|Fourth: "Never Broken" - Alice/Tarrant - R
||[Mar. 16th, 2010|08:20 pm]
Title: Never Broken
Fandom: Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton)
Notes: This piece is a follow-up to Six Impossible Things, Practice Makes Perfect, and Half a Dozen Teatimes. The exact chronology of these pieces is for the most part linear; however, Practice Makes Perfect and Half a Dozen Teatimes technically fall between sections 5 and 6 of Six Impossible Things—as does this one. Consider section 6 of Six Impossible Things as a glimpse of things to come for them post-weddings, although I'm not yet sure exactly which bits of it I'll flesh out. The atmosphere of mid to late 19th-century China is a gap in my reading experience.
Summary: Even indoors, Underland after dark is a strange, uncharted place.
"How are we getting on?" calls Tarrant, anxiously. By the sound of it, he's still pacing back and forth across the room. He pauses, his shadow briefly growing larger against the silk divider panels hiding her from sight. "Do you need assistance?"
"No!" Alice shouts, redoubling her efforts, both hands twisted up awkwardly in ribbons behind her back. She'd gone to the trouble of learning how to lace her own corsets years ago, mostly so she'd know how to get out of them again as soon as the maid or her mother had left the room. "No peeking! I won't allow it."
She pulls the last set of eyelets tight and ties the bow blind. There is no mirror behind the divider to tell her how it looks, but it feels different from the rigid, pragmatic whalebone ones into which she'd been shoved since the age of twelve. As for Tarrant's handiwork, there's no doubt that it's flawless: the corset is made from heavy, midnight-blue damask patterned with exotic flowers, some of which she's only ever seen in Underland. The trim is pale, forget-me-not blue, something like satin, but not quite the same. She runs her palms down the contours of the boning, puzzling over how unconfining it feels. She bends over experimentally, finding it flexible.
In the meantime, Tarrant has gone quite still. From the shape of his shadow, he's sitting at the foot of the bed, hands folded in his lap. "It ought not to have suffocated you," he ventures finally. "I gave it most explicit orders in the making: you are to breathe to your lungs' content. If it has disobeyed, my seam-ripper is at the ready!"
"That won't be necessary," Alice reassures him, crouching down on the floor before rising again. "There's no pain at all. How extraordinary!" She's amazed at the concept of a corset that does not hinder movement, let alone breathing, and flushes slightly thinking of the obvious advantages. Tarrant is mindful of both form and function.
"Then what are you waiting for?" he asks. "The room has suffered for your absence these twenty minutes past. The décor simply doesn't work without you."
Alice takes a deep breath, sweeping her hair back. "Promise me Chess isn't lurking about somewhere. I couldn't bear it if I looked dreadful. He'd have one more thing to tease me about, as if the one thing he's already got isn't bad enough!"
"Ah," Tarrant says. "I can't promise you a thing, for Chess is always lurking about somewhere. However, suffice it to say that he pursues most instances of peeping out-of-doors. As long as the curtains are drawn, we're sorted." His voice softens as his shadow rises to its feet, moving from window to window. "Please come out, love. Cottages by the sea are lonely places, not meant to be sat in alone."
Alice emerges hesitantly, both hands clasped behind her back. Even indoors, Underland after dark is a strange, uncharted place, and the waves outside sound wilder, fiercer than the ones she'd known in her childhood at Brighton and Calais. Tarrant turns from drawing the final set of curtains, seemingly stunned enough to drop his hat, which he'd been clutching one-handed to his chest. Alice can't help but lighten the moment with laughter; his coat and shoes are gone, leaving him standing there in mismatched striped stockings and kilt with his shirt half unbuttoned.
"I'm sorry," Alice manages, covering her mouth, "but you look...so..."
"Delicious," says Tarrant, his eyes and voice dark with the same hunger. "Delectable. Nay, positively devourable. Were you not mine, I'd recommend you to anyone with a side of jam and clotted cream. But, as it stands," he concludes decisively, the Outlandish burr sending a shiver down Alice's spine, "you are mine."
