Chapter 7:

For the very first time, Hatter was grateful for Jack's interruption. He knew that he owed Alice an explanation of his background but selfishly he did not want to run the risk of losing her so soon. He knew there were some horrors in his past along with some things he was not proud of, but he wanted Alice to know him a bit more before they were revealed. He only hoped Jack would not reveal it at the most inopportune moment.

His thoughts returning to the new King, Hatter looked over to see him and Duchess standing awkwardly by the door.

"Greetings Your Majesty, and Duchess a pleasure as always" greeted Hatter his voice sounding weak even to his own ears.

"Hatter, I am pleased to see you are recovering" responded Jack stiffly.

To Hatter's utter surprise before he had the chance to retaliate Duchess had already stepped in.

"Come now boys, we no longer have roles to play for the Queen so perhaps we can all be civil humm"

Hatter sighed and relaxed back against the pillows currently supporting him. As much as he would love to continue to irritate Jack he simply did not have the effort. His session with the demonic Doctors had left him bruised and aching but following that with a fight with March had most definitely not helped.

Deciding to follow advice and be civil Hatter responded, "Thank you for offering your medics to aid my recovery, I fear it may have taken longer without assistance". Hatter glanced down following this omission, not enjoying having his weakness on display to someone who show slight contempt and arrogance towards him.

"You are welcome Hatter" responded Jack formally, "anyway Alice would have fought me had I not" added Jack, as if he could not resist one last dig at the already downed man.

Duchess gently laid a hand on Jack's shoulder before removing it as he stiffened at her touch. This had not gone unnoticed by Alice who felt sorry for Duchess.

"I appreciate your assistance Jack; I could not have coped had any irreparable damage happened to Hatter". Alice flashed Jack her best smile as she spoke.

"So, what now for you and Wonderland" enquired Alice. She had to admit following the immediate aftermath of the battle she had not considered how her revolution would have impacted Wonderland. Her priority had been leaving however, as she had spent more time here with Hatter she found herself curious about the world both he and Jack inhabited.

"There is much to rebuild, I am afraid that Wonderland suffered much during my mother's reign. The Hospital of Dreams will be busy with people withdrawing from the emotion teas. I had hoped to oversee that however, with the new responsibilities of monarchy I will have to leave their care to Caterpillar. Your friend from the White Knights is looking to rebuild his kingdom also and look to recruit and train more knights. However, before any recovery can truly begin we must unfortunately deal with the formalities of Court." Jack looked down wearily.

Hatter's focus had been drifting during Jack's monologue, but he instantly stiffened at the mention of Court. The Queen of Hearts had held Court many times, though it was used to demonstrate her power and inevitably ended with an execution.

Alice noticed the dramatic change in the room's atmosphere at the mention of 'Court' and felt she was missing something. The three Wonderland occupants had instantly stiffened at the mention of this proceeding and Alice found herself wondering what was so terrible it could have that effect on all three of them.

"What is Court?" Alice asked.

"Court is the formal trial process in Wonderland Alice. A jury of Lords and Council members are set up to hear the evidence against the accused. The Queen of Hearts was especially fond of Court as it always ended with an execution" Alice was surprised to hear this explanation from Duchess. Hearing more reminders of the Queen of Heart's tyranny made her realise why the memory may be raw to those who's lives had been irrevocably changed by her rule.

"But surely there must have been some people proven innocent." Alice replied

This time it was Jack who answered "unfortunately Alice the majority tried in Court had already been subject to interrogation by the twin Doctors and many confessed to end their suffering. Some people still proclaimed their innocence, but the Queen insisted that anyone tried was given the emotion tea 'Honesty' to ensure they were not lying. The Queen had a secret though, only known to those who help important positions. She always laced the Honesty with Guilt; it was her favourite tool. Ask the right questions and the accused was likely to admit to something, even if it wasn't the original crime, and then she was free to try them anyway." Jack looked solemn at the thought of his mother's justice system.

Alice noticed that Hatter had not spoken since the mention of Court. She wondered what had him so fearful. Both Jack and Duchess had been closed to the Queen and it was a fair assumption had witnessed it, yet they had managed to speak so why had Hatter remained silent.

Noticing Hatter's discomfort and knowing the reason behind it Duchess slowly approached the bed were Hatter was seated before gently lying a hand on his arm.

"Hatter, are you ok?" asked Duchess

Hatter nodded prompting Duchess to continue "I know it was a long time ago but that does not ease the pain does it? I think many of us would like to see a fairer justice system and the abolishment of holding Court". Hatter took a shuddering breath before gently laying a hand on top of Duchess' and glancing up at her through tear-stained eyes.

