A/N: Thank you so much to may patient followers. Hopefully you enjoy this though I'm sure it was not quite worth the wait.
Jefferson blinked twice before the full weight of her words sunk in. Take the princess and just leave her there? It was just complete and total "Madness... Your majesty, you can't really just accept..." He turned his plea to the king instead and hoped for some sort of clarity. King David was focused in on his daughter at the moment.
"I can't just let you go and do that. The moment your mother even gets wind of what you're trying to do here. I know it's James we're talking about here, sweetheart, but-"
"Am I the queen or not?" Emma just looked completely serious back at her father. Apparently David could find no arguments to be made while the Hatter was faltering for words. She just turned back to him with a smile. "And the sooner you can leave then the sooner you'll feel repaid to my family, Master Hatter?"
His mind was going all over to the potential ways that this could possibly go wrong and end up with him in worse than the stocks for endangering the heir to the throne. He just ran his fingers through his hair and closed his mouth from the continued shock. "If that is what the crown thinks is best… I will return tomorrow morning with everything necessary and we can be on our way." Clearly he was going to be holding out on faith that this stunt was going to get overturned by then. He also had a long letter to leave in case it was necessary so Grace was not just left in the dark of why he had gone without her. Admittedly with this new timeline he should return by then, but he was not going to be taking any chances.
"I shall expect to see you then." There was only the faintest hint of disappointment that she couldn't just run off at that moment. Then it only took a glance up to notice the young man watching her intently with a look of amusement. The Hatter just gave another bow to the royals before him before retreating back for the door and muttering under his breath the whole way.
"Emma Ruth Odette White Oswald!"
"Ooooh, She just went full name on you, Em… I'd run away as fast as possible." Emma just looked back at James with the slightest hint of amusement, but was quickly hiding it as her mother approached.
"Is something wrong?" She was at least relieved to see Red on her mother's heels. She didn't look like she was about to approve outright, but she also didn't look so appalled by the idea. Emma just stole a look over at her father and Scarlet already sitting at the table. Her poor sister looked like she was about to collapse from stress. "Breathe, dove," Emma just commented softly.
"What do you think you're doing with this whole plan? It's one thing to approve of his plan, but just going and running off? And you…" Snow just turned on her husband. "You let her?"
He just opened his mouth for a moment before closing it again. David had thought it over since it had first come up, but this was still something where he wasn't going to fight Emma's battles for her. She might have had him wrapped up around her finger from the moments of her first cries, but there were still some things she needed to do for herself. Convincing her mother to let her go with a man she barely knew was one of those things.
"I asked questions and didn't just jump blindly and neither of you has given me any sort of compelling argument why he shouldn't be trusted. I am twenty-five years old here, and the only time I'm allowed to travel anywhere is with at least three guards and usually two more you think I don't know about... I want to go somewhere that for once I can just be "Emma". Please don't make me start begging here." There were also the sad eyes that had only failed her against her father on three occasions in her life, but those could be stored for a few more minutes. "I'm not even asking to be allowed to go around the kingdom just running around the woods like some fugitive. And what's the worse that could happen?"
David just looked back before she might suggest something about sticking their daughter in some corner of a world where they would never find her. "I will say our Hatter looked about as miffed by the suggestion as you are, but we did decide to abide by her decisions today." There were also the unspoken comments… How bad would it look if they discarded her orders and their trust in her to make the right decisions? Especially to Emma who could be rash, but also had a good head on her shoulders most of the time.
Snow sighed and just looked over at Emma. The little girl had grown up into a stunning young woman who was as headstrong as her mother and thankfully as optimistic as her father. "Very well… But you will be leaving from here and if anything happens to you."
"You'll be more than glad to find a way to revive me so you can kill me yourself." Emma smiled and went over to kiss her mother on the cheek before heading for the door. "Don't wait up for me now, but I'll try to be back in time for supper." The sound of Red's laughter at her heels was enough to make her grin. She knew as usual she would have at least the usual watchmen following her once she left her room again. The moment she was unlaced enough to slip out of the gown she was rid of it and stripping her excess undergarments to get her own breeches and tunic.
She was far happier without the excess layers and getting ready to just head out for the stables and grumbling slightly at being forced to sit long enough to get her riding boots on. Cosette didn't bother with trying to chase her down long enough to undo her hair or even make any attempts to pin it up further to keep from tangling. Their Princess was not exactly the sort that was going to be content to sit around when she could be on the move. She didn't even intend to leave the grounds, but there still were her usual guardians as she headed in to her horse.
