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It starts the same way most things between them start: with a joke.

“I should just call you every time I fail to get laid,” Chris says. “You’re a pretty decent distraction.”

“Because our conversations are as satisfying as sex?” Zach asks. He’s playing along, but his tone is a little guarded, like he knows he’s leaving himself open for Chris to poke fun at him instead. No matter how close they are, no matter how long they’ve been friends, Zach has never sunk into their playful ribbing quite as well as Chris has. He’s always taken himself a little too seriously. He’s always been a little too eager for Chris to think he’s cool. Chris has never had the heart to tell him he loves him because he’s a giant dork.

“No, but that’d be a neat trick.” Chris shifts the phone to his other ear so he can fish his key out of his pocket and unlock the door.

Zach lets out a long-suffering sigh. “Because our conversations are the equivalent of taking a cold shower?”

Chris laughs. “Warmer, but still nope.” He shuts the door behind him, kicks off his shoes, and immediately heads for the bedroom. “I just don’t think of you as a sexual being, you know?” Zach makes a sound of protest, but he ignores it. “I mean, I know you have sex. I’m sure you’re even halfway decent at it.” This time Zach’s indignant sound makes him pause and giggle. “It’s just not something I ever think about in relation to you, specifically. We never discuss our sex lives or talk about our conquests or—”

“Except for the fact that you called me just now to talk about your lack of conquests, Christopher.”

“Not the same thing.” He giggles again as he flops down on his bed. He might still be a little tipsy. “Talking about not having sex is pretty much the exact opposite of talking about having sex, I think. Feel free to double-check my calculations though.”

“So you’re saying we should talk about sex more?” Zack asks.

“How did you get that from what I said?” Chris is regretting laying down without taking his clothes off first. Already he’s sinking into the bed, his eyes drooping, and there’s a decent chance he’ll have fallen asleep before the end of his conversation. “I’m trying to tell you that it’s a good thing we don’t talk about sex.”

“Because if we did, it would be a reminder of your persistent inability to pick up chicks.”

Zach wants it to be insulting, so Chris chooses not to take the bait, just to fuck with him. “Exactly.”

It wasn’t a bad night, actually. Chris went with some friends to a quiet local bar where movie stars don’t turn heads, the kind of place where he doesn’t have to be on the lookout for cameras or worry that stories of his antics will make it back to TMZ. For the first couple hours, he talked and laughed with the people he came with, each of them taking turns buying rounds of drinks. It was only once some of the others decided it was time to go home that he broke off and approached one of the women sitting at the bar, a pretty blonde in a suit who looked like she just got off work at a law firm or a marketing agency. It turned out he was wrong about the job but only barely—she’d actually had an interview for a paralegal position earlier that afternoon. She seemed to know who he was but didn’t make any overt reference to it, which was a relief. They sat and talked for almost an hour, and Chris thought he was a shoe-in when he asked her if she wanted to come back to his place for one more drink, but she’d smiled at him, shook her head, and said she had to be getting home. It was fine. It wasn’t a wasted night, and Chris wasn’t feeling depressed about it. It just got annoying from time to time—being famous was supposed to work in his favor when it came to stuff like this, but he’d come to find out that game was something you either had or you didn’t. It wasn’t conferred upon you by wealth or starring roles in blockbuster pictures. Or maybe it was, to a certain extent, but maybe Chris didn’t want to sleep with anyone who just wanted to brag about which famous dick they had in them.

Anyway, he isn’t moping now, and Zach’s barb doesn’t really sting. He feels content, somehow certain he’s better off laying here drowsing and listening to Zach’s voice than he would have been if that woman had come home with him.

“I’m still not sure I like the idea that you see me as…sexless,” Zach grouses. “It’s not great for my self-esteem.”

“Oh, c’mon, dude. We’re buddies. We’re pals. I’m not supposed to be thinking about you that way anyway.”

“I guess.” But Zach doesn’t sound convinced. Wait, why doesn’t he sound convinced?

“Are you saying you think about me that way?” Chris asks.

“No!” Zach insists—way too quickly for it to sound at all believable.

