She taps out a disjointed rhythm with her thumb against the soft, yellow cloth covering the table she sits at.
She loves this room – all soft colours and pretty pictures and full bookshelves – and she loves this house – a wonky little thing just on the outskirts of Marmoreal so she doesn't have to walk far to the village and all her friends and the Hat–
"Stop it," she murmurs to herself, closing her eyes and stilling her tapping thumb. "Stop it."
Her heart won't listen. It's jumping about, dancing, and she feels an even greater twinge at her temple than all the times before, along with a tugging on her scalp.
She can't bring herself to call off their mid-afternoon tea, not when it's such a lovely day beyond the open window that her tea table sits at and not when she enjoys his company so very much.
Her scalp gives another tug.
She fingers one of her long locks of hair, her eyes still closed, wondering if she could ask him why she feels this way, why the every thought of him sends her spiralling and...
She opens her eyes to slap her own fingers, the fingers that had rebelliously tugged at the lock they were playing with. She stifles her sadness.
She had loved her hair, loved every inch of its satiny sheen and blonde curliness, but now... She doesn't hate the pink, or the burgundy, or the red, or even the faint purplish hue at her temples – no, she just...she doesn't think it suits her and that...that he'll think the way she does about it, too.
And all she wants is for him to think well of her.
Her hair is soft still, she'll admit, but instead of curls there are waves and instead of satin there is frizz, and her...her eyebrows... Oh! They're just as colourful as her hair, and she can't even begin to contemplate how she'll feel if they too begin to grow in volume, becoming large and frizzy.
In the window, in her peripheral, she can see her reflection. She can see her hands – her fingernails an unpainted, purplish hue – fiddling with the corner of the tablecloth. She can see herself sitting in her smartest blue dress, a little wrinkled in places from all the worrying she's done over her new appearance. She can see her skin, so much paler than it had been before coming to Underland after her five years of sailing aboard the Wonder. She can see her deep pink lips, her long hair, and she catches a flash of her eyes, both once a bright blue, now one a light brown while the other is a deep grey.
She takes her restless fingers and fiddles with the pendant around her neck, a small white pebble on a cord from the beach of the Crimson Sea. He had taken her there her first day back in Underland, after she had asked him if they could have a few moments to themselves.
He had asked her so many questions on that beach as they watched the red waves, about her life and the five years since he had last seen her on that black and white battlefield. She had told him of her ship, the Wonder, and her father's legacy, now furthered by her, and all the places she had visited, the markets of Iran and the temples of India, but that none of it compared to Wonderland.
He had been so pleased to see her, so giddy and smiling, and she had fallen in love with him all over again.
She thinks of the five months she's lived in her house in Underland, of the tea parties with and without March, and of her friends who haven't seen her in a week, because of this.
She tugs at her hair angrily and it springs back into place, fluttering in the soft Underland breeze creeping through the window.
He had invited himself of course, after he hadn't seen her in his shop, or his workshop, or at the palace, or in town. He had sent her a missive, detailing the date and time of his arrival, days in advance so she would be ready for him and so she could put her 'work' aside.
That had been her excuse – work, for the Queen – and no one had questioned it, not even him. But that did not mean that he hadn't ignored her wishes to be left alone.
Truthfully, she doesn't want to be left alone. She had been so painfully lonely after the death of her mother and the relocation of her sister, and Absolem had been her only comfort in her world, on her travels. Now, she has so many friends, and she has him, too.
Her temples ache and she knows the purple there is growing longer through her hair, spreading wider.
She hasn't cried over her appearance, because that brave and muchier part of her won't let her, but she wants to, because she was trying so hard, fluttering her eyelashes (which have since grown thick and black) and pinching her cheeks to look rosy before seeing him.
She knows he likes her, at least a fraction of how much she feels for him, but will his feelings survive this particular turn of events? She's sure he liked her all blonde and tan, even if he's never approached her the way she wants him to.
