by Torino Koji
Alexander had been riding in the back of the truck for a little over an hour, jostling about as it made its way down the dirt road. It had only been dirt for the past few minutes, but that was long enough that Alexander could feel it in his bones, through the padding of his heavy work jacket and the bulky jeans he was wearing. It was all new, unused, starchy and stiff. He’d bought it after the last job, an upgrade from things going threadbare and stained. Now, the only thing that looked like he’d worn them in was the boots — heavy stock boots that were scuffed at the toe and heel, that were creased around the ankles, that had had the laces traded out for something sturdier than when he’d bought them a couple years back. They would serve for at least one more season, and probably another whole year, before he had to start saving up for something new. As the truck made its way down the dirt road, Alexander looked around. He’d never worked in the Dakotas before, but the work was taking him slowly east, and these were the next that he had managed to find a job at.
He wasn’t expecting much. Traveling work like this tended to work for a season, maybe two, and then it was on to the next. He’d seen the posting when he was back in Montana, and it had taken time to track down a way to get in contact. By the time he got to North Dakota, he thought he’d missed the chance and would need to head on. But, here he was. He’d managed to get a ride the last leg of the way, and was hopeful that there would still be room by the time they parked.
He didn’t know if the lady driving the truck had other reasons to head out to this ranch, or if she just knew the area and had taken pity on a baby-faced twenty-something in fresh clothes and worn in boots. It didn’t matter much either way, looking around at the landscape and considering how the mountains and fields had changed from when he’d started in eastern Washington, made his way south, then northeast, and now was looping back south again. It would be easier, probably, if he just stopped at some point. If he found permanent work. But Alexander could never stay in any one place for very long. It wasn’t in his nature — or in the cards, as he’d rolled through job after job.
The truck turned down another dirt and gravel road, this one with a sign reading Double Bar Cattle and Stud. Alexander twisted a little to get a good look at the ranch sign, checking it against the flier he’d picked up in Montana, and in town, just to be sure that this was the right one. So far, so good.
Another few minutes up this long road, and Alexander saw the long, low outbuildings coming into view. Runouts and lean-tos, and the occasional hide. It was a bigger operation than he was expecting, but at least the familiar sort that he’d been working on for the past several seasons. They continued on, and eventually pulled in front of a lovely, two story house with a wrapping porch.
Alexander tapped the side of the truck bed, a couple easy thumping clangs that he was used to doing when he hitched a ride like this, even as the truck pulled to a stop in front of the house. It was the middle of the day, starting to really warm up, and so Alexander wasn’t surprised that there wasn’t a bevy of activity in front of the house. Everyone was probably out and about on their assignments for the day.
Once the car had stopped, Alexander grabbed his bag and hopped out of the truck. He came up to the drivers side and smiled at the woman who had driven him up, then reached for the wallet in his back pocket.
“Now now, honey,” the woman said, shaking her head. “I know how tight it gets between things. You save your money. I’m happy to help.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“You’re welcome, honey. I hope it works for you.”
Alexander laughed softly. “Me too, ma’am. Thank you again.”
After he stepped back, the woman turned her truck around in the wide drive, and headed back the way she’d come in a little kick up of dust. Alexander stood there a moment more, before shifting his grip on his bag, and heading toward that front door.
There was a small sign, sitting in the screen door, that said Interests to the back with an arrow pointing off to the left. Alexander stared at it for a moment like the words weren’t parsing before shaking his head and heading off in the direction of the arrow. It took him around the porch, down a flight of stairs, and to a double door walk out on the side of the house. One of the doors was propped open, showing the kitchen inside.
He poked his head inside, hoisting his bag up on his shoulder. The kitchen looked empty — but it was also about the size of his childhood home, it seemed, so that might have been an illusion brought on by space. He stepped in, looking around, and spotted someone rummaging around through the cabinets.
The fellow in the cabinets turned around, a cigarette drooping out of his mouth. He was tall, lean, sunburnt across the nose, a sunbleached, tussled dirty blond, dressed in two different shades of denim that managed to accentuate just how tall and lean he was.
“I came about the posting,” Alexander said, his voice lilting up slightly at the end so that it was nearly a question. This young man, who’s face had that ambiguous quality somewhere between 18 and 45 depending on how the light was hitting him, tilted his head slightly as if the question didn’t make any sense. Alexander took the flier out of his pocket and waved it slightly.
“Oh!” the young man said, his cigarette almost falling out of his mouth. He took it out and stuck it behind his ear. “Oh, you’ll be looking to talk to Mister Fitz, then. He’s out and about at the moment.” With an off-kilter, amiable smile, the man approached, holding out his hand. “I’m Elliot. We’ve come at an odd time, haven’t we?”
“Alexander.” He took Elliot’s hand and shook, firm and brisk, before putting both hands and flier back into the pockets of his jacket. Now that they were closer together, Alexander was aware that he had to look up at Elliot, and he wasn’t sure how he liked that very much. Alexander was, for all intents and purposes, a relatively average sized young man, and having to look up meant that Elliot was probably six-five or so. Tall men always made Alexander a little nervous. “Odd time?”
