Zach wakes up to approximately 347 notifications on his cellphone. There’s an immediate, if vaguely apathetic, alarm going off inside of his head that the apocalypse may have started sometime around his third snooze button. That unease quickly transforms into something more substantial when he starts actually sifting through the carnage that is his current inbox. The “???” s are a couple hours deep at this point and take awhile to spin past but he finally manages to find ground zero in a text from Joe sent around 8. It’s only a link to an article hosted on one of those trash tabloid websites, the URL stating enough to confirm that whatever mess Zach just woke up in involves Pine. Just like that the anxiety plug has been pulled, draining out of him as he starts rolling his eyes before he can even click on it. How could the rest of the universe not be used to this man’s shenanigans by now? Lord, he tries to work out Chris’ schedule with an only half functioning brain, did someone let him get near an airport without vetting his outfit again?
But it isn’t one of his infamous talk show interviews, and it isn’t another quasi-porn photo shoot being released, it may possibly be even more shocking than the brown overall debacle.
Zach slides down his screen, scrolling past an emboldened headline proclaiming, ‘Trek’s Chris Pine gets caught with someone else’s pants down!’ to a picture that feels like a physical slap in the face. His whole nervous system seems to do a reboot, convinced that this has to be some type of medically related hallucination before it’ll accept the information that his eyes are transmitting at face value.
Wherever the hell it was taken was obviously trying to lower their energy bill, the entire background a grey and black haze of vague shapes. The flash is painfully bright, the two of them stark against their surroundings, light bouncing off their skin in just the right way to emblazon the sheen of sweat they’re both covered in. Chris is in profile, eyes closed, mouth partially blocked by the tastefully chosen censor - a heart emoji. But it’s either Chris or Zach has just tuned into the world’s worst version of the separated at birth twin plot trope.
That hair he never quite gets under control when he keeps it at that length. That stupid sweater that shouldn’t look good on any human being but hangs off of him in this ludicrously effortless way. That flashy watch Zach always rolls his eyes at. No matter how much it definitely shouldn’t be - It definitely is Chris and he’s definitely sucking some guy’s dick.
He texts Joe back after staring at the damn thing, searching for an out of place pixel, for way too long, ‘This has to be photoshopped, right?’
And Joe, as if he’s been glued to his phone screen replies back ridiculously fast, ‘I don’t think so, man. It’s hit the real sites. It’s everywhere.’ But it can’t actually be- ‘Are you telling me he hasn’t called you?’
Zach double checks. Weeds through the chaos of family and some friends and the better half of the Trek cast that all seem to think he’s the single source of advice on what people should be doing about this. Should they reach out? What the hell should they say? Should they just give him some space or would he take that the wrong way? Every one ends with the same swarm of question marks and a variation of, How is he? , that are all united in the singular meaning that they all undoubtedly assume Chris has spoken to him.
He tries to dump his pride. Whatever this is, or is not, isn’t exactly his business by default. Yeah, him and Chris are close. Closer than he let’s most people get. Close enough to know that despite the George Clooney charade Chris’ biggest fear is dying alone. Close enough that he wine-sobbed his way through the Miles break up on the phone with guy. So god damn close that Zach has had better conversations through only glances and small touches with him than the majority of the verbal ones he’s had with just about anyone else. So while he concedes he isn’t entitled to be the first in line for any explanation that isn’t owed anyone to begin with - he can’t help the haze of aching confusion that something like this never managed to come up before, that he isn’t being used as some form of comfort blanket right now.
Besides. Knowing Chris he’s probably holed himself up in a little Pine burrito, smothered under 10 tons of afghans and duvets, pretending this will all just wash away with the 5 O’Clock news. His first reaction is seldom action based. For all Zach knows, his team has literally confiscated all his devices and put him in a social time out while they scramble to find a hole in this. This isn’t about Zach as much as the not-so-little part of him wants to argue that it is. Or could be.
That’s too loaded of an equation to solve at the moment so he shelves it. Tells himself to grow up and asks himself, very belatedly, What would I want from Chris right now?
‘I figure you’re getting so many of these that you’ve definitely turned off your cell by now,’ he types out. ‘But, if you want to talk, rant, throw one of your cosmic tantrums… lines are open on my end.’ It sounds corny and rehearsed despite the sincerity. It isn’t like him to take a passive role, never felt like them to avoid the elephant in the conversation. But, he decides, if there’s ever been a singular time in their history for Zach to shut the fuck up — this definitely deserves a nomination.
When his phone buzzes on the counter less than 5 minutes later he assumes it’s another concerned citizen, or maybe just Joe losing his shit all over again, and chooses not to check it until there’s at least a sip of coffee inside of him.
A coffee he nearly spills all over said phone when he sees the notification from Chris instead.
‘So you’ve heard then. I thought I had at least until noon.’
‘I’m not that bad anymore, Pine,’ he lies. ‘Am I to take that response as a lack of denial?’
‘Is there another way to take a denialless statement other than being lacking of denial?’
Chris is arguing semantics, doing a dance of diversion, and Zach knows what he’s actually saying. If you’re wrong Chris will buy a plane ticket just to see your face when he tells you so. But if you’re right…
‘Am I to assume that your lack of denial is confirmation?’
‘Officially we aren’t publicly confirming, or denying, anything.’
