Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 21 of 22

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The training field at Mamoreal echoes with the sharp sounds of activity again. With the movements of Champions. With the conversations of swords.

Alice regards both her husband and her long-time friend and fellow Champion, Leif.

“Males with pointy sticks,” she mutters on a fond sigh as Tarrant lunges and Leif has to leap back to dodge the blow.

“What was that, Alice?”

She looks up as Mirana floats toward her. “Oh, nothing. Where’s the usual crowd?”

Mirana smiles the smile of a mother in fortunate possession of a Quiet Moment. “All napping.”

All of them?”

“Well, the young ones. Bethie, Tarra, and Chestor are hard at work at their lessons.”

Alice grins. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you.” Mirana leans against Alice’s shoulder and peers down at the bundle in her arms. “And congratulations to you, too,” she continues, seeing Tamial’s eyes closed and mouth slack in sleep.

“He’s been uncharacteristically tired all morning,” Alice comments. “The ceremony last night must have worn him out.”

The queen nods. “Yes, it’s not often we hold the Rehabitation. So, when the occasion arises, it never fails to be quite... impressive.”

And it had been. They’d traveled to Shuchland through the looking glasses two days before and Alice had been startled by what she’d seen. From the reports she’d overheard, she’d expected the palace to be in ruins, the clay homes lying in broken, dusty piles along the avenues, but – of course – she’d heard the news of the devastation months ago. Instead, the city had been even more breathtaking than she’d remembered.

“This is remarkable,” she’d murmured.

“Champion Leif, Krystoval, and all the volunteers would be happy to hear that,” the queen had commented, joining Tarrant in assisting her through the mirror. Normally she would have managed just fine on her own, but with Tamial in her arms, she hadn’t been willing to take any chances.

The city had been clothed in color. Illuminated with candles. Pulsing with life. And when she’d found Krystoval, she’d congratulated it.

“And you did all this despite feeling ill while we were Upland. Krystoval, I can’t thank you enough for enduring...”

“Champion Alice, Lady Hightopp of Iplam,” it had rumbled, angling its great crested head in order to peer down at the infant in her arms. Beside her, Tarrant had tensed. The Jabberwocky had ignored Tarrant’s ever-present wariness and continued, “I have much to make amends for. Iplam was merely the beginning.”

Krystoval had lifted its head and observed, “The Hightopp Clan has a future again. This is good, and more than worth a little discomfort.”

Alice had smiled.

“Still... I would very much appreciate it if both you and Lord Hightopp would make Underland your permanent home.”

“We have,” she’d assured Krystoval and then she’d turned toward the hatchlings who had been clamoring all over to themselves to greet Tamial.

“Frighteningly fast friends,” Tarrant had muttered, the heart line vibrating with anxiety as Tamial had – rather than scream and wail at the sight of the monsters – squealed happily and waved his arms.

Alice had patted his arm. Yes, it would seem that their family is destined to count the jabberwockies amongst their friends. Whether Tarrant particularly enjoys the idea or not.

It had been a joyous event in Shuchland. She’d declined an active role – and had thanked Tamial for giving her an excuse to avoid having to make a speech! – and had listened to King Aven speak of the tragedy and the restoration. He had even thanked his son, King Dale of Mamoreal, for coming to their aid and Alice had reached for Tarrant's hand at hearing that. And then Mirana had taken the podium and repeated the tale that Alice and Tarrant had told her through their letters and interviews.

“With Valereth now resting at peace here in Underland, and due to the tireless efforts of all of us and the Intentional Magic, our world is safe again. And, more than that, it is waiting for us to live again! So let us smile through our tears and continue on!”

The applause had been deafening. Tamial had flailed a bit in response. Alice had had a sudden vision of life two years from now: a toddler with Futterwhacken tendencies.

