: None of it's mine. Just the plot.
Hatter walked back to his shop, despite the insistence of the doctor at the Hospital of Dreams that he secure a transport. On foot, the journey through the twisted, convoluted pathways of the dregs of the city took about an hour. But he needed it. He needed the solitary exertion to pacify the chaos growing in his heart and mind. His thoughts were a rolling jumble of frustration, worry, and, loathe as he was to admit it, jealousy. How he detested that insidious emotion, one of the many he had never truly experienced up until recently. It was completely irrational; it did not make a whit of sense that he should still be feeling jealous of Jack. And he trusted Alice. He believed her when she told him that things were over between her and the Heart.
Truth be told, he did not even have the right to feel jealous. He and Alice had never reached a full consensus on just what was going on between them. She was not really
his, though it certainly felt like it. There was, as of yet, no relationship beyond friendship. How could there be? Sooner or later, she would leave this world to return to her life of battling bloodsuckers and demons. His gut clenched up, dismayed not only by the idea of being separated from her, but also at the idea of the perils she would be returning to. What if something happened to her on that treacherous hellmouth she lived on? He would never know. Every second she spent back in her world, he would be spending here worrying and wondering, tormented in his mind by all the possibilities. How could he function like that?
For so long he had never had anyone but himself to worry about. Life was so much simpler, so much less stressful that way. But there was no going back to how things used to be. Alice had changed him in more ways than one. She had shown him the difference between truly living and merely existing. Since life had cruelly spat him out into the unforgiving streets of Wonderland as a young lad, he had just existed. With her, he had begun to live.
He shook himself out of those thoughts, knowing he needed to be on his guard now more than ever. But he did not encounter a soul en route to his shop. Perhaps the denizens of the city were in shock, not yet fully used to the idea that the casino and the tyrannical Queen of Hearts were gone. He wondered where his former patrons were lurking, not to mention what exactly would be done about them. Not everyone would take the news of the queen's downfall with jubilation. There were those who relied on the teas Hatter had doled out as a normal person relied on food for survival. They needed it just to get through a single day, and now that they were slowly being forced to face up to a rather harsh reality, they were likely to get desperate to secure an escape through a fix.
The Tea House was still standing, which proved to be somewhat of a surprise to Hatter. The door had been knocked clear off its hinges, taking some of the frame with it. That must have been Mad March's doing, and he had probably done that for no particular reason at all other than to feed his destructive nature. The windows had also been busted, littering the front porch with sharp shards of glass amidst the splintered remains of the door. He took a deep breath and mentally prepared himself for the carnage bound to be discovered inside. This place had served as his home for quite a few years, sheltering and earning him a steady income while many others had floundered.
He treaded cautiously; ever aware that there might be looters indoors, trying to lap up what remained of his most likely ruined tea stock. But the once noisy, crowded room was now silent and empty. Not a single chair and table had been left standing. Dormie's podium was likewise overturned and the blackboard which had displayed the fluctuating worth of all the various emotions had been cracked in two. The shelves which had displayed hundreds of different tea flavors had been totally cleared, the fluorescent lighting flickering weakly in a few spots and completely burnt out in others. The trampled grass was damp and stained with the various colors of all those elixirs. He was not certain if the bottles had been broken by the Suits or by looters afterwards. It did not matter now. There would be no more business in Tea.
His office was in the same disastrous state, and there had definitely been some thievery. He was peeved to see that his gloriously comfortable high-backed chair had been stolen. Walking further into the room, he clenched his fists in confounded fury when he saw that the sofa had been taken as well.Rat bastards…taking all my nice furniture
, he fumed to himself. His wardrobe had been partly emptied as well, with the few coats left behind strung out all over the trampled grass. He supposed he should have seen that one coming since he had made no secret of his penchant for fashionable clothing. Thank whatever gods there were most of his clothes, including his precious hat collection, were safely stowed downstairs in his own private nook. That is, unless his luck was really horrible and someone had discovered the hidden trap door. But he had paid handsomely to have an iron-clad security system installed so he could have his own sanctuary, and even if someone had discovered the secret door, he would not have known the code to unlock it.
