The tower was much taller up close, the top piercing the clouds suddenly pink and gold as the evening came. Aliya looked up at the cold gray walls and thought of the man within. Of all the people her mother liked in Wonderland, he had been her best friend and lover. Still she was not nervous. Her mother had always smiled fondly and said that he was a grumpy man and way too picky with his coffee, but his heart was kind. She had told her that she sometimes wished she could have loved him instead of Blood, but it just didn’t work that way. Aliya sighed. “Have you told him about me yet?”
Nightmare looked sheepish, “Well……….”
“You have not said a thing to him, have you?” Gray said disgustedly.
Allah laughed, startling both of them. “Let’s go see if we can shock the clockmaker. How momma would have loved to see it!” She ran up the tower steps, the men struggling to catch her.
Gray reached her first, jerking against him, his arms crossing her chest and her waist holding her firmly. Nightmare stood in front of her. “I think I should say something to him first. Please stay here with Gray, Aliya.” he said, reluctantly glancing toward the office door.
“Ok” she said, eyes sparkling mischievously. She snuggled back against Gray’s chest.
Nightmare narrowed his eyes at her, knowing that look meant trouble. “Behave, please.” She winked at him, but made no promises. He shook his head and went through the office door.
Aliya rocked back and forth in Gray’s arms. He shifted uncomfortably. Her warmth drew him more than her mother ever had. He lessened his grip, trying to fight that pull.
Aliya, on the other hand, was completely focused on the room in front of her. It was not going well for Nightmare.
Julius looked up from his work desk when he walked into the room. “What do you want?” he asked, going back to his work.
“I need to talk to you,” he paused, “About Alice.”
“No.” Julius said, not looking up from his work.
“no,” he said firmly.
“I need to explain….” Nightmare tried again.
Julius stood, his blue eyes glittering dangerously. His hands curled into fists on his desktop. “No.”
Aliya burst into room and launched herself at Julius. “Daddy!” she said wrapping around him in a tight hug. His shocked eyes met Nightmares as his arms slowly went around her.
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” he said rubbing his forehead. “Meet your daughter, Aliya.” Gray walked in rubbing his stomach where she had elbowed him.
Julius pulled back, looking at her. She smiled at him as he looked her over, taking note of her unusual eyes and hair. He slowly touched her cheek, wondering at this girl that seemed to be the perfect blend of him and the woman that he had loved.
“I have a letter for you,” she said, backing away and grabbing her bag.
While she was distracted, Julius turned back toward nightmare. “How long have you known?”
“Since she was about four.” He looked at her fondly. “Her mother had told her about us, so she called to me in her dreams. Even in the other world her power was strong enough to reach me. Alice left me messages through her and we taught her about this world. Alice fully believed that she would do better here. She stood out to much there and was too volatile. They locked them up in Alice’s sister’s home.” He looked away.
“You could not have told me this when you came to me and told me she died, or any time since she left.” He was getting angry again.
“Mom asked him not to. She thought she would be here to explain herself. We had planned to leave when I found a portal, but her sister poisoned her before that could happen.” Aliya returned, faded letter held in her hand. “It was five years ago, other time. I still don’t know how to calculate that into time changes. Near as I can tell, it’s been seventeen years there and the equivalent of three here. I was twelve.” She brightened as she seemed to come to herself. “Here is her letter for you.” She gave it to him and kissed him on his cheek. “I’m going to make coffee for you, mom told me how.” She rushed passed him toward his small kitchen.
“Tell me everything now.” Julius turned to nightmare. “Everything.”
“When Alice left here, she was locked away almost immediately. They thought she was crazy when she tried to explain where she had disappeared to for years. Then she had Aliya. They decided to keep her in her sister’s home instead of where she had been because it would have been dangerous for the child there. They let Aliya outside, but Alice spent the rest of her life in those rooms. Her sister was afraid of her and Aliya. She was trying to poison her for the last three years of Alice’s life and finely succeeded." Nightmare looked away before continuing. “Alice was right about Aliya fitting here more than there. She shut her aunt up in Alice’s rooms and set the house on fire. She spent the next five years homeless and wondering from place to place trying to find a way here.”
“Why didn’t you bring her here the way you did Alice?” he wanted to know.
“It doesn’t work the same with her. She had to bring herself here.” He began to pace. “She is special to this place. Now that she knows how, she can come and go as she pleases.”
