The Beast of Bodmin Moor
“More…? Then why?” How could Jack be more dangerous to Phin than anyone else, if that was true? It was all back-to-front, surely Jack was less likely to hurt Phin if he meant more than they did?
“Because you mean Too Much.”
Too Much? It sounded as if Jack had pronounced it with capital letters, like his own Too Much. That couldn’t be right—Phin must have heard it the way he was accustomed to hearing it—rather than the way it had been said. It didn’t have the same relevance for Jack…and yet, if he was aware of its significance, then the ‘more’ thing did sort of make sense. Too Much was a not-good thing; something to guard against. It meant Too Extreme for seemliness sake. It was Phin’s baseline. The way he had to do things to try and feel comfy, but it made other people uncomfy, which was inconsiderate.
This meant Phin had to try to moderate himself, because he was the one at odds. It was a tad like being left-handed, there were more righties, so lefties had to bust their knuckles wrangling doorknobs and loo flushers with their right (wrong) hand. It was The Way Things Were, and that was that. Even its name proclaimed itself correct. They might as well go the whole hog and ask: ‘Are you wrong or right handed?’
“Yes. In a Phin way,” Jack confirmed, even though Phin had not voiced any of that aloud.
“I…” He ran out of words, but forgot to do remembering to shut his mouth. A fact that became obvious when plush lips smushed against Phin’s freeze-frame gape of amazement. One that thawed a smidge sharpish when he found himself with an extra tongue, one intent on turning him into a puddle of buttery-boned befuddlement. By far his favourite state o’mind, of late…and forever and ever, amen. Or thereabouts.
Jack clasped the back of his head, fingertips pressing into Phin’s scalp to deepen the kiss as he slipped his tongue beneath Phin’s top lip and slid it across his gumline. A sensation so strange, so intensely intimate, it thrilled through his veins as if Jake had dipped it in something decadent—divine—first. When a knee nudged between his own to glide up his thighs in a soft scritch of hair, sparks sizzled up Phin’s spine, propelling his hips Jackwards. He had p’raps forgot the tray, complete with half-full cups ‘n’ saucers that clattered in a clinkling racket of tea slops and china.
“Fuck…sorry.” Jack had pounced and whisked the wreckage away before Phin could blink, let alone flap about in a bid to avert dripping and duvet disasters. “I’ll just dump this,” he muttered, vanishing over the edge of the bed, tray and all. Strewth, Jack had Jedi reflexes to match his bad feeling about this. Instead of a far less fun damp patch, there was barely a splash on—what the…?
One of the pillows looked as if it had been chewed up and spat out. Phin was forever scratching and shredding stuff without noticing, but strewth, that was a meeny mite excessive, he had to admit. Unless…
“Jack? Are you a secret member of the Sith?” Phin called over the clatter of crockery coming from the ‘kitchen’.
The tousled top of Jack’s head appeared, swiftly followed by sinewy shoulders and sharply defined biceps that hoisted him aloft as if he weighed less than his scraps of pillow.
“What would you do if I said ‘yes’?” Jake chuckled.
“That’s easy, I’d ask you to teach me the ways of the dark side,” Phin grinned.
“Why did I even ask?” A rueful smirk was accompanied by one of his wry head-shakes.
“You wanted to know? That’s why folk do asking.”
“Good point.” Jake noted.
“I thought so. Thanks for saving my bed, I’m ‘an accident waiting to happen’.”
“How many times have you been told that?”
“This year?” Phin winced…then found himself admitting; “Sometimes they’re not exactly accidents…they sort of happen when something ominous makes me scratchy. Not this time, though, I didn’t want to stop doing kissing.”
“Nor did I, so I’m glad it didn’t ‘happen’ accidentally on purpose. It was prob’ly for the best, though…” Jake blew out a hair ruffling breath. “I should get my arse into gear and head home.”
“I answered your question, but you didn’t answer mine, by the way…” Phin pointed out.
“Which one?” Jake frowned.
“About the Sith. It was daft, I know…but a straight-up ‘yes’ would have been way less dodgy than your deflection. ‘What would you do if I said yes?’ That’s not a reply. It’s another question.”
“I didn’t think you were being serious!” Jake protested. Too much. “I didn’t flinch from ‘are you a mad-axe murderer’, so why deflect an even more far-fetched query? No, I am not Darth Psychokiller. What made you ask in the first place?”
