Title: Sun from Both Sides
Author: carmanne Mel
Rating: R (Adult)
Word Count: ~14,000
Category/Warnings: AU, slight angst, deus ex machina, bastardization of Amish culture
Beta: the amazing lousy_science
Summary: Amish AU, taken from the kink meme-- Chris is shooting a movie near an Amish settlement. He meets Zach, a sexually confused Amish man, and they eventually realize a shared attraction. When filming ends Zach must decide if he should leave and shun his community to be with Chris.
A/N: Huge thanks to lousy_science for beta-ing, and for everyone else who has read and commented on the meme. All my knowledge of Amish culture comes from the Internet, so my sincerest apologies to anyone who actually knows what they're talking about.
The one good thing, Chris figured, about being stuck in the middle-of-fucking-nowhere Pennsylvania with raving madman addicted to Diet Coke who simply posed as the director for a film about time traveling farmers was the people he got to work with. Inexperienced though he was, Chris knew he was lucky to have such a close knit group of fellow actors to surround him all the time; in this strange land among strange people and under the strange control of JJ, it was nice to have fellow cohorts in crime.
That being said, it didn’t make Chris any less irritated when one of them… overstepped their boundaries a bit.
“So, whatever happened with you and that—oh, the girl with the—“John said, gesticulating vaguely.
“Use your words, sweetie,” Zoe said blithely to the hilarity of the rest of the group, gathered around poker chips and various alcoholic beverages.
“Oh, fuck off, Saldana—you know, Chris? The girl,” John leered.
Chris just rolled his eyes. “If you’d been paying attention on at least twelve of the thirty hours we were stuck on a bus, Cho, you’d know she’s pretty fucking pissed about the fact that I’m spending twelve weeks in Pennsylvania.”
“Wait—didn’t she complain last month about you not having any work?” John asked.
“—but she doesn’t like it when you’re making money and fulfilling your lifelong dream?” Karl finished.
“Wait, how long had the two of you been dating, anyway?” Zoe rebutted. “Did she even have a right to get angry?”
Chris felt his jaw start to clench as John, Karl, and Zoe continued to ask and answer questions about his personal life as if he were just another poker chip sitting at the table, while Simon and Anton watched the growing storm silently.
“Her name,” Chris interjected with sudden force, bringing the gossip to a standstill, “is Olivia. We had been dating for six months, I understand why she was pissed, and she doesn’t fucking deserve to be treated like—like—a—plaything for your amusement.” Chris tried very, very hard to not look anyone in the eye as he quietly gathered his belongings from the table. “And neither do I.”
Chris’s trailer, like the rest of his life at the moment, was a bit of a pigsty. Littered bits of fast food wrappings and scraps of paper covered almost every flat surface that wasn’t already shrouded under extra clothing or books. Chris himself was flopped on his smelly, circa-1983, putrid green sofa, trying desperately to catch a little bit of rest before he had to go on set and face the people he had been an ass to the night before. Not that it was working, Chris thought darkly as he wiggled further into the sofa, trying in vain to find a comfortable position.
Chris was sorely tempted to yell fuck off at whoever knocked at his trailer door right as he was beginning to fall asleep, but the vague chance that it might actually be someone important roused him from his light nap and sent him to the door. Of course, it was Karl.
“Look,” Chris said, rubbing his hands over his face, “I—“
“Both of us—all of us—were assholes,” Karl said succinctly. “I’m sorry, and I know Zoe and John are too, even if they did have a four a.m. makeup call and couldn't be here for this cozy get-together.”
Chris made what he hoped was a sympathetic face in return. “Nailed it on the head,” Chris said, gesturing inside his trailer for Karl to come inside.
“Unfortunately, I’ve got to be on set in about ten minutes,” Karl said, and Chris heard and saw the true repentance in his eyes. “I just stopped by to clear the air and let you know that there is this excellent restaurant just outside Lancaster—“
“I can take care of myself,” Chris said, internally wincing at his snotty tone.
Karl scowled. “I was going to invite you to come with me, Zoe, and John, but if you’re going to be an ass about it—“
“Sorry,” Chris muttered. “But—what’s the name of this place?”
“The Dutch Kitchen,” Karl said, the good humor and grace back in his voice just as quickly as it had left. “They’ve got about twenty different kinds of pie, and it’s absolutely delicious…”
Chris tried very, very hard not to curse as he drove slowly down the road. It was past dark and raining, he was marvelously lost, his cell phone was dead, and he still hadn’t eaten dinner yet because fucking Karl didn’t want to carpool.
“Fucking Karl,” Chris grumbled as he searched in vain for some clue as to where he was, other than the middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania.
