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He was secretly glad for the menial day at the outpost. It meant that it was easier to get into the mindset to work at home. The day before, he’d asked Jane to mark the area surrounding the greenhouse so he could start building the raised bed planter for their herbs and vegetables. Lukas was pleasantly surprised to find how detailed she’d cordoned off spaces and even started tilling earth for the flower beds. The German set to work, using the lumber from the tree that had fallen on the bridge to create the sides of the planter. The medical officer had brought in her technician friends again to help with erecting the glasshouse and he was sure that she’d seen his annoyance, because she’d relented to letting him build the raised bed. She’d designed a U-shaped bed two thirds of a meter high. He thought it too short and improved the height so she wouldn’t have to bend over, making it a meter tall. Luckily, there was plenty of wood available from the downed pine. By the time light started to fade, he had three of four rows in place. His light grey t-shirt stuck to his chest and torso with the sweat from his exertion.
Jane carried two wine glasses in one hand and a small basket in the other, a bright yellow blanket draped over her forearm. Her eyes settled on her friend as she approached and she let her gaze lift to the fading light of the sky. “Don’t you have anything better to do than play carpenter?” she teased the German to make her presence known. In truth, she was a bit surprised that he spent so long on the raised bed and she wanted to remind him not to overdo it. For reasons unknown, Lukas often lost himself in his projects. She was guilty of it too in some ways, but with the main house complete, she thought he would have slowed down a bit to appreciate all he had accomplished in the last four months. They even managed to finish the medium sized sheds that would serve as their respective spaces. Her studio and his workshop were situated on the far tip of the island.
Lukas was a creature of completion. Things had to be done before one could go off and play. He eased the swing of the hammer before it could strike the nail he’d been about to drive into the wood and turned his head to look toward the medical officer. A smile tugged at the corners of his lips and he hummed in acknowledgement of her arrival. “You want me to come play husband instead?” He was further endeared to her by the playful use of such formal names. To her, it probably meant nothing. To him, it was a glimpse at the dream that he could never put into words.
It was an easy task to lay out the blanket once she’d placed the small wicker basket on the grass. The Italian woman lowered to her knees to pull at the ends. “I thought you were already doing that- Seeing as you took my list as a ‘honey do’ list. Speaking of which, the sink faucet in the kitchen leaks.” Her eyes didn’t lift to meet his gaze. She knew perfectly well what he meant, but the flirtation was easily explained away as his natural charm, that he didn’t mean anything by it. She moved the basket to one corner then pushed up to stand and turned to return to the house. “I’ll be back. Keep hammering away.”
His silent chortle rumbled in his chest and he turned his attention back to the planter. The last nail was hammered in and he straightened to look at her. Lukas furrowed his brows when he watched her walking away. “If I start any more, I won’t be able to finish it before dark.” His gaze returned to the raised bed and he figured it was a good place to stop. The operations officer started to collect everything he’d used so they would be in place for him to start again after their shift tomorrow.
She disappeared into the house for a few minutes then remained at the door jamb of the back door. “Close your eyes!” she called out to him. She waited a beat. “Are they closed?!” In the quickly fading light and the distance from the back of the house to the garden she hoped to grow, it was hard to see his face.
She’d made an odd demand but he saw no reason to deny her. “Yeah, sure!” he called to answer her. His eyes were closed and he even lifted a dirty hand to cover them.
“Are you sure?!” she screamed out to him. “You’re not peeking right?!”
His arm and head moved from side to side with his answer. “Nein, ich spähe nicht! (No, I’m not peeking!)” He lifted his other arm and waved it in front of his face, as if that would prove that he could see nothing. It felt out of place for the surgeon to be making this kind of fuss over something. She’d never really gotten him anything, and certainly nothing worth this sort of secrecy.
“I’ll be very cross with you if you peek!” It took considerable effort to carry her housewarming present, which was cumbersome in her arms. Jane grunted softly as she moved slowly over the grass, her bare feet pressing into the tall blades of grass. Even though she managed to make it to the blanket, it took some time to pull the legs of the tripod apart and to stabilize the telescope. There was no way to know if she even set it up correctly, but there was no doubt in her mind that the German would make fun of her for it. “Alright. Open.”
Lukas waited a moment before lowering his hand from his face. His eyes slowly opened and he stared at Jane for several seconds. A wry grin pulled at his features as he considered exclaiming that she was his surprise and how he loved it, but his gaze was drawn to the tripod and telescope. He blinked as shock overcame his expression. Part of him was an excited boy wanting to run to play with his new toy, while the other part was cautious because he hadn’t really gotten her anything. All he could claim to have given her was his time and care. And labor. Lots of labor. “You-” His mouth moved with more to say but no words came out.
