CHRISTMAS PAST AND PRESENT

 

By

 

Nikki Harrington

 

It's a week before Christmas and Bunny's life is nearly perfect. As he remembers a Christmas some seventeen years ago, he realises there is only one thing would make it even better. To his surprise Raffles insists accept his editor's invitation to lunch - but that is not the only surprise Raffles has for his rabbit.

An established relationship AR story.

Written: December 2012. Word count: 18,800.

 

 

It was a week before Christmas and I was looking forward to the day even more so than I had done in the past as this would be the first year that Raffles and I would celebrate Christmas together since we had moved into shared rooms at the Albany.

 

Prior to that we had, once we became reacquainted, spent Christmas together dining out on Christmas Eve and lunching together on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but we also spent the nights in our respective homes.

 

However, during the past year I finally got what I believe I had wanted almost from the moment I had met Raffles on that day seventeen years ago in September; I got all of Raffles. He had taken me to his bed the first night I had gone to his rooms to plead with him to help me and for four years I had been in partner in more than one crime. I spent nights in his bed and he spent some in mine, we spent as much time together as it was possible to spend together and not actually live together. I never looked at another person man or woman - why would I when I had Raffles? - and given quite how much time he spent in my company I do not believe he took another person to his bed.

 

However, for those four years we still maintained separate homes; he having rooms at the Albany, I having a flat in Mount Street. And then in March of this year he told me a set of rooms which had two bedrooms had become available at the Albany and he suggested we shared them. I of course had agreed; it really was the culmination of my happiness. I truly believed I had everything for which I could ever wish or desire.

 

It actually will not be the first Christmas we have spent under the same roof; just the first Christmas in our own home. We did spend one Christmas in the same house seventeen years ago, when we were school boys together when Raffles's parents very kindly invited me to spend Christmas with them. I remember it well . . .

 

 

I was somewhat surprised and alarmed to be summoned to Dobson's study after supper; thus after checking my tie was completely straight, my hands had no ink on them and my shirt was tucked neatly into my trousers I made my way with a degree of trepidation to his study and knocked on the door.

 

At his order to 'come in', I swallowed hard and did as instructed. He was sitting behind his desk and looked up as I went in. "Ah, Manders," he said, reaching for a piece of paper, then he looked at me again. "Do not look so worried, Manders, you are not in any trouble." His voice was almost gentle.

 

I put my hands behind my back and stammered, "Thank you, Mr. Dobson, sir."

 

"I have some news for you, Manders, now I do not wish you to worry unduly but it is about your parents." I bit the inside of my mouth and tried not to tremble. "I am afraid they have both contracted influenza and have been rather unwell and were admitted to hospital." Again I tried hard not to tremble. "It's all right, Manders," he said his tone still quite gentle; "they are now over the worst and will be on their way to recovery soon. However, once they have been deemed well enough to be released from hospital, the doctors have insisted they both go to a convalescent home in order to regain their strength and recover fully. Thus, they will not be able to return to your family home until after Christmas."

 

"Oh." I managed, as he seemed to be waiting for me to speak.

 

"Your father has a brother, I believe?"

 

I nodded. "Yes, sir."

 

"Well, it has been arranged that you will spend Christmas with him and return to your own home if your parents recover in time before the new term begins or return straight here if they do not." He looked at me expectantly.

 

"Thank you, Mr. Dobson," I said trying hard not to let my disappointment from showing in my tone. Uncle Richard was a very nice man and he normally spent Christmas with Mother, Father and I, and I liked him a great deal. However, he was unmarried and knew very little about children and I doubted Christmas with him would be anything different from any other day. I really did try to hide my disappointment because I did not want Dobson to think I was an uncaring or selfish boy, a boy who was only thinking of himself and not his sick parents.

 

"I'm quite sure it is not how you wished to spend Christmas, Manders," Dobson said, "but I am certain being the boy you are you will make the best of it."

 

I felt my cheeks grow warm under the, what to my ears, was in fact a gentle compliment. "Yes, sir, of course I shall, sir. Sir?"

 

"Yes, Manders?"

 

"Are my parents really recovering? They aren't in any danger, are they, sir?"

 

He smiled - I swear it was the first time I had ever seen him smile. "Yes, Manders, they really are recovering and they are out of danger. They did both suffer very badly, which is why it will take some weeks for them to achieve a full recovery."

 

"Thank you, sir."

 

"You may go now, Manders."

 

But I hesitated. "Sir?"

 

"Yes, Manders?"

 

"May I write to them, sir, just to le them know I'm . . ." I trailed off.

 

He nodded. "That would be a very nice thing to do, Manders. If you write your letter tonight and bring it to me later I'll make sure it goes into the post first thing tomorrow morning."

 

"Thank you, sir," I said before I nodded, turned and hurried out of the room, closing the door quietly and carefully behind me.

 

Outside his office I stood for a moment or two and allowed myself to feel deeply disappointed and more than a little selfish as I wished my parents could have waited until after Christmas to become ill. However, after a minute or two of self-indulgence I shook myself and hurried off to the dorm to write them a short letter.

 

It took me some twenty minutes to write a few lines and I still wasn't certain my disappointment hadn't come through in the words I used, so I decided to ask Raffles to read the letter and tell me if he thought it was acceptable.

 

I folded the letter in half and put it inside a book, along with an envelope, to keep it flat and hurried off to his study. It was already quite a lot later than it normally was when I went to his study, thus I wasn't completely surprised when I hurried around a corner and nearly ran into him.

 

"There you are, Bunny," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. "I was beginning to get a little concerned about you, especially when Charlie told me Peterson had told him you'd been summoned to Dobson's study. Is everything all right?"

 

I shrugged, nodded, shook my head and then shrugged again. I wasn't surprised when he gave me a somewhat bemused look. Then he put his arm around my shoulders as he often did and began to walk, measuring his stride to mine, towards the sixth form studies. "Come and have some cocoa and chocolate and you tell me all about it."

 

 

"I am sorry to hear that, Bunny," he said, as we sat on his sofa drinking cocoa and eating chocolate. "You must be rather disappointed." I felt my cheeks grow warm and I looked away from him, not wanting him to see how selfish I was.

 

I felt the mug taken from my hand before he slid his arm around my shoulders, gently tugged me towards him a little and put the first two fingers of his other hand under my chin and tipped my head up. "You know, Bunny," he said after he'd gazed down at me in silence for a moment or two, "you are allowed to be disappointed. It doesn't mean you don't care about your parents."

 

I swallowed hard and gazed at him. "Doesn't it?"

 

He smiled. "No, my rabbit," he said, ruffling my hair and letting his fingers linger in it. "Not at all."

 

I sat and gazed at him for a minute or two then I remembered the letter. "Raffles?"

 

"Yes, my rabbit?"

 

"I've written a short letter to my parents and Mr. Dobson said if I gave it to him before I go to bed tonight he'll make sure it goes off in the post tomorrow. I wonder if you'd read it for me and tell me if you think it's all right. I don't want them to know I'm . . . Well, you know."

 

He smiled and again ruffled my hair. "I know, Bunny, and I'll be quite happy to read your letter. Where is it?"

 

I picked up the book I'd put down on the table, took the letter out and handed it to him. I watched him anxiously as he read the short letter. To my surprise I saw him blink hard several times before he carefully refolded the letter and put it into the envelope I'd brought with me. "Come here, Bunny," he said standing up, pulling me to my feet and gathering me into his arms. "You," he said softly, "are a truly wonderful, caring boy. Your parents must be so very proud of you - I know I am," he added softly, as he pulled me even nearer to him and for a moment rested his cheek on my head.

 

I was completely surprised, not by the embrace, he embraced me often, but by his words. I didn't really understand what he meant; what I had done to make him say such things. "Raffles?" I made his name a question.

 

After a moment or two longer of holding me against him he pushed me away and gazed down at me. "You don't really understand what I mean, do you, my rabbit?" Slowly I shook my head. "Your letter, Bunny, your letter to your parents; it is completely unselfish and not about you at all. I'm honestly not sure many, if any, other thirteen year olds - or indeed older boys - could have written such a selfless letter."

 

I felt my cheeks being to burn under his praise and I swallowed hard as he stared down at me. Finally I managed to stammer out, "Thank you, Raffles."

 

"That's my Bunny," he said, and to my complete and utter surprise he bent his head and for a fleeting second he brushed his lips over mine. It wasn't a kiss; I couldn't call it that; it reminded me a little of the kisses Mother bestowed on me, albeit those were always on my cheek. He kept my face cupped in his hands for a little longer before he took them away, put his arm around my shoulders and said, "Shall we take this to Dobson?"

 

I swallowed as I looked at him and saw the affection I knew he had for me showing so clearly. "Yes, please," I said.

 

"That's my good boy," he responded picking up the letter and leading me out of his study.

 

A WEEK LATER

 

"Bunny!" Ollie and I, as well as quite a few other boys, stopped at the sound of Raffles calling my name. It was morning break and Ollie and I had been on the way to the third form common room. I turned around to see Raffles striding down the hallway towards me, dodging around boys who didn't automatically get out of his way or moved in the wrong direction, as Charleston stood and watched him.

 

I was a little surprised as I rarely saw him in the halls during the day, but as it always did when I saw or heard him my heart began to beat just a little faster and I felt myself being to smile and I hastily glanced at my hands to ensure they were clean - which they were.

 

"Hello, Raffles," I said as he reached me; I gazed up at him and he smiled at me as he brushed my hair from my forehead as he tended to do several times a day.

 

I waited for him to speak, after all he was the one who had called me, but for a moment he just went on smiling down at me, his hand still in my hair. Then he started slightly and looked around him; for the first time I thought he seemed almost a little self-conscious and he appeared to be more aware than he usually was that we were the focus of the attention of a lot of the boys and that most of the boys had fallen silent and were just watching us.

 

He frowned slightly and then took my arm and all but dragged me into a nearby empty classroom where he firmly closed the door and leant against it as he once again smiled at me. I wasnít certain taking me into an empty classroom was the most sensible thing he had ever done. I had heard the odd whisper or two about the true nature of our relationship and what he did to me in his study and what my real duties were, and if I'd heard them then there was no doubt that he had too.

