AUTHOR: Nikki Harrington
PAIRING: Arthur 'A. J.' Raffles/Harry 'Bunny' Manders
SUB-GENRE: First Time
SUMMARY: Set during their school days. Bunny overhears something that upsets him greatly. He doesn't want to tell Raffles what has upset him, but Raffles's will prevails. Nonetheless Bunny makes a surprising decision.
WORD COUNT: 9,740
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for caffyolay: C - Cutting Bunny's hair. Caffy, I suspect you may have had in mind a light-hearted, humorous story when you gave me this prompt. Er, well, um, you see that didn't quite happen . . . *Looks sheepish* But it does have your other two favourite boys in it, so hopefully that will make up for it *Looks hopeful*
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time. I do, however, own the original characters.
Head down, my hair over my face, tears burning my eyes I hurried from the lavatories, across the quad, down the walkway and kept going until I came to the peace of the boat houses. Once there I slipped inside the one at the far end and sat down in the furthest corner, pulled my knees up to my breast, wrapped my arms around them, let my head rest on them and began to cry.
As the tears fell from my eyes, soaking in the material of my trousers I realised I knew now why both Mother and my childhood nurse had told me how wrong it was to listen unseen by others and how 'listeners never hear any good of themselves'. But children are curious, well I know I was and I believed myself to be a good boy, and thus I did occasionally listen to my parents when they didn't know I was outside of the door. And the thing was, I did hear good things of myself - which is how I knew I was, compared to many boys of my age, a good little boy.
It wasn't as if I had deliberately listened earlier; I hadn't. I'd been in one of the lavatories when I had heard voices I didn't recognise outside and I'd heard my name and Raffles's and - I tried and failed to stop a sob from escaping me as I once again heard what the boys had said. I put my hands over my ears in a futile attempt to block out the words. It was futile because of course they were in my head; the unknown boys weren't in the boat house with me. They didn't even know I'd heard them as I'd waited, holding back the tears, until I heard them leave before I'd unlocked the door and slipped out.
"Please," I whispered, as once again the words rang in my ears. I didn't want to believe them, I really didn't, but one thing made me quite certain they were true. And yet surely he wouldn't have -
"Hello, Bunny. What on earth are you doing here? The match is about to start."
I jumped at the sound of Raffles's voice. What was he doing here? Why wasn't he already fulfilling his role of captain and safely on the cricket field? The match was the final house match of the year and involved our house - and given we had the top two players from the eleven in our house, both of whom were fully fit, we were expected to win. So why wasn't he there, winning the match for us?
The boat house was fairly dark so I took a chance and quickly dragged the sleeve of my blazer over my eyes and I even risked faking a sneeze and sniffing before I pulled out my handkerchief and blew my nose. "Hello, Raffles," I tried to make my voice sound bright. "What are you doing here?" I asked, staring up at him through the gloom. Dressed as he was in his cricketing whites it was fairly easy to see him, at least the shape of him.
"Looking for you," he said quietly, dropping down onto his heels as he stared at me. "Are you all right, Bunny?" he asked his tone soft as he put his hand on my knee.
I forced myself not to jump and instead said brightly, far too brightly, even I could hear that. "Yes, Raffles."
He was silent for a moment and I could see he was still staring at me. Given my eyes had adjusted to the dimness I imagined his had as well, thus, I let my gaze flicker from his face and looked down at my knees. "Who has upset you, my rabbit?"
He sighed. "Shall we try for three out of three?" he said flatly, his voice low
I glanced up and stared at him. "Raffles?"
For a moment he was silent before saying, his tone still flat and low, "Lies."
I gasped. "I'm not-" I stopped speaking abruptly as I felt my cheeks began to burn with shame. Despite how upset I was, despite how much I desperately wanted him just to go away and not let me go on thinking he cared about me, I was deeply ashamed that I had lied so blatantly to him. "I'm sorry, Raffles," I whispered, once more bending my head over my knees.
He sighed again. "You don't need to apologise, Bunny," he said. "Just tell me what the matter is; who has upset you?" But I shook my head firmly. Once more he sighed before saying his tone almost nonchalant, "Well, then, I shall just have to sit here with you until you decide to tell me, won't I?" And I heard him move and seconds later I felt him sit down next to me.
I raised my head and turned to look at him in astonishment. "But, Raffles, what about the house match?" He just shrugged. "You have to go and play," I said. "You have to. The house will lose if you don't play, won't it?" The thing was that whilst we did have the two best players from the eleven in our house, the remainder of our cricket team wasn't actually that good. Were it not for Raffles and Charleston, we wouldn't have reached the semi finals, let alone the finals. And although they were both brilliant players, it did take both of them being on form and playing to win. If Raffles didn't go back to the field and play . . Well, we had no chance.
He shrugged. "Quite possible, Bunny, yes. Charlie will do his best, but . . ." He shrugged again. "If we lose the match, we lose the match. There are some things more important than a cricket match." I felt my mouth fall open as I just stared wide-eyed at him. He couldn't mean me, could he? No, of course he didn't; I knew he didn't.
I was just about to speak, even though I didn't know what I was going to say, when I saw him turn his head and heard him call out. "Barker, come here."
After a moment or two a fourth form boy crept into the gloom. "Yes, Raffles?" he said, stammering as he looked around him, looking anywhere but at Raffles.
