Author's Notes: Hello, all! I haven't written a fanfic in quite some time so this is rather exciting for me, but this is also my first story in a slightly-new fandom so I'm a little anxious as well. Still, I hope you're able to enjoy it as much as I did writing it! Happy Easter! Constructive criticism is always welcomed.
Disclaimer: I do not own OUaT in Wonderland, its parent story, or any of their characters.
With a sigh, Cassandra shoved the heavy wooden door behind her and shut herself in her room. Reaching up to tug the dark, course material from her head she threw the habit onto her little bed against the wall. She could still here Mother Superior's nagging voice in her head even now.
It's not that they don't treat you well, Cassandra, she told herself. It's simply that they do not understand. Her fingers played with the little golden cross hanging from its chain around her neck. She was struggling with the idea of continuing her time as a novitiate – the long days of intense study and prayer before taking her final vows.
In truth, she'd never wanted to become a nun – had never even considered it until her family had given her no choice.
Cassandra's family was deeply religious. One did not associate with others outside their faith. But when her father and step-mother had begun to hint at, then outright point out that she need "fulfill her social obligations" by marrying and continuing on the traditions associated with their family and beliefs, Cassandra had been quite taken aback.
Perhaps it was because she'd grown up running out on her bible studies to play in the surrounding forest or spent her entire time in church daydreaming about fantastic other worlds of talking rabbits, powerful queens, and danger.
She knew for a fact that her friends probably hadn't helped any – friends who lived outside her small, insular community and shown her a life of adventure and imagination. Will, in particular, always seemed keen on sneaking her out for some mad adventure in which they'd pretend eating mushrooms could make them change size, or that the alley cat who lived behind the trash bins near Granny's Diner could vanish like smoke on a breeze at will. (It certainly seemed that cat had magical powers the way it disappeared the instant it saw them coming).
But none of it compared to the day she had found the handsome young boy with dark eyes and a sweet smile who'd been locked away in his father's tool shed for disobedience. (He was allergic to silver and yet his father still forced him to polish every last piece in the house. She still remembered his red, raw hands and felt her horror and anger stirring even now.)
"Darian," she murmured and felt the dark hollow inside give a painful wrench, a hole that no amount of praying could or would ever fill. Her hands fisted at her sides as she struggled to maintain control over her breathing. Stumbling over to her bed she collapsed heavily upon it, her hands clasping together in prayer.
"I don't understand Your plan," she whispered as tears began to pool in her eyes. "He was a good person, a good soul… After everything he'd already been through, why – why did he have to die?" Her voice cracked on the last few words as the first tears slipped through. "What kind of world do You hope to achieve where good men suffer in torment but people like Jaspar lavish themselves in riches and power? Where people like Gold can try to steal a woman's baby away for a favor? Where good people are framed for murders they did not commit?
"What is Your plan? Do You even have one?" She looked up at the wooden ceiling above her, imploring. "To find love and then so cruelly take it away… What is the point of it all?"
She thought of all the stolen moments – Darian slipping out of his father's house to meet with her in the woods, the laughter and adventures they'd shared, the first kiss they'd had under the shade of a towering yellow poplar.
"You'll never catch me, pirate!" Cassandra called out with a laugh as she dodged behind a tree trunk.
Darian's answering chuckle made her grin all the wider. "Pirate? You're the one who stole my necklace, thief."
Cassandra clutched the red jewel on its leather thong close to her chest. "I didn't steal it," she cried out in mock indignation. "I borrowed it." A moving shadow to her left had her spinning away from the tree with a laugh, managing to just stay out of Darian's reaching fingers.
"For what purpose?" He asked with a grin.
Cassandra flashed him a bright smile, mischief in her eyes. "To get you to chase me, of course."
"I hardly need motivation for that." He lunged out toward her but Cassandra ducked away again, dropping to the ground and rolling out of his reach, careless for the dirt and bracken clinging to her clothes and tangling in her long hair. Eyes darting to her left, Cassandra quickly scooped up a branch as long as her forearm and brandished it like a sword. She lifted an eyebrow at Darian in challenge.
With a chuckle he scanned the ground around him before picking up a stick of similar length, testing its balance. Almost naturally he sunk into a fighter's pose and beckoned her forward.
Cassandra feinted left before swinging her branch up, aiming for his side. Darian dodged at the last second, avoiding her blow. He countered with a swing of his own that Cassandra met evenly before stepping lightly aside, moving out of his reach.
"For someone who's not comfortable with a weapon, you're quite good," Cassandra remarked. "Where did you learn to fight like this?" She ducked under the stick Darian swung high to pass by his side. Taking the opportunity, she aimed for his unguarded leg but he met her branch with his own, forcing her to jump away again.
"I found it useful to learn how to dodge my father's blows," he answered. When Cassandra's face fell, along with her guard, he too pulled up short. "Sorry, I didn't mean to…"
"Don't be," Cassandra replied firmly, sinking back into her fighting stance before lunging forward, swinging high. He countered and they danced around each other, meeting each other's exchange of parries. Darian smiled at her easy acceptance and enthusiasm, her answering smile lighting up her eyes and he faltered as the look went straight to his heart.
