QUEST FOR A RABBIT
Someone whom Raffles hoped never to see again comes back into his life and this time he has designs on Bunny. Raffles knows of only one way to keep his rabbit safe; however, it comes at a cost to Raffles. Bunny is not at all happy and sets out to take matters into his own hands.
An established relationship story.
Written: March 2013. Word count: 11,015.
If I had not seen it myself, I would never have believed it. I never thought the day would come when Raffles would be afeared of anything or anyone. Even when we had come close to being caught, even when there seemed no chance of escape, he was not afraid - unlike me - he remained, even under the direst of circumstances, the Raffles I had always loved and known. But the day came when I saw fear cross his handsome face, saw it in his sparkling eyes and heard it in his voice - but I would swear that none other I would have noticed.
It was a time when for a while I really thought he would die. I was deeply afeared he would die and thus I would be alone. And if he had have died it would have been because of me, or I should say because of a vow he had made some fifteen years ago when I was a very young barely thirteen year old who already hated his new school and had already fallen victim of a rag, and he the tall, dark and handsome seventeen year old captain of the eleven who took it upon himself firstly to rescue me from the hands of my tormentors and secondly to vow to protect me. For two years he protected me at school; I do not think either of us, certainly not I, expected him to be called upon to do that thing thirteen years later. Yet he did - and he nearly died doing so.
It began on a perfectly lovely spring day; he had been invited to a luncheon event hosted by Lady Donnington and as his invitation had included 'and guest' I was by his side, as I nearly always was. As I stood watching him laugh and talk and pay attention to the pretty young ladies who flocked around him, I wondered how many such luncheons or dinners he would be invited to if the true relationship he had with his guest was known or even hinted of? None - well they don't have luncheon parties in Wormwood Scrubs.
As a particularly giggly group of girls left him, he turned to me and smiled - the smile he bestowed on me was a completely different smile from the one everyone else saw - and his hand brushed my shoulder. And that was when it happened.
"A. J.," I heard a voice call. "A. J. Raffles, I didn't expect you to be here."
Now remember I was watching Raffles's face at the moment the voice called out. I saw the tightening of his muscles, saw his lips thin, saw him turn slightly pale and saw his eyes become hard. I saw fear race across the man I had hitherto believed to be fearless. Then it had gone, gone as quickly as it had appeared and he was smiling, but never had I seen such an awful smile on his face. I touched his arm, intent on asking him what was amiss. However, to my surprise, he took a step away from me and my hand fell to my side.
And then a man whom I had never seen before was in front of us and had taken Raffles's hand and was shaking it. He was head and shoulders taller than Raffles and rather well built, but not overweight. "Teddy," I heard Raffles say and again the hint of fear I had seen on his face was clear to me in his tone. "What a pleasant surprise. I had thought never to see you again." Raffles lies well, far better than I, but it was clear to my ears that 'pleasant surprise' was the last thing the appearance of the man was.
The other man shrugged. "I thought the same, old man. I never thought I'd darken England's shores again. But something came up and here I am."
"Will you be here for long?"
"One or two weeks, maybe three; certainly more than long enough to catch up with old," and the man paused for a second, before letting his gaze travel up and down Raffles's frame. "Friends," he said. And then before Raffles could speak, he turned his attention to me. "And who might this be? Come along, A. J., remember your manners and introduce me to your little friend."
It took me all my time to remain where I was and not move nearer to Raffles as the look the man was giving me was the same look I had seen many times before at school. It was the way, if Raffles wasn't around, and even sometimes when he was, some older boys would dare to look at me; a way which made me deeply afeared for my safety.
"Of course, do forgive me. Teddy this is Manders, Harry Manders. Bunny may I introduce you to Reuben Theodore."
Theodore held out his hand. The last thing I wanted to do was to take it, but good manners had been instilled in me from birth, thus I took it. "I'm pleased to meet you, Theodore," I said, the words coming automatically.
"I assure you that the pleasure is all mine, Manders." He held my hand for considerably longer than was necessary or indeed polite and out of the corner of my eyes I caught sight of Raffles's face and saw the faint quiver as he held his lips firmly together. Finally Theodore let go of my hand and I took a deep swallow of wine from the glass I held. "So, Manders, from where do you know old Raffles?"
It was Raffles who answered, before I even had a chance to speak. "Bunny and I were at school together; we haven't run into one another for, oh, what is it now, Bunny, twelve, thirteen years?"
I hoped I had managed to cover up my surprise as well as I thought I had. "Something like that, Raffles, yes," I managed.
"Yes, Bunny doesn't come up to town very often, do you, Bunny?"
"No," I said, wondering what Raffles's game was, but always prepared to follow his lead. "No, I don't."
"I hope you are in town for long enough to join A. J. and me for dinner tonight," Theodore said, his gaze once again travelling up and down my body.
"Well," I started to say, glancing at Raffles quickly. "I would -"
"Like to, but cannot, that's right, isn't it, Bunny? Weren't you just telling me that you have to get back this evening? A dinner, I believe, wasn't it?"
"Yes. Yes," I said. "That's right, Raffles." I wondered if we sounded as false to Theodore as we did to my ears, or rather if I sounded as false; Raffles, as always, sounded word perfect.
"Oh, that is a shame. Are you quite certain you can't get out of it, Manders?"
"No, I'm afraid I can't. I promised the hostess particularly. If I let her down, her whole table will be unbalanced," I said speaking swiftly as I decided letting Raffles answer for me again would look very suspicious.
Theodore continued to stare at me. Finally he sighed and put his hand on my shoulder; I forced myself not to recoil from the touch. "Well, I suppose a promise is a promise. But it really is a shame, is it not, A. J.?"
"What? Oh, yes, a great shame, Teddy. Bunny, you must promise to look me up the next time you come up to town and we shall have dinner."
I smiled at him. "I'll do that, Raffles. Thank you."
"It looks as if you'll just have to make do with my company tonight, Teddy," Raffles said turning from me to look at Theodore.
