In This Style (10/6)

This isn't easy.

It's hard to keep her feet steady on the ground, when she still has the feeling of falling. Hard to keep her eyes watching what's in front of her and not expect things to shift, to change, to alter. Rearrange themselves.

She's not complaining. This makes her feel dizzy, makes her walk as though she's been on a ship for too long, as though she's forgotten what land is like. And every day, every day, the sun rises and is the right color. She wakes in her own bed in her own room, but that doesn't stop her from living in Wonderland.

It's such a fantastically big place, her head. And she's not alone. Every corner is full. The rooms are triumphant. Stuffed to the gills. To the brim.

Hamish comes to see her shortly after her return, goggle-eyes still goggling at her, his mouth tremulous and worried. For his sake, not hers. She invites him to sit. He sits. He stares.

"Tea?" offers Alice gaily.

It's the attitude, not the refreshment, that makes him blink and shift backwards.

"Honestly, Alice! I don't see how you can be so carefree and frivolous. After all that's gone between us, after everything that has occurred, you insist on behaving as though nothing of import has happened! I really don't comprehend you, I really don't." He dabs nervously at his damp forehead with a gold-embroidered handkerchief.

Alice pauses, one hand on the pot.

"It's only tea, Hamish," she says sternly. "Do get hold of yourself."

"It's not the tea." Hamish stuffs his kerchief back in his pocket. "Do tell me what is going on, Alice. I can't, to be honest—"

"Oh, do be honest, by all means. It's such fun."

"—quite credit you with full possession of your senses."

She pauses again. "Do you mean, have I gone mad?" she questions. She pays particular attention to what his answer will be. The Hatter, seated invisibly in the corner, does likewise. He crosses his legs, puts an elbow on his knee and his chin on his elbow, and looks oddly fierce. Alice hides a smile.

"No— not mad, quite— but, come, you must face up to it, Alice." Hamish looks as though his nerves have been attacked by renegade pruning shears, or a horde of rats. "You've never been entirely rooted in reality."

"That's certainly true, Hamish," says Alice politely, "if a bit backwards. It's reality that has never been entirely rooted in me."

"What can you mean?" cries Hamish, understandably distraught, half rising. He has never been good with riddles, Alice reflects. The merest pun is enough to send him into a panic and repeated cries of I don't understand! "You run away from my perfectly respectable proposal of marriage, only to return and turn me down. You make a positively horrid exhibition of yourself in the garden."

"I expect to improve, with practice," says Alice calmly. "I never was that good at dancing. One can't expect one to do one's best just as one begins, can one? That is to say, being as I began at the beginning, only a fool would ridicule my efforts for not being what they will be when I end."

"I do not understand you, Alice." Hamish subsided bonelessly into his chair. It is as though Alice is a riddle; a notion that she appreciates. She wonders what kind of riddle she would be. A difficult one, to judge by the fact that Hamish is perspiring again. "I offered you everything I had to give. You laughed in my face."

"To be fair, and honest, as I asked you to be," points out Alice, "I did not laugh at you. I wanted to," she adds, determined to be truthful herself. "But I didn't. And— it was a kindness to you, truly."

"A kindness?" repeats Hamish, disbelieving.

"Very much." Alice nods. "You don't want a wife who doesn't want you for a husband. You don't want a wife who waits for someone else. And you certainly don't want a wife who sees odd creatures and persons who are invisible to anyone else. Do you? Does he?"

She directs this last to the Hatter, who says, stoutly, "Of course he doesn't."

"Persons who are— invisible?" repeats Hamish, blinking rapidly.

"Eejit," says the Hatter, eyes darkened like bruises.

"Language," Alice admonishes.

"English," says the Hatter reflexively, but he calms himself.

"Persons—" says Hamish again.

Alice sighs.

"He's seated in the chair over there." She waves a hand gracefully in the Hatter's direction. "I did mean to tell you when you first arrived, for I'm fairly sure it's quite rude to not introduce strangers to each other, but then again, one of you is invisible to the other, so perhaps it would have been rude to try. It's quite possible he may only be in my head, if that makes you feel any better."

Hamish appears to be fighting with himself. His head twitches convulsively, and slowly swivels to the side. The chair, he observes without surprise, is unoccupied.

"Are you quite alright, Alice?"

He's certainly nervous now, Alice thinks.

"I only told you to impress on you what a narrow escape it was you had," she says, and clasps her hands together in her skirts. "Now, I don't suppose you'll leave me on my own again? I have a rather long list of things to accomplish before I set sail."

Hamish stumbles laboriously to his feet. Once standing, he sways, and draws himself up, lifting his chin.

"I don't like to tell you quite what I think of you, Alice," he begins.

"Then don't," says Alice, firmly, and waves him towards the door.

Once she's alone again— or rather, not alone again, but in the company she prefers— she sighs, and pours an extra cup of tea. The final drop from the spout sends a pool of ripples, spreading quickly, fiercely, until the motion spends itself and all is still.

It's not quite a party; but then, this isn't a garden, either.

"Is it wrong, do you suppose, that I see you everywhere when you clearly aren't there?" Alice watches as he stands, stretching to his full height. He moves forward, towers over her, and she feels as she did when they first met for the second time. Tiny, but significant.

"But my dear, I am everywhere," says the Hatter, oddly gentle, and he puts his bandaged hand out to her. "Now. If I'm not mistaken, we're due for a bit of a journey, are we not?"

His smile is slow and comes by halves.

"A long sea voyage," says Alice, like a gypsy telling a fortune. "What sort of riddle do you make me, Tarrant? If you make me a riddle at all, that is."

"The best sort," says the Hatter, eyes darkening. "The sort that takes a long, long, very long time to figure out."

Alice taps her feet together, hovering them just over the carpet.

"That's what I thought you'd say," she says.

She takes his hand.