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Deconstructing Hatter

Chapter Text


Porn Star Dancing, by My Darkest Days

Kylie won’t kiss my friend Cassandra
Jessica won’t play ball
Mandy won’t share her friend Miranda
Doesn’t anybody live at all?

Amanda won't leave me empty handed
Got her number from a bathroom stall
Brandy just got way too much baggage
And that shit just gets old

She don't play nice, she makes me beg
She drops that dress around her legs
And I'm sittin' right by the stage
For this porn star dancing

Your body's lightin' up the room
And I want a naughty girl like you
There's nothing harder

She wraps those hands around that pole
She licks those lips and off we go
She takes it off nice and slow
'Cause that's porn star dancing

It was party night at the Tea Shop, Hatter’s favorite night. After a week of dealing with paperwork and sales and crazed customers, party night was a time to relax. A time to reap some of the more…pleasurable benefits of selling Tea.

There was a special room off the main selling floor, outfitted with a variety of couches, chairs and pillows – everything soft and warm and inviting. Hatter went through there himself, before the girls arrived, lighting candles to help set the mood. Not that the girls needed it, but Hatter did enjoy setting the stage.

The selected clientele were the first to arrive, followed closely by the select group of girls that Hatter hand-picked from the many who begged to participate in party night; not everyone had the right…assets.

Hatter sat back and observed the room. Slow and sexy music created a backdrop for the scantily clad girls, who sometimes danced; the best of them could make you forget your own name as they moved their supple bodies in time to the music. Several of the girls came to Hatter, dancing for him, caressing him. Sometimes he sent them back to the clients, other times he kept one or two for himself, depending on his mood. Tonight his mood was receptive.

A long, lean blonde that was all legs sat in Hatter’s lap, wiggling her bottom just enough to get his blood moving. A petite brunette with a pixie face was draped over his shoulder, rubbing her hands over his pectoral muscles and cooing in his ear; Hatter kissed her, long and lazily.

And for one night, he could forget what he was. He could lose himself in feminine curves and sweet-smelling skin, and pretend the girl in his arms wanted him just for his body, and not for the Tea she would get at the end of the night. Tomorrow he’d go back to his lonely, double-dealing existence. But for now…for now there was the blonde and the brunette, and that was enough.

Chapter Text

Dirty Little Secret, by All-American Rejects

Let me know that I've done wrong
When I've known this all along
I go around a time or two
Just to waste my time with you

Who has to know?
When we live such fragile lives
It's the best way we survive
I go around a time or two
Just to waste my time with you

Tell me all that you've thrown away
Find out games you don't wanna play
You are the only one that needs to know

I'll keep you my dirty little secret
Don't tell anyone or you'll be just another regret
(Just another regret, hope that you can keep it)
My dirty little secret

Hatter shoved Carlotta, causing her to stumble back and drop ungracefully to the couch. She glared up at him, her cheeks flushed red with either anger or embarrassment. Or both. Hatter didn’t much care.

“Where’s your head?” he demanded.

“Don’t take that tone with me!” Carlotta shot back. She ran a hand through her curly red hair and kicked her high heels off, tucking her feet up underneath her.

“Are you trying to get killed?” Hatter clenched his fists. “I told you to keep your mouth shut.”

“People are starting to ask questions, Hatter. What did you want me to do?”

Hatter looked at her, sitting there with her sexy lips pressed into a thin line and her green eyes sparking. He was more than angry with her; he was afraid for her. Trying a different approach, he sat beside her on the couch and rested his elbows on his knees.

“Carlotta. I told you up front how this had to be. It’s dangerous for both of us to have people think we’re together.”

“I’m not afraid,” Carlotta said stubbornly. She crossed her arms over her chest. Hatter puffed out a breath in exasperation.

“Then you’re an idiot. You know how closely the Queen watches me. Watches this Shop. I can’t have any personal entanglements.”

“Is that what I am to you? An entanglement?” And now there was pain showing in those green eyes.

“I don’t want to see you get hurt,” Hatter said. “It’s not worth losing your head over.”

“And what about my heart?” Carlotta countered. She reached out, as if to touch him, but pulled her hand back slowly.

“You know how it is for me.” Unable to sit still a moment longer, Hatter stood and began to pace. He thought he’d been clear about this from the start. He’d been looking for someone to be with, on a purely physical level. Someone who didn’t want to be with him just for the Tea. What he wasn’t looking for was a relationship.

“You don’t feel anything for me, do you?” Carlotta asked. She wiped impatiently at a tear that had slipped down her cheek.

“You know that’s not true.” And it wasn’t a lie. Hatter felt affectionate towards her, and protective of her. It wasn’t his fault if it wasn’t enough, if it wasn’t what she wanted; he’d told her how it had to be.

“I’m tired of keeping secrets, Hatter. And I’m tired of loving you and getting nothing in return.” Carlotta glared at him defiantly through her tears.

“I think it best we not see each other anymore,” Hatter said. He turned his back to her; he couldn’t stand to see the hurt in eyes. He didn’t relish the lonely nights ahead, with no warm and comforting presence in his bed to help keep the dark thoughts away. But it was the right thing to do.

Carlotta slipped back into her shoes and stood, smoothing the wrinkles out of her dress. She pressed herself against Hatter’s back, her hands on his shoulders.

“Someday you’ll meet a girl you can love,” she murmured in his ear. “And I hope she cuts you to shreds.”

Hatter didn’t turn to watch her leave, didn’t flinch when she slammed the door behind her. He was going to miss her, but now she would be safe. And he knew in his heart he’d never find anyone to love, not really. The Queen would never allow such a distraction for her top Tea salesman.

The best he could hope for was someone who didn’t mind being held in the dark watches of the night. Someone who understood that he needed the companionship but not the emotional attachment. Someone who could zip her mouth and keep their arrangement a secret.

Love? It was the one thing he could never have.

Chapter Text


White Rabbit, by Jefferson Airplane

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you're going to fall
Tell 'em a hookah smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
To call Alice, when she was just small

When the men on the chessboard get up
And tell you where to go
And you've just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice, I think she'll know

First there was pain, as there always was. Confusion and anger, as there always was. Hatter knew he should have expected it; being summoned by the Queen very rarely meant sitting down to fancy tea. But her questions confused him. Mad March had tried to kill him only days ago, why would he know where that madman was? Why would he hide him?

After the pain was the pill, shoved down his throat so that he nearly choked on it. This was new, and Hatter didn’t like it. He thrashed and cursed, but it was all wasted effort. As it always was. And now there was a cramping pain in his gut that made him grit his teeth and squeeze his eyes shut.

“I don’t…know…anything,” he hissed out between his clenched teeth. His hands were fisted so tightly that his fingernails bit into his palms. There would be blood there later, he knew.

Quite suddenly, the pain lessened. The feel of the Truth Room changed around him, and he cautiously opened his eyes. Gone were the Doctors and their sickeningly-swirly room. Hatter was standing in a clearing that was surrounded on all sides by trees. In the center of the clearing was an oversized pink mushroom, and sitting atop the mushroom was a little girl with short brown hair, wearing a simple blue shift.

“What is this?” Hatter asked. He walked towards the mushroom. He knew it couldn’t be real, but it felt real. The breeze on his face, the rocking horse flies bobbing around the flowers – it was all so tangible.

“You called me,” the little girl said. She was sitting cross-legged, elbows on her knees and her chin resting on her hands.

“Who are you?” Hatter stopped a few feet away, afraid to go any closer. He didn’t know what the Doctors were playing at; this was something new, and nothing good came from something new. Not when they were involved.

“You’ll know me soon enough,” the girl said. Her eyes, a smoky blue color that was rather startling, twinkled. “Are you going to tell?”

“I don’t know anything,” Hatter responded automatically.

“You do. But you won’t tell.” The girl smiled down at him. “You aren’t what you think you are. And that will change soon anyway.”

Hatter’s head was starting to hurt. He didn’t understand any of this. How was this supposed to make him tell where Mad March was? Even if he knew? He studied the girl with a critical eye. She was young, maybe seven or eight, but her eyes held knowledge far beyond her years. Who was she?

“Do I know you?” he asked. For there was something familiar about her, but the feeling was wispy at best and he couldn’t nail it down.

“She is me but not me. Your answers will lie there.”

“I don’t understand!” And now Hatter was feeling desperate. The pain was coming back; he could feel it biting at him around the edges. He felt that if he could only understand what this girl was telling him, everything would be okay.

The girl slid down the mushroom like a slide, landing gracefully on her feet in front of him. She tugged on his sleeve, pulling him down to her level, and put her hands on either side of his face.

“You’re better than you think. Trust yourself.” The girl kissed him on the forehead, and Hatter felt himself slipping away from the clearing, away from her.

“Please. I don’t want to go back there.”

“There are great things to be done,” the girl said. “You’ll be a part of it.”

“No…wait!”

But it was too late. The clearing, the trees, the flowers – they all began to swirl together. It made him sick to look at. But in the center of it all stood the little girl, unchanged while everything around her began to melt away.

“Take care of her,” she said.

And then the pain returned, sharp and burning, and Hatter couldn’t help but cry out. He tried to wish himself back to the clearing, even though none of it had been real. Anywhere was better than here. The room swirled a sickening green and black around him, making him nauseous.

“That’s enough,” the Queen said dismissively. “He doesn’t know. Get him cleaned up and back to work.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” one of the Doctors said.

“And tell Carpenter the new pills aren’t working.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.”

Hatter was released from the chair, and roughly manhandled until he was dumped unceremoniously outside the Casino. He’d have to find his own way home from here. When his legs stopped trembling, when he’d stopped shaking so violently, Hatter put his hat back on his head and started walking.

And already the vision of the little girl was starting to fade away.

Chapter Text


Leather, by Tori Amos

Look I'm standing naked before you
Don't you want more than my sex
I can scream as loud as your last one
but I can't claim innocence

Oh god could it be the weather
Oh god why am I here
If love isn't forever
and it's not the weather
Hand me my leather

I could just pretend that you love me
The night would lose all sense of fear
but why do I need you to love me
when you can't hold what I hold dear

Carlotta snuck in the back way. Once this sort of clandestine behavior had given her a little thrill, but now it just made her feel cheap. She wasn’t some Tea addict and she resented being treated like one. So why are you still coming here? asked the little voice in her head. She banished it immediately.

Hatter’s flat was empty, and would be until he’d finished up in the office. Carlotta had been told that she wasn’t welcome there, where someone might see her. There was anger at that thought, but she tried to quell it. She may not be a Tea head, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t addicted; it was only that her addiction was for a man.

Carlotta wriggled out of her coat, which she threw over a chair, and wandered around the small living room. There were a lot of books here, stacks of them. She knew where he’d gotten them, though he didn’t know that she knew. One word dropped in the right ear and this place would be overrun by Suits; it was proof of Hatter’s connection to the Resistance.

“Hmmm.” Carlotta paused in front of the oval mirror that stood in the corner. She turned this way and that, running her hands over her dress to get the wrinkles out. She always took extra time to get ready before coming to Hatter, though she knew it didn’t matter to him. Her curly red hair fell softly past her shoulders, which were bare. Her emerald green dress, which set off her eyes so well, was a tight-fitting sheath that accentuated her full breasts. Carlotta knew she had a good body, and she knew how to use it.

“You’re early,” Hatter said. He leaned in the doorway, arms crossed, just watching her. Carlotta smiled, slow and sexy. She read the weariness in his eyes, took note of the faded bruise high on his cheekbone, and wondered why she cared. She knew she was nothing but a semi-regular lay. He wouldn’t appreciate her concerns that he was working too hard; that wasn’t how their relationship worked.

“Rough day, sweetheart?” Carlotta sidled over to him and ran her hands across his chest.

Hatter looked at her for a long moment, his eyes dark, and then he pulled her roughly to him. His lips were hard and needy against hers, and one hand had already wandered down to her breast.

Carlotta thrilled to it, to him, and hated herself for it. There was no romance here, nothing but lust and desire. She knew she’d never have a candlelit meal with Hatter, or walk the ledges with him hand in hand. When he’d been sated, there would be no lazy pillow talk. But if he let her stay, and sometimes he didn’t, he would pull her in close while he slept, clinging to her. And she tried to let it be enough. It never was.

Hatter’s lips moved to her neck, alternately kissing and nipping at the tender flesh there. Carlotta pressed herself against him, her fingers digging into his shoulders, and let her self get lost in the scent of him, the feel of him under her hands. She would enjoy every moment, every sensation. She would take what little he had to give her, because despite everything she loved him.

It was the most painful kind of love, because once given it could never be returned.

Chapter Text


Riverflow, by The Levellers

I met you in 82, over a crate of beer and not a few
I cracked a can and so did you, we're going to change the world
The ghetto kings of downside town-the estates and parks of our hallowed ground
Doing anything that we found, and on the river flowed

You'd take a drink from Rev. Jimmy Jones
You'd cross the street on the path the gunman roams
Thrown aside and left to waste, that was you - you knew your place
Wander round, get off your face, and on the river flowed

I don't know how you made it through all the smoke and brew you do
It sure has left its mark on you but you're still with us today
Life goes on and round we go and words can kill these things I know
Often you cut me, deeply so, but on the river flows

You'd set the table for barber Sweeney Todd
You'd clip the wings of any rising god
But man can't live on hope alone, it can be cut all that is grown
Broke your spirit but not your bones and on the river flows

Liquor wasn’t easily come by, but March always managed to find some. It was usually homemade rot gut, which burned going in as well as coming out, but it was the only way to lose yourself for a while without using Tea. And Hatter had vowed never to touch the stuff.

“Careful you don’t fall, you sot,” March warned. Hatter flipped him off and continued balancing on the end of the ledge.

“I think your sister fancies me,” Hatter said. She was a pretty little thing, all leg and bosom and gleaming black hair. Of course, he was fifteen and every girl caught his eye these days.

“She’s too good for you,” March replied. He took another slug from the bottle; he’d had enough now not to grimace at the taste of it. “Keep away from her.”

“Give me another bite of that, would ya?” Hatter nimbly skipped back from the ledge and sat next to March against the wall.

“You’ve had enough,” March said. But he handed over the bottle.

“I love it up here,” Hatter sighed. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “No Suits, no White Rabbit. Nothing but me and you.”

“Keep that up, it’ll just be me.” The tone was harsh, but a reluctant smile tugged at the corners of March’s lips; Hatter, who noticed everything, saw it and grinned. March could be entirely too serious and he felt duty-bound to lighten him up from time to time.

“You’d never get on without me,” Hatter laughed. March snorted.

“Dippers are a dime a dozen, Hatter.”

“None has my panache,” Hatter said airily.

“I’ll turn you into a right conman yet, nug face. Just wait and see.”

Hatter laughed, covering his discomfort. Picking a few pockets was one thing, but March wanted him to do more. He was always looking for a bigger score, and a part of Hatter felt guilty about taking from others. No-one had much to go around these days. Still, he owed March. Owed him his life, in fact, which is something March was always prepared to remind him. It was only fair that he pay his way now.

“I’ve got big plans,” March said. He finished off the bottle and carelessly flung it over the edge. “We’ll show them they can’t run over us.”

It was a familiar refrain. March was very anti-establishment and wanted desperately to stick it to the Suits and the White Rabbit, and through them the Queen herself. Hatter had no love for the aristocracy – his own father had been beheaded – but he was more content to keep a low profile. Still, he’d do whatever March asked of him.

“You and me, yeah?” Hatter slung an arm around March’s shoulders. The liquor was making him feel warm and fuzzy. “We’ll always be friends.”

March smiled, and Hatter thought he looked a bit sad. There was only one thing to be done for that. Hatter hopped to his feet, then flipped himself over into a handstand; walking on his hands was only one of the many tricks he was teaching himself.

“You’re a fool, Hatter,” March said. But then he laughed and the sadness left his eyes. “Let’s go back Downside before you fall off the bloody ledge.”

Hatter swung back upright, a bit wobbly, and made an exaggerated bow. March cuffed him good-naturedly on the back of the head and the two made their way back down the ledge to the nearest ladder.

“When we get home, I’ll show you my new hat trick,” Hatter said cheerfully.

Chapter Text


Sad Exchange, by Finger Eleven

Quietly thinking to myself
Sharing half our mind instead of none
The shakings just begun
The pleasantries are gone
This sad exchange pleased neither one of us

So we finally gave up
Meanings tend to give out
The Time was gone to act out
This living torture, living torture

No talking when I want you to listen
No talking cause it’s living torture, living torture

Don’t know why, don’t know why, we can’t stand aside
(I don’t want your many faces
We don’t see right)
If I had known back then
Whatever I know now
I’d think I’d have the answers but I don’t know why

Hatter sat on the ledge with his legs dangling, looking across the empty space to the opposite ledge and a line of worn wooden doors, all with peeling paint in various colors. But it was the blue door he was staring at. That door led to his home, a tiny flat he shared with March. It was starting to feel less like home now, though, and he was afraid to walk through the door. Afraid of what he would find.

The change in March had happened so slowly that Hatter hadn’t even realized things had gotten bad until March’s sister April had left. It had been the three of them for so long, and he’d been completely shocked. But looking back on it now Hatter could understand why she felt she needed to go.

“You think it’s easy taking care of you two? I’m not your damn father.”

Hatter felt guilty. March hadn’t had to take him in. He was already taking care of April; their parents had died in a skirmish between resistance fighters and Suits, and March had to shoulder a lot of responsibility at a young age. But he’d always treated Hatter as a brother, and Hatter had felt the same way. He tried to help out any way he could, usually by picking pockets or running scams, but clearly it wasn’t enough.

“How could you screw that up? I laid all the groundwork and we’ve got nothing to show for it. Nothing! Stupid git.”

It seemed March was angry all the time now. Hatter had initially written it off as stress. March was under a lot of pressure, and he relied heavily on Hatter’s skills. It wasn’t just about making ends meet, but also taking away from the Queen. Lately March had Hatter targeting Suits and members of the court who were foolish enough to venture out into the City. The risks were greater, but so were the payoffs. But even on a good day, March couldn’t seem to feel anything but bitterness.

“This isn’t a joke, Hatter! You get serious or I’ll have you out on your arse before you can blink.”

When Hatter had found the empty bottles of Tea, he hadn’t wanted to believe it. He and March had made a pact. They’d sworn never to touch the stuff, because once you did the Queen owned you. And yet there were the bottles, stuffed into one of the kitchen cupboards. He’d confronted March, hoping for some logical reason for them to be there.

“Don’t judge me! You don’t know what I’m dealing with!”

But Hatter had judged him, had been outraged and disappointed. And March, who had been his brother and protector and friend, had struck him in the face and bloodied his nose. Hatter had run out then, his heart hurting more than his nose, and he hadn’t been back for two days.

He knew he should just stay away. If March was using Tea, there’d be no getting him back. Hatter was already mourning his friend, and the closeness they’d once shared. Nothing would be the same now. He’d be safer if found a new place. Found a real job, too, maybe.

It was all useless speculation. Hatter knew he wasn’t going anywhere. He owed March, owed him enough to try and fix things. He knew his friend was still in there somewhere, and if he just tried hard enough he could reach him. Hatter had to believe that, or else it would be like losing his parents all over again. And he didn’t want to go through that. He didn’t want to be alone.

With a weary sigh Hatter stood up and began making his way back home. Without him, March would be alone too. He didn’t want to let that happen, didn’t want his friend having no-one to watch his back. He’d just try harder. He’d make March see that drinking the Tea was wrong, that he was playing right into the Queen’s hands. He’d remind March that brothers looked out for each other, and stood together.

Hatter wasn’t going to let him go without a fight.

Chapter Text


Never Tear Us Apart, by INXS

Don't ask me, what you know is true
Don't have to tell you I love your precious heart

I, I was standing, you were there
Two worlds collided and they could never tear us apart

We could live for a thousand years
But if I hurt you, I'd make wine from your tears
I told you that we could fly
'Cause we all have wings, but some of us don't know why

I, I was standing, you were there
Two worlds collided and they could never ever tear us apart

March crept down the ledge, keeping to the shadows. The Suits didn’t travel much through here, but he’d learned to be cautious. When he was sure the coast was clear, he entered the first flat. There was often something good to find in these places, especially if the former residents had been dragged away by force. The first flat yielded some tins of food, which March stuffed into his sack. But the second door was locked.

After studying it for several minutes, March decided to break in. He knew this whole row of flats was empty, had been for weeks. And if this one was locked up maybe it meant there was something particularly valuable to be found inside. He pulled his lock pick out of his coat pocket and got to work.

He was only twelve years old, but March was already an accomplished burglar. As the only one providing for himself and his little sister, there wasn’t much else he could do. Legitimate jobs were few and far between, thanks to that fat cow up in the Casino.

The lock clicked and March was in. He opened the door just wide enough to slither inside, and closed it softly behind him. He stood there a minute, listening, and was glad he’d used caution when he heard a murmur of voices coming from the rear of the flat. The smart thing to do would have been to leave, but one thing March had learned was that information was a commodity; maybe he could learn something valuable, something he could sell.

He crept through the flat to a door that was closed. He tried the knob and found it wasn’t locked, so he opened it just a crack. March could see three boys his age and older standing in a semi-circle around something on the floor. The something let out a whimper and March’s eyes narrowed.

“I think we’re clear now, aren’t we?” the oldest boy asked. March recognized him; his name was Snake and amongst the rabble of kids that had to fend for themselves in Wonderland City, he was the meanest. One of his toadies kicked whatever poor kid was on the floor, eliciting another whimper.

March generally kept to himself. He didn’t run with the other kids, and he didn’t mess with them either. He hated these bullies, who preyed on the smaller, weaker kids. He couldn’t help but think about his little sister; if anyone so much as touched her, he’d kill them. He didn’t know why he stepped in now. After all, this was none of his business.

“What’s doing, boys?” March asked casually from the doorway. He leaned against the door jamb like he had not a care in the world.

Snake whirled around, his hands fisted. He was tall and solidly built, but March wasn’t afraid of him. He’d dealt with bullies before and was confident that he could hold his own.

“Well, well. If it isn’t the Happy Hare.” Snake sneered. “This don’t concern you, March.”

March stepped into the room and cast a quick glance down at the kid on the floor. He couldn’t tell, but thought it might be a boy. Young, maybe April’s age. He was curled in a fetal position and his face was bruised up pretty badly.

“Kinda small for you guys, isn’t he?”

“Kid tried to pick my pocket,” Snake said. “He won’t try it twice.”

“I think he’s got the point. May as well let him be.”

“You standing up for this thief?” Snake took a step towards March.

“I guess I am,” March replied. After all, they were all thieves, weren’t they?

Snake gave him no warning, just charged with his fists up. March ducked down, slid the knife out of his boot and spun around so that he was behind Snake. He flicked the knife out and Snake howled as a good chunk of his ear hit the floor. The toadies, inherent cowards anyway, started backing out of the room.

“You’ll pay for that, March!” Snake growled. Ignoring the blood that was pouring steadily down his neck, he launched himself forward. March spun away at the last minute and stuck out his foot. Snake went sprawling and March was on him in a flash, straddling his back and holding the knife to his throat.

“We’re done here, Snake.” March poked him with the tip of the knife, drawing more blood. “You leave now, and you won’t lose any more body parts.”

“This isn’t over,” Snake promised. March pressed the knife more tightly against the bully’s skin.

“Oh, it’s over. Because if I see you again you’re going to lose a lot more blood. More than you can spare. Now go.”

March got up and let Snake do the same. There was an exchange of scowls, but Snake soon left the flat with his toadies at his heels. March let out a breath and tucked the knife back in his boot. He hated these encounters, hated having to fight. The fact that he was so good at it was merely a matter of survival.

“You okay, kid?” March crouched down next to the small form on the floor. There was no response, other than him squinching his eyes more tightly shut. March sat down and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“They worked you over pretty good, didn’t they? Snake’s a bully. If you’re going to pick pockets, you have to be careful whose pocket you’re sticking your hand into.” March saw that the boy had opened his yes, so he kept up his monologue. “You know, I have a sister. She’s probably your age. Her name is April and she’s nine. Would you like to meet her?”

The boy was slowly starting to relax. March tried to think of something else to say to put him at ease.

“Do you know this rhyme? It’s one of April’s favorites.” March cleared his throat. “Twinkle, twinkle, little bat. How I wonder where you’re at. Up above the world so high…”

“Like a tea tray in the sky,” the boy finished, his voice small and wavery. March grinned.

“You like that one too, yeah? What’s your name?”

The boy looked at March, his big brown eyes wet with unshed tears. “Hatter.”

“Nice to meet you, Hatter. My name’s March.”

Hatter solemnly shook March’s hand, much to the older boy’s amusement.

“How old are you, Hatter?”

“Seven.”

March shook his head. Snake was working over a seven year old? What a bastard. He gave Hatter an appraising look. The kid was young, and scrawny, but he wasn’t crying or complaining, even after the beating he’d taken. The kid had guts.

“You any good at picking pockets?” March asked.

Hatter held out his hand, and March was astonished to see his knife resting in the kid’s palm. He checked his boot to be sure, but yeah, it was his. This kid had a natural-born skill, and March’s mind was already working on how best he could utilize that. He took the knife back and the kid winced, as if expecting a blow.

“Relax, kid.” March tucked the knife away once again. “You know, I could sure use a partner. I’m a pretty good thief, but I’ve no skills at picking pockets. You want to be my partner?”

Hatter nodded eagerly. March got to his feet and gave the boy a hand up.

“You don’t say much, kid. I like that. Come on, let’s go home. You must be hungry.” March headed out of the back room, and was momentarily startled when he felt Hatter grab his hand.

March told himself he was crazy, taking on another mouth to feed. But he looked down at their clasped hands, and he knew it was a done deal. The kid was his now, as much as April was. He couldn’t leave Hatter to fend for himself; he wouldn’t last long on his own. March wasn’t heartless. Besides, the boy had great potential.

“We’re going to have to find you a hat,” March said as they headed back out to the ledge. “Can’t have a name like Hatter and not have a hat.”

Chapter Text

Spoke In The Wheel, by Black Label Society

Lord, I question whether I've had my fill
Lord, I question whether I can take much more
you may laugh as I lay here bleeding
no more afters or befores

Some day you'll know just how I feel
you left me there twice before
Some day you'll know just how it feels
shattered, cast aside, stripped of your pride
like you were never nothing special
made you feel like another spoke in the wheel

so you say I’m just another dollar
so you say I'm just another day yeah
once my blood was strong but now it’s jaded and it’s thin
unlike you I can still tell right from wrong

Hatter sat on the ledge, his knees drawn up to his chest. He couldn’t seem to stop shaking. He’d just had his “orientation” at the Casino; his first time meeting the Queen of Hearts. He would give anything to forget it. He rested his head on his knees, trying not to cry. Seventeen year old boys didn’t cry.

He’d been made to sample each and every Tea. The Queen said this would make him a better salesman. He could still feel the echoes of them jittering under his skin. That had been bad enough, but the Truth Room session – designed to ensure Hatter’s loyalty – had been truly disturbing. Nothing had been done to him, but he’d had to watch two other boys his age being tortured. He could still hear their screams.

The worst, though, had been seeing the Oysters. All those people, just standing around with blank faces while their emotions were sucked away. He didn’t understand why no-one tried to help them. It was going to make his job so much harder, now. How could he sell the Tea, knowing what he did?

“Rough day?”

Hatter looked up, startled. March sat next to him on the ledge, as if they were still the best of friends. As if he hadn’t thrown Hatter out two months ago, after Hatter had gotten a legitimate job as a Tea Shop apprentice.

“What do you want?” Hatter asked, working hard to keep his voice steady. He couldn’t help noticing how put-together March looked, so much different than the sloppy Tea Addict he’d last seen; now he was wearing navy blue trousers and a matching sport coat over a pristine white turtleneck.

“I told you not to catch her eye.”

“Yeah, well.”

Hatter didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to think about anything. The worst part was that March had been right. He’d warned Hatter to keep a low profile. But he’d been so excited about his new job, and he’d seen countless ways to improve the Tea Shop his very first day there. Cobb, the owner, seemed to put forth as little effort as possible in the running of his Shop, and now Hatter understood why. In two months Hatter had increased sales twofold, and that had not escaped notice over in the Casino. Cobb had given him up without hesitation.

“No going back now,” March said. “You’ll have to keep it up, or she’ll take it out of your hide.”

