Alice had been gone about an hour when the knock on the door came.
"I've told you," Carol called and she unlocked the door. "When you leave the house you need to take your k-"
It was Robert. Carol shut the door. He knocked again.
Tentatively, she opened it again. It was still Robert- with more wrinkles and grey hair, but undoubtedly her wayward husband.
"I- Carol," he began.
"Do you have any idea what you've put us through?" she demanded. She didn't want to hear the apology- there was no apology on Earth that could possibly cover what he'd done. "You know you've been missing for thirteen years, right?"
"Carol," Robert repeated. She ignored the implicit plea to let him speak.
"Thirteen years! I had to raise Alice all on my own!" Carol yelled. "You missed all of her teen years, her high school graduation, her college graduation…"
"Her black belt and a string of boyfriends," Robert said, anguished. "I know. She's told me."
Carol stared. That could only mean one thing: Alice's Dad search had finally paid off.
"I know there's nothing I can possibly," he began again, then stopped. "There's no excuse for this. None. But I can explain, if you'll let me show you something."
"Really?" Carol asked incredulously.
"Really," Robert promised. "It'll only take an hour of your time, and Alice is waiting for us there."
That settled it. Carol got her jacket and her keys, and gestured out into the hallway. "After you, then."
When Hatter woke up, he was mostly cold, with a little spot of warmth along his left side. As he opened his eyes- a task made very difficult by the fact that they'd been soldered shut while he slept- he noticed that the warmth corresponded with the dark-haired head resting on the bed. The nice-looking body it was attached to was seated next to the bed, causing it to be bent into what was probably a pretty uncomfortable position. He made to reach out and wake her up, but when he lifted his arm his side felt like it caught fire, and he had to let it drop before it even got an inch off the bed.
He'd also apparently made some noise, because the figure began to stir and just as the pain in his side began to subside, Alice raised her head, eyes widening as she saw him.
"Alice," he replied, frowning at how scratchy his voice was. "What happened?"
"You tore out your stitches," Alice told him, squeezing his hand a little. "Water?"
It took a minute for him to realize that she was asking him if he wanted any, and he nodded.
"You scared me," Alice called from the bathroom.
"Why, what I'd do?" Hatter asked.
"What'd you do? What'd you do?" Alice yelled. Hatter blinked. "You came after me when I went to the Casino. And again, when the Suits found me at the Hospital of Dreams. You were caught because of me, they tortured you, and when I finally find you again you rip your stitches and collapse!"
Alice march over to the bed and held out the glass for him to sip from. He looked at it for a moment, before replying. "You're welcome."
"Please, never do it again," Alice said seriously.
"If I do, will you come after me?" Hatter asked.
"Of course I will!" Alice cried. "That's not the point."
"Yes it is," Hatter replied. "I don't want you in danger any more than you want me in danger. The way I see it, as long as we both try to steer clear of trouble, there's no need for anyone to risk anything on rescue missions."
Alice sat, shakily. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Hatter repeated, then after a moment added. "Can I have that water now?
Being King seemed to entail a lot more work than Jack had anticipated. True, he'd been expecting there to be more work than he'd ever seen going on under his parent's reign, but not quite this much work. The Court wasn't used to doing more than the bare functional minimum, and getting them to try and increase the scope or quality of their work was even more difficult than pulling teeth. He was fast approaching the point where he was going to open a meeting with a request that Caterpillar find suitable replaces for them all from the Resistance's ranks, and see if they got the message that simply because he was not going to have them beheaded didn't mean he couldn't make their lives very miserable indeed.
He'd just barely managed to deposit himself on the edge of his bed when the door opened. "Hello, Duchess."
"Hello, Jack," Duchess replied, settling herself on the edge of the bed right alongside him. "Long day at the office?"
"No more than usual," Jack told her. "Hopefully, I'll get used to this in time."
"The workload will probably lessen too," Duchess reassured him. "You aren't the only one adjusting to a change in pace. As the ministers learn their new duties they'll start relying on you to guide them less."
"They might blame me less," Jack predicted. "But I'm sure I'll be tweaking their budgets for the rest of my reign."
He sighed, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. "We still need to have that talk."
