Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 11 of 13

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One Promise Kept: Book 5

Alice opens her eyes and squints against the glow of the dawn-light seeping into the room through the window. For a minute, she is oddly disoriented – Where is she? How had she gotten here? Why does she feel so... light? – and then her arms throb, ache, and twinge.

Her gaze passes over familiar bedroom walls and a mussed bed to the warm body lying rather heavily across her lap.


She blinks at his not-so-pale, not-so-stained face and not-so-short, not-so-orange hair. She studies the fine wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and mouth and the gray hairs at his temples and...

“Tarrant!” she rasps, watching one of her own youthful-and-familiarly-scarred hands reach for his chest and press against his Heart Mark. His perfect Heart Mark.

The scar is gone. Gone as if it had never been. The Fates had kept their word about this, at least!

A sob of joy catches in her throat.

“Tarrant! Wake up! You’re home!”

But he does not wake. He stares up at nothing and does not breathe. Within his chest, his heart does not beat.

A flash of panic explodes through Alice, streaks down her heart line – which is far from numb and crumbly now! – and she feels Tarrant’s heart thump once beneath her hand in response. Once, and then... nothing.



“Tarrant!” she hisses, mindful of their son who is still sleeping down the hall.

He does not answer, does not blink, does not twitch at that tone of voice which has always made him jerk in response. It is her Widow’s Voice, Alice realizes tangently, the tone she had used on him when she had been old and gray and his self-appointed mentor.

He does not recognize it now.

“You will come back to me,” she informs him. She refuses to believe that he had chosen to remain Beyond. He would never... never... ! Not knowing what else to do or how else to elicit a heartbeat from him, Alice Pushes him through the heart line. She Sends him her fear and love and need and NOW and—!

His heart thumps again beneath her hand. Thumps once and only once.

“Brangergain...!” She lays him down against the pillows and scrambles upright. “Why can’t things be bloody simple for once?” she grits out, crouching over him.

He doesn’t answer.

“Live!” she commands, and it is a Command for she is a queen, is she not? At least, in the eyes of the Fates? Surely that must count for something! She presses her hand against his Heart Mark and – with everything in her that could possibly produce a Royal Decree – Orders his heart to beat.

Sluggishly, it does, but only in response to her regular and intentional manipulation of the heart line.

“Not enough,” she mutters, struggling to stay calm, to think. She has nearly succeeded. Nearly. But she is forgetting something, missing something. What had the Fates told her? They could not make his heart beat again nor could they... what?

“Breathe life into him,” she hears herself gasp.

She leans over him, presses her mouth to his slack lips even as she concentrates all her love for him into rhythmic pulses against his heart. She seals her lips against his and gives him the very breath from her own lungs.

It rushes out almost immediately through his nose and blows against her cheek.


She steadies herself to try again. With her free hand, Alice reaches up and pinches his nose closed.

I love you, she Sends with yet another Push, another Jolt, another Shock.

She inhales deeply.

I need you, she Presses.

And she exhales all the breath she can manage into his mouth.

Come back to me, she Commands.

Beneath her hand, his chest rises just the smallest amount to accommodate the breath she had forced into his body.

Tarrant, please!



And then he’s shuddering, twitching, coughing beneath her. His hands flail a bit, as if he has forgotten how to use them, before clutching at hers and pulling them just the slightest bit away – enough so that his nose is free and only her fingertips brush his chest. Alice coughs as well, as the gusts of unexpectedly expelled air puff into her mouth, and she leans back of her own volition, her gaze wide and desperate and seeking and...

Had she done it?

“Al—lice?” he wheezes thinly.

She clamps her jaw shut and stares in frantic silence at his fluttering eyelids, his roving and confused gaze, his gasping mouth. Recalling the Fates’ warnings – remembering that this venture of hers may have failed, that it may not be her husband who has returned to her but another spirit from Beyond – Alice holds back her words of welcome and searches for something she can say, some question she could ask... the answer to which would prove that he is hers ...