Out of nowhere, a figure walking down the side of the road emerged in the darkness. Chris weighed the odds of encountering a serial killer in this part of the country, and decided risking brutal murder was a better fate than starving to death in the countryside. He pulled off to the side and rolled down his window. “I hate to be rude and ignore you,” he shouted over the rain, “but I honestly have no clue where I am.”
The man’s face looked in from the passenger’s side window, water dripping from the brim of his straw hat. “Well, I think both of us are in luck,” he replied with a small smile. “I know exactly where I’m going, but no pleasant way to get there. Any chance I could ride with you?”
Chris smiled and unlocked the doors. “Hop on in!”
As the man climbed into Chris’s rent-a-car, Chris began to take notice of the man’s personal characteristics outside of tall, mysterious, and sopping wet. His straw hat wasn’t the only odd piece of clothing he was wearing; the man’s entire outfit looked as though it belonged on an Amish farm—
“Oh,” Chris said suddenly, looking for a word that adequately described his embarrassment and frustration other than fuck it, “you’re Amish, and now I’ve gone and got you – shunned or whatever you call it—“
“You are right about the first bit,” the man said, sounding blithely amused in the face of Chris’s distress. “But I fail to see how you have done anything that would warrant discipline by the church.”
“Amish? So, no cars, ever?” Chris said. “Or am I just that clueless?”
The man’s soft grin broke into a full-on smile. “While owning cars is certainly a violation of the Ordnung, riding in one is not forbidden in the least.”
Chris let out a laugh because he really didn’t know what else to do. “Well, good to know. I’m Chris, by the way,” he said, sticking out a hand.
“Zachary,” the man said, returning the handshake, albeit a bit awkwardly. “And I take it you are quite lost?”
“Unbelievably so,” Chris said with a laugh. “I was supposed to be at this place—The Dutch Kitchen, I think it was called—like two hours ago—“
Zachary’s laugh was unexpected, but Chris welcomed it in the face of his frustration. “What a coincidence,” Zachary said. “I am late arriving there myself.”
Chris smiled as he finally put the car in drive. “Good to know the company will be nice, even if the food isn’t.”
“I assure you,” Zach said with another unexpected chuckle, “the food is delicious. My mother has always been a great cook."
The restaurant, The Dutch Kitchen, was surprisingly well lit for being so late at night— shining through the darkness and the rain, as seemingly all the lights were on. Chris didn’t see any familiar cars in the small gravel parking lot, and he mentally cursed, knowing that Karl, Zoe, and John had probably given up and gone back to the hotel. Chris wondered how he was going to explain his absence to them.
“I don’t see my friends here,” Chris said reluctantly, not wanting to leave the company of Zachary just yet. “But I think I could find my way back into town—“
“But you have not eaten yet, correct?” Zachary said, and Chris thought he saw that same reluctance in Zachary’s face. “I do not wish to presume who you would spend your evening with, but I know there will still be food available inside if you choose to stay.”
Chris smiled. “If you’re certain I won’t be a bother to anyone—“
“Please,” Zach said, and his smile was genuine, “you will be lucky if anyone notices you’re there at all.”
But before Chris could ask what in the world that meant, Zachary got out of the car and went inside; Chris could do nothing but follow.
Inside the restaurant was an explosion of noise and people, and Chris was taken aback for a good thirty seconds, just standing in the doorway to watch Zachary go forth and greet the multitudes. The not-expansive dining room was filled to the brim with people, mostly young-to-middle aged, with children running and darting about the shifting crowd. Everyone that he could see was wearing Amish clothing—plain, floor-length dresses and bonnets; straw hats and simple trousers—and everyone he could hear was speaking something that sounded vaguely like German (Pennsylvania German, supplied a voice in his head that sounds suspiciously like his sister’s). Long, picnic like tables were set up throughout the room, with a large round table laden with food in the middle. Despite the chaos, there was an almost rhythmic like pattern to the way people stood and sat back down again, either to go get food or to dispose of garbage.
Suddenly, Zachary’s comment made perfect sense.
“Not that I presume to know all the members of my family,” said a voice to Chris’s right, “but seeing as we’re the only two English people in the room, and I know I’m not related to you—who are you?”
Chris turned towards the voice, and there was a man who looked as out of place as Chris felt—the man was wearing a white t-shirt and jeans, and his dark hair was definitely gelled.
“Oh—um—I’m Chris,” Chris said, grabbing his own neck awkwardly as he reached forward to shake the man’s hand. “I was supposed to meet some friends here about an hour ago, but I got ridiculously lost, and—“ Chris looked out into the crowd for Zachary, hoping he wouldn’t have to offer a similar explanation to everyone in the room. “—I passed by Zachary, and he said he was going here and that there would still be food and everything—“
“Joseph,” Zachary said, having emerged from the crowd of people, “are you interrogating my friend here?”
