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Zach was pretty sure that the guy was stalking him.

Well, perhaps there were a multitude of other explanations as to why he would run into the same person a dozen times over the course of a week. After all, they did live in a densely-populated epicenter of famous individuals, and Zach had a catalogue of familiar faces that he passed all the time – people on the set of Heroes, people in his neighborhood, people who used the same dry cleaner or frequented the same coffee shop.

But this guy? How could this guy bump into him so often, when Zach rarely even saw his next-door neighbor?

"Oh – hey!"

They had almost collided at top speed outside the post office, which left Zach precariously balancing a largish cardboard box on the palm of one hand. The impact had knocked it out from under his arm, tipped it over, and – oh, he was really trying not to drop the antique tea pot he had padded deep inside, but which needed fragile handling, anyway.

The guy noticed, and placed a hand out; which tipped the box upward, leaning it back onto Zach's chest.

"Sorry! My fault, I was rushing."

"Obviously." Zach tried to hide the irritation in his voice, but from the man's sheepish expression, he hadn't been successful.

"It'll be okay, won't it?" Blue eyes searched the cardboard surface, and Zach had to confess, it was endearing.

That was part of the problem: Pretty Boy Stalker (which Zach had dubbed him a few days ago) was a bit, well… pretty.

"Yeah, yeah," Zach answered, and then shifted to the side.

Stalker followed, and pointed. "So, what do you have in there?"

Zach narrowed his eyes. Nosy, much?

Stalker held out his hands. "Sorry – just conversation. Glad it's okay." He gave a two-fingered salute against his forehead. "Carry on, have a great day."

And just like that, as Pretty Boy Stalker often did, he walked off and made himself scarce.

Which isn't to say that Zach forgot him entirely, however. In fact, as he pulled open the post office door (Stalker was apparently not a gentleman), the blue eyes, and the dark blonde hair stayed on his mind.

That was the real problem: Pretty Boy Stalker was entirely his type.

***

And Zach had a rule about types. He knew the kind that would make him go weak in the knees, and throw all common sense out the window. The kind that would make him resurrect the ideals of his favorite romantic comedies, and unconsciously expect his life to follow them; without using a brain cell in his head.

Oh, too many movies started out this way, didn't they? Where boy meets girl, boy stalks girl with his roguish good charms, girl somehow finds this appealing rather than appalling, which then paves the way to happily ever after. The End.

But Zach? Yeah, he may live in the land of make believe, but Zach was certainly not that kind of "girl". Not that easily appeased and not that easily wooed - to be continued.

"We have got to stop meeting like this." Pretty Boy Stalker looked down the front of his (formerly) white t-shirt, and sighed.

Yeah, Zach hadn't expected someone to barrel out the lone front entrance of Lamill, and smack-run right into him as he got up from his outside table. Actually, most people just calmly walked out of non-burning establishments, if he remembered correctly.

"Sorry," Zach said, although he didn't really mean it.

Stalker shrugged. "It happens." He brushed the front of his shirt; like that would help with a wet stain. "Good thing it was iced." He grimaced. "I suppose I'll be sticky now."

Zach didn't quite like where his mind went with that suggestion. Pretty Boy Stalker, besides being pretty, also had a toned and defined physique, which said-wet t-shirt now hinted at.

"Well, um," Zach tried to find words around his fumbling brain. "There are bathrooms inside?"

"Yeah." Stalker shrugged again. "I'll just go home, and peel this off – thanks, though."

Zach's mind stuttered, as he watched Stalker pass in front of him, and answer his phone.

"Steve? Yeah – what? What did I do now?" Stalker winced. "Oh."

And as Zach heard from afar the incensed yelling down the line, he supposed in one of those cheesy rom-coms he would've offered to buy Stalker another iced coffee. Laughed it all off as they sat inside with pleasant conversation, and exchanged lingering glances.

But instead Stalker jaywalked across the street – ducking from words or invisible birds, who knows what - and Zach went on believing that awkwardly-started relationships were best left to the master Meg Ryan, after all.

***

Because really, dating was awkward-as-hell anyhow. The older he got, the lower his standards became; yet this somehow made it more complicated for these standards to be achieved, rather than easier.

Especially in this city of actors, where it was no longer a quaint or easy thing. No way would he date anyone here; not when half of them were stuck in their closets, or parading their beards – the latter not even the sexy, soul patch kind.

Yeah, screw dating. Screw it like a.. well, perhaps just like throwing the damn screw in the trash to begin with. Forget it.

Although he'd confess, in the beginning he had tried dating around – which, after the third failed plasticine relationship, he had grown quickly tired of. It was one thing when he was a waiter, still pursuing the dream and flattered (and perhaps envious) by any actor needing to keep him a secret. ("Just between you and me, just between the two of us.") But now he was also a bit too old – he wasn't 25 and starry-eyed, anymore. Names and flowery lines just didn't impress him like they used to; and neither did money and its artificial beauty.

Not that he didn't mind an occasional tryst with some of them – in flagrante delicto - but the only reason he ever worked on his physique? Was for the camera, not for a faux-romance.

"Hey, Mike?" Zach called out, as he put out a hand behind him for the screen door. He waited a moment for it to bump his fingers, so it wouldn't slam shut.

"Hey, I'll – I'll be a minute," Mike's labored voice answered from beyond the kitchen, where Zach currently stood.

In any other instance, Zach would probably have slinked out behind him; embarrassed by the sounds of exertion in the next room. But Mike had been his trainer for quite a while now, and it only meant what it usually did: Zach was early, and intruding on another appointment.

It was only by five minutes, so Zach used the time to half-listen to his voicemail.

"Hi Zachary, it's Mom. I haven't heard from you in a while, although I did get the tea pot you sent – "

"Good workout, good workout. See you next week?"

Zach turned around to face Mike, and almost dropped his phone.

"I love the flowers on it! They're so pretty, it matches my other china set. You're such a good boy to me Zachary, but – "

"You bet," said Pretty Boy Stalker; his bright smile lighting up the kitchen as he entered, drenched in perspiration.

"Next time, try to call home and let me know you're alive, will ya? I might get this dusted for fingerprints, just in case I need to file a missing person's report."

Stalker turned his way, and Zach's nostrils flared with the scent of sweat, as the smile seemed to impossibly broaden.

"So I better talk to you later. Don't make me fly out there. Love you, 'bye."

Click.

Zach stared. Oh what the hell.

"Hey, man." The blonde wiped his face with what looked to be an old, and worn maroon and blue beach towel; covered in palm trees and sailboats. "Fancy seeing you here."

"Sure," Zach said, although that certainly didn't cover it.

Stalker picked up a black duffel bag from under the table, and shoved the towel inside. He glanced up to do a look-over of Zach – what, was there something on his shirt? His face? He always wore these yoga pants - before Chris zipped up, grabbed his water bottle, and carted everything off.

"See you later, Mike."

When Mike finally emerged from his living room, waving back, the screen door was wide open, before it stuttered and slammed to a close.

Unbelievable.

"What's the matter, man?" Mike's green eyes narrowed at him, before they followed Zach's gaze to the door. "You know him, or something?"

"That's what I was going to ask you." Zach dropped his duffel bag on the kitchen table, before unzipping it for a white towel and Gatorade. "I've been running into him all week."

Mike nodded. "Yeah, he just got back from promoting."

Zach made a face. "Promoting what?"

"Some movie." Mike walked a few steps past him to the fridge. "He was a side character in some action hack and slash, or something."

Zach zipped up his bag. "So he lives around here?"

Mike nodded, as he swished a mouthful from a gallon jug and swallowed. "Yeah – grew up here, even. I've been training him off and on for a few years. Normally he's in on your off days, but I guess he wanted to make up for lost time."

Zach's fingers still held the zipper, as Mike closed the fridge door, and then walked through the archway to his living room. He called out behind him, "Ready, man?"

Zach wasn't sure, but he supposed a good workout would clear this sense of What the fuck? out of his head.

***

No actually it didn't; it did nothing of the sort.

"Maybe he's a fan of yours."

Zach rolled his eyes, and it wasn't even because of the obnoxious ah at the end of Joe's 7-Eleven slushie.

"No, he's an actor. And apparently a more successful one than I am." Zach had found this out once he got home, and Googled recently released movies. There were only so many options, and so many headshots; with one of them a black and white photo – who looked an awful lot like Pretty Boy Stalker, but not as shaggy.

"How's that? You didn't even recognize him." Joe slurped again, and Zach resisted the urge to bang his cordless on the kitchen countertop.

"He's done a lot of movies."

"What, on Lifetime? If it isn't that one with Kirsten Dunst, then who cares."

Zach sighed as he rinsed the sink.

"Or any with Valerie Bertinelli, I guess. She's kind of hot."

"How about some indie movie with Alan Rickman?"

Zach heard an appreciative hum. "Alan Rickman."

Yeah, of course: Alan Rickman could come out with a movie about buttering his balls, and Joe's thoroughly-heterosexual ass would be first in line at the midnight showing – well, along with Zach himself.

Joe slurped. "I would so take it in the ass for Rickman."

Zach sighed. "I know."

"How did he get a part like that? What's his name, anyway?"

Zach wiped his hands on a towel, as he closed the dishwasher with his foot. "Chris Pine."

He heard another contemplative hum. "Like Robert Pine?"

Wheels and gears clicked in Zach's head – the name had sounded familiar. But he had supposed there were a lot of Pines in the world.

"Yeah, maybe?"

"Do they look alike?"

Zach shrugged. "I don't know. I guess so?"

"Well, I suppose being the son of a guy on CHIPS doesn't land you the really big parts."

"Bigger parts than mine." Which would be the last time Zach would say that, ever.

"Yeah, I suppose he's not doing shampoo commercials, or anything."

Screw that, there had been times when Zach would've killed for a shampoo commercial – Head and Shoulders, head and shoulders above the rest.

"Hey, was he in that god-awful movie with Lindsay Lohan?"

Zach waved a hand in the air, wordlessly. He moved into his living room, and rearranged the magazines on his coffee table. "No idea."

"You're the one who Googled him."

"Just for general knowledge! Like I watch Lohan movies."

"Well, if he was in that movie… you could have a worse-looking stalker."

Zach sighed. That he knew.

"I think stalking is appalling, no matter the attractiveness of an individual."

"I wouldn't mind being stalked by Alan Rickman."

Zach sat on his couch, put his feet up, and looked out the picture window to the clear, blue sky. He supposed in many ways if he were truly being stalked, his view would be obstructed by a gorgeous, obnoxiously-smiling head – maybe waving, maybe holding binoculars.

" - Alan Rickman with a set of binoculars, in camo gear and a canvas safari hat."

"Does your wife know about this stalker fantasy?"

"Whatever, she wouldn't mind. She was all fawning over David Copperfield at her Avon convention in Vegas."

Zach wrinkled his nose. "Avon?"

"I don't know, she wants to be a top seller and get the pink Cadillac, or something."

Zach thought a moment. "… I think that's Mary Kay?"

"Whatever - but I'm allowed to graciously gift you with a bunch of samples, for the record."

"Like hell you will."

Zach turned his head at the doorbell.

"… Avon calling?"

"Be right there. Getting the bat I saved for zombie emergencies."

***

But in all honesty, Zach didn't know why he saved these tidbits in his mind. They started collecting like a scrapbook, for his consciousness to filter through: Born to actor parents, born in L.A. Got the generic Pretty Boy roles (apt really), and apparently lived in the actor's district with his transient actor lifestyle. Did movies, made a living - more than most people out here were ever able to do.

So really, the more Zach tried to fit the pieces together, the more Zach became convinced they had nothing in common. He was from an opposite coast, where there was snow, and hardships, and life wasn't all that great. A single, working mother; Catholic upbringing; gay as the bluejay perched on that curbside, wanting to knock his teeth out for his loaf of bread.

Zach clutched his bakery bag to him, and wondered with all the differences what made him even stalkable. And hell, if he wasn't being stalked, why their random occurrences had Zach roped up into random conversations, anyhow.

"You should avoid the strawberries. They're really not at their peak, yet."

Zach looked at the container in his hand, where the strawberries did look a bit dull. He sniffed them – nothing – then exchanged them for another small basket, but found them the same. Everything smelled off.

Next to him Pretty Boy Stalker was receiving his change from a young girl in a green apron, as she handed over a brown paper bag of various produce – asparagus, avocados, oranges, and some fragrant herbs.

"Thanks," Zach muttered to Stalker, although strawberries had sounded good. He picked up a few avocados instead, squeezing a few lightly, and decided to pay for them. Guacamole didn't sound all that bad, either.

When Zach left the overhang of that market stand, he saw Pretty Boy Stalker – okay, maybe he could call him Chris in this situation – waiting for him; with one hand grasping his bag, and another fiddling with his phone.

"Agent has a new client," Chris stated plainly, although Zach had walked right past him. "Have you ever worked with child actors?"

"Sure," Zach said. It was inevitable in this business, if you had varied work. Especially comedic work – kids were apparently hilarious, inherently. Although Zach found it more hilarious when the screaming kids finally went home.

Chris matched steps with him, as Zach stopped at a stand of flowers and herbs.

"Steve already rides my ass, I'm not sure how he'll handle a kid." Chris looked down at a pail of hydrangeas; his purple plaid shirt matching the gladiolas next to them. "It's his sister's daughter, I guess. She lives with him now, since her mom died and made him guardian. I told him that means he can't duct tape her mouth, though."

Zach wasn't sure what it had to do with him, but he shrugged. "I think there are laws against that."

"Well," Chris watched as Zach examined a batch of irises. "Didn't stop him from doing that to me."

"Hmm." Zach stooped to smell a pink rose. "Then remind me to pick up some."

He turned from the mock-outrage, and wondered why he was even over here, to begin with. He really didn't have an aesthetic appreciation for flowers, as he grew up with Ma just dusting silk ones in unnatural colors. So perhaps it was more the lack of seller pressure, and people barging for space. Zach had actually come here for tomatoes, but had somehow forgotten that with Chris' presence.

"Hurts like a bitch when you rip it off, though."

Zach turned from a pail of sunflowers, to retort about that being the point – when he was overwhelmed by an immense patch of blue.

Cornflowers. Bright blue - royal blue? It didn't really matter, as it annoyingly matched the hue of Chris' eyes. Not the same color, but a lighter version.

Oh, hell - who had blue eyes like that?

Chris set down his bag, and then cupped a petaled head with two fingers. He turned towards Zach. "You know, these would look great on my table –" he peeked inside a white bucket, and pulled out a few stems. "Along with – " he reached in front of Zach, "these, I think?"

Zach looked at the strange bunch in Chris' hands, a variation of blues next to Zach's burnt red sunflowers; whose heads dominated the scene over the blue spurts of color.

There was a cleared throat behind them.

"Not a bad combo," a man in a white apron said. "You might want to even the height with another batch, like – "

Chris pointed at a small bunch of marigolds. "These."

The man looked between Chris and Zach, and Zach could only shrug. Perhaps Chris had been dropped on his head a lot as a baby; one never really knew these things.

"Creativity," the man said. "Hallmark of a thriving spirit?"

"Is that what it is," Zach muttered.

But Chris held the batch together, pulling some stems to even them out and down, or to push them up. After a moment of fiddling, Chris looked over at him. "What do you think?"

It was obnoxious, that's what Zach thought. Not that he could really judge mixing blue and red and yellow together – actually, the more he thought about it, the more he remembered having a shirt like that, once. Or in his closet now.

Zach nodded. "Sure."

"$14.50," the man stated, and held out a palm.

Chris dug in his back pocket, and pulled out a twenty. After receiving his change, he placed the wrapped flowers in the corner of his brown paper bag, and smiled coyly at Zach.

Which was a deviant look – Zach could spot them, a mile away. But about what, was uncertain.

"Really," Chris said quietly, as they walked from the stand, "these would look great on my table. You should come over and see what I mean, some time."

