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It takes about four weeks of filming before everybody forgets about the hour-long workplace harassment training they had to sit through at the beginning of production. J.J. tried -- for about a day -- to try to exercise parental control over his cast, but he keeps getting distracted by his DP and one of the studio heads that comes to yell at him about going over budget and also diet Cokes.

By month two, as soon as they're out of the direct line of a camera, it's more or less the Lord of Flies out there.

That's the only possible explanation for how Chris staggers into work one morning -- 4 a.m. call, what the fuck, he hadn't been this sleep deprived in college, even -- to find that goddamn Cosmo interview photocopied and taped up all over the set.

It's wallpapering the plywood blocking behind craft services, pasted over all the trailer doors, and it's taped -- words facing inward -- over all the windows on Zach's trailer. That narrows the list of bitches Chris is going to have to get his choke on with, but still, Jesus Christ.

"What the fuck, dude," he yells at John Cho, because Anton had cracked under his glower after about 0.03 seconds and sung like a fucking canary.

John just stares at him. "You're kidding, right?" he asks. "'Baby, I don't have three hands'? You were fucking asking for it."

"Whatever," Chris mutters, and wanders off to makeup, where the girls there laugh and laugh and laugh at him, and it takes two times as long to make him look all beat up and shit than it normally does.

"Have you talked with Zach yet?" one of them asks, smirking, her dark blond hair curling over one cheek as she dabs a bruise under his eye.

Chris tilts his face a little for her. "Why? Is he going to walk me into a door again? I swear I only burnt his dinner that once," he says.

Sasha's grin widens. "He's been making a D-face all morning."

"What the fuck is a D-face?" Chris asks, and then Zach pauses at the opened door of the makeup trailer and pouts, with sad disappointment, at Chris for what feels like two eternities before he says:

"Nice interview," and leaves, spinning with a twist in his hips.

"...Oh," Chris says.

***

An hour later, in between continued failed attempts to you know, act, Chris is explaining the situation to Karl.

"And you know, he just looks like he's like, disappointed in me or something, which is totally ridiculous because it was a joke, Karl, and he makes socially inappropriate jokes all the time," Chris says.

"Chris, please, shut up," Karl begs. "I really don't care."

"Is he mad at me?" Chris asks. "He looked mad at me. I mean, it makes no sense that he's mad at me, but -- "

"Zoe!" Karl yells, and when she jogs over, dark hair bouncing, skin glowing, saying, "What's -- ?"

"Here," Karl says, seizing her arm, and doing a quick switch, jumping to his feet and jamming her down in his abandoned seat. "Chris is freaking out because Zach is mad at him -- "

"I knew it! He is mad at me!" Chris says.

" -- and I need you to pretend to care about it for a little while because I have children to live for and can't keep listening to this," Karl concludes smoothly, and runs away, that dick.

Zoe, whose face went from confused to amused in the time it took for Karl to run off, turns to Chris and says:

"Chris, wouldn't you be angry if your boyfriend said something like that to Cosmo?"

She sounds so eminently reasonable that Chris says, "Well, okay, I might be -- " before remembering that Zach is not his boyfriend " -- what the fuck, Zoe!"

"Well?" she presses.

"Zach's not my boyfriend!" Chris protests. One of the very few things he's not actually confused about is his extreme affection for pussy. Women are soft and smell good and he likes it when their curves fill up his hands, and also, long hair he can tangle his fingers into. And anyway, he went to fucking Berkeley. If he were gay, they would have ambushed him on the quad and educated him about it during freshman orientation.

"Sure, sure," Zoe allows. "Anyway, the point is, that's kind of a douchey thing to say. Plus, I'm sure your publicist is going to have fun slapping that back down when everybody starts Googling your name."

Chris pales, because he hadn't considered that. Also, he really hopes his Mom isn't reading this shit.

Which, of course, means that she is, and calls him that night sounding nasal like she was crying and says things like, "Christopher Whitelaw Pine, that is not funny."

"Sorry, Ma," he says out loud. In his head, Chris is still convinced he's fucking hilarious. And that Zachary Quinto is not his fucking boyfriend.

After he finally gets off the phone with his mother -- who spends some more time telling him that talking about his privates in public is not the way she raised him -- he gets a text message from his sister.

OMFG STOP TALKING ABOUT YOUR FUCKING JUNK GAH MY FUCKING EYES. LUV K.

Chris knows he isn't famous enough that this whole thing won't blow over pretty quickly, except that when he gets to work the next morning -- 6 a.m. call, death to J.J. -- this time, pasted all over his trailer are pictures of Zachary Fucking Quinto, with three hands.

"Oh my God, this shit has developed a narrative thread," Chris marvels.

And then Zach stumbles toward the trailer, eyes still soft from being half asleep mumbling "morning, morning" to passers by in that sweet, dewy way he does before he wakes up all the way and ticks between giggling and eye-rolling.

"It wasn't me," is the first thing that comes to mind when Zach freezes in front of his trailer. It's not a flattering picture of him, either: he's sitting in a director's chair, fake arm hanging out of a shirtsleeve, stuffing a sandwich into his face.

Only it doesn't work, because Zach just makes the D-face again, only this time it's more like a DD-face and takes off for makeup without dropping off his (atrocious) hat and (atrocious) scarf and (atrocious) manpurse, first.

