Title: Aftermaths/Maths, After
Characters/Pairing: Alice/Hatter, Carol
Summary: Hatter here. In her world. It's a mental image that deserves a frame, and the reality is even better. She asks him why he's here, even though she already knows. Takes place immediately after the end of the miniseries.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: The whole "David" thing is driving me a little bit batty.
Carol closed her mouth, but the expression of shock remained.
Well, this was awkward. It wasn't ever the most comfortable thing for a mom to be standing by while her daughter kissed her boyfriend; it was even more uncomfortable when the boyfriend in question had represented himself as a total stranger. Add to that the question of names— David? And what had Alice called him— Padder? Hadder? Hatter, maybe? But that was kind of ridiculous. Who would go by the name "Hatter"? And it wasn't as though he was showing much consideration for the hat he'd worn— whipping it off when she opened the door and grinning brightly— because it had now fallen from his hand and landed on the floor. If Alice stepped back she'd crush the black felt.
Carol wasn't the type to interrupt such tender moments, but honestly, if the two didn't back off soon they'd both pass out from lack of air.
So she cleared her throat, to see if they got the message. They did— eventually— and broke off, but didn't back away. The young man dropped his hands from Alice's waist and turned a slightly sheepish grin to Alice's mother; Alice herself, well—
Carol felt a surge of tenderness for her confused, troubled, recently-missing and even more recently-hospitalized daughter. Alice shone. Her eyes were alight, her mouth curved upwards, and she was perched on her tiptoes, hands up on the lapels of his jacket, leaning into the stranger. Well, the not-stranger. The strange, but possibly known, man. Carol's head was beginning to hurt.
"Sorry, Mom," said Alice, though she quite clearly wasn't. And neither was he; he had turned away from Carol immediately and was now sneaking glances at Alice from under his eyelashes. Still looked a little sheepish, though. Not so much as though he'd been caught doing something he shouldn't have; more as though he'd put on a front of indifference and had been caught demonstrating how much he cared. Carol scrutinized him, and the back of his neck flushed red. Caught demonstrating how much he cared on camera, broadcast on national television. It made her wonder.
"Well, I'm glad to see you two get on so well," she said, foolishly, floundering, finding her way. This made Alice laugh, and Carol caught a sideways grin from the young man as well, though he was still staring fixedly in the direction of Alice's forehead. "Er— not to interrupt or anything, but I don't suppose we could have a talk, Alice? And then you and David, er— Patterson, was it?" He neither confirmed nor denied. Not that it mattered, because they were staring at each other again and not paying her the slightest bit of attention. Carol could have suggested that they all go out to rob a bank as a trust-building exercise and they would have agreed blissfully. "Alice?" she said.
Alice came awake again.
"Oh!" she said. "Right! Talk. You and me, Mom, just like always." She dropped her hands reluctantly, smiled a secretive little smile at him. "You'll wait for me outside?"
He shook his head, shrugged a little. "Nah, I've got to run, actually, just thought I'd drop in on my way back home, give you a proper goodbye—"
"Shut up," said Alice, grinning inanely, leaning close enough to whisper it on his lips. Carol blinked, looked down at the floor, and put a hand to her forehead.
"Thank you again, David," she said without looking up. She missed the slightly confused look he sent her; blinking, brow furrowed. Then the light dawned and his brow cleared.
"Right!" he said. "That's me—" And he backed away from Alice, still grinning in her direction. "No problem, Ms. Hamilton. Any time your daughter needs anything— anything, mind you— you just let me know. I'm the, er—" He appeared to be winging it now, standing in the middle of the room, swinging his arms and slapping his hands against the side of his trousers. "—the go-to guy for your lost and lonely. And I make a lovely tea. Believe you me, Ms. Hamilton, there isn't anything I wouldn't do for your daughter."
"Go," pleaded Alice, still treading a thin line between solemnity and laughter, pushing him towards the door. "You sound like you're asking permission to marry me."
He had glanced back towards her, again puzzled; as Carol looked up she caught the words his lips shaped. Aren't I? But Alice didn't see it. She had turned towards her mother, a brisk smile on her face, as though to apologize for the lust-fueled delay and indicate that all would proceed as normal now. Whatsisname went, no doubt to wait just outside the door. Probably trying to listen in, thought Carol— he had the well-informed look of an accomplished eavesdropper.
Carol folded her arms, and quickly realized that she'd gone into a defensive posture when her daughter leaned away from her and did the same thing. They stared at each other for a moment.
"I don't suppose you'd like to tell me what's going on here?" offered Carol, dropping her arms and trying to keep her voice soft. "I know I look like I'm angry or something, but I'm honestly not. Just confused."
"And worried," said Alice. "You have your worried face on. Like I've broken my leg and I just don't know it yet. And you're going to be the one to tell me."