“Oh my God, you do!” Chris crows. He pumps a fist in the air, mostly out of elation that he got Zach to admit something embarrassing.

Zach groans. “Doesn’t everyone get curious about what it would be like to sleep with their friends? It doesn’t mean anything. Haven’t you ever thought about, like, Zoe?”

“Of course,” Chris says, because…duh. “Have you seen Zoe?”

“Have you seen you?”

People say things like this to him from time to time—hell, even Zach has said things like this to him before—but it still catches Chris off guard every time. The ridiculed child inside of him still has complete control of his self-image, and years worth of sincere compliments have done very little to loosen its grasp. Chris knows Zach isn’t lying to him. He knows no one is lying to him when they say he’s handsome, dreamy, sexy, etcetera, etcetera. He knows they’re telling the truth; he just doesn’t believe them.

“Whatever, dude,” he grumbles. “Fine, maybe I’m the weird one here. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that you’re, you know, a guy?”

Except no, that’s not it. Or it might be it, except that Chris can’t honestly claim he’s never wondered what it would be like to sleep with a guy. He can’t claim he hasn’t looked at some of his male friends and imagined what it would be like with them. When Patrick grew a beard, Chris wondered how it would feel to kiss him. Would it feel spiky or soft, irritation or titillating? And just about every time he works out with Mark, he finds himself fighting the urge to wrap his fingers around his bicep or trace the well-defined muscles in his back, just to feel them shift under his palm.

So yeah, maybe despite his insistence to the contrary, Chris isn’t as uninterested in men as he claims. And yet Zach…Zach has always seemed off-limits somehow.

“If you say so,” Zach says, sounding unconvinced. “Anyway, you were going to tell me about how you struck out this time?”

Chris rolls his eyes, but he launches into the story, and Zach, ever the dutiful friend, helps him pick apart the things he said, her body language, what they both were drinking, and so on and so forth, until they’ve gotten into the details that neither of them really buys. The music that was playing in the bar. The phase of the moon. Whether or not Chris’s horoscope says he’s supposed to find comfort in the arms of a woman this week. Zach seems to sense that Chris isn’t really upset, and Chris is more than happy to let Zach ramble on anyway. Eventually he lets his eyes fall shut, and Zach obviously made-up speech about planets in retrograde turns to white noise, and soon he’s drifted off to sleep. In the morning, he wakes to find that Zach texted him—Sweet dreams, jackass. He catches himself thinking about it and smiling at odd times all day.

———

It does become something of a sticking point in his mind though. Why hasn’t he ever considered what it would be like with Zach? It can’t be because they work together. That hasn’t stopped him from thinking untoward thoughts about other costars. It can’t be because they’re close friends, because of passing fancies he’s had regarding other friends of his. And he’s already admitted to himself it’s not the gay thing.

But apparently Zach has been thinking about it too, and apparently he thinks it’s the gay thing, because the next time they’re on the phone, he says, out of the blue, “Are you sure you’re not just freaked out by the idea of two men having sex?”

Chris laughs up at the ceiling. He’s lying in his bed again. He wonders vaguely why he always seems to end up in bed when he’s talking to Zach. “It’s definitely not that.” He shuts his eyes, still smiling. “What are you like in bed?”

Zach sputters, a gust of air rattling down the line. “What!?”

“Maybe the problem is that I just don’t know enough about that side of you,” Chris says. “I can’t picture it because I don’t know how to picture it. So, like, give me something to go on.”

“I’m not going to—”

“Come on,” Chris wheedles. He’s not really sure where he’s going with this. This thing with Zach is a mystery he wants to solve, but he doesn’t know whether this particular method is a joke or not. He doesn’t know if he really wants an answer or what he’ll do if he gets one. “Just give me one little detail. Are you a talker?”

“Chris!”

“Are you a top or a bottom?”

Zach makes a frustrated sound. “Topping and bottoming are things you do, Christopher, not things you are. I thought you were supposed to be all enlightened.”