“Well, we’re too late for calving, too early for foaling. We’re extra hands for a few more weeks yet.”
“You’re new here too?”
Elliot smiled that lopsided smile and took the cigarette out from behind his ear to stick in the corner of his mouth again. Alexander wondered if he actually smoked, or just like the cigarette as a prop. Once the cigarette was settled, Elliot simply said, “It’s been a couple weeks. Mister Fitz finds things for me to do.”
Seemingly summoned by the name, an older gentleman — younger than his father but certainly a more mature type than either Alexander or Elliot — stepped into the kitchen from the house itself. This must have been Mister Fitz, a ruddy man graying at the temples and getting a bit of a paunch that stretched the buttons on the lower half of his shirt. He looked like some of the rodeo men that Alexander had known growing up. Hard, but with bright advice and a sharp wit.
“Things for you to do isn’t supposed to include raiding my cabinets,” Mister Fitz said, frowning disapprovingly at Elliot. The young man gave him a sheepish look, grin and all, and stepped toward the open door to head outside. As he passed Alexander, he mouthed Good luck, which Alexander wasn’t sure how to take.
Alone together, Alexander adjusted his bag on his shoulder once more. There was a static silence in the kitchen now.
It took three breaths before Alexander pulled the flier out again and said, “I saw the posting up in Montana. I gave you a call, Mister Fitz —”
Alexander nodded, rattled momentarily, before continuing on. “I gave you a call when I was out there, since I knew I’d be headed this way. If you’ve got a need for an extra set of hands. I’ve done some with horses and cattle.”
Fitz nodded, seemingly distracted about the whole thing, as he moved across the kitchen to the cabinets that Elliot had been going through. He didn’t say anything for several long moments, and Alexander was too aware of his own breathing in that quiet as he waited. He was just about to say something and break the silence when Fitz said, “I had the chance to call those two ranches you mentioned working at when you called. They had glowing recommendations of your work with them. Couldn’t say much of why you’d moved on so quick from either.”
“I tend to stay a season or two,” Alexander said with a shrug.
Fitz gave up whatever he was looking at in the cabinet and turned to face Alexander. His eyes were a brilliant blue set into a deeply creased face, and he stared at Alexander so long that he thought the older man might be looking right into the depths of his soul. He almost started making some excuse — financial burdens of long term staff, desire to see more of the country, habit and ritual — but he carefully kept his mouth closed and let the quiet settle. His mother was always telling him it was better to listen to the quiet instead of filling it.
“I only hire seasonals during hay season,” Fitz said with a shake of his head. “You sign on to a year if you’re coming otherwise. You said you’ve done cattle before?”
“Not much, but some. Out of Utah.”
“My, you do get around, don’t you, boy?” Alexander nodded and hoisted his bag on his shoulder again. Fitz looked him over, frowning for a moment, until his gaze fell on Alexander’s worn-in boots. It wasn’t exactly approval, but it was certainly understanding. “Now, we’re shaping up for the first drive of the year. So you’ll get your place here settled, meet the rest of the boys, and then we’ll head out. I pay after a drive. Don’t you go skipping out on me after a single drive.”
“No sir,” Alexander agreed. When he’d last worked on a cattle ranch, they hadn’t done drives. His stomach fluttered, a little bit, a nervous excitement to not only see it, but be part of it.
“You’ll be in the drags, with Elliot. I like to keep the new boys together as much as possible.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Enough of that,” Fitz said, shaking his head a little bit. He gestured with a thumb toward the stairs he had used to come into the kitchen just a few minutes before, and Alexander was already starting to move as he said, “Go find a bunk upstairs, and then we’ll see about fitting you with a horse.”
Alexander managed to keep contained for the steps directly out of the kitchen, but once he was sure he wasn’t visible, he bounded two at a time. The ground floor was an expansive and open series of sitting rooms and lounges, with a large dining room with two fully set tables. A second flight of stairs led up to a hallway, and several open doors. Alexander poked his head into each room, which housed between two and four beds, until he found one that had a neatly and tightly made bed that looked unoccupied.
As he was setting his bag on the bed, Elliot swung into the room. He had the cigarette tucked behind his ear again, and he smiled at Alexander.
“You made it,” he said, a bright and encouraging tone that lit up his whole face.
Alexander took off his work jacket and slung it on the bed with his bag. “Yeah, seems so. Mister Fitz said I was going to drag with you?”
“Oh, fantastic,” Elliot said, nodding. “How are you with a lasso?”
The first day of the drive came about a week later. In the meantime, Alexander met the rest of the men who were working the drive, who ranged in age from teenagers to men old enough to be his father or more, and experience from nothing at all to years on the range, this one or others. He practiced his lasso, learned the horses, and spoke sparingly with everyone.
They all woke early, before the sun had come up on them, to kit their horses and head out. The drags were going in first, sent out to scout for the herd in the furthest reaches of the range and start working them together. So, Alexander and Elliot got up and headed out.
