She thinks she could keep kissing him forever if it weren't for the fact that her mother is standing right there and she knows that any moment now her shock will wear off...
"Ahem." Right on cue her mother clears her throat in a deliberately exaggerated manner. Reluctantly, Alice breaks away from the kiss though she reaches for one of Hatter's hands, refusing to give up all physical contact. Hatter is blushing faintly and she finds it endearing. He squeezes her hand and flashes her a private smile before they turn to face the metaphorical music.
Her mother seems torn between amusement and shock. As Alice suspects it will, amusement wins out and her mother shakes her head and starts to laugh. "So I take it you two know each other?"
Hatter lets her take the lead, lets her spin the story of how they know each other. She keeps it as close to the truth as possible leaving out the obvious: magic mirrors, princes and wicked Queens, people being abducted so their emotions could be drained to manufacture drugs, and how she accidentally lead a movement to overthrow the monarchy. She makes no mention of her father.
Instead she explains how she met Hatter – David – through Jack, which strictly speaking is the truth. If she hadn't met Jack she'd never have ended up in Wonderland and she'd never have met Hatter.
Her mother asks if Hatter and Jack are friends, and his answering snort is so typically Hatter that Alice can’t help but laugh. He shoots her an apologetic glance and then explains for Carol’s benefit, “I wouldn’t call us friends. I did some work for his family. Back home.”
Her mother seems to accept this, though of course she has no idea that when Hatter says ‘back home’ that he means Wonderland and not somewhere in the UK. She asks Hatter about his family and Alice realizes she’s never really asked him them before. He’s not quite able to hide a look of pain at the question and already her mother is apologizing for bringing up such a painful subject.
“My family is gone,” he says. “I’ve been on my own for a long time now.” Alice squeezes his hand in encouragement and he goes on. “I needed a new start, so I figured I’d try my luck here.” When his gaze flickers toward Alice, she realizes that last bit was meant for her.
“I’m glad you did,” Alice tells him truthfully.
They make it through several minutes more of general small talk and then her mother shoos them off saying how she knows they must want some time to 'catch up'. Hatter blushes again and then she’s pulling him by the hand, leading him to her bedroom. As soon as they reach the doorway, she’s kissing him again.
“Congratulations," she teases. "You survived the gauntlet."
“Aw, your mum’s not so bad. After all, I did face down the Jabberwock.” He grins against her mouth, wrappings his arms around her and she can’t remember the last time she felt this happy.
He wasn’t sure what sort of reception he’d get from Alice – but true to form she doesn’t disappoint. She quite literally flings herself at him and abruptly all the tension he’s been carrying fades. She feels so good in his arms, and he wants to crow with triumph when she tells him how glad she is to see him. Her words give him the courage to kiss her, something he’s wanted to do for a long time now. To his delight she seems just as eager to be kissed as he is to kiss her, and to kiss him right back.
“I missed you,” he murmurs softly, the words for her ears alone and then her lips are pressed against his again and he’s lost in the kiss.
Lost that is until the sound of a throat clearing reminds him that they have an audience. Even with the research he’s done and the crash course in the social mores that Jack gave him before he came through the mirror, he’s still glad that Alice seems to be set on being the one to establish their shared alibi. This is her territory after all. She knows best. He does his best to keep up and he manages to muddle his way through until what seems like an eternity later when Alice’s mum, Carol, shoos them away and Alice is dragging him off to her bedroom.
They end up lying side by side on her bed and he kisses her lips, then moves down toward her throat. She makes a sound of enjoyment, a sort of hum. And then and he kisses her, just below her ear. She slides one of her hands up under his shirt to stroke his back. He considers returning the favour in kind, but then she looks at him, her expression suddenly uncertain.
“What?” he asks touching her arm, worried that he’s gone too far somehow.
“Are you staying?” she asks. “Here in my world?” Her voice comes out sounding small.
His eyes widen. She thinks he’s going to leave. Leave like her father did.
“Yes,” he says. “Before I left Wonderland I made sure things were settled. I gave Jack the deed to the shop and told him he’s free to do whatever he likes with it. I don’t need it anymore.”
He also gave the prince a black eye, but he isn’t ready to tell her that part yet.
“In exchange he got me an identity for your world and set me up with an apartment here.” He pulls a leather wallet from his pants pocket and extracts the piece of plastic. It has his picture and his new name: ‘David Maddox Hatter’ printed upon it.
“Maddox?” she asks.
He shrugs. “Point is, I’m here as long as you’ll have me.”
The smile that appears on her face at this declaration is possibly the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.
