She was late.
It should be no surprise to him – by now. Though he couldn’t help but hope that one day, she may show up on time. With a flick of his wrist, a glance at his watch, and the ninth sigh that ensued, he found that this thinking was beyond wishful.
Eighteen minutes late.
Glancing at the view before him, Rabbit took in all the pleasantries that adorned their corner table in her room: pastries and treats of all shapes; colors of reds and yellows, and any other in between. Some soft, some dense. Crumbly and flaky. Soft and gooey. And at the center of it all, the most intricate, delicate, priceless piece of porcelain – ready to serve at their leisure.
A tea party set for two.
Growing colder, and more ironic, by the minute.
He did another quick scan of the table, simply as something to do, when his eyes snagged on a yellow hue, far too bright and crisp to mélange with the others. He picked up the saucer that contained it, sniffed, and instantly wrinkled his nose.
“Mustard," he thought. “How ridiculous.”
He then took the plate, and dumped it into nothingness. A hole that led to nowhere. So, everywhere.
Flick, glance– sigh.
Twenty minutes late.
And then suddenly, finally, the door knob twitched, satin swished, the lock clicked, and there she was.
Looking even more lost than usual, Winter still held the knack of being effortlessly beautiful, never mind what her mind looked like. The pair stared at each for a spell, as a small smile crept its way onto her face. She opened her mouth, but he beat her to it.
“Forgive me, but I was under the impression that being your figment made me somewhat of a priority. How silly of me.”
“Oh Mr. Rabbit, how droll you are.” She made her way to the table, her dress of ice blue billowing behind with such an extravagance, he couldn’t help smiling to the image before him: Winter was coming.
“–And don’t call yourself that. You’re as real to me as the clothes I am wearing, and walls in this room.”
“Pardon me yet again Princess, but was it not you who thought blood was cascading down from these very walls, just last week?”
“You do seem be apologizing quite a bit, my dear.”
“Ridiculous, I know, since I was the one on time.”
Resting her chin in her cupped hands, her pinkie, ring and middle fingers each echoing her three, engraved “tears”, Winter looked at him.
Caramel eyes met ghostly black.
“I am terribly sorry for being so late for tea. It will not happen again.”
A lie, and they both knew it; though he continued, as always, to play along.
“Do you promise?” he said, smiling at their little game.
“I promise,” she said, mirroring his face.
“Do you swear?”
And then, something happened. Something that never had before; so fleeting he might have missed it, had he not been staring so intently, knowing her face so perfectly.
Her smile had sagged. Her usual blissful eyes dulled, replaced by something; something he couldn’t quite describe, and honestly, he didn’t want to.
So, Rabbit ignored it, passed it off as a trick of the Luna light, and moved on.
“What have you been up to since last, m’dear.”
“Oh you know, all the thrilling trials of a princess– I have my studies, and all the enticing meetings on Lunar advancements, at the expense of others, of course. I’ve particularly invested most of my time in reinstating my glamour. My thaumaturges are quite certain that I am making real breakthroughs, so that’s all rather exciting,” she said each word dripping with sarcasm, and adorned with an eye roll. “So, the usual.”
There it was again. A sudden shift in their new normalcy. At this point in their meetings, Winter was usually laughing, mostly at her own jokes. Her eyes would glisten with such joy at being able to talk freely, and simply be heard. She wasn’t laughing, and her eyes were still so dull. Again, Rabbit ignored it.
“Uh… I did make a new friend!” she exclaimed, the familiar brightness suddenly returning.
Rabbit smiled in relief as he asked, “Really? Are they real?”
“Aren’t you clever! Yes, in fact. And she’s human too.”
“Unusual indeed! What’s she like?”
“Well, she’s currently a prisoner– ”.
“–though I don’t think she will be for long. She’s a fiery one, you see.” The most secretive smile slinked its way to her lips, and again, was gone almost in an instant.
Rabbit, who had been serving them both half a cup of tea, finally decided to inquire. Picking up his spoon, he started stirring, creating pale green waves, contemplating the best way to broach the subject.
“I’ve also been thinking, quite a bit actually.”
Something was definitely wrong. “Winter, what’s wrong?”
“Oh ha ha.”
“No, seriously. You haven’t been yourself since you walked into this room. The one normal thing about you today was your tardiness.”
She played with the rim of her cup, staring at him but still said nothing.
“Winter, the sole reason I exist is because of you. I can feel, more than see that something is troubling you. Why won’t you tell me?”
“You’ll think I’m crazy.”
Rabbit simply stared.
“Well more than usual I mean!”
“Impossible–my thoughts on you cannot change.”
