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Their mouths crash together just as the shaking begins in Chris's throat and he thrusts once, maybe twice more before his orgasm rips him sideways across Zach's lips. The stubble between their cheeks is recent, the kind that's too sharp, and Chris's skin already feels vulnerable from want but the sting is good, it's good, his hips giving an involuntary stuttering jerk inside of Zach even when they've both mostly stopped moving.

He's too leaden to roll off just yet but drags his elbows back across the sheets and pushes some weight onto his forearms so that Zach can at least breathe. Zach is looking at him and Chris's tongue swipes to the corner of his mouth uncertainly because Zach usually just floats after this. Sometimes he laughs giddily, eyes closed and an almost smug smile on his face for all that it was Chris fucking him into oblivion. But he's staring at Chris, and he doesn't look unhappy, but he's definitely not laughing. Chris cocks his head a little.

"Would it be completely invalidated if I told you now—" Zach doesn't seem uncertain when he pauses; more like he's giving Chris the chance to interrupt. Which he does, with a shake of his head, and that's when Zach's fingers on his ribs twitch minutely. He can read Chris so well by now, which is probably the only reason he looks like he can't ascertain whether it's an answer to his question or a request not to say what he'd been ready to say, because Chris isn't sure himself. He presses a kiss to the furrow between Zach's brow and finally pulls out with a halted gasp and flops onto his back. He drags off the condom and twists to drop it into the trash can beside the bed. Then he lays back with an exhalation that's not quite a sigh, pulling the pillow beneath his head with a forearm and leaving it to rest there. He blinks at the ceiling.

"Just. Tell me later, okay?"

He sees Zach nod out of the corner of his eye and mimics the movement with the weariness of good sex. They've got time for all that.
 
 
 
 
Coming together was so, so easy.

Chris tries to remember that later, remember what's right when everything else is wrong as hell, but it's harder.
 
 
 
 
It doesn't happen on their own terms. It makes him angry as fuck, but he doesn't pretend that it would have made much difference. He thinks he probably wouldn't have ever been ready on his own terms but doesn't say—

That's a lie. He'd said it once. Zach sitting up in bed, one leg bent and lying flat on top of the sheets, watching his toes curl in and out and listening to Chris. He never said anything more about it so neither has Chris, but that was before—

The thing is, he gets it now. He hadn't been prepared when Star Trek had hit. He'd thought he was prepared, that as long as he kept his head down and wasn't too much of a freak he would get minimal attention from the paparazzi. Chris has seen Lindsay once since she became a tabloid darling — one charity event or another, Samantha somewhere in her periphery — and Lindsay's eyes had been clear but distant, visiting a place where she probably spends most of her time now. She'd had to struggle back to the space between them before any recognition settled over her face and she'd leaned forward to kiss his cheek with a flickering glance out of the corner of her eye. He gets it now. He'd had it backwards, 'cause he can see some of the appeal of that elsewhere place even if he'll never let himself get there. He walks across the street to get coffee and back and tries to keep from feeling too crazy.

They've wrapped the third film; Zach's eyebrows grew back in several months ago. And he probably would have let him and Zach crash and burn first, before handing this over to the paps. Now they've got it and it looks like they're gonna crash and burn anyway and not even that can belong only to them.
 
 
 
 
Zach's not even in the picture, ironically. Just Chris and Noah and, it turns out, the same clothes Zach had been wearing and been papped in the day before. The dog had been ready to piss on the carpet and Zach had gotten deathly fucking sick sometime during the night, so Chris had swiped the nearest articles of clothing off the floor and taken care of it. Maybe he could have been more careful, but the truth is that it doesn't happen every day and they don't get followed everywhere. If that were the case they would've been found out long before this. And Chris is a thespian, for Christ's sake, he's been aware of the fluidity of his sexuality for a long time, but Zach is his first actual relationship with a guy and there are just some ways in which he'll forever be quintessentially straight. Not paying a fuck of a lot of attention to what he's putting on his body aside from "is it clean?" is one of them.

