Once Upon a Time
So Glad to See You Well
Notes: The characters from the series are not mine. The Hangman and the story are mine! The title is from A Perfect Circle's song The Noose. I haven't missed an episode of Once Upon a Time since it started. And I love their re-envisioning of the Mad Hatter. But I was highly disconcerted by the scene of him being taken prisoner and tortured in Wonderland. And I started crafting this idea instead. Though also disconcerting and horrifying, it sits with me a lot better. Crystal Rose suggested the idea concerning Rumpelstiltskin. This concept, and the Hangman character, may be back in the future if I write more for the fandom.
He had been taken prisoner by the Queen of Hearts and tortured in her favorite ways.
That was what he knew, what he remembered, from all those years past.
He didn't know how he had survived. He only knew that he had, somehow, and that ever after he had been branded the Mad Hatter for his desperate attempts to make a hat that would send him back home, to Grace.
The scar on his neck was a permanent reminder of what he had suffered. Not that he could ever begin to forget.
But . . . what if he had never remembered correctly in the first place?
He had believed the Knave of Hearts and a group of foot soldiers had found him, trapped where Regina had left him.
He did not remember the cloaked figure who crept up on him while he had struggled to free himself.
He did not remember the rope that suddenly flew around his neck, pulling taut.
He did have a vague recollection of the insane giggle. But he did not know to whom it belonged.
He did not remember the Hangman.
The Hangman freed his newest victim from the ground without so much as breaking a sweat. Evil Queens and their supposedly superior magic were not a match for him. Indeed, magic of any sort seemed to have no claim upon him. Perhaps that was why there were rumors abroad that Rumpelstiltskin, the most powerful being in the other land, was afraid of him.
Or perhaps it was also because once one was in his grasp, reality faded into nightmare. A twisting, never-ending nightmare that was far worse than whatever Hell of a life one had led. The only means of escape were death or insanity.
He pulled the noose hard against the stunned man's throat before he could even turn around. Though he struggled and pulled, there was no getting away, no loosening of the chafing cord. Some said the Hangman's rope was enchanted and that was why. Others insisted that the Hangman himself was enchanted. That was why his grip was unbreakable.
But in the actual scheme of things, perhaps it was because his sanity had long ago fragmented. After all, he had to keep hold of something. Why not his rope?
He had been an ordinary man once, in some long ago, all but forgotten past. He had been a lonely puppeteer, spending his days performing and crafting new marionettes. His shows had been commentary on everything in Wonderland—some good, but mostly bad. And he had eventually attracted the wrong kind of attention.
It was before the Queen of Hearts had come to power. The prior monarch's particular punishment for treason was hanging. And they had hanged him from the gallows until he was supposed to have been strangled to death. They had cut him down, left him for burial.
But he had not died. And after the tarp had been pulled over the wagon bed, and when no one had been looking, he had slipped out. He had never committed a crime before. That day, however, had been a day of firsts. He had choked the guard and fled into the woods.
In the years since had risen the fearful tales of a madman roaming Wonderland, dressed as an executioner in a black cloak and armed with only a cursed noose for a weapon. But the tales were wrong; he had far more at his command than a simple rope. With his own mind gone he preyed on others', before leaving their writhing, wailing bodies dangling from the highest trees until they were dead at last.
He had quite a collection of victims already—people who had mysteriously vanished from Wonderland, and even occasionally from the other world, and were never seen again.
He still saw them. Oh, not in his mind, as some murderers did. He saw them physically all around him. There was no need to dispose of their corpses. They could still be of use to him. They were his puppets in his new life. Stinking, rotting, and eventually skeletal puppets. He controlled them and gave voice to them, used them to torment his succeeding victims once they began sinking into delirium and madness. They acted out whatever the hapless person feared most, making them believe it was real.
The stranger he had selected as his newest casualty was still fighting against the rope, his now-raw fingers digging under it in his desperation. He gasped for breath, his eyes wide and popping. The Hangman had only to pull the noose a slight bit tighter and Jefferson fell unconscious from the lack of oxygen, slipping backwards into the darkly cloaked arms.
"Yes," the Hangman whispered as he dragged the body towards the woods. "The Queen's men won't take you now. But that doesn't mean you won't think they have."