 

Not that there was any truth in the rumours; he didnít kiss me or take me to his bed or touch me in way that weren't appropriate, nor did he expect me to touch him or do things I know some of his fellow sixth formers expected their fags to do to them. However, given the whispers did exist, I felt it might have been more sensible had he not taken me off alone - of course I would not suggest such a thing as I was quite content to be alone with him. I would also have been more than content for him to kiss me and quite possibly even to do some of things the other boys said he did - but I certainly wouldn't tell him that.

 

"Bunny," he said. "I have some good news for you - well, I hope you'll think it is good news," he added.

 

"My parents will be well enough to come home for Christmas?" Even as I said the words I silently chastised myself for being such a foolish rabbit; had that been the case, Dobson would have told me himself; he wouldn't have told Raffles to tell me. I lowered my head and let my hair fall around my face to hide my now reddened cheeks.

 

I should have known he wouldn't let me stay that way, he never does, and a second or two later I felt two fingers under my chin and my head was gently pushed up. "Don't hide from me, Bunny," he said softly, sliding one arm around my shoulders. "You never need to hide from me; surely you know that by now, donít you?"

 

I nodded. "Yes, Raffles," I said quietly. "It was just such a foolish thing to say. I'm sorry."

 

He sighed and pulled me into his arms and held me in a loose embrace; I rested my head against his breast and hoped no one chose that moment to come into the classroom. "You donít need to apologise, Bunny, you did nothing wrong and it wasn't such a foolish thing to say. I fancy a lot of boys would have said or thought the same thing."

 

Is it any wonder I love him so much? He's so kind, so gentle, so caring; he always knows what to say and how to make me feel better and less of a rabbit. I adore him; he's the most wonderful person in the world and matters to me more than anyone else, apart from my parents of course and sometimes I think I may love him just a little more than I love them, because, well, they are my parents.

 

After a moment or two of just holding me, he pushed me away, turned around and with my hand now in his, led me to one of the desks which he sat down on and took both of my hands in his and smiled at me. "Bunny," he said, his voice seemed almost excited.

 

"Yes, Raffles?"

 

"How would you like to come home with me for Christmas?" I stared open mouthed at him; I couldn't believe I had heard him correctly - in fact I was quite certainly I hadn't heard him correctly.

 

"Raffles?" I finally whispered.

 

"I was so moved by the letter you wrote to your parents, Bunny, the completely unselfish letter that I knew I couldn't let you go off to your uncle's for Christmas. So I wrote to Mother, explained what had happened and asked if I might take you home with me and she said yes." His smile increased and he let go of one of my hands and again brushed my hair back from my face. "Well?" he said his tone light as I just went on staring at him, now I was quite certain I was actually asleep and dreaming. "What say you, my rabbit? Do you want to come home with me for Christmas or not?"

 

I shook myself and spoke. "Yes, Raffles. Yes, of course I do but - Are you really certain that it's all right with your parents? Are you sure you want me to?"

 

He laughed and now tangled my hair around his fingers. "Of course I want you to come home with me, Bunny. I wouldn't have asked Mother had I not wanted that, would I?" I flushed again and shook my head. "And yes, I am quite certain that both Mother and Father are quite happy for you to come with me - and Mother says Alice is looking forward to meeting you; although I had better warn you, she may well try to make a pet out of you or a play thing."

 

I smiled; I was used to being Raffles's pet so the idea his much younger sister (Raffles was ten years older than Alice) might want to do the same didn't particularly trouble me. Then something else came to mind and I asked, "But what about my parents and Uncle Richard?"

 

"That's all sorted; Mother has sorted it all out; she even rang Dobson to tell him, not that she needed to, but she thought it would be the right thing to do. Your parents are really quite happy, as is your uncle Richard. Not that he didn't want you to stay with him; he did, but he quite understands how it wouldn't have been a family Christmas. He just wants what will make you happiest; he wants you to have a happy Christmas, Bunny, and I hope that will be with me."

 

I swallowed hard as I gazed at him in open adoration. I honestly didn't know what to say, anything I thought of sounded so inadequate. Finally I settled for simplicity, "Thank you, Raffles," I said, "thank you so much."

 

He smiled at me for a moment or two longer, then untangled his fingers from my hair, cupped my face between his hands and said lightly, "That's my good boy," and to my surprise, he brushed his lips again over my mine, as with the previous time it wasn't a kiss as such, of that I was quite certain, before he pulled me back into his arms for a tighter, but somewhat shorter embrace before letting me go. Then with his arm around my shoulders he led me out of the classroom and back into the hall where a few boys still lingered.

 

I was about to go off to find Ollie when something came to me. "May I tell Ollie?" I said quietly.

 

Raffles smiled. "You may tell whomsoever you wish to tell, Bunny. I suspect it will be common knowledge before the end of the day anyway - you know how these things are." And with a final ruffle of my hair, he put his hands into his pockets and strode off in the direction of the sixth form common room.

 

CHRISTMAS EVE

 

I sat cross-legged on Raffles's bed watching him wrap presents for his parents and Alice, including the small gifts I had bought for them. I had fully intended to wrap them myself, but Raffles being Raffles got a little frustrated by my less than perfect wrapping, and so leaving me to write labels and hold ribbon and sticky tape and pass him the scissors when he asked for them, it was he who undertook the task himself. I had of course wrapped the gift I had bought him and that was in a drawer in the bedroom I had been given.

 

The day before term had ended Dobson had called me into his study and handed me some money which Father had asked him to give me so that I could buy gifts for Raffles's family. I had no idea where I would be able to do that, but when I told Raffles I had some money and wished to buy his family gifts he asked his mother if we might go up to London; in the end the entire family, including Raffles's father and a very excited Alice went up to London - and not just for the day. Mrs. Raffles insisted that we stay overnight and thus arranged rooms in a far grander hotel than I had ever set foot in. To my surprise I found Raffles and I were sharing a room; I didn't object, of course I wouldn't, but I wondered what Raffles would say. He was not only unperturbed by it, he also seemed unsurprised.

 

For a public school boy used to sharing a dorm and bathrooms with other boys I was more than a little reticent about undressing in front of other boys, unlike my fellow dorm mates who seemed to have no such concerns and openly looked at one another and walked around the dorm unclothed and laughed at things that made me blush to even think about. I never deliberately looked at another unclothed boy, of course it wasn't possible to avoid seeing them, but I'd never purposely stared at one.

 

Until that is the night in the hotel room where it seemed as if one second Raffles was fully dressed and the next he was completely naked and I was staring at him, my eyes wide, my mouth dry, my palms damp and to my concern a part of my body that had been reacting during the past few months was beginning to harden as I stood and stared. I was unable to move and quite unable to look away.

 

However, it wasn't just that I was unable to move or look away - I didn't want to do either. I wanted to go on staring at him for as long as he would let me, and I knew he was quite aware of where my focus was as I'd forced my gaze away from his body for a second and looked at his face. He was watching me, a look on his face I could not begin to understand; a look I had never seen on his face. And he too just stood there, unmoving, making so attempt to put his pyjamas on or any attempt to cover himself up. He quite deliberately stood there and let me stare at him.

 

And as I stood and stared I felt an almost over-whelming desire to do more than just stare - I desperately wanted to touch him. And as I consciously admitted that, my body hardened a little more and I tried to discreetly adjust my coat as I swallowed hard.

 

I don't know quite how long I would have gone on staring, gone on wondering what it would be like to touch him, when suddenly to my surprise he turned around swiftly and pulled on not only his pyjamas but also his dressing gown and when he turned back, a smile on his face, he looked just a little flushed. "Do get undressed, Bunny," he said, coming towards me and brushing my hair back from my forehead.

 

I hesitated for a second or two before saying softly, "Yes, Raffles," and for the first time ever I didn't trouble myself with trying to keep my body covered as I undressed and put my own pyjamas and dressing gown on. He said nothing else and nor did I, but I was quite aware he had watched me undress. Once I had put my night-clothes on I did look up at him and once more the look on his face was completely unreadable.

 

Then he shook himself, smiled the smile he only ever gave me, took my hand and guided me into the bathroom where we brushed our teeth and did the other things one does before going to bed.

 

Nothing was said either as we got into bed and he turned the lamp down or indeed afterwards - but it wasn't the only time that Christmas I saw him unclothed or he saw me. His mother had given me a room not only next to Raffles's own room, but also one that connected with his and whilst he kept the door from the hall to his bedroom firmly closed, the door between our rooms he left open and would wander into my room in all states of dress or undress or call me into his.

 

As I watched him expertly wrap gifts, I thought about the holiday so far. It was been wonderful; Raffles's parents were kind, caring, loving people - it was easy to see from where Raffles got his caring nature - Alice was a delight (and I didn't usually care for young girls) and they were all very openly affectionate with one another, touching, hugging and in Alice's case in particular kissing regularly. Raffles's mother hugged me and kissed my cheek as soon as I met her as well as hugging and kissing Raffles, and to my complete surprise rather than just shake hands with his son, as my father had been doing with me since I was eleven, Mr. Raffles embraced Raffles upon our arrival at their home.

 

Raffles, Alice and I spent quite a lot of time together and it was quite clear to see just how much Raffles adored his younger sister and how she, rather like I, idolised him. Raffles never tired of her following him around, never became irritated by her, happily read to her each evening and seemed more than content to spend time sitting on the nursery floor playing games with her - and I of course was perfectly content to be with Raffles whatever he was doing.

 

The day after we arrive at Raffles's home Mrs. Raffles, Raffles, Alice and I decorated the tree as well as the dining and sitting rooms and the hallway. It was tremendous fun and I felt a little guilty that I had more fun than when Mother and I decorated our own tree. I knew Raffles would tell me not to be a rabbit and to stop feeling guilty, and so I tried as I didn't want it to spoil any of the pleasure and I also knew Raffles had an uncanny way of reading my mind - or at least he seemed to do so.

 

Finally the presents were all wrapped and duly labelled and Raffles stood up in his ever elegant way and gazed down at me for a moment before sitting on his bed next to me and pulling me into his arms. "I'm so glad you're here, Bunny," he said softly, gathering me a little nearer to him until I was almost, but not quite, on his lap.