“I was still pondering your Jedi reflexes when I copped sight of your pillow. Look at it! I don’t think it was me…so I figured it must have self-destructed or you’d unleashed the dark force on it.”
“A reasonable supposition.” Jack acknowledged, with utmost gravitas and a sage nod. “If only I were…that sounds much more fun than the truth. I hate to break it to you, but I don’t think the Sith exist, in real life.”
“Pft. Next you’ll be telling me there’s no Santa,” Phin sniffed.
“I wouldn’t be so cruel.” Jake did one of his regretful sighs. This one was self-directed.
“Well that’s blown your Sith credentials good ‘n’ proper,” Phin tutted. “I doubt you need worry about blood tests disclosing your dodgy midichlorian count if you won’t even tell a twenty-two year old man there’s no Santa.”
“Well, some things are just unforgivable. I do have some morals left,” Jake smirked.
“You have far too many for my comfort…and you’re way too willing to share ’em around.”
“Well, my monstrous morals are insisting that sloth is a deadly sin…so I’d better go home and get ready for work.”
“Okay, O principled one. Can I still come and watch, next time you play?”
“Of course you can, if you want to…just don’t expect much.” Jake warned.
“Oh parp, that’s piffle. I don’t expect anything, except you, which you can’t help but pull off with aplomb…will I have to do waiting for very long?”
“A couple of weeks, but there’s live music every weekend.” Jake’s smile was too…warm to suggest he was the least bit bothered by the thought of Phin invading his proper life. “I’ve forgotten who’s on tonight, but you’re welcome to pop in if you want to.” The blue was too serene to suggest otherwise, but Phin wasn’t sure he could trust instincts insisting far too good to be truisms.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Phin narrowed his eyes in a ‘fess up’ sort of fashion, perchance Jake had just invited him to be po-lite.
“Not at all, but bear in mind that I will be rudely expected to serve people. Will you be okay, if it’s busy?”
“Yes. I’m always comfy left to myself. I’d rather be on my own than have to do small talking, so don’t worry about me.” Phin grimaced. “You have to do your job and I will have lots to watch.”
“Okay, I’ll see you in the Albion later, then…I’d better get dressed…”
Having Jake seated beside him was brilliant on the short drive to his cottage. Lands End would have been better yet, but only because they’d run out of road after that. Nevertheless, Phin contented himself with a drive down to the village, where Jake pointed out a lovely little white-washed house, haphazardly Cornish, nestling beside the woods as if sheltering from the sou’wester winds.
There were three windows at the front; two large ones and a smaller one above the weather-beaten porch framing the front door. A cobbled path weaved its way through a tangle of ivy, wildflowers and weeds, tumbling in happy abandon with nary a whiff of butchery to shear them into submission.
Phin parked up, but left the engine running, rather than risk ‘obliging’ Jake to offer him a cuppa. He’d been far too greedy already…and Phin sort of needed to be on his own for a bit. He would see Jake later, which was more than he’d hoped, on top of more than he’d ever dared dream, which was too much to take in without time out.
So, Phin did concentrating on shutting out any suggestion that he might want to go inside way Too Much. He understood himself far too well for his own comfort…far better than anyone should have to suffer. The moment he stepped foot in Jake’s cottage, chances were he would be seized by an urgent desire for the loo. In which case, it seemed a smidge possible that Phin would do forgetting the way and perhaps happen upon the wrong door. Gazing at the bed in which he would forever yearn to learn the dark side of the force might just blow his gaskets for good…
Jake glanced up when the door swung open for the umpteenth time, then sighed and returned his attention to the Guinness dribbling into the pint glass at its own sweet pace. He was accustomed to clock-watching, counting down the minutes until they could head off into the night, rather than guard-dogging the door…but then, he’d never expected the man he feared falling the fuck in love with, to walk through it.
It was nigh on nine…where was Phin? Had he fallen asleep? Got lost? Crashed the campervan? Fuck no…No. Or…had he just done forgetting. In a Phin sort of way.
This was the worst option; the only one done on purpose, proving that Phin didn’t want to come. If he’d crashed the van, he could be healed. A helluva lot faster than was credible, but that was the least of his worries. Jake refused point-blank to contemplate a fatal injury. Surely Jack would know? Somehow? Feel a disturbance in the fucking force, or something such. But. If Phin had ‘done forgetting’? Then, he was pretty much done with Jake.
