Finding Alice

“Every time I close my eyes
It’s like a dark paradise
No one compares to you
But there’s no you,
Except in my dreams tonight.”
-Lana Del Rey

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1. Chapter One

Isolation was what he knew best. Even as a child when he had a family to call his own, he was alone. His father, a hatter, worked day and night making hats for the local villages and even the nobility. His mother, though she claimed herself a homemaker, spent her days assisting her husband with his work. When she wasn’t cooking and cleaning and caring for their small cabin in the woods, nestled in a valley of lilac trees.

Jefferson had learned loneliness from the first time his mother pulled him out of his sling, claiming he was now too heavy to be carried around all day. He’d learned to play alone, was educated alone, and lived his life alone.

For a child so accustomed to isolation, he’d dreaded it. Every mistake he’d ever made in his life had been in some vain attempt to ease that loneliness. But it always failed, and isolation would quickly consume him again. He could survive in isolation, but not thrive.

No one ever asked. And he hated that they never thought to. He’d appeared through a portal one day carrying a crying infant, wrapped in an icy blue fabric stained with her mother's blood. And no one cared to ask where she’d come from or why he’d vowed never to return to the one place that eased that loneliness. Even for a moment.

For a while, he was no longer isolated. He still lived in a small cabin in the woods, but he had a child to care for, and no time to think about the empty hole in his heart that her mother had left behind. He’d devoted his life to his daughter, and from the moment she began to speak and learn about the world, she was full of those questions that no one else asked. But she was the one person he couldn’t give answers to.

His daughter Grace had found a new place in his heart, and his life was filled with noise and joy. But the hole was still there. The place where her mother was supposed to be. And in his loneliness, fear of isolation, and naive trust, he’d lost Grace too. For twenty-eight years he’d been trapped in a land without magic, watching her live her life from afar, not knowing who he was. The isolation surrounded him like a dark cloak.

No one asked questions about the man who lived on the outskirts of town in his sizeable empty house. They couldn’t remember. But he remembered everything.

When the curse was broken, and Grace returned, the light came back into his life. But he’d lived so long in the dark that he lived in constant fear of the madness that threatened to swallow him whole. So he pushed it back and devoted himself to her again. They had everything they needed now. They no longer had to forage for mushrooms in the woods just to survive. They had a home full of beautiful things and constant sounds. Her laughter echoed through the halls. Her footsteps on the floorboards woke him first thing every morning. He had a sense of purpose again. But then she would leave for school, and he would be left alone with nothing but his thoughts and his hats. And try as he might, he couldn’t stop his thoughts from turning to that emptiness still present in his heart.

His thoughts turned toward the woman who’d brought that color into his life, and so did Grace’s. She started to question things again. Why there was a hole in her memories where a mother should have been. Why her father spent so much time quietly in his room with all those hats in the middle of the night when he thought she was asleep.

Grace knew her mother must have been special to him, though he never spoke of her and she didn’t even know the woman’s name. She could see it in the madness that seemed to hover on the edge of every word he spoke. Just as clearly as she could see the unknown woman every day when she saw her own face staring back at her in a mirror.

Her father was different than he’d been in the Enchanted Forest before the curse pulled them all away to that new land. She knew there’d been sadness in his heart, but he was better at keeping it from her then. She’d only see it on rare occasions when she couldn’t sleep and would peek out of her bedroom door to see him leaning against the mantle, staring into the flames and twisting a shimmery blue fabric in his hands.

In this new world, he didn’t have as much control over it. His shorter hair was always messy from the times he’d drag his fingers through it in frustration. His once bright blue eyes were etched with a permanent redness. Sometimes she’d catch him staring at the patterns on the wallpaper, and it would take him a moment or two to hear her when she tried to grab his attention. He was always holding something back now, and she would have blamed it on the years of separation if it wasn’t for the fact that he still spent his sleepless nights making hats.

Grace could see her father’s features in her nose and her smile, but her golden hair and dark eyes only led to more questions. She knew she must look more like the woman her father kept hidden in his head. She was desperate to know more.

She could hear him wandering the house at night when she’d lie awake in her bedroom. She saw the shadows under the door when he paced down the hall before settling into the room with the hats. He wouldn’t tell her why he continued to make them. She didn’t think he wanted to return to the Forest where all they had was a small cottage and mushrooms. They had everything they’d ever need here. They had each other again, but he was still searching for something.

