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fragments of stillness

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It is late, far too late to be having this conversation.

“You love Frank,” Annalise hisses. She's standing, arms folded across her chest. She wants to sound venomous but instead she sounds the way she feels: tired, abandoned. “You said it practically to my face.”

Across the room, hovering in the doorway, Bonnie swallows. Annalise watches the muscles in her neck contract, release. “I love you more.”

Annalise’s laughter is short, like a bark. “So that's why you lied to me?” she asks. “Took off for days, screwed Frank when you should have been here, with me, helping fix this damn godforsaken mess?” Annalise’s voice has started to waver, and so she forces it into a taunt. It comes out just shy of hysterical. “Because you love me? Right. It’s Sam all over again, Bonnie!”

Bonnie's brows are knit together helplessly. “It's true, Annalise,” she says, because it is. But even to Bonnie, these words sound small and inadequate. Still, she is desperate, and she has nothing else to offer. Nothing else that Annalise will accept right now. “I love you more than I've ever loved anyone or anything,” Bonnie tells her.

Annalise diverts her gaze to the wood floor of her bedroom, thinks about the way Bonnie’s voice had sounded on the phone in Coalport after her father died (was killed - another lie). Annalise had offered to help Bonnie dispose of the bastard’s ashes, but she had backed off at the mention of Bonnie’s sister (Annalise was willing to bet that was a lie, too).

None of Bonnie’s lies could ever be kept from her for very long, and so Annalise knows now that it had been Frank who killed Bonnie’s father, Frank who Bonnie ran to for comfort. It was Frank who Bonnie needed, and missed, in those moments and in every moment since. That night meant everything to me rang in Annalise's head as loudly as It didn't mean anything did and Annalise wants to peel Bonnie’s skin back, wants to tear her apart, because it hadn't been Frank who saved Bonnie from her father all those years ago. It hadn't been Frank who Bonnie confided in for the first time, who held Bonnie over and over again every time she broke down over it, who made space for Bonnie in her own home and even in her own marriage so that Bonnie could have a better life.

Annalise isn’t certain about anything anymore but she is certain that she loves Bonnie more than anybody ever had, or ever could.

She also knows, deep down, that she’s never been very good at showing it.

Deflating, Annalise bows her head to her chest. “You should have come home to me after he died,” she whispers. “You should have let me comfort you.”

Bonnie runs her nails down the door frame, eyes downcast. She remembers waking up alone in that motel room and sobbing until her throat was raw and she tells Annalise, in a strangled sort of voice, “Yes. I should have.”

“No matter what else I did to you I never left you,” Annalise says. “You don't leave the people you love.”

Bonnie turns to look Annalise dead in the eye. “Is that why you kissed me? Because you love me?”

Annalise is silent. Her body is still, standing there in front of the dresser, like she's frozen in time.

 

---

 

The first place Bonnie fell in love with Annalise was in the courtroom. She remembers watching Annalise argue for the first time, back when they were both younger and Bonnie was so timid and hungry and broken (she is still all of these things now, she's just gotten better at hiding it). It was a good hour into the hearing and it wasn't even a particularly big case but Annalise had held herself in a way Bonnie hadn't even been able to dream about before. It was the way she stood with her hand balanced on her hip, and then on the jury box, like a tower, like she owned it all. It was the even, velvet voice she used and the brilliantly crafted words she wrapped it around.

Her mind was like lightning – striking quick, hard, and then disappearing, leaving everyone stunned, dazedly blinking the bright white spots from their eyes. There was absolutely nothing in the way Annalise conducted herself in court that suggested she doubted herself, or felt unworthy, an imposter (a foreign concept to Bonnie). Bonnie formed a habit of anxiously wringing her hands in her lap under the table because she couldn't fathom ever feeling that way about herself, but she so desperately wanted to. Watching Annalise made her yearn for it. Being told by Annalise that she'd done well (in class, in court, in therapy, it didn't matter) made her believe it might even be possible.

Years passed and Bonnie grew to love Annalise in every setting, in every instance (even those in which Bonnie was the target of her venom), but she can still, to this day, find herself lost watching Annalise’s long, smooth arms as they sweep out, motioning to a jury or to some abstract concept. She can still find herself lost watching Annalise’s slow, deliberate high heel clicks across the polished floor, the way her full mouth curls up at the corner when she knows she's won. Bonnie will get this swell in her chest, this nervous, jittery, buoyant feeling, especially when she thinks about this Annalise coming home high off victory, pouring them each a drink and without words, asking Bonnie to stay a while longer.

(They have both always been so lonely.)

Bonnie used to imagine herself in Annalise’s posture, used to watch Annalise’s spine and straighten her own to mirror it. She used to try to see herself provoking prosecutors and law students alike, imagined them looking at her with wide eyes and speaking in hushed tones, like they did with Annalise. Bonnie would relish the way it felt to pretend to be so powerful, and so good. She would spend hours thinking about what it would be like to be so feared and respected, wondered if it would be enough to keep the nightmares and the razor bladed memories at bay. Wondered if it would be enough to make her whole.

And even now, even though she knows her boss better than almost anyone else, even though she knows that Annalise has plenty of her own demons, Bonnie can still waste away hours wondering what it would feel like to be Annalise Keating.

 

(But then there are other times, more reckless times, where Bonnie will wonder about decidedly different things. For instance:

She’ll wonder what would happen if, on some boring and inconsequential day, in the middle of the prosecutor’s deposition, sitting side by side at the defendant’s table, Bonnie drifted her hand to Annalise’s thigh. She wonders if their eyes would meet while the monotone voices droned on around them, or if Annalise would keep her gaze steady on the judge or witness or notepad or file but maybe – because it was Bonnie’s fantasy alone – she’d spread her legs just slightly, just enough, and Bonnie’s heart would careen straight through her chest while she drifted her fingers across Annalise’s skin.

Or maybe – and Bonnie’s heart would race just as hard thinking about this possibility – Annalise wouldn't do any of that. Maybe she would turn to Bonnie sharply, in cold, silent fury, eyes demanding and punitive, lip curling—

But then Annalise’s voice would filter in, saying her name, Bonnie, it's time to go, and Bonnie would snap out of whatever hazy daydream had washed over her and she would start to gather her things.

“Of course. Sorry.”

She has never been able to detangle the hazy, piercing desires that permeate her being, has never tried very hard to figure out which is greater: the desire to have Annalise, or the desire to be Annalise.

Or, perhaps her desire is something entirely different, something more like her relationship with the woman: something undefined, something inexplicable and in between.)

 

---

 

Annalise remembers the woman she used to be, but she doesn't remember the softness.

Her life, by its very existence, had never allowed her to be very soft.

She remembers the thresholds of all the people she’s been, but she knows this one best:

 

Blinking through a drunken haze and seeing what she knew to be Bonnie’s blurry figure. Sometimes Sam was there and sometimes he wasn’t, but it didn’t matter because Annalise was always alone at the end of each day, no matter who was sleeping next to her.

(There was always a space, a hole, a void, in the shape of two beautiful bright brown eyes and ten small fingers and ten small toes, a string of laughter like bells chiming in springtime. Annalise still laughed in those days but she never remembered it afterward, like a dream. Like a nightmare.)

“Go home,” she’d mumble, and vaguely, somewhere in the back of her mind, she’d know that Bonnie had heard.

It was a variation of this, every night, for years. Frank would just leave; Bonnie needed to be told to. The students (any student, even the most ambitious) would have been gone hours and hours ago.

Annalise sabotages – it's what she does. There is a blinding white loathing inside of her where there should be dark fertile earth left from the remnants of tragedy and shame from years past. Compost is supposed to work that way, you throw enough trash into a pile and you give it some time and it renews itself. It becomes nourishment. You learn and build from there. Grow something from what's left.

Annalise knows better than most that the same principle doesn't apply to people (or at least – it doesn't apply to her, could never hope to apply to her).

Maybe given another ten years, Sam could have fixed her. Maybe the baby could have fixed her. She doesn't know, and she barely cares. What matters is reality, and the reality is that this is who she is and who she has always been: someone who tries, someone who always, always fails.

(At some point the self preservation kicks in, even if she’d rather lay down and die. Annalise lies down each night but she never dies, just wakes up in the morning and keeps on living, and living, and living.)

 

---

 

“I—I needed something,” Bonnie explains, shrugging one shoulder, struggling for words. “That night. And Frank did, too. We needed each other. Can you understand that?”

What Bonnie doesn’t say is that what Frank gave her is something she wishes Annalise would have given her instead, but that wasn't possible. She has been desperate for it – connection, hands against her body, something to feel.

