babyjosephine: (A determined young thing)
[personal profile] babyjosephine posting in [community profile] thedirtyverse
End of February. 1962.

"All I'm saying," Alice was saying, "is that a bit of ketamine in a glass of water wouldn't really hurt anyone and it would be bloody hilarious! You could bring a video recorder, even. Daddy's got one I could lend you!"

(It was a very warm day for so late in February. Temperatures had jumped quite randomly out of nowhere and suddenly felt like spring, though the stuffy man on television said they were due for cold weather again in a day or so. To take advantage of the situation, Alice, as well as Robert, Dawn, Mikey, and, of course, Sully, were out in one of the fields by Alice's house, where it was warmest, and a bit off their heads.)

"Isn't ketamine for animals?" was Sully's take, looking thoughtfully between Alice and Dawn, who was, in fact, a chemist.

Robert was looking thoughtfully between them, too, not speaking. Entirely too thoughtfully. The kind of thoughtful that implied he might've been swayed.

He was mostly trying to pretend not to be.

"Oh, it was," Dawn agreed. "Except now they give it to people, too, especially – they use it in the war. Because it's better than phenylcyclohexylpiperidine."

"– it's better than what?" asked Robert and Mikey in unison, staring at her.

"Phenylcyclo–" She stopped. "Phencyclidine?" Blank stares. "Oh, for Pete's sake, Sernyl?"

"Oh!" Robert, at least, caught on, and Alice had his attention again. "Do you want to do the honors and slip him a poison with a seductive smile?"

Alice had scrunched her nose. "That word's got too many letters in--and what? Oh! No, but I'd like to slip you something."

Rolling onto her stomach, she waggled her eyebrows in Robert's general direction.

As Robert turned his head down to blush slightly, that characteristic shy grin on his face, Sully let out a hoot of laughter and started to applaud.

"You'll give him an aneurysm," Dawn told her. "Though I could probably find you something in my stores that'd loosen him up –"

"Why, Lady Dawn," Mikey chastised, "You're terrible."

For that, he got his collar grabbed, and Dawn handed her joint to Sully, gave Mikey a very thorough, showy kiss, took the somewhat questionable smoking item back and resettled on her blanket as if nothing had happened.

More hoots from Sully.

More blushes from Robert.

Alice sighed and set her head in her left hand and stared at the joint in her right. "I want a boyfriend," she told it. "It's not fair. I'm not bad! Robert, be my boyfriend."

"I would be a terrible boyfriend," Robert somewhat stammered, for all he was relaxed. "Sully, though –"

Alice sighed and stretched across the ground, extending her arms towards Sully. "Sully, be my boyfriend!"

"Okay!" said Sully cheerfully, holding out both hands. "Come share my joint and sit in my lap and pour beer down my shirt."

Alice grinned and crawled over, settling in a very unladylike fashion across his lap. "Wouldn't you rather pour beer down the front of my dress so everyone can see through it?"

"I would if we had any beer," Sully lamented. "We've got expensive bubbly though. The problem is it's awfully sticky."

Alice ignored her own joint to use her new boyfriend's. It took her a moment to answer and when she did, it was around a slight cough, "Oh. Well, I've had worse sticky things on me in my day. And in my eye, even. That was awful."

That had everyone else laughing again, and Robert choking on his expensive bubbly.

"I – ew – Michael, never let that happen to me," Dawn said.

"She might've meant something entirely innocent," Sully defended Alice, sounding rather like an incredibly high sage. Which perhaps he was.

"Do you suppose it's likely?" Mikey asked lovingly. "Tell us all about it, Al."

"I was giving a handjob in the back of a car--"

"And then ended up needing to go to an eyewash station, I think we've heard enough!" Robert interjected.

Dawn glared at him. "Spoilsport."

"I could have done something else!" Alice protested, throwing a handful of hay at his head. It flew four inches and landed nowhere near him.

"Maybe it was after and I just wanted to talk about the handjob! I'm good at them. Do you want one, Sully?"

"I'd love one!"

"Go inside, at least!" That time it was Dawn taunting – and throwing hay, to boot. "You're allowed to do whatever you want but I don't want to watch!"

Robert, for his part, could barely breathe from choking back a combination of horror and laughter.

"You and Mikey snog so messily it's worse than anything else!" Alice told her, slinging an arm around Sully's neck. "Kissing noises are grosser than coming noises."

"Less shrill, though, most of the time," said Robert. "Protect your eardrums."

Dawn stopped in her argument to stare at him.

Alice stared as well, nearly dropping Sully's joint when she stopped focusing on anything but what Robert had just said.

"Did you just allude to sexual intercourse?"

"I did! I have been exposed to the practice, believe it or not."

"Yeah, I don't," Mikey muttered.

"Me neither," Alice agreed.

"I'm very sorry for you there," Robert told them both, with a solemn expression that did not portray his age as well as perhaps it would have had he been sober, "I am confident in my truth, at least."

It took Alice a minute for the weed to connect the syntax.

"Must have been an awful experience to turn you off it," she said seriously, so seriously she actually looked concerned. High, but concerned.

"Oh – no, not really."

Robert evidently wasn't paying attention to what he was saying.

Alice waggled her eyebrows for several unnecessary seconds.

"Well, go on! So she was shrill, eh? I guess Robert knows what he's doing in the bed department."

