Disclaimer: I don't own anything and I'm not making any money.

A/N: First fic for the Alice in Wonderland fandom. Hope you enjoy!

Three Years

Alice sat across the table from her Aunt Imogene, a half-drunk cup of tea resting on the table in front of her. A large umbrella gave the two women shade and hid them from the afternoon sun, allowing them to watch the party without needing to squint.

She was dressed in blue, her dress covering her from shoulder to ankle and conveniently hiding the fact that she wore no stockings. She wore no corset, having managed to wriggle out of it before leaving the house. Her hair was pulled back, curls tumbling partway down her back.

Alice's eyes moved disinterestedly over the young men and women dancing the quadrille. Her gaze paused when she spotted familiar faces in the dancing crowd - Margaret, the Chattaway twins, Hamish and the girl he'd be proposing to in one hour's time - but never lingered on any one person very long. Her eyes kept straying to the maze and beyond that, to the hills and the small forest that bordered the Ascot's property.

It was three years now, almost to the day, that her own disastrous engagement party had taken place. It had been three years since Hamish had proposed to her and she had run off and fallen down the rabbit hole. Three years since she had last set foot in Underland and slain the Jabberwocky. Three years since she had seen all of her friends.

Three years since she had last seen him.

Alice held in a sigh and turned back to her tea. She smiled thinly and lifted the cup delicately to her mouth. She took a small sip, savoring the flavor. Alice had become quite fond of tea in the past three years, more so than she had been prior to Hamish's proposal.

Her smile faded and disappeared. Alice set her teacup back on the saucer and leaned against the back of her chair, her dark eyes distant.

Hamish's proposal hadn't been the last. Her mother seemed determined to marry her off, even though Alice was doing quite well for herself as an apprentice to what used to be her father's company. Lord Ascot was as good as his word and had made her an official apprentice, paying her a wage and allowing her to do the same work as the boys. It was one of the few sources of real pleasure Alice had these days, seeing how well her father's company was doing with Lord Ascot as the owner. They had expanded to China and had been trading with the Chinese successfully for about a year now. They planned on expanding even further, but that would take time.

The company was the only thing that kept her aboveground some days. She was determined to see her father's dream through, to please his memory if nothing else, even though it was terribly difficult to stay in such a dull, proper world sometimes when she knew what awaited her belowground. It was especially difficult on days when her mother was pressuring her to marry and her sister was encouraging her to accept the next man who asked for her hand, both women insisting that her face wouldn't last and that she'd be a spinster if she kept refusing to be wed.

Alice didn't care if she did end her life as a spinster. Of all the lords and young men with prospects her mother had found for her, none of them was the right man. She had tried to tell her mother as much, but when Helen Kingsley had exasperatedly demanded who was the 'right man', Alice hadn't been able to answer.

It wasn't that she didn't have an answer, but she hadn't had one her mother would like.

The young men had kept calling on her and Alice had finally resorted to desperate measures a few months ago. It was a brilliantly simple plan and worked well, for the most part.

She had told her mother that she already had a fiancé, one who would be most displeased with her if he came back and found her engaged to another man. Her mother hadn't believed her, mostly because Alice had never mentioned having a fiancé before, but Alice had said that she knew her mother would disapprove because her betrothed was a simple hatter and not a lord. Alice had invented a story about meeting her mysterious fiancé in China. He had gone there to seek his fortune since he wasn't rich and had no real prospects back home, so of course there was no way that her mother would approve the match even though Alice loved him dearly. When he had a stable income and could properly support her, he would come to the Kingsley household and claim her for his bride. She had promised to wait for him.

Her mother had naturally been suspicious, but it had prevented the older woman from inviting any more eligible men to call on Alice on the off chance that Alice was telling the truth. Helen Kingsley had thrown a fit, furious with Alice and disappointed in her, but had stopped insisting that Alice consider marriage. Alice was still forced to attend parties, perhaps in the hopes that someone more suitable would catch her eye, but at every party Alice had sat with her Aunt Imogene and rejected offers to dance. She had never been fond of the quadrille anyway.