Zach turned his head, and – stupid as he was - almost expected it to be like one of those movies; the ones that Chris was known for. In that Zach would actually, you know, be invited.

Instead he saw the back of a purple plaid shirt; contrasting and weaving through the market under a clear, blue sky.

***

Zach could still picture the combination in his mind's eye; the blue, yellow and red. Although he supposed with it being a few days later they'd be wilted, or at the bottom of a trash bin by now.

"Did he say which table?"

Zach sighed at the ceiling – he had made the mistake of mentioning this to Joe. Only because Avon's new summer makeup colors were apparently an odd combo of shades ("I told her I thought white was clown makeup, and Jilly hit me – hard"), and being the idiot he was, Zach had divulged the Cornflowers.

"No, he didn't."

"Well, then it could be any table! His kitchen table, his coffee table – or maybe he has a bathroom the size of my house, and it's next to his bidet."

Zach slapped a hand to his face. "God."

"Location is key… although beauty is everywhere."

Zach lifted a finger, as he squinted an eye at the phone. "This sounds like an attempt of yours at a catchphrase."

"My new series, on a set of impromptu shots."

"Meaning you're scaring people in the streets."

"No, no! In fact, I saw this young girl walking down the street the other day – eerily model pretty, though she couldn't have been more than five – and after I got permission for her picture, it actually landed me a job."

Zach made a face. "What?"

"The guy she was with was her agent and uncle I guess? Apparently I'm the first photog she could look in the eye."

Something itched at the back of Zach's mind, but he decided to let it go. "Well, good for you?"

"So see, beauty is everywhere - not just on your stalker's table, next to his king-sized bed covered with black silky sheets."

Zach groaned. "Not helping."

"I'm your brother, Zach. When am I ever meant to be helpful? Although I might use that pick-up line sometime - 'Hey baby, wanna come by and see my table?'"

"Joe – "

"Seriously Zach, either he's the worst stalker in existence, or he thinks you're into interior design."

"That is the lamest stereotype ever." Not that it wasn't true for a lot of his friends.

"Better lame stereotype than him sniffing your clothing, or walking by your house all the time. Which - are you sure he doesn't?"

Zach peered out his bedroom window. "I'm pretty sure. As strange as this sounds, maybe he is just a normal human being in LA?"

There was a snort. "Nonsense. Pretty soon you'll be telling me most of the boobs are real."

"Like Santa, they are if you believe them to be."

"Well God bless us, everyone."

Zach shook his head, "Speak for yourself," but then looked out his window again… for the view, of course.

***

So okay, he wasn't walking by these apartments because he wanted a chance to look.

Even though, theoretically speaking, a table that might warrant a flower display would perhaps be by a window. A window that might also perhaps be viewable from the ground level, and thus could be seen from the street below. Which, if said-window was viewable from such a height, and Zach just happened to glance that way while getting an iced tea at Lamill – well, that wasn't stalking. That was just being observant. Especially if he noticed that most of the windows were closed, anyhow.

He was on the way to Mike's. It was a just a bit of scenery, nothing to it. Insert straw in mouth; keeping walking.

Which he did because Mike's place, besides being close by, also had A/C for this cursed heat, yet a cool interior hue that would calm Zach down. He supposed there was a psychology to all the blues and greens, and sporadic shots of red for those who worked out, and wanted to de-stress. Mike said they were his power colors, once. ("And the goat is my totem – don't laugh! – they have like four fucking stomachs man, and can climb and ram shit. Don't knock it, I fight with my hooves!")

"Hey Zach." Mike opened the screen door wide, and Zach couldn't help himself – he peered in, unconsciously looking.

Mike raised a brow. "Um, don't worry? Chris likes to train late mornings, some afternoons." He stepped aside to let Zach in. "But actually, you probably won't cross paths again for awhile. I think he's going overseas."

"Oh, where to?"

Zach internally winced. He shouldn't really care about that, should he? Who was the stalker, now?

Mike didn't seem to notice, as he walked towards the fridge and pulled out a gallon of water. "I don't know. I don't think it's for work."

Zach tried to nonchalantly shrug, but it only caused his duffel bag to flip awkwardly onto the table, and spill its contents - water bottle and snackos, ahoy.

But Mike remained oblivious and mused to himself, "Well, he hasn't been buffing up lately, so I didn't think so."

Zach hurriedly threw his crap back into his bag, then watched as Mike filled his aqua Nalgene – he hated those bottles personally, as he could never really tolerate the hassle of unscrewing the cap – before he looked down at his hands, which were nervously fidgeting with a white towel.

Mike took a long sip, then squinted at him. "I thought you guys were friends, or something?"

Zach wondered if the pause was too long, before he conjured a, "Well, we live in the same neighborhood?"

Mike tilted his head at that; the answer seemingly making sense. In a way, it did – people noticed if their neighbors were out of town, didn't they? If the catalogue of familiar faces were suddenly less, or not in their usual places. Not bumping into them at the local coffeehouse, for instance.

It made sense, really.

So when Mike turned, and left the kitchen towards the home gym, Zach wasn't sure why he felt relief. It wasn't like any part of that answer hadn't been true; couldn't be questioned.

It was factual. Entirely.

So maybe that's why it completely shocked and frustrated Zach, when on his way through the kitchen archway he saw the sunflowers – the algae of the stems clinging to the bulb of a glass vase, as they sat on an accent table.

Zach gawked, until Mike circled back around.

He followed Zach's gaze, and then, "Yeah, it was weird. Chris gave them to me – saying they would be appreciated more here, or something." He shrugged. "I guess I should throw them away now."

Sunflowers – sunflowers! With dried-up cornflowers and marigolds Zach kept muttering to himself; as he flexed in his boxing gloves, and continued to try punching Mike in his clueless freaking face.

***

The following three weeks were strange. Quiet, even.

Which felt like an odd observation to make, considering most aspects of his life were never normal, nor peaceful. Heroes, for instance, was constantly a place in motion – the morning interactions with the people he worked with, the directing suggestions he had to take, the sounds of the set in action – all were a constant thrumming in the background; the blood pumping throughout his day. Really, quiet had always been relative; more dependent on tuning out with an iPod, rather than tuning in.

And in the same way, strange was also relative. After all, he did play a brain-eating psychopath with supernatural powers on a semi-regular basis. Normal, you could say, had exited the vernacular long ago.

But this was different. Zach couldn't exactly pin it on the city he lived in, or his neighborhood that had steady weeks of road construction; where cranes and drills roared in the early mornings. He couldn't even blame Noah and Harold, who had recently taken up midnight games of tag (which is what Zach got for declawing his cat, he supposed).

No, it was something else entirely. And once he started weaving easily through the farmer's market, and stopped fearing entrances at Lamill, and mailed another package to his mom - feeling miraculously like he avoided some unknown collision – did Zach finally guess what it was.

There was no Chris. And that, in itself, was strange to acknowledge.

("Hi Zachary, it's Mom. Remember me, that person who gave birth to you? Just calling to see if you're alive, and if you are, to thank you for the china plate you sent me. Which I love, but if you could somehow send yourself in a box, so I could actually, you know, see and talk to you? That would be great. Have you been too busy lately? Don't wear yourself out. I'll have Joe check up on you – oh, both of you are such hard-working boys. But if you get the chance to remember your mother, call me, okay? Love you, 'bye.")

It was perplexing. What did all of that mean, anyway? It seemed to suggest that he'd been watching out for Chris, and for quite some time. Not just because he thought he had a stalker – detailed notes were useful for obtaining restraining orders, of course – but because Chris caught his eye. Was nice on the eyes. And hell, was usually pleasant to run into; talk to, even.

Which, in this town with its chick-flick manuscripts, probably meant that Zach was interested in Chris - and okay, Zach would have to confess he was intrigued. But really, what did Zach actually know about the guy, to be interested? It all seemed so superficial.

"So why don't you Google him, then?"

Zach put his feet up on the coffee table, and barely paid attention to the TV; much less to Joe.

"That sounds stalkerish."

"I believe this has been the basis of your relationship, thus far."

Zach rolled his eyes.

"But you could look up his IMDb again. Maybe he's in some project everyone is unaware of."

Zach bit his cheek. He actually hadn't read much on that profile, so it was possible. And it was a vaguely legitimate excuse, of sorts.

"But I only looked him up for the movie he was promoting."

"Whatever man, you were looking him up to look him up. Not for some stupid action flick."

"It wasn't stupid." Well, not that Zach was usually into hack-and-slash.

"Oh yeah, it was such a critical success."

"What exactly are you getting at?"

"I'm just saying, if you're going to scope out someone properly, the Internet is there to help you out."

"'Bye Joe."

"You never know… maybe you'll uncover some interesting info there."

Zach narrowed his eyes at the phone. "Is that so?"

There was silence on the line, as Zach watched the stock numbers scroll at the bottom of CNN. What was he doing watching Nancy Grace, anyway?

"So a friend of mine was kind of, uh, telling me about him."

"About Chris."

"Some parts about Chris, certainly."

Zach frowned. "Acting parts?"

There was a huff of a laugh. "Oh no - body parts."

Zach forced himself to concentrate on Nancy Grace's slightly-visible dark roots, as she verbally bitch-slapped some guy for disagreeing. "Oh?"

"She was a producer for that Lohan movie, and apparently Chris has a huge – "

"Oh hey, there's a girl missing in Alabama." Zach leaned forward on the couch, and read the inset details. "She was abducted at the local playground, or something."

"What?"

"Her brother was the last to see her before she went missing." Zach bit a fingernail.

There was a sigh on the other end of the line. "And here I thought you would like to hear about his long – "

"There's a $50,000 reward! Wow, that's a lot of donations." Zach let out a shuttering breath. "I hope they get a tip."

"Speaking of, she's not the only one to have sucked his – "

"Oh my God, please stop." Zach put a hand over his brow.

There was a confused noise, then "Seriously, you really don't want to hear about Chris doing the horizontal mambo with like, half of Hollywood?"

Zach shook his head.

"I mean, she said he was a really great – "

"Goodnight, Joe."

"You're no fun."

"Goodnight, Joe."

And after some grumbling on Joe's end, he (mercifully) hung up. But it didn't stop Zach's contemplations, anyhow.

***

More like "burrowing into the nether realms of the psyche" sort of contemplations. Brain-wormesque.

Because really, so what if Chris had fooled around on the casting couch? A lot of actors did it; for less, even. That shampoo commercial for instance, or even for a chance to meet a producer – it was a different world, out here in Hollywood.

Although it was an odd scenario for someone whose dad was in the acting business. What, did people not give Chris jobs out of a fear of nepotism? Hollywood was known for connections – sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. It was just the way things were.

And Zach hadn't heard anything bad of Robert Pine to assume Chris would get rejected out of spite. Or actually, now that he thought about it... Zach never heard anything about Robert Pine. Not at all.

But even so, Chris was a grown adult. He could make his own decisions, for better or for worse.

Personally, Zach had decided long ago not to play that way. Not necessarily in a moral sense from being an LSD-flashback-type Catholic, but more for valuing his own self-worth.

Which caused some repercussions, to be sure. One was usually that Zach didn't get the role; didn't get the opportunity. Another was that Zach enjoyed a sense of anonymity on his sexuality – people couldn't keep secret what they didn't find out in the first place.

Really, maybe Chris was thoroughly heterosexual, and just liked sticking his dick into anything. Regardless of the job.

Zach threw the blade of the knife into the avocado pit with gusto; taking some mild satisfaction in the thuh it made, before the pit pulled out. He stared at the round, brown seed dangling from the knife, before giving it another satisfying whack to throw it off into the bin.

Really, it was none of Zach's business. Chris could bang whomever he wanted. He had no reason to give a damn, at all.

***

Except his evil remote had other ideas. Like land on the local channels, and stay on the late-morning talk shows – the ones that had mindless entertainment to fill the minutes, while housewives (and the politically correct househusbands) did whatever they did, when they turned it on.

Or perhaps average schmoes, who killed early lunch hours on their treadmills in front of the TV.

"Here to help us with our pie toss is local actor Chris Pine, and his new friend here – " Dorothy Lucey leaned down to greet the young, blonde girl. "What's your name, sweetie?"

The girl stared blankly at the microphone; which was kind of creepy in an inanimate porcelain doll sort-of-way. She couldn't have been more than five or six, yet had a head of golden curls that most women would eat their young for; that framed wide, green eyes that caught and dominated the attention.

Which, speaking of – did anybody care that the kid looked caught in the headlights?

Chris' smiling face bobbed down and took up the screen. "This is Amelia Waters." Chris poked her side, and then turned her towards a small crowd. "This is her first time on TV. Let's give her some noise!"

There was a round of applause from a group standing close by, accompanied by some obnoxious whoops and hollers. Chris kept a hand on the blonde girl's shoulder as she leaned into him; her head no taller than mid-thigh.

"Well guys – " the blonde reporter seemed to roll with it, "who's in the mood for some pie? Let's get ready to throw some, for charity!"

More applause roared on the screen, as Chris was given cream pies for each hand. He knelt down and precariously balanced one for Amelia.

"Every hit garners the American Lung Association a $5 donation – "

Before Zach had time to guess it coming, Miss Waters took hers with both hands, and immediately smacked Chris in the face with it.

The woman laughed. "And look who's starting us off early!"

Chris grinned as he wiped cream off his face with a finger, and then dabbed it on the giggling child's cheek.

Dorothy Lucey leaned in. "You going to take that, Mr. Pine?"

"Oh, I think some revenge is in order!" Chris bellowed as the little girl shrieked, and he weakly threw a pie at her retreating feet. His mouth formed an exaggerated Darnit! when he missed, and then shook a fist at her.

Pies filled the screen, as Lucey ducked.

"Come down and join us today at – " Whack.

The woman opened her mouth in horror as Chris shrugged, and then waved sheepishly at the camera.

Zach upped the incline on his treadmill - just as a pie hit the camera lens, and probably gave him 12,000 calories by proxy.

***

"Hello Zachary, it's your mother. Still wondering if you're alive – although I do enjoy the box of chocolates you sent. But I'd rather hear your voice, since it's been a while – maybe since I gave birth to you and heard you wail, I can't remember. Were cell phones around, when you last called me? Anyhow, Joe told me you have some new neighbors – is this Chris treating you well, hon? Joe told me something about him buying you flowers, but I didn't quite understand it. Is he in competition with that girl you're apparently seeing? Your Aunt Marge emailed me something from the Internet, about… what was her name, Rumor Willis? Anyway, you can always call me, and tell me what that's about – you can bring them both to Thanksgiving, if you want to. But I love you Zachary, I'll talk to you later… I hope. If I'm not dead by the time you remember. 'Bye, sweetheart!"

***

"I can't believe you told Ma that!"

They were sitting across from each other in the smokey and dimly lit bar, as Zach tried to remember why they ever came to this place, anyway. It was on the outskirts of LA, yet it was always packed with a college crowd; trying to egg on some unsuspecting person into singing their version of, It's the end of the world as we know it –

"And I feel fiiiiiiiiiiine," the guy wailed into the microphone, answered by riotous applause.

Zach wanted to plug his ears, as the guy started slurring the next verse.

Joe mirrored the wince, and shouted, "Only because Ma asked – you know, she did give birth to us."

Zach waved a hand. "I'm not dating Chris."

"I didn't say that, Jilly did." Joe took a sip from his beer. "Jill was on the phone getting her Avon order, and they started chatting about us."

Zach rolled his eyes. "Is Ma stocking up on lipstick?"

"Of course – and getting us some presents, I guess."

Zach saw Joe lift his shirt, and Zach sniffed. "And here I thought that odor was from the sweaty frat boys."

Joe shot him a murderous look. "Oh Zach, you too can smell like a wrangling cowboy out on the range."

"From hanging with the cows all days."

"Western Fields – for Men."

"Shut. Up." Zach licked his lips, from the foam of the tap beer.