At the sight of his tears Alice found herself rushing to his other side. "Hatter what's wrong?". Hatter continued to silently sob, wringing his hands in the blanket underneath as he tried to get a grip on his emotions. Duchess looked up to face Alice before responding "I am afraid Hatter has some painful memories of Court being held, in light of his recent injuries and interrogation it has most likely brought these memories to the surface and without emotion tea he will have no way to hide them anymore." Alice stared at Hatter in shock. He drank emotion teas made from people from her world. She knew he sold them, but it had never occurred to her that he might drink them as well. It was too much for Alice. Hatter clearly had a past, and all her fears were fighting to the surface, everything Dodo had mentioned about him along with Jack's reaction to seeing her with him. These thoughts and visions swam round her mind till it was overwhelming, she could no longer force herself to calmly sit in this room and instead bolted out into the corridor. She heard Hatter shout after her, but she could not face him, not yet. She continued walking the corridor until she found a balcony and stepped out into the fresh air.

Alice had scarcely been outside for five minutes when she heard footsteps approaching behind her. Turning around she was surprised to see it was Jack who had followed her.

Joining her on the balcony Jack turned to stare at Wonderland before looking to Alice and saying "Alice, you know that my feelings towards Hatter have not always been positive but he does have a good heart, or at least he did before my mother got to him."

"What happened Jack, tell me" Alice asked

"Alice I cannot, it is not my story to tell" Jack responded

"Please Jack, I cannot trust a man who I do not know. You know this, after all the time we spent together back in my world. I will give Hatter a chance to explain but I need to know what I am getting myself into first".

Jack sighed; he had never been good at controlling his feelings around Alice. Taking a deep breath Jack responded, "If I tell you, promise me you will speak to Hatter as well".

Alice smiled at him nodding.

Jack turned his attention back to Wonderland before beginning his tale.

"When the Queen of Hearts first came to Wonderland, magic was thriving throughout the land. Knights roamed around, swearing allegiance to the people of the realm, and promising to protect them no matter the personal cost. Some people in Wonderland were more in touch with the magic than others, these people were able to wield the magic around them. It was truly a remarkable sight. Unfortunately, the Queen deemed the magic a threat to her desire to conquer and vowed to force it from the land. She succeeded but the absence of magic left a gap behind. Afraid of potential rebellions being formed to overthrow her the Queen decided to subdue her subjects and fill the gap with a new addictive drug. She began experimenting with Oysters' emotions seeing whether they could be harnessed. She even went as far as enslaving some of the more intelligent Oysters to work in her laboratories devising new emotions to keep her subjects hooked. With most of her subjects addicted to the tea, the Queen went about eliminating anyone she deemed a threat, including those who had access to the dwindling magic of Wonderland. The Hatter family have always been in touch with the magic woven in Wonderland and able to harness it. At the time the Queen came into power there were only three members of the Hatter family. A father and his two young children. The Queen used the new justice system of Court to have the father executed as a traitor to the crown for refusing to tell her the secrets of Wonderland. The two children were spared as the Queen hoped they could still prove useful. They were set to work for the Queen. The young girl was a serving maid whilst the young boy was asked to collaborate with the Queen's favourite assassin and assist him in bring the traitors of Wonderland in for interrogation. As the grew up both children could still feel their ties to the magic of Wonderland. Fearing for their lives if the Queen discovered this they kept it hidden, but magic as powerful as Wonderland's does not like to be tamed or ignored. One day the young girl lost control of her powers in the middle of serving the Queen. The outburst of magic caused all the plates and glasses to shatter. The girl was arrested and fearing more trouble the Queen ordered her brother to also be arrested. Both were interrogated for days by the Doctors; it was brutal to behold. Eventually, the rebellion members learned of the children's fate and conducted a rescue mission to recover the two young people and bring them to the Hospital of Dreams under the care of Caterpillar. The rescue team were successful in extracting them from the interrogation room, but the Queen sent her favourite assassin after them, Mad March. He caught the party near the Hospital of Dreams and murdered many of them, including the young girl. Distraught at the loss of his sister the brother attacked March in a fit of rage. Unbeknownst to him, the magic of Wonderland still flowed through him and gave him increased strength. As he was right-handed that strength accumulated in that hand to the point after managing to land one good punch, the assassin was incapacitated. Caterpillar and other hospital staff arrived to chaos and in the middle of it all was a young man with out of control magic and even more out of control emotions. Caterpillar took him in to the hospital and cared for him, aiding his physical recovery, and attempting to improve his emotional wellbeing. The young man eventually recovered enough to leave the hospital. He returned to the palace intent on ending the Queen or to die trying. He was intercepted along the way by the assassin who was impressed that he was bested and believed the man could be of use. He encouraged him to join the Queen's side, claiming it was safer to side with those in power. The young man wanted nothing to do with the Queen, but he had seen her power and did not want to stand alone against her. He decided to feign loyalty to the Queen, in return he was given control of the tea shop. However, while working in the tea shop the young man heard rumours of a new rebellion. Deciding to assist the rebellion in exchange for gifts or favours the young man feigned loyalty to both sides for his own gain. He began taking the teas he sold to escape his guilt and sorrow over the loss of his family. He remained that way until a certain Oyster changed his mind."

When Jack finished his tale, Alice had tears streaming down her face. Everything that Hatter had suffered, he could have turned her away but instead he had risk it all for her, even when there was no profit for him. Alice thanked Jack before requesting some privacy to think over what she had discovered.

Jack departed shortly after leaving Alice and her tumultuous thoughts alone.