"It was just last night," said Carol, pleading a little. "Jack came over for dinner— you remember Jack, right?"
Alice brushed her hair out of her eyes, holding it back with one hand. "Of course I remember Jack, Mom. I don't have amnesia."
"But he made you look so—" Carol couldn't find the right words. She clasped her hands together, lifted her shoulders in a helpless shrug. "You can understand why this all seems a little— strange to me. I mean, I just met— that man—" She nodded towards the door. "And you obviously know each other from somewhere."
Alice dropped her chin, considered her words.
"It's going to take a little time," she said.
"To get your story straight?" prompted her mother. Alice looked up from under her eyelashes and was relieved to see Carol smiling again, a soft helpless smile, relieved and faintly melancholy. Alice smiled back.
"I'll tell you, I really will. But right now—"
"He's waiting," finished Carol. She stretched her fingers across her forehead, pressed against the skin. Closed her eyes for a moment. "I understand. I can wait."
Alice started towards her, captured her hand down and held it. "He helped me when I needed help," she said. "He was there for me. And I know it seems like we just met, but believe me on this one. He's different."
Carol's smile had turned genuinely sad now; she pressed her daughter's hand with bony fingers. Her palms were cool. "Oh, Alice. Listen to yourself. You need to realize. Jack was different, too. And so was Rick, and so was Reggie when he was around. And all the—" She stopped herself before she could get the rest of that sentence out. And all the others, she wanted to say, all the others that so clearly loved you desperately. "I'm not trying to warn you off, sweetheart. I want you to be happy. But I also want you not to get your heart broken again. And, whatever the story is, how long can you possibly have known this man? How well could you actually know him?"
Weeks, it felt like, was the answer to the first question; and maybe not at all the answer to the second. But Alice just placed her mother's hand against her cheek, and smiled at her. "We'll be alright," she said. "I promise. And I'll tell you the story when I can."
"I'm going to hold you to that," Carol called after her, as Alice turned and sprinted for the door.
He was waiting outside the apartment building, on the street, flat footed and a little twitchy. She paused just inside the door and watched him for a moment, watched what he was like when he didn't know she was around. He had placed the black felt on his head and was fumbling with the brim, urging it upwards with both hands, clever fingers and a tense, slightly frustrated look on his face. As she watched, he got a curious glance from a passer-by and answered it with a deadpan stare.
Alice was laughing when she opened the door.
He dropped his hands from the hat brim and grinned at her.
"All's well?" he said hopefully, and she shrugged her thin shoulders.
"We can talk about that later. Why are you here?" Her tone completely belied her words. She felt as though she were on the verge of breaking into hilarious, uncontrollable laughter. She felt like her bones were floating away even as she stood still on the ground. She felt a little crazed, like a serious caffeine buzz, like maybe too much to drink.
"You want to know?" he said. "You really want to know?" And then he was kissing her again, on a street corner, against a building, bricks warm and rough at her back and Hatter warm and rough at her front, a hand on either side of her face, being honest for once and letting her know. She was serious for a brief second and then couldn't hold it in any longer, chortled wildly and had to turn her face away. Not too far away, though. Not as though he couldn't get it back if he wanted.
He buried his face in the crook of her neck, snaked his arms around her back.
"Something funny, Miss Alice?" It was a murmur against her skin, vaguely ticklish.
Everything was funny, all of a sudden, but she couldn't very well tell him that. He'd think she was crazy.
"Just that you're here," she said. "After that whole— whatever that was in the looking glass hall. Awkward hugs and all." She pushed at his shoulders till he backed away enough for her to see his face. "What was that about, anyway? You know full well I wanted you to come with me."
"I did not," he denied, voice skittering a little high. "I knew no such thing. I had an inkling, alright, maybe, but after risking my neck for everything else I wasn't going to risk my heart as well. I'm not a betting man, Alice— well, not that sort of betting, anyway," he amended.
"Are you saying I'm not a sure thing?" Her voice was low, teasing. His face grew serious under her gaze.
"The surest of the sure," he said. "Except I'm a little bit of an idiot."
"I know it's a shock, but it's true." He held up both hands to indicate complete veracity. "Anyway, I came to my senses a bit later. Charlie helped," he admitted. "For a complete nutcake, he's got a head on his shoulders about personal relationships."
Alice acknowledged this was so. "How did you find me here, anyway? Not like you know your way around my world. And what was with the whole 'saving me' thing? How on earth would you get here in time to be the one that found me?"
"I, er." He looked a little devious for a moment. "Lied to your mum, a bit. Just a little."
