OK, first let me say, I'm SORRY, we haven't QUITE gotten to our M rating yet. I have a good excuse though: I wanted to spend a good deal of time on the Vow of Hearts. Hopefully you'll agree it was worth it. I SWEAR on Tarrant's Tea Time that NEXT chapter will be full of M-rated-goodness. That being said, I DO hope you'll enjoy all the wedding-esque details I included in this chapter. As I am actually engaged to be married in the next couple of months, I got RATHER caught up in the dress, the Vows, and, oh I hope you'll see what I mean.

Just one MORE important note: If you've read other AiW stories, you've probably read wedding-type plot lines. My personal favorite is Manniness' One Promise Kept. I tried very hard to stick to MY personal romantic inspirations for this Vow of Hearts, but you might notice some general similarities to other stories. Please note that these are completely unintentional - I'd never try to steal someone else's thunder! - any similarities are due to similar tastes and the desire to be both romantic and whimsical and in the scope and style of Underland and AiW.

As always, I own nothing. Please Review! They mean so much to me and let me know how I'm doing!

Enjoy~

~TLD


Chapter Seven: Dress, Caress

and, as I too have found Life in you, I couldn't refuse it. ~Your Tarrant

Alice read those words - those heart-stopping, spine-tingling, utterly mesmerizing words! – over and over until her trembling fingers rendered Tarrant's scrawling script completely illegible to her blurry tear-dampened eyes.

It wasn't until her knees felt weak and her head started spinning with dizziness that she realized she'd been holding her breath. Gasping, she sat down with a 'huff' before her now-apparently-jelly-knees could topple her to the floor.

Her unceremonious 'plop' on the bed shifted Tarrant's silken masterpiece.

Only that, only the innocent swish of satin, only the sensual stroke of silky fabric on her bare arm, only the touch of Tarrant's tremendous tribute of his timeless love could have shaken her from the thrall of Tarrant's note and Tantalizingly Tempting image of his Tanned Fingers curling around a quill and…

Alice! she thought, mentally scolding herself.

"I'm fine," she breathed, blushing in much the same way that her Hatter does whenever she calls him back from any given jaunt into the Madness that occasionally claims his very busy mind.

Now back in her right-proper-Alice-mind, Alice turned her attention to the gown beside her. She ran her fingers over the sheer, silvery material.

"Oh," she crooned. She'd never felt anything so smooth. "Silk?" she whispered aloud. But it was so sheer it was practically see-through. Intrigued, her hands explored the bottom hem, pulling up each individual layer of the thin, sheer material.

Organza, she thought suddenly, the name of the fabric magically surfacing in her mind.

She gasped. There must have been a dozen layers! As she had thought, the topmost layer was white, silvery. But with each subsequent layer, the color darkened – Soft baby blue, glittering sky blue, warm periwinkle blue… on and on until she lifted up the final translucent layer of a soft, glowing sapphire, and then… "Oh!" she gasped again. The gown proper was a deep navy of the richest satin she'd ever felt. And suddenly she couldn't wait another second!

She jumped up, flinging her clothing - rather haphazardly, she had to admit – in her haste to feel her dress… Tarrant's dress, she thought with a shiver… on her body. She turned the embroidered bodice over fearing the laces she was sure she'd find there.

She'd never tried to lace herself into gown before. Her mind was just beginning to spin to the horror of having to meet Tarrant with a half-untied gown, when she saw the somewhat low-cut back of the bodice, fastened together with Oh Thank Heavens! Buttons!

She paused for half a second before pulling the unbuttoned gown over her head before she dispersed the idea that she'd need a corset – Horrible Codfish! she thought. If Tarrant had the foresight to know she'd need buttons, he certainly would have kept her aversion to corsets in mind!

Pulling the gown around her, she smiled. Of course he had! she thought. The wrapping around the bodice seemed to cling to her ribs as if the fabric was held to her flesh by Tarrant's own hands. Just as she'd thought, the satin was so soft against her skin! She stared at her reflection in the mirror, marveling at the fact that his gown fit her absolutely perfectly. The top layers wrapped her in billowing waves of glittering silver. As she moved, her dress looked like flowing water or flickering tongues of blue flame. It was as if her gown was made of night and mist. It was positively ethereal.

