Celebrating a wedding in Wonderland, Alice thought, didn't make the toasts any less boring. If anything, they were worse.
Alice tugged fruitlessly at her high collar and tried to keep a smile on her face, wishing she was somewhere, anywhere else. The servers were busy refilling drinks all around her while at the foot of the long table, a man in an eye-searing purple suit was mumbling his way through another paean to Jack's rule and the New Golden Age of Wonderland (or Maybe Just Silver, but Definitely A New Age). His exact words were lost somewhere in the vast hall, under the echoing hum of a hundred wedding guests getting progressively more drunk.
The wedding was being held at the ancestral home of the Duchess's family, just up the valley from the ruins of the Casino. As members of the wedding party – Alice as one of Duchess's eleven bridesmaids, Hatter as groomsman number four – they were staying in a guest suite. Alice had to admit it was a beautiful old building, if somewhat unpleasantly smelling of pepper. Jack was honestly happy to see her, she thought, but Duchess kept swerving between fits of icy jealousy and seeking her out as a refuge from the rest of the guests, who were invited more for their political relevance than their personal investment in the marriage.
Alice was seated near the head of the dining hall, though not close enough to the head of the table to actually talk to Jack or Duchess, who were the only people she even knew at this shindig other than Hatter. Well, and Charlie, who was down at the other end of the table, listening raptly to the speech. At least she and Hatter had been seated next to each other.
She sighed, and glanced sideways at him. Hatter sprawled grumpily in his chair, looking half-naked without his hat and like he couldn't decide between falling asleep and plotting the speaker's murder.
He was definitely going to win their argument.
When Jack had sent the invitation through the Looking-Glass a few months ago, she had been flattered and a little unsure. Almost a year had passed since they had freed Wonderland and although she could never forget the experience – especially while waking up to Hatter every day – she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to go back, especially to see her ex get married to someone who'd hadn't cared if she got beheaded. But the prospect of seeing Jack and Charlie again, of mending fences with Duchess, of borogrove cutlets and booze and dancing, and the letter's promise that she wouldn't even have to find a dress, were incredibly tempting.
She was still dithering, until Hatter leaned over her shoulder and said, “I see the Looking-Glass is playing games again.”
“What?” Alice said.
“Look at the date,” he said, pointing.
She blinked. The letter was dated next week.
“The Looking-Glass can get a bit particular about when and where it drops you off on the other side. Usually, it's a day or so one way or the other, and within a mile of the mirror itself, but I knew a guy whose twin brother got his tea from a woman whose uncle worked for the White Rabbit, and he got dropped off in the middle of the forest once. On a Thursday.” Seeing Alice's disturbed expression, he added hastily, “But he was a jerk anyway.”
She arched an eyebrow at him, and he grinned unrepentantly.
Somehow, that tipped her over the edge: the obvious delight Hatter still found in Wonderland, even if he'd never admit it because he didn't want her feeling guilty, or whatever annoyingly self-sacrificing idea he'd gotten into his head. They were going to go to that wedding.
Hatter had argued with her, of course. They argued about pretty much everything, but unlike anyone she'd ever dated before, it somehow just made her fonder of him. He usually cheated by making her laugh mid-argument, and she cheated back by turning fights into epic sex marathons, but the baseline was just different. She never felt like he thought less of her, and his face still lit up every time she walked into a room.
Alice sneaked another glance sideways. Hatter had abandoned his glaring and moved on to cleaning under his fingernails with something small and silvery. She really hoped it wasn't something he was supposed to eat with later.
She'd won the discussion about the wedding, but he had decided to be a complete brat and keep a tally of points that proved him right versus points that proved her right for the entire trip. Duchess's politely menacing tour of the manor – including the functional dungeon – had lost her a staggering 50 points and most of her dignity, as she tried not to laugh at the expressions he pulled. But Charlie's cheerful visit on the following day, where he regaled them with tales of the new recruits he was training to be White Knights and descriptions of the elaborate exercise machine he had invented to train them, had won her 75 points, silently added to the much-scribbled piece of paper while she was sleeping.
