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Madness of the Hatter, Chapters 23-24



Hatter drew his sword and faced the Queen's army. He'd known for a long time this fight was coming, but now that the day was here, he felt no anger for what the Queen had done, just a soul-draining sadness.

It felt wrong to need a weapon in the land he'd created. At the start, he'd only had to imagine what he wanted to happen, and it did.

The twins stood to his left, daggers in their hands. Harlan held no weapons, well, he was a weapon. It was only a question of who was actually wielding him.

Dressed in a red gown, skirt cut high in the front to reveal red boots and leggings, the Queen strolled after her army, then among their neat lines. He remembered when she wore white.

Alix slipped her fingers around her stun gun and snapped her baton out to its full length as she took a place to Hatter's right. He was glad he'd given her things back. It might have been a good idea to give her a sword. He had two extras.

The two sides glared at each other.

"Off with their heads!" The Queen broke the stalemate, setting her soldiers into motion.

Hatter headed straight for the Queen, ignoring everything else. She was the key. If he could take her out of the fight, her men would fold. He had to break off his planned attack when three of her men surrounded him.

They managed to keep him from the Queen, but Alix sprinted past and swung her baton. The Queen ducked, but not quite far enough. The baton struck her tall, jeweled crown and tore her wig askew, revealing blonde hair.

With blonde hair rather than dark, and blue eyes, the Queen could have been a looking glass reflection of Alix. Hatter caught his breath as he blocked a sword meant to skewer him. He'd always known they'd look alike, but they could have been twins.

The soldiers broke off their attack on him and went after Alix. Hatter stabbed one in the thigh, slashed another across the back, and tackled the third. Jumping to his feet, Hatter leapt over sprawled bodies to get to Alix's side.

"It was you." Alix stood rooted in place. "You're the first Little. The first Alice. You broke Hatter's mind!"

Not completely accurate, but close enough. Hatter diverted a striking blade to stab the ground and kicked the soldier in the chest. A second sword sliced through his sleeve.

The Queen turned an icy stare on her. "My name is Eris! How many times do I have to say it?"

"You're why Liddle girls are kidnapped. You're killing Hatter and Wonderland!"

Terror filled screams filled the air as Harlan claimed his victims. The twins worked together like only fighters who had fought hundreds of battles together could. They were too far away to help with the Queen.

Eris tossed her wig to the ground and advanced on Alix. "Not the land. Just Hatter. When he's dead, I'll have enough magic to rule this land myself and make it however I like."

Dismissing Alix, Eris turned her attention to Hatter and attacked. She didn't do her own fighting much anymore, but she hadn't lost any of her skill. Their swords clashed as another soldier struck out at Alix, forcing her from his side.

The Queen's men closed in around him again. He blocked a sword, but a fist crashed into his jaw. A boot smashed into his thigh. Sword extended, he whirled to gain some space.

Another boot lashed out, striking his sword hand and sending the blade flying. The soldiers converged on him, bodily taking him to the ground. Hatter curled into himself, trying to protect his head.

The men kicking and punching him grunted and disappeared one by one. The Attendees had come to his rescue.

He nodded his thanks and staggered to his feet.

Disarmed and bleeding from several wounds. Hatter swayed on his feet. He wouldn't last much longer. If only he knew what his magic would do!

"Time's up, Hatter." Eris clasped her leaf pendant in one hand, and slammed the palm of her other hand onto Hatter's chest. "You will pay for what you did to my sisters."

Hatter opened his mouth to scream, but the agony was too sharp. It took his voice and stole his breath.

She'd been stealing the magic of Wonderland for years, but never so directly before. He felt his blood running backwards in his veins, carrying all the magic toward the hand draining him. He pulled at her wrist, but her palm felt melded to him. Even with all his remaining strength, he couldn't dislodge her.

His only satisfaction, and remaining hope, was that he no longer served as the conduit for his own magic. He had to access it just like everyone else.

She drained his physical strength along with his power. He didn't make a sound as he fell to his knees, but Wonderland's magic screamed in an agonized, soul-wrenching wail that rang in his head.

Sword raised, the Queen laughed.

He'd heard people say on the point of death, a whole life flashed before their eyes. He'd never seen that happen any of the other times his lives ended, but maybe it would this time. Maybe he'd finally remember and have a chance to understand before it all ended. The encroaching darkness wasn't a rabbit hole he'd opened, but he fell into it all the same.



Morpheus tugged his green vest into perfect alignment, straightened his matching jacket, and flicked imaginary lint off his black-with-a-green-stripe trousers. He'd seen this type of clothing while he traveled in the dream of a visitor from the west.

It wasn't quite right. There was something missing. What else had he seen? He gave himself a hard look in the mirror as he smoothed his hands down his lapels.

The hat! Morpheus held out a hand and dreamed up a tall, green hat with a wide brim and black band. Settling it on his head, he gave himself an approving nod.

That would give the place some color. Erebus could be so dreary. The Underworld wasn't the liveliest of places, what with all the darkness and death everywhere.

Satisfied with his appearance, Morpheus strolled from his bedroom through doors that opened into a garden. The doors didn't always go into the garden, but when he had plans with his grandmother, they went to her favorite place. Nyx, Goddess of Night, loved her moonlight flowers.

Morpheus moved through the blooms, touching petals gently to add color. He dreamed up a table and two cups of tea. That, he'd discovered in the dream of a traveler from the east. The drink had been bitter at first, but now he could dream it up perfectly sweetened every time. A delicious citrus-y scent filled the air, carried on the steam curling from the teacups.

A trio of screeches disturbed his preparations. The furies were coming again. Why couldn't those women take a hint? Grandmother would have to wait.

Morpheus reached for the nearest dream and pulled himself inside. That was another thing about living in the Underworld. The dreams were lacking in, well, rich dreamy content to work with. Most of the dead didn't dream at all, and those who did, often dreamed of their deaths.

As the dream played out, some battle or another, Morpheus waited for his chance to escape. He needed the dreamer to dream of someone else.

"He was here!"

"His drink is hot."

"He can't have gone far."

The furies' voices carried to him, even hidden in someone else's mind.

Hurry up, dreamer! Frustration and anxiety made Morpheus fidget. He slipped into minds to find dreams, which let him successfully hide from almost anyone searching for him. But the furies were some of the few who could enter minds, too. If he didn't get out quickly, they'd be able to follow him.

Why had they made him such an obsession? No one fixated like the furies.

The edges of the dream wavered. They were coming. He'd used this trick too often. Morpheus seized on the dream of another, and fled to the new hiding place. He flitted from dreamer to dreamer, crossing boundaries and borders until he'd traveled far to the east, and a vast sea spread before him.

It would take a while for the furies to find him, if they could follow him all this way.

He occupied the dream of a woman… no, a ghost, sitting on the seashore. Morpheus stepped out of the dream. Golden sand stretched along the shore into the distance. Little blue waves whispered ashore and retreated. A single mulberry tree stood alone, branches heavy with purple fruit. Its thick brown trunk disappeared into a canopy of green leaves sixty feet overhead.

So many colors! His eyes drank it all in like the most perfectly sweetened vision.

The ghost woman's long black hair blew in a breeze. She had drowned and dreamed of flying. He could help with that.

Kneeling in front of her, he leaned forward, cupped her ghostly face in his hands, and pressed his lips to her forehead. Her body shimmered. Black feathers sprouted all over her skin as she became a crow with red feet and an orange beak. With a cry of jingwei, the bird circled into the sky.

The furies would never think to look into a bird's mind. His trail would disappear.

Morpheus sat on the ground and leaned back against the wide trunk of a tree. Maybe the best place to hide was his own dream. His own land. A sanctuary. Somewhere safe where anyone needing refuge could come.

What would he call it? It would be wondrous. That was it! Wonderland!

He'd have to use all his magic to create an entire new world out of a dream. Something would have to serve as a reservoir and spread the magic throughout the land. He couldn't be everywhere at once.

The tree. It could be the center of everything. Magic would grow in the leaves. Roots would spread wide underground, carrying more magic to the far corners of his new realm. Only, it would be better as a tea tree.

Placing his fingers on the trunk, Morpheus poured his magic into the tree, concentrating on color and imagination, the opposite of dreary Erebus.

Sweat made his scalp itchy under his hat. His hands shook with effort and he gritted his teeth. Through the tree, he felt the roots expand. New branches covered in tea leaves sprouted.

Gem-like rocks, bizarrely formed, exotic jeweled plants, and colorful magical fungi popped out of the ground. The world trembled. He flung his arms around the tree and held on as the earth it stood on rose into the air. Up and up the tree carried him, accompanied by the crow calling jingwei.

What did that even mean? Did the bird think he should know?

When the shaking stopped, Morpheus released the trunk, ventured to the edge of the earth, and peered over. The rocks, fungi, and plants lined the cliff-side and a path to the beach hundreds of feet below.

Hands on hips, Morpheus turned in a circle. All around the new tea tree, an empty grass plain awaited him. A pond reflected the top of the tree. The place could use some color.

He walked back to the tree, picked some mulberries, and tossed them in the air. Where they landed, colorful mushrooms with polka dots or stripes grew from the ground.

First on the agenda, a place to live. A lovely home with a view. The top of the tea tree rustled under a cloud of silvery magic as his thoughts took shape. A ramp began at the base of the trunk and wound upward. Morpheus stepped forward, but paused and lifted his boot before he finished taking his first step.

A little worm wiggled on the wooden boards. The poor thing must have been shaken right out of his home when the tree transformed.

"Sorry about that." Morpheus glanced into the dense leafy canopy. The jingwei bird was somewhere in the tree. This worm would make little more than a snack.

He scooped the tiny creature into his hands and carried it to a nearby green mushroom. It could hide better there. Or… maybe it needed to be bigger. Too big to eat. Wonderland magic swirled through his thoughts. Silver tendrils swarmed the worm and its mushroom.

When the magic finished, Morpheus regarded the result with satisfaction. "That's better. An eight-foot Caterpillar will make a much harder meal."

Things were working out splendidly. He left the creature swaying upright on its perch, and began to climb. What would his new house be like?

Laughter stopped him cold. His body tensed and he debated running. But there was no point. They flew, were invisible when they wanted to be, and moved faster than he could.

The furies had found him.

Three female bodies pressed close to him. Breasts pushed into his back, chest, and arm. Six hands caressed him. Fingers tangled in his hair and drew up his thigh. Lips kissed his cheek. A tongue licked his neck.

Why wouldn't they leave him alone?

Morpheus yanked himself free of their wandering hands and mouths, whirling to face them. "Stop! I've already told you I don't love you." He glanced nervously from one to the next, or at least in the direction he thought they'd be. "I love Eris."

The furies revealed themselves. The triplets wore skimpy red dresses. Their wild manes of red-orange hair stuck out in all directions. Orange feathers tipped with gold shone on their wings. Madness filled their orange eyes. Each carried a silver short sword in her hand.

"If you love one of us," they chorused, "you love all of us." They nodded to each other.

He sighed. He remembered them as girls. Eris' trio of little sisters. Watching them lose their minds over time had saddened him, but there was nothing he could do. His magic didn't work like that. Everyone just left them alone and hoped to not draw their attention.

"Megaera. Tisiphone. Alekto." Sometimes using their names brought them back. Their gazes snapped to him, three pairs of orange eyes momentarily clear. "Listen to me. I love you like sisters, do you understand?"

"You love Eris," they chorused.


"You love us like sisters."

He nodded. Their eyes began to cloud with confusion and insanity again.

"Eris is our sister."

"You love us like sisters."

"We're all sisters."

"So you love us," the three said together and clapped their hands.

There was no arguing with the furies. Their ability to drive others mad had made them insane long ago.

"No." He blew out a breath. "That's… not exactly what I meant."

"Don't worry about that, our love. We can make you mad for us." Six hands pulled at him, drawing him a step toward them.

Mad for us, a trio of voices whispered in his head.

This was worse than he thought. They'd never crossed that line before.

"You don't want to do this. If you hurt me, Eris will be sad. You don't want to hurt your sister, do you?"

"You'll love us like sisters."

If you won't be mad for us, you'll just be mad!

His reality hazed around the edges. Morpheus wrenched himself out of their grasps as questing fingers came perilously close to his crotch. He scrambled for a distraction, or a place to hide, and seized on a dream.

Wonderland trembled.

"What is he doing?"

"He's using his magic!"

"Don't let him get away!"

He stumbled over a mushroom, fell onto his ass, and crab-walked away from the furies. Behind him, a series of branches erupted from the ground. They intertwined, forming thick, impenetrable walls. Green leaves sprouted along the brambles.

Using so much magic tired him, and he wanted nothing more than to lie down and take a nap. But he didn't trust the furies. He staggered to his feet and toward the new hedge maze. "Race you to the center!"

Surely he could lose them in the maze. Even he didn't know which way to go. The madness the furies had inflicted on him tried to take over his thoughts. It was tainting the magic he used. He couldn't even be sure the maze had a center to find.

How big was this maze? It stopped being fun ten minutes ago, although so far had remained furies-free, so that was a bonus. How was he supposed to get out of here? Random turns weren't working. Left. He'd just turn left, no matter what.

The center, when he found it, took him by surprise. An expanse of green grass stretched before him as far as he could see.

Unfortunately, he also saw three furious furies. Before he could spin around and flee, they also spotted him. They must have flown over the brambles.

Heaving a sigh, he accepted his fate, and strolled toward them. "I'm pretty sure flying is cheating. That goes against the entire point of having a maze."

They frowned as one.

"We found you."

"We made it to the center."

"We won.'

"Uh. Right." How could he put them off? "So we must have a ceremony."

"We must?"

"A ceremony?"

"What for?"

"Because you won. We must celebrate your victory."

"Oh," they chorused. But they didn't seem convinced.

He dreamed up a round table with four chairs. A crisp white tablecloth floated to cover the wooden table. There. That looked more elegant. He dreamed up four place settings. Teacups. Saucers. Little spoons.

Candles for the centerpiece? No. That seemed too romantic. The furies needed no encouragement. The table looked a bit empty. Some food. He could distract them a bit longer with something to eat. Covered dishes appeared, along with dessert plates added to the settings. The table was full. He made it bigger to add little cakes and biscuits.

That was all he could think to do. Hopefully it was enough. Where was Eris? Please, Eris. Your sisters need you. I need you before something unfortunate occurs.

He waved a hand and offered a half bow. "Would you like some tea?"

The trio exchanged uncertain glances. "That would be lovely." They took their seats, entertained enough to go along with him — at least for now.

As he sat, Megaera pulled her chair close to his so the length of her leg touched his.

Morpheus jumped up. "I'll pour."

He spread white napkins on their laps. He poured tea into cups. He offered milk and sugar. He buttered slices of bread. He splashed brandy over the plum pudding and set it aflame. He served cakes and offered biscuits.

Anything to keep busy and keep out of their reach. But no matter how slowly he moved, he ran out of things to do. With great reluctance, he retook his seat and lifted a slice of buttered bread to his mouth.

He squirmed in his chair as Megaera's palm landed rather too high on his thigh. On his other side, Alekto slid her hand over his abdomen, seeking the button of his trousers.

Their hands were on him again. They whispered in his ears. The words of madness buzzed around his mind

They buzzed like flies.

Flies with his bread and butter.

Bread and butter on the fly!

"Bread-and-butter-fly!" Morpheus jumped up and flung his bread at Megaera. He'd had enough! He opened his mouth to yell, but stared, the words stuck in his throat.

She swiped at the bread, but missed and sent the sugar cubes flying. The bread stuck butter-side-down to her chest and a lump of sugar landed atop her head. Silvery magic caught her in its grip. Her sword fell to the ground. Her body twisted and contorted. Her screeches diminished as she struggled and shrank. Bright orange feathers fell away, leaving bare wings in the shape of bread slices with yellow smears.

He gaped as the bread-and-butter-fly landed on the table in front of him. Her face was much smaller, but still enraged, as she glared. What had he done? He'd only meant to throw the bread as a distraction. Not… not this!

Tisiphone and Alekto flew at him, swords in their hands. "What did you do to our sister?"

He scrambled from the tea table, knocking his chair over, and swiping the discarded sword up to defend himself as he stumbled away.

"Undo it!" Tisiphone slammed her hands down on the table so hard it creaked. Flames spread from her fingers, burning the tablecloth, eating through the wooden tabletop and down the legs. The bread-and-butter-fly squeaked and flew off. Cups, saucers, plates, and the teapot fell to the ground.

The whispering words of madness buzzed louder.

Fire! Dragons breathed fire from their snapping jaws.

"Snap-dragon-fly!" He picked up the dish of plum pudding and flung it at Tisiphone. The sticky slices crumbled into soggy, burning crumbs that rained down on her. Raisins, still on fire, stuck in her hair. Her skin turned a lumpy brown as she transformed. Her bright wings turned green as holly leaves, and a single raisin burned brightly on her head.

He whirled to face Alekto.

Her orange wings flared, and she shrieked her rage, attacking with her sword. Their fight was like a dance. She attacked, and he rocked back. He attacked, and she rocked back.

