Chapter 1: Follow the White Rabbit
It was a sleepy summer day in the tiny village of Hetalia. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and the air was warm and smelled like flowers. All in all, it was a fabulous day to go to the park and play.
For twins Romano and Feliciano, however, playing was not on the agenda. Their grandfather seemed adamant on teaching them history, and all they could do was sit through it. The thick, leather-bound tome he was reading from at the moment seemed extremely flat, with no pictures or conversations whatsoever in it. What was the point of a book, Romano wondered, with no pictures or conversations in it?
Abruptly, he noticed that his brother was dozing off in the summer heat, so he poked him.
"Ow!" Feliciano yelped quietly. "Fratello, what was that for?" he whined.
"Don't fall asleep, idiot," Romano hissed.
"I wasn't!" Feliciano denied. "I was just—oh, hey, a rabbit!" He pointed.
Romano smacked his forehead…then actually thought to see if there really was a rabbit. He stared.
It certainly seemed like a rabbit…or, rather, a human in a rather bad rabbit costume. The boy, blue-eyed with slicked-back blonde hair, was wearing a rabbit-ear headband and muttering to himself about how he was late for something.
Of course, Feliciano found this incredibly interesting and raced off after the rabbit-boy. Cursing quietly, Romano chased his brother—who knew what sorts of trouble that idiot would get into without his brother to look after him?
"Oh, Mister Rabbit!" Feliciano called. "Mister Rabbit! Wait! Please!"
"Oh, my furry ears and whiskers, how late it's getting!" the rabbit-boy muttered to himself, completely ignoring Feliciano. He turned and rushed off, the twins in hot pursuit.
Eventually, they came to a cluster of bushes.
"Okay…" Romano gasped, "I think this is far enough. We're done chasing this stupid rabbit, right?"
Feliciano pouted. "But, fratello, I have to catch the White Rabbit!"
Romano drooped. "Fine. Whatever. When we get killed or lost or kidnapped or something, I'll feel free to say 'I told you so.'"
"Eh, fratello, you're so paranoid!" Feliciano exclaimed happily, starting to shove his way through the bushes. "We'll be fine!"
"Whatever. Dammit," Romano muttered, following behind carefully, flinching when a loose tendril slapped him in the face. "I'm not going along with this 'cause I want to or anything, dammit. Idiot."
"Sure thing, fratello!" Feliciano said cheerfully as they came upon some sort of hole in the ground in the middle of a clearing. It was big and dark, and it looked pretty deep. "This is where the White Rabbit went," Feliciano declared. "I have to go after him."
Romano peered over the lip (he wasn't nervous. What gave you that impression? Of course he wasn't nervous. Nope, definitely not). "I don't think we should go down there…"
"C'mon, fratello! It'll be an adventure!" Feliciano assured his brother, tugging on his hand. "One…two…three!"
They jumped—or, rather, fell—down the rabbit hole.
Chapter 2: Down the Rabbit-Hole
The rabbit-hole seemed to go on forever. The twins fell, and fell, and fell, and fell, until Romano wondered if they might come out on the other side of the world where people surely went walking about on their heads,
"I wonder if Gino would like it here," Feliciano mused aloud. He spoke of their cat, who loved pasta almost as much as Feliciano did.
"I doubt it," Romano shot back, folding his arms and crossing one leg over the other—he didn't really care that there wasn't any solid ground under his feet. "There's nothing for him to eat, except possibly bats. Do cats eat bats, I wonder?" Sleepily, he repeated the question to himself several times, occasionally mixing up the words so it became "Do bats eat cats?" Since he could answer neither question, it didn't really matter which one he asked.
As they fell—floated, really—down the rabbit-hole, Romano spotted several odd things on shelves around the walls. Books, maps—he snatched a jar labeled "TOMATO PASTE" off a shelf, only to return it to the next available one when he discovered that it was empty.
"Fratello…" Feliciano whined, "I'm bored…"
Romano sighed and smacked his forehead. "We're falling to what could possibly—no, probably—be our deaths and you're bored? No, don't answer that," he said hurriedly as Feliciano opened his mouth to speak.
Feliciano pouted. "So mean, fratello…"
"Whatever," Romano muttered.
They fell in silence for a while more, until they crashed abruptly into a pile of leaves. They weren't hurt, more startled, but Feliciano started crying anyway.
"Damnit," Romano muttered, patting his brother awkwardly on the back. Eventually, Feliciano's sobs dissolved away into sniffles, and the pair stood.
Before them, a hallway stretched on. The floor was black-and-white checkerboard, the walls striped in black, red, and yellow. Their footsteps echoed softly as they made their way down the seemingly endless hall. At the very end, when they finally reached it, there was a door.
Romano tried it, and found it unlocked. Beyond it was a round room lined with doors. In the center there was a small glass table with a tiny gold key on it. The White Rabbit was nowhere to be seen.
"The White Rabbit must have gone through one of those doors," Feliciano deduced. "Let's see which one, be~!" He raced about the room, trying every door—they were all locked.
Less enthusiastically, Romano took the gold key from the glass table and went to try to the key in each door. It fit none of them.
"Be, fratello, what about this door?" Feliciano called, waving from beside a curtain that covered a portion of the wall. It lifted, revealing a tiny door.
"Whatever," Romano called back, making his way over. He tried the key in the lock—and, miraculously, it worked. The tiny door swung open.
Feliciano bent down and stuck his head through the door to see what lay beyond it. "Wow, fratello, you have to see this!"
Shoving his little brother out of the way, Romano ducked to take a look.
Beyond the tiny door lay a beautiful garden, approximately on the same scale as the door. White rose trees were scattered everywhere, interspersed with the occasional red one. Hedges outlined clearings in fantastic shapes, and the soft splashing of a fountain could be heard in the distance.
