|Third verse, much like the first: "Half a Dozen Teatimes" - Alice/Hatter, Ensemble - PG13
||[Mar. 15th, 2010|10:01 pm]
Title: Half a Dozen Teatimes
Fandom: Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton)
Rating: PG-13 (for references back to previous naughtiness)
Notes: This piece is a follow-up to Six Impossible Things and Practice Makes Perfect. Enough of you were musing about family reactions that I couldn't resist. Also, this installment gave me the excuse to invent my own answer to "Why is a raven like a writing-desk?" (although I suppose it's not mine anymore; I've given it away.)
Summary: Teatimes lead to weddings, and weddings are not so very unlike teatimes.
"Tarrant," says Alice, pronouncing each syllable carefully, as she's all too aware of her mother's bewildered scrutiny, "this is my aunt, Imogene. Aunt Imogene, this is my—" Hatter, she wants to say, because that was true before anything else had been, in the beginning "—um, fiancé. Tarrant Hightopp. He's a hatter. Er. A very good one."
"Don't you think this is all a bit sudden?" her mother whispers behind her hand.
Oblivious, Tarrant reaches across the table and gallantly takes hold of Imogene's regally proffered fingertips. "Dear lady," he says, leaning to press a light kiss to Imogene's knuckles, "I am quite simply honored to meet any such excellent relations belonging to our dear Alice. Shall I sugar your tea? Butter your bread?"
Alice lowers her eyes to her hands, which are clasped together white-knuckled in her lap. That ought to have been her mother's job as hostess, but there was no keeping Tarrant from performing the tasks at which he was best.
"No," she whispers back, fiercely. "It's just that you had no idea I had met him."
"In your travels, I suppose," mutters her mother, lowering her hand and returning Tarrant's radiant smile. She passes him the sugar bowl and the butter one after another. "So kind of you, Tarrant," she says. "Tell me, did you meet in Hong Kong?"
"Gracious, no," Tarrant says, busy dropping lumps of sugar into Imogene's tea. "I have only just now met your charming sister. But if you happened to mean Alice, then yes: I did once meet h—" Tarrant pauses, as if he has to think very carefully about the pronoun "—er in Hong Kong. After a fashion. We were merely passing through." He shoots Alice a guilty glance, too brief to be caught by either of the older women.
Alice gives him a minute, reassuring nod, taking a hasty bite of unbuttered bread.
"How completely romantic," sighs Imogene, fanning herself. "Perchance you will have met my fiancé somewhere in your wanderings. He's a prince, you know—but, alas, we cannot marry. His family would never—"
"Aunt Imogene," murmurs Alice, softly, reaching across the table to take her hand. "I'm sure there are any number of single gentlemen in London who would love to make your acquaintance if they were only given the chance. You ought to ask—"
Tarrant's eyes turn fiery. "There are plenty of eligible gentlemen in Under—"
"Tarrant!" Alice almost shouts, reaching across her lap to catch Tarrant's hand with her free one. His fingers remain unresponsive until she laces them with her own.
"Sorry," he mumbles, shaking himself. "I'm—well. What I meant was, of course, where I'm from. And that, dear lady, is ever so far from here. It's hardly a trip one can make of an afternoon, although I should love to take you one day. Have you ever traveled by hat? We would have to shrink you, of course."
Aunt Imogene beams at Alice. "Such a lovely man you've found!"
"The scones ought to be done," says Alice's mother. "Alice, dear, will you help me?"
"Yes," Alice says, releasing both their hands. "Of course."
"What on earth," says her mother, as soon as they're alone inside, "was that?"
"What was what?" asks Alice, innocently, already pulling on a pair of oven mitts.
"His voice," replies her mother, clearly alarmed. It...changed. He sounds—"
"Yes, Mother," Alice sighs, scone tray in hand, having practiced this moment in her head at least a dozen times. "He's Scottish. Hadn't you noticed the hair? As for the accent, he's got it mostly under control, as he's lived in London and elsewhere for such a very long time, but sometimes he just...slips," she finishes weakly.