Back and forth they moved. Back and forth the madness surged. Flies and crazed whispers darted at his eyes and ears.

She was rocking. Rocking. Rocking!

"Rocking-horse-fly!" He dove for the ground, swept a teacup into his hand, and flung the remaining contents at her.

It splashed onto Alekto's chest. She screamed as her hands and feet grew hooves. Her skin darkened and she fell to all fours. Her bones snapped and reformed to the shape of a black horse with orange wings. Two table legs slid over the ground and attached to her left hooves, then her right hooves, and she miniaturized, becoming the tiniest rocking horse.

"Shoo-flies!" He flicked his hand to send them on their way. Morpheus rolled to his back and panted, watching the pink sky overhead. Why had they attacked him? Why did they make him fight?

His mind still didn't feel like his mind. He hadn't stopped the madness. How long he laid there, he didn't know. It could have been a heartbeat or a day. The whispers grew louder and softer, but never ceased. His consciousness drifted until a shadow fell across his face.

"What have you done, Morpheus?"

Eris! She had come for him. He focused on her beautiful face. Sky-blue eyes and long blonde hair. The white robe of her office gleamed like the sun. His heart swelled with love. "You're here."

Eris knelt next to him and brushed a lock of hair off his sweaty forehead. "Unfortunately, I'm here as Vengeance, not your lover."

"Vengeance? For what?"

"My sisters summoned me to right the wrong done to them, or punish the one who wronged them."

He sat up. "They attacked me! They followed me here and tried to make me mad. You know how they are, Eris!"

"I know. I've tried to protect them, but it seems I've just made them worse." Her blue eyes swam with emotion. "But my sisters have been damaged, have they not? Do they deserve to be in the condition they are?"

Well, he hadn't meant for the first transformation to happen. He'd just said the words as they came to mind. Nonsense, he'd assumed. But he hadn't stopped when he knew what he could do. Did they deserve it? They'd definitely deserved something! Why couldn't they have left him alone?

Morpheus stared into her implacable eyes, trying to show all his heartfelt earnestness. "If they hadn't followed me, or had stopped when I asked, I wouldn't have had to defend myself! Should I have let them drive me insane? Let them put their hands on me when I didn't want them to? What if I wish for Vengeance?"

"No, my love." Eris slumped, pressing the heel of her palm to the bridge of her nose. "Undo what you've done to the furies, and we can be together." She held his hand in both of hers. "I can take them far from here. You'll never have to see them again. I promise."

He sighed. "I don't know how. They did something to me. My thoughts are muddled. My magic isn't working like it should."

"So long as the furies are stuck in their current forms, I cannot consider their Vengeance satisfied."

"I won't fight you, if you want my death."

She regarded him with sad eyes. "No, Morpheus. I'm afraid my sisters wouldn't be satisfied with such a quick ending. They've already marked you with madness. They want to see you suffer."

"So you'll draw this out forever?" He pushed her hand away and cradled his head. The whispering wouldn't stop, and tiny voices cackled with cruel laughter.

"No. I am Vengeance, but not unfair. I think ten lifetimes is enough to suffer. You will grow madder with each life. That should make them happy. If you find a way to restore my sisters, we can end this sooner. It's inappropriate for me to love a man I must exact Vengeance from." Eris rose to her feet. "I must go. I cannot abandon my duty."

Morpheus jumped up and hugged her. "This can't be it for us! I love you. Don't leave! I've always loved only you. You are the Queen of my heart."

Silver wisps surrounded Eris. Oh no. What was the magic doing?

"Morpheus! What have you done?" Hands flat on his chest, she shoved him hard.

"I don't know!" His hat flew off as he windmilled his arms to catch his balance. "What have I done?"

"There's madness in your magic! I can feel it."

"Thanks to your sisters!"

"I can't leave! You've trapped me here with you!" Her white robe turned into a floor-length dark scarlet dress, and a crown with a heart-shaped ruby appeared on her head. She drew her arm back and punched him in the face.

Morpheus reeled and fell over backward, one foot stepping on his hat. His head swam and his jaw ached. He reached a hand to her. Eris! But she had such malice in her expression he dropped his entreaty.


He'd never seen such loathing on her face, and it was all directed at him. She whirled away, brought one foot down on his hat, and stormed into the hedge maze.

His thoughts blurred.

Eris had malice.

He had to call her back! He could fix everything if she just gave him a chance. But she didn't like him.

Eris had malice.

Eris was malice.


His tongue felt too big and his words clumsy. The world was going away again, darkness closing in.

Malice. Eris.

Eris. Malice.




Three voices unified in mocking laughter. He couldn't, he wouldn't, call her Malice. He didn't want her to be Malice. But she was no longer Eris.

He closed his eyes and tried to speak. "Alice. Please. Help me."



He opened his eyes to a green sky.

Overhead, a crow with red feet carried a stick in its orange beak. He lay where he was and watched as the black bird flew back and forth, carrying sticks from the tree to the sea and dropping them. Birds didn't often dream, but this one had a big dream of filling the sea with sticks and pebbles.

The idea that the bird could fill the sea was mad.

"Well, you're in the right place, bird. We're all mad here."

He sat up.

His past life was over. He had nine more to go. It was time to begin anew. He picked himself up from the ground and tugged his vest straight. He straightened his jacket and brushed imaginary lint from his trousers.

Something was missing.

His hat. He glanced around and spotted it half-crushed amid the debris of shattered cups and plates.

Retrieving it, he shook it out and summoned some of his magic to repair the damage. The hat became a beret, a fedora, a fez, a bonnet, a pillbox, a bowler, and a nightcap before it settled into the tall hat he preferred.

He should have a new name for his new life.

He'd call himself Hatter.

What else might he forget? Ten lifetimes. That felt like important information.

He dreamed up a notebook and a quill that manifested as a scrap of a price tag and charcoal. He had ten lives, and this was the first. Carefully, he inscribed 10/1 on the tag and tucked it into his hat band so it wouldn't get lost.

The Queen had ten lifetimes to make him suffer.

Hatter had ten chances to save himself and Wonderland.




Heart breaking, Alix watched Harlan flee into the trees. She chased him, but he disappeared just like before.


He didn't answer or come back to her. Only silence came from the clearing. Alix swallowed hard. Had anyone survived? She re-entered the meadow.

"Duman? Deegan?"

Everything was falling apart. She'd utterly failed everyone.

So many dead and wounded lay scattered around the meadow.

The twins were taken.

Dormouse had been the Cheshire Cat. What had happened to the real Dormouse?

Harlan transforming into… whatever that thing was.

Hatter lay dying. If he wasn't already dead.

Alix rushed to him, knelt at his side, and lifted his head into her lap. "Don't leave me, Hatter."

Sunken black eyes, usually mocking or sparkling with mirth, were now listless as they fixed on her face. His golden skin had a greenish pallor. His chest barely rose and fell.

"Where are you hurt?" She ran her hands and gaze over him. There wasn't any blood. Nothing broken. "What can I do?"

"Almost over now. Stay with me." Hatter's eyes closed.

Hot tears spilled down her cheeks as she stared at the hat he held on his chest. The nine on Hatter's tag faded completely, replaced by a ten in dark, bold strokes of ink.

"I'm almost late. I've had more lives than that Cheshire Cat. Ten instead of nine. Any time one can outdo a cat is an accomplishment to be proud of."

"No. Look. We'll turn your tag over." Alix snatched the stupid paper from the hatband. "Now it says 01/01, so the zeros are just placeholders. We don't need them! So really, we have 1/1, which is just one! You're whole!"

Hatter's lips curved in a lazy smile. "Do you know, when you talk about numbers, you sound quite mad."

"We're all mad here." He didn't believe her. He still thought that old rule applied to him.

He nodded sagely. "All the best ones are."

Alix curled her hands into impotent fists. The solid edges of the pendant pressed into her flesh. Surprised she hadn't dropped the thing in all the craziness, she glanced at her hand.

The pendant. It had to be the key to everything. The Queen had tried so hard to keep it. Mother had always talked about a leaf. Not just that, but…

About turning over a new leaf.

Alix opened her fist and stared at the pendant. Was it new? It was dark green, new to her, and maybe here, that was enough. What did she have to lose? Holding the leaf on her flat palm, she held her breath and extended one finger to touch it.

With a quick motion, she flipped it over.

Faint silver lines formed, running through the dark green leaf. They thickened and sparkled in her palm.


A kettle whistled from atop a nearby tea table. Beside it, a teapot stood next to a single teacup neatly centered in its saucer. None of it had been there moments ago.

"Hatter." Alix shook him.

He didn't respond.

Was she meant to make tea with the leaf? How much tea? Did Hatter need to drink all of it? Alix shifted to gently lay Hatter's head on the ground.

She opened the lid of the teapot, dropped the leaf in, and poured the hot water inside. Better to make it too concentrated than too diluted, wasn't it? After letting it steep, she poured a cup, not surprised when the entire contents of the large teapot fit into the much smaller cup.

The brew smelled of hot apples, and silver swirled within its depths.

Alix knelt, braced Hatter against her chest, then held the cup to his lips. "Have a sip. You'll be all right." He had to be all right. They had to rescue the twins, find Dormouse, and help Harlan. She couldn't do it by herself.

Hatter inhaled deeply and groaned, but pushed the cup away. "No. Give the tea to the tree."

"To the tree?" Alix let out a hysterical giggle. "You're better already. That sounds quite mad."

He smiled weakly. "I'm more myself than I've been in a long time." Hatter gripped Alix's fingers tight. "Give the tea to the tree. It's the Tea Tree."

Alix laughed. "Of course it is." Racing to the tree, she moved around the wide trunk, splashing the contents of the cup over the roots. The last of the tea emptied as she finished her third circuit.

The tree stood there. She glanced over her shoulder. Hatter lay there.

"Nothing's happening," she muttered to the empty teacup. "Why is nothing —"

Wonderland shuddered, sending Alix stumbling. The Tea Tree roots glittered with silver that expanded in a burst. Veins of magic grew, winding up the trunk and through the dessicated ground.

Cracked bark turned golden and mended. Drooping branches lifted, a healthy brown bark replaced the black. Magic sparkled up the trunk, spreading from the roots to the branches, all the way to the top. Buds sprouted along twigs, blooming into leaves and flowers until she couldn't see the Tea House behind the thick foliage.

The grass turned green on one side, bent back like a breeze blew, then turned greener on the other side. Mushrooms, small as teacups and big as tables, in all colors, sprouted from the earth.

When the magic reached Hatter, it burst from the ground to lift and surround him in a silvery bubble. The glimmer became streamers that held Hatter aloft, then dove into him. His body jerked each time magic entered him.

"Hatter!" Alix ran two steps toward him before the magic swept her up in its hold. She flinched as bright streams of magic breezed over her skin, calling to the magic already in her blood.

Party-goers sat up as magic touched them, holding their heads in their hands and groaning.

The magic receded, settling Hatter gently on the ground. One impudent tendril of silver collected his hat and flicked it to land on his chest.

Freed, Alix stumbled a step on her way to him. "Hatter?"

He bolted to sit upright, staggered to his feet, dusted off his clothes, and stared at his hat. With a flourish, he spun it in his hands and placed it on his head, cocking it at a jaunty angle.

He gave the destruction in the clearing a disdainful sniff and snapped his fingers. Broken chairs and tables repaired themselves and stood upright. Immaculate white tablecloths draped the tabletops.

A silver tea service appeared on the nearest table. Steam curled up from the spout of the teapot.

Hatter pulled a round, golden watch from his vest pocket, flipped the top up and examined the face. He twisted a knob on the side and held it to his ear. A rhythmic ticking made him smile beatifically.

Was he still mad? Alix put a hand on his arm. "Hatter, the King's Men kidnapped the twins, and Harlan is losing himself to the darkness in the woods. Dormouse –"

He glanced away from the timepiece and caught her gaze. Alix peered into fathomless black eyes, searching for madness or sanity. She saw clarity, but of what?

Hatter tucked the watch away, stepped to the table and held out a high-backed chair. Silently, he waited for her to sit, sliding her chair in as she did.

Could he not speak? Maybe with all that happened he'd completely lost his mind. Wonderland was restored — shouldn't that mean Hatter had been healed?

Flipping his coattails out of his way, Hatter took his own seat at the head of the table. Lifting the teapot, he inhaled the scented steam and tilted the spout toward her cup.





Madness of the Hatter, Chapters 21-22



Harlan's inhuman heart nearly stopped when Alix screamed. She'd never screamed — not even when he'd tried to terrify her that first day. He took a slice to his forearm in order to get close to the Queen's knight, picked him up by the neck, and tossed him into the men behind him. They fell like a house of cards, into a pile of armored, squirming limbs.

Free of enemies for the moment, he whirled, eyes desperately scanning the clearing to find Alix. Seeing Hatter down and Alix on her knees in front of the Queen, a rage burned so hot inside him that his darkness recoiled.

The Queen's blade rose in a deadly blur and swung downward.

He rushed forward, knocking Alix atop Hatter, and taking the strike meant to remove Alix's head in his chest. The agony was so keen he couldn't make a sound.

"You know how much I love you, Harlan." The Queen's syrupy sweet voice slid over his soul as she yanked her blade from his body. "Never forget you have my heart."

Her words summoned the darkness.

Pain knifed through him. Harlan doubled over, arms wrapped around his middle. He screamed as his skin tore. Little tears ripped into gashes. Instead of blood, darkness poured out of him and flowed over his skin, reaching for anyone close. They tasted like terror.

"Jabberwocky!" someone shrieked. "It's the Jabberwocky!"

People shouted and shoved at one another to get away from him.

Harlan laughed, but it wasn't him. If only they were all so lucky that he was only the Jabberwocky. He'd eaten that creature for breakfast years ago.

Alix jumped to her feet and swung her baton.

When the stick smacked her wrist, the Queen shrieked and dropped her sword. "Off with her head!"

Before he thought about it, black tentacles streaked out. More darkness escaped from him.

Tables and chairs overturned as the attendees and the Queen's soldiers panicked and screamed.

Be quiet! Stop screaming!

Shut up. Shut up! Shut UP!

Harlan pressed his hands to his ears. Screams only drew the darkness inside him out faster, feeding on their terror. He felt himself dissolving. Being eaten by the creature inside him.

The Queen laughed. She was the only one who never feared him.

Until Alix.

The Queen had done this to him. The darkness in him didn't often agree with the actions he wanted to take, but they were in accord now.

Harlan drew in his darkness and focused on the Queen. He took a step in her direction.

She blanched and took a step back.

Black tentacles lashed out and wrapped around the woman responsible for what happened to him. To Hatter. To Wonderland. The darkness tasted the Queen's terror and reveled in the opportunity for revenge.

He gave the darkness control. It sent out black whips that snapped at the Queen, making her flinch. Letting her dodge and think she could escape, only to lash her in another direction.

She screamed — her terror feeding the creature she'd forced him to become. Her terror nurturing the ever-starving monster.

The whips became ropes, binding her limbs one at a time, until a coil looped around her neck and cut off her screams. He held her in place as he fed, her soundless terror all the more potent trapped inside her with no way out.

A grey color spread over her skin as he drained her of life and magic. Her energy made his stomach roil, but he didn't let her go. He had to finish this.

He fed deeper, feeling sicker and less human the more of her he took in, yet unable to stop.

The Queen's body crumbled into dust. He stared at the pile of red clothing left behind, not quite believing she wouldn't return somehow.

Alix knelt next to Hatter. Harlan dropped down beside her.

Pungent smoke poured from the hedges.

The Caterpillar. And where he went, the King and all the King's Men wouldn't be far behind.

"Run!" Duman bellowed. "Don't breathe the smoke! Get to the pond!"

That smoke could be poisonous or just something to make everyone sleep, but he couldn't let the King get his hands on Alix. Not after they'd killed the Queen. The King might have come to detest her, but he wouldn't let her death go unavenged.

Alix coughed, waving away the wisps of smoke until they grew too thick and she had to back up to find clean air. That wasn't far or fast enough. He had to get Alix out of here and come back for Hatter. He threw her over his shoulder and darted into the forest.

His fearless Alix pounded on him until he put her down. She stepped forward and put a hand on his cheek. "You still don't scare me, Harlan. Come back to us. To me."

He wanted to, but the darkness surged, stronger and more vile from feeding on the Queen. Maybe even Alix couldn't tame it now. It wanted her. Wanted something pure after devouring something rotten.

Harlan staggered and wrenched from her touch as hungry tentacles reached for her. "Back away! Don't let the darkness touch you!”

She dropped her hand, but didn't leave. "Fight, Harlan. I don't know what she did to you, or why it's worse now, but you can fight her.”

He wanted to. But the darkness had never felt like this before. Hatter was dying, and without the magic of Wonderland to keep the beast at bay, it was so much worse.

Ice spread through him, numbing his emotions. He had to leave. Get away from here before he hurt his friends.

Before he hurt Alix.

With the last of his humanity, he placed his last hope on Alix. "Save. Hatter." Without him, there was no Wonderland, and they'd all die anyway.

Alix nodded. "I'll save him. Then I'm coming for you."

The darkness swallowed him whole as ice surrounded his heart.