Suddenly, matching the rhythm of her heart, she hears the clattering of hooves along the cobbled street, coming up the hill from the village. Hers is the only house along the road, the other side a newly-planted orchard, and she knows that if the carriage stops then the visitor will be for her.
The wheels, she hears, roll on.
Her soft sigh of relief is short-lived.
As she hears the hooves fade into the distance, another noise reaches her ears: a bright and beautiful whistled tune dances through her window and she knows only one person – one man – who can whistle something so complicated and fanciful.
She turns her head, peering through the window, to see him coming over the hill, his head bare of a top hat and his shoulders bereft of a jacket. He whistles as he straightens his cuffs and bowtie, before adjusting the handle of the basket in the crook of his arm.
Her heart stutters, crying out for something she doesn't know, and she turns away from the window, looking steadfastly down at the table and wondering if she doesn't answer the door, then will he just go away?
There's some murmuring and then a swift knock at her door. For a moment, she does not move, just sits and waits, but at his second knock her body moves into action without her knowledge or consent.
Her hand is on the door handle before she truly knows it as she stands in the entranceway of her house, frozen and unblinking.
She wants to let him in, but she wants to still be his friend more.
His third knock and muffled words settle it. She opens the door.
The Hatter – her Hatter – stands in front of her, shuffling on the doorstep and toying with something beneath the cloth covering his basket, and when he sees the door is open, he comes rushing inside.
"Good afternoon!" He cries, rushing his way into her parlour and leaving her to follow in his wake.
Alice trails him, silent, and watches him from behind as he sets his basket on the table and uncovers it to reveal all sorts of sweets and treats and cakes. He goes about setting them out around the teapot she's already put out on the table, talking to himself as he does.
She watches his quick, pale hands arrange their tea, his booted feet shuffling against the dark floorboards, his wavy, dark orange hair fluttering in the breeze, and the back of his dark brown shirt come untucked from his matching trousers.
Alice wonders why he's so preoccupied as not to notice the drastic changes in her appearance. A flutter of hope springs from her stomach to her chest, thinking that perhaps he just might not care.
She comes around behind him, lips twitching in a smile at his whispered nonsense as he fiddles with the placement of three yellow jam tarts. She reaches out to touch his shoulder at the same moment he presses the back of his hand to the teapot on the table.
"This will never do. Far too cold," he lisps softly, before hurrying out of the room with the teapot and not once glancing back.
He's been in her house so many times she's lost count, but not once has he ever seemed so...out of sorts. She can hear him in the kitchen, opening and closing cupboards, turning the taps on and off.
With a sigh, she sits down and waits for him to come back, looking over the pastries and pies decorating the table.
"An awful lot of trouble for him to go to," she says to herself, thoughtfully averting her gaze to the flowering pink rose bushes Mallymkun had helped her plant the month before.
"Here we are!" He says, striding into the room and forcing her gaze on him, before staring her right in the face and promptly dropping the steaming tea pot.
His gaze is wide and green, his eyelids shaded with that vibrant blue and pink (but only ever so slightly nowadays,) and his jaw is slack as he stares at her, unwaveringly.
She gives him a timid smile, and he walks through the puddle of tea and broken china to her.
"Alice?" He breathes, and her heart clenches painfully.
He swallows, blinking at her. "You...look different."
Her eyes slide away without her meaning to, her vision decidedly watery as she stares down at the floral-patterned tea cup in front of her.
"Yes. I do, don't I?"
His hands cover hers in her lap, and she turns in surprise to see he's on one knee next to her, his grin as wide and white as ever, but somehow...even more so.
"Oh, Alice. Is it true?"
She stares down at him. "Whatever do you mean?"
He blinks owlishly. "That you've chosen me?"
The blush that colours her face, she knows, is bright and hot. "H-Hatter..."
He grips one of her hands and lifts it to his face. "How long have you been like this?"
"All week," she answers quietly.
"Me, too," he replies softly, looking up at her through his silvery lashes.
Alice frowns, about to question him, when he takes her hand from his cheek and pushes it into the hair at the back of his neck, tucked just beneath his collar. Her hand comes away with one, long, blonde curl between her fingers.