"It does indeed. Well it won't be the first time, will it, A. J.?" I did not like his tone.
"No, it won't." Raffles answered Theodore, but he looked at me and I read something in his face.
Praying I had read it correctly, I emptied my glass, put it down on the table and pulled out my watch. "I am afraid, Raffles, I have to go. My train leaves in half an hour."
"So soon, Bunny? That is a shame. It was good to see you again." He held out his hand and I took it. His grip was cool, firm and steady as was the hand he placed on my shoulder. "Dear old Bunny," he said. "It really was good to see you again. Let us not leave it another thirteen years. Do give me a ring sometime; I have rooms at the Albany."
I nodded. My hand was still in his. "I'd like that, Raffles, thank you." Finally I broke the clasp and turned to offer my hand to Theodore. "It was good to meet you, Theodore. I am sorry I couldn't join you and Raffles for dinner tonight."
"I assure you, Manders, the disappointment is all mine," he said, his tone was low as he took my hand; again I had to fight not to pull away the second he touched mine. I wasn't sure for how long I would have to endure the far too intimate clasp, but suddenly someone spoke to him.
"Mr. Theodore! What a pleasant surprise, I did not think we should see you today."
He let go of my hand and turned with a smile towards the lady who was addressing him.
The second his back was to us, Raffles grabbed my arm, put his mouth to my ear and whispered at speed, "Go home, Bunny, take the fastest cab you can get and hang the cost. Lock you door and do not open it for anyone but me. Go," he said again and pushed me into the throng of people.
I hesitated for only a second, before I turned and did his bidding. I had to trust in him, just as I always had trusted in him. I had to believe he knew what he was doing; I had to believe in him and follow his lead.
Some three hours went by before I heard a knock on the door. I went out into the hallway and waited until there was a second knock, then a third. I was certain it was Raffles, but the tone in his voice, the look in his eyes and the way he'd gripped my arm when ordering me away made me wait until he called out. "It's me, Bunny."
I unlocked the door and threw it open to see him standing outside. He looked exhausted, his tie was slightly crooked and his eyes were dull as they stared at me. The next second he was inside, he shut the door, relocked it and pulled me into his arms where he held me in a fierce, tight, possessive, protective embrace. I put my arms around him, let my head rest against his shoulder and wondered if he noticed he was trembling more than a little.
As he held me against him I felt his heart, which had been beating considerably faster than was normal for him, begin to slow and return to normal and I heard his breathing which had been shallow also return to normal.
As he held me I felt the fear I had seen on his face and the desperate way he held me creep into me. I didn't know who Theodore was, I could guess, I didn't want to guess, I didn't want to know, but I could. Outside of a few furtive fumblings at school, until Raffles took me to his bed when I returned to his life again I was a complete innocent in all aspect of physical love. Raffles I knew had not been; it was clear in the way he had kissed me, in the way he had touched me and in the way he had guided me through our lovemaking. I didn't want to think about Raffles's previous lovers, I had never expected to meet one, but somehow I knew he and Theodore had been intimate in that way.
After just holding me for several minutes, he pushed me away just far enough so he could put his mouth on mine and kiss me; he went on kissing me, pausing to snatch a breath or two before putting his mouth back on mine. There was desperation in his kiss and not the physical desire desperation I had experienced on more than one occasion; this was quite, quite different and it did little to ease my growing fear.
Finally he took his mouth from mine, released me from his fierce embrace, cupped my face between his hands and just gazed down at me. "Oh, Bunny," he whispered, "oh, my dearest Bunny." And then he again pulled me into his arms and held me as he kissed my head, as I again rested it against his shoulder.
Several more minutes went by before he took his arms from around me and instead took my hand and led me into my own sitting room. It was he who poured whisky into two glasses and he who led me to the sofa, sitting down and pulling me down with him and putting his arm around me.
"I want you to go away for a while, Bunny. No," he said, as I opened my mouth to object. "Hear me out. You have to go away, Bunny, you have to. You have to trust me and go away, go tonight. I'll help you pack."
"But why, Raffles?" I finally asked.
"Because I once promised to keep you safe, Bunny, and I intend to keep that promise."
"Raffles, that was when we were at school. I'm more than capable of taking care of myself now."
He gave me a tired smile and kissed my cheek. "Oh, my sweet rabbit; in most cases I would agree with you. But not this time. You have to go away. Please. Please, do it for me, Bunny, do it because I ask you to."
I stared into his face and saw the pain, the anguish and the fear and I knew I could not refuse him. I nodded. "Very well, Raffles. But where do you want me to go?"
With plenty of money in my pocket Raffles despatched me to Eastbourne, telling me to find a good hotel and enjoy myself. I forewent telling him that whilst it would be pleasant to spend a few days in a good hotel with good food and wine in a place frequented by other gentleman and to spend time by the sea that without him by my side the chances of me enjoying myself to any extent were remote.
I didn't need to tell him because as he pulled me into his arms and held me tightly before pushing me just far enough away to kiss me I could see in his eyes that he knew how I felt. "I wish I was coming with you, Bunny," he said, brushing my hair back from my forehead for me.
"Well why don't you?" I asked
He sighed softly. "I wish I could, my rabbit, I really wish I could. I would like nothing more than to spend some time with you away from London, but I cannot."
I stared at him; part of me wanted to ask him to explain, to demand that he tell me why it was so important I went away. However, I did not ask as I knew he did not wish me to ask because he did not wish to lie to me or to give me an evasive answer. Thus, I just sighed softly, pressed myself against him before putting my mouth on his and kissing him.
As my train pulled out of the station and he stood on the platform his hand raised to wave to me I had a deep sense of foreboding. It was so deep, so intense that I very nearly got off the train at the next station and returned to London to his side. I did not.
For ten days I wandered around Eastbourne enjoying, as much as it was possible for me to enjoy without Raffles by my side, my time, doing the things a single, unaccompanied gentleman does. The hotel I had chosen was not only good it was excellent and I certainly ate and drank well, but the days and evenings dragged so much. I realised that although I was to an extent enjoying myself, it would be hard not to, I was really just counting the days until I could return to London - return to Raffles.