"Run up to the cricket field and tell Charleston I've been delayed, please. Tell him if he wins the toss to bat and if he doesn't to open the bowling himself. Tell him I will be with him as soon as I possibly can, but I have something very important to do."
Barker stood where he was for a moment before saying hastily, "Yes, Raffles." He turned to go.
However, Raffles stopped him. "Oh, and Barker."
"Yes, Raffles?" He turned around.
"Find somewhere else to smoke; another boy just might report you."
Barker stood still and again just stared at Raffles for a moment before turning around again. "Yes, Raffles," he said and hurried out.
I was still staring at Raffles. "But, Raffles, you have to play. You have to."
He shook his head. "No, my dear Bunny, I do not. I told you some things are more important than cricket. I am going to sit here with you until you tell me just what the matter is and who has upset you."
I was still stunned by his words and for a moment I just wanted to do what I had done many times: throw myself into his arms and tell him what the matter was and let him hold me, comfort me, even dry my eyes. But I couldn't. I swallowed hard and said quietly, "Go and play the match, Raffles. Go and win the cup for the house. I'll tell you later - after supper."
He stared at me. "Do you promise me?"
I sighed. "Yes, Raffles," I said suddenly feeling quite exhausted. "I promise you I will tell you."
"That's my good boy," he said ruffling my hair, standing up and offering me his hand to help me to my feet.
I let him pull me up and even let him brush the back of my blazer down for me and lead me to the door of the boat house before saying firmly, "Go." I even dared to push him just a little. But he stayed where he was and I knew what I had to say. "I'll follow you. I promise I'll follow you, Raffles. And I'll watch the match. Now, please, Raffles, go." With him being so much taller, thus having much longer legs than I, as well as being an athlete there was no way I could have kept pace with him; it was far better he ran off and I followed.
"Very well, Bunny, but I shall be watching for you to arrive. And if you don't . . ."
"I will. I promised you, didn't I?"
He ruffled my hair and I had to fight a sob that desperately wanted to escape before he turned and began to run towards the school. "Barker!" I heard him call, "You don't need to deliver my message after all."
Even though I made me way as fast as I could up to the cricket pitch, alternating between walking quickly and jogging, least Raffles once more abandoned the rest of his team mates to find me, the match had already begun by the time I arrived. Raffles in fact was bowling; whether that meant he had lost the toss or not, I didn't know. I guessed he'd told Barker to tell Charleston to bat first if he won the toss in order to give Raffles more time to get to the field to bowl, but that didn't necessarily mean he would have chosen to bat had he won.
As I took my seat next to Ollie it was Charleston who saw me and he hurried over to Raffles and said something to him; I assumed it was to tell him I had arrived safely. Raffles glanced in my direction and smiled before turning his attention back to what he was doing and promptly clean bowled Lewis. I, along with the rest of our house, jumped up and cheered him, before sitting back down next to Ollie.
"Are you all right, Harry?" he asked, once the cheers had died down. I gave him a half-shrug and a half-smile and nodded. He didn't really look convinced. "Raffles was really worried about you," he said after a moment or two.
I felt a warmth pass through me, even though I tried not to let it. "Was he?" I asked, knowing my tone was more eager than it should have been.
He looked at me in a strange way. "Of course he was. You weren't here and he didn't know where you were. He was worried and so was Charleston." Again I gave a half-shrug; I was quite certain that wasn't true. "I offered to go and look for you so Raffles could get on with the match, but he insisted on going himself, just in case . . ." Ollie trailed off. "Where were you, Harry?"
"The boat houses."
Ollie looked at me. "Why? Had someone hurt you? Upset you?" Again I shrugged and also looked away from Ollie, fidgeting a little. "You can tell me, Harry - even if you won't tell Raffles, you can tell me." I felt Ollie's hand on my arm and I looked back at him. He was staring in earnest at me and I was moved by his words.
"I just over-heard something, Ollie," I said carefully. "It wasn't very nice. It upset me."
"Do you want to tell me what you heard?"
I thought for a moment; part of me did want to tell Ollie, if only to hear him telling me I must have misheard the boys - because I knew that is what he would say. But part of me didn't want to have to remember, not that I could forget, what was said. Besides I knew if I spoke the words I'd heard I would almost certainly start to cry, and I certainly didn't want to do that not given we were surrounded by boys off all ages.
Thus I shook my head and said, "Not at the moment, thank you, Ollie. Let's concentrate on the match." And I touched his arm.
Ollie continued to look at me for a moment or two; he then squeezed my arm and said firmly, "Raffles will make it right." And with that he squeezed my arm again and turned back to the match.
I sat rigid, biting my lip, trying to control my breathing, determined not to cry for several minutes, during which Raffles took another wicket, as I forced myself not to tell Ollie that Raffles couldn't possibly make it right as it was Raffles's fault it was wrong.
After another few minutes went by during which Charleston took two swift wickets, I pushed aside what I had heard and allowed myself to get swept up in the match along with the rest of the house, cheering loudly each time a wicket fell. And despite everything my main focus was, as it had been, on Raffles. I spent more time watching him than anyone else who bowled; wherever he was on the field, that's where my attention fell.
Finally, Raffles clean bowled the final boy and flanked by Charleston led the team off the field to the frantic applause and cheers from our house, the subdued applause from the other house and the generous applause from the rest of the school. Between them Raffles and Charleston had taken all ten wickets and all our house had to do was to score one hundred and eleven runs and we'd win.
