Disclaimer: I don't own Alice in Wonderland. The rights to that belongs to Lewis Carroll, Disney, and Tim Burton. I am writing this fic for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain.

Summary: A slightly alternate version of movie events wherein Alice is imprisoned with the Hatter in the Red Queen's dungeons… Hatter whump; rating for violence and dark themes. AlicexHatter

Rating: T

Warnings: Violence, torture, dark themes

Pairing: Alice/Hatter

Special Thanks: Once more goes out to jewel of athos, who not only beta'd this fic, but also inspired some of it, and helped immensely with the whumping and the keeping my facts straight. Thanks, twin sis! -hugs-

Author's Note: This originally started out as a two-page piece of fluff that rapidly grew a mind of its own, and wound up 14 pages. This is a slightly alternate version of events, though some of it will be familiar from the movie. It draws off events from both the movie and the book (which I recommend, definitely, if you enjoyed the movie -- there's a lot more of the Hatter and Hatter/Alice in it). Some parts of it might seem a bit disjointed, but I wrote it that way deliberately, since Alice is less than with it during those parts of the story. This is the first time I've tried to write something like this, so I really hope you all like it. Thanks for checking my story out! ~fyd


~Part I~

Frabjous Eve


"Down with the Bloody Big-Head," Alice Kingsley grumbled to herself. She had not truly understood why everyone kept saying those words until she had witnessed the Red Queen's cruelty for herself. And here she was, in that woman's court, a favorite! The only thing that saved her was the White Rabbit's calling her "Um," and her own quick thinking.

But despite how macabre the Red Queen herself was, Alice had noticed someone who was even worse, and his name was Ilosovic Stayne, the Knave of Hearts. The moment his one eye had rested on her, a chill had gone straight up her spine and encased her heart. The Red Queen was horrible, always calling "off with his head!" or "off with her head!" But at least she was straightforward about it. The Knave was sneakier -- and Hatter had been at his mercy for too long.

The moment she was able to escape the Red Queen's fawning attentions (curse that Upelkuchen for making her so big!), she set out to find where exactly he'd been taken. His talent with his tongue and his hands had saved him, for now, but she needed something a little more permanent. She needed to get him as far away from Stayne as she could, preferably sooner rather than later.

It took her a few minutes, but at last she found the White Rabbit. He was hiding in a little alcove, shaking and shuddering, obviously trying to make himself invisible, though that was quite impossible. "McTwisp!" she called. "There you are! Where is the Hatter?"

He hesitated, staring at her with frightened eyes. "I-In the Red Queen's dressing room," he stuttered nervously. "He is making hats with great haste."

Alice took only a moment to thank him before she took off for the room with great haste. She had been taken there earlier, when a dress had been fashioned for her out of curtains, since there was nothing else large enough to clothe her now huge body.

For a moment she stood outside the door, hand on the knob that was almost too small for her overlarge hand. Nervousness was welling up into her throat, forcing her to swallow it back. After the state she had seen him in earlier, she wasn't sure what to expect now. Had Stayne gotten to him again? Or was he (at least for now) safe while working on the Red Queen's hats?

Well, I'll never find out just standing here, she thought. Drawing in a deep breath, she turned the knob and allowed the door to swing inward.

The first thing that captured her eye was the sheer volume of fabrics crowding every available space in the room. The riot of color, patterns, and materials was, at least at first, a bit overwhelming.

Then she finally caught sight of the Hatter, who had been lost in the general shock for a moment, since he was rather colorful himself. The only thing marring his appearance was the sturdy chain that ran from the shackle around his ankle to a thick ring in the wall. Sliding the Hatter's Hat, which she had retrieved from the garden, behind her back, she crept across the room and set it on the divan to present to him later.

She should have known she couldn't startle the Hatter, not even when he was so obviously immersed in what he was doing while humming a merry tune. "They're all so beautiful," she said.

Hatter glanced at her over his shoulder, smiling briefly before going back to his work. "It feels good to be working at my trade again," he said. It was amazing how many fabrics and tools he could juggle all at once. He truly was a master at his work.

