“Clever boy,” the queen gasped, grinning through her pain. “You were always the best of tricksters.”
“What?” Alice asked, glancing over at Quinn.
“And she still doesn't know!” The fat woman barked out a short laugh, grasping tightly at the wound in her side. “Her mighty protector is the thing she fears most! You do more damage than I could ever, Quinn Hunter, Mad Hatter. I should have seen it.”
“Mad... Quinn, what is she talking about?” Alice took a step back, glancing from one to the other.
“Come now, girl, don't be stupid.” The queen glared at her like she was an ugly sore. “You know what I am. But he can see me; he can hurt me. Something nobody else was ever able to do.”
“I told you, Alice,” Quinn lied smoothly, “We're the same brand of crazy. Of course I can see her.”
“Hah,” she stood, wincing from the wound. “Girl, your precious Quinn is the same Mad Hatter you've been running from. He's tricked you, lied to you, betrayed you. He's trying to worm his way back into your mind. He wants to send you back to the hospital.”
“That's not true,” Quinn said, gliding over to her. “I would never hurt you, Alice, ever.”
“But you would lie,” reminded the queen. “And you have; again and again. Even now you lie to her. You are the Hatter.”
Quinn took her hands in his own, but she pushed him away. She stared up at him, hurt in her eyes.
“She's lying,” Alice whispered, looking for any confirmation in his face. He remained stoic. “Tell me she's lying.”
And Quinn looked away.
Alice stepped back, a sob catching in her throat. “No. No no no! I can't believe this!”
“But you do,” the queen hissed, grinning like the cat. “You trusted him, and he betrayed you—he was never your friend from the start.”
“That's a lie,” Quinn finally spoke. “I was your friend, Alice; I still am! Please, trust me—I never meant to hurt you, even from the beginning.”
“No,” she whispered, backing away from him. “Stay away from me.”
Quinn's features began to change as she looked on. His gray wool coat took on a purple tinge, and odd stitching began to weave its way across, changing the fit to make him seem larger, hulking, and less human. His hair pulled itself back, growing longer and spilling over his collar like a waterfall. The fedora warped, twisted, and grew until it was the top hat. His gray gloves became fingerless and brightly colored, his watch chain looped around one shoulder
All that remained unchanged was the card, tucked into the band of his hat, and the strange, haunted look of his dark eyes.
“I'm sorry,” he whispered, almost choked, and pulled the card from the band of his hat.
It was the ace of spades.
Alice stared for a moment, trembling, before she turned and ran. She did not scream, did not cry, simply ran—and that was enough to break him.