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Flowers and Champagne

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The pistol was warm in his sweaty palm, as if it had already fired and was still cooling off. He was walking very slowly home, savoring the brisk March air—the last time he would ever do so. In spite of his gait, his mind was racing. He was afraid. He did not want to do this, not really, but he did not see any other way out. He was still running through all his options, a dismal list that had been seared into his mind for weeks now. None of them were viable. None of them would work. None of them would be as easy or as sure as the pistol in his pocket.

He didn’t know why he’d taken it with him tonight. He had never planned to use it in front of that crowd, nor had he thought to leave himself in a ditch. Perhaps he’d unconsciously hoped it would act as some sort of talisman; as if the luck of the draw could be swayed by the presence of a tangible despair. Now he was sorry to have it with him. It made the future seem so much more finite, limited. He thought it might have been easier to follow through if he could have avoided thinking about it, if he could simply walk into his room, take it in hand, and pull the trigger before he had time to reflect. But the weight couldn’t be ignored.

And then, one last glimmer of hope appeared to him. Perhaps fate had been kind to him after all, to put him so suddenly in the way of an old school friend he hadn’t seen in so long. Perhaps that was a suggestion, a solution. Before he could lose his nerve, he turned and hurried back the way he’d come.

 

~~~

 

He wasn’t sure if Raffles realized what day it was. Surely it hadn’t been nearly as important to him as it had been to Bunny, but Bunny wanted to commemorate it anyway. He could hardly believe it had already been a year since he’d wandered back into the life of the boy he’d worshipped at school. He could hardly believe that Raffles had taken him into his confidence so willingly, or had let him stay so long. He was still expecting for Raffles to get bored with him any day now, to send him on his way without looking back. But in the meantime, Bunny wanted to take advantage of every moment with him. And there had already been a year’s worth of those.

He was glad they had ‘gone out’ only a few weeks ago, since it meant he was still in cash. There was no need to worry about the cost of champagne or the extravagant prices of nice flowers—he could afford them easily just now. He had thought about looking for some trinket he could wrap up and present to Raffles—had even looked at several—but had ultimately decided against it. He wasn’t sure even the simpler gestures would be welcome; he was almost certain an anniversary present would be going too far.

When he called at the Albany that evening, basket of champagne on one arm and bouquet of lilies in the other, he felt as nervous as he did during their most daring crimes. When Raffles opened the door to him, he looked as surprised as he had that night just a year ago. But then he broke out into a grin and beckoned him inside.

“Well, my rabbit, what’s all this?”

Bunny stuttered and blushed as he tried to explain. He could not look Raffles in the eye as he told him how pleasant the year had been, how happy he was that Raffles still put faith in him. When he did look up again, he saw that the grin had faded into a look of concentration. Bunny stopped speaking, seriously concerned he had gone too far. He waited for Raffles to say something. When he was not forthcoming, Bunny began to apologize.

“Hush, Bunny, hush. I—,” Raffles cut himself off, took a deep breath, and began again. “I was only thinking how sorry I am that I let the day slip away without getting anything to show my regard for our partnership.”

Bunny wasn’t sure he believed him, but he smiled and offered him the flowers all the same.

 

~~~

 

As he swam back into consciousness, he wondered what the day had in store. Whatever it was, it was bound to be pleasant. After all, when one wakes up in the arms of the person they love best, it is hard for the day to be too miserable.

“Good morning, my darling rabbit.” The kiss on his temple that accompanied these words had Bunny grinning like a child.

“Good morning, love.”

They spent the day together. They had a slow morning in bed, a long walk after lunch, a lovely supper, and then a beautiful evening in the Albany. Bunny had got champagne and flowers again. This time, Raffles was not caught off guard. This time, he didn’t wish he’d been better prepared. This time, he pulled a small box from his pocket and handed it to him without a word. Bunny’s fingers trembled as he tugged at the ribbon around it, and he gasped when he lifted the lid. It was a tie pin, with a simple rabbit wrought in gold.

“Oh, Raffles, it’s beautiful!”

“Happy anniversary, Bunny.”

 

~~~

Money was tight these days. Since he’d gotten out of prison it had been difficult to scrape together enough to live on, but today he had to find something more. Today he had to find the cash for champagne and flowers. He did not have anyone to give them to, but some part of him insisted that Raffles was still alive somewhere. He had a feeling that was not quite hope but insistence that Raffles would come back to him tonight. And he had to be ready. He had to.

 

~~~

 

“Raffles?”

“Mmm?” He responded, turning to nuzzle Bunny’s shoulder. Bunny knew he was more asleep than awake at this point, that he should just let it go, but he couldn’t. After the crushing disappointment each March that Raffles had not come back to him, he was afraid of what tomorrow would bring. He didn’t think he wanted to celebrate their little anniversary anymore. Missing it when he was almost sure that Raffles was alive had been hard enough, but if he lost Raffles again? It would crush him. He knew it would.

“Bunny? What is it?”

“Don’t ever leave me again.”

 

~~~

 

He picked the flowers from their own garden. It was a bigger bouquet than he’d ever given Raffles before, but it didn’t cost him a cent. He stood, stretched his back, and saw Raffles in the window, a book in hand but watching him. He waved, grinning. Raffles smiled back.

Later, they rode their bikes into town and chuckled together as they returned with champagne bottles rattling in the baskets. They let it sit, but not long enough. When Raffles opened the first bottle, it practically exploded, spraying everywhere and drenching them both.  Laughing, Raffles stepped closer and began kissing away the mess on Bunny’s face.

“An excellent vintage, Bunny, well chosen,” he smiled as he pulled away. Still breathless and giddy, Bunny was sorely tempted to shake the next bottle vigorously before opening it.

 

~~~

 

One bottle of whiskey was not going to be enough. The fifteenth was still a few days away, but he could feel the storm clouds gathering over him already. Not that his skies had ever been clear exactly these past few years, but March was always the worst for him. The rest of the year he simply went about his business, avoiding every reminder of the life he had feared and the man he had loved and the way he had lost them both. But in March, his sentimental streak took him on pilgrimages all around the city. He had stood pensively outside all their old clubs, morosely watched a cricket match, and even stalked around several of the most memorable buildings to fall victim to the audacious will of A.J. Raffles. It was a trying experience. Repetition had not dulled the pain of losing him.

Today he was going to the Albany. Those old rooms had long since been let to someone else; Bunny could not get into them, and wasn’t sure he would have wanted to, but simply being in the hall, or in the street in front of it, was enough to flood his memory. They were not all happy memories, but even their worst nights together were happier than Bunny was now alone. He knew it was a foolish idea, but on the Ides, he was going back to Ham Common. It had been the happiest of the places they’d shared. True, Raffles was more prone to melancholy, but they had no pretense of respectability to maintain, no public images to court, no one else to give their time to. It had been just the two of them, and it had been bliss. Their old landlady was still there, he thought, and might even let him spend the night in his old place. It would not be easy, but he would feel worse if he avoided it. He had long since given up on flowers, but he was going to bring whiskey to help him get through this tributary visit. One bottle of whiskey was not going to be enough.