AUTHOR: Nikki Harrington
FANDOM: Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman
PAIRING: A. J. Raffles/Harry 'Bunny' Manders
SUB-GENRE: Established Relationship. Supernatural.
SUMMARY: Set in the twentieth century. Harry's wife tells a surprising story.
WORD COUNT: 4,075
WARNING: Major character death.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The narrator for this story is not Bunny.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
My name is - No, my name doesn't matter. What matters is I was once married to Harry Manders and I killed him.
Harry and I met at Cambridge where we were both reading English. It was, as the romance books say, love at first sight and we were married at the end of our first year. I would like to be able to say that we were struggling students who lived in a one room bedsit and ate baked beans out of the can six nights out of seven and had to cuddle together to keep warm as we couldn't pay the heating bills.
It would, however, be a lie. My parents died when I was five and left their entire fortune to me which became mine when I was eighteen. Thus, Harry and I had a very easy life, a nice flat and we both sailed through university without a care in the world. We did not have to worry about trying to balance our studies with a working life and a social life as neither of us needed a job. I sometimes felt a little guilty when I'd see just how hard some of our friends had to work, how they lacked sleep and were constantly trying to balance their finances.
However, there was nothing I could have done about it. Taking a job wouldn't have helped anyone; in fact all it would have done would be to deprive someone of a job who really needed it. Harry and I never flaunted what we had, but it was hard to completely hide how easy life was for us. At the end of four blissful years we both left with first class degrees and settled down to what would hopefully be successful careers as writers. Personally I had no doubt we would both achieve success - and we did.
Harry was a far better writer than I, but it was I who was published first and whose books sold far more than Harry's. Harry was a much more intellectual writer than I, not that he lectured people in his books or bored them, he didn't - and that isn't just me blinded by my love for him speaking. But his books appealed to fewer people than mine did. I wrote romance, apparently intelligent romance, but nonetheless it was romance and it sold.
Occasionally Harry would feel guilty that it was my money which was supporting us, paying most of the bills, paying for meals out, first class flights, holidays, wine, DVDs, books, etc. However, I dismissed his concerns; he was my husband; what was mine was his.
Everything was going so well, so very well; we were a golden couple. We'd even talked about children; Harry knew he wanted them, I wasn't quite so certain. You see, I'm selfish; I enjoyed our lifestyle and I enjoyed Harry's attention - a child would change that. So we agreed to wait a few more years, we were both young, deeply in love, happy and healthy - we had our whole lives ahead of us and the world was there for us. What did a few more years matter? A few more years of just being with one another - then we could add a child or two or three. Nothing could go wrong, we were charmed.
However, then the day came when everything changed. Maybe we were too happy, too much in love, too selfish, too much the golden couple, too lucky, had too much money, were too well liked, had too much of an easy life. Maybe those things always come with a price and maybe it was our turn to pay the price. Whatever it was we paid - and it was a debt that will never end; a debt for which there can never be a final payment.
Harry contracted meningitis and for a time I really believed I would lose him. Of course he had the best care money could buy - but illness such as meningitis don't understand money. However, he did recover and he came home to me. But he was a changed man. At first I didn't really notice it, I just put his quietness, the way he seemed to move more carefully, the strange way he'd look at me at times down to being drained following his brush with death. I even saw it as him realising life wasn't as easy as we'd always thought it was - certainly his illness had made me take stock, made me realise how short life really is, made me aware not to put things off until tomorrow, made me more grateful of what we had.
Then I came home from a book signing evening and the smell of cigarette smoke hit me as I walked through the front door. Now both Harry and I had smoked socially whilst at Cambridge during the first two years, but we had both given it up and like many ex-smokers we became the worst kind of non-smoker and we both hated the scent. I could only presume one of our still smoking friends was visiting and Harry hadn't liked to tell them they couldn't smoke inside, even though we had agreed that smoking would not be allowed in our home.
I removed my coat and forced a smile on my face as I headed towards the sitting room; I was determined not to be angry with Harry, not to show him how displeased I was. I was still not certain he had recovered fully from the meningitis, indeed I had decided to suggest, insist even, that he visit the doctor just to have another check-up.
