In what he would later plead as a moment of supreme, but temporary, stupidity Hatter had expected to end up on the chopping block straight away, no questions asked. The Queen had yelled "Off with his head", and two Suits had dragged him out of the room, not even giving him the option of walking out under his power. And he would have, if only to reassure Alice (Alice, pounding on that bubble, yelling herself red in the face) that he was… he didn't even know. It was just the one thing he could have done to comfort her, before he met his end. Pathetic, but true.
Huh. The good Doctors Tweedle must have turned on the room already. That would explain why he was suddenly back at his tea shop.
He waited, drumming his fingertips along the top of the desk as a silence he had never heard in the shop filled his ears. He'd never been good at waiting, not when there was nothing to do but wait, and he suspected that was the point. Let him stew in his own juices while they decided whether he'd better better baked or broiled.
Just when he was getting to the point where he wanted to start talking for the Tweedles just for the sake of having something to interact with, the door opened and Alice stumbled through.
"Alice!" he cried, catching her before she could fall. He lowered her to the floor, cradling her head. Her face was covered in sweat, and she seemed unable to focus her gaze. He knew immediately what caused it: a bad brew of tea, too concentrated for safe consumption.
"Alice," he moaned. "Alright, Alice, Alice, just hang on, I've got something, I can fix this," he was babbling, he realized, an abruptly stopped himself. "I'll be right back."
He ran to his desk, opening the biggest drawer, and then removing the false bottom. The antidote wasn't there.
"What?" he said, disbelievingly. "No, I had-"
He looked over to where Alice had propped herself up on her elbows, hair plastered to her forehead, trembling slightly.
"It was right here!" he protested, nail scrabbling over the painfully empty compartment. "I had it right here!"
"But you don't anymore!"
The voice came from above him, so he looked up: Dr. Dee and Dr. Dum looked down at him, smiling. Oh. He'd forgotten. None of this was real. How could he have forgotten that?
"We have it here!" Dr. Dum added, holding up the flask he was looking for.
"Would you like to trade?" Dr. Dee asked.
"A bit of commerce?"
"I think we'll both find it very profitable."
Hatter stood up. "This isn't real."
"Oh it isn't real, he says?" Dr. Dee chortled.
"He has a point," Dr. Dum pointed out. "The room is not real. It's all in his head."
"But the girl…" Dr. Dee let his voice trail off with a leer.
Heart pounding in his chest, Hatter turned to where Alice was, looking terrified and terrifyingly ill. No.
"None of this," Hatter said, turning away from her back to the ceiling. "Is real."
"If it was so, it might be-" Dr. Dum began.
"-and if it were so, it would be-"
"-but as it isn't, it ain't."
"That's logic." Dr. Dee finished smugly.
Hatter swallowed. "It's not real."
Alice gave out a groan. He didn't turn around.
"It's not real."
Alice- Not Alice, it wasn't her- vomited.
"It's not real."
It wasn't Alice, it wasn't her, she was- she wasn't safe, but she wasn't- they couldn't…
"It's not real."
There was a tiny sob from behind him, which sounded suspiciously like his name. That, more than anything else, convinced him. Alice wouldn't being asking him for help; Alice wouldn't even be asking for help, full stop.
"She is not real."
The room dissolved around him, and the pair of doctors stood before him, only as large as life and wearing identical expressions of disappointment.
"It is not as much fun," Dr. Dum sighed.
"When you don't play the game," Dr. Dee finished. Then they both grinned.
"Not for us-" Dr. Dee went on.
"And especially not for you."
They advanced, and Hatter instinctively took a step backwards, tripping into a chair. The Tweedles were on him in an instant, tangling his right arm in his jacket as they tied down the left, and then forcing the other one down as well.
Then they moved behind him, out of his line of sight. Hatter panted from the exertion, and tried to brace himself for whatever was coming next.
What was coming next was a metal rod, which hit his head with enough force to send his hat flying across the room and to make him see stars.
"Ah!" he yelped, more out of shock than anything else.
"This is less fun than we would prefer," said Dr. Dee.
"We would much rather be at the Library," said Dr. Dum.
