Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 15 of 22

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Several people had heard the gunshot. Alice is sure of it. However, as is often the case, they had convinced themselves that they could not have possibly heard what they’d thought they’d heard (A gunshot? Here? At an Ascot soiree? Not likely...!) and had gone back to their champagne and sherry and brandy and cognac.

No one had bothered Alice and Tarrant in the shadow of the terrace.

They’d sat in the darkness, leaning against the stone, their weapons cleaned and stowed safely away. They’d left Valereth’s cane sword right where it lay. A groundskeeper or a gardener would find it later. (And, perhaps, keep it for himself.) Alice hadn’t cared and Tarrant had refused to look in the thing’s direction.

“Was I... dying?” she’d asked softly, unable to not confirm her suspicions.

“... aye...

“And I told you that the Jabberwocky blood could...”

“Ye tol’me teh Move through Time.” He’d sighed then. Heavily. “Were ye ne’er goin’ teh tell me tha’ th’ blood o’ th’ Jabberwock coul’do tha’?”

“I’m sorry. Mirana confided it in me. It’s a powerful secret.”

“An’ we’ll keep it,” he’d promised.

Alice had nodded and then huffed out a humorless laugh. “Yes. What’s one more?” She’d leaned away from him then and had declared, “I’m ready to go home now.”

He’d kissed her for that. And because their hearts had been entwined once more, the connection as strong as ever, he’d known she hadn’t been speaking of her mother’s house in London. No, the deep throb in her chest will only ever belong to Underland.

In the carriage ride home, Alice had asked, “What happened to our heart line earlier?”

And he’d explained this theory, his brogue thicker than ever and she’d taken his hand to ground him, to ground herself: “Aft’r I drank th’blood o’th’Jabberwock, I thought o’ye, dancin’ with Ascot an’ aft’r a spell, I found me-self there, watchin’ ye... again. O’ly, ‘twas nae right. This mind an’ tha’ body were nae meant fer each other... I s’ppose I had teh catch up teh Time again. Teh th’moment o’ my drinkin’ th’blood...”

“And Valereth? You were able to send him back... How did you know to do that?”

He’d clutched her to him with all his considerable strength. “B’cause I felt it, my Alice. Aft’r I drank it, I could feel Underland callin’ teh me. Callin’ me back. Withou’ye. It felt so... natural, easy teh say ‘aye’ an’ follow tha’ Call, an’ I had teh fight against it.” Her heart strains with the pulse of Tarrant’s remembered panic. She rubs his back and he calms. Continues: “Valereth, bein’ dead...”

“Wouldn’t be able to fight it.” She still wonders at that. Even though the man had been dead, the blood had worked. How is that possible? Doesn’t the drinker have to choose where or when to go...? Or... could it have been some other power at work? Had Krystoval commanded the man’s return somehow? But if so, why hadn’t Maevyn been able to do that before?

In the carriage, Tarrant had somehow managed a weary chuckle. “Ye’ll b’able teh ask yer questions soon, lass.”

“Yes. Soon.” Soon, the mirrors will be opened. Just as soon as Valereth’s body is found, Alice is sure Mirana will want to check on them and will open the small mirrors in order to do so.

Upon arriving home, Mr. Brown opens the door for them, collects the walking stick Tarrant had accepted from Townsend and then takes Charles Kingsleigh’s top hat from him. Alice keeps one arm wrapped – unseemly, her mother would say! – around her husband’s waist. They nearly make it to the stairs (and she can feel his body trembling with exhaustion and shock and what she suspects must be the endless loop of a memory so horrible she can’t even begin to fathom it) when Helen’s voice stops them.

“How was the gala?”

Alice stares at her, mind utterly blank. Images flash through her mind: unbridled dancing, the poking of appetizers, Hamish’s threat of awkward silence, Valereth’s blade, Tarrant’s body moving between hers and that villain’s, the gun, the Jabberwocky’s blood...

“I... It was...”

Very softly, Tarrant sobs out a shuddering sigh. She tightens her arm around him. It draws Helen’s disapproving gaze – Botheration! Now her mother will think Tarrant is sloshed! – but Alice soldiers on: “Fine. It was fine. A success.” The words are not only for her mother. “It feels as though we’ve done what we’ve come here to do. We hope we won’t be imposing on you for much longer, mother. Thank you for your hospitality.”

She turns back toward the stairs and urges Tarrant to step up.

“Alice...?” Helen asks, her tone hurt and confused.

Alice sighs. “May we discuss this tomorrow?”

“Oh... yes... of course... Good night, dear. Tarrant.”

And, bless him, Tarrant manages a perfectly enunciated and clear reply: “Thank you, madam. And a pleasant night to you as well. We apologize for keeping you up so very late.”

Alice glances over her shoulder, notices her mother’s surprised and speculative look, and gives her a tired smile. That’s right, mother, he’s not drunk.

“Something at the party must have disagreed with him,” Alice murmurs and Tarrant shivers.

Her mother nods, her gaze softening. “Shall I put some tea on?”

