Author's Note: I have completely fallen in love with the new movie…utterly and totally. I've always been a fan of AiW since I was little, and now that I have a beautiful mature Alice and a Hatter that's insane yet completely attractive because of ol' Mr Depp to play with, I thought I'd give it a go. So here's my first ever dabble at AlicexHatter. It is quite dark, and the Hatter might be out of character due to the storyline though I have tried to still make him seem like himself, somewhere under the madness. Anyway I'd really appreciate any comment on the characterisation; it has me biting my fingernails!

One: Rage

"She's here, she's here!" chanted the daisies, the tulips, even the lonely petunia.

The Hatter had yet to believe it. She fell down another hole, so the story went, Not the Rabbit Hole, but another! He was certain she'd have forgotten him. Forgotten them all. Alice was a bright star with far too much running through that clever mind of hers – albeit not too many of the important things, like how a raven was like a writing desk or why the sun couldn't sing in autumn. But surely she would not have the room in her head to remember McTwisp and Mallymkun and the foolish Hatter, half-mad?

"Preposterous," he'd replied to the news at first, because he'd become that kind of person when she left. He'd waited for her return before and she'd left him just as soon as her work was done. "Unlikely, not possible," he'd continued, thin voice becoming a heated Scottish burr, "Ridiculous, absurd, silly –"

"Oh, leave him," the White Rabbit had finally grumbled with a flicking motion at the Hatter. "I might have known it was a waste to tell him. We'll go welcome her ourselves. Quickly now, or we'll be late."

Both the Cheshire cat and the Dormouse huffed at the demand, but with a flurry of movement they were on their way, like every other creature.

Underland was alive with the return of the champion girl.

So why wasn't the Hatter?

***

Alice had not returned using her clever head.

She was here by complete accident, not due to any bolster of muchness, to Mallymkun's chagrin when she found out. A roam in the park, a nap in the shade…one wrong turn in a sleepy haze and she was back in Underland.

"Hello Alice! Alice, it's lovely to see you! This way Alice!" the calls came from far and near the moment she appeared. Every flower had something to say, turning their petals to catch a glimpse of her as she tried to gather her bearings in the glen.

"Hello," she called back with a slight cough, dusting the grit from her dress. "May I ask a question?"

"You just did," said one of the grumpier tulips. Another hushed him and smiled at her kindly.

"Ignore him dear. His petals are starting to wilt. Ask anything you like."

"Don't you think it's rather dangerous leaving holes to Wonderland all over the place for anyone to fall through?"

"Don't you mean Underland?"

Alice nodded, mentally chastising herself. She still felt like she were a child in this place…it was an effort not to let slip its wonderful impression on her. "Yes of course, sorry." Seemingly from nowhere she could smell fresh tea and crumbling scones. Her stomach grumbled. "Am I near the Tea Party by any chance?"

"You're a fair way off from the March Hare's home," said a passing hummingbird in a tinny voice. It stopped to flutter around her hair and pick at the curls that had been ruffled by her fall. "Follow me and I'll have you there before Brillig."

Alice tenderly rubbed the bird's crown, taking a long moment to remember what the Outlandish word meant. "Is it afternoon here too?" she queried, making no move to follow him. "It was afternoon in London. Early afternoon." She looked toward the treetops, wondering where the hole was that she'd fallen down. There was nothing but a trapdoor hanging inexplicably in the air above her head.

"How did you know to come this way, Alice?" asked the hummingbird, now holding a lock of her hair in its beak and trying to tug her away. She remained steadfast, eyes glued to the trapdoor.

"I didn't," she answered distantly. "I was just walking…" she rubs at her head, feeling the bump on her forehead where – she walked sleepily along the path – a stone was in her way – she turned to avoid it – her foot struck air – she was falling so fast – she hit wood beneath her, striking her head – the wood made a clicking sound and swung open – solid ground – "I just wasn't paying attention," she finished.

"You were daydreaming," the bird replied merrily, "That's often how daydreamers end up in Underland. A good place to be if you're head is in the clouds!"

"But I can't leave this spot," Alice said, "This is the door that leads back to the park. I mustn't forget where it is or I may never get back to –"

"I'll remember for you," said the bird, "And so will the flowers, and the beetles. You'll get back. Now come, Alice! Come see your friends! It has been so long!"

Reluctantly, she began to walk away from the glen, making a mental note of the path so that she could get back on her own, if need be. Soon enough though, she forgot about getting home. All she could do was smile like a lunatic. She began to relax, fill with light. That's what being here did to her.

