WORLDS WITHOUT END
Set after Knees Of The Gods.
Raffles is dead and Bunny is devastated. He returns home to England and for several months barely leaves his rooms. Then one night he dines out at his old club and runs into Charleston. Later when Bunny returns home he finds someone waiting for him - or does he? Charleston becomes concerned and persuades Bunny to go to the hospital he owns. Bunny agrees and at least Charleston knows Bunny is safe - at least he assumed he would be.
An established relationship story.
Written: April 2013. Word count: 23,100.
I returned home to England, to London, on a dull, cold, wet, windy, grey day; everything was colourless, depressing, the wind was so bitter it cut through the heavy overcoat I wore. The pain of being back in London was great, but not as great as the pain in my leg nor as great as the even worse pain, the deep, insidious pain inside of me; a pain I knew would remain with me until the day I died - a day which I prayed every night would come soon. I did not wish to live; I did not wish to be alive; I did not wish to be; I just wanted my life to end. I wanted my physical life to end; my life had ended six months before when Raffles had died by my side in the heat of a South African battlefield.
Not a day had gone by during those long, long months when I hadn't wished the man who had taken Raffles's life had also taken my own - because to all intents and purposes, in everything that mattered, I was dead. I died the moment his heart stopped beating. I was dead; I ate, I drank, I walked, I spoke when I had to, I read, I did ordinary things - but I was dead. And I would be dead until the day I took my last breath; the day I would finally be reunited with him - for I had no doubt I would be. More than once I had contemplated putting a gun to my head and taking my own life, but my courage always failed me. Not the courage to actually pull the trigger but the courage to accept I might, having taken my own life, go to a place other than where he was.
I wished to see no one and I wished no one to see me. I took rooms in The Fellows, a fairly new, modern building designed for gentlemen, where everything one could ever wish for was provided at any hour of the day or night and where privacy was respected. The only person I had spent more than a few minutes with since I had returned had been Raffles's solicitor, who informed me I was the sole beneficiary of Raffles's will. I had always known he had established a considerable amount of money during the time he had faked his own death and escaped a gaol sentence and that we had had no need to carry out any of the burglaries we carried out once he returned to England, returned to London, returned to me. I had always known it was about the thrill, not the money. However, I was more than a little taken aback to discover quite how wealthy Raffles had been when he had died - and everything had come to me. I would have no need to worry about anything no matter how old I lived to be.
I had no real interest in the money; I had more in the short, simple, honest letter he left for me, the letter in which he told me in writing things he had rarely told me in words. In that letter, which covered little more than one side of paper, he let me know quite how important, quite how vital I had been to him; how without me his life would have been nothing. He told me just how much he loved me and how he always had and how much he regretted the times he let me slip away from him. I had read the letter over and over again until I had it committed to memory, before I had placed it carefully in a book in which I wrote from time to time to protect it. The only thing the money meant to me was that I could in effect vanish; I could afford to pay for the privacy The Fellows accorded me.
Finally, even I tired of my own company and thus one day I ventured out of my rooms and leaning heavily on my stick, which had become my constant companion from the day they had got me out of bed for the first time following my injury caused by the bullet that had penetrated my thigh, I went for a walk. That is when I ran into she whom I still will not name; she whom I had once believed I loved more than I had loved Raffles; she whom I had once, before I became reunited with Raffles, had dared to believe I may one day marry; she whose name must never be sullied through association with me. We talked for a moment or two, she seemed pleased to see me, she seemed saddened by my injury, by how clearly unhappy I had been and by the death of Raffles.
It was pleasant enough to see her, to exchange a few words with her, but within a moment or two of beginning to talk to her, I knew I only wished her to be gone. I did not want to stand and talk to her; I did not want to stand and talk to anyone. However, the past does have a hold over one and despite everything the manners my nurse, my parents and the school had instilled in me remained and thus I forced myself to remain polite until finally I believe she saw my discomfort and we parted. Her letter was a surprise, a shock even and for some time after reading it I found I could not believe it - and yet it had to be true. I did not accept her invitation to go and visit her; why would I wish to do so? After all she had made it quite, quite clear that were I to do so I would be welcome, except I would not be allowed to talk of the past and the past was the only thing of which I wished to talk.
Maybe it was meeting her again, seeing Raffles's name written in her hand, being told by her I could not talk about the past or maybe it was just that six months with barely seeing another living, breathing (well breathing, I still believed I was not living, I could not live whilst Raffles was dead, I was alive I was not living) being was too long. However, I found myself accepting an invitation to attend the centennial dinner of the club to which Raffles and I had at one time belonged. Given I had spent eighteen months in prison I had been somewhat surprised, upon receiving the invitation, to discover that I would be welcome. However, I believed my status as a 'war hero' (not that I believed myself to be thus) may have had something to do with it.
Thus, dressed in a new evening suit, with an evening stick, a new top hat, a new overcoat, my bowtie tied as best as I could tie it (it would not have satisfied Raffles who had always retied it for me) I took a cab to my old club. There I discovered my time in prison was not only forgotten it was forgiven - war can have an impact on people and I had volunteered to go and fight and had been wounded for life because of my selfless act. I told no one it had not been a selfless act; I had not gone to war because I had felt strongly it had been the right thing to do, I had gone for one reason and one reason only: because Raffles had decided to go and where Raffles went I went; if only that had been the case on that last day when -
At the sound of a voice I felt sure I recognised I turned a little more quickly than I should have done and thus even I could not prevent a gasp of pain from escaping as my leg made its objection to the movement known. I stumbled slightly as I heard the sound of my stick hitting the floor and had it not been for the strong hand that gripped my arm and held me steady, I was quite certain my stick would not have been the only thing to have fallen to the floor. I clutched onto the arm that held me, as for a fleeting second I almost forgot the arm was not an arm belonging to Raffles and as such I should not be holding onto it in quite such an intimate manner. And yet the grip the other man had on my other arm felt familiar in a way that for a moment I dared to believe -
"Charleston!" I exclaimed as I finally looked up and saw who had rescued me. For the first time in six months I smiled, a genuine, warm, happy even smile as I gazed up into the face of the man who had been Raffles's boyhood best friend. The man I had met on the day I had met Raffles; the man who as a boy had always been kind to me, considerate, who had never seemed annoyed by my almost constant presence at Raffles's side, who had genuinely seemed to like me, care about me even. "Charleston," I said again, finally letting go of his arm to hold out my hand to him instead. "It is good to see you."
He took my hand and shook it firmly; his grip was warm, secure and familiar - even though I had only one memory of him actually shaking my hand: the day he and Raffles had left the school for the last time and my heart had broken. "It's good to see you too, Manders," he said. "It's very good to see you." And then he let go of my hand, it was then I realised he was still holding my other arm, and bent to pick my stick up for me. "Here," he said, holding it out.
"Thank you." I took the stick from him and made no pretence of how much I needed it to help me stand.
For a moment or two he went on holding my arm whilst he seemed to be waiting to be quite certain I was once again fully capable of standing on my own. Then he took his hand from my arm and to my surprise he brushed my fringe from my forehead. I had to bit my lip hard to stop myself from making a noise, from gasping, from letting the tears that now burnt the back of my eyes from falling. It was a gesture Raffles had made from the moment we had met; a gesture he had continued to make until he had been taken from me. I had always worn my hair somewhat longer than was normal for a boy or man of the time, but I had liked it, partly because I could hide behind it and partly because I loved the way Raffles would push it back for me.
I think Charleston must have seen something in the my eyes or in the way I stood quite still, because he flushed a little and let his hand fall to his side and for a moment he was silent. Then he smiled at me and said, his tone confirming his words, "It really is good to see you, Manders."
I smiled at him. "And it really is good to see you again, Charleston. I had no idea you were a member of the club."
He shrugged. "I'm a fairly recent member. I was encouraged, shall we say, by a member of the hospital board to apply for membership."
I remembered Raffles telling me that Charleston had achieved his boyhood aim and not only had become a doctor but had also opened his own hospital. "How is your hospital?" I asked.
"Busy, but it's all going very well, thank you, Manders." He was silent for a moment or two before he said softly, "Look I can go on ignoring what I know and what I can see or at least pretending I do not know it, or I can ask how you are and tell you how deeply, so very deeply sorry, I am."
I stared at him. For a moment I wanted to suggest that he go on ignoring what he knew and what he could see. But it was Charleston; it was the man who as a boy had loved Raffles as much as, maybe even more than, I had. It was the man who had never been anything other than kind and courteous to me; the man who was my link to Raffles; the man whom I was quite certain would not wish to remain silent about the past.
His hand had come to rest on my shoulder and I could feel, no matter how hard I tried to prevent it, that I was trembling just a little. I swallowed hard, shifted my stick a little so that I might lean even more heavily on it and said quietly, "Thank you. As for how am I . . . I -" I was interrupted by the arrival of a waiter carrying a tray of drinks and both Charleston and I took one. "Thank you," I murmured, wishing my hand wasn't shaking quite so much as I raised the glass to my lips and wondering quite how I might tell Charleston I needed to sit down.
However, I did not need to because I felt my glass taken from my hand as Charleston held it and his out towards the waiter, who hastily covered up his surprise. "Please be kind enough to take these glasses over there for us." He nodded towards the tables and chairs before looking at me and to my surprise held out his arm to me. "Let us go and sit down, Manders," he said in a tone I knew I would not disobey.
I was grateful, very grateful for the support of his arm as I had been standing in one position for far longer than I should have stood have, and I knew were it not for the arm I now held as we slowly walked across to the table where the waiter had put our glasses on and who had also pulled out a chair for me, that I would not have managed to walk the relative short distance. When we reached the chairs it was Charleston who took my stick from me and helped me sit down before he thanked the waiter who nodded and hurried off back to where he had left his tray.
Once he was quite sure I was settled, Charleston sat down on the other chair and picked up his glass. He held it for a moment before saying softly, "To A. J."
I swallowed but then nodded and touched my glass to his. "A. J.," I murmured, even though it was a name I had called him less than half a dozen times in all the years we had known one another. Somehow it felt right, there in the club with men milling around, talking, laughing, apparently paying no attention to anyone and yet to everyone, to use the name by which Charleston had always called him. I blinked hard several times, determined to force back the tears that threatened me; it wasn't that I would have been bothered if Charleston saw me crying, he had seen me cry many times when we had been at school together, but because I wasn't all together certain I'd be able to stop. I glanced at him and saw moisture in his own eyes as he stared back at me.
"I miss him," I said softly, blinking hard. "I miss him so much."
He put his hand over mine for a moment or two before saying quietly, "I know you do, Harry." We sat in silence for another moment or two - whilst the noise around us increased. As I sat I wished I had never accepted the invitation, not because I regretted running into Charleston, but because I didn't wish to be surrounded by so many men who were making so much noise. I reached for my glass and drained it as I felt my head and leg begin to throb.
I was giving serious consideration to making my apologies to Charleston and leaving when he said, "I have a friend who owns a very nice restaurant, it's never that busy and it certainly won't be tonight as I recognise several of the patrons. May I suggest we go and have dinner there? That is if you wish for my company, of course."
I stared at him and smiled. "I'd like that very much, Charleston, but are you sure it is proper for us to leave - well, for you to leave. I mean -"
He was already standing up. "I shall make our apologies. I shall say that as your doctor I can see that you are fatigued and have recommend, nay insisted, that you go home."
I widened my eyes at the what was a clear lie; Charleston had always been a completely honest boy at school. "But you're not my doctor," I said softly.
Charleston shrugged. "I am a doctor and I can see how fatigued you are. You clearly have no more desire to remain here than I do, do you?" I shook my head. "Well then . . . Now you wait here until I return. I assume you had a coat and hat?" I nodded. "I shall collect them for you and make sure a cab will be at the door."
He turned to go, but I caught his arm. He stopped and looked at me. "Thank you, Charleston," I said quietly and honestly, "I really do appreciate your kindness and I really do wish to have dinner with you." And I did and not just because of Raffles but because I had always liked Charleston.
"Good." He smiled down at me before turning and striding across the room.
