rave (dorkorific) wrote,

fic: a passage that sings (1/2)

title: A passage that sings.
by: Rave (dorkorific)
stats: 17,000 words. R. chris pine/zachary quinto.
disclaimer: this could not possibly be more fictional.
summary: The one where Chris has stupid glasses and a lot of paperbacks, Zach knows too much for his own good, there are at least two lap dances, and everybody wants to sleep with Dorothy Parker. "Quinto Mad Libs," Cho says. "My date was: mean adjective, meaner adjective, devastating five-syllable mean adjective."

The original ficlet this came from is a passage that sings at trek_rpf_kink. Huge thanks to monkiedude for being both hilarious & helpful last summer while it expanded like the Blob, and to the_drifter for sticking with it when it hit its much-delayed second wind, and for generally being right about everything.

(I am trying not to make a big deal about the fact that this is the first complete fic I've posted in, uh, two years? BUT GUYS. IT'S A BIG DEAL TO ME.)



The first thing Zach's aware of is the agonizing glare of sunlight: the next thing is Chris, at his chair next to the bed, feet up on the desk. He's got a paperback open in one hand and a box of Cheerios in the other, and he's watching Zach through those ridiculous plastic-framed glasses. His hair is wet.

"Morning, sweet pea," he says. "I made breakfast," and offers the cereal box. He's wearing an old Berkeley t-shirt, letters faded, holes at the collar.

"Kill yourself," Zach says into the pillow. "Seriously, fuck off."

"How's that tequila treating you?"

"Go play in front of a truck."

"Nice. When did you learn all the words to 'Dreamlover,' by the way?"

Jesus Christ. "What?" Something bad is happening around his pillow. He touches his throbbing head tenderly: yes. His hat – which used to be a pretty nice Goorin Brothers thing, cheap but versatile -- is crushed under his left ear, drooled on. He thinks about trying to get it out from under his head but then that seems really difficult so he doesn't.

"'What' is right. It's you singing Mariah Carey to Zoe, and it's on my phone. Consider that shit sold to TMZ like yesterday."

"Here's a suggestion," Zach says, not very clearly. As wretched as he feels, there's almost definitely worse wretchedness yet to come. He imagines the hangover: a giant bat-monster hovering six inches over his head, waiting to shove its claws into his face as soon as he moves. "Die of pig flu. You ass. Why are you so cheerful?"

"Hangunder."

"That's not a thing."

"Apparently it is." Chris has his public laugh -- a politician's laugh -- but then he's got this weird hoarse bark when he's not On, which is actually preferable. "I was up at seven. I already did most of the crossword, but if you know a four-letter word for 'Transcaucasian capital,' I'll take it."

"'Baku.' Azerbaijan. They did it last week too."

"Fucking Azerbaijan!" says Chris, and bends over to scribble it down.

"I want a glass of water."

"Your wish is my command, Your Drunkesty," says Chris, bowing in the chair. He drops his long legs off the desk, heads for the bathroom. Zach watches his ass, not very covertly. The tiny zip of dopamine set off by the snugness of Chris's jeans might not be able to fix his life, but it's a good start.

Over the hiss of the faucet Zach yells, "Don't get my fucking books wet again."

"Do you realize you're in my room? It's my fucking book."

"What book is it? Do you have drugs? Get me some drugs while you're in there."

He hears the medicine cabinet open and the rattle of pills. "Carver. Collected stories."

Who is this guy? He's like a made-up person. "Really. And how's Creative Writing 101 treating you? Is college super scary? Do you think that cute girl in Freshman Health knows you used to have braces?"

Footsteps beside him; the creak of bedsprings as Chris sits down by his head. Zach could bite his ass, if he could move. He wouldn't, but he could. It would be tempting. "Front all you want: 'Cathedral' still skull-fucks you with its awesomeness," says Chris, shoving the water up to his face. "Every time. Open your mouth."

"Buy me dinner first." Zach pushes himself up onto his elbows, painfully, and takes the cup and the handful of Advil. He's actually going to die, probably. He will die here, in Chris Pine's hotel room in Vancouver. And then J.J. will dig him up and kill him again for necessitating a recast before they could even finish filming pickups on the sequel. The end. He wilts back down to the mattress.

"You're not gonna die," says Chris, uncannily. "Jesus Christ. What a drama queen you are. It's like you've never had a hangover before. By the way, I can't believe you're hating on Raymond Carver. Keep it up and I'm going to read aloud until you cry like a little girl from how hard every single sentence owns your ass."

"I'm not hating on Raymond Carver. I'm hating on you reading Raymond Carver first thing in the morning like that's normal." It's not just Raymond Carver. It's some new thing every day: George Saunders in makeup, Wallace Stevens during breaks, The Sun Also Rises over falafel while they wait for Cho to get off the phone with his wife. He's pretty sure he's seen Chris taking In the Penal Colony into the bathroom.

It's still kind of surprising -- not that he ever thought Chris was dumb. He clearly isn't dumb, he just seemed like the kind of not-dumb that isn't exactly a genius either, a type Zach's a little too familiar with. At the first meeting when they were talking about character it was okay but not exciting, all very basic stuff about Kirk's Self-Construction presented really earnestly, like Chris had invented the word "actualize." At one point it definitely sounded like he said "all intensive purposes," which: nope.

Anyway he was too pretty to be all that smart. Which was all fine, whatever, they could get along; it just wasn't very interesting.

Except then Chris turned out to be a little bit interesting.

"It's not first thing," he's saying now. "I told you, I did the crossword. Incidentally, big talk from the guy who brought Nicomachean Ethics to makeup."

"That was different."

"In what possible way?"