Seizing the opportunity, Cassandra spun away from his imagined blade before grasping his wrist and with a neat twist, forcing him to drop his stick to the ground.
"Hey!" he cried out in protest.
Cassandra rolled with her momentum and caught up Darian's abandoned branch in her free hand before brandishing both weapons, forcing him to match her forward pace with a backwards one of his own until his back was pressed up against a tree.
"Dare I ask where you learned that move from?"
"A genie taught me," she teased as he tried to dodge around the trunk, only for her to stab the point of one branch into the trunk. When he spun to sidestep the other direction she shoved the other branch into the trunk as well, trapping him against the tree.
He grinned. "What now?"
"Now I have you right where I want you, pirate," she taunted. "You can't escape from me no matter how creative you try to be."
"It's hard to be creative when my opponent is uncommonly creative too," he pointed out.
Her smile pulled at one corner of her mouth in challenge. "Then I suppose the trick is to be smarter than your opponent – know who you're up against."
He chuckled. "I'll remember that."
"So, Darian, what now?"
"I think I know my opponent. I think I know her weakness," Darian eyes narrowed at the dare in her tone.
"Really?" Cassandra's eyes flashed in eagerness, her heart beginning to hammer in her chest. "I certainly hope so, or you won't live to see the morrow."
With a move too quick for her to follow, Darian's hands shot out to her wrists, locking them in place as he stepped forward until they mere inches apart.
Cassandra's heart stopped for one hopeful moment that ended on a gasp as he whirled her around until her back pressed up against the trunk. Momentarily disorientated, the twist of fingers at her wrists had the branches falling out her hands and into Darian's waiting ones. She blinked rapidly at their sudden reversal.
"So, Cassandra, what now?" Darian echoed, fighting to keep his face neutral, though his eyes lit in both teasing and triumph.
With a smile Cassandra stepped forward. Darian, who had braced himself for Cassandra to repeat the move he'd just made, was caught completely off guard when she pressed her soft lips against his.
Cassandra took a step back, her heart hammering in her chest at her daring, to see that his eyes had fluttered shut and were now opening to gaze at her in both astonishment and wonder.
"It looks like I was right," she told him softly, a faint blush staining her cheeks. The quiet thump of branches hitting the ground hit her ears just before Darian removed the distance between them and gathered her in his arms before returning the kiss she'd given him.
Cassandra's heart sung in her chest as her hands slid up to grip him back, needing something to hold onto lest she float away.
Cassandra dashed away the tears with a rough gesture, heart seizing in her chest. The innocence of that beautiful afternoon would forever soothe and haunt her. It was a memory both precious and sweet for all the hopes and dreams that had blossomed between them that day. And a stark reminder of all that she had lost when they'd been caught together.
She had been a foolish little girl to believe that love, of all things, could triumph in the end. For not even the magic that seemed to come with love could change the past, could bring back those who were dead. Kicking off her shoes, Cassandra lay down on her bed her legs curled tightly to her chest and stared at the plain gray walls that surrounded her.
A sudden firm knock sounded on her door but she didn't make a move to answer it.
"Cassandra?" Mother Superior's muffled voice came from the other side. "Cassandra, I'm coming in." With a quiet creaking of hinges, Mother Superior let herself in. Taking in Cassandra's protective form on her bed and the listlessness of her expression, she sighed heavily. "Oh Cassandra."
A soft click of heels on stone sounded in the small room before Mother Superior seated herself next to Cassandra on her bed, hands clasped together tightly in her lap. "I know it seems bleak, but I promise He has a plan for you, my child. Have faith that He knows what He is doing."
"I once believed love was the most powerful magic of all," Cassandra murmured, unsure if she was speaking to Mother Superior, her memories, or simply her small room. "Now I don't believe in anything in anymore."
"What you need is time, time and patience and faith. All of which you will gain here when you take your vows."
Cassandra breathed in deeply, catching the scent Mother Superior always seemed to carry around with her. It never failed to remind her of the color blue – something soft, calming and full of possibilities. "I don't know that I'm ready – if I'll ever be ready."
"You have to let him go sometime," Mother Superior's voice was both firm and gentle. "You cannot cling to memories and daydreams – to imagine your life away." She paused, bracing herself by squaring her shoulders. "He would want you to live your life, Cassandra."
"Who?" Cassandra's voice bit back. "God? My father? Darian?"
"All of them," Mother Superior answered with patience. "None of them wish to see you suffer like this. And devoting your life to His service – the memories will one day fade and you will find joy in your work. It's what any of us would wish for."
"I do not wish for anything," Cassandra's voice cracked hard against the stillness of the room.
A few moments passed in silence as Cassandra's words echoed about the room. "Cassandra, when your father found you, you were inconsolable. You told him you'd set Darian free – that you'd planned on traveling the world together, that you'd imagined all sorts of adventures you would have."
"We could sail the seven seas! Swim with mermaids in emerald lagoons," Cassandra's voice rang out excitedly.
