Terlingua

by shukyou (主教)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/129530.html)

A century earlier, everyone in the vicinity would have ducked and run for cover the moment Pierce Jouel’s horse clip-clopped its way into town; as it was, they all just hushed as the thirty-foot RV with Ontario plates came to rest in its designated parking spot, and a low murmur went up through the crowd that someone ought to tell Benjy Murchoe who’d just pulled in.

There wasn’t much to do in that part of West Texas, even when an international chili championship was in town, and so watching Pierce and Benjy go at it had become something of a spectator sport among Terlingua regulars, predictable enough that some had even started to joke years back — well out of Benjy’s earshot, of course — that the organizing committee put it on the event’s official program: Mouth-Off, Tuesday, 2PM (Or Whenever Pierce Gets Here). A few of the jokers had even gone so far as to tell Elmyra, Benjy’s wife, who had laughed herself nearly sick over it and then made them all swear up and down not to point it out to him, lest her husband become self-conscious and deprive them all of the annual event’s main entertainment. So no one even so much as cracked a smile in Benjy’s direction, just gravitated quietly over to the north end of the competitors’ row, and by the time Benjy deigned to wander over to table #001, anybody who knew anything about anything was well within earshot.

“Well,” said Benjy, taking his beat-up black Stetson from his head and sweeping it in front of him in a slight bow, “if it ain’t the king come back to lose his crown.”

Pierce turned around with a look of too-perfect surprise, as though he somehow hadn’t noticed Benjy’s slow, faux-casual arrival, and he smiled like a man greeting a pleasant surprise, except everyone could see too many of his neat white teeth behind it. “Long time no see, Benjamin!” he waved, his dulcet northern tones as out-of-place as his polo shirt and khakis. With a smile, he reached for a little roll of canvas — which had been sitting off to the side of his booth for the past half hour, just waiting for this moment — and unfurled the red-lettered banner proclaiming him the Terlingua International Chili Championship Winner, 2009.

All eyes went to Benjy, to see his reaction to such a bald-faced boast, but the dark moustache that marked the contours of his upper lip didn’t even twitch. “Right back at you,” he nodded, settling his hat back where it could do a better job shielding his eyes from the early afternoon sun. “Say, I don’t know if you saw the weather report, but the next couple days’re going to be a real scorcher. You sure you got a nice soft place to faint if you get a little overcome?”

“Well, I’m sure after a few spoonfuls of your entry,” Pierce said, unfolding a large blue tablecloth over his workspace, “the mid-day heat will feel like a cooling breeze.”

Benjy folded his arms across his chest, leaving one hand free to tap at his turquoise-laden bolo tie. “You know,” he said, sauntering foward the last few feet to the edge of Pierce’s booth, “I never did figure out why you northerners don’t like a good chili pepper. Seems like you all could use all the heat you can get to keep your important bits from freezing off.” He leaned in, spreading his big hand wide across the fabric and wrinking it a little with his weight, though he didn’t drop his voice a notch. “…’Less, of course, they’re so small there’s no danger of that.”

Pierce shook his head and grinned, but the smile didn’t quite reach his downcast eyes, which he kept fixed on unpacking the various accoutrements he’d need the next morning — which at the moment were mostly extension cords and empty pots. “Oh, from what your wife’s told me, not everything’s bigger in Texas,” he chuckled, his lilting voice giving his chiding a musical tone, and the listening members of the crowd ducked their faces into sleeves and bandanas to muffle any noises of amusement. Of course Benjy, an attorney from San Angelo, was the hometown favourite, but damn that crazy Canadian if he didn’t have a mouth on him worth cheering for.

Another man might’ve gotten bent out of shape at having his wife brought into the melee, but Benjy’s face remained cool; his expression mirrored Pierce’s almost to the wrinkle, that same pleasant smile with just the slightest edge to let anyone who cared to look close enough know something less congenial lurked beneath. “And where’s your little lady? Staying home to watch the house?” He tipped down the brim of his hat with a single finger. “Or would the customs folk not let you transport a polar bear across the border?”

