It was late, no doubt about it. But I couldn't sleep. These days, I couldn't sleep as much as I would have wanted.

You wouldn't either, when all you dream of is vengeance. Unrelenting, bittersweet vengeance that was my only life-line; my reason to continue living in this war-torn world that is my home. The total destruction of one's life just because someone you loved lost theirs. I can't begin to describe the feeling, but if I told you, you'd probably wouldn't understand. I think nobody does.

But they don't need to. They can see for themselves, but they'll never know what I'm going through.

Not you. Not the rook, whom I consider a close friend. Not Homburg Molly, because she has her father back again. Not Hatter Madigan: he won't have the time. Not Bibwit Harte, even though he's the smartest person I've ever known. Not Alyss, despite the times she's tried to change my mind, trying to persuade me from fulfilling my goal. Not even the Oracles, wise and all-seeing, can understand.


But when our paths cross once more, when I can unleash the pain and fury from my soul, I shall see to making The Cat understand.

The Cat will understand when the last breath in his body escapes out of his bloody mouth. I'll make him understand.

To understand the life-shattering feeling within me, still mourning for the death of my father.

During the day I'm vengeful as sin, taking up my responsibilities as Captain of the Palace Guard with increased impatience for a sign from Redd or hopefully The Cat, but during the night the said life-shattering feeling takes over. It often keeps me awake. My heart beats to the slow tempo of the Wondertropolis Clock Tower in the distance, audible as ever. Hypnotic it may seem, but I failed to fall under its spell. Vengeance had chained me to the wall and let me suffer. If Freedom was the key, it was right in front of me in Alyss's soft hands.

But I chose not to take it. I chose not to take Alyss. Not until I get through my suffering.

If it means my life shall end should I kill The Cat, then so be it.

I lifted myself up from my bed, my trusty sword in hand, which I often go for whenever I am awake or whenever I was disturbed from my slumber. Straightening my posture, I catch my reflection in the blade's mirrored surface. If I was to forget my hunger for revenge, the four parallel scars on my cheek was a starter and I drank in all the pain once more. I ran my fingers over the scars, hardened and prominent. My reflection did the same, his mouth pursed into a frown. Those scars served as a constant reminder of what happened all those years ago, and what should happen because of it.

Not only did The Cat take my father away, but also my innocence. If I felt pain when his claw swiped at my face, it couldn't compare to what my father had gone through. I silently prayed that he died quickly and painlessly.

I turned away from my reflection, unable to bear the sight of my eyes misting up.

Breathing in deeply, I dropped my sword onto my bed and began to dress into my uniform. I was wide awake now, and I needed some fresh air.

Few minutes later and I was all dressed up, yet I was still cold. I bet it was colder outside, but I didn't care. I sheathed my sword - I never went anywhere without it - and exited my room. The corridor was deserted, but I remained ever so silent as I walked upon the glittering floor. I like to think that big-eared Bibwit was nearby and that I must try to get past him without him hearing even my breath. It's a little game I like to play; I sometimes use this technique whilst on stealth missions. The never-ending challenge, I call it.

Much like trying to take The Cat's life, but it won't be never-ending or a challenge forever.

I reached the end of the corridor and into another, one that led straight to the courtyard. I stared right ahead, trying to avoid my passing reflection in the walls. If I was to be alone with my thoughts, I needn't further fuel the burning desire within me should I see those scars again. I had to restrain myself - for now.

I stepped out into the courtyard, and the night air hit me like a slap in the face. A flirtatious breeze, just as cold and unforgiving, caressed my scars lovingly, and I felt myself shiver on the inside, like I always do when Alyss cupped my face, lightly stroking my marks with her cold fingertips. Between us it may seem to appear like a gesture of affection, but between myself and the true me, I felt ... well, I felt ashamed. Hurt. Tainted. I often wonder if people - upon seeing me for the first time - think that because of my scars, I was weak? The thought rarely invades my preoccupied mind. Why should it? After all, I'm supposed to be the vengeful, homicidal/suicidal, ignorant young man who wants to kill all the time, right?

Yet as I accepted the breeze's chilling embrace, I hoped that wouldn't be the case tonight.

I looked around at my surroundings. The courtyard was beautiful in the daytime, when the sunflowers followed the sun's rays, casting shadows over the war memorial: the guards for the guardsmen, soldiers and Wonderland civilians alike. If you were to listen to the melancholy tunes of these flowers, you'd find yourself reliving the effects of your loss, but in turn you'd receive strength; new hope even if there was so little of it. I never found my entire strength from them, however; I found it from something else. Someone else, apart from Alyss.

Beautiful in the daytime, I had just described it, but it can't compare to its appearance tonight. The sunflowers were asleep, yet the melancholy feeling was evident from their withering postures and the dew-drops around their petals, eerily appearing like tears. The diurnal guardians were resting, but their nocturnal substitutes were out, faithfully doing their shifts: they were the stars. I've never seen so many stars. They shone like diamonds (regretfully, I can't find any other stunning jewel to compare it to) from the black-velvet sky. They casted an illuminating glow on the courtyard and the palace, and for a moment I thought they were not stars, but souls. Souls of those who lost their lives in the war. They remind me that I was not the only one who lost a loved one.

It was a hauntingly beautiful scene. I silently thanked the stars for bringing me here tonight to witness the mystique I'd never knew existed in a place I visited so often when I needed mental support. Perhaps my ignorance is to blame. I was blinded from everything else. Revenge has that effect on me, but I digress.

Passing the sleeping sunflowers and other flowers alike, I made my way to the back of the memorial, where he lay, the one person who could give me more strength than Alyss, mental or otherwise.

The sight of my father's grave had always torn at my heart whenever I visited him, but the atmosphere and the night-scene assured me that he was okay - at least that's what I like to think. The Hereafter Plant which I had planted all those years ago had captured his likeness perfectly. His fine, proud face stared back at me with beautiful turquoise-blue eyes. When I was younger - way before my life was changed forever at Alyss's birthday - I would often ask my father why my eyes, dark and hazel-brown, were different from his own and if that meant I wasn't his son.

My father would always laugh at me, but not out of spite. With a twinkle in his blue orbs, he'd say, "You may not have my eyes, my boy, but my blood runs through your veins as does your blood through mine. You have Anders blood, Dodge. You're my son, no matter what."

He'd smile at me, and I'd smile back, reassured. I failed to notice that he never answered that question of mine. He'd dodge it every time as if he were in a fight and dodging the moves of his opponent, living up to his guardsman's duty - maybe that's where I get my namesake from. He's always been like that since I was old enough to understand that I had no mother. I hardly ever questioned him about this fact, mainly because I felt that I didn't need a mother: after all, I had my father, and that was good enough for me.

The other reason for not interrogating him was because I couldn't bear the awkwardness of the situation. Imagine how uncomfortable it must be for the Captain of the Palace Guard to explain to his inquisitive five-year-old son about the absence of a certain woman in both their lives. Totally heart-wrenching, in his case, if he was to speak one word of her after so long. Perhaps it would have hurt him more if he were to say I had my mother's eyes. I couldn't bear his pain. I never could; I have my own, but again, I digress.