The Knave of Hearts and the foot soldiers were running into view. At the sight of the two figures the Knave stopped, gripping his staff in a hand that he could not quite hold still.
"The Hangman," he breathed.
A sneer curled the edge of his lip. There was no point continuing the pursuit now. As the Hangman's prisoner, the Queen's intruder would never reappear or be a problem again.
But that did not mean the Knave had any qualms about sending two of the soldiers after them, to quietly observe. Whatever the man knew, he would reveal it as he descended into madness. And then the Queen would still learn what had happened in her garden today.
He had always feared being captured by the Queen of Hearts.
The mysterious, veiled ruler was known for exploding over the slightest upset. And her way of dealing with the perpetrators behind any such upset was horrifying and abhorrent to him.
It had been a relief to get away from Wonderland. He had always hated it there, so strange, so nonsensical. Once he had managed to travel to the other land via his hat he had wanted to stay there. He had wanted to raise his daughter in a place devoid of the bizarre and frightening things he had encountered growing up. Whatever was wrong with their world, it was tolerable compared to what was wrong with Wonderland.
But he had hated how poor they were, how unable he was to provide much of anything for Grace's happiness. He had not even been able to afford the plush rabbit she had admired and loved in the marketplace. So he had at last given in to Regina's request and taken her to Wonderland to retrieve what the Queen of Hearts had taken from her.
He had never liked doing favors for her; he had known she was not a benevolent ruler. But she had always compensated him well and he had trusted in that happening again.
Instead she had tricked him, using the rule of the same number of people coming and departing to her advantage and his misfortune.
He should have seen it coming, really. And yet, how could he have had any idea that what the Queen of Hearts had taken from Regina was her father?
Now, as he was dragged before the Queen of Hearts, he wished with all his heart that he had continued to refuse Regina. He was living his worst fears.
"Who are you?"
"Why are you here?"
"Who was with you?"
"What was taken from the Queen's garden?"
The questions came at him and he answered as best as he could. He had to keep hold of some smidgen of hope. He had to believe that they would let him go if he cooperated. He had to think that he would get back home to Grace.
He should have known better about that, too. The Queen had no intention of letting him go.
Instead she whispered her command, the words he had lived in terror of someday hearing in reference to him.
"Off with his head."
The Hangman gave a mad cackle as he moved away from the old marionette playing the Queen. He remembered her, a young thing who had wandered into the woods against all her loved ones' warnings and cautions. And of course she had stumbled right into him, the main thing her family had feared. He had enjoyed tormenting her for as long as she had lived. She made a good Queen of Hearts for him now.
He turned to the corpse playing the executioner. Oh, he had reserved a special former person for that assignment. It was the man who had hanged him who now served the capacity as a puppet. Cloaked in black, his skeleton hidden, none of the victims suspected the truth. Certainly not this Jefferson, so delirious from lack of proper air and treatment. He was on the ground at the moment, but the rope was tight enough that it was presenting a problem for him.
Manipulating the bony arms, the Hangman brought down the axe close to Jefferson but out of his sight. At the same moment he pulled harder on the noose. The man's delusional mind did the rest.
He could not scream with anything more than a choked cry, but the imagined pain and terror in his voice still sent the birds out of the trees overhead.
He awoke lying on the grass near a house in the woods.
He could not be alive. It was impossible. The Queen's utterly outrageous and unheard-of torture, drawing information from him even after . . .
Shaking, he sat up. It was all a dream. It had to be a dream. There was no way it could be otherwise.
But . . .
There was a mark on his neck. He could feel it. A scar that ran all the way around. His fingers trembled as he touched it. It burned; it was fresh.
The shimmering of the water from the nearby stream sent him scrambling over, staring into the aqueous liquid in disbelieving panic and horror. Yes, the scar was there. In just about the right place, too.
"No," he whispered. "No, no. . . ."
He knelt there for a moment, continuing to gaze at his reflection as he quaked. He had been a victim of the Queen's ghastly torture. And somehow, unlike Humpty Dumpty of legend, he had been put back together. What manner of insanity was this?
He rocked back, sitting on the grass as he craned his neck upward and cackled to the skies. He was not sure where the laughter was coming from, but he could not make it stop.
Hidden by the dense brush, the Hangman grinned a toothy, satisfied grin.
Like him, Jefferson had survived his hanging.
And also like him, Jefferson had gone mad.