The blond horse was one of the oldest still in the royal stables that still got ridden regularly, but Emma and Valley Whisper had a special connection that had yet to be found with any of the younger group. She pulled out a few sugar cubes stolen off her otherwise untouched tea-tray and just offered them with one hand while petting the horse's muzzle. "Thought I'd be sure to get in some quality time before I leave considering I don't know how long it's going to take… No one seems to think it might actually be better to have me out-of-the-way though rather than me being here and yelling at this new potential savior about bothering James." Emma just laughed a little and took her time to get a brush and go over the already perfectly groomed animal. At least Valley only gave her back answers she wanted to hear and only argued when it came to which direction to go next.
"I'm gonna miss you. I don't even know if this other world is going to have horses or if they might all just go around on winged snakes or something of the sort. Even mom's stories about Wonderland just seemed to amazing to ever actually believe, and she was only there for a few hours at best."
A short whistle was all it took to send for over the stable boy to aid her with saddling Val and a small unnecessary boost to get up in it. She'd practically been riding since before she could walk. And on her own it only took a small nudge with her heel and an open space ahead and they were at a full gallop, wind blowing her hair back as she just laughed carelessly. Plus the image of the two unmounted guards chasing without thinking about their own steeds at first was hilarious. She could have been long out of sight if she had wanted it, but waited just long enough for them to make it to their usual "respectable distance" before continuing at a slightly slower pace. She still had Valley Whisper to consider after all.
Still, it was the closest thing to freedom she had known in this lifetime. She was going to actually find out if it felt this good or if she was really being as foolish as everyone thought.
The Hatter was just frustrated and sleepless. The latter was not much different from usual, but tonight it also meant trying to decide what were really the most important things to take along on this trip. At least he had talked her off to the next day while he tried to consider all the places his daughter might currently be visiting. He needed someone to just let it all out. It didn't even need to be followed by reassurances that he was right and the princess had no patience.
Jefferson wouldn't let himself just release all the frustration aloud. The neighbors already looked at him strangely at times. Even in a world as saturated in magic as this one found someone with a scar around his neck that should have killed him to be "odd". Long before that he'd already been "eccentric" with his personality that was not going to just be contained in some box to be labeled. Add in that he'd spent far too long here muttering to himself and laughing at his own jokes because he had gotten so lost in being his only companion that talking to himself had been normal. Here they just started referring to you as "mad". So he settled for pacing and just toying with the hat while considering where he could look for Grace.
At least in the forest the closest neighbor would have likely excused his yells of frustration as a nearby bear. Grace had wanted to life in town now though and he had agreed. Anything to make his little girl happy even if she was no longer all that little.
There was also the other problem that he could search almost every probable world in his hat for the rest of the night and still not end up in the correct place. He just groaned and sat down at the empty table and just flipped the hat around. He was going to need his rest and that wasn't going to include chasing after a girl who could run through worlds faster than the White Rabbit.
He wanted to just be able to yell. Possibly throw something…
The moment he did though the neighbors would be over there, calling for the guards to put him away somewhere and looking down their noses at him. The Mad Hatter had gone and lost his head again and with no sign of Grace around they would all be sure that she had finally left because it would be better than sticking around with a man that was potentially dangerous. That poor, poor girl…
He was fine though. Clearest his head had been in all this time and just as ready to take on his promise to hopefully help cure the young prince so he didn't need to be someone who people just looked down their noses at as well.
He sighed and set the hat hanging on the bedpost before laying down. It would be another night of tossing and turning but even a bad rest would be better than none at all.
He was still worried at daybreak, finding the house still empty as expected. With a sigh he found his best dark clothes and just fidgeted with his cravat. No matter what he was going to stand out. And with his luck the princess was going to have gone and chosen some bright color that was made for catching the eye of one of her suitors. How did one tell her royal highness that he wasn't going anywhere if she insisted upon dressing like a fool? Low profile was needed, but even more so for her. He wasn't the one staying.
Jefferson grabbed the hat and box on his way out and heading for the palace. The guard must have been informed of his arrival considering the speed that he went from outer gates to the throne room again. He shook off feelings about the last time he'd done something like this. Different castle, different layout and yet still that eerie feeling that something was about to happen beyond his control. It was that magical crackle in the air that sent a tingle down your spine. He had a safety net against ever being trapped like that again which meant this would end up being something else that subconsciously had him on edge.
The king and queen were already there, oddly relaxed. Then considering the room seemed otherwise empty there was really no cause for all the pomp. At the end of the day they were just parents who were worried about their daughter. Something he could relate to rather well… "Am I early? Or perhaps just cancelled for the day?" He avoided adding too much hope the latter question. More than likely he would have been turned away at the front gates if that were the case.
