Actions

Work Header

Letters From The Sky

Chapter Text

It had been a year and a day since Alec passed. Maurice still kept every letter he received from him from the trenches. They were sent to fight as reserves, he in Belgium and Alec in France. He still couldn’t bear to part with them—even the telegraph that announced his death. Alec had succumbed to pneumonia; the disease claimed the life of his beloved and 30,000 men who fought in the Great War. Maurice remembered Alec’s last letter to him. By the time he read the letter, he knew that Alec was gone. Alec ended his letter with the lines:

"My love to you.
My love to you.
My love to you.
My love to you."*

A promise of eternal love from beyond the grave.

Maurice had moved to Derbyshire seeking work as his Cambridge education was useless in this economy. He lived in a modest house that he shared with five other men working as day laborers. The tiny house was subdivided into smaller rooms. His room was windowless and large enough to accommodate a small bed, a side table, and a lamp. He kept his books on the side table, clothes and belongings under the bed or at the foot of it. Alec’s letters were tucked in between the pages of the books that they had read and loved. Clive’s he kept tied up with ribbon and hidden in one of the compartments of an old tattered suitcase he took with him on his journeys. He could not bring himself to burn Clive’s letters and poems.

Maurice often ate in his room alone or would join the others in the downstairs kitchen. Sometimes he pondered what had become of him. Just some years ago, he was at Cambridge, enjoying life in comfort and relative wealth. But even with the hardships he endured, he never regretted choosing to be with Alec. But even with Alec gone, Maurice had no intention of going back to his former life and family. He was indeed not welcomed; he might as well have been dead too.

Masses of work awaited him. Nothing had changed in his life since Alec's passing. Nothing of his past happiness remained. He was back with his loneliness as it had been before Clive, as it was after Alec, and would now be forever. Love had failed.

Maurice gazed at his reflection in the picture frame he hung in his room of his family. He had aged; he had changed. His boyish good looks had hardened—eyes empty and hollow. The war took a toll on his spirits but the toll of Alec's death was greater. He had no more tears to cry, pain to express, nor hope to cling to. The days seemed endless, and the nights, the loneliest. Why should he go on living? There was really no reason, yet he had a dreary feeling he should because he had not got Death either; she, like Love, had glanced at him for a minute, then turned away.

Chapter Text

Pippa found herself traveling to Derbyshire accompanied by a male cousin. The minute she received news from the former policeman she had hired to track the man down, she sprung into action! She had spent a considerable amount of time and money tracking down the man she thought was the only one who could help her. Finding him was her last resort as she closed her eyes, hoped, and prayed.

She came to a series of flats and houses in a dingy part of town—an area that a woman of her status and class should never dare go, let alone be seen in. She spent the entire time arguing with her cousin when they finally found the house they were looking for. She knocked on the door and was greeted by an elderly man with a genial face.

“Good day, Sir. Does Mr. Maurice Hall live here?”

“Aye, Mam.”

The elderly man disappeared into the darkened room, leaving her at the door with her cousin looking utterly petrified. She assured him they would be alright and continued to argue—her cousin insisted that they go back. But before she could muster a rebuttal, she heard his voice.

“Pippa?!”

He stood there in the doorway with an expression of utter shock and disbelief. Speechless—Maurice had not seen his friend's sister in years.

Pippa stood there equally aghast. She hadn’t seen her brother’s friend since the Park v. Village cricket match. She searched the face that she knew well only to find him so changed! He was still quite handsome despite the slight appearance of dark circles around his eyes. His coloring had darkened and the light in his eyes seemed to have faded. His boyish charm and earnestness replaced with an emptiness and a deep despondency that even a smile could not hide.

Maurice welcomed her and invited her to sit with him in the kitchen. Pippa looked around—the place was a hovel. The chairs were mismatched, and the table had seen better days. The wallpaper—a ghastly yellow, the color of jaundice—was peeling off the walls. Maurice offered to make them tea. Despite her cousin’s objections, she politely accepted and told her cousin to wait outside, for she wished to speak with him alone.

“Maurice, I shall speak plainly so as to not be misunderstood. I know about you and my brother. I know that you were in love and you left with our gameskeeper,” she said matter-of-factly.

“I… I hired a policeman to track your whereabouts. I also found the letters you sent Clive in Greece as well as the one letter he never sent you—I didn’t read that one. I also know that Scudder had passed. I’m deeply sorry.”

Pippa handed him the unopened letter that Clive had written sometime after the realization had dawned on him that Maurice was lost to him forever.

Pippa watched as he opened the envelope with great care, unfolding the neatly folded letter and reading it. In this letter, Clive bared his heart—his anguish, his hope, and words of love he could not freely speak. But in the end, he did not have the courage to send the letter, so he resigned himself to his regret and sadness.

She watched as Maurice's expression changed. His eyes welled up with tears, his hands gripped the letter tightly, and finally, broke down in front of her.

Maurice looked up at her, tears in his eyes.

“Why come here? Why find me?”

In a flash, Pippa dropped to her knees, begged before him. This greatly surprised Maurice, who could barely utter a response.

“I didn’t know what to do! I fear finding my brother hanging in his room… Daily, I fear finding him dead in the garden,” she said between sobs.

Maurice helped her up; she composed herself and sat back in her chair.

“Clive hasn’t been the same after the war. He had been wounded but survived, but he’d suffered greatly. Anne and my brother soon found that they were pregnant, but Anne miscarried. Clive blamed himself and started drinking heavily, his marriage suffered, and they were divorced shortly after. Clive suffered his second nervous breakdown—his first when he was 16. Back then, he was removed from school. The second time he was sent to the Bethlem Royal Hospital. He stayed there for two weeks before he pleaded with us to return home—saying that the conditions there were horrid! I don’t know what to do! We’ve exhausted everything, including hiring the best doctors to care for him. We have seen a change but we fear it may not be enough! Clive is very good at hiding his pain, you know.”

“And you think I can help him?” Maurice asked, his eyes still red but gentle and understanding.

“Yes, Maurice. He loves you still and I do believe he has never stopped loving you. Please… I don’t want to lose the only family I have left,” her voice trailing.

Pippa watched as Maurice turned his attention back to the letter in his hands. Touching the paper and feeling the indentations of Clive's words under his fingertips. His face was solemn—lost in profound thought.

Pippa and her husband had searched Clive's room. It was during their search that Pippa found Maurice's letters. When she read them, it was as if the pieces of the puzzle had suddenly come together in her mind. Now she knew why Clive hesitated to marry for years, why he was devastated when Maurice had gone missing and could not be found, why he had become withdrawn from them and why she often found her brother sitting alone in the garden in the fading twilight. Was he waiting for Maurice to return to him?

Pippa waited for an answer and it finally came when Maurice nodded to her quietly. Maurice saw a tiny glimmer of hope in her eyes that spread to her lips with a smile as she thanked him.

Reading Clive's letter had been a revelation to him. He left Pendersleigh Park that night convinced that Clive no longer loved or cared for him.

Thinking back to that night, he had no reason to go back and see Clive, no reason at all why he should explain this newfound love that swelled in him for Alec to his former lover. He supposed he took pleasure in seeing the shock and disgust on Clive's face when he spoke about how he and Alec had shared all—quid pro quo to Clive's earlier shunning. He would wound him as Clive had. In truth, he owed Clive nothing, not after being cast aside for politics and Anne. He could just leave everything behind. But Maurice had convinced himself that it was the closing of a book that would never be read again; better to close it than have it lying about to get dirtied. The volume of his and Clive’s past must be restored to its shelf, and there on that night, amid darkness and perishing flowers would be their last goodbye. He convinced himself that he owed it to Alec also.

But the truth behind it all—the truth that his heart could not confess—even on that night when he spoke to Clive about Alec, he still wished for Clive to tell him that he loved him still. He wanted Clive to fight for their love. But when Clive met him in the garden—met him with thin, sour disapproval and flung empty platitudes—that was all Maurice needed to leave. Maurice abhorred Clive's condescension, was revolted at his dogmatism and the stupidity of his heart, for in his mind he could only accept either anger or Clive's admission of love—nothing in between. With that, he left Clive behind, Pendersleigh Park, the Blue Room, the ferns, Cambridge, and his life as he knew it to start anew with Alec.

