Really, even for Chris, a dog is a pretty self-explanatory thing. But Chris only makes it through toeing off his sneakers in the foyer of Zach’s new condo before he’s blurting out, “Wait, did you get—what
The ball of fur is halted in its trajectory towards Chris’s ankles (no doubt intending to bite them off) by Zach sweeping it up into his arms. “What do you mean, ‘what is that?’” he says. “Your eyes might be ridiculous, Pine, but I’m pretty sure they’re functional.”
Zach rolls his own eyes—which Chris has never labeled as ridiculous, except perhaps in their terrifying power to shrink people down to ant-like size and then cut them into a thousand pieces—but, just now, they’ve gone all syrupy as Zach gazes down at his yapping little bundle.
“This lovely creature is Miss Gina,” Zach introduces, “Also known as the one who gives my life meaning.”
Gina drools down the front of Zach’s designer t-shirt while looking at Chris haughtily—which he feels, personally, is kind of presumptuous for one of the ugliest mutts he’s ever seen in his life.
“Zach. That’s not a dog,” Chris says. “You can’t make me believe your lies. She looks like a wad of laundry lint with legs.”
Zach clutches his new dog tighter, leveling Chris with a laser-like glare. “And so does your hair half the time, but you don’t hear me disparaging it to your face.”
“Are you kidding me?” Chris scoffs. “That’s the topic of like, ninety percent of our conversations,” But he tries to make peace anyway, stepping closer to Zach and holding up his hand for Gina to sniff and slobber on. If the amount of slobber is anything to go by, she seems to accept him. “She’s a gem, Zach. But where’s Noah? I thought he was the one who gave your life meaning.”
Zach’s expression goes from affectionate (towards Gina, of course, not Chris) to morose at the mention of the beastly wolfhound. “I lent him to Joe for a thing, and he hasn’t returned him since I moved back from New York. Same with Harold; Sian sits for him a couple months and claims he’s a reincarnation of her cat from another life. People be poaching my pets, man.”
“Ah, I see. That explains why you’ve adopted the world’s only dog-gremlin hybrid, it all makes sense.”
“Why did I even invite you here? This is a safe place. A judgment-free zone. Get out.”
Chris pays that command all the attention it deserves by padding over to the couch and throwing himself onto the nearest microsuede cushion. “You bribed me into helping you unpack your shit, remember? Bring out the pizza and beer, we’ll set up the entertainment center first and then stop to watch a sporting event, as men do.”
Zach huffs from where he’s still standing by the doorway, but Chris hears him move the few steps into the living room, and then the jingle of Gina’s collar tags as she’s set down to roam free. Chris tucks his ankles up out of gnawing range, just as a precaution.
There’s a half-second before Zach comes into a view again, a heartbeat of a moment where Chris is struck by how surreal this is—the fact that they haven’t really had conversations longer than four or five consecutive phone texts in the past year, interspersed with a few random coffee meet ups whenever the stars aligned and both of them happened to be in either New York or Los Angeles at the same time—but this, right here, is the launch of presumably another six to eight months of living in each other’s back pockets, shooting the sequel, waking up on each other’s couches after carousing the night before a six a.m. makeup call—and it’s just—it’s so easy for them to fall back into this. It’s easy as breathing, really.
And then Zach’s in view and as usual his sculpted eyebrows are saying twice as much as his mouth is, which is something scathing about inner beauty outshining the callous blush of youth (just who is the damn English major, here) while his eyes are laughing at Chris, and it really is easy. It’s ridiculous how easy it is; ages apart from each other, but Chris is already used to having this again, just like that. Like the interim months and years have fast-forwarded themselves to this moment.
“Puppy remorse, my friend—it’s a thing, look it up,” Chris says, mostly just to be saying something. He’s lost track of the conversation a little.
“Puppy remorse is a fallacy,” Zach says, clearly in denial, but he’s pulling out his phone, dropping a take-out menu in Chris’s lap for the new Italian place on Fountain Avenue.
“You said the same thing about jeggings. Oh my god, a spaghetti basket, is this actually real life right now?”
“I thought you wanted pizza? And I said jeggings are a crime against humanity, there is a difference.”
“I can’t have both? I’m here, in your hour of need, to sit on your couch and watch you unpack your shit.” Chris pulls his most charming Don’t You Want to Feed Me face, which works, of course, and after Zach has relented and ordered pretty much half the restaurant, Chris adds, “You distinctly said fallacy, by the way. Although to give you some credit, you were like, twenty more sheets to the wind than I was at the time.”
“Jesus,” Zach is laughing, sprawling on the couch next to Chris, running fingers through his already artfully tousled hair. “That must have been the night of the wrap party—I still don’t remember three-fourths of it.”
“You also said Nathan Lane was your spirit animal,” Chris offers.
Zach’s laugh is like a bark this time. “Wow. Thank god I didn’t have Twitter back then.”
“Dude, I can’t believe you have one now! It’s such a waste of—that website has facilitated a massive degradation of—”
“Yes, okay, stow the lecture, Professor Pine, we already know your feelings on Twitter’s single-handed erasure of human literacy and all that is right and good on this Earth.”
“Online social networking will be the downfall of the empire, man, I’m telling you. Rome had the crossing of the Rhine, we have Facebook and Twitter. Civilization is collapsing with every hundred-and-forty character essay on whether Selena’s hair coordinates with Justin’s.”
There’s a throw pillow Chris that has been wringing in manful distress, and Zach finally comes to its’ rescue, one eyebrow lifted in amusement, saying, “See, you must have a different definition of ‘stow’, because you kind of did just the opposite? Like, the complete opposite of stowing.”
“It’s the end of days, Zachary,” Chris says, grim.
“Sure, Nostradamus,” Zach soothes, then slips from the couch, moving across the carpet to the daunting pile of cardboard boxes in the middle of the room. “Now help me get started on this entertainment center. The directions are in fourteen different languages, by the way, none of which are English.”
Chris joins him, rummaging around in the toolkit just so he can brandish a screwdriver in a patronizing way. “We’re men: directions are a fallacy.”
Zach’s grin is infectious. “That’s what I thought you’d say.”
A few days after Chris has helped Zach get moved into his new condo (really, though, they had just eaten too much food and drunk too much beer and somehow Zach’s entertainment center had come out as more of a pretentious art deco piece rather than a functional piece of furniture—which, considering Zach, is pretty fitting) and they’ve settled back into their old jogging routine, gearing up for stunt training next week. Chris is kind of dreading the inevitable beatings he will catch from Zach during sparring matches, who has like some super yoga-hipster kung fu going on, but he does his best not to imagine it. Maybe the stars will align in his favor, and the stunt coordinator will assign John as Chris’s practice partner. But he tries not to get his hopes up.
In the meantime he contents himself with jogging rings around Zach before he can get the smog of New York out of his lungs. California smog has a different quality to it—totally incompatible with east coast air.
“Shut the—fuck up—Pine,” Zach wheezes, though Chris has said nothing, merely hovering next to the tree where Zach’s propped himself up to catch his breath. Chris jogs in place a little, more to be an asshole than to maintain his cardio level or whatever shit runners do.
“So you wanna, like, take a break for a second? We can take a break. I can run to Starbucks and bring you back a latte, be happy to.” Chris makes a special effort to not sound winded, and is rewarded by Zach glaring at Chris like he’s cataloging the exact shape of Chris’s smirk for future retribution.
“Oh, I’ll break something,” says Zach, threatening.
They end up jogging together to the Starbucks anyway, then sitting down outside. It’s kind of still stupid o’clock in the morning, but they have to get used to it for filming and Chris supposes sooner is better than later. It’s chilly, but only because California is making its perennial attempt at doing winter. They’ve both got their shades on against the sun that’s barely even risen, weak yellow light starting to filter through the dusty beige of the skyline, and nonfat half-caff no-foam lattes sitting in front of them that Zach managed to order without even the tiniest hint of shame.
“Alright, so you want to know my surefire method for getting rid of a clingy one-nighter?” Zach asks, continuing the conversation they’d been carrying on in erratic bursts until the running had sucked up all Zach’s extra lung capacity.
“Lay it on me, Zee-Quintz, I await enlightenment.” By the stretch of his cheeks Chris knows he’s already grinning; he summons his actoring for a second to fall into attentive student mode, folding his hands across his stomach and kicking his legs out under the table where they knock into Zach’s stupidly long ones.
“It’s simplicity itself, my friend—when they’ve finished blowing you, you rate them on a scale from one to ten. You’ve got to give honest reasoning for it, too. The details are the cincher.” Zach’s got his cup to his mouth, the way one corner is quirked higher than the other more fiendish than matter-of-fact.
Chris whistles, low, impressed in spite of himself. “But what if they’re really good at it? Like, ten or eleven good?”
“Then marry that person immediately,” Zach snorts. “Nobody’s that good.”
“Well, that settles it.” Chris takes a long pull from his coffee, which is at a temperature just below scalding. He feels the burn all the way down his esophagus. “I am officially never hopping into bed with you. My fragile ego would never survive the critique.”
Zach laughs at that, all long neck and flashing white teeth and for a second it’s almost predatory, but then he runs his hand through his sweat-dampened hair, making it stand up in ridiculous directions, and he’s just Zach again—just Chris’s favorite perspicacious friend who teases him too much—not some wolf about to carry off with Chris’s gay virginity, or whatever.
“Yeah, sure, Chris.” Zach says, playful. “Everyone knows the only things keeping us apart are all anatomical.”
Chris deliberately misunderstands, stretching his arms up, arching his back just a little. “They are, they really are. It does pain me, sometimes, to know I’m just too much man for you, Zach. I mean, look at these guns—I couldn’t pull off adorable waif even on my worst day. It’s just genetics, can’t help I’m built like a Greek Adonis, et cetera.”
“No. Inaccurate.” Zach says.
“Which part: the fact that your taste in guys runs to prepubescent, or the fact that my pecs make both men and women weep?”
“It’s out of pity, I promise.”
Chris tongues the inside of his cheek, folding his arms behind his head with an obnoxious air of victory. “Oh, hey, speaking of adorable waifs: are you and your boytoy planning on hitting up Zoe’s pre-filming launch party this weekend?”
