"She is water. Powerful enough to drown you, soft enough to cleanse you, deep enough to save you."
"You're bleeding!" I blurted out as I rushed to Will's side.
"I'm fine," he mumbled, standing up. He still clutched his head, refusing to let me see how bad the wound was. "Are you okay? I'm so sorry he attacked you. I promise I told him you were coming, but his Alzheimer's… it makes him aggressive. I never thought it'd make him physically attack someone, though. Did he hurt you?"
"Other than my arms hurting where he grabbed me, I'm fine, all thanks to you. Listen, we need to get you to the doctor to get that cut cleaned and bandaged."
Will waved his hand dismissively. "I'm fine. You go see Patty and Walt. It's just a small cut."
"Small or not, it needs to be clean, or it could become infected."
"I don't want to bother you, Annie-" Will snapped his head up to correct himself, eyes wide with horror, but the sudden movement made him sway on his feet. It also made him drop is hand, allowing me to see the full extent of the gash. What the hell did the King punch him with?
"Come on," I said, grabbing his elbow. "If you won't see a doctor, then you're at least going to let me take care of it."
"I wouldn't offer if it bothered me. Now come on."
Will opened his mouth to say something else, then decided against it, allowing me to escort him to his office. I once more navigated the familiar hallways more by memory, as if I'd never left the place. Despite what happened here, now and in the past, Windsor Palace still felt like a home I'd occupied long ago. Nostalgia set in at the thought of it. I missed Patty and Walt greeting me every morning; I missed eating breakfast with James, I missed the cooking staff who would always save any leftover baking scraps for me to munch on…
And whether I wanted to admit it or not, I missed Will.
He sunk against his desk when we arrived at his office, and I pulled out the first aid kit, digging through the supplies.
"Who knew a seventy-year-old man could still pack a punch like that?" Will remarked, pulling his hand away from his head so I could dab an alcohol-soaked wipe on the gash. Will winced but steeled himself quickly.
"How'd he do this to you with a punch?"
"His class ring. It's got some sharp edges. He still wears it even forty-eight years after he graduated."
"Are you going to do the same?"
"God, no. I would if I'd enjoyed school, but I didn't."
I frowned, replacing the wipe a cotton pad to slow the bleeding. "You didn't?"
"No. Everyone thought I had everything handed to me. They thought because I was a prince, I was able to skip grades and finish school early. They don't know I tested out of four different grades."
"You didn't tell them?"
"Didn't see the point," Will said, shrugging. "I knew they wouldn't believe me. The friends I did have, it was all surface level. We were friends in class, had no problem partying with them either, but I could never tell them anything, not like what I used to tell you."
"I never knew that…" I admitted, grabbing the liquid Band-Aid. "Why'd you never tell me?"
"You never asked. I guess I also thought it'd be the one part of my past that you wouldn't wholly believe with the way the media painted my time there."
"I'm well aware now of how the media can misconstrue and exaggerate things-"
"No thanks to me," Will interrupted, grimacing.
"Not in the beginning, but I think it would've been a lot worse had you spoken against me publicly. Thank you for not doing that." I unscrewed the lid for the liquid Band-Aid. "I apologize for this. It's going to sting."
Will gripped the edge of the desk as I applied the first layer. He inhaled sharply but made no further sound. "Sorry!"
"I'm okay," he said.
I didn't believe him but kept quiet until I finished applying all the layers. "There. That should be better. It'll at least protect the cut from getting dirty or infected. Make sure to apply more layers when it starts chipping away."
A smile seemingly involuntary spread on Will's face. "Maid, secretary, therapist, and now a nurse. Is there anything you can't do?"
"You learn a lot when you have someone under your care. I had no maternal instinct when I first started taking care of Mia. Now it seems like it's the only instinct I have," I replied.
"You have more than just maternal instinct, believe me," Will said, standing up. "May I escort you back to Everly's room? Or to Patty and Walt's? My dad might be incarcerated in his room, but I'd feel better knowing you got to your destination safe and sound. I understand if you don't want me to, I just thought-"
"Patty's, but I thought you had a meeting?"
"We had to move it to a later time. Gregori hit traffic on his way back from Adelia, so he won't be here for another-" Will glanced at his watch- "five or ten minutes."
"All right… as long as I don't get in the way of you becoming King, you can escort me to Patty's."
"You could never do such a thing, no matter what my dad said to or about you."
