ALL OR NOTHING
Set several years after Knees Of The Gods.
Bunny returned to England and is a successful writer, but he isn't happy and his memories of Raffles are as fresh as if they all happened yesterday. One day he realises he's about to turn forty and decides to go out to dinner at the club to which Raffles and he used to belong. However, when he gets there, things are not as he had expected.
A first time story.
Written: May 2012. Word count: 27,510.
I stared out of the window at the blue skies, broken only here and here by a few white fluffy clouds. It was going to be another bright and sunny and warm day - the kind of day for enjoying a leisurely lunch with a good friend and then spending the afternoon on the river. I, however, would be doing neither.
The blue skies, the sunny weather, the long days, the promise of more of the same did nothing to lift my mood. These days, as for the last few years, I much preferred dull, chilly, dreary, short days - they matched my mood. I do not believe I have smiled with any true meaning or laughed or been happy since the day Raffles died by my side. You might have thought that after the number of years which have passed between that fateful day and now, that I would have if not forgotten Raffles then at least ceased to mourn for him. However, that is not the case; my grief is as deep as it was when they carried me from the field of battle and left his body lying there until it was safe to remove it.
The past few years have been empty, because with his death (for the third time) I finally realised, I finally accepted, my life had no meaning without him in it. He was my life; he made me smile; he made me laugh; he made me care; even when I was frustrated with him for keeping me in the dark about things, he was still my entire world. I have spent more time during the past few years thinking about him and how important he was to me than I ever had before - even during our school days. And I finally accepted what I had always known but did not wish to admit, not even to myself, that he took possession of me, my heart and my life from the day we first met at school. Without him my life has little meaning.
I have become almost a recluse since returning to England; I do dine out from time to time, but it is a rare event. I have no real friends, but then apart from Raffles I never did have, I had acquaintances, but that was all. She, whose name I still will not sully with mine, wrote to me a few times in an attempt to, I believe, rekindle out relationship, or at least regain our friendship. But she put a price on that: we must not talk of the past and the past is the only thing of which I wish to talk. I wish to talk about my years with Raffles; I wish to remember my times with him; to share with someone else my memories of how wonderful he was; of how much I loved him. But she would not allow that; so I stopped answering her letters and finally she ceased to write to me; the exception was two years ago when she sent me an invitation to her wedding - I did not attend.
The one thing I have done since returning home a broken man in all respects, was to pick up my pen again and write. In fact I have become a published novelist - my fourth book is due out early next year - and I make a very handsome living from my tales. Not that I needed to work; Raffles left me everything he owned upon his death and it had amounted to far more money than I could have spent in two life times. I was, I am, extremely comfortably off. But what does money matter when your heart is if not completely broken then certainly not in one piece?
I love Raffles as much today as I did on the day he died; I always will love him. He once told me he didn't believe in 'the one' and for him I can see that being so, but for me there was only ever, there will only ever be, one. Yes, I once said I loved her more than I loved Raffles; but that was yet another lie I told myself, because I could not admit quite how much I loved the man who was the centre of my world - especially not when I face the truth of quite in what direction that love went. Whether he ever knew my love for him was more than just the love of an intimate friend, I know not; certainly he never gave me any indication he did know - but then he wouldn't.
Every day I wake up is just another day I have to endure before the day I finally no longer wake up; and that day, God willing, is the day I will once more be reunited with my beloved Raffles. Every day I wake up is just another day I will spend in pain; another day I will spend using a stick to get around, a pain which, in the evenings I dull with whisky. Some people drink to forget; I do not wish to forget. I drink to remember; to remember the evenings we spent in his rooms at the Albany and later in our rooms in Ham Common. It isn't the same, he is not here; even though the whisky I drink and the Sullivans I smoke are the same as I drank and smoke with him, it is not the same. He is not here; he will never be here again.
I turned away from the window, lit a cigarette and glanced at the final proofs for my latest book; my gaze fell on the calendar and I realised in less than a week I would have my fortieth birthday and that I would be alone. I lowered myself carefully into a chair and allowed my mind to wonder what we might have done to celebrate the day, had he still been alive. I had no doubts we would have celebrated it together; somehow I know neither of us would have married. Raffles wasn't a hugely sentimental man, but a fortieth birthday, my fortieth birthday, would have been an occasion I was certain he would have insisted on marking in some way or other. Quite how we would have spent the day I do not know, but we would have spent it together, of that I am sure. And another thing of which I am quite certain was that we would have had dinner somewhere - just he and I.
In that moment I made a decision; I would dine out on the evening of my birthday; I would dress up and enjoy a dinner accompanied by fine wine and finishing with a cigar and brandy and I would drink a silent toast to Raffles. Before I could change my mind I pushed myself to my feet, picked up my stick and went into the hall to telephone the club and make a reservation.
Yes, the very club to which Raffles and I belonged back in the early days of our partnership in crime. Despite my eighteen months in prison, once I returned a war 'hero' I was invited to become a member once again and unable to think of a reason not to do so, I accepted. It had been yet another way to hold onto the past; yet another way to hold onto Raffles. Indeed, more than one member said that had Raffles survived the war, had he not died a true hero, then he would have been welcomed back as well - war changes a lot of things. I never bothered pointing out that had Raffles survived the war, both he and I would have been imprisoned - he for considerably longer than I.
FIVE DAYS LATER
As I tied my bowtie for the third time I sighed; it was no good, I still did not manage to tie it as he used to tie it for me. It never looked quite right, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many attempts I made. But enough was enough; it would have to do. I picked up my dining jacket, automatically brushed it down, before slipping it on and settling it onto my shoulders.
As I put my watch into my waistcoat pocket and arranged it just so, I wondered why I was bothering. The decision I had made five days earlier now seemed to be a foolish one. Why was I dressing up and going out to celebrate my birthday all alone? Of course I wouldn't be alone, there would be other men in the dining room, but my table was for one. I might as well have remained in my home and let my housekeeper cook for me. I even considered cancelling my reservation, but then the sound of a hansom cab pulling up outside made me realise the effort involved in cancelling the cab, the dinner and having to ring my housekeeper and ask her to provide a late supper for me, was far greater than going out.
Thus, I left my bedroom, picked up my evening stick, put my overcoat on, I left it unbuttoned, put my top hat on and taking care to lock the door behind me I left my home and climbed a little stiffly into the cab.
"Good evening, Mr. Manders." Haroldson, the doorman of the club greeted me and took my hat and overcoat. "And a very fine evening it is too, sir."
I forced myself to smile at him. "Yes, yes, it is."
"I hope you have a good evening, sir."
I smiled again and handed him a coin. "Thank you, Haroldson," I said, "I'm sure I shall." The lie came easily, almost too easily, but I could see from the look on his face he did not hear it as a lie.
Learning quite heavily on my stick, as I tended to do in the evenings, I made my way slowly into the hall where I was met by Easton, the Club Secretary - I was surprised to see him, he didn't usually greet members unless there was some reason for him to be sent for. "Mr. Manders, it is good to see you, sir. Your table is ready."
Again I forced myself to smile at him. "Good evening, Easton. Thank you. I think I shall have a drink in the bar first before going through to dine."
To my surprise he looked a little puzzled. "Of course if that is your wish, Mr. Manders, sir, however, I would have thought you would have preferred to have a drink in your room."
"Yes, sir. Shall I show you up, sir?"
I stared at him. I was puzzled. Had I somehow managed to forget booking a private room? I was sure I hadn't; it would never have occurred to me to do so, given I was to dine alone. Then I had a sinking feeling, some of my acquaintances hadn't realised it was my birthday, had they and as such planned a surprise for me? I dearly hoped not. I realised Easton was waiting for me to reply to him, so I forced another smile, gripped my stick a little tighter and nodded. "Yes, please do."
The club was still old-fashioned enough not to have a lift yet, indeed it still amazed me that they installed electric lighting, thus the journey up the stairs was a fairly slow and painful one. But finally we arrived outside one of the smaller private rooms and Easton opened the door for me, after a slight pause I went inside; I heard him close the door behind me.
The room was more dimly lit than I had expected it to have been, the lighting was considerably less than it had been in the hall and staircase and I blinked several times in order to see through the gloom. Standing a few feet inside the door I could make out a tall figure standing with his back to me, it appeared I was not to dine alone after all, but at least it looked as if I would only have one companion. I wondered who it could be; who had known it was my birthday and who had made arrangements for the private room?
As I stood trying to work out who it could possibly be, the man turned around; I gasped and dropped my stick. "Hello, Bunny," he said quietly, as he smiled at me and came towards me with his arms held out.
I believe I must have fainted and that he must have caught me because when I opened my eyes I was lying on a sofa, my tie had been untied, my head was on a cushion and my body did not feel as if it had made contact with the floor. And he was sitting on the sofa by me, holding my hand in his and smiling, his gentle, lazy, loving smile - the one I truly believed I would never see again.
"Raffles?" I whispered, after moistening my lips and swallowing hard several times. "Is it really you?"
He put his other hand on my cheek and let it rest there. "Yes, my dear Bunny," he said, "it realy is I."
I stared up at him and as I did I wondered if I had been incorrect and if I had fallen to the ground and hit my head. "Am I dead?" I dared to allow hope to creep into my voice. Maybe I had been granted my dearest wish on the occasion of my fortieth birthday and had suffered a heart attack or something equally fatal and was now with him in hell or to wherever he had gone.
He smiled, a little sadly, I fancy he had understood the tone of my voice, and stroked my cheek. "No," he said, staring down into my face. "Bunny, I am not dead." I fear I may have once again passed out for a moment or two, as this time when I opened my eyes my head was resting on his lap, just as it had done many times when we had been at school. He still held my hand and still cupped my cheek with his other hand but his eyes were troubled.
"Oh, Bunny," he murmured softly, as he brushed my hair back from my forehead, "My dear, dear, dear, sweet, own Bunny." And then he bent his head, raised my head slightly and kissed me.
As his lips met mine, I truly believed I was dead, no matter what he'd said, or I was at home alone in my bed, asleep and dreaming. But dead or alive, asleep or awake, I was not going to let this opportunity slip through my hands and so with a passion and depth of love of which I did not know I was capable, I kissed him back, clutching onto him as he parted my lips with his and slipped his tongue into my mouth.
The positions we were in made kissing a little awkward, but I didn't care, all I cared about was his mouth on mine, his lips kissing mine, his fingers stroking my cheeks as he held my head between his hands. Then I felt him manoeuvre me slightly, moving my head from his lap back to the cushion and he slipped to the ground, gathered me in his arms and went on kissing me as I put my arms around his neck and returned the kiss.
I do not know how long we stayed there kissing, pausing only to gather enough air to allow us to return to kissing, before I felt one of his hands begin to move down my body; then and only then did I remember where we were. With great reluctance I let one of my hands fall from around his neck and caught his wandering hand just as before it reached the part of my body that had become painfully hard. And I pulled my mouth from his, let it fall back onto the cushion and gazed up at him and I allowed my eyes drink in the sight of him; his eyes shone with desire and love, his lips were swollen, his tie slightly crooked in a way he would never allow it to be and his hair more than a little untidy from my fingers.
I still wasn't convinced that I wasn't dead or dreaming, and the more I stared at him, the less certain I became for whilst it was his eyes, the sapphires had been all but stolen by the ebonies that were inside them, which gazed down at me with a mixture of fondness, desire and love and it was his handsome, tanned face and his swollen lips that had held me captivated with his loving, lazy smile, his hair was not how it had been when I had last seen it. Then he had dyed it in order not to draw attention to the shocking white it had been. But now it was as it had been of old, yes, there were strands of grey breaking up the black, but it was natural - of that I was certain.
It was my Raffles as I imagined him to be at almost forty-five, still handsome, still like a classical god, still lithe, still the man who could wear tattered clothing and still look elegant, still the man who wore evening dress as no one else could, his scent was still the same, the mixture of Sullivans, whisky, lavender and the musky after shave he'd always used, he was still the most beautiful, the most desirable, the most wondrous man, person, I had ever know - and yet his hair . . . How could that be?
No, despite his 'Bunny, I am alive', I knew it could not be so. He was dead; I had watched him die; I had lain in the beating sun next to his dead body for some time before someone had found me and taken me to coolness and safety. He was dead and God willing I was too; but if I were not, then I was either delirious and seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting things, or I was having the most wonderful dream I had ever had; a dream from which I hoped I would never wake up.
It was as if he had read my mind, as he has been doing from the day we met, because he again cupped my cheek, leant forward to lightly brush his lips over mine, before murmuring softly, "Bunny, I am alive. Truly I am, my dearest rabbit. It is not a dream, nor are you dead or delirious; I am alive. I did not die, Bunny. Oh, my beloved Bunny, I have been so very cruel to you, so unfair, yet I meant it for the best. You must believe me. You must -" And then he silenced himself by once more gathering me close to him and kissing me. This time the kiss was less about desire, less about passion and more about love. And this time it was he who broke the kiss, he who sat back on his heels and just gazed at me, before helping me sit up and he whose hands moved to my throat and deftly retied my tie for me.
"Raffles," I whispered, as fingers I knew so well, a touch I recognised from evening after evening of him retying my tie, brushed my cheek and throat. "How?"
He stood up in his ever elegant way and held out his hand to me. I took it and let him help me to my feet. My leg let its objection to the way I had been lying known, and I staggered and all but fell into his arms. As he had done many times during out acquaintance, he caught me and held me easily, safely, protectively and possessively. And oddly enough it was the way he caught and held me, the way he steadied me, the way he supported so much of my weight and made me feel completely safe and secure, that made me finally accept he was alive and with me - that I was not dead, dreaming or delirious.
"Let us sit down and I'll tell you the whole story," he said, smiling at me. He steadied me for another moment or two before offering me his arm, I noticed my stick was still lying on the floor near to the door, and supporting me as we walked slowly, I leaning very heavily on him; he led me towards the table that had been set for two. He pulled my chair out for me and held it as he helped me sit down; he even shook out my napkin and put it on my knee.
Strangely I didn't feel in the least bit awkward or embarrassed by the amount of assistance I needed. It felt quite normal, quite natural to let him help me, to let him care for me, to look after me. Maybe it was because we had been boys at school together and on more than one occasion he had cared for me when I had been sick or hurt and so the embarrassment I often felt when around others vanished with him. Maybe it was simply because I loved him so much, it just felt right for him to take care of me.
