Hatter had learned that anticipation just created upset plans and disappointment. He thought of himself as a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, and he certainly didn't want to upset anyone. (Well, except the Queen, and maybe the King, but they were gone, so long live King Jack! Or was Jack just King now? The hierarchy of the Heart family was confusing at the best of times, and Jack's reticence about the issue didn't clarify matters.)
So, yes, Hatter was positive that he was a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. Strange
oysters girls named Alice appearing out of thin air and needing aid, check. Dodo going bugfuck nuts, check. Alice deciding that she belonged back in her world instead of Wonderland, check. Him deciding to follow her - well, maybe not a check, but a little tick mark sufficed for now. They would build up to the check.
However, Jack meeting him at the Looking Glass when he crossed back over into Wonderland to check on Dormouse was not on the list of things Hatter had ever contemplated. So, given the complete unexpectedness of the situation, he felt perfectly comfortable admitting that he was at a loss and definitely wasn't adding a check to his mental list of events demonstrating his own adaptability and fortitude. Under duress he might admit that there was some fumbling of words and mumbling involved. (Might.)
Nonetheless, Hatter thought he hid his unease well enough and gave the conversation (okay, maybe it was more like a monologue) ample attention. If Jack had impressed upon him a bit stringently the need to treat Alice like a princess, well, Hatter could respect Jack's strongly articulated opinion on the matter. Don't hurt Alice, big big check.
Hatter looked at the venus flytraps; he was (relatively) certain that they weren't peering back. Foliage on this side of the Looking Glass was much less exciting than foliage in Wonderland - the carnivorous plants here ate flies instead of fillies. He consulted his book again, and looked around at the vast selection before him. Finally, he decisively nodded and strode over to the individual behind the counter. She proved quite helpful, and soon he was making his way back to Alice's home with a jaunty whistle.
He let himself in with the key Alice had entrusted to him after a few weeks. His Thames-side ventures were erratically timed, and it had proven easier to not depend on planning a rendezvous, especially since he couldn't keep a cell phone. He set his offering, a pot of red tulips, down in the middle of the table as a centerpiece and then began to assemble their dinner. Alice came in as he was rummaging through the fridge, looking for blue cheese. After greeting him and stealing some of the chocolate earmarked for dessert she brought up the floral addition.
"Hatter, they're gorgeous, and I love that you got a potted plant instead of cut flowers. However, and there's no non-awkward way to say this, I'm allergic to tulips, so I can't keep them."
"Oh," he said, crestfallen. "That's all right then. I'll just take them with me, yeah?"
"They don't need to go now; I'm fine as long as I don't touch them. They're gorgeous and cheerful, so let's leave them on the table for dinner. I'll have Mom take them to her work to plant them, okay?"
He smiled and agreed. Caroline, when she joined them, remarked on his thoughtfulness and offered to take them with her the next day. Hatter figured it wasn't a total loss - anything that didn't make Caroline look at him oddly counted as some sort of win - but he didn't dare bring Alice flowers again.
(Afterwards, he never noticed the three dried tulips pressed under glass in the frame above her bed.)
Hatter fidgeted with the tiny velvet bag tucked in his pocket, waiting for an opportune time to present it to Alice. Obviously, doing it before they ate wouldn't be courteous; if she didn't like it, the meal would be terribly awkward and then she might feel bad and that would completely undermine the entire point of his gift. However, doing it after dinner, when they were lingering over their cake and wine while discussing the minutiae of their respective days seemed disruptive. Anxiety thrummed through him, distracting him from his usual joy in her company.
"Hatter, what is it, what's wrong?" Alice queried.
He startled and pulled his hand and the bag of his pocket. He placed it on the table between them. "Open it," he said.
She pulled the drawstrings and shook out the small ring into her palm. After inspecting the writing she looked at him quizzically.
"It's a toe ring," he said. "It's not an heirloom or the Ring of Wonderland or anything like that, but I saw it and thought of you. The silversmith's mark is on the inside, and the script on the outside is from the Old Kingdom, a blessing the Queen gave once upon a time."
"Hatter, thank you." Alice smiled, and her hand clenched around the tiny bauble. She slipped it into her pocket, leaned over the table to kiss his cheek, and then got up to clear the dishes.
Hatter never saw her wearing it, and he mentally struck "jewelry" from the list of acceptable courtship rituals.
(Hatter had no way of knowing that Alice tried to wear it for three days before admitting to herself that she couldn't stand having things on her toes underneath her shoes - it pinched and felt uncomfortable and weird. However, when he was off attending to his affairs in Wonderland - mediating between the underground exiles and the displaced casino workers, making his own corner of Wonderland a functioning society again, overseeing Dormouse's rehab, and any one of the fifty million things people were always going to him for - and she missed him, she pulled it out of her jewelry box and padded around the house wearing it. It wasn't as lovely as him being there, but it was a constant, subtle reminder of his presence and a sign that he cared.)
Dinner and a Movie
Hatter thought (hoped) that his next plan was foolproof. Every book, video, and person he had encountered Thames-side told him that dinner and a movie were the quintessential dating activities. Apparently, there was even an entire genre of film, called chick flicks, dedicated to the activity. When the local paper did a feature on a revival of a movie, calling it "the standard bearer of the chick flick genre," Hatter decided that it was a sign that his idea was both brilliant and fated. He'd request some money from the Wonderlander accounts to buy the tickets, they'd go out and enjoy some Thai food, and then they'd watch this Pretty Woman.
