Title: Choices (3/?)
Pairing: Alice/Mirana (White Queen)
Rating: PG-13, for now
Disclaimer: If you recognize them, chances are they aren't mine.
Summary: It's the choices we make that make us who we are.
Alice didn't quite manage to relax again until she'd been set on solid ground. A flying boy was hardly the strangest thing she'd ever seen, but wherever she was now, it wasn't Underland, which meant there needed to be some kind of explanation. And she rather wanted to know what it was.
"Who are you?" she demanded once her feet were safely on one of the many dirt paths that led through the jungle, the massive foliage shielding them from view. She let her borrowed sword fall to the ground, reasonably certain that the boy hadn't saved her just to kill her himself. "Who were those pirates? What did they want with me? How did you-?"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" he interrupted, laughing. She was a bit too tense to appreciate any humor that might be in the situation. "One question at a time! My name's Peter. Peter Pan. Welcome to Neverland!"
"Neverland," she repeated slowly, unable to completely hide her disappointment. Not that she hadn't already known she wasn't in Underland, but really, if she was going to be dragged into another world, why couldn't it have been that one? "All right. But... the pirates?"
This prompted a rather lengthy explanation of what Neverland was... which somehow managed to clear up absolutely nothing. That the inhabitants seemed to cease aging upon arrival was interesting, that most of them seemed to be boys was curious, that the 'Lost Boys' often came into conflict with the pirates - though they had a more hard to define relationship with a tribe of natives (who, it seemed, weren't technically native to Neverland at all) - was potentially helpful, that the 'Lost Boys' got to Neverland because fairies took them was borderline alarming, that the fairies lived in a place called Pixie Hollow was odd... and none of it actually answered her question.
She knew what the fairies looked like now, because a number of them had descended to investigate the island's newest arrival. "This is all very interesting," she began, striving for patience. Fortunately, Peter seemed to realize he'd wandered a bit off track.
"As for the pirates, nobody really knows how they came to be here," he said with a negligent shrug. "They mainly seem concerned with finding treasure and trying to kill us. After Hook died, I used his boat to take everyone back to London. I didn't have any use for it after that, so I just... left it in the cove. I didn't even notice when they reclaimed it until it was gone. But now I can have fun fighting them again!"
Her heart leapt. "You could take me to London?" Her thoughts were essentially: Step 1 - go to London, Step 2 - find rabbit hole, Step 3 - go to Mirana. Still, though, she knew she couldn't just go until she found out why the pirates had come after her, and who had sent them. She didn't want to bring unnecessary trouble down on the heads of the people of Underland, after all. Besides, when she got to Marmoreal, she didn't want to have to deal with any distractions; she wanted to focus all of her attention on Mirana. She paused as she fully processed what he'd just said. "He died? And it didn't seem at all strange to you that he's back, now?" Honestly, what was wrong with this boy? His mortal enemy was back from the dead and he didn't care?
Peter shrugged again. "What's strange?" he asked, and she had to admit, that was a fair point. Living in a place such as this Neverland, or Underland, or any such place, one's definition of 'strange' would naturally have to be adjusted. Still, even so...
"It does seem to be... cheating, though," she said, hoping that if she appealed to his love of games, she might be able to get through to him. "And why kidnap me? I'd never even heard of him, or Neverland, before now."
He frowned, and she mentally cheered. "That's true. Bad form, Hook!" Without warning, he took to the air.
It was Alice's turn to frown, as she was sure this was not going to lead to anything helpful. "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to find out what he's up to!" Peter declared, assuming a curious posture with his hands on his hips, legs spread wide, and head thrown back as he... crowed? "Come on, Tink!" One of the fairies zoomed up to meet him, presumably the 'Tink' in question.
"What about me?" she yelled up at him as he zipped away.
"No time to teach you to fly right now!" he called back. "We'll do that when I get back!" Then he was gone.
"I meant, what am I supposed to do, now?" she muttered to herself - and, she supposed, to the fairies that were still buzzing about her. She wasn't feeling terribly disposed to just stand around idle while a boy who refused to grow up went to go investigate on her behalf, particularly since she had yet to see him display any understanding of the word 'subtlety'. And...
Teach me to fly?
