"You could do it, you know, wish for cupcakes or flowers and get him back."
Alice looks up, a sharp jerk of her head, hands stilling where her fingers have been idly running over the curves of the bottle nestled in her lap. The frown she wears has become far too familiar to Will, and he wants more than anything for the lines of her face to stop carrying so much worry within them. As much as it pains him, he wants to tell her, It's alright, love. You'll see him again.
"I can't," she says, voice small and lost, so unlike his fierce, determined Alice.
No, not his, never his. Because Will knows why she thinks she can't. The silly promise she'd made Cyrus about not using her wishes so they could be together forever. As far as Will's concerned, promises be damned. Getting the bottle back in their possession was hard enough, and as much as he'd like to throw his hands in the air and walk away, leaving Alice to find Cyrus on her own, he won't. But he also wants this over with as soon as possible. Every moment is another crack in his useless heart, another fracture he wishes he can't feel.
He'd never known a broken heart could break further until he'd met her, began to love her, and lost her to another man.
"Course you can," Will manages to say, his voice catching slightly on the last word as their eyes connect. "Isn't that what all this is for?"
"But…" hesitation is written all over Alice's face, uncertainty that Will only knows how to decipher as mistrust.
"If it's about me having the wishes, you got nothing to worry about," comes out harsher than he means it to.
Will has always believed words have power to them, an almost physical presence. In this case, the sharpened edges of what he's said seem to cut Alice. Her reaction is visible, back straightening, eyes going wide for a fraction of a second before narrowing, zeroing in on him in a way that makes it necessary for him to look away lest he let his growing confusion and frustration make him lash out at her. Will has never been the best at expressing himself, especially in situations where his heart or the hearts of others are concerned, and he has an impressive track record of leaving offended parties in his wake.
There are few doubts in his mind as to the path the current conversation will take.
"That's not what I meant."
When he puts his mind to it, Will is particularly good at ignoring things that make him feel uncomfortable. Keeping his gaze averted, he pretends the spidery cracks in the dry earth beneath is feet are of far more interest than anything she has to say. Truthfully, it's Alice he wants to be looking at, so he does, in a way, keeping track of her movements in his peripheral vision as she sets the bottle on the ground beside her and rises to her feet.
"Will," she says and he knows his cringe isn't just reflected in his soul but his entire body by the way her progression toward him halts.
It isn't that he doesn't want her to say his name, it's just easier for him to put distance between his feelings for her and the truth of their situation when he's merely Knave. Not Will. Because he loves the way her mouth looks when she says it, the way her voice curves around the single syllable and makes it sound like a name that should always be on her lips. Because it makes him wish that everything was different, that there was no Cyrus, no history between her and someone else that prevents him from walking up and kissing her, letting his hands wander down her curves.
And that's the crux of it. Alice is everything he wants but cannot have, and it's killing him.
Clearing his throat, Will glances up at Alice, taking note of the look on her face, somewhere between offended and confused. Exactly on course, this conversation. One of his hands rises, rubbing the back of his neck briefly, and he wonders if he should say something. Anything to break the awkward silence that has settled between them. Only, he has no idea what to say, or do, so he chooses to do and say nothing, keeping his mouth closed with his thoughts locked inside him. It's better this way, he tells himself. It has to be.
"Hungry?" he asks.
Alice says nothing, lets the change in conversation happen without argument, something that is so very unlike her he's not sure how it makes him feel. Will risks a look, finds she's staring off into the distance, and takes advantage of the moment to appreciate the features of her face. So very beautiful, and he's always liked her hair like this, the waves of it falling naturally about her shoulders, unfettered by the confines of the braids she prefers. It takes real effort to turn away completely.
When did he become such a lovesick fool? He hates it, hates himself more.
Some days, she feels like Will thinks she's oblivious. That she hasn't noticed the way his eyes follow her, or the way smiles fall easily onto his face when he's with her, the way they never do when they're with anyone else. Alice has only ever known Cyrus in terms of love, but it's enough to let her recognize the signs in someone else. To recognize the signs in herself she'd rather ignore, and it's taken her some time to understand that it's not mere loneliness or want of another manifesting itself in want of Will. She's tried so hard in recent days to pinpoint when exactly he took root in her heart with equal footing as Cyrus, and she can't.
She doesn't know when, supposing in the end, that it doesn't really matter.
