A/N: A late Christmas present for my reviewers! I hope this will help make up for the fact that I haven't continued A Lost Promise yet. But I'll get on that soon, I swear!
This was actually a gift for aiw_advent, but I thought I'd share it here as well. I hope you all enjoy, and happy 2011 everyone!
"I just don't understand why you have to leave now, at this time of year, the Christmasy-time of year. Why not another time? I'm sure Time would be more than happy to equip you in Spring or Summer or any-Time but now -"
"Tarrant." She raised her left eyebrow, giving him that I-won't-give-in-to-your-puppy-eyed-madness look. Not that Madness was ever something he could control, per say…but she always seemed to know when his Madness was popping up just to his advantage (much to his frustration). Alice's lips and eyes were unrelentingly straight and stern. She was obviously not falling for his pitiable-Madman act at the moment.
"I'm sorry, Alice…I just…" Tarrant's emerald eyes suddenly washed dim, his bowtie drooping and losing its color. "I just wish you wouldn't go. I miss you terribly when you go."
Alice's hard exterior cracked a bit, her eyes softening and her lips forming a bittersweet smile. "Oh Tarrant," she sighed, laying her petite hand on his red cheek. "It won't be long. I never stay for long, you know that."
"B-b-but Christmas-Time is our together-Time, Alice," he protested weakly, swaying ever so slightly under her touch – even after all this time together, he still hadn't grown immune to her touch, as she still used is as a weapon against him at every opportunity she got. He would hate her for it if he didn't love her so much.
"I know Tarrant," Alice said, "But there are some things I need to do Up There; there's something I want to bring back for you as well. But I will not forget about you Tarrant, I swear." She grinned and said, "Don't you trust me?"
She just had to smile her wonderful only-Alice smile, and Tarrant couldn't help but tug the edge of his lips upwards. "More than anyone in Underland, my sweet."
She pressed her lips against his - tenderly and passionately and oh-so-muchly – and whispered in his ear:
"And I will be back in time for Christmas. I promise."
It was just two weeks, but it felt like a lifetime. It always did. But this time, the ache in his heart seemed to multiply by twenty and twenty more, because every time he turned around there were countless reminders of the lack of Alice in Underland.
All over the White Kingdom, Christmas decorations were being strung, hung, lit and bejeweled. With every glint of red and green, Tarrant was reminded of the precious memories he created with His Alice at this time every year – the Christmas trees (a tradition that Alice brought back from her world); the Tropegel Pieke (a family recipe that Tarrant attempted to teach Alice last year, which involved much in powder, sqwimberry and laughter all over in the process); mistletoe (another tradition Alice brought from her world and Tarrant always took much delight in) – all of those sweet sights turned sour without Alice by his side.
What good was a Christmas-Time without an Alice to share it with?
He promised her that he wouldn't grow depressed, that he wouldn't let the Madness trick him into thinking that she had left him for good. He'd grown quite good in keeping that promise in the past, but as the days dragged on, it grew harder and harder to keep.
What if she's found someone else? The question was always ringing back and forth in his mind, tormenting him, dragging him towards another bought of Madness. She didn't tell me what she was doing Up There. She could've easily run away into the arms of a handsome, not-Madman up in her own world.
He argued with himself, constantly told himself that Alice, his Alice, the Alice would never lie to him, never do something so hurtful to him – and in his heart of hearts, Tarrant knew that he was right. But Madness was a hard fellow to defeat, and he had Time on his side. As the minutes rolled by, Tarrant could only grow more melancholy and uncertain of himself and his Alice.
So on Christmas Eve, as he sat alone in their home with the last of the daylight dying away, he silently resigned himself to his solitary fate. No screaming, no destruction – just quiet despair.
No one was there to watch as his emerald eyes turned a deep shade of blue.
Then there was a knock on the door.
Tarrant's heart started to pound. His bowtie perked up with anticipation and confusion as he looked towards the door. He sat frozen for a good minute, like Time had decided to stop altogether for him again, until the door started to rattle with knocks once again. It wasn't in his mind. Could it be?...
After the second knocks he practically threw himself towards the door to swing it open with vigor.
It was Alice. Beautiful and perfect and muchful – just as he had last seen her. He could practically feel his eyes jolt to an ecstatic shade of green as he pulled her into his arms, spinning her round and round their foyer before lowering her into a kiss. Oh, how he had missed the feel of her, in his arms and on his lips - and how he loved all of her, every inch of her, inside and out.
Whoever had written "absence makes the heart grow fonder" hadn't even been close to describing what Tarrant was feeling at that moment.
"You thought I wouldn't come, didn't you?"
Tarrant blushed and looked away. "…almost," he confessed, "Not all-the-way, but…almost."
Alice snorted in her charmingly not-ladylike way. "Tarrant, I don't know what I'm going to do with you," she said exasperatedly, rolling her eyes. But she was smiling fondly at him. He smiled back and pecked her on the cheek.
"Don't give me any of that," Alice said while swatting him away playfully. But then she frowned - she must've seen the absolute fear and hopelessness that had been in his eyes just a few minutes before. She suddenly pulled him close and lovingly ran her hands through his hair in the way that always comforted him in his worst times of Madness.
