NAME: In Search of the Crown

SERIES: Disney's Adventures In Wonderland

SUMMARY: The Red Queen's crown comes up stolen and Hatter and Hare agree to help find it.. I can't say too much here, or I'll give it away.. and yes, I'm aware there has already been such an episode that involves the Red Queen's crown missing, but I'm taking a different path on this fic.. ^^

CONTAINS: Friendship, humor, and mild language.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Adventures In Wonderland or its characters in any way.

NOTE: I've always liked the Copy Catter Hatter. So, I decided to write my own fic, with him in it.. [I gave him an actual name so I don't have to constantly call him Copy Catter Hatter.. It's aggravating writing about a character with such a long name..]

RATED: T [for Teen]

o0o0o

"It's gone.. I can't believe it just up and disappeared like this!" the White Rabbit said, skating back and forth on his skates in a pacing fashion. He was clearly distraught and worried.

The Red Queen of Hearts watched him from where she sat on her throne, looking even more upset than Rabbit was. She'd never expected this to happen at all. "And today was supposed to be my big day!"

"Yes, I know, your Majesty.. I have no idea where it could've gotten off to." Rabbit told her. "I've searched this castle top to bottom, in every hallway and chamber and -"

"It was stolen, Rabbit.." the Red Queen said, then gave him an apologetic look for interrupting him. "I know it was, that's the only explanation.. I want all of my subjects to my courtyard.. immediately."

"But, your Majesty, it's 7:00 am.. I'm sure they're all still asleep and-" he stopped when he saw his Queen raise an eyebrow, clearly not caring at all about the time or how late her subjects slept.

"My new crown was to be unveiled this afternoon at 6:00 sharp. I want that crown found before then."

"What if there's a possibility that we don't find it by then, my Queen?" Rabbit asked, looking even more nervous, knowing how easily the Queen lost her temper about these sort of things.

"Then, I will deal with that - if and when it happens.. Have all my subjects in my courtyard in a hour, Rabbit.."

"Yes, your Majesty.." With that, Rabbit slipped quickly out of the palace.

o0o0o

True to his word, Rabbit had awoken all her subjects and had them in the Queen's presence in an hour. All of them stood, confused and unsure what to expect about the Queen's sudden meeting at such an early hour. They sat in the chairs, talking quietly with one another until the Queen came out of her throne room to greet them.

"Ahem.." Rabbit called out. "Everyone's attention please.. The Queen has something to say.."

All fell silent and their eyes turned to the Queen. She came forward, looking fairly upset. "I have a problem. As I'm sure most of you have heard by now.. My crown was to be presented this afternoon.." She watched as some of her subjects nodded, Hatter and Hare among those. She continued, "My crown was stolen last night and I want to find out who took it as soon as possible. Were any of you aware of anything suspicious?"

All the guests shook their heads, now looking even more worried and concerned.

"I want help from all to find my stolen crown. Bring it to my palace as soon as you find it."

"Uhh.." Hatter spoke up. "What if.. by chance.. the crown is ruined or destroyed?"

The Queen raise a thin eyebrow. "Bring it to me anyways. Why? Do you know something, Hatter?"

"No, your Majesty.. I was just wondering about what condition the crown may be in when one of us finds it.. If we do find it at all, so we're -" Hatter stopped in mid sentence when the Queen folded her arms, looking very displeased with Hatter's answer.

"Very well.." the Queen took a stack of small pictures of the crown from the nearby desk and handed one to Hatter, one to the Cheshire cat, one to Caterpillar, and one to Tweedle Dee. Hatter and Hare were always together, as were Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, so they could no doubt share the picture. "You now know what the crown looks like.. You're excused.."

o0o0o

Two days of searching had passed, and still nothing. The Queen was growing a little bit more aggravated with every hour. This problem had her subjects quite vexed. Hatter and Hare sat in his kitchen, pondering and pondering. They'd checked out everyone who'd had involvement with the crown's transport to the palace. They were all clean, including the mischievous Cheshire cat, who was one of the first suspected of this crime.

"Dang it, Hare.." Hatter whispered as he took a seat in one of the chairs. "We've searched everyone.. Nothing helped us out.. Caterpillars two stories didn't even solve this problem."

"We need help.. Someone who knows how thieves think.." Hare muttered. "Some one who's quiet and can act quickly.. I'm just completely at a lost for what to do.. I'm not a detective.. and neither are you -" Hare stopped when he saw Hatter smiling, in an 'I'm positive this'll work' manner. Hare smiled. "What?"

"You know, Hare, sometimes it takes a thief to know a thief.." Hatter's grin grew some. "I know just who to contact.."

Hare gave him a confused look. "But you don't know any thieves except Cheshire and he's completely clean.."

"Do I?" Hatter said, raising an eyebrow. He was surprised Hare hadn't figured it out by now, then just as Hatter was about to tell him who he had in mind, Hare's eyes widened.

