“She’s upstairs. The bathroom.”
With those words Frank welcomed Annalise the moment she crossed the threshold, door open behind her back and keys still in hand. Involuntarily, Annalise startled a bit, the keys almost slipping from her grasp.
Frank sat on the lower end of the stairs, directly opposite from the front door. The lights around him were dimmed; there was brighter light coming somewhere from the kitchen’s direction, but it didn’t reach him, wasn’t enough to see more than the pale spot that was his face und his dark silhouette, which stood out against the lighter wooden steps.
He looked like a ghost, clothed in black.
“God,” Annalise gasped, one hand briefly pressing against her quickening heart, while the other one reached out of for the handle to close the door, “You wanted to scare me? ‘Cause congratulations – it worked.”
Brushing aside her reaction as if he hadn’t heard, Frank stood up, his fingers knotting themselves together. He didn’t smirk nor contorted his face in any other way, like he would have usually done. He only stood there on the stairs like a lost boy in the woods, eyes wide and struggling.
“Annalise,” was all he said, in that serious, urgent voice he only used when things became too messy for any of them to fix. Too complicated so that even she couldn’t find a way out, a loophole or anything else, to make thing alright again.
He added, quietly, “You should really go up there.”
Somehow, bathrooms seemed to be the places where they would find each other, whenever things got too much, whenever pain and loss and memories took over, shaking every fiber of their hearts and bodies with overwhelming emotion and tears, so many tears.
At least, it had been this way back in the good old times, when they’d still lived without murder, without the fear of being arrested for any of their crimes and thankfully still unaware of how complicated their relationship would become someday.
(It had always been complicated, from the start, but at least they’d relished living in an illusion were things were as simple and pure as they’d wanted them to be.)
It had been a bathroom’s floor, cold hard tiles, on which Bonnie had found Annalise all these years ago, after the dead baby, the failed adoption and after a few pills too much, her breath shallow, her body almost dying, while her mind it had already.
And almost every time it had been a bathroom where Annalise had built Bonnie up again, after another setback in law school, in love or therapy (it hadn’t mattered where). Sometimes Annalise had even joked that they didn’t need Sam at all, she was doing his job just as well, but they’d both always known that holding each other, brushing the tears from each other’s cheeks and whispering soothing words would never be enough to make them whole again.
But they had tried.
And now so much time had passed, so many things had become in between them. Her husband had been murdered, one of them had murdered (twice) and the other one had been arrested and almost convicted for crimes she hadn’t committed. If possible, they were now even more screwed up than where they’d begun.
Back then they’d at least been able to tell themselves that they weren’t the monsters, but the people around them. That they didn’t deserve any of the bad things that had befallen them.
Annalise couldn’t remember the last time they’d sat on a bathroom’s tiles together.
It didn’t just seem a long a time ago. It was.
Annalise knocked at the bathroom’s door, behind which a faint muffled sound could be heard. Nothing moved, no one answered, so she knocked again and again, quick almost impatient and harsh rapping against the wood, until her knuckles started to sting.
“Bonnie. Open up,” she continued knocking, knowing that Bonnie couldn’t ignore her for long. Her voice was rougher than it was soft, more a command than anything else, but she knew that coddling and timid attempts of persuasion wouldn’t work with Bonnie, not when she was withdrawing and slowly slipping from their grasps.
One needed to grab her, hold her, before it was too late for anyone to reach her. Frank didn’t know that, not the same way Annalise did. She knew so well, because she acted the same way. She would push people away, absorb all the destructive thoughts and the pain without sharing it with anyone, until it started to destroy her from inside out.
Bonnie did the same. The difference was that Annalise had resigned herself to the thought of having to stay alone with herself for the rest of her life, she felt way too old to change, but she didn’t want the same for Bonnie. It would have been selfish to want her to stay alone, too, just so she wouldn’t be alone on her own.
(And Annalise had been selfish for far too long. Particularly when it came to Bonnie.)
So she kept trying.
Eventually - her voice felt already a little hoarse from calling her name over and over again - Annalise heard something rustling on the other side of the door and shuffled steps that came closer. She closed her eyes and breathed a small sigh of relief, as her heart unclenched and a key turned in the lock.
The door snapped open, but stood only ajar for a moment until Annalise dared to push it open a little further with her fingertips, revealing the sight of Bonnie sitting on the tiles again, her back leant against the bathtub’s side, her head buried in her hands, sobbing quietly.
Sadly, the scene looked way too familiar.
“Oh, Bonnie,” Annalise muttered, voice torn between compassion and desperation. She entered the room and closed the door behind herself.
She sidled over to where Bonnie sat, her feet feeling heavy but making no sound when touching the floor, and sat down beside her, stretching out her legs. With the toilet on the right and the washbowl on the left, there was not much space. They rubbed shoulders and the sharp corners of the cupboard, standing underneath the basin, pricked Annalise’s side and even though it bothered her, she didn’t move.
