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Herein a Great Enigma

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“Well, I mean, the silver lining to this whole thing is obviously that I wouldn’t care so fucking much about it if I was still in the headspace I was in five years ago,” Zach says, phone pinched between ear and shoulder.

He rubs at his eyes with the heel of a hand; it comes away wet. Still. Jesus, it’s been two weeks, and he seems to have moved past active crying jags to periods of intermittent leaking that sneak up on him at the most inopportune times: walking the dogs, listening to music. Or now, standing in the wine aisle and reaching past bottles of his ex’s favorite sauvignon blanc to get at the jumbo Valu-pak of boxed sadness wine. Like hell he’s going to waste the good stuff on this, he thinks.

“I guess,” Chris says, sounding unconvinced. “If you want to look at it that way. And if you can look at it that way, more power to you. But you still--”

“I still what?” He swipes his credit card and tucks the wine under his arm, replacing his sunglasses as he steps out onto the street. There’s a suspicious clump of onlookers at the curb, and Zach is not in the mood.

“You still sound kind of messed up, man.”

Zach sniffs. There’s something about Chris’s tone, the fresh-milk earnestness of it, that makes a lump shoot straight up into his throat. Chris can do that to people, he’s noticed, break them with the sheer force of his goodness. It’s like the way you can hold things together just fine until someone asks if you’re okay, and then that tiny moment, that simple human kindness, sends it all shattering to hell.

At the other end of the line, Chris sighs. “Shit. Okay. I’m getting a brainwave, so here’s the deal. I’ve got less than a week to play with--I know it’s not much time, it sucks, but the start date for this Mendes thing has already been pushed back once. Not my fault, but they’ll have my balls on a platter if it happens again on account of me. So anyway. I can get a redeye, be at your place by 10:00 tomorrow with your plant milk latte of choice and a cronut or whatever.”

“Cronuts are over, Christopher.”

“So I’ll bring you fucking eggs Benedict, Zachary. Extra hollandaise. What do you say?”

Zach snorts in spite of himself. “Hollandaise is so gross.”

“Ready yourself, Quinto,” Chris says. “Gird your loins. Because I’m not sure if you know this about me, but I am aces at breakups.”

“Is this all part of your bid for Clooney’s decrepit bachelor throne? Or wait, is this research for some godawful Hangover 5 deal? Because--”

“I’ll thank you not to speak ill of George. You didn’t change your locks, did you?”

“I might now.”

“Aw, man, I’m getting excited!” Zach can practically hear him punching the air. It’s disconcerting. “Okay,” Chris says. “I gotta go make some calls. But I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Zach shakes his head. How did this happen? He considers the possibility that he’s having some sort of night terror, but no, here he is out in broad daylight on 1st Avenue, buying boxed wine at a depressingly early hour. “See you,” he says, but Chris is already gone.

***

At 10:05 the next morning, Zach is sitting in the kitchen staring at the door. There’s a single tentative knock, followed by the sound of a key in the lock. Chris starts as he opens the door and notices Zach there. He nudges it the rest of the way open with his knee. He’s juggling two coffee cups and a white bakery bag, which Zach will shortly discover contains both a croissant and a glazed doughnut.

“Deconstructed cronut!” Chris says, looking way too proud of himself.

“You should be illegal,” Zach says. “Get in here, there’s a draft.”

Chris complies, and he’s barely got the coffees set down before Zach’s got him in a hug, surprising even himself with the ferocity of it. And there go his eyes again, but at least this time it’s only his kitchen wall going blurry over Chris’s shoulder.

“Hey,” Chris says.

“Thanks for coming,” Zach says. “And when did you turn into this organizational whirlwind, by the way? Getting your shit together and yourself on a plane in less than a day? I’m impressed.”

Chris shrugs, pulling away. “This whole celebrity thing has a pretty steep learning curve, but against all odds I seem to have figured out that the secret is hiring someone to be the organizational whirlwind for you.”

“Aw, look at you, all grown up and delegating. I’m so proud.”

“You’re such an asshole,” Chris says. “Now drink your coffee. It has hemp milk in it, speaking of things that should be illegal.”

“You know there’s no actual THC in hemp products, right?”

“I was talking about the taste.”

By early afternoon, Zach has to admit that Chris actually is pretty good at breakups. It’s patently obvious that today is supposed to be some kind of self-indulgent balm for Zach. Which is...sort of what the entire last two weeks have been, but it’s somehow less depressing and more therapeutic when the self-indulgence is mandated by an outside party. Zach allows himself to be squired around to all his favorite places, 90% of which Chris has never heard of until today but which he still manages to either enjoy or maintain such a high quality facade of enjoyment that Zach quickly abandons any need to know the difference.

They get lunch at Zach’s favorite food stand on the High Line and meander around Chelsea for awhile, watching very cool people being very earnest about art. They’re hat-and-sunglasses clad, but like most days in this city, no one seems to be wise to them, or if they are they don’t care. Winter is ebbing into spring and it’s crisp, still, leafless trees scraping blue sky and a couple indomitable narcissus studding the beds on Zach’s block.

“I need to walk the dogs,” Zach says, back at the apartment. “You can hang out here if you want.”

“Are you kidding? I’ve never seen a living creature get as excited about anything as Noah gets about walks.”

“You’ve never seen Skunk eat toilet paper.”

Chris wrinkles his nose. “Oh my god.”

“I know. It’s apparently quite the delicacy.”

Chris insists on being the one to go grab the leashes and incite the dogs. Noah freaks out, of course, and Zach takes a moment to stand back and pretend not to enjoy the sheer ridiculousness of a grown man capering with dogs in increasing paroxysms of happiness. He’s pretty sure that if Chris had a tail, he’d be wagging it.

“Let’s get a move on,” Zach says finally. “It’s getting cold out.”

They stumble and trip their way down the stairs and back out into the street, Noah and Skunk dependably underfoot, their leashes crisscrossing and tangling so Chris and Zach have to choreograph a series of moves to work themselves free. Zach lurches the wrong way, and Chris grabs his shoulder to still him-- “here, let me”-- before taking hold of his wrist, relieving him of Skunk’s leash and replacing it with Noah’s because switching is just easier than trying to get two overexcited dogs to move anywhere resembling the direction you actually want them to go.

The gesture and the the kinetics of the moment are overwhelming somehow, and Zach’s overcome with laughter, doubling over in the street. There might be a sketchy looking dude with an awfully big telephoto lens ducking around a parked car, but Zach is cracking up and Chris is grinning like he just won a prize. So if there is, Zach really couldn’t care less.

Business completed, they herd the dogs back to Zach’s. They talk about going out to dinner until Chris lets out a gaping yawn and sinks back onto the couch. Zach makes a command decision to raid the fridge and whip up a spaghetti carbonara that’s not to be trifled with, even if Chris does hop from one foot to the other and let out high pitched noises when Zach cracks the egg over the pan.

“You’re seriously not going to cook it first?”

“The pan is hot, genius. It’s cooking right now. And it doesn’t come together right if you don’t do it like this; it’d just be, like, spaghetti with scrambled eggs in it. And that would be weird.”