 

I snuggled against him, resting my head on his breast and listening to his heart beating. I loved being in his arms and would have been quite happy to stay exactly where I was for the rest of the day. "I'm so glad you brought me home with you, Raffles," I said softly.

 

He pulled me a little nearer and I felt him rest his cheek on my head and then kiss the top of my head. After a moment or two of silence he pushed me away from him a little and took my face between his hands and just gazed at me.

 

Once again his look was unfathomable, but I saw him swallow and moisten his lips as he murmured, "Oh, Bunny, my dear, beloved, little rabbit," and he lowered his head, tilting it very slightly as his mouth brushed against mine. But unlike the previous two occasions when it had been a second or twos, no more, contact, he didn't take him mouth away, in fact he increased the pressure and pulled me nearer to him.

 

I don't know what would have happened, whether he would have lifted his head or whether he'd have gone on kissing me, because this certainly was a kiss, but suddenly there was a knock on his door. "Arthur!" I heard Alice call. "I want you and Harry to come and play with me."

 

Although Raffles lifted his head from mine and moved back he didn't jump or push me away. He had no need to do so; Alice was a little spoilt and indulged - especially by Raffles - but one thing she never did was to go into Raffles's bedroom uninvited.

 

"Just a moment, Alice," he called, staring at me again and breaking the embrace to brush by hair from my forehead. He shook his head, sighed then got off the bed and held out his hand to me and guided me off the bed, then still holding my hand he led me to the door and opened it. The next second he'd picked Alice up, swung her around several times making her giggle and cling to him before, still carrying her in one arm with his other hand on my shoulder, we went to the nursery where we played a game, I was quite certain that Alice made the rules up as she went along, until tea time.

 

CHRISTMAS DAY

 

It was about an hour before luncheon and the Raffles family and I were all in the sitting room. Alice was brushing the hair of the new doll Raffles had bought her - she'd been allowed to open three of her presents, the rest would wait until later in the afternoon - and chattering away when the doorbell rang.

 

I saw Raffles and his mother look at one another and the next second Raffles was on his feet, pulling me to my feet and with my hand firmly in his he hurried me out into the hall. "It's all right, Beatrice," he called, as the young housemaid hurried towards the front door, "I'll answer it."

 

She stopped and turned and smiled at him. "Thank you, Mr. Arthur," she said and hurried off -back to the kitchen I presumed.

 

My hand still in his Raffles tugged me towards the front door where he let go of my hand and gazed down at me, smiled and opened the door. I gasped in surprise and pleasure as I saw my uncle Richard standing outside.

 

"Hello, Mr. Manders," Raffles said holding out his hand, "Happy Christmas to you, sir. Please do come in." And physically moving me from one place to another - I was too stunned to move myself - Raffles held the door open further and allowed Uncle Richard to come inside.

 

"You must be Arthur," Uncle said, taking off his hat and holding out his hand. "Happy Christmas to you."

 

"Yes, sir, I am," Raffles said, taking Uncle's hat with one hand and shaking Uncle's hand with his other. He then turned his attention from Uncle and looked down at me, "Bunny," he said softly, but it was enough to pull me from my stunned state.

 

I shook myself and smiled as Uncle turned to me. "Happy Christmas, Harry," he said smiling down at me.

 

I beamed up at him. "Happy Christmas, Uncle Richard!" I exclaimed moving towards him. Now whether it was just because I was used to Raffles embracing me or whether it was my time spent in the Raffles house watching Raffles and his father in particular interact, or whether it was just that in that instant I realised that as much as I was enjoying my time with Raffles's family and as happy as I was to be there, I was missing my family, I do not know, but rather than offer him my hand to shake I hurried towards him and put my arms around his waist and embraced him.

 

I felt him start slightly for a second, but no more, before he carefully put his arms around me and pulled me a little closer to him. As we stood there to my horror I felt tears begin to creep into my eyes; they were tears of happiness, but I really didn't want anyone to see me crying.

 

Just as Uncle let his arms fall from around me I heard the door to the sitting room pulled open and heard Mrs. Raffles call, "Alice! Do come back here."

 

Uncle turned from me and before I hastily turned away I saw not only Alice but also Mr. and Mrs. Raffles coming out into the hall. I swiftly wiped my hand over my eyes and the next second Raffles handed me a handkerchief.

 

In the ensuing introductions and Alice once more chattering away at full speed, I managed to dry my eyes, blow my nose and smile as I turned back around to see Mrs. Raffles smiling at me. "Happy Christmas, Harry dear," she said coming towards me and putting her arms around me. "Arthur and I thought you would like to see your uncle today."

 

I stared up at her and then at Raffles and blinked hard to force the tears of happiness away again. "Thank you, Mrs. Raffles," I said. "Thank you so much."

 

She smiled, patted my hand and bent to kiss my cheek before she stood upright and followed Mr. Raffles and Uncle who was being led by Alice into the sitting room.

 

Raffles's hand came to rest on my shoulder and I gazed up at him. "Thank you, Raffles," I said.

 

He smiled and brushed my hair back from my face. "You are very welcome, my dear Bunny. I'm just relieved that you liked our surprise." The look on his face contained so much affection that I swallowed hard, and I knew I was going to lose the battle with more tears.

 

I pulled myself away from him. "I need to go to the lavatory," I murmured, and although I knew he knew I didn't, I hurried away from him towards the downstairs lavatory where I spent some minutes letting the tears fall before I dried my eyes, blew my nose, washed my hands and face and went back out into the hall only to find Raffles leaning against the wall waiting for me. He put his arm out and I trotted over to him, let him put his arm around my shoulder and lead me into the sitting room where to my amazement I found Alice sitting on Uncle Richard's lap telling him all about her new doll.

 

CHRISTMAS DAY NIGHT

 

I removed my dressing gown and was about to get into bed when I sensed I was being watched. I turned around and wasn't completely surprised to see Raffles standing in the doorway that connected our rooms; he was in his pyjamas and dressing gown although the latter he'd left untied.

 

I looked at him and waited for him to speak. Not for the first time during the holidays I could not read the look on his face as he studied me. Finally he held out his hand to me, "Come here, Bunny," he said softly. I hurried over to him and let him put his arm around my shoulders, turn me and lead me back into his room. "My dear rabbit," he said softly, pulling me a little nearer to him. "Will you do something for me, Bunny?"

 

I looked up at him. "Of course; I'll do anything for you, Raffles, you know that."

 

"Anything?" he asked his voice still low.

 

I nodded. "Yes."

 

We reached his bed where the covers were pulled back. He took his arm from around my shoulders, pulled off his dressing gown and tossed it onto a nearby chair as he gazed down at me again. He moistened his lips and put one hand on my shoulder, whilst the other found its way as it so often did into my hair. "Sleep in my bed tonight with me, Bunny," he said, now his tone was oddly formal. "Please," he added before I had a chance to answer him. There was something in his tone I could not identify, but it worried me slightly.

 

I put my hand on his arm and looked up at him. "Raffles?" I didn't know what to ask, what to say even, so I just made his name a question.

 

He smiled. "I would just like your company tonight, Bunny, that's all. Don't worry I'm not going to hurt you; I'd never hurt you - you do know that, do you not, my rabbit?"

 

I nodded. "Of course I do, Raffles. And of course I'll sleep with you." I spoke around a suddenly very dry mouth as my whole body started to tingle and to my annoyance tremble slightly.

 

"Dear Bunny," he said softly, "My very own, dear Bunny. Come along then, get into bed." I climbed into his bed and a moment later he was by my side, reaching to turn the lamp down before he gathered me into his arms; he held me closely against him for a second or two, before pushing me away just a little. He then brushed my hair from my forehead and put his mouth on mine, pressing gently for what was far too short a time, before he took his mouth from me and settled down with me held in a loose embrace. "Dear Bunny," he said again. "Goodnight, my rabbit, sleep well."

 

I swallowed. "Goodnight, Raffles," I managed. "I hope you sleep well." I wasn't quite certain I'd sleep at all; I had never shared a bed with anyone before, even though most of my dorm had, and I knew without him ever telling me that Raffles had.

 

"Oh, I shall, Bunny," he said softly, lifting his head from his pillow to give me another brief kiss before he once more settled down.

 

It seemed like mere minutes had gone by before I heard the sound of his steady breathing which told me he had fallen asleep. I sighed softly and daringly moved a little nearer to him, carefully moving my head from the pillow onto his shoulder then I closed my eyes.

 

Despite my concerns I must have fallen asleep as I awoke to him saying my name and opened my eyes to find him smiling at me in the way only he can smile. "Thank you, Bunny," he said in his once again oddly formal tone and he kissed my forehead.

 

A FORTNIGHT LATER

 

I remained with Raffles and his family until we returned to school as although my parents did indeed make a full recovery their doctor insisted that rather than return to the cold, harsh winter, they go away somewhere warm for a few weeks. I was disappointed I wouldn't see them until half term, but relieved they were once again well, and I did speak to Mother on the telephone.

 

 

The sound of the telephone ringing pulled me from my memories of Christmas past. Raffles was still in the bathroom having, now that I came to think about it, ordered me to bathe before he, and so it fell to me to answer the telephone. Despite I being the one, before we took up residence in the same set of rooms, to encourage Raffles to have the telephone installed, I tended not to answer it when we were both at home, preferring to leave it to Raffles. However, with Raffles in the bath, I had no choice but to answer it - as it turned out it was for me; it was my editor.

 

I replaced the phone after a fairly brief conversation and feeling somewhat puzzled made my way to the bathroom where Raffles was just getting out of the bath. Whether it was just my recent memories of my Christmas with Raffles all those years ago or just because I could, I found myself standing as I had stood all those years ago just staring at him.

 

My eyes were wide, my mouth dry, my palms damp and a part of my body was beginning to harden as I stood and stared. I was unable to move and quite unable to look away. And I didn't want to; indeed I wanted to do the opposite - but unfortunately I knew that wasn't possible. My desire to move nearer to him and kiss him and put my hand on him increased as under my stare I watched him begin to harden slightly.

 

A soft moan escaped me as his body began to react and of course it made my own body react even more and I really had to force myself to remain where I was. "If you go on looking at me like that for much longer, Bunny, I am going to take you back to bed." His voice was a little hoarse and I pulled my gaze away from his now rapidly hardening body to look at his face - which confirmed his words were quite true.

