“Smoke…or smack?” Whispered words pitched so low, they were too alluring to resist.
It seemed to be a choice. Joe was certain it was a challenge. It had become blatantly obvious that every time the bad-ass offered him a selection box of treats? One was a trap. Door slamming shut.
Mac might present it as a free choice, but Joe knew damn well that if he plumped for shooting up, it would be akin to shooting himself somewhat north of his foot. If he chose ‘smoke’ now, then he’d leaped all the landmines placed in his path—only one option would remain—wouldn’t it? It was not as if the bad-ass had asked Joe to choose between doing the hoovering or hoovering up a line. A post-coital smoke with Mac was (in theory) a far more tempting prospect to sitting on his tod having a poke about, trying to find a functioning vein to fuck up.
Joe could bear the cramping for a few more minutes, if relief was on its way. Delayed gratification, rather than deprivation. A helluva lot different from being denied it—or even a ‘why is the smack always gone?’ situation—but Mac hadn’t and it wasn’t.
Joe was Making A Choice; easier to endure when he’d not been denied that liberty with the decision taken for him. That reeked of rehab. Mac was a wily ol’ wolf in sharp tailoring, t’be sure… Had anyone else attempted such wool pulling shenanigans, Joe would’ve given the sheep the slip and scarpered. But sabotaging the good ship Mac would sink all Joe’s future prospects faster than y’could say Titanic. Bummer.
“Smoke…” Joe rustled up a serene smile; for all the world as if that wasn’t the most perilous option on offer. Smack couldnae hold a candle to Mac on the lethal front.
The cosh of cold air was as brutal as the loss that beset Joe’s bum when Mac slipped from his body. After grabbing his discarded pants from beside the bed, the bad-ass mopped himself up a bit, passed them to Joe, and reached for the cigs on the cabinet. Joe gave himself a swipe and turned around to plonk down beside Mac, who lit a cigarette and held it out, filter first for Joe to take with his mouth before lighting his own. An act of gallantry every bit as confounding as the fact that the bad-ass, meanest mo-fo on the planet, blew out a languid stream of smoke with all the lofty allure of Lauren Bacall. As was his wont.
Joe’s inner grin was vanquished mere minutes later by the shaft of pain that shot down his legs. He’d been doing his damnedest to ignore his griping guts, but the new agony felt like steel-jaw traps clamped to his thighs. His system was quite done craving what it required more than its next breath, clearly.
“Mac, I can’t stand it anymore—” Joe’s voice cracked when another stab of cramp grabbed his guts in a cruel fist and gave them a vicious twist.
“How I hate that this owns you.” The muscle in Mac’s cheek ticked ominously, but he remained true to his word. “’Kay…I’ll leave you to it and head off for a shower,” he sighed, stubbing out his cig before swinging his legs over the side of the bed. “I didnae expect you to hold out so long…” he acknowledged with a wry twerk of lips. “But don’t overdo it to compensate, f’chrissakes…”
“Mac..?” Joe asked, hating the hesitancy in his own voice. It made him sound as small and crumpled as he felt, but he had to ask, needed to know. Mac’s first words were too startling to let lie.
“Yeah?” He glanced over his shoulder, raising an enquiring eyebrow that might’ve seemed snarky, if not for the smudginess of the green. Softer, sans flinty glint.
“Why does that matter?” Joe wondered. Aloud. Loon.
“Because I give a shit. That’s why.” Mac muttered, before springing up to stalk off with nary another word.
Because I give a shit. That’s why…
You’ve got me…
Oh, if only you knew…
If Mac couldnae keep his goddamn mouth shut, Joe sure as hell would. Know.
‘Because I give a shit’ was at least preferable to: I’m scared shitless of falling for you…but that was scant consolation.
While Mac was on a roll? He might as well add: Worse still…I’m terrified that you’re going to steal yourself away. And even if—by some miracle—you manage to survive you? That you’ll be whittled to an empty shell of all you were, those inimitable eyes as barren, bereft, as a soul stripped to naked need.
He may have muttered something about fearing that Joe would wind up a twisted parody of himself while stomping from the room, but hopefully not loud enough to hear. Mac flicked off the shower and scraped his fingers through his hair before grabbing a towel. What the hell would greet him when he walked through that door? He’d been ten minutes, tops. It took far fewer than that to die.
