AUTHOR: Nikki Harrington
FANDOM: Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman
PAIRING: A. J. Raffles/Harry 'Bunny' Manders
SUB-GENRE: First Time. Supernatural(ish)
SUMMARY: Set after Knees Of The Gods. Bunny returns home and commits, to his mind, the worst crime he has ever committed. He is determined to put things right and when he does he discovers his life hasn't been as he'd believed.
WORD COUNT: 7,960
WARNING: Major character death.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
I returned home to England devastated and in a level of pain I did not know existed. It wasn't the physical pain - that I almost welcomed as it gave me something to focus on. It was the emotional pain. I had lost him; utterly and totally and this time he wasn't going to come back to life.
This time he was dead; this time he had died by my side; this time I had seen his dead body. He was never going to return to me. He was never going to smile at me, put his arm around me, offer me a cigarette, call me 'my dear Bunny' or 'my own rabbit' or 'my dear boy'; we were never going to dine together or burgle together again. It was over; my life as I had known it was over; he was dead and I might as well have been for all the interest I had in living.
Once, upon our becoming reacquainted, I had stood in front of him with my revolver to my head and I had truly believed I would have pulled the trigger. I would have taken my own life in front of him, had he refused to help me. I still had the gun, but whatever had given me the courage to put it to my head in his rooms all those years ago, no longer existed within me. Maybe it had simply been a case of better dead than dishonoured, but I don't think it was thus. Somehow my courage had been tied to Raffles and now he wasn't here and without his presence in my life, I knew I did not have it in me to end my time in this world and join him wherever he was.
The days went by, each as endless as the one before and I have no doubt that is what they would have gone on doing. And then came the day I met her again and gave her my address; her letter came as a surprise to me, the contents even more so. That Raffles would have gone to her to try to make her see me in a better light, that he would tell her the truth about himself, amazed me. I found it so hard to believe and yet she could not be telling a lie; how else could she have known, had he not told her himself?
Tired of the confines of my home I accepted her invitation to visit her, even though she had made it quite clear I could not talk of the past. In many ways she was as I remembered her, in other ways she was quite different; quite the modern woman. But she was my one link to the past; my one remaining link in many ways to Raffles. And I fear it was that one thing that made me commit the worst crime I had ever committed. I asked her to marry me and she accepted my proposal.
It was a very quiet ceremony and luncheon; I had no close friends, I only ever had had one; she had two close female friends; neither of us had any living relative - at least in my case none that would acknowledge me. We could have had a lavish ceremony and reception as I was by now a very wealthy man; Raffles had left me everything to me upon his death and the amount was staggering. Finally, I could live the life I had always wished to live, except I had to live it without him by my side.
My crime became clear when we retired to her bedroom later that evening and I discovered I could not be a proper husband to her. I tried; for her sake I tried. She tried; she even - which shocked me so deeply as I never would have thought that a lady could, would . . . She made excuses; saying the day had been long (it hadn't), that I had been on my feet for longer than usual (maybe I had, but not significantly so), that I was no doubt tired (I wasn't), that it was my leg having an affect on me and several other excuses; she said it would be different another night. I kissed her goodnight and left her to sleep, retiring to my own room where after locking the door I proved her excuses were all invalid.
A week went by and the results were the same; I could not be a proper husband to her - and I knew I never would be. Finally, she assured me it did not matter that it wasn't an important side to a marriage and that she understood - how could she? She decided it was my injury that had caused such damage, telling me that it was to blame - I did not dispute her claim. How could I? How could I tell the woman I was married to but didn't love as a gentleman should love his wife that in my own room, I was more than capable of . . . - how could I tell her that? I could not. So I let her believe that it was my injury that prevented me from being a proper husband.
And how could I tell her I knew exactly why I could not be a proper husband to her? I could not. How could I tell her what I had only finally dared to admit to myself? How could I tell her I not only loved Raffles, I was in love with him as I should have been in love with her? How could I tell her it wasn't her lips I wanted on mine? How could I tell her it wasn't her hands I wanted on my body? How could I tell her of whom I thought when I - ? I couldn't.