She rolled her eyes at him. "Yeah, right, no kidding. David. Your name's not really—"
"Oh, God no," he said, with fervor. "But she asked my name, and I couldn't very well tell her 'Hatter' now, could I? David was the first thing that popped into my head. Well, no, actually. Not true." He holds up a finger. "'Theophilus' was the first thing that popped into my head, but you can't really see me as a Theophilus, now, can you? Please say you can't."
"I can't honestly see you as anything but Hatter," she said. "Honestly."
The beam he gave her was reward enough for her truthfulness. "Well, it wasn't only that. Also fibbed a bit on the whole 'construction worker' issue." Air quotes and raised eyebrows shaped his sentence into a masterpiece of understatement. "Well, no again. Not really to her, more to those mugs at the hospital. Because they wouldn't let me see you, and even when I told them that I'd found you they still wouldn't let me see you. But your mum was there, and she heard what I said. We got into a little conversation about what a nice girl you were." He frowned thoughtfully, as though something had just occurred to him. "Don't know why she didn't wonder why I was agreeing with her on everything."
Alice grew serious, biting her lip and looking at the sidewalk beneath their feet. His flat brown shoes, cracked leather, otherworldly dirt in the creases. The ballet flats her mother had brought for her to wear back from the hospital.
"She was worried," she said. "Practically distraught. She probably didn't even notice."
He dipped his chin and looked at her, echoing her gravity, dark eyes wide open.
"Everything's going to be fine, Alice."
She looked at him then, and tilted her head questioningly. "You're sure about that?"
And he grinned. "Positive." One hand on her shoulder, fingers warm, comforting, stroking slowly down her arm to circle around her elbow. She reached for it blindly, not letting her eyes leave his.
"Come on," she said. "Let's take a walk."
Hatter here. In her world. It was a mental image that deserved a frame, and the reality was even better. From the looks of things— glances tossed here and there, the curious lift of eyebrows nearly to now-combed hairline— he was intrigued by the novelty of it. Perhaps she would have felt like that about Wonderland, if she hadn't been half frightened out of her mind the entire time.
"So," she said, and dropped his hand to spread her arms as though presenting it to him. "What do you think?"
"I've been here before, you know," he said. If his intention was complete disarmament, he achieved it. Alice actually took a step back.
He glanced at her, grinned a little. "Well, not here here. Not your house, obviously. Just on holiday. Only stayed for about a week. This was a long time ago, of course, though— things don't appear to have changed much, do they?" He poked with one foot at the fire plug on the sidewalk. "'Course, that could be the time difference."
"I wondered about that." She walked on, folded her arms and tried to keep from staring at him; it was difficult. She wanted to look at him every three seconds, just to reassure herself that he really was here. Because, honestly— how improbable was all this? Just about as improbable as everything else that had happened recently, she supposed. It made a certain kind of sense that Hatter had visited her world before; she recalled his words before she'd gone back through the glass. We could— do pizza. It had the feel, the sound of a bit of slang picked up and delivered proudly if haphazardly, the way she always felt compelled to roll her Rs when ordering Mexican food. "I felt like I'd been gone for days."
"You had." He had now paused, examining a brick building studiously, as though there was going to be a pop quiz afterwards and he wanted to be ready.
Alice blinked at him. There she went again, her eyes drawn towards him as though she couldn't prevent herself. Magnetism, maybe. She was a compass, and he was the north. She shook her head and forced herself to concentrate; the aftermath of holding him, of kissing him, appeared to have fuzzed her head. Focus, Alice. "But my mother said I'd only been gone about an hour."
"Time difference, like I said." He shrugged a little, tapped at the brick and listened to it. The result, completely inaudible to Alice, made him give a blissful little smile. "Like a song, that one," he said. "Listen, Alice, time is one of the many, many, many differences between your world and mine. And really one of the least important. Think about it." He left off sounding the brick and came to her, still with that grin; took her hands in his, warm on warm, fingers tangling. He leaned close and when he sighed she could feel it. His face relaxed and his eyes searched hers, plumbing depths she hadn't known she possessed. "The one great difference," he said softly, "is no longer applicable."
"And that is?" she whispered.
He shrugged. "I'm here."
He didn't let her dwell on it, didn't let her heart melt any more into her shoes, didn't let it rise in her throat. He did give her a wicked little grin, but just for a moment. Then it disappeared back into his toolbox, for use the next time he wanted to make her steps falter, and he held her hand and walked on. "Tell me about your mother," he said.
"You've met her. She's— she's a very good mother." Alice thought about this request. "She'll be heartbroken all over again when I tell her about—"
"Your father," he finished for her, since she can't seem to bring herself to say the words. "You will tell her, though?"
"I already did, a little." She shook her head, as though to settle the facts. "I can't— I'm going to have to tell her everything. She expects me to give her a story."
"It is a story," Hatter agreed readily.