"It'll give you a manly air, like those rumors about you dating that chick."

Zach knocked his forehead against a palm. "I talked to her once. At a party. We're not even friends!"

Joe drank heartily from a bottle, then mouthed an ah. "So, when are you guys picking out china patterns?"

It was Zach's turn to shoot a murderous look, as they were surrounded by obnoxious cat-calling. "Does Avon happen to sell those, too?"

Joe smacked his lips. "I'll ask Jill. Might be next to those Dora PJs I was thinking of getting you."

"And you can restock on Western Fields - for Men."

Joe laughed at that. "Hey, a husband has to do what he has to do." He ticked a finger thoughtfully. "But I snapped a picture of her this morning, so all's fair in love and war."

Zach raised an eyebrow. "Without all her makeup on?"

Joe nodded. "Jilly will kill me if she finds out, but I want her in my series." He looked down, and peeled the beer label with a fingernail. "It's not so much revenge – never revenge. I just wish everyone got to see her, like I see her." He shrugged. "I'm not sure if it's going to happen though. But she's the most beautiful person I know, and I just want to show that."

Zach smiled at Joe, despite another round of applause trying to gain his attention. There were whoops and hollers, as someone obviously took the stage, and blew into the microphone. Zach cringed at the audio feedback, but then -

"This one I can relate to," a familiar male voice said.

Zach whipped his head around, just as the first notes of an old country song were struck.

Joe slapped his arm from across the table and laughed. "Stalker is all dedicating this to you!"

Zach huffed, although his eyes were riveted to Chris; who stood on the stage. The man grabbed attention easily without the limelight, wearing a red t-shirt that clung in the right places, and lead Zach's eyes to the dirty, hip-snug jeans below; entwined too closely with the microphone stand.

Chris' lush mouth brushed the dark bulb of the mic, as he sang, "Now I could easily understand, how you could easily take my man – but you don't know what he meeeans to me, Jolene." Chris had a hand to his chest, then, "Jolene, Jolene, Jolene – Joleeeene. I'm begging of you, please don't take my maaan."

There was hollering at the pleading tone, and Zach smiled in spite of it all. Chris' eyes were sparkling, grin wicked, as he sang his woe to the crowd; his voice sending small shivers and goosebumps up and down Zach's arms.

"He talks about you in his sleep, and there's nothing I can keep from cryin' – when he calls your naame, Jolene."

Joe clapped at that one. "Get it, Chris!"

"Jolene, Jolene, Jolene – Joleeeene. I'm begging of you, please don't take my maaan."

And while Zach could feel the electricity in the room, it wasn't until their eyes locked that his breath caught – the ice blue still apparent, even with the distance and lights between them, as Chris mouthed the last verse.

"You could have your choice of men, but I could never love again – he's the only one for me, Jolene."

At that people stood up, as Chris gave a dramatic finish; with his head thrown back, practically crying the last notes.

Joe stood up with them, clapping loudly as he shouted to Zach, "Holy shit, your man can sing!"

But Zach could only watch as Chris gave a small bow before he exited off the stage - with his gaze following as Chris disappeared into the suddenly too large, and crowded karaoke bar.

***

"Mind if I sit next to you, Stranger?"

Zach looked up from the white pages of his script, and saw familiar blue eyes; shaded by a worn navy baseball cap and framed by a pair of glasses. It took Zach a moment, but beneath the layers he saw that Chris was smiling down at him.

He held an iced coffee in one hand, and a paper in the other, as he tilted his head towards the indoors. "Crowded in there."

Zach mentally shook himself. His eyes had drifted to the faded t-shirt and loose jeans that Chris wore; noticing small holes at the hem. Was it really surprising that Chris had lazy days like everyone else? Not that pretty people couldn't get away with the unkempt look, but -

"Yeah, sure," Zach said, as he glanced over at an empty chair.

Chris was already there, plopping down on the opposite side of Zach near the street. Which was just as well, as Zach had his feet propped up on the bars of the chair next to him, and he wasn't about to move them.

He had lazy days too, if his own dark-rimmed glasses and hoodie weren't proof enough. Although with Chris, still looking halfway decent with his scruff, Zach kind of wished he had left the flip-flops at home.

But Chris was silent a moment, as he took off his cap and ran fingers through dirty hair, before he nodded at the script in Zach's hands.

"Heroes?"

Zach looked down at it. Although that guess was the most logical assumption, it still stupidly surprised Zach that he would know.

"Yeah," Zach said.

Which was so incredibly illuminating, that Chris leaned forward; holding his cup with both hands. "I have some weird things coming in lately. I've been trying to get a few stage roles, but it's all up in the air – I envy the TV work, sometimes. Something regular, with people you can get to know and trust."

Zach raised his brows at him. TV was usually considered for the working stiff; not exactly what most considered enviable. While he found it creatively stimulating, sure, most considered it a stepping-stone for movies.

Well – Zach also considered it a stepping-stone for movies. But he was grateful for what he had. And he liked playing Sylar, for what it was worth.

"Sure," Zach said, kind of wondering what else he could really say about that.

Chris pursed his lips. "And you have fans, man. The Sarmy?"

Zach watched as Chris took a sip through his straw – the whole fan thing was still mildly disconcerting, really. In that it was humbling, and wonderful, and he didn't want it to go to his head.

Zach took a sip of his own coffee. "They're really nice."

"Yeah? That's cool." Chris fiddled with the edges of his plastic lid. "My fans are the kind who are too young to know that Anne Hathaway went topless for Brokeback Mountain." Chris wanly smiled. "But it's all good."

Zach nodded slowly. "...Right."

And Chris aimed that smile at him, which was comfortable. Friendly, even. But incredibly misleading as his eyes decided to skim Zach's face, before traveling down the length of neck to his arm – perhaps beyond, if the metal table hadn't blocked the view.

Which was just as well. How the hell did a face look so damn unimpressed, yet have a gaze so burning? Zach's skin almost tingled from where Chris had looked. Maybe it had been the most casual of glances, but as a tongue darted out and quickly wet the corner of that luscious mouth, Zach gulped.

It was almost too much; with his own tongue against the back of his teeth. Chris could be wearing a paper bag, and it wouldn't seem to make a difference – how strange was that? And from the look of things perhaps the feeling was mutual, despite the flip-flops.

"Pine."

Zach jerked his head up, and noticed an older man glaring down at their table. Which, okay - the interruption was kind of a relief. But Zach still looked the dark-haired stranger up and down with a, Who the hell is this?

Chris sighed, then gestured with a hand. "Zach, this is my agent Steve Lyons. Steve, this is Zachary Quin – "

"Last I checked, phones were communicative devices a step up from a string and tin cans." Steve leaned down. "Which is incredibly more helpful than tracking down your hobo ass to bitchslap you in person."

Chris idly glanced at his phone. "Oh look, I have ten voicemails."

"No shit Pine, that's because, gee - maybe I wanted to get in touch with you."

Chris smiled sheepishly and shrugged. "Sorry, it was on vibrate?"

"What, in your pants?" The agent pinched the bridge of his nose. "Fuck, don't answer that – just, I need you to sign these."

Steve ripped the chair from Zach's feet and sat down; causing his flip-flops to fall off. As Steve riffled through his bag, and Zach untangled his sad-excuse-for-foam shoes, Zach and Chris exchanged looks of What the hell? and What can you do?

In that same moment, a familiar blonde head of hair waltzed up to Chris' side, and tapped a bare bicep.

Chris looked over in surprise, and then grinned. "Hey, Miss Amelia Bedelia. " He pulled her into a side-hug, which she leaned into. "How are ya? Keeping Uncle Stevie in line?"

"Sign these." Steve passed the papers over, and Chris looked at them blankly a moment.

"Pen?"

"No, in blood." Steve dug in his case again, then flung one over.

Chris looked back at Amelia as he uncapped it. "Did Uncle Stevie get his coffee?"

She shook her head, and Chris nodded in an of course.

"Just sign, Chris," Steve huffed, then looked over at the little girl. He beckoned her forward with a finger. "Squirt, I got a job for you."

Amelia walked towards him silently, and Steve handed her a twenty. "Small triple-shot Americano, on the double."

Zach narrowed his brow. "Are you sure that's going to work?"

Steve sent an annoyed glance his way, before doing a double take and, "You look familiar." Amelia took the twenty and left, before Steve pointed. "You related to a Joe Quinto?"

"...Sure?" Zach said, as Chris read over the papers.

"Fucking godsend, he is – Squirt wasn't having it with other people, and she wouldn't sit still for a headshot."

Zach tilted his head - didn't Chris say she was supposed to be a model?

But Steve turned back to Chris, and took the papers. "Thanks. I'm sending these over to Paramount."

Chris nodded at that. "Did I just sign my life away, or what?"

Steve shook his head. "Nah, your ass belongs to me. This is just confidentiality shit, for Trek."

Zach perked up his ears at that. There had been rumors around town of course, and Zach was in the running. He had auditioned, and it had gone fairly well. So well in fact, that Abrams was on his speed dial, and sending him inspirational chain letters at his email.

Well – Zach had the feeling Abrams sent everyone chain mail of cute puppies and kittens, but that was beside the point.

Zach looked at Chris warily. He certainly didn't seem like the Spock type.

Chris appeared nonplussed. "When's my audition?"

"Apparently they're picking Spock now, so probably soon." Steve chanced a sideways glance at him. "You might be a rich fuck someday, Quinto."

Zach made a bland face at that. "Spock is intriguing."

"Whatever, your agent is drooling over a franchise, and you know it." Steve looked impatiently behind him, then gave an exasperated sigh. "God, she's just standing at the counter - fuck my life." Steve got up, then pointed at Chris. "You, phone. On the loudest ringtone, glued to your fucking hand. I am calling your ass later."

Chris squinted. "About an audition?"

"No, to say goodnight – fuck, what else, Pine?"

Chris grinned brightly. "To say you love me and miss me?"

Steve threw up a hand. "You're lucky you got Disney, or I'd have dropped your ass ages ago."

Chris quirked a lip, then whispered to Zach, "It's my baby blues."

"If I had wanted a kid, I would've actually knocked up some – dammit, Amelia!" Steve took his briefcase and raced inside Lamill; where they both saw Steve try to smooth over things with a barista on the phone – no doubt calling a cop.

Zach looked over at Chris, who shrugged. But Zach gave him a quizzical look, anyway.

"Is he really getting you that many connections?"

Chris shook his head. "Nah." He took another sip from his straw. "I just like him."

Zach opened his mouth, then closed it, before a, "Why?"

Chris gave a coy smile. "Because he's actually a good guy." His eyes flicked towards Lamill. "He just... doesn't know it, yet."

Zach looked back at the impatiently-waiting Steve Lyons inside; whose dark suit looked impeccable against his disdain at the apparently too-slow server and clueless Amelia. As Steve huffed at the counter, pacing back and forth, Zach thought he would need to see further proof to believe there was a good guy hidden in there, somewhere.

***

On the other hand, proof didn't seem to be what most of Hollywood required for things.

"Apparently Chris deep-throated some guy for CSI."

Zach rolled his eyes, as he heard his spoon hit the corner of a fast food container.

"And ER was a small 30-second bit, but he's also linked with the director of that episode."

"Let me guess," Zach said, as he propped up his feet. "George Clooney?"

There was a snort. "Seriously, George Clooney? Getting blown by a guy?" Joe scoffed. "Who would ever spread a dumb rumor like that?"

"Gee, can't imagine." Zach aimlessly shifted through TV channels, as his brother conjured up the next ridiculous thing to say at midnight.

It was certainly alarming however, the amount of rumors Joe did seem to find in the cracks of industry woodwork. That so many people had heard some small tidbit about a guy who was practically a nobody - with the exception of that Disney movie and his father, of course.

But if it wasn't Chris doing some lewd deed for a job, it was that his charm and flirtatious nature got him everywhere.

"Isn't that the nature of the movie business?" Zach had muttered. After all these years of being in LA, he had certainly done his fair share of self-whoring.

But Joe would only counter-claim with the point of, "Well, maybe if he did more whoring of his personality, rather than his body? You'd be onto something."

Which again, wasn't that the nature of the entire movie business?

"You don't really know," Zach could only ever answer lamely. Which was only lame, because most people didn't even know who Chris Pine really was; much less enough to invent rumors for someone they weren't supposed to care about.

***

"So, we can bring someone to the party, right?"

Zach gathered his purchases, and looked over at Chris; who was glancing casually at a basket of tomatoes.

The sky was overcast at the market, but it only brought out the grayed hues of Chris' eyes; which matched the dark AC/DC t-shirt he deemed wearing, with those damn hip-snugging jeans.

Zach shrugged. "Yeah. I mean, it's my party, so sure?"

Chris wouldn't look at him, as he bypassed another basket of what seemed to be decent-looking tomatoes. "I guess that means you can bring your girlfriend, then."

Zach sputtered. "What?"

"That chick you were on Heroes with, or – " Chris made a face, "Rumor Willis, wasn't it?"

Zach huffed. "Okay, people need to cut that out." He waved his hands in agitation, before hearing the thunk of his bag against the market table. He gave it an annoyed look, before a, "I'm not dating anybody. And for the record," Zach took a deep breath, "Iwouldn'tdateagirlanywayso."

Not that Zach wasn't past the age of coming out being nerve-wracking, but Hollywood was different. It made the world seem like high school again; when Zach was pretty sure he burned most of those photos with his yearbook in a trashcan in Philly.

But Chris finally looked at him. "Oh?"

Zach held his sack of avocados, as Chris held the same tomato – which seemed to be leaking in a spot, as juice dripped over the palm of Chris' hand.

But Zach only shrugged, and said dumbly, "Yeah?"

Chris looked at him mutely, before noticing the tomato, and placing it back in a basket. He looked at them sheepishly, before handing the basket to a seller.

"Um," Chris said as he fished for cash, and fumbled with his leather wallet. "So, uh - do you like sugar cookies, then?"

Zach tilted his head – besides the seeming change in subject, it all depended on certain important factors. "Do they have sprinkles?"

The grin was wide as Chris took his bag of produce, and they left the overhang of the farmer's stand. "Only if you want them to."

And Zach didn't quite like how he noticed those perfect teeth – different, yet white and sexier than teeth ought to be; only highlighted by the wickedness in Chris' eyes. Wickedness that in those rom-coms, Zach supposed, would only mean one thing.

He answered the predator look with a quiet, "I think I do" – although Zach had to wonder how many had said that before him, and for what.

***

"Come on, Zach. Don't think it, just do it!"

He was on the last few reps, seeing Mike's intense gaze as he yelled at him from above; to keep pushing, pumping, harder –

"Last one, make it happen – right on!" Mike guided the bar back to the holder, as Zach loosened his grip and let go.

Mike whooped. "Damn man, you're like an animal!"

Zach closed his eyes, and tried to shake his head clear. He was never calling Joe before a workout again. Not when it was filled with things like, "Did you know he has a scar on his inner thigh?" and "Apparently last time they heard him in the offices upstairs, and someone called the cops."

"Yeah." Zach licked the sweat off his upper lip. "Just stressed lately."

"It's working for you." Mike handed Zach his water bottle. "Chris has been the same way in here, just tearing it up. Half the time I have to coax you guys to push it, but you're both – "

Zach wiped his face with a towel, and muffled out the rest of the words. He didn't want to exactly think of Chris at the bench press, sweating as he lifted weights and pushed and pumped harder and harder –

" – I think he must be training for an action role, 'cause his arms are huge." Mike pointed at his bicep. "Bigger than mine, maybe – which, God, never saying that again."

Zach looked at the bulging muscles and doubted it, but Mike only grinned, and snapped his towel.

"Or maybe he's got someone." Mike put the tip of his tongue to teeth, as he unscrewed his Nalgene. "Jealous?"

And Zach could only gulp because, yeah – maybe he didn't want to actually think too hard, on that one.

