Disclaimer: I do not own Wonderland, Underland, Tim Burton, Lewis... oh yadda yadda, we all know the drill by now.

A/N: Just posting a slightly air-brushed ;-) version of this fic that never quite made it to this site on the previous occasion. Its sequel can be found on livejournal ((http: / thefutilitarian . livejournal. com / 3475. html # cutid1)... take out all the gaps) because I am not entirely certain whether M is a strong enough rating for kink (which the sequel contains).

It, as this piece, are a joint effort with my lovely co-writer, mythbuster81, whom I very much adore the moments that I don't want to kill her and she doesn't want to kill me.

There is a room in Marmoreal where light is ever present. Night and day, no matter the hour, all are witness to its muted glow as soon as they approach.

It takes thirty days for Alice to discover it is Mirana's bedroom.

The first time they make love it's slow and languid, quite timid, almost bashful. Feeling her eyes grow heavy Alice reaches to dim the light. The lack of any candle or lamp pulls her back into wakefulness. Frowning in confusion, she sits up, trying to see its source.

"Alice," Mirana's drowsy voice winds its way through her perplexity, "what is the matter?"

"It's just that it's so very bright in here. I want to dim the light so we can rest."

All of a sudden it is not just the gentle glow which fills the room but tension. It pours off Mirana in waves, uncomfortably lapping at Alice's skin. She turns to look - - outwardly there is no difference, her queen is as she was: replete, relaxed, in a simple word – resplendent. But in those eyes, the darkness of which has melted Alice's heart, the rising shadows are but darker still.

"This room stays as it is." The same voice, one of her many trappings: delicate, airy, gently floating through the air; its implication – as heavy as lead.

Alice opens her mouth but there is something more in those eyes, another sentiment which does not normally befit a queen – pleading. She isn't certain Mirana herself is even aware that it's there and Alice is smart enough to know it shouldn't be brought up.

She lies back down, turns to face her lover. "I kept the light on for a long time too. After my first visit here, I mean. I kept waking up, scared, trapped in the nightmare time after time. I wish I could go back to that little girl and whisper in her ear, this will all turn out to be your most wonderful dream." Gently brushing her hand over the tips of Mirana's snowy hair, her eyes silently convey the words that as of yet she's too afraid, too shy, to speak. Certain that their meaning has been understood, she waits for the shadows to retreat.

Instead, in bewilderment, she sees them swirl more deeply. At once Mirana throws back the covers and rises; in one smooth motion dons a pristine, gauzy shift. "You must excuse me, Alice. There are some matters I must attend to."

Alice feels the onset of a piercing anguish. Whatever just happened, it is her fault; her actions, what she perceived to be heartfelt and reassuring words, have proven to be anything but that. "I-I am sorry," she blurts out, unsure for what; only quite certain that she means it. Not able to resist, she begs, "What have I done?"

The rigid shoulders relax, their stiffness draining momentarily. Now Mirana looks only weary; physical exhaustion, yes, but also something more. Instinctively Alice understands that this is the true Mirana, not the effervescent, eccentric queen that she pretends to be. The queen's lips quirk, a hint of a bittersweet smile playing on the deep dark ruby red, "You are right, Alice, we are all plagued by our own nightmares." As she twists the handle of the door, the smile departs as surely as she, "But just as you've discovered for yourself, the truth is, they're not always a dream."

There is a room in Marmoreal where light is never present. Night and day, no matter the hour, were its blackness to be visible at all, it would be seen as soon as you approach. Incongruent with a palace immersed in immeasurable brightness, it's jarring to see such an utter dearth of light.

It takes two hundred days for Alice to discover it, entirely by accident; when lost in a daydream, leaning backwards on a statue of a knight, she ends up triggering a hitherto unknown switch.

Completely hidden from the eyes of those that walk the halls, the plain, sturdy surface of the door is midnight black. More startling than the colour Mirana despises, and the abnormal lack of splendour afforded to this door, is that whatever resides there is under lock and key. In all the time she's spent within Marmoreal's walls, Alice has yet to find a door that's not unlocked. It is a sign of trust Mirana has placed in her, that she has given all of them; evidence of the promise that the queen has made that as a ruler there is nothing she will hide. Yet countless visits at all hours of the day and Alice is yet to see this mystery room open, finding only the presence of a solid chained lock.

