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Time to come back home

Chapter Text

 Time stood in front of the grand clock and smiled silently. It was good to hear the constant and never ending ticking. This clock was and will always exists as long as anything else will exist in Underland, and so will he. But in this very long span of eternity he really never ever thought, that he himself or his machine could be in mortal danger. How wrong he had been, he now knew. Since the incident with that particular girl which almost destroyed everything, he was more thankful for the sheer fact that he still existed. Or as she has wisefully said:

"Every second counts."

And also that you should be thankful for every hour, minute and second, that he gives. Yes, he has learned to cherish them, too. His little tiny seconds and helpful minutes, just as much as the big hour. They all had been here for him when he had needed their help so desperately. Fortunately since their darkest hour nothing comparable has happened. In fact everything was going as it should, steady and never too fast nor too slow. It was exactly this 52 second of the 34th minute that he heard a strange noise. It was a ticking yes, but he has never heard this one before in his castle. And yet it sounded like something that belonged to him but also alien and which wasn't from this world. Another thing he noticed was, that the ticking was not steady like you would think of a clockwork. It almost sounded like it was staggering? A strange behavior for a timepiece.

"Time", called a female voice and he instantly recognized it, although they haven't spoken in ages. He quickly located her call from one of the mirrors near the grand clock and went in front of it, bowed down to the person on the other side and smiled mildly.

"Time", he repeated and looked into a pair of shining golden eyes. Yes, Time was not only a he, but also a she. She herself was the guard and representative of the other world, the one above Underland. Her dark brown face was beautiful as ever and her black locks were falling gracefully around her silhouette. She was his counterpart in every aspect with her golden and silver dress, she seemed more like the sun while his dark and pale appearance could be her moon. And like him she was of course immortal, or at last as long the world existed. Both of them were very powerful creatures, however they also had boundaries. They could travel trough themselves, the time, but they could not go to the world of the other. From the first second they came into existence they only communicated through their looking glasses.

"What can I do for you?", he asked with hidden joy. It was rare that they talked and he was happy to see her face after he nearly had died.

"I think I have something for you... No, more like I have someone, a soul and her remaining time, that belongs to you."

"Pardon?" Was that even possible? How could someones life clock get into her hands without him knowing? His blue shining eyes focused on the silver piece she held in her delicate fingers. He couldn't read the name on it, but he could see, that it was barely ticking. Or so it seemed on the first look, because he heard so much more ticking from it than the needles showed. It seemed like the person it represented, was slowly dying but he couldn't explain the extra ticking. A very strange behavior indeed.

"Do you remember the man, whos beautiful golden clock turned silver over the years and finally you entrusted him to my care?", Time asked him with a faint smile.

"I tried to not think about it and forget this... this shame." It was decades ago and still it felt like a failure. He didn't like the feeling of failing and so he didn't wanted to remember his name, but he still knew how it sounded. The fine differences of the ticks and tocks of every living being was more rememberable than their names or looks. And it did not sound like the one in Times hands.

"But what does this have to do with the situation now? I don't see that this one has changed like his."

"You're right, but she has a secret."

She opened the clock and pulled out another smaller one from the inside. This one seemed not only to be the source of the fast ticking but was also golden like an Underlandian one. Time was fascinated by it, her pure sound was intriguing like a fine melody in his ears.

"How's that possipel?"

She laughed a little.

"It's the most natural in the world of humans. He, who left your world, to live in mine, found a dashing young lady. He fell in love with her and so he decided to stay with her, that's why his life was transferred to me. And of course they married, they also had a child, a girl."

"And his daughter was born as a human in the world above, but is an Underlandian in her heart?"

It was so simple and yet a little wonder. They never have seen anything like this before. It was so exiting and he wanted to meet this special person as much as to lay hands on that unique clock.

"You know, Time, the name of this man was Charles Kingsleigh", this name seemed more familiar than he thought, "and as I heard you've already met his daughter some years ago."

His blue eyes became big when realization hit him hard. He began to search through his pockets, before he finally pulled out the old and used pocket watch. The fallen soldier with the name Charles Kingsleigh engraved on it. It belonged to her father, she had said and that he may had liked Time.

"Alice..." The only girl from above he ever knew and which was also the more or less direct cause of his nearly death. Not to mention the destruction of whole Underland and its residents. But also their rescue when she brought back the Chronosphere to its place. That remarkable young lady with yellowish hair he promised to remember. And now he felt a bit pride, that she also had her roots here in his world, that some part of her belonged to him. Even when she was still fully in the hands of his female counterpart.

"Her time in the world she was born in, is up for her. There are only a few ticks of her life left. So I ask you, Time, would you take her heart and soul into your custody? Would you watch over her, so that she can spend the remaining of her time in Underland?"

"Of course! But where is she, how will she get here, before it's too late?"

"Don't worry about the how. At the moment she's drowning somewhere in the ocean but I can rescue her. The moment you accept her, I'll send her to your castle."

She was still very calm. He on the other side was not, he felt like the gears inside of him were moving faster than normal, making himself go faster.

"Hurry, give her to me!" he shouted.

Again she smiled and seemed relieved when she threw the golden clock through the looking glass. Indeed she hasn't lied. The second he caught the timepiece, he heard and felt a gush of water from behind. A woman with yellow hair was washed with some liters of ocean water trough another mirror on the opposite site. Time turned around quickly and looked at her unmoving body, holding her precious life span in his hands. He was so happy to see her again, even when he pleaded that she wouldn't come back again. But here she was, where she truly belonged.

"Just one last thing", Times light voice said and let him turn around a second time.

"Everyone she was with on that ship of hers... her crew and her mother... is in the land of the deceased. No one survived but her."

Chapter Text

“I see...”, he answered slowly, knowing that it will be devastating for Alice to hear it. But no one could change that fact.

“Thank you, Time, for bringing her to me”

“Take good care of her, she'll be not only weak from nearly dying, but she will be crushed.”

Her golden eyes were now full of worry. They both shared a last look before he answered seriously: “I promise, I will. Fairfarren.”

“Farewell.”

With this last word, she disappeared. Time sighed heavily, looking at the woman in front of him and knelt down to her with great caution. Everything was wet and the floor was extremely slippery, he would have to change clothes and so should she. But first things first, he thought. The young woman was still not breathing, not until her clock would be connected. So he picked her up, threw her over one of his enormous shoulder pads and carried her to the well-lit room with all the clocks of every living being in Underland. They were leaving a wet trail and he could feel the moistness soaking trough his clothes and he hated it. Water wasn't exactly his best friend. It wouldn't kill him, but rusty gears were really unpleasant. That much he had learned centuries ago. When he stood on the platform, he let her down and whistled for a chain, so he could attach her clock to it. The same second Alice awoke, coughing water up from her lungs and quickly she turned around so she was on her knees and elbows.

“Easy, easy”, he warned mildly and was by her side instantly.

“Just try to breath, deep steady breaths.”

His voice had a soothing tone and she looked up confused but couldn't follow his advice. She coughed a few more times, before she could draw in air and attempted to talk.

“Why... am I... here?”

“Because you were sent here and you are safe here.”

It was the simplest answer he could think of, cause he didn't want to break the terrible news to her so soon. She should calm down a bit, before she would have to learn about the others. Unfortunately she disagreed with that plan.

“But I have to go back, quickly. I must save my mother and … and my ship, its crew and everything!”

Alice tried to stand up, but slipped and fell towards him, so he had to held her up.

“You should wait, till you feel better.”

“Wait? No, I need to go now! Please help me. It's very important for me to return quickly!”

Her brown eyes looked at him pleadingly, just like they did, when they had met some years ago in that shop of a clock maker and she had said, that she would need the Chronosphere just one more time, to save her friend. Back then he hadn't wanted to help her. For him it had been of course much more important to get the sphere back and put it where it belongs, than helping out a thief. But now he wished he could help her. Time felt so sorry for her.

“You can't, it's not possipel.”

He tried to stay calm, while saying this, but she seemed to be angered by his words.

“There is nothing impossible as long as you believe it's possible! So either you help me, or you go out of my way!”

When she started a second attempt to stand up, he groped her by her arm and hold her back. She looked baffled and a bit terrified.

 

“I'm sorry Alice, I won't let you go, you'll die, if you return to your world.”

“I don't care, if I might die, while rescuing the life of my mother!”, she was shouting by now. Panic was written all over her face and she struggled to free herself from his grip.

“You don't understand, your time there is up! You would be dead the moment you pass through the looking glass.”

“No, you don't understand, I still have to try it! She's my mother!”

She screamed at him and broke free, but he caught her again. He had to admit, that she was strong for her size of a human woman. He could no longer hide the truth from her and he was sorry that he had to break it to her like this.

“They are already dead, you can't rescue them, even if you sacrifice yourself! Time herself told me that no one but you survived and the only reason why you didn't drown with them is, because you also belong to Underland and can start a new life here. But you can do nothing for your mother. She died back there.”

For a moment it seemed that Alice was frozen to the spot. Her eyes searching his face for a hint, that this was nothing more than a cruel prank. They were filling up with tears, while she starred at him in total shock.

“No, it can't be! You're a liar!”, she shrieked and freed herself. Before he realized it, she was on her feet and ran out of the golden hall.

“Wait!”, he shouted, but she didn't listen. Time slipped also on the wet floor and nearly fell off the platform. Then he followed her as fast as he could to the center of his castle where the four mirrors where arranged in a square. He wanted to stop her, save her from killing herself, but he wasn't fast enough. She was just about to jump through the looking glass when she recoiled from it and fell to the black floor. Her eyes where wide when she looked up to the person before her.

 

“Time”, he said a bit breathless and stopped between the two women. He nodded to her and she mimicked him.

“Time?”, the blonde asked confused.

“Yes, I'm like him, but I'm the one who watched over you for the last 27 years of your life and who has brought you here to your second home, Underland.”

“I need to go back!”, Alice repeated herself.

But instead of arguing with her, the dark haired woman just showed a silver clock to her. It already stopped its ticking, it was dead and the name Helen Kingsleigh was on it.

“NO!... No... that can't be true... This … this is just a nightmare! Wake up, Alice, you have to wake up!”

She was talking to herself now, pinching her arm and looking to the ground. Everywhere but not to the two figures in front of her. It seemed like she lost her mind. Time was helpless, he didn't know what to do and looked to the woman behind the mirror. Hopefully she could find the right words.

“Alice... It is the truth, I'm sorry, but everyone you were with in your last minutes is now dead. Your only family who is left in that world is your sister and your two nephews. But they'll manage without you. Besides there is nothing you could do, because to me and the world you are also dead.”

She hold another watch in her hands and showed it to them. This one had belonged to the miserable young woman and it had tocked its last tick, too. She looked up, tried to take it from her, but just touched the cold surface of the mirror.

“You have no time left here, the looking glass knows that and won't let you ever pass again. Your journey has come to an end and your final goal was Underland. It was always this upside down world your heart belonged to. You, like your father, had hard times to fit in the normal society, but that lies in the past. Try to look forward, to your future.”

He could see that Alice broke down second by second, every word seemed to harm her. She has lost her strength to fight, she was in agony and just sank to the floor, crying without making any noise, shaking her head in disbelieve.
“Not everyone gets a second chance. So use it well.”

The two Times looked at each other like they could communicate without words. They both knew that there was nothing more to be said. He already promised to take good care of her and there was nothing left for his female counterpart to do. He just thanked her with a slight bow of his head. When she left, everything was up to him, now. Alice didn't look at him, her eyes were fixed to a spot on the dark floor. But her body was shaking heavily and yet no sound came over her lips. The only thing she could do in her state of shock was shedding tears while she had a hand on the glass. Just the never ending tick-tocking of the grand clock was to hear in the hall. The man clothed in black knelt down beside her, not knowing what to do now. He has never experienced such a sever situation. What should he do, how could he help her?

Time looked carefully at her, heard her breathing turning into a sob. She looked so much more heart breaking than Iracebeth some years ago, when she nearly started crying so often, or at least that he had thought so. And back then he wasn't allowed to come near her. She would have become furious, if he would have dared to touch her in that state of mind. But this young desperate woman was nothing like the Red Queen.
“If there is anything I can do for you...” he offered, but she just shook her head and buried her face behind her hands. Her sobbing now echoed louder through the castle and to him, she was completely broken. Even his Seconds have come to comfort her, trying to help. They stood around them in a circle and Wilkins stepped forward from the little crowd. He just cleared his throat, cause he did not dare to speak out loud before he wasn't spoken to.

 

“Yes, what is it?” Time asked, but didn't look at him.

“Maybe it is zhe best, if you take her to your parlor, Sir. Let her change her wet clozhes and in zhe meantime, I could try to find her friends? Bring zhem to her?”

“Wilkins, you know, I just had a brilliant idea...” he turned his head, but stopped. He was just about to say the exact same thing, but this was not the right moment for … being him.

“And I think that you are right. So go, quick.”

“Yes Sir, I'll fly!”

His butler bowed to him and then followed the corridor as fast as his short legs could carry him. Hopefully he would be back soon. It looked like she could need a real friend. But for now he had to compensate the lack of them. So he stretched out a hand to her and said: “Alice, come with me... please.”

But she didn't react and continued her miserable crying. She also ignored the hand on her shoulder when he came closer. Now he could hear, that she also was whispering to herself between her sobs. It was hard to understand her clearly.
“My fault... Everything is … oh god, it is my fault!They're dead... couldn't rescue... them... my fault … why? … Why wasn't I there? Could have saved them... I'm to blame … it was my foolish idea!”

This was not a good sign, even he knew that and he had some serious problems understanding every human behavior. He had to act now!

