It was funny, really. Less than a day ago and the sight of her riding away had nearly torn him in two. Now, it was the best thing he'd ever seen. She was safe; the way Charlie had ridden out of here the two of them wouldn't even slow down until they'd left the city, putting her well out of harm's way. Alice was safe.
He repeated it to himself as he looked up at March's face- or what was passing for it these days. Alice was safe. Everything else he'd find a way to deal with.
"Charlie, stop," Alice said. But if the knight heard her, he didn't show it, continuing to urge the horse on faster.
"Charlie!" Alice yelled, frustration with her handcuffs mounting. "We need to stop."
"Can't stop, they could be right on our tail," Charlie muttered.
"They aren't on our tail! No one's on our tail. Hatter is-"
He stopped muttering and his arms tightened around her. Alice's heart stuttered.
"I told him," Charlie said, despondent. "It was suicide. I told him."
Hatter smirked and rolled his shoulders as one of the Suits undid his handcuffs. Jack, the ponce, caught his eye and gave him a look that inquired as to the health of his sanity. Hatter sent him a wink that promised to pass along his regards when he remembered where it was.
He couldn't lose. He'd won his prize already (Alice was safe), the rest was simply filler space before the finish line. Granted, most of that space was sure to be filled with pain and humiliation, but that was life in Wonderland. You took your victories where you could get them, and he planned on getting as many from the Queen as he could before he went.
Just Alice was silent as they left the city, still as they entered camp, compliant as he removed her bonds, empty as they ate dinner. Charlie worried, and fretted, and fussed as only a 160-year-old knight could for his liege, and Just Alice sat, oblivious to everything surrounding her as she picked at the cuffs on her sleeves. Charlie could empathize. To lose one's home and one's family and one's friends all in the same terrible blow was no easy thing to survive.
But survive she would. He would make sure of that. He would feed her and shelter her and take care of her and when she began to talk again he would be there to listen, to her wrath or to her commands.
If there was one thing Hatter knew how to do well, it was put up a good front. Put a little swagger in his hips and an edge on his smile and a flip with his hat and he could convince you the sun was square. Or distract you long enough to punch you so hard you saw stars, one of the two. He was a conman, not a magician. He couldn't get it right all the time, case in point.
"Nope," Hatter said, popping the p with great effort and March wrenched his arm further behind him. "I still say you look like beached whale someone's played dress-up with."
Hatter waited for the pop and the pain that would signify that his shoulder had been dislocated, but it didn't come. Instead the Queen smiled. He would have preferred the loss of his arm. It's not like he was exactly using it now, and he didn't need anything else trying to scare his wits away. They were hard enough to gather as it was.
"Is he a friend of yours, March?" She asked, circling around them.
"Once," March replied shortly.
"Hardly," Hatter added. His arm was twisted just a little bit further, and he ground his teeth against the grunt that wanted out.
"Then you should have no problems getting some answers out of him," She proclaimed.
The pop Hatter had been waiting for earlier came then, taking him completely by surprise. He screamed, going wobbly at the knee and breaking out in a cold sweat.
He hadn't meant to sleep, but he had, for when he next looked over at Just Alice light was streaming through the trees and the fire had died down completely.
"Breakfast time!" Charlie said, getting to his feet. "You missed out on it last time, but I make a very good-"
"Charlie," Just Alice said, and he stopped. "I need to go back to the city."
"Just Alice!" Charlie protested. "We're outnumbered! Outgunned! Out maneuvered! You don't have a chance against the Queen."
"I didn't say I was going to the Queen," Alice said, standing. "You're right. I can't go against her now. But if we get into the city, I think I know some people who can help with that. Maybe."
Alice stiffened, then threw her shoulders back. "You don't have to come with me. I just need some food for the trip. I can find my way there myself." She paused, then softened her words with: "You've already done so much for me. You don't need to do more."
"Alice of Legend," Charlie began, straightening himself out. "I have not willingly left your side before, and I do not intend to start now. We shall eat breakfast, gather the necessary provisions, and then we shall ride into the city."