A/N: This is the continuation of my fic titled 'Always'. I do hope that you enjoy it…and please let me know what you think! Special thanks to everyone that read and reviewed 'Always.' Your encouragement is why I'm writing this one!

Forever


Chapter one

Alice stretched languidly and snuggled back into the blankets and closer to the warm body sprawled out next to her. It was Sunday morning and neither she nor Hatter had to work. It was rare for them to have very much free time together, especially since her classes had started again. Hatter worked a lot of hours at the tea shop, and Alice didn't fault him for it one bit. He was doing his best to turn the struggling business around and secure a stable future for them. He tried to hide it, but she knew he still worried. He had spent too much of his life going hungry to relax, and as she well knew nothing was ever certain in life.

The money she had coming from her part of Aunt Helen's inheritance should be arriving sometime in the next couple of days. They would make the purchase of the tea shop official, and she hoped it would settle him somewhat. She spent much of her time away from work and school at the tea shop with him, and Hatter loved having her there. His tea blends had proven to be very popular, and the unique names (many of which featured Alice) drew in people just to see what he had created for the special of the day. He delighted in teaching her about all the different types and grades of tea, and Alice was impressed by his depth of knowledge on the subject.

She knew for a fact that his very presence in the shop drew in customers. They came to have him pick a tea for them based on their mood (an increasingly popular game), or just to see him smile, flash his dimple and flirt harmlessly with them in his thick 'Yorkshire' accent. Hatter always laid it on a little thick for the customers. It was the conman coming out in him, but Alice still found it adorable. Besides…he made great money in tips.

Hatter had been amused that Jack's people had bothered to pair his inner-city Wonderland accent with the corresponding region of England on his passport and other legal documents. Hatter explained that his accent had marked him as low-class in Wonderland; he didn't expect the royals to go to the trouble for someone like him. They were certainly thorough. If he had waited around for them to finish the job they had started on his false records, he probably wouldn't have to be so concerned about getting deported. They still had no confirmation that the American portion of his dual citizenship was valid.

She propped up her head on her hands and looked at the man that had crossed worlds to chase after her. She loved to watch him sleep. The filtered rays of sunlight streamed in through the window, lighting his face in a soft glow. In the beginning, when they had first moved in together, the slightest noise had woken Hatter. His dreams had been haunted by raging night terrors, and he rarely slept through the night before he shared his bed with Alice. He still had bad dreams some nights. He probably always would, but they had become infrequent, and Alice was usually able to soothe them away in his sleep by stroking his brow.

At present he was breathing deeply and evenly, the lines in his face relaxed and calm. She resisted the urge to trace a finger over his soft lips. She loved the mercurial nature of his face when he was awake, animated and alive…but at rest he was beautiful. Peaceful and soft and hers. She spared him one last once-over, yet again appreciative of the fact that he slept clad only in his boxers.

Alice moved from the bed gently, trying to keep from disturbing Hatter…although it took a lot more than that to wake him up these days. Despite his apparent deep slumber, she had not a doubt in her mind that he would be awake in an instant if she so much as stubbed her toe and said ouch. Once again, the time he had spent sleeping lightly to stay alive had left lasting marks. As buried as his old life had been, it would always be a part of him. It was part of what made Hatter himself, and Alice wouldn't have it any other way.

She put on the tea kettle, thinking to bring back her cup to bed with her. She had gotten used to her morning tea, and Hatter's 'Wake Up' tea was one of her favorites. She pulled it off of the stovetop as soon as it began to whistle; trying to keep as quiet as possible, but Hatter had wakened anyway.

He made his way to the kitchen after a few moments and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek as he took the proffered cup of tea from her hand. Hatter was not a morning person, and she knew better than to try to engage him in conversation, but he always had a smile and a kiss for her in spite of it.

After Hatter had enough caffeine in his system to animate him, he hopped up and began gathering ingredients from the pantry and refrigerator. Alice smiled, it seemed as if she was getting a big breakfast this morning.

"Have I ever told you how glad I am that you can cook?" she asked.

"Nope. But you didn't need to; really…I've eaten your cooking, remember?" he groused.

Alice shot him a mock glare, "You are lucky that you are making breakfast for me right now or I'd smack you one for that little comment."

Hatter just laughed and gave her a heart-stopping dimpled grin.

She watched him busy himself making her breakfast (and as a bonus, he hadn't bothered to put on anything over his boxers), and found that she would be content to play out this scene many more times throughout their lives. She was glad that Hatter had stuck with her, had held on even though in the beginning she had done more than enough to chase him off…anyone else would have given up. Hatter wasn't like anyone else, though.

