A/N: This is turning out to be more than just three parts. I'd extended it to four, but now I'm thinking it'll be more along the lines of five, or more likely six. Sorry this one's shorter than I intended.
In the amount of time it takes Will to realize something isn't right, the Executioner's blade is already on it's downward stroke. He can see the shadow, large and looming, though he can't see the actual man nor the blade. By the time he feels the pull, that tug behind his belly button and the inevitable loss of equilibrium that comes with jumping through space, the axe has already begun to sink itself into the back of his neck. Sharp enough that he doesn't really feel it except a heaviness bearing down on him, not until he's tumbling head over heels through a purple haze that eventually spits him out on the hard yellow bricks he knows all too well from his time as the Knave of Hearts.
Yellow that's fast becoming spotted with his own blood.
Shakily, because traveling by wish is not equal to traveling by any form of portal he's used during his life, leaving him feeling sick and twisted up inside, Will lifts a hand to touch the back of his neck as gingerly as he can. And maybe, he admits, it's also the fact he nearly had his head chopped off that's causing him to tremble as he stares at the red staining his fingers. Whatever it is, Will's grateful to be alive, pleased to have been saved, yet furious all the same that Alice would waste a wish on him. Stupid, impulsive girl, he seethes as he tears the hem of his shirt to make a bandage for what feels like a nasty, if fairly shallow, wound. At least shallow enough he's not dead.
The scrap isn't nearly adequate in staunching the blood. All too quickly it's soaked through, the gray fabric saturated so thoroughly it looks almost black. Tossing it aside, Will tears off more of his shirt, tying it around his neck so the knot rests just below his Adam's apple, tight enough for him to feel it's choking him at first. Something he ignores, reminding himself he's lucky enough to even have a neck to feel choked right now, concentrating instead on trying to figure out just where exactly he is inside the maze, a task only made doable due to his previous service to the Queen of Hearts. The signs for navigating the place are easy, once they've been learned.
Sure enough, several bright bricks to his left there's an engraved heart, the point of it signaling a hidden pathway through the towering shrubs in the direction of the palace itself. Not exactly where he wants to go, considering he has no idea what might still be lurking in the abandoned halls. No, what Will needs is to find the spades, his ticket to freedom. Far away from this place and all the terrible memories it holds. But first, more important than leaving this labyrinth, he needs to figure out if Alice wished them both here, or just him. Thankfully he still remembers all the Queen's hidden tricks, like the diamonds along the edges of the path.
Diamonds that could easily fit inside the dimes he'd used back in Storybrooke, etched so faintly into the brick, he never would have noticed them if he hadn't been taught where they were. There's never been a time Will has been more pleased to have been the Queen's Knave than now, as he sees the red shimmer lighting up one point on all the diamonds in front of him, the same point, creating a line of arrows leading the way. Because if there was one thing the Queen hated, it was intruders, and with such a large, hard to navigate maze surrounding her palace, she'd needed a way for her guards to find and capture whoever it was who had dared come uninvited.
Will just hopes said intruder is Alice.
Finding herself alone in the Queen's maze, with her knuckles scraped and stinging from her graceless fall, Alice berates herself for having not been more specific with her wish. For all she knows, Will is on the opposite end, separated from her by endless walls of thick hedges that will take more effort than she'd like to expend in cutting through them. If she even can cut through them, considering she's never tried before. The last time she was here, she'd only just met Cyrus, and wouldn't have known the first thing about even holding a sword, let alone wielding one. A heavy sigh escapes her at the same time she unsheathes the blade. Now is as good a time as any to try.
The initial blow does nothing except sink into the hedge, catching slightly when she goes to pull it out. Magic, still lingering from the height of the Queen of Heart's power, though she's been gone for years. Yanking the blade free, Alice wants to scream. Wandering around a seemingly endless maze looking for Will sounds far too tiring and hopeless. If only she'd been smarter, thought to revise the wish to have her and Will arrive together. Which of course, could have gone all kinds of wrong anyhow. Sudden images of the two of them becoming conjoined flits through her mind, causing her to frown and hate the very idea of wishes. More bother than they're worth, honestly.
