KEEPING MY RABBIT WARM

 

By

 

Nikki Harrington

 

Set during their school days.

Winter hits the school, a bitterly cold, brutal winter. The third form dorm and common room are both cold; however, Raffles's study is warm and cosy.

A first time story.

Written: October 2013. Word count: 9,635.

 

 

 

I awoke and sat up and shivered as the bitterly cold air hit me. I rubbed my hands together and pulled the covers up my body a little and gave serious consideration to lying back down and trying to get warm. I couldn't remember the last time I had felt quite so cold; it was December and the temperatures had been somewhat colder than the last few years, but this level of chill was different. It really did feel as if it was freezing.

 

I had no desire at all to get out of what seemed to be my very warm bed, however a quick glance at the clock told me I really did have to get up. I sighed, threw back the covers, something I instantly regretted doing and got out of bed - the floor beneath my feet was like ice. As I stripped my pyjamas off and reached for my dressing gown I could hear muted but quite clearly excited voices in the hallway outside my study - I rarely closed the door between my study and my bedroom overnight - and I wondered quite why so many boys seemed so excited at such an early hour.

 

I had just picked my dressing gown up, when I heard a swift knock on my study door followed instantly by the door opening. Charlie, dressed in his dressing gown, strode into my bedroom just as I was pulling my very cold dressing gown on. He glanced at me, letting his gaze travel down and back up my body as boys tended to do, before smiling at me.

 

"Good morning, A. J. How are you this morning?"

 

I tied my dressing gown's sash and bent down to retrieve my slippers which had somehow managed to find their way beneath my bed. "Cold," I replied, pushing my feet into my icy cold slippers and shivering.

 

"That will be because it's snowed."

 

That explained the excited voices. "I went to the window, pulled the curtains, rubbed a small patch in the ice which had formed on the inside and glanced out at a perfectly white, very beautiful world. It hadn't merely snowed, it had snowed a great deal; several inches of thick, heavy, pristine white snow covered the ground and more was falling from the white sky.

 

"The third and fourth years are really excited," Charlie declared, sitting down on my bed.

 

I turned and looked at him and smiled. "I don't think it's just the third and fourth formers who are excited," I said and laughed softly as he blushed a little. I stared at my best friend, the boy I had known since we had first met at prep school; the boy with whom I had had my first sexual experience, as well as many, many subsequent ones; the boy whom I dearly loved; the boy whose childhood had not been (and still wasn't, at least not when he was at home) a pleasant one; the boy who really hadn't been allowed to have a childhood. Why shouldn't he be excited by the snow?

 

I thought of Alice and knew if there was snow at home, especially as much as we had, that she would be beyond being merely excited. For a moment I wished I was at home and that I could be the one to share her excitement and take her out into the snow to play. However, I wasn't at home with Alice, I was at school with other boys, but who was to say I couldn't still enjoy myself?

 

"Come on, Charlie," I said, holding out my hand, let's go and see if there's any water in the bathroom or if the pipes have frozen. I don't know about you, but I'd like to get dressed and light a fire."

 

Charlie took my hand and stood up. "Do you think the head will insist on lessons this afternoon or do you think he'll let us - let the younger boys," he added swiftly, "go outside?"

 

Saturday afternoons are usually given over to sports and on the rare occasion the pitches were too water logged to allow us to use them, the head tended to give us a free afternoon, so I didn't see that this would be any different.

 

"I'm sure he'll let the," I paused and smiled at Charlie, "younger boys go outside - and I'm sure he would like it if the older boys supervised them, shall we say?"

 

Charlie smiled at me and together we headed for the sixth form bathroom. There was water, even if it trickled out of the taps rather than flow out as it usually did. The bathroom was even colder than my study and by mutual silent agreement Charlie and I both decided not to attempt to draw a bath, but instead both shivered through a fairly sketchy but adequate wash. A few other brave boys came into the bathroom when we were there, more than one choosing merely to use the facilities, brush his teeth and wash nothing, or at least little, more than his hands and face.

 

Charlie and I parted outside his study door and I hurried off to mine to dress before I lay and lit a fire in my study. As the wood and coal caught the room began to warm up; I stood in front of the fire, rubbing my hands together and finally I too began to warm up. I had put a jumper on over my shirt and tie rather than my coat as there was still half and hour before breakfast.

 

I was standing by the window once more staring out into the white world and watching the snowflakes fall when I heard my door open. I turned around to see Bunny in the doorway and I smiled at him. "Good morning, Bunny." I held my hand out to him and he closed the door behind him and hurried over to me and took my hand.

 

His was cold; indeed his was very cold and I took his hand between both of mine and began to rub it. "Hello, Raffles," he said, smiling at me. "It's snowing!"

 

I decided that excitement really was contagious and I ruffled his hair, which was also cold, smiled down at him and said, "I'd noticed, my rabbit."

 

"It's jolly cold," he said and shivered. "The dorm is freezing and our glasses of water were all iced over this morning."

 

I remembered the third form dorm well. We sixth formers may be allowed to have fires in our studies, but apparently it was believed that the much younger boys either didn't feel the cold or couldn't be trusted with a fire, as the dorms had no form of heating at all.

 

"And the bathroom was even worse," Bunny declared, shivering slightly. Then he glanced around him even though he knew full well that no one else was in my study and whispered, "Most of the boys didn't wash at all."