***

"Why do I need a cell phone, again?"

They were at the same table outside of Lamill, having bumped into other by chance - or rather, Zach had been waved down from the apartments across the street, and Chris had found an open chair.

Zach looked at that occupied chair with a hmm, and said, "Because your agent threatened bodily harm?"

"Steve?" Chris huffed. "If only he were the one bugging me right now." Chris held down a button, until the screen of his phone went dark. "His yelling is sexy, at least."

Zach swirled the dregs in his coffee cup; with the liquid too lukewarm for his interest, yet too expensive to just throw away. "Getting so many offers, that you just can't field them all?"

"No, just – " Chris shook his head, frustrated. "Just someone I can't seem to shake, even though I thought she got it."

While that gave Zach a few ideas, he did try to have faith in humanity sometimes. He asked innocently, "Telemarketer?"

Instead of a snort like Zach expected, Chris sighed. "I think I'd prefer a bad accent from across the Atlantic, right about now."

Which made his mind reach in several directions. That usually only meant one thing, didn't it? Zach knew the last phone calls he tried avoiding.

So Zach leaned on an arm, in a hopefully-nonchalant fashion, and looked across the table. "Care to fill me in?"

Chris looked hesitant. His eyes noticed the scenery, and glanced at a passing couple with their stroller – then the table, Lamill, his cup, his hands - before they looked back at Zach.

That was encouraging.

"Well... I met a woman before one of my meetings a few months ago. This really pretty intern, whose olive v-neck brought out her eyes," Chris quirked a lip, "and her assets."

Zach didn't even feign a raised brow.

"Anyway, we had sex in the copy room, and finished just in time for me to head to my meeting, and for her to meet her boss."

Zach smirked. "On the copier?"

Chris looked appalled. "Doesn't anyone use a desk anymore?"

Zach waved a hand. "So she asked for your number."

"No, she gave me hers. And I took it, thinking I would just stuff it in my pocket, and then throw it away later."

Zach wasn't sure what face he was wearing - God. "So good enough, but not a keeper?"

Chris shook his head. "It wasn't like that. I just – I didn't want commitment, at the time."

Of course he hadn't. "But she did."

"Yeah, I guess? I didn't even give her my number, but she apparently cleaned up after the meeting I had, and found it anyway."

Zach took a distracted sip of his cold coffee, then made a face at it. "That doesn't happen often."

Chris shrugged. "Not really. Most people get the idea."

Zach swished the stale dregs. "Which would be...?"

"That sex is meant to be fun." Chris sipped from a straw. "At any rate, I never had someone try to call me three months after."

That did seem kind of extreme. "Sounds like stalker territory, to me."

Zach bit back a laugh, as Chris blanched.

"Yeah... I guess it does." Chris glanced down at his phone. "I'm gonna change the number on this."

Zach couldn't help it - he hid an amused grin as he threw his cup away.

Perhaps karma worked in mysterious ways.

***

"Did you know he has a beard?"

"On his face?"

Joe sighed. "That he takes to parties."

Zach set down Noah's water dish, and shook his head. "He likes women, why would he do that?" Not that Chris actually dating someone seemed likely, either.

"Throws people off track. He did some gay movie, likes dick sometimes – doesn't matter how much he likes chicks. If he won't settle down with one, people will notice."

Which was true, actually. Zach was sure he only had rumors for that exact reason – people wanted hope of some sort, or some way to frame him as normal. If he wasn't in a relationship, or desiring one, he was seemingly bucking the status quo.

Not that Chris being a playboy was culturally unaccepted. "He bangs a lot of women, though?"

"It's not just that. Him fucking half of Hollywood doesn't help him career-wise, either."

Which was also true. Perhaps Chris was an excellent actor – he did have some prestigious schools to his credit, after all – but it was overshadowed by the idea of what was merited by his mouth, rather than any actual talent.

If he were Chris – or an opportunistic agent trying to represent Chris - that would probably piss him off.

Zach distractedly wiped a counter, before asking a, "Who is she?" in a tone that was hopefully mildly inquisitive.

Joe made a hmm, then said, "Beau Garrett? A model, I guess. Somebody that Steve Lyons knows, and that Chris gets along with." Then added, before Zach had a chance to think it, "Really gets along with."

Of course. Two good-looking people, stuck together by a contract? Why not.

"So she might come to the party, just to warn you."

As Noah half-drained his water bowl, he flipped it over and soaked Zach's foot.

***

The mystery of the party had been hard to contain actually, despite it being near Zach's birthday. Once the news had gotten to Joe, him and Jill had invited a whole legion of guests under the birthday guise; only for it to leak out that somehow, Zachary Quinto – primetime villain, gay BFF, and former walk-on extraordinaire – had been cast as a younger version of an iconic pop culture character, in a rebooted franchise.

Meaning, "You lucky duck, you're set for life."

Which was the general sentiment as Zach weaved through the crowded living room, and heard passing congratulations. To be honest, he wasn't quite sure how some people had been invited; with most faces only vaguely familiar from overlying social circles, and a handful not even knowing it was actually his birthday. But it was still nice; nice to be acknowledged. In truth, when Zach had received the confirming phone call, there had been that sense of accomplishment - an arrogant yet optimistic Wow, I'm actually going places.

It felt good to be where he was. Happy birthday, indeed.

But as much as Zach was a social butterfly, the icing on the cake was really later in the night; when most people he cared about stayed after hours, and wound up talking in Joe and Jill's kitchen.

Or actually, they were all watching a makeup demonstration; conducted by Miss Amelia Waters, with supplies provided by Mrs. Jill Quinto, and accompanied by the background music of a disgruntled and yelling agent.

Also meaning: "Joe, you look... beautiful."

Zach couldn't contain the giggling, no matter how tightly he pressed his lips. He covered his mouth as he walked into the kitchen, but those around him weren't quite as nice.

Despite it being, you know, his birthday party, Joe looked about to hit him.

"Be careful Zach," Chris said, leaning against a counter. "Mrs. Quinto is armed and dangerous."

"My husband doesn't have any sharp objects right now," Jill said around her own smirking, as Joe reached out for a not-so-friendly pat.

"I'm remembering this," Joe said sternly, as Amelia deepened the blush on his cheeks. "Someday one of you is going to be smashingly drunk, or walk in accidentally with an embarrassing object up your as- I mean behind - and you'll need me to rescue you."

Chris looked over at Zach, with a pointed, Does this happen often? or Does this happen ever?

Zach shrugged.

"I'll name it the 'My brother is a dumbas - Jerk' series."

Chris sighed thoughtfully. "But I'm pretty sure that requires a different part of the anatomy."

Zach shook his head and laughed, as he watched Joe get distracted by the horrors of foam curlers. He leaned against the counter next to Chris, who had seemingly arrived with only an agent and child in tow – not that Zach had been carefully eyeing the guests, or anything. ("Hey Zach, did you want a shaving kit for that beard? I think Jilly would offer a family discount.")

They watched Jill put together a paper bag of cosmetics next to Joe's chair, as Amelia nodded her approval.

"Miss 'Melia, you think the Lime, or Robin's Egg Blue?" Jill held up two bottles of nail polish, and Amelia stared at them in contemplation.

"None! None. Doesn't the victim get a vote here? I mean – "

"What the fuck- presence? Did you even look at her? Or were you too busy twiddling thumbs up your ass?"

Zach turned his head to see Steve, in what appeared to be his signature suit and tie, pacing by the patio door – with a frustrated expression that might make that door a window, pretty quickly.

Steve threw up his hand. "Well gee, I'm sorry, I'm thought this was a fucking Target ad. The ones, sweetie, without the moving or talking pictures. Unless you want to share that special elf magic with the rest of us, I don't think my client's unwillingness to talk– " Steve pinched the bridge of his nose, and Zach wondered if there was a permanent indent there. "Look, you're short a model for your ugly-as-hell sweatshop clothing, and I have one available, right now. You want attitude, I'll give you some for fucking free, and shove it right up your – "

Steve mock-slammed his blackberry against the wall, before storming into the backyard - thankfully by pulling open the sliding door first - and Zach turned back to Chris, who seemed to have watched the same demonstration.

Chris shrugged, and reached behind him to the kitchen counter. "Amelia isn't landing jobs."

He kind of figured.

"That... sucks." Zach gave a sideways glance to the girl, who was studying Joe solemnly with a palette of eyeshadow. Maybe modeling was a different business than acting, but normally a person had to speak, you know, sometimes. That actually seemed kind of necessary for life in general.

But he looked back at Chris, who had a plate of cookies in one hand, and was carefully shifting through them.

"Her mom had her in pageants when she was younger, I guess." Chris delicately picked up a large star-shaped cookie; his braced fingers precariously close to the yellow frosting and rainbow sprinkles. "She won a lot of trophies, or some shit like that."

"As a baby?" Babies didn't have to talk.

"I don't know. With her mom sick, it probably wasn't recently – put out your hand."

Despite the somber topic, Zach did so. And as he mildly expected, the fabulous cookie rested in his palm.

Chris gave him a shy smile, and said quietly, "Happy Birthday, Spock Junior. "

Zach glanced down at it, noticing that the sprinkles looked like glass as they caught the light. He returned the smile. "Thank you. Where did you get them?"

Chris bumped his shoulder. "Made them, duh." Chris picked a random orange star, and bit off a corner. "Kind of the only thing I can make, to be honest."

Chris continued looking down at the plate as he chewed, and Zach realized this might be one of those social cues. Perhaps in the rom-com, where the love interest is supposed to genuinely flatter their admirer; paving the way to further fuzzy feelings and less-dubiously romantic interactions.

Zach bit a corner tentatively, and – surprisingly - hummed in contentment.

"These are soft."

Chris looked up sharply, as Zach tore off another corner, and popped it into his mouth.

"I, um," Chris picked up another cookie, "I like them denser?"

"They're good," Zach said, and it was the truth. They were not crispy and sharp enough to cut a wrist, yet they were not cake-like.

Chris grinned, his expression cheesily like a sunrise slowly spreading, infecting the world with its brightness – or perhaps it was just another kitchen light being turned on, as Zach felt a corner of his mouth perk up.

"Well," Chris said, as he set the plate back behind them, "I almost made them into little Starfleet badges."

"Oh thank God you didn't," Zach mumbled with a mouth of cookie, and Chris laughed.

"Yeah, I wondered if it would be something like that." Chris bit another corner thoughtfully. "Although if I get Trek, then we would have snacks to bond over."

Zach raised an eyebrow at that. For some reason the Spocks had gone first, and now Kirks were in preliminaries – people getting rejected, just based on headshots, or a one-minute interview. Zach hadn't had it as rigorous; although he had tested a few times, and somehow had gotten lucky enough to win people over.

He looked over at Chris – thin and dirty blondish as he was, his blue eyes still catching attention at an angle. Would a headshot ever be able to portray that? Or the crinkles at his eyes, as he smiled - or the energy bouncing off him in droves, no matter the weather or time of day?

But Chris was laughing at something Joe had said, as Amelia was unrolling the last of the curlers, and Zach felt the urge to bump his elbow.

Chris looked over quickly, and Zach tiled his head to softly say, "Good luck."

Chris' lips curved into a slow smile. "Thanks." He knocked their shoes together. "You never know, you might not be able to get rid of me, yet."

Watching the scene before him – with Steve crossing angrily in front of a laughing Jill and scowling Joe, as Amelia ruffled though his brother's hair – he kind of doubted the likelihood of that ever happening.

The only scary part was his gut, suddenly replying good to that information.

***

"Hello Zachary, this is your mother. I appreciate the call you made to dispense the good news, but you do know I don't answer the phone on Sundays, when God and I are having tea together, right? I can only imagine the bishop's face, as my phone would go off. I have the Star Trek theme on it, but I think Bishop Saunders is a Star Wars fan, anyway – the robots are in Star Wars, right? Anyway, Joe was telling me your Chris is going up for Kirk. My, Shatner was so handsome - your father used to have to leave the room when that show would come on, Lord. But if your Chris can get that same part, he must really be something, right? As Jill was telling me, if you don't want him, we'll take him. But give my best wishes to Chris, and call me Zach, and at least leave a message – I want to know if my phone makes the communicator noise now, when that happens. Love you hon, bye!"

***

"This is Zach, I don't care if you leave a message." Beep.

"Zach, I hope you're home, because otherwise people are going to wonder why I'm sitting on your front stoop at midnight, crying into a bucket of Neapolitan with a spoon – "

Zach fumbled for his cordless. "What?"

He heard Chris take a deep breath. "I've got beer and ice cream. You better have a few Swayze movies, 'cause I only have Dirty Dancing, and I definitely need Ghost to round out my shitty evening."

Zach frowned as he rolled off his couch, and switched the phone to another ear. "What is so bad to deign a Swayze marathon?" Although Zach had an idea, certainly.

Another sigh. "They said I'm too pretty."

Zach made a face at the phone – what sort of critique was that? In Hollywood, of all places?

"Did they ever look at Shatner?"

"It's wasn't just that. I guess I didn't have the right – attitude, or fucking whatever." Over the phone, Zach could hear a door open, and slam shut. "Anyway, I'm gonna rant more to you about it in a minute, but let me grab shit."

Zach hung up the phone, and it was only then that it occurred to him – that this was the first time Chris would actually be inside his place. Or well, that Zach hadn't ever said anything about his place, and where it was at; yet Chris was here.

But as Zach grabbed a few cups off the coffee table, and looked around quickly, it suddenly didn't matter. It didn't matter anymore that he was maybe being stalked by someone who thought they could be in a film together; rather, perhaps Chris seemed to be stalking him, for… well, him.

Zach heard a muffled, "Dude, I can't walk through doors," but it was all rather clear, strangely - that maybe he had been waiting for this bit of relief, all along.

Zach looked at the door, and then impulsively decided to open it.

***

Mike braced his arms against the frame of the door, and looked over Zach's shoulder before letting him in.

"Now see, I thought you would've brought your new BFF with you. One time deal?"

Zach rolled his eyes, as he set his duffel bag on the kitchen table. After the Swayze marathon last week, Chris had fallen asleep on his couch – only to sleep too soundly, miss his alarm, and thus also miss his training appointment the next morn. It had seemed reasonable enough to bring Chris along later that afternoon, since Zach was heading to Mike's anyway, and Chris seemed to need the company. But he kind of hadn't counted on Mike to take things… too in stride.

"Maybe, maybe not." Actually, boxing with Chris had proved more fun than he could confess to; with the added benefit of Chris complaining about sore shoulders the few days after, which made Zach giggle a bit too maniacally at the thought.

Yeah, he'd kind of like to kick Chris' ass again.

"Well, I don't mind – unless you guys start wearing matching track suits. Then I'm out."

"Not even with a matching tee that says 'Coach' in sequins, on the front?"

Mike turned from the archway, and scrunched his brow in a confused look. He raised a finger slowly, and pointed it.

"... His humor is wearing off on you."

Perhaps it was.

But Mike only grinned. "Good, I was starting to think the stick-up-the-ass wasn't for your Trek role."

"I didn't have – " but the grin only widened, and Zach waved a hand. "It was probably a one-time deal."

"Well if he starts wearing that patchouli crap, I'm charging you couples' fees."

Zach wanted to comment that he had been stuck with Western Fields - for men deodorant the last few days, but was too frazzled with the insinuation.

"I'm, we – "

"Just thank me at your guy's wedding, will ya?"

And Mike was already through the archway, before Zach got his mind back on track from being flummoxed, and grabbed his towel to follow after.

***

"Christ on a stick, can't you keep track of your dick?"

Chris smiled widely. "That rhymes!"

"Fuck my life." Steve was still scrolling through his blackberry. "I have a mute for a niece, and a leg-humping dog for a client – you're lucky I know this guy, Chris."

