Title: At the Drop of a Hat (1/1)
Characters: Hatter, Charlie, and Jack with much talk of Alice
Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm really a bit miffed about that.
Summary: Hatter takes a little convincing to take the plunge and go after Alice. And if the convincing includes threats, insults, and a hostage, well. The ends justify the means, right?
A/N: I can't have been the only one wondering why he wasn't wearing a hat when he showed up at her door. I mean, come on. He's Hatter. There must have been a reason!
At the Drop of a Hat
Charlie had an impossibly regal air sometimes, when he worked really hard at it. Actually, when he worked too hard at it, it changed from "impossibly regal" to "intolerably comical," but most of the regents and nobles Hatter had known walked a fine line anyway. So it all came out in the wash, really.
The knight was standing with arms akimbo, his gauntlets ashine and escutcheon polished— or at least what Hatter assumed was his escutcheon, though he'd never actually taken the time to ask, what with running for his life all the time and trying (and failing) to get a snog in besides. Charlie's chin was lifted in the manner that portended deep-voiced oracular statements or, possibly, an odd sort of humming noise indicative of becoming one with the universe and getting advice on directions and personal hygiene from some unknown Higher Power. Capital H, capital P.
Hatter looked up at the taller man and raised an eyebrow. Wait for it, his mind hummed; don't give him an inch, don't give him an opening, don't encourage him, don't ask don't ask—
"Problem?" he said, and had to mentally slap himself around a bit.
Charlie's chin lifted even higher, till it appeared to be somewhere in the middle of his face.
"You're," he declared, drawing the word out, "stupid."
Hatter blinked, and wiped his nose, which was beginning to run. He thought about sniffling pathetically, but could tell that there was going to be no sympathy here.
"Probably," he admitted. "Probably about a lot of things, if not across the board. What's it matter, anyway?"
Charlie lifted one gloved hand from his hip and stabbed a finger at the still-blurry surface of the looking glass. "She's gone in there, she's gone back home, and you're just standing here. Are you mad, man?"
Hatter had to think about this for a bit.
"Not officially," he said, shifting his weight.
"Why, if I were sixty years younger, I'd—" Charlie doddered a bit, huffing and puffing, trying to find the correct ending to his threat.
"—only be ninety?" offered Hatter.
"Pah!" said Charlie. "If I were sixty years younger I'd turn you upside down and cram you in a breadbox, that's what I'd do! And then I'd go after her myself!" He looked to one side and his eyes grew distant. "You're probably not going to believe this—"
"Prob'ly not," agreed Hatter readily, but Charlie was past hearing.
"—but when I was a lad I was considered to be quite a catch."
"By the law, I imagine."
"Ahh, yes." Charlie hauled in a deep breath as though it was a resistant fish, and let it out again as a reminiscent sigh that had all the earmarks of a completely imaginary past. There was no way, Hatter thought, he could ever have been that good. "Quite. Quite. Whilst you," he thundered, returning to the present with an abrupt thump, "stand here maundering and sniffling and wiping your sad, sad eyes as though you hadn't a choice in the matter!" His eyes had half bugged from their sockets, glaring emphatically at Hatter; his beard had leapt to attention and appeared to be offering to skewer the young man for his total failure at life. Hatter folded his arms.
"How do you know what I'm thinking?" he challenged. "I could be crying over the loss of my tea shop, for all you know. A fine business and a stellar piece of property, lost! Ransacked! Ravaged! I'm going to have to find another job, you know! Think that's easy in this economy? Don't make me laugh!"
"I wasn't trying to," said Charlie, looking genuinely puzzled.
Hatter was aware that he was using far more than his yearly allotment of exclamation points, but he couldn't quite stop himself at this juncture.
"And then there's all that business of being tortured! Think that's a piece of cake? Think that's a nice cuppa on a cold night? Think that's a lark and a half? And what about— what about—" He was sure his list of grievances had been longer, only a moment ago. But he was running out of words; all the simmering hodgepodge of his brain had been taken over by one string of letters that sounded themselves over and over, regardless of where he tried to take his tongue.