The blossoms of the Hereafter Plant swayed in greeting, as if the likeness of my father was acknowledging my presence. Stupidly, I nodded my head in response. I repeated the same action in the direction of Queen Genevieve and King Nolan's graves. The two Hereafter Plants, two realistic images of the Royal couple, bobbed back at me. With that, I turned my attention back onto my father's grave. If I'm not mistaken, his eyes began to twinkle with approval - or maybe it was because of the moonlight reflecting off the dew-drops laced around the petals.

Taking a deep breath, I exhaled and said, "Hello, Father."

It amazed me that I never got emotional every time I addressed him with this line whenever I visited his grave. Of course, the pillars of strength doesn't always hold up for long and then they begin to break down, and pretty soon my tears would follow.

Averting my eyes, I started to say, "I know it's very late, but I couldn't sleep again. I assure you that's it's not because of my responsibilities as a guardsmen - if that were the case, you'd know the feeling. You were never too tired when you were the Captain of the Guards. It puzzles me, Father, how you never got tired. You were always alert, ready to perform your duties at the word 'go'. I simply can't remember one moment of you ever sleeping at all."

I chuckled, my eyes still averted. "Why, whenever I awoke from my slumber, whether it was from a full-night's rest or from a nightmare, you'd be wide awake, ready for anything. I must confess, I lacked some of your vigilance when I was younger, but I feel that's all changed now." '

I paused, clenching my fist. "Ever since you - and Queen Alyss, I thought at the time - had passed on, I vowed to myself to be more vigilant so I could not be caught off guard, if you'll pardon the pun, when the time would come for me to face your murderer."

Managing to keep the rising anger becoming evident in my voice, but only just, I looked up, staring directly into my father's flowery eyes. "Believe me, Father, the last thing I want to do is to go after him in an uncontrollable rage, for it'll be the cause of my own death. It would be wrong to be by your side in spirit without achieving my goal first. I want to make you proud, and if my life should end when the same happens to your murderer, I will welcome it. It will be an honour to be laid beside a worthy man like you after completing my life's purpose."

The Hereafter Plant swayed once more in the light wind, shaking off some dew. It was if my father was shaking his head at me, unable to believe what I just said. I looked down at the ground, feeling shame-faced: I didn't seem convinced of my speech, either. The only words I meant with all my heart was the part of wanting to make him proud and welcoming death as soon as I killed The Cat (whom I dare not say his cursed name out loud in front of my father's grave) and being buried beside the famed, former guardsmen, whom I thought the world of.

It was just the part of wanting to restrain myself and not going off in a bloody fury to kill The Cat that I couldn't believe.

I sighed, again avoiding eye-contact. "You have every right to be disappointed with me, Father: lying to your spirit is just as bad as lying straight to your face. Forgive me, though I can honestly tell you I'm trying hard to control myself. For your sake and Alyss's."

An image of Alyss immediately entered my mind as I said this. I don't have an imagination like that of the Queen, but the picture of her in my mind was so realistic and incredibly detailed. Her long black hair, a waterfall of soft, dark streams that reflected lights of any kind. I could almost reach out and touch it, moving the lustrous strands aside to reveal her pastel-white skin, flawless and smooth. I could picture her rosy lips curved into an irresistible smile; the one she'd always reserve for me. Her eyes were blue as sapphires, and they were laced with long black lashes. Her graceful body wore a white gown, a very rich pearl-colour that gave a rosy shade to her complexion. The gown sparkled like Alyss's entire appearance ...

"Oh Father, you know I love Alyss," I said with an audible sigh. "My revenge and my life as a guardsmen are the only things that hold me back from her. On the one hand, I don't want to see you disappointed, so I keep away from the Queen and place my thoughts on my goal, but that only makes Alyss unhappy. And on the other hand I want to be with Alyss, but I know you'll never forgive me for putting my feelings before my life and it will forever make me guilty, that and the fact that your murderer will live on."

The tears began to run down my cheeks, drenching my scars. I'd bet my grief alone could flood out The Pool of Tears.

"I don't know what to do anymore, Father," I whispered softly, closing my tearful eyes. "You always knew what to do. That's why I came here tonight."

Opening my eyes, I found myself staring into my father's blue orbs. "Whenever I was sick, you'd take care of me. When I was down, you lifted my spirits up with just one smile. When I couldn't sleep, I'd go to you and you'd sing me a lullaby. Right now, I'd give up my life and soul, my love for Alyss and all my emotions and everything I have left in this world ..."

I fell onto both knees, bowing my head. The tear-drops plummeted to the wet ground.

"... to hear your voice again."

"Dodge ..."

I raised my head slightly at the sound of my name, unable to recognize the speaker's voice.

"Dodge ..."

My heart skipped a beat. I did know that voice. It's been so long ...

Slowly, I glanced over my shoulder, forgetting to wipe off the tear-stains on my face.

I couldn't believe what I saw. Who I saw.

Standing a few feet away from me, the tails of the coat of the guardsman's uniform he wore fluttering in the light wind, the fleur-de-lis badge shining proudly, a familiar proud smile gracing his features, his dark hair clean and neat and soft as I always remembered it, and with twinkling blue eyes that I was staring into only just a few seconds ago, was -

"Father?" I whispered disbelievingly, my wet eyes widening.

My heart was out of control by that point, for there was too much to comprehend: I was kneeling in front of my father's grave having an emotional breakdown yet I find myself staring face-to-face with the real Sir Justice Anders, who stood staring back at me with both his warm eyes and unforgettable smile.

My heart nearly exploded when that smile grew wider, revealing pearly-white teeth and words came flowing out his mouth like music: "Yes, son, it's me ..."

Realizing I was sitting there open-mouthed and that the hot tears were still running from my eyes, I hastily wiped my face with the back of my hand and I got onto my feet, straightening my posture so that I didn't look withered and weak in front of my beloved father. I was so awed by his presence, I had forgotten to rub the dirt off of my breeches. So much for appearance, but I didn't care.

Seconds passed, and I had not made another move. The other man didn't either. We stood there as the night wore on slowly, him gazing warmly at me, and I ogling him. Something inside of me held me back, cementing my feet to the ground. The utter confusion I felt made my knees shiver, and if not for the imaginary glue sticking my feet to the ground, I do believe I would've fallen over. Possibly even pass out.
How embarrassing it would be to do this in front of my father: he'd understand if I passed out from the smoke of the the blue caterpillar's hookah pipe, but he'd find it plain bloody ridiculous if his fully-grown son had a faint in his presence.

Thankfully, my confusion failed to take away my ability to speak.

"Is it really you?" I asked quietly, audible enough for him to hear. "Really, really you?"

He nodded. "Really, really me, Dodge ..."

And then he chuckled, and looking at my still surprised expression, he added, "You should see the look on your face. It's as if you've seen a ghost."

That comment alone set me off.

I found myself no longer paralyzed and running towards him, my arms outstretched to embrace him and new tears forming once more. I literally jumped at my father, who took a step back to catch me. I felt like a child all over again; waking up from a nightmare and running to my father's arms. He would rub my back in a comforting manner as I wailed, burying my face into his uniformed shoulder. That's what I did now. I wrapped my arms around him, my tears creating a patch on his shoulder. "It's you, it's you ..." I began to mutter into his shoulder, not wanting to let go of him.

