Wasn't the exact reason she had not wanted to come? Of course, Mirana had promised that she could depart simply after this one round on the floor with a complete stranger. Strange, she found herself thinking, getting her all dressed up for one dance with a seemingly randomly-chosen man. Maybe Mirana was starting to turn to her mother's way of thinking: find a good man, marry that good man, give that good man good children. Alice mentally shuddered. Just a few more moments, she repeated to herself. Then she could leave the crowded room – that seemed to be growing smaller by the moment – and go in search of Tarrant, who was most likely out at the tea table, even at this time of night. Her partner suddenly stopped, and Alice found herself reeling slightly. She quickly regained her grace, however.

"Migh' aye cu' in?" a low voice behind her asked, and the man she had been dancing with took an involuntary step back, letting go of Alice's hands for a moment. He regained his composure like any gentleman, though, and quickly handed the Champion over.

"Yes, sir." He gave a curt nod, kissed Alice's hand (which incited a low growl from the person behind her), and said "Until next time, Lady Alice," before turning and practically fleeing. Alice found herself struggling to hold back her laughter at the expression on the retreating man's face as she took the Hatter's hands.

Upon seeing the mirth sparkling in Alice's eyes (had they always been that pretty?), Tarrant felt his mind calm, and he was able to reign in the torrent of emotions that seemed to flood his consciousness at that moment. She shot him a quizzical look as his features softened, and – when his eyes met hers – her cheeks became stained an adorable (in Tarrant's opinion, anyway) pink. They stood there a moment, before Alice cleared her throat a little awkwardly and raised her eyes again. "Um… Tarrant?"

"Yes, love?" He seemed distracted—wait, had he just called her 'love'? She chose to ignore it.

"Shouldn't we be dancing?" She asked, glancing around them. The Hatter jerked to attention, slightly startling the young woman in his arms, and looked around. Crap. As the heat rose in his cheeks, he began to lead her into an Underlandian version of a waltz.

"I was just checking to see if you were paying attention," he quickly covered, though he could tell she knew he was lying; she always seemed to know. His lisp had returned and he tried to elaborate. "You always tend to get so distracted, what with all the daydreaming you do. Not that you're the only one who daydreams; I do, as well. Then again, I think everyone daydreams a little. I know Mirana does, and Mally. I wonder if Thackery daydreams? What would he daydream about, if he did. Tea? Spoons? Probably cooking; yes, that's it. I'm sure—"

"Hatter," Alice chuckled softly, and he blinked. She was impressed that, even through his entire ramble, he had not faltered in his dance steps.

"Thank you, my dear," he grinned down at her, and she returned the smile. After that, they danced in a comfortable silence, each lost in their own little world for the time being, and perfectly content to be in each other's arms. Suddenly, Alice frowned. "What is it, Alice?" Tarrant asked, concerned.

The Champion, however, gave a morbid chuckle and smiled ruefully. "She tricked me," she shook her head in disbelief, and Tarrant raised an eyebrow at her behavior.


"She knew that I was going to end up staying longer."

"Come again?"

"Mirana knew that I was going to want to dance with you, and if I did, I would most likely sta—" she cut herself off, a blush returning to her cheeks. It took Tarrant a moment to process what she had said, but – when he did – he grinned.

"You wanted to dance with me, eh? Naughty girl!" he chuckled, causing her blush to deepen. "You made me go through all that, and all you had to do was ask!" he laughed a little louder now, and it was her turn to look confused.

"Well, you weren't easily found in the first place, so how was I supposed to?" she asked, indignant. Instead of answering, however, the Hatter stopped their twirling dance movements. He searched her face for something for a moment, before taking one of her hands in his own and letting the other one drop.

"Come with me?" he asked, though it was really more of a statement than anything. Alice nodded, as confused as ever, and allowed herself to be led out of the crowds by the madman. As the pressure of the people around them diminished and the number of guests decreased, she gave an involuntary sigh of relief. Tarrant stole a glance back at her, and she could see a similar expression on his face, as well. Neither of them were ever very comfortable around people, but they did their best for Mirana, the number one people-person in Underland.

Soon, the two found themselves out on one of the many White Castle balconies that overlooked the gardens. For a moment, Alice stood there, speechless, as she gazed out at the beautiful scene before her. It was night, and the full moon cast an eerie blue glow across the pink, closed blooms of the trees, causing them to take on a purple-tinted hue. The dark sky twinkled with an innumerable amount of tiny, bright stars, no two the same, and their sparkle reflected off the waterfall and lake to her left. It was, overall, completely breathtaking. "It's amazing…" she breathed, captivated.