"Hopefully we won't run into any pirates," Darian chuckled. "Though I dare say you'd be more than a match for them." He gripped her hand tightly in his, turning to face her in the dark. She shot him a grin before turning her gaze up to the star-strewn heaven above them.
"You're free now, Darian," she whispered to the cool night air. "We can go anywhere we imagine."
"Even your Wonderland?" He teased her, calling up all her fantastical tales of a world she'd created from her imagination, a world she'd described so often and so vividly, he felt like he'd been there with her.
"Wonderland is a dangerous place," she warned with a smile. "But I think, between the two of us, we can discover its hidden secrets."
Darian brought their joined hands to his lips, delighted when she gasped quietly even now at the intimate touch. "Our hearts are entwined," he murmured to her softly. "I'll forever know when you're near, no matter where we travel to or the troubles we may encounter there." He rolled onto his side and she mimicked the gesture so that when his free hand slipped behind her head to pull her close she was already moving forward to meet his kiss. "I love you, Cassandra," he whispered against her lips.
A hand brushed a lock of hair from her face, and for one brief instant Cassandra imagined it was Darian's hand until Mother Superior spoke again.
"Your father said you told him the love of your life was gone, that he'd been murdered."
"That's not what I said."
"Cassandra, you were an ignored little girl who wanted to be loved. So you created a fantasy to ease the loneliness of your childhood." Mother Superior sighed, her voice full of sympathy. "You wouldn't be the first child to do so, but you have long since grown up and still insist it was real. That he was real."
"Cassandra," Mother Superior's voice was kind but firm. "Darian exists only in your imagination. There is no such record of him in Storybrooke or anywhere in the world."
"Has no son," Mother Superior's voice overrode Cassandra's protests. "He never did. He's," she hesitated, choosing her words carefully, "not the kindest of men, but a man just the same – one innocent of the murders and the cruelties you believe him capable of."
"All men are capable of cruelty," Cassandra bit back sourly.
"I know, Cassandra." Mother Superior brushed a quick hand through Cassandra's hair. "And while your father did not give you many options in life, you did choose this life yourself."
"It wasn't a choice at all." Cassandra curled tighter into herself, bitterness ripe on her tongue. "I was told to join the convent or they'd check me into a mental facility." She clenched her teeth together. "I'm not mad. I didn't imagine Darian. I know he was real."
There was a long silence before Mother Superior spoke again. "It appears your faith is stronger than even you realize, Cassandra."
Cassandra frowned, glancing over her shoulder. "I thought you didn't believe me either."
Mother Superior studied Cassandra's bright blue eyes and tear-stained face. "I believe you believe he's real, and that, with God, all things are possible." Her smile was small, filled with compassion and something akin to regret. "I wish to see you happy, child. You were always running around with your head in the clouds, searching for life's next great adventure." She spotted the crumpled up habit lying beside Cassandra on the bed and picked it up.
"I do not know what happened, but I do know that you had found some tremendous contentment for some time. When you attended services with your family, you nearly glowed with it, and my heart filled with joy for you." Her fingers glided lightly over the fabric in her hands, smoothing out the wrinkles. "Whatever happened, I do believe it was terrible, that it broke your heart, and after your family…" She sighed. "Well, I know you believe there is little hope for happiness left in the world. But know this," she cupped the side of Cassandra's face with a gentle hand. "We can be your family, Cassandra, if you only let us in. The sisters and I will do all within our power to protect you and keep you safe." She brushed aside a tear that fell down Cassandra's cheek with her thumb.
"Here, in the convent, you will not be ignored, you will not have rich, powerful men seeking revenge for accusations against his character, you will not be accused of insanity or locked away to be forgotten." Quietly she lifted Cassandra's hands and pressed the novitiate's habit into it. "The Lord works in mysterious ways; He has a magic and knowledge all His own. One that we may not yet understand, but I do believe He has a plan for you, Cassandra. That you are meant for something great, something wonderful. You must simply have faith."
Cassandra studied the cloth in her hand. "You sound like you've been talking to Henry," she mumbled.
Mother Superior laughed. "Yes, that boy could teach faith to a saint." She tucked a long curl behind Cassandra's ear. "All I ask, my child, is that you consider taking your vows and remaining here with us."
"And never leave the convent again."
"There are those who break their vows," Mother Superior reminded her.
"I do not break my promises," Cassandra's tone was fierce, her eyes flashing, making Mother Superior smile. Cassandra hesitated. "If I take my vows, I cannot have a family."
"No," Mother Superior's voice was quiet with understanding.
"But then, I would never want to be with anyone but Darian anyways," Cassandra murmured. Mother Superior waited patiently, saying no words but squeezing Cassandra's hand once with her own. The silence that filed the room was long as Cassandra contemplated all that lay before her.
Did she dare give up on Darian? On all that he had taught her, all that she had experienced and shared with him? Was she giving in too easily – taking the easy way out of an impossible situation?