Mac was buggered. In every way except that one. Surely he could keep a grip on something? He had fuck all else left in his Bergen. How the mighty have fallen. Thirty hours with who the fuck is Joe Fitzerald and Mac was clinging to the fact his arse remained unconquered territory.
“F’chrissakes! What the—?!” Mac stormed over to Joe and grasped his wrist to yank the arm out of harm’s way. “Drop it.” He spat, pressing back until Joe’s shoulder joint protested when the miscreant just stared, mute, at Mac.
“No,” Joe growled, through gritted teeth.
“Joe…” Mac warned, forcing a deadly calm into his voice as he nudged the arm back an increment. Joe was sitting in his chair, a tie dangling from his right elbow, the crook of which was botched to fuck with a sodding great crater glistening scarlet in the light.
“OOWW!” Joe hollered. Egregiously.
“It does not hurt that much.” Mac stated. As fact.
“It’s my arm!” he huffed. “I know!”
“It doesn’t hurt half as much as that sodding eyesore, and y’know it,” Mac snarled.
“Well, it wasn’t going to hurt for long, was it!? Mac, give me back my arm, I’m not dropping it! OOOOOW!”
“Drop it. Or I’ll clench my fist. Hard.”
“Not FAIR! PFFFT.” Joe sulked, letting the syringe clatter to the floorboards.
Mac relaxed his fingers until they were merely cradling Joe’s balls.
“You are impossible. Christ, c’mere…” Mac clasped his dandelion head, tugging it to his bare chest. He’d only donned pants after his shower, having neglected to take any clean gear with him.
“I couldn’t find a vein! I didn’t do it on purpose…it’s frustrating.” Joe whimpered, allowing his body to sag against Mac. “I’m hurting…”
“I know…just calm down. It was useless poking away at…that, it looks like the goddamn Grand Canyon. I’ll need to clean it up, you’re bleeding,” he sighed, stroking Joe’s sweaty fringe back before bending to press a kiss to the top of his head. Mac inhaled, long and slow, breathing him in, then forced himself to pull free and scoop up the dropped syringe. “Y’can have it back in a minute, but you’ll need a fresh needle. I want to get that cleaned up first, or it’ll go septic.”
“Mac…what did you mean before?” It would be easier to withstand waterboarding than those eyes, Mac was sure of it.
“When?” he asked, too casually, rooting around for antiseptic and gauze in the first aid box he’d brought.
“Why d’you give a shit if I wind up a parody of m’self…that’s what you said, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah. Why? Because you’re worth more than that.” Mac muttered, tearing open a packet of sterile wipes with his teeth before tugging the tie loose to dab gingerly at the gaping wound.
“Oooft… I’m not.”
“Sorry. It’s a…mess. Yes, you are.” When he’d done swabbing it down, Mac squeezed a dollop of cream into the crater, which was about the size of a five pence piece.
“Are you this bad at the doctors? Five year olds make less fuss than you,” Mac snorted.
“I’m suff’rin…everything hurts more!”
“Pft…a likely story. Bet you’re always the same.”
“Shurrup. I’m not good at being a patient.”
“Or at being patient either, if the state of your arm is indicative. It looks as if you’ve been bodging it with a bloody bolt. There. Now leave that alone for a few days, f’fucksakes,” Mac instructed, slapping some adhesive gauze on top and smoothing the edges down.
“You are the hottest nurse I ever had, that’s for sure.”
“I’ll give you bloody ‘nurse’, y’monster. Find a clean needle, then you can have the syringe back.”
“You’re very bossy,” Joe grumbled, levering himself from the chair.
Christ…was Mac ever going to get accustomed to the sight of Joe unfolding himself to full height? It wasnae just the sheer length of his limbs, it was their inelegant grace. Rendering each movement a mesmerizing contradiction in terms.
“You like it,” Mac tossed over his shoulder, bending to scoop up the debris.
“Only cos it’s you…” Joe huffed, foraging for a clean needle. “Can I have the syringe back now?”
“Are you going to do it!?” Joe looked staggered, as well he might.
“No, I’m bloody not. Nor will I ever shoot that shit into your body. I havenae binned the needle yet. Here. Now don’t keep poking away from every angle or I’ll throw the fuck up.”
“I havenae much choice in the matter,” Mac grunted.
“Thank you,” Joe murmured, examining his left arm intently before tying its forearm off. The scarring was worse on this one—but older—pitted with healed-over craters and livid splotches.