***

"Wow, Noah's going to hate you even more now," Simon says, because he'd a bastard.

"Way to be helpful, Simon," Chris snaps at him.

They're standing around craft services again, eating all the baby carrots out of a massive vegetable platter. J.J., and by extension the PA that trails him at all times carrying an extra bottle of diet Coke, is trying to explain to Zoe and Zach how they should kiss sweetly, but not too sweetly, and with a sexual frisson, but not really, and also, become psychic so J.J. can mentally act every scene.

"I'm just saying that dogs have a way of knowing," Simon tells him helpfully. "His cat will probably hate you, too."

Under the lights, the DP is rubbing the bridge of his nose and Zoe and Zach are studiously attempting not to laugh -- Chris can see how hard Zach's biting his lower lip -- as J.J. alternates talking in a high-pitched voice and does the kiss from both angles at 3x speed.

"And talk loud!" J.J. says. "I don't want to loop this!"

"It's supposed to be quiet and intense," Zach protests.

"Okay but be quiet and intense loud," J.J. explains.

"I'm taking away your diet Coke," his PA cuts in.

"It's not like I put them up -- either of them," Chris argues, and watches J.J. shove Zoe out of the way and grab Zach by the neck and draw him tenderly close before breaking away and saying, "Okay, like this, but like, talk loud while you do it," and Zach gasps, "Jesus Christ, J.J. you scared the crap out of me!"

Talking around the hardboiled egg in his mouth, Simon says, "Either way, you should just be glad we already filmed the scene where he beats the hell out of you on the bridge."

On the set, Zoe is saying, "Okay, J.J., let go -- I've got it from here -- J.J.!" while Zach says, "Oh God, his watch is caught in my hair, ow ow ow."

Chris wants to make another few points in his own defense but then he and Simon are busy getting conscripted to help the make-up girls hold various things -- "Don't touch it, just hold it," Sasha says -- while they pry J.J. off of Zach and then begin the delicate process of a) gluing one of Spock's ears back in place b) chewing out the director c) asking Zach if he feels violated and d) shellacking Zach's hair back into place.

It's a 15 hour day, all told, before Chris traps Zach outside his trailer to say, "Look, I'm sorry about the baby I don't have three hands thing, and the photos, even though I don't know why I'm apologizing since I didn't do any of it, and I'm not your boyfriend."

Zach looks at him for a long, long time. His cheeks are flushed from just being scrubbed, fresh out of make up, and his eyebrows are funny and he's wearing those huge glasses again -- they hide half his face and it's got to drive Zach's mom crazy, her son has such a pretty face -- and dressed in skinny jeans, his hair a wild, damp mess.

And then Zach's eyes go soft and he says, the way he said "morning, morning," earlier that day:

"It's okay, Chris," and "I know you're not my boyfriend," and disappears into his trailer.

***

"The thing is," Zoe muses, chewing absently on the straw in her violently orange drink, "Why aren't you his boyfriend?"

Chris stares at her. They have staged a strategic retreat, because she's the only person on the entire set who even pretends to like him, and right now he needs a beer. He also needs to escape from the glowers of pretty much every man, woman and child who's ever met Zach. He got a threatening text message from Jacob, and it's really disturbing that an 11-year-old knows all those bad words.

"Because I like the vajayjay?" he ventures.

Zoe gives him a look that he wishes she'd picked up from playing Uhura, but it's bitchiness that's all her own, honestly. He remembers when he thought that ballerinas were sweet and soft-spoken. "Only the borderline retarded ones," she says. "I think you check for head trauma before you ask them out."

"Hey," Chris says feelingly, but then can't think of a single recent example to defend himself with.

"Besides, you went to Berkley, didn't you?"

"Okay, everyone has to stop assuming that means I'm gay," Chris says, signaling for another beer. The bartender is starting to glare at them, too -- is this thing on fucking Twitter or something?

"And even if you were," Zoe says, "You wouldn't go for Zach anyway."

"That's -- wait, what?"

Zoe shrugs, in that way when she thinks she's being casual. "He's actually got a brain, you know? It probably would just end in tragedy." She slides off the barstool, and pats him on the shoulder. "Still. Better to have loved and lost, you know?"

Chris sighs, agreeing, before he actually registers the words. "What -- I'm not in love with him!"

"Okay! See you tomorrow."

The thing is, Chris really isn't in love with Zach. They hang out, and usually they eat lunch together to go over whatever scenes they're doing for the rest fo the day. Chris has a stress ball that Zach gave him their second day on set, and Zach likes to hide it in weird places around whatever set they're shooting in that day -- he put it in the Tribble cage once, and Leonard had given him the eyebrow to end all eyebrows when Chris couldn't stop laughing. Chris always makes sure that he's in the makeup trailer when the Spock ears have to be put on, because Zach can't turn his head and catch anybody staring at him. Chris will go by Zach's house on their nights off even though his dog hates Chris with the burning heat of a thousand suns, because Zach's attempts to rescue him from being peed on or bitten are both heroic and endearing. Zach drags Chris with him to visit the Heroes set almost every day, hand warm around his wrist, pointing excitedly at what his friends are doing, turning back to grin and lean in close and whisper secrets that Chris can never remember.