“Is there a point to all this?”

“Just trying to give you some advice, kid.” March stretched. “Take it or don’t. It’s up to you.”

“What the hell do you care, anyway?” Hatter couldn’t even look at him. How dare he come here now and try to be all sympathetic, when he’d spent the last year pounding at him with both fists and words. Everything that came out of his mouth sounded like a lie.

“Hatter…” March didn’t finish what he’d started to say. Instead, he reached out and put his hand on Hatter’s head. It was a familiar gesture, and Hatter had to fight not to break down. He wished he could let March comfort him as he had when Hatter was a little boy, but he jerked away. Those days were over.

“Gotta go.” March stood up and brushed off his trousers. His brisk tone belied the sadness in his eyes.

“Need a fix? I know a place,” Hatter said with as much sarcasm as he could muster. But March just laughed.

“Got a real job, just like you. I’m working my way in, Hatter. Finally!” March grinned, but there was something distinctly predatory about it. “The White Rabbit recruited me.”

Hatter was shocked. He saw that old familiar fervor burning in March’s eyes. His never-ending quest to make the Queen pay for killing his parents; it was a worse addiction than the Tea, because it could never be sated.

“You can’t trust the White Rabbit!”

“Don’t worry, kid. I know what I’m doing.” March gave him a mock salute and sauntered down the ledge.

And now the tears came, as Hatter watched him go. If March was working for the White Rabbit, then he’d crossed a line. Their recruitment policy was extreme, but Hatter knew March well enough to understand that he’d do anything, commit any sin, if it got him closer to the Queen.
March was headed down a bad road, and there was nothing Hatter could do. He couldn’t even help himself.

Chapter Text


Welcome to the Family, by Avenged Sevenfold

Hey kids! (hey kids)
Do I have your attention?
I know the way you've been living
Life's so reckless, tragedy endless
Welcome to the family

Not long ago you find the answers were so crystal clear
Within a day you find yourself living in constant fear
Can you look at yourself now, can you look at yourself?
You can't win this fight

In a way it seems there's no one to call
When our thoughts are so numb
Our feelings unsure
We all have emptiness inside, we all have answers to find
But you can't win this fight!

Hey!
Why won't you listen?
Can't help the people you're missing
It's been done, a casualty rerun
Welcome to the family

March couldn’t believe his good fortune. Hatter had turned out to be quite the goldmine. With very little practice, he became the best pickpocket March had ever seen. Beyond that, though, he had a way of getting random strangers to trust him. March didn’t know if it was the puppy dog eyes or his innocent little face, but he could slip a ring off someone’s finger, then claim to have found it and give it back to them; he sometimes made more in rewards than March could’ve made fencing the same items.

And even though he’d always tried to keep April separate from the thieving, it turned out that she and Hatter made a formidable team. April was petite, with a sweet little pixie face and a great mass of black curls. When she and Hatter worked a ledge together, the take was unbelievable. All they had to do was look a little pathetic, maybe work up some tears, and Wonderlanders fell all over themselves to help the poor kids out.

Hatter had fit nicely into March’s life. He treated April like a princess and hung on March’s every word, sucking up knowledge like a sponge. April had taken to him right away, and though she tended toward bossiness, Hatter didn’t seem to mind. He still cried sometimes at night, when he thought everyone else was asleep, but March thought the boy was happy with them.

“Anyone home?” March asked, coming through the door. He’d been out to run a few errands, work a few deals. He knew Hatter and April were home, they never went out without him; March didn’t want them getting scooped up by one of the roving gangs. He’d already been approached by two, asking to barter for Hatter and April. Apparently word of their skills had been getting around.

“Marchy!” April came running from the back room and hugged him round the middle. March hugged her back, then cast his eye round for Hatter. The boy was sitting in the corner, his wide brown eyes carefully assessing the situation; those eyes were keen, and missed nothing.

March set his parcel on the rickety kitchen table, causing it to rock, and kept April from poking at it. “C’mere, Hatter.”

The boy was nothing if not obedient, and he came right over. He was wary and cautious, two qualities that March had been reinforcing with him. It would help to keep him alive.

“What is it?” April asked, because Hatter wouldn’t. She was often his mouthpiece, though March tried to discourage her. Hatter needed to start speaking up for himself.

“Well, after carefully checking my records,” March grinned. “I realized it was a special day today.”

“It is? What is it?” April bounced up and down, her curls bobbing this way and that. March paused for effect, and also to study Hatter’s face. The boy definitely looked interested, though he still didn’t say anything.

“Today…is Hatter’s un-Birthday!”

April squealed with as much delight as if it were her own. Hatter’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Mine?” he asked.

“That’s right,” March said. He reached into the bag and pulled out a package wrapped in cloth. “Here’s the cake to prove it.”

April eagerly helped unwrap the cake. It was just a small-ish poppy seed cake, but the way Hatter was eyeing it you’d have thought it was a three tier cream cake.

“Wow!” April said. “That must’ve cost a fortune!”

March scowled at her. He didn’t want Hatter thinking about the cost; he knew the boy fretted sometimes that he wasn’t pulling his weight.

“It didn’t cost anything,” he said. “I know a guy who knows a girl that likes to bake.”

“Can we eat it?” Hatter asked softly.

“Not until we sing!” April cried. She tugged on March’s hand and though he rolled his eyes, he sang along.

“A very merry un-Birthday to you! To you! A very merry un-Birthday to you! It’s true!”

Hatter blushed as April gave him a kiss on the cheek. March sent her in search of a knife to cut the cake with – he certainly wasn’t going to use one of his good ones – and then he reached back into the bag.

“Let’s don’t forget your un-Birthday present.” He pulled his hand out of the bag with a flourish and presented Hatter with a slightly-worn brown porkpie hat. He hadn’t thought the boy’s eyes could get any wider, but now they looked like saucers.

“That’s for me?” Hatter said it so breathlessly that March almost didn’t hear him. He set the hat on the boy’s head and watched it slowly sink down until it almost covered his eyes.

“Well, I guess you’ll grow into it,” March said, laughing. “Now you can be a proper Hatter.”

Hatter pushed the hat back so he could see, then moved in to give March a rib-cracking hug. March patted him on the back, glad the boy liked his present. Hopefully he wouldn’t ask where it came from, because March didn’t even know himself. He had a friend in acquisitions, and the hat had either been traded for something or more likely had been scavenged off a body; bodies tossed from ledges often made good pickings.

“Wow, you look good!” April said. She pushed the hat back over Hatter’s eyes, and the boy actually laughed; March hadn’t heard that sound come out of him before.

“Okay, let’s eat this cake!” March said. April handed the knife to Hatter.

“You have to make a wish, Hatter.”

The boy solemnly took the knife and winched his eyes shut while he contemplated his wish. When he’d finally settled on something, he very carefully cut the cake into three equal pieces.

“What did you wish for?” April asked. Hatter shrugged, blushing again.

“If he tells it won’t come true,” March said.

“Not if he tells me,” April insisted.

Hatter leaned forward and whispered something in April’s ear. She immediately began to giggle and clapped her hand over her mouth. Hatter had a wide grin on his face now. March just shook his head. He hoped this made Hatter feel more a part of the family. If anymore gangs came round, trying to woo him, hopefully his loyalty to March would keep him from leaving. And besides, he really did like the kid.

Before Hatter went to bed that night, he sought out March and gave him another hug.

“Thanks,” he said.

March put his hand on the boy’s head. “You’re welcome, Hatter.”

That night, there was no crying.

Chapter Text

Everybody’s Broken, by Bon Jovi

Welcome to the party
Come on in and disappear
You're feeling like a stranger
But all your friends are here
Little lines and cracks
Around your eyes and mouth
Something's trying to get in
Something's trying to get out

It's ok, to be a little broken
Everybody's broken, in this life
It's ok, to feel a little broken
Everybody's broken, your alright
It's just life

Step into the deep end
Make yourself at home
When you wonder why your breathing
Know your not alone
It's so hard to believe
It's easier to doubt
You're trying to hold in
But your dying to scream out

Take a look around
Tell me what you see
Is who you think you are
Who you want to be

Hatter knew he should be happy. Everyone was telling him so. Underachieving Cobb had been called away to the Casino, never to be seen again, making Hatter the youngest and most profitable Tea Shop owner in Wonderland. And while he couldn’t quite help the little surge of pride he felt at being so successful, he’d hardly say he was happy.

A week and a half ago he’d been summoned by the Queen; her “invitation” was delivered by several armed Suits, who had so nicely escorted Hatter out of the City. There’d been a little party to celebrate his prosperity, during which he’d been made to sample the newest Teas. And then the Queen had bestowed a gift on him, something to help protect the Shop and make sure the profits kept flowing.

Hatter frowned. Some gift. He’d been dragged off to see Carpenter down in the labs and strapped down on a shiny metal table. Several painful injections later, and his right arm had been remade into a formidable weapon of destruction. The burning pain had lasted for three days, and just remembering it made Hatter wince. The Queen, of course, had demanded a demonstration of her “gift” before she’d let him leave the Casino.

The Suits had brought in a young woman, dirty and disheveled. Hatter never knew her name, only that she was supposed to be a high-ranking member of the Resistance. The Queen had ordered her execution, and she wanted Hatter to carry it out – with just his new, strong right hand.

“No,” he’d whispered, shocked. He wouldn’t be made to kill anyone. But the Queen had insisted. The Suits had beaten him so badly he pissed blood for a week. He could’ve stood that, he really thought he could’ve, but then the Queen threatened him with a session in the Truth Room. He’d been through that once already, had experienced the agony that the crazy Doctors could dole out.

“I’m sorry,” he’d told the girl. “I’m so sorry.”

He hadn’t been able to look at her, just put his right hand round her neck and closed his eyes. It didn’t matter. He could still hear her sobbing pleas, could still feel every bone snapping under his hand. He would feel the dead weight of her in his grasp for as long as he lived. All because he couldn’t take any more pain. All because he didn’t want to die.

And all the while the Queen had watched with bright, avid eyes.

She also made certain the story circulated, putting the word out that Hatter was a person to be feared and respected. There were few who would challenge him now. Fewer still who would be his friend without hoping to gain. He’d never felt lonelier, and for the briefest moment wondered what March was up to.

“Hatter?” squeaked a voice from the door. It was Dormie, his new manager. Recommended by his friends at the Casino, of course. Hatter looked at him from across the office, waiting. Dormie was fairly forgettable, except for the ridiculous coat he wore that was trimmed with lots of black fur. The squat little man could fall asleep on a dime, and often did, but Hatter had heard him talk up the different Teas and there wasn’t a person in Wonderland who could do better.

“The…uh…work crew is here. Did you need to talk to the foreman?”

“No. He knows what’s to be done. So do you.” Hatter dismissed him with a wave. He was having a bit of renovation done on the Tea Shop, including having a small flat added on for himself. May as well stay close, keep an eye on things. He was paying the foreman extra to be sure that the entrance to his flat would be concealed; he wanted a safe haven, a place he could escape to that no-one could find.

He’d have to do something with this office as well. The desk was nothing more than a dented metal folding table, and the chair was missing a wheel. All the grass in here was dead. Hatter spent most of the rest of the afternoon making plans for the office, from paint to furniture.

It helped to take his mind off that girl. Even if for only a little while. She’d be back, he knew well enough. When he closed his eyes and tried to sleep, she’d be back. And if he occasionally found himself staring at the box of Tea under the desk, wondering for the first time in his life how bad it would really be to drink some – Forget, maybe – he tried not to think too much about that either.

Chapter Text


All American Nightmare, by Hinder

Dressed head to toe black on black,
three bunnies in the back of my Cadillac.
With me it’s gonna be a good story to tell;
cash, grass, and ass on the highway to hell.
Be careful what you wish for when you dream

I make the good girls bad, and bad girls worse;
nice guys are last 'cause I’m always first.
I’m a freak show sucker for how it feels;
turn the girl next door into hell on heels.
I’m red white blue tattooed and just don’t care;
I’m the all-American nightmare.

If you wanna run away I can give you a ride,
I’m a one way ticket to the darker side.
So come with me, baby let’s lose some sleep.
But don’t mistake me for a dream.

I’m the all-American nightmare
I’m the all-American nightmare
And I've got nothing that you need.

Hatter was seeing more of Wonderland City than ever before, thanks to his latest directive from the Casino. He was to visit the other Tea Shops, evaluate their business plan – if they even had one – and make recommendations for improvements. It hadn’t done anything for his popularity. The other Tea Shop owners seemed to regard him with a mixture of envy, resentment and relief; they wanted a share of his prosperity, but they didn’t want the Queen to be involved any more than she already was.

Some of them, like Frog, thought that if they gave Hatter inside information they’d get some kind of boon. Hatter was smart enough to take what they offered, though he gave nothing in return.

“Jesper’s in with the Resistance,” Frog said in hushed tones, his bulbous eyes gleaming under the lights in his office.

“That so?” Hatter asked, looking completely relaxed in the chair that faced Frog’s desk.

“He’s loud about it, too. Gonna get the eye of the Queen on him, he keeps it up.” Frog bobbed his head, looking eager.

Hatter didn’t need to refer to the list in his coat pocket to know that Jesper’s Tea Shop was his next stop. His last one as well, thankfully. He needed to get back to his own business, though he knew there’d be a report to type up for the Queen first.

“I’ll see what he has to say for himself,” Hatter said. He stood up and nodded at Frog, who looked intensely disappointed. “You’ll be getting my list of recommendations.”

With that he left, heading back out to the ledges and making his way to the last Tea Shop. He was hungry, but he’d wait until the work was done before he went looking for some food. He wanted only to get this over with. But when he arrived at Jesper’s Tea Shop, he knew his day had gotten infinitely more complicated.

The door had been busted in, and the main floor of the Shop was empty. Some tables had been overturned, others smashed, and Hatter was able to follow the path of destruction to what he assumed was Jesper’s office. The door was partially open and he could hear someone weeping on the other side. Hatter edged closer, every sense on alert. When he peered into the room, his heart began pounding painfully.

March. Hatter’s hands curled into fists, and he felt again the blind rage that thoughts of his old friend always induced these days. He still hadn’t gotten his revenge for Lily, but when the scent of blood assailed him Hatter forced himself to focus on what was happening in the back room. His stomach lurched.

*o*o*o*

March was feeling good. Pretty damned good, actually. He loved his job, and he was good at it. No, not good – exceptional. He was the Queen’s top assassin, something he took pride in. He still had every intention of killing that fat cow, of course, but for now he let himself revel in the moment.

Jesper, stupid twit of a Tea salesman, was strapped to a chair in the middle of the room. Couldn’t keep his big mouth shut, could he? Didn’t have much to say at the moment, of course; his voice had given out a half hour ago. March chuckled. He hadn’t even laid a hand on the guy yet, except to tie him up.

The salesman’s ugly twat of a wife lay in a pile of blood and excrement on the floor. March had split her stem to stern, her screams easily louder than good old Jesper’s. The smell was overpowering, but March found he was getting used to it; it was the scent of power, and fear, and he embraced it.

“Think twice before shooting your mouth off now, yeah?” March put one bloodied hand in Jesper’s hair and yanked his head up, forcing him to look. The man’s eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, his chin caked with vomit. March looked at him and saw only weakness.

“The Queen thanks you for your years of service,” March said formally. “And wishes you well in your retirement.”

With that he produced his long, razor-sharp knife, already splattered with gore, and dragged it across Jesper’s neck. Blood gouted. March licked some from the back of his hand, relishing in the metallic taste of it. Once again he’d proven to be the strongest, the best. He wiped the blade of his knife on his trousers and sheathed it.

The weeping continued behind him, unabated, and he was ready now to deal with the source of it. Curled up on the farthest edge of the brown leather couch was Jesper’s fourteen year old daughter. She had her face buried in her hands, her long blonde hair hanging down as an additional barrier. March had no idea how an ugly pog like Jesper and his horse-faced wife had made such a fine looking daughter.

March moved slowly towards her, and when she made no move to escape he sat beside her on the couch. She twitched away from him when he put his hand on her shoulder, but kept her hands over her face.

“There, there, Magda.” March used his soft, calming voice – the one he reserved for skittish animals. “You’ve had a rough day of it, I know.”

The girl’s weeping gradually lessened, but she began to shake under his hand. He rubbed her back.

“I know how hard it is, losing your parents. The Queen takes what she wants, doesn’t she?” March had always been very good at compartmentalizing, and he was able to do that now – separate himself from what he’d done, telling himself the Queen had ordered it. She’d ordered Jesper’s execution, that wasn’t a lie, but the wife and daughter hadn’t figured into the mix.

“She’d be happy to see you dead as well, Magda,” March continued. “But I don’t want to do that. You don’t want me to do that, do you?”

Magda shook her head, and March grinned. Sometimes the kids distanced themselves so much that there was no way to get a reaction out of them, or talk sense into them. In those instances March thought them already dead even before he killed them. But pretty little Magda was still with him.

“You want to come with me, don’t you?” he asked. “I’ll take care of you. Show you things you couldn’t even imagine. You’d like that, wouldn’t you Magda?”

The girl was smarter than her father as well. She slowly dropped her hands away, revealing a pale, tear-streaked face and luminous green eyes. She nodded, and though her lower lip quivered she didn’t cry. March pressed a kiss to her forehead.

“Good girl.” March helped her up and supported her as they skirted the bodies of her parents on their way out of the office. He would keep the girl for a while, see how she worked out. He suspected she’d last longer than some of the others.

As they passed across the threshold into the selling room, March paused. There was a fresh shadow here, one that didn’t belong. A familiar one. Hatter. Had he been watching? March grinned again and clutched Magda closer to his side. He hoped that Hatter had enjoyed the show. It would be an excellent object lesson for him; he was well aware of the position that Hatter now held, the clout he wielded, and March knew it would only be a matter of time before the Resistance came calling.

If Hatter was smart, he’d choose a different path than old Jesper had. If not, well…they had some unresolved business, didn’t they? It was only a matter of time before he came calling on his old friend.

*o*o*o*

Hatter fled the Tea Shop, barely keeping his stomach from sending up all its contents. He’d no idea that March was that far gone. What he’d done…it was unspeakable. What had been done to Lily – it had been nothing like this. And for that he was so incredibly thankful.

He climbed up two ledges and looked down, checking to see if March would pursue him. But the Queen’s assassin merely took the girl and went on his way. And now Hatter did retch, though there wasn’t much to come up. He should’ve done something for that girl, helped her. But he couldn’t face March, or what had become of him. He couldn’t look in those once-kind eyes and see only Madness there. Or worse, Bloodlust.

Hatter sat on the ledge for hours, staring out at nothing. He knew he needed to get back to work, knew the Queen would be sending Suits for her report. And for a moment he considered just stepping off the ledge as his mother had all those years ago. Death would be better than the tightening vice he found himself in. The Queen wanted more and more, and if he failed to produce he knew she’d send March. The man who had saved his life would someday end it as well.

In the end, Hatter just got himself up and made his way back home. There was nothing he could do right now but tow the line. He’d do his job and keep his head down, and try not to think about what was going to happen to that poor girl.

More and more, he was trying not to think about anything at all.

Chapter Text


I Sell Society, by Godhead

Tell me all your problems
I’ve got just the thing to fix it
Sell it to you for this bargain basement price
I’ll protect you from yourself and
All the trouble that surrounds you
Didn’t you know that this World’s not very nice

I sell society
You won’t hear lies from me
I’ll tell you everything you want to hear
I bring prosperity
I’ll suck you into me
I’ll sell you everything you wanna buy

Your world has spikes on his back
And he wants to lay down on you
Don’t like what I say
You best not go away
Take a look into my bag of wonders

A weak and tainted soul
I stole from you know who
You want to buy it back
I’ll have to charge you for two

There were several places a person in Wonderland could go if they had items to buy or sell, items that perhaps might raise questions if bartered in the open market. Most of the fences in the City would deal with anyone who came looking, and then there was the Storehouse. This was a group of people in acquisitions who had banded together to form the largest and most exclusive black market in Wonderland. The Storehouse moved around, its location always a secret, and business was conducted there by invitation only.

Hatter, who had been developing contacts all over Wonderland City since he was eight years old, received his invitation several weeks into his new position as Tea Shop owner. It was nearly closing time and Hatter was fairly cross-eyed from trying to convert Cobb’s books, which made little sense.

“Someone to see you, Hatter,” Dormie squeaked from the door.

Hatter sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He nodded and Dormie disappeared. Moments later a huge mountain of a man came through the office door, dressed in a tan suit with a black tie. Hatter flexed his right hand, just in case this bloke was looking for some trouble.

“Mr. Hatter,” the stranger said, his voice a rumble of thunder. He held out a creamy linen envelope. Hatter stared at him a moment before taking it. There was a wax seal on the back, imprinted with the familiar image that indicated an acquisitions dealer – two cupped hands.

“What is this?” Hatter asked, inspecting the envelope. He’d never seen paper so fine.

“If you would be kind enough to read the enclosure, you will understand,” rumbled the man.

Hatter thought he should ask the stranger to sit, but was afraid none of his new furniture would bear the weight. He slipped his finger under the wax seal, breaking it and releasing the envelope flap. Inside was a card made of the same fancy paper, the letters embossed and shiny.


The Management of the Storehouse
Invites you to become an active member.
Please leave your reply with our agent
And you will be contacted with a date and location.
We look forward to doing business with you.

“The Storehouse?” Hatter had heard of it, of course, but he never took the rumors too seriously. An operation as big as that one was rumored to be could hardly stay mobile and undetected. Yet here was an invitation. For him.

“What is your reply, Mr. Hatter?”

“If you’re to be my mouthpiece, I’d like to know your name,” Hatter said.

“Bull.”

Hatter nodded. That was certainly an appropriate name for the man. He waved the card back and forth while he considered his response. As far as he could tell, there was no downside. Having connections in the Storehouse would be invaluable, and their high level of security almost guaranteed that all transactions that took place there would be confidential.

“Tell them I’ll come,” Hatter said finally.

Bull nodded, then collected the card and envelope. “You will be contacted in two day’s time. If you do not come, there will be no further invitations extended.”

“I understand.” Hatter stood and nodded to Bull. The big man nodded back, then took his leave. He wondered how the Storehouse achieved any kind of secrecy if they sent out men like Bull; surely he could be easily followed. On the other hand, if someone had found out about the Storehouse that way, he was sure he’d have heard about it.

“Dormie!” Hatter called. “Time to close up.”

*o*o*o*

Two days later, just as Hatter was opening the Shop for the day, the Storehouse contact arrived. They’d sent a girl this time, not much older than Hatter, with honey blonde hair that hung in two braids down her back. He found her sitting in his white swivel chair in the office, her hands clasped on the desk.

“You’re in my chair,” Hatter said.

“Make arrangements with your manager,” the girl said. “You’ll be gone several hours.”

“And if that’s inconvenient for me?”

The girl shrugged. “As I’m sure Bull told you, this is a one-time offer. Take it or leave it, it’s nothing to me either way. I enjoyed the walk.”

Hatter did as he was instructed, telling Dormie he had some Casino business to take care of. He knew that the Shop would be in good hands; for all of his sleeping, Dormie was also very efficient. If things got too busy, there was some rent-a-muscle he could contact that would help keep everyone in line.

“I’ve heard about you,” the girl said as they made their way along the ledge, Hatter following closely behind. “You’ve done quite a lot in a very short time. I hear you’re the Queen’s favorite.”

Hatter shrugged, uncomfortable. He didn’t like being linked to the Queen that way, as if it were his choice or something he enjoyed. It was just part of his job, and he did what he had to do to keep his head. He was very attached to it, after all.

“If your business keeps going as it is, you’ll be a valuable client for the Storehouse.” The girl’s braids swung as she walked, and Hatter couldn’t help but admire her rear view. Compact, nicely rounded body dressed in men’s trousers and a white button-down shirt that he recalled was open to the third button.

“What do you do for them? Besides escorting clients.”

“I’m a liaison for all new clients, and I keep some of the books. There are several of us that split the job, so no one person has complete control. Less chance for thieving that way.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Hatter agreed. From what he could tell, the Storehouse seemed very well managed. “Shouldn’t you be blindfolding me or something? I thought this was all hush-hush.”

The girl laughed. “Mr. Hatter, the Storehouse will only be at this location today. And our security is top-notch. It’s of no consequence if you were to leave and tell someone else about it.”

“It’s just Hatter,” he corrected.

“I’m Lily,” the girl said. She flashed Hatter a smile over her shoulder.

Hatter followed her down several levels until they came to a derelict warehouse. All the windows were broken, the door hanging off its hinges. It didn’t look like an ideal place to conduct business, but Hatter could see how the location would throw off suspicion; it looked thoroughly abandoned.

“Follow me,” Lily said brightly. She led the way inside, nimbly stepping around fallen beams and crumbled plaster. Hatter stumbled a few times, finding it difficult to see in the dim light, and he was surprised to find that he was embarrassed; he didn’t want to appear foolish in front of Lily.

“Here we are.” Lily had brought them to an unmarked door. “Please step back.”

Hatter did as she asked, and watched as Lily put her hand on the door and muttered a few words. She turned back to him.

“All set now, Mr. Hatter.”

“Just Hatter.” He went through the door and found himself in a cavernous room. He and Lily were standing on a catwalk high above the floor, and he could see the whole set-up from there. Clustered in the center of the room were about twenty or twenty-five folding metal tables, separated by curtained dividers. Quite a few people were making the rounds down there, some milling about and others engaged in conversations with those manning the tables.

“Welcome to the Storehouse. Hatter.” Lily crossed the catwalk to a ladder and climbed down to a landing and a proper set of stairs. Hatter followed, his eyes trying to take in everything at once. Bull was waiting for them once they reached the main floor.

“Mr. Hatter. I’m pleased you could join us.”

“Just Hatter for this one, Bull,” Lily said. “I was going to give him the grand tour.”

“Have at it then.” Bull stood aside to let them pass.

“We have the best, and some of the most specialized, acquisitions dealers in Wonderland working for us,” Lily said. She led Hatter through the maze of tables, nodding when she was acknowledged but not stopping to talk to anyone.

“Anything you need can be gotten here, for the right price.”

“Anything?” Hatter asked, a bit dubiously. Lily just laughed.

“We have an extensive connection of contacts throughout Wonderland City and beyond, Hatter. I’d wager to say that if you wanted a perfume bottle from the Queen’s own vanity, it could be done.”

Hatter whistled in appreciation. That was a bold statement, but he got the feeling it wasn’t any empty boast. He could see the benefits of doing business with the Storehouse, particularly since he had access to more high-end items for barter.

“How do you keep your clients from giving you up to the Queen?”

“We keep complete files on all of our clients,” Lily replied. “Each new client’s file is reviewed by a committee and voted upon. For example, your connection to the Casino and the Queen is one we like to cultivate. But you don’t buy into the party line, despite what others may think of your relationship with the Crown.”

Hatter wasn’t sure he liked that. What else was in that file? How much did they know of what went on during his visits to the Casino? He cast his gaze round the room, noticing a few people that he knew in passing. A couple other Tea Shop owners were among them. In one of the dark corners was a man sitting at a table and puffing on a hookah. At a nearby table a woman was pulling bits of jewelry out of her shirt and offering them up to be inspected for value.

“What do you think, Hatter?” Lily asked. She leaned back on an empty table and crossed her arms. “Can we count you as a new client?”

Hatter studied her for a moment. He already knew it would be foolish to turn down an offer like this one, and he wasn’t a fool. Even more, he thought it would be nice to maybe get to know Lily a bit better. She was smart and pretty, and not buzzing on Tea like most of the girls he saw at the Tea Shop.

“I’m interested. Yeah.”

“Excellent.” Lily stood up, grinning. “Let’s go back to my office. There are some things I need you to sign.”

Hatter followed her back to an office that was no more than a collapsible desk and two chairs surrounded on all sides by the curtain dividers. Lily took a seat behind the desk and reached under it, pulling out a full silver tea set.

“Would you like a cup of tea?”

“I never turn down tea,” Hatter said with a grin.

Lily poured out, then produced some forms for Hatter to sign. Non-disclosures, mostly. And by the time everything was signed and the tea had been drunk, Hatter had a date with Lily for that night. All in all, it had turned out to be quite a profitable day for him, and he found himself humming lightly under his breath as he made his way back to the Tea Shop.