 

"You can't," I managed though lips that suddenly felt too thick.

 

"Oh, my rabbit, I assure you that I can." His voice was sultry now and he licked his lips causing me to moan again and once more I let my gaze move down his body. I gasped and then moaned again as for a second or two, no more, he touched himself, moving his hand over himself as I watched.

 

It was my undoing and uncaring of the fact that I was fully dressed and had to leave our rooms very shortly, unless I feigned a sudden illness, I took two steps to where he still stood his hand still on himself, dropped to my knees, pushed his hand away and took him into my mouth.

 

Now he gasped aloud and grabbed my shoulders. "Bunny," he murmured, "oh, my dearest rabbit. Oh, Bunny, you - Oh, Bunny . . . Bunny, you have to stop. Bunny, please, you must . . . Bunny!" He swayed more than a little and his grip on my shoulders tightened as his body found its release into my mouth.

 

Despite his warning to me, despite him telling me I had to stop, despite the way I knew his body, his speedy release took me somewhat by surprise and I had to let him slip from my mouth as I began to cough. I managed to swallow which caused me to cough some more and seconds later I found myself guided to my feet, pushed down onto the lavatory seat and a glass of water was pushed into my shaking hand where he held it steady and guided it to my mouth; his other arm was around my shoulders.

 

"Oh, Bunny," he said gently, putting the glass down onto the basin and fumbling in my pocket for my handkerchief, which he handed to me. "Oh, my very own rabbit; are you all right?"

 

I wiped my streaming eyes and blew my nose and looked up at him and gave him a rueful smile. "I think so," I managed.

 

"Why did you not listen to me?" he said softly.

 

I shrugged and wiped my mouth with my handkerchief before I pushed it into my pocket. "I didnít want to," I said.

 

He smiled down at me for a moment or two longer before he pulled me to my feet took my face between his hands and kissed me deeply with clear longing, love and affection. It took me all my time not to push myself into his arms, press against his body and -

 

With deep regret it was I, and not he, who broke the kiss and took a step backwards. "Bunny?" he made my name a question as he reached for a towel and began to dry himself.

 

I was very uncomfortable, in one area in particular, but as desperate as I was for his hand on me I sighed and said, "I have to go out, Raffles, that's what I came to tell you." He raised an eyebrow. "My editor rang whilst you were in the bath and invited me out to luncheon today. I tried to tell him I already had plans, but he was very persistent and in the end I found myself agreeing to meet him at the Savoy. You don't mind do you, Raffles? I can always ring him back and tell him it won't be possible after all." I looked hopefully at him.

 

However, he shook his head. "No, Bunny," he said firmly, pulling on his dressing gown and tying the cord around him. "You must go; indeed I insist that you go."

 

"Raffles!" I was almost hurt by his words.

 

He took my face between his hands again and lightly kissed me. "Don't sound so dismayed, my rabbit. I have not tired of you, if that is what you are thinking. It is just that I believe it would be a good idea for you to have luncheon with him."

 

I sighed. "Yes, Raffles," I murmured as I shifted slightly, I was still more than a little uncomfortable.

 

His gaze travelled from my face down my body and then back up. "How soon do you need to leave?"

 

I sighed again. "Too soon," I said regretfully.

 

He smiled at me. "I promise you, my rabbit, I shall make it up to you later."

 

The look he was giving me made me hide a groan as my body reacted to the sultry blue gaze. Finally, I was forced to do what I'd been avoiding doing and adjusted myself slightly until I was more comfortable. Despite us being lovers, despite the level of our intimacy, I felt my cheeks begin to burn somewhat and I lowered my head.

 

Seconds later his fingers were under my chin and my head was gently but firmly pushed back up. "Ah, Bunny," he said, sliding his other hand into my hair and winding it around his fingers. "I'm so glad that in many ways you are still the boy I met some seventeen years ago."

 

"Raffles!" Again I tried to look away from him, but with his hand under my chin and the other tangled in my hair holding my head firmly in place I couldn't.

 

"Hush, my beloved rabbit, don't sound so distressed. I did not mean to upset or offend you; I meant it in the nicest possible way. I love your innocence, Bunny; I love your naivety; I love the way you blush so prettily; I love how you still sometimes tremble under my touch; I love how you never hide your love for me; I love that I have not managed to corrupt you totally by taking you into my world; I love the boy you were, but most of all, my dearest Bunny, I love you. I love you as you are; don't ever make yourself change simply because you think you would please me, because I do not wish you to change." And he put his mouth on mine again, pulled me into his arms and kissed me in a tender way that was about love and affection and not passion, before he took his mouth away and just held me in a loose embrace, letting me rest my head against his shoulder.

 

I was more than a little moved. I had known he loved me for some time, indeed I was aware of his deep affection, even if I dared not call it 'love', during our years together at school, and it wasn't the first time, not by some way, that he'd told me he loved me. But he was rarely quite so eloquent, quite so effusive, quite so honest and quite to open in his devotion to me. I could feel his heart beating against mine as I let him hold me; I still wanted nothing more than to forget lunching with my editor and return to our bed.

 

But a promise is a promise, so after a moment or two longer, I lifted my head, brushed my lips over his, turned and left the bathroom. I pulled a fresh handkerchief out of the dresser, brushed my hair, smoothing it down from where his fingers had tangled in it, changed my tie, tie pin and cuff-links and picked up my cigarette case and after pausing to kiss him once more briefly, I pulled on my overcoat, gathered up my hat and gloves and left our rooms where, as the day was so cold and the snow was falling, I hailed a cab to take me to the Savoy to meet Hastings.

 

THREE HOURS LATER

 

After a longer than expected and more pleasant than expected luncheon with Hastings, I made my way back to the Albany. The snow had stopped falling and I decided it would be rather nice to walk through the snow covered streets rather than take a cab. I paused from time to time to look into shop windows and to admire how well they had been decorated for the season.

 

As I walked and looked, I sighed just a little as I wished our own rooms would be decorated. However, despite the fact that he celebrated Christmas and even admired the trees and other decorations our club and restaurants put up, apart from a handful of cards, Raffles had never put up a tree or a garland or even any Christmas greenery in his rooms; unlike I who had always put up at the very least a tree and normally quite a lot more - and I was going to miss the decorations this year.

 

I know many would say that I should simply have suggested it, insisted on it even, and that my wishes are as important as his - but that is not the way our relationship works. It is not just the way I blush or my naivety that goes back to our school days, two years as his fag still matter even today.

 

For two years I was his; I belonged to him; he told me what to do; I did whatever I could to make him happy - and in that respect nothing has changed. I do still look up to him; I am still at least at times in awe of him; I do still bow to his wishes and will (I would not still be a cracksman were it not for he); I am, just occasionally the thirteen year old boy and he the eighteen year old handsome cricket captain who took me into his care. And he is aware of this and it is to his credit that he rarely deliberately uses it against me and take advantage of my, some might say, subservience.

 

Thus, as much I would have liked our rooms to have been decorated, it wasn't going to spoil that fact that Raffles and I would be spending all of Christmas under the same roof for the first time in seventeen years. And as we had been invited to a Christmas Eve party and were going out to luncheon on Christmas Day, I would still get to see trees and decorations - even if they weren't in our own home.

 

As I thought about it, I realised that the lack of decorations in our rooms bothered me considerably less than the fact that we were going out on Christmas Eve. We were going to a party where I would be forced to spend the evening watching Raffles dance with ladies and listening to him paying them pretty compliments and being quite the centre of attention, whereas I would be on the sidelines with the spinster aged aunts or other young men who were like me.

 

I wished we did not have to go but Lady Darcy, who is more than a little formidable and rarely stands on ceremony, had cornered Raffles at a dinner we both attended a fortnight ago and insisted on his presence at her party. My Raffles is a quick thinker and a man who is not easily persuaded into doing something he does not wish to do; however, Lady Darcy is not to be argued with. She had made up her mind that Raffles would attend her party and nothing he could say would change her mind. He had pointed out several times he already had a prior engagement to dine with me and finally she had told him he may bring his little friend with him and had marched off leaving him staring at me and I feeling Christmas was not going to begin well. But at least we would leave the party together and return to our rooms and our bed where we could -

 

I pushed all such thoughts from my mind and strolled into the Albany. "Good afternoon, Parker," I called as I walked past his small office.

 

"Mr. Manders," he called his tone was enough to make me stop and turn to look at him. "May I have a word with you, please, sir?"

 

Had it been anyone other than Parker I would have found an excuse to say no and simply gone up to Raffles. However, I like Parker and if it were not for he Raffles and I would not be sharing rooms at the Albany and even though he must have wondered on more than one occasion quite why I spent so many nights in Raffles's rooms when I had my own flat not that far from the Albany he never gave any indication of such nor was there any hint of any kind of blackmail or veiled threats or censor or indeed disapproval.

 

Thus, I smiled and turned around. "Of course, Parker," I said going into his small office and putting my hat down onto his desk.

 

"I was just wondering if you'd settled into your rooms, sir," Parker said after a moment or two.

 

I was a little surprised, given we had moved into the room in March. Nonetheless I answered his enquiry. "Yes, thank you, Parker. They are extremely nice rooms; very comfortable indeed."

 

"Oh, good, sir, I am pleased. I thought you and Mr. Raffles would be comfortable in them, but I just thought I'd check. I'm sure Mr. Raffles would have said something by now had they not been satisfactory, but even so . . ."

 

I nodded and smiled. "Yes, yes, I'm sure he would have done so. But, no, Parker, we really are very comfortable, thanks you to."

 

"Well, sir, it just made sense, sir, you being here so often with Mr. Raffles. So you're quite comfortable?"

 

I nodded again. "Yes, quite comfortable, thank you."

 

"Oh, good." I waited for a moment, not quite wanting just to turn and leave but wondering quite what the point of the enquiry had been. "It's stopped snowing I see, sir," Parker suddenly said.

 

"Yes, yes, it has."

 

"Makes the streets look very pretty, don't it, sir? Snow I mean."

 

I smiled what was quickly becoming a somewhat forced smile. "Yes, yes, it does." Again I waited; again I didnít just want to leave, indeed I was even starting to become a little concerned as to the state of Parker's mental health. I even wondered idly if he had maybe indulged in a little too much Christmas spirit, but as I could not smell alcohol on him, I dismissed the thought as quickly as it had slipped into my mind.