"I know," Tarrant responded, though he was gazing at something completely different than the landscape before them. He quickly realized it, however, and shifted his gaze away from Alice before he was caught. She glanced up at him, wondering if the pink in his cheeks was really there, or just a trick of the moonlight. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye, and, when he found her gazing at him, he turned back to face her. The Champion saw that his eyes were a soft, dark, forest green, as opposed to their usual vibrant lime. How strange, she thought, mesmerized. She didn't realize that their faces had been steadily growing closer until they were inches apart, at which point she blinked and broke from the trance, nearly jerking away. The Hatter looked momentarily hurt, but seemed to be – overall – just as surprised as she. She turned her gaze back to the trees and the moon, and tried to swallow the lump that rose in her throat.

"I should be going… it's getting late." She turned to leave, but he still had a hold on her hand (neither had realized that they had be clasping hands the whole time) and gently tugged her back to his side.

"Why do you always do that?" Came a soft, lisp-filled voice after a few moments of tense silence.

"Do what?" she asked; strained, sad, and tired. Tarrant felt his heart momentarily go out to her, and he found himself wondering what it would be like to kiss her. That was what had been about to happen, right? He asked his Sanity. We were about to kiss? He decided not to think about that right now, and find out what was wrong with his Alice first.

"Run away." It was a simple statement, but the emotion he filled into those two words was nearly too much for Alice Kingsleigh, Champion of Underland, Slayer of the Jabberwocky, Conqueror of the Red Queen. Her eyes filled with tears and she quickly looked back at the landscape, hoping to hide them from her closest, best friend. She could never hide anything from him, though, and she felt him gently wipe a stray droplet from her cheek with a work-weathered finger.

"I don't know what you're talking about." She tried to be firm, but her voice shook slightly, taking away any strength she had managed to muster.

"Yes you do, Alice. Why are you always afraid when someone gets close to you?"

He thought about Mirana, and how she had come to him one day, shortly after Alice's return – knowing that the Champion and the Hatter shared something special – and asked if there was anything wrong with her. He had been confused by the question at first, but what she had said next had made things slightly clearer for him. 'Tarrant, is there anything wrong with me?' she had been quiet distressed, actually, about the matter. When asked for more clarification, she simply said 'Alice doesn't seem to want anyone close to her but you!' she responded, exasperated. 'I invited her for tea, but it was all very Yes, Majesty this, and Of course, Your Highness that. Honestly, I felt poor Thackery's phonograph for all the times I had to tell her to call me Mirana'. He had chuckled, told her to 'Keep trying, she'll eventually come around'. It had taken weeks, but it had happened. Alice had let Mirana in, though not completely. She still didn't even let him through the walls all the time. Like right now.

They had been quiet for so long, he nearly jumped when she spoke, her voice soft and fragile. He wanted to pull her into a hug right then and there, and comfort her, but he knew that would be the absolute wrong thing to do at the moment. "Love and I have never had a very good relationship." She softly chuckled, though it had a hollow ring to it. He was about to ask for clarification on her definition of Love (she was a tricky woman, that one; Tarrant had always had trouble with her, as well. She was nearly as had to catch as her brother, Time!), when she began to speak again. "Every time something starts to work out, things seem to fall apart again." She paused, and shook her head, releasing his hand as she did so. "I shouldn't be complaining to you, though." She began her retreat once more, ready to make her getaway, and lock herself in her rooms, possibly never to emerge again. This night had gone too far, she decided. It was time to end it.

"Please, Alice. I don't mind listening." He took a step towards her, and she paused in her steps, her back still faced toward his pleading form.

"I know, but I know you don't need to hear it; not this." She began to leave once more, and Tarrant practically felt his change – her – slipping through his fingers. No, no I won't lose her again. Not when I'm so close. He groped his jumbled mind for something, anything, that could get her to stay. Then he found it. Snippets of a conversation they had shared one day, during a picnic, when he had asked her to describe life Above for him.

"Your father wouldn't like it, you know." His voice was quiet, and he wasn't sure that she had even heard it. She stopped dead in her tracks, and turned to face him, slowly, deliberately. He was almost afraid what she would say – do – when she met him eye to eye. He knew he had said the wrong thing almost immediately. She never liked to talk about her father; never wanted to. Always avoided the subject of her family. Only said she had gone sailing with her father's company. He had believed in six impossible things before breakfast. He was just like Alice. He had died at some point. He had—

"No, he wouldn't." she replied, breaking the Hatter from his mental ramble. He hadn't even noticed that she had made her way back over to the balcony railing once more, though farther away from him than she had been when they were standing together. Shadows from the moonlight hid her face, but he could see the glint of tears on her cheek. When he blinked, however, they were gone. They were silent for a long time.