"Just waiting on Emma I'm afraid. Please though. Feel free to take a seat. It seems all I really know of you Master Hatter was from our very brief encounter and what your daughter mentioned." Snow smiled kindly at him and swept aside many of the bad feelings he was having over memories of her step-mother. The two were, after all, nothing alike.
He just took a seat on the steps, setting his box next to him. "I don't believe there is all that much to really know… Only I hope to make up for ill first impressions."
"Well then what about this world that your associate comes from? Where I'm assuming Emma will be staying."
Jefferson couldn't help but noticed that King David was staying perfectly quiet and only listening intently. Oh to have only been a fly on the wall at that family gathering after everything yesterday morning… "Well it's… I don't really have a name for it. A Land Without Color. And what is strange is that…" he turned, looking up at both of them. "See, we go there and somehow keep our colors. Skin, eyes, clothes, everything… Hence the dulled out shades," He motioned slightly to his own attire, "because everything is black, white, and gray. Yet somehow, the moment I bring Victor, that's this wizard's name, into this world and you'd never know. He blends just fine but if she's not careful, the princess won't. I mean it's still as I said before. As long as you don't go inviting in trouble it's just as safe as any other world."
"And you're sure of this?" He avoided asking if the King was allowed to speak and just smiled back.
"She'll be safe… Same safe place I'd leave my own daughter, and I will do everything to keep her from any harm."
"I'm not completely defenseless you know."
Jefferson looked back at the sound of the voice and approaching footsteps and just looked her over silently. The confection of a gown had been replaced with dark brown leather trousers and a matching jerkin over a white shirt. She was emphasizing her words with the fact that she was still tightening a belt around her waist from which a sword was hanging. "I trust, Master Hatter, that my choice of weaponry won't be an issue?"
"As long as it doesn't hinder you from walking." And assuming she actually knew how to use it, but suggesting such just seemed a quick way to end up on her bad side and he still had to put up with her for a few hours at least. He was trying not to look too impressed that she had actually dressed appropriately for the journey.
"I'm quite used to wearing it when it is proper to do so." There was almost a smile to her tone as she just looked back at him. "Shall we get on our way then?" Emma was doing her best to hide her excitement over today and just frowned when it wasn't a hat that he pulled out of the box first but a thin black cloak that he was offering over to her.
"No offense meant, but that golden hair of yours is going to be practically shining out and while I'm sure you have plenty of your own, it's lightweight and also not going to be too fancy." Only once it was on and clasped around her did he take out the hat and looked back at the majesties. "Please be kind enough to place it back out-of-the-way but preferably not in a closet somewhere as I did have that happen once and just… Not all that comfortable to pop back into and all."
Emma just watched as he took a few steps out into the center of the room before taking the edge of the hat and just spinning it like a child's spinning top. For a moment it looked like it was just going to sit back again against the stone floor until it started picking up speed and turning to a purple whirlwind on the floor while the Hatter just watched with an almost bored expression. For the first time since actually suggesting this she was feeling tentative about having anything to do with this magic.
"Ladies first, Princess…" He just moved over next to her while it just continued to swirl on the floor. "Just jump and try to mind the landing."
Emma just looked back at him, trying to hide the sudden feelings of doubt over jumping into a purple tornado and not knowing where it was going to end up exactly. She just ran her fingers over the hilt of her sword nervously. With a sigh he took her hand, frowning slightly and trying to brush off the feeling he was getting off of her. Pure. Powerful. Completely unadulterated. Jefferson shook his head and just tried to look more reassuring before dropping her hand again. "Same time then…"
He would never quite get used to the odd sensation of falling and yet not landing on your feet any harder than if you'd only hopped down a half dozen stairs. Jefferson however was already grabbing Emma by the arm to keep her from falling onto the floor. "Told you to mind the landing."
"I was fine." She just pulled away roughly before looking around the circular room before also looking up above her into the endless darkness. "So then where are we?"
What was with this family and their need to question about everything? "You realize that most people don't really name their worlds because almost all assume rather egotistically that they are the only ones. Some are just a single continent which makes it easy enough, but others are vast and don't think anything of someone needing to differentiate between one and another."
"That's all wonderful, but I meant the room…" She went over and just started looking over a red door with a golden design and almost touched her hand to it before it was grabbed and pulled back.
"Are we going to have to set down some rules here, Princess? Namely don't touch anything that could potentially take you somewhere that you don't want to go."