His brows twitch as he looks from her to his Heart Mark and his eyes widen when he sees it.

“The scar... Alice... my Alice, what have you done?”

“Everything,” she replies, her temper momentarily overcoming her hesitance and fear. “Everything the Fates asked. Everything you didn’t tell me I would have to do, you slurvish man.”

“I...” His voice dies away as he takes in her expression: she doesn’t doubt she looks as furious and frightened as she feels. “Aye, I am. An’ aye, ye did,” he admits solemnly. “I still remember ye... Gray Lady.”

She dares to think, if only briefly: perhaps everything truly is fine and her husband is truly lying in their bed, looking up at her with grave understanding...

“I remember what ye did fer me,” he whispers, not moving. “I have always remembered.”

She knows. She knows he has despite his never having spoken of that time or of his mentor, for he had passed on those very lessons to her when she had asked for his help so long ago, when she had asked him to train her, to test her, to push her, to show her if she could be a Champion. And she recalls how – before Frabjous Day – he had hidden her with the aid of Pishsalver and an empty teapot, had recited the prophecy to her on the road to Iplam, had successfully tossed her to safety on his hat, had surrendered himself to capture, had lied to the Red Queen, had fought the Knave with little more than a perfume bottle and a powder puff, had stepped forward to protect her on the battlefield when she had needed help most...

“Other things...” he muses softly and uncertainly, “I cannot... Alice, where was I until you... before I opened my eyes just now?”

Honestly, she does not know more than the name of the place. She had heeded the Fates’ warnings and invited the light to cauterize her senses before she had entered Beyond. “What do you remember?” she replies on a thread of sound, still terrified to hope but helplessly wishing-wanting-needing for it to be true that her husband has indeed come back to her!

“Dying,” he replies, shuddering. “I remember dying and, before that, your tears.” He lifts a hand to her dry cheeks. “I remember whispering to Tam...” He blinks, focuses, and then frowns thoughtfully. “He won’t be needing that Answer to His Prayers, after all.”

“T—Tarrant?” she stutters, unable to stop the momentum of her growing belief that it is truly him!

He startles, surprised at her hesitance. “Alice, are you expecting someone else?”

Are you someone else?”

He whispers, “To my knowledge... I’m precisely whom you see afore ye.”

Iambic pentameter, she nearly informs him.

“Raven?” he worriedly prompts her.

Shivering, she reaches for his hands. “Why,” she rasps, “have you never had your hair cut short... again?”

He studies her face, his expression only concerned and not cunning, not conniving or cheating. “I suppose... because there was never another need for it.”

She waits, hovering over him, searching his face, needing just a bit more, just to be sure.

And he seems to understand: “My Alice, my wife, my Champion... my mentor and Gray Lady...”

Her fingers curl tightly around his hands.

He smiles, not seeming to mind the dig of her short nails into his skin. “You saved Underland... and me . Again.”

“You are my Underland,” she corrects him, and the tears follow the declaration. She gives in, for she does not have the strength to continue resisting her desire to believe, and presses her cheek against his, inhales his scent and sobs at the feel of his warmth.

“Hush, my Alice. Shush...” he breathes and brushes kisses against her ear and temple and cheek and jaw.

“You’re really you,” she chokes out, babbles madly, “the right you, the proper you and not some other you and I almost couldn’t believe... Although I did believe, at first, and then they told me they wouldn’t... couldn’t... and I had to fetch you back myself and there were so many things that could have gone wrong and now! Now that you’re here I still ... I almost don’t dare think that I’m truly seeing you again, that you’re really you , that you came back with me, that I could bring you back and—!”

“Raven,” he murmurs, wrapping his long, warm arms around her. “Where else would I be, were I given the merest possibility of choosing, than here? With you? In our home?”

His words echo through her memory and into the past, into a night when she had sworn not to let her own madness hurt him again, when she had offered to go and leave him in peace... and when he had promptly welcomed her home.

