Chapter Three: A Heart-y Welcome

Alice expected the worst. She was waiting for a hard, dusty floor, the cacophonous crash of the broken mirror. There would be glass everywhere and possibly blood, if any shrapnel had caught her. A concussion was also possible, and dreaded as the worst injury. Instead, she felt like she fell for a full minute or so, and she landed on soft, lush grass. Grass? She panicked. Oh my gosh, she thought hastily, eyes squinted at the sky, I must have hit my head harder than I thought! Or the glass? She imagined the very worst. Lifting herself to a sitting position, Alice turned her head to the ground and blinked her eyes a few times before letting them widen. Her head was slightly spinning.

"Oh please tell me I'm not dead!" she spoke aloud.

"Heh. I certainly hope not!" said that familiar voice from the attic. It then laughed, and the last few peals echoed.

Alice looked around wildly, but didn't see anyone or anything. This was certainly getting weird, albeit a bit annoying. She tossed her head about and then focused on a spot where she believed the voice had come from. She even concentrated her hardest, but nothing seemed to work. Whilst she stared off, the voice's source finally materialized... on the opposite side of her head.

"You don't remember, do you? I thought that might be the case."

Alice jerked her head to see behind her, startled. It was a cat-- a fairly large purple one at that. Dinah would have been very intimidated.

The feline in the air smiled, "The Queen isn't going to appurrrrreciate that, you know."

The blonde before him was starting to have a pretty nasty case of déjà vu.

"I remember you, Cat," she pointed excitedly, "I'm in Wonderland, aren't I?"

Cheshire grinned happily. Or, rather, perhaps he was just grinning. He did that quite frequently, Alice recalled.

"No place like it! I'm glad you remember the name. And mine too of course."

Alice tilted her head, "It was you, wasn't it? You're the one who scared me in the attic!"

"Cheshire Cat at your serrrrrvice," the feline purred, bowing, "You have no idea how long I've been coming around to check out the other end of that mirror, waiting for the darkness to go away."

Alice was taken aback at this, and felt a prick of sadness at it, "So... You've been waiting for me? For all these years?"

Cheshire looked her in the eyes and started to fade away, still smiling, "I wasn't the only one."

He was gone.

Alice felt as if she had let these people?-- once her best friends-- down, and, in a way, she most definitely had. But she was back now, and she was going to fix that pronto! As she wandered Wonderland, she came across a bridge over a lily-pad covered pond. After gazing into its beautiful depths, she continued on and came to a signpost with confusing and oft-contradicting directions. She took it upon herself to read every one, hoping it would reacquaint her with Wonderland's locations. Some of the signs weren't helpful at all, saying such things as "Here," "There," "WAY over there!," "UP," "Down," and even, "Somewhere," "Nowhere," and "Not here." Her favorite sign, she found, was a simple one near the bottom that read, "Mental help for sign painter."

She glanced over the ones that made sense to her and decided that she probably should prolong seeing the Queen as long as possible. From what the cat had said, Her Majesty would probably be quite cross with her, With this in mind, Alice decided to visit "Mad Tea Party." It was there that she had her fondest memories, and it was also the first place she would usually visit when she came to Wonderland. She could now remember at least that much.

When she came upon the Hatter's house and tea table, the Hatter himself was face-down on the table dozing. It was unusual for a person to sleep like this, even for Hatter, so Alice decided that her appearance was cause enough to wake him. She let herself into his "yard" and crept to the far side of the table, where her friend lay unconscious, arms dangling and mouth agape. He let out a soft snore and Alice tried her hardest not to laugh aloud, fearing she'd give herself away instantly. Hesitantly, she bent down to his level and reached her hand out to shake his upper arm.

"Mr. Hatter? Hey, sleepyhead!"

Hatter's eyes tightened and his gaping mouth pulled into a frown. Alice compared him to a land-stranded fish,

"Nyehh stoppit! Stupid... Hare."

Alice snickered, then put her hand to her mouth to stifle any noise that might escape it. She shook his shoulder again with her free hand.

She lowered her hand from her mouth slightly, "Mr. Hatter? It's me! Alice! Wake up, you bum!"

Hatter groaned and moved his arm, mostly to wipe off a line of drool that had trickled down a moment earlier. He noticed a figure in front of him, but automatically assumed it was Hare.

