A/N: As always, thank you to my reviewers as well as everyone following this story. I hope you're enjoying it.
"Would it really be causing any sort of unnecessary panic though to tell the King and Queen? I mean she could figure out a way through somehow. Every entrance is an exit and all that." Grace balanced herself along a crumbling wall next to the roadway as they walked along in the rain. Gray as everything was in this land, she had thrown subtlety to the wind and taken her favorite blue cloak. Few people were going to be watching out their windows right now anyhow and neither of the pair had expected to come out of the portal and into the rain and dark.
"They've got about enough to worry about with James for now. And all the more reason you should stay out of Wonderland, darling."
"I'm always safe, papa… And it's not like I go anywhere near the Queen's grounds while I'm there. And Bae is usually with me anyhow."
"Yes the two of you just holding hands and all," he replied teasingly, grinning up at her and taking her hand before she jumped off the edge to join him on the ground.
"Just when Rumple is around. Neither of us is all that fond of him after all."
"I don't think anyone is all that fond of that man these days… Or ever for that matter. It's always a matter of wondering what he wants when he's about three steps ahead of you."
Grace nodded and pulled her cloak a little tighter around herself as they went on in silence for a few minutes until they entered the grounds and just smiled over at him. "Didn't expect to see so much light coming from the windows as late as it has to be around…" She paused and just stood for a moment as another scream pierced the air. "Papa…"
Jefferson however was already charging for the door. "Come on, but be careful!" The possibilities going through his mind and just hoping it was more of a startled scream and not actual danger. A few steps into the sitting room just left him staring blankly as Gerhardt had a vampire whose windpipe he was currently in the middle of crushing. Clearly not the cause of the scream but more likely an effect. It was the blood dripping from his mouth that put Jefferson on edge with Igor barely stirring across the room which just left…
Emma laying on the floor with a small pool of dark red gathering under her head.
"Grace, see about Igor, will you? Gerhardt, might I suggest tossing him out over the river?" He was down on his knees immediately, propping up Emma against him and using his scarf to try to stop the bleeding. Her breathing was shallow but at least she was still breathing.
"I've got you, Princess… Come on now and wake up for me?" She barely groaned as he lifted her up and got her settled onto the sofa, glad the bleeding seemed to be slowing at least.
"She'll need bandages. Witch hazel if you've got it as well," Grace commented over his shoulder and looked back at Igor.
"Probably more blood as well if you know her type," Added Igor, rubbing the back of his head but at least back on his feet again.
"Type?" Grace just looked over blankly.
"So it matches and doesn't cause any problems for her body accepting it."
"The red type?!" Jefferson yelled and glared back at them before remembering "red" was a foreign concept where he currently was kneeling. "Oh you know what I mean just… Whatever will work."
"Stahp shouting…" Emma muttered, opening her eyes the slightest and trying in vain to push herself up a little more. The pair just went back to quickly gather what they needed.
"Sit still or you're going to end up making things worse for yourself."
"You're not the bossa me."
Jefferson just took the hands that were attempting rather weakly still to push him away and just looked at her directly in the eyes. "For once will you just listen to me and sit still… Please?"
Emma looked back at him and pulled her hands back. "Fiiiiine."
"There's a good girl."
"Shuddup." Emma stayed where she was though and just examined his face and down along his neck at the angry red scar that went as far along his neck as she could see. It was almost disappointing when the Hatter moved away and was replaced with the female voice she had heard earlier and pulled the soaking scarf away from her neck and started applying a thick paste to her wound.
He was still in the background however, holding up her weapon from earlier and just examining it. "You stabbed Dracula with a letter opener…"
"Couldn't quite get to the fireplace poker." She wasn't sure what to make of the smile on his face as he just set it aside.
"Have to remind Victor he needs to start getting things silver plated. You might have won then…" He looked between the two as well as Igor as he set up the blood transfusion. "If you girls will be fine for now however, we should make sure Gerhardt gets back home. You're in good hands though, Emma. Possibly just give her a silver test though, Grace?" He only waited for a nod before putting the hood of his cloak back on and heading out the door.
"Gerhardt?" Emma questioned once they were alone.