“I'm sorry, but it has to be”, he apologized gently before he took a hold of her legs and lay a hand on her back, so he could pick her up into his arms. He didn't dare to carry her again over his shoulder and was prepared that she would fight back, but she didn't. Instead she let out a louder sob and clung to his clothes.

“Seconds, go back to work”, he ordered and then carried her to his living room, where he let her down onto the big armchair. She was still dripping wet and rolled herself together, pulling her knees to her face, hiding herself behind them. Thankfully the fire was burning, so it could warm her up a little. He himself didn't need the heat, but it was nice for the atmosphere when he wanted to read a book in solitude. And because he didn't have blankets, he only took off his outer coat with the enormous shoulders. It was laid onto her own very small shoulders and he pulled it around her body. It wasn't perfect, but better than nothing.

“Please stay here, I'll be back in a moment with dry clothes for you.”

Again she didn't acknowledge that she has heard him. With a last worried glance he hurried out of the parlor towards his more private robing room.

Chapter Text

When Time stood in front of his closet, he dumbly realized that he had nothing that would fit for her smaller frame. In fact, he only had several pieces of the same outfit he now wore. And because he wasn't nostalgic, he never kept older outfits which he had worn a century or two ago. So there was no choice than giving her the white, fitting chausses, a pair of striped padded hoses, a black shirt and his magnificent doublet with the many buttons on the front and sleeves and the outstanding collar. He didn't bother to take shoes or his leather gloves for her. With his package he went back to the parlor, where Alice hasn't moved a bit in the meantime. But she seemed to be slightly calmer or maybe she just hadn't enough strength left to cry.

“I have something dry to put on for you, my dear. Of course it will be too big for you... but it's better than staying in your own wet ones.”

She only glanced over her knees to him and the clothes, he had in his hands, but another sob broke free and she hid again. He wished that she wouldn't do that, or at least talk to him, tell him what she needed. So he tried to speak in an encouraging tone:

“Please, put these on. I'll wait outside, till you're done?”

“I don't want to change”, she now answered hoarsely.

“Then what do you want?”

Alice didn't answer immediately, but looked up again. He now had a better view on her swollen, red eyes and the wet trails on her likewise red face.

“To die... I feel like I want to die, end the pain.”

“Nonsense!”, he cut her off seriously and with more force than he intended to. “Stop saying this gibberish! I can't imagine how you feel, that is true, but I do know a fellow, who thought, he lost his entire family in just one day. And as I recall, he is a very close friend of yours. He knows what you feel and so I ask you: Do you really want to make him loosing you, make him feel the same way you do now?”

She looked at him in mild shock, like she hadn't expected to hear him talk about the Hatter and his family. He could see how she swallowed hard and averted his eyes in shame.

“Thought so. And would you please now change your clothes? I warn you, young lady, don't make me undress you, you wouldn't like that!”

She nodded and whispered her agreement before she looked at the clothes on the stool nearby, where he had put them.

“Good, as I said, I'll wait outside. Call me when you're ready... Oh an don't even think about doing anything stupid, I will hear it.”

 

With this last warning, he exited the room and closed the door behind himself. At first he took a deep breath into his non existing lungs, but it was good enough to calm his nerves. Strange how much human behavior he imitated and liked it, even if he didn't need it. For his whole existence he was this mechanical creature, pretending to be partly human for some thousand years now, but with much less needs. So why he developed something like feelings, was beyond him. How nice it would have been to just turn them off, when he was sad or like now so deeply worried. But of course that was not how this stuff worked, was it? It wasn't always logic and stable and predictable like a clockwork. But right now he would have been happy if he hadn't promised to wait at the door. He would have to wait until her friends arrived, to change his own soaked stockings.

Some minutes passed, before the yellow haired woman opened the door behind him and stood in the frame. He turned around and examined her appearance. It seemed like the tears had finally stopped flowing and she was more calm. But it also looked a bit funny how small she was in his clothes and so he cracked a smile. Her hair would dry eventually and for now she wouldn't freeze to death in his castle or catch a cold.

“Better?”, he asked gently.

“I don't know... Where do you want me to put my own clothes?”

“Uhm...” He didn't have a clue. If Wilkins was still here, he would have ordered him to take care of this. “I have absolutely no idea. Where would you normally put wet clothes?”

They both looked around the room.

“I would hang it up, maybe near the fire.”

“Excellent, let me do that for you. Just sit down.”

For once she followed his order immediately and followed him with her eyes, while he tried to find a proper place to hang every piece up. After that he had to change some locations, because it dripped either on his writing desk or was too near to a precious clock. This was ridiculous, he thought and finally he sank onto the stool. Alice had again pulled up her feet to her body, laid her arms around her knees but looked at him.

 

“What now?” she asked quietly.

“Whatever you want. If you want to talk about-”

“I would rather not talk”, she interrupted him.

“Well, you don't have to. You can also read a book, if you like to... No? Then maybe want to write down your thoughts at my desk?”

They both looked to their side and just the hint of a smile appeared on her face.

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”, she asked more to herself than to him.

Now Time was totally confused. What kind of question was that? Maybe she has gone mad? While he tried to find an answer to this unusual riddle, her view rested on the furniture. The moment he wanted to say something, he stopped, cause he discovered a mistake in his logic. Then he started a second try and dropped it again. He simply couldn't find the connection between these two highly random selected things.

“Could I ask you a favour?”

Her voice sounded shy but it was enough to get his full attention.

“Of course, go ahead.”

“It may sound strange... very strange, but... no, please forget it.”

He waited some more, if she would change her mind again, before he went into it: “What was it, that would make you feel better. What do you want me to do?”

She hesitated.

“You know, my father died, when I was young... and it was really really hard for me. I cried for days. Even weeks after his death I still burst into tears from one moment to another. My mother was busy keeping everything together, after he was gone, I don't blame her for that.”

During her speech, new tears sprang to her eyes, but she went on:

“Most of the time my sister was there to comfort me. She always took me in her arms and hold me, until I was too weak to cry anymore. Sometimes we wept together... I would give anything to have her here now.”

He apprehended that she would ask for something, he wasn't able to give her.

“I'm sorry, but I don't know how to bring her to Underland. I don't even know, how Time sent you here.”

She nodded and had to swallow again, before she continued to speak:

“Just how I thought... but maybe, you... could you please hold me for a while? Not long, just... some seconds.”

This wish sounded harmless enough, he should be able to provide it and so he smiled and nodded his acceptance. Like him the young woman stood up and just glanced for a moment into his eyes. She seemed nervous, like she was afraid, that he would reject her, but of course nothing like that happened. It was odd how they stretched their arms out, laid them on the back of the other and stayed stiffly in this position in the middle of the room. Some seconds passed and she didn't let go, then a minute was over and she took one tiny step towards him, tightened her grip and laid her head on his chest. Her ear was now on the same level as his internal clock and she had to hear the constant ticking. It didn't take much longer before she again started to weep in his arms. At first he thought, he might have done something wrong, but she didn't let go. So he assumed, that she wanted to continue to be hold and he intensified his embrace. When her sobs became louder and her body started to shake again, he on the opposite began to pat her head carefully, still not knowing if he did this right.

“It's alright”, he whispered into her hair, because he wanted to let her know, that it was okay for him to stay a little longer. Indeed they stood several minutes like this, while she changed from loud bawling to very silent weeping or calm moments. But she had told him, that her sister had just hold her trough everything of this. So maybe it didn't matter when her calm, regained state was again crushed by the next episode of sobs. Maybe it was only important that there was someone here for her. When she finally loosened her grip and tried to take a step back, he let her. Alice looked very exhausted.

“Thank you”

Her voice was again very husky, but also tired.

“Should we sit down and I hold you some more”, he offered, eager to help her.

She nodded and he rounded her, seated himself in his armchair with the high back rest. She waited silently, until he invited her with open arms. Cautiously she sat down sideways on his upper legs and leaned into him. Again his arms where around her, while one of her hands was on his chest along with her head.

“Are you comfortable?”, he asked and she nodded.

“Are you?”

“Yes and I hope it's not too disturbing for you.”

“What do you mean?”, she asked and straightened herself.

“Well... that I have no heartbeat, just ticking and turning gears and that kind of noises.”

Time admitted it, that he was uncertain if he was good enough to convey comfort, but she cracked a small smile.

“No it's not disturbing... it rather has a calming effect.”

“That is good.”

They shared a brief look and a smile, before she returned to her previous position. Now it was very peaceful, because it seemed, like she was trough the worst. There were some deep shaky breaths in between, maybe some more tears. While no one said a word, he asked himself, when Wilkins would come back, he was away for nearly two hours now. Maybe he should have send some Seconds with him so they could split up and search for Alice' friends. All he could do now, was waiting.

 

It took them two hours and 42 minutes to return to his castle. He could hear his name, being called by his butler. But when he turned his head to the voice, he realized, that Alice had fallen asleep and wasn't reacting. So he didn't shout back. They would find them. Wilkins knew, that they would be in his room. He counted several pairs of feet which turned to his direction.

“Sir, I've found zhem!”, shouted the little creature while opening the door.

“Shhh! She's sleeping.”

“Oh, I'm sorry”, he whispered now and let the others in. The first of them was of course the Hatter, followed by his dunderheads from the tea party. The cat with the normally big grin on it's face also flew in. All of their faces had a worried look.

“What took you so long?”, Time asked silently.

“I had to search for zhem”, Wilkins defended himself. “And of course I had to tell zhem, what happened.”

“Poor Alice”, the Dormouse said.

Time felt now really uncomfortable surrounded by them, while they stared at the young woman on his lap. Sooner or later, they would have to wake her up.

“Why is she wearing your clothes?”, the Mad Hatter asked suspecting.

“Isn't that obvious? I couldn't let her stay in those dripping things in which she almost drowned.”

“And why exactly is she sleeping, while sitting on your lap?”

That bloody nitwit had a talent to anger him. But he kept his voice low, when he answered:

“Because she asked me to hold her and then she must have fallen asleep.”

The man looked, like he didn't believe him and would like to strangle him. But it was the truth and Time couldn't see why he really made such a fuss about it.

“Either way, we should take her to the White Queen”, the cat suggested.

“You're right Chessur, let her sleep in a proper bed.”

Like the mouse they all agreed to this and the Hatter came nearer.

“Alice, wake up”, he said gently and she stirred. Slowly she opened her eyes and looked up.

“Tarrant?”, she asked confused and then turned her head to Time. Someone could see, when she realized on whom she had rested.

“Oh I'm, terrible sorry, I didn't plan to fall asleep I'm-”

“It's alright”, he cut her short. Because it really was. Nonetheless she hurried to stand up and let him also rise from his seat. She then turned to her friend, who was looking at her with big, worried eyes. They hugged each other without a word.

“Good to see you”, she said and her voice was shaky again. She glanced to the others and tried to smile, but there were already tears in her eyes.

“We are so relieved, that you are here, Alice”, the Hatter said. “Come, come, we take you home, where you get proper clothes for your proper size. And tea as much as you want and a big bed and you'll be surrounded by friends.”

He was already taking her out of the room, when she looked over her shoulder and nodded to Time and he bowed his head as response. He could hear the red haired man talking and talking, the whole way out of the castle. The others followed him and just throw in a sentence or two. He himself was left alone with Wilkins and he felt a bit exhausted, too. Which was unusual, cause he shouldn't feel such things like fatigue, when he never needed to sleep. Because Time never sleeps, he had always so much work to do. It would be the best to see if everything was okay, before he could relax with a good book. Changing his stockings was now obsolete, they had dried in the meantime. Her clothes on the other hand were still wet and they had left them here. Maybe he should bring them to her in the next days?

Hopefully she would feel better till then.

Chapter Text

Since the young, yellow haired woman came through his looking glass, he felt a bit drained, like he lacked some energy. The last few days he double checked everything, what was going on in his castle. And to top that he also inspected the Chronospehere, the Grand Clock, himself and Alice' clock multiple times a day. But he found nothing abnormal and that fact itself bothered him. Something had changed when she came here, something that caused him to feel ... tired. After the third day he ordered Wilkins to fetch all the Seconds and check every single screw and even the tiniest gear inside of the Grand Clock. But when he reported a day later, that they had fulfilled his wish and they either hadn't found anything wrong. Just to make sure he expanded the search for a failure to the rest of the castle.

“Sir, do you allow me to ask, what we should look for? What is wrong, zhat you want us to inspect everyzhing?”

“It's … nothing Wilkins. Really. I only want to be sure, everything is good. So stop standing around and ask me silly questions!”

“Of course, Sir.”

He bowed down and went down the corridor to organize the Seconds for the inspection. When he was out of reach, Time sighed and opened his doublet on the front to check his clock. Maybe it was just his nerves. He could be upset about the events, worried about the girl, what made him feel not so well. He mused it may be the right moment, to go and visit Underland, bring her back her clothes. Normally he despised to go out, but he wanted to see her personally. Check if she got better. It was early afternoon and he wondered if it wasn't to late to go now. Well he didn't intend to stay for long, so it should be okay.

“Wilkins! WILKINS!”, he shouted loudly and his echo was heard through the corridors.

“Coming, Sir”, he heard him shouting back. He waited not so patiently for him to arrive.

“I decided to go out, where are Alice' clothes?”

“I've placed zhem on zhe chair in you dressing room, my Lord. Everyzhing washed, dried and ironed, as you wished.”

“Good. You know what to do, if anything happens?”

“Yes”

“Say it!”

Wilkins rolled his eyes but answered patiently:

“I will turn back the Grand Clock for exactly 31 seconds, so you will know, zhere is an emergency.”

“Exactly. I shouldn't be away for long. An hour, maybe two.”

“Of course, Sir.”