Pippa helped Maurice pack and left money for the month’s rent. They traveled by train, the more than 5-hour journey from Derbyshire to Wiltshire.

Chapter Text

Pendersleigh Park hadn’t changed since Maurice left that night. It seemed frozen in time, its exteriors and interiors now out of fashion, and it still leaked and dripped when it rained. Pippa lived a few minutes away in a grand house and told Maurice to telephone her if he needed her. She wished him luck and told him to be patient with Clive.

“He’s hurting...” Pippa relayed, the sadness in her eyes still evident, and left to see her husband and children. She had made sacrifices and left her children to her mother-in-law’s care to look for Maurice. Pippa had pinned her hopes on this one final attempt at saving her brother.

Maurice quietly walked the cobblestone path to the garden. The path lined with yellow flowers that seem to twinkle as he walked passed—his feet suddenly heavy and his mind filled with doubt. When he left that night, it was the closing of their past—a past he wished never to revisit again. It was much too painful to do so. But here he was reopening it—but for what reason? What compelled him to agree to Pippa's request, travel to Pendersleigh Park, and reopen old wounds he thought had long healed between them—or had they healed at all?

Maurice found Clive sitting in the garden. He was alone and dressed in his pyjamas holding a glass of whiskey, looking out into the horizon.

Often, Clive sat in the garden to watch the skies turn to night. He sat where they sat and wished to never feel—to turn to stone or fade away with the light.

Maurice stood there in the shadows between the tall overgrowth of ferns and bushes, quietly gazing at the man who had been the world to him. His lips opened but he uttered no sound. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, he mustered the strength to call out his name.

“Clive?” Maurice hesitantly spoke.

Clive froze. He was certain he would never hear that voice again.

"Maurice," he murmured to himself, unsure of what was real and not. He was sure that Maurice had severed whatever ties that bound them when they parted. When his beloved said to him: "I was yours once till death if you'd cared to keep me, but I'm someone else's now—I can't hang about whining for ever—and he's mine in a way that shocks you, but why don't you stop being shocked, and attend to your own happiness?"

Years after, Maurice's words still stung.

Was he here to torment him? Was he some phantom—some inner machinations of his madness? Clive remembered that Pippa had traveled to Derbyshire, no doubt, to search for the man.

“Did my sister drag you all the way here or are you back to gloat some more?” Clive sneered. The tone of his voice dripped with venom.

“Go home, Maurice. Just leave me be… you’re good at that.”

“Clive, I’m here because Pippa asked me to and because I want to help...”

“Why?” Clive replied cuttingly.

“I read your letter…”

“What letter?” Clive’s heart quickened when he remembered. He knew Maurice was talking about the letter he had written the night it finally dawned on him that Maurice was never coming back. He had wept endlessly that night, writing sheets of despair.

“The letter you never had the heart to send me,” Maurice held out the letter and handed it to Clive.

“I should have burned this… Pippa had no right to...” he muttered under his breath as he held his letter in his hands.

Maurice took the opportunity to sit beside him.

Silence as they sat on a bench next to each other in the same spot they had been that night. The swirl of emotions—the past and the present—a great divide between them. The sun was setting on the horizon. They watched, for what seemed like a lifetime—the sun setting on their story and a love that had failed to burn brightly—a love denied and extinguished too soon. They watched the skies turn red and purple—their faces illuminated by the dying light. They sat merely a foot apart but it may as well have been an ocean between them.

“Go home, Maurice. Go back to Scudder. There’s nothing for you here. Just leave me...” he spoke quietly as his eyes began to water but he held back tears.

“Alec died in the war.”

“And you wished it had been me instead,” was what Clive had wanted to say, but he stopped himself. There was no use holding grudges against a dead man.

Silence in the advancing night.

Clive drank the remainder of his whiskey in one swig and threw the glass. Maurice watched it break as it hit a tree. It was then that Maurice noticed a scar that ran an inch from the base of his right palm to the middle of his arm. The scar must have been about 5 or 6 inches long maybe longer. He also noticed a similar scar on his other hand. They were fairly new, red, and angry. Their well-defined edges cut with precision and with every intention to kill.

Simcox had found Clive just in time. Clive was taken to the hospital and stitched and it was for this reason that Clive was committed to the Bethlem Royal Hospital soon after.

Maurice was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. He knew the pain—it had visited Maurice twice in his lifetime. In the first instance, when Clive had declared to him "I don't love you anymore. I'm sorry". He'd been driven to near suicide by his grief and obsession. Secondly, upon the news of Alec's passing. But Maurice had thought that a man like Clive was stronger to evade its dark calling. Clive must have suffered so to even consider taking his own life!

“Clive…” he whimpered, his voice breaking as he turned to his friend with tears in his eyes.

Clive continued to gaze into the distance, knowing full well that Maurice had seen the scars and admitting to himself that whatever resolve he had left would break if he saw Maurice cry.

“I made a mistake. I thought I’d end my suffering only to realize I would pass it on to Pippa. She would be devastated… I...”

Before Clive could continue, Maurice caught hold of his hands and brought it close to his lips to kiss. His tears rolled down his face and into Clive’s pale, cold hands—anointing his scars with his agony.

“I would be devastated, Clive! Promise me you won't ever consider it!”

Maurice meant it.

There in the garden, amongst the ferns and Evening Primroses that had witnessed the last dying breath of their love... Whatever hurt they had inflicted upon each other that night, whatever ill-will that remained from their last parting had vanished.

Clive nodded and Maurice helped him get back to the house.

Chapter Text

Maurice kept Clive company. In the mornings, they had breakfast and then walked the garden side by side, neither of them spoke. Clive didn't ask anything of him nor did Maurice offer anything but his company. He accompanied Clive everywhere like a shadow—keeping an eye on his every move, making sure Clive met his doctor twice weekly.

At night, Maurice slept on the sofa in Clive’s room even though it was much too small to accommodate his tall frame, so his feet hung uncomfortably. When that was too much to bear, he slept on the floor beside his bed. It was after a week when Clive finally offered him space on his bed.

“Come now, Maurice. The bed’s big enough for the two of us. I won’t try to steal your virtue if that’s what you’re worried about,” Clive said dryly—half in mocking jest, half in annoyance. Maurice blushed.

Maurice got into the bed with Clive. Dressed in their pyjamas, they lay side by side without touching, just as they had been the night before Clive left for Greece. This time, Clive didn't leave. Maurice's breathing comforted him, and both soon drifted to sleep. For the first time in over a year, Maurice slept soundly.

Maurice was the first to awoke and realized that they had held each other sometime during the night. Maurice gingerly moved so as not to wake Clive. He watched Clive intently, noticing his breathing and how serenely he slept. Maurice thought that it would pain him greatly if he also lost his old friend.

One morning, Maurice stood outside Clive's bathroom as his friend washed and bathed.

"Bloody hell!"

Maurice heard Clive curse and he heard something break!

With that, Maurice burst into the bathroom in a panic only to find that Clive had cut himself while shaving and dropped the glass of water! Maurice swiftly took the razor from him and picked up the large pieces of glass on the floor.

“Can’t a man shave in peace?! I wasn’t trying to do anything!” Clive sighed in exasperation.

“Let me do that. I was a barber’s assistant before the war, you know,” said Maurice softly.

Maurice took the vial of iodine from the cabinet and some cotton to dress the cut. He applied the shaving cream—the newest men’s grooming product from America—and slathered it on Clive’s face. He then delicately shaved the remainder of his scruff. Maurice stood back and admired his work only to realize in horror that Clive was naked! Blushing, Maurice excused himself, and Clive quietly chuckled at the realization.

Every night they slept in the same bed, either of them waking up in the morning and noticing that they were in each other’s arms. But neither mentioned or spoke about it in the mornings. Clive, as he thought right, was still beyond his reach.

They kept the same routine for three months, and slowly Clive began to warm to him. They now spoke during their walks, often reminiscing about their life at Cambridge—though never explicitly mentioning their love. Maurice avoided reminding Clive of it, fearing it would hamper his healing.

