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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20. Chapter Twenty

When Alice didn’t return to Wonderland the next day, Jefferson became worried. Sometimes her mother would find a way to restrict her access to her looking-glass. Alice would disappear for a day or two but always returned again. It was her somber mood that had him on edge and the fact that Wonderland hadn’t ceased to rain. When she didn’t show up the next day, or the day after that, he knew something was dreadfully wrong.

Alice gave Jefferson her, cloak and it was still possible he could find her before her mother forced her into anything too drastic or permanent. When he stepped through the portal again, right into the space between the wall and the hedges, the house was dark. He paced in that space for a long time, but Alice never appeared, and her window never lit up. He fell asleep leaning against the wall and stayed there until morning when a frightened gardener woke him.

“The family has gone to the city,” the gardener told him once he’d introduced himself. As the cousin of the Duke. “For Miss Liddel’s wedding.”

His heart shattered at the words. He was so sure he could save her from that life. Or that she would have loved him enough to come to him if it ever happened. Even if there was nothing either of them could do, she should have told him. Unless she truly loved the man she was to wed. Perhaps he’d stolen her heart, and she was just too kind to tell Jefferson the truth.

He thought of the last time they were in Wonderland together. He knew that she loved him. She hadn’t told him because she thought she was protecting him. Because she had no hope that they’d ever find a way to be together. Because, after all this time, he never got around to asking her to try.

He couldn’t guarantee that a note would reach Alice before the wedding, so he quickly fled back through his portal. He only knew of one person who might be able to help. He hadn’t wanted to, from the very start, he’d never wanted to ask the Dark One. But now it looked as if he had no other choice. He was willing to pay whatever price the beast asked of him. He told Alice he’d do anything for her, and now it was going to be tested.

The Dark One did not seem the least bit surprised to see him that afternoon when he arrived with his hat in tow. He was led directly into the parlor while the creature chattered on about expecting Jefferson’s arrival. They’d worked together before and almost developed a sort of friendship. Rumpelstiltskin was a frequent customer, and Jefferson could always rely on him to come through with his payments. Sometimes just letting him take however much he felt like, rather than a set payment. But Jefferson had never asked for anything selfishly before. They’d only done business and had never spoken beyond trades and sales. He never wanted to be a customer. But desperation was a strong motivator. And desperation is what kept the Dark One in business.

“I just need your help,” he said to get Rumpelstiltskin to stop talking. “I’ll pay whatever price. Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it. Help me get her here.” The creature was unnervingly joyous about this proposition. He giggled in a way that Jefferson knew only meant trouble.

“But the question isn’t whether or not you’re willing to pay the price—but that Alice is,” he replied. Jefferson gritted his teeth. He hadn’t told anyone her name. He’d never spoken of her outside of Wonderland at all until now. It shouldn’t surprise him that Rumpelstiltskin already knew precisely what he wanted.

“Then I’ll pay the price—so that she can decide.”

“But you don’t have much of anything that I want.” Jefferson usually found the Dark One tolerable. Usually.

“What is it exactly that you want?” The creature smiled and pulled up the ruffled sleeves of his shirt. He walked to a tall cabinet on the far side of the room.

“From you, I want a favor. I decide when and where and how. And you do it without question and without payment.” Jefferson reluctantly agreed.

“We have a deal.”

“Oh, I’m not finished yet. From her, I want—a mirror. To look upon my pretty face.”

Jefferson swallowed against the lump in his throat. Rumpel wanted Alice’s looking-glass so he could get into Wonderland without Jefferson’s help. He wasn’t sure if Alice would be willing to give that up for him. But if he could get her to come to the Enchanted Forest, he could show her every world he had at his fingertips. She’d never need her looking-glass again. He just had to trust that she loved him as much as he loved her.

“And if she doesn’t accept her end of the deal?” Jefferson questioned as the Dark One rummaged through the strange bottles in his cupboard.