He left me sitting alone at the table for a few seconds whilst he went to fetch my stick, which he thoughtfully propped up against a nearby chair. He then sat down opposite me, briefly touched my hand before ringing a small bell that sat on the table.
Within seconds a waiter appeared with a bottle of champagne; he offered it to Raffles to try before pouring a glassful for each of us and leaving us as silently as he had appeared. When the door had closed and it once more just the two of us in the room, Raffles picked up his glass and held it out to me. "To you, Bunny," he said, "the dearest, most important person in the world to me." His tone was so grave, so honest, I couldn't answer, my throat was suddenly too constricted; so instead I simply touched my glass to his before taking a deep swallow of the very fine liquid.
"And," he said, still holding his glass out to me, "Happy Birthday, Bunny." I stared at him. "Of course I remembered, you silly rabbit," he said, covering my hand which rested on the table with his. "I have never forgotten a single thing about you."
As my mind went back to our school days, I almost wished his memory wasn't quite that good; there were a few things I would rather he not remember. But to say such a thing would be churlish; instead I smiled and said, "Thank you, Raffles."
"And now, before I tell you the tale I know you are longing to hear, I crave you allow me one more indulgence." And with that he put his glass down, put his hand into his dining jacket pocket and pulled out a box. "A gift," he said, pushing the box across the table to me. "A small gesture of my deep affection for you, Bunny. Well," He said, as I just sat and stared at the box, "are you going to open it."
"Of course," I said quickly; I put down my own glass as he didn't seem willing to let me have my other hand and with one hand opened the box and looked down. "Oh, Raffles," I murmured as I stared down at a pair of diamond and sapphire cuff-links, set in a deep gold and lying on blue satin. "They're beautiful." I looked up at him and smiled. "Thank you." I turned, my hand under his and linked my fingers with his and just gazed at him, hoping to express the deep feelings I felt at the gesture without words, as I knew I hadn't got the words to thank him, to tell him quite what the gift meant to me - and I a published author!
"It's entirely my pleasure, Bunny," he said as we sat, our hands linked, just staring at one another in silence. It was a silence he broke. "Now," he said, gliding to his feet and coming around the table, "you must let me put them on for you. No, Bunny," he said, cutting off my objection. "I insist. I wish to see if they look as good as I believe they will." I just sat there and let him remove the cuff-links I had chosen when I had dressed, which he dropped into his dining jacket pocket, and with great care he put the gift he had just given me in their place. His fingers brushed against my skin several times; each time my skin tingled at the touch and I had to fight the urge to tremble.
Once he had both in place and had arranged them so they were perfectly aligned, he took my left hand in his, lifted it to his lips and kissed it as he continued to gaze down into my eyes. "And now, shall I ask for the first course to be served? I do not know about you, Bunny, but I am more than a little hungry, and I believe my tale will be better told and heard with some sustenance inside us. Oh," he added, before I could reply. "I took the liberty of ordering for us both; I hope you do not mind." He still held my hand in his and he was still smiling down at me; as I had been on so many occasions both at school and as an adult I was swept under his spell and caught up in his strength of will and the power he had always had over me; it was a power he had always known he'd had over me and yet he'd only ever used it deliberately on fewer occasions than I had fingers on one hand.
"Of course I don't, Raffles," I said, somewhat bemused to see a look of relief flash over his face. He brought my hand to his lips once more and again kissed it, before he brushed my fringe back from my face and returned to his seat across the table from me and poured more champagne into our glasses.
As if by mutual agreement, although we didn't speak of it, he didn't start his tale until the waiters had cleared the first course plates away and replaced them with the next course. He ate a few mouthfuls of the tender salmon before putting his fork back down, patting his mouth with his napkin and again refilling our glasses. He then leant forward a little, looked straight into my eyes and began to speak.
"You believe I went to South Africa with the deliberate intention of dying, do you not?"
I stared back at him. "I . . . Yes, Raffles, there were times I did believe that, both at the time and in the years since."
He sighed softly. "Will you believe me, Bunny, if I tell you that had not been my intention?"
I stared at him in silence for a moment before picking my glass up and taking the sip. "And yet when, before we went, I said to you that you must come back, you asked me 'to what'?" Those two words had lived with me, haunted me from the moment I believed him to be dead. "Will you sit there and try to deny that is what you said?"
He shook his head and to my surprise took my hand. "No, Bunny," he said quietly. "I would not insult you by denying what we both know I said. I think at the time, maybe I - Oh, I really do not know what I meant. But I do know one thing, my words hurt you, did they not, Bunny?" I stared at him in surprise. "Oh, my dear rabbit, I always could read you so very well - you know that. You do not have to say anything; you don't even have to show it obviously for me to know. My words hurt you because they seemed to imply you were not a good enough reason for me to return, did they not?"
I swallowed hard and blinked several times. I hadn't allowed myself to think of that conversation for many a year; I hadn't allowed myself to wonder why I hadn't said something, even if I had tried to make it sound humorous, because allowing myself to think of it and allowing myself to remember I hadn't replied, reminded me that maybe, just maybe, I could have prevented him from going, or at least prevented him from dying. He seemed to be waiting for me to reply, even though he knew the answer. I nodded. "Yes," I said simply, reaching for my glass and taking a deep swallow of champagne.
"I am sorry my words hurt you. I never meant to hurt you, Bunny, yet I know I did so more than once during our acquaintance - just know it was never with deliberate intent, even when I was irritated with you over something and may have been sharp with you, I never set out to hurt you."
"I know," I said softly. And I did know; I'd always known.
He squeezed my hand. "Would you like to have the next course?" he asked, "and I believe some more champagne is called for. This is, after all, meant to be at least partly a celebration, is it not?"
I smiled at him and nodded. "Yes, please."
Again by silent mutual consent he said nothing more during the remainder of our meal. We talked; we talked about out school days and about the early days of our partnership in crime and of memories of evenings spent in this very club. But it was not until we were seated side by side on the sofa where I had lain some time before, with glasses of cognac on tables by each side of the sofa and cigars chosen by Raffles in our hands, that he picked up his story again.
"It was that final shot, the one you believed to have killed me, that made me realise I no more wished to die than I wished you to die. It came so close to me, I heard it as it went past me, Bunny, and that was when I knew what I had to do. You had finally succumbed to unconsciousness and I knew you were at least safe. I didn't wish to die, but I knew I couldnít remain alive to you."
I hadn't realised I reached out my hand towards him until I felt him take and hold it. "Hush, Bunny, let me finish this part at least. I saw you lying there and I saw what I had seen many times during the previous years since we became reacquainted. I saw the young, innocent, naÔve boy who had been so in awe of me, worshipped me and loved me so much it almost pained me as I knew I was not worthy of such adoration. I saw the thirteen year old boy I had met, taken into my care, loved, protected, possessed and walked away from. And I knew then I could not drag you into my world any longer. I wanted to live, but I wanted you to live too. I wanted you to have the life you had always craved; the life of an honest man."
"The only life I ever craved, Raffles, was the one spent at your side."
"Ah, Bunny, my dear, dear Bunny, you are still blinded by your love for me. No, Bunny, I had dragged you into crime, you had gone to prison because of me, you had been forced to turn your back on dining out, of being able to walk in the park or the streets, of enjoying your youth because of me. You paid for your crime not just in gaol, that was merely a small payment, but every day after that because of your love for me. And if that wasn't enough, I then dragged you off to fight by my side - because rest assured, Bunny, I knew full well you would not let me go alone, that you would accompany me. Bunny, as I lay there, because by then I was lying down, looking at you, checking to make certain you were still alive and breathing, I saw what I had done, how I had taken the innocent thirteen year old and knowingly used the love the man that thirteen year old had for me."
"Hush. I realised I had begun to deliberately use your love for me, Bunny, to get what I wanted - and what I wanted was you by my side at all times. In the heat of the sun I shivered when I realised what I had sunk to. And I knew I could not, I would not, do it any longer. No matter how much I wanted to remain with you, I would not; I could not make you pay for your first crime, the crime of loving me, any longer. And I knew that if I did not return to England that you would not be tried; it wasn't you they wanted, it was I. Without me, they'd turn a blind eye and let you go free, you were after all going home an injured war hero."
"I was never a hero, Raffles."
"Yes, Bunny, you were. Because you were never a soldier; you never wanted to fight; you never wished to be in that place, but you came with me for Queen and country."
"And you," I said softly, putting my cigar down into the ashtray so I could drink some of my cognac without having to take my hand from his.
"And me," he acknowledged, his tone a little sad. "I also did not wish to go to goal, what sane person does? And I would most certainly have been tried and found guilty had we returned to England."
"We could have found a way to have escaped together." He smiled sadly at me and, as he'd done after affixing the cuff-links he had bought for me, he lifted my hand to his mouth and kissed it. He didn't have to say the words; I knew it could not have happened. My injury had been too severe; alone he'd had a chance, even known as he was; with me, he'd had none.
"So I kissed you. Yes, Bunny, I kissed you for I had always known the depths and nature of your love for me; I'd known it because I'd shared it; I loved you as you loved me. I also moved you into what little shade there was, moved the body of the man who had so nearly taken my life and whose face my bullet had found and I left you, I knew someone would find you and I prayed it would be sooner rather than later, and I disappeared. I got out of South Africa and with more good luck that I deserved made my way to Australia."
"Wasn't that rather risky, Raffles? Weren't you afraid someone might recognise you?"
He shrugged and blew a smoke ring. "I believed that if anyone did recognise me as A. J. Raffles and remembered my crimes that they wouldn't think it any of their business to do anything about it - as long as I committed no crime there. And I didn't. I became an honest citizen, I worked for my living and I made a good living, Bunny, I actually made a very good living."
"Do you ever read -" and he named a popular sporting magazine. I nodded. "The illustrations are mine."
I stared at him. "But I never knew you could draw, Raffles. You never told me!"
He chuckled softly at my outrage. "Ah, my dear Bunny, I never knew myself. It's just that I was perusing the magazine one morning over coffee and was shocked at how poor the illustrations of men I knew well, in the sporting sense," he added, which made me raise an eyebrow I hadn't considered raising before. He squeezed the hand I realised he was still holding, "and I thought 'I can do better'. And I did."
"You certainly did! I noticed they have improved considerably, but I had no idea they were yours."
He looked at me a little sadly. "Why would you, Bunny," he said gently. "After all you believed me to be dead." I grabbed my glass and drained the remainder of the cognac in one swallow. The next moment he had refilled it from the bottle I hadn't noticed the waiter had left behind. "Oh, Bunny," he said, putting the bottle down and brushing my hair back once more from my forehead. "Oh, my dearest Bunny, why did I hurt you so? I really believed it was for the best. I promise you, Bunny, I truly believed that."
"I know," I said softly and honestly. For now I did believe he had believed that. Just as he'd done for two years at school, he'd protected me - he'd believed he was protecting me; he truly believed I would be better off without him.
For a moment I thought he might kiss me again, but he just brushed my hair back once more, leant over to pick his cigar back up and smiled. "And you, my dear Bunny, you have made a name for yourself too. I told you literature paid."
I laughed. "My books aren't exactly literature, Raffles."
He shrugged. "Maybe not, but they are extremely well written and very good reads."
I felt my eyes widen. "You've read them?"
"Every one of them, many times. In fact it was your most recent one which made me realise that you were not enjoying the life I hoped you would be; that you were far from happy; that I had made a mistake."
"The dedication," he said softly, as he gazed at me, his blue eyes shining with love.
"Oh," I said, and swallowed hard as I remembered my publisher pushing me to write one and finally, one evening after far more whisky than was good for me, I did so. And I dedicated it to the man I hadn't ceased to love from the moment I first met him. Of course I did not mention his name or indeed his sex and it was opaque enough so that most people would just have read it and not thought anything of it other than there was someone in my life, that there had been someone in my life, whom I had loved; someone of immense importance to me. But only he would have recognised to whom it was dedicated. "Raffles -"
This time he did kiss me and went on kissing me for some considerable time before he lifted his head and gazed at me. "And so, I packed my bags, told the publisher of the magazine I would let him have my new address in due course and set sail for England and for you."
"But how did you arrange tonight? Surely the staff recognised you.
"Oh, they did, yes, Bunny. And I do not believe it was just the rather handsome amount of money that changed hands that led to them being more than happy to grant me my request of this private room, dinner for the two of us and nothing being said when you arrived."
"You always were a favourite," I said.
He laughed a little. "Ah, Bunny," he said, tucking a stand of my hair behind my ear. "My ever loyal, devoted rabbit."
"Yes," I said simply and this time it was I who dared to kiss him. And it was I who broke the kiss, drained the remainder of my glass of cognac, stubbed out the rest of my cigar, took his hand and looked at him. "Come home with me, Raffles. Come home with me now."
He lowered his head, brushed his lips over mine before emptying his own glass, putting his own cigar out and standing up in his elegant way to offer me his hand to assist me to my feet. I was nowhere near as elegant.
And it was he who once we had made our way downstairs, which took considerably more time than it would have taken him alone, who helped me on with my overcoat and he who offered me his arm and guided me as far as the hansom cab he'd ordered and helped me into it, repeating my address to the cab-driver when he didn't hear it, and he who sat closer than he had any need to do to me during the entire drive back to my home.
It was Raffles who took my keys from me, opened my front door, held it for me whilst I went inside, followed me in, and he who shut and locked the front door, whilst I turned the lights on and led him into the sitting room.
He looked around him as he took off his overcoat, top hat and gloves and placed them on a chair, before helping me off with my overcoat and taking my hat and gloves from me. "This is a very nice house, Bunny," he said.
I looked around me, suddenly seeing the place with his eyes rather than my own and seeing it in a different light. He was right; it was very nice. I had bought it simply because it suited my needs, was the right size and in the right place; and I had paid someone to furnish it for me. Even though I had lived here for over six years, I had never seen it as anything other than a place to live. I smiled at him and held out my hand to him.
In an instant he was by my side, my hand in his as he gazed down at me. "Am I forgiven, Bunny?" he said, his tone quiet, as he brushed my hair back from my forehead. "Can you ever forgive me for treating you so badly? For making you suffer so? And for being the person responsible for your injury?"
