There is no force on earth that burns as brightly as obsessive love. It has caused wars, torn apart families, and inspired generations of idiots to singlemindedly chase Mr. Right and die alone instead of spending a happy life with Mr. Pretty Good. And sure, it makes for a good movie, but how many movies would you honestly want to live through?

When the focus of that obsessive love is a piece of fiction, it is even more dangerous. A book will never slap you with a restraining order. A movie will never be upset if you lock yourself in the basement with it for hours on end. Your favorite album will never clip its toenails at the dinner table or snore or demand that you go outside and talk to strangers.

It will also never love you back. But to some people, that doesn't really matter.

The Mad Hatter, dressed in his favorite green coat and checkered suit, strolled happily down the sidewalk. His oversized top hat, tipped stylishly to the side, hugged his head tightly as he meandered along.

After a few hellish weeks of recovery, he was finally feeling like his old self again. Three weeks of doing whatever he wanted whenever he wanted had done wonders toward perking up those bits of his mind that he'd thought had vanished forever. If he wanted to sketch Alice while eating breakfast, no one was around to stop him. If he wanted to read Through the Looking-Glass while he snuggled under a blanket and listened to the rain rattling on the roof, no one was there to force him to go to bed. And if he wanted to re-enact bits of his favorite tea party with his henchmen and a suitable borrowed Alice, he could...well, in point of fact he couldn't, since he didn't have an Alice on hand at the moment.

Ah well. There would be time enough for that sort of fun later. For now, he had business, and business of a most delightful sort indeed.

The Villa Roma Towers loomed above the streets of Gotham. The classical statuary and intricate relief sculptures placed tastefully on the building made it quite clear that this was a building strictly for the well-to-do. The handful of well-suited men leaning casually on the brickwork indicated that these particular well-to-do inhabitants would perhaps not be above outfitting trespassers with a personalized set of concrete footwear and giving them a free tour of Gotham's riverbeds.

Jervis ambled up to the one nearest the door and tipped his hat politely. The large man squinted crossly down at him. "Go away," he snarled. Then, with a jolt of recognition, he leaned down and inspected the small man in the enormous hat. "Tetch? Here?" He smiled a slow, sharky smile and took Jervis by the shoulder. "It's my lucky day," he grinned, steering Jervis inside. They hustled past a man wheeling a rack of twenty identical black suits and stepped into the elevator just as the doors opened. The man with the suit rack shoved his way in after them, running over Jervis' foot with one small metal wheel. Jervis held his tongue and pointedly shifted away from the sartorial madman.

After a brief ride in the small, tastefully decorated elevator, they arrived at the penthouse. A pair of nearly identical men flanking the door eyed Jervis and his escort as they approached. "Got any guns?" the man on the left barked as the suit-rack man disappeared down the expensively tiled hallway.

Jervis shook his head. The man on the right stepped forward and briskly ran his hands along Jervis' body, shifting his shoulders to settle his black suit jacket as he stood back up. "No guns." Almost as an afterthought, he popped off Jervis' hat and examined it, twisting the felt between his fingers to check for hidden wiring or suspicious buttons. "He's clean." The man on the left slipped a suspicious hand under his black jacket to caress his handgun as the Mad Hatter opened the door.

Tara Moretti had a wonderful penthouse. Lush, thick carpet stretched from wall to wall in a beautiful ruby color that probably did wonders for masking bloodstains. Spindly modern furniture, jet-black, housed an array of subordinates all in the same style of black suit. Ms. Moretti lounged on an oversized armchair at the head of the room, idly chastising her second-in-command as he fiddled with a seam on his own armchair.

Jervis trotted affably alongside his escort as he was manhandled into the lady's presence. "Ms. Moretti," the escort said deferentially, "the Mad Hatter to see you."

"Mister Tetch," she breathed, leaning slightly forward with interest. "I wasn't expecting you." She raised a dark, delicately plucked eyebrow at the man with the deathgrip on Jervis' arm. "You may go."

"Yes, ma'am," the escort said, withdrawing obediently to his post in the plaza.

Moretti returned her attention to Jervis as he straightened his slightly wrinkled sleeve. "Well, Mr. Tetch," she purred, crossing her spike-heeled feet as she studied him. "What am I to do with you? You've been a very naughty boy, you know."

He lowered his head slightly in acknowledgment of her accusation.

"Have you come with a way to make it up to me? I'm afraid that I can't think of a single thing that you could do to please me," she drawled, her light accent barely caressing the words as they emerged. A speck of dust on one blood-red fingernail caught her eye, and she lightly flicked it away with a casual flip of her hand.

He shrugged.

"You do have a reason to be here?" she asked, irritated by his insolence. "What do you have to say to me?"

He narrowed his eyes. He could say a lot of things to her, mostly about the use of henchmen to injure one of the most notorious rogues in the city. He could say a good deal to her about letting things go and doing things for oneself and the fact that relying on anyone who had a permanent cell at Arkham was about as stupid as relying on cats not to eat mice.