"Oh, no.. No, no, no!" Hare stood up. "Not your cousin! He scares me.. He's dark and creepy and -"

"And an excellent thief, Hare.. "

"Are you completely mad? The Queen would never allow him back here after what he tried to do to you.. He's been banished from Wonderland.."

"Yes, I know.. But if the Queen wants her crown found this badly, she'll let him come here long enough to find it.."

"How do we even know that the crown's in Wonderland at all?"

"We don't, but he will within several days.. He's madly skilled in such mysteries.. They're his specialty, if ya will.."

"Alright, but the Queen's not gonna be happy with you involving him.."

Hatter smiled and picked up the nearby kitchen phone.

"You have his number?" Hare asked.

"Yup.. He's got a cel phone that he carries with him at all times.. I got his number from Hedda Hatter.. He didn't want me to have his number, though.. He hates me.." Hatter dialed and placed the receiver to his ear, while Hare waited, nervously.

Hatter waited and after three rings, his wait was over, much to his relief.

"How the hell did you get this number? !" his cousin angrily yelled on the other end of the line.

Hatter jerked the phone from his ear a bit. "Hello, Daren.. How've you been?" he asked, pleasantly. "Actually, Hedda gave your number to me."

"Damn.." Daren muttered. "I told her not to."

"Did I catch you at a bad time?" Hatter asked with a smile, trying his best to be polite to get into his cousin's good favor.

"I'll show you a bad time. What do you want, Melvin? !" Daren demanded.

"Please, don't call me that.. I need your help.. It's important.. How soon can you get here?"

"Well, a certain friend of mine can have me there by noon tomorrow.. but I thought your little Queen didn't want me to show my face in precious Wonderland again?"

"Uhh.. I have your face.. We're practically twins.. Seeing my face would mean seeing yours as well.."

"Not unless you grow a stache, cous.." Daren told him, stroking his mustache fondly.

"Uhh.. that's not gonna happen any time soon.. Look, Daren, are you gonna help me or not?"

"That depends.. What do you need help with?"

"The Queen's new crown has been stolen and we're beginning to guess it's not in Wonderland anywhere.. You're a master thief, so if anyone can find it, I'm sure you can.."

"What's in it for me?"

"Well, if you find the Queen's crown, I'm sure she'll lift your banishment off your shoulders.."

"Hmmm.. Enticing offer.. Tell ya what: you keep that Queen of yours off my back, and we got a deal.."

"Alright, be here tomorrow afternoon."

"Will do.."

With that, Hatter heard his cousin's phone click, disconnecting him from Daren. Hatter spared a look at Hare.

"Oh, man.. the Queen's gonna kill us for bringing him here.." Hare whispered.

"She's never gonna know, Hare.. Now, come on, let's go do more searching.."

"To what point?" Hare muttered as they walked out of his kitchen.

o0o0o

The day's search was a waste and the Queen had practically given up hope of finding her new crown. All her subjects were growing exhausted with searching, sometimes the same areas over and over again. Finally, night had fallen and they all retired for sleep. Hare stayed over at Hatter's house that night. At around 7:00 am, Hare awoke, starving and walked his way into the kitchen. He made himself a bowl of his favorite breakfast cereal and walked into the dark living room. He reached for the TV remote and pointed it at the television across from the sofa, hoping the volume was low.

"There's nothing good on.." said a male voice in the dark room.

Hare jumped, startled from the sound of the voice and his cereal bowl fell from his hand. It spilled milk all over the floor, his feet, and pajama pants. Then, trying to control his nerves, he turned his attention to the sofa where the voice came from. The window poured enough light in for Hare to make out the form of a man stretched out on the sofa, all dressed in black. Hare realized the man was none other than Daren, the Copy Catter Hatter himself. Hare turned in the darkness and found the table lamp by the sofa, then he switched on the light. Daren was holding a plate of food and Hare soon realized that it was Hatter's last piece of strawberry cheesecake that Daren was finishing.

"Did you miss me?" Daren asked with a grin, obviously aware that he'd just scared the hell out of the rabbit.

"No.." Hare said, now feeling uncomfortably nervous around Hatter's dark cousin. "That was Hatter's desert."

"Then, it seems fitting that I should take it, hmm?" he told Hare while a dark grin played on his lips.

Hare only shook his head and walked out of the living room, happy to get away from Hatter's creepy cousin. He went up the stairs to Hatter's bedroom. Hatter was still sound asleep. Hare crept over to Hatter's bed and gently shook his friend awake.

"Hatter?" Hare whispered. "Hatter? Wake up.."

Hatter gave a low moan and opened his eyes, groggily. "What's wrong, Hare?" He asked, then rubbed his eyes to get the blurriness of sleep out of them.

"You're creepy cousin is here.. In the living room.."

Hatter raised an eyebrow. "Is he?"

"Yup.."

"Is that why you're in here?" Hatter asked with a smile, knowing well that Hare was easily creeped out by Daren.