 

It didnít surprise me; some thirteen and fourteen year old boys seemed quite oblivious to what water was, certainly when it came to washing or bathing. His hair had fallen over his forehead and I automatically brushed it back. As my hand touched his forehead I discovered it was as cold as his hands were. "Did they not?" I asked, as I put my arms around him and pulled him closer to me.

 

He sighed softly with clear pleasure and rested against me, soaking up the warmth from my body and from the room. "No," he said and then lifted his head from where it rested near to my shoulder and looked at me. "I did."

 

I smiled and tugged him just a little nearer and gently encouraged him to put his head back against my shoulder. "Of that I had no doubt, my rabbit." And I didn't; my rabbit was a very clean boy, even if he wasn't a terribly tidy one in his dress and even if, at times, his hands were covered with ink, he nonetheless washed properly at the very least after getting up in the morning and bathed whenever he could.

 

"It's nice and warm in your study, Raffles." And then before I could answer he said, "Raffles?"

 

"Bunny?"

 

"Do you think Mr. Dobson will allow us to have another blanket on our beds? It really is dreadfully cold in the dorm."

 

I thought back to when I had been a third former, and the winter we had had then. It hadn't been as cold that year as it was today but Dobson had, after it has to be said, being talked to by matron, indeed relented and issued each boy with another blanket. "I would think he will, my rabbit."

 

"Good."

 

I also remembered how Charlie and I, as well as quite a lot of the other boys, had kept warm during those two bitterly cold weeks. I remembered how each boy had got into his own bed to begin with, but that how, once Dobson had done his nightly bed checks, half of the boys had got out of their bed sand taking their blankets with him had got into bed with other boys. Sharing body heat was a very good way of keeping warm - at least that was the excuse we had made. I smiled at the memory.

 

"Raffles?"

 

I shook myself. "Yes, Bunny?"

 

"What are you smiling at?"

 

"Nothing in particular, well nothing other than the pleasure of having my rabbit here in my study with me."

 

He flushed slightly and sighed again with clear pleasure. "Do you think the head will let us go out into the snow?"

 

"I'm sure he will, Bunny. But you must promise me that you'll dress as warmly as you can and not stay out too long and get too cold." He nodded and smiled at me and I gathered him even nearer to him until he was pressed right against my body. I told myself that I really shouldn't hold him quite so close to me, hold him in quite in such an intimate way. However, I also told myself that it was merely to warm him up, as despite being in my arms in my now nice and cosy study, he still felt a little chilled.

 

Suddenly there was a knock on the door and I heard Charlie call, "It's me, A. J." The fact he hadn't just knocked and come in, told me he knew Bunny was here and hadn't wanted to - Well, I wasn't entirely certain what might have gone through his mind.

 

I let my arms fall from around Bunny and instead put one around his shoulders as I called, "Do come in, Charlie."

 

A second later the door opened and Charlie came in. "Hello, Manders," he said, even before he was completely inside, confirming that somehow he had known (or maybe he had just suspected) that Bunny was with me.

 

"Hello, Charleston," Bunny said. "It's cold, isn't it?"

 

"Yes, it is - although it's nice and warm in here, A. J." I smiled at him. "And I'm sure you'll warm up later when you can run around outside," he added, smiling at Bunny. "Assuming the head lets us, of course."

 

"I'd better go back to the dorm," Bunny said, after we had all just stood for a moment in silence.

 

"Don't forget to put your overcoat on before you go to breakfast," I said, looking down at him. "And your scarf and gloves."

 

Bunny beamed at me. "Yes, Raffles," he said. "I'll see you later."

 

"That's my good boy." I smiled at him.

 

"Goodbye, Charleston."

 

"Goodbye, Manders."

 

Bunny smiled at me again and trotted across the room and went out into the hallway - the very cold hallway, if the gust of icy air that penetrated my study as Bunny opened the door was anything to go by.

 

I noticed Charlie was staring at me. "What?"

 

He shook his head. "Nothing. Come on, let's go to breakfast."

 

I stared at him, but his expression told me nothing. Thus, I nodded, went into my bedroom changed my jumper for my coat, pulled my overcoat on, put the fireguard in front of the fire and with my arm through Charlie's went out into the icy cold hallway.

 

Despite an attempt by the grounds' staff to clear some kind of path from the houses to the dining hall, the walk was not without difficulties. Both Charlie and I have a good sense of balance, but more than once I felt him slip slightly and more than once I believed I would have fallen were it not for my arm through his. All around us boys were slipping and ending up on the ground, covered with snow - and whilst most of the falls were genuine, I knew some simply fell for the pleasure of falling into the thick snow.

 

I found myself wondering about Bunny and how he was coping and I even glanced around me a time or two to see if I could see him. I felt Charlie tighten his arm as I held it and he covered my hand with his. "Even if you could see him, A. J., you couldn't go and help him - the other boys laugh at him as it is, you know that. You'd only make that worse."

 

I sighed. Charlie was correct; of course he was. However, I did not like the idea that my poor, little rabbit might end up on the ground - either through slipping or being pushed. "I know," I murmured.

 

"That's my A. J." And with his hand still holding mine as I held his arm, Charlie continued to walk towards the dining hall and I, of course, went with him.

 

The air inside the dining hall was marginally less frigid than outside, partly due to the number of boys already seated as they called to one another excitedly, and partly due to the fact that the fire had been lit - something that I did not recall ever having happened in four years I had been at the school.