Maybe it wasn’t so bad, running the Tea Shop.

Chapter Text


Go All The Way, by Virgin Steele

What would you say if I told you that
I want your love and I just can't wait
Would you think it's just a line
If I tell you girl we ain't got much time
So let's go all the way
It's gonna be alright
Let's go all the way
Love or say goodnight
Let's go all the way
We shouldn't have to fight
Let's go all the way tonight

I don't know what you've been told
But you're never too young to rock and roll
I don't know what tomorrow might bring
So let me love and let me sing tonight
So let's go all the way
It's gonna be alright
Let's go all the way
Love me or say goodnight
We shouldn't have to fight
Let's go all the way tonight

Hatter had been unable to see out of his left eye for three days after March caught him and April having a snog on the ledge after dark. Hatter didn’t fault him for it – he knew April was off-limits. He was supposed to treat her like a sister, but she’d never really been that to him; particularly once she’d gotten older and started developing. April had raged at March on his behalf, not that it had done any good.

“Let’s go,” March said to him a week later. Hatter followed without question, clapping his hat on his head and casting one quick, questioning look at April before they were out on the ledge.

“How’s the eye?”

“Still works,” Hatter said with a grin.

“Listen, Hatter. I know what it’s like, being fifteen and horny.” March’s lips quirked up but didn’t quite settle into a smile. “You need an outlet for all that, yeah? And that outlet is not my sister.”

“I’m sorry, March.” Hatter hung his head, but it was more to hide whatever look might be crossing his face. He wasn’t sorry, not really. He rather liked kissing April. She was sweet and sexy, with all that curly black hair to run his hands through.

“No, I’m sorry.” March stopped and put his hand on Hatter’s shoulder. “I should’ve anticipated this.”

Hatter flushed and looked down at his boots. Did they have to have this conversation now? It was mortifying, to be honest. Bad enough to have been caught in the first place. It’s not like he didn’t know the mechanics involved in having a shag, he just had no practical experience. And he really didn’t want March talking to him about it.

“Let’s go, Hatter.” March set off down the ledge and Hatter followed with a sigh of relief. No talking then, that was good.

They went lower and lower into Downside, until Hatter’s eyes widened when he realized where they were. This was Shagtown, peopled by whores of both genders. It was a place March had formerly declared off-limits to him.

“What’re we doing here?” Hatter asked, nervous and excited all at once.

“Getting you an outlet,” March said. He walked the ledges like he knew where he was going, and Hatter wondered if he made frequent visits here. This thought made him flush again; the last thing he wanted to be thinking about was March’s love life.

Hatter’s eyes took in everything. Men and women in various states of undress loitered outside doors, or lounged provocatively in large storefront windows. There were some impossibly old women, their breasts sagging in bustiers. Hatter didn’t want to know the kind of men who went looking for them. Of course, the flipside of that were the young children who looked like they should have been home playing with dollies. He studiously avoided looking at them; they made his stomach hurt.

“Here we are.” March had stopped in front of a crumbling brick façade. There were hooks mounted above the door that may have held a sign of some kind once upon a time. Hatter supposed that in Shagtown you either already knew where you wanted to go, or just stumbled around until you found something to your liking.

March opened the door without knocking, pulling Hatter inside. The first room was bare, the walls cracked and peeling. The second room was alight with candles, the walls draped in deep red and gold fabrics. There were several plush couches arranged around a fireplace, and several half-dressed women draped on the couches.

“This is an unexpected pleasure.” A woman wearing a long red robe over black scanties wrapped herself around March and kissed him. Hatter’s eyes grew even wider than they already were.

March broke the kiss, fisting his hand in the woman’s red hair and pulling her head back. “I’m not here for me.”

The red-robed woman turned to look at Hatter, assessing him from top to toe and making him squirm under her scrutiny. He cast round for something to look at, but all he saw were breasts and legs, and so he just looked down at his boots. Again.

“First timer?”

“I want it good for him,” March ordered. “It’s good, he comes back regular. Straight up. No Tea.”

The woman nodded, never turning her gaze from Hatter. “I think…yes. Briar.”

March nodded his assent, and Hatter wondered if he knew every woman in the place. It wouldn’t surprise him. The woman in the robe disappeared through a curtained doorway, returning in a moment with a girl who couldn’t be more than eighteen or nineteen years old. She had long, golden blonde hair that curled wildly, and pretty hazel eyes. She was dressed fairly demurely in a white baby-doll with a long, sheer white robe over top of it.

“Briar, this is Hatter.”

“First timer?” Briar asked. Her voice was deep and throaty, and Hatter felt his cock twitch in response. He nodded dumbly.

“I’ll be here when you’re done,” March said, clapping Hatter on the back. “Let her show you how it’s done. Enjoy yourself.”

Briar put her slim hand in Hatter’s and drew him away, through the doorway and down a long hall. There were faint moans and the occasional scream to be heard behind the closed doors they passed, which only served to make Hatter harder. There was one open door near the end of the hall and that’s where Briar turned.

“Sit on the bed,” she instructed, closing the door behind her. Hatter did as he was told, sitting on the oversized bed that was heaped over with pillows and a fluffy blue blanket. It was a small room, the only other furniture a wing back chair and a vanity table.

“Look at me, Hatter,” Briar said softly. He turned his wandering gaze back to her, and flushed when she slithered out of the sheer robe. Her skin was creamy and flawless, and he wondered what it would feel like to touch. But Briar kept her distance, doing a slow strip tease that made him moan with need.

“Do you like my body?” Briar asked, running her hands up and down her naked flesh. She was bare but for the white heels she wore. Hatter ran his tongue over his dry lips.

“Um…yeah. Oh, yeah.”

Briar put her hands between her legs and rolled her hips. Hatter was certain his heart stopped, or maybe it had just wandered south; his cock was throbbing painfully now.

“Do you want to touch me, Hatter?”

He wanted nothing more in the whole world. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, or the way she was moving her hands and pleasing herself. He nodded like a daft drooler.

“Say it,” Briar commanded.

“I…I want to…to touch you.”

“Touch me where.”

“Everywhere,” Hatter breathed. Briar gave him a lazy, languorous grin and moved one hand up to fondle her breast.

“Where do you want to touch me, Hatter?”

Hatter pointed with one shaking finger. “You’re…uh…”

“Breast?”

“Yeah.”

“Say it,” Briar ordered, her voice firmer this time.

“I want to touch your breast,” Hatter said in a rush. Briar walked over to the bed, took Hatter’s hand in her own, and held it to her right breast. She made him squeeze, showed him how to roll the nipple between his fingers. When he made a move with his other hand, Briar stepped back.

“Where do you want to touch me?”

Hatter groaned. “There. Your…girly bits.”

Briar rolled her eyes. “My pussy? Then say it.”

“I want to touch your…pussy.”

Briar moved back to the bed, taking Hatter’s other hand and clasping her sex with it. She ground into him and he could feel that she was wet. She showed him how to stroke her with his long, thin fingers, and how to tease her clit with just the slightest bit of pressure.

“You’re a quick study,” Briar said in approval. She pushed Hatter down on the bed, straddling him and working off his pants. “Let’s see what else we have to work with.”

Chapter Text


Four Letter Word, by One Less Reason

It's never coming back
It sure as hell won't take your place
And no one told you the things you needed to know

And I'm not sorry now
The way you said I would be
And all the things you took and the things you left for me, for me

And I wish that it wasn't so
If I could take it back, I don't know

When everything is wrong and nothing feels right
And everyone has left, no one said goodbye
The days seem so lonely and I've never been this scared
This four letter word is all I have left, it's all I have

How did it go so wrong?
Without me even knowing
Oh, you were biding your time and looking for your place in love, was it love?

Love is for those who put their trust in it
Pain is for people who still have no worth
Hope is lost when there's no need to give in
Hate is the word we always believed in

Hatter woke slowly, and tightened his arm around the woman who was snuggled up against him. It was such a good feeling, waking up with Lily, and he took his time about it, appreciating every second of their time together. The last three months with her had a warm glow around them in his mind; he’d never been so happy.

“Mmmmm…” Lily mumbled. She opened one eye, looked up at Hatter, and smiled. “Hey, handsome.”

“Morning, beautiful.” Hatter kissed her gently and brushed her hair off her face. “Bad weather today. We should stay in.”

Lily lifted up on her elbow and looked at the window, where bright sunlight was already streaming in. She grinned.

“You’re right. Looks awful out there.” She draped herself across Hatter’s chest, her fingers tickling his side as they traced his ribs. “Too bad I have a new client to meet with today.”

Hatter groaned. “Can’t they send someone else?”

“Not if they want it done right.” Lily pressed light kisses to his collarbone. “Look how easily I won you/ over.”

“Oi! You better not treat your other clients this way!” Hatter gave her hair a light tug, making her laugh.

“You know you’re the only one who gets special treatment.” Lily slowly kissed her way down his chest. “No one else in all of Wonderland I’d rather be with.”

“Lovely Lily,” he said with a happy sigh.

She looked up at him, her eyes dark with desire. “I mean it, Hatter.”

Hatter cupped her face in his hands, pulling her up for a deep kiss. “I know you do, love. You know I feel the same, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Lily bit his bottom lip, then continued her path down his chest and abdomen. She refused to be distracted.

Hatter closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of her lips and tongue against his skin. He’d learned early on that Lily was particularly amorous in the mornings, which suited him just fine. He could think of no better way to start off the day. Her long blonde hair tickled as she moved lower and lower, and then Hatter lost the capacity for thought as he arched against her sweet, soft mouth.

*o*o*o*

There was nothing that could take the smile off of Hatter’s face that day. Lily had gone off to the Storehouse and he’d gone down to the Tea Shop, the scent of her still clinging to his skin. She’d promised to come straight home when she was done for the day; Hatter had planned a fancy dinner for the two of them. And a serious conversation as well.

“Hatter?” Dormie squeaked from the door of the office. Hatter waved him in.

“Did you get it?” he asked eagerly. Dormie produced a small box from his voluminous coat and set it on the desk. Hatter opened it, eyeing the rings with approval. He’d made arrangements with the seller to have Dormie act as the go-between, so that Lily wouldn’t suspect anything.

The rings themselves were plain silver bands, but the inscription on the inside made them Promise Rings. Promise to love and hold you dear. One for himself and one for Lily, a matched set. His heart pounded in anticipation.

“Hatter?” Dormie fidgeted nervously.

“What is it?” Hatter asked, still looking at the rings.

“Have you got the Queen’s report done?”

“I’ll get to it,” Hatter said. He waved Dormie away. He didn’t care about the Queen or her many reports and demands. All he wanted to think about right now was Lily, and how it would feel to see her wearing his ring.

Lily belonged to him in a way that no-one else ever had. She made him so incredibly happy; he actually looked forward to starting a new day now, instead of dreading what new and horrible thing might happen. He’d not had a summons from Her Royal Pain in weeks, and when he was with Lily he could forget the things she’d made him do.

Tonight he’d give Lily the Promise Ring and talk to her about making their arrangement more permanent. Tonight he would have the courage to say the words, to let her know definitively that he loved her. He’d let nothing spoil this moment.

*o*o*o*

It was later than he’d planned by the time Hatter finished up in the Tea Shop and got back to his flat. As he slipped in the secret entrance, his thoughts about the meal he was going to fix immediately left his mind. There was something wrong, he could feel it in the air. The instincts that March had spent years drilling into him went into overdrive.

Hatter crossed the threshold, pausing in the small room that served as a living room and kitchen. No-one but Lily knew how to find the flat, and they were both cautious about coming and going. And yet he had the clear feeling that his space had been violated in some way, though nothing seemed out of place.

As he moved toward the back bedroom, dread began to churn in his belly. The metallic smell of blood was in the air now, and he felt himself break out in a sweat. His heart was racing, but he kept up his quiet approach, determined not to give himself away. The bedroom door was partially open, and he nudged it ever so slightly to get a better view of the room.

Hatter stood there for a very long minute, feeling everything drain out of him. He couldn’t tear his eyes from the bed, couldn’t make himself stop seeing. When pain started building up in his chest, he realized he wasn’t even breathing. And when he opened his mouth to take a breath, a strangled wail came bursting out and he fell to his knees.

Lily lay in the bed, her hands folded over her breasts. She wore the same clothes she’d had on that morning, and almost looked like she was asleep. If not for the gash on her throat. If not for the sickening amounts of blood that had seeped into the bedding and dripped on the floor.

Hatter took in deep breaths, heedless of the tears that were streaming down his face. Someone had positioned her. Someone had cleaned the blood off of her. Someone had killed her. And he wanted to know who. Because that someone was going to pay. Hatter got unsteadily to his feet and backed out of the room, unable to tear his eyes away until he pulled the door closed. His hands were shaking.

There was only one person who could help him. One person who could find out who’d killed Lily. Hatter tore out of the flat, not caring who saw him now. He needed to find March.

*o*o*o*

Hatter ran all the way to the White Rabbit headquarters. He couldn’t stop seeing Lily, lying there in the bed. Couldn’t stop smelling her blood. His anger burned steadily, until he felt there should be steam coming out of his ears. He burst into the White Rabbit and grabbed the first gray suit he saw, shoving the unfortunate man against the wall.

“Where’s March? I need him. Now!”

“He’s not here!”

“Where is he?”

“He’s not White Rabbit anymore,” the man gasped, struggling. “He’s the Queen’s man now.”

Hatter dropped him, startled. When had March started working for the Queen? How could he? Was this a way for him to get close enough to her to finally kill her, as had always been his plan?

“How I can find him?” Hatter asked the agent, who only shook his head.

With a growl, Hatter pushed his way back out the door. And there was March, standing on the far side of the pavement bridge, just staring at him. With an overwhelming feeling of relief, Hatter ran across.

“March! You have to help me!”

“I did help you, Hatter,” March said. His voice was soft, his face completely blank of any emotion. Hatter looked in his eyes and saw something there that made him take a step back.

“Someone killed my girl, March.” His voice broke. “I need you to find him.”

“You neglected your duties, Hatter. The Queen was displeased.”

Hatter shook his head, confused. It was like they were having two separate conversations, and March was failing to grasp the importance of what he was trying to say. He didn’t give a burnt kettle for the Queen.

“The Queen has decreed that all new Tea Shop owners remain unattached. Those already married will be evaluated.” March’s voice was a monotone.

“Did you hear what I said?” Hatter asked, frustrated.

“You spent too much time with Lily, Hatter. Your profits were down, your reports late.”

Hatter thought he couldn’t feel any more pain than he already did, but here was more. He stood there, staring, frozen in place. March. March worked for the Queen. March had killed Lily. Killed her in the bed they shared. How? How could March do that to him?

“It was quick,” March said. “For you, I made it quick.”

Hatter clenched his right hand and swung, without any forethought. He would’ve caught March in the side of the head, but the Queen’s assassin moved back at the last moment. He tried again, wanted so desperately to hear something snap and break, but March dodged out of the way a second time and came up with a long, wicked-looking knife. Hatter stared at it, as if mesmerized.

“Is that what you used?” he asked, his voice trembling.

“You need to remember who you work for,” March admonished. “Never forget that, Hatter.”

“I loved her!” Hatter screamed. He ran at March, only to be flung down painfully on the ledge.

“That was your mistake.” March kicked him in the side, and Hatter curled up in defense. “Go home. You can’t win this. I taught you to use your mouth, not your fists.”

“That’s it, then?” Hatter wheezed. “You’re the Queen’s man now? Her puppet?”

March snarled at him, and pulled him up by the front of his shirt. “No-one owns me, kid. She’ll get what’s coming to her. And so will you, if you don’t get your head out of your ass.”

Hatter was flung aside like a sack of onions, his head connecting painfully with the wall behind him. March bent down, holding the point of the knife to Hatter’s neck.

“Don’t make me kill you, kid.”

They glared at each other for a long moment, and then Hatter looked away, defeated.

“Smart choice.” March slid the knife back up into the sheath he wore strapped to his arm. “I’ll see you around, Hatter.”

Hatter watched him go, hatred filling his veins like treacle. He swore to himself that he’d get vengeance for Lily, no matter what the cost. Whatever March had once meant to him had been wiped away; the only debt he owed him now was one of death.

*o*o*o*

Lily still lay on the bed, cold and gray and dead. Hatter took the Promise Rings out of his pocket, and slid one on her finger. He put the other on his own, then curled that hand around hers. His perfect moment had been destroyed, along with his happiness.

Hatter curled up beside her on the bed, his arm around her waist. March was right, damn him. It was too dangerous for anyone to be this closely involved with him. He was the Queen’s man, as much as March was. He hadn’t been careful, and Lily had paid the price.

“I’m so sorry,” Hatter whispered. And he began to sob.

Chapter Text


I’ll Stand By You, by The Pretenders

Oh, why you look so sad?
Tears are in your eyes
Come on and come to me now
Don't be ashamed to cry
Let me see you through
'cause I've seen the dark side too
When the night falls on you
You don't know what to do
Nothing you confess
Could make me love you less

I'll stand by you
I'll stand by you
Won't let nobody hurt you
I'll stand by you

And when...
When the night falls on you, baby
You're feeling all alone
You won't be on your own

Alice woke up in the middle of the night, muddled and confused for a moment. Light from the full moon bathed the room in a soft glow and she blearily looked around for whatever had pulled her from sleep. Then she heard Hatter moaning in his sleep. Blinking the sleep from her eyes, Alice turned on her side and put her hand on Hatter’s arm. Instead of calming him, as it usually did, her touch seemed to make things worse. Now there was thrashing and whimpering, the sound of it making Alice’s breath catch.

She sat up, and rubbed her hand on his arm. “Hatter. Hatter, wake up.”

In the two weeks since Hatter had come to her world, he’d been plagued with bad dreams. He wouldn’t talk about them, and Alice suspected part of that was because he was embarrassed. But she was worried about him, worried about the dark circles under his eyes and the fearful way he’d look at her sometimes.

“Alice!” he cried, sitting bolt upright in bed. His eyes were wide and blank, and for a moment he didn’t seem to see her sitting there next to him. When his eyes finally focused, he threw himself at her, hugging her tightly to him and crying into her hair.

Alice ran her hands up and down his back, trying to soothe him, when she herself was now completely freaked out. What was the matter with him? What was he dreaming about that was so horrible it made him break down like this?

“Shhhh. It’s okay, Hatter. Everything’s okay.” She said it over and over, until finally he seemed to settle down. Alice was afraid to let him go, but she wanted to see his face.

Hatter ducked his head and rubbed his arm across his face, but Alice saw the misery written there. She was suddenly afraid that he was going to tell her he couldn’t stand living here in her world anymore. What would she do? What could she say to make him stay with her?

“Hatter? What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing. I’m sorry I woke you.” Still he wouldn’t look at her.

“It’s not nothing. You’re scaring me, Hatter.” Alice wrapped her arms around herself, trying to hold in the panic. She tried to imagine him not being in her life and all she saw was an empty void.

“It’s just…things are too good here,” Hatter said, sounding a little desperate.

“And that’s a bad thing?” Alice was confused. She put her hand on Hatter’s cheek and turned his head to look at her. There was so much pain in his eyes, and written in the lines of his face, that she just crawled into his lap and wrapped herself around him, offering the only comfort she had.

“You don’t know, Alice. The things I’ve done…”

“Then tell me,” Alice said softly. “Help me understand, Hatter.”

“You won’t want me. Not after you know.”

Alice’s heart broke when he said that, when she heard the sorrow in his voice. She cupped his face in her hands, forced him to look her in the eye.

“Hatter. There’s nothing you can say, nothing you’ve done in the past, that could ever make me not want you. I need you like I need to breathe.” Alice pressed a kiss to his lips. “If you don’t want to tell me, I’ll understand. But I hate to see you like this, and maybe talking it out will help.”

Hatter pulled her back into an embrace and held her there. Alice thought maybe it was easier for him to talk without looking at her, but he was quiet for such a long time that she figured he’d decided not to say anything. When he finally did start talking, it wasn’t what she was expecting.

“D’you remember the first person you loved?”

“I never really loved anyone. My first big crush was on Matt Jeffries in junior high, though. He totally ignored me, but every time he’d even casually look at me I thought it meant something important.” Alice laughed. “I was so depressed when he started dating a girl in the class ahead of us.”

There was another long pause. Alice was starting to think that maybe she didn’t want to hear Hatter’s stories after all. She was sure the story of his first love wasn’t at all lighthearted. She kept reminding herself what a crazy place Wonderland was, how dangerous.

“Her name was Lily,” Hatter whispered. “She was the only other girl I ever loved, apart from you.”

Alice already knew this story was going to end badly, but she couldn’t help the little spike of jealousy she felt at the mention of this Lily, who had Hatter’s love before she did.

“All my focus was on her, when it should’ve been on my shop. The Queen sent Mad March to kill her. She was in my bed when I came home, dead.” The words were said very matter-of-factly, but Alice could hear the heavy weight of emotion behind them. She hugged Hatter tightly, imaging how she would feel in the same situation. It was unfathomable.

“The Queen owned me, Alice. She made me…do things. To prove my loyalty. To make me obey.”

“What things?” Alice asked softly.

“You know how I got my sledgehammer, yeah? She made me use it, for her own pleasure. I had to…she made me…people died, Alice. So many people.” Hatter’s voice was thick with tears, and Alice could feel her own eyes prickling with them. “I was too weak to say no. Too much a coward to stand up for them.”

Alice pushed her way out of Hatter’s arms. “Don’t you say that! You’re not weak! You did what you had to do to stay alive. If you hadn’t been there, what would’ve happened to me?”

“I killed people, Alice. With my bare hands.” Hatter looked at her, his eyes drowning in sorrow.

“So what?” Alice snapped. “I’ve seen you kill people. To save my life. Is your own life worth less? I wasn’t there to protect you, so you had to do it yourself. There’s no shame in that, Hatter.”

“I’m so afraid for you. Every day. I wasn’t allowed to be happy.” Hatter looked away. “I was never allowed to be happy. Until you came. I keep waiting for the other kettle to boil, for someone to come and take you away from me.”

“That’s not going to happen, Hatter,” Alice said firmly. “You’re in my world now. You can be happy here. You can be free here.”

“I’m trying,” Hatter murmured. Alice stroked his face, his arm, his leg.

“I know you are. When you start feeling like this, though, you need to talk to me. It’s okay to talk to me.”

“You don’t hate me.” Hatter touched her face, gently.

“I could never hate you,” Alice whispered. “Never.”

She convinced Hatter to lay back down, and he immediately spooned up against her, clutching her like a lifeline. Alice didn’t mind, because he was her lifeline too. She thought about the unfortunate Lily, whose only fault had been to make Hatter happy. And she sent her a silent thanks, for bringing a little light into his life.

“Hatter?”

“Yeah?”

“What I said before, about never having loved anyone? It wasn’t true. I do have a first love.” Alice pressed herself closer to him, grinning when his arms tightened around her. “His name is Hatter, and he saved my life.”

Chapter Text


Next Contestant, by Nickelback

I judge by what she's wearing
Just how many heads I'm tearing
Off of assholes coming on to her
Each night seems like it's getting worse

And I wish she'd take the night off
So I don't have to fight off
Every asshole coming on to her
It happens every night she works

They think they'll get inside her
With every drink they buy her
As they all try coming on to her
This time somebody's getting hurt
Here comes the next contestant

Is that your hand on my girlfriend?
Is that your hand?
I wish you'd do it again
I'll watch you leave here limping
I wish you'd do it again
I'll watch you leave here limping
There goes the next contestant

I'm hating what she's wearing
Everybody here keeps staring
Can't wait 'til they get what they deserve
This time somebody's getting hurt
Here comes the next contestant

Hatter sat back in the uncomfortable chair, waiting for the show to begin. He was at one of the dance clubs, scoping out some talent for weekend parties at the Tea Shop. It was a new idea he had, a way to both show appreciation to loyal customers and soak them for more money. He had a feeling that once word of mouth got round, there’d be plenty of new clients as well. If the girls were good enough.

“Here’s your tea, Hatter,” the waitress said, flashing him a sexy grin. Hatter nodded, dismissing her. He’d just cut Carlotta loose and he wasn’t interested in getting entangled with another female right now. He sipped the tea, grimacing; next time he’d bring his own.

The show finally started, the lights dimming and brightly colored flashers coming on. Six girls came on stage, all of them dressed in their scanties. Hatter evaluated their bodies first. They all tended toward thin, though two of them looked unhealthily so. Still, most had decent sized breasts and one had a gorgeous pair of legs. While they gyrated in time to the music, Hatter turned his gaze upwards.

Long Legs had a decent face, but her hair was too short; Hatter knew most men preferred long hair on women, something they could plunge their hands into. An image of Lily flashed through his mind, but he banished it and instead focused on the girl with the biggest breasts. Cute face, long brown hair. He made a mental note to talk to her after the show.

And then a thick fall of black curls caught his attention. This one had her back to the audience, shaking a nicely rounded ass. Clearly she was a club favorite, if the clutch of men gaping up at her were any indication. If the face was good, he’d offer her a weekend spot at the Tea Shop as well. Maybe he could get some of these men to spend some money there.

When she finally turned around, Hatter choked on his tea. He knew her face as well as his own, though he hadn’t seen it in quite a few years. Reflexively he looked over his shoulder, looked for March. But of course he wasn’t there. The Queen’s assassin was too busy these days to dally at a dance club. Though if he had any indication that April was dancing in one…well, it would be ugly, that much was certain.

Hatter watched her with a keen eye for the remainder of the number. She was still beautiful, if not a bit thinner in the face. And the way she moved…no wonder half the audience looked as if all the blood had drained out of their heads. April ran her hands over her breasts provocatively, then leaned in to kiss one of the other girls. The crowd went wild, and Hatter clenched his right hand.

As soon as the show was over, several men jumped onstage and began pawing at the girls. Hatter was up and out of his seat the second one of those drunken sots put his hand on April, grabbing her ass. He vaulted up on the stage and knocked the guy off onto a table.

“Hatter!” April cried, shocked. “What are you doing?”

“Get backstage. Now!” Hatter barked at her. He grabbed another man round the throat and tossed him into the group hovering around the bottom of the stage. The other girls squealed and followed April back to the dressing room.

“Mr. Hatter, please!” Gryphon, the owner of the club, stood just offstage, wringing his hands. He was a large man, generally imposing, but most people were afraid of Hatter, had heard the stories about what he could do. Hatter glared at him.

“You want to take better care of your girls, Gryphon,” he snapped. “If the men want to touch them, they’d better pay for the privilege.”

It was basic business, and one of the reasons his Tea Shop was doing so well. He hated seeing things mismanaged, be it Tea or women. The crowd settled back down, any attempts at fighting quelled when the other men realized who Hatter was.

“Of course. I was just coming to take care of things.”

“Right.” Hatter jumped off the stage and went back to his table. He drained his cup and grabbed his coat. No need to leave any money; his food and drink were almost always free at these places. He went backstage and waited outside the door to the dressing room. April was the first one out, wearing a slinky red dress that barely contained her breasts and was only slightly longer than her underthings. Hatter grabbed her by the arm and steered her outside to the ledge.

“What are you doing? I’m not finished!” April protested.

“Oh, yes you are.” Hatter tightened his grip as he pulled her along behind him. When they were far enough away from the club he let her go. It was just turning dark out, but he could make out her angry features well enough.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” April spat. She crossed her arms and glared at him.

“Me? What’s wrong with you? Do you know what your brother would do if he found out what you were doing?” As always, the slightest mention of March made Hatter’s chest tighten. Sadness warred with rage, but he swallowed them both down.

“March stopped being part of my life a long time ago,” April said. “So did you.”

“You’re the one who left,” Hatter reminded her.

“You’ve done well for yourself,” April said, changing the subject. “Mr. big shot Tea Shop owner.”

“I get by,” Hatter replied. “April, what are you doing? What happened?”

“Shit happened, like always.” April turned away from him, her shoulders sagging just a little. “I do what I have to.”

Hatter studied her for a moment. In his mind he could see her as she looked when she was sixteen, ethereal and perfect. He’d had a crush on her since he was a kid, and for a while they’d had a bit of fun running around behind March’s back. He’d found out, of course, and that had ended things between them. He felt guilty, now, that he’d never kept tabs on her, never cared enough about her to find out how she was doing.