You can imagine my surprise when I pushed open the door to find him alone, a cigarette in his hand and many spent ones in an ashtray that stood on the table next to his chair. He had a glass of whisky (a drink he never drank, indeed the only reason there was any in the house was that I drank it) by his side.
He looked up as I opened the door, a smile on his lips that instantly faded and he looked puzzled. The next moment that look faded and he smiled again and held out his hand to me. I paused for only a second before I hurried across the room and took his hand. I didn't say anything about the cigarettes or the whisky, but I began to watch him a little more carefully and I began to worry about him.
A few days later he returned home eager to show me some new clothes he had bought. To my amazement they were a Victorian gentleman's evening dress, complete with a shirt that needed studs and cuff-links and a top hat.
As the days and weeks followed more Victorian clothing found its way into our house and every day he dressed as a gentleman of that time would dress and every evening he would change into evening dress before we ate our evening meal, even those we had on trays in front of the television. He continued to smoke and to drink whisky and I continued to worry about him.
Then he started to go out at nights, always dressed in his Victorian evening dress, returning home in the early hours of the morning smelling of whisky and cigarettes. One evening I was trying to watch a film when the doorbell rang. It was our nearest neighbour and Harry was by his side. The man was angry and I soon learnt that he had caught Harry in the bedroom his hands in our neighbour's wife's jewellery box and in his pocket had been a diamond necklace.
I was shocked, but thankfully not too shocked to in effect pay the man off - money really can buy anything. I told him that Harry was still suffering the after effects of the meningitis that nearly took his life. I played it up, making it even more serious than it had been, and finally the man agreed he would not inform the police as after all nothing had been taken and he left to go home to his wife.
I could no longer just sit and wait and ignore what was going on. I challenged Harry asking him what he'd thought he was doing and his answer stunned me into silence. He told me someone called Raffles had planned to burgle the house; however at the last minute he had been called up for the second test and Harry had persuaded Raffles to let him go in his place. He told me how he had let Raffles down and he really was the rabbit Raffles called him. I was so stunned I fell silent and it was only the sound of the front door closing that led to realise he'd gone out again.
I grabbed a coat and my handbag and followed him to a Victorian era café where he was seated in a corner talking to - no one! Taking care not to let him see me, I went to the counter and after more money had changed hands I learnt that he came here most evenings, sat in the same booth and talked to - no one.
Still ensuring he did not see me, not that he had eyes for anyone or anything other than the seat opposite him, I moved a little closer to him to see if I could hear what he was saying and to whom he was saying it. I heard him speak the name 'Raffles' and I heard him say, his tone one of disappointment and shame, 'I knew you wouldn't trust me'. It was only when I found myself wondering how this Raffles could he here when he was meant to be playing cricket in a test match that wasn't happening that I shook myself and knew I had to do something.
The something was to take Harry to a doctor who spent time talking with Harry and then recommended that Harry spend some time in a small, private facility for people who had his kind of problem. Not once were the words 'mental illness' mentioned. I asked if the problem could have been caused by the meningitis, but the doctor was non-committal. He discreetly ascertained whether I had the funds to pay for this facility and when he learnt I had he made a phone call. Knowing it was what I had to do, no matter how much I hated the idea, I drove Harry there and left him. He seemed perfectly happy in the rooms that had been assigned to him; he would have the best of everything - if you have enough money, you really can buy anything.
I cried during the drive home, I cried as I drank far too much whisky, I cried myself to sleep and woke up crying. Somehow I forced the tears to stop as I had a lunch meeting with my editor, something I could not get out of and in truth I didn't wish to get out of it - somehow I had to find a degree of normality onto which I could cling.
I kept the smile on my face throughout lunch and it stayed there as I visited Harry. He looked puzzled when I went into his rooms as if he no longer knew me, but the look faded and he greeted me politely, in a the way a Victorian gentleman would greet a lady. In less than twenty-four hours he had slipped even further away from me and I believe I knew then that there was no way back. Harry Manders was not coming back to me. I had lost him.
Harry had a laptop which I had taken to the facility with me, thinking he may still wish to write. Late one afternoon whilst he was taking a bath - he refused to shower, he would only bathe, I found myself looking through the files on the laptop. To my surprise I found books he had written, but they weren't his usual type. Not at all. They were short stories and were about a Victorian gentleman burglar called Arthur Raffles who was occasionally known as 'A. J.', who played cricket for Middlesex and England and his younger friend and partner in crime Harry Manders, whom Raffles, but no one else, called 'Bunny'.
