A/N: I like even numbers. :)

To all the folks that have read and reviewed this ridiculously long fic…thank-you. This was my first attempt at Fan Fiction and now I am hooked. I missed writing, so FanFic Community thank-you for welcoming me, reading my works, and for all the reviews!

I hope you will continue to read the sequel to Always…titled: 'Forever.' Just take out the spaces and go to www. fanfiction. net/s/5916953/1/Forever

Chapter 50/Epilogue

He was taking his Alice out for a night on the town, and Hatter couldn't help feeling a little bit excited about it. They had a long week, and in celebration of their betrothal they planned to have a nice dinner, a show, and then maybe they would go dancing after. James had clapped Hatter on the shoulder and then pulled him in for a hug when he heard the happy news that Alice had said yes. He told Hatter he expected an invitation to the wedding; Hatter happily agreed. It would be good to have someone there for him.

Hatter was glad that James was covering him this Sunday. He and Alice needed a couple of days together. Hatter had decided that one of the first things he would do when they bought out the tea shop was to hire some part time help so he wasn't working so much; he missed his time with Alice.

Alice had cautioned him that a lot of the draw for the tea shop was Hatter himself, and he needed to be present at key times if he wanted to maintain their success. He thought Alice was exaggerating just a touch. He'd argued that he would be a little less prosperous if it meant he wasn't working fifty (and sometimes more) hours a week. He told her that she was his full-time job… the tea shop was just a hobby. Alice had smacked him and laughed, but had dropped the subject and the argument.

She had insisted on getting ready for their night out at her mother's flat; she had gone shopping for a special dress for the occasion and she didn't want to spoil the surprise. Besides which, she argued that their little flat never provided enough hot water for two showers one after another. That's why they usually just shared…at least that's what she told herself. Hatter knew better.

Hatter had done a little shopping himself. He hoped Alice would like his choice. Alice had picked their Broadway show; she had decided on watching some show called 'Avenue Q.' She had told him that it was funny and sarcastic, and she thought he would love it. He said if she wanted to go to it, it was good enough for him. He'd booked the dinner package; they were eating at a restaurant called 'Maison.' Alice had seemed excited about that as well. It would be expensive, but he wanted to do something extravagant to celebrate. It would likely be the last time they could afford such a thing for a while; at least until the tea shop began bringing in a little bit more.

It would likely be a late night, but aside from doing a show for the terminal children's ward at the hospital on Sunday afternoon they had no other plans. They could stay in bed as long as they liked and enjoy the too brief lapse in their busy schedules. Alice mentioned that Carol would be home on Sunday morning and that she had planned to go over and speak with her about their betrothal. Hatter had the uncomfortable feeling that Carol would not be very congratulatory. Alice had yet to commit to a date for their wedding; he thought it might be an important detail for when she talked to Carol, but he didn't want to press her on it, considering.

Hatter surveyed himself in the mirror critically. He thought Alice would approve.

Alice pinned her hair on top of her head in an intricate twist, leaving a few soft pieces out to frame her face. She stepped into her dress and twisted awkwardly to zip up the back. There was a small eyelet at the top she would have to get Hatter to secure for her, but it was in no danger of coming undone. The deep midnight blue satin of the halter top brought out the blue of her eyes, and the cummerbund style bodice that it transitioned into emphasized her tiny waist. It flowed out into an asymmetrical handkerchief satin skirt that hit the top of her knees at the highest point and mid-calf at the lowest. It was patterned with wide brushstrokes of blues, purples, and silver on a black background. She had found delicate silver stilettos with a spray of purple crystals across the toes to finish the look.

If she had gauged it right, Hatter's longue would be lolling on the ground. She didn't do it often, but she did love to dress up. She hung the wires of her sapphire and silver earrings in her ears, smiling at the swirling abstract paisley design that matched her engagement ring. She had them for years; it was funny how well Hatter knew her tastes. Maybe she would let him take her shopping; he had been hounding her about it for weeks. She spun around to check her reflection from the back. The low back and bare shoulders of the dress would drive Hatter crazy. She smiled and sat down to wait for him.