With every mile traveled, the sun rose with a glorious pink. Alexander breathed in the still-brisk morning air, knowing that it would be sweltering later in the day. The sky was clear, murmurations of birds working themselves up as their horses got closer. He loved these moments, still and quiet.
Elliot stuck to Alexander’s side, quiet for now, casual in the saddle. Alexander kept sneaking him glances, considering him, like just looking could puzzle out all the stories. He wondered, though, if Elliot was doing the same. Although he hadn’t caught Elliot looking at him more than was professionally necessary, he had caught him at it.
Now, Elliot was smoking a cigarette for real. He managed to make it languid, slow, the cigarette drooping out of the left side of his mouth until he had to pluck it with elegant fingers to tap the ash off. Alexander watched the sunrise turn him burnished bronze and statuesque. He couldn’t quite stop looking at him, until the sun finally, fully crested and he had to turn his face away or be blinded.
“You do a lot of camping before you became a wandering ranch hand?”
Alexander almost flinched at the question, but that might have let on that he was having some sort of reaction. He shifted in his saddle instead, leaning back slightly and shifting how he was holding the reins against the horn. Talking about himself invited a lot of questions, generally speaking, and he tried to avoid that. But Elliot had been kind so far, and Alexander felt himself considering that the kindness might be worth a bit of a lesson in himself.
“A bit,” he said. “My granddad would take me out. We’d fish and hunt a bit.”
“A hunting man, is it? I wouldn’t have expected.”
“I know my way around a rifle.”
Elliot laughed, as if that was funny. Alexander hadn’t meant it funny, but he found himself smiling just a little bit, the laugh infectious. The both of them lapsed into quiet for a bit, the noise of the world around them filling the space instead of words.
After some time, which might have been twenty minutes or two hours, in that liminal, slow sunrise time of early morning, Alexander asked Elliot, “What about you? You’re new here too. Where are you rolling in from?”
“El Paso,” Elliot said. He stamped out the last bit of his cigarette on his saddle horn and tucked the butt into a pouch on his belt. “We were never cow folk or anything like that, but I had a lot of friends, family friends, that I could work on their ranches growing up.”
“City boy,” Alexander said, nodding sagely.
Elliot swatted him with the end of his reins. His horse snorted, shaking her head. “Not either. You take that back.”
“You named a city, Elliot. That’s city boy talk.”
The rest of their travel across the range was much like this. Long swaths of quiet as they traversed the rolling landscape, a few words exchanged here and there, occasional pauses to consult their map and make sure they were headed in the right direction. As first out, they were meant to reach the herd well in advance of the others, and that meant going until they and their horses simply couldn’t any longer. But it was a mostly ambling walk, the horses well treated. The sun rose, until it was high overhead and the day as sweltering as Alexander predicted. The sky stayed bright and blue, until a low rumble of thunder in the distance let on how the weather might turn from the heat; it wasn’t near them. Eventually, the sky started to go lumber towards the first hints of later evening.
Elliot found a slight embankment that would make a backdrop of their tents and keep any wind from affecting a small fire. As Alexander set up the tents from both their kits, Elliot got that fire going and started a tin of stew. When Alexander joined him, Elliot held out a flask.
Alexander waved it off. Elliot lifted a brow slightly. “You a teetotaler?”
“No, I just don’t drink while I’m working.”
Elliot shrugged at that one. Alexander didn’t hold it against him. They’d been traveling all day, it was hard work, and this was the first Alexander had seen of the flask, so it was probably alright.
The rest of the evening was brief, uneventful, and went by rather quickly. By the time night came, they and the horses had both been fed, so it was easy enough to put out the fire and crawl into their respective tents. Even after all that, Alexander lay there quietly, listening to the night sounds around them. It was a calming sort of thing, the growing shrill of crickets in the grass and a distant band of coyotes howling under the moonlight. Alexander felt like he was built mostly for this, curled in his sleeping bag with his head pillowed on his pack.
In the next tent, there was a bit of shuffling going on. For several minutes, Alexander could tune it out. Elliot was adjusting, getting comfortable, or maybe was just a restless sleeper. But then, the next time he tuned into the sound from the next tent, there was something decidedly rhythmic about it. Not a subtle shift on the hard ground. Instead, there was breathing, and a reedy pulse of clothing shifting around.
Alexander’s face went hot. He lay there, perfectly still, wondering if Elliot knew that he could hear him. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he did and he just didn’t care. That flask was sounding mighty tempting in that moment, something that would have numbed the edges and made him ignore this repetitive noise.
He tried to tune it out, but now that he was aware of it, he couldn’t do anything but listen. Elliot’s breathing was low and heavy, not quite rushed but definitely strained. Alexander closed his eyes and listened to his breathing and the shifting rhythm that suggested hand on flesh. He thought of Elliot’s height and his broad shoulders and his easy smile with the cigarette drooping in his mouth. He thought of Elliot helping him tie and practice with the lasso. He thought of every lingering glance he’d taken.
His own hand slid down to the front of his jeans, and he pressed the seam between his thighs, giving himself a little friction as he rolled his hips. Heat pooled in his belly. The separation of the tents was a blessing, for sure, especially as he opened his jeans and slid his hand inside.