For the first time, Alice had wondered if, perhaps, she should have caved to Tarrant’s request for a Kingsleigh child. But no, no. She’d been right to insist on a Hightopp, she knows. The Hightopps had been made for this world. The queen is versed in the medicines their son might one day need. Another Kingsleigh... no. Despite the idea holding undeniable appeal – a grandchild of Charles Kingsleigh living in a world beyond even his wildest imaginings – it would not have been safe.

And there, that night in Shuchland, with the glowing sandstone palace and sky filled with fireworks and jabberwocky flame, Alice had sat on a blanket with her husband, had kissed him as he’d taken his turn holding their son, had realized that it had all been Worth It.


She comes back to the edge of the croquet pitch with a shake of her head. “I’m sorry. I was in Shuchland just now.”

Mirana smiles. “Yes, as I suspected. You enjoyed the festival?”

“Very much. I never would have expected... That is, in Upland, if you want to live somewhere, you only need to get permission from the owner of the land not...”

“Not the land itself?” Mirana supplies, looking puzzled. “I’m sure I’ve said it before, but... things are certainly odd Up There.”

“They are,” Alice agrees. “It’s good to be home.”

She glances out at the two combatants. They’re using real weapons and, even though the edges are dull, she worries. Tarrant and Leif circle each other, their chests heaving and faces frowning fiercely. The heart line tells her Tarrant is Concentrating, not Furymangling. For which she’s very grateful: fury and rage have no business being present at a training match. Or a duel, come to think of it!

“I’m surprised you haven’t tried to join them,” Mirana observes.

Alice laughs. “Tarrant’s promised to spar with me later this evening.”

“Has he? So soon after you’ve given birth?”

Alice glares at Mirana’s too-wide eyes and too-innocent expression. “Yes, he has, and you and I both know I’ve been completely healed for weeks. So if you even suggest to him that I shouldn’t...!”

Mirana actually sniggers at that. “That sort of cruelty goes against my vows.”

“Otherwise, I’m sure you’d do it just to repay me for not telling you I was expecting.”

“I’d consider it, certainly,” Mirana allows. “But, Alice, despite how much I wish I could have been told, I understand why you didn’t. And you were correct: knowing you were with child and being forced to ask you to undertake such a dangerous task would have... wounded me deeply. Far more than not knowing in the first place. I cannot thank you enough for putting Underland and the safety of its residents first... again.”

“Mirana, I made you a promise – to be your Champion – and it was sealed in blood and death.” Ever since the duel between Hamish and Lowell, Alice has been considering the implications of being another’s Champion, of spilling blood in that person’s name, of killing… slaying... Yes, she had killed the Jabberwocky all those years ago in the name of the White Queen. And Alice suspects that had sealed her fate: from that moment on, she would never not be a Champion. The training she’d received upon her unexpected return had not been optional but necessary. The oath she’d later spoken in the privacy of the White Queen’s Office had been a mere formality. And Causwick... Alice suspects she’d become Jaspien’s Champion not because Mirana had released her but because Mirana had been convinced of the necessity of it, had believed it to be their only way to guarantee their continued safety while in captivity: Alice had become Jaspien’s Champion because, in the end, the White Queen had willed it to be so.

Her life is not her own. Alice sees that very clearly now. Her life belongs – and will always belong – to the White Queen. Luckily, the White Queen is not only a queen but a friend, her friend, Mirana.

Alice doesn’t fool herself into believing she’s accepted the fact totally that her fate is not her own. But really, who truly controls their own fate? No one. Not even a queen. Most especially not a queen!

It goes against Alice’s nature to accept and welcome protection from someone other than herself. But she is trying to allow Mirana and Tarrant to take care of her. Some days it’s a harder task than others. But, overall, she thinks it’s getting easier.

Trust, it seems, is the sort of thing that either grows or breaks, but never remains the same from day to day.

Alice smiles proudly as Tarrant ducks a swing from Leif’s broadsword then parries neatly. Even though he had objected to the practice, fencing seems to have benefited him very well, she observes. Of course, later tonight, they’ll see just how much his skills have improved...