Chris makes an inchoate noise and shuffles back over to the couch to his wine and the remote. “Ooh,” he says. “The Godfather started five minutes ago.”

Later, there’s a horse head in Jack Woltz’s bed and two sacked out dogs in Zach’s. He usually has a strict no-dogs-on-the-bed rule, but it’s like those little bastards know these are special circumstances and they stand a higher than usual chance of table scraps, spontaneous walks, and bedspace. Zach groans as he tugs at the comforter in an effort to dislodge thirty-plus pounds of mutt. Noah sighs in his sleep and Zach inches into the sliver of space he’s been afforded. Out on the couch, Chris has roused himself long enough to change and brush his teeth, and accepts Zach’s guest towels and sheets with sleepy thanks. Zach clicks off the light, dimly registering the glow of the TV from the living room before he falls asleep.

***

“Aw, crap.” Chris’s phone has buzzed. He sets his coffee down and fiddles with the touchscreen. “Hey, c’mere and look at this.”

He slides the phone across the table so Zach can see the picture of the two of them, walking down the sidewalk with Noah and Skunk in tow. It’s the precise moment Chris grabbed his wrist. The two of them are grinning at each other, and Zach can almost see the laughter frozen in his chest, about to bubble up and out. It’s...actually kind of a good picture, minus the whole creepy stalker vibe.

PINE AND QUINTO ON INTIMATE STROLL IN EAST VILLAGE, says the headline.

“I don’t know about you, but my idea of an intimate stroll does not include poop baggies,” Zach says. “Dude, did you google this?”

“What? No! My publicist texted me.”

Zach snorts. “Uh oh. What did she say?”

“It’s literally just a question mark and the link.”

“Are you in trouble, Christopher?” Chris blushes, just like Zach knew he would, and it really shouldn’t be so attractive. But it is, so Zach gives himself a pass on both provoking it and enjoying the view.

Chris reaches up and socks him on the arm. “Shut up.”

Zach drains the dregs of his mug of coffee and stretches. “So I don’t know what you want to do today,” he says. “But I have a bunch of stuff to read through for work, so if you’re tired from yesterday--”

“Sure thing,” Chris says hurriedly. “I brought a book. And I have a couple scripts with me, too.” There’s relief in his voice, Zach thinks, and he can’t place the uneasy feeling it stirs in his own gut. He refills their mugs and brews another pot, and they don’t talk about the picture again.

They work in comfortable silence until late in the afternoon, at which point Chris tosses his tablet aside and starts pacing the living room like some kind of caged animal.

“Can I help you?” Zach says, not looking up from the script he’s paging through.

“Nah, I’m just getting kind of--”

“Stir crazy?”

“Maybe. You want to go out tonight? Like, out out?”

Zach hasn’t gone out in a while--just before the breakup he’d been in kind of a static tailspin, wherein he decided that if he just maintained orbit around the apartment and waited for the phone to ring once, twice a day with dispatches from Paris fashion week and Oh shit, baby, I’ve got to go, there’s this--okay, love you, talk to you soon--no, don’t call later, I don’t want you to have to stay up--

If he could just...hold things like that, stay put, there’d be no way for the calls to stop and the doubt to stop its inexorable creep to rush in headlong. There’d be no way for the inevitable to happen, for the listen, it’s been amazing, but I just-- and the no, no, I get it, I do

So no, Zach hasn’t been out in a while. He’s been spending his nights at home, drinking totally appropriate and not at all self-destructive amounts of alcohol and actually, like, eating quinoa and taking long baths and going to bed early. It’s a very healthy, mid-to-late-thirties self care kind of thing, and he thinks it’s working except for the part where he still feels like shit.
Which is theoretically why Chris is here, though, right?

“Sure,” Zach says. “Let’s go out. If you’re sure you’re not worried about...you know.” He mimes taking a picture.

Chris grins, waving his hand dismissively. “Come on, you think I can’t deal with that? I’ve been around the block a few times at this point.”

“A few thousand times, more like.”

Chris pointedly ignores him. “Awesome, so we’re going out. I’m going to go on record right now as saying I think you should shave. Go soon, because that business might take you a while to weedwhack through.”

Zach rubs thoughtfully at his chin. “What, you don’t like my shamebeard?”

Chris pats him solemnly on the shoulder. “Zachary, it’s only a shamebeard if you’ve got something to be ashamed of.”

“Oh my god, that was such a touching affirmation. I’m going to get it embroidered on a throw pillow.”

Chris is rummaging through his suitcase, pulling out a pair of jeans which he honest-to-god sniffs, then chucking a boot over his shoulder like the walking disaster he is. “Well, nice to know that if this whole movie star gig doesn’t pan out, I can make bank in the self-help aisle. And please tell me you have an amazing dinner suggestion, because I am starving.”

“Hmm, I don’t know about amazing, but there’s this place in the West Village I’ve been meaning to try. I mean, I know we sort of had Italian last night, but this is like...New American Italian, but the chef’s Korean so there’s kind of a fusion thing happening, I don’t know…”

“Sounds pretentious as hell,” Chris says. “I love it. Now get your ass in the bathroom and shave.”

It’s all Zach can do to comply, traipsing numbly into the bathroom and closing the door. He stares at himself in the mirror for a long time before breaking out the razor, and it turns out Chris is right. The beard feels a little like armor, and it takes a while to shed.

Dinner is great, because Zach has great taste. Chris looks gleefully at the menu, which is a good sign right from the get-go. “I love all this weird shit,” he says, mercifully out of earshot of their server. “Like, okay, ‘monkey bread’ with lardo and seaweed butter? But I’m sure it’s awesome, and we’re definitely getting it.” They also get a bottle of wine with a pricetag that makes Zach cringe, but Chris glares at him over the table until he stops looking at more reasonable options. “Jesus, live a little. Don’t think I didn’t see that boxed swill in your fridge.”

“That stuff isn’t half bad, and it keeps forever. And seriously, who are you and what have you done with Chris Pine? I thought you were all low key salt of the earth or something.”

Chris blushes again, hard to see in the low light but there regardless. Zach gets the impression that there’s a big part of Chris, just like there’s a big part of him, that still feels a little funny about all the perks of their particular career choice. Zach walks into a restaurant or a grocery store and part of him is instantly back in college, counting his change to buy a shitty oversized bottle of Del Toro red and liking it. Good food, good wine--Zach loves them, but he hopes like hell he never gets blasé about it. Chris was born into this, in some ways, but drinking your parents’ wine at Sunday dinner and putting your own John Hancock on the check are two very different things, Zach knows. It’s also why Chris so damn house proud. Speaking of which--

“How come you’ve never brought me the fruits of your garden? We could have been having, like, locavore beer dinners or something this whole time.”

“Dude, shut up,” Chris says. “Honestly, only like a couple of carrots and a head of lettuce were actually mine. There were these slugs that got into everything and pretty much ruined my crop, so we had to improvise. At Whole Foods.”

“Are you listening to yourself? And how much time did you spend on some godforsaken gardening forum on the internet asking doomsday preppers and retirees about your slugs?”