He opened them to find Duchess, looking ill with nerves. "It can wait. Now's not a good time, not with-"
"Duchess," Jack interrupted gently. "We have a country to run. It will never be a good time."
She took a deep breath, then as he watch pushed aside all of her trepidation. "We're still engaged. I trust you wish to remain that way?"
"For the time being," he replied. "Demands of politics, I'm afraid."
"And you're expecting that I'll let us remain that way until you find the woman you wish to marry and then to step aside," she challenged.
"No!" he protested. "No, that's not what I meant by politics! I meant- Duchess, I'm not sure who you are without my mother to perform for. I'm not sure who I am either. I'd like time to figure that out."
"And the politics?" Duchess demanded.
"It would look very strange if we were to break off our engagement only to become engaged again," Jack said.
"So, this has nothing to do with the fact that you're the first King of Hearts to wield power openly while still single, then?" Duchess asked.
"Yes, I'm actually secretly looking for a very discreet bodyguard to beat the bachelorettes off me," Jack said, in all apparent seriousness.
"In case you were wondering," Duchess informed him. "Without your mother to perform for, you don't emote very well."
"I don't?" Jack asked.
Duchess shook her head.
"I can see how that might complicate things."
Still shaking her head, Duchess began to smile.
Alice would have been happy never to set foot on another Scarab ever again, but Jack had offered Hatter the chance to fly over the wreckage of the Casino so he could watch the construction team clearing it away, and Hatter was willing to take him up on it. He was fine, he insisted, but Alice couldn't shake the impression that fine was an extremely subjective term. He'd seemed more or less 'fine' until he was on the ground and bleeding, and Alice was not letting that happen again. So she went with him, and if he thought that arm he had around her was just for the sake of her nerves, then she wasn't going to call attention to how much he was leaning on her.
"He wasn't all bad," Hatter said suddenly as the Scarab circled lazily over the site of the Casino. "He got worse as he got older, but he wasn't ever all bad."
Alice didn't know what to say. Now that the adrenaline had faded and things were settling into a semblance of sanity, the fact that she'd actually killed a man was just beginning to sink in.
"I'm not blaming you, or anything," Hatter said quickly. "He wasn't ever half good, either. He didn't leave you with much of a choice, I'm sure. Just, he was human, not a mindless killing machine."
Alice nodded, reaching for his hand. And if the feel of his fingers intertwined with hers was all that kept her from falling to pieces, she didn't feel like calling attention to that either.
Charlie looked down at the pages scattered around the yard. It was a larger class than he'd expected- larger even than he'd hoped. Although, he was serving refreshments and this was their first session. People might drop out. Or they might try to join late.
"Gather around everyone!" he called out. One by one, the children settled down, nibbling on their food. "We're going to start with a history lesson!"
There was a chorus of groans. "I thought you were going to teach us how to be knights!" one of the older girls cried.
"And I am!" Charlie replied. "There is more to being a knight than fighting, and part of that 'more' is knowing your history." When there were no more protests, he began. "Once upon a time and place known as Victorian London, there was a girl, no older than many of you, who fell through the rabbit hole into this world. Her name was Alice."
Owl and Duck had settled into the same apartment- color him shocked- and after years of bribing them so he wouldn't be shot it felt sort of rude not to go calling. He was also as bored as a well-fed Jub-Jub bird, and was perfectly content to latch onto anything he could as an excuse to leave the confines of his bedroom and walk around the city a bit. It's not that he minded spending the bulk of his time indoor with Alice, but as they weren't exactly doing anything strenuous and she had to make frequent trips to the makeshift palace to chat with her long-lost-now-found father, he did spend a lot of time at loose ends.
Duck didn't seem to be too impressed with the flat warming gift he'd bought, though. "Owl," he yelled. "There's more vegetables for you!"
"Calm down, I bought some mince pies for you too," Hatter said, rolling his eyes. With Jack in charge the Court was no longer sitting pretty on tons and tons of food that would sooner rot than be eaten, but old habits die hard and food's still considered a precious commodity, and therefore a good gift.
"Really?" Duck asked. Hatter reached into the basket and pulled out one of the pies. Duck snatched it away, and then pushed the door all the way open. "Then come inside before you fall down."
