Hatter watched as Alice stepped through the looking glass and had a flashback to ten years previously, the last time he had stood here as he watched a teary eyed boy clutch at his fedora, take a deep breath and step through into the oyster world.
He took a deep breath and looked at the newly crowned king. He was Hatters only hope of seeing the boy again. “Highness,” Hatter called, jogging up to him.
“What do you want, Hatter?” Jack asked bitterly, still reeling at Alice’s rejection of him.
“I was just wondering, what with you being kind and all now…” he trailed off, not liking having to ask anything of this man. But if he went through the glass and someone followed him without the law being first repealed, they would kill his son.
“What?” He asked impatiently.
“Will you repeal the Hatter law?” Hatter asked, swallowing harshly and looking in the eyes of his ‘king’.
Jack blinked, mind flashing back to the ten year law that there could be only one Hatter. He briefly wondered how many this hardened man had lost because of it. He felt himself fill with compassion as he realised that law had been one that had pushed him to join the resistance. He’d forgotten the respect he’d held for this man’s family and the original Mad Hatter in all the chaos and jealousy over Alice.
“Of course Hatter, that law is barbaric. I will see to it as soon as I’m back in the castle.”
Hatter let loose a breath of relief. “Thank you,” he said sincerely. “Then, after all the oysters have gone through, do you think you could send me to England?”
Jacks eyes widened. “You got them out?” He hadn’t thought it possible.
Hatter gave him a half-hearted smile. “Just one. And I am a smuggler… or, I was.”
Jack’s memory flashed back again to seeing a little kid with a tall hat following members of the Hatter family around the market one day. He stared at Hatter with new eyes. “Your son?”
“Little Hat,” Hatter agreed with a nod (for very rarely did the Hatters use their real names). “He’ll be all grown up now. If he survived, that is.”
Jack rested a hand on his shoulder. “Go and find him. Bring him home, or stay there, no one will hurt him.”
“Thank you,” Hatter said, squeezing the hand on his shoulder.
Hatter stepped through the looking glass and came face to face with several Not Suits pointing guns at him.
“Woah,” he said, alarmed. He’d just escaped one war zone, had he walked into another?
“Who are you?” one of the Not Suits asked.
Hatter shot the man his most winning smile. “The name’s Hatter, and you are?”
The Not Suit didn’t respond. “What were you doing in the anomaly?”
“Anoma-what?” Hatter asked, turning round to see the mirror still rippling.
“Becker, that’s not a normal Anomaly,” A brunet woman interrupted.
The Not Suit nodded. “Get Connor, he’s the sciency one, isn’t he?” Becker asked sarcastically, Hatter snorted at that.
“Becker, put the gun down, he’s not going to hurt us,” Another woman said in an exasperated voice, before gesturing him away from the looking glass. “I’m sorry, Becker here really likes his guns.”
“Not a problem,” Hatter said with a chuckle. “Know guys like ‘im myself. What’s your name pretty lady?” he asked, twirling his hat.
“Sarah,” she said with a light blush.
Behind him he heard a familiar accent talking and span round in shock.
“What do you mean it’s different?” the voice said.
“Well, it’s more like a mirror rippling,” Jenny replied to Connor. At hearing this the boy froze and stared straight at the mirror. Hundreds of flashbacks from his childhood flashing through his head, freezing on the last time he had seen this mirror. The last time he’d seen his father, bleeding from a gun shot wound and promising to find him.
He let out a soft gasp, panic starting to rise. He couldn’t be here, what if the suits had come through? If they found him, they’d kill him.
He took a stumbling step backwards, not taking his eyes from it.
“Connor?” Jenny asked in concern. “Connor, what’s wrong?”
“D-did,” he stuttered and took a deep breath, focusing on his friends face. “Did anyone come through it?”
“Yes. Wait, anyone? You know where this leads?” Jenny demanded.