Romano would much rather be out in the garden than in this stuffy hall with his idiot of a brother, but he could not even fit his head through the door—when he tried, the doorframe bumped up against his hair-curl and he had to retreat for the sake of his dignity. Even if I could get my head through, it would be useless without my shoulders, Romano wailed inwardly. He wondered if he could shut himself up like a telescope—so many peculiar things had happened already, he was nearly certain that it was possible.
"Hey! Fratello!" Feliciano called. Romano's head snapped up. Feliciano was holding a clear bottle filled with some sort of unidentifiable and strangely coloured liquid. "This bottle says DRINK ME! Can I drink it, fratello?"
Instantly, Romano was on his feet and hurrying over. "No, idiot, you can't," he snapped, snatching the bottle from his brother. "It could be poison, and it you eat or drink something poisonous, it's definitely going to disagree with you sooner or later."
"Be~ fratello, it doesn't say Poison on it," Feliciano protested.
"Of course not! What kind of sensible poison bottle is marked as such?!" Romano shot back. "That defeats the entire purpose of poisoning someone!" He paused. "I…I'm gonna have to try it first, just to make sure," he said hesitantly. "J-just a precaution." He uncorked the bottle and took a swig. "Doesn't takes poisonous," he muttered doubtfully, passing the bottle over to Feliciano, who took a swig himself. "In fact, it tastes like basil—" The room abruptly grew— "tomatoes—" The room grew again— "parmesan—" The room grew once more, and Romano realised to his horror that it was not growing—he was shrinking! So this is what it feels like to be shut up like a telescope, he thought, before naming the last flavour that appeared on his tongue— "and…sunshine." He surveyed the room from his new, much lower vantage point.
"Be~ fratello, why did everything get so big?" Feliciano asked, staring around in wonder.
"Idiot," Romano growled. "We shrunk." He realised something else. "And now we're just the right size to get into the garden!" he finished triumphantly, marching off to try the tiny door.
It was locked.
"Dammit!" Romano cursed, kicking the door in his fury. Instantly, he winced in pain and clutched his injured foot, hopping about on the other. "Stupid—fucking—door—"
Feliciano was no longer shocked by his brother's foul mouth, but he sighed anyway. "Fratello, you really shouldn't use language like that," he scolded. "We'll just have to try the key again." Then he remembered that he'd left the key on top of the now very tall glass table. "Be~ on second thought, never mind…I left the key on the table…"
"You idiot!" Romano shrieked, waving his fist angrily. "You utter moron! I—you—argh!"
"Be~ I'm sorry, fratello!" Feliciano sobbed, dissolving into tears.
Romano sighed. "It's all right, Feli," he soothed, patting his brother's shoulder gingerly. Glancing about the room in an attempt to stave off embarrassment, his eyes fell on a box under the glass table. "Hey, what's that?"
Feliciano perked up right away and trotted right over to the box, which turned out to be full of little cakes with EAT ME picked out in currants. "Hey, fratello, let's try these!" he suggested, waving one in the air. "If they make us grow larger, we can reach the key, and if they make us grow smaller we can fit under the door—either way, we'll be able to get into the garden!"
Grudgingly, Romano agreed, and took one of the cakes. They both took a bite, wondering which way, which way?
"Eh?" Feliciano squeaked.
Romano was equally confused. So many odd things had happened already that when things went the ordinary, dull way it was a bit of a shock.
Seeing no harm in it, they finished off the cakes—it had been a while since breakfast.
Chapter 3: The Caucus Race
"Curiouser and curiouser!" Feliciano exclaimed.
Now I'm opening out like the largest telescope ever seen, thought Romano. Curiouser and curiouser indeed.
"Be~ Ciao, feet!" Feliciano wailed—his feet were indeed disappearing completely, so tall had he gotten. "Now who will put your boots on? I won't be able to, that's for sure! And I'll have to have to send them presents at Christmas and be kind to them, or maybe they won't walk for me! And—"
"Shut up, idiot!" Romano yelled. "What nonsense are you spouting? Ow!" He yelped as his head collided abruptly with the ceiling. "Fucking ceiling!"
"Fratello, you really shouldn't swear like that…" said Feliciano. "See, now we can reach the key!" He took the key and carefully fitted it in the lock of the tiny door, which creaked open again. However, now barely a single eye could fit into the span of the doorframe. Feliciano began to cry again, gallon-sized tears splashing to the floor.
"Quit that," Romano ordered sharply, smacking his brother over the head. This only increased the level of wailing and the quantity of tears that fell to the floor. "Oh, honestly," Romano growled, putting a hand to his forehead and resolving to wait the tears out.
Soon enough, Feliciano's crying trailed off into hiccups and sniffles, and Romano took a moment to take stock of their surroundings again.
They had somehow shrunk back down to a size that would allow them to go through the door! Greatly cheered up, Romano hurried over to the tiny door again…
…but it was locked, and the tiny key was again lying on the glass table. Cursing loudly, Romano stomped about, but his foot slipped and he fell, accidentally latching onto his brother's arm. They both ended up chin-deep in salt water.
"Be~ fratello, it's the seaside!" Feliciano declared, paddling joyfully. "We can get home from here!"
"Idiot! It's all those tears you cried!" Romano yelled, struggling desperately to stay afloat. "Now we'll drown! Are you happy?"
Feliciano's expression took a nosedive towards sorrow. "I'm sorry, fratello!" he cried. "Hey, what's that splashing about over there?" he wondered, easily distracted as always.
The twins paddled over to the splashing noise. Romano half-expected it to be a walrus or something like that, but then he remembered how small he was and saw that it was only a mouse.
"Hey! It's a mouse!" Feliciano cried jubilantly, swimming over. Romano followed reluctantly.
The "mouse" was only another human in a costume—this one had brown hair, neat but for a single unruly strand that stuck up near his forehead, wide violet eyes, and a mole near his mouth. There were round brown mouse ears set upon his head and wire-framed spectacles set upon his nose.