Annalise bites at the inside of her bottom lip, releases it, and sighs. “Yes. But it comes at the price of my trust. So tell me – was it worth it?”

Slowly, almost reluctantly, their gazes meet. Bonnie doesn't answer.

“Let me make it up to you,” Bonnie tells her instead, after the silence grows too thick. “Let me show you how sorry I am.”

Annalise’s eyes flutter open, closed, open again. Bonnie is still across the room and her hands are curled into loose fists at her sides, her clothing is hanging off of her small body like sheets hung to dry, and Annalise wants to rip them down, wants to strip her slowly and thoroughly until there's nothing left for Bonnie to hide behind.

(It is so hard, when Bonnie is like this – pleading and open and ready to give Annalise anything – not to take advantage.)

“I can't lose you, too, Bonnie,” Annalise mutters, pushing dangerous thoughts away, burying them deep with the others she doesn't let see the light of day.

“I won't ever let that happen.”

Annalise feels so full of loathing and it spits and sparks in every direction, but mostly in the direction of her own heart. Bonnie must see this because her face is heartbroken, shadowed in the soft lamplight, and she takes a step closer. Her hand reaches out like she might touch Annalise – but she's too far away, and it tightens back into a fist, and drops.

 

---

 

It was always Annalise who found her and held her through the panic attacks and the breakdowns. It didn't matter where Bonnie was, on campus late at night or in the bathroom at the house in the middle of the day, somehow Annalise always knew. Bonnie didn't need someone to coddle her, she'd been on her own with much worse for the first twenty years of her life. And yet...

Annalise would sit quietly beside her, one gentle and noninvasive hand on her knee, and she'd say things that Bonnie had never, ever heard before.

It's not your fault.

In and out, in and out - good girl, just listen to the sound of my voice. Breathe in and out.

It will never, ever be your fault. Do you hear me? No matter what your brain tells you, no matter how much shame you feel.

Baby, someday you will have a brand new heart and a brand new mind and a brand new body that he's never even touched. I promise you. I promise you.

Bonnie wondered how she was supposed to believe any of it, but with Annalise’s voice in her ear and Annalise’s hands strong and steady against her, somehow she began to.

Therapy with Sam helped, but Bonnie was never able to fully relax and be completely honest, completely herself, with him. When he touched her or tried to talk to her, she either unspooled recklessly or wound herself even tighter.

When Annalise touched her, Bonnie melted. All of her molecules began to rearrange themselves in response to Annalise. Bonnie started to wonder if this new heart and mind and body that she was forging over the years didn't belong to her at all, but belonged to Annalise instead – and Bonnie found that, bizarrely, this thought settled and calmed her.

Even when she didn't trust herself, she trusted Annalise. Annalise became Bonnie’s anchor to the physical world, and during those first few years of law school she thought about dying much less than she ever had before.

Annalise made sure Bonnie’s father would never again see life from beyond the bars of a prison, gave Bonnie a home with her and Sam like a stray. Made Bonnie believe she was valuable and okay.
(She did such a good job of this that even when Annalise started to tear her down again, brick by brick – just because Bonnie was always the closest willing target – Bonnie’s foundation was sure. Annalise had given Bonnie the gift of making her believe in herself, and that was something Annalise couldn't take back, even when the time came that she tried to.)

It wasn't until Bonnie was in her last year of law school and working for Annalise full time that she realized that the reason Annalise had known what to do and what to say with her was because she had gone through the very same things, years and even decades earlier, long before Bonnie (or Sam) knew her. But by then it was too late, because if that Annalise had been broken before, this Annalise had already lost her child and lost herself and there was no coming back from that at all. Bonnie would never meet that woman again. No one would.

Still, Bonnie tried. Tried her best to take care of Annalise like Annalise had taken care of her.

(Annalise didn't let her.)

Bonnie did what she could in the periphery, worked harder and became dependable and watched the students very carefully, made sure Annalise never had to worry about vodka going dry or missed appointments, kept Annalise's stress level manageable best she could. Never talked back or argued, even when maybe she should have.

It wouldn't have bothered Bonnie if she knew that Annalise had Sam, at least. But she pushed Sam away, too (it was Sam’s fault – he started pulling away long before Annalise did). Pushed Frank away. Pushed everyone away. Annalise grew claws, sprouted needles and spikes and razors, built fences and towers around herself so that even attempting to get close to her again wasn't an option.

 

Later, when Sam was dead and Rebecca was tied up in the basement, Bonnie thought she finally had a chance to help Annalise, to save her when she didn't even know she needed to be saved. So she took it, of course she took it.

Everything Bonnie knew about love she had unlearned from her father and relearned from Annalise, and so Bonnie knew that this is what you did for the people you cared about: you wore yourself down to nothing, you threw yourself off of cliffs or in front of trains, you gave and gave of yourself until there was nothing left just to protect them.

 

---

 

(Annalise remembers this woman, too, but only enough to recall her shape, no definition:)

 

 

When Annalise had brought Bonnie home it had been the middle of summer. She'd pulled as many strings as she could grab at Middleton and Bonnie had put work in, too, and they'd managed to secure a scholarship and housing.

“This house has three bedrooms,” Annalise had told Sam back in June. “I’m just sayin’.”

“Annie, nobody should live in the same house as their therapist,” Sam had said, and Annalise’s brow raise had been deadly. “I mean, current therapist. You still want me to see her, right?”

Bonnie ended up spending a lot of time at the house anyway, and Annalise didn't mind and so Sam didn't either.

Annalise found out she was pregnant again in October. By Thanksgiving, Bonnie was holding doors open for Annalise and carrying her files and purse to class and even though Annalise grumbled about being coddled over when she wasn't even showing yet, she appreciated it. The deeper truth was that she was terrified – it was always terrifying, pretending each pregnancy might be okay until it wasn't. Pretending she wanted this when she was so unsure. Pretending she was fine when she had never, ever been fine.

When Annalise asked if Bonnie wanted to spend Christmas with them, she was worried it might come across as strange – what twenty three year old girl would want to spend Christmas with her law professor and her therapist?

But Bonnie wasn't an average twenty three year old girl, and the way Bonnie’s mouth curled up in response was worth it. “I wouldn't want to impose,” she had told Annalise in her soft, wavering voice.

Annalise was certain that any family Bonnie might still have weren't the sort of family she could spend holidays with. There was a brief mention of an older sister, but because Bonnie had never brought it up again, neither had Annalise.

“I insist,” Annalise had promised, and she'd grasped Bonnie’s arm gently. When Bonnie looked up at her, the look had blown something inside of Annalise wide open.

 

Months rolled by. Early in May, when Annalise’s belly was about to burst and the flowers on the campus trees were in full bloom, Bonnie slid a letter beneath her office door.

Annalise still has the letter, still reads it sometimes when it's late and she's had too much to drink, when the world feels too heavy to keep carrying on her back. Annalise will trace her fingers over Bonnie’s handwriting (which hasn't changed in ten years) and remember that sometimes, loving people, caring for people, turns out to be worth the heartache. Remembers herself in Bonnie’s words, caught in time, stretching into the future. Remembers before.

 

---

 

There was a moment when they were screaming at each other inside Annalise’s office that Bonnie considered throwing a wrench in everything they ever built, and inside that endless moment she considered what, of everything at her disposal, both truths and lies, would hurt Annalise most.

I lied, nothing I ever did was for you, Annalise, she wanted to say. Everything was for Sam, I swallowed every poison you gave me for him, I killed Rebecca for him, everything you ever told me or did for me I turned right around and gave to him – it was never because I loved you that I stayed by your side, I used you and I wanted to be close to him, and when he finally took me to your bed and fucked me like I know he never fucked you I knew it had all been worth it—

Bonnie decided to go one deeper though, because she wanted Annalise to know that she was never so brainwashed by her husband. Even though Bonnie swayed with each step and her mind was swimming with betrayal and alcohol, she had never felt more steady.

She decided to tell Annalise that she didn’t know how to love anyone. Decided to wish her dead. Watching the aftermath was satisfying, in a perverse sort of way, how Annalise’s face changed and the mask fell away right before Bonnie’s unfocused eyes. It was a denial of everything Annalise ever did for her and Bonnie threw it back at her like it never meant anything at all, instead of absolutely everything.

(If it weren't for Annalise Bonnie would have been dead and that was the first time she reflected on this fact with regret and anger rather than gratitude and hero worship.)

