(A fanfic in the Batman multiverse)
Alice Carrol Lewis. Just three little words put together to create a name. This particular name belonged to a twenty-one-year-old blond, specifically to the twenty-one-year-old blond that stood on the pedestrian walkway adjacent to a surprisingly busy highway atop a massive suspension bridge. The name had been given to her by parents well versed in the power of literature, a librarian and an English teacher. A couple that would frown on what she was about to do, but they were gone now and there was no one else to miss her.
She stood under the suspension tower that marked the exact center of the bridge and looked left and then right. Two cities were connected by that bridge. Two cities as different as night and day, or more appropriately heaven and hell.
Facing out to sea as she was, put the nicer city to her right. One of the nation’s shiniest jewels, it was a sprawling metropolis of opportunities and success. To the left, was the forgotten sibling. More habitable ruin than prime real-estate, it was a place dreams went to die. It was also a place were having a name like hers was trouble.
She’d have gone and sought out the trouble there save for one reason. It was the same reason that she hadn’t succeed in leaping off one of the shiny spires to her right. Both cities had guardians with an annoying habit of saving people. So instead she climbed up the service ladder leading to the top of the suspension tower. Let’s see someone take my choice away this time.
So caught up in misery and determined to harm herself was she, that the broken lock and open maintenance gate failed to register.
It was higher than she expected, probably high enough to pass out before hitting the frozen bay below, maybe. She didn’t care though. Once she went over nothing would matter anymore.
She took a small case out of her pocket; one of two she’d carried since before this morning’s failed attempt. Inside, protected by a plastic bag in case the water tight box failed, lay a flash drive containing her note. She placed it on the grated flooring in a sheltered corner. Her primary note was on her person of course, but she felt like having a backup.
Stealing herself for the plunge, Alice griped the railing, prepared to swing herself over and stopped. She wasn’t alone. She whirled, expecting to see a man dressed in red and blue hovering behind her, looking disappointed. He wasn’t there, nor was there a masked man dressed all in black. Instead she found a funny little man dressed in a faded suit and a ridiculous hat.
The man in question was sitting in the corner opposite Alice, a child’s tea set arranged in front of him on a low table surrounded by cushions. Steam rose from two of the cups. He looked up and caught her staring. “Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just having a little tea.” He took a sip from the cup in his hand. “If You’re looking for a bump, I’m afraid you’ll have to jump.”
Alice continued to stare at the funny little man. “You’re not going to stop me?”
“Why would I do that? You clearly want to splat.” The man took another sip. “It’s your choice to
silence your voice.”
“So, you’d just sit there and watch me go over?”
“Feel free to jump like a horse, unless you’d like to talk of course.” The man indicated a seat next to the tiny table he had set up. “There’s plenty to share, pull up a chair.”
Alice hesitated. A low buzz tickled her mind. She’d gone up there determined to end it, but faced with the first kindness anyone had offered her in a long while, she wasn’t so sure anymore. “You’re not some kind of freak, are you?”
The man gave a rueful smile. “I am, my dear. I thought that was clear, with every rhyme reaching your ear.” He poured another cup and offered it to her. “But I offer you no harm, just tea, nice and warm.”
Alice looked down at the certain death below and then at the possibly dangerous stranger, one last time. It was time to make a choice.
Something stirred in her, a memory of times gone by. A tea party in her bedroom, where she played hostess to several stuffed animals. It was a good memory, a happy memory. She could use something happy. She forgot about the buzz.
“Okay.” She said as she sat down. “But I’m still going over later.” The man put a biscuit on the plate in front to her. “If I may ask, why take on such a task?”
Alice took a sip, the tea was indeed quite warm and settled pleasantly in her stomach. “Only the week from hell.”