“Let me help you,” Hatter said softly. “You can come home with me. Work at the Tea Shop.”

April turned, capturing his face between her hands. She smiled fondly at him, though her eyes were sad.

“You always did try to take care of me, didn’t you?” She pressed her lips to his for a quick kiss. “I can take care of myself now.”

“April…”

“I’m a glorified whore, Hatter. I dance for them, and sometimes I screw them if they pay enough. You don’t need me mucking up your life.”

Hatter gritted his teeth at her words. It was a harsh assessment, though he knew it to be true. The dancing girls were only a step above the girls in Shagtown, and then only because they still had a bit of a choice. He hated to think of April, his childhood playmate, selling herself that way.

He leaned in and kissed her, hard, pushing his way into her mouth. Memories threatened to drown him as he rediscovered the taste of her. He’d never loved her, not the way he’d loved Lily, but deep affection had been there. As well as lust. The horny daydreams of a teenage boy. If March ever knew how far they’d gone, Hatter knew he’d be dead. Bad enough getting a black eye just for kissing April; they’d done so much more than that, particularly once Hatter learned what he was supposed to do.

April twined around him, one hand taking off his hat so the other could tug at his hair. She moaned low in her throat.

“Do you want me too?” she murmured. “Are you going to pay for a night with me, Hatter?”

Hatter pulled back, frowning. “That’s not what this is, and you know it.”

“No, I don’t.” April pulled back, tossing the hat from one hand to another. “This is my life now, Hatter. You can’t change it. You can’t fix it, even if that’s what I wanted.”

Hatter clenched and unclenched his right hand, trying to work out why he felt so angry. April was right. He’d let her go years ago, let her choose to make her own way. Who was he to step in now and play the hero?

“It was nice to see you, Hatter.” April put the hat back on his head and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “What we had…it was sweet and wonderful and I’ll never forget it.”

“So that’s it, then?” Hatter asked. He knew it was better this way. Experience had taught him that it was best not to get involved. And being with March’s sister – that was like begging for trouble. Hatter had enough trouble without needing to invite it in.

“See you around, Hatter.” April headed back down the ledge without looking back. Hatter watched her go, disappointed that things hadn’t gone differently between them. He should have been able to take care of her. He owed her that. But it was better for everyone this way, he supposed. Dragging her into his life would’ve been dangerous for both of them.

“Bye, April.”

*o*o*o*

The following night, after closing down the Tea Shop and dealing with his paperwork, Hatter dragged himself up to his flat. He wanted nothing more than to sleep, but as soon as he walked through the door he found himself slammed up against the wall. Even in the dark he had no trouble identifying his attacker, and his blood instantly began to boil.

Hatter pushed March back and swung with his right fist. March dodged, and the fist meant for his head ended up punching a hole in the wall. March got a swing of his own in, and Hatter was gasping for air after the hit connected with his stomach.

“You fucking git!” March snarled. “I told you hands off!”

Hatter dropped to the floor when March swung again, and kicked the assassin’s legs out from under him. They grappled together on the floor, and Hatter was able to get a couple of weak hits in, nothing maiming. March used his legs to flip Hatter ass over tea kettle and reached for his knife. He straddled Hatter, the knife at the younger man’s throat.

“You stay away from her!” March screamed into his face.

Hatter knew this was about April, though how he’d found out about it was a mystery; he’d been sure no-one had been out on the ledge with them last night. Had April gone to him and told him what happened?

“She’s dancing,” Hatter said. He spit blood out of his mouth. “Whoring.”

March hit him in the face, the movement driving the knife into Hatter’s skin and drawing blood.

“I told you to stay away. If she’s whoring, it’s because of you.” March’s eyes seemed to glow with his hatred. “You put your hands on my sister!”

Hatter didn’t know what to say. That March would kill him over a kiss he had no doubt. Why he was putting the blame for April’s lifestyle choice on him, he had no idea. There was little left of the old March; every time Hatter saw him, more and more was gone. Soon there would be only the assassin.

“Kill me then, if that’s what you want,” he said. “You’d be doing me a favor.”

And Hatter was surprised to find that this was true. So what if March killed him? What did he have to live for anyway? There was nothing he could call his own. No friends, no lovers. The Queen owned him, and his business. The Resistance held what she did not. Hatter was tired.

“Giving up, Hatter?” March sat back and pulled the knife away. “Unacceptable.”

March stood, and pulled Hatter up by his shirt; there was a tearing sound as seams gave way. “Fight me, you spineless bastard.”

“I’m done fighting,” Hatter said. “I’ve nothing left to fight for.”

March let out a howl of rage and slammed Hatter against the wall again. “Fight me!”

“No!” Hatter screamed back at him.

“The cow Queen has broken you, then. Is that it?”

“Just get on with it,” Hatter sighed.

March knocked Hatter’s head against the wall. Once, and again, until Hatter’s vision was doubled and wavering. Then he put his lips to Hatter’s ear.

“If you touch her again, I will kill you. If you talk to her again, I will kill you. If you so much as think of her, I will kill you.”

“Repetitive,” Hatter mumbled.

“You better find something,” March said. “Find something to fight for.”

And then the assassin was gone, leaving Hatter retching on the floor. His body ached, and his head hurt. And he was confused. Why hadn’t March just killed him? He’d practically begged for it.

Hatter got shakily to his feet and stumbled back into this bedroom. There was a new bed there now, one without horrible memories attached to it, and he fell face-down on it, groaning. There’d be time to ponder March’s words tomorrow, when his head wasn’t throbbing quite so much. For now, all he wanted was the oblivion of sleep.

*o*o*o*

When Hatter went back to Gryphon’s two days later, April was gone. He wondered if he should look for her, but in the end he decided to leave well enough alone. She didn’t want him, and he didn’t need her. And it was just as well.

Chapter Text


Bodies, by Drowning Pool

Let the bodies hit the floor
Let the bodies hit the floor
Let the bodies hit the floor
Let the bodies hit the floor!

Beaten, why for
Can't take much more
(Here we go, here we go, here we go now)

One, nothing wrong with me
Two, nothing wrong with me
Three, nothing wrong with me
Four, nothing wrong with me

One, something's got to give
Two, something's got to give
Three, something's got to give now

Push me again
This is the end
(Here we go, here we go, here we go now)

Skin to skin, blood and bone
You're all by yourself but you're not alone
You wanted in and now you're here
Driven by hate, consumed by fear

Let the bodies hit the floor
Let the bodies hit the floor
Let the bodies hit the floor
Let the bodies hit the floor

Hatter arrived at the Storehouse early to scope out a seller who would be able to move some jewelry for him. Tea addicts would trade anything, including their souls, for another bottle; sometimes the items they offered to trade weren’t precisely their own. Hatter had learned discretion, and having the Storehouse at his disposal made it much easier to move these kinds of items around without getting caught.

As always, Bull stood guard at the door. He nodded at Hatter, who nodded back. Lily’s death had put a measure of distance between Hatter and the people that she had worked with, though he couldn’t blame them. They were right to believe that he was responsible. But they also weren’t about to lose a lucrative business relationship over it, either.

“Hatter! Hey!” Lily’s replacement, William, waved him over to a table laden with books. “Have you seen these? Just got them in.”

Hatter made a show of examining the books, though most were in poor shape. His love of books was well known, and he’d probably pick up a few just to keep up appearances, but they were more readily available to him now that he was a member of the Resistance.

William was overly chatty, and Hatter usually tuned him out. The management must have been desperate to fill Lily’s position because this guy was almost her exact opposite, professionally speaking. Where she’d been cool and persuasive, William was excitable and easily distracted, like a puppy.

“Did you hear about Mad March?” William asked, dropping his voice down to a loud whisper. Whenever March’s name came up, Hatter tried very hard to feign disinterest. But this time there was no pretending.

“His number’s come up.” William leaned across the table, his brown eyes glittering. “The Queen is having him arrested, her own assassin!”

“Is he to be executed then?” Hatter asked, as nonchalantly as possible.

“That’s the word. It’s sure to be quite the scene, I wish I could go.” William sighed wistfully. “Whatever he did must’ve been bad, don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” Hatter said. He started walking away. “Pretty bad.”

When he got to the door, Bull put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. Hatter clenched his fists but said nothing. Bull, mountain of a man that he was, leaned over to murmur in Hatter’s ear.

“Justice will be served. For Lily.”

Hatter could only nod dumbly, then make his escape. He got as far as the ledge before he had to sit down and put his head on his knees. He didn’t know how he was supposed to feel, and so he felt everything. Satisfaction that Lily’s murderer would finally be brought to justice. Anger that he hadn’t been able to exact revenge on his own. And sad. So very sad.

March had been his brother, his mentor, and his friend. It seemed like so long ago now. He’d seen the look in March’s eye the last time they’d been together, when March had attacked him in his own flat, and knew there was no hope of getting his old friend back. Time, circumstances, and March’s own inner demons had changed him, warped him, and there was nothing good left of him.

He only hoped they sent enough Suits.

*o*o*o*

The mistake they made, which March would’ve told them had he been so inclined, was that they took him in a public place instead of ambushing him at home. They’d come to the club, tracked him down at his favorite table right next to the stage so he had a good view of the girls gyrating in their scanties. The space was too open; they’d have had better luck in a smaller room, where they could have backed him into a corner. Assuming they could get him to back down.

Sweet Sorrow was dancing up on stage, touching herself rather more intimately than necessary for an afternoon show. But March liked it. Even more, he liked to imagine the things he could do to her. All of that unmarked skin was practically begging for him to touch it, slice it up, make it bleed. It was getting harder for him to keep these urges at bay.

The Doctors had done something to him, March knew. He was angry all the time, his skin fairly buzzing with the desire to inflict pain. They’d thought to make him more pliant, more loyal to the Queen, but his hatred was more powerful than anything Dum and Dee could do to him. He continued to thumb his nose at the Queen every chance he got, and spent his down time plotting ways to kill her; he never lost sight of that goal.

When Sweet Sorrow flicked a glance at the door, March was already on his feet. He slid both knives out of the arm sheaths and stood waiting. He was interested to see how dangerous the fat cow thought he was, and he was slightly disappointed to see ten Suits coming through the door. Everything inside the club came to a stand-still.

“Mad March,” said the Ace leading the pack. “You are hereby arrested on order of the Queen of Hearts.”

“What’s the charge?” March asked, as casually as if he were asking about the weather.

“Conspiracy to commit treason.”

March laughed, and it was an ugly sound. The cow must be worried for her life, he thought. He should’ve killed her months ago, should’ve cut out her heart and made her eat it. There was still time.

“Will you come peacefully?”

“I think we both know the answer to that,” March replied. “Leave now, you get to live.”

In response, the Ace drew his gun. March threw a knife, embedding it in the Ace’s throat. The other Suits dropped into defensive positions, pulling their guns and using tables and club patrons for cover. March walked to where the dead Ace lay and pulled his knife out of the man’s throat.

“Nine,” he said.

March had been trained too well. Between his own inherent skills, and those taught to him by the White Rabbit, the Suits and the Doctors, he was a formidable opponent. His suit coat twitched and jerked as bullets passed through it, with near misses and his ability to dodge, bend or twist out of harm’s way.

In a flash, March vaulted up onto a table, jumped to another, and was suddenly behind the Suits, who were just a bit too slow in swinging their guns around. A slashed throat dropped one, gurgling, to the floor.

“Eight.”

A quick stab and twist through the heart dropped another.

“Seven.”

March’s focus narrowed. Time seemed to slow, his senses sharpened by the smell of blood, the feel of it running down his hand. He was a reaper, culling the life from these pathetic bodies.

Two more Suits went down as the knives flashed.

“Six. Five.”

March spun and pivoted, graceful as a dancer. He didn’t hear the screaming as customers fled the club. He didn’t see anything but flesh that needed slicing. A bullet grazed his arm, but he didn’t feel it. He pushed the remaining Suits back, further into the club; there would be no chance of retreat, not for them. March flicked a knife through the air and it caught a Suit in the eye.

“Four.”

There were other bodies now, unfortunate bystanders who were caught by the bullets meant for March. He stepped over them, advancing on the Suits. Always in motion.

Another bullet grazed his forehead, streaming blood into his left eye. Still March moved forward, casually stooping to retrieve his knife before sending it airborne again, this time into the base of the closest Suit’s throat.

“Three.”

His peripheral vision caught sight of movement to his left and he moved out of the way just a chair came crashing towards his skull. It was Sweet Sorrow, her naked breasts heaving. March grabbed a fistful of her hair and dragged her close, spinning her in front of him as the Suits fired. The bullets punched into her chest, leaving her gasping and whimpering. March gave her nipple a twist before tossing her aside.

One of the Suits came in to grapple with him, trying to loose the knives from his hands. March stabbed him through one hand and used that distraction to take his other knife and slice across his belly.

“Two.” And one had obviously decided to cut his losses and get out of there. March picked up a chair and threw it, hitting the Suit across the back of his legs and sending him sprawling. March was on him in a flash, pulling his head back by his hair and cutting his throat.

“One.”

Someone ran in front of him, a flash of bare skin and red satin, and March responded automatically by flicking a knife. It caught the dancer low, in the kidney, and sent her reeling with a cry.

“Please…please…” she sniveled when he went to retrieve his weapon. He responded by grabbing her chin in one hand and twisting her head sharply to the side, snapping her neck.

“Lonely?” March asked as he faced the final Suit. The man was visibly shaken, and reeked of fear and panic.

“I’ll make you famous.” March grinned, his face spattered with blood. He tucked his knives away, after giving them a cursory wipe on the closest dead Suit without taking his eyes off the one still standing.

The Suit licked his lips and aimed his gun at March’s head. March waited, watching to see the amount of pressure that was being placed on the trigger, and at the last possible moment he did a tuck and roll, coming up in a crouch in front of the Suit and sweeping his legs out from under him. The Suit toppled to the floor and the gun fell from his hand. March quickly straddled his adversary, one hand reaching out to snag the fallen weapon.

“Knives are my thing, really,” he said. He pressed the gun up under the Suit’s throat. “But this is just as effective.”

March pulled the trigger and blew the top of the Suit’s head off.

“Zero.” He tossed the gun and got up, straightening his suit coat and adjusting his turtleneck, which was no longer completely white. He cast his gaze around the room, noting pleasantly that there wasn’t a live person in the place save for himself. Ten Suits, three dancers, and seven patrons lay in widening pools of blood. The smell of it was heavy in the air and March breathed in deeply, feeling the taste of it at the back of his throat. It was the taste of victory.

March made his way to the door, stepping over and around bodies, and getting blood on his shoes. He wanted a woman now, one release leading to another. A nice, rough fuck; he wanted a whore screaming beneath him. Growing hard at the thought of it, March rubbed a quick hand along the front of his trousers and stepped outside.

The pavement bridge was crowded with Suits. More surrounded him on either side of the ledge. March counted twenty in all. So. The Queen hadn’t underestimated him after all. Thirty Suits to capture one man. March grinned, and at least three of the Suits took a step back at the sight of it. The whore could wait.

“Let’s dance,” March said. He pulled his knives out of their sheaths and waited.

Chapter Text


So Long My Brother, by David Rice

I was alone and
I was afraid
I was the promise
We used to make

He was the dreamer
He had it made
He was the mirror
And I was the face

So long my brother
So long my brother

Gravity held us
From running away
He could not brace the autumn
Driving through the rain

So long my brother
(You know I’m gonna miss you)
So long my brother
(I wish I could be with you)
So long my brother
(No I won’t forget you)

Do you still remember when
Well you should have seen us then

So long my brother

Approaching the site where the Casino had stood only a day ago was disconcerting. That House of Cards had been a part of the landscape longer than Hatter had been alive, and the lack of it now threw everything else off. He got turned around once, but finally Hatter stepped out of the trees and into the rubble field. He perched on a blackened chunk of concrete, surveying the destruction.

Alice had done this, though it hurt him to think of her. Not much left here was recognizable; he could make out the odd door or mangled chair. He didn’t envy the crew that would have to come here and clear this all away. There were bodies buried beneath all that concrete and metal, as he well knew. One of them was March.

“You okay, kid?”

Hatter rested his head on his knees. March had been the first person to show him any kindness after his parents died. Had saved his life when those older boys would have killed him. Even with all that had followed, with how mad March had become, Hatter never forgot that. Whatever he had, whatever he became, he owed to March.

“Now you can be a proper Hatter.”

Hatter took off his porkpie hat, doing several tricks with it. March had given him the hat for his first un-Birthday, and he’d never been without it in all the years since. No matter how many other hats he acquired, it was still his favorite; the one that made him feel most like Hatter. He considered it something of a good luck charm as well, because despite all the scrapes he’d been in, particularly the last few days, he’d never lost it.

He flipped the hat back on his head, giving it a quick tap to settle it over his unruly hair. He and March had been through a lot together, good and bad. Hatter tried to remember the good times, the easy times, but it was hard. Fresher in his mind was the knowledge that March had killed the girl he’d loved. Had in fact killed many innocent people on the whim of the Queen, not that he himself was any better in that regard. He flexed his right hand.

Hatter had seen March kill. Worse, he’d seen the Bloodlust in his eyes. His drive to get revenge on the Queen for the deaths of his parents had gotten twisted somehow. March had done unspeakable things, had turned on Hatter and nearly killed him. Nearly. He knew, because his contacts in the Storehouse had contacts of their own, that one of the reasons the Queen had beheaded March was because she’d ordered Hatter’s assassination and March had refused to do it. He didn’t know how to feel about that.

“Goodbye, Hatter.”

Those had been March’s final words. Whatever else the reanimation process had done to him, it had removed his unwillingness to kill Hatter. And hadn’t Hatter expected that? He’d known that March would be the one to end his life, just as he’d saved it all those years ago. Only that hadn’t happened. Because of Alice.

“Hatter stood by me.”

He’d never thought there’d be a woman after Lily, not one he could love and plan a future with. And then there was Alice, dripping on his grass and wearing the mark of an Oyster. Somehow he’d taken it upon himself to be her protector, to be her shield from all the dangers of Wonderland. March had topped that list, as soon as Hatter had seen him on the porch of the Tea Shoppe. He may have had a porcelain head, and spoke with a different voice, but it would have been impossible for Hatter not to know him. He’d had to keep March from killing Alice, had to keep her safe; he couldn’t fail her like he’d failed Lily.

When March had come at him with the knife, Hatter had acted instinctively. Just as March had taught him. He’d shattered the rabbit head, pulled apart the devices that were keeping March alive. He’d killed him and then gone running to save Alice. He’d never have a chance to repay the debt he owed.

“I’m so sorry,” Hatter whispered. He dropped his head back to his knees and sobbed. March was gone. His brother. His friend. He’d killed him and now there would be no second chances for either of them. No way to make things right. Hatter felt the loss as keenly as he had for his parents. As he had for Lily.

Hatter cried until his stomach hurt, until he was breathing in hitches and gasps. Little by little he got himself under control, wiping angrily at his face with his hands. It was only then that he realized he wasn’t alone. Sitting a little way off to his left was Lily, wearing one of her business suits. One braid hung over her shoulder and she pulled at it with her hand, the way she sometimes used to.

“You’re not real,” Hatter said. He wondered suddenly if any of this was real. Maybe he was still in the Truth Room; he was all too familiar with the hallucinations the Doctors could give him.

“I know,” Lily said. “But I’m here anyway.”

“Why?” Hatter was too wrung out, too tired to fight against whatever this new torture was.

“It’s good that you can mourn him.” Lily gave him a sad smile. “I know that makes you feel guilty, but you shouldn’t.”

“He killed you.”

“I know he did. But I also know what he meant to you. Coming to terms with both versions of March won’t be easy. But you’ll do it.” Lily flipped the braid off her shoulder. “I want to know why you’re still here.”

“I don’t know,” Hatter muttered. “I don’t know anything. It’s all changed, now. No more Tea Shop. No more Oysters. And I don’t know why I’m even talking to you.”

“You love her.”

Hatter looked up at Lily, startled. “What?”

“The Oyster. You love her.” Lily smiled, and this time it reached her eyes. “She’s a good match for you.”

Hatter shook his head. “She’s gone, too.”

“Why did you let her leave?”

“She deserves…more. You know better than anyone; I’m dangerous.” He looked down at his right fist, clenching and unclenching it. “There hasn’t been anyone, not since you.”

“Oh, Hatter.” Lily shook her head. “Don’t you see? This is your chance. You can have the life you wanted for us, with her. You can remake yourself, just as you’ve done before.”

“And lots of other things.”

Alice’s last words, before she was unceremoniously shoved through the Looking Glass. Hatter knew what she’d wanted, but he couldn’t give it to her. She didn’t know him, she didn’t know what he was capable of. The people he’d killed, or those that had been killed because of him. He couldn’t bear to think of Alice suffering the same fate.

“In her world you could start over,” Lily insisted. “In her world you can let yourself be happy. And you know you won’t be happy without her.”

“Lily…”

“I know you won’t forget,” Lily whispered. She held up her hand; the promise ring glinted in the sunlight. “I’m not asking you to forget. Just move on. Love her. Be loved. Be happy.”

Hatter had thought himself cried out, but now more tears were spilling from the corners of his eyes. Hallucination or not, Lily was right. His heart ached with the loss of Alice, and all he had to do was step through the Glass to be with her. He could do that, he could go to her. But he didn’t know how well he could live a normal life, an Oyster life. Part of him still felt so undeserving.

“You’ve had enough of death,” Lily said. “It’s your turn to live.”

Hatter nodded and got to his feet. He cast another glance over the rubble. He hoped that when they found March’s body, he’d be given a decent burial. There was only himself and April to mourn him, assuming she was still alive. I won’t forget you, Hatter promised. My brother.

He turned, taking one last look at Lily. “You’ll always be my first love.”

“I know,” Lily replied.

Hatter jumped off the concrete block and walked away, never turning round. If he had, he’d have seen Lily disappear in a blink, replaced by a long-haired tabby with a bell round its neck.

As Hatter vanished into the treeline, the cat grinned an impossibly wide grin, then began the dainty process of grooming itself.

Chapter Text


Cowboy, by Kid Rock

Well I'm packing up my game and I'm a head out west
Where real women come equipped with scripts and fake breasts
Find a nest in the hills chill like Flynt
Buy an old drop top find a spot to pimp
And I'm a Kid Rock it up and down your block
With a bottle of scotch and watch lots of crotch
Buy a yacht with a flag sayin' chillin’ the most
Then rock that bitch up and down the coast
Give a toast to the sun, drink with the stars
Get thrown in the mix and tossed out of bars
Then to Tijuana... I wanna roam
Find Motown and tell them fools to come back home
Start an escort service, for all the right reasons
And set up shop at the top of four seasons
Kid Rock and I'm the real McCoy
And I'm headin' out west sucker...because I wanna be a

Cowboy baby
With the top let back and the sunshine shining
Cowboy baby
West coast chilling with the Boone's Wine
I wanna be a Cowboy baby
Riding at night cause I sleep all day
Cowboy baby
I can smell a pig from a mile away

I bet you'll hear my whistle blowing when my train rolls in
It goes (whistle) like dust in the wind
Stoned pimp, stoned freak, stoned out of my mind
I once was lost, but now I'm just blind
Palm trees and weeds, scabbed knees and rice
Get a map to the stars, find Heidi Fleiss
And if the price is right I'm gonna make my bid boy
And let Cali-for-ny-aye know why they call me

Cowboy baby

Hatter strode the ledge with confidence. He was brimming with both satisfaction and information after a pleasant interlude in Shagtown, and couldn’t help himself picking a few pockets as he made his way back home. March, who seemed to think of everything, had told him that the whores could be an invaluable source of information if you treated them well and paid them enough. Hatter didn’t even want to guess how large a contact system March had over there, but he himself just had Briar. Not that she wasn’t more than enough for him; but there were lots of lovely women he wouldn’t mind getting to know better.

“Watch it!” a glowering man in a long coat snapped when Hatter bumped into him.

“Sorry, Sir,” Hatter replied, looking penitent as he pocketed the man’s coin purse.

He headed up a ladder, through an old warehouse, and then he was on the pavement bridge to Cobb’s Tea Shop. He took the porch stairs two at a time and ducked inside after making sure no-one had seen him. The floor manager, Able, knew him and nodded as Hatter headed back to Cobb’s office. That always gave him a little thrill; made him feel like somebody important.

“Afternoon, Cobb,” Hatter said. He crossed the dried grass to Cobb’s rickety desk and threw himself down in a chair.

Cobb was middle-aged, thin of both body and hair, with a jutting nose of impressive size. He looked up from his accounting journal, face bland as always.

“Whatcha got today, kid?” he asked, sounding as if he didn’t much care. And maybe he didn’t, but he paid anyway and that’s all that mattered to Hatter.

“Queen’s appointing a new Club, a Ten. The old one’s been slated for execution, but he’s disappeared. Dropped right off the map, yeah? Right buyer comes along, maybe he could be found.” Hatter took off his hat, spinning it. “Bet he’s got all sorts of bits and bobs stuffed in his head. Gotta be worth something to somebody.”

Of the tidbits Hatter had learned that morning, this was the juiciest. If March knew he was selling off that information, he’d be dead. But Hatter was tired of March taking all the earnings, redistributing them as he saw fit. He figured if he was doing the work, he should keep something back for himself. Cobb had been the only Tea Shop owner not to toss him out on his ass just because he was cocky sixteen year old.

“That’s worth a lot, if it’s true,” Cobb said. Hatter just smirked. He’d yet to pass on information that hadn’t panned out like he said it would; Cobb just liked to put up a fight.

“Worth more to you, I figure,” Hatter replied. “Highest bidder will pay more than what you’ll give me.”

Cobb regarded him, stony-faced, then nodded. “I expect you’re right about that, kid.” He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out some coins, dropping them into Hatter’s waiting hand.

“Three chips?”

“You’ll get more when I have an interested party. You find this ousted Club, there’ll be much more for you. A job, maybe. Regular.”

Hatter couldn’t stop the grin that spread across his face. He tucked the coins into the lining of his hat, where he’d fashioned a special pocket. A regular job! He’d love to be able to stop running cons, though he imagined March wouldn’t be too happy about it. Still, there was a lot to be said about steady income. Maybe they could move to a better flat, somewhere higher up in the City.

“You find a buyer, I’ll find the Club,” he promised. He got to his feet and shook Cobb’s hand. “You won’t be sorry, Cobb.”

“We’ll see,” Cobb replied. He bent his head back over his journal.

Hatter bounded out of the office and back outside. He couldn’t believe his good luck! Surely he could talk March into it, could make him see how beneficial it could be. Regular pay for regular work. And none of it at the Casino. The day just kept getting better!

*o*o*o*

It was getting dark by the time Hatter got home. He’d had a very profitable day, and was still buzzing about how well his meeting with Cobb had gone. He was in such good spirits that he’d used one of his chips to buy some bread and meat for supper.

“Oi! Anyone home?” Hatter slammed the door behind him and set his sack of provisions on the wobbly kitchen table. Once he had a regular job, he vowed they’d have all new furniture as well as a new place to live.

He’d just got the meat going in the skillet when March scuffed in from his bedroom, his hair sticking out at all angles. He’d been sleeping a lot more than usual, at odd times of the day, which concerned Hatter a bit. Then again, he had no idea what March did all day, so maybe he needed the extra sleep.

“Where’d you get that?” March asked, looking over Hatter’s shoulder at the meat browning in the pan.

“I know a girl,” Hatter said with a grin. It had become a kind of code between them, meaning the other person was better off not knowing. March scowled, but didn’t ask any other questions. He dropped into a chair and poked at the sack on the table.

“What else you got?”

“Bread. And three little pasties for after supper.” Hatter added a dollop of ale and some water to the pan, sending up a cloud of steam. If he put the last of the turnips in, it would almost be stew.

“What’s the take?” March asked, running a hand through his hair. Hatter dug a hand in his pocket and pulled out the day’s pickings – some coin, a few pieces of jewelry, a gold pen, and a silver pill box.

“Not bad.” March picked up a ring, examining it from all sides. “I can get a good price for most of the jewelry.”

“Got some news from Briar as well,” Hatter said. He relayed all but the tip about the Club, knowing March would find buyers for what little bit he did have. “Where’s April? She’ll miss supper.”

“Little sister got herself a job,” March said. There was a growl to his voice and even without looking Hatter knew his eyes would be stormy.