"Yes, Tarrant," Alice agrees, setting two fingers against his lips. "Yours."
"Forgive me," he whispers, taking her hand in both of his, turning his head until his cheek is cradled in her palm. "I quite forgot myself. I'm fine. Alice, please know that I could never permit myself to harm you, not even when—"
"Shhh," Alice murmurs, using her free hand to continue where he'd left off with his buttons. "You called me something just now. What was it?"
Tarrant's brows knit in mild confusion. "Delicious? Delectable? Devourable? I've skipped backwards to D, you see. We missed it on the first go."
"No," says Alice, patiently, taking hold of his shirt with both hands now in order to tug it free of his kilt. "Before that. When you were closing the curtains."
"Well, it's entirely too true," he whispers, his eyes a brighter shade of green than she's ever seen them as he skims his fingertips along her collarbone, breathing in the sight of her. "I may be only half-mad, but I am completely besotted."
Alice tugs the shirt down off his shoulders. "Yes, but what did you—"
"That's enough chatter," Tarrant says, smiling fondly. "Come to bed, my love."
Between kisses and vanishing clothes—kilt and corset last of all—Alice counts the things of which she'll never grow tired, none of which are impossible. She'll never tire of Tarrant's hands, which have learned the lay of her body with tender, uncanny precision. Even less of the way he tastes, simultaneously like every tea he's ever drunk and unabashedly like himself. She breathes warmly in his right ear and feels a shudder pass through him, sparking in every inch of skin that touches between them from forehead to foot-arch. She'll never tire of bracing herself over him for hours, never tire of the languid eagerness with which he rises to meet her. The way he feels under her. Inside her. They both tremble with it, limbs tensing, then unwinding.
"You are the bravest creature," Tarrant murmurs, drifting between sleep and wakefulness, "that I have ever known." He yawns and tugs Alice in tighter, resting his nose at her exposed nape. Her hair is swept somewhere up above them, spilling untidily over the pillows. Alice glances over her shoulder at him, questioning.
"To have known so young, and without a doubt, what and who you wanted."
Alice attempts turning towards him, but the arm snug about her waist makes it difficult. She pokes and prods at it until she's able to roll over, her hair tangling with some of Tarrant's flyaway strands. He's smiling sadly, just as he had done on the first night she went to him under a thousand tea-tray bright constellations.
"Tell me about them," she says. "Your lovers. The ones who came before me."
"Alice," he murmurs, his eyes growing paler, "there was never anyone before you."
"I find that hard to believe," she replies, but knows he's telling the truth. "Anyone with half an ounce of sense would have had you. You must have got tired of waiting!"
"Not in the least. I'm a very busy person, and a very choosy one, too. Between hatting and rebellion and the taking of tea, there are only so many hours in the day."
They lie in silence for a few minutes, letting his words fade until all they can hear is the ocean. Alice kisses his forehead, his eyelids, his cheeks, his chin, his lips. "It was the grandest rebellion I've ever seen," she tells him.
"Yes," he sighs. "It wouldn't have been the same without you. That armor—"
"Was far worse than a corset in the end," Alice cuts in, wrinkling her nose.
"And your wedding-present?" asks Tarrant, expectantly, lifting his head to peer over her onto the floor. As usual, they'd taken very little heed of where anything landed.
"Extraordinary, as I said," she reassures him. "What did you use for boning?"
"Her Majesty was kind enough to save me a handful of poor Jabberwocky's ribs."
Alice gaped at him. "But it's so..."
"Supple," Tarrant finishes. "But those bones will never break, try as you might."
"Try as you might," Alice says, poking him in the ribs. "I'll be sure to pack it."
Tarrant gives her a quizzical look. "Pack?"
Alice nods. "Our ship sails the day after Mirana sends us back to London."
"Goodness!" Tarrant exclaims. "I do love surprises. Where to?"
"Hong Kong first," she says, "and after that, well—we'll make it up as we go along."
Tarrant grins even wider than Chessur at his finest.
"That, I think," he says, "is exactly what we do best."
- Continue: Ways and Means -