A lot of ways. For one thing, Zach isn't some blue-eyed polo-team-looking golden boy whose I.Q. sheds fifty points every time a pretty girl uncrosses her legs within a thirty-foot radius, not that that should make a difference, but it does.

For another thing Zach doesn't want to live inside Nicomachean Ethics, or anything else. Sure, he can get behind the idea, happiness equals life of purposeful virtue or whatever -- it's great in theory. But that's not the same. He doesn't read books the way Chris does: burrowing down inside them, loving them stupid, dogearing passages and probably writing them down in some secret Moleskine of English-major patheticness. It just doesn't seem to fit with the rest of him, the rest of him being kind of a standard-issue douchebag.

None of this is anything he can explain properly, so he just says, "Please don't read aloud. One, my whole life is a giant headache, so the less you talk the better, and two, Carver loses a lot off the page."

"Slander."

"Facts. It's part of the magic. All that feeling from those asshole narrators of his. Find me a passage that sings and we'll talk." Okay, he's actually feeling better. Maybe he never felt that bad to begin with, maybe it was just one of those things where all you have to fear is fear itself. He extricates the hat, drops it on the floor, tries sitting up. It's bad, but not unbearable. Though he does realize belatedly that he's still wearing his left sneaker. Nice.

"Oh, it's on," says Chris. "I'm gonna sing a passage all over your face. Get ready for it." He flips a page, rubs his mouth absently.

Zach has a split-second flash of fantasy, an old standby. Chris on his knees, eyes dark and electric: that generous mouth wrapped wet-hot around his dick. Except in this version Chris is wearing those dumb glasses, which is weird, and sort of endearing. It might have to be added to the rotation.

"Thanks for the bed, in case I didn't mention," Zach says, watching him. "Where'd you sleep?"

Chris gives him a curious little look. Then he says, "Snuggled with Karl." He flips a page.

"In your dreams."

"Snuggled with you."

"In the rest of your dreams."

"I slept on the floor. That's why there's all those pillows there. Happy now?"

"Exquisitely," Zach says. He isn't sure why he's not making a joke about it: what a beautiful night it was, how special, whether Chris will ask him to prom now, or something about how a gentleman wouldn't have taken advantage. But Chris isn't making the joke either, so.

"So what's this passage?" he says instead. "Go ahead. Thrill me." He pulls his knees up and rests his elbows on them.

"Actually, I don't know. I don't think it's going to have the full impact," Chris says. He rubs the back of his neck, almost self-consciously. "You kind of need the build-up to get how great it is. It's cheap just coming in at the end."

"Told you," Zach says, spreading his hands in a half-shrug. "It loses the magic. Out-English-majored by a theater queen. How's that feel, Berkeley?"

"Suck my dick," Chris says, without rancor. "I poisoned your Advil. Did I say it lost the magic? No, I said it was cheap coming in at the end."

"Whatever," Zach says. "I'm hearing the whine of surrender in your voice."

"This isn't surrender, dude, it's a deferral." Chris closes the book definitively and slides it into the pocket of his jeans. Weirdly disappointing. "I'm gonna spring it on you now when you least expect it. You'll be in the bathroom somewhere and I'll suddenly leap out of the plants like: bam! Carvered."

"I had no idea it was that easy to make you give up."

"Give up? Listen," Chris says, "it's the anticipation that's gonna kill you. Nothing’s ever as interesting once you actually get it. You know you're still wearing one shoe?"

"To keep my toes warm," Zach says. "Obviously."

"I think people like you best because you're so resourceful," Chris says thoughtfully.

*


He and Chris didn't actually see each other much, just the two of them, back in real life. (Or what constituted real life in the wake of the first film; even measured by Zach's bent standards, that period of his life was fairly fucking surreal.) They met for drinks or coffee occasionally, almost always with other people. They ran into each other at parties. Zach had people over for beers all the time, and Chris would come on occasion -- Noah, the sap, took to him immediately -- but Zach was always too busy hosting to pay him special attention. They just weren't that close, really.

They did text a lot, though. Like when Zach was on a treadmill next to someone saying ridiculous things, or Maureen Dowd had something extra-inane in the paper, or Chris couldn't remember the words to whatever Phil Collins song was stuck in his head.

Did u know penguins can jump 6ft in the air?, Chris wrote once, around two a.m. on a Tuesday, a couple of months after they finished the press tour on the first film.

Neato! Go to bed. In his dark room the light from the phone was jarring. Noah, who'd been asleep at the end of the bed, made a discontented sound and stiffly stretched out all four legs.

After a few seconds the phone buzzed again.
Word penguin is derived from the welsh. Means 'white head' fyi, think about that next time u buy clearasil

I don't buy clearasil- perfect complexion already. Discovery channel is rotting your brain.

What little remains. What are u doing

Actually I'm in the middle of a date.

Dude so stop texting me back. U need date etiquette lessons. Is he ugly or something?

No.

worst date EVER. Put down the phone & be normal or Ill cause a scandal & ruin ur non-relationship

Zach wrote something, he hardly knew what, then erased it. He was trying again --
Naked pictures? -- when the light started to flash.

ZACHARY MY PANTHER I LOVED HOW U TOUCHED ME IN THE BAGEL AISLE THIS MORNING = GAY SEX TORNADO. Then, a few seconds later, WHEN WILL U FLY W/ ME TO MY VILLA IN SANTORINI & EAT RASPBERRY JAM OFF MY ASS

You have so much to learn about what gay sex is not, Zach wrote.

Ill have to drop by your continuing ed classes sometime.

"Who keeps calling?" mumbled Brian, rolling over.

"Some guy I fucked at the gym," Zach said. He was sort of sorry about it, but sometimes you couldn't be okay and be nice, both at once. Sometimes if you weren't mean, if you really tried to be good, you had to admit to yourself you were faking it.

