That’s what Roberto and J.J. say. The interactions between them, they way everyone else around them is drawn in to just watch them with each other. They tell Zach it’s that magnetism that led them to hire Chris, because walking away from a connection like that is like flushing money down the toilet. Zach shrugs it off because it’s just Chris, that dude he’s met a few times, and he doesn’t see what all of them are so excited about. But then again, he never can see the forest for the trees. He is just glad that he can put in a good word and help an acquaintance land a job.
It isn’t until filming starts that he begins wondering if maybe they weren’t just talking about on-screen chemistry. If maybe it’s something bigger than he can wrap his mind around.
It’s peculiar. They aren’t friends, not really, but they are around each other a lot. They don’t talk much, and when they do it’s trivial. They don’t hang out together outside of a group setting, don’t meet for coffee, don’t send witty text messages back and forth. They just coexist, but in the most comfortable way. He’ll be in make up having his brows plucked and his ears put on and Chris will come in -- two hours earlier than his call time -- and sit beside him. He reads the paper or does the crossword or messes around with his iPod and is just there. If their eyes meet in the mirror, Chris will smile and Zach will smile back. It’s like Chris is offering a distraction in case Zach gets too wrapped up in his own head. Which happens. He’s never needed him, but it’s a comfort knowing he‘ll be right there when he does. It’s the best kind of company.
During lunches, Chris gets swept up in amusing, exuberant conversations with John and Simon while Zach keeps it quiet and low-key with Zoe and Karl. But the open seat next to Zach is always for Chris, and even though they carry on different conversations with different people, it’s weird if they aren’t together. Like everything is thrown off-kilter somehow.
The others say it’s an exercise in character bonding, but it doesn’t feel that way to Zach. Zach feels like he’s himself, and Chris is Chris and they’re just…whatever they are. It works.
They don’t start actively interacting with each other outside of scenes until the last few weeks of filming. Zach’s brother tells him a joke that he doesn't quite understand, but he knows that Chris will enjoy it, so one afternoon he walks up to Chris, smacks him on the knee and recites: “How many U.C. Berkeley students does it take to change a light bulb?”
Chris’ eyes dance merrily and he looks at Zach warmly for a few long moments before asking, “How many?”
Zach’s smile is small, pleased, “Seventy-six: one to change the light bulb, fifty to protest for the light bulb’s right not to change, and twenty-five to counter protest.”
Chris laughs loudly, eyes closing, laugh lines forming and smile so bright and wide that Zach feels the heat from it in his bones, and starts to laugh with him. Never having been to Berkeley, he still doesn‘t understand the joke, but Chris‘ laugh is too perfect to ignore. It never occurs to him to tell John the joke, even though he went to Berkeley, too.
They become the quintessence of inseparable. They talk about everything, some topics for no more than a minute (“Life can’t begin until I’ve had coffee.”) and some they revisit often, (“I don’t care what you say, Hemingway was a shit writer. I can’t wait to die so I can get to the afterlife and punch him right in his fucking face.”) but they always talk about something. It gets so that their cast mates either leave them alone, or form a circle around them and just listen. Anton tells them no one will join in the conversation because they feel like it would be an invasion of their privacy. Or something. Zach doesn’t pay attention much. He never pays much attention to anyone or anything other than Chris in these moments.
They don’t talk much after filming. But they do run into each other at a premiere for some movie Zach will never remember the name of. Chris is with a pretty blonde girl, but so is Zach, and when they talk it’s stilted and strange. He thinks about it for days afterwards and can’t quite pinpoint why it unsettles him, but it does. Then they run into each other at a coffee shop across town, but this time when they talk it’s like it was before, so Zach files the weird moment under Random Awkwardness and forgets about it entirely. He and Chris sit at the coffee shop for four hours. He misses a meeting with his agent and lunch with his friend, but it’s okay. He‘s used to losing track of time when he‘s with Chris.
After that, he finds that they’re bumping into each other more often. Maybe it’s because he starts frequenting the coffee shop across the street from Chris’ place instead of going to the one down the block from his own. Or maybe it’s because Chris starts going to their local Trader Joe’s on Tuesday mornings -- he knows that’s when Zach goes because he always has a late start shooting Heroes that day. It doesn’t matter why they keep bumping into each other, but they do, and it’s nice. He texts Chris a lot, just random things that pop into his head when he knows Chris is the only person who can truly appreciate them for what they are. Chris becomes close, personal friends with his voicemail and Zach never deletes the messages until his mailbox is full. He usually listens to them more than once because Chris is a really funny guy. And his voice is comforting to listen to.
In the end, he feels like it was a foregone conclusion the moment they met, but it doesn’t actually start start until just before the press tour. It’s somewhere around the end of January, or maybe the beginning of February. The date isn‘t important -- only what happens is.