The weather was perfect, the pitch the best I'd seen it all season, Raffles was relaxed and laughing as he put his arm around Charleston's shoulders, his hair gleamed in the sunlight and he was smiling; he really was the ideal captain. We couldn't lose of that I was sure. As they walked past Ollie and me, Raffles and Charleston both paused and smiled at us, Raffles's gaze lingered on me for a moment or two and held my gaze before with another smile, the personal one he had for me, they continued on their way.
Our house became a little subdued after our opening batsmen both failed to even get into double figures and by the time the third wicket fell I was beginning to wonder if we would after all lose. However, then Charleston took up his place at the crease and sent the first ball bowled to him over the boundary for a six as once more all the boys from our house leapt to our feet and cheered him on.
Ten minutes and two further wickets later Raffles strode out to the crease and sent the first two balls bowled to him along the ground and over the boundary for fours and that was when I knew, I really knew, the match was over. It ended with Raffles and Charleston still at the crease and Charleston ended it in the way he'd started his innings by sending another ball up into the air and over the boundary for a six.
As one the boys of our house rose to their feet and cheered, stamped out feet and applauded so much I was quite sure I wasn't the only boy whose hands were stinging. The players from the losing house politely applauded Raffles and Charleston off the field and moments later once more put their hands together as Raffles, again flanked by Charleston, led our team back onto the field where the headmaster himself handed the house cup to Raffles. Still we applauded; still we cheered; still we smiled and as we did, I caught sight of Dobson standing not that far from where I stood next to Ollie and saw the huge smile that lit up his face and stripped away the almost perpetual frown and glare and actually made him look quite a bit younger as he clapped along with us boys.
Still to the cheers and applause from the entire school (the losing house was actually the least popular in the school) Raffles led the team across the field and through the boys to where Dobson stood. He handed the cup to our house master who shook his hand for quite some time, before clapping him on the back and squeezing his shoulder; he then turned his attention first to Charleston and then the rest of the team, offering each boy a genuine smile and a firm handshake.
It was only when the last boy was inside the pavilion that the cheering and clapping finally died out and then we all began talking to one another, replaying the match, discussing who had been the best player, the wickets, the runs, the biggest surprise, just about everything. All around me I heard Raffles's name repeated and by the time Ollie and I reached the dining hall for supper it was clear that almost without exception every boy thought Raffles had been the best player - which of course he had been.
LATER THAT EVENING
As when Ollie and I left the dining hall, Raffles had still been eating his supper, I didn't immediately go to his study. Instead I went to the dorm where to my surprise I found for the third day running my belongings hadn't been pulled out of my locker and thrown all over the floor and my bed, nor had my bed been messed up. It was indeed a very pleasant surprise not to have to refold everything and remake my bed and I dared to wonder if this state of affairs might continue or if the other boys were just lulling me into a false sense of security.
I sat down on my bed and now that I was no longer surrounded by the chatter and laughter of the other boys my mind went back to earlier in the day, and even though I tried hard not to think about it I once again hear the words I'd heard when I'd been in the lavatory. I forced back the tears that had begun to burn the back of my eyes and tried to concentrate on the fact that for three days I hadn't been ragged or teased by my dorm mates. But even as I sat there my hands clenched tightly around one of the blankets on my bed, I knew that didn't make up for what I had heard. I wished I could unheard it, but I couldn't. No matter what I did, the words would stay with me which meant that all that was good at the school had been taken from me. With a few words overheard I had lost everything.
I brushed away the tears that had escaped with the back of my hand and made a decision. I hurried to my locker, dropped to my knees and rummaged through the contents until I found the pair of nail scissors for which I'd been searching. I put them into my blazer pocket and hurried out of the dorm heading for the facilities the furthest away from the dorm.
They were, as I had expected, empty. I shut the door carefully and hurried over to the one sink that had a cracked mirror over it. I took the scissors from my pocket and then ignoring how badly my hand was shaking I grabbed a lock of my hair, hesitated for a second or two, bit my lower lip and cut the hair, letting it fall into the sink. I had another lock of hair in my hand when the door opened.
"Harry!" Ollie cried, hurrying over to me and before I could say anything or stop him he'd taken the scissors from me. "What are you doing?"
"Cutting my hair," I said.
"But why? he asked; he stared at me as if I was quite mad; maybe I was. I shrugged and said nothing. He looked genuinely concerned about me and for a moment I felt guilty; it wasn't Ollie's fault. He put the scissors into his own blazer pocket and took my arm, "Come on, Harry," he said, tugging me along with him towards the door, "Raffles is in the common room waiting for you. You can tell him; he'll make it right." They were the same words he'd said to me a few hours ago, and just as then I didn't, I couldn't, tell him that Raffles was the last person who could put it right.
So instead I let him lead me along the hallway towards our third form common room. Even before we reached it I could hear boys talking, their voices high, loud and excited and I could also hear Raffles answer them; he even laughed softly, his voice was lower, softer and less excited, but it was clear he was happy.
Ollie pushed the door open and dragged me inside. "I've found him, Raffles," he called.
Instantly Raffles turned on his heel and stared in my direction. I watched as his gaze, as it always did, travelled over me, as he checked all was well with me and I watched it fall on the part of my hair I'd cut. I saw his eyes widen and saw the look of surprise, shock even, on his face. Instantly it had gone and he shook himself, tore his gaze away from me and answered a question Carter Minor had asked him. He remained where he was for a moment or two longer, before gently but firmly telling he boys he had to go, whereby he strode over to where Ollie and I still stood, Ollie still had his hand on my arm, smiled his thanks at Ollie, put his arm firmly around my shoulders and led me out of the common room, along the hallways and to his own study.