His eyes were still adjusting, and he blinked a few times, saying, "Man, I had the weirdest dream. Alice came back."

Alice couldn't help but smile and let out a quiet laugh. Hatter looked up in surprise.

"You ARE back!" he shouted, "Hi Alice!! Sorry you found me like this. I was looking over the table counting broken china chips because I was so bored and, well, my table can be pretty comfy. I guess I just went right out!"

Then he lifted himself up a little, contemplated her for a few seconds (in which he squinted a few times, Alice raising an eyebrow), and finally said, "You've, uh, grown."

Alice laughed, "I suppose I have, Mr. Hatter. I haven't been here in... well..."

"Nearly ten years." Hatter finished.

The look on Hatter's face wasn't at all sad or judging, in fact, he was still ecstatic that his friend had returned. Alice, however, frowned.

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Hatter, I'm really just so sorry..." She hugged him awkwardly, seeing as he was still lounging belly-down on the table's surface.

"It's alright, Alice!" Hatter replied after she stepped back, "you're here now aren't you? That's something!" He smiled fondly.

Dormouse popped up out of his teapot home, and Hatter finally sat up and crossed his legs.

"Hey, Hatter? I thought I heard-- ALICE!" He squeaked happily as he realized she was beside him, "You're back! Yay!"

Dormouse bounced up and down out of his teapot. Alice patted his head.

"Hey Mr. Dormouse! Haven't seen you in a long time, but you're still as adorably small as I remember!"

Dormouse laughed, "You're not as small as I remember you! But thanks for the compliment!"

This time, both Hatter and Alice chuckled. Hatter reached for a free teapot to pour himself and Dormouse a cup of tea, he placed a cup in front of Alice.

"Want some tea, Alice?" he inquired.

Alice smiled, "I would love some, but I should really go find the others so they know I'm here. Do you know where they are? I expected Mr. Hare to be here with you."

Hatter shrugged, "I'm actually not sure myself. I was asleep ya know..."

Alice nodded, "Well, that makes perfect sense."

The Dormouse scratched his minute head, "I think I recall Hare saying something about croquet. I'll bet that's where he is, and probably with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum too. Did you pass the clearing in the woods near the Tweedles' house?"

Alice shook her head, "This is the only place I've been so far. I'll go there next! Hate to run, but I'll see you later for tea. Thanks, guys!"

Alice hurried off. Hatter and Dormouse watched until she disappeared into some foliage around a corner.

"That's somethin', isn't it, Dormy?" Hatter asked, "One moment we know this young girl, and it seems the next moment she's a young woman, just like THAT!" He snapped his fingers.

The mouse nodded in agreement, "I know, Hatter! It's definitely strange. She's a very beautiful young woman too, isn't she?"

Hatter cocked his head slightly, "Beautiful? Well, yeah. I guess. For a girl..."

"She's not a girl anymore, Hatter!"

"Yeah, but... She's always been our gal pal. I've never really thought of her as anything else but a little girl. With her all grown up, it's different. But she certainly has changed."

Dormouse took a sip of his tea, "I guess we'll have to get used to our older Alice, huh? I wonder if Hare and the Tweedles will even recognize her!"

Hatter chuckled, "How true that is!"

Alice was a little fuzzy on Wonderland's terrain after such a long time, but she soon had the hang of it with a little help from a signpost or two. With her bearings straight, it only took a few moments for her to find the open area of the forest where the Tweedles often hung out. Like the Dormouse predicted, the brothers were there in the middle of a fierce croquet match with the March Hare. As Alice came upon them, she watched the Hare stick his finger in his mouth, pull it out, and then lift it skyward. He made a calculating face and then positioned himself. Alice compared his stance to that of a golfer crossed with a thirsty giraffe. It took all she could not to laugh and give herself away (as well as ruin the Hare's concentration). She almost wished all of Wonderland was aware of her presence already, as she was tired of trying not to give away hiding spots.

The Tweedles, who were watching Hare for some time now, stood with their arms crossed and shaking their heads at the scene.

"Hare! Will you please make a shot already? We can't wait here until Christmas!" Tweedle Dum said. His brother smiled.