"You were close." It was more a statement than a question, and Tarrant took a miniscule step toward the Champion.

"He was my best friend. I loved him more than anything in the world." More silence. "And he left." Her hand went to her mouth as she tried to quell a sob that rose in her throat. Her efforts were in vain, however, as memories flooded her mind's eye. She and her father lazing on the grounds of their home, watching clouds go by in the clear blue sky, laughing over what they resembled.

That one looks like a rabbit!

A rabbit, Papa?

Yes, my Alice; and look!

What is it? What is it, Papa?

I seems to be wearing… is that a waistcoat? Yes, I do believe it has on a waistcoat. He looks very dashing in it, as well.

Just like in my dream!

And the nightmares! Oh, how she had had such nightmares when she was a child. He had always been right there when she woke up crying, begging. Confused and scared.

I was falling, Papa! I was falling, and there was no one at the bottom, and it just kept going ang going until I was sure that I would squish at the bottom!

Shh… my Alice, I promise you that you won't ever fall.

But what if I do, Papa? What if I do, and no one's there to catch me? What will happen then?

My Alice, I swear to you that if you fall, I'll always be there to catch you, and I won't ever let you go.

Don't leave, Papa! Stay with me.

I'm never leaving, my Alice. I'll never leave you.

But he did. He had left her, alone in the world. No one dared play with the strange little girl who always wanted to pretend instead of play hide-and-seek. No one dared append a minute with the unconventional young woman who spent her time in the gardens instead of in lessons.

He had left, just like everyone else had, and just like everyone else would.

Suddenly, two strong arms wrapped around her, and she sobbed. She shed tears for her father for the first time in years, but she cried for herself, and for her mother and sister as well. She cried for everyone in her life that had kept their distance from her simply because they didn't understand. She cried until her chest ached and she could shed no more. Then, she simply stood there, shivering slightly, clutching to her best friend's sleeve as though it were the last thing that could ever keep her on the earth. In a way, though, it was.

Tarrant never said a word as she let everything go. It was something she needed, and he gave her that. She needed something to hold onto – something real – and he gave her that. She needed love, and he gave her that. And in that one, rare moment of clarity and sanity, the stars aligned and he realized that, yes, he loved her. Tarrant Hightopp loved her, Alice Kingsleigh.

They stayed like that for a while, his arms wrapped around her as they stood, gazing out into the magnificent world that was Underland. They were, however, far, far away from Underland at the moment, each lost in memories of the past and hopes for the future. Then, in one swift movement – so quick that Tarrant had to take a moment to process what was happening – Alice turned and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly and pressing into his chest. "Thank you." She whispered, barely audible. He slowly relaxed and returned her hug, smiling down at her. He gently, tentatively, placed a small kiss in her hair, and rested his head there.

"Anything for you, my Alice." She tilted her head up, so that her chin was resting on his heart, and gazed up at him with wide, sparkling hazel eyes. "Anything." Before either knew what was happening, their faces were closing in on each other once more. The Champion felt her eyes slide close, and a small smile graced her eyes as Tarrant did the same. For once everything was perfect, everything was right. He said he would never leave her, and she believed him. Love could be a funny woman sometimes, she decided – sometimes working things in her favor, and others not. But even though love hurt, she was always someone that turned out on your side in the end.

"Alice? Alice! Oh, Alice I was looking everywhere for you! I thought you'd left, but—" Mirana stopped dead in her tracks, blinked, and then something seemed to dawn on her face as her eyes whipped back and forth between Alice and the Hatter, still locked in a tight embrace. The poorly-timed interruption broke both from their trance, and each found themselves blushing furiously. Alice realized that she must look like a complete wreck from her brief emotional spell, and tried to discreetly smooth her hair. Both took a step back, trying to put some distance between each other under the scrutinizing gaze of their mutual friend. Tarrant, however, stepped a little too close to the edge of the ledge, and he clumsily tripped in his hast. Alice's eyes widened, and she quickly made a grab for him. She, however, was slightly thrown off balance as well, but she managed to catch herself on the railing with her other hand.