“Who Jenny? Who came through?” Connor demanded, gripping her shoulders and shaking her lightly, fear gripping at him.
“He’s over there,” Jenny said, gesturing. “Said his name was Hatter.”
Connor let go of her at that, his head snapping up to look for him. The rest of the team were looking at him like he’d grown a second head, all calling for his attention, but Connor’s eyes were only for the man stood beside Sarah, not looking a day older despite the ten year gap.
Connor stumbled towards the man, stopping half way there, unable to take another step. He was staring at Connor just as intently. “D-Dad?” Connor asked, an insecure shake to his voice.
Hatter broke out into a brilliant smile and started walking towards him, catching his son in a colliding hug that knocked both their hats off. “Hey, Little Hat,” Hatter greeted, pulling him as tightly as he could against him.
“I thought you were dead,” Connor said in a trembling voice, burying his face into Hatters shoulder and letting out a keening sob.
“I know. I’m sorry, I am so, so sorry,” Hatter said, tears in his own voice as he rocked his son gently in his arms. “It’s over,” he whispered in his ear. “I met an Alice, we brought the casino down.”
Connor let out a sobbing laugh. “What is it with Hatters and Alice’s?” he asked, stull clutching at his father. Hatter started laughing with him.
“You know, when I came to find you, I thought it’d take longer than five minutes.”
Connor chuckled. “Since when did any time but tea time matter to a Hatter?”
“Okay, will someone please tell me what the hell is going on?” Abby’s voice called out, having walked into the warehouse to find Connor sobbing in the arms of another man and all the soldiers, Jenny and Sarah gaping at them.
Connor pulled away from Hatter and spun round, brain suddenly snapping back to reality. “Ooooh, I’m in trouble,” He whispered, low enough that only Hatter heard.
Hatter quirked his lips. “Friend of yours?”
Connor gulped. “Yup,” he said, popping the ‘p’. “Uh, hey Abby. Guys.” He looked at them all nervously. “So this is Hatter. He’s, he’s my father.”
Abby’s jaw dropped, Becker rose an eyebrow and Sarah called out, “I knew you seemed familiar.”
“Your father? But you said he was-” Abby said, cutting herself off and staring at Hatter.
“Dead?” Connor asked softly. “Yeah, well he had taken a gunshot wound through his shoulder and someone ordered my entire family dead. You gotta draw certain conclusions right?”
Hatter squeezed his sons shoulder in support and felt gratified when he leant into the touch.
“Ordered you dead?” Becker said, suddenly intent on the conversation.
Connor gave an awkward shrug.
“It’s over now, Lil Hat. She’s gone.” Hatter said. “I wouldn’t have come to find you if I didn’t think it was safe.”
“Why would someone want you dead?” Abby asked, hands over her mouth.
“Look, can we talk about this back at the ARC? I don’t want to have to repeat it all to Lester and Nick.
Abby looked reluctant, wanting answers now, but Jenny interrupted. “Okay Connor. You drive back with Becker and Sarah, Abby can drive me. Becker, I need you to leave two of your men to monitor-”
She cut herself off as she noticed the mirror had vanished. “Never mind.”
They all turned to leave, Connor and Hatter simultaneously kicked up their hats from the floor and flipped them onto their heads, then grinned at each other. Sarah giggled from behind them and Hatter turned around to wink at her.
Connor caught the look and his eyes widened in horror. “Daaaad, no,” he whined. Becker snorted from beside him.
“Just a bit of ‘armless flirting Conn,” Hatter said with a smile.
“That’s what you said to the borogrove,” Connor muttered, startling a laugh out of Hatter.
“My hat, you remember that?”
“The whole of Wonderland remembers that Dad, they talked about it every tea time for thirty months.”
“Wonderland?” Sarah asked, eyes alight as she pieced together his name and the mirror. She laughed in delight. “No wonder everyone tells me you belong on a different planet Connor.”
Connor startled. “You believe it then?” he asked. “Without us even saying anything?”