The pièce de résistance for his side was the hideous, hideous bridesmaid outfit she had to wear. According to Duchess, it was the traditional clothing for her family's weddings, and she had the pictures to prove it. But the color must have been her decision, and Alice could only think this particular shade of pale orange was perfectly calculated to make her as unattractive as possible. Voluminous and fashioned with an unflattering waistline, the dress was a sleeveless, floor-length sack with a high collar that cut into her neck, and an appalling, ruffled ....thing hanging down the front like a cross between a cravat and a bib. She looked like a refugee from a Victorian lace factory.
Alice kept smiling, and told herself that at least the food would be good. Duchess had coached her on the etiquette for the first course – wait for Jack to take a bite, and then everyone eats. Apparently, it was a huge insult not to partake.
A sudden hush fell over the room as the man in purple concluded his speech. Jack, moving with unusual speed, rang a small bell next to his plate and servers streamed out of hidden doors to serve the first course and cut off any more verbal assaults. Her stomach growled in approval at the smells wafting out, and even Hatter sat up eagerly as they swooped along the table in efficient waves, until two plates were dropped in front of them with graceful haste.
She stared down at her food in betrayal. The first course was mushrooms.
Alice hated mushrooms. They were disgusting and slimy, and her dad had loved to cook them for her mother, which made Alice wonder occasionally when she was young if she was adopted.
Hatter, on the other hand, loved mushrooms. Typical.
At the head of the table, Jack took a bite. Hatter smirked at her, and shoved an entire mushroom in his mouth. She narrowed her eyes. Between this, the points system, and not telling her why he had started laughing hysterically when she described her dress as having a mock turtleneck, he was in serious danger of getting a kick to the face.
Turning back to her plate, she sliced off the smallest piece she could manage, and tried to swallow without chewing. The tactic worked fairly well, but there was still a gross slimy texture. Alice really hated mushrooms.
Normally, though, they didn't make her quite this nauseated.
She clutched at the edge of the table and fought the urge to vomit as a blinding wave of dizziness swept over her. A scream rang out from the head of the table. Alice jerked her head around to look, but the world seemed to melt around her and she squeezed her eyes shut against the sensation, holding on tight.
When she opened her eyes, she saw.... wood. The massive, wooden dining table, which she was still clinging to with both hands.
The table that had previously been at chest height, and was now level with her eyes.
An awful suspicion crept into her mind, and she pushed herself up to kneel on the seat of the chair.
All along the length of the table, she could see the tops of the guests' heads at varying heights - she seemed to be one of the taller ones, only shrunk to about three feet tall. People were shouting in tiny panicked voices, making a chaotic if somewhat muted roar.
"Hatter!" she cried, turning back to her right. On the seat of his chair, Hatter was waving his arms frantically and shouting, though he was so quiet she couldn't hear exactly what he was saying. He couldn't be more than four inches high, she thought dizzily. Reaching across the yawning gap between their chairs, she picked him up in both hands and brought him in for a careful hug.
"Alice, are you alright?" he gasped in her ear.
"I'm fine," she said, shaky with relief. "You're the one who can't even yell properly."
"Yeah, I'm sure that'll be hilarious later, thanks.” He looked around from the higher vantage point of her shoulder. “This shouldn't even be possible! Shrinking mushrooms have been extinct for decades." He considered for a moment, and added, “At least we got the kind that shrinks your clothes with you.”
"You mean there are actually - never mind. Of course there are." Alice really hated Wonderland, sometimes. She took a deep breath, chalked up another 400 points for Hatter in the 'why we shouldn't have attended this wedding' argument, and started strategizing. "We should get up to Jack. If he ate as much as you, he probably can't even get off his chair, and he's our best chance of getting order back," she said, already slipping off her chair and settling Hatter on her shoulder. He clutched one of her earrings as she moved - lucky she'd gone with the solid silver spikes and not those delicate wire spirals after all. She decided to just crouch over a little and walk straight down under the table, since she was short enough to fit underneath, and kicking legs were suddenly not an issue.