I offered to let her divorce me; telling her she could cite any reasons she wished. She could say I had been unfaithful; she could tell the truth, that the marriage had never been consummated. She refused. She had taken vows and she would keep them. She would remain my wife, at least in name, until the day death parted us. Again I considered putting my revolver to my head and pulling the trigger. But I could not do that to her. I had destroyed her life; I had committed the worst offence a man can commit, I could not bring further shame on her by ending my own life - not even to free her.
Thus we went on day after day after day, with us locked in a loveless marriage. In many ways our life together wasn't that different from other married Victorian gentlemen and ladies; our lives were separate; we dined together, we spent a polite hour or two in one another's company where we talked of the weather and books and very little else. The strain was beginning to tell on both of us, but I could see no end to it.
The days went by, each as endless as the one before and I have no doubt that is what they would have gone on doing. And then came the evening she knocked on my bedroom door as I was dressing for dinner. I felt I was respectable enough, having already put on my shirt and trousers, so I invited her to come in. She was faintly flushed and her eyes sparkled in a way I remembered them doing when I first met her all those years ago. She looked younger and relaxed and happy - happy in a way I had never seen her. And I dared to hope that my wish had come true.
You see I had long hoped that she would take a lover; that she would find some happiness and love; happiness and love which I could not give her. I may not have loved her as a husband should love his wife, but I cared about her; I wanted her to be happy - and she was never going to be happy tied to me. I am quite certain this is a shameful thing for a husband to wish for for his wife, but what was one more shameful thing when added to the number of shameful things I had done in my life?
"Harry," she said, even her voice was different, putting her hand on my arm; it was the first physical connection between us since the final night I attempted and failed to be a husband to her. And she told me and as she told me I smiled, I even, when my leg made its objection to me standing for so long, pulled her down to sit on my bed next to me and took her hand. I think at that moment I loved her more than I ever had. She had indeed met someone, someone who made her happy, made her laugh, made her smile, someone she loved, someone who could do what I could not.
Again I offered to let her divorce me; again I vowed she could walk away from the marriage as the innocent party; I would take the full blame - she only had to tell me what it was she wished me to admit to. But again she refused; and then she became less animated as she told me the man she loved, the man who loved her, had a wife who was in an asylum - a wife he could not divorce. The tears shone in her eyes where joy had shone only moments before and I took her in my arms and let her cry on my shoulder for several minutes, telling her it would be all right. And as I did, I went back to my school days when I was the one being comforted and Raffles the one comforting me, the one who held me as I cried on his shoulder whilst he told me it would be all right.
And so things went back to how they had been, the exception being she was out of the house much more often. I always knew when she had seen him as opposed to one of her female friends or acquaintances, because she was alive and quite, quite different. I ached for her; I wanted her to be happy - but there was nothing I could do. At least she and her lover were happy when they were together; at least she had a future, surely his wife could not go on living for much longer. What had I sunk to? Here I was a man who wanted his own wife to take a lover and a man who wished for the death of another man's wife; could I be any more despicable?
The days went by, each as endless as the one before and I have no doubt that is what they would have gone on doing. And then came the day she told me two things: her lover's wife had died and she was expecting his child. And once again it seemed that divorce was impossible due to her being pregnant - as if we were to part no doubt people would know she had been unfaithful to me.
It was a dreadful situation and one I realised only I could resolve. I could not put my gun to my head, I could not end my life by my own hand, but I could do something. Typhoid had parts of London in its grip; people were dying from it every day, why should I not be one of those people? That way she would have the house and the money and in time she and her lover could be together. It would not be seen as unusual or unexplainable for a widow with a child to marry again. My death would have a purpose and make everyone involved happy.
The doctors tried to prevent her from visiting my bedside due to her condition; I could have told them they were wasting their time. Thus dressed in a surgeon's operating gown and mask and wearing gloves, every inch of her covered apart from her eyes she came to see me. I am quite certain the hospital staff believed a loving, devoted couple were bidding one another goodbye. Whereas -
Whispering his name I left behind the life I had known, quite certain I would be reunited with him once again.
