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Plight Of The Doll Maker

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"So you are looking for a tome on artificial movement?".

"That's right, do you think you have any materials on it? It would be of great help".

Patchouli closed the grimoire she was deciphering and looked up at Alice over the rim of her glasses. The younger magician appeared as composed as ever with Shanghai and Hourai hovering on either side of her. In full health, Patchouli was somewhat envious of Alice considering her own depleting system. It almost annoyed her that Alice would waste valuable time in the reanimation of dolls as opposed to something worth while.

Something like regeneration of magical beings.

"I assumed you had already reached the brick wall when it came to research for your project".

"Brick wall?".

Patchouli remained as nonchalant as ever, "A standstill with progressing. You have to be honest with yourself, Alice. The prospect of creating a doll which functions on its own seems..unlikely".

"Quite a sceptical conclusion coming from yourself. Not to mention the fact of magic being limitless in terms of what can be achieved" the blonde smiled, taking Patchouli's attitude as typical Patchouli behaviour, "I'm sure there have been projects which you have seen to the end, regardless of the outcome".

"All of my works have been successful. Can you say the same?" she asked.

Alice was taken aback by the subtle bite in Patchouli's question. The unamused way her lavender eyes were set and the hands folded over her desk showed Alice how little Patchouli seemed to be taking her seriously.

"I think that is an unfair thing to say" the puppeteer rebuked, "Our fields differ despite the craft being the same".

"That I agree with. At least there is a sense of practical use with mine and Marisa's magic. Even the priestess of the Myouren Temple's endeavours have some functionality behind it. What of yours, Alice? What could creating autonomous dolls possibly do in the long run?".

Alice willed herself to stay calm as her two dolls moved in an advancing manner towards Patchouli, "What gives you any right to question what I am working on?".

"Well, experience is the major factor" Patchouli replied with nothing short of arrogance, "Look around you. Take in all the knowledge that I have amassed. You barely scratch the surface of my capabilities" she smirked, "Perhaps if you asked politely, I would be willing to use some of my time to aid you. Clearly you have no sense of direction with magic on your own accord".

"Are you listening to yourself?" Alice said, her voice obtaining a slight shudder as she slammed her palms on Patchouli's desk.

"Do calm down, I am merely making a suggestion".

Alice wasn't sure how to take in the rudeness that Patchouli was displaying. She had to admit it wasn't the first time the woman had talked her down in a not so subtle fashion. In fact, the more Alice thought about it, the jibes and discouragements had become frequent. 

The only difference this time was the fact of how outright Patchouli was being. 

To make it more hurtful, there appeared to be no hint of shame or apologetic tendencies in the older magician's attitude. 

That was the last straw for Alice. 

"A suggestion..is that what you think you're making? But, you are right in your method" Alice suddenly smiled whilst stepping back, "After all, suggesting how others should work on their craft is all you've been reduced to, isn't that right, Patchouli?".

"Excuse me?".

The blonde smirked, just a small one which was effective enough, "Look at you indeed. Trapped behind a desk and unable to truly experience the joys of being a magician anymore. You are nothing but a philosopher in theory now and what good is that? You've attained all of this knowledge for what?" she gestured around the room, "To be unable to have the physical strength to do anything with it. Unlike me, isn't that right?".

Patchouli glanced away to avoid the hard gaze of the blue eyes zeroing onto her.

"You think I don't know why you talk me down and dismiss everything that I do?" Alice continued as Hourai spun her lance around, "You despise the fact that I'm not restricted to a decaying body. I have no limitations in practicing magic, I learn without time taking its toll. Something which you cannot stand".

"You are getting ahead of yourself" the older magician snapped, "Your assumptions are nothing but a defence mechanism".

"No, Patchouli, my defence mechanism is keeping to myself. Getting stronger, working harder and building myself as a magician. Becoming more powerful to aid Reimu during incidents. That is my defence mechanism" she asserted and folded her arms over her chest after adjusting her capelet, "What I said about you and your tendencies is nothing but the truth".

Patchouli tried to refute Alice's comments but to no avail. She'd nailed it to the core and it left the woman stumped, especially by the scale of how far Alice was taking it.

She could see the unusual coldness seep into the younger magician's orbs, the brightness of them amplifying as they stared each other down. 

"Don't underestimate me, Patchouli. You have no idea what I've had to endure to get to where I am now" Alice warned, "Be wary of the battles you pick next time".