“Hey, those people know their shit,” Chris says around the lip of his glass. “Corgimom52 was the one who finally diagnosed the problem.”

Zach starts laughing so hard he hiccups, drawing the stares of fellow diners. Finally he retreats to the bathroom to get ahold of himself, and as he leans against the wall across from the sinks he thinks he can’t remember the last time he felt this way.

***

After dinner, they wend their way east, through the Village back towards Zach’s by way of the bar he’s come to think of as his local. It’s velvety-dark inside, lit with flickery tealights. The regulars are just that, regular people he sees at the dog park sometimes, and the bartenders are generous with their pours. He shoulders politely through the press of people at the bar and orders, a G&T for him and another glass for red for Chris. “And a couple waters, thanks,” he adds, sliding a bill across the bar.

They’ve procured a booth in the back, and as Zach makes his way over with the drinks Chris looks up, his face glowing in the candlelight. Zach’s stomach flips at the sight, which is normal, okay, because his friend is here and they’ve had a nice night and it doesn’t have to be over yet because Chris is staying for awhile. So what’s not to like about that? What self-respecting stomach wouldn’t do a happy little heel-click at Chris Pine crashing on its couch?

“There’s a guy over by the door,” Chris says as Zach slides in. “Giving you the hairy eyeball.”

Zach looks up and looks back down post fucking haste, taking a big gulp of his drink and wincing at the bite of the gin. “Fuck,” he says. “That’s one of his friends. He lives around here too.”

“You wanna go?”

Zach shakes his head. “Fuck it. We just got these, and it’s not like we divided up neighborhood bars when...when he ended it. I don’t even think he’s been back in the city since.”

“It’s up to you. Just say the word and we’ll go.”

“It’s fine. Besides, I’m--” Zach shakes his head, glancing sidelong at Chris and grinning.

“You’re what, here with a super hot dude? It’s cool, I get it. I’d use me to get get back at my ex too.” Chris smiles back. Under the table, his foot slides over and bumps up against Zach’s. “I mean, I’m no model, but…”

“Trust me,” Zach says. “I think I’m done with models.”

“I’ve dated my share, let me tell you.” Chris heaves a put-upon sigh. “I’m pretty sure they’re actually superior celestial beings or something, placed on earth temporarily to learn human concepts like, I don’t know, ugliness and regret.”

“That’s actually kind of poetic,” Zach says.

Chris shrugs. “I try. But hey, dudebro’s still looking.”

Zach takes another sip, studiously doesn’t look himself. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. Hey, you know what would be funny?”

Zach’s about to ask what when Chris leans closer on the banquette and drapes an arm over Zach’s shoulder. “Um, hello,” Zach says.

“Fake boyfriends,” Chris says.

“Oh god,” Zach says. “I’m dead, aren’t I. I got hit by a bus on the way over here and hell is a bad romantic comedy.”

“No, but it would be awesome,” Chris says. “Think about it. The media’s already in on it and everything. Just imagine him stumbling back to the hotel after his stupid Margiela after party or whatever and googling you--because you know he’s doing it--and seeing that picture.”

“Okay, a) how do you even know Margiela? And b) I’m supposed to be doing this mature, normal breakup thing, which fake boyfriends is absolutely not. So--”

“Shit,” Chris hisses. “That guy’s coming over.”

“No, he’s fucking not.”

“Yes, he fucking is,” Chris grits through his teeth, and yeah, he totally is because now he’s standing over their table. Why the fuck do people do these things, Zach wonders. Chris is still draped all over him. His coat smells of wool and Cool Water, because apparently it’s 1998.

“Hey,” says the guy. Jerome, Zach thinks. “Zachary, right?” Like you don’t know.

“Sure, man. Jerome?” God, he was so tempted to just botch the guy’s name, but Zach’s not that much of a dick no matter the circumstances.

Jerome nods. “How’ve you been? You heard much from Paris?”

Chris squeezes Zach’s shoulder supportively, like a good fake boyfriend should. Zach coughs. “Um, not a whole lot,” he says. “I haven’t really been following that whole scene lately.”

Jerome gives Zach a long look. Zach watches him try to pretend he’s not checking Chris out too. Chris grins like Miss America and leans forward, holding out the hand that hasn’t migrated to the back of Zach’s neck. “Chris,” he says. “Nice to meet you.”

Jerome nods. “Yeah, you too.” His gaze darts between them again, eyes widening, and he shoves his hands in his pockets. “Well, listen, Zach, it was good to--”

“Sure thing,” Zach says. “Later, man.”

Jerome ducks his head and beats a hasty retreat, phone out before he hits the door.

Zach heaves a sigh and takes a long drink of gin and tonic. “I’m going to need another one of these,” he mutters. “And you do realize word of that little exchange probably isn’t just going to Paris tonight, right?”

“Meh,” Chris says. “What kind of fake boyfriend would I be if I cared about a little celebrity gossip?” He points to Zach’s drink. “You want the same thing?”

It’s not until Chris slides out of the booth and makes for the bar that he actually lets go of Zach. When he goes, Zach reaches back, lays his palm over the nape of his neck. His skin is still warm. At the bar, Chris is smiling at nothing in particular.

They stay for a couple more drinks, any trepidation Zach might have felt about the whole Jerome encounter melted away by the alcohol and the warmth of Chris’s leg pressed against his. Chris seems to be going whole hog with this fake boyfriend thing, and ordinarily Zach would put a stop to it, at least scoot over a little in the booth so they’re not quite so close. But tonight feels different. It feels a little like the eye of a hurricane, a strange calm that Zach knows will pass into storm eventually. He’s been cooped up inside for so long, though, power flickering. He can’t help but stay out a little while longer.

“Let’s go,” he says eventually. “Let’s go home.”

Chris slides out of the booth and stands, offering Zach a hand, and when he takes it and allows himself to be pulled up and righted Chris clutches tight and guides Zach out through the maze of people in the bar, out onto the street. They’re halfway down the block before he lets go.

***

They go to brunch the next morning, late. Chris orders a bloody mary and Zach looks at him pointedly as he requests a green juice and a large glass of water.

“I’m not going to say anything about that swamp slurry, so you can leave my hair-of-the-dog out of this,” Chris says, groaning into his coffee. “I’m on vacation, dammit.” His phone beeps at him; it’s another text from his publicist.

“Ooh,” Chris says, sounding oddly excited. “Blind item, check it out.” He clears his throat.

An up-and-coming male Broadway star and an A (minus) list film actor were seen canoodling at an intimate spot in the East Village last night. We know Mr. A-minus is bi (or maybe just polyamorous?) when it comes to movie franchises, but could he be diversifying in the bedroom too?

“A-minus! Be still my beating heart. But come on, that’s way too easy,” Chris says. “That’s barely even a near-sighted item. And people sure are into that word, ‘intimate.’”

“Also ‘canoodle’.” Zach makes a face. “Almost as bad as ‘hunk’. So is your publicist ready to kill you yet?”

