Hatter looks after the Knight as he leads Alice away. He is not happy about her being away from where he can keep an eye on her, but she should be safe enough in this Kingdom. And she looks so happy to have a chance to “freshen up.” He laughs to himself at Charlie’s choice of words. But what can you expect from the Guardian of the Curtsey?
He turns, and starts to really look around at the ruined Kingdom, curious and sad. He has never been here before, and since the deal with the Queen of Hearts is in place before…
He shakes himself. ‘Best not to think about that Hatter.’ He needs to keep that a secret not only for him and his, but now for Alice. He doesn’t want the Queen of Hearts to start thinking…’stop it Hatter! You need to concentrate to keep Alice safe and you can’t do that unless you keep it together.’ He grimaces and sits down. This is one of those times he really wishes he can speak with his mum.
Alice relaxes in her bath. She is pleasantly surprised to find that the pool of water is not cold, but comfortably just a tad little warmer than the surrounding air. It is just at the temperature that lets you…relax. She had cleaned her garments first and looks in awe that as she had wiped the piece of cloth that Charlie had given her over her dress, it had looks like it had been dry cleaned. Maybe there is something to Charlie’s claim of being an inventor! Her muscles are also becoming less sore as she soaks, and she is, for the first time since being here in Wonderland, feeling like herself. She finally also has time to think and get her thoughts in order. While she still has a lot on her mind, she feels like she can handle whatever this world throws at her now. At least that is what she is hoping. And she has made a decision on Jack and Hatter. She will still rescue Jack, but she… she will see where these feelings for Hatter will take her.
After Alice comes back from her bath, looking very happy, Hatter slips off to get clean himself. Charlie is cooking something that smells heavenly to her.
Charlie grins at her, asking, “Feeling better, Just Alice?”
She smiles at Charlie. She feels comfortable around him. He reminds her of what a grandfather should be like. “Yes, I feel so much better. Thank you again, Charlie.” She looks at him and realizes that he must have been so lonely here. She decides to talk with him, try to draw him out. “That cloth you gave me is wonderful. Did you invent it?”
He gets a sheepish look on his face as he answers her, “It’s harder to keep things clean out here and I invented that so that I wouldn’t have to worry about doing laundry all the time. Clever huh?”
“Yes Charlie, it really is. It even cleans leather!” They look up and see Hatter smiling as he makes it back to camp, with his hat in hand. How DOES he get his hair to do that?
Hatter feels his breath catch as he looks over at Alice. She is sitting there in the firelight smiling at him. ‘So beautiful, my Alice is…’
“Dinner is ready…” Charlie uncomfortably interrupts them. He has noticed the looks between these two and is not sure what to do about it. Should he help or hinder? Alice looks as if she is happier now than even when he first met these two. And there is the matter of her vassal’s name. He hands Alice her plate. “Here you go Milady, the finest in the Kingdom to be had.”
Hatter smiles and goes to put his hat on, thinking back to Alice’s reaction to his normal method of flipping his hat on, and restrains himself to just an simple twist trick. Once he has grabbed his own plate, he settles himself across from Alice.
Alice eats the food, surprised at how good it is, so very good! And these ribs are so tender!
“Umm this is good, Charlie. What is it?” He really is an amazing cook. She doesn’t think it is just with all the running around she did today that’s making the food so good. Then the realization hits her, has it only been today she met Hatter? She thinks back, she either arrived in the evening or the early portion of this morning… it is hard to tell in the city.
Charlie puffs out his chest at the compliment from her. “Barbecued borogrove. They are the devil to catch, but well worth it. Don’t you think?”
Hatter looks up at Alice when she starts to talk with Charlie. Borogroves huh? He thinks back to a poem his fa had quoted to him often. ’Tis brillig, and the slithy toves, did gyre and gimble in the wabe; all mimsy are the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe.’ Hatter smiles, thinking back to his parents, and the telling of stories that poem seems to inspire, even to this day.
Alice watches Hatter facial expression show somewhat of longing then changes to a fond smile. She shrugs, “When in Rome.” And tosses the rib over to the pile of bones.
