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Happy ending

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Alec stayed awake with only one purpose: to watch Maurice sleep. This had become a habit after they had left Penge together and the urge had only grown stronger in the trenches. The knowledge that this could be the last time he would see Maurice often forced him to watch over his friend, drinking in every detail of his face.

They practically never touched here surrounded by others but still Alec had the feeling that they knew. Maurice was better at concealing his love than Alec was and he had often caught the others snickering. For awhile he had attempted to keep a distance but it had become unbearable. One or two remarks had been made by Sergeant Thomson but apart from him the others left them alone. Perhaps, Alec thought, a few of them were envious.

Warmth spread through his body emanating from his chest as he recollected what had happened a fortnight ago. He had been walking through the trenches careful where he set foot so he would not step on the men leaning against the walls sleeping. As he turned a corner warm hands had grabbed him and pushed him against the wall. A familiar voice whispered in a low murmur. Alec let his hand caress Maurice’s face, fingers lingering on his lips. He glanced down to see if anyone was watching. But they all seemed asleep. He pulled Maurice closer. “I know” Alec whispered smiling as he realised that the words were an echo from a night so long ago.

 

Maurice kissed him but it was without passion. He feared that if he went further he would not be capable of stopping. But Alec held him closer and kissed him passionately not caring if he could stop again. Maurice was the one to break off and rest his head on Alec’s shoulder. Slowly, unbuttoning Alec's uniform jacket, he let his hand slip inside.

The coarse fabric of the uniform scratched Alec’s neck but he barely noticed it. Palm pressed against Alec’s chest Maurice did not move his hand but the mere contact with his lover’s skin made him sigh. Those warm fingers awoke a longing in Alec he knew it would be impossible to satisfy. They stood like that, Maurice leaning against Alec, for a few more minutes and then Maurice turned away and left. Alec tried to catch his breath. Then he also turned to walk away only to notice that Jeffries was watching him.

But that seemed so long ago. Now he lay facing Maurice, listening to him breathing. Two hours earlier he had been walking back and forth. Continuously passing by one of the many shelves that had been dug into the walls. They would sleep in these small dug outs and Maurice was sleeping in this one. Alec wanted to kneel down and touch his friend, to feel Maurice’s skin against his fingers. He was ready to risk discovery, he felt that if he could not be with Maurice now he would lose his mind.

Just like Llewellyn who had been sent back to England to stay in an asylum. Llewellyn had been standing right next to another soldier when a grenade had blown the man’s head to pieces. Alec remembered the fear and loneliness in Llewellyn’s hazel brown eyes. This experience had frightened Alec. It had shaken the core of his being. It had brought him here tonight, brought him to Maurice.

Finally he had stopped pacing back and forth. He looked around. Looked at the other men sleeping most of them with their backs turned. He turned to look behind him and stopped, his eyes fixed on Jeffries’. Alec could not move and he felt his heart stop beating. Jeffries demonstratively turned his back on Alec and pulled his blanket further up so only his hair was visible.

“Clock’s ticking…be dawn soon” he heard Jeffries’ muffled voice say. Alec turned and climbed in next to Maurice.

 

When Alec had disappeared behind the blanket, which was hung over the front of the dug out, Jeffries turned around laying on his back. He looked up at the boards in the ceiling.

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Sleeping in these small holes always made him think of coffins. And coffins always made him think of Peter. He had been appalled when his brother had confided in him. Seeking if not acceptance then at least a small amount of understanding. Peter had pleaded and begged him to listen but all Jeffries had done was yell.

“My own brother! Disgusting!” his blood had rushed through his body like fire.

He saw pain in the eyes of his little brother and memories of protecting Peter, of scuffed knees, of drying tears from his pale cheeks welled up in him but did not stop him. Instead society spoke through him, rejecting his brother.

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Maurice let his hands explore. They were hampered by Alec’s uniform but where his hands could not go his memory completed the image of his lover, every muscle and every little scar. Alec moaned trying to find a more comfortable position but it was impossible. Maurice shifted to make room for Alec and bumped his head against the ceiling. He cursed but then caught the look of amusement and stifled laughter in Alec’s face. Maurice leaned forward and kissed him.

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The shock of seeing Peter, pale, somehow smaller, lying on the bathroom floor. His green eyes blindly staring at the cracked ceiling as if contemplating repairing it. His usually impeccable white shirt covered in blood.

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“Look at me” Alec touched Maurice’s face and he obeyed.

Maurice let his index finger trace the path of a drop of sweat on Alec’s cheek.

“Tell me” Alec whispered so quietly that it almost sounded like leaves rustling in autumn.

Maurice kissed Alec's neck and with his mouth pressed hard against his ear, oh god that scent of the woods again, he said: “I love you”.

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Jeffries had stood there so frightened that the only thought that came to his bewildered mind was how difficult it would be for the maids to get the bloodstains out of Peter’s shirt. He took a few timid steps inside and walked very carefully towards Peter taking great care not to step in the blood. He kneeled down and his fingers closed the staring eyes.

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He kissed Alec’s eyelids, his forehead and his lips always seeking that elusive peaceful cabin in the forest with its old fireplace, crooked roof and the pantry door that always seemed to get stuck. His body yearned for Alec. He belonged to him and would always belong. There was a burning intensity in every movement and every moment.

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It was then realities dawned on him. Although he had not slit Peter’s wrists himself he had killed him all the same. He had broken his heart, ripped his soul to pieces and turned his back on him when he had needed him the most. All he had had to do was listen, to show understanding, but he had not. And through his neglect he had given Peter the last push over the brink and into the abyss. He had been Peter’s last chance and he had failed. Now Jeffries was alone and felt that to be too small a punishment for the crime he had committed.

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They shifted continuously. And because of the restrictions of the space they occupied there were moments of profound awkwardness. They felt just as during their first night together. Maurice unsure what was expected of him; and therefore shy and gentle. Alec consumed of a need so strong that he took it upon himself to lead the way.

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Now it was too late. No amount of remorse or regret would bring his brother back. And so he had lived in the shadows of his guilt. He had enlisted in a hurry deliberately seeking danger in the hope of death. But this need for self-destruction had ceased when he saw Alec and Maurice together. Recognizing in them his own salvation, his chance for forgiveness. And in the weeks after feeling greater and greater animosity towards Thomson for his disapproval and disgust. Perhaps even more so because he recognised himself in the sergeant. It really did not matter who you loved. But only that you loved. He had loved his brother but he had let society and upbringing cast a shadow over that love. And love should and could never be wrong or immoral. For to love was to live and with this epiphany Jeffries fell asleep.

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Maurice’s breathing was shallow and strained as his lips found Alec’s.

“Alec. Alec” he repeated almost inaudibly.

His body began to tense up, every muscle straining, as if he was fighting to gain his self-control. Months of frustration and sorrow draining from his mind and body. He let his fingers bury themselves in Alec’s dark hair. He had once again relinquished control of his body and soul to his lover.

Morning came all too soon and Maurice woke up alone and for a few seconds he thought that it had all just been a dream. A cruel way to make him suffer. But he could trace Alec’s scent on his skin and Maurice closed his eyes and smiled.