“I should call her,” Chris says, inspecting his phone. “It’s cool. I’ll just tell her I’m your fake boyfriend for the week. That’ll clear things right up.” He shoves a piece of bacon in his mouth and grins obnoxiously, and Zach really can’t tell whether or not he’s joking.

“So our fake relationship is...ongoing?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s kind of funny, don’t you? Give the people what they want. Also I think I might finally have lost my mind, so there’s that.”

“I’m giving maximum credence to that last possibility,” Zach says. “No more day drinking for you, Pine. I’m the one with the broken heart; if anyone’s going to lose his mind around here, it’s going to be me.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“So look, if you’re going to be my fake boyfriend I think it’s only fair that I get a little more information on you as an...intimate being.”

“An intimate being?” Chris laughs, sitting up a little straighter. “Fair enough. What do you want to know?”

“For starters, am I your first fake boyfriend?”

Chris narrows his eyes. “Well played,” he says. “Like I don’t know you’ve been trying to extract that information for literally years.” He sighs theatrically. “If you must know, yes. I only fake boyfriend for you, Zachary.”

And okay, that bit of info shouldn’t provoke anywhere the sense of jubilation it does, given the whole “fake” part of the equation, but whatever. Chris is almost done with his bloody mary; it’s probably some kind of contact high.

“Hmm. Okay. Have you...how should I put this…”

“Fake hooked up with any hypothetical dudes?”

“That’ll work.” Zach bites his lip to keep from laughing.

“Hypothetically...yes.”

Zach drums his fingers on the table. Across from him, Chris is stirring the watered-down remnants of his drink with its celery garnish. “This is all very interesting, Christopher. Very interesting indeed.” Chris looks at his eggs and smiles, smaller this time and possibly not meant for Zach to see.

Okay, thinks Zach. What the hell is going on here?

***

Zach has tickets for opening night of this new play, and by a stroke of excellent luck the friend he was supposed to go with is slammed at work and only too happy to give Chris her ticket. Chris fusses that he doesn’t have a suit, but manages to clean up attractively enough anyway, not the Zach notices. He does notice Chris maintaining his non-shamebeard, though, and spends altogether too long contemplating its distribution of salt-and-pepper in a particularly clear shaft of afternoon light. Zach is back to reviewing scripts and Chris is trying to teach Skunk to shake hands with limited success.

“I’ve tried it already,” Zach says. “Noah’s the ham in this family.”

“Oh, I think you’d be surprised. Look at this little guy. Can’t you just see his name in lights? Now if I could just get him to do the thing instead of eating my bribes and looking cute...”

“Come on, dog whisperer. Curtain’s in 45 minutes.”

They make their way into the theater as nonchalantly as possible. It’s not especially hard; this is a new production, off-Broadway, solid cast but no huge names. A theater-lover’s play, which suits them both just fine. There are a couple critics Zach recognizes, they smile and nod, but they’re not here for him and who knows if they even know who Chris is beyond a certain nebulous aura of celebrity.

The show is good, tense, and Zach finds himself looking over at Chris semi-regularly to watch him watch the stage. He sits like he’s about to leap out of his seat, and by intermission Zach’s categorized a series of about ten different reactions to the various twists and turns of the plot. The lights come up on Chris practically curled in his seat gnawing on his fist.

“You okay there?”

Chris disentangles himself. “Are you kidding? It’s great.” He gets to his feet and claps Zach on the shoulder. “You want a drink?”

Zach usually hates screwing around with the bar at intermission, but he lets Chris drag him into the lobby anyway, where a savvy theater employee is only too pleased to play gofer.

“You are awesome,” Chris tells her, handing Zach a clear plastic cup of red.

“Cheers,” Zach says, clipping Chris’s cup with his own.

“Cheers yourself. Thanks for getting me the ticket; this is fun.”

“Yeah,” Zach says. “It is.”

Truth be told, hanging out with Chris is always fun. Sometimes the fun comes with a side of ridiculous or infuriating, but it’s always there as an underpinning, coursing through Zach like the wine that’s seeping into his bloodstream at this very moment. The room starts to feel pleasantly spinny, Zach a little loopy, and he leans against the wall in a dimmish corner and watches Chris follow suit in a slow sideways slouch until they’re face to face. Chris’s mouth is stained purple.

“So, uh,” Chris starts. “I never saw your play.”

Zach shrugs. “It’s cool. I never saw Jack Ryan.”

“Yeah, but that’s not really your thing.”

“True. But look, it’s fine, Chris. You were working. It happens.”

“I just...I wanted to. I really--” He pauses, staring hard at Zach. “You’re different, here.”

Zach takes a self-protective sip of wine. “Oh yeah?”

Chris holds up his hands. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad. It’s just...I know you’ve had a lot of shit go down lately, but you seem...you seem happy. On the whole, I mean.”

Zach looks away, presses his lips together. The wine is tart, and he holds it in his mouth until it’s warm before he swallows. “I am,” he says.

“I wanted to see you do something you really loved doing,” Chris says quietly.

Zach thinks of everything he said about the play, all the press, all the private gushing he did to Chris, to everyone. All true, but dumb, he thinks, dumb to assume there wouldn’t be some kind of value judgement read into his words somewhere along the line.

Yeah, but it’s not really your thing.

Something catches in his throat like a bone; he wants to grab Chris by the shirt and shake him, tell him he loves doing other things too--loves making Trek with him. But then, maybe that’s not what Chris meant at all, so. In the end, he opens his mouth with no clue what should come out of it just in time to hear the chime signaling the end of intermission.

“Gotta go,” Zach says.

Chris licks his lips. “Yeah.”

They hustle back to their seats. In the second before the lights go down, Zach turns to look at Chris, shoots a hand out into the space between them. A blue-clad woman steps out onto the stage in the swell of lights and Zach’s hand comes to rest on Chris’s knee.

***

There’s a little cluster of photographers waiting for them when they leave. The first flashbulb goes off and Zach feels his blood pressure spike; he’s not really on his game.

“Hey, Zach!” someone calls from the mob. “Over here! C’mon, just look this way--” The shout opens the floodgates, and Zach and Chris start off down the sidewalk with a cloud of flashbulbs pressing in on all sides. Questions come rapid fire; Zach’s not sure how that even works, if these people are hoping for some tiny nugget of fact they can twist into a billion pageviews. Well, Zach’s not an idiot, and he’s been doing this for long enough now to tuck his chin and walk, as much as he wants to do something obnoxious.

“Chris, how long are you in town for? Staying at Zach’s place?”

“Are you two single?”

“How long have you been together?”

Next to Zach, Chris tenses. “Sorry, man,” Zach mutters, even though it’s not his fault. If anything, Chris is the bigger star at this point. Not that these things matter, not really. They’re being dogged by these assholes either way. God, he hopes a little tolerance for the paps has figured into Chris’s learning curve somewhere along the line. Maybe some blood pressure meds. A flask of vodka. Zen Buddhism. Anything will do.

In the end, Zach figures he has to give Chris some credit. They make it a block and three-quarters down the next before Chris loses it, and when he does, it’s not exactly at the photographers.

