"Come on… Work. Get it to work…" Every night the same routine and every night she had run into the same failures. Five years of servitude promised to The Dark One for one simple article of clothing.
A hat. A worn hat that meant the world to her even if all she did half the time was sit on her bed and allowing it to drop over her eyes as it was too large for her head. It was silly to anyone else, but to her it meant everything in the world.
Her quarters were nicer than she had initially expected although only lit by the leftovers of candles that had to be replaced daily with new ones. She had gathered quite the collection though most were barely surviving wicks in pools of melted wax. It left the room casting shadows that could barely be discerned from the darkness surrounding. She always thought it added a magical feel to everything she was trying to do. If she could get it to work though it would all be over and she could go back home with two jobs of the Dark One's choosing for the two years she had left.
Another night and nothing… Grace sat back just holding back tears that were threatening to fall. She was working blindly off of what she could remember from being the little girl who had to stay behind while her parents were off on another job… She'd lost her mother during one of those trips. After that the hat had vanished and they had moved out of their cozy little home and into their cottage in the woods.
Until the Queen had shown up at their little cottage and taken her father away too… Now Regina was locked up, the kingdom was safe, and she was still there with an old hat and no hope. Her determination cracked as she just started to cry. No one would trouble her even if they did overhear her, but she needed to get it out. Every moment of frustration of the last six years that she wasn't able to do anything to save him, or, for that matter, even knowing if he was still alive… She picked up the hat and just threw it across the room in annoyance when it happened.
She stood back up against the wall while it continued, glowing purple and getting wider. Well… Now what was she supposed to do? Grace looked over and moved around the edge of the room to avoid falling into the hole that was now taking up most of her room and grabbed her cloak. "Deep breath… What's the worst thing that could happen?" She closed her eyes, took a breath, and jumped into the darkness.
She had only ever even been in here once: a birthday gift involving an afternoon trip to the Land of Oz with both of her parents where they'd had tea with munchkins. She'd heard rumors of exactly where to start looking, but the most obvious door was also the last one she wanted to go through. Just as described, a looking-glass through which her mother had gone through and not come back. She just pressed her hand against the surface before it gave, her hand passing through as the rest of her followed as she came out on the other side and just looked at everything in the overly bright world… Wonderland.
One more… This was going to be the one that did it. It didn't even matter any more why the Queen was so eager to get him to actually get one of these to actually work. Where was she going to go? What business did she have back in the Enchanted Forest? Why should he even care as long as he managed to get home and didn't get his head cut off again. Jefferson just kept sewing and looking it over to try to make sure absolutely every stitch was perfect, tearing out the last five to try again.
He should be sleeping. Sleep had rejected him though and continued to run him out with nightmares until he usually just collapsed on his work table. Grace. Alice. His own body lying there on the ground. Returning to a daughter that hated him. Alice. Getting eaten by the Jabberwocky for yet another failure. Grace…
He hated Wonderland. All it ever managed to do was cause him more and more pain. He'd lost track of days long ago, and even with the way time passed from one world to the next… And as always the same mantra "Get it to work. Get it to work. Get. It. To. Work."
Jefferson looked up from his work at the sound of the voice. No one ever came to visit in here, especially young women that he was trying to place where he did know her. It… It couldn't be. Every sign of woman with that still slightly rounded look to her face that still marked the sign of a child. His mouth just dropped open as she ran around the piles of hats and just hugged him and he instinctively put his arms around her. "Grace?"
"Papa, I found you…" She sniffled back the tears though at least this time she had smiled. It had taken a day of searching, but yet here he was all safe.
"You grew up." Grace pulled back and just looked at him with a sad smile and just nodded. She smiled as he just looked her over, suddenly wishing she had found something else to wear other than her work clothes. Even the patches were getting worn and hardly looked like the servant of one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. One who was not going to be pleased when she finally returned for not giving warning that she was leaving. "What are you doing here, Grace? Did the Queen find you? How did you even get here?"
"Your hat… I got it to work and came looking for you."
"This isn't just hide and seek. If the Queen finds you…" He frowned, just brushing back her hair.
Grace just smiled back at him. She had found him and that was quite enough reason for all the optimism in the world. "I'm going to get you home… I don't know how yet, but I'll find a way." She just closed her eyes with a small smile as he pulled her in and just pressed a kiss to her forehead.
"Just get out of her safely… And hurry before they catch you. The Queen here is not one that you want to be messing with, Grace."
"I'll be safe, Papa." She gave him another tight squeeze and pulled the hat off he was wearing. "You always looked better without it." She barely caught his smile as she headed back out. Oh, she was going to be perfectly safe, but she was already sure that wasn't going to include getting out of here again without anyone noticing.