 

LATER THAT AFTERNOON

 

As Charlie and I and other sixth formers from our house threw snowballs at one another and dodged those thrown at us, I realised I had forgotten quite how shrill younger boys' voices could be - or even some older boys when they weren't being quite so grown up and sombre at we often tried to appear.

 

Excited screams and shouts and high pitched laughter filled the air along with the still falling, albeit not quite as heavily, snow. The air was frigid and everyone could see his breath, but thanks to many of us running around, boys seemed to be somewhat warmer than they had been.

 

I saw Bunny from time to time, apparently enjoying himself as he ran around and played with the other boys in his dorm. He was, I'm afraid to say, as hopeless with a snowball as he was with a cricket ball, and he was hit far more often than any other boy and he was also pelted with snowballs by more than one boy at a time.

 

Even so, from what I could see he really did seem to be enjoying himself - at least to an extent - although he still looked somewhat paler than most boys did, although his cheeks did glow. More than once I saw him glance in my direction and give me an almost wistful look. However, most of the time he was concentrating hard on not getting hit too many times by too many snowballs thrown by too many boys. I wished Urquhart was here, at least Bunny would have someone on his side, but he had been taken ill a couple of days ago and was in the San - at least he would be warm.

 

It saddened me, more than a little, to see that whilst my rabbit was joining in and at least attempting to throw snowballs at the other boys and whilst he smiled laughed as snowball after snowball hit him, he really wasn't part of the group. He was there merely as a target for the other boys - I just wished that a few other boys of his age could see him as I saw him, or at least as Urquhart saw him.

 

Suddenly I saw two of the older third year boys, the known dorm leaders and bullies, creep up to Bunny and quite deliberately push him hard down into the deep snow. That was it; I didn't care what the boys thought, I was going to help Bunny.

 

I turned, but my arms were both caught and pulled behind my back. I knew instantly who held me and knew struggling would be futile, but nonetheless I did indeed struggle. I struggled very hard, fighting a grip that was fiercer than my own, trying to pull my hands from his. "Let me go, Charlie," I hissed, turning my head to shoot him a look of if not hatred (I could never hate Charlie, no matter what he did) then of momentarily dislike and anger.

 

He shook his head and just tightened his grip a little. "No, A. J.," he said, quite calmly. "You cannot help him; you know it and I know it. If you go over to Harry now, you'll just make things worse, you know you will. That's what the other boys are waiting for you to do. They are waiting for you to go over to him, help him up, brush him down and put your arms around him and look after him. A. J., he's thirteen, not seven. You cannot help him."

 

I knew Charlie was quite, quite correct, but I still hated not being able to go and take care of my beloved rabbit. I stopped struggling for a moment as my wrists were becoming rather sore, at least I did until I saw Bunny finally manage to push himself to his feet - he had tried half a dozen times and each time he had slipped and fallen back into the snow - and saw his lip was bleeding and bleeding quite badly. As soon as I saw a drop of blood fall to the snow I began to struggle again.

 

Again it was futile. "He'll be all right, A. J., it's only a cut lip - we've all had them. You can take care of him later, when you're alone with him. Now, can I let go of you?" I nodded. "Are you going to be sensible?"

 

I sighed. "Yes, Charlie."

 

"Do I have your word you will not go over to Manders?"

 

I looked at him and stared into the eyes of the boy who loved me even more than I loved him. I nodded, suddenly feeling very weary and chilled. "Yes, Charlie. I give you my word I won't go over to Bunny."

 

He stared at me for a moment before nodding and letting go of my hands. However, he did put his arm through mine immediately, his grip tighter than it normally was as we stood together and stared at Bunny.

 

I saw him swallow hard and blink ever harder several times, before he took one of his gloves off and fumbled in his pocket for a handkerchief to wipe his lip with. Then he looked at the other boys who had all stopped playing and were staring at him, clearly waiting to see what he might do or say. He smiled (what I knew, given how well I knew his smile) a false and overly bright smile and laughed before bending down swiftly, scooping up some snow and throwing it at Stevenson - one of the dorm bullies. It merely brushed him before it fell apart and joined the rest of the snow on the ground.

 

However it was the correct thing to do. As the other boys gathered around him, patting him on the back and one or two even shaking his hand I do not think I had ever been as proud of him. I glanced at Charlie and the look on his face told me quite clearly that I wasn't the only boy to feel a sense of pride - as well of relief. Charlie is actually very fond of my rabbit.

 

Kirkton called Charlie's name and Charlie, without taking his arm from mine, turned to look at Kirkton. I, however, went on watching the boys and of course Bunny. I saw Stevenson bend his head and say something to Bunny. I watched as Bunny widened his eyes and glanced over his shoulder to where Charlie and I stood. I quickly turned my head slightly, so that I could still see what was going on, but given the angle at which Charlie and I stood, the boys wouldn't know I was still watching.

 

I saw Bunny's gaze come to rest on Charlie, who was talking at some length to Kirkton, his back completely to the boys. I saw Bunny bite his lip and turn back to Stevenson and after a moment or two I watched him nod; it was a hesitant nod, but nonetheless it was a nod.

 

I saw Stevenson smile and also look more than a little surprised and I watched as Stevenson spoke hurriedly to the rest of the boys, all the time glancing around to make sure Charlie still had his back to the boys. As I saw them all bend and pick up handfuls of snow and form it into snowballs and I knew what was going to happen.