The darkness in him hungered. It fought to devour him, reaching tentacles out to snare more prey.

With a roar, Harlan turned away and fled into the trees.




They'd done it… hadn't they? His heaving chest, hanging arm, cuts, and bruises attested to all the fighting, and no Queen's soldiers remained in the clearing. They'd all fled when she fell.

Alix and Harlan had killed the Queen. The Queen was definitely dead. There was no coming back from what Harlan had done, but nothing felt different.

I thought something would happen when we won, Deegan thought. Some sort of sign that Wonderland was better.

Me too.

Hatter hadn't moved. If they'd done all this but lost him anyway, they hadn't won anything. If Hatter was dead, maybe that's why nothing felt different.

Alix and Harlan knelt beside Hatter. Duman never thought he'd see Harlan save anyone. If Alix could bring him back from darkness, there was hope for Hatter.

Duman waited for his twin to limp toward him, one black clad leg a bit darker with a reddish sheen. He could feel Deegan's pain and his pride. He wouldn't welcome help.

One of Duman's arms hung uselessly. He might not be much help anyway.

Movement in his peripheral vision took his attention. Duman squinted at the hedges. Had they moved? Not them. Something in the shadows around them.

Wisps of pungent smoke curled from beneath the bushes as they parted to reveal a sinuous form. The Caterpillar reared up and loomed. He blew out smoke that hung like fog over the clearing.

A bald man with a pale, egg-shaped head marched out of the hedges, white uniform gleaming. "The King requires the twins alive," General Humpty Dumpty called. "Leave everyone else."

All the King's white-armored men emerged from the maze, carrying swords and shields. A few of them lugged heavy nets.

The King wanted him and Deegan? But why? They'd left the courts and all the intrigue years ago.

Smoke poured from the north hedges. Tendrils darted from the fog overhead.

Duman covered his nose and mouth, running for Deegan. "Run! Don't breathe the smoke! Get to the pond!" They'd be trapped, but the smoke didn't flow over water.

Coils of smoke twisted and turned, like snakes seeking prey to strike. One by one, the attendees fell.

Unable to run with his injured leg, Deegan collapsed to his knees, coughing.

Get away! Don't come for me. Smoke obscured Deegan's body, and his thoughts turned blurry. It's… fine. Everything… it's all… everything is fine.

Two of the King's Men threw a net over Deegan, seized his arms, and dragged him toward the hedge maze.

"Deegan!" Duman fought to return to his twin. His eyes stung, making his vision blur. "Let him go!"

A wisp of smoke engulfed his face, insinuating itself into his nose through his fingers. He held his breath and thrashed, trying to bat the smoke away.

"Deegan!" Alix yelled. "Duman!"

Duman shook his head, trying to dispel the drugging haze. He had to fight. Stay clear headed. He should… he should… His breath burst from him and he inhaled involuntarily.

Sweet smoke filled his lungs and his thoughts muddled. A languorous sensation stole over him. He should… he should call to Alix and tell her not to worry. No one had to worry at all. Everything was fine.


His tongue felt too big in his mouth, and his limbs were heavy. Too heavy to stand. He fell down. Yes, that was so much better. Now he could fly. The men around him threw a net over him.

That wasn't nice! Now he couldn't move. How could he fly if he couldn't move? They picked him up and he laughed. Being carried was kind of like flying.

Now he could fly to Alix and they would get Deegan and go to the Tea House. Duman tried to thank the men. He hadn't realized they were his friends before.

"Thaaa… thhhhh….thaaa…" Duman closed his eyes so he could concentrate better. It shouldn't be hard to talk. He opened his eyes to a high wall of green growing larger.

They weren't taking him to Alix. They were going toward the hedges!

"Noooo." Duman tried to free an arm so he could point the right way.

The King's Men entered the hedges, and they closed around him.


Madness of the Hatter, Chapters 19-20



Gem-like rocks dotted the towering cliffs of jasper and jade. Bizarrely formed, exotic jeweled plants, and colorful magical fungi scattered over the path. He didn't come to the cove often anymore, but he wanted to see it one more time.

Jingwei birds flew overhead, dropping their endless sticks and pebbles into the sea as they called their name.

Cranes, more sedate and dignified, as they did not believe in doing pointless things over and over, paced in the shallows, poking their beaks into the water in search of a meal.

It was peaceful here.

This cove was where Wonderland was born. The tree grew atop the cliff overhead.

He removed his hat and stared at the tag. The nine was almost gone. His finger hovered over the number, tempted to trace it, but afraid touching it would make it vanish faster.

Hatter curled his fingers away. Maybe he should accept what was happening. He'd lived a long life. Longer than most people got. He'd made this place special for people who needed a refuge. Maybe the sane thing to do was to accept that Wonderland required a new caretaker. That, at least this version of the magical land, was over.

It's over. Wonderland is lost.

As he thought the words, a kind of peace settled over his mind. Surrender carried its own kind of power. The knowledge his fight was over relaxed something deep inside him, and he thought he understood the jingwei birds better. They'd never fill the sea, still, they did what they could to fulfill what they saw as their purpose.

He'd done what he could to fulfill his purpose, but by fighting, he was trying to fill the sea. He'd just figured out, quicker than the birds, that he couldn't destroy what he hated.

Citrus-y magic found him, winding around him in a joyful greeting. Alix's bootsteps came down the cliff-side trail, and she sat on the sand next to him. She still smelled of tea, but she wasn't glowing anymore, and she was back in her black pants and shirt.

He was sorry he'd sliced up her dress. "Feel better?"

She nodded. "I'm sorry, Hatter. I thought for sure the tea party would work."

It had worked for her. Maybe she could be the next guardian. It would be worth sacrificing what was left of himself if it made Alix strong enough to keep Wonderland out of the Queen's hands. The only problem was, even sane, he didn't know how to help her do that.

"The tea party did work. Temporarily. I feel more myself than I have in hundreds of years. It was nice to feel pure magic in Wonderland again. But my time is over."

"I don't believe that." Alix placed a hand on his arm.

"What we don't believe in is just as real as what we do. Especially here. At least for now. So, we must be prepared." He took off his hat and removed her weapons. "I don't know how long I have left. You may need these to leave whatever Wonderland becomes after I die."

Alix secreted her weapons in various places around her person. "You're not worried I'll use my weapons on you?"

He was still 10/9 and losing his mind. What did it matter if she tried to murder him, or actually did? She was teasing and he wanted the closeness between them to continue. He leaned close, his lips almost touching hers. "I prefer it when you use your wiles on me."

She playfully backhanded his chest. "Be serious for a moment. Do you know where the magic I have originated?"

"This is your second trip to Wonderland. You've got magic in your blood. Maybe multiple trips here made it more potent."

"For all the good it's doing," she muttered.

"Shall we head back?" Hatter stood and extended a hand to help her up. He glanced at the barely discernible nine on the hat tag. He didn't want her to see him die.

She took his hand but what they were going back to, and for how long, he didn't know. Maybe he could just go to sleep with her in his arms and fall from Wonderland into a dream.




Hand in hand, they climbed the escarpment, heading for the Tea House. Hatter was giving up, and she had no idea how to make him change his mind.

An attendee burst into the clearing from the woods ahead of them. When he spotted them, he veered in their direction. He bent double and braced one hand on his knee while holding his other arm close to his body. Blood streamed down his face.

"What happened to you?" Alix patted her pockets, relieved to have her weapons back, but wishing she had some medical supplies.

"The Queen."

Hatter stiffened. "You went into the maze?"

"I didn't! I was in the woods. She left the maze! The Queen is coming here!" He straightened. "She and her army are right behind me!"

Attendees leapt from the table, abandoning their cups, cakes, and biscuits.

"The Queen ordered her soldiers to kill everyone except for Alix."

Hatter put a hand on his sword hilt. "How does she know Alix is here?"

"We have a rat," Duman muttered.

"A rat!" Hatter spun and aimed an accusing finger. "Not a rat. A cat! A cat playing mouse. A cat playing Dormouse."

Dormouse oozed off her chair and backed away with her hands up placatingly. "No! No! Once I've sworn my loyalty, I swear I'm true!"

"But you've never sworn loyalty to me, have you?" Hatter tapped his finger on his chin. "You just showed up one day, and none of us kicked you out."

Dormouse squeaked in alarm and sprinted for the hedge maze with a speed that shocked Alix.

Harlan caught her and held her by the neck in one huge fist as she struggled in his grip. "You always wanted my hands on you. Now you've got them."

A few more feeble kicks subsided. Dormouse turned her face up to Harlan's and offered him a grin so wide it took up half her face. Her body shifted from human into a huge striped cat.

Invisibility started at the Cheshire Cat's tail and traveled up its body until only a pair of eyes and a smile hovered above Harlan's clenched fist. The eyes closed as the mocking grin rotated in a complete circle and floated away.

"How did you know?" Alix glanced around nervously. The cat could be anywhere if it stopped grinning.

"One of my saner moments lately. Even the Dormouse never slept so much as a cat."

The cadence of booted feet shook the ground as the Queen's red-armored soldiers marched into the clearing, swords drawn, spears aimed. They lined up in thirteen rows of four.

Hatter drew his sword. The twins stood to his left, daggers in their hands. Harlan held no weapons, but maybe he didn't need them. Some attendees wielded clubs and blades. Others clenched their fists. All of them were prepared to fight for their home.

Dressed in a red gown, skirt cut high in the front to reveal red boots and leggings, the Queen strolled after them, then among their neat lines. Her low neckline highlighted the golden chain around her neck and the pendant against her fair skin. Alix sucked in a breath.

The Queen's pendant was a leaf.

A green leaf. A new leaf? Was that the leaf her mother had ranted about turning over?

Alix slipped her fingers around her stun gun and snapped her baton out to its full length as she took a place to Hatter's right.

The two sides glared at each other.

"Off with their heads!" The Queen broke the stalemate, setting her soldiers into motion.

Hatter headed straight for the Queen. Harlan and the twins knocked aside the Queen's men as the two sides clashed.

Alix used her baton to block swords aimed at her, and applied her stun gun liberally until it died, doing her best to keep soldiers away from Hatter and not die.

Hatter had to break off his planned attack of the Queen when three of her men surrounded him.

Alix swung her baton. The Queen ducked, but not quite far enough. The baton struck her tall, jeweled crown and tore her wig askew, revealing blonde hair the same shade as her own.

With the blonde hair and blue eyes, the Queen could have been a looking glass reflection of Alix. "It was you. You're the first Little. The first Alice. You broke Hatter's mind!"

The Queen turned an icy stare on her. "My name is Eris! How many times do I have to say it?"

"You're why Liddle girls are kidnapped. You're killing Hatter and Wonderland!"

A backhanded blow from a soldier's armored fist came out of nowhere and struck Alix, sending her sprawling. She went with the momentum and rolled, shaking her head to clear it.

Pay attention. Alix!

The metallic taste of blood filled her mouth. She wiped her split lip and bloody nose on her sleeve as she climbed back to her feet.

Terror filled screams filled the air as Harlan claimed his victims. The twins worked together like only fighters who had fought hundreds of battles together could. They were too far away to help with the Queen.

Eris tossed her wig to the ground and advanced on her. "Not the land. Just Hatter. When he's dead, I'll have enough magic to rule this land myself and make it however I like."

She turned her attention to Hatter. Their swords clashed as another soldier struck out at Alix, forcing her from Hatter's side.

Alix fumbled in her pocket for her pepper spray, but the can wasn't there. She slid her fingers into brass knuckles instead and punched at her attacker. They clanged off red armor, denting the faceplate until the man couldn't see. A kick to his knees sent him over.

A sword landed on the ground in front of her. Hatter's sword! Alix picked it up and dodged around several fights. Her heart sank into a hopeless pit.

Disarmed and bleeding from several wounds. Hatter remained on his feet, but he swayed. He wouldn't last much longer.

"Time's up, Hatter." Eris clasped the leaf pendant in one hand, and slammed the palm of her other hand onto Hatter's chest.

He didn't make a sound as he fell to his knees, but Wonderland's magic screamed in an agonized, soul-wrenching wail that rang in Alix's head and sent her stumbling.

Sword raised, the Queen laughed.

Alix pushed herself to her feet and rushed at Eris, sword swinging wildly. She deflected the strike meant for Hatter, and shoved the Queen off balance. Closing one hand around the pendant, Alix yanked, breaking the chain and coming away with her prize. Agony stabbed through her, the leaf searing into the flesh of her palm.

She let out her own scream and collapsed as her body seized. Her watering eyes made the vision of the Queen standing above her triumphantly seem like a mirage.

The sword rising to cut her down was all too real. Alix fought to get her body to move. None of her self defense lessons had included what to do when stealing a magical leaf resulted in being stunned into sudden paralysis.

Move! Alix yelled at herself. Maybe Hatter could use the necklace. He was inches away, but it might have been miles.

Time slowed as the blade neared its zenith and hung in the air for an eternity.

"Off with your head!" Eris' psychotic grin was almost as big as the Cheshire Cat's.

Her sword began its downward arc.


Madness of the Hatter, Chapters 17-18



Alix showered, but her agitation didn't abate. She wandered through the house, letting the magic guide her, even though she knew where she'd end up. It grew inside her again, making her burn with the need to use it.

The house felt sentient. The atmosphere heavy and resigned to its embarrassing fate. Everything decayed before her eyes. Peeling wallpaper. Uneven floorboards creaked underfoot. Cobwebs everywhere. It was the same as before, but more poignant now, because magic showed her how the house should look. How it wanted to look.

Alix placed a hand on the torn, faded, sagging wallpaper. The house gratefully absorbed her magic with a sigh of relief, and for a moment, the wallpaper smoothed and brightened. But it only lasted until she took her hand away. An empathy with the house's sadness burned her eyes with hot tears.

The tea party had been her best, and only, idea. She'd failed everyone, even this house. And yet, this magic inside her pushed. Drew her on.

In addition to the living room and kitchen area, closed doors led to bedrooms, a library, and the music room. The faint sound of rhythmic thuds came from behind another closed door. It was a familiar sound from her time spent in self defense classes — someone beating the hell out of a heavy punching bag.

She pushed the door open. The floor was layered in mats, and Harlan, shirtless, muscled body covered in sweat and scars, didn't let up on his assault of the punching bag. He knew she was there, though. His shoulders tensed ever so slightly.

Alix took a few moments to analyze her opponent. Harlan was much bigger, but she'd have speed on her side. He'd never respect her unless she stood up to him, and unless he respected her, he'd never open up. She'd probably lose a fair fight, but the point was, she'd fight.

No one said she had to fight fair.

You're brimming with magic and not meant to handle so much. You need to get rid of it or figure out how to use it.

It had led her here. She'd known it would bring her to him. To find the man inside the darkness.

"Get out."

Alix crossed the mats, picked up a pair of boxing gloves, and chose a smaller bag. Muscle memory took over as she started off slowly with a warm up, then sped up as she threw herself into a routine.

With an annoyed huff, he unbound his hands and dropped the wraps to the floor as he stalked past her.

She couldn't let him escape so easily. Taking the few steps between them, she went low. It didn't matter how big someone was. If she took out his knees, he couldn't very well go anywhere. Alix scissored her legs around his, and he toppled.

He snarled, regained his feet, and whirled to face her faster than she could track. Darkness ran under his skin.

Alix sent her magic out, matching his darkness with silver. He stood, a surprised expression on his face. While he was stunned, she tossed her gloves aside, leapt at him in a tackle, and took him down.

She braced for the impact, but he turned and landed on his back with a grunt. Content with their placement, she put her bare hands on his skin. The darkness in him felt wild and predatory, but curious. For now, at least, she wasn't in danger.

"You think you're so scary? Do your worst. I'm going to do mine. Then you'll be mine."

Leaning down, she found his lips with hers. At the same time, she moved her hips, rubbing her core over Harlan's erection, sending a series of delicious shivers through her body. It seemed to do the trick. He moaned and one hand shifted from her hip, pushing into jeans and under her panties to find her clit.

Her clit pulsed into life at Harlan's touch, spreading heat through her body. Doing this wasn’t going to be easy. He didn't trust anyone, not even himself. Especially not himself. He'd try to get her off and run away. She couldn't let him.

Harlan reversed their positions, putting her on her back, fingers working her clit. She moved her mouth from his, pressing her face against his neck.

Alix wrapped her arms around Harlan's shoulders, holding him tightly against her. She moved her hips, rocking in time with his movement, making the friction on her clit deeper and more intense. She was nearly there, her pussy clenching and her stomach contracting as he pushed her toward orgasm. She sucked in a sharp breath through her nose as he pressed down on her clit and her orgasm flooded through her.

She pressed her face into his shoulder as her moaning exhale escaped unbidden. Her muscles clenched, her body going rigid as pleasure assaulted her. Alix took a deep breath, inhaling his scent, a musky, earthy scent that pushed her deeper into her orgasm. He turned his head and ran his tongue up the side of her neck and goosebumps scurried over her skin, heightening her pleasure.