Staggering a bit from my height - I was more or less an inch taller than him now - my father wrapped his arms around me, whispering "There-there, don't cry" or "I'm here now" as he rubbed my back to comfort me. As we stood there in that embrace, I knew that he didn't feel like a ghost. He was real, breathing and alive for my eyes to see. If he was a ghost, I didn't give a darn. My prayers had been answered: all that I'd sacrifice had brought him back to me. Perhaps I did wake up from a nightmare.

After a long while, my father pulled away from and held me at arms-length, inspecting my features. I couldn't dry my face now.

"Look at you," he murmured, amazed as he examined me, almost as proud as his smile. "Look at you ... you've grown up so fast ..."

I managed a weak smile, blinking my eyes over and over again. "It's been thirteen years, Father. I'm twenty-three now. I wouldn't exactly call that growing up fast."

He shook his head. "That's not what I meant, Dodge." My father appeared to be serious, and I dropped the smile. "You had to grow up awfully fast when you were just ten years old. You were suddenly thrown into a dangerous situation even I couldn't save you from ... I couldn't even save myself ..."

His gaze fell on my scars, and I turned my face away from him. A certain feline came to mind. By the looks of it, Father had the same thought.

He cupped the side of my flawed face and turned it towards him again, examining the scars at different angles. I shivered again. My father sighed.

"It hurts me to see you like this," he said quietly, shaking his head once more. "I can only imagine the pain you're going through. If it hadn't been for The Cat -"

I hissed at the sound of the cursed name.

"If it hadn't been for The Cat," Father continued after my interruption, "you wouldn't be consumed with hatred and vengeance. It breaks my heart to know that your life is based on an impossible task, not to mention it's near-suicide. You could have had a happier life, serving your Queen without The Cat troubling your mind. Everything could be right again."

"It will never be alright," I replied, breaking from his grip. I turned my back on him, my hands going for my sword out of pure habit. "I can marry Alyss right this minute because I love her so much and kill The Cat and Redd Heart herself, but it will never be alright, because I know that life isn't the same ..."

I turned my head back at him and said, "... without you."

There was another sigh from him. "Oh, Dodge ..."

He put a hand on my shoulder and turned me right around, our eyes meeting properly.

"You've got to stop living in the past," said my father gently, "and move on. You're making yourself unhappy, and it will continue to do so if you carry on acting like this. I want you to stop worrying about me, and focus on yourself."

"But Father, I -" I began to say, but he waved his other hand to silence me.

"I know you want to make me proud by avenging my death, but what do you plan on doing with your life afterwards? The killing of The Cat is all you have to continue living, but whether you succeed in assassinating him or you fail ..." He paused. "I'm afraid you might end up worse than before ..."

Why is it, I thought to myself at that moment, that he's right but he's making me feel guilty at the same time?

My father gazed at me, looking quite apologetic. "I know it's something that you didn't want to hear from anyone, least of all me, but I guessed that I was the only one who could get through to you."

"You always were," I replied, allowing myself to grin, albeit a small one. "Why do you think I always came to your -" And then I paused, unable to say the word "grave". "Your, um ... oh, you know what I mean."

My old man nodded knowingly. His grave was something I didn't want him to talk about to anyone. Least of all me.

I broke eye-contact with him for a moment to check my surroundings. The stars were shining brilliantly than before, active as ever. Some of the sunflowers, who were sleeping previously and now rudely awakened, had shaken off the dew-drops and were listening to our conversation intently. A few of them were making cute noises at the scene, contented at our reunion. One or two of them even began to sing softly under their breaths (if they could breathe). It was a familiar tune. Something I hadn't heard in a long time ...

Where you go, sang the sunflowers, I'll always be with you.

"I see you remember that little night-time melody I taught you once upon a time," said Father, almost blissfully. "Your mother used to sing it to you when you were just a baby ..."

I stared at him in surprise. He never talked about my mother. By no means.

A wistful smile played on his lips. "A divine lady with a bright mind. Unfortunately, she was foolish to have married me, even though she knew that I was a lowly guardsman whose duty was to his Queen and not to his heart. I thought she would regret marrying me in the end, but when she died peacefully in my arms after your second birthday, the last words I can remember her saying was that she loved me and you ...

"And then she was gone ..."

I didn't know what to say to this. I didn't need to. The sunflowers were sniffling in the background in sympathy for the pensive former guardsman and his son, and then they fell quiet again as I approached my father in sorrow.

"Dad ..." was all I could manage.

"It was like a nightmare," he whispered gently. "A nightmare that I had yet to be woken from. One minute she was alive, the next she was cold as stone. I had sworn to protect my Queen, but I swore to protect your mother when we took our vows. I took my eyes off of her for a few seconds, I turn around and I find her bleeding to death. I could never sleep or close my eyes without that distorted image of her and her last moments in this world flashing in my mind, when the light from her eyes ceased to shine ..."

"Stop it," I whispered, the words falling out my mouth on its own accord.

"Redd had taken her away from me. The whole thing shattered me. Life wasn't worth living without her, but one part of me wanted to go and fight Redd so that no one else could suffer like I did. Nevertheless, I knew I couldn't: it was you that held me back, Dodge ..."

"Stop it," I said again, a little louder than before.

"I had to be there for you. For your sake and your mother's. She would have wanted me to be a better father for you, rather than losing my own life because of my personal vendetta. You needed me, and I had to put aside my grudge. I saw too much of your mother in you than to pursue a reckless, suicidal goal. The thought of you, abandoned and orphaned at such a young age if I had carried out my actions -"

"Stop it!" I exclaimed. "Please, stop it! I've heard enough!"

Fresh tears formed in the corner of my eyes, and upon noticing them my father snapped out of his reminiscing. He pulled me into another embrace, patting me on the back once more whilst I let myself go, abandoning pretense altogether - no longer a vengeful guardsman, but a broken man.

I always wanted to be like my father, and I got my wish: I became a guardsman, lost a loved one and had to live with teared-up feelings inside every day and every night - with only vengeance to fuel the flames that burned me to no end.

The only difference was that my father was dead.

"Forgive me for letting my mouth run off like that, son," he said quietly, audible enough for me to hear over my loud sobs. "It hurts to hear all this, I know ..."

"Oh, Father, what must I do?" I whimpered hopelessly. "For Issa's sake, what must I do? Tell me what must be done. I can't take it anymore. I can't ..."

The sunflowers began to wail in the background, awakening other sleeping flowers who, upon noticing the comforting father and his grieving son, also joined the sunflower choir in their upset howls. They cried for me. They cried for Sir Justice Anders. Their cries were even for my mother, that divine, bright yet foolish woman who took the Anders name and had died in return.

For the first time in my life, as my father cradled me in his arms, I silently called for my mother.

"In the night, the sky is filled with stars
There's a place, a new world somewhere far.
Don't despair, listen to the wind sing,
Close your eyes, let go and spread your wings

And fly away, like a bird, free and true
Through the skies, each day and night anew.
Don't think you're on your own,
You'll never be alone.
Where you go, I'll always be with you ..."