"You shall have to make me one someday," she said, brushing her fingers over the feathers of one, and lifting another to admire the delicate, swirling patterns stitched into it.

Hardly skipping a beat, Hatter reached out, plucked the one she'd been admiring out of her hands, and put it upon her head. "It shall be something like that one, I should think," he said. "Though it will be bluer, to match your dress. Yes, bluer. With some silver, and maybe a few pins. Yes, that sounds right…"

It was amazing. She had come to cheer the Hatter up, but here he was, cheering her up. Reverently taking the hat off, she set it aside. "I look forward to seeing it," she said softly.

He mumbled something, but she didn't catch what it was. Sighing, she leaned over his shoulder again, for a moment watching the way his nimble fingers worked needles, scissors, thread, and fabric, all without dropping a stitch or poking himself. She could never work a needle without winding up with little bloody holes all over her fingers from where she had repeatedly poked herself with them. "It's just a pity you have to make them for her," she said. If there were anyone who less deserved one of the Hatter's fabulous creations, it was the Red Queen.

Suddenly he stiffened. His back went straight, and his fingers relaxed, dropping what he'd been working on. What part of his face she could see was suddenly filled with a remorse and self-loathing that surprised her. One of the things she had so admired in the Hatter was how comfortable he was in his own skin, how freely honest and happy he was.

"What is the hatter with me?" he murmured, then seemed to realize what he'd said. "Hatter… Hmm. Ma-Matter. Madder." And then, in that second, he snapped.

With a sudden cry of rage, he swept his arm across his worktable, scattering pins and needles and fabric. Somehow during his swing, he'd managed to snatch up a pair of scissors, and Alice stepped back as he swept past her, burying the blades in a dummy that he then pushed over.

"Hatter!" She tried to get his attention, but he didn't hear her.

He grasped the apron he'd been wearing to protect his clothes in both hands and tore it off with a loud ripping sound. More hats and dummies and fabrics went tumbling as he angrily charged his way across the room, shouting things she couldn't understand. Abruptly he hit the end of the chain's reach and nearly fell, but he was still trying to keep going. Alice knew she had to stop him before he hurt himself.

"Hatter!" she called again, grabbing his arm and spinning him to face her. She took his face in her too large, too clumsy hands, shocked at the color of his eyes. They'd gone from fluorescent lime to an orange so deep they were almost red, twin flames that immediately faded the moment he saw the expression on her face.

"I don't like it here, Alice," he whispered. "It's terribly crowded."

She felt a twang in her heart, and she longed to hug him. But she was too large, and it was beyond frustrating. For a brief moment, she wanted to have a fit of madness like Hatter's and see if just maybe it would help her feel better.

"Have I gone mad?" His eyes were round and frightened as he stared at her. He was already mad, she knew, but it was a good kind of mad. She knew he was asking her if he had somehow become the bad kind of mad. But he could never, ever become like that, she knew. He was too good for that.

Alice lifted one shaking hand from his face to rest it on his forehead, as her father used to do to her when she was little and asked him the same question. "I'm afraid so," she said softly, trying to keep the tremor from her voice. "You're mad. Completely bonkers. Off your head."

Worry flickered through his eyes, which lightened in color, closer to yellow than green.

Returning her hand to his face, Alice allowed a smile to curve her lips. "But I'll tell you a secret, Hatter. All the best people are."

Hatter's eyes once more glowed happy green as he smiled, muscles relaxing at her assurance. He looked more himself again, though there was still something missing…

Alice reached behind her, able to get what she wanted without moving since she had such unnaturally long arms now. Picking up the Hatter's Hat, she settled it atop his head, smiling at the grin that brightened his face when she realized what he was doing. "There," she said, satisfied. "Now you look yourself again."

Suddenly his eyes turned speculative, and his smile faded. "Why is it you are always too small, or too tall?" he sighed. "Never the right-proper Alice-size." He captured her hands in his as she started to withdraw, though hers dwarfed his considerably.