For his own peace of mind, however, he went over to a patch of grass which was slightly lighter in shade than the rest and unrolled the mat of fake grass, exposing a shiny chrome rectangle with a little keypad above the handle. There were no marks on the door to show that someone had attempted to tamper with it. He stared at the door indecisively for a moment and then, with a few quick glances around, punched the code into the pad and opened the door. A staircase plunged into darkness, but once Hatter descended a few steps, the motion sensor lights flickered on. The small, hidden apartment lit up, and the young man breathed a profound sigh of relief when he saw that his actual living space remained undisturbed.
It was small, but it was more than enough room to house a single man who led a busy life. There was a large, four poster canopy bed, the cobalt drapes tied with golden knotted cords around the posts. The thick blue and black striped blanket was rumpled, his pillows strewn aside. Up against the wall across from his bed were two large cedar wardrobes, one for his supply of trousers, underclothes, shirts, and shoes—the other for his hats. Bookcases lined the walls, filled to the brim with books. Even some of the walls had shelves built into them to fit more books and knickknacks.
Hatter pulled his hat off and hung it on the coat rack by the staircase that led up to his office. That was his lucky hat and it had seen quite a bit of action in the past few days. If he and Alice did somehow manage to make things work, he had a feeling his life would get considerably more interesting.
The hat seemed to have survived all the past days' exploits remarkably unscathed, which was more than could be said for his jacket and his poor ruined shirt. The brown leather was ripped and scuffed, one of the buttons torn completely off. He peeled off the ragged silk shirt, holding the fabric in his hands and staring at it despondently.Get over it, mate, it's just a shirt…at least you're alive to care about it.
Thick white bandages peppered his torso, concentrated in his midsection where the Tweedles had used the electric prod most. They had taken his body armor and now it lay somewhere buried beneath the wreckage of the Happy Hearts Casino. It was probable that he would soon be in the market for a new one. He tentatively prodded the bruise on his upper left side just under the collarbone, the hallmark of his meeting with the end of Dodo's gun. It still felt relatively sore, but certainly not as painful as just a few days ago. He may not have boasted fancy Slayer-paced healing, but he did well enough on his own.
Throwing the shirt on one of his chairs, he strode to the kitchenette and pulled out his much beloved tea kettle. "I think I've earned this," he said to no one in particular and began to brew himself a cup of tea.
After that gloriously refreshing cup of green tea along with some bread and butter to soothe the growling of his stomach, he took a quick shower. Throwing on some black trousers and another silk button down shirt with a dark purple and gold checkered pattern, he reluctantly headed back up to his ransacked office.
This time someone was up there, and he nearly caused the diminutive figure of Dormie to keel over in heart failure when Hatter made his presence known.
"Arrrgghh!" the little man shrieked, clutching at his chest and jumping an impressive distance into the air. His barrel chest heaved alarmingly when he finally looked at him. "Hatter! You're alive!"
"Last time I checked, yeah," Hatter replied in bemusement as he shut the door and covered it with the grass mat. Dormie knew about his room down below, he just did not know how to get in. Hatter preferred it that way.
"I just thought, you know, with the casino falling…" Dormie lapsed into silence, sheepishly glancing around. Then his homely face split into a wide grin. "But it's great, seeing you! I mean, I was worried sick."
The last time Hatter had seen his wee friend had been two days ago when he had sent him off with that message to meet with Caterpillar. He had not given much thought to what Dormie had been doing with his time in between then. More than likely, the miniature man had been laying low in terror of the queen's servants or irate tea patrons.
"Geez, boss, what did they do to you in that place?" Dormie squeaked, his eyes round with horror when he noticed the colorful assortment of still-healing bruises and cuts on his face.
Hatter brushed his finger against a cut on his temple and then shrugged dismissively. "Nothing that'll kill me, mate. Just a few cuts and bruises, is all. Takes more than that to take down me!" He shot his small friend a smile full of more cockiness than he felt, but it served to ease Dormie's distress.
