Title: the gate to eternity

Disclaimer: I do not own Alice in Wonderland - or anything related to it (:

Characters and Pairings: Very slight AliceHatter.

Summary: Alice grows old. The Hatter sees and knows, and warns Alice of the danger in thinking that men can become gods. Set in Burton-verse.


[the gate to eternity]


"When I die," Alice says, turning her face away from her children, "scatter my ashes in the hole beside the tree."

"Why?" her eldest son asks. "Where?"

Alice sighs.

:::

The Hatter comes to her in a dream that night. His hair is as vibrant as ever, a pure, deep red, a colour that sparks envy in the hearts of lesser men. Alice touches her own long silver hair, feeling it drape softly about her thin shoulders and down her wrinkled bosom.

"Hatter," she says, nodding at him through the haze of pillows.

"Alice," he says, half-smiling, the wisdom of decades hiding in the crevices between his yellowing teeth.

"It's been a long time, Hatter."

"What is time, girl?" the Hatter asks. His grin stretches wide, a crescent of hope and life on his pale, pale face. "Time never comes back. He abandons, and he takes all to his bosom."

"You're talking in riddles again."

"And you still cannot see what is plainly in sight." His grin widens. Alice wonders how much further those red lips can stretch.

"You're a clown," Alice says.

She fingers the pendant she wears around her neck. Her mother's pendant – she keeps it close to her to remind herself of reality. Dreams are dreams are dreams and they only come true for children. She's a grandmother now, old as the hills. Dreams are not for her. DonotlistentotheHatter.

"You're wrong," the Hatter says. His smile stretches wide like an ocean of doubts, and Alice begins to feel fear gnawing at her heart. She has never seen the Hatter look this sinister.

"Why are you here?"

"I'm bringing you home," he says. The room blacks out with a snap of his gloved fingers.

Alice twitches in the darkness, afraid of this arcane magic that she has never seen before.

"Hatter?"

There is silence, and Alice wonders if maybe she has died and if the Hatter was just a figment of her imagination, a pre-death image. Then – fingers grab at her wrist and she almost shouts before she finds herself blinded by a cavalcade of bright light.

"Hatter!"

Alice looks around when she can see again. It's Underland; the Hatter has brought her back to Underland. He stands in the splinting sunlight, a tall figure muttering to himself. She catches up, her old legs faltering with every step.

The Hatter turns to her. 'We're back."

"Why?"

"Why not?"

"But why? Why, Hatter?"

"This is the land where men become gods."

"I don't – I don't understand…" Alice paused. "Hatter! Wait up!'

The Hatter pauses mid-skip. "Look at yourself."

Alice gapes at him, and he gestures downwards.

"This –" Alice stops speaking; words fail her. Her hands have regained their youth, and her fingers are long and unknotted, pale and creamy without blue veins popping out in monstrous fashion. "What alchemy is this?"

"This is Underland, where men become gods."

"You said that just now," Alice says, "but it doesn't mean a thing. Hatter, please stop talking in riddles!"

"Those who follow will know," the Hatter says, tapping his nose knowingly and then skips off again. Alice hastens after him.

:::

"Alice," the White Queen says, looking down at the girl she knew so many years ago. "Welcome back. It has been too long since we last saw each other."

"Yes, Your Majesty," Alice says, "it is a pleasure to meet you again."

"Indeed."

"Your Majesty, if you could pardon me, could I ask what I'm doing here?" Alice gestures around the room. "Is there another war to fight?"

"No, dear, you have earned your right to be called a heroine long ago. Now is your twilight, the days of contemplation and peace."

"Then why am I here?"

"Why are you here?"

"The Hatter brought me…"

"Then he must feel that you have unfinished business with Underland, dear Alice, or he would never draw you back like this."

"He keeps talking in riddles," Alice says. "About men becoming gods."

"I see," the Queen says. "I see. The Hatter probably thinks you still have some connection to this place. And he may be right; I do not know, my dear friend."

"Then –"

"You have to figure this out yourself."

Alice nods. Figuring things out has never been her forte, but she will try, as she always has.

:::

"So, where are we going?" Alice asks, striding quickly to keep up with the Hatter. "Are we going back to the tea party?"

"Tea party?" the Hatter snorts. "No."

"Then where?"

"You'll see in a while," the Hatter says. He pauses and shoots Alice an unreadable look. "We're going to the edge of the world."

"Oh," she says, feeling dreadfully inadequate. "Alright."

They spend hours walking like this, shoes on dried mud, heads moving clear of overhanging boughs. They walk through splintered sunlight, past sleeping caterpillars and gigantic ants and wild cats yowling at marked trees. They walk through noon and through dusk, till the Hatter pauses and gestures for Alice to come forward.

She follows the Hatter out of the forest, leaving the last of the clustered trees behind. Now they stand at the start of a plain that stretches wide and long.

"Where are we?"

"In the land where evil things learn their hearts."

"What –"

"Now's not the time for idle chatter," the Hatter says, shaking his head. His voluminous red curls bob along with the movement of his head, and Alice clearly sees the moonlight bounce off his red hair. "Follow me."

They cut a path through the plain, walking, walking, until they reach the end of the plain. There is nothing for miles – at least, until Alice looks down and sees a canyon that stretches till the horizon. The Hatter takes a stairway carved into the ancient rock, and Alice makes haste to follow.

