Jefferson stepped out of the portal and dropped into the dirt. It was solid and dark and a bit startling as he tumbled out and walloped the ground. His hands followed after, and his fingers buried in tangled vines and warm damp earth. He could smell it in the air. It wasn’t the same earthy scent of the forest back home. Not of moss and wild nature. But the scent of trimmed grass and meticulously watered flowers.
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the desaturated color of Alice’s world, but he found himself surrounded by dark green plants. Crawling ivy made up the space behind him, where the portal stood like an open black area in the brick wall. There was a flat stretch of dirt before a row of hedges, and somehow his portal had opened right between them.
Laughter reached his ears from somewhere far off beyond the vines. There were voices far away, the sound of music, and clinking dishes. Light twinkled from the spaces between the leaves. He stood to his feet and looked up over the hedge at the enormously large brick home before him. Ivy crawled up the side in uniform patterns and lattices. The windows all flickered with yellow candlelight. The air was warm and thick with the scent of well-cooked food, wine, and just the slightest hint of apple blossoms from a nearby orchard.
He pushed through the hedges, slowly and cautiously, as he took in more and more of the large house. There was a wide open lawn beyond the hedges and a rose garden hidden behind tall bushes. The house had numerous balconies, and there appeared to be a party going on inside. People in gowns and expensive waistcoats walked in and out through tall glass doors. It reminded him of a royal ball. A piano was playing, people were laughing and dancing within. The tops of just blooming apple trees could be seen from beyond the brick wall that stretched around the house.
He was slow as he made it to the edge of the hedge and out onto the lawn, giving someone just enough time to spot the bushes shaking and reach for the closest croquet weapon. As soon as he stood on the lawn, it struck him on the shoulder. He hit the soft padded grass with a thud, landing face first on the ground. He spun back around just as Alice aimed to strike again.
She was standing above him in an icy blue gown with white silk gloves. She held the croquet mallet above her head, where her golden hair was twisted into perfect coils and ringlets. She dropped the mallet onto the manicured lawn and gasped.
“Jefferson?” she asked. Then she fell to his side and wrapped her gloved hands around his arm. “Did I hurt you?”
“No, I’m fine,” he assured her. So she smacked his shoulder.
“What are you doing here?” Her voice sounded equally frantic and hushed. He took a moment to catch his breath. Not just because she’d knocked the wind out of him with a croquet mallet, but because she was kneeling beside him looking divine and lovely in the twinkling lights from the house.
Her gown, he’d never seen anything like it. Only royals wore dresses like that back home, and he’d never been invited to any of their balls. The corset looked uncomfortably tight, and he could already see that she wore another set of frustratingly long buttons. The sleeves of her bodice reached her elbows in layers of ruffled lace. There was a brief section of skin on her arms before her hands disappeared into clean white silk gloves. The neckline of her gown plunged dangerously low. So that he could see where the diamonds on her neck rested between her breasts. The same gems shimmered in her earlobes like drops of ice. He swore he’d never seen anything so beautiful in all his life.
But her expression was panicked. Her dark eyes were wide and almost terrified. She gripped her glove fingers into Jefferson's arm as he stood and regained his balance. She didn’t let him go as he wiped the dirt and grass off of his clothes.
“I came to find you,” he explained as if that was obvious. Then he held out the blue cloak he’d carried with him from the Enchanted Forest.
“Are you mad?” she asked as she took him all in, standing on her lawn wearing clothes from another realm. His clothes were always dark, she noticed, and his hair always messy from the hat he used as a portal.
“So they say.” He gave her a lopsided grin, but she didn’t return it. She put her hands on her hips and huffed. He could see that she was breathing heavily. Her heart must have been pounding in her chest. She never reached for the cloak.
“You have to leave this instant,” she decided. She shoved him back toward the hedges, forcing him to trip over his own feet. “You’re lucky I saw that portal open. You’re lucky no one else was here to see you crawl out from the hedges. My mother would have had you arrested, you foolish man. Mad as a hatter. Now I know how you got the name.”
“Alice, wait,” he said as she continued to shove him in small bursts until the hedges were pressed against his back. “I wanted to speak to you.”
She had her hands on his chest now, and her fingers gripped into the front of his vest. He thought that meeting her somewhere other than Wonderland might have made the feelings less obvious. Her world clearly didn’t have as much magic as Wonderland, but all the same. He wanted her to run her hands over his chest as he reached behind her back and pulled apart each and every button. He would have taken her right there in the hedges if she would have had him.
“Speak with me?” she questioned as she finally stilled. He felt the vines press against his spine, but she’d stopped shoving him. Though she kept her hands firmly on his chest. “You didn’t come all this way just to return a silly old cloak?”
“Of course not. I came to see you.”