She stares at it in amazement. "What is this?"
"I had to hide it," he lisps, "in case you saw and didn't feel the same. I've...I've been hiding it for a very long time, Alice, ever since you left. I've missed you this week, and I...I wondered why you were avoiding me...if...if you knew."
His white cheeks take on a glow. "W-well...that is to say...that I, uh...goodness! It's awfully warm today, isn't it? No, no...that isn't what I want to say at all..."
Hatter plays with her fingers, his thumb rubbing over her coloured nails.
"What is it you want to say, Hatter?" She asks, and he watches her for a moment before opening his mouth.
No words come out.
He looks up at her, hopefully almost. She thinks about his words and the (definitely attached) blonde curl sprouting from his head.
"Your eyes are looking...rather blue," Alice comments, tilting her head as his green eyes suddenly shine azure.
"Hm, yes. I can't control it...now that you're here...and I'm...touching you..." He strokes her wrist with his thumb, his cheeks flushing slightly.
She thinks about her frizzy hair and her mismatched eyes...the pallor of her skin and the odd colour of her nails...and, in a moment, she realises that she looks like him. She's about to ask him whether it's a normal Underlandish occurrence or something entirely different, when she sees his red hair suddenly flatten.
The strands are smoothing out, beginning to shine, and, from the very roots, a few locks begin to turn deep gold.
"What does it mean?"
His smile is timid, his blue eyes sincere. "I can't be without you. Alice...it's...I yearn for you. Do you yearn for me, too?"
She can say with absolute certainty that she does, but what does that have to do with her looking like him or him looking like her?
"It happens," he tells her quietly, "when two people are...very much...enamoured of each other. In the court, it's called the Yearning, but...in my village, it was called...love."
Alice sits there, shocked to her very core that the man she's been longing for all this time actually wants her too, and for more than a seat-filler at a tea party.
"It's called love where I'm from, too," she says, before barrelling into a completely different line of enquiry. "Hatter! I've been trying to get you to notice me for...for months! And it takes me looking like this for you to finally...oh, bother!"
She's hot all over, no longer in her seat but now pacing back and forth across the room in her ire, when she realises she's standing in the spilt tea. Her shoulders droop and she looks back over to where Hatter is now standing, head tilted and twisting his fingers together anxiously.
"Did you say something very wonderful just a moment ago, Alice?" He asks quietly, his lisp lessening and his voice becoming...deeper.
She holds back her angry tears, completely taken aback by her urge to shout and scream and bawl because she shouldn't and...he's just told her he loves her.
"Why do I feel like my head's about to pop off?" She asks, sniffling.
Hatter takes a step towards her. "I feel like that sometimes, like a tea-kettle that needs to whistle. You're just feeling what I feel, and I...I feel brave today, Alice, because I feel how you feel. And that's why I'm here, because you made me brave enough to...to do this."
Before she can really take note of the determined set of his jaw or the deep brogue lacing his voice, her face is in his hands and he's...he's kissing her, like how she'd seen Lowell kissing Hattie, except...it's so much nicer than that had seemed.
There's a fire in her stomach that wants to race through her veins, and as his left hand draws her closer to him by the waist, that fire consumes her. Every inch of her.
He leaves her breathless as he pulls back to look into her eyes. Her heart pounds from the softness of his lips, the warmth, and it's as if she can still feel them against hers.
Hatter's eyes are dark, the black swallowing the blue, and she feels something even greater than fire in her belly.
"Have you really been trying to get me to notice you?" He asks her, his voice undeniably soft and husky.
She nods, unable to trust her voice.
His fingers curl in her hair as he whispers, "I thought I was making it all up, imagining your...your looks and your touches. Oh, Alice..."
"How do I change back?" She manages to ask him.
He simply frowns. "You don't."
He leans in once more, his warm breath fanning over her lips, making her ache. "I don't know, but...I like you...like this. Not that I didn't like you before, of course, but you're much more...muchier like this...much more Underlandian...much more...Alice."