 

Time fetched the clothes, controlled how he looked, cause he only wanted to present himself as magnificent as he was to the Underlandians and exited his castle through the front door. Before him laid the big clock shaped abyss and behind that were only rocky cliffs as far as someone could see. It still was a mytsery to him, how Alice got into his castle the first time they had met. Only he and his minions should be able to activate the bridges to pass the chasm safely. There were four common entrances to his isolated kingdom. All of them had their origin somewhere in Underland and only led to the abyss with no way to pass it safely. The only exception was the one he created for his ex-love, Iracabeth alone. Which had been torn down in the meantime. He already knew that she only had bridged the chasm with the help of her plant subordinates. She had been the first to visit him after decades of total isolation and he had thought her interest in him was true. But he was over it, by now. No need to be stuck in the past, he was always the one to enjoy the present.

He summoned the bridge, which built itself out of metal, laying on the bottom ground. It was one of his inventions and so he didn't worry that the path created itself just a few steps ahead of him and broke itself down behind him. Being Time himself and having the Chronosphere meant that he had to protect the castle very carefully. Not that loose security would be an invitation to petty thieves... And since Alice had managed to steal it anyway, he wondered if he would need a guardian. Maybe a metal golem? But it would be really him-consuming to build one and lately he wasn't very eager to waste himself too much. When he set foot on solid ground again, he could see the small light coming from the entrance behind the pendulum. It must have been a century or so ago, when he last had used one of these to visit Underland himself and he almost forgot how tiny they were. He had some problems to fit through the small frame, especially with his high hat and his broad shoulders. But he managed to squeeze himself through. Time found himself in a white room with nothing in it except the longcase clock. His eyes needed a moment to adjust to the brightness and then he opened the doors to the hallway.

“Hello? Anybody here?”, he asked and looked around. No one answered and so he decided to go left and follow the corridor. He had to meet someone eventually wandering through this very white house or even castle. He assumed the White Queen was living here, or at last a person who shared her taste. Maybe it would have been a good idea to ask Wilkins, how he found the Hatter five days ago. But it was too late and he wandered around clueless. Finally he nearly collided with two white dressed ladies, who were standing around a corner. They looked at him in mild shock.

“I'm searching for a girl with very bright yellow hair-”

“You mean, Alice?”, asked one of her, while the other asked:

“Are you Time?”

“Uh, yes and yes. How did you know?”

They both seemed very exited now and smiled at him, which confused him.

“Who doesn't know about you?”

“Everyone in the kingdom talked about, what happened some years ago.”

“Like everyone knows now that our heroine came back from your castle. Is it true that it is even bigger than Mamoreal?”

“Of course, Queen Mirana must know it”, the other corrected her.

“Huh... interesting”, he said and then focused on the subject at hand. “So will one of you help me to find Alice?”

“Of course”, they said and only a second later both ladies had grabbed one arm of him and led him through the hallway. He had to pay attention and not loose the clothes he carried with him.

“You know, my Lord, everyone knows who you are, but nobody told us, that you are so handsome.”

“Yes, dark, but very good looking and with stunning eyes.”

They sniggered a bit.

“Thank you? … I mean, of course I am really impressing.”

It was very strange and he was a bit more confused by their behaviour. When did it change that people wouldn't mock him, but look at him with such an admiring stare? Even other people or white Chess pieces they passed on their way, did bow their heads to him.

“Are you going to visit us more often from now on?”, asked the woman on his left.

“Because we would love to show you around some more”, added the one on his right side.

“Well, I won't make promises... but there is always a possipility that I will come back here.”

“Great, if you want to see us, just ask for Iliana and Anatolia.”

“I will remember that”, he lied. But it would be rude of him, to say out loud that he would forget to whom these names belonged. He wasn't good remembering faces, only if these persons were outstanding. These two ladies where lovely without doubts, but so insignificant to him. He was more than relieved, when they arrived in a big garden, surrounded by pink trees and they released him. Saying goodbye to them, he followed the direction they send him to, where he discovered a big table with many different persons sitting at it. Some of them he recognized instantly, some of them not, but they all looked up at him, when they saw him.

“Look who's late for tea!”, shouted that little annoying mouse and he sent her an angry look. That was more the behaviour he was accustomed to.

“Time”, he heard Alice saying. She was the only one who stood up from the table to come and greet him. She smiled a bit and seemed to be glad seeing him.

“Alice.”

“So, you decided to join us at the table?”, the Hatter asked with a crooked grin.

“No, I just wanted to bring this back”, he presented the clothes, which could need a bit ironing again, after he crumpled them so badly.

“But if you like, we would be most honoured, if you sit with us”, the White Queen invited him delightful. She was one of the few people at the table who seemed to respect him as much as he deserved it.

“I think, I might have some spare minutes.”

“That's great”, Alice said pleased and took her belongings from him, before she guided him to an empty seat next to the Queen and the twin boys. She herself took her seat between the Hatter and the Hare again.

“Would you like to have some tea?”, the White Rabbit in front of him asked politely.

“No, thank you. I don't need anything at the moment.”

“So where were I?”, the red haired man, interrupted the courtesies.

“You wanted to tell me, how your father reacted to the trick you played him”, the girl on his right reminded him.

“Ah yes, yes. He was furious, being my father and being very strict, he seemed like he would explode because of anger. An absolutely exhilarating sight, if you ask me. But after that something less nice followed and he hadn't let me out of my room for weeks. Only for meals, or when I should do something for him. But the look on his face was worth it! That much I can tell you.”

“I recall, Tarrant, that you thought otherwise back then, when I floated into your room and caught you while you tried to escape through your window”, the cat added while others where laughing or at least smiling because of his funny story.
When the two of them started a discussion about what happened, most of them listened, but gratefully the Queen turned her attention to him.

“I hope everything is going smoothly for you?”

“Yes, no problems at all”, he again lied. But he didn't want to share is worries. Maybe it was nothing and it wasn't their concern, if something really was wrong.

“Glad to hear, that no damages to you or our history remained. I wanted to apologize again for my sisters behaviour and that I sent Alice to you to borrow the Chronosphere.”

“Luckily she took responsibility for her actions. Unless we wouldn't be here, speaking about it.”

“You're right, she always was a very strong personality.”

They both glanced over to the other end of the tea table. The Hare was just trying to balance several teacups on his head and arms and the others cheered him on. The blonde was just sitting next to him, smiling silently, waiting for the unavoidable that he would drop them sooner or later.

“I'm worried about her”, the Queen admitted under her breath and he could see why. Her smile tried to fool others, but under her eyes were dark circles, like she hasn't slept enough. And she seemed paler than he recalled.
“All we can do, is to give our best to support her, trough this tragedy. But I'm afraid it isn't enough.”

“I hoped, she would feel better, when she is with her friends.”

“So did we. But nonetheless it will take time, as in she maybe need weeks or month to overcome her loss.”

He nodded his approval and thought of what people said about him. That he heals all wounds. Oh how he wished, this idiom would be true and he could just magically wave a hand and she would be good.

“However, it may help her, if you could visit every few days.”

He hardly understood what she had said because of the loud ruckus which was now going on. It appeared the mouse hat started a food fight and many of the guests participated it. Just the White Rabbit, the Queen and himself preferred to stay civilized. As he had said, mad dunderheads all together.

“I don't think that. Alice and I know each other barely.”

“That may be correct, but I wouldn't have mentioned it, if I didn't thought, she wouldn't like to have you around. But of course it is up to you, I guess you have much to work.”

“Yes-”

He was hit hard by something and turned around instantly. When he looked into the round, everyone hold their breaths.

“Who did this?”, he demanded to know in very slow and dangerous voice.

They all pointed to another person and he wasn't able to identify the wrongdoer. Time shook his head and could feel crumbs, of whatever cake had hit his head, between his gears.

“I think, it's the best, if I go now. Your majesty.”

“Wait!”, Alice called and stood up with him. She had smeared some cream tart in her hair and her face but it didn't bother her, when she followed him with quick steps. He heard her shouting, that they should continue and assured to be back in a moment. Finally she caught up with him.

 

“I'm very sorry, about that.”

“You're not to blame, or are you?”

“No... But I wanted to ask, if you cloud spare another minute and come with me. Then I can give you back your clothes, you've lend me, too.”

He almost forgot about them and he wouldn't have cared about their loss. But he sighed and accepted.

“Lead the way.”

He followed her out of the garden and again into the castle. Maybe it was good to have her here, because he wasn't so sure about his way back. Maybe he should have remembered the way the other two women had showed him.

“So tell me, how do you feel?”

“Better. Thank you for your concern. And of course for all your help, that was very nice of you.”

A faint red appeared on her cheeks and he wondered why. They walked a bit in silence before he asked her, what she had planed for the evening. But when he did, he saw her lively expression drop.

“I don't know. Maybe read a book, try to catch some sleep.”

“Please don't take this the wrong way, but you look like you lack that mentioned sleep. So maybe it is not a bad idea.”

“The nights are the worst”, she said calmly. “When no one is around it's a boon and bane... These last days it was exhausting to be around people. They try to cheer me up, make me forget all the terrible things that happened and I don't want to disappoint them, or worry them even more.”

Her voice started to become shaky again and she took some breaths, before she continued.

“It works for some hours to not think of my mother and all of my men who died because I wanted to take another sea route... But the moment I close my door, it all floods back into my mind and I drown again in sorrow. Here we are.”
They had arrived in front of her room and she opened the door. It was like everything else in this castle: white, with faint colours here and there. Nothing he would prefer. She entered it and he waited for her outside.
“You may come in, I have to search a little”, she informed him and after he hesitated, he followed her invitation, closing the door behind him. The room felt a bit tiny to him, which was because there were so many things in it. There was a rather big bed, two closets, a book shelf, a little table in front of the window with just one chair, a fireplace and a closed door to another room. Why would the queen give her such a small, stuffed room when the castle was so big?
“So here we have the stockings... and the pants. I just wonder where they've put your jacket.”

“Have you told anybody else about that?”, he asked gently and she stopped in her motions, shook her head and averted his eyes.

“Then why do you tell me about it?”

“It's just... as I said, I don't want to worry them more than necessary. I think they couldn't take it. They all expect me to be strong and lively. I was the one who slayed the Jabberwocky and saved Tarrant's family and everything connected to that. I'm afraid of what they will think of me, if I tell them how weak I feel.”

The young woman seated herself on her bed and looked up to him.

“You have already seen me completely broken and to you it means nothing what I've done before. So I have the feeling that I can trust you. That I can tell you, that I wept myself to sleep every evening for the last five days. Only to wake with a start, because of the nightmares that hunt my dreams and start crying silently in the night, so nobody will hear me.”

He didn't know what to say to her. He really hoped that it would be easier for her.

“Should I sit down with you and you tell me about it?”

“No, you were about to go, before I detained you... It seems whenever we meet, I have so much to apologize for.”

“Don't be sorry. I offered you my help and you shall receive it. Move, let me sit next to you.”

She did as she was told, so he had some space, which he needed a lot with his outfit.

“Tell me, what troubles you, or whatever else you want to talk about.”

 

And so she began. She spoke about the night everything happened. That they had been on their way back to England for some months, when Alice as the captain had decided to change the course. She had been warned about certain areas at sea, where pirates had been more active lately and she had tried to avert these waters. The outcome was a terrible disaster, she had changed the pirates for a hundred-year storm with waves nearly as high as a castle. She still saw them in her nightmares and especially the one which had flipped over the ship. After that everything had gone dark for her and the next thing she remembered was waking up beside his feet.

“During the night, it's like I can hear their screams. My crew who desperately tries to fight the weather and get us all out. Their voices echo in my head like the thunder the wind and rain does. I recall the last moments of speaking with my mother. How much she looked forward to see her other daughter and her grandchildren after such a long voyage... They will never see us again and nor do I.”

While she had told him everything she had on her mind, she shed some tears again. Nothing in comparison to her mental breakdown, but still enough to make him feel sorry for her.

“After all that happened, I'm asking myself, why it was me... Why I deserve a second chance here and everybody else had to die.”

“You know, everything happened so fast when you woke up in my hall, that I didn't have the chance to explain the exact circumstances. There is a specific reason why you alone were brought here.”

“Because I travelled to Underland before, I assume.”

“Not exactly...”

And so he told her everything about her father and his true roots. She was fascinated by his words and wanted to know, if there were other family members left and were she could find them. But he didn't know it. Not yet, because he promised her, to search for living relatives of her. It seemed to give Alice new hope.

“It's getting really late”, he reminded her. It was already dark outside. “I will go now and let you catch some sleep. I'll be back if I know something about the Kingsleigh family.”

“It always astounds me how fast time... you, can pass and then there are moments, when it feels like you slow down”, she mused.

“Humans tend to forget about me or to think too much of me, that is why you feel so different. But of course you know, that normally I'm proceeding at the same speed... with few exceptions.”

She smiled and hugged him.

“Thank you, for everything you have done and will do. If there is any way, I can repay you, just say the word.”

“First you get better. Second, just don't steal the Chronosphere anymore, do you swear?"

“I totally swear to never mess with you again.”

“That's a good start. Goodnight Alice.”

“Goodnight.”

He picked up his stuff and left her room. Hopefully she would sleep better tonight. It was then, he remembered that he still had no clue where the room with the floor clock was and how he would get there. So he started to take the right way until he heard a male voice from around the corner:

“Took you long enough. What did you do in there?”

It was the Hatter who revealed himself and was looking at him grimly.

“Talking, if you really want to know.”

“What did you talk about?”

“That was private.”

Now they stood just three steps in front of each other. Time really didn't know why this fellow had this accusing look in his green eyes. But he really couldn't care less. The only thing he wanted, was to go back to his castle.
“I need to know, so I can help her get better. If you don't tell me, you won't do her favour.”