"Gerhardt Frankenstein. One might say he's the one who actually rescued you, but then he doesn't take kindly to people attacking Victor and Igor. It's a little… Complicated." Grace added a few more pads before taking the bandage and wrapping it around to keep it in place. "Make sure you tell me if you're having problems breathing with this. I can try to figure out something else."
"It's fine." Emma pulled at it a little just to make sure it still felt tight enough that it wouldn't slip. "Why haven't I met him before then?"
Grace smiled the slightest. "Probably why the Doctor gets along so well with my papa. They both have their dark sides that they've done their best to get past and make the best out of what they have… Victor's is Gerhardt. His brother. Hand please?"
Emma held out her hand curiously while the girl took off her necklace with a single green stone hanging from it and just placed it in Emma's hand. "I'm not sure I exactly understand."
"Well if he's done anything to you then that should be burning since the chain is pure silver."
"Not exactly what I meant… But no burning feeling." Emma smiled faintly. "I meant how a sibling can be his "dark side". Or I'm guessing his reason to think he's going to be tortured for all of eternity after he dies."
Graces eyebrows just rose slightly as she put the necklace back on and just looked at the stone, twirling it around idly. "Gerhardt was completely dead once. Which is something no magic no matter how dark can fix, but Victor can… The result is not exactly something you want for a loved one no matter how much you miss them. He's far from being eloquent by any stretch of the word, and this probably marks the... Third time I've ever seen him?"
She quieted as the door opened again with Jefferson and Igor ushering in a rather tall man with stitches across his hands that Emma could only imagine went on up around his arms and other places. She smiled a little at him despite his appearance and uttered a quiet "thank you" as the three passed and headed in to the other part of the house.
"I'm guessing you're likely staying in Caroline's room then?" Grace commented after a moment of silence. "I can get you back there to rest and maybe get some sleep tonight."
"Not sure I could after everything… Caroline?"
"I keep forgetting how little you probably know about things around here. Victor's mother. Died when he was young, but she has a rather lovely collection of gowns. They'd probably fit you better than they do me…" Grace blushed a little and got up to hang up her cloak to dry. "But we can stay out here. Find out what papa's thinking now since I was going to stick around while you went back home to see your brother."
"Oh how is Jamie?"
"Better, I believe… I wasn't the one that got the chance to talk to him though so you'll have to ask papa for the details."
"It's odd… You don't look young enough to be his daughter. Or assuming as much since you keep calling him 'Papa' that you must be Grace."
She smiled slightly. "My reputation precedes me... Portal jumping does that to you. Different speeds of time from one world to the next and some that seem to be caught in the same time even though it keeps passing by constantly. He's ancient and still young at the same time. Especially after all the time in Wonderland... Six years for me, and closer to 25 for him, and yet they seem to constantly be on the same time loop. Never fails I show up just in time for tea." She twirled the edge of her braid around before brushing it back behind her shoulder. "You seem to be the big mystery though."
"I don't know why… I'm just Emma, Crown Princess of the Enchanted Forest. The girl who got too bored and let a stranger in that she should have left out in the cold."
"If it's any consolation, I might have done the same. Then they're both more and less protective of me. Not a Princess, but one can only guess at what papa would do if something bad happened to me after someone promised I'd be "perfectly safe" and all."
Emma rolled her eyes, smiling just the slightest. "The only thing my parents should be doing if they hear any of this is worrying. And even then I'm the only who decided to come along. Yet he acts like…"
"They'll have his head if any harm should come to you?" Grace smiled back despite Emma's new stunned expression. "Oh yes, I've heard about you managing to actually throw him into complete speechlessness. Kudos. Not something I've ever been able to manage successfully. But no doubt he'll have managed another cover for his neck before he actually comes back here."
"But… What happened? Close call? Someone saying stop just a half moment too late?"
Grace glanced back at the doors for signs of return before turning back and keeping her voice low. "He'll likely get a little angry at me for telling you all of this, but as long as you're sticking around you should probably know…" She presses her lips together for a moment, ear still out for the door opening again. "He did completely lose his head. That's what happens in Wonderland if you dare to cross the Queen of Hearts even the slightest. And he showed up with the evil Queen, stole back her father, and trapped mine to pay the consequences which meant off with his head and keeping him trapped there. He doesn't really talk about any of it though…" Checking the doors again, Grace just sighed. "At least not to me. It's hard to say how much Victor has heard since he started using his hat again."