She blinked, eyes refocusing on the dance floor. For a second, Alice could have sworn she saw a flash of bright, vivid color among the rather drab garb the dancing lords and ladies wore. She narrowed her eyes in focus, looking for another hint of color, but whatever it had been was no longer visible.

Alice turned back to her tea. It was probably just her mind playing tricks on her, making her believe she saw things that could not possibly be there. She was about to lift up her teacup when a shadow darker than the one cast by the umbrella fell over her.

"Have you any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?" the owner of the shadow asked. Alice's hand froze in place and her head whipped around to face the speaker. Her jaw nearly dropped in an unladylike display that would have given her mother fits, but she checked the impulse.

"Hatter?" she said, stunned. The Hatter grinned happily at her, his hair just as wild and bright as she remembered it. His beloved top hat was held under one arm and his clothes were just as she recalled them; a large and colorfully patterned bowtie and a dark coat starkly contrasting with the white bandages on his fingers. His skin was unnaturally pale as always and his eyes were the same haunting, almost inhumanly bright green that Alice could never and would never forget.

"You're terribly late you know. Naughty," he replied, shaking one bandaged finger at her as though scolding her though the broad, gap-toothed grin never left his face. "You were supposed to be back before I knew it and I've known it many times but you never returned."

Still shocked, Alice moved one hand to her shoulder and pinched herself. The brief but sharp pain was proof enough that this wasn't a dream, that she hadn't managed to fall asleep at the table and was currently imagining the Hatter being there.

"You're really here, aren't you?" she asked. The Hatter beamed and opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by another voice.

"Who is this?"

Alice turned towards her aunt. The old woman was looking at the Hatter with an expression of mild curiosity, her fan held just below her face. Alice found herself at a loss for words, a sudden rush of near-panic rising up inside her. Aunt Imogene knew about Alice's supposed 'fiancé' and if she supposed that the Hatter was the man Alice was betrothed to...

Alice flushed. The Hatter bowed slightly to Aunt Imogene, still smiling broadly.

"Tarrant Hightopp," he said proudly, straightening up. He turned back to Alice. "Are you ready to come back with me now?"

Alice took a deep breath, meeting and holding the Hatter's hopeful gaze. He watched her expectantly, though when she didn't respond immediately his smile evaporated and his eyes faded to a duller shade of green.

"Hatter," she began, chest tight. "I do want to go back, but I can't. I promise I'll go back, but I still have things to do up here-"

She cut herself off, the White Queen's words from Frabjous Day suddenly echoing in her head.

'You cannot live your life to please others.'

More than anything else, she wanted to return with the Hatter to Underland, but she couldn't go. Not yet. She had to see her father's dream through and had to assure her mother that she really would be fine without marrying a 'proper gentleman'. She had to keep an eye on Lowell so the man wouldn't break her sister's heart.

The Hatter's eyes were dreadfully dull, bordering on gray.

"You've lost it again," he said mournfully. "Your muchness is gone."

Alice smiled weakly at him.

"'Muchness'? What a delightfully odd thing to say..." Aunt Imogene mused out loud. Alice nearly jumped, having almost forgotten that Aunt Imogene was there.

"Is it really?" the Hatter asked, a somewhat surprised expression on his face. "I've never thought of that. 'Muchness' is such a useful word, a great word, a right-proper-Under-"

"Hatter!" Alice cut him off quickly.

Hatter froze, took a heavy swallow, and then nodded at Alice.

"Thank you," he said, voice thin and strained.

"Alice!"

She turned towards the sound, heart sinking to her nonexistent stockings as she recognized her mother's voice. Helen Kingsley was striding towards her daughter as quickly as would be proper, expression hard and mouth set in a thin line. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the Hatter turn to face her mother too.

Helen came to a stop next to her daughter's chair. Her gaze was frosty and she first regarded Alice and then the Hatter, her eyes lingering on his somewhat tattered hat, his wild hair and eyes, and his cared for but worn, colorful clothes. Her lips thinned even further in disapproval.

"I do not believe we have been properly introduced," Helen said coolly, prompting Hatter to introduce himself. The Hatter bowed slightly to her.