She presses herself more firmly against him, as if she could burrow into him. She seeks that connection, that tangible and corporeal proof that she is not—

“Is this a dream?” she croaks. Is it truly possible that she had watched him die, had bartered with the Fates for his life, had stepped back in Time to complete her task, and then had gone into the land of Death and Called him back to Life again?

Had she really done the Impossible?

“You could pinch me,” he offers, holding her tighter.

“No, I couldn’t,” she replies. And then she kisses him. It is messy and rough and not at all practiced as the kisses of long-wedded couples more often than not are. She doesn’t care. He rolls her beneath him, tucks her down into the bed and covers her with his body and she revels in his heat and the smoothness of his skin and the stirring of his breath and the fact that he is here and living and she has succeeded and their reward is nothing more and nothing less than—

“The future,” she pants against his lips, wrapping her legs around his hips and crossing her ankles – locking her feet together – against the small of his back. “We have...”

“Yes. And we have our answer, Raven,” he murmurs against her skin. “We have the answer to our riddle.”

She sighs out more tears and tangles her fingers in his hair. “Tamial.” Somehow, hearing this confirmation from her husband, makes her success more real than anything the Fates could have said to reassure her.

“Our son... who will likely be waking soon,” Tarrant reminds her.

She sniffs back another round of tears and smiles. Leaning back, she looks into his eyes and says, “Hm... unless we’re quiet.”

Catching her meaning, he giggles and his brows wiggle. “An excellent point, my Alice. As always.”

Always. She very much likes the sound of that word.

She reaches for him and with every brush of his lips and every caress of his hands against her skin, her fears and doubts – such stalwart companions over the time spent in the past – begin to fade.

“I have questions, Alice,” he warns her as she shrugs out of her nightshirt. She pushes his sleeping trousers away and squirms out of her own. It is hard for her to comprehend that it has been days since she has made love with him and yet it has been only hours – and a sojourn in Death – for him.

“Ask them,” she invites as she opens herself to him.

He tickles the swell of her breasts with butterfly kisses. “They will wait,” he declares as he gently sheathes himself within her.

She clutches his sides – normally ticklish but never while they are like this, together, one! – and urges him to move. He covers her completely – his chest against hers and his lips pressed to her mouth and his hands cradling her face – and only then does he withdraw and then lever his hips forward again. He is alive and real and he is himself and she Knows this now more than ever before because he does not make love to her as she had – mistakenly – hoped he would.

They do not make love.

They make Life.

There is warmth and feeling and presence and here-and-now and there is no lust in his expression, no grasping for pleasure or test of wills to see how long she can last or how much he can give her. They move together because they can, because they fear, because they need, because they are .

They seek each other – make the path back to the state of being wherein they are Bound together; their heart lines (both healed and whole) blaze with heat – and find one another.

Alice does not come. She cries.

“I missed you,” she whispers and he kisses her chin.

He does not find his release. He meets her gaze.

“You will never be forced to do so again.”

“A promise...” she warns him gently as his hips press against hers one last time.

“I know,” he says, simply.

She holds onto him for as long as she can, until exhaustion will no longer be ignored. They do not sleep, but clutch each other in the nest of their bed, bathed in the sunlight of a new day.

As she lies in his arms, she thinks of all the questions she could ask: Does he forgive her for all that the Gray Lady did, didn’t, and could not do? Had he ever wanted to tell her about that time but simply couldn’t? Will he understand that she is – and cannot be anything other than – a Champion...?

“Yes,” he lisps, his breath stirring her hair, “you saved me, Alice.”

It does not occur to her to question his impeccable timing. Perhaps he had read her questions through the heart line. Or perhaps he had used that unique sense of his to anticipate her needs.

She asks instead, “Did you ever suspect that I was... that I would... that the Gray Lady and I were one and the same? Before I asked you to give me this scar?”

