Author's Notes: The characters contained herein are not mine. This story is meant solely for entertainment purposes. No infringement is intended.
Thanks to the ever awesome Alamo Girl for keeping hyphen happy me in check (for the most part.)
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Jack Heart went through the Looking Glass only once after Alice left Wonderland, to remind himself why it had all been worth it.
His grey suit blended in easily among the low hanging clouds and lightly falling raindrops.
No one took notice of him here, and for that he was thankful; he'd had enough of being recognized--and blamed--of late.
On instinct, he kept close to the concrete walls of the alleys that surrounded the mirror. Since his mother was overthrown, safety had been ingrained in him as forcefully (and, admittedly, as painfully) as possible. He had to smile--an alien emotion if there ever was one--for Alice had saved him yet again, with her karate training. It had protected him--and the Stone, which remained on his person always--at all times.
His fists clenched protectively as he rounded the corner by the coffee shop where he'd spent so many afternoons watching the dark-haired beauty prior to introducing himself--and his plan. His right hand relaxed slightly as the familiarity rushed over him; the broken sidewalk was still the same, as were the mismatched, rusty chairs that dotted it. The green and white striped awning was still faded but welcoming, an old friend calling to him across a great divide.
What he wouldn't give for it to be like that in Wonderland. The only similarities the two worlds had anymore were memories of Alice and cracks in the foundation.
He sat down at the circular bistro table, just out of the reach of an insistent drip from the canopy above, and watched through the large picture window across the street as Alice taught her beginner's class. He'd always been in awe of the way she interacted with the children; her voice became impossibly soft, her smile implausibly encouraging. Her laugh during the beginner's hour was a lark's song, musical and carried.
Jack watched as she gently corrected one little girl's lower block, and his eyes eventually scanned to the far side of the dojo. His stomach tightened--admittedly in jealousy, for he understood his limitations as a man--as he saw Hatter sitting comfortably, attention divided between the woman they'd both follow to the ends of two worlds and a little blonde-headed girl who was tugging on his sleeve.
He couldn't quite keep the surprise off his face when Hatter picked the little girl up with ease and settled her on his lap. He began speaking quietly but animatedly, his right hand drawing expressive scenes in the air. Jack wondered what he was talking about. Perhaps the Wonderland of old, with brave knights, lions, unicorns, and an occasional Jabberwock. Maybe he was telling the girl about the beautiful Alice of Legend--the one from 150 years ago or the one from a few months past, it didn't matter--who saved strangers simply because it was the right thing to do.
He was glad Hatter couldn't tell her the truth: about a deposed Queen who still had supporters and strength, even as she remained sequestered in a speedily created jail. A hastily installed King whom the citizenry didn't trust, half believing perhaps he was part of a syndicate dedicated to the oppression of his people, the rest believing he hadn't done enough to save them throughout the years. No thorough medical care for the Wonderlanders who had been on the Teas for so long that they could barely see straight; no acceptable explanation as to why it was necessary to have been this way.
They'd come after him twice, bearing arms and hearts of hate. And he didn't blame them. But he did wonder why he kept going, why he kept fighting the tides when the current seemed too strong and overly determined to drown him.
So he'd returned to Alice's world, to remind himself of what happiness and success looked like. To remind himself that one person could make a difference--and did.
The rain started to change into a gently covering snow as he sat and watched Alice and Hatter, a pair separated only by physical space. Jack wished he'd brought a warmer coat, and finally went into the coffee shop, using the last of the Other World money he'd saved to buy the mixed coffee drink Alice had insisted he'd try a lifetime ago. There was a pang of something almost forgotten in his chest--guilt, perhaps--for opportunities missed and mistakes made. He'd been so cold to her in Wonderland, so detached. A necessary evil, he'd told himself then--as if finding an explanation to hurting her had mattered--something he'd had to do in order to get the job done. He'd wanted to hold her, comfort her like any decent human being would, when he explained Carpenter was her father, but he'd had to focus on the big picture: fixing Wonderland as a whole.
The outside temperature was irrelevant when he realized just how cold his biggest regret would forever make him: that he had never told her how sorry he was. Sorry he had lied, sorry about her father, sorry he had dragged her into an apparently winless war.