Hatter’s smile gets bigger as he hears her comment. His mum uses that expression often and he has also read it in some of the books he has back at the Tea Shoppe. Realizing that this is the second time in the last five minutes that he has thought back to his parents; Hatter wonders if being in this Kingdom is what is bringing his parents up in his mind so much. Or is it Alice? He hasn’t dwelled this much on his family in a long time. It is too dangerous.
Charlie watches the two of them. Hatter has been quiet since his comment about his invention; there seems to be something on his mind. Alice has been more animate, more relaxed, since her bath. But there is no denying the sparks these two set off. As they move, the other seems to orientate towards the other. Charlie has a feeling that he needs to let them settle whatever it is between the two of them. He is being given some hints that if he interferes, it will be a very bad decision. Charlie moves off, announcing, “I shan’t be long.”
Alice smiles back over at Hatter and watches him play with his food. Her smile fades as she wonders what he is thinking about. He has seemed preoccupied with something ever since they heard the story from Charlie when they first got here. Preoccupied and shocked. She wishes she can help him.
Hatter is trying to keep his thoughts in order, but this Kingdom, it calls to him. It recognizes him and is crying out to him. ‘What odd thoughts! Hatter, you need to keep it together and focus on Alice.’ He looks up at her. She is staring at him with a worried look on her face. Did he put that there? He smiles at her. She slowly, shyly, smiles back at him but then it just as slowly fades, as he notices she is thinking about something.
‘Alice, you need to come up with a way to rescue Jack,’ Alice reminds herself and sighs. She rather just… stare at Hatter in the firelight but she reluctantly acknowledges the debt of friendship. Afterwards she can go on and pursue this feeling. She asks quietly, “I want to know is how we will cut a deal with the White Rabbit. Is it really possible?”
Hatter starts. What? Does she still care for Jack? Do all these looks, smiles and such mean nothing? He feels like he is drowning. Does she not trust him? He could swear that she is attracted to him and maybe – if he dared hope – even returns his feelings? ‘And how would she know your feelings, boyo? Have you told her, or just smile at her and take her hand?’ He takes a deep breath and decides that he will try harder. He can’t lose her! Not his Alice!
“I know some people who know other people…” He trails off on the look on her face. “Look, I did say it is a long shot.”Hatter gets up and moves to the other side of the fire. He stacks his plate and then looking back at her he tells her, “But, as long as you got that ring you got a chance.”
Wait, he said “you?” Alice stands up. Wait… didn’t he say he is coming with her? What happened? She is starting to trust him with her heart, does this mean… She starts panicking. ‘Calm down Alice! Why would he leave his homeland and what have you done to tell him you cared?’ She can’t think… “What happened to we?”
What is wrong? He can see that she is starting to panic. How can he explain this? He can’t leave with her. Not now. He doesn’t think Wonderland will allow him now…. What to do? Break his heart and make sure she is safe until this is all resolved or be selfish? Coming to a decision, Hatter sighs. This is going to be hard, but his Alice will be SAFE. “I can’t leave Alice. Wonderland is my home no matter what I said. I have to stay and fight.” Why can’t she see that he wants to be with her? Can’t she see this is tearing him apart?
Can’t he see that this is hurting her? Alice just stares at him and utters the only word she can think of right now, “What?”
Hatter tries to get past the pain in his chest. He needs to get her to try to understand. “Seeing all this, this great kingdom and what-” He takes another breath, this is hurting too much, “What has become of it, is a wakeup call to be honest. My people… I mean the hundreds of refugees that are all hiding underground.” Hatter moves around the fire, behind Alice and tries to reason with her, “Are all depending on me.” He almost slipped. He needs to be more careful. He is… he needs her to be safe and then he can… fall apart.
Alice is desperate. She moves in front of Hatter, there is got to be some way to convince him. “Wait. Didn’t that Dodo guy say he is going to have you hunted down and killed?” There. That should keep him with her. Why did she start this conversation? WHY? Then she remembers, she had done it to get the past behind her so she can move forward with him.
Hatter nods to her and answers, “Yep.” His voice is a little high, remembering Dodo’s words to him. It doesn’t matter. If need be, he can always go home. But his first priority is getting Alice home safe. Then, do everything in his power to make it possible for him to go to her and plead his case once he has kept his promises.