A sudden warmth fluttered in her stomach, mixed with a yearning so strong it surprised her. There was something in his strangely-colored eyes that stirred inside her an echo of something she didn't entirely understand, but rather liked.

Hatter leaned forward and lowered his voice. "Listen, Alice. I've learned she keeps the Vorpal sword in the palace somewhere. You need to find McTwisp -- he'll take you to it. You need to get it, and then take it to the White Queen."

It took less than a second for her to realize that he wasn't counting himself in this plan. "We'll take it to the White Queen together," she said fiercely. After all he'd done for her, she wasn't going to leave without him. The whole point of her coming to the Red Queen's lair, after all, was to rescue him.

He shook his head. "Frabjous Day is quickly approaching," he said, sounding more serious than he ever had. "It is imperative the Vorpal sword be ready to defeat the Jabberwocky at that time."

Alice spun around, looking for something amid the Hatter's disorganized tools. As many as he had, there had to be something… Ah! There. She plucked up a hat pin and knelt next to him, inwardly cursing her clumsily large fingers she worked at the lock on his restraints. "You can help me find the Vorpal sword," she said, "and then we'll take it to the White Queen." It all sounded incredibly sensible to her.

Hatter seized her shoulders and pulled her up so he could look her in the face. His eyes were dark bluish-green with anxiety. "You cannot risk being caught," he said. "You must go. Immediately. Get the sword, and go to Marmoreal."

She had to fight back the urge to stomp her foot. "It'll go faster if two people are looking for it, rather than one," she said, trying to come up with something that would convince him to let her release him so they could both escape.

"Another person could also slow you down," he said. It was a maddeningly logical thing for him to say.

Everybody was trying to tell her what she could do and what she couldn't do. Well, she was tired of it. This was her dream, and she was going to do what she wanted in it! And at the moment, what she wanted was to free the Hatter.

Suddenly the door across the room from them slammed open. Alice lifted her head so quickly she almost connected with Hatter's, since he was leaning over her.

The Red Queen was standing in the doorway, her face turning almost as deep crimson as her hair. "Um!" she cried, staring wide-eyed at her new favorite. Her eyes darted between her and the Hatter, narrowing quickly in suspicion. Then she lifted up her finger, pointed at them, and screamed at the top of her lungs, "Off with their heads!"

The Hatter was immediately in motion. Gently shoving past Alice, he snatched up two bolts of fabric from the table, got a good grip on the ends of them, and then threw, unraveling them as they flew across the room and knocked into the card soldiers just entering the room past the Red Queen, who ducked away, still screaming. Alice was able to reach out her arm and sweep away another three who were trying to creep up on the Hatter.

"Run!" Hatter shouted at her. "Dannae jus' stan' there, girl, run!" His eyes were blazing orange with anger, and perhaps a bit of protectiveness as well.

Alice hesitated. She knew she needed to get the Vorpal sword, like Hatter said -- even if she didn't use it, someone else could -- but she couldn't just abandon him. Especially since the Red Queen had just threatened to have his head removed.

Her moment of indecision proved to be her downfall. Five or six card soldiers got good grips on her, and despite her size, she couldn't shake them off. Hatter was still fighting quite valiantly, all things considered, but he was extremely limited because of the chain around his ankle. Soon he, too, was subdued.

The Red Queen glared at them both stormily, her face as red as her hair. "Throw them both in the dungeon!" she shouted. "They shall be beheaded first thing in the morning!" Then she whirled around and started to leave, then turned back and said, "And get Um some pishalver. She doesn't deserve to be large any more." She stuck her nose up in the air, then stomped off.

Oh, what have I done now? Alice mourned quietly to herself. This is certainly not how to go about saving Underland…

One look at the Hatter's downcast expression and grey eyes clearly said that he thought so, too. She had just lost the one person in Underland who truly believed in her. Now what was she going to do?

Alice and Hatter were quickly deposited in two cells in the dungeon, then left alone to their separate recriminations. The only comforting thing was that there were bars separating their cells instead of a solid wall, so they could at least see and reach through to each other.