Chris comes over in the morning because the construction in his neighbor’s apartment has been driving him batty. He accompanies Zach on all of his errands and buys him lunch for helping him get out of the house. It’s a nice day, eerily calm and serene, not that Zach minds calm and serene, but it feels like the big build, the calm before the storm. They go back to Zach’s house and Chris plays in the yard with Noah while Zach is in his office on a conference call with his agent, manager and publicists. Chris stands at the window and makes funny faces at him, almost breaks his nose against the glass when Noah crashes into his legs. Even right after he hangs up, he doesn’t remember what the call was about, but he does remember the way Chris‘ eyes lit up when he laughed.
The sun is setting on the horizon, the sky painted shades of orange, lavender and indigo. Zach is leaning in the door frame, watching Chris sit in the grass smoking a cigarette while Noah lies belly up at his side, lower half swaying against the grass as his tail wags from side to side.
“Thanks for letting me hang out with you, man. Did you know they can legally start construction at seven in the morning? Seven! I was going to lose my mind,” Chris says, tilting his head back to look up at Zach. “I really should get going, though. I wouldn’t want to overstay my welcome or any -- ”
“Stay for dinner,” Zach blurts, walking over to where Chris is sitting in the grass. He folds himself down beside him and reaches out for the cigarette in his hand. Chris hands it over willingly and Zach takes a long, slow drag before giving it back. He lifts his chin and exhales into the unseasonably warm dusk air before nudging Chris with his elbow, “I’ll cook or we could order in Thai or whatever. If you want.”
Chris’ eyes are so blue in the fading daylight that Zach wonders if they are even real, or just his imagination. Chris smiles slowly, warm, but almost secretive; he knows something Zach doesn‘t. “I’d like that.”
Unfortunately, Zach is a terrible cook. He tries making the chicken breasts he had on hand, but he is distracted by his conversation with Chris and they end up being dry, rough slabs of grossness, possibly infested with Salmonella. He makes them Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and an ill-fitting Greek salad, because that's all that he has left, but Chris only smiles, swearing to Zach that he doesn’t mind in the least. Even his lie seems sincere, so Zach uncorks his best wine and they finish the bottle. Afterwards, Chris politely requests a glass of water, so Zach, being a good host, stands from the table to get him one.
He’s standing in front of the refrigerator, door ajar as he pours water into the ice-filled glass for Chris. Then, Chris’ hand is on his shoulder, sliding down his back, then moving forward so his fingers are curling around Zach’s hip. Zach replaces the pitcher, then closes the refrigerator door and waits. When Chris’ lips find the back of his neck, he places the glass on the counter. Chris kisses him two more times, mumbling, “Kiss me,” against his skin before Zach turns around and let his lips meet Chris‘.
His brain is buzzing with too many questions, wanting to know what and how and why and how long and for Christ’s sake, why, but his body reacts like it had been expecting this all along, like it can‘t get enough. So Zach stops thinking. He sighs against Chris’ lips and opens his mouth to let Chris kiss him deeper, and he moans, pulling Chris’ body against his own, loving the feel of his skin and muscles beneath the cotton of his clothing.
It isn’t long before they find their way into the bedroom. Chris’ mouth is like every filthy dream Zach has ever had, moving along his skin like he lives for the taste of it. Zach rocks up against him, slow and steady, kissing Chris whenever he can, sliding his hands from his hair, down his back, to his ass, and back into his hair again. Zach finds lube and condoms, and then he fucks Chris deep, almost desperately -- not rough, but passionately. Chris’ heavy breathing, his panting, his moans, and the way he keens Zach’s name are like catalysts that push Zach closer and closer to the edge. He comes after what feels like both forever and not nearly long enough, gasping against Chris’ skin, teeth biting down into Chris’ shoulder. It takes him a long time to come down.
They lie in silence for the better part of an hour before Chris rolls out of bed, pulls on his boxers, and moves unsteadily towards the doorway.
“Chris,” Zach breathes, the name heavy against his lips, seemingly heavier against Chris’ ears.
He stops where he is and turns towards Zach, a slight frown drawing a crease in his brows. He regards Zach for a long moment, scrutinizes him really, then he shrugs, a bright, genuine smile lighting his face and maybe even the night-darkened bedroom as well. “It’s just…it’s not different. Does it feel different? Nothing has changed, Zach.”
Chris stares at Zach until he nods, accepting Chris’ observation to be truth, even though he doesn‘t quite understand it, not yet. Chris smiles, then leaves the bedroom. He can hear Chris talking to Noah, hear him moving around in the living room and then the kitchen. He returns minutes later, a glass of water in each hand. He gives one to Zach and sets the other on the nightstand before crawling back into the bed and curling himself against Zach’s side. Zach kisses him again, keeps kissing him until he memorizes the taste of Chris’ mouth, the feel of Chris‘ tongue sliding against his own. He doesn’t remember falling asleep, only that Chris’ body is molded to his own when he does.
In the morning, he and Chris go for a run. They have breakfast, make jokes about what constitutes news these days, and then Chris leaves wearing the same clothes he arrived in. They don’t kiss or anything, or even acknowledge that they had pretty exceptional sex the night before, but Chris gives him a high five and says he’ll call later.
Zach isn‘t at all surprised when he does.