"Completely lost his head…"
"Mmhm…" Grace messed around with the bandage for a moment just to make sure it hadn't gotten too tight. "Magic axe. Not that they tell you that ahead of time, and half terrified it was going to happen to me the first time I showed up there. Somewhere I'm sure she's got a collection of heads of people who weren't allowed to have their bodies back afterward."
"Add that to the list of places I never ever want to go. I think I've heard about enough between that and the stories mother used to tell us about it. Including how brave you were in all of it, and only what?"
"Sixteen." She smiled at the idea that Queen Snow would have said anything about her after the whole incident. "And more like terrified for my life the entire time and just hoping your parents would be willing to help me out considering what she wanted… At least Regina is in Wonderland though where she can't cause any more nightmares." She was relieved that she didn't have to keep going on for fear of mentioning things weren't as settled in the other world as they all would have liked.
"Is it just me, or is she getting a little paler?" Jefferson commented while straightening out the heavy knitted scarf he was now wearing.
Emma frowned and just looked at her arms and hands that were getting a more sickly shade to them. "What's happening?" She hardly felt put at ease as he walked over and started looking more amused. "Why am I starting to look like a corpse and why do you find that so funny?"
"My name is EMMA."
Jefferson rolled his eyes with a shake of his head and just sighed. "You'll be fine. More than likely at least. You're just… Losing your rosy complexion." He bit back a laugh as she got up and pulled the bottle of blood along with her to find a mirror. "It should only last as long as you're in this world."
He was right. Her clothes were still the same, but her hair was turning silver from the roots down while the rest of her had taken on the same tone as the inhabitants of the colorless land. "So I'm not going to go home still looking like this?"
"I don't see why it would. No one from here still looks like they come from here once we're on the other side of the portal… So you'll just blend in a little better and you're not dead from blood loss which is the really important thing." He just shrugged it off and took a seat.
"Any chance of me getting some sleep or at least settling in around here?" Grace asked. Her eyes were still focused on Emma however as she kept checking herself in the mirror.
"Until daybreak. Then thinking you should head back toward home with what Victor needs. I know you have an easy way through Oz and the borders between here and there are pretty easy considering Dorothy managed it." Jefferson smiled when she finally turned her attention back to him. "And gives Emma here a little bit longer to recover and Victor can stay for as long as he wants."
"Right. Should we go ahead and get her to bed as well so she can rest?"
"Nope." Jefferson grinned before growing a little more serious. "She might have passed the silver test, but better not to let her sleep between the possible vampirism as well as not wanting her to slip into a coma or something of the sort. I'll go put on some tea though, and you rest my dear Grace."
Grace looked between them for a few moments and decided not to argue. After all, it still seemed pretty likely that they could make relatively good friends given the opportunity. "Good night then, papa…" She went and kissed him on the cheek before heading back to the bedrooms.
"So you're just going to stay awake to make sure that I don't sleep?"
"Basically, that is the intention… Yes." He headed out for the kitchen, still calling back to her. Emma went to follow and quickly found herself grabbing to the pole for support. Maybe getting back to the sofa was the better idea. "Besides I am not all that tired myself considering it was barely evening when we left the Enchanted Forest in the first place. Keeping you up until I'm sure you're okay isn't all that big of a sacrifice as long as there is some tea involved… And even better, food to go with it."
"Yes actually, but…" He pulled out a box and came back to reveal it was filled with cookies and went to sit down on the other side. "Thought I'd stick to the stuff that was already made and not try anything right now… I must say though, colorlessness suits you."
"I'm sure you tell that to everyone here." She looked at them for a moment before grabbing a cookie and pulling her legs up onto the sofa. "You don't have to wear that scarf though. It looks kind of ridiculous…" He had that same shocked expression as before while tugging at the fringe. "Of course you don't have to… I'm just sorry about messing up your other necktie."
