{Author's Note}

Hi everyone! I have a new AIW fic here, as you can see. Whether you've read stuff by me before or not, I thought it best to begin this story with a note about its content.

As an adamant Hatter/Hare shipper in this particular show's realm, I don't see the plausibility of the whole "they never get together", "Alice disappears from Wonderland for 10 years" "she comes back and Hatter realizes he has feelings for her, and vice versa." It's just never rang true, hell I never even knew why it was necessary, and I've read a number of versions, some of them with fine prose and realistic characterization. When I began this story, it was going to be just a funny spoof of that situation where Hatter/Hare happens within a Hatter/Alice story. But~ as it went along I realized it was becoming a strong commentary, between the lines, on H/A stories and ideas, at least my interpretations of them. I think there is much hope for H/A shippers to find humor in this though, because while it addresses many things that I don't feel make sense, its jabs are soft, and it's really just another story about characters caring for each other.

Which is why I also wanted to say that the story differs in some ways from everything else I've written for this show. There's a lot of humor, really, but some parts aren't supposed to be funny. Other stories of mine have began to touch on things, but never enter them. I haven't made my thoughts about serious moments in this show vulnerable through prose before, so bare with me! You'll like it best as a fellow shipper of H/H, but if you're not, I still recommend giving it a chance. Open dialogue about the pairings is something I'm not afraid of.


A Hatter's Obligation

A Short Story by Yours Truly

Part 1

It was a beautiful December afternoon in Wonderland as Hatter and Hare crossed a sun-splashed clearing, scarves adorned around their necks, and each holding croquet mallets. Hatter was smirking towards the setting sun, a spring in his step as it were, when Hare wet his lip excitedly to speak.

"Man, Hatter, you really tore Dee a new one!" He exclaimed. Hatter swatted his hand. "No really! You didn't just win, you annihilated him."

"Oh please, like I would ever annihilate Dee on purpose..." They continued to walk in companionable silence a moment. "...I sure did, though, didn't I?" Hatter slowed his stride to smack his own knee and then whisk his hand into Hare's arm. His companion grinned and lightly shook his head. "You're staying for tea, right?"

Hare giggled as they reentered the forest. "Yes, just like I have every day the past 14 years."

"Well I don't know, you've missed a few times."

"I've been sick a few times. It's inevitable."

"Yeahighh..."

"But then again, you've avoided doctor visits just to have tea parties!"

Hatter bit his lip like he wasn't sure whether to be proud or self-conscious when a rustle in the bushes stopped them in their tracks. By then the shadows were growing, and the light crept dimly through the trees. Hare laid his hand over the one Hatter had just put over his shoulder.

"D-did you hear that?" Hare asked, nose a-quiver. They waited for another stir but the silence continued. Hatter tugged at the ends of his jacket a little and went forward.

"It's probably just those damn mome raths."

"It made too much noise to be mome raths," Hare argued, reaching for Hatter's arm and sprinting by his side.

"If it was a whole pack of them I don't see why not-"

More bush rustling ensued, causing Hatter to spring out his arms dramatically like it might give him better reception.

"There it is again!" Hare uttered. When another silence ensued, Hatter's brow fell over his eyes.

"You know what? Maybe it's that Cat trying to screw with us." He went off again but Hare remained, sure he had spotted something softly colored and a bit short in the brush. When it moved in Hatter's direction, Hare came hurrying to his side, wide eyes darting.

"This is exactly what he wants out of us. Now can you let go of my arm? It likes to be circulated."

Hare frowned and let go, watching from behind. Hatter took one quick glance and they both turned towards their un-walked path when a figure appeared just in front of them and both squeaked and held to each other in shock.

"I didn't mean to scare you," a lamenting female voice assured. Her breath continued harshly as Hatter and Hare's grips on each other loosened. "I got lost trying to make my way to the palace. I'm so embarrassed..."

Hare took her for a confused journalist or other such visitor and reached out to touch her shuffling hands. "Well that's okay... we'll lead you out of here and you can call from Hatter's house."

"Oh, but I don't need to... Mr. Hare, do you recognize me?"

"Uhhh..." While Hare took the initiative and walked with her down the way, Hatter followed idly, at a loss for words. "...Am I supposed to?"

"Maybe not..." She responded softly.

Once on the clear path, she stepped out, guided by Hare's hand, and the two got a legitimate look at her. Blond hair, pointy noise, perfect olive-colored eyes... Hare'e eyes dropped straight to her rack on accident, even concealed by a fluffy beige sweater. "Ohh God," he thought aloud. She wasn't sure whether to laugh or smack him. Hatter had on nearly the same expression.

An awkward silence passed over them. "H-how does tea sound?" Hare finally asked.