In the moments immediately after, breathing heavily and staring into one another’s eyes, Bonnie imagined Annalise striking her across the face for her belligerence. She was almost desperate for it. Almost wanted it so badly her whole body throbbed and hissed and she leaned in, waiting, all the breath held tight in her lungs. She imagined the quick shock, the radiating pain that would wipe all other thoughts of betrayal and shame from her mind, if only for a precious moment. She imagined wiping away blood at the corner of her mouth and smiling for the first time in weeks.

Annalise didn’t give her the satisfaction. Which really, should not have surprised her. Bonnie watched a tear creep down Annalise's cheek and then she turned away.

Bonnie went home and showered under scalding water until she couldn’t feel herself anymore, until the water ran cold and she stumbled into bed. The cool sheets slid against her numb skin and for hours and hours afterward, she dreamt of Annalise’s hands wrapping slowly around her neck.

She woke the next morning with a pale echo of the stillness she always felt in her body after her chest stopped heaving and her mind stopped clawing and all that was left was Annalise’s hand on Bonnie’s knee, her voice whispering over and over, in and out, in and out – good girl, just listen to the sound of my voice.

 

---

 

“...Annalise,” Bonnie begins. The lamp light catches the tears in her eyes, lights them like jewels. “You have no idea how much I need you. How badly I...I want you. And when you push me away it hurts, but...I want to be hurt, by you, because it makes actually pleasing you so—” her voice dips, breathless, “—so much better.”

Annalise must have a look on her face that Bonnie cannot decipher, because Bonnie says her name under her breath, and she looks possessed, like maybe she wishes she could stop talking but she can't.

“I’m so sorry. I can do more,” Bonnie promises. “You've given me everything, Annalise, and I want to give everything, too.”

Annalise shifts her weight slightly, hugs her crossed arms closer.

“I love Frank. I’ve known him nearly as long as I've known you. I want the three of us to be okay. But...he doesn't make me feel tied to him, like you do,” Bonnie continues, taking another step. “Nobody does.”

“You need me,” Annalise whispers, finally, but it comes from lips curled like a snake in a basket. “You want me.”

Bonnie isn't phased. “Yes,” she says, brows knitting, face wide open. “I can't remember a time I didn't. You must have known.”

“Alright,” Annalise shoots back. “I’ll play along. What is it exactly that you want, Bonnie? Enlighten me.”

Annalise knows that Bonnie always says what she wants to hear, knows that Bonnie lies, manipulates, because she knows Annalise so well. Annalise expects to call Bonnie’s bluff, expects this to be another lie that will, when prodded, begin to fall apart. But that doesn't happen.

“I want to hold you,” Bonnie says, almost immediately. She's still stepping forward, slowly, cautiously. Her eyes never leave Annalise’s and the words come tumbling out, whether or not they want to be heard. “Like you held me. I want to protect you. I want—” she stops, swallows, starts again. “I want to touch you. I want to touch you in ways I shouldn't, but I do. I want to make you say my name, over and over again. I want to watch your face while I do it.”

Annalise is watching Bonnie with dark, dark eyes. She says nothing, so Bonnie continues, her sentences halting and limping like a colt on shaky legs.

“I—I want to make us forget. I want to make you remember—the way you were, the way it used to be. Do you...do you remember that?”

Annalise has reached out to the wall, her palm flat against it, as if she were feeling the weight of Bonnie’s words physically, like they are piling one by one onto her chest and dragging her down. She wants to spit and spark and ruin and deny, she wants to let the familiar doubt consume her again, but instead she just chokes, bites out, “Of course. Of course I remember.”

Halfway across the room, Bonnie’s face lights up and darkens all at the same time.

 

---

 

Sometimes, Annalise would try to pinpoint the exact moment her life got away from her. Tried to piece the story together like she would a client’s case. At what point would she tell a jury everything went wrong? Maybe it was the moment she came out of Ophelia with Ophelia’s skin, skin (and eyes and hair and nose and lips and ass) that would already count a strike (endless strikes) against her. Maybe it was her uncle. Maybe it was Sam. Maybe she has always been sick, maybe she has always been broken and that's why sick and broken things have happened to her.

Sometimes, Annalise would miss her mother so much she couldn’t breathe. Memphis wasn’t so far away, but going home was a journey she couldn’t always bear to take.

(It took Bonnie and Frank years to find out Annalise even had a mother.)

Well, she did have a mother and she did have a family but was a family she had tried so hard to distance herself from. They loved her, but they hadn’t protected her. They loved her, but they cast Anna Mae over her like a rusty metal trap, a big yawning shadow, a suffocating pillow, and she just wanted to be Annalise.

Yes, mama, she always wanted to shout, petulant and defiant, sometimes it really is that simple.

Other times, her life and her past would wrap around her like lengths of endless cutting wire and she thought that it would just be easier to slip that wire up around her neck than it would be to try to detangle herself from it. Wondered why it was her instinct to extend that wire to everyone she loved, everyone who seemed to care about her.

Still, that fire inside of her kept burning. That fucking self preservation wouldn’t let her rest.

When she was younger, she wanted freedom, wanted love, wanted to be challenged, wanted to escape, wanted to be the best. Wanted to prove. Wanted to blaze ahead and keep herself so busy that she had no time to think about dying, or worse, failing. She wanted, wanted, wanted.

It took Eve to make her feel free, and reckless, and trapped all over again. Eve and her long hair, soft skin, kind face. Eve saw right through her and loved every blemish and shadow. Ultimately, Annalise could not accept this.

Naturally, she sabotaged it. Partly it was the gay thing and partly it was the love thing and mostly it was Sam – the way fleeing to him felt safe and like a self-inflicted punishment all at the same time. Truth was, for most of their marriage, she had loved Sam – sincerely, wildly, hopelessly loved him. They had built a life together with all four hands.

But then the baby was lost (taken), and Sam was lost (taken) and dead bodies began to pop up around her like weeds in that already barren landscape, and Annalise knew that she was an omen of destruction and death and that nothing good could survive in her wake.

 

Sometimes when Annalise looked at Bonnie, she saw the same thing she used to see in Eve all those years ago: a hand outstretched. All she had to do was grab it.

Go home.

She would blink and turn away.

 

---

 

It didn’t happen often, and it was always something small. A tired look when Bonnie expected more vitriol, a quiet moment of unexpected honesty. The way Annalise would pinch the bridge of her nose with frustration and then head into her office, a softly murmured “Bonnie, with me – the rest of you get the hell out of my house” as she passed.

The way sometimes, late at night, Annalise would feel comfortable enough to head to bed with Bonnie still downstairs. It happened, over and over again, for years. Before and after the baby, before and after the affairs, before and after the murders. Annalise would rise up from her chair and roll her neck, and as she passed behind Bonnie’s chair, she would trail her fingertips across Bonnie’s shoulders – from left to right, lingering. When this happened, late at night, it happened no matter what else they were going through. They started and ended with this. Everything else was put on pause.

Before she left on those nights, Bonnie would knock on Annalise’s bedroom door. I’m heading home, she would say. Do you need anything? And if it had been a good day Annalise would smile sadly (and if it had been a bad day, which was often, there would be no smile at all) and she would say something like, I’m good. I’ll see you first thing tomorrow.

Bonnie would nod. See you tomorrow.

(There was always a part of Annalise that didn't want to be alone and there was always a part of Bonnie that didn't want to leave, but that didn’t matter. They never went off script.)

These are all ways that Annalise would tell Bonnie that she needed her.

 

The other times were harder to think about, and rarer even than the softer moments, because they were anything but soft. Bonnie didn’t get triggered very often, not anymore, and most of the time, she dealt with it herself. But sometimes...

They could go from screaming at one another to something else in the blink of an eye: one minute screaming, the next Annalise’s arms would be wrapped around her, pulling tight, because Bonnie had changed as she'd gotten older and that meant that what she needed had changed. Sometimes she needed to feel small and utterly surrounded. Sometimes she needed space.

So Annalise’s arms would be around her, unyielding, even as Bonnie struggled – because sometimes that was what she needed, and Annalise knew it before Bonnie did. When the panic and the fight receded, Annalise’s arms would still be there (sometimes it was Annalise herself who had caused the very panic and fight that she then soothed, but this had always been the problem, anyway: that to one another, they were always the disease and panacea both.)