“I’m sorry, but if you’re looking for tales of being married to hairy, unpleasant things, I believe your wife is the local expert.” Pierce lifted his hand and shot off a wave to Elmyra, who was standing a short ways off in the slender shade of a radio station van, and she waved right back at him, the half-dozen or so heavy silver bracelets around her wrist jingling in time.

That seemed to score an actual hit, as Benjy’s eyes narrowed — just a fraction, but enough for a careful observer (and everyone in the vicinity had a vested interest in being a careful observer) to catch. “Well,” he shrugged, leaning back and sticking his hands into the pockets of his beat-up Wranglers, “if I’d’ve had to make that drive all the way from Nowhere, Canada, with just your chili recipe to keep me company, I might’ve died of boredom before I even reached Ohio.”

“Oh,” Pierce smiled, this time looking Benjy straight in the eye, “I had a few trophies for companionship.”

Even the most carefully unobtrusive of onlookers let out a little gasp at that one, both at Pierce’s brazenness and at how Benjy dipped his head so the shadow of his hat obscured the full weight of his reaction. The debate over just how spicy a good chili should be was not something exlusive to the two of them, but each epitomized the far ends of the spectrum — Benjy’s chili was hot enough to strip the paint off a car, much less the skin off the roof of your mouth; Pierce made his with a kick so gentle even your granny couldn’t object to it. For over a decade, Benjy and Pierce had enacted the chili world’s version of the eternal ‘tastes great/less filling’ rivalry, leapfrogging over one another in the top ten and in various specialty categories, usually only separated by a few points.

That last year, however, the judges had shocked the entire festival not only by awarding Benjy’s entry a lackluster ninth-place finish, but by handing the competition’s top spot to his longterm rival. Even though everyone who had tried the dishes had agreed that Benjy’s showing hadn’t been his best by a long shot, and that Pierce had really outdone himself with the perfect seasoning balance, two things really stuck in everyone’s craw. The first had to do with regional pride: the competition, by primary virtue of geography, was dominated by Texans, and though there was no shame in finishing behind one of the dishes from one of the several other southern and southwestern states represented, there was something about getting bested by a Canadian that just seemed wrong to everyone involved.

The second, of course, was that the rankings seemed to suggest — for the moment, at least — that Pierce was right, leaving him with the ultimate trump card in his hand: the great turquoise chile championship trophy. And even someone who wasn’t looking could read the sinister little twist to Benjy’s mouth that had cropped up all through the past year even at the mention of Pierce’s name.

Finally, Benjy threw back his head and laughed. “Well, I’m so glad you took such good care of ’em for me! Polished them all nice and neat, I bet. Maybe I’ll just have to stop by your place tonight and pick ’em up in advance, to save you all the effort later.”

“Oh, you’re welcome to come visit them.” Pierce gestured grandly to his motor home behind him. “But I’ll warn you, they tell me they’ve gotten to like the cold.”

“No chile in the history of the world has ever liked the cold,” Benjy pointed out.

“Well, I suppose there’s a first time for everything.” Pierce’s long, pale fingers skimmed the top of the previous year’s championship banner. “And a second.”

With another sharp laugh, Benjy turned, and everyone around went back to what they’d been doing as though they hadn’t spent the last five minutes engaged in recreational eavesdropping. “And there’s always an exception that proves the rule,” he called out without looking back, and he strolled off in Elmyra’s direction, his boots kicking up little clouds along the dusty ground with every step, while behind him, Pierce gave the tablecloth a quick jerk until it lay straight again.

~*~

That night’s band had struck up quite a show at the other end of the fairgrounds, which was where Elmyra and the kids were, but Benjy stole on through the darkness in the opposite direction, not exactly trying to hide but not exactly trying to be seen, either. There were, of course, a thousand and ten reasons for him to be making a late-night trip through the long, quiet rows of tented booths down at the experienced competitors’ end, but he didn’t really care to spin any of them to interested parties; he was a good attorney but a damn bad liar, and always told the truth because it was easier than keeping his story straight.

As he turned down the last stretch, he met up with a security guard who was making his paces, keeping an eye on the equipment so nothing went missing and nobody cried sabotage. “Evening, Mr. Murchoe,” he said, tipping his tan hat and giving Benjy a buck-toothed grin; he was probably a local high-schooler, or at least a local high-school dropout, and either way hired on for the low-impact job of making sure a friendly competition stayed friendly.

