She spends many nights kicking and flailing and screaming, blankets twisted around her like sanitarium straitjackets as she struggles to escape them, trying to fight off imaginary doctors and orderlies that want to lobotomize her or drug her or...or...she can’t make herself think what else they would do, but she is not a stupid little girl, naive and bright-eyed and innocent. She knows what they do to the other female inmates, the ones without the protection of a wealthy father.
She spends many nights running down winding asylum hallways that never seem to end, boot heels cracking sharply against the concrete, ominous shadows flickering and warping around the walls, the shouts of her pursuers looming ever closer as they brandish lobotomy picks and various other rusty tools that she has no name for. When the halls do end, they end in walls that she pounds on and kicks and tries to claw through as the faceless horde descends upon her and she can’t do anything but scream.
She spends many nights being woken by Will’s insistent shaking and concerned, panicked near-shouting.
She does not hear, imagines the tranquilizer-wielding male nurse shouting her name, and she does not stop screaming and kicking.
"Get away from me leave me alone stop it please go away I'll hurt you if you come any closer stop stop stop STOP!!!"
Her frantic, frenzied pleas melt into wordless screams of terror as she jackknifes in on herself, hands clutched to her head, fingers tangled in her hair. In her dreams, she is strapped to dented metal tables with worn leather belts, the doctors reduced to foreboding silhouettes against the floodlights hanging above her. She screams and begs and thrashes wildly against the restraints, and though the leather creaks and the table rattles with the force of her struggles, the bands do not give. They pry open her eyelids and clamp them open, and the metal pick comes closer and closer and closer and the mallet strikes and the world goes black and she's still screaming, and suddenly, she's back in her room, docile and unresponsive as a pretty little doll.
The door to her cell creaks open. She tries to turn her head to see, but she can't. Her head won't turn and she panics, and panics more when the lascivious glare of a male orderly looms over her and she tries to scream, but her mouth won't open, and she tries to punch his crooked, tobacco-stained teeth, but her arms won't move. Her body won't do a single thing she tries to make it do, it won't, and he laughs and pushes her shift up around to her hips (please stop stop stop stop damn you go to hell go straight to hell) and begins undoing his own trousers(please god let me move please make it stop) and crawls on top of her, breathing into her face and it smells like rotgut liquor and chewing tobacco and gutters and somehow (thank the gods somehow), she finds the strength to scream. And it all goes black again. And then another nightmare. And another. And another. And she cannot stop screaming and sobbing and screaming some more.
She feels strong arms wrap around her twitching form and she panics, imagining that the orderlies have got her at last, and they're going to pump her full of sedatives and smash her brain to bits inside her skull and she screams louder, fights harder, until she hears the words she needs to hear filter through her haze of fear.
"Shh, Alice, love, you're safe. It's Will, it's just old Will, the Knave of Hearts, do you remember me? You're in Storybrooke, Alice love. You're in Storybrooke and I'm right here."
At the sound of Will’s soft voice, her screams fade out and her struggling dies down and she opens her eyes to the most comforting darkness she has ever known. She can feel the steady thump of Will's heart against her back, the warm strength of his arms holding her close, and she exhales a long, shuddery breath.
"Will?" she ventures, her voice softly girlish.
"I'm right here, love. I'm right here."
She rolls over to face him, and she has never been so happy to see Will's warm brown eyes. He is frowning, his forehead wrinkled in concern, and his fingers gently brush away the tear-soaked strands of hair plastered to her cheek.
"Oh, Will," she whispers in relief, and clutches the front of his shirt and buries her face into his chest. She's crying again, hates herself for it, but the waves of relief washing over her from realizing that it was all just a dream are overwhelming. Will doesn't say anything, only presses his lips to the top of her head and hugs her tighter as her body shakes with silent sobs.
Eventually, her tears die down and her sobs fade into shuddery gasps and as fear gives way to a quiet, comforting lull of strong heartbeats and slow breathing, she gasps with embarrassment and jerks away from Will's chest.
"Oh, oh, Will, I've ruined your shirt..."
He looks at her with an unfathomable expression on his face, as though he's never seen anything quite as strange as she is, and she does not know how she is supposed to feel.
"Oh dear. It's not as though you've just woken from a bloody awful nightmare that would no doubt have traumatized lesser men. Now you’ve gone and made the bloody cotton wet, and it’s completely ruined, unwearable. And pity, I’ve only got the one shirt. Whatever shall I do.”
Will remains set in a solid deadpan expression, but Alice catches the twinkle in his eye and it makes her giggle. His face breaks into a grin then, at her softly-teary laughs, and lays a palm against her cheek, wipes away the tears with his thumb. She loves his smile, his warm, dopey, face-splitting grin that shows all his (perfectlywhiteandstraight) teeth because he smiles like this so rarely that if he is smiling, really smiling, it means that everything is truly alright, that she is safe and loved, that he is safe and happy and just as loved, and after her nightmares, that is exactly what she needs to know.
He does not ask her what her nightmares entailed, and she is grateful for that, does not think she can make it through recounting the horrors without crying again. Instead, he kisses her forehead and tucks her head under his chin. She curls in close and tries to fall asleep to the steady thumping of Will’s heart and the quiet, rhythmic whooshes of his breathing, but the adrenaline is still rushing thick in her blood and she just can’t manage to calm down enough to stop her heart from thudding against her ribs in tight spasms, let alone sleep. She can feel her own heartbeat reverberating against Will’s chest, and he must be able to as well, because he murmurs into her hair, “Alice, d’you wanna go watch the telly with me? I’ll get hot chocolate and we can curl up on the couch with that bloody fleece blanket you might love more than me and everything.”
She can’t say yes fast enough.