"I'm never leaving you alone, Tarrant," she told him as their foreheads rested on one another's, his eyes peacefully closed as she whispered to him. "I love you Tarrant."
"I love you too, Alice," he whispered back, opening his eyes to the splendor of her golden hair cropping her round face and chocolate eyes – a sight that never failed to take his breath away.
"Do you want to see what I got you for Christmas, Tarrant?"
He furrowed his brows in confusion, since she had no bags on her to carry gifts in, but Alice only grinned mischievously and pulled him outside.
Tarrant's jaw dropped. His eyes widened in wonder, starring up towards the sky as small, white flakes floated down from it. It was a sight he hadn't seen in more than twenty years, and one that he thought he would never see again.
It was snowing in Underland.
"B-but," Tarrant stuttered, "It hasn't –"
"Since Iracebeth banned snow when she took control of Underland," Alice finished for him.
"Then…h-h-how?..." Tarrant looked at her, shock still evident on his face but absolute joy and wonder apparent in his eyes.
"I pulled a few favors with some friends in Upperland." She shrugged before wrapping her arms around his waist and nuzzling his neck. "The Alice can do anything if she tries. And…I wanted to do this for you."
Everyone was out as they walked through the White Kingdom, even though the moon was high in the sky. Creatures of all shapes and sizes gazed silently at the falling snowdrops, until a bear cub finally threw a giant snowball at a swan. Soon, the entire kingdom was filled with gleeful frenzy. Snowmen and snowanimals aligned every street, and children, cubs and chicks ran wild with snowballs fights and sleds races.
"I remember you telling me about Christmas when you were a child," Alice told him as they walked arm and arm, both of them artfully dodging every snowball thrown their way (all that time spent with Thackery had come in handy). "You always got so wistful whenever you talked of the first snowfall of Underland, of the games you played with your family in the snow Christmas day. I thought you might like this to make some new memories with."
"Alice…I don't know what to say," he smiled, his eyes shining brighter than the flakes that shimmered in the moonlight. "Thank you. Thank you…ever so much. It's the most amazing, wonderful gift that anyone has ever given me."
Alice smiled back and rested her head on his shoulder. "I'm glad you like it." She laughed, a splendid sound that always reminded Tarrant of beautiful Christmas bells. "It wasn't easy, let me tell you."
Tarrant's grin suddenly turned sly. "Well, then…let's enjoy it, shall we?" he chuckled before pulling them both down into the white blanket below and serving a clean pack of snow right in her face.
"Oh, you are so dead, Hightopp!"
They didn't know how long they were outside, chasing each other with snowballs and screaming like schoolchildren, but both of them could have stayed out there forever. Neither of them had played in the snow since they were children themselves, and now they were not holding anything back. Alice's dress and Tarrant's jacket and trousers were all but painted white, and yet neither of them felt the least bit cold. Whether this was due to an Underland oddity or the enormous bubble of warmth they both could feel resting in their hearts, it couldn't be certain.
Alice's cheeks were as red as Tarrant's with laughter as they lay in the snow, both of them finally exhausted after a much rewarding hard night's work. "I used to dream about this all the time as a girl," she giggled as she rolled on to her side to face Tarrant.
Tarrant smiled and reached out to stroke her cheek. "As did I," he said, "But even in my dreams I have never felt this happy."
Alice placed her hand on top of his, and he knew by the way she thumbed his palm that she was loving the rough worksman quality of it - a part of himself that he used to think was ugly, but which Alice always seemed enthralled by. She slid towards him until they both lay facing each other. She kissed his nose, he kissed her forehead, and they kissed each-others lips. And for that moment, as they lay together in the snow that fell from the heavens to stick to their clothes and hair, neither of them wanted to be in any other place in any other world.
Eventually they returned home to their warm fire and cups of tea. They sat on the couch together, their arms resting lazily across each other's backs as the color-changing fire crackled magnificent shades of red, silver and blue. Tarrant's head was burrowed into Alice's neck, his hat placed safely on the table next to them. His eyes were closed, but she knew that he wasn't yet asleep: his breathing was still too quick (as it usually was), though he looked nothing less than content in Alice's touch.
Alice, on the other hand, was wide awake. She hadn't felt this happy, this alive, in the two weeks she was gone. She felt like she was a child again, staying up as late as she could to catch Santa in the act and receive her gifts. Except this time, the gift she wanted the most was right here in her arms.
Tarrant was the only person in the world who made her feel like a both a little girl and a woman. She was free and wild around him, not restricted to Upperland's stern society, but he never let her forget that she had the muchness of an independent woman. He was the one who taught her how to believe again. How to believe in the impossible (if Santa came knocking at her door at this very moment, she wouldn't be at all surprised), but also how to believe in herself. She would never be able to repay him for that. But then again, love had nothing to do with payment – it was about giving and giving back. Alice smiled blissfully at the thought - What was more perfect for this time of year?
Sunrise was just peeking through the curtains; they had both spent the twenty-four hours awake: traveling, worrying, tackling, throwing, laughing, kissing. It was absolutely insane, and Alice wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
"Merry Christmas, Tarrant." She brushed her fingers through his red curls to his cheek, where he gently took her hand in his, and pressed it against his lips.
"Merry Christmas, love."