Rating: T
Pairing: Mirana/Tarant
Written for the aiw_porn_battle on LJ
Prompt: the smell of cinders
Author's Note: I don't write Mirana/Tarrant and this isn't actually Mirana/Tarant, so Alice and Tarrant fans need not scorn this. Instead, it is UST and unrequited love/lust. This can work as a prequel for ILML, where there are hints throughout out of Mirana's past.

This is a Hatter Mirana does not know how to relate to.

When he came to court, he was hired ostensibly as a messenger for the White King.[1] Mirana was a young Queen then, and her husband, who valued hatting abilities very little but messaging quite a lot, rather old. Mirana, however, preferred Tarrant Hightopp's skill with a hat, and she was happy to have a carefree creature similar to herself at court.

For that is what he was: carefree. Entirely carefree, so long as his duties as a messenger did not conflict overly much with his hatting and her sister, Iracebeth of Crims, did not order him to her court, as even then her summons was a worrisome thing.

Now, he is something else altogether. A shell of that Hatter.

Perhaps she is a shell of that Queen as well, but she must hide it for the sake of those creatures that place their faith in her. As he once did.

She made him one of her inner circle. He was young, like her; he had a flare for beautiful creations with which she desired to decorate herself and her world; he was a most enthusiastic teatime attendant; and he made her laugh. As she watches him helplessly now, it occurs to her that she liked him for what he could do for her, and he has recently performed the greatest service for her—he saved her at the cost of his people.

What has she ever done for him?

"Hatta," she says gently, taking several gliding steps towards his side and resting a hand upon his shoulder.

It will not do to wave her hands about—no matter how graceful the motion—in dealing with This Hatter. This Hatter is a serious creature.

Her husband was rather serious. He was given to writing a lot of boring nonsense in his memorandum book, riding about the country with his soldiers, taking things terribly literally, attending Lion and Unicorn fights, and eating hay (a rather nasty habit). Indeed, she spent most of her time married to the King outrunning him, staying always a step ahead, since they had very little in common and she had no wish to be reminded of it.[2]

Despite the valiant efforts of one of the White Knights, her husband was put in check by one of her sister's Red Knights, making her husband one of the first of Iracebeth's victims.[3] Mirana, once the young Queen, was then left a young widow. One of the first things she did was elevate her husband's messenger to the title of Royal Hatter, as she felt strongly that the title should have been his all along.

"Hatta," she repeats, placing her other hand under his chin.

His movements are fast: he seizes the wrist of the hand tilting his chin and tugs her, knocking her slightly off balance so that she falls towards him, catching herself on his shoulder. The White Pawns in her attendance respond by stepping forward to protect Her Majesty, but she wants no one present for this scene. Whatever it is to be.

"Leave us," she commands, her voice ringing clear, although her heart is racing.

The rattle of the Pawns leaving alerts her to their being alone, and she stares into her Hatter's yellow eyes.

"Whit for daed ye bring me here?" he grits out.

I wanted you here. "Your place is at court," she answers softly instead.

"My place is wi my kin," he replies, still holding her so tightly that it will bruise blue, but his eyes dart away to stare blankly into the distance.

Your family is dead. But she is too kind to say it.

She had begun to hope before Horunvendush Day that she might become his family. In that vein, she flirted with him shamelessly. Never in front of courtiers, who would gossip, since she was a young widow, since he was a hatter. But she flirted with him in private.

They are alone now. She cannot laugh and twirl her fingers and bat her eyelashes beneath extravagant new hats with this Hatter, but perhaps there is something she can offer him. Perhaps she can still be his family. Perhaps not all is lost.

She raises the arm not trapped in his grip and presses it to the heat of his cheek. She frowns—an expression she is not familiar with and which makes her face feel upside down—at the sight of his knotted hair. He looks quite different from the last time she saw him. He had spent five days wandering about Iplam before she ordered him dragged back to Marmoreal, which she hopes was a service to him. Surely wandering amongst the dead did him no good. Surely this is not yet another act of selfishness on her part.