She knew the town thought her raving mad. When she'd stumbled into the Sherriff's office completely distraught, feeling like her heart had been ripped out of her chest, and shouting about a murder, Emma Swan, the new sheriff, had been quick to investigate. But even she had turned up empty-handed, though her frustration had been clear when she'd muttered how everything seemed "too clean" for her tastes. That Jaspar had been lying through his teeth but she had no evidence to prove it.
"I'm sorry, kid, I really am," Emma's green eyes shone with all the sympathy in the world. "I'll keep looking, but it doesn't look like there's anything to find. I can't find a single piece of evidence that your Darian existed let alone that he was murdered."
"How can that be?" Cassandra's voice shot through two octaves in disbelief. "He's real. He's a real person. A person who loved me."
"Cassandra! That's enough!" Cassandra's father's voice cracked through the tiny office space as he stepped through the door, his voice dripping with disapproval at his daughter's ravings. "I apologize Sheriff Swan, my daughter is merely acting out for attention."
"I didn't imagine Darian, Father. He's real!" Cassandra's jaw clenched so hard she feared she'd crack a tooth. "Ask Will, he'll tell you, since you can't be bothered to believe me."
"Will? Will Scarlet?" Cassandra winced at Emma's tone of disbelief.
Her father echoed the sentiment with a scoff. "The thief? Who on earth would believe the word of gutter trash like that?"
Emma caught Cassandra's balled up fist before she could think of what she would do with it. "Easy now," she warned her softly before turning to Cassandra's father. "Just because a person is a thief, it doesn't make them a bad person. Some people do what they have to to survive." There was an edge to her tone that warned the man to back off.
He sniffed in disproval but heeded Emma's silent warning. "Regardless, he's in the wind and cannot be tracked down to question."
"True," Emma muttered. "He's a slippery one. I'll give him that." She eyed Cassandra. "Don't worry, when I find him, I'll be sure to question him for you."
"Now, now, Sheriff, I hardly believe that's necessary," a soft but freezing voice filtered through the air as a tall man with long, curling dark hair and an arrogant smirk entered the room. "I think it is past time we end this farce, and stop indulging this poor young woman's fantasies." He clenched a walking cane in his hand, one gentlemen of bygone days had used for show rather than to actually help them walk like Mr. Gold.
Cassandra shuddered at the sight of him, an icy fury racing through her gut as every instinct screamed at her inside that this was a powerful, dangerous man. Their eyes met from across the room and something like a smirk sparked though his eyes. "Jaspar," she hissed through her teeth.
"I graciously allowed you into my home without a warrant, and allowed you to peruse every inch of it to your satisfaction to prove my innocence in this awful accusation of murder. You saw for yourself that the man in question has never lived there, does not, in fact, exist." Jaspar drew back his shoulders with an air of superiority. "I, and indeed this town, have put up with this girl's lies long enough. Slander is a crime, is it not? Should Miss Cassandra seek to pursue her false accusations further I shall endeavor to seek legal action myself for defamation of character."
"That will not be necessary, sir," Cassandra's father rushed to assure the powerful man beside him. "I will be putting an end to her fantasies at once. She will not be continuing this nonsense further."
"You believe this madman over me?" Cassandra asked, aghast. "Your own daughter?"
"Enough, Cassandra. We shall discuss this no further." Her father's tone was resolute.
"But he murdered Darian! I saw him shove him right off the cliff and into the sea!"
"It was all in your head!" Her father barked out. "You were dreaming, Cassandra. You were found wandering about the forest in the dead of night, raving like a madwoman. Nothing happened but for a naïve young girl being frightened by noises and shadows in the night after wakening from a child's nightmare."
"Because he drugged me before I could get to the cliff's edge and go after Darian. He found us in the forest together and threatened to kill Darian if he didn't leave with him at once. When Darian refused he pushed him over –"
"Cassandra, that's enough."
"I tried to go after him – go after Darian – but Jaspar forced a dampened cloth over my face before I could reach him. I fought against it." Tears streamed down her face. "I swear I fought as hard as I could but before I knew it I was waking up under the tree – alone." Her voice cracked on the last word. "I tried to scramble down the cliff's side but it was too steep." She turned her imploring eyes to Emma's sympathetic ones. "I tried to find Darian. I did. Please, you have to believe me. You have to find Darian."
"I'm sorry, kid, we searched Jaspar's house, the forest, combed the beaches… We couldn't find anything."
"You don't believe me." Cassandra's voice was full of such profound disbelief and pain that it made Emma's heart pang in empathy.
Emma pressed her lips together tightly as she looked at the anguished young woman before her. She wanted to reach out to her – to help her, but it looked like all the cards were stacked against her. Emma glared at the two men in the room, knowing they'd throw up every obstacle in her path if she continued further with this investigation.
Not that that had ever stopped Emma before and it wouldn't now.
"Don't worry," a new, young voice piped in as Emma watched her son emerge from behind the doorway. "She believes you."
Everyone turned to blink at the young boy who'd obviously been eavesdropping since heaven only knew when.