Jefferson was muttering to himself in his room down the hall. In all the years she’d spent in Storybrooke, she’d grown accustomed to her bedroom with her foster family. She’d fall asleep to the sound of cars on the street. Their headlights would shimmer across the walls like the scales of a fish. But the big house was silent at night. The silence only made her concern for her father grow.

The girl climbed from her bed and tiptoed to the door. She cracked it open and peeked down the hall to that mysterious room. He usually kept it locked, but now the door was cracked. He always did that at night, just so he could hear her if she needed him.

Grace knew he’d probably hear her coming before she even left her room. She wondered how he would react or if he’d be upset if she bothered him so late at night. But in all her life, both of them, she’d never known him to grow angry with her. He’d always been patient, kind, and gentle. All traits she’d learned to emulate. But there was anger in him, and that was what she could hear in his mutterings.

She considered going back to bed, but she’d caught sight of her own reflection in the mirror across the hall. Even in the dim light, she could see the light color of her hair. So startling a contrast from the color of her eyes. She thought back to the last time she’d slept. When she dreamt of a woman with light hair and dark eyes, who sang her songs in a garden of white roses.

So she slipped out of the door and tiptoed down the hall to the room at the very end. She looked in at where her father was sitting at a large table in the center of the room. She could see him fussing over fabric and thread, ripping and jabbing and muttering. He was so preoccupied with his task and his frustration that he hadn’t heard her over the sound of his own thoughts. He clenched his teeth and mumbled something about the hat “not working” as he broke a string of thread with his teeth.

“Papa?” she asked, quietly, and the man froze. He looked up, and his face instantly morphed back into the one she knew so well. The frustration drained from his features and left behind the face of the man who used to rock her to sleep when she was still small enough to fit comfortably in his arms.

“Grace?” he said, slightly shocked by his sudden return to reality.

He dropped the unfinished hat on the table and stood. He was still wearing the clothes he’d worn at dinner, so it was evident that he hadn’t gone to bed. The vest and his shirt were buttoned to the neck, but the scarf he wore around his throat had come loose enough to make out the scars beneath the fabric. He never told her how he got them, but she saw nonetheless.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, reaching out his hands to take both of hers. “I didn’t mean to wake you.” She slid her small hands into his and smiled up at him.

“You didn’t wake me, Papa,” she assured him. “I just couldn’t sleep.”

“Why not? What’s the matter?”

He pulled a chair away from the table and instructed her to sit down. She took her seat cautiously as her eyes searched the room and the extensive collection of top hats. She thought the habit was supposed to die with the curse, but it appeared he was just as adamant to continue. She just didn’t know if it was the habit of a twenty-eight-year routine, or if he actually wanted one to take them away.

“Nothing is the matter, Papa,” she promised as he took a seat before her. “I was just thinking too much.” He reached out to trace a finger over her cheek, brushing her hair out of her face. She gave him another smile to reassure him. His expression was still concerned.

“What were you thinking about?” he asked. She took a deep breath, and he dropped his hand to his lap to give her his full attention. She laced her fingers on the table in front of her and worked up the courage to ask him the question that had been on her mind since he’d asked her to come home.

“I was thinking about my mother,” she admitted. His expression went grim. Not angry like he’d been when he thought she was sleeping, but dead and devoid of thought. He dropped his eyes to the hat on the other side of the table and sighed heavily. His expression was blank, but it was clear the gears in his mind were whirring with thoughts.

“I knew you were going to ask again. With everything that’s happened.” She nodded slowly.

“I know you don’t like to talk about it. I know that it hurts you. But—I’ve been thinking about her a lot. And sometimes I just wish I knew more about her. Like even her name—and why she’s not here.”

He didn’t speak for a long moment as he stared at the hats that seemed to grow in number with each passing day. She wanted him to say something, anything that would give her a hint about the woman who’d given her life, and likely died to do it. But he didn’t speak, and so she took another deep breath to continue building her case.

“I tried to look for her in the stories. My friend Henry has a book, but there’s nothing about her. Not anywhere. Not even in the movies.” He gave that sigh again and lifted his head, this time staring across the room at the darkened window, where a bronze telescope sat unused and collecting dust.

“She’s in the stories, Grace,” he told her. “She’s in all the stories.” Her eyes widened, and she sat up straighter.

“Really?”

“They’re her stories. At least the ones from this world. She didn’t spend a lot of time in the Enchanted Forest. Maybe that’s why she’s not in Henry’s book. At least not directly. She had her own stories.”

