Maxwell wanted to wrap his hands around the throat of the new man.
He wouldn't, of course, it would do no one any good. In fact, at best he'd be very intensely questioned as to why, and at worst killed and ostracized. He was well aware of this, but that certainly didn't stop the thought.
In his situation, though, if one were to know everything, could they blame him? William seemed to just be a better version of him, almost scarily so. He'd told them he was a magician, freely shared that he'd ended up here because he was promised real magic. Simply chuckled, called himself foolish, but was immediately receptive to the group and the support they offered.
And support William had received. The nervous air about him apparently came off as endearing, as it seemed like almost everyone in the group immediately grew fond of him. Ignoring Wendy, who'd embraced him first-thing and called him her uncle. He'd responded in turn, and had unquestioningly offered his arms out to Abigail as well. Also ignoring Wilson, who...
Gods, that hurt to even think about.
When Wilson had introduced himself, William had flushed, and his voice grew softer as he asked, "Higgsbury, you said? My surname is Carter." And then he'd offered his wrist.
Wilson had looked so very delighted, then, taking his wrist into his own hand and practically shouting: "It's you! I'd looked for you forever, where in the name of science were you hiding?!"
They were soulmates. Of course they were. Fate was destined to screw Maxwell over in any way it could, wasn't it? It hurt Maxwell's very being to even think about it too much, much more to consider very long how exactly all of this would work. Maxwell wasn't exactly unused to feeling like the universe was trying to unravel him thread by thread, though, so he thought about it anyway.
He tugs the sleeve of his suit coat and undershirt down, staring at the red piece of cloth tied around his own wrist. In a practiced motion, he unties it, and then stares at the name written there. It's to blurry for him to read up close like this, of course, so he holds his arm out and squints at it, for a moment almost able to convince himself it was someone else. But, no, written there, as it had always been: Wilson Higgsbury.
Now that he'd seen it again, he quickly drew his arm back, very much not wanting any curious eyes to take a glance.
Why? He was well aware that William Carter was the only name on Wilson's wrists, having glanced at them far too many times when he knew no one would notice. Fate had simply decided that he was unworthy of even being loved by his so-called soulmate, he supposed. Unworthy of even the chance at entertaining it.
Not that he would've expected Wilson to even like him, after everything. He was well aware that Wilson hated him, was only kind to him because he felt like it was the right thing to do. That it was 'gentlemanly'. Truth be told, Maxwell found that quite respectable. Attractive, even. Especially in how well he stuck to it, things only getting tense in bursts of emotion, usually leading to slap fights and quick punches rather than actual fights. Which Wilson tended to apologize for afterward, anyway.
Maxwell rubs his thumb against the name on his wrist, even though it was blurred again in his far-sighted vision. He'd long since accepted that yes, he really did love him. That he regretted even further everything he'd done because of it. That he'd probably never tell the man, if he could avoid it, especially now that Wilson had found his real soulmate.
He didn't want to put that weight on him. He knew that even though Wilson hated him, he'd feel guilty. Maxwell didn't want pity, though. He wanted to be loved. Nor did he want Wilson to feel guilty for hating him, he couldn't say he wouldn't feel the same had their roles been reversed.
He reties the cloth around his wrist, then looks up to see someone approaching him. Just in time, apparently. And, of course, it's William, because he wasn't allowed to catch a break. The man smiles to him politely, arms folded behind his back in an odd mix of nervousness and stage charm.
"I hope I'm not being a bother," he begins, likely catching the expression probably on Maxwell's face. "You are Maxwell, correct? Miss Wickerbottom directed me toward you, I do believe I bothered her too much with my questions on the magicks of this world."
"I can't help you," Maxwell finds himself practically snarling, surprising even himself. He sees William's face promptly fall, morphing into one of fear and hurt. He almost feels bad. Almost.
"...I-I see. My apologies, for, er, bothering you, then," William says, stepping back.
Maxwell turns away from him, pulling out his Codex Umbra. He needed the comfort the book provided, even if keeping it hovering so close meant he couldn't actually read it. It whispered to him, offering him knowledge eagerly in exchange for opening it up, in exchange for him putting himself in the place to be manipulated. He knew better, now, to take everything it said at face value, but it tended to compliment him, and the whispers were familiar.
Really, as silly as it was to think, the Codex Umbra was the closest thing he had to any kind of companion, here. No one else loved him more than the book did, even if that love was fake as could be.
After a long time of just staring at blurred pages, Maxwell suddenly finds a fist to his face, and himself then sprawled on the ground. Before he can even look up at his attacker - not that he needed to, he knew who it was - he's being pulled up by his collar.
"What's your problem!?" Wilson yells at him, and Maxwell just keeps his face turned away. "William comes to you to talk about magic, literally your speciality, and what do you do? Snarl at him that you can't help and then immediately demonstrate that you very much could have!"