Clive opened up to him about his time during the war, how he had been wounded trying to help a fellow soldier to safety and how he nearly died in a makeshift hospital in France. Maurice also spoke about his time as a medic and spoke about the atrocities he had witnessed and how deeply they had affected him.

At last, the deluge, as Clive finally confessed to Maurice about the time he parted with his respectability.

After his marriage to Anne, Clive joined the vast armies of the benighted who denied their hearts and desires—marching on to their destinies swathed in the fallacy of politeness, piousness, and respectability. He had yielded not to love but to the enemy within. Certain in his heart that he would meet an end as Gallus had in Virgil's bucolics if he had succumbed to greater passions.

Clive had turned to generalizations, hid behind philosophizing, and sought the scientific and impersonal to rationalize his change of heart—when he said to his beloved: "I don't love you anymore. I'm sorry." Maurice had attributed this to the mental vagueness induced by his marriage. But all the veneer of pleasantry began to show cracks revealing all of Clive's unselfish hypocrisy—it announced to all: "Here is he who has sinned before passion and truth!". Clive had sinned most of all to himself in his denial—the separation of self and heart grew wider as he marched on.

He recounted that after the war, he had stayed in France, where he met a Frenchman and ended up spending the night together. Their gazes met in the tram, Clive followed him home, and they made love. Clive left before morning and didn't ask the man's name or express any desire to meet with him again.

Speaking about his horror at what he had done, Clive confirmed the perversion of his soul and cut himself off from the congregation of normal man, but also the conflict within him because he had enjoyed it immensely. The war had left him so disconnected and his will so desolate. His gentle and sensitive mind could not comprehend its horrors and the gripping loneliness that loomed over him. And it was this growing need in him to connect that led him to satisfy his carnal urges. On that night, as his body united with his liberator, Clive departed with the two halves of himself. Gone and banished was the Clive of respectability and the Clive of denial. Finally admitting to himself the truth that shook the very core of his being—that he loved men and had always loved them—that he loved one man and only him. Emboldened and liberated by this knowledge, so he returned to Britain and to Anne.

But for a mind like Clive's, change comes but slowly, painfully.

Sometime later, they found that they were pregnant with their first child. Sadly, Anne had miscarried, and in Clive’s tortured mind, so linked his perceived fall from grace with the reason they were now so severely punished. Clive was harder on himself than anyone around him—prone to intense self-scrutiny and of valuing something once it had only come to pass. Regret and failure took hold of him—regret over having lost Maurice and his failure to heed his heart when he should have. He took to drinking and grew cold and distant—certain that Anne would be better off without him. The walls of his had finally broken down, and Clive told her the truth—how he had lain with another man and how his heart has always desired his own sex. Anne still loved him but understood that she could not force him to remain tethered to her, so she initiated the divorce. But Clive so underestimated his wife’s love for him, her kindness, or her openness. Anne left but spoke to him—tried to soothe him—and told him that he shouldn’t be guilty over losing their child or being an “unspeakable.”

“I hope you find the same love that I showed you,” she told him on their last night together and left. But her words fell on deaf ears. Clive soon took on a lover and surfeited in vice and drink. And when his mother passed, he blamed himself.

His mother had been alarmed and shamed when she was subjected to unflattering gossip about Clive—about parties with copious amounts of alcohol, his ever-increasing bank withdrawals that didn't go unnoticed, and hushed whispers of debauchery that went on till morning. So she ventured to London intending to talk some sense into her son. But his mother found Clive with his lover when she visited without notice. Angered and disgusted, she cast him out—told him he would be cut off from any inheritance or his stipend. If there was ever any mercy she showed her son—any semblance of motherly warmth—it was sparing him the shame of spending a fortnight in a jailhouse! She insisted he relinquished his title to Pendersleigh Park to his sister. He could keep his London home, but he shan't be part of her life or family anymore!

The day followed the night and death circled the old woman and soon she grew cold as her words. "I have no son!"—were her last parting words to Clive. After this, Clive continued to withdraw from the world and from those who loved him—deeper into his pain. His lover secretly relished it as his influence and control of Clive doubled its power and grew immense.

If it hadn’t been for Pippa, Clive would have lost it all—even his life. She remained the one bright star in his darkened sky.

*************

Clive sat there in the garden with Maurice at his side, his gaze downwards. He had just confided his pain and his greatest shame.

"That night in France... It felt like I had come to life. I can recall few moments of feeling that way," Clive hesitated but thought back to that day he confessed his love to Maurice, scenes of the two of them laying among the ferns and in the Blue Room flashed in his mind.

"But it left me curiously sad after and my soul may have been forever damned..."

To his surprise, Maurice spoke.

"I did struggle with the same feelings you did. I don't know whether I am damned or not... You may not see me as one who possesses a great mind, Clive but I do know one thing. The love I have for Alec, at its root, is the same love a man has for a woman. There is no separation. That much I know to be true."

"The same love I had for you..." Maurice abstained from uttering these words, lest he reminded his friend of its collapse and failure. Maurice still feared for Clive's relapse into despair. In time, Maurice thought, in time Clive would heal, and so would a reconciliation between his heart and his conscience—finally bridging the chasm and cause for his torment.

"There always have been people like us and always will be, and generally, we have been persecuted. If I am an outlaw in the eyes of the law and god, then so be it," he added turning to look at Clive.

In the past, Clive had been guilty of undervaluing Maurice's wisdom. But here, Clive thought, he was wrong. Clive saw Maurice wise beyond his years—wisdom born from struggle and growth. Here was a man who loved purely and honestly, without condition or compromise, and without stain. Clive had felt that love once and it raised him out of triviality so his imperfect soul might strive to touch perfection. He had spent the last years seeking that same love to no avail. But his mind and his heart held Maurice's love the greatest and unsurpassed.

*************

Maurice also spoke a great deal about Alec and their love. Daily he missed him and how he wished for just one more day with him. Maurice imagined Alec's last days—how afraid and lonely he must have felt.

Clive soon realized that he no longer harbored a burning hatred for the man and wished Alec’s soul peace. Alec had given Maurice what he had failed to do so—Alec had given him love and was worthy of the love Maurice returned.

Both took comfort from each other. Unmasking their hidden pain had been a welcomed unburdening. Their time together had benefited them both in mind and in spirit. Clive slowly regained his health, vigor, and color, his face no longer gaunt, and his skin, though still pale, was no longer sallow. The dark circles on Maurice’s eyes had slowly faded, and his eyes began to show signs of life! There was serene happiness there; it had been missing and thought lost for so long.

*************

It was during one of their walks that Clive finally told Maurice that he was free to leave. They had stopped in the garden, sat on the bench, and watched the leaves rustling in the wind. It was a perfect day—the last day of summer—one did not spoil a rarity such as this by spending it indoors.

“Maurice, you can leave, you know. I'm not holding you against your will. You said you'd leave when you were absolutely certain I'd be alright on my own. I’m alright and I have you to thank for that,” Clive’s eyes were grateful and full of warmth.

“Well, yes, I did say that but I've decided that I rather liked it here. So I'll stay here for a while through the holidays, possibly. It's quite nice not having to think about the rent or where my next meal is going to come from. I'm fed very well and I'm sleeping better than I have in over a year," Maurice laughed light-heartedly.

"I'd like that," thought Clive. A faint smile crossed his lips but his heart sang at Maurice's intentions.

Chapter Text

"A recession is not an excuse to skip Christmas altogether!" Pippa exclaimed, insisting Clive make an effort to at least have the old decorations put up. They had agreed they wouldn't buy new ones and instead, would use the money for food packs and gifts for the tenants and servants.

"Everyone needs cheering, Clive," as she pleaded with her brother, flashing the most innocent of eyes. Clive relented and agreed for Pippa to take over the whole holiday celebration.