"No, a made-up one. She's expecting me to lie about it, at least a little. She probably thinks there's something going on."
He was still so close to her, he hardly needed to move at all to brush against her. "Isn't there?"
Alice snaked her arm around his back, underneath the jacket. She missed the ugly brown leather with a suddenness and a violence that took her by surprise; of course it was Hatter, of course it was, but he looked different and he sounded different, like he was trying to figure out what she wanted him to be. It was her frustration with this that made her say, "Mom thinks you're just like the others."
His footsteps faltered and stilled.
"How just like the others?" he demanded. "What others, for that matter?"
"I did tell you," she defended herself, backing up a step or two. "I have a history—"
"With liking guys." His voice slipped suddenly into an uncanny imitation of her own, and he rolled his eyes. "I know. I remember. Come to think of it, how many? Wait—" He put one hand on his hip and the other up, palm out, to stop her. "Don't tell me. I don't want to know."
"It's the trust that's the problem," said Alice, sounding it out as much for her benefit as his. She had always known there was something deeper going on, beneath the surface, in every relationship she'd had since her father left; but she'd gotten by simply by telling herself that it was perfectly normal. Everyone had doubts. Everyone carried baggage. "I always wanted to believe them when they said they wouldn't leave me, but I—" She stopped, swallowed. Started over again. "I wanted to believe them."
"And me," he prompted, looking up at her now. "How many times did I ask you to trust me, Alice? How many times did I prove that I could be trusted?"
He was hurt, and she could tell, and for him to ache meant she ached right along with him. "You don't get it," she said. "Just because my mom thinks you're like the others, doesn't mean I think so. Not any more. I'll get over it, Hatter." She stepped back towards him, and gave him the full force of her open heart, plain on her face. Hatter regarded her seriously for a moment.
"It's a promise," he said. "And promises get broken. Never mind that. We'll take it one step at a time."
And there she was forgiven, just like that, for her failings and her failures. Trusted, just like that, when he had equally as many reasons for mistrusting her as she had for mistrusting him. And vice versa, Alice thought; they'd both done what they could to prove themselves.
He took her by the shoulders and drew her towards him, replacing her arm around his waist and arching nimble fingers on the back of her neck.
"Alright," he said. "Tell me."
"I'll take a minute to count that high," said Alice, but her voice was low and teasing.
He tugged on her hair. "They followed you around like dogs to a whistle, didn't they? Lambs to the slaughter. Broken hearts flying all over the place, mucking up the furniture—"
"They did tend to come and go a little," she admitted. "Mostly through my own fault. I only ever dated one loser, I must say."
Hatter stroked down the length of her arm, then tucked his hand around her waist to steer her along with him as he began the walk back to the apartment. "Well, even the losers get lucky sometimes."
"There was Reggie, and Rick. Al. Joaquin. That was terrible, really, because it ended right after his mom got attacked. God, that was awful."
"What'd she get attacked by?" asked Hatter, diverted.
"A Canadian goose," said Alice. "Stop laughing! She nearly lost an eye. Hatter!" She tugged at his jacket, but he just went on giggling helplessly. "And then there was Mick," she said, maliciously, "who was very attractive and drank coffee all the time." Hatter grew very serious. "Add a few others to that, and what do you come up with?"
"I'm no good at maths," said Hatter.
"A businessman like you? I find that hard to believe."
"A businessman, not a mathematician. I use an abacus, like anyone else."
This, above all things, made her laugh; and while she was laughing she was also talking, stories were spilling out, she told him of the time Mick decided he was going to count all the stars in the sky and spent three days outside; she told him of Reggie and his prematurely-white hair, she told him about the day Rick and Tommy met and fisticuffs erupted in the middle of her classroom. After the stories, the apologizing started. She was sorry for not trusting him. She was sorry for not believing in him. She was sorry for all the ones that came before.
"Alice, Alice," Hatter said, softly now, gripping both her hands in his. He stared her down till she stopped babbling. "I don't care," he said, once he was sure he had her attention.
She blinked. "You don't?"
He shook his head. "I don't care how many there have been, Alice, I really don't. Just so long as I'm the last."
They were back at the apartment now. She turned from him to face the door; then his words sank in completely and she turned back again. He had one of her hands in his, and was looking down at it as though it was the most wonderfully peculiar thing he had ever seen. His grip was strong, and she could feel his heartbeat through his fingertips.
"I think," she said slowly, "this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
He lifted her hand and pressed his lips to it, slight and dry and warm. "Your mother's not going to keep calling me David, is she?" he mumbled into her skin.
Alice smiled, and then she laughed.
"Come on," she said, "we've got a story to tell."
"She's never going to believe us," said Hatter.
"That's what trust is all about," said Alice.
She opened the door.