 

For the next ten minutes he engaged me in what I thought was pointless conversation and I was beginning to get just a little vexed. I wanted to be with Raffles; I didn't want to stand in the porter's office any longer. However, politeness forbade me from just leaving and I couldn't think of any reason to simply go.

 

"Oh, look, sir," Parker suddenly said, "it's Mr. Raffles." I could not be completely certain but I felt Parker was almost relieved.

 

I turned and saw Raffles coming towards us a smile on his face. "Ah there you are, Bunny," he said coming into Parker's office and putting his hand on my shoulder. "Did you have a good lunch?"

 

I nodded. "Yes, thank you, Raffles, I did, very good. What did you do?" I asked.

 

"I? Oh, I - I had something sent up from the kitchens - and very good it was too. The new chef is a great improvement over his predecessor, Parker. A great improvement."

 

"I shall pass on your comments, Mr. Raffles, sir. I'm sure Mr. Jackson will be pleased to hear them."

 

Raffles smiled at him. "Please do, Parker. And now if you have finished your discussion with Mr. Manders here, I really must drag him away. You had finished, had you not?"

 

Parker nodded. "Oh, yes, Mr. Raffles, sir, we had. Had we not, Mr. Manders?" Again I felt a degree of relief coming from Parker.

 

I nodded and picked my hat up. "We had indeed. Thank you, Parker."

 

"Thank you, Mr. Manders. Have a nice afternoon, gentlemen," he added, as with his arm now through mine Raffles led me out of Parker's office and up the stairs to the floor on which our rooms were situated.

 

I was about to open the door, but Raffles held my arm firmly. "Just a moment, Bunny," he said, dipping his hand into his coat pocket and pulling out a length of black cloth. "I just need to put this on you first," and he took his arm from mine smiled at me and showed me what he was holding.

 

I stared at the blindfold. "Raffles?" I whispered, wondering what on earth he was suggesting. Then my mind went back to his promise of making it up to me and I swallowed hard. Did he want to . . . ?

 

I must have communicated my feelings - not that I actually knew that they were - as he took my hand in his and squeezed it. "Fear not, my rabbit, I do not have that in mind. Although," he added, gazing at me in the way he does, the way that instantly makes me want his mouth on my mouth and his hands on my unclothed body. "I can attest to the fact that it can enhance things, shall we say." I stared at him. "To not be able to see what your lover is doing to you, just to feel his hands and mouth on your body can focus the mind and body and -" He cut himself of and shook his head and now brushed my hair back from my forehead as he brought my hand to his lips and kissed it. "But I assure you that is not the reason I wish you to let me blindfold you before we go inside. So may I put it on you, Bunny?"

 

I stared at him and swallowed hard at the look in his eyes; he may well be speaking the truth, indeed I did not doubt for a moment that he was, but the way his steady gaze was appraising me told me now that I had put the idea into his mind . . . I shook myself and nodded. "Yes, Raffles," I said, my trust in him absolute.

 

"That's my good boy," he murmured as he put the soft cloth around my eyes and tied it securely behind my head taking great care not to catch my hair with the knot. As I let him arrange it perfectly I mused not for the first time quite how many men of thirty would happily yet another man call him 'Bunny', 'rabbit' and 'my good boy' - not many I imagine. Indeed I have seen the looks of surprise on more than one face when he does speak my name, but it does not trouble me, it never has. It was the name he gave me when he took me as his at school, why should I wish him to call me anything else?

 

"There," he said, turning me towards him and making one final small adjustment to the blindfold. "Now can you see me, Bunny?"

 

I shook my head. "No, Raffles," I said quite truthfully.

 

"Good," he said, I knew he was smiling as I could hear it in his voice. "Now, take my hand, that's it," he guided my hand to his and after I heard him open the door, he put his other arm around my back and guided me slowly into our rooms. My trust in him not to let me trip over or bump into anything or hurt myself in any way was absolute - my trust in him always was.

 

In the hallway he paused to divest me of my overcoat and hat before he once again took my hand in his, put his arm back around me and led me slowly into the sitting room. There he stopped and took his arm from around me and let go of my hand. He then moved around in front of me and I expected him to remove the blindfold as his hands went onto my shoulders, but the next second they took my face between them and put his lips on mine.

 

Now I usually close my eyes when Raffles kisses me, so you would not think there would be any difference in sensation between me closing my eyes and being blindfolded - but there was. In a second my body began to tingle and I felt myself begin to harden at a rate that surprised me and my back grew damp with perspiration. The sensation was so intense I didn't know how long I could bear it.

 

I didn't have to for long, because after another second or two he took his mouth from mine and his hands moved behind my head. "Close your eyes, Bunny," he murmured; I obeyed and I felt the knot being untied and the blindfold removed. "Now," he said, his arm once again around me as he stood by my side, "open your eyes."

 

I did as he bid me and gasped aloud at the sight in front of me as I grabbed his arm and clutched it. "Raffles," I managed as I stared around the sitting room which had been transformed. An elaborately decorated Christmas tree stood in one corner whilst the rest of the room was decked out in garlands and greenery and candles. I just stood staring eyes wide, mouth open, clinging to him as he tightened the grip he had on me slightly. I swear were it not for his arm around me and the way I was gripping his arm I would have fallen to the ground - I was that surprised.

 

Finally I tore my gaze away from the tree and still clinging onto him, I managed to turn slightly and look at him. "Raffles," I whispered lifting a clearly shaking hand to touch his cheek. He smiled down at me with a look so heavy with affection, devotion and love I felt my throat become constricted. "You . . . You . . . Did you do all this just for me?" I managed, taking my hand from his cheek.

 

He brushed my hair back from my face before beginning to stroke my cheek as he gave an almost dismissive shrug, but I know my Raffles well, it wasn't dismissive, not at all, it was the way he dealt with things at times. "Making you happy, my beloved Bunny, makes me happy." And he brushed his lips over mine. "But," he said softly, now sliding his other arm around me and gathering me into an embrace, "no, I did not do it entirely for you. I did it because I wished to have our rooms decorated for the Christmas season."

 

I leant against him and sighed with pleasure and let my head rest against his shoulder. "But you've never . . ."

 

"I never had a reason to go to the trouble before, Bunny. It never seemed worth it just for me. But now I do have one; I have a very good one; the best one in fact: I have you."

 

"Oh, Raffles." And I lifted my head from his shoulder and offered him my mouth.

 

Several minutes went by during which we just stood wrapped in one another's arms kissing before he took his mouth from me, cupped my cheek, took my  hand and said softly, "There is more," and before I could reply, he was leading me out of the sitting room and into the dining room. "There," he said.

 

Again I stood and stared. The room was not quite as elaborately decorated as the sitting room, but nor was it sparse. He had quite clearly gone to a tremendous amount of trouble and I could only begin to wonder how he'd managed it during my lunch with Hastings. My gaze settled on the completely undressed tree and I looked at him.

 

Again he gave his almost dismissive shrug as he gazed at me. "I remember how happy you were the Christmas I took you home with me, Bunny, when Mother, Alice, you and I decorated the tree and I thought . . . Well, I thought you'd like to decorate one with me. You do remember that Christmas, do you not?"

 

I nodded. "Oh, yes, Raffles," I said, "I remember it very well; very well indeed. And I'd love to decorate this tree with you. Thank you," I said softly and more than a little formally.

 

He smiled at me his pleasure, his joy and his happiness were quite, quite clear. "Well, my rabbit, do you wish to decorate it now. Or . . ."

 

I swallowed hard at the look that now appeared in his eyes and I again remembered his ' I shall make it up to you later' promise and my gaze flickered to his pocket back into which he'd pushed the blindfold; I saw that a small amount of it was hanging out.

 

"As I matter of fact, Raffles," I said moving a little nearer to him and putting my arms around his neck, "I am feeling a little fatigued after my lunch. I thought I might lie down for a while."

 

"Did you now, Bunny?" he asked with a smile in his eyes as well as on his lips.

 

I nodded. "Yes, and I imagine you may be feeling a little tired too after all your hard work, may you not?"

 

His smiled widened. "I believe I am, my rabbit," he said taking my hand. "Shall we both go and lie down?"

 

I nodded. "And I think you should bring that," I said softly, nodding at the small amount of the black blindfold that showed from his pocket.

 

His eyes widened as he stared at me. "Are you quite certain, Bunny?" he asked, his tone soft and serious.

 

I wasn't; at least not a hundred percent certain. But given my trust in him was absolute and my love for him so deep not to mention how happy he'd made me, I knew that I wanted to try and I knew him so well that if I found I didn't like it or it troubled me he would remove it without hesitation. "Yes, Raffles," I said firmly and let him lead me into the bedroom.

 

Once there, after taking the blindfold from his pocket, he swiftly pulled off his coat and removed his cuff-links and tie before looking at me as he lifted the cloth. Silently he once again asked if I was quite certain; silently and with a smile and half-nod I answered him.

 

Swiftly, but also taking even more care than he'd done the first time he'd put the blindfold on me, he tied it behind my head, arranged the knot so it would not press into me, adjusted the cloth until he was happy and then pulled me into his arms and kissed me.

 

I gasped into his mouth as sensations I had never, not in all the time we had been lovers, raced through my body. A certain part of my body grew hot and painfully hard in seconds as I swayed slightly and clung to him. A second later he'd taken his mouth from me and I felt his hands unbutton my trousers and slip inside my drawers carefully pulling out my burning hardness. His hand was wonderfully cool as he held me securely then I felt him drop to his knees in front of me and the next moment he'd taken me into his mouth.

 

"Raffles!" I cried, swaying and shaking as I clung to his shoulder with one hand and tangled my fingers in his black curls with the other. I felt tears at the back of my eyes, I could feel my pulse throbbing, my throat was dry, my body felt aflame as I fought the waves of sensations I had never before experienced as they raced through my body. My body didn't feel like mine and I was both ecstatic and afeared at the way I was reacting.

