Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to...yadda yadda... Alice in Wonderland... yadda yadda... Disney...and so on and so forth.
Also, this isn't betaed so all mistakes are mine. But then again, they always are.
A/N: This is a little, fluffy, plot-light, bit of fun, the purpose of which is to briefly take a break from other longer, heavier, much more plot-orientated pieces of fun. Yes, I am writing to get away from writing. I am sure there's a special padded room for people like me.
Last but by no means least, shout-out to Hats for Alice, who wanted a Hatter dedicated to her. Here you go... he's probably not quite up to snuff but hey, he's all yours, mischief an'all!
"Tell me, Tarrant, have you ever," a faint pink staining her cheeks, Miranda ducked her head to hide her expression, "had feelings for someone?"
"Well, bloody funny you should ask. That blasted cat took off with me hat just hours ago. Had to chase 'im round the garden like an idiot… Curse 'is blaggard heart! In the process, stood on Mallymkun's sword, I did. When I get my hands on 'im, I am gonnae strangle the beggar like…"
"Tarrant," lips twitching, Mirana couldn't resist a chuckle as she conjured up the images in her head; trees leaning ever closer as its delicate chime reverberated through their leaves. "That's not quite what I meant. And be sure to stop by the kitchen on your way home to the Hattery tonight so I can give you a salve. Now what kind of remiss queen would I be should I let my favourite Hatter contract an infection, or worse… a foul mood?"
"Thank ye, yer Majesty. You're too kind. I dinnae suppose there's a potion that…"
"No. I practice healing arts," a tap of her fan on his arm signalled a gentle rebuke. "You know that."
"But it's jest…"
"You might have to deal with him like an adult?"
"He's a bleedin' menace, always after me hat an'…"
"Have you ever considered that he simply covets one of his own? After all, you are the Royal Hatter. Or perhaps he is just playing with you? He does so know how to…entice you out of your shell."
Several deep curses followed in a thick brogue and a language Mirana was not familiar with. Finally settling down, his eyes changing from a sunset orange to the dark green of Mirana's favourite fir tree, Tarrant grumbled "Fine. I'll make him a bloody hat. The most misshape…"
Mirana silenced his tirade with a pointed look.
A meek exasperation lightening his features, he finished, "finest hat that anyone in Underland has ever seen." Crooked grin blossoming on his features upon Mirana's warm gaze and heartfelt smile, he followed, "Ye must surely ken that we all love ye. Underland has never had a finer queen."
The pink returning somewhat darker, in contrast to the pale beauty of her skin, Mirana replied, "And I love all my subjects equally as much. Well," tone lowering conspiratorially, she whispered, "some a little more equally than others." Eyes softly twinkling, her fond gaze left little doubt for who she was referring to; Tarrant's chest puffing out in pride, the fir green of his eyes lightening even further to a fragile offshoot of the spring's first flower.
"So then…?" he queried quizzically.
"How do you feel when you see me every morning, Tarrant?"
Scratching his head, he was lost in thought for several seconds. "Happy. Glad. Like when it's time for tea and there are clotted cream scones."
"And…" biting her lip, Mirana frowned, hesitant to give herself away, uncertain how she would not were she to voice her true thoughts. "When I leave… those days that you do not see me?"
Unease flickering a shadow across his face, Tarrant fiddled with his cravat, adjusted his coat, stared at his hands, finally blurting out, "I miss ye but… I don't… I mean… I know I'll see ye another day so… Well, I suppose there's no use for it," halting his stride, bending down on one knee, he grasped the bewildered monarch's hand, "I know I am only a lowly Royal Hatter and you are but queen, nevertheless, Mirana of Marmoreal, would ye do me the honour of being…"
"What… Tarrant… wait, no… do you… Oh dear, I didn't mean for this to happen."
"Ye dinnae fancy me?" Getting up off the ground, Tarrant dusted off his purple trousers, "But I thought…"
"Is that why…?"
Both loudly exhaled in sheer relief.
"I am very fond of you. You are my dearest friend."
"And you to me. The thought of us together is… well, 'tis like imagining being together with a sibling. Not that you are not the most beautiful woman in Underland… and of course you're queen… but I… and you…we…"
Stilling his lips with her forefinger, Mirana chuckled, "Do not worry, Tarrant, I know exactly how you feel."
"So if not I then who at last sees fit to capture the White Queen? There is a steady stream of suitors to your door, there always has been. I would lay eyes on the man who has finally won your heart after all this time."
"It is… no-one." The lie slips out easily, another burden to add to Mirana's standard practice of deception. "This is why I ask, Tarrant. I but merely wish to enquire how it is you know when you might feel it… how you can tell… for certain."
Immediately solicitous, Tarrant steps closer, the picture of sincerity. "There will be someone for ye, Mirana." His eyes darken once more. "I promise you. You must not worry about being alone."
"I am never alone when you are here."
