Disclaimer: The characters in this story are the property of SyFy and Nick Willing and are only used for fan related purposes; any dialogue used is from the actual mini-series and is only used to further the story.
A Matter of Trust
Five times when Hatter told the truth, and one time when Alice actually believed him.
i. do i need a reason?
Hatter, the man in charge of the Tea House, listened intently to the dark-haired beauty as she plainly gave her story. Antsy as ever, he alternated between standing, sidling up as close to her as he could get without her making a face at him before sitting back down again to take another sip of tea off his cup.
He'd never heard of an oyster escaping Scarab before; he especially never thought the dimwitted rat catcher would be the one to find her wandering the back alleys and bring her straight to Hatter's tea shop in exchange for a quick fix. Her story was interesting, the matter-of-fact way she told it even more so. She wanted to save her boyfriend, that much was clear. It was just as obvious that she had no idea what sort of world she'd stumbled into, recklessly trying to save another oyster just like her.
Wonderland wasn't the idyllic land of children's stories it used to be any longer.
No, Wonderland was different—it had changed quite a lot in the last one hundred and fifty years, since the last time an Alice crossed over and brought down the last House of Cards. The White Rabbit, the Hearts Casino, the Resistance and hints and whispers of another Alice… the Alice of Legend… that was Wonderland now.
In between sips of tea—real tea, not the swill the queen was trying to pass of as tea—Hatter, in turn, found himself telling her far more than he knew he should, explaining his world to the girl standing in front of him unflinchingly, drenched from head to toe in mucky water. This Alice was too proud, too stubborn to do anything but listen in disbelief and repeat that she needed to find her boyfriend. And then, most remarkably, he made a choice: he offered to help her find him. Even Hatter couldn't understand his own actions though, being Hatter, a price or the promise of future payment probably figured in there somewhere. Or maybe even some more tea.
He never gave her the chance to refuse him, holding his finger up and hurrying back into the garishness of his office after making sure that Ratty was long gone. The bottle of Pink Nectar from his personal stores was well worth Alice's company—and even more worth paying the smelly rat catcher off and sending him on his way, his prize clutched in his filthy hands. He had plans for her, and already had visions of Dodo doubling his rate for bringing Alice to the underground library.
"Ta da!" Hatter announced theatrically, opening the door to his wardrobe and gesturing at the array of colors inside. Browns, tans, blues, purples, greens… coats and trousers and boots of all sizes, just a smidge of his vast collection of colorful clothes—save for his hats, which never would've fit—were stuffed inside the glass case. "You," he told Alice, picking out a maroon overcoat in particular, "should wear this. It'll cover the glow and stop you from catching a cold."
He held it out as he approached her, acting the part of the gentleman and waiting for her to slip her bare arms inside. The green mark on her arm stood out at Hatter, momentarily making him queasy, and it wasn't just from the strong tea he'd just finished. It wasn't right what the queen did to the oysters; he didn't like or particularly want any reminders. He wanted the brand covered up as much for his sake as for Alice's safety.
But she didn't move. He could see the cogs working behind her blue eyes, the brain behind that pretty face trying to figure him out. Hatter wished her luck—he didn't even have himself figured out yet.
"I have a little money," she said slowly, picking her words carefully, "but I understand you don't use that here."
"Pieces of paper?" he asked, his voice friendly until a curt shake of his head dashed any of Alice's nonexistent hopes. "Pointless."
She accepted that. But, ever the skeptic, she demanded, "Then why would you help me?"
Hatter was used to people second-guessing everything he said. Of course, it usually took them a little more than a quick conversation to discover that maybe the proprietor of the tea shop was less than trustworthy. She was a smart one, and as quick and as good a judge of character as she appeared to be self-surviving and loyal. Alice escaped from Scarab using a hairpin, she followed her drop into the water by trying to bribe Ratty into helping her and now, when offered Hatter's help, she already knew better than to trust him. It was like she could see right through him…
Hmm. He found that undeniably attractive in a girl.
Maybe it was foolish, but Hatter had always gotten by on acting foolish while hiding his ulterior motives behind a cheeky grin and a couple of hat tricks. She was standing there, waiting for his answer, and Hatter certainly gave her one. Sneaking up behind her, so close he could smell the dirty water on the nape of her neck, he asked softly, using a voice he thought his most charming, "Do I need a reason to help a pretty girl in a very wet dress?"
The skeptical look she gave him as she whirled around and purposely took two steps back told him that yes… yes he did.
It was a pity he didn't have one that meant more than that—oh, there was the Resistance, of course, and bringing a fresh oyster to the Dodo for a fair price, and even the romantic in him wanting to reunite Alice with her lost what's-his-face, but a pretty girl in a wet dress…. well, that was certainly worth not going back for a second cup of tea.
But it wasn't part of his act to agree. It was his turn to play the part of the wounded victim. "Oh, I see…" he said, as if only just understanding her reluctance to be so close to him, "you don't trust me."
Not that he could really say he was surprised. They'd only just met after all, and she'd watched as he bartered her from Ratty for a bottle of Pink Nectar, and, yes, his mannerisms weren't quite what a girl—an Alice, at that—from her world would expect, but still? Was such utter disbelief warranted? With a little more gusto than he probably should've—if anything, she seemed to expect a show from him… maybe it was the hat?—Hatter slammed the maroon overcoat over the arm of the couch. All the while, his mind was spinning, trying to come up with the right words to say next, the right thing to do next.
One thing was sure, he wasn't about to let this oyster get away from him so easily. Fate had brought another Alice into Wonderland and Hatter… Hatter was only too happy to help.
Especially if she had a propensity for getting so wet…
Author's Note: After getting inside Alice's head and dissecting the scene at the end of Part I and the beginning of Part II with Contrariwise, I really wanted to give Hatter a go. I find these tags a great creative exercise when trying to find a feel and voice for a particular character. And, of course, the Alice/Hatter ship is just so sweet that I wanted to put my spin on some of the defining moments of their relationships. I've already picked the six scenes -- five following this one -- that I'm going to use and I hope to have the next chapter posted soon; since each chapter will be a short ficlet centered around one scene, they write themselves fairly quickly. But, if you would be so kind, it'd be awesome if you wanted to let me know what you guys thought of this first chapter :)
-- stress, 12.21.09