There was a great deal of relief and a hint of a smile on Wellesley’s face as he watched them help each other to their feet.
“Well,” he said, “from what I gather, you’ve had quite an adventure. Things are obviously going to have to change around here but I don’t think anyone is in a fit state to make any decisions right now. Go home, get some rest, and we’ll talk about it tomorrow night.”
Emma left first, fending off Childermass’s attempts to persuade her that he had her best interests at heart and should definitely escort her home. Strange followed with his arm around Bella, somehow managing to make it look for all the world like he had just been on a cosy date and not a nightmare journey to another dimension.
Grant saw De Lancey struggling to put on his jacket and went over to hold it for him as his slipped his arms into the sleeves. “I’ll be going past your place,” he offered. “Need a lift?”
De Lancey kept glancing to his right as they drove through the deserted streets. The journey was taking a lot longer than it had the previous day and he wondered if Grant was just exhausted or putting on a brave face to hide the fact that he was still in pain.
“Are you alright?”
Grant sighed. “Just tired. No point in taking any risks when you don’t have to.” But something in his eyes said otherwise.
He pulled over outside De Lancey’s building and stopped the car. “Here you go.” He wanted to say more but the creeping feeling that the closeness between them had just been a consequence of the bizarre situation made him hold his tongue. “I’ll see you at the club later, then. Sounds like Arthur’s got plans for the place.”
De Lancey muttered, “Sounds like I’m going to be out of a job, you mean.” He shivered as he got out into the cold night air. For a moment it looked like he was about to say something important but all he managed as he shut the door was “Thanks for the lift.”
As he pulled away from the kerb and checked his mirror, Grant saw De Lancey stumble and catch himself against the wall.
Shit, he thought, and reversed back up the road. He rolled down the passenger side window and leant over to stick his head out. “Do you want me to come up with you?”
De Lancey nodded weakly. “Sorry to be a pain. Guess I’m still feeling a bit wobbly.”
They rode the lift up to the tenth floor in silence. De Lancey was lost in thought. Every time he closed his eyes he saw the creature reaching for him with its claw-like hands or twisting that awful blade in Grant’s chest and the last thing he wanted was to be left alone with his imaginings. He still marvelled at how safe he felt when Grant was next to him and he needed to find a way of dispelling the awkwardness that had developed between them before it became insurmountable.
“I don’t know about you,” he suggested as he swiped his keycard and held the door open, “but I could do with a drink.”
Grant hesitated and he tried again. “You’d be doing me a favour really. I’ve got a bottle of what I’m told is very nice whisky that I was given by one of the regulars at the club and I haven’t opened it yet because the people I know wouldn’t know the difference.” He smiled encouragingly. “I’d appreciate your opinion.”
“Fine,” Grant acquiesced, “but only a wee dram, I still have to drive home.”
He tagged along into the kitchen and gave a low whistle when De Lancey opened a cupboard and took out a couple of glasses and a bottle of Bunnahabhain XXV in its distinctive wooden box. “Not bad,” he said, “looks like you’ve got quite a fan there.”
De Lancey chuckled. “I think he’s got a bit of a crush on me, to be honest.”
He broke the seal on the bottle and started to pour, but his hands were shaking and the amber liquid splashed onto the granite surface.
Grant stepped closer and put a hand on his shoulder. “Easy now, you don’t want to waste the good stuff.”
De Lancey put the bottle down and steadied himself on the edge of the counter.
“Sorry.” He shook his head. “I think it’s all just catching up with me.”
Grant gave his shoulder a squeeze. “Let’s sit down.” He picked up the whisky and headed for the lounge. “Think you can manage the glasses?”
Their hands touched briefly as they settled into the couch, and De Lancey realised he had braced himself for a rush of feelings that never came.
“It’s really gone, hasn’t it?” he asked with a sigh. “The connection, I mean. I guess now that the box isn’t here there’s nothing to sustain it.”