"No, no, she wasn't shrill at all – the people I have overheard at the hospital, though, many of them were. Eliza knew better than –" Robert's words and Robert's brain caught up with each other, and the mouth stopped moving.

"She's got a name!" Alice screamed triumphantly enough to scare off some pheasants in the distance.

"Not anymore she doesn't," Dawn said drearily. "Please don't get all sulky, Bertie, you'll ruin everybody's day."

"I am not!" Robert almost snapped. He wasn't. Sulking. He was absolutely fine. He could talk about someone no longer living without getting upset.

Really.

Even her.

"Smoke more," Sully advised, and Robert felt better.

Alice looked at Sully, as he was closest, then at Dawn. She felt as though she was still missing large pieces of the Robert puzzle but her head was too fuzzy to care the way she ordinarily would. Eliza must have died rather recently, she decided.

"I wish my boyfriends would have the decency to die."

"We sell plenty of poisons at the shop," Dawn pointed out.

"Yeah, well, good. I'll buy some if you don't arrest me."

"I'd be glad to even steal some from the supply for you!"

"Oh, what are we, planning murder now?" Robert looked amused, at least. "There are easier, cleaner ways."

"Then you do it!" Alice told him, sighing overdramatically. "I'm a failure at relationships."

She slid off Sully's lap, skirt pulling up and sticking to his legs. She did nothing to fix it and crawled over to Robert, looking mischievous. "Let's have impersonal sex."

"You should," Dawn agreed. "On the sex and the murder –"

Robert went back to his nervous, face-down awkward grin. Which he shouldn't have been doing, really, because she was just a girl – far younger and less experienced at things that weren't sex, and so he should have been able to just say no.

But he couldn't.

Had he not been high as a kite, he might've taken that to mean, perhaps, that he was attracted to her after all. Currently, he stopped at 'unable to speak at the moment,' and tried not to look at Alice's face

"Oh, come on," Alice said, grinning widely and grabbing the cuff of his trousers. "Take these off!"

Robert would've been ruffling his feathers if he'd had any at the time. Instead, he looked up and tilted his head at her.

"Why? They won't fit you."

"No, take them off so we can have sex!" she told him, continuing to tug on pants that weren't going to come off.

As Robert continued to look dodgy – and more thoughtful than anyone ever thought he would be, though it was even odds he was thinking about something else, as far as the others were concerned – Sully whined in protest. "I thought I was your boyfriend!"

("That's why it's impersonal," Dawn whispered in his ear.)

"We'll have sex as soon as I break this one in!" Alice told him, still tugging.

It was hopeless.

She decided to go for his flies. At least that would get some progress.

Robert –

Robert wasn't really sure what he was doing. He didn't get any time to think, though, because Dawn had jumped on his back, holding him still.

"Here," she said. "I'll help you!"

"Rape!" yelled Robert.

Mikey threw hay at him.

Alice scrambled to get his trousers undone and quickly pulled them down, barely managing not to pull his underwear off in the process (not that it wasn't her eventual goal).

"I've got them!" she shouted, balling up the trousers.

"Congratulations!" chirped Dawn.

Mikey had started clapping. Robert was cracking up.

Sully, though, had a suggestion. "You should try them on."

"But I want to have sex--okay, fine, Robert can share the trousers."

Alice wiggled out of her dress and gave it to Sully.

Sully beamed, and considered the merit of trying to wear it.

Not much. Likely Alice's dress wouldn't fit him. So instead he just lay it on top of him to make it look as if he were.

"Aren't you freezing?" asked Dawn.

Alice took off her bra then, not even, it rather seemed, digesting how very topless she was. Only Sully had ever been flashed before.

And he had been flashed. It lasted two seconds.

"No!" Alice said delightedly, sliding into Robert's trousers. "These are warm!"

"My legs are cold, though!" Robert protested, stealing the blanket Sully had been sitting on to cover his unfortunate limbs. It may've been a very late Indian summer, but it was still winter – even if for the most part nobody was chilly.

His legs were cold.

"You still have nice breasts," Sully reminded her, in case she'd forgotten he felt that way.

"You seem skinnier than this," she remarked to Robert, standing up and standing on a mile of unused trouser leg.

When Sully spoke, Alice grinned. "Thanks!" she said, hiking Robert's trousers up so high they nearly covered said breasts. "Want to touch them?"

"He seemed shorter, too," quipped Dawn, who then had to stop and watch, same as Robert and Mikey, as Sully nodded.

"I'm a very good groper. Gentle!"

Alice hiked up the trousers again and sat down on Sully's lap, facing him this time. The trousers sagged in the back, held up by nothing, but Alice had picked out a nice pair of knickers that day and didn't really mind.

Plus, Robert was behind her.

Sully was, indeed, a good, gentle groper. He wasn't being obviously sexual about it – no soft brushes of nipples or use of anything but his hands – as much as appraising, inspecting the shape and feel of her breasts somewhat like a perspective buyer would a horse or a car.

In a far more personal way, at least.

Alice was a person. Those are way more interesting than cars. They react to things! Which is why Sully tickled her side.

Robert, Dawn and Mikey watched, passing the expensive bubbly around as Robert tried to convince himself he wasn't enjoying the view.

Alice squealed and tipped off to the side, scrambling away from the tickling, which mostly left the trousers in Sully's lap, as they hadn't followed her. Just caught on her knees.