One balmy night, overwhelmed by natural curiosity, soothed by the rhythmic strokes of a brush run gently through her hair, Alice eventually dares to broach the subject with Mirana. "Your majesty." Feeling the brush yank at a knot, she grins at the physical admonishment even as she sees the secret pleasure reflected in Mirana's eyes as they encounter her own in the mirror. Mirana likes to play the equal, the lover, but buried deep down is the arrogance of a monarch. Even as she outwardly rails against the formal title, she is deeply touched that after all this time Alice accords her the respect of such an address, despite being in a private setting where The White Queen does not reign. "I have found something," Alice continues, "and I wondered if I may ask you about it?"

Mirana's eyebrows knit together in confusion, the brush of the motion becoming slower as she stares at Alice in thoughtful concentration. "Of course, Alice, though I must admit that it is I that is so very curious now. You have never asked for permission to phrase a question, have never needed to request that of me. Tell me, what on earth has prompted this?"

"Well." She doesn't know why but suddenly Alice feels very nervous: her breathing is shallow, her palms are sweaty and somewhere in her brain an insistent voice is screaming for her to stop. It sounds a lot like Hamish, Margaret, her mother – everyone who has always looked at her as odd. But as she has always done, she chooses to ignore it - - them, "You see, there is a room."

"A room?" Mirana's even tone is betrayed by the fluttering of her hand. Alice has often wondered why someone so adroit at wearing a mask has never learned to control this most telling aspect of her self. "Which of the hundreds of rooms within the palace are you referring to?"

"The dark room."

The tension morphs to physical, bringing tears to Alice's eyes as the brush almost yanks the hair from her scalp: tearing, pulling, stretching like a string, before a sharp crack splits the air, the broken piece sent tumbling to the floor. Through it all, Alice's eyes have been locked with Mirana's own in the mirror; impossible to miss the touch of angry malevolence now present in the monarch's gaze. "What do you know of it? Have you, perchance, obtained entrance to this room?"

"N-no," Alice curses the tremble in her voice but there are times that there are things in Mirana's eyes: feelings, emotions; quite often entire tales. She doesn't like what they have to say, resents them for stealing her lover away; a physical reminder that there are places Alice cannot go.

"Make sure it stays that way, Alice. Do you understand?" The broken brush is now replaced by Mirana's hand; its surprising strength gripping her hair painfully.

"Y-yes." Despite her best attempts, one lone tear seeps out to slide down her cheek. It is a weakness, a chink in her armour the darkness should never be allowed to see. It will exploit it - - her; use it for its own twisted means. Yet it is often that very same weakness, just as now, which forces the darkness to recede. The brown becomes more clear, lucid; gentles.

Mirana leans behind her again.

"Please, Alice." This time Alice knows Mirana is fully cognisant of her own begging. A delicate hand sweeps over her cheek, strokes it soothingly in recognition and silent apology of the pain just inflicted. "For your sake, for mine, you mustn't ever enter that room. Promise me, Alice. Swear to me that you will not attempt to try."

In the face of such earnest entreaty, Alice is rendered helpless. "I promise," she swears; even as inside herself she feels the familiar curiosity, her unquenchable search for truth, stubbornly and negatively shake its head.

Mirana smiles, leans down to bestow a tender kiss in gratitude. "Thank you."

Picking up another brush, she resumes the gentle motion once again. Their gazes collide within the mirror one more time; probe and search. Both witness a new layer of vigilance in the other; the understanding that tonight has inevitably - - irrevocably, somehow altered things between them. Overlaying that, each of them also sense wariness; both of them wise enough to know that even with the best intentions, promises declared under such duress, can easily be broken.

And so it proved to be.

For days Alice remained steadfast in her promise, despite the room's constant presence in her mind. She even went so far as to avoid that section of the palace altogether; an outward display that she would honour her word. Still, she could not ignore the change she felt in the nuances of their relationship. The dark room's existence was a slinking presence between them, both women silently fretting over the sudden appearance of needling tension.

Curled up on her side one night, Alice awoke to the familiar click of the door. After a moment she turned to confirm what she already knew – she was alone in their bed. Telling herself that she was merely going to check on her, not follow her, Alice got out of the bed and tiptoed barefoot across the floor. Trailing Mirana down lifeless corridors, Alice felt her mouth grow dry as the certainty of their destination grew. Her heart dropped as she saw a flash of white disappear down the painfully familiar concealed passageway.