Court was already in session as she walked up, the only one in the crowd without a mask over her face. It could make one feel terribly under-dressed, but then she already was even as she pulled the cloak tighter over her shoulders.
"What business do you have with the Queen of Hearts?"
Had it really only been a day ago that she was in her room just shocked to have finally made a portal all on her own? Her plan was going mostly off the top of her head, but better to go to the Queen than have her come for you. She took a moment to breathe and hope she sounded confident. "I have a business. Traveling back and forth between worlds for trinkets and items of possible value to whoever might wan them… I want to know what the Queen would like for the return of my father." She swallowed back her nervousness again while the masked figure whispered something to her Knave.
"The Queen desires to both know your name and what makes you think she won't keep you here as well."
She bit her lip for a moment, knowing her answer could easily be dangerous. "Alice." Grace heard the murmurs going around the court while she just stood a little taller. "And I'm not sure why her majesty," She dropped into a curtsy, "would want to go to the Forest when here she is ruler over everything in all of Wonderland. Anyone or anything she might want, I could just as easily offer." She bit her lower lip while the queen considered, not sure if it was good or not that everyone else was requested to leave. Perhaps she intended on killing her for daring to use that name within Wonderland. Names could be powerful things though, and she wasn't about to hand over hers so easily. There was a fine line between foolishness and bravery and she was toying with it and knew it.
The Queen just examined her for a long moment while everyone was leaving with the only notable exception being the guards just close enough to be on her in a moment and far enough to not be listening in on every word. "You're far too young to be the same Alice I met long ago."
"No disrespect meant, but I never said I was The Alice. Just Alice, who is wondering what she might be able to do for the Queen that might benefit both of us."
"Depends on who you're hoping to take back with you." Grace raised her eyebrows just the slightest wondering if there really was a question. Sassing back that there couldn't be that many portal jumpers hiding out in her castle seemed like a good way to end up right next to her father.
"My father is the hatter known as Jefferson. So what is he worth to you?" Her heart felt like it was about to pound right out of her chest as the Queen got up, still veiled and just stepped toward her.
"My dear, it's not what I consider his worth that makes him valuable… It's what you're willing to give for his return that makes him valuable." If she could see her face, Grace was sure she'd find a grin there. "If I recall correctly though, you can't take him unless you leave someone here."
"Essentially…" After all it didn't exactly have to be a living person being brought to Wonderland.
"Well there is a person who I would like… She took something from me long ago, and while I can't get it back now, I would see her brought here. Made to answer for her crimes against the crown of Wonderland."
Grace just swallowed hard to remember her voice. Why was it this woman seemed to have the ability to make her want to just run off and forget the whole matter? But then this was family, and you didn't abandon family… "And who does the Queen desire?"
"Not bad, dearie. No, no, not bad at all." Grace was finding the perks to working for Rumpelstiltskin when you were of value for something other than just dusting and sweeping also included a technically unlimited wardrobe. She had an audience requested with the King and Queen and dressing properly for the Royal Court. At the moment it made her feel better dressed than one of the princesses in the purple gown.
She didn't even mind being fussed over though it had been magically done to fit perfectly. "Are you sure you don't want me to come along just for moral support? They're a little scary the first time, but just state your case, and I doubt that they'll refuse you."
"I'll be fine, Belle. It can't be any worse than I've already dealt with, and at least now I look like I fit in." She hugged the slightly older woman with a smile before heading out for the awaiting carriage. It was the first time she would actually get a chance to go into the actual walls of the castle town with its stone fortifications. Everything just seemed so tall and shiny and new compared to anything in the woods. Rumpel didn't keep a bunch of people living around and really not all that many people probably wanted to be close to him anyhow.
She was surprised to find someone already ready on the other side to take her hand and help her out before she had another servant directing in to wait with the other courtiers who had their own issues. She just stood back patiently rehearsing everything in her head while listening to problems with crops and people coming to offer help with the aliments of the ill Prince. It took calling her name a second time before it registered in her head as she stepped forward to curtsy before the throne.
Both looked wary of her, but then considering where she came from this morning was it really any wonder? She just put on a relaxed smile as she rose back to her feet and clasped her hands behind her back. At least then when she was fidgeting it wouldn't be as noticeable. "Your majesties… It's an honor to be given the chance to come before you to make a request. For a criminal being held in the royal prison who is wanted for crimes in another realm."
"We don't make a habit of releasing prisoners into the care of anyone without proper security to insure they don't escape-" started King David.
"Who and what realm is requesting this?" Queen Snow just gave her husband a calm smile, resting her hand over his.
Of course this would be the harder part with the fear of rejection already pulling at her. "The Queen of Wonderland is requesting the… Witch known as Regina. And I'm more than willing to not take her back alone as such might prove difficult for me alone."
