Twinkle, Twinkle, Chilli-fry
Rook tries to be a good girlfriend. She tries. And that’s the main thing.
Will I ever think up a less lame title? Probably not.
(See the end of the work for more notes.)
Rook does not hate her brain, exactly. But it frightens her at how easily she can seem to lose it when Bennie gives her a wry grin from behind her seatbelt and, within seconds, wriggles her way free and into Rook's lap. For that is when all coherent thought seems to slip away, out into a bubbling warmth that rises up to engulf her like noise. And it does not help that Bennie likes to put her hands on her face and gently rub at the fur there, making the noise louder and rise up like a purr.
Not that Rook purrs, of course. She is after all, only cat-like.
But perhaps a part of her fears losing her mind entirely. Because during one of these sessions, as though without her consent, her mouth falls open and a question pops out.
‘Bennie, what is a femme?’
Bennie pulls back instantly, the languid, half-shuttered expression on her face quickly fading away into one of easy affront.
‘What?’ she asks, looking incredibly confused and a little off guard, Rook tenses slightly as her partner’s hands fall away from her face. A second later, they drop down on her shoulders and while the touch is admittedly nicer than nothing, it still does not triumph over the previous skin-on-fur contact.
‘I heard a Plumber use the term, back at the base,’ she explains. ‘And I confess, I found myself curious...’
She hesitates, feeling the urge to run her tongue over her fangs. For some reason, she hasn’t felt this nervous since she was young enough to still be bothered by the absence of her bi'nthak; even now, she shudders to remember those few stumbling months afterwards and how unsteady she was on her feet, especially at the sight of Rayona’s face. The curl of her lips could magically cause the weight of her stomach to escape the ground, and while she has had similar moments with Bennie, the frown presently placed on the human’s face sets her nerves jangling in a much more unpleasant fashion. ‘Of course, you can always explain later,’ she adds hopefully. ‘We do not have to do this now.’
She leans forward slightly, knowing from experience that Bennie does not usually need much incentive to get back into the swing of things. So it is with a sinking stomach, one that this time feels all too firmly attached to the ground, that she stops, halted by a single human palm on her chest.
‘No,’ Bennie says firmly, her eyes tracking Rook’s expression with something approaching wariness. ‘When you get ‘curious’ about a word, you always ask about it immediately. You don’t wait until you’re in the middle of making out with someone – namely me - to ask.’ Then her eyes briefly flit to the side before she makes a face. ‘Actually scratch that. You’re awkward enough for your sense of timing to suck even more than mine does. Asking about...that, when we’re in the middle of this-’ she waves a free hand between the two of them -‘is totally something you would do.’
Rook refrains from asking what she is supposed to scratch. Instead she carefully twists Bennie’s restraining hand from her chest, landing a kiss onto its side as she brings it to her mouth. But Bennie growls and closes it into a fist, tugging half-heartedly even as Rock’s tongue flicks out, just enough to wet the wrinkled hollow between the closed gap of finger and thumb.
‘ewww, gross! No licking!’
‘You always say that,’ Rook mutters, letting go with a sheepish smile. ‘And yet you never protest as much as you could have.’
Bennie scowls and flicks her fingers, sniggering as a few drops of salvia land near Rook’s eye. ‘Oh no, don’t think you’ve distracted me. Why are you so interested all of a sudden? Just what sort of conversations have you been having with other Plumbers, huh?’
Bennie’s eyes narrow. ‘You were talking about me, weren’t you?’
‘I...’ Rook’s head drops, defeated. ‘Yes. We were.’
‘Seriously,’ Bennie complains, wiggling slightly so she can lean back to cross her arms, not caring in the slightest when Rook shifts uncomfortably beneath her. ‘Not cool. It’s bad enough that you chat to my cousin about us. But did you really have to talk about us at work, too? Isn’t that like, unprofessional, or something?’
‘People talk, Bennie.’ Rook looks at her stoutly. ‘It was in the coffee room and Maria-‘
‘Wait, Maria, the new Wildvine broad? As in, Maria the flowering Florauna?’
‘They are still buds, not flowers’ says Rook firmly, determined not to be interrupted. ‘Especially since they have not yet reached full maturity, but that is no-‘
‘Yeah, but they’re gonna be flowers, right? I wonder what kind of colour. Heh.’
Rook sighs, rolls her eyes, and waits for Bennie’s cackling to die down. Almost sternly, she lets one of her fingers glide up a nearby thigh, allowing its weight to smooth out the creases in the clothing and Bennie flinches, her laugh transforming into a yelp as her hand reaches down to clench onto Rook’s wandering one.
