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At Your Side
XxX

It had been two days now. Two days since she'd come back, and still there was no change. Hatter remained, for the most part, stubbornly unconscious, the fever clinging on with a vice-like grip that was not likely to let up any time soon.

And then there was the cough. Dry and hoarse, it barely helped matters. Alice and the others could hear the mucus rattling in his lungs, but Hatter was just too weak to bring it up yet.

But Alice would not leave. For the entire two days she'd been in Underland, she'd stayed at Hatter's side, changing the compress on his forehead regularly, and forcing small sips of tea and broth down his throat.

She did her best for him, but Alice was no doctor. There really was very little she could do, but she would do all that she could. Hatter had to live. She had still to tell him she loved him. Oh, she'd said it several times, but she was sure Hatter hadn't heard. Ill as he was, he was rarely awake, let alone lucid, for more than a second or two at a time.

The others would come in at times, and sit with Hatter and Alice. Mallyumken and Thackery especially, though the Tweedles and McTwisp were a common sight as well. Even Chess made an occasional appearance.

"I don't want your hat, Tarrant, if it is at this sort of a cost," the cat had whispered when he thought Alice was asleep. "So do get well soon."

But Alice had heard him, and she had heard the warmth beneath the uncaring drawl. She also believed that Hatter heard. She had nothing to go on, but Alice believed it to be true.

The words rather raised her opinion of Chess, and made her smile slightly. Before she could call the cat on his action, however, he had evaporated, and Alice was left alone again, with just the sound of Hatter's labored, shallow breathing to fill the silence. She leaned forward to re-wet the cloth on Hatter's forehead, and was startled to stillness by the two vivid green slits that stared weakly, blankly, back at her.

"A…lice…?"

His voice was hoarse and broken, cracking and frail. But it was enough to bring her back to her senses, and she managed a small smile.

"Yes, Hatter," she replied, pushing a curl of wild, flame orange hair back from his forehead. His white skin was clammy and sweat-soaked, and the cheeks were a livid red from the height of his fever. "I'm right here."

"You came… back…"

Hatter's lips twitched weakly into the faintest ghost of a smile, but still it set Alice's heart racing.

"Of course I came back," Alice whispered, forcing a laugh. "How could I not come back? When Mally and McTwisp told me you were sick, how could I stay away?"

Another feeble smile passed momentarily over Hatter's lips, and he closed his eyes.

"Dear Alice….." he sighed, slipping back into unconsciousness. "Dear….. Alice…."

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This is just a portion of a chapter from a story I'm considering which sort of goes along with these last two. If you like it, let me know, and I'll get on with it. Review, please!