Continuing Tales

I Love My Love

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by justadram

Part 17 of 22

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I Love My Love

Later that evening

That evening, Tarrant was rather pleased with himself when he did not dissolve into madness: not even once. Not at dinner, not during a most amusing game of Squeak, Piggy, Squeak!, and not when Alice asked him to join her on the balcony.[1] He was perfectly in control; a state of being made possible by his increasing assurance that Alice would not leave, Alice loved him, and Alice understood. All of these things seemed impossible, but luckily enough both he and Alice were in the practice of believing in impossible things. The shadows receded in his mind and he felt largely at peace.

Sitting on the stone floor of the balcony with Hatter's lanky legs sticking out before him and Alice's tucked beneath her skirts, Alice rested her head against his shoulder. Alice touching, he thought, contentedly sighing. He leaned his cheek against the crown of her head. Her blonde curls felt silky against his skin.

"I told my mother that I was leaving England for a New World."

Alice wanted to tell him how she had come to leave Otherland forever. How she had left her family.

"What did she say?" he lisped.

Alice took a moment to respond. He wished he could see her face: he hoped she was not leaking again.

"She knew I wasn't happy in London. The parting was difficult, but she accepted it, because I told her I would be happy here."

She interlaced her hand in his and his heart soared as high as the twinkling stars. Happy here, happy in Underland.

"With you," she added tenderly.

His heart stopped. He was certain: it absolutely stopped, just like Time had for him so long ago.

"You…told your mother…about me?" he asked, in sheer utter disbelief. Alice spoke of him? To her family? As if she was not ashamed?

"Yes, I said I had met a gentleman and we would take care of each other." Her head rose from his shoulder and she twisted somewhat so as to look him in the eye. "Won't we?"

"Aye, luve," he said, kissing her forehead. He had not known that his heart could feel as if it was breaking with happiness, but the ache of Alice leaving her family to be with him was making his chest feel painfully tight. He had lost his family, but Alice had given hers up: for him. "Ah will tak' care o' ye for ayeways if ye will let me."

Alice's smile was warm and just for him. He would have to store it in his Alice box—marked 'A' in his mind—along with Alice kisses and Alice touches. Of all the storage boxes in his mind, 'A' had become his favorite by far.

"I'd like that," Alice said, snuggling back down into his shoulder.

She yawned softly. Alice was tired, because he had dashed from the castle like a madman in the middle of the night and she had given chase. That should come as no surprise, however: he was a madman. All the same, he would like to be better—for her.

"I'm mad, you know," he lisped softly. Just in case Alice had forgotten, he wanted to remind her. It would not do for Alice to agree to his taking care of her if she had forgotten such an important detail. She might end up doing all of the caring for, after all.

"I'll take care of the madness," she assured him. "And you take care of me."

"Are you sure I can?"

"Quite sure. You've been taking care of me ever since I came to Underland," she said, curling a hand in his lapel. "Stuffing me in teapots, throwing me in hats, giving yourself up to save me, stabbing jabberwockies for me, making me lovely dresses and hats, carrying me to Marmoreal…"

He could not help but feel a little bit proud at Alice's recounting of the good turns he had done her. His bowtie may have fluffed up a tad bit in response. Nothing brought him the kind of pleasure that helping Alice did. "Those things were all very Necessary," he said, shrugging off the praise, despite it feeling so good. Alice would not want him to become unpardonably pompous.

"And without many of them, I wouldn't be here."

"Dinna even think it, lass." A world without Alice was something he never wanted to think on again.

"I won't go anywhere," she assured him, as if she had read his Thoughts. "I arranged things with the company, so I could be assured that my mother would be cared for," Alice continued, rubbing her cheek into his coat. "You smell like tea," she mused.

He wordlessly beamed at her olfactory observation.

"I had to be sure that she would be all right before I left. I couldn't live with myself if I thought that she was…"

"Of course you did the Right Thing, Alice." Alice always did the Right Thing. She was Alice.