"That's settled then! I’ve knitted socks for all of us to hang near the fireplace and I'll need to head out to London to get gifts for the children. And I need a few things too from Harrods... oh! We’ll have to prepare parcels to give to the children at the orphanage. Hmmm… these curtains will have to go and we'll need to put on the red ones that mum liked... and oh, we'll have to polish the special silverware as well..." her eyes glimmering at the prospect. Clive let her plan, it's been a while since he saw his sister this happy. She had always looked at him with such sad eyes.

“Well, with all that I’m going to need a strong, strapping, and handsome young man to help me with those heavy bags...” she pleaded to Clive, batting her eyelashes as if that would suede him to accompany her. Clive didn’t even meet her gaze, fearing he'd lose his composure and devolve into fits of hysterical laughter, so he pointed at Maurice instead!

"Oh, please, Maurice! I promise you we'll have a jolly time. It'll be lovely!" said Pippa excitedly, taking his arm and Maurice slightly leaning away from her and hesitantly nodding so he wouldn't offend her. Clive watched, wickedly taking pleasure from the look of slight panic in Maurice's eyes and the flushness of his cheeks. Clive watched as Maurice and Pippa planned and found himself admiring his smile and his great beauty. Maurice noticed Clive's intense stare and flashed him a smile. Clive looked away, suddenly all bashful.

They sat in the parlour, all three of them, as Maurice and Clive listened to Pippa gleefully planning and chuckling amongst themselves. Maurice thought it was nice to see the two of them so happy. Pippa was always so delightfully positive and joyful—oh, how could two siblings be so different?!

************

Maurice recalled the first Christmas he had with Alec. Alec had sent most of his earnings to his family, and Maurice had very little in his savings, so they shared what they could afford. Maurice didn’t have enough time to pack and left hurriedly with only a suitcase with his meager savings, clothes, and one book—the Plato he read at university. He left a note to his family saying goodbye.

The two of them lived in a building near the outskirts of London. To not rouse any suspicions, they introduced themselves to their neighbors as cousins.

They bought two small pork pies, jacket potatoes, and slices of roast from a diner for their first Christmas dinner. What money they had left, they spent on an inexpensive bottle of red wine that they mulled with a half-bark of cinnamon, a few sugar cubes, and a few sticks of cloves. The family in the next flat gave them slices of boiled pudding and two clementines, so they added the thin pieces of clementine rind to the wine for flavor. They had their Christmas meal in their tiny flat—their bellies and hearts full of wonderful food and love.

His thoughts then turned to his first Christmas without Alec. The Christmas after the war was the worst Maurice had endured. He didn’t feel like celebrating, but the family that lived next to them had invited him to celebrate Christmas with them after knowing that Alec had passed. They would never have been so kind had they known the truth about them being lovers. Maurice sat with them and shared a modest Christmas feast. He had offered to bring the fat hen which they cooked and some sweets. They had roasted hen, potatoes, and boiled pudding with golden syrup. Maurice gave their daughter a baby doll. After dinner, he politely excused himself and returned to his and Alec’s flat, rereading all of Alec’s letters and falling asleep clutching them close to his heart.

He thought to himself then if this was his Christmas from now on—alone with his sadness for company and misery his bedfellow?

Oh, how things had changed! But never in his mind did he think he would find himself back at Pendersleigh Park with Clive.

Chapter Text

This was the first time since Maurice appeared at his door that Clive was alone. Maurice and Pippa traveled to London to help buy the things they would need for the holidays. Their absence only made Clive restless; he paced in the room he shared with Maurice. He glanced at Maurice’s study. On the table were his books—five books in all—such a paltry collection in comparison to his. But Clive so loved his books and music that he often forgot that they were a bewilderment to others. He delicately touched the spines to read barely visible titles. They were well-worn, with the book's spine hinges showing a lot of tearing. Maurice had two books by Charles Dickens, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, the newest one was a collection of poems by Rupert Brooke, who died on his way to war, but the final book—the smallest one—was the Plato they used at Cambridge. Clive took the book out and opened it to a random page. Inside he found a letter. He unfolded the letter delicately and started to read.

“My Dearest Mary,..” he read it in a hushed whisper.

Clive knew that despite the name, the letter was intended for Maurice. It was a way for men like them to send letters to their beloved and evade sanctions from the ever-watchful eyes of the military censors.* It was the letter Alec sent to Maurice during the war. In it, Alec wrote about hoping for the war to be over by Christmas and that he couldn’t wait for them to be together again. Alec ended the letter with lines that repeated: “My love to you” over and over like a litany.

Clive returned the letter and tucked it between the pages, unsure of what he ought to be feeling at this moment. He took another book and skimmed through the pages to find two more letters from Alec. He didn’t read them but saw the dates. He took another book and another to find a total of six letters, including the telegraph of Alec’s death—all Alec’s but none of his. Clive noted the dates and realized that the letter tucked within the Plato was the last one.

“Alec’s last letter before he died…” Clive thought to himself.

Clive returned the letter and the book to their rightful place and sat down on the bed dejected. His heart was heavy, and he remembered their reunion in the garden. His eyes widened...

“Maurice returned my letter,'' he thought, the slow dread seeping into his soul.

The letter he wrote in the dead of night when thoughts of Maurice haunted him. The night when he poured his heart and soul in an effort to win him back.

“Maurice returned my letter… he read it but handed it back to me,” he softly spoke in the quiet of the room.

Clive realized that in all the time they shared together in the past months, Maurice avoided speaking about their past love—treating it as if it was some memory Maurice would rather not revisit and one he wanted to forget.

“He didn’t want it… he doesn’t want me,” came the painful realization.

Clive recalled the memory and the pain of that night again for what seemed like the thousandth time. When Maurice opened his hand and luminous petals appeared in it. He had vanished just as he came, leaving no trace of his presence except a little pile of the petals of the Evening Primrose, which mourned from the ground like an expiring fire.

A rush of emotions flooded Clive. He had hoped that Maurice still had some love left for him and wished for that love to grow and flower. His heart sank at the realization that Maurice was there to help him as a favor to Pippa, not for any love or care for him! Clive composed himself, stood up, and accepted defeat.

He was in a foul mood all throughout the day.

Once again, sorrow and despair regained their footing in Clive's heart—they would not relinquish their hold of him so easily this time.

**********

Maurice and Pippa returned to Pendersleigh Park carrying a mountain of things. The servants helped them unload the car while Clive greeted them at the front door.

“Clive!” Maurice called out to him still in the car, glad to see his friend.

“We had a marvelous time!” As Maurice excitedly told him of their time buying gifts at Harrods, the French pastries that they bought and… Maurice's voice trailed when he noticed that Clive wasn’t paying any attention to what he was saying. His friend’s eyes looked out into the distance and his complexion turned pallid.

“Clive, are you alright? Is there something wrong?”

Clive turned his gaze back to his friend and quietly reassured him that he was fine, and that he had just been out for a walk, was tired, and needed to rest.

The days after, Maurice slowly realized that Clive had suddenly become distant and cold—retreating inwards and recoiling from him. This sudden disquieting realization deeply upset Maurice and frustrated him. He had begun to see a great change in Clive for the better but it seemed that his efforts to heal his friend was for not!

*************

Christmas, 1920

Pippa’s children and husband joined them at Pendersleigh Park for Christmas. She and Maurice gave Clive the newest model of Remington typewriter and encouraged him to write again. Clive smiled and thanked them wholeheartedly. Maurice found himself admiring that smile. It was the same one Clive gave him when they were in love. The smile flashed and disappeared from his face in an instant leaving Maurice missing it even more!

There were times when Clive would laugh or smile—even to him—but always a tinge of sadness that coloured his eyes. Still, Maurice soldiered on, determined to see his friend well again!

Chapter Text

Clive had gone to great lengths to avoid Maurice, confining himself to his books all day. Maurice invited him for a walk; Clive declined. His friend asked if he would accompany them to hand out parcels to the orphanage; Clive said no and made an excuse of feeling ill.

Maurice was restless.

After they returned from the orphanage, Clive was still in his room and did not acknowledge his friend when he entered.

"Why was Clive suddenly acting so strangely?" Maurice asked himself, unsure of the reason. Had he said anything or done anything to offend his friend? Maurice was puzzled, his vexation grew.

He sat on the edge of Clive's bed and spoke to him...