"It's fine…" Jefferson forced himself to just keep his hands settled rather than twitching over everything. "With any luck your scars won't end up being quite as noticeable as mine. I do apologize though. Here I assured you that everything would be safe here and you could have ended up dying."
"You think I've never been threatened before, Master Hatter?" She raised her eyebrows questioningly before taking a bite out of her treat.
"Jefferson… If we're going to stay informal here, Princess, you can at least just call me by my name. And I imagine that you've had plenty of threats against your person over the years. But I doubt there have been all that many attacks." He nodded over toward the scabbard that was sitting with her sword still in it over one of the chairs. "I also don't doubt you know how to use that."
"Jefferson, then… My father insisted on training all of us. The sword is just my preferred weapon of choice to keep on hand. I'm not half bad at archery either."
Emma smiled for a moment, finishing off the cookie in her hand. "How is it you're the only one who seems to be able to make me forget for even a few minutes how worried I am about him? He's never managed much for sword lessons… But how is Jamie? Your daughter said you had seen him at least?"
"Just a few hours ago really. Better, I think. Or at least so he claims from our little chat out in the gardens. He worries about you just as much, but I don't think I proved to be nearly as distracting. Plus I'm sure he and Victor are having quite the conversations on botany together. At least if our conversation was any indication." Jefferson got up again, returning with a full tea tray and setting it down on the table in front of them.
"It's one of the few things he can do regularly. We'll have to see how he is after I get back. Won't even know how to act. I'm so used to mothering him all of the time." Emma looked up at the empty bottle of blood while he poured her a cup of tea. "Any chance of getting rid of that now?"
Jefferson nodded and grabbed another bunch of cotton and moved back over to take her arm and pulled out the needle before adding the cotton. "Anyone ever threatens you, you can tell them you bleed black… Or more a very dark gray. But close enough to hopefully strike fear in the hearts of your enemies."
"Ha ha… More concerned about what my parents are going to be like when we're not constantly worried about my brother. Birthday ball planning going on already… I'm not exactly worried about my enemies. More like what I'm going to say when I have a line of potential suitors wrapped around the ballroom."
"Well then tell them that you have been known to bleed black all over guys you don't like."
"Only been bleeding on you though."
"Point made." Jefferson smiled and added a bit of tape to hold it down.
"I like you… I mean you're not all full of yourself and forget that there's anyone else in the room. I'm sure there are plenty of stories to be told without getting into all the dark ones just from the places you've been. And because you're going to stop me from doing all the talking and give me something to listen to tonight."
"Is that so?"
"I do believe so, Jefferson."
"So terribly demanding, Emma." Jefferson shook his head with mock disapproval while taking a cup. "Stories though... I don't even know where to start with one."
"At the beginning…"
"All hail the future ruler of the Enchanted Forest and her wit that is the only thing sharper than her blade." He brushed his hair back with a small sigh, a ghost of a smile, and just considered for a few more moments. "I knew a mermaid who wanted to be human once? And not because she was in love with a human and wanted to be able to walk on land with him or something sappily romantic like that. She wanted freedom and adventure."
He paused again and looked over to see if Emma seemed the slightest bit interested. Taking the fact that she had another cookie in one hand and her tea in the other while just focused on him as a positive sign though he continued. "Actually met her after she helped me out with another mermaid trying to drown my traveling companion at the time, and she gave me some warning rather than just distracting me. So Jack didn't drown despite a rather good swimming ability, and I felt I owed her a favor."
"Don't mermaids try to eat you?" Emma asked quietly.
"Depends on the world. Neverland, definitely. Others will if you try to do anything to them or go fishing too close to their kingdoms. You might get a warning of a cut up net but if you don't leave then it's completely fair game. But I managed a deal between her and Rumplestiltskin for something he wanted but was too deep to get down there even with magic. I was kept out of the deals and Jack was a little too preoccupied with your Uncle James to care all that much any more about travelling around with me when needed."
"Wait… Jack? The Jack.. The supposed killer of giants and other stories I've only heard about in passing? And you were there?"
Jefferson smiled a little. "Not all… Jabberwocky, yes. Wasn't involved in any of the nonsense with the giants either, but I worked with her for a while. And I'm never going to get this story told if you keep interrupting me with questions."