"Tarrant Hightopp," he said simply, straightening up. Alice could feel her mother bristle behind her, rightfully assuming that the Hatter had no noble title from the omission of one in his introduction. "And you are, Madame?"

"Helen Kingsley, wife of the late Charles Kingsley," Helen replied, softening slightly at the Hatter's respectful tone. "May I ask how you know Lord and Lady Ascot? I don't believe I've seen you at parties before."

"Ascot?" the Hatter said, puzzled. "I don't know any ascots; I make hats, you see, and I came here in search of an Alice. Then I found her, only now she insists that she must stay here."

Alice's heart sank further and she risked a look back at her mother. Helen wore a thunderstruck expression and she was staring at the Hatter with something akin to horrified realization in her eyes.

"Hats?" Helen repeated faintly. "You came looking for Alice?"

The Hatter nodded, an eager look suddenly back in his eyes.

"I don't suppose you'd allow her to come back with me? She's terribly missed, you know, and tea just isn't the same when there's supposed to be an Alice and there isn't."

"What a charming man..." Aunt Imogene said. She slowly turned her gaze towards the dancers, eyes wistful and distant. "Not as charming as my prince, of course, but still, a charming man..."

Silence fell for several seconds, Alice keenly aware of the tension while the Hatter seemed blissfully oblivious.

"Well, then," Helen said, voice still faint but quickly regaining its normal strength. "It seems I was wrong. You've found steady work, then?"

"Mother," Alice said hurriedly, hoping to separate her mother and the Hatter before her mother let slip Alice's little deception. Helen ignored her, waving a hand to request Alice's silence while keeping her eyes fixed on the Hatter.

"Of course," the Hatter said, puzzled again and a bit surprised by the question. "The White Queen was happy to have me hat her again, especially after the events of Frabjous Day."

"Queen?" Helen said, sounding shocked.

"Mother," Alice said urgently, resisting the urge to reach up and tug on her mother's sleeve. When Helen didn't respond, Alice gave into the impulse and gently tugged on the older woman's sleeve.

Helen drew her arm back quickly, yanking the material out of Alice's hand.

"What is it, Alice?" Helen asked, voice more dazed than angry. Alice shot a glance towards the Hatter and then back to her mother.

"Mother, may I speak with you? Privately?" she asked. She would have to tell her mother that the Hatter wasn't really her fiancé and while that might mean more visits from eligible young men, at least the Hatter wouldn't wonder why Alice had chosen to pretend that he was her betrothed. Somehow that conversation was more frightening than slaying the Jabberwocky. At least when she had fought the dragon-like beast, she had known that her destiny was to slay it. Absalom had told her to listen to the Vorpal Sword and she had, willing destiny to prevail.

If she ever spoke to the Hatter of the feelings she had only realized she had after swallowing the Jabberwocky blood, there was no guarantee that she would get a favorable response. She had never liked Hamish's advice 'when in doubt, remain silent', but it definitely applied here.

As the Hatter would say, she had most certainly lost her muchness.

"Privately?" Helen asked. "Alice, anything you need to say to me can almost certainly be said in front of your fiancé."

Alice felt the bottom drop from her stomach and she looked back at the Hatter to gauge his reaction. If she was lucky, perhaps he missed what Helen had said...?

The Hatter had a perplexed look on his face and he was staring at Alice like he hadn't seen her before. There went the hope that he hadn't heard.

"Fiancé...?" he said slowly, his confusion clear. Steeling herself, Alice looked back at her mother. Helen's face had gone dark and angry and she was looking back at Alice. Helen deliberately raised her gaze to the Hatter.

"You are not my daughter's fiancé? I was under the impression that you were."

"Mother," Alice tried to interject, but Helen held up a hand that demanded Alice's silence.

The Hatter lifted his hat and placed it back on his head, fitting it snugly on before opening his jacket with one hand and reaching into a pocket on the inside with the other. He drew out his pocket watch and stared at it, shaking it once.

"How strange. I thought Time was playing tricks on me again, since he does rather resent I had to kill time so often while waiting for Alice to return," the Hatter said, stuffing his watch back into his pocket. His expression brightened. "Though I have recently been considering things that begin with the letter 'm', especially since Alice left again."

