A/N: Hey all. I'm not even gonna bother going through all the apologies for not posting fic lately. School's piling up the workload, and I just haven't been struck by the muse of late.

That out of the way, HOW GOOD IS ALICE IN WONDERLAND?! I've already seen it 3 times in one week, all in 3-D and believe me, my bank account knows. And I really did need to write fic for it, and it all started when I got a little too in-character when writing the artist-s notes for a photo manipulation I did of me in Hatter make-up the other day. Look on my page for the link to the picture. But I do so hope you enjoy this, and please tell me what I need to do to improve it further in those pretty little presents to my inbox known as reviews ^-^

Of Dickey Birds and Hats

The first that Alice was aware of anything wrong with the goodly mad, and madly good Tarrant Hightopp was when she was forced into a slightly less-than-casual sidestep in order to avoid introduction of hat block and face, as well as a few over-friendly shards of glass and wood. The cause of this commotion, she was to assume, was the hurling of said hat block through the window of the nearby windmill. That is to say, what had been a window, though now it appeared to have ceased to hold tightly enough to that name, for the title seemed to have escaped it, what with its current lack of glass and, alas, even frame.

She had not been contemplating entering the ramshackle building before, though she fancied that it may have been a practical decision when faced with the distinct lack of lunacy at the table before her, and so assured herself that given time, with or without the defenestration of the poor hat block now sitting dejectedly at her feet, she would have arrived at the conclusion.

Sighing good-naturedly, Alice momentarily wondering if there would be at least one occasion upon tumbling down the rabbit hole in which she wouldn't have to duck or sidestep some flying object. But then she thought perhaps that she'd lose her ducking or sidestepping skills without regular practice, and that that would be rather a sad loss, and rather dangerous too, and so she shouldn't think upon such things. With all these thoughts of ducks and steps, she made her way towards the now slightly draftier windmill, all the time awfully glad that she'd had the presence of mind to drag her shoes through the door before taking some Upelkuchen, as well as her dress, as she tiptoed around the glittering glass and opened the door.

It wasn't difficult to find the cause for the ex-window's losing its name. Even without a sharp tongued dormouse sitting atop a twitching March Hare, both staring through a crack in the door, the cacophony of noise from inside was easily recognisable as the Scottish burr of an angry Hatter. The creek of the top step alerted the pair to her arrival, Mallymkin reacting quickly, drawing his sword, while Thackery's eyes merely widened and he pulled on his ears, quivering and laughing.

"It's YOU!" he exclaimed, cackling, "Yer late fer tea!" It was this moment that he became aware, as he looked down at his paws, that he had no cups to throw, and instead said only "… door…" as he became quite dreamy, distracted by a thud of something hitting the door from the inside.

"Abaat time you got 'ere!" Mally said, sheathing the small weapon, "'Atter's bin rantin' and ravin' all afternoon. He can't think of anything to make. Says 'e can't think when you're gone for so long."

There was another thud from inside the room, and Alice kneeled beside them to look through a small space between the door and the jam. Here this was apparently quite literal, she realised, as the smell of strawberries pervaded the air and there was a thick red substance on the wood of the door frame. The hatter must have brought some of the tea party with him to work, she presumed, and smashed a jar in his frustration.

The room was a mess, from what she could see of it. Hats were flung every which way. Materials of every shade and texture were draped over tables, chairs, feathers and hat pins and hat stands and hat blocks, and there was even a poor bespickled ribbon hanging from the chandelier. Bespickled, as Alice was to believe, derived from an odd form of fish named the bespeck, that found the waters it swam in far too cold, and so produced a bizarre type of furry scales, which to Alice's touch felt rather like silk, though it was even softer and at the same time more solid, and Hatter insisted vehemently that it was indefinaly bespeck's furales. But it did have the most beautiful pearlescent quality to it, and the feel of it was well worth the high price charged due to the difficulty of catching bespecks and persuading them to part with a layer of their odd coats. Now, though, the ribbon was left hanging, unwanted and desiring terribly to return to the waters that it was harvested from.