Much to his relief, it was busy enough to keep him occupied while gnawing the options to bone…and the music was inoffensive, which spared his musical sensibilities from the assault afflicting his nervous system.
Jake was just grabbing two packets of salt ‘n’ vinegar and some dry roasted nuts when he heard—felt—a soft rush of cool air brush the back of his neck. Jake huffed a self-despairing sigh; he hadn’t needed to do as much as glance at the bloody door all night. He was facing the opposite direction, but he still knew damn well that Phin had just walked through it. A fact as indisputable as the scent wafting Jake’s way. It felt very much as if he turned in slooow motion; aware of each and every hair that brushed his cheek when he whisked his head around…the ripple of goosebumps rising to greet him. Phin.
Jake watched his willowy frame weave through the cluster of punters, winding his way to the bar, the tufty top of his head always visible. He could feel the blood pulsing through his arteries, the adrenaline flooding his system. His heart sounded like an industrial sized sewing machine.
This was ridiculous. He was ridiculous. Phin had just walked into the pub, f’chrissakes. He hadn’t come to beg Jake to elope in a clapped out campervan. What? Back up a bit McCain. He’d not what? Matters were not helped by the fact that the mangy mutt was busy perfecting his Mutley impression.
Elope? What the—? He’d only met Phin two days ago, in person, at least. Furthermore, he’d quite clearly lost his bloody marbles, because the very notion supposed far Too Much. Can you please stop the fuck with the sniggering?
Beg your pardon, y’lordship. I’ll leave you in peace to ponder your nuptials, shall I?
Nuptials!? ‘Sorry darling, I had to…work late tonight. After-hours lock in, and all that. How the devil do I get through so many pants? Socks? Beats me. Where’s the raw steak gone, did you say? Oh, it isn’t in the fridge? I’ve no idea, I’m sure…’
You’ve gone bloody bonkers. On what planet might Phin care a toss about your lack of undercrackers?
Jake really didn’t need telling…but the underlying truth was…any sort of life with Phin would be founded on a web of lies. Maintained by many, many, more. Truth-twisting was about the highest low he could hope to sink to. All of this rioted around Jake’s head at shapeshifter-speed in the lifetime it took Phin to meander to the bar.
“Hiya,” he beamed. Like a wrecker’s lantern luring Jake to his doom. He should possibly not have drunk that last double. Or the three before it.
“Hey…” he smiled. Although Jake had a sneaking suspicion it might look more akin to the expression donned by a dog after sticking his head out of a speeding car window.
“Have you been on the fizzy pop?” Phin chuckled.
Was it that obvious? How? Jake had served people and counted out (the correct) change, without tripping over his own feet and landing on his arse in a lake of lager. Nor had he, inadvertently (or otherwise), spilled someone’s drink over them…and, most impressively of all, hadn’t punched any customers. See. Practically sober.
“I might have had a couple, but I’m sober as a ja…judge. A judge. Indeed.”
“You seem a teeny tad tipsy…and look all rumpled and cute.” Phin declared, with an ear-licking grin.
“Cute!? I am not bloody cute, nor am I tipsy, thank you very much. I’ve only had…well, a few glasses. I was…I um, thought you weren’t coming.” What the hell did I say that for?
You’re a jackass?
Opined he, from the back end.
I will relish that particular snippet of snark when its biting your ass, shit for brains. Just sayin…
“Of course I was coming, I told you I was. I just…made myself do waiting” Phin bit his lip and dipped his head to bore holes into the bar-top. “I didn’t want to…overstay my welcome.” .
“It doesn’t have an…expiry date..” Oh Christ.
That’s the first thing you’ve said worth the airspace it inhabited. Frankly.
“Yes, but you’re doing working and I was worried about being greedy…perchance you didn’t ask me again.” Phin shifted his focus from the beer mat he’d been picking apart to dazzle Jake with an impish grin. “Speaking of which, are you going to do serving, at all? I think I’m supposed to have a drink to do proper bar hanging.”
“Oh, er yeah. Sorry…”, Christ, why did he feel so fuck awkward? The bar separating them felt like a gaping chasm, a shark-filled moat of uncertainty. “What would please Sir’s palette, this evening?” Jake hammed, masking his discomfort with am-dram theatrics.