She attempts to thread her fingers through his ginger hair, and while she does not fully succeed what with all the gnarls, he leans into her touch, his eyes fluttering shut.

"There, there, my Hatta," she whispers. "I shall take care of you," she promises, and she considers that a soothing potion might be just the thing for him. Nothing made of crocodile tears or the wings off a snap-dragon fly, mind you: something completely free of insincerity or cruelty of any kind.

His one hand is still holding tight to her, a fact which she believes he is oblivious to, but the other snakes forward to encircle her waist. Her breath hitches as he pulls her to his lap.

He is a serious creature now, and she carries a burden that has changed her as well. And yet…she feels a gulf as wide as the Crimson Sea separating them even as the physical distance grows smaller, even as she gives in willingly to his grasping hands that place her firmly in his lap and run roughly over her corseted back.

Her eyes sting and she squeezes them shut: the smell of cinders lingers on him, as if he is Death itself. She has always surrounded herself with happy creatures, harmless creatures, carefree creatures, and this hatter not only seems burdened with cares and dreadfully unhappy, but also as if he might very well be dangerous.

And yet, she owes him something for his service. She owes him some comfort, some kindness that springs from generosity rather than the desperate need to the loved by all that surround her, for she is realizing in the arms of this man that that which she thought made her superior to her sister is nothing more than selfishness in another form.

She found herself wanting him when he was carefree, but now…

His eyes are closed, hiding the yellow glare from her, and she closes hers as well, as she feels his hands map her. This rough, matter of fact perusal is nothing like how her husband handled her. But then, she always rather thought it would be different, for she had indeed allowed herself to imagine how it might be. But it was the carefree Hatter that featured in her fantasies, and now…

"What did you bring me here for?" he growls. The carefully, court cultivated lisp is momentarily gone. The Outlandish accent of his upbringing is gone too. The lack of either frightens her a bit and an involuntary shiver runs down her spine.

"Do I frighten you?" he thickly asks, presumably feeling her shake in his grip.

"No," she lies.

"I should."

His fingers, which lack the thimbles she has grown accustomed to seeing him wear, have work-earned calluses that feel nothing like her husband's soft white hands, as they skate down her long neck and draw opposing reactions from her. Fear—it seems as if he is as likely to strangle her as do anything she might deem romantic—and arousal. The two might be related. In which case, she suspects that she is like her sister in more ways than one.

"Hatta," she breathes, hoping very much that he will end this torture, this burning that conflicts so strongly with her fostered composure.

"My sister, Effie had a neck like this," he observes, his fingers dipping into the hollow of her throat. "Like a swan."

It is spoken reverently, and she cannot tell whether the compliment is meant to extend to her or merely his sister. His deceased sister.

Those same adept fingers trace the swell of her breast and she leans into him, pressing her bodice against his soiled waistcoat, so as to feel more of his heat. The heat of his roughened hands is simply not enough. Nor is his narrow lap with all of her heavy skirts between her and him.

"Like a queen," he hisses into her ear.

"Yes," she sighs, her hands clutching his side, as her heart beats wildly in her throat waiting for the press of his lips to her neck, her ear, her lips.

"You are not for me," he growls, turning her head away from his with a slight jerk.

She understands the statement for what it is: a stern dismissal. It might as well be a smack for how it stings. The Royal Hatter, the Hatter before her now, wants nothing of her. Perhaps the wanting has always been on her side alone. Whatever the case, it certainly is now…

If she could even want such a broken creature as this.

She straightens up, finding her feet and smoothing out her white skirts with fluttering hands. Words of apology rush through her mind as her hands find their usual position floating at her shoulders, but she can not move to speak them. They would all sound too trite, she realizes. A mockery of his grief.

He may not even want her as his Queen.

"Your service, my dear Hatta, has been greatly appreciated," she says carefully.