However the most alarming feature to the room wasn't the array of colours and materials - or even shards of glass from the window that was no longer a window, but more of a frame, one or two pieces of class still clung onto dearly, as if they may help to upkeep its pretence of being a window- but the madman pacing the crunching floor. Indeed, had she not been too concerned with the well being of her dear friend, she may have had the desire to go and sensitively break the news to them that it was a doomed venture, and that they should go and be with the rest of their kind down at the bottom of the windmill. However, the stormy figure of the enraged hat maker was a far more concerning problem for her at that moment, and the glass could wait a while.

Starting into action, Alice jumped to her feet, pushing the door open, stepping over the hare, who had been leaning on the wood of the door when she opened it, and so lost his balance when that wood was gone. She also ignored the sound of a disgruntled Mallymkin as he complained about her rudeness, easily evading the slashing of his sword in her direction. Careful not to hurt the Hare, Alice closed the door behind her, discovering it to have taken on the appearance of a wooden pin cushion, with more hat pins and sewing pins in an array of colours than she should want to count. Ignoring this for a moment, she turned to the Mad Hatter, a name never more fitting than to this man now. There was such a darkness around his now amber eyes, that had it been the day she first returned to Underland for the third* time, before she had regained some of her muchness, before she slew the Jabberwocky, she might have been quite alarmed.

But since then, she'd seen his eyes at his brightest greens, darkest yellows, and once even a sad shade of blue. She could never fear him, and she was always the one to sooth his fluctuating moods. He was for a few moments oblivious to her presence, continuing to pace, hands flying from his hair – wild and unrestricted by any hat, though she located his favourite 10/6 sitting upon the table, seemingly the only thing to have escaped his ire – to his bottom lip, which he tapped and twisted and bit, and to clasp behind his back, and back again to his hair. He opened his mouth, as if to shout something, and this was the moment that Alice chose to act.

As he passed the spot that she stood in, she grabbed at the hand nearest her, just as it was leaping from behind his back to atop his head, and holding tightly, catching him mid-step. He overbalanced slightly, but it had the effect she needed. He came to a stop in front of her, allowing her an opportunity to grab his other hand, and he finally became aware of her return. He stared at her for a long moment, blinking his wide eyes, a slow grin growing on his face as the swirling darkness was replaced with bright green and multicoloured lids.

"Alice," A happy lisp had woven itself in his speech, as it did each time she visited, "You've come back, you beamish boy, you."

"So I have," she chuckled, a tone of mock-seriousness lacing her voice, as it always did upon these meetings, "I hope I'm not late."

"I wouldn't know, I'm afraid," he removed a thimbled hand from her grasp, to pull out his pocket watch and showed her its face, "you see, Hare suggested milk may be the ticket to making this go rightimes again. But the daft thing's still a week wrongtimes, and I shouldn't fancy it will be rightimes anytimes soon. So lateness or earliness is all up to you, or you could always ask Time," his voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, "but he's such an easily offended old fellow, you really need to watch what you say to him. That's why they call it a watch you know," he held up his own again, "to remind you to watch what you say."

All through this, Alice simply smiled, happy to be with her Hatter again, and back in the nonsensical of this odd world that she so rarely got the chance to escape back to. Without thinking, as soon as he stopped talking, she wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged herself to him.

"Oh, I've missed you, Hatter."

His face softened even further, petting her hair gently. She pulled away, smiling still, before looking away, to bring his attention to the rest of the room.

"So are you going to tell me what's brought all this on?" She ventured cautiously.

There was a flicker of the same yellow in his eyes for a moment as they looked at the mess he had cultivated quite beautifully. The destruction was worse than she had at first accessed, she noticed now that the whole room was before her. There was broken crockery, as well as the broken jar of jam plastering the section of wall nearest the door. The room was round, rather larger than she had expected of such a narrow building, but she knew how unreliable things like logic and spatial boundaries and such were here, and so dismissed it as just another thing to add to today's 6 impossible things.