“On the contrary. If she wants to talk about these things with you, she will do it herself.”

The appearance of the Hatter changed immediately and the colourful face was now just white and black with yellow, fury eyes in it. But he wasn't afraid of the man. Even not when his voice became dark with a thick scottish accent
“I warn ye, if ye do anythin' that harms mah Alice ur prevents that she will heal-”

“Your Alice? You warn me? You haven't learned from the past, did you? Let me just say this once and for all: Stay out of my way, because the only reason I haven't repeated that little trick from years ago, is because you are her closest friend.”
“Wouldn' it be fun tae trap me an' mah friends again in time, ye bloody bastard?”

If looks could kill, they both would have dropped dead instantly, that was for sure. How could this fool dare to treat him with so little respect, after he already had taught him a lesson?

“You're right, I would really much enjoy that, but I know she wouldn't. So pull yourself together and let me help, too. There is no need, to protect her from me, I'm not her enemy.”

With that he walked past the Hatter. He had enough of this silly bicker, it wasn't worth it. He sighed and went to the left.

“That's the wrang direction. The wey tae yer castle is the other wey!”

He turned on his heels and looked again at the man, who still looked furious.

“See, that's the way it should be.”

“Jist wanted tae make sure, ye leave Mamoreal thes night.”

The Hatter did indeed follow him, until he escaped Underland through the clock and entered the void he lived in. This day was a really tiring one and Time was relieved to be on his way back home. Away from all of those imbeciles. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes for a moment and embraced the cold air on his skin. One moment of complete solitude only for himself, was what he needed before he continued his path. Wilkins was already waiting for him nervously, now wonder he was longer away than he had planned. At least there was one good thing: Nothing bad had happened during is absence.

Chapter Text

 

The following days the exhaustion didn't vanish. In fact it seemed like it had become worse, but he couldn't fool himself. The worries about the girl and the nearly fight with her friend took a toll on him. His underlings haven't found anything odd and so he had to admit, that it was simply him feeling not as good as ever. Nonetheless he has given a promise and he intended to keep it. The next day he had sent Wilkins down to the Archive with the names of Alice' dead grandparents.

The Archive was a very important part of his castle and was located directly under the big halls of the Living and the Deceased Underlandians. While the Oraculum was a complete compendium of Underland itself and presented every day with an event, which happened then, there also existed a compendium of every creature in this world. The biggest difference was, these books were only records of the past of the person they belonged to and who was dead by now. There was no chance to ever find one of a still living creature, because the memories were kept in their clocks. When it stopped ticking, it gave free these memories, so everybody could theoretically read it. But Time did also watch over their history, so no one would ever see or even know about this secret. Only he himself and Wilkins were able to enter it and since he didn't like the Archive, he let his butler do the search down there.

Time tried his luck in the meantime above in the hall of the Living. His first station was to check on Alice clock, which had a nice melodic sound, soft but very forceful and full of life. What humans couldn't even imagine, was not only that every clock had a very own signature ticking or that he could remember their sounds, but that he could even hear, if someone was related to another. Indeed it was very difficult and he needed silence, which was of course not quite possible being in a castle, where you could hear the ticks of the Grand Clock in every corridor and also it's turning gears in every corner. But he had to concentrate himself carefully, freed his mind from the troubling thoughts. In his head he isolated Alice' tune, listened a bit longer to it and then let his attention wander to different clocks nearby. After some minutes he was sure, that none of them sounded a bit like hers. Like this he searched sector to sector through all of them.

It was hours later when he came to the conclusion, that he had found at least one still living relative. But he could hear, that her tick was already the weak one of an old woman.

“Elyra Fonder”, he whispered and looked at her precious life span. If other family members than her were still alive, then they were more distant relatives and their sound was too foreign, mixed with the own of other families. He had, what he had searched for and with that he left the hall to find Wilkins. When he turned around a corner, he saw him running to him, calling out to him and there was panic in his voice. Strange, that didn't suit him.

“Sir, Sir, somezhing terrible has happened down zhere in the Archive! It's perfectly horrible, a compete catastrofy!”

“Pull yourself together, Wilkins, what is this nonsense you are talking about?”

“You must see yourself, Sir! Would you please follow me down zhis instant?”

“Fine, lead the way.”

He followed his butler down the endless stairs to the bottom and the lower they went, the temperature sank, too. It was freezing cold in the Archive and the book shelves went from the ground to right under the ceiling, which was very high above. But something was not right, he could now feel that clearly. Wilkins led him to the room with the letter K and on the table were multiple books laying open. He could clearly see the gap where they were missing.

“I don't know what caused zhis, but every book which belonged to a member of zhe Kingsleigh family is burned!”

“Burned?”, he asked unbelieving, but took a look at the specimens on the table. They indeed looked like they have been burnt. Most of the pages were completely eliminated, the rest weren't readable any more. But the most outstanding detail was, that their covers and backs were untouched. If they would be still in the shelves, it would look like everything was alright.

“Do you know, what zhis could mean, Sir?”

“I don't know... but this is nothing which would happen on it's own... Someone must have destroyed them on purpose.”

“But who? Nobody but you and me can enter zhe Archive! I've seen nozhing zhat indicated someone had broken in!”

“Seems like whoever did this, is not only very resourceful, but also didn't want us to know what he or she has done... And to add one mystery to the list: Why was it done?”

This was not good, this was the totally opposite of good! His head was full of theories, but with no evidence to prove them.

“Wilkins, I want you to check every single book in the Archive.”

“Did you say every single book?”, his voice hitched and his eyes were wide with shock. “Zhat will take forever and -”
“I don't care!”, Time shouted angrily and Wilkins just instantly turned silent.

“Don't you understand how important this is? Get all of the Seconds and Minutes together and comb trough the books. Start with the books of the Fonder family. And I need to do something different. I will be out of the castle and I don't know when I will return. But it's necessary to find the last living relative of the girl. Maybe she knows something why this happened!”

“Yes Sir!”

 

Time hurried the stairs up, breathing really heavy and then went out into the void. He had to find Alice fast and with her help, they had to get informations about the whereabouts of Elyra . His quick steps echoed in the stony corridors of Mamoreal, while he called out for the young woman. He was just making a terrible ruckus, but he couldn't care less. Where was she? He checked her room, asked other people he met on his way and no one seemed to know where she was. Panic was rising in his chest and he hurried up. It was then, when he collided with another person and nearly fell to the floor.

“YE? What ar' ye daeing here?”

Not again this angry Hatter!

“Where is Alice? I have to find her, quickly?”

“How come?”

“I believe, that she could be in danger. Maybe someone is after her. This is why I have to find her!”

The yellow eyes widened in shock. The other man examined him and it seemed, he came to the conclusion to trust him... at least for once.

“Follow me.”

They were both running now through the white castle and Time struggled to keep up with the Hatter. His outfit was not exactly something you could easily move or run. He followed blindly through more hallways, across the garden and down to the stables. Finally the mad man slowed down and called for his friend.

“I'm in here Tarrant.”

It was such a relieve to hear her voice and they opened the door. Inside of the stable stood a giant hairy creature which looked very dangerous and she was just caressing it. Both of them were breathing heavy and she looked confused.

“What's going on?”

“Ask him.”

“I've found … uh... one living relative... but I have reasons to think... that she and you are in danger.”

It was hard to speak, when you were out of breath like he was at this moment.

“What? Why? And where is she?”

“I don't know where, but her name is Elyra and her family name is now Fonder. We have to find her. Someone seems to want to eliminate the history of your family and maybe this person is also planning to erase every living evidence.”

Alice and the Hatter looked at each other in alarm.

“Does this name ring a bell?”

“Don't think I've heard it, but when she lives here, then maybe the Queen should be able to help.”

“Good, then we should see her immediately.”

They all agreed to this plan and left the stables together. For now it looked like the both men had concluded an armistice in order to protect the young woman.

“Do you know anything about the attacker?”, she asked like it was a business affair and not like her live may be at stake.

“Nothing, just that he must have a very effective way to disguise himself. If we are unlucky he has abilities beyond a human being.”

“You have something specific in mind?”, the Hatter asked seriously

“Not yet.”

“Should we take our swords with us, or will they be useless?”

“As I said, I don't know who or what this criminal is, but it's never wrong to have something to protect yourself with you”, he answered her question, while they entered again the castle in order to speak to Mirana.

“And where is your weapon? With what do you intend to protect Alice?”

“I'm Time, I don't fight like humans.”

That was the only statement they got from him. Of course he was not a great fighter, not like a certain girl who slayed the Jabberwocky. Not even like an angry madman. The three of them went straight to the throne room, after that they searched for the queen in the basement and found her mixing some potions. She smiled at them, when they enter her room.

“Well, how nice to see you.”

“We need your help, your majesty”, the Hatter spoke first.

“We have to find a relative of me, her name is...”

“Elyra Fonder. She might be in danger.”

She was still smiling but looked slightly confused from one to the next.

“Then we should visit my Master of Household, he keeps track of which house belongs to whom in the kingdom.”

She was leading the way now and the other three followed her less elegant but also quick. When they found the man, they explained to him the situation again. A few minutes later they had the location of her house. It was far away from the little town around Mamoreal, so they had to go there by horse or in Alice case by Bandersnatch.

“Wait, horse?”, Time asked and felt uneasy.

“Well yes of course. It's the quickest way to get there”, she told him.

“I've never been riding on a horse”, he admitted and made the others look baffled at him. It was the red haired man, who suggested that he then should stay behind and let just himself and Alice take care of the situation.

“No you don't understand, she may have very important informations. I have to see her, too.”

“Then you will ride with me on the Bandersnatch, it should be much easier than on the back of a horse.”

“I'll go down there and let saddle my fastest horse for you, Tarrant”, the White Queen offered.

The Hatter looked like he didn't like the idea, but he didn't say anything, cause when Alice had set up her mind, it was set in stone. Before they hurried back to the stables, they split up again, hence the two could catch a sword of their own. Of course Time went with Alice, when she lent a weapon from the chess pieces shaped guards.

“You think you can handle that?”

“I'll manage, it's not heavier than the Mrutal Sword.”

They arrived at their destiny before the Hatter did and they thanked the queen again for her help. Time had to admit, that he would have preferred another way of transportation than to mount this beast. He clearly had some problems to get on it's back and Alice had to help him.

“Just make sure to not pull out his hairs, he doesn't like it”, she warned and climbed up in front of him.

“And what am I supposed to hold onto?”, he asked worried.

“On me of course.”

She shook her head like his question was silly. While she seated herself properly and ordered him to scoot a bit nearer, Tarrant arrived with a rather big two handed sword at his side. Immediately he mounted a white and grey horse which was prepared for him.

“Travel save”, the Queen said with worry in her eyes.

“We will.”

They were ready and the blonde gave the Bandersnatch the signal to charge forward and one of it's riders nearly fell off.

“How long do you think, we have to travel?”, he asked.

“Should be there in three or four hours”, the Hatter answered with a serious face.

“Oh dear”, Time murmured.

 

It was like a trip to hell and back for him. And he swore to himself, that if they wouldn't have to hurry back, he would walk! He never ever wanted to ride on that thing again. In the end he was grateful to not be able to be physically sick, but he sure didn't feel good when they finally hopped off the back.

“It must be the house, they told us. Let's see, if we can find her.”

With a determined look Alice was the first to go, while Time looked around cautiously and Hatter had already a hand on his sword. She knocked on the door.

“Hello, anybody there?”, she shouted and waited for a reply. Then she tried it again.

“Mrs Fonder? Are you there? My name is Alice and we think, you may have known my father, Charles Kingsleigh.”

Still no answer. Was she simply not at home or were they too late? They looked at each other.

“We should go in and search the house”, Time suggested.

“You mean, we should break in, while she's gone?”, Alice asked outraged.

“Pardon but who of us has a history of breaking into someone’s castle and steal something?” She didn't laugh about this one.

“We're not here to harm her, but maybe save her life. If you don't want to join, I'll go in myself.”

He laid a hand on the doorknob and turned it. The door was open, which seemed odd. He had a bit of a problem to fit through the frame again, but went in sideways. It was a little house, so he stood directly in the living room. The room was empty and he carefully went further. In the back there was a tiny kitchen and stairs to the next floor. The fire in the oven was still burning. The other two had followed him and Alice was also looking at the kitchen.

“She wanted to make herself a tea, it seems. She has to be near... Mrs Fonder?”

Still no answer.

“Watch it”, the Hatter warned them. “If she isn't gone for long, maybe the attacker could still be here.”

The tension in the room was heavy. Time set a foot on the first step, when they heard the whinnying of the horse and a roar of the Bandersnatch outside. In an instant they dashed to the exit, to see what was going on. But they just saw the two animals really distressed. The giant beast searching around like it did sense something.

“Stay behind me”, Tarrant ordered them and took a few steps outside to look around. Alice followed him and after her Time to watch her back. The both in front of him had drawn their swords already and were ready to fight. They were on the edge of their nerves with the horse still panicking. But there was nothing to see. They waited for some more seconds, but nothing else happened. They did see and hear nothing.

“We should go back inside and look for her, quickly”, she suggested. And they agreed to her silently.

It happened in the blink of an eye. They just had turned around, when a dark creature appeared in front of Time, stabbing him with a long spear. He was so surprised he didn't even feel the pain at first. But then he looked down in horror and saw the weapon had pierced his abdomen. His body sent out electrical shocks, which caused him to wrench his spine.

“NO!”, Alice shouted and charged forward, swinging her sword against the shadow creature. It pulled out it's weapon from his body and defended itself with amazing speed. But the moment the Hatter tried to strike at it, it vanished into thin air.