As I heard the sunflowers crooning, I, having fallen silent now yet sniffing a bit, found myself mouthing the familiar words as if it were a mantra. I tried to picture myself as a youngster, no more than two-years-old, held in the arms of a hazel-brown-eyed woman who was singing the same words to me, soft and soothing. A young man, dressed in a guardsman's uniform, stood beside her, smiling at the two people he cherished more than anything.

The picture morphed slightly, and the young man - I presumed him to be my father - was gone, and it was I who stood in his place, wearing the same uniform. In my mother's place stood the living reason for my revenge: The Cat was not in a sing-song mood, though he grinned all the same, exposing his butcher-knifed fangs. His claws - not exactly motherly - were stained heavily with blood. Each time I saw a drop of blood fall from those claws, I could see the same scene over and over again: The Cat picking up my father like a worthless doll and swiping him, and his dead body falling to the ground. Resentment was taking over my body at that point, but it stopped as the toddler version of me morphed into the very own angel that stood on my shoulder.

Alyss ...

She smiled hopefully at me, a glimmer of plea in her eyes, in which I saw the day we danced together on her seventh birthday, which changed to the scene to the night we, both fully-grown, danced at that masquerade. With my attitude, intentions and actions, I was still leading my beloved Queen in a dance. A waltz through my ruined Wonderland. The Cat was doing the same with me, a killer dancer who could kill me if I dared fall out of step, which I often tried in order to end the absurd thirteen-year dance.

I looked at them both carefully.

Alyss and The Cat.

The woman of my dreams versus the monster of my nightmares.

Love versus duty.

Happiness versus revenge.

"What must I do?"

My father held me at arms-length yet again, prying me off him slowly. I must have looked quite pathetic, but whatever bad thoughts he had were not visible, not in his eyes or in his smile.

"In your eyes, I see the pain and fear.
Don't be scared, let me wipe away your tears.
Take my hand, and look up to the sky,
Don't look back, whisper your last goodbye

And fly away, like a bird, free and true
Through the skies, each day and night anew.
Don't think you're on your own,
You'll never be alone.
Where you go, I'll always be with you ..."

"Do you love Alyss?" my father asked, staring deeply into my misty eyes.

"Yes," I replied quietly without hesitation.

"Do you love her more than your thirst for vengeance?"

"... yes."

"Do you want to make me proud?"


"Most importantly, do you want to be happy?"

"Yes, yes, yes," I said, nodding my head furiously. "I want to be with Alyss. I want to be happy and also make you happy. I want it all."

"Then you can," he said, clapping both my shoulders. "You can, Dodge."

"How?" I asked, longing to wipe my face dry. "Tell me how."

My father released my shoulders, allowing myself to clean up my face. I probably looked so pathetic - I felt pathetic. It's a feeling I was all too familiar with.

"Dodge, if you truly desire all those things," said Father in a soft tone, "if you want to be with Alyss, then for the sake of your happiness and of my own, give up your revenge. Give it all up, and when you do, don't do it for me or Alyss. Do it for yourself. It's the only way to be a normal young man, and to live the way you want to live in this devastating world of ours. Perhaps, the world would look less devastating once the burden you've been carrying for thirteen years has been lifted off your shoulders ..."

"You make it sound so simple," I muttered in a hoarse voice. Although I sounded quite sarcastic, I was far from a scathing mood. Maybe there was some sense in his words, sense I had yet to see ...?

"It may sound simple," the older man agreed, "but it's far from it in reality. It will be difficult to dissolve your inner conflict, having been nursed inside of you for so many years. Each step on the journey to a life of concurrence must be taken carefully, otherwise you might trip up and fall ..."

My father, the philosopher.

But he was right.

He always was. That's why I always looked to him for help, when I was younger to up until this moment.

"That's why I'm here, to help you ..."

A million thoughts entered my head after this statement, so many words to say to this man in such little time, yet all I could say was the same words that I said before:

"What must I do?"

My father did not reply for some time, yet it was evident in his features that he had an answer for my question.

"What must I do? Where do I begin? Tell me the answer."

"You can start by giving me your sword," he finally said, holding out a hand.

I stared at him in utmost confusion, my hand immediately on the hilt of my sword. "My sword?"

He nodded, his hand still outstretched.

My brow furrowed slightly, and I tightened my hold on my sword. As much I hate to admit it, I was attached to the sword more than anything else, other than my vendetta. I fought many battles with it, ever since the Alyssians was formed. General Doppelgänger had given it to me when I turned fourteen-years-old. Four years and four months I had underwent intense training with ex-Wonderlanders and Heart soldiers until we were battle-smart, agile and in perfect conditions to fight. I earned the weapon as well as respect from my peers, including the General himself: I was the youngest fighter of the rebel group, and secretly I was proud of this fact. Of course, everyone was wary of me, not just my enemies. Even the rook sometimes kept his distance. He didn't know how I felt about wanting to kill The Cat so badly, and I knew I couldn't explain my bitter feelings to him or anyone.

It wasn't worth wasting my breath for.

"Why do you want my sword?" I asked, mentally kicking myself for sounding so suspicious. I have to be honest at this point, I don't let just anyone touch my sword. Actually, I don't, but you get my point. The sword has been with me for years, always there whenever I needed to vent out my frustration at the enemy. It was especially reserved for The Cat, to be stuck into his chest and ultimately kill him.

My father blinked. "I thought you wanted me to help you ..."

"I do, I truly do."

"Then give it to me, Dodge ..."

He gave his outstretched hand a tiny shake. Grip still tight, I gave the hilt of my sword a tiny squeeze.

My father frowned, and immediately I felt guilty - again. Issa knows, I felt disrespectful. Disobeying the orders of the Captain of the Palace Guard was like attempting to slay a Jabberwocky. With dire consequences.

I deserved the consequences, but my father did not have a look of anger on his face, nor any blazing words to accompany it.

Instead, he just looked sad.

"Dodge ..." he murmured, his tone soft but hurt (it teared me to pieces inside), "Dodge, just let it go. Just let the past go. You can't keep holding on to it forever. Don't let it break you. You can't let it take over. Please, Dodge, give me the sword.

"Dodge, please ..."

Our eyes met, pained turquoise-blue eyes and confused, guilty hazel-brown eyes. The silence between us was heavy, louder than any noise I've ever heard before. I was aware of my surroundings, yet all I could see was Sir Justice Anders. The man I had - and still - truly admired, loved, and desired to be. I can't possibly imagine what it's like to be like him at that moment, trying so hard to save his only son from Death's groping fingers.

Imagine it was me in his place, trying to save my own son ...

I knew.

I unsheathed my sword without a second thought, the blade glinting in the starlight. Again, I caught my reflection in the blade, but I ignored it. I will never have to look at my reflection in the blade ever again.

Without so much as a word, I handed my beloved sword over to my father, who received it gently with his open hand. I watched as he turned it over in his hands, inspecting it at every angle with his sharp eyes. How did it feel for him to hold the weapon that took away the lives of so many enemies? Did he think that I was a murderer?

But he said nothing to me so far, his attention only on the sword. The last time he held such a weapon was when he attempted to slay The Cat himself. That attempt ended in total disaster, as you and I know. But I pushed the thought out of mind immediately, purely because I didn't want to think about it.

