The years roll by and there he sits, in his Palace of stone and machine. Sometimes he intervenes, mostly he watches. He waits sometimes, too.
She always has the same eyes. Sometimes she comes to him in blacks and blues, her hair a halo of silver. Sometimes it is as dark as night, or as green as the grass they sit in. She is thin and muscular, sometimes curvy and soft. But her eyes are always the same – deep and dark, pulling him in and trapping him.
Sometimes he waits in vain. She does not come to him but he sees her, watches as she eats biscuits and runs around in the field surrounding her tiny house. Watches as she falls in love with the Prince of a near-by country, and has children who will always have his hair but will never have his eyes.
They are always hers.
She always looks hollow when she marries. Like something is not quite right but she is happy enough, so she tries loving and tries living but it aches. He feels it too.
When she is on her deathbed, he is always there, holding her hand and keeping her close. He feels his insides churn and scuttle because he never knows when she will come again, when her clock will be reset anew and he can watch as she grows, a strange babe into a beautiful woman.
She is always lucid when he shows, life-giver and life-taker. She will kiss him if they are lovers. Her eyes will sparkle with final understanding if they are not, finally happy before he takes away her last tick. A moment when she is not hollow and pretending.
Sometimes she is a peasant, who stumbles upon his strange world and explores the halls where Wilkins and seconds work upon the hour. Her hands are dirty and her skirts ripped, and when he spots his intruder he picks her up into his arms and kisses her, sweeping her away to be his Queen.
Others she is a Queen herself, royal and vapid and coy hands, disappearing into the hands of a clock that others will never understand.
Sometimes she is gone before she can find him, where the kissing and dancing and singing under the moonlight is lost with the cooling of her blood. He smiles wearily at those times.
He dreams that, once, she will be borne ethereal – a creature beyond the limits of Underlandians. Live for eternity under his arm. It never comes but he prays in the spare moments of his day.
The waiting is always the worst, he muses. The anticipation making him anxious and agitated. He watches as others find their soulmates, Time and again, through the changing centuries. And all he can do is wait, and hope that she will find him again when her clock starts ticking.
She has never had a sister. Sometimes a brother, but it has always been just her.
When she struts into his palace, all long legs and creaky voice, and he sees eyes as deep as the universe, Time stops for a moment.
She has never had hair as fiery as the sun before, and when he kisses her there is something wrong about her lips but this is her and he is him so he doesn't complain. Her lips are wrong, he can feel it. But he doesn't complain.
He builds her machines and crafts that she always loved, and she throws them on the ground and cries. He cannot remember her being such a cruel creature and it makes his heart ache more than the waiting did. He stares into her eyes and tries to remind himself that this is the peasant girl that took shelter in his home, the Queen that loved to dance with him in these empty halls.
It works most days but sometimes it doesn't. Wilkins helps him try to forget about sweet smiles.
She takes all of him and then more but he feels empty. She gives nothing in return.
When she leaves with her vegetables he imagines running his fingers through silky hair. It is sometimes dark and thick, perhaps thin and curly and blonde, but never red. He imagines her dark, dark eyes staring up at him in love, adoration. He has her by his side and he misses her dearly.
She demands the Chronosphere. He refuses. She smells like roses and deceit. Clocks keep ticking.
His heart is dying. He feels it cracking in his chest, the Chronosphere slowly being eaten away by hatred and lies. He watches as Iracebeth screams and rants, Alice and her friends trapped in a cage of fruit, unable to stop her from imploding the universe.
She has a sister. And she is beautiful, as she always is.
She is grey and silver and her eyes are shining brightly as she spots him, sitting, waiting, beside a man whose heart has been eaten, too.
A surge of energy shoots through him, and his voice is caught in his throat, dry and unending. Yes, this Time she is a Queen, proud and regal and strong. A hint of recognition as she is dragged by the arm into the Chronosphere, her sister ranting and raving.
How could he have ever confused them, like light and dark?
Her eyes never leave his, happy and anxious and nervous even this close to destruction. He wants to spring from his seat and protect her, surround her with his body and eat her up, never let her go until she is frail and old and tired.
The whirring of machinery and gears warns him of her imminent departure, and he can do nothing to save her. She smiles at him sadly, as if she too knows how much his world is crumbling around him.
She is gone in a brilliant cloud of blue. A taste of hope, sour in his mouth, burning his lips.
Alice disappears through the mirror. The Hatter leaves with a gaggle of other hatters to his home. Wilkins begins cleaning his Palace and she is there, hugging her sister, the red in her hair and clothes dulled and dead.