“I never wanted to,” he answers bluntly, his eyes nearly uniformly focused on the thin line spanning the front of her throat. “I put it out of my mind completely.” And by the tone of his voice, Alice knows that he had done so intentionally. “The thought of you, my widow... The thought that I would ever be forced to leave you... alone... It was too much to bear.”

“Did you ever consider... telling me? About the Gray Lady?”

“Aye, nearly,” he admits. “Once, or mayhap twice. For th’ most part, I let mae-self forget that time. ’Twas for the best. The memories were tae... much.” He shifts then and pins her with a piercing, blue-green gaze even as she draws in a breath to reply. “An’ I know ye, Alice. If I’d’a told ye, ye would ha’asked mae th’ ver’ questions I was mae-self afraid teh answer.”

And she knows he’s right. She would have been Curious and she would have wanted to know more, either out of genuine interest or out of mindless jealousy. He had been right to allow himself to forget about the Gray Lady for as long as he could.

“You... cared for her... me . That me. Deeply,” she whispers, studying his expression. “And I left you.”

His lips curve into a sad smile. “And now I understand why.”

She frowns. “Why did you think I...?” The flash of doubt in his gaze and the unsure pulse against her heart are enough of an answer. “Tarrant Hightopp, didn’t you know how proud I was of you? How badly I wanted to stay?”

“I did,” he confesses. “But while the Truth rings clear, Doubt often speaks louder and... over time – we hadn’t been on the best of terms even then, Time and I – it became harder and harder to believe...”

“No,” she answers his unfinished explanation. “No, that’s not why I left. I never, not for one instant, felt disappointed in you. I never thought that you were... lacking in any way, Tarrant. Never. I knew you needed time and I worried that I might not be able to give that to you...”

He frowns and Alice realizes, suddenly, that for all that her husband does know about the Gray Lady, there is one thing she had kept from him. One thing that Mally must never have mentioned.

“I didn’t have much time, when I Stepped into the past,” she explains, her gaze drawn to the rich, deep blue mark on her skin that originates from her heart-line finger and ends fantastically over her heart. Alice shoulders aside her reluctance to admit her weakness, her failure, and says honestly, “From the moment you... died, I didn’t have much time.”

She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. “I know... you asked me to live... for Tamial, but I... I’m sorry. I couldn’t... want that enough. I needed you more than I wanted... And, little by little, the heart line began turning to ash. I had only those five days... I’m sorry.”

When she looks into his eyes, he seems torn between sorrow and... something very much like pride but softer, better, muchier.

“I shouldnae ha’asked ye teh look afteh auwr ladling f’r me, Alice,” he admits. “But I’m slurvish enough teh be glad tha’ ye need me...”

“You silly... man ,” she replies on a teary huff. “I have always needed you.”

“I know,” he whispers and the words carry a Thank You that Alice never would have asked for... or needed. “You came for me,” he says, not out of awe or amazement – for he Knows that of course she would do precisely that! – but as evidence of that claim.

She then answers the questions he has not yet asked and tells him of the Fates; she confirms the bargain she had made with them. She would have stopped there – she would have let him disregard her earlier babblings and think that she had simply traded her services for his soul – but he can sense that she is holding back.

“Tell me,” he commands as absolutely as any king of Underland might.

And so she does. She tells him, watching his irises shift and deepen in color with the telling, of the limits to the Fates’ powers and the memories he would lose should he choose to leave Beyond. And she apologizes for that: “You must have met your family again, your clan... and now you cannot remember having done so at all. I’m so sorry.”

“I choose us , my Alice,” he answers simply and with finality. “Now tell me of this epic rescue.”

She tells him of the riddle she had solved, of the torch on the black wall and how it had really been the light at the end of the tunnel through which she had had to pass. She does not tell him of the flame or the pain, for truly he does not need to know any of that! But she does tell him of the nothingness she had ventured into and the risks she had taken, the strength and sacrifices she had demanded of him, the fear that it would all be for naught, that she would return without him and...