TWO HOURS LATER
Charleston had been correct, the restaurant to which he took me was indeed very nice; both the food and wine were of high quality and the seating was quite comfortable. I tried hard not to imagine myself dining there with Raffles, but no matter how hard I tried to forget him for one evening, I could not.
I found conversation with Charleston to be far easier than I had expected it to be and the years that had passed since we had last seen one another vanished and I felt it was as if we had dined together on many occasions, whereas of course this was the first time. We talked about school, old boys, his time at Oxford, cricket, his career since leaving Oxford, his hospital (I was somewhat surprised to learn that he had given over a small part of the hospital to people who had mental problems, the facilities were of extremely high class and it was clear they were for those who could afford to pay and pay handsomely), the war, my injury - and of course Raffles.
As much as it pained me to talk about him, to remember him, I also welcomed the chance to talk about him; I even found myself laughing a little at time. Charleston was a fine conversationalist and a very good listener. I felt more comfortable with him than I had ever felt with anyone - except of course for Raffles.
He let me know that he knew of my time spent in prison and how Raffles and I had made our living, and even though I did find my cheeks growing a little warm, I didn't feel the overwhelming embarrassment I had felt in previous years. He did not pass judgement nor did he for a moment let me think he was censoring me, nor did I believe he despised me for what I had done - well had he felt that way I wouldn't be sitting with him.
Whether his lack of judgement or censor was due to the fact he knew how much I missed Raffles, how much his death had hurt me, I did not know. However, I was as certain as I could be without actually asking him that his kindness and lack of censor was not simply due to Raffles being dead. I believe part of him understood only too well how I had found it impossible to say no to Raffles. He did not dwell on the subject nor did he even address the matter directly, he just let me know he knew and that was that. We moved on to other subjects.
In particular we moved onto the subject of my injury. He questioned me for quite some time as to the exact nature and location of the bullet wound and how much pain I suffered and what, if anything, increased or decreased the pain. He asked me about the state of the hospital that had cared for me as well as questioning me about the nurses and doctors and I answered him - I answered him honestly.
I told him more than I had even told my doctor. I told him about the deep, throbbing, insidious pain I lived with every waking moment of every day; I told him of the nights I drank far more than was good for me simply in order to ensure I had a night's sleep; I told him of how often I awoke in the night from the pain. I told him how difficult everything was; how I could not walk without my stick; how I sometimes found it so hard to even stand up; how sitting for any length of time was difficult as my leg became stiff. I told him how the wound still hurt, how it sometimes burnt and made my entire thigh seem to be aflame; I told him how the powders my doctor had given me to help ease the pain barely touched it.
He frowned several times as I talked and more than once I thought he was going to interrupt me, however he did not. He let me finish my tale before he leant a little towards me and said, "Would you like me to examine your leg, Manders? I may be able to help in some way, if only to ease the pain a little more."
I looked at him, if I was honest I wasn't certain I did want him to examine my leg, I was tired of doctors and being examined. However, the prospect, no matter how faint, that he might be able to ease the pain a little did appeal. Thus I smiled and said, "Thank you, Charleston, I would appreciate that."
"Good." I waited for him to give me the address of his hospital but he sat in silence just staring at me. Finally, he wiped his mouth with his napkin and said quietly, "Would you like to come home with me now, Harry? I could examine your leg in far more privacy and comfort than if you come to my hospital."
He had alternated between calling me 'Harry' and 'Manders' all evening and despite it being uncommon for one gentleman to call another by his Christian name, I found I rather liked Charleston doing thus. After all I had been used to and quite happy for Raffles to call me 'Bunny', and whilst other gentlemen had, of course, addressed me as 'Manders' somehow it felt right, it felt natural, it felt reassuring even for Charleston to call me 'Harry'.
I stared at him our gazes locked together and knew quite clearly the invitation to go home with him was not merely for him to examine my leg. I also knew that were I to decline he would not push me; he would not show anger or disappointment, he would accept it and simply tell me where his hospital was. However, I found myself wanting to go home with him; I found the idea of someone putting his arms around me, the idea of someone holding me, the idea of someone - well, it appealed to me.
I knew that had the invitation have come from anyone other than Charleston, that I would have said a very firm 'no', as the idea of anyone, any man, other than Raffles putting his hands, his mouth on me, was not something I would ever consider. But Charleston wasn't 'any other man'; he had been Raffles's boyhood best friend; he had liked me, he had been kind to me when we had been at school; he was my one remaining link with Raffles, with the innocent time of my past.
Yet it wasn't just because of his link to Raffles that made me smile and say softly, "Thank you, Charleston, I would like that." It was because it wasn't the idea of just someone putting his arms around me that appealed to me; it was the idea of Charleston putting his arms around me which appealed to me very much indeed.
He smiled and put his hand over mine. "I'm glad," he said softly.
AN HOUR LATER
I sat in what was a very comfortable chair indeed with my foot up on a stool in front of the fire in Charleston's sitting room; I had a glass of whisky and soda in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Charleston sat on the sofa opposite me, he too had a whisky and soda and a cigarette and we were once again talking.
A few minutes passed and he emptied his glass, stubbed out his cigarette, stood up and held out his hand to me. "Shall we go into my bedroom and I can examine your leg?"
I let him help me to my feet, despite the comfort of the chair and the fact I had had it raised, my leg was somewhat stiff. Again I knew I could suggest he examine me were we were or even say I was too fatigued to undergo an examination that night and he would accept my decision. But I did not wish to decline. I had returned to his home with him with the full knowledge of what his invitation entailed and I was not about to back down from it; I did not wish to back down from it.
Thus I smiled, took my stick which he held out and nodded. He put his hand under my other elbow, cupping it and thus giving me some extra support, and walking slowly, his stride pattern measured to mine, he led me across the room and out into the hallway.
I was relieved that rather than lead me towards the stairs, he led me down the hallway. "I don't use the other floors," he said, by way of an explanation. "The place is really far too large for one person, but . . ." he trailed off and I didn't push him, something in his tone told me not to ask.
We went past several closed doors until he stopped in front of one and opened it, reaching inside to put the light on. "Um, may I . . ." I broke off and silently cursed myself; really I was not the stammering boy he had known at school. I forced myself to say firmly, "May I use your bathroom, please?"
"Of course," he said turning and pointing to the door next to his bedroom. "It is just next door."
I smiled. "Thank you," and walking slowly but steadily I made my way to the door and went inside. I didn't look back, but I knew he was standing watching me. He was still outside his bedroom when I left the bathroom.
His hand once more under my elbow he guided me into his bedroom and led me across to his bed. For a moment he just gazed down at me (he was a few inches taller than Raffles) and I just waited for him to say something or to kiss me or whatever it was he had in mind. And then, as he had done earlier in the evening, he raised his hand and brushed my hair from my forehead and I trembled just a little.
We stood for a moment or two longer just staring at one another until he put his hands into his pockets and said, his tone suddenly formal, "Do sit down, Manders, and make yourself comfortable and let me examine your leg."
I hesitated for a second or two before making the decision to remove my dining jacket before I unbuttoned my trousers and sat down on his bed. He dropped down onto his heels in front of me, rubbed his hands together for a moment or two, before carefully pushing the leg of my drawers up and began to move his hands over my thigh.
The touch was professional, the way he was looking at me was the way a doctor looked at any patient, but his touch made my heart begin to beat just a little more quickly as my mouth became dry. The frown that had creased his brow several times as I had told him about my wound and the treatment I had received returned as he pressed the skin around and over the scar and felt up and down my thigh.
He sighed softly and looked up at me. "This wound has not been stitched particularly well. The scar did not have to be as bad as it is."
I shrugged; the look of it didn't bother me, after all no one but I was ever going to see it, at least not anyone who would care (well at least that is what I'd thought until tonight). "I know the surgeon operated rather quickly, he said it had been to reduce the risk of infection, given how long I had spent out in the sun with all the dust and dirt around me after I had been shot."
Charleston nodded and then said, "I can understand that, but even so I would have liked to have thought he would have taken a little more care."
"It doesn't bother me, Charleston, the way it looks that is," I added.
He gave me a quick smile and returned to his examination. Once more his touches were those of a professional doctor, I kept telling myself that, but his hands were definitely beginning to have an affect on my body. I shifted a little on the bed and he glanced up at me. "Are you uncomfortable, Harry?" he asked. "Would you prefer to lie back on the bed?"
I stared at him, moistened my lips and said quietly, "Yes, please, Charleston, I think that would be a good idea."
He helped me to manoeuvre myself onto his bed and waited for me to get comfortable before he knelt on the bed and once more began to examine my leg. Now he pressed a little harder and more than once I bit back a gasp, but he clearly knew because he glanced at me and said quietly, "I do apologise for hurting you, Harry, but I am nearly finished."
I smiled and nodded. "It's all right."
He smiled back at me and once more concentrated on my leg. "Well," he said, a few moments later as he leant back on his heels. "I can definitely give you some stronger powders which will lessen the pain and I can also suggest a few exercises, that whilst to begin with will, I'm afraid, cause you more pain, will in the longer term help you. I could also show you how to massage your leg which will help the muscles and thus help with the pain."
I stared up at him, pushed myself up onto my elbows and said softly, "Thank you, Charleston."
He stared at me and I watched him moisten his lips before he said quietly, "Do you wish to get dressed again, Harry?"
I didn't hesitate even for a second. I shook my head, smiled again and said softly, "No, Charleston, I do not," then I added, "do you wish me to?"
He shook his head slowly and put his hand on my cheek. "Are you quite certain, Harry?" He traced my cheekbone with his finger as he moved from sitting on his heels to half-lying next to me.
I swallowed. "Yes, Charleston," I said, "I am quite certain and I took his other hand in mine and pulled it to my lips and kissed it.
He gasped softly, slid his hand into my hair and moved closer to me. The next moment his mouth was on mine and he was kissing me; seconds later I began to kiss him back. His mouth, his lips, his hand in my hair, his scent and his taste were all strange to me, and yet in a way they were also familiar. He slid one arm around me and pulled me nearer to him, again the embrace was known and yet unknown. I responded to his kiss, to his embrace, to his touch and not for a moment did I let myself imagine it was Raffles's lips on mine, that it was Raffles's arms in which I lay.
After several minutes he sat up and gazed down at me, his hands moved to my bowtie and his eyes silently asked me a question. I smiled and nodded and moments later my tie was undone and he had begun to unbutton my shirt. I let him undress me and then I watched him undress himself before, now completely naked, he once more joined me on the bed where he manoeuvred us both until we were in the bed rather than on top of it. And he once more put his arms around me and his mouth on mine.
His hand began to move over my body, touching me, caressing me, stroking me and my body responded to his touch and his kiss, I even moaned softly with pleasure. In some ways his kisses, his touches, the way his hands moved over my body were the same as Raffles's, maybe because they had learnt about sex together; in other ways it was quite different. I was acutely aware that as skilled a lover as Raffles had been, and he had been very skilled and very experienced, in many respects Charleston's hands were even more skilled, more knowledgeable, as his intimate knowledge of the human body as a doctor and not just as a lover became clear.
His hand finally closed around me and it was scant seconds before his hand was wet and sticky and I was murmuring his name, as my body tingled and shook in a way I had believed I would never experience again. "Harry," he whispered, wiping his hand on the sheet and brushing my hair back from my forehead. "My dear Harry."
I smiled at him and after pulling his head down so that I could kiss him, I slowly moved my hand down his body and took him into my hand. I paused for a moment and looked at him. "Charleston," I said.
He put his finger on my lips and kissed my cheek. "It's all right, Harry," he said softly, "I know." And he closed his hand around mine for a second or two and guided me until I felt the confidence I had gained over the years Raffles and I had been lovers return, and I stroked him until I heard him gasp my name and felt his release fill my hand.
He settled back down next to me and once more began to kiss me before he gazed at me, and in the instant I knew he knew; I knew we both knew. This wasn't the beginning, something I believe we had both hoped for; instead in some ways it was the end, the resolution rather of our shared love for the same man. The man who had left us both; the man who had died; the man who lay buried so far from home; the man who - I stopped the thought before I could finish it. I would not allow myself to believe that. I could not.