‘Dude,’ she says between gritted teeth. ‘Not cool.’
‘Then let me finish my story.’
Bennie sighs, releasing her hand. ‘Fine, fine.’
‘As I was saying, Maria was discussing the varied sexual exploits of a friend of hers and she asked me whether I was fully satisfied dating a ‘femme’ Unfortunately, before she could explain further, the alarm went off.’
Bennie stares at her. Then her chest puffs up indignantly. ‘Dude! I totally do not fit under that category what-soever…’
Rook pats her on the head, gently. ‘Perhaps if you tell me what one is, then I can reassure you?’
Bennie looks slightly uncomfortable as she fidgets. ‘Ah, well, it’s like...okay, I guess it’s used to describe a girl that is like, I don’t know, long hair, painted nails... wears makeup, and dresses?? they’re all slender and err, pretty I guess. It’s sorta like the gay equivalent of some straight guy having a blonde bit of eye-candy on his arm.’
As Bennie struggles with her explanation, it creeps up on Rook that perhaps her partner is also a little unclear on what it means to be a femme girl. Or at the very least, she acutely wishes to be anything other than seen as a gender.
‘You are both slender and pleasing to the eye, Bennie,’ Rook tells her, wisely substituting ‘pretty’ for a word she is reasonably sure Bennie will not object to. ‘Those are good things. I, for one, enjoy those things.’ She reaches up with a careful hand to poke Bennie’s cheek and watches, entranced, as the skin quickly gives way to her touch, swiftly forming a hollow against the press of her fingertips. It is not unlike carving her own personal landscape; but then human skin is malleable in a way Revonnahgander fur is not. Rayona’s, she remembers, would brush up into a purple bruise that bristled against her touch, much like a broken spur from a smashed-out conker shell.
‘It’s a little more complicated than that,’ Bennie mutters, sinking down to press her head against Rook’s chest with a tried groan. But she does not shove Rook’s hand away, and from this angle she offers up an easy pathway into the hooded curve of her neck. Rook takes it, letting her nose dive down into the scent of oil fumes, freshly mown grass, and a lemon and lime smoothie. All remnants of Bennie’s day and the hours she spent without her.
‘No marks, okay,’ Bennie mutters tiredly. ‘I don’t want to explain to Mom how I was mauled by an out-of-control alien.’
She should take offence to that, she really should. Instead, for once, she easily switches her brain off and allows her teeth to sink gently into Bennie’s skin.
The next day, Bennie clambers into her truck with a glower.
‘Bad breakfast?’ Rook asks.
Bennie, if possible, glowers even harder, and yanks down the hood covering her hair. But that’s not all that falls free; for as soon as the shadows slide away from her partner’s neck, Rook is left staring at the red rings marring the skin there.
‘Yeah,’ Bennie bites out. ‘So it turns out that my Mom didn’t want me to explain how I was mauled by an out-of-control alien. Instead, she wants me to explain how I was mauled by, and I’m quoting here, another ‘horny teenager.’’ Bennie shoots her a dark look. ‘Moms, huh? It’s uncanny, isn’t it? How they just know.’
Rook attempts to stiffen her spine. It’s ridiculous really how sometimes, without even trying, Bennie can cow her with just a look or a hastily spoken word.
‘I don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to hear the sarcasm there,’ she informs Bennie in what she hopes to be a reasonably dry tone of voice. ‘And your mother seems to be a reasonable woman; someone that conscious of the nutritional value in her cooking does not strike me as the type to, ah, ban you from certain...recreational activities.’
‘Most moms don’t have to worry about their daughters getting stabbed in the neck with Revonnahgander teeth,’ Bennie says, equally as dryly.
Rook takes her hands off the wheel, feeling the sudden urge to bury her face within them. ‘I-’ she says, swallowing at the glare Bennie turns upon her. ‘I apologise. But...you seem to enjoy it, when I mark you. Or, at the very least, you tolerate it.’
She breathes out a sigh of relief, when, as she reaches over to touch Bennie, her partner refuses to flinch away. In fact, she even leans over a little to her right, all to allow Rook to trail her finger over the sore skin there. Rook is careful, gentle even, as she brushes against the indents her teeth had left the night before, her fur shifting across the small dips and hollows that to Mrs Tennyson’s eyes must have looked appallingly incriminating.
‘Dude,’ Bennie mutters, her voice slightly muffled as she squashes her cheek against the window. ‘It’s not like humans don’t ‘mark’ each other on the neck all the time. I know what a hickey is; I’ve seen enough of them in high school.’
