Wow! I had absolutely no intention of working on this chapter today, but then I updated by profile and was like, "Why don't I try to write a bit?" Hour later, chapter finished! HWOOT! It went in an interesting direction I hadn't expected - more Mally and Chess was planned, but they got shoved to the next chapter (sorry fans!). Instead, I got to spend a bit of time in Stayne's head (a very interesting place to be!) and give you guys some mysterious plot hints ;) Hope you like it!
Disclaimer: Despite the dvd/blue-ray combo sitting on my shelf beside Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the movie's novelization, I do not *own* Alice in Wonderland.
Hamish stood, in stunned silence, searching desperately through Alice's face for something – anything – to make him think that he had just (once again) misunderstood this young woman. But instead he only found the most honest of sincerity.
And a touch of fear.
"I don't know who he is, Hamish." Alice repeated, glancing at the door as though worried someone might be there, listening to her terrible confession. "And it's not just him – it's Stayne, too. I know I know them, Hamish, I know I do! I can remember them both, just a bit, short memories, bits and pieces of information. But...I don't know, Hamish, it just..."
She sighed, taking a seat unceremoniously on the butcher's table (how...oh, Hamish was too mixed up at this point, he couldn't even voice his indignation that Alice would place her dress, let alone her posterior, on a table where animals were slaughtered, raw meat cut, and blood poured...just, ew...) and linking her fingers together on her lap. "They are Ilosovic Stayne and Tarrant Hightopp. The former Knave of Hearts and the Milliner to the White Queen of Marmoreal. I remember...a trial. I testified in behalf of Stayne. ...I also remember a... tea party, with the Hatter. And his fit didn't bother me. I didn't feel scared or worried or anything like that. It was like...I'd done it before, and everything was okay.
"But Hamish, I realized it when Stayne rescued me. He spoke as if he knew me so well, and he felt so familiar! The Hatter, it's the same with him. Now I'm getting worried. Who are these people? How do I know them? Why can't I remember them completely? There's so much more, I know it! But I can't...Stayne spoke of me spurning his advances, of me opposing his queen...I don't remember that. I don't remember any of it."
Alice smashed her eyes shut, her face twisting as though she were inwardly pleading with herself. And Hamish didn't know what to say. What could he say? He didn't know anything about amnesia or memory loss or whatever this was, and he wasn't there, he couldn't fill in any of poor Alice's re-collective holes. What did she expect?
"But I know them, Hamish." Her words were barely above a whisper, and she looked up at him, eyes clear and powerful with assurance. "I know them, like I know the sky is blue and the grass is green and that cats can talk and-"
Hamish interrupted reflexively, his habits of pomposity more in control than his preoccupied mind. But his words rang false even to his own ears as he said them. "Cats can't talk."
Alice smirked at him ruefully. "Don't be stupid, Hamish."
He wanted to argue with that somehow, but couldn't. And then he realized what exactly they were talking about. "Wait, you've seen the talking cat, too?"
"I...no...but, I know – oh, this is getting ridiculous! His name is Chess! He's the Chessire Cat! He's..."
Gritting his teeth, Hamish filled Alice's pained silence (and it is only a silence so filled with Alice's pain that would ever have gotten him to speak of such preposterous things). "A rather...whispish gray thing with, ah, brightly colored stripes and a toothy grin?"
Now Alice was staring at him, and Hamish was forced not to laugh awkwardly and claim the whole thing as a joke, for he was certain he'd given Alice that same look many a time and it was probably justice being served that she should be looking at him this way now.
He expected her to think him crazy. She could have called him crazy for thinking she'd think him such.
"You've seen Chess, Hamish? Here in London?"
"Here in the house, actually, not seconds before you arrived. Talking with a, um, little white mouse in a pink dress."
Hamish laughed, and, hearing a bit of hysteria, clamped his mouth shut again.
"Mallymkun!" Alice stood up, looking much more herself than she had when they'd entered the kitchen. But the joy on her face began to fade after a moment. "There it is again. The knowledge of who they are, the certainty that I know them, that I care about them, but...nothing else. Mally brandishing a tiny sword, Chess curled up on a tree branch...and then nothing. And I don't know what to do about it. Should I ask them?"