“A job? Where?” There wasn’t much available, particularly for women, and if March was angry about it that was enough to make Hatter apprehensive.

“Dance club,” March spat. “Says she’s only serving drinks.”

Hatter breathed a sigh of relief. There was a lot worse she could be doing, and if no dancing was involved than he didn’t see a problem with it. Sure, there’d be customers trying to play grab-ass with her, but April could hold her own. Besides, he knew how she felt; knew how it was to want something of your own.

“Don’t worry, March,” Hatter said over his shoulder. “April can handle herself. And you know she wouldn’t be dancing; she’d hate all those men slobbering at her feet.”

March gave a non-committal grunt. “We’re not done discussing it, her and I.”

“March…”

“No comments from you,” March said. Hatter let it drop. He’d have a talk with April later. And he’d absolutely find out which club she was working at and give it a once-over. Have a talk with the manager as well.

“I got a job for you,” March said. He accepted the steaming bowl of almost-stew from Hatter, and ripped a chunk of bread off the loaf to dip in the gravy. “It’s big-time, and don’t ask me what I had to do to set this up.”

Hatter sat opposite him at the table, already stuffing some bread in his mouth. He’d left a bit in the skillet for April, even though he was incredibly hungry. Maybe he’d not save her a pastie. March whacked the back of his hand with a spoon.

“Pay attention!”

“Alright, alright. I’m listening.” Hatter licked the gravy off his hand and forced himself to eat slower.

“Queen’s having a Ball,” March said. “Some sort of coming-out party for the Prince.”

“Pretty boy,” Hatter grumbled. He’d never seen the Prince of Hearts, of course, but girls twittered about him all the time; it got tiresome.

“They’re hiring on some extra staff, to pass round drinks and food and the like. I’ve got you on the list.”

Hatter choked on a turnip. “Are you mad? I can’t go to the Casino!”

March gave him a hard look. “You’re not going to the Casino, nug face. The party’s at the Palace, and you’re to report at the end of the week.”

“What the hell am I supposed to do? Case the joint?” Hatter pushed his bowl away, his hunger suddenly gone. “I can’t walk off with the Crown Jewels, March.”

“Shut it!” March said through gritted teeth. “Why do you never stop talking? You’re there to work the crowd, not the Palace. Everyone will have their baubles and brights on, and you’ll snatch what you can while you’re there.”

Hatter crossed his arms, frowning. March was off his nut if he thought they’d not only let him in the Palace, but also let him back out again with pockets full of jewels. He wished he could tell March about the possibility of having a regular job, but knew now was not the time; he was always looking for a bigger, better take and a straight job wouldn’t bring in as much.

“Stop pouting,” March said. He mopped up the gravy left in his bowl with another piece of bread. “I’ve an arrangement with a Spade. He’ll make sure you get out in one piece.”

“I don’t like it,” Hatter grouched.

“You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it.”

*o*o*o*

March went out after supper, taking a pastie to go. Hatter had set aside April’s supper and cleaned up the dishes. Once he was sure March was good and gone, he pried up the loose board in the floor of his room and pulled out a dented metal box with a domed lid. His treasure box. Into it went the two remaining chips he got from Cobb. There was a nice little pile of them in there now, but Hatter wanted more.

He tucked the box back under the floorboard, then lay on his bed with his arms behind his head. He’d do March’s job. And if he managed to pull it off without losing his head, he’d find that missing Club. Once he had a job secured, he’d tell March that he was done running cons. He’d be working on his own, a real man instead of just a boy; because a boy is how March still thought of him.

Hatter would work his way up, he decided. Maybe one day he could replace Able as the floor manager. It was a giddy thought. He’d have a lot more pull that way. He’d be the go-to man. Hatter grinned, picturing it all in his mind. Girls practically throwing themselves at him…no, not girls. Women. Real women he didn’t have to pay to be with.

Sure, it was wrong to sell the Tea. He’d been against it since his mother died. But it’s not like he could do anything to stop it, so why not make something for himself off it? That would be using ill-gotten gains for a good purpose, right? Besides, it was Cobb selling the Tea really.

Hatter decided he’d go back to Shagtown tomorrow, see what else he could find out about the wayward Club. No reason not to get a head start on things. The sooner he could get the job, the better. He was ready to be out from under March’s thumb.

“I’m gonna be somebody someday,” he muttered sleepily to himself. “Just like she said.”

Hatter drifted off to sleep with a half-remembered voice whispering out of his memory. One day you will do great things, David.

Chapter Text


Everybody Loves Me, by OneRepublic

Hail Caesar shadow on my backseat
And her friends are standing right in front of me
World wide from the Cimmaron to Turkey
Open up said everybody loves me

Got love for the people that have warned you
God love all your sentimental virtue
Eight balls with the takers that'll make you
Lay cards with the lovers that'll hate you

And you don't have to make a sound
They got what you need
What you need
Make you say

Oh my!
Feels just like I don't try
Looks so good I might die
All I know is everybody loves me
Head down,
Swaying to my own sound
Flashes in my face now
All I know is everybody loves me
Everybody loves me

Don't need my health
Got my name and got my wealth
I stare at the sun
Just for kicks all by myself
I lose track of time
So I might be past my prime
But I'm feeling oh so good
YEAH!

The Tea Shop opened early on Fridays, and within only a couple of hours the place was packed. Friday was a big day – not only were people vying for a spot at the after-hours party, but it was the only day that Hatter offered his specialty mixed Teas. His wasn’t the only shop offering them, but his were by far the best on the market. Somehow he just seemed to know just how much of each Tea to mix to get the desired effect.

Hatter made the rounds of the selling floor, greeting his customers and checking the inventory. Everyone knew his name and seemed happy to see him, as always; it was easy exchanging some light banter with them. But what had been a matter of pride when he was new to the business had turned to weariness. He knew they only liked him for what he could give them, and what he was giving them was just as false as their pasted-on smiles. Hatter’s sixteen-year-old self had fantasized just such a life; the reality of it certainly wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

It was early enough in the day for Dormie to be more awake than asleep, leaning across the podium with a bored look on his pointed face. He was singularly lacking in personality most of the time, except when it counted.

“Hey, Hatter,” he said now, absently scratching his neck. “What’re we pushing today?”

“Self-Assured. Confidence and Calm, with a dash of Arrogance thrown in.”

Dormie nodded, and Hatter knew he’d spend the next little while coming up with a good pitch for it. Dormie was the best pitchman in the business, and Hatter knew he was lucky to have him, despite the narcoleptic tendencies.

He went back to his rounds, checking in with the bouncers at the door. They were only really needed on Fridays, when the crowd was likely to get rambunctious. It was too early in the day for any problems, though, and Hatter moved on.

“Good morning, Hatter!”

“Hatter!”

“Don’t you look fine!”

A trio of girls wearing short dresses clustered around him, cooing and striving to get his attention. Hatter had hired them to work the crowd, keep the male customers interested in staying and spending their chips. They’d be available at the after-hours party as well, so they offered a little preview of coming events.

“Busy day today, boss!”

“We’ll get them to spend lots of chips!”

“I can’t wait for the party tonight!”

Hatter surveyed the girls, nodding in approval at their outfits and the way they presented themselves. He had to struggle a bit to remember their names; the girls tended to blend together after a while. And it being Friday, he picked one out for himself; she’d be his for the duration of the party and through the night.

“You,” he said, pointing to the perky blonde. “Merry, isn’t it?”

“That’s right,” she said, a hopeful look in her eye.

“You’ll be with me tonight.”

Merry shot a triumphant look at the other two hopefuls. Hatter gave her a quick smack on the bum before he shooed her and the other two girls off to work the floor. His rounds done, he hurried back to his office and closed the door behind him, leaning heavily on it after he did so.

It was getting so he could barely make it through morning rounds anymore. Hatter walked to his desk, the bright green carpet of grass doing little to cheer him this morning. No, what he wanted was hidden away in the bottom of his wardrobe, tucked into a boot. A silver flask filled with a mix of Tea that was his and his alone.

Hatter took a drink, closing his eyes as the Tea burned down his throat. When it hit his stomach, he was finally able to relax and take a deep breath. He called this mix Everything’s Fine – Calm, Happiness, Peace and a generous helping of Clear Conscious, which was still in the testing phase at the Casino and not yet available for public consumption. Getting to try out the new Teas before anyone else was one of the privileges of owning a Tea Shop.

The irony of needing Tea to get him over feeling guilty for using Tea was not lost on Hatter.

Thus bolstered, Hatter was able to get through the rest of his work day. He dealt with customer complaints, helped the bouncers break up a brawl, wrote some reports, and enjoyed watching the addicts clamor for some Self-Assured. If not for the Clear Conscious, he’d have been too overwhelmed to do what needed to be done. And that included using the brief time between closing and the after-hours party to doctor the accounting books and put aside some revenue to spend on provisions for the Resistance. There was very little time in his day that he could call his own.

After Dormie scuttled off for the night, Hatter readied the lounge. By the time the girls arrived, the candles were lit, the music played softly, and Everything’s Fine was tucked back in its hiding place; he wouldn’t need any more of that today.

*o*o*o*

Merry made sure she was the first one at the Tea Shop for the party. She’d slipped out for a quick wash and change, giddy with the thought that she’d get to have Hatter all night long. She was lucky – sometimes he didn’t choose a girl at all.

Of course, being chosen by Hatter for anything was a real boost. He’d plucked Merry off the stage at Gryphon’s, offering her some extra work at his shop on the side. It was a good way to get noticed by guys who could pay, and Gryphon didn’t mind because often those same guys would start hanging around the club. It was a win-win for everyone. But Hatter was the real prize.

Merry had chosen her very best dress, a low-cut, flowing construction in a deep shade of purple. It accentuated her bosom and showed off her legs, which looked exceptional thanks in part to the black stilettos that laced at the ankle. But it wasn’t overtly slutty, like the dresses she knew the other girls would be wearing. After all, there was always the chance that Hatter would find a girl he liked and keep her around as a regular. But that girl would have to stand out, be different from the others.

“Aren’t we punctual,” Hatter remarked when she came through the door. He looked her over from top to toe, and Merry could see the approval on his face before he even opened his mouth.

“I like the dress,” was all he said. But Merry glowed with satisfaction. She put her arm through his and they greeted the clients that had started to arrive. Her job was to be the untouchable eye candy, and she played that up as much as possible with flirty glances and slow, sultry movements. Hatter grinned down at her after the last client had come through the door.

“You’re a natural, Merry.”

“Thanks,” she replied. She tried to sound cool about it, but inside her stomach was doing backflips. If she pleased him this well all night, maybe she could be the one that Hatter chose every Friday. It would give her an exclusivity that would be worth plenty of chips and a more elite clientele at Gryphon’s.

Still in hostess mode, Merry helped set up the cocktails and the platters of fruit and cheese. None of tonight’s clients was new, and so everyone got very comfortable very quickly. It wasn’t long before some of the other girls were dancing seductively, either alone or with clients. When Hatter pulled Merry down onto his lap, she gladly abandoned the trays of food.

“Try some of this,” Hatter said. He took a drink, holding the liquid on his tongue, and kissed her. Merry tasted cream and lemon, and when it hit her system she felt flushed and instantly wet between her thighs.

“What…what is that?” she panted.

“I call it No Inhibitions,” Hatter replied, his eyes darkening with desire. “It’s new, and just for the two of us.”

He didn’t tell her what was in it, but she didn’t care. There was no time for talking anyway. Hatter’s mouth was on hers again, hungrily this time, and Merry moaned with needs and desires of her own.

The room, the other people…everything melted away. There was only Hatter, his mouth leaving a burning trail across her skin and his hands seemingly everywhere at once. Merry closed her eyes and eagerly surrendered to him, knowing it wasn’t just the Tea that was making her feel this way. But it was the Tea that allowed her to be taken here in the middle of the lounge without caring that they were surrounded by people.

When Merry came back to her senses everyone had gone. The candles had mostly burned out, leaving much of the lounge in deep shadow. She was curled up on the extra-wide chaise with Hatter, him in just his boxers while she was completely naked save for the stilettos. Her mouth was dry as dust, but all the drinks were gone as well.

Merry shifted a bit, smirking at the soreness between her legs. The other girls had been right – sex with Hatter was amazing! And while not all of the memories were clear in her mind, probably because of that Tea he’d shared with her, she remembered enough. It had mostly been just the two of them, though at one point another of the girls had joined in for a threesome, and Merry felt confident that she’d left Hatter well pleased.

Just as she started dozing off again, Hatter began to twitch and moan. Having been prepared for this in advance, Merry rolled on her side and spooned up against him, pulling him tightly against her. He clutched at her arms and started to cry.

“Shhh…” she whispered. “It’s okay.”

The girls that had been lucky enough to spend the night with Hatter had always come back with reports of great sex, his hot body, and the heart-breaking way that he’d cry in his sleep. But none of the girls, not a single one, poked fun at him or made light of it. Hatter was clearly a tortured soul and it was her job, for this one night, to offer him comfort. It was something that would never be spoken of outside their circle; Hatter’s girls.

“It’s okay, Hatter,” Merry murmured. “I’ve got you.”

After a while the crying abated and Hatter slipped back into a deep, restive sleep. Merry freed an arm to wipe the wetness from her own face. She didn’t know why he was so sad, and wished there was something more that she could do for him. Instead, she just cuddled up close and let herself drift off to dream about what could be.

Chapter Text


The Good Life, by Three Days Grace

The good life is what I need
To many people stepping over me
The only thing that's been on my mind
Is the one thing thing I need before I die

All I want
Is a little of the good life
All I need
Is to have a good time
Ohhhh, the good life

I don't really know who I am
It's time for me to take a stand
I need a change and I need it fast
I know that any day could be the last

Hold on, hold on
I always wanted it this way
(You never wanted it this way)
Hold up, hold up
I always wanted it this way
(You didn't ask for it this way)
I always wanted it this way

All I want
Is a little of the good life
All I need
Is to have a good time
Ohhhh, The good life

Jack leaned against the wall in the large gallery that ran behind the Ballroom. The chatter of guests and clinking of glasses drifted cheerily out of the open door, but it only made him scowl. He hadn’t wanted a party, and in fact knew very few of the people in the other room. As always, it was what Mother wanted; she gave a care for nothing but her own ambitions. It was tiresome.

“Oh, stop moping!” Mary, Queen of Hearts, came striding into the gallery, her red, sequined gown flowing out behind her like the sail of a ship. Jack’s stepfather, Winston, was a step or two behind and resplendent in a black and burgundy suit.

“I don’t want a party, Mother.”

“Of course you do. You’re of an age now, and it’s time for you to take on some responsibilities.” Mary examined her reflection in one of the oval mirrors that hung on the wall, patting carefully at the thick mass of red curls. “There’s more to running Wonderland than hunting trips and pretty girls.”

“Of course there’s something to be said for pretty girls,” Winston said with a grin. Mary gave him a withering look.

“Mother…”

“Give me your arm, dear.”

Jack reluctantly did so, moving away from the wall and stretching out his lanky frame to its full height. Not above a little vanity himself, he took a quick look in the mirror. As always, it was his father’s face that looked back at him. Unlike the shorter, more sturdily built Winston, Frederic Devilious had been tall and athletic, with a trim build and a mane of blonde hair.

Mary nodded at the Club that stood waiting, and he moved inside the door to announce them. Jack sighed, resigning himself to a long and boring evening. He’d rather have been at one of the clubs, or having a bit of a romp with Rosa, the sexy little Diamond who worked reception at the Casino.

“Announcing her Royal Majesty, Mary, Queen of Hearts. Winston, King of Hearts. And Jack, Prince of Hearts.”

Jack let his mother have her big entrance, but he was damned if he was going to pretend to enjoy it. The guests applauded politely, bowing or curtseying. There was a contingent of Spades scattered around the room, keeping a watchful eye as a line was formed of courtiers who wished to shake Jack’s hand and wish him a happy birthday. He bore it all in silence, barely acknowledging the people who clustered around him.

When the well-wishers finally dispersed, Jack breathed a sigh of relief. He looked at his mother, her face wreathed in a wide grin. She loved the attention, all the fawning; it just made him tired.

“What now, Mother?” he asked.

“Go mingle, darling. Be seen, and keep your eyes open for anything interesting.” The Queen of Hearts patted her son on the arm, the picture of maternal warmth. As long as you didn’t see the steely, calculating glint in her eye. “Don’t wander off. There’ll be an announcement soon and I’ll want you by my side for it.”

A cheek was offered and Jack pressed a quick kiss to it. He was certain that no-one believed the happy family charade, but Mary insisted on it. He made a beeline for the bar and ordered a stiff drink, declining the Tea enhancement. After a quick scan of the crowd, Jack saw the person he wanted to talk to. He kept to the edges of the room, skirting royals and the nameless staff who were passing around food.

“Agent White. A word?”

The highest-ranking agent of The White Rabbit, his long brown hair streaked liberally through with gray and tied back into two tails down his back, nodded and led Jack to a secluded alcove.

“Happy birthday,” Agent White said with a smirk. He clinked his glass with Jack’s and finished off whatever he was drinking.

“I need the date of your next sortie,” Jack said impatiently.

“Aren’t you getting a bit old for that?” Agent White asked, leaning against the wall.

“Just tell me what you want and I’ll get it to you.”

Jack may have cared little for politics, but he’d learned early on the power of the bribe. When he was just a boy he’d tag along with Winston whenever he’d meet with agents of The White Rabbit, and had been entranced by their tales of the world on the other side of the Looking Glass. When he was ten, he’d started offering bribes to some of the friendlier agents, asking to go with them and see that other world, that Oyster world.

It had been unbelievable to him, his first trip to an Oyster city. So many Oysters, especially the children – the sheer numbers were staggering, compared with what he was used to in Wonderland. For as large as Wonderland City was, it had very little population. And almost no children at all. The Oysters all seemed so happy, living their carefree lives. He hadn’t expected that at all.

“Raid or resupply?” Agent White asked. He accompanied Jack on all trips through the Glass, which had to be done without the Queen’s knowledge. If she were to find out her son was leaving Wonderland, heads would literally roll. The White Rabbit was very careful to make sure that Jack didn’t get “lost” on any of these trips.

“Resupply,” Jack replied. He had little interest in helping with an Oyster raid. He’d seen enough of their world to stop thinking of them as cattle, and to stop drinking the Teas made from their stolen emotions. More than anything, he envied them their simple lives and pleasures, their anonymity.

“Two days,” Agent White said. “Liquor run. Usual time.”

“How much?”

Agent White paused to consider the fee. Jack would pay anything he asked, just for that small taste of freedom, but the agent rarely asked too much from him. Perhaps he understood the need to get away from things for a while.

“Half case of Happiness should do it.”

“I’ll be there,” Jack said. The two men nodded at each other, and then Agent White melted back into the crowd. Jack made to follow, but found his way blocked by a girl who looked to be about his age. He’d never seen her before, he’d have remembered. Long blonde hair fell in waves to her shoulders, and she wore a short, shimmery dress that looked like liquid sunshine.

“You’re the Prince,” she said. She pursed her full lips and gave him a once over. “You’re not what I expected.”

“Nor are you,” Jack replied with a grin. “Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

“Anna, if it pleases you.” She gave a little bow.

“It does.” All thoughts of Rosa quickly fled his mind. “How is it we’ve not met before?”

“I’ve only newly arrived to the City.” Anna batted her eyelashes at him. “Perhaps you could show me around?”

“It would be my pleasure.” Jack could think of other things to do with pretty Anna. The way her dress clung to her skin, showing off her curves, was completely distracting. It was clear that she felt the same, because she took two steps closer and put her hand on his chest. She wore a scent that was both fruity and musky, and Jack breathed it in even as he felt his gaze captured by her big blue eyes.

“I think we could find…many things to do together,” Anna murmured.

Jack needed no further urging. He bent his head and kissed her, and she kissed him right back, never moving her hand. She tasted as sweet as she smelled, and he couldn’t help wondering what she’d look like in his bed with her lips swollen from kissing him and her skin flushed from a proper shagging.

Anna pulled away, licking at her bottom lip. “That was nice.”

Jack just raised an eyebrow. He didn’t make it a habit to kiss strange women, but there was something very alluring about Anna. He would make it his mission to get to know her better. There was no time for it now, however, as the Nine of Clubs was speaking loudly at the front of the room.

“The Queen of Hearts has an announcement. Please give her your attention.”

While the room quieted down, Jack frowned. More theatrics. “Back in a minute,” he said to Anna, who shifted out of the way so he could pass by.

“Where is my son?” Mary asked. “Ah, there you are Jack!”

Jack made his way to her side and she latched on to his arm with an iron grip that made him wince; she hated to be kept waiting. The gathered crowd of royals waited expectantly.

“The Prince of Hearts is sixteen today, and is thus of an age to start thinking of the future. To that aim, I am pleased to announce that I have found the girl who will one day rule by my son’s side.”

Jack stared at his mother in disbelief. What was she doing? She’d never taken any interest in his love life before, not that he would have listened to her anyway. There was only so much she could make him do against his will. Or so he thought.

“Jack, meet your betrothed. Duchess.”

Mary gestured into the crowd, and they parted to reveal…Anna. She curtseyed demurely before raising her head and looking right at Jack with a smile on her face.

“Duchess comes to us from a very important family at the far reaches of Wonderland and I know she will be a good match for my son.” Mary tilted her head and Anna approached. “Jack and Duchess are, as of this moment, Promised.”

When Anna got close enough, Mary took her hand and put it in Jack’s. The crowd cheered the new couple. Jack felt frozen. What the bloody hell was his mother up to now? He looked at Anna, seeing her now as somehow too perfect. The far reaches of Wonderland? Jack didn’t believe that for a moment. He didn’t know where his mother had dug this girl up, and he wasn’t sure if he should be suspicious or grateful; he was certainly attracted to her, as his mother must have assumed he would be.

“Looks like we’ll be spending a lot of time together,” Anna murmured in his ear. “Isn’t that lucky.”

Jack looked into her eyes. He honestly didn’t know if he felt lucky or cursed right at the moment, and was glad he’d had the chance to talk with Agent White and make arrangements to slip through the Glass; that old feeling of suffocation was coming over him again and he needed to get away.

“Dance with her, Jack,” Mary said, giving him a little shove.

Jack dutifully took Anna in his arms as a slow waltz began to play. While she smiled up at him, he considered – not for the first time - what it might be like to step through the Glass one day and never come back, to lose himself in the Oyster world and be done with Wonderland altogether. To live a life where he called all the shots. To be just Jack Heart.

*o*o*o*

Hatter shifted uneasily in the ill-fitting livery he’d been forced to wear. Red was not his favorite color and he resented having to wear it, but not as much as he resented March for making him work this ridiculous party. He was certain that any minute now a Spade would make him for a thief and haul him away to be beheaded.

“You, there. Get moving!” The Diamond in charge of the waitstaff gave Hatter a push and he stumbled forward, almost dropping the tray of pasties he was holding.

He tentatively entered the main ballroom, feeling as if everyone was watching him. Hatter had no idea how he was going to pull off this job, it seemed far too risky. He slowly made his way through the room, pausing as guests helped themselves to the pasties. Eventually training overcame nerves, and his keen eyes started taking everything in.

March had been right; the baubles were out and shining under the ballroom lights. Hatter made one full pass of the ballroom, trying to plot out a strategy. By the time he’d returned to the food station to grab another full tray, he’d selected several easy targets. He double checked that his goodie pouch was securely and discreetly fastened round his waist and then he headed back to the ballroom.

Almost immediately, an older woman gestured to him. Assuming she wanted something off the tray, Hatter obediently headed in her direction. Her hair was done up in a high pile of blonde curls atop her head, and gleamed with several diamond hairpins; he wagered he could relieve her of one or two of them without her notice.

“You’re new,” the woman said. She took a miniature meat pie off the tray, but didn’t eat it. “How old are you, boy?”

“Sixteen,” Hatter said. “Uh…m’am.”

“I am the Countess of Spades, boy.”

Hatter wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. Bow? Kiss her hand? He settled for a respectful nod of his head, which must have been alright because the Countess smiled.

“I have something for you.” The Countess dipped her hand in the little silk bag round her wrist and pulled out a diamond bracelet. She held it up for a moment, letting it twinkle in the light, then slipped it and her hand into Hatter’s pocket. He jumped when she momentarily cupped his balls through his trousers, and then she withdrew her hand.

“One hour, on the balcony. You may show me your…gratitude.” With that the Countess turned and walked away, nibbling daintily at the meat pie.

Hatter stood frozen in place, not believing what had just happened. He pulled the bracelet out of his pocket, staring at it a moment before tucking it into the pouch. Was the Countess expecting a quick snog out on the balcony in exchange for that bit of flash? He knew he’d have to do it, or else risk being called out as a thief. He wasn’t sure exactly how Palace politics worked, but he knew how to play people, and to see the makings of a con. Well, that was fine then. He’d spend a few minutes on the balcony.

When the Club called everyone to attention, Hatter had already lifted several bits of superfluous jewelry from the gathered guests. He stuck to the fringes of the crowd while the Queen make her little speech, seeing what he could nick while attention was diverted.

The Prince, who was every bit the pretty boy he was reported to be, looked like he was ready to fall asleep where he stood. Hatter wondered how he could possibly be bored at his own party, particularly with so many people there to celebrate with him. He himself couldn’t recall the last real birthday of his own that had been noted by anyone, not even March.

It was nearing time for his rendezvous with the Countess, so Hatter, carrying his half-empty tray of stuffed mushrooms, started making his way to the balcony. While he was passing by one of the many alcoves that dotted the far wall, a hand snaked out and grabbed his arm.

Immediately on the defensive, Hatter turned and brought the tray up as a shield, sending mushrooms bouncing across the floor. His adversary turned out to be a girl not much older than himself. She had long black hair and was wearing a black dress that shimmered all over with black beads.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” the girl said.

Hatter lowered the tray. “Is there something you needed?”

In reply, the girl grabbed hold of his shirt with both hands and pushed him into the shadowed corned of the alcove. Before Hatter could protest, she was kissing him hard and running her hands over his backside. When he tried to move, the girl pressed herself firmly against him, keeping him in place. He could’ve pushed her and forced her aside, but she was a quite good kisser. And really, was it so bad to have a quick snog with a pretty girl?

The girl ground her hips against Hatter once she had his full participation and he took that as an open invitation to let his hands roam freely. She was nice and curvy, and the little purring noises coming from her throat were making him hard. It was enough to make him forget that he was supposed to be on the job, until the girl pushed back and grinned at him, her lips swollen.

“You’re good at this,” she said, her eyes glittering as dark as the beads on her dress.

“Not so bad yourself,” Hatter replied. His trousers had become uncomfortably tight and he had to resist the urge to adjust himself.

The girl rubbed herself against him again, hard. “Meet me in an hour, garden terrace two floors up.”

She reached behind and unclasped her necklace, a gold chain with a club pendant fashioned from diamonds and some sort of black stone. She held it out to Hatter, and when he reached for it she pulled him close for another kiss.

“Don’t make me wait,” she murmured, and then left the alcove to rejoin the party.

Hatter leaned against the wall and looked at the necklace. Did these women have no men at court who could see to their needs? Not that he was complaining. The stuff they were giving him was much better than what he’d been able to steal, and if the price was a bit of snogging – or even a quick shag – who was he to complain? Clearly they found him attractive, and he couldn’t help but grin.

He promised himself that one day this is what his life would be like all the time; surrounded by beautiful women who wanted to be with him because he was sexy and rich and powerful. This was going to be his last job for March, his last time doing something he didn’t want to do.

“You there!”

Hatter was startled out of his reverie by none other than the Prince of Hearts himself. He hastily tucked the necklace into the pouch and stepped out of the alcove.

“Your Highness,” Hatter said, in a less than respectful tone. The Prince narrowed his eyes.

“We’re not paying you to snog in an alcove. Collect your…mushrooms…and get back to work.”

Hatter didn’t care for the imperious tone, but he wasn’t going to argue. No need to draw too much attention to himself. He bent down and started picking up the spilled mushrooms.

“Bloody git,” he muttered under his breath.

“What was that?” the Prince asked. He stood over Hatter, arms crossed, literally looking down his nose at him. Hatter closed his eyes and forced himself to take some deep breaths. Wouldn’t do, slugging the Prince at his own party.