I felt tears slip from my eyes and fall down my cheeks. I heard Charleston sigh softly and felt his fingers wipe away the tears as he gathered me nearer to him, pulling my head against his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Harry," he whispered to me, his lips on my ear, under my hair. "I'm so very sorry. I wish . . ." He trailed off.
I swallowed and forced myself to stop crying and then I stared up at him and gave him a half-smile. "I know, Charleston," I said softly, "I wish it too." And I did, I truly did, it wasn't just a platitude; it wasn't just words. I truly meant them. And as the tears once more slipped from my eyes, I knew they weren't just tears for Raffles and what I had lost when he had died.
We made love again and then spent quite some time just lying together in a loose embrace kissing and from time to time letting fingertips stroke the other's skin. It was sweet, it was peaceful, it was tender, it was moving, it was right. But it wasn't to be.
It was some time before I slowly got out of bed and began to dress; Charleston had invited me to spend the night with him, but that I had declined. I had tried to argue that he need not get up and dress, that I could see myself out, but he ignored me. "Harry?" he said, as he pulled on his trousers.
"I hope . . . That is . . . I would like to think we could be friends," he said, his tone very formal.
I paused the buttoning of my shirt and smiled at him. "I'd like that, very much," I said.
The smile he gave me was one of genuine pleasure and relief. "Good. Would you like to dine with me next Wednesday?"
I nodded without hesitation. "Yes, please."
He smiled again. "Good. I belong to another club, not as popular as the one we were at tonight; I think you would like it." I smiled and pulled on my dining jacket. He came across the room and handed me two cards; one was the address of his club, the other was his personal card, it contained the details of his hospital as well as his home.
"Thank you," I took them and put them into my pocket. "I'm afraid I haven't . . . That is . . . There seemed no point, I had no plans to venture out. So," I paused.
"I understand," he said, and I believed he did.
"I have rooms at The Fellows." I wasn't surprised to see him raise an eyebrow. "Raffles left everything to me," I said, glancing away from him and staring down at the floor rather than meet his eye, because of course he knew how the money had been made.
I felt his hand on my shoulder and the other under my chin, gently pushing it up. "It's all right, Harry," he said firmly, his look and the tone of his voice telling me that it really was.
I forced myself to relax and to meet his gaze as I said quietly, "Thank you, Charleston."
"I have a small supply of the powders I suggested; hopefully it will last until next week when once I know if they are helping you, I can give you a prescription. And I can also give you details of the exercises I believe will help you and show you how to massage your leg. In the meantime, try not to sit in one position for too long and take as many warm baths as you wish to. The heat will help and whilst you are bathing, just rub your hands over your thigh."
I smiled at him. "Thank you, Charleston. I'll do those things."
"Good boy," he said and then flushed. I just smiled at him and gave him a look I hoped told him I didn't mind the term; maybe I should, given I was a grown man of more than thirty years and not the boy he had once known, but I didn't mind.
We stood for another moment or two just looking at one another, before he cupped my face between his hands and put his lips on mine and kissed me for quite some time for what I knew would be the final time. I kissed him back and once more wished . . . But it wouldn't have been right, no matter how right it felt, not for him nor for me.
It was Charleston who, having put his overcoat on over his shirt, went out into the street and flagged down a cab to take me home and Charleston who assisted me as I climbed inside. "Well until Wednesday, Harry," he said, handing me the package of powders. "But if you have need of a doctor, or indeed a friend, before then please do not hesitate to ring me either at the hospital or at home. I will ensure the receptionists know you are a friend of mine and thus you won't have any problems being put through to me."
"Thank you, Charleston," I said. "I shall indeed do that thing." I touched his hand.
"Good," he said, before glancing up at the cab driver. "The Fellows," he said, "and do drive carefully."
"I always do, guv," he man said and the next moment we were underway.
TWENTY MINUTES LATER
I let myself into my rooms, removed my hat and coat and, still carrying the package of powders Charleston had given me, made my way slowly into the sitting room. I was rather pleased to discover the fire had not, as I had imagined, gone out completely, and that before I had gone out I must have left a light on and drawn the curtains - neither of which I remembered doing.
I gasped, dropped the package of powders and also my stick as I turned around. I would have fallen but for the fact that two strong arms wrapped themselves around me and held me firmly, pulling me against a firm body, a body I knew so very well. "Raffles?" I dared to whisper as my head found its way onto his shoulder. "Raffles? Is it . . . ? Is it really you, Raffles?"
I felt his lips on my head and then on my ear as he said, "Oh, yes, my beloved, dearest rabbit, it is I."
I clung to him in a way I hadn't clung to him since we'd been school boys together. I was shaking, my mouth was dry, my heartbeat was far faster than I believed to be good for me and I was finding it hard to breathe. He held me tightly, protectively, possessively, lovingly - just how he had always held me and murmured gentle, soothing, loving words into my ear.
I was confused, my mind was a whir, I was even a little afeared as I seemed to have little or no actual control over my body. How could it be he? He was dead; he had died next to me; I had lain next to his dead body for several hours before anyone found us. He could not be here in my rooms, holding me, talking to me. What was wrong with me? Was I going insane? Had I lost my mind? Or had the cab Charleston had put me into crashed and in fact was I dead? But if I were dead why were we in my rooms and not -
"But you're -"
"Here," he said softly. "I am here, Bunny; I am here, my sweet rabbit; I am here with you."
I wanted to believe him; I really did. I wanted him to be alive; I desperately wanted him to be alive. However, I know what had happened; I had seen it; I had heard it; I had smelt it; I had felt it when I'd touched his cold hand.
I pulled back from him just a little and gazed up into his face, the face I knew and loved and he gazed back down at me his expression and the look in his eyes full of the usual way he looked at me. And suddenly I didn't care; I didn't care what I remembered; I didn't care what I knew; I didn't even care if I had gone insane. All I cared about was the fact that he was here; he was holding me, gazing down with a look so full of love it made my throat become even more constricted and my eyes began to burn with tears.
"Oh, Raffles," I whispered and the next second his mouth was on mine and he was kissing me as he had always kissed me and I was pressed against his body, my body already reacting to his kiss, to his hardening body. I kissed him back as I went on clinging to him and pressing against him; it was my mouth that opened his, my tongue that found its way into his mouth as he gasped softly and pulled me even nearer to him.
"Oh, Bunny, Bunny, my very own, sweet rabbit," he murmured, taking his mouth from mine for a moment. "You are still mine, are you not?"
"Always," I exclaimed and then glanced down at the floor for a moment as the memory of what I had done less than an hour ago hit me. "Raffles," I gasped, as he took one arm from around me and began to move his hand down my body.
He paused for a second. "My rabbit?"
I felt my cheeks begin to burn. How could I tell him? What would he think of me? How could I - I couldn't. I couldn't go from making love with Charleston to - "I . . . That is . . . Oh, Raffles, I -"
"Hush, my rabbit," he said softly, as he put his mouth on mine again. "It's all right, Bunny. It's quite, quite all right."
"But -" And then he put his hand on my forehead, letting his fingers push my fringe back before they tangled in my hair and stroked my scalp, and suddenly all thoughts of what I had done earlier in the evening fled. All thoughts of everything other than the fact he was here with me, holding me, kissing me, caressing me, about to make love to me fled, and I pushed myself forward into his hand.
He smiled and then experienced, knowledgeable, wonderful fingers unbuttoned my trousers slipped inside and - And within a second I was crying his name and the hand that held me became wet and sticky.
My heart rate increased even more as I drew air into my lungs and held onto him; the force of my release had taken me by surprise and I knew were it not for him holding me, supporting me, protecting me, I would not, I could not, have remained on my feet.
I stood quivering, clinging to him, enjoying the sensation of his hand still holding me lightly, as he supported me until finally the beat of my heart slowed a little. I regained my centre of balance and I wanted only one thing: I wanted to touch him in the way he had touched me, I wanted to feel him, to stroke him, to have him make my hand wet. In fact I wanted more, much, much more. I wanted to drop to my knees and take him into my mouth and - But that was an impossibility, my thigh would never allow me to kneel like that.
Thus I put my hand over him, taking pleasure is how hard he was and in how he pushed into my hand and how even he trembled just a little as I began to unbutton his trousers. Scant seconds later I had my hand around his heated hardness and scant seconds after that my hand was indeed wet and sticky and he was crying my name with an intensity I could barely remember ever hearing before.
And then we were kissing again, arms wrapped tightly around one another, bodies pressed so closely together even I didn't know where my body ended and his began. And then we were in my bedroom, he was stripping me and offering me his hand to help me into bed (my stick had been abandoned in the sitting room). And then he was stripping himself. And then he was in bed with me and once more I was in his arms, my naked body pressed against his as within seconds of one another our bodies released from the pressure of nothing more than our bodies rubbing against one another.
"I love you, Raffles," I murmured, "I love you, I love you," I repeated as he pulled me nearer to him and once more tangled my hair around his fingers. "I love you so much. I -"
His mouth on mine silenced me for a brief moment or two before he lifted his head, gazed at me and said in his very formal, gentle tone, "And I my most beloved, dearest, sweetest Bunny, I, my very own rabbit, love you."
"Oh, Raffles," I whispered and I didn't try to prevent the tears from falling from my eyes as he smiled and gathered me into his arms, put his mouth and mine. And then . . .
And then I awoke in my bed with the lamp still shining, day light filtering through a small gap in the curtains and an empty bed next to me. He had gone. I turned over onto my side and touched the bed and the pillow where he had lain. Both were cold; both were very cold. Thus, he had been gone for quite some time, if indeed he had ever been here at all. And yet there was a soft indent in the pillow next to me, however, I could easily have moved in the night; I often did move around in the night and more than once I had awakened to find myself on the other side of the bed.
I sat up and pushed the sheet back to reveal my naked body and a bed that showed evidence of - But what did it show evidence of? What did it really show evidence of?
I sighed softly, got out of bed, pulled my dressing gown on, picked up my stick and made my way into the bathroom. It had been many, many weeks since I had dreamt about Raffles - well at least since I had dreamt we were making love and I could only imagine the reason I had done so last night was because of what I had done with Charleston.
As I moved from the lavatory to turn on the bath taps, I allowed myself to wonder fleetingly if in fact I had been wrong about what had happened with Charleston and whether in fact we could start a new beginning together. However as the bath began to fill and I moved to the sink to brush my teeth I looked in the mirror and I knew I had not been wrong. No matter how much we might both have hoped, wanted even, that we could have formed a life together, we could not.
I stayed in the bath for a lot longer than I normally did. I spent part of the time rubbing my leg as Charleston had told me to do and I found it hurt less to rub it whilst it was under water. By the time I got out of the bath, I found my leg throbbed and hurt a little less than was normal.
I dressed, took one of the powders, which I found on my dresser, Charleston had given me and ordered breakfast. As I waited for it to be delivered, I stared out of the window and let my mind wander back to what had happened last night after I had got home and found - I let my mind wander back to what I have dreamt off last night.
LATER THAT NIGHT
I had eaten supper, closed the curtains, added more coal to the fire and turned on the lamps and was sitting on the sofa a whisky and soda on the table next to me, a Sullivan in my hand, a book open on my lap when I heard a faint noise which caused me to glance up.
"Hello, Bunny," he said and smiled at me.
Somehow, I do not quite know how I achieved it, I managed not to drop my cigarette on my book, but managed instead to put it down in the ashtray where he picked it up, sucked smoke into his mouth as he locked gazes with me. The next moment he had extinguished the cigarette and I was on my feet, in his arms, my body pressed against his, his mouth on mine sharing the smoke he had inhaled with me.
It was not long before we were once again naked in my bed kissing with a passion I could not quite remember us ever sharing, hands moving over bodies, caressing, stroking, holding, giving and taking pleasure, crying one another's names as our bodies reacted in the ultimate way.
Once more when I awoke I was alone.
Once more I believed it had been nothing more than a beautiful dream.