Rook’s finger freezes on her skin, right where it had been tracing the needle-point puncture of a canine, and Bennie sighs at the unspoken question.
‘I’ve thought we’d talked about this? You know, a hickey, or a love bite? It’s basically the stuff you’ve left all over my neck so that it resembles a war-zone.’
Rook draws back, slightly stung, and Bennie, perhaps realising her mistake, pulls her cheek away from the window, quickly enough for her to nuzzle the other one into Rook’s retreating palm. It’s much like a magic spell, one touch and Rook freezes there, watching brown hair drape over her fingers and curl at the ends like the leaves of a plant bending to gravity.
‘Sorry,’ Bennie murmurs. ‘I’m just kinda upset. You’d be too, if I bit your neck and your Dad saw.’
Rook suppresses a shudder at the thought. But still, she keeps her voice steady as she speaks. ‘That is most unlikely. Human teeth are far blunter than Revonnahgander ones. And if you include our fur in the equation, I doubt many of your species would be able to leave behind too deep an impression.’
And as she speaks, she finds herself running her eyes along Bennie’s face and hair, against the softly-drawn angle of it that fits into her hand. It is as though her palm and fingers are no more than a nest for Bennie’s cheek to rest inside, to smother down against the invisible life-lines that rise up underneath her fur and crawl across her skin. Lines that Bennie cannot see, but Rook is sure, can still feel all those tiny valleys that give way and press down, much like the spaces between the rubbery toes of a cat’s paw-pad.
Bennie chuckles a little, and Rook takes care not to flinch, even though the breath of the other stirs her fur, touching like a tickle across her thumb.
‘I get it. Humans are weak and suck. Our teeth, our hair-‘
‘I like your hair-’ Rook interjects, her fingers twisting deeper into the mane scattered across them.
‘Me too. It’s great. Still, though, it’s kinda a boring colour, I mean, in the grand scheme of things.’
‘My hair is black,’ Rook points out blankly, ‘I do not think you have any reason to worry.’
Bennie smiles. But it’s crushed, smothered by her surroundings, by the dark fold of her hair and the crease in her skin from where Rook’s palm forces it to bunch up against her mouth.
‘I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind being able to jump like you guys. I mean Crash-hopper’s way better, obviously, but it must be kinda nice, to leap up and clear a few feet. Or you know, twelve.’ And then, before Rook can even begin to formulate a reply to this, Bennie lifts her head, up and away, high enough for her to turn and look Rook straight in the eye.
‘Seriously though, I don’t mind you biting me. It’s not really something I get, and I’ve got no urge to return the favour – I’d end up pulling fur out of my mouth for a week if I tried. Which is actually kinda gross, if I think about it.’ Bennie sticks her tongue out to empathise the point and Rook is amused to see her fight down a blush. ‘And...well...I don’t hate it. All the biting, I mean.’
‘Ah.’ Rook lifts her empty hand up so that it can grasp hair, letting her palm slide instead of fall, so that her thumb can dip down to settle on the soft slope of Bennie’s jaw. ‘Well with such an invitation, it would be rude to refuse.’ She lowers her face, just enough for her to see the panic widen Bennie’s eyes and starts to laugh, even as Bennie’s half-hearted swat pushes her chin back.
‘My apologies,’ says Rook, though the mirth in her tone betrays sincerity, ‘but I do require the practise. Humans are a lot easier to mark than Revonnahganders, and your kind does not possess the fur that on Revonnah would spare one public embarrassment.’ She hesitates, remembering a few unfortunate mishaps with Rayona. ‘Well, providing you make sure to brush the fur back once it has been ruffled, and as long as your family does not come close enough to detect the lingering scent of another...’
She trails off at Bennie’s horrified look.
‘Wow,’ her partner states. ‘I really did not need that history lesson. That undeniably personal history lesson. I don’t know about Revonnah, but here on Earth we usually don’t like to hear all the details of what our girlfriends, or boyfriends, or whatever, got up to with their exes.’
‘C’mon man. You really want to hear about everything I got up to with Julie or the others?’ Rook lets out a growl, then promptly slaps a hand over her mouth, clearly horrified at herself.
‘Yeah, I thought not.’ Bennie turns her gaze out the window, hand fumbling for the seatbelt. ‘By the way,’ she adds, ‘Mom wants you to come over for dinner tonight. I think she kinda wants to interrogate you.’
Rook’s eyes widen, and she casts a look at Bennie, one filled with betrayal.
‘Hey! I had to tell her something, didn’t I?’