Grace was familiar with them. More specifically with her father’s story. She hadn’t read Henry’s book, but he’d told her about it. She’d learned as much as she could. The story in Henry’s book was real. But the ones from this world, well, the character didn’t seem much like the man in front of her at all. But they rarely did, Henry told her. And as far as Grace knew, there was really only one woman with a friendly connection to the Hatter at all.

“Does that mean,” she started, “that my mother is…?”

“Yes.” He nodded slowly, studying her expressions as she took this new information. She kept the name off her lips even though she knew it well.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” That was the question he dreaded the most. He dropped his head into his hands and bit his bottom lip. He suddenly felt exhausted.

“Because the stories in this world aren’t real. At least, they’re not accurate. What happened to her isn’t in the stories, and I didn’t want to burden you with unnecessary pain.” He finally looked up at her, and she could see the redness return to his eyes. She sank lower into her seat and tried to stay strong, so he wouldn’t see her falter.

“So she’s really dead then,” she stated. “Did you see it happen?” A flicker of emotion crossed his face, but he swallowed it again.

“She’s gone, Grace.” She breathed out slowly and leaned her head against the back of the chair. “I told you that. Were you expecting a different answer this time?”

“No,” she told him honestly. “I guess I was just hoping there was a way. Like with Henry’s family. They always find a way for everyone to be together.” He reached her hand again and squeezed it. This time he was the one to reassure her.

“We’re together again, Grace,” he told her. “That’s all that matters now. If there were a way, I would find it.” She nodded, and he tried to smile for her.

“Then will you tell me about her? About how you met? I don’t know anything at all. Except for what’s in the stories.” She looked back up at him with renewed excitement. A laugh escaped him. He usually laughed to mask his own pain. It was one of the many reasons people called him mad. But she knew it wasn’t madness. He was suffering and didn’t want to put that suffering on anyone else.

“Tomorrow,” he promised. “It’s late, and you have school in the morning.”

“You promise?” He nodded. He’d never been very good at keeping promises, but he would try for Grace.

“I promise. I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”

He immediately regretted saying it. He didn’t know what kind of questions she might ask. She jumped up excitedly, and this time the laugh was sincere. It was the result of love and not a nervous reflex to keep people from seeing what he really felt. He stood from his chair and took her hand in his, leading her to the door so she could go back to her room. He bent down and planted a kiss on the top of her head. She smiled, obviously too excited to get any sleep. He knew her thoughts would keep her up, building question after question. But he wanted to put it off. Even just a for a little while longer.

“Goodnight, Papa,” she said. He ruffled her already messy blonde hair and smiled back down at her.

“Goodnight, Grace.”

He watched her skip back down the hall to her room. He waited for the door to shut before closing his own, but he left it cracked so he could hear if she needed anything. He just hoped he didn’t wake her again.

He left his hand resting on the crystal doorknob for a long moment before turning back to face the room. The collection of hats was growing, and he hated that he couldn’t make one that worked. He needed the old hat, but it was severely damaged now. Destroyed. No sign of magic left in it. Not even in the ashes.

He crossed the room and stopped beside a display of useless hats. Then he reached for a drawer and slid it open. A single object rested inside on a silk cushion. He lifted it to eye level and examined the delicate artifact gently in his fingers. It was made of fine porcelain, with red painted rose and a lip dipped in gold.

It was a teacup. That had once been very valuable in gold before gaining value in memory. He set it back down on the cushion and ran his finger along the unused gold lip.

“If there’s a way,” he said to himself, confident that his spoken thoughts wouldn’t be overheard, “I will find it.”

 


Sooo.... you may have noticed that I've deleted and rewritten this story several times. Hopefully, this is my last rewrite. I had a lot of big ideas for it (like illustrated banners/comic pages for every chapter), but I'm not able to undertake a project like that yet (though I'd still like to eventually). Basically, I wanted it to be a bit more interactive than what I usually put up.

But anyway, I recently finished my advanced creative writing class. And got to do a lot of things that challenged me and pointed out some of my writing flaws. So I decided to go back and just start fresh with this one.

There's a Tumblr tag here (https://indigodrawsthings.tumblr.com/tagged/finding-alice) where you can find gifs, concepts, inspiration, and drawings for the story.

Also (sorry this note is so long) I started developing the ideas for this story back around season 2 or 3 of Once Upon a Time. So there was no spin-off comic and no Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. This story has nothing to do with either of those. This Alice is not the same Alice that was on the show. I tried to make her a bit closer to the book version, with some Disney thrown in. Though older and with the obvious OUaT twists.

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