[identity profile] halfaustere.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] thedirtyverse
Continued immediately from here.

"Good, I was about to call you cruel!"

Alice grabbed his wrist and bounced towards the waiter. As long as she was here with Robert, she might as well abuse her power. But after this, no more. She would gag him if she had to. Bind his hands.

Bind his hands.

That sounded fun.

"Hello!" Alice quickly chimed at the waiter. "This is my Robert. He's useless. Have you got breadsticks?"

Good? Robert's brain echoed, lost. Was she enthralled by the idea or did she not like it? Or was it both? It was Alice – unpredictable, delightful, brilliant Alice –

This is my Robert, she said. He was hers, apparently.

He smiled a bit more. He liked that, even if she was calling him useless – wait. "I'm not useless!"

The waiter simply found it amusing, as another member of the staff appeared to take their coats (and Robert's hat, but he took it back). "We do have breadsticks, miss. It's a pleasure to meet you, Robert, and?"

"No matter their names," said the coat-taker. "See them to the garden!"

"But I'd like to know their names. This one is Robert the Useless –" Robert chortled, muttering that's me "– and so I would like to know her name as well."

Whether he really didn't know she was Alice Fitzwilliam or was playing was uncertain, even to Robert. Even if they all knew his name was Robert.

"Alice!" Alice chirped, wrangling Robert's arm once she had given her coat away.

"It's a pleasure, then, Alice!" the first waiter said with another smile. "Let me lead you to your table?"

Robert didn't protest her contact with him; no, he liked it. It was proper. He'd escort her as the waiter led them through the intimate, dimly lit little restaurant with its fifteen or so small tables and out through a patio and then, and then to the place where Robert had done so much work earlier that day. A small garden grotto; an overhang of what looked like a large natural boulder, hollowed out enough to fit a table for two, lit with candles. The area was walled with trellises with morning glories and what looked at first blush like twinkle lights hanging from them, the rock was covered in ivy.

The twinkle lights weren't any more fire than Robert's giving Randolf his word. Magic, pure and simple; not that the restaurant could tell that, but he'd wanted Alice to.

The tiny table was lit only with candles. Besides Robert's fires and those two, there was no light.

The napkins were done up in twisted glass holders shining with the glint of a fresh finish.

Robert was suddenly terrified again.

Alice paused just to take it all in. Drink it up, every last drop. She was, for the moment, stunned into silence, and being stunned into silence wasn't something often seen.

It never lasted long.

"Oh, Robert!" Oh, indeed. "This is so beautiful! I could live under that boulder!"

She ignored her seat in favor of going to see the lights. "What are these? Did you do them?"

Robert caught her expression and smiled back at her – and one of the lights twinked a little something extra at her, as if the light itself met her eye.

"They're –" he held out a hand, and the waiter nodded and left, muttering something about being back with menus, even if Robert hadn't been gesturing him to go at all. He was holding his hand out to wave it, to think as he walked over to join her, stand behind her, breathe her in –

Hold focus, there.

"Yes, I did them, that I can tell you! We called them the little fires –" of promises. "My father's little fires."

"Will you teach me how to do those?" she asked, turning around to look up at him. He was so handsome in any light but there was something about this natural light and the near-darkness that was even more thrilling.

It shouldn't have been. This was going to make her miserable when she woke up alone tomorrow.

"Making them appear is not very hard," he told her, with another slightly different smile, as they weren't complicated in themselves. It was keeping them in one spot and getting them to stick around and not follow that required a disturbing level of focus he wasn't quite sure how to explain.

But it was all in will, and will was something Robert had quite a good deal of. "It's all mental." He extended his hand, holding his palm up, pinching his fingers. "Simply think on that you want a small fire to exist. A little flame. A little flame that won't burn, only light – concentrate on it, and concentrate on it there, between your fingertips, and perhaps, when you open your hand," and he did open it, and from the pinched fingertips floated another little bit of heatless flame, which blinked and then disappeared, "something will come of it."

Alice copied him, holding out her hand and pinching her fingers together. The look of concentration on her face was a bit too strained, as she never did much with her magic, so it was no real surprise when a tiny little flame didn't appear--

But a sudden burst of much larger flame did, startling her so badly she shrieked and tripped into Robert.

Robert made a tiny startled noise, then, followed by a bit of a laugh as he caught her, curled his arms around her waist as he stood behind her and held her against him before he quite realized just what he was doing.

"All right there?" he asked, in a normal tone, and not the intimate whisper that almost came out first. All right, there wouldn't have been the right words for it anyway. "As I would say that's a pretty impressive first try! Perhaps a bit too concentrated –"

"I could kill myself doing that!" Alice said, not even thinking where she was, as her heart was still hammering out of her chest.

"You could do no such thing! How could you kill yourself with yourself?"

It was a curious idea, to Robert. Could an organic flame such as that, if given heat, hurt its originator? He certainly didn't think so, but there were frequently exceptions to what Robert thought.

Alice was one of them.

Robert was always aiding the lovers. He wasn't ever one.

"I bet I could try!" Alice said, finally straightening up and paying no attention to Robert, who was holding her. And warm. And Robert. And there was a reason she had been trying to distance herself from him for the past two weeks!

She broke away to find her seat, her face red but the light too dim to reveal it.

"I would hope you wouldn't," Robert managed, trying not to be hurt by the fact she'd pulled away – it was nothing! It had been a save, not an intimate embrace, he'd stopped her from stumbling further. She wasn't pulling away from him. She was enjoying this. She wanted to be there.

He followed after her, sat down, perused the wine list already at the table – along with a vase of flowers. Red carnations, white clovers, honeysuckle. A single red tulip and a single daffodil, the latter of which he looped out of the vase and leaned over to try to tuck behind Alice's ear.

"It suits your hair," he said, instead of translating.

Alice nearly froze solid as Robert slid the flower behind her ear. It was only when he spoke, and only at the end of his four-word sentence that she snapped out of it and smiled down at the table.

This was a bit much for a night out, wasn't it? If nothing came of this she would likely be forced to move far away and never let him see her again. For her sanity. For her libido.

"Hand me your hand," she said, trying to keep things light.

"All right," he agreed, keeping to 'light' as best he could, as a waiter appeared and then immediately vanished again, almost entirely unnoticable, slipping in and out with menus and not at all interrupting the moment.

Robert gave her his hand, head tilted slightly, thoughtful. What was she planning?

Alice gently took his hand as she had done at least once before. For one reason or another, they fascinated her and always had. They were three hundred years old. They had touched things and people that no one ever would. They had been through everything and here they were, beautiful (in Alice's opinion) and deft. But she kept her mouth shut.