Point is, they're not exactly making out in the street.

"I don't even remember—" he'd said, staring down at the rag one of Zach's neighbors must have left in front of his door. Zach had tapped it twice with his finger, buckling the cheap paper in Chris's hands.

"Must've been when you walked Noah for me, unless you drop by when I'm not here to take my dog out on the town." He'd taken a sip of coffee with honey in it ('cause Zach is too set in his ways to resort to tea, yoga Jungian herbal fucking mind meld acolyte be damned).

"That's not— I just meant the clothes, I don't remember doing that." Chris had frowned, at that point more bewildered than freaked. "I washed them the other day. I thought you'd left them at my place."

Zach had shrugged like he wasn't surprised, and something crawled under Chris's skin and settled there.

The tabloids have never even said they're fucking, 'cause their proof isn't exactly incontrovertible and they don't want to get sued, but they've got implications down to an art form. Like adding a question mark at the end suddenly makes it real journalism. Soon after — like, that day, Zach's voice still raspy from the cough — they'd descended, trying to catch them in the act. They don't, not exactly, but the paps have been getting more pictures of them together than they used to. A lot more. Leaving each other's places in the morning and coming back together at night and all the times in between when they're close enough to touch. It's as good as.
 
 
 
 
He doesn't remember what day it is that he breaks up with Zach because every day is the same in L.A.

"I just need some time."

"Wow. I don't need any lines, Chris."

Chris realizes he probably doesn't have any right to feel wounded, but it had been the most honest thing he'd known how to say. His confusion must show on his face because Zach lifts his hands in futility before they settle on his hips, fingers curved in a rictus as though attempting to dig straight through the denim to the bone underneath. Zach says, "I'd hoped we were better than this," in that matter-of-fact way of someone trying not to cry. But Zach is a professional, and he doesn't. He just turns away from Chris and opens the bag of cat food like he'd been about to when Chris showed up. "You know, you're an asshole, but being completely altruistic for the moment? You need to figure this thing out. I mean it's probably for the best, I don't really want to be the guy who embodies everything you perceive as wrong with your life." It's rushed, like a dam has broken, and his forearm has disappeared into the bag. "But you're the only one responsible for fucking it up, Chris. Not me. I've done everything I could think of to make us more important than the people with the cameras. Who, incidentally," here Zach smiles bitterly, sparing a glance back at Chris, "you can't blame, either. Even if they're bigger assholes than you."

Dry kibbles hit metal, and Chris notices that Zach puts a little more wrist into it than necessary. It's funny in a kind of queeny way, something Chris would normally tease him about, but right now it just makes him feel sick and angry.

"You finished with the Psych 101?"

The bowl crashes into the sink in a burst of silver and sunlight, food scattering across the counter and even up onto the windowsill. Chris's heart jackrabbits in his chest. "Trite. Please go now."

The flashbulb barely even registers when he leaves, but he still has the presence of mind to flip it off. Maybe Zach will see it and understand.
 
 
 
 
Katie looks at him over their milkshakes. Chris resists the urge to pull the sunglasses he'd shoved on top of his head back down over his eyes. "Oh, Chris," she says.

"I just need some time," he repeats, more pleading in his voice this time.

"Is that why you called me? To have someone to justify yourself to?"

"No," he mutters sullenly, flicking the tip of his straw.

"Uh huh. Then what?"

Chris spreads his hands out on the narrow table in supplication. "You're my big sister. Tell me what the hell I was supposed to do."

"Ohh, no," she says, sitting back in her seat and holding her palms up, though there's still something sharp and undeterred in her gaze. "You never listen to my advice."

"I always listen to your advice, Katie."