“His name is—”
“Stop, don’t tell me his name!” Chris says, flapping an elbow at Zach in distress. “Because if you tell me his name then I might actually remember it, and if that happens then I might get to know him, and inevitably I’ll grow fond of him, become friends with the guy—and then someday, out of the blue, you’ll get the urge to rate his fellatio skills and then where will I be?” Chris sets down his chair legs with a bump, leaning across the table. “Stuck in the middle of the divorce, that’s where—with both of you showering me with gifts, shamelessly trying to buy my love—but really, Quinto, who’s going to pay for my years of therapy? That’s what I’d like to know.”
Zach’s face is about as open as a nun’s legs when he wants it to be, but his left eyebrow is slanting in the way that means trouble for Chris, especially when coupled with the return of Zach’s predatory wolf-grin as he slides his shades to the top of his head.
“If it makes you feel any better,” Zach says, reaching out so that his fingers just barely graze Chris’s arm, “As our mutual friend, you’d totally be my first choice for an angry rebound lay to twist the knife in my ex with.”
And just when Chris is wracking his brain in a silent panic, trying to remember the exact physiological sequence for taking a breath, Zach sits back in his chair with that damn quirked eyebrow, saying, “Hypothetically, of course.”
“Wow,” Chris says, after recovering himself with another bracing gulp of coffee. “I’m really feeling the warmth in my cockles with that one. Cockles of my heart, I mean.” He looks at Zach while furrowing his brows, going for mildly inquisitive. “Does your heart have cockles? Or is it more of a fused, twisted mass of black tar and evil in there, would you say.”
Zach just shrugs. “I think it’s two sizes too small.” The smile playing around his lips is quiet and pleased, but Chris does his best to ignore it, because it doesn’t mean anything. And the way his heart is suddenly drumming a half-beat faster now—well, that’s just the caffeine kicking in.
Friday night, Zach comes by Chris’s place before the party—both because they’re carpooling like the environmentally conscientious adults that they are, but mostly (Chris suspects) so that Zach can have an excuse to insult Chris’s wardrobe.
“How am I not the hottest thing you’ve ever seen, right now? Seriously, Zach.” Chris is standing in front of his closet mirror, smoothing his hands down the front of his waistcoat to make sure the line is right, and in all honesty he’s a little offended—because hello, motherfucking waistcoat? Come on. Somewhere out in the desert, Sinatra is weeping proudly into his grave.
Zach’s voice comes from over by Chris’s tie rack. “Oh my god, Chris, you’ve worn that exact suit like twenty times. This is Hollywood: you wear an outfit once and then you retire it. When you don’t, the fashion police come in the night and revoke your rights to Rodeo Drive.”
Chris turns to find a handful of silk ties being draped over his shoulder, with Zach muttering something about ‘get a decent periwinkle’ that Chris tries his utmost to unhear.
“I don’t answer to the fashion police,” Chris scoffs, picking a tie at random, and by sheer luck it’s the steely one that brings out his eyes the best. “Unlike you, Quinto, my swag comes from like, this really genuine place? I’m sorry if I don’t have to work at it like you do.”
Although, if Chris were forced at gunpoint to admit it, he might say Zach is looking not one-hundred percent awful right now. He’s shed his normal hipster-chic in favor of a classically tailored suit, black with navy satin lapels, and his hair is pomaded into this artful, gravity-defying creation, and he’s wearing the black horn-rimmed glasses that make his eyelashes seem about a million miles long—
Chris turns back to the mirror abruptly, fumbling through knotting his tie. He breathes out—once—and if it has the shape of a self-deprecating laugh then he just hopes to god Zach’s too busy fussing over proper belt/shoe coordination to notice it. After a beat, Chris covers his sudden awkwardness with more chatter.
“So, are you going stag, or what? Is your boytoy meeting us there—ooh, wait, we can swing by on our way to the bar, and you can pick out a matching outfit for him. Oh my god, Zach, you have to do it. Please show up to Zoe’s party as the Super Gay Bobbsey Twins. For me. Please.”
“I wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire,” Zach says, but he’s already stepping in front of Chris, batting his hands out of the way to take over knotting the tie. Chris watches the steel silk move through his fingers for a second, weirdly mesmerized, and then Zach’s breaking the silence by adding, “No, he’s not coming, he had plans with his friends for something—karaoke or some shit.”
It’s odd that Zach doesn’t seem the least bit annoyed by being flaked on by his boyfriend, but really, he could be crying on the inside and Chris would never know—not unless Zach wanted him to know. But since that seems highly unlikely and also happens to be none of Chris’s business, he lets it go with a mental shrug.
“What, pretending karaoke’s not your thing?” Chris says. “I happen to know for a fact that you have a pretty mean rendition of Don’t Stop Me Now in your repertoire.”
Zach finally looks up and meets Chris’s eyes, smiling wryly while rucking the knot of the tie to his neck. Zach says, “Go ahead down that path, Country Strong—I’ve got way more blackmail material in that vein then you do.”
“That assumes I’m ashamed of myself, Zach, you should know better than that.”
They’re almost of the same height, close enough for Chris to catch the glint of amusement Zach is trying to tamp down, and Chris can’t help himself; his self-control has never been anything worth writing home about. “My throat can do some amazing things,” Chris says. “So I’ve been told. I don’t like to brag about it, or anything.”
Zach just looks at him, for the space of three heartbeats, for ten, long enough for Chris to think— is he?— and then he’s stepping back, hands slipping free of Chris’s tie and tucking themselves into Zach’s pockets, and Zach is just laughing, easy as you please. “That’s going on Twitter, just so you know. Word for word,” he says. His eyes are bright behind his glasses, but Chris still can’t read them.
“Do it, please. By all means,” Chris says. “You say that like it’s going to damage my street-cred, or something.”
“Heaven forbid,” Zach says, rolling his eyes.
Chris’s limbs feel awkward, his fingers fluttering self-consciously over his tie, his cuffs. “So is this good, are we done playing Barbie dress-up?”
“Whatever, I guess you’re presentable now. We’re going to be late, come on.” Zach starts ushering them to the door, like he wasn’t the one pawing through Chris’s sock drawer for fifteen minutes while bemoaning the lack of argyle.
“You should really exchange notes with Katie sometime,” Chris says, doing his best to ignore the fact that Zach’s hand has somehow landed, warm and solid, in the small of his back. “She used to coordinate her skirts with my skintone when she dressed me up in them. Big sisters are fucking pro, man.”
“How nice for you. Are we taking your car or mine?”
“I’m a Spring, by the way.” Chris says, wagging an eyebrow. “You’re totally a Winter. Do you know what this means?”
“That the wrong one of us is gay?”
“Hilarious,” Chris says. He turns away for a second to lock the door, then walks towards the street with Zach, tucking his keys in his jacket. “Just for that, you get to drive in L.A. traffic on a Friday night, enjoy that. And I’m going to fuck with your radio and change all your stations to gospel or Glenn Beck.”
Zach gives Chris a quelling look over the top of his gorgeous new Nissan Leaf, which Chris will never ever admit he’s jealous of. “Is it too late to get a different Prom date? Give me back my fucking corsage, Pine.”
“But it matches my shoes so well,” Chris simpers, and drops laughing into the passenger seat.
Zoe says she’s rented out a club for the night, somewhere not too pretentious in West Hollywood. The front looks sort of familiar, like maybe Chris bar-hopped here with his high-school buddies one night back when they were young and unevolved enough to still think being stupid drunk with a fake ID was gonna help them pick up college chicks.
It’s not a bad place, more of a stylish post-work decompression bar than a darkened room to grind in. The music is playing at a decibel level actually decent for holding a conversation, when Zach and Chris walk in. The din of the crowd almost overwhelms the music, really, because at a glance it appears as if Zoe’s invited pretty much half of the city, plus, like, three or four dozen of her closest friends, many of whom appear to be French and Brazilian supermodels. Chris is just guessing. He’ll have to hear accents to be sure. Whispered directly against his earlobes, by preference.
He feels the weight of several sets of eyes on him, tracking him before he’s even made it all the way to the bar and gotten his first beer in hand. He tilts his head back maybe a tiny bit more than is necessary to take a pull from his beer, throat moving as he swallows, and the weight of the stares in his direction goes up by a decisive increment. Yeah. It was a mistake to carpool with Zach: Chris is getting laid tonight, really, it’s pretty much inevitable. But whatever, that’s what taxis are for, he doesn’t mind.
“Zach,” Chris turns his shoulder into Zach’s, about to mention this, but Zach is already laughing low and under his breath.
“You’re so fucking predictable, Pine,” Zach says, grinning against the glass of his whiskey tonic.
Chris lifts his eyebrows, feeling challenged. “Is that so? Fine, Mr. Fucking Crystal Ball, tell me my fate for tonight.” Here he makes a show of pointing with his bottle, just for Zach’s benefit. “Is it gonna be standard missionary with Miss Redhead who spent too much on those fuck-me Louboutin heels? Some light bondage with the Little Black Dress at ten o’clock? Or—hello—sex sandwich with Blondie and her Katy Perry BFF?” He winks, quick, for Blondie’s benefit, since his gesturing seems to have caught her eye.
“Where the hell is Zoe?” Zach mutters, blatantly ignoring him. “Have you seen anyone we know yet? Are we even at the right bar?”
“Dude, who cares? Have you seen this place? I’m gonna get my bones jumped just walking to the stairs.”
“The stairs! Good, Pine, sometimes you manage actual legitimate thoughts.” Zach latches on to Chris’s elbow, dragging him towards the aforementioned stairs, and Chris is too busy struggling not to spill his beer down his jacket to protest. But upstairs is where the real party’s at, apparently, since Zoe shrieks and leaps on both of them in a cloud of perfume and bearhugs the second they make it up there, followed quickly by the rest of the quintessential bridge crew: John, Anton, and Karl who’s flown out early from New Zee especially for this, but Simon’s still in Scotland or wherever, fuck that guy. J.J. has even deigned to put in an appearance (and already sequestered himself in a corner with Orci and Kurtzman and all their sundry assistants, so Chris doesn’t really see the point, but whatever). There are miscellany producers and P.A.’s, people Chris still can match faces to names with.
Zoe’s got her arm around Chris’s waist, which is kind of gratifying, given that Zach is right there and he’s always been her favorite. Except it turns out to be out of pity for Chris. She tells him, “Chris, Christopher. Sweetie, I hate to break this to you before you’ve even finished your first beer, but… there’s been kind of an upheaval recently.”
“Upheaval’s putting it mildly,” Karl says, making a face at Chris from his spot on the couch. “I hope you’re wearing your emergency panties.”