Read his palm instead.

She had got a book from a shop at the weekend.

Once, they'd been scarred – the marks faded, and Robert never saw reason to mention them. War wounds – and callouses mostly faded from glasswork. They were still there just enough that if he'd needed to use them it would only be a little hard to hold the pipes correctly.

He watched her, instead.

Wondered what she was doing, what she was finding. What his palm said, if that was, in fact, what he was doing.

Robert didn't break the silence to say Maybe we should decide what to eat. Alice was thinking. His Alice was thinking, he realized he'd thought first, and he wasn't certain how right he was there. But he could hope.

"I wonder how palmistry could work on someone like us. See, your life line?" Alice traced the curve. "It's the same as Daddy's, and you're three hundred years old. Daddy won't live that long." She gently turned Robert's hand over. "Yours doesn't go to the back. There's no way to explain a life that will never, ever end. Does that make fortune-telling fake or do we just not apply?"

"Well."

Robert, again, did not say maybe we should look at the menu. He thought about it, instead – what experience had he had? "I've only met the one woman who didn't seem as if she were a charlatan, and she didn't live very long."

"You had your fortune told? I got mine told on a pier in Santa Monica when I was sixteen. She said I was hopeless and headed for trouble. I guess she was right."

Alice let go of Robert's hand and picked up her menu.

"Not – quite. I knew a girl. She wasn't a woman, she was a girl. Maybe ten. Remarkable view for the world; really did seem to be able to predict her immediate surroundings in dreams and idle thoughts. I never got the chance to –"

Robert stopped, and picked up his menu, too, instead.

He didn't want to say study her. It made him sound callous.

Alice looked at him over her menu. "You're just going to stop in mid-sentence?"

"– well, it's a terrible thing to say. 'Study her.' Makes the child sound like an experiment – she was a patient. I never got an in-depth view of her ability, whether it was real or imagined on the part of everyone, or really much of anything. I did not know her long."

Robert hated it when he lost kids. Right then he was still dealing with the child with what he still wanted to call phthisis, and it was still quite taxing on him.

Alice shrugged one shoulder and chewed on her fingernail. "I don't think it's bad. Isn't that what you do in medicine? You study things. You're not meant to get attached, at least as far as I see from television programs."

That got Robert laughing over the menu.

It was more interesting than thinking about what kind of soup he wanted.

"It's somewhat hard not to," he said lightly. "When it's a child, especially, or someone with a lot of will to live who's not going to keep it. You're not supposed to get attached, but many do. What you cannot do is be affected."

"That's the same thing!" Alice protested, reading her menu. "You get attached, you're affected. Plain and simple."

"Not always! Not if you let your judgment not take the attachment into account. If you judge as a doctor and behave as a friend."

Sometimes it worked, anyway.

Robert opted for mushroom.

"Sure, whatever you say," Alice said, hiding behind her menu again. She had decided several seconds ago. Robert was simply better to look at.

"Well, I have thankfully not been in many situations where I have needed to know."

Mushroom soup, ice water, and the chicken alfredo – just as Robert had settled on that, a waiter appeared to take orders, and he repeated out loud what he'd already come up with mentally.

"No wine?" the waiter asked. Robert shook his head.

"I get tipsy easily," he lied. He never drank any sort of alcohol in any sort of public and never really wanted to debate it, either.

"And for the lady – for you, Alice?" The waiter smiled, and Robert was impressed, too. He'd recalled her name. Far better than Robert and Zebediah.

Alice grinned at the waiter and handed him her menu with the addition of a wink.

"One of you and one of him," she said, pointing at Robert.

Some days she was more like Isabella than anyone realized.

Robert laughed instantly; trying not to take the comment seriously, trying not to think about the fact Alice might've in all honesty found the waiter attractive – his line of thought was cut off, anyway, by the sensible man taking their orders.

"We don't serve cannibals here, miss."

Alice sighed and decided to be the brat she was by dropping the menu on the ground before the waiter could take it. "Fine! You'll never do better, anyway."

"And, to make matters worse, she didn't order a cannibal," Robert corrected, as the waiter scooped the menu off the ground, dusted it off. "But, Alice, dear, the chicken really is very good, if you'd rather eat what I'm having than me."

"– yes, we don't serve the other guests either, I'm sorry to say," added the flustered waiter.

Alice folded her arms and pouted. "I don't like him. Get me a new waiter."

Robert – well. Robert wasn't sure what to say to that, at first, and then figured he might as well improvise and keep her happy: "Sir, if you don't mind, it is her birthday ..."

"Of course," said the young waiter with an obviously exaggerated sigh. He was smiling. "I'll have someone else sent out to take her order and come back with your water." He trotted off and Robert gave Alice a teasing, friendly, disdainful sort of look.

Alice looked innocent. "What? I could buy him and sell him."

"You really are a cannibal, aren't you." Robert's brief eyeroll had turned into an eyebrow raise; even when acting like this, though, he still enjoyed her company.

He really was terribly far gone.

"Not unless you're talking of oral sex."

At least his water hadn't turned up yet, or Robert would've simply choked on it. As it was, he flushed a little.

(His neck was blushing.)

"Ah," he said, wondering why he was surprised at her response.

Alice snickered, eyed his neck for a moment, and looked at the twinkling lights.

"Those remind me of the gardens at the house in Cape Town. They had fairies."

"Did they!" Robert was impressed and intrigued – he'd only seen fairies a few times in his entire life. Supposedly frequent occurrences in Northumbria and yet not one he could really remember coming across.

Just as he'd started to let himself reflect on that, instead of reflecting on Alice – well, first, he realized he'd started reflecting on it instead of Alice, and the thought of thinking about her had him doing it again, trying not to stare at her and how perfect she looked and how yes, the necklace really did suit her, when another waiter appeared with Robert's water and a slightly quizzical look.

"Miss – Alice? He said your name was Alice. My co-worker was not to your liking?"

Alice grinned at him. "No, I liked him just fine. He just wouldn't humor me!" It was terribly important to humor her.

Unless you were taking her out on what looked like a date just to humor her. Then you were going to get your balls cut off.

"Is this the part where I order? I just wanted fettuccine."

It was a good thing, really, that Robert wasn't.

"Yes – fettuccine, all right – anything to drink, miss? And I will of course report his behavior to the manager." This waiter would, apparently, humor her.

"Good! Because I my Daddy would be really unhappy if I told him you were mean to me," she teased in a serious fashion. "And I want a Shirley Temple."

"One Shirley Temple as well. Extra cherry?"