 

Charlie was still taking to Kirkton, although actually given the edge to his voice I think he was getting more than a little annoyed with Kirkton. As the boys began to head in our direction led, I was somewhat bemused to see, by my rabbit, I tightened my grip a little on Charlie's arm, put my lips to his ear and murmured, "Don't be angry, Charlie."

 

It took a moment or two for my words to register with Charlie, because by the time he turned to me and said, "What? What do you mean, A. J.?" the boys had got a little closer to him.

 

"Charleston?" I heard Bunny say, his voice higher than it normally was and with the faintest hint of a quiver in it.

 

I let go of Charlie's arm and took a step backwards without making it obvious I was doing so as Charlie turned around. "Yes, Manders?" I heard him say, his tone gentle and kind.

 

The next second Charlie was pelted with a dozen or more snowballs as the third formers from our house threw them at him - led by Bunny who threw the first one. For a moment Charlie just stood and stared down at Bunny who looked back at him, biting his lip as he trembled slightly and a worried look appeared on his face.

 

Then, Charlie smiled, bent down scooped up some snow, quickly formed it into a snowball and threw it (gently) at Bunny. Even as he threw it, he was bending down to scoop up more snow which he formed and threw in the general direction of the boys.

 

The boys all cried out in excited voices and stumbling somewhat to get a little further away from him whilst also collecting snow, they began to form and throw snowballs at Charlie, with varying degrees of success.

 

Even allowing for the fact that Charlie was eighteen and the second best cricket player in the school and the boys were thirteen and fourteen and most of them were not known to be able to throw well, the battle was more than a little one-sided and unfair as it was more than a dozen against one.

 

Charlie clearly realised this as he turned to me and said, "Don't just stand there, A. J., help me." Then he looked at the boys and called, "I'm sure you'd like to pelt Raffles with snowballs, wouldn't you, boys?"

 

As one all of the boys - including to my surprise and happiness Bunny - answered in the affirmative and the battle lines were drawn. Despite our combined skill, Charlie and I were being fairly soundly beaten and many of the other sixth form boys urged the younger boys on.

 

Finally after about fifteen minutes of the hard fought battle, the younger boys as well as Charlie and I were all laughing so much, we were unable to go on throwing snowballs. Charlie stopped and held up his hands. "I think that's enough for today, boys," he called as he gripped my arm to support himself. Playing cricket for hours on a firm pitch is much less strenuous than playing in the snow and I was holding onto Charlie as well as him holding on to me. The other boys were either bent over, their hands on their knees or holding onto one another. They were all breathing hard through open mouths, their cheeks were red, their eyes sparkled and their happiness and excitement was obvious for everyone to see.

 

I was aware that now the boys had stopped running around and expending energy, they would begin to cool down quickly and so I called, "It's time we all went inside and got out of wet clothes and dried off. Donít worry," I added, over the sound of objections, "the snow isn't going anywhere overnight. Now hurry along, go inside and try to keep warm."

 

"Yes, Raffles," several of them murmured, and still talking they began to wander off in the direction of the house.

 

Bunny was now standing by my side and my hand had come to rest, as it tended to do, on his shoulder. Suddenly Stevenson stopped turned around and called, "Manders, if Raffles can spare you later, come and find us in the common room." The tone of his voice as well as the look on his face told me that it was a genuine offer - and not one made in order to be cruel to Bunny.

 

Bunny's smile increased and he called, "I'd like that, Stevenson."

 

"Good." And with that Stevenson turned and hurried off to catch up with the other boys.

 

Most of the sixth form and the fourth and fifth form boys had gone or were in the process of going inside, only Charlie remained. Bunny glanced at him, swallowed hard, twisted his hands together in front of him and said softly, "I hope you're not angry with me, Charleston."

 

Charlie blinked. "Why do you think I might be angry with you, Harry?"

 

Bunny swallowed again. "For . . . For . . . For throwing the first snowball at you. You see I . . . I . . . I'm tired of having rags played on me every day. I'm tired of having to put my clothes away every day and having to remake my bed. And I thought that if I - Well, if I not only joined in but also - Well, took the lead that . . . That the rest of the boys might actually . . ."

 

"Decide they liked you?" Charlie said gently. Bunny nodded and lowered his head. Charlie put his hand on Bunny's other shoulder and squeezed it. "Look at me, Harry," he said. Slowly Bunny raised his head. "That's a good boy. No, I didn't mind; I didn't mind at all - I'm actually rather pleased you felt able to do what you did. And from what Stevenson said, it does seem to have done the trick. I doubt they'll be ragging you on a daily basis any more."

 

Bunny smiled. "Thank you, Charleston."

 

"You are very welcome, Harry. Now come along, we really should get inside before we all start to cool down far too quickly." And with that Charlie put his arm through mine as I slid my other arm around Bunny's shoulders and we all made our way back into the house.

 

We parted outside Charlie's study and I led Bunny into mine where the cosy warmth of the room hit us as soon as I opened the door. Bunny smiled up at me and hurried over to the fire; I closed the door, pulled my overcoat, gloves and scarf off and then joined Bunny in front of the fire.

 

"Take your outdoor things off, Bunny," I said firmly, "including your boots."