"Bunny!" he cried, walking towards me with his arms held out. I hastened into them and he closed them around me, pulling me tightly against him where he held me for a moment or two before he pushed me back just far enough to allow him to lower his head and kiss me. There we stood, wrapped in one another's arms, kissing and not one of those who were around us took any notice.
Finally we broke apart, but still he kept me in a loose embrace. "Bunny," he murmured, "my own, dear, sweet Bunny. You're here."
"Raffles." His name was all I could say as I gazed up at him with adoration clear on my face. And then something struck me; it was wrong. "Raffles?" I ventured as I moved back just a little more to really look at him. How could it be? Where was the man in his thirties with dyed hair? Or even the man with premature white hair? Or the man in evening dress with jet black curls? Or even the boy I'd said goodbye to for the final time when he had left the school and my heart had broken? But he was none of those; instead the person who stood in front of me was a young man of about twenty-two, dressed in cricketing whites and a Cambridge blazer and tie. "Raffles?" I whispered, raising my hand to touch first his cheek and then his hair.
He gazed down at me with his fond expression and took one arm from around me to brush my fringe back from my forehead. "Bunny," he said his tone low and indulgent. "Do you not remember the train crash?"
As I stood in his half-embrace enjoying the feeling as he slid his hand into my hair and began to stroke my scalp and play with my hair as he used to do whilst we were at school, it all came flooding back to me. The train crash; of course I remembered.
How anyone could have believed that Raffles and I lost touch after he left the school, I do not know; how could I have thought it? We spent most of his final day at the school in one another's arms kissing and telling one another how much we'd miss each other. Raffles had kissed me for the first time when we'd returned from the Christmas hols during my time in the third year, and whilst he had never done another other than kiss me, we had kissed many times during his time at the school.
Although I was sad I would not be seeing him again when I returned in September he had already given me his solemn promise that he would write to me each week and would return on Founder's Day to see me. And he kept his promise. For three years he wrote to me every week, sometimes more than once a week and as time went on the letters became more and more 'interesting'. I dread to think what a master might have thought had he discovered them. Raffles made it perfectly clear what he intended to do to me once I had left the school for the final time. It made me blush and tremble with anticipation to think about it.
He did return to the school each year and his kisses became more and more demanding and intimate. When I became a sixth former and had my own study, I begged him to take me to bed then, saying I was more than old enough for his touches - but he refused. He had vowed not to touch me in any way beyond that of friendship until I was no longer a school boy, and it was a promise he intended to keep. My attempts at touching him were met simply by him using his greater strength to still my hands; I had to be content with his kisses and a promise of what would happen when I left the school.
He was due to leave Cambridge the same summer as I would say a final goodbye to the place that had been my second home for five years and he invited me to his final cricket match, to be played against and at Oxford, telling me he wished me to travel with him and the rest of the eleven.
My parents gave their permission for me to attend the match and so the day before the team were due to travel to Oxford I arrived at the station where he met me a smile on his face and his arms held out to me. As he pulled him into a close embrace I thought for a fleeting moment he was going to kiss me there on the platform in full view of many. So desperate for his kiss and for his touch I was almost disappointed when he didn't kiss me. Instead he took my case from me, put his arm around my shoulders as he always used to do when we were at school, and side by side we made out way to the university.
"Well here we are, my dear Bunny," he said as he led me into the grounds. "I shall give you a tour later, however, for now . . ." And look in his eyes as he turned to look down at me, made me feel simultaneously hot and cold and my throat became dry. To my embarrassment given we were amongst other young men, I felt part of my body begin to react to his look, his tone and the way he now held my hand in his. I swallowed hard and just gazed at him, blushing as he took his eyes from my face and let them travel up and down my body coming to rest just below my waist.
"Raffles," I managed my voice husky as I had to fight the urge to grab him and kiss him. I actually doubted anyone would pay us any attention as from what I could see out of the corner of my eye as I stood frozen to the spot, held captive by him, all the other young men were wrapped up in one another. "Please," I managed, moistening my bottom lip.