"Hey~ Mouse~" Feliciano called. "Mouse~! Can you hear me?"
The Mouse made no reply and simply swam off. Feliciano chased it, and Romano chased his brother. Eventually, they joined a large group of people in various animal costumes who had fallen into the ocean of tears and they all made their way to shore.
When they reached it, they discovered exactly what a motley crew they were—hair and clothes soaked and clinging to shivering bodies, bedraggled and weary.
The first thing to discuss was how to end this state of being soaked.
"Sit down, all of you, and listen to me!" the Mouse cried. "I'll soon make you dry enough! This is the driest lecture I know!" He stood, fixing his glasses with the tip of a finger and running his other hand through his hair. He cleared his throat and began to recite a lecture on piano music through the ages.
"This isn't working," Romano muttered to his brother, wrapping his arms around his torso and shivering. Indeed, he seemed only to be getting wetter by the minute.
The Mouse heard him and spun 'round, fixing Romano with a cold stare. "What did you say?"
"Be~ fratello was just saying that this wasn't working very well," Feliciano put in.
The Mouse transferred his stare to Feliciano. "That is most impolite," he began before being interrupted by a Dodo, a pretty brunette lady carrying a frying pan and wearing a pink flower behind her ear.
"Roderich, dear, calm down," she placated, laying a hand on his arm. "Since your method is not quite working as well as we'd hoped, I move that we adopt more energetic methods!"
"Speak so we can understand you!" an Eaglet (a small boy with scruffy blond hair and oddly thick eyebrows wearing a sailor suit) interrupted.
The Dodo sighed. "What I was going to suggest was that we attempt to get dry by means of a Caucus Race."
Feliciano tugged on his brother's sleeve. "Fratello, what's a Caucus Race?"
It turned out to be everyone running around aimlessly until they were all sufficiently dry. Being that there was no set course (and thus no finish line) it was quite difficult to figure out who had won.
"No one has won, so no one gets any prizes," the Mouse grumbled, storming off closely followed by the Dodo, after whom the rest of the lot trailed.
"Aw…now we're all alone again…" Feliciano moped.
Sighing, Romano patted his brother's shoulder. "Cheer up. At least we're out of that stuffy hall."
Feliciano brightened up considerably. "That's right!"
At that moment, the White Rabbit came running past again. Flapping a hand at Feliciano, he commanded, "Mary Anne, Mary Anne, fetch me my white gloves this instant!"
"Be~?!" Feliciano squeaked. "But my name isn't—"
"Mary Anne, Aster, Berlin, I don't care what your name is, fetch me my gloves this instant!" the Rabbit yelled.
Feliciano was so frightened that he rushed off straight away. Romano followed after flipping the rabbit-bastard off.
Eventually, they came upon a tiny little cottage with a brass plate labeled W. RABBIT (L. BEILSCHMIDT) on the door.
"This must be the right place!" Feliciano exclaimed, flinging open the door (it crashed against the opposite wall so hard that it would most likely leave dents).
"Great," Romano sighed. "Now all we have to do is find that rabbit-bastard a pair of gloves."
"Fratello, don't call him that," Feliciano objected, starting to rifle through the excessively neat drawers and cabinets in search (presumably) of a pair of white gloves. Knowing him, however, he could have been looking for pasta.
Romano sighed again and glanced about the room, eyes falling on a pair of white gloves on a low table. "Idiot, they're over here," he called, picking them up.
Feliciano had been distracted once more. He was staring at a clear bottle filled with a thick brown sludge. This one was unlabeled, but Feliciano had uncorked it and was about to take a drink anyway when Romano snatched it from him.
"Aw, fratello, what was that for?" Feliciano pouted. "Give it back."
"It could be dangerous!" Romano warned, holding the bottle out of reach. "Don't just randomly drink or eat everything you come upon that looks even vaguely edible!"
"But interesting things happen when we eat or drink stuff!" Feliciano protested, grabbing for the bottle.
Romano conceded defeat. "Fine. But I'm trying it first." He took a gulp, tasted it thoroughly, swallowed, then passed the bottle to his brother. "Doesn't seem poisonous," he muttered as Feliciano took a swig. "In fact—oh fucking hell no!"
They had both grown much larger, so much so that stray limbs poked out into the White Rabbit's orderly garden.
Chapter 4: The Caterpillar
Romano was interrupted from thinking—he was not sulking, dammit!—by the presence of voices out in the garden. He recognised one of them as the rabbit-bastard's and another as that Dodo-lady's. They seemed to be arguing over something.
"I don't care what it is, I just want it out of my house!" the White Rabbit was saying.
"Clearly," the Dodo replied, "the only solution is to burn the house down! That'll get rid of it! Anybody got a match? I'm all out."
"Be~ Get us out of here!" Feliciano wailed, flailing as much as he could with the limited space.
"Stop that, idiot!" Romano cried, though he was also slightly nervous—he was not frightened, dammit!—about what exactly would happen if the house burned down with them still inside. "Oy, rabbit-bastard, don't you dare try anything like that!" One of his arms poked out a window, so he used that hand to flip the rabbit-bastard off. There was a surprised shout and the sound of shattering glass.
"There go the cucumber frames!" the Dodo declared cheerfully. "Up you get, up you get."
Evidently, the Rabbit had slipped again, for there was more shattering glass and a happy cry of "Oopsie daisy!" from the Dodo.
Romano flailed his hand outside the house, hoping to "accidentally" hit the White Rabbit. More crashing—how many cucumber frames did this guy have?—and Romano's hand smacked into a plant which was covered in small, round, squishy things. Carefully, he pulled a handful of the round things off the plant (most likely some kind of fruit) and drew his hand back inside the window. After discovering that the plant had been a tomato plant (and the subsequent internal whoop of joy), he stuffed a few of the tomatoes in his mouth. It had been a while since he'd had tomatoes this good.