"I'm sorry, Hatter," she whispered. He was sitting cross-legged in the exact center of his own cell, Hat resting next to him on the floor. He was very carefully not looking at her, despite the fact that she was crammed up against the cell bars as tightly as she could get herself, trying to reach out to touch him. The tips of her fingers managed to miss his arm by four or five maddening inches.

"Nobility is an admirable thing, Alice," he finally said. "But sometimes you have to sacrifice one small thing to save the large majority."

A chill snaked up her spine and settled around her heart. "Are you calling yourself one small thing?" she demanded.

He looked up with a small smile. "In the grand scheme of things? Yes, Alice, I am. Ever since the Bloody Big-Head seized control of Underland, we've been waiting for the Frabjous Day to arrive, so you could slay the Jabberwocky. The Red Queen's jealousy of her little sister cannot prevail, Alice. Too much is at stake."

Alice wanted to bang her fist against the ground. "I refuse to save the world but not you," she growled. "I dreamed us into this mess, and so help me, I will dream us out of it."

This time Hatter did look up with a small, timid smile. His eyes were dark, dark green, and the shadows around them looked harsher than normal. "You still think this is a dream, do you?"

"What else can it be?" she asked. "It seems impossible that this is real."

A small, humorless smile curled up the corners of Hatter's mouth. "That would mean I'm not real, then."

That stung. "Well -- yes." It hurt to think of him as not being real. She wanted him to be real, even if the rest of it wasn't. He was the dearest friend she'd ever had, and she didn't want to lose that when she woke.

"Then perhaps you can wake and get us out if this," he said. But his tone was listless, as if he didn't believe what he was saying.

Footsteps came closer, and Alice looked past Tarrant to see Stayne approaching, a small bottle in his hand. He reached between the bars of her cell and set it down, then backed away. "Pishalver, by order of the Queen," he said.

Shuddering at the hungry, wicked gleam in the man's one good eye, Alice crept forward and snatched up the bottle. She knew she had to drink it in moderation this time, for she had to be careful to get back to her "right-proper Alice-size," as Hatter called it. Uncapping the bottle, she raised it to her lips and trickled a little bit of it into her mouth, swallowing the bitter liquid as she capped the bottle. She felt herself shrinking, and smiled a little as the dimensions of the cell came into their correct proportions, though she had to place a hand against her dress to make sure it stayed in place and protected her modesty. It was a pity her clothes did not grow and shrink along with her body…

Stayne reached through the bars and snatched up the pishalver as soon as she set the bottle down. Undoubtedly he didn't want her shrinking to a small enough size that she could wriggle through the bars and get free. Tucking it into his pocket, he eyed her speculatively for a moment, then moved over to stand in front of Hatter's cell.

"I have plans for your girl, here," he said. "No sense in her pretty little head going to waste before it's taken off, don't you think, Hightopp?"

Alice felt her stomach roll with revulsion and fear, but Hatter's reaction was both amazing and terrifying.

In the span of a blink he was up and across the cell to the bars, where he reached through and grabbed Stayne, who had been pacing back toward Alice's cell. Clutching the man's shoulder with one hand to hold him still, he locked the opposite arm over the Knave's throat, choking off his air supply. "I shoul' like the Bloody Red Queen to 'ear those words, Knave," he hissed in the other's ear. "Righ' 'afore I rip out your throat and feed it to the Jabberwock."

"Hatter!" Alice cried out. It wasn't so much that she was shocked or offended by his words, it was more that she was afraid of what would happen to him. Stayne was putting up quite the struggle, and he'd managed to get his elbow between the bars so he could press it right into Hatter's stomach to rob him of his air.

Almost immediately she saw his body relax, and he stepped back, though she noted absently that he'd still placed himself in front of Alice, so Stayne couldn't see her with his direct line of sight. She reached through the bars and brushed his shoulder, though she wasn't sure if it was assure herself he was all right, or to thank him for what he'd done. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Coughing and choking, the Knave stumbled back a few steps away from the Hatter's cell, hands massaging his throat as he glared at the now once more docile madman. "You will pay for that, Hightopp," he growled.