Alice smiles, beams! “That’s very...” Generous, forgiving, understanding... “... kind of you...”

Tarrant takes a deep breath and turns toward Helen. “Yes, very kind, madam. Thank you, but I’ll be... that is, I’m sure this will... Tea would only... Pass,” he decides, “it will pass... when it’s ready to do so. And I’m afraid tea won’t hurry it along.”

Helen nods in reply. “In that case, rest well... and as long as you like. I’d like you to consider this your home as well.”

Alice fidgets at the reminder of her hasty promise to vacate the premises. She doesn’t doubt that the subject will be brought up again on the morrow. Alice hopes that, by then, both she and Tarrant will have gotten a good night’s sleep.

They don’t.

Once in bed, in the darkness and relative silence of mid night, Tarrant clings to her, shudders. He tries to control the sobbing breaths his recollections force out of him, but can’t.

“Tell me?” she requests more than once.

“I cannae. Please, Alice. I cannae” is all he says in reply.

Time passes, exhaustion takes her away into sleep. Tarrant follows her and she knows this because his nightmare wakes her before it does him. Terror and desolation and pure denial pull her into wakefulness and her hands are pressed against his cheeks before she knows it.

“Tarrant! Wake up! Wake up!

And when he does – gasping, shivering, sobbing – he clutches her to him. He checks her hands, kisses her fingertips, massages her stomach... She suspects he would have moved down in bed and nuzzled it if not for the fact that he’d have to release her to do so.

“I wish I could share that memory with you,” she whispers into his hair, hating that he’s so alone in that moment that had happened-and-then-had-been-undone.

“No, Alice,” he croaks into her shoulder. “No, I couldn’t bear it if you Knew what I’ve seen... I wouldn’t...!”

“Shush...” she croons, rubbing his back, his sides, his shoulders, and hates that he’s forced to bear yet another Tragedy. Even if it’s only permitted an existence within the realm of his mind. “Shush. I’m here. We’re fine. We’re both fine. You saved us, my Champion... my Champion...”

And the night wears on. He urges her to sleep yet refuses to release her. Sometimes she manages to drift off in his warm, sometimes-shifting embrace. And she’s awakened by his panic, both when he’s awake and asleep.

It’s one of the longest nights of Alice’s life.

And the next day isn’t much better.

They spend the morning in bed.

“Help me think of names,” she asks at one point, eager to distract him from the memories. “What do you think of Freya or Persephone if it’s a girl? Orion or Gabriel if it’s a boy?”

Tarrant places a hand over her belly. “Alice, ye ken ‘tis impossible fer me teh help ye think.

“I believe in impossible things,” she reminds him and earns a weak giggle.

Alice manages to coax him into the bath and he looks better for it after the lingering scents of the party and... other events washed away.

“Sometimes I still see it,” he whispers when it’s her turn to bathe and he’s helping her rinse her hair – a much less arduous task than it is in his case. “When the light falls just so or your hands move and tilt just like...” He shivers. “I’m mad, Alice.”

She catches his hand in hers. “Maybe we both are. What do you see?”

“Yer blood, Alice. Red...”

“There’s no blood now.”

“I know... but...”

Alice sighs.

She’s brushing Tarrant’s mostly-dry tangled hair – after he’d admitted to being far too tired to bother with it himself – when the small looking glass on the table, the one Mirana had given them, shimmers and a small scroll rises up through it then flops over and rolls across the vanity. Neither of them are at their best so it takes a moment for Alice to really understand what had just happened.

She reaches over his shoulder and picks up the note. Opens it.

And reads.


Tarrant Hightopp knows his limits. He’d found them once – Horvendush Day! – and again – Frabjous Day and Alice fading into nothing before his very eyes! – and again – the duel against that slithy Oshtyer! – and again – the Trial of Threes and seeing her there, at the mercy of the Jabberwock – and again...

There are too many to count. Too many times he’s lost or nearly lost the only people – no, the only person – he loves. Tarrant Hightopp knows his limits.

And he’s reached them yet again.

All night, his mind had been pushed and pulled between the memory that hadn’t come to pass and the sight and feel and scent of his wife in his arms, safe! And he’d realized that he would do – will do! – anything to keep his Alice.  Keep her alive, safe...


He sighs.

“Tarrant?” He doesn’t look up as the bed dips – when had he moved here from the dressing table bench? He can’t recall... – and a warm, Alice-weight leans against his arm. “Did you hear what I said?” she asks with a worried frown.

Worried. His Alice is worried! About him!

Ge’yerself tehgether, lad!

He shakes his head smartly. “I’m so sorry, Alice. No, I didn’t. And I’m afraid we’re all out of Jabberwock blood so I can’t go back through Time to listen to what you’d said the first time.”

“It’s all right. I don’t mind saying it again: they found Valereth; Maevyn is already feeling better; and we can go home anytime we want.”

He considers that information and, looking up at Alice again when he believes he’s assimilated and stowed it all properly in his mind, asks, “Has the Oraculum unrolled, then?”