“Never leave home without ‘em,” Chris says, looking to Zach for a clue. Zach shrugs, his eyebrows lifting in the configuration that telegraphs, for once, I know nothing . “What happened?”
“We redid the Top Five Hottest Cast Members list,” Zoe says, with an exaggerated wince. “And, well. You got bumped off.”
“What? You’re kidding me, I’m sixth now?” Chris slaps his free hand over his heart. “Guys, is this all we mean to each other? What happened to Oh Captain, my Captain?”
“Listen, bro,” John chimes in, from his spot next to Karl (where presumably they’ve been exchanging sickening amounts of baby pictures all night), “It’s all one-hundred percent objective, if that makes you feel any better.”
“Who edged me out?” Chris asks, looking around for guilty expressions. “Anton,” he says, drawing the vowels out, “I see you growing in that brostache, Anton, don’t think I don’t see you.”
It’s Zoe who informs him. “Two words for you, Christ: Benedict Cumberbatch.”
“Cumberbatch!” Chris says his name like a curse. “That debonair British bastard.”
“Hey, you’re fine, look at it this way,” Zach says, slinging an arm around his shoulders. “You’ve got a promising career in theater, right? And from a distance, you know, you’re not half bad-looking.”
“Oh, totally,” Zoe agrees, double-teaming from Chris’s other side. “Stage lighting is a very flattering look for you.”
“I love you both so much,” Chris tells them, voice dry. “You’re like a super fabulous Martin and Lewis.”
“Does that make us the Rat Pack?” John says, pointing between himself and Karl and Anton.
“Emphasis on rat,” Chris agrees.
Things shuffle around for a while, but sometime later on in the night (it feels like maybe eight or nine beers later, and maybe a Hennessy), Chris finds himself perched on a barstool across from Zach, who has been typing on his phone for, like, five whole minutes now. He says he’s texting his brother, but Chris gets suspicious, craning his neck to peer at the screen. Zach huffs and jerks it back, but not before Chris has seen the incriminating evidence.
“Oh, you did fucking not, Quinto,” Chris says, his bottle hitting the table hard enough to slosh some foam onto his hand, which Chris ignores in favor of being morally outraged. “I have a rule, and I have told you the rule like a hundred times, so I know you know the rule—”
“Your rule is stupid, just like every other thing you say.”
“—No twittering around me, that is the rule. Like, ideally, I need a fifty foot perimeter from that shit.” Okay, maybe Chris is kind of drunk right now, but the rule is a real thing. He has his reasons, reasons which should be respected. Real friends respect each other’s rules, and shit like that.
Zach has gone back to his phone, not even pretending to be paying Chris any attention now, which, hey—rude.
“What the fuck are you even—what is it—tweeting? Jesus Christ, even the verb for it makes me lose brain cells.” Chris makes a grab for Zach’s phone, feeling justified in his rudeness since Zach started it. “‘ Daddy misses you, Hair-bear’—what the fucking—what am I reading right now, oh my god.”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re a box of dicks, Pine? Because you are.” Zach takes his phone back, punching Chris in the arm for good measure. “Sian was tweeting me pics of Harold, geez.”
“Hey. Hey. Zach,” Chris says, struck by a sudden thought. “What’ll you bet that I can get more followers than you if I started a Twitter account this very night? Like, right this minute.”
Zach doesn’t really look up from his phone (apparently talking to his former cat via the internet requires the full force of his attention, not that Chris is jealous about it, because that would be lame) but he does give Chris a skeptical glance over the frames of his glasses. “Okay, two things. Ready? One: I don’t give two fucks about how many followers I have. And two: you couldn’t get more followers than me even if you had a personal endorsement from Ashton Kutcher.”
“You know why I hate Twitter so much?” Chris muses, his train of thought already chugging away in a new direction. “People used to ask each other, ‘ Penny for your thoughts .’ But we don’t do that anymore. The market is inundated. The value of a random thought has gone from virtually nil to less than worthless.”
“See, Chris. See. Right there. If you had a Twitter account, you could be sharing that little pearl of wisdom with thousands of people simultaneously.” He sounds as caustic as ever, but Zach’s actually looking at Chris now, cracking a smile even. Like he’s almost feeling fond, or something.
Chris makes a dismissive sound, picking up his beer. Then he sets it down again, leaning closer to Zach, bracing his folded arms on the table. “You really don’t think I could get more followers than you? Seriously?”
“Not unless you were cheating.”
“Cheating—oh, like, posting pictures of my super toned abs, you mean. Purely for the benefit of my adoring fans. You call that cheating, my friend, but you know what I call it? Charity.”
“If you didn’t already know how full of shit you are, Pine, I’d be forced to enlighten you.”
“No, I’m good, I’m aware, thanks—hey, can I see that for a second? Really quick.” Chris takes advantage of Zach’s laughing at him to snatch his phone for a second time, like a striking cobra. He swivels backwards on his barstool, punching at the tiny glowing screen even before it fully comes into focus, typing as fast as he can manage. Zach is already looming against Chris’s back, arms reaching around him, trying to get the phone back. Chris narrates what he’s writing, just to be obnoxious.
“‘ Chris... Pine... is a... god... amongst... men.’ Wait, should I say people? That’s more PC, right? Whatever, fuck it—” he hits the button that says Tweet, just as Zach gets a fistful of Chris’s collar and yanks him practically off his stool, manhandling him in ways Chris can’t quite find a reason to object to, though he’s pretty sure if he were more sober he’d have a good one.
“Here, Grabby McHandserson, damn,” Chris says, not quite coherently, slapping the phone against Zach’s chest. “Keep your shirt on. We’re in a public place.”
“Yeah, which is exactly where you’re never allowed again,” Zach snaps, but he seems torn between amusement and irritation. “God, you—raised in a barn much? You can’t just steal a person’s phone.”
“Oh, I believe I just did.” Chris says, feeling pleased with himself. However, the floor seems to be undulating in a disturbing way now that he’s no longer sitting down.
“Who even lets you out of the house, you’re a menace.” Zach is still muttering angry-sounding things, but he’s standing next to Chris and pulling Chris’s arm around his shoulders, a warm bracing weight all along Chris’s side. The Earth feels steadier now, and Zach starts guiding them towards the stairs, waving bye to Zoe and the gang for both of them, who kind of catcall drunkenly back. Chris pretends to be deaf. It’s not like he and Zach have never walked out of a bar together before. Or driven home together. No big deal.
This is nothing, Chris tells himself, even as Zach is helping Chris in on the passenger side of his car, leaning into him to buckle the seatbelt across his lap; close enough for the smell of Zach’s cologne to fill Chris’s mouth like a taste, all warm sandalwood and citrus.
Then they’re moving, down the freeway at night. He’s not sure what time it is, except that it’s late, and he drank more at the bar than he meant to, and Chris never hooked up with one of those Brazilian supermodels but he doesn’t seem to care. He’s watching the lights from passing cars move across Zach from underneath heavy eyelashes, thinking about how he’ll probably wake up on Zach’s couch tomorrow morning, same as he’s done at least a dozen times before.
This is the first time Chris can remember feeling disappointed about that, though, for reasons he doesn’t know, or can’t admit.
When Chris wakes up, it isn’t on a couch. He knows this because he’s in a bed. As for whose bed it is, Chris can’t really say without opening his eyes, outside of the fact that it isn’t his own.
Chris considers opening his eyes to find out, but decides it doesn’t matter, so as long as that person is not going to kick him out anytime soon and Chris is allowed to wallow here, in all his hungover glory, for as long as it takes him to regain the will to live.
Speaking of glory—after a few more minutes of wallowing, Chris realizes he still has his pants on. So, that’s kind of weird, given the fact that he’s in someone else’s bed. He has a moment of anxiety where he hopes he didn’t somehow embarrass himself last night, and now the anxiety is just making his hangover come on even more.
Chris turns on his back, trying to find a position for his head that will make the tiny little men with jackhammers behind his eyes go away, but as soon as he moves the weight of someone’s arm snakes across Chris’s hip, and he freezes. Because it’s a heavy weight. It’s not like a svelte, slender weight—really, it is almost a broad, muscular kind of—
“Mornin’, gorgeous,” comes the husky murmur in Chris’s ear—which, yes, definitely a male voice, in fact, definitely Zach’s voice—and then Zach’s lips are pressing warm against the stubble on Chris’s jawline.
Chris’s eyes fly open, and he jolts upright, ending up with one hand braced against the mattress and his other cradling his head, because ow, sudden movement. Oh, fuck , he thinks again with even more feeling, seeing Zach is actually here, actually lying next to him, and this isn’t some kind of hangover-induced hallucination. Chris’s entire body goes hot and cold like he’s feverish, and for an eternity of five seconds he’s panicking, because holy shit did they have sex? and why the hell does he not remember this, and also: goddamn it, why doesn’t he remember this?
So, yeah, Chris is kind of in the middle of a state of mental turmoil, and now Zach is staring at him all expectantly, and Chris’s eyes feel like they’re as big as dinner plates, and maybe he looks kind of nauseous but that’s because of the hangover. His head feels like it’s about to crack in half and spill grey matter onto Zach’s pristine white sheets, but that’s not from the hangover, it’s because Chris is trying so hard to remember that he’s burning up all his remaining functioning brain cells.
And that’s about when Zach starts laughing his ass off.
“Your face! Oh my god—Chris, your face, I can’t—I can’t—” Zach manages to gasp, after belly laughing for a good two minutes, during which time Chris’s poor aching brain feebly makes the attempt to switch gears from one reality to the next.
And during this time Chris manages to take in all the small, important details he’d missed in the seconds right after opening his eyes: things like the fact that Zach is laying on top of the duvet fully dressed, he’s got his glasses on, and he’s holding a magazine—currently rolled up and being slapped against his thigh—these, plus Miss Gina sitting peacefully in her dogbed and not whining to go out—all of it adds up to one incontrovertible fact:
Chris and Zach didn’t sleep together. The reality is that Zach’s been awake for ages—in fact, he was probably the one who slept out on the couch. That means Zach came back in the bedroom to lie in wait. It means, most importantly, that the bastard was plotting this prank the whole time.
And just like that, Chris goes from really fucking confused, to really fucking angry.
“Okay, no, fuck you,” Chris says, his voice coming out all sleep-rasped. “That was in no way funny.”