Once, when it was too much, Bonnie had spent twenty minutes dry heaving over the toilet, the bile a burning reminder of Rebecca in the back of her throat. She had already come to terms with being a bad person, a murderer, but her body was always one step behind. She had stood shakily and saw that Annalise was leaning against the doorway. She pressed a cool wet cloth into Bonnie’s hand and as Bonnie took it, Annalise grasped her fingers and tugged her closer. Annalise ran her fingers through the sweat-damp hair at Bonnie’s forehead. Bonnie was thirty six and technically Annalise’s own counsel then, but the touch reminded her of those first few years they were together and she had leaned into it with a quiet desperation. She never apologized for Rebecca and she wasn’t about to; this was her accepting the consequences fully. She didn’t ask for Annalise’s hand on her face, didn’t ask for the words she spoke into the quiet bathroom.

“You were right, you know,” Annalise had said. “I would have done the same thing for you.”

Bonnie had closed her eyes, but then opened them again, because not looking at Annalise in that moment seemed wrong. And she'd been rewarded – Annalise had leaned in and kissed the curve of her brow.

They never talked about that moment outside of it, but they remember.

(This is how Annalise would tell Bonnie that she loved her.)

 

---

 

“Frank is the one that took that from me, who I used to be,” Annalise manages to say out loud, and she hates the way her voice sounds, high and cracking on the vowels. “I was broken before, but not like this.”

Bonnie whispers, “I know.”

Annalise presses her fingers to her forehead. “You don't get to play both sides of this, Bonnie.”

“I pick you,” Bonnie tells her. “I need you.”

“I don't know how to believe that.”

“If you let me come over there,” Bonnie says, and suddenly her voice doesn’t sound so steady, “I’ll show you.”

 

---

 

They almost sleep together, once or twice, over the years. They are both adults. Things have always been boundaryless between them. It’s bound to happen sometime.

(Once: late at night, when the drunken conversation had shifted from work, from Wes and Laurel and Michaela and Asher and Connor, and had taken a sharp left turn past polite. Annalise had been lamenting both she and Sam’s affairs and Bonnie had divulged one detail too many about her fucked up, almost nonexistent sex life, and the profound silence and the way Annalise’s legs were – by accident or design – pressing up against her own as they sat in front of one another were like live wires humming. And Annalise hadn't even looked away from her face, as if Bonnie having told her she couldn't remember the last time she came with another person was fine, and had no effect on Annalise whatsoever. It would have been so easy for either of them to lean over and test that statement, and Bonnie had been so sure in that moment that Annalise had wanted it, too. But the moment passed. Left Bonnie stumbling home wondering, aching, and determined never to mention it again.

Twice: maybe it was as fucked up as Bonnie’s sex life that anger lent itself more readily than joy when it came to snapping free from the rope they both kept themselves so tightly, and separately, bound to. Every time Annalise berated her there was an undercurrent of want, but Bonnie had no idea when the last time they had truly laughed together had been (four years ago? six?) and so she didn't have much recently to compare it to. She can't even remember what had pushed Annalise over the edge that night, but Bonnie had started to stand up for herself after Asher and Annalise hadn't been able to bear it: that night she’d snaked her hand around Bonnie’s neck (and later, Bonnie would stare and stare into the mirror at the tiny crescents from Annalise’s fingernails, a rare physical remnant of their time spent together). And god, it had flipped a switch in Bonnie, black to red. But Annalise had caught herself, and her hand had released, lingering in an apologetic caress before she turned and walked away (disgusted? repentant? confused? at herself or at Bonnie? she had no idea.

...Among others.)

Bonnie knows that the moment they actually go through with it, she’ll be destroyed. The moment they go through with it, wherever they are – in the car, in the office, in a hotel, in Annalise’s bed, in Bonnie’s bed, it doesn’t matter – Bonnie will be split in half. Her life will become everything that happened before that moment, and everything that will happen after it.

When they cross that line, Bonnie doesn’t entertain the thought that she’ll ever find her way back across. She’ll cross it willingly, of course she will, she will probably even initiate it. But it will be like walking into her own execution. She accepts this as a fact of her life, like her mortality, like her past.

It’s only a matter of time.

 

---

 

If Annalise knew one thing about herself for certain, it was this: she loved people into the ground. Loved them until she broke them completely.

Sometimes it was because she suffocated them but most of the time it was because she didn't know how to be kind for any sustainable length of time.

Bonnie had been so young and so broken and so vulnerable when they met, and Annalise should have known better, because she saw how Bonnie began to look at her, so hungry and so terrified, so deafening in her silences.

Annalise had let Bonnie try to be her, had let Bonnie try to love her. Annalise couldn’t have warned Bonnie about the impossible way she went through life, consuming and destroying – that was knowledge that came only with time. She had wanted to help Bonnie more than she wanted to let her escape unscathed.

(It wasn’t all bad, of course. They had had a few good years, too. A few happier years, sprinkled throughout, dormant now like seeds in winter.)

And then Annalise had lost her son, and Bonnie had twisted herself into knots trying to fill that loss, even though she shouldn't have and Annalise shouldn't have let it happen. But it did happen, and Annalise had been so grief stricken and Bonnie so desperate to make Annalise okay that they'd slipped into toxicity and then surpassed it entirely, charting new realms of dysfunction and starvation.

Annalise never wanted Bonnie for a child, but sometimes it was easier to explain it that way (how else could she put into words what she couldn't even look at with both eyes open?).

Bonnie had been so young when she first came into their lives and it was impossible not to still see that timid girl inside Bonnie, even as she grew up, surpassed the age Annalise had been when she and Sam had started trying to conceive.

Annalise would notice the lines that had formed across Bonnie’s face and the way her mind had settled into its permanent shape and all the other little things that said they were nearly equals now, and she would sometimes watch Bonnie’s long bare arms as they reached or crossed or leaned, imagined them around various parts of her in a million different flickering, shifting ways.

It was unsettling, not in the least because Annalise was sure that though Bonnie looked a breath away from breaking at any given moment, she never would. Annalise could keep pretending that Sam or Nate or Eve were the only ones strong enough to hold her and make her feel safe but that didn’t mean it would be true. Didn't mean that she wouldn’t choose Bonnie after all, if she could let herself. Didn't mean that Bonnie wasn't the strongest person she knew. Didn’t mean that sometimes Annalise didn’t have to steady herself in doorways or drink half-bottles in one sitting just to catch her breath and burn these thoughts straight out of her mind.

 

---

 

“If you let me come over there,” Bonnie says, “I’ll show you.”

Annalise swallows, unsure. She doesn't know where this is going anymore. She's probably lost her edge, but she is too tired to care. Bonnie’s hands are uncurling from their fists, and Annalise wants to believe her. She has a flash of pressing her lips to Bonnie’s palms, to her wrists, while Bonnie lowers herself to her knees.

Finally Annalise chokes out, “Nothing stopping you.”

And then Bonnie is rapidly closing the space between them, and Annalise is backing up further into the corner and closing her eyes, snapping them shut against the way the world – so perfectly contained within her – wants to squeeze itself out from her lungs. Her shoulder blades hit the wall and she slumps.

She is so tired, so frustrated, all half-extended claws and barely bared teeth, all thin impenetrable skin and tearing herself apart inside from the longing, the wanting, the needing. From the grief, the lying, the killing, the way she's been treading water out in a dark ocean alone for so many years. She’s so tired that her body is giving up before her mind has a chance to talk her out of it. She doesn't want to have to be the one to fix things anymore, to love so wholly but be cursed to ruin, to never feel deserving of any love in return. To feel wrong, to feel sick, to feel broken. To comfort and protect and run a mile any time anyone wants to help carry her hurt.

She has tried for so long to be good, but Sam’s last words to her still ring in her ears, Nate’s disappointed face still swims across her vision. Eve’s hurt silences ache inside of her and so too do the memories of Wes’ sweet eyes blinking over at her, hardening over time, pulling further and further away with each moment that passes and she's still in his life. Every moment that passes and the promise she made to his mother slips a little more from her grasp.

Everything she tries to fix is still broken and she can't keep going on like this.

(And through nearly all of it, through nearly every twisted piece of metal that has been thrown onto the existential train wreck that is Annalise’s life, Bonnie has been there. Even when Annalise thought she'd ruined Bonnie worst of all. Bonnie, with her downcast eyes and her gentle hands and her quiet voice and her own patched up soul, who from the very start had looked into Annalise like a mirror and had never, ever looked away again.)

When Bonnie is close enough to touch her, she takes Annalise’s hand in hers and hikes up her own skirt with the other. Annalise still has her eyes closed, but she feels Bonnie’s fingers, hears her quickened breathing, feels it against her skin, breathes in the warm scent of it and this is all familiar territory until Bonnie leans in and slips their joined hands down between their bodies. She’s pushing and guiding Annalise’s fingers beneath obstacles of fabric and straight into the bare, wet heat between her thighs.