"I'm ticklish!" she exclaimed, still giggling.

"Ticklish and mostly naked," Sully said in his appraising tone. "We have a winner."

"You are so creepy," was Robert's first response, then, "Watch my trousers don't rip and – Alice, are you actually all right?"

"He's not creepy. He's wonderful. I'm madly in love with him," Alice told Robert, flopping onto her back in front of him and keeping her feet on Sully. "We're eloping tomorrow."

"Oh, really? And you only thought to tell us now? I'm hurt," Robert put on an affronted expression and a wounded affect to his voice.

"That's what eloping is, you ninny! You're lucky I told you at all but it slipped out. You're invited to my wedding night, though."

"Is he!" Sully sat somewhat upright, spluttering, despite giving Alice a less-ticklish footrub as a bonus. "I didn't agree to that!"

"Oh," Alice said, pausing for a moment to make a happy sound. And then pausing for another moment when she forgot what Sully said.

"Oh! Oh, okay, you're uninvited, Robert."

"Does rubbing your feet get default agreement?" Sully asked hopefully, as Robert crossed his arms and looked generally offended.

Alice nodded and wiggled her red-painted toes.

With her right hand, she reached for Robert. "I thought you didn't like sex!" she told him.

Robert gave in, at least a little, taking her hand in his because there was really no reason not to. Sully had her disarmed.

"I like being uninvited to things less! First you want me there, then you do not. Fickle."

"I'm not fickle! But I have to listen to my future husband's wishes and if he doesn't want a threesome then he doesn't get one."

Alice tugged on his hand.

Easily amused, and somewhat more contrary, when high, Robert tugged back.

"I wouldn't mind a threesome," Sully added, "just not with him."

Alice tugged his hand a bit harder.

"Who would you have a threesome with, then?" she asked Sully.

"Maybe Dawn."

Dawn snorted a laugh.

Robert decided to go into Arm-Tug-of-War and pulled harder in his direction. Hopefully he wouldn't cause a dislocated shoulder.

Alice made a squawking noise and twisted around so she could climb onto him and spare her poor shoulder. The trousers got left behind. Robert got Alice in her knickers.

"Oh, hello," she said.

"Hi," said Robert, who found himself suddenly looking up to talk to her. "You planned that."

"Nooo maybe." She grinned brightly. "Do you want to grope me?"

There was no fair answer to this, Robert thought somberly. He had the option of saying no and hurting her feelings, or saying yes and – groping someone.

"– do you want me to?" he tried, desperately.

"Yes," Alice said.

Clearly.

"Um," replied Blushing Robert.

"He's never groped anybody before, really," Mikey supplied for him. This was, in fact, true, and Robert had admitted as much. He'd done breast exams, and he'd licked a few nipples – not that he'd really admitted that – but only in a surprisingly intimate, personal setting. Which this wasn't.

Alice looked sad and crawled back to Sully, pulling the trousers back on once she got there.

Suddenly, the weed spoke again. Maybe Robert was really closeted.

Oh, goodness.

"I think he was thinking about it!" Sully encouraged, despite giving Alice a sympathetic hair ruffle. It wasn't like the object of his affections was paying him any serious attention either.

"How could you tell?" Alice asked, suddenly depressed because Robert was clearly gay just like some of her mother's old stage friends.

"He said um. Instead of ew, no or – looking disgusted or uninterested. That look was thoughtful."

"Would he ever say 'ew'?"

"Robert, say –"

"Ew," said Robert.

"See!" Sully grinned.

"But would you ever say it to me?"

She covered her chest. "I like my tits!"

"I might say it to you," Robert tried, guardedly, "but never about you! You have a perfectly lovely body. Really."

Foot? Mouth? What?

"Um, well, thanks," Alice said, still trying to pick up clues about his actual sexuality. It was so difficult to tell, as he embarrassed so easily.

It was quite possible his actual sexuality was 'not'; it wouldn't have surprised Mikey or Sully, at least. Dawn, who knew better, wasn't talking.

Mostly as no one had asked her, anyway. She found the entire thing delightful.

"Quite welcome," said Robert. "I think."

Alice hated feeling awkward, but the awkward had landed.

"I like your legs," she told Robert.

"Thank you," he answered, and let his foot and mouth be friends again as he added, "I like yours."

Dawn applauded.

Alice started to grin again, but she tried her best to conceal it.

"I like your underwear."

"Er. So do I."

"It's soft!" Dawn contributed.

Robert didn't glare at her. That time.

Alice twisted around to look at Sully properly again.

"What time's good for eloping, anyway?"

"Oh, six-thirty? AM or PM, I haven't got a preference."

"Let's do AM! That way no one will intervene."

"Oh, I've got work," Dawn said, sounding hurt. "I'll miss the party!"

"We'll have a party later," Alice promised her, locking her arm around Sully's neck again. She was getting a bit cold but trying to ignore it, especially since she was waiting to catch Robert's wandering eyes. He had remarkable self-control. Or he was actually gay and her desperation to prove otherwise was useless. Or the third option, and the worst one of them all, was that he just didn't really fancy her. Maybe she was too young. Maybe she was too annoying. Maybe he didn't go for redheads. Maybe he still wasn't over that girl Eliza.

She sought out another joint without leaving Sully's lap.