Zach is finally winding down, though a few snickers are still escaping. He prods Chris with his elbow through the covers. “Don’t be such a giant baby. It was hilarious.”
Chris pulls his hand from his head, tugging at the duvet that he’s somehow gotten wrapped in like a burrito. His temples are throbbing, and nothing about this conversation is helping that to stop. “Maybe if we were nineteen and, like, rushing Lambda Delta Mu, and last night was a super bitchin’ frat party.”
“You’re such a scrooge when you’re hungover,” Zach says.
“Weird, I know—unlike most people, who get all perky and chipper.” Chris manages to free himself from the sheets and stand up, but the black cloud of his mood is still twining around him like a noose. Especially after he sees his waistcoat across the room, folded neatly over the top of Zach’s desk chair, where Zach no doubt left it last night whilst being an extremely generous and attentive friend who tucked a drunken Chris into his own bed.
And then left him there. Alone.
Something that’s either spite or bile crawls up the back of Chris’s throat, and then all the meanness in him is shouting down the better part of his brain that knows he’s being an irrational asshole, blowing up over nothing. Suddenly Chris’s voice has gone nasty, and he’s saying, “Someone else who’d probably fail to see the humor—your boyfriend, Zach, remember him?”
Safe from his vantage at the foot of the bed, Chris risks looking at Zach again and wishes he hadn’t: all the traces of laughter have been erased from Zach’s face, his eyes dark and shuttered behind the frames of his glasses. The only sign of his confusion is in the furrow of his eyebrows, and in his voice when he says, “God, Chris, it was just a joke. Fine. I’m sorry, alright? I’m sorry.”
At this point, all Chris wants is to be somewhere that’s not here—not having to look at Zach in his bed looking back at Chris, not having to feel his stomach twist itself into knots because of this. Zach’s bathroom is the nearest available exit. “Whatever, dude.” Chris mutters, already walking out. “I gotta piss.”
As it turns out, the bathroom is not the best place to go, because as Chris is washing his hands in the sink he sees his toothbrush, sitting innocently in the holder next to Zach’s, and that is just—it’s so—how the fuck even does Chris have a toothbrush here? Zach’s been back for a grand total of two weeks, so how does Chris have a goddamn toothbrush at his house, when it took his last girlfriend three months to persuade him to stick a few pants and shirts in her dresser drawer.
And, whatever, maybe the toothbrush is just the spare one Zach lent him the last time Chris came over and ate too many garlic breadsticks, but the point is Zach didn’t throw it away, he kept it—and trying to figure out if that means something is making Chris’s head want to roll off his shoulders again.
So Chris does the only thing he can do, then—aside from lay down on the tile and cry himself back to sleep—he picks up the damn toothbrush and starts brushing his teeth with it.
He’s in the middle of doing that when the door swings open without so much as a ‘ hey bro hope you have pants on’ knock, and Zach is standing there looking pissed. Like, even more pissed then that one scene where he had to pretend to choke Chris out for fourteen fucking takes.
“Okay, no, fuck this,” Zach says. His glasses are pushed back into his hair—he only does that when shit’s about to get real. “You do not get to have a nuclear meltdown over something so completely stupid and then expect me to just apologize and shoulder the blame. That shit doesn’t fly with me.”
“You can’t tell me you didn’t think it was funny, Chris, you want to know why? Because Karl played that exact same prank on Anton, after J.J.’s Chanukah party that one time, and you almost pissed yourself you were laughing so hard. Remember that?”
Chris is starting to feel anger boiling to the surface of his skin again, even though he’s lucid enough to recognize it’s irrational, that it’s a defense. He doesn’t know what to do besides get angry, because the alternative—just, no. He turns and spits toothpaste foam into the sink, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “That was different,” is all he says. Even to his own ears, Chris sounds petulant.
“In what way is it different,” Zach says, folding his arms across his chest, his lip starting to curl in that way it does when he thinks someone is being either a dick, or an idiot, or both. “Explain it to me. Is it different because it got done to you?” And then Zach laughs, a colorless bark of a sound. “Or because they’re straight, and I’m gay—is that what your problem is?”
It’s hard to think much past the pounding in his head and the churning in his gut, but that kind of sounds like something Chris can legitimately be angry about, and he latches on to it. “No, no way, fuck you—don’t put that phobic bullshit on me, Zach, that’s—no, that is not even on the horizon of my problems, okay.”
Zach takes two more steps in the room, just coming out of the doorway, but it feels like a invasion Chris can’t take right now. Chris backs up into the sink, then has to slouch his hip against it like it’s what he meant to do all along. Zach sees it, of course he sees it, eyes like a hawk, or falcon, or some shit—and his thin press of lips twists itself into a slow, condescending sneer, one that’s aimed like a punch that hits Chris right in the gut.
“No. You want to know your real problem, Chris? I think I’ve finally figured it out,” Zach says.
“Please. Amaze me. I dare you to.” Chris says, crossing his ankles, because bravado is something he’s good at. One of the few things he excels at, in fact. Whatever Zach has to say, Chris can take it. His mom and sister psychoanalyze him on a weekly basis. They do it just for shits and giggles.
“You’re a fraud,” Zach says, hitting it home with just three words—but he doesn’t stop at that, of course not, Chris still has some shreds of self-worth that need tearing down—“Congratulations, you’re an actor, you joined the family business. You’re so—have you really spent all these years hoping if we squint our eyes we won’t see what a walking cliché you are? Sometimes you’re so damn method that it hurts.”
“Are you seriously trying to Rotten Tomatoes me right now? What the hell does my shitty acting have to do with—”
“No, asshole, I’m talking about you, about the fact that on any given day, you’re nine-tenths bullshit and one-tenth actual conviction. Look at yourself: you’ve got your meteoric career, and your Colgate commercial smile, and your string of supermodel girlfriends—because that’s what’s expected of you; because that’s what you default to when you don’t even fucking know what you want.”
Chris puts on a smile—and yeah, it’s that one, the fake one that hurts his cheeks if he holds it too long, it’s not like he doesn’t know what Zach is talking about—and he hoods his eyes; just a little, just enough. “And is this the part where the music swells, Zachary? Is this where you tell me what it really is that I want?” Chris asks, keeping his hands wrapped carefully around the marble lip of the counter; tight enough to whiten his knuckles, but that’s fine, it’s better than shaking himself apart. He still feels sick.
“And how could I possibly do that, Christopher,” Zach says, spreading his hands, as if to weigh the vast amount of jack-shit that Chris actually amounts to. “There’s nothing to know. You’ve been bullshitting along since high school, hoping like hell nobody notices that you’re the golden boy baseball star who never even tried out for the college team.”
Chris holds onto his anger like he’s got it clenched in his fist, and by sheer force of will he keeps his smile screwed in place. He turns his voice into a deliberate drawl, saying, “Wow. Thank you, Dr. Phil, for that fortune-cookie insight. You want me to leave the check on the nightstand, or what? Because that was—I mean, usually when I get slapped around that much, I have to pay good money for it.”
“Good. Perfect.” Zach snarls. “Crack another fucking joke.”
It’s around this time that Chris decides he doesn’t have to stand here and take this. Even if the inside of his head feels bruised, his legs are still functional, and he puts them to use, walking out of the bathroom while brushing past Zach with a minimum amount of physical contact. Meanwhile Zach continues ripping into him, saying, “Fine, whatever. Layer your entire life with humor, that way if anyone who cares about you ever gets near the truth they won’t be able recognize it. Cute, Chris. Really fucking clever.”
Chris swipes his waistcoat off the chair, starts looking around for his shoes and socks. Now that he doesn’t have to look at Zach the smile is gone, his face feels like a hundred pounds of stone. But he’s an actor, he doesn’t give a fuck what Zach says, this is something Chris is good at—if he weren’t, then how else would he be able to make himself sound only mildly sarcastic when what he really feels like doing is putting the chair through the bedroom window?
“You know what’s cute, Zach?” Chris says, fishing both socks out from under the bed. “You thinking this entire, like, thing was about me, instead of whichever douchebag varsity jock it was that broke your heart for the first time. It’s fucking adorable.”
“I'm not even—” Zach starts and stops, and when he starts again there’s a note of chagrin there. “I didn’t mean to make you—fuck, Chris, you don’t have to run out. I just wanted you to admit—”
“Admit what?” Chris breaks then, just a little, the reign he’s holding on himself slipping just an inch. He stands up abruptly, holding the one shoe he’s found in front of himself like a shield. Zach is closer than Chris realized, almost on top of him, and Chris has to make himself hold his ground. “Tell me what I’m supposed to admit, Zach,” he says. “You seem to know me like a book. Maybe you can do all my speaking for me from now on.”
The distance between them—not much to begin with—has halved again, Chris stepping forward into that space without a conscious decision on his part. He’s close enough to see where Zach’s nicked his jaw shaving, close enough for their eyes to lock like magnets flipping towards each other, irrepressible physics at work.
Zach hasn’t said anything yet, stuck looking pained and angry all at once. It’s almost funny how much easier Chris can interpret him without the big black glasses in the way. Or maybe it’s just a side-effect of the proximity.
“Go ahead,” Chris says, seizing the upper hand for the first time since waking up. Maybe it makes him petty, but he’s mad as hell, so fuck it. He lets his tone drop an octave, presses his tongue against his teeth, and Zach’s eyes flick to the movement—just for an instant, but Chris catches it, god, for once he catches it first—and then Chris murmurs, “You can take the words right out of my mouth, Zach.”
It’s Zach who gives first, the slight shake of his head like yielding. He’s the one who steps away, giving Chris a clear line to the door. “I’m not going to tell you what you should already know,” Zach says, sounding defeated.
Chris waits to feel the bright sting of victory, but all he has to show for himself is pounding headache and a hard knot in the back of his throat.
Since there doesn’t seem to be anything left to say after that, Chris scoops up his other shoe, not even bothering to put them on before he flees. He walks half a block away before calling a cab, and when he sits on the white, sun-soaked curb to wait, it’s difficult not to think he’s never had a walk of shame feel quite this literal before.
The next time Chris and Zach see each other, on Monday when stunt training starts, it is as hellishly awkward as Chris could have predicted. It starts in the locker room, where Zach’s got these giant sunglasses on even though they’re indoors, and they’re both pretty obviously not looking at each other. There’s also the part where Chris has to pick a locker to shove his shit in. During the first round, years back, Chris and Zach had been locker buddies: all juxtaposed and getting to know each other like kids turning pages in a pop-up book and pulling random tabs, cracking weird jokes, laughing over all the scenes coming up where Chris was going to get strangled and maimed and stabbed and stuff.
