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Per Aspera

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Per Aspera


He could hardly believe his eyes when the door opened and Don limped in, clad in flowing Arab clothes and a kind of shawl on his head, leaving a trail of what looked liked half the Sahara on the floor of their one-room apartment. That, however, was not what made him stare in shock at Monumental Pictures’ hopefully future rising star — because over the course of the last six months Cosmo had been getting used to Don coming home in various costume pieces and states of dishevelment — but it was the black eye decorating his face in its colourful enormity that drew all attention.

Don made it to their shabby sofa bed and with a hearty groan collapsed on it in a cloud of dust. Only then did he finally look up at Cosmo, albeit with only one eye while the other was obviously too swollen and painful to open. 

Cosmo realised he’d been staring open-mouthed for too long, and so he opted for voicing the next best thing that came to his mind: “Please tell me Miss Lamont looks worse.”

Don was about to crack a grin, but it immediately froze into a painful grimace. “Ha, ha,” he said instead. “Roscoe really went for authenticity this time, and our Sheik was a little too eager. Will look great in the film, though.”

It was the first time one of Don’s famous stunts had earned him an injury worse than a mild headache or some minor bruises, and Cosmo had to admit that it was actually nothing short of a miracle that it had taken six months — spent with crashing through windows, and falling from horses, and sitting at the wheel of overturning cars, and similar dangerous scenes — for something like this to happen, and he was secretly grateful that it was only an ugly black eye and not a broken limb or something much worse. Cosmo was usually working at several sets at the same time (and that was a feat in itself because it meant switching back and forth between romantic mood music and piano accompaniments that were supposed to portray a wild chase or train robbery), and while he did get the occasional peek at Don’s scenes, he was not always fully informed about all the daredevil madness that was going on. He suspected that Don deliberately kept some of the more dangerous stunts from him, or at least played them down when talking about them. 

“Let me guess,” Cosmo said, “the Sheik, young and good-looking and somewhat troubled but ultimately the hero, was storming in at the very last minute, saw you importune Lina, the purest flower of the harem and a prized blonde beauty from foreign lands, and plucked her from the jaws of a fate worse than death, thereby planting a massive punch on your visage?” Don wanted to say something, but winced and held his cheek. “It’s always the same,” Cosmo continued, “isn’t it? One time it’s a pirate, another time a cowboy or knight, this time a sheik. Well, at least we’ve got enough sand on our floor now to enjoy our own private beach.”

“Cosmo,” Don finally managed to say, “why don’t you just shut up and get me a nice raw steak for this one?” He pointed to his swollen side. 

“A steak?” Cosmo could not help gesticulating dramatically. “What do you think we are? Rockefellers?”

At Don’s sour look, he softened his voice. “What I can get you is a nice cold washcloth and a gentle hug.” 

And he did not wait for an answer, but went to run cold water over a washcloth and pick up the bottle of moonshine they kept under the sink. “Come on, boy,” he said and sat down next to Don on the sofa, “take a good big sip, and then we’ll see what we can do about your boo-boo.” 

Don mouthed his thanks and took a swig from the bottle. Daredevil stuntman or not, in a way he was still a boy, a mischievous boy, Cosmo thought with a bout of tender affection, and maybe their grand Hollywood adventure was not really worth risking his neck for it. Cosmo kept worrying about him, but then that had been his continuous mode of operation going back to their earliest years of childhood.

He put the bottle on the floor and carefully covered the injured side of Don’s face with the wet washcloth, taking care not to apply too much pressure. “Good?” 

Don groaned in response, the mix of pain and relief quite audible.

“You’ve been lucky you didn’t end up with a broken nose. We should have stuck to Vaudeville. Getting pelted with tomatoes and rotten apples was less harmful, and if nothing else it made us get enough vitamins.”

Don smiled just the tiniest bit. “Six months, Cosmo.” His voice was half muffled. “By now Monumental Pictures know they can rely on me to give it my all, no matter the job. A better part or a long-term contract might be just around the corner.”

“Famous last words?” Cosmo quipped. “Here lies manly Don Lockwood, stabbed by a fake railroad engine during a staged bar fight, while he was waiting for the breakthrough in his career.” Another groan. “Sorry,” Cosmo added. “Guess I’m just angry about you getting hurt.”

“It’s fine, Cos,” Don said. “Believe me, I can’t wait to score more dignified parts in the industry. — Didn’t you say something about a hug before?”

Cosmo felt a genuine smile return to his face. “Come ‘ere.” He helped Don find a better position on the sofa and arranged himself half next to, half on top of him, wrapping his arms around him and rubbing soothing circles on his back. “Gonna be full of sand,” he mumbled into Don’s shoulder, but he did not really mind. He felt Don relax incrementally, his breaths slowing to a regular, measured rhythm, his body turning soft and limp in his embrace. The intimacy of the moment felt special and offered a respite in their busy lives. It had been a while since he’d last got to hold his Don so tightly and unreservedly; he was often unsure whether physical affection was still welcome, now that Don was trying so hard to carve out a career for himself in the movies. There were things that did not mix so well with the public image studios envisioned for their male leads; if Don wanted to land a major part, it seemed prudent to tone down the part Cosmo played in his life. Not that Don had ever indicated anything of that kind, but Cosmo was not naive; sooner or later, he knew, things were going to change between them.

A soft snoring sound pulled Cosmo back into the present. Don was dozing in his arms, exhaustion clearly visible on his features, but there was also something almost beatific in his expression, as if he’d felt safe and comfortable and altogether fine with where he was right now. Cosmo swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat, and gently stroked Don’s brow, before leaning in to press a soft and shyly hopeful kiss to his lips.

“Everything’s gonna work out fine,” Cosmo whispered into the room, and it was meant to reassure Don as much as himself.