Put up or shut up, he wrote.

The phone buzzed again.
ALL IM WEARING IS A FIREMAN HAT & A SEQUINED THONG WITH UR INITIALS ON IT

All Brian said was, "Put him on silent for two goddamn seconds, will you?" and rolled out of bed to pee. He wasn't at all ugly; plus he was a good guy. They both knew what was up.

While Brian was in the bathroom he sent
That's nice. Seriously, why are you up watching Nature & sending me obscene messages at 2am? but Chris didn't write back for a couple of days. When he finally did it was about whether or not he should buy a Slanket. So, whatever.

*


He doesn't usually injure himself when he drinks but apparently waking-up-in-Chris's-hotel-room days are special, because when he gets back to his own bathroom to shower, he counts five mysterious bruises. (Also three one-dollar bills in his underwear, and half a crumpled-up receipt in his pocket on which someone has scrawled, mysteriously, PORN / NOT PORN? and circled the former.) Two on the outside of the left shin, along the same latitude, as if he banged into something and then backed up and then did it again from a slightly different angle: one on his elbow; one on the inside of his right knee; and one, yellow-green and particularly tender, actually under his jaw, which probably comes from the hat, somehow.

Zach shaves over it as gingerly as possible, but it throbs mercilessly under the pressure and he hisses a little, wincing in the mirror. He's clean and basically awake now, due in makeup in half an hour, but he still looks monstrous. He rinses the razor off and pokes disconsolately at the bags under one eye.

When was the last time he woke up in a hotel room with no idea how he got there? Ten years ago, at least, for God's sake. Zach is a healthy person. He maintains control. Things have been a little wild for the past couple of years -- which is, okay, an understatement -- and control under these circumstances is important.

Just because you're wrapping a multi-million dollar sequel, he informs himself silently, doesn't give you license to behave like a goddamn Lohan. What's next? Dating girls for attention? Throwing drinks at Hilary Duff? He has goals, god dammit, goals which don't involve any of the behavior he's exhibited this morning.

"Get your shit together," he says aloud, stabbing his finger into the mirror for emphasis. "I'm serious. You're a disgrace right now." His reflection stares back at him. He looks like King Haggard.

"Ugh," Zach says, dropping his finger, and goes to find clothes.

*


Chris did invite him over once, but only to help paint his kitchen.

"Is anyone I know going to be there?" Zach asked on the phone. He tossed Noah the tennis ball they'd been involved with all morning and Noah went crashing joyously across the kitchen after it.

Chris hummed across the static. "You know me. I'll be there." He was unexpectedly awkward on the phone, almost nervous. "And Annie Singh -- you knew her at CMU, right? Cho and Kerri might come. Zoe said she'd be there if nothing better was happening. I bet you could talk to her, make sure she shows up. You could carpool. Bikepool."

Noah came skittering back over the tiles, soggy tennis ball clutched in his teeth, and hurled himself rapturously to the floor at Zach's feet, ass-up. "I haven't seen Annie Singh in seriously years," said Zach, skritching around Noah's collar as the dog writhed in ecstatic circles. "I keep forgetting you know her. What's she doing now?" Not that he cared, but it was something to say.

"UCLA Law. So that's probably why you haven't seen her. But so she'll be there; you guys can catch up."

Zach heard the rattle of ice cubes, tinny over the wires. "Are you drinking? What the hell time is it? Don't say 'It's Mocktail Time.'"

"A: What if it is Mocktail Time?" Chris said. "B: It's iced coffee. Are you coming to my party or what?"

"You call this a party, but it's actually just you conning your friends into being your contractors for free," Zach pointed out.

"I'm buying you pizza," Chris said, sounding injured. "There'll be beer. Sounds like a party to me. Besides, you've never seen my apartment."

"Because maybe I don't feel like getting mobbed by the paps at Lamill? Fun as it is to watch you lose your shit every time a flashbulb goes off." Noah butted urgently against his knee, and Zach shifted the phone, murmuring "okay, okay -- we'll go out in a minute."

"You're so mean," said Chris, fondly. "I don't lose my shit. Is that Noah?
Izzat Noah? Put me on with him." Like an idiot Zach held the phone up: Noah's ears pricked. "Noaaaah. Who's a good boy? Who's a good boy?" Noah barked, looked eagerly in every direction, sniffed the phone, barked again. "Good boy Noah. Is he the best puppy? He is the best puppy. Zach, pick up again."

"What."

"Seriously, can you come? I have to buy you a special roller if you do. I'm gonna write your name on the handle and everything so nobody else can touch it. In gold pen."

"I don't know," Zach said. "I have a thing Thursday. I'll try."

In the end he didn't. At the last minute he invited Kristen over instead and they watched a couple episodes of
Intervention he found on the DVR. They drank some cheap pinot noir, talked shit about her awful new boyfriend. It was nice.

"Stop checking your phone!" Kristen said finally, snatching it away. "Pay attention. Was your man-candy supposed to call you tonight? Which one?"

"All of them," Zach said.


*


In makeup Maartje prods the bruise under Zach's jaw, ignoring his yelp of protest, and mutters under her breath in Dutch as she slathers on lavender-tinted concealer.

"If you don't want me to hurt you when you're sober, don't hurt yourself when you are drunk," she says unsympathetically, when Zach can't suppress a slightly louder and more pathetic noise.

"Who says I was drunk?"

"Please," Maartje says, with magnificent scorn. "How else happens a bruise like this?" which is a good point. "I'll tell you how this occurs: you become unconscious and -- wham --" she slams the back of her open hand into her jaw to demonstrate -- "your chin on the bedpost."