At least I did until I caught sight of my wrist and saw faint bruises from fingers and I remembered Raffles holding my hands over my head with one hand as his mouth closed around me. It wasn't that he had held me particularly tightly, it wasn't that he had hurt me, he hadn't; he wouldn't. It is just that I have always, having such fair skin, bruised somewhat easily and I had noticed since returning to England, that I now bruised even more easily. I merely had to knock slightly against a piece of furniture to find a bruise.
As I stared at the faint bruises, examining them, turning my wrist this way and that I saw quite, quite clearly that they could not have been caused by me knocking against something. They were quite clearly the marks of fingers and quite clearly they could not have been caused by my own hand gripping myself.
THE FOLLOWING WEDNESDAY
"Are you quite certain you don't mind me going out to dinner with Charleston?" I asked as Raffles tied my bowtie for me.
"No, my rabbit, of course I do not mind; I am rather pleased, actually." I stared at him and tried hard to hide a faint tremble that began to move though my body. He sighed softly, took his hands from my neck and pulled me into his arms, gathering me carefully against him. "No, my rabbit, I am not pleased for the reason your over active imagination is imagining me pleased. It is just nice to know that my rabbit and Charlie are friends. You need a friend, Bunny," he said softly.
"I have you," I declared, resting my head against his shoulder. He just sighed softly. "Raffles?" I leant back a little and stared at him. "What -" His mouth on mine silenced me and by the time he lifted his head I had forgotten what I had been about to say.
"There," he said returning his hands to my neck and tweaking my bowtie slightly. "Where are you dining?" he offered me his arm and with me leaning on him a little we went out into the hall where he helped me on with my overcoat.
"I am quite certain you will have a very pleasant evening."
And actually even though part of me wanted to stay in my rooms with Raffles, I found I was looking forward to seeing Charleston again. The week since Raffles had first appeared in my rooms had been more intense than any other week I had ever known. I barely managed more than an hour's sleep as I did not wish to waste a moment of my time with Raffles and when I did awake I was often physically drained from the hours we had spent making love.
Also had I believed myself to be the focus of Raffles's attention before he - before we went to fight for our country - I had been somewhat mistaken, as during the hours he spent with me of an evening in my rooms he never once, not even for a second or two, let me out of his sight and he barely kept a hand off of me. His gaze would stay affixed on me, the intensity of it, the power of the love he emanated actually exhausted me. Thus, I was looking forward to an hour or two in the company of someone else whom I liked, someone who wouldn't focus on me with anywhere near the intensity that Raffles focused on me.
I had never been a person who could sleep during the day and thus had been unable to make up for my lack of sleep at night. I knew I looked tired and I hoped Charleston would be too much of a gentleman and less of a doctor to ask me if all was well.
I glanced at my watch and saw it was time I left. I picked up the stick I used when I went out in the evenings and my hat and looked at Raffles. "Will you," I paused, suddenly not certain what to say, how to ask him.
He smiled, put his hands on my shoulders, lowered his head and kissed me gently. "I shall indeed be here when you return, Bunny," he said.
I sighed with pleasure and offered him my mouth to kiss again which with a smile he did, before turning me around and opening my front door for me. "Have a nice evening, my rabbit," he said.
I smiled at him. "Thank you, Raffles," I said. "I'm sure I shall." And with another smile, I went out of my rooms and used the lift to take me down to the ground floor where a cab was waiting at the door for me. I didn't have to turn around to know that Raffles had stood in my doorway watching me until the lift doors had closed; nor did I have to look up to the windows of my rooms to know he was staring down into the street.
HALF AN HOUR LATER
"Hello, Manders," Charleston said, coming towards me and taking my hand. "It is good to see you again."
"Hello, Charleston," I shook his hand and smiled up at him. "It's good to see you as well, thank you for inviting me to dine with you."
He gave me another smile and then in what was a quite natural way offered me his arm. Given my deeper level of tiredness, even though I was generally in less pain, I was more than grateful to take it and allow him to offer me support, as well of course as leaning on my stick.
Dinner was, as I expected, very enjoyable and Charleston's company was even more enjoyable. As we talked and ate and drank I felt myself relax in a way I had only ever relaxed with Raffles, and I realised as I looked across the table at Charleston that I wasn't in awe of him as I had been a boy. I respected him enormously, not just for being the kind, honest, upright, caring man he was, but also because of his profession, but I no longer felt awed by him.
"And how is your leg, Harry?" Charleston asked, as he offered me his cigarette case. "Is the pain any less?"
"Thank you," I took a cigarette and waited for him to strike a match, again which he offered to me first before lighting his own cigarette. "Yes, the pain has indeed been lessened, both by the powders you prescribed and by the exercises and advice about rubbing it you gave me."
Even though Charleston had, when we'd dined together last week, said he would explain the exercises to me when we met again this week, the day after we had dined he rang me and suggested I go to his hospital, where he showed me around and spent quite some time with me showing me how to exercise my leg and exactly how to rub it. Thus, I'd had the best part of a week to feel and see the improvement; an improvement that was entirely down to him.
We talked and smoked and enjoyed coffee and brandy and I was really glad I had not rung Charleston and told him I couldn't meet him for dinner, which once Raffles had returned to my side, I had given serious consideration to doing.
Suddenly Charleston said, "We should make this a regular arrangement, if you'd like that, Harry." He was using my Christian name more and more and I really did find I liked it.
I smiled at him. "I'd like that, Charleston," I said.
"Would you? Would you really, Harry?" His voice was low and had a slight edge to it, an edge I couldn't indentify.
"Of course I would, Charleston. Why do you ask?"
He looked at me. "Because you seem a little," he paused and lit another cigarette, "distant, I believe is the closest I can get to explaining it. Have I offended you in some way, Harry? Do you . . . Well . . . Has it anything to do with what happened when you came home with me last week?"
I widened my eyes and hastily shook my head, even though my cheeks felt warm. "No," I said, "No, you have not offended me, Charleston; I do not believe you could offend anyone. It has nothing to do with - Well, you know. It's just I haven't been sleeping that well recently, that is all and I am a little fatigued."
I wasn't completely surprised when he leant over the table and took my hand in his and put his fingers on my pulse and then put his hand on my forehead and really looked at me. He frowned a little. "Yes, you do look somewhat paler than usual, Harry, and now I come to really look at you, you do look more than a little tired. Do you know why you are not sleeping?"
Of course I did, but I could hardly tell Charleston, could I? So instead I shrugged, reached for my cigarette case as an excuse to look away from him and said, "Not really, no."
"Is your leg troubling you? Because you said -"
I shook my head. "No, it's not my leg; that really is quite a lot less painful thanks to you."
Charleston's cheeks flushed a little and he glanced away from me. "I was only doing my job, Harry." I smiled at him, hoping to convey that as good and caring and conscientious doctor as I knew him to be, he had I believed gone a little further for me than he might have done for anyone else. The way his cheeks flushed a little more and the way he smiled at me told me he had understood. "I can give you some sleeping powders, they should help. They shouldn't be taken on a long term basis, but they would allow you to get some sleep; sleep I believe you need."
I considered the offer; I really didn't like lying to Charleston and I wasn't overly keen on taking anything else. However, I really was getting more and more fatigued, and whilst I would not take the powders at night, maybe they would allow me to sleep for a few hours during the day before Raffles came to me. "If you think that would be a good idea, then yes, please. I really would like to be able to sleep."
He stared at me for a moment or two and I forced myself to hold his gaze, least he work out I wasn't being entirely truthful with him. "Very well," he said. "I will give you some before we leave." I knew that wherever Charleston went, he took his doctor's bag with him.
"Thank you, Charleston," I said.
He touched my hand. "You are welcome, Harry."
A MONTH LATER
Once more Raffles's hands were at my throat, tying my bowtie for me before I left him to keep my weekly dinner appointment with Charleston. As well as meeting for dinner every Wednesday, Charleston and I had also seen one another a few times during the day as well; we had had lunch together on a handful of occasions and the more time I spent with him, the more I enjoyed his company.
I shifted slightly as Raffles finished tying my tie and brushed my hair off my forehead. "Are you all right, my rabbit?" he asked.
I smiled up at him and moved a little nearer to him as he put his arms around me and held me closely against him. "Yes, thank you, Raffles," I said, not being entirely truthful with him. The truth was I was not only exhausted from his constant attention, I was also more than a little bruised and sore from our nightly lovemaking.
His kisses, his touches, the way he stroked me, the way he wanted me to touch him, were even more demanding than they had been before he - Before we had gone to fight for our country. We had made love then on a fairly frequent basis, but not every night and certainly not several times a night. However, since his return to my rooms not a night had gone by when I wasn't crying his name out and shuddering with pleasure.
And I loved it, of course I did; I loved Raffles, I loved him kissing me, touching me, stroking me to my release; I loved what he did to my body, how intimate he was, how he showed me quite how much he loved me. However, it was getting so very tiring and draining and I was quite certain hurting as I did was not right and not what he would want. I was also bruising so very easily, even his hand around my wrist or his teeth lightly teasing my skin caused me to bruise - which caused him concerns, I could see it in his eyes.
I longed for an evening or two or more when we did nothing but exchange a few kisses and embraces; a night I could fall asleep in his arms. But that wasn't what he wanted and the longer our time together went on, the more demanding, the more insistent, the more constant in not letting me out of his sight, he became. It was as if he was he was afeared of something, not of losing me, that I knew he knew would never happen, but almost as if he was storing up the kisses, the caressing, the lovemaking for a time when -
He cupped my face between his hands, gazed down and me and said in a very solemn tone, "I do love you, Bunny. I love you so very much; you must believe that, no matter what."
I smiled up at him and sighed softly with the pleasure of feeling his fingertips begin to lightly stroke my face. "I know you do, Raffles, and I love you too, I love you so very much. I -" His lips on mine silenced me.
We kissed in a far gentler way than we normally kissed; he appeared to be taking great care not to make my lips swollen or to bruise me as he held my face very lightly. Indeed, he held me so lightly I could barely feel his hands on my face.
"Have a good evening with Charlie," he said, after several minutes had gone by.
I smiled at him. "I'm sure I shall, Raffles." And then I heard myself asking what I asked every Wednesday, something I didn't need to ask. "You will still be here when I return, will you not?"
He smiled gently at me. "Of course I will be, my rabbit, where else would I wish to be other than here waiting for my beloved Bunny?"
I leant against him for a moment or two, "Good," I murmured, meaning it but at the same time for a fleeting second almost wishing - I stopped the thought instantly. Of course I did not wish he to be gone - I just wished . . .
He kissed me lightly again, brushed my hair from my forehead and sighed softly. "My dearest, sweetest, rabbit," he said quietly, before offering me his arm and leading me out into the hallway where he helped me on with my overcoat and handed me my hat and evening stick.
"I . . . Nothing," I said and tipped my head back a little in an invitation for him to kiss me one more time before I left.
TWO HOURS LATER
I don't quite know how it happened. However, when I returned to our table after visiting the lavatory I stumbled slightly and sat down more heavily than I had planned to do and I could not prevent myself from crying aloud softly.
In an instant Charleston was on his feet, had come around the table and dropped to his heels in front of me and had taken my hand in his. "Harry, are you all right? Is it your leg?"
I was so tired, so very, very, very tired. I was drained. I was close to exhaustion. I hurt in ways I didn't wish to hurt. Add to that the fact that we had already enjoyed a sherry and a bottle of wine and now had a glass of brandy in front of us, and before I really knew what I was saying I found myself answering him honestly; answering him without really thinking. "No," I said, and then bit my lip as I realised what I had said.
He frowned at me. "Harry?" he said, brushing my hair back from my forehead. "What is the matter? You know you can tell me anything, do you not? You can tell me anything as your doctor or as your friend."
I stared at him and again bit my lip as I nodded. "I know," I said quietly.
"That's a good boy," he murmured and he brushed the back of my hand with his fingers. I am quite certain he had not intended to push my cuff back, but he did and gasped as he saw the finger mark bruises on my wrist. "Harry!" he exclaimed and then softened his voice, "Harry, my dear Harry, please tell me what is wrong. Has someone . . . ? Look, Harry, I meant what I said, you can tell me anything and I will not condemn you, nor will I pass judgement; just tell me, Harry."
