Like Bites of Poisoned Fruit
She has to be. There's no way she has a top-hatted, grinning madman lounging on her couch. She's been up for thirty-six hours straight, time spent drugged and unconscious notwithstanding, and her mind is playing tricks on her.
This time yesterday, she was chasing off into the woods after a fugitive in a salmon-pink cardigan.
"Well," Jefferson says, "I was wondering who lived here."
And Emma Swan never screams. She reasons, she looks for an escape route, she attacks head-on if needs be. But she never screams. In her experience, screaming doesn't usually call in the cavalry, no matter how much one wished it might.
So she just leans against the wall, and closes her eyes, and hopes he'll be gone when she opens them "I live here. Please leave."
"Gladly." He stands, and heads for the door, and she doesn't open her eyes when she feels him pass.
Then he pauses; she can feel his eyes on her, and she deigns to look at him.
The bastard still exists. She knows she's lucky that she's so tired: any other time, she'd be freaking out, and pulling her gun right about now. Something's thrown a heavy blanket over all emotion, any fight-or-flight response, and she's left with the simple urge to remove the crazy person from her house and go to bed.
She just glares at him, and with a little smile, he leaves.
He should be home right now.
But he's wandering in the Storybrooke forest, with no idea where or who he is, and this is not home. Hatter screams, Jefferson crumbles and falls around him.
He finds himself outside Grace's house. He's looking through the window from afar, watches her new father – his usurper, his unknowing adversary – kiss his little girl goodnight and tuck her into bed.
He's done this a thousand times before; it's like a fistful of thorns driven through his heart.
He howls in the woods, the cry torn from his throat like an animal in pain. The hat didn't work; the hat is a lie, a velvet-covered hallucination. So he keeps walking, branches tearing at his shirt, hopelessness turning his skin cold and numb.
He feels the dream dying. His last hope, the one bright and magic spark in the whole town was a failure.
Hatter is let loose, more and more the farther he gets from the town. Here, there is no need for Jefferson's reasoning, Jefferson's restraint. Hatter can see everything he wants in the world, everything he's been reaching for, through a pane of glass.
Glass is diamond: unbroken, perfect and shining, while his promise lies in jagged shards at his feet.
The Jabberwocks have won, and now they feed on the carcasses that riddle the battlefield. Hatter can't feel the cold, or the thousands of tiny cuts riddling his skin from the branches and thorns. His skin is numb, insulated against all sensation. He curls up under a tree, and stares at the clouded sky. This is where he belongs: far from the world.
Then the universe tears. It rips neatly down the middle, and swallows him whole.
And he's stood in Emma's apartment once again, just like before. Just like the first moment after Snow White kicked him out of his own window, and he was falling, and he could taste the smoke and woodland of home on his tongue.
This place is dark, warm, and he can hear Emma's snoring from across the room.
And he's so tired. The last thirty years are a wasted, used-up nightmare, wrapped in purple velvet and silken ribbon.
So he walks, almost comatose, to the other bedroom, and finds a dark spot in the corner, by the wardrobe, where there are some old beanbags shoved in with the boxes. Here, at least, he is safe. Here the greatest danger is a woman he knows – he just knows – believes him somewhere under everything else.
And even if she doesn't, she's still the hero. Hatter knows enough about good and evil to know them when they stare him in the face, and play their cards.
When Emma wakes up in the morning, she counts it as the waking dream of someone on the urge of collapse, or a symptom of shock, at worst a sign of very mild PTSD.
So she goes to work, and takes breakfast to her best friend in her cell, and neither of them comments on the night before.
The arraignment has come and past, and Regina had smirked the last time Emma saw her, and Mr Gold is acting even more shifty and suspicious than usual. And there's Mary Margaret, an innocent woman caught in the wrong place at the worst possible time, languishing behind bars.
Emma kind of hates Storybrooke. But the time to leave was seven months ago, and there's nothing she can do about it now.
That evening, she arrives home, and she pulls out her gun as she crosses the threshold. Because, for now, she lives alone, and so there's no reason at all why she should be able to hear someone cooking, and smell frying onions.
Jefferson looks up as she enters, and gives her a grin that's just a little too bright, "I made pasta!"