Once inside he closed the door and to my faint surprise locked it before turning and looking at me. "Bunny?" With that single word he asked so many questions, as well as expressing more than one emotion; he also reminded me of my promise.
I hadn't intended to cry so soon, I hadn't wanted to cry at all, but the look on his face and the gentleness of his tone had me trembling in seconds and I didn't even try to stop the tears from falling. In two strides he was in front of me, his arms were around me and he'd pulled me closely against him, holding me tightly and trying to sooth me. "Oh, my dearest Bunny, what on earth is the matter? You have to tell me, my rabbit. Who has upset you? And what did he do?"
Against my will I clung to him as I always had when he'd comforted me. I didn't want to cling to him, I didn't want him to comfort me, I wanted to be angry with him, I wanted to demand to know why he'd said - As I heard the words again I sobbed aloud and began to tremble even more as I gripped his coat so tightly in my hands I knew I must be creasing it.
The next second he was sitting in the chair and I was on his lap, just as I'd been many times, my head on his shoulder and I was sobbing so loudly and so intensely that to begin with I drowned out his words. His arms were around me, holding me against him, one hand stroking my back, the other on the back of my head, his fingers caressing my scalp as he rocked me very gently. I was sobbing so much I feared I might be sick and so I tried hard to control the sobs, forcing them under some control as gradually they began to fade and I just let the tears fall onto his shoulder soaking his coat.
"Oh, Bunny, my dear, sweet, little rabbit," he murmured and I felt him kiss the top of my head. "Please, my rabbit, talk to me. Tell me what is wrong so that I can make it right."
For a moment or two his words had me once more sobbing and crying even harder but then once more the sobs stopped and the ceased to fall. I sat up, let him dry my eyes for me, took his handkerchief and blew my nose before saying in a voice so calm I didn't recognise it as mine, "You can't make this right, Raffles."
He stared at me and I saw horror and a touch of fear race over his face. He put one hand on my cheek, cupping it for a moment before his fingertips touched my cheekbone. "Bunny?" he said quietly, "someone hasn't . . . Another boy hasn't," he paused and I saw him swallow as a look I had never seen in his eyes before appeared. "You haven't been physically hurt, have you?" And I knew he didn't mean had someone hit me.
Quickly I shook my head. "No, Raffles," I said.
He sighed, his relief clear. "Good," he said, letting his hand slip into my hair. "I really feared . . . Well, my dear Bunny, what is it then? Who has upset you so much and what has he or they done? Because whatever it is, I give you my word I -"
"I was in the lavatories earlier," I said interrupting him. Again I saw the look I'd seen moments before on his face and again I hastened to reassure him. "No," I said swiftly, "really, Raffles, it wasn't that." I waited for a second and I tried to compose what I wanted to say in my mind; he just sat staring at me holding me in the way he always held me: protectively, possessively and with affection - except I must have imagined the affection and probably even the protectiveness and possessiveness.
"Tell me, Bunny," he said firmly; his tone was flat and I wondered if he'd guessed what I was about to tell him.
I sighed softly. "It was before the match, I was in the lavatory and two boys came in and I heard them - I wasn't deliberately listening, Raffles, really I wasn't. I just don't think they knew I was there, well they couldn't have known I was there. Because I'd - Well you know."
He smiled at me and once more stroked my cheek. "I know, Bunny. Go on."
I swallowed hard. This was it; I couldn't put it off any longer; this was when I . . . This was when I lost him, but then I'd never had him, clearly I hadn't. As I sat just staring at him feeling so safe, so cared for, so possessed I wondered how I could have got it so badly wrong, how he could have made me think he - Why had he done it? Why had he let me think he cared about me? And why had I let myself believe he had; I should have known that someone as wonderful and mature as he would never -
"Bunny," his soft voice interrupted my thoughts.
I swallowed hard, dug my nails into my palms and firmly ordered myself not to cry again; however, I could already feel the tears at the back of my eyes. "I heard one of them say that Charleston had told him that you had told him that you only liked me because I had long hair and reminded you of a girl. And that other than that you didn't like me, didn't care for me and that it amused you to know that I thought you did care about me."
His mouth opened but he said nothing, his eyes became so wide as he just stared in silence at me that I feared he might burst something. He'd turned paler than I had ever seen him before, the tan that had always touched his face seemed to have vanished and he appeared to be trembling just a little as he stared at me. "Bunny," he finally managed the single word, but I got the impression he hadn't even meant to say that.
Tears now sliding down my cheeks but feeling calmer than I'd felt since I'd stood and listened to the boys I said, "And then the boy said that Charleston had said he wasn't surprised because why else would you, why else would anyone, like me and that he'd never understood why you put up with me, why you let me hang around you and how irritating it was to always find me with you."
Again he stared at me, again his mouth opened and closed again without him speaking. Then he shook himself and once more opened his mouth, this time he did speak. "You heard a boy say that Charlie said that?" His voice was little more than a whisper and he had a look of devastation and shock on his face.
My resolve failed and I threw myself back against him, my head once more on his shoulder as I again began to sob and sob. For a moment or two he sat frozen then he wrapped his arms against me and held me tightly, resting his head on mine as he again began to rock me. As I sobbed, as my tears soaked into his coat, I again feared I might be sick and began to swallow hard as I struggled to sit back up.