 

He gazed up at me. "Yes, Raffles," he said obediently and began to remove his scarf, gloves and overcoat. I took them from him and frowned at quite how wet his overcoat was. "Your overcoat is soaked, Bunny," I said, rearranging the fireguard and draping his coat over it.

 

"I think it was from falling over," he said, sitting down on the floor to remove his boots. "It took me a little while to get back up." He looked up at me.

 

Automatically I held out my hand and tugged him to his feet. "I'm sorry I didn't come and help you, my rabbit," I said softly. "I wanted to, but Charlie said I would only make things worse for you - that the other boys would laugh at you."

 

He looked up at me and gave me a small smile. "I understand, Raffles. And Charleston was correct, they would have done. However, I don't think they will now - or rather not as much." His smile broadened.

 

"I'm sure they won't, Bunny. You know you really are a brave boy and a fine one, don't you?" I brushed his damp hair from his forehead and tangled it around my fingers.

 

He frowned. "Am I?"

 

I nodded. "Yes. Because you never told me that you were being ragged every day - and you could have done."

 

Bunny glanced away from me and shrugged. "There wasn't anything you could have done and besides - Well, I don't tell tales."

 

I smiled at him and put my fingers under his chin to raise his head. "I know you don't, my rabbit, which as I said makes you a brave and fine boy. Now let's go and sit down and get warm and then I'll make some tea or cocoa if you'd prefer. Would you like that?"

 

"Yes, please, Raffles."

 

"That's my good boy." I put my hand on his shoulder and felt his jumper was more than a little damp. "Take your jumper off, Bunny," I said firmly, and without giving him time to object, I began to pull it off for him and put it over the fireguard next to his overcoat. He shivered more than a little and so I hurried into my bedroom and grabbed the jumper I had discarded earlier (I had put an even warmer one on before going out into the snow) and went back into the study and handed it to him.

 

"Put his on, Bunny."

 

He took it and for a moment or two just held it in his hands, he didn't quite stroke it, but it was a close thing. He certainly held it carefully and reverently even as if he was holding something quite precious. Then he pulled it over his head and let it fall down his body. It was ridiculously large on him, it came down almost to his knees, the neck sagged considerably and the sleeves were so long I had to fold them back several times just to see his hands. But at least it would help keep him warm.

 

I threw a little more coal onto the fire and then led Bunny to the arm chair where I sat down and pulled him onto my lap where he instantly cuddled against me and put his head on my shoulder and sighed softly with clear pleasure. I was quite certain I shouldn't pull him onto my lap and that the masters would consider it inappropriate, but I didn't really care. After all, Bunny didn't object and had never once sat rigid or fidgeted in a way that made me think he was uncomfortable - in fact his reaction was quite the opposite.

 

"Are you feeling warmer now, Bunny?"

 

I felt him nod against my shoulder. "Yes, thank you, Raffles. Are you?"

 

"I am indeed, my rabbit." And I lightly kissed the top of his head which felt far from warm. In an attempt to warm his hair up (at least that was the excuse I gave myself) I began to stroke his head, running my hand over his hair time and time again, pausing for a moment here and there to slide my fingers under into his hair and rub his scalp. He made soft noises that almost reminded me of the noises a puppy makes when it is petted.

 

"Raffles?" he asked his voice low and heavy with contentedness.

 

"Yes, Bunny?"

 

"Did Charleston really not mind that I - That I . . ."

 

"Threw a snowball at him?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Of course he didn't, my rabbit. He told you he didn't mind, he told you he was in fact rather pleased that you felt able to do that. Truly, Bunny, Charlie wouldn't lie to you; he simply isn't that kind of boy. And I'm very proud of you too for what you did."

 

"You are?"

 

"Of course I am. Now are you feeling warm enough for me to go and make some tea or cocoa?"

 

"I think so."

 

I smiled and once again kissed the top of his head; it did feel a little warmer, but not as warm as it normally felt. I gathered him even nearer to me and said softly, "Well, a few more minutes won't hurt, will it? Just until you are quite certain."

 

A quarter of an hour went by before I became aware that I was really going to have to move and not simply to make hot drinks for us. I pushed him upright a little and said, "I'm afraid I really do have to get up, my rabbit. I need to go to the lavatory," I was considerably more formal with Bunny than with my fellow sixth formers, as I knew quite how easily he became embarrassed and quite how reserved he was.

 

He obligingly scrambled off my lap and let me stand up. "Tea or cocoa?" I asked, as I headed towards the door. "And don't say whatever I'm having; tell me which you would prefer."

 

The look he gave me made it quite clear he had indeed been about to say he would have whatever I wanted. "If it isn't too much trouble," he said slowly, "I'd rather like cocoa."

 

I had been intending to make tea for myself, but suddenly the idea of cocoa on such a cold day, especially as I could see it had once again begun to snow heavily, sounded rather appealing. Plus, I had chocolate in my desk drawer and that went better with cocoa. "Cocoa it shall be. And if you go to my desk you'll find some chocolate in the top right hand drawer. I shall be back shortly." And with that, I hurried out into the hall and paid a visit to the sixth form lavatories before making cocoa for both of us.

 

I made it in a jug and carrying that in one hand and two mugs in the other I returned to my study. The difference in temperature between the frigid hallways and the cosy warmth of my study was quite considerable, and for a moment I thought about how the younger boys, especially those like Bunny who wouldn't either dare or wish to share another boy's bed in order to keep warm, would suffer tonight and subsequent nights, no matter how many extra blankets Dobson issued.