“Well then, a hat will do. To put upon my pretty head,” he decided. Jefferson bit his lip. He knew it was a potential price when he walked through the door. It was a risky deal. If Alice didn’t accept—then he’d lose everything he had. He’d lose his work, his life. He’d lose Alice. “Do you love her?” the Dark One inquired, sensing Jefferson’s hesitation.

“Yes.”

“Is it—true love?”

“I don’t—I don’t know.”

“You’re not certain that she loves you back.”

“She does. I know that she does.”

“Then what do you have to lose?”

Everything. If Alice didn’t accept the deal, for whatever reason, they’d never be able to find each other again.

But he thought of her with her golden hair and her sly smile. He thought of the day they spent under the mushrooms in the rain when he’d finally been able to prove to her, and himself, that it wasn’t just lust. He loved her truly and deeply. He told her he’d do anything for her, and he intended to keep that promise. He had to be willing to lose everything too. So he stepped forward, lifted his hat off of his head, and bowed to the Dark One.

“We have a deal,” he said.

The creature giggled again, high pitched and more menacing than giddy. He pulled a vial out of his cabinet and sauntered over to a tall frame hidden beneath a sheet. As if he’d already set it out just for Jefferson. He ripped the sheet away to expose the mirror. It was just an average looking-glass. Nothing particularly magical. At least not the way Alice’s looking-glass was. Jefferson might not be a regular magic user, but he was familiar enough to know when it was around. Whatever magic Rumplestiltskin held in the shining glass bottle—that was what would get him to Alice.

“You know how to find her?” Jefferson asked, stepping forward. The creature’s strange eyes found his through the reflection in the mirror. He uncorked the bottle, which appeared to be almost empty.

“You’re in luck, deary,” he said as he lifted the bottle and shook up the single drop of liquid inside. “I have just enough to get you what you want. If she’ll have you that is.” Jefferson clenched his teeth and went to his side. Rumpelstiltskin trusted that he would give him what he wanted. So he smiled as he dipped the bottle over the mirror.

The single drop of shimmering liquid ran down the frame. For a moment, nothing happened, but Jefferson knew the Dark One’s magic never failed. And sure enough, the mirror surface shimmered like water. Their images melted away to the picture of a bedroom. As if they were viewing it from a window.

Jefferson took a step forward and leaned in close to look. He could see a large bed with tall posts and drapes, and beyond that, he could make out the form of a woman with black hair and a rigid posture. She moved to reach for something he couldn’t see.

“You need to smile, darling,” Helen was saying, her voice drifted through the looking-glass. “Your husband will want you to smile.”

“He’s not my husband,” Alice’s voice said from where she was hidden behind the bed’s drapes.

“He will be. Tonight.” Helen began to comb her daughter’s long hair so that Jefferson could see it twisting through her fingers. “You should be grateful we managed to find you a husband at all at your age. I know he’s a bit older than you wanted. But that’s what happens when you speak madness. He’s wealthy, a viscount, but his children are all grown. You’re lucky he won’t expect any from you.”

Alice started to speak, but her voice quickly cut off. She moved forward, and her face appeared in the mirror on the other side of the room. Her dark eyes met Jefferson’s, and she stood so sharply, and the stool she was sitting on knocked onto the floor.

“Please, Mother!” Alice said, her voice going frantic and high-pitched. “Please allow me a moment of peace.” The woman huffed and set down the jeweled comb.

“I need to check on arrangements anyway. I’ll be back in a few minutes to finish your hair. I can’t have you looking like some sort of feral child on your wedding day.”

“Yes, Mother.”

The woman left the room, and Alice was on the move the moment the door clicked shut. She gripped the white gown in her hands and rushed around the bed to the looking-glass.

“What are you doing here?” she asked in a panicked and hushed tone. Jefferson gripped the frame and looked at her face, so relieved to see her again, to know he hadn’t lost her yet.

“I’m here to set you free,” he explained. “When you didn’t come back—I knew something was wrong.”