“I couldn’t fake this if I wanted to,” Bonnie whispers, desperation curling her voice as she keeps a vice grip on Annalise’s fingers, and Annalise groans right out loud into the silent room because her hand fits against Bonnie in a way she’s spent so many years trying not to think about, and because Bonnie is so unashamed about finally crossing this line, so unashamed about showing Annalise how wet she is, how messy and hot and undeniable – and that this is Bonnie, her Bonnie, makes Annalise breathless, makes her head spin and spin and spin. Everything is happening so quickly (a twelve long years sort of quickly) but it feels too good, this forced honesty. Annalise is sure that she could lose herself in this, if she let herself.

If she let herself.

“It's for you, Annalise,” Bonnie breathes into her ear. “And you haven’t even touched me. I haven’t even touched you. Do you understand? Do you believe me now?”

Dumbstruck, Annalise just nods. They breathe together for a few moments, but then Annalise can't hold it together anymore and she withdraws her hand, slick and burning, ignoring the soft, desperate noise that Bonnie makes in response. Curls her wet, trembling fingers in against her palm, and realizes about two months too late that none of this has ever really been about Frank at all.

“So, what,” Annalise whispers, now. “You just walk around like that all the time, doing nothing about it?”

Bonnie shrugs slightly. Her voice when she speaks is small and serious. “Yeah. I do.”

After a lengthy silence, Annalise softens. Tries to keep her voice casual as she can muster. “So what do you want to do about it?”

“Annalise,” Bonnie says, like it’s a trick question. Like Annalise had just tried to tell her the sky was red when she knew full well it was blue. “You know exactly what I want to do about it.”

It is a testament to their relationship that neither of them seems to think that the line has already been crossed, or that they haven't already gone so far off the deep end that they can't even see the surface.

Annalise just breathes, keeps her eyes closed.

“I gave you everything, Annalise,” Bonnie whispers, only inches away, close enough that Annalise can feel the moment each word leaves her mouth. “I'm sorry I lied to you, but—I’ve already given you my past and my present, my future. I let you have all of me. All I’m asking is that you give me some of you.”

Annalise doesn't move. Doesn't breathe. Like if she keeps still, keeps her eyes closed, she might just disappear instead of having to reconcile the way her mind and her heart and her body are suddenly at war.

“Let me, please,” Bonnie breathes, but she doesn't even wait for a reply, just lays her hands reverently on either side of Annalise's waist and tugs her closer, whispering over and over again “Let me, let me” like a mantra, coaxing, wanting and needing just as badly as Annalise ever has.

Bonnie bends slightly, takes two fistfuls of fabric at the hem of Annalise’s dress, slides it up and out of the way so that she can put her hands on Annalise’s skin underneath. She does this slowly, and Annalise can’t tell whether it’s because Bonnie is savoring it or if it is because she is worried that Annalise might stop her at any moment (it is both). Bonnie’s hands roam, restless, and when they finally settle, Annalise realizes that she has still been holding her breath.

“Annalise,” Bonnie pleads, one hand on the small of Annalise’s back and one on the inside of her thigh, the thigh Annalise has unthinkingly spread open for Bonnie, her dress all in a bunch just below her hips, and there is nothing between them anymore but bare skin and a scrap of black lace. Annalise’s back is arched and Bonnie’s hand burns there, her other just as tense, waiting, excruciatingly ready, like she's never wanted anything this badly before. “Let me. Just let me.”

Annalise looks into Bonnie’s eyes. Forces herself to hold the gaze, like looking into her reflection. Waits a fraction of a moment, just until her heart remembers to beat again. Just until it stutters, catches, and begins to pound once more.

“Okay,” Annalise whispers, finally.

 

---

 

Bonnie wears her past on her sleeve; always there, pushing it away daily. She wears her present there, too.

Annalise wears both of hers deeper, so deep she no longer knows where to find them. She prefers it that way.

Bonnie had asked Annalise once if she ever saw something, some every day, ordinary object or heard some every day, ordinary word and suddenly realized what it felt like to be pulled in a thousand directions at once, like she did. Asked her if she too knew the exact shade of black that flickered across her eyelids when a man surprised her with a touch that sent her back twenty years and countless contritions. Asked if she ever struggled with wanting something, knowing it was wrong. Wanting something, knowing she was sick.

Annalise never answered. Bonnie wished she’d never asked.

Until:

“Sometimes I just want to say how I feel, ‘stead of what everyone wants to hear,” Annalise had told her.

It was dark in her bedroom and Bonnie was sat on the edge of the bed, next to Annalise reclined, limbs long and still beneath the covers. Because Annalise had let her, Bonnie was holding her hand.

Annalise’s words were slurred slightly, but only slightly – she had taken just enough vodka to blur the landscape between them, keep a safe distance. Bonnie had remained sober, working all through the night.

“What do you think everyone wants to hear?”

“Not my sorry ass complaining, that's for sure. Not that I need someone to take care of me, too.”

Bonnie’s brows knit in the darkness.

“Not that the last thing Sam ever said to me was that I was a disgusting whore. Said that's all I ever was, all I’ll ever be. Think that's true? He always knew me best.”

It was a few moments before Bonnie could unstick her throat, before she realized that Annalise wanted an answer.

“I don't think Sam knew you at all. I think he loved you, thought he loved you. But if he meant that, then he never knew you. He manipulated. You know that.”

Annalise seemed to consider this. “You ever wonder why it happens like that? You get broken in a certain way, and you spend the rest of your life breaking yourself over and over in the same way, just trying to understand. Maybe you break others in the same way, too,” and her voice trailed off, “...just trying to understand.”

Bonnie’s hand was growing numb, not because Annalise was squeezing so hard, but because Bonnie was. She was turning Annalise’s words over in her mind – words she was sure she wasn't even supposed to hear (words like code, the meaning hidden somewhere in the spaces between them). She was holding onto Annalise’s fingers like it was the last thing she'd ever do. That couldn't have escaped Annalise.

“And it taints everything, y’know?” Annalise continued, suddenly. “Makes you wonder if you're sick for wanting. For needing. You asked me that once. I should’ve said yes.”

Bonnie swallowed. “You aren't, Annalise,” she said. And then, after a moment’s hesitation, she spoke again. “You used to tell me it wasn’t my fault. Over and over again, until I believed you. Believe me, now.”

Annalise was quiet. So many things had happened, they were all scared, exhausted, going through so much – covering up, running away from death, jail, running away from one another and snapping back together. Annalise was blunted. That night, for that moment, her armor was slipping and Bonnie wasn't about to question why Annalise was letting her see it happen without sending her away again. Wasn’t about to just sit beside Annalise, silent and burning, while she said these things into the darkness.

“Whatever you want, whatever you need, you deserve it,” Bonnie had told her, because Annalise had not responded. “Annalise, do you hear me? You deserve everything.”

“I hear you,” Annalise said finally, softly, the whites of her eyes disappearing as she closed them.

“You aren’t sick for wanting,” Bonnie repeated. She breathed out, so aware of Annalise’s body beside her, so aware of every place they were connecting. “For needing.”

“And if what I want is something I’ve ruined, something I shouldn’t want, something that doesn’t want me back? What then?”

Sometimes, like in that moment, Bonnie would watch Annalise with her whole face tensed and lined and trying, striving so hard to read Annalise’s mind, desperate to know what she was thinking – but always unable to ask.

“Even then,” is what Bonnie settled on, her voice thick, “you would deserve it. I promise you, Annalise. You would still deserve it.”

 

Usually Bonnie would set out a glass of water and two aspirin, leave either just before or just after Annalise fell asleep.

That particular night, Bonnie stayed for hours and hours. She settled up against the headboard with their hands still entwined, tore herself away only when the sunrise started to light the windows in gold.

 

--

 

Bonnie doesn't need to be told twice. She pushes Annalise back more firmly against the wall and trails her fingertips along the inner curve of her thigh, slips her hand beneath the underwear, navigating soft warm skin, coarse hair, and as she moves to part Annalise with the knuckles of her index and middle finger, Annalise blows out a heavy breath and her head plunks back against the wall.

“You do want this,” Bonnie says against her neck, because her hand is already covered, slick and wet and warm and she pushes her whole palm against Annalise, wanting to feel more of her, anywhere, everywhere. Pulls back, presses their foreheads together.

Annalise bares her teeth in a grimace and growls, almost in reflex, “Don't flatter yourself.”

Bonnie ignores this comment because it is severely lacking in conviction, and instead just murmurs Annalise’s name, again and again. She doesn’t want to play any games, doesn’t want to give Annalise any excuses to hide. She wants to elongate this moment into eternity. “Have you always wanted this?”