"Yeah.. He startled me so bad that I spilt my cereal on your floor.." Hare confessed.

Hatter's grin widened, "Hare.. He's not going to bite.. I promise.."

"As far as you know.. and uhh.. by the way.. he devoured your last piece of cheesecake.."

Hatter's grin faded. "Well, that figured.."

Hare watched as his friend got up out of bed, fully dressed in his purple PJs, and made his way down the stairs to the living room, Hare following close behind him for a moment before taking a detour. Daren greeted his cousin with a single wave as Hatter entered the living room. Hatter gave him an aggravated look.

"Don't you knock?" Hatter asked in an annoyed whisper.

Daren's grin widened. "Don't you have an alarm system? Oh, wait.. I can answer that myself.. Nnoooo..." Daren whispered, copying Hatter's tone.

Hatter gave another of his annoyed sighs and took a seat on the sofa, shoving Daren's black-booted feet aside as he did so.

"So, how's Auntie?" Daren asked.

"She's fine.. and you owe me more cheesecake." Hatter told him.

"Eh, one slice.." Daren said as he watched Hare walk in the living room with a wet towel. Hare began cleaning up the cereal mess he'd made and Hatter immediately got up to help his friend with it. Hatter took up the bowl and noticed the empty plate of cheesecake crumbs that was sitting on his table in front of the sofa. He snatched that up as well.

"Could you be anymore rude, Daren?" Hatter asked in a very offended tone.

"Oh, sure.. What ever makes you happy.." Daren said with a smile, looking fairly careless and relaxed.

Hatter closed his eyes for a moment to calm his nerves before storming away into the kitchen to wash out the used plate and bowl. Hare had already placed the towel in the laundry basket and was in the process for pouring himself a new bowl of cereal.

"This one is staying on the table." Hare said, looking annoyed with himself that he'd let Hatter's cousin scare him that much.

Hatter smiled and reached into one of the cabinets, then pulled out a box of pancake mix. "Daren?" he called into the other room. "You want some pancakes to go along with my cheesecake?"

"No thanks, cous.. Your cheesecake was filling enough.." Daren replied, and Hatter could tell by the tone of his voice that he was smiling.

"Cous?" Hare asked in between spoonfuls of his cereal.

"Short for cousin.." Hatter told him.

"Ah, okay.."

Hare watched as Hatter made himself some pancakes and pretty soon, they were both eating and discussing about what to do that day about the Queen's missing crown. Hatter had already drawn up a list of all the possible suspects he could think up, but none of them seemed to be the thief. They stopped in their discussion when Daren walked in and sat at the table.

Daren gestured when he noticed their sudden silence. "Continue?"

Hatter sighed. "I was merely saying that we've drawn a complete blank. Whoever it was.. they were very sneaky.."

Hare nodded, "And they're probably long gone out of Wonderland by now.."

"May I see this crown of hers?" Daren asked. Hatter handed the picture of the crown over to Daren, who studied it thoughtfully, slowly stroking his mustache as he did so. "This crown looks fairly expensive. Worth a lot of money, yes?"

"Yup.." Hatter whispered.

"If that's the case, then more than likely, this crown was stolen and possibly sold for a large amount of cash.." Daren muttered.

Hatter's brows narrowed, not liking that idea. "What makes you so sure?"

"I never said I was sure.. but it is possible.." Daren replied. "Is there.. by any chance.. a friend or enemy of the Queen that she doesn't get along with? Someone who would do this as a form of revenge?"

Both Hatter and Daren sat back in their seats, Hatter thinking of all the possible people that would do such a thing, while Daren waited for Hatter's next reply.

Hare leaned in to Hatter's side. "The Duchess knew about this.. She's only four hours away from here by train.."

Hatter gave a short nod. "Also, Daren's right about the crown being very valuable.. You really don't think the Duchess would do such a thing, do you?"

"Yes, I honestly do. We all know that her and our Red Queen.. well, huh.. they have the quarrels.." Hare said.

"Well, then.. I think we have a Duchess to visit.." Hatter said.

"Sure.. Would the copycat like to come along?" Hare asked.

Daren frowned, then gave Hare one of his typical, cat-like hisses.

Hatter rolled his eyes. "I guess we can take that as a 'yes'.."

Hare and Hatter, having finished their breakfast by now, got up and cleaned off their dishes.

"So, I guess we're going by train, then?" Daren asked.

"Righty we are.." Hatter told him. "..but we have to pack our camp supplies, just in case we have to camp over night."

Now, it was Daren's turn to roll his eyes. "Oh, joy.. What could be more fun then camping with you two.. Lemme guess.. Anything.."

Hatter frowned, growing a bit annoyed with Daren's sarcasm. "Daren, please.. As soon as we find that crown, you can walk out of here and never have to come face to face with me again.."

"Let's hope.."