"...Oh," he realizes.

***

The next morning, Chris has a plan. It's a bad plan, but Chris actually wrote it down and is going to go through with it, because if he is dating Zach, there are certain things that he needs to figure out, first.

Zoe hangs up on him twice before he can get the bulk of his plan explained, and the third time she hisses, "Pine, I am not going to be party to your sordid machinations," which is a sign she's been hanging out with Zach too long, too. And then she hangs up on him again.

Chris tosses the phone onto the couch and consults his list.

1) Determine degree of gayitude
2) Determine which sex acts you're actually capable of doing without breaking something
3) Determine Zach's interest in this whole debacle

He feels like writing "4)??? Profit!" after that, because he has no fucking clue what to do after that -- mostly because he can't imagine getting past 1). Groaning, he reaches for the phone again.

He ends up with Simon, of all fucking people, and this is just a bad idea on so many levels, but the list should probably go in order. Simon pulls up to his condo around noon, looking very skeptical.

"So," he says skeptically, "You want to watch porn? Scientifically?"

Chris really needs to have actual friends. This is the kind of thing they would come in handy for. "No -- I mean -- look, apparently I'm supposed to be gay. Right?"

Simon looks horrified. "Oh my God, please stop right now."

"And everyone likes porn," Chris continues, even though he doesn't, much, "So I figured I'd watch some and see if it, you know, worked. And I need someone to, like, be my baseline. And you're totally the straightest dude I know," and that's a lie, too, because Simon is the one who introduced Chris to pedicures.

"So you want -- " Simon stops, choking on the words.

Chris holds up the DVDs he snuck out of Zach's place three weeks ago, revenge for the theft of his favorite hoodie. "We've got Manhammer 3, Horndog 7, and Fraternity -- "

Simon is already revving the engine of his car and screechng out the driveway.

In the end, Chris ends up watching the porn himself. He is without a baseline, but he figures that he can probably safely compare this to the straight porn that he's watched in a lifetime of being a dude, and as far as gay porn goes, he can't really see the appeal. It just looks so uncomfortable, and... waxy. Seriously, all these guys look like fake fruit.

Still, he watches Horndog 7 (all 37 minutes of it) and tries, honestly tries to get through Fraternity Fucks, but it's just too weird. He turns off the TV and crosses 1) off his list; he figures he's more gay than Clint Eastwood, but less gay than Robbie Williams, and slightly gayer because he knows who Robbie Williams is. But he just can't see himself in any of those strange positions, making those strange faces. So it looks like he's just going to have to remedy Zach's D-face with some old-fashioned hetero back-slapping, or something. It's three o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, and Chris has a pretty good idea of where to find him.


***

But Zach isn't on the set, anywhere -- nobody is, really. The crew take their weekends off very seriously, and so far J.J. has showed a healthy respect for union rules that doesn't at all mask his terror of his PA, who is also the rep for the crew.

Zach did come here, for the first few weeks, even when he wasn't scheduled -- he'd come and hang out, wander over to the Heroes set, watch whatever was being shot that day. Chris would tease him for worrying that his TV show had forgotten all about him, and Zach would do a funny-yet-weirdly-creepy impression of Sylar before giggling. A few weeks ago, Chris had forgotten his phone in his trailer and come by Saturday morning to retrieve it, and found Zach slouched in the Science Officer chair on the bridge set, swivelling back and forth, eyes closed and listening to something that was probably terrible on his iPod. Chris had leaned against the door and watched him, for long minutes, wondering if he wanted Zach to see him. In the end he'd slipped away and called Zach from the parking lot, asking if he wanted to hang out and get his ass kicked playing Heavenly Sword later that night.

But the fucker isn't communing with his role or whatever the hell today, and Chris finally just retreats into his own trailer to brood -- because he made a list, dammit, and the last time he made a list it was because he was seriously thinking about asking Cindy to marry him once they graduated high school. That has to mean something. He's not a planner.

Of course, his fucking trailer is still fucking covered with fucking pictures of Zach and his fucking third arm.

There are a few different photos, apparently, all equally embarrassing. Chris grabs the sheaf that's on his couch and starts to crumple them in a ball; the picture in his hand is one of Zach standing up, shirtless, the prosthetic attached to his left shoulder and strapped awkwardly around his right side, under his armpit. It looks weird -- his nipple is pulled up at a truly surprising angle, and it probably left some really hilarious bondage-type marks -- but Chris keeps staring at it. Zach in the picture is looking at the prosthetic, his body arced and somehow not ridiculous. He doesn't look tanned, but at his hips, along the waist of his jeans, the sudden paleness is a surprise, something almost tangible, touchable.

Chris pulls out his list, re-examining number one.

***

When Chris finally gets home that night, his apartment is dark. He turns on all the lights, then switches them off, and wanders from room to room, staring out windows and wishing he still smoked, even though he lives in fear of his publicist and she's told him what she'll do if Chris does anything to ruin his "already-precarious good looks" any further.