“This is one of my areas of ignorance.” Chris shuts his eyes and tries to picture the expression on Zach’s face. He can almost see the furrow in his brow, the pout on his lips. “Which is why you have to help me out here. There has to be something you’ll tell me. Are you a grower or a shower?”

“Now you’re just being rude,” Zach grumps. “I’m going to hang up.”

“You wouldn’t,” Chris says, and he doesn’t for one second doubt that he’s right. Because Zach may be putting on an annoyed act, but Chris can hear the undercurrent of curiosity in his voice, the hesitation each time he speaks, like he’s thinking of caving. It’s just a matter of finding the right button to press now. Luckily for Chris, he’s the master of pushing Zach’s buttons. “C’mon, Zach. You’ve seen me in those too-tight Star Trek uniform pants, so I think you probably know more about me than I do about you in this area.”

Zach sighs. “Yeah. Unfortunately.”

“So?”

“So what?” Zach says, playing dumb. But then he sighs again, like he’s gearing up to something, so Chris stays quiet, waiting, hoping. “I…I’m not much of a talker, but I like it when my partners do. I prefer to top, but it’s not a deal breaker. And I’m a grower.” Zach says all of this in a rush, like if he gets it out fast enough, it’ll be like it never happened. “There, are you happy?”

Chris’s eyes are still closed, but he squeezes them shut harder now, smiling even though his face has grown hot. “So happy,” he says. Then, unable to resist, he adds, “So you like it when your partners talk, huh?”

He means it be teasing. He means to take some of the edge off of Zach’s confessions, give him an opening to laugh it off so they can both move on. Instead, somehow, his voice has pitched a shade too low, and the question sounds more serious than he meant it to, more like he’s inviting Zach to elaborate than to poke fun at himself.

Zach laughs, but there’s an edge of apprehension to it. “Theoretically, yeah. I once slept with a guy who felt the need to narrate every single thing I did, and that wasn’t so fun, but, umm, yeah. Yes. I like it when it’s done right.”

“Ah,” Chris says, like he understands. And fuck, he actually does understand. He thinks he could pretty well guess exactly what Zach would want to hear when he’s fucking a guy. When he is fucking a guy, because he prefers to be the one doing the fucking. Which is a fact that Chris knows now.

He should laugh here, make a real joke this time to defuse the tension, but it all gets stuck in his throat, which has suddenly gone dry as a desert. “Shit,” he says out loud, without meaning to. When he realizes his mistake, he stammers, “Zach, I…”

“Hey, it’s fine,” Zach says. He sounds oddly apologetic, as if he’s done something wrong. “I shouldn’t have—”

“No.” Chris is shaking his head, even though Zach can’t see him. He can’t let Zach think this is somehow his fault. The barrage of images in Chris’s head isn’t Zach’s fault. It’s Chris’s fault for thinking his inability to see Zach this way was anything but self-preservation. Now that the floodgates have been opened, he realizes—the reason he never really thought of Zach this way before was because he knew he shouldn’t. He can think about kissing Patrick because it’s never going to happen. He can think about fondling Mark because it’s harmless, something to get him through a workout, take his mind off his misery. But now, right now, he can hear Zach breathing heavily over the line, and he can feel the pounding of his own heart, and he knows that this is dangerous territory. This is a tipping point.

“Chris,” Zach says quietly. This is his out, Chris knows. In another second or two, Zach will tell him it’s okay, they’re okay, and he’ll gracefully change the subject, and they’ll never speak of this again. It’s tempting to let that happen. The alternative is terrifying.

Terrifying, but also tantalizing.

“What do you want me to say, Zach?” Chris says. His tone doesn’t leave any room for Zach to misinterpret him. It’s like fine-grain sandpaper. Like velvet sliding over gravel.

And on the other end of the line, Zach is silent just long enough to set Chris’s heart thumping hard in his ears, sure he’s officially crossed the line now. The seconds seem to tick by endlessly. Zach may even have hung up altogether, but Chris isn’t brave enough to pull the phone away from his ear and check.

“I,” Zach says at last. One small word, then a pause. He sucks in a sharp breath before he continues. “Tell me what you’re thinking about. Right now.”