Once more his other hand went to my forehead, more I think to feel if I was warmer than I should be. However, as it again brushed my hair back I made a soft noise and said, "May I really tell you anything, Charleston?"
"Of course you may, Harry."
"And you will not tell anyone else?"
"No, Harry, of course I will not; I give you my word."
"You must not tell anyone else." For a moment I gripped his arm tightly.
"I won't." He spoke softly in a reassuring tone.
I swallowed hard, let go of his arm, reached a shaky hand for my glass and took a deep swallow. "Raffles is alive," I said, feeling the joy in my heart as I spoke the words.
"What?" Charleston just stared at me. "Harry?" Once more his hand went to my head and now his fingers also moved to cover my pulse.
"I am quite well, Charleston; I do not have a fever. I am well. Raffles is alive and I am well."
He was still sitting on his heels in front of me, but now he stood up and without letting go of my hand, pulled his chair towards him, sat down and took both of my hands in his. "Tell me, Harry," he said gently. "Tell me all about A. J."
"When I went home after the first time we had dinner together, he was waiting for me. He was inside my rooms, he had built up the fire, put the lights on, pulled the curtains and he was waiting for me. And he returns to me every evening. He's alive," I repeated.
Charleston was silent for a moment as he reached for his own glass and took a small sip of brandy. "Does he not stay with you during the day?"
I shook my head. "No, he's always gone when I awaken and he comes back in the early evening. He's there now, waiting for me. And you see that's why I'm tired and why -" I fell silent and felt my cheeks flush. "You see we . . ." I trailed off and looked at him, imploring him to understand and not make me say anything else.
He gave me a gentle smile and nodded. "I understand, Harry." He took another sip of brandy, moistened his lips and said softly, "And does A. J. hurt you, Harry? Is that why -"
"No!" I exclaimed; I was intent on standing up and - Well I wasn't quite sure what else I would have done. However, I did not even manage to stand up, as Charleston used his superior strength (he had stronger even than Raffles when we had all been at school, and I could tell as he held me firmly but gently that he hadn't lost that strength) to keep me in my seat. "How could you ask that, Charleston?"
He sighed softly and turned my hand over and again, this time quite deliberately, pushed my cuff back. "Someone has held you very tightly, Harry, and if your leg wasn't the cause of your discomfort when you sat down a short time ago, well something else had to be. So I shall ask you again, does A. J. hurt you?"
I shook my head. "No, Charleston. It's just . . . Well, it's . . . We . . . It happens often," I managed, and then because I couldn't lie any longer and because Charleston was so kind and caring added, my cheeks burning, "every night in fact."
I saw his cheeks flush a little and for a moment he glanced away from me. Then he said softly, "And these?" he nodded to the bruises on my wrist.
I shrugged. "I bruise easily, I always have. Don't you remember from when we were at school?"
"Well, yes, but -"
"And ever since I came home to England I seem to bruise even more easily. I can simply brush against a door and I end up with a bruise on my arm or leg. And -" I sighed softly and turned my hand over and let him see the back of my hand, where he had held me to prevent me from standing up. The skin was red, very red, I could see the faint marks of his fingertips, and I knew by the morrow the skin would have bruised.
He stared down and then looked back at me, his eyes wide. "Oh, Harry," he murmured, "I am so very sorry. I didn't mean to - Oh, Harry, I did not believe I held you that tightly."
"You didn't," I said, my tone I hoped was a reassuring one. "It's just what happens. Raffles doesn't hurt me, Charleston, he doesnít hold me tightly; the bruises you can see on my wrist are caused simply by him covering my wrist with his hand, that is all. Come on, Charleston, you've known Raffles for longer than I have, have you ever known him to be cruel? Would he ever hurt anyone about whom he cared? Anyone he loved," I added softly.
He stared at me and shook his head. "No," he whispered. "No, he would not. And I know he would never, ever, he could never, ever hurt you. I apologise, Harry, for - It's just that . . . Well, sometimes the doctor in me takes over from the friend - although in this case it was both."
I smiled at him. "I understand," I said.
He was silent for a moment or two and I could see he was thinking. "Harry, forgive me for asking, but are you quite . . . I mean . . . You are not dreaming, are you, Harry? Dreaming that A. J. is with you? I know what he meant to you; I know how devastated you were when he . . . Harry, is it possible you . . ."
"Am making him up?" Charleston gave a half-shrug. I pushed my cuff back and lifted my hand slightly. "Could I have made those marks myself?"
He stared at them and then at me. "No," he said softly.
"Well then." And then I had an idea. "I know, come home with me."
"Come home with me now and you'll see. He's there; Raffles is in my rooms waiting for me. Come home with me, Charleston."
He stared at me and once more his hand went to my head as he squeezed my hand. "Very well, Harry," he said softly. "I shall accompany you back to your rooms."
I smiled at him.
HALF AN HOUR LATER
"Raffles!" I called as I preceded Charleston into my rooms. "Please don't be angry with me, Raffles, but I've brought Charleston back with me. It's all right; he's promised he won't tell anyone that you're - Raffles?" I dropped my hat and overcoat onto the hall table and hurried into the sitting room where Raffles stood by the fire, his hands in his pockets, a rather grim look on his face, just staring at me. "Raffles!" I cried, ignoring the look as I hurried across the room and into his arms. "Oh, Raffles," I sighed. "You don't mind, do you?"
He gazed down at me for a moment and the grim look vanished to be replaced by a soft smile. "No, my rabbit," he said softly, "I do not mind. But you -" He fell silent and I saw his gaze move from looking down at me to looking over my shoulder.
I moved slightly, turning in his arms so I could look in the same direction. Charleston was standing in the doorway staring at us. I looked up at Raffles and saw to my horror anguish on his face, as well as longing as he stared at the man who had been his boyhood best friend. The man I knew he had always loved in a way quite different from the way he loved me.
I waited for one of them to move, but neither did; Raffles just went on gazing at Charleston and Charleston - Charleston I noticed was actually looking at me. "Well?" I demanded, looking from Raffles to Charleston, "aren't you going to say hello to one another?"
"Harry," Charleston started to say and fell silent.
"Raffles?" I turned from Charleston to look at Raffles again. "What is the matter?"
He dragged his gaze from Charleston, looked down at me and brushed my hair from my forehead. "Charlie cannot see me, my rabbit," he said softly.
I stared up at him. "What? What do you mean, Raffles?"
He pulled me a little nearer to him. "I wish he could, Bunny, I really wish he could. I would like little more than to be able to talk to Charlie again, to embrace him even. However, it is not possible."
"I don't understand, Raffles. How can I see you, how can I feel you, how can - How, Raffles? How can that be possible? Why can I see you and Charleston cannot?"
"Oh, my rabbit," he said, his voice was heavy with pain. "Oh, my beloved little rabbit." And he kissed my forehead.
I did not understand. I turned in his embrace and looked at Charleston who was still standing in the doorway just staring at me. "Can't you see, Raffles, Charleston?" I demanded. "Tell me you can see him. You must be able to see him."
Slowly, very slowly indeed, Charleston shook his head. "No, Harry," he said softly, "I cannot see A. J."
I turned back to Raffles and stared up at him; suddenly I was sure they were playing some kind of cruel practical joke on me. I ignored the fact that I knew neither man would be cruel to me. "I am sorry, Bunny," Raffles murmured. "I am truly sorry."
"Wait!" I cried and quite deliberately dropped the stick I had kept in my hand even as I had embraced Raffles and instead just clung to Raffles's arm. "Look Charleston!" I cried.
Charleston gasped and in three long strides was by my side and had caught my arm in his hand and was steadying me. "Harry," he breathed.
"Donít do that, my rabbit," Raffles murmured. "You could have given Charlie a heart-attack and you wouldn't want to do that, would you?"
"Of course I wouldn't, Raffles. Thank you, Charleston," I said politely, taking the stick he had bent to pick up. "I do apologise if I scared you, please will you forgive me?"
"Of course, Harry, there is no need to apologise to me," Charleston said, as his fingers brushed my hair back. I felt Raffles stiffen a little and felt his hand, which was resting on my shoulder, tighten. I bit back a sigh as I knew I would have fresh bruises on my shoulder in the morning.
Charleston, his hand still on my arm, looked at me before glancing over my shoulder in Raffles's direction. He then looked back at me. "Harry, I believe a good night's sleep is what you need. I wish you to take two of the powders I gave you. I will -"
"No!" I cried. "I can't, please, Charleston, don't make me sleep. I -"
"Do as Charlie tells you, Bunny," Raffles said softly, but firmly.
I turned to him. "But, Raffles."
I sighed. "Very well. But what about you? Will you . . ." I broke off and gazed imploringly up at him.
"Of course I will stay with you, my rabbit."
"Do you promise?" I knew I sounded like the thirteen year old boy he had taken into his care and under his protection, but at that moment I did not care.
"I promise, Bunny," he said. "Now do as Charlie tell you. Do whatever Charlie tells you."
I sighed again. "Very well, Raffles." I turned to Charleston who still stood holding my arm, a look of intense compassion on his face. "Very well, Charleston," I said, "I shall do as you wish."
He stood for half a second more before he shook himself slightly and said softly, "Thank you, Harry. Now come along, let us get you to bed."
"Raffles?" I looked at him.
"I'm sure A. J. will come along as well," Charleston said softly. "Will you not, A. J.?"
For a moment I dared to believe, I dared to hope, their game was over. However, as I looked at Raffles and saw how deeply saddened he looked, I knew it wasn't. I sighed softly as he said, "Of course I will."
Charleston offered me his arm and I glanced to Raffles, who pushed his hands into his pockets and nodded. Thus after hesitating for a moment, I put my arm though Charleston's and with Raffles slightly behind us, one of his hands now on my shoulder, we went into my bedroom, where without feeling any embarrassment I undressed in front of both men.
Once I had put my pyjamas and dressing gown on I turned and moved towards the bathroom; for the first time since he had returned to me, Raffles simply stood and watched me. As I closed the door behind me I felt horribly bereft, even though a few hours earlier I had wished for him to leave me alone even for a minute or two.
I returned to the bedroom and allowed Charleston to take my dressing gown from me and put it on the chair, and then I slowly and carefully I got into bed. I saw that Charleston had mixed the powders with some water and obediently took the glass from him and emptied it before I settled down on my back and looked from Raffles to Charleston and back again.
"They will act fairly quickly, Harry," Charleston said. "I have actually given you a stronger powder than the ones I prescribed for you last month, and together with the wine you drank you will fall asleep very soon."
"Will you leave then?"
He glanced at me and then in the direction where Raffles stood. "Do you give me your word that you will take care of him, A. J.? That you will not - Well, you know."
My eyes were growing heavy and a wonderful feeling was passing through my body as I slowly turned my head to look at Raffles. He smiled at me and sighed softly as he once more looked at Charleston. "Yes, Charlie," he murmured. "I give you my word I will watch over him and ensure he is safe and I will not . . ." He trailed off and shrugged.
"He gave his word," I said, noticing that my voice was a little slurred. "I will be quite safe, Charleston." I closed my eyes.
I felt a hand on my forehead and knew it was Charleston's. "Very well, Harry," he said softly. "I shall leave. I really would rather not, but - Are you quite certain you wish me to go, Harry?"
Was I? I didn't know; I wasn't certain; in fact I wasn't certain I was certain of anything other than I really approved of the sensations going through my body. "I don't know," I muttered. "I actually think I would like it if -" Before I slipped completely into sleep I felt the bed dip slightly and felt Raffles join me and carefully gather me into his arms as he gently kissed my head. It was with the feel of his lips on my head and his arms around me that I gave up my last piece of resistance to sleeping.
THE NEXT DAY
I opened my eyes and blinked several times in order to focus. I felt warm and comfortable and more rested than I could remember feeling. I turned my head on the pillow but I already knew he wouldn't still be there; he was never there when I woke up. And I was of course correct; he wasn't there.