"And why doesn't she make a formal request then if putting Regina on trial is so important to another world?"
"No need to scare the poor girl, Charming."
Grace hesitated. Honestly she didn't know why now of all times, and just trying to make up something seemed rather foolish. "I'm going to assume because there hasn't been a known portal jumper in the Enchanted Forest for several years now… And honestly I can't tell you what crimes they want Regina for either, but I would be more than happy to see her stuck there for the rest of eternity."
"Revenge doesn't get anyone happiness," Snow replied with a small smile.
"It might in this case. Not so much for the revenge, but… The Queen of Hearts has held my papa for years. The details are known only to Regina more than likely, but I'm guessing she took someone from Wonderland she wasn't supposed to take, and therefore left my father there… I give her Regina, and she gives me back my father."
Grace curtsied back down, getting very close to just actually begging. "He's been gone since I was ten… Six years of our time in Wonderland is closer to four times that. He's all I had in this world and Regina took that away from me. And now I'm asking for you to give me the chance to bring him back home. And I would forever be in debt."
The two just looked at each other for a moment, skilled already with keeping their conversations quiet enough that only the other could hear while Grace waited with her skirts just spread around her and hands folded lightly in her lap. Her eyes just barely scanned over the two Princesses while waiting and just looking down until she heard "Mistress Hatter" from the King.
"We need time to consider, but we will have an answer for you by tomorrow morning. If you have no place to stay in town, we would be glad to have you here."
Grace just nodded deeply with a smile. It wasn't the yes she was hoping for, but she also wasn't leaving yet with a refusal. "I would be pleased to accept." She rose back to her feet before backing into the crowd. True, she was sure they would be watching to see if she had any other ulterior motives to any of this. That didn't scare her… She actually had a glimmer of hope as long as she could keep it from being snuffed out like one of her used candles.
"Snow White in Wonderland… Almost sounds like a story someone needs to write except I doubt it will be very long." Grace smiled over at the Queen who was looking around with the initial wonder that struck so many when they first same here. At least until you knew everything under the surface at least it was a rather magical looking place.
Snow just smiled over. "Well she is my step-mother despite everything that she's done or wanted to do to all of us. And I'm always up for a diplomatic visit to others in power though I don't think we're going to have all that many peace treaties between our two Kingdoms." The pair was just walking along after getting past the giant Caterpillar that had greeted their entourage. "And I'm eager to meet this Jefferson after you were about ready to talk off all our ears at dinner." She just laughed as Grace started blushing in embarrassment. "Don't feel bad, I quite enjoyed it… A daughter is supposed to think her father is the most amazing man she's ever known."
"I've only ever heard good things about your father… It's just unfortunate that he ended up getting involved with her." Grace looked back at the small prison cell being held between the four guards they brought along with them. Seven in, soon to be seven out… She'd have to ask if that was any sort of new record for the hat in terms of numbers.
"I won't say any of it was easy by any means, but in a lot of ways I wouldn't change any of it. I wouldn't have met David… Though he was still going by James then. There's a lot of things that came from having Regina in my life, but after she tried to enact that curse." Snow just shuddered and shook her head. "I still don't know if we should exactly trust your master, but that was one save no one was really expecting… And he burned his deal with Ella."
"I'd argue I'm a freelance agent now, but even I know better. One year, one favour. I promised him five years when I was thirteen. I still owe him two and I don't plan on spending them cleaning his castle any longer. Though I am going to miss Belle. She… She changes something in him."
"And you're not scared what sort of favors he's going to want in return? Or for that matter what your papa might have to say about it?"
"No. My boundaries when I signed were no killing or locking people in another world." Grace just motioned back at the box. "That doesn't count. I consider this a trade for someone who never should have been left here." Snow didn't argue and besides they were greeted by the royal guards and lost their relaxed stances.
"Tell the Queen that Alice has returned with her request and expects the return of her Hatter..." Snow just looked over with a vaguely amused look as one of the guards headed back with the message. "What?"
"You just remind me of my eldest daughter for a moment. Still a young woman, but still that complete air of authority the minute you think anyone is going to question you… Not that I think they would."
"Well I suppose if the Queen of Hearts ever starts looking for a replacement." Grace just laughed to herself and shook her head a little as they were escorted back, swallowing her nervousness that this was going to end up being a trap of some sort.
It was almost to quiet though for a trap considering the set up seemed much the same as the last time she was there other than the man sitting there by the throne in the middle of making a hat and not taking any notice of them while he was far too distracted with his task to take notice. Grace just bit her lower lip though rather than call out for him. They had already agreed to letting Snow do the talking from there, but she still wanted nothing more than to just go take him and head back while they worked out the particulars.
"Alice, you've gotten some rather royal friends since last we spoke."