"There's nothing I can do for Margaret," she inhaled. "I wish I could, but she married Lowell and he is rotten."


"No. He…isn't faithful to my sister."

He felt Alice go slightly stiff against his side. Did Alice think all men were tail-toddle chasing hochmagandiers?[2] "Alice, I would never…" he began to explain.

She lifted her head and kissed him under the chin. "I know, Tarrant. I chose more wisely than my sister did."

His pulse raced at the very Thought. Alice chose him. Alice chose wisely. He chose her as well, but who would not take Alice for their queen if given the chance? "Lavender blue and Rosemary green, when I am king you shall be queen."[3]

"We have queens enough in Underland, I think."

He could feel the smile in her voice, right through the silk of his waistcoat and shirt.

Alice continued, "My sister and mother are practical females with a lot of practical ideas about how one should live, what one should wear, and whom one should marry. They only wanted what they thought was best for me. All the same, my mother married my fanciful father. So, she did not always make the practical decision." Alice ran her index finger over the rim of one of the large black buttons on his coat, and it caused him to shiver. "It hurts a little to talk about them—my family—for I miss them, but I want to tell you."

He ran a hand through her golden locks.

"I cannot begin to imagine how it hurts you, but I would like to hear about your family too, Tarrant."

Smoke and fire and screams: he could smell, see, and touch it, but he could not save them. He chose the Queen. He chose…

"Tarrant," she said softly, reaching up to press a hand to his cheek.

He swallowed, trying to regain his voice. "I do them a Disservice," he finally managed to choke out.

"You couldn't," she said, knitting her brow and stroking his cheek.

"I don't think of them…ever, because of the Pain, because of the madness."

"That's self-preservation, Hatter, and I don't want to cause you either pain or madness. You don't have to speak of them just because I asked," she assured him before slipping back to his shoulder.

Now that the Thought had entered his mind, however, Tarrant could not put aside the idea that by forcing his family to the back of his mind he had done them a Disservice. Never mind that Alice wanted to know: she wanted to know about his family, and no one had asked about them since Horunvendush Day, because everyone was too frightened of what he might do or did not care enough to ask. Alice cared.

He prepared himself by taking two slow breaths. "I was the third of six bairns born to my Mither and Faither, Thora and Breannan Hightopp. Two Sisters before me—Effie and Rhona—and a Sister and two Brithers after—Maisie, Callum, and Nevin."

He had spoken their Names. He waited for the madness to seize him, but while the voices were quietly calling to him, he was not immediately overwhelmed. Instead, he felt Alice's deft fingers working apart one of his clenched fists and interlacing his fingers with her own—soft and warm.

"Faither did not expect that I follow in the Hightopp trade. He would have rather I apprenticed with another clan, such as the Smithers, and link our clan with other Outlanders, but I had a mind for finer things: I had a mind to be a hatter. I learned to sew at my Mither's feet. She had an uncommon way with a needle and thread."

His mother, his dear mother, who had tucked him into bed, soothed his troubles, and baked the most heavenly bannock in the entire village.[4] Who had taught him how to thread a needle and given him his first thimble. Who had kissed him thrice when he had left for court, as if he might never come back. Who had worried over him every time he visited, wishing he had met a nice girl to take care of him in her stead.

His breath began to come quick and shallow, but Alice's other hand stroking the back of their joined hands called him back. He could do this.

"I left for the White Queen's court, as many a Hightopp had done before me, with my younger Sister and Brithers still at home not yet grown. Effie had married Faither's apprentice and Rhona my closest Fere, Finnean. [5] I had five nieces and neffaes.[6] Scores of aunties and uncles and brither-bairns and sister-bairns.[7] A plentiful enough family."

All stolen from him. All cut down. Even his younger siblings who had not yet reached the age of crossing the knowes or been given the chance to prove their worth.[8] Little Maisie knocked to the ground, wearing a hat he had gifted her. He did not even know what had become of Callum and Nevin—he never could find their bodies.