However, I knew I wasn't alone. I turned my head the other way and my gaze came to rest on Charleston who was sitting in a chair near to the bed watching me. "Hello, Charleston," I said, my voice was slightly hoarse.
He smiled. "Hello, Harry. How do you feel?"
"Much better, thank you. I feel as if I've been asleep for a long time."
"You have, really. It's after lunch."
I widened my eyes. "My leg doesn't even feel stiff."
"That's because you really rested and didn't move about all night." I gave him a faint smile. "I'm sorry I didnít leave, Harry," he said after a moment or two. "It just didn't feel right. I wouldn't have rested myself, had I left you."
"That's all right, Charleston. I don't mind."
"Thank you." Once more we fell silent before he asked softly, "Has A. J. gone?"
I sighed and nodded. "Yes. He's always gone when I wake up. I try, I try so hard, Charleston, to stay awake; I tell myself if I don't go to sleep he won't leave. But I always do fall asleep, even if it's just before dawn. And he always goes." I knew I sounded despondent.
"But he always comes back, does he not?" Charleston's voice was gentle.
I stared at him and nodded. "You don't believe he comes, do you?"
He moved from the chair, sat on the edge of my bed and took my hand. "I believe you can see him, Harry," he said softly. "I believe he is here for you."
I glanced away from him and gave a half nod. I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to argue with Charleston. I knew the truth. Raffles was here with me every night; we kissed, we touched, we made love; I fell asleep in his arms; he was here. He picked my stick up for me, he undressed me, he offered me his arm, he . . . He was here.
"I would like you to come and stay at my hospital for a little while." I went on staring at him. "The thing is, Harry, I am a little concerned about you. I do not believe that you have been eating properly, have you?"
I shrugged and glanced away from him. He spoke the truth, but it was difficult to eat, I was rarely hungry, given the odds times I slept and eating alone wasn't something I enjoyed. I suddenly realised the only good meals, the only proper meals I had had in over a month were the ones I had shared with Charleston. "I don't get particularly hungry," I said. "And it's . . ."
"I know. But if you came and stayed at my hospital for a little while, you would be taken care of. You wouldn't have to worry about ordering meals or anything like that; it would all be taken care of for you. And I could see you each day and make sure you are all right. It would only be for a while, until you are . . . Until you feel less tired," he said.
I stared at him and shrugged again. Did it really matter where I slept? In which chair, in which room I spent my days? Did it really matter - "Raffles!" I said, as I shook my head. "I can't go with you, Charleston. I can't -"
"A. J. will know where you are," Charleston said, taking my hand.
I stared at him. "Will he?"
He nodded. "Yes."
"Do you promise?"
He hesitated for no more than a second or two before nodding. "Yes, Harry. Yes, I promise. A. J. will know where you are. He will still come to you."
I stared at him and I could see he was telling the truth. "Very well, Charleston, I shall do as you ask. When would you like me to come?"
"Today." I stared at him. "It would be better all round, Harry. I can escort you and make sure you are settled and, well . . ." He fell silent for a moment and then said his tone soft, "I believe A. J. would wish you to do this, Harry."
I went on staring at him. "Very well," I said.
"That's a good boy." He pushed my hair back from my forehead. "Why do you not go and bathe and shave and I'll pack a case for you?"
I shrugged. Why not? After all he would know better than I what I would need. I smiled and nodded. "Very well."
He smiled back at me, stood up and turned the bedcovers back and offered me his hand. I took it and let him support me as I got out of bed. I stood for a moment or two to regain my balance before I took the stick he held out for me and went into the bathroom.
TWO HOURS LATER
We didn't go straight to Charleston's hospital, he suggested we have a late lunch first and I had no objections. Even as I sat opposite him and ate my lunch and replied to his conversation, I felt something had changed slightly between us. It was vague, subtle, but I definitely felt it; it was as if he was now more my doctor than my friend. I wasn't entirely certain I liked the change and yet I didn't dislike it.
"Well, here we are, Harry," Charleston said, opening a door and leading me inside. He had offered me his arm once we had alighted from the cab and I had been more than happy to accept. "These will be your rooms whilst you are staying with us."
I looked around the room into which he had led me. It was of a fairly good size and the chairs and small sofa looked comfortable. On the opposite side of the room was a large window that opened onto the hospital gardens; it looked very green and peaceful. "Thank you, Charleston."
"There's a bedroom and a bathroom - they are all yours," he added. "You won't be disturbed by anyone other than the staff who will bring you meals and see if you are all right, and I of course will visit you."
I looked at him. "Thank you, Charleston," I said again. I was about to say something else when a woman, dressed in what I recognised as a matron's uniform bustled in.
"Ah, there you are, Dr. Charleston," she said, she didn't sound particularly pleased. "Sister Hopkins told me that you had -" She fell silent as she saw me. Her look was stern, not at all like matron at school, and without being consciously aware of it I found myself gripping Charleston's arm a little more and even moving a little closer to him.
She turned her attention from me and looked at Charleston and raised an eyebrow. "This is Mr. Manders, matron, Mr. Harry Manders. He will be staying here with us for a," Charleston paused for a moment and then said, "while."
She turned her attention back on me. "Very well, Dr. Charleston," she said her tone clipped and her displeasure clear.
Charleston frowned at her and I got the impression he was not happy. "Harry," he turned to me, "let me show you your bedroom and you can unpack and then if you'd like we can go out into the garden for a while."
I smiled; it sounded a nice idea to me. "Thank you, Charleston. I would like that."
He smiled back at me and began to lead me across the room to another door. "Please wait here, matron."
"Yes, Dr. Charleston." Once more her tone was clipped, and I really did get the impression she was not at all happy. I rather hoped I wouldn't be seeing a great deal of her; indeed I rather wondered if I shouldn't tell Charleston I had changed my mind and ask him to take me home. But then I remembered him telling me that Raffles would want me to let him take care of me; so I said nothing.
LATER THAT EVENING
I had eaten dinner and was now reading as I waited to see if Charleston had been correct in telling me that Raffles would know where I was. I still did not know what Charleston said to matron, but after I had unpacked and paid a visit to the bathroom, I went back into the sitting room to find them both of them still there. Matron had smiled at me and the look on her face was one of sympathy. She even apologised if she had sounded unwelcoming, telling me two of her nurses had fallen sick and thus the rest of the nursing staff were rather pressed. I smiled at her and of course assured her it was quite all right, at which point she had left and Charleston had taken me out into the garden.
The rooms I was occupying were really quite comfortable and well furnished. It wasn't like being in a hospital at all, well apart from the people in uniform and the overlying scent that seemed to always prevail in a hospital no matter how well kept it was, and no matter what class of people it catered for. Charleston had even provided me with whisky and soda and Sullivans, saying he wanted me to be quite comfortable. Again this seemed unlike any hospital I knew of, but then it was Charleston's hospital and I presumed he could do as he wished.
I had just reached the end of a chapter when I heard a faint noise behind me and I turned around as Raffles said, "Hello, Bunny."
"Raffles! I exclaimed. "So Charleston was correct." I smiled at him and took the hand he offered me and let him help me to my feet whereby he gathered me, somewhat more carefully than he had done of late, into his arms and held me closely and protectively against him.
"Did you really ever doubt Charlie, my rabbit?" He spoke quietly and I thought he sounded a little tired, weary even, not quite his usual self.
I shrugged as I rested my head against his shoulder. "Not really. Well, that is . . . I don't really know, Raffles. I wanted to believe him, of course I did, but I just . . . Well, I wasn't certain how you could know where I was, that is all."
He pushed me away from him a little and gazed down at me; now I really looked at him I thought he looked tired, looked weary and was a little paler than he normally was. He was still his ever elegant self, and yet something seemed not quite right. "I always know where you are, my dear Bunny," he said softly, and he brushed my hair from my forehead, before he lowered his head and kissed me.
For several minutes we did nothing except kiss and embrace; my body did as it always did when in his arms and began to react to his closeness, to his scent, to his kiss, to his loving embrace, as did his, but he didn't seem in any hurry to do anything about it. I sighed softly, rather pleased to be able to simply enjoy kissing him.
"Shall we sit down, my rabbit?" he asked gently when he finally lifted his head from mine.
"Yes, please." And I took his arm and let him lead me over to the sofa where he held my hand and supported me as I sat down before sitting down next to me and putting his arm around me. "Well, Bunny, are you quite comfortable here?"
My head was on his shoulder, a place I loved it to be, a place I had always loved it to be - going right back to the years we spent at school together. "Yes, Raffles, I believe I am. You don't mind me agreeing to come here, do you?"
"Of course I don't, my rabbit, I think it is a good idea. Charlie was correct; you do need someone to make sure you are all right."
"I have you."
He was silent for a moment before saying softly, "Well, yes, but - Well, I am not able to be with you all the time, am I?" He spoke softly.
I sighed a little and said with a hint of regret in my tone. "No, Raffles, you are not." I was silent for a moment before saying softly, "Raffles, can you not -" He silenced me with a kiss and went on kissing me until I almost forget what I had been about to ask him.
Sometime later we moved from the sofa into my bedroom where he undressed me; I was somewhat surprised that whilst the way he removed my clothing wasn't quite clinical, it lacked the demanding passion he had showed since he had returned to my rooms all those weeks ago. I was even more surprised when he handed me my pyjamas.
My surprise and by then hint of fear that he no longer wanted me as his, must have shown because once I had put my pyjamas on he gathered me back into his embrace and held me tenderly as he stroked my head. "Do not worry, my rabbit," he said his tone heavy with affection, "I have not tired of you, if that is what you are fearing. It is just that I rather fancy I would just like to hold you in my arms and kiss you tonight rather than anything else. If that is all right with you, of course."
I gazed up at him. "Would you really like that, Raffles?"
He smile and nodded. "Yes, my rabbit. I would."
"So would I."
"Good." And he kissed me again.
To my slight annoyance I found myself getting extremely tired within a fairly short time of us getting into bed. For a fleeting second I wondered if Charleston had put something in my dinner or even in the whisky he had left for me. However, I decided he was too honest and too professional a doctor and man to do that. Had he wished to give me a sedative, he would have done so openly.
My head was comfortably settled on Raffles's shoulder and he was holding me in a loose, but secure embrace, and from time to time he lightly caressed my back and tangled his fingers in my hair and encouraged me to lift my head a little so that he could kiss me.
I felt my eyes close for the fourth time and for the fourth time I fought to open them again. I felt a light kiss on my forehead and he whispered, "It's all right, my rabbit, go to sleep. I shall stay with you. I promise you," he added before I could ask.
"Very well, Raffles," I murmured and did not fight to keep my eyes open again.
I awoke a few times during the night and each time he was still in my bed, still holding me, still lightly caressing me and each time he smiled, kissed me lightly and told me to go back to sleep.
It was only when I opened my eyes to find daylight coming in through the window that I found myself alone.
TWO MONTHS LATER
I was still living in the rooms in Charleston's hospital. As the days went by I found myself losing count of quite how long I had been there, and although from time to time I wondered quite how long Charleston would keep me there, I wasn't really bothered when, or indeed if, the day would come when he told me it was time I returned to my rooms at The Fellows. It was, as he had said, so much easier for me. I didn't have to think about things, about ordering breakfast or lunch or dinner, it was all provided for me. I didn't have to remember what day the cleaners would clean my rooms; I did not need to worry about sending clothes and linen to be laundered, it all just happened.
I did not even have to trouble myself with remembering to buy cigarettes or whisky, as Charleston kept me provided with those. When I told him I had read most of the books I had brought with me, he arranged for a selection of new books to be delivered to me and I chose those I wished to keep. It was all very pleasant, with the exception of not being able to go out for a walk alone or leave my rooms when I wished to, it was as if I was still in my rooms or in a hotel rather than a hospital. The over-riding difference was that each night once Charleston had said his final goodnight, my door was locked.
Charleston visited me several times a day and joined me for lunch or dinner on most days - and sometimes both. He even on one evening took me out to dine with him at the restaurant we had first dined at. I spent time in the hospital gardens with him, and when it was too cold to venture out or when my leg was hurting or when I simply preferred the comfort of my arm chair we just sat and talked or played chess or even sat in silence, just content to be in one another's company.