Robert wasn't looking at the waiter, or even hearing the words, just watching Alice's lips move. There was lovestruck, and there was worse.

"Oh, yes please," Alice said immediately, knowing what she could do with cherries and what her tongue could do with the stems. Usually she opted not to, as her mother told her never to do it at the table, but for Robert, she was looking to strike low and hard. It would serve him right. He deserved to spend every waking moment wanking over her the way she spent every waking moment dreaming of him.

And speaking of him, or thinking of him, Alice looked at Robert and set her head in her hand.

As the waiter left again, Robert caught Alice's motion and blinked. Had he been staring? What?

"What?"

"What?" Alice asked, confused.

Oh, it was this conversation again –

Robert headed it off, with a tiny laugh and, "Nothing," and sipped his water, while managing to also smile at her.

Alice grinned.

"Good thing you can't see down my dress, then. Bet you were trying."

"I was doing no such thing!" Robert protested, as he hadn't been!

Then. At that point. Maybe earlier, in the motorcar.

"Good! Because you can't. See how I was wise to bundle my chest up?"

She could dream, couldn't she?

"You are very wise indeed," Robert reassured her. "One of the wisest people I know – say, who's Johnny?"

He couldn't resist.

(Silently, Waiter #2 resurfaced and presented a Shirley Temple with two cherries to Alice, and then exited again.)

Alice shrugged one shoulder and picked up a cherry. "Dunno. Where have you heard the name?" she asked as she sealed her lips very slowly around it.

"The war," he confided, as if it were some sort of secret. "The man experienced a lot of trauma, but nowhere near as bad as that of his shellshocked best friend. I thought maybe your father would've told you more in detail; I think they knew each other?"

He couldn't help but watch her mouth move around the cherry – he could help shivering.

Alice took the cherry, stem and all, into her mouth, and shrugged again as she bit into it. "No idea! He doesn't talk much about the war. Or Johnny and his shellshocked best friend. Did you know him?"

Then she couldn't quite talk any longer, as she had to concentrate on her tongue and the stem and the knot she was making.

"Afraid I didn't. That'd be why I asked. I remembered him, earlier, for some reason, surprisingly out of nowhere!"

What was she doing with her mouth? Did Robert really want to be thinking about Alice's mouth? About what else she might do with it?

Alice could only look at him thoughtfully until the knot was done, and when it was, she slowly slid it out. "Square knot!"

"Oh!" It was impressive – tying knots with cherry stems using only one's tongue was another thing Robert had heard people could do and had also never actually seen done before. Leaving aside thoughts of what else a dextrous tongue like that could do – as they were only fleeting, as he was concentrated on the actual event before him – Robert clapped. "That's really quite a trick."

"Oh, it's more than a trick," Alice said, setting the stem down on her napkin. "Mum taught me, anyway. She said a whore in a brothel in New Orleans taught her."

Robert spluttered, found himself uncertain of what to say, and then, "Oh."

Because it was all that came to mind.

"But yes, 'trick' is a poor choice of words," Robert quickly recovered. "Perhaps 'ability.'"

"And it's just one of many! I'll do it again." And again she did, still playing with the cherry far too inappropriately before sucking it into her mouth.

Robert, therefore, was still unable to speak. He'd given up trying to drink, either, just watching her and trying not to choke on air or make any other sort of noise. She was something, she was really something –

... and he'd started to forget, there, just how nervous he was about what he meant to ask over the meal. It was almost an example in itself: Alice distracted him, calmed him down.

A few minutes of strange faces and lots of mouth movement and Alice produced the second stem, setting it down on Robert's napkin, instead.

"A memento!"

She hadn't certainly been watching him every few seconds, attempting to gauge his reaction and liking what she saw. Liking it, of course, didn't make her feel any better, as this was Robert. he had looked at her in various vulnerable ways before.

He cocked his head to one side, picked the stem up, examined it, and then placed it in the pocket of his suitcoat.

"Thank you," Robert told her, softly, genuinely: "I will treasure it always."

(Enter the waiter, again, with Robert's soup. Robert didn't eat it – he was watching Alice.)

Alice sipped her drink and looked at the table. It was simply so difficult to endure him looking at her the way he was and to know that once they were done eating, it was over and she would have to find a thousand ways to prepare baked fedora, just to satisfy her rage. Maybe he had self-control, but she was twenty-two now and highly-charged. Full of a need for intimacy and especially sex. Besides, soon she would be older than Scott was when he married, and that would be a shameful day.

Thankfully, Robert was equally unaware of Alice's intentions for the hat, or perhaps he'd never recover.

Perhaps what he should do, what he needed to do, was get it over with before either of them went mad, and yet he still didn't know what to say. He hadn't prepared a speech. And what if she left? Didn't want to deal with him and never got to eat her dinner?

Silently, stopping his hands from shaking even if his mind was, Robert sipped his soup.

Awkward conversation wouldn't come.

"D'you like that sort of soup?" Alice asked suddenly, as silence never agreed with her.

"What – mushroom? Yes. Quite a bit; always been fond of it."

Ask her now.

No.

Why?

Not yet.

Why?

I don't know.


"I could learn to make it for you."

She wasn't certain where that came from.

Her blush had more obvious origins.

"Because I cook in my spare time now. I mostly have spare time."

Robert had a million questions: Do you intend to never work? Do you enjoy it? Do you want to make me soup? Why? Do you want to make me soup or just people soup, whether it is me or not?

"I would like that," he said instead.

"Good. Because I might get it all wrong the first time and you'll need to be the one testing it. I can't possibly risk Theodore's life."

He chortled again, only shaking his head slightly. "No, of course not! Though I am not sure if Theodore is fond of mushroom – is he?"

Robert didn't think to say how could you even momentarily consider risking the life of our mutant? long enough to get around to actually saying it. It only solidified as a comment after he'd spoken; more's the pity.

"He eats anything," Alice told him, swirling her drink and watching it spin.

Cheekily, she took a sip and watched Robert over the rim of her glass.

"When are you going to wish me a happy birthday?"

"My stars, have I not in so many words?" Robert was appalled at himself. He was sure – "Happy birthday, of course!"

Alice wrinkled her nose and stuck her now-red tongue out at him.

My stars. She couldn't put words to how much she loved it when he said that.

"Did I really deserve that?"

Yes.

Shut it.


"I could do well worse," Alice threatened, setting down her glass. "Would you like me to try?"

Yes!

Shut it!


"In public?" Robert asked, testing the waters. "Relative public, anyway?"

"I do loads of things in public."

"As does anyone else. It's relatively hard to avoid doing things in public."