"Please what, Bunny," he said, moving a little nearer to me and letting go of my hand to brush the hair back from my forehead. I actually whimpered and blushed at the noise I made; he merely smiled.
"Take me to your room now," I said forcefully, grabbing his hand. "Or . . ." I trailed off and just looked at him.
He raised his eyebrows, "Or?" he asked his tone silky as his gaze once again travelled down my body.
I swallowed and wondered if he was actually going to call my bluff. "Or . . . Or you might regret it," I said knowing how inadequate my words were.
He smiled. "Ah, Bunny," he squeezed my hand. "It might even be worth it. But, no my darling rabbit, rest assured I wouldn't embarrass you like that. Come along, I shall indeed take you to my room." And with my hand still in his, he led me across the quad, into a building, up a flight of stairs and then another and then a third until he came to stop outside a door. He pulled a key from his pocket, unlocked the door, opened it, waved me inside and followed me in, he paused long enough to close and lock the door and drop my case onto the floor and then I was in his arms, my back pressed against the door and his mouth was on mine as his body pressed right against mine, letting me feel his clear desire for me.
Finally he took his mouth from mine and just gazed at me. "Oh, Bunny," he whispered, "I have missed you so much." And before I could reply to him, his mouth was on mine again and he tangled one hand in my hair and held me possessively.
I do not know how long we stood kissing until he finally linked his fingers with mine and led me further into his rooms, I barely had a chance to look at them as he led me through what I guessed must be his study into what had to be his bedroom. He closed the door and leant against it as he looked at me. "Well, Bunny," he said gazing at me with more affection that I had seen on his face, "are you quite certain you wish me to take you to bed?"
I swallowed and stared at him. "Raffles," I whispered, moving towards him and taking his hand. "I've been quite certain I wanted you to take me to you bed from the first time you kissed me, if not before that. Now, please, make me yours."
He cupped my cheeks between his hands. "My dearest, most beloved Bunny, you have always been mine and you always will be mine." And he lowered his head and once again kissed me.
This time when he broke the kiss he took my hand again and led me to his bed. He put his hands on my shoulders and gazed down at me. "I love you, Bunny," he said softly. "I always have. We'll never be parted again, Bunny, of that I promise you." And before I could respond, before I could tell him how much I loved him, his hands began to undress me and his lips were on my throat and I was incapable of saying anything just as I was incapable of doing anything other than cling to him and fight my body's desire to release even before he touched me in an intimate way.
With my clothes scattered around me and only my drawers remaining he stepped back from me and looked down at me. "Bunny, I do not believe in having to know everyone about a person's past but I do need to ask you one question," he paused and I waited, quivering under his steady gaze and his touch. "Have you touched or been touched by anyone before?"
I shook my head. "No, Raffles," I said. "I've always been yours."
With a smile and a brief but sweet kiss, he pushed my drawers down and gently encouraged me to lie down on his bed. As he stripped, at some speed, his gaze never once left my body; I knew I was blushing as he stared at me, looking at me in a way no one had ever looked at me.
Once he was completely unclothed he knelt on the bed for a moment and touched my cheek. "I am so glad you haven't lost your ability to blush so prettily," he said, which of course made me blush even more and he smiled. He settled down next to me, put his arms around me and once more put his mouth on mine as one hand began to move down my body until it came to rest on my now painfully hard and heated hardness.
To my abject embarrassment as soon as his fingers touched me and his hand closed around me, my body reacted and released into his hand. "Raffles!" I cried as my body shook and trembled with the fierceness of my release. "Oh, Raffles, I love you so. I always have."
He pushed himself up on one elbow and gazed at me and I saw him swallow hard as he lightly kissed my lips. "I know, Bunny; I've always known." And his hands began to caress and stroke my body until I was quivering and moaning softly as again I started to harden and feelings I had never known, never thought I'd know, raced through my body. It was with his name on my lips that I released again into his experienced hand.
I laid trembling in his embrace, tears of happiness damp on my cheeks as he held me and soothed me, just as he'd always held and soothed me when I'd cried and I clung to him, knowing that I could never be apart from him again; knowing that I had to spend the rest of my life and beyond that with him.