“Ah, I know that gleam in your eyes,” Mirana observes with a smile. “That’s the look of my Champion... and she’s thinking about rolling around in the dirt with sharp, pointy objects.”

Alice laughs softly and Tamial grumbles against her chest before settling down again. “You know me so well, Mirana,” she congratulates the queen. “But it will have to wait. I have tea to attend this afternoon.”

“The first visit with your mother and sister?”

“Yes. And perhaps a... family friend as well. Although, I think they still have trouble believing I’ll be walking through a mirror into my mother’s house in London.”

“That is what makes you suited to Underland, you know, Alice,” Mirana observes. “Your ability to Believe. Unconditionally.”

Alice smiles. “I’ve been wondering why this place suits me so well.”

“Because you suit it.” Mirana’s dark eyes refocus on the fighters on the pitch. She smiles. “And because you – and only you could ever – suit the last of the Hightopps.”

Alice chokes back the swelling emotion in her chest. She warms herself with it; it will keep until she can Share it.

“He’s not the last. Not anymore,” Alice observes, her arms tightening around Tamial.

Mirana shakes her head in wonder. “He would have been, if not for you, Alice. Someday, my dear Champion, you really must open your mind to a conversation with Fate. She has many interesting things to say. And only then will you see the design that has woven Underland into the place it is.”

“There is method in all this madness?” she asks, smiling at her own joke.

“Method and more,” Mirana replies, unaware of the reference Alice had paraphrased.

“Then, perhaps, someday I shall. Still, I’m not keen on the idea of Courting Fate. I’m a married woman after all.” She winks at Mirana, sure that this time Mirana will share the joke with her.

She doesn’t. “I’m sure Tarrant will understand, Alice. The choice is yours. Just as it is his.”

“You... you are... serious,” Alice stutters.

“Of course, I am, Alice. Courting Fate is a very serious thing.”

Alice blinks. That is a thought that will take some getting used to!

Mirana pats her knee. “I have Courted Fate once or twice, myself. Many monarchs must. But you, my Champion, need never undertake that task. Unless you have reason to doubt me.”

“I can’t imagine that ever happening,” Alice assures her, relieved to be able to stop thinking about the very Disturbing concept of courting Fate. She turns her attention back to her husband and the fact that, despite having set aside his jacket, waistcoat, cravat, and hat, he seems to be working up quite a sweat. The fabric of his pale blue shirt clings to the small of his back and is turning damp under the arms. She knows from years of life with him that his perspiration has the most intriguing scent: Tumtum sap and apple peelings and something she could swear is the hot wind off the salty Crimson Sea.

Beside her, Mirana shifts and Alice forces her eyes away from her husband and the inevitable destination to which Those Sorts of thoughts will lead her.

“How long will you stay in London?” the queen asks.

“Just for tea,” Alice answers. “Tarrant plans to start getting caught up on hat-making.”

“Ah, excellent! I’m afraid the requests for Hightopp hats have been... mounting.”

Alice snorts. Yes, Tarrant had nearly fainted at the sight of his workroom when he’d opened the door this morning: parchments had covered nearly every available surface, the floor included. Alice is sure they’d been organized at one point, in order of date or perhaps urgency or even the relative importance of the requester. But now, after Thackery and Mally had come through to gather the supplies Tarrant had needed in London in order to finish those Christmas hats...

At the thought of Christmas, she remembers the gifts Tarrant had given her and Tam once they’d closed the front door to their apartment behind them. (The keyhole had even welcomed them back... before it had spied the baby in Tarrant’s arms. “Oh, brass-in-need-of-buffing! Now I’ll have regular slammings to look forward to when that one gets tall enough to reach the knob! Lovely!”) The keyhole’s snark had only added to the sensation of Coming Home.