Elliot’s breathing was starting to pick up, and Alexander could imagine how he might look as his pleasure mounted. He let his mind and fingers wander, finding the wet gash between his thighs and rubbing as he listened to Elliot’s rhythm and tried to match it. A brief, filthy fantasy as they slept in their tents was nothing to be ashamed of. He could imagine Elliot’s hands on his shoulders, could imagine that rhythm. Would Elliot have a filthy mouth? Would he be a kind lover?
It didn’t matter what the reality was. Alexander would never act on this. But it was fun to make Elliot out to be the perfect fantasy.
With every increasing breath and shift from the other tent, Alexander did his best to match. He rubbed his clit, teasing just along the sides, before sliding his fingers further down to press selfishly inside himself. It was harder to keep quiet when he did that, but he managed it, lifting his other arm and biting into his coat sleeve.
He was behind Elliot — as if this were a shared experience — but his eagerness quickly overtook him. With his sleeve in his mouth, it was easy to contain a little whimper. Alexander didn’t hear if Elliot got off after he did. The euphoria overtook him, and he was asleep within moments.
When he rose the next morning, he made coffee and didn’t say a word when Elliot slid out of his tent to break both down and get them ready for another long day.
This repeated that next night, and the night after, when they were finally close enough to the herd that they were more able to easily track them. The days were full of casual, broken banter, and the nights were set up, meals, and then two layers of canvas between them as their bodies returned to baser instincts. Alexander wanted to ask if there was someone waiting for Elliot somewhere, but whenever they lapsed into quiet, he couldn’t think of the words.
On the fourth night, they came to the waystation. Mister Fitz had told them they would, and Alexander was grateful for it, because there was an outdoor shower and a view into the valley where the herd was currently grazing. They would stay here until the rest of the drive showed up, about a day and a half or two days behind them. In the meantime, maintenance and care for their horses, and themselves, was the order of the next couple of days.
When Alexander stepped inside the waystation, he felt his stomach drop. It was a lovely little cabin, with a kitchen made up of a pump-sink and a wood stove and small living space, and a ladder up to a loft. There was one bed, and two chairs, and nothing much of note.
Their nightly ritual would be over.
“I’m going to shower,” Alexander blurted, as soon as Elliot set foot into the cabin. Elliot paused looking around and glanced at Alexander, but he was already bolting back out the door.
The water was cold, but that was probably for the best. He scrubbed himself down, getting horse and travel stink out of his skin and hair, and then taking off another layer just for good measure. Then he stood there until the reservoir ran out and he had to dry off and put his clothes back on. For several more minutes after he was finished, Alexander stayed outside. He refilled the reservoir in case Elliot wanted a shower as well, groomed both horses and fed them, watched the cattle down in the valley, and wished he had a vice to indulge in.
Close to dusk, Elliot joined Alexander looking down into the valley. He was quiet for a while. Eventually, as he pulled out one of his ubiquitous cigarettes, he offered the pack to Alexander.
Alexander did not smoke, but he took a cigarette to have something to do with his hands. Elliot didn’t bother him about not lighting it.
“Yeah,” Alexander said, dismissive, scoffing. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well,” Elliot said, a low groan as he sprawled on the ground and supported himself on his elbows. “You took one look in that cabin and about shit a brick, so I figure either you’re nervous about being alone with you or you hate sharing space. Which would also explain why we’ve been keeping it to two tents, I guess.”
Alexander’s heart thundered in his ears. Elliot didn’t look at him. Neither of them spoke for such a protracted period that Alexander felt the sunlight shift around them, until the horizon was full of oranges and pinks and deep, velvety purples.
“Do I make you nervous, Alexander?” Now, they looked at each other. Or, rather, Alexander looked over and found that Elliot was watching him, the ember of his cigarette flashing in his eyes when he inhaled. Alexander’s whole stomach flipped. There was no one for a hundred miles or more, just the two of them until the rest of the drive got here, and suddenly, Alexander was very nervous.
“So you hate sharing space, then,” Elliot concluded, a thoughtful tilt to his head. Alexander was grateful for the growing dusk, which he hoped hid the flush on his cheeks. “I can camp out, if that’ll make it better.”
“That — no, that’s not…” The words fumbled into nothing. Alexander stared at Elliot, and Elliot stared back, before shifting he arm a little closer to Alexander, until his fingers could touch Alexander’s leg.
“I can sleep in one of the chairs. Or on the floor.”
“I’m not putting you out.”
Elliot was still looking, head tilted, as he asked again, “Do I make you nervous?”
The smell of cigarette smoke here, and wood smoke from the cabin, made Alexander feel strangely hazy. They were talking around each other, not asking the right questions. After a moment, Alexander shook his head. “It’s not what you think,” he said softly. Elliot stayed where he was for a moment, then slowly twisted so that he was facing Alexander better. They were here, alone, for two days. Was it possible to keep the space between them in this small space? No, Elliot didn’t make him nervous — but the flutter in his stomach did. His voice broke, breathlessly. “I’m not what you think.”