"Sounds great!" She quickly answered. They were fast coming towards the house, but whenever Hare glanced at Hatter, wondering if he was just as confused seeing this old friend back in town, he found him to be staring dumbly, as if that scare in the forest had caused him to shake free a few of his marbles (the important ones.) He was reassured Hatter was running on back-up when he waltzed right into the gate. "Careful, you silly goose!" Hare tried. Hatter's only response after bouncing back was glancing at their visitor with a pitiful crooked smile and opening the gate for her.

She looked up at him fondly, as if the mistakes were a delight, and smiled. "I'm so glad you found me. You guys were the first people I wanted to see, but I thought the Queen oughtta know first..."

Hatter reflected the same delight, even through uncertainty, until they were all seated. As she was observing the place, still littered with dishes, house as yellow as she remembered, her table mates just stared at her, Hare with what looked like a tear in his eye. A garden lined the brim of the giant "hat" that she did not recognize from before. Eventually her eyes came to Hatter, who quickly refocused on his cup. She wrung her hands and sighed. "I-I don't know what to say."

Neither did they. Though her clothes were modest, her new figure was conspicuous. Hatter peeked to the side of the table and caught a pair of brown high heels ending long denim legs. Her glossy manicured fingers laid over the edge of the table for a second before adjusting a fallen lock of straightened hair. Neither remembered her having such a large forehead before.

Hare thought a minute. "...H-How did you make it back?" She inhaled like she knew the answer, but sighed again.

"By a complete miracle, that's how."

"I-I had no intention of ever leaving, I promise. But pretty much the worst thing in the world happened and I couldn't even tell anyone. You must've thought I'd forgotten about you." Hatter reflected pity for her and then proceeded to lean on his right arm and grin at her stupidly.

"Wellll... We didn't want to assume anything, but eventually yes..." She frowned, but that sorrow was gradually replaced by curiosity as to why Hatter was silent as the grave.

"Mr. Hatter?..."

"You're not too shocked, are you?" Hare tried. Hatter broke out of his trance-like smile on her and shook his head amusedly.

"Are you kidding me? A fine lady joining us for tea? It's alllll my pleasure." His declaration seemed a little stiff, but he extended his hand and she shook it looking really taken aback. "I'm in the mood for peppermint, how about you?"

"Sure!"

Instead of waiting for Hare's feedback, he hopped out of his chair and ran into the house. Hare glanced in his direction with a weak grimace on his face. Alice leaned forward.

"This was too sudden, wasn't it?"

"There's no way it couldn't have been. It's okay. Everyone's going to be surprised."

She smiled, then continued to look the place over. The setting sun was still hitting the flowers along the house, illuminating their gold and pink color.

"He has a garden now..."

"Actually, that's mine! I... thought it'd look nice so I talked him into it. A couple years ago."

"Ahhh..."

"But actually, this week, at my house, we're going to start a rock garden in the back! It seemed festive." Hare grinned.

"Ah... Are you guys..." She paused, gaging Hare's reaction. "Uhh..." Hare anticipated the question in its full, but she lost her nerve. "Uh, where's Dormouse?"

"Oh, he moved out. He bought a teapot like this big." Hare gestured with his hands like he was holding a pumpkin.

"Oh, wow... I didn't think he'd ever part with you two."

"Well... after college..."

Alice's eyes widened. "College?"

"Yeah! He has his Ph.D in Medicine now!"

"So he's...d-d...Dr. Dormouse now?"

"Funny little world, idn't it?" They giggled to each other, for the first time in a decade, and words ran dry again as both realized they were. A smile was shared even as Hatter came back out, teapot in hand, and three dangling bags of Bigelow's. A clash of spoons hit the table surface as he set everything down.

When Alice looked up to him, he flashed her the pearly whites and began to pour her a cup.

"Hereeeee you are."

"Thank you."

A cup was placed in front of Hare quickly after. As they stirred, he tapped his teeth over his lip excitedly. "Oh, Alice, I've missed you beyond words."

Hatter squinted.

"And I've missed you. I didn't mean for this to happen!"

"We know other A..lices?" Hatter broke in, questioning Hare cautiously. Hare gawked at him.

"Hatter, don't joke around like that! We haven't seen her in ten years-"

"No, I honest to God don't- oh psh. She's not that Alice," Hatter realized and excused with confidence.

"Alice" looked on uncomfortably and fidgeted with the tablecloth.

"Alice was a little girl. Come on, Hare. Get with the program."

"Are you really being this dense right now?"

"No, but I think you are." Hare grumbled, but the subject of their bickering began to laugh, sure that the only logical explanation was that Hatter was joking.

"It's so weird to think none of you have aged at all."

"Yeah, it doesn't make any sense, does it?" Hare replied awkwardly. A moment later, he leaned towards the "fourth wall". "It really doesn't. Really really really doesn't," he insisted. Alice wasn't sure who he was talking to, so she just sipped at her tea.

"Has anyone ever told you you have absolutely beautiful eyes?" Hatter suddenly asked. Alice could feel a blush come on but didn't know what to say. "Did you know that the ratio of men to women in Wonderland is 7:3? It's terrible!"