"Now, Alice, I hardly think I should be held responsible for this. It's all because of them!" he threw out his hand in the direction of the hat blocks and the materials, his eyes pleading with her to understand, "they're simply not behaving themselves!"

Alice's eyebrows furrowed as she looked at the materials. Nothing seemed to be wrong with them; they weren't holding a circus, nor running away, though it was hard to tell with them lying everywhere. Perhaps he meant that they had been like that when he started, although she somewhat doubted this. But then she thought of the hat block that had been so keen to meet her head earlier, and became curious as to whether she shouldn't blame her dear hatter for the near collision.

"What have they done?"

"It's not what they've done, Alice! It's what they haven't! If they'd done something, why, I'd be most pleased with them indeed. I'd be cheering for them, and commending them for it. But that's the very root of this problem! The tree of it is, they simply won't do anything. I've asked them, I've beaten them, I've pleaded and yelled, but they simply refuse to allow me to do anything with them. I can't think of anything to make, and I need to make something if I'm to call myself a maker of anything, let alone hats!"

"…You've lost your inspiration?" Alice construed, though rather uncertain of her ascertaining of the situation.

"Precisely! I've thought and I've mused, and I've thunk and I've hmmed, I've tried everything I can ponder but simply nothing has wanted to work! I've got nothing! Not a dickey bird!" he paused for a moment, "Not that I'd need a dickey bird… nor particularly want one," again he stopped, "although a dickey bird could mayhap be quite a fetching ornament to a hat," upon which he started pacing again, eyes flitting this way and that as he thought, before coming to a halt and frowning, again standing in front of her, "No! A dickey bird wouldn't possibly do! In fact dickey bird would be detrimental to the making of a hat. I mean, what if the bird flew off? Why then, it would just be a hat! Or what if it needed to relieve itself? It would end up going on my sweet hat, and where would that leave me?" he looked to Alice again, imploringly.

She thought for a moment. "With a soiled hat?"

"Yes! With a soiled hat, that's where! And a soiled hat is almost worse than no hat at all!" he stopped again, blinking as something twigged, "But then, no hat at all could mean me catching a cold, which would be worse than a soiled hat…" he pouted, "But I couldn't possibly wear a soiled hat, now could I? So even with a soiled hat, I would catch a cold, because I couldn't possibly wear it out, so it would be the same as having no hat, but with the added insult of having a soiled hat. So perhaps I should have said that a soiled hat andno hat are equal in their worsenesses, as they both result in a cold, and colds aren't very good for making hats, and they're terribly difficult things to let go once caught, and so I'm still left in the position where I have no hat and I don't even have the health to make more."

He seemed pleased for a moment with his deduction, before a strange expression took him as realisation dawning on him "However, if I'd never said them to be different, then we never would have come to the conclusion upon why they are equal in worsenesses, and so I concur that it was a valid statement at the time to lead us into enlightenment of the dangers of involving dickey birds in the matters of hatters- Ooh!" He grinned widely, "I do believe I've made a rhyme."

"I do believe you have," Alice agreed genially, suppressing the urge to laugh. It was so good to be back amongst the mad after such a long spell constricted by formality and sanity back "home". She felt it meant a lot to call her birth place "home" with inverted commas just so, as she always did in her mind these days, as it was always a difficult idea to pin down upon where she belonged most.

"Rhymes are such fun things, but they can often put you off your mind. I'm always told I'm off my head, or I've lost my mind, but to that I tell them that mind are silly, useless things that are always getting lost, and if a mind was meant to be kept, it would come with a leash. I mean, think about it. Minds are always wandering off on their own accords, and a wandering mind is so easily lost. You wouldn't have to worry about that if they came with a leash," He laughed at this, "What a thing that would be. Things would get so much quicker without having to worry about your mind wandering… speaking of which…" his over-sized eyebrows furrowed momentarily "Where was I going with this?"

"You didn't appear to be "going" anywhere very far with it, beyond these few inches of carpet," Alice waved a hand at the space in which he'd been pacing, "But the point of it seemed to have something to do with materials and blocks refusing to behave themselves as you wish, and of how dickey birds would never be very reliable ornaments for hats, if I'm to understand correctly."