“No.” Annalise’s voice comes out like gravel, laborious and rough and shifting.

Bonnie peels away, watches her face carefully. “You're lying.”

Bonnie’s mouth downturns just slightly, and she slides the tips of her fingers around and around, slowly, but not where either of them want it.

“I might be.”

“Tell me the truth,” Bonnie says, wide eyes and soft words, and Annalise knows that it would be outright cruel to deny her in this moment. Annalise doesn't want to be cruel, not anymore, but she doesn't remember how to be kind.

Bonnie is still watching her and Annalise’s gaze flickers back from where it had settled into the shadows past Bonnie’s left shoulder. Meeting Bonnie’s eyes helps her remember.

“Yeah,” she relents, blowing out a quiet breath. “In some deep dark locked up part of me, I've wanted it for a very long time.”

Bonnie smiles, the first real smile Annalise has seen on her in such a long time, and suddenly Annalise wants to touch her, feels a rush of affection for her that she doesn't know what to do with inside of this moment, and so she just closes her eyes and concentrates on Bonnie’s hand.

A few beats pass, and Annalise feels Bonnie shift the hand at her back, and instead it comes to rest on her cheek. Bonnie’s voice whispers, “Can I kiss you?”

Annalise’s eyes slide open and she peels her arms up from the wall for the first time since this started, brings her hands to either side of Bonnie’s face, finally allowing herself to touch. Her thumbs sweep the angle of Bonnie’s cheekbones, soft and warm, so real that it pricks at her heart like needles.

This moment is threatening in its intimacy, and Annalise doesn't know if she can maintain it. Still, Bonnie’s eyes are so familiar, and when she glances down to Bonnie’s lips she finds them familiar too, watches them part with want. “You said you wanted to make me forget,” Annalise murmurs.

“I do,” Bonnie tells her, eyes fluttering at Annalise’s touch. The hand between Annalise’s legs stills. “So badly.”

“Okay,” Annalise says. “Then just for tonight, it's eleven years ago. Okay? Nobody’s been killed, nobody’s done any killing.” Her hands drop to Bonnie’s neck, the slope of her shoulders. “Nobody’s done any lying or cheating and we were just...working on a case, alright? It’s late, and we’ve given up on work. Sam’s gone, won't be back for days.”

Bonnie nods. When she pulls her hand away from Annalise entirely, Bonnie shudders, so unwilling to move it at all. But she understands why she has to, because Annalise wants and needs to remember, wants and needs Bonnie to help her do it.

So Bonnie’s hands press into the wall on either side of Annalise, and she casts around in her mind, pulls at a thread of memory, and tugs it loose.

“Do you trust me?” Bonnie asks.

Annalise hesitates, but nods.

“Then close your eyes,” Bonnie tells her, and Annalise’s eyebrows draw together, but she does as she’s told.

“Just listen to my voice,” Bonnie says, and she takes in a long, deep breath. “There was this spring evening, something like twelve years ago. You’d just won the Devereaux case, told me it was because of this discrepancy I’d found in a medical file - I didn’t believe you, I was just a 1L, but I thought you were kind to say it.”

Bonnie pauses. “And it was a day before your birthday, Annalise – do you remember? You were seven months pregnant, the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. You told me you thought Sam had forgotten to order you a cake and you were mad about it, so I brought you a cupcake from the mess hall that night before I left—just in case. You blew out the candle and wouldn't tell me what you’d wished for.”

Bonnie is worried that this memory might cut closer than she'd intended (the past was always a tightrope to walk) but then Annalise’s face breaks into a smile around her closed eyes, and Bonnie’s heart almost, almost cannot take it. Her chest swells, making room for the feeling.

“I wanted to know so badly,” Bonnie whispers. “I wanted a wish of my own. I couldn't even look at you without crumbling back then. I think you were happy.”

Bonnie waits, watches the words reflect on Annalise’s face. “Take in five deep breaths, okay? All in a row. And then open your eyes.”

And Bonnie steps back, back across the bedroom, counts to three slowly in her mind. She pauses, hovers on the other side of the cracked bedroom door, and waits for two more seconds to tick by. Then she knocks, and nudges the door open wider. She hovers, again, over the threshold of the bedroom, like she's done thousands of times before.

Annalise opens her eyes. She looks over at Bonnie, and blinks. “What are you doing?”

“Stopping by at the end of the night to make sure you're okay. Do you need anything?”

“Bonnie—”

“Do you need anything?” Bonnie repeats, steadily. Her eyes do not waver and she does not blink. “Before I go?”

Annalise bows her head and thinks about the wish she must have made over that birthday candle. She can't remember anymore what it was, but she remembers Bonnie’s face, sees it before her now. She wonders what she would have done back then if she'd known that anyone was capable of loving her this much, this long. Wonders what she would have done if she hadn’t been bound up by fate, if Frank had made a different choice. Wonders what sort of woman she would be if she hadn’t been starved by fear and loathing, doubt and circumstance, and by the past that trailed a second shadow behind her, always.

Annalise bites down hard, just to try to stay grounded in this moment. When she blinks, the tears in her eyes fade away. When her jaw eases back open, the words come out more easily. “You, Bonnie,” she whispers. “I need you, alright? Stay.”

Bonnie drops her hands from the door frame and within seconds, she has wrapped her small, strong body back around Annalise.

Annalise curls her hands tighter against Bonnie’s shoulder blades, slides an arm up and around her neck. Pulls her long fingers up through Bonnie’s hair and relishes the groan it releases.

“Now, you can kiss me,” Annalise tells her. “But then, I want you to touch me again. And maybe, if you do it good, I’ll say your name over and over again like you wanted. Maybe I'll let you watch my face, too.”

Bonnie moans, snaps her eyes shut against her own sharp, soft intake of breath. “And the part about me holding you?”

“Let's see how the rest goes.”

Bonnie takes it as a challenge, one she is desperate to meet. She leans in, uses her lips like she'd used her hands, to strip away, coaxing, quietly urging. It is soft at first, tentative and yielding. She licks her way into Annalise’s mouth slowly, thinks Annalise’s full lips might be the most delicious thing she's ever tasted, at least until Annalise begins to use her teeth and tongue and Bonnie is so far gone she can't think about anything but the clawing, howling hunger and the way her hand slips back beneath Annalise’s underwear, starts to move urgently again between her thighs.

Annalise spreads them wider for her, wide as she can upright against the wall with all her weight back up against it, and Bonnie pulls away briefly to slip the underwear down her legs, but then she presses herself back in, pushes a knee forward, curves her free hand around the back of Annalise’s leg. She digs her nails in, hooks it up against her hip so that she can touch more of Annalise unobstructed.

The dress is riding up further and further, exposing more naked skin than Bonnie can even bear to touch, and she can’t stop feeling Annalise, opening and spreading beneath her hands. This has been such a long time coming, and the years of wanting this and pretending it was okay if she never, ever got it are starting to expand inside of her, lighting her like a brand new flame.

They are kissing one another breathless, and Bonnie breaks away long enough to drag her mouth and sink her teeth into Annalise’s neck (part of her wants to leave a mark, part of her wants to leave something of herself, here, in Annalise’s skin, because Bonnie bears Annalise’s marks every single day).

A throaty groan rises up from Annalise’s throat, and Bonnie notices the change, hears the note of frustration, and turns, pulls away to look into her face.

“Tell me,” Bonnie says immediately. “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

“Bonnie—” Annalise gasps.

“Do you want me to use my mouth? I want to, I want to taste you—”

And suddenly Annalise can't stop imagining Bonnie’s mouth on her, inside of her, and it is like a hot bolt straight to her center. It liquefies Annalise, suddenly and completely, sends a sharp metallic pang like a tuning fork rippling and vibrating along her spine, makes her pulse desperately beneath Bonnie’s fingers. Makes the frustration snap and bend into the sort of pleasure that makes her whole body tense up, like it is all too sudden, and too much, and too good.

“I want that too,” Annalise manages, as the feeling washes through her. “But don't you dare move yet.”

Bonnie keeps her hand exactly where it is, fingertips moving in long, unrelenting circles, but then Annalise tilts her hips up slightly, and because Bonnie has always been able to read her like words on a page, she understands that Annalise is telling her something worth understanding. Bonnie changes the angle, fast and easy, slipping two fingers inside. She pushes in all the way to her knuckles, and curls.