"Alright.. Seeing as how I've still got to get cleaned up and dress for the day.. That's gonna take some time.. Daren?"

"I'll be fine 'til then, cous.. I've got a nice, cozy spot on your sofa to spend the time.." Daren sat up, a question coming to him. "By the way, cous, what hat design did you make for the Queen?"

"Why?" Hatter asked.

"I'm curious to know how she reacted to it."

"You mean the one Hatter out smarted you with?" Hare asked, smiling.

Daren sneered at him. "Yes, that one.."

"It was a design made mostly of leaves and flowers.." Hatter said, looking rather proud of himself. "..and she loved it.."

"I'm sure she did.."

"If you had listened to Rabbit, who tried to tell you not to place fruit on her hat, you wouldn't have been in that situation during our hat unveiling.. and then kicked out of the Queen's presence.."

"You think?" Daren asked, raising an eyebrow, while looking very displeased with Hatter's comment.

Hare piped up, "Well, I'm going to get cleaned up for the day and gather my camp items.." He slowly backed out of the room, trying to get out of the line of fire.

Hatter smiled, knowing Hare was just looking for an excuse to leave the room in case a fight broke out between Daren and him. Hare definitely didn't like fighting, except if he had no choice.

o0o0o

Hatter checked the train schedules and the next train that would be passing by the Duchess's palace was leaving at five o' clock sharp. So, they had plenty of time to gather all that they would need for the trip. Hatter suggested that Daren stay inside his house until it was time to leave for the train. Hatter didn't want someone to see him in Wonderland and immediately report his presence to the Red Queen, who surely would've looked into the situation, thus ruining the plan. Hatter and Hare tried to go about the day as normal as possible, trying not to let anyone get the suspicion that they were leaving that afternoon. Finally, once they'd had all their necessary items packed, they headed out for the train station in secret when the time came.

They kept to the woods, trying to keep away from the opened areas, so no one would see them with Daren. Hatter, Hare, and Daren walked through the forest to the train station. Hatter and Daren trying to ignore one another. They had Hare walking between them, leaving him feeling quite awkward about it.

"Don't worry too much, boys.. If this Duchess has the crown, I can take it back as easily as she swiped it.." Daren told them, obviously very confident with himself.

"There's some comfort.." Hatter mumbled under his breath, avoiding Daren's icy eyes. "It's nice to know you'll at least do us some good.. Calling you better be worth it.."

Hare nodded, "Well.. Hopefully we can get the crown back. The Duchess isn't willing to part with things she treasures easily.. and if she has the crown, she'll make sure to keep it hidden in secret at all times.. just to have her sweet revenge on our Queen for.. whatever reason.."

"Mmmhhmm.." Daren whispered, "Sweet revenge is quite fun.. I would know.."

"Oh, would you?" Hatter asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

Daren grinned mischievously, and Hare noticed a wicked sparkle come into Daren's eyes. Hare swallowed, nervously.

"Sure, Hatter." Daren said, that wicked grin never leaving his lips. "..You remember when you were seven.. and your mother's favorite clock was shattered to pieces.. and you were blamed for it?"

Hatter suddenly looked horrified. "You did that?" he asked, turning to his cousin.

"You catch on fast, cous.." Daren's grin grew wider, clearly enjoying this. "And when you were 10 and you'd entered that hat making contest for school.. All your precious hats were found destroyed two hours before judging -"

"You destroyed them? ! All ten of my hats? !" Hatter nearly yelled, cutting Daren's sentence in half.

"Yup.." Daren said, looking happier than ever that he'd done this to his cousin.

"Grandma and I spent three weeks on those!"

"Yeeessss.. I know.." Daren said, flashing Hatter another evil grin.

"You heartless jerk!" Hatter growled out and started toward his cousin, raising a fist.

Hare saw it coming and quickly stepped in between the two of them, then placed his hands on his friend's shoulders, holding him back. "Hatter, please! Stop it! He's just trying to anger you and-"

"Well, it's working!" Hatter said, shooting his cousin hateful glares.

"Don't give in to this, Hatter. We're here to find that crown, not kill each other!" Hare said, his brown eyes pleading with Hatter.

"Fine!" Hatter said, cooling his jets some.

"Just as I thought.." Daren said, carelessly, but looking as though he wanted to laugh about this. "I'm traveling with cowards.. you and your little rabbit.."

Hare turned to him. "You call us cowards one more time and I'll -"

"You'll what?" Daren interrupted him with a smug smile, knowing what Hare was about to say. "Oh, I'd love to see that.."

Hatter stepped to the side of Hare so he could look Daren in the eyes. "And I'd love to break your face."

"Now, Hatter.. Just forget it.." Hare said, pushing his friend along. "If we don't get going, we're gonna miss that train."