The man—Joseph, apparently—turned away from Chris and laughed heartily, drawing Zachary into big hug. Chris felt his stomach clench a little; from the awkwardness, he thought, from how weird it is to see two worlds colliding like that.
“Chris,” Zach said, turning his bright grin onto Chris, “this is my brother, Joseph.” Chris smiled back at the man, setting aside his confusion for the moment, the clench in his stomach having mysteriously disappeared.
“Call me Joe,” Joe said, with a sidelong look at his brother. “Zachary here is the only one who calls me Joseph these days.”
“Pardon me for being rude,” Chris said, leaning in to be heard over the noise of the room, “but— “
“I’m not exactly a plain person?” Joe finished with a good-natured, if somewhat weary, smile.
“Joseph was never baptized in the church,” Zachary said, and Chris noted that there was no bitterness or animosity there, just the simple truth, “which means that despite his family’s choices, he is under no more obligation to follow the rules of the church than you are.”
Chris nodded, wondering how much he ‘knew’ about the Amish was based on conjecture and hearsay. “So all these people are—family?”
Zachary and Joe smiled. “Yes,” Zachary said, “my mother was one of seven children, so you’re looking at somewhere around thirty first cousins and their offspring.”
“It’s a bit overwhelming,” Joe said, “but you get used to it. Come on,” he said, gesturing forward, “there’s plenty of food left, but who knows how long it will last!”
Chris smiled broadly and shook his head as he was lead into the crowd, amazed at the generosity of the two men he had met not more than a half hour ago. Several members of Zachary’s family introduced themselves, and didn’t seem put off or taken aback at the circumstances surrounding his arrival there. Chris actually found himself trapped for about five minutes by a few of the more chatty members of Zachary’s family before Zach had to come up and, literally, take him by the cuff of his sleeve, make excuses for him, and drag him towards the food; Chris tried hard not to think about the warmth of Zachary’s hand against his wrist.
Once they finally had their food, Chris and Zachary sat down towards the back of the room at a bench with a good view of the rest of the family. Joe had gone to sit down next to another modernly dressed woman who Chris assumed was his wife or girlfriend.
“That’s Amalie,” Zachary said after following Chris’s gaze and reading the question in his eyes. “Joseph married her about two years ago, and she is pregnant with their first child.”
Chris turned to look at Zachary, really noticing his beard for the first time. “I know this is probably none of my business,” Chris said, his hand coming up to scrape his own stubbly cheek, “are you—is there--?”
Zach looked down at his plate, his lips pursed. “I… my wife, Sarah, died a year and a half ago in childbirth.” He drew a slow breath. “I keep my beard for tradition’s sake and also to—to remember.” Zachary nodded his head briefly before turning to his food.
Chris bit his lip, searching for the right words. He put his hand out awkwardly before making a fist in the air, knowing physical comfort would be—unwise. “I’m sure she was wonderful,” Chris said.
They ate in silence for a moment before Zachary spoke again. “We’re actually having this gathering because five of my cousins are getting married this month.”
“Congratulations,” Chris said, smiling and grateful for the move away from awkwardly personal subjects. “So this isn’t a normal thing for you all?”
“We do normally get together on Sunday nights,” Zachary said, “but not… all of us. My mother’s family is close-knit, despite its size, so most other families don’t have these sorts of gatherings unless it’s the actual wedding.”
But before Chris could ask any more questions, two men stood at the front of the room and gathered everyone’s attention.
“I forgot to mention,” Zach said, his voice suddenly very close to Chris’s ear, “that there is a singing whenever we get together. My apologies for forgetting to tell you.” Chris was going to have to try very hard to stop the shivers that ran down his spine every time Zachary spoke.
“That’s perfectly fine,” Chris said, a little in awe of what he was getting to witness. The two men spoke in Pennsylvania German, and Chris smiled along when everyone laughed.
“We’re going to sing a song everyone knows from the Ausbund, the hymnal,” Zach said into his ear. “I’ll try and translate if I can.”
Soon, a chorus of voices filled the air, lead by the two men at the front of the room, as everyone sang in unison.
“We alone a little flock,” said Zach, and Chris felt the shivers start again, “the few who still remain are exiles wandering—through the land, in sorrow and in pain.”
Chris looked out on the crowd of plain people, old men and women interspersed with young parents with babies in their laps. Even Joe was singing along, a sad smile on his face and his hand wrapped around his wife’s.
