Disclaimer: I don't own Alice in Wonderland. That belongs to Lewis Carroll, Disney, etc. Nor do I own any characters, things, ideas, or places therein. I am not making monetary gain off this story, though a few nice reviews would be appreciated…

Summary: Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland." Wonderland would save her. It always did. But she had no strength to return, at least not on her own… AlicexHatter

Rating: T

Warnings: Almost-character-death

Pairing: Alice/Hatter

Part: 1/1

Dedication: To all the lovely people who read/reviewed/favorited Madly, Deeply, Sincerely and Three Wonders. I thank you all so very much, I appreciate every single one of you, you all make me so very happy!

Special Thanks: Once more goes out to my fabulous twin jewel of athos, the lovely beta who keeps me on track when I go off on frequent tangents, and then sends me on other tangents that usually help me write better. Also, she came up with the title for this fic, so it definitely wouldn't be what it is without her. Thanks, sister!

Author's Note: Every time I see Alice in Wonderland I come out inspired for another story. I'm not entirely sure what it was about the movie exactly that inspired this one (because usually it's one particular element or scene), but I most sincerely hope you enjoy it. Thank you all so much for checking my story out! ~fyd

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Home to Underland

fyd818

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"Hatter! Hatter!"

Tarrant Hightopp, known more commonly as simply the Mad Hatter, looked up from his tea and his speculations. "Raven!" he declared.

The White Rabbit blinked in confusion as the Dormouse and March Hare laughed uproariously at this seemingly random declaration. But since Hatter had been considering why a raven was like a writing desk, it wasn't at all random to him. Or to his tea party companions, who knew about his quest for the answer to that conundrum.

Shaking his head, the Rabbit reached into his waistcoat pocket and withdrew a shiny watch. Poking a paw at it, he said, "It's time."

"Time? We made up, you know. He admitted that I was right and he was wrong, and Alice…" Hatter's voice trailed off, his bright green eyes dimming slightly. Alice… She had come, regained her muchness, saved Underland -- and then left. Again.

"Stay for tea!" the Hare demanded, laughing insanely as he threw a teacup at the poor Rabbit. The latter ducked, twitching an ear after the cup's handle brushed it on the way past. The delicate piece of china shattered against a tree, splashing liquid everywhere.

"I don't have time for tea!" Rabbit returned, glaring at the chortling Hare. "And neither do you!" he shouted at the Hatter, who was once more gloomily observing his now lukewarm tea.

"Time." It had been a very long time since Alice had left. Too long.

The Rabbit bounced a little closer, shaking his watch in front of the madman's pale face. "Will you look!"

Hatter's eyes at last focused on the timepiece, which seemed to be moving much faster than usual. "Has Time got himself in a twist again?" he asked, staring at the little gold hands that were frantically ticking away.

"This isn't Time, this is time! How it moves in Otherland!"

That caught Hatter's full attention. He reached for the watch, but Rabbit snatched it away. "Alice…" he whispered.

"Alice," the Rabbit agreed. "The hands of time are speeding up because she doesn't have much left! She needs to come back to Underland, but she can't come on her own!"

The entire line of tables rattled as Hatter leaped to his feet. "Who's preventin' her?" he demanded in the thick brogue that overtook him when he became angry. His eyes glowed a fierce orange.

"Hatter!" the Dormouse chided.

"I'm fine," he whispered, his eyes fading back to green.

The Rabbit gave a frantic little hop. "I can't get her here on my own, because she can't follow me! You've got to go get her."

Hatter froze, his feet suddenly feeling too heavy to pick up and move. "Me -- go -- up there?" His voice squeaked a bit on the last word.

"There's no one else that can do it!" Rabbit protested. "You're the only one. Now go!"

"But I don't know how!" Hatter protested. "I've never been up there! You have!"

Returning his watch to his pocket, the Rabbit frantically slapped at his waistcoat until he found what he was searching for. "Aha!" Triumphantly, he held out a little glass vial toward the Hatter. "Here!"

Gingerly taking it, the orange-haired madman held it up to the light, making a face at the fluorescent purple liquid inside. "Is that -- Jabberwocky blood?"

"The White Queen had some left," Rabbit explained. "For emergencies, you know." Giving another hop, he indicated the vial. "Drink it! And concentrate on Otherland and Alice!"

Hatter had felt fear few times in his life, but it had never been so bad as this. "I don't know my way," he whispered. "How will I find her?"

