Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 4 of 13

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The mint puff ends up not in Chessur’s ear, but stuck to the underside of his chin, like a frothy green beard. Alice had very much enjoyed his consternated glare and the Hatter’s insane giggles. Chess had vanished in a fit of pique and the puff had dropped to the lawn with a soft splat! And then Alice had raced over to the Hatter to pat his cheek and remind him to breathe.

It’s difficult for Alice to summon up the energy to wrestle the next day. She knows it’s an important skill. She’ll need to know how to outmaneuver an opponent even when she’s pinned down. Again, she’s paired with the Hatter as none of the others are large enough to present much of a challenge.

“Right,” the Hatter says brusquely, shedding his coat and top hat. “Let’s start.”

“Ahem,” Chessur gently interrupts. “You seem to be favoring your left side a bit. You know I could...”

No!” The Hatter clears his throat. “I’m fine.”

Alice hesitates. She had been noticing his reluctance to use his left arm to its fullest. “Is it your shoulder or your ribs?” she asks, glancing about for the medicinal paste that’s become her constant companion this past week.

“Neither. I’m fine.”

“Then why is Chessur trying to... Actually, what are you trying to do exactly, Chess?”

The Cheshire Cat shrugs. “Merely take Tarrant’s place in your fight. He needs a rest.”

Mally giggles. “Oh, I never thought I’d hear you volunteer yourself for a hair-pulling, toe-stomping, hand-biting free-for-all!”

“Indeed,” Alice agrees, startled. If Chessur – snobbish, selfish, self-obsessed creature that he is – is offering to roll around in the dirt and grass in the Hatter’s place, there must be something wrong. She glances at the Hatter. “Perhaps we should just save this for another day...”

“No need to do that!” Tweedledee insists.

“Right! Just sit this one out, Hatter,” Tweedledum says.

Alice watches his lips pull back over his teeth in hostile response. Eager to make peace now, Alice says, “Let’s just take the rest of the day off...”

“But the queen’s expecting your answer the day after tomorrow!” Mally interjects.

Alice winces.

“She d’snae have teh agree teh anythin’ afore’r after Monday,” the Hatter snarls.

But Alice wants this decided. She wants to make a choice, once and for all, and stick to it. Wandering aimlessly around the castle indefinitely is not something she’s looking forward to. She sighs, “Hatter, just let me take a look at you before we decide to continue.”

It’s a reasonable request.

So, naturally, he refuses.

“I’m fine.”

Alice grits her teeth.

“Alice, if I might be so bold as to ask why you’ve declined my services?”

She turns to address Chessur. “Well, frankly, your evaporating qualities –”

“Will not interfere. I give you my word.”

Alice blinks, surprised that he’d promise that despite the damage she could do to him. “And, then there’s your... size. I don’t think I’ll be fighting any cat-sized suitors, so...”

“Oh, but Chessur can change his size!” a Tweedle announces.

“That and more!” the other interjects. “Didn’t he tell you how the Hatter and Mally escaped execution?”

“Oh, um,” Alice struggles to remember. She’d been so glad to see him in one piece, she hadn’t really focused on the details. She looks at the Hatter. “You said something about disrupting the peace and stirring up the anti-big head sentiment, I think.”

“Trust you to leave out my heroic contribution,” Chessur sighs in disappointment.

“Chessur disguised his-self as the Hatter,” Mally explains.

Alice regards the Cheshire Cat with eyes that must be comically wide. “You can do that?”

“Oh, yes. Well enough to fool even the executioner. I am a shape-shifter, you know.”

“I didn’t. I just thought it was the evaporating qualities you’d mentioned.”

He grins. “As Tweedledum has pointed out, I do do that... and more. With your permission, Alice?”

“It’s not necessary!” the Hatter insists. “I. Am. Fine.

Alice whirls on him. “If you are then you won’t have a problem unbuttoning your shirt and giving us a look at your left side, then will you?”

His hand reaches for the first button, but rather than open it, he clutches it in a tight fist. “I’m fine.”

Making a decision, Alice turns toward her other tutors. “Can you become anyone, Chess?”

“Well, yes, but it takes quite a bit of time to learn the shape...”

“So, it’d be easier to choose someone you’ve already been.”


“And how many shapes do you know?”

“Well, this one, of course. And Tarrant’s...”

Alice waits. When it becomes clear that those are her only two options, she gapes. “You’ve never learned anyone else’s shape?”