“Do you promise?
"Do you swear?”
She continued to stare at him, a small battle going on in her mind on how to proceed. He was about to push even further, when she sighed and asked:
“Do you believe in chances, Mr. Rabbit?”
Slightly taken aback, he questioned “However do you mean?”
“Do people deserve second chances? Re-dos if you will.”
“Of course, though I think certain circumstances may require some reflection.”
“As do I! Everyone deserves a chance; to right whatever they did wrong, right?”
"...yessss," said Rabbit hesitantly, not sure what he was agreeing to, and wondering whether he should be at all.
"Then why can't they see that too," Winter mumbled, more to herself than him.
“Everyone else. They see she’s doing the best she can. Making the most of what she has. Yes, she’s going about it in all the wrong ways, but at least she's true to herself, and that’s more than others can say. Especially, in this place.”
She spoke with more vigor and determination than he’s ever seen in her before. And it made him feel silly for being the one lost this time.
“I’m sorry, but who are we talking about?”
“You know...,”-Winter leaned in close to whisper- “her.”
She then looked around the still and empty room to make sure it was still empty. Rabbit raked his brain for a person whom would warrant a hushed whisper and cautious glance; and then it hit him.
Selene. Of course. Her first friend had been appearing in many headlines recently, and the harshness of others must have hit a spot with Winter. He hadn’t known it had hit so hard.
“Oh, of course-her. Believe me, I'm rooting for her too, and in time people will see; everyone’s just scared.”
“And she isn’t! Her life is slipping away right in front of her. Everything she’s ever known can be taken in an instant yet no one seems to care. It’s just how cruel she is, or how ruthless, or how disgustingly, unnaturally beautiful, or–,”.
Now Rabbit was completely lost. Daring she may be, but he had never heard anyone describe Selene as cruel or ruthless, though he heard her glamour was alarming.
“I don’t think they find her cruel, my dear. A little out there, but not cruel.”
At this Winter stopped, both her tirade and her fidgeting, and simply stared at him.
“Who are you talking about?”
“Who are you talking about?” he countered.
"I need to make sure I have your attention when I say this next part–do I have it?"
"Of course, what is it?"
“to LITERAL HELL WITH LEVANA ! LITERAL HELL–".
"There's no need to yell–"
"I can’t believe this; great stars, you’re actually mad–”.
“Mr. Rabbit, calm down-.
“–you could give Hatter a run for his money, stark raving mad–.”
“Well of course I’m mad: I'm talking to my own figment, who by the way can’t even know what I’m thinking...”
“My dear no one, not even those from your own mind, thinks like you.”
“Perhaps that’s the problem.”
“So you’re telling me you are seriously worried about Levana? The woman who has caused hell and suffering for us all? Who has permanently ingrained herself on you by the scars on your face?”
“You said it yourself– she deserves a chance.”
“Yes and I also said after a certain point we must reconsider our kindness."
"She kills, Winter, for no reason. She’s out of chances.”
“What about her parents? And her sister? Queen Channary was just as evil, just as cruel, yet we forget all that. Part of the reason Levana is the way she is, belongs to the torture she endured by her sister. But she died, and that’s now a pity. Her parents are dead, and that’s so sad. And their debts paid. But not hers. Why do we forgive the dead over the living?"
To that Mr. Rabbit had no answer. It was true, the tests Channary gave to Levana were unforgiving, but that was no grounds for Levana to act the way she did. Winter had to know this.
“But look at you; look at Selene! You both have been dealt cards just as unlucky, yet you don’t punish others for it.”
“But you also forget, both Selene and I have been loved. We understand, and know what it is, how it feels. Have you ever wondered if she has?”
At this, Winter got up from her seat, walked away from the table, and turned to her window, which opened to her view of the lake. A shimmery, glittery surfaced winked back at them.
But all she saw was blood. He heard the screams.
“Mr. Rabbit, I am scared. Of what is coming, and it is coming. I will have to choose a side, but I don't know if I will be ready. Most of all, I’m worried that I will choose wrong, and lose what’s left of my mind trying to right it.”
Being a figment of imagination, Mr. Rabbit was unsure if he himself could feel anything for anyone, or recognize it if he felt. But in that moment, Winter was on fire, and he could definitely feel himself burning.
“I believe in you Winter. And I know deep down, you believe in yourself.”
“What if I’m wrong?”
“What if you’re right? And regardless your choice, I will be right there with you, until the very end.”
At that, she turned to find his eyes; and that smile, that wonderful heart-stopping smile crept its way back.
“Do you promise?”
Mr. Rabbit smiled back.
“Do you swear?”