“Somethin’ in my throat,” he said, and gave a cough.

The Prince looked as if he was going to say something, but he was interrupted by the girl that Hatter had dubbed Golden Girl. Lucky bastard he was too, getting a girl as beautiful as that without even trying.

“Come take a walk with me, Jack,” Golden Girl said in her throaty, sexy voice. “I haven’t seen much of the Palace.”

“Of course,” the Prince replied. He offered his arm and she took it. As they walked away, she turned and smiled at Hatter.

He sighed and finished picking up the errant mushrooms. He set the tray on a nearby chair and made his way as inconspicuously as possible across the room and out onto the balcony. The sun was just setting, throwing long shadows across the stones. The Palace had a lovely view of the lake and the mountains beyond and Hatter took a moment to enjoy it; he rarely had business here at the edges of the city.

“It’s called the Lake of Sorrows,” the Countess said, coming up behind him. “For all those who have come to the shores and shed their tears, in the days before Wonderland was rightfully civilized.”

Hatter said nothing, just turned and looked at her. The Countess, though not as pretty as the girl from the alcove, was a handsome woman. He decided it wouldn’t be a hardship, giving the old gal a snog in exchange for the bracelet. He took a step towards her, but she backed up and put one finger up.

“You misunderstand. You’re not here for me.” She inclined her head to the side. “Stop hiding.”

From out of the shadows stepped a man, easily five years older than Hatter. He was tall and lean, with a narrow face and a wild mass of light brown hair. He was dressed as a royal, but seemed very unsure of himself and kept his gaze down.

“What is this?” Hatter asked, suspicious. While he wasn’t above a bit of kink with Briar, these people were strangers.

“You’re here for my son. If you find that distasteful, I can give you a bit more.”

The Countess’ son flushed and his lips tightened; Hatter could plainly see he was embarrassed and angry. It was certainly none of his business if the man preferred other men; he’d seen much worse in Shagtown. But he didn’t lean that way himself.

“I don’t think…”

“I ask only ten minutes for him, nothing more. I’ll be waiting inside.” With a slight look of disgust at her son, the Countess turned and walked away.

“I’m very sorry,” the man said. He looked at Hatter for the first time, his cheeks still stained red. “She…I didn’t…ask her to do this.”

He let out huff of air and walked to the edge of the balcony to sit on a stone bench. Hatter wasn’t sure what to do. He didn’t want to have to give up the bracelet. And he felt bad for this guy, who was so obviously under the thumb of his own mother. After a moment, Hatter joined him on the bench.

“They call me Hatter.”

“I’m Daniel.”

“So…you’re into guys?” Hatter winced even as he said it. “I mean, I’m not judging or anything. I like women myself, but each his own, yeah?”

“I have a wife,” Daniel said. “Mother insisted. I have to present myself properly for the public eye. And then she’ll pay off someone like you to…entertain me. It’s very…unsatisfactory.”

“Do you love her? Your wife?”

“In a way. She’s always been very nice to me, though she was Mother’s choice. She knows how it is for me, but I try to do right by her.” Daniel ran a hand through his hair. “If only my mother would let me be.”

“Can’t you just say no? You’re not a boy anymore,” Hatter said.

“I wish it were that easy. I have certain…responsibilities to my family that must be observed. Mother has overseen everything, and if she doesn’t approve I’ll be out. Out of the family, out of the court. I’ve nothing without them.”

Hatter felt a stab of sympathy. He knew what it was like, having someone else run his life. To feel sometimes like there was no way out. And he thought of that bracelet, part of his payment to March for his own freedom. He wasn’t going to sacrifice that, not now, not when he was so close. He was ready to start a new life and nothing was going to keep him from doing that.

He leaned forward and pressed a tentative kiss on Daniel’s lips. The older man pulled back, his eyes wide.

“Really, you don’t have to do that.”

“I know what it’s like,” Hatter said. He put his hand on the other man’s cheek, feeling the slight rasp of stubble there. And he saw the desperate longing in Daniel’s eyes. Would it really be that bad, snogging a man?

“You don’t…” Daniel started to say again, but Hatter silenced him with another kiss. And this time Daniel kissed him back.

*o*o*o*

Twenty minutes later Hatter returned to the ballroom, a smile on his face. The Countess quirked an eyebrow at him and he nodded in reply. He didn’t plan to make a habit of kissing men, but it hadn’t been that bad. Kissing was kissing, and if you closed your eyes it felt almost the same.

Still, Hatter had business to attend to. Some of that business included finding the Spade that was March’s inside contact and making plans for a meeting so he could get his cut of the night’s take. And once March gave Hatter his own cut, he’d be free to find more honorable work with Cobb at the Tea Shop. A regular job with regular pay, as well as better connections. The good life – it was so close he could taste it.

More importantly, he wanted directions to the garden terrace. He planned to do more than just snog that curvy girl in the black dress.

Chapter Text


Sin With A Grin, by Shinedown

Take a good look at agony
Force fed pass down time release
I'm inspired to find the liar
Black list X on the back of a
soulful man
I've got ways you understand
Look left, look right
But I'm behind you
I never noticed until I focused
On everything you did, you said
You lit the fuse inside my head

Thank you for reminding me
of why I'm sick inside
Thank you for the venom
Did you think it would paralyze
These scars, I scratch, I tear,
are there under my skin,
where you've always been
Thank you for reminding me to
Sin with a grin.

Hangman standing on a twisted 2 x 4
Built your house, but forgot to lock the door
I'm inside with two black eyes
I have not one shred of sympathy
I have no use for apologies

Thank you for reminding me
of why I'm sick inside
Thank you for the venom
did you think it would paralyze
These scars, I scratch, I tear,
are there, under my skin
where you've always been....

March was getting no answers from the man in the ill-fitting brown suit, and so he tossed him over the ledge just to hear him scream. It was almost like he’d never been gone, with several notable differences which he preferred not to think about just at the moment.

“Wait, she said her name was Alice?” The Club was having better luck with the greasy man who smelled of dead rats.

The girl had been easy enough to track here, to Hatter’s little Tea Shop. March wished he could spit. The boy couldn’t stay out of his business, and once again he’d gained the ill favor of the Queen by harboring an Oyster. Had he learned nothing? It was a wonder he was still alive.

There was a whisper of sound and March’s new head turned rapidly in the direction it came from, his body a half beat slower catching up. His hearing had been greatly amplified, but he could also sense the boy watching him. Always watching him. He had the girl with him and March immediately set off in their direction, his steps deliberate and his senses focused.

It came as no surprise to March when the boy ran. He’d never been able to take March on, never had the balls to fight him. The Queen would want his head this time, but March was not inclined to let her have it. Ever since he’d been reawakened, his only thoughts had been of Hatter. He had his own plans for the boy and she would have to get in line.

Tracking Hatter down to the dock was easy; the boy had never learned to hide his shadows. But they were just a second too late, and Hatter and the girl were able to get away in a boat. While the Club called for a Scarab to pick them up, March stared out across the lake. It would be easy tracking them there, particularly once they were airborne. The boy clearly wasn’t thinking straight. He knew there was no way to hide, not from the Queen’s assassin.

*o*o*o*

The girl had given herself up, but she’d been alone. March had done a quick sweep while they waited on the Scarab, but there was no sign of Hatter, not even a shadow. He’d questioned the girl, but she refused to give him up. Oh, how his fingers had itched to wrap around her slender throat, squeezing until he’d gotten the information he wanted. The Club seemed to have sensed March’s rising frustration, and had moved the girl away.

March was an abomination, and he knew it. They’d done something to him, something unforgiveable. Taken away his head and replaced it with a bloody cookie jar; he could smell the ghost of them in there, sickeningly sweet. He didn’t know how much time had passed since his execution, didn’t know how he could still be himself without his head. How did he still retain his senses, his highly sensitive sense of smell, his memories, his desire to inflict pain and suffering? How had his muchness remained?

“Sir?” the Club said nervously. “The Scarab is here.”

March had been so lost in thought – and how could he even think without his bloody head – that he hadn’t heard the arrival of the transport. The girl wisely stayed as far away from him as possible. He couldn’t see her facial expression clearly, which was a hindrance. His vision now was more thermal, a field of greens and reds and yellows, but he could smell her fear. Most interesting of all was that most of her fear was not for herself, but for Hatter.

“I’ll find him,” he promised in a voice not his own. Carpenter had given him a ridiculous Oyster voice, with an accent he disliked intensely. Never one for verbosity, March now found himself staying even more silent just so he didn’t have to hear himself speak.

He knew he wouldn’t have to go hunting for Hatter. He’d tied himself to this girl somehow, for reasons March couldn’t fathom, and so he knew Hatter would come to him. It was just a matter of time.

*o*o*o*

March was seething. Hatter had gotten into the Casino, busted the girl out of the bloody Truth Room, and not a single Suit had been able to stop them from getting away. He’d killed the messenger who had brought him that message, and now they were watching him more closely. No matter. Another opportunity had arisen.

The Resistance had made the unexpectedly bold move of kidnapping Carpenter, but March was one step ahead of them. It hadn’t taken him long to determine that Carpenter and the girl were relations – he could read it in their shadows - and the Resistance’s plan had easily fallen into place once he had that piece of the puzzle. He’d planted a tracking device on Carpenter, and with one fell swoop captured not only the girl and the Prince, but the leader of the Resistance as well.

“Where’s Hatter?” March asked the girl, but she said nothing. His hands clenched into fists. He needed the boy, more now than ever.

And then he was there, like a gift. Riding to the rescue like some sodding hero. He’d been easily subdued; March had taught him to use his mouth over more traditional weapons. While the girl screamed, March walked over to where Hatter was being held down on the ledge. He wished he still had a mouth, because he had a huge grin that he’d have liked the boy to see.

“What a nice surprise,” March said in that other voice. Hatter continued to struggle, but it would do no good. Now that March had him he wasn’t letting him go. Not when he was so close. He supervised the prisoners as they were loaded on the Scarab, making sure to keep Hatter well away from the girl. He knew Hatter would be sent straightaway to the Truth Room, but that was fine. He could wait.

*o*o*o*

The Doctors had done a number on Hatter, that much March could see with eyes that weren’t eyes. He could smell the blood, and it gave him a pleasant shiver as it always did. The boy was hurting, though he kept mostly silent in the chair even as an electro-stick was pressed into his ribcage. March felt an unexpected surge of pride; he’d taught the boy well.

“Leave us,” March ordered the Doctors.

“But…”

“I said leave.” He was not intimidated by the twin terrors, like much of the rest of the Casino. They had a difficult time staying on task, and March hated their ridiculous romping around. He looked down at Hatter, sitting there with his arms tied uselessly to the arms of the chair. He’d gotten too reliant on that altered arm, couldn’t fight without it. No matter. March had his own need for it now.

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Hatter babbled, rocking back and forth. “The clockwork’s not ticking properly. Maybe crumbs in the butter.”

March wasn’t fooled. The boy was too good, his mind too strong, to be so quickly broken.

“Tell me where the Great Library is,” he asked, not that he cared. Hatter left off his ramblings and glared up at him.

“Yeah, I didn’t think you’d crack.” Did Hatter hear the satisfaction in his voice? March was more than ready to end this.

“Then there’s no reason to keep you alive.” He slid one of his knives from the sheath strapped to his arm. He could feel Hatter’s fear, but also his determination. March chuckled. The boy was thinking of that girl, that Oyster he’d tried to save. Would it be enough? One more thing to provoke him, then. A harsh jab at what he knew was a treasured memory for the boy.

“Twinkle, twinkle little bat. How I wonder where you’re at. Goodbye, Hatter.”

March darted forward with the knife in his hand. As he’d expected, Hatter pushed himself backward, toppling over in the chair. It was the only thing he could do, the only way to avoid that blade. March took the kick to the chest, stumbling backward a bit further than necessary to give Hatter more time. The boy finally had something worth fighting for, and March was relieved.

Hatter swung out of the chair and used it as a shield. March came back in again with the knife, a bit to the side, and was fairly gleeful when Hatter turned at the last minute and let the blade cut through the bindings that held his right hand. If they’d sat down and choreographed the move, it couldn’t have gone any better.

There was one brief flex of fingers and March wished he had eyes to close. He’d known Hatter would come through for him. Had known the boy wouldn’t let him continue on like this, some kind of electronic nightmare that was ever more a puppet of the Queen. The boy had finally become a man.

As Hatter’s fist flew towards his porcelain face, March didn’t voice his last words; he didn’t want to hear them in that ridiculous accent.

Thank you, brother.

Chapter Text


To Make You Feel My Love, by Garth Brooks

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I would offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love

The evening shadows and the stars appear
There is no-one to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love

No you haven’t made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
Known it from the moment that we met
there’s no doubt in my mind where you belong

I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawling down the avenue
There ain’t nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love

Storms are raging on a rolling sea
And down the highway of regret
Winds of change are blowing wild and free
But you ain’t seen nothing like me yet

There ain’t nothing that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of the earth for you
To make you happy, make your dreams come true
To make you feel my love

It was a familiar dream, and Hatter walked through it with mixed feelings of anticipation and trepidation. Everything around him was fuzzy and hard to see, the colors and sounds blending into one another. Whenever he tried looking directly at something, it just blurred up even more and made his head ache. Luckily, the path he was walking was familiar as well; he didn’t need to worry about losing his way.

Hatter walked a fair distance before the Tea Shop wavered into view. Someone was sitting on the steps of the front porch and his heart pounded painfully in his chest as drew closer, crossing the pavement bridge. Even though he couldn’t see her clearly, he knew it was Lily.

He sat beside her on the step, their shoulders almost touching, and waited. She would speak soon, the only words she ever spoke in these dreams. Hatter longed to hear her voice, as much as he dreaded what she would say. With Lily he was always felt pulled in opposite directions, painfully so.

“You didn’t protect me,” Lily said finally. Her voice was flat and emotionless, the voice of a girl years dead. Yet still Hatter heard accusation, cutting at him like a knife.

He opened his mouth to apologize, to beg her forgiveness as he always did, but something happened. Something new. Something different. From the corner of his eye he could see that Lily’s blonde braids were bleeding to brown and smoothing as the curl left them.

“Would you like another chance?” she asked.

*o*o*o*

Hatter woke with a gasp, quickly disentangling himself from the arms of the girl sleeping beside him; she mumbled sleepily but didn’t wake. Without so much as a backward glance, he left the party room and went straight to his office. It was cooler in there, particularly since he wore only a pair of blue silk boxers, but he barely noticed. He fumbled around in the wardrobe for his little flask of Everything’s Fine and took a hearty swallow.

Clutching it to his chest with one trembling hand, Hatter sat down in his swivel chair and waited for the Tea to hit his stomach, where he knew it would burn hot for just a second before the calm began to spread. Only then did he set the flask on the desk and let himself relax.

The dream had changed. What did it mean? Like all Wonderlanders, Hatter put great stock in dreams and dreaming. That landscape, between asleep and awake, was the purview of the Cheshire. And that elusive creature was often credited with leaps of intuition and inspiration. Others thought that the Cheshire used dreams as a punishment, and Hatter had willingly taken his because he knew he deserved it. He hadn’t protected Lily and she had died. End of story.

But the dream had changed. What did it mean?

“Hatter?” The Tea Shop girl of the week – it took Hatter a minute or two to recall that her name was Dulcie – stood in the doorway, a pillow clutched in front of her to hide her nakedness. Her pretty blonde hair curled in ringlets across her shoulders.

“’s alright. Go back to sleep.”

“Do you have something to drink?” Dulcie asked. “My throat’s awful dry.”

Hatter reminded himself to put a carafe of water in the party room on Fridays; his special Teas often resulted in dry mouth for some reason. He’d have to look into it.

“Sales floor, behind the podium. You’ll find some water there.” He waved his hand dismissively. The girl studied him for a moment before turning and walking away, giving Hatter a very nice view of her plump backside. She’d been a good shag, but had almost no personality; he wouldn’t be inviting her back.

Hatter studied the flask on the desk, contemplating another pull, but with a sigh he merely tucked it back in its hiding place. He wondered if maybe he shouldn’t cut back on the Friday Teas; perhaps that was why his dream changed. One thing was certain – he was too unsettled to get back to sleep now.

*o*o*o*

It had been a long and unsatisfying couple of days, compounded on Hatter’s part by a lack of sleep. His latest delivery to the Resistance had been met with far less enthusiasm than it deserved, and he was getting distinctly tired of Dodo’s maniacal ravings. Tea Shop sales were holding steady, which meant the Queen was breathing down his neck demanding reports to show why more profit wasn’t coming in. By the time Dormie closed up shop, Hatter was bleary eyed and exhausted.

“You look like a week-old cream cake,” Dormie remarked when he popped his head in the doorway of Hatter’s office. “Get some sleep.”

“Yeah. Soon.” Hatter gestured to the accounting book on his desk. “You-know-who needs her reports.”

Dormie just shrugged. “See you tomorrow.”

Hatter turned his tired eyes back to the books, which were a headache on a regular day and even more so today. All of the numbers had to be altered to allow for Resistance skimming, but not enough to draw attention from the Queen’s accountants. It was a delicate balancing act and he just wasn’t up to it today.

With a weary sigh, Hatter folded his arms on the desk and rested his head on them. He just wanted to rest his eyes for a minute, but slipped off to sleep almost immediately.

*o*o*o*

“You’re using,” Lily accused. Hatter hunched his shoulders, guilty and defensive. He wasn’t about to explain himself to a dream. Particularly since she wasn’t even looking like herself now. Her hair was dark brown instead of honey blonde and there was a subtle change in her face as well, though without being able to see her clearly he couldn’t pin down what it was. The voice was all Lily, though.

“You can’t protect her if you’re using.”

“Her? Who?” Hatter asked, surprised. “I thought…”

But he didn’t finish that thought, because it was absurd. Lily had offered him a second chance, but there would be none, not for her, not outside of the dreams. He was flooded again with waves of regret.

“No more Tea, Hatter,” Lily said. Hatter got the impression she was glaring at him, though it was too hard to see. “You can’t fail this time.”

 

Hatter’s eyes snapped open and he froze, feeling the touch of a hand on his head. He waited to see if the touch would come again, and tried to sense if there was someone in the office with him, but there was nothing on either count. In one quick movement he shoved his chair back and spun out of it, hands raised defensively.

There was no-one in the room.

“Just part of the dream,” he muttered. He ran a hand through his hair, trying to shake the feeling of that touch out of it, and turned back to his desk.

There, sitting atop his ledger, was a long-haired grey tabby cat, wearing a collar with a small bell attached. It stared at him with golden eyes, seemingly not even blinking.

“Oi! Get your furry backside off my paperwork!” Hatter took a step towards the trespassing cat, then stopped midstep when the cat grinned. It was an impossibly large grin, showing off a mouthful of pointed teeth.

Between one blink and the next, the cat was gone. The only sign it had been there at all was a scattering of hairs on the ledger. Hatter couldn’t stop himself searching the office from one end to the other, but the cat was truly gone. And he couldn’t find a way for it to have gotten in.

Hatter was exhausted, but there was no way he was going to sleep now. Not with mad cats and Lily haunting him. He boiled up a pot of water for tea, and steadfastly got back to the books.

*o*o*o*

The next few days were difficult for Hatter. He’d not had any further dream visitations from Lily, but still her voice echoed in his head. Every time he’d gone for the flask of Tea in the wardrobe he could hear her scolding him, hear her telling him that he only had one more chance to get things right. And so he’d suffered through on his own, dumping the rest of the Tea down the bathroom sink.

Shaky hands, sweats, shooting pains – he’d had his share of Tea withdrawal symptoms. But he’d gotten through them, and found himself feeling a bit victorious when it was all through. Whatever he had to do, he’d do it without help, without drinking stolen emotions.

Hatter was completely himself for the first time in a long time when Ratty came knocking on his door with some story about an Oyster he’d found. It was ridiculous, of course; no Oysters ever just wandered round the City. The White Rabbit dosed each of them before even bringing them through the Glass, to prevent them escaping. Still, he humored the old man, if for no other reason than to break up a slow morning. He only regretted that he’d miss Dormie’s sales pitch for Clear Conscious, which was finally on the market.

When Ratty brought his find back into the office, Hatter had his back to the door. This was done intentionally, to show that he had better things to do and wasn’t at all interested in who might be coming through the door. In the years that he’d been running the Tea Shop he’d learned a lot of tricks for maintaining control and keeping others off balance. And yet he was the one who felt off balance as soon as he heard Ratty come back in from the sales floor. There was a change in the air, as if a static charge were suddenly dancing on his skin.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” he asked without turning round. He’d just made himself a fresh cup, sweet and strong. It was a toss-off question, really; no-one who came to see him wanted that kind of tea.

“No. Thank you.” The voice belonged to a woman. “Who are you?”

Whoever she was, she had nice manners. For some reason his mind conjured up an image of a dark haired woman with long hair, and he spun round in his chair, surprised to see just such a woman dripping water on his grass. She was soaking wet, wearing nothing but a soggy blue dress, red tights and completely impractical boots with a high heel. Her eyes were a startling shade of blue; the woman held his gaze, something not many Wonderlanders were want to do. He was instantly captivated.

“A friend,” he said, answering her question. “I hope. I run the Tea Shop.”

Ratty untied a dirty piece of cloth from the girl’s arm, turning it so Hatter could see the Glow. The tattoo curled up her arm like a bit of green vine and for a moment he was dumbstruck. She really was an Oyster! He’d never seen one like this, so aware and alive. Since he didn’t yet know her name, he mentally dubbed her The One Who Got Away. Something about her pulled at him and he got out of his chair. He stood in front of his desk, his back to Ratty and the Oyster.

“How’d you break out of the Scarab?” he felt compelled to ask. It was supposed to be a fool-proof system, how had she evaded it? And just what the hell did Ratty think he’d be able to do with her?

“The beetle thing?”

Hatter merely grunted, and turned to look at her again. She wasn’t as nicely rounded as the girls he usually spent time with, but she made an athletic build quite pleasing to the eye.

“I used my hairpin and…” She gestured to her clearly wet appearance.

“You fell,” Hatter surmised, smirking.

“As you can see, I’m drenched.”

Oh, yes, Hatter could see that. The little blue dress was clinging very nicely in certain areas.

“This place,” the Oyster said. “Where…what is it?”

“Oh!” Hatter gestured with both hands. “Wonderland.”

“That’s a story in a kid’s book.”

“Does this look like a kid’s story to you?” Hatter asked dryly.

“No.”

There was fear and uncertainty in those eyes, Hatter could see that plain as day. Did all Oysters wear their emotions so openly? He found himself talking, trying to put her at ease even as he drew closer to get a better look at her. He wanted to touch her, and so grabbed a magnifying glass from his desk. Had she been anyone else, he’d just do as he pleased, but this one was different; he’d have to tread a bit more carefully.

“It’s changed a lot since then,” he said.

“So you’re saying that it was real?” She didn’t believe, which wasn’t surprising.

“You Oysters don’t know how to find us…excuse me.” Hatter grabbed her arm and examined the Glow. He could practically feel the emotions on her skin, electric and alive. “You tell yourselves that we don’t exist and, quite frankly, we like to keep it that way.”

“Why am I an Oyster? This?” She lightly slapped the Glow on her arm. Hatter’s quick eye took in a flash of sparkle; there was a ring on the Oyster’s hand, a fancy ring. He filed that information away for future use.

“That’s not gonna come off,” Hatter said, smiling. “Sorry!”

The Oyster looked again at the Glow, then back at Hatter, her confusion obviously growing.

“Only people from your world turn green when burnt by the light,” he obligingly explained. “It’s the Suits’ way of branding their catch. And they call you Oysters because of the shiny little pearls that you all carry inside.”

Hatter returned the magnifying glass to the desk, but found he couldn’t stay away from her. She was like some kind of magnet, drawing him close.
“What do you mean, pearls?” This Oyster was full of questions.

“She’s Alice,” Ratty interrupted. “Tell him who you are.”

“Wow,” said Hatter. “Really?”

And wasn’t that just another interesting piece of information? He had a quick flash of memory, something about a mushroom and a little girl. Take care of her. Hatter shook it off, trying to focus on the moment at hand.

He walked round the Oyster, checking her from all sides. “Woooo,” he said, mockingly. It was for Ratty’s benefit; if he started spreading word that the Alice of Legend had returned there was no telling what the Queen would do, though odds were high it would be bad. And he’d be implicated. Hatter was starting to feel out of his depth, treading dangerous waters, and at the same time ever more intrigued by the Oyster in front of him. He put his arm around the smelly rat catcher.

“Ratty, here, thinks you’re Alice. Of Legend.”

“Who?” the Oyster asked.

“The last…um.” Hatter removed his arm, looked down in distaste at some greasy residue left on his fingers. “The last time a girl called Alice came here from your world she brought down the whole House of Cards. Oh, yeah. Made quite an impression. Although it was a hundred and fifty years ago.”

Hatter turned back to glare at Ratty. “It couldn’t be the same girl. Oysters don’t even live that long.”

“I still want a good price,” Ratty insisted.

“Wait a minute,” the woman said. “I am not for sale!”

Hatter held a finger up to keep her quiet, never taking his eyes off Ratty. This was business now, and he took his business very seriously. He headed back to his desk, casting one amused glance at the Oyster.

“Keep off the grass,” he said to Ratty. No-one was allowed back there but himself; he liked to keep the carpet nice and green. Hatter bypassed the desk and went to a shelf on the wall behind it. There were several bottles of Tea lined up there, unmarked. His special stash. Normally, a man like Ratty wouldn’t rate one of those bottles, but these were special circumstances. If he chose properly, maybe Ratty would get good and pissed and forget all about the Oyster he’d delivered to the Queen’s favorite Tea salesman.

Hatter contemplated the colors before him. The blue bottle of Sweet Dreams, perhaps? He picked it up, reconsidered. Put it back and grabbed the Victorious instead. Time for the showman!

“Here we are! Mmmm!” Hatter came back round his desk. “Pink nectar. Filled with the thrill of human excitement. Fifty Oysters were drained of every last drop of hullabaloo so that you, Ratty, can taste what it feels like to win. Just. Once.”

Ratty’s hungry eyes were locked on the bottle. Hatter felt obliged to add the standardized disclaimer as well.

“Warning,” he said, pulling the bottle out of Ratty’s reach. “Don’t drink on an empty stomach, and only one tiny drop at a time or else the experience might burst your shriveled up little heart. Got it?”

“Got it,” Ratty said anxiously.

“Good.” Hatter handed Ratty the bottle. “Go.”

Both Hatter and the Oyster watched Ratty go running back out of the office, his prize in his hand. Still feeling that bit of residue on his fingers, Hatter sniffed them and winced. Eau de Ratty.

“He really stinks,” he said conversationally.

“Oysters were drained?” This Oyster – Alice, Hatter reminded himself – sounded indignant. “What do you mean, drained?”

Hatter didn’t feel the need to go into that. It would take too long to explain and she wouldn’t understand it anyway. He decided to change the subject and headed back to his desk where his tea sat cooling. “Ratty tells me you’re looking for someone.”

“His name is Jack Chase. He was taken by a man with a white rabbit on his lapel.”

“I see. Hmm.” Hatter took a sip of his tea. He knew he didn’t have to explain anything, but found he couldn’t stop talking. “The White Rabbit is an organization controlled by the Suits. They travel back and forth through the Looking Glass and…vanish people from your world to ours.”

“Why?”

“To use. In the Casino.” As soon as he said it, Hatter knew he’d made a mistake. He’d brought Alice round to the Oysters again.

“Use?”

“Did I say use? Slip of the tongue.” Hatter set down his tea and stood up. He noticed that Alice was standing on his nice green grass, but he didn’t feel compelled to chase her off of it. “They’re fine. You know, they keep them…alive. And…moderately happy.”

That was the standard party line. He’d seen the Oysters, knew it wasn’t real happiness they’d been made to feel. However the Queen and her crowd justified what they were doing, Hatter knew it was wrong. They were people, with lives and families, and here they were treated as nothing more than cattle. And he was nothing more than a peddler of stolen lives.

“How do I get to this Casino?” Alice asked. Hatter laughed. What did she think she was going to do, just walk in and get her boyfriend back? It wasn’t just the Glow that marked this one an Oyster. He was used to dealing with people who knew how things worked here; he could see how easy it would be for Alice to make a terrible mistake in her innocent quest.