Alice smiles, thinking she is getting through to him. Her heart lightens, believing that there is a chance now.
Why is she throwing all these objections at him? He needs to think of something she will believe, since it is obvious she does not believe the truth so far. Well, the version of truth he is telling her. The other is not his place to reveal. There are promises that are binding upon him. “But, I’m thinking if I turn up with the ring he might forgive me.” He looks away, not able to keep his eyes on her, breaking the first rule of a successful con. He is having a hard time lying to her; it goes against everything in his heart.
Alice just stares at him in shock, her smile of hope gone now. What? Is he serious? This stupid ring, it really is like the One Ring. Is this why he has treating her the way he has been? “So, that is what this is about.”
She sounds so heartbroken. Hatter can’t believe how much this hurts. He tells her faintly, able to look her in the eyes since he is not lying, “Don’t worry. I will get you home safe and sound first.” He will get her safe, he has to… doesn’t he?
Alice grabs onto whatever lifeboat she can, “And Jack?” At least he is still a friend. Oh, why does this hurt?
It feels like a bullet into his heart. He walks away from her to hide his heartbreak. Jack. Always Jack. Why can’t she return his feelings? He turns around and tells her, “You have to forget about Jack.”
He is getting desperate. He needs to make her understand! “We will never get him out of the casino alive and trying is only to set off alarm bells.” She looks at him in disgust and moves off. Hatter tries again to make his point, “It will make your escape impossible!” And Hatter cannot have anything interfere with getting her to safety. He will not suffer through this pain of forcing her to leave to only have the attempt to get her back to her world safely, fail.
“Okay, so you were just leading me on back there.” Alice replies. ‘With all your smiles and glances and… ohh God.’ Alice feels like crumpling to the ground. She moves the stuff off the stool. She looks for something to do; her pride is the only thing holding her upright now.
“Believe me it will be suicide.” He looks at her, so beautiful in the firelight, and looking so dejected. It sends another pang of pain through his heart. He thinks to himself, “Jack’s a lucky guy.”
Wait, did he just say that out loud? But how true it is, he will give so much away without a second thought for her to feel the same… about him.
Alice’s head jerks up to look at Hatter. She asks him, “What?” What did he say? Did he just say what I think he said? Hope blooms in her heart again.
Hatter can’t do this, she looks so broken. He can’t leave it like this, and answers softly, “I said, Jack is a lucky guy.”
She continues to gaze at him, does that mean he-? “Why do you think that?” She wants to know. She has this intense desire to know what his answer is going to be. She has a feeling that everything hangs on his response.
Hatter looks into her blue eyes across the fire, watching her eyes glisten with… is that hope?
“You obviously care for him. I ju-wish… you know, never mind.”
Alice is holding her breath. She releases it. Here is her chance. “Hatter.” How can she tell him? She is not good at this. But for the sake of her heart, and what can be, she tries again, “Why?” When Hatter doesn’t answer, and just continues to stare at her, she clarifies, “Why are you sending me away. Is it because of the ring?”
Hatter’s eyes widen, “What?” Oh, God, she believes that story. Why can’t she trust him? ‘Because she believes what you told her. You’re too good at what you do.’ But why can’t she believe his first story? ‘Maybe she did…’
Hatter decides to tell her, “I have this need to keep… you safe. Alice, I…”
He takes a deep breath. ‘It’s now or never, Hatter me boyo’. He has all these pictures in his head of what can be, and watching them, he realizes just how badly he wants the good ones. Oh God, he wants those so much! He is too selfish, wanting the possibility of the joys and happiness of them together for them and damn the consequences!
He moves around the fire to stand in front of her, wanting to stare in her eyes with nothing between them. How can he stand here with her and not give in to these feelings? She is everything to him.
With that realization, Hatter finishes his sentence with confidence, “…care for you. A lot. And I don’t think in time that even with a lot of chocolate and cream cake will these feelings EVER disappear.”
He sees her face light up as Alice flings herself into his arms. His arms surround her automatically. Hatter holds her close to him, his eyes close in joy over her acceptance.