"What are you talking about?" Helen demanded. "Are you or are you not Alice's fiancé?"

The Hatter ignored her, his smile turning warmer and softer as he looked at Alice. Alice felt her heart skip a beat but managed to keep calm, at least outwardly.

"Muchness," the Hatter began to list off, voice gentle. "Monogamy, marriage, matrimony..."

"Hatter?" Alice asked uncertainly, watching as he moved to kneel in front of her. He held out his hands, a silent request for her to offer her own, and she did without conscious thought. She could feel the bandages that covered his fingers brush against her skin and the sensation sent a shiver of warmth through her.

"Alice," the Hatter said, the first hints of his Outlandish accent beginning to show. Alice could feel her heart pounding, world shrinking to just the two of them. "Will ye be my wife?"

His gaze was focused and earnest, completely serious. Alice had a sudden sense of deja vu, mind racing back to the day Hamish had proposed to her. It had been so similar to this in word and action, but there were worlds of difference between the feelings behind the words. When Hamish had asked her, all she had felt was pressure to accept and nerves about being the center of attention. Here, with the Hatter, there was none of that pressure.

However, there were still plenty of nerves.

Alice looked up at her mother. Helen's face was unreadable. Alice could feel the urge to run rising but she clamped down on it, forcing the response back.

Did she want to marry the Hatter?

When she had asked herself if she wanted to marry Hamish, the answer had been an immediate 'no'. When she had thought about marriage with any of the young men her mother had tried to marry her to, her heart had rejected the very notion. There was only one man she would willingly tie herself to, and even if this was quite a bit faster than she had expected, there was only one answer she could give.

"Yes," she breathed and the Hatter's eyes lit up. In an instant, the Hatter was on his feet and sweeping Alice up and out of her chair. Before Alice realized what was happening, he had planted his lips firmly over hers in a wonderful but extremely improper kiss.

Alice vaguely heard her mother gasp, scandalized, but she didn't care. Alice's eyes slid shut and she lifted her hands to the back of the Hatter's neck, relaxing into his body. His hands rested at her hips but thankfully no lower, holding her body firmly to his.

Alice broke away first, letting go of the Hatter and trying to catch her breath after the unexpected kiss. The Hatter's eyes were green, but dark in a way she had never seen before. If she had to pick a word to describe the way he looked, it would be hungry and he was staring at her like she had the ability to sate him. She swallowed heavily, turning to face her mother.

Helen's expression was disapproving, as Alice had expected, but resigned, as she had not.

"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," Helen said. She looked from Alice to the Hatter and then back to Alice. "Will this man make you happy, Alice? Is he why you've refused every match I've tried to make for you?"

Alice smiled and nodded.

"Does this mean you'll let Alice come back to Underland with me?" the Hatter asked hopefully.

"Hatter!" Alice said sharply, but the damage had been done. The Hatter looked almost guilty and he shrugged his shoulders.

"Oops?" he said.

"Underland?" Helen asked, confused. Alice sighed.

"It's a long story, Mother." Alice glanced around, uneasily noting the sheer number of people that might overhear. "One that would be better to tell somewhere private, I think."

Helen followed her gaze and then nodded, resigned. She turned towards the Ascots' mansion.

"I'm sure Lord Ascot will allow us space in his house for our talk. Shall we?" she asked. Helen began heading off without waiting for an answer, silently demanding that they follow.

Alice looked at the Hatter. He grinned.

"I'm certain Her Majesty mentioned to me that she would very much like for her Champion to be married in Mamoreal, so perhaps we ought to tell your mother about Underland anyway?" he said, offering her his arm. She took it, smiling thoughtfully.

"I do suppose that you are correct," she said. The pair began to follow Helen, arms linked and identical soft smiles on their lips.

Perhaps Alice wouldn't end up as a spinster after all, but she couldn't say she truly minded. Being married was beginning to sound like a wonderful idea.

She stole a glance at her Hatter, her smile widening at the broad grin on his face.

A crazy, mad, wonderful idea.

The End

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