Feliciano snagged a couple of the tomatoes. "Be~ These are tasty!"
"Thank you, Captain Obvious," Romano muttered. "Wait a second—are we shrinking again?!"
The house grew around them until they were small enough to slip out through a crack in the wall.
The twins wandered through the grass of the garden—they were so short, it was about as tall as they were.
"Be~ fratello, I'm scared." Feliciano clung to his brother's arm.
"Don't be, aru," a new voice said from above. Both twins looked up.
Seated casually on a mushroom cap, one arm propped up behind him—her?—was yet another person in some sort of animal costume. He—she?—was dressed as a caterpillar, one leg folded over the other and a long pipe in his—her?—other hand.
"Who are you, aru?" the Caterpillar asked, tossing a long black ponytail over one shoulder.
"My name is—" Feliciano began, but Romano clapped a hand over his mouth.
"What business is it of yours, bastard?" Romano snarled.
The Caterpillar blinked slowly, caught a little off-guard at Romano's hostility. "I was simply asking, aru. Is there a reason why you're so unhappy, or are you normally like this, aru?"
Freeing himself from his brother's hand, Feliciano said cheerfully, "Yes, fratello is always like this."
"Shut up, idiot," Romano growled. To the Caterpillar he said, "I've been changing sizes all day—smaller, larger, smaller, larger—and now I'm three inches tall!"
"Shouldn't it be three inches short?" Feliciano corrected.
"Anyway," Romano went on, completely ignoring any interruption, "I'm three inches tall or short, and it's really a terrible size to be!"
"Excuse me?!" the Caterpillar huffed, jumping to his—her?—feet, and Romano saw that he—she?—was, in fact, exactly three inches tall.
"I'm sure fratello didn't mean it!" Feliciano cried, frantically waving his arms.
The Caterpillar relaxed and sat back down, still slightly miffed. "You never actually answered my question, aru. Who are you, aru?"
Romano muttered something uncomplimentary about nosy Caterpillar-bastards who couldn't just leave off on questions.
Feliciano smacked his brother's arm lightly. "Be polite, fratello." To the Caterpillar he said, "My name's Feliciano, and this is my brother Romano! He's been having kind of a bad day, but I'm having fun! Be~ have you seen a White Rabbit anywhere?"
The Caterpillar shook his—her?—head. "I'm afraid not, aru. However, I—" He—she?—broke off abruptly as his—her?—face scrunched up in pain. "Oh, bother, aru," he—she?—muttered as his—her?—back split open, allowing a pair of magnificently coloured butterfly wings to unfurl.
"You're a butterfly!" Feliciano exclaimed.
"Way to state the obvious, moron," Romano muttered.
The Caterpillar smiled. "I do have two pieces of advice for you, aru."
"Don't want to hear it," Romano growled, grabbing his brother by the arm. "C'mon, Feliciano."
"The first piece of advice," the Caterpillar called after them, "is don't lose your temper, aru."
Romano ignored him.
"Also! One side will make you grow taller, while the other side will make you grow shorter, aru!"
"One side of what? The other side of what?" Feliciano asked.
"The mushroom, aru!" The Caterpillar's voice faded as the brothers walked further away.
Feliciano stopped. "Be, fratello, let's go back! Don't you want to be taller again?"
Romano froze. "Fine. But I still hate that Caterpillar-bastard." He spun on his heel and marched back to the mushroom, now devoid of any Caterpillar or Butterfly.
"Be~ How do we find two sides of a circle?" Feliciano wondered.
Romano sighed. "Pick a spot, and I'll go opposite. That should be close enough."
They each broke off a piece.
"The Caterpillar didn't say which side did what, did he?" Feliciano asked after a few seconds of silence.
"Hmph. Useless Caterpillar-bastard," Romano muttered. "I s'pose the only way to find out is to try them." He nibbled a bit of the piece he was holding and yelped. His chin had nearly collided with his foot, he shrank so fast. "Dammit!" he cursed.
Feliciano picked a crumb off the edge of his piece. "If that side made you shorter, then this side will make you taller!" he reasoned, stuffing the crumb into his brother's mouth. Sure enough, Romano returned to being about three inches tall. Er, short. Er, tall. Whatever.
Through a slow process of nibbling first one piece of mushroom then another, the brothers managed to get themselves back to something close to their original size.
"Thank Heaven," Romano sighed. They continued wandering through the forest. Unfortunately, they were not looking where they were going very well, and so they collided with a strange duo, sending all four of them tumbling to the forest floor.
Chapter 5: How Do You Do? and Shake Hands
"Oh, how do you do?" the people Romano and Feliciano had collided with greeted them, springing to their feet and each of them offering a hand to shake.
Romano stared at these strange new people. Unlike most of the weirdoes they'd encountered thus far, these people weren't dressed in animal costumes. They looked like twins, both blonde and blue-eyed, though one had longer hair than the other. They both had strange curls, one short and straight, one longer and spiraling.
"Who the hell are you?" Romano demanded, pulling himself and his brother to their feet.
The one with shorter hair (and shorter curl) smacked his forehead. "Oh dear! I've forgotten my manners!" he exclaimed. "My name's Tweedle Am, and this is my brother—"
"—Tweedle Can," the other one finished quietly. "How do you do?"
"Be~ Quite well, grazie," Feliciano answered, taking Tweedle Can's hand and shaking it vigorously.
Romano scowled. "Not very well at all," he grumbled, smacking Tweedle Am's hand away. "Now let us pass, dammit."
Tweedle Am shook his head. "Nope! We haven't had a proper conversation yet!" He held out his hand again. "Now, let's try this one more time. How do you do?"
"I already told you!" Romano shouted, feeling his face heat up in anger. "Not very well!"