“Alice,” he whispers, tears swimming in his cobalt eyes, “have you any idea why is a raven like a writing desk?”

It is the perfect thing for him to say here, now, in the wake of all the heartache and fear, the hardship and strife.

She returns his teary smile with one of her own.

“Yes,” she answers simply, confidently, absolutely. She kisses away the tears that spill onto his cheeks, noticing his diminishing pallor; soon he will look himself again. “Do you know why a raven is like a writing desk?” she invites softly.

His lips move against her cheek and he murmurs in a low, vibrating tone, “I haven’t the slightest idea, my Alice.”

His response is contrary to what she had expected. For a moment – the briefest of moments – Alice does not understand why he would say such a thing...

And then she does.

It is not the correct answer; it is not the answer they had found together.

It is their first answer, back when they – when the two of them had first become a They – had been new and just Thrice a-Vowed. It is the answer they had shared back when a whole, wide, wondrous future had stretched out before them.

Just as it does now.



Tamial Hightopp, apprentice to Mamoreal’s Keeper of Time and future Master of Time, groans as a beam of cheerful sunlight stabs him squarely in his right eye. He rolls over in bed, grumbling several choice words that would get him into a great deal of trouble – guaranteed! – should they be overheard by a grown-up.

“Bloody... hate mornings,” he informs his pillow on a mumble.

The pillow, being very familiar with this particular statement, does not respond. Which is just as well, Tam figures, as nothing short of stuffing the morning into a closet for a couple of hours has any chance of improving the situation.

He closes his eyes and remembers a time – had it really only been a few months ago? – when he had rolled out of bed without a single grumble once the sun had risen? He sighs heavily. His Mam has said, time and time again, that what he’s going through is – unfortunately – perfectly normal. And he trusts his Mam to know all about Normal. Far more than he’d trust his Fa. No, Tamial would trust his Fa for instructions on how to avoid Normal entirely.

“Shoulda asked th’ hat that,” he moans to himself.

Yes, he should have. The other day, when his Fa had offered him his very first and very own Hightopp top hat, Tam should have thought to ask it about this rotten fellow called Normal and how to kick his stinky, little scut.

Tam snorts, imagining that. “M’be he squeaks,” he speculates, trying on and discarding a variety of scut-kicking scenarios.

“Talking nonsense again!” the doorknob accuses. “Like father like son, no doubt! The next thing I have to look forward to, I suppose, is you waking me up at the crack of dawn, wandering the halls and muttering about blessings and lairds or some other such twaddle.”

Tam rolls over and glares blearily at the mechanism. “My Fa doesn’t talk nonsense or twaddle and neither do I!” he huffs. “It’s not our fault you’re too dim to get what we say.”

The doorknob scoffs. “Dim am I? Well, I may not be well-polished brass – although I could be if someone would have half a care for me! – but even I know that there is nothing for me to get , as you so eloquently put it.” The fixture sniffs condescendingly. “I am a doorknob. The only thing I get is a bit of slamming about from time to time.”

“You could always ask to be moved to a guest room door,” Tam informs it indifferently.

“Or I could ask you to move to a guest room.”

“All my stuff’s in here,” he argues. “And besides, this is my house. I’m not a guest.”

“Neither am I!”

“Humph. Well, just as soon as I have you turned ’round the right way—”

“In a rush to get that done, aren’t you, lad?” it snarks.

“Bugger all...” Tam grumbles, presenting his back to the door.

The doorknob threatens, “I’ll tell your parents you used such foul language while wholly cognizant!”

In response, Tam grimaces in concentration and lets loose an abrupt, squeaky fart.

“That had better not be one of your more frumious gas leakages, young man!”

But Tam can already smell that it is. He makes a face at the stench and rolls out of bed; he knows when to beat a hasty retreat. Out of spite, he closes the door behind him, leaving the doorknob to cough and gasp and gag, and pads down the hallway, following his growling stomach on a direct route to the kitchen. As he passes his parents’ room, he very deliberately starts reciting the proper names of the gears and gizmos in the average pocket watch under his breath. Just in case. If there are any, er, noises coming from that room, he doesn’t want to hear them!