“Well,” Alice said, taking a bite out of the biscuit. “First my mom dies out of nowhere on Sunday. Then after the funeral on Monday, I get in a wreck on the way home on Tuesday. Because of those two things, I get fired on Wednesday. Then I’m mugged on the way to the unemployment office on Thursday. Yesterday I get evicted because of water damage and this morning I wasn’t even allowed to end it all.”
It… actually felt… good to get that out in the open. In fact it felt really good. Alice washed down her biscuit with the last of her tea and realized that the warmth had spread during her vent. It had gone down at first, into her legs and feet, chasing away the chill from underneath her dress. Now it was creeping higher.
The man lifted the tea pot. “Would you like some more? It wouldn’t be a chore.”
Alice found herself nodding enthusiastically. “Yesh pwease.” She giggled at the lisp she suddenly found herself with. Her head was all warm like the tea now and the lights were a little brighter. “It’s weawy good.”
The man smiled and dutifully poured the drink. Alice downed it instantly and held her cup out for more. The man put the pot away. “Unfortunately, we are out, but do not pout.” Alice’s face immediately straightened out of the pout she didn’t know she’d been wearing. “Sowy” She was patted on the head. “It is alright, but now it’s nighty night.”
Alice’s eyes had felt heavy before the man had said anything, but now she could barely keep them open. The warmth had filled her and now she was tingling all over. With a sigh, she let her eyes close and slipped into dreams of a happy childhood.
The Hatter slowly counted to ten before reaching up to switch off his hat. He gently moved the sleeping young lady to a position on the floor and collapsed the tea-party in on itself. What luck! Here he was minding his own business, performing a yearly ritual honoring his lost love, when all of a sudden, she was back!
Okay, so it wasn’t really Her. The Hatter knew that, just like he had the countless other times he’d “found” Her. That wasn’t the point. The point was this new girl, with just a little help, could become the one he missed so terribly. Even better, she’d come to him this time. Hopefully that meant there wouldn’t be any pesky interruptions.
The tea-party, now resembling a hiking pack, was placed over his shoulders. Time to see if the tea worked for me. He thought to himself as he gently shook the girls sleeping form. She opened her eyes and sat up, but it was clear she wasn’t awake, not really. It seemed the pulses from his hat and his new blend had indeed put her into a suggestible state. The Hatter clapped his hands with glee. Oh, this was going to be so much fun!
“Now you are in my power and will remain so for many an hour.” Slowly, his latest victim nodded and her glazed gaze shifted to follow his voice. “Now my dear, please come here.” She awkwardly got up and followed him, her gait was like one drunk or extremely tired. She stumbled and he caught her, but she never stirred.
“Please, sweet Dame, tell me your name.”
The Hatter jerked backwards. Had he heard right? “Say again?” Obediently, Alice responded… literally. Mentally kicking himself, he tried again. Alice remained Alice. Once again, he couldn’t believe his luck. She really was back!
“Well Alice, please accompany me to my palace.”
Hours later a man in blue and red placed a call to a man in Black. “Bruce? It’s Clark. I messed up and could use your help.”
Alice came awake slowly, reluctant to leave the best sleep she’d had in years. Unfortunately, there was something more important for her to do. She headed off toward the bathroom, the cheery light from the open door doing nothing to stop her bemoaning the inconveniences of being a “big girl”. Halfway there, she got distracted by a mirror.
She looked so cute! Simply adorable! She gave a little twirl, watching how her blue dress and white frock spun with her. She adjusted her left knee high sock which had slid down slightly and took a minute to marvel at how shiny her Mary-Jane’s were. Then she straightened, swaying a little as she pushed her black hair band back into place and fixed its bow.
She was rewarded with the most wonderful of tingling sensations. She felt incredibly giddy and floaty and was enjoying every minute of it. When the warm tickle started, she didn’t bat an eye. Instead, she lifted her skirt and watched the fairies disappear from the diaper she’d forgotten she was wearing. There that felt better, much more convenient than the potty.
