OPENING THE DOOR

 

By

 

Nikki Harrington

 

Raffles's butler insists he employ a new valet. One of the men who apply for the job is, much to his surprise, known to Raffles. After he explains his reasons for needing the job, Raffles agrees to employ him and it isn't long before Raffles realises he wants far more. However, for once he's not entirely certain how to go about getting it.

A first time story.

Raffles/Charleston as a couple also feature in this story.

Written: September 2013. Word count: 53,685.

 

 

I was bored; in fact I was very bored and already weary of asking men, who all in effect looked alike, the same questions, as well in being uninterested in reading anymore testimonials - all of which said the same thing. The men had all seemed perfectly nice men and perfectly capable men; each and every one of them would have been eminently suitable, but they had also all been perfectly bland men; men who did not inspire me at all - and that was not what I wanted.

 

If I had to employ a new valet - and I did - then I wanted a man who was . . . Well, I couldn't actually put it into words, but I would know him when I met him. The thing was, I actually didn't see the need for a new valet; I was never going to find one of the calibre of White, who had dared to do the one thing that I would not allow any servant of mine to do: marry.

 

However, Cadman, my esteemed butler and the man upon whom I relied to keep my house running smoothly, had finally insisted that I employ a new valet. He had told me that a gentleman of my standing should have a valet and that was that. I could not risk losing Cadman and he knew it.

 

I had lost count of the number of offers he had received from gentlemen who were meant to be friends of mine and he had refused all of the offers - even those who offered to pay him more than I paid him. He said he was quite happy to remain working for me - I wasn't a hard task master and in truth his job was not an onerous one, but he carried it out with the degree of pride only a first class butler can have. Thus, once he made his feelings on the lack of me having a valet, I really had no choice but to agree to employ a new one.

 

Thus, I had spent the morning interviewing one valet after another after another and getting more and more bored with each one of the men who had arrived in my study simply to give me exactly the same answers to each question I had asked. What had they done, all got together and rehearsed what they believed to be the 'correct' answer?

 

I sighed and gave semi-serious consideration to calling Cadman in and telling him just to pick one - after all they were all essentially the same man, what did it matter? Except it did; whomsoever became my valet would in effect be the person I would spend quite a lot of time with, certainly more so than I spent with any other servant. As such I wanted him, I needed him, to be a man whom I could at least tolerate. Unfortunately, thus far I knew I could not have tolerated any of the men who had come through my study door.

 

I sighed again and lit a Sullivan and glanced up to see Cadman standing in front of my desk, staring at me. "If you don't mind my saying so, Mr. Raffles, I do think Robert Simmons would be the ideal valet for you."

 

I frowned and took my cigarette from my mouth. "Which one was he, Cadman?"

 

A fleeting flicker of almost irritation crossed Cadman's face but it was hastily covered up, so hastily I couldn't be certain I had actually seen it. "He was the second gentleman, sir," he said. "He had excellent testimonials, including one from young Lord Battersey."

 

Oh, him. Yes, I remembered him now - well, I remembered that one of them had a glowing testimonial from Maurice Battersey; although given how rarely it was that he was sober, I had to wonder quite how he was aware of the abilities of his valet, or indeed how he managed to write the fine words he had written about Simmons.

 

I stood up and moved around my desk to sit on the edge of it as I continued to smoke. "I'm sure he would be very good, Cadman - any of them would be; they were after all essentially the same."

 

"Mr. Raffles!"

 

"Yes, Cadman?" I blew a smoke ring and stared at him with my innocent look.

 

"How can you claim they were all the same, sir? They were -"

 

"The same," I said firmly. I allow Cadman a certain amount of lea-way (an incredible amount really) but even I have my limits - and he respects them.

 

"Very good, sir," he said and inclined his head. "Maybe you could be a little more specific in exactly what you are looking for in your new valet?"

 

I sighed, stubbed my cigarette out and lit another one. "Cadman, if I could do that thing it would solve all of our problems. However, until I see him I . . . How many others are there?"

 

"One, who is indeed waiting in the hall, before luncheon and five more after. However," he paused.

 

I waited, but he didn't seem inclined to continue. "However?" I asked. "Come along, Cadman, I know you, out with it. What is wrong with the potential valet who is waiting to see me and tell me exactly what the other six potential valets have told me and show me exactly the same testimonials?"

 

"I do not believe the gentleman in question is a valet, Mr. Raffles."

 

Now that not only got my attention, but it also interested me. "Why do you believe that?"

 

"For several reasons, sir. The first one being the way he speaks."

 

"Go on."

 

"I believe the gentleman is an actual gentleman, sir. I believe he was educated at a public school."

 

"Do you now, Cadman?"

 

"Yes, sir. Indeed I would go so far as to say I was quite sure he was."

 

The mystery man was sounding more and more interesting. "And what else makes you believe he is not an actual valet?"

 

"The way he is dressed, sir. Again it is how an actual gentleman would dress. Also, he did not have any papers with him - he claimed he didn't know he was expected to bring them with him. What valet does not know that?"

 

I shrugged. "Someone new to the job?"

 

He gave me a rather withering look and went on. "And there is his name."

 

"Ah, his name. And what about his name is it that makes you believe he is not what he says he is?"

 

"He claims to be Harold Smith, sir."

 

"Claims?"

 

"Yes, Mr. Raffles. You see, sir, when I arrived to speak to him - Burke having let him and asked his name - I naturally addressed him by name, and he didn't respond for a second or two. I believe he is an imposter, sir, and such I do not think you should see him. Would you like me to tell him the position has been filled or even to have him thrown out?"

 

I sighed. "I do believe throwing the poor man out of the house, Cadman, is a little excessive. No, I shall see him. If you are correct in your summation of him," and I was quite certain Cadman was correct, but I was intrigued as to why a public school educated gentleman wished to become my valet. "Then unless he can persuade me that he would make a good valet, I shall inform him that the position is not available. You never know, Cadman, he might actually make a jolly good valet - even if he hasn't had any formal training. Not all gentlemen are incapable, you know, of looking after themselves or others - you don't think I am, do you?" I was teasing him and he knew it.

 

Nonetheless for a moment his reserved, highly professional air faltered and a hint of colour touched his cheeks. "Not at all, Mr. Raffles. However, I have to say that you are rather different from other gentlemen I have known. Yes, you are quite different, sir."

 

I acknowledged the comment and the return of his professional air with a small nod of my head and a faint smile. "Show Mr. Smith in, Cadman," I said firmly.

 

He stared at me for a moment or two before sighing softly and saying, "Yes, Mr. Raffles, sir." And he turned and went to the door, let himself out of my study and closed the door behind him.

 

"Good man." I put the cigarette out and stood up. I didn't have to wait for more than a few seconds before the door opened again and Cadman came in. "Mr. Smith, sir." He said, standing to one side and letting the man who had been behind him come into the room. "He is applying for the position of your valet," he added, quite unnecessarily.

 

My eyes came to rest on the man who stood, his head slightly bowed, still slightly behind Cadman and I had to stop myself from crying his actual name aloud or gasping at the sight of him. It was the man whom, as a boy, I had said goodbye to ten years before; the man whom, as a boy, I had held in my arms as he had sobbed and clung to me and begged me not to leave him. The man I had never dreamt I would see again; the man whom I had never forgotten, even if I hadn't thought of him more than a time or two in the last ten years.

 

I swallowed and suddenly realised Cadman was staring at me, waiting for me to say something. "Thank you, Cadman," I said swiftly. "That will be all for now."

 

"Yes, Mr. Raffles," he said. He glanced at the man who was still standing with his head bowed, tightened his lips, shook his head and once again left my study, closing the door behind him.

 

I stood and stared and waited as a hundred different things raced through my mind. Words tumbled over one another as I just stood and stared and thought about quite what my first words should be.

 

In the end they came naturally. "Hello, Bunny," I said softly and moved from the desk towards him. "Hello, my dear rabbit." And the next moment my arms were around him and I was gathering him nearer to me, as I had done so many times during the two years we had been at school together.

 

For a second or two I felt him become tense and stiff and hold himself upright. However, then I heard him give a soft sigh and felt his now slightly shaking arms go around me to complete the embrace and a moment later his head came to rest against my shoulder as it always used to do. "Hello, Raffles," he murmured.

 

I don't know for how long we just stood there in my study, holding onto one another, saying nothing as my mind kept returning to those times in my study at school when he had been mine, when he had belonged to me, when I had - When I had owned and in effect controlled him and when his love for me had been so deep and so obvious that the entire school knew of it. It could have been a mere second or two or it could have been hours.

 

In reality I'm certain not more than a minute or two or three went by before I loosened the tight hold I had him. I took the hand which, without me being consciously aware of it doing thus, had slipped into his hair and tangled the still far too long strands around my fingers, from his head and gently pushed him away. I held his arms as I gazed down at him. "Well, Bunny," I said, "this is a surprise - a very pleasant surprise. Now come along, let us sit down, I'll pour you a whisky and soda, you can have a Sullivan and then you can tell me quite why you wish to be my valet."

 

He just stared at me. The look he gave me made me once more see the dreadfully young boy who had needed me to care for him and look after him; the young boy who had been completely in awe of me; the young boy for whom I had been a hero and in whose eyes I could never do anything wrong.

 

As he went on just gazing at me I actually thought for a moment he might refuse. However, he gave me a small, tentative almost, smile and said softly, "Thank you, Raffles, I would like that. I would like it very much indeed."

 

"Good. Come along them, my rabbit." And just as I had done when we had been at school and had walked together, I put my arm around his shoulders and led him across my study to the area where I had some comfortable chairs.

 

I encouraged him to sit down, offered him a Sullivan from the box on the table, lit it for him before lighting my own, poured two glasses of whisky and soda and held my glass up to him. He hesitated for a moment before lifting his own glass and touching it against mine. "Well, my rabbit," I said, once I had settled into my chair. "Do tell me everything."

 

For a moment he just sat and gazed at me and to my horror I saw more than a hint of moisture in his eyes. I put my glass down and leant forward and put my hand on his knee and squeezed it. "What is it, my dear Bunny?"

 

He swallowed and blinked hard several times and looked away from me down at my hand which still rested on his knee. He then looked back at me and said softly, "I've missed you, Raffles. I've missed you so much."

 

I stared back at him and had to swallow hard myself at the look on his face. "I've missed you too my rabbit," I said, my tone far more formal than it normally was.

 

"Have you? Have you really, Raffles?"

 

I nodded. "Yes, Bunny. Yes, I have. Now come along, tell me everything that has happened since we said goodbye and whatever else you don't tell me, tell me quite why you are here not only wishing to be my valet, but also giving an assumed name." I squeezed his knee again and then sat back in my chair and picked my glass back up.

 

He once again looked away from me and then I saw him straighten his shoulders and sit a little more upright. It was a movement again I knew well; he was steeling himself to tell me something, something he wasn't quite certain how to say; something that would take the pluck he never believed he had - but I always knew he had.

 

I sat and waited, sipping my whisky and soda and smoking my Sullivan. It didn't matter for how long I had to wait; I knew my rabbit (well, I was fairly certain I still knew him) he would tell me. And if it meant I had to tell Cadman I couldn't see the other men I was due to interview, then that is what I would do.

 

He took a deep swallow from the glass he held, carefully put it down on the table, took a drag from his Sullivan, looked at me and said softly, "I didn't want to give me own name as I wasn't all together certain you would wish to see me, Raffles."

 

I am rarely surprised, and certainly in the two years we had spent at school I could only recall one occasion when my rabbit had surprised me. However, as I sat and stared at the earnest look on his face and the way he was biting his bottom lip I was completely surprised, stunned into silence even for a moment.

 

Eventually, I sat forward, stubbed my cigarette out and looked at him. "And why, my dear rabbit, would you think even for a moment that I would not wish to see you?"

 

He was silent for a moment as he stubbed his own cigarette out and took another sip from his glass. He then looked directly into my eyes and said, his tone flat, "Well, Raffles, given you never wrote to me, not once, after you left the school, what else was I to think?"

 

I met and held his gaze as I said softly, "Bunny?"

 

He sighed. "The thing is, Raffles, I rather thought that - Well, that everything you did and how you made me think you . . . Well, that you liked me -"

 

"I did like you," I said swiftly. "I liked you very much. Bunny, how can you doubt, even for a moment, that I liked you?"

 

He shrugged and went on. "You let me care for you, Raffles; you encouraged me to care for you. You looked after me, you protected me, you . . . You cared for me and then . . . Then you went off to Cambridge and - I really thought I would hear from you, even if it was just once. But I didn't, did I, Raffles? You never once wrote to me. You just forgot about me. So you see, how could I presume you would wish to see me now?"

 

I picked up the cigarette box and held it out to him. He took another Sullivan and thanked me, accepting the match I held for him to light his cigarette. "I never forgot about you, Bunny, never. And I did like you, as I said I liked you very much, I - Well, let us just say I cared deeply about you, my rabbit. Do you wish to know why I did not write to you?"

 

He looked a little uncertain but then nodded slowly. "Yes," he said softly.

 

"You see, the thing is, my rabbit, it's like this," I paused for a moment and then explained. "You see, Bunny, I really didn't think it would be fair of me to write to you. I actually started more than one letter, but then - Well, as I said I believed it would not be fair of me."

 

"I don't understand."

 

"Bunny, I in effect kept you away from the boys of your own age for two years; how you and Urquhart remained such good friends actually surprised me. I was somewhat unfair to demand - because let us be honest, my rabbit, that is what it was - so much of your time."

 

"But I wanted to be with you, Raffles, you know that."

 

I nodded. "Yes, I do. However, I shouldn't have - But I can't change that. I did encourage you to spend most of your free time with me, and for myself I do not regret doing so. However, once I went to Cambridge I saw things a little differently and I decided I should not write to you. I decided that because, Bunny, if I had done so even once we would have remained in contact and once again I would be keeping your from boys of your age. I thought it was fairer, truly I did, my rabbit, for me not to write to you. Can you understand?"

 

He was silent for a moment and then sighed softly and nodded. "Yes, Raffles, I can."

 

"That's my good boy," I murmured, without really thinking about my choice of words. However, he did not seem troubled by them.

 

Indeed he gave me a half smile and then said softly, "Could you not have written to me to explain why you -" He broke off and flushed slightly before shrugging and saying, "What you just told me."

 

"Well, Bunny, I could have done. However, do you actually believe you would have understood at the time?" I spoke softly and watched him carefully.

 

Again he was silent for a while before he sighed, and this time shook his head. "No, Raffles," he said slowly, "I do not believe I would have done so."

 

I hated the almost forlorn look that now appeared on his face and I once more leant forward and put my hand on his knee. "Plus, being the polite, well mannered boy you were, had I written to you, no matter what I had said, you would have written back to me and I would have -" I broke off and shrugged. "I never forgot you, my rabbit," I said softly. "Truly I didn't. So we'll have no more talk about you not being certain I would wish to see you."

 

"No, Raffles," he said dutifully.

 

"Do I have your word, Bunny, that you believe I am perfectly happy to see you again? And will always be thus?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, Raffles."

 

"That's my good boy," I said again and was rewarded with a full smile. "And now," I said, once again leaning back in my chair, "I believe it is time you explained to me quite why you wish to be my valet - or was that," I added swiftly, "merely a way to actually get to see me?"

 

He looked away from me and I saw his cheeks colour a little. "I wish I could say it was that, Raffles. However, I'm afraid it isn't. I really am here to apply for the position of your valet."

 

"But why, my rabbit?"

 

He stared at me and then said flatly, "Because, Raffles, I need money. I need money very badly and," he added, picking up his glass and emptying it, I noticed his hand shook slightly, "I'm rather afraid I need some of it somewhat urgently."

 

I got up and poured him another drink. I handed it to him and let one of my hands rest on his shoulder for a moment before it made its way to his forehead and into his hair. "Tell me everything, Bunny." I returned to my chair and looked at him.

 

He was silent for a moment and I could see him composing himself. "You probably don't know, in fact there is no reason you would know. However, my parents were both," he paused and I saw him swallow hard and for a second I thought I saw a hint of moisture sparkling in his eyes. Thus, I wasn't surprised by his next words, "Killed in an accident just before I finished my final term at the school."

 

"Oh, Bunny," I murmured, standing up swiftly (I couldnít just sit there after what he had said and a hand on his knee was not sufficient) and moved to where he sat. I sat down on the arm of the chair and put my arm around his shoulders and pulled him nearer to me. "I am so very sorry to hear that, my rabbit," I said, meaning the words. I know he was no longer the young boy I had cared so much about; I know he was now a young man of some twenty-five years. However, I knew that even after seven years, the premature deaths of his parents still affected him, especially as I was fairly certain what he was going to tell me next and how he believed he had failed them.

 

"Thank you, Raffles." He leant against me and sighed. "I know it's foolish," he said, "but I still miss them - even though I . . . Well, even though had they still been alive I probably wouldn't have seen anymore of them than I saw during my years at school. In fact I'm certain I would have seen far less of them."

 

"It's not foolish, Bunny, not at all."

 

"Isn't it?" He turned slightly and looked up at me and I could see the question was a genuine one.

 

I frowned a little, but I wasn't frowning at him, "Of course not, my rabbit. It's perfectly logical." I decided now was not the time to interrupt his story in order to tell him I knew exactly how he felt and understood in a way few people could, were able to understand. "Why would you think it was? Did someone say it was foolish?" I asked the question, even though I already knew the answer.

 

He shrugged, glanced away from me and then nodded. "Yes," he whispered.

 

"Well they were incorrect. Believe me, Bunny, trust me," I added with a flash of inspiration. It worked and he smiled up at me. He may have turned twenty-five, but in the moment he looked up at me, the look on his face and the way he smiled made me see the thirteen year old boy I had adored and cared for and possessed. And as I smiled back down at him, I knew with a compelling certainty that I was going to possess him once more; that I was not going to let him slip away from me again.

 

"I do trust you, Raffles," he said. "I always have and I always will."

 

"I'm glad to hear it. Now, do continue with your story." I ruffled his head, letting my fingers linger in his hair, before standing up and returning to my chair.

 

"Everything, the money, the house, Father's investments, everything, came to me upon the occasion of my eighteenth birthday. Everything," he repeated softly. "Oh, Raffles, how can you understand? You who was so mature at eighteen, who would never have . . . I was still so young, Raffles," his voice had become lower and he had lowered his head. "Still so very young; I was young, foolish, reckless. I thought I could have it all. I thought I was mature; I thought I knew what I was doing. I believed I could have a good time and still - What a fool I was. I was a complete fool."

 

I heard his voice tremble just a little and fought my instinct to go to him once again and this time pull him to his feet and take him into my arms and hold him and tell him, as I had done so many times at school, that everything would be all right.

 

However, I did not and not just because I truly believed he needed to finish his story; not for my sake, I knew what it would be, not the details, but in general terms, but for himself. He needed to hear himself say the rest of what he was going to say. I wish I could say it was for that reason and that reason only that I stayed where I was, but as I sat and watched him I knew it was also for another reason.

 

For two years I had denied myself, more, I had forbidden myself, what so many of my fellow sixth form boys had with their fags. I had not kissed him nor had I touched him in a way that was sexual; he was so young, so very young and so immature it would not have been fair. But now as we sat in my study, I knew full well if I were to put my arms around him now, I would take him to my bed and he would let me - and that would not be right.

 

He raised his head and stared at me. "I was so foolish, Raffles," he whispered. "And it wasn't just that I . . . I had 'friends', well I thought they were my friends, but they weren't. As soon as I no longer had money . . ." He just shrugged and stared at me. "I let them down, my parents," he added. "I failed them. They had wanted me to go to University."

 

That surprised me; during the two years we had been at school together Bunny had never once given any indication he might consider going to University. "Did they?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, we spoke of it during the summer after - After you . . . After you left m- left the school."

 

"Did you wish to go?"

 

He shrugged. "I think so. I could have done," he added. "And that is what I should have done; I should have gone to University and - But I didn't; I didn't do what my parents wished me to do. Instead I . . . I failed them, Raffles. And now it's all gone, every penny of it - well, it's been gone for over a year now, but for a time," he broke off and coloured considerably; again I knew what he was about to say. "Well, I was able to, live off my previous reputation, shall we say. However, for the last sixth months I've - I'm in serious trouble, Raffles. I could go to gaol. And - I was going to say worse still I could lose my reputation as a gentleman, but that was lost some time ago. And after tomorrow I shall have nowhere to live.  So you see that is why I desperately need to work, but what do I know? Nothing. I still write from time to time; I write articles for one of the local newspapers, you may even have read a few - I don't write them under my actual name. But . . ."

 

This time he didn't continue, so I spoke. "I imagine it does not pay well enough?"

 

He shook his head. "No, also the editor cannot use my articles every week. I've started to write a book, but no doubt I'll be as inept at that as I have been at everything else. But I'd still like to try, but I can't unless I can work and thus have some regular money. So . . . I need this job, Raffles. I need it. If you employ me as your valet, I am certain I can persuade some of the people to whom I own money to allow me to pay them back a little each week. If they knew for whom I worked, I'm sure they'd . . . Well, they probably would. Please, Raffles; please employ me - the old school," he added softly. He gazed at me beseechingly and once again he looked like the young boy I had met some twelve years ago.

 

I stared back at him; once more I had to stop myself from going across to him and taking him into my arms. "There is another way, Bunny," I said softly, "a far easier and I imagine more pleasant way."

 

He looked at me. "What?"

 

"You allow me to pay off your debts and you come and live here with me or stay in your flat, whatever you prefer, and write the book you wish to write, during which time I will -"

 

"Look after me?" I wasn't sure quite what his tone meant, but I got the feeling he wasn't altogether happy with what I had suggested.

 

"If you wish to put it that way, Bunny, then yes. However, I -"

 

"No, Raffles. No. No. Look, I know you mean well and a month ago, a week ago, two days ago even I would have accepted. However - Raffles, I'm not thirteen or even fifteen any longer."

 

"Yes, Bunny, I am aware of that."

 

"I have never, not once, Raffles, not once, taken responsibility for anything. For five years I lived the life of a gentleman about town, but I was never a man, Raffles, not in the ways that matter. I was still - I was foolish. And it's time I did take responsibility; it's time I . . . I believe it's time I grew up. So thank you, Raffles, thank you very much for your offer, but no, I cannot, I will not accept it. I have to be responsible for once. Can you understand that? Can you understand how easy it would be for me to say 'yes, Raffles; thank you, Raffles' - but that wouldn't be right. Can you understand?" he asked again.

 

I nodded. "Yes, Bunny, I can."

 

He gave me a small smile. "The only thing is." He fell silent.

 

I waited before saying, "Go on, my rabbit. I'm sure you've told me the worst, have you not?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, yes, I have. However, given what I have just said this is going to sound - Well . . . I don't know if you remember I said I would need some money somewhat urgently?"

 

I nodded. "Yes, Bunny, I remember."

 

"Well, that was rather an understatement - I need it," he paused and swallowed before saying in a clear voice, "Today. I need some money today, Raffles, or I won't have to worry about where I will live once I have to leave my flat."

 

"Ah," I said. "Well, that really is a very simple matter, Bunny. Just tell me how much you need and . . . You will at least accept that from me, will you not?"

 

He sighed and nodded. "Yes, Raffles. I will - I'm not certain I actually have any pride left any more."

 

"Of course you do, my rabbit, and what you've done is nothing worse than many a young man does. You haven't committed a crime - well, not one that has harmed anyone, have you?"

 

"No!" He raised his voice slightly and flushed as he repeated more softly, "No. No, Raffles, of course I have not."

 

"Well then," I said and shrugged. "Now tell me how much money you need right now." He lowered his head once again, letting his hair shroud his face and told me. I didn't comment, but I was actually, given what he had told me, surprised by how relatively little it was.

 

Instead I stood up, crossed to my desk and took the amount he needed from the drawer I kept money in. I returned to him and held it out. "Here you are, Bunny," I said.

 

He looked up and slowly stood up as he put out his hand which was shaking slightly and took the money from me. He stared at me, his look telling me he was rather surprised by the fact I had that amount to hand. "I'm not overly found of banks," I said in way of an explanation; it wasn't the truth, but it would, I was certain, suffice for now at least. He obviously knew I was wealthy, but it appeared he didn't know quite how wealthy I was; quite how little the amount I had handed over was to me.

 

"Thank you," he whispered. "And I'll pay you back, Raffles, I promise you. I'll pay you back every penny."


I forced myself not to tell him that really it didn't matter at all, and that I had no desire nor need for him to repay me. Instead I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed it and said, "Would you like me to accompany you, Bunny, when you go to pay whomsoever it is you need to pay today?"

 

A look of relief passed over his face making me more than a little pleased that I had offered. "Would you, Raffles? Would you really?"

 

"Of course I would, my rabbit."

 

He put the money down onto the table and took my arm and held it tightly. "Thank you, oh, thank you, Raffles. You see - Well, one of the people whom I must pay today is . . . Well, he is certainly not a gentleman and he has a . . . He has something of a reputation for not being entirely honourable once a debt has been paid. I know I should not have risked going to him, but there was no one else to whom I could go; no one who would have leant me money."

 

"In that case I am definitely going to accompany you, Bunny. I think I can say quite safely that with me by your side the so called gentleman will not attempt to be dishonourable." And I bent to pick back up the money I had given him and instead put it into my pocket.

 

He smiled at me. "Oh, no, Raffles, I'm quite certain he won't."

 

I still had my hand on his shoulder and I realised my other hand had once again found its way into his hair, quite when that had happened I knew not. He was gazing at me with more affection in his eyes and on his face than I had seen since the day I had said goodbye to him. Again I wanted nothing more than to take him in my arms, put my mouth on his and - However, that was not going to happen, and not just because we needed to go and pay of his immediate debts.

 

Thus I took a half step back from him, pushed my hands into my pockets and said, "So you want to become my valet, do you, Bunny?"

 

He nodded. "Yes. Oh yes please, Raffles, yes, I do." He reminded me of the way he had looked when I had asked him if he wished to become my fag.

 

"Do you actually know what a valet does, my rabbit?"

 

He flushed a little. "Well, not exactly - but I believe it's similar to well . . . To being a fag, isn't it?"

 

I smiled at him. "In some ways, yes, Bunny, you could say that."

 

"And I was good at that, wasn't I? I looked after you well, did I not, Raffles?"

 

I took one hand from my pocket and once more brushed his hair from his forehead. "Yes, Bunny, you were. And yes, you did indeed look after me well; you looked after me very well; very well indeed."

 

"And I learnt quickly - about keeping your kit in good condition and oiling your bats and everything. So I'm sure I could learn what I need to do now. Please, Raffles, please give me a chance." He caught my hand and held it tightly. "Please."

 

"You don't need to plead with me, Bunny," I said, now putting both hands on his shoulders and smiling down at him. "Of course you may be my valet, if you really wish to be."

 

He smiled at me and his eyes sparked. "Do you mean it, Raffles?" he cried. "Do you really mean it?"

 

"Of course I do, my rabbit," I said and smiled at him.

 

"Oh, thank you, Raffles. Thank you. Thank you." And he pulled my hands from his shoulders and in effect threw himself into my arms, holding onto me tightly and repeating his thanks.

 

I automatically put my arms around him and held him closely against me, just as I had done all those years ago. I forced myself not to do anything more than simply hold him, no matter how much I wanted to. I allowed the embrace to continue for longer than was strictly speaking correct, before I gently pushed him away from me a little and looked down at him.

 

"However," I said softly, "there are one or two conditions, shall we say."

 

He stared at me and nodded. "Of course, Raffles, whatever you want. Tell me what they are and I'll agree."

 

As I stared at him I almost wished I hadn't said anything, as whilst I had not had any real intention of taking him to my bed - at least not in the immediate future - that option was now completely unthinkable. How could I have done so given I would not know if he would agree simply because he believed it was a condition of my employing him?

 

However, I had spoken, so I had to make the best of it. "Condition one: You will allow me to repay all of your debts immediately. No," I said taking his hand in one of mine and putting the first two fingers of my other on his mouth, "let me finish, Bunny. I am a kind master and a generous one; you can ask any of my servants. However, I have two rules: one is that I will not employ any man who is married and two, no one I employ may be in debt to anyone. I will not permit anyone outside of myself to have any kind of hold over the people who work for me. Therefore, I will repay whatever it is you owe, and I will take an amount from what I will pay you each week in order that you might repay me - which I know you will insist on doing."

 

"Yes, Raffles, I do insist. I told you, I will not accept charity. I will repay you."

 

I hid a sigh. "Very well," I said. "Now do you know exactly how much money you need and to whom you owe it?"

 

He flushed a little. "Not quite exactly. However, it is quite a lot, Raffles."