She hadn't thought that was something one could learn. One of the fairies settled on her shoulder, and she turned to look at it. "What did he mean by that?"
The fairy giggled - or she seemed to, anyway; if they could speak, it was so high pitched that Alice couldn't hear it - and launched from her shoulder, circling her and shaking off a tremendous amount of golden dust. Alice, for her part, simply stared in confusion. She had no idea if this was supposed to be an answer, or if the fairy was just feeling mischievous. Once she was evidently satisfied with the amount of dust she'd released, she stopped and hovered in front of Alice's face. She was an adorable little thing, Alice decided once she finally got a good look at her, with hair a curious bright purple cut into a bob just below her ears. She put on a wide, happy smile, pointed at it, then pointed at Alice.
Well, she was trying to help, Alice had to admit that. So... what? She needed to smile? Or was it simpler then that? Really, it probably had to be. She knew all too well from first hand experience how smiles could be used to cover one's true feelings. Of course, she'd also seen smiles that seemed to reach down into the core of a person, showing how truly joyful they felt. She could still remember that smile that Mirana had favored her with on their first meeting, when she was believed that Alice was to be her champion. Her eyes so wide and hopeful...
Something bumped into her head, and she looked up to see that she'd floated right up into a tree branch. Wait... floated? Her eyes widened in surprise, and she abruptly dropped back to the ground, landing in a heap.
This sent the fairies into fits of giggles, and she huffed quietly as she climbed back to her feet, trying not to notice how dirty and torn her clothing had gotten over the past few hours. Well, at least she was providing her new friends with some amusement. The purple-haired one who'd dusted her dropped down in front of her face again, and repeated her smiling gesture. "Right, happy thoughts. I get it," Alice said. At least she wouldn't have trouble with that, now that she knew what was needed.
Truthfully, she usually had more problems in avoiding thinking about Mirana.
She'd never really had the opportunity to indulge herself in thinking about the White Queen - and her other friends from Underland, for that matter - without restriction, before. Now, though... Well, she was airborne practically before she knew it. The fairies buzzed about her excitedly, and she had to smile at their enthusiasm. It took a bit of trial and error to work out the mechanics of actual flight, but they were all too happy to help her however they could, treating the whole thing as some grand game.
She couldn't help but laugh as they flitted through the air, some of them playing what looked like a game of tag, occasionally using her as a shield. (She guessed she was a bit too big to be eligible to play, and for a moment, part of her longed for a sip of pishalver.) She had no intention of staying herself, but she was beginning to understand why Neverland might be so appealing to children. She quickly lost track of time, flying through the air and dodging branches, so she was rather surprised when one of her turns showed her Peter coming back into view.
He seemed equally surprised, albeit for a different reason. "Flying already? You're a fast learner!" He beamed at her, no doubt thinking of all the games they would now be able to play.
He might not have been, of course, but she didn't feel like taking chances. As she spun lazily in the air - not quite able to get rid of her smile, because, really, she was flying - she asked, "And what did you learn?"
He settled onto a tree branch. "I listened to them for a while, but not a single one of them said anything about how or why Hook came back. I wanted to go make them tell me, but Tink wouldn't let me." Well, at least the fairy had some sense... and there was something she never thought she'd hear herself thinking. "They did mention you, though. Evidently some mistress of something or other sent them after you, because someone named Ill-something..."
"Ilosovic Stayne?" Alice's heart sank, and the rest of her quickly began to follow. Realizing what was happening, she turned her thoughts back to Mirana as best she could, making a curious swimming motion as she lunged forward to grab onto a branch of a tree near Peter's, deciding he had the right idea for this conversation. She let out a quiet sigh of relief when she was centered on it.
Peter hadn't seemed to have noticed any difficulties on her part. "That was it!" he exclaimed with a snap of his fingers. "Because he told her that you'd likely get in the way of whatever she had planned." He laughed. "She certainly won't be happy with them for letting you get away."
She didn't understand. How could Ilosovic Stayne be involved in what was going on? He had no magical powers whatsoever. "Did they... mention anything about a Red Queen, or anyone named Iracebeth?"
His face screwed up in confusion, and she felt a knot inside of her begin to relax. "Anyone named what?"