"You have this problem all the time, huh," says Zach, which Maartje doesn't dignify with a response, but Chris's eyes catch his in the mirror. Over the top of his paperback he's grinning, the asshole, tongue caught mockingly between his teeth. Today the book is an ancient edition of Breakfast of Champions, spine held together with scotch tape.

"Top five," Zach says. "Writers you'd bang."

Chris quirks an eyebrow. "Different from 'writers you love.'"

"Very different. Hemingway, for instance, would be a bad call on this one."

"Dude," Chris says with dead certainty, "I would let Papa do anything he wanted to my body. Anything. Spank me, diaper me, dress me up as a human badger, I don't give a shit. If you write like that, you get a free sex pass forever with everyone. That's the rules."

"Ten novels packed with impotence, misogyny and general fucked-upedness about sex don't really bode well for you in the sack."

"Sure, but it wouldn't be for me. It would be for the greater good. For literature." Chris examines his reflection, running his tongue over his teeth. Zach swallows whatever he's thinking and pushes it down, down, somewhere beyond retrieval. "Baby, I'd treat him so good he'd be writing cheerful kids' TV pilots in Havana right now."

Baby. "At age 120 or whatever."

"I don't know how to put this in a gentlemanly way," Chris says, obligingly tilting his head so Andrew can contour one cheekbone, "but my sex is kind of magic."

"Wow," says Zach, unable to help grinning at him in the mirror. "Good try, but I guarantee you, if that stone fox Martha Gellhorn couldn't hump the morose out of him, you can't either." Over their heads, Maartje and Andrew exchange an indulgent look.

"Zachary," says Chris, patiently, "you've seen my ass. Right? It's spectacular. So this is a silly conversation. Okay, top five, let's see. Number one is easy: Dorothy Parker. God, there is nothing I wouldn't do to that woman. Meet at the Algonquin, five gin and tonics, we do it in the coatroom, possibly again in the cab, then at her place, she's on top, and even her drunken pillow-talk is like a million times smarter than me -- awesome -- then we do it again in the morning, reverse cowgirl, then she kicks me out without a number. That part's kind of sad. But also, like I said, awesome."

"I was seriously not prepared for this level of detail," Zach says.

"Please contain your arousal for a second," Chris says. "Let's see, number two...Lorrie Moore, circa Birds of America. She'd be really mean to me at the bar, all kind of spiky and vulnerable in a super hot way, and then I'd probably just hang out between her thighs all night, which is fine by me. Number three. Number three...Flannery O'Connor? Would that get too twisted? Man, I'm honestly not sure if that would be amazing or traumatic. Probably both. There would definitely be creepy religious imagery." He considers. "And maybe pegging."

"You know we're just playing Top Five?" Zach points out. "This game isn't called 'Scare Maartje and Andrew with the Freakish Dystopia That Is Your Fantasy Life.'"

"Please, they're fine. Aren't you, Andy?"

"This is so far from the worst conversation we've heard you have," Andrew assures him, "that your concern is kind of cute and hilarious. Head straight. Thank you."

"For myself I don't listen to anything either of you talks about ever," Maartje informs them both, moving to get a better angle on Zach's eyebrows.

"Number four..." Chris thinks for a second. "Gotta be James Baldwin. Definitely. Tender and lyrical and detail-oriented, am I right? But also a very powerful finisher. Not afraid to hold you down and make you feel feelings. I can get into that."

That electric-blue gaze slides sideways to Zach's, the tiniest smirk curling one corner of his mouth. Credit where it's due: Chris is good. Hold you down and make you feel feelings. He knows perfectly well that Zach (and surely Andrew and maybe even Maartje, who is almost definitely human under the flinty stare and platinum bangs) can't stop picturing him –

-- slammed up against the sheets or the wall or who gives a shit, wherever, the fucking floor, panting hot little breaths, that golden body slick and taut, eyes drug-dark, all gorgeous warm surrender –

-- but no. This is just how Chris is, Zach reminds himself: all talk. All he wants is a reaction.

Not that Zach can blame him. A good string-along is a real pleasure, a wine you drink for months. But this kind of fag-stag flirtation, no matter how good Chris is at it, is bush league. It's high school drama-club stuff. Zach doesn't do anything just to gratify somebody else. He's never been into playing the sucker for anyone.

"Great plan," he says, expressionless in spite of the sudden heat prickling all over his skin. "Then you can be the bitch-ass straight boy who blows him off, and the world will probably get a pretty solid novella out of it."

"Number five," Chris mutters, "the all-important number five. Shit. I'm not wasting this on a hatefuck, so, sorry Ayn Rand. Oh, this sucks. There's too many. Garcia Marquez, maybe a little too lugubrious for my taste. Like Kundera, you know -- just trying too hard to get laid. Did we talk about Joyce?"

"'Lugubrious,' really?" says Zach. "Yes I said yes I will yes."

"But I only have room for one more. Joyce would be so all up in his own head. Murakami, maybe? Or Dumas, or, hey, Graham Greene? Shit."

Zach says, "You're not counting poets? No Rilke, no Whitman?"

"Fuck Walt Whitman. You know he'd demand a handjob and then after he got one he'd roll over and go to sleep, and you'd be like 'excuse me?' and he'd be all 'You, too, received a handjob, for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.' No, Walter, that's not how handjobs work. Plus, that beard. Oh, hey, Mark Twain--"

"You're dumb," Zach tells him. "There's only one correct answer, and when I tell you you're gonna be so pissed you didn't think of it."

A brief, considering silence. Then, "Shakespeare!" says Chris triumphantly, slapping the counter. "Duh. That's five. Being your slave, what should I do but tend/upon the hours and times of your desire? Epic wild monkey tantra sex is what that would be, and funny, which is key, and can you imagine the dirty talk, it would be insane. With puns!"