Hatter straightened his waistcoat nervously and knocked on the door. He was almost as nervous as he had been the first time he had taken Alice out. He was proud of his fiancée; she was beautiful, smart, strong and way too good for a former guttersnipe like him. He wasn't sure what it said about his character that he was eager to show her off on his arm… but he was. He knocked on the door and called out her name. His voice came out solid and strong, not at all how he was feeling. Good.

Alice swung open the door and stared. She hoped she wasn't drooling. He wore a velvet frock coat complete with tails, and it was colored in such a deep brown it was almost black, an eggplant iridescent taffeta shirt with black velvet stripes, and a mocha colored waistcoat. He wore a silk tie (properly knotted for once, although loosely) in graduated shades of brown ranging from light tan to deep bittersweet chocolate, accented with large eggplant purple paisleys. His trousers were relatively plain in comparison, chocolate brown with a darker brown stripe down the outer seam. Highly polished black ankle boots and a black porkpie hat pushed back on his head, his hair curling wildly around the brim completed the look.

Somehow he managed pull off any ensemble with confidence; she wouldn't be surprised to see what he was wearing now on a catwalk. He should have looked outlandish, but instead he looked like he was the cutting edge of fashion… and delicious.

He looked her up and down, bit his bottom lip and released it languidly. Alice's breath caught at the heat in his gaze, and then he began to smile slowly. And her heart nearly beat out of her chest. He held his hands out to capture hers.

"Stunning, love. You look beautiful," Hatter complemented, his voice deep and throaty.

He kissed her hand, and then her lips softly… a mere brush of lips on lips. He separated from her a few inches, his mouth near hers.

"If I kiss you like I'd like to we'll not make our reservation," he murmured.

Alice smiled wickedly. She bit his lower lip and pulled him into a scorching kiss. He tried to disengage his hands from hers to wrap his arms around her. He yelped as her hands twisted his to activate a pressure point. She stepped back laughing.

"Oh not fair, love," he complained, laughing.

"Oh, and could you fasten the top eyelet on my dress?" she asked nonchalantly.

He raised an eyebrow and aimed a sly smile at her, and then stepped behind her wordlessly and brushed his fingertips down her spine, coming to rest on the small fastener. She shivered as he leaned in to secure it, his breath warm on her neck. He pressed an open mouthed wet kiss on the juncture of her shoulder and neck before stepping away.

"Turnabout, love," he warned.

She smiled and smacked his ass as she stepped past him into the hallway, "Come on, we'll be late," Alice smirked.

Dinner was lovely; the cuisine was touted as 'Brittany coastal' which amused Hatter to no end, but Alice didn't get the joke. He and Alice shared a bottle of wine over dinner. Alice noticed that he was still on his first glass while she was on her third, but Hatter was Hatter and he wouldn't ever let his guard down while Alice was with him and they weren't in the security of their own home. Even then… she shot him a sideways glance and decided that she would insist on taking home a bottle of wine. If she was going to marry the man, she wanted to see what he was like after he had a few. It was only fair.

The show was even better than the meal. Hatter was holding his sides and had tears rolling down his cheeks as the puppets on stage sang 'The Internet Is for Porn' and Alice swore she heard him snort and heard a high pitched giggle out of him during the stirring rendition of 'You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love).' She couldn't be too sure because she was laughing so hard herself. She loved seeing Hatter so lighthearted and happy. When she made mention of it, he had simply said it was because he was happy. He had his Alice, he had his own tea shop to run again, and she had agreed to marry him. He felt like the luckiest man in the world.

They skipped the dancing in favor of picking up a couple of bottles of wine and going home. It was late, and Alice told him they could dance together at home and it would make her just as happy.

Hatter smiled, amused by her actions as she lit candles throughout their flat and then programmed a playlist of slow songs for them to dance to. He removed his coat and then opened the wine and poured them both a couple of glasses. Alice slipped off her heels and took the glass from his hand and took a sip. Hatter took a drink out of his own glass, set it down and then held out his hand to her for a dance.