“It's a shadow skipper”, Time called and held a hand to his wound. Now that he realized what has happened, he felt the agonizing pain, which almost brought him to his knees.

“A what?”

“A creature not of this world. Do not touch it or its spear, it will kill you instantly.”

“Ah didn' plan tae!”, the Hatter shouted back, looking around himself hastily.

They heard a terrible distorted laugher. It seemed to come from everywhere around them.

“Not of this world, he says. You do remember my kin, but it appears you have forgot, that we once belonged to this world and you and your friends banished us!”

The voice caused goosebumps and let the hair in someone’s neck stand up. Alice had never heard anything comparable to it and she was never a religious person. But she thought, that maybe the devil himself would sound like that Shadow Skipper.

“It... it was for all the best!”, Time tried to explain.

“LIAR!”, it shrieked horribly angry.

Before any of them could react or even see it's movement, it stroke again.

 

 

Chapter Text

The spear was pierced now through Time's chest from behind, only millimetres away from his clock. He cried out tormented and sank down, while the weapon was drawn out and for the second time the dark creature disappeared, before the Hatter or Alice could hit it.

“He's too fast”, she shouted angrily and looked around in panic.

“You're just too slow”, the creature mocked her, now appearing on the roof of the house. They all looked up to it. The body was pure blackness, just two wholes and a crack in the face stood out with a fiery glow. It was, like inside of it burned a fire and you could see it through its eyes and whenever it opened its mouth.

“And you are too predictable, just like Time himself. Hahaha, I knew you would come here. To set this trap and the clues was too easy.”

“Yeah? How come dae ye wanted us 'ere?”

A big grin, which almost conquered the one of the Chesire Cat, appeared on its face.

“I only planned to get him out of his castle. That you would come with him, did just put the cherry on the cake.”

“So you want to kill me? Why would you care about them.”

“I don't... but you do! Before I'll end you, you will have to see how your friends will die. Before everything in this world will end with you together, I want you to see them suffer!”

Time looked shocked at his companions. They stood before him, trying to be prepared for the next attack, but all of them knew, that it could be over every second. He stood up and it was painful, but he was the only one who could survive the touch of this deadly creature. He pushed them aside, tried to get the Shadow Skippers attention.

“That won't help your people and when I die, so will you”, he shouted.

“I know, but at least I'll have my revenge. So which one should be the first one to die?”

Time knew, he could only rescue one at least and if he would choose the wrong to protect... He could clearly see the fiery grin, how the dark body prepared itself for the jump. In the next moment he had decided and throw himself against the Hatter, pushing him out of the way and shielding himself with his arms, so the weapon again missed his clock. It went straight through his throat, but he reacted quickly and took a hold of it, so the Shadow Skipper couldn't pull it out. The creature shrieked, trying with force to get it back. It was confused for a moment, which he used to pull himself on the weapon nearer and grabbed right through the Skippers chest into his internal fire... But the thing he searched for, was blocked. His plan didn't work and his blue eyes widened in shock.

“What?”

The tip of Alice sword nearly touched the skin of the creature, but it disappeared again, leaving it's weapon stuck in Time, causing much more electrical shocks in his body. Tarrant was again on his feet, holding his sword with two hands, breathing as heavy as the other two. The distorted voice came again from everywhere around them when it spoke:

“You thought you could catch me with the oldest trick in the world? I've prepared too long for this to happen! I won't fail!”

This situation seemed so desperate. Their enemy was much faster than them, its touch alone was deadly to the two humans and Time was wounded really badly by now.

He had to think fast to get them all out alive... No, wrong. He had to slow down! So he ripped open his doublet and pinned the clockhead to stop himself, causing himself much more pain. He barely could stand it, but now he was able to see where the Skipper stood and in which direction it was headed. It was about to attack Alice from her left, while she looked the other way. He went through all of his options in his head and formed a new plan. Under great struggle, he stood up and went in front of the blonde. It was so hard to move when he himself should be standing still, but fraction of seconds passed nonetheless and the creature got nearer by one tiny step after another. When Time was in position to shield the young woman, he first pulled out the spear and threw it to the ground, then he took out an old dead clock from his pocket, before he released the clockhead.

The creature just crashed into him blindly and while he and Alice behind him were knocked over, he shoved his fist with the clock into the Skippers side. They hit the ground hard and Time screamed in agony, but their dark enemy was now frozen on top of him. It could still move it's arms and legs, turning its head, but it was glued to the spot. With this limitation, it tried to grab inside of his wounds, to tear him apart with it's own hands.

“Kill it, kill it!”, Time screamed. “I can't hold it for long!”

The creature shrieked now louder, trying to kill him or to break free, but he didn't let go.

“Others like her will come and others like me will follow! We will get our revenge!”

The next moment the Hatter cut off it's head and the body instantly caught fire. Time threw the burning thing off of him and during seconds it did burn up all the evidence that this creature was ever here, before the fire went out on its own. The pain was killing him and he rolled to his side, allowing himself to collapse from the exhaustion. Electrical shocks still ran through his damaged parts and caused his body to twist now and then uncontrollably. His eyes were shut tight and he only wanted this torture to end, but he was relieved, that they were all alive.

“No, no, don't do this to me!”, he heard Alice' panicked voice while she was crawling to his side. She turned him over and he opened his eyes to look into her face. She was already crying, while her brown eyes wandered over his perforated torso and his hand he had inside the Shadow Skipper. The glove and his skin was burned away completely, so his metallic mechanical parts lay open for them to see. He assumed that he looked terrible.
“Please, don't die”, she said tearful, not daring to touch him, while her friend stopped behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. So he forced himself to crack a smile and answered:

“Don't worry. I will make it... It looks worse, than it is. And well... it's painful, but I have survived worse injuries.”

She hold a hand to her mouth and nose, probably to muffle her weep, while new tears were rolling down her face.

“I just need to go back... argh... to my castle and I will heal.”

He was again shaken and whimpered till the pain died down a little.

“We get you home, as fast as we can! Hold on!”

She got up and looked around with her friend.

“We should see, if we find something we can lay him on and can pull him by horse”, the Hatter suggested and she nodded.

“We will be right back.”

“And I will be exactly in this spot, when you do.”

Time wished he could black out, drift into sleep like he had heard from humans before. But he simply couldn't. His mechanical body wasn't able to sleep or to shut down his conscious mind. The only thing that he could do, was waiting for them to come up with a solution to get his damaged body back safely. While he lay there defenceless, he was thinking about what has happened. Others like her will come, it has said before it was beheaded. Did it mean others like Alice? Travellers from the above world? Was it possible that she had caused some kind of a crack to the land where the Shadow Skippers now lived? But why now and not earlier? She had already been three times in Underland before...
He was caught off guard when he felt himself go back for some seconds. Not enough for normal living creatures to notice it, but he knew, what this signal meant. There was something terribly wrong and Wilkins had turned back the Grand Clock to call him back. They had to hurry!

“Alice”, he called out and rolled himself around, trying to stand up. His body felt weak and the motion multiplied his aches, but the two others were nowhere to be seen.

“Alice!”

Her blonde head showed up behind a barn door, before she walked over to him with quick steps.

“You shouldn't walk around here!”, she scolded him worried, while getting at his side to support him.

“I know, but that isn't the most important thing now. We need to go back, this instant! I fear something is wrong in my kingdom and with our luck it has something to do with the Skippers!”

“You're sure?”

“No, but something did happen. Wilkins has sent me a distress signal a minute ago.”

“Then we should indeed hurry.”

She helped him enter the barn, where the Hatter hitched up his horse to a very old cart. After that he helped the other two to get Time onto it, so he could lie down on the weathered wood. Alice climbed after him and knelt to his right side and Hatter took the place in the front to direct the cart. With the whip of the reins the horse started to trot out of the building.

“Correct me, if I'm wrong... but you broke into and now we're stealing something, is that right?”, Time tried to cheer up the mood. It would help him to ignore the pain and hopefully it would conquer that miserable look on the blondes face.

“Yes, but we don't know, if Elyra is still alive. If she is, we will bring it back. You know borrow it... like I borrowed the Chronosphere.”

“Hah. Right. You brought it back.”

“Heya!”

The horse now dashed forward, followed by the Bandersnatch. This would be another travel to hell for him with the cart rolling over rough terrain. After the first few surface irregularities caused him to groan silently in pain, Alice put a hand over his blank metal one.

“I'm so sorry”, she admitted.

“For what?”

“For being so useless.”

“We both were”, the Hatter added from the front in a gloomy mood.

“No, I have to be sorry. If it wasn't for me, you two … uh... you wouldn't have been in danger. I wish I could have seen what was going on...”

“You're Time, not a god who knows everything”, she reminded him with a smile. “After all, I still owe you, cause I did not only endanger you, when I borrowed the Sphere, but all of Underland.”

“Yes that is correct. But you wanted to rescue your friend.”

“And you my relative and me.”

They shared a short smile, before the cart hit a road hole and caused him more pangs. But he saw that she also winced a bit by the shocks running through him, cause she had still her hand over his. He had forgotten, because without skin, he couldn't feel the touch to it.

“You should let go, or else you get shocked again and again.”

She didn't seemed to approve, but removed her hand as he had said. Then she looked like she was wondering something.

“What is that in your fist? Did you defeat the Shadow Skipper with it?”

“Oh yes... I should be again terrible sorry, that I damaged it further...”

His fist opened and he showed to her her fathers clock, she had given him years ago. Her face lit up, as she took it from him. The outside was now more worn out. He assumed the flames weren't the best for it.

“Why did you have it with you?”

“It's always in my pocket, so I have a reminder of you. It was a very personal present you have made and it felt wrong to put it away in a drawer.”

A red shimmer appeared again on her cheeks and he thought, that maybe it happened to her, when she was grateful. While she hold the clock in her delicate hands, she asked:

“And how did you immobilize the Skipper with it?”

“You see, every living creature has some kind of... internal clock, not like mine of course. But one I can manipulate, if I choose to. Your friend here, knows, what I am talking about.”

They both looked at the back of Hatters head. He didn't turn around, when he murmured:

“Yeah, remember that vividly...”

“I wanted to do the same with the creature, but it had somehow shielded itself from me. So I used the clock to bypass it and then I was able to freeze it in time... It's complicate, but the most important thing is, it worked.”

She nodded and gave him the present back. When her hand touched his metal one again, she wanted know something else and he was reminded of her well known curiosity.

“Does it hurt?”

“This? No, can't feel a thing here, but the rest of my torso isn't that lucky. It's disturbing to say at least, to know that some parts are missing. I guess there are several other gears smashed and the pieces are now getting between the still working gears...”

He stopped, because he realized how weird he had to sound to a human like her.

“Well, let's just say, it hurts.”

She nodded with a sad expression. Her eyes lingering on the hole in his throat. He was lucky that his body didn't work like a normal living creature. He wouldn't have survived the fight if he could bleed.

“Can I do anything to minimize the pain? Like trying to... get the loose pieces out of you?”

“Not safe for you. You could get your fingers bruised by doing it or get shocked again.”

“I see...”

They remained silent for some minutes. Only he did mourn now and then, when the cart hit another road hole. This trip was worse than the one before, but there was nothing they could do about it. Except keeping his mind busy.

“Would you tell me something, Alice, please?”

“What do you want to hear?”, she asked.

“Anything you want to share with me. I just need something to occupy my thoughts.”

“Then may I ask you another question before?”

He smiled a bit tortured. She IS curious. But he couldn't say, he disliked it.

“Go ahead.”

“What was that thing, that Shadow Skipper, why wanted it to kill you?”

“Splendid question. I also would like to know why we almost died”, the Hatter added.

Of course they had to ask about it. The topic was so inevitable. And it had surprised him how long it took them to interrogate him about the matter.

“That's a very long story... ah... but I try to keep it short. For a long time, they coexisted with all other races in Underland peacefully. They preferred to live in abandoned places like near an active volcano or in dead forests, where the fire had already destroyed everything living. But the fact that they are so deadly to creatures made out of blood and flesh, became a problem, when they accidentally caused more deaths.”

“Naturally, but what happened then, that they hate you this much?”

“The other Underlandians simply saw them as cruel creatures which would bring death upon them all. There were legends that they would like to eat children.”

“Heard those stories, too”, the Hatter interrupted.

“My mother told me about dark, soulless creatures which could travel between the land of the dead and our world. And that they really love the flesh of naughty kids.”

“Funny, how legends can survive that long...” Time mused

“But there is some truth about it, too. You see, the Shadow Skippers were always easily connected to Death, which was strictly speaking not possipel, because she can't leave her world. She just takes care of the souls, I send to her realm, when their time is up. However we … I did sent the Skippers there. They were at war with the other species and it was the only way, that Fate and I saw, to help both sides before they would extinguish each other. He convinced me to open a rift between our worlds, so he could banish them to the kingdom ruled by Death.”

“You're saying Fate and Death also exist as... persons?”, she asked and looked a bit confused.

“Yes. But believe me, you don't want to know Fate or Death. They are kind of very good friends... and Fate causes with delight accidents to sent people to her, before their time would be up. It wouldn't surprise me, if he is to blame for what just happened... or what happened to your ship and crew...”

Her eyes widened, when he mentioned the Wonder. She swallowed hard and looked away for some moments. He felt sorry to even have said a word about her loss. But maybe this information could help her, to accept, that there was nothing, she could have done.

“Well, it seems that not everybody thinks, that we have done the right thing... It said there will be others like it, to get their revenge... So I assume that I will have to take extra care to not let them slip into Underland again.”

“You have a theory, how it came here in the first place? It said, others like her will come. Did it mean Alice?”

Now it was the Hatter, who asked, while she remained silent. It looked like she was deep in thought.