"You are filthy," Zach says, showing teeth. "Puns. I like it. But no."

"No?" Chris echoes, incredulous. "You're so wrong. Amazingly wrong. Who's your top five?"

"Two words," says Zach. "Dan Brown." Chris lifts his eyebrows, then starts to cackle. "Dan Brown is my numbers one through five. All of them. I want him to fuck me in rabbity little page-long bursts with a cheap cliffhanger at the end of each, and the cliffhanger is 'god, is he gonna wrap this up yet?' but, no, he doesn't. Mediocre, formulaic sex on a giant pile of money, while that song from Top Gun plays. 'Take My Breath Away.'"

"No no no," Chris interjects. "Dan Brown's booty soundtrack is entirely Gregorian chants. For like seven hours. And what they're chanting is 'Don't Worry Dan Brown, Your Penis Is Adequate' in Latin."

"Remixed by Enya," Zach agrees, covering his mouth as if that'll help him stop grinning like an idiot. "Yes. That's all I want in life, is for that to happen to me. And Tom Hanks is watching from a dark corner."

"Tom Hanks and Ron Howard," Chris suggests. "Dressed in hooded leotards. Rating you on form and technique."

"Stop giggling," says Andrew crossly, clamping a hand on Chris's head. "Stay still. You're like a child."

"I've actually had that dream," Zach says thoughtfully. "We were all in a castle made of waffles, and then I think I won an Oscar. No, I won all the Oscars." It's not that any of this is funny; it's just great how funny Chris finds it, and his doomed attempt at Serious Face. Their eyes meet in the mirror again and Chris lets out a helpless little yip of laughter.

"You guys!" Andrew snaps. "Get it together!"

In Zach's ear Maartje says, in the low private tones that are her most hilariously terrifying, "If you continue to laugh, I will stab you with this pencil. Because of your face moving too much. So it will be an accident but also your own fault."

"I love you, Maartje," Zach says, suddenly overwhelmed with affection. "Do I tell you that enough? You're so scary, it's incredible. I want you to do my makeup for everything -- like when I walk the dog, go to the grocery store, whatever."

"Mijn God. To be honest I would kill myself," Maartje says.

Chris whistles through his teeth like a bomb falling. "Kaboom. Yikes."

Zach risks a sideways glance at him. He's leaning his head back to give Andrew more light, baring his throat. A leftover smile still plays around his mouth.

"What," Andrew says, pushing his hair back to blend, "you're not even gonna ask me to move back to Silver Lake with you and spray-tan your abs every day?"

"I really don't enjoy rejection," Chris says. His eyes don't open, but the grin gets wider. "Dan Brown. Funny shit."

"Don't start again," Zach warns, and then he tells himself, too: Don't start. It seems like good advice for everybody, if maybe a little late.

*


Once, during the last shoot, he was hanging out in Chris's trailer waiting to walk over to makeup and trying to read Demian for like the ninth time. Chris was brushing his teeth: when he came out, he spread his arms and said, "Am I decent?"

"Except you have toothpaste on your face," Zach said. "There, by your – yeah."

Chris frowned and thumbed it off. "You sound kinda offended."

"Yeah, I'm deeply affronted by the fact that you don't know how to use a toothbrush." Zach flipped another page he hadn't actually read that carefully.

"Well, I'm deeply affronted by your Madras shorts, but I don't give you shit about it." Chris retreated into the bathroom again and Zach heard the water running. He was just getting back into Hesse when suddenly there was a face shoved two inches from his own, covered in white toothpaste froth except the two crazy eyes, and Chris yelled through a mouthful of Colgate, "Is there something on my face? I feel like I have something on my face!--"

"Oh, my God!" Zach yelped, trying to force his heart rate back down. "What is wrong with you? This is
so disgusting, are you kidding me, you sprayed toothpaste in my mouth--"

"Where is it?" Chris demanded, dripping foam all over, pawing at himself. "To the left? On my nose?"

"This shirt is Watanabe, dick," Zach said. "Seriously, what childhood trauma mutilated you into the sad person you are today? It looks like Mr. Bubble blew a wad all over you."

Chris just shook his head. He took Zach's face in both hands, pulled him in swiftly and kissed him on the forehead, leaving a minty splotch. Zach yipped in protest, heaving him off by the shoulders.

"I love you, man," Chris said, looking theatrically hurt under the toothpaste. "I just want to rub my face on your torso a little. Is that so wrong?"

"This is all so repulsive I can't even," Zach said. "You're dead to me." He hunted around the floor for a washcloth, or a Kleenex or anything.

Chris sighed and wandered forlornly back into the bathroom. Then he peered out from behind the door, pulling an awkward little grimace. "Just so you know? You got a little, uh, toothpaste." He tapped his forehead, where the kiss was. "Right about there."


*


"Dreamlover come rescue me," Zoe sings as soon as she sees him coming around the corner. "Take me up, take me down..." She dances across the set to him, an adorable little shoulder-bop thing, and whirls him into a brief two-step.

"Don't," Zach begs, halfheartedly attempting to escape. "Come on. Be nice."

"I am nice," Zoe says, expertly dipping herself back like Cyd Charisse and then letting him go. "Don't play like I'm not your favorite. 'Won't you please come around, cause I wanna share forever with you, ba-by...' Have you seen the video?"

"The one on Chris's phone? I'm saving it for a special occasion."

"Yeah, he sent it around." Bastard! "Seriously, ZQ, it's outstanding. I don't care if it was the tequila singing, that was honestly the most beautiful thing anybody's ever done for me." Her stunning, wicked smile flashes up at him. "Pine told us you were a hot mess this morning."

