For a few seconds, Alice assumes the sound she hears is a clock. It doesn’t sound exactly like any of hers, but new ones seem to find their way to her all the time.
When she hears it again in a new rhythm, she realizes someone is knocking on the door. It isn’t Rumplestiltskin—even though he and her papa have made peace and she sees him more, he was just here and about to go on an errand that would take him away for a few weeks.
She brightens as she goes to answer the door, realizing the other likely alternative. It’s just three days since her last letter from papa, but she’ll hardly say no to another visit from Robyn.
Alice smiles and skims her fingers over her bracelet. It is indeed Robyn, and her heart flutters. Or maybe it’s her stomach, but there are definitely butterflies. “Oh! Hello!”
“I have another letter for you,” Robyn says. She’s smiling, and Alice thinks for a moment that it’s sunshine.
As she takes the letter and their hands brush—and Robyn gasps at the contact—
It—she—isn’t sunshine. She’s spring, fresh air, and new beginnings.
“Thank you. I wasn’t expecting you yet, so my letter to Papa isn’t done yet. Would you like to come in from the cold while I finish up? I shan’t take too long,” she promises.
Robyn hurries inside, cheeks red from the wind, “I don’t mind. Take your time.”
“Let me get you some tea.”
There’s no arguing about it, so Alice bustles around her little kitchen while Robyn looks around.
When she turns back with the teapot and tea cups (a tea party! With another human! A pretty one!), Robyn is holding one of the little knick-knacks from Papa, way back in the tower days. She’s seen so much of the world since then, but the sight of that little carving from someone she loves in the strong hands of a woman—a friend—she so likes takes her breath away.
“Here we are,” she says, setting down the tray. She pours Robyn a cuppa and gets a smile in return, a more-than-even trade.
She makes her way over to the desk and hurriedly pens a few more lines, aware of Robyn’s eyes on her the whole time. It doesn’t make her self-conscious, just...aware. Yes, that’s the word.
It probably only takes her five minutes to finish it up and wrap it in one of her ribbons. She hands the letter to Robyn, who tucks it into her satchel.
Alice pours them both another cup of tea, and they chat about what they’ve been up to in the days since they last saw each other. (Granted, it hasn’t been much, but Alice could listen to her forever, and she’s happy to hear the silly story about her Papa babysitting young Lucy. A fierce pang of longing—for her father’s arms, for her childhood back—hits her, but she’s stopped from falling into wallowing by a howl.
It’s the wind. Somehow, in the scant time since Robyn has arrived, the wind has picked up. Both girls hurry over to the window, and Alice’s eyes widen when she realizes it’s begun to snow.
Robyn reaches over and places a hand on her shoulder. “Oh, wow. I wish I could stay, but I probably should get going in case this gets any worse.”
As if on cue, a fresh, angry burst of snow sweeps through the trees.
“No, don’t. This came up suddenly; it’s not a predictable storm. You might not make it back. Stay—I have a good fire going, and there’s things to eat and plenty to do here. There’s no hurry with my letter for Papa,” she says, placing her hand over Robyn’s.
The tension that had been building in Robyn’s shoulders dissipates, and she relaxes and smiles back at Alice. She squeezes her fingers quickly before replying, “All right. But you’re stuck with me for now.”
“That’s no trouble at all.”
They while the evening away pleasantly. Alice tells her about one of her adventures a far-off land and sings her a sea-shanty one of the more pleasant merfolk taught her, and Robyn explains concerts in her world, especially ones by women called Janelle Monae and Hayley Kiyoko. They play cards and end up reading together in the firelight until Alice yawns.
“Oh, goodness! I didn’t realize how late it’s gotten,” she said, glancing at one of her clocks. “Sorry, let me get a pillow and some blankets.”
“If you get me a pillow, I’ll be fine with my cloak. It’s fine,” Robyn says.
Alice startles. “No, no, no, that won’t do. You take the bed, silly. You’re the guest who’s stuck here. I’ll sleep on the couch or make a little nest on the floor and be cozy as can be.”
Robyn’s eyes gleam, reflecting the fire beside them and. “You don’t have to do that. I might be the guest, but I was hardly invited.”
“Then I insist,” she says decisively, even as she turns scarlet, “that you share the bed. It looks big enough for the both of us, and that way we don’t have to split up the blankets. We’ll be extra warm and toasty.”
Well, Alice can hardly argue with such sound logic. She smiles and nods. “All right, then. Oh, let me get you something to sleep in.”