"Well, we wouldn't wanna do that.." Daren said and as he went to brush past Hare to follow Hatter - who was already storming away - Hare grabbed Daren's collar and Daren stopped in his tracks. Hare then snatched Daren around so they were face to face. Hare gained a very serious look in his eyes, but his voice was low so that Hatter didn't hear. "Lay off my best friend. I mean it. Or I'll break your face myself."

Daren stared back at Hare, his eyes still held deep amusement in them, he was clearly not threatened or impressed by this. "Really? A weakling like you? That's what's know as an empty threat, lil' bunny.."

Hare almost thought Daren was going to laugh about it. "Rabbit's are a lot stronger than they seem, don't make me prove it, 'cause I will."

Hare let go of Daren's collar and started toward Hatter, but grew surprised for a moment when he noticed that Hatter was looking back at them from quite some feet away, worried for Hare's safety. Hare made his way to Hatter's side and they stayed that way until they reached the train station, Daren following close behind them.

They boarded the Wonderland Express train and took seats in a lone compartment. Hatter and Daren went back to trying to avoid the other. Hare and Hatter were sitting on one side of the compartment, and Daren on the other. The journey would take 3 hours to reach their destination by train. Hatter and Hare annoyed Daren by playing ridiculous word games and playing game after game of Tic Tac Toe in Hatter's notebook. Finally, Daren laid back, his form stretched out over the cushioned seat, and he placed his hat over his eyes to shield them from the light of the setting sun outside the window.

"You can sleep, Daren.." Hatter told him. "We'll wake you when we arrive."

"Oh? Being nice, are we?" Daren asked, his voice actually sounded surprised. "I half thought you two wusses would've snuck outta here and left me to sleep.."

"It crossed my mind.." Hatter said, then he rolled his eyes when he noticed that Daren was smiling beneath the brim of his hat. Then, on glancing over at Hare again, he smiled when he saw that Hare had his own mouth covered to keep from bursting out with laughter about the idea.

Much to Daren's relief, he'd fallen into a quiet, deep sleep for the rest of the trip and Hatter, true to his word, woke his cousin five minutes before they reached the station of their destination. They gathered their belongings and left the train. It was practically dark now and Hatter had to pull out his electric lantern and, much to the other's relief, he'd brought plenty of batteries for it. They wandered off in the direction of the Duchess's small palace until it was too dark and cold to go any further. So, the group found a suitable clearing in the forest and made camp for the night.

Daren had set fire to the sticks that Hare and Hatter quickly gathered. They were obviously expert campers and had brought along a large tent that was wide enough for all three of them to fit in for the night.. Then, as fog began to settle in the trees, Hatter unrolled three sleeping bags and handed one to Hare. Then, handed another to Daren, who didn't take it.

"I don't use sleeping bags, cous.. They're for dorks.." He said, leaning back against a tree trunk.

Hatter's eyebrows narrowed. "Daren, it's going to be freezing tonight. Just take it." He said, then threw the heavy sleeping bag on to Daren's stretched out form.

Daren growled out of aggravation and tossed the sleeping bag off him. "Fine.."

Hare unpacked some sandwiches and handed two of them to Hatter. Hatter then handed one to Daren. "Let me guess, you don't want food either?" Hatter said, sarcastically.

And Daren reached up and took the sandwich from Hatter, which seemed to please Hatter a good deal.

"With my luck, the sandwich is poisoned." Daren muttered.. loud enough for Hatter to hear.

Now, it was Hatter's turn to give his cousin an evil smile. "Maybe.."

Daren chuckled at the idea and began to eat.

Hatter sat down. Then, he and Hare started in on their sandwiches as well.

"You know, Hatter, I just love camping.. There's so many stars out tonight.." Hare said, admiring the sky. "I'm just glad it's not a full moon.."

"Oh, me too.." Hatter whispered.

"Why?" Daren asked. "What's so wrong with the full moon?"

Hatter paused, trying to think up a good answer. He was certainly not about to mention to Daren of Hare's werehare episodes, "Uhh.. Hare has violent, ill-tempered episodes during the full moon."

"Okay.. If you say so.." Daren said before taking another bite of his food.

Hare sat up to get a better view of Daren. "Man, where were you when McNasty was in Wonderland.. tormenting me? I would've loved to have seen you swear off with him.."

Daren raised an eyebrow. "McNasty?"

"He was a bully who was threatening Hare." Hatter turned to Hare. "Why ask for Daren's help? I could've help you deal -" Hatter began, then he was interrupted..

"Oh, no, no. Don't even go there.." Hare said with a smile. "It was you who said 'Chickens can't run this fast.', then you and my other supposed-to-be friends ran out of the room to hide from -" Hare stopped when he realized that Hatter was giving him an offended look, while Daren was having a good laugh about this.

"Thanks, Hare.." Hatter grumbled, glaring over at his cousin.

Daren finally finished laughing after a few moments. "Hatter, you're pathetic." he said, still smiling and trying to suppress any more laughing.

"You're a fine one to talk.." Hatter shot back.

