Ever since Wonderland, Alice did not dream. She thought it was something the Doctors did to her when they were trying to niggle the truth about the Stone out of her, or that maybe after what happened to her father, her mind just shut down. Either way, dreams were gone, and she thought it might be for good.
She couldn’t say she missed them. Usually she dreamt about Dinah dying, or Dinah talking to her, or, of course, the day she discovered that her father had disappeared. And of course she thought about it often; that moment was the definitive moment that her ability to trust others was destroyed. Why would her father leave them? She loved him more than anything in the world, how could he do that to her and mom? For ten years, these thoughts polluted her mind like thick, noxious smog, only to suddenly be cleared away when she found him again in Wonderland. It was awful that he was dead, horrific, but in saving her life, he had given her something precious: freedom.
She didn’t have to search anymore; she’d found him, and with the knowledge that it wasn’t his fault, that he didn’t leave, that he was stolen from her. No longer did she have to carry the crushing weight of insecurity, mistrust, and fear of abandonment. If only it were really so simple.
The days he spent waiting were excruciating.
He lasted as long as he could, a whole two weeks Wonderland time, before he finally got the courage to follow her through the Looking Glass. Jack had offered him a position in the royal court as the ambassador to the Looking Glass, and it was a good gig. He’d have benefits, a nice, safe place to live, and a place on the royal council. He would finally have the opportunity to really make a difference, a chance to make up for his past cowardice.
But he couldn’t do it. Not until he talked to Alice about it. She had grown on him, taken over his heart like a parasite, and he wanted to keep her there, safe in his chest. Jack was understanding, of course; he had been in love with Alice too, once upon a time. He lost his opportunity, but things were still there for Hatter, and what kind of man would Jack be if he didn’t help the woman he loved and the man who loved her?
Hatter emerged four hours after Alice did, just in time to find a disguise and join in her rescue. And he did. He met her mother, got her number, lied a little, and made up an excuse to check on Alice the next day. Fear was coiled in his gut like an angry serpent throughout the entire exchange, and his heart was burning holes through his ribs, but he fought it. Fought through the discomfort and the doubt, fought through everything for her.
And it was worth it. Fuck, was it worth it. When he saw her for the first time since their charged farewell, he could have burst into tears. But she cut him off with her thin arms around him in a tight embrace, and he buried his face into her hair. She felt so good, so right, suspended there in his arms. He never wanted to let go.
He did, of course. Had to eventually. Carol Hamilton stared at them with such shock Hatter feared her eyes would pop right out of her head.
Alice made up some bullshit about him being an old ex from community college, and they all got about getting to know each other. Hatter had to be quick on his feet to make up a life for himself, but Alice helped when he froze up, which was embarrassingly often for a seasoned liar like himself. But it didn’t matter. They were together now and that’s all that Hatter cared about.
Those first few weeks reunited were a haze of mushy romance. Carol made a point of never being home; the love in the air was suffocating, she said. Not that that was any issue for Hatter and Alice.
He wanted to get lost in her. He wanted to worship her. He yearned for her like a man stranded in the desert yearns for water. He could kiss every inch of her body and it wouldn’t be enough. He wanted her under him, on top of him, surrounding him.
His hands grazed her skin lightly, as if she were a painted masterpiece he was marveling at, afraid to ruin. She would never let him forget how special she was, how lucky they both were. It was all so fragile, so magical, so impossible. It felt as if, any moment, she would slip away from him like sand blowing in the breeze, like she was a fantasy concocted by the Doctors that disappear at any moment. He hesitated even to blink.
He had to eventually. He felt so good, his eyes fluttered close on their own volition.
Hatter still dreamed. He dreamed a lot. Jack got in contact with some associates to find Hatter somewhere nice to live, so he resided in a nice studio apartment above a dry cleaner’s, and owned a bar just down the road called Mad Hatter’s (Alice’s idea of a joke). Alice stayed over at his apartment often. It was nice. It was simple. It was safe, sometimes.
And other times, Hatter would be groaning and sweating and writhing in bed at night, trapped in some horrible place inside his mind. He didn’t talk about what the Doctors and Mad March did to him, not ever, not even to her, but she knew that’s what he dreamed of. He would call out, struggle, and once he straddled her with two hands around her throat before he woke up and realized what he was doing. He cried for two hours, clutching her like a child, apologies bubbling out of his mouth, though Alice tried to stop him.
She could have gotten him off of her easily. She wasn’t afraid that he would hurt her, not really. But she was afraid that he would hurt himself, or punish himself for nearly throttling her. After that, he told her he needed to go to Wonderland for a while and sit on the council, just for a day, that he’d be back before she knew it.
He did what he said he would. He was only gone for one day, but it felt like years for Alice. He had left her a key to the apartment, and when she had nothing to do, she sat on the bar stools at his kitchen counter and missed him. But she got out a pen and paper and did the math as soon as he left that morning.