I quickly read the first few short stories and soon learnt Raffles and Bunny had been at school together where Bunny had fagged for Raffles, clearly idolised him and they had been tremendously close. And despite ten years having passed between Raffles leaving the school and Bunny going to his rooms at the Albany, their relationship was extremely intimate and the feelings between them were incredibly strong. Even given the era and the fact that gentlemen did walk around arm-in-arm and use terms like 'my dear' and touched a lot more than men of today did and spent far more time with their close gentlemen friends than any lady, their relationship was incredibly intimate - even more so than that of Sherlock Holmes and his Dr. Watson.
As I read on the truth became obvious: Bunny was my Harry and Harry had written these stories about Raffles and himself. Harry believed himself to be Bunny, believed he was a Victorian gentleman cracksman who seemed to live only for A. J. Raffles.
I was still thinking about what I had read when my finger slipped on the touchpad (I've never liked them) and I opened a completely different folder where there appeared to be more stories about Raffles. I gasped aloud when I read the first few lines of the first one I opened, I then shook myself and opened up several more; they were the same as the first: they were stories about Raffles and Bunny in a romantic and sexual relationship. I was agog as I read them; discovering that my Harry (except he wasn't 'my' Harry any more; he was A. J. Raffles's 'Bunny') could write stories like this amazed me.
I read on, fascinated, caught up in the beauty, in the love, in the intimacy, in the world of these two men - and then I discovered Harry had also written stories about them when they had been at school. In some ways these stories were even more intimate and even more beautiful than the stories about them as adult men - and yet they contained for the most part no more than a kiss between the dashingly, handsome, protective, possessive captain of the eleven and his beloved younger rabbit.
I had a flash drive in my handbag and feeling only a little guilty I copied both folders onto it. I wanted to read more about Raffles and Bunny. I wanted to know what happened to them; I wanted to hold on as long as I could to even a small part of Harry.
Nine months went by; I visited Harry once every few weeks. In the first few weeks I'd visited him almost daily, but as time went on and he treated me with a distant politeness that always made me feel he was happier when it was time for me to leave, I decided not to upset him by visiting him so often. I did check his laptop every time I visited and found more new stories, which I always copied to my flash drive and took with me to enjoy once I was at home.
Then came the day that will haunt me for the remainder of my life. The manager of the facility where Harry lived rang me to say that whilst Harry was not exactly unwell, he was listless and very depressed. He told me they were worried about him as this had been going on for a fortnight. I cancelled a lunch meeting with my agent and hurried to his side. As soon as I walked into his room I knew whatever it was that was wrong was serious. He sat just staring into space; he didn't look up when I went in, he didn't answer me when I spoke to him; he just sat, unmoving, un-noticing, seemingly unhearing and unseeing.
I had an overwhelming sense of doom as I turned on his laptop and found the relevant folders. And there in a story entitled Knees Of The Gods, I learnt that A. J. Raffles had died fighting for his country; he'd died as Bunny had laid wounded by his side. Tears filled my eyes and I brushed them away. I was about to cry for a man who didn't exist; a man who was the product of my beloved husband's mind; a man who had stolen my husband from me, just as he'd stolen jewels from other people. I dropped to my knees in front of Harry and took his hand and called him by the name no one but Raffles called him; he ignored me. No, he didn't ignore me, because that would imply he was aware of my presence and he wasn't.
Tears still stinging my eyes, crying now for Harry, for Bunny, as well as for Raffles, I accessed the other folder, found a new story and began to read. This time I couldn't wipe the tears away quickly enough as I soaked one handkerchief and then grabbed the box of tissues that stood by Harry's bed. In this story Raffles was dead and Bunny wanted to join him; but he didn't have the courage to take his own life. He had the means, a large collection of tablets, but he didn't have the courage. No matter that he loved Raffles so much his heart was broken by his death, he didn't have the courage to take the tablets and end his life to be with the man he loved. And he did indeed have the means; quite how he'd collected so many tablets I knew not, but clearly no one had watched him take them after they'd given them to him as they were there in a box in his bedside cabinet.