Finally, my father looked up at me. His arms dropped to his sides, one of his hands holding on to the hilt of my beloved sword. His expression was unreadable. He gave no emotion away, but there was an unusual shine in his blue eyes.

"I have done what you have asked of me," I said softly, holding his gaze. "Now what else can I do?"

My father continued to gaze at me, that unusual shine in his eyes. The sunflowers, who had fallen silent for some time, continued in their song:

"See the light up in the distance,
Let it guide you everywhere,
Let go all of your resistance,
Know I always will be there,
Feel your weakened wings grow stronger,
Open your eyes and see the light,
It cannot wait any longer,
It's your time ..."

"It's your time," he finally answered me, echoing the words of the sunflowers. A small smile graced his lips.

I managed to smile back.

"It's your time," he repeated, stepping towards me. The shine in his eyes became prominent, and his smile became bigger.

I stood my ground, my smile becoming bigger, too.

"It's your time," my father said once more, standing at an arms-length away from me. There again was that cattish glint in his blue orbs, and his smile seemed totally unnatural up close. Like he felt uncomfortable smiling like that.

I only realised then that something was terribly, terribly wrong ...

"It's your time ... to die!"

The sword struck me before I could register it being swung at me. The cold metal teared through the material of my shirt, searching for skin, for vulnerable flesh to cut through. The strange object pierced my chest, and it entered the cavity, going straight for the heart intentionally. The tip of the blade came to rest inside my chest.

Throughout this intrusion of my body, I felt nothing. No pain, just ... nothing. My body seemed a bit heavy, having some foreign object thrust into it. Before I could even register the fact that I was just stabbed by my very own sword, the blade lurched inside of me, and suddenly I felt like a balloon being deflated: the blade was pulled out of me, and like a deflating balloon releasing air, a crimson river came flowing out after the sword.

And it was my blood that was spilt.

Everything was all going slow, yet all going so fast. You wouldn't have thought that the shocked look on my face was minutes before a picture of smiles. The screams of the sunflowers were loud, making my mind buzz like mad. I couldn't think properly. I couldn't control my body as I fell to my knees, the blood river continuing to run. My head bowed on its own accord, my breathing becoming irregular. Red droplets fell to the ground, and there was a funny taste in my mouth, almost coppery. I choked on the taste of my own blood.

I had enough strength to lift my head up slightly, looking up at my attacker.

Standing over me with a familiar, wicked grin, Sir Justice Anders still held my sword in his hands, the blade glistening with crimson liquid. His eyes, once turquoise-blue, had turned a deeper shade of red mixed in with black.

I knew those eyes and that smile - if you could call it that - anywhere. Very fitting for one of Redd's constructs.

"Such a pathetic fool," the cleverly-detailed construct of my father said in a screechy, feminine tone. "So stupid to think that his darling Daddy was alive. It must be pitiful to be weak-minded. My niece could have done so much better."

Redd's voice was truly unforgettable. I could do nothing but stare at her, bleeding a slow death.

"But the inferior deserves the inferior, I suppose," the Redd-possessed construct mused, stroking the sword absentmindedly. Remembering where she was, the construct stared down at me. It was like looking at my father who was in a rage, but I knew this monster was not my father.

"Oh Dodge, you've grown up so fast! Oh Dodge, it breaks my heart to see you like this! Oh Dodge, give me your sword, it's bad to play with sharp objects!" cried the construct, mimicking my father terribly, but that was the whole point: to rub salt into my wounds, to insult me, to tell me that I was a fool to believe all the words the construct told me. Redd's voice turned to a babyish tone. "Aww, is Dodgy-Wodgy upset with Auntie Redd? Is Doddy-Wodgy upset that his daddy isn't alive? That his mommy was as stupid as you?"

"You ... evil ... conniving ..." I muttered, spitting out the words along with blood, and I choked some more.

"Oh, do go on," the construct said, obviously flattered. "I insist. I never killed someone who complimented me whilst they were dying."

"Not ... compli ... ments," I spat.

"Tsk, tsk. You're not being a good gentleman," the construct scolded, wagging a finger at me. "It is no wonder that The Cat speaks so ill of you."

A new-found strength enabled me to spit at the construct's face. "The Cat ... can drown ... in the Pool ... of Tears ... and ... suffer ..."

The construct slapped me so hard in the face - right on my scars - that I fell backwards, lying helplessly on my back. The sound of that slap resounded like a continuous echo. My crystal communicator fell out of my pocket, landing near my hand.

The construct stood over me, angry as Jack of Diamonds in a temper tantrum. My construct-father's face was contorted into a picture of rage, a look I've never seen my real father wear before, even when Alyss and I got into trouble on her birthday. He certainly had the right to be angry with me, but at least he didn't have such an ugly look for me.

And never in my life had my father ever slapped me. I must confess, my eyes began to mist up as I lay on the ground, staring up at the construct, who, only several minutes before, I believed was my father.

The construct was seething. "I'm in the mood to throw you into the Pool of Tears and watch you drown," she angrily said, suddenly in my father's voice: it was like listening to my actual father threatening me, and Redd knew it. The construct bent down to further address me. "I'll take utter delight in knowing that your dead body will be abandoned somewhere on that pathetic planet, Earth, and that Alyss will never find you."

Suddenly, the construct placed his foot over my throat, and he pushed down on it - hard.

It's horrible, not being able to breathe. You never know how appreciative you are of oxygen until you truly need it. My arms and legs flailed instinctively, but all I couldn't do anything, for I was too weak. All I could do was choke. I choked and choked, and it became worse as I choked on my blood. The combination of blood-loss from the stab-wound and having my air-supply getting cut off was a sure-fire way to passing out - and/or death. Redd was relentless, making sure I suffered.

As the people say on Earth, a hell of a lot.

Then the applied pressure was lifted off my throat, and I found I could breathe freely again, my last remaining breaths.

My vision was a bit blurred, but I could make out the face that was suddenly only a few inches from touching mine. Red-black eyes, a contorted mouth and an angry expression.

"Before you die a terrible death," the construct hissed in Redd's voice, "send my 'regards' to your idiotic parents, and that I feel sorry for them for producing such a failure of a son.

"However, if you do live - which I highly doubt - consider this nightly encounter as a warning: if you dare go after The Cat again, Dodge Anders, I will gladly dispose of you myself. I shall show you no mercy once you cross my path, yes . . ."

Where I was staring at Sir Justice Ander's face, I was now looking up at the starry sky. All alone.

Bleeding. Breathing. Desperately.

I was dying. What else could I say, other than state the blatantly obvious? I, the ever-so reckless Dodge Anders, the first one to run into battle without caring about what would happen to me, was scared of death for the first time. Redd could make that happen to you. It's not enough that I was going to die whilst The Cat still lives, but that I was going to die as a failure.

I closed my eyes, blinking back the tears that were burning to fall.

Oh Issa, Father, I've failed you. Please forgive me.

My beloved mother, there's no one to comfort me now. Please watch over me for the last minutes of my life.

And Alyss ... sweet Alyss, you'll never know how I feel about you. I'll never know how you feel about me.