“Maybe... yes... I think I have a theory, but again no evidence to prove or disprove it. If it was Alice, it was talking about, then there is at the moment just one explanation for me. While Time was talking to me, giving her to me, Alice must have been already dead... her soul already wandered in the lands of the dead and when I hang up her clock, I called her back. If the Shadow Skipper was attached to her, it was sucked with her soul to Underland.”

“This was my fault?”, she asked and looked again right into his eyes.

“Nonsense! You couldn't be blamed for anything of this. If there is someone who is responsible for this, it's me. If I hadn't helped banish them, or if I would have been smarter, we wouldn't be talking about this now.”

It was clear to see, that she couldn't accept that so easily. She was too hard with herself and tried to be the heroine everyone wanted her to be. It had to be overwhelming, he assumed.

“So any other questions?”

She shook her head silently. Her face was sad and her eyes examined his wounds for the twentieth time by now.

“Well, will you tell me a story, or do I have to ask the Hatter for one?”

The man laughed about that, said he would be happy to tell a funny teatime story. His voice was light again, but Time thought, that he was mocking him with it. Fortunately Alice decided to offer a distraction by telling them about her world. Her land , she was born in, called England and that interesting place called China. Both of her travel companions listened very carefully to her. While Tarrant had been less talkative before, he now started to ask more questions, making weird annotations. It was then, that Time realized how close the two seemed. And yet she had told him in private, that it was difficult for her, being around her friend. Maybe he would never understand that.
Three more hours passed until they arrived at Mamoreal again and the dangerous reality came back to their minds. Their smiles and laughter had vanished the moment they stopped in front of the white castle. The two humans supported him now, to get him quickly to his realm. When they entered it through the floor clock, he felt relieved to be back. But it wasn't over yet. Wilkins came out the moment, they arrived at his door and if he could have paled or fainted, he certainly would have. His voice sounded terrified, when he spoke.

“What happened to you, Sir?”

“Later, what happened here?”

“It's … it's a disaster. We were down in zhe Archive when it started!”

“What, Wilkis, spit it out!”

“People were dying rapidly. New books appeared one after another.”

“Quick, I have to go to the hall of the Living”, he ordered the two at his side. He knew that this wasn't over yet. On their way, they could hear a very strange sound and Time just paled a bit more. He remembered that from hundreds of years ago, when he had banished the Shadow Skippers to the other world. It was like he had feared. A rift had been opened in the hall of the deceased. It wasn't big, but he had to close it, before more of them could travel through it. They turned their back to the dark hall and Alice opened the door to the well-lit one.

“So many.... they've all stopped”, he said, still not really believing it.

“I have made a list of zheir names”, Wilkins informed him eagerly and handed over a very long paper roll. It wasn't a disaster, it was a tragedy.

“Alice, Hatter, I will now call out the names of the people. Their clocks will come down to the platform, unhook them, bring them to me. They need to find peace, I have to send them to Death. Wilkins, call two Minutes, they have to bring the dead clocks to their rightful place among their ancestors.”

“Okay”

“Aye”

“Yes, Sir.”

They all hurried to do their task, while they left Time between the two gates. He began to read name by name and when one of the two brought him a clock, he closed it carefully, ending their struggle finally. He then handed it over to a Minute. It seemed too dangerous to send a human into the hall, in which the rift was still getting bigger and bigger. He could hear screams and voices by now, the Shadow Skippers were waiting to fit through.

“Elyra Fonder”, he called and they all stopped for a moment. She was dead, Alice last relative in Underland was dead, probably killed by the their attacker. It was her, who brought him the clock of Elyra, her face was unreadable.

“Rest well, I hope you had a wonderful life”, Time whispered to it, before giving it away. They hurried through the other names. There were so many of them and he hated, that he couldn't say a proper Farefarren to them all. Of course the persons wouldn't even hear it, but it was his method to show his respect to the deceased.

“Ernie Ballerhead”, he called and added: “That was the last one.”

“Good, what now?”, the Hatter asked, high pitched.

“Now we hope, that the rift will close again.”

The two came to his side, watched with him how the Minute hook up the clock in the right place. But nothing did change. The rift was still open and continued to grow.

“It isn't working.”

“I can see that, help me up”, he ordered and showed them where he wanted to go. He now stood in the exact position to let his big mantle with the long train down. Alice looked like she wanted to ask, if this was in fact the right time to impress someone, but she held back. It wasn't the outfit he needed at the moment, but the hidden sceptre in it. Once he had opened the passage to the other world and closed it with the help of the hourglass, so he should be able to close this one, too.

"You two should take some steps back. Go into the hall of the Living, close the gate behind you.”

“What are you planning?”, Alice asked and didn't move from his side.

“I need to close it by hand and I don't know, what will happen, if I do. Please stay back.”

The Hatter took her by the hand and dragged her to safety, letting him stand alone on his shaky feet. After they had closed the gate, as he had ordered, Time went forward. Of course it was hard to walk, but he had to be careful on the small path. He looked back again, nodded to Wilkins and his Minutes, which had closed the hall behind him. The rift was now in front of him and he could already see the Skippers trying to get through. Their screams filled the air and they tried to grab him, but he kept his distance. In order to concentrate himself, he closed his eyes, started murmuring the words he hadn't spoken in centuries. He tried to ignore the aches in his body, when he drew the lines of Death's seal into the air with his sceptre.

“Many have died.” The female voice of Death herself echoed in his head, while the foreign screams died down.

“Many had to suffer.”

But he didn't answer her, he had to continue the spell.

“You can't keep them here forever, you know that Time. They will rise again... Sooner than you think, they get help... There is someone else than these poor creatures you have banished, who wants to see you in my hands.”

He didn't let himself be irritated by her words and drew the last lines, to complete his own seal.

“This was just a warning from me, because Fate kind of likes you. But be sure, I'm waiting for you, Time.”

He opened his eyes, looked at her face, staring at him from behind the rift. She was as beautiful as she was deadly. But he wouldn't go to her kingdom today.

“You can wait a bit longer”, he answered, before he pressed the hourglass at the tip of his sceptre right into the heart of the rift. The terrible screams began anew and a great power tried to throw him back, but he used all his strength to hold his position. The Skippers seemed to break free, they were clawing at him, ripping him apart, but it was over in an instant. They were gone, he had successfully closed the passage and then collapsed to the floor. Again he couldn't pass out, but he was too weak to even move a finger. His body was now completely exhausted and he was picked up by a Minute, which carried him out. He could hear Wilkins saying:

“You two should go, we will take care of our master.”

“But-”

“No buts, Miss. Please go.”

“Come on Alice, there is nothing we can do for him, now”, the Hatter tried to convince her softly.

She looked at him and he nodded in response.

“Wil...kins”, he whispered hoarsly.

“Yes Sir?”

“Give her... the key.”

His butler jumped a step back frightened.

“But, Sir. I can lead them out-”

“Do it.”

His voice was barely heard, but Wilkins followed his order.

“As you wish, Sir.” He cleared his throat, before he gave the young woman a key from his pockets. It was tiny in her hands.

“With this, you are able to summon the bridge, so you travel safely over the abyss. My master wishes you to have it, however, never give this to anybody else! Don't dare to loose it and you have to swear, you will never bring someone here, who is not welcomed.”

“I swear, I will protect this key as it is my most valuable treasure.”

“Good, now please let us alone. My master needs to regenerate.”

“May I come back in some days, to see, how you are”, she asked Time directly and he nodded again weakly. When they went down the corridor, she darted a last, worried glance at him.

Chapter Text

It was a sheer surprise to him, that Alice did not only ask, if she may come back, but was in fact standing on his doorstep a day later. Like her first time, she had sneaked into his castle and caught him by surprise. Before she entered his room, he was lying on his chaise longue, his doublet was gone, because it was way too uncomfortable. So he just remained in his black shirt, which was ripped open, so he could inspect the damages. His boots were gone, too, leaving him in his white chausses and padded hoses. Just a few minutes ago Wilkins had helped him, to clean his wounds, before the chime of the Grand Clock had called him away. He should be back any moment with the clock, that had stopped. But instead of him, Alice entered his parlor. She stopped dead when she realized, that he was not properly dressed.

“Oh, I'm sorry”, she said and turned around. “I didn't want to disturb you, I just wanted to check on you.”

While she spoke, he buttoned up his clothes.

“I didn't thought you would visit me so soon. You can turn around again.”

Her face was a bit red, when she came nearer, wearing a shy look in her eyes.

“How do you feel today?”

“Better, but still weak. I can talk and hold a book in hand to read it, but everything beyond that is quite difficult for me. Why don't you take a seat?”

She looked back to his big armchair and followed his invitation. With a quick gaze, she scanned the room around her, before she focused again on him. He could almost feel like her eyes lingered a moment more on the hole in his throat. Nasty thing, he couldn't hide under his collar completely. The rest of the damages were not important, but this one disturbed him badly, cause he wanted to look impressive to others. On the other side, it was funny how much he despised it, when the back of his neck and half of his torso lay open in a V-shaped form with his clock in the middle.

“So you managed to use the key?”

“Yeah. I had to search a bit for the keyhole, but I think I'm used to it.”

“Why so?”

“Oh it has something to do with my first two visits to Underland... I followed a white rabbit in a waistcoat and fell down it's burrow. A very long fall. At the end I landed in a room with many doors, one key, but it hadn't fit in any of them. Just in that tiny little door behind a curtain. When I shrank myself, I forgot the key on the table, so I had to grow again and put it on the floor, before I shrank again to fit through the door. So I think, I have a history with things like that.”

She laughed a little. A sound he hadn't heard before from her.

“That reminds me... how did you come here the first time?”

“I jumped on the clockhands. Of course at first I didn't know that a giant clock abyss surrounds your castle. But I think I used the seconds hand, which passed by very quickly. I nearly slipped and had to drop down onto the minute hand. It was quite adventurous.”

He chuckled a bit and she joined him, before Wilkins came finally back with the unfortunate clock that has ticked it's last tock. He cast a surprised look to Alice direction, but didn't say anything. Time took the little golden thing from his hands, looked at the name and whispered it, before he said a goodbye. He then closed it carefully and ordered his butler to bring it to it's rightful place.

“Do you always do that?”, she asked and he nodded as answer.

“It's the last I can do for them, before they have to leave this world.”

“Did you ever.. have to say goodbye like this to a person you knew or you liked?”

His expression dropped. There had been so many in the long time span he already lived and he was sure there would be many more. Some of them he only knew a bit, some he had once called friends and only a handful he called his loved ones. It was hard and bitter to loose every one of them. But it seemed like whenever he was determined to not do the same mistake again, he got lonely after some decades. The last of his mistakes was the liaison with Iracebeth. He didn't know how he would feel on the day, when he would close her clock. Maybe still sad, or maybe already relieved, probably a bit of both.

“Some, yes. And it always hurts, so I prefer to stay to myself.”

“Must be terrible”, she said gloomy.

“It's always terrible, when you loose someone you liked. But despite your young age, you know exactly how this feels.”

She nodded and they remained silent for some minutes. Her eyes were fixed to the floor, while he studied her face. The darker circles around her eyes hadn't vanished, but she did look a bit healthier. Her soft blonde curls fell wildly around her shoulders and today she was clad in a white gown with light blue trousers beneath it. When she spoke again, her voice was again breathy.

“You really scarred me yesterday.”

“With what, the story about the Skippers?”

“No, that I thought you would die. I don't think I could take it now, to loose the next person I care about.”

“You care about me?”, he asked surprised.

“Yes of course. I consider you as a friend. You did so much for me in these last days, that I don't know how to thank you enough. And I'm not only talking about saving the Hatter and me from this thing.”

A very broad smile formed on his own lips, while she talked. If he knew what a special girl came to him some years ago, he maybe wouldn't have been so rude to her. Maybe if he just had listened to her more carefully, explained more to her, they could have worked together and avoid all of the mess. But you can't change the past, not even he could do that. Everything had happened, as it was foretold by Fate, even that he had stuck the three dunderheads one minute before tea time. He had known it, before it even happened for him, cause the Hatter had tried later to kill him. Back then he hadn't a clue what this madman was ranting about and so he had frozen him in time. The spell should be broken the moment this Alice girl, the Hatter had talked about, would arrive for the second time. He hadn't knew that this would take some years, after the tea party was already frozen by his future self before that. After all, Time himself was a very complex thing.

“You, Miss, are welcome”, he answered. “And may I say, that whenever you are in need of my help again, my door stands open to you... But please, remember to knock, before you enter again, mh?”

“I'm sorry, I will. The same goes of course for you. I decided to take sword lessons, so I can become a decent fighter. I never want to end up so helpless and let my friends take all the pain. Whatever I can do for you, don't hesitate to ask me for help as well.”

He bent his head a little to his desk on the left side. A tool-box was located there and he thought about it for a moment.

“Maybe there is something, you can help me with, now.”

“Great, what is it?”

“You see the box over there? It holds all of my tools I normally use to repair the clocks in here or my Seconds. If you could get a pair of tweezers and a set of screwdrivers out and would try to pull out the remaining loose pieces between my gears?”

“Of course, I offered you that already.”

She got up and opened the tool-box. It took her some moments to find the tweezers, before she got the stool and put it in front of the chaise longue. While she was busy, Time had already opened up half of the buttons, so she could access parts of his insides. After that he lay back and she took a good look at his clockwork.

“I think I see a piece there, blocking some gears... But I don't know how to reach it, there are some other parts in my way.”

“Would you be so kind and hand me over the mirror from the shelf, so I can see myself?”

She fulfilled his wish and then pointed to the place she saw the stuck piece. He examined the area for a minute and then gave her instructions which screws she had to loose and get the gears out of the way.

“And this is safe? I mean, if I remove these parts, will you be in pain, or will I cause greater damage?”

