Where Jervis Tetch was at that particular moment was the other side of Gotham, a good many miles away from the sewer that had initiated the voyage, as he opened the door to the run-down hat shop for the second time in as many days to allow his weary guest to enter.
Alice couldn’t even remember how they had got there, the nervous exhaustion from the whole ordeal having left her in a daze. She had been vaguely aware of exiting the underground labyrinth somewhere near the water front before taking some sort of boat from somewhere to somewhere else, part of the journey spent passing through a plane of sweet-smelling rushes that she had never known grew within the city limits. After that there might have been five minutes or two hours of walking, for all she could recall; some amount of drawing back into side-streets to avoid people distorting the time, but with the early night drawing in to their advantage nobody had given a second glance to the couple hurrying back to their lodgings in the December chill.
Now finding herself in a narrow, old-fashioned boutique, Alice fell into the first chair she came across, almost falling asleep against the radiator right there and then as her guide set to lighting a gas lamp. She blinked at it in bleary confusion as he explained something about the electricity still being shut off apologetically, unused buildings, something along those lines.
“Oh, that’s fine… Jervis, I don’t mind…” Her half-comprehending response cut itself off in a long yawn behind her damaged hand before she finally succumbed to sleep, her body and mind relapsing from the shock and exertion.
How many hours later she woke she couldn’t tell, save that it was light, and from the angle it was falling in across the bed she found herself in it must have been well past ten in the morning. Sitting up she rubbed her eyes, trying to process the most peculiar dream she’d just been having, when she realised her hand was wrapped up in something.
A sleep-smothered second of figuring out that it was not bedding as she’d supposed resulted in her blinking in mild confusion at the neat binding, the scent of ointment issuing from beneath the small bandage. Attempts to flex her fingers summoned a dull but entirely real pain which dispelled the last of her drowsiness, along with the remaining impression that what had happened had simply been a dream.
Looking around the unfamiliar room with its unfamiliar ceiling and unfamiliar curtains sent the revelation slamming home like a judge’s gavel; she hadn’t dreamt all that. She really had run away from home. She had run away from her husband by following a white rabbit to fall down a hole and escape underground to some unknown location with a notorious villain, a man condemned as insane as the product of her own influence on him; the Mad Hatter.
She sat back against the pillow, quite winded from the analysis.
“Jervis…” Straining her ears above the distant sound of traffic she could make out some sort of activity taking place downstairs. Looking down at her sleep-crumpled clothes she wondered whether one ought to feel so self conscious about one’s appearance regarding an escaped lunatic.
“But he did save you, my dear,” she reminded herself, “and one really ought to try to be presentable for people who do that sort of thing. Besides,” she patted down the worst of the creases in her dress as she made for the door, “he did sound terribly sane for a lunatic.”
But how did one know what a lunatic sounded like? Alice wondered, as she made her way down the narrow stairs, finding herself in the shop front along with a good many dusty shelves and plastic-wrapped hats, the sounds of what might have been cooking floating from behind the door marked ‘employees only.’ Deciding that if Jervis counted as an ‘employee only’ then she probably did as well, the curious lady opened the door incrementally, the fact that she could have just as easily walked out of the front door to her freedom not even crossing her mind.
“Oh, Alice! You’re awake, excellent.”
The man who was beaming at her, waving a spatula cheerfully over something that Alice could only suppose had been potentially edible at some point, hardly looked like a mad-man escaped from an asylum for the criminally insane. Indeed, it was taking her some effort not to laugh at the sight of Jervis trussed up in a faded chequered apron, evidently enjoying his new-found freedom, if in a rather disastrous way. It was beyond her not to smile and wave a shy greeting, as she walked up to see what he was doing to unfortunate contents of the skillet, waving aside plumes of oily smoke.
“Jervis, what are you making?” Other than a glorious mess, she wondered.
“Why, breakfast of course! Or, well,” the blond-haired man looked down at the smouldering substance in a puzzled way, “I thought I was; only it doesn’t look quite right, does it?”
“It doesn’t look quite left,” she giggled down at the charred food through a small fit of coughing- it was a wonder the fire alarm hadn’t gone off, “it’s all but disappeared! Whatever did you do to it?!”
There was some discussion over the fact that scientists evidently shouldn’t take up the culinary arts before the pair disposed of the blackened stuff, laughing like school children after a chemistry experiment gone awry in the most spectacular manner. It took them both a good five minutes of talking like this to notice that they probably ought not to be; a moment of soberness falling over the pair as the mirth left the atmosphere along with the smoke.