I leant my stick against the fireplace and let him take me into his arms. "Of course you are forgiven, Raffles," I said, putting my arms around his neck. "And you are not responsible for my injury; you didn't shoot me."
"No, Bunny, but I was the one who let you come with me, who insisted on going to fight for my country."
"You couldn't have stopped me from coming with you, Raffles. It was my decision, you must not blame yourself."
"Oh, Bunny, it's as I said earlier; I fear that even after all these years you are still blinded by your love for me."
I shook my head and pulled his down so I could kiss him. "No, Raffles, I am not," I said and put my mouth on his.
When the kiss ended my body was tingling and aflame and I knew only one thing could quench it. I felt his hardness press against me as his eyes blazed with desire, a desire directed at me. "Your bedroom?" he asked his voice slightly hoarse. I nodded. He chuckled softly and stroked my cheek, "I meant where is it, Bunny?"
"Oh," I said, feeling slightly foolish. "It's across the hallway, almost opposite this room."
He offered me his arm and grabbed my stick with his own hand and handed it to me. "Shall we?" I nodded and leaning more on him and less on my stick, I showed him the way, pointing out the location of the bathroom on the way.
As in the sitting room he looked around the room and nodded his appreciation; once again I looked at it with the eyes of someone who cared and not just someone for whom it was a room with a bed. Again I was pleased with what I saw. We stopped by my bed and he took my stick from me and propped it against the wall where I always stood it, before he once again took me in his arms, lowered his head and kissed me.
This kiss was somewhat different from the others we had shared; this left me in no doubt as to what he wanted and how much he desired me, and even had I not been able to read it in his kiss, in the way his tongue demanded access to my mouth, the way he had pulled me so closely against him I could feel his heart beat, a certain part of his body would have made it quite clear.
"Are you able to stand for a few minutes longer?" he asked, as he moved back from me a little.
I nodded, "Yes."
He smiled, lightly kissed me and then with a deftness that left me in no doubt he had done it before, he removed my dining jacket, untied my tie and unbuttoned my waistcoat before he once again pulled me into his arms and kissed me.
I kissed him back and pressed myself against him as I trembled with anticipation of what would follow. But suddenly my mind seemed to wake up and I gasped into his mouth, pulled away, so hard that had he not been holding me so tightly I would have stumbled and fallen and shook my head. "No," I said. "I can't."
He started slightly as he continued to hold onto me and frowned a little. "You can't, Bunny? Is your injury so severe it has an affect on you? Because I am sure I felt -"
"What? No, not that. I can, well I assume I can. I haven't. I never have. But I have . . . Well, I'm sure you know. No. Not that." I said, feeling my cheeks begin to grow warm. How could he still reduce me to a stammering thirteen year old? Except it wasn't he, it was I who could still, at the age of forty, reduce myself to a stammering fool when it concerns certain subjects.
He looked a little dazed at my stammerings, but then said gently, "Then what, my dear Bunny; what is it you cannot do?"
My leg was growing tired of taking my weight even though he was supporting a good deal of it, so I sat down on the bed and looked up at him. I was about to tug on his hand to make him sit down next to me so I didn't have to hurt my neck looking up, but instead he dropped down onto his heels and took my hand. "Tell me, Bunny," he said quietly.
"Three times, Raffles," I said, "three times you have had me believing you to be dead and each time you have come back to me. But each time it has hurt more. I cannot, I will not do it again."
He swallowed. "Only two of those deaths were deliberate. You were never meant to come back to the flat, never meant to -" He stopped abruptly as I glared at him. "But that's not the point, is it? Oh, Bunny, my dear Bunny, what can I say? I cannot promise not to die; I will one day."
"That's not what I mean. I know you will, as will I, and this time I pray it is I who goes first. No, Raffles," I hurried on as I saw a pained look cross his face. "What I mean is I cannot let you back into my life without being certain that I am not going to wake up one day and find you gone. Or one day for you to declare you have decided to return to a life of crime because you are bored. I cannot do it. It's all or nothing, Raffles."
"What do you mean?"
"If you come back into my life now, if we," I paused and swallowed. "If we let our relationship develop in the way we both want it to, I have to know you won't just leave me. We can't stay in London, you'll be recognised. I want us to go away; to the Highlands of Scotland - they won't know you there, the Scots don't play cricket. We'll find a home together; we can have peace, fresh air and spend the rest of our lives being honest men. We don't need to continue to write or illustrate, but we can if we wish to. It'll be a quieter life, a more relaxed one, a simpler one, but we can be together. That's what I want, Raffles. Ney, that is what I insist upon. All or nothing. I can't have part of you; I can't wonder what you will do and if I shall find you gone. I've done it before and I will not do it any more. It is your decision." I was drained after my impassioned speech and leant back on one hand, the other he still held.
He was silent for so long I began to wonder if he'd ever speak. Then he took my hand to his lips and kissed it before placing it carefully on the bed and with a fluid movement stood up. "All or nothing, eh, Bunny?"
I nodded. "Yes, Raffles," I whispered.
He gazed down at me and I saw the love I'd always known he'd had for me in his eyes and on his face. "All or nothing," he repeated and then turned on his heel and left the room.
I watched him walk out and slumped forward in despair. How could I have driven him away? How could I have let him walk away from me? I was about to call out, to tell him to come back, that it didn't matter, that I didn't mean it, that I'd have him on his terms, on any terms, as long as I had him, even if it could only be for a short time. However, even as I stopped myself, knowing that I couldn't do that, he reappeared and my heart skipped a beat as I dared to hope.
"All or nothing," he said again, coming towards me and once more dropping down in front of me, this time onto his knees. "Well," he put his hand into his dining jacket pocket, pulled something out and held it in closed hand. "I was going to wait a little longer before I gave you this, Bunny," he said. "After all our engagement is only a few hours old. But -"
"Engagement?" I asked my voice suddenly high. I shook my head trying to clear it. Had I drunk more than I thought I had?
"Mmm," he nodded, took my hand and turned it so that one the cuff-links he had given me a few hours earlier could be seen.
I gazed down at it and suddenly the significance of the sapphire and diamonds became clear. "Raffles?" I whispered. "Are you . . ."
He smiled and nodded and opened his hand to reveal a small box which he opened. There on dark blue silk was a gold band. "Apparently I am. And maybe it isn't a case of a short engagement, but a long one - some twenty-seven years?" I just gazed at him. "Bunny, I cannot marry you in the true sense; society will not allow me to do that, but know that if I could, I would in a heartbeat. However, I can give you the same promise as any couple take on their wedding day. I give you my heart, I give you my love, I give you my fidelity; I give you a promise I will not walk away from you ever again, the only time I will leave you, my darling rabbit, would be if death does take me from your side first. I love you, Bunny, I always have, and I know you know that, at least I hope you do. You are the only one, Bunny, and you always have been. Whatever I have is yours; whatever I am, I am yours. I will take care of you, I will keep you safe, I will be faithful to you and only you, I will be delighted to follow you to the Highlands and live with you, I would be happy to follow you anywhere, wherever you are, I will be. I am yours until death parts us - and if there is any justice for two reformed cracksmen well beyond that - if, that is, you will take me."
My eyes grew misty and my throat constricted as I gazed at him. "Raffles," was all I could manage as I let him take my left hand and slide the ring onto the third finger.
He kissed it as he slid it into place. "You may not be able to wear this outside of our home, although maybe the good people of the Highlands will not pay any attention. But it is yours, as I am yours."
I swallowed hard and gripped his hand. "I thought you didn't believe in the one," were the first words I could manage and silently cursed myself as I said them. "I mean -"
"I lied," he said softly. "You've always been mine, Bunny, have you not?" I nodded, because it was true. I had become his from the moment we first met at school. "Well, my beloved rabbit, I have always been yours." And he knelt up and lightly kissed my lips. "Will that suffice, Bunny?" he asked. "Have you enough?"
"Oh, yes, Raffles," I said around the lump that was once again in my throat. "Not just enough, I have it all." And he kissed me again.
After several more kisses, he rose to his feet and held out his hand to me and helped me to my feet. I'm not sure I would ever have been able to have spent so much time kneeling and get up with so little effort and now, of course, I am unable to kneel at all.
"Well, Bunny, have we talked long enough? Can we now move onto the part of a wedding day bridegrooms look forward to most of all?" And his gaze travelled up and down my body, leaving me in no doubt as to what he meant. I felt my cheeks flush a little as his hands began to undo my shirt, taking the studs out and dropping them, along with the cuff-links he had given me, into his dining jacket pocket. As he undid buttons, he fingers roved over my skin, making it tingle wherever he touched me.
His touch was gentle, slow and seductive; his fingertips soft, softer than I had ever known them, softened by a lack of years spent slow bowling. He pushed my braces from my shoulders and the next moment the cool air of the house surrounded my body and I was pulled into his arms, and pressed against him as he stroked my back. "So beautiful," he murmured softly. The brush of his clothing against my unclothed upper body felt both strange and yet right; I leant against him, knowing that any minute now I would have to sit back down on the bed as my leg objected to me standing for so long.
My leg. "Raffles," I said my tone suddenly serious. "Wait a moment." I pulled out of his embrace and let him hold me somewhat apart from him.
If I hadn't already been deeply in love with him, I would have fallen in love with him that very moment as he did not sigh, nor he did not speak to me in a clipped tone, nor did he frown, nor look in any way annoyed or displeased by yet another interruption. Instead he just put his hand on my cheek and said softly, "What is it, Bunny? What do you need?" He took my hands in his and smiled lovingly at me.
I took advantage of the lack of an embrace and sank down onto the bed and looked up at him. "I need to tell you something," I said. "I should have told you before you put your ring on my finger. It may change things."
He raised an eyebrow and once again dropped down onto his heels in front of me. "What is it, my rabbit? Are you already married?"
"No!" I said hotly before I realised he was gently teasing me. "No," I said more softly, "How could I be when I have always been yours?"
He gave me a gentle smile. "Well then, what is so important?"
I swallowed, fully aware I was about to turn into the stammering thirteen year old again no matter how hard I tried to be matter of fact about what I was about to say. "Raffles."
"The thing is, my leg does cause me a lot of problems and as I have limited movement there are things I cannot do." He continued to gaze in his loving way at me. I swallowed again and looked down at our still joined hands. "You see I cannot . . ."
"Cannot what, Bunny?"
"I cannot turn over for you." I spoke the words in a rush, still not looking at him. "I can't lay on my front and even if I could, my leg couldnít take any weight and I can't kneel at all and so you wouldn't . . . We couldn't . . . You know," I said finally looking at him again. I knew my cheeks must be bright red as I could feel the heat. He was silent as he just continued to look at me in his fond way. "You do know what I mean, don't you, Raffles?" I asked, wondering if I had been too opaque.
He nodded, let go of one of my hands and put his cool hand on my heated cheek as he brushed his lips over mine. "Yes, Bunny, I believe I do. And this is the thing you feel you should have told me before I put my ring on your finger? The thing that may change things?"
I couldnít read, beyond the tenderness and fondness, that were present in his tone at all, nor could I read his eyes. I nodded. "Yes," I said softly, once more looking away from hm.
"And why, my dearest, blushing rabbit, would you think that?"
I looked back at him in surprise. "Well, isn't that how . . . I know I don't know much about . . ."
"Sex?" he enquired gently, and chuckled softly as my blush increased and I nodded.
"But," I forced myself to go on, "I do know that . . . Well, at least that's what I always thought . . . That it's the . . . Raffles! You know what I'm trying to say."
He kissed me again and moved from crouching on his heels to once again kneeling. "Yes, Bunny, I do. I apologise, I should not in effect tease you. But you really do blush so prettily and it endears me even more to you knowing that in so many ways you are still the innocent boy I met twenty-seven years ago." I wasn't completely sure, but I believe he meant it as a compliment; at least I decided to take it as such and therefore I didn't object. "Yes, Bunny," he repeated. "I do know what you are trying so very hard not to say. But I assure you it matters not a jot to me."
"No. There are far many other ways of making love, Bunny, of giving and receiving pleasure, far more enjoyable and pleasant ones. And of all the things over the years I have taught you, I believe this will be the most enjoyable of all."
"It really doesnít matter?"
"No, my beloved Bunny, it really doesn't matter. I swear it doesn't matter. Now stop worrying about it and let me finish undressing you and then I can show you what does matter. Do we have a deal?"
I smiled and sighed happily, completely reassured in a way only he can reassure me. "Yes, Raffles," I said, determined that I would say nothing more to stop him again.
"Good. Now can you bear to stand a little longer so I can finish undressing you?" I nodded and again envied the ease with which he glided to his feet and pulled me to mine. I gasped softly and felt my body tremble a little as he began to unbutton my trousers, I felt them fall around my ankles and caught my breath as his hands pushed my drawers down and then he once more pulled me against him, holding me for a moment against his still fully-clothed body and kissing my forehead before he gently guided me to sit down on the bed. Once more he dropped to his knees and this time pulled off my trousers and drawers, undid my sock suspenders, pulled off my shoes; seconds later he had me completely naked.
Then he sat back on his heels and looked at me, letting his gaze travel from my face down my body, I forced myself not to fidget under the knowing gaze, until - "Oh!" he cried. "Oh, Bunny, oh, my dear, dear Bunny, Oh, Bunny. I had no idea; none at all. Oh." His face had become pale, his gaze was full of remorse and I wondered fleetingly if he was about to be sick. He hand actually trembled as it moved to my thigh.
And then I knew what had caused him such a shock. I had lived with the wound for so long, I had ceased to notice how red and ugly it was, how shrivelled and grey the skin around it was. It was just as I had failed to notice the beauty of my home; it didn't matter; it was just a part of my existence. I didn't know what I say or even what to do; anything would sound -
I gasped aloud as he looked at me. In all the years I have known my Raffles I have never seen such anguish, such self-loathing, such pain and such guilt on his face; indeed I have never seen a flicker of most of those things - nor have I, apart from once at school, seen his eyes shining with unshed tears. I had to find something to say to him; I had to do as he had done only moments before for me: I had to reassure him.