In her ear, Hatter started to say, "How are we-" and then yelped as she automatically turned her head to look at him and yanked him sideways with her earring.
"Sorry!" she said hastily. "Here, hang on to the cravat thing, it's so starched it's practically solid."
He switched his grip and said sarcastically, "Well, this will be a wedding no one will forget." Alice found herself stifling inappropriate laughter.
At the head of the table, she found a foot-high Jack trying to clamber up to the top of the table. "Need a hand?" she asked wryly.
"Alice!" Jack said, bending down to look at her in relief. "Oh thank goodness, you're tall enough to reach."
"And I can probably yell louder than anyone else right now," she added, laughing a little. The humor of the situation was starting to sink in, along with sheer karmic payoff of her hatred of mushrooms finally being justified.
"Not that that wasn't the case before," Hatter added, warm and fond in her ear.
She grinned down at him, and stuck out a hand to boost Jack up to the tabletop. From the sound of his relieved cry a moment later, Duchess was already up there. She had just pushed Jack's chair back to crawl out herself when the door slammed open and a voice shouted, "Nobody move! You are all under arrest by the Caucus for your crimes against Wonderland!"
"What the hell?" she hissed, ducking back under the table. She could see ten or fifteen pairs of regular-sized legs streaming through the doors at the other end of the hall – the wedding guests weren't outnumbered, but they were definitely outmatched. "Hatter, who are these people?"
"Hey, I don't know every malcontent in Wonderland! I don't recognize any of.... Oh, bloody hell," he groaned.
"You were saying?" she said sarcastically.
"The one with all the shiny buttons is Magpie. He's a complete idiot. Used to be an incompetent thief, hence the name." He cursed quietly. "Even worse, he's an amateur. I hate amateur criminals, they can't do anything right."
"Maybe that'll work for us this time? I can't fight them like this, I can't get any leverage. And there's nowhere for you to hide without getting stomped on accidentally."
"I'm pretty pocket-sized right now. I don't suppose you have any in that dress?"
"No, I don't even have my purse. That creepy butler took it when he made you give up your hat."
"I knew I didn't like that man. He kept staring at your breasts, even with that enormous thing over top of them."
At his words, Alice went still. "Wait. I think I have an idea."
His life was completely, completely unfair, Hatter thought, as he clung to his hiding place. He'd had dreams about this sort of thing – every bloke had had dreams about this sort of thing, especially after the magnificent Madame Poitrine had taken over teaching the refugee children at the Great Library when he was thirteen.
Unfortunately, the sheer brilliance of hiding in Alice's cleavage was being spoiled by his overwhelming fear that she would be hurt by those idiots out there, who were currently herding all the shrunken wedding guests into the dungeons.
The hideous, lumpy cravat-thing was doing a brilliant job of hiding him. Staying put was a different matter, though – he dearly loved Alice's breasts, but they weren't exactly shelf-like, even at normal size. His feet were wedged precariously in Alice's underwire, with his knees turned painfully to the side so they didn't stick out. His arms, spread-eagled across her chest for balance, were beginning to ache, and the whole jiggling effect was much less enjoyable when you were trying to hang on to something and not to fall to your death.
The whole world abruptly lurched to one side as Alice stumbled. Hatter turned his face into Alice's sternum and held onto her bra straps for dear life. The fabric muffled sounds so strongly that he couldn't hear much of anything above Alice's heartbeat, but someone must have shoved Alice, because there were angry voices and Alice said, “Hey, pick on someone your own size, asshole!”
