“I’ve got a date,” said Lord Peter Wimsey. And so, indeed, he had; specifically, one that he had no desire to put off or alter the particulars of given the fact that he was in no way assured of a repeat appointment. For anyone other than Miss Harriet Vane, he might have taken a more measured stock of the situation and sent his regrets. But as it was Miss Vane he intended to meet, he instead swept off home to change straight from seeing Charles and Mary.
He could manage an evening.
“How is Chief Inspector Parker?” Bunter asked as Peter stared into the wardrobe. Making a decision suddenly seemed an impossible task—he was grateful when Bunter gently guided him out of the way and took to selecting an appropriate outfit.
The question threw him for a moment, his mind flashing back to Mary’s voice on the telephone, Charles in bandages—Peter cleared his throat roughly and banished the mental intrusion.
“Spitting mad,” he replied. “But a few weeks of recovery and he’ll be fine.”
“Very good, my Lord.”
Peter changed without additional commentary as he was handed different articles of clothing. His mind kept straying to a gilded note in a mailbox, a designer pencil, bandages and blood on a stair and—
“My Lord?” A hand on his shoulder and a bitterness on his tongue. “Are you quite sure you’re well?”
Peter blinked and the room came back into focus.
“Quite,” he murmured, and settled a hat on his head as he repeated the word for emphasis.
Harriet, he reminded himself. He was going to meet Harriet.
He didn’t consider that perhaps he wasn’t fine at all.
“—it was entirely my fault—“
My fault, my fault, my fault, it should have been me—
Peter snapped back to himself when Harriet placed her hand atop his. For a moment, he could not recall where they were or how they got there, could not remember ordering or how their conversation had gone; instead, his vision swam with bloody and broken figures as his food turned to ash on his tongue.
Harriet gripped his hand tighter and he gripped back, needing to hold onto something lest he fall away again. Her lips pressed thin, her eyes wide and full of concern.
Concern for him.
He shuddered out an exhale.
“Do you know,” he said haltingly, “I find myself quite unwell.”
“It’s alright,” Harriet replied, not losing the worried look in her eyes. “We don’t have to stay.”
Peter squeezed her hand once before releasing it and didn’t say another word until they were in the car.
“I’m on a case,” he admitted after several long, silent moments. “I wouldn’t—I can’t discuss it, only, tonight—“
“What happened tonight?” Harriet prompted when he failed to continue.
But Peter shook his head. No, he couldn’t bring anyone else into such a mess. Especially not—no.
“I’m sorry,” he said instead. “I’m poor company. And I would not blame you in the least if you elected to renew your sentiment from months ago so as to avoid any recurrence of tonight.”
“Don’t be a fool.” Harriet’s voice snapped, but gentled immediately after. “If you imagine I would hold this against you, then you must think me very shallow indeed.”
“Never.” Peter looked away and lifted a hand to his temple. “Forgive me.”
More silence, and then—
They both stopped. Harriet cleared her throat.
“As you cannot control the actions of everyone else around you, I suspect there is no way to guarantee that you will stay safe,” she acknowledged, “but, Peter—if I can ask it—whatever it is you’re doing—will you at least try to take care?”
Peter looked back to her for a long moment, a tightening in his throat that had nothing to do with the rest of the evening’s events.
“Yes, alright,” he agreed finally. “If you’d like.”
It stuck with him long after the car stopped, long after Harriet transferred him into Bunter’s capable care and disappeared off to her own home. And it struck him, when it later occurred to him to consider it, that he hadn’t asked her to marry him.
It was also the case, however, that he wished to more than ever.