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Are The Stars Shining Tonight?

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December 11, 1996

Face knew it would happen. He had known it since the movie was drawing to its end. The way Murdock was glued to the TV screen, absorbed in the dramatic scene, his eyes fixed on the chained dragon as his hand searched for Face's, squeezing it with such urgency that it almost hurt, all suggested clearly how their movie night would end.

Leaning against the balcony doorframe, Face sighed. Murdock stood just a few feet away, holding the railing so tight that his knuckles were turning white and staring upward at the sky. In the dim light coming from the room behind him, Face could see a trace of dampness on the pilot's cheek. It shone faintly. That's exactly why he hadn't taken Murdock to the cinema when Dragonheart was released. It had been hard to find a new excuse every time Murdock begged to go see the movie, but Face knew him too well; he knew how sensitive his lover was and how emotionally he reacted sometimes. He had always been like that.

There were some things that had never changed, not even with age. Of course, Murdock's hairline receded a little further, and the color of his hair began to change, silver slowly replacing brown. Also, the pilot's body no longer looked as lanky and agile as before. There were no obstacle courses to keep them in perfect condition. No missions. None of those fucking runs for their miserable lives. Face had to admit that he was admiring Hannibal more and more for keeping his enthusiasm for life at a very sharp edge even with the constant possibility of falling over. He didn't feel that himself. Reaching the age at which Hannibal had been when they had lived on the run, Face was grateful for the much simpler and much more peaceful life. He didn't need a new adventure every week. Their life together, Murdock's and his, was one of the biggest changes that had ever happened to him, and he hoped it was the last one. Because it was the best one and he really didn't want to change it.

But even if something turned his life upside down again, there was one thing that would always remain the same; Murdock's personality. His child-like openness, which served as his shield but could also knock him down. His craziness that Face loved and cursed.

It was sweet and cute that his pilot wasn't shy to express his feelings. That he could cry while watching a movie as easily as he could laugh at even the silliest jokes, or howl Face's name loudly while making love, even though the original wildness and unbridled desire had faded a bit after such a long time of living together. But at the same time, it was kind of inappropriate for a man in his middle fifties to cry because of a movie, for a character who had never really lived. The dragon was just a skillfully made moving image enlivened by Sean Connery's voice, for God's sake. And yet Murdock stood here now — the best pilot who had served in Nam; the one who had pulled their team out of the clutches of death so many times that Face had lost count — with the tears rolling down his cheeks. But this was Murdock. The same man who talked to his sock pretending it was a dog and of course, he believed in fairies, elves, dwarves, unicorns, and obviously even dragons.

Face approached and pulled him close gently. What to say to someone who was crying for something that didn't exist at all?

Instead of turning to his lover, Murdock leaned his back against him and rested his head on Face's shoulder, his eyes still fixed on the black sky. "I can't see. Are the stars shining tonight?"

Face looked up. He searched the velvet darkness for a moment, squinting, trying to catch at least one bright spot, because the sky was clear and the stars should be visible. But their light was absorbed by the radiance of the big city, drowned in the light smog.

"They're there, Murdock. You just can't see them from here. The city light is too bright."

"That's bad," the pilot whispered, finally turning his head towards Face. There were still tears in the corners of his large dark eyes; the pupils dilated so that their black color pushed out the brown. "Then how do I know they're there? That they're still here with us?"

And in some mysterious way, Face knew that Murdock wasn't talking about stars, but about dragons. He bit back the answer that they weren't here, because they had never been here, or there. That they couldn't be anywhere, because they were just something that the human race had created in the old days of its ignorance. A creature that engulfed the sun during an eclipse. A beast created by someone's fantasy after the discovery of the first dinosaur bones. Hard to say who came up with the vision of a dragon first and under what circumstances. But as Face looked into those deep eyes, he had to swallow the words quickly. He couldn't say them. Couldn't thrust a knife into the heart of this sensitive man. Because his crazy lover really believed in dragons, whether he was five or fifty-five. And he would believe in them even in his ninety-fifth year, no matter what other people said.

Face tightened his embrace around the pilot and gently kissed his temple. "Come back indoors, please," he whispered in his ear. "It's windy and cold here." Another kiss, this time on the left ear. "It's warm inside and we can light a few candles to make it nicer. More romantic. What do you think?"

Murdock closed his eyes for a moment, absorbing the heat emanating from the body behind him. Then, for the last time, he searched in vain for the stars and grunted softly; sadly, but in agreement. Face kissed the pilot lightly on his hair and led him to the bedroom, his arm wrapped around Murdock's waist.