He clenched his jaw and swallowed his frustration at not being able to help protect Alice. Not that she needed it, but he liked to at least help. Or be able to help. Or be tall enough to punch someone. He really wanted to punch someone right now.
At least he knew how to get back upstairs. Duchess had diligently shown them the whole dungeon setup on the day they arrived, possibly in a misguided attempt to intimidate Alice. Hatter had nearly choked on all the jokes that sprang to mind as she described her plans to turn the area into a guest wing, but he saved them away for later, to get Alice to conceed a few more points in their little ongoing argument.
Alice stumbled again, then whispered, "Oh, shit."
The bra straps were abruptly wrenched sideways out of Hatter's hands and he plunged downwards as the space between Alice's skin and underwire expanded like some bizarre accordion. He clawed frantically for something to hang onto, and snagged the delicate lacy edge of one of the bra cups with one hand.
The long drop yawned sickeningly beneath him, the ground distantly visible past the curves of Alice's body and the fabric of the dress. As the lace began to rip under his weight, Hatter groped in vain for another handhold on the smooth satin surface, and he started to fall.
A sudden solid pressure smashed into his back and pressed him facedown into the curve of Alice's breast. He caught his breath, listening to the sound of Alice's heart, which was hammering away much faster than a minute before. Faster, and.... deeper?
"Oh," he breathed. Of course. The mushrooms had worn off. She'd only eaten a tiny bite, so she'd stayed relatively tall, and her body must have processed the remaining magic faster as well. Which meant that everyone else would start returning to their own size any minute now.
From the shouting - muffled less by the fabric, now, and more by what Hatter assumed was Alice's hand holding him in place - the idiot would-rebels had just figured that out themselves. They started moving again, this time more quickly and with the distinctive jolting motion of going down a flight of stairs. At the foot of the stairs, they paused for another shouting match, though thankfully Alice wasn't involved this time. Shortly after, Hatter heard the rattle of keys, the metallic clang of metal doors slamming shut, and the receding tread of boots until all was relatively quiet.
Cautiously, Hatter resettled his feet and took a new grip on the edge of Alice's bra - wonderful invention, really, very durable - and sort of elbowed a little at the hand holding him in place. The pressure slid away, and he could hear again.
Jack was saying, "...got some threats from them in the past few months, but the Caucus been a drinking and debate society for years! We hardly took them seriously." Hatter hated to agree with Jack about anything, but it was true – the Caucus were a notorious joke in Wonderland, and from a few phrases he'd picked up in Alice's world, the prejudice had even crossed worlds. He half suspected that the disorganized nature of this rebellion was as much from sheer surprise that their plan worked, as from their own native incompetence.
He missed most of Duchess's response, though he recognized her tone as the 'I told you so' voice that most women seemed to learn at birth.
“Hey, let's just focus on getting out of these cuffs first, okay?” Alice said, sounded irritated.
“And just how do you propose to do that, Alice? I'm afraid I left my lockpicks in my honeymoon outfit.”
“I think Hatter might be able to help with that,” she said, a little smugly. Alice's hand slid into view through the armhole of her dress and carefully wrapped around Hatter. He latched onto her thumb, and she pulled him out into the light.
Duchess and Jack were the only other two people in the cell. Jack was still a foot high and had been tied up in a way that probably wouldn't cut him in half when his mushrooms wore off – a shame, really; Duchess had already reverted back to her normal size, and like Alice, was locked into a set of ancient manacles that hung from the walls. Despite the awkward position she was in, Duchess looked like she was trying desperately not to laugh. Jack, less practiced at keeping a straight face, said, “You have got to be kidding me.”
“Size isn't everything,” he shot back. From his expression, it appeared Jack couldn't hear a word he was saying. Not exactly proving his point, that.
“Think you can pick the locks?” Alice said, ignoring them.
“Can you reach one of your hairpins?” he demanded, insulted she had to ask.
