When Jack shows up with a sword in hand, Hatter has half a mind to make reckless use of his right fist. Just one good blow to that pompous, blond cranium would do the trick, and if it doesn't kill the prince, then maybe it will at least make him forget about Alice.

Alice, who is looking at Jack Heart like she's seeing a ghost.

Alice, who was just about to kiss Hatter.

It isn't this last fact, however, that has Hatter stepping in front of her protectively; He can feel the fear and confusion radiating off of her in waves, and all he can think of is how to make that chaos go away. He needs Alice to be safe and happy, and whether he understands it or not, this is the way things have to be. It doesn't matter that this mentality is insane because Jack is the future monarch of Wonderland and, inexplicably, Alice's boyfriend, because Hatter can still see the gray pools of her eyes fluttering shut as he leans in for a kiss. He can feel the warmth of her body so close to his own. He can still taste the sweetness of her breath in his mouth.

His luck had been about to change.

Hatter's legs are a little rubbery in the wake of that almost-kiss as he strides up to Jack, armed with a stick to Jack's sword, but he does it anyway. A bone-deep terror is gripping Hatter by the throat, because Jack isstill Alice's boyfriend, and almost-kiss or not, her staunch defense of the prince on the beach is proof enough that she still has feelings for him. And she can't, because Hatter needs to watch her eyes slip shut and her lips part and know that this will happen only for him. He can't see any rational reason for this, but he knows in his gut that he can't stand the thought of her kissing Jack. Touching Jack. Being with Jack. Trusting Jack. These thoughts make him weak with a clawing, gnawing sort of panic, and so he reminds himself that royalty or not, Jack is just a man, and Hatter has won enough brawls to hold his own in any fight. He'll even enjoy giving the arrogant sod a good beating.

Of course she chooses to go with Jack.

He's already her boyfriend and a prince, after all, and the icing on the cream cake is that he can take her to her father. Of course she'd choose him. It makes perfect sense.

Alice stuns him by insisting that he go with them, though, and Hatter nearly comes apart at the seams. He can feel himself unraveling bit by bit under the weight of her worried stare, but he somehow manages to hold himself together and wills her to let him go.

Believe me, you're better off with this guy, he says, and as soon as the words are out of his mouth, his throat constricts. When she starts to protest, confusion and worry warring for dominance of her features, he almost succumbs, but in the end he forces himself to urge her to go, because this is the right thing to do. She'll be safer with Jack, and the Alice's of Wonderland are not meant for men like Hatter.

Even knowing this, when she leaves with Jack and Hatter is sure that Charlie isn't around, he has a quiet fit and plows his fist through a tree.

She's in safe hands now, Hatter has told Charlie, and maybe he believes it. What good is a Tea Shop owner and criminal to Alice when she has a prince to look after her? He's even in deep with the Caterpillar, who Hatter, for all of his work with the Resistance, has never been allowed to meet. What good can Hatter do her now, with that sort of ally at her back?

A man who cares for her more than anyone else in the world.

Hatter punches another hole through the tree with a snarl and then has to leap out of the way when the ancient pine falls. He stands in the roar of sound that echoes through the forest on impact, panting, his heart galloping in his chest, and he can't stand this feeling. He can't stand this horrible need for her that is bubbling up inside of him stronger than any sip of Love or Passion Tea he has ever tasted. He can't breathe with this feeling.

Hatter rams him fist into another pine, and the force of it sends a ripple of violence up the trunk. The branches shudder, and a rain of needles and twigs shower the ground at his feet. Birds scatter from the canopy, screaming their protests to the sky.

He rests his forehead against the tree, shutting his eyes tightly.

He can see her face in his mind, feel her in his arms from when he caught her in mid-leap, almost taste her lips against his own. Her face flickering in the firelight while she thinks deep Alice-thoughts. The look in her eyes when he told her that he wouldn't let her fly if he thought it would hurt her. He is choking on these memories, choking on the thought of her riding off into the sunset with the bloody Prince of god damned Hearts!

He launches himself off the pine and begins to pace, his fists clenched tightly at his sides.

Hatter can feel her arms wrapped tightly around his waist while they speed through the air away from the Aces. He can see the glory of her angry and desperate as she argues with him on the beach. He's the one who helped pull her to shore. He's the one who risked his neck time and again, losing his livelihood, fighting Jabberwocky's, a fleet of Suits, and infiltrating the bloody Hearts Casino! What has Jack done, but put Alice in danger in the first place by bringing her here?

What has Jack done, but get in the god damned way?

"To hell with it." Hatter decides, and he stalks back to his horse. The mare shies away from him, wary of the ferocity he is radiating, but he climbs into the saddle anyway and turns her in the direction he knows Alice has gone.

"'Safer hands,' my ass," he mutters darkly, and takes off at a flying gallop.