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alice, alice in wonderland 2010, fic, tarrant, the mad hatter
AiW Fic: Wonders Wild and New
Title: Wonders Wild and New
Disclaimer: Disney owns many of the things that I love, including the inhabitants of Underland; I make no profit
"Be back again before you know it..."
It hadn't happened quite that way. She'd been too young to measure Time, the Hatter too kind to mirror cruelty, but her promise to remember proved true, nonetheless. She never forgot his face, or that she could always give him her truth. Sometimes Alice mourned the years paid in tribute to its finding, but true, true, true - she could offer no less than a certain heart.
Wanderlust and wildfire yearning, windswept plains and white Pu-erh tea...
Alice finds her father's dream in China, on tumbling seas, in gray-smoke mornings, beneath ancient spires that pierce the sky. Her own dreams prove more elusive, dancing out of reach and in the shadows, fey, graceless, and more than a little mad.
She learns to write a proper contract, decipher manifests in Mandarin, to stroll sure-footed across salt slick decks and ride high astride a camel. Two years, three, and she learns when to stare a bargain down and when to tempt and flatter. This world is a swirling marketplace, chaotic and many-tongued - four years, and she learns to read its parchment, to map its bounty and sly dangers.
An officer of the company teaches her to wield a sword, one that possesses no voice or destiny, and responds to her hand alone. Her mentor makes clear his longing to offer instruction in other arts, if only she is willing. Alice considers the prospect, boldly, and with care, but his eyes are a constant cornflower-blue, and he never speaks of flying.
In Ningbo she buys jade dragons, her nemesis in miniature, a seawater handful as green as his eyes. Alice threads them through her hair on a fine gold chain and by day they are frozen, unblinking - by night, they murmur legends, fierce tales of vengeance, lovers lost, of the sweet seventh night in the silver seventh moon. A vendor's stall in East Timor yields a glorious peacock fan, a sheaf of all-seeing feathers in unearthly blues and copper; she ghosts their beauty across her skin to summon his damaged hands.
Beware the Jabberwock, my son...
On the Celebes horizon the sunset sings of amber fire - Alice hears Outlandish fury, knows it is time to sail towards home. She spends hours on the voyage to England amidst her cargo of Asian silks, their rainbow whisper a mere echo of his breath against her cheek.
Helen Kingsley welcomes her in London, pouring fragrant Ti Quan Yin from a flawless china pot. The drawing room hasn't changed a bit, and Alice thinks she should be grateful, but instead finds herself perusing the table for traces of crumbs and whimsy. She reminds herself sternly that the flutter of white in the doorway is merely the maid's starched apron, that the ruddy flash at the window pane must surely be a robin. A robin decidedly late in fleeing before the cold, but this is England, not Underland, not yet. Not home...
Her mother's face is calm, bearing only traces of lingering grief, and a diamond circlet claims the place of her father's wedding band. Alice ignores the familiar pang of loss and offers a conspirator's smile.
Her mother blushes, but meets her eyes. "We plan to marry in the spring. He's been a widower these past three years, and a good man all his days. Alice, will you..."
"I'm happy for both of you, of course - and he is a good man. You deserve happiness, mother, all this world can offer."
"And what of your happiness, Alice? Have you found it, my dear, in this world?"
"I've found myself."
"And love? Marriage, your future?"
"My future requires another journey, a journey of a different sort. A fall, back to the beginning, back to..."
The tea in her mother's cup quivers, perilously close to the rim. "Underland. That's what you call it now, isn't it? When you were a child you called it Wonderland. Oh, Alice, you mean to..."
"I've always meant to return. And I'm sorry, so sorry, but it's where I've always lived, always, in every dream."
"Is there...someone? Someone there for you, my darling, your own good man?" Her mother's gaze is steady, but glistens bright with tears.
"For me. Yes. I believe that he is."
"My Persephone, my beautiful impossible girl. I've truly lost you, haven't I?"
"Impossible things are the finest - I find it best to believe in half a dozen or more, at the start of every day. I'll come back in the spring to dance at your wedding. I promise. And I'm not lost, I swear it, not anymore." Gravely, Alice extends her little finger, and her mother dabs at her eyes, entwines it with her own.
"Then I shall marry Lord Ascot wearing Demeter's flowers, and hold you to your promise. Will you go tonight, Alice?"
In her lamplit childhood bedroom, Mirana's cut glass vial shimmers pale, but the liquid within resembles jasmine tea more than essence of mythic beast. Slay, I don't slay, but she does. She does... Alice prays that blood regains its power when swallowed with a wish, and she drinks. An inch remains, no more, I promise, and she falls...
He's waiting on Marmoreal's parapet, gazing out towards Tulgey Wood. She pauses for a moment, studies his back for portents, feels the Queastern wind tug sharp at her skirts. His hair is longer, darker, a pomegranate's red, and he stands so still she can chart the stars from the brink of his right shoulder.
"I'm still investigating. 'M' - it's quite vexing, really, when one considers it, which I have, every day, every one that you've been gone."
She takes a slow step forward, just one."Perhaps I might help you, then. Magnificent, and melancholy, mystery and marvels-"
"I followed you, you know. I dreamed. Of tiny green Jabberwocks, tangled in your hair, of crossing oceans, veritable oceans, of tea, of riding a disdainful beast with a strange misshapen back - one really should be careful, Alice, of whom one chooses to sit upon - and of touching you, soft as feathers. I dreamed of a man with blue eyes, a slurvish cad with vile designs, designs on you, and I couldn't grasp the sword..." His voice blurs thick, dark, and she knows his eyes burn like the Underland sun.
"But I said no, Tarrant Hightopp. I said no, and now I'm here." Another step closer, two.
"I dreamed you, and the voices stopped - things aren't nearly as crowded in here. Not anymore, now that she's banished, now that you're... You are here, aren't you? You're not dreaming me, are you, not this time?"
Three steps closer, four. "No. This is real, you've always been real, though you are quite impossible, and we are both quite possibly mad."
He turns then, and his eyes are polished jade. "All the best people are. Mellifluous, magic, majestic, melodious, and mine. My Alice. I'd know you anywhere. Did you find them? Your wayward answers?"
"Yes. And a new question - just one."
"A riddle, then, for the sake of Old Time. Oh, Alice, his answer, it shines..."
The final step brings her into the moonlight, into his arms, and Alice already knows she is just the right size. His fingers rasp at the silk of her dress, but they are no longer bandaged, no longer uncertain, and his mouth is warm as summer honey, tastes exactly as it should, of wanderlust and wildfire yearning, windswept plains and white Pu-erh tea.
Alice shares tales of her adventures, of cunning cabbages and kings, until the stars complete their last quadrille, fade weary from dawn's sky. He leads her inside the castle to an open chamber door embellished with a crest woven entirely of hatpins, and he waits. There's an urgency in his stillness now, fear and hope combined - he's forgetting to breathe, and she does not know the words.
"Hatter...Tarrant...I don't know what's proper, here, how such things are done in Underland." His capricious tie is gone, lost to their reunion, and she lifts her hand to the faint blue pulse bared at his throat's white hollow.
"Customs, traditions, conventions - we have them, yes, but only on Quillian, and that day is either very long past or quite possibly tomorrow. You make the path, Alice."
He catches her wrist, turns her hand, and she feels the flame of his kiss on her palm, the silk of his tongue, an echoing fire beginning to rise.
"I make the path. I want to walk with you."
One step, two - he crosses the threshold and she follows, follows him, follows her heart, and she's falling, just in time.
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