I will not lose him. She has usually gotten her way in the past, but her talents seem to be faltering if recent events are any indication. A peek at the Oraculum might inform her better, but the pesky thing is not currently at her disposal.

The silence seems to stretch endlessly, as if Time himself has been brutally killed, but finally her Hatter speaks, "Aye, an we sall bring her dounfaw." He pats his waistcoat, fumbling for something, until he pulls out a pocket watch, which appears to be broken. "Needs buttering," he mumbles, before tucking it back away. "But, the Time will come, yer maijesty. Downal wyth Bluddy Behg Hid!" he shouts, his voice rising loudly enough to shake the crystals of the chandelier above their heads.

Yes, her sister must fall. Even if she suspects that there is something—a growth, perhaps—in that large head of hers, which is making her act madder than before. That will be something to face in the future. She will not think of it today.

After all, she should breathe easier: Hatter's allegiance is still hers. However, the red turn of his eyes makes it impossible for her to smile, even though she expects that gratitude has usually been accompanied by smiles on her part and enthusiastic bows on his. Neither of them are quite themselves. Too much fresh Death surrounds them.

Buttered fingers—bound to be dozens of them. She wiggles her fingers, trying to do away with that selfish, unbidden thought. But what other notions remain in its place? If she lets her mind wander aimlessly like a drunken flamingo, she is liable to wish he was moving above her wearing naught but a hat. Another rather selfish train of thought, she admits, given the man's state of mind. When he so clearly does not want her. This, she fears, is why the trains of Underland would best be disabled: they are so frequently selfish, jumping ahead and skipping necessary stops.[4]

His head tips up, meeting her eyes and halting her silent reverie with his fractured, off-kilter gaze, one pupil blown.

"Whit for daed ye bring me here?"

Something in his unfocused eyes and his almost worried tone makes her wonder if he knows where he is or remembers anything that has just transpired between them.

She attempts her best smile. "Hatta? You are at Marmoreal. Safe now. Do you remember?"

"My place is wi my kin," he replies vacantly, an echo of his former forcefulness.

Mirana steps forward once more, heedless of the threat lying just beneath the surface of the Hatter she once knew. She pulls his head to her middle, knocking his dusty hat right off his head, as she calls out for her White Pawns.

She is in need of their assistance. Hatter must away to bed, and she doubts he will go calmly. Hatter must be made to sleep. Potions must be employed. Friends—his true friends, Mally and Thackery both—must be sent for. Whatever can be done to save him from the madness must be done immediately, for while they are two very different people now and she is not for him, he is her Champion. She has a feeling he always will be. This poor, broken Hatter.

"There, there, dear Hatta," she coos. "There, there."

Her own wants must be put aside. That is what a good Queen must do: what is best for her subjects and not give in to her own whims and wishes. That is the Queen she will strive to become. For this man, who put her above his own.

[1] Hatta appears as one of the White King's messengers in Through the Looking-Glass.

[2] Alice encounters the White King several times in Through the Looking-Glass. Initially she toys with him by picking him off the floor and placing him on the table and then manipulating him so that he writes nonsense in his book. Later she meets him when he and his soldiers are attempting to put Humpty Dumpty together again. He is also in attendance at the fight between the Lion and the Unicorn, where he summons his messengers, Hatta and Haigha and dines upon hay, which he claims is good when one feels faint. In all her dealings with him, he takes things literally.

He states that he never can catch up to his wife, which is a reference to the game of chess. The White Queen (like the Red) moves too fast and for too many squares ahead of him for him to overtake her.

[3] In Through the Looking-Glass, the White King is put in check by a Red Knight, who is then is defeated by a White Knight. He is later put in check by the Red Queen, but neither she nor he acknowledge it.

[4] Alice begins her journey across the chessboard of Wonderland in Through the Looking-Glass by boarding a train that jumps over the third row and directly to the fourth rank, acting on the rule that pawns can advance two spaces on their first move. Alice has been made a pawn by the Red Queen upon entering Wonderland.