 

There wasn't much I could do, I could hardly take Bunny to my bed, but there was one thing I could do: I could insist he take my jumper with him and sleep in that and I could also give him a pair of thick socks and tell him to wear those to bed. Again they would be far too big for him, but they would help to keep him a little warmer. I did wonder if I shouldn't gently hint or suggest that once Urquhart returned from the San that he and Urquhart share a bed. However, I know my rabbit only too well - plus, if I was being completely honest, I found that I really did not like the thought of Bunny sharing a bed with another boy.

 

I put the jug and mugs down onto the table next to the chocolate before I went over the fire and turned Bunny's overcoat and jumper around; the jumper was definitely beginning to dry. The overcoat, however, was still extremely wet and I wasn't certain it would dry before supper.

 

I poured cocoa into the mugs, picked up one of the bars of chocolate and broke two large pieces off, handed one to Bunny and sat down on the sofa. The next moment he sat down next to me and I put my arm around him and pulled him nearer to me.

 

We sat and drank the jug of cocoa and finished one bar and chocolate and started on the other as I told him tales from some of my cricket matches which had taken place before he had joined the school. Bunny wasn't a cricketer (or any kind of athlete) but he thoroughly enjoyed watching cricket (well, watching me in particular) and loved it when I told him stories of my exploits.

 

When he put his empty mug down he rubbed his hands together. "Are you still cold, Bunny?"

 

"Just a little," he said, flushing slightly; I believe he hadn't intended me to see him rub his hands together. "But I'm fine," he added and smiled up at me.

 

I had an idea. "Wait here," I said, as I stood up and went into my bedroom. I pulled one of the blankets off of my bed and returned to the study. "Come on," I said, sitting down on the sofa and swinging my legs up. "Lie down, Bunny."

 

He didn't hesitate and instead scrambled onto the sofa next to me. I threw the blanket over us and settled down, putting my arms around him and gathering him as near to me as I could get him. Again I was more than certain that strictly speaking I shouldn't be doing this, especially when I realised I could clearly feel his lower body against mine, and that there was a hint of evidence that a part of his body was beginning to harden just a little.

 

He lay quite contentedly in my arms, gazing up at him with open adoration and the love only a thirteen year old boy could have for an eighteen year old one. Charlie loves me, Charlie adores me, but even he has never looked at me in quite the way Bunny looked at me.

 

I stared down and him, and I felt my mouth become just a little dry. Without being consciously aware I was doing it, I rearranged us slightly so that he was lying on his back and I was propped up slightly on one elbow as I continued to stare at him. The neck of the jumper he wore sagged even more now that he was lying down and his shirt was open at the neck revealing his pale, skin.

 

As I stared at him, I could see the pulse in his neck beat and watched the hollow in his throat as he swallowed. Moving slowly and still not entirely deliberately, I lightly stroked the hollow with the tips of my first two fingers. He gasped, put his head back further and made a noise of sheer pleasure - the type of which I hadn't heard him make before. I repeated the touch and this time he shifted slightly, not moving away from me, not giving me any indication that he was afeared or unhappy, more that he was trying to get as comfortable as he possible could.

 

Gently, far, far, far more gently than I had ever touched another boy, I let my fingers move slowly from the hollow in his throat up to his cheek where I ran them along his cheekbone. His gasp of pleasure was even clearer this time, and his eyes shone and darkened just a little and once more he shifted slightly. I glanced away from his face for a moment and saw evidence through the blanket that he was no longer merely just a little hard.

 

I told myself I should stop; I told myself I had to stop; I told myself I must stop. I told myself - "Would you like me to kiss you, Bunny?" I heard myself murmur and smiled as the look in his eyes and the smile that lit up his face gave me the answer.

 

He swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes, please, Raffles!"

 

"Are you quite certain, my rabbit? Do you really want me to kiss you?" He nodded enthusiastically. "You must promise me you did not say yes merely because I asked you. Can you swear that, Bunny?"

 

He nodded again. "Yes, Raffles. Yes. I promise you, I swear I really want you to kiss me - I've always wanted you to kiss me," he added swiftly, and a hint of colour touched his cheeks.

 

"Always?" I asked softly.

 

He nodded again. "Yes. Always. From the moment I first saw you. So, please, Raffles, please, kiss me."

 

"In that case," I murmured and lowered my head a little in order to brush my lips over his.

 

It was, I knew, his first kiss and even though his insistence that he wanted me to kiss him had been clear and honest, I still kept the first kiss very short and light. I lifted my head and gazed at him. This time it was I who had to swallow as I had never seen such - I couldn't actually find the word to describe the look on his face. Happiness didn't come close, nor did contentedness, sheer joy came a little closer, but even that fell woefully short.

 

I have kissed many boys, some whom I liked, one whom I loved, others about whom I didnít  care at all, even a few I actually disliked, and for the most part the kisses had been enjoyable and certainly the other boys had seemed to enjoy my kisses. But now that I saw Bunny's face, I had to wonder if any of them (with the exception of Charlie) had truly enjoyed them - or had they just been a prelude to hands unbuttoning trousers and rubbing naked flesh until the inevitable happened?

 

"Raffles," he whispered and his hand shaking more than a little he touched my cheek. "Oh, Raffles."