Before either of them could react, he had Hatter's cell open, and was advancing upon him. Alice fisted her hand into Tarrant's coat, trying desperately to hang on to him, willing herself to be able to pull him backwards through the bars and into the relative safety of her own cell.

But only a second later he was gone from her grip, from her reach. Stayne had grabbed him by the front of his shirt and thrown him across the cell, backing him into the corner. He advanced, a cruel smile on his lips, an even crueler gleam in his eye.

"Hatter!" Alice gripped two of the bars separating their cells and shook them desperately, hoping she could somehow break through and get into the other cell so she could intervene. "Knave, don't you touch him!" She shook the bars again, but they didn't even rattle.

Stayne barely glanced at her over his shoulder. "Don't worry, my dear, you will be next. Just be patient and wait your turn."

"Nae!" Suddenly Hatter was in motion again, flinging himself at Stayne. He surprised the larger man, but not by much. Though the Knave fell back a step, he quickly recovered, driving Hatter back so hard there was a sickening thunk as his head impacted the rear wall of the cell, which was made of stone. Dazed, he blinked sluggishly, his eyes once more fading from orange to green as he sank to the floor.

"Hatter!" She pressed herself as closely against the bars as she could and stretched out her arm, but she couldn't reach him. She couldn't even reach Stayne, whom she very much wanted to hurt right then.

His eyes met hers past Stayne's leg, and she could see that he was trying to silently beg her not to make trouble. He was deliberately trying to keep the Knave's attention off her, to save her…

Silently grinding her teeth, Alice stubbornly pushed harder against the bars, hoping desperately that they'd break.

Stayne reached behind him, to a hook on a his belt. He retrieved something and pulled it around his body, holding it out as he loosened his hold on part of it, letting the rest unwind until it hung down almost to the floor. He held the grip between his thumb and palm, and Alice realized what it was with a chilling start. She'd seen that thing before, or something like it. The carriage drivers used them to make a snapping noise at the horses, to get them moving. But she had never seen it actually used on a living creature before, let alone a human

A whip.

Hatter once more looked at her past Stayne. He met her eyes steadily and firmly, without fear, and mouthed five words that made her want to scream. Whatever happens, do not watch.

She shook her head once, sharply. Her throat was growing tight, and she felt the prickle at the back of her eyes that warned her of the tears building up there. She opened her mouth to scream, but she couldn't get the sound past her throat. It came out as a strangled sob instead. Hatter…

"Look away!"

Alice obeyed the Hatter's order, spinning and squeezing her eyes shut (more to hold in the tears than anything else) a mere second before the first crack of the whip sounded right behind her.

This is a dream, this is a dream, I can get us out of this! All I have to do is wake up! Desperately, she lifted her right hand to her left arm and pinched herself, just like her father had shown her.

Another crack of the whip.

It didn't work! This time she squeezed the skin of her arm between her fingers so hard her pale flesh turned red and she wanted to scream with the pain.

Another snap of cord meeting flesh…

Alice let out a strangled scream, slamming both fists against the cell floor in frustration. The pain in her arm from the Bandersnatch's claws, which had been a dull, throbbing ache until then, flared, and she growled.

Shk! This time there was the smallest muffled sound to accompany the whip, and she knew it was the Hatter, finally reacting to the incredible pain she knew he had to be undergoing.

Why couldn't she wake up? Why couldn't she save Hatter from this? She had to save him!

Because, the part of her mind that had always somehow believed whispered, Underland is real. Stayne and his whip are real. The Hatter and his pain are very, very real.

Another crack; another sound of pain so soft it could barely be discerned.

Unbelievably dark despair gripped her. But as soon as it was there she shook it off, determined not to let it win. She would get Stayne's attention somehow and draw him over to her. No matter what, she had to get him away from the Hatter!

Just as she spun around and was opening her mouth to scream the Knave's name at the top of her lungs, another female voice did the exact same thing, except a few octaves higher than Alice's would have been. "Stayne!"

