It hurts to see Bates again, hurts because Robert can’t run across the room to him and embrace him - or because he could, but he won’t. Hurts because the John Bates stood in front of him is so much the man he last saw in an army hospital, bleeding and pale and young; and because the John Bates stood in front of him is not that man anymore: he has aged - they both have - and his bearing has changed. (It isn’t just the leg, he tells himself, it isn’t. And it isn’t, truly. It is the years which have changed him, changed them both.)
It hurts because there is a wall between them.
They do not embrace, the way that brothers do, but Bates’ fingers brush his wrists, his hands, each morning, fastening his cufflinks. It shouldn’t be any different from when another man performed the same task - it shouldn’t feel different - but it does.
It hurts because they do not speak. They do not speak about the war, about the things they didn’t speak about then. They do not speak about the leg, the cane which stands between them and the bullets which had united them once - in that either might have died in the rain of fire. (There is that strange equality in war which class and injury have since destroyed, piece by piece.)
They do not speak of the things which have happened since the war, either. Between the war and the leg. Between the soldier and the valet, the gentleman officer and the gentleman duke.
They do not speak except in the words of propriety, the words of respectable inquiry, the words which say nothing of the pain or the emptiness of regret.
It is as it should be and Robert regrets it, deeply.