 

"Did you like that, Bunny? Was it all right?"


He nodded. "Yes, Raffles. I loved it."

 

I smiled. "In that case, would you like me to kiss you again?"

 

"Yes, please, Raffles!" he cried and then added swiftly, "if you want to of course."

 

"Ah, my dear, sweet, little rabbit, I want nothing more than to kiss you again." And I did.

 

This time I ensured the kiss was both longer and not as light. I slid down a little until I too was lying on the sofa and gathered him into my arms, pulling him right against my body as I kissed him. It wasn't long before he tentatively began to kiss me back - it was terribly naÔve; his lack of knowledge was completely clear; he truly had never kissed another boy before. However, it was very sweet and to my surprise began to have a slight affect on my lower body.

 

From how he felt as he pressed against me I was fairly certain it wouldn't be long before his body did what inevitably happened, and I wondered if he had experienced it before. Some instinct told me it hadn't, thus I believed he would be somewhat surprised, shocked even, by suddenly feeling his drawers become wet.

 

I lifted my head and stared at him as he gazed back at me; his lips were red and somewhat swollen, the blue in his eyes had almost vanished, his cheeks were flushed and he looked not only content beyond anything I had ever seen, but also a little pleased.

 

"Was that all right, Raffles?" he whispered as he licked his bottom lip.

 

"It was more than all right, my rabbit." I bent my head and lightly kissed him again and he sighed with pleasure and a little relief. I watched him shift again slightly and asked quietly, "Are you all right, my rabbit?"

 

He nodded and bit his bottom lip and glanced away from me. "Yes. It's just that . . ." And he shifted again. The way his cheeks became even redder made me quite certain what he was trying not to say.

 

I smiled, kissed him lightly again and said in what I hoped was a reassuring tone, "It's quite natural, Bunny. It happens to all boys."

 

To my surprise although the flush increased and although he still didn't look at me he said, "I know. Well that is I - Raffles?" Suddenly he looked a little worried. "Have I said something wrong?"

 

I shook my head; I hadn't intended to show quite how deeply his words had surprised me. "No, Bunny, not at all. It's just that - Well, I confess I was a little surprised that -" For a moment I really wished it wasn't an innocent, naÔve, shy, easily embarrassed thirteen year old I had in my arms, but someone with whom I could be as blunt as I liked. But I didn't want anyone else in my arms; it was Bunny I wanted to cuddle; Bunny I wanted to kiss; Bunny I wanted to - "How do you," I paused and then said, "know?"

 

Again he glanced away from me and the flush on his cheeks increased. "I've seen some of the boys in my dorm. I wasn't deliberately looking at them - I wouldn't, Raffles."

 

I smiled and lightly kissed him again. "I know, my rabbit. But it really wouldn't matter if you did deliberately look at them - boys do, you know?"

 

"Do they?"

 

I nodded. "Yes."

 

He stared at me and bit his lip. "It's just that Stevenson and Elliot . . . Well, they . . . They walked around the dorm, Raffles, completely naked and it was . . . You know and they called to all of us to look at them. They were laughing and looking at one another and making no attempt to cover themselves up. They even -" He fell silent, bit his lip even harder, so hard that I was slightly concerned he would make it bleed, thus I gently put my finger between his lips and parted his teeth and stopping him from biting his lips. "In front of us, Raffles," he said, he sounded quite indignant. "They did - you know, in front of us and told us to watch."

 

I sighed softly and once more kissed him. "Again, my rabbit, it is not that unusual, especially when boys are experiencing it for the first time," I said quietly. "It's actually quite a common thing for boys to do."

 

He stared at me as if not certain I was telling the truth, but then he knew I always told the truth to him. "I don't have to do that, do I?"

 

I shook my head. "No, Bunny. Not unless you wish to -"

 

"I don't!"

 

I continued to speak as if he hadn't spoken. "And if any boy tries to make you, you make it quite clear you do not wish to and you tell me. Do you give me your word, my rabbit, that if anyone tries to make you do something you don't want to do, that you will tell me?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, Raffles. I promise."

 

I kissed him again. "That's my good boy. Now," I said, deliberately moving him a little so that I could feel if he was still in the state he had been in a little time before. He wasn't; his body had softened again. "Would you like me to kiss you again or would you like some more chocolate?"

 

I laughed softly as he tilted his head back and made it quite clear what option he preferred. Thus I happily obliged him and for quite some time we lay in the cosy warmth of my study, kissing. In fact that was how we spent the rest of the afternoon, on my sofa, keeping warm and kissing from time to time. It really was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

 

The next few days were, if it was possible which given how bitterly cold it had been I hadn't thought it to be, even worse. The snow kept falling and no matter how hard the grounds' staff worked to try to keep some kind of pathway between the houses and the dining hall clear, it became more and more difficult. As fast as they cleared the snow, it came back and as it packed down and froze on top of one another, it became very dangerous - two boys broke their wrists in a matter of days.

 

The younger boys also spent the vast part of their days unable to get warm or keep warm, as not only was there no form of heating in the dorms, but also the fireplaces in the common rooms had been blocked up. Charlie and I, along with some of the more reasonable and caring sixth form boys, took to inviting groups of boys to our studies of an evening simply in order for them to be able to spend some time in a warm room.