"Aw deid, lass," he said, his broken voice shifting into a thick brogue.

"We will be our own family," Alice whispered.

Instantly, the darkness that had crept around him at the Memory began to recede, replaced by a happier thought, the happiest of thoughts—he and Alice as a family. Sharing a hearth, sharing tea, sharing riddles, sharing rhymes, sharing all the things he had imagined to have been lost forever in the fire. A family: he had cobbled together something of a family for himself with Mallymkun and Thackery, but he felt certain that Alice meant more than that.

Alice might even mean a Little Alice. He squeezed his eyes shut at the thought, inundated by the vision as it washed over him. It had been more years than he could count since he had envisioned a future for himself where he might be a faither. Someone playing at their feet. Someone sitting on a stack of books during teatime. Someone rolling balls of yarn in the workroom. But no, he stopped himself before he completely ran away with the Idea over the hills and far away.[9] Alice might not want such a thing. She might mean something quite different by family, and whatever she did mean, he would be happy with it. He would be happy with Alice. He was happy with Alice.

He looked down, when he escaped his Reverie and recognized that Alice's breathing had become deep and even.

"Alice?" he softly inquired of the blonde head.

There was no answer. Alice had fallen asleep against his shoulder. He lowered her head carefully into his lap and watched the moon rise and listened to the evening birds chatter in the trees surrounding the palace. Looking down on Alice's fair form dreaming happy dreams—he hoped—he felt his heart swell.

At first he began to softly hum and then whisper a tune his Mither would oftentimes sing to his sisters as a lullaby when they were restless abed. He could not remember the title or half of the verses, having attempted to Forget everything that might bring back the Pain, but he repeated pieces of the verses that he remembered humming through the bits he could not recall, as he stroked her wavy hair.

"Hush, my bonnie bairnie;

Dinna greet sae sair…

If my wee lass will be quiet,

Or try to sleep a wee…

Tottie noo has fa'en asleep,

An' her ma' is gled;

Puir wee thing, she maun be tired,

That's her first in bed…"[10]

Perhaps they might spend every night together with her head pillowed in sleep next to him. But not like this. While he would not have minded keeping Alice in his lap all night so that he could watch her and pet her, it was a slurvish thought. Alice would be more comfortable in her own bed. So, for the second time in as many weeks, Tarrant carried Alice away to her bedchamber.

Hatter pushed Alice's bedchamber open with his shoulder and carried her towards her bed. He turned, so that her head and feet were properly aligned and carefully set her atop the sheets. Despite his care, Alice's eyes fluttered open as her head met the pillow. She mumbled something unintelligible.

"S'alright, love. Go back to sleep."

But Alice did not heed his words: she struggled up on her elbows before sitting upright and rubbing her eyes. Alice did not look as much like Adult Alice, when she was half awake like this, he thought, seeing something of the Alice he once knew and smiling at the Memory.

"Is it late?" she asked.

"Yes, lass. You'd fallen asleep. Morpheus was already on his way to deliver your dreams."

She smiled sleepily, smoothing her rumpled skirts. "Thank you for bringing me here. You could have woken me."

Hatter tensed. "Did I do wrong? You looked so peaceful, and seeing as I was the reason that you were so tired, I did not want to wake you. If I am completely honest, I must admit that I rather liked that you were asleep in my lap, but then, I don't think that I mentioned that to you. An omission I can correct: you were asleep…"

"Tarrant," she said, stretching out her hand to him.

"I'm fine. Thank you."

"You did nothing wrong," she assured him, squeezing his hand.

He exhaled. She was not upset. Her face, her words, her touch assured him of that.

"I should go," he said so quietly that he wondered whether she would hear him. Perhaps he said it that way, so that he might not have to go. He could not be sure: sometimes his Other self tricked him into such things. But, to stay here at night alone with her in her bedchamber was not proper. It might set tongues a wagging, and he would rather the court tongues stay silent and wag-less in regards to Alice. "The doorknob might tattle," he mumbled.