Hare and Alice looked to each other, groping for the right reaction to Hatter's behavior.

"I make hats, you know."

"Still? Well that's... that's great!" Hatter bit his lip and laughed through the tiny gap between his lips.

"If you ever needed one, you know who to call!" He said with his finger up. "In fact, I have a card, somewhere around here..." He began searching within his jacket but came out empty handed. "Oh well."

"Heh."

By now, Hare was giving him the death glare. If it was a joke, it'd gone on far enough.

"Soooo~ Are you a fan of tea?"

"Yes. I-it was you who introduced me to it... Ever since, I have tea quite often, actually..."

Hatter squinted again.

"Uhhhh... I introduced you to tea. Hm..." Suddenly Alice didn't seem so amused anymore. "I-I don't believe I caught your name."

"It's Alice."

"Yes, Hatter, we've been through this! Alice! The little girl we knew ten years ago!" Hare insisted, losing his patience. Hatter blew another raspberry.

"Listen to him!" He gestured a chatty Cathy with his hand. "Living in the past."

"Okay, Hatter, seriously! I... I am Alice. I have my mirror back and I came to visit you."

"Uhhhh no no no no no... Alice-in-the-Past always called me Mr. Hatter, because I was lots older than her."

"Well, I... I hate to burst your bubble, but I'm not anymore."

Hare massaged his eye sockets and returned his glasses. "Hatter, she doesn't live in Wonderland. She comes from a place where people age, she's... she's-"

"23."

"She's 23 years old," he explained confidently. Hare's hand on his shoulder shook him gently as he thought this out. His eyes switched from the tea to Alice repeatedly for the next minute before he realized what they were getting at.

"So I... I kind of made a fool of myself, didn't I." The other two weakly nodded, but he took one look at her and shook himself out of it. "Alice!" He rose from the chair and hugged her tightly. She reciprocated with noticeably less strength.

Now that Hatter's social ineptitude was out of the way, they enjoyed their tea a while, and both shared with her how all her friends had been doing in her absence. By the time darkness hit, Alice stepped away from the table as her hosts were heading towards the house. "I think I should head back now."

"Ohhhh... you don't wanna stay and watch Desperate Housewives with us? Season finaleeee~!" Hatter bribed. Hare's brow furrowed.

"I'm the one that watches it!" Before he could continue, Hatter jabbed him in the side.

"Uhhheheh... I really can't. It's a lot later back at home. I'll come back tomorrow so I can see everyone. M-maybe we can have a party at the palace! There are still parties over there, right?"

"Of courrrrrse!" Hatter replied over Hare.

Alice looked down and smiled before they both appeared at her sides, ready to escort her back. "Oh, no... It's a secret how I get back. I don't know why I remember, I just do."

They paused a moment. Hatter's arm that he had extended out to her slightly dropped.

"Oh, okay," Hare said. "G'night, Alice." She smiled to the two and started walking backwards down the path, then turned her back on them. Hatter was waving his hand stupidly when Hare noticed.

"Are you okay, Hatter?"

Hatter's brow dropped. "No. Not at all."

He came into his own house, with Hare following him, almost like he didn't recognize the place. His jacket, he placed with precision at the end of the couch, and then he just stood there having some sorrowful thought.

"...She didn't forget about us, Hatter," Hare reassured from behind. He stepped forward and placed his hands on his shoulders, then rested his cheek on his arm. "And it's okay that we were completely awkward."

"No, it's not that..."

Hatter turned around and Hare's hands retracted. He waited for Hatter to explain, but he took an unnecessarily long amount of time looking frustrated and sighing first. The suspense was killing him. Hatter inhaled.

"...I was totally gonna ask her out!" He finally revealed, palms up.

"Wah-...?" Hare's nurturing demeanor seemed to flicker out.

"I can't do it now! We practically babysat her!"' Hare's initial reaction lingered, with a hint of disgust. "I thought you were just joking. But it's true." He found in Hatter's clear blue eyes nothing but sincerity as he leaned into him enough for his breath to play with his bangs. "It'd just be completely inappropriate now."

"You... you like Alice?" Hare asked softly, almost like he had just heard that someone important had died.

"No, I just... I just think she's hot. This is... this is very disappointing." Hare's focus turned to another part of the room, and he slowly wandered to the coat wrack. He was startled a little when the TV flicked on behind him.

"Uh oh. It looks like we missed the first five minutes."

"I... I need to go..." Hare took his jacket and put it on carefully. He sensed Hatter was perplexed so he continued. "I forgot I was supposed to call my mother tonight!"

"But it's... it's the finale! You've been waiting for this all week!"

"Heh. They'll have reruns all tomorrow, I'm sure." Hatter took one nervous look towards the screen and then back, and Hare was already out of sight. He hurried to the door and found him adjusting his bicycle at the gate.

"Goodnight... Hare." Hatter frowned, feeling now twice as lonely as before. Hare only waved him off and was gone into the night.