"Word was you had gotten captured. We thought you were a goner after that," said Dormie. He waddled over to where one of Hatter's jackets lay sprawled on the grass and picked it up, brushing off the errant green blades which stuck to the suede material.
Ignoring the twinges of pain from the burns and bruises scattered over his torso, he crouched down to help his friend pick up the remainder of his fine coats.
"How did you get out?" The question was followed by a huge yawn.
A small smile ghosted over Hatter's face. "Well, I ran out the door, of course. Didn't care much for a building collapsing on top of me. I had some good friends inside, though. I wouldn't be here talking to you now if it hadn't been for them."
They hung up the coats in the glass wardrobe, which was miraculously still standing and in one piece. They then set to picking up the paraphernalia surrounding the desk and arranging it back on the desk in a semi-orderly fashion.
"So, uh, guess we're out of business now, aren't we, boss?" Dormie intoned somewhat mournfully.
Hatter glanced down at the stack of papers he had returned to the desk detailing some of the various business matters pertaining to the Tea House. His gaze then swung over to his friend. "It's for the best, Dormie."
"What're we gonna do now?"
Hatter did not have an answer for that. He had no idea what he was going to do with his life now that both of his positions as an undercover Resistance agent and running the Tea House were extinct. For the past decade, all he had been trying to do was keep his head afloat (and upon his shoulders). He had never dared entertain dreams of doing anything else. And, now that Alice had come into his life and turned it completely upside down, he was even more dubious of his future than ever. All he knew was that he did not want a future where that intractable, beautiful oyster girl was not a part of it.
"I don't know, Dormie." He massaged the bridge of his nose. "I guess we'll just clean this place up a bit and brainstorm about what else we could do with it."
He did not notice Dormie's eyes slide over to the front of the office down the beaten dirt pathway. "Uh, Hatter?"
"What with the old tea being obsolete now, we'll just have to find some other kind of product," Hatter droned on, completely oblivious to Dormie's attempts to grab his attention. "I mean, this opens up a new world of possibilities, mate. We could do lots of things we couldn't have done before under the old regime…"
"Hatter." Dormie started tugging on his shirt, pointing towards the front of the office. "I think you have a visitor."
"Hmmm?" Hatter peered at his small friend and then, noticing the direction of his attention, turned his gaze to the front door of the office.
Alice was standing there, leaning up against the doorway with an enigmatic smile upon her face. She was once again wearing the blue dress and purple boots along with the purple velvet coat he had given her all those days ago when they had first met. The raspberry-colored leggings were mysteriously missing, leaving her pale, toned legs wonderfully bare.
"Hey," he breathed, blinking in surprise. He had not expected to see her for quite a long while, figuring that her discussion with Jack might take most of the day. And he definitely had not expected to see her here at his shop. How had she gotten here anyway? She certainly would not have known the way.
"Hey," she returned, her smile broadening. He felt his heart thump with a strange sense of anticipation.
"Who is she, boss?" Dormie whispered, his gaze switching back and forth between Hatter and Alice.
"Who is she?" Hatter repeated in bafflement. "Oh, that's right. You never met Alice."
Dormie's brows shot up. "Alice? She's Alice
?" he squeaked incredulously.
Alice strolled down the pathway, her blue eyes centering on the small, awestruck fellow with amusement. "Well, I'm not the Alice of Legend," she demurred, "but, yes, my name is Alice."
"This is Dormie," Hatter informed her. "He works—ehm…worked at the shop, too."
"Nice to meet you," Alice greeted, sticking her hand out to the tiny man.
Dormie was caught in between terror and wonderment. He gawked at Alice's hand, his eyes eventually traveling up the length of her arm to her face. She glanced over at Hatter, her brows knitting together.
"For crying out loud, Dormie. She's not going to bite you," Hatter said dryly, shaking his head at his partner's hesitance.
Dormie slowly stretched his hand out to shake Alice's, his eyes never moving from her face. "Nice to meet you," he said meekly.