Elliot didn’t say a thing about that. They both kept sitting there as the dusk turned slowly into dark, and then, as the last of the light started to fade into that comforting, deep indigo, Elliot said, “I’ll finish up dinner.”
Alexander watched him get up from the ground. He was a minute or so behind, steeling himself for some inevitable awkwardness or complication when he got inside the cabin. But there was nothing but the light in the fire and a couple of oil lamps set up, giving the small space a comforting, warm glow.
So, they didn’t talk about it. Not even in oblique, roundabout ways. They sat and ate, a much more pleasantly warmed can of stew than the ones camping had been, and when they’d finished, Alexander washed the bowls and pot in the pump sink while Elliot puttered around like he was avoiding going into the loft. Eventually, the exhaustion seemed to get the better of both of them. Elliot headed up the ladder and Alexander was shortly behind, yawning a little as he went.
He wasn’t sure what he was expecting. Elliot sitting on the far side of the bed, stripped down to his t-shirt and boxers, wasn’t quite at the top of the list, but it wasn’t unpleasant. He glanced at Alexander, and then turned away again, grabbing his jacket from the end of the bed and pulling a small book out of the pocket while Alexander turned his back and, with a low, grounding breath, stripped down in a similar fashion.
For a moment, after he’d dropped his clothes, Alexander stayed standing there. He was trying to mentally navigate getting into bed without letting Elliot see him from any other angles. But when he turned, Elliot seemed engrossed in his book. Gingerly, Alexander climbed into bed, pulling the blanket up to his chin and laying perfectly still.
His body was already warming up. A few days of their silly separation and, it seemed, listening to each other in their respective tents, and his body seemed to think that the same thing was going to happen tonight. No, that was impossible. Not tonight, or any night between now and the next time they were sent out ahead of the rest of the drive. Maybe even then. Tonight would be the first night of retraining himself.
But even telling himself that didn’t do anything. He lay there and Elliot read, and the night got dark around the cabin. It was the latest they’d stayed up in all their travel, but they didn’t need an early move on in the morning. The horses were content outside, and they were safe and warm in a real, if slightly old, bed.
Elliot snuffed the oil lamp on the wall above his head. The one of their little table down the ladder continued to give off a low orange glow and the soft smell of burning paraffin. Alexander listened to Elliot shift and settle, getting comfortable under their shared blanket. Their feet touched, which seemed ridiculous when they were such different heights. It seemed ridiculous that such a silly thing would make Alexander’s stomach roil with renewed desire.
“Go to sleep,” Alexander said, low and soft.
The bed groaned as Elliot shifted. There was a stillness broken only by breathing. Then, Elliot’s hand touched Alexander’s cheek. He was slow and gentle, and seemed to know exactly how callused his hands might feel on a smooth cheek.
Alexander turned without protest.
When their lips met, Alexander was surprised at the rasp of Elliot’s stubble. He didn’t think he’d ever noticed Elliot shave, but maybe he just hadn’t been paying attention to such a mundane part of morning activities. Now, as a gentle, chaste kiss slowly gave in to a desire that had been brewing not just over these days on the range but for the week of preparation beforehand — at least on Alexander’s half — he felt the friction against his chin and mouth, and realized that some of not noticing his beard was Elliot’s general fairness, no doubt.
Neither of them moved. They lay there, facing each other, letting the desire that had been slowly brewing spill out like this. Eventually, the kisses broke to a tender, lingering touch, and then, after that wound down, they fell asleep.
In the morning, they woke up entangled. Alexander unwound himself from Elliot’s loose embrace before either of them could do something they might regret, and then went down to start making breakfast. He didn’t bother to dress more than putting on his jeans and boots, and he listened for when Elliot came down. Elliot lingered, for a moment, grabbing a cup of coffee before heading out of the cabin without a word.
There was a comfort in that. No questions. No discussion of those kisses. Alexander could feel the beard burn on his chin and cheeks still. He finished the porridge and left the lid on it, then headed out the door as well to join Elliot.
Elliot was standing on the edge of their little bit of field, overlooking the valley below. He sipped his coffee. Alexander sank down into the grass and breathed in the still light air. A moment later, Elliot’s fingers were tangled in his hair. Brief, familiar, and exciting.
“Food’s on the stove,” Alexander said softly. He didn’t look up.
“We should get a headstart on the cattle after breakfast.”
They did just that. Back in the cabin, they ate a quick breakfast, and then they headed down into the valley. The cattle were largely unbothered by them on foot, so they stuck to that once they were down there. They spent the daylight hours moving among the herd, checking on calves that had come out on the range, and others that had been born late out here as well. There would be a more formalized count and check when the rest showed up, but for their first day there, it was good work to make sure that things went smoothly.
As the day went toward late afternoon, they headed back up out of the valley to the cabin. While Alexander tended the horses, Elliot took a shower. Alexander was just preparing to head back into the cabin and start a new pot of coffee when Elliot walked boldly over to the cabin, his jeans barely pulled on, his chest broad and slim, and his body damp from the water. It was the sort of display that made Alexander smile lopsidedly, a little overwhelmed at the sight of him — especially when Elliot caught him looking and winked.