Mrs Tennyson’s eyes are as green as her daughter’s and they manage to cast the same bewitching effect when they narrow, for a familiar dread clutches at Rook’s stomach, immersing it in an icy chill. She wonders sparingly whether the glare is inherited or if perhaps Bennie has simply learnt to copy it, having been held prisoner by it over the course of many years. Because for some reason, it appears as though Bennie has an immunity. Or perhaps it’s just because Mrs Tennyson’s focus is on Rook. Either way, Bennie seems free to grin, rocking back on her heels with a slight flush, one Rook hates her for.
‘C’mon Mom, don’t hold Rook hostage before the meal even begins, huh? She’s just got here after all and you’re always saying how nice and polite she is...’
Mrs Tennyson’s rather pointedly rolls her eyes. ‘Yes,’ she says, with a slight snap to her voice and in her head, Rook swears she hears the thud of a coffin closing alongside it. ‘She is. Such a sweet, thoughtful young woman, who was nice enough to gift my daughter dearest with a very vivid present on her neck.’
Bennie ignores this, coming back to land on her feet with a small thud. ‘Yeah, well speaking of presents...’ she drawls, seemingly undeterred by the fury rumbling through her mother’s voice, ‘...Rook got you a little something to brighten up the place.’
At this point Rook frantically prays to Brallada, earnestly wishing Bennie to be silent for once in her life. Sadly, her god does not seem to be listening, for the grin on Bennie’s face does not slip, not by a single centimetre. And it’s still there, resting as if by default, when, after a quick tug of war, Bennie’s hands jerk free the half-crushed stalks of the crocuses Rook has been concealing behind her back.
‘See?’ she asks, beaming as she waves the purple flowers in front of her mother’s face. ‘So thoughtful! She even remembered your favourite colour!’ A blatant lie. The flowers may have been Rook’s idea, but the colour was rather pointedly suggested by Bennie, and in such a way that Rook knew it wasn’t worth the argument if she didn’t.
But amazingly enough, Mrs Tennyson’s eyes soften.
‘Aww...’ Almost automatically her hand comes out to cradle the flower, running careful fingers against the crinkled petals. Amazingly, she doesn’t even seem to mind the way the stalks are bent and broken in several places, their leaves splintered into green strips that waver and fall away from their lightly-veined centres. For the next second, Mrs Tennyson looks up to meet her eyes. And then exposes a pleasant smile to them.
To her side, she sees Bennie’s grin freeze in place. And then collapse, a slight frown appearing in its stead. Which...is probably not good?
‘Thank you Rook, this is very thoughtful,’ says Mrs Tennyson, a certain breezy quality to her voice. ‘And I think you’ll find I‘ve been just as thorough in cantering to your needs tonight.’ She steps back, and with an uncharacteristic flourish, rolls her arm out in a ‘do come in gesture.’
And Rook, quite bravely she thinks, steps in over the mat and walks down the corridor, her nose wrinkling as a smell drifts in, a smell that is not quite familiar, and yet knocks on her memory nevertheless. Bennie meanwhile, perks up and races ahead, slamming to a stop next to the table, her breath stopping in surprise. And then she lets in all out in one unfurling whoosh.
Rook steps round her, curiosity aroused. And there, on three nice ceramic plates with the curl of pink blossoms engraved into their sides, lie mountains of...
‘Chilli fries!’ Bennie exclaims, the rapture of joy spreading over her face. She turns back to her mother and Rook blinks. Is Bennie...is Bennie crying?
‘You,’ whispers Bennie, with one watery gulp of breath. ‘Are the greatest mom. Ever.’
Which at any other time, would be very sweet. But as of right now, while eyeing the heap of her own chilli fries, ones which seem almost to sway under the weight of red chilli paste, Rook can’t help but feel as though she’s been thrown out to the dogs. Or is it wolves?
She also now understands why the smell isn’t as familiar as it should be. There are still small lumps of chilli stuck in there, sprung free from the grind of a kitchen blender; a far cry from the mass produced sauce made ready-to-go from an earth restaurant. And the fries, buried beneath, carry all the unsymmetrical shapes of unevenly sliced potatoes. Clearly, there was a lot of work put into this dish, and it seems almost a shame that her taste buds will be unable to appreciate it properly.
‘Well, you know me, dear,’ says Mrs Tennyson, deftly pulling out a chair from the table. ‘I believe in making food everybody will be able to enjoy. Bon appétit.’ And at this, she flashes Rook a particularly smug look.