I put my hands on either side of his face and looked into his pain-filled eyes. "It wasn't your fault, Raffles," I said gently. "No," I added swiftly as I saw him about to object. "It wasn't. I told you, you weren't the one to shoot me. I came with you by choice; I was old enough to make up my own mind, to make my own decision. I knew the dangers, I knew what might happen. I came with you, Raffles. I chose to be by your side. You did not make me and this is not your fault."
He shook his head and looked at me. "But, Bunny, it's so . . . How can you bear it?"
I shrugged. "Raffles, I've had several years to get used to it. Yes, it troubles me, I will not lie, I cannot lie, you've seen how difficult it is for me to stand, how I cannot walk without a stick. I've told you of the limitations I put up with. Yes, it causes me pain, but it's not life threatening; it's not unbearable. Some days are worse than others, but I've got used to adjusting my life around those days. I'm so used to seeing it, Raffles, I no longer consciously see it. I hadn't realised what it would look like to someone who has never seen it before, especially someone who -"
I nodded. "Yes."
"May I touch it? Or will it cause you more pain?"
"If you really want to it, yes, of course you may and no it won't." In truth the area was dead; unless he pressed really hard, I would not feel his touch, it was too numb - but I choose, for now, not to tell him that.
I forced myself to sit still as his fingertips slowly and gently touched the wound, moving over every part of it, smoothing the puckered, grey skin, stroking the thick, red, ugly scar. Then he replaced his hand with his mouth and reverently kissed the area as his hand searched for mine. I took it and held it tightly with one hand, whilst with the other I stroked the back of it in what I hoped was a reassuring way. This reversal of roles, I the comforter, the one doing the reassuring, he the one being comforted and reassured was new to me, and as much as I loved, adored and worshipped him, it did not come easily - not because I did not wish to give him comfort and reassurance, but because he was not a man to look for it, to want it, to need it.
Finally, he lifted his head and looked into my eyes. I was relieved to see the look of self-loathing, self-disgust, guilt and pain was considerably less; it had not completely gone, but it was fading. He put his hand back over the wound and covered it completely and we just sat there, joined in a way no one but we could possibly understand.
I wanted to move, I needed to move and I wanted to return to the pleasures of his hands on my body, I wanted him to look at me with the desire he had shown me before he'd finished undressing me. I thought back to the final words he had said to me before he saw my leg and choose some of them to use on him.
"Raffles, it doesn't matter; it is what it is. We cannot change the past - you've told me that on more than one occasion. Now, please, stop blaming yourself; stop worrying about things you can't change and concentrate on what does matter." And with more nerve than I believed I possessed and forcing my natural embarrassment and reserve to the background I deliberately took his hand from my leg and placed it on another nearby part of my body.
I do not believe I have ever seen him look so surprised; indeed I had to bite my lip to prevent myself from laughing at the astounded look on his face. He has always sworn I had more pluck, more nerve than I myself believed, but I think my actions surpassed even his belief in me. However, it seemed to be just what he needed, as his fingers closed around me and I gasped aloud as he moved his hand, stroking me as I hardened under his touch. I moaned with pleasure, a pleasure I was experiencing for the first time, and leant back on my hands, pushing myself further into his knowledgeable, experienced hand.
All too quickly my body began to tell me what would happen very shortly and I realised as wonderful as it was to be loved by him like this, I wanted more. I sat up and put my hand over his. "Raffles," I murmured.
He stilled his hand and looked at me. "Bunny? What do you need?"
"For you to get undressed and join me in my bed," I said firmly. "And for you to start teaching me all the things you wish me to learn." And with that I moved back on the bed, pulled my injured leg up and managed to get under the covers where I lay and looked pointedly up at him until he began to remove his own clothing, which he let fall where he stood. As he pushed his drawers down and stepped out of them, I made myself look at him, again forcing away any hint of my natural reserve - after all, before long I would be doing far more than simply looking at him. I smiled and felt my cheeks flush, not with embarrassment, but with self-satisfaction and happiness as I saw how obvious his desire of me was.
And then in an elegant, seamless move, he pulled back the covers, slid into bed by me, took me into his arms and put his mouth on mine. I shivered with delight as our unclothed bodies pressed against one another as I opened my mouth to allow him to explore it with his tongue. To my surprise, or maybe not given just how close, how intimate we had always been, I felt no embarrassment now he was in bed, holding me, kissing me, touching me, loving me. I didn't even feel more than a swift flash of embarrassment when he moved his hand from stroking my back to take me in his hand again and my body shuddered its release a mere second or two after his fingers closed around my hardness.
That all happened some two years ago and despite us leaving London, our clubs, the Turkish baths and other things we had spent several years enjoying, and despite the not inconsiderable problems my leg caused us, I do not believe we had ever been happier - certainly we had never been as at peace.
We had found for us the ideal home; a single storey, extremely well built property that had been recently modernised to include electricity, the telephone and indoor plumbing with a very large bathroom that was ideal for when I needed Raffles's assistance getting in or out of the bath, which was quite often. The property, known as 'Hathaway House' was fairly large, if anything maybe a little too large for two men who barely spent a moment out of one another's company, but it suited us perfectly.
The location was a beautiful one with stunning views of the highlands, open spaces and clean, fresh air. Our nearest neighbour was the lady who cleaned and cooked for us and her four children; also nearby were a handful of farms and crofts, but they were very well spread out. The area was very rural, but not too far away was an exceptionally good public house and small restaurant which Raffles and I agreed had superior food and wine than some of the places at which we had dined in London. And just beyond was a village that housed amongst other things a local post office, police station, consisting of one policeman, a doctor's practise, a branch of a well known bank that opened one day a week and a general store. For us it was the perfect balance of solitude and company when we wished it.
I even found myself wearing Raffles's ring not just at home but when we did venture out; it felt right and I doubt anyone paid any attention to my hands. When we first settled in our home I did take it off when we went out and put it back on again when we returned, but one lunchtime I took my gloves off when we reached the public house where we were eating and saw the ring on my finger. I glanced at Raffles, asking him a silent question and my answer from him was a shrug; so I left it where it was, and since that day it has never left my finger.
The Scots were not effusive, they did not go out of their way to welcome us, but if we met them on the moors or in the village or the public house, they passed the time of day with us and were both civil and friendly. They didn't seem particularly interested in why we had left London to settle in their remote part of the world. Isla our cleaning lady told us, however, that if ever we had any need of help for anything, we only had to ask and the whole community would assist - that was the way things worked.
We spent quite a lot of time outdoors during the day going for walks across the moors. Raffles had insisted on taking me to a doctor in the hope he might be able to suggest something, maybe further surgery, to help my leg. However, the doctor said nothing could be done after all these years, at least not as far as surgery went. Instead he suggested taken regular walks to help rebuild up the strength, telling me to begin with fairly short ones and build up slowly - he assured me my leg would be the guide as to how much it could take. He also suggested regular massages to help the muscles and prescribed some stronger powders for when the pain was severe.
I think Raffles was more disappointed than I with the prognosis; I had not allowed myself to hope that something may be done, thus I did not feel let down. However, in true Raffles style he threw whole-heartedly into organising a programme of walks and massages. If my injury provided anything positive, it was that I could hold Raffles's arm during out walks, to supplement the support given me by my stick, and no one would think anything of it. And I did need his arm; even though the muscles of my leg did grow a little stronger and even though I could walk somewhat further than I'd been able to in London, a good deal of the time, especially when outside but also at time when we were in our home, I needed Raffles's arm to assist me.
It also meant that when we did venture into the public house should there not be a seat available or at least not one at one of the better tables, instantly space was made for us. I found the latter a little embarrassing to begin with, but it was Isla who reassured me and told me not to be embarrassed as it was just the way the locals showed they had accepted Raffles and myself.
As much as we both enjoyed out walks, I know we both enjoyed the massages even more and many an evening that began with Raffles oiled hands rubbing and smoothing my thigh, led to far more intimate things taking place and to me crying Raffles's name as his hands found their way from my thigh to another part of my body.
I wish I could say that apart from the problem I had told Raffles about when he'd put his ring on my finger, our lovemaking went smoothly and without problems. But that was not the case; my leg caused more than a few problems, but not one of them troubled my Raffles. Not once did he show even a hint of exasperation or regret that he'd chosen to make his life with someone who was little better than a cripple in many respects.
He was always gentle, kind, tender, considerate, loving and more than happy to take his time, uncaring as to my limitations. I had no experience of love beyond that which I shared with Raffles, but from the whispers I'd heard at school and even later in London society, I was fairly certain Raffles's attitude and behaviour was quite exceptional. He was also incredibly fond of kissing me at any hour of the day or night. Thus, despite my physical limitations, I was utterly content, happy and as deeply in love with him than I believe anyone could be in love.
And despite the limitations, the physical side of our relationship was an extremely frequent event. I was somewhat surprised by how often we made love, after all we were both over forty and Raffles was nearer to fifty than forty. However, that did not seem to be an impediment to lips meeting and hands moving over bodies and often what would start out as a simple embrace would turn into something much more. Given my lack of experience in such things I ventured to ask Raffles if such frequency was normal; he simply laughed and blamed it on all those wasted years when we could have been sharing more than just an intimate friendship.
He had always, from the moment we first met at school, taken care of me and in many ways he did that even more since our move to the Highlands than he did at school. Nothing was too much trouble for him; he put my needs and comfort above of his own. On evenings we chose not to dine out we would enjoy a simple but well cooked meal and then we'd retire to the sofa where he would sit and I would lie full length with my head in his lap and his fingers would find their way into my hair and stroke my head - that was very reminiscent of hours spent in his study at school.
What was quite different from those times in his study was that his hands tended to wander to other parts of my body as well, almost it seemed of their own accord and one moment I would be dozing or just gazing up at him, still not entirely certain what I had done to deserve being loved by him, the next his long fingers would have unbuttoned my trousers and closed around me, stroking me to a gentle release.
We'd been living in our home for almost a year when the day came that could have changed everything. The day that could even had us both imprisoned - even though in truth the actual crime for which we would have been imprisoned we had not committed.
My leg had kept us both awake until the early hours of the morning and as such we had overslept somewhat. As the pain had grown to such an intensity I could not get comfortable no matter what I did or what Raffles did to try to help, I had begged Raffles to go to the other bedroom. We of course maintained the faÁade that we did not share a bed and thus on the days Isla was due to clean for us Raffles would move his pyjamas, books and anything else personal into the bedroom that was meant to be his and once Isla had left for the day, he would move them back to the bedroom we shared.
We were having a later than usual breakfast I, even though I had bathed and shaved, was still in my dressing gown whilst Raffles was in shirt sleeves and an open collar when there was a knock at the door. We looked at one another in surprise, it was far too late for the milkman, who had already left our milk and too early for the postman. Raffles went off to answer and I heard him cover up his surprise as he greeted Isla. It was only then I remembered she had asked if she could change her days for that week only and of course we had agreed.
I was all for rushing off and moving his things from our bedroom to the one that was meant to be his, but Raffles put his hand on my shoulder and firmly but gently pushed me back down into my chair. "It will only make her suspect something is amiss, my dear Bunny," he said, sitting back down and picking up his coffee.
And so we sat, breakfast growing cold, and just waited. I felt both hot and cold and could barely sit still as my imagination played out scenario after scenario, none of which were good. I kept waiting for her to cry out in disgust or storm out of the house and then sometime later for the police to knock. Raffles appeared to be far more relaxed; he even lit a cigarette, opened the paper and began to read. How could he read? How could he be calm? Didn't he realise that it could all be over any minute? I gave thought to what it might cost us to silence her; would she accept a single payment or go on making us pay for life?
By the time she put her head around the door and told Raffles she had finished cleaning the bedroom I was so exhausted and tense that I couldn't walk without taking Raffles's arm to the bedroom and it was a day he had to help me dress.
"Well," he said, helping me sit down on the bed. "I do not think dear Isla is perturbed by what she must now know."
I turned my head to see both bedside tables had been dusted and tidied; my powders were with my books on my side of the bed, whilst Raffles's flask and books were on his side. Raffles lifted the pillows to find his pyjamas had been neatly folded and placed under his pillow and mine under mine.
I stared at him as he knelt down and tied my shoes for me. "Raffles," I whispered. "Surely she cannot just - Maybe she didn't notice!" I felt my cheeks begin to burn under the look he cast my way. I had said some foolish things in my life, but that comment really had been one of the most foolish.
We spent the rest of the day at home as I was still too weary and in too much pain from the mostly sleepless night to want to venture out. One of the advantages of the number of rooms our home has is that we were able to remain in comfort and keep out of Isla's way.
We were back in the main sitting room when she tapped at the door, told us she had finished and would be back later with our dinner. And that was it. Raffles made the decision we shouldn't bother moving his things from our bedroom every time Isla cleaned for us and even though I wasn't certain it was the best idea he had ever had, I agreed.
The pretence died that day and we never resurrected. Isla never treated us any differently; she still greeted us in her formal informal way, still sang as she cleaned and still looked after us. I think the greatest accolade she paid us, the proof, if proof was needed that she was untroubled by what she had learnt was the afternoon she arrived at our door and hesitantly asked if she could impose on us. She needed to see the doctor and the lady who normally looked after her children had been taken ill; she really didn't want to take the four children with her and wondered if we would mind looking after them for a couple of hours.
Of course Raffles assured her it would be no trouble and at all and she wasn't to worry, it wasn't an imposition and thus we, well Raffles, I have never known what to do with small children, entertained the four (two boys and two girls) youngsters who ranged in age from six to twelve. By the time we left her cottage all four of Isla's children had fallen under the spell that only Raffles seems able to cast. I believe they liked me, but it was clear they adored Raffles and as such that was not the last time we saw or entertained them.
The oldest boy started to do odd jobs for us such as keeping the lawn mowed and the garden weeded and the oldest girl occasionally accompanied Isla and helped her. And on more than one occasion we ended up being accompanied on our daily walks by one, some, or all of them. I think our presence in their lives, Raffles's in particular, gave them what they had been missing since they had lost their father, a steadying male presence. Never once did Raffles raise voice or hand to any of them, yet he could get them to do whatever he wished them to do, even when they didn't wish to do so.