When she drifted down from her orgasm, she gasped, panting for air as her muscles turned to warm jelly. She sagged against Harlan. He pulled his hand out of her panties, leaving her wanting more. When he tried to pull away, she locked her arms around his neck, lifted her head and sought out Harlan's mouth with hers.

She meant to offer a tender kiss to show him gentleness, but it turned desperate and hungry as her body responded to his yet again. Alix moved her arms from around his shoulders, and reached between them to unzip Harlan's jeans.

He broke their kiss and stared deep into her eyes. She could see lust there, turning his eyes even darker. They were almost completely black now and Alix couldn’t see where his pupils ended and his irises began. It sent a shiver of desire through her.

"No, Harlan. You're here. This is just you and me."




Harlan rose, reached out, and pulled Alix into his arms. She showed no fear. Somehow she held his darkness back and allowed him to be himself.

He kissed her hard, feeling her body pressed against his. Her nipples rubbed over his chest, and he could feel they were pebbled, even through their clothes.

He moved his hands down her back, cupped her ass and pulled her tight against him. She moved her hips slightly, rubbing her body against his rock-hard cock, making him catch his breath. Harlan lifted Alix’s shirt, running his hands over the smooth skin of her lower back and then the lace of her panties.

One of her hands roamed over his back, and the other one wrapped in his hair. Her tongue moved with his, massaging it. He savored the sweet taste of her kiss — sugary and warm, like he enjoyed his tea.

He moved his hands to the front of her body, and lifted her tank top higher, she raised her arms for a second so he could pull it over her head. He tossed it to one side and removed his t-shirt before pulling Alix back into his arms.

Desire spread through him. His human side and the beast forced into him merged as lust overtook him. He lifted Alix's hips and stripped her pants off. She wrapped her legs around his waist. He reached beneath her with one hand, opening his jeans and shoving them and his boxers down. He kicked his shoes off and wriggled out of his jeans and underwear.

He walked towards the nearest wall, slamming Alix against it as their lips met once more. He tucked his fingers into the side of her panties and tore them away. He shifted his hips and plunged into Alix’s warm, tight pussy. He kissed down her neck as he moved inside her.

Goosebumps rose on her skin, her moan low in the back of her throat. He kept moving, loving the way her pussy clenched around his cock, pulling him further inside of her. Alix writhed against him, her hips moving in desperate thrusts that matched his.

He moved one hand from her ass and brought it around to the front of his body, pushing it into her warm folds, feeling for her clit. When his fingers brushed it, he moaned. It was swollen, throbbing, ready for him.

Alix’s arms cinched around his neck, clinging to him, pulling him tightly against her. She leaned her head back against the wall, exposing her throat. He gripped the skin between his teeth, pinching it lightly and pulling it away from her. She gasped, and he ran his tongue over the pink mark he'd left on her.

She moved a hand into his hair, her fist balling in it, tugging on it. The stinging almost pushed Harlan over the edge, but he wanted Alix to come first, and he held himself back.

He upped the pace of his probing fingers. Alix went rigid in his arms, her center clenching so tightly he couldn’t move for a second. She gasped in a breath and held it as pleasure consumed her. Her face contorted with ecstasy. Her muscles relaxed, and she let out the breath she was holding in a moan that ended in his name.

He worked her clit again while pounding into her. Alix moved her hands down his back. She must have felt the tears in his skin that had begun to open as his beast fought to get out, but she didn't recoil. He held it back, letting it out enough to make his pleasure animalistic in its nature, but not enough to risk hurting Alix.

She ran her fingers through the darkness, sending shivers through Harlan’s body and making him moan. He pressed down on her clit, holding it tightly against her mound as she screamed his name. She wasn’t holding back, and when she came, she came hard.

The feeling pushed him closer to the edge, and he let go, tumbling through his own orgasm. His knees locked, and he reached out one arm, pressing his palm against the wall, holding himself up as pleasure tore through his body.

His moans became growls, and he felt his eyes changing, his vision becoming more focused as the darkness surged. He focused on Alix, soaking in her beauty as she clenched around him again, sending waves of ecstasy through every cell in his body.

His orgasm faded, leaving his limbs heavy and warm, his breath coming in a series of gasps. Alix clung to him, her face pressed against his neck. Her warm breath tickled his skin. When he trusted his legs to hold up their combined weight, he backed away from the wall and set her down.

“You found me. I'm yours, Alix,” he whispered into her ear.

He hoped she knew what she was doing.

Madness of the Hatter, Chapters 14-16



Alix slid the blue velvet ankle-length dress over her head and pushed her feet into the matching low-heeled pumps. The twins were determined to make this a formal High Tea, but remained mum as to where they'd acquired the outfit. She didn't want to think about it too much.

She twisted her hair into a chignon and walked out of the hideous pink bedroom.

On the dead grass, several round tables had been placed next to the rectangular tea table. All of them were adorned with candles, floral centerpieces, and precisely placed settings with small plates, teacups, and saucers. Multi-tiered cupcake stands displayed frosted teacakes. The rest of the fare consisted of meat pies, potatoes, and fish.

Duman must have used everything in the kitchen. She wished he'd made waffles, then was glad he hadn't. Waffles were only for her.

The unruly, drunken crowd was gone. In its place were men and women, sober, nicely dressed in gowns and suits, and neatly coiffed. Each stood quietly behind a chair at one of the tables.

Three chairs were empty – two at one end of the long table, a single seat at the other. No one thought Harlan would show up. One place was for her. The other was for Hatter. Deegan and Duman stood behind chairs on either side of the place meant for her.

Alix tilted her head back. At the top of the tree, a dark, human shape loomed over all of them, but made no move to join the lowly mortals below him.

We're only trying to save his life.

She sighed. Hatter's lack of confidence in her shook her belief in the plan. But there wasn't a backup plan. She had to try.

Chin high, Alix walked down the ramp and crossed the dry, brown grass to her seat between the twins, projecting every ounce of self-confidence she could muster.

Deegan and Duman held her chair and scooted it under her as she sat. They took their seats, and that signaled everyone else to do the same.

What was she meant to do now? The weight of everyone's hopes settled onto her shoulders as they turned expectant eyes on her.

Please, no one call for a speech.

Alix lifted the teapot at her elbow. It was heavier than she thought a teapot full of nothing should be. She tilted it over her teacup. The scent of apple tea filled the air.

Alix glanced down… at the tea swirling in her teacup. Hands shaking, she clumsily banged the teapot onto the table, giving Duman a smile in response to his eyebrow raised in inquiry.

Deegan picked up the teapot and tilted it over his cup.

Nothing came out, but the aroma of apples was joined by an earthy scent. He passed the teapot to the next person. One by one, each attendee politely pretended to fill a cup, adding a new layer to the myriad of smells, until the teapot made its way to Duman.

Vanilla. Jasmine. Cinnamon. Hibiscus. Mint. Citrus.

She brought her cup to her lips and sipped daintily. Everyone mimicked her. Magic flowed into her, sending a pleasant buzzing sensation through her blood. But the rest of the attendees watched her, waiting for a clue as to what they were supposed to do next.

They should be drinking tea, not staring at her! Alix banged her fist on the table. It would only work if everyone believed!

"Can you not see the tea?"

Carefully blank faces stared at her. She took another fortifying sip. The magic increased inside her, making her blood heat.

Alix sipped again. Forget being polite. She gulped her tea and slopped more into her cup. It splashed over the rim, into her saucer, and onto the tablecloth. No one paid any attention to the growing stain.

"How can this be? Can nobody see the tea but me?"

Deegan frowned. "Did you get into the hard stuff before you came down here?"

Her giggle turned into a snort, and she clapped a hand over her mouth. She lowered her lips to the too full cup and slurped until the liquid reached a level where she could lift the cup without spilling.

Alix drank in impolite gulps and poured a third serving as magic overflowed from her. It reached for Deegan and Duman, stroking their faces like fingers. The twins inhaled and licked their lips. Now they knew!

She downed her third cup, poured a fourth, and pointed at attendees around the tables. Magic burst from her fingertips, popping in startled faces. More and more partygoers turned hungry gazes on her.

Yes! Now they understood! The plan could work! She just had to convince one more person. Alix eschewed the tiny teacup and lifted the teapot.

Lips firmly around the spout, she leaned back in her chair, her throat moving as she swallowed tea without pausing for breath. Several people groaned, but she ignored them.

Hatter was watching her. He was the one she had to convince. Alix felt him on her skin and in the energy building between them.

Magic and lust made her head swim, and she nearly fell out of her chair. Duman caught her arm and kept her upright while Deegan set the teapot on the table.

But she'd accomplished what she wanted.

Hatter was coming.

He was coming for her.




Hatter watched the festivities from the Tea House.

Alix was drunk.

On imaginary tea.

Or maybe he was only imagining it was imaginary.

The citrus-y aroma wafting from her skin, carried to him on silver tendrils of magic. His head swam with the heady aroma, making him feel drunk, too.

He wasn't alone. Her scent affected everyone like an aphrodisiac. The attendees all had blown pupils and flushed skin. They watched her, like if she moved they would rip her to shreds.

The atmosphere was no longer friendly. The group hadn't acted on that impulse yet, but it was a mob. She had no idea what she'd done. New magic was unpredictable, addictive, and hard to control.

Hatter sprinted down the ramp, getting glimpses of the scene as he hit the turns.

He was halfway down when Alix moved. She rose from her chair and staggered a step.

Everyone leapt from their seats.

Alix backed away from the crowd that paced after her. At least she wasn't running. The mob looked like they wanted to tear her apart with their teeth.

If she kept retreating, she'd fall in the pond. She veered around the water's edge. Right toward the hedge maze.

Bloody hell.

How many times had he told her not to go near the maze? Had he told her?

Hatter increased his speed.

The nearer he got to Alix, the thicker the scent of tea. So many scents.

He leapt over the railing, boots smashing into a round tea table. Entranced as the mob was, they weren't expecting an attack from the rear. Hatter shoved party-goers right and left, making a path to Alix.

Behind her, the hedges stirred to life. They parted to create an entry, and thorny vines slithered over the greenery. They fed on magic. They'd feed on Alix.

Deegan and Duman shook their heads, emerging from their enthrallment enough to recognize the threat. They faced the mob, using their bodies to form a wall in front of Alix.

Hatter sprinted past them, grabbed Alix's arm, and yanked her away from the hedge maze an instant before the vines would have dragged her in.

Tossing her over his shoulder, he raced to the tree and up the ramp.

In his penthouse, he threw Alix onto his bed. "What do you think you're doing?" he bellowed, but she was beyond hearing.

The blue of her eyes was gone, swallowed by the black of her dilated pupils. She lunged for him. Tore at his clothes. Sucked on his neck. Writhed, rubbing her pussy against his hard cock.

He wouldn't last long with her in this state, but he had the means to deal with this. Hatter opened his wardrobe and removed four silk ties. The next time she grabbed him, he seized her wrist, bound it in silk, and stretched her arm to the bedpost.

One by one, he caught her limbs until she lay neatly trussed. "You need to stop."

Alix scowled at him. "I know what I'm doing."

"I'm not sure that's true."

"I know what I want."

That he believed.

"You're brimming with magic and not meant to handle so much. You need to get rid of it or figure out how to use it."

A sultry smile curved her lips. "I want to use it on you." Her eyes ran up and down his body like he wasn't wearing anything. "I want your magic and my magic to know one another. Be one with me, Hatter."

Bloody hell.

Seeing Alix helpless and wanton nearly lost his sanity again. He drew his sword and slid it under the hem of her dress, stretched tight by her spread ankles. The velvet gave way to the sharpness of his blade. She held still as he gripped the soft material and ripped it, leaving her clad in lace panties and bra.

His finger traced a trail down her cheek to her throat, his entire hand claiming her neck in a gentle, but possessive grip. The scent of tea and her arousal teased his nostrils.

Blood and magic sang in his veins. He slammed against her, pressing her body into his bed as his mouth covered hers. She didn’t hesitate as she opened to him and lifted her head to meet him. Slipping his tongue into her mouth, he tasted her sweetness.

Memories flooded his brain telling him she was his. Bringing sanity and himself back. He craved more of her and devoured her mouth. She let him, giving him more, her lips and tongue tasting and battling his.

He groaned, wanting more. His hands gripped her hips, and slid up her ribcage to her lace-covered breasts to cup their weight in his hands. Pulling away, he licked and kissed a path down her neck.


Her warm, husky voice laced with longing went straight to his cock. Now fully hard, it strained painfully against his pants. Squeezing her breasts together, he licked at her cleavage, eliciting a moan. His thumbs found her nipples through the wet lace, and he covered one with his mouth.

She yanked at her restraints. That only made him groan against her breast and suckle the stiff nipple through the lace harder. Her hips rocked against him, and he knew what she wanted. Moving even lower, he kneeled in front of her. He ripped the lacy scrap of her panties from her and parted her thighs.

Her pussy was pink and glistening. Perfect, like everything about her. Lifting one knee, he draped it over his shoulder. The smell of her was powerful, and his cock twitched painfully, but he was determined to give her pleasure first, so he teased her by licking around her thighs.


The word coming from her broke something in him, and he pressed his mouth to her clit. She gasped and her hips pushed up. He licked her clit with quick, hard strokes that left her panting.

He felt her near the edge of her orgasm as he lapped at her and slowed down. Alix let out a frustrated groan, and he couldn’t help a smile. Spreading her thighs wider, he slipped a finger in her, making her moan. He stroked her deep, and she grew wetter with each touch.

Her eyes rolled back as she squeezed hard around him. He pushed a second finger inside and slid his tongue across her clit.

Her pussy gripped his fingers tight as her entire body went rigid. Her hips bucked against his mouth as she flooded him with her slickness. He pumped her with his fingers as she shuddered and her body went limp.




Alix was brimming with lust. She used magic to not believe in neckties and freed herself.

Hatter chuckled as she unbuttoned his pants and pulled his zipper down. Just an inch, until the tip of his cock emerged, glistening with moisture. She licked it.

He tipped his head back and moaned. She moved his zipper down inch by inch, licking his shaft and his head with exquisite slowness.

“You’re killing me, Little,” he murmured.

"Call me that one more time, and see what never happens."

She pulled the zipper all the way down and wrapped one hand around him, taking him into her mouth. In and out. Slow and languid as he groaned and fisted his hands in her hair. She sucked on him, swirling her tongue, feeling him beginning to lose control. Just before he reached the edge, he took a deep breath, and pulled away.

He pulled her up and flipped her around so she was bent over the edge of the bed, feet on the floor and ass in the air. He put his hand in the middle of her back, muttered something under his breath, and suddenly her wrists were encased in padded shackles, the chains running to the corners of the bed.

A rush of heat and slick of wetness made her moan. This kind of being bound to a bed she could get into. but she wanted to touch him. Have him at her mercy for a change. She didn't believe in the cuffs, and pulled, but as her wrists were almost free, the manacles closed around her again.

"I don't believe in shackles!"

Hatter bent over and whispered in her ear. “I believe in the shackles more than you don't believe in them.”

"Not fair!"

"You're going to drive me insane." He reached around her, one hand in front, one underneath, and stroked her slit, circling her clit, teasing it, rubbing slowly up and down until she was rolling her hips back and forth, moaning. The chains kept her bent over, pinned to the bed, arms extended in front of her.

Hatter was totally in control — and she was the one being driven to insanity.

“Please,” she murmured. “Inside me.” She meant his dick, that gorgeous hard as steel shaft that was pressing into her ass. But he slid his fingers into her instead, pushing slowly in and out, still teasing her clit with the other hand. An orgasm bore down on her like a freight train.

He increased the pace, pushing her over the edge while she cried out with abandon. Before she’d recovered, he entered her with his cock, one hard deep thrust after another. He drove into her, a growl rumbling in his chest, as he took her to the brink again.

Magic rose up in her and she gave way to her primal urgings, meeting him thrust for thrust, helpless against the intense tide of pleasure.

Just as she was reaching her peak, the chains disappeared. Hatter flipped her over and picked her up as if she weighed no more than a feather. He held her to his chest, and she wrapped her arms and legs around him as he sheathed himself in her and launched them both into the final wave of ecstasy.

She came apart in his arms, and he shook with pleasure and emotion, holding her tight as his dick throbbed and pulsed, emptying himself into her. He covered her neck and chest with kisses, running one hand through her hair.

Alix slept, then woke when the magic made her ache again. Hatter lay sleeping deeply. He looked so relaxed and young, she couldn't bring herself to disturb him. Still unsettled, she showered and dressed in her black dungarees and pullover.

But the magic still built inside her. Pulled at her, and called to her.

Madness of the Hatter, Chapters 12-13



Alix paced. She wrote lists, crumpled her lists into balls, tossed them away, and wrote new lists.

She's like a firecracker with a lit fuse, about to explode, Deegan thought.

She's going to pace right through the floorboards.

"We'll need to send out invitations." The words burst out of Alix. "What's the earliest we can arrange for the party? How many people should we invite?"

"Relax." Deegan pulled Alix down to sit on the sofa and held her hand in his. "You're overthinking things. We always have attendees wandering about, so that's not a problem. We can arrange the party for later today. No point in making it exclusive. It's not like we're going to run out of tea we already don't have, is it?"