Chris’s eyes blink open, but only long enough to take in his surroundings, his ceiling, his bedroom window, his furniture, to confirm that he’s still in his bedroom and this is still his real life. He has to shut his eyes again before he can speak. “I’m thinking about how I wish this was a conversation we were having face to face.”

That’s a lie. Chris has never been so happy that Zach is in New York. He’s not sure he could look him in the eye now.

Then again, if Zach was here, maybe they wouldn’t be doing much conversing at all.

“And what if I was there?” Zach asks. “What would you do?”

It’s impossible that this is happening. Unthinkable. “I’d touch you,” Chris says. And as if those words have broken some kind of spell, he feels brave, suddenly. He feels invincible. Zach is asking him for something, and it’s something he can give to him. “The hair on the back of your wrists,” he says, “or on your chest. I’ve always wondered if it’s as soft as it looks.”

“Yeah?” Zach sounds breathless, incredulous. “You’d want that?” he asks. “I didn’t think you were…”

“I’ve thought about it before. Other guys, but not you.” Chris lets out a slow breath and lays his hand on his stomach, his fingers twisting in the fabric of his shirt. “I’m thinking about you now though. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop.”

“So don’t stop,” Zach says, his voice almost a whisper. “Keep talking.”

Chris is talking about more than just tonight though. He doesn’t know if he’ll be able to stop at all, from now on. It’s like someone has kicked down a door in his mind, opening up a secret room full of thoughts he didn’t know he could have, memories he didn’t realize he’d filed away. The way Zach’s hand feels when it rests on his lower back for a photo op or to guide him through a crowd. The dark, spicy cologne Zach wears on premiere nights. The sound of Zach’s laugh when something truly delights him. The thickness of his fingers. The shape of his mouth. The intensity of his eyes. “Fuck,” he says under his breath. Then, louder, “Are you sure this is okay?” Because he has to check. He can’t do this if he and Zach aren’t on the same page right now.

Zach chuckles, as if in disbelief. “Are you kidding? I’ve imagined this so many times I’m not even sure if this is really happening. I’m not sure I’m awake.”

“You’re awake,” Chris says. “I promise.”

“Then keep talking. Please.”

It’s the please that gets him, the way it comes out plaintively, like Zach thinks there’s a chance Chris will refuse. Refusal is the last thing on Chris’s mind now. His whole body is hot, flushed with the knowledge that Zach has thought about this before. Zach wants him. And maybe—maybe he knew that all along. Maybe that’s the reason Zach has always been his safe place when he’s feeling rejected.

“Get your dick out,” Chris says, hoping the roughness of his voice will hide the slight tremor in it. Giving orders isn’t his forte, especially when talking to Zach, but he can’t help himself now. His fingers go to his own belt, and he slips it open slowly while he listens to the sound of Zach shuffling around in bed, the muffled sound of skin sliding over sheets. It’s late where Zach is, and Chris imagines he was already half-naked anyway. He could ask, but the cheesiness of What are you wearing? gives him pause. He thinks he can do better than that. “Actually, get undressed,” he says. “I—if I was there, I wouldn’t let you keep your clothes on for long.”

“Fuck,” Zach says, so quietly Chris isn’t sure he’s supposed to hear it. There is more shuffling on Zach’s end, but it soon fades away to nothing but the sound of heavy breathing in Chris’s ear, like Zach is already worked up.

Chris cradles the phone between his ear and his shoulder and pushes his own jeans down over his hips, followed by his underwear, and kicks them both off the end of the bed. His belt hits the floor with a clatter, and Zach moans in his ear, making his cock jump just before he gets his hand around it.

“Yeah, let me hear you,” Chris says. “I want to hear you the whole fucking time. God, you sound so hot. I never thought—” He shakes his head, because it doesn’t matter what he never thought. All that matters is that this is happening now. “Do you have lotion or something you can use?”

Zach makes an affirmative grunt, and Chris hears a drawer opening.

“Good,” he breathes. “That’s good. I want you to get yourself nice and wet, Zach, because I don’t want you imagining my hand on you. I want you imagining my mouth.”