He let me, but still held on tightly to me as he looked at me. "Are you going to be sick, Bunny?" he asked softly, brushing my hair from my forehead. He made no attempt to push me off his lap and seemed unconcerned as to what my answer might be. I had no idea why he hadn't pushed me off his lap; I had no idea why he was still pretending, why he was keeping up the façade of caring for me.
I swallowed again and shook my head. "No," I managed, lifting my hand to wipe the tears from my cheeks. But he moved more quickly and was brushing my tears away with his fingers as he once more pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dried the tears that still fell, until finally they stopped and he handed me the handkerchief for me to blow my nose.
"Oh, my beloved rabbit," he murmured and I frowned. I wanted to tell him to stop using such words; I wanted to tell him to stop pretending, but I didn't because I also wanted to go on hearing him say them just a few minutes longer. "Bunny, my dear, dear Bunny, I promise you, I swear to you on whatever you want me to, that I did not say that to Charlie."
I stared at him, studying him; he looked as if he was telling the truth; I'd never seen him look quite so afeared, so devastated, so desolate, so - I didn't really know what I saw. I wanted to believe him; I wanted to believe him in a way I'd never wanted anything in my entire life. I was desperate for him to now be telling me the truth; his look, his voice, the way he held me, the way he stroked my head, my cheek, the way he held himself, all screamed at me that he was telling me the truth. But that's what I wanted to believe, and if he was telling me the truth then in many ways that made what Charleston had said even worse.
I swallowed and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. "Do you really promise?" I said softly, as he stared unblinkingly at me.
"Yes, Bunny, yes, my dear little rabbit, I really promise. I would never, I could never, say anything like that. Oh, Bunny, Bunny, Bunny, why would you think I'd say that? Why would you think I'd even think it? Why, Bunny?"
I shrugged, not entirely certain how to put it into words. "Because you're . . . You're so wonderful, so perfect, so good at everything and I'm . . . I'm nothing. I can't even hold a cricket bat without dropping it."
He shook his head in his fond way. "Oh, my sweet rabbit, you are so very biased. I am not wonderful and I'm far from perfect. Yes, I play cricket and do so quite well, but - Oh, Bunny." And he pulled me into a close embrace. "And you," he said, his lips on my ear, I shivered just a little and to my horror felt the part of my body that had been making me somewhat concerned and embarrassed in the way it had been behaving for some weeks now, start to harden. "And you are not nothing." He pushed me away from him a little and I shifted slightly on his lap, hoping what was happening wasn't obvious. "You, my rabbit, are," he paused and just gazed at me.
"Raffles?" I dared to whisper as I felt my body begin to tremble just a little, but not this time because I was upset or even out of fear, at the look on his face.
"You are everything to me, Bunny," he said softly, once more brushing my hair from my forehead before he again cupped my cheek. "I adore you, my rabbit," he said softly. "You are so very, very important to me. You're my favourite boy," he added.
I stared at him, "Am I?" I dared to ask as I gazed into his eyes. And suddenly I knew that I believed him; I believed him totally; he hadn't been pretending to like me, pretending to care for me, pretending to like my company. He really did.
"Oh, yes, Bunny," he said, taking my face between both of his hands as he went on gazing at me. "Yes, my rabbit, you really are." He leant towards me a little and the next second I felt his lips on mine; he kept up the soft, gentle pressure for several seconds before he took his mouth away and moved back a little.
I stared at him. "Raffles," I whispered. "You kissed me."
"Mmm," he said as his gaze never once wavered. "I believe I did and I'm rather afraid, Bunny, that unless you tell me not to that I'm going to kiss you again." I stared at him. "Would that be all right, Bunny?" he asked softly. "Would you mind if I kissed you again?"
Would I mind? Would I mind? Did he have to ask? Apparently he did. "Yes, please," I said then added, "no, I wouldn't. I mean - Oh, Raffles, just kiss me again."
And he did. Once more his lips met mine and this time he took his hands from my cheeks, put one around my back, holding me tightly, protectively, possessively (far more possessively than he'd even held me before) and lovingly. His other hand went into my hair where he tangled his fingers in it.
As his tongue tentatively touched my lips and I parted them for him and I felt his tongue inside my mouth, I also felt that part of my body harden even more and again I shifted slightly on his lap, hoping he wouldn't feel it. My arms were around his neck and I was kissing him back as best as I could, aware it must have fallen woefully short of the kisses other boys gave him, as I had never kissed nor been kissed by anyone before.
Finally, he took his mouth from mine, pulled my bottom lip between both of his for a moment, sucking it gently before he lifted his head completely and took a deep breath. I breathed hard for a moment and then dared to ask him, "So you don't wish I was a girl?"
He smiled a little and shook his head. "Oh, no, my dearest Bunny, I most certainly do not wish that." And then his mouth was once more on mine and we were kissing again. I felt him untangle his fingers from my hair and I felt a little bereft as he moved his hand from my head sliding it down my arm, onto my knee and then onto my thigh - and then for a second or two, no more, his fingertips brushed over the part of my body that was hard. The touch, one I had never known, made me gasp into his mouth and sent never before known sensations through my body, leaving me quivering and wanting more and yet not understanding, not even for a moment, what I was feeling.