“Well, as you said, with my evaporation skills, where would be the need?”

“I see.” Alice looks from the Hatter to the Cheshire Cat and back again. She closes her eyes and sighs. “I accept your offer Chess.”


An inarticulate growl is the Hatter’s response. An instant later, he’s standing so close to her she can feel the heat of his temper. She opens her eyes and is slightly surprised that the others have given her and the Hatter a bit of space. Having never seen Chessur transform into anything other than air and cat, the Tweedles and Mally are quite engrossed on the slow morphing taking place in the clearing.


“Hatter,” she replies, turning to face him.

“You asked me to do this.”

“Yes, I did.” She reaches out a hand to him and touches his left elbow. “And I’ve injured you. That’s inexcusable.” She studies his face as she moves her hand along his arm then up to his shoulder. “Show me where it hurts the worst.”

“Hurts the best,” he corrects her, shortly. “If it hurt worse, it wouldn’t be much of a hurt, would it?”

“I suppose not.” Her hand drifts over his shoulder and down the left side of his chest. He stands there in silence and bears the examination. Alice wonders at her own actions. A week ago she never would have imagined touching the Hatter – or any man, for that matter – with so little regard for propriety. But she’d been spread eagle on the ground under this man more times than she can count over the last few days. And she’d had him on his stomach, pushing his hips down, pinning his back to the pitch. She’d had her arms around his neck in a headlock and her legs around his chest to keep him from using any leverage against her. She’s... well, if not for the clothes... she’s been intimate with the man. Practically.

When Alice’s fingers probe along one of his ribs, he draws a sharp breath. Exploring the area, she maps out an area the size of her knee. A wave of remorse floods her. “I did this yesterday.” She vaguely remembers striking him right about here with her knee to knock him off of her when he’d tried to grab her knife. In the end, she’d twisted his arm behind his back and managed to pin him to the pitch. She’d thought it had ended a bit too easily. Now she knows why.

Alice lifts her gaze to his. It disconcerts her to find that his brilliant green eyes are watching her intently. “I’m sorry.”

He doesn’t reply as she starts working on his shirt. She doesn’t open every button, just the four that will give her enough room to see the bruise. Alice looks down and squeezes her eyes shut. “It looks pretty bad.”

With shaking hands, she opens the jar of ointment and scoops out a bit. Warming it in her palm, she speculates, “I think I might have broken your rib, actually. Maybe you should wrap it...”

Avoiding his stare, Alice applies the paste as gently as possible. She tries not to think too much about the fact that she’s standing in a sheltering copse of trees, alone with a man who is barely dressed – at least according to her mother – with her hand inside his shirt. Alice keeps her eyes on what she’s doing with effort. The Hatter’s stare is a presence in and of itself.

When she’s finished, Alice removes her hand with what she hopes is clinical detachment and re-buttons his shirt. Stepping back and collecting the jar from the grass, she clears her throat and informs him: “All finished.”

“Is it?”

Startled by his tone, Alice meets his gaze and... oh. Oh! She swallows with difficulty. This is the first time she’s ever seen his eyes anything approaching that shade of violet before. The part of her mind not frozen in shock, anticipation, and fear wonders what mood this color indicates...

The moment stretches between them. The Hatter’s eyes are a furious, blazing violet, but he doesn’t move a muscle. Alice feels her body slowly tense for either escape or an attack.

“Alice! We’re ready whenever you are!”

Startled by the sound of the Hatter’s voice, she turns and gapes at... well, the Hatter. No, no. Not the Hatter. The Cheshire Cat as the Hatter. He saunters over, grinning, as usual.

“The voice, too?” Alice wonders aloud. For some reason, that’s both comforting and deeply, deeply disturbing.

“I’m nothing if not thorough,” he assures her.

Alice risks a glance at the Hatter’s eyes. Peridot green. Not the best of his moods, but certainly better than an orange, murderous rage or whatever that violet had represented.

“If you don’t want to coach me this time, it’s fine,” she tells him.

The Hatter glances at her. Barely. “No, it isn’t.”

Alice watches as he strides into the clearing, stops just outside the line of trees, and crosses his arms over his chest.

“What is going on here?” she murmurs.

The Cheshire Cat Hatter leans closer to her and Alice is relieved when the scent she breathes in is very much that of cat hair and windswept fields. “You know I can’t ruin the surprise,” he rumbles. “But you might want to figure it out a bit sooner rather than later.”