And, oh. Oh. She knows that look. She receives it almost every day, whenever Bennie thinks she’s being particularly clever. In some cases, it’s even deserved. Rook frowns and grips hold of her fork tightly as she slides into her seat. She feels as though she’s preparing for war, especially when across from her, Bennie lets out a whoop and begins shoveling food into her mouth. Either way, she must be on her guard for clearly Mrs Tennyson possesses the deviousness of a criminal.
‘This must have taken a great deal of work,’ she offers gamely, twisting her fork onto the mush of chilli-paste as slowly as she dares. ‘I do not believe I have ever encountered a recipe for chilli fries before. At fast food establishments, they seem to appear as if by magic. But of course, I am sure that the one you have used tonight is far healthier.’
Bennie raises her eyebrows at her, the way she always does when she thinks Rook is being too over the top. And Mrs Tennyson just stares at her, her face carefully blank.
Rook feels a twinge of unease. She isn’t the type of woman to be overly flustered by a compliment, but still, usually at this point she would smile or make a pointed comment to Bennie about how lovely and charming her friend is. And it is no sooner than she thinks this that Rook feels the bottom of her stomach drop away. Because, well. It probably isn’t considered good manners, at least by human standards, to rake your teeth against someone’s throat. Especially if that someone is your daughter.
There’s a dull ring then, a quick chime of battered ceramic followed by a wet splat, and Rook looks up to see Mrs Tennyson’s fork successfully cleave through the strip of potato on her plate. The surrounding sauce sloshes away from the movement as though in a fit of panic and Rook is reminded of a monster movie, as from above the carnage of torn fry and bloody red, a smile emerges, arriving in a bared grin of many teeth.
‘Rook,’ the monster says, her voice pointedly kind, ‘how observant of you. But, if, as you have so thoughtfully pointed out, my food is the healthier option, then why aren’t you eating with more gusto? You’re a growing girl, after all. Don’t be shy; go on, dig in.’
Rook swallows. Mrs Tennyson waits, a bright gleam in her eyes. And Bennie continues to wolf down her portion.
‘This is great!’ She cheers between mouthfuls. ‘I can’t wait to see what’s for desert!’
But all desire for sweets has fled from Rook’s pallet. Instead she stares down at the single fry she has recently rammed her fork through. And then, with a heavy heart, lifts it to her mouth.
‘Mmm,’ she manages, as she begins to chew. ‘This is...’ she hastens to swallow, to ignore the spill of lava on her tongue, and that sharp grind of chilli that slides down her throat. ‘Mmmhmm!’ She gives Mrs Tennyson a quick thumbs up and what she hopes is a convincing grin, all while feeling like her very gums have been set on fire. Then, with a fumble, her hand seizes the jug of water lying innocently on the table, and proceeds to chug it down, all pretense of politeness forgotten.
Bennie watches, wide-eyed, before turning to her mother. ‘What did you do?’
And in response, Mrs Tennyson simply lifts a hand to her mouth, her fingers fanning over her mouth as it drops open theatrically as if in horror. ‘Oh dear, silly me! I was just so excited at the thought of us coming together for a nice meal, that I must have been a bit too zealous when I sprinkled some chilli flakes over Rook’s portion. I was a little worried, you see; Rook’s such a handsome young woman,’-and here her voice lowers into a whispered aside, one strong enough to carry across the table to Rook’s ears – ‘you can tell by all those teeth!’ – before it shoots back up into its normal volume – ‘that I was worried that she would find the amount of chilli I put in the sauce to be too weak for her tastes.’
Bennie stares at her mother. ‘Whoa. You’re like a diabolical genius, mom.’
Rook clutches her fork even tighter and tries not to fume.
‘But,’ continues Bennie, a little too airily as she leaves her seat, ‘it’s also a kinda uncool move.’ She blinks before sniggering at her unintentional pun. ‘Uncool. Heh. Because you know, of all the chilli and – well, never mind.’ She drifts over to Rook’s side before yanking out her chair with an abrupt thrust. ‘You can let go of the death-grip you have on that fork there, buddy. We’re leaving. Sorry Mom,’ she adds, turning to Sandra, ‘but I’m kinda pulling a move of my own. You know how you used to hand-feed Dad broccoli when he had a bad day at work? Well, I’m doing something similar. Only it’s a lot less gross.’
Sandra stares at her daughter. This time Rook is sure there isn’t any acting taking place, not when her mouth falls open again. But there’s a thoughtfulness present there as well, sliding up into her eyes and forcing them to soften; but anything Rook can hope to decipher from this is quickly snatched away by the grip Bennie exerts on her arm.
‘C’mon! Up and at ‘em.’