The whip's movement arrested at the very top of its arc, halting only a second before delivering another blow to the half-conscious man at Stayne's feet. The Knave growled a curse, delivered a sharp kick to the Hatter's ribs, then exited the cell. He made sure it was locked tightly behind him, sent a leer in Alice's direction, then hurried out of the dungeon.

"Hatter!" Alice pressed herself against the bars again, stretching her arm out to try to reach him. "Hatter, please…"

For a moment he didn't move, and Alice felt her heart and breathing seize. Then he stirred a little, lifting his head to look at her, his eyes flickering between dark green and light grey. "Alice…" A ghost of his usual smile shadowed his lips. Though the effort was obviously great, he reached out, resting the very tips of his fingers against hers. "Good lass," he whispered. "Ye di'n' look…"

"No." Now that it was all over, she was ashamed that she hadn't. She should have…

Hatter shifted slightly, and then his fingers curled around hers, surprisingly strong, all things considered. "Good lass," he murmured.

"Tarrant! Alice!"

Alice looked up, shocked to see Mallymkun standing at the bars, Chessur floating above her. It was he who had called their names. "Mally! Chessur!" Hope found new life in her chest. "Get us out of here! Hatter needs help!"

"Beheading in the morning…" that man murmured.

Chessur disappeared, then reappeared above Tarrant. "You've already lost it if you're anticipating it," he said, for once not grinning. His green eyes flicked upwards to Alice. "It is night out. We shall get out of here and retrieve the Vorpal sword along the way, but we must make all haste."

Mally had managed to squeeze her way between the bars, and was now clucking over Hatter. "Wha' 'ave ye done this time, ye great fool?" she said, though quite fondly.

"Couldn't let him hurt Alice…" Hatter groaned.

The Cat once more disappeared, but only a moment later appeared outside the cell, dangling the keys to the cells from his paw. He unlocked Hatter's cell first, then Alice's.

She tore past Chessur and gently nudged Mally aside. "Come on," she said, carefully helping Hatter sit up. "It's time to leave this place."

"The Vorpal sword -- the Jabberwocky -- Frabjous Day -- futterwacken!" he muttered, but managed to get his feet beneath him to help her propel him out of the cell and up the steps leading to and from the dungeon.

The Dormouse clucked her tongue and shook her head. "Feverish, 'e is," she diagnosed.

Chessur scouted ahead, helping them avoid card soldiers. There were a few dangerous times when they almost were caught, but fortunately they made it through.

The Cat stopped before a large shed, his tail twitching spasmodically. It was the first time Alice recalled seeing him nervous. "The Vorpal sword is in there," he said. "Good luck."

Alice peered through a slit in the door, then fell back. "That is the Bandersnatch!" she exclaimed. "I am not going in there!"

Mally shook her fisted little paw. "Ye'd better!" she growled. "Or Ah'll be cheerin' on the Jabberwocky come Frabjous Day!"

Catching sight of the net at the little mouse's waist, Alice knelt down. "Give me the Bandersnatch eye!" she said. "Quickly, Mally!"

The Dormouse hopped back a step. "Come and get it!" she challenged.

Impatient with the little white mouse's games, and anxious to get Tarrant to help as quickly as possible, she reached out and snatched the eye from the little mouse's belt. "Oi!" Mally protested, but was unable to do anything about it.

Holding her breath, Alice slid into the little shed, staring at the Bandersnatch with wide, scared eyes. She remembered facing it down before, and had had no desire to do so again. But the Vorpal sword was in here, guarded by the Bandersnatch, and she had to have the sword.

"I brought you your eye," she whispered, rolling the icky thing across the shed toward the Bandersnatch. It snorted and growled, but put out a paw and rolled it toward itself. Then it didn't make another move towards her, though it did watch her suspiciously with its remaining good eye.

