Disclaimer: I don't own Alice in Wonderland, or any characters, places, things, or ideas therein. Those belong to Lewis Carroll, Disney, Tim Burton, etc. I am writing this fic for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain.

Summary: Curious about the world that took Alice away from him, Hatter goes to Otherland to investigate. He finds Alice, but she is not quite ready to return to her true home. He will wait for her Above, but something is terribly wrong… AlicexHatter

Rating: T

Warnings: Violence

Pairing: Alice/Hatter

Spoilers: Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

Dedication: To the lovely, wonderful people who read/reviewed/favorited my other three Alice in Wonderland stories. You all bring me such joy, and each alert in my e-box inspires me to write more. Thank you all so, so very much, and I hope you enjoy this!

Author's Note: So here it is -- my first multi-chapter Alice in Wonderland fic. I didn't see the film again this time (unfortunately), but this idea struck me the other night during a conversation with my twin, jewel of athos. I really hope you all enjoy this new story, and thank you so much for reading! ~fyd


Shades of Grey



-Chapter 1-

Welcome Back


Alice Kingsley drew in a deep breath, relishing the salty scent of the sea one last time before her freedom ended. The enchantments of the water, and China, and all the other wonderful places she'd been while rebuilding and expanding her father's business were fading into memories now. Though she would cherish those memories, she wished she could go back and make them real again. She had always loved adventures…

As the Wonder pulled into the port at London, Alice straightened her coat and pushed her windblown blonde hair over her shoulder. She was ready to face whatever awaited her here, just as she had bravely faced every other situation that had come at her.

She hoped.

The dock was crowded with those waiting for various people on the ship, dockworkers, and the curious. Alice scanned every face, looking for familiar ones. There was her mother, and Margaret, and (horror of all horrors!), Lowell. Next to them stood Mrs. Ascot and Hamish, both of whom were less than casually ignoring her and waving frantically at Mr. Ascot, her friend, mentor, and business partner, who stood next to her at the Wonder's rail.

"What an adventure," he mused. "It feels strange to be coming home now, doesn't it?"

Alice nodded slowly. She was used to leaving and coming back home -- had, in fact, done it several times in her life. But for some reason, returning to London didn't feel like coming home. She wasn't even sure where home was anymore. "Indeed," she said simply. Best to let him think she agreed with him and leave it at that. She couldn't explain her thoughts in a way he would understand, for she didn't even understand them herself.

The crew scurried to lower the gangplank, and Lord Ascot grandly motioned for her to precede him. Smiling at his gentlemanly gesture, Alice curtsied slightly and accepted. However, she couldn't resist tossing one last look over her shoulder at the Wonder, smiling at all the good memories she'd made on that ship, and thinking of all the fabulous, wondrous places it had taken her.

Almost the moment her feet touched the dock, her mother and Margaret were there, wrapping her in hugs and firing question after question at her so fast she didn't have a chance to answer one before another five had been asked. So she simply smiled, nodded, and returned the hugs, waiting for the flood to end before she dared say a word.

"Oh, Alice, it's so good to see you!" Helen Kingsley said, finally wrapping up. "The trip looks like it's -- done you well."

"It was quite the adventure, Mother. All the places I went, and the people and things I saw! Oh, I wish I could have brought everything back with me so you could see it, too." Alice sighed happily.

"Everything with the business go well?" Lowell asked, no doubt just to make conversation. He'd been standing there staring awkwardly until that moment.

"Fabulously," Alice replied with a satisfied grin. "In fact, I daresay everything went much better than I was expecting."

Margaret tucked her arm through Alice's. "The Ascots were kind enough to allow us to stay at their manor for tonight," she said. "We will return home on the morrow."

Helen claimed Alice's other arm. "We will have to get you into some more proper clothes," she said, looking disdainfully at her younger daughter's traveling outfit of a smart jacket, pants, and boots.

Alice managed to hide a wince at the idea of staying at the Ascots' home. Lord Ascot was a delight, but his wife and son were not quite so good-humored. But she didn't dare sniff at the generosity of her business partner or his family, so she simply said, "How delightful. It will be nice to rest a while before we go home." That part, anyway, was truthful.

Fortunately, the Kingsley family and the Ascot family had separate carriages. Alice breathed a little easier with relief at not having to share a cramped space with either Mrs. Ascot or Hamish. It was bad enough that both her sister and her mother were staring at her like she'd grown another head, all because she'd turned down "fashion" for comfort and practicality. A ship at sea was no place for corsets and stockings, let alone long skirts. She was a businesswoman, and it was time she acted and dressed like one.

The moment they arrived at the Ascot manor, Helen rushed Alice inside and up the stairs to one of the many lavish guestrooms. "We must get you changed into something proper immediately," she clucked. "Fortunately I packed some of your sensible dresses before we left home. I had a feeing you'd be needing them," she concluded wryly.

Alice sighed infinitesimally. She had little realized how special the freedom of the sea meant to her until it was snatched away by the stiff "sensibilities" of London. The horror of it all…

Helen clucked like a mother hen and scolded like a cat who had had her tail stepped on as she firmly helped her daughter undress. A bit of an argument ensued over the subject of a corset (which Alice won), then stockings (which Helen won). She supposed that if she had to pick one horror over the other, the stockings were not as terrible as the corset. At least she could breathe.

Margaret appeared as Alice's hair was being yanked into the newest (and painful) fashion. Over her time at sea and in the Far East, she'd lost track of what was fashion and what wasn't.