Two and a half months. He would be in Wonderland for two and a half months. What could they possibly need him for two and a half months for? Alice was preoccupied and vacant the rest of the day.
What would he say when he got back?
Every day without her, he felt sick.
They’d parted on terrible terms. After the night terror incident, Hatter had basically fled with his tail between his legs back to Wonderland. He needed to get away, to think. He needed to get control over himself.
Working on Wonderland was a perfect distraction. It was nice to see Charlie again, training young knights-to-be, and he and Jack were actually starting to become friends. He and Duchess’ wedding was in a year Wonderland time, and he and Alice were both invited. Hatter said he looked forward to it, and he told the truth. The work they had already accomplished in rebuilding Wonderland was hugely impressive, and his heart swelled with pride at the progress being made. With an entire country experiencing emotion withdrawal, Jack was doing an amazing job at keeping things in order and keeping his people happy. Support groups and addiction centers were the first new organizations to spring up out of the fall of the Queen of Hearts. Hatter had never been more proud at the kindness of his people.
Everything he had fought so long for was finally happening, but it felt strange without Alice at his side. So many times during his “business trip” he wished that he could turn around and tell her something or show her how beautiful the city was now that Jack was cleaning up the streets. But she was never there, even though she haunted him so.
“I’m so sorry.”
The words rushed out of his mouth the second he stepped foot in the apartment. He swept her up into his arms, dropping his away bag to the floor. Alice cried. She doesn’t cry often, but she cried for him.
“You were gone for so long…”
Hatter smiled into her neck. “Only a day, Alice.”
“Yeah, for me!” She pushed out of his arms and brushed his hair out of his eyes. He’d gotten it cut the day before for Alice, and he was already getting shaggy. “You were gone for two months!”
“I know,” he sighed, resting his forehead on hers. “It was miserable without you. I just… needed some time. I was so disgusted with myself, I thought I didn’t deserve to be with you, that it would be better if…”
“You were going to leave me?” Alice’s voice was small, high-pitched, and she sounded like a little girl again.
Hatter’s expression was one of pain and desperation as he pulled her in close. “No, no, god, Alice. No, I wasn’t going to leave you. I just needed some time to take care of myself and regain some control. I tried to stay off Tea as best I could, but I think I might be experiencing emotion withdrawal.”
Alice’s brows drew together. Oh. “I didn’t even think of that. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Hatter sighed and pulled her away to cup her face. “I found some help in Wonderland, and I’m feeling much better now. I’m sorry to have worried you.”
“Just…” Alice paused, trying not to sound as pathetic as she felt. “Can you…”
“Anything, my sweet girl.” “Can you just hold me for a while?”
He took her hand in his and led her to his bedroom. One wall was almost entirely windows, with huge fabric shades synced to a remote control. Hatter hit the button and the room slowly darkened. He lied on his back and Alice curled up at his side, but she wasn’t close enough, so Hatter wrapped an arm under her leg and pulled her half on top of him.
At first, they said nothing, soaking each other in. Alice knew Hatter felt the separation more intensely than she, so even though she was pretty much fine after her quick cry and twenty minutes of snuggling, she let him run his fingers through her hair for two hours before they started to talk. The transition was seamless. Alice asked about Charlie, about how rebuilding was going, about the government. Hatter said the royal wedding was in 20 days, and that they are invited to attend if they’d like. When Alice asked how long they’d be gone and Hatter replied with “an afternoon,” Alice just burst into laughter so intense that tears coursed down her cheeks. When she calmed down, she sighed and said of course she wants to go.
She looked radiant. Alice just might have been the most beautiful thing Hatter had ever seen. Her blue gown was simple but elegant, floor-length and long-sleeved but backless, showing off her karate muscles. Hatter felt positively shabby in comparison, even though he had rented a mauve suit that Alice found absolutely dashing. Even though he didn’t deserve to have her on his arm, Hatter had to admit he looked good in the suit, especially with the black dress hat he wore only on special occasions.
“I’ve missed you in a hat,” Alice said wistfully before they left the guest quarters in the new palace that morning. Hatter drew her to him, hand splayed on her bare back.
“And I’ve missed you in blue,” he whispered into her mouth, cutting her laugh short with a kiss. The celebration was grand, though Hatter expected nothing less. Duchess had become much more tasteful after being released from the servitude of the Queen, so the parties were not nearly as garish as Hatter feared they might be. It was a week-long affair: the first three days were parties and feasts, the next day was the bridal shower and the bachelor’s party, another day of partying, then the wedding, and last was the reception. Hatter wasn’t really much of a party guy, and neither was Alice, but he found himself having some of the most fun he’s ever had twirling her around on the dance floor.