With the remaining strength I had left in my body, I lifted my head slightly off the ground, a wine-red line running from my mouth down my chin. Turning my head a bit, the crystal communicator lying beside me was in my sight. It was only a few inches away from my hand. Even in my state, I was able to take it into my hand.

But as the world around me began to get darker, I don't know whether or not I was able to press the button to call for help.

All I could remember was hoping that this was all just a nightmare, and that it was all going to end soon.

Yet who was I going to run to now if it was a nightmare ...?

Don't think you're on your own,
You'll never be alone.
When you're home, I'll always be with you.
When you're home, I'll always be with you ...

A voice. One that I thought I would never hear ...

"Mother ..."


Never hear again.


I slowly opened my eyes, with some difficulty - everything was quite bright. I blinked several times, trying to get rid of the atrocious blur in my eyes. Then something appeared in front of me.

"Dodge?" it asked, and something warm touched my face - my scars, rubbing them delicately. I wanted to turn my head away, but at the same time I didn't want to. I don't know why, but I did.

"Dodge, how are you feeling?" it asked me again, and as my vision became more focused the "something" became clearer to me: long black hair, sapphire-blue eyes, a rosy complexion, and warm soft hands ...

" ... Alyss?" I finally said. My voice came out like a hoarse whisper.

The concerned look on Alyss's face quickly changed into an expression of relief. She looked so beautiful up close, yet she looked a bit worn out. There were faint, dark circles under her eyes, and her skin was extremely pale rather than rosy. I noticed that she was only wearing a night-robe.

"Alyss, what's going on?" I asked, sounding pathetic.

She pursed her lips, rubbing my face a bit too much. "Don't you remember anything that happened last night?"

I'm not going to lie, but I was truly confused at that point. And Alyss's incessant rubbing was beginning to irritate me.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I replied, gently brushing away Alyss's hand. As I made to sit up, I felt a surge of stabbing pain running through my body. "Arrgh!" I screamed.

Alyss's hands grabbed me by my shoulders and gently pushed me back down - it was only then that I realised I was lying in a bed. My bed. In my bedroom. Bare-chested. In the morning, sunshine coming in through the open window and bringing in the cool breeze. With Alyss in her robe. Asking me random questions like, "Don't you remember anything that happened last night?"

In a rare moment of boyish immaturity, I had a split-second thought: Dodge, you dog, you just played your cards right and won by a royal flush.

But that thought was stomped out of my mind as the pain became too much. After my little scream scene, Alyss tried to calm me down, telling me to keep lying back and to keep breathing slowly. I obeyed her instructions, and pretty soon I was lying back down in my bed, feeling slightly better, though the throbbing still lingered.

Alyss sat by my side, and she indicated to my chest, which, I noticed for the first time. had a bandage wrapped around it. "Feeling better?"

"Yes," I replied, not wanting to make a sarcastic remark to that question.

Alyss nodded, though her piercing gaze never left me, and it made me kind of uncomfortable. However, I didn't dare break eye-contact.

"Dodge," she began softly, "Dodge, how long is it going to go on for? This life-threatening vendetta of yours?"

"Was I hurt that bad?" I asked, feeling the surface of the bandage, trying to recollect my memories from last night.

"You tell me, Dodge," she said, her voice suddenly taking a harsh tone. "You were there, and I for one would really like to know what happened."

I was taken aback. Why was Alyss mad at me all of a sudden? I know she was always angry at me for going after The Cat, but this time I was not on a wild cat-chase..

I must have had such a shocked look on my face, because Alyss suddenly softened, and she sighed.

"The rook received an emergency signal late last night, and it came from your comm-link," she began to explain. "He tried to get hold of you, but there was no response. Obviously, the rook came over to your room, but again he received no response when he knocked on the door. Getting worried, he forced himself inside, and he found that you were not in your room.

"Immediately the rook was getting suspicious, so he went straight to Bibwit to see if he heard anything. Bibwit said that he wasn't aware that you were going out anywhere, and then he got the notion that you had decided to go after The Cat. Bibwit alerted me straight away, because he knew that I worried about you so much. My mind was not right at the time so I could not use my Imagination's Eye to find you. Without delay General Doppelgänger, the rook, Hatter Madigan and I searched for you, the general and the rook outside the palace grounds, Madigan and I within it."

Alyss paused, her face pale.

"When we got to courtyard," she continued, in a shaky whisper, "we found your body, near your father's grave." She paused again, her hands beginning to shake. "I never seen so much blood ..." she muttered, like she was talking to herself.

I could not, for the life of me, imagine what Alyss and Hatter Madigan must have thought when they saw my body, bleeding like mad. If it was Alyss in my place, I would have just ... you know.

"Alyss," I said, taking one of her shaking hands into mine.

She looked down at our hands, and she looked up at me again with a pained sigh. She took her hand back.

"You don't how broken I was," she muttered. "Seeing your body, unmoving and almost lifeless. We checked for a pulse, and there was one, albeit very weak. We had to get you proper medical care before you were gone. Hatter Madigan carried your body inside the palace, and the surgeon was called in and she treated your chest wound."

The thought of Hatter Madigan - the Hatter Madigan - carrying me bridal-style brought a disguised, embarrassed blush to my face, but I was thankful all the same. I had great respect for the man - truly a legend. I remembered the day he came back to Wondertropolis via the Pool of Tears, his shoulder shot away to the bone. I had wrapped a tourniquet around his wound and I assisted him back to the Alyssian camp on foot. Madigan leaned on me all the way, and I did not complain. Before the surgeon took over from me to look after the Milliner man, Madigan had looked at me and whispered "Thank you" - all in the matter of seconds. I told no one about this. Ever. Now he had returned the favour, and I was indebted to him.

Alyss fell quiet once again, and she dropped eye contact with me once more, looking at her lap as she said:

"All through the operation, I stayed by your side. I utterly refused to be away from your side for more than a second. I wouldn't even let anybody touch me. I couldn't bear the thought of being away you forever. I couldn't ..."

A tear-drop fell into her lap, and soon another. And another. A sob followed not long after. It pained me to see Alyss when she cried; it hurt me more than my chest wound. Again I reached out, but before I could take her hand into mine once more, Alyss turned her body slightly away from me, hastily wiping her tears away. After cleaning herself up, Alyss looked at me hard again as if her crying episode never happened, though her tired eyes had taken on a red shade.

"When I was raised by the Liddells," she began to say softly, "when the Liddells adopted me, I was brought up to worship a higher being whom they called God, and His son who had died to save us. I had been taught to pray to Him and His son when I needed help, comfort and forgiveness, to look after my family and other loved ones, and to beg for mercy, for they alone had the power.

"After the surgeon had completed the operation, do you know what I did? I prayed. I prayed to God for your recovery and to watch over you as you laid on your bed. I turned to Him, for there was no one else I could turn to. Every minute by your bedside I could do nothing but bow my head and pray, hoping that God could do what neither White nor Black Imagination can achieve."

"Yet now that I'm awake, do you silently curse God for answering your prayers?" I asked her in an equally soft voice.

Alyss's features hardened again. "I assume you're saying this because I'm now more angry than upset about your ordeal last night?"

I nodded in agreement.

She sighed. "How should I feel, Dodge? Happy? Exhilarated? What's appropriate enough for you?"