There were time when I'd just sit and watch Raffles with them and I was taken back all those years to our school days and I again saw the small, naÔve, timid boy and the dashingly, handsome, kind cricket captain who had chosen to take possession of the said young boy and care for him and nurture him. He dried tears, he bandaged hurts, he gently chastised when it was needed, he listened to them and he talked to them and they all adored him.
I was no where near as comfortable or able as Raffles was, I could talk to them and I did, but I never quite knew what to say at times, whereas Raffles always seemed to know exactly what to say. Maybe the difference was just that Raffles had had siblings where as I was an only child; maybe it was his more outgoing nature and the fact that as captain of the eleven whilst at school he was far used to interacting with boys of all ages, younger and older than he. But I think that some people are just more natural with children than others - and Raffles was one of those naturally gifted people. It was just something else, like cricket, at which he was accomplished.
I know Isla approved of our involvement in the lives of her children and I heard her once tell Raffles how much it had helped her especially when it came to dealing with her eldest child as he had been starting to get a little out of hand. She asked us on more than one occasion if we minded their presence and we both assured her we did not. Despite not being as natural with them as Raffles was, I did enjoy their company very much, especially that of the younger boy, the second youngest child, who was quieter and shier than his brother and sisters and was happy to sit with me and read or play a simple game.
And so life went on peacefully and with happiness for Raffles and me in our Highland home. I was far fitter than I had been in the years following my return from the war before Raffles had come back into my life. I don't recall ever being happier; there were times I missed going to the theatre or the opera or dressing up to go the club or spending a morning or evening in the Turkish baths, but those times were infrequent and I knew I wouldn't trade what I had to return to London, even if it were possible. Life was as perfect as it could be and I truly doubted anything could happen to endanger our peace and happiness.
And then came another day that could have changed things for ever. Another day that could have seen certainly Raffles imprisoned and quite probably me as well.
We had planned a nice gentle walk followed by luncheon in the restaurant attached to the public house. However, just before we reached the village I stepped on what was a very small stone, but it was enough to cause me to momentarily lose my balance and drop my stick. I would have fallen had it not been for Raffles's still lightening fast reflexes. As it was I merely jolted my leg which as well as an agonising jolt of pain which had me gasping aloud and blinking back tears whilst Raffles supported me firmly, led to me needing to lean on Raffles more than I usually had to do.
Given our close proximity to the village and the fact that although my leg was supporting me less than it usually did, the pain following the initial jolt was no more than normal we decided to continue onto the public house and have luncheon.
It was a sign of how the locals have come to know us and accept us that when Raffles guided me into the public house several men, after seeing how heavily I was leaning on Raffles stood up and moved chairs out of the way to make it easier for us to make our way to what had become our usual table. People nodded or said 'good afternoon' as we made our way slowly across the room. Once he'd helped me off with my overcoat and supported me as I sat down, Raffles pulled off his own overcoat, laid it on top of mine and went off to get us both a drink.
We were sitting talking, somewhat lost in one another, when I became aware someone was standing in front of the table behind which we sat. "Well, well, well," said a voice I instantly recognised; a voice that sent a shiver of fear and a shard of ice through me. "If it isn't Mr. Manders and Mr. Raffles. So you dinna die after all, Mr. Raffles."
My hand jerked and had it not been for the Raffles's reflexes I would have knocked both his and my drink over. As it was I just gripped the edge of the table and stared up into a face I had hoped never to see again. My mouth was dry, I could feel perspiration begin to trickle down my back and appear on my forehead. I was aware my breathing was becoming laboured and I felt my stomach churn as I gripped the table with one hand and Raffles's arm with the other. No one in the room was paying us any attention, but why would they?
"It's all right, Bunny," Raffle said quietly. He gently extracted his hand arm from my hand, stood up and held his hand out, "Well, Inspector Mackenzie, what a surprise."
Mackenzie didn't even hesitate. He took Raffles's hand and shook it. "I imagine it is, Mr. Raffles. And it's actually retired Chief Inspector," he said, and to my surprise he smiled. "But Inspector will do; rather like old times, eh?" And then he let go of Raffles's hand and to my further surprise held his hand out to me. "No, Mr. Manders, don't get up," he said quickly as long installed manners clicked in and I had been about to stand up. "I know all about your injury and how you got it. You're a brave man; both of you are. But then I never doubted that for a moment."
"Do sit down, Chief Inspector," Raffles said, waving his hand at the chair on the opposite side of the table. "And will you allow me to buy you a drink?"
"Thank you, Mr. Raffles, I'll have a drink with you and Mr. Manders." And he sat down and pulled out his pipe. The next second Raffles was holding a match to it. Once he'd lit Mackenzie's pipe, he handed me his cigarette case and steadied my hand as he lit a cigarette for me, before he left us and went to get some drinks.
I gripped my stick hard as I stared at Mackenzie. "It's a lovely day," I finally managed, grabbing my glass and draining it.
"Aye, Mr. Manders, that it is. Although I think it'll rain later."
"Probably," I said in a falsely bright tone. "It rains a lot in Scotland," I added, cursing myself for turning into a gibbering idiot.
"I think the Inspector, I'm sorry, Chief Inspector knows that, Bunny." Raffles returned with three glasses, put one in front of Mackenzie, another in front of me and the third by his still unfinished glass. "Your good health, Chief Inspector," he said, raising his glass.
"And yours, Mr. Raffles; Mr. Manders." I smiled weakly as Raffles lit a cigarette and leaned back in his chair, studying Mackenzie though the smoke.
"Well," said Raffles, after a moment or two of silence. "This is jolly." 'Jolly' was the very last thing I would have called it; I was still trembling, my shirt was sticking to my back and I felt sick. It was taking me all my concentration not to clutch Raffles's hand; instead I continued to grip my stick tightly. When he had sat back down, Raffles had managed to move his chair very slightly so his arm was pressed against mine and I truly think it was the only thing that was keeping me upright and from threatening Mackenzie with my stick.
"So, Chief Inspector," Raffles said, blowing a perfect smoke ring. "It looks as if you've finally got your dearest wish. Is there any way I can persuade you to forget having seen Bunny here?"
"Raffles!" I exclaimed, as I let go of my stick and clutched his arm. The stick fell to the floor with a clatter and the next moment a man we had seen on several occasions, but did not know by name, bent to pick it up and hand it back to me. "Thank you," I said, forcing myself not to make a noise when Raffles calmly took it from me and propped it up behind his chair.
Mackenzie looked at Raffles and then at me. His gaze came to rest first on the wedding ring I wore, then moved to the way I was still clutching Raffles's arm. Then he once again moved his stare back to Raffles who was still leaning, apparently quite calmly, back in his chair. However, I could feel tautness in the arm I still gripped. He didn't speak; instead he drained his glass and stood up. "Allow me," he said, and before either of us could reply, not that I could have done, he left us.
"Raffles," I hissed now grabbing his hand. "We have to make a run for it. Well you do. Go, Raffles, I'll keep him talking. I'll tell him you had to go to the lavatory or something. Just get out, Raffles, save yourself. Don't worry about me."
But he just shook his head and smiled fondly at me. "No, Bunny," he said simply.
I gripped his hand even tighter and implored him. "Please, Raffles. I can't bear the thought of you going to gaol." At that moment a glass was placed down by my hand and another by Raffles, who still hadn't touched the second one he'd fetched.
"Calm yourself, Mr. Manders," Mackenzie said, sitting back down. "I'm not here to arrest you or your Mr. Raffles."
I grabbed the glass he'd put down and drained half of the contents in one gulp. I would have swallowed the other half, but Raffles took it from my hand. "You're not?" I whispered.
Mackenzie smiled. "No, I'm not. As I told you gentlemen, I am retired and your," he lowered his voice even though no one was paying us any attention, "crimes were not committed in Scotland." Then he looked hard at Raffles, "You dinna commit any crimes in Scotland, did you, Mr. Raffles?"
Raffles smiled and took a sip from the glass Mackenzie had put in front of him. "Unless you call my opinion on your national game a crime, then no, Inspector, I have not." He leant forward and said softly, "I have committed no crime in Scotland, Inspector. None at all."
Mackenzie glanced at me again and belatedly I realised I was still holding Raffles's hand. It took me all the courage Raffles said I had and then some I didn't realise I had, but I managed not to snatch my hand away, but to instead pick my glass back up and take another swallow. When Mackenzie's gaze move from me back to Raffles, I did let go and reached for Raffles's cigarette case which still rested on the table. This time it was Mackenzie who lit and held a match for me; I gave him what I hoped was a smile of thanks.
"Besides," Mackenzie went on, relighting his pipe. "I dinna think I would be in my sister's good books if I arrested her gentlemen."
"Your sister?" Raffles asked.
"Isla Buchan." I was watching him as he spoke and saw the look on his face and in his eyes change as he said 'Buchan'.
"Isla's your sister?"
"Aye, Mr. Raffles, that she is. And she's told me all about her London gentlemen and how kind they are to her and the kiddies; who are also full of tales of you in particular, Mr. Raffles."
"They are a very nice family," Raffles said, and I nodded in agreement.
"Aye, they are. Isla's a fine woman. Stubborn too."
Raffles smiled. "I think that runs in the family."
Mackenzie laughed. "Aye, Mr. Raffles. I believe it does. Now, would you gentleman like to join me for lunch?"
I glanced at Raffles swiftly; letting him make the decision. "Thank you, Inspector," he said. "We would like that, would we not, Bunny?"
I swallowed and nodded. "Yes, Inspector; we would," I said suddenly realising I meant it. Now that I knew he wasn't about to arrest Raffles, I was feeling quite benevolent towards him - helped, it has to be said, by three drinks.
Lunch was pleasant, Mackenzie had a dry sense of humour that had never been apparent when we had known him in London and it was clear that whilst he'd enjoyed this career, even if he hadn't achieved his life's ambition of arresting Raffles for burglary, he was quite happy being retired and back living in Scotland. It was also apparent that he was very fond of his sister and hadn't cared for her husband. Raffles and he did most of the talking, I merely sat, ate, drank and listened and passed the odd comment if either of them addressed me directly.
At one point Mackenzie confessed he had attended one of the test matches in which Raffles had been playing and admitted he had been impressed by Raffles's abilities with both bat and ball. He offered to introduce Raffles to golf, assuring him it was more than just a case of hitting a small ball with a long stick, and to my surprise Raffles said he'd take Mackenzie up on his offer at some point, confessing he did miss a sporting challenge.
Nothing was said or even eluded to the circumstances of how we had first become acquainted, nor of my arrest and subsequent imprisonment nor even of Raffles's supposed deaths, and I for one was grateful. We touched very briefly on the subject of the war in which I'd received my injury and I was somewhat staggered to learn that Mackenzie had read my books, not only read them but apparently also enjoyed them.
Raffles and Mackenzie argued gently at the end of the meal as to who was going to pay. I vaguely wondered how long the argument would go on for as it has to be said Mackenzie was not the only stubborn man. In the end Raffles prevailed and Mackenzie gave in with good grace and a smile. We parted with a promise to meet up again and Raffles assured Mackenzie he had meant what he'd said about letting Mackenzie introduce him to the game of golf.
I wasn't looking forward to the walk back to our home. As pleasant as lunch had been, it had also been quite long and even though I had relaxed considerably, the pre-lunch meeting and my fears that Mackenzie would take Raffles from me had taken its toll on me and my leg, and I was weary and in more pain than usual. I could see Raffles was concerned too as he offered me his hand to help me stand up, helped me on with my coat, passed me my hat, gloves and stick and finally offered me his arm.
However, when we got outside we found one of the local farmers who had a horse and cart he used to take his family to Chapel each Sunday and he offered to take us home. As with everything the locals did the offer was made in a somewhat off-hand way, yet his sincerity was clear.
"We look after our own, Mr. Raffles," he said when Raffles thanked him and helped me up next to the farmer. Quite when, given we had only lived in the area for two years, Raffles and I had become 'our own', I didn't quite know, nor why - but for whatever reason we had.
Once we got back to our home Raffles offered the man whose name I still hadn't managed to find out a drink and he accepted in the same off-hand way he'd offered us to drive us home.
"Nice place you're got here," he said, as he stood in the middle of the room a glass of whisky in his hand. He'd refused to sit down saying he was still in his working clothes but insisted I do so; I made no objections at all.
"Thank you," Raffles said. "We like it, do we not, Bunny?"
"Yes, we do."
"Happened to notice you've got a few tiles loose. You'll be wanting to get them fixed before winter. I'll send our Jim up sometime next week; he's good with tiles. He'll sort you out."
"Thank you," Raffle said, glancing at me. "That's very kind of you, Mr. Kilroy." Quite how Raffles had discovered his name I knew not, but then that was Raffles.
Kilroy stared at him. "It's not kindness; it's just right." He drained his drink. "I'll be saying good-day to you, gentlemen." He nodded to me than to Raffles.
"Good day, Mr. Kilroy," I said.
"Good day and thank you again," Raffles said as he escorted Kilroy to the front door.
"Any time, Mr. Raffles." Once again it was said in an off-hand way, but once again the sincerity was clear.
As Raffles closed and bolted the front door behind Kilroy, I sank right back against the back of the chair and closed my eyes. My head was aching and my whole leg was throbbing and my thigh felt as if it was on fire. I began to rub it, but my hand was gently pushed away and Raffles's hand replaced it. "Let me do that for you, Bunny," he said. I opened my eyes to see him kneeling by my chair; the concern he felt was evident on his face. "Does it hurt you a great deal?" he asked as longer fingers moved over my thigh.
I saw no point in lying. "I'm afraid so," I said, putting a hand on his shoulder.
He stopped his ministrations for a moment and took my hand. "My poor rabbit," he said, pulling my hand to his mouth and kissing it. "And a very brave one," he added. I looked at him. "Oh, Bunny, I really thought for a moment you were going to hit Mackenzie with your stick."
I had the good grace to blush a little. "I considered it. I really thought he was going to arrest you, Raffles. I really thought he'd -" I was forced to stop speaking as my throat suddenly became tight and I felt tears burn the back of my eyes.
In the way only he can do it, Raffles stood up and gently pulled me to my feet and gathered me into his arms, letting me rest against him whilst taking most of my weight and then he kissed me. "No one, Bunny," he said when he took his mouth from mine, "will take me away from you." I wished I could be so certain, but being in his arms, with his mouth so close to mine made me feel so much better and I leant a little nearer for another kiss as I pressed my body against his.