Alice frowned. Wait…this wasn’t right. This wasn’t her. Then her eyes widened, and she saw what and who she looked like and what she was doing. The stream stopped, the head band hit a wall with a pop of sparks and the world lost some of its brightness.
The events of the previous night came back to her. The funny looking man had obviously been the Mad Hatter, one of the many Crime Lord’s that ruled the underworld of the city she was undoubtedly now in. His little tea party had been nothing but a ploy to drug and kidnap her. Once again, her choice had been taken from her, only this time it was by a far worse fate.
She wasn’t sure why she was dressed like a toddler, or why the head band had been making her think like one. Perhaps the previous girls in her position had been too embarrassed to mention this past treatment, or maybe some wealthy pervert had hired the master of mind control to find him a new toy. What Alice was sure of, was that she wasn’t going down without a fight. If fate wanted her to survive, then she was going to survive with extreme prejudice.
First things first, get out of the adorable yet entirely too babyish clothes and into something more adult. Easier said than done. The closest thing she found in outerwear was a pair of pink shorts and a matching t-shirt, plain but for a single butterfly over her heart.
For footwear, she switched her shoes out for a pair of sneakers that would be much easier to run in. She decided to keep the socks, after rolling them down a tad.
Unfortunately, the underwear situation was a complete bust. She had her choice of disposables, tape on and pull-on, but no proper panties. Fuming and unwilling to go commando, Alice donned the least juvenile pull-up she could find, an all white ensemble speckled with cherries, after cleaning herself up best she could with the wipes that always accompanied such garments.
Now dressed somewhat more practically, the young woman actively surveyed her surroundings, getting a better view than she’d had while looking for clothes. The room was basically a nursery scaled up for an adult sized toddler, which meant that there wasn’t much she could improvise into a weapon. In fact, aside from breaking the mirror the only other option was to use a drawer.
She didn’t get a chance to choose either. The door began to open, startling her. She took an involuntary step back, tripped on the clothes she’d left on the floor and fell backwards into the bed.
Her head hit the frame, but the rubber coating absorbed the impact even as her pull-up absorbed the shock induced conclusion of her earlier interrupted accident. Fortunately, while the tumble put her at a disadvantage, only her pride was hurt.
Alice knew she was fine. Even if the frame hadn’t been coated, she could have shrugged off the fall. However, her captor was expecting an over grown toddler. Such a person would not have been okay. So instead of picking her self up, Alice utilized one of her many gifts: the ability to cry on command.
The response was not quite like she expected.
Jervis had known something was wrong the moment he opened his eyes. This most telling of reasons was his state of dress. The Hatter’s suit was not something he usually slept in, not anymore. The second was the roof over his head: it belonged to a safe house, not his home. Last, but not least was the dress missing from the glass case the Hatter had stored it in.
“Oh, Shit.” Jervis said, unable to do anything else for several seconds. He said it again as he rushed into the nursery in time to see Alice tumble into the bed and start bawling. He continued his rush, this time to her side.
“Are you okay?”
The girl nodded, sniffing. “I twiped.” The lisp was a bad sign. How long had she been brainwashed for? Jervis hoped it wasn’t too late, he hoped he could fix her. He wasn’t the Hatter anymore.
“I saw that. I’m sorry I startled you. Can you tell me your name?” Here it was the moment of Truth.
“Awice” Damn it! The odds of that really being her name were too high for her to still be saved. All he could do now was try and put her back together as best he could.
“Okay Alice, can you watch my finger for me? I wanna make sure you didn’t hurt your head.” He said, kneeling in front of her. For a moment, Alice played along. Then her leg shot out and her foot caught Jervis in the groin.
“You don’t get to hypnotize me again, you bastard.” She said and then followed her foot with a discarded shoe to the side of Jervis’ head.
Alice was up and running, before Jervis could recover. The confrontation wasn’t what she’d imagined, but she wasn’t complaining. He’d gotten too close and the shoe had been in just the right spot, it seemed fate wanted her alive after all. Smiling, Alice opened the first door she came to with natural light shining underneath it.
