A/N: Sorry this took so long to get out! I'm getting back into the groove of writing this, so if it feels off… it's because I haven't written anything for Knalice in months. The Jabberwocky shall arrive in Part 5.
Lost in her thoughts, Alice let's Will pull her through three hedges before her brain catches up to what's happening, what's happened, and she jerks them to a stop, yanking her hand free of his. The nerve of him! Chastising her for saving his life instead of thanking her! It always comes back to this, it seems, her angry at him, confused by him, tied up in knots by the very presence of him. What could she possibly be thinking in wanting to choose him, a life with him? So they can be angry with each other all the time? Bickering with one another, driving themselves mad?
"You know," she begins, huffing out a breath as she crosses her arms in front of her, "a thank you is probably the better response when someone saves your neck from being cleaved in two."
Alice is expecting some kind of retort in the form of sarcasm, or another barb about how much of a waste it was for her to have saved him in the first place. It never comes. Instead, a chagrined Will opens his mouth to speak, hesitates, looks at the ground, then back up at her, reminding her all too much of a puppy that's been kicked one too many times. Whatever anger she has mostly deflates, because she knows how hard it is for him to express gratitude in any form. Will Scarlet needs help from no one, even when he so clearly needs it far more often than he thinks.
"Thank you," he finally says, more feeling in those two words than she thinks she's ever heard from him.
Flustered, Alice feels her cheeks warm, because if she's being honest, the way he said it sounded an awful lot like 'I love you' to her. Even if she knows he hadn't meant it that way.
"That's better," she tells him, lifting her chin as she looks away. Anything to keep herself from looking at him. "Thank you for thanking me."
And the utter awkwardness of what she's just said makes Alice's mouth quirk ever so slightly into a smile. A smile that never fully blooms into the real thing, because she's too tired to let it. Too tired of winding up in the same place with Will. Whatever she'd thought was between them obviously isn't, no matter how much meaning she wants to place in the inflection he'd used when thanking her. His dedication to reuniting her with Cyrus has begun to far exceed her own, and the only reason Alice can think of for that is that she's been mistaken all this time.
Perhaps Will is far more observant than she'd thought when it came to her feelings, and he's merely trying to prevent them from growing by reminding her she's supposed to be in love with Cyrus.
If that's the case, Alice certainly doesn't need to be told more than once.
"Alright then," she says, trying to ignore the heavy feeling in her heart and the voice in her head telling her she should be relieved. You don't have to choose anymore. The choice has been made for you.
A thought that, in itself, stings more than anything. If only because it makes her feel choosing Cyrus is a choice she's making simply because Will doesn't love her. Not exactly the kind of love that would inspire songs and stories to be made out of it, like she thought it was. Not exactly the kind of choice concerning love that sits well with her, not when Cyrus deserves better than to be a fallback. Is that what he really is? Would you really choose Will over him? All that fighting?
Frustration fills Alice, making her head hurt. A tiny pinpoint of pain that begins radiating out from that space behind and above her right eye. Closing her eyes, she takes a deep breath, letting the air sink inside her, settling in her lungs and grounding her. It does what it was meant to, calm her, keep her from coming apart completely at the seams, something that's truthfully been a long time coming. One can only go for so long with so much stress before it ruins them. Surely, at some point, it will ruin her. Make her truly fit for a room within the walls of an asylum.
The thought frightens her, but not nearly as much as the thought of making the wrong decision. Of choosing a future purely out of the fear of being alone. Love, she supposes, was never meant to be easy. But certainly it was never meant to be this hard? When she'd met Cyrus it had been simple. She loved him. He loved her. There was finally a place in the world she belonged, someone who wanted her, cherished her, believed in her. It should be enough, shouldn't it? So why did it feel like it no longer was?
Will's voice crashes into her, breaking her concentration. Alice starts, looks at him sheepishly when she sees he's studying her face, and she wonders if the severity of her deepest thoughts have reached him. If he knows just by looking at her that he's broken her heart, broken everything in her world. Left her reeling and unsure how to go forward with anything anymore. If he knows that he's changed her, left his mark on her, one that she's sure will never fade, no matter where he goes once they've finally parted ways.
"I'm fine," she lies, smiling at him in a way she hopes is convincing.
If there's one thing Will can say about Alice, aside from her being foolishly reckless when it comes to wanting to help other people, is that she's a terrible liar. So terrible, in fact, that he's fairly sure anyone could see through any lie she attempts to concoct. She's not fine. That he sees through this one has little to do with his knowing her so well and everything to do with the fact that people like Alice bleed honesty the way people like him bleed dishonesty. Will probably came out of the womb with a lie on his lips, whereas as Alice… Alice is too good for that.
Whether it's their near miss with his death, or something else, Will doesn't know. But something is bothering her, causing that frown to keep showing on her face, lips pursing slightly as she turns over whatever it is in that brain of hers that never actually stops working. Part of him is convinced it's because she's regretting her decision to save him, that despite her words telling him he's not a waste of a wish, she wishes she'd saved Cyrus. Bypassed all of this and simply gone to her happy ending, leaving Will headless on the chopping block.
