ONE - Spades

It's not that Wonderlanders don't have emotions. It's that the emotions are so mild, so muddied, so convoluted with the twisted logic that seems to be the brain pattern of every Wonderlander born, that the pure straightforward emotions distilled from the Oysters are overwhelming. But the need for that overwhelming purity is a weakness in and of itself.

The boy who grew up to be the Hatter instinctively understood this. His father was rarely around, only if he scored a bit of Passion tea. His mother, a tea-head of the first magnitude, would blow any small amount of income on tea instead of food for her son.

So the boy avoided taking tea as much as he could. He ran away from home at age seven, taking to the streets. At first, it was a life of scrabbling and hiding, growing up fast, stealing what he needed, running and hiding from Suits, from thugs, from tea-heads that took too much Lust without direction. Eventually, he found a niche, a hidden corner of one of the many abandoned building that was relatively secure. From that base, he started storing up items, grifting, conning his way into deals and trades. He had a talent for Procurement. If Person A wanted something, and Person B had it, the lad called Hatter could bring them together for a mutually beneficial exchange.

For a small percentage off the top, of course.

He was a regular wizard at it. His logic was no less convoluted than the rest of Wonderland, but when necessary, he could pull it together at just the right time, to make the big score. Which was how he found himself the proprietor of a Tea House. Of course, there were some people who didn't trust you if you weren't using too. Hatter was careful – a half dose of Confidence here, a drop of Self-Assurance there. Nothing that would interfere with business as usual. He developed an underground empire of black marketeering. He'd become The Hatter, the man who always had something up his sleeve, the one with the knowledge, the one who could score.

Contact with Dodo changed some things. Dodo didn't use at all. He was looking for other supplies: food, clean water, blankets. Hatter's Tea House being the best source of black market trade in that whole corner of the City made it inevitable that the Wizard of Procurement, and the Keeper of the Library should meet.

Hatter's price was both simple and steep. For whatever Hatter could smuggle into the hidden Library, Dodo would teach him to read and write.

It didn't make them friends, oh no. Dodo sneered and mocked, hating his own need, hating that only Hatter could provide for the people hiding out in the Library, that Hatter played both sides of the fence, selling tea and supporting the Resistance. Frankly, the blighter could have laid off a bit, had he realized the Hatter was taking exactly zero profit in currency from the transactions.

Hatter didn't care anyway. Caring what Dodo thought implied that Dodo had some sort of superiority over him, and Hatter would never ever admit to that. Hatter had his own brand of self-confidence and self-assurance that meant never having to say 'yes sir' to anybody.

All was right with Hatter's world. He never dealt directly with a Royal, only the simple Clubs that ran the Suits and arranged the measly shipments. Dormouse oversaw the house floor. Hatter was able to sit back, like a spider in its web, and only step in when the deal was extra special, all the while filtering a steady supply of food and clean water to the Great Library. But then, out of the blue, the ratcatcher brought a fugitive Oyster to Hatter's Tea House. And suddenly, Hatter's world turned upside down.

It wasn't just that she was beautiful. She was beautiful, no doubt about that, with her creamy skin and lithe body, those remarkable blue eyes in a heart-shaped face, and the curtain of dark hair he immediately wanted to stroke. Had she been a Wonderlander, he'd have offered her every drop of tea she wanted in exchange for her exclusive company! But no, she would have to be an Oyster – dangerous, foreign, off-limits.

Still, he moved close to her, close enough to feel vicariously. The Oysters had no idea what their mere presence could do to a Wonderlander. That pure emotion oozed out of them like a mist. At the casino they were kept sedated, controlled, the emotions safely siphoned off and distilled into tea. But here was an Oyster in full control of her faculties. Her suspicion pushed at him, tantalized him. What if he could get past that suspicion? If he could help her, get her to trust him, help her get home…. then she might feel gratitude. Towards HIM.

The Hatter knew, that would feel….. intoxicating.

TBC