"Pass me the ashtray, would you, Harry my lad?"
We were sat, Raffles and I, in his chambers at the Albany. It was a warm summer evening which had followed on from an absolutely stifling summer day. The windows were flung wide, or at least as wide as was allowed, but the breeze was doing little to cool the room, leaving the atmosphere only slightly less tropical than previously. Having returned from dinner we had settled, as had become our habit, onto opposite ends of the settee, I with a novel and Raffles to perform his daily scan of the newspapers for anything which caught his professional attention. Within fifteen minutes he was complaining of the heat. In twenty he had rolled up his sleeves, removed his collar and cast it halfway across the room. By the half-hour mark he had abandoned the newspaper entirely and collapsed dramatically backwards along the length of the settee with his head in my lap. This had made it decidedly awkward to read and either I would have had to move my book or he would have had to move his head. Of course, since it was Raffles, who always gets his way, I had set aside my novel. To be perfectly honest, I was quite content to remain there, enjoying the silence and toying with his hair (which has long been a fascination of mine, as the reader has no doubt noticed by now). The warmth of the room was such that I felt quite ready to doze the evening away, and indeed I was half-asleep when Raffles made his request so that I had already passed him the ashtray in question before I noticed.
"What did you call me?"
"Your name, old sport," said he, tapping the ash off his Sullivan. "I thought I'd give it a try. It seems rather uncivilised to call a fellow by a school nickname when you've been sharing his bed for three months." He looked up at me, and a touch of wariness crept into his voice. "Don’t you like it?"
I thought about this for some time as I fiddled with the curl that sat just above his left temple. "No," I decided eventually. "I mean, you've never called me Harry. It doesn't seem right to start now." To tell the truth, it had got to the point where I spent so much time in Raffles' company, and so little in the company of others, that I barely even thought of myself by my given name any more.
"Are you sure? After all, yours is not the most flattering of nicknames. Besides,"—and here he sat up and inspected the side of my head intently—"you’ve grown into your ears since your youth, so it's not even apt any longer."
"Most definitely," he assured me with the utmost seriousness. "While it is true that in your younger days you were noticeably well-endowed in that department, I would say that now they are scarcely much larger than the average. Proportionally speaking, I mean."
"I can't say I'd noticed; I'm surprised you have."
"On the contrary, I take a keen interest in your ears. I'm of the opinion that they are one of your finest features.” He twisted around to study me from the front and I bore his scrutiny with the usual good humour. “I am glad to note that they do still stick out rather from your head; I always found that charming."
"Oh, go on with you," I said with only mild annoyance. Raffles merely chuckled in response. Then he leaned over and kissed the tip of my ear.
Their size aside, the other reason my ears drew a certain level of ridicule from my schoolmates is that they happen to be very sensitive. I don't mean that my hearing is remarkable, but rather that when I was tackled by three of my dormitory pals and held down while a fourth blew in my ear I squealed like a stuck pig, which they naturally found absolutely hilarious. That was then. I now discovered that when instead it is Raffles, whom I love well beyond the bounds of good taste and good sense, who is playing with them, I make an altogether different kind of embarrassing noise. The look on my friend’s face was one to treasure before it became a mischievous grin.
"Well," said he, and I knew I would not be hearing the end of this any time soon. "This is a turn-up for the books, my dear rabbit. I declare you've been holding out on me!"
"I don't know what you're talking about," I huffed in an attempt to gather up my dignity. It was in vain, however, for the next thing Raffles did was swing one leg gracefully across my lap so that he ended up straddling me and then ran the tip of his nose slowly around the shell of my right ear. I pride myself that the only response this elicited from me was a sharp intake of breath, and when he followed the same path with his tongue I managed to swallow most of the whimper which tried to force its way out of my throat. But try as I might, I was powerless to keep from moaning when the confounded man closed his lips around the lobe and sucked, adding his tongue into the equation as my fingers dug into his back and sides.
"The window," I managed to gasp. Raffles drew back, looking more self-satisfied than I'd ever seen him.
"I'm sorry, Bunny," he said innocently, with a particular accent on my name. "Did you say something?"
"For heaven's sake, AJ, close the blasted window!"
If it were possible, Raffles looked even more smug. He slid off my lap and sauntered over to the windowsill, casual as you please, shut the window and drew the curtains. I had expected—had hoped—that he might rejoin me on the settee but instead he strolled behind me, caught me under the chin and tipped my head gently back against the velvet, settling his elbows either side and regarding me upside-down.
"Is that better?" he asked nonchalantly. "It's still far too warm in here. I shall have to remove my shirt next."
"Oh?" said I. "Well, of course, that's perfectly understandable. I would so hate to think of you suffering in the heat for the sake of social niceties—oh!" His fingers had started retracing the same slow loop around the outside edge of my ears—both, this time.
"You know," he said, his voice low and soft. "There are other reasons why a man might be likened to a rabbit."
"Hmm." I closed my eyes, my world narrowing down to the sound of Raffles' voice and the brush of his fingertips. "And you think I could fulfil one of these other criteria?"
"I have every confidence in you." His fingers were joined by his mouth, drawing another moan from me. "It might help your burgeoning identity crisis."
"Then you'd better come round here," I said with a tug on his arm, "and I'll see what I can do."
I have borne a lot of aliases in my time, some more resilient than others, but I think I will be quite happy to be his Bunny until the day I die.