"Did you come here all by yourself?" Hatter asked her, frowning in consternation at the thought.
"Nah, I had the Scarab drop me off here," she replied. "Jack still insists I lug around a bodyguard," she paused to roll her eyes, prompting a snort from Hatter, "so there are two Suits hanging out on the porch. If we want to go anywhere, we apparently just have to tell them and they'll call for a transport. Those guys aren't half bad when they're not trying to shoot us."
"So, everything went well at the manor, then?" Hatter asked, trying to sound nonchalant. He was very curious about what she and Jack might have said to one another. But he would not stoop so low as to actually ask her.
That secretive smile returned. "Oh yes, it did." There was a very strange vibe emanating from her; filled with longing, hope, nervousness, and deep affection.
His eyebrow rose in question. The girl bit upon her bottom lip and reached up to push some strands of hair away from her face. Her eyes flicked down to Dormie (whom Hatter had nearly forgotten was in the room) and then back to him. The unspoken message was clear. She wanted to speak to him alone.
"Um, Dormie, could you excuse us?" Hatter asked; his eyes glued to Alice. "We're gonna head downstairs to chat."
"Whatever you say, boss," Dormie piped up. He seemed to be somewhat unnerved by Alice's presence, which bade him to wonder what sort of rumors were abounding about the oyster girl.
"Downstairs?" Alice's brows shot up. "There's a downstairs?"
"What did you think I slept on the sofa?" Hatter asked, bemused.
Alice glanced over at the spot where the sofa had once sat and drew back, confused. "Speaking of your sofa, where is it?"
"Yeah," Hatter said darkly, leading her over to the patch of grass where the hidden door lay underneath, "leave a place like this open and vulnerable long enough and you wind up losing some nice things."
"Ouch," the girl replied. "I'm sorry, Hatter."
He rolled back the mat of grass and shrugged. "Eh, I'll live."
"I don't think I'll ever figure out Wonderland technology," Alice grumbled when he started punching the code into the keypad. "I mean, first it seems like you guys are still stuck in the Dark Ages. And then it seems like you're a couple centuries ahead of my world."
He led her down into his personal sanctum. Alice was completely taken aback by the cozy chamber and expressed instant delight in it. "Hatter! This is amazing! It's like the bat cave…only with a much better interior decorator."
"Bat cave?" he repeated in puzzlement.
"Oh, yeah, sometime I'll have to explain all these pop culture references, I guess," Alice said, smiling apologetically.
She wandered about the room like a giddy child, throwing out many compliments for his tastes in decoration. He grinned at her exuberance, a side of her he had not had much opportunity to view in their short time of knowing one another. The girl seemed especially drawn by his book collection.
"You're a closet bookworm!" she commented in a mock accusatory voice. She ran her fingers along some of the spines. "Wait a minute, I recognize some of these: A Tale of Two Cities, War and Peace, Shakespeare…there're a lot of books from my world." She turned to Hatter with an inquisitive look in her eyes.
"The White Rabbit agents didn't only bring people over from your world," he explained. "And, of course, people used to randomly just pop up in Wonderland."
"Randomly pop up?" Alice asked. "What, like the other Alice did?"
"Well, yeah, just 'cause she happens to be the most famous one doesn't mean she was the only one," he said. "But the queen had her agents find all those 'rabbit holes'. And that's how they established the Looking Glass network."
Alice slowly walked over to the bed, reaching out to touch the dark blue brocade of the drapes. "So, you guys didn't create the portals yourselves?" she asked without turning around.
"Um, well, not that I know of," he answered. "I think they were always there."
Alice was silent for a moment, ponderously running her hands along the fabric of his tangled blankets, making him wish he had tidied the bed up before she came down. "Did anyone from Wonderland ever randomly pop up in my world?" she asked.
"Honestly," Hatter replied thoughtfully, "I've no idea on that one."
Her inspection of the bed seemingly finished, the girl slowly approached him. All of a sudden, her curious, charming demeanor was replaced with one of uncharacteristic hesitance. "So, uh, yeah, I really have been meaning to talk to you about…" she looked down at her clasped hands, "things." The word hung there ambiguously.