Hatter rolled his eyes again. "I'm fine! Believe it or not, passing out from blood loss is not an activity in which I regularly partake."
Duck muttered something under his breath, the only word of which that was audible was 'Alice'.
"Oi!" he protested as Duck kicked a chair away from the table for him to sit on. "What's she been telling you?"
"That you've currently got a high thread count than one of your shirts and that we shouldn't be too hard on you until that changes," Owl called from the kitchen. Hatter groaned, embarrassed. He didn't want to be fussed over, even at a distance. He might start getting used to it, and then he'd miss it when it was gone.
"Speaking of which, are there going to be little half-Hatters running around soon?" Owl continued as she took the basket from his suddenly limp hands.
"What?" he asked.
"Little half-Hatters," Owl repeated. "You were a very strange child, if there are going to be more like I should like to be prepared."
Hatter shot a beseeching look at Duck, who shot one of his own back that clearly said he was on his own.
"I- there- you barely even knew me when I was child!" Hatter protested.
"Well you made quite the impression," Owl insisted.
"Yeah, there's no kids in the works," he answered.
"Well when there are give me a heads up," Owl insisted.
"Yeah, okay," Hatter promised. It was the sort of promise that was very easy to make, because keeping it would require absolutely no effort at all. The idea of his having kids with Alice was so ludicrously out of reach it wasn't even worth thinking too much about. They were barely even dating- which he planned on changing as soon as he was physically able- and well. She had a life on the other side of the Looking Glass. She was only staying until her father finished his work drying out the Tea heads, and he wasn't really sure what he could do. Visit, he supposed, but…
After so many years trying to make her family whole, Alice couldn't leave them. And after so many years trying to overthrow the Queen, Hatter couldn't leave Wonderland behind either.
Dodo might possibly have been happy. It was such a strange sensation that he wasn't exactly sure what it was, but he felt light and couldn't stop smiling no matter how many times he caught himself.
"No, no, no!" he yelled. The Suits ignored him and continued to power wash the skylights, letting sunlight into the library for the first time in over a century.
"That's going to ruin the books we haven't managed to put away!" he yelled.
"Stop complaining and help us put them away if you're so worried!" Felix shouted back from the small patch of library floor they'd managed to clear. From there he was directing his fellow Clubs, doing his best to make sure that none of the books were grievously misfiled and failing no more often than he should.
"Sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of how many mistakes you're making!" Dodo replied. The water washed the next window clear, sending a rippling shaft of light on top of him. And he smiled.
Hatter had gotten the last of his stitches out, and seemed to be making up for the loss of mobility by going twice as fast and talking a mile minute. This extended to walking home even though the sky had been an ominous slate grey since before they'd woken up; they ended up running home through the rain.
"Don't be silly, it never rains in Wonderland," Hatter told her as they sprinting through the front door of the Tea Shop. "It pours."
"Really? I had no idea," Alice said, wiggling out of the now very wet and very heavy velvet coat Hatter was still lending her.
Hatter opened the door to his office, before spinning around to beam at her. "Wait, that's actually true! There aren't any prevailing winds at this latitude, so any storms that hit us have to be big and full of momentum all on their own! There's science and everything!"
Alice laughed at his gleeful expression as he tipped his hat forward and let the water that had collected on the brim fall into one of his shrubs.
"I remember, that was in one of the books Dodo first paid me with," Hatter continued, taking the coat from her arms and wringing it out over two of the other shrubberies. "He thought it would be too boring for me to get anything out of."
"But it turned out to be interesting?" Alice guessed, walking up behind him.
"Nope," Hatter informed her, still grinning like a madman and bouncing slightly as he hung up her jacket and began to wring out his own on the grass. "Dead boring. I've met more interesting statues. Useful though- if you think walking in this is bad, try being-"
There was a curl plastered to the side of his face, and without conscious thought process Alice found herself prying it back up to furl around his hat.
"Try being out in a boat," Hatter finished, his voice rough.
She leaned up at the same time he leaned down, and for a moment their noses bumped, Alice turned her head slightly to the left, and then they were kissing properly, lips pressed together, and stubble rasping on her skin. She felt his eyelashes on her face as his eyes fluttered closed. Hers had shut already and there was nothing to do but get him to drop the wet jacket and pressed them closer together.