He obliged me, shifted slightly to take even more of my weight and again put his mouth on mine. This time the kiss was less about comfort and more about passion; as his tongue began to wander over my bottom lip I parted my lips and gasped softly as his tongue slid inside. I could feel his hardness pressed against me and the pain in my leg was almost forgotten as I pressed even nearer to him.
I say almost forgotten, as the next second a shooting pain that felt like a burning knife being stabbed deep into my thigh and then twisted, had me gasping and clinging to him, quite unable to put any weight on the leg at all. With ease he held me and lowered me back down into the chair before dropping down onto his heels in front of me and taking my hand with one of his whilst the other brushed my hair back from my forehead. "Shall I call the doctor, Bunny?" he asked.
I shook my head. There was nothing the doctor could do for me. "No, Raffles. It'll be all right again soon," I said, biting my lip to prevent a moan of pain from escaping.
Raffles didn't seem convinced. "How about a bath then?" he suggested. "Then I'll massage your leg properly for you."
Hot water and a Raffles massage sounded like a very good idea to me and I nodded. "Yes, please," I said, and in spite of the pain and how weary I was feeling I smiled. The idea of Raffles's hands on any part of my body appealed to me and hot water always helped.
He went off to start to fill the bath then returned and helped me into the bedroom where he took full charge of undressing me. Raffles had three distinct ways of undressing me; one was the lover; the second the doctor; the third a mixture of the two. It was the third he employed most often, and the third was the method he used as I could hear the bath filling.
When I was completely naked and he apart from his coat still completely clothed, he pulled me back into his arms, drawing me closer and closer to his body and kissed me intensely for some time. I shivered under the sensation of my unclothed body pressed against tweed and linen and I felt my body begin to react not only to the sensation but to his closeness.
Finally, just as I was giving serious consideration to suggesting forgetting about the bath and going straight to having his hands on my body, he took mouth from mine and gently pushed me down to sit on the bed. He then vanished back into the bathroom and returned a minute or two later, his cuffs turned back, to tell me the bath was ready.
He pulled me to my feet and handed me my stick. I took his arm and slowly we made our way into the bathroom. Whether it was just the thought of a hot bath and a massage from Raffles or whether it was a complete lack of clothing, which sometimes hurts me in places where it is pressed against me or a little of both, but the searing pain I'd experienced earlier and the deep throbbing, burning sensation were already becoming a little less.
Once we were by the bath it took very little time before I was first standing and then sitting in the wonderfully hot, lightly scented water. Given the number of times Raffles has to assist me both with getting in and out of the bath, we have the routine honed to perfection. I caught his hand as he was about to straighten up, "Join me," I said softly.
"Are you quite certain, Bunny? I do not wish to cause you any further pain."
"You won't. It's already hurting less. Please, Raffles. I . . ." I fell silent under his gaze that told me exactly what I meant to him and how much he understood me.
"Very well," he said, bending down, tangling my hair around his fingers and kissing me in a way that told me the doctor had almost been completely replaced by the lover. As he turned and left the bathroom, I settled back, slipping down further into the water, closed my eyes, sighed with pleasure and the let the sweet smelling, hot water move over my body, washing away the deep set pain and even some of the weariness.
Suddenly I was aware I was no longer alone. I opened my eyes to see Raffles standing over me smiling lovingly down at me. He was wearing one of his heavy silk dressing gowns, but it was untied and I saw a hint of the hardness I had felt when I'd pressed against him earlier. He had a glass of what I presumed to be whisky in each hand and he leant across me to put them on the conveniently wide shelf that was just above the bath.
"Are you quite certain you wish me to join you, Bunny, you look so comfortable and peaceful, and I'd hate to disturb you."
I'd had just enough to drink before during and after lunch to make me a little less reticent than I often am, but not so much that I could not co-ordinate my movements and the next moment he gasped as I closed a wet hand around him and stroked him for a moment or two. "Get into the bath, Raffles," I said in a tone I rarely employed.
His hand closed over mine and stilled it as I gazed up into his eyes. "Very well," he murmured, gently removing my hand completely before he let his dressing gown fall to the floor. I stared at him, letting my gaze travel up and down his body; I saw him naked every day, but I never got tired of looking at him of realising that he was all mine, that he who still resembled the classical god I'd thought him to be when I'd first met him, had chosen me to spend the remainder of his life with. That he had risked everything to return to my side; that he had willingly given up so much to make me happy; that he cared for me; seemed perfectly content with the somewhat limited nature of our physical relationship; that he never ceased to show me how much he loved me.
Rather than get into the bath immediately he knelt down by the side of it and took my face between his hands. "I do love you, Bunny," he said, kissing me lightly. He rarely said the words; he didn't need to, he showed me in so many ways every day; but when he did say them they never ceased to move me beyond the ability to reply. So instead I just smiled at him, took one hand from my cheek and kissed his palm.
The next moment he'd joined me in the bath, sitting down behind me, his legs around mine and he'd pulled me back to rest against him. I sighed with pleasure as he put his arms around me and just held me. I felt comforted, secure, content, loved and at peace. I rested my head back on his shoulder as he hands began to lightly caress my arms and again closed my eyes and once more let the water move around me.
I may even have slipped into a light sleep for a moment or two as when I heard him say my name, I got the impression it wasn't the first time he'd said it. "Yes, Raffles?" I said, turning my head as far as I could in an attempt to see his face.
"I asked if your leg felt any better," he said quietly, his lips on my ear. I shivered with pleasure as he kissed his way down my ear and neck.
"Much, thank you."
"Good." His tone was almost hypnotic and he pulled me a little further back against him until I could feel he was no longer merely slightly aroused. I moved from side to side a little and he made a noise in the back of his throat.
His hands had moved from my arms to stroke and caress my breast and now, as he again kissed my neck they began to move lower down my body, moving over my stomach and onto my thighs which he spent some time gently rubbing up and down. I moaned and tried to part my legs a little more and I heard him chuckle softly in my ear. "In a moment," he whispered, and I again closed my eyes.
The next second to my distress he took his hands from me. "Raffles!"
"Hush, my rabbit," he said softly as he leant forward. I was curious and opened my eyes to see him lathering his hands with soap. And then one hand was back on my breast and the other slipped into the water and closed around me.
"Raffles!" I gasped as he began to move his hand in the way I liked best. "Oh, Raffles," I murmured, pushing up into the touch and parting my legs a little bit more, pressing them firmly against his.
His lips were once again on my neck and I could feel the edges of his teeth as he grazed them over the sensitive skin, before he returned to kissing it and then sucking it whilst both hands caressed my body. The sensation of the water lapping against my skin as well as the skill he displayed as he stroked me had me crying his name over and over again, begging him to give my body the completion it desperate wanted. But he knows his rabbit so very well and he took me to the edge several times, before he finally allowed me to fall over it. By that time my heart was pounding and my eyes could barely focus and the only coherent sound I could make was his name which I kept repeating as he held me tightly against him.
I turned my head as far as I could desperate now for his mouth on mine and somewhat awkwardly he managed to kiss me for a moment or two before the position became too uncomfortable.
I settled back again with my head on his shoulder and just let myself enjoy his embrace and the way his hands were once again lightly caressing my arms. Once my heart rate had returned to normal I shifted slightly, again pushing back against him. But he caught held me still. "Later," he murmured, his tongue flicking around my ear.
He nuzzled my ear and neck for a few moments before I felt his hands on my thigh and felt the touch of the lover change somewhat as he began to massage my thigh, his fingers digging in quite hard at times, hard enough to make me gasp and bite my lip as for a moment he caused me more pain than I'd felt since getting into the bath.
"Hush, my dearest Bunny," he murmured softly. "It won't hurt for long."
And he was right it didn't. The sharp pain he'd caused me as he pressed his fingers into my wasted muscles began to fade and the warmth that always followed from such pressure began to flow through my leg and I sighed, this time with pleasure.
He continued to rub and press my thigh until the water began to cool down and the pain was almost back to the level I had lived with every day from the time the wound had healed. I knew the doctoring wasn't over though, he would continue his ministrations once he had me on the bed, and as wonderful as the bath was the thought of being in a larger and more comfortable place with him sounded even more wonderful.
I have often thought Raffles was capable of reading my mind and this was one of those occasions as after kissing my neck one more time and moving his hands from my thighs to lightly stroke me he stood up and got out of the bath, wrapped a towel around himself and helped me get out, steadying me, never once letting go of me; as always I felt completely safe in his hands. He handed me a large towel, spread another one over the lavatory seat and helped me walk the few steps so I could sit down and dry myself.
Once we were dry he put his dressing gown around my shoulders, took some more towels from the linen cupboard, offered me his arm and led me back into the bedroom. He spread the towels over the bed and helped me sit down before he took the jars of pleasantly scented ointment and oil he used when he massaged my leg.
I settled back with my head on his pillow as he knelt on the bed, rubbed some of the ointment between his hands, paused long enough to kiss me before slipping once again from lover to doctor as he began to use his hand on my thigh, pressing, kneading, stroking and rubbing in a way that was both professional and extremely intimate. I suggested once he could take massage up as a career, but changed my mind seconds afterwards when he asked me politely if I really wanted him to have his hands on anyone other than I - which of course I didn't.
The massaging went on for quite some time before the strokes changed subtly and started to become somewhat less professional and far more intimate as fingertips now brushed against the part of my body that was once again growing hard under his ministrations. I moaned and arched my back and the next moment I felt myself engulfed in his mouth.
"Raffles!" I cried, grabbing his head, my fingers tangling in his hair. "Please." I wasn't entirely certain for what I was asking, but he seemed to know as after sucking me lightly for a moment he let me fall from his mouth, bending his head to kiss me before he poured some of the massage oil into his hand, lay down next to me and kissed me as he took me into his hand. The joint sensation of the sleekness of his hand and his passionate kiss took me to the edge within seconds and rather than keep me there, he let my body have its release, gathering me into his arms and kissing my head as I sobbed his name into his shoulder.
He went on holding me, stroking my back and murmuring words into my ear until finally I stopped quivering with pleasure and I sank back onto the pillow and gazed up at him as he pushed himself up onto one elbow and began to lightly trace his way down my body with one fingertip. He smiled down at me; I could feel his hardness pressed against my thigh and not for the first time I wished I could offer him more than just my hand around him and my mouth on his.
But even after a hot bath and the best massage I believe anyone could experience, even though my leg was relaxed and free from the deep, throbbing pain and tautness, my movement was limited and I couldn't do anything other than pull his head down, claim his lips with mine and take his heated hardness into my hand. Given how long he had been aroused, I wasn't surprised when it was mere minutes before I felt his release and he was calling my name with an intensity that never ceased to move me.
For some time we just lay in a lose embrace, kissing from time to time, as his hand lightly stroked by back and moved up into my hair. As much as I loved the intimacy of him making love to me and of I making love to him, I also thoroughly enjoyed the simple closeness an embrace gave me; the security, the tenderness, the sense of all being right with the world.
Eventually he kissed me lightly before getting off the bed, pulling his dressing gown on, but leaving it untied and left the room. He was back shortly with a bowl of warm water and a cloth which he used to gently cleanse the remaining oil from my body, drying me with one of the towels he'd spread over the bed before he took the bowl and the towels with him and once more left me alone.
A glance at the clock showed me it was almost eight o'clock and I realised that despite a good lunch I was starting to feel a little hungry, but I had no desire to dress. So instead I pulled on my pyjamas and was tying the cord of my dressing gown when he returned, this time carrying the glasses of whisky he'd taken into the bathroom but we hadn't drunk. He smiled at me, handed me a glass, put his down on the bedside table, before picking up his cigarette case and lighting two Sullivans, one of which he handed to me, but not before he'd put his to his mouth and then put his mouth onto mine, sharing the smoke with me. I sat on the bed smoking my Sullivan and sipping my whisky as I watched him dress; he pulled on a jumper rather than a waistcoat and coat over his shirt and I smiled.
Then we made our way back into the sitting room where he poked the fire to get it to blaze, poured more whisky into our glasses and left me for long enough to heat up the supper Isla had left for us.
Once we had eaten and Raffles had cleared the plates away I lay down full length on the sofa with my head in his lap - as always whenever I lay thus it never ceased to remind me for a moment at least of the hours I spent in his study during the two years we were together at school in the same position.
But unlike our time at school it wasn't long before one of Raffles's hands began to wander over my body and even though I was tired and had quite possibly had one or two drinks too many that day, it wasn't long after his hand found its way to my lower body that I was murmuring his name as long, talented fingers stroked me to a very gentle and slow release. I certainly slept well that night.
We fell into a fairly regular pattern of seeing Mackenzie. Once a month he would spend an evening with us at our home and once a month we visited him and we had lunch together ever few weeks or so.
In some ways it was a strange growing friendship as Raffles and I, rather than dropping titles still called him 'Inspector' - or occasionally 'Chief Inspector' - Mackenzie and he continued to address us as 'Mr.' Raffles and 'Mr.' Manders. And yet in many ways I was aware that we had become closer friends with him than we had been with some of the young men about town with whom we had spent time during our years in London.
Mackenzie lived in a cottage which was about the same distance our home was from Isla's but in the other direction and I know from the things she said from time to time that Isla was very happy that her elder brother was not only back in Scotland but living near her.
Raffles had been true to his word and had allowed Mackenzie to introduce him to the game the Scots loved. I think Mackenzie may have regretted it because despite the way he used to disparage it when we lived in London, Raffles got to grips with the game very quickly and soon outplayed not only Mackenzie but other local players as well. It didn't really surprise me, after all Raffles can turn his hand to and excel at anything. Not content with being the captain of the eleven at school, he had also been the fastest player of the fifteen as well as being an athletic champion - maybe I should have mentioned the rugby and athletics to Mackenzie before he took it upon himself to teach Raffles how to play golf.
And then came the evening which once again could have changed so much of our lives, but I didn't realise it at the time.