I lost track of how long the kiss went on for, but as we kissed, as his mouth once more parted mine, his fingertips brushed over me again; again I quivered as I felt myself get even harder and felt my whole body become aflame as the unknown emotions once more raced through me.
Finally he took his mouth away from me and tugged me into a loose embrace, put his lips on my ear and whispered to me. "Raffles!" I exclaimed, feeling my cheeks begin to burn at his words.
"Now do you believe I don't want you to be a girl? Now do you believe I didn't say what the boys said I said? Now do you believe I really do care about you?"
I nodded and smiled. "Yes, Raffles," I said.
"That's my good boy," he said, stroking my ear with the tip of his finger.
I quivered a little with pleasure as he touched my ear and let my head rest on his shoulder. After a moment or two I spoke. "Raffles?"
"Yes, my rabbit?"
"You didn't kiss me just to prove to me you don't want me to be a girl, did you?" I moved my head so I could see him.
He shook his head. "No, Bunny, I didn't. I kissed you because I wanted to kiss you. I've wanted to kiss you for quite some time."
I widened my eyes. "Have you?"
He smiled. "Yes, my beloved rabbit, I have."
I sighed with pleasure and moved slightly so I could put my head back onto his shoulder, a place I loved it to be. I even closed my eyes for a moment and let the warmth of his body and affection wash over me.
But then I remembered and sat back up. "If you didn't say that to Charleston why did he tell the boy you had?"
Raffles sighed. "He didn't, Bunny." I frowned and opened my mouth but he went on. "Bunny, you have to trust me; I give you my solemn word that Charlie did not tell the boy I had said that to him. Nor did he say any of the other things the boy said he'd said. He wouldn't, Bunny, not only because I didn't say that to him, but because Charlie likes you."
"Does he?" I knew I sounded dubious.
"Yes, my rabbit. Charlie is very fond of you; he likes you a great deal."
"But I don't . . . Then why . . . Raffles, how can you be certain?"
"Because I've known Charlie for ten years, Bunny. He's been my best friend from almost the moment we met. I know him; I trust him; I love him almost as much as I love you; I know he would not say such things. And I'll prove it to you."
"By asking him. Come along, get off my lap, we'll go and see Charlie now."
I shook my head. "No, Raffles. I'll believe you. I don't want to -"
But he gently pushed me off his lap, stood up and took my hand firmly in his. "Come along, Bunny," he said in the tone he rarely used.
I sighed softly and let him lead me out of his study, along the hall to Charleston's study. He knocked on the door and called out, "Charlie, it's me."
"Come in, A. J.," I heard Charleston reply and within seconds we were both inside Charleston's study and Charleston was looking questioningly at Raffles.
In a few short sentences Raffles told him what I had overheard. As he spoke I was watching Charleston and I saw him turn even paler than Raffles had done, saw perspiration break out on his forehead, saw him begin to tremble, saw the look of utter horror on his face and saw him swallow hard several times. As he gripped the back of the chair I truly feared he was the one who was going to be sick.
I think Raffles thought the same thing as he left my side, hurried across the room, grabbed the wastepaper bin and hurried back to Charleston's side, put his arm around him and guided him to sit down on the arm of the chair.
Charleston's eyes had never left my face and he shook his head, I watched him swallow again, watched him grip Raffles's hand and watched him open his mouth. For a moment no words came out then I saw him force himself to speak. "Harry," he managed, he'd never before called me by my Christian name and it touched me. "Harry, I don't know how to make you believe me when I say I never said those things. I wouldn't, Harry, they simply aren't true. A. J. never said that to me, he wouldn't, he adores you. And I . . . Harry, please, please believe me when I say I like you; I like you a great deal. I don't find your presence in A. J.'s study irritating. I didn't say those things, Harry. Please believe me. I didn't. I wouldn't. I couldn't. I . . ." He trailed off and just shook his head.
I was convinced; I'd been convinced even before he'd started to speak. His pallor, the look of horror on his face, the way he'd trembled, the way I'd feared he was going to be sick, the way he still held Raffles's hand, clinging to it as I had often clung to Raffles - and finally his words. Everything had convinced me he hadn't said what the boy had said he'd said.
"Then why did that boy say you said what he said you said?" I asked looking from Charleston to Raffles who after looking at Charleston for a moment put the wastepaper bin on the floor and held out his hand to me. I trotted across to him and took his hand; I wasn't that surprised when Charleston took my other hand and for a moment held it.
Then he let go of both my hand and Raffles's pulled out his handkerchief, wiped his face and slumped down into chair, Raffles tugged me down next to him on the sofa as they just stared at one another. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Charlie?"
Charleston nodded; his look was grim, as was his tone when he said, "Yes, A. J., I think I am."
I wished one of them would tell me. I turned to Raffles but before I could speak he said softly, "The boys you overheard, Bunny, did you recognise their voices at all?"
I thought for a moment and then slowly shook my head. "No," I said. "I didn't."
Raffles look at Charleston again who gave a curt nod. "Which I'd say implies boys from another house and lower sixth formers at least."
Raffles nodded. "I agree. Bunny," he looked back at me, "was there anything about their voices you remember?"
I thought and frowned. "One, the one who said Charleston had said . . . His voice was very deep and," I paused.
"And what, Bunny?"
I shook my head. "I don't really know. It wasn't nice. It scared me a little."
Raffles still had my hand in his and he squeezed it. "You needn't be afraid, Bunny," he said softly. "No one will hurt you." He looked at Charleston again who gave a half shrug and then nodded.