"There's no accounting for taste," her mother sighs, smiling fondly. "But then, he's given to flights of fancy, just like your father. Come, dear: I'll hold the door."
They return to the conservatory just in time to hear Tarrant ask—
"I have been trying to discover the answer to this confounded riddle since time out of mind, so perchance you shall be able to enlighten me, since you seem most wise. Have you any clue at all why a raven is like a writing desk?"
Without skipping a beat, Imogene answers, "Why, it must be because each one holds its fair share of writing-quills, although neither one is capable of using them!"
Tarrant blinks once at Imogene and once at Alice before breaking into a delighted grin.
"Alice, I do believe you come by it honestly," he says, and begins to laugh.
"Come by what?" asks her mother, mystified. By now, Imogene is laughing, too.
"Nothing, Mother," replies Alice, and joins them.
"I must say," Chessur purrs, "that this comes as something of a surprise. Hardly an unwelcome one, however. Let's see the ring, then, shall we?"
Tarrant leaves off fiddling with his teacup and draws Alice's right hand out from where she's kept it impatiently hidden under the table. In Underland, the custom is this: right hand, thirdmost finger. Up above, the custom calls for left hand, fourthmost finger—or secondmost, as Outlanders would call it. Finding a ring that would fit both Alice's right-middle and left-ring (as Alice herself referred them, in her endearingly backward fashion) had been maddeningly difficult. The pale blue rose-cut sapphire winked under Chessur's nose, and the tiny diamonds studding it at compass-points glittered like tea trays. Stars, Alice would say. Unbeknownst to the others, he strokes her palm.
Alice shivers ever so slightly. "It's beautiful, isn't it?"
"Very fine," agrees McTwisp, edging under Chessur's nose with his monocle in order to study the gemstones. Chessur sneezes, vanishing all but his head. "Very fine indeed. Was it chosen to match your hat, or was your hat made to match it?"
Alice rakishly tips the brim of her crowning glory. "Guess!"
"You first, Chess," Tarrant urges. It's best to let the quickest wit have the first crack.
"I abstain," says Chessur, primly. "McTwisp, my dear?"
"I suppose the ring came first," says the rabbit, fixing Tarrant with a knowing look over the rim of his monocle. "Your flair for impromptu additions is legendary."
"Well spotted," Alice says, wriggling her hand in Tarrant's grasp. "If you don't mind, I'll be needing this back. I can't very well hold both bread and cup with only my left!"
"Perhaps you're not trying hard enough," Chessur suggests with a grin wickeder than usual. "Your feats of balancing here at this very table, Alice, are also legendary."
McTwisp tucks his monocle away and swats at Chessur's tail, which is visible once more. Such odd, infuriating creatures, Cheshire-cats, even by Tarrant's standards. Although he shall be eternally grateful for their evaporating skills...
Alice clears her throat when the realization hits. She's not terribly swift on the up-take at times, and anyone worth their saucer knows that Chess is an incorrigible voyeur.
"Let her alone, you old rascal," McTwisp scolds. "That's hardly polite. We ought to be congratulating them. Felicitations, Alice and Tarrant! Many happy returns."
"I am what I am," replies Chess, with a feline shrug. "There's nothing for it."
Tarrant busies himself with a knife, his cheeks burning, and reaches for Alice's bread.
"Tarrant," says Margaret, warmly, extending both hands. "My mother has told me ever so much about you! As has my dear old aunt. I think she's smitten."
"The pleasure is mine," Tarrant says, casting Alice a doubtful sidelong glance. "Likewise, your sister has told me all sorts of fascinating things about you. Such as your fine taste in hats—" Tarrant attempts to bite his tongue, fails "—and in men."
"Where is Lowell?" asks Alice, innocently. As Tarrant bends to kiss Margaret's hands, Margaret fixes Alice with the strangest look she's been given since breakfast.
"Out shooting," Margaret says, sounding disappointed. "He finds teatime quite dull."