The flashbulbs and shouted comments and questions don’t stop. Zach thinks he’s gotten okay at tuning them out- and really, things like this happen infrequently enough here that he’s almost made a kind of truce with it. Okay, guys, he thinks. Come and get your pound of flesh, then fuck off back to your holes until the next time. But Chris is fresh from LA, where this happens a hell of a lot more often, and from the set of Chris’s jaw and the murder in his eyes Zach estimates he’s got about thirty seconds, maybe forty-five before it all goes to shit. He’s just turned to Chris to ask if he wants to give up on walking and get a cab when it happens.

“Hey Zach, what’s it like to date a guy who’s got to stay on the down low? Must suck that he won’t come out for you.”

“Wow, that’s kinda low,” Zach mutters, as the guy lunges toward them and shoots a picture, the flash going off so close to Zach’s face that he imagines he can feel a burst of heat. He’s half-blinded from the afterimage burning through his fucking retinas. The next thing he knows, Chris is yelling something (“You know what, man? Fuck off!”) and someone is grabbing him by the shoulders and pulling him close and--and kissing him soundly on the mouth.

Zach’s lizard brain dimly registers the fact that it’s Chris--holy fuck, it’s Chris--but then his body seems to react of its own volition. He ducks his head away and sidesteps, but his body won’t quite go, and it takes him a second to realize that that’s because Chris is holding his hand.

“Chris, what are you doing?”

But Chris doesn’t answer, lifts their hands up and swings them in the air like they’re going to skip off down the street together.

“I’m beat, honey,” Chris says, throwing his voice like he’s on stage himself. “What say we call it a night?”

“Seriously, what the fuck are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m fake boyfriending.”

Zach wipes his mouth with the back of his free hand. “Are you also drunk? Were you shooting vodka in the theater while I wasn’t looking?”

“No way, Zachary,” Chris says, his voice too loud again. “I don’t care how cool it is; we’re not painting the living room black.”

“Jesus Christ,” Zach says, trying to wrest his hand free of Chris’s to step to the curb and hail a cab. Chris jerks back, and the force of his grasp catches Zach off stride so that he ends up yanked back against Chris’s body even as the hand on his free side snaps up into attention in his New Yorkiest taxi hail. Chris’s hand finds its way back to the nape of Zach’s neck, encouraging, just as another flash goes off and a cab squeals to a halt before them. Zach recovers himself, hauls himself bodily away from Chris and gets around him, somehow managing to both get the car door open and shove Chris toward it in one semi-fluid motion.

When he’s safely slammed the door behind them, he leans forward and gives the driver his address. He can barely hear his own voice over the pounding in his ears. In his peripheral vision, Chris is scrubbing his hands over his face. Zach stares at the divider in front of him, following the contours of a map of Manhattan with his eyes.

“Sorry,” Chris says, breathless. “Sorry.”

Zach doesn’t answer. Out the windows, lights smear into abstract patterns as they speed downtown. He thinks he might be in some kind of fugue state, because he doesn’t quite remember the whole ride, just that before he knows what he’s doing he’s swiping his credit card and stumbling out of the cab and up the steps. He doesn’t quite come back to himself until he’s back in the apartment, Chris announcing his continued presence by stampeding up the stairs after Zach and closing the door after them carefully, like he’s trying to be helpful.

“Um,” Chris says.

“What the fuck,” Zach says, drawing out the “k” satisfyingly, “was that?”

Chris is breathing harder than a third floor walkup should warrant, and Zach must still be dissociating because it seems like Chris is coming closer now, cautiously. Like he thinks Zach’s going to spook and what, fly out the window?

“Remember before when I said I thought I was losing it?”

There’s the hint of a smile on Chris’s lips now, a definite all-work-and-no-play axe blade through the door kind of a deal, and suddenly Zach’s laughing, a high hyena laugh that he can’t control. He gets the feeling that if he stops laughing, really bad things are going to happen. Chris is still grinning like a psychopath. He flops against the wall and slides down onto his ass, Zach sinking down next to him so all of a sudden they’re huddled there together and Zach somehow feels a lot less like punching Chris. He supposes this is an improvement.

Chris puts his hand on Zach’s knee. Zach is still fucking laughing, and the force of it makes his knee and thus Chris’s hand bob up and down, up and down.

“Um,” Zach says.

Chris, goddamn him to hell, licks his lips for the millionth time today. Then he reaches over and slides a hand under the collar of Zach’s shirt, skating along Zach’s clavicle.

“Cameras are off,” Zach whispers.

“Are they?” Chris leans in and and kisses Zach for the second time.

Zach closes his eyes, takes a deep breath in through his nose. When it’s over, he finds himself meeting Chris halfway, resting against his forehead. Zach is staring right at a whorl of silver stubble on Chris’s chin, which is just unfair. “What, is this a sex scene, Pine?”

He can hear Chris swallow, the wet click of it. “Maybe it’s a love scene.”

Zach snorts, though it feels painful, wrenched free. He reaches out, fingertips grazing Chris’s shirt, a touch that could turn into a shove if he let his weight fall a little further forward. Zach watches his fingers dent the starched cotton, nails nicking buttons.

“Chris--”

Chris sighs. “Don’t.”

“I just...Listen, I just got out of a pretty intense relationship.”

Chris sits back on his heels, his head thunking against the wall. “God, really, that’s your line? And I said don’t.” He sighs again, sits up. His face is splotched pink. “But fuck, it’s...it’s us,” he says. “So it’s not like--”

Zach slouches next to him. Their shoulders are touching. “Exactly,” he says. “It’s us, Chris. You...you never said, you never said anything--”

“Do you want me to go?”

“No! I don’t know! Are we--” He sucks in a breath. “What happens if you go?”

Chris laughs, a limping, wounded sound. “We never speak of this again. I crawl back to L.A. and lick my wounds. We...we get on with it.”

“Oh yeah? And how do you think that’s going to go?”

“Does it matter? You’ve made it perfectly clear that you--”

“Have I, though?” Zach says, voice just a shade louder than a whisper. “Because...I don’t really think I did.”

Chris lets his hands drop between his legs, elbows resting on his knees. “Well, what the fuck then, Zachary? How about you elucidate.”

Zach reaches over, encircles one of Chris’s wrists with thumb and forefinger, flopping it back and forth like a fish. “I don’t want you to go,” he says. “I want you to stay here, with me.”

Chris wriggles free, takes Zach’s hand and runs his thumb over the back of it. Zach’s palms are all sweaty. It’s gross; his nose is drippy from the cold and his eyes are watering and he wants to shrug Chris off and wipe this palms on his pants and his nose on his sleeve and run into his room and lock the door and show not one iota more of his messy life to Chris. But then he also wants to kiss Chris on the mouth, to keep doing it as long as he possibly can, and he gets the impression those two things cannot be mutually exclusive. It’s kind of a bitch, actually.

Chris gestures at Zach’s face. “You’ve, uh, got a little something.”

“Oh my god, fuck you.” Zach ducks against his sleeve and comes back up again clean and ready to hook two fingers under Chris’s collar and jerk his mouth closer.