“Not yet. Mirana says that’s because they’re not deep enough yet. Whatever that means.”

“Ah... Ingenious. The Masters are moving Underland.”

“Moving it where?

“More under.

“Oh... But that’s fine, isn’t it? We can go back now. Mirana will reopen the mirror in my old room and then...!” She beams at him and despite the heaviness in his chest, Tarrant feels his own lips twitch helplessly in response. “Isn’t that wonderful?”

“I... yes, yes, it is.”

She leans back a bit and frowns worriedly again. He looks away, glances around as if seeking something that might whisk those worrisome worries away.

“But you’re not pleased,” she informs him.

His fingers curl until his hands are fisted on his thighs. He knows if he allows them to remain open one moment longer, he’ll be reaching for her and with the intensity of his emotions right now, he fears leaving bruises in his wake.

“Talk to me. Please,” she begs. Begs!!

Jus’ look a’wha’ye’re doin’ teh yer Alice, lad!

She gently cups his jaw in her hands and turns his face toward her. He’s scaring her. He can Feel it. “I’m so sorry, Alice. I don’t mean to... I don’t wish to... I’m so sorry.”

“What?” she prompts.

He hesitates. Wonders if Now is the time to speak of the Thoughts he’s been considering during his waking moments, ever since... in the shadow of the terrace... when she’d... and he’d... and they’d felt their littlin’s Futterwhacken and then...



He winces at her over-eager tone. He feels truly Guilty for worrying her, waking her at all hours – all his fault! – but this is not the Time for berating himself! (That will come Later!) Right Now, there is something... something more important than even that!

He clears his throat, stares at his still-fisted hands, and says, “Alice... how far would you go for...”

“For what?” she urges when his voice mysteriously fails him.

Tarrant turns, looks her in the eyes. “For me.”

She rubs her thumbs against his skin and then pushes her hands gently into his hair, bracing his neck between her palms. “I would do anything for you.”

“An’,” his voice warps around the knot in his throat. “If’n ‘twas sommat ye di’nae wan’tae do yerself?”

“Tell what you need.”

Need... He closes his eyes, swallows. Once again, his Alice’s choice of words is uncannily accurate. “I need ye teh be all righ’, Alice. E’en if it means...” Tentatively, he lifts his hands to hers and holds her touch against his skin, begs her not to let go of him, pleads with her not to stop holding onto him. He repeats, “E’en if it means stayin’ere. Wi’yer Mam an’ sister. ‘Til our littlin’s born.”

“I... what?” She had not expected That. He can see it in her expression, Feel it in his skin.

Tarrant looks away, clears his throat, lisps, “I know you want to go home, Alice.” So do I! he doesn’t say. “But, I can’t lose you... again. And this birthing business,” he briefly struggles against the Burning he’s been trying so desperately to hold back ever since the Thought of this monumental Risk had occurred to him. He struggles... and he loses: “Our littlin’s birthing could be dangerous! And what if you need a doctor or you start bleeding and what would I be able to do to save you and what does the queen know about Uplanders and what if I lose you both, Alice, and I can’t lose you both! Not again!

He grits his teeth, struggles against the returning tide of memory, of Alice’s blood and her weakening breaths and evidence of their child’s life and her dying in his arms and he couldn’t stop it AND...!

...please.” That’s all he trusts himself to say.

Her fingertips stir, massaging the corded muscles beneath the taut skin at the base of his skull. “All right,” she says.

For a moment, he can’t believe it had been that easy. He looks into her eyes. “All right?” he confirms.

She nods. “Yes, but... where will you be?”

The hesitance in her voice pulls a pang of panic from him. “With you!” he fairly shouts back, startled and upset.

She relaxes, releases a long-held breath.

“Alice...” A dry sob escapes his lips before he even feels it coming. “Ye think I’d let ye... stay Here wi’out me?

“Think? No,” she answers, leaning into him. “Fear? Maybe a little.”

He hauls her onto his lap and shakes his head against her shoulder. Her arms wrap around his neck. Her palms draw circles against his back. “I cannae be wi’out ye, Alice. Ne’er ask it o’me. If’n ye do, I’ll no’be able teh do it.”

“Nor could I.”

Her voice, so soft yet full of Everything, shores him up. He’s not fool enough to believe that he’s healed – that he’ll ever be healed completely – but his Alice sustains him, gives him the will to do what must be done, gifts him with the sanity necessary for doing it.

“So we’ll stay,” he decides. “Until the littlin’s born.”

“I want Mirana to come through the looking glass for that,” she bargains. “Just in case.”

“Aye. Agreed. An’ we’ll have an Upland doctor here ‘swell.”

“Ugh. I hate physicians.”

“Alice...” he says warningly.

She sighs. “All right. A physician and Mirana.”

He presses his lips to the fabric covering her heart. “Thank you.”

She combs her fingers through his hair for several long moments. “Of course, this means we’re going to have to tell Mirana about the baby...”

“Aye,” he agrees and then hears himself giggle. “I’ll leave that teh ye – ye can explain why ye waited so long teh tell her.”