He had told me that if he needed me to stay away for longer than ten days he would contact me, but as on my final evening I had heard nothing, I presumed I could safely return to him. It was with a very light heart that I packed my bags on the following morning, ordered a hansom cab to take me to the station and bought my ticket for the journey home.
I left my luggage at the station, deciding I could collect it later and take it back to my flat, but for now all I wanted to do was to go to the Albany and see Raffles. I hailed a cab which was pulled by what I deemed to be a speedy horse.
It turned out to be thus and we arrived at the Albany even more quickly than I had dared to hope for. Thus, I handed the driver a sovereign and hurried inside without waiting for any change. I heard his exclamation of surprise and thanks as I arrived outside Parker's office.
"Good afternoon, Parker," I called.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Manders, sir. It's a pleasure to you again; I hope you enjoyed your few days away."
"Yes, Parker, I did, thank you."
"Not that it wasn't it strange not seeing you here every day, sir, because it was."
I smiled at him. "It was strange not being here, Parker. Is Mr. Raffles at home?"
"Yes, sir, I believe he is. I certainly haven't seen him go out. In fact I haven't seen him at all since he came back last night with that other," Parker paused for a moment and then said in a completely different tone, "gentleman."
Instantly I suspected I knew who the 'gentleman' was. I swallowed hard; Raffles wouldn’t, he couldn’t, would he? Surely that hadn't been the reason he'd sent me away - no, I refused to believe it; I had seen genuine fear on Raffles's face and concern. Thus, whatever his reason had been and during my time away I had come to the conclusion it did have something to do with Theodore, I was quite certain it wasn't because Raffles wanted to resume his intimacy with him.
"Did you learn the other gentleman's name?" I asked in what I hoped was a nonchalant tone, the kind of tone I as Raffles's best friend would use to enquire about another visitor.
"Now that you mention it, sir, I didn't, which is strange because Mr. Raffles usually does tell me the names of his guests, in case they return. Not that he needs to, sir, I'm sure you know that."
"Of course I do, Parker." I hastened to reassure him.
Parker gave me a reassured nod. "It's just that he usually does tell me, but he didn't even pause to say more than 'good evening' before he and the - before he and his visitor went up to his rooms."
"Is the - is his visitor still here?" Again I hoped my tone was nonchalant and not betraying my fear of an affirmative answer.
"Bless you, Mr. Manders, no, sir. There's only one visitor who has ever stayed overnight like with Mr. Raffles and that's you, sir. No, the other gentleman," again Parker's tone when he said the word told me so much, "left shortly after midnight."
"Thank you, Parker. Well I do believe I shall go up to Mr. Raffles's rooms and see if I might drag him out to lunch."
"You do that, sir. I know he'll be pleased to see you back. He hasn't said as much, well he wouldn't, but I know he's missed you, sir."
"Has he?" I tried to hide my pleasure.
Parker nodded. "Oh, yes. He's looked, well out of sorts, I'd say; not at all like himself, right from when you went away. And he's looked tired and pale and, if you don't think I'm speaking too much out of turn, sir, I think he's lost weight. But he'll cheer up now that you're back, you see if he doesn't."
I smiled at him. "Thank you, Parker." I turned to go but he stopped me.
"I hope you don't think I'm taking about of turn, Mr. Manders, but . . . Well, sir, it's just that I was surprised to see Mr. Raffles in the company of such a man as was with him. He must have been a gentleman, him being with Mr. Raffles, but . . . Well, sir, to my mind he was no gent."
I stared at Parker; he really was very perceptive and just for a moment I dared to speculate as to whether he had ever wondered quite why I spent so many nights in Raffles's rooms. However, given how unperturbed he seemed I decided that even if the thought that we did more than sit up all night and talk or play chess or drink and smoke had crossed his mind, he clearly deemed it to be none of his business, nor did it trouble him. "Well, Parker," I said, "between you and me, if it is the person I believe it to be, I would agree he is not a gentleman."
Parker nodded. "That's what I thought, sir. So it really was surprising to see Mr. Raffles with him - and for him to behave so unlike himself."
"I'm sure he had his reasons, Parker. Now if you'll excuse me," I nodded and turned away and hurried up the stairs. For some reason the uneasy feeling I had experienced more than once during my holiday came back, but with a severity that troubled me intensely.
The unease deepened considerably after I had rung the bell for the third time and Raffles had not answered. I tried to tell myself that he had simply gone out of the Albany via the other exit and thus wouldn't have gone past Parker's office or that Parker had been out of his office for a minute or two and that was the moment Raffles had left the Albany.
However, even as I dug into my pocket and found the key he had once given me I knew that would not have been the case. Given he had not contacted me to tell me to stay away for longer, Raffles would have known that I would be returning today, and knowing me as he does he would have known that I would catch the first available train and go straight to his rooms. Had he had to venture out he would have ensured Parker knew so that he could tell me and invite me to wait in Raffles's rooms for him to return.
I found the key, put it in the lock, turned it and hesitated for just a second or two before I pushed open the door and let myself into Raffles's far cooler than they usually were and completely silent rooms. "Raffles?" I called, hanging up my hat and putting my stick down. "I'm back. Raffles, are you here?" Silence greeted me.
I went into the sitting room which was empty and I glanced around me. The unease which had been building in me grew even deeper as in front of the fire was a smashed glass and when I dropped down onto my heels to feel the rug it was wet. I put my damp fingers to my nose and sniffed - it was whisky.
I was now even more deeply troubled; there was no way Raffles would have left his rooms with a broken glass on the floor. I grabbed the poker and made my way from the sitting room through into the dining room and finally into Raffles's bedroom. But still he wasn't to be seen; the sight of blood on the bed and the way the covers had been clearly thrown onto the floor made me grip the poker a little tighter. I forced my gaze away from the blood and moved carefully and quietly towards the bathroom where with the poker raised I pushed open the door.
