Hi, I updated it with the rest of Mac’s chapter…
How Joe wished he hadn’t admitted any—all—of that stuff. Trying to stay on the straight ’n’ narrow never went well; he just drove everyone else round the bend, or to drink. Or both.
The bathroom was…shiny. Sunstroke shiny. Blinding bright and gratuitously greige. Joe squinted at the sprinkle of smack marching in single file across marble, willing it to be ’nuff. It was even less than he’d hoovered up after his mad dash to the loo on Mac’s first day, but he didn’t want to nod off. He wanted, needed, Mac. Joe had waited too long already and it was all too new, too…tentative to wait. Worrying. Afraid that Mac might come to his senses, wonder what the fuck he’d done that for, berate himself for sinking so low, then slam the brakes on.
Joe just hoped to hold the craving at bay, pacify it for a wee while, in a ‘swift snack to tide him over till supper time’ sort of way. Rather than indulge in a gourmet dinner with all the trimmings. That was the most fucked up part; needing it purely to function. Having to take it, just to attain ground zero. In trying to escape from himself, Joe had become a slave to a task master even more relentless…and now? He was too scared to stop, not least when everyone blamed the smack for his mishaps, rather than the true culprit. If he stopped, it would soon become all-too clear that they’d bought into a lie. See Joe for the bedsit busker he really was, knew himself to be, and realise he really wasn’t worth the piece of paper his name was written on.
On that note, what if Joe couldn’t…write? What if he couldn’t create anything without his failsafe fuel? What if every word worth a damn was wrested from somewhere he couldn’t access without assistance? Every silvery sliver of melody, gilded with the sheen of opium dreams? Worst of all would be facing that fact—knowing for sure—rather than just suspecting. That he was nothing without it. As talentless as they’d sneered. As talentless as he feared. A fact that would leave Joe stripped naked on a stage, lashed by the scorch of spotlights, exposed as a charlatan. Then exhibited in high definition on the front pages of the papers, stroblit by the unforgiving glare of flash. As the world watched on…and snorted in derision.
Peace of mind, the reassurance of having secured his fix would have to suffice. Joe took too much, too often—its delivery too direct—for a swift snort to do more than becalm the clamour. The physical craving would ease off in a few minutes, but the mental one would be satisfied in a sniffy jiffy. Those last few words were mayhaps more fitting than he’d meant them to be…
“Y’okay?” Mac asked, when Joe emerged from the bathroom after a blissful wee while relishing the rush of relief. The scoundrel was lounging on the sofa, glass in one hand, cigarette in the other, looking a lot less harassed than Joe had left him. Odd that.
“Yeah…fine. Mac, will you promise me something?” Joe rued his question the instant it tumbled from his lips, unbidden.
“If it’s legal…and not too heinous,” he snorted.
“T’is legal…heinous?” Joe sighed, sinking down beside him. “Is your call, methinks. Will you—oh, thanks for the tea,” A reprieve when Joe’s middle distance stare encompassed the cup and saucer on the low table before him. He reached for it, regretted its rattle. A staccato stutter of betrayal. Judas. “—tell me when…you’ve had ’nuff? I-I…can’t bear that…you might…” Crap, that sounded pathetic, even before the clincher, “…stay if you’re wishing yourself away. I—”
“Before you go any further,” Mac interjected. “I believe the phrase is ‘back at ya’. You didnae choose me, or even want me here, I’ve been forced upon you…without so much as the freedom to dispense with my services when I piss you off.” After a wee pause to drain his drink, he added, “This, while being saddled with the occupational hazard of wondering what the fuck everyone wants from you—when they always do—while knowing that nothing you give will ever be enough. They’ll always be left wanting. More. I sure as shit wouldnae trust anyone, if I was in your shoes. I’d suspect the worst case scenario, and act accordingly. Preemptively, more often than not.”
The glint that glittered in the green was as sinister as it was as…hot as hell when Mac glowered the last part. Joe knew that he should be blown away by the bad-ass’ powers of perception—insights not a single soul had cared to share before—but blinking a bit was about the best he could rustle up. The headiness of his brain and the blood that headed south made mustering ‘staggered’ far too hard.