"No!" It was out without a thought to propriety or tone or any of the things that should have been guiding Hamish in all his proper lordliness. There was only the flash in his mind, of that sad, sad man standing, destitute in the middle of his destroyed living room. It would break him, that was all Hamish could think. Alice, having forgotten the Hatter (again, his memories supplied – Mr. Hightopp had mentioned she'd forgotten him before. Wait, so this was not a new thing! Thus, if she'd dealt with it before, she must be able to deal with it again. But she could not ask the Hatter (or Stayne, for that matter, he'd take this information and run with it just to cause trouble), so she'd need to ask someone else she knew who'd been through this with her. There, that's a start!)...wait, what was he saying? Oh, it didn't matter anymore, he had a plan.
He smiled, then realized Alice was staring at him. Right, he'd just...kind of yelled at her. Time to remedy that lapse in sanity. "No, no. No. Not either of those two, at least. Now this Chess, and Mally, was it? We should find and ask them!"
"But where do we look?"
A hitch in the plan. "They were here earlier, so they should still be in the house, yes? We'll just search the place."
"I'll search the place. Mother has gone to call you, Tarrant, and Stayne a hansom. You have to be going."
Hamish huffed, knowing she was right. "I'll try talking to these men tonight then, shall I?"
"Thank you, Hamish. This means a lot to me."
"Of course, Alice." She was Alice, after all, and he was Hamish; it was a given.
The carriage ride back to the Manchester estate was a rather cheerful one, filled with continuous tales and appraisals, joyous laughter and scheming inferences. Margaret was ecstatic, bubbling over with joy about her sister and the adventures of the night. Lowell barely had to say a word; mostly, he just kept his arm wrapped around his wife, watching her rapturous face with a peace in his heart that he rarely felt except in her presence. All the torturous excitement of the past few hours was almost worth it for how much Margaret was stimulated by it.
Upon reaching the house, however, his darling wife seemed to have tuckered herself out, and Lowell led her upon his arm to their room where he left her to prepare for bed...and other activities. After all, he deserved a reward after all the psychotics he'd had to put up with today, no one could deny that.
But his wife needed time to pamper herself before retiring, so he occupied himself otherwise with deciding what weapon he should be keeping on his person from now on. After all, when keeping such company and having such a sweet, beautiful, kind, naive wife, he needed to pack protection of some kind, before they were jumped, or worse. If today was any indication, Alice companions should have been locked away, not greeted with the enthusiasm the family was showering them with. Even Hamish! Well, the poor sod never could stand against Alice, so he supposed it was to be expected.
Sighing, Lowell decided a knife was better than a pistol for this situation and readied it to be tucked into his boot in the morning before making his way back to the bedroom. In the hall, he passed a looking-glass.
He did a double take, stopping to stare at it, suddenly afraid for no reason he could identify. There was nothing strange about the glass, no ghostly face or watery surface. Had he only imagined such an image earlier? He was not used to imagining much of anything, the idea disturbed him almost as much as if he had actually saw something. But it was nothing; of course it was, it must have been.
Trying to put such fanciful thoughts aside, Lowell left the looking-glass to hang as it always did and entered his bedroom, some of the few imaginings he allowed himself – those of his loving wife awaiting him – taking over his mind.
And there she was, his precious Margaret – already tucked in and asleep.
Lowell bit back a groan. So much for his reward.
Sighing, Lowell began to tug his clothes off, venting his frustration as silently as he could. He tossed his ascot onto Margaret's vanity. The wooden structure was rather large and pale, not matching the rest of the furniture in the room. It had been Helen's, a gift to her daughter upon their marriage, and Lowell had been loathe to let her keep it, but those doe eyes had won out in the end. The looking-glass perched upon the top was large and dirty, the surface uneven and uncleanable, colored with age. It was an unwelcome sight after the disconcertion he was feeling towards such things that reflected what wasn't there to be reflected.
And this one was doing just that.
The face was there again, just behind a shimmering mist. Pale as a ghost, eyes shining bright. Eyes oh so very much seeped in kindness, like his Margaret's. Was he seeing an image of his wife as an old maid? No, this was not Margaret's face, despite the eyes, and there was no sign of age upon the smooth porcelain skin. Was it a ghost, then? Some apparition meant to drive mad?