“Tada!” Her arms opened wide as she motioned to the telescope. He was silent for far too long, and she lowered her hands as she straightened. Her gaze turned to the bulky astronomy tool. “Did I get the wrong one?” Her brows furrowed and Jane could only look at him. “I just- Did I get this entirely wrong?”
He forced himself to move, walking slowly so he could place one hand on the telescope and the other on Jane’s shoulder. His gaze shifted from the piece of equipment to the Italian woman and his features morphed into a wide smile. “It’s perfect- you just caught me by surprise.” His hand slid up her neck and he leaned close to kiss her forehead. “Thank you.”
Relief was easy to see in her expression, but Jane wasn’t entirely sure she was convinced until she felt his lips on her skin. “You’re welcome,” she whispered. Her eyes fluttered briefly and she took in a deep breath. Realizing she was leaning in too close for far too long, she recovered by pushing him away playfully. “Ew. You smell,” she muttered pathetically but with a laugh.
“Yeah, well,” he murmured with a smirk. She probably wasn’t wrong but he wasn’t in the habit of taking deep whiffs of his sweat soaked shirt. Lukas turned his attention to the telescope and stepped closer to it. Once his shock dissipated, he let the kid in him take over. “Wow, a Meade LX600? This thing is amazing! Auto star tracking and integrated object finding!” His chin lifted to the sky before he adjusted the tripod slightly. He ducked down so that he could peer into the finder and his fingers moved to manipulate the controls.
She could only chuckle at him as she moved away to allow him the chance to explore the telescope. The surgeon lowered to her knees and crawled onto the blanket, turning to settle onto her behind. She began to pull tins from the basket. “Is that thing going to get stuck to your face now?” The tease was light and she could only laugh softly. It was nice to know that he enjoyed the gift. It was the first attempt to make such an effort for anyone, but it seemed easy for him. Considering his passions, the telescope was a natural choice. She could only hope that he enjoyed the ancient version of the same tool she’d managed to sneak into his bedroom.
‘Ich würde lieber mein Gesicht anderswo stecken lassen.’ He lifted his head from the lens to wink at the medical officer before returning to focus on what he’d found. “It’s TW IIX! It looks so much bigger than on scans! You should come see!” Lukas didn’t look away as he recalled the layout of the system and adjusted the telescope to find other planets and nearby stars. “Wow! I can see Binyah so clearly! Look at those flares!”
“I’m getting dinner on the table,” she smirked up at him. “You go play with your toys.” The champagne bottle popped as she pushed on the cork. Normally, she was far more careful, but it seemed silly while they were outside. She couldn’t help but chuckle. There was something about the sound that always had her heart racing. Carefully, she filled the two flutes.
The sound of the cork popping from the bottle has his head lifting from the lens and he glanced toward the Italian. It was then he recalled hearing the word ‘dinner.’ His stomach rumbled to remind him that he was indeed hungry and then his brain kicked into gear, noting that he hadn’t cooked dinner. “What’s for dinner?” he asked cautiously as his gaze moved over the spread on the blanket.
“Nutritional supplement thirteen,” she answered with ease, not bothering to look up at him. “Dark green salad with apples, blackberries, crumbled blue cheese, honeyed walnuts, and just a hint of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.” Although her chin didn’t lift so he could see her face, her eyes rolled as if he could see it. “I left the rations in the pantry.” The only reason why they were even allowed in the kitchen was because she’d argued for the emergency kit to be located in the far back corner.
He could hear his stomach complaining and it took effort not to whine softly. “Es gibt kein Fleisch. Oder Kartoffeln, (There’s no meat. Or potatoes.)” he murmured to himself with a brief shake of his head. “Nutritional supplements.” As much as he would have preferred to continue looking through the telescope, Jane had made the effort and he wanted to thank her for it by enjoying the time with her. He stepped away from the device and lowered to his knees across from her.
“If it weren’t for me, you’d have a heart condition with all the rich and fatty things you put in your body.” She offered him one of the silver tins and the champagne flute.
“Our bodies are designed to handle rich and fatty foods,” he argued playfully as he took the offered tin and flute of champagne. Lukas lowered the tin but kept the wine lifted slightly. Cerulean met cognac as he considered a toast.
“To the carpenter who built our home,” she tipped the glass slightly in his direction. She couldn’t help but smile. He’d done so much. It was nice to celebrate his efforts and his accomplishment.
“And the woman whose warmth fills it,” he completed with a nod in her direction. “Prost.” His smile easily mirrored hers and he touched the rim of his glass to hers before sipping on the champagne. It was bubbly and tickled his throat as he swallowed.