“It’s probably for the best,” Grant replied. “It’s hard enough dealing with one’s own emotions without having to feel someone else’s as well.”
“I suppose you’re right. I kind of miss it though.”
As he thought back to the last time he’d been able to sense Grant’s emotions, he realised there was one question remaining that he had to know the answer to.
“Why did you do it?”
“Stay behind when you had a chance to get out. If it had been me I would have made a run for it. Every man for himself and all that.”
“You know why.” Grant focused on pouring the drinks. “Let’s leave it at that.”
“I know what you felt but not why you felt it. I just want to understand why someone would do something like that for me.”
Grant took long sip of his whisky and looked up at the ceiling.
“I don’t talk about it,” he said firmly.
De Lancey frowned. “Oh. Okay. It’s just that nobody’s ever really worried about me like that before. I’m sorry. I won’t ask again.” He picked up his glass and swirled the single malt around the edges, trying to think of something else to say, but it was Grant who finally broke the silence.
“You know what? It’s about time I stopped carrying this thing around like a fucking albatross. If you really want to know, I’ll tell you everything.”
He refilled their glasses and leant back against the arm of the couch.
“I was young,” he began, “and I thought I was in love. Of course, the fact that he was under my command complicated matters but we weren’t going to let that stop us. We managed to snatch a moment here and there, even some whole nights together when we were on leave. We were happy for a while - until I was ordered to send his platoon into a hot zone.”
He swallowed. The pain wasn’t as raw as it used to be but the memory was still all too real.
“It was a trap of course. Half of them were killed outright, the rest taken captive. It was a year before we managed to get them back and there were only a handful of them left by then. God knows what was done to them – he never told me and I didn’t have the courage to ask – but whatever it was, it changed him. He was withdrawn, depressed. He wouldn’t let anyone touch him and when I tried to offer some comfort he looked at me like he didn’t even know me.”
He poured another full measure into his glass and downed it in one gulp.
“Then one day he tied a kit bag full of bricks to his feet and jumped into a river.”
De Lancey gasped. He’d realised Grant had lost someone close to him and blamed himself for whatever had happened but he’d never imagined anything like this.
“I dived in after him of course,” Grant continued, “but there was nothing I could do. He was sinking too fast and I couldn’t get to him. He didn’t even try to save himself when I reached for him.” His arm twitched in an involuntary echo of the movement. “He just looked straight through me and then he was gone.”
He rubbed the back of his hand across his forehead and took a deep breath. “That’s why I couldn’t leave, you see. It was like I was being given a second chance, an opportunity to make amends. Even when you were telling me to get out of there I could feel how much you wanted to live and I knew I’d never forgive myself if I let go."
“So it wasn’t really about me at all?” De Lancey looked down at his glass. “Well, that figures.”
Grant put his drink down and took De Lancey’s hands in his own. “Not at first,” he admitted, “but once I really understood that I couldn’t have done anything to save him, once I stopped looking backwards and started to see what was right in front of me, then it was all about you.”
When De Lancey didn’t respond, a shadow passed over Grant's face and he stood up abruptly and walked to the window.
De Lancey sat in confusion for a second and then got up and went to stand behind him. “You’re afraid,” he said, gently. “I may not be linked to your emotions anymore but I can still sense more than most people and I know fear when I feel it. I also know I didn’t feel it from you once the whole time we were in that place and yet now …”
He tilted his head, unable to come up with an explanation for this sudden change. “What is it, Grant? What are you scared of?”
Grant gazed out at the city lights, taking in the sight of the world he had shut himself away from for so long, the world that he could have if only he could find the courage to say one more word. He looked at his reflection in the glass and the image of De Lancey standing behind his shoulder, brow furrowed with concern.
He closed his eyes and whispered, “Falling.”
De Lancey stared in astonishment, a smile playing around the corners of his mouth. He slipped his arms round Grant’s waist and rested his chin on a broad shoulder.
“Don’t be,” he murmured, his lips brushing Grant’s ear, “it’s my turn to catch you.”