Disclaimer: Alice in Wonderland is the property of the estate of Lewis Carroll. I do not own either Alice or the Mad Hatter, nor any other characters associated with Wonderland. All rights reserved.
It was really a clever little house. It sat in the woods, and the attentive observer might get the sense that when it was first built it was just an ordinary house, painted one color (probably white) instead of the seven vibrant hues it currently bore, with only one chimney (instead of seven) and without the tea-spout on one side (which whistled a merry tune at four every afternoon) and the handle on the other. In fact, if it was a tiny bit smaller and quainter it might have been called a cottage. In the front yard the bluebells tinkled softly in the breeze, and the dandelions could be heard growling and roaring in private little feline conversations in between biting at a passing beetle.
In fact, the only thing that blunted the whimsy of the whole scene was the fact that it was raining in a way that indicated that it did not intend to stop raining anytime soon. This annoyed the flowers, who loved a drink every now and then but really, enough was enough. And it was really starting to vex the sole occupant of the house, who enjoyed playing in the rain now and then but again, enough was enough. But, on the whole the man enjoyed his quaint little just-a-bit-too-big-to-be-a-cottage house, and presently he was finishing dressing for the day.
The smell of a hundred different types of fresh tea leaves permeated his clever little house as he regarded himself in the mirror, trying to decide whether his eyes should be blue or green that day. He decided to split the difference and made one eye green and the other blue. The green eye played off his vibrant red hair better, but he liked blue eyes as well, because blue was the color of her eyes, her that had left Wonderland (forever?) so long ago. He decided he rather liked the asymmetry, and offered his reflection a gap-toothed grin. His reflection, in turn, responded by poking its tongue out at him. Ah well. Everyone was a critic. Besides, it didn't offer any criticism of the rest of his outfit, that motley riot of colors and patterns that didn't so much clash as happily engaged in all-out war on his lean frame.
He had just selected his hat for the day (one of the thousands he possessed – after all, he was a Hatter, and more to the point he was the Hatter, the only one he knew of in all of Wonderland) when, above the stubborn pitter-pat of the rain, he heard a knock at the front door – the one at ground level, that is. He frowned, not expecting visitors but considering that when you were not expecting visitor that was exactly the time when one should expect visitors to some, set his top hat squarely on the riotous frizz of his hair, and hop-skipped down the stairs who see who it was he should have expected while he wasn't expecting to expect anyone.
He opened the door and saw… a girl he was not expecting to see again. No, that wasn't right. He saw the woman that had once been the girl he was not expecting to see again. That he had seen her once after her girlhood didn't much matter to him, because he hadn't been expecting to see her after she went home that time, either. How unexpected! But, unlike most visitors, who generally looked happy to be received by the hosts that they had come to visit, she looked… lost. She was lost in all the ways it was possible for a person to be lost without actually being missing; she looked emotionally lost, and mentally lost, and most of all she looked like she had not actually expected to come calling on this dreary, foul, rainy day, mainly because she was barefoot and clad in a plain cotton shift, which the rain had kindly elected to soak thoroughly until the occupant of the shift looked like a half-drowned kitten. Her long blonde hair clung around her face in wavy, sodden strands like a half-unwound string mop, and her blue eyes were dull and hollow. Her beautiful, ashen face was stained with tears, and she was shivering with the chill. And, it seemed to him, her colors were dulled, as though she was not entirely here, as though, having found this place, she was still lost.
Alice, her name came to his lips, but the spark in her eyes that he had always loved about her was gone, an absence that scared him a little.
"Am I here?" she asked, looking up at him with a dull, tragic look of panic deferred.
"That largely depends on what you mean by here," replied the Hatter. "Indeed you are here, but this here might not be the here you were aiming for. You see, there are a lot of heres in the world, of which this is only one."
"I don't know where I'm supposed to be," she whispered, tears brimming in her eyes, "I was… looking for a friend. I just… wanted to get out of that awful place… and now I'm lost in the woods and soaking wet and… and…"
"Ah – but you're not lost. In fact I would say you've been found. And now we need to get you out of that awful rain and warmed up by the fire" —this same he lit with a snap of his fingers— "and find out where you need to be."
Alice, my dear, sweet Alice, what has become of you, what have they done to you? Is your world so cruel that you've started seeking out Wonderland on your own? He watched her shivering before the fire, and considered the fact that she had not yet greeted him properly. He seemed to recall that they had been becoming either close bosom friends or possibly the sort of good friends that snipe at each other constantly, like him and Marchy.
He was not accustomed to kindness, either offering or receiving, but he remembered her words to him, when he was imprisoned by the Red Queen.
You're entirely bonkers, she had said, But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are.
Or maybe during their first tea party together...
A very merry un-birthday to you! To me!
And now, with his beautiful, sweet, kind, brave Alice in a lost, tearful lump of misery in front of his fire (which simply wouldn't do!), he found that against all odds he found that he sort of, um, owed her. Just a bit. You know, on account of she helped save his life. And liberate the land from the Red Queen. And, you know, killed the Jabberwock and all. Small stuff, really. But he was not accustomed to kindness, and he had only the barest idea of how to go about helping her regain her muchness. Which she had lost. Again.
Oh, drat and bother.
"What friend are you looking for?" he asked, venturing closer, "Perhaps I could help you find him."
She wiped at her eyes. "We met at a tea party a long time ago," she said quietly, "a very curious one at that, attended by a Hare and a Dormouse and… a Hatter." She managed a small smile. "He was absolutely insufferable during that tea party… but delightfully so."
The Hatter preened a bit at his own insufferability. "He sounds like a delightful fellow," he remarked, venturing toward her, "With excellent taste, I might add, if he was friends with you."
She managed a small smile. "He was quite mad, though. Absolutely bonkers."
The Hatter grinned. "All the best people are, I've found."
She paused, something flickering in her eyes. "He... he told me a poem. It made no sense, but... I can almost remember it, even now. It went... 'Twinkle, twinkle, little bat... how I wonder...'"
"'...where you're at,'" the Hatter said, and she turned to face him, a look of hope in her eyes as she met his mismatched gaze. "'Up above the world so high...'"
"'Like a... a tea-tray in the s-sky,'" she finished, her eyes brimming with tears again. As they rolled down her cheeks, she had one more question: "Tell me, sir... do you know how a raven is like a writing desk?"
He considered the question, and then pursed his lips and shrugged. "No clue."
She stared at him for a time. "Hatter?" she asked, and he saw the spark had returned to her eyes, that delightfully mad flicker of muchness that made her look some alive, so beautiful.
He grinned. "It certainly took you long enough, dear Alice," he said, "I was starting to wonder if I would have to OOF!" —for she had surged to her feet and darted over to the Hatter, hugging him hard. He stood there rigidly for a few moments (for he was not accustomed to kindness) before slowly, gently, tenderly putting his arms around her, holding her close.
Outside, a curious cessation of noise could be heard, the unsound of the rain finally coming to an end.