"Clive, is there anything wrong?" his worried voice speaking in almost a whisper.

Silence from Clive. Maurice asked again.

"I'm alright," came the response curtly and sharply, cutting into the silence of the room.

Maurice turned his gaze away from him, still sitting on the bed and looking out to the window and into the grey of winter to see Pendersleigh Park blanketed in fresh snow.

"I've decided to leave during the New Year..." Maurice's voice was faint, reaching out to him like an invisible hand grasping at nothingness. Clive remained unmoved.

He had hoped for a reply—anything from Clive but silence. But once again, Clive's heart became a chasm he could not bridge.

After a while, Maurice stood up and left Clive's room.

He got his winter coat, gloves, hat, and braved the cold outside. Thankfully, it had stopped snowing just in time for the sun to peek from behind grey skies. Maurice found himself in the garden. He walked down its cobblestone path, looking out to a grey and slumbering land. The roses—red and dusted with white, powdery snow—unyielding in the cold. The other plants sadly had not survived. He came across Evening primroses that had lost all their flowers and gained a reddish tinge on the ends of their leaves. They had survived because they had sacrificed blooms to conserve their energy—a sacrifice rewarded with a burst of colour come Springtime.

Maurice had left Clive's room with a pain tugging at his heart and his mind in disarray. He was suddenly sent back to the smokingroom with Clive shortly after Clive's marriage, at a time when his beloved had said to him, "I don't love you any more; I'm sorry,"—his mind sent back to that same eclipse.

He began to doubt the reason he was there in the first place. He had tried—Lord knows he tried to help his friend.

Maurice languished in that state until he heard a voice calling out to him. Pippa's. Calling him back inside. He turned around and lumbered past the snow.

*****************

That night, Clive lay awake waiting for him. But Maurice did not come for he slept in the Russet Room. Maurice didn't join Pippa and him at the table for supper. When Pippa asked, Clive had no answer but informed her that Maurice would be leaving on the first of January. Pippa read the room and knew enough not to pry further.

Alone with his warring thoughts, a quiet voice in his head told him, "Don't let him go! Beg him to stay!" The voice pleaded with him. But the voice that spoke the loudest was the voice that told him he was the past and that he belonged to the past.

"Maurice is better off without you!"

"He doesn't love you anymore!

The voice tortured and tormented him—the same voice in his youth that told him he was damned for loving men. In contrast, the quiet voice cursed his stubbornness and pride—for being dismissive and rude to Maurice, who only had the best of intentions. In Clive's mind, he was steeling himself from eventual heartache. He was always quick to accept defeat, especially in matters of the heart.

But Clive missed the warmth of his body, the sound of his breathing. He had hoped that in the dead of night they would find themselves in each other's arms again. He had allowed himself to enjoy what little pleasure he could—what little joy he could. He was sure that Maurice no longer cared or loved him. But he could at least feel him in his arms and dream that they still belonged to each other.

*****************

Maurice moved to the Russet Room, took all his clothes and belongings with him, and chose to dine alone that night. Pippa was alarmed. Maurice heard her worriedly ask Clive, "Is he ill? He was awfully long outside in the cold. That is so very unlike him..."

He retreated to his room after dinner. He needed to get away from it all—he needed peace.

Maurice lay silently. It had been years since he visited this room. He recalled how Alec thundered up that special night when he was weakest and the panic in his heart when he felt Alec's lips on his—how his touch sent shivers down his body. Maurice recalled his voice..."Sir, was you calling out for me? . . . Sir, I know. ... I know." How he let Alec possess him that night and how heavenly their bodies seem to melt with each other. He downed out his worries by gathering pieces of Alec from his memory—clutching them close for safety. Maurice slowly sunk deeper into a trance. His body grew heavy and his mind drifted in a state halfway between wakefulness and sleep. His eyes closed and his breathing slowed. His thoughts drifted to Alec and the warmth he felt when he recalled his name.

But in this state, another name demanded his attention. It crawled and clawed from the deepest halls and corners of his subconscious—impatient, impertinent, demanding him to acknowledge it! From this twilight state, a name escaped his lips. He swore he heard himself call out the name in his slumber. Awash with dread, it jolted him out of slumber and out of his bed. He paced the room, the name growing louder and louder in his ears until he could no longer deny it. The name that had ricocheted in his heart and mind from that very first day he saw the man in a room at Trinity—the same name that once brought him the greatest of joys and plunged him to the darkest despair.

He uttered the name out loud in the darkness again—breathing new life to a desire that slept and slumbered.

Finally, his mind quieted down as he sat on the bed, his head in his hands...

"Am I in love with Clive?"

Chapter Text

Maurice’s tattered suitcase was already on the bed, and his neatly folded clothes were next to it. Maurice, thankful of his gracious hosts, had tidied up the Russet Room before leaving. They had avoided each other the days leading up to this day. But on his last day at Pendersleigh, Clive would see his friend off at the very least.

Clive watched him as he packed his suitcase in silence. Neither wanted to break the silence nor wanted the other to leave, but neither of them dared to speak it. Maurice was closing the suitcase when Pippa called out to him and asked him to help her unload a few things. Always ever so helpful, Maurice obliged and left Clive alone in the room to help his sister.

Clive examined the tattered suitcase. It had seen the worst from the looks of it. The leather had thinned on the bottom and the sides. The fabric lining inside had frayed, and a zipper was missing. It had discolored a great deal too from wear. He saw holes on the side and a burned mark from what looked to be a cigarette burn. Clive decided he wasn’t going to let Maurice leave without a new one. It was the least he could do—repayment for Maurice's kindness and company. Unbeknownst to Clive, Pippa had attempted to pay Maurice for his time, but he declined.

Clive got his newest suitcase from his room and started to unpack Maurice’s things, emptying the old bag and moving his belongings to the new one with a sense of serene resignation. He touched Maurice's belongings and said his farewell.

It was then that he came upon a compartment and lifted the string to open it. Inside he saw letters. A handful of them, neatly tied with red ribbon. He saw the words neatly scribbled down in an envelope “To My Beloved Maurice” and recognized the handwriting.

These were his letters!

His hands trembled as he touched them, untying the ribbon and opening them one by one.

“Maurice had kept them after all…” he quietly spoke to himself. Utterly unaware that tears had started to fall down his cheeks, drops of moisture wetting the paper. He wiped his eyes and, with trembling fingers, gathered the letters and tied them up with the ribbon. He placed the letters back in the secret compartment, and the rest of the items he had moved and devised a plan—his heart welling with joy—hope blossomed within him and grew anew!

Maurice had come back just in time for Clive to return all the things he had moved and put everything in the suitcase as Maurice had left them. Clive held his hands on his back so Maurice wouldn’t see them trembling. Maurice saw the new suitcase next to his and turned to Clive for an explanation.

“I thought you needed new ones. I can’t send you out with a tattered suitcase,” Clive’s voice still trembled a little but it was enough for Maurice to notice.

Their eyes met—both quietly pleading to stay. Maurice was the first to break their gaze and started to resume his packing when...

“I’d be miserable if you go...” Clive whispered as he placed his hand over Maurice’s hand to stop him from closing the suitcase.

Clive had summoned his courage to speak first, his hand still trembled over Maurice’s. Maurice turned to him, their eyes locked again and what Maurice saw in Clive’s was a fire he had not seen in him.

Their lips met in a frenzy that surprised them both—their tongues tasted and dueled—they had never kissed like this before! Neither knew who initiated it first, but both finally acknowledged how they had wanted this kiss so badly. Clive's hands urgently wandered from his chest to tightly grip the sides of his jacket as if to cling to him, to stop him from leaving. Maurice's hands instinctively moved to Clive's hips, pulling him closer.

Unbeknownst to them, someone was listening in and eavesdropping on their private conversation. They stopped to acknowledge the intruder who was hiding near the doorway.

“Pippa? I know you’re there… I can see the outline of your skirt from the door!” Clive called out to his sister, his gaze still on Maurice. Both gleefully burst into laughter when they heard a tiny squeal from Pippa.