Chris pretends to do something on his phone for a good two minutes, wavering between not wanting to look like a coward little bitch by moving across the room, and also not wanting to get right up next to Zach again because it’s too soon and Chris’s forgiveness gear hasn’t quite kicked in yet.
The issue gets settled by John, who comes blustering in, tossing his duffel down on the bench next to Chris’s and already kicking up some dated fuss about foils versus rapiers, (because you can bet he Wikipiediaed the shit out of all that when the rebooted version of Sulu turned out all actiony). Chris nods along, laughing more loudly than necessary at some fencing joke he doesn’t really understand, and is rewarded by catching the subtle flaring of Zach’s nostrils out of the corner of his eye. Awesome. So he’s either pissed off at Chris again, or never really stopped being pissed.
The only attempt Zach’s made to reach out since the Saturday morning shit storm has been a grand total of one text, received by Chris’s phone late last night while watching dvr’d Conan: believe it or not it was never my intention to say all that shit; which is just—well, A) not an apology, and B) not even the slightest kind of retraction of said shit? So what the hell is Chris supposed to do with that?
He’d tried to do something, though, really tried—starting and deleting about a dozen different responses, but nothing had sounded suitably scathing slash benevolent slash sardonic. So he’d ended up turning off his phone in frustration and crawling into bed, pissed off all over again and reliving every second of the fight in his head for the thousandth time.
Anyway, Chris ends up taking the locker next to John’s, while trying with every movement of his limbs to convey the fact that this is totally a casual, one-hundred percent not labored-over decision.
Their mutual avoidance of one another is successful for the first couple hours while the Stunt Coordinator (a very attractively muscled and also terrifying woman named Ginger), has everyone reviewing the safety rules and basic exercises.
For Chris, the dreaded moment comes just before lunch, when the trainees get paired up to practice a drill: nothing fancy, just a feint’n’dodge that Chris can do in his sleep—and, of course, Chris gets paired with Zach, despite the massive amounts of psychic brainwaves he’d been sending Ginger’s way that all communicated: please no dear god anyone but him.
Chris has the fifteen seconds it takes for the group to split off and spread out across the mats to try and decide how he wants to play this out: fine and dandy, or aloof and frosty? The latter is preferable, but Chris is pretty sure his aloof tends to come off as haughty most of the time; he’s just not good at the minutiae and subtleties of it. And there’s one reason he could never play any of Zach’s characters, right there—that man does cold bastard like nobody’s business.
As they’re squaring off across the mat, looking directly at each other for the first time in days, Chris has a moment of remorse for the uncharitable thought—because Zach, unbelievably, looks like hell. Dark circles under his eyes, non-glowing complexion, hair limp and messy (not in a purposeful way)—in short, looking like maybe he’d lost at least as much sleep over the weekend as Chris had.
But really, Chris thinks a second later, if it was eating him up that much then what is so fucking hard about picking up the phone? And now Chris is pissed all over again, moving his body to block as Zach takes on the feints. Zach’s movements are sharp with nothing excessive, stilted like a telegram. His expression is still locked up like Fort Knox; somehow this only makes Chris angrier.
The lack of concentration catches up to Chris after about ten minutes or so of drilling, with both of them switching places, circling around each other, neither of them saying a word and Chris hating every second of it. So he lets himself get distracted, like an idiot—moves left when he should have moved right and catches Zach’s fist in the solar plexus. It works just like in the movies: Chris folds in half like a wet newspaper, all the wind knocked out of him.
He can’t see much past the tops of his sneakers, but Chris knows somehow that the first hand at his elbow is Zach’s, and Chris shakes it off before he can stop himself. It’s the only sign either of them have made that they’re actually not okay—besides the whole not speaking thing—and somehow this bruises Chris’s pride more than the punch did. Guilt creeps in on him as he’s sucking the air back in his lungs, guilt all muddled up with resentment.
There’s other hands helping him up now, John, and Ginger, and Chris lets them, goes willingly to the bench where they guide him and sits on it. He takes the water bottle and towels that get held out to him, grunting in consonants when they ask him stuff.
“Alright, people, guess we might as well take lunch,” Ginger says, projecting to the room as a whole to make the announcement. “See you back here in fifty, stretching it out—and if anyone dares to get so much as a cramped hip from not doing all their stretches, you will have the great honor of being my personal punching bag—excuse me, assistant—for the remainder of the sessions.”
People begin to disperse, to the locker rooms and elsewhere. Chris keeps his eyes fixed on the water bottle so he doesn’t have to look up or in any way acknowledge the fact that Zach is hovering in the vicinity of the bench; not close enough to pretend to be helping, like Cho, but also not far enough to feel dismissive.
“I’m gonna hit up that sub place down the block, you want to go with?” John asks. “Or I could bring you back something, too, if you need to like, stay. For... whatever reasons.” And he’s looking meaningfully between Chris and Zach at that point, because even an infant could have picked up on the line of tension that’s stretched between them.
“Nah, I’ll go,” Chris says, forcing himself to stand without wincing. The throbbing in his chest is already going away, but the idea of being alone with Zach anytime in the near future makes something sink low and heavy in Chris’s gut. John can always be misdirected with food, so Chris adds, “It’s that place with the awesome cilantro hummus, right?”
“The very same,” John enthuses, kissing his fingers like the world’s most cornball parody of an Italian chef, and then to Chris’s dismay he turns to Zach, saying, “You coming along, Bruce Lee?”
Chris holds his breath, but Zach shakes his head no. “Not very hungry,” he says, but his eyes cut to Chris in a way that seems involuntary. And Chris ought to be feeling relief, now, except he isn’t, not even close. Nothing about him is working quite right today: he's a clockwork toy with a gear loose, spinning in ellipticals and getting absolutely fucking nowhere.
After that there’s not much left except for escaping, and Chris is walking towards the doors with John when Zach’s voice calls after him, saying, “Chris. Chris, hey.” John stops walking, and so Chris has to stop, too—has to turn and force himself to listen, even though there was already half an apology in just the way Zach had said his name, and Chris isn’t sure he’s ready to hear the other half.
“I’m sorry,” Zach says, no preamble. His eyes are so dark. A hundred angry retorts fill Chris’s mouth, but before he can spit them out Zach is the one swallowing, throat moving while he’s looking away and stumbling over: “For—you know—punching you. By accident.”
If Chris wanted to fix everything, right now, he could do it. He could put on a dandelion grin, crack a joke about all this, something like: Watch out for those fists of fury next time, or, Hey, no big deal, just a minor ruptured spleen. And Zach would know that Chris knew what he was really sorry for, but couldn’t say, and that Chris was over it. Then the tension would diffuse, and they might even like, chortle together in a manly way, or something. And Zach could come over and sling an arm around Chris’s neck and say maybe he did feel like getting a sandwich after all.
For a second, Chris is going to do it—because all he wants is to be okay, because not being okay sucks. It’s not even like real fighting, what they’re doing to each other, just the terrible aftermath—like walking through Florida after a hurricane and seeing a city that’s been blown down, that exhausted feeling of being wrecked.
But Chris doesn’t grin. He can’t quite get his mouth stretched like that; his lips are compressed and he’s forgotten how, temporary smiling amnesia. He doesn’t make a joke. What comes out instead is: “I’m fine, man. Didn’t even hurt.”
His voice is perfectly cool, perfectly detached. Chris doesn’t wait to hear a reply before turning his back and walking off again. Maybe he’s not incapable of being the cold bastard, after all.
John remarks on it over lunch, saying too-casually, “So. Trouble in paradise, huh?”
“He didn’t feel like eating sandwiches, what, what do you want from me,” Chris says, putting his back to the wall, laying into his veggie-hummus wrap with more enthusiasm than he feels. He thinks with longing of the unlimited spaghetti baskets and pizza of just a week ago. Filming diets suck balls. But as J.J. will no doubt be cruelly removing Chris’s shirt from him by more than one method over the course of the movie, he has to suck it up and suffer the low-carbs.
“Look, I’m a married man, too, I know how it goes—” John starts, with a shit-eating grin.
“Shut the fuck up,” Chris says, groaning around a mouthful of lettuce, and John lifts a hand in acquiescence, laughing.
“Fine, fine, none of my business, I get it,” he says.
But a few minutes later, he levels a deadpan look at Chris, saying, “Is it the sex? Because there’s counselors who specialize in that, you know.”
Chris almost chokes to death on his wrap.
Since it’s a universal rule that gossip spreads like wildfire amongst crew and castmates as well as middle-schoolers, that same night, Chris gets two text messages on the subject.
The first, from Karl: i’m totally in ur corner, buddy. count on me! unless it’s ur fault. it’s probably ur fault, isn’t it? don’t let j.j. find out.
die in a fire. Chris texts him back.
And then later, from Zoe: you’re both my boys, i love you guys. not to intrude but jj will go apeshit if you can’t fix this, just saying.
Which Chris doesn’t know how to respond to, aside from lying, which is what he ends up doing.
everything’s cool, mountains out of molehills, etc etc.
J.J. really is going to kill them, though.
It’s Chris’s sister who hammers the nail home, of course. They’ve had three more awkward days of training, wherein Chris and Zach have both managed to be completely civil to one another, and Chris has managed to avoid getting himself punched, and so everything should be fine—except for the way that Chris feels like the wind’s been knocked out of him every time Zach so much as meets his eyes. It’s pathetic, and it’s eating him up, and he hasn’t said a single word about it to Katie, which doesn’t stop her from dropping unfairly insightful observations into the middle of their dinner phone conversation.
“Hey, is something wrong? Did you get in a fight with Zach?” she asks, apropos of nothing. They’ve been talking about the weather.
Chris’s stomach rolls, and he takes it as an excuse to push his picked-at salad across the counter. He thinks, fuck it, and grabs a beer out of his fridge, heedless of the calories. He’ll need it as fortification against whatever’s coming next.
“No? Who told you we got in a fight? We’re great, totally normal,” he says.
“Chris, come on,” is all she says, with her older sister voice.
“So. That’s—there might have been a thing,” Chris admits, feeling his face scrunch up from just that small out-loud admission. He scrubs at his forehead with the hand that’s holding the beer, trying to keep from giving himself premature wrinkles.
“Tell me everything,” she demands. And he does.