With that, the blonde collected her things and gave a firm nod of her head, "Good day to you".

Hourai and Shanghai followed their owner as she retreated out of the library with nothing else to add.

Patchouli could only watch the woman go, a taste of regret lingering on her lips because of what she had set off. She squeezed her hands together after inhaling a breath she'd been needing, however, it felt bitter. 

She considered her wording and what she had said to Alice, realising it was conveyed far too rudely. 

But it was too late now as she mulled over whether she had any chance of rekindling their friendship whatsoever.

 

***

 

Though she concealed it well in front of Patchouli, Alice was slightly shaken by the encounter.

She quickly walked down the corridor of the mansion, eyes down and head whirling as she wondered why Patchouli delivered such unnecessary and scathing attacks.

It was uncalled for.

But there was somebody else who thought it was Alice who went a step too far.

"So you can be harsh with your words".

Alice stopped instantly.

Hourai and Shanghai had already turned around.

Sakuya waited for Alice to acknowledge her after witnessing the scene at the library.

"When I need to be" Alice only said before continuing on her way out, "I'll be off now, thank you for showing me in".

"Alice".

The blonde stopped, "Yes?".

"What was that about?".

"You were there, Sakuya. You saw the whole thing. You have some nerve to insinuate that I was the one being harsh. She..she had no right..".

Sakuya moved towards the magician which prompted Alice to turn and face the maid.

"I am not saying that Lady Patchouli did" Sakuya stated, "But you did not have to go so far in what you said to her. I'm sure there is a reason why Lady Patchouli felt the need to say what she did". 

Alice couldn't help but roll her eyes, not entirely stunned by Sakuya taking Patchouli's side. 

"Yes, of course, because it's in her nature as the superior being that she is to know about everything and everyone. Quite a trait which runs amongst the residents of this mansion. You're no different". 

"Alice, I-". 

"No" the blonde interrupted and shook her head, ignoring the honest glaze in Sakuya's blue eyes, "I don't want to hear it. You've made it clear where you stand".

Sakuya elicited a small sigh, "This isn't about taking sides. Your reaction was starling is all" she said while closing the space between them, "It hit a nerve didn't it?". 

"What do you expect?". 

"Well, not for you to retaliate like so".

"Of course" Alice quietly uttered, holding Sakuya's eyes, "Because that isn't what Alice is supposed to do, is she? Alice is supposed to sit there and take it, accept everything that is poured on her. Every. Single. Thing" she gulped, "All I've become is a mat for everyone to walk on and whenever I do fight back, I am suddenly in the wrong". 

"I don't think of you as that" the maid tried to reason, "You know I had no intention in making it seem like it is okay for you to be mistreated. I am the last person to judge you for yielding to others requests". 

She ended the sentence with a small chuckle and the doll maker could hear the tinge of disdain in it. 

Alice knew why Sakuya had said it. 

It made her feel slightly regretful about lashing out at her but then the more Alice reflected on it, the more she expected Sakuya to understand how she feels. 

How it felt to have their every move scrutinised. 

To be constantly patronised. 

To be put down for anything they did.

It irked her even more so when she pondered these reasons. 

"So why do you sit there and take it?" Alice demanded to know and squared up to the woman, "Why on earth do you bow down to that petulant excuse of a vampire?". 

"Because I owe my life to Lady Remilia" she replied easily. 

"That doesn't mean anything!". 

"It does, Alice" Sakuya said gently whilst placing her hand on the magician's shoulder, "It makes everything more tolerable". 

The use of the word 'tolerable' felt dirty in Alice's ears, like Sakuya had lost all sense of freedom. 

Maybe that was the case, perhaps Remilia had truly erased any will to fight in Sakuya's mind. 

She'd escaped the clutches of her own destiny in Makai and the thought of someone as strong as the woman in front of her, bowing down to someone else made Alice furious. 

That wasn't the life Alice envisioned for herself, she could no longer stand by and let others take the reins of her life. 

"Tolerable..is not a way to live, Sakuya" she responded and moved back from the maid, her shoulder being released from the gentle grasp, "I can't do it like you can. I will not be reduced to being everyone's plaything, not anymore. I'm sorry". 

A sad smile braced Sakuya's striking features as she had expected the response. 

Alice couldn't understand the true depth of her services to Remilia and their past because she didn't know. 

Sakuya opted to leave it that way in a bid to keep the fire strumming in the magician's blue eyes.