“Evening,” Benjy nodded back, and he pushed on his way without missing a step, listening over the noise of his own footfalls for the sound of the guard’s retreating boots. Any kid who knew Benjy on sight must understand the competition, and any one who understood the competition was likely to fill in his own of those thousand and ten reasons for Benjy’s late-night stroll. Sure enough, he glanced back over his shoulder a couple dozen yards later, and the kid had meandered out of sight, probably on his way closer to the noise and beer of the entertainment tent. Thus, there wasn’t a soul in sight when he turned the knob on Pierce’s trailer’s side door and slipped inside.

The inside was neat and spaceous — this was a new model, Pierce must have been doing well for himself managing the half-dozen restaurants he owned — and the whole of it was dark except for the digital green displays on the appliances and a warm orange glow from the tail end. Benjy waited a moment, looking around, trying not to look too impressed by what a nice home-on-wheels Pierce had gotten for himself, then moved quietly over to the table where the breadbox-sized turquoise trophy sat, quiet and weighty.

“It’ll be coming home with me again,” said a voice from behind him, and Benjy turned to see Pierce, still dressed in his khakis, but now barefoot and wearing a loose white t-shirt with a Canadian flag across the front. “But you can pet it, if you like.”

“You are such a yankee jackass,” Benjy grinned, and he sat down on the long sofa-bench beside the table, grunting a little when it wasn’t as soft as it looked. “You’re worse than a yankee, even. You’re a yankee jackass hat. You’re the feather Yankee Doodle sticks in his hat, way up on top.”

With a laugh, Pierce sat down on the other end, leaning back against the wall and letting his bare feet fall across Benjy’s thighs; Benjy took the closer of the two in his hands and began pressing his thumbs into the ball of Pierce’s foot, and Pierce closed his eyes in the way cats did when you scritched them just right. “I think you’re losing your smack-talk touch,” he smirked.

“Sue me, I’m off my game today.” Benjy grabbed at Pierce’s second toe and yanked, and the joint made a satisfying pop. “You’re still a super-yankee jackass.”

“And you’re still a handsome cow-tipper. Your point?” Pierce sighed as Benjy cracked the rest of his toes, then went for his other foot. “I do, however, hope that you return your clients’ emails more often than you return mine, because otherwise, I don’t see how you can stay in business.”

“I’ve been busy,” said Benjy, though he dropped his head a little, abashed. “Mia’s had a rough start to second grade, and Colby’s starting Little League, and Ellie’s job at the school’s gotten cut back to part-time, so–”

“Ben.” Pierce sat up and leaned forward, cupping Benjy’s cheek in his hand and turning his head so they faced one another; they weren’t as young as they had been, once upon a time, but Pierce’s handsome grey eyes could still stop him in his tracks. “I’m just teasing.” He reached up and picked at a lock of too-long hair that curled out from Benjy’s temple, and even in the dim light, Benjy could see a thread of silver vein through the other dark strands.

“I know.” Benjy leaned into the touch, shutting his eyes. Pierce brushed a finger across his moustache, and Benjy breathed in, catching the scent of onions and cumin off Pierce’s skin. Maybe it was because the only times they saw one another were chili competitions — and those had grown fewer and farther between as the kids had gotten older, until the last two they’d been together had been the previous two years at Terlingua — but Benjy wanted to believe Pierce always smelled like that, made of spice and heat and everything in the world worth putting in your mouth. He lifted his head an inch and kissed the pad of Pierce’s thumb, and Pierce tapped him on the nose with it, which made him smile.

“You want a beer?” Pierce asked, pulling his feet free and standing again.

Benjy shook his head sadly. “And if Ellie asks tomorrow, you’re supposed to tell her you didn’t give me one. She’s trying to get me to cut back.”

Pierce laughed, pulling open the door to the RV’s narrow refrigerator and looking around inside. “I can give you a beer and tell Miss Ellie tomorrow that I didn’t, you know.”

“Oh, she would get going with that look of hers, and you’d tell her everything, and you know it.”