“Hmm,” she says, after Chris has rambled himself to a stop.
“What is hmm,” he repeats, trying not to sound too desperate. “Hmm could be so many things, Katie, you’re going to have to elaborate.”
“Well, there is one solution that comes to mind.”
“You’re a grown man, Christopher Whitelaw,” Kate says, with a huff of breath. “Have you thought about, you know—apologizing?”
“ Apolo —he was the one who attacked me!” Chris accidentally spills beer one himself, sloshing from an overzealous arm movement. He grabs a dish towel, glad noone is around to see.
“Listen. You’re my little brother, and I love you, alright? But Zach kind of has a point. You know that, don’t you?”
Chris bites his lip for a long moment, frozen with the towel wadded up in his fist. Then he slumps against the counter, still angry but it’s receding now, one piece at a time, like the tide drawing out to sea. “Yeah, I know,” he says, low.
“So what are you still so mad about? I mean, aside from having stuff pointed out to you while you were cranky and hungover—never the best time for painful truths.”
Chris stands under the bright florescent lights of his kitchen. The rest of the house is dark, except for the tv in the living room is on, soft sounds and blue lights moving against the carpet. If he’d made up with Zach, by now they might have been watching Bill Maher together: curled up on Chris’s couch, Chris’s socked feet in Zach’s lap, him pushing them off a dozen times while Chris innocently puts them back, till finally Zach gives in with an exaggerated suffering sigh. Chris misses that—it doesn’t matter that he’s been years without it before, and now less than week, because it’s different this time. Somehow that small smile Zach can’t repress when Chris is doing something obnoxious has become necessary to him; the days just feel all wrong without it.
“There’s more. Zach said—” Chris starts, finds his throat has closed up halfway; he has to swallow to keep speaking. “He said he wanted me to admit something. That there was something I should’ve known.”
“Did you figure it out?” his sister asks him, gently.
“Yes?” Chris says, then immediately shakes his head, frustrated. “No. I can’t—I don’t know.”
“Well, maybe you should think about it,” Katie suggests. “And in the meantime, don’t get mad at Zach for the stuff you don’t know.”
“But that sounds like way a mature, adult kind of person would react,” Chris says, attempting a joke.
“Yeah, imagine that,” she says.
“Stop calling me,” Chris says. “Why do you even call me? Why do I always answer?”
“You called me, idiot.”
“Oh, fine, if you want to put it that way.”
“Chris,” she stops him, laughing a little, then softens. “Will you do me a favor? Will you just call him? And try not to lose your temper.”
He glances at the timer on the microwave. “Now? It’s eleven o’clock.”
“So he’s probably awake and watching terrible late night television, same as you.”
“Or maybe he’s out doing karaoke with his twenty year old boyfriend, that’s a possibility,” Chris shoots back, sharp for some reason. The words sting in his mouth in a way they shouldn’t, because why would it bother Chris that Zach’s got a twenty year old boyfriend? He’s been fine with it before; it’s like, whatever. The way the world is. No big deal.
“Hmm,” Kate says again, opaquely. Chris hates it when she does that.
“I’m going to see him tomorrow, anyway. At training.” It sounds like an excuse, but Chris can live with that.
“Chris. You’re miserable not talking to him, right? So what’s the obvious solution, here—whether you apologize or not, you gotta talk to Zach. Simple as that. Two plus two equals four.”
“I’m not miserable.” Chris says, in denial. “I am a normal, functioning human being who just happens to not be speaking to one person in particular.”
“You’re full of shit,” she snorts. “Call him.”
“Fine,” he says, “Fine, you win, I’ll call him. Happy?”
She acknowledges that she is, as any sister who has browbeaten her kid brother into submission would be. They say their goodnights, and then Chris is left staring at his phone, wondering if things could be that simple.
After a while of staring without having the balls to do anything, Chris takes his phone and another beer and huddles on his couch with both of them, drinking steadily and morosely under the pale wash of light from the flatscreen. Two beers is not enough to do anything, even get him tipsy, so Chris can’t claim drunken folly when he finally opens up a new text message, types in: u know queer is a verb as well as an adjective? i think that’s queer. and then sends it off to Zach.
Then Chris puts his phone down on the cushion and watches two episodes of The Venture Bros and absolutely does not pick his phone up to check it, at all, not even once. But sometime around midnight, it beeps out its little notification chime, (which someone a long time ago had set to sound like a communicator and Chris has never bothered changing it back).
what a protean word. and it’s a noun, too. Zach’s written.
only colloquially. Chris texts in answer. There’s a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, he can’t seem to tamp it down. This is ridiculous. He’s still mad, kind of. But when Chris goes to sleep that night, it’s the first time all week he hasn’t dreaded seeing Zach in the morning.
Chris does it first thing, almost soon as Zach’s walked through the door to the locker room. And despite having anticipated this moment for more than a week now—when it comes down to the moment of actually biting the bullet, actually apologizing, Chris finds he doesn’t have to grit his teeth around the words at all.
“Hey, Zach,” Chris says, while Zach’s stuffing his hoodie and sunglasses into a gym bag. It’s early, they’re the only two people there yet, which makes saying this infinitely easier. “Hey, man, I’m sorry—I was an asshole, about the whole prank thing. I mean, I’m sure that in my life I’ve acted douchier while hungover, but, yeah, nothing comes to mind. So. I’m sorry about that.”
Zach looks up, jacket dangling from hands that have stilled, gone intent on what Chris is saying. When it’s over he rubs a hand over his face, once, then laughs a little. There’s a note of relief in the sound, like he’s been waiting for Chris to make the first move, and Zach proves this by saying, “No, buddy—I’m sorry for being an even bigger asshole in retaliation.”
Chris grins. It feels like the first time he’s done that in days, like his cheeks are stiff from disuse. “Well, then. As long as we both agree that the bigger asshole was, in fact, you.” It’s more joke than sarcasm, which feels good in it’s own right. Being mad at Zach for a week has been exhausting, and Chris is more than happy to give up the ghost of it.
“If it makes you feel better,” Zach adds, “you were right about me putting my shit on you. And in the interests of full disclosure, yes, I do understand you are not the closeted douchebag jock who tormented me in high school.” His tone is dry, like this is something he’s been told to repeat, possibly with coaching from Zoe. “My misdirected condescension wasn’t fair.”
“Okay,” Chris says, still grinning. “So like, should we hug it out, or what?”
“Shut up,” Zach says, laughing again. It’s stupid, for Chris to feel like this, like a balloon let off its tether. All this drama—it’s so damn high school; Justin Bieber probably has a song about it. Zach finishes putting his stuff away, while Chris belatedly shoves his everything in a locker. There’s a few of the stunt guys starting to trickle in now. Chris may or may not have broken one guy’s nose, during the last shooting. Okay, no, he did do that, that was a thing that happened. If Chris were a better human being, he would remember that guy’s name. Zach probably knows it.
“Does this mean you’re going to stop passive-aggressively letting me beat you up in training?” Zach asks.
“That was one time!” Chris sputters. “Also, true fact: my aggressive knows no passive. Never has, never will.” He draws an air circle around his body with one finger. “I’m like a tiger without the jungle. Like Mr. T without the bling.”
“Good to know,” Zach says, quirking an eyebrow.
“I pity the fool!”
“Shush, Christopher, enough. Children should be seen and not heard.”
Chris sits on the bench to put on his sneakers, pleased to note that Zach, who’s already ready to go, seems to be hanging around just for the sake of waiting for him. What a difference a day (and one little apology) can make.
Two weeks later, Zach throws a party at his condo, calling it a housewarming slash pre-table read table-reading soiree, because most of who he invites are the sequel cast who’ve finally gotten their hands on the full and final draft of J.J.’s extremely coveted and well-guarded script. (Chris’s agent claimed she had to pry the pages out of J.J.’s unwilling fists to make it happen, which Chris doesn’t chalk up to exaggeration in the least).
Except they’re all not so much table-reading as they are getting progressively drunker around the firepit in Zach’s backyard while gloating over choice lines and bits of scenes. And if the recitations happen to sound more like double-entendres the more the wine gets passed around, well. These things happen.
“Lieutenant Uhura,” Zach says to Zoe, from where he’s sprawled out in a wicker lounge, face half-buried in a scarf against the chill but his eyebrows still wagging visibly above them. “ Report to the bridge. With all speed.”
“There’s no time. The Captain is beaming in right now,” Zoe answers, adding in a smouldery little dip of her shoulders.
“Guys, these aren’t even that good,” John points out with unwelcome sobriety.
“What are you talking about,” Chris says. “I make things sexy just by being in the room. Someday J.J.’s going to give in and write that group orgy scene, I’m telling you. It’s in the cards. Captain Kirk needs no sex pollen. Kirk is sex pollen.”
“Okay, people,” Zach says to the group at large, all less than a dozen of them as most guests from the housewarming have gone home by this point. “Whoever introduced Chris to TV Tropes, kindly take yourself out into oncoming traffic. Thanks.”
Because it seems like a logical retaliatory move, Chris levers himself out of his own chair and goes over to sit on Zach’s legs. “Anton,” Zoe is saying, mock-admonishing, but that is across the fire now and seems very far away: what’s close and immediate is Zach’s quiet ‘oof’ as Chris misses his legs and lands half on top of him instead. Then Zach is laughing under his breath and groaning at Chris’s weight as they struggle against one another, ostensibly over the throw blanket Zach’s got wrapped around himself—in reality Chris finds his hands are tangling themselves around Zach’s forearms instead, or pushing at his shoulders. The conversation carries on without them, swirling away on smoke and night air and a murmur of voices.
“Ha, I win,” Chris says, low and triumphant, when he finds he has Zach pinned down—mostly because Zach had muttered something about ‘ridiculous idiots’ and given up the contest. “Of course, I always win.”
“By no definition is that a true statement, but sure, whatever,” Zach says, but there’s something indulgent in the way he’s looking at Chris, eyes half-lidded in sleepiness, hair tousled across his forehead from the wrestling. His hair is getting longer, it’s almost in his eyes, but he’ll be cropping it soon, taking on the persona of Spock. Which reminds Chris—
“Speaking of winning, Zachary, how’d you like that climactic fight sequence? For once I won’t be the one getting strangled to death; I don’t know about you, I kind of appreciate that.”
“It’s fine,” Zach says, “Doesn’t change the fact that my character still owns your character in pretty much every conceivable way.”