Eventually, or perhaps instantaneously, or at least quickly, Robert's wandering eye was, in fact, caught. It was a brief glance; curiosity just as much as the attraction he was attempting to deny, but he did look.

All the while, Sully was petting her hair.

Alice concealed her grin by biting her lip and leaning her head on Sully's shoulder.

That was something, certainly, but she would be watching him closely. Mostly because she wanted to watch him closely. Two and a half months of knowing him was not long enough to memorize every tiny and unnecessary detail.

"My brother Charlie's coming home for a visit," she said, not sure why she was saying anything but it was the first thing that came to her mind. "Hope it's not today!"

"We'll give him a warm welcome," said Mikey. "And so will the weather – it's really warm. But so's the shite we're smoking –"

"It isn't shite," Sully protested. "It's good quality!"

"It's good quality shit's what it is," Alice said reaching for her dress with her toes and pulling it back and on again, though she kept Robert's trousers. They were nice and warm on her legs.

"You can't go around saying it's anything else, really, or you're kidding yourself. Or maybe I don't know. What did you say?"

"I said it was good quality. That's what I said. I just said it! You all heard me say it –"

"Yes, Sully dear," Robert said comfortingly. "Yes we did."

"I heard you! You were right by my ear! I can hear you now, as well, and you're awfully loud!"

"Just so you know that's what I said!"

"I know, Sullivan! You're more in love with your weed than you'll ever be with me. The eloping is off!"


"What?" Sully was taken aback; he very well played taken aback, too, and looked absolutely heartbroken. He drooped. "But – I've bought a suit and Robert's shorter than I am, he can't possibly take my place!"

"What?" interjected Robert.

"Oh," Sully sighed, "you know. She's wanted you more than me all along."

Alice had to admit there was something about a drooping Sully that was most heartbreaking, but she still managed to look only thoughtful.

"Oh, yes, you're taller."

She paused. "The wedding's on again!"

"My being taller fixes it? I'll keep growing!"

Sully was excitable. "If height gets me girls – but of course I'll be married so I won't need to be getting more girls."

"I should say not!" Alice told him. "I'm all the girl you need. But I'm used to men who are as tall as Daddy so you'd best keep growing. You've got four inches yet."

"Do stilts help?"

"You do not get stilts," Robert interjected. "You'd fall on your head and die."

"The part that matters is how tall you are when we have meaningful sex. And if you can pick me up and carry me around. And if you aren't afraid to meet Daddy. It's best if you can see eye-to-eye with him."

She grinned brightly, if a little deranged, at Sully.

"Uh. I'm. If I meet him after we're married he might try to kill me!" Sully's panic set in, as if perhaps he'd forgotten they weren't really getting married, and were only playing. It was quite possible he had. Nobody would put it past him. "Because I, like. Married his daughter without his permission. Maybe I should go ask him now! Where is he?"

Alice almost snorted, trying very hard to keep a straight face but ultimately failing. "At work in London. You could talk to Mummy."

"Is she here? Let's go do that –"

"Oh my heavens," Robert sighed, looking down and pinching the bridge of his nose. Dawn was covering her face to hide her giggles. Mikey, patting Robert's back, had almost toppled over.

"She's inside the house!!!" Alice exclaimed, grabbing Sully's hand and jumping up, half-dragging him, and not successfully, behind her. The lack of success was due to the pants, which were miles too long, Sully, who wasn't jumping to his feet, and the weed, which had impaired her judgment more than it usually was.

"Come on, Sully!" Alice groaned, pulling on him with one hand and holding up Robert's trousers with the other.

Robert and Mikey stood up to help pull a wobbly Sully to his feet.

"Oh, I'm coming too," said Dawn, jumping up.

"Robert, do you want trousers?" Alice asked.

Two moments later she snorted and started laughing hysterically.

Robert stopped. Blinked. Realized.

"Er," he said. "Dear lord. Yes. I'd forgotten –" And then he cracked up.

"Well."

Alice paused again, still laughing.

"Come and get them, then!"

And, hiking them up as best she could, Alice ran for the road.

Mikey, Robert, Sully and Dawn all exchanged expressions.

"Oh, shit," Mikey said cheerfully.

"RUN!!!" exclaimed Sully, as Dawn started laughing harder.

So Robert ran. He managed – barely – to keep his wings in, and when he'd almost gained on Alice he called out, "I am not afraid to tackle you!" And, in his head, that sounded funny, so he laughed more.

(So did everyone else.)

Alice was having some difficulty running, mostly because the trousers were far too long and she was far too high and Robert was far too tall.

But she had practice outrunning tall people, just not while in their pants.

"YOU ARE SO!" Alice shouted behind her.

"Am. Not!"

Robert jumped. Robert's wings came out. Dawn, Sully and Mikey all stopped chasing them to fall over and laugh, because he looked funny flailing about with tons of feathers everywhere and no pants.

Robert, plus wings, at least managed to tackle Alice.

Alice screamed and tripped, letting go of the trousers as Robert tackled her and tripping on them as they caught on her ankles.

"Cheater!"

"How did I cheat?!"

"YOU'VE GOT EXTRA LIMBS, YOU TOSSER!" pointed out Mikey very, very loudly.

Alice wrinkled her nose. "I could have done that myself but I was playing fairly. See if I give you your trousers back or toss them in the creek!"

