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Howling Loon

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"And then the monster disappeared into the woods. But not forever, not at all. It comes back from time to time, usually just before dawn when everyone lets their guard down, and preys on unsuspecting hikers and campers. Its call is a kind of long high-pitched howl and it's kinda deceptive cuz you can't tell which side it's coming from. You think it's still far away, but it's right behind you and it seizes you so fast you don't even have time to scream for help. The locals will tell you that the missing people probably ran into a wolf or even a bear, or overestimated their strength and fell into a ravine. But they know pretty well what's going on. It's always the monster." Murdock's voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper. The pilot looked around, his expression mysterious.

Face shook his head in amusement. "Murdock, this isn't a local legend, this is one of Hannibal's low-budget movies."

"Maybe," Murdock conceded, but the mysteriousness never left his face. His eyes shone brightly as they reflected the light of the campfire onto which Face had thrown another log. "But there's always a little truth in every story, isn't there?"

"If you want to believe that and have nightmares about it..." Face shrugged, but then pointed a warning finger at his friend, "but don't dare wake me up because of an imaginary monster. Just the fact that I have to sleep another night out of my bed - out of any bed! - is bad enough."

"Aww, Face… who needs a bed? Look around you." Murdock's hand swept in a wide gesture indicating the landscape that surrounded them. "Can you think of a better place to relax and unwind after a tough mission?"

Face looked around. They were sitting by a lake in a wooded valley, with mountains all around them. The surface of the water, still as a mirror, reflected a dark purple sky strewn with ragged pink clouds. The sun had already set behind the mountains and the forest around them had darkened. The fresh night air, normally scented by water and spruce needles, was temporarily filled with the sweet aroma of roasted marshmallows, of which Murdock never seemed to have enough. Every now and then he stuffed another roasted piece into his mouth with his fingers, sticky and a bit dirty now, and there was a stick holding the impaled candies positioned almost permanently above the fire. Face grimaced at the over-sweetened taste. Two or three bites and he'd had enough.

"Actually, I can. And quite clearly," he said, the smirk still evident on his face. "A warm sandy beach, a murmuring ocean and a cozy beach house with a big patio where we can sit and sip champagne…"

"That's where we were last month. And the month before that."

"Well… Is there anything wrong with that?"

"No. But there's more to the world than a beach and a beach house, Faceman. I bet you're gonna love some freshly caught fish for tomorrows lunch."

"If you catch any…"

"I always catch some. HM Murdock is the best choice if you wanna go fishing."

"I thought HM Murdock was the best choice if I wanted to be taken up to the heights?" Face winked at him teasingly. Murdock got it and grinned broadly.

"That's my other useful skill, yeah," he confirmed, wrapping his arm around his blond lover. Face snuggled against him contentedly.

"Are we going to fly to the stars tonight?" he whispered in the pilot's ear.

Murdock shivered as Face's hot breath tickled his neck. "If you're ready…"

"I always am."

Murdock turned his head and his lips were instantly stolen. He growled in surprise which Face took as an invitation and let his tongue slip into Murdock's mouth.

"Mmm…. you're sweet," Face mumbled through their joined mouths as the sweet taste of roasted marshmallows flooded him. Murdock's sticky lips spread into a lopsided grin.

"I always am."

The pilot's arm, still wrapped around his lovers' waist, moved, long fingers beginning to fight their way into Face's tight jeans.

"Uh… why don't we move this to the tent?" Face suggested. Murdock's other hand, which had finally put down the stick with the uneaten marshmallows, joined the first one and began unbuckling Face's belt uncompromisingly.

"I'm happy right here, Facey."

"But…" Face groaned as those long, skillful fingers delved into his pubic hair. "...there are soft camping mats over there and no mosquitoes pestering us and... oh... there's lube."

Both hands froze and the pilot pulled away slightly. He stared into Face's eyes, which returned his eager, hungry gaze. He licked his swollen lips, quickly pulled his hands out of those designer jeans which were even tighter now than a moment ago despite the unzipped fly, and grabbed Face's wrists. With a single jerk, he lifted himself up and pulled the other man with him. "Let's go then!" he ordered and headed for their tent, dragging Face along.

***

Face's eyes snapped open. He listened tensely for a moment while his eyes searched the darkness. The campfire had long since died out, and no light was coming through the crack in the entrance to the tent. The night was dark; the moon was either new or had set already. Face realized he was gripping the edge of his sleeping bag tightly. He looked at Murdock lying beside him. The man was dead to the world, snoring softly into his leather jacket, which he had rolled up under his head as a pillow.

Face forced himself to relax and loosen his grip. Apparently he was just dreaming. With a low grunt, he rolled onto his side, trying to find a more comfortable position on the hard ground. The mat wasn't as soft as he thought. Or maybe his body was more bruised than it looked after their last mission. He really didn't like camping. He had only agreed because of those chocolate puppy eyes that gazed at him so pleadingly that it was impossible to say no. Besides, Murdock had as much right to choose the location for their time together as he did. The pilot just might have had slightly more refined taste.

Face had started to doze off when a strange sound echoed through the night. His eyes immediately opened again. That was it! That was what had woken him up!

The sound came again. Something like a strange high-pitched howl. It carried across the surface of the lake from an indefinite direction, raising goosebumps on his skin.