They made love by candlelight that night. Face entered him slowly after a long, very long, foreplay, trying to drive all the sadness and melancholy out of Murdock's mind. He made love to him tenderly and lovingly, and when the pilot finally cried out Face's name, all the tears, the dragons, and the lost stars were forgotten.

 

***

 

December 13, 1996

"Face, can you finally tell me what we're doing here?" Murdock tried to ask for the tenth time.

"I'll tell you when we're at the top. Keep marching, Captain."

"Are you Hannibal now, or what?" Murdock muttered under his breath so Face couldn't be sure exactly what he was saying, and then wiped his forehead with his sleeve. The Mojave Desert wasn't very warm in the early December evening, but a steep climb up Bell Mountain had him sweating. He could feel the sweat running down his back, tickling him. Not that he wanted to complain, he loved trips and hikes. He was willing to go anywhere, anytime. He had just been surprised when he had returned from work this afternoon and Face had thrown a travel bag into his hands right in the doorway, saying they were going to Apple Valley.

And so here they were, climbing to the top of the mountain as the sun was slowly going down.

"We're almost there!" Face called cheerfully.

Murdock narrowed his eyes as he stared at the pile of stones Face was pointing to, assessing. "Me first!" He shouted suddenly, starting up the stony path.

"Hey!" Face reached out to grab Murdock's backpack and yank him back, but missed.

It was the worst terrain imaginable for running, yet they both rushed to the top determined to win. And when, finally, the steep slope leveled off and the landscape lay open before them, Murdock raised his hands, shouting triumphantly. "I can still beat you easily, Faceman!"

"Only because you started running first." Face pointed an accusing finger at him, but Murdock grasped his outstretched arm and pulled him close. He was sweaty and panting, but he couldn't resist and had to squeeze Face in his arms, grinning right into his eyes.

"I'm faster, admit it."

"Yeah, maybe. But I'm stronger. And you're damn lucky there are sharp rocks all around, or you'd be lying on the ground already."

"I thought that was exactly the purpose of this trip; get me under you, here on the top of a mountain at sunset." Murdock leaned closer and brushed his lips against Face's.

Face thought about Murdock's words for a moment, then shook his head. "I think I would have chosen a more comfortable place."

"I hope so," Murdock muttered teasingly, stealing a kiss. "What is the prize for the winner, by the way?"

"Wait for it." Face winked at him and wriggled out of Murdock's grasp. "What would you say to dinner now? I'm starving."

They settled on the picnic blanket they had brought and, huddled in warm jackets, started working on their supply of sandwiches. The coffee in the thermos was only lukewarm, but neither of them minded. They sipped it from plastic cups and watched the daylight gradually disappear from the landscape.

With only a pale stripe of light left on the horizon, Face pulled another blanket from his backpack and spread it over them to protect them from the cold of the desert night. Murdock pressed against him with a question burning on his lips. "Are you finally going to tell me what we're doing here?"

Face raised his head, studying the darkening sky. "Are the stars shining tonight?" He asked.

Murdock wrinkled his brow and looked up, baffled slightly. He took a breath, but only a surprised "oh" came out of his open mouth when he suddenly understood. Face took hold of the pilot's chin gently and turned the man's head in the right direction. Then he held out his hand, pointing slightly above the horizon, helping Murdock locate the right stars.

"Do you see them? Do you see Draco?"

Murdock stared intently at several bright spots, searching his memory for the correct shape of the constellation he had seen in the movie two days before. The pattern of dots of light didn't make sense to him at first, but then, as if suddenly shining only for this occasion, the stars formed the shape he was so desperately looking for. And he really saw him, the graceful dragon figure appearing among the stars. Those stars which guarded the souls of dragons for all who could find them. Without realizing it, his lips parted into a happy smile.

Face watched with pleasure as Murdock's face lit up. Despite wearing a warm jacket with a blanket wrapped around him and feeling heat radiating from the pilot's body, he was beginning to shiver with cold. But the sight of his lover, so happy and enchanted, was definitely worth it.

He had carefully studied the position of the Draco Constellation so that he could find it without difficulty. And although the discovery that November and December were the least suitable for observation upset him slightly, he decided to make this little trip anyway. And this was more than enough reward.

He cuddled up to Murdock and whispered into his ear, "What now? Where do we turn?"

Murdock turned his head slowly, looking right into his eyes. "To the stars, Facey," he said softly. "To the stars."

Then they looked up together again, their eyes fixed on the starry sky.

THE END