Tarrant beams with pleasure, stride lengthening as though he's grown in stature. "Well, I have been in love once. Tis like, 'tis like… when the sun comes out in the morning. That's how you feel when you see the other person. And every moment spent without them is like the midnight darkness of the night. You laugh but it is not because they tell a queer story, 'tis their mere presence which lifts your heart. And of course," his eyes took on a wicked spark, "you want to touch them constantly: a brush here, a stroke there, all and any small caress you can bestow…"
With his every uttered word Mirana paled further until every vestige of natural colour leeched out, leaving behind only the abnormal white of the ointment that she applied so rigorously every morning.
Noticing the queen's chalky pallor, Tarrant frowned, "Your majesty?"
"I… I am sorry, Tarrant. I do not feel well all of a sudden. Would you excuse me?"
"Of course… should I call a guard? Perhaps…"
Summoning an upward quirk to stiff lips that refused to co-operate, she snapped out her fan, "No, I will be fine. I am certain. Mayhap a little too much sun or that strange fish dish the March Hare made last night."
"You have a potion that can help these matters? I would not like to see you suffer."
"Mmm…" bleak gaze despairing at his choice of words, Mirana quipped a little more bitterly than usual, "Well, they do say suffering is good for the soul, do they not, my friend?"
In her haste to get to her chambers where she was certain she would come to her senses, she almost ignored the hurried patter of Nivens, his skip and hop resounding in the corridor behind her.
"Nivens…" composing herself behind a mask of airy congeniality, she turned, "how lovely to see you. I was not expecting you till court which I believe is precisely after tea."
"Yes, well… there is a matter. I did wish to handle it myself but… it is somewhat delicate. Or it could be. At this point I am not certain that anything is wrong."
"Yes, your majesty."
"Well…" impatience translating into the tip-tap of her fan against her wrist, Mirana used all her willpower to continue smiling benignly. "I really do have pressing…"
"A-alice?" Gaze sharpening instantly, Mirana resisted the urge to scream at the lack of information or pin her advisor to the wall and... Collecting herself once more, she queried, "Is there anything that you are specifically referring to?"
"It's just… when was the last time you actually saw her, your majesty?"
Thirty hours, five minutes and twenty two… twenty three… twenty four seconds ago… Swallowing the revealing reply, Mirana cast about for a suitably ambiguous answer, "I cannot say for certain. Sometime yesterday is highly likely. We may have taken morning tea." When the sun glinted on the spun silk of her hair just so, turning it into a waterfall of gold through which she'd longed to run her fingers while...
"Ahem," Nivens cleared his throat politely, "I had some papers for her to sign. Standard champion stuff: disclaimer, clean bill of health, general guidelines, that sort of thing. Only…?"
"Well, no-one has seen Alice since yesterday. Not the Tweedles, not Mally, not Chess. Not even Tarrant."
"The ladies of the court? The guards? The kitchen staff? Perhaps she is in low spirits and had someone fetch her something?" The thought of the exuberant, vivacious Alice suddenly retreating to her room sent the contents of her stomach churning.
"I questioned everyone."
"And you have checked her room?"
"That is the thing, your majesty. She does not answer our summons and she is… and I am… I mean, we… it is not proper for us to enter her chamber."
"Tell me, Nivens, should I not answer your knock and you are not able to find me, do you plan to consign me to an early grave?"
Flushing with shame, Nivens hung his head till his ears almost touched the floor. "Your majesty… b-but… it-t is…"
"We will discuss this later. For now I will away to check her quarters for her presence. I am certain I don't need to voice it but I shall be most unhappy to find my champion suffering from any ailment that we could have attended to should I have been informed of this matter earlier. Or should the petty concern of bureaucracy not have alit upon your hand these past two days."
"Y-yes, your majesty…" Cowering as she swept past him, Mirana felt a twinge of pity. After all, she wasn't yet aware that anything was wrong but the thought, the image of Alice being ill and she not being informed was far too much for her to bear, her heart beating as frantically as a hummingbird trapped in a gilded cage.
Pacing herself, she swept along the corridor, searching her mind for any remark Alice might have made, some trip, some task she may have mentioned whilst they took breakfast in the garden yesterday. But even before she rationally reached the conclusion that nothing had slipped her notice, some visceral part of her was already aware that not a word had ever passed Alice's lips that Mirana had not absorbed with utmost attention.
"Do you know what I most enjoy about being here?"
"I shall be most glad to hear it."
"Up there, people stare at me funny when I speak. Like I am some sort of strange creature that they aren't quite sure how to handle. But when I am with you, I know you truly hear me, that no matter what I say, you are listening to every word."
The conversation fluttered through her mind; affection momentarily softening Mirana's features. In the next instant, worry gripped her once again as she reached the door to Alice's chamber, her loud knock going entirely unheeded.
"Alice… Alice, this is Mirana. I've come to check on you… no-one has heard from you since yesterday and I am afraid we are growing slightly worried. I wonder if…" Scolding herself for hesitating at the final step and wasting valuable time, she stated with more conviction, "I am coming in. I truly hope that you are," needing to moisten her suddenly dry lips, she squeaked the final part in the most undignified of manners, "properly attired for the occasion."