I did not know quite what his staff thought of his personal attention, but no one said anything nor showed any hint of displeasure - not even when they needed him and had to come to my rooms in order to find him. He asked me a time or two if Raffles still visited me and I told him he did, but other than looking at me with an almost saddened look on his face, he did not respond.
Raffles came every night and was always gone when I awoke in the morning. Some nights we spent making love, other nights we spent talking; on a couple of occasions we even played chess until he laughingly accused me of having an unfair advantage given I now played with Charleston - who had, when they had played as school boys, beaten Raffles more often than Raffles had beaten Charleston. Some nights we just kissed and embraced and touched a little; the demanding way he had made love to me during my time in my rooms at The Fellows had changed, indeed it had gone, even when we did make love, the desperation seemed to have vanished.
I found myself, however, becoming more than a little worried about him because with each visit he seemed just a little more tired, a little more weary, a little more pale than he had done before. One evening I had asked him about it, but he had simply smiled, kissed me and told me not to worry and that he was quite well.
However, I did worry; he did not manage to completely reassure me and I feared that the evening would come when he would no longer appear, and I knew that would be the evening when I would return to wishing I were dead. Indeed it would be the evening I would tell Charleston that I was leaving his hospital. I would return home and end my life because even if I did not end up in the same place as Raffles, I knew I could not remain on this earth if he was not with me.
The day was quite bright and seemed a little warmer than of late and I was considering suggesting to Charleston that we took a walk around the garden. However, I was comfortable in my chair and I was a little fatigued as Raffles had kept we awake for most of the night making love to me in a more passionate, demanding, desperate way than he had since we had spent the nights in my rooms.
"Good morning, Harry," Charleston said, striding into the room. "How are you today?"
I smiled up at him as he touched my shoulder. "Good morning, Charleston, I am quite well, thank you. A little tired, perhaps, but otherwise quite well."
He dropped to his heels, took my hand in his, let his fingers linger for a moment or two on my pulse, before he brushed my hair from my forehead and stared into my eyes. "Are you in more pain than usual, Harry? Is that why you are tired?"
I felt my cheeks grown a little warm and I glanced away from his steady gaze. "No, my level of pain is quite normal. I just . . . I didn't sleep quite as well last night as I usually do." I forced myself to look at him and stared, hoping he would understand and not question me further.
He gave me a half smile, sighed softly as he again brushed my hair back before he stood up and went to pour some coffee for us from the pot I realised he must have brought with him. "Thank you," I said, taking the cup from him.
He took his cigarette case from his pocket and offered me one, lighting it for me after I had accepted. He then lit one for himself and sat down in the chair opposite me. "Harry?"
"I have to go away for a couple of days."
A strange feeling began to course through me; I couldn't quite identify it but I felt my mouth become a little dry and I stared at him. "When?" I said my tone little more than a whisper.
"Tomorrow - it'll only be for two days, Harry, and then I'll -"
"Do you have to go?" My voice had become a little high and I realised I was clutching the arm of the chair with one hand as I stared at him. I didn't want him to go, but it was more than not just wanting. I was - I was afraid of what would happen if he went.
"Harry?" He put his cup and cigarette down and returned to my chair where again he dropped to his heels in front of me and took my hand. His eyes widened and he carefully took my cigarette from me and began to rub my hand between his. "Harry, what on earth is the matter?"
I stared at him. "I don't know, Charleston," I managed. "I just . . . Charleston, don't go, please, don't go. I think . . . Please, Charleston."
He stared at me for a moment then put his hand on my forehead; he was silent for a short time and he seemed a little troubled. Finally, he smiled at me and said, "Very well, my dear Harry, I will not go; if that will make you happy."
Immediately I felt a wave of relief pass through me and I slumped back in my chair. "Thank you, Charleston," I said.
He looked at me for another moment or two before saying, "That's all right, Harry."
He stayed for a little longer before he looked at his watch and explained he had another patient whom he had to see, but that he would return as soon as he could.
He was as good as his word and returned some time before lunch; he had lunch with me, left me again for about an hour before returning. This time he stayed with me, having tea and dinner with me before he stood up and said, "Well, I will say goodnight, Harry. I hope you sleep well tonight."
I smiled at him. "Thank you, Charleston. I'm sure I shall." And then I heard myself saying, "Charleston, I'm locked in my rooms each evening, am I not?"
He blinked and looked a little surprised. "Yes, Harry, you are. Why, does it bother you?"
I shook my head. "No. No, it doesn't. In fact it . . . Well, it makes me feel," I hesitated for a moment and then said softly, "safe."
"That a good boy," he said and then his cheeks became a little red and he hastened to say, "Oh, do forgive me, Harry, I should not have -"
"No, it's quite all right, Charleston. I don't mind; really I don't." And I didn't.
He hesitated for a moment before he put his hand on my head, and for the first time ever, even though he had often pushed my hair back for me, he slid his hand into my hair and tangled it around his fingers. "Goodnight, Harry," he said.
I smiled. "Goodnight, Charleston."
He paused for a moment or two, before sighing a little and leaving.
I heard the sound of the door being locked behind him and I settled into my chair to wait for Raffles.
"Hello, Bunny. And how is my beloved rabbit tonight?"
"I'm - Raffles!" I exclaimed getting to my feet somewhat more quickly than my leg approved of. I ignored the piercing pain that shot through my thigh as I grabbed my stick and made my way over to him. "What is the matter, Raffles?" I said, taking his arm and staring at him. I had never seen him look quite so pale, quite so exhausted, quite so inelegant, quite so - Quite so - unreal was the closest word of which I could think.
He smiled at me and put his arms around me; even his embrace felt somewhat strange, somewhat unreal. "I am merely a little tired, my rabbit," he said, but his voice shook a little and sounded distant.
"Come and sit down," I insisted, "and I'll pour you a whisky." It was I who led him to the sofa, I who held his arm as he sat down and I who poured whisky for both of us.
"Thank you, Bunny," he said taking a deep swallow. "That's better," he murmured, after he took a second swallow - and he did look a little better. "Now come and sit down next to me, my rabbit, there is something I have to tell you."
I sat down and took a deep swallow of my own whisky; something told me whatever it was he had to tell me I would not like it. "Yes, Raffles?" I asked when he didn't speak.
He took my hand in his and put his other hand around the back of my neck. "You see, my dearest, most beloved, sweetest little rabbit, I am afraid that this is the penultimate night I shall be able to come here."
I gasped and stared at him. "Raffles? Do you mean that?"
He nodded. "Yes, Bunny, I am afraid I do."
I clung to his hand. "But why? Are you going away?"
"I . . . Yes, Bunny, I have to go away. I do not want to, my rabbit, I do not wish to leave you - but . . . But I have to."
"But what about me?"
"Well, Bunny, I rather wondered if you would like to come with me or - No, wait," he said, putting his finger on my lips to silence me, "do let me finish. Or do you wish to stay here with Charlie? He would take good care of you; he would take very good care of you; you would be quite safe with him."
"I know he would but, no, Raffles, no. I don't want to stay here with Charleston. I want to come with you. I love you, Raffles, I want to be with you, wherever you are. It doesn't matter where we go or what we do or how we live, I just want to be by your side."
"Do you mean that, my rabbit? Do you really mean that?" He took both of my hands in his and stared intently at me.
"Yes!" I cried. "Yes, Raffles, yes, I do. How could you ever doubt that I would wish to come with you?"
He smiled and now put his hand on my head, his fingers sliding into my hair which he tangled around fingers. "I didn't, my rabbit. Truly I did not."
"Good," I said. "Well, that's decided then."
He was silent for several minutes and then said softly, but his tone firm in a way it had rarely been over the years, "There is just one thing, Bunny."
"I am afraid you cannot, you must not, tell Charlie. You must promise me, my rabbit, that you will not tell him."
I stared at him a little confused. "But if I donít tell him how will I get out of here? I am locked in every night."
"Yes, Bunny, I am aware of that. You will just have to trust me, can you do that?"
I nodded. "Of course I can, Raffles, and I do."
He kissed my forehead. "That's my good boy. And now, let us go into the bedroom, I rather fancy I need you in my arms."
THE NEXT DAY
I would not, I could not, of course break my promise to Raffles, but I found it pained me not to be able to say goodbye to Charleston, not to be able to thank him, not to be able to tell him not to worry about me, that I was going away with Raffles; that I would be safe and well and happy.
"Are you all right, Harry?"
"Yes, thank you, Charleston. It is just - Well, I do not believe I have ever thanked you for taking such good care of me, for letting me stay here in your hospital and for - Well, for caring about me."
He frowned a little and I saw a hint of colour touch his cheeks. "I am a doctor, Harry, if someone needs my help I do everything I can to give it."
"But it's more than that with me, is it not?"
He was silent for a moment and then he took my hand. "Well, yes, Harry, it is. You are my friend as well as my patient. I care about you as my friend."
I smiled. "I thought so. And I really am grateful, Charleston, I really am. Thank you."
He stared at me and for a moment I was worried I had aroused his suspicions. However, he just smiled and put his hand on my shoulder. "You are very welcome, Harry, very welcome indeed. And now, I believe it is time I said goodnight to you."
I stood up and held out my hand; again he paused for a moment, appraising me silently before he smiled and took it. "Goodnight, Charleston," I said.
"Goodnight, Harry. I shall see you in the morning and maybe if it's warm enough we might go our for a while?"
I hated lying, but I forced myself to smile and say, "I would like that very much, thank you, Charleston."
"Good." He smiled back, held my hand for a little longer, let his fingers slide into my hair for a moment, before he put his hands in his pockets and left me
I heard the sound of the door being locked behind him and I settled into my chair to wait for Raffles.
"Well, my rabbit, are you ready?" Raffles's hand on my shoulder had me smiling up at him.
"Yes, Raffles, I am quite ready." I let him help me to my feet and pull me into his arms where he held me for quite some time before he kissed me.
"Are you quite certain, Bunny, that you still wish to come with me?"
I nodded. "Yes, Raffles. I'm quite, quite certain."
He stared at me for a long time before he smiled a little, offered me his arm and said quietly, "In that case, my rabbit, come with me."
"Where are we going?" I asked me as he led me into my bedroom. "There isn't a -"
"Trust me, Bunny."
He led me to my bed. "Lie down, my rabbit."
I frowned and stared at him. "Raff-"
I did as he asked. As I settled down, my head on my pillow, I gazed up at him; he seemed a little sad, but also peaceful and content. For a moment he bent over me and put his mouth on mine.
And then he reached across me and took a pillow from the other side of the bed. I stared at him my eyes a little wide. "It will be all right, Bunny, I promise you everything will be all right. We will be together for always. It won't hurt, my rabbit, I wonít hurt you; I would never hurt you. Now close your eyes, my dear Bunny. That's my good boy."
I gasped just a little as I felt the pillow come down to cover my face. But not for one second did I fight the pressure; the pressure that increased as he pressed down on the pillow.
FIVE DAYS LATER
I sat at my desk reading the report of Mr. Manders's death. Not that I needed to read it, I knew it by heart as it consisted of very little.
Upon the discovery of Mr. Manders's body, Dr. Charleston had called Scotland Yard and I'd been assigned to the case. At first glance it seemed as if the murderer had to be the night orderly, the only person to have been on duty in that part of the hospital, and given these people are paid so very little, it seemed obvious to me that for some reason, maybe simply boredom or Mr. Manders had become demanding (not that I ever saw Mr. Manders as a particularly demanding man) and the orderly had suffocated him with the pillow.
But then Dr. Charleston told me how much he paid the man and that he was studying part-time, assisted by Dr. Charleston himself, to become a doctor. I canna deny I was taken aback when Dr. Charleston told me how much the man was paid and it immediately made me think again.
Five days later the hospital staff (even those who hadna been on duty that evening and even those who had never met or heard of Mr. Manders) had all been interviewed and I was no nearer to finding out who had suffocated Mr. Manders. In fact I was, but it wasn't something I could put in a report.