She balled up the trousers and clutched them to her chest.

"I didn't mean to! My – control – is bad when – under the –"

The word 'influence' didn't survive the laughter. "Trousers?" he asked, sounding piteous while laughing at once. "Please?"

"NO!" Alice shouted like the youngest and brattiest child she was.

"But! Why! I didn't! Mean to cheat!" Robert was gasping for air, a side effect of too much laughing. Hysteria, a side effect of hysteria, but it wasn't hysteria because he wasn't a woman and this was the wrong decade for that to be a disease anyway. Wasn't it? What had they done about – what was the word? Hystericalia?

It was funny.

"I like these," Alice cooed, changing her tactic and adopting a happy, blissful, eyes-closed look and rubbing her cheek against the trousers.

"But I can't see Isabella again with bare legs and boxers, you know, it'd be terribly rude and then none of us would ever be invited over ever again," Robert pointed out.

He was at times prone to dramatics just as anyone else.

Alice kept rubbing her cheek against the trousers and didn't respond.

(Isabella wouldn't mind a man in boxers.)

"Aliiiiiice," Robert whined. Yes. He whined. He'd had practice, loads of it, and had learned from years of watching Valerie, and then Felicity, and Roland, and Jacquie and Colin and Dawn. At least. "Those are mine!"

"Mine!" Alice said, opening one eye to fix him with a look. "I found them on your legs and took them. So I get them."

"Can I buy them from you?"

This plan would've worked better if Robert's money hadn't been in his trousers, but it was worth a try.

Alice shook her head, starting to grin. She closed her eyes again. "I'm going to sleep with them."

That was a bit awkward, but that was entirely the purpose.

"I can't really go to work like this, either. Those are my favorites. I'll give you another pair to keep," Robert tried to bargain.

Alice grinned harder. "I'll do a trade."

"All yours."

"If you give me you, I'll give you your trousers back."

Robert blinked, and then spluttered, "I'm not property!"

"Fine! I like these trousers!"

"They are property! For property I will give you property!"

Alice sighed and fixed him with a sad look.

"Bring me Sully."

"All right!" Robert didn't think Sully was property either – in fact he said so, "Even if he isn't property either," as his wings disappeared and he turned around to yell at the other three, who were talking.

"SULLY COME OVER HERE!"

Sully – well, Sully went over there.

"Yeeeeeees?"

"Tell Robert I want to keep his trousers."

"She wants to keep your –"

"I can hear her!" said Robert.

Alice grinned and started giggling. And giggling. And giggling.

"Robert, you're so funny! You know what would be even funnier? If Daddy came home and drove by!"

Apparently, even Robert did think it would be funny – he stopped for a second, held up a finger. Hesitated. Opened his mouth to speak. Found himself laughing. So did Sully.

Dawn and Mikey caught up to them; Mikey looked disappointed.

"Your extra limbs are gone," he said mournfully.

Alice shifted around and pulled the trousers on again.

"Robert's being mean to me," she said gravely.

"By getting rid of his wings?" asked Mikey.

"By not being appropriately gentlemanly?" asked Sully.

"By not snogging you senseless?" asked Dawn, who wasn't. Senseless, that is.

Alice liked the way Dawn thought, though it wasn't the immediate problem.

"What Dawn said!"

"Okay," Mikey and Sully said at once. Robert, for his part, looked kind of edgy. Not even 'kind of' edgy.

"I – what – trousers, my trousers, I'd like them!"

"Okay, okay, okay," Alice said, shimmying out of them and tossing them at his head.

Mollified, Robert put his trousers on, and then immediately felt both a lot less cold and quite a bit out of place. He hadn't expected it to work –

"I hadn't expected that to work," he said. "Thank you –"

"Can we go ask your mum about the wedding now?!" Excitable Sully interrupted. "Seeing as we're all decent?"

"You're scary!" Alice told Robert, hopping to her feet and grabbing Sully's arm.

"Come on!" she said, running the rest of the way out of the field, which included a moment of climbing over a wooden fence and nearly falling flat on her face on the other side. She had at least let go of Sully, but this also meant she took off running down the dirt road without anyone behind her.

Everyone else was still scrambling to get over the fence, getting tangled up in one another – in fact, Robert and Sully and Dawn all landed as a three-person pile. Mikey, a bit more grateful, was still flat on his back but he was at least laughing at them.

"HEY ALICE WAIT!" Robert yelled.

"WE FELL DOWN!" Sully called afterward.

Alice looked over her shoulder and stopped running.

"HURRY UP!!!" she shouted.

The other four took off at an uncoordinated run, and mostly all caught up to Alice at once; Sully lagged behind about a third of a metre.

"Hang on my shoelace is untied!" was his excuse.

Alice tapped her foot on the drive. "You're meant to be impressing me! We're getting married!"

"My shoelace isn't! Impressive or getting married either one –"

Alice wrinkled her nose. "Tie it more quicklier!"

"Is that even a word?" asked Robert, who, in this context, wasn't actually certain.

Sully's hands flew as he tried, and tried, and tried to tie his laces, an attempt that failed multiple times before he actually managed to get up and run after them.

"Don't judge me further!" Alice told Robert, but by the time Sully had fixed his laces, she was off, running as fast as she could down the very long drive. Mostly this was just for the sake of running, but they were rather far away from the house, as well.