He ends up watching "Heroes" with the sound off, slouched on his couch and trying to see Zachary in the glowering, shellacked psychopath currently onscreen. The first time they met, Zach was wearing an 80's sweatband and had a gray, threadbare v-neck tee on with truly amazing bellbottom stretchy pants, and was waving awkwardly at Chris from a mat on the floor where he was doing some kind of yoga pose. Sylar is hot, everyone who Chris has ever talked to agrees, but Chris can't see the attraction when compared to the way Zach laughs when he's hidden Chris's stress ball or the way he licks foam off his lip when he's drinking a mocha.

Jerking off to this is probably a bad idea, Chris recognizes, especially since Sylar's not actually in a lot of scenes and nothing kills a hard-on like Surprise Hayden -- she's cute and all, but she's 12 and Chris does have limits. So Chris turns off the TV and wanders to the computer, thinking Zach's probably famous enough for someone to have done some super-creepy clip show of him. It's still a bad idea, but Chris is restless and unsure and 1) is still kind of taunting him, and he figures what Zach doesn't know can't give him D-face, anyway.

Youtube fills in "zachary quinto clip" with almost indecent speed, and shows a handful of screencaps featuring Zach with various tragic haircuts. He's already seen every episode of So NoTORIous, including the outtakes, and he could probably get wound up just from all the truly hideous clothes that Sasan is put in, but Tori Spelling is an insurmountable obstacle and he keeps looking.

Finally he sees a thirty-second clip of something that has him hitting the "play" button so fast he almost breaks a finger, because if it doesn't get him off it'll at least give him a laugh. The picture is of Zach covered in -- something white. Milk, hopefully, but it looks like the worst kind of bukake film Chris has ever seen and he can't believe nobody on set has been emailing this to everyone else at least once a day.

And then he knows why, because whatever this is -- and whatever it is is a fucking travesty, with a really bad soundtrack -- is too weird to be funny. It's definitely milk, but Zach is looking incredibly pissed about it (which, Chris thinks kind of hysterically, is only fair) and he flares his nostrils at the camera and is clearly trying to kill the cameraman with the power of his hate and eyebrows.

Of course, because he's a pervert, Chris is hard halfway through his third viewing of it, squirming and uncomfortable but somehow unable to stop himself from unzipping his jeans, stroking himself roughly through the thick cotton of his briefs before giving up and sliding his hand beneath the waistband. He pauses the video at the beginning, freezing Zach's face as he's half-turning away, eyes still on the camera, and Chris has never seen that expression on Zach's face, ever -- Zach was one of those people who are born to smile, mouth curved upwards and eyes crinkling at the corners. Zach can inhabit all the characters he wants but his face -- his face -- is soft, easy to read.

Chris wants -- he doesn't know -- but when he brushes his thumb across the head of his cock, he can imagine that he could.

The milk thing might take some getting used to, though.

***

The list is crumpled in his back pocket, and number two is looking pretty dire, because standing here in the gay wonder emporium is making Chris not want to have any kind of sex, ever. He knows he's being paranoid, but he can't imagine what his publicist would say if she had to deal with grainy pictures of him entering and/or exiting a store called Spanky's.

Bruce has wandered over to the buttplug section, and he seems confused; he tilts his head the way Chris remembers from shooting the bar scene, a kind of baffled amusement, and turns to the waiflike clerk who's been following them nervously for the past ten minutes. "So, those things are supposed to stay in your ass? For how long? Doesn't it get uncomfortable? Or is that the point?"

This is why Chris likes Bruce; he's the only person on set who says worse shit than Chris. The problem is Bruce comes out sounding cool as a cucumber and Chris sounds like a dickhead, which is probably some hugely metaphorical commentary on their roles in the movie.

The waif starts explaining, in a low voice, and Chris tries to listen, but he finds himself watching the stain of red on the kid's neck, furious blushing that has nothing to do with his explanation and everything to do with the fact that Bruce is fucking fondling something called a Hole-In-One, looking interested and engaged and a lot like a professor talking with a very bright student. Chris rolls his eyes. Waif is going to be disappointed when Bruce's wife comes in. Susan had gotten distracted by the Coach store next door, but she'd refused to let Bruce come without her, citing the incredible hilariousness of Chris's Big Gay Adventure.

Then Susan does come in, and the afternoon goes downhill from there. Bruce turns and starts explaining -- Jesus, Chris winces, way to take the romance out of it -- but Susan looks intrigued, and they take Waif over to the strap-on section of the store and Chris ultimately leaves the store empty-handed, because no matter how good-looking Bruce is, there's just no way Chris is ever going to be happy knowing that he and Susan are getting a harness custom-made for themselves.

The next morning, Bruce zeroes in on him like a fucking guided missile. He's got his makeup on for the torture scene, but he's grinning his lunatic grin and Chris preemptively claps his hands over his ears.

"I'm very happy for you and Susan!" he yells, "But I never ever want to ever know, ever, what you're happy about! Ever!"

"Chris, let me tell you something about opening yourself up to new experiences," Bruce says.

"I hate you," Chris decides, and stomps off to his trailer.

He spends the rest of the day sulking, getting through his one and only scene -- with Bana, who likes choking him even more than Zach did, and Chris is seriously writing in some clause in his next movie contract about how nobody is allowed to throttle him -- before banging back to his trailer, which has been cleaned up of any and all remaining many-limbed pictures of Zach.