"Not relationship advice. You never really want it." Off of his disbelieving look, she sighs and says, "Chris, you get girls to fall for you with candlelit dinners and flowers 'cause it's easy and being remotely ironic would actually require some thought, not that they're ever bright enough to appreciate irony. And you follow all the steps you're supposed to after that until you start to feel smothered and can find a reason to call it off. You always hold something back, I've seen it."

"I do not!" Katie rolls her eyes. Chris rubs his eyebrow. "So you're saying it's different with Zach?"

"What?" She looks at him like he's retarded. "No. You do the same thing with Zach."

"I don't get—"

"But at least there's some conflict in you with Zach! Like you think he may actually be worth something more than going through the motions until it gets too inconvenient."

"He is," Chris says indignantly. "This isn't about him." Then, "Stop looking at me like that!"

She does, dropping the pity from her face. "I will tell you one thing. All of the girlfriends you've brought home, you never talked about them after it ended unless you were complaining about how crazy they were for refusing to give back your toothbrush or whatever. Like once you'd broken it off you'd sealed your end of the deal and they were on their own. You sure as hell never needed a commiseration session with me." She lets that sink in, Chris hunched over his lap in misery and staring down at his hands. "Maybe if he turns you into this much of a girl you should just suck it up and beg him to move to France with you and Johnny Depp."

"I wish I was an only child," he groans.

Katie smiles. "What are big sisters for?"
 
 
 
 
He doesn't call. He doesn't know what the fuck he would say that he hasn't already. He has no idea how to feel anything that he hasn't already. He's so busy trying to feel less. And he's getting nauseous just thinking about the upcoming press junket. Three days; Chris can't tell if it's the thought of seeing Zach again or the inevitable questions even he doesn't have the answers to. It occurs to him that he should be able to feel relief that he can just say "No, we're not," but all he can think about is Zach's face, and how it won't reveal anything he doesn't want it to.
 
 
 
 
On the first plane (to Paris, haha) Chris falls asleep on Karl's shoulder, which is better than Zach's because Karl is less bony and doesn't smell like all of the shit Zach stuffs into his various facial orifices. When he wakes up he doesn't move because he's comfortable and with his chin still tucked into his chest he has a good view of Zach's knees across the aisle and the three empty water bottles crammed into the pocket of the seat in front of him. The stewardess is probably doing her job just fine, but the two seconds or whatever that have passed since the last time she came around would be more than enough time for Zach to chug all of that. Chris wants to tell him that people have died from drinking too much water. Zach would say it's a better way to die than the latest flu fad. Zach has some really weird ideas about how flu vectors work.

"Did you know I'm an asshole, Karl," he murmurs just above the sound of the plane's engines, aiming for some discretion. Karl's laugh reverberates through the entire first-class cabin; Chris's head dislodges from his shoulder as Karl lifts it to wrap an arm around him. He closes his eyes in gratitude, but not before he sees Zach stand to go to the bathroom. He looks at Chris for a split second, face kind of shiny from an umpteenth application of moisturizer, and Chris wishes it didn't mean so much, the simple fact that it's been a month and he wants to kiss all of the chapstick off Zach's lips.
 
 
 
 
"We should have a game plan."

"Fuck that." Chris turns and paces away from the door of his hotel room where he'd just let Zach in.

"So 'no comment' then."

Chris turns back, jittery, ready, but the door isn't closed all the way. Zach's fingers are splayed, keeping it propped open, the hallway still visible behind him. Zach closes his eyes for a second that seems like fortification, but when they open he doesn't look at Chris again, just gives the door a small shove and pushes off the frame back out into the hallway. The door clicks shut behind him. Chris stares at it for a stunned moment, and then he's taking long strides, out of his room and down the hallway, grabbing the handle to Zach's door just before it's able to close.

Zach doesn't even really acknowledge that his ex has turned into a crazy person, just turns to face him stonily and waits. Chris thinks maybe Zach's had the drop on him all along. He scratches the side of his face and looks down.

After a while Zach says, "Are you gonna follow up on that grand entrance, or are we—"

"I don't think you embody everything that's wrong with my life."