 

Finally, at the end of the second week of continuing below freezing temperatures and daily snow, matron insisted the headmaster do more to help the younger boys. I always knew matron was not someone to take lightly and I knew the masters, even the housemasters, dare not say no to her. However, I was not aware that her influence extended to the headmaster.

 

Yet it did. I was sitting in a Latin lesson watching yet more snow fall - I think even the most avid lover of snow by now was somewhat tired of it - when I saw a group of workmen arrive in the school grounds. I thought little of it until later when Bunny ran into my study to tell me that the fireplaces in the common rooms all over the school had been unblocked and boys were now allowed to light fires. At least, he told me, they were if a sixth former was prepared to be present whilst the fires were lit and commit to spending time during each evening to ensuring all was well and that the boys hadn't built the fire too high or were in danger of burning themselves.

 

I have a great deal of influence in the school (especially in my house) due to my status as captain of the eleven; however, Charlie has more - due to him being - well, Charlie. Thus with Bunny by my side I went to his study and told him what Bunny had told me. He immediately drew up a rota for the sixth form boys and took it around to them - not one of them objected.

 

Thus, at least the younger boys across the entire school could keep warm to a degree during the evenings. Matron had also insisted on the head purchasing a large supply of additional blankets, which were distributed amongst the younger boys, hence their nights were somewhat better as well.

 

Bunny, of course, spend the majority of his evenings and those afternoons that would normally have been given over to games, with me in my study, usually cuddled up with me on the sofa or sitting on my lap. During those two weeks I had learnt quite what a fast learner my beloved rabbit was - as well as learning and how he was even pluckier than I had hitherto believed him to be.

 

His kisses had lost most of their naivety, although I was quite glad that there was still an element of innocence in the way he kissed me, and to my surprise it had been Bunny who, admittedly blushing, stammering slightly and quivering just a little, who had asked me to touch him. He assured me he really wanted me to and finally after extracting a promise that he would tell me if he didn't like it I did indeed do the thing I had vowed never to do: I did touch a boy younger than myself in a sexual way.

 

The rest of the winter was harsh, at one point I and a lot of other boys, as well as quite a few masters and indeed matron, believed some, if not all boys and masters, would be forced to spend Christmas at the school, as many of the trains had stopped running. However, somewhat obligingly the weather did improve at the right time and thus everyone was able to return home.

 

Once we returned in January it was a very long winter, with temperatures remaining bitterly cold and snow still falling almost every day. The younger boys were warmer, especially as the head had agreed that they had showed themselves to be responsible, and thus the fires in the common rooms could remain lit at all times.

 

I continued to keep Bunny warm in my own way; it was very pleasant to hold him in my arms, kiss him, touch him and have him touch me. Of course I went no further than a little gentle and very basic touching - I would never have even dreamt of buggering him or having him use his mouth on me. Such things would have been completely irresponsible and unthinkable and quite, quite wrong - even though I knew some sixth formers did indeed do such things to their fags. I occasionally felt a little guilty for having broken my own rule, but not guilty enough to actually stop taking Bunny into my arms, lying on the sofa with him, kissing him and touching him.

 

Winter finally slipped into spring, but although I no longer needed to light a fire in my study, nor to take a blanket from my bed to cover Bunny and myself with, I still spent at least part of most evenings with Bunny either on my lap or in my arms.

 

It was about a fortnight before the end of the summer term when Charlie said something to me which surprised me greatly. We had spent the afternoon involved in a house cricket match, which we had won, and we had spent the early part of the evening after supper in my study discussing the final house match - which I firmly believed we would win, thus claiming the house cup for our house.

 

Charlie was about to leave to return to his study to do his prep, and I knew Bunny would be with me shortly. I was standing by the door about to open it for Charlie, when he put his hand on my arm and said, "Be careful, A. J."

 

I looked at him and frowned. "Charlie?"

 

"With Manders," he said gently.

 

I frowned a little and said, "Charlie; you know I wouldn't hurt him. I don't bugger him or anything like that."

 

"I know you don't. That's not quite what I meant."

 

"Well, what did you mean?"

 

He was silent for a moment before sighing and saying softly, "It's just that you'll be leaving the school this time next year to go to Cambridge."

 

I frowned even more as I stared at the boy I believed I had known; I boy I had believed could no surprise me; the boy who seemed to be speaking a foreign language of which I had no knowledge. "Bunny knows that, Charlie," I said finally.

 

He stared at me in silence for several seconds, before he put his hand on my cheek and said quietly, "I know he does. But do you?" And with those words, he turned on his heel, opened the door himself (I was too stunned by his words to move) and went out into the hall.

 

I simply stood and stared before I shook my head and told myself he must have been out in the sun for too long that afternoon. Maybe I should take him to matron; after all he wasn't making sense, was he?

 

Of course I knew I was leaving the school to go up to Cambridge, and of course I knew that would mean - Well, that would mean saying goodbye to my dear little rabbit. But I would be saying goodbye to a lot of people. Things that went on when one was at school ended when one left the school, didn't they? Of course they did. It wasn't as if what Bunny and I shared could last, would be expected to last, beyond school, was it?

 

Not of course it couldn't. Charlie had simply been out in the sun for too long; that was all it was.

 

As the door opened and Bunny hurried in and came over to me and smiled up at me and I took him into my arms, lowered my head and began to kiss him, I pointedly ignored the fact that the day had not been sunny - it had not been sunny at all.

 


 

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