"C'mon, guys.. No more fighting.. please? I'm not in the mood.. We're actually getting along here.. Let's not ruin it.." Hare said.

"Fine.." Daren whispered. "I'll play nice.."

"Good.."

Daren smiled. "Hey, Hare?"

"Yeah?"

"Remember when you moved away as a child, leaving Hatter behind in Wonderland?"

"Yes.." Hare said, worried about what Daren might have to say next.

"Hatter spent the rest of that day crying over you.. and then a few more days after that.. He even cried in school a few times.."

Hare felt a warm sensation fill him, delighted at hearing this.

Daren continued, ignoring Hatter's horrified look. "I was so tempted to tell all his friends that you two were in love -"

"Daren, I would've killed you!" Hatter said.

Hare blushed like mad and turned his eyes from Hatter. "You really cried over me?"

Daren grinned over at Hatter. "Sure did.. Like a little baby.."

Hatter gave a defeated sigh and fought off a blush as he whispered, "True.."

"Aww.. Hatter, that's so sweet." Hare whispered and moved closer to Hatter's side, getting Daren's attention.

"Guys, please don't.. Seriously.. You'll make me lose my appetite.." Daren said.

"Great, more food for us.." Hare said.

Hatter tried to suppress a chuckle. "How true that is.."

Daren sighed. "I'm getting so bored.. I don't know how you two can take camp trips all the time. There's nothing to do.. but lay here in the dark.."

Hare smiled. "And roast marshmallows and make s'mores and tell ghost stories and.. uh.. sleep?"

"I rest my case.." Daren muttered and unzipped his sleeping bag.

"Did you bring our portable radio, Hatter?"

"Nope, sorry.."

"Aww, nuts.. Well.. I guess we'll be bored, then.." Hare said, laying he's head more comfortably on Hatter's shoulder.

Hatter and Hare had finished their desired portion of their sandwiches and saved the rest for later. They, too, unzipped their sleeping bags and pulled them into the tent. Then, one after the other, Hatter and Hare changed into their pjs in the tent. Hatter then came out of the tent, holding an extra pair of pjs.

"Umm.. Daren? I brought you a pair, so you don't -" Hatter stopped when he heard Daren begin to laugh in disbelief for a moment.

"I don't think so, cous.." came his reply.

Hatter rolled his eyes, he should have predicted this reaction. Hatter put the pjs away and he and Hare crawled into the tent and laid down on their stomachs, side by side, looking out the entrance way, which was completely unzipped now that their change session was over. Then, they laid, chatting and telling each other spooky stories until, one by one, they had all fallen asleep.

o0o0o

The morning rays of golden light were pouring through the trees when Hatter's eyes suddenly opened. He sat up and looked around him. Hare was still asleep. He was able to see the tips of the Duchess's small castle over the tree tops, now that the sun had risen. The castle was (best guess) an hour away on foot. He glanced over at the food basket, ready for breakfast, and realized that Daren was gone.

"That's odd.." Hatter got up out of the tent, the sounds of his movement causing Hare to awaken. A few moments later, both of them were pulling out their desired breakfast from the basket. They sat on their sleeping bags and ate some, talking about what to do now and wondering where Daren had wandered off to.. then just before they'd finished their food, they heard quick footsteps running toward them.

It was Daren. He looked tired, but proud as he skidded to a stopped before the two. "Ya know that saying: what goes around comes around?"

Hatter and Hare nodded, confused.

Daren smiled and held up a red and gold, well-polished crown. "Well, it's coming around.."

He tossed the crown down before Hatter, then made a mad dash into the woods, his black coat-tails flying behind his feet. Six armed men, who were obviously guards, came into view a moment later. They were chasing after Daren. Hatter immediately took up the crown and shoved it into his sleeping bag. The men ran past the campsite, not giving the two friends a single glance.

Hatter leaned back on to his sleeping bag and gave a pleading look up to the sky. "Oh, why did I have to be cursed with a stupid cousin?"

"You called him.." Hare said, smiling, before cramming the last bit of his breakfast into his mouth. Then, he got up and immediately began packing. Hatter finished his breakfast and began helping Hare.

Daren came back to them about twenty minutes later and stood still against a tree for a moment, catching his breath. "How quick do you think you can clean up the rest of this mess and get outta here?"

Hatter gave Daren a look of disbelief. "Daren?"

"Yes.."

"You know I hate you, right?"

"I know.. and we need to leave as soon as we can.."

Daren, Hatter, and Hare quickly gathered up everything: the sleeping bags, tent, food, and, taking special care with the crown - they wrapped it up in the spare pj shirt that Daren had refused to wear, and slipped the crown into the food basket where it'd be safe and hidden. Then, they left immediately, taking the opposite path into the woods that would lead back to the train station.

"Now, what are we going to do when we get there?" Hatter asked Daren, realizing that they'd never thought of this problem.