She took a small sip to complete the toast, her eyes meeting his as she whispered “Salute” to keep with tradition. With the light quickly fading, she pulled a small modern lantern from the basket and switched it on to combat the encroaching darkness. The first bite of the crisp salad had had her sighing happily. She was famished and the replicated greens hit the spot perfectly.
He felt underdressed but he wasn’t going to run into the house to shower and change. Lukas grinned toward Jane and silently thanked her again for the spontaneity. He set the flute down and opened up his tin. Again, it took effort not to whine and complain but he focused on the fact that she’d brought him dinner. His brows furrowed for the briefest of moments when he remembered that she rarely did such things. He picked up the fork and stabbed some of the salad to lift it to his mouth, using it as an opportunity to watch her. After the first bite, he took a second onto his fork. “Very good, thank you.”
She only nodded and gave him a smile. Her eyes lifted to the sky as she watched the sky turn darker between bites of the crisp green leaves and small sips of the champagne. The silence allowed her to simply enjoy the calm of their surroundings. Because they’ve been so busy, Jane hadn’t had the time to appreciate the island in the middle of a collapsed volcano. Small insects were starting their call, tiny chirps and a quiet breeze made the lake sing in hushed tones. “It’s far more clear out here,” Jane whispered reverently as she closed her near empty tin then placed it in the basket. She took a final sip of her champagne before filling his glass then her own. Leaning back slightly, a hand pressed into the cloth and her elbow locked to keep her upright. Cognac brown eyes searched the heavens as she stole sips from her glass flute.
“When it’s not raining,” he mused quietly. The salad was finished in large bites after he realized he was more hungry than he thought. Lukas took a long sip of the champagne and then lifted his gaze to look into the sky. The light blue had already faded away, darkening the horizon with a golden pink glow. Directly above, midnight blue started spreading over the sky. The first twinkling stars appeared and he hummed softly in appreciation. The German eased to his back after checking to make sure he wouldn’t lie on anything. He rested one hand on his stomach, champagne flute held on his abs, and the other arm was folded behind his head as a pillow. “Wonder if they’ve created any constellations yet.”
“Who?” she asked softly, not wishing to break the calm that existed between them. She remained seated with her torso propped by her arm. Her gaze remained on the sky, watching as the stars appeared one by one. They danced for her, twinkling with a soft light.
His gaze shifted around the sky, his grin growing as more stars appeared. “Local astronomers,” he answered in a low baritone. He couldn’t recall that there were any in the database for the outpost, but he’d never really looked either. “Or the scientists that first came out here. Hard to believe if no one’s done it.”
“You should submit the data,” she offered. She lifted her flute towards the sky, one finger unfurling from the glass to draw lines between the sparkling points. “That one looks like a hummingbird.”
He turned his chin to look, following her finger into the sky. A quiet hum of thought rumbled in his chest and he lifted his hand from his stomach, using the flute to trace the path. “Curved beak, wings, body, tail. Sure. Kolibri. (Hummingbird.)” Lukas shifted his focus to another group of brighter stars and pointed. “Raumschiff. (Spaceship.)”
She chuckled softly. Raumschiff she’d heard plenty of times so there was no confusion in hearing the word. “What kind of spaceship?” There was light teasing in her tone and she dared to turn her chin to look at him briefly. ‘Here comes the long history again,’ Jane mused, silently laughing to herself. If there was nothing Lukas could do, it was wax about the fine history of space travel and how marvelous it was.
“Hmm, maybe Schooner, then. Two masts, three sails. Sixteenth century Dutch sailors first used the vessels for trading and fishing. They were highly favored by pirates for their speed and windward ability. Otherwise it’d be a K’Tinga bird of prey and those aren’t nearly as romantic.” Lukas turned his head to grin at Jane and he rolled to his side so he could finish his champagne. The flute was set aside and he continued to watch the Italian woman. “What else do you see?” he asked with a tender smile.
The surgeon’s gaze returned to the sky and she searched the twinkling lights in search of some form that sparked her imagination. She took a sip of her champagne before pointing once more to the sky. “That looks like the islands of the Tuscan archipelago. It also looks like pearls that fell from Venus’ necklace,” she mused softly. Her chin turned to the left. “And there,” she paused to draw out the lines of a body and limbs, “is Adelaide, the Lombard princess who escaped from one of the towers from the shores of Garda Lake.” Her eyes swept over the blanket of stars, nearly overwhelmed by the beauty. “And there,” she whispered softly as she drew two shapes close together, “Aci and Galatea.”