"Raffles!" I gasped, letting the poker slip from my hand to clatter on the floor as I dropped to my heels by the side of Raffles's still, naked body - he lay on his front, his head turned to one side. I ignored the blood and worse and put my hand to his head which lay in a pool of blood. A cut on his forehead just above his eye was still oozing blood and the sight of it was the first piece of reassurance I had received since I'd walked into his rooms. If blood was still flowing; he was alive.
Nonetheless I put my fingers first to his lips where I was relieved to feel breath, it was shallow and slow, but he was still breathing, and then onto his pulse which assured me his heart did still beat. However, even though I had the evidence I slid my hand beneath him and put my hand on his clammy skin over his heart and felt it beat for a moment or two.
His body was covered with bruises some far more advanced than others, some of which looked older than others as well as bloody welts. I was no doctor, I had no medical training whatsoever but I was fairly certain he had no broken limbs - however, he had been beaten and badly beaten. And he had also been assaulted; the evidence of that was quite clear both to my eyes and to my nose. I forced a sudden wave of nausea away; I hadn't got time to be ill, I had to help Raffles - I had to find someone to help him. And yet who? I knew he wouldn't want me to call for an ambulance to take him to hospital, even though I believed that was where he should be.
But I had to get help and suddenly I remembered. "I'll be back in a minute, Raffles," I said, gently touching his head, letting my fingers slip (just as his so often did with me) into his hair and lightly stroking his scalp. I knew he couldn't hear me, but it didn't matter.
I stood up and winced as my knees objected to the position I'd been in and hurried into the bedroom. I hesitated for no more than a split second before I pulled what appeared to be a clean sheet from the floor, hurried back into the bathroom and covered him with it. It was a foolish thing do really, an unnecessary thing to do, the person I was about to call was a doctor and would insist on the sheet being removed but nonetheless I did it; I wanted to give Raffles just a modicum of dignity.
I was about to hurry back to the hallway where his telephone was when my, what on more than one occasion Raffles has called, 'over active imagination' clicked in. I was completely certain we were alone, but nonetheless I swiftly went back into the bathroom where I picked the poker back up, pulled the key from the bathroom door, closed the door, locked it, put the key into my pocket and still gripping the poker made my way back through the bedroom, dining room, sitting room and into the hall.
I picked up the receiver and seconds later was taking to an operator. "Hello, I should like to place a call to Dr. Edward Charleston."
I didn't have to wait for more than a minute before a hard, very unsympathetic voice was informing me that Dr. Charleston was about to begin afternoon surgery and thus could not be disturbed.
I am rarely if ever forceful, I never have been. However, this time I was. "I assure you Dr. Charleston will wish to speak to me. Please be so kind as to tell him it is Harry Manders. No," I interrupted her, "you will put me through to Dr. Charleston or I shall ensure you will be dismissed from his employment and I will make quite certain you will not find another position." They were of course empty threats - as she should have known.
However, I heard her gasp softly and seconds later I heard a different voice. "Manders? Well, this is a pleasant surprise. How are you? And how is A. J.? I -"
"I'm sorry, Charleston," I said, my tone still forceful as I interrupted him. "But this is not a social call. I need your help."
Instantly his tone changed and he became the professional doctor I knew him to be. "What is the matter, Manders? What has happened to you?"
"It's not me, it's -" against my will I heard my voice begin to shake and I couldn't prevent a half-sob from escaping. "Raffles," I said biting my lip so hard I tasted blood.
"What's happened to him?"
"He's been - Charleston, please come. Raffles has rooms at the Albany, that's where I am. He's been . . . Oh, please, Charleston, come. He needs your help."
"I'll be with you as quickly as I possible can, Manders."
"Tell the porter I'm - we're - expecting you," I said quickly.
"Very well." And with that Charleston put the phone down.
I hung up as well and with the poker still in my hand hurried back into the sitting room. I paused and hurried back out into the hall and along to the lavatory and the room Raffles used to keep his cricket kit in. I checked both rooms carefully and finally accepted what I'd known from the moment I'd arrived: there was no one else here.
Nonetheless I took the poker back to the bathroom with me where I unlocked and opened the door and once more dropped down onto the floor by Raffles's side where I again put my fingers to his lips, his pulse and let my hand slide over his heart for a moment or two as I finally allowed myself the luxury of letting a tear or two slip from my eyes.
"Charleston's coming, Raffles," I said taking his hand. "He'll help you; he'll look after you. I won't leave you, Raffles. I won't leave you."
I was still sitting on my heels, still holding his hand, still alternating between touching his head and feeling his pulse when the doorbell rang. I pushed myself to my feet, grabbed the poker once more and hurried through the rooms and into the hall.
"Who is it?" I called.
I sighed with relief and opened the door. "Charleston," I breathed as I saw Raffles's boyhood best friend standing, his doctor's bag in his hand, outside.
I felt myself sway slightly and the next second Charleston had taken my arm, guided me back inside, shut and locked the front door, taken the poker from my hand, led me into the sitting room where he pushed me into a chair and quickly poured some brandy into a glass, handed it to me and steadied my hand.
"Drink it, drink it all, Manders," he said. "And now," he added when I emptied the glass and my hand only shaking a little handed it back to him, "tell me what has happened to A. J."
I stood up, gripped the chair for a moment or two as he again took my arm. "Come with me, Charleston," I said and led him through the rooms and into the bathroom.
Raffles lay as I left him, face down, but with his head turned to one side; the sheet still covered him and he remained far too still for my liking. For a moment Charleston paused and I saw a grim look pass over his face. Then he handed me his bag and dropped down onto his heels by Raffles's head and as I had done earlier he felt Raffles's forehead before his fingers moved to his pulse. I saw him frown and watched as he opened one of Raffles's eyes.