Will and I walked in an awkward silence, sending my normally non-existent anxiety sky-rocketing. We'd never been like this before the fight, and I hated it, but what the hell could I say? I couldn't think of a single thing, and it drove me crazy.
"Here we are," Will said, stopping outside Patty's office.
"Thank you," I replied, "both for escorting me here and rescuing me from your dad."
"I'm just glad I showed up when I did. I'm so sorry that happened."
"Don't be. You have no control over it, and I don't blame him. He can't help it. It's the Alzheimer's."
"It's made his anger issues worse than they already were, but it still shouldn't have happened. Listen, I'll leave you be, but I'll send someone to walk you back to Ev's room when you're done. My dad might be locked in his room, but I don't want to take any chances."
"I understand. Thank you. You should get to your meeting now. Don't want to keep Gregori waiting. Go show him what an amazing king you're going to be."
Will opened his mouth to say something, but hurriedly closed it, a question on his lips that refused to come out. Instead, he bowed his head and simply said, "Have a good evening, Annalise."
"What is it?" I asked before I could stop myself. "I know that face."
There was a tic in his jaw as he stopped walking, contemplating his answer. "Am I?"
"Are you what?"
"Am I going to be an amazing king?" Will shoved his hands into his pockets, and I could sense a tirade coming on. "I nearly let a girl determined to get control of the throne on the throne. I let myself be duped manipulated by her; I let her drive a wedge between me and all my friends, and you were right about her during the fight and about so many other things that I can't help but believe you're going to be right about me being King. God help the people…"
God help us all.
Will hung his head, and my words echoed in my head, an unfortunate reminder of a horrible day. I'd wanted to hurt him the way he was hurting me, and I didn't think after all this time, those words would continue to haunt him.
I was wrong, and I admitted it to him, cheeks flushing from shame. "I knew exactly where to strike that would hurt you the most because I wanted to inflict the same pain upon you that you were doing to me, but I never meant any of it. I didn't think you would pay much attention to my words after the fight because of Lorraine, but I was wrong. The truth is, I believe you'll be a great King, and the people are lucky to have you. You might've had a rough start, but you're doing it now. I'm proud of you."
Will's head snapped up. "Really?"
"Really." I took a step closer to him. "You are going to be a great King, and Verona is lucky to have you."
Will's shoulders sagged as if the weight of the world had been lifted off of them. "I- Thank you, Annalise. You have no idea what it means to hear you say that."
"I think I'm starting to. I'll let you get to your meeting now. I'm, uh, going to go. Thank you again for helping me earlier." I started to head into the office but stopped, gritting my teeth as every interview and appearance Will made since our fight flashed in my mind. I silently cursed my inability to mind my own business before saying, "Hey, I know we've had our problems recently, and I don't know if we'll ever really move past it all, but if you ever need to talk, I'm here. I promise I'll answer if you reach out. And if you don't want to talk to me, then go to someone else you trust, but talk to someone. I can't begin to understand the pressure you're under between running a country and watching your dad slowly succumb to his disease, but I do see how much it's getting to you. Take it from someone who knows, don't bottle it up. It'll do more harm than good. I'm not saying you have to bare your soul, and you can take the time to figure out the feelings yourself, but once you do, talk to someone. Get some of that weight off your shoulders. You're not alone in this. You need to take care of yourself if you're to take care of your people, okay?"
Will's blue eyes flashed with emotion, and he slowly closed the gap between us. "Why are you worrying about me after everything I've done to you?"
"Because we used to be friends, and I apparently don't have a filter on my mouth at the moment. I'm also not the only one concerned about you," I replied. "I've just had the guts to say it because I'm not here twenty-four-seven anymore, and if I overstep my boundaries, I can avoid coming here for the rest of my life. But seriously, I've noticed something is off with you. Promise me you'll take care of yourself."
"Thank you, Will." I let out a small sigh of relief and noticed he'd cocked his head. "What?"
"You called me Will," he said.
"That's your name?"
"I know, but ever since the fight, you've only called me William, or Your Highness. That's all…"
"Do you mind me calling you Will?"
"You can call me anything you want, but it's nice to hear you say it again. I missed it." Will hesitated before leaning down and kissing my forehead. "Have a good evening, Annalise."
Will headed off to his meeting, leaving me rooted in place, unable to move.
I'd told myself long ago that I was over him.
I'd damn near convinced myself that I no longer had romantic feelings for him.
But the butterflies in my stomach and the shivers down my spine blatantly proved otherwise.