“How many times a day are you shooting up?” Mac asked, attempting to sound conversational, rather than accusatory.
“Three…four? Ish. Okayy…” Joe blew out a breath when blood clouded the chamber, then pressed the plunger with a sigh of such utter, heartfelt relief, Mac’s throat clenched around what felt like glass shards. A smile smeared itself across Joe’s face as he flopped back in his seat, letting his head loll to one side. The syringe fell forgotten to the floor.
After scooping Joe’s limp, horribly lifeless body from the chair, Mac carried him over to the bed and lowered him onto it before arranging him on his side. “Fankyou…” He was semi-conscious this time, at least. But all skin and bone; the former so pale it was bleached to much the same shade as the latter. He looked like his own corpse.
The fact Joe also looked peaceful in that state was almost worse.
His lifeforce was so vivid, vibrant, the contrast was an agony in itself. With a heavy sigh, Mac dragged the duvet over Joe’s nakedness and headed down to the kitchen to pour a stiff drink and rustle up something to eat. He’d no sooner downed his first shot than started fretting about leaving Joe alone, so Mac cobbled together some banana sandwiches, grabbed the whisky bottle and hurried back upstairs.
After polishing off his butties and washing them down with whisky, Mac lit a cigarette and sat in Joe’s chair, trying to make some sense of the last two days. Staring at Joe’s recumbent form sure didn’t help matters. Mac just wound up watching the gentle rise and fall of the duvet, far too slow for comfort.
Realizing that insanity beckoned if he sat monitoring Joe’s respiratory rate, Mac pushed himself up and gathered the detritus to bin it. Collecting up some of the crap littering the floor seemed about the only thing Mac could ‘sort’ any time soon, so he focussed on that, rather than losing his mind. After making a satisfying tower of cd cases and stack of vinyl, he started piling up the bomb blast of hardbacks, paperbacks, and notebooks.
Fuck…does he read all of this? If Mac hadnae spent the last thirty-odd hours with Joe, it would be impossible to reconcile ‘Junkie Joe’ with the softly spoken, hypersensitive reality. A man who devoured Camus…Baudelaire…Wilde…Dickinson…Dostoevsky…
Even the bog-standard paperbacks had been penned by the likes of Orwell, Woolf, and Forster. Notebooks…dozens of them, stained, tattered and overflowing with fucknows what. The one closest to the chair was lying open with a pen dropped on top, so Mac placed it on the seat, figuring it was the most current.
There. Five perfect piles, which would no doubt be demolished by an unwieldy limb…or sent crashing to the floor when one was tugged from the bottom. Oh well, it was done…and satisfied Mac’s sense of order. At least he could walk across the room without going fucking flying.
Time for another drink and a smoke. Wasn’t it always.
After parking his arse on the chair, Mac tipped the bottle to his lips for a swift slug, then raised his thigh to retrieve the notebook he’d just sat on. It had been left open at what appeared to be the start of some lyrics or a poem but Mac wasnae about to read them when that seemed intrusive. Until the first word all-but leapt off the page and stabbed him in the eyeballs, so he could hardly not see it. Or read it for that matter.
Fuck. Mac blinked, but the words remained the same. Scrawled in an almost illegible, spidery hand. Did Joe still mourn the loss of another Mac? It wasnae a rare nickname. There must be a million Macs knocking about south of the border. As suppositions went? That one was too preposterous for even Mac to believe, and he’d mooted it. It was—quite clearly—a work in progress.
O those eyes of tourmaline green
That flinty glint, agleam with mean
Glimmering with a lethal sheen
Dangerous with dark desire
Tempered rage and deadly ire,
Ablaze with lust and bad-ass fire…
It sort of fit Mac. If you squinted a bit. Through a haze of opiates. His eyes didnae do that though, did they? He’d need a mirror to discern as much; a notion that suggested he may have necked rather too much whisky. Both before and after eating the sum total of two bananas and a few slices of bread since fuck knows when.
Okay…enough. Joe spent his life stoned, which meant Mac would be best advised to stamp down the smug before his head swelled. Joe was just taking (far too forgiving) liberties with poetic license. Much as they stretched credulity, it was hard not to feel…flattered that Joe found the raw material worth expending precious words on. A fact that assured they couldnae be about Kyle McCafferty, at all.