Tweedle Can sighed. "What my brother means to say is, when you answer a how-do-you-do, you shake hands."
"That is such crap," Romano muttered.
"It's manners, fratello," Feliciano lectured. "When first you meet someone, you say 'How do you do?' and shake hands. Basic etiquette—Grandpa would be so disappointed in you!"
"It's just a handshake," Romano growled, not understanding why they were making such a big fuss over it.
"Every little thing adds up, and if you're polite to someone, it could brighten up their day!" Tweedle Am said cheerfully.
"I don't give a flying flip," Romano snarled. "Now would you two go away?!"
Tweedle Can poked his brother's arm. "Maybe we should leave off, Al," he suggested. "I mean, if he's just going to yell, there's no point, eh?"
Feliciano tugged on his brother's sleeve. "It's just one handshake, fratello," he pointed out. "Let it go."
With a final glare, Romano stalked off in a direction at a slight angle to their previous one. Feliciano trailed behind him.
After a while, they came upon a little house that was about three feet tall.
"We'll frighten them if we try to talk to them at this size," said Feliciano.
Romano sighed and pulled the piece of mushroom that made them grow shorter out of his pocket.
Once they had reduced themselves to a more respectable size of about twelve inches tall, they made their way over to the little house. They stopped a hundred yards or so away to listen to a very strange conversation.
"An invitation from the Queen for the Duchess to play croquet, da?" one said. He was very tall and bulky, dressed up like a fish, and presenting a white envelope to the other.
Said other nodded. "From the Queen, to play croquet, for the Duchess, an invitation," he replied slowly. He was dressed up like a frog, and from the crown of his head there protruded a curl shaped like a double spiral.
"For the Duchess, to play croquet, an invitation, da, from the Queen," the fish-footman clarified.
The frog-footman nodded again, slowly. "To play croquet, from the Queen, an invitation for the Duchess."
The fish-footman nodded happily and gave the envelope to the frog-footman. He then spun on his heel and left, his long scarf trailing behind him.
Cautiously, Feliciano and Romano approached, ready to employ at any moment the technique that had been passed down in their national heritage for centuries—the tried-and-true tactic of running away. When they arrived at the house, the frog-footman was sitting on a bench by the door, petting a gray cat that was sitting in his lap.
"Hey~! Frog guy!" Feliciano called.
The frog-footman blinked slowly at them. "Oh," he said eventually. "Did you…want something?"
From the house the came a loud crash, followed by a bang.
"Eh…perhaps we should check on whoever's inside," Feliciano suggested worriedly.
The footman sighed. "No point, really. They're always like this."
Romano went up to the door and knocked loudly several times.
"No point to that, either," the footman offered, scratching the cat's ears. "They won't be able to hear you." The cat mewed and jumped off the footman's lap, going over to nudge Feliciano's ankles.
Feliciano picked it up immediately and rubbed its head. "Be~ it's so cute!" he exclaimed.
"Che," Romano muttered. "It's just a cat." He kicked the door, causing it to rattle slightly in its frame.
The noise seemed to remind Feliciano of his previous objective. He handed the cat back to the footman and slammed the door open. "Be~ Is anyone there?" he called. A frying pan came flying out through the door. It would have decapitated Feliciano if Romano hadn't pulled him out of the way.
"That's it," Romano muttered. "They're so going down." He strode inside the house, ready to wreak havoc on whoever dared to harm his brother.
The very first room in the house was the kitchen, which seemed very odd to both brothers. There was a cook standing at the stove, shouting at yet another of those people in animal costumes—this one was a cat, and he was grinning widely.
"My dear cook, do not put any more pepper in zat soup!" the Cat ordered. The cook ignored him.
In another corner was someone who was clearly a Duchess—if the absurd headdress didn't give it away, the regal bearing would have. He had thick eyebrows, dark hair, and a blank expression, and was holding a bundle in his arms.
"More pepper!" the cook shouted, upending a pepper shaker over the soup pot and shaking it vigorously. A gray cloud spread out over the room and Romano sneezed violently.
"Goddammit, no more pepper!" he yelled. "Achoo!"
Romano's shouting drew the attention of the Duchess. "Oh, hey, you there!" the Duchess called. "Catch!" He flung the bundle in his arms at Feliciano, who nearly dropped it.
"Be!" Feliciano yelped. He examined the bundle a bit more closely. "Hey, it's a baby! You shouldn't throw babies around like that! It's dangerous!"
The Duchess made no response, simply stared at Feliciano like he'd never seen anything like him before—which, granted, was fairly likely, given how strange Feliciano was.
"Hey, you, why does your cat smile like that?" Romano asked. "It looks really stupid and kind of creepy!"
The Cat chose to answer for himself. "I am a Cheshire cat, my dear," he answered, sidling closer to Romano. "And I am certainly not creepy. Romantic, oui, but not creepy."
Romano yelped and fled, trailed by his brother. Once they were out of the madhouse, the door slammed shut behind them.
"Be~" Feliciano said. "That place was scary!"
Romano nodded. They left the courtyard, passing the frog-footman (who was staring up at the sky and petting the cat in his lap absentmindedly) and entering the forest.
"Which way do we go from here…?" Feliciano wondered.
Chapter 6: The Cheshire Cat
The brothers wandered through the forest for a while, Feliciano still clutching the bundle. After they had traveled several hundred yards, it started making strange noises. They paused.
"Be~ What's it doing?" Feliciano asked.
"How am I supposed to know something like that?" said Romano.
Feliciano peeled back the edge of the blanket to see that the baby had transformed into a red cylinder. It was fizzing.
"Throw it away, now!" said Romano, and Feliciano obediently tossed it into the bushes. There was a loud explosion.
"Be!" Feliciano exclaimed. "That was really weird!"
Romano rolled his eyes. "There's no need to state the obvious, idiot."