"Its call is a kind of long high-pitched howl and it's kinda deceptive cuz you can't tell which side it's coming from…." Murdock's voice surfaced in his mind, accompanied by the image of the fire flickering in those dark eyes. "It preys on unsuspecting hikers and campers…"

'Come on, Temp,' he admonished himself mentally. 'You don't believe that. There are no monsters. Not here, not anywhere else.'

Howling was replaced by unnatural-sounding laughter. Or something similar to laughter. Face found himself automatically clinging to Murdock.

'Damn, man. You're a Green Beret. You don't believe in monsters and you're definitely not scared now!'

However, he dug his fingers into Murdock's shoulder when another "aWOOOoooOOOoo" reached his ears.

"Mmhmphewmmrm…" Murdock grumbled, burying his face deeper into his jacket.

"Murdock? Are you awake?"

"No," came the muffled reply followed by "awWawawawaWo" from outside.

He was awake, Face decided, and pressed himself even closer. "Do you know what that sound was?"

Murdock lifted his head slightly and listened for a moment. The howling and yodeling turned into a shrieking wail. "A Loon," the pilot answered, sinking back into his improvised pillow.

"What? No kidding, Murdock. What is it?"

"Just said. It's a Loon. A kind of bird."

"A bird?" Surely that couldn't be a bird, birds sounded completely different. Didn't they?

"AWOOooOOOOoooo!" It was louder this time, as the sound echoed near their tent.

"You scared, babe?" Murdock raised his head again and turned it toward the other man.

"Of course not. Why do you think that?"

"You're squeezing my shoulder. Not that I'm complaining, but it hurts a little."

Face immediately loosened his grip. Murdock rolled over onto his other side facing him, and under their joined sleeping bags, clasped the younger man in his arms. "It's an aquatic bird called the Common Loon. Their call sounds kinda spooky if you don't know what it is but they're harmless. You've never heard them before?"

"No," Face whispered, embarrassed. After all, he knew it wasn't a monster, so why was he acting like a lily-livered rookie? He just didn't like camping. He felt uncomfortable here and that must be getting on his nerves. That was all. Wasn't it? "How do you know them?" He asked, trying to banish his shame.

"I used to go fishing every year with my grandpa to Minnesota. There were plenty of these birds out there. They scared the living daylights out of me when I first heard them."

"Oh."

"But even if it wasn't a bird…" Murdock placed a few brief kisses on Face's neck, "I'm here. And I'd never let any beast or monster do anything to you. I will…" he kissed his lover's ear, "always..." he kissed his cheek, "protect..." he nibbled the tip of Face's nose, "you." And then his lips sought out Face's mouth, preventing any response.

"I wasn't scared," Face breathed out when Murdock finally pulled away, leaving him gasping for air.

"I know," the pilot whispered, slipping his hand under other man's shirt. Face moaned softly as warm fingers touched his skin. "You were just masking the fact that you wanted to cuddle, huh?" There was that lopsided grin in Murdock's voice and Face found himself grinning, too.

"Maybe," he replied, digging his fingers into Murdock's hair to draw his lover's head back for another kiss. He tasted great, still a little sweet. 'Always sweet,' Face remembered. 'And just like me, always ready…' His hand began deftly unbuttoning the pilot's flannel shirt…

***

"Mark? Did you hear that?" The young woman sat up abruptly, shaking her husband's shoulder.

"What?"

"Did you hear the howling?" Her goggly eyes shone like two flashlights in the dark of their tent.

Mark just grumbled gruffly, "Just Loons, darling. Go back to sleep."

"That wasn't a Loon," his wife insisted. "It sounded like real howling. Like... a werewolf or something."

"A werewolf?" This time the man moved to look at his wife. "Werewolves don't exist, Stephanie."

"No? Then what is that?" Stephanie whispered, startled.

There was a long-drawn howl from over the lake. It sounded muffled, but carried clearly enough to them in the sudden stillness of the silenced Loons. Mark froze. That was definitely not a bird. "Must be a coyote or a wolf," he replied, a little uncertainly. "Maybe it's caught in some kind of trap." But it didn't sound like that. There was no pain in the howl. There was wildness. Passion. Hunger.

"Coyote?" His wife said softly beside him. He reached out and pulled her to him.

"Yeah, just a coyote. Don't worry." He squeezed her tightly. There was one more, very long and very wild howl before there was grave silence. They both listened tensely, but heard nothing except the Loons, which were beginning to make their presence known again.

Across the lake, in a small tent, Murdock collapsed on Face's back, sweating, panting, but happy.

"Did you really wake me up for this?" He mumbled in Face's ear when he was finally able to catch his breath.

Face tilted his head to catch at least a glimpse of his lover out of the corner of his eye. Murdock was still lying exhausted on his back, and Face could feel him starting to slip out of his body. He quickly contracted his muscles to hold him inside a little longer. "Well…" he started, not sure if he really wanted to answer.

"Love ya for that," Murdock chimed in, kissing Face on the ear.

"I love you too, my Howling Loon," Face replied, his voice accompanied by "awWaWawaWoo". It didn't scare him anymore. He was one hundred percent sure that if there was a monster hanging around, his crazy pilot would chase it away with his own howls. And of course - he'd never believed in monsters anyway. Right?

 

 

The End