Quite naturally Annalise put an arm around Bonnie’s shaky shoulders, pulling her closer to her chest with her other arm. Without a struggle, Bonnie gave in and detached her own hands from her face to wrap them around the arms holding her instead, her nails relentlessly digging into Annalise’s blouse and the skin that laid underneath it.
None of them spoke a word. The only sound breaking the soothing silence once in a while was a particularly loud sob or sniffle, escaping Bonnie’s mouth, but most of it was deadened by cloth or drowned out by a soothing noise, coming from Annalise, who’d absently started to stroke Bonnie’s hair at some point, drawing calming circles and lines on her head.
Annalise didn’t ask, she didn’t push, this wasn’t a court room and she was no lawyer here.
Staring at the opposite wall and tracing the joints between the tiles with her eyes was all she could do for now, besides holding Bonnie of course, allowing her tears to seep through her blouse and ignoring the cramps that came from bending her own body like a human pillow, adjusting it so it matched Bonnie’s needs.
And right now all she needed - apart from silent company, from familiar arms holding her and only by being there reassuring her that she was alive, that she could feel – was time.
She would talk when she was ready and as impatient as Annalise had been with her for the last few years when it came to work, as patient she could be now.
This was different, this was more personal than anything else. Bonnie had allowed her to set foot into her own little, personal sphere. A place as dark as her whole past and the murders she’d committed; a fortress with high, unclimbable walls, behind which chasms opened up, ready to suck under every good, innocent or happy thought that ever crossed her mind.
Bonnie was fighting the demons, that lived in those shadows, she was caught up in a constant fight. Annalise knew this because she was one of the few ones, who’d slipped behind these walls, who’d seen the chasms and demons and the endless, destructive darkness filling up Bonnie’s mind, whenever she became weak and let her father’s voice take over.
Patience was what she needed right now; the feeling of having a choice, without someone forcing her, messing with her head. She needed to be heard the way she wanted to be.
Annalise’s arms and hands had already started to become numb, when the sobs, that had refused to subside for so lang, began to cease. Slowly Annalise eased her grip around Bonnie’s body, giving her enough space to move, straighten herself and lift her head, which she did almost immediately.
Her eyes were still teary and swollen and her cheeks glowed in a dark shade of red, but there were no more tears falling. With her hands she wiped off the last traces of tears, uttering another sniffle.
“Here,” Annalise’s hand blindly reached out to grab a tissue from a box, standing on the rim of the washbasin, and handed it to Bonnie, who accepted it with the weak attempt of a smile and blew her nose.
“I- I’m s- sorry,” Bonnie eventually managed to mutter, “I’m pathetic, I- I know.”
“No,” Annalise retorted, “You’re human. There’s a difference.”
They remained silent for another minute. Bonnie stared down at her hands, one of them had forged a fist around the used tissue, squeezing it as if wanting to make it crumble into dust.
“So,” Annalise nudged gently, “You wanna tell me what happened?”
Bonnie looked up, furrowing her brow. “Frank didn’t tell you?”
“No. All he said was that I should come over.”
“Off course,” Bonnie mumbled, lowering her gaze again. Her mouth stood ajar, but she didn’t say anything else.
Annalise hesitated, then she asked, as softly as possible, “Is it about Miller?”
“No,” Bonnie answered in an instant, then she seemed to think about it and corrected, her voice small and unsteady again, “Y- Yes…somehow.”
Annalise forced a smile, meant to encourage, although she didn’t feel like smiling at all. This was not a breakdown like any other; it was scary to not know what was coming. She cocked her head.
“What is it?”
“No,” Bonnie shook her head, vigorously, “I- I don’t know how- “
“Just tell me.”
Bonnie let out a shaky breath, tears starting to water her eyes again. She shut them tightly, but opened them again, quickly, when she felt Annalise’s hand reaching for hers.
“Just tell me, Bonnie. I’m gonna find out anyway. You know that.”
Annalise saw Bonnie swallow hard and struggle with an answer. A feeling, frustration, piled up inside Annalise, a sudden boost of impatience almost compelling her to yell at Bonnie, commanding her to be quite clear about whatever had happened, but deep down she was aware of how harshness and anger wouldn’t get them anywhere right now.
Behavior like this would just push Bonnie further away, make her retire into her shell and shut every door, leaving no entrance for anyone. Not even for her. In order to relieve tension, Annalise’s free hand formed a fist, squeezing its own fingers until it hurt.
It allowed Annalise to keep her voice calm and steady, as she asked again, “What’s wrong?”