"Henry," Emma's voice was a warning. It was one thing to risk her own safety against people like the mayor or Gold or the arrogant asshole lording himself over everyone else in this room, but it was another matter entirely for her son to do so too. Though she couldn't suppress the twinge of pride his stubborn defiance brought her.
"You do?" Cassandra's voice was laced with such an even amount of hope and disbelief it was almost painful.
"Of course we do," Henry continued unerringly. "The love between you and your genie is practically legendary."
"My genie?" Cassandra blinked in confusion at the young boy before her even as Emma worked to bite back a groan.
Ignoring all this Henry simply nodded. "Darian," he continued. "His real name is Cyrus. He's a genie and you freed him, Alice."
"Alice?" Cassandra looked at Emma for guidance, completely bewildered.
Henry glanced over at the flabbergasted men by the door before grasping Cassandra's elbow and tugging her as far away from them as possible. Emma sidled closer, warily watching the two men exchange glances.
"You and Darian are like my mom's parents – Snow White and Prince Charming," he explained. "Your love can change worlds. Don't ever give up on it. Don't ever give up on him."
Tears swam in Cassandra's eyes. "But he's dead," her voice was a broken whisper.
"What?" Henry's eyebrows shot into his hairline. "Mom?" He looked to Emma in a panic and Emma debated how to respond. Finally, she settled on the truth – as far as she knew it.
"We can't find him," she admitted.
"Because there is no one to find!" Cassandra's father's sharp bark cracked through the air.
"There is too!" Henry shot back. "Darian is real. Just because you've never met him doesn't mean he doesn't exist."
Cassandra's father seemed taken aback by this statement, and Emma didn't like the way the other man was eyeing her son.
"Henry," she warned, shaking her head with hardly a movement, hoping to deter him before there was further trouble. She didn't like either of the two men in the room, and if the way Jaspar was looking at her son was any indication – with a sudden burning rage in his eyes – she wouldn't put it past him to harm a child to keep his reputation squeaky clean. Her eyes narrowed. Or punish someone he believed he owned for disobeying.
"We've all suffered enough absurdity over this. You will come with me at once, Cassandra. We will discuss how to deal with your nonsense in private." Cassandra's father was irate.
"You can't let him take her, Mom," Henry pleaded. "She's not lying. She has to find Darian."
Emma glanced at the pale young woman beside her, eyes full of the utmost sympathy. "There's nothing I can do, kid. She's his daughter and not a legal adult yet."
"I'm sorry, Henry." She brushed his unruly brown bangs out of his face. "I promise I'll keep looking," she told both her son and the blonde young woman in a voice only they could hear. "I can't promise more than that, but I do promise to keep this case open until I find something."
"Thank you," Cassandra whispered back, her face crestfallen. She started when a pair of small arms encircled her waist.
"Don't worry, Alice, we believe you," Henry whispered as he looked up at her from the hug he held her in. "You'll find your genie again. You have to believe that."
"Thank you, Henry," Cassandra whispered back, hugging the small boy and all his innocent wonder back. "And you, Sheriff Swan."
"Emma," Emma corrected, her lips lifting in a supportive smile though her eyes were full of sorrow. "And don't thank me just yet."
"You've given me hope," Cassandra told her. "You both have."
"Hope can be a dangerous thing," Emma warned her.
"Indeed," Jaspar glared at the trio before him before giving a sharp nod to Cassandra's father and sweeping out the door.
Cassandra could almost imagine a long cape snapping behind him in his wake. A quick image of him with a serpent-headed cane and a malicious smile flashed through her head without warning and she shuddered.
"Do not anger him, Henry," she warned as her father marched across the floor to grasp her firmly around her arm. "He's a dangerous man." She traded a single look with Emma before being dragged out the door.
Cassandra clenched the material in her hands briefly before releasing her grip with a sigh. Emma had been right – hope was a dangerous thing.
Weeks had passed since then and there still wasn't a single shred of evidence that Darian existed beyond her memories and Henry's belief. And worst of all – she had begun to doubt herself, to believe what everyone else said was true. That it was all a story she'd made up in her head to fill an ache and loneliness she'd always lived with.
She glanced at Mother Superior who sat patiently waiting, posture as straight as ever. Even she believed Darian to be a made-up story, just like in Henry's book of fairytales. And really, what was she, a nearly grown woman doing believing in childish fantasies anyways? Real or no, Darian wasn't a genie, and she wasn't Alice in Wonderland. Those were all make-believe. Besides, how in the world would a genie from Agrabah end up in Wonderland in the first place? It didn't make any sense – even if it did sound like the start of a wondrous adventure; it was all stuff and nonsense. It was time to grow up, time to bury her pain and longing and her memories as far behind and away as she could.
"Alright, Mother Superior," Cassandra relented. "I'll take my vows."
Mother Superior took both Cassandra's hands in hers and squeezed them tightly. "You're making the right decision, dear. I know you'll be happy here." She stood and brushed out her charcoal gray skirt. "I'll have the other sisters start the preparations tonight. You'll spend the evening in quiet prayer and then we'll have you take your vows tomorrow."