"I'm glad you think so! You have one chance to tell me not to do what I'm going to do."

"What are you going to do?" He couldn't well tell her not to do something he didn't know! He might like it! On the other hand, it might be dangerous!

"I can't tell you! And your chance is up."

Alice stuck her hand into her glass, grabbed an icecube, and jumped up from her seat to rush at Robert.

And Robert started at the sudden motion and, in attempting to escape his possibly iced fate, stumbled on his escape and landed in a pile of Robert-tangled-in-chair on the patio.

Alice started laughing and immediately climbed on the tangle and haphazardly shoved the icecube down Robert's collar, not even taking the time to admire his neck. This was serious.

Robert squawked, flailed the hand that wasn't trapped behind him about in the air.

"Ack! I – you – cold!"

Alice gave his cheek a very big kiss and jumped up again, leaving him to drown in his shame as she giggled so hard she missed her chair and fell onto the ground. Only to laugh more.

"Cold cold cold!" He would be humiliated later, realizing the restaurant's staff had probably seen the disaster unfolding – but he was busy laughing, then, pulling himself up and his chair up and scrambling over to offer Alice a hand up, too. "Awful creature, I should not be offering you my arm!"

And yet, of course, he was.

"My memento may've been crushed!" Robert added.

"I'll make you another one!" Alice promised, helping herself up and using as much of Robert as she dared. "Or a few. You can watch. You like that."

"Do I, now?"

He did, didn't he? Bloody hell.

"Of course! You know it. I'll teach you how one day but you'll have to watch my tongue."

Alice perched delicately on her chair and beamed to herself.

"Oh," and Robert was leaning with one arm against the table, fingers splayed, instead of going to sit down again, "I would muck it up something awful, and you'd only laugh at me."

She would. He knew it.

"I'll figure out another way."

She would. He was right.

Alice crossed her legs and dangled her shoe on her toes. "What did you do today, then?"

"I went to this little hole in the wall restaurant and made a small patio pretty for –" the woman I love "– someone very dear to me, and made sure everything was just so."

Robert went back to his seat, stirred his soup, and watched Alice's feet.

Alice continued to wiggle her foot. "Since it's my birthday I won't tease you about who that person very dear to you might be. Unless I'm a substitute for your real date. Not that this is a date, but it looks like one. You should take up interior design. or exterior, as it were."

Had she honestly brought up the word DATE? Really? In context? Just like that.

Stupid, so stupid. She chewed on an ice cube.

Robert ... paled, a little, and not in the way he did when he was embarrassed. These were nerves, pure and simple.

This wasn't how he'd planned it to go –

"You aren't," he told her softly. "You are."

"I'm what? An exterior designer? I wish."

She ought to have worn a dress with sleeves. Chewing icecubes on a patio in early April in the dark was a bad idea.

"No."

Thankfully, Robert was saved from further sudden explanation, as the team of waiters – all three they'd seen before – appeared with their dishes, setting up plates and giving them both fresh glasses of water and red wine and making a real show of being sure the plates were set right, giving them both nods and taking off again.

Robert made a show of inspecting his.

Alice ignored hers in favor of staring at Robert. "Well, then what did you mean?"

"I meant,"

You meant you're stuck, said the approximation of mental Sully. So just do it.

Robert spun some noodles around on his fork. "I meant," he began again, "that you're not a substitute for my date, you are my date."

It wasn't quite the question, wasn't quite the proposal, wasn't quite the moving romantic speech – in fact, it just plain wasn't any of them.

Alice hadn't even touched her fork but was certainly going no closer to it when Robert answered. Surely he hadn't meant it like that. Or at all. But he wouldn't tease, either.

Heart hammering and face hot, Alice took another chance. Almost inaudibly. "Your date?"

"Quite."

This wasn't what was supposed to happen; he was supposed to be able to ask, coyly, after a silence entered after a topic ended, so I'm sure you're wondering why I made this so fancy, and then she could ask and he could profess – it wasn't meant to be a surprise to him too!

So all he said was quite, and he tried to gather his thoughts, and knew that he was blushing again and forced himself to avoid it.

Alice's hands retreated to her lap.

"You're teasing me, aren't you," she told him, and even her voice had gone a little shaky, which she later realized her hands had started. "If you are, it's not funny at all."

"No! Of course not! I –"

I'm in love with you wasn't exactly right, but –

"You know, I'm sure. You know." Robert realized he was just talking. Words were about to start pouring out despite themselves and he wouldn't be able to do anything about it. "You can tell that I've got feeling for you large past friendship. It is in the way I behave even if I try to hide it. It's been there a long time and I've hoped it would go away not because of the fact it was you but because of the fact it was me, old and tired, and you're making me feel less old and less tired, and – I will just get it out, just get it over with – I am falling in love with you, I have been since the night I met you, I'm done keeping it a secret –"

Of course she knew. That was the worst part of the past five months. The only bad part, really, but a significant enough one to make Alice unhappy. So she had spent two weeks trying to let him go and she had been right when she thought he didn't want to feel the same way about her that she did him.

And yet here he was. I am falling in love with you. It rang in her head, louder than her heart, which was now pounding so strongly she felt slightly faint. Or maybe it was just his words. Or the sudden change. They were on a date together and Robert was falling in love with her.

It sounded unreal.

But it sank in immediately and sank hard enough to drop like a rock at the pit of her stomach and to set off the waterworks, quiet as they were. Only noticeable when she finally blinked. She had never wanted anything more in her life. Nothing that she could think of compared to this. Searching and searching for it and landing on it and unable to hold on and now it was being handed to her over the tabletop. She would have been shocked had she not felt her eyes brim over.

"Really?"

"Really."

Oh, she looked – she was crying and he didn't know what he'd done. She was crying and he'd pushed too far, hadn't he, it was stupid of him to wait this long, maybe it was stupid of him to try. She would always deserve someone closer in age and always deserve someone stronger and always deserve someone who would instantly sweep her off her feet. But he was feeling younger every day and he could be stronger and he wanted to be the person who caught her by surprise and swept her up and took her away every day of the rest of her life.

"Really, and I spoke to your parents, and I arranged things just so and I was hoping, over food, to ask you if you'd be mine, my lady, agree to a courtship – and it went a bit pear-shaped, I think. The sentiment, of course, remains."

Alice suddenly felt a bit foolish for crying, despite not thinking twice about it just a second before. She looked down quickly, just to wipe carefully at her eyes, and nodded for no particular reason. She agreed with all of this. Wasn't that enough?

When she looked at him again, she found herself smiling, unable to not, but still feeling self-conscious enough that she looked towards the restaurant, then down at her lap, then at Robert. "A courtship?"