Zach wonders if maybe they’re friends with benefits, even though it doesn‘t feel that way at all. It‘s somehow both more and less than that. Chris isn’t his booty-call, and he isn’t Chris’ Sure Thing. They hang out together, they do friend things, and sometimes they have sex. But sometimes they don’t. Zach isn’t entirely sure what to make of it all, but it feels good -- feels right -- so he doesn’t ask any questions. Besides, it’s hard to over-think things when Chris has him pressed to the wall and is kissing him like life as they know it is coming to an end.
The press tour is exhausting. He and Chris always have adjoining rooms for reasons he cannot begin to fathom, but he can’t think of a single night they spent apart. On the way to Sydney, he and Chris give each other blowjobs in the airplane bathroom, then jerk each other off in the terminal’s private lounge once they land. At the hotel, they sleep for a while before waking up to fuck -- Chris holds him down against the bed, teases him for too long before letting him come. After the premiere, he and Chris lie facing each other, recounting the details of the night before falling asleep, legs intertwined, long after the sun has made its presence known. It’s exciting at first, and they take full advantage of having constant access to each other, but near the end they mostly just fall into bed and sleep, entirely too tired for much of anything else. It’s what he remembers most about the tour: the weight of Chris’ body, they way he feels, how they just fit together. It’s the best part.
When they get back home, things slow down a bit. He and Chris go long stretches of time without seeing each other, and then they’ll spend a weekend holed up in Chris’ apartment making out, and fucking, and talking, and just being them. The paparazzi don’t really help the situation, either. Chris confides that he hates them with every fiber of his being, and Zach knows this is true. He doesn’t care for them much himself, but it seems worse for Chris than it is for him. They doze off on Chris’ couch watching a long-cancelled Australian soap opera, Chris’ head in Zach’s lap, Zach’s fingers in his hair.
Chris seems nervous when he slides two tickets to his play across the café table towards Zach. He murmurs something about hoping Zach can make it out -- he can bring someone special, if he wants -- but he will completely understand if he can’t. Just. If he wants to come, Chris would like him to. Zach smiles, feels honored, says he’ll be there. Says he‘s bringing one of the most special people in his life.
Chris gets a little too quiet after this conversation, seems a bit sullen, so Zach follows him home. The second they walk through Chris’ door he drops to his knees, pulls down Chris’ pants and starts sucking him off. Chris’ fingers are in his hair, on his shoulders, trailing across the back of his neck. He’s gasping and panting and whimpering, thrusting lazily into Zach’s throat. It doesn’t take him long to come, and when he does it’s with a sharp cry of Zach’s name and a series of soft whimpers. Zach swallows, lets Chris go soft in his mouth before pulling away. He presses kisses to Chris’ hips, along his lower stomach, to the insides of each of his wrists before tucking him back into his jeans and standing up to wrap his arms around Chris, who clutches to him like a lifeline.
“Better?” He asks, his lips pressed to Chris’ temple.
Chris nods, but he knows it isn’t.
He takes Leonard to see Chris’ play, and after the performance, he takes them both out to dinner. Chris is excited and animated and filled with such an exuberance that all Zach can do is sit back, listen, and smile. He drops Chris off back at the theater where his car is parked, and when they pull into the lot, Chris’ fingers dig into Zach’s knee and he turns wide, earnest eyes on him.
“You’re welcome,” Zach says, voice drifting up to an almost question at the end. He isn’t sure what Chris is thanking him for, but it’s probably not just for dinner. So he reaches out, covers Chris’ hand with his own and squeezes before repeating himself, “You’re welcome.”
They’re not dating. He knows this for sure, but he still hesitates for a noticeable moment when the Just Hot Enough guy in his yoga class asks him out. He doesn’t tell Chris about the date, but he does evasively decline Chris’ invitations to meet up for anything because he’s afraid that Chris will make a move on him and he knows he won’t say no. It just seems poor form to agree to go on a date with one man while you are sleeping with another.
However, he can only avoid Chris and/or telling Chris about his date for so long, and as luck would have it, Chris calls him as he is getting ready for it.
“Do you know what today is?”
“Sunday?” Zach ventures, cradling the phone to his ear while holding a different tie in each hand. He holds one against his shirt, and then the other before tossing them both to the bed. He unbuttons the top button of his shirt and smoothes out the collar -- Chris always tells him that a little bit of chest hair goes a long way in turning him on. He goes with that because Chris is right about most things.
“Not just any Sunday, it’s Shark Week,” Chris says. He can almost hear the grin on his face. Wishes he could see it because he’s starting to forget.
“I’ll set my DVR.”
“No.” There is only a lilt of a whine, but it is there. “Come over.”
“I can’t, man.”
“No, don’t say that. I’m making dinner and there will definitely be enough for two. Please just come over. Stop it and just come over.”
“I’m sorry, Chris.” And he is. “I can’t.”
