I awoke gradually. I was aware, first of all, of an all-encompassing warmth and an overwhelming feeling of contentment. My face was nuzzled into the crook of someone’s neck, my head resting on the top of their arm, which was outstretched along the bed, and their other arm was resting gently on my bare hip. Our legs were slotted neatly together and I could feel their breath ghosting over my shoulder and back.
As consciousness came back to me, so too did my memories of the previous night. Raffles.
We had spent the evening at our club, and given that we had just finished a job we were by no means hard up. Thus Raffles decided to treat the both of us to some deliciously expensive chateauneuf-du-pape. I will admit, this puzzled me no small degree, since it was unusual for Raffles to drink anything more than the occasional whisky or bottle of champagne.
“That’s a rather odd choice for you, Raffles. Any reason why you’ve decided to drink such a special wine tonight? Is there some holiday I’ve forgotten about?”, I asked.
“You know what they say, Bunny, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
“I suppose that’s true, but that doesn’t explain why you’ve decided to drink one of the most expensive wines on offer. I mean, it’s not even a particularly special occasion.”
“Honestly, Bunny, I thought you would be more grateful than this,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. “Can a man not treat his dearest friend to a fancy bottle of wine? There is, after all, no one else with whom I’d rather be sharing it, and indeed no one else as worthy of the expense.”
The tender note in his voice caught me off guard and I was about to reply when he suddenly launched into gossip about Lord Cramshaw, who had just come into view. As Mackenzie would say: diversionary tactics.
Something had been growing between us over the past few weeks, a weird sort of tension both of us were too afraid to face directly, and this latest exchange merely added to it. I was unsure if he was flirting with me last night (of course I know now that the answer is definitely yes), and I know that I’ve been too scared to flirt with him beyond anything that could be passed off as a friendly gesture. Recently though, upon reflection, both of us have been becoming more bold. Raffles giving me more trinkets, us spending more time together, me attending to him almost as a wife would her husband: fussing with his clothes, sorting his hair, placing the rose in his buttonhole. Now, in the clear morning light after spending the night together as decidedly more than just friends, I really don’t understand how it took us this long to sort ourselves out. I suppose I was too scared to hope that he might be interested in me the way I’m interested in him, and I’ve been interested in him for rather a long time.
I think, looking back, that I have been in love with him since shortly after we re-entered each other’s lives. When he tried to defend me against Carruthers and Tremaine, tried to stop them taking advantage of my foolishness and the money they thought I had, I was touched and that must have been the point at which I started to fall in love with him. No one else has ever really looked out for me in my life, not in the way that Raffles has done. Even in school simply having his approval and good will granted me a sort of protection against some of the crueler boys. To put it simply I am not the most masculine of men now, and I certainly wasn’t back in school which made me a fine target for bullying, though in Raffles’ shadow that bullying significantly abated. Not that I particularly want to dwell on the past, and any encouragement I had from so-called friends in spending my inheritance, well I was at least partially to blame.
“Good morning, Bunny,” said Raffles softly, in a deep sleep-softened voice, interrupting my musings. If I wasn’t already thoroughly enamoured with him, I certainly would have been then.
“Good morning,” I replied, with a yawn.
“Sorry I disturbed you, you seemed rather deep in thought just now.”
“I was thinking about last night.”
“Happily, I hope. Or without regret at least.” Anyone else may have brushed this off as a joke, but I, who knows Raffles better than anyone, could tell that there was a note of worry in his voice.
“Raffles, you must know that I could never regret spending time with you, not in the way we did so last night, and I don’t just mean in bed. Dining with you is always a pleasure.”
He looked away at that, never one to cope well with such frank displays of emotion. “Well, you did seem particularly deep in thought. And serious. It’s not exactly the look someone wants to see on his best friend’s face the night after making love to him for the first time.”
“If you’d really like to know, I was thinking about when I started falling for you. I had a schoolboy crush on you obviously, how could I not, but that wasn’t really love. However, it got me thinking about the night I came round to yours and had that fateful game of baccara, and the whole time you were looking out for me, trying to protect and defend me, both from myself and from your friends.”