It was our turn to visit Mackenzie and we arrived at the usual time and he greeted us at the door as he always did. Yet I thought he seemed a little out of sorts, he seemed more than a little distracted and when he accidentally caught a glass with his arm knocking it to the floor where it smashed, his annoyance seemed more than that of just a broken glass. My thoughts were confirmed a moment later when he bent to pick the glass up and cut his finger, which caused him to curse.
Raffles was on his feet in a moment and insisted on washing and bandaging the wound, refusing to listen to Mackenzie's instance that wrapping a handkerchief around it would suffice. "My dear Inspector, what if there is a sliver of glass in the cut?"
"I'm sure there isn't, Mr. Raffles." Mackenzie tried to pull his hand away from Raffles's grip - I could have told him the attempt would be futile.
"But there might be, Inspector, and that would not be a good thing at all. Now come along with me and allow me to clean the wound and put a bandage on it." And before Mackenzie could object further Raffles had put his arm under Mackenzie's elbow and led him out of the room.
I settled back into the depths of the sofa, lit a Sullivan and sipped my drink as I waited for them to return. I didn't consider getting up and attempting to clear up the broken glass myself as I knew only too well what Raffles would have to say to me had I done so. Instead I shifted my leg on the small stool Mackenzie always provided me with in order to get a little more comfortable and stared around the room looking at in a way one couldn't do when one's host is present. The room matched the man very well indeed. There were few pictures and only one photograph - of Isla and her children. It was a comfortable room and clearly furnished by a man who liked comfort and didn't mind if things didnít match.
After about five minutes Raffles and Mackenzie returned and as expected Mackenzie did have a neat bandage around his fingers. It was Raffles who told Mackenzie to sit down after which he poured him another drink, held a match to Mackenzie's pipe and bent down to clear the broken glass up before he rejoined me on the sofa and lit a Sullivan of his own.
"Now, Inspector," he said after a short time during which we all smoked and drank in silence. "Why do you not tell Bunny and me what is troubling you?"
Mackenzie flashed him a look I remember from our days in London and opened his mouth, no doubt to refute Raffles's accusation, but then he drained the whisky from him glass, poured another good measurer from the decanter and sighed. "Aye, Mr. Raffles, you are quite right something is troubling me. I had a conversation with my bother-in-law today; it went badly as it always does."
Raffles and I looked at one another. "Your brother-in-law? But I, we, presumed Isla was a widow."
Mackenzie glared. "She'd be better off if she were. No, Mr. Raffles's, I'm sorry to say Isla's husband is still alive and well."
"Go on," Raffles said quietly.
Mackenzie sighed and again drained his glass; he poured himself another good measure and without asking us, poured more whisky into Raffles and my glasses. "You'll have noticed there's a fairly considerable age difference between Isla and myself." Raffles nodded. "I was already a police officer when she was born. I was stationed here in Scotland, but not too long afterwards I set off for London - I was an ambitious young man, Mr. Raffles, and this quiet corner of the Highlands wasn't exciting enough for me. I came back to visit when I could, but it wasn't that often. Isla and I were close, as close as we could be given the age difference and the fact I spent most of my time in London. It hardly seemed like five minutes after she was born that she wrote to me to say she was to marry."
"And do I assume you did not approve?"
"No, Mr. Raffles. I did not. I knew the family; they had money, but they weren't liked in the area. I didn't even know how Isla had met the son, but she had and nothing I could say would sway her. She was a stubborn lass even then."
"Couldn't your parents have stopped her?"
"They were very frail by then; they wanted her married; they wanted to make sure she was looked after. I could understand that, but why did she have to choose William Patrick, I'll never know."
"One doesn't necessarily choose with whom one falls in love," Raffles said quietly.
Mackenzie gave him a hard look. "Maybe you're right, Mr. Raffles," he said, after a minute of just staring at Raffles. "Maybe you're right. Had it been another lass I'd have said it was his good looks and money that turned her head, but even at eighteen Isla was too sensible to be taken in by that kind of thing - which is why I never could understand her wanting to marry him. But marry him she did and after he'd fathered four children, he left her."
"Just like that?"
"Aye, Mr. Manders. Just like that. He claimed she wasn't the woman he'd thought she was. She wasn't a suitable wife for him. And he doesn't give her a penny not for her or for the children."
"The house in which she lives?"
"Belongs to his family. He allows her to live there; even William Patrick couldn't be seen to turn four children out onto the moor. She wouldn't let me help her; I finally forced her to accept some money for the children and she cleaned, took in washing, worked until the early hours of the morning and was up again at dawn to make sure the children were washed and fed. That's why when she wrote to tell me that two London gentlemen had moved into 'Hathaway House' and were employing her to look after them I was glad. And I know you pay her far more than you need to; she's never said, she wouldn't, but given she's able to get by on what you pay her without having to work as she did, I know. And everyone else around here knows."
Raffles shrugged. "Inspector, when I had rooms at the Albany, I paid considerably more for an inferior service. Bunny and I would happily pay Isla more than we do; she makes life considerably easier, more pleasant and comfortable for us. However, I know she would not accept anything more."
Mackenzie stared at Raffles and shook his head slowly. "Just when I think I have you figured out, Mr. Raffles, you still find a way to surprise me. Aye, you're right; she wouldn't. No one around here likes the Patricks; they're outsiders despite living here for two generations. We don't like outsiders - although clearly we make some exceptions." He looked at Raffles and then at me.
Raffles sipped his drink. "As you said, Inspector, they all know Isla's circumstances and they all like her."
Mackenzie shook his head. "Aye, Mr. Raffles, I canna deny that's part of it, but it's not just that. For some reason the people around here have taken to you and Mr. Manders; you're not outsiders."
"Well, we are quite honoured, are we not, Bunny."
"Yes," I said. "Yes, Inspector we are."
"But there is more than Isla's husband just abandoning her and children, is there not, Inspector?
"Aye, Mr. Raffles, that there is. You see our family wasn't like the Patricks, but my parents managed to provide Isla with a dowry. A very fine diamond and sapphire necklace; it would have provided for her and the children had Patrick died without providing for them, or in the case of him leaving her." He poured himself another drink.
"And what happened to it?" Raffles asked quietly.
"That bas- Patrick took it with him when he left her. He claimed it was his right to do so; that when he'd married him she gave up all rights to own anything; that she agreed to it."
"But the law?"
"Is not always there for those who need it, Mr. Raffles, sometimes it favours the -" He stopped abruptly. "I've spoken to him more than once, I've threatened him, he merely laughs. He knows there is nothing I can do."
Raffles was silent for a moment and simply sipped his drink. Then he said, his tone casual, "And where does Patrick keep the necklace? Has he left it with his bank?"
"Oh, no. He likes to keep it with him so he can take it out of the safe whenever he wants and gloat over it. And do you know what he once had the nerve to suggest?"
"Do tell us," Raffles said; his gaze had not left Mackenzie's face since Mackenzie had begun his story.
"That I should find someone to steal it because he wouldn't dare to report it and demand the police find it as he knows he has no right to it. But how can I, a retired Chief Inspector, ask someone to break the law? Isla's my sister, I would do anything for her - but how could I
Tell me, Mr. Raffles, how can I?"
"You can't, Inspector," Raffles said his tone low. "You cannot. Nor can you make an attempt yourself."
"Aye, I know - that wouldna help Isla at all. But sometimes I wish I could - Ah, I'm sorry, please forgive me, gentlemen. You didn't come here to hear the problems of my family."
"I assure you, Inspector, there is nothing for which you have to apologise, is there, Bunny?"
"No," I said shaking my head. "Nothing at all."
Mackenzie gave us both a grim smile, poured more whisky and fetched the supper Isla had prepared and left for us. Nothing more was said about Isla, her husband or the necklace.
A FORTNIGHT LATER
I was sitting on the sofa reading when Raffles came into the room; he sat down on the arm of the sofa and put his arm around my shoulders. "Bunny, would you mind terribly if I went out for a while? I feel like a brisk walk and the weather should hold."
I smiled up at him. "No, of course not, Raffles," I said. It wasn't the first time he'd left me alone to go for a walk on his own, and I didn't resent it at all - quite the opposite. Given how most of the time he had to walk at my pace and only the distance I could easily manage, I was only too happy for him to enjoy the pace he would normally walk at.
"That's my Bunny," he said, turning my head and bending his so that he could kiss me. Given this declaration of wishing to go out, I expected nothing more than a fairly brief kiss - I should know by now never to try to second guess my Raffles.
His fingers tangled, as they often did, in my hair and his mouth opened mine as the pressure of his lips increased, making me moan softly from the beauty of the kiss - even after all the kisses we're shared, I never have and never will get enough of them. I felt my body begin to react long before he raised his head from mine and gazed down into my eyes. His hand was still in my hair and his fingers were now caressing my scalp.
"On the other hand," he murmured, tracing my lips with his other hand, "I could just stay here and we could . . ." He trailed off and looked at me in the way that even after two years makes me blush a little and not just because I still do not believe I am truly worthy of the love, desire and adoration he has for me. But also because I know just what the look means, I know exactly what it's saying to me.
As appealing as the prospect of an afternoon spent in his arms in bed was (would we ever tire of one another?) there was one good reason for not doing so. I smiled at him and took his hand, "Have you forgotten the good Inspector is visiting us tonight? Now I am quite certain he is aware of . . ." To my annoyance I felt my cheeks begin to flush again.
Raffles laughed and ruffled my hair as he used to do all those years ago. "Ah, Bunny, my dear, sweet rabbit, I do sometimes wonder if I should have corrupted you quite so much. But then you say something or react to something and I see that despite everything I have done to you, you are in many ways still the sweet, innocent, naÔve, blushing young boy I met all those years ago."
"Raffles!" I exclaimed a little heatedly.
"No, Bunny, don't be cross with me," he said, bending his head to lightly kiss me. "I mean it in the nicest, possible way, I don't mean to offend you or belittle you; I would never do that - not intentionally at least. But it's true, it does please me that in my world that has been so dark I still have you, the brightest light I have ever known. You always gave me hope there was something much better. I never should have let you go, Bunny, never. I never should have walked away from you - not even when I left the school," he added softly.
I stared at him. "But, Raffles, you were eighteen and on your way to Cambridge, I wasn't quite fifteen and had three more years at school. What else could you have done?"
He shrugged. "I could have at least kept in touch with you, my dear Bunny, I could have written to you; I could have come back to the school on Founder's days; I could have -" His tone was solemn and for a moment he tightened his grip on my hand and gazed down at me in silence. I didn't know what to say and I felt a little uncomfortable at how serious the moment had suddenly become. But then he smiled, kissed me again and stood up. "But that was years ago. What was done, was done and cannot be undone no matter how much one wishes it could be. But, Bunny, I will not walk away from you again. And now, my beloved rabbit, I shall go for that brisk walk." His hand lingered on my shoulder for a second or two, before, after one final hair ruffle, he turned and strode from the room.
I continued to read for the best part of an hour after I heard the front door close behind him before getting to my feet; I walked around the room a few times to help loosen my thigh, made myself a cup of tea and got out the notes I'd been making for my latest book. Originally I hadn't planned to write a further novel, but I found I missed writing and also I know Raffles felt somewhat guilty about leaving me along whilst he played golf with Mackenzie or went for longer walks and if I had a book to work on it would help alleviate his guilt, because he would know I had something to occupy me whilst he was absent.
Before I settled down to begin the first chapter I allowed myself to wish for something I knew was impossible. Raffles has always accepted things as they are, but I have spent parts of my life wishing for things I could not have.
During my time as Raffles's fag, I spent quite a lot of time wishing he would kiss me - but he never did. In the months following that fateful night in March when we became reacquainted and I slipped seamlessly back into Raffles's life and our intimate friendship was resurrected, almost as if the ten years we had spent apart had never happened, I wished not only that Raffles would kiss me but that he would take me to his bed - but he never did. During the years we spent burgling together more than once I wished he would stop or that I would find the pluck to beg him to stop - but he didn't and I didn't.
And now I wished that I could have a few days when my leg was back to how it had been before the bullet damaged it irrevocably. I wished for a few days during which I could accompany Raffles on long walks where I could even join Mackenzie and him in a game of golf - although no doubt I would be as hopeless at the game as I was at all other sports. I wished for a few days when I did not need a stick and Raffles's arm to walk; when I was free from pain; when I could do things for myself; when our lives didn't revolve around what I could or could not do.
But most of all I wanted a few days when I could offer and give Raffles more than I am able; a few days when we could make love in ways I could only imagine. I know exactly what Raffles would say if I told him of my wishes, because I had made vague comments at times and even offered halting apologies and his replies left me in no doubt of his feelings on the matter. But nonetheless for him more than for myself I wished - I would never get my wish; I knew that, I would have to be content with what I had. And I was; I was beyond being just content; I had everything in my life with Raffles that I had ever wanted. But even so - I pushed the thought away and bent my head determinedly over the page and began to write.
It was only when I realised I could barely see the paper that I looked up and realised how late it was and yet Raffles had not returned. I pushed myself to my feet by leaning heavily on the table and grabbed my stick as I flexed my leg. I had been foolish to sit for so long without moving and I knew I was going to have some difficulties to begin with actually walking. It was a time I really needed Raffles to be at home and he wasn't. I chastised myself and reminded myself I had spent several years on my own before he returned to me and had coped then; I had managed no matter how tired I was or how painful and stiff my leg was - I just had to remember that and I could manage now.
I gritted my teeth and leaning heavily on my stick as well as on the table I finally managed to walk around the table and by leaning on chairs and sofas I made my way across the room and turned the lights on. By the time I had pulled the curtains and poked the fire, my leg was less stiff than it had been and I was able to walk by using just my stick. I glanced at my watch; Mackenzie would be here in about an hour, surely Raffles would be back by then? It wasn't that we needed to eat before our guest arrived; Isla cooked and left a cold supper for our evenings - both those spent here and also those spent in her brother's home. It was that as much as I had grown to like and respect Mackenzie and as friendly as our evenings were, I never felt as ease with him as I knew Raffles did and I did not relish the prospect of being alone with him. But I wouldn't need to be; Raffles would, I was sure, return before he arrived.