Hare looked back at them, slightly confused, "Well of course you can't wait there until Christmas. You'd probably be way too hungry! Not to mention with the snow, you'd be freezing your little--"

"HARE!" Dee interrupted, "Please make your shot so I can beat all of you on my next turn?"

Dum looked at him a tad put off, "Excuse me? You're going to beat me? I don't think so, brother!"

"Well, if Hare hits his ball, we'll find out, now won't we?" said Dee smugly.
Finally, the Hare positioned himself once more and took aim. He took a practice swing a few times and then hit the ball so hard that it ricocheted off a rock and a few trees, before landing closer to the intended wicket. Hare proudly tugged on the suspenders that were often hidden beneath his jacket.

"Nice shot!" Alice said, coming out of the bushes at last, "But shouldn't you have another player on your team?"

The brothers' faces lit up in instant recognition, but the March Hare placed a finger to his chin and seemed to be placing jigsaw pieces together in his mind.

Tweedle Dum stepped forward, "Oh my gosh! It's--!"

"NO NO NO, Don't tell me!" Hare said, stopping Dum with a hand, "I totally have this."

Dee and Dum looked at him incredulously. Alice joined them. After a little while the Hare's arms drooped.

"Okay. I got nothin'."

"Hare," Dee started, "It's Alice."

"But Alice is a little girl!" Hare said.

"I grew up, Mr. Hare. I was a little girl ten years ago."

Hare's face came up really close to her's and studied her. As if that didn't make her a bit uncomfortable, Dee came up and started to move her face around. Alice's eyes widened in wonder of what what was going on.

"See?" Dum pointed, as his brother kept her face in grip, "It's definitely her!"

Hare looked once more and then nodded, "Oh yeah! I totally see it now!"

Dee let go and Alice rubbed her cheeks gently.

"Geez, guys. Are you trying make me look like a Picasso painting or what?"

Before the guys could answer, another rustle of the bushes naturally announced that someone was nearby. A few seconds more gave in to the appearance of the White Rabbit, who rushed in on his rollerblades. More memories came flooding back to Alice, and she felt warm and nostalgic.

"Sorry I'm late!" the Rabbit proclaimed, "I hard the hardest time convincing the Queen that missing a fourth in croquet is much worse than saving the laundry for later..." he laughed a little, albeit awkwardly, and then stood up straighter.

"Eh, what's this? Do my eyes deceive me? Is that you, Alice?"

Alice nodded, her smile seemed to make her eyes brighter.

"Hi, Mr. Rabbit! Long time, no see!"

"No see, INDEED!" Rabbit said, "You know, The Queen has been worried sick about you! 'Long time, no see...' Bah! Ten years is too long. Have you seen Her Majesty yet?"

Alice shook her head, "I was thinking that it would be better to..."

"...Save the best for last!" Dum said quickly, saving Alice, "Isn't that right, Alice?"

"Of course!" Alice agreed, nodding her head fiercely.

The Rabbit raised a fuzzy eyebrow, "Well, that's all well and good, Alice, and I know you mean well, but I think we should probably go and see the Queen right now! You can finish your visits later."

"Oh, okay." Alice said. She didn't have much of a choice.

Dee looked at Dum, and, as if coming upon some silent agreement, both nodded.

"We'll come with you guys." Dee said.

"Me too!" Hare said, placing his croquet mallet on the ground.

"Then come on! Post haste! The Queen must know that Alice is back!" proclaimed the White Rabbit, and the group put their game on hold and followed Rabbit and Alice to the Palace.

In a matter of minutes, Rabbit, Alice, the Tweedle brothers, and the Hare were at the Palace gates and entered the garden. Rabbit hid Alice as well as he could behind him, but it was harder now, with Alice being slightly taller and wearing boots that only added to her height. Hatter appeared and walked up to the garden gate. He was about to loudly greet his friends, but Hare held a finger to his lips before his friend could say anything. Hatter tip-toed into the courtyard.

"Hey guys!" Hatter whispered, "What's with the shushing?"

Dum leaned over, "We're going to surprise the Queen with Alice's arrival. I can't wait to see her reaction!"

White Rabbit shot a glance at the party behind him and all conversation ceased.

"Your Maaaaajestyyyyy!" Rabbit called happily, "Someone is here to seeeee youuuuu!"