“… Perhaps,” Alice started, after an awkward silence that was about as hard to swallow as the ill-fated breakfast would have been, “I could cook for us instead?”
“You?” The escapee blinked at her in abject surprise at the suggestion; “But, you couldn’t possibly, after I…”
“After you what?” The former secretary rested her knuckles on her hips in a manner that he found quite charmingly stubborn, if rather surprising given the circumstances.
“Got me out of a terrible mess that I got myself into? I’d be the one returning the favour.” She pointed at the remaining charcoal attached to the pan, not giving Jervis so much as a second to point out that she had hardly gotten herself into that situation in the first place, let alone deserve it.
“Please,” any further thoughts about arguing flew swiftly out of his head when he found a familiar hand squeezing his in a kindly insistent way, “I… know we haven’t seen each other for a long time, and things have been rather… odd, between us,” wasn’t that the understatement of the year, “but I really wouldn’t mind, and I really am terribly fond of cooking, you know.”
Alice nodded, honestly, lighting up as she expounded on the topic. “I could make you an omelette I tried making last week? It’s got courgette and red onion and paprika and, oh, all sorts of things in it! Billy really li-” Another awkward silence practically clouted her over the head, as she stalled, replacing the impetus of speech with a bite to the lip.
“W-well, I think it worked out pretty well, anyway; it’s my own invention.” Her optimism recovered itself at the last part, which she announced with innocent pride. Part of Jervis was tempted to ask whether it was based on blotting paper and sealing wax, but the ramblings of the white knight would probably have confused the matter more than aiding it.
“That sounds positively frabjous! Oh, only, there aren’t any eggs…”
“I could go and get some?”
“You would?” He regarded Alice yet again with surprise, as her platinum locks bobbed in confirmation. He knew he ought to protest and offer to go out himself, but with the news having circulated so far and wide, and his distinctive appearance… a gloved hand rubbed guiltily on his sleeve as he tilted his head in admittance; “It might prove more successful than my own endeavours… are you sure you’re alright with going alone?”
Alice smiled fit to out-do a Cheshire cat, the prospect of exploring an unknown part of a dangerous city seeming to be quite a delightful prospect to her. “Oh yes, of course! I’ll be careful, don’t worry; and I’ll try not to be recognised.” She confirmed, although she wasn’t really sure of how to do this last part at all.
Jervis seemed to have some idea though, as he smiled in an appraising manner. “Well then, you needs must have the appropriate headwear for the purpose…” Walking back through to the shop frontage, the scientist sent a hand skimming along a row of boxed objects before landing on a wide blue parcel, faded to grey on the edges.
Lifting the lid after blowing off the worst of the dust he extracted a superb piece of millinery craft, holding the object up to the light to make sure it was in good condition; it was a generously brimmed hat, the carefully formed felt a fine-brushed light blue elegantly trimmed with white lace, a wide satin ribbon in a warm, translucent pearl colour flowing over the side to accompany the bow and arrangement of feathers seated on the left side. It was an astonishingly beautiful thing, more beautiful than any hat Alice had ever seen before, as Jervis placed it over her head in a gentle sweeping motion, tying the ribbon under her chin in a surprisingly practiced manner. Tilting it by just the slightest degree he stood back to observe the result.
“Picture perfect, in every way.”
Alice blushed to the tips of her ears, touching the sides of the bonnet with reverent fingers as she stuttered; “Y-you think so? Really?”
“Absoposilutely. Why, I’d venture that hat was made for you!”
It really did look like it had been, as well; the felt was almost a dead match for the colour of her irises. Jervis had to catch himself before he started looking too smitten (although really it was already far too late for that), as he turned to the counter to extract an amount of money from the till that caused Alice to inhale sharply; there had to be at least two month’s worth of Billy’s wages there. Noticing her expression as he handed her the cash the former work-colleague shrugged with a confessing smile, if not an entirely innocent one.
“Sadly, my less-honest methods of living proved to be somewhat more lucrative than my former employment… don’t worry, it isn’t stolen.” Not exactly- more a voluntary donation of sorts, he added mentally, as she looked on the verge of handing it back; although he couldn’t read her mind to understand it was the generosity, not the origin of the money, which had flummoxed her for the present. “There’s a high-street just to the South of this area; you’ll be needing some new clothes and other such conveniences. I’m afraid this establishment wasn’t designed with visitors in mind... Please; get anything and everything you want, it’s the least I can do.”