"Each to their own, as they say" she nodded, "I'm sorry, on behalf on Lady Patchouli".

"It isn't you that should be apologising" Alice quickly said, "Should she come to her senses and apologise to me, I may be willing to forgive her". 

"Of course, thank you". 

They kept their vision on each other for a few moments, unsaid words being exchanged as well as unspoken feelings that would never be voiced. 

Their ship had sailed long ago and an amicable yet understanding companionship remained between the two.

Alice belonged to Reimu. 

Sakuya belonged to Remilia. 

It was better that way. 

Leaving with sombre partings, Alice made her way out of the Scarlet Devil Mansion in haste as her mind continued to rummage around for reason and rhyme. 

But the bout of irritation and anger which was still in her system was itching to crawl out. 

It was only a matter of time. 

The switch which controlled the blonde's patience was teetering on the brink. 

 

***

 

Alice's objective now was to get home as soon as possible. Her heart was trying to tempt her to go to Reimu but she couldn't see her lover like this. 

Worrying Reimu would not do anything to improve the situation. 

She was whipping through the air, her eyes ahead as the wind skimmed over and around her body. The expression on her face was one which was stern and set, rigid in thought. 

With her encounters at the mansion, it caused the puppeteer to pick apart her life and the decisions she had made to date. 

She didn't regret what she had said to either woman, certainly not Patchouli but Alice kept mulling over what she had said to Sakuya. 

About refusing to crawl to the whims of others, being deemed weak and being brushed aside like nothing more than dust. 

"I'm not like that anymore, I won't stand for being treated like a running gag in some series. It stops now".

Unfortunately for Alice, that concept was going to be tested when she realised she was flying over the Garden of the Sun.

She could feel her loitering around.

Yuuka's presence couldn't be missed.

It was dangerous yet inviting.

Today however, Alice was not in the mood to entertain the flower youkai's games.

"If you keep frowning like that, you are going to ruin such a pretty face".

Alice ignored the comment, wherever it was coming from.

The garden itself appeared to hold every particle of its owner, so it wouldn't surprise the blonde if Yuuka could literally infuse herself within the terrain.

"Why the rush, Alice?".

Still, she kept up with her speed and flew past the garden to where an empty field with a single tree remained.

But a figure emerging from behind said tree made Alice click her tongue in frustration as she hoped by taking this path, she wouldn't have to see Yuuka at all.

Yuuka was hell bent on seeing Alice, however.

The parasol remained in the ground when Yuuka waved with her other hand as Alice neared her and floated down.

Rather than trying to avoid her, Alice knew it'd be better to get the unnecessary conversation out of the way because she wouldn't be able to lose the youkai if she didn't.

Yuuka gave a curtsy to Alice, her red eyes glinting with mischief, "I hope I'm not interrupting your day".

"You are. What do you want, Yuuka?".

The flower master giggled, "Oh my, how forward. I wonder..if your mood has anything to do with that fierce expression on your face".

"It is none of your concern" Alice sharply answered, "Now if you've got nothing useful to say, I'll be on my way".

"Wait a moment" Yuuka said as she jumped and interjected Alice's path, "I only want to speak to you. There is no need to be brash, it is so unlike you".

"Really? So tell me, what is meant to be like me? That same little girl you met in Makai?".

Yuuka grinned and twirled her parasol over her shoulder, "Hm, not quite. I'm inclined to finding this version of Alice much more enjoyable. I'm curious as to what has rattled your cage so much. Is it Reimu? What department is she failing in, perhaps I can take over".

"Leave her out of this". 

The sentence was emitted through gritted teeth, Alice's eyebrows furrowing and it only made Yuuka giggle. 

"Isn't Reimu lucky to have someone so protective of her" she said and took in a breath, "Shame, you had much more potential with me but as expected of Alice, you go with what is asked of you". 

"Shut up, Yuuka" the blonde mumbled. 

The grin on Yuuka's face grew, "Make me" she dared, "I really doubt you could. Tell me, are you still as docile with Reimu? Do you bend to her whims as easily as a willow tree?". 

"Think what you want of me" Alice interjected and clenched her fist, "But don't you dare drag Reimu's name like that. I won't let you get away with it". 

Hourai and Shanghai took up their positions near Alice when the magician flexed her ring bound fingers. 