The morning passed slow and leisurely, a needed respite for both of them. Alice had said she wanted to go with Hatter to the Children's Hospital for his show there, and then they would go see Alice's mother. Alice felt a chill pass through her at the thought of telling her mother that she had accepted Hatter's marriage proposal. Her mother was supportive, understanding, and usually more of a friend than a mom these days, but she did have her blind spots.

Carol Hamilton liked Hatter, but thought they had gotten serious too quickly. She and Alice had argued heatedly when Alice had disclosed that she was putting up her inheritance money to buy out the tea shop that her boyfriend managed. Her relatively new boyfriend. They had barely worked through that (and that was largely due to Hatter's interference in the matter), and now Alice would be springing this on her. She hoped that the proposal would reinforce her point that Hatter was not using her. She was to be co-owner of the business, and after all, her major in college was business. She might as well start early. Alice put it from her mind. Worrying about it didn't do a thing.


They took the bus to the hospital; one of Hatter's least favorite modes of transportation. In his opinion it was a very small step up from the subway, but they didn't own a vehicle and taxicabs were expensive. He tried to get used to busses and subways, but he didn't think he ever would like them. He thought there were too many unknown variables associated with mass transit. It made him edgy and uncomfortable, but it got them where they needed to go quickly enough.

They entered the children's ward and headed for the reception area. Hatter smiled warmly at the doctor that had treated him while he was recovering from his broken ribs. He owed the man a large debt of gratitude for working with the finance department on his behalf, and all for something Hatter would have done for free. The doctor had been so impressed with the hat tricks show he had put on for the kids in the terminal ward that he had asked Hatter if he minded doing regular performances. Hatter had acquiesced, of course. He was a showman, and he loved having an audience. He also liked the warm feeling it gave him when those poor sick kids smiled at him and hugged him afterwards.

Hatter had been looking forward to the show. He had been working on some new tricks, and he thought the show he could put on for them now would make the last one pale in comparison. After all, he wasn't dragging along an IV tree with him this time or nursing any painful injuries. He was grateful for the doctor's help with the finance department, but he would have done this for the kids no matter what.

He grinned broadly at all the cheers his presence garnered and bowed. He smiled at Alice and winked as she sat down in the back of the room to watch him. She forgot sometimes how skilled he was. He did things that should be impossible with the lightest flicks of fingers and wrist. His hat danced up his arm, rolled across his shoulders, was tossed impossibly high but landed squarely on his head. She saw the nurses and staff were floored by his abilities, and she felt fierce pride that this incredibly sweet and talented man was hers.

He greeted the new arrivals to the ward warmly, and spent another hour after his show teaching them a basic hat trick. He hugged them goodbye, and then went to speak with the staff and nurses, motioning Alice over to join him.

"I think that went well, din't it?" he asked the doctor.

"It was amazing, David, and the kids loved it. We'll see you again in a couple of weeks?" The doctor asked.

"Please…I go by Hatter. And yeah, I'll be here. Say…where is the little girl that lost her hair? About five? She was wearing that little pink knitted hat? I worked out something for her to do with a knit hat…just an easy little trick. She asked me about it last time," Hatter inquired.

The staff took the question as a cue to disperse, and Alice took Hatter's hand in hers. This was a terminal children's ward, although it was attached to the main hospital. Some kids got better and left, and some got worse. Alice had a bad feeling that it was the latter.

"Amber Gentry, I think you mean. She had leukemia," The doctor replied.

Hatter nodded, "Amber, yeah."

"I'm sorry, she passed. She had been fighting the cancer for three years. She was a tough little girl," he answered.

Hatter gripped her hand tightly. He blinked a couple of times, but managed to keep his composure. Alice knew him; this had hit him like a punch to the gut. He had understood academically that these kids were very sick, and that some of them would die. Understanding something and feeling the impact were two different things.

He swallowed hard and nodded, not trusting his voice.

The doctor noted his reaction and asked him gently if he was sure he wanted to come back again.

Hatter nodded again, "Of course I do. Why wouldn't I?"

His voice had come out a little thready, but he meant the words.

"Good man," The doctor replied and clapped him on the shoulder as he turned to go.

Alice agreed wholeheartedly.

They left the children's ward and made their way through the maze of the main hospital and out the doors before Hatter was able to compose himself enough to speak.

"She was only five," he said softly.

Alice squeezed his hand, "It's sad."

He nodded, cleared his throat and allowed the sorrow he was feeling to come to the surface for a brief moment. He wrapped his arm around Alice's shoulders, she wrapped her arm around his waist, and he leaned his head on Alice's as they waited for their bus. She let him take comfort in her presence, glad to be there for him to lean on.