Finally, Bonnie raised her eyes to meet Annalise’s. A single tear escaped the corner of her eye; slowly, like in slow-motion, it rolled down her cheek and stopped somewhere at the level of her mouth. Her upper lip trembled helplessly, not wanting to let any word pass.
“I’m pregnant,” she whispered, bringing a hand to her flat belly, “And I- I killed its father.”
“Where is it? Where does she hide it?”
Annalise tore open one cupboard after another, slamming their doors shut every time she didn’t find what she was looking for. Her head had vanished inside a cupboard underneath the sink and she was rummaging through a bunch of cleaning things, as she heard heavy steps enter the kitchen. She knew they belonged to Frank, without having to see him; Bonnie’s were much lighter, she could easily enter a room without being noticed.
“What the hell are you doing?”, Frank asked, confusion shining through.
She withdrew her head from the cupboard, again with empty hands, and threw shut another door, a little satisfied when Frank flinched at the unnecessarily rowdy sound.
“You know where she hides it, right?”
Frank frowned. “What are you even talking about?”
Then, as he watched how Annalise continued to open cupboards just to close them again, her hands trembling, desperately longing for something to steady them again, realization seemed to dawn on him. A jolt seemed to flash through his whole body, as he moved forwards, taking an almost clumsy step in her direction.
“You’re looking for booze, huh?”
Annalise didn’t need to answer to that. When her hands moved to open another cupboard, he was faster, his hands reaching the handle first and keeping it shut.
“Shouldn’t you be up there with her right now?”
Annalise sighed; the headache was getting worse. She brought her hands to her temples, massaging them and hoping that the pain would disappear and that the voices, longing for alcohol, would shut up for long enough to let her think.
“Frank, I need this right now, okay? Just…one glass. Please.”
“No,” he replied, sternly, and unshaken by her begging, not removing his hand, “I called you so you would help her.”
Annalise huffed, shaking her head, “No. You called me so you wouldn’t have to help her. ‘Cause that’s too much for you, right? You live here, she’s working to afford this, to pay for your food and everything, but you…,” she wrinkled her nose, “…you can’t even be there for her. So you call me…and again, I am the one to clean up all your messes. I am the one to tell you all what to do, because it’s always me who has to- “
“I was there for her,” Frank interrupted, anger flashing up in his eyes and extending onto his features, “I am here for her. I told her-“
“What, Frank? You told her everything’s fine? That she doesn’t have to worry? That the child-“
“I told her I’d be there for her. That she has me. No matter what happens.”
Annalise scoffed, “Cute. But what if she decides she wants to have the baby? What will happen then? Will the three of you become a happy little family? And on its 18th birthday will you tell the child that its mom murdered its dad, suffocated him, to protect Uncle Nate, who happened to think that its dad ordered to kill his father? Oh, and will you tell the child that its foster-father or cool Uncle Frank or however you wanna call yourself murdered people as well, two of them being unborn children?”
In a cruel way it satisfied Annalise to see him flinch, as if she’d just slapped him in the face. Well technically, she had. The blow had been made of words, though, but in the end, words were even more deadly to a human soul than a body could ever be.
Dangerous little words, that one underestimated so easily, because they were invisible. There was a sound when you said them, but unless you recorded them there was no way of proving they’d ever existed. Their life on the outside was short; it barely lasted a few seconds. What mattered was how their journey went on – on the inside. Once said, the words could be forgotten, suppressed or stored; either way they stayed a part of you, either in your conscience or your subconscious. And just as the words themselves, the scars they could leave were invisible, too.
She could see how her words bored their way into his mind, she could see the pain they inflicted, but she couldn’t find herself to care. She never could, as soon as the child, she’d never been allowed to raise, crossed her mind.
They had silently agreed on a truce, on forgiveness. But deep down the scars had remained, in both their hearts, and they would perhaps never get free from them.
Frank casted down his eyes. “So you want for her to have an abortion?”, he asked, quietly, as if they’d never even yelled at each other, as if she hadn’t brought up her kid’s blood on his hands – as if all of this was still about Bonnie.
Annalise shrugged, suddenly so tired of it all, “I don’t know what I want anymore.”
“She deserves this, Annalise. Happiness, I mean. She deserves to be happy.”
“Exactly,” she sighed, mentally preparing for another round of discussion, “But this baby…it won’t make her happy. All she’ll ever see in it is him. It’ll remind her of what she’s done, of what she’s lost. It’ll destroy her, Frank, it’s already destroying her. You know this as well as I do.”
Frank pursed his lips, but his silence was answer enough. He turned and walked towards another cupboard, that she hadn’t checked yet, opened it and pulled out a half-full bottle of bourbon.
“It’s not vodka,” he said, taking out two glasses from a near shelve and placing them and the bottle in front of them on the kitchen counter, “But it’s all we have.”