His gaze shifted only briefly to the sky so he could get an idea of what she was pointing out. In the fading light, Lukas found that he enjoyed the way Jane’s features seemed to glow. Her eyes sparkled much like the stars and her plump lips were made for kissing. He had to keep from groaning as he realized how long it’d been since they kissed. He’d been lucky to get a few pecks while they dated, and their first real kiss wasn’t even intentional. The German licked his lower lip as if he could recall the sweet summer fruit taste of her lips. His sigh was quiet and wistful. He fell to his back and looked up at the stars. “Who are Aci and Galatea?” he asked quietly.
Her chin remained lifted as she searched the heavens. “Galatea was a sea nymph gifted with divine beauty and long hair adorned with pearls,” she started, easily reciting the ancient myth from her childhood. “She was chased by Polyphemus, a jealous and gigantic cyclops who just happened to be the son of Poseidon. Polyphemus lived inside the lava stone caves of the slopes of Mount Etna and wanted to marry her and bring her with him to the very bowels of the volcano.” She gave a dramatic sigh. “Galatea didn’t reciprocate his love. One day, while she was searching for berries, she met Aci. He was a young shepherd from the Etna peaks. Their eyes met and it was immediately love. There was affection, and they often descended into fits of passion.”
As she told the story, he glanced at the stars she pointed out, envisioning the tale amongst the twinkling lights. His gaze shifted to the Italian for long stretches of time so he could watch her speak with animation. Lukas turned his chin and looked into the night sky to see if he could find Polyphemus in the stars as well. It would make for a spectacular star chart. Already he was planning a gift for Jane.
“Polyphemus, who was passing by in search of his beloved, witnessed the betrayal and lost himself to his rage on the unlucky shepherd. He threw huge boulders towards Aci, who was killed at the foot of the poor sea nymph. The cyclops, still lost in his fury, cut his body up into nine pieces and threw them into nine different places just so that Galatea couldn’t reassemble her lover.” Jane turned her chin to stare at Lukas, and she barely managed to stop her chuckle as she saw his expression. He didn’t have the stomach for morbid tales. “The grief stricken sea nymph, slumped in the fresh blood of her beloved Aci, then transformed into crystalline water. It moved forever along the steep trails of Mount Etna until the sea, in memory of that sincere but fleeting love.”
He grunted softly to acknowledge the end of the story and shook his head. The German could have done without the dismemberment portion, because it gave him sympathy pains for Aci. ‘Diese Art von Liebe ist ein Märchen,’ he thought to himself. It was unfair that his heart couldn’t let go of Jane so he might get to experience something like love. Lukas turned his chin to stare at the medical officer. Another soft and wistful sigh slipped from his lips.
Jane was content to sit in the silence. His presence was a comfort. It always was. It was why she thought of him as her friend, her best friend, because Lukas Behr was always comfortable with simply sitting and being quiet. A stray breeze had the lake whispering a sweet song and she pushed into motion. The basket with their dinner and empty flutes were lifted in her hand and she held the mouth of the bottle between her fingers. Standing, she glanced down at the operations officer and smiled. The dim light of the lantern lit her features. “I’m going to go back inside. Still have to unpack my room.” The thin sweater she wore outlined her form as another stray breeze played with her hair. “Gute Nacht, bärchen. Try not to stay up too late.”
“Thank you for dinner. Buonanotte, civetta,” he called after her as he watched her walking away from him. Once he heard the door close in the distance, Lukas pushed to his feet and picked up the telescope to move it off the blanket. He folded the bright yellow duvet after snapping any blades of grass off of it and draped it over his arm to have it laundered. Even in the near blackness, he managed to collapse the legs of the tripod in order to make the telescope easier to handle. It was brought inside and set up in the family room - just for the moment. The German would find a proper place for it after seeing if Jane wanted to be able to use it as well. He hoped she did.
The blanket was dropped into the bin for cleaning and he stopped in the kitchen to make sure everything was put away from their dinner. Impressed that everything was taken care of, he made his way up the stairs to shower. The operations officer did a double take when he saw a foreign object on his dresser. His brows furrowed as he made his way closer and he felt his heart skip a beat when he saw the ancient sextant. An ink picture of a person - maybe him? - in a boat with the universe above was propped behind it and there was a scrawled note underneath. “Something to inspire your imagination. You’ve built your home under the stars. Build another so you may live amongst them,” he read the note to himself. It was signed ‘Civette.’ Lukas chuckled softly and shook his head as he laid the note on the wooden surface. “Your handwriting is atrocious Jane.” His finger traced lightly over the metal and his smile grew. The Italian had never given him gifts and the thought that she knew enough about him to understand what he would appreciate the most warmed him completely. “Thank you,” he whispered, knowing that she wouldn’t hear. He left the mariner’s tool where it was so he could get cleaned up. Tomorrow was going to be busy for him.