 

"Tell me."

 

He did. I nodded. "Very well. Now condition two: you will never, never do you hear me, Bunny, call me 'sir' or 'Mr. Raffles' when we are alone. I simply will not permit it."

 

This time he smiled at me and I knew that just as my mind had done on more than one occasion, his had returned to our school days when I had told him quite firmly on the day I had taken him as my fag that he must never, on punishment of being dismissed from my service, call me 'sir'. "Yes, Raffles," he said.

 

"Good boy," I murmured. "Condition three: you will continue to write your book. You will have the time, Bunny; I assure you that your task of being my valet will not be an onerous one."

 

Again he smiled. "I'd like to be able to do that, Raffles."

 

"Good. And finally, condition four: you will dine with me tonight. No," I said swiftly, as I saw he was about to object. "We shall go to my club where we will dine in a private room and I assure you no one will see you with me, if that is what you are worried about. Come along, Bunny, do say yes. You need to eat, as do I and - Well, for one night let us just forget that as from tomorrow you are going to be employed by me. Let us spend the evening as friends and talk about the more pleasant things we have done since we last saw one another."

 

"I'd like that very much, Raffles. However, there is one problem. You see my evening suit . . . Well, it is rather a good one and so I -"

 

"We can deal with that when we go to pay the people you need to pay today," I said firmly. "Although dinner is an awfully long way away and I for one feel somewhat hungry now. Thus, we shall also have luncheon somewhere before we deal with the unpleasant business. No," I said. "That is condition five."

 

"You said 'finally' before you said condition four," he objected, but he was smiling.

 

I shrugged. "Mathematics was never my best subject. Now, wait here whilst I go and tell Cadman you are to be my new valet and ask him to arrange rooms for you and to deal with the unsuccessful applicants. Here, have another Sullivan and whisky, I'll be a few minutes."

 

"Yes, Raffles," he said, sitting back down and taking a cigarette from the box on the table. "Thank you," he added, catching my hand after he had taken the glass I held out to him. "Thank you," he repeated; his tone and his look were both solemn.

 

"It is my pleasure, my dear rabbit," I said, brushing his hair back and letting my fingers tangle in his hair. "It really is my pleasure. I'm just so pleased to see you again, Bunny. I am so glad you came to me. Really I am."

 

He swallowed hard as he gazed at me; I was in no doubt the truth in my words were clear from the expression on my face. "So am I," he whispered and to my surprise he pulled my hand to his lips and placed a soft kiss on it. And once again I was transported back to my study as it was something I had done to him on a few occasions; well I had lightly kissed his forehead - but that aside it was so very similar.

 

I swallowed and again fought my desire to take him into my arms. "I'll be as quick as I can be," I said, smiling at him as I took my hand from his hair and gently tugged my hand away from him before I strode to the door and went out into the hallway.

 

As I shut the door behind me I stood for a moment and thought; I hesitated and then made a decision and once again opened the door to my study. Bunny was still sitting in the chair where I had left him and looked up in surprise as I went back into the room and closed the door behind me. "Raffles?"

 

I crossed to where he sat, dropped down onto my heels and took his hand in mine. "Bunny," I said, "would you mind awfully if I told my butler the truth about who you are. I don't mean the full details, my rabbit, just the basic things. You see, the thing is, before he showed you in to see me, he mentioned that fact that he believed you to be a public school educated gentleman, and also that he didn't believe your name was Smith. I just think given his position in my house that it would be for the best. But if you do not wish me to do so, then of course I shall not do so."

 

He hesitated for a moment or two and I could see he was thinking about what I had said. Finally he shook his head, albeit a little slowly, and said, "No, I don't mind, Raffles."

 

"That's my good boy," I said for the third time and ruffled his hair before standing up and again leaving the room.

 

This time I found Cadman in the hall outside. "Do you wish me to show Mr.," Cadman hesitated for a second before saying, "Smith out, sir?"

 

I shook my head. "No, thank you, Cadman. Now come with me, please, I should like to have a word with you." And I turned and headed towards the library with Cadman behind me.

We went in and I closed the door and leant against it. "Cadman."

 

"Yes, Mr. Raffles?"

 

"I am going to employ Mr.," now it was my turn to pause for a moment, "Smith as my valet," I said.

 

"Very well, sir." His expression was composed, his tone neutral; however, I was left in no doubt as to quite how much his disapproved.

 

"However, there is something I am going to tell you - but, Cadman, this information is for you and you alone. Do you understand me?"


"Of course I do, Mr. Raffles." Oh, dear, now he sounded slightly affronted.

 

I hurried on. "The thing is, Cadman, you were essentially correct about Mr. Smith. Or," I said swiftly, "I should say Mr. Manders; Mr. Harry Manders. You were also correct in believing that he was educated at a public school - he was. In fact he and I were at school together."

 

I couldn't recall a time when I had seen even a hint of surprise on Cadman's face, however I saw it now. Not that it appeared for more than a fleeting moment, but it was there. "Were you, sir?"

 

"Yes. Indeed we were not just at school together; Mr. Manders was in fact my fag during my final two years at school. Thus whilst he may not in reality have any experience of being an actual valet, he has looked after me before. He is a gentleman, Cadman, a gentleman who has fallen on hard times - and I intend to help him."

 

"That's very kind of you, Mr. Raffles."

 

"And in case you are wondering," which he would be, "why I simply do not help him in another way, I offered; he refused. He insists on earning money, he does not merely wish to be given it. I trust I can rely on you to help him settle in, shall we say, and also give him advice when you think it is necessary. I would rather the rest of the staff believed him to be an actual valet - albeit a rather inexperienced one."

 

"Of course you can rely on me, Mr. Raffles, sir. I'd be very glad to do whatever I can."

 

I smiled at him, knowing that he spoke nothing but the truth. "Thank you, Cadman."

 

"May I ask one question, Mr. Raffles?" I nodded. "What are we to call him?"

 

"Ah. Other than Burke do any of the other servants know he gave the same 'Smith' upon his arrival?"

 

"I do not believe so, sir. However, Burke is, as you know, somewhat more intelligent than a lot of young men in his position."

 

He was; I liked having intelligent men working for me. I thought for a moment, I really didn't want to spend my time remembering, when we were not alone, to call Bunny 'Smith'. "I have it. You can tell Burke that actually Mr. Manders's name is 'Manders-Smith' but that he usually goes by the name Smith. However, I decided I did not like the name and thus he will be known as Manders."

 

He stared at me for a moment and I saw the corner of his mouth twitch slightly. "Very well, sir." I had no doubt that Burke would believe Cadman, and not just because I was his master but also because I was known to have a pet fancy about names.

 

"Thank you. I would also be obliged, Cadman, if you could arrange accommodation for Mr. Manders, please."

 

"Certainly, sir. When will Mr. Manders be taking up his position?"

 

"Tomorrow. However, you'd better have it sorted out today. He may well spend the night here."

 

"Very well, sir. Will you be lunching in today?"

 

"No. I have to go out. There are some things I need to assist Mr. Manders with before he takes up his position here. And I shall also be dining out."

 

He stared at me for a moment and then gave a slight nod. "I understand, Mr. Raffles."

 

I looked at him and saw that he actually did and he looked just a little, not disapproving, not at all. His look was one of slightly discomfort. However, I knew it not on his behalf; he was actually concerned about Bunny. I sighed softly and said, my tone low, "Mr. Manders is my friend, Cadman. And if it makes you feel any better, I give you my word that no one will see us dining together. I shall arrange for a private room at my club."

 

A faint hint of colour touched his cheeks. "I assure you, Mr. Raffles, I was not concerned for myself."

 

I touched his shoulder. "I know, Cadman," I said. "I know."

 

We stood for a moment in silence and then Cadman said, "Do tell Mr. Manders I shall do whatever I can to help him settle in and become fully acquainted with his new position."

 

I stared at him, at the man who ensured my house ran seamlessly, the man whom stayed with me, despite all the offers he had received from other gentleman. "I don't know what I would do without you, Cadman," I said softly.

 

He glanced away from me for a moment and then said his tone slightly less formal and reserved than it normally was when he spoke to me, "I do not intend to let you find out, sir. Now, if that is all, I should return to my duties."

 

I smiled and moved away from the door and watched him walk out of the room. I waited for a moment or two before I returned to my study.

 

"Right then, Bunny," I said, striding into the room and going over to where he still sat and offering him my hand. "Shall we go?"

 

He took my hand and let me guide him to his feet; once again I had to fight the temptation to pull him into my arms and kiss him and go on kissing him until he agreed to give up his foolish idea of being my valet and instead be my lover.

 

TWO HOURS LATER

 

We enjoyed a fairly lengthy luncheon in a quiet, somewhat out of the way restaurant which I knew and visited from time to time. It was one which I knew would be devoid of any other gentlemen, it not being considered to be quite 'right' for a gentleman.

 

During luncheon we had talked and it was as if the ten years we had been apart hadn't happened. I told him about my time at Cambridge, of my studies and cricket and how, even though he had gone to Oxford, Charlie and I had kept in touch and how he was indeed now a doctor with a very thriving practice and that we saw one another quite regularly. I also told him about my own loss; I told him how my parents and Alice had all be killed in the same accident and how in matter of weeks after that, how Father's brother had died, and hence everything had come to me - thus explaining why I was in the position I was in.

 

I didn't have to tell him of my time spent playing first class cricket as I learnt he had attended if not quite all then certainly most of my matches. When I had asked why he had never sought me out, he merely shrugged, glanced away and changed the subject - which I let him do.

 

He didn't talk much about what he had done in the years since he had left the school, well we had already covered that time. He did however speak at some length and with obvious pleasure about his time as editor of the school magazine. He told me a little, after I had encouraged him, of the book he was writing and how he hoped, if it was accepted by a publisher, that it would be the first in a series of books. He was at his most relaxed and natural when he spoke about writing, but then it has always been his passion.

 

Finally, as we smoked Sullivans and sat over empty coffee cups and brandy glasses, I knew the pleasantries had to end - at least for a short time. "I do believe it is time we conducted our business, my rabbit, do you not?" I said, touching his hand.

 

His face became a little paler and the animation faded from his eyes as he nodded. "Yes, Raffles," he said as he put his cigarette out.

 

I covered his hand with mine. "Bunny, why do not reconsider? Why do we not -"

 

"No, Raffles," he said firmly. "Now shall we go?"

 

I hid a sigh, put my own cigarette out and stood up. I admired his determination to take responsibility, really I did, but surely becoming a published author would be being responsible, wouldn't it? However, one of the many things I knew about my rabbit was that once he had made up his mind and was really determined nothing - not even I - could sway him from his path. He had decided he would become my valet and there was nothing I could do about it - at least not until he tired of it.

 

"Very well, my rabbit," I murmured and put my hand on his shoulder to guide him from the restaurant. As I did so, I told myself firmly that I must remember he was now my adult valet (well soon to be valet) and not my school boy fag, and as such it really would not be seen as appropriate for me to touch him as often as I had done at school. I believed of all the things that I would have to do in order to accommodate Bunny's desire to be my valet, that would be the hardest of all to comply with.

 

I paid the bill and collected out hats and my stick as I waited for Bunny to return from visiting the facilities. Once we left the restaurant I stopped myself from offering him my arm and instead we walked along side by side. "Where to first, Bunny?" He told me and I stopped abruptly and instantly forgot my vow not to touch him as I gripped both his arms (I ignored the fact my stick had fallen to the ground and rolled away from me). "You went to him?" I heard the shock in my voice and had no doubt at all that my face had paled and I was betraying the horror I felt.

 

He nodded. "Yes. I had to. I know he isn't an honest man. He is the one I told you about, the one who isn't known to always be entirely honourable even when a debt has been paid. But as I said, I really had no other option. Why are you so concerned, Raffles?"

 

"I . . ." I stared at him as we stood in the middle of the pavement, my hands still gripped his arms, he staring up at me. "Trust me, my rabbit, you really do not need nor do you wish to know the exact nature of quite how dishonourable a man he is. Suffice to say, I am more than a little relieved that I shall be by your side when you go to pay him." And that was putting it mildly. I forced myself not to shiver as the knowledge of quite what the bastard would have done to my innocent little rabbit had I not been there, flashed through my mind.

 

However, I clearly did not hide the shiver completely or maybe it was my face which gave me away, because Bunny put his hand on my cheek. "Raffles?" he murmured.

 

I shook myself and forced a grim smile onto my lips and finally let go of his arms and bent to pick my stick up. "It will be all right, Bunny," I said. "I assure you he will cause you no harm given I shall be with you." And he wouldn't; he was a bully; an evil man; a reprehensible man who took great pleasure in causing severe pain, but he would not dare to cross me.  

 

Bunny had turned quite pale and I wished I had been able to control my reaction to learning the name of the man who we were about to go and visit; the man who had had Bunny under his control. However, what was done was done; I could do nothing about how I had reacted. So instead I put my hand on Bunny's arm and said firmly, "You will be quite safe, my rabbit. I give you my word. Now take my arm and we shall pay Mr. Brunt a visit."

 

The way he instantly took my arm and the way he held it just a little more tightly than is normal, told me quite how much I had unnerved him. Again I regretted it; again I could do nothing more than walk along with him and talk of other things.

 

We reached the building in which Brunt had his 'business' and went inside. The first person we met was one of Brunt's henchmen. He widened his eyes slightly as he saw me and actually took a step away from me. I didn't know his name, but that was of no matter; all of Brunt's henchmen were the same.

 

"Kindly tell Mr. Brunt that Mr. Manders is here to see him." I stressed Bunny's name and hoped that this particular henchman had the modicum of intelligence that would allow him to realise he was not to tell Brunt that I was accompanying Bunny.

 

"Why should I?"

 

I sighed. "Because if you do not, you are the person who will have to face your master's wrath when he finds someone in his office who hasn't been announced. Of course if you are confident that will not be a problem then -" And I took a step closer to the door.

 

The bully moved, far more quickly than I would have thought a man of his size could move, standing in front of me and crossing his arms. "I'll tell 'im," he said. He waited until I retreated slightly before he opened the door. "There's a Mr. Manders to see you, boss," he said, loud enough for both Bunny and I to hear him.

 

"Excellent. Wel,l don't just stand there, show him in. Show him in." His voice made it quite clear he was rubbing his hands at the thought of - I forced the image from my mind and concentrated on keeping Bunny by my side. He had clearly also heard the tone of Brunt's voice and had retreated backwards several steps.

 

"Raffles?" he whispered, and stared imploringly at me, making it quite clear he would much prefer me to go in alone. However, I had no intention of leaving Bunny alone - I didn't trust any of Brunt's henchmen.

 

"You will be quite safe, my rabbit," I murmured, brushing his hair from his forehead. It was something that had always seemed to calm and reassure him when we had been at school and it appeared it still did as although he sighed, he managed a faint smile.

 

"Mr. Brunt will see you now, Mr. Manders."

 

Bunny swallowed hard and ever polite managed to stutter his thanks before, with me just a step or two behind him, he walked slowly towards Brunt's office and went inside.

 

Brunt was sitting in a high-backed chair behind his desk; however, he was facing in the opposite direction so did not see us enter his office. I closed the door behind us, nodded to Bunny to take a step or two forward and silently followed him. "Well, now, Manders. Come to pay me have you? Or come to tell me you can't pay me and beg me to extend your deadline? You know what, it really don't matter. You see - Raffles!" he gasped, as he dropped the leather whip he had been holding in his hand when he had turned his chair around and stood up.

 

Bunny had retreated and was now actually standing slightly behind me and I could hear how shallow his breathing was and I had no doubt he was trembling. "Hello, Brunt," I said in a casual tone. "I thought I had made it quite clear to you what I would do if I ever harmed a friend of mine, or indeed anyone I even knew, again. Or have you forgotten?" I leant my stick against a chair.

 

Brunt took a step of two away from his desk, thus putting even more distance between us. "No, Mr. Raffles," he managed, holding up his hands, "I didn't forget. I just didn't know that Man-"

 

"Mr. Manders," I said softly.

 

"That's right, sir. Mr. Manders, I didn't know he were a friend of yours, sir. Honest I didn't, Mr. Raffles. You have to believe me."

 

"Actually, Brunt, I do not have to do anything," I said, taking out my cigarette case and offering it to Bunny who just looked at me as I had gone mad and shook his head. I took a cigarette for myself and struck the match, lit my Sullivan and with the match still alight walked towards Brunt's desk.

 

Brunt retreated several more steps and stared at me in sheer panic. I stood still for a moment with the lighted match still between my finger and thumb before I shook it and dropped it into the ashtray that was on Brunt's desk. I heard Brunt exhale loudly and his shoulders relaxed a little.

 

I stood and smoked for a moment or two before I took my cigarette from between my lips and held it between my fingers in a determined, one might even say, threatening manner. It clearly worked as once more Brunt retreated. I stared at him and took a step nearer to him as he took two more away from me. Suddenly I was bored with the game I was playing, as well as wanting nothing more than to get out of the room and building and out into the street.

 

My gaze never leaving Brunt for a moment, I ground my cigarette out and put my hand into my inner pocket. Once more Brunt backed away from me, this time hitting the wall hard where he stood and stared at me as he trembled. I sighed softly and slowly pulled my wallet from my pocket.

 

"How much exactly did Mr. Manders borrow from you?" His eyes widened and I saw him thinking swiftly. He swallowed hard and told me. I held his gaze for a moment before saying, my tone flat, "Your usual terms?" He swallowed hard and nodded; his forehead was glistening with perspiration and the odour in the room seemed suddenly heavy and oppressive - I even considered lighting another cigarette.

 

However, we wouldn't be in the room for more than a minute or two longer. I extracted a number of notes from my wallet, counted them, added two sovereigns and put them down on his desk and waited. "The paper Mr. Manders signed," I said, after a moment or two during which Brunt just stared at me.

 

"Of course, Mr. Raffles. I'll get it now." Stumbling he made his way to the safe, fiddled with the combination; he managed to get it wrong three times, before he finally opened it. It took him a minute or two to find the one he wanted which he held out to me at arm's length.

 

I took it, glanced at it quickly to ascertain it was the correct paper, before I pushed it into my pocket. "You know, Brunt," I said, moving from his desk to pick my stick back up - a move that caused him to once again retreat from me. "I really believe you should consider leaving London. Do you not think that might be a wise move?" He stared at me and swallowed hard; he opened his mouth and then closed it again. "You think about it, Brunt - just don't take too long though," I added. "Now, Mr. Manders and I are going to bid you good afternoon. I really do hope we shall not meet again, Brunt." And with those words I turned, took a statue-like Bunny's arm and led him out of the room, past the henchman, down the stairs and out into the relative sweet smelling street.

 

Bunny let me lead him as obediently as a child might let their mother lead them. He was trembling slightly and I heard him swallow more than once. "Are you all right, my rabbit?" I asked, as we rounded the corner where I stopped and pressed him back a little against the wall. I stared down at his pale face and wide eyes. "Bunny?" I said gently.

 

He shook himself, swallowed hard again and stared up at me. "Raffles? You . . . You . . . Raffles?"

 

I patted his hand and took out my cigarette case. "Take a Sullivan, Bunny; it will make you feel better. There," I added, as I steadied his hand so that I might light it for him. "And now, here," I held out my flask to him and once more steadied his hand as he took a deep swallow after which he sighed and seemed to relax a little. "Good boy." I returned the flask to my pocket and once more offered him my arm. "Now tell me who else we have to see this afternoon - I trust there is no one else like Mr. Brunt?" I stopped walking and looked down at him

 

He shook his head. "No, just my tailor; the man from whom I rent my flat and," he paused, flushed a little and said softly, "Probert - the local bookmaker," he added even more softly.

 

I merely nodded and patted his hand. "We shall leave your landlord until last, then you can show me what you wish to bring with you from your flat and I can arrange for it to be collected or delivered -"

 

"There won't be much, Raffles. I don't have many clothes or other possession left, and all the furniture has a bill of sale on it."

 

He sounded utterly forlorn and more than a little embarrassed. Rather than try to reassure him or verbally comfort him, I once more patted his hand letting mine rest on his for a moment or two, before I let my hand slip into his hair where I let it linger for longer than I really should, but the street was all but deserted, and I knew how much it comforted him, how much he liked it.

 

"And then," I said as if he hadn't spoken, "we shall liberate your evening wear, you will return home with me where we will bathe and change, and then we shall go out to dine."

 

"Yes, Raffles," he said, actually managing a real smile, albeit a small one, as he gazed up with open adoration at me.

 

"That's my good rabbit," I said, as with regret I finally took my hand from his hair, turned and with his arm still through mine we walked to where Probert had his shop.

 

SEVERAL HOURS LATER

 

Following an extremely good meal at my club which had been accompanied by two bottles of champagne and finished off with very fine brandy and cigars, I finally helped Bunny into a cab and told the driver to take us to my home.

 

The moon was full and the sky was awash with stars, thus the inside of the cab was fairly well lit. I stared at Bunny, who it has to be said was a little under the effect of the champagne and brandy he had consumed. It wasn't that he was drunk or incapable of standing up unaided, but let me just say I was a little relieved we had dined in a private room. To be gazed at in the way Bunny had gazed at me during dinner whilst a school boy was one thing, however as an adult it could quite possibly have led to more than one unpleasant question being asked.

 

I didn't particularly mind for myself; I believe most people I considered to be friends rather than passing acquaintances were aware of where my preferences lay and they all appeared to take the view that as long as I did not show interest in anyone who wasn't as I was, it was none of their business - despite being illegal. I did, however, mind for Bunny, because although he seemed to be making it quite, quite clear that he still loved me, was even still in love with me, and would not be adverse to my taking him to my bed, given we hadn't seen more another for ten years I had no idea as to what his preferences were. If I were to be brutally honest, I suspected he was without experience with either gentleman or lady - aside from what he must had done at school, that is.

 

As we travelled along I cast my mind back to the dinner we had shared. I once again found myself wondering quite when he had last eaten a good meal, my impression was it had been quite some time - which I confess was somewhat backed up by how thin he had felt when I had embraced him and how his evening suit looked a little too large for him. Of course I had said nothing; I knew he was still more than a little embarrassed as to the situation he had allowed himself to get into, and I didn't wish to add to his discomfort.

 

Suddenly Bunny frowned and said, "This isn't the way to Mount Street."

 

I smiled and touched his thigh, "No, Bunny, it is not. You are coming home with me."

 

"Am I?" He positively beamed at me and the look on his face made me swallow hard and made me wonder quite what he had thought I had meant by my words.

 

"Yes, my rabbit," I said softly and smiled again. "After all tomorrow you will be -"

 

"Starting my job as our valet," Bunny said solemnly.

 

"Indeed," I said and smiled again.

 

"But that's tomorrow, and this is tonight, isn't it?"

 

I hesitated for a moment and then said, "Yes, Bunny, it is."

 

We continued our journey in silence for a short time during which I became aware that somehow, seemingly without me noticing it, Bunny had moved just a little nearer to me and his thigh was now pressed right against mine. It was warm and comforting, as well as being a little arousing - I fear I maybe had drunk one glass of champagne more than I should have done.

 

I sought around for something to say and heard myself saying, "Bunny?"

 

He turned to look at me and the look again made me swallow hard as I felt a certain part of my body twitch just a little. "Yes, Raffles?"

 

"My rabbit, I am going to ask you once more and then I give you my word I shall not mention it again." He just went on staring at me and gave me a gentle smile. "Please reconsider, Bunny, please allow me to help you as my friend and give up your idea of becoming my valet and just write your book. Let me - Bunny, you cannot have failed to notice that I am shall we say fairly wealthy. I promise you it would be no hardship to me to look after you."

 

"As you did at school?"

 

I blinked. "Well, I -"

 

"As you did this afternoon when we paid a visit to Brunt?"

 

"Well, yes, of course. However, I also mean - Bunny I can easily afford to -" I fell silent as he slowly shook his head.

 

"No, Raffles," he said, his tone firm, his voice completely free from any hint of the amount of alcohol he had drunk. "It's not that I don't appreciate your offer - please do not think that, you donít think that do you?" He had taken my hand and was holding it between both of his, his grip was rather firm.

 

I shook my head and put my other hand into his hair. "No, my rabbit, of course I do not think that." I said reassuringly.

 

"Good," he said, and looked both relieved and reassured. "And you see, Raffles, I want nothing more than to say 'yes' to you, to accept your offer."

 

"Then why do you not?"

 

"Because it would be too easy."

 

"I don't really understand, Bunny, do you want things to be difficult?"

 

He sighed and shook his head. "No, of course not. But - Look, Raffles, I turned twenty-five a few months ago and I've never once, not once, Raffles, taken responsibility or been . . . Everything has been so easy for me."

 

He looked very young and I took my hand from his hair and put it around his shoulders instead, pulling him towards me. I wasn't altogether surprised when he let go of my hand with one of his hands, took his top-hat off and rested his head on my shoulder - something he had done many, many times at school. "I can't imagine the last few months or even longer have been exactly easy for you, my rabbit."

 

He shrugged. "No, of course they haven't. But even - Raffles, my parents cared for me whilst I was at home; you cared for me for two years when we were at school together; even after you left m- left the school, boys didn't bother me because I believe they thought that you -" He broke off abruptly and fell silent. I didn't say anything, because I didn't know what to say, what could I say? Nothing could make right what I had done and I couldn't undo it or change it.

 

Finally he spoke again. "So even though you weren't there, in a way you still cared for me. Then - Well then I had the money and . . . Life was so easy for me, Raffles, it really was. I have to do this, I really do. I am going to work for you and repay you for rescuing me, for saving me again and I'll write my book and - Well, if it is good enough to be published then . . . Look, Raffles, if you don't want someone as inept as I am, as inexperienced as I am to be your valet, just say so and I'll - Well, I'll find something else. There must be a gentleman who wouldn't mind that I wasn't actually trained to be a valet."

 

The idea of quite what kind of gentleman might be prepared to take Bunny into his house and exactly what kind of duties he might have for him, made me speak quickly. "No, Bunny, you are not going to work for anyone else - I simply will not allow it." I bit my lip at the words as I realised they were not only terribly possessive, but also implied he belonged to me, just as he had done at school. "I apologise for raising the matter again, my rabbit. I should not have done so; you made your feelings clear earlier today, I should have respected them. Can you forgive me?"

 

He raised his head and smiled at me. "Of course I can and I do, Raffles, not that there's anything for which you need to apologise. You were only thinking of me and wanting to care for me, just as you did at school." He sounded a little sleepy and very content and he returned his head to my shoulder. "So I can work for you?"

 

"Yes, my dear rabbit, of course you may be my valet. There is no one else I would like more to fill the position."

 

"Good. Thank you, Raffles."

 

"You are quite welcome, Bunny."

 

We travelled in silence for another minute before he said softly, "Raffles?"

 

"My rabbit?"

 

"I hope you don't think I am a foolish rabbit, but I am actually rather looking forward to being your valet - to looking after you and your things again."

 

I smiled and tightened the grip I had on him just a little.

 

"No, Bunny, I do not think it is foolish at all - indeed I believe it could be rather fun."

 

"But that isn't until tomorrow, it is?" He asked; all hints of sleepiness had gone from his voice.

 

"No. Thus, when we get back to my house, which will be very soon now, you may quite legitimately join me for a Sullivan and a nightcap."

 

He sat up and smiled at me. "Oh, good," he murmured and stared at me. Once more I had to swallow hard.

 

AN HOUR LATER

 

We sat together in my study, in which I spent a lot of my time, smoking Sullivans and sipping whisky and soda. Bunny's look and the way he touched my hand or arm in a quite deliberate way, made it more than clear what he wanted. I, however, was determined not to succumb to his desires nor to my own, and was in effect ignoring his wishes, as best as I could. I confess it wasn't easy, and it became harder as each minute went by and each time he touched me increased my desire to give us what we both wanted.

 

Suddenly he put his glass down, extinguished his cigarette and stood up. I automatically stood up as well. "Is something the matter, Bunny?" I asked with a hint of concern; I assumed he felt a little unwell or had need of the facilities. "Is there something you want or need?" I asked when he just stared at me.

 

"Actually, Raffles," he said, giving me a gentle smile. "There is." And before I could move or speak, he had closed the gap between us, put his arms around my neck, pulled my head down and had begun to kiss me.

 

I swear, I would swear before a judge and jury, that my reaction was an automatic one; that I did not consciously put my arms around him, pull him far closer than I had ever pulled him when we had been at school (and I am a little ashamed to say I used to hold him far closer than was strictly speaking 'proper), pressing him against me and kissed him back.