Alice notes the Hatter’s stiff posture in the distance. She nods.

“Wonderful. After you, Alice?” He gestures her into the clearing and she goes, already regretting opening her eyes this morning. Deeply.


The White Queen drifts into her office just after morning tea on Monday. She barely has time to wonder how Alice has been getting on or when she’ll make her decision when she’s startled by a shadow separating quite distinctly from the free-standing time piece along the wall.

Heart racing, the queen presses a hand to her chest and struggles for a smile. “Alice?”

The intruder takes another step and the queen relaxes. “I’m sorry I startled you.”

“Ah, Alice. No harm done. How are you?”

“Fine. And you, Your Majesty?”

Mirana smiles wistfully. “As always, our rest days are far too short.”

Alice nods and takes the seat Mirana gestures to. Slipping into the adjacent chair, the queen comments, “You look tired, Alice. Are you sure you’re all right?”

Her Champion nods. “Yes. It’s been a trying week. Everyone worked very hard to train me. I really appreciate the opportunity,” Alice thanks her.

“I did nothing!” the queen protests with heartfelt modesty.

“You organized this. And you probably had a few words with the Hatter on several occasions.” Alice grins wryly. “I don’t think he would have stuck it out if you hadn’t.”

Mirana blinks. “I’m afraid I haven’t spoken to Tarrant all week. What do you mean by that Alice?”

For the first time since the interview began, an expression other than calm self-assurance is shown on Alice’s face. “You didn’t? But I thought...” She shakes her head and sighs. “I’ll never understand him... Which is odd because I thought I did.


The Queen’s Champion sighs. “It’s nothing.” When the queen merely fixes a severe stare on Alice, the younger woman finally relents: “I just wish he’d figure out whether or not he wants me to do this. He certainly gave me the what-for when I told him I wasn’t going to slay the Jabberwocky. But now he... I don’t know. He’s taught me all week, but he kept asking me to refuse your offer... but sometimes he’d look so... pleased with my progress... until Saturday, that is. Then it was all business. I just... don’t understand.”

“What happened on Saturday?” the queen inquires.

Alice leans back in her chair and crosses her trouser-clad legs. “We were due to start wrestling...”

The queen blinks, startled. Dear Fate, wrestling?! What sort of combat has the Hatter and his cohorts been teaching her Champion? Whatever happened to white gloves and rubber-capped foils and padded shirts?

“... but the Hatter was hurt. My fault. I think I fractured one or two of his ribs the day before...”

“His ribs?” Mirana murmurs, astounded.

“With my knee.”

“Your... why?”

“To get him off of me and flat on the ground.” Alice doesn’t say “of course”, but the queen can hear it in her tone.

“I... see.” But she doesn’t. She’s alarmed to realize that she hadn’t given much thought to what the training of a Champion would involve. Or how... thorough her Hatter would be. Mirana clears her throat. “Please, continue.”

“So,” Alice obliges, “I was wrestling with Chessur. But he wasn’t Chessur. Did you know he’s a shape-shifter?”

“Yes, since Tarrant and Mally managed to escape the...” The queen’s eyes widen at the implication. Alice confirms it with her next breath.

“I was wrestling Chessur, as the Hatter. On Saturday. Before the throwing-knives and spears. Sunday was garrotes and more wrestling...” Alice frowns. “He wants me to say ‘no’ but he won’t tell me why.”

Mirana summons a serene smile despite the disjointed summary. “Well, let’s look at this logically. His attitude changed on Saturday so there must be something that precipitated it on that day.”

Frustrated, Alice throws up her hands. “I’ve been going over it again and again, but nothing makes sense!

The phrase startles a revelation from the queen. “Perhaps not. So, let’s look at it from the perspective of madness.”

“I... beg your pardon?”

“Think like Tarrant,” the queen invites.

Alice barks out a laugh. “No one thinks like him.”

“Try, Alice.”

With a huff, Alice closes her eyes. The queen watches her expression as it changes. Irritation makes way for concern, then anger and sorrow... too many emotions to count. After a very long couple of minutes, the queen sees something she’s been waiting for.

Alice opens her eyes. “The Hatter... could he... might he think he’s attached to me?” she asks wonderingly.

“Do you think he wants to keep you for a pet?” the queen challenges, doing her best to subtly poke Alice in the direction she should be looking.

“... no.”

The queen waits.