"Emma… Might as well get used to not being the "Princess" around here. And I just want to know some of these things so I won't sound like a complete idiot going on about "Well it was just some big room with a couple of doors and then there were other things that were also probably kind of doors" if it has some proper name."
"Just… The Hall of Doors? I don't know. I've only known one other person who actually travels this particular way and he never gave it a name either. Every one of the doors leads to a different world. And every one of them through here has magic of some sort that allows there to be a portal. It leaves an opening. A crack of sorts." Jefferson shrugged slightly and headed for a large black door with a face on it, knocker stuck in its mouth as if to gag the possible screaming.
No… That wasn't ominous in the least bit.
He went through, only waiting on the other end for her to come a moment later. He tucked back a smirk at her immediate reactions of awe and just pulled her hood back over her hair before realizing he was being a touch too forward and dropped his hands again. "It's not terribly far from here… Erm… Welcome to the colorless world. Namely Switzerland I believe…"
"Terribly odd name for a place. Switzerland." Emma tried out the name and just shook her head a little.
"I'm sure Victor would say the same of our world…"
"It doesn't sound like a dangerous place though."
"You're the one who brought along a sword, Prin- Emma."
Emma just smiled over at him, keeping just barely a step behind as he led the way down through the countryside toward a rather large house. "And you don't have any sort of protection?"
"Quite the contrary…" In a small motion down the side of the satchel and she barely noticed a sharp tip before he pulled out a dagger. She just held out a hand to take it before he flipped it and offered her the handle. It was a lightweight piece, hardwood grip with a brass guard, blade ten inches long. You'd have to be close, but it could inflict some serious damage if you got near enough. "Not often I actually need anything however, but it's also rather useful for all varieties of cutting."
"Bit small." She offered it back though, watching as he took it and just put it away again.
"Expecting me to magically pull out some giant piece out of my bag?"
"Well if you think about it, we technically jumped into a hat you could easily wear on your head. The concept of space when you have magic on your side is a little difficult to fathom. I have no idea what you could pull out of there that should be impossible to fit."
Jefferson just looked back at her, questioning if she was trying to make a joke out of this or was actually serious about the space issue. Either way he just started chuckling, flipping it open. "No magical portals in there for instant storage. So I won't be suddenly grabbing out a sword, shield and helmet if something comes up… You're on your own I'm afraid."
"Well that's a fine way to be about everything. I thought you were all reassuring my safety and the like."
"I'm not the one here that's practically glowing with power."
Emma opened her mouth to argue and question what he even meant by that statement, but the house he was reaching to ring the bell for hadn't been a subject of much focus until she realized it was actually where they were going… She had been expecting a little cottage or something a little smaller. Whoever lived here had considerable money, power, or both. Or at least enough to also afford a manservant to answer his door.
"Good afternoon. I don't believe the Master was expecting you quite yet, but come in. Come in. I'll tell him you're here."
She just followed Jefferson back into the house and maintained her silence as he exchanged a few words with the man apparently named Igor. It was not her home, but it was still a rather nice place if a little large and feeling rather empty. There was also a fair amount of sadness that just felt like it was coming from everything.
"Jefferson!" A man with hair she was sure would be blond as her own under other circumstances entered and quickly had the Hatter caught up in a hug that was quickly returned before the two pulled away and he looked over to Emma. "And who is this lovely creature that does not look like your daughter." He took her hand with a bow and barely pressing his lips to the back of her hand. "Doctor Victor Frankenstein, at your service, my lady."
"Back down, Victor, before you scare the poor girl."
Emma just blushed at the advances; already sure she was far from blending in around here at the rate things were going. "I can handle myself just fine, Hatter. And it is a pleasure to meet you. You can just call me Emma."
"Well then, Emma, welcome to my humble home."
"That is, Emma, Princess of the Enchanted Forest… It's her younger brother that I was telling you about that you're going to go see. Hence why we're arriving earlier than I told you to expect me again."
Emma frowned however. "Does he really need to know all that?"
"He is the one inconvenienced by your rather understandable rush. It's only reasonable that he should know why you're here as well as the fact that if anything happens to you that it's going to mean some really bad consequences I would rather not think about."
"You make it sound like my parents would have your head if I trip and scrape my knee…"
There was a long moment of silence as Jefferson just stared at her blankly, mouth going like a fish out of water with nothing coming out. Victor just placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Why don't we see about a bite to eat here? And then I'll show the young woman her rooms while she's staying here and go over a few things."