"Is that so.." Yuuka remarked, completely unfazed by the sizzling energy exuding from the blonde, "Let's see what you can do. Let's see you prove why I'm quite relieved that we never became anything more. Perhaps I should be sympathising with Reimu instead. To be with someone as timid and unappealing as you". 

Alice had heard enough and summoned her first spell card but before she could declare it, a burst of air spun around them, followed by an enthusiastic, "Yo!". 

 

The magician's eyes followed Yuuka's to see the familiar face and she could've sworn that there was some entity determined to make her day more hellish than it needed to be. 

Marisa had jumped off of her broom and landed between the two women.

"Are you both having a danmaku session? Lemme join!". 

"Good day to you too, Marisa" Yuuka smiled, "I don't think Alice would like to intervene our little moment here".

Marisa faced Alice with a dejected look, "Aww c’mon Alice, I wanna play too". 

"Get out of the way". 

The venom dripping from Alice's tone made the other magician recoil. 

"Damn, I was just asking. What's up? Rough day?". 

The day had just become a lot rougher; because if there was one person that Alice could barely manage to refrain from harming, it was the blonde in front of her. 

Marisa, was undoubtedly the cause of many of Alice's misfortunes. 

Including why it took so long for herself and Reimu to get together. 

Kirisame Marisa ruined everything for her.

Alice's blue eyes were practically glowing with an overflow of putrid resentment. 

She was already in the foulest of moods and seeing Marisa's face, so devoid of awareness, pushed her over the edge. 

The need to let off steam kept mounting so the quicker she could get to fighting with Yuuka, the better she'd feel. 

"I won't ask you again, Marisa. Move". 

As one to seek out challenges like Cirno sought out the wrath of Suwako, Marisa remained in place and smirked.

"Nah, I don't think I wanna move. Its been a while since I wiped the ground with ya, I kinda miss it since ya too busy with being loved up with Reimu and stuff" she explained, "So what do you say, you and me. Just how you liked it at one point".

Yuuka almost felt bad for Marisa as she watched her dig her own grave. Her own comments towards Alice weren't meant with malevolence, at least not entirely but Yuuka knew how much Alice loathed Marisa.

So that jibe about their past simply lit the spark to the final explosion.

"You and me?" Alice repeated, "There never was a you and me" she added with disgust, "The whole world doesn't revolve around you".

Marisa wasn't dissuaded whatsoever, "Aw you don't have to be shy, right, Yuuka?" she asked without turning her head back, "Everyone knows that I stole your precious thing" she laughed.

Another disturbing sentiment which had haunted Alice; the prospect of Marisa supposedly stealing her heart.

"Enough. I don't have to stand here and listen to your delusions" the doll maker scoffed, "I made a mistake to even think of getting close to you and even then, it was only because of my feelings for Reimu that I put up with you to begin with. It was her affection I wanted, not yours".

"Ouch, that almost hurt" Marisa winced in a feigned manner, "It woulda done if that wasn't bullshit. No need to deny ya feelings" she winked, "Speakin of Reimu, well, maybe she's just settling cause ya got in the way of her and me".

Yuuka sighed, "Marisa, please step out of the way before Alice actually does wipe you off of the face of the earth".

"Jeez it was joke!".

"Sums up your life, doesn't it. A joke".

Marisa and Yuuka gauged Alice carefully as she spoke up, a bite added to her tone. 

"You wonder why nobody can take you seriously. I wouldn't go as far as to even entertain the thought of you being a real magician". 

"Hey now we're getting too personal". 

The puppeteer dismissed the objection, "The truth has been known to be painful. But it would be wrong of me not to point it out, consider this me doing you a favour. Not that you deserve it".

"Alice, there is no need. We can continue our sparring session if you'd like". 

"No, Marisa came here looking for a fight so that is what she will receive" Alice replied to Yuuka's request. 

It was too late. 

Alice had heard enough. 

"All you will ever be is an ordinary magician, Marisa. Just the same little girl you were those years ago, playing with magic and pretending to have any idea on what you were toying with. Because that is all you do" Alice said with pure malice, "Play with things". 

"Fuck you" Marisa scoffed, "Unlike you, I had to start from the beginning. Must be nice being a human turned youkai. Did you ever thank Shinki for that, by the way? Or is screwing Reimu helping you up the ladder?".

Yuuka saw Alice's attack before Marisa had registered it and leapt forward to pull Marisa out of the way. 

As soon as the words slipped out of Marisa's unfiltered mouth, the flower master already knew what was going to happen. 