"The Jabberwocky blood will help you," Rabbit said. "It will guide you to what you want most. Just concentrate on Alice once you get up there, and you'll find her. Now go!" He motioned frantically with his paws. "Go! Before it's too late!"

"Good luck, Hatter!" the Dormouse called.

"Don't be late for tea!" the Hare added helpfully, brandishing his spoon threateningly.

"And don't drink all the Jabberwocky blood at once!" The Rabbit advised just as the Hatter got up enough courage to lift the little vial to his lips. "You might need the rest of it later."

Hatter gulped down the drink he'd just taken in an effort not to spew it back out. It tasted funny, like a combination of the best and worst things in the world.

"Think about Otherland, and Alice," the Rabbit said. "Only about Otherland and Alice…"

Suddenly the Rabbit's voice, and the Dormouse and March Hare's insane giggles, turned warped, like when the phonograph wasn't working right on every other Tuesday. For a moment the glint of the Rabbit's pocket watch, which he had once more withdrawn from his pocket, was the clearest thing that Hatter saw, since everything else had disappeared in a strange, swirling mist. Then Hatter realized that he was no longer seeing the glint of the watch, but a strange golden light, which was rapidly approaching.

He was falling up! A most delightful thing, he decided, right before he landed with a decided oomph!

Hatter sat up, straightening his Hat, which had been knocked askew. Scrambling to his feet, he knocked dirt off his suit before straightening and looking around. "Strange, strange world," he said simply. The colors were all wrong. Everything was too dull, and too short, and nothing talked.

Whatever was here that Alice had wanted to return to, that made it more interesting than Underland?

Alice. The importance of his mission re-occurred to him. He slid the almost-empty vial of Jabberwocky blood into his pocket before forcing his mind to concentrate on one thing, and one thing only. Alice. Alice. Alice. Alice.

So suddenly he almost fell on his face, there came a tugging sensation in his stomach. He started putting one foot in front of the other, his mantra of Alice repeating over and over in his mind as his pace picked up from a walk to a run. Alice!

So help anyone who got between him and Alice, a very distant part of his mind pondered, for they would find out just how mad he could get if they did.

*~*~*~*~*~*

She had amassed a great fortune. Her name became common in every household from London to Hong Kong and beyond. She had done more in five years than most people accomplished in a lifetime.

But Alice Kingsley, extraordinarily successful businesswoman and great Champion of Underland, was dying.

Once she realized what had happened, she had ordered everyone away. Her dear sister, Margaret, her mother, her friends, and those she had hired to help keep up her house. Even her business partner was not allowed in to see her. She wanted no one else to fall prey to whatever horridly deadly thing she had. The doctor, who had been the only one admitted to see her, had clucked his tongue, shaken his head, and sadly reported there was nothing he could do.

Alice didn't feel strong enough to do something as simple as lift her hand, but she managed to turn her head to look out the window. Once she had thought she had seen a flash of white fur, but it was gone just as quickly. It was probable she was hallucinating. She had a very high fever, after all, the doctor had said.

Or perhaps it was all a dream… She wanted to escape into her dream again. She wanted to see once more the glowing green eyes that forever haunted her, that tinged her dream-emotions with great happiness, yet also great sadness and longing.

Without warning, the doors to her bedchamber burst open so hard they smacked the wall. Alice startled slightly, a gasp sticking in her throat because she didn't have enough air to draw in for a proper one. Once she had managed to wheeze her way back into a somewhat normal breathing rhythm, and had fought off the darkness clawing its way across her vision, she looked to see who had dared break quarantine.

His clothes were the strangest mix of colors, bright blues and yellows and reds and other colors that normally wouldn't go together. Bright orange stuck out hither and thither beneath a very familiar Hat, which seemed a little crooked above orangey-red eyes, set in deeply shadowed sockets in an otherwise pale, pale face.

But Alice recognized him immediately. "Hatter!" She could only whisper the word, but somehow she managed to get up enough strength to hold her hand out toward him. Even if he was a hallucination, she wanted to touch him again. She wanted him to be real, so, so badly. She had missed so much about Wonderland, but it was he she had missed most.

The angry orange faded from Hatter's eyes, leaving them the bright, glowing green she remembered. "A-Alice…" He stuttered over her name, his features twisted in confusion as he looked at her from where he still stood frozen in the doorway.

