Wimsey blinked, asking the constable on the other end of the phone to repeat himself.
“I’ll be right down,” he said absently, trying to figure out what on earth Bunter had been up to at Waterloo Station. It was his rare day off, the sort he had to be forced into taking every now and then. Harriet had insisted, and Wimsey did agree with her that even Bunter-my-Bunter ought to have days where he didn’t have to look after Lord Peter, even if the lord himself was fairly at sea without him. Less so these days, after Bunter trained one of the footmen to do some of his duties, but even so, he found that most days without Bunter were dreary ones. If he had to be without both Harriet and Bunter, as had been the case today, it was a dull and dark day indeed.
He met his lady wife coming in from her day-long excursion with the Bloomsbury lot, who were evidently prepared to accept a writer of detective novels if she was interesting in other ways, such as being married to the notorious Lord Peter Wimsey.
“Bunter has been arrested,” he told her. She blinked.
“That seems out of character. Was he out on an errand for the new case?” Wimsey was currently looking into a small matter of international importance that related to high-society debutantes, but Bunter had yet to become involved, as thus far the investigations had mostly consisted of the poor detective himself having insipid conversations at society events without finding out much of any importance.
“No, it was his day off. I suppose it is possible that he took his day off to investigate something, but that shouldn’t have taken him anywhere near the cottage at Waterloo,” Wimsey said.
Harriet blinked. “The cottage at Waterloo? But that’s--” she fell silent, biting her lower lip.
“It is where those whose preferences are a little varied tend to gather, yes,” he said absently, then paused in the act of putting on his gloves. “We aren’t looking into anything like that,” he said, and added, “I’ve never felt anything like that worth looking into. It is, or ought to be, a personal matter.”
Harriet still seemed reluctant to speak.
“Bunter has always been quite the ladies’ man,” Wimsey said, but he found himself unsure of whether he was reassuring his wife or himself.
Harriet looked down, then up at him, and said, “I did wonder about his dedication to you, at first, but then I made up my mind that it didn’t matter, because I wouldn’t have you without him.”
He swallowed. It was still a new experience to find himself unable to get a word out, but his wife seemed to provoke the reaction once every forthnight or so. Her ability to be honest always floored him. “Domina,” he said, helpless.
Her smile was rueful. “Go pick up your arrested valet,” she said. “You should invent a case to explain his doings, whatever they were, because I’d quite like him back unscathed.”
The name of Lord Peter Wimsey carried quite a lot of weight at the Yard, and Bunter was released into Lord Peter’s waiting embrace (figuratively speaking) without any trouble at all. Aside from the look on Bunter’s face when he saw Wimsey waiting for him. He would do quite a lot to never put that look on Bunter’s face again.
Neither of them said anything on the way, even though Wimsey had felt that doing his own driving for this errand was the only possible route.
When they exited and the footman took the car to bring it into the garage, Bunter cleared his throat. They were still standing in the entrance hall.
“It will not take me very long to pack, my lord,” he said, facing away from Wimsey. He was still very pale.
“Pack?” Wimsey found his voice wasn’t quite up to the heft of that word, cracking. “Bunter, have you gone--why would you be packing?”
Bunter looked at him then, mouth tight. So very unhappy, Wimsey thought. Bunter-my-Bunter, when did you become this unhappy?
“I want to offer my resignation,” Bunter said. “I do not require any of this month’s wages.”
Lord Peter tried to marshal his normally quite considerable wits, but the only response he could muster was “Don’t be a bloody fool,” and he didn’t think that was appropriate, under the circumstances. Collecting himself, he managed to tell Bunter, “Good lord, of course you’re not resigning. Come have tea with me and Harriet, and we’ll sort this out together.” He and Harriet had not had a lengthy conversation before he had left for the station, but he was quite certain that they could untangle anything between them.
“I don’t think tea will be helpful, my lord,” Bunter said, as stiffly correct as when he had to manage the most painfully etiquette-conscious of all of Lord Peter’s guests.
“With a little help from Glenfiddich, surely it will go quite a long way,” Wimsey said firmly, and, taking hold of Bunter’s elbow, steered him towards their sitting room.
Harriet was waiting for them there, and with a glance from Wimsey, poured three fingers of Scotch and held the glass out to Bunter, who took it but didn’t drink, grip tight.
“Perhaps we’ll forego the tea for now,” Wimsey said.
Bunter was looking between them both, not speaking. Wimsey found himself at a loss for words again. As ever, Harriet rescued him from his own ineptitude and began the conversation they had to have.
“Marriage is an odd thing,” Harriet said. “As is any partnership.” Bunter looked at her sharply, still clutching the glass. “You have as much of him as I do,” she added gently, and only by the way her hands moved restlessly could Wimsey see she wasn’t as calm as she appeared.
Bunter tossed back the drink and said, a little hoarsely, “Not quite,” and turned white. Wimsey felt a strange lurch in himself at that.
“How do you feel about me?” Harriet said, and Wimsey wanted to answer, but the question was not for him.
Bunter blinked. “About you, my lady?”
“Harriet,” she said firmly, and then swallowed, forging on bravely. “I, for example, love the way you complete Peter. He wouldn’t do very well without you, and I think you know that.”
Oh, Bunter’s face. Wimsey ached for them both, and felt incredibly unworthy of their care.
“You are,” Bunter said, after a long pause, in which the undeserving husband in the room wanted to kiss his wife, and, curiously, wanted Bunter there to watch, “quite extraordinary. No other woman could do for him.”
At that, Wimsey found his words. Perhaps it was quite simple. “He that has all can have no more,” he said. “There is an infiniteness to love, and I know what I feel for you ought to qualify, as what I feel for Harriet does. Bunter-my-Bunter, please don’t resign. And be patient with me, because I think what Harriet proposes means there is something larger to share in, and I find I don’t have the words for it yet.”
Bunter looked between them both, and let Harriet take his glass, pouring him another drink.
“I know Peter is mine,” she told him, and something in Wimsey thrilled to be claimed by her, as he always did. “I know he is mine, but he’s always been yours, too.”
“Mine is a relative adjective,” Bunter said.
“Yours to obey,” Harriet countered, and yes, that was true. Though of course, the reality was the opposite, in both their cases. The parallels were quite dizzying.
“My lady,” Bunter said, and his voice was breaking open at the edges. “I cannot ask.”
“Peter,” she said, and carefully, his wife’s hand on his back, hesitantly leaning in, so unfamiliar and yet so known all at once, Wimsey kissed his valet, his Bunter. They were all three of them trembling. Far away, he heard the church bells strike midnight.