The bus let them out on their block, and it was only a short walk down the street to her mother's place. Alice glanced up at Hatter.

"Do you still want to do this today? It can wait," Alice asked him carefully.

Hatter snorted indelicately, but then gave her a wry smile, "I'm fine, love. Let's just get on with this."

Hatter had shaken off most of his melancholy by the time they stopped in front of her mother's doorstep, but unfortunately it was replaced with unease. Hatter trusted his instincts, and right now they were telling him 'run.' Too bad he couldn't listen to them. If he was nervous, then Alice was all out panicked. He squeezed her shoulders reassuringly and pulled her into him for a hug. Alice breathed him in and let him calm her. It would be fine.

Carol answered the door with a smile and a hug for Alice. Hatter removed his hat as he crossed the threshold and gingerly returned the hug Carol had for him. He smiled nervously and tousled his hat-flattened hair.

"What do I owe this visit to?" Carol asked with a pleased smile.

She didn't get to see Alice nearly as much as she used to, and she missed her.

"We had something we needed to tell you. Can we maybe go sit down?" Alice asked.

Carol lost her smile, worry taking over, and led them into the living room. They sat, and Carol waited for the news…a thousand horrible thoughts chasing through her head at once.

"It's not bad news, Mom…it's just important," Alice said, noting her mother's mounting worry.

Carol nodded and relaxed infinitesimally.

Alice unclasped her hands from her lap and took Hatter's hand in hers. She had opened her mouth to speak when Carol cut her off. She had seen the matching rings.

"Did you elope?" Carol asked, outraged.

"What? No!" Alice replied.

She realized what he mom must have concluded when she saw Hatter's ring on his finger. She didn't even think about that. He wore his as an engagement ring…oops.

"But Hatter did ask me to marry him, and I said yes," Alice confessed.

Carol glared at Hatter, but he met her eyes levelly. He had told her before that he wanted to marry Alice. He would marry her.

"You barely know each other! I know things seem wonderful now, but you need time together before you jump into something like this," Carol asserted.

Carol looked at Hatter, ice in her gaze, "If you are pressuring her, David…"

He winced at the use of his given name. She hadn't called him that since they first met, adopting his preferred 'Hatter' as his moniker.

"I couldn't pressure Alice into anything, as you well know. I left the date up to her, as a matter of fact," he argued.

Carol looked at Alice and relaxed somewhat. If they weren't getting married right away she would feel a whole lot better about this arrangement.

"How soon? Carol asked Alice.

Alice wavered, "I don't know…I'm not in a big rush or anything."

"How about two years from now?" Carol carefully suggested.

Alice spared a glance for Hatter to gauge his reaction. Except for a slight firming of his mouth she wouldn't have been able to see that he had been deeply offended by her mother's suggestion. Carol still didn't trust him. He had left the timing of the wedding entirely up to Alice, but she knew he wanted to be married…and his preference was for sooner rather than later.

"Not that far away, Mom. Six months at the latest," Alice disclosed.

Hatter squeezed her hand, acknowledging her consideration.

"And you might as well know right now that he's having some trouble with immigration, and if it looks like he's in any danger of getting deported we're getting married immediately," Alice stated boldly.

Hatter winced inwardly. He wished she would have left that bit off of it. Alice was beginning to lose her temper, and Hatter knew it would only make the situation worse. He nudged her with his knee, but she ignored the hint. Apparently she was still stinging from the last argument she'd had with her mum…also about him, and Alice hadn't taken to kindly to the jab about Hatter pressuring her into marriage.

Carol stood up upon hearing this comment and glared furiously at Hatter.

"You are using her!" Carol accused.

Hatter's jaw dropped, "No. It's not like that," he countered.

Alice stood up and glared right back. That was the last straw.

"This was my idea, not his. Can't you just trust me? Can't you just be happy for me?" Alice seethed.

Hatter stood up and faced Alice, his back to Carol.

"Calm down, this is not helping," Hatter said in a low tone.

Alice didn't even act as if she heard him.

"I just want don't want you to make a mistake that you will regret for the rest of your life," Carol argued.

Hatter stiffened and clenched his jaw, but didn't respond.

"Why the rush? You aren't pregnant are you?" Carol asked.

Hatter shot Alice a confused glance, he didn't understand the correlation.

"No!" Alice replied.

"Alice. Please calm down. She's just concerned, she's your mum," Hatter soothed.

Alice looked at Hatter, and what he saw in her face shattered him. He hated to see her hurting, and she was devastated by her mother's reaction.

