Pairing: Alice Kingsleigh/Tarrant Hightopp
Fic Title: A Fruitful Courtship
Author: clay_roses and manniness
Rating/Warning(s): Mature / sex
Special Rec: 29/30
Why This Must Be Read: Who doesn't love some good old-fashioned sexual tension? When Alice agrees to let Tarrant Hightopp court her she really has no idea what she's gotten herself into and what follows is an amazing epic that is sure to satisfy every UST craving you've ever had.
Pennants wave, flags snap, and the air is full of a general feeling of laughter and expectation. Alice isn’t sure what to expect from a Royal Berry Picking event, but she knows that somehow, despite trying to not have expectations, hers have already been broken.
Everything is somehow disappointingly formal, despite the informal nature of the activity itself.
Breathless couples bustle by, and Alice sees more than one chaperone roll their eyes at whatever is being said by couples in not-low-enough voices to one another. Some of the courtiers have employed professional chaperones (which seems to Alice to be a practice that could possibly lead to complications and the probability of culpability, but she keeps this opinion to herself). There are a smattering of guards about, who watch the chaperones watch the couples, and she supposes attributes to part of her disquiet.
Still, the sun is shining, birds are singing, and there is an undeniable feeling of something in the air. (It could be love, or simply lust…Alice blushes as she remembers stumbling across a pair of squirrels that apparently hadn’t been as concerned with proper Underlandian courtship as the Hatter seems to be. They’d been…displeased, with her accidental intrusion.)
She herself feels it, as well. After leaving the squirrels she had been—and truthfully, still is—assaulted by fresh imaginings of she and the Hatter tumbling into the shrubbery, his mouth on her ear…perhaps one of his strong, rough hands on her belly, or sliding down her bare back…
Well, those types of thoughts are pointless, Alice scolds herself. After all, there will be None of That. Hatter is very insistent on a proper courtship. And her imaginings are decidedly not proper.
No, not at all.
Alice walks towards what appears to be the main berry stand. Two bears sit underneath the cheerful white awning, where they jealously watch various couples come and go, emptying full baskets of berries into large barrels set up for that purpose. (Story is, this set of bears interfered during the last Royal Berrying, so now their task is to sort and count what is brought to them--and not eat a single one.) The poor things look miserable; Alice can’t help but feel a bit sorry for them.
Tarrant waits for her near the bears. Ducking behind a convenient shrub, Alice permits herself (despite being already late) the secret joy of simply watching him when he is unaware of her presence. A bucket with a simple rope handle sits at his feet, the wood is old and faded but the rope appears to be brand-new. Pulling out his pocket-watch, Hatter stares at it, then looks up to scan the crowd.
Wiggling her feet in her new side-buckled shoes, Alice straightens her plain gingham dress, pats her hair, (which is pinned up for the day’s activities) and licks her lips. Seeing him standing there, waiting for her, makes her unaccountably nervous, and she is glad she has taken these few stolen moments to observe him, if for no other reason than to settle herself. Once more she wonders what, exactly, it is that she’s gotten herself into.
More than one courtier smirks at Tarrant as they pass by, causing Alice to feel horrible for selfishly making him wait. She is late (it seems she is always late!) due to the unexpected presence of an attendant in her rooms that had been insistent on assisting her dress. (And then tending to her hair, and then buckling her shoes, and…well, it is a wonder to Alice that she is not later than she is!)
She steps out from the shrubbery and hitches her borrowed basket back up her arm (Mirana had been more than happy to lend her one for this outing) . Alice feels a perverse pleasure at seeing the faces of the courtiers who had been sniggering at Tarrant fall when she appears. The Hatter, for his part, does not notice them at all, but he does notice her. His eyes skitter from her hair, down to the basket, further down to her shoes and then back up to her face. A smile splits his face, and, after bending down to snatch up his bucket, he trips towards her, eagerly tucking his pocket watch away.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she tries to apologize, but he waves away her concern.
“It is no problem, Alice.”
“But all the other couples are already here,” Alice worries. She sees his smile take an unfamiliar, possessive edge, and wonders what she had said to cause this particular grin.
“I assure you, Alice, that you are more than worth waiting for,” Tarrant tells her.
Am I? She wants to ask, but doesn’t.
“Shall we go, then?” she says, instead.
The Hatter gallantly offers her his arm. “Go? But you’ve just arrived, Alice!” Alice takes it with a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
“My apologies, Hatter,” she grins. She wrinkles her nose a bit, and corrects herself with, “Tarrant. Should I instead ask if we could commence with berrying, then?”
His eyes twinkle. “I shall never tell you what you should do, Alice. But if you wish to know if I am amiable to the notion of berrying with you to-day, the way the question is currently phrased will suffice for now.”
