I had been a little hesitant upon first hearing about the ball…not only did I have nothing to wear, but had never really had the interest to learn ballroom dancing. I felt a heavy sigh spill from my lips knowing that I'd be missing out on possibly one of the most exciting events in the Country of Hearts.

I continued staring off into thin air imagining how incredible a party at the castle would be… assuming of course that Vivaldi could manage to keep her temper in check for one night… not always a safe bet. Maybe it is for the best that I don't go…

I was pulled from my miserable reverie by a smooth deep voice colored with a hint of irritation, "If you're just going to sit there huffing, please go do it somewhere else."

My focus was quickly shifted to the table's other occupant who was still staring intently at the intricate workings of the timepiece in his hands. His midnight blue locks pulled back loosely, framing his delicate features, accented by the rectangular wire-rimmed frames. I felt the pangs of guilt strike me as I realized I had begged him to let me watch him work, only to become a distraction.

Feeling the need to talk to someone about my dilemma, I began trying to explain what was wrong, "I'm sorry Julius… I just keep thinking about the dance, and how frustrating it is that I won't be going…"

With this comment, his head shot up towards me as his analytical gaze was torn from the pocket watch to begin carefully scrutinizing me. After a few moments under the pressure of his intense stare, I found myself at a loss for words. Afraid that I had only distracted and angered him further, I stood to leave… only to have his elegant fingers wrap gently around my wrist, preventing my escape.

"What do you mean you're not going?" His voice was cool and emotionless, but there was an odd tinge of concern in his eyes. Distracted by the soft touch of his hand and embarrassed to have to admit why I wasn't going, my eyes found their way to the floor and I could feel the heat creeping up into my cheeks.

"Well, I've never really been to a ball before… and besides, even if I knew how to waltz… well, it's not like I have anything to wear either…" I mumbled more to the oak floorboards than to him. I felt his grip on my wrist loosen, and I was sure he would just go back to work, disregarding my foolish predicament.

But my eyes lifted to his just in time for him to slide gracefully closer to me, less than a foot away as he kept his eye fixed on mine, "So you would go if you had something to wear… and knew how to dance?"

Confused by why he was asking and still so focused on his proximity, I simply nodded absentmindedly as I unconsciously bit my lip. His eyes briefly trailed down as he took in my action before snapping back to mine with a look of determination. I let out a soft gasp as I felt his right arm wind behind me and his left hand took mine into his.

My eyes never broke from his gaze as he gently began leading me around the room, muttering little commands and corrections as we went. I felt my face burning, and my skin tingling under his touch… but was comforted by the fact that he was blushing just as profusely. I couldn't help the smile that pulled gently at the corners of my lips taking in the image of the normally detached clockmaker as he spun me gracefully about the room, clearly enjoying himself as well.

Even without music, he seemed to keep rhythm impeccably and I found myself needing to think less and less about the steps as we went. I felt myself begin to feel lightheaded as I gazed into his dark, seemingly endless eyes. He brought us to a stylish stop before releasing my left hand from his before slowly guiding it up to my cheek. It felt cool and calming against my heated skin…

He began to draw me closer to him, tightening his arm around me to pull me up flush against him, feeling the heat from his body radiate through to me. I felt my breath catch in my throat, looking up at the need and passion evident in his gaze as he began to lean over, bringing his lips only inches from mine…

"Wow, Julius… who ever thought you'd be such a ladies' man!" His eyes flashed with anger as the jeering comment floated over from the tower door. Releasing me from his embrace and taking a step back, Julius turned to greet his intruding friend, "What the hell do you want Ace?"

Raising his hands in mock defense, the knight put on his best charming smile as he brushed away the scolding comment and continued chiding the irate craftsman, "Who me? I just want to come offer myself as an escort to the dance, but it seems you've already started without me"

I could feel my already heated cheeks burn even brighter as the suggestive look he cast my way. Feeling the urge to refute his taunts, I quickly sputtered, "I don't need an escort… I'm probably not going to the dance anyways…"

Ace's smile brightened with a flash of mischief before quickly responding, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that, Alice… but I was offering to Julius anyways" returning the mortician's contemptuous glare with a quick wink. "So what do you say?"

I could feel the murderous aura practically surging from the tall, dark man beside me… his posture straightening and fist tightening at the jovial knave's implications. "I say get the hell out of my tower, you damned pervert!"

The red knight quickly covered his chest and pushed out his bottom lip, clearly faking offense to his friend's outburst, "Now Julius… that's not very nice… besides, how am I the pervert when you're the one with your hands all over Alice?"

A book immediately went flying past me, as it sailed towards the goofy grin plastered across Ace's lips. With unnatural speed, he swiftly ducked out of the way, sending the book sailing through the open doorway and landing with a loud thud. "Temper, temper…"

Just as Julius pulled back preparing to send another, heavier book towards his tormentor, Ace quickly ran behind me and began using me as a shield, wrapping his arm around my waist to lift me in front of him, "Ace, stop it! Put me down this instant!"