"Well, we're only trying to save Wonderland." She pulled her hand away and sulked. "I might be feeling a little pressure. I'm sorry I thought you might care."

Duman felt a pang of guilt. It had been so long since they'd had hope, it was hard to muster enthusiasm. "You're right. Tell you what. We'll make it High Tea. I'll cook all day."

Alix is going to need a dress.

You do the food. I'll find the dress. Deegan checked his daggers were in place and headed out the door.

"Where's he going?"

"Some, um. Private arrangements. You'll see."

"Oh. So, you think this is going to work?"

The hopeful note in Alix's voice made him long for enough magic to make stars shoot across the sky so she could make a wish.

"I think we don't have much to lose. And in a strange sort of way, it makes sense."

She bit her lip. "Harlan won't come, will he?"

"Not likely. Honestly, it's probably better that way."

"What if everyone needs to be there?"

Dormouse popped her head up from her folded arms at the table, blinked sleepy eyes, and slouched toward the door.

"Where do you think you're going, Dormouse?" Duman aimed a wooden mixing spoon at her. "We've got things to do."

She yawned. "It's too busy here. I'm going somewhere I can sleep."




Dormouse yawned and slumped her shoulders as she trudged toward the hedge maze. She pretended to trip several times, keeping up her slovenly disguise.

Everyone always thought she was asleep and talked freely in front of her.

As she reached the hedge maze, the bushes parted to allow her entrance. She waited as the bushes formed a solid wall. Satisfied she was out of sight, Dormouse broke into a jog.

I'm late. I'm late. I'm late!

The Queen of Hearts hated it when people were late.

The White Rabbit was late one too many times, and now he was the Late White Rabbit.

Dormouse ran faster, following the turns of the maze. There was no chance of getting lost on the way to the Queen. All rows led to the rose.

It was trying to get out when people got lost.

As she neared the palace, vines full of red roses intertwined with the basic green background of the hedge maze. A sweet scent, faint and enticing, quickly became overpowering as the roses grew thicker until the maze became a sea of blood red blooms.

Some of the oldest roses were nearly black, their thorns a foot long and serrated.

Dormouse exited into the courtyard at the center of the maze. The Queen of Hearts sat on the red throne atop a dais in her outdoor court, presiding over the croquet game. A golden crown in her black hair glittered with heart-shaped rubies that matched the blood red shade of her gown.

A table next to her held an array of chocolates and… tea. Everyone else in Wonderland suffered from the lack of tea, but the Queen had a never-ending supply.

It hadn't been so long Dormouse couldn't remember tea. Her mouth watered at the minty scent, then went desert-dry as the Queen's blazing blue eyes settled on her.

"Well?" the Queen snapped. "Are you a Dormouse? Or are you just going to stand there like a doorknob?"

She was neither, nor a doornail, nor a doormat. She knew all the names everyone called her. Dormouse straightened. "The Hatter brought the This Alice, Your Majesty."

The Queen rolled a hand in a get-on-with-it motion as she selected a chocolate. "We knew he would go after the next girl."

"She's not a girl, my Queen." Dormouse gulped. "She's an adult."

"What did you say?" The Queen paused with a chocolate halfway to her mouth. "What? Did we miss an Alice?"

"No. She was an Alice before. He calls her the Twice This Alice."

"What does Hatter's tag say?"

"Ten out of nine."

She sat back and drummed her fingers on the arm of her throne. A sly smile stretched her lips. "So, the Twice This Alice is likely the Last Alice."

Dormouse nodded. "Yes, Your Majesty. The nine is fading. There is a younger Alice, but Hatter doesn't have the magic to make another trip."

"What have they told the Twice This Alice?"

"That she needs to fix Hatter's mind."

The Queen laughed. "Well. It doesn't seem like she's doing a very good job of that. He's still mad."

"She has a plan, Your Majesty. She suggested they have… a tea party."

The Queen stopped laughing and rose to pace. Her sharp heels clicked on the stone dais. "A tea party with no tea? I don't like that sort of thinking at all. I will not have it. We must do away with the Twice This Alice. I'm too close to making Wonderland mine."

"You want me to kill her?" Dormouse squeaked. It was one thing to spy on everyone. They deserved it after taking her for granted for decades — resting their sharp elbows and heavy boots on her back. But she'd never had to kill anyone before. "You could just wait. Surely Hatter will be out of time soon. I don't think –"

"Then you should not speak!" the Queen roared.

Dormouse cowered, heart threatening to beat out of her chest.

"Hatter is already out of time," the Queen continued in a calmer tone. She retook her seat and sipped her tea. "The Twice This Alice has been sentenced to death. Now we must have a trial, of course. I'll take the army and capture her."

Madness of the Hatter, Chapters 8-11



Hatter was prowling the length of the Tea House, boots shaking the floorboards, when they returned from locking Alix up. "She attacked Harlan. Keep her here so she doesn't run off into the woods after him."

"She attacked Harlan?" he chorused with Duman.

He nodded. "I had to summon a lot of magic. I need to rest. The Twice This Alice is quite mad. Watch her." Hatter strode out, winding up the ramp to his penthouse.

Deegan exchanged a look with his twin. He… they should stay away from her. The Twice This Alice was dangerous. Too much of a temptation, but leaving her alone and locked up didn't feel right.

“She is being remarkably quiet.”

Duman nodded. "Too quiet."

“We should go see how she is.” Plus, he had an idea.

"She's our guest. It's only polite to make sure she's all right."

They shoulder bumped one another down the hallway, tusseled in the doorway for a few moments, and crashed into her bedroom.

Alix gave them a small, bemused smile.

"We wanted to —" They chorused, then stopped to glare at one another.

Her smile broadened.

Duman stepped forward. "Are you hungry? I could make something for you."

"No, thank you. I think better when I pace. And I pace better when I can, you know…" She rattled the chain attached to her cuff. "Pace."

"You're definitely locked up for your own protection now. Attacking Harlan? What were you thinking?" Deegan leaned against the wall.

His twin narrowed his eyes at Alix. "How is it you're not afraid of him? Even we're afraid of him."

Alix ignored their questions. "Look, I have the feeling time is a factor here, as in the sooner this is done, the better, right? So help me."

Well. She wasn't wrong about that. "If we let you free, you have to promise not to haring off into the woods."

"Ha, ha," she muttered, rolling to face the wall. "If you're not here to let me go, leave me alone."

Deegan sat on the side of the bed. It was time to do his Nicest One thing and put his plan into action. He placed a hand on her hip. "We, especially Harlan, have given you no reason to trust us, what with the kidnapping, and the locking up, and the terrifying, and all. So I want you to look me in the eyes. Can we trust you?"

Duman frowned, eyebrows forming a vee on his forehead as he lounged in an armchair. "What are you doing, Brother?"

"Someone has to start building trust. Don't you want things to get better?"

"You know I do."

Alix turned to face them. "You can trust me. I won't reveal your secrets. Who would I tell, anyway?"

Deegan unlocked her shackle.

What are you doing?

I'm going to tell her who I am.

Well, then I guess I am, too. Duman lifted the pink canopy away, leaving a four-poster frame behind.

They climbed into the bed. He lay on her right. Duman on her left.

"Kinky." Alix squirmed between them, but no matter which way she moved, some curvy part of her rubbed against some hard part of one of them.

This might be trickier than he thought. Deegan closed his eyes and willed strength to resist her. Her bare arm brushed his. Lust and magic shot straight through him.

"Stop wiggling around like a hooked fish, or this is going to veer into a direction I wasn't planning on."

"Amen." Duman muttered.

She stilled. "Sorry. But you have to admit, this bed isn't meant for three."

"Just relax. We'll be like a big pile of kittens."

Her snort meant she didn't see them as kittens, but she settled with her backside curved against Duman's front, head on Deegan's chest.

"Okay. Tell me."

Deegan had a tiny niggling of doubt. Even Hatter didn't know everything he was about to tell Alix. But if the Twice This Alice was the Right Alice, they needed her on their side, and it was only fair as a kidnapper accomplice that he risked something first.

"Our true names aren't Deegan and Duman. That's what the Queen called us when we met her."

Magic burst from Deegan's palms. He held them up, lighting the room like dawn was breaking. "My name was Arsu, the Morning Star."

Duman lifted his glowing hands. Sunlight dimmed and stars appeared on the ceiling. "I was Azizos, the Evening Star. Once, we were gods. Now you know something about us that no one else does. Please use the names the queen gave us. No one else knows our true names and we don't want the queen to find them out."

Alix tore her eyes from the magic and sat up to face them. "That was amazing." She gave each of them a solemn nod. "I won't say a word. I promise. I never thought about it before. That everyone here had a life before they came to Wonderland. I know the girls in my family are kidnapped, but how did you come to live here?"

"We traveled for a while after our followers stopped believing in us." Deegan tugged her down to take her place between himself and Duman. Having her close, touching her, felt like a balm over what was left of his fragile magic. "The energy of Wonderland used to be what attracted others here, not the White Rabbit kidnapping girls. Hatter was here before us. We joined the Queen's court when we arrived, but after your previous visit, she banished us. It was either that, or off with our heads. You know how she is."

"Is she so horrible? She seemed... A bit off from what I remember. I don't know, but more ridiculous, maybe? Is she really dangerous? What about the King? Can't he stop her?"

Duman laughed scornfully. "What do you remember?"

"Not much. But she seemed to listen to the King when they ran the trials. What changed?"

"After you left, he abandoned the Queen and started his own court. Now she rules the south hedge maze, him the north. She tried to make us her consorts, but we didn't want to fuck her. We barely escaped the maze, and Hatter gave us refuge. She lost it and killed him. That's when his six changed to a seven."

Alix stiffened between them. "So he was telling the truth. This is his last life?"

"He's losing his mind, but he's not a liar." Deegan twined a long lock of her hair around his fingers. "Everything he says is the truth. It's just that things don't make sense to the rest of us."

Duman slid his hand down Alix's arm, making her shiver. "And the nine fades a bit more each day."

"What happens if Hatter dies? He told me when he dies, so will Wonderland, but what does that mean?"

Deegan spread her long hair over his chest. "We've been here for centuries, but Hatter… He's the heart of Wonderland. The Queen doesn't have a heart. If Wonderland becomes bound to her instead, there won't be anything wondrous about this place anymore. You've already seen part of what's happening in the clearing and to the tree."

"The magic is being drained," Duman added. "When our magic vanishes, our lights will go out. Hatter is all that stands between that fate and us." He and Duman held up their hands again. Their magic glowed, already fainter from their display earlier. "We won't last much beyond Hatter."

Alix stared at their hands. Tentatively, she raised hers. One palm slid against his, the other against Duman's. She intertwined her fingers with theirs.

Magic surged to him from Alix, lighting up every nerve in his body with hot energy and a desire to merge with her. To sink into her body and magic.

Deegan groaned. On Alix's other side. Duman sucked in a breath.

"Do you feel it, too, Alix? Do you want us?"

"I want you. Both of you. Does that seem strange? I feel like I've known you forever. Like you've been missing, and I've found you."

"That's your magic," Duman murmured.

"Yours has an energy that recognizes ours." Deegan had almost as much power as he had at his strongest. Their hands blazed with power now.

Deegan grabbed the hem of her top and tugged it over her head. The bra came off next. Cool air hardened the tips of her breasts. Duman reached for the button of her jeans, dragging them and her panties down her legs and throwing them on the floor.

Lifting her legs, Deegan slid her calves over his shoulders. “Open up a little more for me, Alix.” He nipped down her thigh to her pink pussy. She made a sound of rapture and rocked her hips up and down as his tongue laved across her clit in a swift and gentle motion.

Her hands went from fisting the bedding to threading through his hair, locking him in place when his tongue delved into her.

His twin kissed her mouth, palmed her breasts, rolled her nipples. Duman gave Alix’s breast a squeeze, and she moaned. "You like a little pain, do you?" his brother rumbled.

"Yes," she groaned, flinging her head back, eyes shut. Her hips rocked up and down. Any second now, she was going to come and he wanted to bring her to completion, but not yet.

Deegan lifted his head and she moaned in frustration. He teased her, heightening her excitement as he brought her nearly to climax again and again. Sweat sheened her skin.

He bent his head and licked her clit, teasing the erect nub while his finger slid into her, collected her abundant slickness, then stroked her tightest hole.

The stimulation caught her off guard and she stiffened, but didn't protest. He flicked his tongue over her clit. After a moment, her body eased into the caress and she moved her hips to take him deeper. He pushed his finger into her fully, letting her explore the new sensations.

“Do you like that?” Deegan asked.

“You know I do.” Alix licked her lips.

He added a second finger, stretching her.

His tongue twirled and flicked her clit as he pumped his digits. He smirked at Alix. “You'll enjoy the real thing even more.”

Deegan rose and stripped off his pants. "On your hands and knees, Alix."

Her choppy breathing moved her full breasts with each lungful of air. Her cheeks flushed as she moved into position and he knelt behind her. He stroked her back and the globes of her ass.

His body tensed as he slid his cock into her pussy and nearly lost himself in her, but his brother's impatience crackled along their twin connection. Using fast, deep strokes he coated himself in her slickness, then withdrew to press his tip to her ass.

He curled his torso slightly inwards, his abs rippled as he tried to maintain control.

Easy, easy, he told himself as the urge to possess her, to drive relentlessly into her warm, willing body, swelled within him. The tight muscles of her ass clenching just the head of his cock was almost too much as her hips rose and fell beneath him once more.

She turned her head and licked at his lips, asking for entrance. When he gave it to her, she lapped him up, sucking on his tongue and silently urging him to move. He took it as an assent and rocked his hips, slow at first — pulling his cock back until only his tip was inside her, then pushing in again with a smooth, firm motion.

Each thrust took him a bit deeper, filled with delicious, maddening friction, and drove him crazy.

She looked radiant as the magic bathing her hands lit her face in a silvery glow. He’d never felt anything like her, never experienced such control and yet an utter lack of it.

Alix could be his undoing, and he’d welcome every second of it. Her blue eyes were dazed with passion when they fluttered open to meet his. Her fingers dug into his thighs as her hips rocked against him. He slid his hands through her golden hair and bent his head to kiss her neck.




“You feel good. So tight.” Deegan pulled back and rolled his hips to work more of his cock inside. “Fucking perfect.” The praise warmed her. Alix blew out a slow breath and focused on her heartbeat. She could take him like this. She wanted to.

“That’s right. Relax.” Deegan kissed her neck. “You’re going to fit me like a glove.”

Alix sighed, loving his possessiveness. She wanted that, to fit him as if made especially for him. The last of her tension drained away, and more of his cock slipped inside her.

He paused, their bodies partially joined, and kissed her. Their tongues stroked slowly while he rocked farther into her. He stretched her with the short thrusts, each one taking him deeper.

The movement of his mouth over hers urged her to relax and allow him to claim her body. It was an assault on her senses she couldn’t resist. She widened her legs as far as they’d go, welcoming his possession.

With one more steady push, he joined them fully. “Fucking perfect.” He hung his head and panted. “Knew you would be.”

The strange, full sensation wasn't unpleasant. Instead it woke nerves inside her, and she ached for him to move.

Duman sucked her nipple hard. Energy zinged through her, and her clit pulsed as if he had his head between her thighs. Each drag of his mouth on her breast caused an equal pull on the sensitive bundle of nerves. Tingles zipped from the hardened tip to her core.

She squirmed, needing his attention on her clit but unwilling to lose the sensation of his lips on her breast.

Ripples of her orgasm traveled along her core. She reached for ecstasy. Her eyes rolled back in her skull. Her heart rate sped up and her breathing hitched.

The sensation of a mouth on hers and on her neck at the same time, plus hands everywhere, and their magic intertwining drew her pleasure out, then started anew. She rode a roller coaster of bliss, cresting one wave to fall and rise again.

"Too much. Please," she pulled her mouth from Duman's urgent kisses. "It's too much." Alix dropped her gaze to the bulge in Duman's leather pants. "I want to touch you now."

“It looks like our woman wants to taste you.”

“I will if you want me to.” Alix licked her lips, her eyes on his midsection.

Deegan gave her a nudge. "Lean forward for him."

Although Duman's dick twitched at her words, he shook his head. “You don’t have to…” He stopped mid-sentence as he watched her comply with Deegan's instruction, taking her bottom lip between her teeth as she watched him.

“I want to.” Alix put her hands on his thighs as she positioned herself. She touched the head, gently running her finger across the drop of pre-cum on the tip. She leaned forward, and her tongue followed the line of her fingers.

She marveled at the taste and smell of him as she ran her tongue across one of the veins. His hands fisted in her hair but he didn’t direct her, content to allow her to explore him. She ran her tongue around the rim of the head, and then moved downwards.

Duman kept his eyes on her as she licked her lips before closing her mouth over his tip. He ground his teeth, and fisted his hands at his sides. She sucked more of him into her mouth and a strangled sound was torn from him.

Her fingers gently massaged his balls, making him twitch.

“Are you almost done teasing me?” He looked down at her.