"Ah yes! I have not the slightest of ideas on what to make. Nothing. And even if I do get an idea, it shan't be involving any birds in it, dickey or otherwise. Or cats for that matter-" He paused again, looking uncertain of what he'd said, "This matter," He was still unhappy with that "The matter," he seemed happier with this, making a small "ah" of triumph "Yes, the matter of hatters, with the maddest of hatters, for cats are the maddest of matters when it comes to this hatter!" His voice suddenly became the angry Scottish brogue at the end of this.

"Hatter" Alice said calmly, instantly deflating his rage with a croaked

"Thank you…"

He shook himself, during which Alice shook her head, and decided to step forward in the defence of the only cat that he could be referring to.

"Now now, be fair. You know full well that you'd be dead without Ches, so be nice."

"That as may well be, but he's always trying to steal my hat! And those claws completely ruin the brocade i use in my very most bestest hat!" he waved at the table that his hat lay upon, before thinking twice and instead picking the hat up and putting it in its proper place upon his head to keep it from harm, "Nasty habit, those cats have. Stick their claws in anything they like, and they like almost everything! And they even stick their claws in things they don't like! Don't believe that grin Alice!" he waved a bethimbled finger in her face, "That's the grin of a mischievous little grisker if ever there was one! Lickspickle little fraud he can be."

"Come come, I just told you not to be cruel to him!"

"But Cheshire cats are the cats you should be the very most wariest of. Frumious creatures they can be with those claws, when they're not vanishing off with their tail between their legs. Well… with or with out their tails. Or legs… or body for that matter, this matter, the matter-" He shook his head, "…Let's not get into that again… what was I saying? Oh, yes. Tail between their legs, or without tail, or legs, or body all together, as Chessur is so fond off doing. He likes leaving his head in one place and the rest of him some otherwheres. Can be an awful nuisance when you're left with a floating head. It can still talk, you see."

"I do see," agreed Alice, looking at the space above the Hatter's hat, and so looking further up and up each second as it rose higher and higher, carried in the teeth of just such a floating head away from the red curls, "Though it's not just talking you have to worry about, methinks."

This statement confused the Hatter for a moment, as he blinked and his brows nit together, before he noticed that she wasn't so much looking at him, but above him. This was when he realised that his head felt unusually light, and the feeling of light-headedness, in this sense, was quite a feeling he didn't like to experience without his express permission. He looked upwards, only to see the red lining of his hat moving away from where it should be, in a place it most decidedly shouldn't be. Namely, in the jaws of just such a cat as he was talking of.

Instantly he leapt for the hat, or the cat, Alice wasn't entirely sure, nor was she sure quite what the words being spat from the madman's mouth were meant to mean, nevertheless she was sure they were not anything a lady should hear. But then, she hardly counted herself as a lady whenever she tumbled down the rabbit hole, and so she felt no need to blush like a lady would be wont to do. She merely crossed her arms and sighed, watching the hat flying from side to side, and at the man grabbing for it.

"Now Ches," she said disappointedly after a few moments of chasing and cursing, "I was just standing up for you. You shouldn't make me go back on my defence, as you know full well that I can be a fair enemy when I wish to."

They both stopped, the cat's eyes dimming slightly as a look of hurt and guilt grew on his face.

"Give him back his hat," she continued, "Or I shan't be talking with you all this visit."

With a look of glumness, the cat vanished, dropped the hat on the head that was waiting below, and Tarrant clamped his hands to either side of the brim to protect it from further thievery. Chessur reappeared, fully embodied this time, paws crossed just under his chin, close to her right shoulder, blue eyes looking to hers for forgiveness.

"So sorry, dear girl," he purred, even if his voice, as ever, had only a hint of sincerity, before his eyes turned once more to the hatter, or more, to what he was wearing, "But I really do love that hat."

There was a moment of leering between the friends, before Alice's eyes went wide, and a smile crossed her lips.

"I've got it!"

"Got what?" they both asked.

"It!"