Quelling her mounting dread, she crept behind Mirana, watching intently as her lover mouthed incantations and opened the door. She recognised this magic of Mirana's immediately, having heard her mumble it in fitful sleep many a time, never once aware of its hidden purpose. The door swung shut behind Mirana, swallowing her before Alice had time to react.

She approached it slowly, cautiously; fully aware that she had no indication as to how long Mirana would spend encased in this dark gullet. Standing before the door, Alice summoned the words in her mind. They eluded her playfully and she swayed on her feet lost in the effort to recall them. As if deciding it was far more enticing to give up the chase, the words abruptly echoed in her ears, and Alice was surprised to find that she had unwillingly uttered them aloud. The ebony wood swung noiselessly open once more, compelling Alice forward. Briefly, Alice marvelled at the spell that must have oiled its silent hinge; then she was engulfed in perfect darkness.

At first it was completely overwhelming, long moments passing by before her eyes adjusted to the shadows. It was only then she made out the stairs – rough and uneven, leading down to the depths of what, she could not even begin to imagine. A hint of hesitation touched her mind, perhaps carried on the wafting draft that tugged at her long curls. Remembering the warning Mirana had dispensed so clearly, she bit her lip as guilt refused to allow the movement of her feet.

The sudden strange crisp sound befuddled her; the weak cry that drifted upwards following it did not. Being entirely too familiar, the cold touch of dread instantly gripped Alice as she found her momentum. Mirana. Nothing could halt her rapid descent now, no guilt or warning strong enough to stop her in her tracks. Surging down as quickly as her vision would permit, Alice reached the bottom of the stairs, only to stop at the last step, struck numb by the unexpected scene that greeted her.

Mirana was naked from the waist up, her dress lying neatly folded on a plain but clean table standing against a rugged stone wall. A row of vials covered the surface beside it, carefully arranged in order by a methodical hand. Kneeling with her back presented to Alice, Mirana's long hair was carefully gathered to pool down the side of her bent neck. The muscles in her shoulders and thin back rippled with tension, her hands thrown out in front of her, gripping a hard stone bench. Suspended in between them, swirling in the air, was the cause of the cries, the sharp whistling sounds. A studded leather strap wavered idly in front of Alice's eyes before it tensed, quickly snapping forward, painting a thin red line across the small of Mirana's back. Cold fury swept though Alice at the sight of the blood seeping from numerous cuts, the once beautiful pale skin now broken and torn. Leaping forward, she gripped the handle of the lash, straining against its propelled and programmed motion to land another blow.

Feeling her magic struggle, then fail, Mirana twisted round in time to see Alice wrench the leather strap from the air, a split second later the once animated object dangled listlessly from her hand. Dragging moments stretched between them, neither woman able to do anything but gape at the other.

Unable to hold her gaze any longer, Mirana lowered her own to examine the ground between them, the heat of embarrassment and shame staining her cheeks a crimson red. The silence of the room broken only by their breathing, Alice stood bewildered in front of the kneeling queen. Finally Mirana pivoted on her knees and faced the wall once more, pulling her upper body on top of the bench as if drawing comfort from the cold stone. "You should not be here," she addressed the wall, "you should not have come. I asked you for just one thing," the last was merely a whisper, "now you must leave. Please, Alice. I–" Mirana's voice broke, and she let her head drop on top of her arms, her sobs quietly shuddering her body.

After a moment Mirana heard the soft scrape of Alice's boots heading towards the door. Her heart wrenched, body trembling with the effort of stifling a beseeching cry. Unable to breathe she was lost in the misery of utter desolation. Completely certain she had been abandoned, she startled in surprise when a gentle hand descended to touch her body. As Alice traced her fingers across her back in slanting patterns, Mirana felt a familiar, tingling, sensation seep into her skin. She was getting the potion. Relief welled up in her heart, Mirana exhaling shakily, her tears turning silent. As Alice's fingers delicately investigated the last edge of torn skin, Mirana regained a semblance of control. Somewhat dazed, she allowed herself to be pulled back off her knees and into Alice's arms. Both sitting on the stone floor, she let her body be turned sideways so that she was cushioned by the comfort of her lover's chest. While grateful for the contact, anxiety bid her tuck her head under Alice's chin, afraid of what she might encounter in her eyes.

When a few more moments passed, Alice slipped her hand under Mirana's chin and gently brought them face to face. A steadfast and loving gaze caused the queen to tremble anew. There was no disgust, no revulsion in her stare. Small kisses began to rain down on her face, each one offering solace to the quaking woman.

