Hatter was the type of man to survive. Anywhere, anything, he was never surprised, never caught off-guard. Because that's how it had to be.
Excepting two times. The first was when he was in the forest with Just Alice, who he suspected might be more, and he realised he was doing all of this because he loved her. Because he had been in love with her for a while.
That was unexpected.
The second time was when she ran into his arms, and kissed him as though she had missed him as much as he had missed her. Which was ridiculous. Impossible, really, and for a few reasons. Firstly, nobody missed him. He was the notorious Hatter, cheating rascal and swindler of morons. People didn't tend to get to know him well enough for any sort of emotional connection beyond distrust and the strange sensation that he could see into their souls.
But also because if she missed him as much as he had missed her, well.
She would be completely mad by now.
He had always wondered about why his character in that silly children's book had been portrayed as crazy. He hadn't realised it had been omnipotence. Because, let's face it- the things he would do for Just Alice were ridiculous.
But the things he would do for His Alice? An Alice that loved him, that needed him and asked him to stay?
Madness. Genuine madness. But that of the sweetest kind.
He couldn't help himself. He tried to hold back sometimes, hold on to a remnant of sanity so he wouldn't get swept away in a storm of passionate devotion.
But he was her slave, and had been since she had first rescued him in the library. His little Oyster saved him time and again, and each time he could swear he felt the ropes tightening bit by bit. There was no escape.
Although, let's be honest here- he never exactly fought much it in the first place, now did he? Not with a woman like Alice. Never.
Anyway, he guessed it made a Hatter kind of sense that it'd be because of her again. His Alice. It wasn't his fault!
There had been something falling quickly, he couldn't quite recall what. That wasn't what he had been focusing on. As soon as he had sensed danger, he did what he always did- went to find His Alice. Half because he wanted to make sure she was safe, and half because she usually caused the trouble, and he had to be there to get her out of it. He had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that told him it was the former trouble this time.
He saw her over to the side, and breathed a sigh of relief. He could reach her. And then his stomach turned to lead and his mouth to cotton when he realised it was headed straight for her- it was going to crush her!
And so, he did what he always did when it came to His Precious Alice- he acted without thinking, following instinct and the dread chewing him from the inside, trying to get out. He let it out, and made it move him even faster, and thank goodness he did. That was what he needed to reach her in time, to knock her out of the way. He felt a flickering of guilt for knocking her down, and then he felt nothing.
He woke up on a soft bed, covered with a pure white sheet. The lights were on, but dimmed, and there was the soft hum of an air conditioner blowing in another room. He looked up when a nurse came in.
The opening of the door revealed a ruckus outside, and he could hear His Alice shouting, calling for him. His blood ran cold.
"Where's Alice?" he half-shouted, in a panic. She needed him, and he was stuck struggling to get out of this stupid bed!
"Alice!" he called, hoping she would hear him, that she'd know he was coming. He would protect her, always. His Precious Alice.
The nurse shushed him, kindly but firmly. "Please, sir, sit back down. Everything is all right."
"Alice!" he called again. "Please let me go! She needs me!" he begged of the nurse.
She smiled with a softly sad look in her eyes, and said wistfully, "Of course."
She went to open the door, and Alice sprinted in.
"Alice! Thank goodness you're okay. You're okay, right? Tell me you're okay!"
Alice laughed at him, and replied, "Of course I'm okay! You protected me didn't you?" But when she saw he had relaxed a bit, she punched him on the shoulder.
"What was that about, Hatter?! You could have died! Do you underatand?! What would I have done if you'd gone and died, huh? Do you want to leave me that badly?! Is that it? You're done here?!"
Hatter looked horrified.
"Then don't do that, you stupid idiot!"
Instead of shouting back, Hatter just smiled. "My Alice. Thank goodness you're okay. I thought my heart was going to stop."
She sniffled a little bit, and ran the back of her hand across her nose.
He smiled at her happily. "Yeah."
He knew he was. He was the Mad Hatter, after all.
"Don't do that again."
"Okay," he was still smiling. He was lying, of course he'd do it again. He'd do anything for His Alice. But he was lying with love, so he thought it much be okay, anyway.
She knew he lied, and rolled her eyes.
"But what was wrong? I heard you outside, you sounded upset. Is someone trying to hurt you?" The thought had him sitting up straighter, and trying to get up out of bed again. He felt a pang in his left arm, but it wasn't important right now, and so he ignored it. She needed him to watch her back, and he was going to do it if it killed him.
Alice pushed him back into bed, rolling her eyes.
"You've saved me quite enough for one day, thank you. They wouldn't let me see you, is all."
Relief flooded his features, and he sank back. He felt exhausted. He should really take a quick nap.
"You... It was because of... Because you were worried about... me?" He was getting tired, and he always got a bit more openly insecure when he was tired.