Her hand dropped back to the covers. "You came to see me one last time," she whispered. "I'm so glad you've come…"

Between one blink and the next, he was kneeling next to her bedside, his hand fluttering back and forth between the edge of the bed and hers, almost as if he was wondering whether or not it would be appropriate to touch her. "Alice," he repeated. "The White Rabbit came to me, while I was having tea with the Hare and the Dormouse. He told me time -- not Time, because we made up, you know -- was running out, and he showed me his pocket watch -- you remember the one, don't you? -- and said that you were running out of it -- time, I mean. He said he'd come back up and found you, but you couldn't come back to Underland on your own, and he couldn't get you there, so he sent me to find you, and I drank the blood of the Jabberwocky -- nasty stuff, isn't it? -- and that brought me here, to you, and -- Alice, what is wrong with you?"

For once, Hatter had talked himself out of one of his nervous rambling fits. Alice smiled through it, realizing she had missed those more than she realized. No one rambled in London. "I'm dying, Hatter," she replied, managing to snag one of his fingers with one of her own as his hand approached hers again.

Hatter suddenly stiffened, his eyes flashing orange again. "Did someone hurt ye?" he demanded, angry again. "Where's me sword? I'll run the--"

"Hatter, Hatter," she whispered, squeezing his finger gently. His eyes faded back to green and refocused on her, and she let out the breath she'd been holding. "No one hurt me. I'm dying because I'm sick." She swallowed back the cough that tried to escape her throat because she'd been straining to talk.

Hatter suddenly leaped to his feet, pulling his hand out of hers. "I've got to get you back to Underland!" he declared. "Rabbit said everything would be okay if I took you back. He never lies to me." He paused for a moment. "Well, there was the time that -- no, wait, he didn't lie then, either. Maybe I'm thinking of Chessur?" Shaking himself, he gazed down at her with wide, earnest eyes. "Come back to Underland with me," he said softly.

She had never seen him so serious. Blinking rapidly, she realized she wanted to get up and run after him, to tumble down that horrendous rabbit hole with the things that chased her down it and drink the potion that shrunk her and eat the cake that made her grow. But she didn't have the strength. She couldn't sit up, let alone walk. "I can't, Hatter," she whispered. "I can't come. I can't even walk."

His strange, mesmerizing eyes changed again, this time to a kind of stormy grey that resembled the sky before torrential rain broke loose. "You have to come," he said, sounding so sad it nearly broke her heart. "I need you."

The simple honesty of those words, said without restraint or shame, made the dam behind her eyes break. Two tears spilled down her temples and into her hair. "Oh, Hatter…"

He looked surprised at her tears, reaching out to touch one of the droplets like he'd never seen anything like it before. "Don't be s-sad," he whispered nervously.

Alice forced herself to blink back her tears and smile. "Hatter? Why is a raven like a writing desk?" she asked to distract him.

Hatter's face barely brightened, and his eyes didn't at all. "I still haven't a clue," he said. "I was hoping you would know--" He broke off so abruptly it sounded like someone had tried to strangle him. His eyes unexpectedly returned to their usual vibrant green, and he smiled. "Of course!" He started to lean down, then jerked back upwards so fast his Hat almost tumbled off his head. "Are you -- I mean, am I -- would it be permissible if -- I mean, do you have any reservations about--"

"Hatter." She smiled faintly.

"--I've never been here before, so--" He stopped immediately at her soft calling of his name. "Sorry. I'm fine." He held out his arms awkwardly, pantomiming a scooping motion. "I could carry you…?"

She had always tried to be strong. The idea of depending on someone else rankled a bit, but she wanted to go back to Underland so much, especially if it meant she was going back with Hatter… Closing her eyes, she nodded.

A second later she felt the blanket being tucked around her a little tighter. Then his arm went under her shoulders, his other under her knees, and just like that she was in the air. Resting her head against Hatter's shoulder, she opened her eyes to take one last look around her room. She wouldn't be coming back to Otherland, not this time.

She got a vague impression of startled, staring faces passing by as Hatter carried her through the house, holding her like she was the most fragile thing in Underland and Otherland combined. They emerged into the sunshine through the front door, and Alice relished the feel of the warm rays on her face. Yes, there were aspects of Otherland she would miss, but she belonged in Underland. Somehow she'd always known that. It had just taken her this long to accept it.

Hatter continued his forward motion, ignoring everything around him, until they reached the entrance to Underland. "Hold on tight," he whispered, waiting until she got as secure hold as she could around his shoulders before he stepped feet-first into the rabbit hole.

Everything was just as topsy-turvey as it was when she fell down the rabbit hole by herself, but it wasn't quite as scary when she did it while being held by Hatter, who was grinning widely through the whole thing. He even managed to land on his feet when they landed in the room with the many doors.