It happens so fast, the way Annalise hisses and bucks, the way her beautiful body winds up and up and up, and Bonnie watches all of it, every sensation that flickers across Annalise’s face in the dim bedroom light. She can feel her clothes starting to stick to her skin with sweat, can see it shining on Annalise too, can feel every muscle in her own body straining, wanting to give more. Wanting to let this last just one moment, just two moments, longer.

“I think you’ve done this before,” Annalise shudders, and Bonnie can tell she’s already close by the way her words grow soft and hazy around the edges, no punctuation. The way her back arches and her hands clench in Bonnie’s blouse. It's better than Bonnie could ever have allowed herself to imagine, having Annalise wrapped around her, and she knows that every moment not spent like this before now has been a moment wasted.

“I have,” Bonnie tells her. When Annalise meets her eyes, Bonnie’s are so wide and honest and the intensity threatens to overwhelm her again, like if they don’t stop staring, they might get lost in one another completely (they have never been very good at keeping apart, always just sinking closer and closer the farther away from one another they try to get). “And you were in my head every single time.”

Annalise’s warm hands are back against her neck, both grasping and restless, and Bonnie thinks that the years of watching Annalise, taking her in as whatever she was to Bonnie at the time, making mental catalogues of all of her reactions – both good and bad – have paid off because now she's murmuring, breathing out Bonnie’s name like nothing else matters. Like she remembers.

Bonnie presses harder into Annalise, presses into the wall, presses everywhere, and she watches Annalise’s face as it starts to change again. Watches it open, and gasp, and breathe, like something struggling to bloom. Bonnie watches even though her hair is in her eyes and her muscles tremble, even though her hand aches and burns, because she wants look into Annalise’s eyes when they open again and know that she did this.

Their bodies are still pushing and pulling against each other, and Bonnie meets Annalise’s hips as their rhythm tightens and quickens and everything is hot, and wet, and bright, and finally, endless moments later, everything that Bonnie has ever remembered about the woman pressed against her falls away, because this picture before her now is going to be all that she ever remembers from this point forward.

 

---

 

Annalise can summon up the memories from the week after she got home from the hospital, after the baby, but she tries so desperately not to.

It was the end of May, almost June. She recalls wondering heartbreakingly practical things through the numbness that was settling in like a thick blanket of snow, things like when they’d expect her back to teach, and how or if she’d ever tell her mother. She couldn't let anyone touch her, couldn't foresee a future in which she'd let anyone touch her ever again.

She remembers the pained lines of Sam’s face and taking too many of the pills they’d given her all in one sitting. Remembers avoiding every phone call or doorbell as resolutely as she avoided her own reflection in the mirror. There was clinical literature about grief and loss scattered across every surface in the house and she wanted to tear each sheet into tiny pieces, but instead she just waited, waited until Sam realized, too, that pamphlets wouldn't do a damn thing to assuage anything, or to bring him back, and threw them away.

Annalise was so sure that this trauma would kill her like it had killed the baby. A slowly seeping shock instead of a quick and violent one, yes, but eventually—

Eventually.

(I deserve it, she would think, so many times each day that the words became meaningless, floating around inside her head like dust that would stir and stir but never settle.)

 

Many nights were spent on the bathroom floor.

Annalise knows that Bonnie had been there for one of them, sitting on the other side of the closed door – doing nothing really, just talking to her. Annalise doesn't remember the words or any I’m sorrys, but she remembers Bonnie’s voice, how quiet and steady and sad it was. A dull, beaten blade, not yet sharpened by the years to come.

Bonnie herself remembers this night vividly: it was two days after Sam brought Annalise home. It was the night her heart rose up in her throat and choked her, rose up and sunk itself into Annalise completely, further and more desperately than she'd ever felt before or since.

(It took some people years or even decades to meet the person they'd be tied to, to fall into the sort of love that would last the rest of their lives. It took Bonnie twelve months and one night.)

Bonnie had never skipped a single class or study group in her two semesters of law school, but that night she missed them all just to sit on the floor and lean up against the bathroom door in relative silence, helping Annalise keep vigil to her self-imposed isolation.

Annalise remembers, at some point, Bonnie’s hand slipping beneath the door. Maybe it was two AM, maybe it was three. She watched Bonnie’s fingertips peek across the tile threshold in the low light from the moon, washing everything blue, black, and ash. She felt nothing, had felt nothing for days. Had eaten nothing for days. But she saw Bonnie’s hand under the crack of the door and somehow, she’d been compelled to reach her own out to touch it. It was a reflex, something thoughtless, but it was also something human. Bonnie’s warm fingers made Annalise forget about why she hadn't let anyone touch her since the hospital, reminded her that she wasn't dead, not yet. Not entirely.

This wasn't the first nor the last time Bonnie would make Annalise feel so human, make her connect when no one else, not even Sam, could reach across that divide. Sometimes Annalise felt that humanity like a knife twisting, and it would hurt so badly she'd double over in pain – but at the end of the day, it was still something to feel. Other times it was like an anchor filling the space she tried to keep between herself and the rest of the world. A reminder that no matter what was happening, she wasn't as alone as she had always believed she deserved.

 

---

 

Annalise comes for what feels like days, like she's shed and grown a whole new skin by the time her body has eked out the last bright bit of sensation and everything starts to dim and swim into focus once more. It takes Annalise by surprise, just how long it lasts, how intense and steady and good it is, how Bonnie pulls and pulls it out of her like an endless thread loosened.

Bonnie is holding her upright with both arms. Annalise gulps air into her lungs while Bonnie kisses her temple fiercely, presses her mouth into Annalise’s damp hairline, and she whispers (half whimpers), “I love you, I love you.”

Annalise is trembling and out of breath, and something inside of her has shuddered open, has become untethered, rippling like a flag in the breeze. She listens to Bonnie’s familiar voice, holds onto her body, and breathes, and breathes, and breathes.

They lose a little time, recovering. Seconds pass, or minutes, and then suddenly, Annalise cannot keep her hands away from Bonnie’s skin. They are drawn like magnets, skimming closer and then all at once. She touches Bonnie everywhere, kisses her until they are both tired and panting all over again, and to Annalise, it feels like she's already been running for miles - the way her lungs expand and her blood rushes with oxygen, the way her skin itches with want but her heart feels alive and quick and strong. She's been emptied out tonight, emptied out and filled back up with something steadier, something less sharp, something that finally allows her to trail fingertips and lips along Bonnie’s shoulders, lets her reach up under Bonnie’s clothes to feel the soft swell of her breasts and the dips below each hip bone. Her hands read the endless lines of goosebumps that rise up to greet her.

Bonnie knows Annalise’s body, but she took for granted that Annalise knows hers, too. It had been so long ago that Annalise touched her with any sort of regularity, but by the time Annalise has stripped her clothes off completely and is pressing her down into the mattress for the first time, Bonnie remembers again how Annalise’s touch was something that saved her.

With her eyes closed, Bonnie hears her own question repeated back to her in Annalise’s voice.

“You trust me?”

Bonnie opens her eyes. She nods, dazed and certain.

Annalise’s mouth, bee stung from kissing her, curves up, and Bonnie’s heart thuds again just looking at it – but then Annalise is turning her over onto her stomach, trailing more kisses down the length of her spine, pressing in against her so that their bare curves melt together (Annalise’s dress is somewhere on the floor with the rest of Bonnie’s clothes and Bonnie thinks that just this, just Annalise’s warmth covering her, would be enough to sustain her for years.)

When Annalise moves Bonnie’s arms up above her head and traps both hands in one of hers, soft alarms begin to flutter and sound at the edges of Bonnie’s body, growing more and more insistent, leftovers from another life – certainly something whole continents away from this moment, and so Bonnie just breathes and stretches, pulls and bows and wills herself to release and ignore them because she wants this more than she wants to live, more than she's ever wanted to die.

And Annalise knows, of course she knows. She hears the breath catch in Bonnie’s throat, feels the muscles tighten like rope braided taut beneath Bonnie’s skin, and she understands which of it is fight and which of it is desire, and she knows how to tip those scales. She knows how hard Bonnie would have to try, how hard she would have to concentrate, if this were too simple or too gentle, not in the least because nothing between them has ever been either of these things before. Annalise knows because she has held Bonnie, almost but not quite like this, but so close and so tight, until the raging fire became nothing but smoke.

Annalise knows Bonnie. She wants to show her how much.

“Breathe,” Annalise murmurs, low, right up against Bonnie’s ear. She lets go of Bonnie’s hands slowly. “And listen to my voice. Tell me if you need me to stop.”