"I wish you didn't have to go," Alice said.

She meant it innocently, he was certain, but her statement caused unbidden Thoughts to rise to the surface. Thoughts that were miles from Innocence, but which would not be wholly Inappropriate if. If she was his—truly His Alice—he would not have to leave her, ever. He might stretch out beside her and not be concerned about doorknobs. It was a lovely Notion, he believed, and the bread-and-butterflies a wing in his stomach agreed with him. Yes, he was old and Alice was young, but Alice had chosen him. Alice had given up family to choose him. She had promised to be his family. If he did not ask, would he not be a fool? Would it not perhaps be ungenerous, unfeeling, unkind to accept her gift of staying and not offer something in return?

"That puts me in mind," he said, pulling off his hat, for while it was a Fine Hat, this was the sort of thing one did hat in hand not hat on head.

"In mind of what?" Alice encouraged him to continue, as his thoughts had briefly wandered to the consideration of proper hat placement.

"I've been investigating things that begin with the letter 'M' lately."

Alice pulled her legs underneath her skirt, kneeling in the sheets. "Yes?"

"Is that an answer?" Could it be that easy, he marveled?

"Were you asking a question, Tarrant?" she prodded.

A question in answer to a question, Curious Alice, he thought, as he began to list off 'M' words that had recently bounced around his mind: "Merriment, marvel, muse, mirth, miracle..."


"Marriage," he finished.

"Are you asking?" Alice inquired.

"Are you having?"

If more than a half second had passed, Tarrant may have begun to fear, but it did not.

A smile instantly bloomed on Alice's face as she heeded his question. "Yes."

"Yes?" he asked, taking a step closer to the bed.

Alice laughed, "Yes. Yes, Tarrant."

Yes, YesYES! Alice had answered, 'Yes.' "Damn the blethering doorknob!" Hatter shouted as he joined her on the bed, nearly knocking her over in his uncontained display of exuberant joy.[11]

And he kissed her, thoroughly.

[1] Squeak, Piggy, Squeak! was a Victorian parlor game where the players sat in a circle and the blindfolded person stood at the center and was spun around. The blindfolded person put a cushion on someone's lap and sat down on it, saying "Squeak, piggy, squeak!" The person squeaked and the blindfolded person attempted to identify them. If the person was correctly-identified, he or she became the blindfolded person.

[2] tail-toddle—sexual intercourse (Sc); hochmagandiers—fornicators (Sc)

[3] "Lavender Blue", also called "Lavender's Blue", is an English folk song and nursery rhyme dating to the seventeenth century. It emerged as a children's song in Songs for the Nursery in 1805 in the form:

"Lavender blue and Rosemary green,

When I am king you shall be queen;

Call up my maids at four o'clock,

Some to the wheel and some to the rock;

Some to make hay and some to shear corn,

And you and I will keep the bed warm."

[4] Bannock is a variety of flat quick bread. When a round bannock is cut into wedges, the wedges are often called scones. In Scotland, the words bannock and scone are often used interchangeably.

[5] fere — friend (Sc)

[6] neffae — nephew (Sc)

[7] brither-bairnsister-bairn — cousins (Sc)

[8] In Gaelic culture, girls who had reached puberty were said to 'cross (or come) into the knowes' when the women of the clan performed the ritual of 'kertching,' which involves the education of the girl into womanly ways and the facts of life. This was symbolized by the putting away of the girl's headband for the woman's kertch (a white kerchief). For boys, coming of age rituals often involved some kind of test, where the young man was able to prove his worth.

[9] "Over the Hills and Far Away" is a traditional English song, dating back to at least the early 1700s. The nursery rhyme "Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son" mentions a piper who knows only one tune, this one.

[10] "A Mither's Song" by Charles Nicol (born 1858) is typical of many that he wrote. Nicol has often been described as "The Poet of the Nursery."

[11] blether — gossip (Sc)

I Love My Love

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by justadram

Part 17 of 22

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