Everything went swimmingly until they were in the theatre. Alice's relaxed slouch disappeared as soon as the guy on the white phone appeared. "Julia Roberts" in white letters resulted in clenched hands, and at "Pretty Woman" she abruptly stood up and stalked out of the theater. He scrambled to follow her, leaving their popcorn and drinks behind.
"Alice, Alice, wait," he called. She stopped immediately outside of the building's doors and waited for him to catch up. "Alice, what's wrong?"
"I hate that movie. It's idiotic and offensive and I am so freaking tired of society telling women that they should just wait for their prince to come," she ranted. From there her diatribe wandered into cultural scripts, heteronormativity, prostitution, why chick flicks sucked, and, somehow, how women should be able to wear pink and pearls if they wanted to, dammit, but so should men. He didn't entirely follow, but he ascertained from her vehemence that "chick flicks" needed to be permanently removed their activity list.
(He didn't realize how much Alice appreciated having someone who wasn't either in her Women's Studies class or on a blog listen to her and respect her opinion about the Hollywood movie industry. Hatter was the first guy she had met who didn't roll his eyes, tell her she was being too sensitive, or feign understanding and agreement just to get into her pants.)
On A Beach By A Picturesque Stream Over The River And Through The Woods
Hatter had been informed by the very best authorities that the jabberwocks migrated during spring mating season.
(Alice never told Hatter that the first time she had ever laughed so hard she started crying was after their mad dash back to the boat away from the jabberwocks' shenanigans.)
Hatter paced. This had seemed like a really good idea when inspiration had struck him. She likes teaching Jack had said. Women from her world usually have jobs Jack had said. She dislikes being idle Jack had said. And Hatter had listened, and now it could all go sideways and Alice would never speak to him again. Or it could work too well, and she'd return to Jack, Jack who could give her a huge vista on which to enact her will.
Alice slipped through the Looking Glass and strode over to him. They grinned at each other awkwardly for a moment - they weren't used to having an audience, and the Looking Glass was always surrounded by guards and attendants. He could see Alice shaking off the oddness just before she threw her arms around him. He relished the embrace. He wasn't really worried that she would cast him off, but this was a Grand Gesture, and he was allowed to be nervous.
He took her hand and silently led her to their destination. She seemed to grasp that something big was happening, and she didn't fill the quiet with their habitual chatter and exchange of stories. When they were close, he stopped. Grasping both of his hands in hers, he looked at her, searching her expression for some sign of trepidation or worry. Seeing only contentment, he led her onwards once more.
They reached the building; the marquee had long since stopped scrolling after the collapse of the electrical grid. Alice paused but followed him when he kept walking, running her free hand along the railings he'd installed along the edge of the walkway. He took a deep breath, opened the door, and waited for her response.
"Hatter," she breathed. "What is this?"
"This, m'lady, is yours. Well, it's yours if you want it. On the weekends or during the week or whatever works best for you between Wonderland and Thames; now that Travel Tea prevents Glass lag, there's no reason you can't go back and forth at whim. I know you have your work in the dojo there, but, well, I though you might find it interesting to have one here, too. There's, well, Alice, there's a lot of people here who need things to do, places to go. It's gotten a bit rough out, and a lot of the diamonds have had a bad time of it. So, I thought you might want to teach them how to defend themselves. It's not paid, not exactly, but Jack's willing to provide the necessities without charge, and I have enough saved up to keep you - us - in food for a long time. And, hey, there's always borogrove if we get desperate."
She smiled at his joke but didn't immediately burst into enthusiastic exclamations about the idea of having a business in Wonderland. Nervous, he started to ramble. "See, I donated all of the teas to the hospital and rearranged all the shelving and stocked it for you. The guys you work with in Thames, they recommended this stuff; I just bought what they told me to. I took out all the other furniture and expanded the grass; it's a new type, horticulture's making a comeback now, it should stand up to some trampling and throw downs. There are a few of us denizens of Wonderland floating about with the odd hammer hand or seismic stomp, and it should even last through our activities. I left the chalkboards because I thought you might want to have someplace to write up schedules or sign-ups or somesuch - we don't have your computers here, and technology's always made the journey in rather peculiar ways. I added a second desk to the office area in back, I thought you'd need a place to get away and do whatever you feel like doing. The advantage of this is that there's no paperwork - being directly under the patronage of the king has its perquisites! I've got some things lined up for myself, but I thought that, maybe, we could work side by side. It's not going to be easy - Wonderland, well, it's floundering a bit right now, but I thought that I - we - could work to make it better. It's all yours, if you want it. Do you want it, Alice?"
Alice threw her arms around him, kissed him, and then looked him directly in the eye.
"Hatter, Hatter, of course I want it. Thank you." She gazed at him a few minutes longer, smiling radiantly; Hatter thought that Ecstasy had it all wrong - his experiences on the elixir paled in comparison to the joy washing through him.
Alice stepped back for a moment and dropped to one knee. She took a deep breath and then made him the happiest man in Wonderland.
"Hatter, David Alexander Eos Green, will you marry me?"