"Yes, I think so," he said in answer to what was obviously a silent question from Raffles.
"I don't understand," I said.
Raffles squeezed my hand again and brushed my hair from my forehead with his other hand. "I do not believe, Bunny, that it was an accident that you overheard the boys." I stared wide-eyed at him.
It was Charleston who went on. "A. J.'s right, Harry. I think the boys you overheard were indeed from another house and not just any other house."
"But the house against whom we played the final house match."
"They quite deliberately followed you into the lavatories and made sure you overheard their lies."
My head was going back and forth, as if I was watching a tennis match, as Raffles and Charleston spoke. "But why?" I said.
Raffles shrugged. "They wanted to win the cricket match that badly."
I turned my attention to Charleston and indeed it was he who continued. "You see, Harry, the entire school knows how fond A. J., is of you. Thus, if you were upset, especially if you were upset by something you believed, were made to believe, A. J., had said and thus didn't tell him, then A. J. would be worried and that -"
"Would most likely have an effect on my cricket and without me playing to my full ability -"
"The chances of us winning the match were very low. And as A. J. was quite prepared to stay with you in the boat house until you told him what was wrong . . ." Charleston trailed off.
"He wouldn't have played at all and . . . Oh," I said finally understanding. "But why did they say that you'd told them things?"
Once more Raffles and Charleston looked at one another. "Because, my dear, rabbit, they wanted to be quite certain they had every angle covered. And thus making sure that Charlie and I were -"
"At odds with one another . . . Well, I'm sure you can imagine the effect that could have had on the match, can't you, Harry?"
I thought for a second and then nodded. "Yes," I said. "Yes, I can," I said softly. Of course our house and the eleven were more than just two players, but the core of both teams was Raffles and Charleston; their friendship; the way they could communicate without words; the way they knew one another and one another's game so well all added up to the fact that if that broke down then the entire team broke down. "They really wanted to win that badly?" I asked, I couldn't believe such a thing, not even though Raffles himself had said the words less than a minute ago.
Raffles looked at Charleston and then they both looked at me. "Yes, Bunny," he said quietly, putting his arm around me. "They did. And they didn't care who might get hurt or upset or what damage they might cause."
"Do you know who the boys were?"
Again Raffles and Charleston looked at one another. It was Charleston who answered. "I think we know who one of them was, yes, and if so then I believe we can guess the other. We -" A knock at the door silenced him. He glanced at us, stood up and strode across to the door and opened it. "Oh, hello, Carter," he said.
"I'm sorry to bother you, Charleston, but Urquhart isn't well. He's been sick and well, I . . . that is we think he needs go to the San but it's too late for . . . I'm sorry, Charleston."
"It's quite all right, Carter," Charleston said swiftly. "I'll be there in a few minutes. You go back to the dorm and I'll be there shortly."
"Thank you, Charleston."
Charleston didn't bother to close the door he just hurried over to his desk and put his coat on. "I have to go," he said.
I stood up. "Do you want me to come with you?"
Charleston smiled. "No, that's all right. I'll take him to Matron; that will be the best place for him.
Raffles squeezed my hand. "All right," I said, torn between wanting to see if Ollie was all right and wanting to stay with Raffles. Not that I'd be allowed to go with them to the San, but I still felt a little guilty. "Would you tell him I hope he gets better soon, please, Charleston, and if he needs anything then I'll . . . You know."
Charleston smiled at me and squeezed my shoulder. "Of course I will, Harry," he said. Then he glanced at Raffles, "I'll see you later, A. J." Raffles nodded and with another quick smile, Charleston hurried out. I was so glad that Ollie fagged for someone who cared about him in a similar way to the way Raffle cared about me.
Once Charleston had hurried off, Raffles put his arm around my shoulders and led me back to his study. "So, Bunny," he said puling me into a loose embrace, "are you all right now?" I nodded. "You do believe Charlie, don't you?"
I nodded. "Oh, yes, Raffles," I said. And then I looked away from him for a moment and said quietly, "I'm sorry I believed what the boys said Charleston said. I'm sorry . . . Well you know, don't you?"
"Yes, Bunny, I know. Now," he said, moving back a little and looking down at me. "What are we going to do about your hair?"
I stared up at him and frowned and then remembered what I'd done. "Does is show?"
He nodded. "I'm afraid it does, Bunny. I think that's another indication of quite how upset Charlie was that he didn't notice, or at least if he did he didn't say anything. But really, my rabbit, you cannot walk around like this."
I sighed. "What am I going to do then?"
"Well," he said slowly, "I could finish cutting it for you."
I stared at him. "Could you?" He looked at me and nodded. For the first time ever I thought he seemed more than a little uncertain. However, I didn't know what other choice I had. "All right," I said and then added to my surprise, "but do you have to start immediately?"
He raised an eyebrow and glanced quickly at his watch. "Well, no," he said, looking back at me. "It could wait a few minutes. Why, is there something else you'd like to do?" He gazed down at me.
I swallowed and nodded. "Yes, you see, Raffles, I'd rather like it if you kissed me again."
He smiled. "Would you now, my rabbit?"
I nodded again. "Yes," I said firmly and then added quickly. "If you'd like to, of course."
He gathered me into his arms and pulled me near to him. "Oh, yes, Bunny, I'd like to; I'd like to very much indeed." And he lowered his head and his mouth met mine.