“Why not? What’s been going on that is keeping you so busy? What’s so important that --”
“His name is Brian,” Zach admits in his quietest voice. He doesn’t know why he says it that way, why he‘s hoping Chris won‘t hear it. He doesn’t know why he’s been avoiding saying it at all. He and Chris are not a couple; Zach isn‘t cheating, no matter what it feels like. They are just…he doesn’t know what, but he knows he shouldn’t turn down a halfway decent opportunity when it is presented to him. He steels himself before continuing, “We’re, uh, we’re going out tonight, so. Really. I can’t.”
“Oh.” And Chris is silent for two long breaths before Zach hears a clatter on the other end of the line, some shuffling, and soft laughter. “Sorry. I just dropped…yeah. Uh. Yeah, I get it. All you had to do was say that, buddy! No big deal. Have a good time tonight, and uh, good luck? Not that you need it. But. Good luck. Um, call me and we’ll go get coffee this week or something.”
Chris sounds almost normal -- a bit flustered, but normal -- and for some reason, it makes his stomach drop in disappointment. “Yeah, of course. Of course.”
“Hey, I’ll let you go, then. I’ll…I’ll see you.”
Before Zach can say goodbye, Chris has hung up the phone. He’s suddenly feeling crappy, and he wants to cancel, but he doesn’t. Brian picks him up and looks really, really good, but not good enough to make him feel better. The restaurant is nice, the food is palatable, and Brian is actually pretty charming, but something is missing. That pull, that need, that desire either isn’t there, or isn’t strong enough so when they’re standing on Zach’s door step and Brian leans in to kiss him, Zach almost cracks up at how completely awkward it is. Brian’s lips are on his, and it would be sweet if it wasn’t so strange. Like his mouth is not his own and Brian’s hands aren’t around his waist, but maybe someone else’s.
They say their goodnights, and Zach only goes inside to brush his teeth before getting in his car and driving to Chris’ place. When Chris opens the door, he’s wearing sweats and his sleepy blue eyes are a little bloodshot behind his glasses, but he yawns and steps aside to let Zach in. Zach doesn’t tell Chris about his date, and Chris doesn’t ask.
They watch the Discovery Channel until the infomercials come on, and only then do they retire to Chris’ bedroom. They strip down to their underwear and neither of them makes a move for anything more than crawling into bed. Chris turns on his side and Zach moves behind him without hesitation. He fits his body into the bends and curves of Chris‘, wraps his arm around his waist, and presses his lips to his shoulder. Chris twines his fingers in between Zach’s and pulls their linked hands to his chest, holding them there. Zach falls asleep counting the beats of Chris’ heart beneath his fingertips.
He doesn’t see Brian again.
But then maybe Chris dates a girl.
He says maybe because Chris never out-and-out tells Zach he’s dating her, but he never says he isn’t, either. Zach knows what you aren’t is almost always as important as what you are. She’s tall and slender with long dark hair and deep, dark eyes and quite pretty. Zach meets them for drinks once and finds that she’s smart and funny, too. He doesn’t exactly take to her, but she makes Chris laugh and anyone who makes Chris laugh is okay by him, so as they part ways, he claps Chris on the shoulder and tells him, “Good job, man.”
He and Chris hang out as much as they did before but they don’t talk about what Chris does when they’re not together. Zach doesn’t ask about the pictures he sees on gossip blogs, and Chris doesn’t offer any information. They still talk and they grab lunch or coffee and Zach laments the imminent cancellation of Heroes and Chris offers to support him on his meager theater income when it happens. Except they don’t have sex. Which must mean Chris actually is dating the girl. But Zach doesn’t ask and Chris doesn’t mention it so they carry on like it’s business as usual. Without the business of sex, or the business of spending the night together, or the business of long, slow, deep kisses. It feels a bit like punishment knowing he can no longer have something he’d been given so freely for the better part of a year.
Zach makes plans. He works with his production company, he films shorts, he makes connections, he remembers why he loves what he does, despite everything. And Chris is always orbiting in his periphery and it sort of feels like the beginning again, when they were around each other, but blending into the background of one another’s lives. He works, Chris works, and the months pass too slowly.
It’s late when Chris shows up at his door. He’s happy to see him and a part of him, the part that had been feeling unbalanced and empty, knows why he’s there. Chris doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t falter in step, he just pushes Zach inside, shoves him down into the armchair and situates himself on his knees between Zach’s thighs. Chris is pawing at him, pulling at his shirt and pants, urging Zach to put his hands on him and so he does. He touches Chris‘ shoulders, his neck, his jaw, and his cheeks, lets his fingers reacquaint themselves with lines and curves and edges that used to be so familiar to them. Chris’ eyes look so blue, so deep and wide that Zach finds he can’t look away from them, so he doesn’t. When Chris presses kisses to Zach’s chest, his stomach, the backs of his hands and his knuckles, the curve of his hip bones and the swell of his cock in his briefs, Zach finally has to close his eyes and drop his head back against the chair. It’s been so long and the way Chris looks when he is like this makes him groan into the air. He ignores the way his lungs tighten when Chris pulls his cock out and takes him into his mouth, doesn’t think about how it feels exactly like an apology. Doesn’t think about how it feels like forgiveness when he comes hard and hot and thick against the back of Chris’ throat.