“…Oh, well, I probably would.” Pierce shrugged and let the door shut, then reached for Benjy’s hand, tugging him up to his feet. “So skip the beer and come to bed, old man, so we can both go to sleep at a reasonable hour.”

Benjy laughed as he pitched forward, catching himself by wrapping his arms around Pierce’s waist; he was a good half a foot taller than Pierce, and the twenty pounds he’d had on the Canadian when they’d first met had grown to nearly fifty over the years, but Pierce was far sturdier than his delicate frame suggested. “So, since next year you’ll be older than I am right now,” Benjy asked, nuzzling Pierce’s straw-golden hair, “does that mean I’ll get to call you ‘old man’?”

“Of course not.” Pierce kissed Benjy on his cheek, then pushed him away and sauntered off toward the direction of the RV’s single bedroom. “You’ll always be older than I am; you’ll always be the old man. Kick your shoes off by the door before you come back here, it’s dusty enough already.”

Grumbling at an exaggerated volume, Benjy tugged off his boots and set them on the short flight of steps leading down to the exit. In the distance, he could hear one of the band’s songs end and another fire up, and he knew those kind of shows usually had the energy to continue on well into the late hours, because he could remember years when he’d stayed awake until the last set, fallen drunkenly into bed with Pierce or Ellie, slept two hours if he was lucky, and then been alert and careful enough the next day to make blue-ribbon chili without needed more than a cup of coffee to compensate. Not, of course, that he would have traded an inch of what he had now, but truly, those had been the days.

By the time Benjy made his way to the back, Pierce had already divested himself of his shirt and unfastened his pants, and was now sitting propped up against the low headboard, surrounded by pillows. “Strip down, cowboy,” Pierce ordered in his best worst Texan accent.

Benjy rolled his eyes, but obediently went for the buttons of his shirt cuffs as he knelt at the foot of the bed. “I hear the judges this year are taking off for making fun of the home team.”

“You’re not the home team. You’re the home army. I’m a stranger in a strange land.” Pierce raised a dramatic hand to his chest. “I’ll stand up on my little platform, like at the Olympics, and wave a little flag while everyone sings, O, Canada….

Pierce’s song petered out into silence, and Benjy stilled in his undressing for several moments before saying, “…You don’t know the rest of it, do you?”

“And neither do you.” Pierce lunged forward and caught Benjy at his wide silver belt buckle, then pulled him forward and off-balance at once so they both wound up sprawled on the bed, with Benjy’s weight caught half on the mattress and half on Pierce, and then Pierce’s hand was tangled up in his hair and all his breath rushed out of his lungs in a nervous laugh. Pierce smiled and lay back a little more deliberately, stroking the back of Benjy’s face with his knuckles, and Benjy leaned forward to kiss him.

Everything about Pierce was the same wonderful taste, rich and compelling, and Benjy settled on his side, drawing Pierce close. They lay together like that for a long moment, just kissing one another, falling back into old familiar patterns so deep they were nearly instinct; even a full year wasn’t long enough to make Benjy forget; he didn’t think a lifetime would be. “How do you stay so handsome?” he asked as he lay back just enough to let Pierce finish unbuttoning his shirt and push it off his shoulders.

“You’re getting old and your memory’s going. That’s how.” Pierce yanked off Benjy’s thin flannel shirt and tossed it onto the small dresser near the foot of the bed, then combed his fingers through the dark hair across Benjy’s chest, tracing it down his belly to where it disappeared beneath his ornate belt buckle. “Why do you wear that thing?”

“Keeps my pants up,” said Benjy, because it was true.

“No, I mean, but … why specifically do….” With a resigned sigh, Pierce set to the business of getting off Benjy’s pants, something he’d both yet to perfect and yet to give up trying to learn. “You know what? Never mind, I have decided I prefer ignorance.” He slipped off the end of the bed and yanked Benjy’s pants and underwear with him in one fell swoop, leaving Benjy in his birthday suit atop the covers. That business settled, he pushed off his own khakis and boxers, and by the time he climbed back into Benjy’s arms, they were each as naked as the other.

A few loud pops sounded from dangerously close outside, and they both froze for a moment before Benjy began to laugh. “Firecrackers,” he said, smoothing out Pierce’s hair. “Damn kids.”