Things were starting to get kind of hazy. She knew she didn't have much time left, but she had to see the Wonderland of her dreams again…

She was dimly aware of Hatter encouraging her to drink something that tasted absolutely revolting, then, a little while later, him giving her something else that tasted a little better. Everything was out of focus and strange. The colors were all too bright, except for Hatter's eyes, which were turning grey again.

Alice realized he was mumbling frantically to himself as he carried her through the trees and flowers and mushrooms, who were all whispering to themselves. "…Rabbit said you'd be better when I got you back here," Hatter fretted. "You're not better!"

She was cold, so cold. Not even the blanket wrapped around her or Hatter's secure arms were keeping her warm any more. She fought to keep her eyes open, hoping to see at least a couple more of her friends first…

"Hatter!"

"Alice!"

"Late for tea again!"

The last was accompanied by a quick motion by the Hatter and the crash of china against a tree. Alice forced her eyes open again (when had they closed?), smiling when she saw the White Rabbit, the Dormouse (both of whom were staring at her with worried expressions), and the Hare (who was suddenly shaking and clutching a spoon to his chest, looking very worried indeed).

Hatter marched right up to the Rabbit, his eyes flashing back and forth between grey and orange with an almost alarming speed. "Ye promised me when I got 'er back to Underland she would be better!" he ranted.

The Rabbit was actually starting to resemble the Hare, he was shuddering so hard and his eyes were so wide. He was clutching his pocket watch to his chest and frantically shaking his head so hard his ears flopped about, looking like he was about to pass out at any moment.

Suddenly a head appeared between the Rabbit and the Hatter, floating upside down without a body. It was just two wide, fluorescent green eyes with slit pupils and an unnaturally large grin set in a furry face with long whiskers, impossibly hovering there. "Welcome back to Underland, the Alice," Cheshire purred.

"Move, ye great fat floatin' balloon of a feline!" Hatter half-shouted. "Can't ye see I'm tryin' tae save Alice?!"

The rest of Cheshire's body appeared, his tail swishing lazily through the air as he crossed his forward paws. "Don't you still have some Jabberwocky blood left?" he asked, almost lazily.

"Aye, but what's that got tae do with--" Hatter stopped abruptly, his eyes widening as they turned green again. "…Give me anything I wish…" he whispered, as if to himself. He dropped to his knees, cradling Alice on his lap with one arm as he felt in his pockets with the opposite hand. "Where is -- where is -- there!" He snatched out a glass vial a third full with fluorescent purple liquid. Popping the lid open, he lifted it to his lips and gulped it down.

Alice felt her eyes slide closed. She just couldn't hold them open any longer. But at least she'd gotten to see Rabbit, and Hare, and Dormouse, and Cheshire again -- and, most important, Hatter…

"Alice!"

Her eyes snapped open, and she sat up so fast she nearly collided foreheads with the Hatter, whose voice was one of the ones who had been shouting her name. "What?" she demanded. "I was dreaming!"

Then she realized what she'd done. What she'd said. Who she'd said it to. She'd sat up. She'd been able to talk without getting out of breath, or feeling like she was going to cough up her innards. She was talking to, looking at, Hatter, Rabbit, Dormouse, Hare, and Cheshire.

She wasn't sick anymore! She was in Underland again!

Laughing and blinking back the good tears in her eyes, she threw herself at each one so she could hug them. The Rabbit stuttered nervously and patted her arm; the Dormouse poked her with her sword and a squeak of surprise; the Hare banged her on the back of the head with his spoon; Cheshire tolerated her for approximately two seconds before he disappeared and reappeared out of reach above her head; and Hatter…

He was sitting there shyly, his hands folded in his lap, hat still askew atop his frizzy orange hair. He was looking at her bashfully from beneath his lashes, green eyes shining like the sea in the sunlight. "A-Alice."

Leaning forward, Alice carefully wrapped her arms around his shoulders in a gentle but fierce hug, then planted a kiss on his cheek. "Thank you, Hatter," she whispered.

Hatter wrapped his arms around her waist and hung on when she started to lean back. "I-I've been considering words that start with the letter 'L'," he whispered. "Like, little, live, load, lump, lunge, lake, lady, lucky, lurking, large, leaping, loping--"

"--Love," Alice finished for him, smiling the first true smile she had since she'd left Underland -- home -- so long ago.

She was back. And she was never leaving again.

~The End~

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I know that's a bit of an abrupt stop, but it just felt like the perfect place to end it. Thank you so much for reading my story, and I hope you enjoyed it!