They’d brought the bassinet from London and Tarrant had produced Tam’s other Christmas present – a mobile which he’d fixed over the bed. Alice had been as transfixed by the gently rotating miniature hats on their thin wires as Tamial. (She’d hoped that was a Good Sign. Perhaps he’ll one day take up his father’s trade, as Tarrant had? But if he does, he’ll have to accept the Thrice a-Vow with someone, so perhaps it would be better if he doesn’t?) She’d reached for Tarrant’s hand when he’d come to kneel at Tam’s bedside next to her. It had taken a moment before she’d realized that he’d removed her ring and was in the process of peeling the ever-present glove from her left hand.

“We’re home nauw,” he’d murmured, replacing her ring on her now bare finger and lifting her hand. He’d met her gaze as his lips had caressed her heart line. “An’ I have sommat teh show ye, my Alice.”

And that’s when she’d noticed the new door in the parlor. A door that had opened easily and without complaint under her hand and had revealed a cozy bedroom.

“When we’re ready, an’ if’n Tam doesnae object... ‘twill be his.”

Alice had smiled and kissed him. She would have thanked him properly for this gift of privacy if he had allowed her to.

But he hadn’t.

“’Tis late, Alice,” he’d replied with maddening rationality. “An’ we’ve a celebration teh attend on th’morrow.”

Tonight, however, Alice decides as she watches her husband spar, measures the spreading damp spots on his clinging shirt, devours his form and grace and power with her eyes... Tonight he will not deny her.


Tarrant finishes sorting and stacking the hat orders and then regards his workshop. For a moment, he doesn’t know where to start. He can’t recall how to start!

And then, when a warmth that reaches between two worlds enfolds around his Panic and shushes it gently, he remembers.

He makes hats now: a hatter never-again-alone with his hats, passes customers by attracting Time! And Time is kind to him. Perhaps they’ve both managed to move past their grudges?

One hat after another is begun until he has a hatter’s dozen on hat forms. When he runs out of forms for the next, he returns to the first and begins the process of Making it. Colors are applied and the requested baubles and bells and beautiful things. He works quickly and the rhythm numbs his mind as his Alice’s pulse warms his heart.

Alice’s pulse. Yes, now it is only his Alice who keeps him warm, sane, content. He will never again feel his son’s warmth so intimately. Alice’s warmth will never again contain his son’s. True, he’d never felt anything different from Alice’s heart... it had been the Idea...

An Idea whose time has passed. Now Tamial is his own person. And while he still needs his Fa and Mam, Tarrant somehow feels... diminished. His tools clatter to the tabletop; he thinks he understands now why Alice had been so very sad after their littlin’ had been born. He thinks he Knows... in a way that most fathers never do. Had Tarrant’s Fa still been alive, he probably would have warned him about this: the power of the heart line, the thought that a man can feel his child’s life through the warmth of his wife.

“A rhyme,” he muses past the choking lump in his throat.

This accomplishes nothin’, lad. Yer littlin’s born. An’ ye’ll see him soon enough.

Yes, yes, he will! And that Time will arrive sooner if he concentrates on passing customers!

Tarrant collects his tools, blinks until his vision clears, and returns to his trade.

And he plies it unrelentingly... until movement on the other side of the room attracts his gaze. In an instant, he’s there, beside the mirror. He notices his reflection – wind-swept hair, mismatched eyes, scratched and stained and scuffed fingers and knuckles – before he presses through, straddling the worlds.

And Alice is there, embracing her mother. Helen looks up at Tarrant and he nods in greeting. He also suddenly remembers he’d left his hat on his teatime chair and wishes he’d thought to wear it so that he might take it off to her.

“You’re right on time!” Margaret exclaims.

Tarrant giggles. “Yes, yes, it seems that Alice’s habit of lateness hasn’t taken a liking to me today!”

“Tarrant. How have you been?” Helen inquires, separating from Alice.

“Quite busy, madam! And may I be permitted to say you’re looking very well!”

“Permission granted,” his mother-in-law muses with a wry smile.

He turns to Alice but he does not ask her if she is ready to come home. For some odd reason, the words get all tangled up around his Adam’s apple. He holds out a hand to her.

She takes it.

“I’ll see you again next Monday, if that’s convenient,” Alice says.

