Author's Notes: …so much for one-shots, eh? So… I've been going all out with trying to get characters across here, so there's going to be a whole of trying to get Hatter's accent right. I must admit, it was difficult at first, since I can't quite work out what his accent is meant to be… I'm not the best with them, I'll admit. Be glad I got the Scottish accent out of my head early, because otherwise I would have started spouting Tim Burton's Hatter, and that would have been… well… interesting… All I can say is thank god for Primeval DVDs, because they've all I've watched for the last 2 days. There probably should have been some glass-pulling-out-of-skin fun, but firstly, I doubt there would have been any tweezers in that office, and secondly… I got a bit squeamish at the thought ^-^' ANYWAY, I really hope you enjoy this, I'm quite happy with it, I must admit.

And Catesy! I'm expecting feedback :p xx

~x~x~x~

He had never been one to keep much in the way of company. Being a player for both political sides, he couldn't really make "friends", as such, in case he ever let anything slip, or they were to be put in danger and used against him. As such, "Business partners" was the only real description for the people he liaised with, and even Dormie was only a worker of his, staying for fear of what Hatter or the Resistance would do if he fled. The girls only flirted if they thought they could get a hit of Tea for their troubles, and even then the only way they knew of flirting came from a bottle.

So, he didn't have much choice but to keep himself to himself, and when you are left without many people to talk to, you get used to keeping your own company. He wasn't as mad as his namesake might suggest, but he was quite content to talk to himself. He gave himself good advice, if ever he would just listen to it, and in fact talking to himself, ironically, was what staved off the madness.

So talking to a deaf Alice was not as unusual as it might seem. As long as he remembered to stop whenever she looked at him, he could rant as much as he wanted about her hard-headedness, lack of trust, her insistence on running after the Prince of Ponce until they got back to the Tea House. It was a relief to let it out, and saved them having an argument when she got her hearing back. He wasn't a typically angry person, but he did have a record for keeping his emotions bottled up – a joke that had grown stale rather quick back when he still let himself get close to people – and the outlet of a deaf Alice was quite the novelty.

He didn't like this one bit; hated that she was hurt, trapped, and he couldn't do anything to help. But he tended to talk when he panicked, and he was somewhat thankful that at least this time, she wouldn't be able to hear his ramblings.

But deaf or not, Alice was astute, and she quickly picked up on it, though she just left him to it, a fond smile on her lips. She might be angry with her current weakness – an obvious weakness at that, not something she could hide as easily as the countless others as she always had – but she did appreciate his help. And it didn't surprise her in the least that her not being able to hear wouldn't stop that mouth of his. It rarely took a break at the best of times, let alone when he was worried.

And she still noticed the change in his demeanour when he saw the front of his shop.

The door was hanging from the hinges, the wood splintered by the lock. There were numerous foot prints marring the paint on the porch that hadn't been there when she had last been to the place. It was only the slightest of changes in his step; he barely even faltered, but Alice felt it. She could tell that tension was growing in him, could feel his hand tightening slightly around hers, his body tensing as he lead her to his office, and she could tell he was bracing himself for whatever lay inside. The damage to the sales floor was minimal, mainly because there wasn't much to break. A table over turned here, a splatter of blood there, showing that a fair bit of scuffling had taken place, but that was about it.

Yet as he led her silently through this, he was so calm, hardly looking at the damage and caring even less. He had never cared for what happened here. People squandering away their own lives for the sake of a quick thrill, stolen from someone else's.

The Suits were not going to just destroy a good place, even for Alice. This shop gathered quite the haul when it came to Wonders, and they knew it, which was why the main body of the place was relatively undamaged. Not that any of that Emotion was left now. The shop had been cleared of anything that was left. There wasn't a drop left in the joint.

All the same, the office, personal to Hatter and unseen by the public, had not been treated with quite the same level of respect.

"No, no, no… not the grass," Hatter whined, finally letting go of Alice's hand as he ran to see the damage. The grass had been walked over repeatedly, undoubtedly the work of Suits searching for a hidden room or something. It was only tender care that kept it vibrant, indoor as it was, and now it seemed to have given up the fight; allowed itself to fall into being dull and muddied. The back door was open, and had been pulled back with enough ferocity to rip up the patch of greenery under it, leaving a triangle of dirt, the grass that had lay there curled up behind the door.

The white chair she had first seen him had been pushed over, and now had several grass and mud stains adorning its previously spotless upholstery. The little table that had been beside it had been knocked over, the glass lamp shattered across the grass. The flowers growing all around the room had been yanked up from the roots, and were left everywhere. In short, the entire room had been totalled.