HALF AN HOUR LATER
I was sitting on his desk chair, the mirror he had in his bedroom was on the desk, and he had a pair of scissors in his hand. "Right," he said for the third time and picked up a lock of my hair. He opened the scissors and put them around the piece of hair.
At that moment there was a knock on the door. "A. J., it's me."
"Come in, Charlie," Raffles called.
The door opened. "Right, I've taken - A. J., what are you doing?"
Raffles paused. "Um, cutting Bunny's hair."
"What? Why? Oh, but I thought we'd established that . . . Oh," he said as he stared at me. "Did you do that, Harry?"
I felt my cheeks begin to grow warm and nodded. "Yes," I said softly.
He shook his head in a fond way and then to my surprise removed his coat, strode over to us and took the scissors from Raffles's hand. "Have you ever cut anyone's hair for them, A. J.?" he asked as Raffles just stared at him.
"No, have you?"
"Well, no, but I'm going to be a doctor."
"Yes, Charlie, I know that. But I didn't think you wanted to be a surgeon."
Charleston shrugged. "I don't, but I cut far better than you do. Remember that time in Mr. Easton's class?"
To my amusement and surprise I watched Raffles's cheeks turn slightly red. "That was quite a number of years ago, Charlie," he said.
Charleston nodded. "Yes, it was, A. J., but don't forget I've seen you with a pair of scissors in your hand since. Put it this way, I wouldn't trust you to cut my hair and you know how much I trust you. But it's Harry's choice." He smiled down at me.
Slowly I looked from him to Raffles and back again. "Um," I said and then I remembered. Feeling my own cheeks begin to flush at having forgotten I said quickly, "How's Ollie?"
"Oh, he'll be fine, really he will. I think he was out in the sun for too long at the match. He was sick a couple of times and he had a slight temperature, but I took him down the San and Matron has him tucked up in bed and she'll take good care of him. I expect he'll be back at school if not tomorrow then certain the day after."
"Are you certain?"
He smiled at me and put his hand on my shoulder. "Yes, Harry, I am. And," he said leaving his hand on my shoulder but looking at Raffles, "I'm also quite sure about something else now."
"And that is?"
"We were correct; it was a deliberate attempt to make us lose the match."
"And you know this how, Charlie?"
"We had to stop on the way down to the San and just before we started to walk again, I heard the boys we thought had deliberately tried to upset Harry talking about it."
"Did you now?"
"Yes, it was very foolish of them not to make sure no one was about."
"And were we right in respect of the identity?"
I sighed a little more loudly than was necessary. "You aren't going to tell me who they were, are you?"
"No," they said as one. I sighed again and they laughed and after a second or two I laughed too.
"Well, Harry, it's time you chose who you want to cut your hair for you: A. J. or me?"
Before I could answer Raffles spoke. "You do it, Charlie. You are quite right; you are far better and safer with a pair of scissors than I am. But, Charlie?" he put his hand on Charleston's arm.
"No shorter than you have to, right, Bunny?"
I gazed up at Raffles and smile. "Right," I said softly. The thing is I love the way Raffles pushed my hair back from my face and the way his tangles his fingers in it.
In the mirror I saw Charleston glance from me to Raffles and then back at me before slowly looking back at Raffles and I saw a look of - Of what I'm not quite sure. Surprise comes the nearest, but it wasn't quite that. And I also saw another faint flush touch Raffles's cheeks as he glanced from Charleston down at me.
I felt Charleston's hand on my head turning it slightly and then I heard the noise of the scissors clicking. "Not too short," he murmured.
He made quite a good job of my hair cut - in fact he made a very good job of it. He kept his word and it wasn't too short at all - despite my attempt at cutting part of it. Although when I looked down at the blond hair on the floor around the chair I swallowed hard and looked back up quickly, just to reassure myself I hadn't imagined it.
Charleston touched my head. "It's all right," he said, "it really isn't that much shorter, just enough to hide what you'd done to it. A. J. will still get to push it back for you." My cheeks grew warm but I smiled happily. "Well, I hate to be the one to tell you, but it is Harry's bed-time."
Raffles glances at his watch again and at me. "Charlie's right, Bunny. Come along, I'll walk you back to your dorm."
I stood up. "Thank you, Charleston," I said.
He smiled at me. "You're very welcome. You're a good boy," he said quietly, "and a brave one." He glanced at Raffles and then said quietly, "You know that you actually played a big part in us winning the match today." For a moment I didn't understand and I glanced at Raffles who nodded and smiled at me as his hand found its way to my hair and he brushed it back from my forehead.
And then I understood and yet again my cheeks began to become warm. "Thank you," I whispered and with Raffles's arm around my shoulders I let him lead me to the door of his study.
When we reached it Charleston called, "I'll make some cocoa, if you'd like me too, A. J."
Raffles glanced over his shoulder. "I'd like that very much, Charlie," he said.
"Good. Well goodnight, Harry. I hope you sleep well."
I turned around under Raffles's arm. "Goodnight, Charleston. And thank you again." And I let Raffles lead me out of his study and back to my dorm where I said goodnight to him and his fingers once more tangled my hair around them for a moment or two.
"Goodnight, Bunny," he said his voice soft. "I'll see you tomorrow and do sleep well, my beloved rabbit."
I smiled up at him. "Goodnight, Raffles," I said and I touched his hand before I turned and hurried into the dorm where once again I found my belongings where I had left them and my bed in one piece.