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A Mirror Distorted

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When the war came, Clive naturally bought a commission. Through his mother-in-law's connections he was assigned a post with the War Office, and most of the time he was quite glad of it, despite sometimes wishing for a maybe more heroic posting. Anne told him that it suited his abilities perfectly, and he rather thought that she was right, that he was serving his country in the best possible way, right where he was, in London.

Only rarely did his duties send him out of town, usually to interview officers back from the continent who were too injured to report directly. This was why Clive found himself in a small hospital camp at the Southern coast, having gathered intel from a returned Lieutenant of the Air Force who unfortunately would never walk again after one close encounter too many with a German Albatross. There was also quite a bit of infantry milling around, most of them also in casts or bandages, Clive noted as he walked back towards his car. He did his best not to stare at some men's missing limbs, as that would be a most unseemly conduct.

Then, one hand already on the black government car, Clive started and could not stop his eyes from boring into the all-too-familiar back, the well-known blond hair almost brushing the collar of a threadbare uniform. Lucky for Clive Maurice - because it was none other than Maurice Hall standing only a courtyard away - did not appear to notice. Clive looked down, then quickly up again, letting his gaze swing over the scene in front of him in a manner that he hoped was innocent.

His heart was hammering, his hands were cold, fingers gripping the door-handle much too tightly. Clive had not expected ever to see Maurice again, not after the shocking and disturbing encounter several years ago, after which Maurice Hall had turned his back not just on Clive but on everything he valued - his family, his friends, his profession, society - and disappeared. Naturally Clive had not told anyone that Maurice had run away with Clive's own under-gamekeeper, but the knowledge, stupefying and unsettling for reasons Clive did not choose to examine too closely, had gnawed at him. They had been such good friends, once.

And now, here Maurice was, right in front of Clive, so close Clive could have called out and Maurice could not but hear. But Clive just stood there, frozen, still staring at the haggard form he remembered so clearly playing cricket or rowing a boat on the Cam. He was not visibly injured, but when he shifted his weight, Clive noticed a slight limp, an unevenness in his stance. Maurice had been wounded in action, part of the regular infantry, not the officer he had been born to be - and all because of a tragic flaw in his character that kept on stirring up things that should not be disturbed.

Clive had almost resolved to feel nothing but pity for the man. But then Maurice laughed, unselfconsciously, in a way Clive realized he had not heard since their days in school, before Clive had been forced to put some necessary distance between them by Maurice's ill-advised impulses. Maurice moved a bit to the left, allowing Clive to see the man that was apparently the cause of the laughter - it was the under-gamekeeper, Scuddins or something similar. He was sitting on a low wall, a pair of crutches next to him, but he was smiling at Maurice.

Clive was surprised by the bitter taste in his mouth. What business had this... this uneducated simpleton to look at Maurice like that, as if they shared something special, something no one else had any business intruding on. They were not touching, or Clive might have been forced to report them to the commanding officer, but their bodies were angled towards each other in a way that Clive found almost obscenely intimate.

Maurice leaned forward and Clive started, but it was only to light a cigarette dangling from his companion's mouth. They shared another smile and then settled onto the wall side by side, resting companionably, and Clive tore his eyes away forcefully before either one would notice him. He slid into the car and started it so violently it almost died again. He did not look back.