She assumed that meant 'no'. While she was glad to know that the Red Queen wasn't after her again - given everything that had happened to her because of Alice, Iracebeth would no doubt have been out for blood - Alice was left completely in the dark as to who was. "And just what does whoever it is have planned?" she wondered aloud.
"All they said about that was that they had to be at the Black Castle at sunset." He shook his head in disgust. "I forgot how boring pirates can be when you aren't fighting them."
She vaguely recalled him mentioning a Black Castle when he'd been explaining about the time - or a time, anyway - that Hook had captured Tiger Lily. "Then I shall have to pursue them," she decided. There was really nothing else for it.
"Take on an entire pirate crew by yourself? Are you mad?" he asked, though he seemed more intrigued then alarmed by the idea.
She allowed herself an impish grin. "All the best people are, you know."
He laughed, taking to the air again and pirouetting. "You didn't seem to be doing terribly well before," he reminded her.
She nodded, conceding the point. "True. But I don't intend to fight them. I intend to follow them and learn who it is who sent them. After all, if whoever it was sent people after me once, she may well do so again."
"Then I'll have to teach you how to fight!" Peter declared, abruptly zipping off into the jungle. Before she could ask any of the fairies if she was supposed to follow him or not, he was back, the sword she'd dropped when they'd first touched down on the Neversoil in his hand. He handed it to her, then drew his own. "After that, you can tell us a story!"
She looked up at the sky, trying to figure out how long they had until sunset. The jungle canopy made it hard to get a good look at the sky, but since she had fragmented memories of more then one moon - indeed, possibly more then one sun - that was useless. His enthusiasm about the prospect of a good story drove home his relative physical and emotional youth yet again, but she was willing to accept that, in however long he'd been in Neverland - he hadn't been able to tell her during his explanation, honestly seeming to have no idea - he'd picked up enough about sword fighting to at least give her a few tips. She wouldn't have an enchanted blade to help her this time, after all.
And she had just the story to tell him, too.
"We'd best start now, then," she decided. "The one I have in mind may take some time to tell properly."
"All right, then." Scarcely had he finished speaking before he lunged forward, bringing his sword down in an arc that she just managed to intercept with her own. He smiled and, somewhat belatedly, added, "En garde."
She felt her own lips twitch into an answering smile. "Thank you for the warning."
Several hours later, Alice sat slumped at the base of a tree, tired and sweaty. Her purple-haired fairy friend had helpfully fetched her half a coconut shell filled with water, and she had downed half of it in one gulp. She slowly sipped the rest, trying to ignore the burning in her arms. She would have loved to take a bath, but didn't know how much time she had left before sunset, and she did still have to uphold her part of the bargain.
'Slow' and 'patient' didn't exactly seem to be words that Peter was overly familiar with, so she supposed that demonstrating different moves, deflections, and attacks must have been difficult for him in the extreme. He'd even taken time to teach her some aerial combat, though since pixie dust evidently wore off, she wasn't sure how much good that would do her once she left Neverland. Still, one never knew, and he'd been able to make it into a game enough to keep from getting bored.
It really was amazing what a person could get used to. After a while, it had seemed perfectly natural to hover in the air, talking or practicing. That was one aspect of Neverland that she knew she would definitely miss.
Still, she had made a promise, and Peter was waiting patiently, sitting near another tree, watching her closely. The fairies had likewise settled down on any available surface - several were on her, in fact, with the purple-haired one having assumed her favorite position on Alice's shoulder - and were waiting. Finishing her water, she set the empty shell down, only mildly surprised when it was abruptly whisked away. "Once, many years ago, there was a young girl named Alice," she began, pausing when her helper buzzed in front of her face, pointing at her. She smiled. "Yes, me."
"Petunia!" Peter chastised, finally giving the fairy a name. Petunia drooped, but Alice waved it off. "It's all right," she assured them.
Once a happier Petunia had returned to her shoulder, Alice continued. "Well, one day young Alice saw the most peculiar thing she'd ever seen in her young life: a rabbit wearing a waistcoat, looking at a pocket watch! Well, Alice didn't have any idea what to make of that, so she followed it, until she fell down a rabbit hole!" She smiled at the reaction that prompted, then continued. "Well, this was no ordinary rabbit hole, you understand. It kept going down, and down..." She made an effort to try and describe the utter strangeness of that journey, but ultimately gave up. Instead, she moved on to the room with the locked doors, the pishalver, and the upelkuchen. Her audience seemed fascinated by the idea of a potion that could make you shrink and a cake that could make you grow, but she had a lot of ground to cover, so she moved right along to cover everything else that had happened during that first visit that she could remember.