"Don't worry, I had a little chat with a cat friend of yours yesterday morning on the way to your house.. He'll be there, waiting, in case we needed help.." Daren said.

"Cheshire? Purple fur? Vanishing skills?" Hatter asked.

"That's the one.. He himself is very good at stealing.. so he seemed an appropriate ally for me.."

"You better not have had him help you steal my hat designs, or I'll -"

"No.. I stole them myself.. He refused to help.."

Hatter smiled. "Good.."

The group walked quickly on, keeping a sharp look out for any of the Duchess's guards on the way, until they finally made it back to the train station, which was empty. The train to Wonderland wasn't due to arrive at the station until 3:20 pm.

"Cheshire?" Daren called out.

There was silence for a moment, then, "Yeesss?"

They all turned to see the Cheshire cat floating in mid-air just above their heads. He had come after all.

"Cheshire. We need to get back to Wonderland as soon as possible." Hatter informed the cat, "There's six armed men after us.. uhh.. after Daren, I mean.. He stole back the crown last night and these men want it back for the Duchess.."

"Murrr.. Really? Well, I'm sorry I missed the fun.." Cheshire said with a chuckle.

"Come on, cat.." Hare said, looking around him, nervously. "We're in a hurry.. Do you have any good ideas for getting us out of here?"

"Sure do.. I've already gave that secret to Daren.." the cat told them.

"Really? Then, what's the secret?" Hatter asked, looking rather impatient.

Cheshire floated down closer to the group and extended his paws. "I've only made the Queen aware that I can do this. Now, everyone link hands."

Cheshire extended out his paws, everyone linked hands. Hare, not liking the idea of holding Daren's hand at all, did it anyways..

Once all hands were linked good, Cheshire continued, "Now, all of you close your eyes.. Your eyes aren't used to the blur of light and color like mine.. and whatever you do, don't release each other or me, or I'll lose you along the way. Alright?"

All three nodded, looking unsure. Cheshire then vanished from sight, taking all three with him. For a moment, all three men felt as though they were floating on air, the ground gone beneath their feet. Then, another moment later, they felt solid ground come beneath their feet again, all of their hands clutching extremely tightly to the other's by now.

"You can open your eyes now.." Cheshire said.

Hatter and Hare opened their eyes and gasped, finding that they were standing right outside the Hatter's house. Daren, on the other hand, didn't seem at all surprised by this.

"Cheshire cat.." Hare whispered. "That was incredible!"

Hatter seemed amazed, too. "I didn't know you can vanish people along side of you.."

"If they're holding on to me.. or holding someone who's holding on to me.. I can.." Cheshire said.

"Interesting.." Hatter whispered, now very pleased that Cheshire had such a talent, then he dismissed the thought immediately as a new one came to mind. Then, he pulled a small pocket-watch from one of his pockets and glanced at it. "Well.. It's 8:12.. I'm sure the Queen will be awake by now.." He then set his camping supplies on the ground and carefully removed the crown from his hiding place in the basket.

"Alright, pretty boy, hand it over.." Daren demanded.

Hatter frowned and moved the crown away from Daren. "I'm not giving you this crown.. It's for the Queen and if you -"

Daren frowned. "I'm not going to steal it, stupid.. The way I see it - I got the crown back, so it seems fitting that I should return it to her.."

"Fine.. But I'm not giving it to you until we reach the palace and we're in her Majesty's presence, in case you do attempt something stupid.." At that moment, Hatter turned away too quick that he missed Daren's roll of the eyes before starting toward the palace, but Hare didn't, which raised his suspicions some that Daren might actually try to steal it.. After all, he himself knew it was valuable.

Soon, all three of them were walking quickly to the Red Queen's Palace.. leaving their camping supplies behind. Upon reaching their destination, Hatter was pleased to find that the Queen was wake and pacing in her throne room. Once they entered the courtyard, she turned her eyes to them. Before Hatter could open his mouth, the Queen stormed her way over to Daren, wearing a very serious frown.

"And just what are you doing here?" she demanded.

Before Daren could answer, Hatter shoved the wrapped up crown into Daren's hands. Then, Daren immediately unwrapped it. "Your crown, your Majesty.."

The Red Queen seemed quite surprised by this. "And who found it?"

"I did.. with Hatter and Hare's help.." Daren told her, but hating to admit that last part.

The Queen glanced over at Hare and Hatter. "So, who took it?"

"The Duchess.. Daren snuck into her palace last night and retrieved it for us.. Sadly, however, the Duchess knows we took the crown back, so you may be hearing from her soon.."

"Are you sure it was her?"

"Yes.." Daren said, "I found the crown in her bedroom, not very well guarded.."

"Why would she have done this?" Hare asked the Queen.

"Must you ask?" the Queen asked, giving him a look that told him the answer should've been obvious to him.

"Well, I know you and the Duchess have your.. umm.. quarrels.. but I may by incorrect as to what I'm thinking, your Majesty.." Hare replied.