"I never meant for you to see this..." Mirana finally said in a halting voice.

"Yes, I know. But, I...I am not sorry."

They exchanged a long look, Mirana feeling her anger and despair recede in the face of Alice's unwavering gaze. She is so resolute. A tinge of hope brushed her heart.

Tenderly Alice squeezed Mirana, casting her eyes about the room as if she could catch sight of her invisible enemy. "I am not even sure what this is," Alice confessed, letting the unvoiced question linger in the air.

Mirana shook her head slowly, now resigned to telling the truth. "It is something that has always been in me. That I know always will be. I come here when it becomes too much, I come here..." Mirana paused unsure of how to continue. Finding no words she simply stated, "I need this."

"This." Alice echoed, taking in the sparse contents of the room. "What is it that you need? Alice's fingers reflexively ran up and down Mirana's naked back, "To hurt?"

Concern and the desire to comprehend so evident in Alice's face, Mirana relaxed, forming the answer slowly in her mind. Struggling to describe the dark aspect of herself at once so familiar and yet unknown she tentatively replied, "Yes. And no. My vows, Alice, I can not and will not harm a living thing, not against its will. But there is also something I must do, to pacify this need inside me." Mirana shook her head adamantly, "I cannot stop it. I won't. I go through this for me, for everyone, in order to remain myself."

"And all alone." Alice said quietly, arms tightening around Mirana's slender body. Grappling with the feeling of utter helplessness, she realised that while there was nothing in the world she would not battle on behalf of her beloved queen, she was unable to banish something that was so integral to Mirana herself. At a loss, Alice sought the dark lips with her mouth, conveying the surge of emotion building up inside her. Mirana permitted herself to be held too tightly, responding with a hungry kiss; grateful that Alice was clinging to her with the same desperation and love that, she herself, was feeling.

"You should not have to do this all alone, I won't let you." Mirana opened her mouth to speak but Alice continued, a single finger stilling her response. "Shhh, I know you cannot stop."

Mirana let out a held breath, glad that Alice would not ask her to do what she could not.

"Tell me, will this work for me?" Alice gestured at the vial still cradled in her hand. "Yes," came the soft, if confused, reply. "Whenever I brew anything I...I can't help but think of you. You are a part of them as much as I am. Anything I ever make will work for you."

Alice smiled at the evident depth of love embedded in that simple statement. "I want you to use it," she said, pressing the concoction in Mirana's hand.

"Are you hurt?" Mirana's immediate response was anxious as she peppered Alice with searching fingers.

A small smile playing on her lips, Alice slowly released Mirana. She crossed her arms, gripping the thin fabric on each shoulder; then pulled the nightdress slowly over her head. Extracting her arms from the sleeves she dropped the clothing to one side and faced Mirana, naked and shivering in the dimness of the room.

Mirana cast an uneasy look, her eyes lingering on the expanse of pale skin in spite of herself, "What are you doing?"

"I am your champion, am I not?"

Alarm now surfaced in Mirana's voice "Yes, you are, always, but..." She stopped speaking as Alice cupped her jaw, thumbs running softly against her lips.

Continuing to soothe her with the pads of her fingers, Alice paused to gaze deep into her eyes. "Mirana," she whispered, leaning forward so their foreheads touched, "I love you."

The statement hung between them, Mirana's expression softening to a tender countenance despite the dire implications Alice was making. "And I you," she breathed, "so very much." Heart beating wildly, Mirana allowed an instant to revel in the words she had been longing to hear from Alice for so long. "But what you offer, I cannot take. You must understand that it could never be.

"It is my choice, my will. I want to give myself to you. I do so freely." Alice said the last words with emphasis, willing Mirana to understand the depth of her devotion.

Mirana furrowed her brow, biting her lip a moment before answering, "But Alice..."

Again she was silenced as firm hands pulled her in for another kiss. Pleading now, Alice beseeched Mirana, "Just let that be enough, right now. Just know that I am yours."

Mirana nodded mutely, not trusting her voice. They wrapped their arms around each other, both shivering in the draughty room, all the awkwardness of the past weeks melting away. The ever present strain was still there inside of her, lurking and nagging at her thoughts, but even here in the grimness of the dark, her champion was light, above that – hope… that even this, her heaviest burden, was no longer something to be borne alone.