Cassandra nodded, unable to watch Mother Superior's departure. Was she doing the right thing? Trading one belief for another? Dedicating her life to the convent instead of out there helping in the search for her lost love? Was all her faith, hope, and love for naught – simply a figment of her imagination?
She sighed. It hardly mattered now. She'd made her decision. It wasn't worth dwelling on. With that thought firmly in mind she rolled over onto her back and stared up at the ceiling, emptying her mind of all but her prayers and the vows she would undertake on the morrow.
But as her eyes slid shut and her mind drifted, her dreams and her heart didn't heed the direction of her thoughts, or perhaps, they hadn't strayed far in the first place.
Cassandra tossed and turned all night as she dreamed of a white rabbit and his wife, the Red Queen and her Knave of Hearts, and a madman with an even madder scheme of vengeance and a hunger for power that drove out all else from his soul. Intertwined were her own memories of her and Darian meeting in the forest, falling in love, and making their bid for freedom mixed with Henry's stories of genies and wishes and sorcery.
She awoke with a gasp when a firm knock sounded on her door.
"Knave?" she called out in the gray morning light, her mind muddled with images of Will fighting off asylum doctors and calling her name. She shook her head, but it hadn't been her name. It had been 'Alice,' like in Henry's stories.
"Cassandra," the voice called before cracking open the door. "It is time to prepare yourself."
"Where is Mother Superior?" Cassandra asked, shoving a hand through her unruly curling hair.
The other nun paused and Cassandra sat up straighter. "What has happened?"
"Mother Superior was called to the hospital." The young nun's eyes swam with worry and Cassandra's heart dropped to her stomach. "It's Henry Mills, Cassandra. He – they say he might not make it."
Cassandra sat in bed, dumbfounded, hope seeking like a stone in her chest. "No."
"It's terrible," the other nun nodded in agreement. "He's such a sweet boy. We've been praying for him." Tears welled in her eyes before she visibly straightened. "Mother Superior instructed us to see to your vows without her. We'll set everything up so that the ceremony can be completed the moment she arrives back."
"Are you sure?" Cassandra hesitated. "With everything going on…"
"The world will always have its trouble, Cassandra. We can't stop for them all; we have to move forward."
"Right," Cassandra whispered softly. "We have to move forward." She threw aside her covers and made her way to the bathroom to scrub her face and get ready for the day, trying to focus on the vows she was to make but her mind kept wandering back to Henry. Her heart squeezed at what Emma must be going through – to face the threat of losing someone you loved. To be separated from them forever? She could imagine no worse fate.
Stepping through the doors of the church, Cassandra began to make her way slowly toward the altar. Faces of her fellow nuns turned toward her in quiet greeting. She paused halfway down the aisle, taking in the sight of the large wooden cross against the far wall.
Is this really what You have planned for me? Cassandra asked. Is this how my life is to be?
Her hands clenched together in front of her as memories assaulted her. "Darian," she whispered, eyes closing tightly as her heart gave a twinge in pain.
A sudden commotion sounded behind her and Cassandra whirled as a voice called out for her. She froze, her heart faltering. "You."
"You?" A man with short, nearly shaved hair and goofy ears stood in the doorway. "That's what I get? 'You'? Well, nice to see you too, Cass."
Disbelief crashed through her as she stared at her old friend. "What're you doing here?"
"Right. Come now, we have to go," Will stepped forward to grasp her arm but she stepped away as the other nuns rose to their feet in a tizzy.
"Go?" She shook her head. "No, I can't. I can't."
"Cass, you need to listen to me," he implored.
"No!" Anger began to course through her and she used it to fuel her words, to keep her standing as tears swam in her eyes. Where had he been? Where had he gone when she'd needed him most? "I'm not going anywhere!"
Will rolled his eyes. "Why must you always be so bloody stubborn?"
By now the nuns had begun to converge around him and were grasping his arms with firm hands.
"This is a private ceremony, young man. You need to leave – immediately."
"How dare you intrude here!"
"Cass! No!" Will struggled against the tight grip on his arms but was loathe to really struggle against a crowd of nuns. "You have to know why I'm here," he insisted. "You remember –"
"I don't want to remember," Cassandra bit back, tears welling as memories tried to force themselves to the surface, memories she was trying so desperately to suppress. "I want to forget."
"Cass! Listen to me!"
And then he said two words that changed her world.
Cassandra's head snapped up, disbelief warring with that insistent, painful hope as she met her best friend's eyes.
"Darian," Will insisted. "He's alive. We found him."
"That's impossible," she whispered, a desperate bubble of hope filling her lungs, making it hard to breathe.
"You know as well as I do, Cass, nothing's impossible only improbable."
"But – his father –"
"Is a right lying bastard," Will stated with no hesitancy despite his location and the nuns' gasps of disproval. "The sheriff, she was following a line of evidence, saying an anonymous call tipped her off, but got called out to the hospital before she could check it out."
"It could be a prank, Will," she insisted though hope was screaming through her veins and her heart was pumping madly in her chest.