Alice huffs. “I suppose I deserve that. Are you sure you don’t want to be there? Just to watch?”

“Mayhap I will, seein’ as how ye’ve just invited me teh.”

She snorts and pinches him under the arm.

He yelps.

And then, “Tarrant... could I ask a favor of you?

He leans back and waits.

She draws in a deep breath. “You realize we’ll be here for... months. Waiting?”

Tarrant nods.

“So, in that case, I think you’ll need something to occupy your time. During the day.”

“What do you have in mind?” he asks slowly, the brogue disappears right long with his playfulness.

She smiles. “Well, after the baby’s born, it’s going to be a while yet before I can resume my post as Queen’s Champion. I’ll need a temporary replacement.”

“Will you?”

“Um hm. And he’ll need to be in fit condition.”

“Is that so?”

“And it might be nice if he spent his time learning a new skill to teach me when I’m ready to start training again.”

“Like what?”

Alice smiles. “I’m sure Hamish will have a suggestion. When he makes it, say ‘yes’, all right? For me?”

Tarrant grins. “I suppose I can do that. But... Alice?”

She answers his suddenly somber expression with a worried frown. “Yes?”

“You would... trust me to look after the queen for you?”

Alice blinks at him and he feels a twinge of surprise deep within his chest. “Tarrant, I’ve been meaning to ask you to for... a while now,” she replies. “But, if I understand events correctly, I have already trusted you with the life and wellbeing of our child.” She regards him very seriously. “Name one person who is more important than that.”

“I can’t,” he admits, smiling again.

“Then there’s your answer,” she concludes and he accepts her brief kiss as a reward.

And when she leans back, he sees her eyes are sparkling with mischief and her lips are stretched into one of his favorite smiles: the smugly victorious one.

She informs him: “You’re going to be a father. It’s high time I started letting you enjoy that, don’t you think?”

He feels his eyebrows twitch upward and can only imagine the hopeful look on his face. It must be rather Something because Alice laughs, kisses him again, and declares in capital letters he can Hear quite clearly:

“Starting Right Now.”


“Tarrant, have you quite recovered from last night?”

“Oh, yes! Thank you, madam. As Alice suspected, one of those suspicious food items must have Disagreed with me.”  And, had they been creations of Thackery's they very well might have Disagreed with him!  Most vehemently and on a variety of topics!  Noisy things, a March Hare's Appetizers for Special Occasions!

“They tend to do that” had been her surprising agreement.  “Now, Alice. You can’t seriously be considering going back to wherever it is you’ve come from!” Mrs. Kingsleigh had blustered by way of a proper greeting. “You’ve only just arrived and, quite frankly, I’m not prepared to start missing you again!”

“All right.”

“And another thing, young lady, I—!” Helen had paused, backed up a step and continued, “I beg your pardon?”

“All right. We’ll stay if you’ll still have us. We talked about it and...” Alice had glanced at Tarrant who had given her an encouraging nod and a smile that had been so wide he could feel it stretching his cheeks. “We have something to tell you, actually.”

“Yes? What is it?”

Tarrant had taken his cue and pulled out her chair. “Perhaps you’d like to sit down first, madam?”

Watch that grin, lad. Ye’re goin’teh smile yerself right inteh a Fit...!

Mrs. Kingsleigh hadn’t made it as far as the chair before – having taken one look at Alice’s lopsided grin and a second at the beamish expression Tarrant could feel (still!) on his own face – guessing the very news they’d been about to impart: “You’re expecting!”

“Yes! Alice, your mother is most talented at guessing Things!” Tarrant had heard himself crow in delight. “I suspect she’s who you get it from! How do you suppose she knew?”

Fighting a smile, Alice had replied, “It couldn’t possibly be from that huge Papa Grin on your face, could it?”

“Huge Papa?” he’d echoed. “Alice, I assure you, I am of quite average height.”

And then Alice had laughed and Tarrant had Known that everything would be all right.

And, for the most part, everything is.

Questions had been asked:

“What month are you?”

“Have you seen a physician yet?”

“You’ll be staying until both you and the baby are strong enough to travel, won’t you?”

“Just where is this country you’ve come from, Alice?”

And answered:

“Oh, um, nearly to the fourth month, I suppose...”

“Er, yes, I have seen a physician...” Tarrant had held his tongue at the lie. But, no, Alice hadn’t Lied for they’d “seen” a physician at the Ascots’ country estate, on his way out as they’d arrived for the second meeting with Townsend. Still, that had not been what Mrs. Kingsleigh had meant at all!

“Well, actually, the journey back isn’t very arduous...”

“Oh, it’s here and there. Couldn’t possibly be found on a map, so don’t bother with the atlas, mother, please.”