Iracebeth glares at him over her shoulder, and when she finally turns around, elegant and bright, his world pops into light and color. They stare at each other a moment. A small smile flicks her lips upwards.
"You," she breaths, minty and sweet.
He does not waste himself on silly talk. He pulls her to him and kisses her. Tastes her sweetness and love and desire. There is too little of him to waste when she is here and she is finite and she is everything he ever wanted.
She is silver and grey and a Princess and beautiful and if he could lock her away, his willing prisoner, he would. She pulls him closer, if that is possible, and they meld together.
She runs a Kingdom and he runs the universe, and for a moment they are happy.
The Red Queen disappears into the night. She leaves her sister a note about fake love and fake hope and how everything is fake. He is mentioned and she blinks back the tears pricking her eyes.
It is enough to make her question the rising of the dawn and the setting of the sun. She sits and thinks and her heart feels a little like ice.
Iracebeth never returns. She does not visit Time in the home he has built her. She is afraid. Has she always been afraid? When she was a peasant, did she question the celestial being that loved her and held her and made her warm?
She does not think so. It hurts more for it.
She feels empty. She thinks of his brilliant eyes and his hands. She thinks he would visit her if he could, but Time waits for no one. It was better before she saw his face, memories that were her own but not flooding her senses, a euphoria of emotions colliding with her skull.
She feels lonely. Feels abandoned by her sister and betrayed by her soulmate. Shuts herself off from the world for protection. And it hurts. And he watches.
She stops visiting. He notices right away and watches as she reads and re-reads the venomous words of her sister. Watches how her face scrunches up right before tears leak from her eyes.
He waits for her to come back. She doesn't, filling herself up with hollowness.
She will not see him but he makes her knick-knacks and gifts of love and devotion. She accepts each one but she will not see him. Holds each one close to her heart before she sleeps for the night.
He visits her. Visits her Palace and feels the chill rolling down the walls in waves. Her face looks empty, and even when she pushes him away he holds her close, does not allow herself to close off. Will not see her live without him by her side.
He loves her and refuses to let her drift away again. They only have so much of him left.
He tells her about the times that she was married to a man other than him, how it broke him. How he waited for her to find him. He tells her of the years and centuries that pass when she is not at his side, and he feels lonely and confused. The light that finds itself when she returns.
He runs his fingers through her hair as she weeps tears for her sister and her words on his shoulder. Listens to her cry about the sister who was bitter and shallow and would not let her be happy.
She does not push him away.
She looks at him, eyes dark and deep, and believes him, will always believe him. She kisses him gently and it is more than enough.
He came for her.
She is soft and warm, pliant under his hands. He takes a deep breath, shuddering on the way out. Her lips are sweet, like honey.
She is fresh and light. He does not know how he can bear to see her live and die and live again, the limbo of in-between that slowly eats at his soul.
And then she is kissing his neck and he remembers that it is for this, the moments when she is here and he can run his fingers through the hair he has imagined for so long. It is not red, and he secretly hopes it never will be.
She is the moon, not the fire of the sun.
She cuddles into his side. He wraps himself around her, never close enough. She plays with the hairs on the nape of his neck, gently touching the gears that whir there. She is perfect.
Her clock is still ticking, and that is all he can ask for.
He kisses her gently, scared her fragile body will crumble under the weight of his lips. She smiles at him serenely, eyes still bright and sparkling. Happy and fulfilled, thanks to him, he hopes.
He watches as her eyes close, the tick tock of her clock slowing down, until the breath leaves her body.
This life was good. This life was full. He refuses to let the tears clouding his vision fall over her, the memory of the years they had while she was the Queen of Marmoreal and he was her ever-present lover still fresh in his mind.
He swallows thickly, the lump in his throat large and suffocating. It never gets easier, he muses. If anything, it gets harder, the more he falls in love with this woman who sometimes has silver hair and sometimes royal blue.
He looks at the clock in his hand, unmoving. It will move again, one day that is too far away already.
In her next life, she will not find him. This time, she will travel Underland as a bard, never stumbling upon the Palace of Time. Her life will be content and interesting, but she will feel something missing in the core of her heart.
He watches with a distant eye. Perhaps in her next life, he repeats as a mantra to get through the days he watches her dance and sing for strangers that are not him.
She looks up into his eyes meekly, a powerful and broad being she stumbled upon by accident.
His eyes are a brilliant blue and her mind is flooded with memories.
He kisses her soundly.