The Tea from his closet had been snatched, most likely post-mortem by the desperate addicts.

Alice stood in the doorway, the hand he had dropped falling to her side as she watching Hatter, as if an outsider, guilt gnawing at her. She had known from the first time she came in here, his office was something he was intensely proud of. She could see the effort he had put into keeping it somewhere between homely and business-like.

He turned his seat back the right way, brushing off what dirt he could and setting the pillow back in place, before picking up what was left of the headphones that had sat on the back of it. They had been destroyed completely, some wiring the only thing holding one of the earpieces on. His shoulders slumped, and she could see his lips moving, could almost feel the agony it caused to see this destruction wrought on his sparse possessions.

"I'm sorry."

The words were past her lips before she could catch them back. She didn't really do apologies all that well, and sincere apologies were even worse. That would usually mean admitting a personal fault, and she was rather difficult to make to see those.

But Hatter was someone she wanted to keep in her life. Someone who she felt she could apologise to, and not be the weaker for it.

All the same, had he not looked up, finally realising she was still in the room, she might have kidded herself that she hadn't said anything. But there was no denying it when she could see his face, as his gaze snapped up to meet hers.

He looked at her for a long moment, before throwing the decimated headphones over his shoulder, trying not to cringe the dull thuds as the main piece hit the floor, followed by a second, lighter thud that told him that the right earpiece had fallen off and the tinkling of the smaller pieces from inside. He strode across the room, taking her hand again with a reassuring, if a little forced, grin. No point crying over a broken tea pot, as his grandfather used to say.

Especially not when he could distract himself by looking after the slightly less broken Oyster who stood there, looking only as lost as Alice ever could. But still strong, despite the repentance in her features. He guided her to the couch, pausing for a moment to put it the right way up, and helped her take the coat off, to a puzzled look from her.

He stared at her for a moment until, with an amazed shake of the head, he introduced her to the cuts she had accumulated, each one finally hurting as her attention was drawn to them. She hadn't even noticed… she had become too lost in herself; in the ringing of her ears, the thrumming of her blood in her head, the slight sounds of her voice when she spoke and the rasp of her breath to notice anything else. He, of course, hadn't failed to observe the slight stains growing on the arms of the coat, the rips in her tights and dress, making sure they didn't get too serious before he could take care of them. Throwing her coat over his ruined chair, he went in search of something to sort her out.

He was still talking to her whenever his back was turned. He knew it would only make her worry if she saw him talking and not knowing what he was saying. But being quiet when panicking… that wasn't really something Hatter had ever mastered.

"D'you know what I think? I think you've got that "self preservation" thing missing in that 'ead of yours" He was rooting around in some draws, shaking his head as he was trying to find the first aid kit he knew was somewhere in the mess. "I've seen my fair share of scuffles; I know how to look after m'self. You! You seem to just... throw y'self into danger. Jeopardy friendly, that's you, Alice. Hell, half the time you are lookin' for trouble, runnin' off to that bloody Casino every five minutes. Or maybe it's just a hero complex… save everyone else, ne'er mind y'self."

He was used to looking after himself; he had been most of his life. Looking after other people… well, that was something completely different.

Though I was certainly not exactly something he minded right now.

Finally he found the biscuit tin he kept some basic supplies; bandages, gauze, a small bottle of antiseptic with a few cotton buds, as well as a tiny vial of something only found in Wonderland. Not exactly anything that would save him in a serious catastrophe, but neither were they commodities.

Even these hadn't been cheap, but then he had never really been exactly skint after taking on this job. And in his line of work, emotions could easily start running high –no pun intended – and the people who took Tea were often unstable. More than once he was forced to break up a fight, and was occasionally given a lasting reminder for his troubles. It didn't take much to cause a fight when dealing in Wonders – nor did it take much to end them with a right hook like his – but he was always one who liked to keep up appearances if he could help it. He wouldn't waste the supplies if an injury was easily hidden, but he wouldn't let a brawling addict make him break from his look. Sure he may look slightly scruffy, but it was a simple way of misguiding people. He didn't look imposing, and he was approachable. He also didn't look one to knock ten bells out of anyone.

Best to keep people guessing.

When he turned back round, she was holding her hand out. Raising an eyebrow, he walked back to her cautiously. She looked pointedly at the tin, and he childishly turned his body with it as he moved it away from her reach.