And Others had been Notified:

Alice!  You're...!  But your husband can't even properly support you!” Tarrant had overheard Margaret object.  Yet again, he'd found himself eavesdropping on a private conversion of which he had been the topic of discussion. “His trade already places a heavy burden on you financially and socially...!" “No, it doesn’t.  Not where we live.  Tarrant is very fortunate in his position.  He's employed by the queen’s court and, for the most part, the work is light.  He’s well-compensated for his efforts.” “Court?”  Margaret had echoed and Tarrant had briely debated whether or not to take offense at her obviously startled tone.  But then he’d reminded himself that the only examples of his work she’s seen are Alice’s hat and his own.  “So that’s why mother didn’t look upset when I...” Alice had allowed the guilt from her sister’s admission to fill the room.  “Told her that Tarrant’s a milliner?  I expected you would mention it to her.” “But she already knew.” “Tarrant told her himself.” “He didn’t have to.  He could have left her to assume that his title was...” “But it’s not and he wouldn’t lie about that.  Not to his wife’s mother.”  There’d been a long pause and Tarrant had wondered if he might be able to (finally!) interrupt tactfully and announce tea, but...  Alice had whispered, “He's the last of his family... well, the last surviving adult.”  He'd imagined Alice's hand pressed against her belly then.  “At the moment.  But, one day, when we’ve managed to rebuild Hightopp Village, we’ll have those responsibilities to deal with.  And... I must admit: I’m not looking forward to that... change.” Somehow, the silence that had followed had been filled with hope, confidence, promise.  “You’ll do fine, Lady Hightopp.  As will your lord-tailor-husband.  He’s very... honorable.” And because nearly anything Alice might have said in reply would have merely drawn attention to the many shortcomings of Lord Manchester, Tarrant had chosen that moment to noisily stumble into the room and inform them of tea in the drawing room. For that, Alice’s smile had been one of relief, hope, and love.  But the Notifications had not ended there: “You. Are. With. Child?” Mirana had asked, half-in and half-out of the free-standing looking glass in Alice’s childhood bedroom, each and every word on an evenly spaced breathless-sounding sigh.


Tarrant had never seen the queen’s dark eyes flash with fury before. “And you did not see fit to inform me of this before I’d made my request for you to travel Up Here?!”

“How would that have changed anything?” Alice had asked, albeit in a chastened tone that Tarrant had enjoyed just a bit More Than He Should Have. “You would have still had to ask me to go. Are you truly angry with me for trying to spare you that additional responsibility?”

And the queen had actually glared! “I suppose I can’t be. But I won’t be forgiving you for withholding this from me so soon, Alice.” And then she’d looked from her Champion to him – her Hatter – and then back to Alice again, her pale face softening with disappointment and sorrow. “I’d thought, as your friend, you would have wanted to share your joy with me...”

Alice had winced. “Um...”

“Although, I suppose I should have known, what with Chessur going on about how I must be running short of Himoha flower but not saying a thing as to why...

Tarrant had heard Alice grit her teeth. “I’ll have Words with that cat when I get back!”

Oh, iambic pentameter!

But before he’d been able to draw their attention to the verse, the queen had turned on him: “And Tarrant...! Why would you wish to keep this from me?”

He didn’t,” Alice had bravely admitted.

“Ah.  I see.  In that case... however did you manage to keep yourself from running through the halls, shouting the news from the top of your lungs?” the queen had mused aloud, still addressing him.

“I very nearly did just that! Several times!” Instead, he’d had to rely on his Alice to help him channel the energy into less... disruptive pursuits. He’d grinned at Those Memories.

“I didn’t want to give up my position until it was absolutely necessary,” Alice had explained. “So...”

“So you asked poor Tarrant to keep the news to himself. And, of course, he did. Oh, Alice...!

The White Queen had glared.

Alice had fidgeted.

Tarrant, having decided that his Alice had suffered enough, had cast about for a way to break the awkward silence... a way that hadn’t involved iambic pentameter, which he’d been sure would not have been Appreciated at that moment.

He’d heard himself say, “We felt the first Futterwhacken just the other evening!” He had even successfully avoided thinking about the specifics of That Evening in particular.

“Oh, that is wonderful! Congratulations, both of you! So, the child is to be...?”

“A Hightopp. Not a Kingsleigh,” his wife had confirmed. (And, oh what a Discussion that had been at the time!) “Oh, I see.  So, you’ll be returning to Mamoreal shortly?” “Well, actually...” “I have concerns about Alice’s health, Your Majesty.  I’m worried... that, well...” “Tarrant fears I might have trouble during the labor and will need medical assistance.” Mirana had agreed, looking worried, “Yes, our healers here – myself included – won’t know anything about Uplandish mothers should youexperience difficulties.” “But I’ll need someone from Underland to come through to help with the birth... you know... just in case...” “Ah!  I see. Yes, your Uplander physicians won’t know the first thing about Outlandish babies now, will they?”

Tarrant hadn’t considered That! He’d merely assumed...

What? Tha’ th'blue blood woul'nae make any difference? Or th’changin’ eyes? Or th’—!

“Yes, exactly,” Tarrant had agreed, suddenly understanding why Alice had demanded the White Queen be present for the Main Event, “which is why we’d like to ask you to assist Alice. When the time comes.”

“Which I will be more than happy to provide, but A~lice...