Chris doesn’t say it, but Zach knows he won’t be seeing that girl anymore.
Chris isn’t his boyfriend. Chris isn’t even his best friend. That’s his reasoning for not consulting Chris regarding his move to New York. He doesn’t need his approval or anything. This is what he tells himself, really, to cover up the fact that he’s actually dreading having to tell him. He knows he has to because he can’t just disappear into the ether and leave no forwarding address because that’s not something he does to his friends, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. Not with Chris. He doesn’t want to have to see Chris’ reaction, if he’s hurt, if he’s sad, or worse, if he is completely indifferent.
He does it the coward’s way. He sends a text message when he knows Chris is busy preparing for the Oscars and won’t have the time to call him back. i’m leaving for new york in a few days. we should grab dinner or something before i go. But Chris calls him back less than a minute later.
“How long are you going to be there?” No greeting, no pleasantries. He can hear commotion in the background and knows that Chris is probably at the rehearsals.
“Uh, pretty indefinitely. I’m not moving moving, but. I’ve got a place there, Chris,” Zach confesses. It‘s not until he says the words aloud does it hit him that he‘s done a supremely shitty thing. Chris is silent for too long, but the movement on the other end of the line tells him he hasn’t hung up.
“Fucking -- ” Chris stops and sighs in a way that sounds more like a growl than an exhale and Zach can nearly hear the questions he isn’t asking. He doesn‘t actually voice them, so Zach doesn’t give him answers. Which is good because he isn‘t sure what the right ones would be. “Okay. Okay.”
Zach stays quiet. Wonders if Chris can hear the thudding of his heart through the phone.
“What’s ‘a few days’ mean?” Chris finally asks, the tension in his voice humming like a too-tight guitar string.
“Monday night. Well. Tuesday morning. My flight leaves at midnight.”
“Zach…” Chris says, and he can almost picture the way his eyebrows are drawn together, eyes squeezed shut. He’s glad he doesn’t have to see it. Chris sighs again, “Okay. Well. Okay.”
Chris has to go after that, which is fine because the conversation is actually harder than Zach thought it would be, and he won’t dwell on why. He only knows that he doesn’t want to examine it any further than he has to, not now that he‘s leaving. The Oscars happen the next day and Zach goes to a party so he doesn’t have to watch Chris on TV and nobody asks about him, which helps him to not think about how he hasn’t heard from Chris since they got off the phone the previous morning. He hadn’t really expected to, but now it feels odd. Foreboding.
He gets home just after midnight, showers and crawls into bed, his phone tucked in beside him. Just in case. In twenty-four hours, he’ll be on a plane to New York and at the moment, he’s not sure that’s where he wants to be going. He sleeps for an hour before the sudden pounding at his door has him wide awake. The knocks come again, sharper and more urgently than the first time and Zach is out of bed and across the house in under thirty seconds. He unlocks and opens the door, only managing to open it about a foot before Chris is squeezing through the space.
Zach only has a few seconds to admire how great he looks in his tuxedo before Chris is slamming the door shut and pushing him against it, kissing him hard and deep. Zach moans into the kiss, pulling Chris against him and kissing him back. They stumble into the bedroom leaving a trail of Chris’ tux in their wake before falling into bed.
It’s rough. Chris sucks bruises into his neck and chest, his own short nails scratch into the hot skin of Chris’ back as he fucks him. It’s sweaty and fast and maybe it even hurts. Though whether the pain is in his corporeal body or his metaphorical heart, he can never be certain. They fuck too much and don’t kiss enough and in between, they don’t talk but they do shut out the rest of the world until nine the following night when Chris needs to go home and Zach needs to leave for the airport. Zach has to wear a scarf to cover the marks, but it feels like he’s taking some of Chris with him when he goes. Whether or not that was Chris’ intent, he doesn’t know. They never actually say goodbye, but Zach waves and Chris smiles and that’s that.
He’s in the city for seventeen days before he hears from Chris again. He calls and they talk for a long time about everything and nothing, like it wasn’t weird the last time they saw to each other. Then again, maybe it wasn’t weird. Maybe it was entirely in Zach’s head. Chris sounds fine. He sounds happy, so Zach is happy, too, even if a part of him feels so bleak, so alone that even eating feels like too much work. He’s still happy.
Zach doesn’t know how to react when he sees Chris for the first time months. Chris is with his good looking friend that Zach has only heard about once or twice and had never met until that moment and he’s hiding behind his sunglasses wearing a bright, friendly smile. He wants to hug him, just to feel the length of his body pressed against his own again, but he doesn’t. He lifts his hand and Chris slaps it easily. He wonders if there is still use for their other secret handshake. The one that involves hand jobs.
He tries not to be frustrated by all of the commotion around them when all he wants is two minutes alone with Chris just to see if things have changed. The red carpet at the film festival, the constant schmoozing with people he hardly knows and barely likes, the photographers at the after parties. He just wants everything to slow down or stop or go away so he can just have a moment to think, even if he knows all he’ll think about in that moment is Chris. He’ll wonder if they’re still that something, that thing Zach had never bothered to ask about. Or if they aren‘t. Because you can’t break up with someone if you were never together and they were definitely never together.