“He can’t... he doesn’t think he...” Alice swallows. For a moment, the queen wonders if she’ll turn away from the thoughts she’s quite obviously having. But, of course, her Champion would find the courage in the end: “Does he think he loves me?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“And he wants me to stay in Underland – being your Champion would guarantee that – but he doesn’t want me to get hurt, which is bound to happen if I continue to be your Champion...”

A bit taken aback by that observation – well, the last half of it anyway – Mirana rushes to assure her, “You must believe that I’d never intend for you to be hurt because of me, Alice. Honestly, the Wooing Rites are a formality. Although the Queen’s Champion must participate, the duel itself was never intended to be a true... conflict. I don’t know what sort of techniques the Hatter’s been teaching you, but I highly doubt they’ll be needful in the duels.”

Alice nods. “But he’s acting like he expects differently.”

The queen leans back in her chair and sighs. “He’s probably thinking of the Trial of Threes.”

“What is it?”

“It’s to do with the Jabberwocky. Yes, the one you’ve already slain.”

“I don’t understand... is it not dead?”

“Oh, you did slay it. Quite hard to miss that!” The queen shudders at the memory. “The Trial of Threes has to do with the fact that there is only one Jabberwocky in Underland. And there must be one. After all, without the darkness we cannot see the stars...”

After a brief pause which she uses to collect her thoughts, Mirana explains, “Three years, three months, three weeks, three days, three hours, three minutes, and three seconds – three and a third years precisely – after the Jabberwocky is slain, it will rise again. Reborn. The first hour of its reincarnation is very important. The Jabberwocky will be considerably more impressionable at that time than at any other in its life. My sister took advantage of this when she recruited it into her service. The previous barer of the Vorpal Sword had died shortly after killing the Jabberwocky. Iracebeth sent someone – probably her Steward, Ilosovich Stayne – to negotiate with it when it reemerged.”

The queen takes a deep breath and speaks bluntly, “In less than three months, I’ll ask you, my Champion... if you choose to remain my Champion after hearing this... I’ll ask you to go to the battlefield – to the Jabberwocky – to negotiate an alliance. And, Alice, you will have to go alone.”

In the silence that follows, the ticks and tocks of the clock mark the time.

Finally, just when Mirana thinks she’s going to have to start counting off the seconds in the thousands, Alice whispers, “I don’t think I can do that.”

“I know it sounds dreadful, having to face it again when you’ve already faced and defeated –”

“No, that’s not...” Alice takes a deliberate breath. “The Jabberwocky killed the Hatter’s clan, didn’t it?”

“Under Stayne’s instructions,” the queen speculates.

“I’m not sure if that matters. The Hatter... we both know he’s not entirely sane. Especially about that Horvendush Day. He can’t be rational about the Jabberwocky. If you make peace with it... if I help you...”

“He may never forgive us.”

“He may never have a moment of sanity again.”

The queen frowns. “Then, perhaps there is another way. I will consult the historical records. Perhaps there is some other option.”

Alice nods. “Maybe someone from the Outlands could do it.”

Mirana doubts that will end in anything other than disaster, but she doesn’t put the thought into words.

Alice concludes, “If the Jabberwocky doesn’t agree to keep to itself far away from this castle and the Hatter, I’ll kill it. And we’ll do this again in another three and a third years.”

The White Queen hesitates to endorse that plan. “Alice, reconsider, please. The Jabberwocky will not have forgotten you and the fact that you defeated it once. And it will remember every time you defeat it thereafter. Our best chance for peace is in twelve weeks. Slaying it again will only inspire a grudge that may very well be insurmountable.”

Alice slumps in her chair. “This place doesn’t do things by halves, does it?”

“No, I can’t say it does.”

The queen watches as Alice runs a hand through her unbound hair. After a moment, she inquires, “Did the others give you their report on my progress? Am I any good at dueling?”

The queen shakes her head. “This decision must be yours alone, Alice.”

With a slight scowl, Alice stands and walks out onto the balcony. She braces her arms on the railing and looks out over the sea of ever-blossoming trees. After a moment, the queen follows her but stops before stepping out onto the balcony. She’s seen far too many plummeting tea tables to feel comfortable crossing it without a very good reason.