They drank their wine and danced and then talked. Alice learned that Hatter was silly and affectionate when he had a few glasses of wine in him…and that he still retained the ability to perform hat tricks. And indeed, he had a high-pitched giggle when his laughter deteriorated into hysterics.

He divulged that he had let it slip to her mother that he wanted to marry her.

Hatter learned that Alice loved to dance above all else. He handled the slow dancing just fine, she reassured him, but he was determined to learn how to do all of it for her sake.

He also learned that Alice was afraid to tell her mother that she was marrying him… but it wouldn't deter her from doing so in the slightest. It was one of the things he admired most about her. She would face anything despite her fears. He offered her one last dance before he set about the serious business of charming the pants (or dress, in this case) off of Alice… quite literally. Lucky for him she was intent on doing the same to him.

"Hatter… will you come with me to tell Mom that we're getting married?" Alice asked quietly, hope and fear shining in her eyes as they swayed gently to the music.

Hope for his answer, fear for the prospect of explaining this to her mother.

Carol would see a short whirlwind romance culminating in a snap decision based on impulse. Nothing could be farther from the truth. What Alice knew without question is that she needed Hatter with her for support… well, for comfort really. His presence would not be appreciated by her mother and she suspected that Hatter had realized that. She saw his hesitation as he opened his mouth to answer and rushed to head it off.

"I am marrying you no matter what, but I... I need you there with me. For me," she admitted.

He was overwhelmed. She needed him. His brave, indomitable Alice found courage because he would face this with her? It was enough for him. He would do anything for his Alice, "Alice, love. I have told you. You need not ask. Whether it's a Jabberwock or your mum, yeah?"

Alice smiled up at him, "I know, but it is still polite to ask."

Her mother would never understand, and Alice could never explain it. They had been through so much together in Wonderland; he'd nearly died for her… several times. They had fallen in love somewhere along the way; it catching them both unawares. Neither one of them were brave enough to own up to their feelings before she left him behind. He had left his world and all he knew to chase after her all on hope… he hadn't even been sure if Alice felt the same. He said he knew he couldn't be without her. It was worth the risk.

Once he realized that she felt the same, he had put every effort into keeping her. It had proved to be the harder than he could have imagined, but Hatter had accepted her with all her baggage and she had unflinchingly accepted his past. They had sometimes hurt each other, but they had always had love enough for forgiveness. Through laughter and tears… and Hatter finding that life on the other side of the mirror could be just as dangerous and frightening as the one he had left behind; they had weathered more together than most couples would ever experience in a lifetime, and it had only drawn them closer and made them more secure in their love for one another.

If the beginning stirrings of love between them were strong, what it had developed into was unbreakable. He was as necessary to her as the air she breathed, and she knew without question that he felt the same.

Alice knew that they would face whatever the future held together, from telling her mother about the engagement, to their wedding, to the purchase of the tea shop and even dealing with the threat that Hatter could be deported. They would handle it… they could endure anything if they had each other.

The marriage ceremony would only be a formality… a symbol of the unwavering commitment that both of already them felt from the depths of their souls.

There would be no one else. Not ever.

"I'll always be there for you," he replied softly.

"I know. You promised me, and I trust you," she acknowledged with complete confidence.

She stared into his dark chocolate brown eyes, overcome by the storm of emotion she saw within him. Her trust and her love meant everything to him. She presented her whole heart to him openly and without reservation. It was an easy gift to give; he meant everything to her.

Hatter bent his head and kissed her, his fiancée, his true love. The love they shared was a gift. He would guard it and protect it always. Always.


Catch the sequel to this story 'Forever' :)

A/N: What a long and wild ride that was. I know so many of you were looking forward to their date night, so I decided to go ahead and include it in the Epilogue. I hate to disappoint.

I do hope you read the sequel… life never leaves you alone for long, and Alice and Hatter have plenty to look forward to.

Belated reviews are always welcome. :)