Her voice had taken on a higher note, but before I could intervene on her non-sensical words she suddenly exclaimed, "Do you honestly think I would approve of you ending your own life near your father's grave? Would you have wanted me to feel that way after you were gone?! What were you thinking, Dodge Anders?"

Her words seemed to echo all around the room, only beginning to sink in a moment or so after this exclamation.

Do you honestly think I would approve of you ending your own life near your father's grave? Would you have wanted me to feel that way after you were gone? What were you thinking, Dodge Anders?

As the realization became apparent, as it dawned on me what Alyss was saying, all I could do was stare at her, too shocked to speak a word.

End my life? My father's grave? What is going on? What is Alyss thinking?

"Alyss," I managed to say, the shock evident in my voice, "you think I was trying to kill myself last night?"

She shrugged her shoulders, her face retaining a stone-like expression. "You tell me, Dodge. You were there," she muttered, echoing an earlier statement of hers.

Lifting herself off the bed without a second thought, Alyss glided across the floor over to a table in the corner of my room, where an object lay stationary on the varnished, wooden surface, but the Queen's back was on me so I couldn't see the object. She picked it up slowly and she turned around, revealing the object to me, and seeing it made my stomach lurch.

It was my sword.

"It was lying near your body when we found you," said Alyss darkly. "Only a skilled swordsman can handle such a weapon with expertise."

I switched my gaze between her and my sword gripped in her hands. The tip was stained with a dark crimson colour. Blood. My blood.

A shiver ran through my body, and the familiar coppery taste that lingered in my mouth returned with full force. It made me want to be sick. The last time I felt like this was when after my father died, when I was bawling my eyes out when we all escaped from Wondertropolis on Alyss's birthday. It was a horrible feeling, but it was quickly replaced with souring vengeance. It made me bitter and intolerable almost all the time, and stronger, too. How divine it would be to taste the fruits of my labour once I finally killed The Cat, making me even stronger

But I felt so weak right now. Sick and weak in front of the love of my life, who was seething.

Trying my hardest to ignore the feeling, I shook my head at Alyss. "Listen, you got it all wrong, Alyss. I can explain -"

"Yes, Dodge, explain to me why," Alyss interrupted, furious. She looked as if she was going to stab me with that sword. "Explain to me why you did this to yourself! Day in and day out you think of nothing but killing The Cat and avenging your father, putting your life on the line for such a dangerous, foolhardy and practically impossible goal. Now suddenly I find you dying in the presence of the man who fought to give you a better life! Was it guilt, Dodge? Unnecessary guilt that you shouldn't feel at all? Did you just give up because you thought you failed him? Is that what it was, Dodge? If the rook himself believes that the emergency signal you sent him was to alert him of your suicide because you had second thoughts, I may well be inclined to believe him."

I couldn't believe it. Alyss. Thinking I attempted suicide. The idea was laughable - anyone would think Alyss was one card short of a deck - but this was a serious matter. You might think me vain when I say that Redd "warning" me was more important than the notion of self-harm. Not when The Cat was still out there, probably delighting in what Redd had done for him ...

I sat up, mentally brushing off the new surge of pain erupting from my chest wound. Alyss watched my every move, even when she placed the sword back onto the table (I mentally breathed a sigh of relief at this - the threat of being stabbed again dissolved).

"Alyss, that's not what happened last night," I said, cursing myself inwardly as I added, "I swear on my father's grave that I did not try to kill myself."

She stared long and hard at me, and I dared not to flinch. If I went as far to swear on my beloved father's grave, then surely she would know that I was telling the truth.

Finally, Alyss responded by gliding back to my side and sitting down, regaining a tinge of softness to her features. It made me feel much more comfortable, at ease with her. It's how one should feel when they're in the company of those who they trust. I trusted Alyss totally, as my friend, my unattainable love and my Queen.

"Whenever you're ready, Dodge, you can start to flat call," she said, her full attention on me.

Allowing myself to give a small smile, I began to tell her about last night's events, from the moment I woke up to the minute I fell unconscious. Alyss never once interrupted me. She only listened, her expression no longer lined with angry contours. It is no wonder why she is such a good queen. She listens to others with endless patience, and she is generous and gracious enough to give them a second chance. It amazed me to think that she was only a little princess - mischievous, jovial and all about fun - not too long ago, and then an enchanting, cordial and spirited Warrior Queen years later. These are the only memories I have of her, and it makes me wish that I could have seen her grow into the woman that she is today, to understand what she went through, what she is feeling right now ...

It also makes me wish that I could remember my mother ...

My account came to an end, and I realised that my body was trembling with conspicuous emotion. Why now? I thought angrily. Why now, in front of her? But I couldn't stop: my body refused to pay heed to my silent pleading.

Warm arms enveloped me, and the delicious aroma of tarty tarts emanating from Alyss's person surrounded me on all sides. I immediately relaxed, letting myself be held out of piteous sympathy. I felt so much like a child again, and my feelings intensified as I remembered Redd's construct soothing me in the same way. I shook even more.

How could I let myself appear so vulnerable?

Alyss pulled back, her eyes offering only a slight comfort. Her face was the picture of intense empathy.

"Dodge, I'm so sorry for what Redd did to you," she said. "What she did was unacceptable. It was a dirty trick, sending in a construct impersonating Sir Justice, but only she would dare to do such a thing."

Finally, she took my hand.

"And I," Alyss continued, her eyes misting up, "I apologise for my behavior. It was wrong of me to accuse you of such a vile act. I wasn't thinking straight, because I was so worried about you." She paused. "I shouldn't be making so much excuses for myself, and I can only hope that you can forgive me."

Using my other hand, I touched her soft, smooth cheek, caressing it gently like she stroked my scars. I squeezed her hand with the hand she held.

"Of course I forgive you, Alyss," I replied, my voice thick and cracked. "Why wouldn't I?"

And then I did the unthinkable: I leaned in, and I pressed my lips against her forehead. My lips tingled at the touch, but it was absolutely divine. I knew that I'd never would be this close to Alyss for a long time, and I cherish the moment always. Who knows when I'll be able to kiss her again, or even kiss her lips, which were now curled into a glowing smile as I pulled back and looked at her.

"Thank you," I whispered. "For being here for me."

Alyss said nothing. Her face said it all: her cheeks had taken on a curious shade of pink, her eyes seemed bigger and brighter, and I already mentioned her smile. Then remembering where she was, she cleared her throat, composing herself.

"You must be very tired, Dodge," she finally said, getting up from the bed and playing with her hair absentmindedly. "I shall leave you to rest now, as my fears have been dissolved." Alyss walked over to the door. "I shall inform the rook and the others that you are now resting. They've been worrying about you just as much," she added.

"That's ... nice," I said, struggling for a better word, though inside I felt thankful for the support.

Alyss nodded, understanding my meaning. She opened the door, and just as she was about to leave she stopped in the doorway and looked at me, her hand on the door handle.

"If you need me or someone else to talk to, just call," Alyss said solemnly. "We're all here for you, Dodge."

Before I could answer, Alyss was already out the room, closing the door behind her.

If you need me or someone else to talk to, just call. We're all here for you, Dodge.

Alyss, the rook, Bibwit Harte, Hatter Madigan, Homburg Molly, General Doppelgänger ...