The dark lips, striking so much against he paleness, moved. Lowell heard no sounds, but the calm serenity that he had seen there earlier had disappeared. Instead, the woman seemed overcome with emotion, desperation alight in her features. He stepped closer, wondering if there was anything to hear...
Darkness swept over the sheet of glass. It cleared, an empty mirror once more, only the room around, and Lowell himself, reflected upon it.
The ride through London and to the Ascot's estate was a rather boring one, and Stayne found that the bumbling ginger that seemingly served Alice was becoming steadily better at rerouting his insults into regular conversation the longer the journey went on, making things doubly boring. He couldn't throw a scathing comment Tarrant's way with the annoying twit somehow managing twisting his words into something abhorrently normal. All his venom was lost in translation upon the dear haberdasher, and eventually Stayne gave up and began sulking broodingly in the corner of the carriage, face in his hand and good eye glaring out at the passing scenary (which was proving to be just as boring as the carriage itself. He had yet to see an insulting flower, a rockinghorsefly, or any other such commonality as Underland held. What could Alice possibly see in such a dreary and plain place? Maybe it was that she liked being the only interesting thing in existence, as it seemed she was here. That must be it. And she thought him arrogant!).
Tarrant laughed, high pitched and clipped, and the sound was grating on Stayne's last nerve. He could tell that this Hamish-thing, too, was annoyed, as it was obvious to anyone with a thought in their heads, which the Hatter had none of and just went on prattling nonsensically. Stayne rolled his eyes, wishing he could hurl. He puts up all the effort to travel to this Overland and find Alice, only to discover her drowning and rush to save her (despite his better judgement. He was still angry with himself for this, and chastised himself that it had all better work out to his advantage or he was in great danger of becoming soft, which was unforgivable – and dangerous), and what was all this? This idiotic Milliner, already cozy in Alice's life in London, and little place for him and his plans. His plans. The things he had to do, the things that needed to be done...
Oh, Stayne was willing to admit his discomfort. If he was afraid of anything, he might have been willing to admit he was even a bit scared. Of this. Of what was happening, what had to happen.
He shifted, crossing his arms over his chest defiantly and sitting up a bit straighter. There was no one to defy here, though, no one to look intimidating or impressive for, no one he could prove himself against. Stayne knew well he was what Alice had termed once as a 'bully', but he was a bully being bullied, with no one to bully to make himself feel better. That had always been the way with him, with his life, and he was quite tired of it. He was free of the Red Queen, but had he merely exchanged one pathetic tyrant for another? Would this be forever what he was reduced to, some sniveling servant, when he knew – he knew – he was so much more than that, could be more than that!
His charms had kept him alive for this long, a wicked tongue and a sharp sword, but would they be enough to save him now? Save him from this wretched existence he was so tired of? Or would salvation – freedom – only be found in death?
The hansom jolting, and Stayne's head smacked into the carriage wall. He growled loudly, cursing his luck, and shot angry glares at the small space's other occupants, who were staring at him looking startled. He turned his gaze back out the window, grumbling, and waited impatiently for Tarrant's ramblings to resume. They didn't. Forced to hear silence ring in his aching head, Stayne tried to turn his mind to happier thoughts; Pretty Alice (though so very small again), her fire, her future. Torturing a madman, driving the Mad Hatter madder than ever. Finding new victims, new ways of making his name feared, revered!
Until the time came. No! Even after! He would live through this, he swore he would!
Stayne was many things, many many many. He was a bully, yes, angry, mean, cruel, sadistic, narcissistic, a kiss-up, coward, determined, persevering, opportunistic, ambitious, eloquent, short tempered, violent, cunning, a liar, a cheat, womanizing, insatiable, arrogant, submissive, pathetic, persistent, manipulative, sly and scheming, treacherous, backstabbing, afraid afraid afraid afraid afraid afraid-
Scared. Stayne was so scared.
Anger flared inside him, lit by the fear, driven by it. He would not lay down and take his fate, he would fight. He would plan, scheme, manipulate, kiss-up to, cheat- whatever he had to do, whatever he had to do. Ilosovic Stayne WOULD live through this.
Because he was so, so terribly afraid to die.