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A Close Call

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“Alfred,

It seems I am unable to go to Ciro’s tonight, even though I have been planning to ever since I got your note. Please come to my address and I shall explain everything.

Your affectionate friend,

Edward”

 

‘Bad news, Sir?’ the waiter who had handed Lord Alfred the note asked at his frown.

‘I do not know yet,’ Alfred replied, downed his glass of champagne for Dutch courage, and left the restaurant for 10 Downing Street as instructed.

It was in a short walking distance, and Alfred’s confusion had no chance to ease on the way to Drummond’s. He recognized the handwriting but it was so hastily scribbled – it was most unlike Dru— Edward.

Alfred was let in by the butler – hat, Sir, coat, Sir – where’s Drummond? In his bedchamber, Sir.

‘Oh, well, I shall just wait in the library if you would inform him of my arrival, please?’

‘Ah, Mr Drummond is not able to come downstairs at the moment, my lord. Let me lead the way.’

What on Earth?

Well, the butler was already a flight of stairs ahead of him so Alfred had no choice but to follow hastily.

He was led straight into what was Drummond’s private bedroom. The scene he found in there only elevated his bepuzzlement:

Sir Robert Peel was standing by the window, wiping sweat off his forehead with his handkerchief.

Sir George Wilson, the fashionable doctor Alfred knew from high Society, his crisp dinner frock coat otherwise spotless, was washing two very bloody hands at a wash stand.

A nurse was rinsing a cloth in a basin of ice water and applying it to Drummond’s forehead periodically.

And Drummond, well, he was resting on his bed, naked from the waist up, his left upper arm bandaged. His unusually pale skin was covered in a thin sheet of sweat. He was fidgety and squeamish every time the nurse’s cold cloth touched his forehead, only to find relief in the sensation after all. He took a swig of his finest single-malt whisky, of which he had a bottle in his right hand. When the nurse tried to yank it away, it was to no avail.

‘Good evening, gentlemen,’ Alfred said on autopilot, advancing into the room timidly.

Before anyone else could react, Drummond shot up suddenly.

‘Alfred!’ he said far too loudly for the distance there was between them. ‘Oh—wait, shh, sorry… Lord Alfred,’ he corrected himself in a solemn but transparent stage whisper, and then promptly burst into a bout of giggles.

‘What’s going on?’ Alfred rightfully asked.

‘Drummond’s been shot,’ Sir Robert volunteered.

‘I beg your pardon?’ Alfred blurted out in shock, almost forgetting to add: 'Sir?'

‘We came out of the House after the vote. There was a protesting crowd outside, which was to be expected. Someone, a madman named M’Naghten as the constable informed us, pulled a gun on my person. However, Drummond here jumped in front of it and the bullet hit his arm.’

‘Drummond jumped in front of the bullet?’

‘That’s right, Lord Alfred. I believe he saved my life tonight. The man is nothing short of a hero.’

At that point Drummond badly masked a burp and a hiccup.

‘And I trust you have got the bullet out, Sir George?’ Alfred turned to the doctor, putting two and two together. His father had shared the story of how he had lost his leg and the copious amounts of alcohol it took to numb the pain while the army surgeon worked.

‘I have, Lord Alfred.’

‘So everyone’s happy. Especially Drummond…’ Alfred remarked, as Drummond started laughing to himself at something or other again.

‘Right. Perhaps we should let Mr Drummond rest,’ the doctor suggested, moving to usher the men out, when Drummond suddenly ceased in his amusement.

‘No!’ he half said half grunted. ‘No, Alfred, don’t leave me…’ now he was nearly crying within seconds. ‘Why are you doing this?’

‘I’m… we’re just going downstairs, Drummond, to let you sleep,’ Alfred attempted but his communication did not get through.

‘I don’t want to be alone…’

‘Nurse Potter shall stay to attend your needs, Mr Dru—’ Sir George tried.

‘No!’ Drummond borderline wept now. ‘I want Alfred, I want Lord Alfred!!!’

‘I’m afraid the bullet hit a bone,’ the doctor explained to Alfred. ‘There was much, uh, assistance necessary.’

Drummond threw himself back on the bed and cried into his pillow like a child throwing a fit. ‘I want Alfred, I just want…’ he repeated.