“Sorry… sorry…” Pippa apologized, stumbling awkwardly into the room. Seeing her brother locked in a sweet embrace with Maurice, she smiled as she closed and locked the door behind her.

They kissed again, this time even more urgently. After a few minutes, they pulled away gasping for air, faces flushed, and eyes heavy with desire. Clive delicately cupped his face with his hands, searched his eyes, and spoke…

“I thought I had really lost you...” Clive cut himself, tongue-tied, but his eyes spoke the words he could not express.

“I want you.”

Maurice took one of Clive’s hands to kiss and nodded.

Maurice had not lain with another man since before the war with Alec. As for his experience in the carnal act, he had only ever been with one man and felt crudely inexperienced and bashful; thus, he allowed Clive to lead. Clive’s experienced hands removed every bit of clothing on Maurice, kissing whatever skin he exposed. Naked, they laid on the bed—their hearts thundering in their chest and ears in the silence of the room. The only other sound was their breathing and the crackling and popping of burning firewood.

There was something familiar yet new in their reunion. It brought them back to the past. It felt like their first tentative romantic encounters in their rooms at Cambridge. A time when they had enjoyed innocent caresses and chaste kisses—inept attempts at lovemaking. Now the air was thick with desire, mingled with an intensity that charged the room and heightened their arousal. Nothing stood in their way now.

Clive lay beside him but facing him, propped up on one elbow to better admire his lover. Suddenly feeling coy at Clive's intense gaze, Maurice tried to pull the covers to hide his body.

"Don't..." Clive pleaded, his voice soft and gentle but his eyes twinkled in anticipation.

Maurice nodded.

Clive took in the sight—his expression a mix of adoration, love, curiosity, and coloured with a darkness that Maurice could only read as desire and lust. Maurice’s skin had darkened ever so slightly under the punishing sun but it did not diminish his beauty.

“You’re beautiful,” whispered Clive.

Maurice could barely contain a whimper as he felt skin touch skin, Clive’s delicate fingertips committing every inch of his to memory. His touch sent tiny waves of pleasure rippling through Maurice’s body—traveling to every nerve ending and setting his whole body ablaze with passion.

Clive lightly touched his arm and trailed long delicate fingers on sinewy muscle, finally catching hold of Maurice’s wrist as he brought it close to his lips to kiss. Clive noticed his hands—once soft had now slightly calloused, only intensifying the sensation when he touched Clive. Clive soon moved his attention to Maurice’s chest. His fingertips teased his nipples, eliciting a breathless moan from his lover. When Clive's mouth and tongue replaced his fingers—gently nipping and swirling his tongue—all Maurice could do was clutch at the sheets as his whole body shuddered. His lover's lips felt warm against his heated skin, lapping and sucking the sensitive buds to tautness.

Clive took his sweet time, paying close attention to that part of a man often neglected.

“Clive, please…” Maurice begged. His heart beat faster in his chest and his breathing was heavy and labored. But his pleading remained unheard as Clive continued his explorations.

Clive trailed his fingers and bestowed open-mouthed kisses downwards to his flat stomach, following the faint line of blonde hair from his navel to the base of his phallus. He could feel Maurice tense his abdominal muscles as he tangled his fingers on the mound of course dark blonde hair. Clive heard Maurice’s breath hitch as he clasped the base of his shaft, bringing his fingers up to caress the velvety hood, retracting it to thumb the tip ever so lightly and keenly watching Maurice's every expression of pleasure.

“Clive, please…” Maurice begged again, this time, more urgent than the last. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead and his pleadings to Clive had grown impatient. Clive answered them by delaying his lover's rapture—building it to the brink of torture and guiding him to higher intensities of pleasure.

He deftly moved to position his body between Maurice's legs, parting them to continue his adorations—admiring the fullness of his lover's straining cock. He caressed Maurice's rigid member, edging him closer and closer only to deny him of his release—teasing him mercilessly. Clive then trailed kisses on each of Maurice's inner thighs before settling to kiss his tip, licking the dew of moisture there and finally, slowly and tantalizingly, swirling his tongue on the crown. Maurice was panting now—driven to the point of madness with want. Still, he desperately tried to suppress moans from escaping.

Clive paused, momentarily struck by the exquisite vision in front of him—Maurice's complete surrender. His gaze traveled downwards to his own arousal flushed against his belly—his own desperation and desire equally matching his lover's.

"Clive, I need you… Clive, please... touch me..." Even to Maurice's own ears, his desperation seemed indecent, vulgar even. But Maurice was powerless—answering to no one but the aching need between his legs, craving the touch he so desired from Clive.

His voice trailed into moans as Clive took him fully in his mouth and started to move up and down his shaft. Maurice arched his back and gave himself fully to Clive's command—surrendering to lips and hands that weaved every kind of erotic magic.

Before he neared the summits of pleasure, he protested and tried to push Clive off, fearing he would defile Clive's beautiful lips with his filth.

Clive stopped his adorations and rose to meet his lover's gaze.

"I want you. All of you," he purred before continuing to pleasure Maurice.

Maurice attempted to protest again for he and Clive were both respectable gentlemen after all. Maurice, even during his and Alec's union, never had shared that part of himself nor his former lover. But Clive's ardent revelation emboldened and aroused in him a desire for passion unconstrained. He knew the kind of pleasure he was receiving; was awakened to the kind of pleasure he was giving Clive. So poured into his beloved all the richness of his being, and in that instance, the two became one. Maurice's body and senses erupted and convulsed, broke down into a million pieces, scattered, and rejoined whole again in Clive's arms.

Later, when his desire took second wind, Maurice rose from the bed and held Clive closer to him. Their eyes locked as he wrapped his legs around Clive's hips. They kissed: tasting himself on Clive's lips. Maurice trailed his hands on Clive's chest and lower, finally, gripping Clive's manhood to stroke and caress him.

"I want you inside..." his eyes pleaded and begged. His voice fading—his secret shame overwhelmed him—initially unable to speak of what he wanted from Clive. But Maurice could no longer deny himself. He could no longer deny the intense craving to please and to worship Clive's body with his at the altar of love and lust. He longed to appease his passion and predilection for his own sex—to give love and receive love from the man who had awakened it in him during their youth years ago.

Clive leaned to the side of the bed and rummaged the bedside table for the tin of salve he used for such encounters. Truth be told, Maurice was not the only man Clive had bedded in this room. Maurice watched with anticipation as Clive opened the container and slathered himself with the salve—giving himself a few strokes. Maurice laid his head back down on the pillows and shifted and lifted his hips and legs to wrap them around Clive’s hips. Clive leaned forward to kiss Maurice then fluidly moved to kiss his neck.

Everything in the room faded and disappeared except Clive—the heat and weight of him, his lips and tongue dancing on the soft skin of his neck, slicked fingers that opened him, and his rigidness that teased and promised heaven. He felt Clive shift his weight, press even closer, and slowly entered him. A low sensual groan escaped Maurice at the slight pain. Clive worriedly watched his expression, seeing Maurice's eyes tightly shut and lips parted in both pain and pleasure.

"Maurice—" Clive whispered his name; the unease in his voice was palpable.

Maurice's eyes fluttered open to see Clive. "My Clive," Maurice thought.

Sweat rolled from Clive's temples, his breathing was heavy, his cheeks flushed, and his lips red from kisses—beautiful—the most beautiful man he'd ever seen. If it was even possible, he seemed even more beautiful like this.

"Beautiful—" He softly said, touching Clive and trailing delicate fingers from the side of his lover's face to thumb his delicate lips.

Clive kissed his thumb and whispered love and devotion, searched for both of Maurice's hands, and clasped them with his over Maurice's head on the pillow. He began to move. Clive rocked his hips slowly at first with shallow thrusts, letting Maurice adapt to his size. But Maurice couldn't wait any longer and urged him to go deeper and harder—wanting to feel all of him inside despite the initial pain. All the nights he burned for Clive, lusted and longed for him, and dreamt of making love to him had come to fruition. Clive answered his lover's pleading, searching his lips to kiss as the rhythmic driving of his hips intensified. He quickened his pace and soon their moans and movements harmonized. He could feel Maurice's body go rigid in climax as a guttural moan escaped his own lips, releasing himself inside his lover.