“Don't worry about that. My body can take it for some days, to operate with some less parts. We will only need some minutes before you place them back. Oh and it should be obvious, but please try to remember where they all belong.”

A shadow of insecurity flashed over her face. When she spoke again, she sounded like she wasn't sure, she could do that.

“Okay, I will do my best, but if I cause you any pain, you say it immediately!

“Yes, try to be careful. I would do it myself, but my hands are too shaky at the moment.”

“Then hold still, and let me do the rest.”

She was totally focused at the task at hand and he had the chance to watch her face from up close. She furrowed her brow and he could see some fine lines of creases, signs of time, people called them. Her eyes were a bit red, maybe from the lack of sleep or maybe she had cried some more during the nights. But even he couldn't deny that she was still a beautiful young woman. And he remembered something Iracebeth had told him. That she hated both Mirana and Alice, so much for simply being so beautiful that they bewitch everyone around them. An electrical shock ran through his system and took him by surprise. For a moment he had forgotten what she was doing.

“Sorry, let me try this again. I nearly had it.”

Was it her beauty that caused him to trust her so fast? Letting her do this was a rather big step. Not only could she cause him much pain or some damage while potter around inside his body, but it was of course something very private. Hopefully she wouldn't realize that, hopefully this would be for her like repairing a clock.

“Got it!”, she exclaimed in victory and showed him the piece of a smashed gear. Indeed he could feel how his system ran a bit more smoothly, after Alice had put back the gears, she had removed before. She smiled genuinely at him, proud of herself.

“So, should we go on with the next one?”

“As long as you are willing to help, you can go. I will not move from here for a while.”

“You already said something similar yesterday and you moved away”, she remembered him, laughing a bit again.

“That was something entirely different. After all yesterday I still had the strength to do that.”

“But you will get better, soon, do you?”, she asked again a bit concerned, but he could reassure her of that. They located the next wrongdoer and again he explained her, how she could reach it. While she worked, they chatted a bit about this and that. She told him more stories from her world. After nearly two hours, she had finished the part which lay open and she could reach. Around 14 pieces she had pulled out and now she needed a break and stood up, stretched her limbs.

“May I ask, if you have something to drink?”, she asked.

“I'm afraid not... I wasn't prepared for visitors.”

“It's alright, I could have brought something with me.”

“Well if you don't care to drink water from a well, Wilkins could bring some here.”

“Great, or I can get it myself.”

He called for his butler and ordered him to get a can of water for Alice. With a short “Immediately, Sir”, he was again hurrying out, to fulfill the wish of his master. They waited a bit, before the Second came back and also had brought a glass for her. She had to be very thirsty, Time assumed while watching her drink the first glass eagerly. When their eyes met, he saw that special gleam in it. Was it her curiosity? Cause in the next moment, she asked her next question, one of the many she wanted an answer to.

“If you would want, could you even drink or eat?”

“Well, eating would be way more difficult and and would cause a greater mess. Drinking however is a lot easier, but not worth the effort of oiling myself after it. But I admit, that occasionally I enjoy the taste of some drinks or food.”

He did not mention, that normally this included spitting out, whatever he wanted to taste, afterwards. And thereby he only did this kind of thing, when he wasn't with other people.

“Interesting, do you like something special?”

“No, not really. I just try out new things, when I feel like it.”

“So, should we proceed? If I recall it right, that nasty Shadow Skipper hurt you also a bit lower.”

She sounded like it was nothing that he would have to strip completely out of his shirt, so she could continue her work.

“Oh, that's not necessary. I can do the rest tomorrow on my own.”

“You're sure? I just became good with the tweezers”, she laughed, but didn't press him any further. So he buttoned up again and tried to get up, from his lying position. In the end she helped him without a word, but he thanked her anyway. Before she bid him good bye for today, she also gave him a book from the shelf so he could read a bit. A broad smile appeared on her face.

“I think I know now, what my room in Mamoreal lacks.”

Time looked confused because of this very random comment of her.

“A clock. I always used to have a clock in my rooms where I slept and I think I miss the constant ticking. I realized that while working very calmly near to the sound of yours. As I said, it soothes me.”

He also smiled and she went back to Underland.

 

It shouldn't have been too surprising, but on the next day she came again to his castle and remembered to knock politely on the door. At least he was now sitting in his chair and his clothes were in place. Today she brought news about the village they had visited in order to find her relative Elyra. Like he had thought, there was no trace of the inhabitants left. Probably burned to ashes, that was common when a human being came in contact with a Shadow Skipper. The White Queens guards had found no clues of who had died and who could be just missing, because maybe there was a chance that some of them had escaped.

“Wilkins had a list of the victims and it would help us, if we could have them. It would be easier for the families to know if their loved ones are really dead.”

“I'm afraid he destroyed it... but I should recall all of their names. You can get yourself a piece of paper at my desk.”

They started to write down again the many names of the poor people. They were only used to create the crack to the other realm and again he blamed himself, that he hadn't foreseen it. When the list was complete, Alice wanted to go back quickly, but noticed his gloomy mood, so she sat again in front of him onto the stool.

“What is bothering your mind?”

“Nothing”, he lied, but she didn't buy it.

“I can clearly see that... If you don't want to tell me, it's okay for me, but please be honest and say so.”

He sighed. When had he started to tell lies and hide things from other people? It was such a bad human trait, which he didn't wanted to adapt. But sometimes it was easier for the other person to hear a lie instead of the truth. Alice appeared to be not one of them.

“I think you may know the feeling”, he started slowly. “No I'm very sure that you know it. I think I could have done something different to rescue those villagers. I'm asking myself, why I hadn't seen it before?”

“Yes, I think I know more or less that feeling you describe. But you've said it yourself. Maybe it was Fate who decided this for us and we couldn't do a thing against it. We can just look back and so we don't know what awaits us tomorrow. Wait... is that a possibility for you, to look into the future?”

He averted her eyes for a moment. This topic was really risqué and nothing he wanted to admit easily.

“I could, yes. But I don't. I'm not allowed to. Fate forbid it. He is the only one to know what will happen. It was him, who wrote the Oraculum and Absolem is it's guard, so no one would read it easily. Only what Fate wishes the normal folk to know will be revealed to them, that doesn't include me. So I enjoy the present.”

“But what if you would take a quick look?”, she asked, trying to suppress her excitement.

“You always want to know what happens, when you break the rules of the universe, don't you Alice? Well unfortunately I have the answer to that, because I broke this unwritten law once not too long ago.”

In fact he had risked the look into the future, because he wanted to help Iracebeth getting better. She wanted to know what would happen to her and he had seen her breaking the past. So of course he did everything to avoid that, made her many other gifts so she would forget about the Chronosphere and was always afraid she would find a way to do, what he had seen. Nobody could change the past and nobody could avoid the future, that much he had learned.

“When, why and what did happen?”

“As for the first two questions, I really don't want to talk about it. But you have seen the outcome when I nearly stopped completely.”
“You mean... Fate sent me to steal the Chronosphere to punish you for breaking his rules? And so Fate must have arranged everything concerning the Hatter and his family before years before! That sounds quite complicated.”

“It is and this is why there only exists one Fate for all worlds I know. The worst part about him, you'll never know if it was him, who decided for you or if he gave you the freedom to decide it yourself. If you ask me, it's the best to not think about him at all and try to live your life, like you want it to be.”

She nodded silently. After that they started to talk about some less dark and complicate topics. She told him about meeting the Hightopp family and how happy she was, that her adventure three years ago had at least one good outcome. While she was talking he wondered, when he also had started to like listening to those trivial, human things. When the chime of his clocks in the room reminded her, how late it really was, she excused herself to go.

“The White Queen is waiting for my return with the list of names... But I can come back tomorrow! … Of course if you don't mind me visiting you so regular.”

“No, I don't mind.”

He didn't say it loud, but he rather enjoyed her company. Maybe it was, because she didn't pay him a visit just because she wanted something from him. For the rest of the day, he continued what Alice had started yesterday and pulled out the last smashed parts from his abdomen. But it was far more difficult that he had thought because he still had minimalistic feeling in his right hand. After causing himself much more pain and some more shocks, he had finished in the middle of the night. But he was feeling much better now and even stood up to take a leisure stroll around his castle. He couldn't help himself than doing a routine check to the most important parts, before he could relax again with a book he had already read twice. That reminded him, that he could maybe get some new ones. He couldn't recall when was the last him, that he had purchased a new book. With nothing to disturb him for many hours, he read it through the lot. It was already past six o'clock in the evening, when he wondered if Alice would still come. He assumed that something important must had happened and that she wouldn't make it. Or maybe something bad had happened to her? What an unsettling thought! He tried to not let it cross his mind again, but it's always the same. If you want to not think about something, then you can't think of anything else. She could be late, she had quite a reputation for being late, from what he had heard. Maybe she simply had forgot him, which was not a pleasant possibility, but less worse than any accident.

Time tried to think of different scenarios why she wasn't here like she had said so. But it only made him quite nervous and he went to the Hall of the Living. Everything was alright with her clock, that relieved him a bit. But there was still no explanation for why she was late. He took another check up round through is castle. Always strained his ears to hear her steps echoing in a corridor. It was an hour later, that he found himself in his dressing room. The tall mirrors arranged in a half circle allowed him to see his full figure and he examined his wounds again. The skin had smoothed out around the edges and luckily it was again hard to look through the holes. So he had already regrown some parts. He also noticed the black circles under his eyes have faded. They now looked a lot like Alice eye circles from her lack of sleep. With a disapproving grunt he could now clearly see, that he had still some dust and sand in his hair on the back of his head. He would have to wash it and he despised doing that. It was always so complicate to not let the water run into his open neck or let his long hair get tangled in the gears. And with his hand still not covered by skin, he would have to wear his gloves to protect it, which meant even less feeling in it.

“Can't be helped”, he murmured to himself and sighed, before calling Wilkins to fill a portable basin with water. Time stripped out of his doublet again, so it wouldn't get wet and rolled up his shirt sleeves. It took several Seconds to carry the basin to him and they placed it in front of the chair he was sitting in.

“You may go now”, he released them and opened his bun. He already held his head to the side so it wouldn't fall into his neck. With patience he started to wet his hair and applied some soap to it. He was just massaging it in, when he heard a knock on his door.

“Wilkins, what is it?”

“Sir, the young Miss is here, to see you. Shall I let her in?”

He could have laughed in which inconvenient moments she always arrived. Seemed like she had a talent with that. He quickly thought to let her wait in the parlor, but then he decided different. At least he wanted to know, what took her so long.

“Oh well, let her in”, he ordered and then greeted her with an amused: “You're late.”

“I've been told so many times, even when I didn't know that I should arrive at a certain you.”

Witty as ever, she was.

“But I see, that you are busy, should I come back tomorrow?”

“No, no, just let me finish this... argh. Is there a reason, why you are coming at such a late hour?”

While he continued to soap his hair, she explained that she had all hands full of dealing with her now unwanted heritage.

“It seems like Elyra was my fathers aunt and because there are no other living relatives, the queen decided that I should inherit everything that belonged to her... Do you need my assistance?”, she asked confused and watched him rinsing his hair clean.

“No, no I'm perfectly capable of doing that myself. Thank you for offer, but I have practice.”

“Fine. Well at first I didn't want to accept the inheritance, but Tarrant convinced me to take it, so I would have something in Underland that belonged to a part of my family. In the end, I spend most of the day riding and looking through her belongings.”
“I see. Would you hand me over that towel, please?”

She did and continued:

“I took some little items back home. The rest of them will be delivered to me by the queens guards, because they are far too big. One of these items is a family painting, showing my father as a child.”

“It appears, it was good for you, to accept it.”

He had finished drying his hair and wrapped it in the towel, so it wouldn't drip some more. Alice just tried to suppress a very big smile but failed miserably.

“You look like you feel better”, she said.

“Yes, I do, also thanks to your help. So you have some spare minutes left, or do you want to head home?”

“No, I can stay a bit longer. In fact I could stay until you throw me out.”

“Won't your friends be worried, if you would stay away all night long?”, he asked on their way to his room. It was cosy and warm in there. He took a seat in his high armchair, while she occupied the chaise longue.

“No, they know where I am and with whom I am. Beside that they know I can trust my life with you, they also know, that I can handle myself. And was that an offer to stay over the night?”

She grinned and it disturbed him a bit.

“I've never said such a thing!”

“Don't worry, I won't waste much of your you... but at least I would be curious to see you combing that hair of yours.”

He shook his head in disbelief while she laughed. It was good to hear her laughing.

 

Chapter Text

Like she had said, she stayed a bit longer but not all night of course and she also left before his hair had dried enough to comb through. With her constant questions about his habits or how things worked for a being like him, he felt a bit interrogated here and there. She wanted to know all different kinds of things like if his hair would or could grow and if he would be in need to trim is beard. She also asked him, which kind of books he liked to read.
"Maybe I'll find something for you in Elyras belongings", she had said. When it came to the point she bid him goodnight, they decided that it would be best, if she would visit again a couple of days from now. He had much work to do, even more after he took off for 3 days. And it was true, there was always something to do in his big castle. Most of the minuscule tasks he left to his Seconds. But there were things which afforded a good coordination of human hands. There were some Seconds which didn't work right and had a kink. One after another he took them to his working room to tinker with them until they were like on their first day. Wilkins was the only one with a proper name and while he was supposed to be a normal Second, when Time had created him, he turned out to be special and so he was made his personal butler and some kind of overseer. His other seconds had all numbers and he had 1080 of them, or to say it short: Three full hours. There were always some of his artisans, which needed to be oiled or repaired. But he enjoyed working on them, cause they were his only company for so long. They stayed at his side, even when humans, he liked, passed away, he always had his Seconds. So Time had to take good care of them.

