Henry didn’t know why he thought it would be a good idea to go out to Francis’s house so soon after Bunny’s funeral, but he thought that perhaps it was some silly notion that they might have some peace and quiet away from it all, or that perhaps getting out of Hampden would be good for them after the previous weeks of chaos. He didn’t believe it for an instant, of course, but he supposed that when such catastrophe had occurred it was only human nature to move, and to keep moving, and to hope that by the time one stopped the world would make sense again.
The house was depressing now. He had never noticed it before but it seemed rather imposing upon arrival, all stone upon stone and surrounded by wilderness. It wasn’t all that long of a drive to civilisation but in an emergency it might as well be a thousand miles; for some reason the thought seemed sobering now. It was large and impossibly quiet without Bunny immediately jumping out of the car and talking nineteen to the dozen, and for a moment Henry just stared at the house in despair, knowing that no matter how hard they tried, the trip was going to be a nightmare. He knew now that he had been a bloody fool to suggest it, though perhaps not as big a fool as everyone else for agreeing.
“Looks a little depressing, doesn’t it?” Camilla asked, as she walked past with one of her bags.
“Like something out of The Haunting of Hill House,” Henry agreed glumly.
Camilla managed a brief laugh, bright for as long as it lived but leaving a heavy silence in its wake. Henry didn’t have to turn around to know it was Charles’s eyes he could feel burning into his back.
What an odd thing, he thought to himself, beginning a slow and heavy walk towards the house, to be able to laugh so quickly after a funeral. He had thought he would never hear anyone laugh again, much less do so himself. Even now it seemed inappropriate, taunting. He tried to shake the thoughts out of his head. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t been through them a million times.
The house was just as he had suspected – large, empty, too quiet, too heavy. Despite this he found that they didn’t spend all that much time together. Henry preferred to keep himself in his room, with some of the many books or notes he had brought with him; from what he could tell, Camilla did mostly the same. Charles and Francis saw the most of one another, usually down in the kitchen or the large drawing room with the big unlit fireplace, and Richard divided his time between them and his own company, flitting back and forth outside in the hallway like a restless ghost – a thought that Henry shook away the second he found himself entertaining it.
Sometimes the footsteps outside his room were lighter, sneakier; they would pause first outside of Henry’s room as though listening, and then up the hallway to – Henry presumed – Camilla’s room. It didn’t take a genius to work out that Charles was apparently still on strict honour duty, and while the thought left a sour taste in Henry’s mouth he found himself unable to care enough to start another fight. The one at the funeral had been bad enough. He was quite certain that neither his nor Camilla’s nerves would be able to take it.
When his room grew to be too claustrophobic but he still couldn’t bear the company of others, he took to wandering around on the third floor of the house. It was mostly storage now, he noticed – furniture was piled into the rooms in haphazard piles, and walking through them felt a lot like navigating through a cluttered antique store. In a way it was pleasant, considering Henry could find a small nook among the furniture and boxes and sit there, quite hidden from the doorway and with nobody knowing he was up there. Oddly, being crammed in among the piles often felt less claustrophobic than being in his room; Henry couldn’t explain it – in the clutter he felt as though there was only room for him in there, but in his bedroom he often felt as though somebody else was with him. It felt ridiculous to admit to himself because he was always quite alone when he gave into temptation and looked, but the second he went back to his work he felt it again, as clear as though somebody was lounging across the bed.
Was he hiding from this presence? Henry supposed he must be, as odd as it sounded. He often found himself checking over his shoulder as he made his way to the third floor, or peering over the wooden bannister and down to the ground floor far below as though hoping to catch somebody coming up the stairs or peering down the hallway to his bedroom. He never saw anything, but far from bringing him comfort it only intensified his unease. He knew that he couldn’t hide forever – such a fact was true no matter what it was in reference to.
It had only been a couple of days since he had acknowledged the presence when his assumption that he couldn’t stay hidden was proven undoubtedly correct. Henry was crammed between two large piles of furniture – tables with what felt like endless chairs and boxes stacked on them – reading and keeping half an eye on the door that he could just make out through the assorted table and chair legs and piles of boxes and half-dismantled shelves. The door was pulled mostly closed, as he had found it the first time, and during one of his semi-regular checks he saw that it was open slightly more than usual.
Henry lowered his book and blinked. It could have been a breeze, perhaps, but that sounded too much like wishful thinking. Besides, even as he watched, the door swung slightly, pushing inward and then falling back a little as though whoever was pushing it wasn’t quite putting enough effort into it. Perhaps they were trying to be sneaky? There seemed no need to try and open the door slowly, though – none of them creaked. Henry found he was holding his breath. When the door moved again, this time swinging silently and fully open, he found it was his turn to start sneaking around.
Quietly, slowly, he uncurled himself and moved out of the nook, staying half-hunched over as he began carefully picking his way through one of the winding and precarious trails through the furniture. There was enough awareness left in him to realise how stupid the whole thing was – he couldn’t even hear any footsteps, for God’s sake – but it wasn’t enough to make him straighten up and walk out normally; every time he tried he was sure he could feel eyes on him, blocked only by the furniture he was crouched behind.
He made it to the door and risked a glance back. He shouldn’t have done so. It was only a split second, the briefest of glimpses, but there was someone there; tall, shadowy, peering around the furniture with no features that Henry could work out. For the first time he noticed how cold the room was. He felt his stomach drop and a strange dizziness come over him; he didn’t think it was fear so much as the knowledge that he had seen something he shouldn’t. He didn’t realise he had taken a step backwards but he must have done, because suddenly his heel had caught something and he found himself with only a split second to dodge the pile of furniture falling towards him, all of it having been stupidly and precariously balanced on a couple of unsteady chairs.