What? Oh. Maxwell, hadn't considered how that would have looked, pulling out the Codex Umbra and letting it float freely in front of him right afterward. He hated William, and he wasn't normally against being cruel, but...
He's drawn from his thoughts by Wilson continuing his tirade. "And here I thought this would be a good chance for you! You were fairly nice to Winona, so forgive me for thinking you could possibly be redeemable after all! William didn't do anything to you, for goodness sake!"
Maxwell bites the insides of his cheeks, ignoring how his sharpened teeth actually pierce them a bit. He, hadn't wanted to make Wilson dislike him any more than he already did. Each word feels like an extra stab to the chest, piling on on top of all the ones that came from just being near Wilson. This kind of thing, this was... This was why he remained unloved, wasn't it?
Wilson was right, William hadn't purposefully done anything to him. William couldn't know about the name on his wrist, or how much he seemed like simply a better version of Maxwell. Despite that, Maxwell couldn't say he wasn't jealous of him, that he didn't hate him for simply existing. Emotions rarely stopped for the logical mind.
"Wilson, stop, please."
Maxwell feels Wilson's grip on him relax, and sees out of the corner of his eye him turn his head. In Maxwell's line of sight, he can see the odd shade of purple he recognized as William's outfit, and he finds himself making a low, angry sound.
"I will not! I'm tired of dealing with this! He's always been like this, and this is the last hecking straw!"
"Obviously he has a reason, then," William replies, "d-didn't you see, while you were yelling, how hurt he looked?"
"He always looks hurt when he gets yelled at, William. He's manipulative!"
"I know I haven't seen what you have, but, I don't believe it. I'd first believe I somehow hurt him rather than he just decided to be cruel to me for no particular reason, then try to get out of it by looking sad."
Wilson puts Maxwell down, stepping back. "Fine. Ask him, see what he says."
Maxwell finds himself looking at William, who crouches beside him with -as far as he can tell through the blur - a caring look on his face that makes Maxwell's insides crawl, suddenly feeling so very guilty for ever disliking him. By the fact he didn't just accept Maxwell as manipulative, he was obviously very naïve, and here he was, crouching by the man who'd hurt him earlier and asking: "What was it I did?"
Maxwell finds himself sitting up, not really actually choosing to do the action but instead feeling as if his body was moving on it's own. Then he's pulling down his sleeve and untying the cloth around his wrist, his automatically moving body ignoring the panic that rises in his chest at the action. William takes it into his hand, angling it away from Wilson purposefully, and just stares at it for a long moment.
Out of the corner of his eye, Maxwell sees Wilson hovering nearby, an expression on his face that looked like realization that he'd been wrong after all and was also beginning to regret it. He was probably going to apologize soon, like he tended to do.
There's movement beside Maxwell, drawing his attention to William again, and then suddenly there's something on his face, and he can see the man a lot more clearly. He brings a hand up to his eyes, finding the barrier of glasses in the way, and William's face now lacks them.
William looks so genuinely empathetic for him, it hurts. "Can you see?"
"Now, yes," he finds himself responding. "How..."
William smiles, then turns to look up at Wilson. "With my glasses on, he looks a lot like me, does he not?"
Maxwell turns as well, looking up at Wilson himself and catching the horror on his face. His expression keeps switching between horrified confusion, disgust, regret, and other things that Maxwell can't quite place in the moment. Then, after a long moment, he watches Wilson take in a deep breath, turn around, and walk off.
He looks back at William, who looks more than a bit hurt by that, but draws his attention back to Maxwell as well. "I'll, er, see if I can figure out some way to make you a pair too," William says, holding out a hand.
Maxwell takes off the glasses, giving them back to him. He hadn't minded things being blurry before, but now that he'd seen everything clearly for once, he was now missing it. Onto more pressing matters, though. "I have to ask, why did you..."
William puts his glasses back on his face, looking down on the ground. "I guess I'm used to people assuming the worst about each other and never questioning it. While here, I will say I heard some pretty horrible things about you almost immediately, but... Some good things, too. I thought, maybe, it'd be worth it to give you the benefit of the doubt."
Maxwell finds himself stunned, frowning a bit. "You've put your relationship with Wilson on the line, doing so."
"...I have. But, I, I'd rather not hate myself, and I'd rather he didn't hate me, too. Besides, he seems to be a very kind man, and we are soulmates. I... I think it'll work out."
Maxwell feels his face scrunch up. "You know, I-- I thought that you were just a better version of me. I suppose I was right, after all."
"I think that untrue. If I can be like this, you can too. If anything, I'm proof of it."
For a long moment, Maxwell stares at William, at this apparent other version of him. Then, tears find his eyes for the first time in a very, very long time, and he's crying into William's suit coat.
Perhaps it was a bit narcissistic, finally finding companionship within another version of himself, but at the moment Maxwell couldn't find it in him to care. For the first time in a very, very long time...
Someone loved him.