And so Rook allows herself to be tugged away from the mystery, to be pulled past a bowl full of bruised and wilted purple flowers, and dragged through a door that yawns out into a cool and chilli-free night.
Bennie is looking at her, smiling, a blob of chilli sauce still hooked onto the curl of her cheek. It makes her look absolutely ridiculous, but Rook doesn’t have the heart to wipe it away, not when the rest of her mouth is ringed in white. It’s actually kinda funny, like Bennie’s gone in for some face-painting and Rook has to snort at the mental comparison her mind instantly makes to the face of a clown. Instead she chooses to swallow down another spoonful of Tiffin-flavoured ice cream before she can be tempted to make a remark that will only make Bennie pout at her.
‘Yes,’ she agrees. ‘This was very thoughtful of you, Bennie. I do not wish to speak ill of your mother, but I feel as though my tongue has been tortured quite enough for the night.’
Bennie laughs. ‘Now you know how I feel when she gives us something that isn’t chilli fries.’
They’re currently nursed in the underside of an unfurled awning from a shop-front, cups of ice cream clutched in their hands. It’s a pity, being locked away from the stars on a night like this, but in Underwood, with the tip of her battered tongue now tingling with a soft strop of flavour, Rook can’t quite bring herself to care.
‘I do not think the comparison holds much weight; your tongue has never been burnt to the same degree as my own. Also, your mother has never sought to spurn your taste-buds out of any malicious intent. Not so in my case.’
Bennie shrugs. ‘She’ll get over it.’
There is no further elaboration on her part on what might happen if she does not, Rook is careful to note. It’s like it is not even a concern for Bennie. Indeed watching her, she sees Bennie let out a small hum of pleasure as she sucks the spoon into her mouth, carefree as you please, before her lips shift, the metal between them twisting slightly to accommodate the lap of her tongue as it scraps out the ice cream nestled in the dip within.
...It might even be erotic, if Rook could just see past the stains on Bennie’s skin outside.
‘Mmm.’ The girl in question sighs, smacking her lips together. And Rook shakes her head, amused.
...But not before Bennie’s eyes dart to the side, managing to catch hold of the motion with a mischievous smile of her own. As slippery as an eel, she slides closer to Rook's side, her head tumbling forward in a rush of brown as Rook lifts her own spoon up. And then the Revonnahgander is left blinking as the ice cream on the metal beneath vanishes from sight. Bennie lingers there, her hood half-falling over her head in a rustle of motion as she draws out the theft, casually running her tongue into the dip of metal, as delicate as a cat’s. Then, as if nothing is amiss, she leans back, a small smile on her face.
Rook quirks an eyebrow at her.
‘It is not enough for your mother to attempt to rob me of my taste-buds? Must you steal away any small pleasure my tongue hopes to encounter tonight?’
Bennie turns to her, a long, slow, easy grin sliding into place as her hood slithers down over her neck and - boom, clash, snap. Rook can hear the sound of the trap snap shut as it closes in over her heart. Because, oh. She knows that grin.
‘I don’t know Rook. Play your cards right, and your tongue might still receive some sort of pleasure.’ Bennie’s grin turns cocky, thoroughly unaware of how it is stained at the corners by ice-cream.
Rook watches her, seeing this for what it truly is, some weird Earth courtship ritual. Bennie’s already drawing close again, ready to push her spoon and ice cream aside, to draw her eyes down into her own green ones as she dangles the promise of kiss between them. Feed me, she will say, turning the words long and slow, the way she has had done in the past, with that same careful glance of desire Rook has seen other humans use on each other, both on the television, and sometimes on the street.
But she is not human. She is Revonnahgander. And on Revonnah, her people do not re-imagine themselves as infants in need of care in some strange ritual of love. They groom each other instead.
With this in mind, she leans down, furthering Bennie’s smile as the human shifts, casting away her tub of ice cream entirely as she faces Rook head on, the way she always does when she wants something.
Quickly, as Bennie bends forwards, Rook draws their mouths within easy breathing distance of each other, feeling the air charge between them. And then, before she can feel the moment escape, her tongue darts out. Once, twice. Thrice. And then Bennie is backing away, half-laughing as her hands come up to bat away the invasive scrape of tongue and the fine blend of hairs on its surface, as it rounds up each residual spit of white.
‘Dude! Dude, come on!’
But Rook doesn’t let her escape entirely, her fingers chasing wrists and catching them as they clash against her cheeks. Dimly, she recognizes the fact that to an outsider they might look as though they’re roughhousing, caught in a battle for dominance after a lip-locked frenzy. Already, her keen ears can pick up the stutter of footsteps, and the sly shutter of a camera phone going off. But then, that is what happens when your girlfriend is a media sensation.