The coffee was forgotten. Alexander went into the cabin after Elliot and didn’t even bother going up the ladder. He caught Elliot by one damp wrist and pulled him around, leaning up onto his toes to kiss him.
They tumbled into one of the chairs together. It wasn’t built for that sort of thing, but they were eager and distracted, and it was easy for Alexander to fold himself against Elliot’s half-dressed, damp body. He forgot everything for a moment, enraptured by the feeling of their mouths against each other, and Elliot’s shoulders under his hands, and Elliot’s hands on his waist, under his shirt—
Under his shirt.
“Wait,” Alexander gasped against their eager kisses. Elliot stopped immediately, but it was too late. His hand had slid up, and his thumb and forefinger were cupped just under the swell of Alexander’s breast. They looked at each other, close, just a breath between their noses. “I’m sorry, I—”
“Don’t apologize,” Elliot whispered. He stayed where he was, that hand still bold under Alexander’s shirt. “Can I keep kissing you, Alexander?”
Alexander was still a moment, quiet, and then shook his head. Elliot slipped his hand out from under Alexander’s shirt without question, and gently nudged their noses together.
“At your speed, captain.”
The heat of the moment lingered for the rest of the afternoon. Alexander did his very best to dismiss it, to shove it down, to ignore the way his skin itched for more of Elliot’s touch. Even after Elliot put his shirt on and went about making dinner, Alexander was just thinking about it the whole time. Why had he stopped him? There had been no anger, no twisted curiosity, no questions or demands. Just that hand gently cupping him and a question about kissing. Was it as simple as that? Alexander had entertained a handful of other men, but he tried to avoid it where he worked, where he would have to be around the person for a while. But here it was. Alexander didn’t think this would amount to much of anything once they were around others — it couldn’t. But while they had a night left, he could indulge a step further than a few kisses and their eager passions separated by their tent walls.
After dinner, Alexander went straight up. He left Elliot to clean up this time. Beside the bed, he stood there a moment, and then stripped off every stitch of clothing before climbing under the blanket and waiting.
When Elliot did come up, having banked the oven and turned down the oil lamp on the table, Alexander sat up. The blanket pooled around him, the oil lamp on the wall casting warm light across his broad shoulders and small breasts. Elliot wasn’t even all the way up the stairs. He stayed there a moment, just looking, before continuing up.
“I can put my shirt back on if that’s better.”
“Please don’t.” Elliot smiled a little and came all the way up into the loft. He came around, turning off the oil lamp, and plunging them into that deep shadow. Alexander felt himself relax. He heard the shuffle of clothing, and felt Elliot get into bed. When he reached for him, he found Elliot still in his t-shirt, and his boxers, and he started to make a noise of protest. Elliot kissed him to cut it off.
After quite a few kisses, Alexander felt Elliot’s hands begin to wander. It was an exploration, not of an unfamiliar body, but certainly a new one. The certainty in Elliot’s touch spoke of experience. Alexander wondered if it was with girls, or boys, or both. He wasn’t sure if one or the other was a better answer.
It didn’t matter, he realized. A minute or two of exploration turned into gentle ministrations. A hand on his chest, rubbing and plucking at the nipple until Alexander was gasping through their kisses, and the other sliding down, under the blanket.
“Get under here with me,” Alexander panted against the kiss. Elliot didn’t offer a single protest to the idea.
As they fit against each other, Alexander found Elliot wearing not just his shirt but his boxers as well. He slid a hand along Elliot’s chest, and gasped as Elliot scraped his bottom lip with his teeth.
“Let me take care of you,” Elliot murmured, soothing the small bite with more kisses. Alexander shivered, his desire hitching up quickly at those simple words. Let me take care of you. He didn’t think anyone he’d ever been with had cared about whether or not he was taken care of. And Elliot seemed very fixated on keeping the focus.
Alexander leaned back onto his elbows, exposing himself to Elliot’s attention. The heavy shadows felt warmer and more comfortable tonight, as Elliot kissed him and kept playing with his nipple. He didn’t normally think of himself as being particularly sensitive there, but Elliot was persistent and deft, and before too long Alexander was panting softly, arching toward the touch intently. Even as Alexander’s gasping breath started to hitch up, Elliot persisted.
Could someone come from just that? Elliot seemed intent on finding out if Alexander could.
It wasn’t just that, though. Elliot’s kisses drifted, moving down Alexander’s jaw, across his shoulder, down his arm. He paused at Alexander’s wrist, kissing against his pulse for a moment, before cutting across to Alexander’s stomach. The implication hitched in his chest. Elliot pulled the blanket down and paused again, lingering against the soft skin of Alexander’s stomach.
“Don’t stop,” Alexander whispered. His voice flickered like the oil lamp.