Her fingers fumbled with the buttons up the back of the dress. There weren't many, really, and they were literally all easily within her reach.

Save for the top one.

"Grr!" she groaned, struggling to stretch her arms beyond her flexibility. "C'mon Alice!" she growled at herself, jumping a little in her effort to bend her hands to clasp that final button! "Oh Botheration!" she cried, dropping her arms in defeat, her breath heaving out in gasps. She stared dispassionately at her reflection, feeling the awe at her glorious appearance dim slightly in her disappointing defeat by one tiny button.

"Alice?"

Alice jumped at the sound of a soft, melodious voice outside the bedroom door.

"Mirana?" Alice called, recognizing the White Queen's voice. She opened the door slowly, not really believing that the Queen of Underland was standing just outside.

But sure enough, for her eyes could not deceive her, Mirana stood, her luminous form looking slightly out of place in the Hatter's colorful home, her dark eyes gleaming with wonder as she took in Alice and her beautiful gown.

"Oh Alice!" Mirana sighed, clasping her hands over her heart. "You look absolutely stunning!"

Alice smiled, blushing, as she ushered Mirana into the bedroom. Unable to help herself, Alice returned to stand before the mirror, sighing at the sight of her dress – somehow more beautiful than it was even a moment ago. "Thank you," she whispered. "Tarrant is a genius," she murmured, almost to herself.

Mirana's eyes found Alice's topmost button. "Here, let me help you, dear," Mirana offered, clasping the button, and unknowingly removing a heavy burden from Alice's shoulders. "I thought you might need a little extra help," she whispered, hugging Alice's shoulders.

Alice's brow crumpled in confusion. "How did you know?" she asked. She realized with a tiny tinge of chagrin that, in their haste to belong to each other, she and Tarrant hadn't bothered to inform their friends of their plans. "Mirana –" she began, wanting to apologize.

Mirana noticed her embarrassed blush. "Oh, don't worry, dear," she smiled. "I completely understand, and, let me say, I am so happy for you and dear Tarrant!" She smiled sweetly. "You know Chessur," she said by way of explanation. "The crafty devil never could keep a secret," she finished with a wink.

Alice's smile stretched across her face. "Well, I am so glad you are here!" she cried, suddenly realizing how much Mirana's sisterly aid meant to her. Just as the tears threatened to flow, Mirana drew Alice into a warm hug and then, with enthusiasm, whispered, "Well! What are we waiting for? Let's get you to your Tarrant!"


Tarrant waited in comfortable silence as the Sun edged across the Underland sky, reaching for the horizon and his well-deserved rest. After the many, countless years he spent caged in by the horrible fog of his Madness, the smoke-filled skies of Red's reign of terror, the still smoldering ruins of his family's ancestral lands, Tarrant relished the warm comfort of the Sun's rays.

As his friend stretched toward his setting at the end of another hard-earned day, Tarrant felt as though the Sun was marking the end of his own hard-won battle as well. He knew that as the new Moon rose on him and his beloved, their union would signal the birth of a new day, a new era of healing, growth, and joy.

Tarrant smiled, his hands fiddling idly with the ring he'd made for his Alice. He looked down to smile at the sun glinting off the two colored gems nestled in the silver web. He'd chosen this hatpin, one of his favorites, specifically for these gems. One blue. One green. It was almost serendipitous the way it had simultaneously occurred to him that the peridot gem exactly matched his glowing green gaze and that the aquamarine jewel was the perfect shade of Alice blue. He spun the ring around his smallest finger. Like the jewels that were forever joined in a sea of silver, soon he and his Alice would become one.

Just as he was examining his scrubbed, de-bandaged and de-thimbled fingers, Tarrant was distracted by the sound of footsteps heading his way. Slipping the ring again into the safety of his pocket, he looked up, not into the scorching brown eyes of his beloved, but to the lumbering forms of a hare, a dormouse, two very round boys, and the sardonic grin of a floating cat. Tarrant's answering grin was almost as wide.