She carries her gun everywhere, and right now its trained on his chest. It's good to be on this side of the barrel, to know that he's at her mercy for once, "What the fuck are you doing here?" she demands.
"I'm cooking dinner."
"In my apartment. Like I'll trust anything you cook." She doesn't know why that's the important statement here, but there it is. She comes up behind him, grabs his wrists as hard as she can, and he doesn't try to pull away when she cuffs him, and drags him by his wrists to the sofa.
He just gives her a look, like she's annoying the crap out of him. The world is a messed-up place right now.
"Why are you here?" she's not even trying to hide the anger and fear in her voice. It wouldn't do any good, anyway.
"I don't know." He sighs, looks of to the side, irritated beyond belief, "I left, went for a walk, figured I'd just die in a ditch or something, then the clock struck midnight and here I was."
"Would you cut it with the fairy tale crap?" she's had it, she's done. If one more person tells her that Snow White is her mom and that they do believe in fairies, she's going to cut someone.
"Fine. I left, then it was midnight, then I was back here. So I slept in Snow White's room, and-"
"Mary Margaret. My roommate's name is Mary Margaret."
"This is breaking and entering. If it wouldn't upset Mary Margaret so much, I'd throw you in prison, but I'd rather you just vanished forever." She takes the safety off her gun, warningly, although she's not up for killing anyone tonight.
"I don't think I can, much as I'd like to."
"Fine." He stands, and she pulls him out of the building and throws him onto the street. There's no one around, thank God, and she releases his hands and pushes him onto the road.
She slams the front door, locks every window, bins everything he cooked and disinfects the entire kitchen.
That night, she stays up late, rereading details of Kathryn Nolan's disappearance and murder over and over again. There's something she's missing, something obvious staring her in the face. And it's not in the 'Once Upon A Time' book sat on the coffee table, however much Henry would protest otherwise.
In the distance, she can hear the town clock tolling midnight.
And then there's a slightly rumpled and very pissed-off looking Jefferson stood in front of her.
"How the fuck did you get in here?" This time, she does scream. Just a little. Later, she'll justify it as a cry of surprise.
Her door is locked; the windows are locked. He just strolled out of her bathroom. She gets up, checks the bathroom window: it's still locked, in tact, and the key is in her back pocket.
She returns to the main room and stares at him, more than a little bit disturbed, "No. There's another reason for this. I just… don't know what it is, yet."
"But you see what I meant?" he says, "I came back at midnight. Like last night. And trust me, this isn't where I'd choose to be either." He sighs, "Can I just sleep, now?"
All he wanted was to go home.
Not to Wonderland. Wonderland isn't home, Wonderland is a nightmare wrapped in cotton candy. He sees the Queen of Hearts behind his eyes when he sleeps, and he has done for the last twenty-eight years.
That night, he crashes in Snow White's bed: it's the first night in decades where he has slept dreamlessly, and awoken feeling human.
It's a mirage. He knows that. It's a false reflection in the looking glass, which shows him as flesh and bone, a man with a heart and a soul, with a mind under his control. He hasn't been that in years. He wakes up, and sees Jefferson's face in the mirror, and no matter how closely he looks into his own eyes, he cannot see Hatter gleaming anywhere in the darkness.
He grabbed the hat as he fell, threw himself into it.
He doesn't know what happened in the day between being drop-kicked out of a window – and wow, did Snow White pack a kick when she felt like it – and seeing Emma's exhausted face.
But he left, and the magic brought him back.
Jefferson hates magic. He'd prefer if he never felt the goddamn stuff ever again. But it's a necessary evil.
He's not a sane man. He's spent too long wide awake, staring out of windows into other people's lives, sewing a million useless portals to nowhere and always drawing a blank. The world is a mess, this one and all the others, an insane chaos of blood and magic, of reason and flying, screaming colour. And he can see it all, inside his head.
Until the night he sleeps in Snow White's bed, and it's like biting that apple, like being drugged with something far stronger than a simple pill. He sleeps without seeing Grace's smile, hearing his own words, warped and twisted down the years, promising to return. He sleeps without dreaming the night he tried to escape Wonderland, and saw the Queen of Hearts' true face. He sleeps without remembering a goddamn thing, and wakes up human.