"Sorry, just…" She paused again and just looked at him. He was talking of events that had been long before she'd been born and yet as though he'd recalled it all with perfect clarity. Then there was also the idea that he'd been around and old enough to also have been working with and for Regina when she was still the queen. How many years were actually behind those blue eyes that were looking back at her curiously?
"Just sorry… Continue."
"Well she changed. Apparently going from mermaid to human isn't the most comfortable transition either when you have to get used to clothes and walking. Then our own little agreement would be that I'd show her around the worlds and all the places she couldn't go as a mermaid. She still ended up saving me more than a few times… And I can tell from that smile you want to say something else."
Emma laughed for a moment. "You just almost sound like you did actually fall in love with her. Despite this not being any of that sappily romantic stuff. Though sometimes a girl needs sappily romantic stuff for the record."
"And why ever would you want to listen to me getting poetic over anyone? Though I wouldn't say I fell in love. She wanted to see what there was which also meant she was more observant than I was most of the time. That's the problem with knowing these places. You don't always pay attention."
"Because it's nice to think that somewhere true love exists. I mean my parents clearly have it for each other, but there have to be others out there. So why not a mermaid and a hatter? Maybe you confessed all your feelings as she decided she didn't want to stick around and make things all awkward," Emma suggested, grabbing another cookie.
"Well she did leave me you might say. But it wasn't because I was writing love letters to her… We went back to her home actually because she wanted to see her sisters again and went out swimming. Unfortunately for her though the one she had ended up betraying when I had been there was not the sort to just forgive and forget. She got dragged underwater and came back up with a scream. By the time I got her back to shore though there was nothing that could be done about the stab wounds and she dissolved into seafoam right there on the beach…"
Emma was on the edge of tears, quickly trying to rub at her eyes rather than let them fall. "That story was sad. Why would you go and tell me a sad story when I'm already having a bad night?"
"All stories end eventually… It's sad that they're over, but that doesn't lessen all of the times that were had in between."
He went on for another three cups of tea about adventures in other worlds with the mermaid including stealing two odd stones that he was still sure to this day were actually dragon eggs still waiting for the right time to hatch and had kept him paid for three months on a single job. Emma also noticed at the end that there were just two cookies left in the box before finally offering it to him.
"I swear you're trying to keep me awake on sugar alone. And you still haven't told me this mermaid's name. Like you're trying to be mysterious about it and instead just being really annoying."
"Actually just trying to help you feel better with baked goods… And I always save the best parts for last." He smiled and leaned over just the slightest, taking one of the last two cookies. "Grace… Or at least that was what she always told me. So I named my daughter after her… And my dear Grace is just as brave and daring as her namesake. And just as big of a dreamer as well, but I couldn't ask for a better daughter."
"She certainly loves you dearly."
"Pretty sure her papa drives her crazy most of the time actually with the way I still worry about her…" Jefferson just let it trail off with all the things he had thought over and over. None of it was exactly anything a young woman wanted to hear who had just wanted to get away from life at the palace for a week or so. Possibly even just out of sight of her parents for the first time in her life. "Sure your parents are probably a little worried as well."
"I'm sure. Eventually you've got to let your kids test out their wings though to see if they can manage to fly on their own. When my mother was my age she was a wanted woman on the run with a price on her head. Commanding an army to take back her kingdom even… Thus far my biggest accomplishment is not setting a couple of deserving diplomats on fire."
Jefferson broke out into another grin. "Very deserving, I'm sure. But congratulations. It's getting close to daybreak and so far you've managed to keep down food and tea very well and another pint of blood back in you… If you wanted to get some sleep, I wouldn't be opposed."
"Finally! I was starting to think I would have to just give in to going home in order to ever get sleep again."
"Planning on going somewhere else?" Jefferson got up and collected together everything left from their overnight tea party back to the tray and just waited for an answer.
"Who knows? Might just decide to break away and go running toward one of those doors and see what happens next." Emma just laid down and stretched out on the sofa while watching for his reaction. She didn't want to go home if everything was actually fine. Not yet at least while she still had this whole once in a lifetime opportunity to see everything that was out there.