“More fun when you’re the one doing it than when it’s getting done at you?”

“Like most things.” Benjy laughed and rolled on top of Pierce, slipping one of his knees between Pierce’s pale thighs, and Pierce wrapped his arms around Benjy’s neck, grabbing handfuls of Benjy’s hair, and for the first time that weekend, Benjy was glad that he’d ignored Ellie’s repeated reminders to get a cut before they came out here. He liked it when Pierce held on to him like that, a possessive gesture in an otherwise distinctly non-possessive relationship that made him feel, at least for a moment, not only wanted but needed. And then Pierce was drawing him into a kiss, and he was there gladly, because he wanted and needed Pierce just as much right then.

Pierce let go of Benjy with one hand and trailed it down the side of his body, across his belly and around his hip, stopping to curl his fingers into a circle around the base of Benjy’s cock, which needed no further encouragement than that to go from half-hard to fully hard. Of all the things that changed with and around them, one of the few absolute constants was how Pierce never failed to make Benjy’s body rise to the occasion with even the smallest of gestures. He’d never found another man so intriguing in his whole life, and doubted that he would again, but one of Pierce’s best qualities was how he was the exception that proved every rule in the book, and from the moment Benjy had found himself confronted by such an improbable competitor, Pierce had been impossible to resist.

Benjy gasped as Pierce’s thumb brushed across the tip of his cock the way it had brushed his lips earlier, then broke into a smile. “‘Not everything’s bigger in Texas’?” he teased, poking Pierce’s flat, soft belly.

“Hey, hey,” Pierce laughed, letting go of Benjy’s cock to swat his hand away. “It was all I could think of at the time.”

Now who’s off his game today?” Benjy snatched Pierce’s wrist and pinned him to the bed, and Pierce made no attempt to struggle free. “Can’t believe I actually missed you.”

“Oh, no, there’s nothing to miss about me.” Pierce hooked one of his ankles around the back of Benjy’s knee, pulling their bodies together; Pierce’s own cock jutted up away from his body, short and thick, and nudged Benjy’s hip.

“Certainly not your cooking,” Benjy smirked, and before Pierce could get a response out edgewise to that one, Benjy bent down and kissed him again, sucking on Pierce’s tongue in a way that made certain no reply was forthcoming.

To his credit, Pierce barely fought the new position, giving in after a few seconds and kissing back, this time with teeth. Once upon a time, they’d bruised one another regularly in bed, not out of malice but out of sheer careless enthusiasm, usually brought on by too much to drink. Sober and older, they had become more deliberate about their time together, though no less energetic, and Benjy broke from the kiss to suck a giant red hickey into the pale skin above Pierce’s collarbone, just low enough that his shirt would cover. Pierce yelped and flailed, but Benjy’s mouth held on tight, until at last his lips pulled away with a satisfying pop, leaving a large quasi-circular cloud of broken blood vessels just beneath the surface. Surveying the damage, he gave the scene an appraising nod.

Irrevocably marked — at least for the next few weeks, depending on how good Benjy’s mouth turned out to be — Pierce sighed like the brakes of a train and rolled his eyes. “Very mature. How am I going to explain this to my girlfriend?”

At that, Benjy’s smile faltered a hair’s breadth. “You have a girlfriend?”

“Which you would know if you ever responded to my emails.” Pierce cuffed Benjy upside the head with his free hand, pushing his hair into his face.

Benjy scowled and shook his hair back, aware that the effect was somewhat wet-doglike. “I … guess you’ll just have to tell her about us,” he suggested, half-holding his breath for reasons he couldn’t quite quantify. He wanted to think that he wasn’t jealous, that his better angels would never stand for his having such a double standard, but the nagging feeling was hard to ignore.

Pierce, however, looked no more worried than he ever did, and he tugged Benjy back toward his mouth. “Well, if she disapproves, at least that’ll let me know I didn’t want to date her anyway.”

All Benjy’s notions of jealousy were not only dispelled at that, but replaced with a streak of possessive glee, and he kissed Pierce hard for a long minute before pulling back and propping himself up on his knees between Pierce’s spread thighs. “Stuff still where it used to be?”