Helen nods. Margaret assures her, “We’ll be here. And Hamish has promised to be here, too, next time.” This comment she aims at Tarrant, who catches it with a grin.

Alice smiles and then holds Tamial out to him. Tarrant curves his arm beneath hers and accepts their son against his chest. He looks down and into his son’s eyes – fuchsia today! – and then, with Alice’s hand still clasped in his, guides her through the looking glass with him.

And when they emerge in the hat workshop again, he smiles and releases a great, apprehensive breath.

“You were worried,” she accuses.

“Always, my Alice.”

“But Tam and I were perfectly safe the entire time!”

He lifts his gaze from his son’s curious and roving gaze to his wife’s nearly-frowning face. “Yes,” he agrees, still holding her hand but lifting it so that he can trail his scraped knuckles along her cheek. “And I wonder if... that is, you might prefer... to stay there. Longer. Or for a Time. Or perhaps... I mean, I—”

Just when he’s working himself up and into a mercury-induced frenzy, Alice reaffirms her grasp on his hand and presses the fingers of her other hand to his lips. “I choose us,” she reminds him. “I belong here. With you.”

His eyes drift closed and his heart seems to unfold itself from within a cubby hole in his chest. “I... Thank you, Alice. For choosing... for reminding me... for not minding that I still need you to.”

“It’s not that you don’t trust me not to return, I know,” she surprises him by whispering. “It’s that the mercury makes you wonder if you’re... enough.”

“I’m half mad, Alice. Of course I’m not enough.”

“Unless your wife specifically asked for a man who was half comfortingly sane and half wonderfully mad.”

“She’s have to be half mad herself to even think such a request.”

“I believe she is.”

Tarrant smiles down at her, leans toward her, presses his lips to hers. Tam’s fist thumps against his chest and Alice giggles. “Perhaps Thackery has had words with him?” she suggests.

He sighs. Yes, Tamial seems to object to public displays of affection in a manner very similar to Thackery! “I do not look forward to the Time when he’ll be able to aim and toss things.”

Alice laughs. “Come on. Let’s get ready for dinner.”

And after dinner, after Tam has been settled in his bassinet, after one of the queen’s nurses has arrived to keep an eye on him, Alice practically drags Tarrant down the flights of stairs to the croquet pitch.

“Eager, are we?” he muses.

“I don’t know, Hatter. Are we?

He chuckles darkly and unlocks the sword case. The moon is out tonight and its light glints off of the steel of the blade as he first caps it with a rubber ball then passes it to Alice. A grin worthy of Tarranya stretches her lips wide as she swishes the thing through the air, playing a whistling symphony.

Tarrant giggles madly at her antics and her very, very sloppy form.

“Alice, have you forgotten everything you know about sword fighting?” he muses, leaving his own sword in the box and stepping toward her.

“Of course not!” she declares. “But this isn’t a sword. And we aren’t fighting. Yet.”

“All valid points!” he praises her. “However, your stance is quite unstable. In fact, you’re barely up-standing.” He reaches for her hips and tugs at her until she’s centered over her knees. He lifts her arms to the correct pose and then, standing behind her and placing his hands on her shoulders, shifts her upper body into the correct orientation.

“Like this?” she asks before he can begin his planned lecture and lunges with an alarmingly appalling lack of finesse.

“Goodness, no!” he exclaims, his hands reaching for her. “Not unless you’d rather fall over than fight!”

Her back brushes against his chest as he reaches for her forearms and repositions them for an effective lunge. His right knee nudges hers until she picks her foot up and moves it where to it’s supposed to be. The warmth of her is startling, scintillating, seductive. How long has it been since he’s touched his wife... intimately?

Tarrant shakes his head. No. Not tonight. Tonight he’s promised to teach her the basics of that badly named pastime, fencing!

“How’s this?” Her voice comes to his rescue and Tarrant finds himself busy again, correcting her lackluster mock parry.