Instead, Anton is lounging on the bunk bed, reading The Order #8 and periodically squirting Cheez-Wiz into his mouth.

"Hey dude," he says, as Chris stares down at him.

"I'm pretty sure this is my trailer," he points out.

Anton just rolls his eyes. "I'm escaping the wrath of Quinto, and this is the only place he's not gonna be showing up."
Chris slumps down on the bed, shoving Anton to one side and grabbing the Cheez-Wiz. He wants to argue that Zach comes into his trailer all the time, usually unannounced, always a little shy at first with his stupid haircut and his stupid eyebrows and his stupid ears. But then they'll start talking about American Idol or gossip about their friends and he'll laugh, relax, stretch out.

But Zach hasn't been here all day -- all week -- not even to steal the stress ball which is lying forlorn on the table.

"Look, I don't want to get all up in your business," Anton says, "But seriously, he's stressing everybody out. J.J. looked like he was going to frown or something."

"Whatever," Chris mutters.

"So somebody told me you're not, you know. Doing it. With Zach," Anton says.

Chris, who had been aiming the Cheez-Wiz at his mouth, ends up getting a shitload up his nose. "Jesus, this is why I hated high school," he mutters, flailing for a paper towel.

"And my question is," Anton continues, ignoring Chris's plight, "why is he acting like you ran over his dog if nobody's doing anybody?"

"Because he's insane," Chris suggests.
Anton squints at him, then his eyes widen in horror. "You didn't actually run over Noah, did you?"

"What? No! God!"

"Well," Anton justifies, "It's not like you don't want to."

"That doesn't mean I'd do it." Just because Noah is an agent of Satan who finds a way to pee on Chris every time he goes over to Zach's house does not mean he would run him down like the bad-smelling evil minion of doom that he is. "I do have some self-control."

"Wow, Pine, growing right up," Anton says, which is the most annoying thing ever coming from somebody who's just gotten his GED. His phone goes off; J.J.'s corraling everyone for the next scene, which thank Christ Chris is not in.

Instead, he gets to go home early (6 pm is early, why did he think acting was going to be easier than a grown-up job?) and stare at the dildo-and-lube gift basket that's been left on his doormat. Six different dildoes, all bright neon and utterly evil. He's so busy hurling himself over it bodily before any of the photographers that had followed him home from the set gets a shot of this and gives Chris's mom another reason to call him and sound disappointed he doesn't find the note until after a wholesome dinner of cold ravioli out of a can:

"Five orgasms in three hours," the note says, in Bruce's chicken scrawl. "I DARE YOU TO DO BETTER."

***

"Not. A. Word," Chris says. He means it generally, but of course John Cho is the first person he runs into when he shows up on set the next day, so he ends up saying it again, only louder this time. "Not a word."

"Dude," Cho says, staring at him with wide, horrified eyes. "What -- ?"

"Shut the fuck up!" Chris yelps, feeling himself go high-pitched and frantic, because there's a small swarm of producers heading toward him with J.J. leading the group with a determined look on his face; it says, "I've already had a six-pack of Diet Coke today."

From behind him, Karl says, "Oh God, Chris, you're limping," and Cho says, "Dude, that's not just a limp -- "

"Oh God," Chris says, "oh God, oh God -- "

" -- that's a sex limp," Cho says, and of course J.J. comes into hearing range just as Cho adds, "Dude, I told Zach to go easy when he backdoored you!"

Chris has a sudden flashback to the time he took acid and then freaked the fuck out. This, he decides, is worse.

He'd drunk half a handle of Jack Daniels last night as liquid courage before he'd busted out the dildo and lube (called Boy Butter, Bruce was a sick fuck) and put the TV on Spice Channel and his laptop on YouPornGay.com. An unsuccessful half-hour later, he'd caved, found an old compact one of his ex-girlfriends had left in his house and ended up in a lamaze position, trying to angle it behind his fucking nuts so he could see what the hell he was doing back there. He'd held out for another fifteen minutes before he'd applied the "fuck it," principle, slathered up the fake dick and gone to town, and another fifteen minutes after that, tossing back aspirin and trying to angle his neck so he could inspect his goddamn backside in the mirror and check to see if he'd literally rippedhimself a new asshole, he'd thought, "Holy shit, gay dudes are intense, this isn't messing," and drank the rest of the JD to numb the combination soreness, humiliation and utter lack of orgasm.

And now, now he's suffering a sort of fear and mortification-induced vertigo that's making his vision swim. Any minute now, he's going to pass out and die, and it will be merciful, because at this rate, Zach's going to show up any minute and D-face some more while Chris sputters that no, it wasn't him telling everybody Zach was inconsiderate while he helped Chris out of his manginity.

"Oh shit," Karl hisses, voice lowered with sudden discretion, and John asks, "Do you think J.J. heard us?"

"I hate you," Chris tells them. "I hate both of you."

J.J. pulls up to a short, sudden stop in front of Chris, eyes bloodshot behind his glasses. "Pine."

"J.J.," Chris acknowledges.

J.J. stares at him for a long, considering moment before he says, "Okay, look, I hate prying into peoples' private lives, but you know it's in your contract that your sex life doesn't render my star immobile?" He looks down at Chris's carefully bowed legs. "And if there's any sulking while Zoe and Zach are doing their kissing scene today, I will end you."