“With what we do for a living Connor, why not?” She asked innocently, a sparkle of humour in her eyes.
Connor smiled at her, he knew he liked Sarah for a reason. “Tenner says you’re the only one that believes us straight out.”
“That’s a fools bet Connor,” Sarah said with a snort.
“Nice try Little at,” Hatter commiserated, swinging an arm over his shoulder. “I obviously didn’t drum the conman’s code into your hat hard enough.”
Connor smiled at his father. “Didn’t really need it so much up here.”
“Conman?” Becker questioned, intrigued rather than upset about the law breaking.
“Bout the only way to get by in Wonderland, the past fifty years,” Hatter grumbled.
Becker opened his mouth to ask more, but Connor stopped him. “All good stories best saved for tea time, aye Action Man?”
Becker just rolled his eyes fondly at the nickname and climbed into the drivers seat of the car.
“Ah Jenny, any news to report?” Lester asked as they entered the ARC. Cutter poked his head out of his office to hear the answer.
“Yes, actually. Can we meet in the conference room? Connor’s best placed to explain it all,” she said. Lester raised an eyebrow but nodded his acquiesce and Nick perked up, hoping Connor had found something new and interesting to research.
They walked to the conference room and waited for the others. Sarah came in followed closely by Connor, Becker, and a man who looked very much like an older version of Connor.
“Please tell me this isn’t another Helen Clone?” Lester asked, staring at the man.
“Clone?” Hatter asked, bemused.
Connor grinned. “Nope. May I introduce my father, Hatter.”
“Your father,” Lester repeated dumbly.
“Yup,” Connor said, popping the ‘p’ and flopping down into his seat. Hatter followed his example, flopping down next to him.
“Dear Lord there’s two of them,” Lester mumbled.
“Nice to meet you too old chap,” Hatter said with a grin.
“Temple, why is your father here?” He asked with a long suffering sigh.
Hatter grinned, proud of his son for obviously causing this suit trouble in the past.
“Well,” Connor said, pausing to think about how best to answer the question without being sent to the nut house. “You’ve read my file? You know I was adopted?”
“Yes,” his boss answered cautiously.
“How much do you know?” Connor questioned,
Lester rose an eyebrow. “You were found unconscious in a warehouse with no memory of who you were. They tried to find your parents and couldn’t, thus you were sent into foster care. Eventually, you were adopted by John and Margaret Temple.”
Connor nodded. “Right, well, I lied. I never had amnesia.”
“What?” Several people in the room said. Connor cringed.
“My real name is Connor Hatter. This is my birth father. The warehouse I was found in was the same one the ‘anomaly’ appeared in today.”
“You mean you knew about the anomalies before we ever found them?” Cutter demanded.
“No,” Connor said quickly. “It’s not an anomaly. The looking glass must just operate on the same wavelength, that’s why we picked up on it opening again.”
“Wait, the looking glass?” Jenny interrupted.
“My God, is he having some sort of crisis?” Lester asked, also picking up on the Wonderland theme.
“Are you trying to tell me that you’re from a different world, and that your father is the Mad Hatter?” Abby asked incredulously.
“No, of course not,” Connor said, but before they could breathe a sigh of relief, he continued, “He was my great grandfather.”
They all gaped at him with varying levels of shock and incredulity. All but Sarah, who was grinning like Cheshire.
“So what happened? Why’d you come here Connor?” Becker asked, recovering from his shock first, if only because he wanted to hear about the death threat to his boyfr- to his charge.
“Wonderland was at war,” Hatter said, speaking for the first time. “The Queen of Hearts was ruthless in repressing our people. She banned all learning, destroying any books that we hadn’t hidden in the great library and beheaded anyone who pissed her off even slightly, by which I mean, glancing at her wrongly or wearing the wrong outfit. She was consumed by madness. Our family had long been a symbol of hope since my grandfather helped Alice of Legend bring down the house of cards. We were a rallying point. The resistance grew stronger, and so she made the Hatter law. Only one of us could live. The rest were to be beheaded.”