“Er... yes?”

“No more of this ‘I can manage by myself’ business. When you go into labor, I expect to be notified immediately!

“You know me so well,” Alice had grumbled.

“Yes, I do. Are we in agreement?”

“We are.”

After a moment of heavy silence, Mirana had reluctantly admitted, “I am glad you told me. Finally.

Alice’s laugh had been a little forced. “I’ll be glad when you finally forgive me for keeping it a secret for so long.” And the queen had managed a smile that had hinted at the possibility of Alice being forgiven... someday... in the Distant Future.

“But, there is one other thing... Krystoval.  I know our staying here, in this land, is causing the Jabberwocky to be ill...” “Krystoval is holding up just fine.  If anything changes, I shall let you know.  Do not concern yourself with that when you have much more important things to sort out.” Alice had sighed yet again. “I do, don't I?  My mother is going to require an explanation. For a lot of things. Especially if you come through the mirror on a moment’s notice to help me through the labor.”

“How about the truth?”

Alice had blinked at her. “The truth? No. No, impossible.”

“How odd,” Mirana had replied with a sad smile, “that you should allow impossibility to defeat you now, my Champion. It never has before.”

Tarrant had suggested, “You might be surprised, you know, Alice. She may be able to understand.”

Still, he could see Alice’s resistance to the perfectly sound idea.

“Dearest Alice, my closest friend,” Mirana had spoken up, “do not lose your muchness now. Be with your family, share this miracle with them, even if that means revealing Underland. For once this adventure is over, they will expect certain things from you, will they not? Now that they know you survived the sinking of your ship?”


“Then. In that case, as a wise friend once counseled me, ‘Begin as you mean to go.’” Mirana had winked. “And we all know that lies, even white ones, cause more problems than they solve.”

“Indeed, they do!” Tarrant had been unable to not concur.

“So, you both will remain Here, for the time being,” the queen had decreed. “You shall both be missed terribly, but it’s quite obvious that you have things you must do and questions you must answer.”

“Botheration, I suppose so,” Alice had huffed. “Why do you always have to be right?

“Because I’m the queen,” Mirana had replied. “Or didn’t you hear the coronation announcement?”

“My invitation must’ve gotten lost along the way.”

“A pity. I’ll issue you another.”

“You’re too kind.”

“Only sometimes, dear Alice.”

And then, with an air of finality, the queen had bid them farewell: “Do not hesitate to call upon me should you have need of me!”

She’d held out her hand to Tarrant, which he’d bowed low over, then had dragged Alice into her arms for a brisk hug. And, an instant later, the looking glass had rippled and then smoothed flat again.

“Alice,” Tarrant had said, wrapping an arm around her.


He’d giggled. “I don’t mind telling you that I truly Enjoyed that.”

“I thought you might” had been her droll, but light-hearted reply. “And should you ever wonder whether or not I truly love you or would do anything for you...”

“I shall remember this afternoon, my Alice, and it will – most hastenly! – put my irrational fears to Rest.”

“Just so,” she’d replied, smiling.

And, from that day onward, things are different. New. Begun a-new. A new beginning. Why, even schedules had been arranged to keep him Busy:

“Hightopp, Alice has ordered us to—”

Hamish! I did no such—”

“Oh, I do beg your pardon, your majesty.”

Tarrant had swallowed a giggle at the glare Alice had directed at Ascot over the tea service. Tarrant had chosen that moment to shift, to feel her knee press against his beneath the table.

“Hamish,” Helen had interjected delicately. “I’m sure Alice is fully aware of how... demanding a character she possesses.”

“Indeed you are correct, madam,” he’d allowed.

Margaret had smiled. “But that’s why we adore you so much, dear sister.”

For some reason, the comment had drawn a mocking smile across Alice’s lips.

“Ahem. As I was saying, Hightopp, Alice has decreed that I’m to take you to the club for fencing lessons. I’ve a membership, you know.”

“But the question is: have you ever used it before?” Alice had challenged over the rim of her teacup.

“Of course. I even know the way there!” he’d sniffed. “So. Tomorrow. Following lunch, sir. We have an appointment with a pair of fencing foils.  Or else Queen Alice, here, shall be most displeased.”

  “Oh, stop being such an ogre, Hamish Ascot,” Margaret had declared. “And pass the scones before I toss a sugar cube at you!”

At that particular comment, neither Tarrant nor Alice had been able to withhold their snickers.

And also correspondence with friends in Mamoreal had begun:

“Another note to you.” Tarrant had handed it over with a large, toothy smile. “From Mally.”


“It appears she has quite A Lot To Say to you regarding a certain secret you kept from her.”

We kept from her.”

You asked me to keep from her.”

“I wish she didn’t appreciate that distinction so much.”

Correspondence of All Kinds had begun to... pop through the small Mamoreal mirror, actually:


“Did you hear that?”

“The plopping noise?”

“Um, yes. Is it coming from...?”


“The vanity? I believe it is, Raven. Ah! Spinach puffs from Thackery! I sent him my observations you know. Here, give it a try!”