Elliot didn’t stop. With that droplet of permission, he shifted between Alexander’s thighs. His hand was still busy, pinching and plucking, but now his mouth joined in with that intention. Let me take care of you. Alexander let out a noise that could only be called a whimper, his thighs falling further open so that Elliot’s shoulders and head could fit comfortably. It was another curious moment, wondering if Elliot had a lot of experience with this sort of thing. Did it matter? Not really. But it made his heart thunder behind his ribcage and rush in his ears. It was a blessing that they were alone. The more that Elliot’s tongue and fingers worked against him, two points of delicious, lustful contact, the louder Alexander became.
The first tip was shortly after Elliot started licking and sucking at him. A grand, blossoming crescendo had his thighs squeezing gently inward. He sank into the pillows and tried to catch his breath, distracted by his own pleasure for a moment before he noticed that Elliot wasn’t stopping.
He had given up pinching and squeezing and exploiting his nipple, but just so that he could cup both hands on Alexander’s hips, holding him gently as he picked up the pace and attention of his mouth on Alexander’s cunt.
“Elliot—” Elliot paused, pulling away and looking up Alexander’s body. The sudden cessation made Alexander swear under his breath. He heard Elliot chuckle. “Wh…why’d you stop?”
“You seemed to want my attention,” Elliot said. His thumbs rubbed distracted circles against Alexander’s hips. “Do you want me to keep going?”
Alexander knew he shouldn’t like that as much as he did. But the words sank heavily into his stomach, and when Elliot went back to what he’d been doing a moment before, it was much more intense, given the moment to catch his breath.
Elliot was a steady lover, intent and intense, focused on all the little ways that Alexander moved to show his pleasure. He was persistent, too. Alexander had to stop him for a moment every time he came and Elliot just kept going. But he let him go again, every time, this low overstimulation burning across every inch of his skin until it was almost too much to bear.
And Elliot never asked for anything else. He never asked if Alexander wanted more than his mouth and the suggestion of his fingers. Even those never did more than a sliding investigation, a tease of a touch more than anything else. Alexander wondered, but didn’t ask, if Elliot wanted more. He didn’t ask for it from Alexander, and Alexander was too wrapped up in the feeling of it all to do anything more than accept every ounce of this attention he hadn’t realized he so wanted and needed.
It felt like ages. It felt like he had ascended into the heavens. He reached down and grabbed Elliot by the hair, and he paused, as he had every other time that Alexander had needed a break. This time, Alexander hissed softly. He was so sensitive he thought he might come apart, and he mumbled as such. Elliot laughed, smiling, and kissed his stomach.
“Thank you,” he murmured against the skin there. Alexander smoothed his fingers through Elliot’s hair, coaxing him up the bed so that Alexander could curl against him, a boldness borne from this drawn out pleasure.
Elliot didn’t protest. He wrapped his arms around Alexander and kissed the top of his head. This close, Alexander could smell the musk of his pleasure clinging to Elliot’s skin. He blushed slightly, burying his face against Elliot’s chest and ignoring the vibration of Elliot’s chuckle.
Sleep came so suddenly and totally that Alexander felt almost hungover when he woke in the morning. The thin light of early morning was starting to make an appearance into the cabin, and Alexander was still curled against Elliot’s body, wrapped in his arms, held comfortably. He watched him sleep for a moment, the slack expression and the way his eyes moved in sleep.
Alexander lifted a hand and brushed his knuckles against Elliot’s cheek. If they hadn’t had such a long, passionate night before this, he might have flinched when Elliot shifted. Instead, he carded his fingers into his hair, and leaned in to kiss the corner of his mouth.
“Morning,” Elliot murmured, sleepy and thick, without opening his eyes. Alexander kissed him more directly on the mouth.
If this was the last chance he got, he ought to take it. The rest of the drive would be arriving some time today, and there would be no more shared moments on the way back, or maybe ever again. Alexander could hope for it all he wanted, but it was better to grab the bull by the horns, wasn’t it? To let himself be bold and ask for what he wanted.
He shifted. The narrow bed groaned softly as he climbed on top of Elliot’s body, fitting himself against him and kissing his throat as he shuffled and squirmed until he could feel the natural reaction growing in Elliot’s boxers.
Elliot brought a hand down and cupped Alexander by the hip. “You keep doing that and I might…”
“That’s the idea,” Alexander said softly. He reached down between them and rubbed Elliot through the thin cotton of his boxers. He was as big here as you might expect, a warm weight that eagerly strained toward his touch. Elliot groaned softly.
“I don’t have a condom.”
That was something to consider. But Alexander’s body was already eager and reactive, and suddenly, he didn’t care about something like that. He stroked Elliot, slowly drawing him out of his boxers.
When Alexander looked at Elliot’s face next, he found Elliot watching him with heavy, dark eyes. The want there was magnetic and beautiful. Alexander ground against Elliot, letting him feel the quick and steady reaction of his body. A rumbling groan shifted out of Elliot as he ground back, the suggestion of something more than just this teenager-like fooling around living in the way that his cock caught against Alexander and almost slipped in.
“Do you want to?” Alexander whispered, sitting up with his hands on Elliot’s chest.