With her right hand, which was chained to the wall, she reached back and pulled one of the long black pins she favored (and tended to drop in uncomfortable places like the bathroom floor) from her complicated braided chignon. A lock of hair fell fetchingly into her eyes, and she blew impatiently at it.
At this height, the pin was the size of a croquet mallet and almost as heavy. He juggled it around in his grip as she lifted him up to the shackle on her wrist, and told himself he could definitely do this.
When he got a good look at the lock, Hatter almost laughed in relief. The iron cuff was old, rusted and held shut by an antique padlock with a keyhole was so big that he could almost... no, he could put a fist inside it. He felt around the interior of the lock – only three pins. The parts were too stiff to push into place, so he evaluated the position of the tumblers, wedged the hairpin inside and started levering away. It wasn't his personal best, but the lock still clicked open in less than a minute. He smirked down at Jack.
Alice passed him and his lockpick off to Duchess, and went to untangle Jack. The new queen watched him work with a warlike glint in her eye. He found it disturbingly attractive, but only because it reminded him of Alice.
“Why did they lock up both of your hands and only one of Alice's?” he wondered, pitching his voice high enough that Duchess could hear him. “I would have thought they'd go the other way around, considering her reputation.”
“They probably didn't like it when I pulled a knife on them after the mushrooms wore off,” she replied calmly.
Hatter blinked, and looked down at her skintight outfit. But where did she....?
She smiled predatorily at him. Definitely reminding him of Alice. He gulped and got back to work.
Even with both hands to unlock, they were still done well before Alice could untangle Jack, so Duchess carried him over to the door and he started levering away at the pins. From the sounds, there were people crammed into cells all along the corridor, shouting and crying and generally making a fuss in the least useful way possible. The idiots hadn't even posted a guard, or at least he couldn't see one through the bars of the cell. Score another point for the lack of professionalism.
As the last pin clicked into place and the lock turned, Alice let out a triumphant “Hah!”, and Hatter looked around to see that Alice had gotten the ropes off in perfect time. They still made a good team, he thought contentedly.
Alice strode across the cell and peered out the door. Duchess copied her, glancing easily above Alice head with her greater height and heels.
“Shh, hear that?” Alice said, holding up a hand for silence. Under the noise of the other wedding guests, Hatter heard the approaching stomp of boots. She grinned fiercely at Duchess. “Let's go.”
“Wait,” Jack started, but Duchess and Alice were already heading around the corner like terrifyingly hot valkyries. Hatter and Jack traded a look, and scrambled out the door after them.
Jack, with legs three times as long as Hatter's, quickly outpaced him, and Hatter cursed under his breath as he sprinted after. Jack disappeared around the corner, where a shout was followed by ominous thumping sounds.
He skidded around the corner, and was greeted with the unsurprising but welcome sight of the guard sprawled on the floor, groaning and moving weakly as Alice searched his pockets. Duchess delicately rested a stiletto heel on his groin, and he froze. Good survival instincts, Hatter thought wryly.
With a flourish, Alice yanked a set of old-fashioned keys out of the guard's pants and held them up for Duchess to examine.
“That looks like all of them,” Duchess said, counting them out carefully. “Jack, who should we – Jack!”
Jack's mushrooms had worn off when no one was looking, and he was shaking his head against the dizziness. Duchess almost tackled him into an embrace, and they clung to each other for a moment. Jack pulled away reluctantly and said, “My timing could have been more convenient, dearest, I apologize.”
“I'll make you pay for it later,” Duchess said, smiling. “Now, who shall we leave to get the guests out? We certainly can't have any of them getting injured at our wedding, the council would scream bloody murder.”
“Allow me,” said Jack, taking the keys from her. They trooped back into the main corridor of cells, where the shouting had reached a fever pitch of demands to be released. After a quick look around, he stepped over to unlock the second-nearest cell. The man standing next to the door was very short, but Hatter couldn't tell if he was naturally five feet tall or just hadn't been a fan of mushrooms. “Get the cells unlocked and get these people to safety, Hubert,” said Jack quietly. “We'll take care of the Caucus.”
