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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24. Chapter Twenty-Four

The early days of Jefferson’s marriage had been blissful. He felt like an entirely different man from the one who’d gambled all his family money and took to thievery to get what he wanted. He wondered if his parents would be happy to see him now. As a man with a life and a purpose beyond his own selfish desires. He’d been a reckless, self-centered youth, and now he was ready to put that all behind him. He wanted to be a more honest, giving person now that he had Alice at his side.

She was curious about her new world. Always eager to explore and learn things. He felt more joy in showing her around her new home than he did from exploring new worlds. Their trades and jobs came fewer and farther in between since they spent more time settling in their new home and planning a future together.

The cottage wasn’t what Jefferson wanted for her. He pictured her in a large estate like the one Rumpelstiltskin lived in. He wanted her to have at least one jewel for each of her fingers. To never have to work hard for the few things they could manage. But Alice never complained about going from a life of luxury as a baron’s daughter to a life of hardship as a thief’s wife. She took quickly to learning about how to live in the Enchanted Forest. And no matter how sour he felt after an unsuccessful job, he’d always end the night with her warm body in his arms. He knew everything would turn out alright as long as they had each other.

But the threat of his debt to Rumpelstiltskin weighed heavy on his heart.

It was warm and stuffy in the cottage, and Alice had pushed open the bedroom window before making love to him in the moonlight. She’d fallen asleep on his chest, and he reluctantly moved her aside when he sensed the presence of magic outside in the garden. They weren’t alone anymore.

Just as he expected, Rumpelstiltskin was waiting for him in the yard, just along the line that divided the garden from the forest. The creature’s request seemed simple enough, but Jefferson knew they were rarely as simple as they appeared. Rumpel wanted nothing more than a single red rose from the Queen’s garden in Wonderland. And Jefferson knew he had no choice but to accept. It would have been an easy target, perhaps, when the Red Queen still ruled. Cruel and vindictive as she was, she was nothing compared to Wonderland’s new queen. The Queen of Hearts kept her maze more guarded than her predecessor. And she seemed to have an affinity for collecting the hearts of her terrified subjects.

Jefferson accepted the job without question, though it created a nervous ball of anxiety in the pit of his stomach. He returned to the cottage to prepare for the trip and tell Alice what he had to do. But she was already awake when he reentered the room. Her arms were crossed over the window ledge above the bed. She was resting her head on her arm, and her golden hair hung down her back, almost silver in the moonlight. She’d obviously heard everything.

“You think it will be dangerous?” she questioned before he could utter a word. She kept her eyes on the forest outside.

The night was alive with the sound of crickets, frogs, and distant wolves. The moon was full and bright and made the garden appear magical and enchanting. Though Jefferson knew there was no magic there now that the Dark One had disappeared. He sat down beside her and pressed his lips to her bare shoulder.

“You’ve angered a Wonderland Queen before, Alice. You know how they punish their subjects,” he remarked.

“The Red Queen wanted to take my head because I helped a gardener cover an accident. And they say the Queen of Hearts is far more ruthless. I can’t begin to imagine what she’ll do to us if we’re caught taking from her.”

“We? I made the deal, Alice. Not you.”

“Don’t be silly. You made the deal for me. I wouldn’t let you go back there on your own. No one knows Wonderland better than me.”

“I spent a lot of time in Wonderland before I met you.”

“That was before the Queen of Hearts. The Red Queen gained her power through decades of scheming. The Queen of Hearts took over an entire kingdom seemingly overnight. You’ve heard what the people are saying about her. You know what she can do.”

He kissed her shoulder again, and her eyes fluttered closed at his touch. It felt like they’d known each other forever, though it couldn’t have been much in the actual span of their lives. Perhaps Wonderland was really at fault for how quickly they had fallen, but it didn’t matter to him anymore. If the Dark One wanted a rose in exchange for the bliss he felt now, he would get it. He just knew, without a doubt, that the Queen would find out. And Wonderland would become a much more dangerous place for them.

Alice’s thoughts seemed to be headed in the same direction.

“Can you make a deal with me too?” she asked as he ran his fingers down her back in comfort. She stretched her arms out of the window, her ring catching on the moonlight. He never told her that he’d had it crafted from the silver buttons of his most expensive vest. He remembered what they’d promised each other the day he slid it onto her finger. They would never go anywhere without the other.

“Anything,” he told her, even though he knew where her thoughts had traveled.

“This is the end,” she said. “The last trip into Wonderland. The last shady deal. From now on, we find more honest work.”

“You really want that?” She shook her head slowly.

“I used to love this life. Traveling to different lands. Exploring new worlds. But Wonderland has grown darker. Every time we set foot in that place—I fear we’ll never make it back out. We’ve made so many enemies in our lives. Hurt so many people. Can you imagine? If we were to have a child now? How could we possibly live this life with a child?”

He wasn’t sure about that. He’d never been particularly skilled at anything else. He knew how to make hats, but he’d despised that job all his life. The only other thing he’d been good at was making shady deals, picking pockets, and stealing from worlds where consequences were easier to avoid. He didn’t even know where to look for honest work, let alone something that would pay well enough for the life he wanted her to have.

“We will hurt for money,” he reminded her. “Even more than we are now. And we’re barely scraping by.”

“Money doesn’t matter as long as we have each other,” she said. But it mattered to him, and that was what scared him most. “We have a cottage. We can find work. The forest provides plenty of mushrooms. We could sell them at the market. We can find a way to have a family without making enemies or risking our lives.” She was right, though. They’d never spoken about children beyond a few passing comments about nests and eggs. But they’d never been careful either. A child would come sooner or later, whether they planned for it or not.

“You want to have a child?” he asked. “To hatch an egg?” She laughed lightly and opened her eyes again.

“I have everything I’ve ever wanted,” she admitted. “But….”

“Everything but that.” She shut her eyes again.

“Yes.” He took a deep breath and let it go.

“Then we go to Wonderland and finish the deal. And I’ll lock my hat away—so we can find honest work. When we do—we’ll get to work on hatching a few eggs.” She finally turned to him, shifting on the bed so she could hold his face in her hands.

“Is that really what you want or are you just telling me what I want to hear?”

“Both,” he admitted with a smile. “I want you to have everything you want. And I don’t know how else to make money, but you’re right. Wonderland is too dangerous now. The life we live—we can’t have a child now. We take a risk every time we jump and if we have a family—and we will sooner or later because we haven't exactly tried to prevent it, have we?—we can’t do it anymore.” He reached out to pull her in close.

“But is it what you really want? Or is it just because we haven't tried to stop it?”

He wasn’t sure what to say. He wanted a family, of course. But he was afraid he’d never be good enough for one. He’d made more enemies than she knew. She may be able to find honest work, but half the village knew him well enough not to give him a chance. What if he wasn’t a good father? What if he never found work and they spent the rest of their lives trapped in that small cottage in the woods? Hungry and cold and lonely because he just wasn’t good enough?

But Alice was waiting patiently for an answer. He knew she’d be happy without all the luxury he wanted her to have. So long as they had each other, she said. They would find a way. They could be happy. And so would their child. So he smiled back and nodded.

“Yes,” he said.

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