Ban found his Alice entirely by accident, long before Alice was Alice, long before he began hunting the Gai Rabbits. Long before he coiled his contract around Alice’s heart, cut his way into the boy’s very soul—because it was a lie, that their contracts had been incomplete before Alice became aware of it. Ban owned Alice in the same sense Alice owned him—and always had, since the first moment he’d seen him.
That moment was forever imprinted in his memory, crystalline and liquid-clear. Alice, starlight glistening in his hair and the moon in his eyes, sitting alone in a nest of blankets in a room entirely swallowed by shadow. Ban had caught sight of him through the wet glass wall separating him from the muffled light and sound of the city, a mosaic of body parts and colors through the droplets beaded on the barrier between them. Alice had been absolutely still, unwavering, unmoving. Waiting.
Ban had gone still too, watching him. He’d let the rain soak through his fur, the blood congeal between his claws. Waited all night, into the next morning. Alice stayed still and quiet the whole time—until the morning sun blazed across the city, sparking molten copper fire across the drenched windows. And Alice had simply collapsed, fallen and lay still as death.
Alice had been breathing, though slightly, when he’d gotten into the room. Just asleep. He’d been so exhausted from his vigil that he hadn’t even shifted when Ban poked him, sat on him, curled up beside him.
Ban remembered how limp he’d been, his entire body pliant in fatigue. Strands of ebon starlight spooling across his fur, Alice’s frail body clinging to him.
Alice couldn’t see him, of course. Only young humans could, and Alice was already past that age.
But Ban had stayed. Followed him and watched him with round eyes. And waited with him. Because that’s what Alice did.
And Ban knew it was because Alice was waiting for him.
Harlan’s voice had been death given sound, cold and commanding and dangerously amused. Ban remembered that moment, the bindings tightening around his body, his throat, as the name took root.
He couldn’t help but think of himself as Ban now, but then….
Then, he’d been nameless. Powerless. Old, far stronger than the Gai Rabbits, but…dust, compared to Harlan, whom he owed allegiance to.
Alice was still again, sitting in his nest and staring with wide, unblinking eyes at the darkness outside. And Ban’s heart had throbbed, when he’d moved and elicited no reaction from Alice. When he’d curled his bulk around Alice, bristling fur flicking thin little cuts across Alice’s bare arm and claws digging deeply into the blankets beneath him, and snarled with a ferocity even Harlan could never have matched.
Ban threatened his Lord to protect his Alice.
He remembered Harlan’s eyes glittering mismatched in the gloom. Not quite furious, not quite pleased.
“How would you like to make a wish, Bandersnatch?”
Alice’s eyes had been empty when Giz had explained the prize to him. Cold with a sort of bone-deep shock that had sent quiet little trills of pleasure rolling down Ban’s spine.
The Gaitou Game was designed to see just how twisted humans were, when it came down to the very base emotions of their soul. Granting them their deepest, most secret wish…even if the Gaitou had been noble in their actions beforehand, the depraved things they sought for themselves could blacken their hearts faster than even Harlan’s most powerful magic.
But it wasn’t just the Gaitou that got their wish. Their contracting demon did, too.
And Ban’s had been granted already. And…so had Alice’s, Ban knew. Because—
—Alice wanted Ban. Everything he was, everything he gave him. Because without him, Alice would be waiting again—silent, unblinking, fearful even the slightest movement would break a spell he didn’t understand.
March Hare had been loud, irritating. Pouting, when Ban began teasing her, because he didn’t like her very much.
“Mad Hatter suits you.” She’d huffed at him, and he’d released her ears, looking up at Alice.
Alice’s gaze had met his, bleak for a moment before they registered that he was looking at Ban. That he wasn’t alone. Shimmered very suddenly as he drew in a shivery breath, and refocused his attention on Giz.
“But he’ll never beat Alice.”
“You sound like you want the human to win.” She’d snapped, irritated, angry, bristling at the insult. He’d let his eyes slip. Maintaining the form Harlan had given him was difficult, but…March Hare’s reaction was worth it, the gasp and the widening of her eyes.
“…Alice is already mine.”
And, oh, that had been delicious to rub into her face. With her fawning over her human, so sickeningly cocky, as if the worm she had could compare to his Alice…
“Is it true? The…our contract? And this…Harlan? Like when I woke up that morning, and saw you?” Alice had asked, when they’d returned to his world. Still rubbing the heat of Harlan’s flames from his skin, shaking and unsteady and looking at Ban with the widest, most Alice-like eyes Alice had ever had and—
--And Ban let his whole body slip, let himself fall and crash into his true form.
Alice had gasped, stumbled back into a wall and Ban had fallen with him, unwilling to waste the time relearning how to walk on human limbs.
He’d pressed his fingers to the hollow of Alice’s throat, lifted them and gripped his chin tightly enough to bruise as he jerked Alice’s head down. Caught his gaze, his attention, in a hold like steel.
“You only owe Lord Harlan your respect. You are mine, Alice. Or do you disagree?” And Alice had shivered, shook his head as he glanced down.
Ban hadn’t been able to stop smiling all day.
“Alice.” Ban drawled, dragging out every sound of his name, every syllable, every letter. There was no reply from the kitchen, though he could hear Alice moving around. Gently knocking pots and pans around, the soft splash of water.
But after a heartbeat, the noise stopped, and Alice stepped into the living room, hands wrapped in a towel.
Ban smelled the blood before Alice removed it.
“Sorry.” He let Ban take his hand, tug the towel away. The cut was along his palm, rather deep for a simple knife.
Ban pressed his mouth to the wound, tugging Alice closer as the hair on the back of his neck prickled
Harlan was checking in on them.
Ban should not be in his true form.
But Alice was shivering at the contact, and his blood was warm, and it has been far too long since Ban had tasted any sort of real violence.
“…Do you think we’ll be able to do it? Win the Gaitou Game?”
“Or die trying.” Ban murmured, and ran his tongue along his lips, dropping Alice’s hand and pressing against him, lacing their fingers together.
He just liked being close to Alice. It was easier, when they were alone, to be in his true form.
Alice hummed an agreement, the noise vibrating throughout his chest.
“…That night you woke me up, the first time I saw you…there was blood on your claws then.”
Ban smiled, lifted his head and nuzzled the side of Alice’s throat.
“…Cheshire said there were killings. Before I saw you.”
“Cheshire is noisy.” Ban murmured, but his eyes darkened.
“Did you do it?”
“Does it matter?”
Alice was quiet for a moment. His fingers tightened around Ban’s, other hand lifting and touching Ban’s back gently.
Ban’s lips twitched upwards, curling and widening and showing his teeth in a ferocious smile.
“It never will.”
And Alice didn’t notice it, but the charm hanging from his wrist shifted, filled itself to the very brim. Ban’s grin widened, and the lightning on his nerves faded as Harlan’s attention moved on.
“It never will.” Alice repeated softly.
And it wouldn’t.
Ban would make sure of that.