“Refreshed and refilled with the anticipation of seeing you, of course,” Pierce grinned, and he thumbed open the bedside drawer to reveal a bottle of lube and a handful of condoms.

“And with the anticipation of having a lady friend over?” Benjy snatched a condom off the top of the pile and held it up between two fingers.

“That too.” Pierce snatched the foil packet from Benjy and tore it open. “Come here,” he said, and Benjy leaned forward, bracing himself against the pillows near Pierce’s shoulders, as Pierce rolled the condom on slowly, his fingers applying slow and deliberate pressure all the way down Benjy’s shaft. That done, he grabbed the lube and gestured for Benjy to hold out his hand, then dribbled some on Benjy’s open palm. “Now hurry up and do me before the clock strikes midnight and you turn into a pumpkin.”

“You’re getting mighty ornery in your old age, anyone ever tell you that?” Despite his protest, however, Benjy lubed up his cock, then reached for Pierce’s ass with two still-slick fingers. He pushed the tip of one in up to the knuckle, and Pierce hissed a little, closing his eyes. “Guess it’s been a while,” Benjy shrugged, leaving his hand where it was; he didn’t necessarily have a lot of experience having sex with men in general, but he had a fair amount of experience with having sex with Pierce in particular, and he knew by now when to pull out and when to stay put.

Pierce cracked his eyes open and gave Benjy a half-lidded gaze. “Little bit,” he laughed, and his words were heavy whispers. He took a few deep breaths, then let his knees fall farther apart and nodded, and Benjy went about the business of getting the rest of those two fingers inside. That done and comfortable — and quicker than he’d thought it might have gone, all their time apart considering — Benjy pulled his hand out and settled the tip of his cock to go in. With all deliberate slowness, and to the sound of Pierce’s heavy breathing punctuated by the occasional distant firecracker, Benjy pushed himself in to the root; settled there, he took his slicked hand and began to stroke Pierce’s own cock, which had gone half-soft with the process of Benjy’s entry, but which was amenable to being brought back with even the slightest attention.

Seeing Pierce like this was always simultaneously odd and awe-inspiring for Benjy, who had never quite resolved the dueling mental pictures he had of Pierce: the first was of the way he looked in public, dressed like a man headed for the country club in the midst of a bunch of dusty cowboys, wearing that ridiculous grin and mouthing off with a vengeance like he didn’t know what was good for him; the second was of him like this, quiet and vulnerable, so absolutely trusting and gentle that Benjy could never believe even a single mean word that came from him. This latter was something only Benjy got to see, he knew, and only Pierce got to see the response that won from him, so that was even between them and that was all right. What they had maybe had never made a lot of sense to most anyone else, but they knew how it worked between the two of them, and that was all right.

Moving with care, Benjy pulled himself close to Pierce’s body and hauled Pierce’s legs up around his waist, and Pierce hooked his ankles behind Benjy’s back, tugging him tight enough to let Benjy know that he was free to move. And move he did, bracing himself to thrust into Pierce’s body and laughing as Pierce’s uncertain expression melted into a satisfied grin. “Good?” he asked, though he could barely muster up the air from his own lungs to form the question.

“The best,” Pierce smiled, and he grabbed at Benjy’s back, skimming brief bright trails with his close-cropped fingernails, so that Benjy could do nothing but move with and in him, finding a rhythm deep and slow. There was never any rush to their time together, but at the same time, there was nothing to prove by outlasting the other; they’d known one another far too long to pretend anything, least of all in bed. Pierce reached down to stroke himself as Benjy pushed into him again and again, and the backs of his knuckles and the head of his cock bumped against Benjy’s belly, leaving a small wet patch there. That tangible proof of Pierce’s arousal made Benjy’s breath hitch in his throat, and he arched his back down to chew on Pierce’s ear while he fucked him hard enough to make the bed shake, until he was fairly certain that the aching groans of the bedsprings and the slam of the headboard into the RV’s back wall would leave any passersby with no doubts about what, precisely, was going on inside.