The more they ran, the more people tripped, too – Dawn and Sully crashed into each other on at least three separate occasions, and Robert was easily winded after trying to keep in pace with Alice. (It almost worked.)

Soon enough, once they were over the bridge and past the woodlands and into the trees, the house rose up ahead of them. Along with the house were several gardeners working on the yard, including Max, who stood up straight and tipped his hat back as Alice ran by.

"What're you doing!" he shouted at her.

"HI, MAX!"

Alice doubled back quickly and hugged him around the middle, then ran off again.

"YOU SMELL LIKE YOU'VE BEEN SMOKING!" Max shouted.

"DON'T SHOUT THAT!" Alice shouted back. "AND HOW WOULD YOU KNOW, ANYWAY?"

"I HAVE MY WAYS!"

The front gate was open for the day so she ran straight into the front courtyard and to the front doors of the house.

"BYE, MAX!" Robert and Dawn yelled in unison, as Sully and Mikey waved and the four of them continued to shoot after Alice.

"Probably he smokes!" Sully suggested brightly as they all tried to avoid colliding again.

"His mum'd kill him," gasped Alice, finally stopped and doubled over to gasp for air.

The front door opened, anyway, and Isabella Fitzwilliam was on the other side, looking as she usually didn't when in public: her natural appearance. Well, enhanced by make-up.

"What on earth are you lot doing?" she asked.

"Running," Alice suggested, still unable to breathe. She did right herself, at least, and stepped past her mother and into the house.

Everybody else stopped, though. Mostly to stare. Robert didn't – he gave Isabella a hesitant smile, feeling suddenly foolish around someone as adult as he was, showing himself acting more similar to her youngest child than to her. And smoking. Dawn, too, only stared a moment before adusting to a smile.

"Um," said Mikey, nervously, because there was just this babe standing there, suddenly, and he wasn't sure how to handle this information. He also didn't want Dawn to kick him for how obviously he was staring at the tits of Mystery Hot Chick. Who looked a lot like Alice's mother had when she was younger. Pretty much exactly. Must be family.

Sully whacked Mikey, instead, for all he, too, was gawking a little – but more at her face than her chest. "Hi?"

Isabella raised an eyebrow and then both and then stepped back to let everyone in.

"Mummy," Alice said, doing a little flounce. "I'm running away to get married to Sully." And she grabbed Sully's arm to demonstrate which one he was.

It was clear Isabella was biting back laughter as she leaned against the door and appraised him.

"Is that so? Have you told your father?"

"No. He might shoot Sully."

"He might indeed. Or perhaps not. Did you want tea?"

"This is serious!"

"Do you think you need my permission?" Isabella asked, walking into the house. Alice flounced after her, dragging Sully along.

"No. But I was being thoughtful."

"Very thoughtful, darling," said Isabella as she stopped and kissed Alice's head. "So is it tea or are you going to go for a roll in the hay with your fiancé?"

"Mummy! Say hello to Mummy, Sully."

Isabella interjected and held out her hand. "Iz, darling."

Sully – well, Sully wasn't about to question that she was Alice's mother, whether or not she really was supposed to look somewhat older than she did. Instead he shook her hand, resisting the urge to kiss it simply because he a) wasn't Robert and b) was noticably stoned. "Harry Sullivan," he said. "Sully. I'm uh. Going to marry your daughter in the morning, if you'll let me."

"You don't need permission to elope," Dawn scolded quietly. "Don't you know anything?"

"Also maybe you will save me from Sir Fitzwilliam wanting to shoot me," Sully added.

"If we run quickly enough he'll miss you!" Alice told him.

Isabella smiled. She was counting on this being a joke and fairly certain that it was. A marriage without a fancy wedding? Not her daughter.

"You seem like a gentleman. I'm sure Andy won't mind you marrying his only daughter."

"Did you have to add in the 'only' bit, Mummy? That's a bit intimidating."

"It's what he would say," Isabella said lightly. "So, what are you lot up to, then, besides getting engaged?"

"Stuff," Alice said.

"Well, then, if you don't mind, I'll go on my way and let you five do what you do."

There was a sudden clicking of nails on the hardwood. A rapid clicking. Some panting to accompany it. Alice whirled around and let forth an epic squeal.

"THEODOOOOOOORE!"

She had seen him two hours earlier, but it had been a long separation. She ran to him, abandoning her future husband, and picked her old corgi up, cradling him upside-down like a baby.

Sully drooped again, just a little. Alice liked the dog better! Her father might shoot him!

But Robert, Robert's attention was all on Theodore. He loved this dog – he loved dogs, but Theodore was charming. Not quite as delightful as Alice, but close. Not that Robert would ever say either.

"May I?" he asked, extending a hand to reach for Theodore's ears. He was Alice's dog; he wouldn't touch without asking.

Alice nodded. "Of course! Don't be silly. You're always silly."

"Perhaps I am," he was willing to agree, because maybe he was, as he scratched behind the corgi's ears, offering his other hand for a sniff or a lick.

"You and dogs," said Dawn. "You should marry a dog."

Theodore sniffed and then gave Robert some kisses.

"Want to hold him?" Alice asked. If the only way to Robert's heart was through Theodore, so be it.