And somewhere out there, Sir Justice Anders and the woman who gave me life ...

I laid my head on the pillows, and I covered my shivering body. My chest wound didn't hurt as much anymore, thank goodness, and I felt comfortable enough, as well as content. It was quite a pleasurable feeling. I've honestly never been in mood quite like this for ... well, I honestly couldn't remember.

And then a fleeting memory came to mind: it was night-time, though the Clock Tower proclaimed otherwise; it was at least two hours into the shaded morning. Yet someone was already wide awake in the Palace. He had been awake for some time already, vigilant, surveying his surroundings as he stood on guard minutes earlier. Being Captain of the Palace Guard, that was his job, though he had other reasons to still be awake, which he kept to himself.

But he was no longer on the lookout. He was now walking down one of endless corridors inside the palace, holding a contented bundle to his chest. The bundle, dressed in night clothes, was the size of a small child, and it comprised of the things that a normal child was made of: two arms, that were wrapped tightly around the Captain's neck; two legs, which encircled tightly around the older man's waist; and a head - the top of which had brown hair, and the front that gave home to a reassured face - which was pressed into the man's chest. The Captain said nothing to the little child - his little boy - except words of consolation, which the boy clearly needed after having another nightmare again. That was his other job, the Captain's: to be a father.

Father and son entered their quarters, and the older man disentangled himself from the boy and gently placed him in the bed that the little one was tossing and turning in before he had come running to him. Reluctantly, the dark-haired boy let go of his father and settled down in his bed, watching the older man as he tucked him in.

Though at ease, the little boy felt a surge of panic taking over his calm feelings as he watched his father standing up and turn away, making to leave him.

"Don't go, Father!" he cried out suddenly.

The man stopped, and he turned back to look at his son.

"W-what i-i-if I h-have ano-another nightmare a-a-again?" the boy stuttered, unable to fight back his tears.

His father walked back to his side and knelt down one knee, to be at eye-level with his son. Hazel eyes met twinkling blue ones, and a reassuring smile graced the older man's face. Anyone could feel safe in his presence.

"Don't worry, Dodge," he said, cupping the boy's face. "I'll be here for you. I won't leave you this time."

"You promise?" I had asked him.

"I promise," Sir Justice Anders replied. "Where I go, I'll always be with you."

He pulled me closer to him, and I clasped onto him for dear life.

"I'll always be with you."

I smiled to myself as the memory replayed in my mind. Somewhere, Father, I know you're still keeping your promise. I know you're watching out for me. And so are you, Mother ...

I ran a hand through my hair thoughtfully as I tried to imagine what my mother would look like. I had no memory of her, so it was difficult, and my imagination wasn't very strong. I wondered if she fit the description that Redd's construct had given me, but I knew it was all lies that I was told. Yet somewhere inside of me, I was secretly hoping that my mother was a divine, bright lady, who loved my father and I, but was she really foolish enough to marry Sir Justice? Did she really die after my second birthday? How did she die?

Even though I didn't know this woman, I was mourning for her all the same.

Redd and The Cat will have to pay, but I didn't want to think of them at that moment.

No, I didn't want to think of vengeance now, to let the nightmare return again.

I just wanted to be comforted by the thoughts of the parents who loved me.

Thinking of them made me feel calm, assured, relaxed.

A warm sensation spread through my body, fatigue taking control over my senses. I burrowed myself into the covers, and I found myself looking at the ceiling, though my sight began to blur. The Wondertropolis Clock Tower rang out in the distance, announcing a new hour of this splendid morning. I allowed myself to succumb to its rhythmic beats.

My eyes struggled to stay open, but I gave into temptation and closed my eyes. The sound of my breathing in and out, and the cadence of the Clock Tower soothed me, assuring me that everything was going to be alright. I slowly began to lose my conscious ...

So fly away, like a bird, free and true
Through the skies, each day and night anew.
Don't think you're on your own,
You'll never be alone.
When you're home, I'll always be with you ...
When you're home, I'll always be with you ...

And, for the first time in ages, I was able to fall asleep.

When you're home, I'll always be with you ...

Shock? Horror? Love it? Hate it? Kill me with Dodge's sword?

I've been working on this thing since about June/July, August, but I've been busy with so many projects at school, and I just had my exams. Pathetic, I know, but we all have to get through it. The story itself is a bit scattered, not exactly set in one book. Seeing Redd would be the best possibility, seeing as I already mentioned that Homburg Molly knows who her father is, but Alyss stil has her imagination, even if it was messed up whilst looking for Dodge, so strike out Seeing Redd. Doesn't really matter, though.

This is strictly a oneshot. It will not be a multi-chapter fic. I went all out on this one, and I think I've made my point.

I tried to cram in a lot in this fic: drama, romance, comedy, tragedy, religion, spirituality, conflicts - and the list goes on. I tried to make Dodge in-character, and bring out his inner turmoil and all that jazz. I also tried to give you guys a glimpse of his different relationships with everyone other than The Cat and Alyss and, of course, his father. I went through all my LGW books to get the the setting, characters and stuff right, and it took brain-work to work out how long Dodge has trained for. I know Dodge doesn't seem the type to be all observant and thoughtful, but characters like him hardly ever get that much spotlight. They mention his grief a helluva lot in LGW, but I wanted to expand on that, so here it is, people! Tried to make this all serious, but even I gave into immaturity when Dodge had his "interesting" thought after he woke up. XD

Frank Beddor only ever mentions Dodge's mother once in Seeing Redd, and Dodge doesn't really ever give his thoughts on her, so I decided to give the honourable mention(s). Any jokes, metaphors, similes and descriptions were LGW- and poker-themed (eg. "My grief alone could flood out the Pool of Tears", "You just played your cards right and won by a royal flush", "Anyone would think she was one card short of a deck", "Disobeying the orders of the Captain of the Palace Guard was like trying to slay a Jabberwocky").

I wanted to write something about Dodge for a while now, as he is my second-fave character - the first being The Cat (I LOVE him! He's just so ... augh, he's indescribable, but I love him!). Sometimes I wonder if Dodge's obsession with The Cat would go overboard and be a bit slash-implied relationship? A kind of "If I can't have The Cat, no one can!" relationship, if you will. Don't kill me for being curious. Curiousity killed the cat (*sob*). There's not much fics about The Cat, or even Dodge-centered fics on his bloodthirsty views.

Soooo, sequel? Prequel? Different fic, different character? Same world, different character (eg. The Cat visiting Dodge himself)? Again, this is strictly a oneshot.

I do not own the Looking Glass Wars (belongs to Frank Beddor, though obviously I support him by buying his books), nor any related material: only this lowly oneshot.

The song "Fly Away", however, belongs to yours truly. I wrote it myself last year, and I thought it would be nice to add it in, fitting in the theme of nightmares and missing your loved one. Besides, those sunflowers rule.

Hope you enjoyed "Nightmares"!

Any mistakes (grammar or spelling), don't hesitate to tell me, but I went through this time and time again, since there's so much words, so I'm hoping I didn't betray the English language (it's my first language, obviously, but even we misspell our own stupid words).

Reviews are welcome! :)

Seeya! ;)