“First: that is a lot of ways, and second: you’ve got it all wrong, broseph. Kirk and Spock have a balanced relationship based on mutual reliance and respect.”
There’s something happening right now—an illusion like they’re alone, helped along by the fact that they’re tangled up in each other and speaking in low voices—and Chris doesn’t want it to stop. Zach’s here, and laughing up at Chris in this way that’s more breath than sound, and Chris has missed having this. It occurs to him, then, that this feels a lot like intimacy. And strangest of all is the fact that it’s not an unwelcome thought. Almost the opposite.
Suddenly Zach’s hand is slithering down through the space between them, and Chris can’t even breathe—but it’s only to pull out his phone, because Zach is saying, “Hold on, let me just—I totally have to tweet that to Leonard; he’ll get a kick out of how sad and naive you are.”
“Don’t you dare, Zach, the rule—” Chris tries wrestling Zach’s phone away from him, without much success. And then there’s a moment where Chris is basically holding both of Zach’s hands in his own, the phone lost and forgotten in the blanket somewhere, and Zach’s knee somehow gets between Chris’s thighs. Chris’s breath hitches just the tiniest amount, then, and they both go still as statues.
Zach’s eyes meet Chris’s, staring up wide and shocked, and just for a second Chris thinks—
“Hey, you two, what’s this—is that some hanky panky I see?” Karl’s voice couldn’t be more sobering if it were a bucket of cold water poured over his head. Chris sits up, untangling himself from Zach as gracefully as he can manage (it isn’t much), while Zoe chimes in with,
“Oh ho, Chris, are you helping Zach rehearse his scene with me? I always knew you were jealous.”
“Yeah, but of who?” Anton’s hoot from across the embers of the fire is just a little too prescient for Chris’s comfort. Or maybe it’s the goatee that’s disturbing—it’s very Freudian.
Chris smoothes his hair, tugs the collar of his shirt to straighten it. By the time he’s done that he feels in control of himself enough to say, “What, you mean it’s not obvious?” with a deliberate leer tossed over his shoulder at Zach.
Zach isn’t smirking back: he’s pushing his own hair back into place, sitting up slowly. He looks back at Chris like he’s discomfited by what just happened, and Chris can’t exactly blame him. His heart is still hammering in low bass notes against his chest, a half-step off beat.
Right about now seems like a good time to be heading home. And it seems like the others are feeling the hour, too, because just as Chris is getting ready to plead tiredness, Zoe and them are all standing up around the fire, stretching and yawning, saying the same things he was on the verge of saying. Chris checks his watch and realizes it’s past one in the morning; he hadn’t even noticed midnight go by.
The group migrates through Zach’s condo, making for the door. Gina’s woken up from her dogbed to see them all out, which would be cute except Chris still fears for his ankles around her.
Somehow—not by any design of Chris’s, at all—he ends up being the last one to leave, the last one still hovering in the doorway with Zach while Zoe and Karl take turns letting each other’s cars out of the driveway.
“Do you need a ride home?” Zach asks, while the headlights from the cars wash away down the street. When they turn the corner, the night sky gets darker somehow, and Chris and Zach are left with only the dim light from the foyer to see each other by. It pushes against Zach’s back, haloing over his shoulders. Most of his face is in silhouette; not much of a change from all the other times Chris can’t read it.
“Nah, I’m good, I’m fine,” Chris says. It’s true, because he took it easy tonight on purpose: just a couple beers to wash down the pizza from dinner, nothing in excess.
There’s a pause, the chirping of crickets seeming like the only sound for miles. Then Zach says, “You could stay, if you’re tired.” Chris freezes with one hand already dipping into his pocket for his keys—it feels like he’s forgotten how to move as Zach says, quietly, “You’re more than welcome to stay.”
Chris’s fingers uncurl from around his keys, one at a time. The breath that’s in his lungs, he can’t remember where it came from; he took it in so long ago, it’s almost gone out. “I’m not that tired,” he says. The words are an experiment, he tells himself, that’s all: he just wants to know what Zach will say next.
But Zach doesn’t say anything, not for almost a whole minute. His body shifts in the shadows of the doorframe, one hand reaching for Chris before—inexplicably, frustratingly—falling back to his side. “Okay,” Zach says, one word, and for some reason this is not the answer Chris is looking for. Were someone to come up and hold him at gun point, he probably still wouldn’t be able to articulate what that answer might sound like.
Zach’s moving away from the door, stepping back inside, but it comes along with an invitational tilt of his head. “I think there might be some reruns of Chelsea Lately on,” he says, and Chris can’t help it: he laughs, breathing again, and follows Zach to the couch.
The tension’s gone out of the night, after that—they sit close, and it doesn’t feel strange, and they make fun of the terrible jokes together. After a while Chris does get sleepy enough to lay back, stretching out on the couch and putting his socked feet in Zach’s lap. And miraculously enough, Zach leaves them there.
“Royal Gorge Bridge,” Zach says, pretty much out of the blue.
They’ve been jogging for thirty minutes now without any breaks—a big improvement over where they were a month ago, but Chris still has to puff a few times before he can manage, “Royal what now?”
“One thousand and fifty feet,” Zach says, matching Chris’s pace on his right, and Chris gets it.
“How about a—hell no,” he wheezes. The path they’re running on is inclining again—fucking Hollywood hills, man. Boot camp for the actors just finished up a couple days ago, with the stuntmen getting down to the business of training for the real stunts, and principal shooting doesn’t start for Chris and Zach until next month. They’ve taken up the running routine again, mostly to kill time and keep from getting too antsy, but apparently Zach’s occupied himself with other methods of de-stressing.
“Tallest bungee jump in the world,” Zach goes on, perversely. “Separates the men from the boys, Pine.”
“Or we could do it the way the Greeks did.” It’s a lame joke (punchline: ‘with a crowbar’), but the endorphins are rolling at this point, so they end up snickering over it so much that they have to stop, propping up against the trees along the path for balance. Could be it’s more of an excuse to catch their breath than anything else.
“Come on,” Zach says, “Don’t you want to do something cool to mark the occasion? The whole crew could go.”
“The occasion of what? Making a sequel?” Chris asks, not a little sarcastic. “Because that’s really—that’s a rarefied event, in this business.”
“Sure, whatever. Don’t act like you’re not totally stoked.”
“Did you just—? No, you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t let me have that. You wouldn’t use ‘stoked’ unironically in a sentence.”
“Of course not. I speak only in ironic pentameter.”
Chris laughs then, because he can’t not, it’s too clever not to laugh. The twitch of Zach’s eyebrows is like a bow. After resting a bit longer, they start heading back home, this time at a more leisurely pace.
“Got any plans tonight?” Chris asks. It’s for the sake of conversation, no other purpose.
“Yeah, we’re going out with a friend of a friend of Jon’s? I don’t know where, some holistic place. Don’t make the hipster joke, I’m going because I need to vet this friend for pet-sitting Gina.”
There’s a small prick in Chris’s stomach—not jealousy, no, maybe it's the wheatgrass sitting wrong—but he just says, “You’re hiring a pet-sitter? Wow, Zach, that sounds perilously close to something like commitment.”
“Hey. ‘Fuck off’—that’s what the pot says to the kettle, by the way. I need someone to watch her when I’m gone and I figure a person might feel more obligated to actually, you know, give my pets back to me if I pay them for it.”
“Jon can’t do it?” The name tastes strange coming out, foreign almost—and no, it’s not like Chris has gotten away with several weeks worth of not knowing the name of Zach’s ‘special friend’, much as he’d tried to avoid it. And maybe ‘special friend’ is a demeaning way of putting it—but what the fuck is Chris supposed to think, when Zach hasn’t used the word ‘boyfriend’ in any kind of personal context in the past few years Chris has known him?
Zach slants him a sideways look, nothing overtly suspicious, but that one small glance makes Chris feel as transparent as a glass changing room.
“Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of not having friends or family do it?” Zach says, adding, “He’s also not that into dogs—more of a cat person.”
“And that’s not a dealbreaker?” Chris blurts, and damn his brain for going there, and damn his voice for sounding way more invested than he has any natural right to be, just, what the hell.
“A dealbreaker for what?” Zach says, shrugging. “Being friends? Mutually wanting to fuck on occasion? Jesus Christ, I’m not that discriminatory.”
They’re out of the park by now, back on the gray early-morning streets of Silverlake. The cars blowing past them feel like the punctuation marks of an incredibly awkward conversation that Chris doesn’t even want to begin to have, so he reaches for a topic-change, anything—
“Let’s go bungee-jumping. You talked me into it, let’s go.”
“What?” Zach says.
“Weren’t we talking about that?” Chris jogs a little ahead, a burst of nervous energy coming from the ground up, enough for him to turn around and jog backwards for a few paces. Catching the frown Zach’s been making at his back, Chris plows on, “Maybe not the Royal Gorge, or wherever, but there’s gotta be dozens in L.A.—we could go this weekend.”
“You seriously want to go?”
“Sure, why not—live fast, die young, all that bullshit—” Chris is aware he’s making next to no sense, that’s fine, he doesn’t have to make sense: he just has to make it home without learning any more about the various and sundry guys Zach may or may not have mutual wanting to fuck relationships with—
“Chris—” Zach says, sharp, and then he’s grabbing Chris’s arms, jerking him forward until within the space of a breath Chris finds they’re nose-to-nose, finds himself at eye-level with Zach from inches away. It’s nowhere he hasn’t been before, except now it’s without a roomful of people and a scene and a script and a hundred other barriers between them. Zach smells like deodorant and sweat, and Chris feels exactly the same as when he got punched; all the air knocked out of his chest, that shocked feeling of being caved-in.
Then Zach exhales, letting Chris go, saying, “There’s a pothole, idiot. Maybe look where you’re going and stop trying to break your neck for a change.”
Chris looks over his shoulder and there is, indeed, a big hole in the sidewalk behind him.
He looks back at Zach. Neither of them has taken the step that would put them at a respectable conversation distance. “Sounds like good advice,” Chris says, when he can’t think of anything else.
“What is this?” Zach asks, a question which shouldn’t have caught Chris as much off-guard as it does.
“Uh,” Chris says, cleverly. “Exercise?”
“No, this.” Zach sweeps at hand at Chris, brows furrowed in that concerned way he gets. “You’re acting like my dog when she thinks a bee is chasing her. What’s up with you?”
