Jack Heart was going to help him. Jack Heart, the bloody King of bloody Wonderland and Alice's ex-boyfriend, was going to help him. Well, crazier things had happened.
"Why?" Hatter asked, shoulders slumped, as if he were a marionette and his strings had been cut. Jack stepped forward, his arms crossed behind his back, looking every bit the king that he was supposed to even in the midst of a tossed about tea shop.
"Do you want the altruistic reason first? Or perhaps the more selfish ones?" Jack replied, sitting himself on the white couch as if he owned the place.
Hatter debated those options, walking forward and slumping in his big armchair, careful not to knock off the giant headphones perched on the back. "Selfish, first," he decided, sending a sharp glance to Jack that was tangibly acidic, "I'm more inclined to believe them."
Jack nodded, unruffled. "I do not blame you." He stretched out a bit, wiping a bit of imaginary dust from his crimson suit jacket, and sighed deeply. "Here's the problem. I have just been crowned King of a nation falling apart at the seams. Wonderland, at the moment, is in the throes of victory. However, we will shortly realize that while the Queen may have fallen, her shadow remains."
"What do you mean?" Hatter asked, not incredibly curious but his mind was sharp enough to realize the importance of what was being said.
"Think about it," Jack began, "We have lived for one hundred years utterly dependent on the emotions drained from oysters, addicted to liquid drops of whatever feeling you could possibly desire. Now, the people will have to contend with this dependance. The good emotions won't disappear, but all the bad ones, confusion and anger and fear, they will have free reign inside us again and we have no idea how to deal with them."
Hatter contemplated this, but he already knew how right Jack was. As the former owner of a tea shop, he had seen more than his share of people utterly consumed by their addictions. He had seen people instantly hooked to the tonics, wasting away all their savings until they had nothing but the craving for more. There were so many people, too many, like Rat Catcher, dressed in rags and eating scraps and suffering from withdrawal, shivering and begging and crying in the darkened crevices of the city. It made him sick just to think about. He had tried to help them, with all his secret work with the Resistance, but the only way to help anyone was to have the means to do so. His means had been the tea shop, and the cycle was particularly vicious.
Jack looked at him straight on, gaze clear and piercing. "I need someone who has the understanding and the means to help these wretched addicts recover, someone who has seen the effects of Emotional addiction and knows how to handle it. I can't think of anyone better than you, Hatter."
The strange compliment threw him completely off his guard, and Hatter wasn't sure how to take it. The possibility of giving back to the people who had become addicted in his shop in the first place was something that he had always hoped for. But a con man is a con man, and he had been too preoccupied playing both sides to really make strides. Now, Jack was offering him an opportunity on a golden platter and Hatter was instantly wary.
"How is this going to get me through the Looking Glass?" Hatter demanded, raising a sardonic brow.
Jack chuckled lightly, not offended at all. "There's more to that particular proposal obviously. I will continue with it later. But there's the real reason, both selfish and selfless, why I need you with Alice in the Other World."
Hatter rolled his eyes, not even feigning politeness. "Well then, do tell."
"You do realize, of course, that the Queen did have supporters?" Jack questioned, and Hatter motioned him to continue. "I know my mother, and while she backed down on that field, surrounded by a very unhappy crowd, she has not given up. She will have agents in the Other World already, waiting to do her bidding. And what could be better at striking back at Wonderland than destroying the girl who saved it?"
The dark revelation struck him something fierce, and Hatter sat up abruptly, hand gripping his chest. Pain, unlike any wound he had ever received, was radiating beneath his skin at the thought of Alice, alone and vulnerable in the Other World, completely unknowing that there was still danger. His throat tightened and he closed his eyes, willing away the terrible images, Alice caught unawares, the sharp shriek of a gun, crimson blossoming on the front of her periwinkle dress. Hatter clutched at his head, fingers digging in his hair, rocking back and forth and back and forth as the images kept coming and coming and -
"No!" He screamed, throwing himself to his feet, his right fist curled and he slammed it on his desk, shattering it completely. "I won't let it happen! I won't!"
He breathed heavily, rocking, glass crunching beneath his feet, his bones still aching with the thought of Alice gone, more than gone, because she could never come back. Something strangely wet blurred his vision, and he held a quivering hand to his face and was surprised to find his skin slick with moisture. He pulled his hand back, rubbing his thumb across his fingers, the liquid sparkling and smelling of salt. He looked up, and Jack was staring at him, still as composed as ever, as if he hadn't witnessed such an outburst.
"I can't be there, Hatter." Jack said, voice calm. "You can. I know you would do anything to protect her. You already have. In order to keep Wonderland safe, and more importantly, to keep Alice safe, I need you to go through the Looking Glass."