It was the fourth day, since Alice last visit and he was in his working room. He just fixed a loose screw on Wilkins, when they both heard a herd of Seconds going wild. Their tiny excited tick-tick-ticks echoed down the hallways. He sighed.

“What is it now, that make these imbeciles go crazy?”

“I don't know, Sir”, his butler answered but remained still, cause he wasn't finished yet.

“How should be I supposed to work like this, when they are making such a turmoil? Maybe I should replace some of them”, he muttered under his breath and put the last plate of Wilkins head back in place. But he knew, that he never would replace one of them, until it was beyond reparation. As unnerving they were sometimes, his Seconds had all their own very unique character and he would miss it for sure.

“It's done Wilkins. Now restore order and send me the next little idiot with a damage.”

“Of course, Sir.”

But he didn't make it out of the room, before the reason for the racket outside, stood inside of the door frame. Alice had returned and with her the Hatter. They both were surrounded by around 20 happy Seconds and it seemed like they were loaded with stuff Time couldn't identify. He welcomed them both more or less warm and fixed his eyes on the things they had brought with them.

“What is all of this... clutter?”

“Presents for you, of course”, Tarrant chirped high pitched and full of joy. Immediately he began to show him the single items.

“This here is a collection of the finest teas, it's from my mother, by the way. This book about some of the most beautiful sights of Underland is from my father. My two cousins sent you this soap, it will do wonders to your hair. Oh and here-”

“Stop, stop, stop!”, he interrupted rude and indeed the Hatter came to a dead stop. “Why did your family sent all these... gifts?”

“They're not only from ma family. In fact there are still things waiting in the room with the big clock, which we couldn't carry here from different residents of Underland.”

“Fine, but why? What's the reason behind it?” He felt that he was already running out of patience with this guy and it didn't help, that Alice did nothing but stand at his side. It would be so much nicer to talk about this matter with her instead of this lunatic.

“Isn't that obvious?”, the Hatter asked confused, like Time was dumb to not understand it.

“They are presents.”

“The gifts are an expression of the residents thankfulness”, Alice now joined their conversation, being more precisely than her friend. “You not only saved both of us, but without you, the Shadow Skipper, which killed so many people, would still roam the lands. So they wanted to say thank you.”

“Bring them back”, he ordered short and turned around to his work bench like the conversation was over. Both of their faces turned completely confused.

“It would be awfully rude, to do such a thing, don't you think and since we brought them here already, it would have been a waste of you, to do that”, the Hatter tried to explain it in a light manner. But Time only pinched the back of his nose.

“But I don't need them! Tea, chocolate, scorns with... I don't want to know what that is on top, flowers, silverware, bedclothes or what else you've brought here.”

“But you could at least try the tea, it's really good.” Tarrant tried it again in vain.

“No, no and to be very clear, no! I don't need this litter or does this look to you like I'm a human?”, he asked and pulled a bit at the edge of the still existing hole in his throat. He had enough of this rubbish!

“You wouldn't dip your pocket clock into a teapot, either-”, he wouldn't have said that, if he knew the tea parties better, “so get this stuff out of my castle. Besides there is nothing to be thankful. This creature came here, killed more than fifty people and wanted to eliminate you both, too, because of me! Now excuse me, I have important work to do and when I come back, I expect all of this will be gone.”

The only thing now was to follow his duties and being alone again. He wanted them out. On his way out of the room, he exclaimed for Wilkins loudly to show them their way to the door and went then to the Grand Clock. He was a fool to think, that this was the end of it. He could hear the echo of running footsteps behind him, but he tried to ignore it, until she caught up with him and stood in his way.

“You're stubborn, aren't you, Alice?”

His voice sounded more angry than he had intended, but it seemed like she didn't care about his hurtful tone.

“Yes, you should know that by, now. And you should know that it only ends bad, if you ignore me and send me home.”

He sighed. In this moment he knew, why he had begged her years ago, to not come back. And it was also the same moment he regretted giving her a key to the bridge.

“There is nothing left to say. I don't see, why I should keep things, that I can't use or need?”

“You told me yourself that you enjoy tasting some new drinks or food sometimes! These people tried to find something that could express their gratitude and I helped them to decide what it should be. How would you feel, if you give someone a present to make him or her happy and this person rejects it heartless?”

She had hit a very sensitive spot and she didn't knew it. But this instantly reminded Time of his so called Liebchen and he tensed up. He didn't want to admit it to the blonde, but he had made quite a couple of presents to her and when he looked back she hadn't been grateful for even one of them. It still hurt much to think of her. He hadn't answered her yet, just glared at her angrily, but Alice didn't waver.

“Fine, just leave it, I will throw it away afterwards. Tell them lies, so they can feel better. That's what you are expecting from me, isn't it?”

“No... I want you to see what these presents stand for. The Hightopps nearly lost a son out there. When the Skipper left the choice to you, who you would protect, you've chosen the Hatter and not me. And I know about your past now. He told me, how he mocked you and tricked you, when you were hunting me for the Chronospere. I'm also well aware now, that he had tried to kill you after Horunvendush Day and his punishment was to wait till Griblig Day. So yes, you two had a very difficult start, maybe you despise each other. However you didn't let him die!”
“It was a logical choice. The Shadow Skipper had planned all of it, it had set up a trap, was probably watching us, knew how to lure me away from my castle. It said, I should see you die, should see you suffer. It wasn't hard to see, that the Hatter and me are not on good terms, so I was more likely to protect you. But you would have suffered to see him die and... well there was a tiny chance that it would predict all of that, too, and would attack you nonetheless.”

He made a short pause to search for the right words. When he continued his voice was quieter:

“I could have been wrong and then you would have died. I was wrong and those villagers died, so I don't deserve that even one of them is thankful for what I've done.”
“I know that feeling”, she said silently. “But because I do, I also know that sometimes you need to accept, that even if you doubt your own actions, there are others who will see you as some kind of hero. I never wanted to slay anything, I was against it and still am. Would others be disappointed to know, that I have still second thoughts about slaying the Jabberwocky? Probably and maybe the Hightopps would be too, if they knew why you did choose him, not me. But they don't. All they know is that they are happy, cause Tarrant came back alive and you are the reason for that fact. Some days ago, you sounded like you regretted sending the Shadow Skippers to the other world, but what if you wouldn't have done that. Would we be standing here, talking about it, or is there a possibility that they would have razed out everyone else?”

She pulled something from her trousers pocket. It was a piece of fabric and she hold it out to him.

“This is by the way, my present for you. If you really want to throw everything away, then do it, but don't forget this one.”

“What is it?”, he asked highly confused and took the gift from her, to examine it better.

“One of the few things, that really belongs to me. I brought it here from my world, this flash was sewn on the shoulders of my uniform. It is the badge for being a ships captain and I don't deserve it any more. My crew died without me, it should be the other way round, or at least that the crew would follow their captain until the end...”

Some tears sprang to her eyes and Alice looked down before she hold them back. She tried to held her head high again, looked him directly in the eye.

“For me, you are the captain of a ship, sailing through the ocean of time and I would be honoured to follow your command! And if you would now excuse me, Hatter and I have to go back.”

She turned around and let him behind her. Time didn't went after her, just remained where he was. Slowly he looked down to the fabric between his fingers. The piece was worthless, but the meaning behind it was enormous. He didn't know what to think of what she had said. He was no captain and he already had his Seconds, following his orders. In the end, he was just Time, not some warrior fighting against a threat from the past. He was the one to give people time to live, watched over their life span and ended it, when their time was up. He couldn't understand how someone like Alice would follow him to a fight he himself wasn't ready for.

“Sir”, Wilkins interrupted his thoughts. “Zhe two of zhem have departed and zhey have left the presents behind... should I get some Seconds and discard zhem?”

Time took a moment longer to decide, before he ordered him to take everything to the guest rooms. He could clearly see the worry in Wilkins eyes, when he mentioned, that he would go there later and look through it. The rooms had been always there for his humans friends or loved ones. The appearance of those rooms changed with their inhabitants and included everything, those beings needed to live like a bed or a kitchen with something to eat and drink. Time had abandoned them since the whole incident with the Chronosphere completely. Not even once had he visited this part of his home from the day Iracebeth walked out of his castle with her sister. She hadn't looked back at him, apologized or even properly broke up with him, nor did he had the chance to do the same. She just vanished from his life and maybe it was for the better, that he hadn't talk to her again. He had made sure, that there was not a single trace left of her and her likings. The heart shaped doorway to her former plant castle was torn down completely, sealing off the connection to that region of Underland. The guest rooms were cleaned by his Seconds, not even a red thread should be left there. Instead he imagined them to be like the rest of his castle: dark, cold and hard. So he thought, that at least he could use the gifts to decorate and equip them again. He himself put the small piece of fabric into the same pocket, he kept Alice last gift and went on a routine turn. He always did that to clear his mind, cause it was easier to concentrate on his problems, when he was sure, that everything was just going as ever. Eventually he came across a Second which stood in front of the doors, leading outside. It looked sad and didn't move away from its spot.

“Hey you, go back to work”, he ordered, but the Second just looked up at him with its green shining eyes and ticked sadly.

“You're the one attached to the girl, aren't you? You should really stop doing that, or else you will get hurt”, he told his artisan and crouched down to it.

“What did I do wrong, when I constructed you, mh? You abandon your duty, cause you like foreigners too much, aren't you ashamed?”

The second let its head hang a bit more and the tick became even more dreadful, so Time couldn't help himself than feeling sorry for this one. He sighed and patted the Second with its very strong personality on its head.

“I'm not angry with you, little idiot. Its just for your best, if you don't get too attached to mortals... And now come, she won't come back sooner if you wait here for her.”

Time stood up again and had a faint smile on his face, when the Second followed him. In fact it didn't return to work, like he had ordered before, but it was on his heels wherever he went. The first few corridors he liked the soft tick-tick-tick behind himself, but it didn't take long, before he became annoyed. He stopped several times and tried to shoo it away.

“What is it, that you want from me?”, he asked the little thing and it hopped up and down. Looked from him to some windows and back again to him.

“I'm not going to go out, I still have much work to do and I would be finished faster if you would do yours.”

But it didn't go.

“Wilkins! WILKINS!”, he called and shook his head, because of the stubborn behaviour.

“Yes, my Lord?”

“Bring this Second here to my working room. It appears, it is kaput, I'll have to fix it.”

“Of course, Sir.”

 

When they had left, Time sighed again. The Second was out of his sight, but the feeling hadn't left him. That it was maybe right and he should go and apologize to Alice and the Hatter for being so rude. He again pulled out the two gifts she had given him and looked at them. Those were very personal items, not something someone would give away so easily. What was going on in her head? He only knew one thing, that this matter would bother him further and he could not work if something bothered him. So it appeared, that he had no other choice than go to Mamoreal and talk to her. Wilkins didn't show any signs of astonishment, when he heard about his plans to leave for some hours again. Being assured that everything was taken care of, he began to search for that stubborn blond head of hers. Again someone from the White Queens court led him to an inner courtyard where some guards trained. He also discovered Alice there with a sword of her own, hitting a wooden manikin vigorously. Time stood there for a moment, observing her forceful strikes and flushed face, before he spoke to her.

“I hope you don't imagine me, while hitting that thing.”

She stopped and turned her head to him. To his relieve she smiled.

“No not any more. Just when I started, until I realised, that you will change your mind.”

“You knew?”, he asked a bit confused.

“Of course, or else I wouldn't have promised you my support. And that's why I am here. To practice my sword skills.”
“I see you have a rather dangerous partner to train with”, he chuckled, but she hit him lightly with the not sharp side of her blade.

“Shoo, that's just for beginners, before I can train with one of them. And I should really continue, to get to that point, but I guess you would prefer a more private setting to talk?”

He nodded and then followed her away from the training ground, back to her room. It had changed since he was here. The room was now filled with the ticking of not only one clock but three. A rather big floor clock being the loudest and a small one he could hear from the other room. The last one was a pocket watch, lying on her night table. Funny, he thought, most humans told him, that they couldn't sleep with a ticking watch nearby and she seemed to need the sound. But everything was good, if it helped her to get more sleep.

“Now have you thrown everything away?”

“No, I haven't... yet.”

“You won't, believe me. I made sure, that their gifts would fit your taste, at least I hope so.”

She stripped out of her jacket and threw it over the chair. Her face was still a bit flushed from the training.

“So this is why you asked me all these questions?”

“Yes... and because I wanted to know the answers, too. I'm sorry if you felt interrogated.”

“At least you tried to do something nice. It appears, you help many people and don't expect something in return, why is that so?”

“Have you forgotten, what I told you three years ago? My father used to say, that the only thing worth doing, is what we do for others and I try to live after this wisdom. On the hand, I could also ask you, why you did help me, when I stranded here and was a complete mess? You nearly died because of me and told me to not come back. When I did, you were there for me, you had so much patience with me and I think, that normally you run really short of patience.”

He didn't answer her immediately, but looked at her reflectively. He had mused about that question before and he was very sure that it was not her looks, that caused him to help her. It was more the fact, that he had always a soft spot for crushed people. For those who thought they couldn't bear the burden of life any more. He wanted them to get better, heal their wounds, but his help was not always welcomed or appreciated. And because is own hurt was still so fresh from the last time he made the mistake, to trust a person, who was just using him, he didn't want to admit that to her.

“I don't know. Maybe you were lucky that I was in a calm and friendly mood.”

She laughed about that and came a step nearer to him. When she talked, she lay a hand on his chest.

“You know, what I believe? That beside everything in here is all gears, screws and a clock, you also have a heart and that you can care about people, when you choose to.”