Finally when I ceased to quiver and my heart rate calmed down, the knowledge that I had done nothing to him hit me. I smiled up at him and shifted on the bed, about to turn over, but he caught me. "What are you doing, Bunny?" he asked his tone soft as he caressed my cheek with his fingertip.
I blushed again but said, "Don't you want to . . ." And again I tried to turn over.
However, he held me firmly and pushed my back down onto the mattress. "No, Bunny," he said, "I do not want that from you yet."
"But, Raffles? I thought . . . Well, you know."
He laughed softly. "Yes, Bunny, I know. But that isn't what I want from you now."
"What do you want then?"
He took my hand and put it on his lower body and I moaned quietly as I felt him for the first time. My hand was shaking slightly as I began to touch him and to my relief he made a noise of clear pleasure as I closed my hand around him and began to stroke him as he'd done to me. "Bunny!" he gasped, "oh, my very own, sweet Bunny," and his body found its release.
We stayed in his room, in his bed for quite some time, touching, kissing and making love as he began to teach me things that could not be found in any book. Finally he glanced at the clock and suggested we should bathe before supper, saying he'd show me around the university as well.
A shared bath led to hands and lips meeting and as such by the time we were dressing in his rooms, he declared the tour would have to wait until after supper. With my hand in his he led me back out into the grounds and we began to walk in the same direction as other young men. I looked around me and was somewhat surprised that not only were the young men holding hands or walking with linked arms or arms around shoulders or backs, some were actually kissing. I glanced at Raffles and he just shrugged and smiled down at me.
In the dining hall he introduced me to a few of the eleven saying simply I was his friend from school. No one seemed particularly interested in who I was, but nor did I feel ignored or dismissed; I was simply there with A. J. Raffles; that's all they needed to know.
After a very good meal, he led me back out into the quad and this time with his arm around my shoulders he indeed gave me the promised tour before taking me back to his rooms. He threw himself down into a chair and the next second had pulled me down onto his lap as he had done so often during our two years together at school and just as he'd done many times then he tangled one hand in my hair and pulled my head down and kissed me. The only difference between then and now was that his other hand wandered up my thighs until it found the hardness that was once again pressed against my trousers and long, talented fingers which I had spent many hours watching do puzzling and wonderful things to cricket balls, unbuttoned my trousers and found their way inside my drawers.
Some time later we were once again in his bed and he'd bent me fully to his will on more than one occasion and I was limp and trembling slightly as I gazed at him. "Raffles," I whispered, putting my hand on his face.
"Yes, my dear Bunny."
"Please," I said softly. "Please, Raffles, I want you to . . . I want you to so badly."
He stroked my cheek. "It will hurt, Bunny."
"I don’t care, Raffles. I want it."
He stared at me. "Do you really, Bunny? Or is it just because you believe it is what I want?"
"Don't you?" I hated the fact that my voice quivered slightly.
"Of course I do, my sweet rabbit. But I don't want to hurt you and I fear I will."
Despite my ability with words, I couldn't find them to tell him how little the idea of pain, even though I'd always hated it and never coped with it well, troubled me and how much I wanted him to do the ultimate thing to me. All I could do as gaze up at him and plead with my eyes as I said simply, "Please, Raffles."
He stared down at me and I saw a troubled look pass through his eyes and for a moment I truly believed he'd refuse me. And I knew then if he did, I would not, I could not ask again. He brushed my hair back yet again from my forehead and stroked my cheek, before he put his lips on mine for a brief moment.
"Very well, my dear Bunny," he said his tone soft. "It clearly means so much to you. I shall do as you wish." In his elegant way he got off the bed and crossed to where his cricket bag open and half-packed sat on his dresser and pulled a bottle from it. He came back to the bed, put the bottle on the bedside table and knelt down next to me, letting his fingertips flirt with my partial hardness for a moment, before he gently encouraged me to turn over. "I shall do my best to hurt you as little as possible, Bunny, but no matter what I do, it will hurt."