“I’m not—I’m just—” And then Chris is left groping for words, for any explanation that doesn’t have to mention the jealousy, or the confusion, or all the texts in the past several days Chris has started but never grown the balls to send (none of them funny or pithy, all of them pretty much lame variations on: so i think i’m kind of attracted to you, i hope that’s not weird for you; or, can i fuck you out of my system, is that a thing i could do, does real life work like that)—or even mention, most tellingly of all, the real reason why Chris was freaked out about waking up in bed with Zach.
Nothing comes to mind. Chris shakes his head, stepping back, because if he’s going to lie he’ll need the space for it—but Zach reaches out again, fingers curling gently around Chris’s arms this time, and Chris stops moving.
“Nevermind,” Zach says, speaking slow and with care. “I think I’ve finally figured it out.” It’s enough of a throwback to their fight to make Chris bristle, tensing his arms to pull out of Zach’s grip—but Zach doesn’t let him, just holds tighter while he says, “Wait. I’m just going to—I just want to see something.”
Zach pulls Chris closer, leaning in at the same time—it’s just a tug, nothing coercive, and the truth is Chris can already see that intent in Zach’s eyes; it’s there plain as day. Chris has plenty of time to move if he wants to, to turn his head and shunt Zach to the side, but he doesn’t. Chris stands there and lets himself get kissed.
He’s waiting for it to be weird, but it’s not, at least not immediately—it’s just Zach’s mouth on his and after a few seconds of it not being weird Chris decides to test this, to see what’ll happen if he just—he tilts his head, opening his mouth against Zach’s. Then it’s the heat and slickness of a real kiss, and then Zach puts his tongue in Chris’s mouth and it’s not weird at all; it’s pretty fucking good, in fact, if the rush of heat from his scalp downwards is any kind of indication—
“Jesus,” Chris exclaims, breaking off the kiss, because he’s just remembered where they’re standing. The street is empty of any pedestrians besides them, but you can never know for sure, goddamn paparazzi.
Zach’s letting go of Chris, moving back with his fingers raking his hair, and he laughs in a short, surprised way. “I just kissed you,” he says, like he doesn’t quite believe it.
“Yeah, I’m—I’m aware of that, yeah,” Chris says.
“And the world didn’t end,” Zach goes on, not very coherently.
“Well, it’s still pretty early?” Chris says. He can’t help grinning, just a little—of either of them to be freaking out about this, Chris would never have put money on it being Zach. In a weird way, it almost makes Chris feel calmer about it.
“No, no, you don’t get it—” Zach’s almost pacing now, one hand still pulling his sweat-damp hair in wild directions. “It’s what I thought would happen, if I ever tried—if I let myself—see, I had this whole theory about the balance of the universe and the way you and I factored in to the balance—platonically, I mean, and now there’s this—.”
Chris doesn’t get it, it’s true, but he tries. He picks out what (to him, anyway) seems like the most salient detail. “So what you’re saying, is that you’ve thought about kissing me on more than one occasion. In great detail.”
Zach seems to pick up on Chris’s tone. He stills, looking back at Chris, taking in his smile and everything else about him. It’s like a light goes on; like flipping a switch. And even though Zach hasn’t moved an inch, still standing there with a hand on the back of his neck and glossy from the sweat of their workout, suddenly he looks as composed as if he were posing for the cover of a magazine. “Sure, Chris, yeah,” Zach says, speaking with those maddening eyebrows. “If you want to get all PG-13 about it.”
For a second Chris’s brain goes into mini-meltdown, a fractional blue screen of death, a teleprompter that only reads sorry, could you please repeat the question . But he rallies himself, valiantly, and after a pause he clears his throat to ask, “So, what did you—did you figure it out?”
“Well, in the sense that you’re about as dense as Karl’s back hair, not so much? But I’m pretty sure I’ve divined that you’ve thought about kissing me. On more than one occasion.” Zach’s voice is mild, but there’s a challenge in what he’s saying, in the way he’s standing close but not close enough, in the way he’s looking at Chris as if to say: the ball’s in your court, buddy.
And that’s fine. That’s dandy. It’s not like Chris is scared shitless that he might be wrong about this, or anything. He swallows, because his throat’s gone desert dry, when did that happen; he says, “The kissing is incidental to me thinking about fucking you—but sure, Zach, yeah.”
“Jesus, Chris,” Zach says, exhaling fast. His hands are back in his hair—easiest tell ever, especially for a guy with a flawless poker face—and his eyes, staring at Chris, are flatteringly thunderstruck. “Is this actually happening right now? Is this—are you just fucking with me? If Ashton Kutcher jumps out from behind a bush, I swear to God—”
“ I’m fucking with you?” Chris laughs, incredulous. “Nevermind that you’re the one who almost gave me a nervous breakdown with that whole prank thing, but aren’t you the one with a—you have a boyfriend, don’t you? With the name and everything.”
“Chris,” Zach says, and he’s moving closer now, his hands at Chris’s elbows are the jolt you get falling asleep, jarring Chris into a more immediate sensory awareness of everything that’s happening: the smell of mowed grass and the air too cold against his overheated skin and Zach, Zach, who is pulling him behind a tree like they’re in the middle of a goddamn Austen novel, heat and intention back in his eyes when he looks at Chris.
“Okay, this is embarrassing, I’m only going to say this once so listen up,” Zach’s saying, low and hurried, and Chris does his best to pay attention to Zach’s words as opposed to his mouth. “The prank, that morning when I had you in my bed and I made a mockery of everything, that was me fucking up, okay, that was me getting pissed as a deflection. I was terrified you could see how full of shit I was, Chris, because if you’re worried this isn’t mutual, it’s not, it can’t be—” Zach’s hands have found their way to Chris’s neck at this point, laying like brands skin to skin, but even if Chris wanted to he wouldn’t be able to move away, Zach’s eyes have got him stuck like a moth on a pin.
“It can’t be,” Zach’s saying, “because I want you so badly I can taste it; I—fuck, Chris, look at yourself,” he breathes out on a laugh, self-deprecation in the sound of it. “There’s an extremely short list of shit I wouldn’t do to have you, and, for the record? Blowing off the very sweet guy I’ve been kind of seeing, doesn’t make the list.”
“Wow,” Chris says, after a beat, and there probably isn’t a word more inadequate than wow in the human vernacular, but for some reason his brain isn’t functioning on all cylinders. “Wow, you—Believe me, you never showed it. You could give Lady Gaga a run for her money, is all I’m saying.”
It’s not enough—it’s the wrong thing to say. Zach lets him go, stepping back a pace. “Yeah, well,” he says, and it’s almost like Chris can see the walls going back up, brick upon brick. “You tell yourself there are certain things that will never happen, so you accept it and move on; it’s called living in the real world.”
No, just—fuck that, Chris might not be capable of eloquence right now, but he can still take back the space Zach’s trying to put between them, and so he does. “Things that will never happen,” Chris echoes, taking two fistfuls of Zach’s shirt for leverage. “I’m gonna just assume you meant something like this.” And as Chris speaks, he pulls Zach forward and kisses him. This time he doesn’t hesitate before jumping into the deep end. After only a surprised moment, just a staccato handful of heartbeats, Zach makes a low, pleased sound into Chris’s open mouth, putting his hands on Chris and kissing him back.
The sound of a car coming up the road has them breaking apart (seconds, minutes, Chris doesn’t even know) later, and—fucking roads, Chris thinks, who the fuck thought that would be a good idea; roads, what an asshole.
But he can’t really stay upset, because they might have moved away from one another but Zach is still holding on to Chris’s wrist—just loosely circling it with one hand, as if he can’t bear to stop touching Chris—and the look in Zach’s eyes, Jesus Christ; Chris is pretty sure he’s done nothing good enough to deserve a look like that, but damn if he wants it to stop.
“You know, it occurs to me that my house is, like, three miles away from here. From this spot,” Chris says, once he has the breath for it.
“With shortcuts? More like two,” Zach says, like he’s seriously considering hopping fences and running through people’s backyards to get there as the crow flies. And Chris just grins, sly—this is his own neighborhood, after all, he knows it pretty well—tonguing the corner of his mouth as if in consideration.
“Winner gets first blowjob?” he suggests, after a pause.
“Okay... so losing would be—what, exactly?” Zach asks, but he’s putting one leg back, getting into position. Chris does the same, muscles already tensing to start sprinting.
“On your mark,” he says, laughing, “Get set—”
Chris wins. Of course, Chris always wins.
Zach doesn’t even let Chris finish locking the door before he pushes Chris up against it, starting in on congratulating him with a gratifying air of urgency.
(To be fair, Chris is pretty sure Zach let him win.)
“So I’m looking—jesus —for a six or seven, here,” Chris manages to say between pants, as Zach is sinking to his knees, “You know—if I’m going to justify this—this whole bi-curious thing.”
And just the way Zach is looking up at Chris, eyes dark and hooded under those stupidly long eyelashes while his fingers are hooking with deliberate, vengeful slowness into the waistband of Chris’s shorts—that’s, god, that’s eight at least, already, just for that, Chris isn’t sure what’s going to happen when Zach actually gets his mouth on him, if he’s even gonna survive this.
“Please,” Zach says, with a low laugh and what Chris can only assume is entirely justified scorn, as he tugs Chris’s shorts down and mouths at the warm, hard line of him through the cotton of his boxers, tonguing over the damp spot where Chris is already leaking.
“Jesus fuck,” Chris curses, knees turning to water so fast that his back lands against the wall with a painful jar. “Zach—”
“Already looking for a way out, Pine?” Zach murmurs, glancing up as he steadies Chris’s hips with both hands, pinning him down with the same movement, and somehow Chris has to think his way through the smoking tailspin of all his coherent thoughts to remember what he was saying five seconds ago.
It comes back, the lame attempt at a joke. Chris gives in and does something he’s wanted to do for ages, threading his fingers through Zach’s hair—not for his benefit but for Chris’s own, another way of anchoring himself—and then there's no trace of humor left in his voice when he says, on the edges of a breath: “No. No, I’m not, I’m in this.”
@zacharyquinto hey don’t put mushrooms on mine, kthnx
@callmewhitelaw … Did you seriously get a twitter account just to micromanage your fucking omelette without getting out of bed?
@zacharyquinto i can smell the fucking mushrooms zach!! are you trying to kill me
@callmewhitelaw It’s fucking truffle oil! God you’re so pedestrian, why do I like you.
@zacharyquinto :) :) :)