"That would get quite the reaction when I have to go back with hat in hand and be "I apologize your majesty, but the Princess went running off through the Looking Glass Door and I will go through whatever tortures you want to give me before I go in there… But we can all just hope she finds her way back and wasn't captured by Regina." And I thought you didn't hate me here."
Emma groaned and just developed a small pout while he went to take everything back to the kitchen. Clearly it was less than effective though when he just walked on past to the desk in the back corner and started writing out a note. She just sighed and gave up for now before drifting off to sleep.
Jefferson, on the other hand, wanted to get a quick letter written to Victor before Grace hurried back with everything that had been requested. At least then he could update him on everything rather than just hoping none of the details would be forgotten or left out by his daughter. It also prevented anyone else from overhearing and causing more worry for the already fretting parents when there was no sign that Emma wouldn't recover 100%. An extra day however to rest and recover would only help that and also have her without any bandages upon arrival.
He looked up for a moment when he thought he heard a sound from somewhere. Silence was all that returned. He went to finish off the letter and jotting down a few more notes in case he didn't see Grace again before she left. A few flowers from the gardens, try to keep the news of the vampire as quiet as possible, and, as always, to be careful if she was going to go running off anywhere else.
That time he knew what it was, getting up to check on Emma who was still sleeping, but clearly rather fitfully. He just stayed back a few feet. "Emma?"
She kept thrashing around, lost in her nightmares. Half of her crying out was unintelligible and the other half was mostly guessing at what she was muttering out in her sleep. He moved over toward her and just started shaking her arm lightly.
"Emma, wake up."
It took a few tries before she finally woke with a start and just looked up at him before sitting up and just grabbing the pillow and hugging onto it. "I'm okay..." She ducked her face out of sight and wiped it against the pillow and just tried to take a few calming breaths. She didn't feel all that okay at the moment. Right now though she was in a strange land with people she didn't know very well and just trying not to be scared of the specter haunting her dreams.
Jefferson knew that terror. The moments that happened in which you were lost between reality and what was going on in your head. Especially when it involved night terrors of things that had actually occurred and your subconscious wasn't about to allow you to just forget about it. Subconscious minds had a way of preying on themselves when the person was at their most vulnerable. Those moments when you needed to find something to anchor yourself in reality.
"What?" Emma just looked up again at him while he sat down next to her again. The open arms toward her were the most confusing part. Like he was suggesting…
She moved over a little closer and let him wrap her up in his arms and just rested her head against his chest. "You're safe, Emma. It was just a nightmare and he's not going to be coming back here… Just relax."
The calming strokes down her back were just the last straw in her tired resolve before she was clinging onto him and just let her walls crumble down. If he cared however he didn't show it and just kept a firm hold on her without another word. It was the sort of thing even her own parents would have done when she had been scared of something in her room. Just hold her and banish away the ghosts by whatever means necessary.
It didn't take long for her eyes to start to close again as her fingers loosened their grip on his waistcoat and just listening to the steady beat of his heart. She was safe and just surrounded by the smells of wood smoke, leather, and rain as well as being sure if the Hatter minded that much that she'd find herself off in her room when she woke up.
He was already too far lost in his own dreamland to notice.
Grace was admittedly tempted to go and get one of them back to a bedroom while making her own guesses about how the pair had ended up with both just laying out there for anyone to walk by and find them. She quietly took a quilt off the back of the sofa and just draped it over both of them. Better to let them both sleep now rather than wake them up and ruin the perfection of the picture: her papa without that look of all the worries of the worlds on his shoulders with one arm still over the sleeping princess that had her fingers tangled in the scarf he was still wearing.
She did take a moment to reach over and brush a gold-turned-to-silver curl off of Emma's face with a small smile. "Take care of him for me. He'll never admit it, but he needs someone to keep an eye on him," Grace whispered, kissing the top of his head. She kept up her quiet as a mouse act all the way out the door.
At least now she would have plenty of ammunition for the next time he started teasing her about Baelfire in the least bit. As well as quite the story to tell her friend if he wasn't too busy spending time with his own father.