Alice drums her fingers on the stone and the queen notices that her hands, surprisingly, don’t look any rougher than they had last week with the exception of a few red spots: half-healed blisters that will become calluses. Not for the first time, Mirana wishes the Oraculum had called for someone else to slay the Jabberwocky. Anyone else. Alice should not be forced to bear this destiny. And that is why the Oraculum has been tucked away in a very well-concealed container ever since that Frabjous Day: it’s ridiculous and juvenile, but the queen hopes that if no one knows Alice’s future as it’s foretold, then she will be able to make her own.

Oh, how we fight against you, Fate. Whether you are friend or fiend...

Alice turns around, regards something over head for a moment, and then crosses the balcony, stopping at the queen’s side.

“I’ll do it,” she says quietly. “But don’t tell anyone yet.” Her gaze shifts upward again, no doubt in the direction of the window to Tarrant’s rooms above them. “I’ll try to explain it to him, but it might take a few days. And, please, no banquets or balls or celebrations about it.”

“Why are you agreeing if you don’t feel it’s something to be celebrated?”

Alice closes her eyes briefly. When she opens them, there’s an acceptance about her that the queen’s never seen before. “I want to belong here. I think I’m good at fighting, actually. I think I could be even better. It feels like this is what I’m meant to do. Nothing’s ever... stirred my blood like being your Champion. And I... whatever happens, I don’t want to leave again.”

“You don’t have to accept this position in order to stay,” Mirana hurries to say.

“I know that. But, like you said, we all have our roles. The Hatter waits for me and I arrive. The Jabberwocky destroys whatever is in its path and I fight it. You shine light all across Underland and I do what I can to keep back the shadows.” Alice gives the queen a confident grin. “I’m ready to accept that.”

Mirana blinks back against the heat of sudden tears. “Thank you, Alice.”

Alice nods and turns toward the door.

Mirana drifts over to her desk and collects an assortment of parchments. “Oh, and Alice?”

A few paces from the door, Alice turns.

Lifting the first document, the White Queen reads, “’It can’t be said how good Alice will be at dueling stuck-up scumbags, but she’s trounced the Hatter more often than not.’”

The queen smiles at the look on Alice’s face. “That was from Mallymkun.”

“I could tell.”

“And this one: ‘Alice might need another month before she can duel, but, contrariwise, she might not. She’s a natural at fighting, a natural fighter.’ From the Tweedles.”

Alice blinks. “I wonder how long it took them to word that.”

The queen chuckles and picks up the next parchment. “’Tell Alice to cut her hair. If that tove’s nest gets in her eyes, nothing good will come of it. Otherwise, I expect she’ll perform quite admirably.’”

“From Chessur?” Alice asks.

The queen nods and reaches for the final parchment. She glances down at the handwriting. The words are too dark, too slanted. The vellum has been permanently dented by the pressure of the writer’s hand. Having heard Alice explain her experiences over the last week and the inner turmoil Tarrant must be facing down every minute of every day, the queen is quite surprised by his conclusion.

She reads, “’Any queen would be honored to have a Champion with as much muchness.’”

“Tha...” Alice clears her throat. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”

“Thank you, Alice.”

The queen watches her Champion exit the office. Alone now, the queen allows her smile to fade. She looks back at Tarrant’s report, her eyes drawn to the nearly illegible scrawl that takes up the lower three-quarters of the page:

If she dies I shall never forgive her she will not leave me again don’t die Alice stay live stay live not the same go back to Upland and live stay with me and never pick up a sword if you die I shall never never never NEVER...

The queen looks away. She doesn’t have to read the entirety of it a second time.


Tarrant Hightopp is a hatter. He is not a fighter, not naturally, not without a campaign of vengeance to lift his sword. He is a hatter and hatters make hats. It’s a trying process with many inconceivably meticulous details in each stage of creation. Tarrant Hightopp is a hatter and he plies his trade again with a fierce focus he has not enjoyed for some time.

As he works, he is not burdened with worry and fear and anguish and terror over Alice and her future.

As he works, he does not feel the bruises on his shins, knees, and ribs. He only feels the tiny war wounds on his fingers as he fights with his materials.

As he works, he does not see Alice and himself – no, not Tarrant but that imposter! – grappling on the ground. He does not see her eyes flash with determination. He does not see her face flush from exertion. He does not see her chest heave with labored breaths. He does not see the way she moves. He does not marvel at her grace. He does not wonder at her strength of will. He does not see or think of her at all.

But, sometimes, he smells her.

Sometimes, like now.

Tarrant bends over his creations with renewed intent.

The scent does not leave him, however.