In hindsight, Henry thought it was a bit of an over-reaction. The furniture had mostly been chairs and a few boxes balanced on top; nothing that would have done him any worse harm than bruises had it hit him. It was instinct to throw himself out of the way, though, and had things been different – which they so easily could have been – his evasive action would have undoubtedly killed him. Often he overestimated the force he put into things, which was why instead of merely throwing himself out of the way he ended up throwing himself right out of the door, quickly backing up as the furniture fell to the ground with an almighty clatter. He felt his lower back hit the railing behind him and the sound of the furniture falling completely muffled the loud crack as he did so; one minute there was a railing there and the next there wasn’t, and Henry felt a sickening lurch in the pit of his stomach as he felt the floor drop out from under him.
Somehow he managed to instinctively grab at anything he could, which in this case was the floor he had just been standing on. He managed to hook his arms onto it, but the rest of him from the shoulders down was dangling over the edge, and he knew that beneath him was a straight fall onto the stone floor of the entrance hallway. He didn’t dare try to adjust to look and see if he could swing himself over and fall to the hall directly below this one; either way that one still had its railing and he would likely bounce right off it. Stretching his legs out as far as possible met only open air, and physics were against him – he didn’t have the arm strength from this angle to haul himself over. He would have to hope someone pulled him over before he lost strength, or he was going to have to drop and hope for the best.
The second option, of course, was out of the question. Henry had often looked right up through the middle of the house when crossing the ground hallway; it was an impressive sight, with its stairs and oak banisters twisting around and vanishing into the gloom when the lights were off. With an unpleasant moment of clarity, he realised it wouldn’t really be all that much of a difference between the drop Bunny had fallen from – and both of them would land on unforgiving stone. Quite suddenly Henry had the urge to simply let go. After all, wouldn’t it be fair?
He almost let go. He felt the urge sweep over him, the tension in his arms as he prepared to let himself drop, but he would never know if he would have done or not. It seemed as though he had already been there for minutes but it could have only been seconds; he heard voices far below him, recognised Francis’s voice swearing, and in the same moment he got the sudden impression that somebody had grabbed his upper arms with surprising strength.
Only then did he realise his eyes were closed. He opened them, expecting Richard, perhaps, who was only on the floor blow, or maybe even Charles, who didn’t hate him quite enough to let him fall to his death. He saw neither of them. Rather, right in front of him, crouched down and with his fingers digging into his arms as solid as anyone else’s would, looking as real as the day he’d killed him, was Bunny.
They stared at one another for an impossibly long moment. Bunny looked just how he had done on the day – though without the injuries, without the blood. He almost glowed, the yellow of his coat combining with the yellow of his hair, and had it not been for the vice-like grip on Henry’s arms, Henry would have been positive he had lost his mind.
Finally, he managed to find his voice. Forcing himself to keep looking at Bunny, he swallowed. “Alright. Go on, then.”
It was fair, Henry thought. It was karma, it was revenge, it was only what he could expect. Ghosts hung around because of unfinished business, after all, and what was more potent that being murdered by your best friend? If this could settle the score, if this could allow Bunny to move on, then didn’t Henry, as his killer, have a duty to allow it and take his place? Perhaps, if karma really was proportionate, he too would die instantly.
Bunny frowned slightly, confused, and then something cleared in his eyes and his face split into that all too familiar grin, the one Henry didn’t realise he had missed so much until he saw it now.
“Nonsense, Henry!” Bunny said jovially. “What kind of friend would I be?”
Before Henry could fully take in the words, Bunny tightened his grip and pulled. Reacting instinctively, still trying to process what was happening, Henry managed to pull his arms a little further along the floor; when he was more securely balanced Bunny reached over and grabbed him by the back of his jacket, hauling him forward, and with much scrambling Henry managed to crawl up over the edge, across the hall, as far away from the gap as he could get while his legs were so weak. He slumped to the ground, turned, and saw nothing.
There was no sign of Bunny. Not even a flicker. Henry looked up and down the hall, even twisting around again to see if he had been lost among the chaotic furniture in the other room. There was no movement, no hint of him. Henry took a shuddering breath and then, finally, Bunny’s words hit him.
What kind of friend would I be?
Henry didn’t cry often, and when he did, he was always discrete about it. At the very least he could tell when he was about to cry, so it was to his surprise as much as everyone else’s that quite suddenly, with no warning, he found himself sobbing harder than he had ever done in his life. He couldn’t stifle it, he couldn’t control it – he was helpless to it, even as the others arrived. He couldn’t even bring himself to care that they were staring; he simply curled up on himself and continued to cry, simply not able to do anything else. He couldn’t answer their questions, though most of them were self-explanatory – the wood was splintered either side of the gap, and Henry would later learn that the part that had fallen, along with his book, were on the ground in the entrance hall, the wood in many different pieces.
One question got through to him, however, asked by Camilla, ever pragmatic.
“How in the world did you manage to get back up?”
Henry had just been thinking he might be able to calm down; Camilla’s question prevented that from happening. He looked at her, and then at the others, well aware of how helpless he must look, but who would believe him? What was more, could he even bring himself to say the words? How could he put words to something like that? How could he explain how wrong he had gotten it?
He was barely aware that he was speaking. Like the tears, it had come out of nowhere, and he was powerless to stop them.
“Bunny,” he mumbled, and he didn’t miss the concerned looks that passed across the others. “Christ. Bunny. What have I done? What have—”
He stumbled to unsteady feet and didn’t miss how the others, as one, stepped out of the way. He knew he should explain, he knew he should at least try to reassure them, but he couldn’t think of that right now. Leaning heavily against the wall, he shook his head and stumbled forward.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, but the others knew as well as he did that he wasn’t speaking to them.