And it did. It hurt more than I had imagined it would hurt. I know he did his best; he certainly spent a long time doing things that made me blush but also moan with pleasure, but finally when he poured oil from the bottle on the table, oiled himself and entered me, I really thought I might pass out from the pain. He murmured things to me, words of love and reassurance, trying to calm and relax me. Finally when I thought I could not bear it and I'd have to tell him to stop, he began to quote my own poetry to me - verses I had not believed he'd ever read - and somehow I managed to stand the burning pain.
Afterwards he held me, kissed away my tears and told me again how much he loved me and how we would not be apart again. Yes, it had hurt, but I felt I now truly belonged to him and with his lips on mine and his arms around me holding me possessively and protectively I fell asleep.
The following day was a beautiful day, almost too beautiful to be travelling by train to Oxford. I rather wished we weren't going and Raffles and I could spend the day doing whatever we wished - and from the look on his face as he looked out of the window as he dressed in his cricket whites and blazer I believe he may have felt the same.
We were a little late getting to the dining hall for breakfast mainly because once Raffles started to kiss me he seemed unable to stop. Given the looks we got when we walked into the hall, Raffles's arm firmly around my shoulders, and the only half-heard comments, it was clear everyone knew exactly what we'd been doing. I tried hard not to blush, but failed, I always did blush easily. Raffles, of course, was untroubled and merely laughed as he took his seat and pulled me down next to him.
He made no effort at all to hide our relationship, but then the other young men who were clearly involved weren't hiding it either. I felt a little discomforted by how obvious he was making it, not that I believed what we had done was wrong (even though it was illegal) but just because I have always been more reticent than he, and also because I was in effect an outsider and much younger than the other young men who held hands or wrapped their arms around one another.
Of course I said nothing to Raffles, but I didn't have to; he had always seemed to know what I was thinking or feeling and that hadn't changed in the three years we'd been apart. "Relax, my rabbit," he said, putting his lips to my ear which made me tremble slightly with desire for him. "No one here minds," he added.
I turned to look at him and smiled; I was quite certain my face was betraying my devotion, love, affection and the fact that I was still in awe of him, but I didn't really care. I'd never tried to hide it when we were at school, so why should I be bothered now?
"If you wish me to stop touching you unless we are alone, you only have to say so," he said softly, now moving away from me a little.
But I didn't; the truth was I never wanted him to stop touching me. I never had wanted him to stop touching me. So I simply smiled and shook my head and then with a rare burst of pluck said as quietly as he had, "Could you?"
He laughed quite loudly and several of the young men seated around us, turned and looked at him for a moment before turning back to their breakfast. "Do you know, Bunny, I really don't know - but I honestly don't believe I could."
I swallowed very hard at the look in his eyes and I swear it took me all my time not to grab his hand and drag him out of the dining hall and back to his room. We had made love several times the previous day, but it hadn't been enough, I wanted him again. I wanted to be back in his arms, with his mouth on mine and his hands - As my body began to react to my thoughts, I swallowed again and forced my mind to think of something other than being unclothed with him and his hands and mouth doing wonderful things to my body. I shifted on my seat as I began to feel quite uncomfortable.
I saw him glance at me and saw his gaze travel down my body and his eyes widened slightly. He once again leant towards me and put his lips on my ear, I had to bite my lip to prevent myself from groaning with need and desire. "Later, my rabbit," he murmured.
Later wasn't what I wanted; I wanted now. But that was impossible. I couldn't stand up and even if I could and we left it would be completely clear as to what we were about to do. So I bit my lip and shifted slightly again and forced myself to concentrate on my breakfast.
We returned to his rooms to collect our luggage for the journey; as soon as he'd closed the door it was I who grabbed him and kissed him, pulling him against me as my body responded to his nearness. "Touch me, Raffles, please," I begged him as I took my mouth from his and pulled his hand to where I wanted it.
"We haven't much time, my rabbit," he murmured, but his long fingers were already unbuttoning my trousers and his mouth was back on mine. We didn't need much time and far too quickly for my liking I was crying his name, my head now buried against his shoulder, as my body found its release into his hand.