"I was fine!"

"'Crying tears of blood' was his phrase."

"Oh, come on." He still can't remember how he ended up in Chris's room instead of his own. They're only like four doors apart. Over the course of the day he's put most of the evening back together: they were all in Karl's room, mixing his duty-free alcohol in vile combinations. It was just supposed to be a low-key goodbye party for Anton and Emilie, who were going home earlier than the rest of them, but then everything got out of hand.

Tragically, he does remember busting out Mariah Carey, which started as a joke and then got really passionate all of a sudden. Like he seems to recall giving Zoe something very much like a lap dance, and maybe he tried to use the ceiling fan as a prop, like he thought he was in goddamn Newsies, which might account for some of the bruising.

"I never made it back to my room. Did we...were we all in Chris's?"

"Last I saw you, you were complaining about how you knew Chris was hiding kettle chips in his room. Then I said goodnight and you said 'Nooo' and made out with my face for like two minutes. I can't lie, it was all pretty sloppy."

"Kettle chips?" Zach repeats, stupidly.

"He says you stole them and then passed out in his bed." Her eyes widen and she whispers, "Oh god, you guys didn't -- did you wake up naked?"

"Fully dressed and I still had one shoe on," Zach corrects her. "Did I really make out with your face?"

"You did, friend," says Cho, who's been leaning against the wall, talking to Karl and Simon. "And you're lucky my phone was out of batteries, because it was hilarious."

"Did you find my present?" Karl asks, leering.

Which explains the three dollars. "You're a lousy tipper."

Karl shrugs. "It was a lousy dance. You kept falling over."

"Well, I liked it," Zoe says protectively. "I'd like to see you dip it that low, Kiwi."

"Sweetheart, you haven't seen dancing til you've seen The Urban," Karl says, fixing her with a smoldering gaze and wiggling his shoulders repulsively. Zoe recoils.

"Where's Chris?" asks Cho, ignoring the nightmare going down right next to him. "Was he in makeup with you?"

"Calling his sister back," Zach says, smoothing down the front of his costume. "Where's J.J.?"

"Freaking out at Dan about the lighting. Apparently his new stand-ins are too short, or something. It'll be just like yesterday: we'll dick around for hours, and then they'll spend more hours rearranging the seating, and then Pine will walk into scene a couple of times, the end. I hate pickups."

"Oh, come on," Zoe says, frowning at them around Karl's furious gyrations. "I'm sad this week's ending and so are you, Grumpy Pants Cho. You'll miss us. Get over it. Bask in the love."

"Baby girl, you always see right through me," Cho says, face relaxing into a grin.

"Anybody have change for a five?" It's Chris, sauntering up behind Zach and clicking his phone shut. He smells like Tide. "I'm gonna have to put a little something-something in Karl's bra."

"I've got quarters," Simon offers.

"I do accept tips, but don't even think about asking me on a date," Karl says, refocusing his disturbing efforts in Chris's direction.

"No on-set romances," Chris says. "Even for you. Oh, come on, man, don't...that's really...yikes. No, I don't want to touch it, thank you. Zach, dude, in case you're wondering, your dance was superior."

"My milkshake doot doot doo to the thing," Karl sings, "and they're like, whatever they say, damn right, whatever they say."

"Is this a rule," asks Simon, fascinated, "like as soon as you have a certain number of kids, you lose the ability to remember the words to pop songs? All dads have this problem eventually, have you noticed? Listen, Urban, it goes: 'My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, and they're like, it's better than yours; damn right, it's better than yours; I could teach you, but I'd have to charge.' It's not complex."

"Dammit, Simon, I'm a doctor, not a songstress," Karl says, straightening. "What are the words? 'My milkshake brings...' Do it again."

"My dance was superior, huh," Zach says in an undertone, nudging Chris's shoulder.

"Keep your skirt on," Chris murmurs back. He's standing way too close. "It's barely a compliment. Are you seeing this? The stuff of nightmares." A few feet away, Zoe’s trying to show Karl how to shimmy. It’s not going well.

"I think I tried to do a pole-swing on the ceiling fan," Zach says.

"That is a thing that you did," Chris agrees. "Then you smacked into the bed, then I tried to, uh, detach you from the fan, then you smacked into me. And yet it was still sexier than this."

"Well, I'm a sexy guy," Zach says. He forces himself to stay still, not to give the comment any intonation whatsoever, not joking or flirtatious or anything at all.

"Yeah, call me when you have eyebrows," says Chris, but he doesn't move away.

Zach shrugs. "You have an eyelash, right--" He taps his left cheek.

Chris pats ineffectually at his face. "What, on my --"

"No. Jesus." He licks the pad of his thumb and presses it against Chris's cheekbone, just under the corner of his eye. Chris's lashes flicker. "There."

"Thanks, Mom," Chris says. He gives Zach his brief, private smile.

"—Damn right, it’s better than yours," Karl is saying suddenly, backing his ass directly into Zach’s personal space. "I could teach you but I’d have to charge."

"Oh, yes," Zach says, grateful to turn his attention anywhere but Chris. "Whoof. Pop that booty."

"This is my happy place," Zoe says, watching them complacently.

"Tragic," says Simon.

*


The summer after the first movie came out, when Zach was back East, he went to visit Leonard in Boston. Somehow it came up, since they were in Massachussetts anyway, that they should go out to see Chris do the Berkshire Theater Festival. He was Oberon in their Midsummer, and David Strathairn's son in the new Sam Shepard: that one was an East coast premiere.

Chris was good. Of course he was. He was subtle and painful and funny; you couldn't take your eyes off him, especially when he had that awful scene with Strathairn about the dead dog.