When he returned to his table, he saw Alice bowing to her class, dismissing them, and Hatter depositing the blonde-haired girl back on the floor with a wink and a wave. There was a flurry of activity as parents bundled their children in a variety of winter wear. Street lights illuminated slippery walkways, but it wasn't the threat of ice that had Hatter's arm wrapping itself tightly and familiarly around Alice's waist, sliding beneath the plum coat she'd worn during her time in Wonderland as they left the dojo. Jack wondered if there wasn't anything Hatter couldn't do; he got the girl and the jacket safely to the Other World. He was speaking quietly into Alice's ear, and she laughed boisterously at whatever the former tea shop owner said. Jack's throat felt dry as she tilted her head back, exposing the long, graceful curve of her neck in her merriment. Hatter was equally mesmerized by the action, but obviously comfortable in the experience, for he swiftly placed a kiss below Alice's ear, and Jack could see the action sent a shiver up the Other Worlder's spine. From his position across the street, Jack could see Hatter whispered something against the brunette's neck, and Alice turned toward her companion, curling tightly against him until the King wasn't sure where one began and the other ended.
For all the influence he had in his world--for all he could decree, for all he could try to change--this was something he had no power over. Even in the worst of Wonderland's troubles, he had never felt so weak, so useless as he did now. He couldn't control love. And he was damn sure there was no Tea strong enough to mimic the depth of the feelings he was seeing right now.
He watched closely as their hands connected to make them even more impossibly entwined, and as they started walking down the street away from him, he could see the ease in their steps, the joy with which they set out on whatever journey they'd just begun evident.
Looking down at his rapidly cooling mug, Jack's stomach clenched again; not in jealousy this time, but in despair. He wondered whether or not he would ever find a relationship like that, where strolling in twinkling white lights at dusk in the arms of the person you love would create logic out of nothingness in a world so nonsensical. God knew he'd never seen such a display with his own parents, nor had he experienced such an unspoken trust with Duchess. Hell, he'd never had a friend like that before, where simply being in the other's presence was enough to put a smile on one's face. He'd thought that perhaps he'd cared for Alice the way Hatter did, but she seemed like another person with him--not just because they were in different circumstances or, literally, in a different world. He hadn't seen this side of Alice in their short time together; relaxed, bright eyes filled to the brim with delight instead of fight or tears.
He remembered what Hatter had said to him in the Kingdom of the Knights: You're better off with this guy.
"No," Jack murmured into an ignorant winter's whistling wind, "it's quite clear she's exactly where she needs to be."
The once ill-defined impetus behind his trip made sense now. There had been many who'd advised against his trip through the Looking Glass, wondering if the King wasn't going slightly mad in obsessing over a girl who'd left so many months before. But now he understood he'd just needed to see that the Oysters--his Oyster--was happy. That all of the assassination attempts, the accusations that he was still in cahoots with his mother, that he wasn't cut out to be King--that it was all bollocks. That he was strong; that he could do this.
That despite all that had been lost--two fathers, an extraordinary girl whom he really had fallen for, despite her hesitation to acknowledge it--something had, miraculously, been gained: a safe, good life for some. A reminder that truths can be black and white, not the shades of grey he'd been forced to live in for so long.
It was true that the good life for the rest of Wonderland would take more diligence on his part, longer meetings, more open discussion, and perhaps more dissidence by the citizenry. But as the snow began to swirl around him like the rain that had curtained him in secrecy earlier in the day, he knew he would take the chance. The Red King had; so may of his Resistance brethren had. If death was to be his legacy as well--but one that would ultimately save Wonderland--he'd do it. Because this was no longer about a girl or a ring. This was about a kingdom. About what was right. He understood that now.
He chuckled, warm breath crystallizing upon impact in the cooling wind. Yet again, thanks to Alice.
Rejuvenated, he finished his coffee and stealthily tracked Hatter and Alice to her mother's place. As Hatter held the door for Alice, Jack swiftly crossed the street, standing beside an unlit lamp and watched as Alice walked up the steps to her mother's front door on the second landing.
Jack noticed Hatter remain in the open entry, eyes scanning warily across the street as though he sensed the King's presence. He stepped out of the shadows and into the beam of light cast from the wrought iron lamppost.
He saw Hatter immediately stiffen, and before Jack could say anything, Hatter called for the legendary girl who continued to insist she was just plain ordinary.
Instead of replying, Jack merely nodded at him, silently wished them good luck and Godspeed, and headed back toward the Looking Glass, revitalized and refocused.
He was long gone when Alice raced downstairs and asked breathlessly, "Hatter? What is it?"
Wrapping an arm around her shoulder and pressing a kiss to her temple, Hatter replied, "It's nothing, love. I just thought I saw a ghost."