Just saying the words has Chris shuddering, because he’s never had a cock in his mouth before, hasn’t even thought about it much, but he knows he wants it now. And Zach must want it too, because he curses under his breath again. Chris hears the click of a bottle being opened and shut.

“I can’t wait to fucking taste you,” Chris groans. He’s still just holding his dick in his hand, not bothering to stroke himself yet, because he knows once he starts this will be over too soon. “You’re gonna let me, right?”

“God, yes,” Zach gasps. “Whatever you want.”

It’s heady to hear Zach like this, so undone. With that deep, dark voice of his, Chris would have assumed he’d be commanding, domineering, but right now he just sounds desperate. He sounds like he’s falling apart.

“I won’t want you to be gentle with me,” Chris says. It doesn’t matter how inexperienced he is, how uncertain of his skill. All of that is the last thing on his mind right now. “I want to feel you in the back of my throat. I want you to take exactly what you want from me. I want to make you feel good, Zach.”

“You will, baby.”

The pet name just about does Chris in. He starts stroking himself now—slowly, teasing, but it’s still almost too much. It’s like he’s been set on fire. Every nerve ending is screaming to be touched, and even the way the sheets slide over his skin feels obscene. He thinks if Zach were here right now, all he’d have to do is wrap his fingers around Chris’s ankle or touch the side of his face and he’d be done for.

“You’ll have to tell me exactly how you want it. How fast, how deep. I’ll do whatever you tell me. I’ll be so good for you.”

“I know,” Zach says. He’s out of breath, and Chris can almost picture how his chest must be heaving, how the muscles in his forearms would shift and bunch as his hand flies over his dick. “You could never be anything but good, Chris. Fuck.”

“Yeah,” Chris groans. He swipes his thumb over the head of his cock, collecting pre-come and then bringing it to his mouth to taste, imagining it’s Zach he’s tasting instead. “Would you fuck my mouth, if I asked you to?”

Zach groans, a frustrated sound like he’s close but not close enough. “Fuck yes,” he says, and Chris can tell he’s expelling the words through gritted teeth. “I’d make you take the whole thing. Make you choke on it.”

Chris wants it so fucking badly. He wants to feel his lips stretch around Zach’s cock, wants to be stuffed so full he’ll never forget what it feels like. It should scare him, he thinks. It should terrify him that half an hour ago, all these desires were barely on his radar, at least not when it came to Zach. But Zach is safe. Zach is familiar. Zach would never hurt him, and so Chris could never be afraid of him, not any part of him.

“Do you want to come in my mouth?” Chris asks. His hand has started moving faster without his say-so, and shit, he could come right now. He’s right there on the edge. “Or do you want to come on my face? Mark me up so you can see it?”

“Your mouth,” Zach growls. “Right down your fucking throat. Oh fuck, Chris, I’m gonna—”

“Do it,” Chris says. “Let me hear you.”

He inserts the last command because he fears Zach is the type to go quiet when he comes, gritting his teeth manfully and swallowing all his pleasure—but Zach doesn’t disappoint. He lets out a hoarse shout, and Chris pictures his body bowing off the bed with the force of his orgasm, painting his own chest with pearls of white. It’s that mental image that speeds up his hand, catapulting him over the edge with a rapidity that’s almost embarrassing. Zach’s harsh breathing in his ear carries him through the aftershocks, until the last drop of come has been wrung out of him and he can do nothing but lay there and try to catch his breath, to come down.

“You, um,” Zach starts, then takes a deep breath and tries again: “Are you okay?”

“Am I okay?” Chris laughs weakly and wipes his hand on the bedspread. “I’m more than okay, Zach. I’m fucking fantastic.”

Zach lets out a long, relieved breath. Chris is struck by a sharp longing for him then. He wishes he could fold Zach up in his arms and kiss his mouth and reassure him that this wasn’t an ill-advised one-off. This is real. It’s real.

“When can I see you?” Chris asks. “I need you here.”

“Soon,” Zach says, a promise. Chris can hear him smiling.

“Try to make it sooner than that,” he says.