He poured them both a drink, but before Annalise could take her glass and bring it to her mouth, his hand clasped her wrist.
“One glass. And then you’ll go back up there and make sure she’s alright.”
A touch of a smile formed itself on her lips, she cocked her head, narrowing her eyes to slits, “You really do care for her.”
“Course I do. We both do. Right?”
“Right,” she mumbled after a short pause and as his hand left her wrist, she downed the glass’ content in two long gulps, the familiar warmth of alcohol finally swirling through her body, calming her nerves and the voices in her head.
Bonnie laid on her side, the blanket pulled up to her chin. Her eyes were closed, but she wasn’t asleep.
The moment Annalise stuck her head in at the door, she turned on her back, her eyes wide open in the dark. She switched on the bedside light before Annalise could say anything.
“Hi,” Bonnie croaked, sitting up. Her hair was tousled; her cheeks gleamed, an indication of how she’d cried more than she’d slept. There was a question in her eyes.
“Hey,” Annalise attempted a smile as she entered the bedroom, “Did I wake you?”
“No,” Bonnie shook her head, “Couldn’t sleep.”
For a moment, Annalise only stood there in the middle of the room, without moving or saying anything, suddenly undecided about how to approach Bonnie, about how to broach the subject. Everything she’d wanted to say felt wrong, all the sudden.
Bonnie made the first step as she moved to the side, making space next to her on the mattress, an unvoiced invitation, which Annalise accepted, smiling, as she walked over, carefully sitting down on her bedside.
“You two were fighting,” Bonnie said in a low voice, turning her face towards Annalise.
“You heard that?”
“Mostly the yelling. The house’s badly soundproofed.”
Annalise almost laughed at that. Almost. She sighed, preparing an explanation but Bonnie didn’t let her give her a chance to speak.
“Maybe you’re right,” she mumbled, looking away. Her blanket rustled as she shifted.
“About this. The baby. Frank. And me. It wouldn’t work, I’ve known that before, but…I just wanted to believe that maybe…maybe this was God’s way of giving me what I’ve lost, all that time ago. A kid I would be actually able to raise, you know. But…turns out, this is just God’s way of punishing me…reminding me of what I’ve done to…Rebecca…to Ron…”
Bonnie’s voice broke at the end of it, faint sobs erupting from her mouth again.
Annalise kicked off her shoes and heaved her legs onto the mattress, gently enfolding Bonnie in her arms, for the second time this evening.
“Believe me, if there’s a God out there, he punished you more than enough before you even thought about killing anyone. This is not meant as a free pass, but…at least know, that you have a choice now.”
“But you- “
“It doesn’t matter what I think, Bonnie. The choice is all yours. You want to have an abortion and we’ll do that or you want to keep it and we’ll make that happen too. No one will make that decision for you – not this time. I promise.”
Bonnie liberated her head from the embrace to look at Annalise, her features marked by sheer surprise.
“Yeah,” Annalise felt herself nod before thinking, “You, Frank and me. We’re gonna become some super crazy kind of patched up family - if you want that.”
That made Bonnie chuckle softly, as Annalise had hoped it would. Something warm - a tear - dripped onto her arm. She didn’t pay attention to it, didn’t brush it away.
“I don’t even know if I…could do it. Be a mom. I wouldn’t know what to do. What if I screw it up? Like my parents- “
“Stop,” Annalise cut her off, “We’re not going down this road. You’re nothing like them, you never were. You would never do what they did to you, you would never hurt the child.
“How can you know? After all I’ve done…”
Annalise’s hand found Bonnie’s chin; she clenched her fingers around it and forced her to look up at her.
“The reason why you did those things was always to protect someone you care about. I’m not saying that it’s right or that I understand all of it, maybe I never will, but you told me yourself that what you did to Rebecca was to protect me, and with Miller…you did the same thing for Nate. And that’s how I know, Bonnie. You protect those around you, more than you protect yourself. You’ve always done that; wasn’t it the same thing with Julie, hm? Back when you were kids?”
“That’s not- “
“That’s love. And that’s something your parents weren’t capable of…but you, Bonnie, you are.”
A smile played on Annalise’s lips as she went on, “And you know why? Because you know what it feels like now. You’re loved. You’re so loved, Bonnie. More than you know.”
Bonnie wrenched her chin from Annalise’s grasp, turned away, blinking rapidly to stop the tears from falling again. She knew she didn’t have to hide them, but she knew she wanted to.
Perhaps, if she hadn’t turned away, Annalise would have seen the smile flicker across Bonnie’s face and she would have perhaps even seen the flash of determination lighting up her eyes for a split second, as she made a decision, that was binding and final.
“Thank you,” she whispered in Annalise’s arms, her heart clenching and unclenching, as the warm feeling that Bonnie knew to be love filled up body and mind, wiping away all her fear.