Classy. Not. I had hoped there was Method in your madness, at least.
Ha. Ha. Cut me some slack, I’ve already nailed ‘jackass’. Joaquin should be quaking in his clown shoes, by rights.
“Gin please…I should have some orange juice in it, to make it last. One of us should p’raps do standing up straight…if only to hold the other one up.”
“Oh, I wish…” Phin sighed, limpid-eyed and lethal.
“You are deadly.” Jake informed him, adding ice and a slice to the gin.
“Deadly? Me? I’m on my bestest behaviour. You’re the big bad beastie, remember.”
“If only I could do forgetting… but that doesn’t lessen your liabiliti-liness.” Jake managed to mumble. Eventually.
“You should try red lorry, yellow lorry next.” Phin grinned, fishing for the lemon slice in his glass. When he lifted it aloft in triumph, a globule of liquid trickled down his finger, glinting in the light as he brought it to his mouth. Ripe lips gleamed with juice when he popped the glistening fruit between them, then began to pull it back. When the pulp slowly emerged, sucked dry, a silvery strand of errant lemon straggled over his plump lower lip. Tantalizing. Taunting Jake from the other side of the gorge. Two more hours to endure. This, had been a very bad idea.
Phin’s tongue had just flickered out to catch the stragglers when a clutch of punters crowded the bar, trying to catch Jake’s eye. All armed with (not that I’m dying of thirst or anything, despite standing here for a nanosecond…but now would be a good time to acknowledge me. If it’s not too much trouble) laser gazes. A typical shift lurched from interminable periods spent twiddling his thumbs, to flurries of four-at-a-time to serve after a sudden stampede to Jake’s section.
It was a good fifteen minutes before he was done, in which he’d barely had time to glance Phin’s way while providing a gaggle of students with another round of snakebites and black. This, as one of their regulars launched into a lengthy soliloquy on Plymouth Argyle’s less than sterling season. Quite why imparting this particular opinion never got old Jake had yet to fathom; it was repeated ad infinitum every shift without fail.
When Jake was finally free, he found that Phin had tucked himself into the corner closest to the wall. Possibly in a futile bid to be less conspicuous, when he stood, as lofty as a lone poppy on scrubby moorland. Too tall, too bright, too beautiful, to blend in. Anywhere. Far too Phin for comfort…while wearing skinny jeans and forced to snag bags of crisps from the bottom shelf with excruciating regularity. Is the chip shot shut, f’chrissakes?
Last time Jake had glanced Phin’s way, he’d been gazing around the room, people watching; head tilted to one side with an abstracted interest, much as a guest from another planet might regard some very curious creatures indeed.
On this occasion, Phin had a companion. A very attractive and convivial companion. Her elbow was propped on the bar, chin supported on the heel of her hand as she gazed up at him with adoring eyes. Rocking her hips from side to side as she listened with rapt attention and coquettish lashes. Jake couldn’t focus on Phin’s words, being far too busy glaring a hole through her head. Possibly wiser—far less preferable—to tearing it off with their teeth, which might not go down too well with the other patrons of the pub.
Phin’s smile was soft, those huge orbs lustrous, as he spoke. His focus total, unwavering, as if she were the only person in the room. The sane, rational part of Jake’s brain pointed out that Phin did everything that intently. Logic argued that he was trying to do concentrating in order to be po-lite.
But Jake could not ‘do concentrating’ on anything except the teeth-shattering tinkle of her girlish laughter as she ran a coy fingertip around the rim of her glass. Before raising the finger to her mouth. Jake’s top lip began to quiver as she lapped at the liquid with a kittenish tongue…then lowered her hand. Jake knew exactly where it was heading. Jack was computing the trajectory of her arm. But their instincts sensed it with unerring accuracy, even before it sullied Phin’s wrist.
Fuck. He could smell her. Jake was going to vomit.
His guts were writhing with toxic rage, phantom claws scrabbling with frustrated fury. Sweat was beading on his brow, prickling down his spine in a cloying shiver of heat. A trillion tiny stings like the snap of rubber bands skittered across his skin as Jake’s shoulders heaved with the force of the breath bludgeoning his lungs.
He had to get out, get the hell out, as far from Phin as possible. Fast.