The Sun was little more than a red-orange blur melting over the horizon as Alice and Mirana left the windmill behind and strode across the field to where Tarrant stood waiting on the rise. Arm in arm they crossed the meadow, their gowns swooshing subtly against the soft grasses. Alice's heart felt like it was beating out of her chest, her anticipation of seeing Tarrant becoming a painful ache. She tugged on Mirana's arm, not-so-subtly urging her faster. Mirana chuckled softly, but adjusted her gait accordingly.

If Alice had been paying attention to anything but the sudden appearance of a tall, ginger-haired man, dressed in a stunning jacket of twilight blue, Alice might have been surprised to see her friends arrayed on the rise, waiting for her. She might have smiled upon seeing the tears glistening unshed in Mallyumkin's eyes, or chuckled at the Hare's slack-jawed gape at her beautiful dress. She would have laughed outright at the Tweedles' matching handkerchiefs, steadily dabbing matching tears, and she couldn't have helped but grin in response to the mammoth smile curving Chessur's face.

But, as it was, Alice did none of these things, because as she crested the rise and her Hatter finally came into view, Alice had eyes for no one else.

He stood, tall and leonine, his hatted, deep orange locks curling around his glorious face seeming to bleed into the setting Sun – the Hatter's orange hues blending into the molten red-orange of the Sun's final kiss on the horizon. His bright green eyes seemed to glow in his pale, shaded face. And even from a distance, the look of triumph and sheer, unbridled joy struck Alice like a physical blow. He stood straight and still, a study in statuesque perfection, but Alice could feel the raw, desperate power of his posture, as if every muscle screamed to close the distance between them.

And indeed, this is exactly how he felt. Tarrant was certain, as certain as he ever was about anything, at that is saying something, that his Feet had NEVER been such obstinate and insubordinate creatures until this VERY moment. Never. No, usually when Tarrant would instruct them, 'Go, Feet,' or 'Stay, Feet,' they would happily oblige.

But not Now.

Now, as the sight of his beloved, the Most Marvelous, Miraculous, Magnificent, Magical, MUCHIEST! Alice he'd ever seen, Tarrant's Feet were screaming to ignore his command to 'Stay' and instead tormented him with urge after Gut-Wrenching Urge to 'RUN' and wrap his Tarrant-arms around the miracle that was Alice's love for him and the amazing sight of her Choosing him – them – together – two – they – forever!

Tarrant twitched violently as the urge to RUN nearly broke his Control.

Not yet, lad, he scolded himself. His smile grew as his Alice drew ever nearer.

He hadn't expected to see Mirana. Though, when his friends had joined him on the rise, he should have known the Queen would have sought out her Champion. Seeing Alice's hand wrapped daintily around the Queen's warmed his heart, though he found himself suppressing a chuckle at Alice's determined gaze and the Queen's slightly stilted gait and her heaving breaths. The Queen's pace was apparently not fast enough for his Alice.

Well, of course not, he thought heartily. Alice IS a Champion afterall.

She was only yards away when his Control suddenly snapped. A particularly bright ray of the Sun's parting gift shimmered off Alice's porcelain shin, shining golden hair, and lit her gown with a stunning sparkle of white-gold-orange-blue! that made even Chessur utter a hushed 'ooh' of pure, pious awe. The sight of her was utterly heart-stopping.

And in Tarrant's case – it was Feet-moving.

His Feet pulled him to Alice in a few short strides. And even as his cheeks flushed with the heat of potential Embarrassment, Alice's ecstatic Smile banished it away, leaving only Relief, Joy, and a healthy dose of Triumph, in its place.

In a gesture as old as Time, Tarrant held out his hands to Alice, palms up – an offering.

A Choice.

Without so much as a moment's hesitation, Alice placed her trembling hands into the strong, warm, steady enclosure of Tarrant's hands. And as those long fingers closed around her hands, Alice couldn't suppress the shuddering rush of desire that raised gooseflesh up her arms.

