"'Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe: all mimsy were the borogroves, and the mome rathes outgrabe. Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that –"The White Knight has been serenely reciting poetry for the past twenty minutes. Alice sits behind Hatter on their horse, her hands loosely holding onto the sides of his leather coat. She isn't entirely certain where her hands are supposed to go while doubling up on a horse, but the ground is far enough away that she feels she has to hold onto something. Unfortunately, the only something to hold onto is Hatter, and she isn't sure how she feels about holding onto him.
"Gods and lobsters," Hatter mutters under his breath, "Is he ever going to stop?"
The complaint is so heartfelt and oddly delivered that Alice can't help but snicker, and Hatter glances at her over his shoulder. He raises his eyebrows at her in question, and she says, "Probably not."
His shoulders sag, and Alice's hands clench his coat convulsively. "Well, I'm not sure about you, but I think I've about had my fill of classic poetry for one afternoon."
They sway gently as the horse ambles along behind the White Knight, and Alice says, "It's kind of nice."
"Is it?" he asks in surprise, looking at her again, and she nods.
He snorts, "You would think that, Miss Oyster Alice, but I spent my first few years of primary school reciting just that kind of poetry, and hearing it again is pure torture. Especially in that voice. "
"So you do have schools here?" she asks curiously, and he looks at her oddly.
"Of course we have schools. Schools of fish, for one, and you can't tell me that you don't have those in your world, because I know for a fact that you do."
She isn't quite sure how to respond to this. Wonderland is extremely weird. Weird in a violent, crime-filled, people-kidnapping sort of way that is nothing close to what she'd thought it would be, when she had given it any thought at all. The only person she's met so far that even closely resembles what she remembers of the original story is the White Knight riding up ahead of them, contentedly reciting his heart out.
Alice can deal with the White Knight. She can deal with the forest. She can even, bizarrely, handle being in another world – what else can she do but accept that trans-dimensional travel is a reality when she's sitting on a horse in another dimension being chased by a man with a ceramic bunny head?
What she cannot make sense of, is Hatter.
And she cannot for the life of her figure out what to do with her hands while she's sitting on this horse with him.
The Hatter isn't supposed to be scruffy, or dressed like a 70's gambler, or have hair that impetuously flips up over the rim of his hat. He isn't supposed to be attractive in a con-artist-with-a-soft-heart sort of way. He isn't supposed to be rakishly charming.
If she could just get home, everything will be infinitely simpler again. She'll rescue Jack, and they'll return home, and…Alice tightens her grip on Hatter's coat. The awful clench in her chest when she thinks of Jack is too much to deal with right now because it brings up too many questions, some of which she doesn't want to answer.
It is safer, and easier, just to make conversation, and so she says, "I tripped into another dimension, Hatter. I get to ask inane questions."
"I suppose that's fair." He muses. "But only for this afternoon. Inane questions, like classic poetry, can only be bourn for so long."
She actually does laugh at this, and he smiles at her again over his shoulder. Hatter has a very nice smile.
In the evening, the White Knight has become Charlie (it is impossible to think of him as the White Knight once he is out of his armor and loping about in his long underwear) and Alice Hamilton, who is Alice the Oyster in Wonderland, or, for Charlie, Alice of Legend, is sitting on a log beside the fire waiting for dinner. Hatter sits across from her on the ground, poking at the dirt with a stick. There is something different about him here, in this place. When the sun was still out Hatter left her with Charlie to stand by the edge of the wall and look down on the ruins of the Kingdom of the Knights. When he returned to help them make a fire, there was an intensity to his expression that was a complete contrast to his flippancy when they first met in the Tea Shop. She could almost swear that he was brooding.
Alice has to admit that she feels a more than a little guilty about Hatter. She knows that she didn't force him to make the decision to help her. She knows very well that they could have parted ways after fleeing the Dodo, or after they got to the woods. He could have just let the Jabberwock eat her instead of chasing after it, and punching it in the head had been hopelessly, ridiculously brave. Hatter has inexplicably stuck with her and defended her ownership of the ring, and as a result is on the run. Jobless, homeless, and with both sides of the law after his skin. If he hadn't met her, Hatter would have still been relatively safe and comfortable. Alice doesn't want to think about what might have happened to her if she hadn't met him. She hugs herself tightly, feeling a little sick.
"Are you warm enough?"
She looks up in surprise and finds that Hatter is watching her, his brow furrowed with concern. To Alice's dismay, her heart does a little flop in her chest at the sight. she balks at the sensation: She is not falling for the Mad Hatter! Being in Wonderland is confusing enough as it is without her traitorous hormones deciding that Hatter is adorable and in desperate need of a cuddle!
"Alice?" To her horror, Hatter is actually rising to his feet. She stops him with a frantic wave of her hand.
"No, no! I'm alright." She exclaims, laughing nervously. She tugs at the edges of the dark red velvet coat he has given her, and shifts on her log. "The coat is really warm. It's a great coat." She bites her tongue as that last bit slips out, feeling horribly foolish. Great coat? What the hell, Alice?
He lowers himself back down to the ground, his eyes trained on her. He doesn't look convinced. "Are you sure? Charlie probably has a blanket around here somewhere. 'Course, it probably smells like old man…" Hatter trails off with a grimace, and then shakes his head and smiles wryly. "It would be warm, though."
An ache spreads in the pit of her stomach at the sight of that smile, and Alice has a sinking feeling that something is starting to happen that she won't be able to stop.
"I'm okay," she replies feebly, more for herself than as a reply to him. She isn't sure she believes this, but maybe if she says it enough, she can make it true.
Hatter leans back with a shrug, blissfully oblivious to her inner turmoil, and says, "If you're sure."
"Yeah. It's fine. Thanks."
But it isn't. It really, really isn't.