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A Leopard Cannot Change His Spots

Chapter Text

31 August 1913

Pendersleigh Boathouse


Faint rays of light slipped through the splintering wooden panels of the boathouse wall like silk ribbons. Narrow shadows broke the rays, appearing and disappearing as the trees outside wavered in the wind. Maurice’s half-open eyes adjusted to his dimly-lit surroundings while his consciousness gradually followed. Turning his head from the paneled wall, he noticed a hand resting gingerly on his stomach. Alec’s hand.

 

“Alec,” Maurice whispered. Alec did not stir. “Alec!” He whispered again, shaking his friend’s hand to wake him.

 

“Hm? Oh, g’morning, Maurice,” Alec murmured, pulling himself up to lay his head upon Maurice’s chest. Maurice inhaled deeply, watching Alec’s untamed mop of curls rise and fall. Birds began to sing in the distance, breaking the silence between Maurice’s breaths.

 

“Alec, as much as I’d love to spend ages lying with you, I think it would be best if we left soon,” Maurice said softly, reaching to rest his hand against the small of Alec’s back.

 

“I s’pose you’re right,” replied Alec. “Though I dunno where else to go. I hadn’t really thought about it.”

 

Maurice hadn’t thought about it, either, he realized. He sat up against the damp wooden wall, Alec adjusting to lean against Maurice’s shoulder.

 

“I still have my flat in the city,” Maurice finally offered, furrowing his brow. “My own flat. We’d be safe there, until we decide on a real plan.”

 

“How d’ya mean?”

 

“I mean a plan to leave England. Or London, at the least. There are too many people who know us. It’s too much of a risk. It’s for the best that we leave as soon as we can and get on with our lives somewhere else,” Maurice explained.

 

“Where will we go?” Alec wondered aloud.

 

“We’ll speak of it later,” Maurice asserted. “As for now, I’d really like to get as far away from Pendersleigh as we can.”

 

Alec nodded in agreement. “The train station is only a few kilometers west--I think we could make it in an hour or two. If we stay in the wood beside the road, no one should see us,” he offered.

 

“So let’s be off, then,” Maurice said, turning to kiss his friend.

 

Alec returned the kiss before standing up, his pale, slender frame appearing even thinner in the soft light of breaking dawn.

 

“Now where are--” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes as he searched around the boathouse for his clothes.

 

“Oh, right,” he half-chuckled, spotting the damp corner where his and Maurice’s clothes lay, strewn about in rumpled heaps. Maurice blushed, remembering both the emotional reunion from the night before and the things that came afterwards.

 

***

 

“It’s not even light yet,” Alec remarked, pushing the door open just enough to let in the pastel morning haze. In the distance, Maurice could see the faint yellow glow of the Pendersleigh porch lights. He was momentarily reminded of his conversation with Clive the night before. More of a parting speech than a conversation , Maurice thought to himself. It was a strange feeling, permanently parting with all physical memory of the man that had unmasked Maurice’s heart, opened him up and set him free into a world of truth. While it was all over now, such an act of fondness could never really be forgotten.

 

“The road is this way,” Alec said, pointing with one hand and clasping Maurice’s hand with the other. “It shouldn’t take long, but try to be quiet. No one should be about yet, but I’d rather not take the risk. Are you ready?”

 

Maurice nodded slowly and silently, allowing himself a fleeting moment of reverie in Alec’s bewitching brown gaze. Alec tugged Maurice along, leading him out onto the dock and then along the pond bank. Following Alec, Maurice turned his sight back towards the fading yellow porch lights. As they grew fainter and fainter, Maurice reminisced silently of his days with Clive; days of first love and a companionship neither of them had experienced before. He wondered if they’d ever cross paths again. He loved Alec now; still he felt a tiny tug at his heart at the thought of never seeing or knowing of Clive again. Alec began to pull harder on Maurice’s wrist, quickening his pace, and Maurice turned his head back towards his friend and followed him farther into the dark obscurity of the forest.

 

***

 

While Maurice felt clumsy and out of place among the greenwood, Alec’s years of gamekeeping for the Durhams served him well as he gracefully maneuvered the irregular terrain. He effortlessly strolled through paths in the dirt and brush as Maurice stumbled behind him, struggling to see in the perse light of dawn.

 

The light gradually grew warmer and brighter as the sun rose, the two men moving closer and closer towards the road. Finally, they began to see glimpses of the clearing and started to follow the road west just as the sun made its way fully above the horizon. Alec guided Maurice through the foliage, careful to remain just a few meters inside the brush to avoid detection by passing cars

 

“I reckon if we ‘urry, we could make it in less than two hours,” Alec remarked.  “Catch the eight AM to London.”

 

Maurice nodded silently, unsure if conversation was appropriate. The road was quiet: the only sounds that broke the Sunday morning silence were the croaks of frogs and the chirping of songbirds. It was unlikely that anyone would even be out this early, let alone spot the two men in the brush, but they both still held a fear inside that compelled them to disengage from conversation as they walked. Tense and on edge, Maurice took out a cigarette and offered one to Alec. The two men walked on, noiselessly, followed only by tufts of their smoke and the rising summer sun.