Any other time, she would turn and glare or perhaps just raise an impervious eyebrow to try and shame the intruder into running off. But for now she has a laughing Bennie under her hands (and mouth!) and that is something she is both willing and wanting to chase. So she follows those giggles to their source, Bennie opening up to her with no prompting and using her own hairless tongue to guide her in.
Rook feels a small thrill of pleasure at the thought that Bennie isn’t holding a promise over her head, not this time, nor inviting her into another human game. No, here is a gesture of a more universal sort as their lips smooth out against each other, fur nestling into and around the careful jut of Bennie’s plush human lips, flesh now slathered with her own handiwork, and she remembers how Bennie had complained the first few times they did this, joking about how she might need to floss each time. But as always, the jokes and the stray thoughts become lost in a haze of heat, heat which they both will have to come back from.
Reluctantly, Rook pulls away, her tongue breaking from the other after a quick slide of motion against its side, half-wrapping against its tip in lieu of goodbye. And Bennie blinks, a little dazed as Rook smooths a finger against the wet skin surrounding their work.
‘I believe you had something on your mouth,’ she informs her calmly.
Bennie looks at her in disbelief for a second. And then bursts out laughing.
It is time to face the music, as Bennie would say. But right now all Rook can feel is the dreadful calm of silence.
Mrs Tennyson looks at her. Then looks at Bennie. Then down at their intertwined fingers.
Beside her, Bennie fidgets. Rook can read the thoughts on her face, from the slight huff of embarrassment that makes her cheeks rise, to the growl settling on the corner of her wrinkled mouth. Bennie is stirred all too easily by displays like this, by the idea of actually having to show affection of the romantic variety in front of a family member.
Rook understands. It is not solely a human thing, to wish to divide one sort of family from another. And it is, in its own way, a little flattering.
‘Look, Mom...’ Bennie sighs. ‘Rook’s teeth are probably gonna get into my skin, sooner rather than later, so...look, I really, really don’t want to bring this up but didn’t you, like, get any hickeys when you were my age?’
‘Of course.’ Mrs Tennyson’s answer is swift and decisive and Rook feels a shiver run into her hand from Bennie’s side at how prompt it is. ‘But then again, dear, none were made by a series of teeth that looked as though they belonged to a vampire.’
‘Mom, I can change into an alien that is a literal vampire. Trust me when I say Rook’s nowhere in the same league.’
Well. Rook’s not sure whether to take offense at either of their answers.
‘If I may interject,’ she says coolly, ‘perhaps we should try addressing the core of the problem?’ She turns to Mrs Tennyson, being sure to meet her eyes. ‘I understand why you feel protective, I do. I am larger and stronger than your daughter-
Bennie starts tugging frantically at her hand, hissing something about how ‘there’s no need to rub it in,’ and ‘I change my mind about everything, gimme my hand back.’
Rook sighs, before suddenly releasing Bennie’s hand with little to no ceremony, and suppressing the smugness she feels at the way Bennie jerks back a little too hard, nearly losing her balance in the process.
‘And yes,’ she continues steadfastly. ‘My teeth are considerably sharper than those of any human partner Bennie could have chosen for herself.’ She tilts her head to the side. ‘I cannot promise not to leave marks on your daughter, though I am reasonably certain that nothing will scar. It is a part of our relationship, an inter-species one, which means that certain allowances must be made.’
She takes a breath. ‘I understand, like I said before. Bennie often has to contend with others a great deal bigger and stronger than both her and I combined. Furthermore, they often possess appendages much sharper than my own, including my teeth. Your worry is not entirely unfounded. But perhaps it should be managed. I am not an enemy. And if your daughter experiences any sort of pain in her relationship with me...’ she coughs. ‘She is perfectly capable of letting me know about it.’
Tentatively, she feels Bennie’s fingers brush her own. And gently, she allows them to push back into the space she allows for them, opening her own hand up into a ready grip. She does not need to turn her head, after all, to witness the expression spreading over the face she will see there.
Besides, the expression on Mrs Tennyson’s face is arguably more important. And she looks...defeated. And a little choked up.
‘Oh my,’ she says. ‘I feel a little ashamed. I’m so sorry Rook! I turned into one of those annoying mothers you see on television all the time, the dreadful sort who suffocate their own children with their needless worrying.’