“That’s the thing. You don’t. Way too dangerous.”

And was that anger he saw now on the Oyster’s face? Her eyes narrowed and she glared at him. He should’ve shown her the door right then, let her fend for herself, but he couldn’t do it. Even angry, he found her incredibly attractive. It was that nebulous something at work again, and so Hatter started formulating a plan.

“But, I know some people. Who know some…well…other people. If you know what I mean.” Now he was right in front of Alice, clearly intruding on her personal space; another intimidation tactic. “It’s one of the privileges of owning a Tea Shop.”

Hatter popped the ‘p’, making Alice jerk back. Instead of feeling he had the upper hand, though, he was doubting himself. What was he doing? The longer this Oyster stayed in his Tea Shop, the better chance they both had of being dragged off to the Casino. And nothing good would come of that.

“Lighten up,” he muttered. Whether he meant Alice or himself, he wasn’t completely sure. Hatter had a plan in mind now, but there was something he had to do before he could take the Oyster out of the Tea Shop. He went to his glass wardrobe and opened the doors with a bit of theatrical flair.

“Ta da! You should wear this.” Hatter removed a purple velvet coat from the closet. It flared a bit at the waist and was clearly made for a woman. Hatter, a bit of a clothes horse himself, always kept some items on hand for the ladies…just in case.

“It’ll hide the Glow and stop you from catching a cold.” Hatter held the coat in his hands, but Alice just stood there looking uncomfortable.

“I have a little money,” she said. “But I understand you don’t use that here.”

“Pieces of paper?” Hatter exclaimed. “Pointless.” The currency of Wonderland was Tea and secrets, and she clearly had neither.

“Then why would you help me?” Alice asked, clearly suspicious of him again. Hatter walked round behind her.

“Do I need a reason to help a pretty girl in a very wet dress?” he asked quietly. He’d meant it to be flippant, but found that he actually meant it. He wanted to help her.
And if he worked it right, he might come out a bit better for it. Assuming nothing went wrong. Alice turned round, and the look she gave him got his ire up.

“Oh. I see. You don’t trust me. Fine!” Hatter slapped the coat down on his white couch. His reaction perplexed him, even as he ran with it. Why did he care if she didn’t trust him? She’d be a fool to trust anyone she’d just met, especially in Wonderland. Especially him.

“I am genuinely hurt,” Hatter said. “Do you know why they call me Hatter?”

Alice glanced up at his head. “Because you wear a hat?”

It was an innocent answer, and took him aback for a moment.

“No. It’s because I’m always there when they pass the hat. So to speak. Philanthropy. Generosity. You can call it what you will, it’s who I am. And right now, looking at you there, there’s nothing I want more than to help you find…” And now he was at a bit of a loss.

“Jack,” Alice supplied.

“Jack! And return you both to your charming world of children’s stories.”

“I don’t believe you,” Alice said. And was she smirking? This Oyster was smarter than he’d thought; he’d have to be careful.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Hatter said. “If I’m the frying pan, then that out there is the fire. I’ll be square with you. I know some people who like to help your kind. And if, every once in a while I scratch their back…”

“They’ll scratch yours,” Alice finished.

“Precisely. Lot of scratching.”

Hatter waited, and was rewarded for his quick thinking when Alice retrieved the coat and slipped it on. He had to admit it looked good on her, especially in contrast to that little blue dress. He was a bit concerned that he felt so pleased to see her wearing it, as if it marked her as his. Annoyed with himself now, he walked to the door behind his desk.

“Do try to keep up,” he said. He opened the door, revealing a breathtaking view of the city and a narrow ledge. Alice sighed, then joined him.

Hatter indicated a ladder off to the left. “We need to go down. Follow me.”

He ran the plan through again in his mind. It was fairly solid, assuming Dodo was feeling generous today. And if Alice was moving a bit slowly behind him, he really didn’t take much notice.

*o*o*o*

Hatter knew he’d made a mistake as soon as Dodo started talking. It had taken them forty-five minutes to get to the secret location of the Great Library, in part because Alice’s fear of heights made the going slow, and things had steadily gone from bad to worse. The worst of it was that by the time Duck had let them in the door Hatter had already started doubting his plan.

It should have been simple – drop Alice in Dodo’s lap, get his cut, and wipe his hands of the whole deal. If the Queen got wind that he was harboring an Oyster, she’d have his head…literally. If not that, then another trip to the Truth Room and he couldn’t do that again. But in that forty-five minutes he’d gotten to know Alice better. He’d seen glimpses of the woman that she tried to hide behind a mask of mistrust and disdain. And honestly, if anyone in Wonderland knew what it was to hide behind a mask, it was Hatter.

Helping her navigate the ledges was another ding in the kettle. Her fear was palpable, and he’d felt an overwhelming need to put her at ease, and keep her safe. And for that short time she’d trusted him implicitly; it was disconcerting to be honest. But a part of him reveled in it, wanted more. Somehow he’d started seeing himself as the hero.

He’d been floored to discover that Alice was wearing the Stone of Wonderland, and chagrined that he’d not seen it for what it was. If he’d known, he’d have made a different plan. Dodo, not one to put up with defiance, had decided it would be just as easy to kill Alice as to talk her out of the ring.

“Take her out,” he commanded, turning back to his desk as Owl trained her gun on Alice.

“Are you crazy?” Alice shrieked.

In Hatter’s mind he heard Lily’s voice at that same moment. Protect her. And so he put himself between Alice and Owl, fairly confident that Owl wouldn’t shoot him. He hoped that was the case, anyway, because even with the body armor he didn’t like his chances against her gun. Alice had nothing at all to protect her, though – he was it.

“Stop! Just wait,” he said. There had to be way to diffuse the situation.

“You’re in way over your head, Hatter,” Dodo said. Understatement of the year, Hatter thought to himself.

“Give me one second to talk to her, okay?” One second to make some kind of plan, more like it. Dodo’s response was to pull out a revolver, which he pointed at Hatter.

“It controls the Looking Glass. You know that.”

“Calm down. Put the gun away. I’m sure we can all get what we want here.” Diplomacy was never Hatter’s strong suit, but he’d talked his way out of dodgy situations in the past. He quickly glanced at the door, which seemed ridiculously far away just at the moment. He’d lost control of the situation, and that rarely ended well.

“No one is getting this ring,” Alice declared. Hatter shot her a look, willing her to stop talking. Couldn’t she see how the situation had deteriorated?

“We’ve been waiting years for a break like this, and now it just falls into our laps.” Dodo moved forward, gun still drawn.

“Stop waving that thing around, you’re scaring everyone!” Hatter tried to keep himself simultaneously between Dodo and Alice, and Owl and Alice. This was not going well. Protect her.

“If we can return the Oysters to their world, maybe we can save ours,” Dodo said, a righteous fire burning in his eyes now. Hatter knew there’d be no reasoning with him now, not when he was up on his high horse. Still, what else could he do but try?

“Just put the gun down!” Hatter’s priority now was getting Alice out of this mess in one piece. His Oyster, his responsibility.

“Just think,” Dodo said, impassioned. “The Queen reduced to mopping floors. It’ll be just like the old days. Justice. Reason. And the rule of law.”

Hatter did the only thing he could think of. Dodo was clearly going to fire that gun at someone, and he wanted to be sure it wasn’t Alice. He grabbed Dodo’s gun by the barrel, aimed it at his own chest. Time to put the body armor to the test.

“Stop this!”

The gun fired and Hatter flew backwards into a stack of books. It hurt more than he thought it would, so much more, like he’d been punched in the chest by his own sledgehammer fist. For a minute he couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.

“No!” Alice screamed.

“You shot Hatter!” Owl cried.

“We don’t need him anymore,” Dodo said. “The ring is our ticket out of here.”

Hatter struggled to come to his senses. He heard the sounds of a struggle, could hear Alice running away. Now he needed to make sure she made good her escape. Fumbling his own gun from the pocket of his leather jacket, Hatter fired it once in the air and struggled to his feet. He kept his left hand pressed to his chest, which was throbbing painfully.

“Leave her alone, or the next one will be aimed at your head!” Hatter kept between Dodo and the door, knowing there was no real threat from Duck or Owl.

“Look, Hatter, this is a game changer.” Dodo used a reasonable tone, acting as if he hadn’t just tried to kill him. “I’ll give you three times your price. Five. Ten! You name it.”

Hatter couldn’t keep his focus. Was Alice back to the bus? Was anyone coming behind him to help Dodo? He tried to look everywhere at once. Dodo was getting too close.

“Back off!” he barked, raising the gun so that it was pointed at Dodo’s face.

“If you let her leave with the ring, I’ll have every member of the Resistance hunting you down. You’ll be dead before tea time.” So much for reasonable.

“And that’s the thanks I get, huh? For keeping you bums fed and watered all these years?”

Hatter made the mistake of gesturing with the gun, which gave Dodo an opening to move in and grab it. He twisted Hatter’s arm up behind him, making pain flare in his shoulder and sending the gun flying. He was thrown to the ground and then Dodo was on the run after Alice. Hatter forced himself back to his feet and gave chase. He may not have his gun, but he still had his mean right hand.

Hatter caught Dodo up in the hall, tackling him from behind. He could see Alice on the bus, pushing levers and trying to find a way to get it moving. She had to get out of there, Dodo would kill her. Panic flared in his chest.

“Hatter!” Alice called from the bus.

“It’s the blue button!” Hatter grappled with Dodo, trying to land one good punch. Why wasn’t Alice leaving?

“Go, Alice! Press the blue button!”

Hatter got Dodo up against a pillar and finally got his punch in, only Dodo moved at the last second and it was the pillar that was cracked instead of Dodo’s face.

“Lucky,” Hatter breathed. And then he was on the floor, gasping for breath, after Dodo got him with a knee to the gut and another to the face. There was more punching until Hatter’s whole face was throbbing. He couldn’t tell if Alice had left – he hoped she had. Dodo wouldn’t risk leaving the Library, so she had a chance, however slim, if she could just get back outside.

She wasn’t gone. Hatter saw a flash of red leg as she kicked Dodo in the face, knocking him backwards. Hatter grabbed for his hat, pulling it safely to his chest; even after all these years it was still his favorite and most treasured possession. And then Dodo was lying beside him, thrown somehow on his back by Alice.

“Come on, Hatter!” Alice dragged him to his feet and pulled him down the hall towards the bus.

“How’d you do that?” Hatter wheezed, looking down at Dodo. Alice got him up the steps and dumped him on the floor of the bus. She smacked the blue button and sent them up, Dodo screaming in rage all the while. Before the bus even started moving, she was on her knees pulling at his shirt.

“How bad is it?” she asked, looking frantic. Hatter tried to catch his breath. His whole body hurt, and here was Alice poking at him besides. But she’d come back for him, when it would’ve been easier to save herself, and so once again Hatter was forced to re-evaluate this complex Oyster.

“Body armor?” Alice looked momentarily flustered as she looked at the bullet that protruded from the black armor that Hatter wore under his paisley shirt. “You’re not even wounded!”

Alice smacked him on the chest, which made Hatter wince in pain, and stood up. “You lied to me!”

Hatter couldn’t believe it. He’d just gotten himself shot for her and she was mad at him? “I was trying to help you!”

“By selling my ring?”

“I didn’t know it was the Stone of Wonderland, did I?”

“Well, you could have asked me before bringing me here!”

“You wouldn’t have come,” Hatter pointed out.

“You’re damn right I wouldn’t. He almost killed me!”

“Yeah, well he actually shot me!” Hatter pointed to the evidence on his chest. He couldn’t believe she was arguing with him about this. It’s not like he set out to purposely get her killed. Everything had gone sideways today, and he found himself wishing for a little Tea to help smooth out the rough edges this day had acquired.

“No. Tell me the truth. What is the Stone of Wonderland?” Alice stood above him, looking imperious. Hatter wished he could get up off the floor, but he just didn’t have it in him at the moment.

“It’s a big deal. It was mined by the ancient knights to power the Looking Glass, the door that connects our world to yours.”

“Knights?”

“They were all wiped out a long time ago by the Queen. She took the Looking Glass and, of course, the Stone.”

Alice looked at the ring, studying it as if it would give her answers. Hatter rubbed his chest, willing the aches and pains away. Was there no sympathy for the wounded hero?

“How did Jack get hold of it?” Hatter asked. But of course, Alice had no answer for that.

*o*o*o*

Once again Hatter had managed to talk Alice into sticking with him, after apologizing profusely for trying to sell the damn ring. He’d considered just leaving her to her own devices and getting back to his life, but beneath all that anger he could see how terrified she was. He could sympathize with that. And there was just something about Alice, some mix of fragility and strength that almost reminded him of Lily. He’d help her get home, any way he could.

They were in the midst of another argument, which Hatter secretly found quite amusing, when they rounded the corner to the Tea Shop. There was an unusual amount of activity on the front porch, and Hatter’s keen eye quickly counted the number of Suits. This was not good. In all his years running the Tea Shop he’d never been raided, and his professional pride was wounded at the thought of it.

“Stay close,” he said to Alice. They snuck forward until they were partially hidden by the red call box. Hatter seethed as he saw his clients being questioned, and he made an abortive motion to move forward when one man was carelessly tossed over the edge by some kind of creature with the body of a man and a porcelain head in the shape of a rabbit.

Ratty was amongst the group being questioned, and after seeing one man go sailing out into space he seemed more than eager to talk about the Oyster named Alice.

“You work with rats long enough and you turn into one, eh?” Hatter was angry. He couldn’t believe they’d tracked Alice back to him so quickly. Why had Ratty not gone straightaway to his hidey hole to take his Tea? More, he hated that his home was no longer safe. What were they going to do now?

“What is that?” Alice asked quietly. Hatter could only assume she meant Rabbit Head.

“Nothing I’ve ever seen before,” he admitted. Still, there was something oddly familiar about the way it moved. As it came down the steps Hatter felt his breath catch. “Wait. It can’t be.”

Or could it? He’d heard the rumors, heard how Carpenter was working on a way to reanimate the dead. That was the reason he’d hired one of the best thieves the Storehouse had to offer, and sent him on an extremely dangerous mission to breach the Casino. Hatter had paid him handsomely in return for March’s severed head, which had been much easier to transport than his whole body. Hatter had assumed that without his head he’d be unable to be reanimated. He’d been wrong. He closed his eyes for just a second, sickened and saddened.

Whatever else had been done to him, March still moved the same. Still wore the same clothes he’d been executed in. And somehow, despite the fact that he no longer had eyes, he’d spotted them. Cold fear coursed through Hatter’s veins, and he reached a hand back to assure himself that Alice was there. He’d not let March cut her up as he had Lily. Protect her.

Alice ran and Hatter followed her, through the rangy weeds that grew on the ledge. He turned back to look once, both horrified and filled with an undeniable sense of longing. He’d thought it impossible, but his old friend was alive, although a horrible parody of the man he once was. How much of him was still March? The sight of him moving steadily forward, Suits and Club following closely behind, finally spurred Hatter back into movement.

“What?” Alice asked, having come back when she realized he wasn’t with her.

“We should run,” Hatter suggested. “Run!”

Hatter suited action to words, quickly running past Alice. “Come on!” He led the way into one of the buildings. They ran down one hall, into another, and came to a skidding stop in front of an old wooden door. The paint on it was mostly faded, but Hatter could just make out what looked like a rabbit head, similar to the design used by the White Rabbit.

“Through here,” Hatter said. He opened the door, revealing a small, empty room, and led Alice across to another door. This one opened up to the outside, and Hatter experienced a momentary bit of disorientation as he always did when using one of the special doors. They were at the bottom level of the City now – the lake was right there in front of them.

“How?” Alice asked.

“Later.” Hatter looked back to see if he could see them following. He didn’t see anyone, but he could hear them coming.

“That way!” He pointed, setting Alice running again. They came to a makeshift dock that led down to a boat.

“My smuggling boat,” Hatter panted. “Quickly!”

Alice followed him onto the boat, and he moved directly to the outboard motor. He gave the cord a tug, with no response.

“Hang on, there’s a knack to this.” Hatter tugged the rope again. “Which apparently I’ve never learned.”

Alice, meanwhile, was struggling to untie the rope that moored the boat to the dock. Hatter jumped behind the wheel, turning the key. Still nothing.

“Come on!” he begged the boat, pounding on it for good measure. Finally, the motor turned over. Not a moment too soon, as the Suits arrived at the dock seconds after they pulled away. Hatter’s heart was and he had to resist the urge to turn round for one more look. He aimed the boat towards open water and opened the throttle.

*o*o*o*

Exhausted didn’t even cover the way Hatter was feeling. His life had gotten fairly sedentary in recent years and all this running about was killing him. March had pursued them across the lake, and was likely in the Forest right now tracking them. He’d had to save Alice, who seemed unable to avoid trouble, from the very Jabberwock that Hatter had hoped to use against the Suits. To top it all off, they’d encountered the last living Knight and were now hiding out at his camp.

It had been a long day.

Alice continued to be stubborn about Jack, not listening when Hatter tried to explain to her that rescuing him was too dangerous and she’d be better off going back home. He didn’t know anything about this boyfriend of hers, but there was definitely something off. No mere Oyster would be able to make off with the Stone of Wonderland. And foisting it off on Alice had been incredibly selfish.

Grumbling under his breath, Hatter sat with his back to a fence post and tried in vain to get comfortable. Charlie was already snoring away in his hammock, and Alice had been given the only bed; Hatter could have found a more comfortable place to spend the night, but he wanted to stay close to Alice. Just in case. He knew she must be just as tired as he was, but she lingered by the fire.

Hatter closed his eyes, committing to memory the way that Alice had looked by the firelight. He was attracted to her, no sense denying it. She was frustrating as hell, no denying that either. No matter what he said, she was determined to go her own way. Or maybe he’d just been surrounded by compliant Tea Shop girls for too long.

Tired as he was, Hatter didn’t let himself fall asleep until he heard Alice finally get into the old iron bed. He wondered what she’d do if he crawled in there with her, and just held her as he’d been wanting to all day. Would it be so bad to offer her comfort, and take some in return? But he knew that Jack would be between them, as he always was. He’d have to come up with some kind of plan in the morning, some way of getting her to listen to reason, but his brain flatly refused to let him think any more about it tonight.

“You didn’t protect me,” Lily said. Her hair had gone back blonde and curly, and Hatter realized he’d missed that. As best he could tell, with everything wavering and fuzzy, she looked like herself again as well.

“Sod off,” Hatter replied. He was tired and grumpy and had enough on his plate right now without the specter of his dead girlfriend making him feel guilty.

“Tell her the truth,” Lily said, nonplussed.

“About what?” But of course there was no answer to his question. Hatter leaned back on the Tea Shop steps. “She fights me on everything.”

“You’re all she has.” Lily sounded sad, and out of the corner of his eye he could see her frowning. “You have to protect her.”

“That’s what I’ve been doing!”

“Tell her how you feel.”

“It won’t matter,” Hatter sighed. “She doesn’t hear anything I say.”

Hatter was rudely awakened by a squawking crow, one that Charlie kept in a cage. It was very early morning; the light was pale where it filtered down through the trees. He stood and winced at the stiffness in his joints from sleeping sitting up all night.

“What was that?” he asked Charlie.

“That’s the early warning system. Someone has broken through the perimeter!”

Hatter looked over at Alice’s bed, saw it was empty.

“Where’s Alice?” he asked, panicking. Had they taken her right out from under his nose? Charlie merely babbled and ran around wielding a ladle.

“Battle stations! Sound the order of the seraphim!”

A flash of purple velvet caught his eye and he looked over to see Alice’s coat hung up on a ladder. Hatter understood instantly what that meant. She’d left, on her own, with the Glow out for anyone to see. She was trying to get caught! Panic was replaced by cold fear, and for a moment he thought he’d choke on it.

“No,” he said. “No!”

Stupid, stubborn Oyster! She had no idea what she was walking into! It was just another example of how naïve Alice was, how little she knew about Wonderland. Did she have a death wish? Hatter cursed Jack, and hoped he was rotting in hell. Whatever kind of man he was, and Hatter wasn’t thinking of him too highly at the moment, he was completely undeserving of Alice.

An image popped into his head of March straddling Alice, his knife at her throat, and for a moment he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, couldn’t think. Maybe he could catch her up in time. Maybe he still had a chance to save her.

“I need a horse,” Hatter said to Charlie.

*o*o*o*

Hatter wondered how much more he could take. How many more ways could he put himself on the line for Alice? He’d gone after her, rescued her from the damned Truth Room, and still – still! – she didn’t trust him. Didn’t take him at his word. He’d just risked a trip back to the City to try and get word to the top man in the Resistance, the only person he could think of that would help Alice. Only to come back to Charlie’s camp and find out she thought he’d cut and run.

“You still don’t trust me?” He hated how much that hurt him.

“How soon till he gets here?” Alice asked, changing the subject.

“Those guys can move pretty fast when they need to,” he replied. He turned, and caught sight of what Alice had been looking at. The Kingdom of the Knights was spread out before them, grand even in its decline. Once again Hatter felt the urge to do something, to put whatever meager skills he had to real use against the Queen. If he hadn’t been there for Alice, odds were even that she’d have ended up being harvested like all the other Oysters, and he couldn’t stand the thought of that. Someone had to stand up for them.

“You’re going to join them, aren’t you?” Alice asked. She was talking softly, like she was afraid of spooking him. “Fight alongside them?”

“I have to try. As Dodo said, I’ve lived my life playing both sides of the court.” Hatter wanted Alice to understand. “It was the only way I could stay alive. I made the Hearts think that I was working for them while I fed their enemies. Those days are over.”

Alice held his gaze, and Hatter could see himself reflected there. He sighed, wishing he could tell what she was thinking. They stood in silence for a few moments, looking at the crumbling chess pieces in the distance. The wind blew Alice’s hair, and Hatter had to stop himself from touching it. She’d brought him nothing but trouble, it was true, but he wanted her so badly. Wanted all the loyalty and trust that had been misplaced in Jack Heart.

“We should head back to camp,” Alice said finally. She shot Hatter a half smile, then headed back down the path. Hatter followed her in silence, content to walk behind her for a while. But then Alice came to a stop, absently rubbing the Glow on her arm.

“What’s the matter?” Hatter asked. Alice looked up at him and the vulnerability in her eyes shocked him. She’d dropped her walls and for the first time looked as lost and afraid as Hatter had known she must be.

“What will I do?” she asked him plaintively. “If I get stuck here?”

Hatter answered with complete honesty, not needing to think about it at all. “Then I’ll make sure you’re okay.”

Protect her. He’d been trying, so hard. Who was going to protect him from her? From the feelings he had for her, the desire that burned through him. Was it close proximity to her Oyster feelings that had his own in such turmoil? Alice looked at him with those beautiful blue eyes and he knew he was just as lost as she was.

Hatter carefully put his hands on her arms, moved closer. He watched those eyes, waiting to see if she would be afraid of what he was doing, but he saw no fear. His heart was pounding in his chest. Despite the number of girls he’d been with, this time he could feel himself on the cusp of making an actual connection, something he hadn’t had since Lily. His heart cried out for it, but he forced himself to move slowly.

“I think your luck is finally changing,” he said softly. And now Alice was moving towards him as well, and he was sure that he stopped breathing. Their lips were almost touching, he could feel her breath on his face, and then the moment was broken by the smooth voice of an intruder.

“That’s right, it is.”

Hatter and Alice both turned, startled. And there, like Hatter’s ill fortune personified, stood the Prince of Hearts.

*o*o*o*

It had all gone wrong, and somehow that seemed inevitable. Alice was gone, Charlie had run away, and Hatter was back in the one place he never wanted to be – the Truth Room. March, it turned out, had retained all of his hatred for Hatter, and had given him a good thrashing while the Doctors looked on. Soon they’d be having a go at him as well. Who would help Alice now?

While he waited on the Doctors, Hatter shut his eyes on the sickening, swirling green room. He didn’t want to see it. Didn’t want to see his sledgehammer hand uselessly tied to the chair he sat in. He tried not to think about where Alice was or what was being done to her.

His eyes popped open and he jerked his head when he felt something touch his hair. He didn’t see the Doctors, didn’t see anything but those green floating blobs all around him. But suddenly there was a husky voice whispering in his ear.

“Don’t let them in. She needs you still.”

“Who are you?” Hatter asked, his voice sounding strange to him; March had done something to his ear. Again he felt that hand in his hair, stroking it.

“I need you too.”

He couldn’t be certain, but for a moment he thought he heard…purring?

There was no time for further questions, because the Doctors finally made their big entrance and brought with them an electro-stick. They wasted no time sticking it in his side, and even on a partial charge the pain was incredible.

They asked him no questions, just cavorted around and shoved that damned stick at him, each time seeming to raise the charge until Hatter was screaming from the pain of it. Images started going through his head, random memories of March and April and Lily and Perry. So much left unsaid, so much unresolved. And then there was Alice. He’d been unable to help her, despite his best efforts. His best wasn’t good enough.

Hatter gritted his teeth, forcing the images away. He knew the Doctors would be able to pluck them from his mind, use them against him. He’d rather face the pain of the electro-sticks. To keep the memories away he started reciting poems and bits of nonsense, unconsciously rocking to try and ease some of his pain.

“Why is a raven like a writing desk? The clockwork’s not ticking properly. Maybe crumbs in the butter.”

“Tell me where the Great Library is.” March appeared out of nowhere, looking incredibly sinister with that stupid head. Hatter just glared up at him, wishing him dead…again.

“Yeah, I didn’t think you’d crack.”

Hatter almost laughed. Crack? He’d never felt so broken.

“Then there’s no reason to keep you alive.” March slid a wicked-looking knife from the sleeve of his coat. Hatter didn’t think of himself, he though of Alice. Who would take care of her? Who would get her home? Time for a new plan. There was no room for failure, not this time. And then he felt a new kind of pain as March started to recite the same child’s rhyme that he had the first time they’d met; he’d been saving Hatter’s life that time, and wasn’t that ironic. And horrible.

“Twinkle, twinkle little bat. How I wonder where you’re at. Goodbye, Hatter.”

March darted forward with the knife in his hand. Instinct took over and Hatter pushed himself backward, landing jarringly on his back. He used his unbound legs to kick March in the chest, and his aching ribs screamed at the jolt. While the assassin stumbled, Hatter swung out of the chair and used it as a shield. When Mad March came in again with the knife, Hatter turned at the last minute so that the blade cut through the bindings on his powerful right hand.

One brief flex of fingers and he brought that fist home in the center of March’s white porcelain face. The cookie jar shattered and Hatter grabbed a handful of electronic wires and gizmos, pulling them out and sending sparks flying.

March lay on the floor, headless and twitching. Hatter used his free hand to rip the bindings off the other, dropping the chair with a loud clang. He stood there a moment, trembling, aching and gasping for breath. He tried to feel something for March, but was too distracted by thoughts of Alice. How many Suits would he have to fight before he could get out, get to her? Where were the Doctors?

“Protect her,” he whispered. He had to help her; there was no other possible course of action, not for him. He would face the entire House of Cards if he had to. Thus resolved, Hatter took a deep, painful breath, and set about finding his way out of the Truth Room.

*o*o*o*

Hatter didn’t want to say goodbye. He’d put off coming to Looking Glass Hall until the last minute, hoping he’d think of something to say. Something that would explain to Alice why he had to stay and she had to leave. Wonderland was going through changes – new leadership, no more Tea. It wouldn’t be a safe place for an Oyster, especially one as well known as Alice. But when he saw her, the words flew right out of his head and he was left babbling like a fool.

Tell her how you feel.

He couldn’t do it. Alice didn’t belong here in his world, and he didn’t deserve to be in hers. There was a lot that Hatter felt he had to make up for, so many wrongs done in the service of the Queen. Besides, he had nothing to offer Alice. If he declared his feelings for her, and he dared not even put a name to them, what difference would it make? They were literally from two different worlds and there was no way of making things work, at least none that he could see.

And so he fumbled around for something to say and ended up saying all the wrong things until he was left standing there with the velvet coat in his hands, feeling as if his guts were being torn out. She never thanked him, or acknowledged all that he’d put himself through for her. There was nothing for him to hold on to.

“You know, you could always visit my world,” Alice said. “You might like it.”

Hatter wished he could go. Wished they could have the kind of life he’d always dreamed of for himself. He knew it could never be; he was destined to be alone. Oh, but she made him want more!