But had it really been so long?

She knew how many years she'd been away for, but Time ran by its own rules in Underland. Alice followed the hummingbird back to Thackery's home, contemplating the consequences of too much time passing.

***

"You're very, very late!"

Only in Underland could Alice be late to her own welcome party.

And what a party it was: the March Hare's tea party tables had multiplied to accommodate at least a hundred others, great and small. She was astounded by the sight of so many faces – some elfin, some black, some white, some spotted with snouts or with beaks or tiny quivering whiskers – all beaming at her from their seats. At her emergence from the trees a great cheer rippled across the tables, a series of squeaks and squawks and whistles that buffeted her ears.

And already the place was a mess.

Tea and biscuits and cakes were being flung with abandon across the vast expanse of tables, the punctuation for all the laughter and boisterous conversation. It was the maddest tea party she'd ever witnessed, and it was in her honour.

Yes, it was a good feeling indeed to be back in Underland.

"How very nice of you to join us!" called the closest of the voices, the first to have pointed out her late arrival. She looked down at her feet and there sat the White Rabbit, tapping his ever present pocket watch and doing a very good impression of being annoyed.

Alice curtseyed at the crowd and with a final cheer they carried on creating a mess.

"It's so good to see you again, McTwisp," she said softly, crouching down to shake the White Rabbit's extended paw.

He twitched his nose and flicked his ears. "I'm just thankful you returned on your own this time. I was certainly not going to come up and find you again."

She straightened up and followed him over to the main table. "I was always on the lookout for a rabbit in a waistcoat hurrying through the bushes," she told him fondly.

"You're late for tea!"

Hearing that deranged Scottish call Alice immediately ducked, just in time to avoid a flying saucer that flew overhead and landed with a thud on the grass. She got to her feet and brushed herself off, hurrying over to the table to find the March Hare. He just sat quivering in his seat, grinning at her maniacally. He hadn't changed a bit. Why was it she could never seem to be on time down here, and that everyone felt the need to remind her of this?

"You must be the right Alice this time," said the Dormouse beside him. "How else would you know to duck?"

"I was the right one last time too," she replied pointedly, "We just hadn't figured it out yet." Alice took up the empty seat beside the Hare and rested her chin in her palm, lips turned ever upwards in a smile. "Isn't that right, Mally?"

"Yes, I suppose," replied Mallymkun sheepishly. She used her hatpin to stab at a passing tray and skewer a sweet. "Toffee?" she offered it to Alice, who politely declined. She couldn't eat.

Something was making her feel uneasy.

"Where are the Tweedles?" she enquired.

"They live with the White Queen, in Marmoreal. We'll take you to her later on in the evening," answered McTwisp. His paws fidgeted with his waistcoat. He knew why Alice was unsettled.

The party was full of life, but there was someone missing. A most important someone.

Her eyes began to wander towards the head of the table, where the most extravagant seat was situated.

Empty. Cold. Hatless.

She could feel those around her start to quieten, waiting for the inevitable question.

"Where's the Mad Hatter?"

Tea cups chinked against their saucers as everyone within earshot heard the name and fell still. Guests at other tables continued on unawares, but all those around Alice seemed to have lost the will to speak. Nobody answered her.

"McTwisp?" Alice turned on the nervous rabbit, "Where is he? Where's the Hatter?"

There followed a pause sufficiently long enough to cause unease through the crowd. And then the silence was broken by a sly voice from above:

"Oh dear, what a perfectly awkward moment to make an appearance."

Alice immediately turned her gaze upwards, hoping to wrangle even the smallest answer from the Cheshire Cat.

"Chess," she said evenly, trying hard to keep the dryness from her voice. "Could you tell me where the Hatter is, please?"

"I could," the cat drawled, not even remotely offended that he hadn't received a proper greeting. "But you wouldn't like it. And I wouldn't want to upset you on your first day back."

"You can tell me now or in two days' time, it won't make a difference. If I don't find out right now, I can guarantee I'll be upset." She stood from the table, looking imploringly at the cat. "Please Chessur, put my mind at ease."

"Funny you should mention the mind," he replied, hovering smugly, drifting about her shoulders.

"It's not funny at all!" McTwisp chastised. Chess had the decency to look abashed. The March Hare chose that moment to explain his ill-humoured jest.

"The Hatter's gone gallymoggers!" he hollered, so loudly that even the guests from other tables heard and quietened down.

"Gone what?"

"He's a loony," the rabbit continued, nattering on in such a nervous manner that Alice couldn't identify the words. She turned to the Dormouse.