Hatter didn't answer. Dr. Dum handed the rod to Dr. Dee, who twirled it before sticking it into his side. Electricity coursed through his system, burning him from the inside out. He screamed. They giggled, circling him.
"I do wish we had a good book to read." A shock to his shoulder.
"A bit of poetry, perhaps." The prong of the cattle prod dug into his ribs before frying them.
"The one about us, perhaps some more." On his thigh, this time, a bit higher up than he was comfortable with. Not that he was comfortable with being cattle-prodded anyway, but. Still.
"Tweddledum and Tweedledee agreed to have a battle," Hatter blurted out. "For Tweddledum said Tweddledee had spoiled his nice new rattle."
The pair of them cackled.
"Just then flew down a monstrous crow, as black as a tar-barrel/ Which frightened both the heroes so they quite forgot their quarrel," Hatter finished. They applauded mockingly, then stuck him again.
"First, the fish must be caught/ That is easy; a baby, I think, could have caught it," he started again, when he stopped screaming. Nonsense: if he just gave them nothing but nonsense, rhymes and poetry and unsolvable riddles, eventually they'd get tired of this too.
He'd be dead, then, but he'd resigned himself to that already.
He'd gone through the rest of the The White Queen's Riddle, and You Are Old, Father William, when the door to the Truth Room opened, and Mad March entered.
Because I was having so much fun already, Hatter thought with rising hysteria, and then screamed again as another shock was sent through his ribs.
Words were exchanged: he barely heard them, but they had the general effect of leaving him alone with March.
"Why's a raven like a writing desk?" he murmured, tugging uselessly at his bonds. They didn't enough give in them for him to get out. "The clock's not ticking properly. Must be crumbs in the butter."
"Where's the Great Library?"
Hatter didn't reply, choosing instead to make eye contact, and try to look like he wasn't scared out of his mind.
"Yeah. I thought you wouldn't crack." March pulled out a knife, and suddenly, Hatter felt a little less like being resigned to his untimely death. "So I guess there's no reason to keep you alive. Twinkle twinkle little bat/ How I wonder where you're at. Goodbye Hatter."
Hatter had a sudden, and incredibly useful epiphany: his legs weren't tied.
He kicked out, pushing March back and himself to the floor. The bonds still didn't have enough give for him to get free outright, but they did have enough for him to flip the chair in front of him, and use it as a shield against March's next attack. It was sheer luck that the next one cut through the rope: even greater luck that it was the one on his right hand. He didn't waste it though- he never wasted luck when it happened by him- and punched through the ceramic shell of his head through the wire and silicon beneath. March fell to the floor, dead. Again. Hopefully for good this time, because as of now he had highly important plans for the future which included never laying eyes on him ever again.
Hatter stood over the body for a moment, staring. Then he giggled. Then the giggle turned into a chuckle. Then the chuckle turned into a full blown laugh. He was still laughing when the doctors returned.
"I know what this looks like!" Hatter said between peals of laughter, slipping his jacket back on. "This looks like I've gone mad. I haven't." He retrieved the hat from the floor and stuck it back on his head. "It's just really that funny." He gestured to the body, which they obligingly looked at. "I cracked Mad March. Literally!"
He gave Dr. Dum just enough time to let what he would later admit (if only to himself) was a truly horrible pun sink in, and then knocked him out. Dr. Dee he gave a little longer.
As he fell to the floor, the room reverted back to a sterile white color, and the outline of a door appeared. Hatter walked out the door, noticed it was in an unguarded and secluded portion of the casino, and sank against the wall in relief.
Right. Thinking. He knew how to do that. He should probably actually do it.
What else did he know? Well, he was alive, for starters. Alive, and out of that room. And he had his hat. Mad March was dead. The Tweedles were out. So, there was no reason to run from anything. What about to? Did he have anything he needed to be running to?
Alice. Alice was here, looking for her father. And he needed her. And she needed-
Right. Okay. Now he had a plan. Sort of. He had a goal, anyway: find Alice.
The Queen would have wanted her executed: executions as high-profile as hers would take place in the Great Hall. Which was, if he remembered how to get from the Throne Room to the Truth Room correctly, four stories down and on the other side of the casino entirely. If he cut through the Oyster rooms, he could shave some time of his travel.
Hatter took off running.