Caterpillar could have been content in his position as the King's advisor, but that would imply that he felt and he was never quite sure that what others termed emotions applied to him at all. He preferred certainties when talking to himself- doubts and differing shades of reality were for conversation with other people.
"If Minister Maribor is unable to fulfill his duties reconstructing the education system, I've heard from Tortoise. She would be happy to take up the position," Caterpillar said. It was a perfect example of the concept he was musing about. Ostensibly, he was addressing the King, but the message itself was meant for Minister Maribor, and to a lesser extent, all the other officials that were in the room who had been dragging their feet, which was to say very nearly all of them. The King himself had no need to hear those words, as even if he had not received the notice he had sent to him, they had spoken about it just before this very meeting. It had the curious effect of causing Maribor's face to redden, but not reply.
"Thank you Caterpillar," The King said. "That is a comfort to know."
Caterpillar nodded in acknowledgement, and took another pull on his hookah, wondering if he might also be capable of being smug.
"What are we doing, Hatter?" Dormie asked.
"Well, I'm catching up on some reading, and you're asking stupid questions," Hatter replied, not looking up from the text.
"About the Shop, I meant," Dormie replied, rolling his eyes. "And I think you might just be acting thick."
"You've caught me," Hatter snapped, looking up just long enough to send him an extremely unimpressed look. "I've told you, we should wait on the insurance before deciding on anything."
"It came two days ago!" Dormie cried.
Hatter looked genuinely surprised for a moment, before covering it up quickly. "There's a problem with it. I've sent it back to be redone."
"You didn't even know it was here!" Dormie accused. Hatter said nothing, which told him all he needed to know anyway. Hatter had gone madly in love, completely girl crazy. It's not that Dormie couldn't tell why, what with the girl in question being absolutely crazy herself, but he was worried by the fact that it was causing Hatter to brood. A broody Hatter was not a productive Hatter, and an unproductive Hatter meant that he had to do more of the work.
"What are you doing, Hatter?" Dormie asked.
"I told you, I'm reading," Hatter grunted.
Hatter sighed, and then held up the book so the cover was truly visible: A Rabbit in Oxford.
"Hatter!" Dormie cried. "You can't be serious."
"That's up for debate," Hatter replied. "I prefer to keep things light, but that doesn't always work, does it?"
Dormie didn't have much to say to that, so he stopped asking stupid questions, and let Hatter go back to being thick.
Robert was a scientist; more than that, he was a neurologist. Observation was second nature to him, as was hypothesizing based on whatever details he noted. Alice was still coming to see him at his work three or four times a week, but always returned to another section of the city before nightfall. She was consistently cheerful about his work, but had to put more and more effort into the demeanor the closer he got to finishing it. She avoided bringing up home, though she could talk about it when he did.
There were a lot of hypothesizes he could make based on those facts. One of them was that he needed to find a shotgun and pay Hatter a visit; another was that the idea that Hatter would be paying them a visit was severely in question, even factoring out the shotgun. He could never quite get an answer from Alice about what her relationship with Hatter was, likely because he could never quite bring himself to ask directly.
He was going to need some backup for that talk. And there was only one person he could think of who he could count on for that. Providing she would still give him the time of day.
Darrel was a fairly simple man. He was attached to his head and took a very dim view of anyone who showed signs of disapproving of that relationship. As such, the new regime suited him just fine: the King was not a violent man, and neither was his fiancé at heart.
If he had any complaints about the new order, it was that they kept sending him to various corners of the City. They were all very serious missions concerning very important people and very sensitive information, but that didn't change the fact that he was essentially acting as a courier.
Well. Better his dignity than his brain.
He knocked on the door to Hatter's Tea Shop office. It swung open and he was suddenly face to face with Lady Alice. Oh. So this was where she'd been hiding herself away.
"Hello," Alice greeted.
"Yes, hello," Darrel replied. "I'm here for you and Hatter?"
"Yeah, what's up?" Hatter's voice called from inside the office.
"The ceiling?" Darrel replied, confused.
"Why Alice!" Hatter cried, sounding shocked. "You've corrupted me!"
Alice rolled her eyes. "Turnabout's fair play."
"You're saying I've corrupted you?"
