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Chapter 48

"There is nothing I wouldn't do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature."
~Jane Austen

Mark beat me to the palace by a good ten minutes. How he got there before me, I'll never know, considering he was clear on the other side of the city. I found Everly in her designated room, being cradled by Mark as she sobbed her heart out, letting out apology after apology. Mark was apologizing too, but when he saw me come in, I could see he was definitely out of his element. Eliza sat at the edge of the bed, staring at her owners, disgruntled.

"Hey, Everly," I said.

She whipped around, jumped up, and waddled as fast she could to me, throwing her arms around my neck. "Oh my god! Thank you for coming!"

"This is what sisters do for each other," I told her gently. Pulling away, I did a once-over to gauge how she was holding up. "How are you doing?"

"Shaken up, but I'm alive. That's all I can ask for. I don't know how my apartment caught on fire, though! I didn't have any hair appliances plugged in or anything that could've caught fire. I'm paranoid about that stuff happening!"

"The fire department is conducting an investigation to see what started the blaze," Mark said, walking up to us and placing an arm around Everly's shoulders. "Hopefully, we'll hear sooner rather than later."

The door flew open, and Mia and James rushed in, and Mia apologized, "Sorry we're late. We ran into Patty and Walt. They wanted to know how you and I were doing. Everly, are you okay?"

"I've been better, but I'm alive," she replied, cradling her belly protectively. "Thank you for coming. I just… I really didn't want to be alone. I really wanted all my friends with me."

"We're here for you," James told her kindly. He frowned and glanced around. "I'm surprised Will's not here."

"He left when Mark got here. He had a meeting with the Secretary of the Treasury. He offered to stay, but I didn't want him to miss it, especially since I knew all of you were going to be here."

"Anna, when you get a chance, you should go see Patty and Walt. I know they'd be thrilled to see you, especially Patty," Mia said. "They leave in an hour, though, so you might want to hurry."

I turned to Everly. "Would you be okay if I went to see them? I know I saw Walt yesterday, but it's been a while since I've seen Patty."

"Yes, yes, go! I'll be fine!" Everly insisted. Giving her one last hug, I left her room, heading down the hauntingly familiar hallways. I never thought I'd walk down them again, let alone by myself, but yet, here I was. I passed a couple of security guards on the way. They nodded at me in greeting and continued on their way.

I turned a corner and nearly ran smack dab into-

"Your Majesty!" I exclaimed, backing up and dropping into a curtsy. I might not like him, but he was still a King. I had to show my respect. Plus, I didn't want to start anything. "I'm sorry. I didn't hear you approaching."

"What the hell are you doing here?" He demanded. "You should be in prison for the shit you pulled on my son!"

"Sir, I was declared innocent. Lorraine was the one who-"

"Nonsense! Lorraine is the only good thing in Will's life. He doesn't need you fucking it up!"

The words were a slap in the face, whether or not they were true. It made me wonder: was I messing up Will's life by coming back into it? Even if it was just occasionally?

"You­-" King George pointed an accusatory finger at me as he advanced towards me- "need to stay the hell away from my son and from this palace. Do you understand me?"

"William said I could come, Your Majesty. Everly's apartment caught on fire, and I came to be here for her at her request. William approved it. Please, I mean no harm in coming here," I replied, tensing up. I knew some people with Alzheimer's, although rare, could display aggressive behavior. I worried that with the King's already temperamental personality and utter dislike for me, he might become physical towards me.

"Don't bullshit me, girl. You can bat your eyes and get away with anything when it comes to my son, but not with me. I will not fall prey to your manipulative ways!" In the blink of an eye, King George grabbed my arms in a viselike grip. "Do I make myself clear?!"

"Please, let me go! I-"

"Let her go!" Will ordered sharply, rushing over to us. His dad's grip slackened ever so slightly, and I took the opportunity to pull away. King George lunged at me, but Will slid between us, holding his arms out protectively and warning, "You will not hurt her. Annalise is here under my authority, and therefore is a guest of mine."

"I'm sorry, I was just trying to go see Walt and Patty," I said, trying to keep my voice steady. It trembled more than I cared to admit.

"You don't need to apologize, Annalise. You have every right to be here," Will replied.

"Move, son, or I will make you move," the King growled. "I will not let this wannabe-usurper bitch free."

"Don't you dare call her that! The usurper was Lorraine, not Annalise. Lorraine is the one you should blame, and she's in prison now. She's not getting near this throne ever again."

"Liar! Annalise has gotten in your head! Now move!" King George ripped himself out of Will's grasp and made another lunge for me. Will grabbed him in the nick of time, but before he could react, his dad swung a fist at his head. I watched in horror as Will went down, and instinctively, I shouted for the guards as I rushed to Will's side. However, he was already standing up, swaying unsteadily on his feet between his father and me.

"Hit me all you want," he said, his voice surprisingly strong, "but you're not touching Annalise."

"You're choosing her over me?" King George spat at his son's feet in disgust. "You're a disgrace to the throne if you're choosing a girl like that over your own father."

"I've been a disgrace to you for as long as I can remember. You telling me that now isn't going to change much, and even if I wasn't, I'd still choose Annalise. I chose the wrong side with her before, and I'm not making that mistake twice. Now, you either apologize to her and let her be on her way, or I will have the guards forcibly escort you back to your room."

I'd been so enraptured by the scene unfolding before me that I failed to notice the four guards approaching behind King George.

"I'll apologize when I'm dead," his dad snarled.

"Guards, please escort my dad back to his room and make sure he doesn't leave. Inform my mom of what happened, and call the doctor. My dad needs to be checked out."

Peering around Will, I watched as the guards firmly grabbed ahold of the thrashing King and dragged him away. It was then, and only then, that I allowed myself to relax, clutching my throbbing arms.

Will waited until we could no longer hear the King's yells before he moved away from me, sagging against the wall and clutching his temple with his head bowed.

At first, I didn't notice it.

I was too focused on the throbbing in my arms and the shock of what just happened.

But as I stared at Will, stunned by his actions, I saw the blood slowly seeping through his fingers.

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