The man nodded and turned to organize everyone in his cell with an air of friendly but implacable efficiency. Hatter didn't see anything else, because Alice had scooped him up onto her shoulder again and they were hurrying towards the stairs.
The four of them continued up to the main floor of the house, but it was eerily quiet. They walked through several empty corridors, and Hatter began to wonder if the rebels had all panicked and run away except for the dungeon guard until Alice stooped to pick something up off the floor.
“Is this Charlie's gauntlet?” she said, disbelieving. Hatter peered down from her shoulder at the battered piece of metal. There was no mistaking the pattern of oddly-welded repairs and scratches.
“Not again,” muttered Jack. “I am never going to live this down.”
They rounded the corner to the main hallway and finally found the Caucus. The entryway was a mess, the rugs twisted up and strewn with unidentifiable bits of broken furniture – and seven unconscious bodies.
“Charlie did this?” Alice whispered.
“Guess there's something to that exercise machine after all,” Hatter replied.
The sound of distant shouting led them back to the dining hall. Hatter recognized the voice as Charlie's as soon as he could hear the words.
“....bags of borogrove brains! Unhand me, you insolent avian imposters! You are a disgrace to those who are truly loyal to Wonderland!”
Alice and Jack snuck up on either side of the doorframe, Alice passing Hatter off the Duchess with a whispered apology. From the greater height of Duchess's shoulder, he could see Charlie being held by the remaining four Caucus members, including Magpie, and ranting at the top of his lungs.
Alice drew in a sharp breath as Magpie drew a gun. “Shut up, old man!” he shouted.
Hatter winced. If there was ever a phrase that was guaranteed not to work on Charlie....
As expected, Charlie drew himself up, beard quivering with indignation. Hatter saw Magpie's hand tighten around the gun, and Alice threw herself towards the fight.
Cursing, Jack followed a half-step behind, and they tackled the knot of men. Alice took out two of them without even trying, and Jack slammed a third to the floor, just in time for Charlie to lay out Magpie with a right hook that even Hatter would have been proud of.
Alice bent over to catch her breath, and Charlie looked up.
“Alice!” he said. “You're safe! I was just coming to rescue you!”
Alice looked at Magpie lying on the floor, and started laughing joyfully. “You did pretty well, Charlie. How did you get away?”
"I am a knight!" he said, puffing out his chest, then wincing. Rubbing at his back, he deflated slightly and added, "Also, I developed an resistance to shrinking mushrooms when I was a boy. They bear a striking resemblance to the green whimsybat truffle, and I may have mistaken them for each other on a few occasions. Once I realized that the effects wouldn't last long, I faked a terrible injury, lured them into a false sense of security, and seized the moment!”
Duchess, who had emerged from cover after the gun was under control, passed Hatter off to Alice, and ran over to hug Charlie, which surprised just about everyone.
Then she kicked Magpie in the face. The world returned to normal.
Still breathing hard, Alice held Hatter in front of her face and frowned at him. “You are going to change back, right? You can't overdose on shrinking mushrooms, can you?”
“No, I just ate a lot,” he sighed. “I just can't believe I didn't get to– ”
A familiar wave of vertigo cut him off, and he almost fell over. Hatter blinked back his disorientation, and found himself looking Alice in the face again – but this time, he was eye-to-eye with her. She broke out into the loveliest smile he'd seen all day, and pulled him into a hug.
Oh, he was never going to take this for granted again. He closed his eyes, and held on.
They both made a silent, mutual decision to stay out of the cleanup – Alice ruthlessly intimidated anyone who interviewed her into submission with her status as legend and her close personal friendship with the king; Hatter simply started flexing his right hand and lamenting his missed opportunity to punch anyone today whenever a new lackey swung over.
The interviews were satisfyingly brief.