“I tend to believe what I want to…’til I don’t. Or can’t fool m’self anymore. I’ve always accepted people as they are—hoping for the same in return I guess—do unto others…” Joe snuffed out a soft sigh. “Until they make that impossible. I can’t change that, not when my…foibles have always been so much…more for them to accommodate. Even if they weren’t, changing how I treat people because I’m ‘famous’ would be obscene. I’d rather be dead than be that person…” Joe flicked his eyes to Mac’s face, fearing censure. Wincing in expectation of the stream of ‘shoulds’ the bad-ass would deem it imperative to issue. Part and parcel of his job; to keep Joe safe, just as he’d promised.
“Joe…” His name preceded a fulsome sigh. Uh oh. “I will do my damnedest to keep them off your back. I meant every word I said…all you need do, is be you. Am I right in supposing that you’d prefer fans who want exactly that, rather than punters who buy into what the record company is trying to sell?” Mac levelled him with a stare so penetrating it could probably lick Joe’s bone marrow. That shouldn’t sound erotic. Not a jot. Shoulda woulda coulda...
“Yes…” Joe nodded. “The big ol’ machine is geared to promoting an…image I could never live up to…but it’s more than that. I don’t want to be sold as better than I am, better than them, when I’m not…I can’t live that lie anymore than I could’ve stayed in the closet,” he sighed.
“That’s probably why they’ve made such a fuck awful mess. They’re used to selling a product that’s willing to be sold as such, to shift units, put bums on seats. It’s a deal with the devil. Not many turn it down, or even want to…rail against being elevated. Feted…lifted aloft on the shoulders of the rest.” A rueful head shake that made the overhanging tendrils of Mac’s hair tremble in the lamplight. He didn’t say ‘even me’, but Joe saw it glint in the green…alongside a sliver of something so impossible it must’ve arrived holding hands with the faeries.
It was way too weird a word to leave room for any others, so Joe let it flit away, along with a trillion others and none at all…which left him feeling sort of floppy. So, he shifted himself around to…stretch out a bit, legs hanging over the arm of the sofa, head resting on Mac’s lap.
“Are you quite comfortable?” The bad-ass asked, eyebrows ’n’ lips twerking in tandem.
“Yes, thank you,” Joe grinned.
“I’m glad someone is,” Mac snorted. “But to answer your initial question: I accepted the gig because it was a challenge. I’m staying because…I want to. I don’t need the paycheck and I sure as fuck won’t come up smelling of roses when I’m done.” If all of Joe had felt ‘floppy’ it sure as strewth wouldn’t have stayed that way. “Landing up to our necks in it is far more likely…” he shrugged, reaching forward to grab the whisky bottle and glug a fair slug before leaning back with a satisfied sigh.
“How does your way of winding up neck-deep differ from mine?” Joe wondered, squinting up at Mac, who just shot him a flinty special. About a devilish smirk before coshing him with this:
“Let’s just call that a…personal question for now…”
Goddammit. His bad-ass was bloomin’ lethal…and that had bugger all to do with whether he offed Joe or not.
“Are you quite comfortable?” Mac asked, resorting to snark when a warm wave of pleasure rippled through his body, riveting him to the spot. The shaft of lust that accompanied the sudden landing of Joe’s head in his lap effected a double tap, freezing him there. The mind-boggling array of limbs stretched across the sofa were the finishing flourish to this Failure Drill. Of Mac to his seat. Mozambiqued. A metaphor to die for.
Perhaps he should retire and pull an Andy McNabb.
A cunning plan that left Mac far too busy plotting Bravo, Zero Brains to man his own battlements. If there was another explanation for betraying himself with his very next breath, Mac didnae care to fathom it. In his own defence, the saboteur in his pants had a lot to answer for. It sure as hell didnae bear repeating but, suffice to say? As suicidal soliloquies went; his last words would probably prove all-too prophetic.
“Landing up to our necks in it is far more likely…”
At which point, Mac sat back and downed a wee dram or three. For self-preservation purposes. Before he spewed any more lethal weapons for Joe to wield his way…
It had not escaped Mac’s notice—crack shot sniper that he was—at this precise moment in time? His charge seemed to be in better possession of his faculties than he. Which should have been…alarming, to say the least.