She was hoping for a window, and she got one, but she was too distracted by the flashing red and green lights above her head to notice. Red and green, red and green, faster and faster, such pretty colors. She couldn’t look away, she didn’t want to look away. Red and green, red and green red and….So Pretty.
While Alice was being returned to bed, another girl reached the top of the bridge. This girl was ten years Alice’s junior and was in no hurry to stop there. Instead, she was looking for Alice. Elsewhere, scattered throughout the dark and broken city she called home, her family was doing the same, but it was Martha who had actually found something.
The box was small, and half buried by snow, but a little frozen precipitation was no match for the tween’s cowl sensors. The initials’ A.C.L. were relayed to Oracle who confirmed that their missing woman had indeed purchased a similar box, if not the exact one. Sighing, the young heroine opened the box and inserted the flash drive into a slot under one of her armor’s arm plates. “Looks like she jumped after all. Poor Uncle Clark, he’s gonna think it’s his fault.”
“I’ll alert GCPD to dredge for her body. Come on back kid, nothing more you can do.”
As Martha turned to do just that, something caught her eye. She walked over and reached through the snow to retrieve a small tea cup. “Um, Oracle?”
“I think I may have…jumped to conclusions. For lack of a better phrase.”
The woman on the other end of the com, took a moment to respond. “Scan the inside please.” Martha did. The readouts meant nothing to her, but Oracle understood just fine. “Yep, it’s him alright.” Though no one could see Martha’s face, a confused expression spread across it. “Him who? You know I’m no good at the pronoun game, I’ve only been here for three months.”
“The Hatter. Regroup at the Nest, job’s not done yet.”
Alice blinked. The colors were gone, and she was no longer upright. Panicking, her hands flew up and found nothing but hair and then flew down finding only cold clammy plastic. The only damage appeared to be to her potty training. Slowly, the regressed woman got her breathing and heart under control. It was time for a new plan.
She’d been a fool to think her abductor wouldn’t have a failsafe’s and/or redundancies in place. Of course, he would have the exits booby trapped. Served her right for blindly running into the room. She’d blown her chance all thanks to those stupid lights. Those pretty, flashy lights.
“Oh, good you’re awake.”
The voice snapped Alice out of her memory induced self-trance. “No thanks to you.” Jervis hung his head. “Yeah, sorry about that. I know you have no reason to trust me, but I didn’t mean for this to happen.” He gestured to the door. “I’ve shut down all the traps, you’re free to go. However, I would suggest finding a licensed hypno-therapist to put you back the way you were.” A rueful smile turned his lips. “Unless you really are a bedwetter named Alice.”
Well this was unexpected. He seemed genuinely apologetic, if not downright self-chastising. Alice sat up in the bed and really looked at the man who had put her there. Gone was the weird little rhymester in his funny suit and ridiculous mesmerizing hat. In his place was a short middle aged man with the demeanor of a little kid in the principle’s office.
It was then that Alice did something strange. Call it Stockholm syndrome, post hypnotic suggestion, or plot convenience, but Alice looked past the rumors and the horror stories to see the man. A man who by all rights was more broken than she was and had, in his own way, saved her life. As ironic as it was to say aloud or in her head, it was the villain who had saved her. The hero had only postponed the inevitable.
Alice found herself speaking. “Well I’m pretty sure the bedwetting is your fault, but my parents named me Alice Carol Lewis.” The look on the man’s face changed from sheepish to shocked in an instant. “Please tell me you’re joking.” Alice shook her head. “Nope, says so right on my birth certificate. Probably would have said so on my death certificate too, but you stopped that from happening.”
“I saved your life?”
“Yeah, I was gonna jump from the bridge.” Alice still wasn’t sure this new found trust was coming from her, but it felt good to talk to someone. The man’s face flushed with relief. “Oh, thank God. I thought I’d grabbed you off the street. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe I should’ve handled things differently, but I’m glad it’s not worse.” He took a deep breath and cleared his throat.