“They’re not my friends, Bunny,” he interrupted.
“Well I suppose not. Anyway, it got me thinking that, other than you, no one else has ever bothered to look after me. You’ve always cared about me, even when I was just your fag at school. And when I came back to yours that Ides of March, you could well have just left me to myself, but instead you went to rather extreme efforts to help me. We both know that without you, I’d have blown my brains out by now.” I said it with a light chuckle in a poor attempt to keep the mood light, but Raffles’ handsome face grew pale, his lips drew into a tight line and I could feel him tense up.
“Please don’t talk about that so flippantly.”
Part of me found it ironic that he said that, given how he reacted when I had threatened to shoot myself in front of him, but I suppose things have changed dramatically since then. “I’m sorry. I’ve never been particularly good at pillow talk. But it is true, Raffles. You’re the only person in my life who’s ever truly cared about my wellbeing. Everyone else has tried to take advantage of my inherited wealth, or encouraged me to gamble it away, or took advantage of my stupidity. But not you. Never you.”
“I’m serious, Raffles, and though it’s not the only reason I’m in love with you, it is what made me fall in love with you.”
He stared at me in stunned silence.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t know I was in love with you.” How this beautifully perceptive man could not tell that I, the least subtle person in existence when it came to my affection for him, was in love with him is beyond me.
“Well, I hadn’t wanted to get my hopes up. I was worried you would change your mind, or treat this as a one-off or just something casual that we’d do from time to time.”
It was jarring seeing someone as self-assured as Raffles being so uncertain.
“Oh, Raf, what fools we’ve been.”
Laughing we drew together and kissed. When we eventually parted, we fell into a comfortable silence and I was about to drift off again in the comforting embrace of his arms when Raffles spoke.
“You saved me too, you know.”
I drew back slightly to look up at him. He broke eye contact again, so I knew whatever was coming was difficult for him to say, especially given our intimate situation.
“When you came to my rooms that night, the first time I’d seen you since school, I was not having a particularly enjoyable time, and not just because I was spending it with Carruthers and Tremaine. I was bored. Hopelessly, utterly bored. Listless in a restless way, if such a thing is possible. Every day was just. The same. Yes, I did commit the occasional burglary which staved off some of the boredom, I spent time socialising, playing cricket and so on, but something was missing in my life.”
He broke off at this moment and glanced at me again, before once more avoiding my gaze.
“I was lonely. I wanted a companion. A true one. Not someone who only spent time with me to improve their social standing, who saw me simply as a means of improving their status, who would sooner run away from me than listen to my worries. No, Bunny, I didn’t realise it until we found each other again, but what I was missing was a true friend. Someone who didn’t just see me as a cricketer, but someone who actually cared for me. You are that, Bunny. Yes, it’s good that you’re my partner in crime, and it was through our exploits that I gradually began to realise just how much you cared for me, how much you would do for me, if I asked. I’m sorry that I have taken advantage of that sometimes. And though I am glad you’re my partner in crime, I’m glad that we are now partners in a very different sort of crime. I do care about you, deeply. More than I’ve ever cared about anyone in my life. But I know you care about me, too. The fact you’ve stuck with me - through my sulking, my moods, my cruel words, my idiosyncrasies - is testament to that fact. I love you, Bunny, more than I can ever adequately express. Being with you, like this, is more than I could ever have hoped or dreamed for.”
My eyes were rather damp by this point, and when his gaze returned to mine, I was astonished to see that Raffles’ eyes were glistening too.
“You say I saved you, Bunny, but I say we saved each other, in our own ways.”
“I love you,” was all I could muster before I simply had to kiss him again. And oh, what a joy it was to be able to kiss him when I liked! Raffles. My Raffles.
“I love you,” he declared, as we broke apart again. “I don’t know about you but last night’s...activities… have left me with rather a hearty appetite. What do you say about a bath and then breakfast?”
“Hmm, it is still early yet, perhaps we could work up slightly more of an appetite? I’m very much enjoying being here, with you. Alone.”
“Ah, you have an appetite of a different kind, eh, Bunny?”, he teased.
And with that he leaned down to kiss me again, laughing once more.