Truthfully, that wasn't all that much, so she quickly moved on before anyone could get upset. "Now, many years passed, and Alice allowed herself to become convinced that her Wonderland was just a dream," she continued. She had been calling it Underland whenever she used the name during her story, but Peter, as she had the first time, heard it as Wonderland. And, she had agreed, it certainly was that. "After her father had died, it was just too hard for her to hold on to her innocence. She forgot much of what had happened, and even forgot who she really was. But on the day when she was nearly forced into agreeing to marry a dull and boring man, why, what should she see but a rabbit in a waistcoat?" A flutter of excitement passed through the fairies. "Yes, the same white rabbit had come to lead her back to Wonderland. But this time, they had a more urgent need of her presence. For you see, just as Alice had changed, so too had Wonderland.
"A darkness had settled over the land, after the Red Queen had taken power. She was a horrid woman, prone to having people beheaded over the slightest offenses. Even the Red King wasn't spared. The people wanted to rebel against her, but the Red Queen commanded the fierce Jabberwocky, a massive dragon-creature that could breathe purple lightning. She also commanded other creatures, such as the Jubjub Bird and the Bandersnatch, but it was the Jabberwocky that kept her in power. But it had been foretold that Alice would slay the Jabberwocky, and on the Frabjous Day and restore the White Queen to power. Now, naturally, this utterly horrified Alice, who had never slain anything in her life. Before she could convince them that they'd gotten the wrong Alice, they were ambushed by the Bandersnatch and a group of playing-card soldiers led by the Knave of Hearts. Alice, don't forget, had been shrunk by the pishalver, and so was in no state to fight. She managed to escape and flee into the woods." Admittedly, she was skipping a few things, but they'd be there all day if she went into every detail.
She did tell them about encountering Chessur, the Cheshire Cat. As she'd expected, they were utterly enthralled by the very idea of him. She probably could have made the rest of the story about him, and they wouldn't have objected. But she didn't know enough about him, so she just stuck with her recitation of the events of her second trip to Underland.
She went on to describe meeting the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, who, along with the Dormouse - and yes, Alice told them, she did still have the Bandersnatch's eye - were having a tea party while waiting for her. "The Hatter, you see, had promised to kill time until her return, and Time had gotten fed up with the whole thing and stopped altogether. But now that Alice was back, it resumed, delighting the March Hare that his watch was ticking again." She could just hear the tinkling of fairy laughter. She explained how they were found by the Knave again, and how a now even smaller Alice again evaded capture.
"But Alice knew enough about the Red Queen by then to guess what would happen to the Hatter and the others, so instead of heading to the White Queen, she made the bloodhound, Bayard, take her to the Red Queen's palace. For Alice had grown tired of being grown, shrunk, ordered around, being told she was the right Alice, being told she wasn't, and pursued. She decided to take control of her own destiny and rescue her friends."
She wasn't sure how much she should edit what she'd encountered at Salazen Grum. She was, after all, talking to a young boy and a group of fairies. On the other hand, none of them seemed very squeamish. And hadn't Peter cut off Hook's hand and fed it to a crocodile? Mentally shrugging, she told them about the moat full of floating heads that she'd had to cross in order to reach the palace, eliciting a mostly silent disgusted reaction, but no horror. Encouraged that she likely wouldn't be causing any nightmares, she pressed on.
She told them about meeting the Red Queen, and the Hatter's clever plan to buy more time. She skipped over the Knave's poor attempts as seducing her as much as she could get away with, both out of disgust and knowing that her audience wasn't much interested in that kind of story. "And once Alice had given the Hatter his hat back - because what is a Hatter without a hat? - she headed to the den of the Bandersnatch. Having gotten the eye from the Dormouse, she gave it back to the Bandersnatch, befriending it. Goodness knows it had likely not received much kindness or compassion from the Red Queen or her followers. In return, it gave her the key to the chest in which the Vorpal Sword was locked."