He glanced up at me, glanced down at the sheet covering Raffles's body, hesitated for no more than a second before pulling it back. Charleston might be a trained doctor but the man he was now looking at was the man he had known for far longer than I had known Raffles, as they had met some ten years before I had joined the school and they had kept in touch during their years at university. Charleston loved Raffles just as Raffles love Charleston, well he loved him slightly differently, but I believe he knew it was a futile love, so to see Raffles as he was must have been a shock, doctor or no doctor.
He stared at the bruises and the welts on Raffles's body and at the dried blood and spared a swift glance at the evidence of quite what had been done to Raffles. He let his fingertips touch Raffles's back then he looked up at me. "Manders," he said, his tone was one I did not recognise.
"I have to ask you something and I don't want to offend or upset you; I assure you I would ask the question of any other - Well, let us just say of anyone in a similar relationship to one you and A. J. share" I frowned as I wasn't quite certain what he meant. He stayed on his heels and I rather felt it was a case of him not wishing to intimidate me as he was considerably taller than I was; he was even some several inches taller than Raffles.
He was silent for a moment and then said, "I am quite certain I know the answer, but I really would be failing in my job if I did not ask it, do you understand, Manders?"
Well, no, I didn't, but I nodded slowly. "I think so."
"Good boy," he murmured, which took me back to our school days. "I'm sorry," he said swiftly. "I didn't mean - Look, Manders, what I have to ask you is whether this is a case of a game, shall we say, involving you and A. J. that went badly wrong? I am not going to be angry with you, Manders, nor will I censor or judge you - I just have to know."
I was speechless, quite, quite speechless for several seconds as I just stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed at Charleston who remained on his heels by Raffles's prone body, his hand resting on Raffles's back. It took me some moments to work out quite to what Charleston was referring and I didn't know if to be angry or indignant or even to laugh (which was the close to being over-whelming reaction I was feeling) at the absurdity of it. Surely he didn't really think that Raffles and I would - That I would, that I could, hurt Raffles like that.
Suddenly he stood up, elegantly, smoothly in the way Raffles always moved, in a way I had always envied and put his hand on my shoulder. "I believe you have answered my question, Harry," he said softly. "I really do apologise for asking it, but sometimes as a doctor you have to put aside the fact you know people and - well, can you forgive me?"
I nodded. "Of course. I understand, Charleston." And I found I did and to be honest I didn't care that he'd asked, that he'd maybe . . . All I cared about was that he made Raffles well again, that he healed him.
"Thank you." Charleston squeezed my shoulder again, took his bag from my hand, put it on the floor some distance from Raffles's body and opened it. "I'm going to examine A. J." he said looking up at me, "so if you'd prefer to wait in the bedroom . . ."
I shook my head firmly and he gave me a quick smile and then turned his attention to Raffles. To begin with he checked his arms, his legs, his neck, his wrists and his ankles; he ran his hands up and down Raffles's back carefully feeling his spine and around his waist.
"Nothing appears to be broken," he said, confirming what my non-doctor eyes had told me. "Whoever did this apparently knew just what he was doing."
"Theodore," I said without thinking.
Charleston paused and looked up at me. "Reuben Theodore?"
I nodded. "Yes." Charleston swore and I widened my eyes. "Do you know him?"
Charleston nodded. "Oh, yes, I know the bastard," again I was surprised. "You think he did this to A. J.?"
I nodded. "I'm certain he did, yes."
"How certain? And how do you know him?"
Swiftly I told him about the day he had appeared at Lady Donnington's luncheon and subsequent events. As I talked Charleston had once more turned his attention back to examining Raffles. He was silent apart from when he said softly, "I can quite understand why A. J. insisted you leave town."
"Why?" I asked.
He paused for a moment and looked up at me and then said softly, "Because, Harry, you are just the type of young man Theodore," he paused for a second before saying in a tone which told me so much, "likes."
I swallowed hard and ignored the slightly tremble that raced through my body as I completely understood what Charleston meant. I have always known that Raffles loved me, but as I stood in his bathroom with his beaten, abused body on the floor in front of me, I realised quite how deep that love went.
I noticed that Charleston's examination of Raffles had become considerably more intimate. And as he did things I didn't really want to think about, I glanced away and stared at the wall on the other side of the room, all the time cursing myself and my sensibilities.
"Would you give me a hand to turn him over, please, Manders?" Charleston said softly from where he stood washing his hands at the sink.
"Of course." I only hesitated for a second before dropping down onto my own heels by Raffles where a second later Charleston joined me. Carefully with Charleston instructing me we turned him over. I cried out softly at the sight of all the bruises and welts and dried blood on Raffles's breast, stomach, lower body and thighs. Without meaning to I put my hand over his heart and felt the steady, albeit weaker than I would have liked, beat as I also touched his face. "Raffles," I whispered. "Oh, Raffles."
"It actually looks a lot worse than it is, Harry," Charleston said softly and smiled reassuringly at me. I took my hands away, stood back up with nowhere near the elegance or smoothness as Charleston had shown and watched as he now ran his hands over Raffles's breast, arms, stomach and thighs. Again when his hands moved to touch Raffles in a more intimate way, I returned to staring at the wall.
Once I heard Charleston stand back up and again go to the sink where he washed and dried his hands I turned my attention away from the wall. "Is it really not as bad as it looks?"
Charleston put the towel back down, smiled and nodded. "Yes. I'm not saying A. J., is unharmed, because that wouldn't be true, nor am I saying he's going to wake up and be perfectly all right - because he won't be. He is going to be extremely sore and in quite a lot of pain, but fundamentally he is all right. Nothing is broken, as I said, and there is no indication of any internal injuries. The worst injury seems to he the head injury and if I had my way I'd take him to hospital - but," he went on holding up his hand and forestalling me from interrupting him. "I know that is not what A. J. would want. So I'll just have to treat him here, won't I? I assume suggesting a nurse be brought in is also out of the question?"
I hesitated for a moment, then sighed and said softly, "He wouldn't want one and anyway what would you -" I broke off as I felt my cheeks flush.
He gave me a gentle smile. "Ah, Manders," he said quietly, "you really have not changed all that much over the years, have you?"