Whatever Will is to her, Alice has been holding strong to her need to find Cyrus, reminding herself of her promise to him, of the way he made her feel when she was in his arms. And it hurts, like always, to be without him, but now there's a lingering doubt in her mind as to whether or not it's what she truly wants. Because perhaps she's found herself waking from dreams in which Will's fingers brush along her skin, the lightest of touches as his lips press against the curve where her neck and shoulder meet. Some mornings she can barely look him in the eye, her guilt overwhelming.
Because this… this was never supposed to happen.
Alice watches as Will halfheartedly rummages through their food looking for something to eat. The laugh that escapes her is involuntary, a reaction to the utter ridiculousness of it all. And his refusal to look at her causes an inescapable wave of fury to rise inside her. At him, at her, at Cyrus, and bloody Wonderland for existing at all. In this moment, she'd gladly take the asylum and all its horrors over what she's currently feeling, this war of conflicting emotions that make her want to throw something just to have the satisfaction of watching it break.
"You're right, of course you are," she says finally.
Part of her is purposefully trying to provoke him as she sits, slips her shoe off and moves the heel until her wishes fall into an open palm. Another part is simply tired enough not to protest or be rational when impulse makes her do this. Alice places two of the wishes on the ground, holds the third between her forefinger and thumb. Her eyes shoot toward Will, lingering on his back until he starts to turn, then she squeezes them shut as she concentrates on one thing, an insignificantly small wish that can't possibly do any harm.
"I wish for a lemon cupcake."
The regret that washes over her is instantaneous, hitting her even before she feels the weight of the cupcake in her hand, before the smell of lemon fills the air in front of her. She drops it, like it's on fire, eyes flying open as both hands rise to cover her mouth. Will kneels beside her, nudging the cupcake away first, as if he thinks it might explode, and how can she blame him? All wishes come with a cost, even silly ones for cupcakes or flowers. But all she can think of is Cyrus, not whatever consequences may come.
"Do you think he felt it?" she asks Will, voice muffled by her hands until she moves them, one to push her hair back, the other pressing firmly against her chest, just below her throat. "Do you think he knows?"
"No, he didn't. He doesn't," Will tells her, and she recognizes it for the lie it is, but appreciates it all the same. After all, a genie is needed to grant the wish, is he not?
They are close enough to each other that Alice is very aware of Will and the way he's touching her. What she knows is meant to be comforting fills her with anxiety as she stares down where his larger hand has covered her smaller one, the both of them resting on her knee. Conflicting emotions fight inside her. She loves Cyrus, there's no denying that, but there's also no denying that she's fairly certain she's fallen in love with Will. Nothing would please her more in this moment than for the world to simply stop spinning, for time to stop until she can sort through what it is she wants.
I wish, she starts to think, and angrily cuts herself off, because what's the point?
"He'd understand," Will offers.
Alice makes a sound that's somewhere between a sigh and laugh. Of course Cyrus would understand. Eventually. But now? Wherever he is? All he'd know is she'd broken a promise, made a wish. And if there is one thing Alice likes to think she can always say about herself, it's that she's dependable. Her promises aren't meant to be broken, rather being the sort of things she cherishes, holds onto and swears to uphold. In her experience, the only people who make and break them are the kind of people she doesn't like, scoundrels of the worst sort. Selfish is the word she's looking for.
"You don't know that," Alice says, shoving his hand away and getting to her feet. For good measure she kicks the cupcake away from her, careful to avoid the gleaming wishes still on the ground. "You don't know anything."
"I know more than you think," Will's voice is hot, the lighted fuse on a bomb. "Maybe it's you who knows nothing."
"Me?" she whirls on him, points a finger at his chest. "You wouldn't know love if it slapped you in the face!"
The moment the words escape her, Alice knows she's made a terrible mistake. They've done this before, volleys of words bearing barbs intended to stick in the other's skin, doing as much damage as possible. Yet, this is different. This isn't some petty fight that can easily be fixed. Alice knows neither of them is talking about Cyrus anymore, or the wish. How did we get here? Will's face has gone still, the only thing holding any kind of emotion being his eyes. Anger, betrayal, things she'd rather never see when he looks at her.
"This again? That what you really think, is it?" he clenches his jaw, shakes his head and shouts, voice full of frustration, "I don't know why I'm even here still."