"Okay," he replied softly, reaching out to help her slip out of the jacket and hanging it up. "Would you like a cup of tea? Real tea, I mean, not that swill I used to peddle up above. Plus I don't think that tea would have had much effect on you, anyway."
"I would love a cup of tea," she said, smiling sweetly.
She settled herself in one of the comfortable armchairs while he boiled water in the kettle. He ended up making a cup for himself and her; feeling the tea might be useful in helping to soothe his suddenly very edgy nerves. He felt as if he and Alice were on the brink of something, something which would change the status of their relationship. He had never had an actual romantic relationship before. Just a long line of girls who had provided nothing more than physical companionship and, at times, a thin layer of friendship. This thing with Alice, while still more or less amorphous, was like uncharted territory. It scared him as much as it tantalized him.
"So, um, yeah, the things," Alice began, sipping on the steaming cup of tea. He had not thought to ask her what kind of tea she liked or what kind of things she liked in her tea. He hoped the tea was to her taste.
"Yeah…things," he reiterated, taking the seat right next to her with his own cup of tea.
"Okay, I guess I'll go first and, um, just stop me if you feel the need to because I might cross over into the territory of babbling incoherence," she warned him. Then she took a deep breath and began speaking. "To start off, I officially ended things with Jack, which I'm sure you were probably wondering about."
Yes, he had been wondering about that. Not that he would admit to it.
"And now…" she grew quiet, as if uncertain of what to say. "I want to figure out what to do about us. Because though what we have is so new, it's deeper than anything I've ever felt. I never thought…never dreamed I could feel this way about anyone. You saved my life and you stood by me and stood up for me even when I tried to push you away or run away. I don't feel like I deserve you sometimes."
Hatter listened in shell-shocked silence. His heart was hammering with that strange sense of anticipation, sending warmth throughout his entire body that had nothing to do with the cup of tea he still gripped in his hands.
"I don't know how it's possible in this short amount of time that we've known each other. But my instincts are telling me it's real and true and…oh hell, the truth is," she paused to take in another deep breath, "I'm in love with you. Fucking head over heels in love like out of a fairytale that I never used to believe in. I feel like you were something I had been searching for my whole life without even realizing it. And I'm scared, Hatter." She turned to face him now, her blue eyes glistening with tears. For his part, he was struck speechless by her confession.
"I'm scared of losing you. You're from Wonderland and I'm…not. I really don't even want to contemplate trying to live without you. I have to go back, I know this. I have a duty, a sacred duty that I can't just ignore. My mother, all my friends, gah…but it's tearing me to pieces just thinking about leaving you. It makes me feel so empty," she confessed, her bottom lip quivering. She then wiped at her eyes. "Wow, okay I hadn't planned on crying. I was planning on doing this with a healthy dose of dry wit…stupid girly emotions."
Alice's brow furrowed when he did not give a response. "Hatter?"
He did not speak; instead he let the teacup just drop to the floor as he lunged forward and pulled her into a deep, passionate kiss. Euphoria strummed through his veins and that weird fluttering feeling rose up in his belly. Alice ended up climbing over into his chair and onto his lap, winding her fingers through his hair, sending pleasant shivers from his scalp all throughout the rest of his body.
"Hatter," she whispered in between their kisses. "Hatter."
"While this reaction is very nice…we're not done talking," she reminded him with no small amount of reluctance.Oh bugger, to hell with talking
, his libido cried out. "Yeah, you're right," he said, his voice strained with the weight of love and desire.
"Do you feel the same?" she asked tentatively. He had never heard the girl sound so insecure. Had he not shown her how much he loved her in that single kiss?
"You even have to ask, Alice? I think I started to love you since the moment you walked into my office."
"Are you sure that was me or the wet dress?" she remarked sardonically.
"I'm not going to lie, the wet dress may have been part of the decision process," he teased with an impish smile.