 

As my mouth gently parted his and my tongue slipped inside and I felt his arousal brush against mine, I knew I had the confirmation of what I had hitherto expected. My beloved rabbit was quite the innocent - indeed even more so than I had presumed him to be. I had merely believed him not to have gone to bed with either a gentleman or a lady, but his kisses, intoxicating and addictive as they were (and they were both) made it quite clear he was not used to or experienced in kissing. Also the way he was moving against me told me clearly it was something he had not done before - for a moment I even wondered if I had been incorrect; had he been the one boy (at least in my experience and to my knowledge) who had never done anything, no matter how basic with another boy during his time at school? However, he must have done; all boys do - he just clearly had not done a great deal.

 

I slid one hand up into his hair, tangling it around my fingers and holding his head firmly in place as I continued to kiss him with a passion I rarely showed to anyone. I moved my other hand down his back somewhat as I pulled him even closer to me and pressed my hardness as closely against his as I could get it.

 

As I kissed him and tried to pull him even closer I was suddenly aware that if I did not pull away, did not break the contact our lower bodies had very soon something was going to happen that had not happened to me since - Well, since (at least not unless it had been something I deliberately let happen) I had been a barely thirteen year old school boy who was experiencing his very first kiss and furtive embrace with his best friend. And whilst to my surprise I found the idea of that happening more than a little exciting and pleasurable, what would be even more pleasurable would be  Bunny's hand around me, Bunny's very inexperienced hand around me, stroking my naked -

 

I stopped the thought abruptly and ended the kiss as I used my far greater strength not only to push but also to hold Bunny away from me. He stared at me, his surprise and confusion clear and as I stared back at him I saw a hint of unease cross his face as well. "No," I shook my head as I went on holding him at arm's length. "No, my rabbit."

 

He frowned and shook his head. "I don't understand, Raffles? Don't you want to? Don't you want me? Because the way you kissed me and that -" He flushed but nodded at my lower body, "tells me quite differently." I stared at him for a moment, trying to formulate quite what to say to reassure him and to comfort him. "You do want me, do you not, Raffles?" His question actually made it easy for me to answer him.

 

I pulled him a little nearer to me again. Not against me, nor close enough to easily allow him to kiss me again, but close enough to hopefully give him a degree at least of reassurance. "Actually, my dearest rabbit, I do want you. I want you very much indeed."

 

He frowned. "Then I don't understand, Raffles." He stared at me for a moment and then said softly, "Oh, I know what it is."

 

"You do?" I asked carefully.

 

He nodded and bit his lip and even glanced away from me. "Yes," he whispered. "It's because I'm . . . Well not very . . ." He looked back at me and flushed deeply, "Actually, not at all . . . That's what it is, isn't it?"

 

Now I did pull him back into my arms, holding him in a loose embrace, keeping my lower body away from his (something of which it disapproved intensely) and I put my lips on his ear, kissing it softly before saying, "No, Bunny, no my dear rabbit, I give you my word that is not the reason. In fact I would rather like to be the one to . . ." I smiled as his lifted his head.

 

"Then I don't understand, Raffles. If it doesn't bother you, why have you stopped and why are you saying no."

 

I sighed softly and gathered him just a little nearer, kissed the top of his head and said softly, "Because, my very own rabbit, I am not entirely certain of your motivation for kissing me for wishing to come to my bed."

 

He pulled back and stared up at me. I almost had to laugh at the look on his face; I believe he thought I had gone temporarily insane. "I love you, Raffles," he said, "I always have. You must know that - don't you?"

 

I did. Even before the champagne he had consumed had made him less reticent, I had known it. "Yes, Bunny."

 

"Well then, isnít that enough? Raffles, I love you, I want to go to bed with you. I want you to touch me, to kiss me to - well you know. I want you," he said simply and then added softly, "I always have."

 

I swallowed hard and fought my own desire to give him what he wanted, what I wanted, to kiss him, to touch him, to make love to him, to begin to teach him quite how wonderful it could be. However, I could not; I must not. "Bunny?" I spoke gently.

 

"Yes, Raffles?"

 

"Come and sit back down, my rabbit." And without waiting for him to reply, I led him back to the chairs, gently pushed him down and then dropped to my heels in front of him and took his hands in one of mine as I brushed his hair back from his forehead with my other. "Now, Bunny, can you give me your word that your desire to go to bed with me has nothing, nothing, Bunny, to do with the fact that you believe yourself to be in my debt, and thus you wish to make me happy?" I spoke gently and stroked his head as I spoke and I stared directly into his eyes.

 

I knew his answer even before he spoke as he sagged just a little and sighed. "No, Raffles," he said softly and with more regret in his voice that I had ever heard anyone express. "No, I cannot. I am as certain as I can be that it has nothing to do with it - I do want to go to bed with you, Raffles, I do love you. But - You are of course correct," he sighed again, "just as you always were at school. There may be part of me, of which I am not consciously aware, that . . . That wants it for the reason you suggested." He looked beyond being forlorn and I suddenly felt terribly guilty; he had been so happy, so perfectly content and now - And it was my fault; once again I had hurt my beloved rabbit.

 

For a moment I gave consideration to telling him that it didn't matter, that I had changed my mind and return to kissing and holding him. However, I knew I couldn't do that. I didn't want Bunny in my bed unless I knew for certain he wanted to be there - not because a small part of him thought he had to be there in order to repay me. I also knew with a startling clarity that actually even had he given me his word that it was only because of his love and desire for me that I would still not have taken him to my bed.

 

I didn't want him in my bed, in my arms, kissing him, touching him, teaching him how to make love to me, how to touch me, how to - I didn't want that for one night, and until he gave up the ridiculous idea of being my valet and was prepared to simply be my friend that is what it would have been.

 

It would have been one single night because whilst I do not in any way believe I am a saint or even close to it, whilst I am not as moral as some people, including Bunny, think I am, whilst over the years I have rarely bedded the same man twice, one thing I have never done and would never do was to take a servant to my bed. And whilst to my mind Bunny was not my servant, technically, in the eyes of the law and the rest of my staff, he would be.

 

Thus, I could not, I would not, take him to my bed. Taking a servant, someone over whom you have control anyway, to your bed is one of the more reprehensible things I believe a gentleman (or even lady) can do. It is wrong; utterly and completely wrong and the argument that the servant is happy to go to their employer's bed, that they want it, is preposterous. It may well be true in some cases, indeed I am certain it is, but in far more it is not true at all. It is that they are not in a position to be able to say 'no' for fear of not only their position but also of not being given  papers which will enable them to get another position.

 

I pulled his head down a little and gently brushed my lips over his and then kissed both of his cheeks and his forehead before I stood up and finally let go of his hand. "Let us have another drink and another Sullivan, Bunny," I said softly and then added, "would you like that?"

 

He smiled at me and I saw the contentment I had seen earlier was beginning to return to his face. I was so glad the hurt I had caused him seemed to be passing and that he seemed to understand. "Yes, please, Raffles," he said. "I'd like that very much indeed."

 

"Good," I said, picking up the whisky decanter and pouring a little into our glasses, "because so would I."

 

I moved my chair a little nearer to his before I sat back down and after a moment or two of just sitting in silence we once again began to talk about the past - our school days for the most part. We talked and smoked and sipped out drinks until I became aware that dawn was breaking; we had sat up all night; a new day had dawned and with the dawning essentially everything had changed.

 

I stared at Bunny and saw the realisation appear on his face as he put out his cigarette and moved forward in his chair before he stood up. I stood up at well and put my hand on his shoulder as we simply stood and stared in silence at one another. I pushed away my wish to ask him one more time to reconsider - after all I had given him my word I would not do so - and instead cleared my throat.

 

However, before I could speak, he said in a far more formal tone than he had ever used with me, not even during his first few days at school, "Would you like me to draw a bath for you? Or do you wish to sleep for a while first."

 

I stared down at him and realised suddenly that this was actually not only going to be harder for me than for him, but also considerably harder than I had believed it was going to be. "A bath would be very nice, please, Bunny." There was simply no way I was going to call him 'Manders, at least not whilst we were alone. "But I do believe you should go and change first."

 

He nodded. "Very well," he paused for a second and I watched him do what he had done more than once when we had been at school in his early days as my fag: ensure he did not call me 'sir' and ensured he only used my surname. Clearly he remembered one of my conditions of allowing him to become my valet. "Raffles," he said - although I did almost hear the silent 'Mr.'

 

"I'll come with you and show you where my bedroom is," I said, suddenly realising I hadn't actually thought to do that yet.

 

"Thank you." He picked up his hat from the sideboard where he had left it and turned towards the door.

 

"Bunny -" My hand brushed his shoulder.

 

He stopped and for a moment just stood; then he slowly turned around, looked up at me and said politely, "Would you like tea or coffee after you have bathed?"

 

Oh, yes, it was going to be so much harder for me. "Coffee, please, Bunny."

 

He nodded. "Very well, Raffles." He turned away again and walked to the door. A second later I strode across the room after him. It was Bunny who opened the door and Bunny who stood to one side to allow me to precede him from the room.

 

Oh, yes, this was going to be incredibly hard.

 

THREE MONTHS LATER

 

It had been an interesting three months and for me a very difficult three months. I felt as if I had been living with a vague headache for the entire three months, and that I had barely slept. Of course I had, I slept very well. It was just having Bunny around me in such what was a very intimate way, without being able to treat him as I wished to, kiss him, take him my arms, take him to dine with me and all the other places to which I was invited, was surprisingly tiring.

 

I had given up in the first few days of trying to remember to call him Manders when any of my other servants were around - that really was far too hard. And it isn't as if I ever called him by that name when we had been at school, maybe had I done so, it would have been easier to slip back into using his surname. However, I hadn't; he had been Bunny (or my rabbit, that I was at least able to prevent myself from calling him unless we were alone) from the moment we had stood in my study on the first evening of term and I had bestowed the name on him.

 

Thus, although for the first few days after I had ceased to address him as Manders, he gave me uneasy looks when I called him Bunny, Bunny is the name I settled on using. After all, I was the master; I could call those who worked for me whatsoever I wished to call them. Cadman certainly didn't approve, however, for once even his wish did not prevail.

 

Even being alone with Bunny was not as easy as I had presumed it would be, as he slipped almost seamlessly into his role as my valet. Thus, although we did talk somewhat more than I had spoken to my previous valet, and more than I believed most gentlemen and their valets spoke, it was somewhat stilted at times because Bunny did everything he could to be my valet and not my friend.

 

He certainly found it far easier than I did, probably because he had spent two years as my fag. There were times when he moved around my room, folding my clothes, tidying things that really didn't need to be tidied, when I saw the young boy I had met on that September day; the young boy I had taken as mine. He was playing a role; he was in many ways once more my fag and yet it was far more complex than that. As my fag I had barely kept my hands off of him, I had thought nothing of putting my arm around his shoulders or pulling him into my arms or even taking him onto my lap and I certainly never paused before I brushed his hair back from his face.

 

However, with the exception of brushing his hair back - I am only human, stopping myself from doing that would have been impossible - I barely touched him. I believe I spent more time with my hands in my pockets during those three months than I had ever done in my life. I believed he missed me touching him; certainly there were times, times when I knew he didn't know I could see him, or he believed I was engrossed in a book or the newspaper, when I would catch a wistful look on his face.

 

Not a day had gone by when I hadn't had to force myself to remember the promise I had made not to suggest again that he cease the game and simply let me care for him as my friend. Every week when I paid him, he always asked if I had remembered to keep back a proportion of his wage against the money I had paid out to his creditors. Each week I assured him that of course I had done so, whereas in fact there seemed no point. He would have no idea what an actual valet was paid, so I didn't bother; to be honest I didnít even think about it.

 

Until, that is, the day he enquired how much he still owed me. The question had forced me to think incredibly quickly and mutter something about checking to make completely certain, reminding him that figures, unless they were cricket related, had not been my strongest subject. He had frowned a little and for a moment I had truly believed he might challenge me. However, then the frown had gone and the bland, respectful look he always adopted, reappeared and he had simply nodded and said he would await my convenience to tell him.

 

The figure I gave him I hoped was a plausible one, once again I had trusted in the fact that he would not know what the usual wage for a valet was. Thankfully he seemed content with the figure I had given him, thus that was that.

 

One morning as he was unpacking some new handkerchiefs and underwear which I had bought simply because it gave me a legitimate excuse for him to be in my bedroom, I asked him what he planned to do once he had repaid me. He had paused with a pair of drawers in his hands and had looked at me; I got the distinct impression he actually hadn't given it any thought. However, I could not press the matter as at that moment Cadman arrived to tell me Lord Pattershall was waiting to see me in my study.

 

Half an hour later cursing myself for not being able to say 'no' to Lord Pattershall, I made my way back to my bedroom where I had to tell Bunny he had to pack as we (he was expected to accompany me) had to catch the afternoon train to Devon where I would be expected to show my cricketing skills at Pattershall's house party and my dancing skills at his wife's ball.

 

I could have sworn that I had sent a carefully worded letter in which I thanked Lady Bethany for her kind invitation, but had informed her that it was with sincere regret that, on this occasion, I had to decline. However, apparently I had not done so or the letter had got lost or maybe the Pattershalls had simply forgotten I had declined. Or maybe with the strain of having Bunny around I simply had indeed forgotten to write.  Whatever I had or had done in the end didn't matter because even I had failed to find a way to say 'nay' to Pattershall.

 

It wasn't that I didn't want to go; it wasn't as if I knew I wouldn't enjoy myself; it wasn't that I didn't like the Pattershalls - I liked them very much indeed. And of all the country house parties to which I was invited, this annual one was actually my favourite - as I am to Lord Pattershall and Lady Bethany, and I am very fond of them as well.

 

They are an elderly couple whose income in recent years has diminished significantly. Thus, once known for hosting lavish balls and parties several times a year, they now only host one - and that is far from lavish. There is always a cricket match, played against the locals, and despite his advancing age and several ailments, Pattershall always insists on playing. I confess I am more than a little relieved when he is out, and I always ensure I place him in a part of the field where he will have little to do as I fear one day he might just collapse.

 

Their house, which given they entertain so rarely nowadays, is far too large for them and rather ramshackle, a considerable amount of work needs doing. However, I am always given the best guest room (the only one to have its own bathroom) and they treat me like a favourite son (they never had children). It is a very pleasant week as they only invite people they actually like, not people they feel they have to invite, and unlike many such house parties the atmosphere is genial and highly enjoyable.

 

So why hadn't I wished to go? Well simply put: Bunny. You see I do not wish to take Bunny to places as my valet when I might wish to at some point, in what I hoped would be the near future, to take him as my friend. I had every confidence that the day would come when Bunny would wish to stop being my valet and would agree to let me 'look after him' until his book was published and when that happened, he would accompany me to places as my guest, my friend. And it might seem a little strange for me to turn up with the same man who had hitherto accompanied me as my valet. That had been the only reason I had not wished to go to the Pattersons' house party.

 

However, as soon as I had walked into the library and shaken Patterson's hand and offered him a Sullivan I had known that I would be accepting his invitation. I simply could not let him or Lady Bethany down; I couldn't spoil their house party for them by not attending. Thus, although I had made a few attempts to get out of going, they were really half-hearted ones.

 

Nonetheless I was a little annoyed at myself  (and irrationally annoyed at Bunny for his insistence of continuing to be my valet). Thus, I strode back into my bedroom and all but slammed the door behind me. Bunny, who was now rearranging my underwear drawer jumped, dropped the pile of handkerchiefs he had refolded and stared at me with concern.

 

"Is something wrong, Raffles?" he asked, kneeling down to gather up the no longer perfectly folded pile of handkerchiefs. "Have I done something wrong?" he added, swiftly looking up at me and biting his lower lip. It was yet another echo of our school days, as if I was ever even slightly annoyed, he always believed it was he who had done something - whereas it never had been.

 

I dropped to my heels next to him and brushed his hair from his forehead. "No, my rabbit," I said in the same soothing tone I used to use during our years at school. "Of course you had not done anything wrong." Well, other than insisting on continuing to act as my valet, of course - but that was hardly the point. "You look after me and my things incredibly well, Bunny, really you do. I could not have wished for a better valet - not even a real one," I added softly.

 

His cheeks flushed a little and he smiled at me. "Really?" he said, his voice somewhat higher than it usually was and for a moment he broke his own rule and put his hand on mine. Other than handing me clothes, affixing shirt studs and cuff-links for me (things that weren't my choice, but he seemed to believe it was what a valet did, so I let him) and holding my waistcoat or coat for me to put on and sometime brushing me down, he had not touched me since the night he had kissed me.

 

His hand was on mine for no more than a second or two before he seemed to remember our roles and he hastily pulled his hand away and returned to gathering up the handkerchiefs. I hid a sigh and instead gathered some of the handkerchiefs up myself as I said, "Yes, Bunny, really."

 

He paused and smiled at me as just for a second his eyes blazed with happiness and more than a hint of something I forced myself not to acknowledge. "I'm so glad to hear that, Raffles. I thought I could do a fair job, at least I hoped I could, but to know I am is - Thank you," he said more quietly and for another second his fingers touched my hand  before he stood up and put the handkerchiefs down to the dresser so that he could begin to refold them. "What is amiss then?" he asked, adding hastily, "if you don't mind my asking you."

 

I sighed, put the handkerchiefs I had picked up down next to the one he had placed on the dresser and strode across to my wardrobe which I flung open. "No, of course I don't mind you asking me, Bunny. I once told you that you might ask me whatsoever you wished to ask me. Do you remember that?" I turned from staring at my array of clothes to look at him.

 

It was at the moment that something, something barely perceptible, changed between us. I had no idea what it was, I just knew something had changed - well, certainly shifted. He ceased to fold my handkerchiefs and instead came across the room to stand in front of me. "Yes, Raffles," he said softly, "I remember. I remember everything you told me."

 

I stared into his eyes and realised it was the first time since he had taken up the role as my valet that I had mentioned or referred to out time together at school. "Do you, my rabbit?" I asked, my tone as soft as his had been and without consciously intending to do so, I took a step towards him.

 

He swallowed and moistened his lower lip as he nodded slowly. "Yes," he said. We stood and looked at one another until he said in a tone that was quite, quite different from the tone he had adopted as my valet. "Raffles?"

 

"Yes, Bunny?" I realised I had taken another step towards him, in fact another two steps towards him, I was now so close to him he had to tilt his head back to look up at me.

 

"I -"

 

I don't know what he might have said nor indeed what might have happened (I rather fear one thing may have been me breaking my rule about not taking a servant to bed). However, at that moment my door opened and Cadman came in. "What time will you and Mr. Manders be leaving, Mr. Raffles?"

 

At the sound of the door opening, Bunny had spun around and returned to folding handkerchiefs; I could see out of the corner of my eye he was trembling just a little and also looking at me in a puzzled way.

 

"Um, we shall need to catch the two o'clock train, Cadman," I said. "I would be obliged if you would arrange tickets for us - both first class," I added.

 

For a moment Cadman's displeasure showed on his face and then to my surprise he glanced away from me and looked swiftly at Bunny and the look on his face showed more than a hint of compassion. "Of course, sir," he said, inclining his head. "And if there is anything Mr. Manders might like my assistance with before you leave I will of course be more than happy to give it."

 

Bunny looked even more puzzled and for a second or two so was I. And then I remembered: the Pattershalls now employed very few servants; again they had no need to have a house full of them on a day-to-day basis, nor could they afford to do so. However, with guests in the house they would of course require assistance, and thus tended to rely on the goodwill of their guests in permitting their valets or personal maids to help serve at table and at the ball or to perform other tasks. Of course one could refuse - but I for one would never dream of doing such a thing. I really was terribly fond of the couple.

 

I glanced at Bunny and for a moment considered not taking him with me, but that would lead to inevitable questions, as I had always taken my valet with me on all the other occasions I had attended their house party. Plus, Pattershall tended to expect my valet to be the person to keep score at the cricket match, and if I didn't take Bunny some other valet would have to do it and if he wasn't interested in cricket he would not doubt make a mess of it and poor Pattershall would get upset and blame himself. And I wouldn't want to put the poor man through that; no Bunny had to come with me.

 

Thus, I gave Bunny, who still looked puzzled and who had given up folding handkerchiefs and simply stood holding one, a quick and what I hoped was a reassuring smile, before turning back to Cadman. "Thank you, Cadman, I am sure Mr. Manders will be grateful for any assistance you are able to give him. He'll be with you shortly."

 

Cadman looked at Bunny and then back at me. "Very well, Mr. Raffles," he said. "I shall go and arrange the tickets." And with those words he turned and almost silently left the room.

 

As soon as he had closed the door behind him, Bunny hurried over to me and put his hand on my arm. "Raffles? What's going on? Where are we going? And with what might I need Cadman's assistance?" He sounded more than a little concerned, afeared even.

 

However, even as I hastened to explain and to reassure him all would be well, I didn't fail to notice that it was the first time he had called Cadman just that rather than Mr. Cadman, and his tone was once again quite different from the one he had adopted since becoming my valet.

 

"Do you mind, Bunny?" I asked as I brushed his hair from his forehead - I couldn't treat him as my valet all the time. "Do you think you'll be able to help out?"

 

"Of course I don't mind, Raffles," he said and then to my surprise added, "I actually don't have a right to mind, do I?" His words were correct, but his eyes shone with amusement and he was smiling at me as he said them; again I felt that something was changing somewhat. "And I'll be quite happy to help, I'm sure it can't be that hard to serve food or drinks, can it?"

 

"I believe it won't be that onerous, no. And Cadman will give you some advice."

 

"There you are then and even if I'm not as competent as I could be, you said everyone who goes is nice so they won't shout at me, will they?"

 

"They certainly will not!" The idea that anyone might raise their voice to my rabbit, made me speak more sharply than I had intended. After all, I indeed knew that not one of the Pattershalls' guests would do such a thing. I smiled and put my hand on Bunny's arm. "Go and see Cadman," I said.

 

"But what about packing? Don't you need me to do that for you?"

 

"My dear Bunny, believe it or not, I can actually back my own bags. I am not quite that helpless."

 

He smiled at me and a hint of colour touched his cheeks. "Raffles?"

 

"My rabbit?"

 

However, he shook his head. "Nothing. I'll go and see Cadman." And before I could reply, he turned on his heel and hurried out of the room.

 

I stood and stared after him for a moment or two, before I turned my attention to packing for the house party. Once I had completed the task, I glanced at my watch and made a swift decision. By the time Bunny returned to me, his bags as well as my own were piled on the floor in my bedroom.

 

He looked a little surprised, but said nothing. "So is my rabbit now an expert at serving dinner?" I asked.

 

He laughed softly. "I wouldn't say I was an expert, but I believe I shall not let you down or indeed show you up."

 

I strode towards him and put my hands on his shoulders and looked down at him. "You, my dear Bunny, could never let me down nor show me up."

 

"Couldn't I?" he said softly, as he gazed up at me.

 

I swallowed and slowly shook my head. "No, my rabbit. You never did when we were at school and you never will."

 

He gave me a small smile and said softly, "Not even when I -"

 

"No, Bunny," I said firmly, "not even then." I moved one hand from his shoulder and once again brushed his hair from his forehead, this time sliding it into his hair and tangling it around my fingers. He was so close to me, I believe he was closer than he had been since the night before he had taken up the role as my valet.

 

He was gazing up at me, not even attempting to hide his love for me, his eyes were soft, his lips parted just a little and I wanted him desperately. I wanted him more desperately than I had ever wanted a man. My self-imposed rule could go to hell, I had to kiss him; I had to take him to my bed; I had to make him mine in every way possible. And I would do so.

 

I began to lower my head and he didn't move; he waited for me to kiss him. And kiss him I would most definitely have done - except  . . . The knock on my bedroom door had me stepping away from him and he turning to where the bags lay. "Come in. Ah, Burke; what may I do for you?"

 

"Mr. Cadman told me to tell you the cab is at the door, sir."

 

I glanced at my watch; we had to go; we had to leave within the next five minutes or we would miss our train. I glanced at Bunny, who still had his back to me, sighed softly and said, "Thank you, Burke. Tell Cadman we will down shortly."

 

"Yes, sir. Shall I take some of your bags down for you?"

 

I nodded. "Yes, please."

 

Half-an-hour later we sat side by side in a first class smoking carriage, which we had all to ourselves. I offered Bunny a Sullivan and after hesitating for only a second, he took one and accepted the match I struck and held for him. "Thank you, Raffles."

 

I lit my own cigarette and extinguished the match. "Bunny?"

 

"Yes, Raffles?"

 

"Will you do something for me?"

 

"Of course, Raffles. I'll do anything for you - surely you know that."

 

"Yes, my rabbit, I do." I smiled and touched his thigh.

 

"What is it you wish me to do?"

 

"Be my friend and not my valet for the journey down to Lord Patterhsall's." He stared at me and I expected him to say he couldn't. "Please, Bunny," I murmured, "just for a few hours, be my friend."

 

He still just stared at me and then he smiled and put his hand over the one I still had on his thigh. "Very well, Raffles." Thus we travelled down to the Pattershalls as any two gentlemen would travel.

 

TWO DAYS LATER

 

I reclined in my bath, following the end of the first day of cricket; a day which had gone very well. Indeed the two days had gone well and I had enjoyed myself just as much as I always had done. Bunny had done a fine job of assisting at table the night before and indeed had been praised and spoken of as being a very nice young man.

 

I had told Pattershall (who no doubt would have told Lady Bethany and their butler, Taylor) that his job as my valet was actually Bunny's first position- which of course was the truth. He still looked a few years younger than he actually wa,s and thus I was certain what I said would be believed. Thus, any slightly less than excellent service would be put down to the fact that this was his first position.

 

He had, as I had expected, kept score perfectly during the cricket match and Pattershall not only thanked him but also praised him. I still wished I hadn't had to bring him with me as my valet, but there really wasn't anything I could do about that. When the time came when he would be at my side as my friend and not my valet, I would simply have to find a way to explain why he had once been my valet.

 

The bathroom wasn't a particularly large one and given how warm the day had been, I had left the door between it and my bedroom ajar. From time to time I heard Bunny moving around my room, no doubt laying out my clothes for the evening and sorting out what I had worn that day. He insisted on me just leaving my worn clothing for him to deal with - telling me that was his job.

 

Suddenly I was aware he had come into the bathroom and I looked up at him. "May I?" he asked, nodding in the direction of the lavatory.

 

I was rather surprised. It wasn't just because of how insistent he was that he was my valet and I must treat him as such and thus he must behave as such, and that no valet would ask to use his master's lavatory, especially not if the master was in the bathroom, but also because Bunny was . . . Well, very much a rabbit and very hesitant and reticent about such things - as I remembered well from school. Thus for he to ask such a thing, must imply his need was great.

 

I nodded. "Of course," I said, prepared to do the gentlemanly thing and avert my gaze. However, to my surprise rather than do as I had expected him to do, he sat down on the closed lid and looked at me.

 

"May I ask you something, Raffles?"

 

I picked the soap up and began to soap my arms as he watched me. "Of course you may, my rabbit. You know that."

 

He nodded but didn't speak. I went on soaping my arms and breast as he continued to watch me and waited for him to speak. "Raffles?"

 

"Yes, Bunny?"

 

"If I wasn't your valet, if I was your friend, would you have taken me to bed by now?"

 

I was so surprised by his question that I actually dropped the soap into the bath. I felt for it and picked it up before returning it to the soap dish and beginning to rub my soap covered arms and breast. I thought about telling him that despite him being my valet, I for one considered him to be my friend. However, I decided not to.

 

I sluiced my arms with water, noticing his gaze never once moved from my body and said softly, "Yes, Bunny, I would have." I picked the soap back up and began to soap one of my legs; once more he watched my every move and I wondered quite what he would do when I washed myself intimately.

 

He gave a half nod which implied he had expected me to say what I had said. "Why donít you take me to bed anyway?" he asked softly.

 

Once more I was more than a little surprised at quite how - well, bold he was being. I turned my attention to soaping my other leg and said, "Because I have a personal rule that I will never take a," I paused for a second and then said softly, "servant to my bed."

 

"Just like at school," he murmured. It wasn't exactly as it had been when we had been at school, then my rule had been never to kiss or touch in a sexual way a boy younger than I, but I understood what he meant.

 

I wanted to see quite how bold my rabbit was. Thus, holding his gaze, I picked up the soap and began to wash myself intimately. He held my gaze for a second before lowering it and watching me as I soaped and handled myself. As he watched what I was doing to myself, I watched him and saw that more than once he shifted slightly on the lavatory. Obviously, handling myself as I was, especially as I quite deliberately spent more time than even I usually spent washing myself, my body began to harden and when I moved one hand a little so that he could actually see me quite clearly, I heard him make a soft noise in his throat and he leant forward just a little more.

