Standard Disclaimer applies: not mine, just borrowing. Property of Burton, Disney, Depp, etc. etc. etc.

The following is a one shot, mostly done as a character study. Although there's a very vague plot bunny dancing around at the back of my head, in between the hedgerows. I have a feeling that, if I follow it, someday this might be the prologue to something longer. But I have other stories that I have to finish first.

Killing Time

Tarrant Hightopp was investigating things that began with the letter T.

There were a terrible lot of things that began with T: today and tomorrow, time and tea and tardy.

Yes, tardy was a word that he'd dwelt on for quite a long while and still he had yet to come to a satisfactory conclusion about it. For someone to be tardy, after all, would imply that they should have arrived at an appointed Time. Only, if the person in question had not appointed a Time, then could they in truth (another T!) be tardy? He rather thought not. However, he and Time were once again no longer on speaking terms, which meant that even had a Time been appointed, it was unlikely ever to arrive. Thus, even if the person who couldn't possibly be tardy had arrived, they would, in fact, still be early as the appointed Time would always be far behind.

He tried to explain this theory (such a great lot of T's!) to Thackary over a cup of lemberry tea and a tray of scones one late afternoon — although it was always late afternoon for Tarrant so it might as well have been merely a moment ago — but Thack had gotten so confused by the logic involved that he'd stuffed his head into a tea cosy and had refused to come out until Mally had arrived.

Mally, under the same torture, had threatened to stick the Hatter with her sword.

Still, Tarrant mused, watching the steam from his cup turn a lazy twirl in midair, the phrase "Be back before you know it" implied a great deal. First, that Tarrant would know when the speaker had returned. Second, that they would arrive before that Moment of knowing — and wasn't that the way it should be, after all? If one could know before, then what was the use of there ever being an after? Had he known what was to happen before the events of that Frabjous Day, then there wouldn't have been any need for a Frabjous Day at all, and everyone could have sat down to a nice tea and discussed the Red Queen's surrender instead of all that banging about with swords. More importantly, had he known before, he would have petitioned the Queen to give her champion some other gift — any other gift, perhaps even a lovely new hat — rather than that vile vial of violently violet blood.

But, and this was the Most Important Part: "Be back before you know it" implied that the Alice would return, and that when she did, after she did and not a Moment before, Tarrant would be made aware of this fact.

Tardy or not, Tarrant was left with only one option: to Trust.