Instead, he politely tipped his hat once more as he bit down on the transmitter tucked inside his mouth. Every minion in the room rose to their feet as he spat the bit of plastic and metal into his hand. "Gentlemen?" he said, watching the panic rise in Moretti's eyes.

"Off with her head."

As one, the henchmen advanced on their boss. Whatever loyalties they'd had to her were being firmly overridden by the little mind-control chips that Jervis had so thoughtfully placed under the collars of each of those conveniently identical suits that Ms. Moretti insisted her henchmen wear. While it would have been nearly impossible to break into the suit storage room in the penthouse, it was wonderfully easy to pay an after-hours visit to the dry cleaner and leave his little presents scattered in all the right places...

"No! No, you can't!" Tara Moretti, flushed, flustered, and furious, perched haphazardly on top of a seven-foot-high geometric sculpture and aimed her gun at the crowd of minions clustered around her. Mindlessly, they pawed at her feet as she frantically skipped to stay out of reach. "Stop it! I order you to stop! I -"

Jervis closed the door quietly behind him and, humming a sprightly little tune, stepped into the vacant elevator. As the door slid closed and he began to descend, he could hear the welcome sound of screaming echoing from above him.

He smiled politely to the dead-eyed security staff frozen in the plaza and sauntered homeward, stopping for a moment to admire a stubborn spray of tiny flowers in the crack of the sidewalk that bloomed despite the brisk fall weather. He picked one, rolling it between his fingers, and toyed with it as he walked along. The sound of glass falling twenty stories to shatter on the concrete was music to his ears.

A booming swell of happiness rose inside him, filling him from top to toe with wondrous fizzing excitement. He'd gone a long way toward ensuring that Ms. Moretti wouldn't bother him again - if she survived, that was - and toward establishing that he was back. His compatriots were certain to sit up and take notice at this day's work! He could start hiring again - better henchmen this time, and maybe he could acquire an Alice who wasn't a kidnap victim. The lair just didn't seem right without a...girl...around...

Lucy! He bit his lip, looking from side to side as if she were about to appear. How could he have forgotten about her? He'd been busy, what with the beating and the sabotage and all, but...well, surely she'd understand if he called her. Surely everything would be all right.

He hurried down the road at a speed just under a run until he managed to spot a derelict pay-phone lurking behind a gas station. He fumbled a few coins into the slot and dialed the number for the halfway house.

On the third ring, someone picked up. "Yeah?" grunted one of his ex-housemates.

"Nurse," he gasped, mildly out of breath with the exertion of running and the sudden lung-crushing grip of anxiety.

"Hang on. Dodgson?" the voice yelled.

There was a burst of static as someone else picked up the phone. "Hello?" Lucy Dodgson asked, briskly friendly.

"...Hello," Jervis murmured, trying to catch his breath.

"Jervis?" Lucy asked, a note of genuine concern in her voice. "Jervis, where are you?"

"I'm..." he hesitated.

"You're not in trouble, are you? Where've you been? What happened?"

I was beaten up. No. He couldn't bring himself to say it, not to the one woman in this city that actually had some kind of respect for him. "I..."

"Jervis, hon, you need to get back here right away," Lucy said in a low voice. Obviously someone was nearby, listening. "The police are out looking for you and Ms. Jacobs said that the Batman asked her where you were last night - yes, Gloria, two cups of rice," she said loudly, presumably for the benefit of her unknown watcher. "I'll see you tonight, won't I?" she asked hopefully.

Oh, he wanted to say yes. He wished that he could say yes...

But he had debts to repay, and injuries to heal from, and...and he couldn't just stroll back to the halfway houses like this, not in his Hatter garb, not after doing his best to annihilate Tara Moretti. He'd be back inside Arkham so fast that his feet would leave scorch marks on the pavement. And then would come the interrogations, the investigations, and the discovery of his abortive romance...If the police found out that Lucy had been friendly to him...or, worse, that he'd been friendly to her...word would get back to Moretti, and she and her associates might not stop at hurting only him.

He cleared his throat. "Alice began to remember that she was a Pawn, and that it would soon be time for her to move."

"Jervis?" Lucy said, fear edging into her voice. "What are you saying? You don't sound like yourself."

"It's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then." He twisted the phone line in his fingers. "At the end of FOUR, I shall say good-bye. And at the end of FIVE, I shall go!"

"No, Jervis, wait!" Lucy said frantically. "Don't-"

But he had already placed the phone neatly back on its little latch. The change he'd used to make the call rattled down through the machinery of the phone as he turned away.

Author's Note: I apologize for missing updates. Parenthood is extremely time-consuming. And while this is the end of Jervis' story, and the end of my updates for the year, fear not! I shall be back in January, hopefully with enough rough drafts so that I don't find myself trying to write something entertaining while I'm three-quarters of the way asleep on Wednesday nights. Have a safe and happy holiday season and I'll see you next year!