Tarrant straightens up, indignant. "Madam, I must humbly disagree. It's anything but."
"At least when you're around, if what I've heard is true," Margaret replies, leading them onto the verandah. "Would you care for some Earl Grey? Or perhaps first-flush Darjeeling? It's very fine this time of year. Lowell ordered it for me."
"What about the tea I brought you from Hong Kong?" Alice asks, taking a seat beside Margaret. "Have you tried it? It's quite rare. Lowell wouldn't know where to find it."
"I wish you wouldn't be so hard on him," her sister sighs. "Yes, Alice, I've tried it, but the orange peel doesn't agree with me. I have to pick it out before brewing."
"That completely defeats the purpose," Alice sulks, slumping back in her chair.
"There, there," Tarrant says, reaching across the table to pat Alice's hand. "That simply means more for us—that is, if you don't mind," he adds, offering Margaret his most disarming smile. "Come now, let's show off your ring."
"I've seen it already," Alice mutters, about to fold her arms crossly, but Tarrant and Margaret have already got hold of her left hand, which is where the ring resides (somewhat loosely) for the time being. It longs to return to her right.
"How lovely!" exclaims Margaret. "It may need sizing down, though."
"It's fine," Alice insists, softening under Tarrant's imploring gaze. "And, yes, lovely."
"Tarrant, you're quite talented," Margaret says. "Will Alice have a hat to match?"
"Uncanny," Alice murmurs, but she can't keep from returning Tarrant's grin for long.
"I c-c-can't believe it!" Mallymkun wails from inside the teapot. "I simply can't!"
"There now, Mally," says Tarrant, gently coaxing, peering down the spout. "Alice has brought you some tea from very far away indeed. And, if I may say so, it's marvelous. See? Now we're on adjectives starting with M."
There's a sudden scraping sound, followed by the slightest tip of Mallymkun's sword abruptly protruding from the spout's opening. Tarrant wheels back in his chair, almost tipping it over. Alice steadies him with a ringed right hand on his elbow.
"Such a cruel trick," Thackery mutters into his teacup, "breakin' th'wee lass's heart."
"It's not a trick," says Alice, almost timidly, and Tarrant finds her tone even more alarming than Mallymkun's behavior. "Mally, please come out," she begs, taking hold of the teapot. She cradles it to her chest much as Tarrant remembers having done when a tiny, half-naked Alice had been inside it. "I haven't seen you in so long, and the tea is ever so good. My sister didn't like it. Your taste is far better than hers."
"I'm not hungry!" shouts Mallymkun, her voice echoing off the porcelain. "Or thirsty!"
"Ye could've at least warned her," says Thackery, gruffly. "Milk."
"Well, I—" Tarrant swallows, finding himself for once, utterly and indubitably, lost for words. If Cheshire-cats are infuriating creatures, then Dormice are most perplexing ones. He silently appeals to Alice, ignoring Thackery's glare.
"Mally," she says, lifting the lid of the teapot (at her enchanting eyes' peril, very likely). "Surely you'd caught wind of this from Chessur. He can't keep his mouth shut."
"I th-th-thought he was lying! Besides, he's m-m-madder than we are."
"Doubtful," says Tarrant, pensively. He squeezes his eyes shut and covers his mouth.
The sound of Alice's careful voice brings him back. "Mally, we've both missed you so, and it will absolutely break my heart if you won't consent to be my maid of honor."
There's a faint scurrying up the side of the pot. "Wh-what's that?"
"It means you'll get to wear your finest, sword and all. And carry flowers."
"No flowers," says Mallymkun, peevishly, but her nose appears over the rim.
"It's a deal," agrees Alice, solemnly. Slow on the up-take she may be, but her cajoling skills are exemplary. Tarrant claps his hands together in relief, and even Thackery seems less agitated. Cup-throwing would be the icing on the cake.
"All right," Mallymkun says, leaping up onto the table. "But I'm not letting either of you off the hook that easily. You've got a lot of explaining to do!"