Alice chuckled at him, used to it, and started running her fingers through his hair. He immediately melted.
"Because I love you," said Alice.
Hatter huffed a sleepy laugh.
"Love me," he repeated, too tired to be incredulous or awed, or even to figure out which one he was going for. His reactions tended to switch between the two whenever she said that to him. And then drifted off.
The nurse had been standing quietly in the corner, giving them privacy, but once Hatter nodded off, she stepped back up, and spoke to Alice.
"It wasn't too bad. He had to get thirty-six stitches in his arm, we have him on painkillers now. He'll be healed in to time. There will be a scar, but it shouldn't be too bad, and there shouldn't be any lingering pain or serious damage." She could see the relief in Alice's face.
"There is one small factor of concern," she continued. "At times, through the past few hours of our observing him, it appears that his heartbeat is occasionally very elevated, remarkably faster than normal. It is closer to what it would be under a rush of adrenaline. I don't know that it is any cause for alarm as it is now, but," she handed Alice a paper, "here is the contact information for a specialist in the area that you two could visit, just to be on the safe side. No harm in being careful, right?" She smiled kindly.
"I see," said Alice, wondering if it had anything to do with his Wonderland origins. "I will speak to him about it," she concluded, firmly deciding not to make any promises, nor discuss it with this nurse, just in case.
The nurse nodded kindly. "Well, I will leave to two alone then. He should be able to leave in a few hours, we just need to get the paperwork sorted. The doctor also prescribed him some painkillers, in case his arm starts hurting him."
Alice had to support him, an arm around his back, with his unhurt arm over her shoulders, as he was still a bit loopy from the painkillers.
Once she had him settled on the sofa, she put down her coat and got him some water and a blanket, but all he seemed to want was her.
She carefully scooted up until his arm was around her, and her head resting on his chest. She sighed happily, glad that everything would be okay.
As she relaxed into his arms, she took a deep breath, and listened to the soothing sound of his heartbeat.
"Oh!" She sat up quickly, and he raised his brows at her.
"What now?" he whined. "No, I just remembered!" She shushed him. Back in Wonderland, nobody would have dared to do such a thing to him, and here it had happened to him twice in one day- by two different people! He'd have to work on that. Later.
"The nurse said your heartbeat was really fast sometimes. She gave me the name of a doctor we could talk to about it, if you wanted. I was wondering, do you know anything about that?"
Hatter huffed a laugh. "Oh, is that all? Nothing to worry about. Come on, lay back down."
"Well, what is it then?" She demanded.
"Nothing that has to keep you so far away," he complained. Alice could tell he wasn't going to tell her, and she thought for a moment on how to get it out of him. Hatter was like a vault when he wanted to be, and he would always have a bit of mystery about him. But she could get it out of him in time. She knew it.
"My love, please. You know I can't relax unless you're here."
She did know that. It was remarkable. He hardly slept when she wasn't next to him, and he was always tense until he saw her again.
Hatter had been through a lot today, and she didn't want to be responsible for hurting him any more. So she acquiesced- for now- and curled back up into his arms. She immediately felt him relax, and his breath steady. But his heart still beat just a bit too fast in her ear. She would definitely get it out of him, she thought, as she began to grow sleepy.
Hatter chuckled a bit, silently. He saw the look on her face, and knew he was in for an inquisition later. He didn't particularly mind her form of interrogation, though.
He hope he wouldn't spill the beans. How embarrassing it would be to admit that his heart only beat faster like that when she was around. Of course, he had figured it out ages ago. But no, he decided, gazing at the sleeping beauty lying content in his arms. No, she didn't need to know.
There was no way he was going to sleep, not piped full of painkillers as he was. Plus he had slept way too much at the hospital. He was kind of glad.
He never told her, she would just roll her beautiful eyes and call him a dork, but he loved to lay there with her in his arms, and watch her sleeping face. Something about having nothing to do, nowhere to go, it was so strange to him. And she was so relaxed. He liked to think that it was because she trusted him to keep her safe. He knew, objectively, that she could kick his butt in a fight. But love made a fool of all, Indiscriminately, and he was already a fool before he had even met her. Besides, there was no feeling better than having her in his arms.
He almost always woke up before her, being an early riser, and most mornings, if he could afford the time, he wouldn't get up until she did. He always pretended he was asleep, of course. That he'd woken up just after her. She'd just roll her beautiful eyes at him again if she knew.
No reason to tell her, was there?
Though he had to admit, most of the time, by the time she woke up, he was glad. He missed her. His life was so much better since the day he met her, less dark, more hope. But his day was never quite as bright until he saw her eyes sparkling at him.
So for now, he would enjoy his meds, the blanket over him, and the most spectacular woman in any world safe in his arms and love.