 

I continued to, what had in effect changed from washing, stroke myself as he continued to watch me. Suddenly he said his voice slightly hoarse, "Why?"

 

With reluctance I moved my hand away, aware that I had become so hard that if I didn't stop now I would unable to do so until I - And even though I had no qualms or sensibilities about stroking myself to release in front of him, I felt it more prudent not to do so. Thus, I settled back into the bath and resigned myself to waiting until I had begun to soften again. I noticed his gaze was still very much on my lower body.

 

"Why what, my rabbit?"

 

He dragged his gaze away from my lower body and looked at my face instead. "Why won't you take a servant to bed?"

 

"Because it would not be fair. I already have power over the person, by virtue of the fact that he works for me. He would, thus, feel unable to say no, even if he wished to do so. He would feel he had to come to my bed and let me do whatsoever I wished to him. That would not be fair to him - when I got to bed with someone, Bunny, I actually want that person to wish to be in bed with me, to wish me to do things to him. I don't want to fear he might be there only because he feels he has to be."

 

"He?" Bunny said softly as he once again looked back at my face. At some point his gaze had once more wandered to my body which now deprived of my hand was beginning to soften just a little.

 

I shrugged. "You know all of my servants are men."

 

He gave me a gentle smile. "I believe I had noticed that fact, yes, Raffles."

 

I smiled back at him and after gazing at me in a way I once again couldn't quite fathom out, he let his gaze drift back to my lower body. Against my will I moved my hand and let my fingers lightly flutter over myself. Instantly my body reacted and he made another soft noise in his throat, before he abruptly stood up.

 

"I must finish laying out your clothes, Raffles," he declared, and hurried from the bathroom. He didn't move quickly enough to prevent me from seeing what I had guessed from the way he had moved slightly when sitting down. Seeing the beginning of his arousal pressed against his trousers was the final straw and I closed my hand around my hardness and quickly stroked myself to a powerful release.

 

I washed myself again before getting out of the bath and wrapping a towel around myself and beginning to dry myself. I then spent some fifteen minutes shaving, before I dropped the towel onto the floor and went back into the bedroom where Bunny was tidying already tidy things.

 

He turned when I went back into the room and picked up a pair of clean drawers and brought them over to me. I went to take them, but he held onto them. "You know, Raffles," he said, swallowing several times as he still held onto my drawers. "If you asked me to go to bed with you, I could now guarantee that I would be quite, quite certain that I was there because I wanted to be. I wouldn't be there because I felt I owed you or because I felt I had to be. Of that you could be quite, quite certain. And," he paused for a moment and then said quietly, "Just as I would have been quite willing to go to your bed when we were at school together."

 

I stared at him, was he never going to cease to surprise me? I touched his cheek, "What has happened to my rabbit?" I asked my tone soft.

 

He swallowed. "I believe he might still be on his way from London," he said. And then before I could speak or think in a move that surprised me beyond anything he had said, he pushed the drawers into my hand and dropped to his knees in front of me.

 

He surprised me so much that I was in his mouth and he was beginning to do what I could tell (even had he not, on the night we became reacquainted, confirmed what I had already presumed) that he had never before done such a thing, before I could react. Against everything my body was telling me, against everything I wanted to so, I put one hand onto his shoulder and the other into his hair, tangling it around my fingers and tugging gently. "Stop, Bunny. Stop and get up. Now, Bunny!" I added, when he didn't instantly obey me.

 

He paused and I felt him sigh around me before he let me slip from his mouth and slowly stood up. He stared at me for a moment and under my eyes he slipped from - Well, from whatever he had been during the last few minutes, since he had come into my bathroom and back into valet mode.

 

"I love you, Raffles," he said simply, as he pulled the drawers from my hand and bent slightly to hold them for me. I didn't answer him; nor did I tell him I was quite capable of putting my own drawers on without assistance. Instead I let him help me dress in a way I had never let anyone help me dress - in a way I didn't need to be helped. I drew the line at allowing him to tie my bowtie for me, but otherwise allowed him to do everything else for me.

 

Finally, he handed me a clean handkerchief before picking up a clothes brush and unnecessarily brushing the shoulders of my dining jacket. "I hope you have a nice evening, Raffles," he murmured, after he had brushed the non-existent lint away.

 

"Thank you, Bunny," I said, not adding that I could think of ways in which I could have a far, far nicer evening. But no. No matter how desperately (because my desire for him had got to that level) I wished to kiss him and take him to my bed, whilst he insisted on remaining as my valet, he was off limits.

 

I took my refilled cigarette case from him, letting my fingers linger on his hand for a moment, before I turned and left my room. It was slightly earlier than I would normally venture downstairs, but I feared that no matter what I had told myself about him being off limits, if I remained in my bedroom which him for any longer I would forget myself and -

 

I decided to go out into the garden and smoke a Sullivan or two; it was far safer than remaining anywhere near Bunny.

 

FIVE DAYS LATER

 

We returned to London without any other incidences. In fact Bunny once more had turned into my personal impersonal valet and took great care never to even glance at me as I dressed or undressed and ventured into the bathroom only after I had left it.

 

For five nights I had taken matters into my own hands, so to speak, but despite that I was still unsatisfied. It wasn't just Bunny's proximity which was affecting me; it had been over three months (a little before Bunny had come back into my life) since I had shared a bed with anyone, and each day was getting longer and longer. As we reached London and the train pulled into the station, I found myself giving serious consideration to going out that evening and visiting a place of which I was aware, even though I had never actually visited it.

 

However, that would mean betraying myself as well as to my mind two other people. Thus I would have to either break my self-imposed rule, one which was beginning to seem as foolish as the one I had inflicted on Bunny and myself when we had been at school (but one which I knew I would not, I could not, break) or continue to do what I had been doing.

 

As the cab driver helped Bunny unload the bags and then accepted the fare and tip Bunny handed to him, Cadman opened the front door. "Good afternoon, Mr. Raffles," he said, as Burke hurried out and began to gather up the bags. "I trust you had a good time, sir?"

 

"Yes, Cadman, very good. Are there any messages for me?" I asked, as I hung my hat up.

 

"Yes, sir, several. However, there is one in particular I believe you will be interested in."

 

I turned around and looked at him. "And?"

 

"It's from Dr. Charleston, sir. He is back and wishes to know if you are able to dine with him tonight."

 

I felt the smile break out on my face and knew my happy reaction to the news was obvious. "Charlie's home," I said, quite unnecessarily. "Did he specify a time, Cadman?"

 

"Eight o'clock, sir. At your club. Would you like me to ring Dr. Charleston and tell him you will be able to meet him?"

 

"What?" I became slightly distracted as I caught sight of Bunny who was standing staring at me; his look was slightly troubled and as my gaze met his he glanced away from me, murmured something I didn't catch and strode off. "Um, yes, please, Cadman," I said, suddenly aware I hadn't answer him. "Do that thing."

 

"Yes, Mr. Raffles." He turned to Burke. "Take Mr. Raffles's bags up to his room, Burke, so that Mr. Manders can unpack for him."

 

"Yes, Mr. Cadman."

 

I went to my study to glance through the other messages, but the fact that Charlie was back and wanted to dine with me that very evening, pushed everything else from my mind - even for the moment Bunny. Charlie and I have a complex relationship; we always have had. As we had done when we had been at school, we share a bed on a fairly frequent basis. However, unlike at school, since Charlie had returned to London where he had opened a hospital, we hadn't shared a bed with any other gentleman.

 

It wasn't as either of us had thought, not even for a moment, that we would, that we could, actually be together - we couldn't. Given Charlie's position, the fact he was a doctor, owned a hospital and everything that went with that, there was no way we could have risked pushing the boundaries of the law any further than we did. Indeed I had been expecting Charlie to tell me we had to cease that side of our relationship for some time now - but he never had done so.

 

It was just that - well he was Charlie; I loved him and had done so since we had been at school. Why would I want or need anyone else when I had Charlie? However, even as I made my way slowly up the stairs to my bedroom (where I assumed I would find Bunny unpacking and sorting my clothes into those to be laundered and those to be hung up) I knew that things had changed - or at least they would soon.

 

I loved Bunny; I loved him more than and in a different way from the way I loved Charlie; I wanted him in my arms, in my bed; I wanted him in my life until death parted us. However, I knew with perfect clarity that I would not only dine with Charlie, I would return to his home with him and go to his bed. And I would do so without feeling even a modicum of guilt and I would enjoy it - I would enjoy it very much indeed.

 

Bunny was indeed in my room and had clearly unpacked swiftly as there was very little evidence of clothes on the bed and only a small pile on the floor. He looked up as I went into the room and smiled in the impersonal way he had taken to smiling at me since he became my valet. "How is Charleston?" he asked me when I merely closed the door and leant against it, staring at him as I lit a cigarette.

 

"He is very well, Bunny. Well, he was the last time I saw him. He has been in France for the last three and a half months with a very wealthy patient to whom he simply could not afford to say 'no' when he 'invited' Charlie to go to France with him - as his doctor," I added. "It really wasn't what Charlie wished to do; however, the gentleman in question is very influential and could have cost Charlie a considerable number of patients and even patrons had he refused."

 

"I see," Bunny said, bending to pick up some clothing he had put aside to be laundered. "And will you dine with him tonight?"

 

I nodded and moved to the dresser and flicked ash into the ashtray. "Yes, I shall."

 

"I see." Bunny straightened up and looked at me before his glance flickered away from me. "May I ask a favour, please," he paused before saying, "Raffles." I guessed that his pause had been to prevent himself from saying Mr. Raffles.

 

"Of course you may. And if it is within my power, I will grant it, Bunny."

 

He gave me a small smile. "It is just that I am feeling - I am feeling a little unwell and I wondered if you would mind, once I have of course assisted you in dressing and cleared up, if I retired for the evening and rested. Would you mind if I didn't wait up for you to assist you after you return home from dining? I imagine you will be quite late, given you haven't seen or spoken to Charleston for some time."

 

I stopped myself from doing what I did many times at school and going to him to put my hand on his forehead and my other on his pulse as I knew there was nothing actually wrong with him. He was not unwell; he was merely - I believe trying to help us both. He had known about Charlie and I when we had been at school, and I knew exactly what my face had revealed when Cadman had told me that Charlie was back in London. Bunny knew only too well quite what our evening together would include.

 

I was grateful to him, because it made things far easier. I never actually returned home until dawn was breaking when I spent an evening with Charlie and thus this way I could return home, undress and bathe before I had to face Bunny. Face the man I loved, with us both knowing full well from whose bed I had just come.

 

"Bunny," I said softly, finally moving and putting my hand on his shoulder. He started a little and trembled under my touch. "Oh, my dear little rabbit," I murmured. "Look at me, Bunny." After a moment or two he raised his head, which he had lowered when I had reached him, and looked at me. His steady gaze told me he loved me; it told me he understood; it told me he didn't mind - and as I gazed down at him I knew he didn't mind. He never had minded about Charlie; I sometimes thought that he had understood the complex relationship Charlie and I had more clearly than either Charlie or I had understood it.

 

I slid my hand into his hair and let my fingers stroke his scalp for a moment or two before I said, "Of course I don't mind, Bunny. As I may have mentioned on one or two occasions, I am actually quite capable of undressing and dressing myself. In fact," I added swiftly, as an idea came to me, "given you have worked far harder over the last few days than you would expect to, why do you not take the rest of today and indeed tomorrow off? Go out somewhere, walk by the river, have luncheon or if you insist stay here and write."

 

He stared at me and a gentle smile touched his lips and I saw a hint of relief pass through his eyes. "Thank you, Raffles, if you are quite certain, I shall do that. It would be nice to go for a walk and take luncheon somewhere, and given I did not have time to write more than a few words during the last week, I would welcome an extended time to work on m book."

 

"That's settled then." I squeezed his shoulder. "I shall not expect to see you until the morning after tomorrow. No, Bunny; that is my decision. You will take the remainder of today off and all of tomorrow. And I shall not be argued with."

 

He smiled at me and just for a second touched my hand. "Thank you, Raffles." And after gazing at me for a moment, he turned on his heel and carrying the clothing he had put aside to be laundered he left my bedroom.

 

I sank down onto my bed and breathed out. That was sorted - at least for tonight. I closed my eyes for a moment and thought about Charlie and I sighed. I loved Charlie and I loved Bunny - how could I love two men, two quite different men, in the way I loved them? I shouldn't be able to love both of them in the way I did - in the eyes of the law I shouldn't love either of them in the way I did. But I did and had done since our school days. I had loved Charlie for several years before Bunny had joined the school and upset my ordered world more than a little. I had let Bunny slip away from me and once more loved Charlie and now Bunny had again returned to me and once more he had upset my ordered world.

 

For a moment or two I found myself wishing that Bunny had not come back into my life. That he had never got into financial trouble and finally turned to me to help him. That he had not made it quite clear that he still loved me as he had loved me when we had been school boys. My life had been far simpler before Bunny had returned to me. However, he had returned to me and he still loved me - just as I still loved him.

 

I stood up went into the bathroom and turned the bath taps on before returning to my bedroom to undress. I really didn't think one should hurt someone whom one loved, but that is what I would do; no matter what I did Charlie was going to be hurt. I swore softly, dropped the clothing I wished to be laundered onto the floor and without bothering to put on a dressing gown went into the bathroom and bathed and shaved before returning to my bedroom and dressing for the evening.

 

AN HOUR LATER

 

"Hello, A. J." Charlie smiled at me and put his hand on my shoulder. The smile made my mouth become more than a little dry and I felt a part of my body react just a little to the smile and to Charlie's touch.

 

"Hello, Charlie. How was France?" I gazed into his eyes and gave him the same look as he was giving me which caused him to swallow as he looked back at me. We were in the bar of our club and thus in the presence of other gentlemen, but I neither saw nor heard any of them, held captive as I was by Charlie.

 

"France itself was pleasant; the company wasn't. Never let me agree to do that again, A. J."

 

"I tried to stop you this time, but you said you felt you had to."

 

"Well, it really wasn't worth it. I don't care how many patients I might have lost, it truly wasn't worth it. The man was obnoxious."

 

I stared at Charlie in surprise. Charlie is and always has been one of the mildest mannered and accommodating person I had ever known - as well as being a person who always managed to find something good to say about someone. The fact he had said what he had just said told me quite how terrible his time had been. I wondered quite what the man had done and then something came to me.

 

I caught his hand and said softly, "You are all right, are you not, Charlie."

 

He smiled at me in his fond way. "Yes, A. J., rest assured I am quite all right. I missed you," he said softly, so softly even I barely heard him.

 

"I missed you too," I said, equally as softly, and I spoke the truth. I had missed Charlie, despite my rabbit having returned to me, I had indeed missed Charlie - and not just as someone with whom I could go to bed. "We could forget dinner."

 

He smiled again. "We could, but I believe anticipation makes certain things even better, do you not?" The look he gave me this time this time made my body react more than just a little and I adjusted my dining jacket a little which caused Charlie to laugh softly. "I'll get us a drink, shall I?" And without waiting for me to reply, he turned around and nodded to the bartender.

 

We drank our sherry and smoked a Sullivan each and exchanged the odd comment or two with some of the other gentlemen, before Charlie put his cigarette out, took my arm and led me out of the bar and up the stairs to where I discovered he had booked one of the small private rooms for us to dine in. I wasn't entirely certain if that was a good thing or a bad thing; I really had missed Charlie and now that I was in his company, looking at him, seeing the way he was looking at me, now that I knew exactly what would happen when we returned to his house later, my desire for him had over-whelmed everything else and I wasn't quite certain I would manage to dine without -

 

Suddenly I was pushed against the door and Charlie's mouth was on mine; one of his hands was on my shoulder, the other was pressed against the door. For a moment or two the sheer brutality and desperation in his kiss actually shocked me - as well as exciting me. However, then the kiss became more gentle and I made a soft noise in my throat as I slipped my arms around his neck and kissed him back. It was foolish for us to kiss where we were; it was more than foolish, especially as I could feel both of our bodies reacting as they pressed against one another. Any of the waiters could come in - or attempt to come in, given that I was still pushed against the door and Charlie still had one hand pressed against it as well. One of us had to be sensible; one of us had to stop the kiss - but it wasn't going to be me.

 

After what seemed like mere seconds as well as many minutes, it was Charlie (he had always been more sensible and reliable than I) who took his mouth from mine and gazed at me. "That's better," he said, taking his hand from my shoulder to touch my cheek. He brushed his lips over mine for another second or two then moved back from me. "Now we can dine," he said, and turned and walked to the table which was set for two.

 

I followed him and sat down. "You are an evil man at times, Charlie," I said, picking my napkin up and putting carefully on my lap. He smiled at me.

 

A few minutes later the waiter came in and we ordered our meals and a bottle of champagne.

 

"I trust your hospital survived without you," I said, as I offered Charlie a cigarette whilst we waited for our first course to be served.

 

Charlie nodded. "It appears to have done." For a moment he glanced away from me and fell silent.

 

I hadn't known him since we had met at prep school for the first time without leaning how to read him and read him very well indeed. Something was amiss. I touched his hand. "What is it, Charlie? What has happened?"

 

He turned back to me and sighed. "Apparently the Board of Trustees believes I should marry."

 

I stared at him. "What business is it of theirs?"

 

He shrugged. "Apparently they believe it would be better for the hospital if the doctor who owned it was actually married. It would look better and no one would . . ."

 

I frowned. "That's foolish."

 

"Is it?"

 

I sat in silence for a moment and smoked my Sullivan and then I asked him, "Could you?" He raised an eyebrow at me. I lowered my voice, even though there was no one else in the room. "Could you take a lady to bed?"

 

He shook his head firmly. "No. I have not interest at all, A. J., you know that. Indeed I find the idea rather," he paused for a moment and again glanced away from me before saying in a flat, low tone, "repulsive."

 

That surprised me. I had always known Charlie had no interest at all in ladies and that his interest was only in gentlemen. However, I had not realised he was quite so - opposed to them. "Well," I said, taking a sip of champagne, "you have your answer."

 

He sighed and took a deep swallow from the contents of his glass, before putting it back on the table. "It isn't quite that simple, A. J."

 

"How so?"

 

"I own the hospital; I have a great deal of money invested in it. However, A. J., I am not that wealthy. If the Trustees decided to - Well, I could probably raise enough money to keep the hospital running for a month or two, but that is all."

 

"If you need money, Charlie, you know you only have to ask me. You do know that, don't you?" I leant forward and put my hand on his.

 

He smiled at me and covered my hand with other hand. "Yes, my dear A. J., I do indeed know that and I thank you. However, even that would not allow me to continue for too long and I am hardly about to bankrupt both you and I." He took his hand away and hearing a faint noise outside the door, I took my hand from his.

 

We remained in silence, speaking only to thank the waiter who was a new man, one I had not seen before, until he quietly left the room and closed the door behind him.

 

I picked up my knife and fork, took a mouthful of the rather good salmon and said, "What will you do?"

 

Charlie sighed. "What would you do?"

 

I laughed softly. "Well, I would tell them to do their worst and that I had no intention of marrying simply to make them happy. However, I do not have anything to lose and you do."

 

"Maybe I should do that; maybe they'd respect me for doing so. And do I really want the kind of people who make such demands to be part of my hospital?"

 

I decided it wasn't a question that really needed an answer so I just continued to eat; Charlie did the same and for a short time we just ate in silence. "Actually," Charlie said, pausing and looking at me, "there is a lady of my acquaintance whom I could possibly marry."

 

"Charlie? But you said you couldn't . . ."

 

"Let me put it this way, A. J., this young lady's desire for me to take me to bed would be as great as my desire to take her to bed would be."

 

"Ah," I said, understanding him - I didn't ask quite how he knew this or indeed from where he knew the young lady. He's Charlie; people talk to him - and not just because he's a doctor.

 

"I know she is very keen to leave her parents' home, but until she marries they will not permit it. We could all share my house - as you know it's quite large enough."

 

"All?"

 

"She has a friend."

 

"Oh. Would you really want that? Want to share your home with two ladies?"

 

He shrugged. "It wouldn't really be like that, would it? You know things are still set up as they were when I was a school boy. We would never have to see one another unless we really wanted to. I am quite certain that in return for a home and her friend by her side, she would play her part as my wife; accompany me to the dinners I attend; appear at the hospital from time to time; that kind of thing. And with me working such long hours, well, it would not be unusual for a young lady to have a live in companion to keep her company, would it?"

 

I put my knife and fork down on my empty plate, wiped my mouth and drank some of the very fine champagne. "You have clearly given this a lot of thought, Charlie."

 

I put his knife and fork down and took my hand. "I don't want to lose the hospital, A. J.; it does a lot of good."

 

And it did. As well as catering for the wealthy, Charlie also provided care for those who otherwise would not be able to afford a doctor. "I know it does, Charlie, and I know you don't want to lose it. But would this young lady agree to marry you?"

 

He shrugged and pulled out his cigarette case which he offered to me. "I don't know - and to be honest, A. J., I'm not entirely certain how I could find a way to ask her. I'm not you."

 

I gazed at him. "No, you're far better than I am." I spoke softly.

 

He frowned and squeezed my hand. "A. J.?"

 

I shook my head and gave him a small smile. "Later."

 

He stared at me and I could see he was not entirely happy with my answer; he also looked more than a little puzzled and a hint of concern passed through his eyes. "You are quite well, are you not, A. J.?" he asked. "Nothing has happened to you whilst I've been away, has it?"

 

I held his gaze even though I wanted to look away. "Yes, Charlie, I am perfectly well - even if my doctor did abandon me for three and a half months." I chose to ignore the second question, hoping he would consider I had in fact answered it. After all, nothing had happened to me - at least not the kind of thing about which Charlie had been asking.

 

The waiter returned and removed our plates and came back shortly with the next course. As if by unspoken consent we began to talk about things other than his hospital and what might be on my mind. I told him some of the things I had filled my time with whilst he had been away, including my visit to the Pattershalls - which reminded me of something.

 

"You don't happen to known any builders, do you, Charlie? Well, someone who deals with roofs, to be exact." As I said, Charlie's practice is not just for the wealthy.

 

Charlie paused with his knife and fork in his hands and I could see him thinking. "I know someone who has recently had repairs done to his roof. May I ask why?"

 

"Lord Pattershall needs his roof repaired."

 

"Are there not any people in Devon who repair roofs?" Charlie said with a hint of surprise in his voice.

 

"I'm sure there are. However, I fear the degree of work that will need doing is considerably greater than Lord Pattershall believes - and can afford," I added.

 

"Ah," Charlie clearly understood. He ate for a moment and then asked, "And how exactly do you intend to carry out this subterfuge?"

 

"I may have mentioned to Pattershall that I knew of someone who charged a very fair price, someone who whilst very efficient, was just really getting started in the business and as such was not opposed to carrying work out outside of London."

 

"And he believed you?"

 

"Of course. Actually, Charlie, I am somewhat concerned about his - mental state, shall we say?"

 

"In what way?"

 

"He seems - oh, I don't know. Maybe it was just the fact he is worrying about not only the roof but the various other repairs that need carrying out - repairs they will never be able to afford. They still have neither electric light nor a telephone, and in the winter only have fires in one or two rooms."

 

"Exactly what are you proposing to do?"

 

"Go down with the builder; tell him to repair whatever needs repairing on the roof but only to bill Lord Pattershall for the part he believes needs repairing and that I will pay for the remainder of the work. Oh, and not to tell Pattershall exactly how much work needed doing. At least if the roof was repaired it might help keep the house a little warmer."

 

"I do know that the man who did the roof repairs I mentioned did not charge a fair price - he was rather expensive, very good, but not inexpensive."

 

"That doesnít matter, you know that."

 

"And you say you are not a good man. You are actually the best man I know, A. J." Again Charlie touched my hand as he stared at me; I held his gaze, even though I really wished to look away from him. I did not feel like any kind of good man at that moment.

 

We once more returned to eating in silence for a while before Charlie spoke again. "And are you also planning on getting electricity and a telephone installed in their house? I only ask as you mentioned them."

 

I sighed and swallowed some champagne. "If I can think of a way to do so then, yes. And that would mean other repairs could be carried out as well because with the electricians in the house - Well, Pattershall wouldn't really notice, would he? However, thinking of a way of managing to do that without the Pattershalls realising I was going to pay for it all, well, it seems somewhat impossible at the moment."

 

"I never thought I would hear A. J. Raffles say something was impossible," Charlie said and laughed softly. "Let me think about it; I may be able to come up with an idea."

 

I touched his hand and poured more champagne for us both. "Thank you, Charlie."

 

"And now, do tell me all about your new valet."

 

I had taken a sip from my glass as he spoke and suddenly found myself coughing and choking. Charlie was on his feet in a second and put his arm around me as he talked calmly to me and told me to breathe and all the kinds of things that make perfect sense but are rather difficult to do when you are struggling to remain conscious.

 

Finally, when I really did believe I might pass out, the coughing began to subside and finally ceased all together. I wiped my forehead with my handkerchief before wiping my eyes and blowing my nose and taking the glass of water Charlie held out to me. I hadn't realised how badly my hand was shaking until Charlie put his hand around mine and guided the glass to my mouth. I swallowed a small amount before wiping my mouth and letting Charlie put the glass back down onto the table.

 

He dropped down onto his heels by my side, put one hand on my thigh and the other on my shoulder and stared at me, concern was clear in his stare. "I believe it's time you told me, A. J." he said softly.

 

"Told you what, Charlie?" I daren't look away from him, so I concentrated on keeping my look steady. "I merely choked a little on the champagne; that is all. I am perfectly fine now."

 

"I saw the look in your eyes just before you started to cough, A. J.; the look which appeared when I mentioned your new valet. Thus, I ask again, what happened whilst I was away?"

 

I knew I had to tell him and I knew I could not prevaricate any longer; he would make me speak. Nonetheless, I tried to delay for as long as I could and thus said, "How do you even know I have a new valet?"

 

He frowned and for a moment I thought he would ignore my question and once more question me. However, he patted my thigh, stood up and sat back down. "Your servants talk to mine."

 

"And what exactly have they said?"

 

He shrugged. "Only that you have a new man who is - Something of an enigma and quite possibly not an actual valet. It all sounds rather intriguing, so come along, A. J., do tell me."

 

I reached for his hand and held it. "Charlie." I fell silent again.

 

"A. J., come along you are making me concerned. What has this man done to you? Has he - A. J., just tell me."

 

For a moment I closed my eyes and wished I was anywhere but where I was. Then I opened them again, tightened my grip on his hand, looked directly into his eyes and said softly. "Bunny."

 

He blinked and frowned. "What? Who?"

 

"Bunny," I repeated and saw recognition pass through his eyes. "Bunny is my new valet, Charlie. I'm sorry."

 

He stared at me as if he didn't quite believe he had heard correctly. "Manders; Harry Manders is your valet?" I nodded. "Harry Manders; your fag from school?" I nodded again. "Is your valet?" He sounded more surprised that I had ever heard him sound.

 

"Yes, Charlie. Bunny is indeed my valet. I'm sorry," I said again.

 

"But why? How? A. J.?"

 

And so I told him; I told him everything. Well not quite everything, but I told him about how Bunny's parents had died and how he had come into money and ended up days away from being imprisoned. I told him how he had come to me to help him; how he had insisted that the only way he would accept money from me, the only way he would allow me to help him, would be if I employed him as my valet. I told him how, in the end, I had agreed; I even told him about Bunny's wish to write a book and how if that was published then - Actually, at that point I had had to stop because I truly didn't know what would happen, what Bunny would wish to happen, what Bunny would do, if his book was published.

 

All the time I spoke I sat with my hand over his, my fingers curled around him, effectively holding his hand. I believe the waiter had come in at one point, but although I had fallen silent, I hadn't taken my hand away.

 

Finally some half a minute after I had fell silent, Charlie picked up his cigarette case, I noticed his hand shook just a little and then paused and glanced down at the hand I still held as if surprised to see we were in effect holding hands. With a great deal of reluctance I slowly removed my hand and swiftly pulled my own cigarette case out, extracted two cigarettes, lit both and passed one to Charlie, who took it, put it into his mouth and took a long drag as he stared at me.

 

"Manders is your valet?"

 

"Yes, Charlie," I said softly.

 

"Is he any good?" Charlie seemed genuinely interested.

 

"Actually, Charlie, as strange as it may sound, he is. He says in many ways it's like being my fag again."

 

"And is his writing good? I know his verses were excellent - were they not?" He stared at me and held my gaze and gave me a knowing smile. Charlie had always known one of the tasks I fagged Bunny to do whilst we had been at school had been to write my verses for me.

 

"He won't let me read it."