Oh well, thought Benjy, so long as they didn’t know who was going on, it was fine. It wasn’t as though either of them was ashamed of what they had, or had anything personally to hide, but as long as everyone else assumed the weird and slightly obsessive nature of their relationship was attributable to other emotions, it was just … easier to let those assumptions go unchallenged. And as long as everyone else did, too, the two of them had this all to themselves, without even the intrusion of suspicion. Benjy felt beads of sweat roll down his back in the warm night air, and licked a line of perspiration off Pierce’s neck, which made Pierce squirm beneath him and laugh, and to hell with everything if that wasn’t one of the most wonderful sounds in the whole damn world.

Benjy didn’t want it to end, but after long enough, he didn’t really have a choice; biting his lip, he came hard, slamming his hips roughly into Pierce’s body a last few times before pulling out and collapsing next to him on the bed. He made short work of the condom, tying it off and dropping it blindly off the side of the bed in the general location he’d remembered the wastebasket in Pierce’s last RV, and was gratified to hear the rustle of paper and tissue beneath it as it found its tidy home. With all that cleanup generally finished, he rolled back and resumed the business of chewing Pierce’s other ear as he replaced Pierce’s hand around his cock with his own. “Hey there,” he whispered in Pierce’s ear, his voice liquid and heavy. “Hey, you.”

“Hey, yourself,” Pierce smiled, turning his head so his lips brushed Benjy’s. “Kiss me, cow-tipper.”

“Well, if you’re fixin’ to get so all-fired demanding about it,” Benjy began, but his threat went unvoiced as he did just as he was told and planted a big wet one on Pierce, sucking on his tongue with all due dilligence. He was pleased when Pierce kissed back with teeth, and even more so when less than a minute later, Pierce held his breath and lifted his hips from the bed the way he always did right before orgasm, so Benjy laid into both the kiss and the handjob with a vengeance; Pierce stayed that way for a moment, whimpering quietly into Benjy’s mouth, then came in a rush of spunk and air, splattering all over his bare stomach and chest before going limp atop the covers.

Benjy gathered him up, gently nudging Pierce’s boneless frame on his side until they were curled together like spoons. They’d both need showers before they slept, like they usually did after they were together, but it was nothing if not worth it. He kissed the back of Pierce’s neck, just at the place where his sandy hair met skin, and Pierce grabbed his hand tight, tucking it around his still-damp middle. “Still got it, old man.”

With a satisfied grumble, Benjy pillowed his other arm under Pierce’s cheek, and ended up coming to rest with his chin atop Pierce’s head, just breathing him in. While Benjy could tell he himself had gotten bigger over the years, it still seemed like Pierce had gotten smaller at the same time, until Benjy had the wild thought that if he could just close his arms tight enough, he might be able to hide Pierce inside, smuggle him away like some human contraband and take him … well, that was the point where the plan fell through, where it had always fallen through and would never hold up. All the reasons it wouldn’t work elsewhere were all the reasons it did work here and now, and if it wasn’t enough, well, it always had been before, so it would just have to be.

After a few minutes of just lying there in silence, listening to each other breathe, Pierce stretched cat-like onto his back and tapped his fingers against Benjy’s chin. “I suppose I ought to let you go now.”

“Well…” Benjy sighed and sat up, kissing Pierce’s fingers as he did. “I do kinda want to get back before Ellie’s too tired to … you know.”

“You dog.” Pierce laughed and pushed him away, settling himself back up on the bed with a series of very cautious movements, especially when it came to where his behind landed. “You have still got it, old man.”

Blushing a little, Benjy searched for where his clothes had gotten scattered. “So, uh … same time next year?”

“I’ve got a better idea.” Pierce folded his arms across his chest, getting that stubborn look in his eye that always meant trouble. “Why don’t you and Ellie bring the kids up to visit Uncle Pierce in sunny Canada? It’d be a very educational summer vacation, and we have the added bonus of having July temperatures that don’t break into the triple digits.”

At first, Benjy made as though to laugh along with such an obviously comic suggestion, except that the more he searched Pierce’s face, the offer seemed less and less like a joke at all. “You’re serious?” he asked, shrugging his shirt back on over his shoulders.