He slams his things down on the worktop. Oh, how utterly, unforgivably, mercilessly cruel his memory is! Just last week, he’d savored this fragrance and now it eviscerates him!

Perhaps it will overcome this persistent stomachache. A new pain would be welcome. Anything different would be welcome.

He braces his hands against the worktop, lowers his head, and closes his eyes, allowing himself to become lost in his mind. The madness surrounds him constantly now, ever since she’d touched him. Touched him with her bare hand against his skin. Beneath his shirt. And he’d almost... almost...

No! Think o’ something else! Anythin’ else!

He can’t. Perhaps he doesn’t want to. If he were honest with himself, he’d admit that he doesn’t even try to turn his thoughts away from that moment. It’s the closest thing to... to... to knowing another person he’s felt in... years.

He fists his hands as the memory loops around, repeating.

Her fingers on the buttons of his shirt and his shock.

Her gentle touch as she’d tended to his injury and his sudden, overwhelming need for her.

In that moment, he would have done anything to ensure that she would never ever dare to leave AGAIN!

He shudders. The madness holds him close and he wishes... He wishes her scent would leave him be, stop tormenting him. He wishes he could capture Time and place it as the centerpiece on Thackery’s tea table. He wishes he could keep Alice there in the neighboring seat, with her knee only a twitch away and her hand on his arm and her eyes shining with humor and...


... and the sound of his given name spoken in her voice.


No, not like that. More softly, gently...


Ah, yes. Just so. Just exactly unimaginably indescribably so...

“Open your eyes.”

The whisper is compelling but he resists. “Again,” he rasps.

The madness recedes enough for him to hear the silence of the room. Blessed, wondrous silence...

“... Tarrant...”

... silence and Alice, saying his name.

He opens his eyes and pivots unsteadily. “Alice,” he murmurs, feeling her hands slide down his shoulders and away from him.

No, no, not yet!

He reaches for her hand, targeting the left one at random, capturing it in both of his and gripping tightly. He wants to tell her not to go. Stay! But he can’t find any words, any breath. Only desperation answers his call for sanity.


The exclamation startles him. He looks down and opens his hands and stares...

A drop of intriguingly crimson-colored blood swells on the tip of Alice’s finger. Her third finger. On her left hand. Tarrant stares at what must be the work of providence. The wildness grips him again and...

Alice gasps.

Tarrant blinks and notices two things immediately: first, he’s holding Alice’s fingers to his lips; and second, he’s brushing his tongue over the droplet of blood, tasting her.

What have ye done?!

No, no, no. Should not. Must not!

“I’m sorry! I’m so very sorry, Alice!” Frantically trying to distract himself from the taste of her, he examines her fingers for other injuries and hopes – mostly – for none. “The pin in my cuff must have... I’m so very... I hurt you, Alice!” he concludes, devastated, disconcerted, disoriented.

“It’s all right,” she replies with maddening patience.

“No! No! It is not all right!” What have I done? It stops here. She must not... no, no, of course she won’t! Why would she want to...? “And, of all the appalling manners!” he stutters, flustered. “To take liberties on your person as I have! I’m so deeply... I can’t... I don’t know...!”

He can hear her saying “Hatter” again and again, touching his face, but it doesn’t help. His wretchedness can get no more acute, no better, no more absolutely suffocating.

A slight pain distracts him enough to focus and his nonsensical words and disjointed sentences dry up in his mouth at the sight of Alice lifting Tarrant’s own just-pricked heart-line finger to her lips.

“... no...”

The word is so soft it can barely be called a sigh. He watches, helpless, entranced, as Alice glances at the perfectly normal bead of deep blue blood before parting her lips and...

... and...

... and Tarrant focuses again. With some relief, he realizes he hasn’t moved a muscle. Yes, yes, that’s for the best. He wouldn’t want to... No, no, of course he wouldn’t. He won’t. Alice doesn’t really understand what she’s done, now, has she? No, of course not...

“There,” she says with a victorious little grin. “I reckon that makes us even.”

She’s still holding his hand. He can still taste the very odd salty tang of her blood on his tongue. And he...


He watches as his right hand reaches for her, tangles in the hair at the back of her neck, and lifts her face to his. When had he closed the distance between them? He doesn’t know nor does he care. His lips brush against hers and he wants so much more than this shadow of a kiss, but he must not, dares not, will not!

She holds onto him. Her hands curl around his arms and she holds onto him!

Tarrant’s entire being shudders with joy and longing and...