Another part of him is latching desperately onto those same words. Saving your life would never be a waste. It's not exactly a declaration of love, but it's something. Enough that the scattered pieces of his broken heart are hopeful, even as his mind tells him repeatedly not to even go there for one second. Don't make it into something it's not. She's your friend. That's all. Which, in the end, he supposes will always have to be enough. Though it hardly matters when he's already settled on leaving the instant she and Cyrus are reunited.
Perhaps he'll go back to Storybrooke, or the Enchanted Forest. Perhaps he'll go nowhere. Or everywhere. Simply go where the wind pulls or pushes him. Will's done it before, after he'd gotten his heart back, and Alice had found Cyrus leaving him feeling as if he were merely in their way. The wind had taken him - with the Rabbit's help - to other worlds, until he'd wound up back in the Enchanted Forest, and look what that had gotten him. Twenty-eight years locked in false memories, which, funnily enough had featured two lost loves. Allison and Annabelle.
Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Will realizes the both of them are trapped in their own minds. What are you thinking, Alice? More than anything he wants to know, but doesn't ask, lets the question hang inside him rather than fill the air between them. Clearing his throat, Will catches her attention. Neither of them speak, and he doesn't take her hand again as he leads the way out of the maze. He knows she follows though, because he feels her at his back, a warm presence he knows will leave his life so terribly cold and empty once she's gone.
You'll have no one to blame but yourself, he reminds himself. His choice, after all, to leave.
It's not until they've gone through perhaps a dozen more hedges that Alice's voice catches him off-guard. Though it might be the question more than anything that stops him cold, skin going clammy as he swallows hard. Images of pink dresses dancing in his mind, full lips whispering to him in darkened rooms as the two of them lay tangled in sheets, his heart so full he felt it might burst. Will blames his most recent run in with her as the reason he's short of breath, and the memory of all that pain coursing through him while she watched him beg.
"Will, who is Anastasia?" Alice repeats.
Slowly, Will turns to look at her, letting everything he's feeling show on his face. He knows it surprises her by the look on her own. For so long he's dodged this question, refused to answer on the merit that it's the past and it doesn't need to be revisited. Yet there he is, a wound on the back of his neck because that past finally caught up to him, finally made him face what he'd pushed deep down inside him for so long. It's time for him to face it. Maybe telling someone else will help him finally and truly bury it.
"It's a long story," he tells her, glancing away because he feels so terribly vulnerable and he hates every second of it. "But you've already met her."
She's tried to kill us both.
Nothing could have prepared Alice for the truth. As hard as she tries, she simply can't see a life in which Will and the Red Queen - Anastasia - were in love. There's nothing about the cold, calculating Queen, in all her finest jewels and dresses, that would ever make her think she hadn't been born of noble or royal blood. As far as anyone in Wonderland knew, the Queen was merely from another world, a Princess or Duchess who'd come and stolen the King's heart before eventually taking his life and his throne for herself. Still, it makes sense in a way, considering the utter ruthlessness the Queen has showed in making sure the throne stays hers and hers alone.
The entire tale carries them through the hedges, ending just as they reach the final one, as if Will has timed it perfectly to end here.
"I'm sorry," she murmurs, wanting to reach out and touch him, comfort him. It's so very obvious that speaking about her has cost him something terrible. Aside from those minutes while he waited to die, Alice has never seen him look so low. Tortured. "You deserve better than that."
"It's nothing," he says quickly, falling back into the Knave she's known for years.
Now, with his mask slipping back into place, she can almost believe him. Almost.
"We should find somewhere safe to sleep for the night," she offers, giving him a way to change the subject. Will makes a grunt of agreement, saying nothing more as he turns away, once more leading. Alice lets him go, unsure what she would say anyway, yet thankful all the same he finally told her. Trusted her enough to know the truth. And now, despite how awful the Queen is, she understands.
Whatever the woman has done to him, it's clear to Alice now that she still holds his heart firmly between her hands, as if she were the one all those years ago to physically rip it from his chest. The thought saddens her, not just because it confirms that Will could never love her, not when his heart, however broken it may be, still belongs to someone else. It saddens her because he deserves better than that, than heartache and a woman who would choose power and a crown over him. Will may not have always been the best man, but he's a better one now. And he doesn't deserve to carry the pain she saw on his face while telling her about Anastasia.
Still, a part of her whispers, If you can love him while you love Cyrus, why couldn't he love you while he loves her also? She ignores it. The choice has been made.
"I know a place," Will nods his head toward a line of trees in the distance, and Alice wonders how it's possible for him to hide his pain so well. Wishes she could actually learn a thing or two about that from him. There's so much she's carried inside herself, so much hurt for so long, because of her father mostly, and now Cyrus. Will. Everything.
It would make things so much easier if she could hide it. Make the world believe she wasn't as affected as she is.
"It's safe?" she asks, as a way to distract herself from her thoughts.
"Yeah, nobody can enter it but me and whoever I want inside," Will assures, his eyes finding hers, perhaps reading the question she hasn't asked. "I'd never want her there. It's safe."
Safe is a relevant term for Alice.
In Wonderland, maybe even in any world, she isn't sure there is a place they could be truly safe from the Queen and Jafar, not while they still have Cyrus and a way to force her to do things she might not want to.