“Alice...” he murmurs as he lifts her arms yet again to the proper height and angle. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were a rather... deficient swordswoman.”

Alice stills and then glances over her shoulder at him with a knowing grin, a challenging smile, the light of a dare in her eyes. “But you do know better, don’t you?”

His heart explodes into his throat at That Look. Fate save him, he Knows that Look. That Look had pushed him over the edge and into finalizing the first exchange of the Thrice a-Vow; That Look had pulled him to her until their lips had touched and her mouth had opened and his tongue had dared to sample the flavor of her...

Tonight is no different.

There’s a soft, whispering clatter as the sword drops from her hand to the grass. She turns in his arms and presses against him – holds onto him! – and demands his attention, his presence, himself within her mouth.

He can’t stop his arms from pulling her closer, even lifting her onto her toes and pressing his pelvis against hers. He can’t. The thought had crossed his mind that he ought to stop himself. But, after looking both ways for on-coming trains and lines of thinking, the Thought had passed right through his mind and continued on its way.

“Mmm,” Alice moans as she captures his tongue in her lips and sucks.

“Ngh!” His hands scrabble at her tunic before one declares the need to outflank her and weaves itself into her hair. He pulls her gently away from him and this would have been the moment to stop except the scent of her – warm and lush and a little earthy from perspiration – drifts up from her neck and into his nose and he must address that scent properly!

“Tarrant!” she gasps as his teeth groom that womanly Alice-scent from her skin. Her hands are at his shirt, ineffectually trying to tug it from his shoulders without having asked the buttons if they wouldn’t mind parting with their respective buttonholes first. Normally, he’d fear for the seams, but it seems he’s too far gone for that.

He wants her. Here. On the croquet pitch. Here, where she’d watched him spar. Here, where her eyes had followed him with sensual hunger that he’d very nearly expired from his own Want at the sight of. Here, where he must prove himself worthy to protect the queen in Alice’s stead. Here, where he is still her Champion.

He wants a Champion’s Reward.

Her hands find the closure on his trousers and with the ease of years of practice, she opens them.

Tarrant’s breath catches in his throat. He looks up at her, into her lust-laden eyes. “Yes,” she says. Sighs. Gives him the reward he desperately wants.

“Here,” he growls. Later, he’ll wonder if his eyes had been colored with the Blackness. As it is, he can barely force himself to pause long enough to make the declaration-that-is-not-a-question-but-a-warning.

“Here,” she dares him, rubs against him, enflames him.

Here it is.

Her tunic is no match for his fingers, her breeches no barrier to his hands. He lowers her onto them, uncaring of who may be watching in the bright moonlight, wraps her legs around his hips, moves between her thighs, and has her.

It’s only at that moment, when he is deep inside her that he realizes she’s Won, for she now has him.

She smiles, reaches for his waist, and thrusts against him. “I want...” Alice whispers, demands.

He gives. As he always Gives. Even though she had not Asked. Not properly.

He doesn’t care. He leans over her until his arms are bracing him up and his chest just barely touches her swollen breasts. She arcs into him and gasps the words that Change everything:

“Please... Tarrant... I need... you.”

“Ye have me,” he promises her, glad that she does, indeed. So very, very glad!

He moves and she meets him and they clash and come together in the sweetest battle he’s ever known and it’s not fighting because she’s with him through every twitch of his hips, through every brush of lips, through every pass of his chest against hers. Her hands urge him closer and push away all else.

This is a fight, he realizes. A fight against the rest of the world.

And he will fight this battle to the death. With Alice struggling with him, he cannot do otherwise.

She grasps him, her husband, her lover and he understands that she needs this as much as he does. He wants his wife, his lover. He needs to know she is his and her body is his and she will take him in as readily as she had in the past. He needs to know that they have not lost This, that This is not a price to be paid in exchange for their son.

It’s fast. Too fast. And hard and he knows it’s rough. He marks her with his mouth and he permits her no breaks in her pleasure and he demands that she Give everything she is to him before they are through!

