There had been so many people working at the Casino, so many who, in the aftermath of the Great Overthrow, had no place to live, no place to work. Oh, it was all well and good at the top, and Jack tried so hard to put things back together, but the depression that had encompassed the land during the reign of the Queen of Hearts lingered.
It was, perhaps, representative of the overall feeling of the land. Things had been so hopeful, so bright, and then reality had crashed down on them. The truth of the situation, that returning Wonderland to it's glory would take a long time, had been a bitter elixir to be forced to drink. And Jack had taken it as hard as anyone else.
Of course, his failed proposal to Alice wasn't unknown to Duchess, so when he tried the same with her, she knew that, at best, she was the second prize girl. And she'd never loved him, not really. She had simply been groomed with the understanding she'd marry him, and when the time came, and he bothered to ask, she finally felt free enough to turn him down.
Interestingly, he took it well. He wasn't an idiot, and he had to have known she wasn't going to agree to it. He let her go without the bitterness she half-expected from him, or the malice she would have gotten from his mother. Once free, however, she wasn't sure what she should do with herself. She drifted, never staying anywhere long, drifting along the still grey and dingy streets of the city, passing her time observing the changes that were so to come, and very, very fragile.
That is, of course, until she ran into one of the dancers from the Casino, in town, on a rainy afternoon. Her name, ironically enough, was Dancer, although the irony seemed lost on the girl. Since the Overthrow, she'd been working as a shop clerk, and Duchess could see, easily, that it was a terrible fit for her. The color, and flare had left her, a trait Duchess distinctly remembered from the few times she'd seen the girl in the Casino. Quite a bit of the color and flare was gone, from everyone, Duchess herself included, but it seemed so stark, with Dancer, after the gaudy, and sparkly costumes, brightly colored, and feathered.
They'd gotten to talking, in the street there, just chatting about this and that under respective umbrellas, and as minutes turned into an hour, they eventually moved the conversation to a cafe down the street, to get out of the rain. Dancer had a plain black coffee, Duchess a much more complicated chocolate and cheer infused latte, and they shared a plate of sweet glazed mini-croissants. It was comfortable, and heartening, as though finding a friend again after a long time, although they had never so much as spoken in the Casino. Dancer bore the same memories of that chaotic day, all those who had been at the Casino had them, and those memories were something the townsfolk would never understand. It was a shared kinship, and Duchess felt it with Dancer more than anyone else she'd spoken to.
Afternoon had turned into evening, and they were evicted from their table by wait staff eager to get home to their own lives. By then, the rain had stopped, and the two women walked, umbrellas on their arms, the fading sunlight breaking through the ragged skyline to fall on them, turning everything it touched orange-gold. They eventually made their way to a park, where they sat and watched the sun properly set, fading orange into red, and then purple, rich and velvety, before darkness fell. Lights twinkled on in the buildings, finally starting to become occupied again, finally starting to come alive again. And then, all at once, street-lights, and lights in the shops that were still open flooded the little park with light as bright as sunlight, and the two women began to walk again.
They ended up, eventually, as it became later and later, at Dancer's apartment, and when she asked if Duchess was staying nearby, and the blonde admitted she wasn't staying anywhere, especially, Dancer invited her in for coffee, and a place on the beaten up sofa in the tiny living room of her walk-up. The invitation was so blushing and awkwardly asked that she felt she couldn't say no, and of course, didn't want to, in any case. She followed the girl upstairs, and into an apartment so hopelessly grey and brown that what little cheer anyone had in them was drained upon entering. It was no wonder Dancer seemed so helplessly lost, Duchess realized. It was no wonder everyone was so hopelessly lost, if most of the people were living in places like this.
The coffee, however, was good, freshly brewed, and the company, of course, excellent. They continued their conversations, never about anything more substantial than the color of a butterfly's wing in the summer sun, but all the same, meaningful for the sake of conversation with a friendly face. It was nearly two when they both realized they ought to be sleeping, and Dancer offered up her own pillows and blanket to make the sofa a bit more comfortable, an offer Duchess declined, snuggling down under her black long jacket instead, and sleeping, perhaps, more soundly than she had since her childhood, long before the Queen had gotten her claws into her.