The service itself was small and tasteful. Only a few people were invited to watch the actual exchanging of vows, Hatter and Alice among them. Alice’s eyes shone with tears, one small hand pressed to her heart and the other holding Hatter’s tightly. He felt it too: pride, happiness, and closure. The love and fondness between Duchess and Jack was unmistakeable, and it made Hatter’s heart thump in his chest heavily to be sat next to Alice. They hadn’t really talked much about the future, mostly because Hatter didn’t want her to feel like things were going too fast, but having several near-death experiences with someone tends to create some pretty strong bonds, and what they were doing didn’t feel unnatural at all.
Jack smiled broadly at him when Hatter offered him a congratulatory handshake, pulling him into a tight embrace instead.
“I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t know what I would do without you, David.” His eyes sparkled with happiness, and Hatter found himself grinning as well. “Your guidance has been indispensable to me, and I can’t thank you enough for your support. I hope you know that I consider you one of my dearest friends.”
“Jack Heart,” Hatter said, placing a firm hand on Jack’s shoulder to shake. “I owe everything to you. I’m just happy it all worked out in the end, yeah?” Jack nodded his agreement, and they both turned to look for Alice and Duchess. They found them standing by one of the tables, talking and laughing like old friends. “I’m glad they’re getting on. That makes our jobs much easier,” Hatter joked, poking Jack’s arm with his elbow.
“Do you love her?” Jack questioned, suddenly serious.
Hatter hesitated. “Do you love her?” He gestured towards Duchess with his drink.
“Yes,” Jack said immediately. “I know perhaps I shouldn’t, all things considered, but she’s beautiful and has a brilliant mind for strategy. She’s loyal and strong, and she will make a perfect queen.”
“She is a force to be reckoned with, that’s for sure.”
“You never answered my question. Do you love her?”
Hatter sipped his drink thoughtfully. “I don’t know. If I didn’t already, I’m starting to. I’m… I’m afraid.”
Jack was silent, and Hatter was shocked by his own honesty. It was true that he and Jack had become very much closer over the past few months, but never have they had a conversation like this before, especially not about Alice.
“Don’t run away,” Jack said finally, eyes trained on something in the distance. “She’s had enough of that. I lost her, once, and I’ll never forgive myself for that. She is special, David. Don’t let her go.”
And with that, Jack glided away to talk to some other guests, and Hatter was left alone, standing in the grass sipping sparkling cider and watching Charlie spin Alice around on the dance floor. Her expression was pure joy, bubbly like the drink in his hand. He suddenly felt so lucky to be able to see her like this, unwound, having fun.
The next time Hatter returned to Wonderland, half the time he expected to have passed did. He questioned Jack about it at dinner one night, but it was Duchess who answered.
“We’re still trying to understand the science around the Stone, seeing as the Queen hoarded it for so long, but it appears that now that it stays in the Looking Glass at all times, the time disparity is slowly disappearing."
Hatter blinked. “What?” Duchess smiled and shook her head at him fondly. “It means that soon, an hour on the Other Side won’t be three days here in Wonderland. The gap is closing, David. We’re coming back together.”
Hatter said nothing.
“Isn’t it brilliant?” said Jack. The three of them were lounging casually on blankets and pillows in a sitting room off of the main dining hall of their contemporary castle, lights low with red and purple silks draped throughout the room. Jack slid his hand over the back of Duchess’ neck, and she curved into his touch like a cat. “She’s been studying it for months, along with the Diamonds. I don’t know how she did it, but they’ve become the most brilliant scientists in Wonderland. I’ve got Diamonds running every addiction center in the Kingdom. Duchess saved Wonderland.”
“No, Jack,” Duchess said lightly, but her voice was sad. “It wasn’t me. It was Alice.”
After a year, there was no time disparity at all. The time spent catching up was five years in Wonderland, and Duchess bounced a little boy on her hip. He was four, his name was Philip, and his hair was the most shocking blond Alice had ever seen. Never had Alice thought Duchess would make a good mother, but she looked positively radiant when she was with little Pip. Alice was happy to see them doing well.
But she also felt pain in her heart to see the Heart family happy. She couldn’t help but wonder if this is the future that Jack had envisioned for himself and Alice, or if he imagined something different for their life. If Alice was being honest, she didn’t know that she would make a good mother. The thought didn’t even cross her mind until she met little Pip and saw the pure wonder in Jack’s eyes when he looked at his son. Hatter returned to her side after running around with Jack and Pip, pretending to be knights.
Duchess laughed as Jack playfully grabbed her in his arms where they were stretched out on the grass.
“Oh, brave Ser Pip, save me!” She laughed and reached to her son, who bounded over with a toy sword to thwack his daddy with.
Alice said nothing, tracking the small boy with her eyes, but Hatter slipped his hand into hers and spoke quietly.
“I think about it too, sometimes. What he’d look like. He’d have your looks, or at least I hope so. The poor kid would have a nightmare in school with my mug.”
Alice just looked at him with searching eyes. He looked back with a grin, but his eyes were like a kaleidoscope or a puzzle, indecipherable.
“What are you doing?”
“What?" Hatter had a tiny smile on his face, but his expression was endless in its sincerity
“I said, ‘marry me,’ Alice.