Lifting her eyes to Tarrant's, Alice smiled shyly, caught for a moment in his gaze, before he slowly escorted her the rest of the way to the rise. And there they were again, Tarrant's hands, guiding her, securing her, steadying her…

How he managed to keep his footing, Alice would never know, because he never took his eyes from her face. And yet, sure and steady as always, he led them to the rise and they stood, fingers laced between them overlooking the whole of Underland.

But Alice didn't think to look up and take in the view.

Her eyes downcast, she still couldn't get over how the sight and feel of his hands made her want to… touch.

She stared at their intertwined hands. They were so different. His long, battered fingers, no longer wrapped in bandages and the thimbles of his trade, callused from long hours, tanned from long days under the brilliant sun in Underland – these hands were so… experienced. They spoke of adventures and passions and…

"Alice?" Tarrant's voice broke through her reverie.

She almost didn't look up at him. A sudden thought had gripped her. He was so strong, so gloriously pure, so MUCHY and she…

The sight of her pale, frail, soft, little hands in his… She was so – insignificant in comparison to those glorious hands! He'd seen so much, done so much, been so much! And what of her? How could I deserve… she thought, her thoughts swirling in Doubt.

But wait, what's that? she thought suddenly. Her gaze narrowed, focusing at a spot on the inner ridge of her own hand.

Is that?

Yes! A callus along the inside of her palm from the Vorpal sword! A mark that only Underland's Champion could wear!

And then, it was clear.

Yes, Tarrant's hands spoke of Adventure, of Passion… and she was determined to have them.

"Alice?" Tarrant's voice broke through again. But this time she did not hide her face. And when she turned her eyes up to her Hatter's they blazed with Love, with Passion, and with Adventure.

Heartened by her gaze, Tarrant continued.

"Alice, my dearest, mae heart," he began, his voice sliding into his lilting brogue as the emotions swirled in a green-gold haze in his eyes. "As we stand a'fore ar friends, a'fore Underland 'erself, I swear mae heart, mae soul, mae fealty tae you, Alice Kingsleigh. I promise tae love you, tae cherish you, tae honor an' protect you, wi' all mae heart, all mae strength, all mae soul, wi' every passing breath until mae last."

As his final words echoed in the falling silence of twilight, he pulled his small, silver token from his pocket and held it in his opened palm, offering it to Alice, to Underland. The Sky rumbled as pink-orange-purple tinged clouds rolled in from the distant hills, as if rushing to hear Alice's reply.

Her eyes rested delicately on the shiny silver ring in Tarrant's palm, her heart skipping a beat at its simple perfection and the sheer serendipity that had drawn them to craft matching tokens for one another.

But even the beautiful ring couldn't hold her attention, not when her heart was screaming the words her lips were made to utter.

"Tarrant," she began, luxuriating in the taste of his name on her tongue. "Before our friends, before Underland, I swear my heart, my soul, and my fealty to you, Tarrant Hightopp. From this day on, I promise to love and honor you with all my heart, all my strength, and with my every breath, until my last."

The Sky rumbled again, like the deep, thrumming purr of a huge Lion, and Alice's trembling fingers set her silver spoon-ring in her palm, offering up to her Tarrant, and to Underland, asking Her blessings and begging Her to bind their Hearts and Souls through the simple exchange of Vows and of Tokens.

Every eye was lifted to the Heavens where the rumbling clouds spun and twisted in a kaleidoscope of deepening colors, the pinks and oranges of sunset being swallowed up by the purples and blues of twilight and dusk. The winds picked up around the joined pair, each with one hand lifted toward Underland and the other locked on the fingers of their beloved. As the Sky darkened around them and Alice's hair began to whip in the spinning winds, her eyes flashed with fear. But before she could panic, she felt a reassuring pressure from Tarrant's hand on her fingers, and what was that? a reassuring nudge on her heart?