Despite spending a lot of my career in recent years trying to put Mr. Manders and in particular Mr. Raffles in gaol for the burglaries I knew, but couldn't prove, they committed, I regretted Mr. Manders's death. As a man I hadna disliked him and I had always believed that if he hadna known Mr. Raffles he would never have turned to a life of crime.
I was tired; I was tired of London; I was even tired of being detective. I wanted to go home to the Highlands and retire to the peace and quiet and I would. This would be my last case - except it would never be solved, because it would vanish.
I hesitated for no more than a minute or two before I put the file, along with the files we had on Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders, into my case and closed and locked it. Files go missing all the time and who was going to worry about the murder of a poor mentally ill gentleman who hadna any family to mourn for him?
I looked at the clock and saw it was time for me to leave. I'd decided I would attend Mr. Manders's funeral. My sergeant had given me an odd look when I told him I would be out of the office and why, but his opinion dinna matter to me.
TWENTY MINUTES LATER
I arrived at the cemetery where Mr. Manders was to be buried and was surprised to see Dr. Charleston, dressed in funeral attire. "Good morning, Dr. Charleston," I said.
He turned and looked at me. "Good morning, Chief Inspector Mackenzie; I did not expect to see you here." He held out his hand to me and I took it and shook it as I stared at him.
I knew what he was and maybe I should arrest him (just as I'd known what Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders were) but why should I? Yes, it was a crime, but it hurt no one. I also had a strong suspicion that had Dr. Charleston been away from the hospital (as he told me he should have been) that Scotland Yard would not been called in and that Mr. Manders's murder would have been consigned to a simple death. And from something Dr. Charleston said, although I dinna think he meant to say it, he felt the same.
"I knew Mr. Manders you could say, and I dinna like to think of anyone having no one present when they are buried. I dinna expect to see you, Doctor."
He sighed. "I'm sorry, Chief Inspector, I omitted to mention that as well as being my patient Mr. Manders was also a friend of mine."
"Oh, yes, Doctor?"
"Yes. In fact both he and Mr. Raffles were friends of mine. We were all at the same school together. Mr. Raffles and I were in the same year and Mr. Manders a few years below us; he was actually Mr. Raffles's fag."
I'd always wondered quite how the two of them had met and now I knew. "Was he now, Doctor?"
He gave me a faint smile. "Yes, Chief Inspector."
"In that case, Doctor, may I offer my condolences on both the death of Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders."
"Thank you, Chief Inspector."
TWENTY MINUTES LATER
We stood for a moment and watched as the grave-diggers began to shovel earth on top of Mr. Manders's coffin, before Dr. Charleston turned around quickly and stood with his head slightly bowed.
After a moment or two he looked up at turned to me, "May I buy you luncheon, Chief Inspector?"
"That would be kind, Dr. Charleston, but I dinna think I'd be welcome in the kind of place you would go for lunch." I glanced at his suit and overcoat and down at my own.
He gave me a faint smile. "A friend of mine owns a restaurant and I assure you that you will be more than welcome." And without waiting for me to reply he began to walk towards the gate; I hesitated for a second or two before I followed him, hurrying a little to catch up with him.
FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER
The waiter poured the wine and left us to look at the menu. Dr. Charleston picked up his glass, looked at me and said quietly, "If you do not object Chief Inspector, I should like to offer a toast."
"I dinna mind, Dr. Charleston."
He raised his glass a little. "To A. J. and Harry."
I raised my glass. "Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders."
"Thank you," he said his tone far more formal than it had been earlier. We both drank some of the extremely fine wine, which I knew was far more expensive than anything I had ever and would ever drink. He looked at me again and I could see him considering what to say. Finally he gave me another half smile and said, "I assume you knew Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders professionally, shall we say?"
I stared at him. "Aye, Doctor. That I did." He was silent but his look seemed to be encouraging me to continue. "And whilst I am sorry, and I am sorry, Dr. Charleston, sorrier than I thought I'd be, that both gentlemen are dead, especially in the way they both died, I'm not sorry they won't be taking what isn't theirs any longer."
"I do understand, Chief Inspector. And in case you are wondering, no, I do not condone what they did. They were my friends, Mr. Raffles and I were boyhood best friends; I had known him for ten years before Mr. Manders arrived at the school, but I do not condone them. And yet," he took a sip of his wine, gave a shrug and said, "at least they did not hurt anyone; they were never violent, were they?"
I shook my head. "No, Dr. Charleston. They weren't."
He nodded. "When you have seen the kind of things I see in my profession, Chief Inspector, when you see babes and young children dying simply because we do not know enough yet to save them, when you see a woman dying in child birth or a man dying because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or people screaming from pain, well . . . And it's not as if they stole from anyone who could not afford to lose what they took, was it? I'm sorry, Chief Inspector," he said quickly before I could reply. "Please forgive me; I cannot expect you to understand or to agree with me. Can we just forget what I said?"
I took a sip of wine and found, to my surprise, myself saying. "Whilst I canna agree as such with you, Doctor, I can understand. I've seen enough myself. Aye, Dr. Charleston, I do understand."
"Thank you, Chief Inspector."
We both turned our attention to the menu and after he had
summoned the waiter and ordered for both of us he looked at me again. "Well,
Chief Inspector, may I be permitted to enquire as to whether you have any idea
as to who murdered Mr. Manders?"
I was silent for a moment before I said, "Aye, Doctor, I know who killed Mr. Manders."
He widened his eyes. "And have you arrested the person?"
I shook my head. "No, Doctor."
He frowned. "But why not?"
I swallowed some more wine as I prepared to tell him something that could lead to him taking me to his hospital and locking me up in his asylum. "Because, Dr. Charleston, you canna arrest a dead man."
I waited and wasn't surprised by the look of shock that crossed his face. What did surprise me was how he suddenly turned considerably paler and gripped the table as he trembled a little. "Are you saying . . . Just what are you saying, Chief Inspector?" I just stared at him. And he shook his head. "No," he said, "no, it isn't possible. You're clearly over-tired, over-worked, that's it. You cannot . . . Oh, dear God," he murmured and emptied his glass in one swallow.
His hand shook as he reached for the bottle, in fact it shook so much, I picked it up instead and refilled his glass and added a little to my own glass. "Thank you," he managed as he took a deep swallow and pulled out his cigarette case. His hand still shook as he offered it to me and it was I who struck a match and held it first for him before I lit my own cigarette.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Charleston," I said after waiting to see if he was going to say anything else. "I dinna wish to upset you."
He shook his head. "You haven't, well . . . It's not that, Chief Inspector."
"Isn't it, Doctor?"
He shook his head again. "No."
Once more we fell silent for a minute or two before I took another chance and said quietly, "You believe me, don't you, Doctor?"
"I . . . How can you ask me that? I'm a doctor; I believe in science. I -"
"May I ask you something, Dr. Charleston? Something I have no right to ask and something you dinna have to answer?" He nodded. "Why was Mr. Manders in the," I paused for a moment, not wishing to offend him by using what he might consider to be an offensive term. In the end I settled for saying "In the part of your hospital he was in?" He remained silent as he just sat and stared at me. He was silent for so long that even I began to feel a little uncomfortable. "I'm sorry, sir," I started to say. "As I said it -"
"He, Harry, Mr. Manders, told me," he broke off and took another swallow wine, glancing away from me and looking over his shoulder before he turned his attention back to me. "Mr. Manders told me that Mr. Raffles visited him each evening," he said.
Now it was my turn to be surprised. "And did you believe him, Doctor?"
He closed his eyes for a moment and then said softly, so softly I barely heard him, "Yes, Chief Inspector Mackenzie, I did. God forgive me, but I did."
Once more he surprised me. "Can I ask why, Dr. Charleston?"
"Mr. Manders has always bruised easily, his skin was very pale, but recently it was getting far worse. Indeed, I believe he was ill, not just mentally ill, in fact despite me taking him to my hospital and despite what he told me about Mr. Raffles visiting him., I do not actually believe he was mentally ill, not in the way my other patients in that part of the hospital are mentally ill. I'm sorry, Chief Inspector, where was I?"
"You were telling me you thought Mr. Manders was ill."
"Oh, yes. As I said he had always bruised easily, but it had become so severe even brushing lightly against him could cause him to bruise. I have no idea what was wrong with him, as I said we know so little about medicine and the human body, despite the advances we have made. Not only did I not know what was wrong with him, I had even less of idea as to what, if anything, I could do to help him. Well, he often had finger marks on his hands and wrist and . . . They were marks that he could not have made himself; marks that I had not been caused nor had they been caused by any member of my staff touching him for any reason. They were marks that were not there when I left him for the evening, but were visible when I visited him the following morning."
This time, his hand now quite steady, it was he who poured more wine for us, before turning in his chair and making some kind of small gesture to the waiter who, a moment or two later, brought another bottle of wine to the table.
"And I fear it is quite possible that you now believe the doctor needs to visit his own doctor," he said, once more offering me a cigarette.
I shook my head. "No, Dr. Charleston, I dinna think that. I'm the one, after all, who believes it was Mr. Raffles who smothered Mr. Manders." I spoke softly, even though there was no other gentleman near us.
"And you really do believe that, Chief Inspector?"
I dinna hesitate. "Yes, Doctor, that I do. After all if it wasna Mr. Raffles, the only person it could have been was your orderly - which I'm quite certain it wasn't," I added, before he could speak. "Even putting aside what you told me about him, he had no reason to wish Mr. Manders dead, did he?"
Dr. Charleston shook his head. "No. No one did. In fact no one had a motive - well apart from me." And he gave me a half-smile.
He spoke the truth; he was the only living person to have a motive, the only living person who would benefit from Mr. Manders's death as he, well, his hospital, now that Mr. Manders was dead was the sole beneficiary of Mr. Raffles's will. However, even knowing that I had never for an instant considered Dr. Charleston to be a suspect. "Aye, Doctor," I said, "but we both know you dinna put a pillow over Mr. Manders's face, don't we?"
He gave a small nod. "Maybe we should both be locked up?" he said.
I gave him a smile. "Aye, Doctor, maybe we should at that."
He smiled back at me. "But what about the case? What will happen? You can hardly tell anyone else, can you? I believe you would be locked up."
"Aye, Doctor, that I would be. The case is mine, sir, and I'm retiring, I'm going home." I fell silent and left the rest to his imagination.
He stared at me for a moment and then gave me a nod and smiled. "Thank you, Chief Inspector Mackenzie."
I nodded back. "It's my pleasure, Dr. Charleston." And then I raised my glass again. "To Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders," I said.
He raised his. "To A. J. and Harry - wherever they may be." We touched our glasses against one another's.
I opened my eyes and stretched. I had certainly slept well and I felt at peace, I felt perfectly content; I felt warm and comfortable, my leg did not throb, I did not feel at all tired. Indeed I could not remember ever feeling as good as I felt. And it wasn't just that I felt peaceful within myself, I felt peace surrounding me; I felt quite certain that nothing bad, nothing evil, nothing unpleasant could ever happen here. No one would be unhappy or in pain or suffer or wish to be anywhere else.
Suddenly I knew someone was in the room with me and I turned my head. "Raffles!" I cried sitting up and holding out my hand to him.
He strode across, sat down on the bed and put his arms around me. "Hello, Bunny," he murmured. "And how is my beloved rabbit?"
"I'm well, Raffles, I'm really perfectly well."
"Good." He kissed the top of my head and then moved me back a little so that he could gaze down at me. He too looked well; he looked as he had looked during the years we had been together before he had taken me on the cruise which had taken him from me. He no longer looked pale or distant or weary; he was as he had always been: the man I loved; the man who loved me.
I sighed and moved back into his arms and rested my head on his shoulder. "Raffles?"
"Yes, my beloved rabbit?"
I sat up again, looked around me; looked at him; glanced down at my uninjured, free from pain leg and said, "Am I -"
"With me - which is where you belong, Bunny, and it is where you will always be." He smiled at me.
I smiled back and a moment later his lips were on mine and I was being pushed back down onto the bed where he joined me.
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