Chris groans, "J.J., I don't give a shit who Zach kisses, okay?"

This is exactly when Zach bounces into range, wearing a pink-orange checked scarf, a pork-pie hat, skinny jeans and green Vans today -- all of which compliment his intense D-face extremely, extremely well. Chris opens his mouth and can't really form any words.

"Look," he wants to say, "I know I just said that, but actually, I do give a shit, it's just that I'm kind of sore and also traumatized from my amazing ass-ventures last night and maybe this whole thing is kind of doomed, but I have a feeling it would be a really excellent crash and burn, so maybe we should go somewhere and talk. Or make out. Whatever. Also, please tell me why you allowed someone to jizz milk all over you, because it's starting to haunt my dreams, and only 50 percent in a sexy way."

What comes out is, "Uh."

J.J. looks about as mad as he ever does, which is to say he looks kind of constipated, and says, "Okay, we're setting up for the walk-and-talk to the shuttle. Anybody seen Bruce?"

Zach throws one more wronged-woman look in Chris's direction, before heading off to the makeup trailer for his eyebrow-wax, and Karl and John take turns looking disappointed in Chris as a human being. Chris, for his part, slouches -- very carefully -- in his chair and makes a list of people he's going to set on fire as soon as filming ends.

The scene itself is boring for the actors and complicated for everyone else, walking through the bowels of the Enterprise on the way to the shuttle in order to turn off the drill. Bruce shows up five minutes late, looking rumpled and blissed out, and the grin he gives Chris is pure lech. Chris has no idea why he ever thought Bruce was cool.

"How's it going, Cadet?" he chirrups.

Zach has changed into his costume already, although his hair is still rumpled and he's still wearing his owl-glasses; his ears still soft and rounded and human. He walks like Spock, though, stiff and aloof, and Chris has to grit his teeth and strut along the way Kirk does, ignoring all the wrongness that his ass is communicating to him very clearly. Fortunately, J.J. only asks for a hundred and one run-throughs instead of his usual seventy thousand, and by nine o'clock Chris is shut up in the makeup trailer, ignoring the looks that are flying over his head like bullets.

He's grateful, though, that today is one of the very few days he doesn't have beat-up-hooker makeup on, because it means that there are just five minutes of awkward overlap between his makeup and Zach's. Zach, for his part, stares at himself in the mirror, but unlike every other morning he's not reciting lines to himself or trying to remember dirty limericks or laughing at whatever Chris is saying. He's just... staring.

Chris debates the merits of having the pro-dating discussion now, but Laila announces he's done and unceremoniously hauls him out of the trailer by his collar before he can psych himself up for it.

Karl, who has no fucking scenes today and therefore is clearly only on set to make Chris's life a living hell, is waiting for him. "I don't know how I became your sex therapist," he hisses, yanking Chris toward the costume trailer the way Bones drags Kirk all over the fucking Enterprise, and Chris could really do with a little less method here, "But apparently I killed and ate babies in another life and this is my penance. So tell me what's the problem between you and Zach and why he took it out on you in -- "

"Oh my God!" Chris protests.

" -- such an enthusiastic way. And before you start lying, Pine," Karl says, "Simon already told me about your attempt to recruit him into the fold. A free toaster isn't worth this."

"I wasn't trying to recruit him! And Zach and I aren't fucking! Trust me, I would know!" He takes a deep breath. "I hurt myself... some other way."

Karl looks appalled, the way Chris's grandmother did the one and only time he said the word "boner" in front of her. "Chrissy, you've been stepping out on your Mister?"

"Stop watching MTV," Chris hisses.

Karl rolls his eyes. "So, what, you were out jogging, you tripped over a tree branch and violated yourself accidentally?"

Chris stares at Karl, who has been a constant in the months that they've known each other, has run interference on the countless reporters and overly-attentive PAs who seem to think Chris is a penis-for-hire, who's never actually made fun of whatever weird thing this is between him and Zach.

"I stuck a dildo up my own ass," he decides, is the best way to ensure lasting damage to Karl's psyche. "It was neon. Neon green. And kind of sparkly."

Karl's face goes ashen, and his eyes bug out even more than usual.

"If it helps your mental image," Chris offered, "I used something called Boy Butter. It comes in a big tub -- "

"Oh my God, you're fired!" Karl shouts, and runs like a girl back to his trailer. Chris feels the warm satisfaction of a job well done.

***

It comes back to bite him on his sore, abused ass a few hours later, when Anton -- who is also not even scheduled today, what the fuck is wrong with these people -- can be overheard exclaiming loudly about how Chris was seen shaking his moneymaker last night at some place called Guido's. Zach is being forced to listen to this, his shoulderblades up against a wall and very obviously trying to channel either Spock or the serenity prayer.

"I'm telling you, apparently it's like some voyeur club. Karl told me all about it."

"That's interesting," Zach says, sounding kind of desperate.

"And Chris was all, like, showing off or something," Anton adds. "With a Vulcan dildo."

Chris would find Zach's face -- a combination of horror and "wait, what the fuck is a Vulcan dildo?" -- really funny, except he's sidetracked by thinking up ways in which he can trap Anton in the makeup trailer after telling the makeup girls that Anton's a virgin. He'd die happy, is the problem, Chris reflects, before he takes Anton by the collar and frog-marches him out of there.

