Hatter wasn’t at all used to cold: it took Alice a few days of pizza, questions and getting better acquainted to realize that Hatter was still hunching in his battered leather jacket when they went out, no scarf, no gloves, not even a warm hat, even after the snow began to fall.
She had a scarf in her hands, and on an impulse she began winding it around his neck as he leaned in for a kiss. His lips we chapped, and his face was ice cold. “There’s no winter in Wonderland, is there?”
“Nope,” Hatter admitted cheerfully, looking faintly amused at her scarf antics. “We’ve got three seasons: dark, wet, and hot. Not a winter in the lot.”
Alice finished with the scarf and dug a pair of gloves her grandmother had sent: they were just a little too big for her, and would probably be a bit too snug for him, but they would do for the moment. “It doesn’t get cold in the dark season?”
“Not this cold,” Hatter replied, pulling his gloves on as Alice rummaged around for her coat, “Not normally this cold, anyway. There was this one time when I was a kid, there was an ice storm. It got on everything, coated a good angula-”
He stopped suddenly, and Alice poked her head out of the closet; Hatter held up his thumb and forefinger to illustrate, his eyebrow raised in question. “Inch and a half. Ish,” she told him.
“There was ice, inch and a half thick, over everything, even inside the ginnells.” As Alice finished pulling out her things, Hatter told his story: mock sword-fighting with icicles, being paid to bring up wood, getting short-changed by one of his customers and then being chased by the neighborhood watch when he stole the difference (“plus a bit extra, because he was a prick”), nearly sliding off the causeways as he did.
“So he finally gives up and starts chucking things at me- frozen bits of you don’t even want to speculate what- and naturally that’s when I lose my footing and go right off the edge.”
“No,” Alice said.
“Yes,” Hatter assured her emphatically. “I flew straight out. Thankfully, I didn’t even have time to curse before I landed on the top of a ginnell- one of the cheap ones that had a tarp for a covering, even. Of course, that was as frozen as everything else in the city, so I immediately start sliding. Backwards. On my belly. I finally stopped and managed to drop off in front of it, my shirt riding up and absolutely shivering, and I hear this whistle. I look up, and there’s the guy who’s been chasing me, three stories up, and he chucks a can of apricots I’d dropped at me- nearly hits me in the head, actually- and without saying a word, he just walks away. It was bizarre.”
“Maybe you were his good deed for the day.”
“Maybe so,” Hatter said, in a tone that screamed ‘am I humoring your delusions of a compassionate world, because you make them look cute’. Unsurprisingly, he changed the subject. “So, now that you’ve bundled me up, where are we off too? Assuming standing here in heavy clothing isn’t some strange Oyster custom, of course.”
“Nope, I thought I’d take you out shopping,” Alice told him.
Hatter’s expression shuttered slightly, but before he could begin protesting, she cut him off with. “Hanukkah starts this Friday, and as we’ve just met, I haven’t gotten you a present yet. And, also, I have no confidence in my ability to shop for you, so…”
“Hanukkah?” Hatter asked. “That’s the one that’s not Christmas, yeah?”
“Yep,” Alice replied, opening the apartment door again. “Christmas, for all that it’s everywhere, is kind of a Christian thing. We’re Jewish, so we celebrate Hanukkah.”
“Which starts on Friday, not the 25th.”
“And lasts until the 19th, yes.”
“Eight days. There are presents, and food, and we get a nice long phone call from my aunt and uncle out in California on the first night.” Hatter held to door out to the street open for her, and she hesitated, before stepping through with a hurried “You could drop by that night, and I could introduce you.”
“Yeah, alright,” Hatter replied, smiling.
They walked in silence for a while, Hatter’s hands shoved deeply in his pockets out of habit. It wasn’t long, however, before he spoke up. “You really don’t have to get me a present. I mean, I just found out the holiday existed, I just found out Judaism existed, there’s certainly no obligation-”
“I like buying presents for people at this time of year. You’re doing me a favor, really.” Alice said. This sort of thing would be easier for her to take if he didn’t seize the slightest opportunity to get something for her, while simultaneously failing to get himself winter clothes. And he was choosing the former over the later: Hatter was smart and observant, doubly so when it came to appearances. He must have noticed what the other people were wearing, had to have seen it up on display, and yet...
He hadn’t found a job yet. It was to be expected: the economy was still trying valiantly to rebound, and he didn’t have anything in the way of a résumé. But not having a steady income bothered him, she could tell. From what he’d told her, she figured that he hadn’t been unemployed once in his entire adult life.
“Seriously though, I don’t need you to get me anything,” Hatter replied. “I’m fine.”
“Well, I do of owe you, for all you went through for me when I was in Wonder-”
“Is that what this is? Are you… paying off a debt?” Hatter stopped dead on the sidewalk, snowflakes whirling around his hat as he stared down at her, looking horrified.
“No!” Alice protested. She reached out, meaning to thwack him on the head and somehow ended up clutching his shoulders instead. “No, this is me trying… trying to make you as welcome here as you made me there. No obligations, or debts, or anything like that.”
Hatter took a deep breath, and they began to walk once more. After a moment of silence, he spoke up. “I didn’t really do this back in Wonderland. Have relationships. I mean, there were people, of course, but they weren’t- not that they were- you’re just not in the same- what I want with you…” He sighed, tipped the brim of his hat into his face, and asked, exasperated at himself, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”
“Something to do with Edgar Allen Poe, I think,” Alice replied.
Hatter gave her a strange look, and hunched a little deeper into his jacket. “This is all new for me. I’ve never gone for anything long-term or future-thinking. I didn’t think I’d have a future in the long-term worth thinking about. You gave me that, and I’d like to try it. With you.”
A very large part of Alice wanted to run at that; but if she’d given Hatter a future, then Hatter had given her staying power. She just wasn’t sure what to do with it, any more than Hatter seemed to know what to do with his future.
She could certainly try, though.
“I’d like that,” she said. “But first… we need to buy you a coat. You aren’t going to have a future if you freeze to death.”
Hatter laughed. “Oh, I was hoping you hadn’t noticed.”
“Even after I pushed the scarf and gloves on you?”
“Hope is akin to madness and love,” he said. It sounded like a quotation of some sort.
They crossed the street, Alice hooking her arm through Hatters and using it to steer them towards the department store.
“I haven’t gotten you anything for Hanukkah yet,” Hatter admitted. “So if you see something you li-”
“You’ve gotten me plenty,” Alice cut him off. “You’re here, aren’t you?”
The store was slightly more packed than usual, but only slightly. Hatter’s face lit up as he took in the wide selection of clothing that was just inside the door.
“Oh yes,” he replied. “I am definitely here.”
Happy Holidays azuremonkey !