I wasn't entirely certain if I should be offended or not. However, something else came to my mind, something far more important than my feelings. I swallowed hard and forced myself to speak. "What about . . . What about his other . . . his other injuries?" I silently cursed myself as I felt my cheeks begin to burn.
"They really are a case of looking far, far worse than they actually are. Again, he will be in discomfort for some time, but he will make a full recovery. Now, I believe it's high time we got him off the floor and to somewhere more comfortable. Do you think you can help me carry him to his bed?"
Over an hour later Raffles, his wounds cleaned and covered with ointment and his body washed, which Charleston insisted on doing, assuring me given his knowledge of the human body he could be quite certain of not hurting Raffles any more than he had already been hurt, lay in his hastily remade bed, a clean sheet and blanket pulled over him. Charleston had stitched the wound on Raffles's head whilst I had made myself sit on the bed and hold Raffles's hand - in truth it gave me more comfort than it would have given him, as he was not aware of it.
He seemed to be breathing a little less shallowly, his heartbeat seemed a little stronger and he looked somewhat better than when I had first seen him. Of course that might have been simply because he was no longer covered with dried blood and most of the damage to his body was now covered by the bedclothes. However, the most important thing was that Charleston had told me he wasn't quite so concerned by the head injury than he had initially been and that Raffles's pupils were reacting far better than they had been when he'd first lifted an eyelid.
Charleston and I had worked in our shirt sleeves and I was beginning to have far more respect for the medical profession, in particular for what nurses did, than I'd ever had before - and Charleston had done far more than I had.
As we'd cared for Raffles even though Charleston and I had talked, mainly about the past, I had been thinking and as Charleston returned from the bathroom where he had gone once again to wash his hands and began to turn his cuffs back down and put his cuff-links back in, I knew I had made a decision. I also knew that Charleston was going to object - and do so quite seriously. However, I was not going to be dissuaded.
I had already washed my hands and replaced my own cuff-links and I was putting my coat back on as Charleston came back into the room. "Charleston?"
"I know you have already done a great deal, far more I suspect than you would have done for any other patient. But I need you to do one more thing for me before you go?"
He frowned. "I'm not leaving until A. J. opens his eyes," he said, picking is own coat up and putting it on. "I may be happier about him than I was, but head injuries are not things to be ignored or left to chance. I am not going anywhere until I see that he is awake, lucid and not showing any signs of permanent injury."
In some ways that made it even easier. I smiled at him and nodded. "Thank you," I said. "In that case you won't mind if I leave you for a short time, will you? There is something I have to do," I said.
He stared at me, his look suddenly fairly hard and he moved slightly - towards the bedroom door. "And what exactly might that something be, Manders?" His tone was wary as he stared at me.
I had been hoping, even though I knew it wasn't possible, that he wouldn't actually ask me what it was I had to do. I knew there was no way I was going to get out of the bedroom unless he actually permitted me to leave. He was, as I have said, much taller than I and I imagined he had not lost the strength he'd had when he'd been a school boy. A strength that had made it possible for him to get the better of Raffles every time they had wrestled. A strength that on one occasion had allowed him to get both of Raffles's hands behind his back and forcibly remove him from his study before Raffles had had the chance to hit the boy who had annoyed him (because of me) for a third time. And Raffles had fought Charleston, had struggled hard, so hard anyone else would have let him go, would have had to have let him go; but Charleston had simply held him tightly and unwaveringly.
I sighed and gave a fleeting thought towards lying, but decided not to. "I'm going to Theodore's hotel," I said.
Now he moved again, this time to stand in front of the door, his arms folded as he stared at me. "And you think I am simply going to stand aside and let you do that, do you, Manders?" I held his stare but said nothing. "Have you suddenly gone quite mad? You saw what he did to A. J., what A. J. apparently 'let' him do in order to keep you safe. And now you want me to let you walk out of here and go to his hotel and - and what, Manders? What exactly do you intend to do?"
"I have to do this, Charleston."
He stared at me and I was quite certain his gaze softened just a little. "What do you think A. J. will say or even do to me if he wakes up, asks for you and I tell him I let you -"
"I am not a boy any longer, Charleston. I am a man; I don't need you to protect me or tell me what I can or cannot do." I was not quite certain who was more surprised by my words - Charleston or me. I just know his eyes widened with astonishment and I believe a degree of shock and I honestly had no idea from where I had dug up the nerve to speak as I had done to the man I admired, liked and respected only second to my Raffles. "I have to do this, Charleston," I said softly. "Please understand. I have to and he won't hurt me."
"And you know this because?"
"Firstly because I'm taking this with me," I pulled Raffles's revolver out from my pocket and showed it to him. "And secondly -"
"And secondly? And how do you know in which hotel Theodore is staying?"
I showed him a small card with the hotel's name on it. "And," I said, putting the revolver back into my pocket, "he's not there at the moment and he'll be leaving later tonight. I rang the hotel when you were washing your hands."
Charleston stared at me; I do not believe I imagined the look of respect that flashed through his eyes. "If he's not there why are you going?"
I sighed. "You trust Raffles, do you not?"
He frowned. "Of course I do."
"Then trust me, Charleston, please. I promise you I will not come to any harm. But I really do have to do this. Charleston he hurt Raffles. He hurt him. He hurt him," I said for a third time.
Charleston stared at me and I could see him thinking, trying to decide what to do. Finally he sighed, moved away from the door, came across the room and put his hand on my shoulder. "I believe I was incorrect earlier when I said you had not changed all that much over the years," he said softly.
I stared up at him and gave him a smile. "Actually, Charleston," I said, "you were quite right; I haven't changed, not really. Certain things that bothered me all those years ago, things that never bothered Raffles or you or most of the other boys, still do bother me despite . . . Despite Raffles and I . . . Well, you know," and I glanced at the bed.
"I know, Harry. But the boy I knew then would never have -"
"Forgive me, Charleston, but he would have. He'd have been scared, he may well have vomited or worse, but for Raffles he would have done. Surely you know that," I said softly, "surely you always knew that."