Alice had anticipated her mother's disapproval, but she hadn't thought it would be taken quite to this degree. She thought maybe her mother would try to encourage her to wait…but attacking Hatter like this? She never saw it coming. She thought after last time they had argued that her mother had understood she would make her own decisions, and that she had a good enough head on her shoulders to make those decisions. Apparently not.

She still seemed to think that Hatter was intent on robbing her blind and using her to buy his business for him, all while marrying her to become an American citizen. It was ironic, considering how Alice had assumed he was using her throughout their time in Wonderland.

Hatter had to do something. He had to take that look off of Alice's face but he didn't know how…families were something he didn't really understand very well. He'd lost his so long ago, and what he did remember was from a child's perspective. He took a deep breath. For Alice, he would try.

"Carol. Please understand…I love Alice with all me heart. I begged her to marry me for no other reason than I want her to be me wife. I know it seems like it is too fast…but we are ready. I hope that you can trust in Alice, even if you don't trust me," he persuaded.

"I don't approve of this, Alice," Carol asserted, ignoring Hatter's heartfelt pleas.

"Please, I don't want you to argue," he tried again.

Alice's lower lip trembled before she pressed her lips together in anger, "I had hoped you could be happy for me."

Hatter was at a loss. This was something that was beyond him. He stared at the two of them helplessly. Alice had got her stubborn streak from her mother, and they were both immovable at this point. He understood Carol's hesitancy, but the bottom line was that Alice was an adult. She needed to accept that, even if she didn't agree. Hatter was frustrated, hurt and saddened by Carol's reaction; he had truly thought they had come to an understanding.

Hatter put his arm around Alice, trying to give her some measure of comfort. When a tear tracked down her cheek his heart ached for her. He just wanted to marry his Alice. He didn't want this to be the fallout.

"Let's just go, love. Maybe she just needs some time to get used to the idea, yeah? Let's go home," Hatter murmured to her.

Alice nodded, "Okay."

"Mom, I hope you change your mind, but this is my life and it is my decision," Alice stated flatly.

Hatter retrieved his hat and followed Alice out the door. Carol stopped Alice at the threshold.

"Alice, I just want to protect you," Carol asserted.

"You can't, Mom," she argued.

"I know," Carol sighed.

She pulled Alice into a fierce hug, "I love you sweetheart. I do trust you. "

Alice brushed away her tears.

"We'll talk later okay?" Carol asked.

Alice nodded, "Okay."

"Hatter…" Carol said softly.

He turned to look at her, poised as if braced for a blow.

"I'm sorry," she apologized.

He nodded slowly. "It's alright."

"No, it isn't. You are a wonderful man and I know that my daughter loves you. I didn't mean…" she began.

Hatter shook his head, "I understand. It is alright. I just don't want the two of you rowing anymore."

Carol hugged him impulsively, "I am sorry though. I think you are good for her," Carol whispered.

Hatter and Alice walked back to their flat above the tea shop in silence, lost in thought. Hatter wrapped his arm around her protectively and Alice leaned into his body as they walked. Hatter hoped that Carol had meant what she said. He didn't want this incident to darken the joy they felt. It should be a happy time, and Carol should be a part of it.

Alice sighed in relief as they entered their flat. It felt good to be home. She pulled Hatter towards her for a hug. She sighed as he wrapped his arms around her and pressed a kiss to her hair. She broke away after a few moments and smiled up at him.

"What do you say to Stephano's pizza for dinner?" she asked.

He smiled down at her, "I say you know how to cheer a man up."

She laughed, "If that cheers you up, wait until you see what I have in mind for desert!"

Hatter groaned, "Ah, love. Now how am I going to be able to eat with that on my mind?"

"What? A cannoli? They are good, but come on…" she groused.

"Wicked girl!" he complained, and then kissed her breathless.


A/N: Wow. Got a little long winded here. I hope you liked this! Please do review if you did (or didn't). Reviews inspire and feed the muse!

I know, a lot of reiterating past happenings, but I was trying to set up the first chapter as a sequel. Hope it came across as intended.

Okay so when I moved in with my boyfriend (now my husband of over 15 years) my mother disowned me. No joke. (She asked me to lunch a week later. Heh.) It's still a little awkward between them. I wanted better for Alice and Hatter, but writing is a catharsis…and I catharsi-zed. (my fic, my word). So…. they got the reaction…but also the recovery. My mother is a strong independent woman, but even when I was an adult she thought to protect me from myself. Hell, she still does. Ah. Anyways…thought I'd share. Now on to angry Connor…