"Do you see her?" the Hatters asks mid-descent.

"Who?"

The Hatter points. Alice scrutinizes the area the Hatter's finger is pointing at. "Ah."

"You do see her?"

"Yes. Why is she…?"

"She's suffering," the Hatter says. "She thought herself a god and brought violence to this land. Like the craven to the pure, monsters were attracted to Underland directly before her reign. She used them to consolidate her growing power."

"Are you trying to tell me something?"

"She was too afraid to lose to see what lay beyond," the Hatter said. His clear eyes fixed on her, and Alice felt cleaved to the bones. "That is all I brought you here to see. Let us return."

"Where?"

"The tea-party, of course."

:::

"Men cannot hope to become gods," the caterpillar says.

"You're still smoking that hookah," Alice says, disgusted by the smell. "Didn't your mother teach you that smoking is bad?"

"I have no mother," the caterpillar says, its great eyes whirling.

"Sorry, I forgot –"

"No matter, child, no matter."

"Why did you say that?"

"Say what?" the caterpillar sends a few rings of blue smoke toward Alice.

Alice coughs, trying to prevent the smoke from entering her lungs. "About men becoming gods."

"That is the essence of man."

"I do not understand…"

"You never will," the caterpillar says, "and this is why men will always try to become gods."

"The Hatter… he said something like that."

"The Hatter is wise. There is method in his madness, more so than you think. He sees the world with a clarity few possess."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Why do you suppose people tell others things?"

"I… I never did think about this."

"As expected, child."

"Are you trying to teach me how to slay an incoming Jabberwocky?"

"There are no more Jabberworkys," the caterpillar says, shuddering slightly. "The Red Queen has been imprisoned."

"Then why –"

"You need to understand. Seek the Hatter. He will tell you of the ways."

"But –"

The caterpillar sends another ring of smoke toward Alice. Coughing and spluttering, she runs off.

:::

"Do you understand yet?" the White Queen asks.

"Not really," Alice admits, biting into a deliciously white meringue. "Every single person – and animal – seems to be talking in riddles.

"Especially the Hatter," she adds – as an afterthought.

"Men cannot hope to become gods," the Queen says, smiling. Her lipstick is dark, as it always has been, as it always will be, and Alice thinks of the congealed blood she saw on the body of fallen soldiers back home. She wonders if the White Queen harbours some dark secret, hidden deep within the folds of velvet and enigmatic smiles.

"That's what everyone has been hinting to me." Alice shakes her head. "I do not understand."

"You will only be able to understand when you look deep inside your heart and know where it is that your heart lies."

"My heart…" Alice thinks for a while. 'I miss Underland."

"That's it, Alice. You've reached the fundamental problem."

"But –"

"Only you can answer the questions that follow, my dear Alice. Only you know your heart and soul well enough."

:::

"I know why you brought me here," Alice says.

"Hmm," the Hatter says. He glances sideways at the Dormouse. "Quit making that racket!"

"You knew, didn't you?"

"What I know is of no consequence," the Hatter says. "It's what you know that counts."

"I've always loved this place," Alice says, spreading her arms wide and pointing her chin toward the horizon. "This beautiful, lonely, forsaken place."

"Not forsaken, not really."

"Forsaken by time," Alice says, smiling wryly. "You agree?"

"Yes," the Hatter says sadly. The corner of his mouth droops by a little. "There is too much emptiness here since we quarrelled with Time."

"That's what you were trying to tell me, am I not right?"

"Men cannot hope to become gods," the Hatter says. He sniffs at his teacup.

"Time has forsaken this land," Alice says, "and the bolder among you have seen this chance to live like gods."

"The Red Queen," the Hatter agrees.

"You thought I was chained by the memories of this place, that I wanted to be here again, that I could not die in peace because of my desire to see this place one more time."

"Mmm."

"I see now the folly of trying to see things again, of trying to live like a god."

"Do you not wish for eternal youth, for power and ambition?"

"I might have," Alice says. "But I have lived eight decades and I know that life is transient. It flashes past in the blink of an eye. Then, those who desire to live like gods end up in sorrow, wallowing in their self-created misery."

"You do remember."

"Thank you, Hatter. Thank you so much for teaching me this, for teaching everything. I have relearnt myself."

:::

"Mother?"

It's morning, and the splintered sunlight streams in through the blinds. Alice opens her eyes. Through the haze of sleep she makes out the face of her eldest son.

"Mother?" he says again, hands on her frail, aching shoulders. "Good morning. The notary is here…"

"Notary? Send him in." Alice half-smiles. "And – I take back what I said yesterday. When I die, bury me in the family plot. Don't scatter my ashes at the root of some tree."

Her son nods, and Alice smiles again.

Maybe now – maybe she can go in peace to the land where all souls rest. She will not be chained to her memories of Underland, she will not hanker after a path not taken. She will be able to walk gladly into the eternal twilight.


A/N: Don't you just adore the Hatter? Johnny Depp, I mean.

At times I don't really understand what I'm writing, either. Oops. There's supposed to be a very slight bit of AliceHatter; you might be able to see it if you squint (:

So – I hope you enjoyed this, and all comments/criticism/suggestions would be welcome (: