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what never should have been (we'll discuss in the dark)

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“Bonnie do you have those briefs for the Ellison case?”

“Right here.”  Bonnie dropped a folder on Annalise’s desk. “I was about to call it a night.”

“You have plans?”

“It’s almost one a.m., Annalise,” she said softly.

“Damn.” Annalise rubbed at her temple with her thumb, stretched her neck.  “Time gets away from me.  I guess we should both be done for the day.  You want a drink?”

“That would be nice.” Bonnie settled in her chair— the one with the curved back she’d scoot close to Annalise’s proper leather office chair when they were working.  She’d found herself in it for non-work reasons more and more often as the summer wore on.  She didn’t want to have any expectations, but she thought that perhaps they were moving toward a more balanced relationship, one in which she was almost an equal, and she liked that.

Annalise placed a crystal glass half full of amber liquid in front of Bonnie, then retrieved a measure of vodka for herself.  She relaxed back into her chair and sipped.

“What was in the box?” She asked a while later.  Bonnie blinked at her.

“What box?”

“A package arrived for you, but there’s no return address and the box looks really old.  I had Frank put it by your desk.”

Bonnie went to her desk. The package was the size of a small moving box and made of faded cardboard that was starting to go soft at the edges. Her name was written on it, but the address was care of the practice.  She sat back down and placed it on her lap.

“What do you think it is?” Annalise asked.

“I have no idea. Maybe Hannah sent a bomb to blow the place up?”

“She’d send it to me. She liked you.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes and accepted the razor Annalise handed to her.  The box had clearly been sealed and re-sealed many times, and the lower layers of clear tape were starting to yellow and crack. She sliced through them and carefully opened it.

“Well?”

Bonnie frowned at the box’s contents.  She plucked a piece of paper from it and read it aloud.

“‘I found this in the attic while I was finally throwing out the crap dad had stored up there.  I thought you might want it. I’d tell you to stop by when you’re in town next, but we both know you won’t. Hope you are well. Love, Claire.’”

“Mmmm.” Annalise’s eyes lingered on Bonnie as she debated her next question. “How long has it been since you saw your sister?”

“Eight or nine years.”

“It’s a twenty minute drive,” she chided gently.

“You know I can’t go back to that house, Annalise.”

“Claire could come here.”

“I guess.”  Bonnie reached into the box and pulled out a red hardback book. “I’d forgotten all about this. It’s a book about butterflies and moths.  I stole it from the school library when I was in third grade.”

“Early lawlessness.”

“I always was a rebel,” Bonnie said dryly.  She held up a gauzy pink and purple dress with brittle cellophane covered wings attached.  “Halloween. 1982, I believe. I was a fairy princess.”

“I wish I could have seen that.”

“I bet Claire has photos somewhere.  Dad was always following us around with the…” she trailed off as plucked a Polaroid from the box.

“What is it?”

“It’s me when I was 18,” Bonnie mumbled, holding out the photo.  Annalise took it and studied it for several moments.

“How far along are you here?”

“Seven or eight months, probably.”

“I can’t even tell.  Somebody as small as you, you would think it would be obvious.”

“Nineties grunge layering had its advantages.” Bonnie took the photograph and put it back in the box along with the book and the fairy dress. 

“You don’t want to look at the rest?”

“Not tonight.” She shrugged. “Maybe not ever.  To be honest, all I want to do right now is set it on fire.”

“Let’s not. You may change your mind someday.”

“So what do I do with it in the meantime?”

Annalise dug around in her desk until she found a roll of clear packing tape.  She helped Bonnie seal the box, then tucked it under her arm.

“The attic ladder may be insurmountable after the booze we’ve had, but we can at least put it in the closet where the access is.”

Bonnie followed Annalise upstairs and into her bedroom.  She watched Annalise pull down the ladder, shake her head and put it back up again.

“You’re really upset, aren’t you?” Annalise asked quietly as she tucked the box into the back corner of the closet.

“Yeah.”

“Get some pajamas out of the bottom dresser drawer.”

“Annalise—“

“I won’t let you go home to an empty house while you’re hurting like this,” Annalise said firmly, and Bonnie seemed to understand it wasn’t up for debate. 

“Why did she do that?” Bonnie asked the dark room.  They were both ready for bed, tucked into soft sheets, close enough that she could feel the warmth of Annalise’s body but not touching.  “Claire had to know I wouldn’t want to see that stuff.  If she’d just put the return address on, I would have known not to open it.”

“I assume that’s why she didn’t.”

“We can be strangers. She doesn’t need to try to hurt me.”

“It’s Claire. She will anyway.”

“It doesn't make sense.”

“Of course it does.  Look what you’ve done with your life, after years of that monster trying to destroy you, bit by bit.  You dragged yourself out of the pit.  You’re remarkable. And what’s she done with her life?”

“Not a whole lot.”

“Exactly. You're ten times the woman she is. Claire has no excuse for being such a disaster. Especially since if you believe what she says, he never touched her.”

Bonnie’s body went rigid and when Annalise turned to her she had tears rolling down her face. Annalise sighed and held out her arms, but Bonnie shook her head.

“It's okay. I want to,” she said quietly and then Bonnie was clinging to her, trembling, face pressed against her neck. “That's it. You can let it out.”

Later, the shaking has stopped, but Bonnie still held tight to Annalise. She breathed in, out, slow and steady as they both laid in silence.

“There’s something so wrong with me,” she mumbled flatly. “Part of me hopes he did it to her too. So I could be sure it wasn't my fault. Wasn't anything I did that made him look at me that way.”

“I won't patronize you by saying there’s nothing a seven year old could do to make that happen.”

“Thanks. I know that in my head, but…”

“You still feel guilty. I understand.”

“I know you do.” Bonnie shivered. “There's part of me that hopes it’s true, though. That he didn't touch her.”

“She's your sister. No matter how much you hate her, it makes sense that you wouldn't want her to suffer like that.”

“That isn't why.” Bonnie shifted and sucked in a breath. She glanced at Annalise, then covered her eyes with her forearm before she went on. “If I was the only one, I was special. It's so sick that I feel that way, I know, but… he picked me.”

“You break my heart sometimes, Bonnie.”

“I'm sorry.” She forced herself to look at Annalise, whose face was somehow still kind and warm.

“Don't be.” She stroked Bonnie’s hair. “Where is he now?”

“Still in the state prison, I assume.”

“In protective custody?”

“Not the last time I heard. I guess once pedophiles get old, the rest of the inmates don't care as much about the sick things they did.”

“We could have him killed,” Annalise suggested, as easily and lightly as she would suggest they try a new restaurant for brunch. “It wouldn't even take that much money, I bet. Find some gangbanger who’s on his third strike but has a kid on the outside he’d like to have a better life. It would practically be a public service.”

“You're not a killer, Annalise.”

“I'd make an exception. He gave up his humanity the first time he touched you. It would be like shooting a rabid dog.” Annalise laughed. “Except I like dogs.”

Bonnie chuckled.  She let her fingers come up to Annalise’s cheek and stroked it gently.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “Sometimes I don't know why you put up with me.”

“We’re stuck with each other, Bonnie. Tell me you hate me, lie to me, stomp around here like a storm cloud in Louboutins because Nate’s around more than you'd prefer, scream at me that you want me to die… it doesn't matter. Maybe neither of us has any real idea what family is supposed to be like, but you're mine.”

“I'm yours,” Bonnie agreed. She pulled away slightly so she could look at Annalise. “However you want me. You know that, right?”

Annalise’s breath hitched and she looked away.

“Yeah. I do,” she said finally. “It's late. We should sleep.”

“Okay.” Bonnie shifted toward her side of the bed. “I'm sorry if I made things weird.”

“Don’t apologize. Everything’s always weird. I'm just…” Annalise took a deep breath and turned her eyes back to Bonnie. “I'm not there yet.”

Bonnie’s face softened, eyes shining. She squeezed Annalise’s hand.

“Let's get some sleep,” she said. She turned onto her side, facing away from Annalise. Bonnie clasped her hands in front of her heart and breathed slowly, eyes looking out into the darkened room. After a few minutes, she felt Annalise move behind her, hooking an arm around her waist and pulling her close.

“Is this okay?” Annalise asked belatedly. Her knees tucked in behind Bonnie’s and she pressed herself against the other woman’s back.

Bonnie took Annalise’s hand from her waist and held it between both of hers. She sighed as she let herself relax into the embrace.

“This is perfect.”