She laughed heartily, thankfully taking no offense to the fact that the first thing he had noticed about her was her considerable physical attributes. Then the laughter died down and her bright smile faded into a troubled expression. "So what do we do? I mean, with my Slayer metabolism I could pack away a lot of chocolate and crème cake, but, uh, I don't think there's enough of that stuff in the world to help me get over you."
Hatter sighed heavily, curling his fingers into those dark locks. The abrupt change of subject from confessions of true love into distinctly more somber territory cooled the ardor in his blood. His gut clenched again at the idea of being parted from her, having already felt what it was like to believe she was dead. A shudder ran through him at that unwelcome memory of those few hours. Those had been some of the worst few hours in his life.
He gathered up his serious thoughts, scattered as they were by the influx of thoughts of a far more wicked nature. It seemed that Alice leaving her world to stay in Wonderland was not much of an option. That left only one other conceivable option. Ironically, it was one he had considered a few days ago before he had even realized he was in love with her. Before he decided to put the idea forth to Alice, he glanced around at his abode. His eyes lingered in particular on the bed with its ruffled covers. He had spent the past two nights with Alice sleeping in his arms. He did not think he could bear a night without it now.
Just about everything in this place was nothing more than a material object which could be easily replaced or easily gotten over if he lost them. Neither of those things was possible with her. Losing her would be tantamount to losing a limb, to losing part of himself—as he had already experienced. The decision was simple, really.
"I'll go back with you," he stated as if it were the most obvious choice in the world.
Alice's eyes went round. It seemed she had not even considered that possibility. "You mean, like stay…permanently?"
"Well, yeah," Hatter said mildly. "Unless you don't want me to?"
"No, I mean, yes…" she stammered. She untangled herself from his arms and rose from the chair, beginning a round of pacing back and forth in front of the chairs. "You remember what I said about where I live, right? It's a hellmouth and the name is literal. It's the fire to this frying pan. And when I say fire, I mean hellfire." She clasped her hands together and drew them up to her lips.
"I know, Alice, you told me all about it. Lots of baddies and monsters and end-of-the-world battles, I get it. But give me a bit of credit, love. I think you've seen I can handle meself," he assured her, subtly pulling up his right hand and flexing it into a fist.
Her eyes drifted to his right limb, flashing with intrigued questions. "I know you can. But you've never come up against the things I've had to fight. It's not like fighting a Suit. They don't take prisoners...usually".
He just shrugged, unperturbed by her rant. "I'm a quick learner. In case you haven't noticed, I'm able to adapt pretty easily." he countered. "Besides, your mum lives there too and I'm assuming, since you haven't told her about all the beasties which roam the night and your job in killing them, that she's not exactly trained to deal with them. She gets by."
He could tell that he had gotten her with that reasoning by the small scowl which emerged onto her face. Honestly, if he did not know any better, he would be almost disheartened by her attempts to dissuade him from joining her in her world. But he knew it was only the fear for his safety that was goading her into this discouragement. He decided to turn the tables at that point.
"Alice, face it, your job is bloody dangerous. I know you told me it's a lot better now and there's not so much death and maiming, but it's still full of perils. You already told me you've buried some of your girls and I know you've been hurt on the job and badly, too, by the way you've talked. How do you think that makes me feel? How do you think I would feel if I were to stay here while you went back to all that?"
That seemed to stop her pacing. She faced him, her expression stricken.
"You and I both know you could die doing this job. And while that scares the hell out of me, I won't ask you to quit even for that. My point is that I'd be stuck over here never knowing, but always thinking about it. Don't you see how that would torment me every day I'd be over here? I'd be constantly wondering if you were okay, if you were hurt, if you were bleeding to death. At least if I'm over there I would know. And, being there, I can take care of you. I can do what I can to keep you safe. I couldn't do any of those things if I stayed here without you."
At some point during his rant, he had risen to his feet and crossed the distance between him and Alice. He did not notice how his body had begun to tremble from the release of all those fears which he had kept caged within. These were thoughts which had troubled him for a long time, and it felt quite cathartic to finally get it off his chest. He also did not notice (or, maybe, just did not acknowledge) that his dark brown eyes had grown blurry with the threat of tears.