She doesn't have it in her to be upset any more, let alone resentful of her new looks now that she knows they are inspired by him. She notices the gold weaving through his red hair has stopped its progress, and she reaches up to comb through the strands with her fingers.
"Does this...happen to everyone?" She asks.
"In Underland," he confirms. "Just look at Mirana. Her hair turned white! All for the King."
"What happened to him?"
Hatter clears his throat and moves his arms in a very Mirana-like fashion, and Alice grins at the picture of a man – a King – being so...flouncy. He sees her smile and matches it, grinning at her sweetly.
"Alice." His voice is suddenly low again, and his eyes are intense. "If I ask you a question, do you swear to say yes?"
Unthinkingly, she nods. She will never deny him.
He picks up his basket and reaches inside.
"Close your eyes, dearest," Hatter tells her, and, reluctantly, she does.
He takes his hand in hers, and, on his command, she opens her eyes again to see him kneeling in front of her, proffering a ring from his bethimbled thumb and bandaged forefinger.
Her breath hitches between her chest and throat and she tightens her grip on Hatter's hand.
"Alice." His lisp has returned, soft and sweet. "Will you be my bride?"
She's too stunned to speak a word.
His forehead creases in obvious worry, but he seems to soldier on. "Will you live with me and have tea with me every day? You're so wonderful, so good, and I...I love you. I want to...to take walks with you in the woods and meet all our friends like we usually do, but...as my wife. I want to...to share your bed... Alice?"
Heat creeps up her neck as Hatter's expression grows darker and darker, assuming the worst about her silence. Her emotions are haywire, sparking and fizzling, and she thinks she just might explode.
"How do you live with this, Hatter?" She chokes out. "So much...feeling."
He gives her a gentle, wobbly smile. "Loving you helps."
"I love you, too," Alice finally manages to blurt out, and Hatter's expression changes in an instant.
His eyebrows fly up, his mouth widening in a smile so bright and beautiful it is surely unparalleled in all the world, and his blue eyes shine with hope.
"Yes," she whispers. "Yes."
He slips the thin silver band on her finger, his hands shaking, and stands, wiping his palms off on his trousers. For a moment, there is silence, the both of them staring at the other, and then she is in his arms, being kissed so thoroughly, and she finds herself wrapping her limbs around him like some kind of sinuous feline.
He pulls away, chest heaving. "I was going to propose over tea and cake, but you rather surprised me, dear Alice. Naughty."
Never has she felt so womanly, so wanted, and never has another person's gaze affected her so much. Hatter's eyes flash gold before settling somewhere between blue and green, and she feels the heat of that flash of his darker side settle heavily between her ribs and her legs, prompting her to kiss him most scandalously.
Once he is dazed and she is thoroughly satisfied of his incoherency, she asks, "May we live here?"
She loves his ramshackle house in the village, but she's imagined him in her house, living with her, so many times that it feels wrong to allow anything else. His thumb tenderly strokes her jaw as he gazes down at her with soft, dark eyes.
"Anything for you, Alice." He takes a steadying breath, grinning as he kisses her knuckles. "Now, tea. Will it be one sugar or two today, and will you try the lemon meringue?"
They sit down to their tea after making a fresh batch, both of them smiling like Chess into their cups. They try the lemon meringue, the sponge, and the tarts, and it is as Alice gazes adoringly at her engagement ring on her left hand, nibbling the edge of a purplish biscuit she's never tried before, that she has the positively sinful thought of what else her husband may be able to do with her body, besides igniting a fire inside of her.
His fingers are quick and clever, his mouth a delight, and though she has only vague notions of what goes on in the marriage bed, she cannot wait to find out what other pleasures his body holds for hers.
The grin lighting his face at that particular moment, should she have chosen to glance at him, would have told her he was wondering the exact same thing.
A/N: Taking a dip back in these waters after writing my first ever fanfiction for this movieverse-fandom and then removing it from the site so long ago. Apologies to those who remember that story – it might make a comeback, who knows? For now, I just hope you enjoy this three-part story.