Pushing the door inward gently, she entered the dark, slightly stale smelling room, immediately sensing that something was terribly wrong.
"Alice? Alice, where are you?"
The pitifully weak moan that answered her greeting from the direction of the bed wrenched her heart.
"Alice?" Lifting her skirts, she crossed to the canopy in three hasty strides, stifling a cry when she caught sight of Alice's paper-thin looking, pasty skin. "How long have you been like this?"
Her answer was a hacking cough and the sight of two fat tears rolling down the girl's cheeks. "I… I… am…sorry..." Alice choked out, the effort visibly draining her of whatever small amount of strength she had left.
Lowering to the bed without any hesitation, Mirana cupped a pale cheek, breath hitching at the ice beneath her palm.
"Your majesty, given Miss Kingsleigh's condition, perhaps…"
Pinning the knight that accompanied her with a steely glare, Mirana rapped out, "kitchen, third shelf from the top, fourth from the left, bark of the grendel tree; same shelf, fifth from the right, root of neplaine; bottom shelf, middle section, kirtsen seeds. I also need my portable light and the smallest pot that's sitting on the stove… and tea, lots of tea."
"Yes, your majesty." Unfamiliar with curtness from the queen, the knight bowed immediately, rushing off for the ingredients.
At the fretful stirring underneath her fingertips, Mirana gently smoothed the back of the hand along Alice's cheek, along her brow. "Ssshh, I'll have this taken care of momentarily, I promise." At the sight of more moisture gathering in the corners of the eyelids, she quivered, left hand fluttering uselessly in her lap, "Does it hurt…? Are you in… pain?"
"Only… when… I… breathe," Alice's attempt at humour ended in another hacking cough, Mirana's hand involuntarily flitting to caress the slender torso heaving beneath the sheets. "I… am… sorry…"
"There is nothing to apologise for. It is I that should be sorry. I should have thought to come looking for you earlier, especially when…"
"I missed… our morning… tea."
"Yes, well," Mirana's hand plucked at a non-existent thread as the word our caused the warm feeling of agitation to deepen, "I thought perhaps you had other things, other plans you'd made with Hatter, or Mally, or the Tweedles. I know sometimes…" conscious she was babbling she tried to reign in her tongue, but despite her best attempts she was horrified to find herself utterly unable to. "After all, I fully understand that you might wish to spend your mornings elsewhere. I know affairs of the state can be most tedious and mayhap I am not the most versed or eloquent…"
"Mirana…" Finding her hand suddenly cradled in the softest ice finally seemed to halt her awkward monologue, heat radiating from the contact where Alice's skin touched Mirana's almost equally pale own. "It is… my favourite… part… of the day."
The heat rose higher, shooting through Mirana's veins with intensity, pooling low in her stomach. An echo seemed to travel higher, resounding in the area of her heart. "And mine too," she whispered almost soundlessly, just as a rapid knock heralded the return of the guard with the medication.
Dismissing the knight, she quickly filled the pot with a snip of bark, a handful of seeds, the stalk of neplaine, before pouring the concoction in a cup and blowing on it gently. "Can you sit up?"
Struggling to lift rise even an inch, Alice eventually made a barely adequate job of remaining upright for as long as Mirana patiently held the china cup to her lips.
"How long… before…?"
"A mere few hours, you'll find yourself drifting off to sleep momentarily and when you wake I'll try…"
A tiny sound escaped past Alice's clenched lips, a cross between a whimper and a sigh.
"Alice?" Immediately on her guard for any signs of a negative reaction, Mirana tasted the dregs of the brew, swilling the mixture in her mouth. Convinced it contained nothing that should have caused any harm, she frowned at Alice quizzically.
"I have… I had… nightmares. I kept dreaming… this wasn't real… and everyone kept staring at me… and I had to marry Hamish. Would you…?"
"Of course," feeling almost bold enough, Mirana stretched the tips of her own fingers till nothing but the tiniest puff of air separated hers and Alice's hand.
"You will not… be missed?" Alice completed the journey, her fingers entwining with Mirana's.
She thought of tea with the Ambassador from Crims, the scrolls she had to read and sign for tomorrow's treaty, the audience that she was due to hold in court later today.
"Only by you," she fibbed… this lie, unlike the other, making her feel buoyant.
Though not as much as her reward – a blissful drowsy smile.
"You owe me a hat."
"I owe you nothing of the sort, ya thiefin' blaggard."
"Do not forget that I was there all along when you conversed with our monarch."
"Were you, now? That's mighty interestin'. Do be certain to attend the next one, when I inform Mirana of the depths that you would stoop to in order to gain ten pieces of gold."
"I would. That was cheatin' pure and simple… and when I tell Mirana the reasons Alice truly took ill, I look forward to…"
"I gave her a cough, a fever… she wasn't in any danger!"
"Well, that would be for the queen to judge… and a little mouse tells me she spent four hours in her chamber, holding her hand, while the girl merely… slept. When she finds out…"
"May Day Celebration wedding, next year. Double or nothing..."
"March Madness and your grimy paws don't touch this hat again."