"Why are you people like this!" he yells once he's corralled Karl, Anton, and John (who has disclaimed all responsibility but is still laughing hysterically and therefore is guilty by association) onto the next set over -- the jellyfish, the red ball rotating slowly behind the glass partition.

"I'm just telling him what Karl told me!" Anton protests.

"And I'm just repeating what you told me," Karl says, smug, although his left eye is twitching and with luck this little game has permanently damaged him in some psychological way.

"I did not do myself with a dildo at a sex club," Chris says, and feels like his affronted tone isn't quite in step with the reality of what he did, in fact, do. "It was in the privacy of my own home!"

And of course -- of course -- Zach has chosen this moment to catch up with them, and his face is Capital-D D-Face, and Chris should go after him this time, but he can't seem to make his legs move, and Karl and John and Anton don't say anything, and that's when Chris knows that this whole thing has gotten way out of hand.

***

"Zach! Zach, wait up."

Zach startles as he opens his car door, spinning on his heel. He's got his glasses and his stupid hat and his shirt says "Club Sandwiches Not Seals," which is wrong for a number of reasons, not least because it's too tight and also clashes horribly with his pink-orange scarf. Jesus, Chris thinks, if nothing else I need to get him out of those clothes so I don't gouge out my own eyeballs in self-defense.

"Chris," Zach allows, but he's got that pinched look on his mouth that looks like it's about to go full-blown scowl-pout-glower any minute now.

Chris was an awkward teenager and an even weirder kid, the child of a family of professionally attractive people. He's a pervert and has, historically, douche tendencies when it comes to dating, so he's wandering here in uncharted territory. He wants -- and this is bewildering -- to make sure Zach doesn't get that look on his face anymore, from Chris or anybody else, and he wants things he's not sure how to want, obviously, given his goddamn limp. When he takes an inventory, all he knows for sure is that he really likes Zach, and would like Zach to like him back, and that he has been thinking about kissing Zach for weeks, maybe months, wants to bite Zach's lower lip and lick at the corners of his mouth and feel the burn of afternoon stubble across his face.

"I really suck at this," Chris offers, and Zach's face just pinches together even more tightly.

"Do you even know what you're sucking at?" Zach asks.

Chris winces. "No," he admits, and before he can say, "but can you just tell me how not to so I can stop feeling like a dick?"

Zach does this totally fucking East Coast Girl eye-roll head-toss instead and starts getting into his car, which, oh, hells to the no.

"Dude, come on!" Chris pleads, which even he knows isn't his best work, so as a stop-gap he also runs over and pastes himself against the car door, holding it open as he adds, "Look -- you have to know I'm new at this. I need guidance, not shunning." Zach makes that stupid fucking face again. "And stop D-facing me!"

Zach says, "Chris, let go of the door."

"No," Chris says. He might not be chemically wired like people from an Atlantic coastal orientation to be a tightass but he can do stubborn jackass with the best of them.

"Christopher, I will close this door on your fingers and then J.J. will kill himself in the Paramount parking lot and then the studio heads will come after you with spears," Zach says reasonably. "Do you want that?"

Zach is probably bluffing. "Logically, they would kill you with spears for taking off my fingers," he argues, and feels Zach jerk the door hard enough that his fingers fly off in self-preservation as the door slams shut and Zach turns his keys in the ignition. "Zach! Come on!"

"Go away, Chris!" Zach shouts, which of course if when Chris has a moment of fucking genius and is forced to remove himself from Zach's door to the hood of the car, flattening his palms across the sun-hot hood and glowering into the glass. They do this shit in movies all the time, and okay, even though Chris isn't done this in a movie yet, he's reasonably sure that Zach wouldn't do anything awful like -- holy shit start driving while Chris is still trying to clutch at the front of it.

"What the fuck, Zach!" Chris shrieks, his voice hitting an octave he hasn't been able to achieve since his balls dropped. He can hear his sneakers scraping against the smooth paving of the lot.

Behind the gleam of the windshield, Zach is a fucking ice cube, his giant sunglasses perched on his nose, hands at ten and two, and Chris realizes it about a half-second before it happens because Zach crosses his right hand over his left on the steering wheel, then the car jerks left and Chris loses his grip and flails right off the car, hitting the asphalt hard and staring up, dizzy, at the dark sky, orange with street lights, as he hears Zach drive out of the parking lot way too fast.

"Fuck my life," Chris says to himself.

And then Zoe leans over him, her head haloed by one of the orange-halogen lights and says, "Maybe you should buy him some flowers instead."

***

So after Chris gets a group of sympathetic makeup girls to check him for permanent damage, he gets in his own car and drives around looking for a florist. Every halfway decent looking one is closed already, of course, but there's a Safeway on the corner that's got the lights on.

"What'd you do?" asks the girl at the flower counter, snapping gum. Everything behind her pink and green streaked blond hair looks halfway wilted.

Chris swallows hard. "I'm not sure," he says.

She cocks an eyebrow and grabs a bunch of white lilies, shoves them into Chris's hands. "Have you apologized?"