“I couldn’t come back. I couldn’t face you after what she did. She found all my savings. Every penny. She accepted a proposal I didn't want. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“You might want to hurry this along,” Rumpelstiltskin said from Jefferson’s side. Alice turned her eyes on him but didn’t seem the least bit startled by his appearance. After everything she’d seen in Wonderland, the Dark One was positively normal. “We don’t know how much longer the enchantment will last.” Jefferson turned back to the woman in the mirror with her sparkling white gown that was meant for someone else.

“I can get you through. To my world,” he told her. “Just this once. If that’s what you really want. If you don’t want to get married. You can come here—and be with me.” She looked panicked as she took in his words.

“It’s that easy?” she questioned. He shook his head.

“It never is,” he explained. “I made a deal. If you come through—you have to give him,” he motioned toward Rumpelstiltskin, “your looking-glass.”

“And you won’t be able to return if you change your mind,” The Dark One informed her. “Ever.” She was breathing hard, and her red lips were pinched. But she turned her eyes on Jefferson.

“You really want me—there—with you? Forever?” she asked him. He held the mirror tighter. He wanted more than anything to touch her, but he couldn’t break the enchantment until she was ready.

“Of course I do,” he told her. “I would do anything for you. I told you that.” Her eyes were glassy with unshed tears.

“I know nothing about your land,” she admitted.

“I can show you. Everything. I can teach you how to fly.”

“How much longer do we have before this portal closes?”

“I’d give it a few more minutes,” the Dark One answered as he looked down at his scaly wrist for a watch that wasn’t there.

“That’s all I need,” Alice said.

She pushed away from the mirror and rushed around the room. She pulled a velvet bag from a drawer and began filling it with miscellaneous items. Not clothes or anything she might need for a journey, but unimportant things like necklaces and rings and the glittering comb her mother had left on the table. She hesitated before returning to Jefferson.

“I’ll never get to say goodbye,” she said. Her voice sounded hollow and distant. “My sister—my father—my cats. I’ll never see them again?”

“I don’t know,” he told her. He knew he still had his hat and could take her back to say goodbye if she really wanted. But he didn’t want to remind Rumpelstiltskin that he still had that power.

It was enough for Alice. She took a deep breath, took one last glance at the room, and stepped toward the mirror. The bedroom door opened before she reached it.

“Alice, I was…,” Helen paused in the doorway, and Alice looked back at her. “Alice, what the devil is going on?”

“I’m sorry, Mother,” Alice said.

“Alice!”

She leaped forward as if to try and stop Alice from climbing through the mirror, but it was too late. Alice jumped through and fell right into Jefferson’s arms. He held her tight as the portal shut and muted the sound of Helen’s frantic voice. He didn’t want to let her go. She felt warm and smelled just as sweet as she did in Wonderland. The joy in his heart was insurmountable. She’d come for him. She’d given up her whole life, not knowing if she’d ever see her family again, for him.

It was easier than expected. He didn’t know what favor the Dark One would ask of him in the future, but all that mattered now was what he had in his arms.

Then he remembered Alice’s part of the deal. He turned to look at Rumpelstiltskin who was running his hands along the frame of the mirror, not caring that either of them was in his parlor.

“The portal,” Jefferson said. “How will you get it now?”

“Oh, I already have it,” he replied. “I’m thinking it will make a lovely gift. Maybe for a—coronation.” Alice looked grim, but she clutched her velvet bag to her chest and looked back up at Jefferson.

“Take me home?” she said.

He nodded, even though he didn’t have a home to take her to. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder anyway and nodded a thanks to the creature he’d never trusted, but was so thankful he’d never crossed. He turned to lead Alice out of the castle, but Rumpelstiltskin stopped them at the door.

“Wait, wait, wait,” he said. Jefferson flinched and paused. “One more thing,” the Dark One said, holding up a finger as he approached the two of them. “You look—like a queen, deary.” Alice glanced at Jefferson before turning back to Rumpel, unsure of whether or not it was meant as a compliment. “What I mean to say is, you won’t make it very far without attracting attention. Bandits, and the like. People become—curious.”