"I can do that," she insisted, her voice still louder than she intended, "You sort yourself out, I can take care of these."

His face went blank exasperation, taking a deep breath and gritting his teeth as his eyes went to the heavens. Without looking at her, he sat on the couch beside her, reaching for the notepad again. As she watched him, he scribbled something down, before scratching out what he wrote a couple of times, then ripping the page out all together, crushing it to a ball and starting again. Finally he handed it to her, trying to keep frustration of his face.

Would you just stopwith the bravado, it's starting to give me a headache. I said I would make sure you were ok if you got stuck here, and that's what I'm doing.

Oh, and this might hurt a bit.

She re-read that last bit for a moment, not quite understanding until suddenly she hissed and went to move away from the sudden pain in her right arm, only for Hatter to grab it and hold it still. He had taken advantage of her reading to pour some antiseptic onto a ball of cotton wool and dabbing it on a cut. She tried to pull away again, but his grip was firm, though gentle, and he didn't look away from the cut, though she could see him trying to hide a wicked smile. With a resigned sigh, she sat back in the cushions, tired of arguing.

"It's not nice taking advantage of a deaf girl you know," she teased, trying to act angry and earning her a playful grin from under the brim of his hat, through the mad hair, and she thought he saw his lips move, undoubtedly making some manner of quip.

He sat back with her, cross-legged with the box sitting in his lap, facing her with his back in the corner of the small couch as he continued his ministrations. She would have laughed, if she wasn't meant to be pretending to be in a mood, at his child-like mannerisms, and half expected for a moment for his tongue to stick out from between his teeth as he concentrated.

The bite of the antiseptic was reassuring in a strange way. She was so focussed on what had happened to her ears, she felt as if she were trapped inside her own skull, as if it were a padded cell, but the pain let her drift her focus to other places. Closing her eyes, she leant back, her head falling against the back of the couch. She trusted Hatter; there was no doubt about that now, and she showed it in that single tiny, but monumental submission. She finally gave up on fighting it, and just let him do what he meant to, and allowed her mind to wander to each point of pain. From what she could guess, the mirror would take a while to get her home, and she couldn't spend that time pushing him away all the time. He wasn't leaving her.

No, this time, it would be her leaving him, wouldn't it?

She finally found a guy who would follow her through hurt, hell and torture – had proved it repeatedly– and now… she had to leave him. Typical.

Her relaxation, her surrender to his help hadn't gone unnoticed. A smug smile pulled at his lips as he continued to clean the wounds. They weren't anywhere near as bad as they could have been, considering how close she was; would have been if he hadn't grabbed her when he had. Most were shallow, clean as the larger pieces glass had spun past her, before they hit the ground and shattered. Most weren't even bleeding any more, which he was thankful for. Even the deepest gashes weren't as serious as they could have been.

"I dunno 'ow you do it. I swear, if you ears weren't messed up I'd think you could've stayed in that Casino when it went up and still come outta there whistlin'. I mean, you fall outta the Scarab, and off a smokin' flamingo without a scratch." He shook his head in amazement as he dabbed at a small gash on her cheek, not oblivious to the small twitch that came with it. She didn't resist anything he did. Finally he was starting to believe her; that she trusted him, and he allowed himself a small burst of pride at that.

He couldn't really blame her for not letting him in at the beginning. It was easy to see right from the start that she had been betrayed somehow, even before he knew what had happened with her father. She had the same guarded manner he saw in himself; everything shouted that she had been let down one too many times. And finding herself in a new world… the only people she met capturing her and shoving her in a box… Wonderland wasn't a safe place, and she could hardly be expected to trust a complete stranger. But it had frustrated him that she didn't all the same, though he hadn't quite known why at the time.

"We're a right pair, you an' me, eh?" He didn't quite know why he was saying this now. He was hardly even aware he was saying anything; the words tumbled straight from the back of his mind to his mouth without processing as he gently cleaned her wounds. It was easy for him to say them, now, without her hearing them. He hadn't noticed the look of surprise on her face as her ears popped, her hearing regained. Slowly though, she realised this wasn't the time to speak up, and relaxed again. She wanted to know what he had to say.