She smiled at him and slid his whole cock in her mouth, relaxing her throat as she tried to take the length of him. When it became too overwhelming, she eased back. He swelled even more in her hand.

“Damn,” he ground out, and groaned as she took his cock back into her wet mouth as far as it would go.

One of her hands played with his balls while the other fisted him at the base. His breathing turned ragged as she picked up the pace. She loved the way he groaned when she touched him. She felt so in control.




Her hot, wet mouth felt heavenly on him, and her pink lips looked amazing stretched around his girth. Her breasts swayed and jiggled as she bobbed up and down on him.

The sweet scent of jasmine tea and Alix's arousal called to him. He needed to bring her to climax more than anything.

Growling, he tugged her up before she could suck him dry, ignoring her protest. He dropped to his knees and closed his mouth on her swollen clit. Her eyes were glassy as she watched him lower himself towards her pussy.

Alix bucked her hips wildly against him. She moaned throatily as her little hands fisted his hair. Duman felt the light vibration against his mouth as he suckled on her throbbing flesh. She mewled, then stiffened before groaning throatily.

Her eyes flew open and her back arched. He clamped down harder on her hips to keep her in place and kept up the pressure on her clit until she went boneless against his twin.

Deegan chuckled. She can't take much more, brother.

She's perfect for us. She can take whatever we give her.

Duman pinched and tweaked her nipples until Alix moaned and writhed, bowing her back to get deeper contact. He needed to keep in mind that she liked a bit of pain.

He'd never been so turned on in all of his life. Alix was focused on him, rocking her hips trying to get him to hurry. She writhed and whimpered.

He stood and pressed his rigid erection against her slick entrance. She raised herself, and he guided her down, penetrating her slowly, then burying himself to the hilt. The angle he achieved with her astride his lap was intense, especially with his brother already inside her.

Alix rocked back with an ecstatic moan, turning her head to look over her shoulder at his brother, then down at the strong hands cupping her breasts, then farther to where his dick entered her depths.

His fingers moved to clench the soft flesh of her thighs, and he held her still as the three of them adjusted to the intensity of their union.

Duman wasn’t going to last very long at all. Her nipples were the perfect shade of pink. Her pussy was like heaven. The magic flowing among them woke instincts he hadn't felt in years.

He pulled back, teasing her opening with his tip as he kissed her neck, letting the anticipation build. She clutched his shoulders as he pushed inside, his body shuddering as she enveloped him.

They fit together perfectly, like she was made for them, and he slid his arms beneath her, holding her tight as he moved. She moaned, the sound so erotic he lost himself in the moment.

She moved with the tempo he and his brother set. One pushing deep as the other pulled back, then changing places inside her.

Her hips moved in time with their thrusts, and as she cried their names again, he found his release. It was impossible to stop. Stars danced around the edges of his vision, his blood humming with ecstasy.

The pleasure hit in hard waves that had him growling deeply and viciously. He didn’t think it possible, but Duman came even harder, his growl turned into an all-out snarl.

Magic ran through him, full to bursting.

Maybe Hatter hadn't been insane to bring her here. For the first time, there was hope.





Alix sipped her apple juice, watching Duman work in the kitchen to prepare breakfast sandwiches on sourdough toast with four kinds of cheese, scrambled eggs, and bacon. There were sides of hash browns, fruit, and cottage cheese.

"I'm going to put on fifty pounds."

"We'll work it off you." Deegan bounced his eyebrows and leered at her.

She laughed. Her body ached in all the best ways from their last workout.

Duman brought plated sandwiches to the table and took his seat.

An uproar of crashing furniture and shouts carried from the clearing. "There's another fight." Deegan sighed and kissed Alix's forehead.

Durman kissed her cheek. "We'll be right back."

They'd only been gone thirty seconds before Dormouse's tousled head appeared over the back of the couch. She slouched into a chair, picked up half of Deegan's sandwich, and shoved it into her mouth.

Dormouse still made Alix's skin itch, but if she stayed awake long enough, maybe she would be more forthcoming than the boys. While she'd learned a great deal about Deegan and Durman, she was no closer to figuring out how to help Hatter, and therefore save Wonderland.

"How long have you lived here?" Alix dabbed at her mouth with a napkin.

"In Wonderland. Or with Hatter?" The disheveled girl devoured another huge bite of Deegan's breakfast.


Dormouse shrugged. "Time doesn't move the same way for us."

A neat evasion. Truth, but no answer. "What's the deal with Harlan?"

"Stay away from him."

Again, not exactly a newsflash. Dormouse wasn't the best conversationalist with her paucity of words, but her tone spoke volumes. She was possessive of Harlan, although he'd certainly not given Alix any clue he cared one whit about anybody, except maybe Hatter.

"What can you tell me about Hatter?"

"He's nicer than most, most of the time." She finished Deegan's breakfast, folded her arms, and went to sleep.

Alix gave up. Dormouse was a dead end. "You know, for all of you needing my help to save this place, none of you seem to want to give me what I need to do it."

The question of how to fix Hatter's mind nagged at Alix. Why did they think she could do it? More to the point, why did they think a seven-year-old girl could do it?

Maybe she needed to get back to basics. A tea party was how she'd met Hatter when she was seven. There wasn't any tea anymore, but this was Wonderland. If there was ever a place where a tea party didn't require actual tea, this was it.

Alix jumped up and paced, adjusting her steps to avoid missing floorboards and jutting nails. The more she thought about it, the more the idea seemed to fit. Did most seven-year-olds have actual tea at their tea parties?

No. It was pretend. Imaginary. Stuffed animals and dolls as attendees. They couldn't drink tea even if it was real.

The White Rabbit, and now Hatter, kept bringing seven-year-old girls to Wonderland. A tea party seemed like an idea a seven-year-old would have.

The twins returned, still lacking their shirts, putting their tattoos and muscles on full display.

Deegan frowned at his empty plate and Dormouse, shrugged, and took Duman's seat.

Duman rolled his eyes and returned to the kitchen.

"I think we need to have a tea party," Alix announced.

Deegan jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. "There's a tea party every day."

"Those are more like mosh pits." Alix shook her head. "No. A proper tea party. With decorum, cups and saucers, little crustless sandwiches, and tea cakes."

Duman paused his breakfast preparation. "You know we don't have any tea."

Alix raised a single shoulder. "Is it a rule there has to be tea at a tea party? Because if it is, I don't know it, so it doesn't apply to me."

"A tea party with no tea." Deegan nodded as he chewed. "That sounds mad, and no Alice has tried that before. It could work."

"Perfect." If only she knew what was meant to happen at a tea party. After her trip to Wonderland, Alix never had one of her own. She should have paid more attention when she'd attended Alyss' tea parties.

Madness of the Hatter, Chapters 5-7



The house was decaying around them, but the food was excellent. Last time she’d come here, she’d only eaten tea cakes and biscuits. If they served meals like this all the time, her stay in Wonderland might not be so bad. It was nice to enjoy something delicious she didn’t have to cook for herself.

Ever since Father sent Mother away, Alix had become the caretaker of the household, responsible for cooking, cleaning, laundry, and whatever else needed doing. Father was useless on the best of days and got worse all the time.

But he had money, and that let him hide any number of eccentricities from the outside world.

Dormouse plowed through her breakfast like she hadn’t seen food in days, then pushed the plate away, folded her arms on the table and passed out.

Something about Dormouse felt off. Her attitude tried too hard not to care, and she made Alix's skin itch like an allergy. Alix had vague memories of a story about treacle, but Dormouse hadn't given her the heebie-jeebies before.

“Why do you guys bring the girls in my family here?”

Deegan resumed rubbing circles on her back. “Finish eating, Alix. Hatter will be here soon. He’ll explain what he wants you to know.”

“What he wants me to know may not be what I need to know.”

She had no intention of staying here any longer than she had to. Where was the White Rabbit? She’d agreed to come here to help, not to play games. If that’s all this was, she owed Hatter nothing. If she could get out of this house, she could find the White Rabbit, and he could get her home.

As far as she was concerned, he owed her that.




Hatter opened his eyes and looked out his window. He always did. It was morning, and the sun was up. Not that it mattered.

It was always six in the evening for him, no matter the time of day for everyone else. He felt the sun on his skin, but it never appeared in the sky for him anymore.

Always tea time.

Always evening.

He hadn’t seen the sun since the Queen cursed him to forever tea time.

That, in itself, wouldn't have been so bad.

Then she'd robbed him of tea.

Crows with white beaks and red feet flew through the air carrying pebbles and twigs that they dropped into the ocean, calling jingwei as they returned to shore for more things to throw at the sea.

What the ocean had done to them, he didn't know, but it wasn't any of his business.

Even in his insanity, he knew they’d never fill the ocean, but they tried anyway. It was a good example for him.

But what had awakened him now? As a rule, he liked to sleep late. That rule definitely applied to him. Then he knew. It was Alix. He could feel her in his house. She felt like something new in a day that repeated over and over.

Maybe she was the Right Alice, even though she was the Wrong Alice. Fuck knew he’d tried the Never Right Alices often enough.

On one hand, he wanted to see this one. She made him feel sane.

In a flash of complete sanity, he remembered what he was fighting for. Unlike the rest of the visitors and invitees, he couldn’t remember a time before Wonderland. He had always been here — in a Wonderland that belonged to him, before the Queen of Hearts came.

But sanity was also why he didn’t want to see Alix. Being sane meant he was thinking clearly, and when that happened, he knew he was about to die.

Hatter rose from the bed, entered the bathroom, and rushed through a shower. His wardrobe took up one wall. Sometimes, he wished he could climb in and go somewhere else, but no matter how many times he checked, there was never an escape that way. He opened the doors and examined his suits.

Today felt like a black day. With maybe a hint of stripe.

He pulled on his suit, vest, and boots. Knives in his boots, and sword at his hip, he drank from his flask and tucked it into a pocket.

Blades on the outside. Booze on the inside. It was important to get those things in the correct order or there was a mess.

Almost ready.

His pocket watch gleamed from inside the wardrobe, dangling on a hook from its chain. He reached for it, closed his hand around it, feeling its weight in his palm.

If the Twice This Alice was the Right Alice, maybe time would tell. Flicking the case open, Hatter studied the watchface. Six on the dot. He turned the knobs to wind the watch, and held it to his ear. Time stood still. Frustrated, he shook the timepiece.

Time still stood still, even with the vigorous application of outside force.

Well. Even a stopped watch, because it wasn't a stopwatch, was correct twice a day. Except for his watch, because it was only ever tea time.

A pain stabbed into his skull behind his left eye. Keeping track of time gave him a headache, because time should fly. He tucked the watch into its pocket and turned his attention to more reasonable accessories.

What hat to wear today?

He settled on his black top hat. Last time he'd seen the Twice This Alice, the hat tag read 10/6. Now it read 10/9. Last chance.

That was what had made him reckless enough to break the tradition. Try something new. At this point, all he had left to lose was his last life.

It was time to see the Little.


He'd definitely get a punch to the nose if he kept calling her Little.

The door slammed open and the March Hare marched in.

Hatter wished he could nudge himself with an elbow, but wiped the smile off his face instead. Harlan wouldn’t appreciate the joke. Then again, Harlan didn’t appreciate anything.

It was hard to blame the man. He had his own problems. Who didn’t? But his were larger, darker, and hungrier than most.

Harlan gave him a once-over. “You look like shit.”

So much for all the effort. “Thanks. That’s what I was going for.” Hatter slipped the flask out and took a deep pull of whiskey.

Harlan pointedly stared at the silver flask.

“It’s not tea time somewhere,” Hatter muttered, tucking the flask away. “How is our Little?”

“Tall. You should have let me get the girl. You’re so far gone, you brought us the wrong one. You couldn't tell which one was seven?”

“The other one would have done us no good if you scared her to death with one touch.”

Harlan ignored that. “You need to get down there.”


“The twins are being nice.”

“That’s what they do. Have you terrified her already?”

Harlan's silence was answer enough.

Hatter resisted a sigh. No point in blaming Harlan. He barely had control on the best of days, and he was right. Duman was an excellent cook, but there was only so much comfort even the most comforting food could offer after a touch from Harlan.

Their heavy boots echoed on the ramp as he and Harlan wound down one level. No one lived at the top of the Tea House except for him.

The scent of coffee sent a spike straight into his heart and froze him in his tracks. It didn't matter that tea was not an option. The scent of coffee was a reminder of failure and everything he still stood to lose.

The Tweedle-Comma-Ds laughed. Resentment at missing out on the joke got Hatter's feet moving.

Dormouse slept at the kitchen table. Alix sat on the living room sofa, the twins on either side of her. Deegan had a hand on her leg. Duman rubbed her back.

Jealousy sent hot rage through him. She was here to help him, not flirt with the Tweedle-Comma-Ds.

Alix glanced up as he stepped into the room, her smile freezing on her face. He stared at her. Most people couldn't meet his gaze for long.

The Twice This Alice did.

“Get up.”

She hesitated, looking to the twins for something. Reassurance that he wouldn’t hurt her, maybe.

“They can’t help you. Get up.”

Rolling her eyes, she stood. "I agreed to come here and help. You don't need to play power trip games. They aren't likely to put me in a helpful mood. Don't forget which of us need who more."

They fell into glaring at one another again.

“Just do what he says.” Tweedle-Comma-Duman gave her a little push to start her across the room. “Play nice.” He said the words in a light tone, but the warning was real, and directed at him rather than Alix.

Hatter led the way down the ramp. At the bottom, he avoided the ongoing party and turned away from the hedge maze. That was the Queen's territory.

Skirting the woods, he walked down the trail to the beach. The others avoided this place, and the noise of the waves masked conversations.

On the sand, he faced Alix. A breeze blew her blonde hair across her face. He reached up to tuck the stray strands behind her ear, but paused when her eyes blazed blue fire.

He dropped his hand. “You were only here for a short time before, and hopefully, it can be that way again. But while you are here, you are mine, and have no other place to go.”

Alix threw her hands in the air. “Coming here was a mistake. Offering to help you was a mistake. In fact, why should I help you if all I'm going to get is heavy-handed neanderthal behavior? Either tell me what you want, or I’m going to do everything I can to make this hard on all of you until I can get out of here."

“You will help.” Harlan’s darkness spread over the pale sand toward Alix as he stepped out of the woods.

She backed away.

“Harlan.” That wasn't going to help the conversation at all, and he was more than perfectly capable of miscommunicating with a woman on his own.

Hatter wasn't the only one getting worse. He was about to die, but Harlan died a little every day.

The darkness touched Alix's bare toes, and she whirled to run.

Harlan's eyes went solid black. His skin ripped along his arms and chest.

Hatter removed his flask from his pocket. If he was going to have to chase Alix, may as well start off not thirsty. He took several long pulls and though he had scant magic left, he summoned it all, just in case he had to put his friend down.




Panic subsided as Alix faced away from Harlan. What was wrong with him? What was that darkness?

She chanced a look over her shoulder. Rips opened along the scars on Harlan’s chest, like something lived inside him and was trying to escape by tearing through his skin.

That was even more terrifying than the icy touch.

Hadn’t she offered to help? Come to Wonderland of her own free will? Nevermind that they'd shackled her after she'd arrived. Why did they have to play this game with her?

That’s what it was. A game. And she was losing. Giving that asshole trying to scare her exactly what he wanted.

Alix spun back around so abruptly8 Harlan took a step back. She hadn’t learned to defend herself so she could act like a quivering miss.

A black tendril reached for her. Her ire up, she batted the loathsome thing aside. "Stop that," she snapped. "Keep your… tentacles to yourself, or I'll be tempted to lop off anything that dangles."

Hatter choked and sputtered, sending a mouthful of booze all over the sand.

Placing a hand on Harlan's chest, she gave him a shove. At least, she intended to. Her palm stuck to his chest like a magnet held her in place.

Beyond the terrifying darkness threatening to engulf her, Harlan the man reached back to her. His hand, free of darkness, closed over hers.

The now familiar achy desire filled her. Lust sent a heated tingling through her. Goosebumps spread over her skin.

Harlan the man was trapped inside whatever this thing was. Loneliness and hopelessness made her heart ache.

The hand on hers squeezed her wrist and tore her palm away. Snarling, Harlan released her and sprinted into the trees.

Stunned by the sudden separation, Alix watched Harlan reach the treeline. An urge to help the man trapped in that abyss propelled her after him.

"Hey! Come back!" She dashed into the woods, but in those few seconds, he'd disappeared.

Clenching her fists, she stomped back to Hatter. “Where is he?”

“He’s taking a break.”

“I’d like to give him a break. Starting with his nose.”

Hatter went perfectly still for a moment, then laughter erupted from him. He laughed so hard the strange birds dropping rocks and sticks into the sea went silent and flew higher.

“What’s so funny?”

“It’s normally Harlan threatening people, not the other way around. In fact, I don’t remember anyone threatening him. At least, not in years. And you chased him!”

“Well, he was being a dick, and we weren't done.”

“He has his reasons. I can't explain him. He's not himself, you see.”

“I haven’t done anything to him! Why try to scare me?”

“If it makes you feel better, he can’t control it.”