Antiquated or not--this was Robert! Wake up!

"Yes! Yes! I don't want anything else in the world!"

It took all the effort in the world for Robert tohold his wings in, hold the glow back. He hadn't been so happy since Dawn's birth – no, that was different, he hadn't been so happy ever, not like this. Never. Never, never, never, and he was smiling so widely it hurt.

"Good," Robert said. "Good, I'm glad, I am – overjoyed, I think!" A laugh. How could he not laugh?

Alice's hands were shaking so badly she couldn't hold her fork. She wasn't hungry, anyway, and had forgotten there was even food in front of her. The only person, the only thing at all within her view was Robert and Robert's smile and Robert--she could call him her boyfriend, couldn't she? Even if it seemed funny. He was too old.

But he was too old and just right and hers now. Wasn't that how it went? She was no novice but Robert was Robert, not just a boy. And Alice was speechless again, but for a different reason. Doors opened when relationships began, but she didn't know which one to step through.

"You can't change your mind," she settled on, barely able to get the words out before she felt like choking on them.

"I would never," Robert said, entirely sure of himself.

He would never. He loved her and needed her and he would never let that go.

Alice nodded again and tried to swallow but got stuck.

Were this any other person, she would get up, launch herself over the table, and snog him until the waiters told them to leave. But there was a difference, even if she wanted to. Robert had his barriers and Alice was aware of them. Too aware of them. Everything seemed heightened, like he was watching her with a new closeness. Or she was moving in slow motion.

But she could smile. She couldn't stop was the problem.

No, not a problem.

She would marry him. One year, tops. In three years she saw herself with at least one child, and now Robert was in the picture. Where he belonged.

"Because this is my birthday. And if you change your mind you'll make my birthdays unhappy events."

"This is your birthday, and I hoped you would say yes because I wanted your birthday to be perfect; even if you said no I would want your birthday to be perfect." Robert had stumbled into the part of his day when he spoke incessantly, and did the silence-filling all by himself. Instead of thinking about how he felt it simply poured from his mouth, no matter how much or how little sense it made.

"I would want every one of your days to be perfect because I would forgive you refusing me and love you still. And yet you haven't and I am glad, and so I can be there to make sure every one of your days is perfect."

Alice started giggling. It was a watery little giggle that ended with a sniff. "I love it when you talk too much."

"It is something I can do very easily – I merely need to stop thinking and open my mouth. It acts all on its own."

Alice kept giggling. "I know! You're doing it now! Keep going."

Her hunger had returned and with it came the fork. And with the fork came the umpteenth item Alice could use in a way that was wholly sexual while fulfilling its natural purpose. It was all in the lips. And tongue. And now she had a new game to play. A serious one.

So Robert opened his mouth again.

Unfortunately, that was where it stopped.

"When you do that," he told her, "when you do things like that my thinking stops entirely, and so instead of my thoughts pouring from my head and out my mouth they simply fail to exist."

Alice grinned. "Really? No thoughts at all?"

"Not. Really. No. You somewhat jolt them out, at times."

"Oh, well, damn," Alice sighed, putting her fork down. Her nerves had returned but it almost seemed expected. She didn't know what to do with herself. Robert. Robert Capio. Robert Ellingsworth Capio. Her boyfriend, Dr. Robert Ellingsworth Capio.

Oh god, Mallory and Violet were going to shit themselves.

Robert let his mind wander again.

"Your hair," he said, because he was just doing that, just talking, "your hair is singularly the most beautiful hair I have ever seen, I think I maybe said that once when stoned, but I meant it."

Alice choked on a giggle and made a very strange noise. "Oh. Thanks. Just don't do that mermaid hair thing again."

"What?"

Robert had to stop and remember – and then he started to laugh, too. "Oh, I still can't believe I did that."

"That's never getting out of my head. I have nightmares." Book-ended by sex dreams. No, no, this was her boyfriend now. "Book-ended by sex dreams."

Robert, that time, had started to pick up his wine.

His suitcoat, already having gotten ice-cubed and patio-cobbled and slightly torn and also cherried, was now stained with wine as well.

Alice let out a shriek of laughter that could make a run at a glass and shatter it. She was lucky she didn't tilt backwards and fly out of her chair, but the world had become so funny and so balanced that she didn't care. She felt terrible for causing him so much damage in one evening, but she would make it up later. If he let her.

For now, she was gasping at air so unsuccessfully that she had to put her head down in her arms just to stop herself from looking like an idiot.

Meanwhile, Robert was simply staring at the fact he'd dropped a glass of red wine on himself.

He picked up the mostly-empty glass, stared at it, hesitated, and said, just to check, to make sure, "I really did just do that, didn't I. And now you are laughing at me."

Alice nodded, though it was hard to see from her position, head hidden in her arms and laughing so had that her body ached.

"Well, at least my ability to adequately sense reality is intact," Robert muttered, as he spilled his water on himself deliberately – and messily, just overturning it onto his chest as he had with the wine.

Had Alice seen that, she would have howled even harder. As it was, she couldn't stop laughing and seemed unable to control herself. As she sat up, tears rolling from her eyes, and taking her mascara with it, the only word to describe her was crimson.

"I'm sorry," she squeaked out. "It's just so funny!"

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Robert's response was: "What?"

Alice lost it again. Looked a mix between sobbing and laughing and buried her head in her arms again.

"I –"

Robert's pose, then, mimicked hers.

A waiter stepped outside, looked at them laughing their damn fool heads off, turned around and went back in.

"What?" asked one of the others.

"Later," he said.

Alice sat back again, still laughing so hard she kept shuddering, and tried feebly to wipe at her eyes again.

"You're so clumsy!" she wailed.

"Not usually!" Robert protested. He wasn't! "I am a surgeon! Graceful! Just startled!"

Alice, still laughing and lacking oxygen to her brain, immediately said, "Why startled? Startled because--because I dream of you fucking me against walls?"

"Er." Robert attempted to un-short-out his brain. Reboot it. "Yes?"

"I've told you about those a hundred times!" Alice said, finally getting some air but still as red as her curls.

"Yes – and – still – it – I cannot put into words how – yes – right."

Alice hiccuped.

"I can't put into words how right it is, either," she teased, waffling over and winning the debate to touch her toes to his leg. She could do this now. Couldn't she? Do it and mean it!

And he didn't stop her, either, even if he jumped a little at first. What – oh. Oh.

"Hello," he said.

Alice smiled cheekily and wiggled her fingers at him.

Her toes stayed put.