But Chris seems to know what is on Zach’s mind because he follows Zach to the private bathroom and slips in behind him. When Zach turns around to see him standing by the door, locking it with a quick twist of his fingers, he smiles. Somehow it feels like his first smile all day. At least, he’s sure, it’s the only one that matters.
“Hi,” Chris says quietly.
And Zach is stepping towards him, cupping Chris’ jaw in his hands and bringing their lips together. Chris’ fingers curl into Zach’s belt loops and he pulls their bodies together, their lips touching only barely, their kisses so tender and so sweet, more perfect than they ever had been before. Maybe because Zach didn‘t need their reassurance then the way he needs it now. Zach pulls back and opens his eyes to see Chris looking back at him, aches because Chris looks the way Zach feels, so he kisses the corner of his mouth, his cheek, and wraps his arms around Chris’ shoulders, pulling him into a tight, full-bodied hug. They lean into each other for a bit, Chris’ head against Zach’s shoulder, Zach’s nose buried against the skin of Chris’ neck. Chris leaves the bathroom first, and Zach a few minutes after him. Later, they take separate cabs back to Zach’s apartment, from which they don’t emerge for two whole days until Chris has a reading and Zach has a production meeting. He doesn’t see Chris when he leaves, but when he comes back a few days later, he doesn’t even check into the hotel room he books. Which is fine with Zach. He wants to sleep in their sex sheets until they don’t smell like Chris anymore, anyway.
His decision to make the drive from San Diego to Los Angeles is last minute. He tells Chris that he is going to be in California for a maximum of twenty-four hours because he can’t afford to be away any longer than that. He tells himself the same thing too many times, but as he, Neal and Corey are checking out of the hotel and heading to the airport, Zach changes his mind. And his flight. He books a flight from Los Angeles to New York for the following morning -- the absolute latest he can leave -- and rents a car. It takes two hours longer than it should to make it to LA and he sits on the floor against Chris’ front door for an hour and a half before Chris comes home. He walks up like he finds Zach sitting in front of his apartment on a daily basis.
“I tried to make it back for your play, but traffic was the worst I’ve ever seen it.”
Chris stops in front of where Zach is sitting and extends his hand, pulling Zach up to stand in front of him. He doesn’t let go of his hand. “It’s okay”
“I’ve been reading your reviews. They’re saying good things about you.”
“Yeah?” Chris asks, thumb rubbing circles against the inside of Zach’s wrist. Zach nods and steps aside so that Chris can open the door, and when they get inside, Chris is all over him. They kiss hard and pull at each other’s clothing until they’re naked and lying on Chris’ couch grinding against each other frantically. Chris is silent when he comes, but Zach cries out, chanting Chris’ name against his skin like a psalm. They lie panting on Chris’ couch for a while before they peel themselves apart, fingers absently clinging to skin to prolong the contact.
Zach showers and takes one of Chris’ tee shirts while Chris changes into sweats and they lie back down on the couch, not bothering to turn the TV on. Chris is lying against him, head against his chest as Zach moves his fingers through his hair.
“Your birthday’s in a month?”
“Mmmhmmm,” Chris hums slowly, the tip of his tongue just brushing against Zach’s throat as he licks his lips.
“You’re turning thirty?”
“…Yeah,” He says, tone sounding wary of Zach’s line of questioning.
“You, uh, you planning on getting some furniture? Putting some stuff on the walls? New couch maybe?” Zach says with a barely restrained laugh. “This thing is awful.”
“Oh, fuck you!” Chris laughs, tilting his chin to look up at Zach. “Maybe I like knowing I’m not tied down here. That I can go anywhere anytime.”
And then it isn’t funny. Zach looks down at him, fingers still curling in his hair. He pushes the possibilities of what Chris might be saying out of his mind, and leans down to kiss him instead. They fall quiet after that, but they don’t go to sleep. He can feel Chris yawning, and he’s more than exhausted himself, but this is all they have and the clock is ticking, so they stay awake. He knows things aren‘t what they were before. Chris says nothing changes, but he’s wrong. In three hours Zach will get on a plane and go back to New York and his soul aches because of what he‘ll be leaving behind and maybe it hurt before, but not like this. It’s like Chris kisses him differently now, touches him more deliberately, and Zach feels it like Chris is digging into parts of him that can’t be reached with touch alone.
It’s quarter to four in the morning when Zach finally pulls himself away from Chris. Chris walks him to the door and Zach hesitates for only a second before pulling him in and kissing him. He mumbles his goodbyes against Chris’ lips and is out the door before Chris can say anything in return. Before this, neither greetings nor goodbyes had been particularly affectionate. They aren’t lovers, so it isn’t something they‘re used to. But that part, that hole that Chris is digging for himself under Zach’s skin tells him that he needs to so Chris can‘t forget him. So he does because he feels like if Chris forgot him, he would cease to exist.