Zach rolled his eyes. There was another gossip columnist trying to make seedy blind vices out of small stars, with Chris his latest victim. These types were normally relentless, unless a person had the right words of persuasion that usually started with "fuck you" and ended in "lawsuit". ("'Playa Ponderosa'? You're a fucking writer, and the best your creativity got you was a blatant allusion to pine trees? Go buy a thesaurus, you loquacious cockmuppet.")

Chris shook his head. "I don't even remember – I don't do that stuff anymore." He looked at Zach. "It was a long time ago."

Zach could partially believe it. After all, Chris and him had been hanging out a lot these days; and between that and work, Zach kind of wondered when Chris would even have the time. And on the happenstance he did have the time, back at Chris' apartment were books stacked everywhere – a revelation to see dog-eared and worn paperbacks, and not porn. His coffee table had stacks of literary magazines and half-finished crosswords, with a card deck and tally book for abysmal games of solitaire.

Really, it was not a bachelor pad with a revolving door like Zach had expected, and the columnist insisted. Rather, it was actually more like, well… his place. But with shag carpeting. And dirty glasses still in the sink.

Although for some people, a quick screw was like running for coffee. But even there, Chris actually used his coffee runs to, you know, drink coffee. Sometimes with Zach.

He watched Chris' lips purse around a straw, as Steve continued ranting.

"Well, at least you're not some prissy bitch. Jake Gyllenhaal is going all princess again, and demanding water from the south of France." Steve threw his blackberry on the table, and looked at them both. "Can't either of you fuck this guy and get him to chill?"

Chris shrugged. "I tried – "

"One more word Pine, and this phone is being thrown at your head."

Chris' smile broadened. "I even invited his boyfriend."

Steve gave an exasperated sigh, then looked at Chris' empty water bottle. "Well, for the sake of your fucking career, don't." He picked up the plastic container, then looked behind them. "Be right back, going to get water from a small province called Lamill."

"Funny, I visit this province all the time," Chris said, as they watched Steve head indoors to the bathrooms, and bypass a stock-still Amelia at the counter.

Zach looked back at Chris. "Does she ever talk?"

Chris made an eh motion with his hand. "But I think the barista has the triple-shot Americano memorized by now."

Zach nodded solemnly. "From the screaming."

"You think she has nightmares?"

Zach looked back towards the counter. "Which one?"

"The barista – Amelia totally loves Steve." Chris tapped his head. "I know these things."

As Amelia wrapped arms around herself at the counter, waiting silently for Steve's drink, Zach still had no idea why she would.

But love did work in mysterious ways. Maybe it was a strange, karmic art form; with the hope that what you sent out with good intentions wouldn't come back with owed postage in a stomped and torn box.

***

But Steve was a piece of work, all right.

"Squirt, you stay with Chris." Steve had pointed between the two of them, then barked at his phone. "Tell Jake Gyllenhaal I'm going to fist his mouth if he doesn't sit and brood pretty until I get there."

Steve quickly grabbed his briefcase and ran off, not even bothering with the Americano and spare change that Amelia held in her hands.

Chris pouted at Zach. "He never tells me to brood pretty."

Zach smirked at the brooding form. "You seem to cover that pretty well."

Amelia pulled out a chair, as Chris tsked at the table.

"You mock, but it is an art form." Chris looked at Amelia. "Isn't it, Miss Bedelia?"

Amelia clumsily climbed onto the chair, then plopped the change on the metal table. As a quarter spun towards the center, Zach's fingers twitched at the impulse to stop its motion.

But Chris did it aptly for him, by pushing her cents and dollars forward. "Save it, Missy. You'll need it for where we're going."

Zach knew they had plans for market, and wondered if it was really a place for a five-year-old. But Chris was already hunched over, and offering his back.

"Uncle Stevie is buying us dinner, and you're carrying the tomatoes." He hoisted her up, until Amelia was in spider-monkey position. "Too bad you didn't bring your backpack. You could be like a camel." Chris turned them both around, so he could look at Zach. "Ready?"

Chris started walking anyway, so Zach could only hurry behind. As they crossed streets and ventured down sidewalks, Chris chatted animatedly at a disinterested Amelia ("Did you know camels have three eyelids? I wish I had three eyelids, like one for sunglasses, and one for swimming goggles – "); who pressed her chin into the angle of neck and shoulder, and quietly observed the passing world.

Was it bad to feel envious of a five-year-old? Was it even worse that Zach was having that line of thought, in the first place? Especially at the delicate way Chris handled her as they entered the market, and turned into the first tent they saw; Chris ducking to avoid any flaps hitting her head, and thus clenching Zach's heart in a weird way.

"Miss Amelia." Chris hunched back down, so she could step off. "We need some seriously awesome tomatoes, for some seriously awesome salsa."

Salsa usually came from a jar at Zach's house, but he could dig it. And apparently Amelia could too as she took a step forward, and peered over the line of baskets; keeping one hand curved around Chris' kneecap as she picked up each tomato in turn.

There was obviously a silent checklist enforced, as she examined each tomato in the light, inspecting it from various angles. Really, they all looked red and round to Zach, but apparently none were quite good enough. Of which the seller noticed.

An older male looked down at her discerning gaze, with his green apron contrasting like Christmas. "I can assure you, they all taste pretty good."

She untangled from Chris' legs, and held her arm straight out. "This one has a bug."

Zach shook his head, wondering if he had been imagining things. But the seller only laughed.

"We don't use any pesticides or chemical fertilizers in our crops."

Amelia picked up another one. "This one has a bug, too."

Chris laughed, and grasped her shoulders. "Ah, um," Chris patted her hand down. "These smell lovely, but – "

"They must've gotten here from the stand – "

"Right," Chris said as they all turned from the tomatoes, and made their way out.

In the throng he saw Chris' shoulders shaking from repressed smirking, before saying, "Amelia, I know from your Uncle Stevie that you've learned to tell the truth, but sometimes – "

"They had bugs."

Zach was wondering if they should be recording these for posterity, as he had never heard her speak before – well - ever.

However there was silence again, as they went under the overhang of another stand; where there was room for the three of them to inspect produce together.

Zach held out a few on-the-vine. "How about these?"

Amelia peered down at her basket, then looked at his. "No."

"Yeah, well – yours are bigger than mine." Which okay, it's not like he wasn't holding cherry tomatoes.

Chris leaned towards her. "How about these? I don't see any critters – "

Amelia's tomatoes flew in the air as a large crash resounded behind them, followed by a flash of blonde hair, as the little body scrambled.

Zach turned and saw that a baker had dropped a dozen pans after colliding with a shopper; all of whom were apologizing to each other profusely.

"Miss Amelia?"

Zach looked back down, and saw that Amelia was trying to bury her face in Chris' knees.

As the pans continued jostling and smacking behind them ("I'm so sorry, here let me – ah! Sorry, my grip is – gah!"), Amelia actually found a space between Chris' legs and the skirt of the table to hide in.

Zach looked at Chris, who was peering down with some concern; as his hand patted the blonde head gently.

"Amelia?" he said quietly, bending over for a closer look. However it only caused her to fist his jeans more tightly; as if he made a better shield for the world.

But after her body shook with one last clang, Chris made an exasperated noise; before pulling away her hands to slide his own to her waist, and lift her up. It was such a quick motion, that Zach could only stare as Amelia was cradled to his chest; her fingers clinging in a death grip to a collar as Chris silently, and quickly, walked them away from the market.

As Amelia turned her face into the same crook of shoulder and neck, Zach thought about how the loudness issue would probably be a problem. In show business – or in the modeling business, even – noise was just the nature of any set. Besides people, besides having to put yourself out there – besides an overwhelming crowdedness that would take anyone some getting used to. Whatever this fear exactly was, it probably didn't help.

Some people could handle the world coming at them, while some people needed a moment to process it all.

As Chris slowed his pace, Zach finally caught up with them; his presence a body shield of sorts as they maneuvered the sidewalks, and didn't say a word. Chris was too busy murmuring anyway, the rumblings of "Shhh" and "We'll be home soon" barely audible, as Zach could see their faces.

There was a strange tightness in his chest, as Chris continued to whisper, and Amelia sniffed. The image of Chris holding a child did things that Zach was sure only girl parts normally responded to, but made him feel things, nonetheless. Weird things.

But when they neared Lamill, Chris turned his head to catch his eye – the look so open, so trusting. This, What do we do? that made Zach realize he had been included, all along.

What they did do, was go to Chris' apartment. Where they sat with Amelia the rest of the evening, and watched movies - which resulted in her falling asleep over an armrest, in a way only flexible five-year-olds can actually maneuver, while adults wince.

Zach watched as Chris bent over to kiss her forehead, and wasn't sure if he liked this emotion; this strumming of the ribcage that made his heart sore.

He looked away to wash this dishes, and wondered how he was supposed to cope with tenderness.

***

The chemicals of the dark room always made him want to gag, before Zach remembered to breathe through his mouth, and ignore the burning in his lungs.

"Hey," Joe said, as he hung up a few developed photos on a line in the red light. "How are things?"

Zach stood close to him, and suddenly couldn't differentiate between chemical smells, and of wrangling cowboys. "All right, I guess." He pointed to the photos. "Your series?"

Joe grinned. "Take a look."

Zach could see it was a wicked grin. But he wasn't sure why, until he looked down, and noticed the woman in the photos. Beautiful of course, as Jill always had been – but she was pretty naked. Make-up wise, clothing wise -

Zach raised his brows. "She really going to let you show these?"

Joe shook his head. "Probably not. But a man can dream." He pointed to one in particular, where Jill was sitting up in bed; hair mussed, and breasts aligned with roses on the floral pillowcase. "I like this one the best. Partially covered, but still so beautiful."

There was a reverence in Joe's eyes, which Zach could feel envious of. He may not believe in the rom-com, but he did believe in some sense of destiny. That some people were meant to be together, collided, and eventually were tangled in each other's orbits, for good and always.

Joe hadn't been able to shake Jill, even after being married for so long; and it seemed mutual. It could give a person some hope.

"Well," Joe looked away. "We'll see. My exhibit is in a month."

Zach nodded. "You could get a lot of makeovers in a month?"

Joe scoffed. "Hey, I still can't remove that waterproof mascara from my eye, I swear."

"Maybe she's born it, maybe it's – "

But Joe hit him, laughing, before Zach could finish his jingle.

***

Zach's keys jingled and echoed in the silence of the house, as he unlocked the door and closed it behind him. It could be creepy, entering in the darkness; but actually the bare sight of hardwood floors always relaxed him, and reminded him he was home. Next to Noah's wet nose on a hand or arm, it allowed him to unwind after a long day on set.

Well - typically. Zach threw his jacket and bag on a chair, and stood still and waited. Sometimes Noah slept like the dead; where the world could theoretically come to a catastrophic end, and he would be none the wiser – well, maybe wake up as a zombie dog, perhaps. But there had been times when an intense belly rub was the only thing to rouse him; which was so promising for the security of his crap.

Good thing he liked Clydesdale Noah more than his stereo.

But with the summer hiatus over, Noah had been keenly missing him, and vice versa. And after a minute, the familiar sound of nails on hardwood resounded down the hall – where a gray head peeked around a corner (hey, Dad!), and then turned around to whence he came.

"Noah?"

Yeah, this really only meant one thing, didn't it?

Noah's BFF – besides Zach, of course – was Chris. In truth, no matter how much Joe dog-sat him, Joe had never been a "dog person" ("or a cat person – really Zach, I can't even keep a cactus alive, let's be honest"), and so Noah had latched onto the next person who came over here pretty often.

Usually when Zach was home, however.

"Noah, tell your dad to stop creeping and breathing heavily around corners."

Zach was at the intersection of bedroom, bathroom, and guest room, where Noah was laying on the floor. He looked attentively at the half-closed bathroom door and back at Zach. He seemed okay with the situation.

Zach however rolled his eyes, before stepping delicately towards the bathroom, and wondering what the hell he would find inside.

He would've expected many things – Chris in an awkward and embarrassing position, or rifling through his medicine cabinet. Or, with the white towel resting on the counter, maybe Chris even needed a quick shower - weird, but it's not like Zach would've said no.

But somehow, seeing Chris languidly blissed-out in his bathtub seemed the strangest possibility of them all.

"Don't be a stranger," Chris said, with an arm draped on the ledge of the tub, and the other aiding as he smoked a drag of a cigarette. "Come on in."

Zach felt the doorknob dig into the small of his back, as he saw Chris reach over, and flick an ash into the toilet bowl.

Zach mentally shook himself, and scoffed. "No smoking in my house."

Chris raised a brow. "Really?"

"I just painted in here," Zach said pleading – for many things, honestly. Like, not looking down at the bathwater, as he proffered his hand for the cigarette.

There were suds of course, but sporadic bubbles and hints of cloud. Like the water had been sitting a while, and had started to fade in the heat.

Chris rolled his eyes before taking one last puff, and handing it over. "Yeah I know – but the fumes are annoying."

"I thought it smelled clean." And with that Zach took a quick puff of the cigarette himself, before throwing the whole thing into the toilet, and sitting on the flipped down seat.

Chris tsked. "You're neurotic. Those paint fumes were brain-washing you."

"I liked it – I liked the brain-washing."

And Zach put his elbows on his knees, and wondered what else there was to say.

The suds revealed so much skin. Cresting the water was a toned and tanned thigh, peeking through in a magnified way; poising a question of what was further below, and next to it. Legs shifted, and a knobby knee broke through the surface, and caused the water to ripple.

Chris tapped the ledge with his fingertips, which Zach paid no attention to.

"Balls," Chris said solemnly, before pushing his other hand below the water, and slinking it up to a knee.

Zach jerked his head. "What?"

"I was commenting on the meaning of life. Nothing much of importance."

Zach almost repeated back the word he thought he had just heard, but knew he couldn't have heard right - everyone knew it was 42.

"Anyhow," Chris started. "I needed a bath."

"Yeah? What's wrong with your house?"

"My bathtub is too small, and Jill sent over these fizzy bombs and bubble bath." He pointed at the counter. "I like the vanilla, it smells nice."

Zach hadn't noticed.

"It counteracts the cowboy crap you have in here."

"Hey, just being supportive." Although he had buried that shit in his closet, once he stopped at the store and bought something that smelled like an Amazon Rainforest – a manly Amazon Rainforest. No cowboys in sight.

"Yeah. You like vanilla?"

He didn't exactly mind it. "It works."

"You're lucky Jill didn't let me keep the bath crayons. Something about having to share with Amelia, or whatever." Chris shook his head, and lifted the other knee. "Anyhow, I left some bubbles for you."

"How kind." And Zach was really trying to keep eye contact, as the suds had mostly dissipated by now, and the other knee caught the corner of his eye.

Chris sighed, as a calf bumped the edge of the tub. "I really like Jill."

Zach nodded, his eyes traveling to Chris' fingers, which touched his neck.

"She's really ambitious. She was telling me she has everyone at her work and Joe's company buying her stuff." The other calf bumped to the side. "So she must be selling well."

Chris's fingers slid and settled under the water; and Zach could see the hand resting in distortion on the bend of thigh and hip. He was trying to make out the fingernails, really, not anything else that might be nearby.

"Joe is really supportive."

Zach hummed in agreement.

"That's awesome, even if he's annoyed with it sometimes. But I suppose that goes both ways. I know photographers can work long hours, and can have some interesting subject matter, too."

Zach raised his eyes at that, to notice that Chris had been watching him; that blue leveled gaze now pinning him to the spot.

Zach swallowed. "Joe showed you his pictures?"

Chris shook his head. "We only talked about them. She isn't cool with letting everyone see them yet." Chris let his toned shoulders slide a bit, his knees even further above water. "But Joe was telling me it's all about trust."

Zach raised his brows. "And not about how everyone would see her naked?"