Was he just too weary to be arsed? Christ, he wasnae in his dotage yet. A few hours lost sleep and a midnight drive couldnae compare to trekking the Brecon Beacons in fuck awful weather with sixty pounds of kit crammed into his Bergen. Nor nine weeks spent sweating in out in the jungles of Belize under pressure designed to break the hardiest of bastards, all hell-bent on proving they couldnae be. A weekend spent babysitting a wraith-like smack addict should be a breeze after enduring thirty-six hours of interrogation resistance. In theory.
Enduring extreme conditions couldnae hold a candle to Joe Fitzgerald in the exhaustion stakes. Endless limbs fidgeting in a constant flurry of movement as he wafted from one wisp of whimsy to the next. Fluttering off half-way through one thought to follow another—momentarily more tantalizing—thread. It had proved pretty much impossible to second guess him, which left Mac constantly on edge. Shackled there by his own conviction, and the ever growing certainty that, if anticipation was indeed the best form of defence? Mac was fucked.
As if Joe’s enchanting charm wasnae crippling enough, the frenetic intelligence Vince had cautioned Mac against was lethal. Joe was far too capable of wrong footing and outwitting anyone who stood in the way of whatever flitted through his head. Trying to second guess him was pointless when fathoming what the fuck he might do in the first place was impossible.
Mac’s brain might feel as if it was about to melt out of his ears but physically, he was wound so tight he could scarce marshall his remaining marbles, let alone Joe. Being saddled with a perpetual hard on for…two days, sure hadnae helped matters. Had it only been two days? It felt like three minutes and forever. What day was it now? The early hours of Monday? Mac had arrived on…Saturday. In the interim, his carefully curated self had been blown to oblivion. Two days? The miscreant had pulled that off in the first two hours. Minutes. Worse, the more time he spent with Joe, the less Mac felt certain of.
He’d find himself thinking he’d sort of found his footing, then the rug would be pulled from beneath his feet with a swiftness that left him floundering. There were too many Joes for comfort. His mood swings were as quicksilver as his wit…the excesses Mac had presumed sheer self-indulgence now seemed… intrinsic. Just Joe. Who possessed no internal calibrator to adjust his input or output levels. He had but one setting; everything cranked to the max. Even sedated, Joe was still so much more than anyone Mac had ever met. Smack sure as hell didnae sedate his sex drive.
Another suspicion kept reinserting itself into Mac’s consciousness, further muddying the mire. Would Joe be disappointed if the answer to ‘have you ever killed a man’ was no…as Mac had begun to believe? Would the truth fuel Joe’s romantic fantasies…or extinguish them?
Was it any wonder that Mac had lost the bloody plot in which said question played a part? Not least when he couldnae help but suspect the twist in that particular tale would come as no surprise whatsoever.
“What are you pondering?”
“You…” Mac muttered distractedly.
“Oh. In a bad way? Have I done something amiss?”
“No? Crikey, I’m slipping.” Joe grinned. “You’re having a dreadful influence on me, y’know. I’ll be schmoozing ’round a stage crooning mood music in my slippers and smoking jacket next.”
“I don’t doubt you could pull it off too. Quite how you’d manage to subvert that scenario until it dripped with decadent whimsy, as opposed to being sing-a-long-a-Bing, I know not, but that doesnae make it less true.”
“You’re puddled…or piddled, Mr McBadass. Oh, that reminds me, I want a white tux, so I’ll have to ask Adam, cos I need to go to the studio when I wake up.”
“I thought we were off to Harrods…wasnae that why we drove here tonight?” Mac frowned.
“Oh. I forgot…I have to go to the studio first, cos I need—Mac...” His name scorched his crotch when Joe pounced to blowtorch a blast of breath through Mac’s trousers.
“Fuck!” He gasped, head snapping back as his hips spasmed off the seat.
“I thought you’d never ask…” Joe yanked on the button and fumbled with the zip, before scrambling onto his knees. Mac was still reeling when the waistband of his pants was pulled clear of his cock… the relief of being freed from their confines promptly eclipsed by the mind-mangling heat of Joe’s mouth.