Which the entire universe knows to interpret as, Yes, it’s true and we’re trying to figure out if you can prove it before we admit it. So it really is Chris. He doesn’t know why that bothers him. He’s already halfway to hating himself for how wrapped up in this he’s letting himself get. He’s being a child. He’s being selfish. And he has no goddamn idea why he even —
‘You going to ask? Or we going to side step this for awhile?’
‘Whatever questions you most definitely are hiding behind the veil of unwavering support.’
And that hurts, a little.
‘It isn’t a veil, Christopher. You have to know that however this happened, however this turns out, I’m always on your bench.’
He remembers coming out during the Trek explosion, how hard that inevitable choice was to make. But how easier the after was with Chris added to his contingent. They were barely a shadow of what they are today and never once did Pine take off the Team Zach cheerleading outfit. The way his whole face shifted to anger the one time an interviewer alluded to him being uncomfortable working so closely with Zach had played on loop in his mind for weeks. Chris has always been in his corner, no matter what it made people think about him. Zach has no idea what this revelation is doing to his insides, what the hell half these emotions he’s feeling even are, but it isn’t abhorrence. Whatever this is winds way more complex a path than that.
‘Shit, Zach. I know. I’m sorry. I’m a little all over the place right now.
Ignore at least half of what I say, okay?’
‘If there ever was a time to be melodramatic this is it. Plus you’re not exactly off here. I’m a little shocked you never told me. But I don’t want you to think that’s the peak of my worries right now.’
Even if, yeah, it sort of is.
‘Shocked I never told you?’
‘I mean, it’s obviously fine. I figure it’s new, right?
I get not wanting to shout it from the rooftops and then realize it was a mid-life-curiosity-crisis 3 months later.
Which would also be fine. ’
He’s rambling and can’t seem to stop.
‘None of it changes anything. I don’t care.
God, obviously I don’t care.
I don’t know why I’m acting like some dudebro who just had his frat brother come out to him.
I will never be able to make fun of you heteros imploding over someone coming out ever again. I swear I’m normally better at this.
Not that you’re heterosexual. Or aren't. Or that you're coming out.
A couple minutes tick by and Zach swears to himself he’s going to dive out of his 5th story apartment window if he types out one more freaking thing. He’s literally pacing back and forth, coffee long gone, and the caffeine hitting his empty stomach isn’t helping anyone. His phone is back in his hands and he’s irrationally trying to figure out what to say next when the damn thing starts ringing, a number he doesn’t recognize. On nothing more than a hunch, he picks up.
“It’s me. Sorry, Jen actually just brought over another phone. You can’t even imagine what the other one looks like at the moment. Shambles doesn’t begin to cover it. Though it was a lot of fun watching you sink that fast. As you can imagine, things are a little nuts right now but the dream team wanted to confer without me and it sounded like you’re halfway to a heart attack.”
“Jesus, you’re an asshole.”
“By your own math you already have me dead at 76 but I’m the asshole?”
“Only you would think this is an appropriate time for badinage.”
Chris laughs. It’s shallow but it’s sincere and it feels like it’s detangling something a bit inside of Zach. As if it’s living proof that, however they get there, things can feel normal again.
“Well only you would think this is an appropriate time for whipping badinage out.”
He sighs. “I’m going to try this again, and you’re going to let me, okay?” Chris grunts out some type of loose agreement. “I know I’m doing that thing where I try to tell you what your answers are before I even get out the questions. I suck at that, and I’m sorry.”
“Zach, it’s fine —”
“It isn’t though. But I do mean it — whether this is the first time it’s ever gone down,” another chuckle at the horrible word choice, “or it just never felt like it could be serious enough to warrant bringing it up or you’ve been secretly married to Mr. Corduroys for several blissful years — I don’t care. Well I care. I just don’t care.”
And maybe, just maybe, the silent, Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you ever tell me? Is screaming so loudly inside of him that Chris can actually hear it all the way in LA because his answer, when it finally comes, sure seems to imply so.
“I thought you knew,” and it’s saturated in disbelief. “I kind of don’t get how you didn’t?”
“Why? When did that conversation happen?”
He’s trying not to be accusatory. He’s supposed to be in supportive mode right now. But insinuating that this is something he’d forget is borderline insulting. Zach had spent pretty much the entirety of their first 2 years of friendship internally chanting his, Chris is straight, mantra. Through filming, through the formation of this platonic bond they’ve built, through relationships with other people until it finally was this concrete, unforgettable, fact etched into his psyche. To suggest that he glossed over a proclamation of otherwise is flat out irreverent.
He can practically hear Chris shifting, “It didn't. I guess?”
“Then how could I possibly know, Chris?”
“Berlin. I thought - I just thought it was pretty clear in Berlin."
He doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t quite know where to begin to find those words either. Berlin was a long time ago. And he knows that he has tried oh so very hard not to hover over parts of that trip. Not hide them away, necessarily, but not to over analyze them either. It was one alcohol fueled moment, a moment in which nothing even happened, and yet he knows exactly the one Chris is talking about.
He’s formed half of a response, something along the lines of, I didn’t know you even remembered that, when he hears movement on the other end. A door closing and a woman’s voice.
Chris cuts off whatever he may have said, “Listen, I got to go. I think they finally want my input about which road we’re taking publicity wise. But, uh, thanks. For not-caring-caring.” A beat and then, “And sorry? I guess?”
“No, no, I am. I think. Go! And good luck! I know it’ll be mayhem over there but keep me updated, when you can?”
And just like that, the line goes dead.