"I don't understand, Mally. What's happened?"

"He wasn't right from the moment you left," said the Dormouse. Her words were feather-light, tentative. They held none of her usual ferocity. "Not long after the Horunvendush day, the oraculum told us we needed you and that's when Hatter changed. He wasn't sad anymore. He was just waiting for you to come back." She clutched her tiny hatpin sword against her tiny mouse heart, and shuddered. It was one of the saddest things Alice had ever seen.

"He had so many plans for you," McTwisp picked up with a deep sigh, as if the story itself was too heavy to carry on. "He had nobody else left, you see. And then when you returned and left just like that…he'd really lost it all. We didn't realise that the Mad Hatter we knew before was nothing compared the one we know now."

"How…how is he now?" Alice dared to ask, frightened of the answer.

"There's nothing we can do for the man anymore," said Chessur, "It's all so terribly melodramatic. One moment he's perfectly chipper and the next he's sobbing into his hat. He's getting tearstains all over that lovely fabric."

They had all become glum, but Alice was agitated. "And why are you all just going about your lives as if nothing's changed?"

"It's been four long years," said McTwisp, "Believe me, we tried so very hard. Now, it's just far better to let him be."

"Better for whom?"

"It's just impossible to get through to him."

"Only if you believe it is," she whispered fiercely. "Take me to see him. Now."

***

The guilt was almost unbearable.

My fault, the words thrummed through Alice's mind with every step she took. My fault, entirely my fault. She should have known to stay a while longer, to help Underland heal itself after years of unrest. She should have remembered the strife her friends had undergone and that vanishing at the turning point of the world's rebirth would be difficult for them to take. Most importantly, she should have stayed with the Hatter until he was well again. She shouldn't have run off back to a to-do list of rejection, retaliation and redirection.

Things that begin with the letter R. Consider these.

"I did try to find you once," she told the White Rabbit as they made their way briskly through the forest. The forest that was split down the middle: golden with autumn on one side, grey with winter on the other. "It was before my voyage. I came to the Rabbit Hole, but it had sunken in."

"We had nothing to do with that," said McTwisp tightly, worrying away at his pocket watch. They were missing his perfectly executed Tea Party because he'd neglected to allow time for this inevitable happenstance. "It was one of those other people. From London."

"I'm sorry," she said, wincing with guilt on behalf of her own people. "I wanted to see you all so much before I left, but I hadn't the time to find another entrance. I had to set sail."

The White Rabbit wasn't listening as he came to a stop, and Alice finally recognised the path they'd been walking. The succession of twisted autumn and winter-bathed trees had seemed familiar to her, but she'd been too consumed by her thoughts to pay much attention. Now as the trees stretched away to line the outskirts of a wide clearing, she felt a queer chill. This was where she and the Hatter had first walked together many years ago.

This was the place where the Jabberwocky had attacked the White Queen.

It was the graveyard of the Hightopp Clan.

The fallen homes were barely there at all anymore, ensnared in layers of new growth from the forest. It seemed as if the place had been left to rot instead of being restored. And she realised why: Even if the homes were rebuilt, there were no Hightopps left to inhabit them.

"We're here," he announced timidly. "Alice, before you go I must warn you: The Hatter is no longer anyone you might recognise. He's had far too long to steep in the juices of his breakdown. Just be careful."

How different could he possibly be? Alice thought to herself. "Where is he?"

McTwisp pointed to a hut at the far end of the clearing. It was shabby but unlike the others, whole. A home separate from the faded destruction around them, yet still contaminated by it. The despair was a disease, poisoning whoever stayed too long in this place. Already Alice could feel the melancholy invading her spirit.

"Why would he choose to live in such a place?" she asked, but the White Rabbit had already made his hasty retreat. "More to the point, how could they let him?"

The first signs of madness: talking to oneself.

She approached the hut with mixed feelings of bravado and trepidation. It's only the Hatter, she told herself, nothing's going to harm you Alice.

"Hello?" she called, her voice echoing. She could hear murmurings from within, a hushed voice, but they died down as she arrived outside. "I know you're in there."

The foot of the door was swallowed by growing grass; when it didn't budge after her first few shoves she opted for the open window at the side. It was just a square in the wall with no glass, so she got a steady purchase with her hands and in one swift move jumped up and through the window. She landed with a delicate thud on the wooden floor, in the dark.

There were no hats anywhere, Alice noted first of all.