She smiled. "Now, the Vorpal is a special sword, and was the only blade capable of slaying the Jabberwocky. Alice then attempted to free the Hatter, but the Knave and a group of the playing-card soldiers interrupted, and Alice's true identity was revealed. Alice was forced to flee, the Hatter doing his best to distract St- the Knave and the soldiers, but to no avail. Alice was cornered in the courtyard, but just when all seemed lost, in to rescue her charged her new friend, the Bandersnatch." Her audience cheered. "So, as much as she hated to leave her friends behind, Alice knew she had no other choice but to get the Vorpal Sword to the White Queen."
She absently reached back to grab hold of a root that was sticking up near her to keep from floating up into the air. Evidently, the pixie dust hadn't quite worn off, yet.
"The White Queen was easily the most beautiful woman Alice had ever seen, with flowing white hair and warm brown eyes. When she had ruled, Wonderland had been a place of peace and beauty, and now that she'd met her, Alice knew why. The Queen was naturally very happy to see Alice, believing her champion had at long last arrived. She was kind enough to brew up some pishalver, restoring Alice to her proper height." And they did NOT need to know what ingredients Mirana had used, that she was certain of. "Alice still didn't want to slay anything, not believing herself capable, but it was harder for her to resist the White Queen."
Well, that would be one way of putting it, her mind whispered, amused, and she just managed not to smile.
"After another talk with Absolem - during which she became convinced that no, this was not just some fantastical dream-" Her audience reacted with amusement. "-Alice knew that she couldn't let her friends charge into battle without her. She wasn't convinced that she would win - she decided to act not because of any prophecy, but because of her own choices - but she knew she had to try. The White Queen - indeed, all of Underland - was counting on her, and if it was within her power, she would not let them down.
"The Queen had been preparing to go into battle without her, as, despite her belief in the prophecy, she would never force Alice to go to battle against her will. Still, the look of happiness and relief on the White Queen's face when Alice rode out of the castle on the Bandersnatch, fully armored and clutching the Vorpal Sword, made Alice certain that she'd come to the right decision. And so, off they rode to battle."
Her recitation of the battle itself was a bit hesitant. Not out of any fear of mentally scarring her audience, but because she'd been so focused on her fight with the Jabberwocky that all she was left with was a chaotic jumble of images. Still, she must not have done too badly, as Peter and every fairy there were leaning forward, hanging on her every word, and a cheer rose up when she told them how she'd finally dispatched the Jabberwocky.
From there, things wound down a bit: she told them of what had happened after the battle, how she'd gone home to straighten things out and take control of her own life, now that she had her muchness back. She even mentioned seeing Absolem again, and could have sworn she saw a fairy or three getting teary-eyed after learning that he was all right. Given that the story wasn't technically over - and might never be - she wasn't sure how to end things. "I can't say 'the end', because I have yet to finish writing my story," she said with a smile. "But then, none of us ever really do." She stole a look at the sky. She still couldn't quite see it, but it certainly did seem to be getting darker out. "And now, I believe, I must be off." She got to her feet, dislodging a number of fairies in the process. "I have reason to believe that my Queen needs me again, and I would hate to disappoint her."
Peter led the fairies in a round of applause. "A grand story, indeed!" he exclaimed. "And I would never keep a Champion from her duty. Come with me, I'll show you the way to the Black Castle." He took to the air, and, not missing a beat, she followed him. Together, they skimmed just above the trees, heading straight across the island. Since the pirates would be forced to stick to the winding ground paths, Alice hoped this would let them catch up.
"Why sunset?" she called. That seemed like a dangerous time to be moving through the jungle to her, especially since pretty much every other resident of the island seemed to actively dislike the pirates.
"They didn't say," Peter replied, and somehow, she wasn't surprised.
Annoyed, yes. But not surprised.
The Black Castle turned out to be an old abandoned castle, with stone dragons all over it. Hook was just now heading inside - alone, Alice noticed with interest - so she and Peter set down nearby. "You might want to keep a closer watch on the pirates, now that you know they're back and up to something," she suggested, partly because she didn't want him or any of the others to be caught by surprise again, and partly in case he might have been thinking about accompanying her. She could instinctively sense that this was not going to be fun, and felt that a warzone was no place for a child, no matter how skilled in swordsmanship he might be.