My slight unease returned once we were on the train as I was the only non-Cambridge, non-cricket playing young man in the carriage. The talk was, naturally, about the upcoming match and what chance Cambridge had against Oxford. Although he joined in the conversation, Raffles's hand still managed to find my shoulder or my knee and at one point he turned to me and as he'd done so many times brushed my hair back from my forehead.
"A. J.," a young man called Bishop said, with a laugh in his voice, "can't you keep your hands off him?"
Suddenly everyone in the carriage fell silent and all eyes turned to look at Raffles and me. Raffles turned his attention to me, smiled, shrugged, turned back to the others and said his tone light as he took my hand, "As matter of fact, I do not believe I can. But Bunny doesn't mind, do you, Bunny?"
Now all eyes turned to look at me and I knew I was flushed as I swallowed and said, trying to match Raffles's light tone, "No, I don't mind at all." And I turned to gaze at Raffles.
To my amazement everyone in the carriage clapped and laughed and from that moment on I didn't feel as if I was out of place - I had clearly said the right thing.
We reached Oxford to discover a shortage of rooms. "It's all right," Bishop said to the harassed young man who was trying to sort the accommodation out. "A. J. here and his rabbit only need one room - well one bed."
I glanced swiftly at Raffles, trying to gauge his reaction; he looked perfectly relaxed and was smiling as he leant against the wall. But I could see a very faint hint of disapproval in his eyes as he stared at Bishop - although I was uncertain as to whether the disproval was because of Bishop's comment about us only needing one bed, or because he had referred to me as Raffles's rabbit, he'd never liked anyone but he using that term when we'd been at school; I looked back at the young man who was trying to sort the rooms out and wondered what his response would be.
To my surprise and relief, he smiled and said, "Really? Well thank goodness for that." And then he called, "Anyone else willing to share?" Everyone laughed and I again looked at Raffles and was pleased to see the faint hint of displeasure had faded from his eyes.
The Oxford eleven were very hospitable and we enjoyed a very good dinner the night before the match. Raffles proved what he'd said about not being able to keep his hands off me to be true, as apart from when he was eating and of course playing cricket the following day, he didn't keep his hands off me.
I have watched Raffles play cricket many times, but I hadn't seen him play since he'd left school and to my maybe biased eyes he was even better than he had been when he'd captained the school eleven. I won't go as far as saying he single-handedly won the match, but he was the most successful player when batting, bowling and fielding - for either side.
The day after the match, several of the Oxford eleven came to wave us off as we travelled back to Cambridge and more than one of them commented that they were glad Raffles was leaving University that summer as maybe they'd have a chance to win the match the following year.
I was tired but perfectly content to be by Raffles's side as he sat next to one another, his hand on my arm. "Your parents will agree to you moving to London with me, will they not?" he asked, lighting two cigarettes and passing one to me.
I took it. "I'm not sure, Raffles," I said with a sigh.
He frowned. "Well, I shall just have to come home with you and persuade them then, won't I?"
I beamed at him; if anyone could persuade them it would be he. "What will I do in London?" I asked. "Raffles!" I exclaimed several seconds later as I felt my cheeks flush from the look he'd given me.
He laughed and patted my knee. "I'm sorry, my rabbit, it's just that I do like to see you blush, you do it so very prettily." Of course that made me blush even more. "You do not have to 'do' anything, Bunny, other than spend your time with me. I have more than enough money to support us both no matter how extravagant a life-style we enjoy. However, if you feel you wish to do something, then I should tell you I sent some examples of your writing to an old friend of my father's and he was very impressed."
"You didn't tell me," I said, staring at him.
He shrugged. "I didn't like to in case he did not deem your work as worthy as I do. I wanted to be sure I wasn't being biased and blinded by my love for you. But apparently I was not biased. He couldn't offer permanent work nor indeed would it pay much, but it would be something and I know you enjoy writing."
I smiled at him. "Thank you, Raffles," I said, deeply touched by what he had done.