Through the veil of tears I looked at Harry and knew what I had to do. I quickly wrote another story to follow on from Knees Of The Gods whereby Bunny devastated by the death of his dear friend does what he nearly did in The Ides Of March - the very first story - put a gun to his head. But this time there was no Raffles to stop him; this time he pulled the trigger. Then I left his rooms, told the person on duty that Harry was sleeping and told him that I would return the following day.
A few minutes later I let myself in via the French windows that led from Harry's room to the garden and then I fed Harry the tablets. One by one I fed him the tablets. I talked to him all the time, I don't know what I said, I don't know if he heard me. But as I handed him each tablet he took it and swallowed it until there were only a few left. By now he was lying on the bed, barely conscious, his eyelids flickering, his gaze when his eyes were open on the door. I prayed there were enough tablets to do the job. I prayed to a God I had never believed in to let there be enough tablets.
There was one left and with my hand shaking and my eyes completely free from tears I handed it to him. He put it in his mouth and then before he swallowed his face lit up, there is no other word for it; it lit up. He sat up, how he managed it I know not, and reached out his arms towards the door. "Raffles," he said, and then slumped down onto the bed.
I would swear under oath, I would swear upon my entire fortune that what happened next happened. As I sat by Harry's side, my fingers on his carotid artery confirming what I knew: he was dead, I felt someone brush past me. I smelt a scent that did not come from this era and I felt the brush of a heavy cloak and I heard him speak. "I'm here, Bunny; I'm here, my dear, my own Bunny." And then he'd gone; the old-fashioned scent had gone, the heavy cloak had gone. And I was alone because Harry had gone; no not Harry, Harry had gone long before today. Bunny had gone. And I was alone. I had taken my husband's life - except he hadn't died as my husband, he'd died as A. J. Raffles's lover.
I deleted the folder of the romantic stories from the hard-drive, well aware that it hadn't truly gone. But I dare not wipe the drive completely; the other stories had to be found, especially the one where Bunny puts his revolver to his head and pulls the trigger and I left by the way I'd returned, managing to relock the door after me. I went home, poured myself a large whisky and waited for the tears to come - but they didn't.
The next day I arrived at the home to discover they had been trying to ring me to tell me Harry had been found dead. It didn't take long for the doctor to proclaim he had taken his own life, not after I showed him the final story and those who had been caring for Harry admitted they had been lax in not watching him take his tablets. They also told how Harry had slipped from this era into the Victorian one and how he had truly believed himself to be Bunny whose closest, most intimate friend was A. J. Raffles.
And yes money did change hands - I won't say I bought the doctor and the dreadfully young detective who was assigned to the case, because I didn't. But money does do so much, and doctors and policemen always have 'causes'; a new kidney machine, assistance for the partners and orphans of policemen and women killed on duty and many other things. Thus a week later I wasn't at all surprised when the case was closed and the Coroner's verdict found: 'suicide while the balance of his mind was disturbed'.
That was three months ago and not a day goes by when I do not think about what I did and ask if I did the correct thing and not a day goes by when I know I did. I killed my husband but I did it because I loved him and he was suffering so much. I saw it, I see it still, as an act of mercy; a justifiable killing.
I sent the books about Raffles and Bunny's burgling exploits to my publisher and they will soon appear in print. Not under Harry's name; my publisher suggested a pseudonym and I agreed. I considered changing Harry Manders to something else, but it felt wrong. If people tied in Raffles's Bunny with my Harry then so be it.
I doubt anyone will link the names together; after all often today one isn't aware of the surnames of one friends and those friends from university quite probably never paid attention to Harry's surname. In our relationship I was the more prominent partner. My publisher believes even today there will be a market for these stories and he's even talked about the possibility of a television series - we shall see.
As for the other stories . . . Well I am not all together certain what I shall do with those. I am not sure the world is ready for such a love story. Maybe it will be one day and if that day comes maybe I shall share them. Or maybe I will keep them and be the only person to read them. I have yet to decide.
For now I just hope that Raffles and his Bunny are happy together wherever they are. I have no doubt whatsoever that they are and will be until the end of time itself together in a place where the love they share will not be condemned, where they will not live for fear of imprisonment or worse, where they can show everyone how deeply and lastingly they are in love.