Disclaimer: I don't own Alice in Wonderland, nor any places, characters, things, or ideas therein. Those belong to Lewis Carroll, Tim Burton, and Disney. I am not claiming ownership of any of things, nor am I making any monetary gain from this story.
Summary: There's more magic in Underland than any of them could have anticipated, and decoding the past might be the only way to salvage their future. AlicexHatter
Author's Note: This story originally started out as two separate ideas, but as I was individually planning them out, I realized the elements in both complimented each other so well that I decided to combine them into one story, and thus Decode was born. I'm really excited about this one, for not only do I get to play around with Alice and Hatter's deep relationship, I get to delve into Underland's past and a lot of her magic and lore, as well. This starts out about six months after Alice slew the Jabberwocky and left Underland. Thank you all so much for checking out my story, and I hope you enjoy reading it!
At first, everything seemed better. The Jabberwocky was gone, the Red Queen and her Knave were banished, the White Queen had been restored to the throne, and Underland was peaceful again.
But it didn't take long for things to start falling apart again.
Tarrant Hightopp, Royal Hatter, snapped out of his depression with a suddenness that startled the Queen. Pleased at his eagerness to return to work, she restored him to his workshop, and the orders began pouring in.
For a while everything was going fabulously. Tarrant was busy again, doing what he loved for a kind woman and her court, and when he wasn't too occupied filling orders, he would work on other things on the side - a hat here, a dress there. All were done in the most beautiful shades of blue, and all were assembled for the same person: Champion Alice, who had exploded into his life like a whirlwind - and then left just as quickly, but with promises to come back.
So for a few weeks he happily worked, on requisitioned hats and things of his own creation and reason, losing himself in patterns and colors. Alice had said she would be back soon, and since he really didn't have much choice but to believe her or be miserable, he chose to be happy by believing it.
But then the headaches started.
In the beginning it was a few twinges at the end of the day, and tea and a good night's sleep helped. But then it got worse, developing earlier in the day and growing worse each time, until he was in so much pain he couldn't concentrate on the hats. Eventually his only reprieve came by drawing deeper and deeper into his own Madness.
Queen Mirana then told him to stop making hats, fearing his coming back to his trade after being so long absent had been the cause of his headaches, and thus his Madness. Though she offered to let him stay on in the castle, at least for a while, he left. As she watched his forlorn figure leaving the front gates of Marmoreal, the White Queen found she knew exactly where he was headed: to a dilapidated tea table outside an equally broken-down windmill.
And so it was.
Time, the cursed fellow, couldn't seem to leave him alone. When he became bored with life as it was, he came to Tarrant for taunting, practically begging for a fight. A fight which, it should be noted, the last Hightopp was never unwilling to take part in.
And so it came that another Great Argument occurred, and Time left in a huff, not dead this time, but in enough of a Mood that he stopped ticking for the poor Mad Hatter. He determined not to go back, at least for a while. That lasted not long at all, for when he did return, bored again with his lot in life, he spitefully went faster, until everything spiraled back out of control and stopped yet again.
Tarrant gazed down the tea table, eyeing all the empty spaces that should be filled. Well, not completely filled, for it was a Invitation Only Tea Party, but at least more filled than it was. But his only companion, at least for the moment, was the March Hare, Thackery. And he didn't seem to mind that Hatter and Time had gotten into a tiff again, because Tea Time had always been his favorite, so being stuck there yet again was rather a treat for him.
"Brillig," Thackery sighed happily, pouring himself some cold tea. The tea wasn't meant to be cold, but since neither of them could stray very far from the table, there was no way to warm it.
Movement in the trees caught Tarrant's attention. Eyes widening, he leaned forward, straining to catch a glimpse of what - or who - it was.
But of course he wasn't that lucky. It was only Mallymkun, showing up since it was now teatime for her, too. She crawled up onto her usual stool and poured herself a thimble-full of tea, happily partaking as she looked across at Thackery.
While his two friends happily nattered away at each other, Tarrant sank back into his chair and thus his depression. The endless pounding in his head kept rhythm with the shouting voices in his mind, all of it together always threatening to overwhelm him. Any more he lived in constant fear for, if not his sanity as a whole, the last desperately clinging threads of it.
He leaned forward, squinting into the trees. He was sure he'd seen movement there, and this time it couldn't be Mally, because she was sitting right there, launching sugar cubes at Thackery and laughing merrily. The figure was too small to be Chess or the White Queen, and no one else ever came to visit, so that meant it had to be…
A great ruckus started with his shout. Thackery dropped his teacup, which smashed against the table, and Mally scurried for cover in her teapot, hatpin sword out and ready for a fight. But Tarrant ignored them both, taking a familiar route up and over the table and off the other side.
"You're back!" Dropping off the end, he went to his knees before the little figure in blue standing before him, a smile on her face. "And not your right-proper Alice-size again, I see. Oh well. We'll take you to the White Queen soon enough, and you can get back to normal there. But you should stay for tea first! We've been waiting it for you." Motioning for her to follow him, he went back up and over the table to his chair, settling in as Alice sat down in the chair next to his, looking extremely happy to be back and content to listen to his ramblings. "I'm glad you're back, don't get me wrong, but you're terribly late again, you know. Though that might be Time's fault, because he went faster before he stopped again, you see, and-"
Tarrant spun to face Mally, who was standing close by with her dark eyes focused on him with a bit of concern. "I'm fine. Thank you." Shaking his head, he leaned closer. "Well, aren't you going to say hello to Alice?"
The little white mouse exchanged a look with Thackery, who was shaking so hard the entire table rattled. "Hatta', Alice isn't here."
