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Chapter 53

"I was in a state of witless shock, as though flames had suddenly enwrapped and paralyzed me so that for a moment, I had no mind, no memory."
~Aleksander Solzhenitsyn


Annalise

I slipped out of Everly's room, making my way to the foyer so I could head home. I barely made it five steps when a group of guards bolted past me. I cocked my head in curiosity, wondering what on earth was so urgent because I'd never seen any guards run like that, not even when I worked here.

One voice urged me to follow, to see what was wrong, but another, louder voice insisted it was none of my business. I wasn't close to Will anymore, despite how desperately wanted to now that we were in each other's lives again. But I'd noticed how he'd distanced himself from me. The Will who left me all those texts and voicemails didn't seem to be the present Will. Perhaps I'd waited too long to forgive him…

I started walking again, only to stop when James and Mark shouted my name. Turning around, I immediately noticed their paleness and disturbed expressions. James' body shook, and Mark couldn't seem to get words out.

"What's wrong?" I demanded, glancing over them to see if they were injured.

"It's Will," James said. "He won't listen to anyone, and we're desperate. We need you to come with us."

A foreboding shiver ran up my spine. "Is he okay?"

"Yes. No. I don't… please, just come with us. And Annalise? Prepare yourself, okay? This… this isn't easy."

"James, you're scaring me," I said. He took my hand and squeezed it before leading me down the hallways as fast as he could. I barely managed to keep up. The boys brought me to the King's study, where guards and doctors hurried in and out. Queen Lillian wept on the floor next to the door. Patty and Walt knelt beside her, consoling her. When the Griffiths looked up at me, I could see their eyes filled to the brim with unshed tears.

What the hell happened to Will? I thought anxiously.

Then I entered the study and discovered the tragedy.

King George's body, now being covered with a blanket, lay in the middle of the floor surrounded by blood. A gun rested near his hand. It took only a moment for me to put the pieces together. Once the realization set in, so did the smell. I covered my nose to prevent it from being assaulted by the pungent, sickening odor.

For a moment, I watched the doctors and guards move around the room, canvassing it, and looking for any signs of foul play. There was so much activity that, at first, I didn't notice Will sitting with his back against the coffee table. He stared at his bloodied hands, which rested on his blood-soaked pants. What haunted me most, however, was the fact that bloody handprints dragged themselves down Will's face.

The sight sent me in motion.

The sight and smell of the dead King became obsolete as I rushed to Will's side, being careful not to step in any blood or evidence. I knelt down in front of him as I ordered Mark and James to get me some damp towels. They listened without hesitation.

"Will, I'm so sorry," I whispered, gently taking his hands in mine.

"He-he's dead," Will croaked out. "He's gone…"

"I know, sweetie. I know." I brushed a stray piece of hair away from his forehead as Mark and James reappeared with towels in hand. I took one and gently wiped the blood off of Will's face and hands. He didn't even move, his eyes staring over my shoulder where his father's body resided.

"Will, look at me," I said softly, cupping his cheek. His attention shifted to me, his blue eyes dazed and unfocused. "I need to get you out of here, okay? Let's take off your shoes and get you to your room."

He nodded but made no movement like he was paralyzed. Not wanting him to track blood through the palace, I slipped his shoes off and placed them beside him before grasping his hands and making an effort to pull him up. Will tried to stand, but his legs buckled when he was hardly a foot off the ground. James and Mark aided my endeavor, lifting Will by his arms with a Herculean effort. I replaced Mark's position and wrapped Will's arm around my shoulders. James took the other side, and slowly, we hobbled out of the study.

"There you go," I said, "watch where you step. We're almost there."

We managed to get out of the study without any mishaps, and slowly but surely made our way to Will's room. Will himself was nearly deadweight, and I could barely support him even with the help of James, but I refused to let Mark take my place. The boys had come to me for help, and no matter what happened between Will and me, it didn't matter right now. He was hurting, and he needed someone to take care of him.

We reached Will's room, and I told James and Mark to wait outside. They listened without argument. I shut Will's door behind us and escorted him to his bathroom, where he finally sank against the counter.