"Maurice, did I hurt you?" he worriedly asked, wiping the sweat from his lover's brow and stroking his cheeks.

Smiling and gazing lovingly at Clive, Maurice shook his head—"You were wonderful"—and showered Clive's face with kisses.

*************

Clive awoke in the middle of the night stricken with panic, fearing that this glorious night and what had come before it had been but a dream. He feared waking and finding himself alone as he once was—Maurice lost and gone from his life forever. He had dreamt of this night a thousand times ever since their days at Cambridge. It always started the same—with a glorious dream—his and Maurice's bodies entwined and then the shattering realization and regret that followed.

His eyes soon accustomed to the dim light. The dying embers of the fire illuminated the figure before him—Maurice—sleeping on his stomach with one slender leg draped upon Clive's. Clive's vision blurred with tears.

"Why have I denied myself this happiness for so long?" He thought.

He continued to look at the beloved until exhaustion overcame him and sleep soon followed.

Chapter Text

Maurice awoke with Clive next to him in a silk robe and not much else.

"Morning, love. I've told Pippa and the servants that I've a fever and wish not be disturbed."

Clive reached for Maurice to trail kisses from his shoulder all the way to his lips. He gazed deep into clear blue eyes and said...

"I want to make love to you all day... to make up for lost time."

"But first, breakfast. Would you care to join me Mr. Hall?" Clive said, handing Maurice a spare robe and extending his hand out to him. Clive had brought food enough for the two of them from the table upstairs to his room.

"I'd like that... we shall see who screams "Enough!" first," Maurice replied with a wicked smile.

*********

After breakfast, they bathed together and then made love back in Clive's room—tasting, touching, teasing, passionate, and wild—making up for years of intense longing and desire suddenly set free. Clive pinned him against the wall at one point in the day, wrapped Maurice's legs around his waist, and placed his hands on Maurice's bottom to support him. His strength greatly surprised Maurice! Clive had been frail, sickly, and thin in their youth, but age and his time as a soldier had developed his body wonderfully. Seeing Clive naked was a sight to behold—his broad shoulders, sculpted arms, flat stomach, small waist, his proud manhood, his lovely thighs, and his well-defined calves made Maurice's whole body shudder. Maurice clung to him as they made love, digging his fingers and nails on Clive's back. Clive hushed him and reminded him to keep the noise down, for the walls were thin. But it seemed that Maurice always forgot, so Clive would try to muffle his moans by kissing him. But every so often, a groan would escape his lips.

Pippa passed by Clive’s room when she swore she heard a noise, someone pounding on the walls. Her eyes widened, and her face turned crimson when she heard moaning and so hurriedly went on her way! But Pippa also made sure to keep the servants out, giving Clive and Maurice their much-needed privacy, and told the servants that she would be taking Clive’s meals herself to his room since he was sick. She would interrupt their amatory activities—awkwardly knocking on the door and leaving the trays outside for Clive to pick up. They ate their meals inside Clive’s room and off each other’s bodies.

*********

“Enough!” Maurice cried out.

“I am limbless… spent but I feel utterly delicious,” as Maurice breathlessly rolled to his side of the bed.

Then came a hearty laugh from Clive, who claimed victory by scooping Maurice in his arms. Clive stroked his lover’s hair and breathed in his scent—a mix of cigarette smoke, aftershave, sweat, and the heady perfume of their lovemaking.

“Eight… my god, Clive. Eight times in five hours could be a record of sorts… never in my wildest dreams thought you’d be so wicked!”

“How did you… who taught you… nevermind…” Maurice abandoned the thought, suddenly becoming bashful, blushing, and hiding his face in the covers. But Clive knew what he meant.

“I’ve had other lovers, Maurice. You’ve maybe only had Alec but I’ve had others…” his voice trailed when he saw Maurice’s expression turn pensive.

Unlike men of similar persuasions who often found anonymous romantic encounters from personal advertisements on the Link—a magazine that published men seeking men adverts—Clive was much more discreet and selective of his partners. He seldom took lovers, the ones he did; he met within his social circle—a circle that consisted of the affluent, aristocratic, artistic, writers, and those of Bohemian sensibilities. Clive may have had lovers, dalliances, and trysts, but he never showed them a true glimpse of his heart.

Clive searched his eyes, cupped his face with his hand, and kissed him.

Moments later, their lips parted, almost reluctantly. They had spent years apart and now that they were together, Clive could not bear even a fleeting moment that they weren't touching or kissing. But he pulled away only to speak the words he'd longed to speak.

"You cannot imagine the happiness that I feel... being with you..."

"Likewise," Maurice replied smiling. He bestowed a light kiss upon the base of Clive's neck and then peppered his chest with more feathery kisses, meandering his way down Clive's naked form.

And so they began again.

“Maybe just once more…” Maurice's voice faded as he moved on top of Clive, using Clive’s chest to balance himself as he lowered to take in his lover.

*********

The next day, they traveled to London and stayed at Clive’s old flat. That night, they had dinner together at a restaurant and saw a performance at the Wigmore Hall. Clive unashamedly held Maurice’s hand, leading him inside to their seats—all under the watchful gaze of judging eyes and hushed whispers.

“Shameless,” the patrons whispered under their breaths. But Clive paid them no mind.

Maurice swore someone was eyeing them. He had an ill feeling throughout the performance and begged Clive to leave early. They found themselves back in Clive’s flat. They barely got in the door when Maurice pinned him to the front door, his hands cupping Clive’s bulge and gently biting his ear. Maurice slid down to kneel before him, unbuttoning his trousers and pulling them and his drawers down to reveal his rather large sex. Maurice licked and teased the tip before taking him with his mouth and hands—humming to intensify the sensations. Clive ran his fingers through Maurice’s soft golden hair, surrendering himself to pleasure.

They undressed each other in the hallway and Clive whispered to his ear a request that made Maurice's face and ears burn and turn crimson. Clive took his hand and led him to the sofa where he pushed Maurice gently down. Maurice watched as his lover mounted his legs, Clive’s arousal pressing hard on his belly. And using Maurice’s shoulders for support, Clive opened and lowered himself—lips parting and eyes focused on Maurice’s.

During his time with Alec, Maurice had always received his lover so was now experiencing the newness of this act with Clive. He gently placed one hand on Clive’s hip for support as their rhythm quickened. Maurice placed the other hand between them to search and caress Clive’s throbbing cock—their lips never leaving each other’s—both reaching the apex of their love simultaneously. Holding Clive close to him—both drenched in sweat and catching their breaths—Maurice decided that he preferred both.

Chapter Text

The next day, Clive left the flat early but didn't tell Maurice where he was headed. So Maurice took the time to walk about the streets and take in the scenery. So much had changed, yet it still oddly felt the same to him since he left London. He visited the same diner he and Clive frequented in their youths for a late lunch. The place was once a tiny hole in the wall but was now more than twice its size. The prizes, too, were twice as much as he remembered. In his youth, he needn't bother looking at a meal's price. But since he was in reduced circumstances, he could never afford to splurge in such a place more than once a month with his meager salary as a day laborer. Still, it was nice to reminisce and treat himself now and then.

He sat alone near a window that looked out into the busy streets.

“May I sit with you?” the man spoke to him with a penetrating voice.

Maurice looked up to see a flaxen-haired man with green eyes with specks of brown, beautiful, possibly in his early-20s, with delicate features and refined air. Maurice was puzzled as the dining hall was practically empty of patrons.

“The name’s Alastair. Don’t get up. You don’t know me but I know the company you keep. I saw you at the Wigmore.” There was an air of sophistication to him, even aristocratic. Maurice knew the type from his Cambridge days.

The man scrutinized Maurice as if taking a mental note and record of his appearance—noting every flaw and feature.

“I take it you’re Clive’s new toy,” he spoke to Maurice upfront and condescendingly. “Well, I don’t blame you. Clive is quite gifted in a lot of ways…” The risqué and suggestive declaration was not lost on Maurice, who silently glared at the unwelcome visitor.