‘No. I was...a little frightened when you walked in last night, with all those marks on your neck. I had never seen them up close before and it brought home to me the fact that you were really dating an alien.’ She sighs and her eyes flock up towards the ceiling. ‘Perhaps I’m simply not as open-minded as I thought I was. But...I just remembered Rook’s teeth. And I panicked.’ She shook her head. ‘But then, tonight, when Bennie actually pulled me up on my manners...’ She laughs.
‘Uh,’ says Bennie intelligently.
Rook shakes her head at the pair of them.
‘At least,’ she offers, ‘you got some flowers out of this whole mess. Plus, you managed to try out a new recipe.’
‘Yeah!’ says Bennie enthusiastically, ‘and you know, maybe next time-’
‘I can cook up a tofu and asparagus salad?’
Rook turns, amused, to see Bennie’s face drop a mile.
‘Sure Mom,' her girlfriend manages. ‘Sounds great.’
‘So,’ says Bennie later, after they have escaped the warmth of Mrs Tennyson’s kitchen and her myriad apologies. ‘She hasn’t magically turned homophobic. Or speciesist, I guess. She just had a momentary freak-out. Happens to the best of us.’
Rock cocks an eyebrow. ‘And by best, you include yourself?’
Bennie laughs, hanging onto her strong arm with a grin. ‘Well, yeah. Unless you think I never freak out?’
‘No,’ says Rook dryly. ‘I think I can safely say that that is something I will never say.’
Bennie grins, now practically dangling off her shoulder and Rook eyes her contemplatively.
‘Do you wish for me to carry you?’
‘No! But hey, why are you complaining anyway? You’re ‘bigger’ and ‘stronger’ than me, remember?’
Rook groans – but silently, within her own head. Privately, she’s been wondering when Bennie would make her pay for her earlier remarks. She has the most curious habit of taking offense at simple observations, no matter how true these happen to be.
‘Bennie, baby,’ she says, half in jest, letting the foreign word trip off her tongue with exaggerated zeal - but it has the intended effect all the same. Because Bennie immediately lets go of her arm so that she can wrap both hands around her stomach instead, all as if they can hold in the full-blown laugh that erupts from her throat.
Rook smiles and leans closer, her voice dipping down into a pleased purr as it lets words flutter out into the air, forming whispers that can’t quite catch hold of the full affection she holds for this creature by her side, this strange, furless imp that chatters just as much from the cold as she does from excitement.
‘Dude! Lame! Jeez, you’re gonna give me a hernia.’
‘I apologize sweetheart, I simply do not know what came over me, darling, I just had the urge, beloved-’
Bennie cackles louder. ‘Stop! Stop!’
It is so totally not them. Which is, of course, exactly why she does it. Because names won’t stick, and neither, after a while, will teeth-marks. But the memory of Bennie’s laughter? No, that will linger for quite some time.
Despite herself, Rook eyes Bennie’s neck. Another thing that won’t linger, she knows, is that jagged, half-moon crescent near the other’s jugular. But give it half a week and maybe she’ll find it within herself to make some more punctures.
She just hopes she won’t have to buy any more flowers in the meantime.
The next day, the newspaper in the Tennyson household meets the kitchen table with a resounding smack.
‘Well now, Bennie,’ says the culprit, her smile twitching at the ends. ‘Be sure to invite Rook over for dinner, at any time this week. My calendar is suddenly open. Wide open, in fact.’
A little daunted, Bennie carefully slides the newspaper across the table to herself. And groans. For there, within the contours of a small grainy photo are two familiar silhouettes, the wrists of one locked into the grip of the other. And above, in small, chock-black letters, the title reads: Ben Ten ‘Caught’ in a Homo-erotic Tiff?
‘Huh,’ says Bennie, ‘that’s a rather big word for a Sunday newspaper to use. Usually they’re screaming about alien immigrants.’ She then takes one look at her mother and cowers. ‘Um...please don’t torture Rook?’
She stares at her a moment, then loosens her shoulders with the same roll of movement a pro-wrestler would use before a match, sighing with an abject loss of grace. ‘I suppose I now know what to get you for your birthday at any rate,’ she remarks blithely. ‘A pair of handcuffs. That way you can keep that sort of hanky-panky off the streets and away from any nosy photographers.’
Bennie’s face falls. But not as fast as her head manages to meet the table with a resounding clunk, her hair blurring into the grey shades of the offending photograph and oh-so-helpfully obscuring the title from view.
Now all she has to do, she tells herself, is convince Rook to buy some more flowers. That, or elope. To, like, somewhere that serves real chilli-fries. And maybe, if Rook’s lucky, an actual meatball sub.