"Well of course she is! See, she's right-" There was no one sitting in the seat where Alice had been only a moment before. Tarrant felt the smile slide off his face. His headache, which had been briefly gone in his excitement, came back, twice as vicious as before. "-there." Slumping forward, he thrust his hands up under his hat and threaded his fingers through his wild shock of orange hair. "She was there. She promised she'd come back…"
He missed the worried looks that Mally and Thackery traded. The former crept a little closer to her friend. "Mayhap - you know, she forgo' us all las' time. She migh' 'ave done it again."
"It's the not knowing, Mally. And if she did forget, even knowing it would happen - it doesn't ease the hurt, now does it?" Pulling the brim of his hat down over his eyes, now glowing an intense orange, he leaned back in his seat and rested his crossed arms over his chest, ready to try to sleep.
He heard the Dormouse sigh, then a moment later the clink of the lid to her teapot as she went for a nap of her own. Thackery was already snoring, full of tea and sweets and ready to sleep it all off.
If only Tarrant could fall asleep that easily…
Fire everywhere. Red and yellow and orange and heat - unbearable heat.
Fire everywhere. Red and yellow and orange and heat - unbearable heat.
And to accompany the crackling laughter of the flames, the drumbeat - a throbbing pulse that was alive, as alive as the flames. A rhythm that grew louder and more real by the second, soon drowning out everything: the fire, his own screams, something that sounded like Alice crying his name…
The feel of icy liquid hitting him full in the face jolted him back to awareness, cooling the fire and cutting his voice off mid-scream. But the drum was still there, very much alive and present in his head.
Even before he was completely aware of his surroundings, he was buckling, bowing at the waist even though he was sitting down. His Hat fell off, unnoticed, and bounced twice before coming to a stop just out of reach. But Tarrant was too lost in the crippling pain that was nearly blinding him to perceive the loss of his most treasured possession.
"Hatta'! Wha's wrong?"
Mally's voice was like a knife driving through his skull straight into his brain. Bright white light exploded behind his eyes, and his chair tilted, dumping him out onto the ground. His stomach lurched unsteadily, and he clamped his lips tight to resist the urge to be sick. He wasn't sure he was entirely able to hold back his groan, though.
"Wha's wrong? You all righ'?"
Tarrant's hands lifted to clamp over his ears. "Not so loud, Mally," he begged in a very, very soft whisper. "Please."
She adjusted her volume accordingly, but there was still quite obviously panic in her voice when she said, "Wha's happenin', Hatta'?"
"I don't know." He was tempted to roll onto his back to help with the nausea, but if he did that, the light would fall directly into his eyes, and that would not help his crushing headache. It felt like someone had wrapped some sort of band around his head and was physically squeezing, and if they kept it up, his head would explode (or would that be implode?) from the pressure.
"Do ya nee' me tae ge' th' Queen?" she whispered.
Tarrant wasn't sure what he needed, other than relief. He could hear Thackery's heavy, nervous breathing nearby and knew he had to be frightening his poor friend, but there was nothing he could do about it.
"Tarrant, why are you on the ground?"
The fresh intrusion of loud noise, in the persona of Chessur's voice, sent Tarrant spiraling down into near-unconsciousness from the pain. When the ringing in his ears finally eased and the kaleidoscope of strange colors stopped spinning behind his eyes, he realized Mally had threatened the Vanishing Cat and made him appropriately adjust his volume.
"Feeling a bit under the weather, are we?" While the drawling voice was much closer this time, it was, at least, much quieter as well.
"Ye always ha' a gift for statin' th' obvious, Cat," Tarrant quietly growled. He was afraid his volume, or lack thereof, made it rather less intimidating, though.
"What have you been drinking, Tarrant? You're lying under the table."
The only part of that insult Hatter could appreciate was that Chess was, at least, snickering quietly. "Tea," he ground out. "A Darjeeling, I think."
"Cold," Thackery added helpfully. His volume was only slightly adjusted, but despite the knifing pain that caused, Tarrant didn't have the heart to beg him to make the adjustment.
"Well, I always knew I could come to the tea party for excitement, but I must admit that this was a bit more than I was expecting," Chessur said dryly. "By the way, you dropped your Hat."
Without opening his eyes, Hatter reached out and snatched up his headgear, not able to regret his hasty movement even as his head throbbed and his stomach rolled. Hugging the Hat to his chest, he stiffly said, "Thank you. Now go away, the lot of you."
"And leave you under the table on your own, in this state? I don't think that's such a good idea," Chessur said cautiously.
"Chess is right." Mally gently touched Tarrant's forehead with one small paw, withdrawing at her friend's pained moan at even that little pressure. "Sorry."
"I should inform the White Queen." There was a frightening amount of decisiveness in Chess's tone when he said that.
"He needs Alice," Thackery announced. But then he promptly ruined his moment of lucidity by saying, "Teapot," in a wondering tone.
Now in addition to the incredible pain in his head, he felt like someone had ripped his chest in half. So much time had passed. She had forgotten - Underland, her friends, him. He'd never see her again.
"Go away," he growled. "All of you - jus' go away."
It took one short glance at his orangey-red eyes to convince the trio that perhaps leaving him to his Madness - at least for the moment - was their best move.
But the image of him when they returned, slumped and unconscious in his chair at the head of the wrecked tea table, was more than enough to alert them that something was more than wrong.
Something was deadly wrong.
~To Be Continued~
Okay, I know the first chapter was really disjointed, and I apologize if that annoyed anyone - but I wrote it that way to try to convey just how wrong things are in Underland, and in Hatter's life in particular, now that Alice is gone. And the first chapter was also really depressing, I realize that, too - but please don't kill me yet, I promise I have a plan. Thanks for checking out the first chapter of my new story, and I hope you enjoyed it!