Thackery shuffles up beside them, cradling a whisk and muttering something that sounds suspiciously like a complaint on the deviousness of mytrille combs. He takes in Alice’s attire, and the (even though she is untried in this area she is confident enough to say) smitten expression on Tarrant’s face, and nods. “Aye, ye’ll do,” he says.
After that, the Hare’s presence is so abstract as to be nearly ignorable, so Alice happily does just that in favor of thinking of other things: how the Hatter’s arm is linked with hers, the way he seems to lean towards her, the strong solid warmth of him at her side. She Worries about how there seems to be an almost physical weight of expectation between them now—the comfortable friendship they’d shared before is almost nonexistent. Now Tarrant is so carefully playing the part of the bashful would-be lover, and she...well, all Alice can think on are his kisses and the way his skin had tasted on her tongue and the way he bloody smells (she remembers pressing her face to that warm, collar-concealed juncture where his head and neck meet) and...!
It is not long—two or three twists in the maze—before they lose track of Thackery altogether. Alice decides to not mention the lack of their chaperone, and Tarrant seems to not notice, wrapped up as he is in enumerating for her (staidly, with none of his usual color or dramatic forms of speech, she notices) the complexities of his last creation (a handbag that is also a hat, for ease of transport).
At the end of the furthest hedgerow of their current pathway they stop. The nearest couple to them is several yards away, quite far enough that they can have a semblance of privacy, but not so far as Alice would have liked. Hatter releases her arm and they drift to either side of an enormous blueberry bush—it is so tall that Alice can only just see the very top of Tarrant’s tophat over the greenery. The subject of haberdashed handbags having come to a close, and with Alice not able to think of anything quite so diverting to relate to him in return, they begin in mostly silence. The only sounds that break the still of the day are the plunking of berries into the Hatter’s bucket, the hushed voices of the couple just down the row, and the drone of the Worker Bees setting about their task of pollinating.
Being in the Hatter’s presence has never been this difficult for Alice before! Why does she find it so impossible to think of amusing things to speak on now? Another berry squishes between her already-stained fingertips, and she sighs in frustration.
A pause in the rustling of the leaves on the other side of the shrub occurs, and then: “Is…something amiss, Alice?” Tarrant asks her.
“I’m not quite sure what I’m doing,” Alice admits. “All I seem to be managing to do is getting juice all over my hands and—” a quick glance down at herself confirms her suspicions, “down the front of my dress.”
“Have you never gone berrying before?” Tarrant sounds amused at such a notion.
“Not since I was a little girl,” she retorts a bit sharply, and instantly regrets it when silence greets her from the other side once more. “Would you tell me how?” she asks contritely, instead of directly apologizing.
Yet more silence greets this, a silence that stretches long enough that Alice thinks he is not going to answer her. Then the Hatter gives a odd, half shuddering sigh. When he speaks, his voice is warm and low, the lowest she’s ever heard it with the lisp still present. “The first thing you need to do is find a good prospect,” he tells her. “Those tend to be further towards the back of the field. The shy bushes, yes? Those that are bold and brash and directly in the front have all of their sweet berries already picked, don’t they? All that are left on those indiscreet plants are the small, hard, and bitter fruits. Unless you have a taste for bitter berries, my Alice, it is better to wait a bit longer, walk a bit further through the brush, and then pick the fruits waiting for you there.”
Alice begins to wonder if Hatter is still talking about blueberries at all. A fear tickles the back of her mind, a random thought that is hastily dismissed. Yes, Hatter was a patient man, but surely... it has been quite sometime since she’d left him standing on the battlefield and... he is not so patient as all that, is he?
“We are at one such shrub now, I believe, Hatter,” Alice says, remembering the way his hair feels in her hands. One thing is certain to her: she is not even close to boasting such impressive Waiting skills as what Tarrant has. Is it foolish of her, then, to think that she will be able to distract him from his goal? Four weeks is a considerably shorter amount of time than several years. “What next?”
“Y... yes. Quite,” Tarrant agrees, and she can hear him shift again as his clothing brushes against the blueberry bush. “A good berry… one that is sweet to taste, like those berries that we wish to have… they are soft to the touch and right-properly rounded. It is also a good practice to pick them for how they are now. Did you know, blueberries are one fruit that will not ripen further away from their branches? Plucking them early in the hopes that they will change after said plucking is a fool’s task.” A heavy swallow carries through the leaves to her ears, and this time she is the one shifting, causing the plant to rustle from the movement of her body.
“What then?” Alice prompts him, voice soft. Even she can hear the thread of need that has begun to weave through it.