That first kiss had been more a peck than anything else; in no way had Zach been able to take full advantage of unbridled access to Chris’s lips. So he feels completely justified in ignoring the small, shrieking, cowardly part of his brain that’s telling him this is a terrible horrible no good very bad idea.

Chris tenses, like he isn’t quite sure that this is really happening. Zach sets about trying to convince him, sucking Chris’s lower lip into his mouth, letting himself be spurred on by all those thousands of times he’s stolen glances at these lips in weak moments. Chris distracted at interviews and table reads, on set or at lunch, looking out the window at nothing and licking his damn lips absentmindedly. Get some damn chapstick, Zach’s always wanted to say, and quit torturing everyone within a fifty-foot radius. Maddening. It’s been absolutely maddening, and now he’s going to exact his revenge.

And wouldn’t you know it, Chris is exactly as orally inclined as his lip-licking compulsion suggests; Zach doesn’t think he’s ever seen someone this undone just from kissing. He moves to pull away and Chris grabs his sweater and moans into Zach’s mouth, and okay, fine, it’s not exactly a hardship to hang out a little while longer. But eventually Zach’s desire to look wins out, and he sits back on his heels, Chris’s fingers still clutching his sweater and tugging it down at the collar. Chris is flushed, pink seeping down beneath the neckline of his own shirt. His eyes are heavy-lidded, his lips a wet, livid rose. Fuck, those lips. Zach has a sudden flash of what looks an awful lot like divine inspiration from where he’s sitting: his fingers tangled in Chris’s hair, yanking his head back to expose the long line of his throat, that mouth open and ready…

“Mmm,” he hums to himself, unable to resist reaching down to palm himself with the heel of his hand. Yes, he thinks. This is all very, very interesting. And from the looks of things, Chris is pretty interested himself. Zach reaches over and scratches his way up the inseam of Chris’s pants, skating closer to his crotch.

Chris squirms, like he’s not sure whether or not to encourage this. He arches backwards and Zach follows, getting up on his knees and scooting closer to Chris, sliding one arm around his waist and pulling Chris to him. Chris isn’t expecting it, a surprised huff of air escaping his lungs. Zach laughs quietly and leans in to kiss Chris again, this time along his jawline. He can’t resist bringing his hand up, tracing Chris’s lips with a fingertip. Chris nips at Zach and sucks his finger into his mouth. Zach’s other hand scrabbles reflexively at Chris’s hip, and Zach can’t help but gasp.

“Better watch it,” he mutters.

“What was that?” Chris has to release Zach’s index finger to answer, and Zach quickly moves it out of reach.

“I just...uh…” Ordinarily Zach would have no problem telling a partner exactly what had been on his mind, but this...this was Chris, and the words seem to stick in his throat somehow.

Chris ducks his head and kisses Zach’s shoulder. “You what?”

“I...I really like your mouth,” Zach says.

Chris laughs. “Yeah, no shit.”

“What are you talking about?” Zach can feel blood creep hotly into his cheeks. He feels hot all over now, and he badly wants to take his sweater off.

“Come on, like I haven’t noticed you staring at my mouth at multiple points during our acquaintance? I mean, you’re a subtle guy, Zachary, but nobody’s that subtle.”

“I do not stare at your mouth.”

Chris tracks down Zach’s hand and snatches it up before he can pull back. He unfurls Zach’s fingers, runs a fingertip over the lines on his palm, presses a kiss to the center of it. “Yes,” Chris says. “You do.”

“Well, I mean--”

“The thing is, though,” Chris says, “the thing is. You spend enough time watching someone watch your mouth, you, uh...you start to get ideas.”

Zach swallows. “Really.”

“Really. And I have it on very good authority that I’m, uh, skilled. In this area.”

Zach giggles. “Oh, it’s so on, Pine. Get your fucking pants off.”

“As romantic as your living room floor is, I’m afraid I find it a little bit lacking in the comfort department. Gotta take care of the ol’ knees.”

“Fine. To the bed with you, Grandpa.”

They make for the bedroom, shucking clothes as they go until they’re bedside, arms full of shoes and shirts that they pile next to the bed. Then they’re on it, mattress dipping, and the only thing left are pants to shimmy out of, briefs that Zach takes longer to work off of Chris. It turns out he likes the way Chris’s bubble butt and underwear have conspired to give him a frankly adorable plumber’s crack situation.

“I’ve spent the last seven years checking out your ass, too,” he tells Chris matter-of-factly.

“Oh,” Chris says, sounding almost shy. “That, I did not know.”

“It follows, doesn’t it?” Zach runs his hand under the waistband of Chris’s black briefs, squeezing his ass appreciatively.

“I guess.” Chris squirms against Zach, hard against his thigh. Zach tugs Chris’s underwear all the way off, and Chris sits back momentarily to drag it down his legs and kick it onto the floor.

“Hi,” Chris says, not bothering to hide the fact that he’s checking Zach out. “So, we were talking about my mouth,” he says.

“That we were,” Zach says.

“So, it’s...it’s all yours.”

Zach can’t stifle a moan at that; he’s pretty sure he’s had this exact fantasy multiple times over the course of their acquaintance: Chris kneeling in front of him on the bed, mouth open in a soft ‘o’, eyes wide with a mixture of anticipation and something else, nerves maybe.

“You sure about that?” Zach mutters, running a hand over his dick from base to tip and back, jerking slowly. Chris’s gaze darts down to it, and he licks his lips again. There’s no way in hell Zach has the self control not to take the gesture as an invitation. He stands up, scoots up against the bed so his thighs are flush against the mattress. He’s a handspan from Chris, and he takes himself in hand and guides the head of his dick over to Chris’s mouth, tracing its outline. Chris moans, and Zach whacks him lightly on the cheek with it, swipes it over Chris’s lips. He’s already leaking a little, and Chris’s tongue darts out and licks.

“You’ve been thinking about this, huh?” Zach says quietly.

Chris nods. “Yeah.”

“You wanna take it?”

“Yeah.”

“Mmm. Okay.”

Chris leans forward and takes Zach into his mouth. Zach shuts his eyes at the sensation, wet and hot, but then forces them open again because there’s no way he’s not going to watch every second of this. Chris’s fucking tongue on his cock, his own eyes shut, his lips shining with spit. He’s being delicate about it, and Zach...well, that’s not really what he thinks about when he thinks of Chris’s mouth.

Zach runs his fingers through Chris’s hair. It’s grown a little, and he’s glad for it. Something to get ahold of. He tightens his grip, pulls a little, and Chris’s mouth falls open wider in surprise. Zach takes his chance, snapping his hips and fucking deeper into Chris’s mouth. Chris grunts, and Zach can feel a fluttery spasm start up from the back of Chris’s throat as he gags.

“You good?” Zach asks thickly. It’s not really fair, is it, what he’s asking of Chris. For all Zach knows, Chris has imagined, like, a very earnest handjob that finishes up in his mouth. But Chris is nodding, breathing in long through his nose, and Zach has self-control but not that much. He braces his other hand on Chris’s shoulder and begins to fuck that hot mouth in earnest. Zach’s a talker, always has been, and he showers Chris with a litany of encouragement as he does so: yes and so fucking hot and thought about this for so long.