"Do you suppose he'll tolerate me?" Robert wasn't against the idea. Even if he was a little jittery from the pot, he wouldn't drop anyone.

"Oh, just do it! He's a million years old. He tolerates everything."

So Robert took Theodore, held him in his arms and ruffled his ears and didn't, in fact, drop him.

"A million, huh? You're quite a gentleman."

"He's older than you," Dawn teased.

"He's the oldest of us!" Sully argued, missing the joke.

Alice decided the only thing for anything was to kiss Theodore's head and coo right near his face. Because she loved him dearly and he loved to get coddled. The bonus was Robert being very near, but it wasn't as though anything was going to happen. Still, though, Robert.

The effects of the weed made her coddling a bit louder and more ridiculous than usual.

The temptation to lightly kiss the top of Alice's head appeared in Robert's mind quite suddenly, shocking and fully formed. She was terribly close to him and beautiful, and sometimes he wasn't sure what was ever stopping him. The truth of it was that time was stopping him; the fact that he didn't know how long anything would last anymore.

She was something that would last whether he was there or not.

Usually pot didn't let him get this sentimental. He pushed the thoughts of the smell of her hair away, focused more on the dog. Soon, Dawn and Sully and Mikey had joined them – and Mikey started ruffling Alice's hair instead of Theodore's ears.

"It's soft," he observed.

Alice looked up and made a wrinkle-nosed face, as she often did. But underneath the wrinkling was a smile.

"I condition it very thoroughly so it doesn't get frizzy," she supplied.

"You could grow it really long," Sully suggested, "and then, like, cut it off and sell it, and grow more of it, and you'd make a mint on wigs!"

Alice looked at Sully and tried to let that digest. "I could," she said slowly, "but it takes a long time to grow hair out."

Theodore licked her face.

"Unless you wanted a wig of my hair, Sullivan."

"Well, I like my hair – but Robert likes wigs!"

"Er," said Robert, laughing shyly. "I'd take a wig of your hair. Make me feel like my old self again!"

Alice looked up at him and pulled a face. "You'd look like Little Orphan Annie gone horribly wrong!"

Most of the others laughed – Robert couldn't resist putting his hand to his hair, and, when it came away again, all his hair was red. "How d'you like –"

"Don't do that in public!" Dawn shrieked, but Sully and Mikey, who had already seen his wings, were still convinced they were hallucinating things.

Alice started laughing and even Theodore barked, though it was more because of Alice--he couldn't really see what was going on with Robert.

In fact, Alice was laughing so hard she nearly fell onto the floor. "Make it curly!" she said, giving up and toppling onto her behind.

Robert did. At that point, Sully actually noticed, and his mouth fell open.

"How're you –"

"I have the power of glamorie," Robert said in an exaggerated fashion, wiggling his fingers. "Sadly it is not genetic, so Dawn is utterly hopeless – for my next trick, it will grow!"

Robert's hair was red, curly, and waist-length.

Alice screamed--she couldn't help it. It looked so terrible and she couldn't stop laughing and Theodore couldn't stop barking.

"Stop!" she gasped. "No more! No! Make it go away!"

"But why?" Robert looked heartbroken. "You do not like my hair? I did it just for you!"

"No! It's terrible! You can't win me over with that. I'm marrying Sully!"

Robert sulked, as his hair went back to its normal – actual – length and color. "I give up," he said. "I will have to jump from a tower, or something."

"Or something. So eloquent – you can't have my lady love!" Sully called out. "You've already stolen her dog!"

"He likes me!"

Alice grinned, operating in a thousand different levels of high, and crawled forward to grab Robert's leg and sit on his foot. "My baby! You've stolen my baby! I thought you didn't want him because he was born out of wedlock!"

"I'm sorry, madam," Robert told her gravely, glancing down and looking utterly devastated at the news he had to deliver, "but I'm not sure this is your child at all. There is very little resemblance. Your nose is not quite so wet, and you've got a different number of legs ..."

"You slept with another woman?" Alice gasped, going theatric. "How could you!"

"Wait wait wait." Mikey held up a finger. "If he slept with another woman, how is that your child?"

Robert's look turned to horror, then. "Becaue he isn't! She had an affair and tried to trick me into taking the baby – how could you?!"

Sully leaned over and whispered, conspiratorially, seductively, into Dawn's ear: "I'm lost."

She swatted at him.

"You switched the babies when they were born so you would think I gave birth to that devil woman's child! WHERE IS OUR BABY, ROBERT! What have you done to him?!"

This was serious business, and she was clinging to his thigh.

Robert's sick look turned into a guilt look. "I – she has him. This one's mother. She was vain and terrible and wanted a beautiful baby and, well, I'm much more fond of Ted here! I thought you would make a better mother for the child I really loved!"

"Aww," said Dawn.

"But I want my child! You don't love our child?" At some point Alice had forgotten there was no child. She looked very serious indeed.

"I never thought of it that way! It isn't his fault he's disfigured!"

It seemed as if Robert had forgotten Theodore was a dog, and instead assumed he was a badly deformed baby.

"You're mean. I hate you!" Alice exclaimed, resorting to the tactics she used with her brothers.

Letting go of Robert's leg, she crawled to Sully's, instead. Standing up was too difficult.

Sully leaned down to pat her head. Robert started to cradle Theodore, whisper, "Do not worry. She will come around, even if she hates me –"

"Where's that beautiful daughter of yours?" Sully interrupted him. "The bendy one with the nice legs."