"Eh, well - it's more about how they already have that trust between them, to accept each other as they are. So much so, that even the other person's faults are beautiful." Chris flicked a toe to the surface. "But it's not like that in the real world. Jill doesn't think she's beautiful unless she's all dolled up – which obviously isn't true, she has really great cheekbones." Chris tapped his face. "Anyhow, Joe was saying his exhibit is kind of about that, though. That inherently in nature there's so much beauty, but we don't trust seeing it for how it is, or showing who we truly are. Seeing things as they really are."

Zach made a hmm at that, because – yeah, that sounded pretty deep for Joe. Perhaps verging on creepy American Beauty plastic-bag-in-the-wind territory, and Donnie Darko. But at the same time, Zach could see a thread that he really agreed with – that in Hollywood, most people were incredibly beautiful once all the layers were peeled off.

Chris rested the heel of his foot on the faucet. "Joe is trying to reveal something that only exists in reality, you know? Since you can't have someone fresh-faced in a movie, and you don't even see it out on the sidewalk. He's trying to show someone as they really are, and how that's okay."

Zach followed the line of leg to the faucet; where Chris' calve muscles were strong and defined, and still glistening from the water. He saw the big toe dip into the spout, and then out again, where –

"Chris, your toenail is blue."

"Hmm?" Chris looked down at it. "Oh yeah, Robin's Egg Blue." He tilted it from side to side. "Jill's right; doesn't chip or peel."

Chris lifted both feet in turn, and Zach gawked.

"And here I thought Joe had it rough with the mascara."

"Nah – Amelia wanted hers painted, so I thought it was only fair she did mine."

"On purpose?"

Chris put his feet down. "I thought she did a good job." He frowned. "You're so old-fashioned."

Zach sputtered – that hadn't been exactly it, that wasn't it at all.

"I like them, just – "

Chris perked up. "Do you?"

"... Sure?"

Chris grinned. "I almost did lime green, but Amelia had used it all." Chris braced his arms on the tub. "It doesn't match my eyes, anyway."

And before Zach could register what was happening, Chris stood up – thwarting his attempts of decency for the last ten minutes.

The water dripped off of him in sheets, before beading and settling on strands of hair; the skin glistening as it caught an angle of yellow light. It highlighted muscle, and dips, and curves, and -

Zach tried to nonchalantly look at a wall. "Um, I left my bag on a chair."

"I'm sure it'll still be there, once you get back." Chris leaned forward, dripping over the bathmat as he grabbed the towel, then started rubbing his hair dry.

Zach did look down with that – couldn't help but look down – as Chris angled and stretched his body; the half-hard shaft catching attention, and showing quite obviously what it wanted. Something that Zach perhaps wanted, if Zach wasn't folded over at the waist to hide himself.

His face felt hot and flustered as the towel flipped down, and Chris held it waist-level.

"Um – " Zach looked towards the door. "I'm going to make some tea." Fuck, when did Zach ever make tea?

But Zach was already out in the hallway, as he heard Chris laugh behind him. "Sure. I'll take a cup."

And Zach hoped Chris would be in some actual clothes, for the sake of his precariously-tethered sanity.

***

"Hi Zachary! It's Mom. You know, that person who gave birth to you, fed and clothed you for 18 years, and sent you care packages in college? Anyway - I saw your Chris on TV the other day! Isn't he a charmer? I'm so glad he beat out that Rumer person – she was way too young for you, anyway. Kind of rough around the edges, although who am I to judge? But this Chris looks like a good boy - are you bringing him to Thanksgiving? Is he allergic to anything? Perhaps you should call me, and assure your poor mother that I won't kill him accidentally with my sweet potato pie. Chris likes sweet potatoes, doesn't he? You should let me know. Talk to you later hon – until then, I'm stocking up on Benadryl and hoping for the best. Love you, 'bye."

***

"God, please don't tell me that's what you're wearing, or I'm going to rig a light to accidentally kill you and spare me the humiliation."

Chris looked down at his black jeans and red Nikes, and shrugged. "They match?"

Steve pinched the bridge of his nose, and then looked at Zach. "God, can't you dress him properly?"

Zach wondered why this was exactly his responsibility. Although he had just driven like a madman for ten minutes, to bring Chris his lucky socks. ("You didn't wash them, right? Good.")

Steve shook his head. "What am I talking about, you dress as blind as he does."

Chris waved a hand at his shirt. "Come on, I just bought this!" And really, Zach couldn't see the issue with the red flannel, cabbie hat and black scarf; but Steve shook his head, anyway.

"I think my grandfather wore that when he landed on Ellis Island."

"Then your grandfather was smokin'."

Zach thought he saw a vein pulse on Steve's temple.

"I'm sending you Amelia's stylist."

They all looked at Amelia, whose green eyelet sundress clashed with Steve's navy trousers; as she clung to his legs and refused to let go.

Zach turned to Chris. "You dig lace and frills?"

Chris wickedly grinned. "Maybe."

"God, I'm going to lose my – " and Steve might have said more, but the crowd behind the curtain roared, and an emcee drowned them out.

"Let's make some noise for our co-hosts today, at the annual Silver Lake benefit for St. Jude Children's hospital!"

There was more applause and screaming, and Zach looked down at Amelia, whose shoulders were shaking.

Chris touched one of them gently. "Miss Amelia, they're going to call us – "

"Welcome local rising stars, Chris Pine and Amelia Waters!"

She was shaking so bad, that Steve's leg visibly moved with it.

Chris looked up sharply – and Zach wondered if this is what happiness looked like, when it finally got punched in the nuts and decided to get pissed.

Steve put out a hand. "She just needs a moment."

"Really?" Chris said tersely. "She's scared out of her fucking wits."

"Everyone gets the jitters, come on – " Steve unlatched the quivering blonde from his pants leg. "Squirt, we've got a job to do."

But when he pulled her away at arm's length, they could all see it for what it was: Her face streaked in tears, her nose covered in snot.

Zach would've guessed a snide comment for his trousers, but instead Steve looked completely arrested, as his eyes scanned her face.

"Fuck." He exhaled a harsh breath, and gripped her shoulders. "You really don't want to do this."

Steve reached out and tentatively smoothed away a strand of hair; tucking a curl behind an ear as she sniffed.

Zach and Chris gave each other a look, as a quiet, "She wouldn't have wanted this for you," barely came through before microphone static.

"I don't think you guys were cheering loud enough - give it up, for Chris Pine and Amelia Waters!"

Amelia flinched as the screams drowned out everything, and Steve took a deep breath.

" – Never saying this again." Steve's voice punched through, as Chris and Zach leaned closer. "If you don't want to do this Squirt, then let's leave now."

Amelia gave a shuddering sob, before leaning her body into him. Her blonde head rested on a shoulder, as her arms wrapped around his neck.

Out of the corner of his eye, Zach spotted a production assistant run towards them, as Steve hesitantly patted Amelia's back.

"Chris Pine, Amelia Waters – "

Steve hoisted Amelia up as he stood, and whirled around on the assistant.

"Just Chris, today."

The assistant sputtered. "You promised us two stars, and now you are reneging on your – "

"Fuck your agreement." Steve turned back to Chris. "This guy will take it."

Chris shook himself out of bewilderment, and then nodded solemnly. "You bet."

The assistant floundered, and then looked at Zach. "Who the hell are you?"

Zach took two seconds to ponder this in his head, and then pursed his lips. "Amelia Waters' replacement?"

"Sorry folks, we are experiencing some technical difficulties – "

The assistant waved frantically. "Don't care, just – come on!"

Chris smiled broadly at Zach, as Steve ticked a finger at them.

"Thought I would never say this in my life but – " he sighed. "Just be yourself." He then pointed at Zach. "Don't let him get into trouble."

Zach nodded, as Chris dragged his arm forward, and they were racing towards the stage.

Zach gave one look behind, and was happy to see the blonde head and the agent moving far away.

"A change in plans! We have Chris Pine and a friend of his – come on up!"

Zach put on his best smile as they maneuvered onto the stage, and he watched Chris take a microphone.

"Sorry, guys!" He cheesily grinned, then pointed a thumb behind them. "Who knew those locks on the porta-potties actually worked?"

And as the audience laughed, Zach did his best exaggerated shrug.

***

Zach looked at the photos in a line, and nodded. "These are really great."

Joe shrugged off the compliment. "Something still isn't working, though."

There was a long series of objects and sunrises; all beautiful with color and design. A few people, too – and the surprising dog and cat. ("What? I never said Noah wasn't a handsome and distinguished fellow.")

However, it wasn't until Zach picked up a photo of Amelia – her mouth open in a hearty guffaw that Zach would never guess she could make – that it occurred to Zach exactly what it was.

He picked up another photo of Joe's next-door neighbor; her smile due to her new rooster mailbox. "Your best ones are of people."

Joe looked between the two photographs. "Yeah?"

"Your theme was too broad before – " Zach picked up a photo of a couple, laying on top of each other, exhausted on a park bench. "People want to know they are beautiful, truly beautiful, on the inside. We can all see that in a sunrise," Zach brushed his hand over the scenery photos. "But we rarely see that in ourselves, and in others."

Joe looked up at him, smirking with amused affection. "Wow, now who is the photographer, again?"

Zach smiled. "These photos just have energy and life to them, that's all."

"Well," and Joe scribbled a few notes on a pad, "that is what I was aiming for." He tapped a pen end. "Maybe that line will work on Jilly."

"I think she'll say they are the opposite."

"I think there's a reasonable argument, somewhere."

Zach smirked. "Compromise?"

"Sure – a place where you meet halfway, and acknowledge what the other cares about." Joe put the pen tip to his lips in thought. "I don't think Jilly understands why this matters. It's almost like – " he shook his head, "like I'm not giving up all of myself, if she isn't in my piece. If the most important people to me aren't in my piece."

Zach huffed. "I'm not in your piece."

Joe slapped his arm. "Not giving up all my secrets."

"Oh God." Zach could only imagine what embarrassing photo Joe was hiding.

But he gave a sly smile. "You're clothed, I promise. But - I don't want to show yours. Feels like cheating."

Zach rolled his eyes. "I'll just consider myself warned."

"See, compromise." And Joe took a stack of papers, and the pah of them straightened punctuated it in the quiet room.

***

"You cheated."

Which was a heavy accusation to level at Chris Pine, all considering. But this was a contest to end all contests, and Zach was pulling out all the punches.

Chris beamed a grin as he put hands on hips; which caused the bells on his sweater to jangle a tiny bit. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Zach mouthed to himself in mocking, don't know what you're talking about - like hell he didn't. They had both been invited to an industry dinner party, with the theme of "the ugliest sweater you can manage to stomach on your person". The winner even got an honorary button to commemorate the historic event.

Chris and Zach had dubbed it "The Cosby Sweater Dinner Party", and Zach was not going to be outdone. He had searched three different Ragstocks for this crap.

That button was coveted.

"There's no way you actually bought that, like that." Zach pointed at the brightly-colored appliqué balloons spread in different directions, against the blue woven sweater with tinsel.

Chris practically preened. "On the contrary, Zachary – " he jangled again. "I paid a hard-earned $6 for this sweater. Which I believe is – " he touched his chin in thought "- about 50 cents a ribbon."

"You're such a freaking liar." A bell fell off; the ping an exclamation point.

"Whatever, you're just jealous." But Chris was grinning ear to ear, like the Cheshire Cat.

Zach looked down at his own sweater, which was a red sailboat in a purple and blue marbled sea, complete with a dramatic orange sunset. There was some vomit color at the hem, like the dyer had gotten tired of matching nauseating hues, and was expressing his angst.

Chris looked at it carefully. "Yours is like a hotel painting."

"Shut up."

"Like kept in the men's bathroom for their nautical theme."

"I swear to God – "

"You have good taste, Quinto." Chris took a sip of his drink. "You keeping that at the front of your closet, after this is over?"

Zach almost threw his drink, except they were surrounded by industry insiders, who they were apparently trying to impress. Even in nautical gear.

But fortunately all the attendees – 30 of them, Zach would guess – wore their own ugly sweaters for the themed party. While most had some sort of sparkly tinsel, others had ridiculous animal shapes – or what Zach supposed was meant to be animal shapes.

"I can't tell if that's a cat or a very round dog," Chris murmured into his ear later, drinking another martini.

Zach swirled his own. "Well, it has a red pom-pom on its nose?"

Chris made a face, and then nodded. "Seal it is, then" – and chugged it down.

Which Zach noticed he was doing quite a bit. Chris had warned that these events weren't his "thing" – that despite how much he liked being an actor, he felt inept at mingling at parties. ("Join the club, Chris – unless you're secretly a magician, or have a hook for a hand.")

But Zach felt like chugging a few, himself; and he usuallyliked these events. Even when the hosts tried to liven things up.

So the brief respites between trying to chat up studio heads, avoiding threatening glares from Steve, and being cordial with other actors was when Zach could meet up with Chris again. It was like a moment to breathe.

They had the same potted tree they would retreat to, next to a banister.

"Why don't they ever serve real food at these things?" Chris popped a canapé into his mouth. "I'm going to die."

Zach thought Chris was more likely to drown – that martini was probably his sixth in the space of a few hours, with not much finger food to quell the damage.

And towards the end of the evening, when they had both finished being cornered by a drunken insider ("there's naked dancing in the garage, wooo-hoo!"), did Zach notice that Chris was turning a shade peculiar.

"Oh man," Chris breathed heavily out. "I'm gonna be sick."

Zach had been laughing a moment before ("is it anybody good-looking? It's not Steve, is it?"), but then snapped back to attention. "Dude, bathroom?"

Chris nodded, and Zach grabbed him by the waist. They bumped into each other at the hip, as Zach guided them forward down a likely hall.

Zach looked around - he had never really been in a house like this before. It seemed entirely too large and regal, even for a rich couple; unless they had twenty hidden (and adopted) children somewhere, or some other impressive collection that needed that much space.
Zach was pretty sure they had a room for each of his shirts here, and he had a lot of shirts.

"Oh God, sitting down."

They stopped at a bench, which Chris happened to see from the hallway; from a door left open for a coatroom.

A coatroom not anywhere near a bathroom.

"Chris, don't you think we should – "

Chris grabbed Zach by the front of his sweater; twisting him until their chests aligned and bells caught threads, as Chris leaned in for a full-mouthed and searing kiss.

Zach pulled back, "What – " but his bottom lip was scraped by upper teeth; then sucked delicately as Chris' tongue caressed within, and tangled with Zach's inside.

Zach breathed out, as his eyes fluttered shut and he hummed; hummed with starbursts behind his eyelids, as his heart wouldn't stop pounding.

He felt Chris grab the back of his neck, which only sent them swaying. Zach's eyes opened as their shoulders brushed the wall, and they tried to keep balance.

Or well, maybe it was just Zach; as Chris ignored caution and pushed Zach over, tumbling them to the floor.

"Fuck, Zach." Chris plopped on top of him, and clumsily arranged his legs to straddle his waist. "Wanted to do this for so long."

Zach was about to say "What" again, when Chris pushed down on his pelvis, and Zach groaned from the friction.

"Yeah," Chris said and laughed breathlessly, as he leaned down to slide his hands up Zach's chest – another kiss highlighted by a bell falling off, and landing by Zach's head.

Zach blinked. "We can't – we can't do this."

"Like fuck we can't." Chris ground down steadily now, the pressure welcome on Zach's hard cock trapped within the loose slacks. "Nobody will see us."

"We're drunk," which Zach punctuated by crossing his eyes.

"Not too drunk to not know what I want – what I've always wanted." He mouthed Zach's chin, and up his jawline, to huskily whisper in an ear. "From the day I first saw you, I wanted to do this."

Zach exhaled sharply, as Chris sucked in an earlobe.

"When?"

"Seeing you walk down the street, after buying your house – in your stupid fucking hat," a kiss, "and your ridiculous shoes." Another kiss.

Zach snorted. "Like you're one to ta-aalk – "

Chris palmed Zach, squeezing. "And I saw you, and knew that I would do this someday."

"Squeeze the fuck out of me?"