Chris can’t answer, of course, but he takes Zach all the way to the balls and nestles his nose against Zach’s belly and hums, and Zach isn’t sure if he’s pissed or grateful when he thinks about how Chris must have acquired this particular skill set.

He pulls out all the way, webs of saliva trailing from Chris’s lips. Chris sucks in a deep breath. He’s flushed, unfocused. He blinks slowly up at Zach, reflex tears shining at the corners of his eyes. Zach wants to reach out and trail his fingers through them. Instead, he reaches for Chris’s mouth. Chris goes after Zach’s fingers like they’re his dick, sucking them in with an aplomb that almost makes Zach wonder why he’s bothering with just fingers. Almost.

“Fuck, you look so hot like that,” Zach says. “You have no idea how...how much I’ve thought about doing this. It’s actually kind of embarrassing.”

Chris bites down gently on Zach’s fingers as if in reply. Zach pulls his hand away and lets Chris luxuriate in another breath through his mouth before lining himself up again and sinking deep into Chris’s throat. The sound he makes as he does it is somewhere between a groan and a growl. Zach thinks about the discomfort inherent in Chris’s position, the ache in his jaw, the burn of muscles, the tense line of his neck. Yet he holds still, passive, lets Zach coax lewd wet sounds from his mouth, lets rivulets of spit coagulate into a slick on his chin, on Zach’s balls. His face is a sloppy mess, and the tears have cut a path down into it now, sluicing over Chris’s cheekbones. Zach runs a thumb over the corner of Chris’s stretched mouth, through a shining tear track. He sticks his thumb into his mouth to suck off the salt. This is all for you, Zach thinks. He’s taking this for you. The thought is almost enough to make Zach shoot all on its own.

“You’re so good at this,” Zach says, unable to hold back. “You take it so well, Chris, I can’t--”

Chris moans; it comes out strangled and all the hotter for it, rough, and then suddenly Zach is coming. He cries out, curling at the waist over the bed, over Chris. His hands grope at the back of Chris’s head, down around the side of his throat where his pulse beats feverish time. He feels the twitch of muscles as Chris tries to swallow and pulls out, hauling Chris up by the shoulders into a deep and alkaline kiss.

“Gross,” Chris says when they part. But he grins at Zach anyway, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

Zach shrugs. “I think it’s hot,” he says, a little abashed.

Chris slings an arm around Zach’s waist and pulls them both back towards the bed. Zach lets himself be guided horizontal, still fuzzy-headed in the afterglow. Chris kisses his shoulder. “I think you’re hot,” he says. “And I think swallowing your come is hot. So there.”

Zach snorts. “If you say so. Seriously, how weirded out were you by that? Because I--”

Chris shrugs. “Comme ci, comme ça.”

“I’m not sure you’re allowed to speak the French language,” Zach says. “There’s probably a treaty or something.”

“Deflecting with sarcasm. Is that part of your mature thirtysomething mental health initiative? No, I’m, uh...I’m actually starting to think there’s not a whole lot about you that weirds me out. Which is...weird in and of itself, I guess.”

Zach nibbles a fingernail; Chris bat his hand away and twines their fingers together. “Hey,” Chris says. “Don’t think so much.”

“You make me think,” Zach says. “That’s all I ever do where you’re concerned.”

“Mmm. Less thinking, more blow jobs. Or, you know, whatever.”

Zach leans in and kisses Chris, doing his best to blot out the thoughts that threaten to intrude. He runs his hand down Chris’s chest, along his side. It’s the most he’s ever seen of Chris’s skin and it’s intoxicating. He scratches lightly along the ridge of Chris’s hip bone, down across the soft flesh of his inner thigh. He’s still mostly hard, Zach’s moment of rumination thankfully not too distracting.

“Or, you know, whatever,” Zach says, and runs his fingers over the head of Chris’s dick.

Chris twitches. “Zach--”

“What do you want?”

“What?”

“I got what I wanted. Seems only fair.”

Chris gulps. “I don’t--”

“I mean, you could always just leave it up to me.”

Chris looks mildly concerned. He bites his lip and leans back against the pillow, looking off into the corner of the room. The he looks back, his face neutral. “Okay,” he says. “Why don’t you surprise me?”

Zach raises an eyebrow. “You sure?”

“Sure I’m sure.”

Zach half wishes he had some kind of dangerous kitchen implement to whip out, just to see Chris’s reaction. But that would be mean, wouldn’t it, and Zach is feeling pretty charitable right now. He drums his fingers against the mattress thoughtfully for a second, then sits up and leans over Chris to rummage in the nightstand. He deposits his loot on Chris’s chest.

“Christopher,” he says.

“Zachary.” Chris holds up the lube and condom. “Your nefarious plans are revealing themselves.”

“Are they?” Zach straddles Chris’s lap, leaning down to crook a finger under his chin and tilt it up to kiss. “And what do you think I’m planning?”

“To skewer my ass like a kebab?”

Zach rolls his eyes. “Chris Pine, ladies and gentlemen. As a matter of fact, no. That is not what I’m planning.” He kisses from Chris’s mouth to his neck, sucking along his jawline. Chris writhes, stretching out on the bed. Zach takes his hand, closing his fingers over the tube of lubricant.

“You should count yourself very, very lucky,” he says. “Because this doesn’t happen very often.”

“Wait, what? Are you--are you saying you want me to, uh--”

“Skewer my ass like a kebab. Although please endeavor to use a little more finesse than that description implies.”

“Are you sure you want me to do this? Because I always kind of pictured myself more as the skeweree in this scenario, and if you’re not into it--”

“Will you just lie back and relax? I promise you, you’re not fucking me under duress.” He guides Chris’s hand to his dick, which is rapidly reengaging with the proceedings. Chris fists it experimentally, and Zach sucks in a breath. “See?”

“Oh my god, okay,” Chris says, smiling like a kid on Christmas. “This is...okay. Yes. What do we...oh, lube. How do you want me to do this?” He holds up the lube.

“Give it here,” Zach says bossily. Just because he’s technically bottoming in this scenario doesn’t mean it’s going to be any more than just that--a technicality. He thinks of the peculiar calm on Chris’s face as Zach fucked it. No matter what happens between them, Zach decides he won’t be able to die happy until he repeats the experience, with Chris’s ass this time. The thought cheers him disproportionately, so when he squeezes a prodigious amount of lube over his own fingers he does it grinning like an idiot.

He leans down over Chris again, lips at his ear. “Touch me,” he says. Chris shudders, but he complies, reaching between their bodies to jerk Zach slowly. Zach reaches back, spreading his legs wider as he does so. He runs a fingertip over his hole, presses carefully inside. It’s been a while, sure, but Zach’s not exactly out of practice doing this to himself. He slides another finger in, moving them slowly in and out in time to the clumsy way Chris is playing with his dick. He lets his head fall forward and his eyes fall closed, but at a gasp from Chris he opens them again. Chris is watching him, mouth hanging open and eyes like dinner plates.

“You like that? You like watching me?” Zach’s already a little breathless, the pleasurable burn of his fingers and Chris’s ministrations building a warm haze around them.