Acting like the mature adult gentleman he was, Robert stuck out his tongue.

Alice looked shocked and dropped her foot. "Robert!"

"What?" he asked, which, of course, led him to laughing harder.

He'd wanted a quiet, intimate, romantic evening. He got a wild, boisterous, ridiculous, hilarious, and yet somehow still romantic evening – and it was Alice, so why was he surprised?

He wasn't. Not really. Not surprised or disappointed either one.

"Ooh, sometimes I just want to deck you right in the hat!"

"That would hurt!"

What? Hats didn't feel. Robert had lost himself.

"You'd deserve it!" Alice countered.

"You are a terrible soul and I love you regardless."

Alice's brain sliced three words out of his sentence.

I love you.

Yesterday she was dreaming of him saying it. Now he really was. And it wasn't just platonic.

Even so, she had never said it to any previous boyfriend. Not like this. She had never felt this before in her life and despite laughing her head off just a minute earlier, she was now only able to stare at Robert like he had solved every problem she ever knew.

Robert blinked.

Robert did not say what?

Robert – well, Robert actually figured something, out and he added, more softly, "I do, you know."

Alice hardly knew what to do with herself anymore. She settled for pushing her napkin around.

"You didn't have to wait a million years." But that sounded ungrateful. "I'm glad you did, though. Because it's the most romantic thing anyone's ever done for me."

"No, I didn't, but what can I say, I am a silly old man and set in my ways and it's quite hard to change them!" But for her, he would. He'd change anything.

"I hope it's not too hard."

"It is getting easier. Like I said, being around you makes me feel younger."

"Or it nixes your reflexes."

"Perhaps both – I wouldn't mind both." Robert's reflexes could be problematic at some times. At others they fit perfectly; often, with Alice, his instincts were all wrong.

He remembered, then, that they were at a restaurant, now on what was an official date, and it was entirely sensible of him to ask: "How is your food?"

"I came for the company," Alice said, twirling fork sans food, "but the food's nice."

"I'm quite fond of this place." Had he said that before? Robert couldn't remember. Robert couldn't remember much but hearing Yes! I don't want anything else in the world! He couldn't come up with how much else really mattered. "Fond of their drinks, their soup, their meals – especially their desserts, though, and I think so will you be."

The sugar was excellent quality.

"Did they pay you to say that to me in exchange for renting this entire place out?"

"They did not, no! We came here as I knew they would be willing to let me redecorate a little."

He tried to actually eat; it was hard, when he wanted to watch her instead.

Alice fixed her eyes on the large wet stain covering Robert's front. "It looks like I stabbed you."

"And I bled maroon – would you perhaps like to tell your parents that?"

He didn't want to know what Dawn would say. Not about the date. About the stain.

"No! I'm going to tell Mum exactly the truth!" She always, always did and wasn't about to hold anything in. "I said the word 'fuck' and Robert dropped his wine all over himself because he has a nasty imagination."

Sometimes maybe she didn't tell exactly the truth.

"That –" Robert reflected on it. Hm. "Well, that is technically exactly the truth, isn't it. I suppose you've got me there."

"So you have got a nasty imagination! I knew it!" Alice's toes knew it, as well, as they went to meet his shin again, this time under his trouser leg.

"What – well." Clearing his throat, Robert ignored the fact his leg was twitching a tiny bit under the contact with her foot. "Nasty might be pushing it. Perhaps vivid, and if you describe such things I will without a doubt start to imagine it. A little."

He probably shouldn't have told her that.

Too late.

Alice's eyes glittered malevolently. It was a gift and a warning because of her exaggerated capabilities. Capabilities that involved doing more damage that she really ought to but unable to hold herself back. She was half-talk, half-action, and half the time, talk was the better option. She could watch.

"I could start at the beginning, then," Alice said, skipping a pause and diving straight in. "Dreams never really have them. You weren't there and then you were and I was so horny I thought I was going to come just looking at you, which I often think I do in reality, anyway, so it wasn't far removed. I'd had this daydream, anyway, except it had a proper beginning. Anyway, you came into my room and I said something like, there's no room because Charlie told me I can't use my bed with my stuffed animals on it anymore, even for sleeping, so you looked at me and grabbed my hips, which I continuously remember when feeling exceptionally horny, and hoisted me up and planted me against the wall, but it wasn't a wall in my room and we were both suddenly naked, always a plus, and then you fucked me! And I had a dream orgasm. I love those. I love real ones more, don't you?"

She lacked a cherry, but she licked a spot of cream off her finger, anyway.

Another moment, there, when Robert was glad that he hadn't been drinking anything. He did, however, feel a lot warmer all of a sudden, and his collar was uncomfortable, and the mental image was strong and he did his best to push it away but not too far back, because someday he could do that, and she'd like it –

– and then he thought about it again –

– and then he took a drink of water, to remind himself to breathe, and coughed, and said, "Ah. It's not commonly something I remember," because there was nothing wrong with answering her question honestly, was there?

"What?" Alice's foot stopped in shock. "You do wank, don't you?"

The odd thing was that the conversation now was no different than one before they were anything so official. She rarely held things in. Strangers weren't even an exception.

"No, I mean –" It was such a funny thing to be clarifying! Normally he didn't give her answers when she asked him things like this. But now – "Dreams. I don't remember them."

"Not ever?"

"Not really." This topic had gotten even stranger – "I tend to only remember bad dreams. My luck, I suppose, and I think I have never had a bad erotic dream, and thus they are not really something I can recall."

Unfortunately, as he was sure he'd dreamed of her. Sure of it as he was sure of anything else, and yet when he woke it was always just a haze – though often a haze in which he remembered Alice had been.

"That's awful luck. I remember all of my dreams and they're all quite strange. Except for the ones you're in." And for five months, scarcely a dream had gone by that didn't include him and the rest of her friends.

"Now I guess I don't have to dream about you anymore."

"Why not?" The idea she wouldn't dream of him anymore shocked him, even upset him a little – his tone turned softer, trying not to convey that, really, but a good-natured curiosity instead.

Alice ran her finger along the rim of her glass and watched its path as it traced circle after circle. "I dreamt about you because that's all you could be. Just a stupid dream that didn't mean anything."

"I'm quite real." He smiled nervously at her; held out his hand, to let her touch it and test the theory if she liked. "And I'd hope to mean something. You mean the world to me."

Alice gently took his hand and turned it palm-up so she could run her fingers down his. "I know you're real. That's why I don't need to dream about you anymore. It was starting to be awful. Awful and unfair."