 

Raffles is a wonderful lover as well as a very experienced one and I thought I knew his touch so very well, I thought the heights of joy he'd taken me to, the experiences he'd given me, the sensations he'd caused my body to experience, the pleasure he'd given me could not be surpassed. But what I was feeling now as his mouth caressed and sucked me and his hands held me firmly was beyond anything I had ever known, had ever dreamt I would know, had ever experienced. Indeed as my heart beat more frantically than ever before, I doubted anyone could have experienced such sensations, such - I had no word for it.

 

I had no control over my body, of that I was quite, quite certain. It would do what it wanted to do and no matter how hard I tried I would not be able to prevent it; again that thought both scared me and excited me. The culmination of the pleasure he was giving me was upon me before I knew it and as such I had no time to call his name as my body released with more force than ever before into his mouth and I felt him swallow around me as he still held me steady.

 

Then and only then did I begin to call his name, "Raffles, oh, Raffles," I sobbed, tightening the grip I had on his shoulder and hair; I tightened them so much I heard him make a half-bitten off gasp that part of my mind told me was of pain. But I ignored him; I couldnít think about him; I couldnít begin to be ashamed of my failure to warn him of my imminent release; I couldn't worry about what else my body might choose to do without my knowledge or permission. All I could do was stand and let the reaction course through my body, tremble with an excitement I had ever known, cling to him and crave more whilst at the same time not be certain I could bear any more.

 

Finally I felt his hand close around the one I still had in his hair and begin to unknot my fingers and after a minute or two he stood up and pulled me close to him. "Oh, Bunny," he whispered, "my darling, beloved rabbit, how I do love you. Now sit down and let me finish undressing you."

 

I let him push me gently onto the bed and let him strip me before he encouraged me to get into bed. I lay staring up at him, even though I could not see him, listening to the faint sounds as he removed his clothing before he joined me, took me into his arms and pulled my naked body against his as I once again cried out in complete joy.

 

SOME TIME LATER

 

I lay in his loose embrace, my head on his shoulder, the blindfold still covering my eyes breathing slightly less heavily than I had for the rest of the time we'd been in bed, whilst he trailed a finger tip up and down my body. I had completely lost track of the number of times he'd taken me right to the edge and allowed me to fall over, crying and sobbing his name as I clung to him. I'd given myself utterly and totally up into his hands, letting him do things to me that he'd done before many times, but never had they felt quite as they had felt during that day's lovemaking. I'd ceased to worry about what my body might or might do and just trust in him as he loved me, cared for me and looked after me - just as he'd always done.

 

Finally he'd taken my hand and had guided it to his own hardness and even that was different from anything I'd experienced because this time I was stroking him without seeing him and I could only feel him growing harder and slicker as I caressed him until with my name on his lips he released into my hand before he again plundered my mouth with his

 

"Well, my rabbit," he murmured, I felt him push himself up onto one arm and I felt his other hand go beneath my head and fumble with the knot of the blindfold. "Did you enjoy that?" he pulled the blindfold off and dropped it onto the pillow.

 

I blinked in the light, which whilst not particularly bright did sting a little after my time in darkness. I nodded and moistened my lips. "Yes," I managed, not certain 'enjoy' was the word I would have chosen. "I did, Raffles, very much."

 

He smiled and traced my lips with his fingers. "I thought you would, Bunny." He kissed my lips lightly and then said in his rather formal tone, "Thank you, my rabbit." I stared at him and raised an eyebrow, "for you complete trust in me, Bunny."

 

"Raffles," I said, "surely you know you've had that from the moment we met."

 

He brushed my hair back from my somewhat damp forehead. "Of course I have, but this was somewhat different. It is a level of trust unlike any other to give yourself quite so fully to another person; to place yourself quite so completely in their hands; to trust them to take care of you and . . ." he trailed off and just stared at me.

 

For a moment I allowed myself to wonder just who he had trusted so much. I didn't want to think about it, I never wanted to think about other lovers Raffles may have had - even though I knew there had been quite a few both gentleman and young ladies.

 

However, he seemed as he so often did capable of reading my mind as he kissed me lightly and said softly, "It was a minute or two, no more. Long enough for me to experience a sensation I had never known and to realise just how pleasurable it could be. But also long enough to know I did not trust the person enough to let it continue. But then I have never trusted anyone quite so much as I've trusted you, my rabbit." And he kissed me again.

 

"Raffles?"

 

"Yes, my dear Bunny?"

"I did enjoy it, very much. But it's not something I'd want to do every time, not even something I'd want to do often."

 

He smiled and kissed me. "I quite understand. And it would lose a great deal of its intensity if one did it all the time. Now how about we share a bath?"

 

FOUR HOURS LATER

 

We bathed, sharing a bath, which of course always took longer than if we'd bathed separately before beginning to decorate the tree in the dining room. Once it was completely covered with an array of decorations all arranged to Raffles's exacting standards, Raffles called down to the Albany kitchen and ordered supper for us.

 

We ate it seated at the dining room table, the room lit only my candlelight, as Raffles proved what he had often joked about, both at school and since, that he was quite incapable of keeping his hands off me for more than a minute of two at a time.

 

Later we retired to the sitting room and settled on the sofa where he gently encouraged me to lie down with my head in his lap as he played with my hair and we both smoked a Sullivan. "Have you enjoyed today, Bunny?"

 

"What do you think?" He laughed softly and I smiled. "Yes, I have, Raffles, it's been one of the happiest days of my life."

 

"Good," he said, bending his head and putting his mouth on mine, parting my lips and sharing the smoke I realised he'd inhaled before he'd kissed me with me. "And I believe I just might be able to make it even better." He sat back up.

 

"How so?" I asked, gazing up at him.

 

"Well," he said, crushing out his cigarette, "what would you say to dining here on Christmas Day rather than going to the club?"

 

"Yes, please!"

 

He smiled. "Good," he said, "because I have taken the liberty of ordering luncheon for us. It will be very nice not to have to worry about keeping my hands off you."

 

I laughed. "How can you say that, Raffles? You never keep your hands off me, wherever we are."

 

He shrugged and his look conceded my point with good grace. "Well, I do not have to worry about kissing you then," he said, and then his look became speculative. "I wonder what would happen if I did kiss you whilst we were at the club?"

 

I stared at him, not entirely certain he wasn't being serious. "Well, Raffles, given how much of a favourite you are, probably nothing. However, I am not certain we should risk it," I added.

 

He smiled. "You are probably right," he said. "I don't want to finally have you as mine only to lose you again."

 

"You'll never lose me, Raffles," I said softly. "You know full well I became yours on the day we met and even when we were apart for ten years, I was still yours and I always will be."

 

"My own, beloved Bunny," he said softly, tangling his fingers in my hair. "And in keeping with making you happy, what would you say if I told you I had informed Lady Darcy we shall not be attending her party on Christmas Eve?"

 

I stared at him. "Raffles? Have you really?" I spoke the words softly.

 

He nodded. "Yes, I have."

 

"What did you tell her?"

 

He shrugged. "Oh, it's of no real matter. Suffice to say I merely informed her that my previous plans were, upon further thought, too important to change - even for her."

 

"You didn't?"

 

He just shrugged, before lifting my head from his lap and kissing me again.

 

CHRISTMAS DAY

 

It was mid-afternoon and we were sitting in our sitting room Sullivans and brandy on the table simply enjoying being with one another. My head was on Raffles's shoulder and his fingers were in my hair, stroking my scalp and generally playing with my hair as he's done for as long as I've known him.

 

It had been a wonderful day, the best Christmas Day I have ever known. The day had started fairly late as we hadn't got to sleep until the early hours of the morning; we decided not to breakfast beyond a cup of coffee as we would be having a substantial luncheon. Raffles had suggested as it was no longer snowing that we take a walk which I thought was a splendid idea, and so arm in arm we left the Albany and spent half an hour just walking through the streets, exchanging Christmas greetings with the few people who had also ventured out.

 

We returned to our rooms where we exchanged gifts and enjoyed a pre-luncheon glass of champagne. We had agreed not to be extravagant with our gifts to one another, after all we had what we wanted and we shared rooms and Raffles for one had far more cuff-links, shirt studs and tie-pins than he could wear, even if he wore a different set every day for two months.

 

It was after lunch, which was indeed excellent - Raffles had been correct about the Albany's new chef - when Raffles left me alone in the dining room for a very short time before returning, taking my left hand in his and slipping a wedding ring onto my finger. "I know you cannot wear it outside of these rooms, Bunny, but I wanted you to be quite certain just how much you are mine and I am yours." And he kissed the ring he'd put onto my finger.

 

As I sat next to Raffles feeling his hand stroke my scalp I kept looking at the ring, turning my hand slightly so that the light caught it; I was happier than I had ever been and had I not still been rather full from luncheon I would have suggested to Raffles we retire to our bedroom and fulfil the final part of a marriage.

 

It was about an hour after we had settled down that Raffles gently pushed me upright, pulled his watch from his pocket, looked at the time and smiled. Within a few minutes the doorbell rang and he glided to his feet, bent down to briefly kiss me before leaving the room. I sighed softly, wondering who was going to interrupt our otherwise perfect day and prepared myself to smile and welcome the guests.

 

Raffles had closed the door behind him when he'd gone out into the hall, and so although I could hear muted male voices I could not hear what they were saying nor could I identify the voices - other than I caught the odd hint of public school vowels, but that was to be expected.

 

"Come along, Bunny is in the sitting room. I know he'll be delighted to see you both," I heard Raffles say.

 

As the doorknob turned I stood up, straightened my dining jacket and prepared to smile and act delighted. Then the door opened and Raffles ushered the two men in and I gasped and the smile was not fake nor was my delight an act. "Ollie!" I exclaimed to the man who had been my best friend at school, "and Charleston," I turned the man who had been Raffles's best friend and beamed. "It's wonderful to see you both." I hurried over to them and shook first Ollie's hand and then Charleston's for quite some time, before Raffles cleared his throat and I realised we were all still standing just inside the door.

 

"Hello, Harry," Ollie said smiling at me. "Happy Christmas."

 

"Happy Christmas, Ollie." It never occurred to me for a moment to call him by his surname, just as I imagined it didn't occur to him - what one is called at school does tend to stay with one even into manhood.

 

"Happy Christmas, Manders," Charleston said.

 

"Happy Christmas, Charleston." Then I turned to Raffles, "You never told me."