Chris nods. “Yeah.”

The thing is, Zach likes to be watched too. He supposes it’s a logical extension of performing in other capacities, but for Zach there’s nothing like the intimacy of a private audience, the way he can draw and hold Chris’s eyes. Chris’s face is bright pink, sweat beginning to bead on his brow, and Zach knows sure as breathing that Chris is getting desperate to touch himself. Almost as soon as he forms the thought, Chris drops his hand from Zach’s dick. He’s trying to be subtle about it as he moves it toward his own, but as close as they are subtlety is impossible. Zach looks pointedly at Chris’s wayward hand and tsks.

“No, Christopher,” he says. “I don’t think so. I think you’re going to need to lie there and watch a little longer.”

“Fuck,” Chris says.

“You can sit on your hands or something if it helps.”

Chris growls, which makes Zach laugh. He closes his eyes again and slides his fingers deeper, working himself open and listening for the uneven sounds of Chris’s breathing.

“I could cheat, you know. With your eyes closed.”

“Cheaters only cheat themselves,” Zach says without opening his eyes. He slides a third finger in and cries out, falling forward so that his face sort of collides with Chris’s. He kisses down Chris’s face until he finds his mouth and kisses him messily. He wants to bite Chris’s lips swollen and beestung, he thinks. He moans into Chris’s mouth.

“I want you,” he says roughly. “Where’s the--”

Chris scrabbles around on the bed for the condom, hands shaking as he rips it open and rolls it on. Zach catches his eye and smiles, struck suddenly by the improbability of the moment. He wants to laugh, and as Chris smiles back Zach thinks he feels something inside him crack, a iceberg calving. He smears a handful of lube over Chris’s dick and settles his gaze on his face as he lines himself up and shifts his weight, sinking down.

“Oh god, Zach, that’s--” Chris cries out, leaning in to grip Zach about the hips.

Zach shuts his eyes against the intensity of it, reaches down to fist himself as a balm against the burn. “Fuck,” he says, shaking his head from side to side, desperate for some kind of counterpoint. It’s definitely been awhile.

“You’re so fucking tight,” Chris says. “Oh my god, you can’t move yet, I don’t wanna shoot.”

Zach laughs at that, which turns into a moan because laughing with a dick up your ass is a questionable proposition at the best of times. Chris is biting his lip bloodless, and Zach watches the white of his teeth and breathes, working himself down until he’s flush with Chris. He reaches back and clasps Chris’s bent knee.

“Chris,” he says shakily. It’s about all he can manage.

“Oh my god,” Chris says again. “Oh god, oh god, oh god.”

Zach rocks back and forth experimentally, just the barest shifting of weight. He thinks about how he’d pictured this moment: riding Chris senseless, making him wait to come until Zach permitted it, watching him twitch and squirm with need. But now that it’s happening, he finds he can’t do any of that. He feels...too raw, too full, too much, like if Chris looks at him now--looks hard enough--he’ll be able to see everything.

“Hey,” he says, his throat tight. “Hey, um…” He reaches out to kind of scratch at Chris’s shoulder, and by some psychic miracle Chris seems to intuit what Zach needs. He sits up carefully so they’re face to face, so Zach’s in his lap. Somehow it makes the raw feeling worse, and Zach heaves a sigh, resting his head against Chris’s shoulder.

“You good?” Chris says, and there’s that fucking earnestness again, Chris killing Zach with kindness like he always does, and when Zach moves again it seems to shake a sob out against Chris’s skin.

“Zach?”

“Shut up,” Zach says, and grinds himself down against Chris because he doesn’t know what else to do.

“Ah!” Chris gasps, so Zach does it again, rocking slowly but steadily against Chris. It’s getting warm in the room. So if there’s something wet pooling between Zach’s cheek and Chris’s clavicle it’s definitely just sweat, because what Zach is having is hot and sweaty sex and not some kind of hackneyed emotional catharsis.

Chris drags his hands down Zach’s back. Zach clutches Chris’s shoulder, using it for leverage. They scratch and scrabble and clutch at each other. Zach has the vague thought that he should touch himself, but he thinks he’s forgotten where his dick even is in the wet slide of their bodies. When he feels Chris’s hand close around him he wants to snipe at him, tell him to fuck off. He must make some noise of protest, because Chris shakes his head and just keeps going. Zach loses his balance for a moment, tips forward and shifts his weight onto Chris. Before he can regain his purchase, Chris turns the tables like he’s been waiting for the opportunity. He leans back against the wall and takes hold of Zach’s hips with his free hand, holds him in place and...and starts fucking Zach in earnest.

“What are you doing?” Zach hisses.

“What do you fucking think?”

“But--”

“You like it,” Chris says. “You’re a mess, come on. I’m going to fuck your ass--hard, just like this. And you’re going to come for me.”

“Fuck you.” Zach rests his head on Chris’s shoulder again. Or, more accurately, he rests his mouth on Chris’s shoulder, sinks his teeth in and lets each thrust drag Chris’s skin against them.

Chris is undaunted, or maybe he likes the pain. Interesting, Zach thinks hysterically, although a world where he might be able to capitalize on this fact is almost unimaginable at this point. Bit by agonizing bit Zach is reduced to a set of jangling nerve endings, Chris’s dick in his ass and his hand slick and hot, his mouth on Zach’s ear whispering something he can’t quite hear, something sweet and infuriating. When Chris stops talking, it’s to stutter and gasp through what Zach guesses is his orgasm, and if Chris stops moving now Zach swears he’ll kill him, because he’s close too. He tenses, body like a tightrope, and covers Chris’s hand with his own to jack himself furiously.

Chris finds his voice again. “Yeah, come on, come for me. You’re right there, you--ah, come on, you feel so good--”

“I hate you,” Zach moans, spurting over their hands. “I hate you so much.”

Chris cups Zach’s face with one hand, runs his thumb over Zach’s wet cheek. “Me too."

***

“So, this has been a hell of a week,” Chris says. They've successfully booted the dogs out of the bedroom and Zach has spent the past fifteen minutes trying to avoid Chris's steadfastly freezing feet, with which Chris has marauded him under the covers.

“Don’t look so self-satisfied. I don’t care if it’s dark; I can hear it in your voice.”

Chris sniffs. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says, but it’s not that dark and Zach can see his grin, movie-star luminous.

“Whatever, Pine.”

Chris is quiet for awhile. Zach listens to the street noise outside his window. It’s funny; he barely hears it any more these days. When he does it’s more a comfort than an annoyance, the aural equivalent of a warm blanket. New York.

Chris clears his throat. “Was it...did it feel different?” he asks quietly.

“Different than what?”

“Than with him.”

Zach wouldn’t have thought to put it that way. He wouldn’t have thought that Chris would, either, but he’s clearly been mistaken about more than his fair share of things about Chris lately. “Of course,” he says. “Of course it did.”

He rolls onto his side, reaches out and traces Chris’s profile with a fingertip. He comes to rest on Chris’s lower lip, chapped and swollen from kissing.

“It’s us,” Zach says, and feels Chris smile.