"No - this." And Chris leaned down, pressing delicate lips to Zach's, in a chaste kiss.

A flash fire consumed his entire body; the brief contact more alluring than anything else. It combined and heightened with Chris lusting after him for so long, seemingly mirroring his own want and slow burn.

Hell, he had wanted this - hadn't he?

Another bell fell off, and Zach's hands snuck under the blue sweater, to the white t-shirt below. "Off," he grabbed impatiently.

Chris eagerly whipped it above his head, sending a cascade of bells pinging as Chris reached for Zach's sailboat sweater, and tugged it up to his armpits. With an impatient grab, it unraveled and tore down the side.

Chris pouted, then shrugged. "Well, I never liked fucking sailboats, anyway." With a rip, Chris tore the sad sweater in half and off Zach's body; pressing eager fingers into the thin black t-shirt below.

When the fingertips pinched a hard nipple, Zach bit his lip.

His hips were moving up and down; grinding against a delicious pressure from above. He wanted nothing more than to unzip both of them, and snake a hand to stroke them together; to hear the slick and heavy sounds they would make in the quiet room.

"God – you're sure – "

"Yeah, yeah - just get me home in time," Chris murmured, mere inches from the jugular, with a tongue tip trailing to the Adam's apple.

Zach's breath hitched. "What?"

Chris sucked. "Audition." There was a slick pop. "They gave me another chance at Kirk, imagine that."

Chris' agile hands were making his way down Zach's sides – leaving tingly bursts of pleasure in their wake – when Zach stopped him at his hips.

Chris huffed. "What the - ?"

Zach shrugged the hands off, and tried to sit up on his elbows. "We can't."

Chris narrowed his eyes. "What?

"We can't do this." Zach swallowed. "We have to stop."

Chris rolled his eyes. "Your fucking propriety." He put a hand on Zach's chest. "You're not taking advantage of me Zach, I promise – I could recite the alphabet backwards, if you wanted me to."

Zach pushed back and snorted. "You could?" He shook his head. "That's not exactly the problem."

Chris leaned back. "Then what the fuck is?"

Zach struggled to get up, but Chris still straddled his waist.

"I know you want me, so what's the problem?"

Zach harshly sighed. "Everything." Which, judging from Chris' expression, wasn't the best way to state things, but it was pretty close.

Chris leaned forward, his lips mere inches from Zach's face, with his blue eyes bright and stern. "What's everything? Because if you want this, and I want this, then I don't see why we're talking."

Zach shook his head. "I have to go."

"Why?"

This was exactly it, wasn't it? And in the den of thieves, so to speak. The guests would eventually notice, and Zach and Chris would emerge all ruffled - and what the fuck would people say? Especially the night before the audition of a major franchise?

How could Chris ever be a respected actor, if shit like this followed him into the successful sunset?

Zach gritted his teeth. "Why? What, you mean you always make out with men in coatrooms?"

And the moment he said it, the air changed – Chris' eyes turned from anger, to a sucker punch in the gut.

But Zach couldn't wait for a reply, and he didn't even bother to gather himself as he stormed out of the room, and into the hall.

"Zach!"

But somewhere in the twist of rooms Zach finally found the kitchen. He sneaked between steam and bodies to an open door, and out into the cold world.

***

"Hi Zachary, it's Mom. Remember me? It's been so long since I've heard your voice, I might not recall what it sounds like. Good thing your brother bothers to update me, since I didn't even know you were helping pick Kirks this morning – isn't your Chris out of the running? Too bad, he's so pretty. But I'm sure you'll pick a good one honey, somebody that'll make all of us swoon. And be sure to look behind too – that is a part of your testing, isn't it? Call me when it's done, or I'll see you at Joe's show. Love you, 'bye!"

***

The world kept spinning, and wouldn't let Zach rest. His mind turned with it, as he slept like shit that night, and into the early morning. Of all the dumb things Zach had decided on in the last 24 hours, agreeing to an early meeting with JJ seemed to be the icing on the cake – the cake of evil, obviously.

Granted, the whole meeting was to pick the next Kirk for the movie that would probably make his career. But couldn't Zach have met his Doom in the awake hours of early evening, perhaps?

"We are down to two." JJ beamed like a fucking morning glory at every person he passed, while Zach continued to fight his wilting. "I'm gonna have you read with both."

"Great."

"To test your chemistry."

"Fabulous."

"To see if sex between the two of you would be electric."

Zach finally looked up, before smacking into the indent of wall he was heading towards.

JJ turned around, and sighed. "I was hoping it'd make you look up."

Zach rubbed his forehead. "Couldn't a simple, 'hey' have worked?"

JJ took a sip of his Diet Coke, as he pondered it. "Yes." Before turning on his heels, and continuing down the hall.

"...Thanks."

Yeah, this was good.

Eventually Zach was led to a small conference room, where he was handed a cup of coffee and seated at a long table; with his chair the furthest away from the door.

Zach didn't know if that was better, or worse – especially when his heart jumped as the door opened, only to reveal a blonde man that was not Chris. Rather, a scruffy and wider version of Chris, that maybe could pass for old Kirk at a sci-fi convention.

"What is it with you, Spock?" The man spit out, taking an aggressive Kirk into the realm of the Mortal Kombat zone.

"I order you to explain to me how you were able to beam aboard this ship while moving at warp," Zach replied in monotone, and of which contrasted deeply with this Kirk – but not in the way he liked. It didn't settle in his gut, or bring out anything in him, personally. Perhaps JJ wanted more of a physical actor that seethed on the outside, rather than smoldering from within; although it was rather… Shatnerian. But it was also an approach that a lot of those auditioning took, and they had seen before. Zach didn't quite know what made this Mike extraordinarily different; if actually different, at all.

He was kind of pretty, though; even from behind. The fangirls would approve.

"Thanks," JJ said, as he bid Kirk One good luck and farewell.

However when the door closed, Zach looked over at JJ, who was frowning.

Yeah - that didn't look good at all. It actually brought up a mild sense of panic. Maybe in the grand scheme of things, Zach would prefer some guy who was Shatnerian; as opposed to someone who could make the world pause around him with a stare, and not a word.

Mike seemed nice enough. And Mike hadn't wanted in his pants.

When the audition door opened again, Zach gulped at the barely-kempt, but pleasant Chris – in a bland white t-shirt and blue jeans. He politely nodded at everyone down the long line of tables; but when blue eyes met Zach's, he wondered if he could sink into the floor.

Chris didn't seem to give a damn, however.

"Okay, take it from the top," JJ said with a sigh.

Zach wasn't even sure if that was possible, as Chris stared directly at him.

But he tried to swallow his nerves, and "Who are you?"

"I'm with him," said a voice to their left, which neither of them paid attention to.

"He's with me," Chris stated calmly.

That was interesting. "We're traveling at warp speed. How did you manage to beam aboard this ship?"

Chris didn't even blink. "You're the genius. You figure it out."

"As Acting Captain of this vessel, I order you to answer the question."

"Well I'm not telling, Acting Captain. What di- " And Chris tilted his head a bit; which twisted something inside him. "What, now - that doesn't frustrate you, does it? My lack of cooperation. That - that doesn't make you angry?"

Zach didn't turn his head. "Are you a member of Starfleet?"

The voice from the left answered again. "I, um - yes. Can I get a towel, please?"

And while in most of the auditions all the actors had laughed, Chris didn't even crack a smile.

Why was that more unnerving, than anything else?

"Under penalty of court martial, I order you to explain to me how you were able to beam aboard this ship while moving at warp."

The voice to their left barely spoke before Chris cut in with, "Don't answer him."

Zach breathed deeply through his nose. "You will answer me."

Chris took a step forward, his blue gaze frustratingly obstinate. "What is it with you Spock, hmm? Your planet was just destroyed, your mother murdered, and you're not even upset."
The last syllable was hissed, and Zach straightened his back.

"If you're presuming that these experiences in any way impede my ability to command this ship, you are mistaken."

There. There was the asinine smirk. "And yet you were the one who said fear was necessary for command." Chris' head motioned to the side. "Did you see his ship? Do you see what he did?"

"Yes, of course I did."

Chris stepped closer to the table. "So are you afraid, or aren't you?"

This wasn't Chris – this was so unlike him. And yet Zach swallowed anyway, and spoke ahead of his breathing. "I will not allow you to lecture me about the merits of emotion."

The smirk left Chris' face, and a hardness settled in his eyes as he said quietly, "Then why don't you stop me."

He took another step forward, and Zach instinctively leaned back.
"Step away from me – "

"What is it like not to feel anger, or heartbreak, or the need to stop at nothing to avenge the death of the woman who gave birth to you?"

"Back away – "

"You feel nothing! It must not even compute for you." Chris glared down at him; with his jaw clenching. "You never loved her."

Zach felt something hit him in the chest, and crawl under his skin – the urge to run so strong, so fierce; with a desire to deny what those blue eyes were saying. Indifference.
Zach wet his lips, then, "I am no longer fit for duty. I hereby relinquish my command, based on the fact that I have been emotionally compromised… Please note the time and date in the ship's log."

The last line had Zach breathless, as Chris stared him in the eye. The icy calm was the one authentic part of the act, and Zach could feel it in his bones.

"Great!" JJ enthusiastically boomed in the silence; although neither of them could look away.

Great, Zach echoed in his head.

And when Chris said his thanks – tersely nodding at him as he left the conference room - Zach felt all his mistakes rush at him, and hit him dead in the chest.

Compromised? No. What he had done was definitely rip a beautiful, and beckoning thread to shreds.

***

As soon as JJ let him, Zach rushed from the auditioning room to his car. He ripped the door open, and drove to a familiar apartment building.

His fingers anxiously tapped the wheel, wondering if they had something better to say in Morse code, than the blankness in his head. He couldn't figure it out – the adrenaline in his blood only saying go go go instead of hey, you got a plan with that?

No, no he didn't. He never had a plan, really. Chris had grabbed the reins, and always led the way in what they were doing. In the rom-com Chris was the pursuer, and Zach had always played a little hard to get. But what happened when someone played a little too hard? Pushed someone entirely away, without much recourse?

Had Meg Ryan pushed too hard, at some point? Zach couldn't remember, he'd always flipped the channel. But now he was in front of Lamill, and wondering if faking a coffee run was the cowardly thing to do. He couldn't just sit in his car, hoping Chris would notice him.

Rather, if Chris ever spoke to him again was a question, wasn't it.

"No – no, no."

Zach heard the words as he pushed through an iron gate, and saw Chris exiting from a storage garage. He was still muttering to himself, as he reached up for the garage handle, and swung the rolling door down.

Zach inched closer, and swallowed the bile in his throat. "What… what are you doing?"

Chris nodded to himself. "Just resisting the urge to burn all the shit that reminds me of you." He tapped the door gingerly with a toe. "I would regret it later, I'm told."

"...By who?"

"Me?" Chris huffed. "I think it would ruin getting my deposit back." He ticked a finger at the garage, nodded, then started a short march back to his complex.

Zach followed. "Can I just explain – "

"Explain what? Nothing to explain."

Zach walked in front of him, and blocked his path. "I was just worried that people would think you were using me, when – "

"Oh God the urge, the urge - "

Zach took Chris by the shoulders. "I'm sorry."

Chris looked him dead in the eye. "You better fucking be. I thought we were beyond this, that you accepted me beyond what everyone said. That you were different."

Chris shrugged him off, and Zach did a slight flail before running and catching the slammed security door with his foot.

"I did – I do!" Zach squeezed inside, and followed just behind a brooding Chris. "That's precisely why – I didn't want people to think the same old, same old about you."

Chris looked at him from an above railing. "And what would that be? That I'm a slut?" He snorted. "Really, how's that any different from you?"

Zach's mouth gaped open, then promptly shut as he tried to follow behind; taking several stairs at once.

When they wound up at Chris' apartment, Zach tried to catch his breath.

"Look, Chris, I was just trying – "

Chris opened the door to his apartment, and did the last thing Zach expected: He grabbed Zach by the collar, and dragged him inside.

"What – " Zach felt the back of his head hit the entryway, just as Chris got up into his space.

"What were you trying to do?" Chris hissed, and stared back with icy, appraising eyes.

Zach gulped a breath and shook his head, as Chris kept on. "What, were you trying to protect the movie, or something? Keep my reputation away from it? Away from you?" Chris bitterly laughed. "People speak a lot of shit in this town, no matter what you try to do, no matter how you try to change. I haven't slept with anyone in months, and even before then, I had a steady beard - Steve would've had my balls in a sack, if I had broken that agreement." Chris shook his head. "All for nothing, you know. People still talked, and it didn't make a difference." Chris bit his lower lip. "You still didn't want to touch me, and you still wanted to protect yourself."

But Zach shook his head fervently. "No."

Chris bitterly laughed. "No?"

Zach took a deep breath, and then, "No. I wanted – I wanted to protect you"

Chris paused, with a mildly horrified look on his face. It was perhaps the longest minute in existence, as blue eyes wandered to Zach's hairline, and swept down - the air tense enough to punch them both, perhaps waiting to explode.

But Chris sighed and whispered, "You fucking moron," before grabbing the back of Zach's neck, and smashing their mouths together; knocking teeth and bodies and jarring Zach's bones.

The world felt huge and explosive; with a crazy fizzing in the blood, craving touch. It popped with the delicious heat of Chris' hands on him; fumbling everywhere and branding in their wake. Zach's eyes were closed, the intensity too much as his mouth was claimed and devoured by a strong tongue, wanting to taste everything, everywhere. The breath was knocked out of him not by the expected punch, but by the blood pooling at his feet.

A hand grasped hard at Zach's waist, and they knocked hips. Where before there was a fire, now was a smoldering desperation. His cock and nerves of the skin wanting to meld their bodies together; to get impossibly close. Anything to keep the friction going; to keep the building to that blinding white.

Chris' knee pushed Zach's legs apart, but they both latched on to a thigh as Zach was pressed further into the wall. Chris' hips were forceful in knocking his lower back, exposed by a hand skimming and grabbing and exploring his flesh. Zach felt mindless except for the tumbling rasps of Chris' breath in his ear, reaching a moan once they found a pounding rhythm.

Zach's hand reached around and blindly found the small of Chris' back, as his head hit the back wall and he felt a mouth and tongue on his jugular. It was so good, so damn good - the exposed skin slick and hot from exertion, from their hips moving back and forth; sweaty and tense. When Zach's index finger traced muscle, he heard the most beautiful noise, deep and moaned into his throat, as the top of Zach's head started to hiss and strain to explode off.

Chris was thumping them both of them against the white stucco, when he moved his mouth from the vein and whispered in Zach's ear, "Fuck - want you, want my hard cock inside you, fucking you and your tight hole into this fucking wall – "

Zach could feel the wetness on his thigh as Chris shuttered and sagged against him. It pushed Chris' knee just hard enough to make Zach see stars, and tumble over with a choked breath.

They must have slid down, for Zach's knees started to buckle, and they became a tangle on the floor. Chris pushed them over from the wall, until they both lay on the entryway carpeting; clutching each other, gathering breath.

Zach's mind rebooted first. "You – you were mad at me."

Chris leaned his forehead on Zach's shoulder, and sighed. "No, still mad."

Zach frowned. "What?"

Chris looked up at him. "It was shitty what you did. You couldn't even explain –"

"You were drunk – "

"Yeah, but you were still talking. You were still saying shit - mean shit." Chris looked pointedly at him. "You were kind of an ass."

Zach winced. "Yeah?"

"Scratch 'kind of', you were."

Zach could only sigh. "Yeah."

Chris rolled over onto his back. "It fucking hurt."

"I'm sorry."

"I almost thought you hated me."

"Hell no." Zach propped himself on an elbow. "I'm sorry - I'm sorry, Chris. I thought I was doing... the right thing."

"You chivalrous asshole." Chris met his eyes. "It's a good thing I kind of love you, or I'd throw your ass out."