 

"But you have."

 

"Charlie! What kind of man do you think I am?" I tried to sound affronted.

 

"Oh, I know exactly what kind of man you are, A. J.," he said, as he leant forward and took my hand in his and stared at me. The way he was looking at me was exactly the same way as he had looked at me when I had arrived at the club. I swallowed hard and shifted very slightly as the look now smouldered. "Well?"

 

"Well?"

 

He rolled his eyes. "Is his writing any good? Come along, A. J., this is me. I know you've read it, whether or not Manders showed it to you."

 

I sighed softly. "Very well. Yes, I believe it is good. But - How do I know, Charlie? It could be me just - Well, hoping it was good."

 

He frowned and shook his head. "No, A. J., I don't think so. That's not like you. If you think it's good, then it will be."

 

I shrugged. "I honestly don't know, Charlie."

 

"Would he let me read it?"

 

I blinked. "I don't know."

 

"Well, I shall just have to ask him, won't I? Why are you looking at me like that, A. J.? Did you think I wouldn't wish to see him?"

 

"Charlie -"

 

"Let's go to my home, A. J. Because if we don't, I rather fear seeing us holding hands might not be the only thing our waiter witnesses." And with those words he stood up and pulled me up with him.

 

I caught his arm. "Charlie?"

 

"Yes, A. J.?"

 

"You know I . . ."

 

He nodded. "I know. Now come along, A. J., let us go - now!"

 

We took a cab to his home and he led me straight to his bedroom, which suited me perfectly. It was, as it always was and always had been with Charlie, very enjoyable and good - so very good. We were good together; we always had been. And until a few months ago I had believed we always would be.

 

When we had been at school, Charlie and I had somehow developed a way of communicating with one another silently, which was especially useful on the cricket pitch. However, this silent communication wasn't just restricted to cricket; it worked incredible well when we were in bed together as well. No one had ever given me as much pleasure, had me crying out so often, had me trembling with the force of my release than Charlie. It had always been good with him, but once he had started to study medicine and had become a doctor it became even better, as he knew all about the human body - and he put his knowledge to good use.

 

We matched one another not just in skill but also in strength - in fact Charlie was actually somewhat stronger than me and on more than one occasion had held my hands captive whilst he . . . I never once had to hold back with Charlie, had to worry about hurting him or worry about what was happening, what might happen - we had shared so much, it was all good.

 

Eventually after hours spent using mouths and hands, I smiled at Charlie and turned over for him; he was the only man whom I had ever allowed to do that to me. Finally, with both of us murmuring about bathing, we fell asleep only to wake up an hour or two and after sharing a fairly swift bath, returned to his bed where hands and mouths found one another's mouth and body again.

 

After sharing an intense and far gentler kiss than we had shared all evening, I left Charlie's house as dawn was breaking and made my way back to my own home where I slept for an hour or so before bathing again and breakfasting.

 

TWO DAYS LATER

 

I hadn't told Bunny, but Charlie was going to drop by my home after dinner. I had invited him to dine with me, but partly due to his extended absence from London, he already had dining plans that took up every evening for over a week - most of which, he told me, were not for pleasure, but out of necessity.

 

After his day off, Bunny had appeared in my bedroom with a pot of tea, telling me it was a beautiful morning and that he would draw my bath for me whilst I drank the tea. An attempt at engaging him in conversation had led to him politely but firmly informing me I had to get up and bathe as we had an appointment at my tailor's shortly after breakfast.

 

In some ways he had, since our return from Devon and my dining with Charlie, retreated more than ever into his role as the perfect valet. However, in other ways he was - Well, I wasn't entirely certain what he was. He followed me into the bathroom, which was not usual, and politely stood and waited, his gaze downcast as I did the usual things one does first thing in the morning, before helping me off with my dressing gown. He then simply stood with it over his arm and blatantly stared at me as I got into the bath and sat down. He didn't speak and nor did I and he stayed in the bathroom until I had finished bathing and had dried myself, put my dressing gown back on and turned my attention to shaving - at which point he had returned to my bedroom to decide what I would be wearing that day.

 

As I tied my bow tie whilst he brushed my dining jacket down, I realised that we had spent most of the day together. After I had allowed myself to be persuaded both by Bunny and my tailor that I really didnít need another grey suit and a brown one would be better, and we had left the shop, I had done as I had done on several previous occasions and invited him to take luncheon with me. To my surprise after hesitating for a second or two, he had thanked me and accepted; somehow luncheon turned into a leisurely walk around the park and finally we had returned home where I once again bathed under his watchful gaze before I dressed for dinner.

 

"Thank you, Bunny," I said, taking my dining jacket from him and before he could offer any kind of objection and insist on helping me on with it, I put it on and settled it on my shoulders and smoothed it down. He moved towards me, still holding the clothes brush, but I caught his hand; I took the brush from him with my other hand, but did not let go of the hand I had caught. "I assure you, Bunny, the jacket is quite free from any hint of lint or anything."

 

His gaze flickered away from me for a moment. "I apologise, Raffles, I merely wanted to ensure you looked as you would wish to look." He returned his gaze to me and stared at me.

 

For a moment I let my fingertips touch his cheek and his eyes widened just a little. "I know, Bunny," I said softly. We stood in silence for a short time, until I let go of his hand, took a cigarette from my case and lit it. "May I ask what my rabbit plans to do this evening?"

 

"I thought, after I had finished tidying your room and had eaten supper that I would write - unless of course there is something specific you require me to do." I glanced around my room and wondered quite what he intended to tidy. Now I am and always have been a tidy man - just as I was a tidy boy - I like my things kept well and aligned probably and in their rightful place. However, since Bunny had become my valet and thus taken control of my bedroom and to a lesser extent my study, my house didn't quite feel like a home. It was somewhat too neat and tidy and everything was a little too perfectly aligned and in its proper place.

 

Occasionally I found myself deliberating and daringly moving something just so everything wasn't so pristine. However, Bunny always moved it back - often whilst I stood and watched him. He had also rearranged all of the drawers in my dresser in a way that clearly meant something to him, but caused me to have to hunt through all the drawers simply to find a clean pair of drawers on the first day after he had made the change.

 

When I had suggested to him that it might be better to have them arranged as I always had had them, he simply took to arriving in my bedroom in time to take things from the drawers himself. At which point I had given up and resigned myself to being a slave to my valet until Bunny tired of the 'game' and returned to being my friend.

 

Because I had a few minutes before dinner would be ready I leant back against the dresser and said my tone a slightly teasing one, "What exactly do you intend to tidy, Bunny?"

 

He stared at me as if I had made an improper suggestion. "There is always something that needs tidying, Raffles!"

 

I again looked around the room - no, I simply couldn't see anything that was out of place. Not even the hairbrush which after I had used it I had quite deliberately dropped it onto my bed rather than replacing it in its usual place. I didn't know when he had moved it, but once again it sat on my dresser, perfectly aligned in front of the mirror which stood atop of the dresser.

 

"There's the newspaper you were reading earlier," he added swiftly.

 

I followed his gaze and indeed there, on the table next to the door, was indeed the newspaper I had perused earlier. As far as I could see, I had refolded it quite well and knowing what his reaction would have been had he found it on my bed, I had placed it on the table by the door. What was wrong with it? Had I not folded it quite perfectly?

 

"What is wrong with the newspaper, Bunny?"

 

"It shouldn't be here. I shall remove it to your study."

 

"But I haven't finished reading it."

 

"You can finish reading it in your study."

 

I hid a sigh and said gently, making certain I kept the sudden irritation I was feeling from showing in my voice. "I wish to finish reading it here, Bunny; so please leave it where it is."

 

His cheeks flushed and he glanced away from me, looking down at the floor. "I'm sorry, Raffles. If you don't like the way I look after you, please tell me and I will -"

 

"Look at me, Bunny."

 

After a moment or two he raised his head and looked at me. "Yes, Raffles?" he asked, with a hint of a tremor in his voice.

 

Once again I hid a sigh and instead swept his hair back from his forehead and said, "Nothing, my rabbit. I hope your writing goes well."

 

He smiled at me a little shyly. "Thank you, Raffles."

 

I patted his shoulder, glanced around my perfect tidy, pristine even room again and wondered quite what object he would move half an inch or what changes he would make to my wardrobe, before I picked up my cigarette case and after smiling at him left the room and went downstairs.

 

THREE HOURS LATER

 

I was sitting in my study, smoking a Sullivan, sipping a brandy and reading a book when there was a knock at the door. "Come in."

 

Burke appeared (it was Cadman's evening off). "Dr. Charleston is here, Mr. Raffles."

 

I put down my book and stood up. "Thank you, Burke, I'll see him here."

 

"Yes, Mr. Raffles." He nodded to me and turned to go.

 

"Burke?"

 

"Yes, Mr. Raffles?"

 

"Please tell Mr. Manders that I wish to see him in," I paused and glanced at my watch. "Twenty minutes."

 

"Certain, Mr. Raffles."

 

"Oh, and, Burke?"

 

"Yes, Mr. Raffles?"

 

"Please do not tell Mr. Manders that Dr. Charleston is here."

 

"Very well, Mr. Raffles, sir." He hesitated for a second, no doubt to see if I was again about to prevent him from leaving, before turning on his heel, closing my door and leaving.

 

Less than half a minute later, he once again opened the door and said, "Dr. Charleston, Mr. Raffles."

 

I nodded my thanks and held out a hand. "Hello, Charlie, come in. Have a brandy and Sullivan."

 

Charlie strode into the room, came across to me and took my hand. "Thank you, A. J., I would like that very much." I held his gaze and we had one of our silent conversations, which culminated with his mouth on mine as he pulled me closer to him and held me tightly, even more tightly than he normally held me.

 

Once he had taken his mouth from mine and just stared at me, I said softly, "Oh, Charlie," and for a moment let my head rest on his shoulder, before I straightened up, waved him to a chair, gave him my cigarette case and poured a brandy for him and another for me.

 

When I returned to sit down opposite him, he handed me a cigarette, which he had lit for me. "Thank you." I took it and put it in my mouth as I still stared at him. "And how was dinner?" I asked, after a moment or two's intensity had gone by.

 

He emptied half of his glass and cast me a look that told me quite clearly it had not been enjoyable. "I believe it ended with me promising to at least consider the possibility that I would marry." He emptied his glass and I fetched the decanter, poured some more brandy into his glass and put the decanter on the table between us.

 

"My offer still stands, Charlie," I said softly.

 

He leant forward and touched my knee as he sighed softly. "I know it does, A. J., and I'm not certain I can tell you quite how grateful I am to you for making it. But -" I waited, but he just shook his head. "Let us not talk of it, A. J."

 

"Very well, Charlie." I touched his hand that still rested on my knee.

 

He smiled at me and settled back in his chair and stared at me as we simply sat and smoked for a minute or two. "Well," he said, putting his cigarette out, "where's Manders?"

 

I pulled my watch out and looked at it. "He'll be here in a little over a minute. I told Burke to tell him I wished to see him."

 

"Did you tell him I was going to be here?"

 

I shook my head. "No. I thought it would be a nice surprise for him."


"Let us hope so," Charlie said softly and then looked at me and asked, "Does one usually surprise one's valet?" And he smiled at me. "Is he very - valetish?"

 

"I'm not entirely certain that's a word, Charlie."

 

He rolled his eyes. "Well, is he?"

 

I paused for a moment and the memory of him watching me bathe, watching me touch myself when we had been in Devon came flooding back. I took another cigarette from the box on the table and said, "In some ways he is, very much so. In other ways -"

 

I fell silent as the door opened and Bunny came in. "You wanted to see me, Raffles?"

 

I stood up. "Yes, Bunny. There is someone here who would like to see you."

 

"Me?" he said, surprise in his voice as he went on staring at me. Charlie was sitting in the chair that had its back towards the door, thus Bunny wouldn't have seen him when he had come into the room. However, given the way he was gazing at me, I half believed that even if Charlie had been sitting next to me rather than opposite me that he wouldn't have seen him.

 

"Yes, Manders," Charlie said standing up. "You."

 

Bunny turned and stared. "Charleston!" he cried his pleasure quite, quite clear as he beamed at Charlie and began to hurry over to him. Instantly he stopped and lowered his head. "I'm sorry, Dr. Charleston," he stammered. "Please forgive me, sir. I quite forgot -"

 

"Charleston will be perfectly all right, Manders," Charlie said, crossing to Bunny and taking Bunny's hand and shaking it. "Well, Manders, it really is very good to see you again. How are you?"

 

"Look up, Bunny," I murmured softly, moving to stand next to Charlie.

 

Slowly Bunny raised his head and stared up at Charlie and then he smiled and my formal valet vanished and the man Bunny had become and the boy he had been merged together and his smile became broader and he even clasped Charlie's hand (which was still holding and shaking) with it other hand. "It's wonderful to see you again, Charleston," he said, his tone and the way he was looking making it quite clear he meant it. "It really is. I'm quite well, thank you. How are you? Do you still play cricket?"

 

Finally Bunny let go of Charlie's hand but went on beaming at him. "I too am quite well, thank you, Manders. And, no, I'm afraid I don't - unlike A. J. here, I have to work for a living and as such I don't have the time."

 

"Raffles told me you own a hospital."

 

"Yes, I do - and it certainly keeps me very busy."

 

"I imagine it does. It must be wonderful to do something so worthy, to actually be someone so - So good," he ended with.

 

Charlie had never taken compliments well when we had been at school. He had always been quite happy to let me take the accolades and praise for our cricketing wins, whilst he stood back quietly and remained happily in my shadow. That hadn't changed; under Bunny's praise and words, he flushed more than a little and looked uneasy and a little flustered.

 

I came to his rescue. "Do sit back down, Charlie, and have another drink. And you sit down too, Bunny and join Charlie and me in a brandy and Sullivan."

 

Charlie sat back down, but Bunny hesitated. "I donít -"

 

I put my hands on his shoulders and stared down at him. "Bunny," I said firmly.

 

"Yes, Raffles?"

 

"Please sit down, my rabbit. I wish you to do so. For an hour or so don't be my valet; just be my friend and enjoy a drink and cigarette with Charlie."

 

He swallowed and for a moment I truly thought he was going to argue with me. However, he glanced at Charlie and then back at me and smiled - reminding me yet again of the young boy I had met all those years ago. "Very well, Raffles," he said. He sat down and accepted a cigarette from the box Charlie held out to him and took the glass of brandy I poured for him and for forty minutes of so we sat and talked about the school, the old boys, what Charlie had been doing since Bunny had last seen him and my cricket matches. We smoked and drank brandy and as I glanced from Bunny to Charlie and back again and conversed with them I honestly couldn't remember a happier evening.

 

As I sat and joined in the conversation at times, whilst at other times just sat and listened to Charlie telling Bunny about his time at Oxford and his hospital, I realised I was seeing the gentleman Bunny had become - rather than the man who was my valet. And yet there were also times when I saw hints of the boy I had known and loved - but then I saw hints of the boy I had grown up with in Charlie. Perhaps it is true that you can never completely take the boy out of the man.

 

As I offered the cigarette box to Charlie and Bunny, Charlie looked at Bunny and said, "A. J. told me you are writing a book, Manders." It was Charlie who struck a match and held it for Bunny before holding it for me and then lighting his own cigarette.

 

Bunny, as I fully expected him to do, flushed slightly and glanced away from Charlie. "Um, well, yes, I'm trying to," he said. "I don't know if it's any good."

 

Charlie lent back in his chair and looked at Bunny carefully. "If it's a well written as your verses at school were, I'm sure it is very good."

 

Bunny flushed more and stammered his thanks. At least I thought that was what he said, it was quite difficult to be certain, given just how much he stuttered and how he was looking down at his lap.

 

Charlie waited until Bunny had finished his stammering thanks, before saying quietly, "If you'd like me to read it and give you my honest opinion, Manders, I'd be quite happy to do so."

 

Bunny froze and stared at Charlie; I poured more brandy for us before sitting back down and turning my attention to my rabbit. "Would you, Charleston? Would you really?" he finally said, his tone low and heavy with surprise.

 

"Of course I would, Manders. I would be very happy to do so."

 

"You would?"

 

"Yes, I would. Really, I would - but only if you want me to do so. Please, do not think you have to say yes, because you don't. Does he, A. J.?" Charlie glanced at me.

 

Bunny turned to look at me and I shook my head. "No, Bunny, you do not have to say yes. It is entirely up to you. Charlie will not be offended or angry if you say no, thank you - and neither will I be."

 

Bunny swallowed hard, took a sip of the brandy I had poured for me (I noticed his hand shook slightly) swallowed again, looked at me quickly and then turned to Charlie. "I would appreciate that, Charleston," he said very formally. "Thank you very much."

 

Charlie smiled. "I am quite certain, Manders, it will be my pleasure."

 

Bunny flushed again and glanced away from Charlie's steady gaze. I waited for a moment before saying nonchalantly. "I don't know, you won't let me read your book, but you'll let Charlie."

 

Bunny turned swiftly to look at me and for a moment I feared I had said the wrong thing and that the gentleman he was would vanish and my valet would reappear. However, to my relief and pleasure after looking for a moment just like the name I had given him, Bunny smiled at me and said, his tone light, "Charleston will be honest with me, Raffles. I fear you might be - Well, kind, that you might tell me what you believe I wish to hear." Then he turned to Charleston. "You really will be honest, won't you, Charleston?"

 

Charlie nodded. "Yes, Manders. I give you my word."

 

Bunny smiled a little. "Thank you."

 

We sat and talked for a little longer before I saw Bunny begin to fidget slightly and saw him glance in what was meant to be a surreptitious manner at his watch a time or two. I also saw his gaze wander around my study and saw him frown just a little. I got the impression he wanted to go and tidy something - something that undoubtedly did not need to be tidied. I also got the impression that whilst he had enjoyed his hour as my non-valet, valet, the fine valet he had become had once again gained ascendency and he wished to leave Charlie and I alone.

 

"Bunny?" I said quietly.

 

He turned to look at me. "Yes, Raffles?"

 

"Why do you not go and fetch what you have written so that Charlie can take it home with him."

 

The flash of relief that passed over his face told me I had been correct. He put his cigarette out and stood up swiftly. "Yes, Raffles, I'll do that. I'll bring it straight back," he added, glancing at Charleston.

 

"There's no need to rush, Bunny, Charlie won't be going home just yet."

 

"Oh, right. In that case I'll turn down your bed and tidy up a little before I return." He hurried towards the door.

 

"Bunny?" I called.

 

He stopped and turned back to me. "Yes, Raffles?"

 

"You may leave the newspaper where it is," I said firmly.

 

He sighed softly. "Yes, Raffles," he murmured, hesitated for a moment before opening the door and leaving the room; he closed the door quietly behind him.

 

"Newspaper?"

 

I quickly told Charlie about Bunny's tidying fetish and how I had to battle even to be allowed to read a newspaper in my own bedroom.

 

Charlie laughed and helped himself to another cigarette. "But, A. J., you've always been the neatest and tidiest person I have known. Your study at school was unlike any other sixth formers' - even mine!"

 

I sighed softly. "Yes, Charlie. However, there is my idea of tidy and then there is Bunny's idea of tidy. A week or so ago, I couldn't even find where he'd tidied my drawers away to!"

 

Charlie laughed. "Poor A. J."

 

"Hmm. And take this room," I waved my hand around my study.

 

Charlie glanced around it. "What about it?"

 

"You'd call this tidy, would you not?"

 

"Yes, A. J., I certainly would. It's far tidier than my office at the hospital."

 

"Well, I can guarantee that once we have left here, Bunny will descend and by tomorrow morning this room will be so sanitised, I believe you'd permit an operation to be carried out here."

 

Charlie smiled. "He's that bad, is he?"

 

"Yes! It's as if he's been reading a manual on how to be the perfect valet. Is there such a book?"

 

Charlie shrugged. "Don't ask me, as you know I've never felt the need to have a valet."

 

I stared at him. "And as you know it isn't exactly my choice!"

 

"Ah, Cadman."

 

I nodded. "Yes, Cadman. Between Bunny and he . . ." I trailed off.

 

Charlie smiled and touched my knee. "Poor A. J.," he said again and laughed.

 

I gave me a half-glare and without really thinking said, "You try living with them."

 

Charlie surprised beyond the level I thought he could ever surprise me. "I'd rather live with you," he said softly. I believe he surprised himself too, because his face paled, he shook his head and said swiftly, "A. J., please, please forgive me and forget I said that. I - A. J., I did not mean to. Please, A. J."

 

"Charlie?" I leant forward and took his hand; he struggled to try to get it away from me - which he could have done, even though I gripped his hand very tightly with both of my hands.

 

However, after a moment or two, he stopped struggling and in fact slumped somewhat in front of me. He looked down at our hands and then back at me. "Please, A. J.," he whispered. "Please forgive me and forget -"

 

"Forget what, Charlie?" I said softly and squeezed his hand. He didn't reply, but the look on his face, the small, relieved smile he gave me and the way he looked at me told me how relieved and grateful he was.

 

It showed quite how close our friendship was, quite how much we meant to one another when less than a minute when by before the atmosphere relaxed again and Charlie was telling me one of the many stories he used to share with me about things than happened in his hospital. I hasten to add, he never spoke of any patients by name, nor indeed did he ever give me even a hint of whom he might be talking about - Charlie is very professional.

 

Half an hour later I heard a faint noise outside the door and a moment later there was a soft, reverential knock at the door. "Come in, Bunny," I called.

 

He did thus and came in carrying a reasonably thick envelope which he handed to Charlie. "Here is what I've written so far, Charleston," he said, holding onto the envelope for a moment as if he really didn't want to let it go - not even to Charlie.

 

"I promise you I shall take great care of it, Manders."

 

Bunny held onto it for a moment or two longer before finally letting go of it. "I know you will, Charleston. Thank you again for offering to read it."

 

Charlie smiled. "Thank you, Manders, for entrusting me with it. Well, A. J.," he said, turning to me, "I believe it is time I bid you goodnight."

 

"You don't have to go yet, Charlie. It's still quite early."

 

Charlie smiled at me. "I really should. I rather foolishly promised matron I would drop into the hospital on my way home - and you know matron."

 

I did. I knew her only too well. She did not like me at all - in fact that was putting it mildly. "Very well, Charlie," I said.

 

Charlie turned to Bunny and held out his hand. "It really was good to see you again, Manders."

 

Bunny took his hand and shook it. "And you too, Charleston."

 

"I'll read this over the next few days and come and see you again."

 

Bunny glanced at me and I nodded. "Thank you," he said. He shook Charleston's hand again and then turned to me. "I'll just go and finish tidying up in your bedroom." His gaze wandered from me and came to rest on my desk where a piece of paper dared to be out of line with the rest of the pile. "Will you be going straight to bed, Raffles?" he asked suddenly, looking back at me.

 

I hid a smile and said, "Actually, Bunny, I believe I shall go and sit in the library for a while and finish my book."

 

He actually beamed at me and his gaze once more travelled to my desk for a moment and his fingers actually began to twitch. I didn't dare look at Charlie who I knew was watching Bunny and fighting to hide a smile of his own.

 

"Very well, Raffles, I shall go and turn the lights on for you and pour you a brandy." And before I could reply he hurried off towards the door, stopped and turned back. "Shall I ask Burke to show Charleston out?"

 

I shook my head. "No, Bunny, I'll see Charlie out."

 

Bunny hesitated for a moment, glanced at Charlie and back at me and smiled. "Yes, Raffles," he said. "Good evening to you again, Charleston."

 

"Good evening, Manders."

 

This time Bunny didn't hesitate, but hurried from the room and carefully closed the door behind him. Charlie glanced at my desk and smiled, "I believe I feel rather sorry for your desk," he said.

 

I laughed for a moment and then things became somewhat serious as I crossed the room and put my arms around Charlie and for a few minutes silence descended over my study.

 

Eventually Charlie lifted his head and touched my cheek. "I shall bid you goodnight, A. J., and I shall see you soon - it won't take me that long to read this."

 

"You know you are and always will be welcome whenever you wish to visit, Charlie," I said quietly.

 

He smiled and touched my cheek again. "I know, A. J. Now let us put poor Manders out of his misery and you can show me out."

 

"Poor Manders!" I exclaimed, before I laughed softly, took his arm and led him out of the room.

 

As I closed the front door behind him and bolted it, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Bunny creep into my study and quietly close the door behind him.

 

I sighed, put my hands into my pockets and went into the library where I found my book and a glass of brandy waiting for me and the cigarette box now on the table by the chair I tended to sit in rather than on the mantelpiece. "Oh, Bunny," I murmured and settled down to read.

 

FOUR DAYS LATER

 

It was after dinner and I once again sat in my study smoking a Sullivan, sipping a whisky and soda and looking through the pile of invitations to dinners, parties and even country house parties, trying to decide which I would accept and which I would decline. There were a handful I would have to accept - it would be expected of me to do so, and there are times one has to do what is expected, even if one doesn't really wish to do so. There were those I would definitely refuse, those I would accept and quite a few I simply hadn't made my mind up over.

 

The door opened and I looked up to see Cadman. "Dr. Charleston is here to see you, sir," Cadman said somewhat unnecessarily, given Charlie was standing by his side, his hat in his hand, his overcoat still on.

 

I stood up and smiled. "Hello, Charlie, do come in." I moved from behind my desk and held out my hand.

 

"Thank you, A. J.," Charlie said, as he came towards me.

 

The sound of Cadman quite unnecessarily clearing his throat made Charlie pause and look at him. "If I may take your overcoat and hat, Dr. Charleston," Cadman said, making it quite clear he had not approved of Charlie following him to my study rather than waiting in the hallway, as Cadman believed all guests (even ones as close to me as Charlie was) should wait.

 

Charlie glanced swiftly at me and I had to look away to prevent myself from smiling and hurriedly pulled off his overcoat and handed it and his hat to Cadman. "Thank you, sir," Cadman carefully folded Charlie's overcoat over his arm and brushed his hand over Charlie's hat. "Is there anything else you require, Mr. Raffles?"

 

I shook my head. "No, thank you, Cadman; not at the moment."

 

"Very good, sir." And with that Cadman left us, silently closing the door behind him - something only he is able to achieve.

 

I turned to Charlie and smiled. "Hello, Charlie," I said again and walked towards him to greet him in our usual way.

 

"Well," I said a few minutes later as I poured whisky and soda for him and pushed the cigarette box towards him. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?" I sat down and looked at him.

 

"I've finished reading Manders's manuscript," he said. I froze with a match halfway towards my cigarette as I stared in silence at him. "A. J.," he said sharply, and suddenly the match, which I realised had started to burn my fingers, was taken from me and dropped into the ashtray and Charlie struck another one and held it for me.

 

"Thank you." I lit my cigarette and rubbed the tips of my fingers together as Charlie sat back down and looked at me. A mixture of emotions was going through my mind as well as ways to prevent myself from asking the obvious, the logical, the expected question. "Have you decided what you are going to tell the Trustees?" I said swiftly.

 

Charlie blinked and I saw he clearly knew what I was trying to do and I waited for him to return to the subject of Bunny's book. However, he shrugged, swallowed some whisky and soda and nodded. "Yes. In fact I have already told them." I waited for a moment and just stared at him. He shrugged again, looked directly at me and said softly, "I decided to take your advice, A. J., and tell them I wasn't going to marry simply to appease them."

 

I confess I was a little surprised to hear that as I knew just how important the hospital was to Charlie and how passionate he was about it. I actually had believed he would do as the Trustees wanted him to do and marry the lady about whom he had spoken, merely in order to ensure the future of his hospital. "And?" I said, leaning forward and putting my hand on his knee. "What happened? Do you need money, Charlie? If so how much and how soon."

 

Charlie covered my hand with his and shook his head. "Thank you, A. J., but actually I do not. Somewhat surprisingly the majority of them seemed to quite genuinely approve of my 'standing up for myself' attitude."

 

"The majority?"

 

Charlie nodded and drank some more of his whisky. "I have lost two of them; one was the man with whom I dined four nights ago, the other the widow of my first Trustee - he was a lovely man; however, she -" He fell silent; Charlie doesn't like to speak ill of anyone. "I can't say I'm unhappy that either of them has gone," he said finally.

 

"So there are no real financial implications?"

 

"Nothing I can't cover."

 

"Charlie -"

 

"I mean it, A. J. All is well - thanks to you."

 

I frowned. "Why me? What did I do?"

 

"Made me really think about what they were asking me to do and gave me the courage to do what I wanted to do." He tightened his hand around mine and looked down at his lap. When he spoke again his voice was very low and his tone flat. "If it hadn't been for you, A. J., I would have done as they wished me to do. I would have proposed to the lady I mentioned that we marry - simply for the sake of appearances for both of us."