He couldn’t find an answer. He didn’t want to tell her that he was so taken by her that he couldn’t get her out of his mind. She was a woman of wealth and power. She was beautiful, and she must have already known she was. Men were probably always falling over themselves to catch her attention. A man traveling through a portal just to return a cloak probably wouldn’t seem very different than the ones who likely came calling on her regularly. They probably even brought her gifts like flowers and jewels.
So what could he possibly say that would set him apart from all the others? That he found her beautiful? That he wanted to touch her and taste her? He’d be no different then. Traveling through a portal wasn’t a difficult task. Actually, it was quite easy for him. He wasn’t any more special than any other man who must have been as besotted as he was.
“Mad as a hatter,” he reminded her instead.
“Alice?” someone called from the rose garden by the house. Alice immediately tensed and turned to look. “Alice, darling?” a woman was calling.
“You need to leave. Now,” she whispered as she pushed him back into the hedge. “You should never have come here.”
“I need to speak with you,” he reminded her, though he still hadn’t come up with a good enough reason why. Just that he needed to ensure that he would see her again. And not rely on fate to bring them together.
“Find me in Wonderland. Not my home.”
“That’s what I came here to speak to you about. It’s a—business proposition.”
“Then we’ll speak business where we do business, Jefferson. Leave before my mother has you arrested.”
The two of them struggled for just a moment too long. Jefferson resisted being shoved so forcefully into the hedges and Alice relentlessly attempted to be rid of him before being caught. But it was too late. A woman stepped out onto the grass where the rose garden let out. She immediately spotted them.
“Alice, what exactly is going on here?” she asked as she lifted her emerald green gown and marched across the lawn. Alice let go of her grip on Jefferson and stepped back. Her spine went straight. She lifted her chin. She no longer appeared like the free and wild thief from Wonderland, but an obedient and silent daughter.
The woman didn’t look much like Alice, but Alice’s reaction to her made Jefferson suspect she was her mother. Her hair was a dark black with strands of silver. She was lovely, but clearly fiercely stern.
“Who are you, young man? Why are you out in the garden with my daughter?” she demanded to know once she reached them. She spoke with a sense of power and superiority that was absent from Alice’s voice. But Jefferson had traveled to many realms, and he knew how to blend in.
“My name is Mr. Jefferson, madam. I was only hoping your daughter would join me for a game of croquet,” he replied with a bow.
The woman stopped short and glanced at her daughter. But Alice was gazing at the grass, her hands folded neatly at her front. The woman didn’t believe it for a second. She looked at the man with his strange clothes, and the blue cloak she knew had gone missing from her daughter’s wardrobe. Then she looked back at Alice, who had her hands on the man’s chest only moments before, as she apparently tried to shove him into a hedge.
But the woman masked her doubt and concern with the pleasant smile of a hostess. Though Jefferson got the feeling he was about to be torn apart by wolves.
“Of course, Mr. Jefferson,” she said. “I think it is a bit late in the evening for a game of croquet, don’t you think? I do believe you’ll find better company inside. Won’t you come in and join the party? My dear Alice has plenty of space left on her dance card. Perhaps she would like for you to fill out your name.” Alice shot her mother a pleading glance, but if the woman saw it, she didn’t let on. Jefferson opened his mouth to reply, but the woman was determined to call him out. Publicly. And so she reached out and placed her daughter’s hand in the crook of her elbow. “Come along, Mr. Jefferson,” she said. “I’ll introduce you to my husband.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied as he stuck out a long leg and hurried after them. The woman bent her neck and turned toward her daughter as she led them back toward the entrance to the rose garden.
“You’re lucky I was the one who found you, Alice,” she whispered in a low and cold voice. Jefferson heard but said nothing as he watched them. They seemed to be complete opposites. One dark and cold, and the other light and warm. “Your reputation is already hanging by a thread. Don’t make another stupid mistake.”
“Yes, Mother,” Alice replied obediently.
That was the moment Jefferson began to understand her and all her strangeness. Alice told him that she didn’t steal for food, but that she had her reasons. It was clear that her reason was freedom. So he followed the two women into the rose garden and made a silent promise to himself that he would do whatever he could to help her achieve that freedom, if nothing else.
So I have a lot of headcanons about how the portals work based on what I've seen and what I needed answers for in this story. I'll try to explain them as best I can in the story. But I will make a note of it if I think it's important.
There just has to be so much more magic involved in how portals work than what we see with our eyes in the show (reminder that I've never watched the Wonderland spinoff). In this case, I think portals have other protections. Otherwise, Jefferson wouldn't have just left his open portal chilling in the middle of the road in Wonderland where anything could pass through and trap him there. So I think there are only a select few people who can actually SEE a portal left open. So Alice (a fellow jumper) easily spotted the portal, but her mother (not a jumper) had no idea it was there.