"Both 'f us are a bit naff with emotions, aren't we?" he gave a small laugh under his breath, "Mine all jumbled, yours all boxed up. 'M startin' to think you Oysters are a bad influence on me. 'Recon I've got a fair bit more of an idea of what you people feel, surrounded by the Wonders all day. Rubbin' off on me… I dunno how you people can stand havin' em all bubbling away, all the time. But I guess I'm starting to… well, at least now I know what you meant about chocolate and cream cake… Don't think there's gonna be enough of either when you…"

She gave a small gasp, he guessed it was because he had pressed the cotton wool to a new wound, and without a thought he muttered a quick apology. He chuckled as he remembered it didn't matter whether he said it or not.

"I guess "like" is about the only word anyone's gonna get outta either of us, isn't it… but… you must really care 'bout Jack to've gone through all that," he felt a slight stab of jealousy at his own admission, "that was a rotten trick, not tellin' you about the Duchess. Still… you two looked 'appy enough, so I won't… 'ang on, if 'e asked you to marry him, why were you still going through the 'Glass?"

"I said no."

Hatter paused for a moment, a thoughtful look on his face, before shrugging and carrying on, "That's right Hatter, ask a deaf Oyster questions," he rolled his eyes at himself, "Ya really are losin' it now. Right, let's get somethin' on these." He pulled the other bottle out of the tin, throwing the used cotton bud perfectly into the bin beside his desk to join the others and getting a new one to put the rather foul smelling lotion on. Only a drop was needed to affect her shallow wounds, and he quickly screwed the lid back in place.

Alice's nose wrinkled at the smell, and she looked up to find the source. He held up the bottle with an apologetic smile.

"What is that?"

"You really wouldn't wanna know," he quite forgot that she couldn't hear, "But it does the job, look."

He showed her one of the shallower cuts on her arm, his eyes glittering as he swiped the cotton bud across it. Alice winced for a moment as the wound seared for half a second, then the pain stopped all together.

It was gone. Where the gash had been, there was nothing by smooth skin.

She looked at him with an enquiring look. "What the…"

"Yeah, sorry, it hurts the first coupla times you use it," he cringed apologetically, but was still trying to get as many done, as quickly as he could, to get it over as fast as possible "but ya body gets used to it in time. See?" he noticed Alice relaxing as the pain wore off, "There's somethin' in it, and I dunno 'ow, but it's like it tells your body that it's helpin'. Won't work on anything really serious, 'course, only on scrapes and cuts really, but it's a bloody useful li'l potion. Have to be careful though, use too much and it can really mess you up. Used to be quite the popular drug a few years back. People didn't know how to use it, and if you use too much, it can permanently make your body think that anythin' that' meant to hurt, doesn't. People were getting' cut, getting' sick, but they didn't feel it 'cause their bodies didn't know to tell 'em…"

He trailed off, finally looking at Alice properly. She was leaning her head back again, and he shook his head, rolling his eyes and clicking his tongue. "That's right Hatter, just keep talking to the deaf girl."

"I guess that's why they call you "Mad" Hatter, eh?"

He blinked at the space on her cheek where there had been a cut not a second ago. It moved slightly as she looked at him out of the corner of her eye, and her lips pulled up in a teasing smile.

"…Hearing back?" he squeaked, an unusual moment of surprise causing an unusual reaction. It wasn't often he was caught off guard quite like that. He cleared his throat, "Whe… when did that happen?"

"Quite a while ago. I did try and tell you… but I think you were in the middle of the conversation. I didn't want to interrupt."

His jaw worked for a moment as he tried to think of something to say, before he shook himself free of it and went to stand, but Alice grabbed his wrist, turning it so that she could see his hand. He remembered for the first time the glass scratching his hands as he stood up in the Looking Glass room, having been too distracted with making sure Alice was okay to care about himself.

"And you shook your head at me for not noticing a few scrapes…" she chided gently, studying the wound as she turned around to sit like he was, legs crossed and facing him.

"They weren't exactly scrapes, Alice," he argued quietly, watching her instead of looking at his hands, both of which she now held. She was careful and calculating, before dropping a hand and reaching for his crotch. His eyebrows disappeared under his hat, eyes wide and not looking away from where her eyes had been, until there was the tap of her nails on the bottom of the tin he forgot was in his lap. He let out a breath he hadn't known he had been holding and she looked at him quizzically as she poured antiseptic onto a bud.

"I didn't hurt you did I?"

"No. Nope." He popped the "p" slightly, but not quite in his usually cocky manner.

"Hmm… Have to do something about that…" at that she pressed the wool to his left hand to a yelp from him. "Karma's a bitch."

"Yeah, she is… wait, who's Karma?" he gritted out.