I spent a short time rearranging cushions and attempting - but failing - to move a small table before I clearly heard Raffles telling me not to be such a foolish rabbit and to sit down and rest. He was right; it wasn't as if Mackenzie was visiting us for the first time or didn't know about my limitations. If he had to move his own table or even pour his own whisky, then so be it. It went against everything I had been brought up to do, but if there was one thing which made Raffles irritated with me, it was me being foolish and trying to do too much and thus suffering afterwards. And if I pushed myself too hard and my leg caused me more pain than usual, it would be he who would suffer a sleepless night as well as I - and I did not want that. Thus, with a degree or resignation, I stopped trying to prepare for our visitor, sat down and picked my book back up.; except I couldn't concentrate it as my eyes wandered to the clock on the mantelpiece every minute or so.
As the clock struck seven there was a knock on the door; I pushed myself to my feet and slowly made my way to the door. Once again I wondered where Raffles was and tried not to worry that some mishap had befallen him. "Good evening, Inspector," I said as I opened the door and moved back to let him come in.
"Good evening to you, Mr. Manders. Is Mr. Raffles not at home?" He took off his hat and coat and hung them up.
"No, he went out for a brisk walk a few hours ago. I had expected him back by now as he knew you were visiting us tonight."
"I'm sure he'll be back soon," Mackenzie said and then to my surprise in a completely unobtrusive and natural manner he offered me his arm. I hesitated only a second before accepting the offer of assistance and let him help me back to my chair. As he held my stick in one hand and my hand in the other to help me sit down I realised he must have watched Raffles assist me as knowing exactly how to help someone is not something that comes naturally, it is something that has to be learnt.
"Thank you," I said as he moved the footstool I used and I put my leg up on it. "I hope you won't mind helping yourself to whisky."
"Not at all, Mr. Manders," he said and he poured whisky into two glasses, added some soda and brought one glass to me before moving the table so it was next to his chair and putting his own glass down. He then offered me a light for the Sullivan I'd taken from the cigarette box, lit his own pipe and settled down in the chair. "Your good health, Mr. Manders," he said, raising his glass to me.
"Your good health, Inspector."
We spent the next half an hour in casual conversation, the subject of Raffles's new prowess with a golf club arose and I confessed to Mackenzie I hadn't been surprised to learn he'd become very adept at the game and told him that cricket was not the only sport Raffles had excelled at; Mackenzie laughed and said he should have known. To my surprise I found myself telling him that I had started another book - I hadn't even mentioned it to Raffles; I'd wanted to be certain I was going to before I told him.
Despite my concerns about spending time alone with Mackenzie I found I was as relaxed with him as I was when Raffles was here too; the only concern I had was where was Raffles? I knew he was more than capable of taking care of himself; I knew he knew the moorland and the area well, but even so I was beginning to get more than just concerned and then I heard the front door open and I breathed a sigh of relief. Mackenzie glanced at me and smiled and stood up as Raffles, still wearing his overcoat strode into the room.
"Do please forgive me, my dear Inspector. I had not planned to be out this long. Ah, good, I see you have a drink." He shook Mackenzie's hand before coming to my side. He put a hand on my shoulder and gazed down at me. "I do apologise, my dear Bunny," he said, his tone far more intimate that the one he'd addressed Mackenzie with. "I do hope you weren't worried." Unable to lie to him when he was looking at me directly, I gave a half-shrug and let my gaze flicker to one side. The next second I felt his hand on my head and his fingers tangled in my hair for a second or two, before he turned around, took his overcoat off and dropped it onto the chair next to the sofa. Then he poured himself a whisky and added some more to Mackenzie's glass and to mine; he then lit a Sullivan for himself, lit the one he passed to me and finally sat down next to me.
The evening passed as evenings with Mackenzie always passed; we talked; Mackenzie shared some stories of his time at Scotland Yard; Raffles talked about Australia a little, and I told Raffles about my intention to write another book, information which he greeted with whole-hearted approval. We shared the supper Isla had prepared and left for us and more whisky as the time drew nearer to the hour Mackenzie always left us.
"Well, gentlemen," Mackenzie said, emptying his glass and standing up. "It's time I bid you both goodnight."
"Just a moment, Inspector," Raffles said, gliding to his feet. He glanced quickly at me and I couldn't read his look, before he looked at Mackenzie. "Chief Inspector," he said, his tone somewhat different than it had been.
"Aye, Mr. Raffles?" From the look on Mackenzie's face I could see he too had picked up on the difference in Raffles's tone. It wasn't just his tone, it was also the way he stood and the look on his face; in fact everything about him was different; he seemed to almost be on alert.
"I have a gift, shall we say, for Isla. However, I believe that it would be far more appropriate if it came from you." He paused for a moment and both Mackenzie and I stared at him in silence. I felt uneasy, but I had no idea why and my throat felt dry. I reached for my glass which still had some whisky in it and took a sip. "But before I give it to you, Chief Inspector, I need an assurance from you; a promise."
"And what would that be, Mr. Raffles?"
Raffles glanced down at me and to my surprise squeezed my shoulder before looking back at Mackenzie. "I want you to give me your word that if I have misunderstood you, if I have indeed fallen into a trap to catch a cracksman, if I have been wrong about you and your intentions these last seven months, that it has not been our friendship you have been cultivating, but something else, that nothing will happen to Bunny."
"Hush, Bunny. He knew nothing, Chief Inspector. I did not tell him of my intentions either before today or indeed today. He was here when you arrived; you know he could not have been involved."
"Do be quiet, Bunny, there's a good fellow." And again he squeezed my shoulder. "Well, Chief Inspector, do I have your word?"
Mackenzie looked from Raffles to me to the hand Raffles still had on my shoulder and back to Raffles. "Aye, Mr. Raffles," he said, "I give you my word."
"That if I have misunderstood you, no harm will come to Bunny?"
"Aye, Mr. Raffles. I give you my solemn word that if you have misunderstood me that nothing will happen to Mr. Manders."
They were still staring at one another; I would have sworn neither of them had blinked. My throat became even drier and I felt perspiration begin to creep out along my spine. And then to my surprise Raffles turned from Mackenzie, dropped to his knees by my side and took my hand. "Bunny," he said, putting his other hand on my cheek for a moment before covering my hand with it, now he was holding my hand between both of his. I risked a quick glance in Mackenzie's direction and saw that he was just watching us; his look unreadable. "My dear, dear, beloved Bunny, I do hope you can forgive me." And then before I could say anything else, he squeezed my hand tightly, brushed my hair from my forehead and stood up in one fluid movement and picked up his overcoat from the chair.
He put his hand into one of the pockets and kept it there for a moment. Again he looked at me; again he looked at Mackenzie; my throat became drier and I could feel a lump growing; I wanted to grab him to stop him from doing whatever he was about to do. But I couldn't move; nor could I speak; I just sat there staring at him.
He dropped the overcoat back onto the chair and held out his hand towards Mackenzie. "For Isla," he said his tone completely formal as he opened his hand and dropped the diamond and sapphire necklace into Mackenzie's hands.
I gasped and moaned his name. Mackenzie stared at the necklace and back at Raffles. Raffles took a step back, moving nearer to me and once more put his hand on my shoulder. "Well, Inspector," he said softly, "did I misunderstand you?"
Mackenzie looked at the necklace, looked at me, I hastily tried to put the glass I was still holding back down onto the table to hide my shaking hand, but I dropped it instead. It hit the floor with a soft thud, but none of us moved. Finally, he looked at Raffles who was still gripping my shoulder. "No, Mr. Raffles," he said softly. "No, sir, you dinna misunderstand me. Although you have to believe that I dinna deliberately set out to tell you the story. Had I not met Patrick that day, I wouldna have said anything. But once I had started to tell you, I couldn't stop and I confess I dared to hope that you might . . . do what you have done. But no, Mr. Raffles, Mr. Manders, the last seven months have not been about trying to trick you into committing a crime. I give you my word, gentlemen."
"Well, thank goodness for that. Now, I think that calls for another drink, don't you? No, Inspector, I insist. You'd like another drink would you not, Bunny? Of course you would." He took his hand from my shoulder.
Before he could walk away, however, I caught it. "Raffles," I murmured as I clung to his hand. I was completely unconcerned by Mackenzie's presence; he clearly knew the true nature of our relationship and for whatever reason was unbothered by it.
"Now, Bunny, let me get Inspector Mackenzie another drink," Raffles said, gently tugging his hand from mine. I made a noise in my throat, but let him go. He poured some whisky into Mackenzie's glass, bent down to pick up the glass that had fallen from my hand; it was unbroken but he poured whisky for me into a clean glass before finally pouring himself another drink. Then he came back to my side and sat on the arm of the sofa by me and put his arm around my shoulders. He raised his glass. "To," he paused for a moment, then said quietly, "to Isla." Mackenzie and I both repeated the toast.
Mackenzie drained his glass in two swallows. "Mr. Raffles," he said, as he put his glass back down. "I dinna know what to say. I -"
Raffles shook his head. "There's nothing to say, Inspector. I have merely returned something that rightfully belongs to someone other than the person in whose keeping it had been for too long." He stood up.
Mackenzie swallowed. "Thank you," he finally managed. "Now, gentlemen, I really say goodnight to you. But I do hope you will both join me for dinner one evening next week?"
Raffles smiled. "We'd be delighted, Inspector."
"Goodnight then, Mr. Raffles. Goodnight, Mr. Manders. And, Mr. Manders?"
I looked up at him. "Yes, Inspector?"
However, he just looked at me and I could see he couldn't find the words. "I'll look forward to reading your new book," was what he said.
"Thank you," I managed. "Goodnight."
Raffles left me long enough to escort Mackenzie to the door; I heard them talking, but couldn't hear what they were saying. Moments later I heard Raffles close, lock and bolt the front door; however several seconds went by before he came back into the sitting room.
The smile he'd had on his face once he'd had Mackenzie's assurances that he had not misunderstood him and the carefree manner with which he'd poured us drinks, toasted Isla, assured Mackenzie we'd be delighted to dine with him and had said goodnight to Mackenzie had gone and he looked more than a little troubled and apprehensive.
He came into the sitting room, closed the door behind him and leant against it for a moment; all the time he just stared at me. I stared back; my heart rate had finally returned to normal and the lump in my throat had vanished. "Raffles," I said quietly.
"Bunny, my dearest, sweetest Bunny, let me explain."
But I shook my head and he paled visibly. Quickly I shook my head again and held out my hand to him. Slowly he crossed the room, reached my side and again dropped to his knees before me. He took my hand and knelt gazing into my eyes. I swallowed hard as I stared into the beautiful, brilliant blue eyes that stared back at me with a mixture of love and trepidation. Whatever happened next was in my hands; he was bound to me, just as I was bound to him; but he had broken part of his promise to me, and from the way he was looking at me I could see he was wondering if my next words would be to insist he left our home; left me; left our life together.
I looked at the man I'd loved since I'd been a thirteen year old boy; a man I had loved for the best part of three decades and I smiled. I put my hand on his cheek and stroked it, before sliding it around to the back of his head and tugging his head towards me. "There's nothing to explain, Raffles," I said, my lips nearly, but not quite, brushing his, "you did exactly the right thing." And I pulled him a little bit nearer and put my mouth on his, swallowing his gasp of surprise and whatever he'd been about to say.
The next day Isla arrived at our home before we were even up - we had been awake until just before dawn had broken and not because of any extra pain in my leg - and Raffles had been forced to open the door to her dressed only in his dressing gown that covered his hastily pulled back on pyjamas.
As I sat up, carefully got out of bed and pulled my own pyjamas and dressing gown on and tried to smooth down my hair, I could hear her excited voice, but she was speaking so quickly, I couldn't hear exactly what she was saying. The only words I could catch were 'thank you', which she repeated more than once.
It was Raffles who was making coffee when I ventured, somewhat hesitantly given how I was dressed, into the kitchen. Raffles, of course, was behaving as if he was fully dressed including a tie and cuff-links. Isla greeted me as if it was an everyday occurrence for her to find us both still in our night-attire. Her smile and the way her eyes shone lit up the room; Isla had always smiled, despite her circumstances she'd always been a cheerful person, but now I realised the smile had always hidden a sadness, that it had never been quite true. But it was now and I found myself smiling back at her and relaxing despite Raffles and my attire.
She accepted the coffee Raffles had made and began to drink it as she went on smiling at Raffles; she then turned to me. "Iain told me what Mr. Raffles did," she said, "he's wonderful, isn't he?"
It took me a second to work out that 'Iain' must be Mackenzie's Christian name and I found myself wondering just what he'd told Isla Raffles had done. Then I realised she was still smiling at me. "Yes, yes, he is," I said.
"Well," she said, draining the last of her coffee; I was amazed she could drink it that quickly. "I must get back to the children. I'll be back later with your supper, sirs." She took her mug to the sink and washed it under the tap.
Raffles looked at me and then at her. "Before you go, Isla, I wonder if you know someone who would be prepared to clean and cook for Mr. Manders and me."
She stared at him and began to frown. "Have I done something wrong, Mr. Raffles? I never -" she stopped speaking abruptly and her face coloured a little. "I wouldn't sir. What have I done?"
Again Raffles looked at me before looking at her. "Nothing, Isla, nothing at all."
"Then why do you want another person to look after you and Mr. Manders?"
"Well, I, we, thought that you'd . . . Well now that you have your necklace back that you'd want to -"
She laughed. "Och, no, Mr. Raffles, sir. What would I be doing at home all day if I dinna have you and Mr. Manders to look after? No, sir. The necklace is for the children. I want to give them a good start in life, the girls as well as the boys. Thanks to you and Mr. Manders and Iain, I have more than enough to mange. I want to ensure my children have a future. If that's all right with you, sirs?" she added quickly, looking from Raffles to me.
Raffles and I looked at one another. "Of course it is, Isla," Raffles assured her. "There's nothing Bunny and I would like more. But -"
"That's settled then," she said and with a wave she hurried away.
"Well," Raffles said, taking my coffee from my hand and pulling me into a loose embrace. "It seems to have turned out even better than expected.
I leant against him. "I wonder why Mackenzie will say?"
Raffles laughed softly. "If he knows his sister as well I believe his knows his sister, I don't think he'll be all that surprise. Now, as I do not believe we have anything else planned for today and as Isla won't be back until much later, how about we share a bath?"
I moved back far enough to smile up at him. "Yes, please," I said as I took his arm and together we went towards the bathroom.
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