“We can buy her new clothes when we reach town,” Jefferson decided.

“Better yet, you can sell the dress to me, and I’ll give you another in return.” Jefferson hated the gown. It was beautiful, and she looked like royalty, but it was never meant for him. And when she wore white, he wanted it to be for him. It also wasn’t his decision to make. But Alice nodded.

“I would be grateful,” she said.

“No need to thank me,” Rumpel replied.

He lifted his hands and Alice was engulfed in a cloud of scarlet smoke. Jefferson was startled for a moment until she reappeared, dressed in clothes more befitting of the Enchanted Forest, though not nearly as magnificent. Her dress was white with light blue pinstripes. It would match her embroidered blue cloak, without drawing attention to the fact that she wasn’t from this land. The only problem was that she looked like a peasant and not the extravagant lady he thought her to be. Certainly not the daughter of a Baron.

“So you thought a peasant was more flattering than a queen?” Jefferson asked, pulling Alice to his side again. Though he was thankful, there was no petticoat blocking his way. And she didn’t seem to be squeezed up as tightly.

“No one bats an eye at a peasant girl. The last thing you want—is for someone to look too closely,” Rumpel remarked. Jefferson didn’t know why the Dark One cared, but he decided not to take it lightly. He’d made enemies in his life, and he didn’t want anyone to take the one good choice he’d ever made.

“It’s fine, Jefferson. I promise,” she told him, putting her hand on his chest to draw his attention back to her. “I’m glad to be rid of it.” He smiled down at her, happy to hear her say it. He could buy her a new gown. He’d buy her all the dresses and jewels she wanted.

“Then I believe our business is done here,” he told the Dark One, and he hurried to pull Alice back out into the hall.

He didn’t speak until they’d reached the road that would lead them through the woods. He wanted to get as far away from the Dark One as possible, and Alice seemed preoccupied as her eyes searched every tree and startled at the sound of every bird.

“I don’t have a home, Alice,” he admitted to her once they were far enough away. “I’m sorry. I should have told you.” She smiled and nudged him with her shoulder.

“It’s all right,” she said. “We can build a new nest. Together.” She lifted the velvet bag she’d twisted around her wrist and pulled the drawstring to expose the contents. The sunlight glittered off of jewels and gold.

“Trinkets?” he asked.

“No, silly. Money.” He smiled and pulled her back to his side. “My mother found all my savings from Wonderland. That’s why I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t think there was any other way. I wanted to escape to Wonderland as soon as I could, but—I’ve always been so afraid of making a home there. The Red Queen. I’ve been lucky to stay out of her reach thus far. I don’t think I’d be so lucky if I made it home. But I wasn’t going to go through with it. You know that? Don’t you?”

“There’s no need to worry now, Alice. I just want you to be happy here,” he said into her hair as he pressed a kiss to her temple. “I hope this land is everything you’ve ever wished for. If it isn’t, and you don’t like it here, I’ll find a way to get you anywhere you want to go. We’ll travel to every world I have access to. You can pick.”

She shook her head and looked down at her feet. The white silk slippers she wore with her wedding dress had been traded out for brown boots. She seemed so right there. Even if she hadn’t changed out of her expensive white gown, she belonged in those woods at his side. And he knew he’d never be able to give her the kind of life she’d left behind, but he hoped their new one would make her happy.

“Just Jefferson, you silly man,” she said, sniffing back tears and smiling up at him. “As long as I’m with you—and that life is behind me—then I already have everything I want. Everything I’ve ever wished for.”

He believed her, but even if she was happy with just him and whatever meager things he could provide for her, he vowed to try harder. To save his money instead of spending it on frivolous things. To put it toward a large estate in the forest where she could be free and still have all the wealth and comfort she deserved. She would have more than that too. She’d have love and the freedom to be whoever she wanted. She’d never ask for anything else, but that wouldn’t stop him from making it his goal.

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