"Then what's stopping you from leaving?" there is a note of desperation in the question that surprises her, as if she's begging him to help her understand what she's feeling.
He looks away, either refusing to hear her plea or really not recognizing it for what it is, shrugs and says, "Nothing."
Once, his mother had taken Will aside, telling him the best way to make someone who loves you leave you behind is to make them hate you. Advice he'd taken to heart and used only once before, with the intention of never doing it again. Yet, here he stands, on the verge of walking down that same path. The situation is not quite the same, considering Alice has never given him any indication she loves him the way he loves her. Surely, if she feels anything of the sort for him, it would be how she'd feel for a brother, had she one. Making her hate him, well, that might make it hurt less when she finally walks away, hand in hand with Cyrus.
As if anything can make that hurt less.
There are a thousand things he can think to say, a thousand ways to hurt her, make her hate him and enjoy seeing him walk away. Put the final nail in the coffin that is his love for her. The tip of his tongue has become a breeding ground for his own pain, his own cowardice, taking the form of poisonous words he's not sure can ever be taken back once said. They itch to be set free. Hurt her, the way loving her hurts you. Tell her she's just a stupid little girl. Tell her you feel sorry for her, that you only stayed because you didn't think she was strong enough to do this on her own. Lie to her, and make it sound like the truth. You're good at that.
"Then why are you still here?" Alice demands.
Will looks her in the eyes, sees the sheen of tears in them and nearly loses his resolve.
"Don't do me any favors, Knave," she hisses the name at him, twists the knife in his gut, but isn't that what he wanted? To not be Will to her anymore? She waves her hand in the general direction to her left, "if you want to go, leave. I'm surprised you lasted as long as you did."
The implication she's been expecting him to leave all along is exactly the catalyst he needs.
"That a fact? And to think I came back for you when you think so lowly of me," Will snaps, hands clenched into fists at his side. "You, the foolish child playing at love in the hopes it'll erase all that pain you've got from your daddy not giving you enough attention when you were a girl. Maybe I should've left you there, you ever think of that? Left you to rot in that cell. Maybe Cyrus would have come for you then, yeah?"
For just a moment he thinks she's going to back down, let his words be the last thing hanging between. Then her eyes light up with fire, mouth twisting as she advances on him.
"Oh isn't that rich, coming from you," she all but growls. "At least I'm not afraid of love."
"No, you're just so blinded by it you don't see the flaw in loving a genie," Will pauses, makes sure she's looking at him, and asks, "What're you gonna do when you get old and he still looks the same? Or are you gonna use one of your wishes to make yourself young forever?"
That stops her, makes Alice's eyes widen just the slightest bit before she gets control of herself, as if she's honestly been stupid enough not to have thought of that already. A tremor runs through the bottom portion of her face, frustration bringing her to the edge of true tears. Rapidly she blinks, trying to keep them from falling. For the most part, at first, she succeeds, then one tear falls, followed quickly by another and another until her flushed cheeks are wet.
"What do you care anyway?" she wipes at her face, turning her back on him so he almost misses the, "Why haven't you already left?"
Whatever else he wants to say to her, the words die on his lips, sinking back into his mouth behind his teeth where they hide. The damage is done all the same, evident in the way her shoulders curve in, defeated. Winning feels an awful lot like losing to Will, the kind of ache that makes him wish he were younger, back when he didn't have his heart and wouldn't have cared the way he did now. Before he'd met Alice, seen the spark of her soul set fire to everything she touched, bringing it to life. She'd done that to him, breathed life back into him, and for what? For this?
To hell with her, and to hell with this.
"You want me gone? I'm bloody gone," he says, stiffly making his way to where his things are scattered on the ground. Not much of it, enough that it takes him only a moment to shove it all in the pack he's taken to carrying with him.
Walking away is possibly one of the hardest things he's ever done, but he remains resolute, not looking back as he picks a direction at random and begins to walk. As far away from her as possible. Maybe if he gets far enough he'll forget, move on. Only he knows he won't, because he still carries the scars from Anastasia. He'll carry Alice with him for the rest of his life, etched into a piece of him he'll bury and try to never think about again. Lose himself in the touch of women he'll never truly care for, a cheap imitation of the love he craves. But maybe he was never meant to have a heart that beats in time with another.
You're a fool, Will Scarlet, he tells himself. Nothing but a bloody fool.