“Joestop. NO!” Mac clasped a fistful of tufty hair to tug when the miscreant didn’t seem the slightest inclined to pay heed. Oh Christ...lips glistening in the lamplight, plump, parted, that midnight gaze glazed, cloudy with confusion.
“You don’t want me?”
“What the fuck? How the hell did you come up with that?” Mac groaned.
“You s-said no…” Bewilderment muddied the brown; bottomless, breathtaking.
“F’chrissakes…” Mac released the handful of hair to clasp the back of Joe’s head and crush his mouth to his own, hell-bent on obliterating all doubt. “Of course I do…” he rasped, after dragging himself from the kiss. “You couldnae have had a closer view of that truth.”
“I’m sorry, there was only the no and I— my head hurts, it’s too full up of stuff. Mac, please fuck me…” A noise very like a sob sounded in Joe’s throat when he thunked his forehead to Mac’s chest. “Please…”
“Joe…look at me…” he murmured, stroking his tangled snarls of hair. The midnight eyes he raised to Mac’s face glistened, as if brimming with stars. “How the hell could you think I didnae want you? This, despite knowing damn well that I’m just a ‘distraction’? I could be anyone but I’ll do…I’m here. How the fuck d’you think that feels?” Mac demanded. Much to his own dismay…and utter self-disgust.
“I don’t want distracting…or anyone else…just—” Joe cut off mid-sentence, his brows crumpled in a frown. “Feels?”
Oh crap. If Mac had a gun handy he might have swallowed it. It would’ve been a sure fire way of shutting himself up. He had no right to feel fuck all. He was just a bloody bodyguard. Here, with Joe, because he’d been employed to be.
“Forget it…I’m just…tired. Stupid,” he sighed, pressing the heel of his palm to forehead.
“I don’t want to,” Joe pouted. “I can’t just ‘forget’ I’ve made you feel bad. What did I do?”
“You haven’t done anything. It’s my bad.” Mac sighed. “I thought you wanted distracting…?”
“I don’t want distracting from you. I want you.” Joe insisted, eyes, huge, imploring.
“Same difference..” Mac shrugged, forcing his lips into a smile he feared was rueful, at best.
“No. It’s not.” Joe shifted so swiftly he’d straddled Mac’s lap before he could mutter the flippant ‘doesn’t matter’ on the tip of his tongue. “It’s specific. You can’t ‘distract’ me from wanting you, that’s a snake scoffing its own tail sort of sentence. Mac…I want you. Inside me. Nail me to the floor with that daggered glare…make me safe. Make me sure for a…wee while that you want to be here. If you don’t take, I can’t believe you’ll stay. Why would you, when you’ve got nothing to gain. Nothing worth having. Everything to lose….”
Mac let him finish, blindsided by this snow flurry of nonsense. Freezing him in his tracks. Biting into his cheeks like wind burn. What the hell was Joe waffling on about? Snakes, nails and puppy dog tai—eyes. Huge, begging to be believed while stabbing Mac with beliefs so far from truth they were travesties.
His brain felt fit to combust. It hadnae recovered from being scattershot with fragments snatched from a cascade of lyrics he’d heard just once, couldnae be sure he’d heard at all. Too lost in velvet soft tones to commit them to memory while whisked away on the wings of a melody as crystal clear as a mountain stream, sparkling with sunlight. It was, in fact, impossible to focus on anything in Joe’s presence. Nor when he wasnae—present—that is, and Mac didnae know what the fuck he was up to. Nothing worth having? His senses were too deranged by the dark appetite ablaze in Joe’s eyes to muster a single thing worth the weight of those words. Let alone counter them. So Mac just waded in, for all the world as if he were dead set on dragging Joe from a burning car before the bastard thing exploded.
“I’m not even going to waste my breath, when I know damn well you won’t believe me. I havnae got the patience to take that apart piece by piece when it needs a bloody bomb blast. Listen to me. I fully intend to make you so safe, you’ll live to regret it…for as long as you can endure it. More to the point, I’m too crippled to focus on anything but going nowhere. Least of all when ‘nailing’ you, anyway you wish, has become every bit as distracting as the fact you’re crushing my nuts. So, please…shut up and kiss me, f’chrissakes…”