"I've never known you to be one for giving up, Cass," his tone gentled as he watched her. "You helped me find my heart again, let me help you find yours."
"Cassandra," one of the nuns warned but Cassandra didn't hear her. She looked between the cross and the nuns standing before it, and her best friend's imploring eyes and earnestness.
"Take a leap of faith," he begged her.
Everything warred within her as for that one instant she heard all the words throw at her, accusations of madness and flights of fancy, where her love and been mocked and dragged through the mud of disbelief. And she wanted to do no more than bury herself far away behind the convent's walls to escape the reproving eyes and ridicule. For who would ever believe her? Who would ever love her except those whom she created in her head?
But as she looked again at her best friend she saw the love there, and she thought of Emma and Henry – near strangers who had taken her at her word, had believed in her when no one else did and all evidence pointed to the contrary. And she realized – she wasn't as alone in the world as she thought.
"I'm sorry," she turned to the nuns present. "You've all been wonderful to me, but I believe there's more for me than this. I think He does have a plan for me." She waved at the cross behind them. "And it's to find Darian and free him from his captivity."
"And if this man's lying?" One of the nuns asked. "If he's leading you on with false promises?"
"Oye!" Will squawked at the offense against his honor.
Cassandra squared her shoulders and stared the nun down. "I believe in my friend." Her hands squeezed together tightly in front of her until her knuckles whitened. "I believe in myself."
A burst of warm air blasted through the doors in that instant, making everyone stumble before regaining their footing as memory after memory assaulted them, leaving them gasping.
The young novitiate blinked rapidly as she pressed a hand to her heart where she thought it might burst out of her chest. She looked up at her best friend in bewildered astonishment. "Knave," she breathed.
"Hello, Alice," he greeted with a grin. "Just like old times, ain't it?"
She met his grin with one of her own. "Was that your idea of a rescue?" A thought crashed into her. "Will, Cyrus!" She ran up the aisle toward him and rushed past him with no hesitation.
"Right, let's get to it then." He shook his head in amusement. "Nothing's changed." He came to a full stop outside the doors of the chapel to see Alice staring up and down the street as delighted voices cried out and embraces were exchanged between long-separated friends and lovers.
"Which way?" Alice's voice all but quavered in anticipation that she tried and failed to suppress.
"That way," Will pointed up the street and Alice hurried along as fast as her long skirt would allow. She itched to exchange it for the more comfortable clothing she'd had in Wonderland. Fisting the charcoal gray cloth in her fists she yanked the material higher to lengthen her strides.
"Some proper nun, you are," Will teased.
"I never took my final vows," Alice answered, a smile twitching at her lips. "I'm not sure it counts now."
"Will, where did you say someone saw Cyrus?"
"I didn't. We were interrupted but I told Ana and she should be scoping the place out," he paced beside her, rushing past all the celebrating on the streets by Alice's side. He was amused to note that they weren't the only two rushing about. "Well, would you look at that," Will muttered as he caught sight of a dark, pixie-haired woman being swallowed up in the arms of a taller blond man. "Seems she found her Prince Charming after all."
"What?" Alice asked, only partially hearing Will's commentary as her eyes frantically scanned the streets for the former Red Queen. "How'd you and Anastasia end up in Storybrooke?"
"We were on our way from Wonderland to visit the pair of you," Will answered. "Last time I let you convince me of a vacation in the Enchanted Forest when there's a vengeful queen out there looking to play with dangerous magic. Once was enough, thank you very much."
Alice rolled her eyes but couldn't help her smile. "We were on our honeymoon, Will. How was I to know she would enact a dark curse upon the whole of the land?"
"By asking the locals, that's how. There were plenty of rumors tumbling about after Snow White got herself hitched."
"That's hardly my fault. I didn't –"
"Alice? Alice!" A voice called out as they passed a side street, causing Alice to stumble as she tried to both stop and turn at the same time. A pair of strong, familiar arms was there to catch her before she fell and she gasped, tears welling in her eyes as laughter as known to her as her own heartbeat rang in her ears.
"Cyrus!" She pulled the love of her life close, squeezing him to her as tightly as life itself while he ran a warm hand up and down her back, murmuring soothing words in her ear as she buried her face in the crook of his neck. They stood locked in each other's arms until Alice was able to catch her breath and hear past her own heartbeat. She shifted back to gaze at her husband, tears falling freely down her face in a joy that could not be contained.
His dark eyes flit across every inch of her face, taking in every last detail. His brows scrunched together when he at last noticed the cloth wrapped around her head. "What on earth is this?" He tugged at the material gently.
"Your wife was running away to the church, mate," Will explained. "You'll be thanking me for not letting her become a right proper nun and marrying the big man upstairs instead."
Alice flushed bright red and turned an embarrassed glare on her best friend.
Will stood cheekily nearby, his arm wrapped around Anastasia's waist as they watched the pair fondly.
"Don't worry, darling," Anastasia soothed. "I'm not sure the church would allow you to marry a second time while you were already bound to another – they frown on that quite heavily, you know."