"Don't talk about Alice's child like that!" Mikey yelped, indignant. "She's just a little girl! Not even two feet tall!"

Alice sniffed and pressed her face to Sully's knee. "She has run away!"

She was likely sleeping upstairs.

"Oh, no." The entire exchange turned grave, and even Robert and Theodore came closer to where Alice and Sully were, Dawn offering Alice an affectionate pat on the shoulder. "We'll have to send out the dogs. Except she isn't overfond of dogs, is she –"

"I'll ring the police!" said noble Robert.

"Or we could just call for her. Junebug. Juuuuuune –" Mikey didn't get far before Dawn had clamped a hand on his mouth to prevent Theodore from starting to howl.

Junebug hadn't been listening to her cue, so Alice let go of Sully's leg and stood up. "See, she's run away!" said Alice. "Or he had her locked in a tower!"

"I did no such thing! I would never hurt her!" Robert protested.

"How do we know that? You may be trying to sell her on the black market!" Dawn wasn't actually paying attention to what she was saying. At all. It made sense in her head.

"I wasn't! I never touched her! There must be another captor!"

"That Max fellow was awful suspicious," said Sully thoughtfully.

"He wouldn't dare!" Alice said, scrambling for the stairs. "I bet Robert locked her away!"

"I didn't!" Robert continued to protest. He was innocent! He also hadn't put down Theodore, and didn't, as everyone else took off after Alice again.

Alice hopped up the stairs and darted down the hall to her suite, which was as pink and floral as it ever was. She pushed open the door to the parlor half, where her dollhouse was sitting near the fireplace, and found Junebug sleeping on the windowseat.

"Bug!" she cried. Junebug started and stared at Alice as Alice ran at her and scooped her up.

"Thank God!" Sully and Robert cried at once, and Dawn rushed over to see if the 'little girl' was all right. Mikey watched the doorway for intruders.

That time, nobody had collided, at least.

Junebug looked a bit annoyed but flopped lazily over Alice's arm as Alice dropped onto the window seat. "Have you ever wondered," she said, "how many people could fit on one twin size bed?"

"Do you suppose," Mikey asked thoughtfully, "the answer might be five?"

"It might be more," added Robert.

"So we need more people!" Sully was paying attention. "Just to find out. Wait. Do you have a twin size bed –"

"Yes. It's through that door."

She scrambled up, still cradling a very quite a lot rather annoyed cat, and pushed open the door to the actual chamber, which was rather small and very pink and contained a maid making her bed.

"Hello, Anna!" Alice said, jumping into the room.

"Miss Alice." Anna nodded her head and left the room, looking near to laughing but being polite even as Alice jumped onto the bed, knees first, and ruined the perfectly smooth bedspread, which was covered by twenty stuffed animals.

She was quickly joined by an airborne Dawn, who leapt and landed in a pile of the stuffed animals in question. Robert, still carrying Theodore, flopped down in between them, and Mikey and Sully –

Mikey and Sully tried to pile on the bed, and had started to argue over remaining space.

"No, I was sitting –"

"We can't both –"

They glanced at each other.

"Wait," said Mikey.

"Yeah," Sully agreed.

Mikey sat down on the corner. Sully sat on him, and was the one to give the final decree, nodding and saying, "Five. Also wow that dog's really tolerant."

"He's old," Alice said, "and lumpy." She snuggled near Theodore, which ultimately also meant Robert, and rested her head on her precious dog. "I love him ever so much!" Junebug lept out of her arms and onto the floor and wandered back to the other side of the room.

"She's escaping!" Sully cried, but Mikey held him back from chasing after the cat. Sully continued to flail.

Robert – well, Robert failed the resistance of temptation, that time, and petting Theodore turned into stroking Alice's hair a lot more softly and gently than perhaps he'd meant to.

Alice smiled to herself, hiding it against Theodore, and happily closed her eyes. She was certainly not going to compromise this. Perhaps Theodore really was the way to Robert's heart.

Mikey, Sully and Dawn's antics were far outside Robert's head. The three of them were fighting over who was chasing after Bug, but he was lost in the feel of Alice's hair under his hand.

"You are beautiful," he whispered. "You and our mutant dog child both."

Alice turned bright pink and looked up at Robert as though he had just declared his love for her. It felt rather similar. It felt almost like the same thing, even, and her heart began to beat a little faster. Who said things like that, even if the words 'mutant dog child' were used?

He smiled, and touched his finger to his lips. "Never tell a soul of our secret," he whispered, and the moment was broken as Sully put his head down on Robert's shoulder.

"Secret? What secret I want to know a secret Alice what's the secret!"

Alice could have shoved Sully right off the bed. Something could have happened! And even if he was adorable in his own right, Alice was on a mission for Robert.

"Sullivan!"

"What!" Sully squawked.

"You--I could bean you right in the nose!"

She rather looked it.

"But I didn't do anything!"

"You ruined my life!" Alice told him, and scrambled around behind Robert to tackle Sully off the bed.

"That's a terribly cruel thing to do, Harold!" Dawn snapped, and suddenly everyone else had jumped on Sully, too, hitting him with pillows.

Everyone, that is, but Robert, who sprawled out on the bed and went back to petting Theodore.

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