Chris flies in for the opening weekend of Angels in America and knowing Chris is out there watching makes Zach perform like his life depends on it. He wants Chris to be proud of him. Afterwards, there are interviews and parties, backers to glad-hand, and people to take pictures with. Chris meets him back at his apartment, and despite having not seen each other for just over three months, they don‘t jump at each other like rabid animals. Zach is so tired, so they kiss a little, and Chris talks to him, tells him how amazing he is, how wonderful, and that his performance reminds him why he got into acting in the first place. Zach has received many compliments over the course of his life, but none felt like these. In the dark of his bedroom, Chris’ body pressing against his own, voice gravelly but whisper soft, they feel like the deepest, most precious secrets he‘ll ever hear, and he never wants to share them with anyone.
But they do fuck in the morning. Twice. And it’s really good. Better than good.
They order in from Burger Heaven and they eat sitting on the counters in Zach’s too tiny apartment kitchen. Chris looks like something sinful out of one of those Carl’s Jr. commercials and Zach has a hard time finishing his food because all he can think about is Chris’ mouth and the things he can do with it. It startles him to realize he thinks on those things with just as much affection and fondness as he does lust. Ever perceptive, Chris notices his sudden silence.
Zach shakes his head contemplatively, then slides down off the counter and positions himself with his hips between Chris’ knees before responding, “You said nothing is different.”
“Yeah. You think it is?” He licks at some wayward ketchup in the corner of his mouth and Zach’s eyes follow the movement.
“I don’t know. I think…have we changed?”
Chris wraps his legs around Zach’s legs so that Zach is forced to fall into him. They’re nose to nose, and Zach can smell the onion on his breath. All Chris says is, “Kiss me.”
So he does.
The town car arrives to take Chris to the airport and Zach walks down with him. Chris slides inside, hand brushing against Zach’s and instead of closing the door, Zach gets in beside him. Chris doesn’t bat an eyelash, like he knew what he was going to do all along, though he does smile a little when Zach takes his hand, tangles their fingers together. When they pull up to the terminal, the driver gets out of the car to get Chris’ bag out of the trunk, and they lunge at each other. Chris’ hands are on Zach’s face, his tongue in his mouth and Zach is kissing him back like it’s everything. Because it feels like it is. Zach can’t say goodbye because he wishes so much that he didn’t have to, but Chris doesn’t either, so he kisses him again and then Chris is out of the car, slamming the door shut without looking back.
It hurts. But it doesn‘t feel new or different. It’s like it’s always been there but he’s just now starting to notice it. The hurt you feel when the anesthesia starts to wear off.
There are three shows left in his Angels run, and he’s only going to be in town for two more weeks before he flies back home to start preparing for Trek. He’s excited to be going home, he misses his friends, he misses his pets, he misses his bed, he misses California. Two weeks and he’ll be home. He’d be even more excited if Chris wasn’t leaving LA in one week to start filming that Jack Ryan movie. That’s not something he’s too excited about at all.
He’s on the phone with Chris, walking back to his apartment with a bag of groceries in his hand and Chris is telling him about the unexpected heat wave and how parts of his anatomy are sticking to other parts of his anatomy and he hates that Los Angeles can just turn from mild to sweltering at the drop of a hat. Zach can’t say he minds that much because his cheeks are burning from the cold and melting snow is seeping into his shoes a bit. He huffs out a laugh.
Chris is yammering on and Zach is standing on the corner of Second and St. Marks, the city rushing by him in a blur when he interrupts Chris to blurt out, “I miss you.”
Not Hey, buddy I miss seeing you around or I miss hanging out, man. There are no friendly endearments, nothing to soften the impact of his words or how much he means them, because he does mean them. And he needs Chris to know he does.
Chris stops what he’s saying, and then he inhales deeply before breathing out, “So much. Too much. I miss you too much.”
Zach thinks that if things hadn‘t changed before that they might change now.
Zach is back in LA for six weeks before the Trek cast is called together for a preliminary script reading. Chris flies in for the reading, but has to fly out later that day and neither of them is too thrilled about it. It is the only chance Chris has had to come back to LA since leaving for filming and they are going to be spending it cooped up with a bunch of other people.
When Chris strolls in, fifteen minutes late and carrying coffee and a muffin, everyone in the room smiles and shouts their greetings. He chats with them, slowly gravitating towards the opposite side of the room where Zach is seated, the chair to his left vacant and waiting for Chris. Everyone seemed to know to leave it open. When Chris finally plops down beside him, the din of the room fades into the background and Chris looks at him and smiles. It feels so good Zach thinks he’s going to be sick from it.
They settle down and the reading begins, and his face hurts a little from smiling so much, but Chris is smiling, too, so it‘s worth it. He drinks half of Chris’ coffee and picks the chocolate chips out of the bottom half of his muffin, but Chris doesn‘t complain, so Zach loops his foot around Chris’ and drops one of his hands under the table to rest on Chris’ knee. He knows it’s obvious that they’re sitting too close together, touching each other too much, but he doesn’t care. When he catches the eyes of his cast mates, they make no indication of noticing a change in their behavior. Maybe it isn’t as different as Zach thought.
