Alan sat on the camp stool, waiting for Billy to return with the fax they’d been waiting for. He looked around the dig site, bare but for the commissary tent, the equipment tent, and the small trailer he shared with Billy, which he’d finally broken down and purchased a couple years ago when his body started protesting the hard ground and the nearly-as-hard cots.
The months when it was just him and Billy, and the one or two part-time workers they could afford, should have seemed lonely after the crush of students, and the inevitable noise and chaos they brought with them, but it never did. In fact, as the years passed them by, Alan found himself more and more looking forward to this time, and dreading the end of it.
Billy returned and handed the sheet of paper to Alan.
“Well?” Alan asked as he shifted on the old stool, padding worn thin with age, taking the paper but ignoring the content, relying instead on Billy’s assessment.
“Looks like a good bunch,” Billy said as he settled himself on the hard packed dirt at Alan’s feet, one knee pulled up and hugged to his chest, his shoulder nearly touching Alan’s leg.
Alan glanced at the canvas chair sat a few feet away, then down at Billy’s head. After years in the Montana heat, he wore his hair shorter. Alan reached out and laid his hand on Billy’s head, dragged it down to Billy’s nape, let it rest there.
“Why do you stay here?” Alan asked.
“Because this is where I want to be,” came Billy’s immediate reply, his gaze still focused on something off in the distance.
“You’ve earned your doctorate, you’ve published in several journals, you’re in demand for lectures across the country. You could be teaching, at the very least working on a dig that gets more funding, certainly pays more.”
The corners of Billy’s lips curled up. “Perhaps.”
Alan stroked his thumb along the muscles of Billy’s neck, and Billy leaned into the touch. “Why?” he asked.
Billy turned his head just enough to look at Alan without dislodging his hand. “You know why.”
Alan did know, had known for quite some time, though he’d been too cowardly to do anything about it. “I’m holding you back,” he protested.
Billy laughed. “I write journal articles and I give lectures, and then I come back here and do the thing I love most, with the one person I care about most in the world. You’ve made all this possible, how could you possibly think you’re holding me back?”
“And if nothing ever changes,” Alan said, “if this is all there ever is, will it still be enough?”
“Yes,” Billy answered with no hesitation.
Alan studied Billy’s face, Billy’s beautiful face, the same face that had looked back at him over untold cups of coffee and lists of students’ names and shared meals and wondrous discoveries. The same face he’d woken up to for nearly a decade. Through thick and thin and even thinner, Billy had been there, the one constant in Alan’s life.
The most important thing in his life, were he to admit the truth.
Billy was an adult, had been an adult for most of the years Alan had known him, really, and still he was here, despite Alan’s grumpiness, whether from lack of coffee or lack of funding, despite the years Alan had kept him at arm’s length, expecting him to one day fly the nest. Instead he’d taken the nest and made it his own.
Alan squeezed the back of Billy’s neck. “Come here.”
“What?” Billy asked, even as he went to one knee, moved closer to Alan.
“I want to kiss you.”
“Oh.” Billy’s eyes dropped to Alan’s lips.
“But you’d stay anyway, even if I didn’t.”
Billy lifted his eyes to Alan’s. “Yes.” They stayed locked in that moment, until Billy said, “Alan, please don’t be cruel.”
“I’m sorry,” Alan said, then cupped Billy’s face in both hands and leaned in. “I’m sorry I made you wait.”
“I’m just glad you’re going to kiss me now,” Billy said. “I mean, you are, right?”
Alan chuckled. “Yes,” he said, and then he did just that.
Billy let Alan kiss him, as if he was savoring the moment, and then he moaned and kissed Alan back. He braced both hands on Alan’s knees, then slid them along the outsides of Alan’s legs as he moved closer. His fingers flexed on Alan’s thighs, his hips, as the kiss quickly moved from tentative exploration to desperate hunger.
Billy slid one hand up Alan’s back and clung to his shoulder. Alan’s hat fell off during one particularly energetic exchange as Billy attempted to climb into his lap, and Alan couldn’t bring himself to care if it blew away and was never found again.
When they finally broke for air, Alan took in Billy’s wet and swollen lips, eyes gone dark with passion, and instead of having banked the fire of want and need that burned deep in his belly, he discovered that their first kiss had merely fed it. He dragged Billy back in, kissed him hard on the lips, then clutched him close, as if now he’d given in, Billy might be snatched away from him.
“Ah, Billy,” he whispered against the side of Billy’s face as Billy clung just as tightly to him. They held each other as they let the fire burn down to a manageable level.
“Why now?” Billy asked.
“About time, don’t you think?”
Billy’s smile was his only answer before he gave Alan a kiss that fueled the fire once more.