There was no doubt in Jefferson’s mind that Alice belonged in the Enchanted Forest. They walked along the road for a long time before they found an inn to stay in for the night. And once they’d checked in and safely hidden her belongings away, he took her hand and led her out onto the street to show her the town.
She smiled the whole way. Alice was curious, but she’d only ever explored her own constricting apple orchard and Wonderland. Now she had a new realm to play in, and he laughed along with her as she twirled and danced in the street until the sun went down.
When it got cold, he wrapped her blue cloak around her shoulders and took her hand again. He led her out of the town and back into the woods where fireflies came to life and flickered between trees. She stood in awe for a long time before turning back to him.
“What magic is this?” she asked. He smiled.
“Magic? It’s not magic. They’re fireflies."
“What’s a firefly?”
“They’re just bugs that create light with their bodies. It’s how they signal to their mates.” She spun back around to watch them flicker between trees.
“So it is magic.” He laughed again and shook his head.
“Not magic, Just Alice. Just fireflies.” She looked back at him, still grinning, shimmering in nothing but the light of fireflies and the moon.
“It looks like magic to me.”
“If you believe its magic, then it’s magic.”
“Now you’re just giving me what I want.”
“I told you that I always would.” She stepped away from him, and her brown boots cracked against twigs and stems. She’d never been in a forest like this. She’d grown up in a manicured apple orchard with perfectly mowed green lawns. And Wonderland, in all its strange wildness, was never as free as this.
“I can take you back,” he told her. “If you really wanted.” She turned to face him again.
“But you’d have to come back? The portal can’t stay open forever.” He shrugged.
“I would leave it open if that’s what you wanted.”
“No,” she said. “I don’t want that—that life.”
“I could take you back to say goodbye if you wanted. You could do it properly.” She sighed and looked at the dancing fireflies.
“Maybe in time,” she decided. “For now I am just happy to be here with you under all these magical bugs.” He smiled and rested his head on a nearby tree. She hummed a song and danced through the lightning bugs.
“Alice?” he said.
“Yes?” she called back to him.
“I know you only just got here, and you have so much left to see. You don’t know if you’ll be happy here, and you just barely escaped a forced betrothal. But would you—ever consider it?” She stopped spinning. Her white and blue dress swished around her legs as she halted.
“Consider what?” she questioned.
“Allowing me the honor of being your husband.”
“You want to marry me?” She cocked her head to the side as if she didn’t understand.
“I love you, Alice. Of course I want to marry you. I was only afraid of asking because I don’t want you to think you have to be trapped with me forever. You’ll be free here. Always. But I want to build a nest too. And I want to build it with you.”
“My mother said that men don’t know how to love. That once you give them your body they no longer have any need of you.” He shook his head, almost offended. She had given him her body, and he was filled to the brim with love.
“Your mother is wrong. I didn’t want your body. I mean—I do, but—it’s your heart I want. To be with you. Always. Even if you don’t wish to marry me.”
“So you want to build a nest,” she said, spinning again but moving closer.
“A big pretty nest,” he admitted.
“Do you want to put eggs in that nest?” He laughed at her silly analogy.
“Perhaps,” he said. “Someday.” She stopped spinning just out of his reach, and her eyes found his.
“You love me,” she stated. “Me me? Just Alice?”
“I owe Rumpelstiltskin a favor,” he told her. “In exchange for getting you here. That was the price I had to pay. And that can be—dangerous, Alice. I don’t know what he wants or when he’ll come to collect. Only that I was willing to do anything to set you free. We can wait. So that you can decide if you truly want to be with me or if you want to find your own place in this world. There is no obligation. Just know that I am yours if you will have me.” She smiled and stepped closer, but she looked down at his feet and shook her head. His heart was pounding, and despite what he’d said about just wanting her to be happy, he dreaded the idea of her saying no.
“You silly man, Just Jefferson,” she said as she put her hand on his chest and he gripped his fingers in her icy blue cloak, terrified and barely breathing. “I didn’t come here to be free. I didn’t come because you offered me a place to fly. I came for you. Only for you. This place is new and exciting, but it terrifies me. I wouldn’t have come here if it weren’t for you. The thought of being married to anyone other than you—I can’t bear it. I want to build a nest with you and perhaps—someday—we might have a few eggs. But I would be the one honored to be your wife.”
He smiled and pulled her in closer. She rested her head against his chest, and he held her close. He would still wait a month or two just in case the magic of Wonderland faded, or she changed her mind. But for that moment, he was happy that she was there, and she was his, and he didn’t have to say goodbye.
She never changed her mind. They walked back to the inn hand-in-hand, and they spent the night wrapped in each other’s bodies until the sun came up and she fell asleep in his arms. He whispered that question a dozen more times into her hair. She shifted in her sleep and wrapped her warm arm around his body. Then she mumbled, “Yes, yes,” and went back to sleep.
He had no ring to give her until they’d saved enough money to buy one. It was the most expensive thing he’d ever bought. But he wanted the best for her. They could go back to work just like they had before and save up as much money as they could.
They were married in town with no one in attendance. Then Jefferson focused his time and attention on building her a nest in the woods. It was a small cottage with two extra rooms. One for them to share together and one for any eggs they may someday hatch. They placed their teacup on a shelf and spent more time in their cottage than working. Until money was tight and Wonderland had grown dark under a new rule.
Some nights Alice would open the windows in their bedroom and fall asleep on his chest. He would stay up watching the silvery light filter through the trees and onto her bare skin.
That’s where he was lying the night Rumpelstiltskin came to collect his debt.
Sorry for taking so long to get this next chapter out. My uncle died unexpectedly and it's been kind of hard to concentrate on anything for too long.
Also, I kind of jumped through time a little bit here just to balance the past/present chapters and keep things consistent. The second story (that I'm currently trying to work on) will most likely be told from Alice's perspective instead of Jefferson's. So I'll try to write more of the things I didn't elaborate on. Like Alice's betrothal and her mother and their married life before everything falls apart.
So I'll try to update on schedule again (Tuesday), but with everything that's been going on, it might be slower than usual. :/