No. No! D’nae take more than this!

But even as he thinks it, her mouth moves against his. Her lips part. Just the smallest increment.

He groans and, shaking, unsteadily trails his tongue along the inside of her lips.


This time, he does. Breathing heavily, he gently releases her and clasps his hands together to keep them from finding their way back to her again.

“I’m sorry...” he begins, struggling to push the whirling emotions back and do the proper thing and...

“I’m not.”

Tarrant looks at her. Examines her. He clutches his hands together tighter. Her hair – he’d grasped it in his hand! – tumbles over her shoulder rather than down her back, as usual. Her lips – he’d savored them! – curl into a knowing smile. He can think of nothing to say to her. He can barely keep his mind from drowning in the frothing, churning, raging tide of everything-he’s-ever-felt-but-is-suddenly-feeling-all-at-once!

And then she places a hand against his cheek. He closes his eyes, feels his knees buckle, and...

Perhaps he hits the worktable on his way to the floor. Perhaps he lands on a pile of hats. Perhaps he falls through a looking glass and into another world entirely.

He has no idea.

Nor does he particularly care.


“Excellent work, Alice. Just spectacular,” Alice mutters as she staggers under the Hatter’s weight. When he’d swayed, she’d ducked under his arms, hoping to somehow maneuver him over to the battered sofa against the far wall, but after the third step, she suddenly feels herself overbalance and then...!  Alice scrambles to cushion his impact as best she can.  She’s just glad he doesn’t hit his left side on anything. And that she hadn’t kicked it and reinjured him.

She pulls bolts of fabric down to the floor, lifts his head and slides the softest of them under it for a pillow. She hesitates over how to make him more comfortable on the cold floor of his workshop. “Well, the cravat looks a bit tight...”

Alice loosens it and releases the top button on his shirt. Wisely, she leaves his jacket, waistcoat, trousers and boots alone. She makes a seat for herself on an assortment of fabric bolts and then spreads another – the warmest-looking – over him. With that done, she presses a hand to his forehead but he feels normal. Perfectly normal. No chills or fever. Not in the conventional sense, anyway.

With a sigh, she tidies up the things the Hatter had knocked over first when she’d surprised him and then when he’d been working himself into a frenzy of regret and, finally, when he’d passed out.

“Some Champion of kisses you are, Alice,” she murmurs, setting a bowler hat with a jade green hat band on the tabletop.

When she’s picked up everything within arm’s reach – even a few tiny pins and a dusty button, Alice turns back to the Hatter and once again places her hand on his brow. From there, it migrates into his vivid hair.

“Soft,” she muses. Softer than she’d expected. The kiss had been as well. When his irises had suddenly burst into that unmistakable violet, she’d had no idea of what to expect. But his hand in her hair had been nothing but gentle. And the way he’d curled his body down to her had been alarming only insofar as how her own body had tingled in anticipation. Then, before she could be shocked at herself for wanting to kiss him, he’d settled his mouth against hers.

Alice closes her eyes. His breath had been as sweet as his blood. Blue blood. The taste of which had been... like caramels and bergamot. How strange. But then, everything about the Hatter is strange. Always has been, at least since she’d first arrived in Underland. Alice feels that his strangeness is one of his finer qualities. Equal to his ability to see straight through to the truth of things.

Alice is not looking forward to disappointing him. Again.

In the silence, she rehearses her explanation:

I’ve decided. I’m the Queen’s Champion now. I’ll be careful but I’ll need your help every now and again when I get lazy and soft. I’m staying. And I know about the Trial of Threes. You’re half-mad and I’m out of my mind so we’ll find an answer between the two of us...

Actually, Alice muses, that’s not half-bad. “Of course you wouldn’t be awake to hear it. I’ll probably forget the whole thing by the time you come around.”

She huffs out a breathy laugh. “And here I’d always thought it was the ladies who swooned from a kiss...”

But, no, it hadn’t been the kiss that had caused this. There’d been something else in his eyes. A storm of triumph and panic and... something else. Perhaps he hadn’t meant to...

Alice tries to ignore the fact that her heart is sinking into her stomach.

Yes, there’s every possibility that he hadn’t meant to kiss her at all. Perhaps it had just been the madness. And it is madness for her to assume that anything has changed between them.

Regardless, Alice grasps his hand in hers, leans back against a nearby set of drawers, closes her eyes and waits.

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 4 of 13

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