“There is more, isn’t there?” Julius watched him warily.
“There is nothing else I want to tell you.” Nightmare said, walking to the door.
Julius started to stand and go after him, but Aliya walked into the room and placed a hot cup before him, steam rising from the rim. “Bye, Uncle Nighty!” She waved to him.
“Don’t call me that! I’m not your uncle!” he said, stomping out of the room. Gray waved and followed him out the door, smiling at Aliya’s laugh.
“You found everything all right?” her father asked trying to find something to say to her.
“Yes, Daddy. I even know where everything is anywhere that mom went. Her memory was amazing. I know about her entire stay here in detail.” She patted his hand, “I have already went to the hatters place and gave him the message mom had for him. Now all I have left is Peter, Vivaldi, Ace, Boris, and Gowland.”
“You met with Blood?” he asked.
“And the twins, and Elliot. They got a little upset when I lost my temper and tried to take Blood's clock. Nightmare stopped me in time, though.”
Julius dropped his head in his hand. “Is he coming after you?”
“Na, I’m going for tea soon.” she said happily.
“Be careful around him, Aliya. Never forget that he loved your mother and still almost killed her.”
At that moment, the door slammed open and in walked a man with a tattered, bloodstained cape and white mask covering his eyes. He carried a small brown pouch with matching bloodstains and a sword at his side.
Aliya squealed and hopped up as he pushed the mask back off of his face. “Ace!” she shouted and wrapped her arms around his neck. “You are my second favorite,” she said before kissing him full on the mouth, paying no attention to her father’s chair hitting the floor as he stood quickly.
Ace paid no mind as he dropped his bag and held on to her. “Ace, stop kissing my daughter!” he said sternly.
Aliya’s bell like laugh filled the room as she broke away. “I have a gift for you,” she said going to her bag again.
“Daughter?” Ace asked still smiling. He retrieved the bag he had dropped and carefully laid it on the desk. “I knew something had happened between you and Alice.”
“How did you know that it was Alice?” he picked up his chair and returned to his desk.
His grin widened “There is only one person who ever could melt your ice, my friend.” He watched as Aliya stood and came back toward him, “Well, maybe two now.” He laughed when Julius glared at him. He slung an arm around her shoulders when she came near again just to irritate his friend. The mischievous look on her face told him she was aware and laughing with him. She unrolled a large map before him.
“This is a gift from my mother. It is an extensive map of the country of hearts done entirely from mom’s memory. I’m to tell you that if we go walking, I’m leading and I’m not allowed to go camping with you at all if it can be helped.” She grinned at him.
Ace laughed again and hugged her, earning another glare from her father. Julius walked over to them and pealed Ace's arm off of her. He took her hand and led her away from his friend. “Aliya, I have a bit of work to do could you….?”
“Sure. I’ll go find my room. I’m taking the one mom stayed in, k?” she gathered her bag and headed out of the room, only to turn back to him. She kissed her father’s cheek and waved at Ace. “Nite, Daddy. Later, Ace.” She said before walking out.
After night fell, Julius sat in his room on the edge of his bed with Alice’s letter in his hand. He slowly opened it, careful with the age worn edges. His eyes grew glassy as they traveled over her words, but he did not allow even one tear to fall.
My dear Julius,
I hope that this finds you well and that you are not too shocked by our daughter’s appearance in your world. Forgive me for keeping it from you, but I did not want to cause you the pain of knowing you have a child, but never being able to see her.
I will have to make this brief because I am fading, my dear friend. My sister has finely succeeded in poising me after 11 years of trying. Aliya is usually able to tell for me, but they have kept her away for days. I have full confidence that she will find this letter to give to you. I will hide it in our special hiding place along with my gifts for everyone.
Our child is special, but I’m sure that you will see that for yourself. I hope she will find happiness in your world, she has had little in mine. She has been my greatest comfort and joy in a place that is cruel to all those different. Thank you for loving me even though I could not love you the same. Thank you for the amazing gift of our daughter. Please care for her. It will be hard because she has a strong will of her own despite her often childlike behavior.
I want you to know that in my own way, I did love you and I hope that that knowledge causes you little pain.
AliceJulius gently refolded the letter and slid it into his favorite book that sat on his nightstand beside his bed. Then he lay back and made himself sleep, dreaming again of the night he held his love by his side.