“Look, this is probably highly inappropriate, but I was just about to make breakfast. If you’d like to start over, the kitchen is down stairs to the right. If you’d rather leave, the front door is to the left.” Jervis gestured to the bathroom. “In any case, your old clothes are in there and the shower works.” He gave another half smile. “I wasn’t sure you’d be back after yesterday, so there’s a more childish set in there too, fair warning.”
“Welp, I’ll leave you to it.”
As the hallway door closed behind him, Alice rushed into the bathroom. While she was eager to get into more mature clothes, her dash was a response to an urgency she hadn’t expected. Perhaps she could find a use for at least one piece of the toddler’s wardrobe after all.
Set inside the top of an old clock tower, Oracle’s Nest was what you’d expect from the research and communications hub of a crime fighting organization. Rows of CPU towers were spaced like library stacks among said library stacks, an artful blending of modern digital and “archaic” paperwork records. In the center of the room, forming the wheel to the stacks spokes, was an enormous ring of monitors, Police scanners and a communications rig. In the center of that menagerie of modern science, was Oracle herself. What wasn’t present, was the rest of Martha’s family.
“Uh Oracle, where’s everyone else?”
“Still looking for our missing girl, I imagine.”
“Because if the Hatter’s back, Your Dad might forget the no kill rule, both Robin’s would probably get mesmerized, Kathrin and Jason shoot first and ask questions later, so if it’s not really him…and Dick just got called back to Bludhaven.” Oracle said all of this without breaking contact with her screens, taking breaks to “help” the other members of the family with their search or the various crimes they interrupted.
Martha pulled the unused desk chair beside Oracle’s wheelchair and sat down. “Fair enough. So, who is this guy?”
“Ah, you decided to stay.” Alice nodded stepping into the kitchen’s dining area and taking a seat. “As weird as this situation is, free food is free food.” Her host (captor?) smiled. “Can’t argue with that.” He set a plate of food in front of her and offered a hand. “Allow me to formally introduce myself, I’m Jervis Tetch.”
Alice shook it. “So, what’s your story Jervis?”
“I started out trying to help people, if you can believe it.” Jervis said, grabbing his own plate. “I worked for the government trying to perfect hypnotherapy for PTSD victims. I’m sure their goal was all ways to weaponize mind control, but I just wanted to help our veterans forget the horrors that they couldn’t cope with.” He gave a sad smile.
“That’s how I met Dr. Alice Carol.”
Alice looked up from bacon and eggs that were better than she’d expected, hopefully devoid of any special ingredients, and asked, “What happened? Why all the…baby stuff? Were you guys expecting?”
“No, Alice and I never made it that far. That was her escape. She spent all her time caring for others, so when she had down time, she wanted someone to take care of her.” Jervis chuckled at the memory. “I was obviously reluctant at first, but once she used the puppy dog face and called me Daddy, I was sold. There were adult times too, but nothing ever came of them.” The next statement caused the man’s face to sour. “As for what happened, a mean spirited rival found out about her Little side and blackmailed her.”
He stood a carried his dishes to the sink. “Alice couldn’t take it. She jumped off the bridge you almost did. I’m ashamed to admit I used my skills to destroy that rival, turned her into a babbling shell. Guilt, for doing that and for failing Alice broke me even as the power corrupted. I weaponized my inventions, and became obsessed with finding her again. I’m sure you’ve heard the rest, Batman came along and we battled for years, Who better to find my lost love than the worlds greatest detective?”
Alice came over and placed her dishes next to his.
“How’d he finally stop you?”
“He found her.” Jervis leaned against the counter. “It wasn’t that hard, graves don’t move, but I’d never actually been there. He forced me to look at it, to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t bring her back. Six months in Arkham later, I’m cured. Or so I thought.” He reached up and brushed a strand of hair off Alice’s face. She flinched backwards even as he began to apologize. “Sorry, sorry, that was inappropriate. It’s just, here.”