Zach wasn't expecting that, Chris can tell. "Okay," he says, mouth careful around the word. Chris folds his arms across his chest and swallows.

"You're the only thing that's right, that's why this is hard for me."

"Let's not resort to hyperbole." The disappointment seems to go deeper than that when Zach's face finally reveals something and it's like being punched in the balls.

"Yeah," he says tightly, encompassing all of it. "But everything else feels wrong without—" Chris shakes his head and laughs out his frustration. "You know what, maybe I'm just too clichéd to do this right."

"Only since you broke up with me," Zach shoots back. "Clearly you're an embarrassment to your alma mater without my influence."

Chris ducks his head and swipes his knuckles across his mouth, but the grin still slips past his fingers. "So you're saying you make me a better man?"

Zach scoffs, but Chris can tell he thinks it's funny because of the way he reels back on his heels a little and brings one of his own hands to his face, biting down on his lip and determinedly not looking at Chris for a few seconds. But then it dies away and Zach looks more vulnerable than he did before. Chris didn't mean to expose him; he has a right to his wariness. He steps tentatively into Zach's personal space, lifting his hands up but not touching. God, he wants to. "I'm sorry," he murmurs. "I'm sorry."

"It's been a month, you dick," Zach says with old hurt. Chris drops his hands to his sides. "I haven't exactly been thrilled by the extra attention either, you know."

Chris sighs. "But you're the one who always talked about not being defined by who you sleep with. And then it happened and it barely seemed to phase you. Not gonna lie, I didn't really get it and I kinda felt like I just had to deal with it on my own."

"Ah." Zach pauses. "You could have just asked."

Chris lifts his palms into the air, then risks settling them on Zach's arms. "Consider this me asking."

"I may have been a bit short-sighted. I just figured there were worse things I could be defined by than you, if that's what people are going to see first, regardless."

Chris's smile is slow-spreading, like sweet butter. "You realize I have to kiss you for that, right?"

"If you must."

He does, softly at first, licking Zach's lips, and then like a starving man, twisting his fingers through Zach's hair to the back of his head. Zach accepts the kisses placidly, a stillness in his body but his mouth meets Chris's with every movement against them. Chris backs Zach against the wall, struggling readily with the fastenings of his belt and pants before he drops to his knees and blows him. Chris jerks at his own pants while he's sliding his lips and tongue over Zach's cock, pulling himself out and kind of massaging his own dick distractedly. Zach makes mindless little panting groans in his throat and comes with his fingers pressing into Chris's scalp. Chris swallows messily, the come mixing with the spit he hasn't tried to restrain, soaking the curve between his thumb and forefinger and he licks at it around Zach's dick. Zach jerks back a little, oversensitized, and pulls Chris up before he can just shoot onto the wall between Zach's legs and lets him do it on Zach's stomach instead — holding his own shirt up — while Chris kisses him with Zach still thick in the back of his throat.
 
 
 
 
Turns out the French press could give a fuck what they do in the privacy of their own hotel rooms, so they don't get the question on the first leg. They make a point to go out for every meal in the small amount of free time they have, Chris driving a rental through the streets of Paris like a madman.

Chris falls asleep on Karl again on the plane back to L.A. because he wasn't kidding about the bony shoulder thing, but at least he can hide some of Zach's water this time. The paparazzi are waiting for them when they leave the terminal. Zach radiates tension even from the three feet between them created by the jostling of everyone's various selves and belongings. Zoe puts on a show, throwing her arms and a leg around Simon and licking his ear, nearly knocking him over. But the paps still call their names the loudest, and when Zoe disengages with a laugh and Karl's cat-calls have died down, Chris reaches over and tangles his free hand with Zach's. His heart thumps hard but the world keeps spinning on its axis and the flashbulbs aren't any brighter than before.

Zach doesn't look at him, but Chris watches him smile and use the leverage to pull them closer together.

No time like the present.