From where she stands, all Alice can see are the towering hedges on either side of her, no indication given as to which direction the palace is, and which leads away from it. In front of her is a short path that takes a left, and a glance behind her lets her see a long path that's too far away for her to tell which way it turns, if it does at all. Countless dead ends wait for her in the maze. A thousand different ways for her to get turned around, hopelessly lost. Without food or water, it's entirely possible they'll both die in here. A laugh at the irony of the situation bubbles up inside her. Saving Will only to sentence him to death by dehydration and starvation inside his former Queen's maze.
What were you thinking, Alice?
She sighs, turning in a circle as she debates which way to go.
Forward, backward. Nowhere at all. None of the options appeal to her, yet she chooses forward all the same, in the direction of the left turn. Which leads to another left, a sharp right, more turns than she can keep track of, and a dead end that makes her blood sing with indignation. As if the maze knows what she's trying to do and is purposefully blocking her path. Which is, of course, bloody ridiculous to be thinking in the first place. All the same, she releases her frustration by taking her sword and sinking it into the thin branches of the hedge, hacking pieces of it off until there's a misshapen hole through which she can see nothing except a long line of path stretching out in front of her.
"Bloody hell, you're not really trying to cut through all that to find me, are you?"
In the instant it takes for her breath to catch, Alice has whirled, turning so quickly she nearly loses her balance.
Dropping from her hand, the sword clangs onto the ground, forgotten as she launches herself forward. This is not their usual way of greeting, but she feels she can be forgiven for wrapping her arms around him as tightly as she can, because honestly, a large part of her had started to believe he was lost somewhere in this God forsaken maze without his head. Thankfully, that's not the case, though she's not so far gone in her joy at finding him alive - or rather him finding her - that she doesn't notice when his entire body tenses the second she envelopes him, an arm coming to rest against the back of the neck she's very glad is fully intact.
In the space of several breaths Alice takes note of the feel of something wet against her sleeve and freezes, shifting just enough so she can see the bandage that's mostly stiffened with drying blood, and the stain on the white fabric that's now sticking to her skin. A gasp begins and is quickly stifled as she pulls back completely, hoping the expression on her face isn't nearly as horrified as she feels. Certainly it's nothing like the look on Will's face as he watches her, carefully, features schooled so perfectly into one of nonchalance that it's too perfect, too utterly calculated to be natural.
"You're hurt?" the words rush out of her, breathy in a way that makes it clear she's having trouble breathing.
Which Alice is, because in addition to her hacking at the hedge before his arrival, an injury to the neck of all places is indicative of him having been struck by the executioner's axe before her wish was fulfilled.
Her fault, all her fault.
There's a brief moment when she hesitates, uncertainty surely flitting across Alice's face in the seconds it takes her to decide that, yes, she does want to see what kind of damage she's caused him. Then she's working at the knot at his neck, ignoring his protests and the way his jaw has clenched tightly. It's only when his hands lift to stop hers from working at the bandage that she looks up at him, sees the raised eyebrows above those eyes she's become so accustomed to knowing. That she never wants to stop knowing. Will's still keeping his face devoid of any real emotion, but he's always had trouble keeping what he's feeling from showing in his eyes.
"I'm fine," he tells her, putting extra emphasis on the last word. It does little to ease her distress.
"I just, I need to," Alice starts, shoving his hands away, "I need to see."
The lack of fight as she slips the knot undone surprises her, but she ignores it in favor of carefully removing the bandage from around his neck as she circles him. Were Will any taller, her inspection of the wound would be far more difficult. As it stands, or rather as they stand, the pair of them happen to be on fairly literal equal footing. What healing the cut had done she'd disrupted when she hugged him, that much is clear, fresh blood on his skin. Alice runs her fingers over the gash, not actually touching it. Deep enough that it'll scar, not deep enough that it'll have any lasting damage, which makes her breathe a sigh of relief.
"I'm so sorry," she whispers, feeling tears form in her eyes as the gravity of the situation fully hits her.