 

Raffles shrugged. "I know how much you enjoy surprises, Bunny. Now Charlie, Urquhart, what may I get you to drink? And do sit down."

 

We sat, Raffles and I on the sofa, Charleston and Ollie in chairs, Sullivans in our hands and glasses in front of us. Raffles and I were drinking brandy, Charleston and Ollie had both asked for whisky.

 

"Your good health," Raffles said lifting his glass and looking at each of us in turn. "And here's to seeing a lot more of each other. Charlie's bought a practice not far from here, Bunny," he said, touching my hand.

 

"And Oliver is going to set up a dispensary in the surgery." Out of the corner of my eye I saw Raffles widen his eyes very slightly at the use of Ollie's Christian name. Charleston clearly saw it too as he flushed slightly and shrugged. "Oliver and I became reacquainted when he was on holiday in Greece and needed to see a doctor. It's somewhat different there, A. J., certain things that matter here don't matter there," and he glanced at me and back at Raffles. "Oliver stayed on and well," he shrugged, "we got used to addressing one another by our Christian names and by the time we returned to England it was habit."

 

Raffles smiled fondly. "You don't need to explain yourself to Bunny or me, Charlie."

 

Charleston glanced at me and I saw his gaze flicker to my left hand and settle for a moment on the ring Raffles had put there; the ring I had quite forgotten to remove upon hearing we had guests. "Have you ever been to Greece, A. J.?" he asked, looking back at Raffles.

 

Raffles shook his head. "No, but maybe I, maybe we," he glanced at me and brushed my hair back from my forehead, "should go sometime." I smiled and then looked at Ollie.

 

"So you're a professional chemist, Ollie?"

 

He nodded. "I am and I enjoy it thoroughly. When Edward said he was thinking about returning to England and buying a London practice, the idea came to me that if the practice had its own dispensary it would be a lot better for people. And you're still writing; you always were so good at verses, Harry, I, well both Edward and I, really enjoyed your book."

 

"Thank you," I said flushing just a little as Charleston nodded his agreement.

 

We sat talking about our school days and exchanging information we knew about various old boys - given Charleston had been out of England for three years I was surprised he knew far more about old boys than the rest of us did - for quite some time, long after it had grown completely dark outside.

 

As we talked and I looked from one man to the other something occurred to me and before I knew it I was laughing softly.

 

Raffles paused mid-sentence and looked at me, "Bunny?"

 

"I'm sorry," I said, "it's just that there are only four of us here but if anyone heard us they would think there were eleven people." As three pairs of eyes came to rest on me and I felt my cheeks flush just a little I began to wish I hadn't said anything. Raffles raised an eyebrow and I explained. "Well you call Charleston 'Charlie, Ollie calls him 'Edward' and I call him 'Charleston'. You call Ollie 'Urquhart, Charleston calls him 'Oliver' and I call him 'Ollie." I paused hoping I didn't need to go on.

 

Charleston laughed lightly and nodded. "Of course and then we have 'Manders', 'Harry' and 'Bunny' and 'Raffles' and 'A. J.' - maybe you should call A. J. 'Arthur' Manders to even it up."

 

I smiled and out of habit glanced at Raffles who gave me a shrug that meant he didn't mind one way or another. However, school boy names do indeed stick and he'd always been 'Raffles' to me - although I found myself musing that if we did spend more time with Ollie and Charleston, given their use of Christian names 'Arthur' just might come a little more naturally. We'd have to see; in the meantime I was quite content with using 'Raffles'.

 

I felt Raffles's hand come to rest on my shoulder and I looked at him and met his gaze and smiled. He left his hand where it was and we once again returned to talking about the past and the present.

 

A short time later Raffles looked at Charleston and asked, "You and Urquhart will stay and have supper with us, Charlie, will you not?"

 

I watched Charleston glance at Ollie and watched them communicate silently before Charleston turned back to Raffles. "We'd like that very much, thank you, A. J."

 

"Good," said Raffles, standing up and going out into the hall.

 

Once again the Albany chef surpassed himself and produced an extremely good, plentiful, but also light and delicious supper which along with several bottles of champagne we enjoyed sitting around the dining room table.

 

It was after midnight before Charleston emptied his glass, stubbed out his cigarette and stood up. "It really is time Oliver and I went and let you get to bed." He glanced at Raffles and then at me and smiled. I was in no doubt that Charleston at least knew the exact nature of the relationship Raffles and I shared.

 

Some five minutes later we were all in the hall, the front door was open, Charleston and Ollie had donned their overcoats, hats and gloves and we'd all shaken hands and Raffles's arm was around my shoulders.

 

"Thank you, A. J., Manders for a very enjoyable evening; you must let Oliver and I repay the pleasure sometime. In fact how would you like to spend New Year's Eve with us?"

 

Before either Raffles or I could speak Ollie did. "Oh, please do say you will," he said looking from Raffles to me and back again. "We'd really like your company."

 

Raffles glanced down at me and I nodded. "We would like that very much, thank you, Charlie, Urquhart."

 

Charleston smiled. "Good. Shall we say seven o'clock?" Raffles nodded. "We'll see you then." And he took Raffles's hand and for a second or two just held it as they stared at one another, the gaze they shared was quite intense.

 

Then Raffles squeezed Charleston's hand. "I'm so glad you're back in England, Charlie," he said quietly. "And it really is so good to see you and Urquhart." I thought Raffles was going to say something else and given the look on his face Charleston did too. It was the way he stopped speaking so abruptly.

 

After waiting for a moment Charleston smiled and then put his hand in the small of Ollie's back and guided him out of the door. "Until next week," he said.

 

Raffles and I stood in the doorway, his arm still around my shoulders, until we could no longer see them, then Raffles turned me and we went back into the hall. Raffles closed, locked and bolted the front door before he put his hand on my back and guided me back into the sitting room where he threw a little more coal on the fire and looked at me. "I do hope you did not mind my surprise, Bunny?" He held out his arms to me.

 

I went quite happily into them. "Not at all, Raffles," I said sighing with pleasure as he pulled me nearer to him. "I was delighted to see them." Then I asked, "Do you think they are . . ." To my chagrin and mild amusement I found I couldn't say the word.

 

Raffles laughed lightly and kissed me, "Ah, my beloved, still so innocent rabbit. Yes, I believe they are. I did not like to ask Charlie outright but I do think all the signs were there, do you not?"

 

I thought of the way Charleston had put his hand on Ollie's back and guided him out of our rooms and the way they looked at one another from time to time, not to mention the invitation to spend New Year's Eve with both of them and nodded. "Yes, Raffles, I do."

 

Silence filled the room for a moment before Raffles took his cigarette case from his pocket offered it to me and then struck a match lighting mine and then his, after he threw the spent match into the fire he poured brandy into two glasses and held one out to me. I took it and stared at him; there was something on his mind, that I could tell, but quite what it was I could not.

 

I sat down on the sofa and held out a hand to him; after a second or two he crossed the room, took my hand and sat down next to me and went on staring at me. "A penny for them, Raffles," I said finally.

 

He smiled at me and pushed my hair back from my face. "My dear Bunny," he said softly and fell silent again. Then he surprised me by saying, "So are you going to write a novel?"

 

I stared at him, "Raffles? How do you - Oh," and suddenly it all made sense; why had it not occurred to me earlier? "You arranged it, didn't you?"

 

"Arranged what, my rabbit?"

 

"My lunch with Hastings?"

 

"I confess I am guilty as changed, Bunny, You see, I needed to get you out of our rooms and the only way I could think of was a lengthy luncheon with someone. However, it could not be someone whom we both knew, or you would want to know why I had not been invited as well. Your publisher was the only person of whom I could think."

 

"So it was all a bluff," I said flatly, realising how disappointed I was. He frowned, "The idea that I should attempt to write a novel?"

 

"No, Bunny, do not think that. I assure you, my good rabbit, that is not the case. Hastings and I had a fairly long conversation and he, like I, think you are somewhat wasted writing verses - not that you do not write them extremely well, you do. It's just that we both believe you could do far better."

 

I stared at him, somewhat mollified but not entirely. "You are being honest with me, are you not, Raffles? I mean you donít have some kind of hold over Hastings whereby he has to agree to your suggestion, do you?"

 

Raffles widened his eyes and shook his head as he cupped my cheek in his hand. "Ah, Bunny, you see you really do have a fine imagination, it is, as I said, wasted on verses. In answer to your questions: yes, I am being honest with you and no, I do not have any kind of 'hold' over Hastings. What he told you was the truth. So are you going to?"

 

My excitement was back and I smiled at him and grabbed his hand. "Yes, Raffles, yes I believe I am. In fact I already have an idea -" And in a few sentences I told him of my plans, plans that could, if the first book was successful, lead onto a series of novels. "Well?" I demanded when I stopped speaking.

 

He smiled. "I like it, Bunny. I like it a great deal and I am sure both Hastings and the reading public will."

 

"I hope so," I said. "I confess, Raffles, it would be nice to -" I stopped abruptly and felt my cheeks begin to burn a little. I glanced down at my lap and wasn't at all surprised when after a moment his fingers were under my chin and my head was gently pushed up and I met his steady gaze.

 

"Earn some honest money for a change?" he said softly.

 

"I . . . It's just that . . . Well, with Charleston and Ollie having such . . ."

 

"Worthwhile professions?" I nodded grimly. "You feel even more guilty than you usually do about the way we," he paused for a second and took a sip of brandy, "obtain our money?" I swallowed hard and I knew my cheeks were now even more flushed. He stubbed his cigarette out, took mine from my fingers and put that out too. Then he took my face between his hands, brushed his lips over mine and still holding my cheeks said softly, "Do you still wish to live the life of an honest man, Bunny?"

 

I tried to lower my head but he just held if firmly, and even though I did drop my gaze so I wasn't looking at him I knew his penetrating gaze was still on me me. I closed my eyes for a moment and confessed, my voice hoarse, "Yes, Raffles, I would. But only if we could -" I hated myself at that moment, hated the man I had turned into, hated the man he had made me into, fleetingly I even hated him. "Oh, Raffles," I whispered the fleeting hatred of him fled and all I felt was disgust at myself.