"And there is no need to be so rude, cher," an unknown voice said from somewhere above them. Both brothers looked up.
Perched on a branch of a tree was the man in the cat costume who had been in the Duchess's kitchen. He was grinning a slightly disturbing grin and waving at them.
Instantly, Romano was on his guard. "What the hell's up with that grin, you creep?!" he demanded, stepping in front of his brother. "I've never seen a cat smile like that before!"
The man's grin only grew wider. "Then you have clearly never seen a Cheshire Cat, cher, for that is who I am. I see you have lost the baby."
"It turned into a thing that blew up!" said Feliciano. "And I'm looking for the White Rabbit—have you seen him?"
The Cheshire Cat waved a hand towards one of the many paths leading away from their current location. "He went that way."
"Who did?" Romano asked suspiciously.
"Did what?" the Cat said.
"Went that way!" Romano shouted.
"The White Rabbit!" the Cat said cheerfully.
"What about him?" Romano demanded.
"What?" the Cat said.
"What?" Romano said.
"What?" Feliciano said.
Romano smacked his forehead. "This is useless."
The Cheshire Cat shrugged. "I wouldn't know, cher, but if you wish to find someone, all you have to do is ask the Mad Hatter, or perhaps the March Hare. They might know where to find this Rabbit, but they're trés mad, you know."
"But I don't want to go among mad people!" Romano protested.
"Well, you cannot help that," the Cheshire Cat said. "I'm mad, you're mad—we're all mad here."
"I'm not mad!" Feliciano said. "At least, when I've taken my medication!"
"That doesn't count, idiot," Romano muttered.
"Whether or not that counts, you are both, in fact, mad," the Cheshire Cat said. "Otherwise, why would you be here?"
"That's a question I've been trying to figure out the answer to for a while," Romano muttered. "And the best answer I've come up with so far is that I followed my stupid little brother to make sure he didn't get hurt. And I'm not disputing that you're mad—you've got the creepiest grin I've ever seen—but how do you know you're mad? Normally genuine loonies think they're sane."
"The answer to that is quite simple, cher," the Cheshire Cat said flippantly. "You know how dogs growl when they are angry and wag their tails when they are pleased, oui?"
"Unfortunately," said Romano.
"Well, I growl when I am pleased and wag my tail when I am angry," the Cat explained. The he winked. "Although when I am very pleased, certain other things wag."
Romano's eye twitched. He was slowly being driven insane by this crazy world. What the hell was up with this place, anyway? It was like some lunatic had invented it just to make Romano angry.
It was working. Romano was growing steadily more infuriated and if something drastic didn't happen soon, he was going to start killing people. He would start with his idiotic brother and this perverted cat-thing, and then continue with the crazy Duchess, the damn Caterpillar, and then he would finally find the damn White Rabbit, just to rip out his insides with a spoon. He took a deep breath to prevent the slaughter for as long as possible. "Tell us how to get to where we can meet this Mad Hatter and March Hare and I might not kill you painfully."
The Cheshire Cat waved a hand at another of the many paths. "Go that way. They're probably having tea, but they've been doing that for weeks now. Have fun!" With that, he vanished slowly, piece by piece, until only the grin remained. Finally that, too, vanished, and the brothers were alone in the forest again.
"All right," Romano said, "we're going to find this Mad Hatter and this March Hare, and then we can find the damn rabbit-bastard, and then we can get out of this mad place. Bene?"
"Va bene!" Feliciano said, and they set off down the path.
Chapter 7: The Mad Tea Party
They could tell when they had nearly reached the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. The noise of whatever party (or possibly war) they were having spread into the surrounding forest like a disease.
Eventually, the brothers came upon a clearing in the woods. To one side there was a little house, and to the other there was a long table with many places set. Down at the far end of the table were three men, all wearing the absurd costumes that seemed commonplace for this place. There was one man with red eyes and crooked rabbit ears protruding from the snow-white thatch of hair that crowned his head. He seemed to be trying to chuckle and hiss at the same time; the result was a creepy "Kesesesesesese~" sound. He must be the March Hare, Romano thought.
The second man was familiar—he was the Mouse whom they'd met in the Pool of Tears. He looked rather sleepy and put-upon and was currently trying to remove the March Hare's arm from around his shoulders.
The last man was, in Romano's opinion, a complete idiot. He was wearing a hat far too large for him and a pleasant grin. (He had other clothes on too, but Romano didn't really notice them.) The hat had tomatoes on it. Romano wasn't sure if they were fake or not, but this lunatic might get points anyway, just for the tomatoes. He was most likely the Mad Hatter.
Romano wanted to assess the situation before making an entrance, but Feliciano ignored all principles of caution and bounded up to the table.
"Hey, you guys!" he said cheerfully. "Can I sit here? Wow, that cake looks good~"
The Mouse stood up abruptly. "No room here!" he said.
Romano, who had been waiting—not hiding, why would he be hiding, it wasn't like he was scared or anything—behind a tree, came storming into the clearing. "No room? There's plenty of room!" he declared, flopping down in one of the many empty chairs, glad to have a bit of a rest. He glared at the Mouse, Hare, and Hatter as if daring them to argue with him. He almost wished they would—it would give him an excuse to kill them in the most bloody, horrible way he could imagine. The March Hare's chuckle-hiss was seriously getting on his nerves and the Mad Hatter's grin was starting to grate.
The Mouse gave him a disapproving stare, but when the Hare tugged on the back of his coat, he retook his seat with an air of ruffled feathers.
"Sit down, fratellino," Romano ordered. Feliciano obediently plopped down next to him.
"More tea?" the Mad Hatter offered, holding out a bright yellow teapot.
Feliciano frowned in confusion. "Be~ but I haven't had any tea yet! I can't exactly have more tea if there's nothing to add it to!"