An army of dolls with lances had appeared, each armed with an array of silver bullets hammering out into the field. 

Yuuka had dragged Marisa enough to shield her away but when the dust of the attack settled, she saw the frightening gaze in Alice's eyes. 

"Shit" Marisa winced when she glanced down and saw that Shanghai had managed to nick her skin, her arm bleeding as she leaned back against Yuuka. 

"You really need to work on what you say and when" Yuuka scolded whilst assessing the wound. 

"She's the one who said all of that crap to me". 

"And you were the one who instigated it". 

Yuuka was right and Marisa knew it. Though she was well aware that the flower youkai wasn't as innocent as she made herself out to appear. 

"Fine whatever" she said and stood up with Yuuka holding her, "It's my turn now".

"Marisa, no!". 

Before Yuuka realised, the blonde had escaped her embrace and summoned her broom. 

She'd already gained height leverage into the air, enough to retrieve her mini hakkero and aim right at Alice. Maybe she did take it too far but Marisa was too pissed to care, putting her all into making sure that this Master Spark would injure the doll maker. 

The beam was as intense in its formation as ever as she aimed it straight at Alice who locked eyes with her. 

Given how quickly Marisa had moved, Alice was caught off guard both by how quickly the spell card was implemented and Marisa's speed. 

Yuuka could only watch as the rainbow coloured beam flooded out of the hakkero and poured down a straight path towards Alice. She wanted to intervene but given the angle and the position, she wouldn't be able to get to Alice in time. Her parasol was on the receiving end of a firm grip, an unusual wave of trepidation coursing through her body as she witnessed what was going to be the start of an incredibly messy match of danmaku. 

 

Or so, it would've been if a flash of red & white hadn't zipped onto the scene. 

Arms wrapping around Alice's waist so quickly and tightly left the magician perplexed at what was happening. 

She felt herself being pulled to the side, away from Marisa's spell card just as the beam pierced the ground in a devastating manner. Debris went flying everywhere when the field ripped apart under the sheer power of the master spark, an ugly patch of brown being revealed the moment the beam finally subsided. 

The arms around Alice squeezed in response to what the owner was seeing; which was that if she was a second late, Alice would have been totalled. 

She was breathing heavily whilst keeping the magician close against her as she felt Alice shakily turn around to face her. 

"Reimu". 

Reimu didn't say anything, her vivid eyes roaming over Alice's face like she was assessing her. 

Making sure she wasn't harmed. 

She was somewhat content that there were no physical forms of injury but the priestess knew it was a different case in terms of the emotional aspect. 

That was enough to make her stony expression harden as her arms remained snug around her lover's body. 

"Let's go home" she said softly. 

Alice could only nod as she felt the entirety of her mind and body tumble into a relaxed state just by Reimu being here. She didn't have the energy to waste on whatever had been happening now, only wanting to preserve it enough to get out of there.

Once they were alone, then Alice would succumb. 

The two hovered into the air in the direction of the Hakurei Shrine but Reimu turned her face slightly to acknowledge Yuuka and Marisa.

There wasn't a hint of a smile when she looked at the two women. 

If a gaze could cause a person to perish, then Yuuka and Marisa, especially the latter, would be deceased. 

Alice felt Reimu's body stiffen as she glared at Marisa in warning, a warning which was simply: stay away from Alice. 

Anyone within a 50 mile radius could decrypt the warning. 

The feeling of Alice's hand pressing her shoulder snapped Reimu out of her fury ridden thoughts, the warm blue eyes reminding her of why she was there, whom she had come to retrieve. 

She decided she could deal with Yuuka and Marisa later as she didn't want the magician to be exposed to their presence any longer than she had been. Whatever had caused the scene to unfurl to begin with, Reimu had an idea considering the culprits involved. 

Not sparing another glance, Alice and Reimu began their flight home as they left a jealous Marisa and a contemplative Yuuka behind. 

It was the lack of words which Reimu had exchanged that was the aspect they found critical. 

But it was expected when it came to what had occurred, what could have happened to Alice. 

Yuuka nor Marisa were sure whether Reimu would be forgiving them any time soon. 

 

***

 

Alice was trembling long after Reimu had escorted her into the shrine. 

She was wrapped up in Reimu's arms under the kotatsu, sat on her lap with her head on the brunette's chest. The calming heartbeat of her lover did help to elevate some of the tension seeping out of Alice but she was still on edge. 