Her night dress is a bit tighter on Robyn and comes partway up her calves, but Robyn looks pleased and pronounces it a success. They tuck in under the covers and Alice extinguishes her candle. The fire’s blaze on the other side of the screen gives off a soft glow and soothing warmth, and she imagines they’ll be out in a flash.
An hour later, though, she’s no closer to falling asleep than she was mid-afternoon. They’ve tossed and turned, and Alice is definitely comfortable, but she just can’t settle, for some reason.
The bed is definitely large enough to accomodate the both of them, but there’s no avoiding brushing against each other. Which is fine, but for some reason she’s hyper-aware of Robyn’s every move, her every breath.
And Robyn, while breathing comfortably, is hardly breathing deeply enough to be asleep. Is she not comfortable? Is she doing the “slumber party” thing wrong? (It sounds like an odd, if fun, tradition, but she’s not sure what it entails other than sleeping and chatting. And they’ve already chatted.)
Now her mind is racing, her thoughts going in every direction, and—
“Hey, breathe,” Robyn says, reaching over to take her hand.
Alice obeys, inhaling deeply. It takes her a couple minutes, but she relaxes.
Robyn is still holding her hand. She’s turned to her side, facing Alice, gently rubbing her arm with her other hand. It’s soothing, and it feels like caring, and Alice comes back to herself.
“You okay?” Robyn whispers.
Alice squeezes her hand and turns on her own side. “Yeah. Just got a little worked up and worried for a moment.”
Alice tells her, and it sounds silly now, but Robyn doesn’t laugh at her.
She inches closer and wraps an arm around Alice’s waist. Alice misses the sensation of their palms touching for a moment, but any regret over that loss is fleeting. Robyns thumb moves slowly, gently where it rests on the small of her back, and it’s both sweet and electrifying. “You’re doing just fine. This is shaping up to be my favorite slumber party.”
“Even with my panicking?” Alice hears the needy tone in her voice and winces, but she needs to be reassured.
“I told you, I like the way you see the world. It’s...it’s beautiful. So any time with you is beautiful,” she says.
Alice mulls this over and her heart rate both slows and accelerates all at once. She isn’t sure what to say, exactly. “Oh.”
Robyn is closer now, leaning up on one elbow. She leans down and gently brushes her lips over Alice’s, and—
—and this is better than butterflies. It’s sparks, it’s fireworks...it’s magic.
This is a kiss. She’s read about them, she’s seen them, but this is the first she’s experienced one herself. It’s...oh gods, she never wants to stop.
Robyn pulls back. Her eyes are wide and go cautious, and Alice realizes she has no idea what her own face is doing.
She doesn’t question her actions; she goes after what—or whom—she wants. Alice pushes up and chases Robyn’s lips with her own. When their lips meet again, it’s more than electric, it’s everything.
It’s amazing how instinctual it is. When she darts her tongue against Robyn’s, Robyn lets out an airy little gasp and pulls Alice on top of her, returning her kiss fiercely. She moans when Robyn runs her hand down her back. She’s never felt this way before, so full of sensation and want and joy.
Finally, it’s their need for air that makes them break apart. Alice’s heart is pounding, and her lips are tingling delightfully. She pants as she stares down at Robyn, and she smiles.
Robyn looks wrecked. Her eyes are blown wide and she’s breathing heavily, but she’s smiling, and she looks as happy as Alice feels—
“Wow,” she breathes. She pushes a lock of Alice’s hair back behind her ear, and Alice can’t help but smile at how it reminds her of when they first met.
“You’re not going to leave me tied up this time are you?” she asks.
Robyn’s mouth gapes, and she looks surprised. Then she laughs and pulls Alice closer, “Oh, Tower Girl, every moment with you is an adventure.”
Alice grins back. She’s sure she’s just said something, but maybe Robyn will explain eventually. “A good adventure, I hope,” she says.
“Probably the best one,” Robyn whispers back.
There are more kisses. There’s quiet laughter as the fire burns down and whispered conversation as they get another fire going.
Eventually, they drift off to sleep in each other’s arms.
When they awaken, it’s fairly late, but the wind is still howling and the snow is still coming down. No matter, another glorious day, together.
When the weather finally clears enough for Robyn to leave the next day (and they have to tell themselves she should go, her family will be worried), it’s with an express invitation to come back—and soon. It’s with a full heart, eager for a reunion before they’ve even parted.
Alice watches Robyn fade into the distance from her porch, her own heart full of hope for the future, contentment with the present, and a renewed sense of home.