"And I am sorry," he said earnestly, putting every bit of feeling for it he could in his words. "It was rather awful for me as well and I wish I had gotten a grip on myself sooner. You didn't deserve to go through any of it – I should never have waited, not when it was so obvious we were meant for each other."

And that's what it was. Like everyone around him, like all the couples he'd watched fall hard and fast, and he'd stood there and helped, and supported, and guided, all the while never really understanding.

Until now. Until her. His Alice.

Two weeks earlier, she had told Sully she was quitting. Giving up. Throwing in the towel and never bothering to hunt for some unknown soul mate again. The search had been useless and when she found someone she thought might be it, he had been resistant. But he wasn't resistant now and she focused on his hand and on continuously tracing his fingers instead of focusing on his face. No one had ever said something like that to her before and she didn't know how to take it. Laugh or cry or both.

"Did you really think we were meant for each other?"

"I hadn't been certain, and then all of a sudden, at a time I can't recall exactly, I was."

The realization had grown slowly and had become firm at a time he did recall exactly, though he didn't say it. He didn't know how to explain that it was her comfort over his patient with TB that had really shown him that no, he couldn't give this up – and the fact she'd been distant after only made it worse. Time away from her made him realize how much he needed her.

He didn't want to tell her that because it might make her want to spend more time away from him.

"And then," Robert added, "I couldn't let go again."

Alice was quiet for a moment as she curled his fingers in over hers and lifted his hand to her lips for a kiss. She often found herself stumbling when she had to be openly emotional, but this was easy. Actions were sometimes the easy way to go. And she had wanted to kiss him since she saw him. His hand would do for now.

His hand appreciated it, but his hand couldn't smile.

Robert could. Robert could smile fit to glowing again, and could let the moment hang, still like that, reveling in the closeness and the touch and Alice. He kept staring at her, kept opening his mouth and closing it again and not finding words, entirely unaware of the fact that inside, the waitstaff were watching them from the windows, still afraid to interrupt, now for different reasons.

Finally Alice looked up at him and didn't fight back the somewhat shy grin over the top of Robert's knuckles. She wasn't interested in letting go of his hand, that was certain. Until now, she could only borrow it for short periods of time. Now she was never going to give it back. She would memorize it and him and everything around them and replay it when she needed to. Hopefully he would simply always be there.

He only grinned wider, letting his mouth shut in order to smile properly.

"You," Robert said then, and quite promptly forgot. "– you have apparently entirely bewitched my ability to speak, as I look at you and lose what I meant to say, caught up in your eyes."

Alice turned red and let go of his hand just to cover her face with both of hers. One thing after another thing after another--she didn't mind it, never wanted it to end, but it was so much all at once! And the things he said--she was sure they only ever appeared in novels.

"My eyes are boring and grey!" she told the palms of her hands.

"But they're yours, and I can see little bits of your soul in them," he told her, smiling crookedly.

The waiter, noting that they weren't touching anymore, seized the moment to come out and wander over to them, and to ask, calmly, if they needed anything, if they wanted their plates taken, if they were interested in ordering dessert, perhaps.

Alice lowered her hands enough to see the waiter and spoke from behind them, "I want something with cream inside," she said. "Please."

Oh, the things Alice, Alice's fingers, and Alice's tongue could do with cream.

Robert spluttered, but didn't comment further: the waiter, on the other hand, did.

"We have Italian creampuffs," he said, "and also cream pies. Do those suit?"

"Creampuffs! Those! Bring loads. Heaps. Mountains. And get your video cameras out, boys!"

The waiter laughed. Robert laughed. The waiter nodded.

"And you, sir?"

"Chocolate mousse," said Robert, laughing helplessly, quietly, "and a copy of the video."

"I – all right." Waiter shrugged again, took their current plates and vanished out to the restaurant proper again.

"I do not want to know what you're planning, do I," Robert asked, trying hard not to imagine it.

"Yes you do," Alice said, giving him a hint by sliding her index finger into her mouth and sliding it back out again.

Another choked laugh, and Robert shook his head. "I – might need a blindfold, if you're showy enough!"

He might. He might lose his cool and he couldn't and he never thought about sex as much as he had in this one evening and never felt desire like he did when he was around her. And it was too soon. Too fast. Even if it had been a slow start already.

Alice's eyes glittered. "That could be fun!"

"But what would you use?" Robert realized the second the words were out of his mouth that maybe discussing blindfolds wasn't quite making the conversation less sexual.

"I have no idea. I'd steal something from a waiter. I didn't know you like light bondage!"

Robert could protest, say, well, really I just wanted to save myself the torture of watching, but then again, he didn't know either way, did he – oh, the things she did to his sensibilities –

"I didn't either," he told her instead. "I don't, rather. Know."

"We'll have to find out, then, won't we?"

Alice batted her lashes.

Oh dear.

"Mayhap?" Robert squeaked.

Alice giggled. "Mayhap! Try definitely. I know you want to."

"I," said Robert the nontraditional redneck. He was, because his neck was starting to become the sort of sunburn-bright red that gave 'rednecks' their name. His face was flushed, too, and he looked down.

Terribly interesting tablecloth.

Alice started giggling harder. "It's okay. I don't really get into kinky stuff."

"Nor have I ever before," Robert confessed, still looking at the table. "I am not sure how well I would handle it!"

"With the right person I suppose it would be nice. I just wouldn't trust any of my boyfriends to tie me up. Most of them were too horny to get anywhere, anyway. They'd lose it half-way through blinding me with their nasty underpants or something foul."

Robert coughed. "Well. I. Would never do such a thing and would be happy to challenge the honor of anyone who did."

Those words were out before he got to think about them, either, and then the waiter returned with Robert's chocolate mousse and a giant, heaping pyramid of creampuffs on a large plate, which he presented to Alice.

Alice squealed and clapped her hands. "This is perfect! Oh, thank you!"

The things she did just to get Robert hot.

If Robert could be killed at all, he would someday have been killed by it. Sudden cardiac death, right there.

"Quite welcome, miss," said the waiter with a bow.

Robert nibbled at his mousse.

Alice delicately took one of the creampuffs from the pyramid and set it down on a napkin. Methodically, she swiped her finger through the center and did exactly as she had demonstrated earlier, this time taking her time and looking innocent about it as she gently swiped the cream off and pulled her finger out of her mouth. And then did it again.

And Robert was back to dropping things. After a moment of trying not to look at her, his spoon had fallen from his hand back into his mousse, and he was open-mouthed and staring again.

"You," he told her, "are terrible. Delightful and terrible and torturous."

He was even willing to bet she knew.

"I know!" Alice chirped.