“Absolutely.” Pierce nodded. “Of course, you’d have to answer my emails first to–”

“All right! All right! First thing when I get back to the office, all your emails. It is now at the very most top priority spot on my to-do list.” Benjy tugged on his jeans, sucking in his gut a little as he pulled the belt shut and fastened the buckle. His eyes caught on the darkening mark on Pierce’s shoulder, and he couldn’t hold back a smile. “So you’d really break up with a lady if she wasn’t okay with … you and me?”

Pierce’s smile softened, and he crawled gingerly off the bed, coming to stand in front of Benjy. “There’s a world full of women, Ben, but there’s only one of you.” He grabbed the lower edges of Benjy’s shirt, lined them up, and started doing up his buttons. “So come on, what do you say? Canada! It’ll give you a chance to come visit the chile trophy, too.”

Benjy growled and pushed what he could of Pierce’s short curly hair into his face. “More like, if we come up, I’ll bring it with me.”

“Big talkers had better be ready to prove themselves tomorrow.” Stopping three buttons beneath the collar, Pierce placed his hands flat on Ben’s chest and lifted himself up on his tip-toes for a quick kiss. “I love you, but I am unstoppable.”

“Yeah, yeah, I love you too,” Benjy sighed, but he was smiling when he wrapped his arms around Pierce’s waist and drew him in for another long kiss, maybe the last they’d share for another full year, maybe not. Ontario was a long way away from San Angelo, to be sure, but no more than two or three good long days in the car, and he hadn’t taken a good long family vacation since the kids were too small to remember, and it might be nice to get away from work for a month or so — and above any other objection that might crop up between now and summer, at the end of the day, there still wasn’t a thing about Pierce that wasn’t irresistible.

~*~

The sun had barely tipped its nose out into the sky, but already it was deadly hot, causing the competitors to sweat as they fired up their propane burners to start the early prep of browning meat and boiling stock. The previous night’s quiet booths were now abuzz with activity, filled with people and judges and as much media coverage as you could expect to haul out to the back end of West Texas. Still, despite the mass of people and the buzz of equipment, a relative hush still fell as Pierce made his way through the crowd, and even the ever-droning loudspeaker seemed to get quieter as he stopped in front of the Murchoes’ tent. “How are you, Miss Ellie?” he asked, leaning across a table of glass-jarred spices to kiss her on the cheek.

“Quite lovely, thank you,” she smiled back at him, and maybe gave him a wink, though no one watching would later swear to having seen it or knowing what it might have been for. “You off to a good start, now, honey?”

“Just bringing everything to a boil.” Pierce tugged at the collar of his white chef’s jacket — unlike sensible folk, who wore aprons and short sleeves and other things that made cooking outside in the Texas heat bearable, that weird Canadian always had to be a little different — and lifted his hand to shield his eyes from the sun, which was now beaming over the horizon with a fair vengeance. “Thought I’d come by and see how the hottest chili in Texas was getting on.”

Benjy looked up at him from across his stock pot, and for a long moment, the two of them just stared at one another, Pierce still with that permanent smile of his plastered across the bottom half of his face, Benjy with a stone expression that looked both disapproving and unimpressed at once. It was almost an old west shootout of a meeting, with the way all the bystanders stared openly and held their collective breath, waiting to see which one went first for his gun.

To everyone’s general surprise, it was Benjy who flinched first, shaking his head and lowering his eyes. He lifted his hand and pulled his old familiar hat off the top of his head, then reached across the table that separated them and settled it slightly crooked atop Pierce’s head. “You look ridiculous without one,” was all he said before turning the nearest burner to low and tossing in two fine-chopped onions.

If he’d looked, he might have seen what the rest of the crowd saw: a slightly baffled look across Pierce’s features, lingering as long as it took him to reach up and right the hat, letting his fingers trace the well-worn edge of the brim. “Well,” he finally said, and if some measure of cockiness had ebbed from his voice, well, that could have been anything, “I….” But instead of finishing that sentence, he turned with a knowing smile and walked away; and if no one there actually understood just what had transpired the day that Pierce Jouel walked off wearing Benjy Murchoe’s hat, well, sometimes there were just things in the world beyond the explaining of them, and that was just that.

Recipes from Terlingua

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