The reading ends and Chris follows him to his car. Zach checks the time and sighs when he realizes that they don’t have time for anything other than to get Chris back to the airport, but Chris reaches over and holds his hand, so it’s not so bad. He pays the ten dollars to park in the structure and they drive all the way up to the roof and make out for the fifteen minutes before Chris has to get back on a plane. He sits in the car and waits until Chris sends him a text that says his plane is taxiing, and he looks up to the sky, pretends that he knows which one Chris is on, even though he doesn’t.
He’s well past ready for this part to be over; he’s tired of yearning for something he feels has been his from the beginning.
Noah is cordoned off and ready for bed when Chris’ cab pulls up. Zach is waiting in the doorway for him, takes one of his bags and hauls it inside before closing and locking the door. Chris shrugs off his jacket and toes off his shoes before closing in on Zach, looking travel-weary but content and glad to be where he is.
“Come on. Let me see,” Chris says with a slow, mischievous grin.
“No.” The petulance is far from attractive, but Chris laughs all the same.
“It has to happen sometime. Better sooner rather than later. Come on.” This time he lets Chris reach for his glasses and pull them off. He folds them carefully and sets them down on the side table by the couch before turning back to him. Chris looks into his eyes, then above them, smiling fondly. Zach ducks his head, but Chris catches his chin to hold him in place. He leans forward and kisses what’s left of Zach’s left eyebrow, then his right, Chris’ lips feeling cool and soft against the freshly-waxed skin. He lifts his head, looks Chris in the eye and sees traces of affection beneath the amusement. Chris smirks, “I‘ve always had a thing for Vulcans.”
He pushes sulkily at Chris’ shoulder, “Shut up.”
Chris laughs, then yanks Zach towards him by the wrist, and they stumble into a kiss. He wastes no time pulling him back and into the bedroom and Chris doesn’t stop kissing him. They strip each other and Zach takes his time, really truly takes his time now that they finally have it. He kisses down Chris’ chest, nips gently at the insides of his thighs as he stretches him open, fucking him slowly and too thoroughly with three of his fingers. Chris is gentle when he slides the condom down over Zach’s cock, squeezes hard enough to make him wince when he reaches the base, but Zach can’t be anything other than grateful because it had been much too long and he was already too close.
Chris rolls over onto his hands and knees and Zach slides in, leaning forward to pull Chris’ body upright and flush against his own. Zach rocks his hips, thrusting shallowly into Chris, drawing out each push and pull in the most delicious way. Zach wraps his hand around Chris and strokes, not to tease because it would be cruel to both of them to do that after this long. The sweat that builds between them makes the slide of their bodies easier and when Chris reaches back to wrap his hand around Zach’s thigh, he knows he’s close. He kisses Chris’ neck, his shoulder, thrusts deeper into him, breathes in the scent of his hair and his skin and his sweat and his whole body throbs with how much he‘s missed this, missed him.
Then Chris tips his head back onto Zach’s shoulders, his words coming at the tail end of a long groan, “God, I love you.”
And Zach is not shocked to hear it, because he already knows. The part of him, that part where Chris has dug a hole for himself, written himself indelibly under Zach’s skin, into his heart, across his soul -- that part has always known. He hopes that the part of Chris where Zach has done the same knows, too, and he wants to tell Chris that, but he doesn’t. Instead, he pants against his skin: “I love you. I love you so much.”
Then Chris comes, and Zach comes and they fall onto the bed in a hot, sticky mess. They lie together catching their breath for a few minutes before stumbling on shaky legs into the bathroom to clean up. Zach yanks the comforter to the foot of the bed and he and Chris crawl in. He stares at the ceiling and Chris stares at him and he wonders, vaguely, what it is Chris sees when he looks at them, at what they are.
Then it hits him, and he laughs. Disbelief because he never knew, couldn’t see what Chris and probably everyone else had known all along. They aren’t friends, they aren’t dating, they aren’t boyfriends or lovers; what they are is indefinable and Zach is embarrassed that he had ever even tried. From then until now, they haven‘t changed because they‘ve always been, were always meant to be this. Nothing is different. What they are now is just a variation of what they have always been, even when Zach couldn’t see it.
Chris’ hand slides across his stomach and he hums questioningly. Zach covers his hand with his own, and lifts it to his lips, kissing his knuckles.
“The forest for the trees.”
“Nothing changed. Nothing changes. Nothing changed because this, us, was inevitable…and you, what you said in the beginning -- how did you know we would end up like this?”
“You’re still stuck on that?” Chris asks with a shake of his head. He rolls towards Zach and presses a kiss to his bare shoulder. “It‘s not important now, though, is it?”
Zach pulls Chris closer and he thinks too hard, gets lost inside his head and regrets too much, thinks about how he could have done better. Been better. But Chris is right there, and this time he knows he needs him.
“Zach.” Chris’ murmur is soft and perfect against the side of his face and he shivers. “Kiss me.”
So he does.
And he stops thinking.
He‘s just glad whatever it is they have is theirs.