I could feel his breath as it brushed against the back of my neck, "Now if I did that… you might not come to the dance… and it's going to be awfully fun this time!"

I could feel my irritation rising to the surface, annoyed at the fact that everyone seemed intent to rub it in my face that I couldn't go, "I want to go, but even with Julius teaching me to dance… I still have nothing to wear!" I huffed angrily, wrenching myself from his rough hold.

He just stared at me with a dumbfounded expression for a few seconds before a fit of laughter seemed to take him over, "Julius! You didn't tell her, did you!" Didn't tell me what?

I spun around with my confusion clearly painted across my face… my brows furrowed as I tried determine what he could possibly mean. Julius looked at me with a slightly awkward smile before letting out a long sigh. Before I could ask what was going on, he had clapped his hands, sending the room into complete darkness. When I heard him clap again, my vision was flooded with color as the room came quickly back into view.

A little disoriented from the sudden events, which left my skin with a slight tingling sensation, I felt myself off center and about to fall. Reaching out in a vain attempt to stabilize myself, I was wrapped tightly by a pair of white-clad arms and held against a matching chest complemented by the thin red tie running along its length, "Woah, Alice! Careful or you might get hurt…"

I looked up to find myself face to face with the same red predatory eyes that Ace often turned on me during our impromptu camping trips. His words slowly sinking in as their deeper meaning became obvious. My throat tightened and despite my weak attempts, I couldn't manage to push myself off of him or look away… his arms and eyes held me transfixed.

Fortunately, I found myself being torn out of his clutches by a rather jealous looking blunette who was now donning an elegant dark suit that seemed to flatter his tall, slim figure and complement the various tiers of his navy tresses. Feeling much more comfortable now that I was supported by my own two feet, I realized that not only they had changed clothes, but me as well.

In place of my normal conservative blue dress and white apron was an elegant red evening gown that clung to my figure dipping slightly in the front for a more mature neckline while the soft satin wound its way around my neck, tying in the back for a halter finish. I spun around in place and noticed the thigh high slit on my right side that allowed me just enough give to move freely. The matching red heels were also extremely practical as they were high enough to add class to the ensemble, but low enough to walk, and hopefully dance, in comfortably.

I heard a loud whistle as I turned to see Ace eyeing me hungrily, "Wow, Julius… you really have a lot better taste then I would have given you credit for!" he purred cheerfully as his eyes continued to drink in my transformation. Realizing that I owed this beautiful gown and the opportunity to go to the ball to Julius, I moved to him, bouncing up to my tiptoes as I placed a gentle kiss on his soft cheek.

I quickly turned and raced to the mirror in the room, too excited to pause and see the deep crimson that consumed his face. Looking in the mirror, I almost didn't recognize myself as all the vestiges of my childish appearance had been shed away… In the reflection, I was able to see how perfectly tailored the dress was for me, accenting all the right places and bringing forth the best my sixteen years had to offer. My hair had also been changed and instead of hanging plainly down past my shoulders, instead it was pulled up into a loose twist with a few select strand allowed to hand down and brush playfully against my bare shoulders.

Turning slightly to the side, I caught a glimpse of the back of the dress… or what there was of it… it plunged down to a scoop, with the fabric gathering just at the bottom of my lower back. I could see my face turn several shades pinker in the mirror. Not entirely sure how I feel about that…

Before I could ruminate on it any longer, Ace slid up to me, peering at me through the mirror with a devious smirk while gently placing his hand against the skin of my lower back and tracing light circles there.

Totally caught off guard by the intimate touch, I stumble forward slightly, only to bump off of the mirror and back into his waiting arms. I noticed there was something odd about the feel to the mirror, but soon forgot my train of thought as the aggressive knight had placed a gloved hand beneath my chin as he lifted it towards his face, "Now, Now, Alice… I know I look good in a suit, but I really didn't think you'd be falling all over me!"

Embarrassment and a little bit of annoyance had me quickly pushing away from him and marching purposefully back to Julius. Refusing to let the off-putting actions of the knight ruin my night before it even started, I quickly let the excitement run back into my face as I turned to my friends and beamed, "So when are we leaving to get to the castle?"

Julius smiled kindly and held out his arm to me… just as I was moving in to wrap mine around it, Ace had beat me to it, linking his arm tightly with the bewildered watchmaker and taking my arm in his other as he proceeded to drag us out the door.

As we passed by the book Julius had thrown at Ace earlier, something struck me as a little off… I only looked quickly and it could've just been my imagination, but I thought the words looked reversed… weird…

I didn't have any time to really reflect on this though, as I was swiftly pulled along by the wayward brunette, who I suddenly realized was moving in the opposite direction of the castle. Well, maybe I'll get to go to the dance tonight…