Zach felt a tingling in his arms that vibrated to his chest. "Yeah?"

"Okay, actually – I really love you. " Chris propped his own head up. "Which made things worse, you know. I wouldn't have cared what they said – " Chris waved his other hand. "They've been saying shit all along. What really mattered was what you thought, whether you accepted who I was."

Zach felt his stomach drop – he had certainly failed that test. Failed it greatly.

"There would always have been rumors, Zach. We're two gay guys leading a franchise, about two ambiguously-gay space cowboys. People would have talked anyway, and that's not so bad." Chris took a deep breath, as his free hand went to touch Zach's hip. "Those rumors wouldn't have hurt me. Because with you, I would've known the truth, and so would you."

Zach stuttered, "But your career – "

Chris snorted. "Do you think it hurt Warren Beatty? Or James Dean? They were fucking sluts, too." Chris smirked. "Steve says that if all else fails, I can write the most salacious tell-all the world has ever seen." Chris ticked a finger. "Which, considering how it would traumatize Steve, it might be worth it."

There was a slight smile, and Zach couldn't help himself when he smiled back.

Chris looked at Zach's bottom lip, and continued. "It doesn't matter what they say, as long as I know who cares about me – who loves me." A finger trailed Zach's forearm, as Chris asked in a small voice, "Do you? I kind of thought you did."

Zach thought a moment, and shook his head – realizing his mistake instantly when the blue eyes widened.

"Chris – " Zach started, with the other man not looking appeased at his tone. "You have know no idea."

Chris narrowed his eyes. "Of what?"

Zach breathlessly laughed. "Of what you've done to me, these last six months. Here I was, alone in LA – thinking that besides my friends and family, there was never anyone who I could ever trust, or turn to."

"That's... kinda true, you know."

Zach rolled his eyes. "But it isn't. I really gave up on humanity a bit, on the good intentions of people." Zach reached up, his hand resting at the back of Chris' head, to thread through the soft and fine hairs. "You didn't really restore that, though."

Chris snorted. "Thanks a lot."

Zach gave a small smile. "But you did show me that there was love in the world, and that I was still capable of it."

Although it wasn't obtuse, the spark in Chris' eyes seemed to understand the connection. Which was a relief, because Zach wasn't sure if he could spell it out; even with the high of the afterglow.

But Chris pursed his lips, then said, "You know, I think I saw this part in a Sandra Bullock movie once."

Zach made a face. "Really, right now?"

"Yeah," Chris said, seeming to think on it. "After the characters express their love for one another, I'm pretty sure I know what is supposed to happen next."

Zach internally winced at the cheesiness, but - "Yeah, what happens?"

Chris got a twinkle in his eye. "Oh, this."

And yeah, Zach expected the kiss – but he didn't expect Chris to push him over, so he could lean down and properly steal his breath.

Despite what they had just done, there was still a spark – a desire to touch, solely in need of the other person's skin. There was so much heat, and it was just their lips; a sealed kiss to close the deal.

Chris let up slowly, and smiled. "And they lived happily ever after."

Zach snorted. "We still have filming. Good luck with that."

Chris grinned wickedly. "Then we shouldn't really waste time, should we?"

Chris leaped up and quickly peeled off his shirt; twirling the fabric before dropping it to the ground. He turned and started walking, with Zach watching him strip half-naked as he walked through the living room, and into a hall.

And yeah, there was probably a metaphor for the dangerous allures of love, or some shit. But Zach didn't think through them, as he finally followed that trail.

***

"Hi Zachary, it's Mom. Joe just told me the good news - that your Chris is in that Trek movie with you! Congratulations darlings, I think his Kirk to your Spock is going to be wonderful. And by wonderful, I mean that Kirk and Spock can finally fall in love on screen – I was just watching that show the other day, and the way Kirk looks at Spock, from the middle chair? The exact eyes your father used on me Zachary, no joking with you, although my bottom is a bit bigger than Spock's, sure. But a true love of the ages, those two – when I'm at the show, you boys will give me the dirt, won't you? And I'll finally get to meet this handsome boy in person, instead of just following the trail of gossip Jill dishes me behind the scenes. Be sure you both dress nice, will ya? It's Joe's big day, so wear that green dress shirt I got you for your birthday, and Chris can wear something blue – lord help us, he owns a blue shirt, doesn't he? Anyhow, see you both then. Love you darlings, 'bye."

***

"Why yes, my wife sells this. It's Western Fields - for men, by Avon." Joe pointed across the gallery, as an orange LA sophisticate followed the line of sight. "That beautiful vision over there is Jill. Tell her I sent you." Joe winked, and the sophisticate blushed as she walked away.

Zach huffed a laugh as he approached. "Really?"

Joe beamed a smile. "The fragrance notes are growing on me?"

"What notes? Of ass and sweat?"

Zach shook his head, as Chris ambled up next to him.

"I think it smells nice." Chris took a sniff. "Like, uh, cowboys."

Joe posed, then said dramatically, "Western Fields - for men." His head tilted, as a waved hand caught his attention. "Oh, be right back guys – gallery owner."

As Joe walked off, Zach leaned over to murmur, "Really?"

Chris shrugged. "I kind of like ass and sweat, if you haven't noticed."

Zach kind of had noticed. They had started working out together ("Thank God no matching track suits, I have my limits!"), and the best part had become the tackle afterwards, once they went to Chris' apartment.

They shared a wicked grin, the kind that Zach usually thought warranted a punch to the face, but which he cheesily couldn't help now. Chris kind of made him deliriously happy. Stupid, but true. They had been good friends before, but now the boundaries and tensions they had set were gone; replaced by an easy-going and open companionship. It was strange what could change overnight, but at least it was something good, and worth smiling about.

And definitely worth the humiliation of whatever goofy look he was wearing now, as opposed to the emo one he thought he'd be wearing last week.

Chris' blue eyes flicked to the side, and Zach looked over as the person cleared her throat.
Zach's grin bordered on panicked. "Ma?"

"Boys!" She walked forward, pulling the both of them to her bosom. "Oh you two, congratulations!" She let go, then gave a stern look to Zach. "I would've told you that a week ago, but Zach never picks up his phone."

Chris tsked at him. "For shame."

As Zach shot an annoyed look over her shoulder, Ma reached over and patted Chris' cheek. "I'm Zach's mother, Margot. You're Chris, aren't you?"

Chris actually leaned into the touch, his hand reaching for Ma's waist as he grinned. "You bet."

"Zachary hasn't told me much about you, as he hasn't called, you see – but I heard from Joe you're from around here, aren't you?"

Chris nodded. "Born and raised. Been traveling on an off a few years, but I'm settled here now." He flicked a coy look in her direction. "And I've been taking a lot of Zach's time, sorry about that."

Ma's hand fluttered to her chest, and Zach kind of wanted to kiss him.

"Well – Zachary is also a busy boy." She look flustered a moment, before turning back to Zach. "I'll leave you two to the show, and we'll catch up later. You're bringing Chris to dinner afterwards, aren't you?"

Zach nodded. "I don't think I can keep him from Italian."

Chris hummed in agreement, and Ma looked over and patted Chris' cheek again. "Good boy. When you come for Thanksgiving, I'll be sure to make you something authentic."

Chris grinned as he shot a look at Zach. "I'd love that."

"'Bye, dears," she sing-songed, although they barely noticed her leaving as they stared at one another.

Home for the holidays. God.

"Mike is going to pound our asses at the gym for all the carbs this month."

Zach grimaced. "That should sound sexier than it actually is;" which earned him a mock-punch to the ribs.

"I'll make it worth your while," Chris whispered huskily and leaned inward, before they remembered – oh yeah, they were out in public.

Hollywood still sucked, sometimes.

So cheesy grins and winks it would have to remain, as Zach looked around to see who might have noticed.

But the gallery was filling up, with people actually looking at the large black and white portraits spaced out around them. Zach motioned with a twirling finger to look around at the exhibit, and Chris nodded; as he kept the mandatory "we're just bros" distance.

Joe had managed twenty photographs, with the black and white an interesting choice to highlight the stark beauty in each portrait. The title of his show was "Eye of the Beholder", and Zach smiled as he recognized most of the subjects – one of them being Amelia laughing, as Chris tickled her sides.

They stopped, and Chris laughed himself. "God, I remember that. It was the first time I really saw her cut loose."

Zach looked over at him, noting and adoring the crinkles at the corners of his eyes. The fact that Chris remembered these things and seemed to cherish them was endearing beyond measure; but unsurprising entirely.

He was about to ask how Amelia was, when the subject herself came over accompanied by Steve.

Chris grinned down at her. "Hey, Miss Amelia." He gave her a side hug, and she clung on. "You look really pretty. Do you like your photo?"

She looked up and nodded at him; seemingly as mute as always, but Chris didn't seem to care. "Joe is a good photographer, isn't he?"

She nodded again, as Steve rounded to Chris' other side, and looked up at the portrait himself; bouncing back on his heels to get a good look.

"You take really great photos, Squirt."

And Zach couldn't help but interpret a bitterness in it; knowing what Amelia had given up. But instead of looking indifferent, Steve actually shot a small smile her way – of which prompted Amelia to weave between legs, and stand by him instead.

Steve rubbed a shoulder. "I think we should have Joe come to your birthday party next month." He then pointedly looked at Chris, "No."

"But – "

"No."

Chris shut his mouth, and pouted.

"If you ask nicely, I'm sure Amelia will save you some party favors." Steve rolled his eyes. "For some reason, she likes you."

"Ameeeeelia, you're not inviting me to your party?" Chris really worked that pout, but Amelia shook her head, hiding a smile. "Please? I want to play with your presents."

"Pine, if you're really good with your reticent faggotry this year, I'll get you that Barbie Dreamhouse you've always wanted for Christmas."

"Yes." Chris poked Amelia, until she unleashed her giggle. "Then you can come over with the stuff I know Uncle Stevie bought for your birthday."

Steve pinched the bridge of his nose. "Your ease of rolling with things says way too much." He looked up at Zach. "Don't tell me he actually tops?"

Zach made an imaginary zip of lips with his hand, and Steve mouthed a ha ha.

"Well," Steve started, and then looked down at Amelia, "we actually have to get going. Squirt has a bed time."

Zach raised his brows. "Domesticated, now?"

Steve scoffed. "More like we have some epic cartoons to watch in the morning." He steered Amelia away from them, then pointed at Chris. "I'm calling you though. We have shit to discuss."

"Oh, I love hearing your voice in the morning." Chris grinned. "All the yelling turns me on."

Steve looked ready to gag, then glared pointedly at Zach. "I thought that was your job."

Zach shrugged. "I sleep." He chanced a glance at Chris. "Sometimes."

"Oh fuck me, we're leaving," and Steve pushed Amelia through a small path between bodies, then headed out.

When they exited the gallery entrance, Chris exhaled a loud breath, then tilted his head towards Zach.

"I think he might actually yell less now."

Zach scoffed. "If you say so." But truth was, Steve was going through a less acerbic phase. Or a less yelly phase. Or one where he didn't threaten to hit Chris with his phone every few hours, or run over small children and the elderly in the street.

He even creepily smiled a few days ago. Which left Zach wanting to shake it from his head – the exhibits. Right. Keep moving.

The next few portraits were ones Zach had seen before, of the elderly neighbor, and the couple lying on the park bench. Joe seemed to cover a variety of ages, and even types of individuals – seeming to pound home the statement, beauty is everywhere.

But set between a picture of Zach petting Noah, and of a few neighborhood kids drawing flowers on the sidewalk, was Joe's holy grail of sorts.

He heard Chris inhale a breath. "Wow."

And it was even more conceptually beautiful, blown to three feet in height, and five across. The roses on the pillowcase were the size of Zach's fist, along with the areolas that aligned with them; almost camouflaged in the black and white contrast. The pillow rested on Jill's knees, as she stretched her arms upward – her auburn hair in disarray over shoulders and forearms, and across her forehead.

"She's beautiful," Chris whispered; which was absolutely true. If Zach wanted to linger – and he did a moment – he could count her freckles, splattered on her cheeks, and sporadically on her chest.

Zach smiled. "It's like we're seeing this view from love. With the roses on the bedspread, and her in their bed."

He looked over at Chris, who was staring at him with a look he hadn't seen before. Blue eyes curious, with Chris' lips curled up with a slight smile. If Zach had thought hard about it, it was an admiring gaze that usually accompanied being kissed senseless.

But instead he blushed, and moved on to the next set of portraits; trying to will away the heat he felt creeping up his neck. He wasn't some teenager, and for the last time he was not Meg Ryan. But at the same time, it felt nice. It felt nice to be wanted.

If they were anywhere else, he would have tried holding Chris' hand; slipping their fingers together and squeezing for reassurance. The kind that came from knowing you could expect something, and you could give in return.

By the time they reached the end of the exhibit, Zach had stuffed his hands in his pockets in impatience, and waited for their turn around the crowded last portrait. Chris read the exhibit program over and over, until the space cleared.

And it was a good thing they were by themselves, as when they looked up, they both gasped.

Five feet high was a dimly lit photo of two men leaning against a kitchen counter, and smiling. Their shoulders were apart, with heads leaned towards each other; but following down their legs lead to a near-connection between their feet, where one shoe was about to tap the sole of another.

In the middle was an iced sugar cookie, held up delicately by Chris' fingers as he smiled at Zach; as if saying, I found it, I found my gold star.

Zach looked over at Chris breathless, meeting a mirroring surprised gaze.

Chris huffed a laugh. "I'm not sure if I should be insulted, or flattered that Joe thinks we're strangely beautiful."

Zach chuckled, before shaking his head. "I don't think it's that exactly."

He looked back at the two of them. Their body language was surprising with how at ease they appeared to be, how welcoming of each other. It was so many months ago, and yet it seemed to have always been there.

Zach whispered, "I think it was the stirrings he saw between you and me."

And he didn't flinch from the brief brush of a hand against his knuckles, or the fingers that slipped between his and squeezed. He didn't care as they stood there, and absorbed what had obviously been there all along - waiting for them to see, and grab hold of one another.

When they met eyes again, Zach finally let himself fall into the blue clear sky.

***

"Hello?"

Zach leaned back on a couch cushion, and cradled his cordless between shoulder and ear. "Hey, Ma."

There was a pause, before a whispered, "Zachary?"

Zach rolled his eyes. "Yeah Ma, it's me."

"Zachary - do you have any idea how long it's been?"

Zach was sure she probably knew. "No Ma, I don't."

"Easter. When you called about coming home – which is what you're doing now, isn't it?"

Yeah, in two weeks was Thanksgiving, which had crazily snuck up on him. Scripts had been delivered, and Chris and Zach had spent more time pouring over them, rather than remembering what day of the week it was.

"Are Chris' parents keeping you this year, or do I finally get to feed him?"

Zach huffed. "I'm not sure if Chris has recovered from the last pasta binge." Which resulted in Mike definitely pounding their asses until they both iced themselves in bed at night; barely able to lift their arms for the script pages on their chests.

"Well, I'll get something meatier – you boys are building those strong muscles. You need food to do that, you know."

Actually, Zach was convinced they were doing just fine between workouts and sex, but he said instead, "Yeah, Ma."

"So are you coming for a week, or just the weekend?"

Zach tried to remember the exact dates in his head. "We have costuming and a script reading that week, so probably more like Wednesday through Friday."

He could definitely hear the pout over the phone. "Well, all right. But you both are staying here."

Zach could imagine both of them in the twin bed of his old room, with Chris keeping him up late at night; pointing out constellations in the glow-in-the-dark stars on his ceiling.

"All right, Ma," he said, grinning from ear to ear. He let the daydream warm him, as he stretched out on the couch and let her drone on and on.

Yeah, Zach was pretty sure he was head over heels, and done for. But perhaps in LA, this epicenter of rom-coms, he finally found his own happy ending after all.