Which wasn't shocking. First of all, with a cast like that and Alison Janney playing your waitress girlfriend, it was probably hard
not to be really good. And anyway, Chris was a thoughtful, complicated actor; it was just easy to forget it, like it was easy to forget how smart he was.

"Insanity. These people I'm working with -- I mean, David, and Rachel Weisz, and Alison fucking Janney? Last time I was here I played a waiter," Chris said. "Which was easy because I actually was one." They were in a dark booth in back of one of the bars. Re: bars, all available evidence suggested there were only three, and one of them was closed.

"This
town is insanity," Zach said, glancing at the bartender, who stared back as if he didn't even care. Nice try, guy. He'd actually dropped a glass when Leonard sauntered over to order his Lagavulin. "It's like Stepford College."

The place was all clear blue skies and leafy patches of shade, cute little churches and ivy-covered brick buildings that radiated Serious Academic Thought. There were about two streets, and the movie theater only had one screen, which just then was showing something in, like, Basque, and there was nowhere to get sushi. On the other hand, their drinks were pretty cheap.

"Well, I like it," said Leonard. He slung an elegant arm across the back of the booth; Zach hoped he'd have half the guy's presence at seventy-whatever. "It feels good to me. The air smells like summer in a perfect world."

Only Leonard could say shit like that and actually sound reasonable. Maybe it had to do with vocal resonance. Chris grinned at him, eyes glinting blue in the low light. "I like it too," he said. "I don't think I'd be a big fan in the winter, but."

"California boy," Zach said, poking Chris's kneecap under the table.

"It's a chronic condition," Chris agreed.

"But also a curable one," Leonard said. "Excuse me, it's Susan--" and he swung himself out of the booth and huddled into a corner with his phone, one long finger plugged into his ear.

"So how are the co-eds?" Zach asked, giving Chris his most wolfish smile.

"Mm," Chris said. He rubbed his wrist absently with his thumb. "Ravishing."

"You don't sound ravished."

"Hey, speaking of awkward segues, Beau's getting married in two weeks," Chris said. He glanced at the ceiling. "Married! I said I'd love to be there, because it's cool and we're friends and I'm just happy that she's happy. So here's my question. Do I have to go, or can I just spend that time doing something more fun? Like I could eat glass, or saw off all my fingers."

"To who?" Zach said. "To whom."

"Because I know? He owns restaurants or whatever the fuck." Chris leaned two sugar packets together to make a little pink shack. Then he flicked them into Zach's lap.

"You're not...hung up about it, though, are you?" Zach said, picking them up. "You guys have broken up a lot. Like, a
lot."

It was one of their old jokes, how many times Chris got back together with his old girlfriends, but now Chris didn't laugh. "Jesus, dude, no, I'm not, you know,
hung up. It just..." He made a quick, impatient gesture. "It's whatever, man. I don't actually want to talk about it, it's just distracting."

"I mean, if you want to go and press yourself against the window and yell, I'm going to support you, because I'm a good friend and that's what I do," Zach said. "Or are you just fishing for a plus-one? That really depends on where it is. Napa, yes; Vegas, maybe; Burbank, absolutely not."

"No shit," Chris said. He drained his beer and wiped his bottom lip with his thumb. Then he laughed, a little helplessly. "You know what's weird? For some reason I thought you were the person to talk to about...this stuff. You know.
Feelings."

"Uh," Zach said. "Have you met me?"

"I know," Chris said. "I know! Obviously I was temporarily insane. You can't even talk about
talking about feelings. You still banging that guy Kenneth?"

"He keeps calling," Zach said. "I feel bad about it." Kenneth, one of the people he was seeing at the time, had turned out to be a secret
boyfriend guy: he threw one leg over Zach's in the night and liked to look deep into Zach's eyes after they fucked and trace the outline of Zach's cheekbone with his fingers. It was no good. Zach, who preferred to call his own cab after an orgasm, was starting to feel responsible.

"Great," Chris said. "That's exactly how I want people I'm dating to talk about me, too. 'He keeps calling, I feel bad about it.' Don't worry, I'll introduce you to some of the co-eds. There's one named Jason I think you'd be into." He rested his chin on his palm and regarded Zach intently. "You don't really do normal-people relationships, do you? You don't even want to like the people you fuck."

"Sometimes I like them
until we fuck," Zach said. "What, and you like them all? They're all your best buddies, right, you call up Audrina and Netty Walden from Paramount and that girl with the barrettes we met at Cha Cha, and you guys all sortez for pancakes together?"

"Dude," Chris said. "That's my curse. Whenever I have sex with somebody I get, uh. In love with them?" He pulled a quick rueful grimace, one corner of his mouth curling down. "Not permanently. Just a little. However, at least that means I'm always still friends with people I've put my dick in. Whereas you -- I don't get this thing of yours, that you do."

"Admittedly," Zach said, watching him, "people I fuck, if they like me too much, they tend to be driven insane, like they become alcoholics, or monks, or marathon runners -- "

"Deviants, basically," said Chris. "You're, like. A succubus." He widened his eyes and made an
ooga-booga flutter with his fingers.

"Incubus," Leonard said from above them, re-seating himself next to Zach and stretching his legs out. "Zachary would be an incubus. Succubi are female."

"Ah-ha," Chris said, nodding gratefully at him. "Thank you. Keeping us on track. How's Susan?"

"Perfect," Leonard said, and smiled, like a man with a secret. "My wife is perfect."

Chris looked back at Zach and tilted his head. "See?" he said. "Love's nice."

"Sure, for other people," Zach said.

"Bah," Leonard said, swatting the air good-naturedly. "You're infants. What do you know about anything."

"I know we need more beer," Zach decided.