Alice took the photo and stared at it in shock. “I look like her, exactly like her.” The picture could have been faked, but she didn’t think so. It looked too real, and Jervis too naturally young for it to be an edit. “No wonder you grabbed me.”
“I’m not excusing anything, but watching you jump and get saved by Superman must have triggered the Hatter personality. I’m almost sure I would have kidnapped you even if you hadn’t tried again.”
“But, you didn’t. You saved my life. You finally saved Her.”
Jervis smiled, “I did, didn’t I.”
Alice stuck out her hand. “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome.”
It was early the next evening before Martha could be Batgirl again. By the time Barbara’s brief had ended, thanks to the older woman’s need to still be Oracle, it had been time for the juvenile detective to hang up her cowl for the night. Dad insisted she keep up appearances as a diligent student if she was going to join in the family’s nightlife. Barbara had assured her that the missing Alice was in no physical danger, but it still bothered her.
Now, as she perched above the old tea shop, her unease turned to dread. She only saw Jervis, currently out of uniform, working in a rooftop atrium. Without calling in, she dove straight through the glass.
Alice had tried to get her life back, she really had. Admittedly it had only been one day, but the obstacles had simply pilled up. The mugger had cleaned out her accounts, her apartment still wasn’t habitable, and no one had any work until she could prove who she was. She couldn’t even find a place at the shelter. Dark thoughts were trying to weed their way back into her head and she found herself walking back over the bridge.
She forced herself to just keep walking, finally having a reason to keep fighting. She had Jervis’ victory to uphold. After everything he’d been through, despite his past, she wasn’t going to take a win from him. She wasn’t really surprised when she ended up outside Jervis’ real home, an old tea shop that still served legitimate beverages. What did surprise her was the black shape that dropped out of nowhere and crashed through the roof. Oh no.
Martha pined The Hatter to a wall, her mother’s blood giving her abnormal strength and also allowing her to hover above the ground. “I’m going to ask you again, where is she!” The frightened man held on to her arms and shook his head violently. “I told you, I don’t know, I let her go. I’m not a villain anymore, I swear.” Martha was about to hit him when Alice bounded up the stairs.
“Stop! Don’t hurt him.” She ran up and put a hand on The Batgirl’s arm. “He didn’t do anything wrong. He saved my life. I owe him.” Slowly, Jervis was lowered to the floor, and the female caped crusader turned. She looked Alice up and down and then directly into her eyes. “He saved you?” Alice nodded. Batgirl turned and straightened out Jervis’ clothes. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. I understand.”
Martha reached into her belt and handed the former criminal a business card. “For the window.” By the time the other two people looked up from her gift, she was halfway to the clock tower.
Alice took a moment to appreciate the encounter. “I wonder how they disappear like that?” Jervis shrugged. “No idea, and I fought them for years.” He walked over to a corner and grabbed a broom and dust pan. “Nice of her to recommend a repair service, though.” Alice took the broom and as they began to clean up she asked, “Could I stay?”
Jervis looked up and smiled. “As long as you like.” Alice lifted the hem of her dress, “Good, cause I need a change.”
Martha raised the cup of tea to her lips but didn’t take a sip till the cowl cleared the contents. Across from her Alice giggled. “It won’t make you silly, silly. That’s just for me on the bad days.” Martha smiled at her new friend. “Sorry, force of habit.” She took another sip and added, “So you really want this?” Alice nodded vigorously. “Uh-huh, being little is so much easier than trying to be big.” To push her point home, a far off look crossed Alice’s face for a moment. Martha knew what that meant, even before her enhanced hearing picked up on the “accident”.
Marking the case closed, she when back to enjoying the costumed tea party.
The Hatter had finally found his Alice.