Just as Tarrant opens his mouth, her sword plants itself squarely in his thumb.
"Congratulations are in order, Alice," says Hamish, stiffly. On his arm, his own recent bride—a peaky dark-haired thing from Yorkshire named Millicent—glances about as if she's afraid she'll catch something nasty if they remain too long.
"Thank you very much," Alice says with a smug curtsy. "The ceremony was quite perfect, wasn't it? Mother had wanted something more, I know, but—"
"Simple," offers Millicent, yawning demurely. "If you like that sort of thing."
"Very much so," Tarrant answers, reaching up to adjust the hat he'd created for her. It wasn't very flattering. "Simplicity of words often permits other more pressing complexities to shine. There you are! Do get some rest."
Aunt Imogene stepped up to Alice and put an arm through hers, beaming.
"Aren't these hats extraordinary?" Hers was lavender with trailing ribbons at the back and feathers at the front. Tarrant had embroidered her name just under the brim.
"Quite so," Hamish says, hastily clearing his throat. "If you don't mind, we ought—"
"Yes, of course," Alice says, waving them off. She pulls a face once they're gone.
"Alice, dear, that's highly unattractive," says Hamish's mother, appearing out of nowhere. "However, I wish you both nothing but the best. After all, your indecisiveness saved us a world of trouble."
Tarrant raises his eyebrows, and Imogene murmurs, "I'll explain it later, dear."
Alice tilts her head, smiling thinly. "And your tiresome obsession with digestion inspired me to see the world. Is your husband still here? I saw him during the ceremony, but I had very much hoped—"
"Alice!" exclaims Lord Ascot, appearing as if her very mentioning had summoned him. He bows, bends to kiss her cheek, and then takes her ringed left hand and joins it with Tarrant's right. "In your father's absence, I give you my blessing. You made a lovely bride in the end." He winks at her, and then smiles at Tarrant. "Mark my words, you've got your work cut out for you. Alice is nothing tame."
"That's perfectly fine," says Tarrant. "I've plenty of previous experience."
Lord Ascot turns back to Alice. "What's this I've heard about the two of you meeting in our travels? Surely you hadn't the time. It seems to me we kept you quite busy!"
"It's an impossible story," Alice replies. "I'll tell it to you sometime."
Mirana's tea table is impossibly long, which is what Tarrant loves most about it.
"Now, that wasn't so terrible," he asks, glancing upward, "was it?"
"I suppose not," says Mallymkun from her perch on the brim of his gaily refurbished hat. The other part of the bargain had been that she'd get to ride around on it all day. He'd heard her sniffling quietly throughout the ceremony, but when he'd removed his hat to cheering at the end of it, he'd caught her grinning up at Alice through her tears. "All of Underland's turned out. I can't see the end of the table from here!"
"Not nohow," agrees Tweedledee. "There's cousins of ours we ain't seen since never!"
"Contrariwise," explains Tweedledum, "we ain't ever seen them at all."
"That's what I said!"
The White Queen silences them all with a single tap of her wineglass. Alice seems more than pleased that there is, in fact, actual wine to be had this time: a rare red vintage all the way from Witzend. Her cheeks are flushed with it.
"A toast to the bride and groom!" she shouts, for once abandoning her deceptively demure demeanor. "To Alice and Tarrant! To our champion and her squire!"
The cry went up, so loud as to be deafening: "Calloo, callay!"
Alice joined Tarrant in applause only after she'd unplugged her ears. Somehow, Mallymkun had managed to fall from Tarrant's hat and into his half-full wineglass, but it looked as if she didn't mind in the least. She was busy finishing it.
"That's the Tarrant we all know and admire," Chessur grins, appearing out of nowhere. "The life of the party is restored. Kiss her once for me, hmmm?"
"I'll do you one better," says Alice, and kisses Tarrant soundly.
In spite of the renewed cheering, all that Tarrant can hear is Chessur's satisfied purr.
- Continue: Never Broken -