 

"I'm glad you didn't."

 

"So am I." He took his hand from over mine and after a moment or two, I slowly took my hand from his knee and sat back in my chair and wondered what else I could find to ask about to delay the inevitable.

 

It seemed that once again Charlie was happy enough to delay, which made me wonder whether in fact he didn't want to impart bad news because he spoke again. "I also happened to have an idea concerning Lord Pattershall's home."

 

I raised an eyebrow. "You did?"

 

"Yes. I'm sure it would work. But the thing is, A. J., could they afford to pay the ongoing costs? You told me yourself they barely heat their home during the cold months." I sighed; I hadn't thought about that and said as much. Charlie nodded. "I thought as much. Well you see, I did actually have another idea."

 

"Which is?"

 

"You buy their home from them."

 

"What? Charlie! They love that house; they've lived there all their lives. They won't leave it."

 

"I don't intend them to." I frowned and knew I looked as puzzled as I felt. "They don't have children do they?" I shook my head. "Other relatives?"

 

"No. They were both only children. But what has that to do with it?"

 

"So there is no one who would suddenly object if the house was sold? No one who would be expecting it to be left to them after the Pattershalls died?"

 

I thought for a moment and then said slowly, "No, I am quite certain there isn't anyone. However, I still do not -"

 

Charlie put his glass down and leant forward. "You buy their house from them," he said again, and held up a finger as I opened my mouth; I closed it again. "You tell them it's as an investment; that you want to own a country home, but you have no desire at the moment, nor for some time, to move to the country to live."

 

"Go on."

 

"You tell them that you don't want the house to stand empty as it could fall into disarray or even be burgled. Thus you would really like them to stay and live in the house for their rest of their lives. You can get all the legal things drawn up clearly, so that everyone knows where they stand. But this way it means you can get any repairs and updating done that you wish to do - because it would be your house. And because you are the one to insist on installing electricity, etc. you will naturally pay the usage costs. And you could employ a few more servants - I'll think of a reason why later - and thus take over all the costs. Then the Pattershalls would not only no longer need to worry about upkeep, etc. but would also be able to host more parties - which you said they enjoy doing. Well?" He said after I just sat and gazed at him. "What do you think?"

 

"That you are a genius," I said. He blushed. "Charlie; it's an excellent idea. It really is. It will solve everything. You're wonderful," I added, taking his hand and pulling it to my mouth and kissing it.

 

He blushed again and shrugged. "It was only a rough idea. Do you think you would be able to persuade them that it was the best for everyone?"

 

"If that's a rough idea, I really have to wonder what a thought out one would be like." I smiled at him. "And yes, I do believe I will be able to persuade them. Of course what might help would be you coming down with me to see them and talking about how it's important for people as they get a little older to keep warm and how much safer electric lights would be rather than oil lamps and candles - be a doctor. Would you be able to do that?"

 

Charlie smiled. "I'd be very happy to do so, A. J." His smiled increased and he said softly, "But what about Cadman, would he approve?" He was teasing me; I knew that and the look in his eyes confirmed it.

 

"I will have you know that I am capable of being firm with Cadman when I really wish to do so. But actually, between you and me, I think he will approve. He doesn't have a high opinion of banks and he also feels I should actually 'do' something with my money. Also, he has a soft spot for the Pattershalls - but don't tell him I said so, for I would deny it."

 

Charlie laughed. "I won't; your, well his, secret is safe with me. How does he know them?"

 

"Remember the year before last when White was taken suddenly and seriously ill - you attended him - just before I was due to go to their house party?"

 

"Oh, yes. I had forgotten where you were off to - I confess my focus was actually on my patient."

 

I smiled at him. "Well, I was quite happy to go without a valet - but Cadman insisted that wasn't right and proper and also insisted on accompanying me in the role."

 

"That must have been interesting."

 

"It was. In fact I'm beginning to think Bunny might not have learnt his 'ideal valeting skills' from a book, but from Cadman." We both laughed.

 

I reached for the whisky decanter and poured a little more into our glasses and took and lit another cigarette. Charlie also took another cigarette and let me light it for him. He settled back in his chair, looked at me through the smoke and said quietly, "I've finished reading Manders's manuscript."

 

This time his tone and the look in his eyes made it quite clear he was not going to let me prevaricate again. Nonetheless, I delayed a little by taking a deep drag of my cigarette and holding the smoke in my mouth for longer than I normally did before releasing it. I also picked my glass up and slowly swallowed some of the whisky and carefully replaced the glass on the table.

 

Knowing I could not delay any longer, I swallowed hard and said, hoping my tone was as nonchalant as I had tried to make it, "And is it good, Charlie?"

 

Charlie stared at me and then said in a tone I simply could not identify. "No. A. J. It isn't good." I felt a wave of pain and disappointment pass through my body as well as to my surprise a hint of - relief? I stared into Charlie's eyes and as with his tone I could not read them. "No, it isn't good; it's actually very good; it's very good indeed. I would go so far as to say it has been some time since I have read anything quite as good as this. My only annoyance is he left it at such a critical point and I don't know what happened. Has he written any more since I last saw him?"

 

However, I was just staring at him uncertain whether to kiss him or shake him. "Charlie!" I cried, settling for that and glaring at him.

 

He just laughed and then leant forward and put his hand on my thigh. "Oh, do forgive me. A. J., I shouldn't have been so cruel - I just couldn't help it. I am sorry, truly I am." The laughter vanished and I saw he was actually looking a little concerned, worried even.

 

I took his hand from my thigh and squeezed it as I smiled at him. "There's nothing to forgive, Charlie," I said firmly. "I believe I would have done the same." We fell silent and just gazed at one another and silently finished the conversation. "So it really is good?"

 

He nodded. "I knew it would be when you said it was."

 

I shook my head. "I was too close to it, Charlie, really I was. I wouldn't have trusted my judgement."

 

"Well I did. But I confess even though I was expecting it to be good, even I was taken aback by quite how good it was, how well the story flowed, how real the characters were, how well written it was and how I wanted to read more. And," he said, gently tugging his hand from mine and once more settling back in his chair and looking at me. "I am not the only person to think so," he said quietly.

 

"Charlie?"

 

"Look, A. J., I'll tell you and you can tell me if Manders is going to be angry with me."

 

"I can't imagine Bunny ever being angry with you, Charlie. Actually I cannot imagine anyone being angry with you."

 

"You should have been at the meeting when I informed the Trustees that I would not marry - the two who are no longer Trustees were more than a little angry with me."

 

I shrugged. "In that case you are definitely better off without them."

 

"Yes, I know. Now you see I have a friend who -"

 

"A friend?" I hated how sharp my voice had become and hastily glanced away from Charlie.

 

Charlie was silent for a moment before saying softly, "Yes, a friend. He is a publisher and mentioned recently he was looking for a new author to brighten up, shall we say, his catalogue. I hope Manders will forgive me, but I showed the manuscript to him."

 

"And?"

 

"Well, let me put it this way, it took me all my time to prevent him from coming around here last night at midnight and dragging you and Manders out of bed. I mean - well, you know what I mean, A. J."

 

However, my attention was affixed on the 'coming around her at midnight'. "Your," I paused for a second and then said, "friend was at your house at midnight, was he?"

 

Charlie stared at me and then shook his head. "You do not have the right to be jealous, A. J." He spoke quietly, but there was a slight edge to his voice and his steady gaze was a little harder than it normally was when he looked at me.

 

Instantly I was contrite. "I'm sorry, Charlie," I said, standing up swiftly and going to where he sat and dropping onto my heels in front of me. "Truly I am. You are quite correct; I have no right, no right at all. Please, Charlie, forgive me?" And I took his hand.

 

He sat and stared at me for a moment and then the hard edge to his gaze faded and it became as gentle as it normally was. He put his hand on my shoulder, shook his head and said, his tone now light, "Of course I forgive you, A. J. Indeed a part of me is rather . . ." he trailed off and finished his sentence silently. "I assure you Robert Emmett is a very happily married man with three children." And then he frowned a little and said, "You do know I have never . . . I know we didn't . . . But - You do know, don't you, A. J.?"

 

I smiled. "Yes, of course I do, Charlie. So Emmett wanted to come here last night, did he?" I squeezed Charlie's hand before letting go of it; I stood up and returned to my chair.

 

"Yes. He wanted to get to Manders before anyone else had the chance to read his work. He wants to take not only this book, but to commission a series of four further ones, with the option for more - as well as any other book or series of books Manders might wish to write. He pays generously as well," he added softly.

 

I could hardly believe what Charlie was telling me. Everything was going to work out; Bunny was going to become a published author and would give up his foolish idea of being my valet and we would - Actually, I suddenly had no idea what we would do. It had all seemed so simple when he was my valet as he was off limits to me, but now . . . And what if - Well, I knew he had told me he loved me and made his interest in me quite clear, but what if . . .

 

I pushed that to one side and told myself not to be so selfish. I would send for Bunny and Charlie could tell him and - "You are telling me the truth, are you not, Charlie?" I heard myself say.

 

"What? Yes, of course I am, A. J. What reason would I have to tell you Manders's book was good when it wasn't?"

 

"I - I don't know, Charlie. I don't know why I asked that. I know you wouldn't lie."

 

"No, I wouldn't. Besides, it wouldn't be in my interest to tell you that, would it?" he added softly. "Let's be honest, A. J., if I was going to lie, it would be to tell you it wasn't any good when it actually was."

 

I nodded. "I know. It's just that it's all a little . . ." I shrugged and looked at him helplessly.

 

He gave me a soft smile. "I understand."

 

"You do?"

 

"Actually, yes, I believe I do."

 

I stood up. "We should tell Bunny. I'll ring for Cadman and -"

 

Charlie also stood up and caught my arm and stopped me. "Wait, A. J."

 

"Charlie?"

 

"Before you - before we - tell Manders, I want to say something. And I want you to listen to me and actually give some consideration to what I have to say. Will you do that, A. J.?"

 

He suddenly looked very serious, which surprised me. "Yes, of course I will, Charlie."

 

"Good. Let us sit back down."

 

I slowly sat back down and stared at him. "Well? What is it, Charlie?"

 

He took a cigarette from the box and handed it to me, before taking another one. I waited whilst he lit both and put the spent match in the ashtray before he once again looked at me. "Had you given any thought as to what might happen should Manders succeed as a writer? Had you thought how it might - change things. How it will change things, I should have said."

 

"I'm not entirely certain what you mean, Charlie," I said, playing for time a little, but in truth I wasn't completely certain what he meant.

 

He sighed and glanced away from me and I was quite certain he was composing his thoughts into words - even though knowing Charlie as I do, he had already worked out exactly what he was going to say before he came here. "Manders loves you," he said, looking back at me. "But you don't need me to tell you that." I nodded slightly. "But it's not just that, A. J. It's - Look, when I was here a few nights ago I spent time watching you and Manders and watching Manders look at you. A. J., he looks at you in the way he did when we were at school."

 

"What do you mean?"


"I mean he's still in awe of you, A. J.; you are still the handsome, dashing captain of the eleven who took possession of him and protected him and encouraged him to love you. You're still on the pedestal on which he placed you all those years ago."

 

I swallowed; Charlie wasn't telling me anything I hadn't known - I just hadn't really wanted to think about it or to admit it." Does that matter?"

 

Charlie shrugged. "I don't know, A. J., I really don't. I don't believe so but - It's not just that."

 

"Then what else is it, Charlie?" I spoke softly.

 

He once again glanced away from me, before looking back at me and again I saw him carefully deciding exactly what to say. "A. J., forgive me, but your relationship with Manders has never been," he paused, and picked up the whisky decanter and poured a little into our glasses, "equal," he added softly, putting the decanter back down. "And it still isn't - and you know it, do you not?"

 

"Charlie . . ."

 

"At school he was your fag; he did what you told him to do and you protected him from harm. You looked after him; you encouraged him to rely on you - more than you should have done, but you know I always thought that, do you not?" I nodded. He had told me on more than one occasion I wasn't being entirely fair to Bunny and I had, of course, always listened to him - even if it changed nothing. "And you're doing the same now, aren't you?"

 

"No, Charlie, I'm not. Remember I wanted to do so. I wanted to pay his debts and - yes, you're right - look after him. But it wasn't what he wanted. It was Bunny, Bunny, Charlie, who insisted on being my valet. It wasn't my choice."

 

"I know, A. J., I remember you telling me. However, apart from the fact that Manders is working for the money you pay him and intends to pay you back, it is exactly the same. You are looking after him; he is not - A. J., please believe me when I say this is hard to say, not just because of how much I care about you, but also because of how fond I am of Manders. I like him, I always have - again you know that."

 

I nodded. "Yes, of course I do, Charlie."

 

"Good. A. J., let us be honest; he is not exactly taking responsibility for himself, is he?" He spoke softly. "You and he, you're both playing this elaborate game - one that I truly believe neither of you believes you are playing. However, you are. Yes, he's your valet, but does he truly do everything White used to do?"

 

"Well, no, but -"

 

"A. J., you are still protecting him. You are still in effect telling him what to do - just as you did at school."

 

"I -"

 

"Love him. Yes, I know that, A. J., I always have. However, what happens when he suddenly does have money? When he is a published author? When he actually makes decisions for himself? When he has to make decisions for himself? What happens then? What happens to you and him and the way you - What happens when he is at least something of an equal to you and not . . . Please don't be angry with, A. J." This time it was Charlie who got up from his chair and came to me and dropped onto his heels and took my hand. "I actually do not want to see either of you hurt. Believe it or not, I want to see you both happy. But - I wouldn't be a friend if I didn't say what I felt; if I didn't tell you what concerned me."

 

I squeezed his hand. "I'm not angry with you, Charlie, I never could be. And you are, of course, correct in everything you say. And no, I hadn't actually thought of that."

 

Charlie frowned, clearly he had picked up on the way I had said the final word and asked, "What had you thought about then? If you wish to tell me," he added swiftly.

 

"What if . . . Charlie, I don't even know if Bunny is . . . What his intentions are; if he wants to . . . What if . . . What if it's just because both of us have always wanted -"

 

Charlie stared at me and sighed. "Now that, A. J., is something I really cannot help you with. I don't have an answer other than you won't know unless you," he paused, shrugged and said softly, "try."

 

"And if -" I fell silent and stared at him and saw quite clearly not only that he knew what I was thinking, but his answer. "Charlie?" I whispered and put my hand on his cheek. "Oh, Charlie."

 

He shrugged, let go of my hand and stood up. "Did you honestly expect anything else from me?"

 

"I -"

 

"Would you be content for Manders to be more of your equal than he has ever been, than he is now? Or would it change things too much?"

 

I stared at him and rose to my feet. "As you yourself said, Charlie, I won't know unless I try, will I? Is that a good enough answer?"

 

"No. But it will have to do." And it was Charlie who moved to my desk and pressed the bell on the wall behind hit which would summon Cadman.

 

We waited in silence until the door opened and Cadman came in. "Yes, Mr. Raffles."

 

"Please tell Mr. Manders that Dr. Charleston and I wish to speak with him, Cadman."

 

"Yes, sir." And Cadman went out of the room again.

 

Once more we waited in silence until the door opened and Bunny hurried in. "You wanted to see me, Raffles?" he said, swiftly turning to Charlie and saying, "Hello, Charleston, it's good to see you again."

 

Charlie held out his hand and Bunny took it. "It's good to see you again too, Manders," he said, shaking Bunny's hand. "Now sit, down have a cigarette and A. J. will pour you a drink. I have something to tell you."

 

Bunny glanced at me and I smiled and nodded. "Do as Charlie says, my rabbit."

 

"Yes, Raffles," Bunny murmured, and obediently sat down and turned his attention from me to Charlie who held out the cigarette box. As I went to pour Bunny a drink, I realised that Charlie had spoken the truth: Bunny and I were indeed playing an elaborate game, and Bunny did indeed respond to me, treat me even, if not exactly as we had done when we had been at school, then close enough. He wasn't taking responsibility; once again he had handed it to me. Once again he had placed himself entirely in my hands.

 

I sat in silence just watching Bunny as Charlie told him what he had told me, firstly about how much he had enjoyed the book - adding he really hoped Bunny had written more and if so might he read it - and then about Emmett and his offer.

 

When Charlie fell silent Bunny turned to me. "Raffles?"

 

I smiled. "It's just as Charlie told you, Bunny. He isn't lying to you. Congratulations, my rabbit. You are going to have a book published."

 

"But -" Bunny fell silent and groped for his glass; he looked and sounded completely disbelieving - in his own abilities, in his own talent, I realised.

 

"Emmett would like to meet you, Manders," Charlie said.

 

"Would he?"

 

Charlie smiled. "Yes, Manders, he would. We have agreed, unless I ring him to tell him otherwise, that I shall take you to meet him tomorrow. I thought -"

 

"Wait a minute." Suddenly Bunny stood up and stared at Charlie and then turned his attention to me. "This is real, is it not?"

 

"Manders?" Both Charlie and I rose too.

 

"It isn't some elaborate plan you have both put together, is it?"

 

"I don't know what you mean, Bunny." And I didn't.

 

"This man, this publisher, Emmett, you said, did you not, Charleston?"

 

"Yes."

 

"And he is a friend of yours?"

 

Charlie nodded. "Yes," he sounded a little puzzled - as was I.

 

"Does he really like my book; does he really want to publish it? Or is Raffles going to pay for it to be published and then send a certain amount of money every month or however often publishers pay their writers for Emmett to then pay me for book sales? Well?" he demanded looking from Charlie to me and back again.

 

Charlie stared at Bunny and then looked at me and held my gaze for a moment before he looked back at Bunny. "Oh, Manders," he said, "my dear Manders - well, you really do have a writer's imagination, do you not? Manders, I assure you, I give you my word, my solemn word, that this is not an elaborate hoax of the kind you have just outlined. Robert Emmett is a publisher and he really does wish to publish your book and conduct the agreement I told you of. A. J. doesn't know him and no, he is not going to pay for your book to be published. Do you really think he would do that to you - that we would do that to you? Well, Manders, do you?"

 

Bunny looked away from Charlie and slowly turned his head to look at me. "Raffles?"

 

"Charlie is speaking the truth, Bunny. I promise you, my rabbit, that I have nothing to do with your book being published. Bunny, I do not have your imagination and nor does Charlie; we could not have thought up the plot you have just suggested to us. Really, we could not have."

 

Bunny stood and again looked from me to Charlie and back again. "Oh," he said and swallowed hard as he felt behind him for the chair and sank back down into it and closed his eyes.

 

Instantly Charlie and I were both by his side on our heels. I had taken his hand and was rubbing it between mine, whilst Charlie put his hand on Bunny's forehead, pushing his hair back, whilst with his other hand he covered Bunny's pulse. "Manders, look at me," Charlie said.

 

Slowly Bunny opened his eyes and obeyed. "Can you see me clearly, Manders?" Bunny nodded. "Do you feel faint or sick, Manders?" I prepared to move quickly if Bunny nodded, in the direction of the waste paper bin.

 

However, Bunny shook his head. "No. I'm sorry, Charleston; I'm sorry, Raffles," he turned to look at me. "It was just - Well, a surprise. I never . . . I really never believed that I would . . . I'm going to be a published writer?" he said, his voice suddenly excited.

 

I squeezed his hand and put my hand on his head. "Yes, Bunny; yes, my dear rabbit, you are going to be a published writer."

 

Bunny smiled and me and then looked at Charlie again. "Emmett wants to see me tomorrow?"

 

Charlie smiled and nodded. "Yes. At eleven o'clock."

 

"You'll come with me, won't you, Raffles?" Bunny turned to me and grabbed my hand.

 

I glanced at Charlie who just met my gaze and said nothing. "Well, Bunny, do you actually need me to come with you? Charlie will be there, after all."

 

"No, Raffles, you have to be there as well. I'm sorry, Charleston, I mean no offence, but - Well, Raffles, has always . . . Raffles, please, you know all about - well, about everything and I - Well I don't. Please, Raffles."

 

What could I say? I looked at Charlie again who actually smiled a gentle smile and nodded. I looked back at Bunny. "Yes, of course I'll come with you, Bunny, and when you have concluded your business with Emmett we," I indicated the three of us, "will go to lunch at the Savoy and celebrate. No," I said swiftly. "That is what we shall do."

 

Bunny smiled. "Thank you, Raffles." He turned back to Charlie and took his hand. "Thank you, Charleston."

 

"It is my pleasure, Manders. Now how about we all have another drink?"

 

"What an excellent idea," I said and stood up.

 

"Um, Raffles?" Bunny stood up.

 

"Yes, Bunny?"

 

Bunny glanced at Charlie and gave him a quick smile before he looked back at me. "Would you mind awfully if I returned to my room and wrote? I would rather like to have some more pages to take with me tomorrow."

 

"If that is what you wish to do, Bunny, then of course I do not mind."

 

Bunny smiled at me. "Thank you, Raffles." He turned to Charlie. "I'll see you in the morning, Charleston," he said, "and thank you again for all you have done." He held out his hand.

 

Charlie stood up, took Bunny's hand and shook it. "It really is my pleasure, Manders."

 

We both watched Bunny hurry out of my study and close the door behind him. "Well," Charlie turned to look at me. "That's done."

 

I nodded. "Yes. Yes, it is, Charlie." We locked gazes for some time, before I turned away and refilled our glasses whilst Charlie lit two Sullivans.

 

"To Manders," Charlie said softly.

 

I smiled a little. "To Bunny."

 

We sat and talked for an hour or so before Charlie said he really should think about going home. I offered to walk back with him, justifying my offer by saying I hadn't been outside that day and rather fancied the idea of some fresh air. Not that I had needed to find an explanation or indeed to have said anything, as we both knew what my offer really meant. Charlie accepted my offer with a smile and thus with my arm through his we made our way from my home to his.

 

Once inside Charlie locked and bolted his front door, removed his hat and overcoat, took mine from me and pulled me into his arms and kissed me harder than he had ever kissed me before. Indeed, he kissed me so hard I felt his teeth graze my bottom lip and seconds later felt the taste of blood in my mouth. From the faint noise he made and the way he pulled me even closer to him, letting me feel quite how hard, quite how desperate he was, Charlie tasted my blood as well.

 

Finally, fearing even I might pass out if we didn't break apart I pulled my mouth from Charlie's and dragged oxygen into my lungs. "Bed?" I murmured, looking into his eyes.

 

He gave a curt nod. "Bed." He actually growled the word as he caught my hand and all but dragged me to his bedroom. Seconds later I was on my back on his bed and he was kneeling over me, plundering my mouth with one hand tangled in my hair and the other unbuttoning me.

 

An hour or so later Charlie pushed himself away from me a little, caught my hand and said softly. "Please, A. J."

 

The look in his eyes told me exactly what he wanted from me. Now for some unbeknown reason when I had shared a bed with other men I had always been the one to do that to other men, apart from once or twice (once at school, once since) Charlie had always been the one to do it to me. It was just the way it was; it suited us both and made us both happy and satisfied. However, I could tell how important it was to him and I could also understand why he was asking.

 

Thus, although it was not my preferred way of making love with Charlie, I nodded, pulled his hand to my mouth and kissed it, before pulling him nearer to me and rubbing my body against his. A short time later I left his bed, crossed to the dresser and brought the small bottle of oil he kept there back to the bed with me. I kissed him again, helped him turn over and after quite some time ensuring that I hurt him as little as it was possible to hurt someone, I gave him exactly what he wanted; what he needed; what he had demanded.

 

Some time later, just before dawn was breaking, I bathed in Charlie's bathroom whilst he stood and watched me, he didn't speak and neither did I - I for one did not know what to say. Once I had bathed and got out of the bath, Charlie drew a bath for himself and this time I stood and watched him; once again neither of us spoke.

 

I dressed in his bedroom, putting shirt studs and cuff-links into my pocket rather than donning them, whilst Charlie pulled on a pair of drawers and his dressing gown. He came towards me and picked my dining jacket up for me and held it for me. Still not a word had been exchanged.

 

Finally, once I was fully dressed and ready to go, he held out his hand which I took. We didn't shake hands; we just stood and held hands. "I'll see you later, A. J.," Charlie said, and smiled at me before he took a step nearer to me, lowered his head a little and brushed his mouth over mine.

 

I nodded. "Later." I smiled at him and turned to go. I didn't need to look back to know that he stood and watched me cross his room and go out into the hall. I went down the stairs and let myself out of the front door into rather cool, somewhat hazy morning and returned to my house.

 

I went to my room and stripped. I was just about to get a clean pair of drawers from my dresser (assuming of course Bunny hadn't moved them again) when the door opened and Bunny came in. "Hello, Raffles," he said, "I'm sorry I'm somewhat late today. I'm afraid I stayed up until a little past three o'clock writing. It went really well, which is why I kept writing. However, I'm afraid I overslept a little; I do hope I haven't kept you waiting?"

 

"That's all right, Bunny," I said, realising that I was still naked. "And it's not as though -"

 

"Shall I draw your bath for you?" he asked, already turning and heading towards the bathroom.

 

I opened my mouth to tell him there was no need, but decided against it. I would simply bathe twice that morning. "Thank you, my rabbit," I said and after a moment followed him.

 

He looked up from adding something slightly scented to the water and said quickly, "Do you need to . . ." and he glanced at the lavatory.

 

I shook my head. "No," I said quickly.

 

He frowned a little and said, his tone a little puzzled, "Have I done something wrong, Raffles? Is there something you wish to say to me?"

 

"Oh, my dear rabbit, you do worry so. No, you have done nothing wrong. As for having something to say to you, well, yes, I do really."

 

He added a little more of the scented powder-like substance to the bath and glanced back at me. "What is it you wish to say?"

 

"Well, Bunny, simply this: whilst I appreciate you coming to my room and drawing a bath for me, there is no need for you to do so any longer."

 

He frowned again. "I don't understand."

 

I sighed. "Bunny, you are about to become a published writer. Emmett will give you a contract and an advance and - Well, you will no longer need to be my valet."

 

He stared at me. "But, Raffles, I - Raffles, what will I do?"

 

"Write, my dear Bunny; you will write."

 

"Oh," he said, and bent to turn the taps off. "But what about you?"

 

"As I have told you on more than one occasion, my dear rabbit, I am actually quite capable of drawing my own bath and dressing and undressing without assistance and sorting my own clothes."

 

"So you no longer wish me to work for you?"

 

I stared at him, surprised by quite how hurt his tone had been. "I wouldn't put it quite like that, my rabbit," I said, putting my hands on his shoulders and gazing down at him. "It is just that you no longer need to." I didn't add he had never needed to. "Don't you understand, Bunny, all you have to do now is to write."

 

Slowly he nodded, glanced away from me, looking down for a moment, before looking back at me and said softly, "I . . . I suppose . . . Yes, Raffles, I do understand. But -" He fell silent.

 

I realised I couldn't go on standing there in front of him naked for much longer, thus I got into the bath and sat down in the warm, scented water - it really was the perfect temperature and looked up at him. "But?"

 

"What will I do? Where will I go? Raffles, I no longer have a flat and I'm going to be busy writing and - Where will I go, Raffles?"

 

"Well," I said, picking up the soap and beginning to soap my body, even though I had no need to do so. "If you wish to do so, you are perfectly welcome to stay here - just until . . . Well, just for as long as you need to."

 

"Here?" I nodded. "With you?"

 

I wasn't entirely certain what he meant by the second question, but nonetheless I nodded. "Yes, Bunny. Of course you will have different rooms, I can arrange that later, I have plenty from which you can choose. A bedroom and a room you can use as a study and even a sitting room, if you'd like that. Or," I added swiftly when he didn't instantly answer me, "if you do not wish to remain here and I can understand if you'd rather not, then I could help you find a flat or maybe you could stay in a hotel for a short time or - It's up to you, Bunny."

 

He was silent for a moment or two as he moved around the bathroom tidying yet more already tidy thing. He even refolded the towel I would shortly be using to dry myself on, before hurrying over to the sink and laying out my razor. I watched him as I continued my pointless task of soaping and washing myself. I was actually a little bemused to discover that when I soaped my  hand and slipped it beneath the water to wash myself intimately that I didn't harden at all, not even when I deliberately stroked myself in the way I like - well it had been a rather long night.

 

Finally, he appeared to run out of things to tidy or straighten he looked back at me and said, "If you really mean it, Raffles, I would rather like to stay here - if it won't put you to any trouble."

 

I smiled at him. "It won't be any trouble at all, Bunny, and it will be my pleasure to have you to stay." He smiled at me and flushed just a little. I calculated quickly how long I had been in the bath and realised that I really should stay for a little longer - Bunny knew only too well how long I took to bathe in the morning and before dinner. Thus, I lay back and carried on soaping my arms.