"Alice is gone... You're about as crazy from this place as I am," chuckled Jefferson, not looking up still from his task. "Your Jabberwocky that got her." Grace just clenched her fists to her side, digging her nails into the palms of her hands. Not yet…
"Well I'm always available to meet another Queen, and since you seem unable to come to my realm, I thought it only proper to come to yours since it's my prisoner you desire… And my subject you're holding." Snow just nodded slightly to Jefferson.
There was that same tone of a smile to her voice that made Grace just wish she could see the woman's face already, but perhaps that was all part of the several factors that kept people in fear of her. "Oh, we've met before, Snow White. Though it was a very long time ago when you were still much younger."
Snow only allowed herself a moment of confusion to actually show. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage then. You know me, but I can't place you at all from behind that mask. Why do you want Regina?"
"She took something very dear to me. With the help of your friend here that I'm releasing. Personally I think that's being kind of me since I should really be keeping both of them here. Though from the looks of things I'm not exactly losing out on this deal since he seems to have broken."
Grace was sure she was drawing her own blood just to keep from screaming at this woman to question everything she had done for the past six years. She wasn't quite as diplomatic as Snow might think, but last time she also wasn't being taunted while trying to keep her cool. She's trying to get you to lash out… Anything that gives her reason to keep him and possibly all of you. She took a slow breath and just tried to relax her hands the slightest.
Snow just slipped a gloved hand into her new friend's for reassurance, still looking to the other Queen. "And what could be so dear that would call for extradition across worlds when she's already being held as a prisoner?"
The Scarlet-colored Queen just went quiet for a moment before responding. "My husband…"
"My FATHER! That you stole from me!" Came Regina's voice, suddenly speaking out for the first time in the whole trip. Recognition seemed to dawn over Snow's face over who the Queen was, and she wasn't the only one responding to this bit of information.
"Regina!" In a moment Jefferson was on his feet, scissors in hand and an almost murderous look before finding himself quickly frozen as the Queen of Hearts just waved her hand. Grace just covered her mouth and prayed this would be settled quickly.
"I can't have her going and killing her now, Hatter… Though I'm sure you think you have plenty of reason to do so." She lowered her mask though, cover blown and taking Snow by slight surprise again that she didn't seem to have aged a day. "Do we have a deal, little Snow, or have you changed your mind about wanting him back in your kingdom?"
"I have my own agreements with… Alice here. I'm not worried about him."
"Well then you can think of it quite simply as reuniting two parents with their children… One clearly more grateful than the other."
Cora just smiled calmly, but then this also wasn't the same twelve-year-old that she had gotten to tell her everything. Snow knew what she had done and how it had led to everything that Regina had done to them in return and just bit her lower lip for a moment. Taking her back now meant leaving without what they came for… And hadn't all Cora ever really wanted was her daughter despite the fact that both women seemed to have a way of going rather overboard when it same to dealing with their feelings? It would also mean both of them were here… Not posing any danger to her or her people. "We have a deal." She nodded to the guards behind her to hand over Regina as Grace pulled her hand away and just ran over and hugged her father.
"Papa…" She just pulled back to take the scissors from his hand and drop them to the ground before looking up at him. "Let's go home. Forget about Regina and let's just go home." Grace just smiled as he finally looked back at her with that same expression of just an adoring father that had only wanted to give his daughter everything only to lose her and thus everything he really cared about.
"Okay, Grace…" He hugged her back, lifting her just to the tips of her toes which just gave her a moment of sadness even as she clung back onto him. She wasn't the same little girl, but it didn't matter… They'd be out of there and together again. "It'll be good to get back home again."
"And what made you think that you could just go home when you still have obligations to fulfill?" Grace was just looking in shocked at Rumpelstiltskin, having left Belle and her father to tea time in the other room.
"You're still getting everything, but why do I need to stay here when he needs me? I'm not going to back out of our deal and he's already tried to convince me to let him take on whatever it is you want from me." At least here she didn't feel about ready to break into tears that something was going to go wrong… Possibly because she had just known Rumpel too long.
"Well considering he's already tried and failed, it wouldn't do much good anyhow now. But you…" He just approached her, smiling in that way that unnerved so many others. "You're going to get exactly what I want, and you're not leaving until I have it."
Grace just sighed in frustration, looking back over at him. "And what makes you think that I'm going to succeed if he's already failed?"
"Because you're going to find your own way out of here. Which is your first job… Your second job is going to go to a world that your father can't get to through his hat nor seem to acquire anything that will allow them to get where I need you to go. And then you're going to bring back what I've lost…"
"And what exactly would that be?"
Rumpelstiltskin just went over toward her and violated every bit of personal space she usually enjoyed while she just looked at his face just inches from her own. "You'll find that out as soon as you get it to work, dearie..."