"I'm so sorry," Alice murmured, pulling him into a hug. "I don't mean to scare you…I just want you to know, to understand that coming with me won't be like a perfect happily ever after. I want you to know what you'd be getting into before you decide to make such a sacrifice."
Hatter pressed his lips against her sweet-smelling hair. "It's not that much of a sacrifice, love," he commented. "It's not like I have a job anymore and since the queen is deposed, there's no real need for my smuggling and information talents on behalf of the Resistance."
"But what about your family and friends?"
The question took him off guard, though he was not quite sure why. It was a logical thing to ask. He had just spent so long sealing off his memories of his family that it was fairly unexpected to hear them mentioned. As for his friends, he could count the number of real friends he had on one hand and two of them he had made in the past few days.
"My family is gone, Alice," he confessed, his voice curiously numb.
"What?" She drew back, her face crumpling.
"My dad was executed when I was six. My baby sis got real sick and died when she was nine. We couldn't afford the medicine. And my mum…" He could not bring himself to say how his mother had died. The memory threatened to break forth, to spill out its grotesque and bloody contents, but with ease born of long practice, he shoved it back into the dark depths of his mind where it belonged. "She's gone, too," he ended up saying.
Alice stared at him, aghast. She gaped at him, utterly speechless for nearly five minutes. "My god, Hatter…That's horrible. How old were you when your mom died?"
"Fifteen," he answered. "Old enough to fend for myself, I guess." Somehow bitterness had slipped into his tone, bitterness bent towards not just that predicament his teenaged self had ended up in, but also towards his dead mother. "Guess that's something we have in common," he noted, his tone completely lacking in humor. "Both our lives completely changed forever at fifteen."
"Yeah, but at least I wasn't forced onto my own," she remarked, her eyes glittering with horror and sympathy. "Oh god, I had no idea. I'm so sorry."
He forced his shoulders to shrug, though his muscles had all gone rigid as if the effort to push those images and memories away was not just a mental effort, but a physical one. "It's all right, Alice," he assured her. "It's in the past and I've let it go." Well, if by letting go one meant bottling it up and never thinking about it so he could focus on clawing his way towards survival.
"I always wanted a little sister or brother," Alice spoke up after a long stretch of silence. "But my parents had enough trouble getting pregnant with me. And then, of course, my dad disappeared. What was your sister's name?"
His throat constricted. "Katrina," he said. "We used to call her Kat." She had looked nothing like him for all that they had been born of the same parents. Where his eyes had been dark brown, hers had been as green as grass, and instead of dark hair hers had been a ruddy gold. He had no doubt that, had she been given the chance, she would have blossomed into a stunningly beautiful young woman.
"So, yeah, you see, there's really not much tying me to Wonderland," he pointed out, swallowing back the emotions associated with his family's protracted demise.
His lady love gazed at him, her eyes full of love, compassion, and understanding. A few tears slipped down her pale cheek. He gently rubbed his thumb underneath her eye, catching another tear. "Hey, now, it's all right," he admonished kindly. "Don't feel sorry for me."
"It's not that," she objected, vehemently shaking her head. "It's just I can't believe all the heartbreak and tragedy you've had to endure at such a young age and…it makes me so proud of what you've become." She took both his hands, squeezing them gently. "I didn't think it was possible, but it makes me love you even more."
His organs did that strange flipping bit inside of him at her declaration of love. "What I've become? A double-crossing conman?" he joked.
She playfully smacked him on the shoulder. "Oh, come on. You know something like that could have broken you or…turned you onto a very dark path. But you fought and survived. You did what you could to keep yourself alive and you took on a very dangerous position," she waggled her finger at him as she spoke, "And don't give me that whole Dodo spiel. I can see that your position gave you some nice comforts; I mean this place is pretty damn nice, but I think that's acceptable compensation for the services you provided at the risk of losing your head."