He put his other hand on my other shoulder and gazed down at me in silence for quite some time. Then he smiled a little and took one hand from my shoulder and in a gesture that was so familiar, one Raffles made several times a day, brushed my hair from my forehead. "You know what, Manders," he said quietly, "I believe I did always know that. Very well, I won't try to stop you. I just hope you do indeed remain unharmed or the doctor may well need his own doctor."
I smiled at him. "I'll be careful."
He sighed softly but took his hand from my shoulder and moved towards the bed. I hesitated for a moment before turning and hurrying out of the bedroom.
Raffles's revolver wasn't the only thing of his I had taken with me when I left his rooms. As I stood outside Theodore's room, my ear to the door, I pulled out Raffles's case of tools. I may only have been his accomplish before, the man who stood and watched as Raffles used the tools, but I had watched carefully - very carefully.
It took me hardly any time at all before I was inside his suite. Once there I began a swift but thorough and systematic search, smiling each time I found something of value, everything went into the pockets of my overcoat. What I found would keep us in funds for quite some time and I was quite certain the lady for whom Theodore had bought the diamond and sapphire necklace, ear-rings, bracelet, brooch and tiara would be far better off receiving the items from someone else.
Who needed four cigarette cases? I certainly didn't, but I wasn't going to object to Theodore having so many, nor to the array of cuff-links, tie-pins and rings that lay in the top drawer of the dresser. I also found a loaded revolver from which I removed the bullets, pushing those, as well as the revolver into my coat pocket as well.
It was in the bedroom, however, where I made the truly valuable find albeit not valuable in monetary terms. A locked document case proved to be a little more difficult to open than the door had been, but driven onwards by my love for Raffles and my need for some kind of revenge, I persevered, even though the perspiration was dripping down my back, my hands were beginning to shake just a little and my mouth was dry.
As I opened the lid and stared down at the contents, my hands stopped shaking, my throat was no longer dry and I smiled - even though the smile was a grim one and as I looked through photographs and written accounts I had to fight the nausea that was rising in my throat. It was quite, quite clear that Raffles was not the only man Theodore had beaten and abused. The fact that he kept evidence of the attacks somehow didn't surprise me, even if they disgusted me. Finally, I just pushed everything into my inner pocket, tried to forget the images I had seen, went back into the sitting room of the suite and sat down to wait.
Ten minutes later I heard a key in the door. I stood up, cocked the gun and held it out in front of me - I do not believe my hands had ever been steadier. "Good afternoon, Theodore," I said, as he came in, stopped and stared at me. "No, don't move. Really, do not move - not unless you wish to find a way to explain to the hotel management why you have a bullet wound in your leg." My voice didn't actually sound like mine and I couldn't believe quite how calm, how cool I was.
"You wouldn't." I sighed and tightened my fingers on the trigger, thus pulling the hammer back just a little further. He gasped and held up both hands. "All right, all right. Just don't fire."
I released the extra grip, but still held the gun firmly; my hands were still steady. I knew quite well I would fire; I would do as I had promised. It had not been an idle threat. "I wonder whether Raffles asked you not to do the things you did to him," I said conversationally.
"I don't know what you - All right. All right. But it wasn't like that; A. J. likes it - It was a game, nothing more. But someone like you wouldn't understand." And then he frowned. "Wait a minute, what are you doing in London? A. J. said you - My God, he lied and I believed him."
I nodded. "Yes, he lied. I do indeed live in London. He sent me away for a few days to keep me safe. I didn't quite know what the danger was - well not until I came home and found him. Now, I could call the police, but we both know Raffles would not want me to do that and I always do what Raffles wants me to do. So instead you are going to pack the rest of your things, whilst I wait for you, then you will leave the hotel, leave London and leave England and you will never, ever, return."
He began to smile. "What makes you think I'm going to do that?"
I shrugged. "I was in your suite for some time before you came back," I said. "I had time to have a look around - a very good look around. You really should get a more secure lock for your document case. Well, that or stop being so narcissistic you have to photograph and document your - perversions."
He turned pale for a moment before his cheeks began to redden. "You little -" he took a step towards me and then another and then - And then he cried out, grabbed his leg and collapsed onto a chair as he stared in shock and surprise at me.
I was fairly surprised and more than a little shocked myself and I felt myself begin to tremble just a little. It was one thing telling myself I could shoot him, but quite another to discover that I really not only could shoot him, but had shot him.
I had to get out of there and I had to get out of there fairly quickly. Nonetheless, I forced myself to remain where I was, still holding the gun firmly as I stared at him. "I shall leave now; I'll tell the hotel manager you had an accident whilst showing me your gun; he'll get a doctor for you." I tossed his gun to him, "there aren't any bullets in it," I said helpfully. "But before I leave you will give me your word that you will never return to England and never try to contract Raffles."
"Why should I?"
I sighed. "For two reasons: one my next bullet won't go into your leg and two: I am quite certain the police would be very interested in the contents of your document case."
I sighed again. "Actually, I would. You see, contrary to appearances, I am not quite without nerve - at least not when it concerns someone about whom I care. So do I have your word or should I . . ." I raised the gun.
He put his hand up. "All right. You have my word, damn you. I'll leave London and England; you'll never see or hear from me again. Now give me what you found in the document case."
"No." I said and walked out of his room.
I barely made it to a nearby bathroom before I began to vomit. It was several minutes before I felt composed enough to leave the bathroom and go down the stairs to tell the hotel management of Theodore's 'accident'. However, finally helped by a deep swallow of brandy from the other thing of Raffles's which I had taken with me - his flask - I was able to do that thing.
Still shaking I hailed a passing cab and told me to take me to the Albany. Once there I handed over a sovereign to the driver and hastened inside once again without waiting for any change. I hurried passed Parker's office not really wanting to pause to talk to him and nearly ran into him as he was standing at the bottom or the stairs staring up.
"Oh, Mr. Manders, sir, I am glad you are back."