They talk quietly, occasionally pausing for a kiss or several, until he asks Alice a question and she doesn’t answer. He realizes with amusement that she’s fallen asleep, her arm still across his chest, her head pillowed on his shoulder. He isn’t sure what he should do, if he should wake her or not, when he sees Carol peer around the doorframe.
His confusion must show on his face and she smiles, mouthing ‘good night’ before turning off the light and closing the door to Alice’s bedroom behind her. Well, he thinks, that was unexpected. But he's glad of it, because he'd much rather stay here with Alice, then make his way back to his new apartment. He chuckles softly before wrangling the blanket from the foot of the bed over them both. He falls asleep, lulled by the sound of Alice’s breathing.
When he wakes he becomes aware of a couple of things. The first is that Alice is still asleep and curled up against his side, her face turned toward him and her breathing deep and even. The second is that he really needs to find the bathroom.
Regretfully, he untangles himself from her sleeping figure, grateful that she doesn’t wake, though she does make a soft sound of displeasure at his movement. He resettles the blanket around her, pausing to gently brush his knuckles against her cheek and place a kiss on her forehead before he ventures out into the hallway.
Someone must be looking out for him: the first door he finds is the one he needs.
When he emerges again, Carol dressed in a bathrobe appears at the end of the short hallway asks, “Tea?”
That is how he finds himself sitting across the table from Carol, a warm cup of Earl Grey tea between his hands. He has to take a moment to remind himself that this is not the same “tea” as he remembers it. This tea is brewed from leaves, not distilled from emotions drained from unwilling sacrifices. It smells wonderful, but it takes him a long moment to work up the courage to actually bring the cup to his lips. When he does, he blows on the dark liquid to cool it and then takes a tentative sip. He sighs with pleasure, closing his eyes; he could get used to this.
He hears Carol chuckle and he opens his eyes again, embarrassed. “Typical Brit,” she says with a smile. “Don’t worry, there’s more where that came from.”
He puts the cup down, feeling sheepish.
She regards him for a long moment, and then utterly without preamble asks, “You really care about her, don’t you?”
It isn’t really a question, but he answers it anyway.
“Yeah, I do,” he tells her sincerely. “I’ve never met anyone like her before.”
Carol sighs. “I’m sorry that this must feel like an interrogation. Alice is a grown woman with a good head on her shoulders and she’s always been perfectly capable of making her own choices. And you seem like a nice young man, you really do. It’s just she seemed so taken with Jack and then less than 24 hours later she seems to have forgotten all about him. I’m worried that she’s rushing things.”
Hatter shakes his head. “You don’t need to explain. You’re her mother. Worrying about her is part of your job description.” That earns him a smile.
“When I met Alice," he continues, "she was already with Jack and I honestly thought I didn’t stand a chance against him.” Embarrassed he stares down at the tea in his cup. “He has money, he comes from a family with political power… I don’t have any of that. But I promise you I’ll do my best to prove worthy of her choice.”
He doesn’t get to hear Carol’s reply; he’s suddenly distracted by what sounds like a choked sob coming from Alice’s room. He’s on his feet and running back down the hall before he has the time to properly think about what he’s doing. He finds Alice sitting up in bed, looking utterly lost until she sees him. Her eyes are wide and brimming with tears.
“I thought you... I thought I’d just dreamed,” she stammers. She trails off, apparently unable to continue.
He wraps his arms around her and she clings to him. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs. “I’m sorry. I’m here. I’m really here and I’m not going anywhere.” He presses a kisss to the top of her head.
She wipes tears from her eyes with the back of one hand and nods. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t get this upset. It’s just-“
“-your dad, I know.” He brushes away a tear with his thumb. “I understand.”
And he does. He can see how she wants so badly to believe that this time it will be different -- that this time someone will stay. He plans to be that someone. Whatever it takes.
Eventually Alice is able to untangle herself from Hatter, her emotional equilibrium re-established. She tries to apologize for freaking out but he won’t have any of it. He brushes away the remnants of tears and reassures her that he’s really not going anywhere.
“Well, except maybe back to my apartment to shower,” he quips and when she's able to manage a real smile. “You could come with me. To the apartment, I mean. Not the shower.” The words come out in a rush. Abruptly he’s blushing furiously again.
She laughs outright. “I’d like that,” she tells him. “I just need to change first.”
He nods and kisses her, running a hand through her hair before getting caught on a tangle.
“And maybe brush my hair,” she amends as he extricates his hand. It’s his turn to laugh.
He gives her another long, lingering kiss and tells her he’ll be waiting in the kitchen.
As he turns to walk out of her bedroom, she says his name. “Hatter?”
“Hm?” he asks curiously.
“After that… do you want to do pizza?”