It pained Reimu to feel just how tense Alice was but all she could do was keep her close and give her the tools to undo the knots which had formed in her system. 

Her hand ran through the blonde locks in a repeating motion while the other remained around Alice's hips. Their legs were kept warm by the kotatsu, two steaming cups of tea already prepared and waiting to be sipped. In the comfort of her home, Reimu could at least ensure that Alice wasn't in the clutches of anyone else trying to hurt her. 

The magician managed to fill Reimu in as to what had been said and done during the duration of day. 

So it was a moment of everything sinking in to the brunette's mind, the aggravation Alice had been subjected to and what she had endured. 

As the dialogue mulled over in her thoughts, Reimu hadn't realised she was clenching her jaw with pressure until she felt a hand rest against it. 

Alice's touch brought her back to reality and she glanced down to see vulnerable blue orbs looking at her. 

"I'm sorry" Reimu whispered after placing a kiss on the magician's forehead, "I'm just so..".

"Don't be, Reimu" Alice stopped, "Don't be angry at them. I should have handled it better".

"Or rather they shouldn't have said anything at all. But don't worry about it anymore, I'll deal with them". 

Alice shook her head, "It's okay, I don't want you to get involved". 

"Well, that idea has sailed since we're pretty heavily involved" the priestess teased, relieved to finally get a small smile on Alice's lips. 

"We are. That is what is most important to me, Reimu. I think out of everything they said, it was the things about you which stung".

Marisa's scowling face cropped into Reimu's mind as she held Alice closer, "She's an idiot. Marisa isn't exactly known to think before she acts". 

"Neither do I with the way I behaved. I can't believe I let her get to me like that but she just kept digging and I had already heard enough from Patchouli & Yuuka and-".

The priestess gently lifted Alice's face up when she moved it away due to feeling shame at not being able to keep her emotions in check. 

Reimu wanted to make sure Alice knew that the way she reacted was natural, and quite withheld, considering the two magicians in particular deserved more than a scolding and a single attack. 

To have both question Alice's abilities was cruel. 

Nobody deserved such a thing let alone someone like the doll maker. 

"You aren't in the wrong, Alice" Reimu murmured before placing her lips over the blonde's, "You did nothing wrong". 

Alice moaned at the sensations caused by her lover's kiss and the relief she felt washing inside of her. 

With Reimu, Alice's weaknesses and fears poured out involuntarily because she knew there would be no judgment or games with the priestess. 

Even if they were not together, right and wrong was clear for Reimu to a certain extent. 

Which is why Alice allowed herself to let the reassurances settle in her plagued mind. 

Each one uttered by her lover between a myriad of delicate kisses and serenading touches. 

"You are so much more than what people think". 

They became entangled in each other as Reimu maneuvered their position till she could lay Alice down. 

"Everything you do, everything you work on shows in the end results". 

Alice inhaled when their lips parted, her misty eyes hovering all over Reimu who had one hand near the blonde hair and the other clasped with Alice's hand. 

"You are so beautiful and strong and kind". 

Reimu kissed the magician's wrist when she brought it up as her heart continued to pulse out everything her lover needed to hear.

"I love you. Always have. The second I saw you the day we first fought, something kept tugging me towards you. Something that never went away even after we parted ways".

Bringing her other shaky hand up, Alice placed it on Reimu's cheek as the memories of their past escaped the priestess’s lips. 

"It was there when we met again during the Perfect Cherry Blossom incident. I just needed to remember. Remember why seeing you felt so familiar, like I was falling in love all over again". 

Another feather light kiss found its way to the warm palm Reimu felt on her face whilst she smiled. 

"Which is why it doesn't matter what anybody else says or what opinions they have of you". 

Opinions that were often wrong and exaggerated, something Reimu despised but she didn't let it show on her features, not when Alice was right there under her and looking as gracefully ethereal as ever. 

"Because I will always be by your side". 

She enunciated that sentence with a deeper kiss till she could feel Alice exhaling into her mouth, a way of Reimu saying she'd always help her breath throughout whatever. 

"A side where they wish they could be".

Releasing the magician's hand and resting her arms near Alice's face, Reimu blinked slowly whilst filling her fingers with her hair when she explained what she meant. 

"I see it in their eyes when they look at you, Alice. They think I don't notice how much regret fills their faces. Patchouli. Sakuya. Yuuka. Marisa".