"Tell them to go away! I'm very busy right now," a voice called, "ESPECIALLY if it's that salesman for the Duchess' new line of merchandise again. I told him once and I'll tell him again..."

"No, no, Your Majesty! It's someone very special that I think you REALLY should come out and see."

"This better be good!" yelled the Queen from the throne room, "I JUST gave you off for croquet and was contemplating taking a nice relaxing bubble bath in the meantime and you come back and barge in here--"

The Queen entered the garden and stopped dead in her tracks when she saw the sunlight highlighting strands of blond hair that had moved out from behind the Rabbit.

Alice curtsied. "Good afternoon, Your Majes--"

"ALICE!" The Queen exclaimed happily, hurrying towards the girl in question, "You're back! Oh! I knew you'd come back to visit me!"

The other Wonderlanders smiled as the Queen hugged Alice. It was the happiest they had seen her in a great while, and a happy Queen is the best kind to have.

"It's great to see you too, Your Highness!"

"Oh Alice," The Queen said with laughing eyes; suddenly her expression changed, and her eyes narrowed and mouth puckered, "Where have you been? Ten years! Do you know how worried I was about you? I thought you were never going to come back! Harumph!"

Alice cringed noticeably, "I'm really sorry, Your Majesty, but I grew up. I nearly... Well, I have a life to tend to outside of Wonderland. Please forgive me? I have every intention of visiting here more often now. I promise I will. I'm not going to let you-- any of you-- down again."

The speech was heartfelt, and Alice's old friends were touched. They gathered around and hugged her.

"Welcome back to the family!" Dee said with a wide smile.

"We're just glad you're okay!" Dum added.

"Just don't do it again!" remarked the Queen.

Alice tried as best as she could to hug her friends back, but there were too many friends to reach.

The Mad Hatter separated from the hug, causing everyone else near him to step back a little to encompass for space.

"I think this deserves a tea party! What do you all think?"

"Yeah!" Everyone agreed, and they took a few more steps back.

Music began playing, and the Wonderlanders begin to shout and cheer, welcoming Alice into Wonderland. She felt so happy to be with her friends again, as they began to sing:

"Alice is back, it's a matter of fact!

And no one can stop us from singing aloud!

Alice is back, things are back in track,

Alice, oh Alice, you make us so proud!"

Dee and Dum did a small dance in front of her, as she sat in a white chair in the garden.

"We missed your face in Wonderland,

Days flew by and we felt sad."

Rabbit jumped in for a verse of his own,

"But now that you're here, you'll understand

That your presence makes us super glad!"

The Queen danced up behind them and they parted so she could be in front to sing.

"Alice, without you, we felt lost

I was about ready to decree:

'Bring back Alice at any cost!'

Your appearance deserves a tea party!"

Hatter and Hare smiled and joined the Queen on either side. Hare sang two verses and his friend sang two more.

"A tea party? I believe we can help with that!

We'll get it ready, don't you fret, Your Majesty!

Indeed we will, and I'll swear on my hat,

That Alice deserves a special-tea for her tea!"

All of Alice's friends grouped around her and lifter her up in the chair, swirling her around,

"Alice is back, it's a matter of fact!

And no one can stop us from singing aloud!

Alice is back, things are back in track,

Alice, oh Alice, you make us so proud!"

They placed Alice down and everyone cheered and clapped.

Hatter put a gloved hand to his chin and thought a second, before grinning toothily. "I know just the thing for this party, too! A specialty special tea just for this occasion! Alice's return!"

Hare jumped in excitement, "I know just the tea you're thinking of, Hatter! Let's all head back so we can put the kettle on right away!"

"Right!" Hatter proclaimed, "C'mon, everyone! To the tea table!

A/N: Merry Christmas, everyone! I'm sooooo sorry it took so long to get this up, but I really hope you enjoyed it! I've been missing from here and DeviantArt lately, but that's about to change! Nanowrimo got me kicking on this, and it's winter break for me now, so expect tons of art updates on DA!

And, by the way, you're allowed to laugh at my song. I won't be offended. I told myself I wouldn't write one because there are already a couple already-known songs I'm putting in a few places (I'm sorry if you hate that sort of thing ), but... but... It was the perfect place for a song, and I just couldn't see them NOT singing about Alice coming back. So... There you have it. Haha.