Before she could think on it, a sudden flash of lightning rent the Sky and crashed down on the rings in their outstretched hands. It happened so quickly that Alice didn't have a moment to scream or feel fear. One moment the Sky was dark and the next she and Tarrant were engulfed in a white sphere of warm, crackling, spinning energy. She could see it all around her, but could not feel it on her skin. Instead it seemed to swirl within her, warming her, soothing her, purging and purifying her, opening her. The sensations were amazing!

She'd never realized before how small she was, how doubtful, how closed and alone within herself she was! Now she felt strong, steady, secure! Muchy!

How? she thought, the question not even forming itself into words until other feelings hit her, and suddenly she understood.

This is how Tarrant sees me, she thought, awe-struck. She allowed her body to explore all the new sensations, feelings and emotions of her own, of Tarrant's, the ones Tarrant was sending to her and the ones she tried sending to him.

What amazing new sensations! she thought, somewhat overwhelmed by the force of the emotions rushing through her. But even as the white sphere dimmed and faded away, so too did the sensations. And as they ebbed away, Alice felt a crushing wave of sadness in their place.

For a few short moments she had been able to feel Tarrant, to feel his love, his courage, his very being. For a few short moments, they had truly been one.

For the second time in her life, Alice felt very much alone.

She lifted her eyes, welling with tears, to Tarrant, and noticed, with a start, that his eyes were misty as well. But unlike her, Tarrant's face was lit with a stunning smile. She followed his gaze down to the rings in their hands.

He lifted her ring from his palm, and gingerly holding her hand in his own, said, "Alice, take this Ring as my Heart, knowing that, as it Belongs to you, so also do I." He slid the ring onto her left hand, and Alice marveled at its warmth – wherever it touched her skin seemed to tingle with warmth, with possibilities.

She lifted Tarrant's ring to his hand and said, "Tarrant, take this Ring as my Soul, knowing, that as it is Unbreakable, and Eternal, we too, are forever Bonded as One." Her fingers were steady as she slid the ring up Tarrant's finger.

But when it came to rest, Alice was nearly knocked off her feet by a sudden STRONG rush of emotions pounding directly into her heart. She gasped at the intensity of it, and grabbed frantically at Tarrant's outstretched arms to keep from falling over.

Tarrant's arms wrapped securely around her, his own body seeming to struggle with the sudden storm raging around and within them as well. They clung to each other as the whirlwind calmed and faded until only a subtle warmth and comforting pressure wrapped snugly around their hearts.

After a long moment, they parted, and Alice looked up into the most beautiful emerald eyes she'd ever seen - before throwing her arms around Tarrant's neck as his hungry lips pressed desperately against her own!

And even though their friends were watching and clapping, and even though twilight was long gone and darkness steadily taking over, and even though they would have the entire night to explore, express, entice, Encourage, Enrapture, Excite! one another, they couldn't tear themselves away from this moment.

They felt no end in sight for the kisses that burned with new fervor, the tremors of pleasure that seemed to wrack straight through their bodies, the gentle touches that seemed to sink into their bones, the heat that trailed like wildfires across skin despite the chilly night air, the flavor, taste, feeling! of lips that went beyond physical and seemed to dive into the others' very Soul…

No. These were new caresses. More than merely physical. More than desire. More, more, more. And as their friends retired for the evening, Tarrant and Alice were determined to have just that.

More.


See? Told you, MUCH longer this time!

Just one final note: It re-occurred to me how similar my Vow of Hearts is to Manniness' Thrice-a-Vow and I want to make sure I give credit where it is due - For me, my Vow of Hearts began with the idea that Bond-Mates in Underland should be more than symbolically One-Heart One-Flesh, but quite LITERALLY experience the benefits of being One. I got the first taste of what that might look like in One Promise Kept (which is beyond amazing, fyi), so I want everyone to go off and READ it, if you haven't already, and know that THAT'S where I first got the idea that Alice and Tarrant should be both symbolically and physically bonded. So THANK YOU Manniness for your amazing story - and please forgive me if I'm infringing or any terrible thing like that!