He shrugged and stubbed out his cigarette before putting his head near to mine. "I told you, my dear Bunny, we shall not be apart again," and he took my hand.
I was about to reply to him when the squeal of brakes almost deafened me and the carriage began to shudder violently. "Bunny!" he called and dragged me from the seat onto the floor where he covered me with his body.
"I'm afraid there really isn't any chance, Mr. and Mrs. Manders. Your son's injuries are too severe; I am very sorry."
"How long has he got?" I heard my father ask.
"It's difficult to say; it could be days or weeks or even months."
"Is there really nothing you can do, Doctor?" Mother's voice was full of tears.
"I am sorry, Mrs. Manders. I wish I there was something, but there isn't."
"So Arthur gave his life for nothing," Mother said quietly. "Harry's older friend, Arthur Raffles, a cricketer, he'd invited Harry to attend his final university cricket match. They were at school together and kept in touch after Arthur left. He - oh, do please forgive me, Doctor, you do not wish to hear my rambles."
"It's quite all right, Mrs. Manders."
And then I heard nothing until I heard myself whisper, "Raffles," and Mother's sobs drowned out Father's attempts to comfort her.
"So none of it was real," I said quietly, as I looked up at Raffles. He was sitting on the ground, his back against a tree and I was lying with my head in his lap, we both held a cigarette and he was playing with my hair with the hand not holding the cigarette.
"What wasn't real, my rabbit?" he asked, his eyes soft as he looked down at me.
And I told him.
I told him everything from the first night I went to his rooms and he saved me from gaol and disgrace to the final moments when I lay injured and he died by my side.
"None of it was real," I repeated finally coming to a halt as I gazed up at him. He was staring at me, eyes wide his mouth very slightly parted and as I fell silent he shook his head. "Raffles?" I said quietly, catching his hand, somewhat troubled by the look on his face. "What's the matter?"
"So let me see if I have this correct: In this world of yours, in this world you made up as you lay dying, I walked away from you after two years of close friendship and never contacted you in any way. Then after ten years you wrote to me and I invited you to visit me. I then dragged you into a life of crime and in effect bound you to me. And then I left you to your fate and a certain gaol sentence and escaped a gaol sentence myself and let you believe I was dead. Some time later I returned to England, posing as an invalid and found you again, this time employing you as my male attendant. Some time later I once again I let you believe I was dead when I faked my own death to escape from a woman who wished to in effect imprison me. And finally I dragged you off to fight in a war and refused to take enough care and forced you to watch me die. And even after all that you still loved me? Bunny, what can I say?"
"You didn't mean me to find out about the second death," I said, sitting up and taking his hand.
"And that makes all the difference, does it, Bunny?"
"Raffles, you've only focussed on the . . . Negative things," I said softly, putting my hand on his face.
"And pray were there any positive ones?" he asked.
"Yes! We were together. You loved me; you protected me; you could easily have left me to my fate on more than one occasion, but each time you came back for me, each time you rescued me. You even fought for me," I said. "You never ceased to show me how much you cared about me, how important I was to you. I loved you, Raffles. I loved you there; I love you here. I loved you from the day I met you and I'll always love you."
He was still staring at me, but now his face had relaxed and the strange look I'd seen after I'd told him what I had imagined my life to have been had gone and his tone was no longer pained. "Well, Bunny my boy," he finally said squeezing my hand. "I always said you had a fine imagination, but this excels anything even I could have dreamt of."
"How long was it, Raffles? How long after the train crash did I . . . Did I die?"
"Time is a little different here, Bunny. But I believe it was about six months," he paused and I could see him thinking. "Yes, it was six months."
"You waited for me for six months?"
He smiled and leant forward to brush his lips over mine. "Bunny my darling rabbit, I would have waited for six year, for sixty years. I told you seconds before the train crash we would never be apart again. And I meant it. We shall never be parted."
I smiled at him and lay back down, tugging his arm until he lay next to me. "So we never committed all those burglaries," I said softly.
He laughed gently. "No, my rabbit. We only ever committed but one crime in the other world and that is not a crime here." And his mouth met mine as his fingers began to unbutton my trousers.