“No. It doesn’t make me feel any better.” If he couldn’t control it, there was no way to stop it. What if he went too far and killed her before she could help him? What if that man lost inside him vanished? “And what exactly is it?”

“His story, not mine.”

Hatter didn’t meet her eyes when he spoke, so that probably wasn’t true. He just didn’t want to talk about it. Maybe one of the others would.

"And you guys seriously wonder why no one can help you? Try not playing games, and giving me a straight answer or some useful information."

He took several swigs from his flask and slipped it into his pocket. “Here’s what you need to know. The first Alice broke something, and we need it repaired.”

Finally, some useful information. “Great. What did she break?”

“My mind.”

All the rage in her rushed out on a single exhale. Her ancestor had made him mad? "I don't suppose you know how to repair your mind."

"Actually, sometimes I do." Hatter walked back up the trail.

Alix ran to catch up. "Right now?"


She sighed. "Of course not." Why make anything simple? “The tag on your hat has changed. What does that mean? It was 10/6 when I was seven years old. What does 10/9 mean?”

“It means this is my last chance. When I die, so does Wonderland.” Hatter headed for the ramp. "That's all you need to know."

Stunned for the second time by a man who walked away from her, it took Alix a second to run after him. "Hey! We're not finished talking."

"We are." Hatter refused to say anything else as they climbed the ramp and entered the house. "Keep her safe," he ordered the twins, and slammed a door in her face.

Duman and Deegan led her back to the pink room and locked the chain around her ankle. There was no point in fighting at the moment. She didn’t miss the way their eyes darkened when they chained her up.

“We’re around if you need us.” Deegan gave her a small smile and winked.

What she needed was a break from the insanity. She nodded, and they left.

Now that she was alone, her anger drained away, and delayed terror and adrenaline aftermath sent her limbs trembling.

What had she been thinking, chasing after Harlan? What did she have to prove to him? To any of them?

She focused her thoughts on what she had to do. Fix Hatter's mind. Why did she think she could? What was her best play here? She was no therapist. How was she supposed to repair Hatter’s mind?

Being chained up wasn’t going to help. She had to make them trust her and get free. She didn't feel like Hatter or the Tweedles meant her harm. Even Harlan, the man, didn't want to hurt her. But she needed to be able to move around Wonderland to figure out what was going on.

Make a plan.

Take action.

If only she knew what the first step was.


Madness of the Hatter, Chapters 3-4



Alix woke with the sense something was wrong, but not sure what. She listened for her cousin. Alyss was always an early riser, stomping around the house when she thought she was being quiet.

That was the problem. It was too quiet. She opened her eyes.

And… pink. A swath of material overhead was cotton candy pink.

Wonderland. She was back.

And her body felt light. Had Hatter drugged her? She thought back to their encounter. No drugs. That kiss, though… Her eyes fluttered shut. His hand between her legs..


The part of Wonderland that she'd kept locked away had rampaged over her when she touched Hatter, and only increased the more contact they had.

The silver streaks had mesmerized her with their dance in the air, then they'd landed on her. First the sensation was only a tingling sensation over her skin, but it had quickly escalated into heat, and slammed straight into lust.

Lust that latched onto Hatter and wouldn't let go. Her seven-year-old self had laughed and thrown herself into the magic. The girl disappeared, and the magic exploded.

There was magic in her now.

She opened her eyes to find a shirtless man staring down at her. Not Hatter. Long blond hair. Violet eyes. Muscles and tattoos from his fingertips to his shoulders, then down his chest to his abs.

One of the Tweedles.

And where there was one, the other was sure to be close by. Had the Hatter brought her to the Queen of Hearts? Why would he do that? Last time she’d seen them together, the Queen had been ready to execute him.

“Good morning, Little.”

"Don't call me that."

Her waspish tone didn't bother him. He grinned. "Good morning, Twice This Alice."

He was too hot to stay angry at, especially when he smiled and flashed a mischievous dimple at her. “Good morning... Which Tweedle are you?”

“I’m Deegan.”

“Good morning, Deegan. You can just call me Alix. I’m not Alice, or little anymore.” She sat up and swung her legs off the bed, rattling the chain attached to her ankle. “The chain is kinky.”

“It’s for your protection.”

“Am I in great danger of being attacked by a key in search of a lock?”

Deegan whipped his head from side to side, glancing around wildly as he struck a fighting pose, fists raised like he'd defend her. Or protect that pretty face of his. "Are you?"

Despite herself, Alix laughed.

He grinned. "That's more like it. I like you better when you're happy."

She rattled the chain again. "I'd be happier if I wasn't chained up."

“It’s not safe to wander in Wonderland.” Deegan ran a hand through his hair. "Sorry."

"I can protect myself." Her hands went to her pockets. Gone. All her weapons were gone. Well, even then, she wasn't defenseless.

"Hatter thought it best if you didn't have ready access to things able to harm us."

“She’s awake!” The other Tweedle bounded into the room. “Do you remember us?”

The twins, seen through her adult eyes, looked like trouble.

The fun kind of trouble.

“Things are coming back to me. If he’s Deegan, you’re Duman, right?”

“I am. How are you? Apparently, you had quite the fall.”

“I don’t remember that part.” Her throat hurt. Had she screamed the whole way down? Her head ached. No, she couldn’t have screamed, because she'd passed out. She’d volunteered to come. There was no reason to chain her to a bed. “That arrogant, over dressed —”

“Something to drink?” Duman turned to a pitcher on the nightstand and filled a glass. “We have plenty of water.”

Her eyebrows rose as she caught sight of the crossed daggers at the small of his back.

“What, no tea?” She needed her weapons if everyone else was carrying them..

Their faces fell.

“Tea is… hard to come by." He held out the glass. "We have water, wine, juice, and even… coffee.”

Coffee? That word was never meant to be uttered in Wonderland. Tea is hard to come by? That was all they drank the last time she was here.

Cool water soothed her sore, dry throat, and she handed the empty glass back.

This was the same room she used when the White Rabbit brought her to Wonderland. The bedding was soft and pink, and the pink wallpaper patterned with teapots. The armchair, table, dresser, throw rugs, and curtains were pink, too.

It nauseated her. Hopefully, she wouldn’t be here long.

The window gave her a view of the clearing, and a long table where the tea parties took place. The grass was brown, and the table sagged in places. A thick forest and the hedge maze were green.

People sat around the long table, but it didn't seem like the attendees were drinking tea. It was a wild affair, with people listing in their seats, shoving each other, gesticulating wildly, and laughing.

Were they… drunk?

Deegan sat on the edge of the bed as footsteps clomped down the hallway. “We’ll try to protect you.”

“Do keys wear boots and walk purposefully?” Her joke fell flat as the twins stared at one another, then at the door.

The March Hare was bulkier than the Tweedles and Hatter, and darkness emanated from him in waves as he stormed into the room. What happened to him? He used to be the bashful one. She’d never felt threatened by him before, but he worried her now.

He'd also lost his shirt somewhere. Scars adorned his torso. Long, deep scars that hadn’t healed well.

“The Latest Little is finally awake.” His unemotional voice sent a chill over her, but if she’d learned anything in Wonderland before, it was that being afraid didn’t get her anywhere.

“It’s Alix.” She tried to sound bored.

The March Hare stepped farther into the room. Darkness expanded like wings on his back, flowing over the floor and walls to form icy claws that closed around her.

Terror swamped her. A scream welled up inside her, but she didn't have enough air to give it voice. What had happened to him? What was he doing to her?

“Leave her alone.” Deegan shoved to his feet.

Her heart thrummed rapidly and her lungs felt too small. All she could do was stare into empty black eyes, unable to even blink.

“Harlan.” Duman growled, shifting to stand next to his twin, between her and the March Hare.

The darkness receded as Harlan turned away. His heavy footsteps went back down the hallway.

Alix fell back against the bed, her whole body limp. “What the bloody hell?” She wiped at her eyes, helpless to stop tears spilling down her cheeks. "What just happened? What happened to him?"

“He’s… different now.”

No shit.

Duman slid an arm under her shoulders and helped her to sit up. “Come with us. I’ll make you breakfast.”

“I don’t think I can eat right now.” Acid churned in her stomach and her body trembled with the aftershocks of those icy shadow claws on her skin.

“You haven’t had my cooking yet.”

Deegan held out a key. “Look. This one won’t even attack you.” He unlocked the manacle, and the twins pulled her to her feet.

She should protest their manhandling her as they extracted her from the bed, but their warm hands helped chase the terror and shaking from her limbs.

Flashes of Hatter's hands on her filled her mind. The same sort of heat and need filled her when the twins' fingers touched her bare skin. A surge of achy desire and something deeper drew her to them. They could give her the release she needed to ease this wild build up in her body.

The loud cry of a bird cut through her trance. It was bad enough she'd had this sort of craving for Hatter, but for the Tweedles, too? Was she so desperate for male attention any of them would do?

Or all of them?

With monumental will, she pulled away and stood on her feet alone. The lust vanished. "I can walk."

She stalked out of the room.




Duman exchanged looks with his twin. What the hell was that between them and the Twice This Alice? Well, he knew what it was.


But how?

His blood buzzed with want, and it took all his effort to keep from touching her again. Deegan's hands twitched at his sides in the same battle.

Alix’s eyes roamed over everything as they led her down the hallway to the kitchen. Maybe she was checking for escape routes. She probably expected the shadows to attack her again, but Harlan had left to go wherever it was he went when he was about to lose his shit.

It mostly happened at night on full and new moons – the darkness enjoyed letting those it terrified see it coming as much as it did sneaking up on people in the black of night. For it to come out during the day, first thing in the morning… Not good.

Harlan on edge, put everyone on edge.

The Tea House wasn't as grand as it used to be. It decayed along with the tree it perched in. There were no tea leaves anymore. Brittle branches liked to snap off and drop on the unsuspecting heads of those below. They were all waiting for the day part of the house plummeted to the ground. It was only a matter of time.

Deegan led Alix to a chair at the table and rubbed her back as she sat. Duman had been in the middle of mixing waffle batter when he’d heard her voice. He picked up the spoon, added sugar, and resumed stirring.

Sugar made everything better. Even… coffee.

Deegan murmured something and got a laugh out of her. He was the funny one, and the best cure after a dose of Harlan.

The waffle iron was hot and ready for batter. It took only a few minutes to plate waffles, bacon, and eggs for the three of them. Duman served everyone and took a seat.

“Merry un-birthday, Alix. I hope you like waffles.” Something about Alix drew him in and he studied her face, wanting to see her eat the food he'd made for her. Maybe it was because she was a Twice This Alice. Adult Alice… Alix was magical.

“Thank you. I love waffles.” She picked up her fork and cut a triangle out of her breakfast, making sure the waffle was drenched in maple syrup before she lifted it to her mouth.

She closed her eyes and let out a moan as she chewed. His cock twitched at the sound. Her pink tongue slid over her lips to lap at the syrup left behind. That’s what happened, but what he imagined was her lips wrapped around his shaft as that tongue licked his length.

He could watch her eat waffles and lick sticky syrup off her lips all day. He could lick syrup off her —

You and me both, Deegan thought. The two of them didn’t just share looks.

They shared thoughts and women, too.

Alix cut another triangle of waffle and swirled it through syrup. Duman fastened his gaze on her lips as her fork rose.

Deegan diverted it to his mouth instead.

Fantasy ruined.


Deegan gave Duman a smirk.

Alix elbowed Deegan hard in the ribs. "If you steal my food again, I will happily murder you." She aimed her fork at Deegan's eye as she spoke in a menacing tone.

Deegan's jaw fell open, transferring the smirk from him to Duman.

Like nothing occurred, Alix took a slice of bacon from Deegan's plate and ran her tongue along a rivulet of maple syrup dripping from its length.

Fantasy restored.

"The Little is here. We’ve never had a repeat visitor before." Dormouse heaved herself up from the sofa. Her wrinkled t-shirt and cargo shorts hung on her tiny body, and she was missing one orange sock. Her mousy brown hair always had bedhead, which wasn't so surprising since she was forever falling asleep.

They'd named her Dormouse, which sounded nicer than Doormat, which was what she was. When she was awake, she did everything they said. She also had an unhealthy obsession with Harlan, which sometimes changed her name to Doornail. As in Dead As A, but somehow she survived.

“My name. Is Alix.” The Twice This Alice snarled.

Dormouse slunk to the table and slouched into the chair next to him. She never walked anywhere. When she moved, it looked like her body was reaching from where she was to where she wanted to go, and she managed to produce exactly enough energy to make it only that far. She stole a slice of bacon from his plate. Duman pushed the whole thing to her.

“It’s nice to meet you, Alix,” Dormouse mumbled through a mouthful of food.

Alix eyed her. “Is it?” That murder-y tone was back.

The twins exchanged a look. They didn’t like Dormouse either. She showed up one day and just stayed. Asking Hatter about her had resulted in a circular conversation about whether anyone had invited her, or if anyone had specifically not invited her.

But the twins had just shown up one day when they'd escaped the Queen of Hearts, so it wasn't their place to kick her out.

"So. Why am I here?" Alix crunched the bacon with an enthusiasm that had him reconsidering her mouth on his dick.

Deegan ate his breakfast mechanically. "For the same reason you were here before, only now it's more important."

"I saw Hatter carrying a sword, and you two have daggers. If there's danger, I want my stuff back."

“You’ll have to ask Hatter about that. He has your things. You'll be fine as long as you obey the rules. Do you remember them?”

Alix shook her head. “And I don’t want to know them. That way, they don’t apply to me.”

He grinned. So, she did remember some of the ways things worked around here. Maybe the Hatter wasn't so mad to bring her here.



Madness of the Hatter, Chapters 1-2



“I like that man’s hat. It’s shiny and tall like in the storybooks. Nobody wears a hat like that anymore.”

Heart suddenly pounding wildly, Alix scanned the pedestrians filling the street around them. “What man?” She squeezed Alyss’ small hand a little too tightly. “Where do you see him?”

“He’s just there.” A small finger pointed across the street.

Alix stared where Alyss pointed. People moved around a particular spot, like it was occupied. He had to be there. She remembered the last time she'd seen him. When she was seven, he'd worn a red suit and top hat.

Wonderland and its inhabitants didn't conform to rules of the normal world, and she couldn't protect Alyss' against an unseen threat. She would not let her cousin be taken.

Resigned, Alix imagined the locked door in her mind behind which she kept the part of her that had never left Wonderland. It might be more accurate to admit part of Wonderland had never left her.

An ornate, old-fashioned, brass doorknob elongated to reveal a keyhole. Alix imagined a shiny, golden key, inserted it into the lock, and turned it with a click.

What should have been an insignificant noise sounded like a thunderclap. She twisted the knob. The door opened an inch and stopped. Something giggled from the other side, and the door creaked open a little more.

A wild presence peeked around the edge of the door. Sensing freedom, it sidled out, little feet scuffing in tentative steps.

Oh, seven-year-old Alix said. We are much bigger now.

The older Alix struggled not to be overwhelmed by curiosity as her younger self whirled through their mind.

Hatter. She fought to keep her thoughts on target. We need to see Hatter.

We can't see him? the little Alix asked. Why ever not? He is quite tall. Not a mile high, but when he wears his high hat, almost!

Alix snorted. I'll give you six-and-a-half feet. Maybe seven with the hat. But how can I see him?

Then we must simply not believe it is not possible. How will we ever see six impossible things before breakfast if we simply cannot see them?

Trying to follow that way of thinking lay madness. With a mental shrug, Alix tried to take her own advice without thinking too much. Leaving her seven-year-old self free to roam made her nervous, but Alix might need her help again.

I don't believe I can't see him.

Alix focused her eyes on the place Alyss pointed. Across the street, the air shimmered like a heat mirage in the desert. Then, there he was.

Hatter stood in the previously empty space, watching them like a creepy pervert.

Well, to be fair, he wasn’t watching them.

His eyes were on the seven-year-old, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl at her side. Looks all the Liddle women shared.

A run-of-the-mill creep would be almost welcome.

Hatter was something else entirely, and far more dangerous.

A run-of-the-mill creep could be dispatched by a phone call to the police. They took even remote threats to young children seriously enough to at least ask a few questions and warn potential danger away.

There was no easy way to be rid of Hatter.

He stood out once she’d spotted him. His clothes were outdated. In a crowd of people dressed in trainers and dungarees, he wore an old-fashioned suit in dark blue, a matching tall hat, and a long high-collared black coat that reached the tops of his shiny black boots.

Straight red hair parted in the middle to frame his face. Piercing green eyes, that seemed old and young at the same time, returned her stare.

He was as huge as she recalled, well over six-feet tall, with broad shoulders. She’d thought that might be different now that she was grown up and not a seven-year-old girl forced to look up at everyone.

The sword sheathed at his hip was new. He hadn’t carried a weapon the last time she saw him. Not that she remembered, anyway. It had been nearly sixteen years since she’d been to Wonderland. Things must have changed.

On the crowded city street, people moved around him without paying him any attention, like they couldn’t see him, but somehow knew he was there. Acknowledging that he was aware she’d seen him, he touched his hat with two fingers in a salute to her.