Darrel coughed. "The Duchess has requested Hatter's presence at the palace as soon as is convenient."
"Oh, I was just on my way there," Alice replied.
"Looks like I'll be taking that walk after all," Hatter remarked.
"I've got a bullet car waiting," Darrel informed.
"Or we could drive," Hatter suggested. "That could be fun too."
Duchess was humming to herself a bit when she heard Hatter enter the room. She couldn't help it: her engagement to Jack was still official and whole, and she was beginning to expect that it would stay that way, even if Jack apparently never cared much for ballet and her habit of leaving her cosmetics out drove him insane. It put her in a generous mood, and made her want to reach out to someone who was also hoping against hope for a happy ending.
And if she was petty enough to feel better with Alice safely entrenched on the other side of the Looking Glass, then, well. No one was perfect.
Alice hadn't been aware of how much homesickness she'd been repressing until she caught sight of her mother standing outside Dad's laboratory.
"Mom!" she cried, throwing her arms around her.
"Alice!" Mom replied. "We're in Wonderland!"
"I know!" Alice cried, then stopped. "Wait, what are you doing here?"
"Your father showed up completely out of the blue and bought me here," she replied, with a significant look over her shoulder. Alice turned around to face Dad, looking a bit misty-eyed.
"He also promised me that he could explain," Mom added, more sternly.
"It's complicated," Alice said automatically.
"I gathered that when I noticed I was on another planet," Mom replied. "What happened?"
Alice looked to her father, who said. "It's a long story. You remember that grant project I was working on? About the limbic system and the chemicals it secretes?"
"Yes…" Mom replied uncertainly.
"Well, I wasn't the only person interested in that, apparently," Dad continued. "They- the people here- well, some of them-"
"Until maybe two and a half weeks ago, there was Wonderland was run by the Queen of Hearts," Alice interrupted. "One of the ways she remained in power was through use of these Teas. They were extracts of human emotions, essentially, and that's why they took Dad."
Mom stared. "You were kidnapped?"
"Yes," Dad replied. "They made me forget about you and Alice, about my life on Earth, even. It took me longer than it should have to remember again."
"It's not your fault," Alice replied.
"I went over a week after seeing you before it finally sunk in," Dad replied stubbornly.
"You've only been gone an hour!" Mom interjected, before Alice had to come up with another way of phrasing 'It's not your fault!'.
"What?" Alice said.
"The Looking Glass can take you back to whatever time you chose, within reason," Dad explained quickly. "I got her an hour after you went through."
"How long has it been for you?" Mom asked.
"Almost a month, now," Alice replied. "Like I said, it's complicated."
Very complicated. Complicated enough that by the time she'd finished telling it all she was all but sitting on her mother's lap, like she was ten years old again and wondering where her father was. The fact that he was right there, rubbing a hand down her back, made it only marginally better.
"Alice!" Hatter shouted from the end of the hall. He was grinning again, though it dimmed considerably when he saw what she was doing.
"Are you alright?" he asked, concerned. Alice wiped the tears from her eyes, feeling a bit foolish: after all, she'd come out on top.
"I'm fine," she replied, standing. "Hatter, this is my mother, Carol. Mom, this is Hatter."
"Hello," Hatter greeted, tipping his hat. Mom smiled weakly back.
"What's going on?" Alice asked.
"I've just been to see Duchess," he began.
Alice nodded. "And?"
"And, they need someone to keep an eye on the Looking Glass from your end of things," Hatter said.
Alice blinked, the implications clear. "So, you're..."
"I'm moving to New York!" Hatter replied, grin breaking out in full force.
Yeah, she really had come out on top she thought, as she threw her arms around him.
New York smelled different: asphalt and plastic and car exhaust. There were some many people, libraries full to the brim with literally millions of books, and food like he'd never thought possible.
There was also his job, with just enough intrigue and danger that he didn't feel like he was going soft. And there was Alice, who let him get away with being soft-ish anyhow. And Hatter… Hatter was happy, and able to plan on staying that way for a very long time to come.
A/N: Fucking hell on a motorcycle.
More coherent author's notes can be found by following the link on my profile. Beyond that, all I have to say here is thanks. It's been one hell of a ride.