"What?" queried the knight sharply. "What are you thinking?"
"Alice," he said. "What about Alice."
"Go!" urged Charlie. Hatter shook his head.
"I can't," he said.
"Ass," said Charlie.
"I know it. But I can't."
Hatter carried on shaking his head, as though this would help make an impression on the bedraggled knight. "I can't go after her. I just can't. I can't just leave everything behind at the drop of a— at the drop of a hat. And besides. She doesn't want me."
"Donkey's behind!" trumpeted Charlie.
"She would have told me if she wanted me— wouldn't she? But all she wanted was to go home and forget all this ever happened. I know it." He quieted himself, repeating the words to the floor. "I know it."
"And lots of other things," said Charlie. It sounded like nothing so much as a continuation of his tirade; but when Hatter ignored him, he repeated it, almost angrily. "And lots of other things. Lots of other things. Lots of—"
"I get it, I get it!" said Hatter. He paused. "What do you mean?"
"She said it!" said Charlie. "Just-Alice said it! 'And lots of other things,' she said, when you spoke of visiting her. Now—" He straightened himself up. "That doesn't sound very forgetful to me."
A light dawned on Hatter's face; trying not to think about it, he had said, trying not to think about it, about her leaving, and about her wanting him to do— to do what? To stay or to follow her, and he should have just asked but he hadn't wanted to risk it— to risk it! After the dozens of near-death experiences he'd had the last few days, he'd bloody earned a safe line to walk, hadn't he? A solid place to stand. And so he had talked, the way he always talked, babbling on about nothing important and giving her, giving her absolutely the wrong idea.
Charlie was nodding, looking pleased with himself, and Hatter suddenly realized that all these words, which he'd thought trapped in his head, had in fact fallen out of his mouth in a sort of verbal stew. Homely and slightly unpleasant, and also filled with chunks of regretfully unidentifiable origin. He lifted one hand.
"I cannot do this," he said.
Charlie didn't dignify this with a response. He just snorted a little, and twitched his nose.
"I mean it," Hatter went on. "I just can't. I mean, I'm all—" He spread his arms, looked down at himself. "All kind of—" Battered and bruised and bloodstained, was what he meant. He looked like the results of a spectacularly unsuccessful traveling show after the audience has violently demanded their money back. He'd cleaned his face up a little, washed off the blood, but hadn't had time to change. Had rushed here to the Looking Glass Hall to see her before she left.
"Here," said Jack, from where he'd been standing all this time, listening. He thrust a brown-paper-wrapped package into Hatter's unwilling arms. "Clothes. You'll need them. You look like three clowns caught in a traffic accident." Hatter looked up at him with slightly dull eyes. Jack's lips tightened. "And— her address. It's written on a slip of paper. Very lightweight, don't lose it. I won't be giving it to you again."
Hatter transferred the dull gaze to Charlie. He swallowed, and opened his mouth to say something— I can't, probably, again. Repetition for emphasis. But he didn't have a chance to get it out.
Charlie, with great deliberation, reached over and lifted his hat off his head.
"And you don't get it back till I have godchildren," he said.
Hatter clenched his jaw. This reminded him vividly of being in schools, when his teacher had grown tired of her student drawing anatomically correct models of the girl at the next desk— Mary Ann! Whatever happened to Mary Ann?— and had him and Marchy put dunce caps on and stand in the Recalcitrant Zone. Very painful, yes, but also came with the admonition, "Well, it's for your own good."
"I could fight you for it," he said.
"Ahh, but I'd win," said Charlie, with a knowing grin. "I'm a knight, you see."
Hatter shook his head, and gripped the paper package more tightly. It was tied up with string, and a label gave him the directive: Open Me.
"I'm not going to regret this," he said, "but I hate you all the same."
"Wonderful," said Charlie, happily. "And a good journey to you both."
The looking glass was clear, and waiting for him. He'd never been much good at swimming, but— Hatter held his breath and took the plunge.
"And comb that ridiculous hair!" was the last thing he heard as he went through; so when he landed on the other side, the other world— Alice's world!— he was already grinning.