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Never Lost

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Chapter Four: Tea Biscuits and Talking

It was a mere few minutes later that the foliage thinned out, and the faint sound of music reached Alice's ears. She quickened her pace slightly, no longer trying to keep up with the Cheshire Cat.

In no time at all, she came upon the sight of a broken down windmill that looked like it might be a home. Just in front of that, several mismatched tables put end-to-end, surrounded by many more mismatched chairs. On the left sat the March Hare, dozing softly in his chair, and on the right, the mouse from before was lounging in a teapot. At the very end of the tables, however, sitting in a high-backed chair and dozing as well, was the Hatter. 

The three of them seemed to sense Alice at the same time, for they turned to look at her. As soon as she was a few feet away, Hatter was out of his chair and atop the tables, hurrying as quickly as he dared. He ignored the annoyed cries of his companions, his bright green eyes focused intently on her face as he knelt down.

"It's you ," Hatter said, and Alice smiled a little. Her expression dropped, however, when the dormouse spoke.

"No, it's not! McTwisp brought us the wrong Alice!"

"It's the wrong Alice!" Hare repeated, tugging at his ear in distress.

"It's absolutely Alice," Hatter said, sending a brief look to his companions before he smiled down at her. "You're absolutely Alice. I'd know you anywhere."

"I'd know him anywhere," he said, louder this time, to his other guests. His choice of pronoun, of course, drawing a burst of giggles from them both. 

Clearly excited, Hatter took Alice's much smaller hand into his and began pulling her up with him to the table tops. He led her along back the way he'd come, her feet barely touching the ground as she tried to keep up. As they walked - well, he walked and she jumped - he spoke.

"Well. As you can see, we're still having tea. And it's all because I was obliged to kill Time, waiting for your return. You're terribly late you know." He paused, giving Alice a sly look. "Naughty."

Hatter chose then to let go of her arm and motioned her to sit in the chair to the right of him. She did so, watching him with rapt attention as he continued talking.

"Well. Anyway. Time became quite offended and stopped altogether." Hatter frowned as he pulled out his pocket watch, tapping the glass face. "Not a tick ever since."

"...Cup." Was the March Hare's contribution to the conversation, and Alice couldn't help but smile slightly.

"Time can be peculiar that way," Alice replied after a second, turning her attention back to the orange-haired man.

“Yes, yes, of course. But now you're back, you see, and we need to get on to the Frabjous Day."

"Frabjous Day!" Both the hare and dormouse exclaimed, raising their tea cups in a toast of sorts.

"I’m investigating things that begin with the letter ' M '’," Hatter said casually, changing the subject entirely, before he leaned in close and whispered. "Have you any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?"

Alice's eyebrows scrunched together, but before she could make an attempt at solving the question, the three of them spoke simultaneously. Well, shouted, more like, which startled her quite a bit.

" Downal wyth Bluddy Behg Hid !"  

"What?" she asked, head turning to look at the three of them. It was the Cheshire Cat, who had been silent until now, that answered.

" Down with the Bloody Big Head . 'Bloody Big Head' being the Red Queen…" he explained in a bored-sounding drawl as he picked up a cup and swirled the tea within. Not to be deterred by the lackluster tone of voice, however, Hatter perked up and carried on with his speech.

"Come, come. We simply must commence with the slaying and such. Therefore, it is high time to forgive and forget, or forget and forgive. Whichever comes first or is, in any case, most convenient." 

'What an odd turn of phrase,' Alice thought. 'I shall have to remember that one.'

"I’m waiting," the Mad Hatter added, pulling out his pocket watch again. Miraculously, or perhaps not so, considering Alice didn't understand the possibilities of this world yet, the watch was ticking softly.

"It's tick - it's ticking again," the Hare muttered, twitching and looking at his own little watch.

"All this talk of blood and slaying has put me off my tea," Cheshire muttered sullenly, softly tapping his spoon against the side of his cup.

"Well," Hatter started tersely, his face taking on a slightly pinched look. "The entire world is falling to ruin and poor Chessur's off his tea ."

"What happened that day was not my fault,” Chessur quipped back just as tersely, and Hatter sucked in a sharp breath, his eyes going dark. Alice noticed, with a small flash of alarm, that his eyes actually changed color !

He stood slowly, his posture stiff and seemingly calm at first, but growing more erratic as he walked closer to the cat.

"You ran out on them ta save yer own skin. Ya guddler's scuttish pilgar-lickerin', shukm-jugglin' slurking urpal. Bar lom muck egg brimni- !"

Alice could not do much else except watch as Hatter seemed to fill up with a sort of fury aimed at Chessur, her own eyes getting wider and wider. So absorbed was she at the sight of this previously happy man, that she jumped a bit in her seat when the mouse called out his name.

"Hatter!"

It worked almost immediately; Hatter stopped stalking toward Chessur as if he'd hit an invisible wall. His fingers curled into fists, Alice saw, but they were at his sides, and the dark look was receding from his eyes.

"Thank you," he responded in a raspy voice. Alice couldn’t tell if it was because he was restraining himself, or if he had hurt his throat by yelling so. She also couldn’t help but hope it was the latter; admittedly the less... frightening option, in her opinion.

"Oh. Meow ."

"I'm fine," Hatter insisted as he made it back to his seat at the head of the table.

"What's wrong with you, Tarrant?” Chessur asked, a melancholy tone in his voice. “You used to be the life of the party. You used to do the best Futterwacken in all of Witzend."

"Futter-what?" Alice interrupted, having been slightly too preoccupied with the revelation of Hatter’s name to listen fully to the odd new word. Though, could she really call any new word she learned here ‘odd’? Here in Underland, all of these words were quite normal, and she was the odd one out.

"Futterwacken," the Hare corrected, standing to do a little jig on his chair that made Alice smile.

"It's a dance," the mouse explained further, doing her own little curtsy.

"On the Frabjous Day, when the White Queen once again wears the crown. On that day, I shall Futterwacken… vigorously ." 

At that, Alice brought a hand up to her face to hide her quiet giggle, as well as the light blush that warmed her cheeks. She wasn’t the only one to giggle, thankfully, and so her reaction wasn’t too out of place. 

Their amusement was interrupted, however, by the sound of a horse from not too far off, and everyone grew tense at the sound.

“Oh no,” the Hare muttered, jumping onto the table in an odd attempt to hide behind the Cheshire Cat, who vanished a moment later with a short “Goodbye!".

The mouse muttered something as well, at the same time the hare said something, and both exclamations were lost to Alice. She turned to ask Hatter what was going on, but before she could do more than open her mouth, he was pressing an open vial to her lips.

"Drink this, quickly!" Hatter urged her. Never mind that she was already choking it down to avoid breathing it in. Grimacing at the slightly familiar taste, Alice felt a tingle and saw everything around her getting ever bigger. How much smaller was she going to have to get?