She gave her finger one last unnecessary bit of sucking and picked up the rest of the cream puff. Fingers weren't done, but she wanted to use her tongue now. Off came the top of the pastry as Alice dedicated her attentions to the cream.

Robert kept staring.

"I am going to forget to eat entirely," he said weakly.

"That's the idea," Alice pointed out, using her finger again and losing the innocent look.

This was serious. She meant business, and business meant closing her eyes with an obscenely pleasurable look on her face, finger back in her mouth.

Robert continued not eating, too, but he was swirling the mousse around with his spoon, just to have something to do with that hand. Its grip on the spoon was like glue to paper, and his other fist was balled so tightly he was scratching open his palm.

Alice was enjoying herself a little too much. Half of it was, of course, acting. The noise she made, the absolutely blissful noise she made--that was acting. These were good, but they weren't that good. The look on her face, as though Robert really was eating, though not mousse, was also acting. But her intentions were true. And direct. And inappropriate.

Robert found himself truly wishing for a camera.

Something he'd never really thought about before.

"I am not sure what to say to you," he said, as if he felt he had to say something.

Alice opened her eyes. Somehow, she had worked herself up just enough to give her a helpful flush. "Actions, darling, it's all about actions."

And one long, long lick.

It was good cream.

"And wasting food," he laughed, because it was easier than to think about what she was doing in great detail.

Back to the mousse, which didn't deserve to be wasted.

"It's nothing at all to do with wasting food! It's to do with making you want to jump across the table."

"I have remarkable self-control."

Right then.

Alice deflated and set down the creampuff.

"I noticed."

"Because while I do want to jump across the table and into your lap, very much, and snog you senseless, I will maintain my manners and wait until we are back in the car," Robert said, quite sensibly and pragmatically, wondering internally just when he got this level of liberal.

"But who cares about manners!" Alice shrilled. So he did want to snog her! That was progress, at least, but by now she was usually on sex. Or done with sex and on another round.

"I do! It's quite important to me not to add to the fuss." He was also terrified. She might not like how he kissed. It had been quite some time.

"But--but that's not fair! I'm young and can't wait any longer or I'll get wrinkles!"

"You will do no such thing! You will be pristine eternally and you know it. I know it. Everyone doesn't but I'm sure they will make the case for me regardless – I haven't got wrinkles!" Robert added, putting a hand to his face just to make sure.

"You're going to give me wrinkles! You know it! You like it, don't you. You're getting off on making Alice hot and bothered."

"I am doing no such thing!" At least he really wasn't. He'd already lied that night, though he suddenly couldn't remember what it was he had lied about. Or misled, really, more than lied.

Alice wrinkled her nose.

It still didn't feel real. The whole boyfriend thing. That Robert actually was. She had teased him sexually for months, though never stooped quite as low as she was now. Despite that, it wasn't much of a leap, so watching him eat his mousse felt like any other ordinary day. Except that he had told her he loved her. And that he wanted to snog her.

And he wasn't talking anymore.

He simply ate his mousse, relaxed in his seat and tried his best to calm himself down. It was sweeter than anything he usually ate; it was – it was unsettling in the fact that he was being watched while he ate it.

"Am I doing something interesting?"

"What?" Alice asked, catching herself and managing not to laugh. "I mean, can't I look at you?"

"Well. Yes. But. I am eating, it's not the most interesting thing ever."

So Robert added the illusion of spectra to his hair; the color shifting from red all the way through the colors of the rainbow and back to the beginning, all the while acting as if he didn't notice.

The sound Alice made might have been a laugh, might have been a squeak, but it was certainly a sound and she made it several times as she watched his hair.

Alice, unlike Dawn, didn't even think about the fact that they were in public.

Dawn would have yelled at him. Dawn was a mother hen, even toward a man who once posed as her uncle and not her brother. The true patriarch of the family and Dawn told him to stop being silly – but she needed to, because sometimes the change of the times didn't catch up to him.

Oh well.

"What?" Robert asked, seeming genuinely confused, glancing to either one of his sides as the hair changes kept going. "Is something happening?"

"You fibber! You know!" Alice reached across the table and ran her hand through his hair.

The color came off on her hand – it was a very bright neon-esque green. Robert put his spoon down and widened his eyes.

"Alice, your hand!"

Alice burst out in a grin that was brighter than the color. "I didn't know that would happen! That's the most brilliant thing I've ever seen!" She ran her other hand through his hair.

His hair had been neat. Oh, well. Sacrifices had to be made.

Her other hand pointedly didn't change, because Robert was being a jerk.

A jerk keeping a straight face. "What – why are you touching my hair? There's nothing in my hair!"

"OI!" Alice screwed up her face and marched around the table. "You liar! I want the color on my other hand!" She rubbed her hand in his hair again.

"There is nothing in my hair!" Robert extended his other hand to Alice – it was bright green. "If you wanted this color, though, help yourself, take it!"

Alice paused and stared at his hand. The look on her face changed from frustration to blank shock so quickly that it might have been comical had she actually seen it. Mostly, she was stunned.

Robert blinked, and then made the mistake of saying the first thing he thought of: "What?"

Alice looked thoughtful for a moment.

"Does that stain?"

"Do you want it to?"

"No. So does it?"

"No." Probably.

Alice spun around. "Good, now grab my arse!"

Robert laughed.

"Now, why don't you want it to stain? Also, you realize, it has a green thumb – you might sprout gluteal growths."

Alice sighed a loud, exasperated sigh, something that could pierce ears, and looked down over her shoulder at him. "Do you want to grab my arse or don't you? I bet those waiters would do it. OI, YOU LOT--"

Three things happened at once:

Robert sighed to himself, too, shook his head and did as he was told – it wasn't quite a grope but it was certainly a grab.

Two of the waiters turned around to look.

A camera flashed.

Almost instantly after: Robert swore in Latin.

Alice, on the other hand, squealed and clapped her hands. It wasn't until she had sat down that she realized Robert may have been traumatized off ever grabbing her ass again, and her face fell.

"That was nice," she offered him.

"– thank you," he said weakly, sitting back down, hand no longer green. (His hair was still bright blue. He'd forgotten to undo it, but the spectrum had frozen in place.)

Alice decided not to tell him.

He looked handsome, his hair slightly mussed and very blue.

"You can get more practice in later."

"I ... am sure I will, yes! Now, do you want to linger here or would you like to be going –" to snog in the car?

"I'm cold. Let's do go. They'll take more pictures of us and sell them to the papers. Oh, I hope Mallory and Vi don't find out before I tell them. They're going to have fits."

"I hope it was a black and white camera!"

"You never know these days."

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