By the time Hatter peeled himself away from the investigators, Alice had curled up on a divan in one of the quieter sitting rooms to wait for him, exhausted and lethally irritated. “'It'll be great',” she grumped under her breath. “'A chance to catch up with old friends and have a free vacation'. What was I thinking?” She wondered if she should feel guilty about scaring those poor Clubs, but she had come to believe in the last year that Wonderlanders had no common sense. Anyone who was stupid enough to suspect her of being involved in another coup clearly needed to be taught a lesson. She did feel a little guilty for abandoning Hatter in order to sit somewhere quiet and calm down this headache, but he could handle himself.
As if he had been summoned, Hatter poked his head through the doorway. He had rescued his hat at some point since she last saw him, and her purse was wedged firmly under his arm. When his eyes found her, his whole face lit up – even after a year, he did it every time they met, and Alice's heart never failed to skip a beat. She couldn't help smiling back.
He crossed the room and plopped down on the couch next to her, handing off her purse. “Here, thought you might want some aspirin. I don't know about you, but shrinking mushroom hangovers are terrible.”
“Is that what it is? I thought it was just my brain trying to explode with frustration.”
He grinned at her. “I can believe it. I've never seen a Card run away so fast in my life. Didn't have any trouble getting my hat away from the butler after that, though - he must have been watching.”
“Duchess said something to him,” Alice said, smiling in satisfaction. "I think we bonded."
Hatter shuddered. "That's really terrifying, Alice."
She patted his thigh and said soothingly, "Don't worry, I'll protect you."
He poked her gently, and passed her the bottle of painkillers.
She tossed back a few tablets dry, and tucked her legs closer to Hatter's. “I just feel so bad for Jack and Duchess. They're never going to get away for their honeymoon at this rate.”
“Price of being royalty,” said Hatter. He didn't sound very sympathetic.
“And having a huge circus for a wedding, in the first place,” Alice said tiredly, leaning her head down on his shoulder. “When we get married, let's just elope.”
Pressed against her side, Hatter went completely still. She thought over what she'd just absent-mindedly said, and had a moment of sheer mind-blinding panic.
After a short, terrifying silence, he said hoarsely, “Works for me.” He shifted his arm to wrap around her waist, and tilted his head against hers. Almost involuntarily, she relaxed.
It kinda freaked her out, how much she didn't want to run away. Didn't want to move at all, in fact.
“I think I'm starting to like this dress,” he said, toying with the edge of one of the ruffles after they sat in silence for awhile.
“Then take a good long look, because I am ceremonially burning it when we get home.”
“What? No!” he squawked, so dramatically horrified she knew he was faking it. “Are you insane? It's practically a historical object now. The fashion that saved the young king's life and throne. You should donate it to a museum, Alice.”
“And I'm the one who's insane?” she muttered.
Hatter ignored her. “Make sure to call it a mock turtleneck,” he added, snickering. “And please, let me be there when you do.”
“Are you ever going to tell me why that's so funny?” she said plaintively.
Alice could feel the grin stretch across his face where it was pressed against her hair. “Maybe.”
She growled at him.
“I'll tell if you let me repeat this afternoon's experience in your cleavage now that I'm full-sized.”
She rolled her eyes, smiling helplessly, but curiosity really did kill the cat. “Okay, fine. Just tell me.”
Hatter chuckled dirtily, and let his voice fall into a storytelling rhythm, which she personally thought of as his “outrageous lie” voice, since they were pretty much the same. “About sixty years ago, the youngest daughter of the then-Duchess ran away with a very disreputable young man – which would have been a scandal on its own, but the trouble really started when the flamingos got the gryphon involved....”
Alice settled in for a truly ridiculous bit of gossip (Wonderland didn't have any other kind, it seemed), Hatter pressed warm against her side and smelling of dungeon dust and sweat and the straw of his favorite hat.
She couldn't think of a better place to be.