The Mad Hatter matched Feliciano's frown with one of his own. "But…you can't have less tea. It's hard to have less than nothing!"
Feliciano nodded slowly. "That makes sense…but more doesn't quite sound right either…"
Abruptly, the March Hare stood up and ordered, "Clean cups! Move down!"
Some confusion followed as the Hare, Mouse, and Hatter all got up and moved one place to the left. Romano noticed that, in fact, the Hare was the only one who actually got a clean cup; the other two got cups that their companions had just been using.
"So!" the Hatter said cheerfully when they'd all gotten settled. "More tea?" He offered the vivid yellow teapot again.
"I haven't had any tea yet!" Romano said.
The Hatter looked briefly surprised by this, then his happy (stupid, in Romano's opinion) smile reappeared. "Oh, that's right! Would you like some?"
The corner of Romano's eye twitched. "You," he said evenly, "are an idiot. A Grade-A, world-class blockhead. No, I would not like some tea. I am sick of the insanity of this place. I just want to find the damn rabbit and go home. C'mon, fratellino. We're leaving." He stood swiftly, knocking his chair over, turned, and walked away, Feliciano trailing after him.
"Wait! Come back! Please!" the Hatter cried.
"I didn't get to tell my awesome riddle about the raven and the writing desk!" the Hare complained.
"Quiet, you," the Mouse ordered. "No one cares about your riddle."
"Insult the awesome me, would you?" the Hare said, clearly puffing himself up on wounded pride. "Take this!"
The was a loud squawk; Romano risked a glance back and saw that the Hare was attempting to stuff the Mouse into one of the larger teapots. He blinked in surprise, then turned back and walked faster. Soon, the sounds of that particular bunch of lunatics faded away behind them.
They wandered aimlessly through the forest for a while, Feliciano complaining that he was hungry or tired or that his feet hurt and Romano ignoring him. Finally, Romano grew irritated with his brother's whining (that, and his own feet were starting to hurt) and agreed to a short break. Feliciano lay flat on his back on the fallen leaves that carpeted the ground in order to watch the sky through the branches above their heads. Romano leaned back against a tree and definitely did not yelp when the bark gave way behind him. He spun around to see why the tree was not quite as solid as it should be.
There was a door in the tree. A door. In a tree. Romano knew that this place was weird, but he hadn't thought it went quite that far. He stared.
Feliciano sat up, wondering what all the commotion was. "Hey!" he noticed. "That tree has a door in it! I wonder where it goes~" He got to his feet and bounced over. "Hey, fratello, let's find out where that door goes!"
"No," Romano said flatly. "It could be dangerous."
"Please~" Feliciano begged, turning his formidable puppy eyes on his brother. "Please, fratello~?"
Romano frowned and tried to ignore his brother. "No."
"Fine!" Romano growled, just to get his brother to shut up. "Fine! We'll go see where the stupid door goes!"
"Yay!" Feliciano bounced up to the tree (how does he suddenly have so much energy? Romano wondered) and threw the door open. "Let's go!"
Chapter 8: The Royal Rose Garden
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Beyond the door in the tree was a long hallway. The floor was black-and-white checkboard and te walls were striped black, red, and yellow. It was very familiar, and Romano realised as the brothers went through a door at the far end of the hall into a little round room lined with doors that they'd been here before.
"Oh, hell," he groaned with feeling. "It's the damn rabbit-hole again. We've been going in circles the whole time. I bet if we climbed up, we could be home in no time at all."
"But fratello, we have to find the White Rabbit," Feliciano reminded him. "And hey, with the mushroom bits, we can shrink or grow as we please and finally get into the garden!"
Romano hesitated, then snatched the key off the little glass table (it was in exactly the same place as it had been earlier). "Fine," he growled. "We'll take a look at the garden, find the damn rabbit-bastard, and go home." Furiously, he nibbled at the piece of mushroom he held until he was the right size to fit through the door, then handed the piece to his brother. "Be quick about it," he ordered.
Soon enough, Feliciano was the right size, Romano unlocked the little door, and they went at last into the garden.
Romano sighed, feeling some of the tension in his shoulders ease. The garden was beautiful—flowers in bright colors and pleasing shapes abounded, though the most common were red and white rose trees. In the distance, the splashing of fountains could be heard.
Near the entrance to the garden there was a particularly large rose tree; some three gardeners were at work on it. They were quite a strange bunch—there was a unicorn, a faerie dressed all in green, and yet another rabbit, this one green and with wings. None of them were merely humans in costume—no, all of them were genuinely other kinds of creatures. As Romano and Feliciano approached, they could hear the gardeners arguing.
"Stop splashing paint on me, Tink!" the unicorn complained.
"It's not my fault!" the faerie protested. "Flying Mint Bunny bumped my elbow!"
"I never did!" the bunny squeaked. "Besides, Tink, you just remember you're still on probation for that one time!"
"Ooh, what happened?" the unicorn asked.
"It's none of your business," the faerie snapped.
"Shut up, Tink," the bunny ordered. "Well, Uni, you see, Tink here was dumb enough to bring the cook tulip-roots instead of onions! The Queen would have had her head off then and there if the King hadn't persuaded him to let her alone!"
"It's an easy mistake to make," the faerie huffed. "They're both round and grow in the ground."
Eventually, the brothers were close enough to see what the gardeners were doing. Romano frowned in confusion, wondering why anybody would want to paint white roses red.
"Hey~ Why are you painting those roses red?" Feliciano asked, as blunt as ever.
All the gardeners jumped violently, resulting in a large splash of paint on the ground and the unicorn.
"You explain," the bunny muttered to the faerie.
"I think Uni should explain," the faerie replied.
"How about Flying Mint Bunny explain?" the unicorn suggested.
"Well, you see—" began the bunny.
"The Queen ordered us to plant a red rose tree," the unicorn continued.