"Hopefully, they won't be too boring while Hook's away," he commented, and she felt relieved that he wasn't going to start arguing. As if to compensate for that, Petunia - whom Alice had almost forgotten was still sitting on her shoulder - zipped forward and began gesturing wildly. Peter nodded as if listening, then looked at Alice. "Petunia wants to go with you."
"You can understand her?" She was surprised, not having even heard anything beyond an almost-subliminal buzzing.
"Of course!" he said, as if that should have been obvious. Given that he had lived with fairies for even he didn't know how long... Maybe he had a point.
She looked at Petunia. "This is probably going to be extremely dangerous," she told her. Petunia assumed a fighting stance, miming a few jabs at the air. "If you come with me, I don't know if you'll ever be able to return here." Petunia waved this off with an utter lack of concern. Maybe because fairies were able to cross worlds to bring children to Neverland from the so-called 'real world'?
She had no idea, and no time to try and figure it out. Even as they stood there, the sun crept ever lower to the horizon. "Very well, but stay with me!" Petunia let out a silent cheer and quickly settled back onto her shoulder. Bidding Peter farewell, Alice crept as quietly as she could into the castle.
It was obvious that no one had lived there in a very long time, as it seemed more like a ruin then an actual castle. She had to be careful not to jar a door that looked like it might fall down at the slightest touch, and had to hurry to catch up with Hook. She caught sight of him just as he stepped through another, much more intact and functional door, shutting it behind him. She moved over to it, being careful not to step on or disturb any debris on the floor, and pressed her ear against the door.
Nothing. Not a single sound. Not even footsteps.
She hesitated there for several long moments, uncertain what to do. Was Hook on the other side, waiting to spring a trap on her? Had he heard her coming? Well, you're never going to find out by just sitting here, she told herself. Clutching her sword firmly in one hand, she took hold of the door handle with the other, and, after a pause, yanked the door open as quickly as she could.
Absolutely nothing was there.
She was simultaneously relieved, disappointed, and confused. It didn't seem to lead to a room at all, so much as a... closet. Confusion growing, she stepped inside, taking a better look. She could see no signs of hidden doors or secret passages. Hook was just... gone. Just as she was getting ready to step back outside and look for alternate routes to whatever was on the other side of the far wall, the door drifted shut.
She was immediately assailed by a pulsing green light, and nausea twisted her stomach until she doubled over. After longer then she appreciated, it stopped. "Are you all right?" she whispered to Petunia even as she recovered herself. The fairy fluttered in front of her, looking disheveled, and nodded. The soft golden glow she produced as she hovered let Alice get a good look at their surroundings, and once she'd stopped seeing spots, she found that the door seemed to have shifted several inches to her left.
Curious, she decided. She tentatively opened the door, surprised when light spilled inside. She looked through the door, and took a step back in surprise.
Rather then the ruins of the Black Castle, wherever she was now was whole and complete. The walls were gray rather then black, and didn't quite seem to be stone. She chanced poking her head out and taking a look around, and found that there was no sign of Hook. She did see potted plants here and there, though, as well as designs carved into the walls that she didn't recognize. She cautiously moved down the hallway, Petunia settling onto her shoulder again, but there didn't seem to be anyone else around. That didn't necessarily mean anything, though, so Alice kept her eyes open. She paused when she came upon an open door. The room was as empty as everywhere else, but what drew her attention most was the balcony. Silently praying this wouldn't turn out to be a bad idea, she walked quickly through the room and out onto it, curious as to their new surroundings.
The first thing she noticed was the sky, which was completely obscured by energized clouds that pulsed with an unearthly green light. She was immediately reminded of her maybe-dream, but this seemed different. She wondered if maybe this wasn't the source of whatever was wrong in Underland. Either way, it seemed like a good place to find some answers. She looked around, but all she could clearly make out were buildings. It seemed they were in a city of some sort, though the clouds overhead were giving the city a green appearance.
Wait... She frowned, taking a closer look at the buildings. No, she wasn't imagining it. It wasn't because of the storm overhead, the buildings really were green. They almost seemed to sparkle in the dim light.
"Petunia," she commented softly, "I have a feeling we're not in Neverland, anymore."