This is a flashback scene for my upcoming fic, Merry Month of May, which will be published along with all the other yummy big bang fic over on LiveJournal in December. It can also exist as a stand alone.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction, for which the author receives no compensation.

An Unconventional Use for a Hat

It was nearly Christmas, and Alice was feeling just the smallest bit homesick. Not really for London, but for her mother and sister and the memories of what Christmas once was. In a British emporium in Calcutta that morning, she found a jar of candy canes. The six she bought cost her nearly a week's salary, but she could not bear to leave without having them in hand.[1] It had been a childish impulse.

She sat on the narrow lumpy bed of her cabin, feeling the waves slowly rocking the boat. Pulling one of the canes from her mouth with a wet pop, she contemplated the already melting white stick. It would not be as childish and indulgent a purchase if she shared it with a friend. Hatter, a regular Handy Spandy, would appreciate this confection, and she could tell him about Christmas when she was a child.[2]

Stuffing the other candies in the pocket of her tunic coat and jamming the other back in her mouth, so that it stuck out at an angle from her mouth, she leaned down to feel for her boots. Finding first one and then another, she slipped her feet into them and quickly buttoned them up. One needed shoes for looking glass travel, because one never knew where one be stepping through. For example, the Hatter's workroom was often littered with any number of perilous objects that might cut a bare foot. She had not been personally injured, but she had darned a sock for Tarrant that had been sliced open in such a careless mishap. However, he had not let her wrap his foot—the true victim of the incident.

Alice shook her head at the recollection as she seized the frame of the looking glass and stepped through. When the cool of the glass washed over her, tugging slightly at her coat, and she emerged on the other side, Alice could tell that she had arrived in Underland at night, which sometimes happened. It was somewhat dark in the room, but as her eyes adjusted, she could make out that she was indeed in Tarrant's workroom in the Hat House.

"Hatter?" she called a little hesitantly. Nighttime arrivals could be a wee bit awkward, for it always seemed as if he wanted her to stay, and given the hour, the only proper thing to do after a short time was to leave.


Alice twirled towards the sound, crunching down on the stick in her mouth in surprise at the exclamation.

Tarrant spun, putting his backside—his bare backside—to Alice, which seemed somewhat Rude, but the alternative was Out of the Question.

"Alice, turn around!" he demanded, his voice coming out high and thin.

"Oh, for heaven's sake, I already have!" she squeaked. "Why are you…undressed?"

Why was she here when he was undressed, he wanted to ask? "But he has nothing on at all," he muttered to himself several times over instead.[3]

It would do no good to go into how he had come to be undressed in his workroom in the middle of the night, looking for his hat. Besides, he could belatedly see that it was right there before him on his stool, no doubt laughing at his current mortification. His hat was not above having a chuckle at his expense. He picked it up and scowled at it. He could use it—well, that would be quite an unconventional use for a hat—to turn and address Alice with some dignity intact or at very least a part of him covered, for his Dignity had most likely already fled the room.

"Is your back turned?" he asked, although she had already assured him that it was.

Alice merely made a sputtering sound in response, as if she was containing laughter with her fingers. He frowned: he would like to share in her levity, but when he had imagined—for he had—Alice seeing him bare-scud, he had not ever been so cruel to himself as to imagine her laughing.[4]

Clearing his throat, Tarrant lowered the hat to cover all essentials and slowly turned to address the back of his unexpected visitor. "My apologies, Alice," he carefully lisped. "It was not my intention to frighten you."

Alice's sputtering stopped, and she lowered her hand to her side. "You did not frighten me," she said, sounding as if she was speaking around something—a hookah, perhaps, although there were no rings of smoke and he had never known her to indulge.

"Well, no, of course not. Frightened? I don't imagine a Champion is hardly ever frightened. Let alone by something as insignificant as a Hatter not fully dressed. I was lacking my hat, you see, and other essentials. But, I can tell that I have unnerved, disarmed, agitated, amused, repulsed…"

"None of those things, Hatter. Just…startled," she interrupted. "I feel very funny speaking to you with my back turned, you know," she said, tilting her head only slightly to the side, so that her hair fell over her shoulder.

"It's for the best." Nevertheless, he took a silent step towards her, drawn hopelessly by her presence.

"Yes," she agreed, her gaze staring forward at the wall once more.

"I'm being a most disagreeable host. Good heavens! Are you thirsty, dry, parched? Shall I brew some tea?" he asked, his hands tightly gripping the rim of his hat.

"I don't think I better stay. You seem otherwise occupied, and I only meant to bring you these candy canes," Alice mumbled, digging in her pocket. "Here," she pronounced, holding out at her side several white sticks of candy. "Come and take them," she urged.

Tarrant took one and then two steps forward, approaching Alice like a timid fawn, which was infinitely better than the boldness for which his Badness was calling. He came within arm's reach of her, but he would have to let go of the hat with one hand to take the candy from her, and that seemed a rather risky enterprise, since the thought of brushing her hand with his own without a stitch of clothing on was making his hands tremble.

"Would you mind terribly setting them down for me? My hands are…full."

Alice glanced slightly to her left and spying a clear space on his work table, placed the candy on a scrap of linen. "You'll tell me what you think of them?"

"Certainly, certainly," he bubbled with false enthusiasm, hoping very much that she would step back through the glass with all haste. Or turn and face him—truly face him. But those were mad thoughts.

"My apologies for disturbing you, Hatter. Do have a good evening," she said cheerfully, though still sounding as if something was tucked between her lips.

Her lips. Pink Alice lips.

"Safe travels," he lisped, as she put her right black heeled boot through the glass.

Tarrant blinked in an overwhelming rush of anxiety as Alice disappeared behind the looking glass: he hoped very much she had not been taking advantage of its reflective properties. Seeing himself hat in hand, he could not help but think that he made for a most ridiculous sight. Quite tall and pale and gangly. Not at all what he used to be. Not at all what he wanted to be for Alice.

[1] Candy canes were widespread throughout Europe by the mid seventeenth century. It is unclear where they originated, but they were very expensive and sometimes difficult to obtain, because they had to be made by hand and locally due to their being easily broken and subject to damage by moisture. Candy canes were straight and white. Traditionally, it is believed that the first candy cane was bent into a hooked shape in 1670 in Cologne, Germany by a choirmaster, who wanted the children to have something to suck on that would keep them quiet. Candy canes were not made in red and white stripes until the twentieth century and about this same time peppermint flavor began to be used. Candy canes arrived in North America in 1847, so perhaps they had made their way to far flung areas of the world thanks to the British Empire.

[2] Handy Spandy Jack-a-Dandy is a traditional nursery rhyme that dates at least from 1726, where it can be found in A Learned Dissertation on Dumpling dating from that year. There are variants and the subject of the rhyme is sometimes called Handy Pandy. The rhyme is as follows:

"Handy Spandy Jack-a-Dandy
Loved plumcake and sugar candy;
He bought some at a grocer's shop,
And out he came, hop, hop, hop."

[3] This line is taken from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes," published in 1837. In this story, the emperor parades naked through the streets before his subjects, only to be called out on the absurdity by a small boy. Andersen based the story on a German translation of a medieval Spanish story with Arabic and Jewish sources.

[4] Bare-scud – naked (Sc)