Later, Alice tried to explain to her friends what exactly had happened. But the details in her mind were fuzzy because of her worry for Hatter and the fever brought on by the infection of the Bandersnatch scratches on her arm. All she knew was that one second she was staring despondently at the locked chest holding the Vorpal sword, and the next the Bandersnatch was cozying up to her, licking her wound clean and clearing it from infection, and then she had the key in her hand.

And then -- she held the Vorpal sword.

She inched her way past the Bandersnatch, which had returned to its little nest in the corner, murmuring a thank-you as she left the shed. Then she burst into the night, sword held high, and exclaimed, "I've got it!"

Stayne and some card soldiers were waiting for her, holding Tarrant and Mally hostage. Chessur, the little rascal, was nowhere to be seen.

"I'll take that, thank you." His upper lip twisted, and he sneered, "Alice."

The now-familiar chill returned to her innards. He'd known all along -- he'd just chosen to keep the information to himself. But why…?

She had no time to consider it. Because at that moment Chessur reappeared, his claws out and slashing toward the Knave's face. Alice let out a yell, sweeping the Vorpal sword in an arc, feeling the oddest rush go through her from it. There was a power stirring in the sword, something that was old but very, very strong. It frightened and exhilarated her all at once.

Alice was nearly bowled over when, from behind her, came a rush of familiarly nasty-smelling air, and then the Bandersnatch was there, baring its ugly, broken teeth at the card soldiers and Stayne. Alice snatched up Mally and half dragged Hatter along with her onto the creature, and then they were free!

To Marmoreal, and help…

Marmoreal was beautiful, especially at night. The sound of a nearby waterfall added distant counterpoint to the chirps and croaks of nighttime animals, and the moon's silvery light cast an even more ethereal glow over the beautiful white color of everything. The White Queen's palace lived up to its mistress's title.

Alice couldn't enjoy any of it. She kept thinking of the look on the White Queen's face when she saw them riding toward her on the Bandersnatch, then how her face had fallen when she saw Hatter, who was hanging on to Alice and not falling off the creature they were riding by sheer force of will.

Queen Mirana had whisked him off to some room in her beautiful palace, and Alice hadn't seen him since. Huffily, Mally had escorted Alice to another room, where she was presented with some new clothes that actually fit. Just tightening the sash on her old ones hadn't worked too well, but it had helped her get by until she'd gotten some that actually fit.


Straightening from where she was leaning on the railing, she spun to face the Hatter, who was standing in the doorway to the balcony with his Hat tucked under his arm, a smile on his face. He still looked incredibly tired, and there was a fading bruise on his jaw, but other than that, he looked just like he always did.

"Thank you, Hatter," she whispered. She needed to get that out before she could say anything more.

For a moment his expression twitched, and his eyes shifted more toward yellow than green. But then he was smiling again. "Anything for you, fair Alice." Bowing at the waist, he swept her hand into his and grazed his lips across her knuckles.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "For everything, but most particularly that I tried to insist that Underland isn't real. I've learned my lesson now. And I know -- if I had just admitted it earlier…"

Tarrant lifted his hand and brushed the pads of his fingers down her cheek. "What is done is done," he said. "'Tis in the past. No need on dredging it all up again and pouring lemon juice over it." One corner of his mouth tilted upwards, ever-so-slightly. "So I am real now, am I?"

"Yes." Alice nodded firmly. "And I am so glad…" She captured his hand in both of hers. "So glad…"

Hatter hesitated for only a moment, then reached out, gingerly wrapping his arms around her in a hug. "As am I, Alice," he whispered. "As am I."

Alice rested her head against his chest and listened to the reassuringly steady beat of his heart, glad the White Queen had been able to heal him. Though she knew that when the sun rose it would be Frabjous Day, and she would face the Jabberwocky -- somehow she knew it would be all right. Hatter had protected her, and it was time for her to protect him.

After it was over, they both had a lot to talk about. But for now, she was happy to stay there, her head on his chest, eyes closed, listening to the rhythm of his heartbeat and breathing, and know he was all right.

That they were both all right.

~End Part I~

Thanks for reading -- I hope you enjoyed! -hugs-