The recitation does the trick and Tam listens rather happily to the sound of his own voice until he’s halfway down the stairs, at which point he is in Safe Territory.

His stomach demands that he head straight for the kitchen, but at the sight of his Fa’s open workroom door, he dares to make a brief stop. His innards growl with discontentment, but he can’t help it; he is Curious as to whether the top hat his Fa had made for him is ready yet. Although Tam hadn’t said as much at the time, he thinks he’d looked rather dashing in it!

He pokes his had into the room and frowns. It is even more spotless and tidy than he remembers. It is also completely empty of hats. Top hats included. He frowns at the worktable, confused. His Fa said he would leave it here, right here for when Tam is ready to introduce himself properly, but there is nothing on the polished wood surface.

With a sigh, he relents to the insistence of his adolescent empty stomach. Still frowning, he meanders down the hall. It’s not until he’s standing in the kitchen doorway with one hand splayed on the portal holding it open, that he realizes the room is already occupied.

His father sits, still in his pajamas with a bathrobe thrown over his shoulders – a rare sight indeed on a non-rest day! – gesticulating rather wildly and extravagantly as his Mam perches on his knees (and she is also still in her nightclothes and robe!), doing her best to trap his wildly fluttering hands and fingers.

“Now, now, Alice. You won this Batten jam quite fairly as I recall!” he whispers on a giggle.

“And you’re fairly late in delivering it,” she counters, biting her lip and muffling her laughter as she chases after him. “Botheration! Hold still and stop your squirming! Take it like a laird of Iplam, Hightopp.”

“Hightopp?” he echoes in an oddly playful yet dangerous tone.

His Mam arches her pale brows. “That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

“Indeed it was.” His voice lowers even further. “An’ jus’ b’cause ye ken hauw teh knock me on mae tail d’snae mean I’ll b’lettin’ ye ge’away wi’it.”

His Mam huffs out a breathy chuckle. “Oh, this I absolutely must see,” she insists with a grin that is far too sharp and... something to belong to a Mother.

She leans forward, her hands grasping his Fa’s wrists, and he stretches up toward her. The kiss is imminent.

“Eugh. Enough, please,” Tam begs. “Just hand over some bread and butter and you can carry on!”

His Mam leans back, looks up at him and snorts. His Fa doesn’t look all that perturbed by the interruption, either. Unfortunately.

“Ye’re late!” his Fa informs him.

“Or early,” he mutters as his Mam slides off of his Fa’s lap and, with that very unsettling grin curving her lips, collects the jar of Batten jam sitting on the table and murmurs something that sounds like: “We’ll settle this score later.

Tam decides to ignore the anticipatory grin and unfocused, beaming expression on his Fa’s face.

He does not, however, ignore the fact that his Fa looks... better.

“Do I want to know?” Tam grouches, helping himself to the aforementioned bread and butter.

“I’m sure you don’t,” his Mam replies lightly.

“That would depend on the question,” his Fa replies, rather astutely.

Turning, Tam leans a hip against the counter and butters his bread. “You look...” Healthy. Well. Great. Younger. Stronger. Yourself. “... better,” he finishes lamely.

His Fa’s auburn brows arc upward at that.

“But if that has anything to do with Batten jam and settling scores then I do not. Want. To. Know,” he warns them both.

His Mam sniggers.

“On the contrary,” he Fa replies happily. “In fact, I expect it has very much to do with a history lesson that you are long overdue for.”

Tam rolls his eyes. “A history lesson? Come on, Fa. I’ve still got two whole days before you toss me into Sir Fenruffle’s lair.”

“Gryphons have nests, not lairs,” his Mam notes, now fiddling with the teapot at the sink.

Tam rolls his eyes.

“Have a seat and take some tea,” his Fa invites, gesturing to Tam’s usual chair. And because the two of them appear to be behaving themselves (for the moment), he decides to indulge him.