"Well, you see.. the Duchess and I both had our new crowns made by the same manufacturers.. and word got out to both of us that my crown was much more impressive in size and jewels.. and of course, the Duchess wasn't happy about it at all.. She certainly didn't like the talk around her palace that her crown was inferior to mine.." the Queen paused, thoughtfully. "And it was possibly also revenge for my winning last weekend's croquet game against her as well.."

Hatter nodded. "Yes, I remember that. The score was 7 to 4.. You won by 3 -"

The Queen snatched the crown from Daren's grasp, startling him a bit as he wasn't paying full attention to her. "Still, that's no reason to steal my crown." She then went over to a nearby table where the phone set, she placed the crown on the table, then picked up the receiver and placed it to her ear, then dialed a number. At that moment, Rabbit skidded into the room, having heard the commotion. He spotted the crown and was about to ask about it in surprise when the Queen placed a finger to her lips, motioning for him to be silent. He obediently closed his mouth and nodded, patiently waiting.

The Queen stood for a few moments with one hand on her hip, impatiently waiting. Finally she grumbled, "Oh, you better pick up the phone, Duchie.."

Hatter and Hare couldn't help but smile upon hearing that.

"Fine.." the Queen said, "I'll leave you a message." She paused for a few moments until the answering machine's beep was heared, then she said, loudly. "Duchie? ! The next time I see you, you better have a good reason as to why you took my crown!" Then, she hung up the phone. "Now, that ought to get a response.." She said in a calmer tone.

"Uhh.. Your Majesty?" Rabbit whispered as he came closer to his Queen. "What's he doing here?" He glanced over toward Daren to let the Queen know who he was talking about.

Daren gave a slightly wicked smile and a small wave at Rabbit when he caught Rabbit's eyes, obviously aware that the Rabbit was growing worried about him being there in the palace.

"Well, how he ended up here, I'm not sure, but he was the one who got the crown back.. from Duchie.." the Queen informed Rabbit, who didn't seem surprised to heard that the Duchess took the crown. "Rabbit? I want my crown under lock and key at all times.. uhh.. except when I'm wearing it.."

"Yes, your Majesty.." He gave her a reassuring nod and carefully took the crown up off the table. "I have a place for it already prepared."

The Queen smiled. "I knew I could count on you, Rabbit.. Thank you."

"You're welcome, my Queen." Rabbit replied, then went to the task of examining the crown to make sure it was in good condition.

"So, Hatter, how did he end up here?" the Queen asked.

Hatter didn't need to be told who she was referring to. "I had to do with that.. Daren's very sneaky and I was sure if anyone could find the stolen crown, he could."

Hare smiled. "It takes a thief to know a thief."

Rabbit looked up from the crown, "Really? I thought he was a copy cat.."

Hatter smiled, "Well, he's that, too.."

Daren folded his arms with a frown, not liking the group starting on him now. His expression changed, however, when the Queen came toward him and said,

"Well, I believe I owe you, Hatter and Hare a thank you.." She told him.

"Oh, and don't forget Cheshire.." Hatter piped up. "He's the one who really saved us from the Duchess's guards.. They could've found us, if it weren't for Chesh.."

"Then, I'll be sure to reward him as well.."

"Thank you, your Majesty.." Hatter replied.

"Mrrrr.. No collar metals, please.." Cheshire said, appearing close to Hatter's head. "They make my neck itch. How 'bout a banquet?"

"How 'bout no?" the Queen said. "You'll devour everything before the rest of my guests eat.. I'll find something suitable for you, cat.." She turned her attention to Daren. "As for you.. You're allowed back in Wonderland, but.. if you ever do anything cruel to my subjects again, as you did to Hatter, you'll be banned from Wonderland for good, no matter how many kind deeds you do for me. Got it, Daren?"

"Yes, your Majesty." Daren said, looking very pleased and smugly proud of himself.

"Oh no.. Not that.. Anything but that.." Hatter said, not truly believing that the Queen would lift Daren's banishment. He gave the Queen a pleading look.

She smiled, "Hatter.. Relax.. It'll be alright.."

Daren came up to Hatter and threw one of his arms around his cousin's shoulders in a hug, much to Hatter's discomfort. "Oh, don't worry, cous, I'll play nice with you and your friends from now on.." he said, wearing an unconvincingly sweet smile.

"Yeah, sure, until you find some reason not to.." Hatter grumbled.

"Okay.. I'm out of here.. See ya later.." Daren said.

The Queen folded her arms. "You better behave yourself.. Daren.."

"Yes, your Majesty.." Daren bowed, then ran out of the palace, a little too eagerly.

"Thanks, your Majesty.." Hatter said in disappointment.

"Oh, relax Hatter.." the Queen told him. "I'm sure he won't be that bad.."

"Let's hope not.." Hatter said, looking after his cousin in dismay.

o0o0o

Note - What the above says.. ^^