The moment Annalise slides a hand down her ass and then between her legs, Bonnie ignites. The shift in angle makes her body want crash forward even though it's impossible, makes her hips twist and arch, leaves her brain struggling to catch up. And she still wants this, wants it so badly that she's already gasping, pushing into the mattress, tugging fists into the sheets. She needs to touch Annalise again, except that she can't, not with the way Annalise has her pinned down, but Annalise is all over her anyway and everything is sensitive and amplified, everything is just precarious enough to feel safe. She can't do anything except endure, give willingly what Annalise is intent on taking, and she moves with Annalise’s fingers and palm while Annalise’s mouth is busy on the slope of her shoulder, curving up the back of her neck, around the shell of her ear. It's fire and electricity all at once, spitting, reckless sparks and long, slow-burning coals. It is so much to feel.

“Are you going to be able to come for me?” Annalise murmurs. She has found the spot inside Bonnie that makes her keen, has found it so quickly, without a map, without a key, like Annalise is the only one who has ever known where it hides.

(This isn't even close to over yet and Annalise is already thinking about the next time, and the next time, and the next time. She thinks maybe this feeling of wanting isn't ever going to go away.)

The thrusts are slow, and hard, and deep, and Annalise still hasn't stopped kissing her dizzy and breathless, hasn't let the full weight of her attention waver from Bonnie even for a moment.

“God,” Bonnie gasps, already starting to feel herself come apart, melting and breaking. “Yes. Over and over again.”

 

---

 

Annalise plays connect the dots with the freckles on Bonnie’s arm. It's not strange at all, really, the way they’re curled together in Annalise’s big bed. It is the wee hours of the morning, the faintest dawn light peeking in through the windows, and Bonnie’s head is resting against her temple and the hand that isn't tracing Bonnie’s skin is entwined with hers as she sleeps.

Maybe it was never supposed to be Annalise and Sam and the slow way they broke, his quick, bloody death and her slow, alcohol-driven one. Maybe it was never Nate either, or Eve. Maybe it was always Bonnie that was supposed to be in her life the longest – god knows it’s turned out that way. Bonnie knows most of her secrets and all of her mess, has witnessed it all splattered across the floor and walls and ceiling and never once has she wavered, not long enough for it to mean anything, anyway.

“I can hear you thinking,” Bonnie mumbles. “Annalise. You need to get some sleep.”

Annalise sighs. “I know.”

“Is me being here causing a problem?”

Even with Nate and Sam, Annalise was particular about her space, but now she tightens her grip on Bonnie’s arm, on Bonnie’s hand. “No,” she whispers. And then, before she can think better of it, “You being here calms me.”

Bonnie pulls away slightly, reaches up, touches Annalise’s mouth with her fingertips, just because she can. “You'll let me know if that changes?”

“Oh, trust me, I wouldn't have a problem kicking your ass out of my bed,” Annalise says, and smiles. Bonnie doesn't think she'll ever get used to how different these smiles look, and she traces her fingers along it in wonder. “I just don't think I’ll ever want to.”

 

---

 

Bonnie had been right: her life has split into two.

(Well, four, really: before and after Annalise the first time, and before and after Annalise the second time.)

The difference is, there isn’t much of a difference. What has changed is the restraint they have with one another, the way they orbit.

For instance:

It is days or maybe weeks later, another case, another catastrophe. Annalise is at her desk, cradling her head in her hand, and the sun is streaming in through the windows. Instead of standing beside her, posture like a reed and just as quiet, Bonnie is leaned against the desk facing Annalise, craned towards her, her back facing the door.

Bonnie has her hand on Annalise’s face, is looking into her eyes even as Annalise avoids them. Bonnie is still murmuring gently when Wes walks in, followed by Laurel.

What has changed is Annalise, and how she doesn’t move, how she does not wrench away from Bonnie like she might have before. She just sighs and nods at something Bonnie tells her, aware of everyone in the room but needing another moment to recalibrate.

What has changed is the way Bonnie looks over at the two of them without moving her hand from Annalise’s cheek, irritated, like this moment between them is too important to be interrupted.

“We got an update,” Wes offers, warily.

Only then does Bonnie nod - and look back to Annalise, who also nods - and let her hand fall away.

 

Bonnie spends less time at home, but that's also barely different, because she has always spent more time in Annalise’s house than she has anywhere else in the world. She knows the house better than her own, knows it like she knows Annalise. She knows which floorboards creak, avoids them when she gets up in the morning to make them coffee. Knows each and every one of Annalise’s junk food and alcohol hiding spots (which are always separate). Knows that if she showers alone, she needs to keep it under ten minutes so that there will be enough hot water left for Annalise, who always wants at least twenty – but that if they shower together, they can usually stretch it to thirty five.

Annalise likes that Bonnie knows her so well. She’s also irritated as hell, as irritated as she ever was before, but she likes it. Bonnie has always had a gaze like shorthand – for years they spoke a secret language of looks. Now, they touch one another all the time, and it has added another layer of simple communication (simple is something they have been wanting for for over ten years). Annalise had forgotten how tightly and how quickly Bonnie can wind herself into knots, because Annalise feels now how deeply and how quickly her hand against Bonnie’s skin undoes them. Annalise had forgotten Bonnie’s uncanny ability to rearrange her with her own hands, how Bonnie can touch Annalise anywhere and suddenly, something that wasn't there before snaps into place.

They were always more more alike than they knew, Annalise thinks. Two sides of a coin, bound by the same thread, made of the same contrasts. Even before, when there was barely even a body count. Even before, when they had no idea how long they'd be in one another’s lives.

And it was a miracle, truly, that they were able to love each other despite and through all of that mess, despite and through all of the mess that would come later. To endure one another’s pain the way they did, and to do it voluntarily, because they couldn’t help but see themselves reflected back and back and back. Because their bond had always been the truest thing in their dark and desperate lives.

 

---

 

“Frank called me again today,” Bonnie says, late one night.

“He did, did he.”

Annalise is standing across the office, and Bonnie can't tell whether or not her posture has changed. “Yeah.”

“What’d you tell him?”

“I didn't answer.”

Annalise sets her glass down on the desk, walks over to the small couch where Bonnie is sitting. She takes Bonnie’s glass from her and sets it aside, kneels in front of her, and looks into her eyes. “Did you want to?”

Bonnie considers this. “Not really,” she says, truthfully. “I still think about him. But not as often as I think about you. That hasn’t changed.”

Annalise in turn considers this answer, and then she reaches out, slides her hands beneath Bonnie’s thighs and tugs her closer.

Her skirt is around her hips and Annalise’s mouth is halfway up her inner thigh before Bonnie moans and puts a hand on Annalise’s shoulder.

“Why, Annalise? What's this for?” she asks.

Annalise doesn't stop, just slides Bonnie’s underwear to the side and murmurs against her skin, “I just believe you, is all.”

 

Later, much later, they're in bed and Bonnie speaks again, out into the darkness. “I saw Nate leave the house last week. I'd been in court all day and came back early. I forgot to text you.”

Annalise hmms and says nothing else.

“Did you fuck him?” Bonnie asks, casually, after a silence.

Annalise laughs. Real, throaty, the kind of laugh that makes Bonnie feel weak.

“It's okay if you did.”

Annalise lifts her head from Bonnie’s chest to look at her. “I didn't.”

“Don't you miss him?”

“I miss him plenty.”

Bonnie is quiet.

Annalise understands what this is, and she lifts a hand to Bonnie’s cheek, drags her thumbnail across Bonnie’s lower lip. Bonnie’s eyelids flutter closed. “But I don't need him,” Annalise says. “He's not you, Bonnie. Nobody ever has been.”

Bonnie breathes out, long and shaking. She opens her jaw and takes Annalise’s thumb inside her mouth slowly, draws her tongue along it, and then suddenly, she is feverish, and needing, and she sucks and licks and bites at Annalise’s fingers until Annalise replaces them with her lips.

When they come up for air, Annalise murmurs, “You know how I feel – don’t make me say it. We’re stuck with each other. Always have been.”

Bonnie flips them, easy as breathing, uses a hand to push Annalise’s legs open, and settles herself between them. She bends, circles Annalise’s breasts with tongue and fingers, moves lower, past ribs and belly, trailing a hot, wet line straight to her center. If Bonnie has to wait another moment to start fucking Annalise she thinks she might split in half, cleanly down the middle, but she stops her progress anyway, glances up to meet Annalise’s eyes.

“What?” Annalise pants, and she’s got one arm across her eyes but she’s peeking out from under it, and the other hand is in Bonnie’s hair, tugging gently, and Bonnie smiles.

“I believe you,” she says, and begins.