Elliot followed him, sitting up, wrapping his arms around Alexander. It was as much of an answer as anything might have been, especially as their entanglement drove Elliot into Alexander.
His back bowed, pleasure ripping through him immediately. Elliot slipped in and Alexander shoved down until he was almost too deep. The ache of it reminded him of all the pleasure of last night, and more than that, reminded him how long it had been since he’d done something like this.
They breathed. Their arms wound around each other’s bodies, Alexander clinging to Elliot’s shoulders and Elliot wrapping his arms around Alexander’s waist. The first movements were slow, careful, testing. They adjusted as they needed to, found the right spaces for their bodies to fit together, and built as passion and the slow, thin light of morning grew. The scattered blankets around them made a snowfield of cotton that whispered with every movement, the bedframe groaning softly as they moved.
For now, the world fell away. There were no cattle in the valley. There were no other ranch hands headed this way. There was Elliot’s soft, still sleepy expression and the feeling of their bodies finding peace in the carnal knot. Alexander couldn’t even consider anything beyond this. If it was all he would have, he wanted to imprint it entirely into his mind.
Neither of them spoke. It was quiet, heavy breathing, the shuffle of the blankets, the groan of the bed, and the steady, rhythmic noise of their bodies connecting. As the speed of their bodies increased, Elliot shifted a hand slightly, coming to Alexander’s stomach. He splayed his fingers across the soft skin and shifted down slightly so that his thumb could rub against Alexander’s clit.
“Fuck,” he hissed, closing his eyes as the pleasure spiked in him. Could Elliot feel how deep he was inside him, the filthy connection that was almost too much? No one had ever done this for him before. The care of last night, the intimate proximity of this, and Elliot’s continual willingness to touch him.
Time meant nothing at the moment. Their passion was their soul focus, even as the cabin lightened around them, the gray of pre-dawn turning into the pink and yellow glow of sunrise. Alexander leaned in, pressing his forehead to Elliot’s as they moved together. Elliot never quite stopped moving, his thighs flexing so he could keep up the pace of his thrusts, his thumb busy to get Alexander off.
As the wave of pleasure turned into a desperate crescendo, Alexander clung to Elliot, kissed him, breathed curse words and praises into his mouth. Elliot responded in kind, a horde of filthy praise that made Alexander flush with desire and shock.
“I know,” Elliot whispered. He shifted a little, so that he could tuck his knees underneath him and support Alexander as he thrust harder, faster.
Alexander cried out, his nails catching against Elliot’s shoulders as the desperate edges of his pleasure frayed into a thousand pieces. It was even more intense than it had been last night, his vision going fuzzy at the edges, his hands shaking and briefly numb as the first wave of his orgasm dulled to the bright euphoria of Elliot taking the pleasure that he had denied himself the night before.
As he relaxed, Elliot spread him out in the bed. He didn’t stop moving. Alexander hoisted his knees up, catching one and wrapping the other leg around Elliot’s ribs as he kept moving.
“Don’t stop,” he whispered, voice raspy and desperate.
Elliot nodded, his expression rife and focused. “Where…Alex…?”
The question didn’t parse for a second. Alexander tried to unfurl it into some meaning. Elliot kept moving, the thrusts growing more unsteady and desperate with every panting breath. Finally, it clicked. No condom. Elliot deep inside him, asking where.
“Out,” he finally managed to squeak, pleasure tight in his throat. He didn’t want it out. He wanted that filthy potential pumped deep inside of him. But there was too much risk.
Elliot kissed his cheeks, pressed their foreheads together, and managed two more deep, possessive thrusts before he pulled out. The stripes of come painted across Alexander’s stomach, a pearly mess as they both shook and breathed in the other’s space.
Eventually, Elliot collapsed next to Alexander on the bed. They were facing the complete opposite way of how they’d gone to sleep, feet up by the pillows, and everything was in disarray. They needed to get up. Wash themselves, clean the cabin, get ready for the others to arrive. The impending reality grew like a stack of stones in Alexander, and he tried to ignore the edges of unusual sadness that accompanied it.
When Alexander looked at Elliot, he found Elliot looking back at him. There seemed to be a similar sort of realization on his face, the fact that they had to hide what they’d just done in the back of their minds. As they looked at each other, Alexander realized that he didn’t want to hide it. He wasn’t about to go hollering about it from any rooftops, but he’d hardly be the first man to find the company of his fellow ranch hand a comfort.
A little smile started to curl up Elliot’s face. Instead of some conversation about whatever had just been mutually, yet independently, agreed upon, Elliot said, “I’ll wash the sheets if you get the coffee going. We should be spick and span before the others show up.”
“I’m sure we can manage it,” Alexander said with a smile and a nod. He rose from the bed and stretched, disregarding his nakedness. Elliot was staring at him when he looked back at him. “Well, I can manage it. You need to behave yourself.”
“Do I get a treat if I do?”
Elliot nodded and rose from the bed. Before Alexander moved to the ladder, Elliot caught him. He held him close, leaning down to kiss him sweetly.
Maybe Alexander would stick this one out, if Elliot did.