But as far as she was concerned, the only fashion that mattered was a teacup in hand and a slightly battered but still regal top hat for the head. On the heels of that thought came a bitter sadness that threatened to suck her into the dark, dark recesses she had occasionally fallen into over the time of her trip. Those times had been bad, when she'd holed up in her cabin on board the Wonder and didn't venture out for hours, sometimes days. Times when she kept her hand firmly curled around the raised white scars left by the Bandersnatch's claws and she repeatedly mumbled to herself that Wonderland was real, as were all her friends there…

Margaret sat down on the bed, adjusting her skirts as she watched her mother and sister. "It's so good to have you back, Alice," she said. Her voice, expression, and demeanor were warmer now that her sister was "properly dressed." Well -- mostly "properly dressed."

"It is nice to see you and Mother again," she said truthfully. It would have been a lie if she'd said that it was good to be back, and Alice tried to make it a point not to lie.

Helen briefly dropped her hands to her daughter's shoulders and squeezed gently. "You look so lovely, Alice," she said softly. "But -- different from when you left. Older. More mature, perhaps. More like a lady."

Alice bit back the urge to tell her mother that she thought that now just because she was in a dress. "Thank you, Mother," she said. "I do feel different than when I left. In a good way, though."

"Yes," her mother murmured. "But three years is such a long time…"

Standing, Alice hugged her mother carefully, making sure not to wrinkle either of their dresses or mess up either of their hairstyles. "This has done me well, Mother. I missed you and Margaret desperately, but I needed to do this. Father's work was important, and it needed to be done. And -- I needed to be the one to complete it." She smiled softly. Now you and Margaret will be well taken care of when I leave, she thought to herself. Because she had a promise to keep.

But not yet.

Margaret stood and came to join them, giving her little sister a hug. "Home will feel like home again," she sighed happily. "What with you being back and moving into your room again, and suitors once more coming to call -- why, it will be just like old times."

Alice felt a flicker of annoyance go through her when her sister mentioned suitors. "Is everything in my room as I left it?" she asked. Hopefully if she changed the subject…

"Yes, precisely," Margaret said. "I've made sure the maids didn't change a thing when they went in to clean."

"Very nice." Alice smoothed her hand down her skirt, admiring the way the blue silk shimmered in the sunlight falling through the window. Blue was her favorite color…

"Oh! Mrs. Ascot sent me to tell you that he is still here, in the drawing room," Margaret said in an aside to their mother.

"Hmm," Helen said. She looked like she wasn't sure whether to be happy or chagrined.

"'He'?" Alice questioned. Had one of her and Lord Ascot's business partners shown up to wish them a welcome home? But surely if that were so, Margaret would not have stressed the pronoun in such a way.

"Some -- gentleman showed up this morning, not too long before we left for the docks," Helen said, almost distastefully. "He was asking for you. Seemed dreadfully disappointed when he learned you weren't here. Cheered up a bit when I said we would be bringing you along shortly from the docks," she said musingly.

Alice took one last glance in the mirror, hoping she looked businesslike enough. "It is probably one of my and Lord Ascot's business associates," she said, heading for the door of her guestroom. "I should go down immediately. Whoever it is, he probably is anxious to hear details of our trip to the Far East."

"He doesn't seem like the business sort," Margaret said.

That caused Alice to freeze in her tracks. Turning slowly, she narrowed her gaze on her mother. "Is he a suitor?" she demanded softly. It would be just like her mother to do something like that. As soon as she'd received Alice's letter saying she'd be returning home, it made sense that she'd run off and find the first eligible -- or, she was so desperate, the first non-eligible -- bachelor to foist upon Alice. It wouldn't be surprising if she'd even put an advertisement on the street corners, she was so frantic to find a husband for her "irresponsible" younger daughter.

"And if he is?" Helen asked, drawing her shoulders even straighter than usual, if that were possible. "You are twenty-two years old, Alice. It is time you found yourself a respectable gentleman and settled down. Though you know I am grateful to you for saving your father's business, I think it is time you came to your senses. You've had your little adventure, and now it is time for you to behave like a young lady of good breeding should."

The words stung her perhaps more than they should have. "I have made promises I cannot break," she said stiffly. "I will not be allowed to continue with running Father's business if I get married. There is still much to do, and I am the one who must do it. Now, if you will excuse me, I must go offer my apologies to the gentleman in the drawing room."

She was immensely relieved when she didn't hear Margaret and her mother following her, though she did feeling slightly guilty for the words which she knew must have hurt their feelings. The awful ache in the deepest part of her heart wasn't due to any fault of theirs. She was the one who had come back, of her own accord, to take over her father's business.

The closer she got to the drawing room, the more deserted the halls became. Alice was relieved to discover this, for it meant there would be no one to interrupt or overhear when she (politely) told the gentleman that there had been a mistake, and he should leave. Immediately. And not return. And to pass on to his friends that they should not come, either, for Alice Kingsley was not looking for a man. Not one in Otherland, anyway…

Drawing in a deep breath to gather her courage to herself (a wry smile lifted the corners of her lips when she remembered that Hatter would have called it her muchness), she secured the handles of the heavy double wood doors to the drawing room and pushed them open as she entered.

Her gaze was immediately drawn to the window, where the only person in the room stood. The first thing she noticed was the hat… Then the orange hair poking out from beneath its noble brim… Then the paleness of the face that turned to look at her… Then the eyes, greener and bolder than she had remembered (for three years was a terribly long while, and memories did fade awfully quickly, especially here)…

It is impossible.

And then there it was, that final proof, the wide smile, child-like in its wonder, the friendliest in its joy, most endearing with the gap between his two top front teeth.


~To Be Continued~


I thank you all so much for taking the time to read this first chapter! I hope you enjoyed it! The next chapter will be from Hatter's perspective, and will explain a few things, I promise…