She'd have expected his home to be brimming with bonnets and caps, lace and fabric and feathers. But there was no colour anywhere: only a handful of doors, warm walls and candlelight to bathe the neglected furniture in a semi-soft light. This was not the home of a man who'd once been hatter to the White Queen. This was not even a secret sanctuary. It was a sick bed; a quiet corner for an ill man to be left in peace. She shed a silent tear that dried before it could baptise the wooden floor.

"Do you not know what a door is, lass?"

Alice started at the voice from the doorway across the room. It was thick with a Scottish accent and low with resentment.

"I do," she replied steadily, "Are you not aware that your grass is now obstructing the entrance to your parlour?"

"If you've come to see the Hatter I'm afraid you're too late," said the voice, hiding just beyond the light of the candles.

Dread settled like a dead weight in her stomach. "W-why might that be?"

The figure stepped towards the light and Alice's hand flew to her mouth. "I'm terribly sorry to inform you that only the madman lives here."

Gone were the luminous green eyes. Gone was the sweet lisp in his gentle voice.

There was only a burning amber gaze that couldn't decide on which part of her to focus. He was a thin wreck of a man with a lacklustre suit, lifeless hair and a body that seemed to hum with violent energy.

It didn't seem possible…yet here was the Hatter, dimmed down a thousand shades to represent a miserable echo of the man she knew.

"It can't possibly be you," Alice whispered, entirely the wrong thing to say.

"Oh how positively slurvish of you!" he shouted, "I don't smile at you therefore I can't be. I don't make sense to you therefore I mustn't be. I can't possibly be, because this young urpal doesn't recognise me!" He'd leaped forward at the last moment, causing Alice to stumble backwards. "Well if you, wee thing, say I'm not who I am, then who am I? What shall I call myself? Who is this madman before you? The Hatter. The Madder Hatter!" and he finished with a bitterly loud bark of a laugh.

Alice was still holding her quivering hands to her mouth. This is so wrong, she thought, so completely wrong. "Hatter, I'm so sorry."

He tensed, orange eyes narrowed. "I know what I'm sorry for, but what do you have to apologise for, child?"

"I am not a child," Alice replied, hoping to keep her voice calm. "It's me, Alice."

There was a coffee table between them. She was glad of this as he began to take steps towards her. She made sure to stay on the opposite side of him, though it saddened her to do so.

"I know only one Alice," said the man who could surely not be the Hatter. "She would never consider me to be enough therefore she'd have no reason to return."

"My name is Alice Kingsleigh," she said, "My father's name was Charles. I followed his vision halfway across the world and since I last saw you I've more than made up for my previous lack of muchness." She swallowed past the hard lump in her throat that would not let the butterflies in her stomach escape. "And I've come here to see my old friend the Hatter."

His hands were clenched into fists. They spasmodically flexed as he tilted his head to the side, considering her words.

"Then have you an answer?"

"To what?"

"Why a raven is like a writing desk."

He still sounded as if there was some great turmoil happening within him and she was eager to say anything that might help ease that.

"As a matter of fact I've given it great consideration," she replied, drawing herself up a little higher. "Because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat." She was feeling quite pleased with herself.

The Hatter was not.

"Wrong!" he barked, his voice no longer singular but laced with different tones of rage. He leaped over the coffee table to land beside her. "There is no answer, you frumious slurking –"

He made to strike her but within the same moment her hand came up to catch his wrist. With surprising strength she held his arm away and just as the both of them realised what had transpired they leaped apart.

He couldn't even begin to apologise. He literally couldn't. He was blinded by madness, unable to see what he'd done wrong. Alice knew this, but it took every ounce of reserve she possessed to not run away.

"It wasn't always easy for me to travel," she said evenly. "There were dangers as well. I'd spend months at a time crossing the ocean, the only woman on a ship filled with men." She swallowed dryly. "I learnt how to defend myself."

"Were you ever hurt? Betrayed?"

"Once," she said curtly. "But I learned after that."

His smile was unpleasant, but she could forgive him. Perhaps it was a relief for him to hear he was not the only one who'd suffered over the years. "It would seem you're just as damaged as I, Alice Kingsleigh."

"Yes, but I wouldn't try to hurt you, Hatter. Not ever."

And just for a fraction of a second, that unpleasant smile was a guilty frown.

Oh, where have you gone, my friend?

She needed time to think. To plan how to fix all this.

"I have news, but it can wait. I'll be back before you know it," she told him, but the words fell upon deaf ears: he'd begun to pace the room relentlessly, grumbling to himself. The door still wouldn't open when she pushed, so she stole one last look at the Hatter before swinging herself out of the window again.

No, today was not the day to tell him she was married.