Alice shut her eyes in continued embarrassment but Cyrus merely chuckled and tucked a curled finger under her chin, guiding her back to him. "You were about to become a nun?"
"In my defense, I thought you were dead," Alice muttered. "Again. So technically, I suppose I thought I was widowed."
"We didn't quite make it to the altar in this world," he teased and she flushed. "I believe we were interrupted."
Alice stilled at his words. "Jafar," she hissed and a bit of the happiness leached out of the four of them standing there.
"Yes, Jafar," Cyrus muttered, recalling his life under the Evil Queen's curse. "I believed he was my father here."
Will shuddered in horror. "Sorry about that, mate. Terrible luck it was."
A tremor ran through Darian at the memories and Alice pulled him tighter to her. He tugged her novitiate's habit from her head as he thought over his life under the curse. Letting the scrap of material fall to the ground he let his hand slide through Alice's long tresses, hoping to distract them both as their bodies responded to each other's closeness.
"Not all the memories were terrible," he reminded them both and pressed a kiss to the side of Alice's head. She sank into his warmth with a shuddering sigh of relief. "You found me again." There was both awe and amusement in his voice.
Alice pulled back to lean her forehead against her lover's. "I will always find you," she promised, her eyes serious and full of love.
"True, no matter how mad the worlds think Alice is, they can't seem to pull the two of you apart for long," Will quipped before Anastasia shushed him with a swat of her hand. "Ow! What?"
Alice and Cyrus chuckled and grinned at each other before Cyrus' eyes grew serious. "How long has it been since I last kissed my wife, I wonder?"
"Too long," Alice murmured back as her eyes slid closed and Cyrus' lips pressed against hers, something golden and warm swimming through her veins at their touch.
"Depends on who you ask," Will started again. "Some say the curse was twenty-eight years long but from my memory, Alice was only in the nunnery a few months so –"
"Will!" Anastasia hissed in exasperation.
"What? He asked!" Will looked at his lover in indignation. Anastasia rolled her eyes in exasperation though she squeezed his hand with affection and he turned to place a kiss upon her cheek in response. They turned back to see the other pair gazing at each other with stars in their eyes, still holding each other close, as if the world still threatened to pull them apart.
Will cleared his throat to get their attention. "Right, so what're we going to do now?"
"I can think of a few things," Cyrus murmured in Alice's ear and she flushed.
Will didn't have to hear the words to realize the intent behind them and actively worked against rolling his eyes though he couldn't help but feel relived they were all united again. "I meant about this town's newest resident genie," he explained. "Someone had to have let Jafar out of his bottle."
"I think that's a problem that can wait for tomorrow," Alice replied, her eyes locked onto her husband's as she gave him a knowing grin.
"Yes," he whispered, "definitely tomorrow," and pulled her in close for another kiss.
This time Will really did roll his eyes. "Did you know you two are more insufferable together?"
Anastasia coughed into her hand, recalling all too well having said the same thing once upon a time. "They're still newlyweds," she pointed out.
"They've been married for twenty-eight years!"
"Under a curse, Will. One in which time didn't move forward for twenty-eight years."
"You don't really believe that, do you?"
"Do I look twenty-eight years older to you?"
Will had self-preservation enough not to answer that. "How do you know?"
"My step-sister was pregnant for twenty-eight years during that time, you know. She only had the baby very recently." Anastasia gasped. "I'm an aunt! Oh, Will! That makes you an uncle."
"Bloody hell," Will muttered. He glanced at the couple in front of them, lips still locked, arms entwined. "It's a right good thing neither you nor Alice was with child when the curse fell." He shuddered. "Can you imagine?"
"I'd rather not, thanks," Anastasia made a face though she quickly recovered. "We need to go shopping for the baby!"
Will looked from his lover to the wedded couple in bafflement. "Am I the only one concerned about a madman and his power to grant wished roaming about Storybrooke?"
This time it was Anastasia who rolled her eyes. "This is a land without magic, Will."
"Oh really?" Will asked, pointing behind them. "Then what the bloody hell is that?"
Anastasia's gasp pulled Alice and Cyrus away from each other in time to see a dark purple descending from the hills beyond town and steadily make its way forward, engulfing everything in its path.
Alice gasped. "Another curse?"
"It's definitely magic," Cyrus replied, holding Alice close. He turned to face her as it rumbled up the street toward them.
"Alice," he hurried, his tone both worried and determined. "No matter what happens, believe that I love you."
"Cyrus," Alice breathed as she pulled him close, daring this new menace to do its worst. "Your love is the one thing I never doubted, even when I lost faith in myself." She held him tight as his arms wrapped around her securely, the winds around them kicking up dust and debris and throwing it every which way. "I always believed in your love."
As the dark violet cloud descended without further warning, rushing past the citizens of Storybrooke, and engulfing united friends and lovers in a new wave of terror, Alice held fast to the love in her arms and the faith that it would lead them through again.
For if there was one thing that her time in Storybrooke and at the convent and with Henry had taught her it was to hold fast to her love, her faith, and above all – hope.