Both Hatter and Connor had tears in their eyes at this. Connor was clutching at the ring around his neck that he’d never taken off. None of them had ever questioned him about it. He reached his other hand out to clutch his fathers.
“I got wind that she’d sent suits after us seconds before they broke into the shop. I didn’t get chance to save my wife, she’d been at the market and they cut her down before she knew what had hit her. But I knew, I knew I was the one they’d keep. Which meant that Little Hat wasn’t safe. So I fled with him. Brought him to the mirror. The tried to shoot him and I stepped in front of the bullet. But we made it, and I made sure he got through safely.”
“Why didn’t you come through too?” Sarah asked captivated by the story and horrified by what they’d been through.
“If I had, they’d have followed us and Connor would be dead. They wanted me to run their tea business. I led them on a merry chase until they were convinced that Little Hat was dead. Then I let them take me in, I had no choice.”
Several of them didn’t want to believe the story, Lester most of all, they couldn’t believe that Wonderland was real, but the emotions on both of the men’s faces were raw and real, and if there was one thing the team knew about Connor, it was to trust his emotions.
“It’s okay dad,” Connor said, getting up and pulling him into a hug. “It’s over. You saved me. We survived.”
Hatter took in a shuddering breath and nodded into Connor’s shoulder. “I can’t possibly tell you how much I missed you Little Hat.”
“You don’t have to Papa, I missed you just as much,” Connor swore, squeezing him tightly.
They took a moment to compose themselves again, before Connor retook his seat.
“So, why now?” Lester said. “It’s been ten years, why come here now?”
“Because it’s over,” Hatter said smiling. “The new king has repealed the Hatter law. He said I’m free to bring Little Hat home or stay here with him.”
The team tensed up at the mention of Connor leaving and relaxed at the mention of him staying.
“Can you tell us what happened Papa? With your Alice?” Connor asked with a bright grin.
Hatter chuckled at that, reminded of the bright, enthusiastic young boy he had raised. “Your smile’s still as bright as your hat is tall son,” he said fondly. Connor ducked his head in embarrassment. “It started three days ago, when an oyster girl came looking for her boyfriend who’d been kidnapped…” and so Hatter told them the story, editing out the kissing and finishing it at his trip through the mirror.
“This is completely ridiculous,” Lester said.
“Lester, we fight dinosaurs that travel through gateways to another time. Ridiculous is relative,” Sara said to Hatter’s amusement. Nick nodded his agreement.
“Suppose…” Connor started, then cut himself off, thinking hard.
“Suppose what, Connor?” Cutter asked, intrigued by his students contemplative expression, his fingers fiddling with the ring around his neck.
“Suppose we managed to stabilize and control the anomalies somehow. They become fixed in every place they appear. We can control them to some degree to make-”
“Rabbit holes and looking glasses,” Hatter finished the sentence looking at his son with a bright manic grin.
“What if Wonderland isn’t another world at all? What if it’s another time? Wonderlander’s have forgotten our own history. The looking glass operates the same frequency…” he trailed off, looking at Cutter expectantly.
“It’s worth looking into,” Cutter acknowledged, mind already whirling with the possibilities. “How come you never brought this up before?” He asked, slightly accusingly.
“I was scared for my life. I knew I was being hunted and preferred to stay in witness protection. Plus, I didn’t think the two things would ever be remotely linked,” Connor defended himself. Cutter nodded at him.
“So, you’re saying that you’re from the future?” Becker asked slowly, raising an eyebrow.
“Makes sense,” Sarah said with a teasing smile.
“No wonder he was obsessed with conspiracy theories when we met him,” Abby said with a snort.
“As I live and breathe,” Connor said with a cheeky grin. “Twice,” he added, because as much as they liked to deny it, the ARC was a total government cover up.