He claims her as if this is the last time. Or the first time. Or every time and he knows he should stop and be gentle with her – it’s been months! – but she rides against him and she holds onto him and it would take an act of Death or Time to make him stop!

She growls as her pleasure crests again and he thinks it’s the best sound he has ever heard. She Takes him with that growl.

Mine... she says without words.

Yours... he agrees on a snarl.

He answers the lithe curving of her body – her plea for More – with a thrust so harsh, her entire body shifts against the grass. She rolls her head away from the sky and she’s tight – so tight! – and the gasps that leave her throat are nearly whines and he’s forcing her to take this pleasure, to endure it, to be it. She will Lose Control, he decides. She will not be permitted to keep her composure Here. Not here. Not with him.

She doesn’t.

When she tightens – impossibly! – more and her breath catches in her throat, Tarrant slams his mouth down on hers and Takes her scream. It’s His, after all. He’d orchestrated it.

And he’s not finished yet.

Not quite.

He sits back on his knees, pulls Alice with him, grasps her hips and Moves in her, out of her, through her and he’s Lost to it as he has never been lost to anything, not even in the madness, not even in the moment he’d Moved through Time. And the fear-need-want-mine!-take-have-give-Alice!­­-keep-make-mark-HAVE! possesses him.


It’s the sound of her wondering gasp, the feel of her hands grasping his arms, the sight of her body arcing into himoffering!­ – that slays him.

He watches her face as he Loses himself in her, as the heat explodes throughout him and washes over him, blanking his sight and stealing his breath.

And his Alice, his Champion, pulls him toward her, settles her lips against his, and gives him the breath from her own lungs to replace that which had been forcibly taken from him.

Despite the borrowed breath, he does not tell her he loves her. He does not tell her he needs her. He does not tell her life is Impossible without her.

He does not have to.

They share a heart line.

His Alice already knows what he does not say.

Just as he already knows what her answer is.

They remain there, a tangle of expired need on the pitch, until he leans back and gently begins to dress her in her wrinkled tunic. She assists him with her breeches, lifting her hips helpfully, then reaches out to help him straighten his clothing.

They stand.

And as they do, just when Tarrant begins to wonder how many people and animals and trees had just witnessed that, he notices the utter stillness of the world around him. Notices the way it holds its breath. And then...

And then it doesn’t.

Beside her foot, Alice’s foil begins to inexplicably roll along the pitch, as if it had been halted immediately following its decent, held by an invisible hand that had just now released it. The trees resume their rustling conversation in the once-again-meandering night breeze. The draperies flutter and flap from various open castle windows and balcony doors. But Alice and Tarrant only have eyes for the weapon at their feet. The foil stops rolling and rocks gently back and forth three times before settling into the grass.

Alice looks away from the not-sword Hamish had given them and up into Tarrant’s eyes.

“That was very kind of Time,” she whispers. “To stop just for us.”

“Indeed, if that is in fact what just happened,” he agrees softly.

She stares at him for a moment, then blinks, then arches a brow in playful skepticism. “Do you think we managed to Stop Time all by ourselves?”

“My Alice,” he murmurs back, his mercury-stained, pin-pricked, callus-hardened fingertips tracing the curves of her face. “I do believe we have found ourselves a new riddle.”

“Then let me hear it, Hatter.”

He leans in until his lips caress the shell of her ear with every syllable they form: “What is Impossible for two Champions of Underland to accomplish together?”

Alice turns toward him and he feels her smile brush against his jaw and then she’s whispering her Answer in his ear:

“I haven’t the slightest idea.”

“Perhaps we’ll make a list?” he suggests on a breath, wrapping her up in his arms.

“Let it always be empty.”

Always, he Agrees and then smiles into his wife’s windblown, wavy hair, for there is nothing left for the two of them to do now except ensure that that list of Impossibles remains utterly blank and item-less.

In short, there is everything left to do.

Tarrant Hightopp is looking forward to it!

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 21 of 22

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