Their supper was a rather quiet affair, the Hatter having gone suddenly silent since the accusations of him being overprotective. That was perfectly fine by Emma though if all he was going to do was fret over her. She could take care of herself just fine and if anything happened then she would only have herself to blame. It was how she preferred things anyhow. The Doctor at least tried to keep up some level of conversation, asking more about James and his afflictions before just politely inquiring about the rest of her family. They also left him behind to do whatever it was odd Hatters did while alone and followed Frankenstein down the hallways as he pointed out a few rooms she was banned from before taking her to an over-sized bedroom, oddly feminine for what was apparently a bachelor. She ran her fingers lightly over the matching combs, brushes, and hand mirror on the vanity.
"Is he always like that? All perfectly cordial one moment and the next he's just staring at you like you finally outwitted him?"
"Well I think your comment threw him rather off guard… Both of us for that matter."
Victor just looked at her for a moment, clearly questioning if she was joking on that matter. "You really don't know… And it's not really my story to be telling. One might just say Wonderland is not all that wonderful of a place. He's… Changed. Not all for the worse, but then there's still just the smallest bit of that man I first met years ago. You'd have to talk to him though, but I wouldn't suggest anything about people losing their heads over things."
Emma was quiet, only nodding slightly though all the more interested as to what he meant by not bringing up losing your head… After all, he couldn't possibly… Then there was nothing known of his daughter's mother that she had ever heard. Emma just rubbed along her neck nervously. "Well then what is your story? What makes a man from another world entirely want to go and cure a boy he's never met before at no charge?"
Victor just smiled back at her. "I am a man of science. I prefer things I can study, observe, record and recreate. And admittedly our magic here is more of the cheap illusions and just more off to the sidelines. Just barely enough I think to actually keep the portal open to this world… In your world there is a man I have worked with in the past I'm sure you've heard of by the name of Rumplestiltskin." He paused only long enough to look at her for confirmation which came in the form of a small eye roll which caused a look of amusement. "Yes, I quite agree. We seem to have this ongoing argument of his magic and my science and which is really superior… So when my friend shows up talking about a young man who is ill and hasn't been able to be cured by any form of magic, I jumped at the opportunity to do whatever I can possibly think of in order to cure your brother. The satisfaction of proving that there are things science can do without the aid of magic. Then perhaps in some way I'm also trying to prevent myself from ending up with a one way ticket to Hell."
"Hell?" Emma inquired, looking at him curiously.
"I do quite easily forget that things are rather different between our worlds. Then I've not had much time or interest to study any of your religions to give you a real comparison, but…" He went to take a seat at the vanity table "Here when we die, we believe that our souls or sort of spirits end up being sent to one of two worlds. There is Heaven, where you go if you're a good person, and everything is peaceful and you have no more worries at all. Or there is Hell, which is where you end up if you've been a bad person. A lot of fire and brimstone and torture for the rest of eternity, so it's basically supposed to keep you from doing horrible things."
"And you think you're a bad person?" Forward, perhaps, but she had yet to see anything about him that was bad enough for him to be tortured for any reason. Emma just frowned the slightest, thinking back on the door knocker she had encountered just inside the hat. How was he so sure he wasn't already in this Hell?
"I think I have done quite enough to be denied Heaven at the very least. Clearly enough to have caught the attention of your Dark One who just acts as though he is God."
"And you can prove this? That it's where the spirit goes after you pass away?"
Emma just smiled softly at him. "Well then I guess there's even some things a man of science takes on faith. Perhaps there is no Hell at all, or at least you're not destined to go there."
She could see he was fighting back a smile as he just nodded. "You will make quite the queen some day if you outsmart all your subjects in such a manner… As I've said though, you may spend time here anywhere you might like, but stay out of the lab and I'm sure Jefferson will return if there's any reason to keep you here so you won't just be left in the dark."
"Thank you for your kindness, Doctor… And hopefully much more in the not too distant future."
"You're quite welcome… If he is ready though, we really should be off."
Emma followed him back out to the main room where Jefferson was just sitting on the dark gray sofa looking terribly out of place when you could really see the contrast of even just the slightest tones of color in his clothes and a gold watch glinting in his hands or even just the blue in his eyes when he looked up at them and shut the watch abruptly. What had actually happened to this man? Then there was something else nagging at her as the pair headed for the door.
"What did you mean earlier? Glowing with power?" She was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was suggesting she was just being haughty with her position.
Jefferson just looked back, waving his friend along to start the short trek back to the portal while he was just smiling faintly. "You're special, Emma… More special than you apparently realize." With that he shut the door again, leaving her just questioning if there was still more madness in the Hatter than he wanted to admit.