"And we planted a white one by mistake," the faerie said in a rush.
"And if the Queen found out we'd messed up—" The bunny cut itself off, glancing nervously at its companions.
"He'd have our heads off in a second," the faerie said.
The unicorn shivered. "And there's no way the King could calm him down…" Its ears pricked up and its eyes widened. "The Queen! The Queen!"
All three gardeners promptly hid behind the rose tree and appeared to vanish completely. Romano wondered if perhaps they should do the same, but then the procession was upon them and it was too late to flee.
The White Rabbit was at the head of the parade, a blank expression on his face as he marched to a beat only he could hear. After him came the King and Queen of Diamonds, both blonde-haired, green-eyed, and dressed in crisp green uniforms, the King carrying a rifle over his shoulder. They both wore a pair of large, flat boards over their shoulders, one in front and one behind, with a plain green pattern on the back and their suit and card number on the front. Then the King and Queen of Clubs, both green-eyed, the Queen blonde and dressed in pink, chattering excitedly in a thick valley-girl accent, the King brown-haired and nervous-looking. They, too, wore the card-boards with their suits and card-numbers on. Fourth came the King and Queen of Spades, the King dressed in red, gesticulating wildly to his Queen and wearing an absurd little hat, the Queen coolly ignoring him, his pale hair held back by a cross-shaped clip. Their card-boards were a bit crooked.
Very last in the procession were the King and Queen of Hearts, the Jack of Hearts preceding them with the Queen's crown on a pillow. The Queen was of middling height but carried himself like he was much taller. He had messy blonde hair. Glancing at the redheaded Jack of Hearts, Romano wondered if the two were related—they had the same sharp green eyes and grouchy expressions, and both their eyebrows looked like caterpillars had crawled onto their faces and died there. The King, in contrast, was dark-haired and dark-eyed, shorter than the Queen but seeming even shorter. He was pale, as if he didn't spend much time outside.
The procession came to a halt surrounding the two brothers and the half-painted rose tree. Feliciano bounced up to the White Rabbit and started babbling quietly at him. Romano sent a sharp glare their way, then directed his attention towards the Queen, who had his arms folded, his lips pursed, and was tapping his foot.
"Tink! Uni! Flying Mint Bunny!" called the Queen. "Come here and explain this…tree to me."
Slowly, the three gardeners reappeared from behind the tree. Now they looked like they were trying to hide behind one another. "Y-you called, your majesty?" the bunny quavered.
"The tree. Explain it," the Queen ordered.
"Well, you see, your majesty—" the unicorn began.
"Off with their heads," commanded the Queen. The Jack of Hearts grinned, grabbed all three gardeners, and hauled them off.
That dealt with, the Queen turned to Romano, who grabbed his brother's arm and tugged him away from the White Rabbit.
"What?" Romano demanded. He held his ground, no matter how much he wanted to run awa—make a strategic retreat.
"Do you play croquet?" the Queen asked him, completely out of the blue.
"Huh?" said Feliciano.
"Do. You play. Croquet?" the Queen said clearly.
"No sir!" Feliciano said cheerfully.
The Queen's eyes narrowed. "Football, then?"
Feliciano brightened. "Oh, I love football! Be~ Except fratello's a meanie-pants who doesn't like to play with me, and Grandpa always plays too rough!"
"Ye are talkin' about the same football here, right?" the Jack of Hearts said, having returned. "Ye know, the one with the kickin'-the-ball an' the no-holdin'-the-ball an' that?"
"That is the one I was speaking of, yes," the Queen muttered, glaring at the Jack.
"That's the one~" Feliciano bubbled. "You'll play football with me? Wow, cool!"
Face, meet palm, Romano thought. "I'm not playing football with any of you," he declared flatly.
Feliciano brought out his puppy eyes. "Please?"
"Not again," Romano muttered, recalling their earlier argument. "When I say no, that means no, idiot!"
Feliciano sniffed, tears welling up. "But—"
"No. Look, you said you wanted to find the damn Rabbit—well, there he is." Romano waved a hand towards the White Rabbit. "I wanted to get into the garden—well, here we are. We don't have anything more to accomplish here, so can we just go home now?" He sighed. "Look, I'll—I'll play a round of football with you when we get back. Okay?" Suddenly sleepy, he yawned and sat down. "Just so long as we get home…"
Feliciano bent down and shook his shoulder. "Fratello, you have to wake up. It's time to go home."
"That's what I just said!" Romano snapped. The garden was fading around them, the parade of cards dissolving into mist. "Just let me sleep a little more…" His eyes drifted shut.
"Fratello," Feliciano prodded, "wake up."
"Come on, Romano." That was his Grandpa's voice! "Don't make me carry you home like a little kid."
Romano's eyes flickered open. Grass, small flowers, trees—this wasn't the garden! Blinking sleep from his eyes, he sat up and looked around.
It was the park where everything had started, where Feliciano had seen and chased after that damn White Rabbit…or had he? Had it all been…a dream?
"And here you were nagging me not to fall asleep!" Feliciano said cheerfully. "You're so silly sometimes, fratello."
Still not quite out of Wonderland, Romano frowned. "You know, I had the strangest dream…"
Cast List in Order of Appearance
Alice: Romano and Feliciano
Their Grandpa: Grandpa Rome
White Rabbit: Germany
Tweedle Am: America
Tweedle Can: Canada
Cheshire Cat: France
Duchess: Hong Kong
March Hare: Prussia
Mad Hatter: Spain
The Gardeners: Tink, Uni, and Flying Mint Bunny
King of Diamonds: Switzerland
Queen of Diamonds: Liechtenstein
Queen of Clubs: Poland
King of Clubs: Lithuania
King of Spades: Denmark
Queen of Spades: Norway
Queen of Hearts: England
Jack of Hearts: Scotland
King of Hearts: Japan