They were staying in a little motel outside of town and invited Chris back with them to use the pool. Zach and Leonard went straight for the hot tub, but Chris shook his head. "Warm water's better if you swim first."

He unbuttoned his shirt and dropped it on the poolside concrete, muscles flexing across his back: toed off his Chucks and undid the heavy metal buckle of his belt, then wriggled out of his jeans. He didn't have, like, the perfect body -- not that Zach was a gym rat, or even really into that. Chris was just
solid, tall and built broad through the arms and thighs. He had a hard V of muscle tracing down into his underwear and a hell of an ass, which counted for a lot. But there was, it could not be denied, a little bit of a belly there. Zach's abs were definitely better.

"My abs are better than yours," Zach said, stroking them with great self-satisfaction.

"By 'better,' do you mean hairier?" Chris raised his arms and dove, breaking the water with a joyful splash: then surfaced, blowing out a plume of wet air and smoothing his soaking hair back. "Because, uh, then, sure." He rolled over to float belly-up in the neon water, relaxed as an otter.

"I had abs once," Leonard said. He had procured from somewhere a packet of expensive cigars and was reclining in the hot tub like a mafioso. "I confess, I do not miss them."

"Does Susan?" Chris asked, grinning.

"Even less than I," Leonard said, returning an even wickeder smile.

Zach was quiet. He watched the sleek pull of Chris's body through the water, the seaweed-waver of his hair. Finally Chris hauled himself out of the pool and splatted over to them, shivering a little. He lowered himself into the hot tub and closed his eyes, letting out a long silent
ahh of satisfaction.

"Everything you dreamed of?" Zach asked.

"And more," Chris said, eyes still closed.

On the way back down to Boston the next day Leonard said thoughtfully, "You're not used to being that obvious, are you?"

"Don't make me pull this car over," Zach warned him.


*


The thing is, he was going to have to remember eventually. Obviously some part of his brain has been spending a lot of energy trying to protect him, but that was a losing battle; somewhere in the back of his head he might actually have known all day.

It comes back in a vivid awful swoop just as he's starting to fall asleep, and he actually wrenches upright, like a spasming fish, says "Shit!" aloud, and clutches painfully at his own face, as if he could punish himself enough to make it not have happened.

But it did happen. They were in Chris's room, Zach on the floor pouring the greasy salt-and-vinegar remnants from the bottom of the bag into his mouth (and in his memory Chris is dead sober and not participating, which is clearly just his brain being cruel, because Chris was in no way sober and definitely ate at least half of those chips), and Chris, who was sitting on the bed, kicked him gently and said something like: That was quite a dance back there. Or maybe, Can I call you Sugar Pants, Quinto?

"I'm the best at dancing," Zach said, thick-tongued. He dropped the bag and struggled to his feet, clutching the edge of the bed, then the hem of Chris's t-shirt, as if by accident. "The best dancer." He grabbed Chris's unresisting hands, set them on his waist and swayed his hips, dimly aware that it was a mess.

"Okay, okay," Chris said, laughing. "Wow, Bambi Lynne. Can I get some fries with that shake? Next time I'm putting on better music." His hands were big and the palms were hot on Zach's skin. "What do you think, maybe a little Def Leppard? Pour some sugar on me?"

"Whups," Zach said vaguely, and sat down very suddenly right on the edge of the bed. Chris made a warning noise and caught him at the hips before he fell, sliding him easily back onto the mattress. Something shot through him at the firmness of that touch, a sharp sweet ache that erased everything else.

He closed his eyes through a wobbly, world-tilting moment. When he opened them again Chris was there, a little off-kilter, flushed and fond with his hair all sticky-out and one thumb still hooked in Zach's belt loop.

"Hi," said Zach.

"Hi," Chris agreed. "Did you not eat dinner or something? I mean, I dunno, I'm pretty toasted, but I usually am. I've never seen you like this. It's literally unbelievable."

"Don't say literally unless you actually mean literally," said Zach severely, or meant to say, but unfortunately it came out litererly and then, when he tried again, litary-rily.

"See? You can't even make words right now. It's freaking me out."

"You wanna hear words? Exculpate," Zach said. "Fulmination. Apocryphal. Shut up."

"See, now that," Chris said, "is much sexier than the dancing." He slid his fingers free of Zach's jeans, a little slower than necessary.

Zach's head was still lifted and spinning. He said, "God, Pine, how are you so -- " and then he couldn't remember the words he needed, like disingenuous or tease or even liar, any of which would have helped him explain.

But he couldn't explain, so he gave up, and it was like letting go of a cliff, all fear and resignation and relief. Blood rushed up to a roar in his ears as he pushed Chris against the bedframe and slid one hand under his jaw, tilting his head back. He held Chris there, barely gripping the nape of his neck. Chris's breath was warm against his mouth: someone's heart was going wild against his ribs.

For an impossible moment he was pressed against every part of that long body, and Chris was thrillingly still beneath him. Under Zach's fingers the pulse raced in Chris's throat. All either of them had to do was give one inch.

Then Chris blinked, almost a flinch -- and Zach let him go. He sat back, grasping the sheets to steady himself, and let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

"Well, shit, man," Chris said. His eyes were inscrutable.

Are you fucking with me? Zach wanted to say.

"Gay Chicken," he said instead, and was pleased to hear it come out perfectly, composed and light and a little amused. "You lose."

A short, strange silence. Then Chris said, "Yeah, define 'lose.' "

"Don't be bitter because you can't play the game," Zach said.

Then it was dark, and some time must have passed because Chris was saying, from the floor, "-- your hat's still --"

"'sfine," Zach said. "Shut up."

So now here he is, and that happened, and what is he supposed to do about it?

*


part 2.
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