Alice grinned, rolling her eyes, "Long story," After the initial jab out of spite, she set to cleaning his cuts properly from what she could see, there wasn't anything stuck in them, and they were quite well healed already. But she felt a need to pay him back a little, and this seemed as good an excuse as any.

"Do you often talk to yourself?" there was no accusation in the question. She knew he wasn't exactly mad, and even if he was, she knew Charlie. Here, insanity didn't exactly seem like as much of a threatening thing as it was suggested back home. At least… not Charlie's brand of madness. The Doctors Dee and Dum, on the other hand…

"Only decent conversation a guy can get 'round here," he joked, earning a gentle whack on the arm, "Well, until you got 'ere, anyway."

Alice bowed her head to hide a smile, before they looked at each other in the eye for a second, and there was something that passed between them. A mutual understanding that this meant something. Both Hatter and Alice, with their carefully cultivated walls of armour lowered, letting each other in. Each allowing the other to take care of their weaknesses, teasing each other and just… talking. Enjoying each other's company. That both of them were not going to just be in a normal relationship. Hitting and fighting meant to them what cuddling would to others.

The times when she had grabbed his arm in the forest, leapt into his arms in the Tweedle's trap, the few hugs that they had shared – preferably forgetting the awkward one in the Mirror room… that golden moment before Jack came into the Kingdom of the Knights… meant more than could be verbally expressed with cheap, over used words. They were both guarded people, both had been let down and betrayed and hurt, and they weren't easily going to change.

The moment broke, but the meaning stayed.

When she finished patching him up, both cringing at the smell of the strange potion that still hung in the air, Hatter went back to put the tin somewhere he would remember hopefully remember it for future use.

When he turned back around, Alice was standing in front of him. He stepped back a moment, slightly surprised, but regained his composure quickly and grinned at her. Her gaze wavered in a very un-Alice manner, her now cut-free arms tucked behind her in an almost apologetic way. It was obvious in the way that her eyes flitted to the office around her, and back to him; her own pride was the only thing stopping her from apologising again for the trouble that she had caused.

But there was something else. When her gaze met his again, there were a thousand unspoken words hidden behind her eyes.

"Hatter…" She looked away for a second, and he knew this was something… different. "…Thanks. For everything. You have no idea how glad I am to have you."

Without a seconds thought, he grabbed her in the hug he had wanted to give her in the Mirror room. No awkwardness, no fear of rejection. Just Hatter, and Alice, having a moment of being out of their safety zones, away from what they would usually do with anyone less important than they were to each other. They had been through the worst of this world, and they needed something to hold onto, and that something was this. In the words that she spoke that said so very much more, and that were a show of gratitude, and a promise, and so many many other things that would never truly be needed to be said.

"Finally." He breathed against her hair, and it was an utterance of relief, and of thanks, and of acceptance of her trust and the meaning to her words.

Moving back from each other, gauging the other's reaction, Alice throwing her hair over her shoulder, Hatter just staring at her in wonder that verged on awe, he made a split second decision. He snatched the opportunity, and sealed the moment with a kiss. Holding her as tightly as was possible, his hat knocked right off his head and rolling across the desecrated grass of his broken little world, he told her that he would keep his promise to make sure she was okay until he could return her to hers.

That whatever would happen in a few days – or whenever the Looking Glass was repaired – and what they would do until then, and the so many countless possibilities and chances and things out of their control that would happen from then on, they would have each other.

Just as they had through everything before.

~x~x~x~

Author's Notes: Yes, I've got ANs at the end too.

Wow this was a hard one. I tried to stick to their characters, but at the same time I just wanted to have something similar to the last bit of Alice, in her apartment, because that is such a monumental few seconds for them, and yet I wanted to build on it as well.

You have no idea how close I was to having someone (either Dormie or Jack) standing in the doorway, staring in shock at them kissing like Carol was at the end, but I didn't want to make a joke out of it. And I know I kinda didn't stick to the whole "Queens" part of the story, and again, I was going to have a witty little thing with the Queen of Hearts in a cell, somehow knowing what has happened because of her blowing up the mirror and just thinking "… -_ - Damnit…" but the same thing applied. I wanted to keep it focussed on Hatter and Alice.

Please, if you have any suggestions on how I can make this better, please don't hesitate to tell me. The end feels somewhat rushed, and I know it's not as good as I think I could make it. But all the same, I hope you enjoyed this. I feel like I'm sending a child out into the world to be appraised haha, this one's been tough. I'm going to throttle Katie for suggesting this bloody challenge, especially since she's given up on it herself '¬_¬