“A word of warning... Don’t fall in love with Clive,” The man stood up, rudely tossed a few shillings on the table, and left.

“What did he mean by that?” Maurice quietly pondered, unsure if he would bring up the strange encounter with Clive.

*********

Extremely intelligent, beautiful, and refined, but spoiled rotten by an overprotective mother and an absentee father. Alastair always got what he wanted. He possessed a rare combination of innate darkness, blistering wit, and a growing taste for sadism. As a youngster, he was sexually awakened at a tender age. At 16 he seduced the stable boy and the maid; at 17 he was almost expelled from Eton. His mother hid his affairs from his tyrannical father.

Clive had met him when the Durhams were invited to a formal dinner at his father’s estate shortly after the war. The young man watched from the balcony, a man so beautiful that he took his breath away—so started his systematic seduction of Clive.

It started innocently, they met each other again at the theater and struck up a conversation. Alastair gave him his card, told Clive to call him in case he needed a friend, and left.

Alastair ensured that he kept himself within the periphery of Clive’s life—not too close but not too far— always within reach. When he noticed signs of Clive’s troubled marriage, he schemed and invited Clive to his father’s estate under the guise of a business proposition. There, he peeled the layers of Clive’s defenses one by one with libation and sweet talk. Clive, vulnerable and craving another man’s touch, had initially rejected his advances but succumbed again to his greatest vice. There, in the parlour the young man took him, and so started a relationship that was as furthest from love one could imagine. An affair grotesque and savage—devoid of warmth or any semblance of romance. By all accounts, a transaction rather than an attachment as both gave and took pleasure without the connection. But Clive has a way of endearing himself to people, and slowly Alastair found himself falling for him—the first person he truly loved more than himself.

By this time, Clive had begun his descent into madness. Alastair had hoped his confession of love would rouse him from it. But every effort on his part was met with a wall of rejection from Clive. When Alastair attempted to try and pry him out of his depression, Clive became cruel and heartless, using his intimate knowledge of the man to wound him with words and indifference. The young man walked away from their short-lived affair and cursed the day he fell in love.

A month after their last argument, Alastair heard that Clive was committed to an asylum. He did not attempt to visit him.

*********

That night, Maurice noticed Clive arguing with someone on the telephone. He could barely hear what they were talking about as he peered from their room to Clive’s study. He only saw Clive slamming the telephone and placing his hands to his hips in frustration.

Chapter Text

One week.

Maurice hadn’t heard from Clive for one week. But in that week, Clive had telephoned to tell him he couldn’t come home, sent messages and food to his flat, and even a dozen red roses addressed to a Mrs. Clive Durham. Maurice looked at the young man who had delivered the roses and awkwardly told him that he would send them to Ann. The young man apologized to him saying they spoke to Mr. Durham and told him they couldn't get the Evening Primroses that Mr. Durham requested as well.

"They're common flowers, sir. No lady wants 'em..." the young man said and handed him a sealed envelope and relayed to him that the envelope was for him and that he should read it first. Maurice thanked the young man, gave him a tip, and closed the door. He placed the roses on the table, proceeded to open the envelope and read it.

“My Beloved Maurice,

I’ve been desperately trying to accomplish something—it’s a surprise, and I’ll speak to you about it when I see you next week. I miss you. I hope you’ll enjoy the roses until my return.

Yours, Clive”

Clive ended his note with a verse from Virgil, "Omnia vincit amor," Of course, Maurice being Maurice, who was firstly rubbish at Latin and secondly, barely paid any attention to his schooling, ultimately failed to understand what it had meant! Nor did he recognize that red roses meant passion and a declaration of love when given to one's beloved. The Evening Primroses—that Clive sadly could not procure—reminded Clive of the night they parted. When Maurice opened his hand and luminous petals appeared in it. They were the last trace of his presence. Clive wanted so to remind him that these flowers, which mourned his loss, would flower anew—much like their love.

The next day, Maurice received another sealed letter addressed to Mrs. Durham and containing a beautiful love poem from Clive dedicated to him.

But despite the flowers, the notes, and Clive’s reassurance, Maurice was growing frustrated. Clive was being secretive again. He feared that Clive had fallen out of love with him. He feared that he had another change of heart. Maurice couldn’t bear the thought that they would be parted again. He thought about what that young man had said to him at the restaurant. His unkind words reverberated in his mind. He had unwittingly allowed the man’s words to fester and sow seeds of doubt. Was Clive toying with him? Was Clive with Alistair? Were they making love and laughing behind his back mocking his simple-mindedness? Now that Maurice was sure he had fallen in love with Clive again… was this all a ruse?!

*********

Two weeks now and Clive was still nowhere to be found.

Maurice received another set of poems, love letters, and roses—this time a red and a white rose. Once again, Maurice had failed to recognize that when a white rose and red rose were given together; they signified unity and love.

But daily, he grew frustrated and angry. He barely slept at night—missing Clive's warmth and body close to his. He also barely ate—food seemed to have lost all taste and pleasure to him.

*********

The third week passed.

Clive had a spare key to his flat, so he quietly snuck in to surprise Maurice. Clive had hoped for Maurice to fling himself to him, shower his face with kisses and tell him that he missed him so. They would make love, and he’d tell him the good news!

But Maurice met him with anger! He sat on the sofa seething as he saw Clive, his face red and hands clenched at his sides. Maurice broke down and told Clive about meeting Alastair and his stern warning.

“Clive, I don’t need notes, love messages, or roses… I just need you! You’ve been avoiding me for three weeks and its torture!”

Do you love me, Clive? At all?” his voice barely a whisper, his eyes looked pained.

It was then that Clive realized that Maurice had misread and misunderstood his intentions—a comedy of errors! No, a tragedy of errors—not yet!

Clive laughed light-heartedly—a laugh that only intensified Maurice’s anger!

"Maurice, you silly fool!"

"The roses, gifts, the notes, dinner… Do you not realize it?!"

"I was wooing you!”

Clive stopped him before he could respond and closed the distance between them to sit beside him—closer to him so Maurice could see his intentions and his heart clearly.

"I thought I'd give you time alone to think about us… you know… "absence makes the heart grow fonder," that sort of thing. I stayed at a hotel closest to the office. I know that it's not easy for you to forget Alec. I know you loved him very much. I'm not asking you to forget him but I just want you to make room in your heart for me," Clive spoke, his eyes conveying all the warmth and love in his heart.

Clive cupped Maurice’s face and gazed into his eyes.

"Maurice, I love you. Ever since that day I first saw you at Risely’s room and even after we parted that night... I have loved you. I gave up hope of seeing you but now that I have you, I wanted another chance to earn your love. I want to be worthy of it—I want you to fall in love with me again!”

“I stopped seeing Alastair before you even came into my life a year ago. Yes, I’ve had other lovers but I’ve only ever loved one—you! ”

They held each other, tears in their eyes—the barrier between them was at last broken, and finally, their hearts met without muddle or doubt.

“Why were you gone for so long?”

“Well, that’s my surprise you see… I’ve secured my old job back but most importantly… Maurice, don’t hate me… but I spoke to your sisters. Firstly, I called Kitty. I told her you were here with me and she initially refused to speak with me. Then I tried Ada who was thankfully more open to meet. I told her everything about us at Cambridge and you and Alec. It was through Ada that I convinced Kitty to meet with me. I met with them and didn’t stop until they understood and accepted you. I know you love your family so much and how it pained you that you couldn’t attend your mother’s funeral or even visit her grave. They love you, Maurice. Much more than you give them credit for. They want to speak with you—with us—and I invited them to Pendersleigh Park and they said “yes”!”

“Maurice, I love you.” Clive repeated it again in case he didn’t hear, gazing at the beloved with rapturous love.

But Maurice heard him the first time, he searched Clive’s eyes and saw the same eyes that had gazed into his on that sunny day at Cambridge. The same intensely blue eyes when he whispered, "I love you."

This time, Maurice was not scandalized or shocked. He did not exclaim, "Oh, rot!" but spoke the words he spoke to Clive when he climbed the ivy on his window and into his room after hearing his name called out in dreams.

"I you."