A few seconds longer and he'd be dead, the evidence is right in front of her. Alice bites her bottom lip, steps back once, then twice, because she's fairly sure she's about to start crying and it's the last thing she wants to be doing right now. Space, she needs space. When he starts to turn to face her, she whirls on her heel, putting her back to him more to hide her lapse in strength than anything. Don't you dare cry, she tells herself, breathing deeply as a means to calm herself, focusing so intently on that one task she doesn't notice when Will's moved behind her, close enough to touch her. She jumps at the sudden contact, moving instantly to put more distance between them.
"The only thing you got to be sorry for is using one of those wishes on me," he tells her, something so resigned in his voice that she turns involuntarily.
"What would make you say a thing like that?" Alice asks, frustration evident in every word, mostly at him for not realizing after all this time just how bloody important he is to her.
And also at herself for not having the courage to do something more to have shown him. For being so caught up in finding Cyrus, in getting that happy ending, that she couldn't really see what was in front of her until it was almost too late. It shouldn't have taken a fight between them, and Will almost dying, for her to truly make the choice. A choice that, when she thinks on it, was heavily influenced by her belief that Cyrus was important enough to them for his death to not actually be on the table. In that moment, Alice's resolve falters. Because she loves Will, she knows that as certainly as she knows her own name.
But can she be certain she would have made the same choice if she'd really thought Cyrus' life was in danger as well?
There are things Will would rather not admit, like how much he wants for Alice's arms to still be around him, despite the pressure she'd put on an already painful wound, or how much he both hates and loves the way her eyes light up the way like this. The heated embers of her fiery soul on full display, waiting for a touch of anything to set them ablaze, to create a spark that can either turn into a raging inferno or something far less dangerous depending on the fuel given. But the flare dampens as quickly as it came, and Will knows she turning his words over in her mind, looking at the truth in them.
This is not a story where he'd ever be considered the hero, and he's far from a selfless man, not the type to quietly walk away from something he wants. But for once in his life, Will's determined to do the right thing, and that means reuniting Alice with Cyrus, sticking to the plan. Because Alice is the hero in this tale, and Cyrus is her damsel in distress. Everyone knows how the story plays out. People like Will, the supporting characters, don't factor into the happily ever afters. They fade into the background, never to be heard from again. Not by a long shot is he truly fine with that, but this is his chance. Probably the only real chance he'll get to do a truly selfless thing. And if it's the last thing he does in his life, he's not going to screw it up.
"You already wasted one," Will shrugs, a hand coming up in a 'do I really need to explain this?' gesture her eyes follow closely.
"I didn't waste the second," Alice tells him, sharply, in a way that makes her sound every bit the school teacher correcting an answer she doesn't like. "Saving your life would never be a waste."
Every part of Will wants to believe her, but there's a note of uncertainty in her voice, one that tells him plainly exactly how she feels. No amount of protests on her part could convince him otherwise, not when he sees the slight frown settling on her face, the one she only ever wears when she's questioning herself. It stings, more than the sweat in the cut on his neck does, more than any slap he's ever received from a woman he's scorned. No less than you deserve, he reminds himself bitterly. He can't help but wonder if death wouldn't have been a kinder fate.
"Of course," he agrees absently, turning away from Alice in order to locate the spades that will lead them out of the maze. Once he finds one, he extends his hand to her without looking, "Come on, then. Let's get you back on the road to Cyrus."
When she doesn't take his hand, Will looks at her expectantly, finds her several feet away, sword slipping into it's sheath on her back.
"Alright," Alice says softly, coming toward him after a moment of studying his face, slipping her hand into his. "If that's what you want."
The words don't quite make sense to Will, because why would what he wants factor into this at all? It's not what he wants, would never be what he wants, to send her to Cyrus, to a happy ending that doesn't include him. But he knows it's what she wants. All she's ever wanted, everything she needs. Cyrus is what she needs in her life, a stability he could never provide for her, a life he could never give her. Will chalks it up to shock, or whatever it might be that caused the words to even be thought by her. What he wants has never factored into anyone else's life before, not really. Why would this be any different?
Ignoring the hurt, Will tightens his hand around Alice's, savoring the feel of it as he turns, leading her through the hedge to her inevitable exit from his life.