Hatter cocked his head to the side. "Well, when you put it that way…" he said, thoughtfully stroking his chin.
"Hatter, if you're going to be my boyfriend, you need to learn something: the girl is always right," she quipped, grinning cheekily.
"Oh, really?" he scoffed.
"Besides, you did more to win this war than Dodo ever has hiding underground, I'll bet," she remarked sagely.
"That is true," he agreed, smirking. "Blimey but would I love to see his face now. When he hears—that is, if he hasn't already—that we took down the queen," at the expression on her face he amended it to, "well us and that daft old coot in the armor and your dad, Dodo's gonna blow his top." A troubled frown formed on his brow. "Hmmm, that'd probably give him even more reason to hate me, come to think of it. Probably would be better for my health to go to your hellmouth and face hellspawn."
Alice raised an eyebrow at him. "And you're sure living in a place full of hellspawn is worth being with me?"
His first instinct was to respond to that loaded question with a typical Hatter-style joke, completely brushing off the serious nature and covering it with humor. Instead, he clamped down on the humorous quips, wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. Her soft body molded to his completely, making his previously cooled libido sizzle and crackle with newfound heat. He resisted the urge to run his hands along her lovely firm buttocks. "Of course it is," he whispered, leaning down to capture her lips in a searing kiss. "Besides, I think life would be rather dull without you and I don't do well with boredom," he added once he managed to pull himself from her lips.
By the Cheshire, she looked so delectably beautiful. Her skin was flushed, the slight, rosy tinge starting with her pale cheeks and spreading down to her chest. Her smooth pink lips were parted slightly, swollen and darkened from his ministrations. Thinking of those lips made him think of a slightly different set of lips he had not had the privilege of seeing or playing with yet. His trousers started to become painfully tight as blood and heat started to pool in his belly and head southwards.
"Bloody hell," he grumbled, kissing her brow and cheeks. "The things I want to do to you. I really wish I did have those whatsits you talked about." It was quite miraculous he was able to think about that at all, for there surely was no blood flowing to his brain. And while the idea of putting some silly rubber sheath over his cock seemed preposterous, if it meant he could truly have her, he would have snapped that thing on in a heartbeat.
Alice's hands roamed up his shirt, her fingernails grazing against his bare skin, coaxing his already taut erection to fruition. It was amazing how much she could arouse him in the space of a few heartbeats. None of the girls he had been with before had ever been so enticing, so sweetly seductive. And Alice did it without even trying. Her explorative hands were not exactly untutored, but they had a flavor of innocence to them quite lacking in many of his other bed partners. Of course, more than a few of those girls had been…professionals.Probably best not to mention that
, the part of his mind that had not been completely clouded with lust muttered.
His brain almost blanked out when she started deftly unbuttoning his shirt. Against all odds, his cock grew even harder when she started covering his bare chest with light kisses, little wisps of breath tickling his skin and the sparse patch of chest hair on his sternum.
"Alice," he moaned; his voice thick with desire, "you…god you better stop with that…" His eyes fluttered shut when she slowly dragged her tongue up his neck and lightly nipped at his sensitive pulse point.
"And why?" she asked in a sultry, husky voice. "Besides, I don't think he," her hand moved down to the jutting bulge in his trousers and her fingers curled around his straining cock, "wants me to."
"Because," he whimpered as tremors ran through his body, "because…" What was the reason for stopping again? All blood flow to his brain had been diverted. Lucid thought was impossible for him as she stroked his cock through his trousers with one hand and drew her little sharp nails down his back with the other.
"I had a chat with someone else at Diamond Manor," she informed him cryptically, moving him backwards, inch by inch, towards the bed. That enigmatic smile returned. He had wondered what that smile was about, as if she were sitting on some big secret.
They reached the bed. The backs of Hatter's thighs pressed up against the mattress. But they remained poised there, moving neither one way nor the other.
"Jack's fiancé, it turns out, is pretty awesome," she said while undoing the buttons of his trousers with those ridiculously nimble fingers. "And she helped me out with a certain problem…"