As a result of that little mishap, the two found themselves in an even more compromising position than when Alice had landed on Tarrant her first day back. The hatter was leaning precariously over the edge, with his back bent over the railing. One hand gripped Alice's tightly, and the other held onto his beloved hat for dear life. Alice, however, was in the exact opposite position as her best friend (no, he was more than that, now, she decided), what with her back bent forward over his, their faces almost touching, as one hand gripped the rail and the other Tarrant's wrist. Both pairs of eyes were wide with shock, and Tarrant's mouth was a perfect, startled 'o'.

Mirana watched the scene unfold with no small amount of mirth, and had to suppress a knowing chuckle as she quietly exited the balcony, closing the door behind her. It was still a glass door, however, so there was enough ability for someone to keep an eye on them. She trusted her friends, though, and made her way back into her slowly ending party, thanking guests for coming and such. She had known that something good would come from throwing this little ball. Everything had gone exactly according to plan. The White Queen giggled to herself, before carrying on her way.

Alice blinked, shaking herself from her stupor, and straightened her body, pulling Tarrant up with her. "Thank you, my dear," he said slightly breathless. She noticed that he was blushing like mad, and guessed her face held a similar expression.

"Anytime," she grinned at him, before something on the dark horizon caught her eye. She turned back to face the landscape scene in time to see a dark shape swoop down into the trees, and then emerge once more, only to dive again. She watched the creature in fascination.

"I see you're wearing my dress."


"I—um, that'll be the maorga." Tarrant said, gesturing vaguely out toward the shape. "Beautiful bird, really; it's native to the Outlands, and I haven't seen it in so long. They say it symbolizes change. I had thought it had been killed when Bludeh Behg Hid was in power, but apparently not. You should see it in the daylight, it's positively breathtaking – takes your breath away, that is. It's the most brilliant purple color, unlike anything you've ever seen, and it's huge. I don't know what colors you have seen, though, I can't rightfully say it's unlike anything you've ever seen but I know it's not like any fabric I've ever seen and I've seen much fabric being a hatter and all and I've found that fabric always comes in the best—"


"Thank you, love." There it was again. That little word; love.

"That's not was you said before, about my dress." She raised an eyebrow at him as he shifted hi weight uncomfortably.

"Aboutyouwearingmydress?" He said it so quickly and so quietly, that all the words seemed to blend together, and it took Alice several moments to untangle the syllables.

"Your dress…?" Then realization dawned on her. "You made this?" She gaped at him, and the madman suddenly felt very conscious of just how mad he looked. Insane, even. Then, once more surprising him, she wrapped her arms around him in their second hug of the night. He liked Alice Hugs, he decided. They were very comfortable, and he always felt warm and fuzzy in his chest when they were done.

"Oh, thank you, Tarrant! It's beautiful!" She exclaimed into his chest, though it came out slightly muffled. "I absolutely love it!"

"I love you, to," Everything stopped. There was no more wind rustling through the leaves of the gossiping flowers, no more cawing from the mysterious maorga, no more breathing between either of them. Nothing, save the sound of two, very rapid heartbeats in the night. Tarrant's eyes were wide with fear, and surprise – that he'd said the wrong thing, and at the fact that he'd even said it at all. He hadn't even had time to catch the Thought before it escaped; it must have been tricky. Love was a tricky thing, though.

Alice slowly lifted her chin, so that she was looking up at him in the eye. She wore an unreadable expression, and the Hatter felt himself grow even more uneasy. She wasn't letting go, though, so that had to be a good sign… right? Then, he felt her arms disentangle themselves from around his waist, and a lump rose to his throat. There it was; there was his answer.

Suddenly, something warm and moist pressed itself against his lips, and by the time he registered that Alice was kissing him, she was pulling away, a wide grin on her face. "Join me for tea tomorrow?" He could only nod through his daze, slowly bring his hand to his lips as a small smile formed, and watch as she practically skipped toward the glass door that separated the balcony from the rest of the ballroom. He noticed – with a strange, airy detachment – that the large room was nearly empty, and wondered how long they had been out there. "Goodnight, Tarrant," she said quietly as she stood in the doorway "and thank you." She smiled and turned to go back out the door, just as the Hatter broke from his trance. "I love you."

And with that, she was gone. Not running away this time, though; no, this time she simply needed some time to think. He knew, though, that tomorrow would bring new things for both of them. As he gazed out over the treetops once more, Tarrant smiled to himself and watched the majestic bird dive into the foliage one last time, before disappearing from view. Yes, things were about to start changing for the better.

And if your strife strikes at your sleep

Remember spring swaps snow for leaves

You'll be happy and wholesome again

When the city clears and sun ascends