“Yeah. We could…we could do pizza.” Pizza? What was he even talking about?

“And lots of other things,” Alice said softly. Hatter only stared. What did that mean? But there was no time to ask, because a plastic-suited technician came to take her away.

“Really? I was just…”

Just what, he wondered. Just about to make a bigger fool of himself? He watched Alice, his Alice, stand before the Glass and knew this was the best thing for both of them. He just wished it didn’t hurt so much.

“Just force yourself to breathe,” the technician said. He might have been addressing Hatter as well, since he was holding his breath. The technician pushed Alice through the glass and then she was gone.

Hatter stood there, Alice’s coat crushed under his clenched fingers. He felt as if he were suffocating. He took one large, shuddering breath, then turned and walked away. He shrugged off Charlie, who came at him looking very stern, and went out the revolving door. He kept walking, for what seemed like hours, until his legs went out from under him and he sat in the middle of a ledge somewhere in the City.

He hugged himself and tried not to believe that he’d let go his last chance for happiness.

Chapter Text


Join With Us, by Feeling

Half Past Eight
And you're late
Coffee's cold
What a state
They've dragged you down
Fate's got you scraped
Work to death
Can't you turn them words around

The world is in your hands
The world is in your hands
The world belongs to those of us who still believe we can
And it matters what you do
Though they all look down on you
Cos it's better that you've come from nothing,
Than nothing comes from you

Don't make a sound
Count your pennies
Count your pounds
There's no way out
What will you do,
When all love gives up on you
Can't turn around

We've got a place and it's here for you
For all we ever wanted was a different view
I never knew somebody live with so much pain
If you open your heart come with us and we'll take you away

Come with us
Join with us

Hatter didn’t make a habit out of getting drunk, particularly since alcohol was not easily come by. But it had been a long week, he was tired, and Dormie had come into the office with a bottle of vodka in a frosted glass bottle. He didn’t spend much time with his manager, unless it was work-related, so he’d been a bit surprised when Dormie had plunked himself down in one of the chairs that faced the glass-topped desk and offered him one of the two shot glasses he held in one small hand.

Now, two hours later, the bottle was mostly empty and Hatter was feeling no pain. The Oysters were much better at making liquor and he appreciated the difference from the usual Wonderland rot-gut. He knocked back another shot, then leaned forward on the desk.

“You know what burns me?” he asked Dormie, who didn’t look nearly as drunk as Hatter felt. “I feel like I’m in that story. You know it? The ferryman?”

Dormie just shook his head.

“The ferryman. He was cursed, yeah? Pissed off someone, a witch or something, and had to spend eternity ferrying people from one side of the river to the other, never setting foot on solid ground himself.” Hatter set the shot glass on its side and rolled it back and forth across the desk. “Only way he could get free was if someone took up his oars. But no-one ever did – who’d want to, right? – and he was just stuck there forever.”

“Sad story,” Dormie commented.

“Not just a story for me. This bloody Tea Shop is my ferry. I’m trapped here and I’ll always be. Who’d want this job? The Queen’s errand boy. Her slave, to be honest.”

A part of Hatter knew he shouldn’t be saying those things, not to Dormie. If that talk got back to the Queen, he’d pay for it in pain. Top salesman he might be, but she didn’t let any acts of insubordination go unpunished. Still, it was a relief just to say it.

“You hate her, don’t you?” Dormie asked, a bit too casually.

Hatter just shrugged, ignoring the warning bells sounding in his head. “She’s ruined my life. And there’s nothing to be done for it.”

There wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to drown the bitterness Hatter felt. The Queen had taken away every good thing he’d ever had in his life – his parents, March, Lily, and his own self-respect. She’d made him kill for her, and he’d helped her make mindless slaves out of the people who clamored for Tea. And while others might envy the things he had, the things that Tea had provided for him, none was willing to take his spot. None was willing to be the Queen’s play toy.

“A toast,” Dormie said, pouring out the last of the vodka into the shot glasses. He handed one to Hatter. “To change.”

Hatter snorted. “Yeah. Change.” He knocked back the drink, and carelessly tossed the glass into the corner, where it shattered.

“Sweet dreams,” Dormie said with a grin.

“Wha…” Hatter gave his manager a blearily confused look before slumping forward on the desk with a thud.

*o*o*o*

Hatter came awake instantly, ignoring the stabbing pain behind his eyes in favor of figuring out where he was. He mentally cursed Dormie, who must’ve slipped something into that last shot; the sodding git would pay for that. Closing his eyes against the sickening spinning of the room, Hatter sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the cot he was lying on.

When he could safely open his eyes again, Hatter saw that he was in a small, windowless room. The only furniture was the cot and a wooden chair; both were bolted to the floor. The door was narrow and likely bolted as well. Hatter got unsteadily to his feet. He flexed his right hand, and smashed the chair into large, jagged pieces. He yanked one of the legs out of its bolt and brandished it; it would do as a temporary weapon. He didn’t have to wait long to use it.

There was a scrape of metal as the bolt on the door was drawn back. Hatter took up a defensive stance as the door swung out, revealing a young, blonde man, wearing black pants covered in pockets and a plain white shirt. He made no attempt to come into the room, just stood outside the door staring at Hatter.

“You don’t need that,” he said after a while. “No-one wants to hurt you.”

“Why the drugs then?”

“Merely precautionary. We need to stay off the Suits’ radar.”

“Who are you?” Hatter asked, keeping the chair leg pointed out. “White Rabbit? Resistance?”

“The latter, of course.” The man chuckled. “The White Rabbit isn’t known for their subtlety.”

Hatter heard sincerity in the man’s words, but he knew little about the Resistance and had no reason to trust them. He assumed a less defensive posture, but kept a firm grip on the chair leg.

“I’m unarmed. And if you’ll come with me, I’ll take you to see the man who can tell you why you’re here.”

“Who are you?” Hatter asked, cautiously making his way to the door.

“You can call me Perry.”

“Suppose you know my name already.”

Perry nodded.

Hatter weighed his options, and decided to see what the Resistance had to say. In Wonderland, information was a commodity. It was time to gather some.

*o*o*o*

Perry led Hatter down a non-descript hall, through an empty room that had vines climbing down the walls, and down yet another hall. There was an air of emptiness about the whole place that led Hatter to believe it wasn’t one of the Resistance’s normal haunts; likely they used it only when they wanted to “talk” to someone like him.

“Right in here,” Perry said, opening a door and gesturing Hatter inside.

Still clutching his chair leg Hatter eased inside, keeping close to the wall. The room was populated by a rusted metal desk, a moth-eaten sofa, and three people; two of them were armed, their guns pointed straight at Hatter.

“Ease down, guys,” Perry said. The woman, who wore big glasses and some kind of knotted cloth on her head, immediately lowered her gun. The old man didn’t put up his weapon until Perry put his hand on it and forced it down.

“It’s okay, Uncle.”

“And yet he is armed,” said the third man. Hatter immediately pegged him as the one in charge. He was a tall, solid-looking man in a long black leather coat, and Hatter disliked him almost on sight.

“Merely precautionary,” Hatter said. Perry laughed.

“Hatter, meet Dodo.”

“Hmmm.” Hatter tightened his grip on the chair leg. There was a gleam in Dodo’s eye that he didn’t like, an arrogance in his tone that rubbed him the wrong way.

“So you’re the infamous Hatter.” Dodo sat down behind the desk, the chair groaning under his weight. “I thought you’d be…more.”

Perry sat on the sofa, arms stretched out along the back, and watched the proceedings intently. The old woman and the old man continued to flank Dodo, though they seemed more nervous than anything else. Not the muscle Hatter would’ve expected for someone high up in the Resistance.

“Why’d you bring me here?”

“We had to be sure of your loyalties,” Dodo said, leaning forward across the desk. “Our man assures us you have no love for the Queen.”

That man could only be Dormie. He worked for the Resistance? All this time Hatter had assumed he was an inside man for the Casino. And now all of Dormie’s sleeping made sense; people would be less apt to watch what they were saying if they thought you couldn’t hear. His manager was far more clever than Hatter had given him credit for.

“We’ve been watching you, Hatter. You would be an excellent asset to the Resistance.”

“What makes you think I want anything to do with you?”

“We can offer you the chance of vengeance for your slain lover, for one.”

Hatter went absolutely still, though his hand was clenched so hard around the chair leg that his knuckles turned white. He didn’t like that Dodo knew about Lily, and liked even less that he thought he could use her for leverage. The Resistance held no real power, and he knew it. When he got his revenge for Lily, he’d do it personally and without anyone’s assistance.

“Not in the market for vengeance,” Hatter replied. He kept his voice even, though inside he was quivering in anger.

“You owe us,” Dodo said, his eyes narrowing. “As a replacement you’re almost nothing, but we can work on that.”

“And what is it you think I owe you, then?” Hatter asked, confused.

Dodo slapped his hand on the desk, the sound of it echoing like a gunshot. The old woman flinched.

“Her name was Swan, you sodding bastard!” He lurched to his feet, hands clenched into fists. “You broke her neck and never even knew her name!”

Hatter’s stomach clenched and he felt ill. He fought the urge to close his eyes, fought the urge to vomit. Swan. He could see her face, as clear as if it had been only yesterday. He could feel the bones in her neck snapping under his hand. His first kill for the Queen. The Suits had beaten him bloody to motivate him, and he’d never forget that pain either.

“I had no choice,” he said, hating the waver he heard in his voice. As excuses went, he knew it was weak. He’d had a choice, of course. Not a good one, but a choice. And none of it really mattered because she’d have been dead one way or another.

“She was invaluable to this organization,” Dodo said between clenched teeth. “And now we’re left with her murderer to take her place.”

“No. I want nothing to do with you or the Resistance.”

“We need your help, Hatter,” Perry said from the sofa. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “As a Tea Shop owner, you’re in a good position to get us supplies as well as information. And we need both.”

Hatter shook his head. Perry got to his feet and held his hands palm out in supplication. “You’re a good man, Hatter. You don’t deserve what the Queen has done to you, and neither do the people that we try to help. We can work this out so everyone wins.”

Dodo fairly beamed at the younger man. “Well said, Peregrine!”

“Perry,” he corrected with a sigh.

“How can we trust him?” the old woman asked tremulously.

“Because he wants to help us, Aunt,” Perry said softly. He held Hatter’s gaze. “Because he hates the Queen as much as we do, and probably more. Because doing something, no matter how small, is better than sitting back and letting her win.”

“The Resistance has no power,” Hatter said. He was feeling a bit desperate now, not wanting to be drawn in but feeling the pull of Perry’s words.

“We have more than you know,” Dodo said. “We have agents in places you couldn’t guess. We have control of the Great Library and the Hall of Doors. It’s only a matter of time until the right moment presents itself and we can remove the Queen from the throne.”

“And then what?” Hatter wanted to know. It was Perry who answered.

“Then we can replace her with someone who wants the people of Wonderland to start thinking and feeling for themselves again.”

“And the Oysters?”

“Back to their world, where they belong.”

It all sounded too good to be true. March had once wanted the same things, and Hatter knew how that had turned out. Still, a part of him desperately wanted to do something useful. He was tired of being the Queen’s pawn.

“Can I have some time to think it through?”

Dodo opened his mouth, presumably to say no, but Perry cut him off. “Of course. See you back to the Tea Shop, shall I?”

“Don’t forget who’s in charge here, Peregrine,” Dodo said with a growl.

“Of course not, Dodo. Just doing my part.” Perry flashed him a grin, then grabbed Hatter’s arm and steered him out of the room.

“Is he always so imperious?” Hatter asked. Perry laughed.

“It’s what makes him Dodo. You get used to it.”

“So what happens now? Bag over my head? More drugs?” Hatter didn’t want to clock Perry over the head with the chair leg, but he wasn’t about to be manhandled a second time.

“No need. As I say, I trust you.”

“Even though your boss doesn’t.”

Perry shrugged. “Dodo tends to overlook the better qualities in most people.”

“Seems to like you well enough, Peregrine.”

Perry gave Hatter a friendly shove. “He’s priming me for a top position in the Resistance. Has been since I was eight. Owl and Duck took me in when my parents were taken; they practically raised me.”

Hatter couldn’t help feeling that he and Perry had a lot in common. And wasn’t it funny the different courses their lives had taken. Perry was working on the side of good and Hatter was on the side of the Queen. At least that’s what most people assumed.

He followed Perry down the hall and then out a door onto the ledge. It took only a moment for Hatter to orient himself, to know where he was in the City. It wasn’t all that far from the Tea Shop, actually. Perry leaned against the wall.

“You know your way from here?”

“Yeah.”

“Go. I’ll be in touch in a couple of days.”

“Just like that?” Hatter asked, suspicious.

“Just like that.” Perry turned to go back inside. “Think it over, Hatter. We could really use you.”

“Yeah. Right.”

Perry just grinned and went back through the door. Hatter stood there a moment, unaware that he was smiling too, and then he headed back to the Tea Shop.

*o*o*o*

True to his word, Perry showed up at the Tea Shop in two day’s time. He came after hours and perched on the back of Hatter’s white sofa, watching as Hatter finished up the day’s accounting. His bright blue eyes scanned the room, taking everything in.

“This is nice,” he commented. “How do you keep the grass so green?”

“Are you here for gardening tips?” Hatter asked, stowing his account book.

“No need to be so prickly,” Perry said with a grin. “You know why I’m here. If you want me gone, all you have to do is tell me what you’ve decided.”

Hatter reached behind him for his kettle. “Cup of tea?”

“Thanks.”

Perry leapt off the sofa and settled into one of the chairs facing the desk. He accepted the clear glass cup from Hatter and sipped it appreciatively.

“This is good. Where’d you get it?”

“I’ve my sources.”

“Ooh, so secretive.”

They both sipped in silence for a moment. Hatter studied Perry, a bit jealous of his easy manner and seemingly carefree attitude. He’d been like that once, before circumstances had taken the ease from his life. He hadn’t realized how much he missed that.

“You’ve decided then?” Perry asked after a while.

“Yeah.”

“Do I have to guess, or can you just tell me?”

Hatter chuckled. “I’ll give it a go with the Resistance. I don’t like it, I’m out.”

“Fair enough.”

“So, is there a ceremony or secret handshake or something?”

Perry laughed. “Nothing so exciting, trust me. We’ll tell you our needs, you meet them, and if we find you trustworthy we’ll show you more of the operation.”

“And what do I get out of this arrangement?” Hatter asked. He already knew what he was going to ask for, had known the minute Dodo had mentioned it; it was probably the largest consideration in his decision making.

“Aside from the satisfaction of serving the greater good?” Perry asked with a smirk. “Did you have something in mind?”

“Dodo said you control the Great Library.”

Perry nodded, waiting.

“If I help you, which puts me at great risk I might add, I’d like access to the books.”

“Books? Really?” Perry looked thoughtful. “Unexpected. But certainly doable.”

Hatter felt a bloom of pleasure. He’d always enjoyed reading, and the few books he’d managed to acquire had been read and re-read countless times. They weren’t easily come by in Wonderland these days and the idea of having access to a whole library was unimaginable.

“Then I believe we have a deal,” Hatter said.

“I believe we do. Welcome to the Resistance, Hatter.”

*o*o*o*

It was two months of supplying the Resistance before Hatter was allowed to be shown the Great Library. He and Perry had just finished unloading a pallet of stolen meat tins and were sitting side by side on the ledge, sharing a glass bottle full of water.

“Not a bad day’s work,” Perry said. It was a particularly hot day and he used his arm to wipe the sweat from his forehead.

“Wish it wasn’t so hot.” Hatter fanned himself with his hat.

“I know someplace we can go that’s nice and cool.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Come on.”

Perry gave Hatter a hand up and led him down the ledge. They walked in companionable silence, passing the water back and forth. When they came to a ledge marked by a long line of identical blue doors, Perry stopped.

“Do I even have to mention how super secret this part is?”

“Yeah, I know. If I tell anyone, you have to kill me.” Hatter put his hand over his heart. “You have my solemn vow of silence.”

Perry rolled his eyes. “Very dramatic. Follow me.”

Choosing one door amongst the many, Perry knocked on it and waited with his arms crossed. A panel in the door slid open and part of a face peeked through; even from where he stood Hatter could tell that it was Duck.

“The time has come to talk of many things,” the old man said.

Perry winked at Hatter. “Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.”

The viewing panel slid shut and the door opened, revealing Duck in his green military garb. Perry nodded his head, and Hatter followed him onto the bus elevator.

“Afternoon, Uncle,” Perry said. He flopped down into a seat and Hatter took the one across from him. His eyes took in everything that Duck was doing, and he saw that operating the bus was really quite simple. He filed that information away; never knew when it would come in handy.

The ride down was alarmingly swift, but blessedly short. When the bus stopped Hatter started to get to his feet, only to be thrown back against the window when the bus jerked. Perry laughed.

“Nug face,” Hatter grumbled, rubbing the back of his head.

“Come on, you’ll like this.” Perry practically pushed him off the bus.

The building they were in was beautiful; Hatter had never seen the like. Warm, creamy marble railings and columns, deep red carpet. Everything looked new and shiny. And then it all vanished when Perry put his hand over Hatter’s eyes.

“Oi!”

“Oh, come on Hatter. Let it be a surprise.”

Perry led him to the railing; Hatter ran his hands over the cool marble, loving the feel of it. He could tell Perry was excited; the other man was practically humming with it.

“Hatter…welcome to the Great Library.”

Perry pulled his hand away and Hatter gaped. Below him were more books than he ever dared believe existed, in countless stacks and piles. Some of the stacks were a story high or taller. There were people down there amongst all those books – standing, sleeping, carrying on conversations with each other.

“Bloody hell,” Hatter murmured. He wanted nothing more than to vault over the railing and dive into all those books; so much knowledge, just sitting there. Perry laughed.

“Closer look?”

“Oh, yeah.”

Perry led Hatter to a wide stairway, adorned with more red carpet and brass handrails. Hatter had to stop himself from running, though every step seemed to take an eternity. When they got down to the bottom floor, Hatter stopped and took a deep breath. The musty smell of books permeated the air down there, along with the rich scent of leather bindings. For a moment he just closed his eyes and drank it all in.

“Dodo says you can take three books today. And then a regular exchange will take place – books for supplies, that sort of thing.”

“There’s so many,” Hatter said. How would he pick only three out of such a vast supply?

“This is over five thousand years of Wonderland history. Art, literature, law…everything. The Queen would love to see this burnt to nothing.”

“How did this all get here?”

“The Resistance rescued it when the Queen came to power. Wasn’t easy, and it took some time, but almost the entire library was moved here. You understand why it has to be kept secret.”

“And these people?” Hatter asked. Up close, he could see that many of them had a lost, hopeless look in their eyes. “Refugees?”

“Got it in one. They have no place to go, so they stay here. Your supplies will help us help them.”

Perry clasped him on the shoulder. “You take a look round, I’m going to check in with Dodo. His main office is here, on the floor we came in on.”

Hatter waved him off, his attention on the books. He grabbed one at random, and flipped through it. It was a cookbook and his mouth watered at the descriptions of fresh meats and pies. He grabbed another, this one a comprehensive listing of flora and fauna in the Forest of Wabe. He sank to the floor, surrounded by books, and spent the remainder of the day reading until his eyes started to burn.

*o*o*o*

Three weeks later Perry called on Hatter for some help moving supplies from one safe house to another after dark, in exchange for more books. Hatter was all too eager to agree, and not just because of his payout. He genuinely liked Perry, and the two had been spending time together outside of Resistance duties. It had been a long time since Hatter’d had a friend, and Perry was very easy to get on with.

“Why the move?” Hatter asked, loading up backpacks with tins of juice and dried fruits, and bags of rice.

“We move locations regularly. Keeps them from pinning down our location.”

That made sense to Hatter and so he helped Perry make several trips back and forth, with only the moon to light their way along the ledges. There were more people out now, using the cover of darkness to carry out their secrets, and none of them paid any attention to Hatter and Perry. People in Wonderland were very good at minding their own business.

“We should go to that new dance club tomorrow,” Perry said as they returned for the last of the supplies. “I hear the girls there are…impressive.”

Hatter smirked. “You think all girls are impressive.”

“Just the naked ones!”

They shared a laugh, until Perry held up his hand. They came to an abrupt stop a few feet from the safe house. The door hung open, a gaping black hole in the side of the building.

“We’ve been compromised,” Perry said. And then the night exploded in gunfire as Suits erupted from the open door.

Hatter and Perry both pulled pistols, but they were outmanned and had nowhere to go for cover. Three Suits fell, but there were more to take their place. Perry moved in front of Hatter, acting as a human shield.

“Go! Quick, before they see you!”

“Not without you!” Hatter tried to push Perry aside, looking for a shot. He could hardly see, half-blinded by all the muzzle flash.

“It’ll be bad for you! Just go!”

“Move!” Hatter bellowed, trying to shoulder him aside.

When Perry finally did move, it was backwards into Hatter, knocking them both off their feet. Hatter scrambled to his knees, trying to see how badly Perry was injured. His heart slammed in his chest; no matter where he touched the other man, his hand came away wet with blood.

The Suits had stopped firing and were making their way slowly forward. Hatter knew they didn’t have much time. He tried to get Perry to his feet, but he cried out in pain.

“Go,” he gasped. “Don’t…get caught.”

“Not without you!” Hatter tried to sound firm, but it came out more like pleading. “Why the hell didn’t you move?”

“Freeze! In the name of the Queen of Hearts!” The Suits were almost upon them and Hatter didn’t know what to do. If he got caught, he’d be lucky to be beheaded; the more likely scenario involved lots of painful torture at the hands of the Doctors. He fired, wild shots that sent the Suits scurrying back for cover. He fired until his pistol clicked empty.

“Hatter…” Perry’s voice was barely a whisper now. “Keep…fighting. Don’t…let her…win.”

“Perry.” Hatter swallowed his regret, his sadness, his rage. He pressed a quick kiss to his friend’s forehead, then got up and ran, shots ringing out behind him. He ran until he couldn’t hear anyone following him, ran until his breath gave out. And when he couldn’t run anymore, he dropped down on his hands and knees and screamed his loss into the dark.

*o*o*o*

“You have a lot of nerve, showing up here.” Dodo’s face was thunderous, but Hatter refused to be cowed by it. It had been two days since the shootout with the Suits, two days since Perry had given his life for Hatter. He was determined to honor his friend’s last request.

“What happened wasn’t my fault,” Hatter said.

“Peregrine was worth a hundred of you,” Dodo snarled. “Funny how my best people seem to die around you.”

When Dodo pulled his pistol, still Hatter didn’t move. The Resistance needed him, no matter how the man felt; he felt sure he wouldn’t shoot. What he wasn’t expecting was for Owl to move between him and Dodo, her tear-streaked face set in firm lines.

“No.”

“Peregrine was like a son to you, Owl. This man is nothing.”

“No,” Owl said again. “He was Perry’s friend. Perry trusted him, gave his life for him. He stays.”

Dodo scowled, but he put up his gun. Hatter fought to swallow against the lump in his throat. Without another word Dodo turned and walked away, his very stride radiating anger. Hatter let out a breath he didn’t even know he’d been holding.

“Thank you,” he said. Owl turned and put a hand on his chest.

“I know you would’ve saved him, if you could,” she said. Then she left as well. Hatter made a mental note to keep Owl and Duck as well supplied as he could. He’d take care of them in Perry’s stead. And despite his misgivings, he’d stay on and work with Dodo. He was no replacement for Perry, but he could still do his part. So long as he still got his books.

As Hatter made his way back to the bus, he decided that the next time the Storehouse was open, he would negotiate for some body armor. He’d not let anyone else take a bullet meant for him.

Chapter Text


Unwritten, by Natasha Bedingfield

I am unwritten
Can't read my mind, I'm undefined
I'm just beginning
The pen's in my hand, ending unplanned

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words
That you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin

No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips

Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

I break tradition
Sometimes my tries are outside the lines
We've been conditioned
To not make mistakes, but I can't live that way

The rest is still unwritten
The rest is still unwritten

David couldn’t sleep. His daddy would be home tomorrow for three whole days and he had a thousand things running through his mind; things they could do together, places they could go, things to talk about. He especially wanted to show off the new card tricks he’d learned. He wished his daddy didn’t have to work so much at that dumb old Casino.

“Are you still awake?” Mommy asked from the doorway.

“I’m trying to sleep,” David said, and squinched his eyes shut. His mommy laughed and he grinned; he could always make her laugh. He thought she was the prettiest lady in all of Wonderland, even when she was scolding him. Her eyes were brown, like his, and her hair was something Daddy called strawberry blonde. David didn’t think her hair looked anything like a strawberry – more like the sky when the sun first came up in the morning - but he liked the way she braided the sides and coiled them around her head.

She came in and sat on the edge of his bed. “Would you like to know a secret?”

David’s eyes opened wide. A secret? No-one had ever told him a secret before. Well, not a real one. Benny was always trying to tell him secrets, but they were usually about stupid stuff like what he had for lunch. He was sure his mommy had much better secrets than that.

David snuggled back under his blanket. His mommy tried to smooth out his hair, which was always sticking up from his head in crazy spikes; he liked the way her hand felt on his head and didn’t remind her that nothing she did was going stop it from spiking.

“Now,” his mommy said in her serious voice. “This is a very special secret. Not even Daddy knows this secret, and you mustn’t tell him.”

David puffed out his chest. A secret Daddy didn’t even know? Boy, did he feel special! His mommy must really trust him, to tell him something like that.

“I won’t tell, I promise!” He crossed his heart and kissed his pinky, making his mommy laugh again.

“All right. I know you won’t break a pinky promise.” His mommy pressed a kiss to his forehead. “When you were still growing in my belly, I had a special visitor in my dream one night. Can you guess who it was?”

David didn’t have many dreams, but every kid knew who the dream visitor was. “The Cheshire?” No-one in his admittedly small circle of friends had ever been visited, but they spoke of the Cheshire like he was a boogeyman.

“That’s right. And do you know what the Cheshire told me?”

David shook his head, but he was dying to know. Suddenly keeping a secret didn’t seem as much fun; his friends would never believe that his own mommy had been visited by the Cheshire!

“The Cheshire told me that my baby – that’s you – would be very, very special.”

“He talked about me?” David asked, incredulous. What could the Cheshire know about him before he was even born? His mommy smiled down at him.

“That’s right. He told me my baby was going to be a boy, and that he would be very important one day. He said you were part of a long, distinguished line – the Hatters. Do you know about the Hatters?”

David shook his head. Hatters? Did they all wear hats? He knew a lot of men who wore hats, but his daddy wasn’t one of them. He said he had so few chances to be outdoors, and he wanted to feel the sun on his head.

“The Hatters have been a part of Wonderland since the first dawn on the very first day,” his mommy said softly. “They protect the land, and the people. Like the Hatters that came before you, one day you will do great things, David.”

“What kind of things?” David asked. He couldn’t believe the Cheshire thought he was so important. He wished he could tell Benny, maybe then he’d stop picking on him because he was so small.

“I don’t know, sweetheart. Maybe the Cheshire doesn’t even know. But I want you to know something. Are you listening close?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“Whether or not what the Cheshire said comes true, I want you to know that you will always be the most important person to Daddy and me. Nothing will ever change how much we love you.”

“Really?” Hatter asked.

“Really really,” his mommy replied. She kissed the tip of his nose. “Now try and get some sleep. Tomorrow, when Daddy comes home, I think we’ll all take a picnic at the lake.”

“A picnic? I love picnics!” David grinned his biggest grin, flashing his dimple. His mommy laughed.

“I know you do. But we’re not going anywhere unless you get to sleep, little man.” His mommy stood up and fixed his blanket, tucking it in around him.

“I love you, Mommy,” David said.

“I love you too, sweetheart.”

David tried hard to fall asleep, but now his mind was whirling more than ever. He wondered what big, important thing he would do for Wonderland. Would he fight in a battle? Be the hero? He found the idea very exciting, and started imagining himself dressed as a knight and battling an army. Or better yet, a big Jabberwock. And instead of a helmet he would wear a big hat, because he was a Hatter. No, the Hatter.

Right in the middle of imagining his hero’s banquet, David fell fast asleep. And though he had no memory of it afterwards, he too was paid a visit by the Cheshire, who told him all his dreams would most certainly come true.