“You go ahead. I’ll catch the next one he tosses through.”


Yes, in a matter of days, Tarrant’s world has been completely Changed.

The Good Things are plentiful.

Unfortunately, so are the Bad...


Alice gasps awake on a rush of terror.

The nightmare again, she realizes as she pats Tarrant’s cheek, shakes his shoulder, whispers his name in the darkness.

With a violent start, he opens his eyes. Unlike all the other nights, he does not curl himself around her. His hands seek out hers and his fingertips ghost over her knuckles and in the sensitive spaces between, but he does not grasp or clutch at her. Not this time.  Not after a week of suffering in the dark.

“I’m sorry I woke you, Alice,” he sighs and in his voice Alice hears something different. After the first nightmare, she’d heard panic and fear. On the nights following that, his tone had changed to guilty and then accepting. Tonight, however, she hears something new. Something Bad:


Something must be done about this! For Tarrant is not recovering – not truly – despite his bubbly cheer during the day. She can only assume the heart line and his new role as a recognized, expectant father are saving him from the madness. Or worse: the Blackness.

“These dreams won’t haunt you forever,” she whispers.

He takes a deep breath. “They will.” He speaks with gravity and certainty. She doesn’t doubt he also speaks from experience. “They’re memories, Raven. Haunting is what memories do best.”

“Tell me about them,” she asks, without any real hope of him agreeing to do so. She’s argued and debated and cajoled on this point to no avail; he will not share his terrible burden with her. Tonight is no different:

“No, Alice. Please. Ask me for anything else.”

“All right.” Alice sits up in bed, leans over and lights the oil lamp on the sideboard. As she knows she can’t force him to divulge that unmade future... “If you won’t tell me what you see, then tell me what reminds you of it. Permit me that much, please.”

He takes an unsteady breath. “The shadows. Your hands. Fingers. Curling, grasping...” He closes his eyes, shakes his head.

Alice watches him for a moment, contemplating something she normally would not. Something she is not sure will work. Something she shouldn’t do in her mother’s house. Something she’s willing to risk nonetheless.

She rolls away, stands, removes her nightgown, turns down the lamp until the room is as mysteriously shadowed as the Ascots’ terrace had been, and leans over him.

“Alice?” he whispers, watching as she climbs onto the bed, sits on top of the quilt and straddles his hips. “What are you...?”

“Look at me,” she replies, knowing there is just enough light for her request to be possible.

“I am.”

“What do you see?”

She doesn’t wait for him to answer. She can see it in the softening of his gaze as he studies the gently glowing light against her skin. Alice collects his hands and presses them to her naked belly.

She asks, “What do you feel?”

She leans over him, deliberately reaches for him until her fingertips touch his chest. He shudders, closes his eyes.

“Look at me,” she reminds him.

After a moment, he does.

“Watch my hands.”

She sees him swallow and then his eyelids lower as he obeys her command. Against his chest, Alice curls her fingers until they become claws. She softly – but not so softly it tickles! – drags her nails across his skin.

“What do you see?” she asks.

He shivers. “Alice...”

“My hands are fine. Just fine. Do you see that? Do you see me? Feel me? This is real,” she asserts in a low tone.

“Real,” he agrees, watching her hands open, reach, curl, and scratch across his skin. Against her belly, his fingers splay wider. She gently claws his chest again just as their child fidgets, flutters, Futterwhackens against his palms.

His breath catches. As does Alice’s. Truly, she’ll never become used to the sensation: where a Kingsleigh baby would have kicked, punched, and shifted, a Hightopp baby dances and twirls like a mad dervish. Perfectly normal, Tarrant had told her, looking shocked at her surprise as he’d done so.

“This is real,” she repeats, marveling again at the miracle they’ve created between the two of them.

“Yes,” he agrees, his eyes closing as he concentrates on the feel of their child moving against his hands, on the feel of her hands moving over him. Alice allows him to surround himself with that darkness, to test himself.

When he opens his eyes, he focuses on her hands. She holds them up, over his chest, splays her fingers then curves them, reaches for him. This time, when he takes a deep breath, she recognizes the gasp. Beneath her thigh, she can feel him hardening through the thin layers of summer bedclothes.

“Tarrant?” she asks.

“This is real,” he answers.

“Yes, it is.”

“I’m going to be a...” Still, he doesn’t say the word. With a start, she realizes she’s never heard him do so. He’s announced that they are expecting. He’s declared that Alice is with child. But he’s never said that he’s going to be...

“A father. Say it, love,” she urges, petting his chest.

She watches his jaw clench. He squeezes his eyes shut. “A father,” he whispers, a tremor wracking his body.

“Say it again. Let me hear it again...”

“I’m goin’teh b’a fa’her.”


“Our littlin’s Fa.”


He opens his eyes. “’Tis real.”

“Yes. It is.”

“No one took ye from me.”

She rubs her palms over his skin.

“Ye’re no’dyin’...”

Alice brushes her thumbs over his nipples and his breath catches in his throat.