"I don't even know what I did!" Chris hears himself snap, and she just rolls her eyes and gives him a bunch of carnations, too.

"Is she talking to you at all?" the girl asks, and then squinting, asks, "Hey, aren't you that guy -- ?"

"No," Chris cuts her off. "And also, no. H--she sort of drove off on me." Almost literally, he wants to add.

She gives him another clutch of carnations, and adds this time a handful of tightly clustered flowers that look like peonies, saying, "Look, I think this is about as sorry as you can afford to be," and rings him up.

***

Zach's stupid dog -- and his stupid bandana -- are already going bonkers by the time Chris makes his way up the walkway to Zach's house. It takes him a minute to negotiate the massive bouquet and work the doorbell at the same time. It takes even longer for Zach to answer the door, and when he does, Chris can see the situation is worse than he had feared:

Zach is barefoot in those horrible fucking yoga pants and a Pittsburgh Penguins t-shirt. He's got barrettes in his hair to keep Spock's bangs out of his face and he's wearing the giant glasses and he's eating a popsicle.

Chris is hopelessly, helplessly attracted to him, and it's the most awful realization ever.

"What do you want?" Zach says, and Chris shoves the flowers into Zach's arms and stands there awkwardly trying to line his thoughts up into complete sentences.

"I want you to stop being mad at me," Chris says finally, since after the failure of all other possible avenues, it seems like truth is the only thing he has left at his disposal. "I don't even know why you're mad at me -- but my mancrush on you is epic verging on no longer heterosexual and I'm sorry you keep hearing like, awful shit that I say or other people say about me." He pauses. "And also, just for the record, Bruce Greenwood bought me the Vulcan dildo. That wasn't me."

Zach says, "Oh my God," and "You were doing so good up until that last bit."

"Too much?" Chris asks.

"You're so fucking handicapable," Zach sighs at him, but steps aside in the doorway and keeps Noah from biting Chris's ankle with his foot and says, "Come in."

Chris does. And then he sits on one of the kitchen stools and watches Zach hum a little to himself as he cuts the flowers to length and finds something to put it in and as Harold curls himself around Chris's ankle until Chris pulls him into his lap. Harold is a warm, purring mess in his arms by the time Zach turns back around, sets the vase of flowers on the counter and levels Chris a thoughtful look.

"You know," Zach says, almost hesitant, "Noah's a better judge of character than Harold."

Chris offers up his best smile. "Aw, come on," he says, and rubs Harold's belly until the cat's purring like an engine. "I'm not that bad."

Zach bites his lip, which is probably the most horrible and distracting thing ever. "I guess um. You didn't know about the three-arm pictures when you said that to the magazine, then?"

Oh, Chris thinks. "No," he says, with gravitas that surprises even himself. "No, I didn't. I'm not a dick, Zach."

"I know you aren't," Zach says in a rush. "It's -- I mean. That's why I was upset. I didn't think you were like that."

It makes something warm and shy well up in Chris's chest, and he must squeeze Harold too hard because the cat nips his hand in reproach and launches off of Chris's shoulder and away again, disappearing with a shake of his tail somewhere into the darker parts of the house, down a hallway.

"Looks like I just lost Harold's endorsement, too," Chris says ruefully.

Zach grins at him, still shy, but less. "He's just a cuddleslut anyway," he dismisses, and Chris finds himself leaning over the kitchen counter, putting his hand on the place where Zach's neck melts into his shoulder. He's warm and the muscles are moving under Chris's hands and Zach is tipping toward him, eyes dark and sweet underneath the fucking ridiculous eyebrows. Chris got a handjob in high school from some kid on the matheletes and in college he'd worn a lot of eyeliner and as a actor slash waiter he once got high with one of the skankier twink waitrons from Ivy and had a grope or two, but he's never kissed a man before, but he can't help but think that the real revelation is that he's never wanted to kiss anybody as much as he wants to kiss Zach right now.

"Can I?" Chris asks, in a whisper, and he can't resist sweeping his thumb over the soft skin just beneath Zach's ear, experimental. "I really want to."

Zach's face is wide open, his eyes as huge and dark as the spaces in between the lights on the view along Mulholland Drive, and he says, "Chris, seriously -- if you're just kidding around, then -- "

"I wouldn't joke about this," Chris says, leaning in, closing the space between them, "The Berkeley GLBTSA would kick my ass."

***

Chris opens his eyes against the glare of sunlight and also of Noah, who is about 0.0007 inches away from his face and growling in a low bass rumble that makes every hair on Chris's body stand on end.

The fact that he is currently wrapped up like a burrito by Zach's long arms and legs and -- hello -- does nothing to quell the small-rodent terror he feels when confronted with anything that has that many teeth. Not even Harold, who has perched on his head at some point in the night and is purring like a radiator, is helping.

"Shoo," Chris whispers, which really doesn't work at all, and he's never going to admit how relieved he is when Zach stirs, pushes Noah and Harold off the bed, and clamps even more tightly onto Chris, his nose brushing agains the shell of his ear. Chris sighs, deep and loud; his heart is beating fast for new reasons, and he can't help but grin at the way he's arching back into Zach's body, comfortable and horny and with the prospect of doing all those things all over again.

"Morning," Zach murmurs, "Morning."