“Come on Alyss.” Alix tugged her cousin’s hand and hurried her around the next corner. “Let’s get home. It looks like rain and I need to get dinner started.”

Her cousin lifted her face to the cloudless blue sky and raised an eyebrow. “After we get ice cream?” she bargained.

"Okay. Ice cream, then home." They'd planned to spend the day out, but now Alix had things to take care of. Hatter hadn't tried to talk to Alyss yet. They always tried to talk girls into going willingly at first.

Content with the new arrangement, Alyss nodded and let Alix pull her along the street.

Why had he come instead of the White Rabbit? That was who Alix had been keeping a watch for since her cousin turned seven a few days ago.

Every girl in the Liddle family disappeared soon after her seventh birthday. Sometimes it was only for an hour or two. When it was longer, the girls weren’t the same when they came back. If they returned.

A few never had.

Or so the legend went. The Liddle women spoke of the stories, but not the men. The fathersB, brothers, and sons in the family never saw anything.

Mother seemed to be fine until Alix turned five. Then the talk of white rabbits, smoking caterpillars, grinning cats, croquet playing queens, madness, and Hatter had begun.

Alix had spent her fifth year terrified to set foot outside the house. When she turned six, her mother had lost her mind, and taken to moving to a new place every month.

Think of it as turning over a new leaf, mother always said. It was her go-to-that-explains-everything adage.

When Father put his foot down, Mother left him and started locking Alix in closets. After a month of that, Alix had been willing to risk meeting one of the monsters if it would save her from being shut away by herself in a small, dark space.

A week after her seventh birthday, Father found them and sent Mother to a hospital for convalescence. He’d finally agreed with his wife that at least one person was mad.

Mother had never come home. In spite of all her precautions, on that same day, Alix had been taken to Wonderland, caught by the White Rabbit that Mother had warned her about.

She'd been curious at first, and followed the White Rabbit readily enough, but when she refused to go any farther, he hadn't hesitated to grab her and jump into the rabbit hole, taking her with him.

When Alix had returned, she’d been confused but unharmed, and made three resolutions.

The first — to never speak about what happened in Wonderland. It hadn’t been difficult. The more time passed, the more it all seemed like a fragmented dream she could barely remember.

The second — to never be taken anywhere against her will again. She’d taken multiple self-defense classes and paid attention to her surroundings. That Hatter could show up and she'd missed spotting him was worrying.

The third — to never have children, thinking that would end the curse the women of her family lived under.

Neither she, nor her father, had known about Mother’s sister, who lived across the pond. When she died under mysterious circumstances, they’d been contacted about a six-year-old girl who needed care. No father in the picture. Alix found herself in the position of needing to protect a small girl, but had no intention of duplicating the treatment she had received at that age.

Home-schooling, a bracelet with a GPS tracker embedded inside it, and no strangers at the house, were as far as she was willing to take things. Father went along, because unless things went to an extreme, he always went along with her requests. He didn’t like confrontation.

At the ice cream shop, Alyss happily ate a triple scoop with butterscotch and sprinkles while they sat at a table in the back that let Alix see the street but had no easy view inside.

No Hatter.

Better to be sure.

“Alyss, let’s play the spy game on the way home.”

Her cousin’s blue eyes lit up. She leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially in the loud tone children used when they thought they were being quiet. “I love the spy game.”

As far as Alix knew, kidnappers from Wonderland didn’t know how to drive. After ice cream, she ordered an Uber and took it to a shopping mall, where they went in one door and out another to catch a second car to the bus station, where they caught a taxi to go home.

As the black cab moved away from the curb, Alix bent to her cousin. “Did you see any suspicious characters?”

“Nope.” Blonde curls shook from side to side. “And I didn’t see anyone wearing the same clothes twice.”

“Good job. Me either.”

A sense of unease wasn’t so easy to leave behind.


Their three-story brick home sat in the middle of an estate that included woods and a stream. Father's family had money, and at one point, he'd thought Mother needed space. A formidable wrought-iron fence enclosed the whole property, and a state of the art alarm protected the house.

Alix made macaroni and cheese for her American cousin, delivered dinner to her father in his study, helped Alyss with her math homework, and went through the normal bedtime routine. When her cousin lay snugly tucked in bed, Alix turned off the lights and moved to close the curtains across the window overlooking the backyard.

Moonlight reflected off the shiny blue hat of the man standing at the black wrought-iron fence on the border of their property. She sighed. Of course he knew where they lived. But how? Unless they’d been somehow tracking Alyss before she moved in with them. Or… magic.

It was Wonderland, after all.

All the stories mentioned girls being taken from outside, and her mother thought being in the house was safe. Maybe rabbit holes only worked outdoors.

Alix closed the curtains and went into her room. She donned a jumper over her black jeans and hoodie pullover, then added pepper spray, brass knuckles, a folding knife, a stun gun, and a collapsible baton to her pockets.

Maybe it was overkill just to go outside, but better safe than sorry.

She debated retrieving the gun from the safe in the study, but Father was still in there. He didn’t pay attention to much, but he’d notice her opening the safe. What she had was probably enough to drive Hatter away for at least a night. There was time to get the firearm later.

A quick peek into Alyss’ room showed the girl sleeping peacefully in her bed. Downstairs, Alix shut off the alarm and slipped into the yard.

Should have asked Father to get a guard dog. Several big ones with extra sharp teeth.

One hand on her pepper spray, Alix walked across the yard with as much confidence as she could muster.

Hatter watched her approach, seemingly unconcerned. Up close, his five o’clock shadow emphasized his high cheekbones. The scent of freshly brewed apple tea and something wild wafted to her.

“Go away, Hatter.”

He gave her a smile she couldn’t interpret. Not quite smug, not quite genuine. “Little, we were friends last time we saw each other.”

Little. She’d forgotten the men in Wonderland called her that. It irked her. “I didn’t know better then.”

Hatter put a hand over his heart. “You wound me.”

“Just leave. Why do you need her anyway? From what I remember, it was a couple of days of eating cake and I was back home. If you ask me, there’s something wrong with a bunch of men who need to kidnap little girls to round out the numbers at their table.”

He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “You can let me take her with me, or I can take her with me. One way or another, I'm not leaving without my Little.”

“Or, you could take me.” The words startled her. Why had she said that? It had to be the influence of her seven-year-old self. The more she thought about it though, the more the idea appealed to her. What better way to stop the kidnappings than at the source? If she stopped Hatter here, someone else would come for Alyss.

“I’m not sure that’s in the rules.”

Alix laughed. “Are there rules in Wonderland?”

“If you understand them.”

“Excellent. Well, I don’t understand why I can't go in her place. So if that is that rule, then it doesn’t apply to me if understanding is the requisite.”

Hatter curved his lips in a sneer. Or maybe it was a smirk. “Very well. You can take her place, but we leave now.” He snapped his fingers and pointed to his feet. "Come, Little."

Alix would have gone without a fight, but snapping his fingers at her like she was some pet, and pointing at his feet like she should kneel or heel, snapped her temper.

She stepped toward the fence, drew her fist back, and launched a punch toward his nose.




Maybe he'd pushed the Little a little too far, but he couldn't help himself. She was so determined to be in control, and he'd wanted to see it slip.

He caught her fist in his hand right before it smashed into his nose. A jolt traveled up his arm from the impact. The Little wasn't fooling around. She was prepared to hurt him.

Beyond the physical touch, something else ran under his skin at the contact. A sense of sanity and himself returned to his broken mind. He hadn't felt this rational in hundreds of years.

And not only rational. Lust woke parts of him that had never been dormant as long as his sanity. He stared at her full, pink lips and imagined how soft her mouth would be when she yielded to his kiss. How soft all of her would be under him as he —

"Stop that." Her words were breathy.

He blinked. As his thoughts had turned from adversarial to sexy, his fingers had laced with hers, thumb stroking the pale skin of her wrist.

Alix tried to pull away from him, but he kept their hands together, not willing to fall back into madness. He had enough magic to show off a bit.

"If you're taking the little Liddle's place, we're leaving right now." He needed her. Felt it in his bones.

Among other places.

"But —"

Sending his magic out, he didn't believe in the fence, making it intangible, and pulled her through what she still saw as solid. Alix resisted, but he tugged harder. She gasped as she crashed into him and he held her against his body. He snapped his fingers again – this time to open the rabbit hole.

She tilted her head back and glared at him. "How are we going to get to Wonderland?"

Couldn't she see the rabbit hole behind him? He glanced over his shoulder to make sure he hadn't imagined it. The hole was there — a black hole burrowed into the earth.

This is why they didn't bring adults to Wonderland anymore. They were blind to what they didn't want to see. But Alix was different. She saw him.

She hadn't at first, but as soon as the little Liddle had pointed him out, Alix had seen him. Maybe that's what they needed — someone who saw the obvious when it was pointed out to her.

And there was something about her. She was fierce. Prepared to fight him for the little Liddle. They could definitely use another fighter.

He gave in. Lowering his head to the crook of her neck, he inhaled the citrus-y scent of his favorite tea.


When was the last time he'd smelled tea? Even longer since he'd savored the taste of it. Trailing his nose up her neck, he slid one hand to the back of her head to cup her nape, and kissed her.

Alix stiffened against him, hands pressing against his chest, her mouth opening, probably to yell at him some more. But he took it as an invitation and swept his tongue inside. Her hands stopped pushing, fingers curling into the fabric of his jacket. She moaned and he swallowed the sound.

The kiss grew wild as she turned aggressive. She licked at his lips, her teeth nipping not so gently as she pulled him toward her.

He went, bracing her against the now-solid-again fence and shoving his thigh between hers. Her hips moved against him, rubbing her sex over his muscled thigh.

Magic exploded under his skin, traveling from him over Alix. Eyes wide, she watched the silver tendrils whirling around her. All at once, the magic halted its dance and streamed into her body.

She arched, bowing her back, pushing her breasts into his chest. Alix moaned, moving frantically as she rode his thigh. "Need. I need —" Words failed her, devolving into a tortured groan.

"You need to come? You want me to make you come, Alix?"

She nodded.

Hatter unbuttoned her jeans, eased the zipper down, and slid his fingers into her panties. The blue of her eyes darkened as he ran his fingertips through the abundance of slickness between her legs.

Another pull on him. His magic. She was taking more from him.

"No, no, Little. Wrap your hands around the fence, spread your legs, and hold still." He needed some sort of control. Needed her to know the pleasure came from him. He wasn't just a means to an end for her to get off.

She snarled but obeyed. He penetrated her with two fingers. Making it slow. Making her feel him inside her.

His thumb made delicate circles over her clit. A touch she could feel. But not enough for her.

Alix growled at him. Actually growled at him. His cock hardened even more. Relenting, he added the pressure she needed as he thrust his fingers deeper inside her.

"Yes. More. Please. I need —"

"Eyes on me, Little." He kept his eyes open as he kissed her again. Her blue eyes swirled with silver and she tasted of magic. The kind of magic that had created Wonderland in the first place.

Primal. Wild. Ancient. Powerful.

Alix cried out into his mouth as her heated sheath clenched and rippled around his fingers.

The scent of tea thickened in the air until it coated his tongue and he nearly came along with her.

Hatter caught Alix as she lost consciousness, sweeping her into his arms like a bride. No way was he leaving her behind now.

He jumped into the rabbit hole and the Liddle became an Alice.

Hatter fell, already wondering if this was the right thing to do. Someone once told him the definition of insanity was to do the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome. But in Wonderland, things rarely happened twice with the same result, even when he wanted them to.

Plus, he was losing his mind, so if he was already insane, did it matter if he did the same thing over and over expecting things to be different?

If he did something different, would that make things the same?

Had anyone brought an adult into Wonderland recently? Most adults couldn’t see rabbit holes, White Rabbits, or Hatters, mad or otherwise, which is why only the young Alices would do.

It was a lot of work carrying a grown up Alice. She hadn’t seen the rabbit hole, so she couldn’t jump into it.

Which meant he had to jump for both of them.

This Alice didn’t look heavy, but her adultness weighed him down. It was taking forever to fall through the rabbit hole. If she was really heavy, sanity said they should fall faster, not slower.

Maybe his insanity was contagious as a Dormouse yawn and even falling could catch it.

Or, perhaps this Alice needed to have many un-birthdays, so she could be young again.

Although, he liked this older Alice. She was curvy and all woman. And off-limits.

He needed her for one thing, and —

His feet thumped into the earth as he reached the bottom of the rabbit hole. Taken by surprise, he stumbled, rolling them to bleed off momentum, ending with him sprawled atop her.

Pressed to her like this, it was difficult to remember the one thing he needed her for was not sex.

Hatter fixed her clothing, climbed to his feet, and shifted Alice in his arms, glad, for the moment, she wouldn't see what had become of his Wonderland.

The tree in front of them was dying. Had been for ages, but more rapidly lately. Its skeletal frame towered over them. Dried, cracked bark hung in strips, revealing bare patches of blackening trunk.

The grass in the clearing had dried and faded from green to brown. No one walked barefoot for fear the blades would cut their feet. A long rectangular table with high-backed chairs stood in front of a stagnant pond.

Hedges bordered the clearing to the east. Unlike the rest of the vegetation, their leaves were a vibrant green. A forest curved around the meadow to the north.

A wooden ramp wound around the tree to the top, where only the Invitees lived in the Tea House, because they were invited. The Hoi Polloi lived on the ground near the koi, as was only fitting.

Lanterns hung on the tree to light the way. There were more lanterns than tea leaves, and no one would have anything to read.

In the loft, the Invitees awaited. The pair of Tweedle-Comma-Ds, the March Hare, and the Dormouse. No one remembered inviting the Dormouse, but someone must have, because she was here, and no one remembered not inviting her, either. She slept through everything, anyway.

It was hard to keep track of how many Alices there had been. There was the current one, always called This Alice, who was never the Right Alice, which meant they always had to wait for the Next Alice. This Alice had already been This Alice, and not the Right Alice, and the Next Alice — twice.

The March Hare opened the door, but he was so big, he was like a door himself, if doors wore black leather, and had black hair and eyes. He took one look at the Alice, whichever Alice she was, and rolled his eyes as he stepped aside. Harlan didn’t like any of the Alices — once or twice.

The Tweedle-Comma-Ds sat at the kitchen table eating cake. Maybe it was an un-birthday cake. This Twice This Alice could be younger already.

And how many times had he told the Tweedle-Comma-Ds to wear shirts at the table? No one wanted to see all those muscles and tattoos. With as often as they lost their shirts, they should be finding the things all over the place.

He had told them to wear shirts, hadn't he? Well, if he hadn't, he'd meant to, and it was the thought that counted, wasn't it? Or perhaps only meaning to tell them made the thought an intention that would lead them to Hell.

Maybe the Tweedle-Comma-Ds should just not wear shirts.

Had he had that discussion before?

“Her room is set up.” Tweedle-Comma-Deegan jabbed a finger at the hall.

Glad the issue with shirts, or lack of them, was settled, Hatter carried the Twice This Alice down the hallway and into the room they saved for all the Alices.

It was pink and girlish, with a canopy bed and a round table with several chairs. The Twice This Alice might not like it. He lay her on the bed. She looked like she’d swallowed a Drink Me potion that made her big.

The Tweedle-Comma-Ds followed him, lingering in the doorway.

Hatter slid Alix's jacket off her arms. Something thunked to the floor. A folding knife. He went through her pockets, eyebrows raising as he lined up everything he found on the table. The Twice This Alice had more weapons than him. She was fierce and required careful monitoring, or she might actually kill one of them. He took off her boots and searched her for any other surprises

Running his hands over her body woke his lust once more. He wasn't so far gone he would force himself on her, especially unconscious. Besides, she seemed willing enough when she was awake.

"Watch her. Keep her safe."

The twins exchanged dubious looks, but nodded. They could do little against the biggest danger to her.

Tweedle-Comma-Deegan picked up a cuff attached to a chain bolted to the floor and clicked it shut around the Twice This Alice’s ankle.

Alix wouldn't like it, but Wonderland wasn't what it used to be. She couldn't recognize the dangers outside the Tea House. Or even the ones in it.

Weary, Hatter sank into a chair. He pulled a flask from his inner coat pocket, took a swig of whiskey, and leaned his head back, closing his eyes.

“This Little isn't as… little as I expected,” Tweedle-Comma-Duman said.

“She is the Twice This Alice.”

Duman blinked. “Never had one of those before.”

Hatter had used way too much magic, and whatever had happened between him and Alix left him drained. He needed sleep, and as much as he wanted to keep touching Alix, he had the sense he'd sleep too deeply close to her.

Standing, he swept Alix's collection of weapons into his hat. "Don't touch her."

“Is that a rule?” Tweedle-Comma-Duman frowned.

His twin frowned. “I don’t think we have rules for the Littles.”

The twins ogled Alix. "Of course, all the Littles were… little, before."

“Don’t fuck her.” He needed Alix to save him.

The Hoi Polloi women threw themselves at the twins all the time. They got enough attention. He didn't need them distracting Alix.

The twins exchanged another look. “That sounds like a rule,” they chorused.