Alfred’s throat went dry. This would not end well. Apparently Edward was a blurter when he was drunk. ‘Drummond, what are you saying, I’m right here, now stop this and try to have a rest—’

‘I just want Alfred!!!’ sobbed. ‘But he doesn’t want to be with me… Why doesn’t he want to be with me… After all that time— and in Scotland---’

‘I BELIEVE,’ Alfred cut in, immensely panicking now, ‘that Drummond is indeed in dire need of a rest. Gentlemen, I think you should leave, I’ll be downstairs in a minute.’

‘Yes, Alfred, tell them to leave us alone…’ Drummond’s muffled voice came from where his face was now buried in his pillow. ‘That’s what Her Majesty wanted too, you know, remember when we lost them?’

‘Lost them?’ Sir Robert asked, putting Alfred on the spot.

‘I do apologise for my friend’s behaviour, Sir Robert,’ Alfred tried to diffuse the situation. ‘Pardon me but, frankly, he’s talking rubbish.’

'But he said the Queen-'

'All nonsense, trust me,' Alfred insisted, putting on his most winning court manners. It seemed to have done the trick... he hoped. 'Though I suspect Drummond's headache shall be rather more apparent, come tomorrow, than the damage to his arm, not to mention to his pride.'

‘Oh, do not worry about it, Lord Alfred. Drummond won’t remember a thing tomorrow,’ Sir Robert said, his frown ever-present, but not without some amusement. ‘I trust all of you gentleman, and Nurse Potter, not to remind him of it.’

There was a general consensus about this, and Alfred could finally relax when Sir Robert and Sir George left, wondering whether there was another glass of that whisky downstairs because they would have liked a swig or two themselves after that most eventful evening.

‘Alfred?’ Drummond muttered tragically again. ‘Alfred? Where are you?’

‘I’m… I’m right here, Drummond…’ Alfred said awkwardly. The nurse was still in there, stocking the surgical items away at a glacial pace.

‘Hm?’ Drummond turned around, seeking the source of Alfred’s voice blindly. ‘Alfred?’

‘Yes, still here, Drummond… just rest easy, please,’ Alfred said, attempting to snatch the bottle of whisky away from Drummond. He kept waving his hands and fidgeting so inconsequentially, however, that it was a near impossible task to complete with dignity.

‘Alfred… Alfred… Oh Alfred!!!! Guess what!!!’ Drummond went from despair to reinvigoration in a flash. ‘I got shot!’ he laughed. ‘Shot, Alfred! Isn’t that mad?’

Alfred feigned laughter for his sake. ‘Quite… mad…’

Drummond stopped laughing abruptly, sitting up and scooting over to where Alfred was standing by the bed. ‘Oh, Alfred… I’m so sorry… I was so childish and… I just stormed away yesterday…. When you were so… beautiful!’

‘Umm, Nurse Potter, wasn’t it?’ Alfred cut in, desperately trying to think of something.

‘Yes, my lord.’

‘Are you quite done here?’

‘Only the gauze to roll up, now…’

Alfred grabbed the bloody things, rolled them up faster than a spinning machine worked, stuffed them in the medical box, and finally stuffed the box into the Nurse’s hands.

‘I thank you ever so gratefully for your kind assistance, Nurse Potter,’ Alfred said in a well-practiced saccharine tone, nearly pushing the nurse out of the room. ‘I shall join you all downstairs in a short while,’ he continued to mask whatever Drummond was going to blab next and shut the door in her face. ‘I hope,’ he added to himself.

When he turned back towards the bed, Drummond was fast asleep.

‘Of course…’ Alfred sighed, cursing his luck that Edward would only shut up once there was no one around to overhear him nearly reveal the true nature of their relationship.

It was only now that Alfred appreciated the events of the night. Edward, his brave, dramatic, wholesome Edward, actually jumped in front of a bullet meant for the Prime Minister, and lived to tell the tale. Once he sobered up, that is, Alfred thought with a chuckle. Well, if there ever was an excuse to stand him up at the restaurant, this was it.

As uncontrollable Edward had been minutes before, as peaceful he was now. Alfred watched him for a minute, before walking over to the bed, placing the bottle of whisky on the bedside table and (though hiding his gorgeous body was truly such a shame) making sure Edward was comfortable and well tucked in for a long, deep night of sleep.

When everything was done, Alfred turned to leave, as promised, already thinking about what excuses he could find for all the stuff Edward had said.

But before he left, Alfred hesitated. In the end, he gave into his heart and returned to Edward’s side to place the gentlest of kisses on his forehead.

‘I’m here,’ he whispered. ‘I will always be here.’

And with that, he composed himself and left to do some expert damage control, so that the papers would only write about Drummond’s heroism, came morning.