 

"I'll just go and lay your clothes out for today and tidy up your clothes from last night," Bunny said brightly and before I could tell him not to, he had turned and hurried out of the bathroom.

 

Once he had gone I stopped actually soaping and washing myself and simply slid down in the beautifully warm and scented water and lay letting the water caress my body whilst I waited for more time to go by before I got out of the bath. As I lay there I became a little bored and then I became curious, so once more I slipped my hand beneath the water and closed it around my body and began to stroke myself. Even after about half a minute of intimate attention, nothing happened so I took my hand away - in all honesty I did actually feel a little sore and bruised and stroking myself had increased the soreness.

 

Finally I gauged that I had been in the bath for long enough to cause my rabbit no suspicions, thus I got out, dried myself and moved to the sink and spent some fifteen minutes shaving before I returned to the bedroom where I found my suit, a shirt, drawers and socks all laid out neatly on my bed. The shirt, drawers and socks I had worn on the previous evening were piled together (neatly) by the door and my evening suit had been hung up and no doubt brushed down carefully.

 

I dressed quickly and stood knotting my tie as Bunny approached with the clothes brush and brushed down the shoulders and back of the coat - the same coat he had brushed down before putting it away a mere two days ago.

 

"Right," I said, standing up again after dropping to the floor to tie my boots. "Let us go to your room so that you can change."

 

"Change?"

 

"Yes, Bunny. You can wear the suit you had on when you came to my house to be interviewed. Now come along." And without giving him an opportunity to object I firmly put my arm through his and led him to the door and out into the hall where I turned and still holding his arm firmly, led him along the hallway and up the small flight of stairs that led to his room. I opened the door, gently pushed him inside before following him inside; I closed the door behind us and leant against it as I let my gaze wander around the room.

 

I hadn't been in the room since I had shown him to it on the day he had become my valet - well apart from the day I had 'borrowed his manuscript and read it before returning it and ensuring I replaced it exactly in the position he had left it. However, as I looked around I was somewhat perturbed to discover it showed nothing of Bunny. Well, that is apart from two pairs of drawers and two pairs of socks and a shirt that hung over the fire-guard.

 

"Bunny?"

 

He hurried over and hastily pulled them off and looked around the room for somewhere else to put them. However, even from where I had stood I had seen that at least one pair of drawers and the shirt had been wet, thus I strode across to where he stood clutching the clothing, took them from him and returned them to where they had been.

 

I turned to him. "Do you have a problem with the way Mrs. Lowe launders your clothing?" She is the one female I employ and she doesn't actually live in the house.

 

He flushed, shook his head and glanced away from me. "No."

 

"Well, why do you feel the need to wash them yourself?"

 

He remained silent and continued not to look at me. I was just about to insist he answered me when he sighed and glanced up. His cheeks were more than a little red and as I stared at him, I felt a little ashamed for having drawn attention to the clothing.

 

"It's just -" He again fell silent, before swallowing hard, straightening up and saying, his tone flat and low, "I only have three pairs of drawers and socks and two shirts. Thus, I have to wash them each evening." Before I could say anything he hurried on. "I sold just about everything, Raffles, you know when I - Before I came to work for you. The suit and shirt I wore on the day you interviewed me and gave me the job, were the only decent items of clothing I had left."

 

I took a step nearer to him and brushed his hair from his forehead as I put my other hand on his shoulder. "I can understand that, my rabbit," I could only imagine that the few pence he would have received for his clothing must have been essential to him. "However, I have been paying you a weekly wage since you came to work for me, have I not?" He nodded and once more lowered his gaze as if he knew what my next words would be. "Thus, why have you not bought yourself some more drawers, shirts and other clothing?"

 

Still he stared at the ground and began to fidget under my hands, one of which remained on his shoulder the other which had slid into his hair, I lightly tangled it around my fingers and gently tugged until he raised his head and looked at me. From the way he was looking and the way he gaze kept darting away only to return and from the way he was fidgeting, I fully expected him to say what he had said many times at school when he wished to escape for some reason or other - when he didn't want to answer something I had asked him. And I was equally prepared to tell him, as I had done all those times at school, that, no, he did not need to.

 

However, he sighed softly, flushed some more, bit his lip for a moment, sighed again and said, "I haven't spent any of the money you paid me, Raffles - well, apart from a little on ink and paper."

 

I was a little bemused because whilst it was true that I was very generous, not only with pay but with accommodation, food, even to an extent drink, as well as bed linen and towels and other things, to my servants, thus for the most part they didn't have to spent a great deal of their pay, for him to have spent nothing other than a little on paper and ink seemed more than a little strange to me. Even Cadman went to a public house from time to time and bought cigarettes and clothing.

 

"And way pray, my rabbit, have you not spent any of the money?"

 

He stared at me; his look now a little defiant. "I was saving it."

 

"Saving it?"

 

He nodded. "Yes."

 

"For what were you saving it?"

 

"So that I could pay you back more quickly. I believe I have most of what I still owe you saved up. I can -"

 

"Bunny!" I spoke sharply, more sharply than I had intended.

 

He blinked and swallowed. "Yes, Raffles?" He stammered the two words out and I sighed softly.

 

I put both hands on his shoulders and looked down at him. "Oh, my dear little rabbit. I do wish you had told me. I did not mean for you to deprive yourself of - well, of anything, but certainly not of essential things like drawers and shirts."

 

"It really wasn't a problem, Raffles, they didn't take long to wash each evening - the main problem was getting them to dry. I confess there was a time or two when they were still slightly damp when I put them on."

 

"Oh, Bunny," I murmured and in a move which I think surprised both of us I lowered my head and brushed my lips over his. "Do get changed, Bunny, then we go and meet Charlie. Go on, there's my good rabbit."

 

"Are you going to wait for me?"

 

"Yes." I returned to the door, folded my arms and stared at him until he began to slowly remove his clothes.

 

When he was once again dressed in the outfit he had been wearing on the day we had been reacquainted I again took his arm. "Let us go, Bunny." I stopped as I was about to open the door. "Did you breakfast before you came to my room?"

 

He shook his head. "No. But I'm not hungry, Raffles, really I'm not," he added. "I didn't want to - Well, I confess I feel more than a little nervous."

 

I smiled down at him and for a moment ignored the man and instead let myself remember the small boy for whom I had cared so very much. I put my arms around him and held him in a loose, gentle, protective embrace. "Everything will be fine, Bunny," I said, lightly kissing the top of his head - something I had done from time to time during our time at school.

 

He sighed softly with pleasure (as he always used to do) and moved just a little nearer to me and for a moment, rested his head against my shoulder. "I'm so glad you are coming with me, Raffles. I couldn't have gone to see Emmett without you."

 

"I'm glad I'm coming with you too, Bunny."

 

He lifted his head and looked at me. "Are you?"

 

"Of course I am. Why do you ask, my rabbit?"

 

"It's just that . . . Well, I got the impression last night that . . . Well, that maybe you didn't want to come with me and that . . . That you only said 'yes' because I wanted it so badly."

 

I shook my head. "I'm sorry if you thought that, Bunny. However, I assure you that wasn't the case, not at all. I wanted to come with you?"

 

"Did you?"

 

"Yes. It was just that I wanted you to know that I believed in you; that I had faith in you and that you didn't need me by your side."

 

He was silent for a moment and then he said softly, so softly I barely heard him, "I'll always need you by my side, Raffles." And his head once more returned to rest against my shoulder.

 

I held him in silence for a moment before once more kissing his head and pushing him away from me. "Come along, Bunny, let us go."

 

"Do you not wish to breakfast?"

 

I shook my head. "No. I too find I am not really hungry and we are going out to lunch once we have seen Emmett, are we not?"

 

He smiled at me. "Yes, Raffles."

 

"That's my good boy." I ruffled his hair, grabbed his hat for him and again with my arm through his led him from his room and down to the main landing.

 

Charlie had suggested we meet him at his hospital where he insisted on showing Bunny around before we all left to go and see Emmett.

 

I was somewhat surprised (although I don't know quite why) to discover that Emmett was younger than I had expected; he appeared to be roughly the same age as Charlie and me. He was dressed rather severely, indeed I wondered idly if he would be attending a funeral after meeting Bunny.

 

As he strode into his office, where his assistant had insisted we wait, he seemed more than a little grim-faced and a quick glance at Bunny told me he had noticed that too. However, as Emmett saw Charlie a smile lit his face up and all hints of grimness faded. "Charleston!" he cried, going over the Charlie and shaking his hand.

 

"Good morning, Emmett. How are you today?"

 

"I've been worse."

 

Charlie smiled. "And I trust Emma and the children are all in good health."

 

Emmett nodded and I noticed that at the mention of his wife (at least that's who I presumed 'Emma' to be) and children, his face softened even more and his smile became tender. "They are, thank you. Charleston."

 

"Good. Well, Emmett, may I present Mr. Harry Manders. Manders, this is Robert Emmett."

 

Emmett turned to look at Bunny, nodded and held out his hand. "Manders," he said. "It's good to meet you. I look forward to publishing your books."

 

"Thank you. It's a pleasure to meet you too, Emmett. Thank you for thinking my writing is good enough to publish.

 

"Good enough? Did you not tell him what I said about it, Charleston?"

 

Charlie nodded. "I did, Emmett, of course I did. However, Manders is - well, not overly confident, and he has never regarded his abilities in the same light as others regard them."

 

"We'll have to change that, won't we, Manders?" Emmett smiled at Bunny again, who flushed a little and swallowed hard and I knew he was trying to decide quite what to say.

 

Charlie came to his rescue. "And this, Emmett, is Mr. Arthur Raffles - he is a mutual friend of Manders and mine. A. J., Robert Emmett."

 

I held out my hand. "Good morning, Emmett," I said. "It's good to meet you."

 

Emmett took my hand and shook it; his handshake was firm and reassuring. I do tend to judge people on first impressions and my first impression (well once he had smiled and spoken) of Emmett was that he would be very good for Bunny. "It's good to meet you too, Raffles. Are you by any chance A. J. Raffles, the cricketer?"

 

I nodded. "Yes."

 

"I've seen you play many times - test and county matches. I keep telling Charleston he should make time and pick his cricket bat up again, given how good he was."

 

"You've seen Charlie play cricket?"

 

Emmett nodded. "Yes; many times. We were at Oxford together."

 

"Were you now?" I said, in what I hoped was a pleasant tone - or at least not an unpleasant one. From the look Emmett gave me as he nodded and confirmed they had indeed been at Oxford at the same time, I believe I had succeeded. However, the slightly bemused look on Charlie's face and the way he just shook his head as I looked at him, made me wonder if in fact I had done so.

 

"Well, Manders, shall we get down to business?"

 

"Yes, please."

 

Emmett waved Bunny to a chair in front of his desk and moved two other chairs to the side of his desk for Charlie and me. If he thought it was strange that not only had Charlie accompanied Bunny, or rather hadn't simply introduced Bunny to Emmett and then left, but that Bunny had also brought me along with him, he didn't say so.

 

"If you wish to smoke, gentlemen," he said, glancing at all of us, "please do."

 

I took out my cigarette case and offered it around; Charlie, Bunny and Emmett took a Sullivan each and I held a match to light all four cigarettes.

 

"So, Manders, how quickly do you think you can finish this book? A month? Two?"

 

Bunny glanced at me, but there was nothing I could say or even indicate. I had no idea how long it had taken Bunny to write what he had written, let alone how long it would take him to write the rest. "I believe I could finish it in a month, or at the most six weeks," Bunny said after a moment or two's thought. "Oh, and I have written another two chapters since Charleston showed the manuscript to you."

 

"Splendid," Emmett said, taking the papers Bunny held out to him. He picked up a pair of spectacles and began to read swiftly through the first two pages. "Ah," he said. "So that's who it was? I confess I never would have thought it to be him."

 

"Who?" Charlie said. "Who was it?"

 

"Sorry, Charleston, I know we're old friends, but you'll have to wait for the book to be published."

 

Charlie stared at Emmett. "Oh, come on, Emmett, I'm the one who brought Manders's manuscript to you. You can tell me."

 

However, Emmett shook his head, took his spectacles off and pushed the papers Bunny had given him into a drawer and locked it. Charlie glared at him, but Emmett just laughed softly and turned back to look at Bunny. "We'll say six weeks then, Manders."

 

Bunny nodded and then glanced at me again before looking back at Emmett. "Well, that is of course as long as Raffles is able to manage without me."

 

Emmett began to frown and looked at me. "What do you mean, Manders?"

 

Charlie hastily intervened. "You see, Emmett, Manders here has been acting as A. J.'s valet over the last few months."

 

Emmett turned back to Bunny. "You're a valet."

 

"No, of course he isn't." Once again Charlie spoke and he laughed softly. "It's just that Manders wanted to see first hand what it would be like to be a valet as he has plans to include one in one of his books; thus he wished to ensure he got the details correct. A. J., Manders and I were all at school together, so it seemed logical for him to ask A. J. if he could 'work' for him."

 

Emmett turned to one again look at Bunny and I saw a look of approval on his face. "Well, Manders, I believe you are going to be an even better and more successful find than I had believed you to be. If you are prepared to do that kind of research, well - I'm impressed, Manders, I'm very impressed."

 

"Thank you," Bunny said, after casting Charlie a grateful look. I was also grateful to Charlie as I had been trying to work out quite what I could say to my servants and anyone else who might have met Bunny when he had been my valet, who would now meet him as my friend.

 

"And is your research complete, Manders?"

 

Bunny glanced swiftly at Charlie and me and we both nodded. "I - Yes. Yes, Emmett, it is complete."

 

"Good. So I can expect the completed manuscript on my desk in no more than six weeks?"

 

Bunny hesitated for a moment before smiling and nodding. "Yes. Yes, you can."

 

"Splendid. Now, I've already had a contract drawn up." Emmett took a piece of paper from a file on the desk and handed it to Bunny. "It's very straight-forward, Manders, that's the kind of man I am. It says everything it needs to say without saying all the things it doesn't need to say. You should find it quite clear."

 

Bunny took it. "Thank you," he said, and after a moment or two lowered he gaze and began to read it.

 

We all sat in silence and then Emmett did something that made me respect him even more and clarified my belief that he would be just the right editor for Bunny. He stood up and said, "As I said it is clear and straight-forward, however, I'll leave you for a few minutes to read it, Manders, and I'm sure you'd like to show it to Charleston and Raffles."

 

Bunny looked up at him and smiled. "Thank you, Emmett."

 

Emmett nodded. "I'll return in a few minutes," he said, crossing to the door, "take your time, Manders, there is no rush." And with that he left the office.

 

Bunny immediately handed the contract to me and I held it so that Charlie could also see it and we both read what was indeed an amazingly straight-forward, clear and concise document. "It all looks perfectly clear to me, Bunny," I said handing it back to him.

 

"I agree with A. J. It really is very straight-forward and very clear," Charlie said.

 

Bunny nodded. "Yes, it is. And it's very generous, very generous indeed. It's far more than I had expected."

 

"Emmett pays well for the best," Charlie said which caused Bunny to flush and look down at the paper, which he sat and stared at.

 

"Well, my rabbit?" I said softly, after a fairly protracted period of silence had gone by. "Are you not going to sign it? Do you not wish to sign it?" I added.

 

He looked at me. "No - that is, yes, I do want to sign it, of course I do. Well I think I do. It's just . . ."

 

I glanced swiftly at Charlie who just stared back at me, his look telling me it was for me to question Bunny, not he. I looked back at Bunny and asked softly, "Just what, my rabbit? What is amiss?"

 

He sighed softly and once more looked away from me. "You'll think it's foolish."

 

"I'm sure I won't, Bunny."

 

"Would you like me to leave you and A. J. alone, Manders?" Charlie asked, moving forward on his chair and preparing to stand up. "I can go and talk to Emmett."

 

Bunny shook his head swiftly, "No, Charleston, but thank you for offering."

 

"Well, come along, Bunny; tell us what the problem is?" I spoke softly.

 

Bunny sighed again and glanced away from us for a moment. When he looked back I saw there was a faint hint of colour on his cheeks. "It's just that if I sign this then - Well, everything changes, does it not?" He spoke softly and hesitantly, as if he really did expect Charlie and me to laugh at him.

 

"Well, Bunny," I said slowly, pushing aside my urge to tease him slightly and tell him at least it would mean he could afford to own more than three pairs of drawers. "Yes, of course it will change things - but it will be a change for the better."

 

"But will it?"

 

I glanced at Charlie. "Do you not wish to be a published writer, Manders?"

 

"Of course I do. I've always wanted to be. Even when we were at school I used to -" He fell silent and his cheeks became a little more flushed. I hadn't known that - suddenly I wondered quite what else I hadn't known about the boy I had believed I had known everything about.

 

"In that case, Manders," Charlie said, his tone gentle and encouraging, "go ahead and sign the contract."

 

"Raffles?" He turned to look at me and there was more than a hint of a plea in his eyes.

 

However, I forced myself to ignore it. I touched his hand and said firmly, "My dear Bunny, it is not a decision which I can make for you. Or rather one I will not make for you. This is your future, my rabbit, your life; you must be the one to make the decision. No one else has the right to make it for you - not even if you wish them to."

 

Charlie spoke again. "Manders?"

 

"Yes, Charleston?"

 

"Everything we do changes something and change is an important aspect of life. I know you are somewhat concerned that this will change things, and it will. Of course it will. However, I firmly believe that any important change that comes about from you signing the contract will be because you want that change. You are still going to be you, Manders. That is not going to change. However, as A. J. said, only you can make the decision. If you do not wish to sign the contract after all, then we have to tell Emmett and thank him for his time."

 

"I do want to sign it," Bunny whispered. "I want to sign it very much indeed. I just . . ." He trailed off, swallowed hard, looked at me again, before picking up the pen in a more decisive way than I had ever seen him do anything, hesitated for a second, no more, and signed the document.

 

"Good boy," I said, patting him on the shoulder.

 

"Well done, Manders. I know you've done the right thing."

 

Bunny smiled at both of us and I was pleased and relieved to see that all hints of uncertainty had fled from his face. "Thank you, Charleston; thank you, Raffles."

 

Emmett returned a moment or two later and looked at Bunny. "Well, Manders, are you quite happy with the contract?"

 

Bunny nodded. "Yes, thank you, Emmett, and I have signed it."

 

Emmett beamed and clapped Bunny on the shoulder. "That's excellent; really splendid." He picked the pen up and signed the document himself before saying, "I do believe this calls for a celebratory drink."

 

Emmett poured whisky and soda into four glasses and I once again offered my cigarette case around and we stood and drank and smoked and exchanged conversation for some twenty minutes before Charlie, Bunny and I left with Bunny promising Emmett he would indeed have the rest of the book on his desk in no more than six weeks.

 

We took a cab to the Savoy and once we were settled I looked at Charlie and said, "That was very quick thinking, Charlie, the reason you gave Emmett as to why Bunny had been my valet."

 

"Yes, thank you, Charleston."

 

Charlie flushed a little. "It actually occurred to me last night as something A. J. could tell people; something that would be believed."

 

I touched Charlie's arm. "I appreciate it, Charlie, really I do."

 

We had a jolly good and fairly long lunch. Finally, Charlie said that regretfully he really should get back to his hospital, but that he hoped we would both dine with him that evening. Bunny and I had agreed to do so, even though Bunny had looked a little uncertain, thus we parted outside the Savoy, Charlie to go to his hospital and Bunny and me to go shopping.

 

"Why do I have to go shopping, Raffles?" Bunny asked. "Can it not wait?"

 

I stopped and turned him around and gazed down at him. "Bunny, you have three pairs of drawers, three pairs of socks, three shirts, only one of which is really acceptable for the gentleman you are; two suits, again only one of which is the suit a gentleman would wear and two ties, plus evening clothes which have, if you'll forgive me for saying, seen better days."

 

Bunny sighed. "I know but -"

 

"But?"

 

"Do you not think I should be writing?"

 

I put my hands on his shoulders and ignored the people passing by us. "Bunny; tell me the truth, how long do you really think it will take you to finish the book?"

 

He glanced away from me for a moment before sighing and looking back at me; once again a hint of colour was on his cheeks. "A week, maybe two and certainly no more than three."

 

I patted his shoulder and smiled; his words came as no real surprise to me. "Well, then, in that case you have time to go shopping. Come along, my rabbit, surely you would like to have some new clothes - and certainly some new underwear, would you not?"

 

He was silent for a moment and then he smiled a little shyly, nodded and said, "Actually, Raffles, I would. I really would - I confess it got rather wearisome washing clothes every evening."

 

I shook my head in a fond way and sighed. "Oh, my dear Bunny; you really can be quite the foolish little rabbit at times, can you not? No, don't look away from me - I did not mean nor did I intend to embarrass or upset you."

 

"You didn't, Raffles, really you didn't. In fact you are quite correct. I was foolish; I should have bought myself a few more clothes."

 

I beamed at him. "That's my good boy," I said. "Now come along." This time I slipped my arm through his and together we walked to where my usual tailor had his shop.

 

"Good afternoon, Mr. Raffles," Hackman said, hurrying over to us. "And what may I do for you this afternoon, sir?"

 

I nodded at him. "Actually, Hackman, it isn't for me today. Mr. Manders here needs - well, virtually an entirely new wardrobe."

 

Hackman turned from me and looked at Bunny. "Mr. Manders?" he said, surprise and confusion clear in his voice. He turned to look back at me.

 

His surprise, of course, was understandable as Bunny had not only accompanied me to his shop on more than one occasion during his time in my employment, but had been there on his own to collect things I had ordered. I hastened to explain - using Charlie's story.

 

Hackman stared at Bunny. "Well you certainly convinced me, Mr. Manders," he said. "I believed completely that you were Mr. Raffles's valet."

 

"Thank you," Bunny said and smiled; he looked very relieved and I could understand why. It was one thing Emmett believing Charlie's story, but somewhat different when it was told to people who had actually known Bunny as my valet.

 

"You must tell me when your book has been published; I shall be very interested in reading it."

 

Bunny flushed. "Oh," he stammered. "Why, thank you, Hackman. I shall do that thing."

 

"Thank you, Mr. Manders. Now what exactly can I help you with today?"

 

Before Bunny had a chance to reply I spoke. "Underwear; shirts - both for the day and evening; ties; several suits; an evening suit; overcoats; gloves; everything a gentleman needs for his wardrobe." I ignored the way Bunny was staring in shock at me as well as the way he touched my arm more than once.

 

Hackman was writing everything down but I as continued to give him a list I noticed he looked a little puzzled and I realised why. He was wondering, although he would never dream of asking, quite why Bunny needed so many new clothes when he had merely been acting as my valet. I thought quickly, wishing for a moment that Charlie was with us.

 

It was Bunny to whom I spoke. "Yes, I know it is rather a lot, Bunny," I said, and put my hand on his shoulder. "However, do not forget that the only clothing you have left is that which you brought to my home when you persuaded me to let you undergo the experience of being a valet." Bunny's eyes were wide as he stared up at me; I could see that Hackman was watching us carefully.

 

I turned my attention to Hackman. "You see, Mr. Manders decided to have his flat redecorated whilst he was being my valet and thought it better to put his clothing and person effects into storage, did you not, Bunny?"

 

Bunny nodded and managed a weak smile. "Yes, Raffles."

 

"Well, there was an accident, water - I don't remember the exact details. However, I am afraid it caused so much damage to Mr. Manders's clothing that it is simply not fit to be worn; hence the need for what is in effect an entire new wardrobe."

 

Hackman looked sympathetic as he said, "Oh, dear, what a terrible thing to have happened, Mr. Manders."

 

"Yes, it was rather," Bunny said. "At least I had the forethought to take this suit with me when I took up my role as Raffles's valet or else I wouldn't have had anything I could have worn."

 

Hackman nodded. "And a very nice suit it is too, Mr. Manders. Although if I may make one or two suggestions . . ." And with Bunny actually looking happier than he had looked since I had told him I was taking him shopping, Hackman began to talk to Bunny about suits and cloth and the cut and colours and all the other things he deemed important.

 

He swiftly and efficiently took Bunny's measurements and with me adding my opinion to the sample of cloth Hackman showed us, he made notes and calculated how long it would take to make the suits up.

 

Drawers, socks, shirts, handkerchiefs, gloves and ties were quickly dealt with, as Hackman had them all to hand and Bunny even found a overcoat that not only fitted him but looked exceptionally good on him - indeed it was as if it had been made for him. We finally left the shop with Hackman promising to have the clothes we had selected delivered to my home before the end of the day, and a further promise that he would make the suits a priority.

 

We also paid a shorter visit to a jeweller's shop where Bunny bought a few pairs of cuff-links and sets of shirt studs and I insisted on buying him a cigarette case as a gift to celebrate the contract he had signed with Emmett earlier that day. The one thing that didn't need to be replaced was Bunny's pocket watch as it had been the one thing of expense to which he had held onto. The watch been the last gift which his parents had bought for him before they died; indeed it was only after their death that he found it, as they had been keeping it until he had returned home from school for the final time and as such he had been determined not to part with it - not for anything.  Although he told me later he had come close to being forced to part with it on more than one occasion but had chosen not to eat for a day or two rather than do so. And he said he had never taken responsibility.

 

We returned to my home where I asked Cadman to gather all of my servants in the library where I told them the same story as Charlie had told Emmett and I had told Hackman. None of them gave any indication that they didn't believe me and Cadman gave no hint that he actually knew my words were not strictly speaking the truth.

 

I told them that Bunny would be staying with me for a while - certainly until his book was finished as he did not wish the disruption of once again moving, and I instructed Cadman to arrange rooms for Bunny on the same floor as my bedroom was situated. Bunny and I went into my study to take tea whilst Cadman did that thing.

 

Cadman's choice of rooms was of course ideal, with Bunny's bedroom being next to a bathroom. The room he decided would be the one Bunny would use to write in was by far the best naturally lit room on that floor, and he decided that Bunny should indeed have a room he could use as a sitting room in case he wished to be alone to think, but didn't actually wish to be in his study.

 

Bunny seemed delighted with the accommodation, thus I left him to bathe and dress for dinner whilst I returned to my bedroom to do the same thing. Once I had bathed and dressed, I returned to Bunny's bedroom where I found him struggling with a pair of his new cuff-links. It turned out the holes in the shirt cuffs were a little smaller than the links. However, given I was able to use both hands, it did not take me long to affix them. It was I who tied Bunny's bowtie, before picking up his overcoat and holding it for him.

 

We then left my home and went to the club where we had arranged to meet Charlie for what turned out to be a very enjoyable and lengthy dinner, during which Bunny told Charlie what he had wanted to know about his book.

 

It was a little past two o'clock in the morning when I escorted a slightly inebriated Bunny home. I kept my arm firmly through his until we reached the door to his bedroom where I bid him goodnight and retired to my own bedroom.

 

SIX MONTHS LATER

 

Quite a lot had happened during the six months.

 

Bunny's book had been published and had become an even greater success than Emmett had anticipated and Bunny had dared to hope for. He had finished writing the book within a week; however I had persuaded him to wait another fortnight before he took it to Emmett. It seemed to me the best thing to do for future books - I didn't want Bunny to suddenly feel pressurised and having to meet unrealistic deadlines. And whilst I knew Emmett to be a fair man, a good man, and someone who would not take advantage of my rabbit's willingness to please, nonetheless he was still a businessman. And like it or not, no matter how good the man, when it came down to it, most businessmen had to put profit before people.

 

I think what surprised my rabbit most of all was that he started to receive letters from people who had read his book and who simply had to tell him how much they had enjoyed reading it. And of course he had to answer the letters and liked to do so in a timely matter, thus a proportion of his day was taken up with answering letters.

 

What made me happy was that it appeared his book was read by people across the classes - even my own servants had read it and enjoyed it, as had quite a lot of Charlie's nurses, as well as friends of mine, fellow club members and even our tailor.

 

Even sixth months on, my poor rabbit hasn't become used to the praise he gets whenever we go out, and the man who can write such fine words and have people conversing faultlessly tended to turn into a stammering, blushing person who could barely manage little more than 'thank you' when praised.

 

He was more than halfway through his second book and was quite happy for me to read his work, which I did most evenings - and to my eyes, the second book was going to be even better than the first. I even confessed to him my 'crime' of going into his room when he was out one day and reading the partial manuscript of his first book, even though he had told me he didn't want me to do so. He had stared at me as I had confessed and I had been unable to ascertain quite what his look meant and I had, for a moment, become a little uneasy. However, he had then smiled, shook his head at me and told me he should have known I would do that.