Plopping down, Tam asks around a mouthful, “How come my hat’s gone. The Answer to My Prayers top hat.” He clarifies which hat in particular before his Fa can misunderstand – which Tam suspects he does quite a lot... accidentally on purpose, too! – and starts naming things that begin with the letter M.

Accepting a cup of freshly brewed tea, his Fa says with shocking bluntness, “It turns out you won’t be needing that one any time soon. I’ll make you another.”

“I liked that one.”

“You’ll like this next one better.”

“How do you know?”

His Fa glances over the rim of his teacup at him and – maddeningly – giggles. Tam takes his own cup – milky and well-sugared – from his Mam and glowers in thought as his Fa indulges in a noisy sip and, leaning back, declares in a dreamy tone, “Ye make th’ best tea, mogh’linyea.”

“At no time do you ever cease to rhyme?” she counters with a happy smile.

Tam sighs, looks from one parent to the other and shakes his head. Seriously, what is going on here? All last week things were... weird. And now... what’s with all this lovey-turtledovey... stuff?!

It’s enough to put a guy off his tea.

But Tam remembers the doorknob and, calculating the likelihood of it still being in a snit, resigns himself to occupying the breakfast table for a bit longer. If only the stupid thing had been installed correctly! Whoever wants to have the talking end of a doorknob inside their room? But every time Tam asks his Fa or Mam to fix it, he gets some irritating excuse or other... or another list of things that begin with the letter M.

Wondering precisely how long he’ll be forced to wait before the fixture on his bedroom door either forgives or forgets the incident and permits Tam to re-enter his room, he pulls his Fa’s pocket watch out from under his nightshirt – where he keeps it on a leather cord around his neck – concentrates on his request and consults the face of the watch.

“Hm,” he muses. According to this, he should be in the clear in just a little over a quarter of an hour. Much sooner than he’d thought. Of course, he might get into another argument with the blasted thing the moment he sets foot in his bedroom...

“It’s still behaving for you?” his Fa asks idly, indicating the pocket watch.

Tam smirks. “Of course it is.” Wiggling his brows, he challenges, “Would you like to know your future?”

His Fa looks up and over the table. Tam’s Mam does likewise and Tam finds the coordination of the gestures a bit... eerie. More eerie than usual. For them.

She smiles and his Fa sighs. “Thank you for the offer, son,” his Fa says, “but I do believe that answer has already been Asked... and Given.”

Strangely, his Mam says nothing. She merely reaches across the table and he watches as his Fa’s hand meets her halfway, their fingers intertwining.

Tam gives up. Grown-ups. There’s just no understanding them. Maybe the doorknob was right: there’s not an ounce of sense in them. Tam sighs: it’s a somewhat depressing thought that he has this – sugary smiles, gooey gazes, and certain senility – to look forward to in his later years.

Maybe, if he offers the doorknob an apology, he won’t have to wait the full quarter hour to be allowed back into his room. His Fa always says that introductions and apologies are the sugar and cream of life – as with tea, a great many things are more easily swallowed with a liberal application of both.

Firmly ignoring the Moment his parents are sharing, Tam snaps the pocket watch shut and tucks it back under his shirt.

“Well, if you change your mind...” he says, guzzling his tea and rising to put his cup in the sink.

“We know where you live,” his Mam finishes for him.

Tam thinks about the snooty doorknob he’s on his way to negotiate with for a pair of socks and a jacket and finds he can’t be as optimistic as her on that point. One of these days, that stuck-up bit of brass is going to lock him out of his room for good, and then who knows where he’ll end up living... maybe in the stables with Fitzfrey and his Mam’s students! At this point, a truce with that bloody-minded doorknob seems impossible. But, then again, his Mam’s specialty is impossible things.

“Yeah,” he says, grinning as he grabs another piece of bread for the trek back up the stairs. “You do.”

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 11 of 13

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