"What's it?" Hatter asked, as Chessur purred "I hope it isn't contagious…"

Alice waved her hand at the cat, frowning at the joke as he disappeared and reappeared at her other shoulder.

"Hatter? Are you still having trouble thinking of a hat to make?"

---

The next day, Alice awoke at the Hatter's sewing table, to a loud humming just by her left ear. She lifted her head from Hatter's jacket -which she guessed he must have placed under her head as a make-shift pillow some time in the night- to meet the glittering eyes of one grinning moggy, whose grin seemed so wide, she would hardly be surprised if it were to fall right off his face. It wouldn't have been the oddest thing she'd ever seen, after all, though it may well worry her to see her friend without a mouth.

She sat up, stretching and wincing as she decided that perhaps it had not been her most brightest of ideas to fall asleep at the table, and becoming aware of not a few pains in her back from the odd position. Nonetheless, she found herself incapable of not smiling at the two proud faces now looking at her, for not only was there the cat, but the creator of his joy was standing just behind him.

Atop Chessur's head was a most delightful miniature top hat. It was a simple design, but the materials were luxurious – all the colours of Ches' coat, in a similar pattern, but when it turned in a certain light, the material had a most peculiar sheen, the same hue of blue-green as his eyes. A single feather was tied to the base with the bespickled ribbon she had noticed earlier the previous day, with the ends of the ribbon tying the hat in place.

"What do you think?" they both said eagerly, eyes as wide as each others.

She looked at the hat for a long time, tapping her mouth in mock concentration until both their faces had dropped.

"I told you she wouldn't like it," spat the cat to the hatter.

"No, I told you!" spat the hatter to the cat.

"Well then, you're both wrong," she grinned, before the joke got out of hand, or paw, or any such appendages, "I think it may well be the best hat you've ever worn" she said Chessur, chuckling him under the chin to see his grin return "and mayhaps one of the best you've ever made," she said to the hatter, getting up and laying a peck on his cheek.

"I knew that you'd like it," insisted the hatter.

"I said that she would," agreed the cat, disappearing and reappearing in front of a mirror in the corner.

"Well then, you were both right," she didn't bother to pull them up on their contradiction, instead choosing to walk for the door. "Now, if you'll both excuse me, I'd rather like to get to tea," she stopped at the door, looking back as she licked some strawberry jam from her finger, "since neither of you offered me any yesterday, and I'm rather thirsty, as well as hungry. Plus, unless you've bought more since I last visited, I shouldn't think there's many cups left, and if I'm much later, March Hare may be forced to throw more, and if we run out of cups, we'll have to wait for new cups to arrive to have any tea. And if Hare goes without his afternoon tea, we all know how mad that makes him. And you did promise I wouldn't have to get any more China out of my hair. I've had quite enough of it after 6 months there." With that she left, leaving the door open as an invitation.

"I'll never know how one can travel so far inside a cup, regardless of how much Pisholver you drink," Hatter puzzled, before furrowing his brows as the feeling of the light-headedness he had been hoping he wouldn't have to feel again returned.

"Sorry, old chap," purred Chessur, following Alice out the door with a certain hat in his paws, "But old habits do die hard, and I've never been one to wish death on anything, let alone habits as fun as this…"

---

Alice cringed as she walked out the door -remembering to be careful of the broken glass- as she heard more of the same curses from the day before perforating the thin walls of the building behind her. This cringe became a duck, at the shout of "Yer late fer tea!" from the table in front of her, followed by cackling from a certain hare and dormouse, and she decided that she was a silly thing for thinking that her clever idea would change anything.

And for thinking that she really wanted anything to change at all.

-----

A/N: I have a nasty feeling that I lost it a bit at the end, but I'm too tired right now to go back and change anything. I may improve it over the next few days, but here it is, and I hope you enjoy ^-^

*: I've noticed that in fanfic, people tend to say "her second visit to Wonderland" or something similar, but I think people are forgetting that there was another occasion, i.e. Through the Looking Glass. I just wanted to make a point.

Fair Farren all, and please remember to review!