 

I was by now the owner of a house in Devon, a house that had been fully modernised and repaired; a house that now hosted parties and dinners far more than once a year. Charlie had, as promised, accompanied me down to Devon so that I could put my proposal to Lord Pattershall.

 

Initially, he had simply refused to consider my offer, insisting he would not accept charity. However, after I had spent a considerable time assuring him that it was not charity and that it would actually be doing me a good turn as I really did wish to own a country house and had always liked his, and Charlie had talked of how much better, health-wise, the electric light was and that how, given they were rather isolated, a telephone would mean that should anything happen to them, help could be with them far more quickly than if one of the servants had to go for help, he agreed to consult Lady Bethany.

 

I do believe it was the look on Lady Bethany's face, when she learnt that if they agreed, they would be able to have company more often than once a year, which was the thing which finally persuaded Lord Pattershall to agree. It is often said that an English gentleman shows more affection for his dog than for his wife and in some cases that is true. However it was not with Lord Pattershall - he adored, worshipped even, Lady Bethany and his sole purpose in life was making her happy.

 

The papers were drawn up; the purchase price paid and I insisted on Lord Pattershall and Lady Bethany coming up to London where I installed them in one of the finest hotels for the duration of the repair work, the redecorating and the installation of modern things such as the telephone and the electric light and updated bathrooms.

 

I had finally put my foot down with Cadman and had informed him that I was not going to replace Bunny with a new valet, as I did not need a valet and more importantly that I did not want a valet. I was prepared to stand my ground and let him know quite who was master, and for a short time I did indeed believe I would have to do that.

 

However, I had rather cleverly (even if I do say so myself) delayed telling him of my decision about my valet until I could also tell him about buying the Pattershalls' house and how I would need his assistance to find, interview and employ additional staff so that the Pattershalls had sufficient for the house to be run and cared for in the way it should be. My words were not untrue; his assistance would be needed because upon learning that his revered master and mistress would have a much easier life and in effect be well looked after, Taylor had asked if he could retire. I believe he had wished to do so for several years, but hadn't wanted to leave the Pattershalls. I of course ensured he would have a good and comfortable retirement and not want for money.

 

Thus, Cadman's first task would be to find a new and suitable butler for the Pattershalls. Somewhat to my surprise, he had suggested that Burke be given the position. He had insisted that he could train Burke whilst the house was being repaired, painted and modernised. I had enquired as to whether he thought Burke a little young for the position of butler, but he had assured me he had every confidence in him, plus he would oversee both households until Burke felt completely comfortable. Burke was a good man, a very good young man, respectful, fairly well educated and quietly spoken thus the more I thought about it, the more I felt that he would actually suit the Pattershalls very well indeed.

 

And indeed he had. He had been in post now for three months and the Pattershalls were extremely happy with him, the house ran smoothly and the other servants (those who had already been with the Patershalls as well as the new ones I - Cadman - had appointed) respected him.

 

I had also, rather to my bemusement, become a Trustee of Charlie's hospital. One evening when we had finished dining together and were sitting in the smoking room enjoying Sullivans and fine brandy, Charlie had brought up the subject of money for his hospital and upon my offering whatever he needed, he said he would accept, but only if I agreed to become a Trustee. The concept has amused and surprised me considerably, and I had asked me quite what his other Trustees might think of a man such as me being a hospital Trustee. Charlie's reply had I must confess almost shocked me, certainly it surprised me deeply and before I had really thought about it, I had heard myself accepting.

 

Bunny had settled into my home and into my life as if he had always been a part of both. My servants treated him as I would expect them to treat any live in friend of mine, and there seemed to be no hint of discomfort from either Bunny or the servants due to Bunny's change of role.

 

He wrote every day; sometimes in the mornings before lunch; sometimes in the afternoons; sometimes in the evening - and on a rare occasion he would spend the entire day writing, pausing only to eat when Cadman insisted upon him doing so. However, despite how busy he was with his writing, he still made certain he spent time with me and we did things together, be it walking through the park or sitting in my study or the sitting room talking and simply enjoying one another's company.

 

He joined the club to which Charlie and I belonged and we dined together most evenings. Most of the time Bunny and I dined alone together, but quite frequently we were joined by Charlie, and there were times when Bunny insisted he had to write and that Charlie and I should dine together. Every time Charlie and I dined alone together, I returned to his house with him where I shared his bed for a very enjoyable several hours.

 

You see nothing had actually happened between Bunny and I, well unless you counted somewhat intense looks, the fact that on more than one occasion he would wander into my bathroom when I was bathing and stay and talk to me. Or he would invite me to join him in his room at a particular time and I would arrive to find him bathing or about to bathe. We walked together arm-in-arm; we touched rather a lot - somewhat more than maybe we should have touched - I in particular could not keep my hand out of his hair (but then I never had been able to do so). And yet even though our relationship was beyond a level of intimacy I had never shared with another person, we still had not moved beyond friendship.

 

Charlie had not asked me if anything had happened between Bunny and I, but then he knew the answer to any question he might ask. He knew quite well that were Bunny and I sharing a bed, that I would not share one with him. I occasionally wondered if I was using Charlie as a substitute for the person I really wanted. However, I knew that was not the case; I truly loved Charlie, I enjoyed going to bed with him, he was important to me and he always would be. And I believed that if for a moment he had felt I was using him that, despite his love for me and how much he enjoyed going to bed with me, he would not do so.

 

I had decided, partly due to what Charlie had said to me on the evening he had told me about Emmett wishing to publish Bunny's book, that it had to Bunny who in effect made the first move. I believed had I been the one to invite him to my bed that he would agree - but that I would not be altogether certain if he had agreed for the right reasons.

 

However, after six months of spending a considerably amount of time having to prevent myself from pulling him into my arms, kissing him and pulling him hard against my body until the inevitable happened, I was beginning to reconsider my position. I was tired of, on the nights I did not share Charlie's bed, giving myself pleasure - even if I did enjoy it very much. It wasn't my hand I wanted around me, stroking me to fulfilment; it was Bunny's hand I wanted. And it wasn't just Bunny's hand I wanted around me, I wanted his mouth on mine, his hands caressing my body and I wanted to stroke, caress and kiss him. I wanted to begin to teach him about love - I wanted to give him pleasure; I wanted to hear him cry my name as his body made my hand wet. I wanted -

 

I sighed and silently berated myself for thinking of Bunny naked under my hands and of his body trembling as I kissed him and did all the things I wished to do to him, or for imaging it was his hand around me. I groaned softly as my body told me I was only making things worse. I was painfully hard and my drawers were already a little damp. I brushed my hand over myself and moaned aloud as a bolt of pleasure and desire raced through me.

 

I pulled my watch out and glanced at it; Bunny and I were due to go out to dinner shortly, very shortly. We were to dine at Bunny's club; it was for literary gentlemen and according to Charlie, you had to be an established writer of some years standing to be granted membership. However, Emmett had apparently proposed Bunny for membership and it had been agreed without a single nay vote.

 

Bunny had been delighted and embarrassed in equal measures as well as being concerned that he wasn't worthy. However, I and Charlie, who I later learnt paid Bunny a visit one afternoon when I had been visiting my bank, had persuaded him that he was more than worthy and that he would not show himself up.

 

Bunny had somewhat formally invited me to dine with him and I had happily accepted and thus that is where we would be spending the evening. I glanced at my watch again and told myself I couldn't possibly - there wasn't time. However, I know my own body intimately and I knew that if I did not give in and allow my body the release it craved, if I simply ignored how hard I was and waited for it to soften, as soon as I saw Bunny my mind would think about him naked under my hands and -

 

And I did not wish to spend the entire evening in an uncomfortable state. I hastened over to my bedroom door which I locked and leant against as my hands expertly unbuttoned my trousers and drawers and carefully pulled my aching, hardness out and I began to stroke myself in the way that guaranteed my quick release.

 

My hand was damp within seconds as I continued to stroke myself and allowed myself to imagine it was Bunny's hand around me, caressing me, holding me, stroking me. A second or two before I knew my release would happen, I pulled out my handkerchief and released into it with a soft cry. My heart was beating far faster than was normal and I had to blink several times to clear my vision.

 

I wiped my hand on the handkerchief and taking great care slipped myself back into my drawers and rebuttoned them and my trousers before going into my bathroom to wash my hands. As I washed my hands I glanced into the mirror and noticed I was more than a little flushed, but there was nothing I could do about that. Once I returned to my bedroom, I paused for long enough to take a clean handkerchief from my dresser before I unlocked the door and went down the stairs to find Bunny waiting for me. He smiled at me as he always did and if he noticed the flush, he said nothing. He just handed me my hat, waited for me to put my overcoat on and then with his arm in mine we left.

 

SEVERAL HOURS LATER

 

We had had a very enjoyable evening; the food and wine had been of a high quality, and despite Bunny's misgivings he was greeted by several people cordially and in the way one might greet someone one had known for more than a minute or two.

 

It was after midnight when we returned to my (to our is how I thought of it) home, where we passed an hour or so sitting in front of the fire drinking whisky and smoking Sullivans before Bunny said it was time for him to retire to bed.

 

As we stood up and stared at one another, my hand found its way to his head and I had to stop myself from slipping it behind his head and pulling him nearer to me and kissing him. His eyes blazed in a way I had never seen before as he stared up at me and he moistened his lips twice, the tip of his tongue grazing over them and again I had to prevent myself from pulling him against my body which had once again begun to react.

 

I felt certain he had to feel the same way as I did, that he wanted me with the same intensity and desperation as I wanted him, that he wanted my mouth on his, wanted my hand around him, stroking him, pleasuring him. However, if he did he said nothing nor did he do anything.

 

Instead he merely smiled at me, moistened his lips once more and held out his hand. "Good night, Raffles," he said. "I hope you enjoyed yourself tonight."

 

I took his hand in mine and held onto it. "Good night, my rabbit. I did, I really did. It was a very pleasant evening."

 

"Good," he said and smiled again. "I did too; I enjoyed being with you very much, Raffles," he paused and added softly, "I always enjoy being with you, Raffles."

 

At that moment I decided enough was enough; I couldn't go on waiting and wanting; I wouldn't go on waiting and wanting. I would - "Bunny?" I said softly, my hand tangling in his hair. "I -"

 

However, he did what he has done on only a handful of occasions, if that, and interrupted me. "Good might, Raffles," he said. "I hope you sleep well."

 

I forced myself to smile at him. "Good night, my rabbit. I hope you sleep well too." He gave me a gentle smile before turning and leaving the room. I stood and watched him go and resigned myself to once more having to find pleasure in my own hands.

 

I was in my bedroom smoking a final Sullivan having removed my cuff-links and shirt studs when I heard the door open. I turned around and to my surprise saw Bunny standing in the doorway. He stood still for a fraction of a second before coming in, closing the door and to my further surprised locking it behind him.

 

The reason I was so surprised to see him was that whilst we did spend quite a lot of time in one another's bedrooms, whilst we knew we were always welcome, we always both knocked before going in - even if neither of us troubled to wait for the other to say 'come in'. Thus, for Bunny to come into my bedroom without knocking was - Well, it wasn't something he had done since he had stopped being my valet.

 

He took a step towards me and then another and then a third and let his gaze travel slowly down and back up my body. "Would you like me to help you undress, Raffles?" he asked.

 

I swallowed hard and stared down at him; down at the reverential and yet completely not deferential look on his face. I took a drag on my Sullivan, moistened my lips and said, hoping my voice would not in any way tremble, "As my valet?"

 

He smiled at me, took the Sullivan from my hand, put it to his mouth, closed his lips around the place my lips had been seconds before and took a deep drag himself. Holding the smoke in his mouth, he went to the dresser where the ashtray stood and put the cigarette back.

 

He then returned to me, gazed up at me shook his head slowly, put his hand behind my head and pulled it down. The next second his mouth was on mine and he was sharing the smoke he had inhaled with me. "No," he said, taking his mouth from mine, the intimacy of the act had caused my body to harden and harden obviously. "No, Raffles," he said again, quite deliberately staring down at my clear arousal before looking back up at me. "Not as your valet," he murmured as he put his arms around my neck and once more his mouth met mine.

 

The relative innocence and naivety of his kiss, to my surprise, caused my body to react even more than it had done to the knowledgeable and experienced kisses to which I was used, and I was now considerably aroused. I put my arms around him and pulled him closely against my body, making no attempt to hide quite how hard I was, quite how desperately I wanted him. He made a noise in his throat and pushed himself impossibly nearer to me and I felt he was more than a little hard himself.

 

As our arousals brushed against one another, I knew for certain that if I didn't move away from him a little then I at least would release into my drawers very shortly, and whilst that didn't trouble me (it never did) indeed the idea of doing so excited me considerably more than little, it was not what I wanted now. Thus, I loosened the embrace just a little and moved my lower body away from him.

 

I expected him to object, but after making a sound of what I presumed to be disapproval he made no move to press against me again. His mouth was warm under mine, his lips soft, he tasted of Sullivans and whisky and I knew I wished to taste more of him. I parted my mouth a little and touched his lower lip with my tongue, teasing it until his mouth began to part and I was able to slip my tongue into his mouth, which caused him to quiver slightly with pleasure.

 

The body has limitations and no matter how annoying it was to have to obey them, there were certain things one had to obey - such as the need for oxygen. Thus, after licking his lips again I reluctantly took my mouth from his and stared down into his face as I sucked air into my lungs. His eyes shone with desire and need, his cheeks were flushed, his lips swollen, and his forehead was covered by his hair.

 

I brushed it back for him, tangling it around my fingers and put my lips to his ear. "I believe you mentioned something about helping me to undress, did you not, my rabbit?" He trembled so much as I spoke softly into his ear and gasped my name aloud that for a moment I believed he had been unable to control his release - or maybe he had not wished to do so. I glanced down at him, but his hardness seemed as it had been and when I dared to lightly brush my hand over it, it confirmed quite how hard he was.

 

The next second he indeed confirmed what had not happened as he caught my hand and pulled it away from his body. "If you do that again," he managed through his teeth, "you will be responsible for causing my drawers to become rather wet."

 

As I stared down at him I was tempted. I was very tempted indeed to put my hand back on him and do that very thing - especially as I found myself wondering quite when the last time had been that such a thing had happened; if indeed it ever had. Somehow although I was certain my rabbit must touch himself, I believed it would be in a very straight-forward way, non-experimental way. However, I decided to forego that particular pleasure for now and merely let my hand come to rest on his shoulder.

 

He smiled at me and in that moment I knew that Bunny was the person, the man, with whom I wished to share the rest of my life; the man with whom I wished to be with forevermore. I loved him, but that I had never doubted and yes, things had changed between us, but the changes had not been overly significantly. He was now my equal in the ways that mattered as far as society went, but our respective roles were not entirely dissimilar to the way they had always been.

 

"I did, did I not?" he murmured softly and began to do that very thing. He began with removing my dining jacket and tie before he pulled down my braces and started to unbutton my shirt. When he had done such things during the period he had been my valet, his hands had not shaken once and the only time his fingers made contact with my skin were clearly accidental ones.

 

However, as he unbuttoned my shirt his hands shook somewhat and his fingers quite, quite deliberately stroked my neck, my throat, my breast and my stomach and under the gentle onslaught my arousal once more pressed itself hard against my trousers. He pulled my shirt off and tossed it onto a nearby chair, before he lightly caressed my arms.

 

His hands then moved to my waist and I caught them and held him loosely. "Do I get to return the favour?" I murmured.

 

He smiled up at me and nodded. "Yes, please."

 

I removed his dining jacket first and then his cuff-links and shirt studs, which he had not removed before coming to my room before untying his tie and unbuttoning the top button of his shirt and letting my fingers caress his jaw line before I lowered my head and replaced my fingers with my lips and tongue.

 

"Raffles!" he cried, and held onto me as I felt him sway slightly. I gripped his arms more firmly and returned to my assault on his neck, sucking soft skin into my mouth and even very lightly grazing my teeth over it before I licked and kissed his throat and he moaned again.

 

I lifted my head and stared down at him, his forehead and upper lip were slightly damp with perspiration and the desperation in his by now black, apart from a faint ring of light blue, gaze was clear. It was a desperation that was echoed as he whispered my name again. I brushed his hair back and stroked his back in a soothing way. "Are you that close, my rabbit?" I murmured.

 

His cheeks flushed and I felt a little saddened for a moment by his obvious embarrassment. However, I reminded myself, it was his first time with someone and knowing Bunny as I knew him, I would actually have been surprised if he had not been a little embarrassed. "Yes," he managed, stammering over the single syllable. "I'm -"

 

I silenced what I knew was about to be an apology, before lifting my head and hushing him. And then, with my gaze firmly locked with his, I slid my hand down his body, letting my fingertips flirt with his body through the cotton of his shirt, before it came to rest over his fierce hardness. It took me mere seconds to unbutton both his trousers and drawers as I continued to hold his gaze and a second or two longer to slip my hand inside his drawers and close it around his damp, hot hardness.

 

Given how desperate he clearly was I fully expected my hand to become wet and sticky as soon as I touched him. However, although he gasped and cried my name softly and quivered as I held him, and although he bit down so hard on his bottom lip I saw blood seep between his teeth, his release did not happen. Thus, my hand still around him, protecting his delicate tip, I carefully pulled him out. Once I he was free from the restriction his clothing, I moved my gaze and quite, quite deliberately looked down at him, opening my hand just a little so that I could see him clearly. As I looked at him, I gently touched him with the tip of my finger.

 

Again, he gasped and cried my name, again he quivered and as I felt him become somewhat tense in my embrace, I knew he was fighting the inevitable. However, it seemed that whilst touching him hadn't been quite enough to push him over the edge, the way I was deliberately staring at him and so very lightly touching him was too much for him to fight.

 

"Raffles!" he cried and a second later I watched and felt his release and my hand was very wet and sticky. I closed my hand around him and felt him shudder again and my hand became even wetter.

 

Watching his release as well as feeling it had pushed me closer to the edge than I wished to be, and for a moment or two I gave consideration to not fighting what my body dearly wished to happen and just let it happen. However, I really did want my first release of this part of the evening to be in my rabbit's hand. Thus, I called upon my experience of fighting and winning the battle and concentrated for a moment or two, breathing shallowly and making myself relax a little until I had moved away from the edge.

 

Bunny's head had come to rest on my shoulder after his second release had filled my hand and I could still hear his breathing. I adjusted the grip I had around his shoulders just a little, moving him a little nearer to me as I continued to hold his softening flesh in a loose grip.

 

Slowly he raised his head and stared up at me, blinking several times and gave me a soft smile and to my surprise said, "Is your hand very wet, Raffles?"

 

I smiled. "Yes, my rabbit, it is." My hand wasn't the only thing that was wet, part of the floor beneath where we stood was also a little wet as my hand had not been able to fully contain the fierceness and the amount of his release.

 

He blushed just a little and pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to me. I took it and used it to dry both my hand and him before I carefully tucked him back inside his trousers and drawers - I did not wish to risk hurting him if he brushed against my trousers.

 

He shifted a little and glanced away from me. "Bunny?" I knew that combination; there was something he wished to ask me. "You do know you can ask me anything, do you not, my rabbit? Anything," I repeated.

 

He nodded and I waited. "Does it feel any different?" he finally asked.

 

I blinked as I wasn't certain I understood. "Different?"

 

"Yes, you know from when you . . . You know." His eye flickered from my face down to my lower body.

 

And I did know. "Well, Bunny," I murmured, tossing his balled up handkerchief onto the floor and gathering him nearer to me, near enough to kiss - which I did for several minutes before I continued with what I had been about to say. "Why do you not find out for yourself?" He stared at me and I saw surprise on his face which puzzled me and even made me a little concerned. Did he not wish to . . . ?

 

"Do you not wish to touch me, Bunny?" I asked softly.

 

He nodded. "Well, yes, of course I do - I actually want it more than I've ever wanted anything," he added.

 

I was even more puzzled. "Well then, it's simple. Finishing undressing me as that will make it much easier for you and then . . ." I took his hand and pulled it to my lower body and held it there for a moment.

 

"You want me to touch you?"

 

It seemed I was to remain puzzled for some time to come. "Of course I do, Bunny. In fact I want it rather badly. The thought of your hand on me is more than a little," I swallowed, "exciting," I whispered. "At the moment, my rabbit, besides continuing to kiss you I cannot think of what I want more than your hand around me. So be a good rabbit and unbutton my trousers." And I pulled his other hand to my lower body as well.

 

He dutifully obeyed me and I felt his fingers fumble over buttons for quite some time until finally he had my trousers unbuttoned. At that point I decided to assist him and swiftly pulled my trousers down myself, stepped out of them and tossed them with my braces still attached onto the floor. It was I who swiftly undid my sock suspenders as he dropped to the ground to untie my shoes, then leaning on his shoulder I let him removed my shoes and socks before I firmly pulled him back to his feet.

 

"Look at me," I whispered, holding him a little away from me. "Look down at me, Bunny, look down and see quite how badly I want your hand around me. Look down and see what you - you my beloved rabbit - have done."

 

He swallowed hard before slowly letting his gaze move down my body where it came to rest on my clear arousal. My cotton drawers did nothing at all to hide how hard I was, indeed they seemed to accentuate it; nor did they hide the dampness that had seeped from my body as I had fought my full release.

 

"Touch me," I whispered, once more taking his hand and moving it to where I want it. "Touch me and feel what you have done; because it is entirely you, my rabbit, you who have made me quite so hard and wet." I had never spoken to another man in quite the way I was speaking to Bunny; in fact I rarely spoke at all. With the exception of Charlie, all of my assignations had been about the act, not about speaking.  Thus, the verbal seduction was as novel to me as it would be to Bunny.

 

I knew I risked embarrassing him further by my words, but I sincerely hoped that even if he was a little embarrassed it would only last for a short time. And I fully believed my talking to him would actually help calm and reassure him, and even help to make what was a completely new situation for him, a little more familiar.

 

After a slight hesitation during which I continued to lightly hold his hand, he slowly let his gaze travel from my face until he was looking at me as he moved his hand towards me. I let go of his hand and a moment later his fingertips touched me, brushing over me, barely touching me, but making me quiver and bite my own lip as my drawers became a little damper. "Bunny," I murmured, "oh, my beloved rabbit."

 

He glanced away from my body and back up at my face and he swallowed hard as he trembled just a little. "Did I really do that?" he whispered, and to my relief and happiness he didn't sound or look embarrassed; in fact he looked more than a little pleased with himself.

 

I nodded. "Yes, my rabbit, you did indeed do that. Now, why do not finish what you have started? It is after all only good manners; do you not agree?" And before he could answer me, I pushed my drawers down and using his shoulders to help support me, I stepped out of them and kicked them away. "Now look down, Bunny," I whispered, taking one hand from his shoulder to brush his hair back.

 

He swallowed hard before letting his gaze once more travel down my body and stared at me. As his gaze came to rest on me, I felt him start just a little and I tightened my grip on him as he also began to tremble. "Bunny?" I spoke softly. "What is it, my rabbit?"

 

He made an incoherent noise in his throat, continued to stare at me for quite some time during which I felt myself become a little harder due simply to the focus of his gaze. I now realised quite how powerful a simply look can be, if its given by someone who matters quite as much as Bunny matters, and quite why he had released when my gaze had come to rest on him.

 

Slowly he raised his head and stared at me. I was more than a little horrified to see how pale he had become and quite how much he trembled as he again bit his bottom lip. I gathered him nearer to me, making sure I kept his lower body from coming into contact with my painful hardness.

 

"Tell me, Bunny," I said, my lips against his ear. "Tell me what the matter is. Have you changed your mind? Do you not want to," I hesitated for a moment and then said softly, "come to bed with me? Touch me? Make love with me?"

 

He raised his head and looked at me; surprise was clear on his face. "What? No, Raffles, of course not. How can you think that? I want . . . I want it . . . I want it very badly. I mean I know I won't be any good and I know I won't be like - Well, all the other men with whom you've gone to bed with. But I want to."

 

I gazed at him. "Is that what is worrying you, my rabbit? That you fear I won't . . . That you won't give me pleasure? Because I assure you, Bunny, you will - you already have. And I swear to you I want nothing more than for you to put your hand around me now - please, Bunny, I really do want you to do that."

 

Again he looked a little surprised. "Do you?"

 

I made certain the hint of exasperation I was beginning to feel did not show in my voice or on my face as I said, "Yes, Bunny, of course I do - why do you think I would not?"

 

He swallowed hard, looked away from me, his gaze once more coming to rest on my arousal - which had reduced slightly over the last minute or two. He finally swallowed hard again and once more looked at me. "Well, I thought that you'd want me to," he paused, and I forced myself to wait. "That you'd want me to," he paused again and this time I gave him an encouraging smile. I watched him gather his pluck (which actually he had a considerable amount of, even if he doubted it at times) together and mentally pull himself upright. "Go down on my knees in front of you," he said quickly, "or let you, let you, bu- put it in me," he said equally as quickly. "And whilst I would let you, you know that, do you not, Raffles? You know I would let you do anything - anything," he repeated, "to me. Anything, anything at all, Raffles. No matter how - But it hurts, doesn't it? And you're -" He fell silent and once more turned his gaze downwards, however now he was staring at the floor rather than at me.

 

And suddenly I realised exactly why he had paled and trembled so when he had seen me naked and as aroused as I was. I am several inches taller than he and heavier and those differences were continued in other parts of our bodies. I was also acutely aware, even more so than I had been before, of quite how innocent and inexperienced and unknowledgeable he was - and quite what a gulf there was between us.

 

"Look at me, my rabbit," I murmured. After a slightly hesitation he did so and gazed up at me with so much love, devotion, affection and maybe surprisingly given what he had just said, desire, that my body reacted again. This time I was quite certain that even with my skill, my knowledge of my own body that I would not, that I could not win another battle to prevent my release. Nor, in truth, did I wish to. I had been aroused without relief for longer than I ever had been, and I was beginning to feel a little discomfort from holding back and my mind wanted it as much as my body did.

 

My rabbit needed reassurance, but given how desperate I was for his touch, I wasn't certain I could give it in the way he needed it. "You trust me, do you not, Bunny?"

 

His surprise and indignation was clear as he said, "Of course I do, Raffles."

 

"And you'll do anything for me, will you not?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, anything. Anything at all, Raffles. Do you want me to go down onto my knees?" He made a move and I held him firmly.

 

"No. At least not at the moment. What I want, Bunny, what I need - and believe me, my dearest, beloved rabbit, I do need it, is for you to put your hand around me and stroke me, because I am more than a little desperate for your touch. And then when I have shown you quite how happy you make me, quite how much pleasure you give me, I will finish undressing you and we shall get into bed and I will tell you a thing or two that may - that given what you said to me will - surprise you. Now can you do that for me, Bunny? Will you do that for me?" I added swiftly. "Can you trust me and will you do as I ask?"

 

He didn't hesitate at all as a smile lit up his face and he nodded. "Oh, yes, Raffles," he cried. "Yes. Yes." And he did. He put one hand behind my head and pulled it down so that he could kiss me whilst at the same time he closed his hand around me and began to move it.

 

His touch was somewhat tentative and uncertain and he fumbled more than once and his strokes were neither sure nor regular. However, within a short time of him beginning to stroke me his palm was slick and I was as hard as I could get before I released. It just needed a little -

 

"A little harder, Bunny," I murmured, pulling my mouth his. "Just a little - oh, yes, my beloved rabbit, yes. That is - Bunny!" I gasped his name as the force of my release literally shook me and it took me quite a considerable effort to remain standing as his hand became terribly wet and I knew once more wetness was dripping onto the floor.

 

He was still holding me quite tightly thus I covered his hand with mine and encouraged him to open it. "Was that all right, Raffles?" he asked softly.

 

"It was considerably better than 'all right', my rabbit," I said, reaching for my dressing gown that was on the bottom or the bed and pulling a handkerchief from the pocket and wiping both his hand and mine with it. "And now," I said, dropping it onto the floor next to the one I had dropped earlier, "I am going to finish undressing you, then we will get into my bed where I shall spend some time kissing you and quite possibly touching you again - and then, my rabbit, I promise you I shall - reassure you, shall we say?"

 

He smiled up at me. "I love you, Raffles," he murmured. The look on his face and his eyes confirmed his words; his devotion to me was absolute.

 

"And I, my beloved rabbit, love you." I kissed him and went on kissing him for quite some time before I did indeed turn my attention to undressing him and then I led him to my bed, urged him to get under the covers where I joined him and for the first time pulled his completely naked body against mine as my mouth plundered his.

 

It didn't take long before both of our bodies had begun to react to the nakedness and had hardened as arousal rubbed against arousal until our lower bodies (as well as the bed) were wet and sticky and we were both breathing hard.

 


 

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