"Reimu.." Alice sighed and placed her hands on Reimu's back. 

"Regret that they let you get away, for whatever reason. I'm glad because they'll never get the chance to take my place". 

Alice felt swayed by the gentle possessiveness of her lover as she relished in hearing it. She had no intention of surrendering Reimu to anyone either. 

Whether the reason for the outbursts today were truly due to the aforementioned women's regret and missing their chance with her, then Alice was content in letting it remain that way. 

She'd been dragged through the dirt by each to finally reach the arms that would never harm her. 

The arms surrounding her right now. 

The body which kept her warm hovering above. 

The lips that gave her comfort caressing against her skin. 

The eyes which soothed her like nothing else could. 

Everything she was experiencing now made Alice's journey worth it. 

Worth being able to utter three, powerful words to the woman who deserved to hear them the most. 

"I love you, Reimu".

 

***

 

A month after the encounters, things had more or less returned to the norm. 

The underlying tension between all those involved would always be there but for the sake of living peaceful, a mutual lull was in place. 

Words tended to be easy to strum out but incredibly difficult to take back. 

So as a party went on underway at the Hakurei Shrine, 4 women reflected not only on the exchange which happened, but what would come of their relationship with Alice in the future. 

The lively get together didn't reach the ears or moods of certain individuals whilst they kept their gaze on Alice and Reimu. 

Sitting together and with Reimu's arms around her shoulders, Alice chuckled at something the brunette had whispered in her ear. Whatever was spoken was enough to elicit a light blush on her cheeks and increase the sparkle in her eyes. 

It provided much ammo for Yukari and company to tease the happy couple in humour as they all bantered with each other. 

The playfulness did nothing to inhibit the way Alice and Reimu felt about each other, as well as how they expressed it now. 

So to see them sharing a passionate kiss in a full room with cheers and hoots echoing around was a charming sight. 

For some

There were others who might as well have watched their hearts being pulled out and stripped away into nothingness. 

On the table next to theirs, Patchouli did her best to stay tuned into whatever Remilia and Kurumi were discussing. It was less painful than having to watch Alice cosy up to Reimu the way she was doing. With what little strength she contained, the cup of tea in Patchouli's hand threatened to flow onto the table as her insides gnawed in anguish. Alice was meant to be with her, she was meant to be reaching her potential by her side, not with some silly priestess. 

"Alice was meant to stay and prosper with me"

Sakuya's thoughts mirrored the magician's, though the maid had the ability and understanding to remain somewhat at peace. Somewhat, being the operative word as she made the mistake of looking away from talking with Eirin, towards Reimu who had leaned in to kiss the blonde again. She blinked away the scene, imagining that she was in Reimu's place and living freely with someone as captivating as Alice. It was only ever going to be a nightly dream for her. 

"Perhaps in another lifetime will we have a chance, Alice"

Yuuka was sat with Mima and a few others that had gathered around to hear the spirit's eccentric tales, but her mind and vision was on a scene she couldn't take her eyes away from. A smile, both sardonic and saddening braced the woman's lips whilst watching Alice become completely enamoured in the story Reimu was telling. Reimu was bestowed with every inch of Alice's attention and Yuuka wondered if the priestess knew how lucky she was. Because the things she did to gain the magician's attention, Reimu did not need to carry out even half. 

"The moment she leaves this world, I'll be there to take her place, Alice".

A boisterous chorus of laughter erupted from where Marisa was sat with Nitori and other kappa but the joyous sounds were not from the blonde. She was too focused on chugging back as much alcohol as possible with each glance of Reimu staring at Alice with such tenderness. Every word she'd struck Alice with was ripping back into her lungs, tainted with a sickening aftertaste. What she wouldn't give to have another moment to touch Alice the way Reimu was doing so, just as a keepsake. Something for her memories to hold onto while she masked the gaping hole in her heart where a special woman once resided.

"I messed up, Alice, I messed up so bad"

 

What was said had been done, there was no going back for them. 

Their agonising internal monologues would remain as just that to the oblivious couple in the centre of the room. 

The two women had no reason to dwell on the actions of others and the consequences they made for themselves. 

Not when Reimu and Alice had finally found something that could never be rivalled in terms of value. 

Because they'd found it within each other. 

After the arduous trials she had experienced to get to where she was now, Alice could breath with ease at having many things, and the Hakurei priestess, to call her own. 

At the end of the day, it was Alice who got to enjoy the last laugh.