“Ye’re safe. Our littlin’s safe.”

She nods.

“’Tis real.”

“We’ve made it real,” she whispers. “We’ve made this. This moment. This memory. Let go of that other one. Please.”

His hands move from her stomach to her hips. “Alice...”

“I need you to be all right,” she tells him. “Tell me what you need.”

“Teh feel ye, teh have ye hold on teh me.” His hips shift beneath her, Questioning, Asking...

She Answers. Alice pushes the bedclothes out of the way, tugs aside his night clothes. She places his hands on her bare hips again. “I need you to be all right. Show me what you need.”

He does.

He pulls her toward him, trapping his length between their bodies. She feels him pressing against her, along the entire length of her body’s most well-guarded cradle – or does she feel herself pressing against the full, hot underside of him? But it doesn’t matter, she realizes, as he pulls her down to him, until her skin meets his and her breasts are pressing down – or perhaps his chest is pushing up – and his lips brush over hers, dry and warm. Her own lips tingle at the sweet friction.

His hips move. Slowly. So slowly.

His arms wrap around her and his palms move over her back, rough and solid.

She holds onto him, curling her fingers over his shoulders, pulling herself even tighter against him. She rocks with him and they slide together. Their lips brush but do not cling. They’ve never embraced like this before, as if they might each sink into the other’s skin on a sigh rather than a shout of passion.

The clock ticks. Their bodies move, rub, glide. Alice aches to have him inside her, to touch the heat she can feel building within her, but this is not about what she wants. This is about what he needs.

“Alice...” he whispers and then opens his mouth against hers. She feels his tongue brush between her lips, which she opens. She returns the soft caress, agrees to other touches...

His hands slide down to her hips and she lifts up and over him...

... and sighs as he pulls her back down again, but now she is no longer empty, burning with listless heat.

He’s inside her. And the fit of their bodies together is... blissful, perfect, meant to be.

Tarrant’s hands press softly against her back and she relaxes against him, over him again, wrapping her hands around his shoulders again, leaning her forehead against his jaw. She kisses the skin she can reach without disturbing their embrace. Sometimes she lifts her face and he kisses her, gently – so gently! And with such Care! Sometimes he thrusts slowly against her, moving her hips with his hands, shifting her and settling her over him. Sometimes she moves against him, her hips circling, but mostly... mostly...

She simply holds onto him, just as he’d asked.

He doesn’t find release. Doesn’t even seek it. He moves only to prolong the embrace itself and when he is too exhausted to manage it any longer she feels him soften.

He shifts then, out and away from her, and she feels empty again. He lays her down beside him, thanks her with kisses that start at her temple, trail down her jaw, meander over her heart, pitter-patter down to her belly, linger over the new swell there, venture further and beyond.

Alice gasps as he settles between her thighs. She opens for him, dares to hope he’ll... Wonders a bit desperately if he needs this as well. Needs to do this for her...


He does. He kisses her there. Softly, warmly, deeply and with leisure that threatens to drive her mad. No amount of shoulder-scratching, no too-tight wrapping of his hair around her curling fingers, no number of his-name-as-whispered-pleas hurry him.

He is driving her Mad...!

Alice bites her lip to keep quiet. She wants relief, needs it...


And suddenly she Knows what he’s waiting for:

“Tarrant,” she breathes. “I need you.”

And, with a smile and royal blue eyes that are very nearly luminous in the shadows, he comes to her. And he’s inside her again – he’d evidently enjoyed his explorations as much as she had by the fullness of him now! – and it’s never felt so utterly Right. As if he is her reward for existing... for being born... for breathing...!

His movements are slow and skillful. Deliberate. She has to turn her face away, bite his pillow to muffle her cries when she reaches her pleasure, but he doesn’t relent, doesn’t let her rest before beginning anew. He continues and the pleasure stretches her out on a rack of mindless, tingling animalistic awareness. She breathes; she whimpers; she feels; she exists. That is all.

And when – in desperation – she grasps his hips so hard she thinks she may have punctured his skin with her fingernails, he pushes into her faster, with purpose. And she knows it’ll soon be over and she despairs even as she claws her way toward relief, release.

The world disappears as light sweeps through her, cords her muscles, compacts her being, sends her tumbling into the depths of her own mind...

... and Tarrant is still there, waiting for her, when she arrives, once again.

Panting, she struggles with coherency, with words, “You didn’t...”

He shakes his head, kisses the corner of her mouth, pets her breast. “I d’nae need to.”

Need. Again, that word.

She would have shivered if her body were capable of it. “Are you all right?” she manages, weakly wrapping her arms around his shoulders.

“Aye. Fer nauw, aye...”

She closes her eyes, fights exhaustion. “And if you need me...”

“I’ll tell ye, my Alice.”

“And you’ll show me what...?”

“I need,” he finishes. “I will. And whate’er ye need, we will.”

She feels him settle into bed beside her, reach for the lamp and, moments later, she’s sucked into the darkness of sleep.

And there are no more nightmares that night.

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 15 of 22

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