"You are?" I pushed my still trembling hands into my overcoat pocket, feeling the various boxes and lose jewellery.
"Oh, yes, sir. You see there are raised voices coming from Mr. Raffles's room, sir. And one of them is definitely Mr. Raffles's sir." I glanced upwards and felt a wave of relief pass over me. "I didn't like to go up, sir. But I was beginning to worry. Should I -"
Hastily I interrupted him. "No, Parker, it's quite all right."
"It is, sir?"
I nodded. "Yes. Yes. Really." I smiled in what I hoped was a reassuring way.
"Are you quite sure, Mr. Manders?" Parker sounded dubious.
I smiled again. "Yes, yes, Parker, I am."
"Well, if you really are certain, sir. After all you know Mr. Raffles better than anyone. If you say everything is all right then -"
"Will you get out of the way, Charlie?" Raffles's voice was muffled due to the closed door, but nonetheless quite clear.
As was Charleston's quieter but firm, "No, A. J., I will not."
Parker looked at me. I hastily tried to think of an excuse, but I had run out of courage. All I wanted to do now, all I believed myself capable of doing, was to go to Raffles's rooms and - even what went beyond going to Raffles's rooms was beyond me. I knew if I didn't go up the stairs now, I truly would not manage them.
I dredged up another smile and managed to say, "Parker," I paused and then said softly, my voice now shaking, "trust me, Please."
He stared at me for a moment then nodded. "Of course I trust you, sir." And with that he moved away from the stairs and I went up them slowly.
I reached Raffles's door and paused as I listened but all I could hear was silence. I pulled out my key and put it in the lock; I opened the door slowly and went inside, closing it behind me and relocking it as well as bolting it. And then, without removing my overcoat, I went into the sitting room where I found Raffles sitting in the armchair looking mutinous and glaring at Charleston who stood over him. To my amazement my eyes came to rest on Raffles's own handcuffs and I saw the one hand was cuffed to the chair.
As I stood in the doorway Raffles's stare moved from Charleston to me. "Bunny!" he cried, trying to stand up.
Charleston spun around. "Manders!"
"Hello, Raffles," I said. "Hello, Charleston." And then . . .
I don't know for how long I was unconscious, but when I opened my eyes I was lying on the sofa, my head on Raffles's lap with Charleston sitting on the arm of the sofa, looking through the photos and papers, holding them so that Raffles could also see, I had taken from Theodore's room. Charleston seemed to be pointedly ignoring the array of jewellery and jewellery boxes that covered the floor - I could only presume they had fallen out when I had fainted.
I must have made a soft noise because Raffles's attention turned to me instantly and he whispered my name. "Oh, Bunny, oh, my dear, sweet, beloved little rabbit, oh, Bunny." And then he lifted my head from his lap, bent his own head and put his mouth on mine and kissed me.
When he finally returned my head to his lap before helping me, at my insistence, to sit up, I saw that Charleston was standing on the opposite side of the room with a book in his hand; his back was pointedly turned towards Raffles and me. He must have heard us move because he turned back around, put the book down and hurried over to us. Without speaking to either of us, he took my wrist in his hand and put his other hand on my forehead.
"I'm quite well, Charleston."
"Charlie's the doctor, Bunny," Raffles said his tone firm. "He'll be the one to tell you how you are and indeed what you may or may not do."
I saw Charleston's eyes widen as he turned from me to Raffles. "Which is exactly what I believe I told you, A. J., over an hour ago.
I watched Raffles's eyes widen as he stared back at Charlie and then he began to laugh; after a second or two firstly Charleston and then I joined in.
"I'm sorry, Charlie," Raffles said, holding out his hand which Charleston took. "Will you forgive me?"
"Do you have to ask?" Charleston shook Raffles's hand and then held onto it.
"No, but -"
"Yes, A. J., I forgive you. And I'm sure I don't need to tell you that had the situations been reversed -"
"You'd have got past me and out of the rooms."
We all laughed again.
LATER THAT NIGHT
We lay in Raffles's bed in a loose embrace. I had told him my story and he had told me his. Charlie had pronounced us both well enough to be left alone and had gone - promising to return on the morrow and extending an invitation to dine with him at his home in a week's time. Before he had left he'd extracted two promises from Raffles - one of which had made me blush furiously.
Raffles and I had stayed in the sitting room and had even shared a light supper prepared by the Albany kitchens before Raffles showed signs of discomfort and I had suggested we retire to his bed. There we had exchanged stories - I am quite certain Raffles told me the barest detail of this story that he could.
"Oh, my beloved rabbit," he said, kissing me lightly before pulling me even closer to him. "You did that for me?"
"Of course I did, Raffles," I declared hotly.
He shook his head. "I still do not know which event surprise me the most, you shooting Theodore or you gaining entrance to his room, searching it, taking everything of value and opening the document case. I'm proud of you, Bunny," he said softly.
I felt my cheeks flush furiously and murmured quietly, "Thank you, Raffles. I must confess, however, I did surprise myself somewhat."
He smiled and touched my cheek. "And I did not believe you could still surprise me, Bunny, but today you truly have. I don't know how to thank you, how to show you - I love you, Bunny." He said the words softly in a very formal tone.
I sighed with pleasure. He rarely said the words, he relied on other ways of letting me know, but I confess I did rather like hearing them. "I love you too, Raffles," I said.
"Of that, my own rabbit, I have no doubt. Not that I ever have had, not even when we were at school, but your actions today - well they more than proved that. But, Bunny, you must promise me never to do something like that again."
I pulled away from him and shook my head. "No, Raffles," I said, touching his cheek. "I'm sorry, but I cannot, I will not, promise you that. You see I have never broken a promise in my life and I certainly would never break a promise I made to you. I'm not going to make a habit of threatening people with guns, nor of shooting them, but if someone else did something else to you - well I would. So that is why I will not promise you that, Raffles. Now kiss me again."
I saw surprise on his face but then he smiled lovingly at me and did as I bid him do.
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