Hatter turns out to be a man of many skills, something Alice hadn't fully appreciated in Wonderland. She's self-sufficient - and prides herself on being so - but Hatter takes self-sufficiency to a new level, one of which Alice can only dream.
He'd been a businessman in Wonderland, something else Alice hadn't appreciated, and he's used to wheeling and dealing, making friends and making trades. It doesn't take him long to make himself perfectly at home in her city, and it takes him even less time to make himself at home in her life.
It's another thing she hadn't appreciated until Hatter burst into her life with his hat and his smile and his tea. It's not what she has that is important, but what she lacks, and until now she's lacked a Hatter.
Self-sufficiency, it seems, only goes so far.
So Hatter is a revelation, unlike anyone else Alice has ever met or could ever hope to meet. Maybe in Wonderland he isn't unique, isn't special, but here in her world he is and - more importantly - in her world he belongs with her.
Her Hatter, who is as quick with his mouth as with his fist, and just as skilled (not that Alice will ever admit to that, not out loud, not when just the thought of his quick and talented tongue is enough to set her all aquiver at the knees). Hatter is quick-witted and sure-footed in almost everything he does, and it serves him well.
It serves Alice well, too. His business - and she's still not sure entirely that she understands the breadth of it - keeps on growing and growing, carefully cultivated by Hatter's steady hand until it blossoms and blooms, and it's Alice who reaps the benefit of it. Somewhere along the way Hatter has picked up the idea that a man is supposed to bring presents for his beloved, pluck the moon from the sky and hand it to her, and, because he's Hatter, he's never been one to do things by halves.
He brings her chocolate and candy in boxes as big as his head, decked with bright bows and ribbons, and with silver-foiled wrappings that crinkle under Alice's fingers. He brings her little silver charms for the bracelet he bought her, and those Alice keeps close, the teacups and the teapots, the little playing cards, the tiny hearts and the teeny clubs that jingle and jangle against her wrist when she dances (and she dances a lot these days, with Hatter).
The plants he brings home for her are not quite as successful, not as presents go. He means well, but Alice has never met a piece of greenery that she couldn't kill, given enough time and motivation. Some she over-waters and some she lets dry out until the soil is as arid as the desert, but nothing works, no matter what she tries or how stern she is when she talks to them. Her green fingers are all thumbs, and one by one the plants succumb to inevitability, and sometimes to greenfly.
Hatter watches her efforts with a smile and a frown, both of them mingling on his face as if he can't decide which is right and which is wrong and so goes with them both. But finally he sighs and does something he rarely does - give in. The next time he comes home, the flowers he brings her are of a different sort all together. She has no idea where he finds them, because Hatter never tells, but her windowsills and her window boxes are now full of a riot of wooden blossoms, painted in colours bright and true, reds and greens and golds that do not fade and - more importantly - do not die. And, most marvellously of all, they hold the scent of summer all through the autumn and well into the winter's bitter chill.
(Sometimes she thinks they bloom more brightly when Hatter is around, but that has to be her imagination, right?)
Hatter has also decided that it's his job to take her places, just like it's his job to bring her things. But he doesn't take her out to dinner, or to a movie, or to a show. He's never that predictable. Instead, he takes her places she has never been, shows her things she has never seen, and puts a Hatter twist on things mundane until they sparkle, all shiny and new.
When he takes her dancing, it's in the park, twirling her around to the sounds of the traffic that spill over from the world outside until she's dizzy with it, and could swear that she hears music in each blaring horn, every revving engine.
When he slows down and takes her into his arms, holding her closely as they sway, she shuts her eyes and hears a big band play. Maybe it's her imagination, or distant radio, but maybe it's Hatter and the way he hums softly under his breath, snatches of barely heard music, some of which is familiar and some not.
He takes her to parts of the city she's never ventured, where graffiti grows up over the buildings, patterns spiralling until it looks like a garden, fantastical and wondrous, bearing the strangest of fruit. Even in those dark places, she can't be afraid with Hatter, not when nothing this world could throw to her could be worse than the things she experienced in Wonderland. She has her courage to carry her through, and Hatter has a quick word and a smile.
He takes her to the quiet places, the hidden gardens in tenements, through shadowed archways, where roses grow wild and bloom, covering the moss adorned fountains and statues that peek out shyly from underneath the tangle of thorns. He lays out picnics made of delicacies she's never tried and never thought she wanted to, foods from far off lands that he doesn't find strange or peculiar, because everything in her world is new to him.
Except pizza. He already knew about pizza, and he would eat it every day now if he could. He loves the taste of it, the colours of the toppings: red and green and gold. He loves the way the cheese strands stretch out when he tugs a piece towards him, and the way that the taste of garlic lingers on his tongue. Sometimes when they stop on their rambles, pausing in one of these forgotten places, there'll be a shout, someone calling, and when she turns the pizza delivery guy - or girl - is standing there, a steaming box in hand. She has no idea how he's arranged it, how he knew where they'd be or how he persuaded someone to venture out this far, dip a tentative toe into the unknown, but then he's Hatter. She doesn't need to have any more idea than that.
In her heart she knows the answer, sees it in the buildings around her that she swears are now more colourful and bright, no longer dank and empty. She sees it in the streets they walk through, where it seems that Hatter knows everyone, and everyone knows Hatter.
She sees it in the park, in the gardens, in the tips he hands over to those bemused delivery guys and girls.
It's because Hatter is a man of many skills, and he uses them all for Alice, each and every one.