 

"Look at me, my rabbit," he said softly. "Come along, Bunny, lift your eyes and look at me." As I had done seventeen years ago, I obeyed him. He stared at me and again I could not read the look on his face. "What if I were to tell you we could live as honest men and still live as we do?"

 

"Raffles?" My voice was little more than a whisper and my eye were wide as I stared at him; as I did I realised he had lowered his eyes and was no longer meeting my gaze.

 

Then he gathered me towards him, kissed me until we had to break apart in order to breathe and said, his tone very formal, "Bunny, you have to believe I love you - I love you dearly and you are the most important person in the world to me and hurting or upsetting you is something I abhor. You do believe me, do you not?"

 

"Of course I do, Raffles," I said firmly and glanced at the gold ring that still sparkled in the light.

 

"Good." To my surprise he kissed me again, this time for a far shorter time, before he stood up, strode across the room, lit another Sullivan, poured himself another brandy and emptied the glass in one swallow. He stood with his back to me, one hand on the mantelpiece, the other holding his Sullivan. "You see, my dearest Bunny, I am afraid I have not been entirely honest with you."

 

I felt both hot and cold as I stared at his back and the way his head was very slightly bowed. I emptied my own glass and lit myself a Sullivan, taking a deep swallow of smoke and enjoying the feel of it in my throat. "How so?" I managed, and then added suddenly as it was the thing I feared more than any other, "You're not already married, are you?"

 

He started slightly and turned around to look at me. "Oh, Bunny, Bunny, Bunny, my most beloved rabbit, will you ever believe fully in my love for you? No, Bunny, I am not already married; I may be more than a little reprehensible, but I would not hurt you like that. There is only one person I want in my life - you," he said.

 

I swallowed hard as relief flowed through me; well, if it wasn't that he was married or had someone else about whom he cared, it couldn't be anything dreadful, could it? "Well, if it's not that, in what way have you not been entirely honest with me, Raffles?"

 

He sighed softly and looked at me with a hint of anguish in his eyes. "The night you returned to me, the night you came to my rooms here at the Albany to ask me to help you, to save you," he paused even though he clearly hadn't finished his sentence. "You see, Bunny, I could have helped you."

 

I frowned. "You did help me, Raffles."

 

He shook his head. "No, that is not what I meant. Bunny," he was silent for a moment or two as he held my gaze. He closed his eyes for a second, swallowed and opened them again. "You see, I could have given you the money you needed - I not only could have given it to you, I could have given you considerably more."

 

"Raffles?" His name on my lips was little more than trembling whisper.

 

"You see, Bunny, when my parents died they left me deucedly well off. I have no need to take what is not mine. I never did have." His voice was low and flat but his eyes held mine unblinkingly.

 

I was stunned; shocked even and utterly confused. "Then why did you?" I asked as I fleetingly began to wonder if I'd fallen asleep and if I was experiencing some kind of weird dream.

 

He shrugged. "For the same reason as I got out of school: fun; excitement; to have something to do; to feel alive; to escape boredom. I could give you a dozen reasons, Bunny, but it all comes down to the same thing and the reason why I took up burglary is neither here nor there and doesn't matter. What matters is that I was not honest with you."

 

I stared at him; he was correct, I knew he was and yet . . .  I forced myself to ask the obvious question. "Why not?"

 

"Because I did not wish to bind you to me out of duty, and giving you the money would have done that. Whereas if I let you believe we were both in the same boat and that I had chosen to crack a crib that needed two people and not just I, then you would believe you were helping me just as I was helping you, thus if you chose to stay around it would be out of choice, not because you felt you were beholden to me for rescuing you."

 

It sounded very complicated to me and I just shook my head in an attempt to make sense of what he was saying. "But . . ." I came to a stumbling halt as I had no idea what to say; nor to think.

 

Now he came back to where I sat and dropped down onto his heels in front of me and tentatively took my hand. I saw relief flash though his eyes when I not only didn't pull away, but closed my fingers around his hand. "When I opened the door to you, Bunny, I knew in one look that you would be in my bed that night. I knew I would kiss you, hold you close to me, touch you in ways I wished to do whilst we were at school. And had you not come back and thrown yourself on my mercy, had you merely stayed as I asked you to do when the others left, then I would have done that and been quite honest with you about my circumstances. However, when you confessed yourself to be in debt, I had to find another way. You had to stay by my side out of choice, you had to come to my bed because you wanted to, not because you felt you owed me - and yes, I know part of you did feel indebted to me for saving you anyway, but it wasn't, it couldn't have been, to the extent you would have felt had I merely just given you the money. Can you understand at all, my rabbit?"

 

I stared at him. Could I? And then I realised I could; after all I had, on more than once occasion, during out years together walked away from him. Well not from him as such, more from the life he'd dragged me into; I went away in order to try to live the life as an honest man and he always let me go, knowing I am quite certain that I would return to him. And I knew now had he simply paid my debts that I could not have done that; I would have felt honour-bound to stay with him no matter what. I would have gone to his bed, I would have been his constant companion and whilst he must have known I loved him as I had done at school, I could understand how he might have feared that at least part of my willingness was out of duty.

 

I swallowed hard. "Yes, Raffles," I managed, my throat dry, "I believe I can. Indeed I know I can. Yes, Raffles, I do understand. At least I understand why you acted as you did on that evening in March, but not why you . . ."

 

"Let things continue?" I nodded. He sighed, "Habit maybe, and also again I needed, Bunny, yes needed, to be quite certain the affection, the love, you felt for me wasn't still the school boy pash you had on me for two years."

 

"But we took things that didn't belong to us." That was still the part that was the hardest to understand, the hardest to accept; it chilled me to know we had taken things we had no right to take when we had no need to do so.

 

He nodded. "We did, yes. And I donít know if it will help at all, but you have my solemn word, Bunny, that every penny I received for the things we stole I gave to charity."

 

I stared at him a smile beginning to form on my lips and then the full truth of what he was saying hit me. "Oh," I said.

 

He rolled his eyes and sighed. "Yes, my dear rabbit, our meals, our evenings at the theatre, the opera and the music hall and everything we spent were indeed paid for by I. But, Bunny, remember on more than one occasion, considerably more than one occasion, you have raised objections to the fact that you felt you never truly earnt the proceeds I gave you as you believed your part in our burglaries was little more than you holding my tools or my hat, whereas, my beloved Bunny, it was so much more than that. So does it really matter from where the money came?"

 

I sighed again; why did he have to be so logical? Why did he have to have a sensible, a rational answer for everything? Why couldn't he say something that would allow me to be angry with him? Allow me to tell him what I thought of the way he'd treated me? Allow me to demand why he still saw me as the thirteen year old boy he'd taken into his care seventeen years ago?

 

Except, I realised, I wasn't angry with him? How could I be? Yes, he'd been less than honest with me; yes, he'd made me afeared every time we went a-burgling, but if I was quite honest I wouldn't change the years, because they had been spent by his side. And as for the way he'd treated me, well . . . In truth I had allowed him to treat me as he had done; I had never once chosen to question quite how in funds we were, especially when, with hindsight I recalled the number of times he'd commented about the vast difference in what we received compared to the actual worth of our spoils. And given I from time to time still saw him as the handsome cricket captain who had taken me into his care, how could I blame him for seeing me as his thirteen year old fag?

 

He'd changed positions so that he was no longer sitting on his heels in front of me, but rather kneeling as he stared at me. "Does it really matter, my rabbit?" he asked again, his voice low.

 

I shook my head. "No, Raffles," I said. "It's just -"

 

"That I kept up the deception for so long?" I nodded. "Well now, Bunny, I did and I did not."

 

I frowned. "How so?"

 

He smiled. "When was the last time we paid a visit to someone's house other than for the purpose of attending a ball or a dinner party or a cricket match or something similar?"

 

I stared at him and thought. "Oh," I said softly, realising I had once again been quite the rabbit. "Nine months," I said.

 

"And before that?"

 

"So why are you telling me now?" I asked, choosing not to answer his question.

 

He shrugged and finally stood up. As he did so I couldn't help but envy the fact that he neither stumbled or winced or gave any indication his legs were aching from the long time he'd spent on his heels or knees - I couldn't have managed half that time and even then I'd now be clinging to him as I tried to get the feeling back into my legs. "Charlie."

 

I felt my eyes widen. "You told Charleston that we . . . ?"

 

"Oh, no, my rabbit, not exactly. Charlie loves me but I am not quite certain even he could overlook such a thing. No, when we had lunch together a fortnight ago I found myself telling him there was something I had kept from you, something I should tell you, something I had been less than truthful about and he told me to tell you. But it wasn't just that."

 

"Was it not?"

 

He shook his head and lit another cigarette. "No. I confess I was, I had been for some time, growing tired of the whole thing, not to mention worrying more and more that we would be caught - that you would be taken from me - that is the main reason we have committee so few burglaries in recent years. Also the excitement, the pleasure of risk taking, all the reasons I gave myself for taking up the sport in the first place had ceased to appeal to me, and I had resolved to tell you, Charlie just encouraged my resolve."

 

"So we aren't going to commit any more burglaries?"

 

He shook his head and held out his hand to me. I took it and let him pull me to my feet and into a one armed embrace. "No, my rabbit, we aren't. We have cracked our last crib and can live out the rest of our lives as honest gentlemen." I sighed happily and rested my head against his shoulder.

 

He half turned and I guessed he'd thrown his cigarette into the fire - I had no concern that it might have fallen short; his is A. J. Raffles after all, the best all rounder of the decade and longer - then put his other arm around. "So, my beloved Bunny, am I forgiven?"

 

I sighed softly and then moved back just far enough to look up at him. "Yes, Raffles," I said quietly. He smiled and I saw relief flash through his gaze. "Now," I said moving back into his arms, "is there anything else you feel the need to confess to me or is it time you did what men normally do when they put a wedding ring on someone's finger?" And with that I quite deliberately pressed myself against him and slowly moved my lower body against his as my mouth claimed his in what I made a very passionate kiss.

 

It took half an hour, but finally I was on my back on the bed completely naked, my body leaving him in no doubt of my desire, my want, my need for him as he removed his own clothing at a speed that rather impressed me before he joined me on the bed and pulled me into his arms and right against his naked body leaving me in no doubt of his desire, his want and his need for me.

 


 

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