"Will, let's get you out of these clothes, okay? It's not good for you to stay in them," I said as soothingly as possible. "Do you understand?"

Although Will didn't respond verbally, he nodded, slowly stripping off his pants, jacket and shirt.

"Do you want to take a shower, or do you just want me to get you some fresh clothes?" I asked.

"Shower, he murmured.

"All right. I'll place some clean clothes for you on the counter, and I'll be waiting for you in your room when you're done. Does that sound good?"

Will nodded again. I stood up on my tiptoes and kissed him on the forehead. He lurched forward a little as I pulled away. Leaving him be, I grabbed his bloody clothes and left the bathroom, slipping outside.

"How is he?" James asked, running a hand through his hair.

"Shell-shocked," I replied. "I don't think the reality of the situation has quite sunk in yet. Would you two dispose of these clothes?"

"You got it," Mark said, taking them from me. "Are you okay?"

"I'm… going through the motions. I wasn't close to the King by any means, but to see him like that…" I shuddered involuntarily. "Are you two okay? How did you discover it?"

Both boys nodded, and James said, "We followed the guards who ran past us. There we discovered Will and tried to get him out of there, and that didn't happen. You know the rest."

Mark's phone buzzed, and he quickly checked it. "That's Everly. She's wondering where I'm at. I'm going to go tell her what's happened once I drop these clothes off. Call me if you need anything, okay?"

"Got it. I'll see you later. I'm going to call Mia and tell her I'm not coming home tonight. I'm going to see if she'll bring some overnight stuff for me."

"I'll help her," James offered. "I don't like the idea of either of you being out by yourselves late at night."

"Me neither," Mark agreed.

"I won't stop you. I'll see you two later," I said. The boys both gave me a hug before dashing off. I waited for them to disappear from sight before calling Mia.

"Hey!" my sister exclaimed. "I've been worried sick about you! You were supposed to be home over an hour ago, and you weren't picking up my calls or-"

"Mia, I'm okay," I interrupted. "Something happened at the palace, and I need to stay here tonight. Could you bring me an overnight bag?"

"Yeah, of course," she said, much calmer. "Are you okay?"

"I am, but Will's not. I'll explain to you when you get here. James is coming over to help you, and I want him to stay overnight with you if that's okay."

"Yeah, of course. I'll see you soon."

"Okay. And you don't need to rush. This isn't urgent. I love you."

"I love you too."

We hung up, and I went back inside Will's room. I grabbed a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, placing them on the bathroom counter. Then, I waited for him to come out.

I tried sitting on the bed but didn't feel comfortable doing so. I tried sitting on the bench at the end of his bed, but that felt too awkward with no back on it. I tried the sofa, the floor, the reading chair, the desk chair, and the desk itself, but I couldn't remain in one place for long. I ended up pacing, staring at the intricately designed rug as I moved, focusing on each individual pattern, afraid if I stayed still for even a moment, I'd see the King's dead body in my mind.

The bathroom door creaked open, and Will shuffled out. He made it as far as his desk before he sank against it. I walked cautiously up to him, unsure of whether or not he still wanted me around.

"He was saying goodbye," Will said quietly, shoving his fists into his pockets. "Earlier, when he told everyone all those nice things, he was trying to make amends before he killed himself, wasn't he?"

"I… I don't know," I admitted, clasping my hands in front of me. For the first time in my life, I had no idea what I could do for Will. I didn't know if he wanted someone to hug him or if desired space.

Will clenched his jaw repeatedly. He squeezed his eyes shut, and his face contorted into different expressions. I couldn't figure out what he was doing until his whole body shuddered, and his shoulders sagged. The first wave of tears escaped, cascading silently down his cheeks. In an instant, I had my arms around him, holding him as the first, soft sobs escaped. Will buried his face into the crook of my neck, his arms wrapping themselves tightly around my torso.

Deep down, I knew nothing I could say would make him feel better or help him come to terms with what he'd witnessed or what happened. All I could do was be there for him.

Kissing the side of his head, I whispered, "I'm here for you, Will. I'm here for you…"

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