“We wander through the forests dark with dogs upon our tracks,” Zach said, his voice following the rise and fall of the singing. “And like the captive, silent lamb men bring us, prisoners back…”
Chris eventually stopped following the running translation in his ear, choosing instead to let the dark timbre of Zachary’s voice and the beauty of the unison verses wash over him.
Finally, the singing faded into silence as people got up and began the process of cleaning up. Chris turned to Zachary, trying very hard to ignore the lump in his throat that had formed when he thought about how private these people— this man— must be, and how absolutely giving they were being.
“Thank you,” was all Chris could say, and he hoped the message got across.
“It was the least I can do,” Zachary says, his serious eyes belaying the humor in his voice, “when you picked me up on a cold, stormy night without knowing so much as my name.”
“We can thank you for keeping young Zachary safe, then?” Joe said as he walked up. “If he hadn’t stayed so late at the schoolhouse, then I would have been able to pick him up and he wouldn’t have had to walk at all in the rain…”
Zachary rolled his eyes, and Chris got the feeling that this was just the latest branch of an old argument. “I’m a schoolteacher,” Zachary said for Chris’s clarification, “and Joseph here doesn’t understand why I have to stay a little past when the students leave—“
“—Chris picked you up at, what, seven-thirty? That’s hours after the kids leave—“
“—so that I can do the job I am, in fact, paid to do—“
“—paid about a quarter of what you should make, seeing as how fantastic a teacher you are—“
“—but my brother has always been the brawn to my brains,” Zachary finished, looking positively sassy as Chris tried very hard not to clutch his sides in laughter.
Joe just rolled his eyes and threw up his hands in defeat. “I’m going home, little brother, but I’ll see you at Rebecca’s wedding, right?”
Zachary smiled and nodded, and Joe clasped a hand to his shoulder in farewell.
“It was nice meeting you, Chris,” Joe said with a strange smile and a wave as he walked out with Amalie.
Chris glanced down at his watch, and was shocked to see it was only ten-thirty --because of not only how tired he was for this relatively early hour, but for how long he had been with Zachary and not noticed the time. He hoped that Karl or anyone else wasn’t out with a search party yet.
“I’m afraid I’ve got to go back into town,” Chris said, “as I’m worried my friends have called the police by now.”
Zachary smiled. “Do you need directions, then, so you don’t happen upon another poor, wandering soul who is less friendly?” he teased.
“Directions would be nice,” Chris said with a biting tone that was mitigated by his wide grin, “but I wanted to know if you needed a ride back home.”
“Although the offer is appreciated, I believe the rain has stopped,” Zach said, “and though the schoolhouse is very far from here, I live much closer. Walking would be preferable.”
Chris nodded in acknowledgment, oddly sad to say goodbye seeing as how much time they had spent together this evening. Slowly, they began to make their way to the door—taking a longer amount of time than Chris anticipated, as Zachary presumably had to both introduce Chris to everyone he had missed earlier in the evening and say goodbye to all his family as well.
“So, thirty first cousins?” Chris said, enjoying the crunch of the gravel parking lot and the chill of the early November air.
Zachary smiled and nodded his assent. “I am surprised you still want to associate with any of us after experiencing a family gathering.”
Chris grinned, showing his teeth, before replying. “Are you kidding? I love it—my parents were both only children, and it was just me and my sister growing up, so I’ve always loved being with friends who have big families. I had a couple of friends in college who would accuse me of just being their friend so I could come over for family dinners.”
Zachary smiled, and Chris firmly, firmly, clamped down on the whoosh in his stomach; Zachary was every bit Chris’s type—tall, intelligent, funny, kind, and completely unavailable—but he knew in the marrow of his bones the kind of self-loathing that would follow if anything did happen to come of it.
They hovered in the cold and silence a little longer, neither quite wanting to say goodbye just yet. “Despite her family’s rather prodigious proliferation,” Zach says, and Chris grins at the alliteration, “my mother was not so blessed. Her pregnancy and labor were very difficult for both me and my brother.”
“I’ll admit I was a bit curious why you were the only one of your mom’s family without twelve brothers or sisters,” Chris said with a wry smile that faded a bit when he looked over at Zachary’s face.
“She nearly died giving birth to me,” Zachary admitted, looking over at Chris. “And that was after several miscarriages and stillbirths. There were some who thought her foolish for trying at all after the difficulties she had with Joseph.”
“What did your father think about all that?” Chris asked, suddenly realizing that although Zachary and Joe had pointed out their mother, Zachary’s father had been conspicuously absent from both the evening’s proceedings and conversations.
Zach grinned. “He called me es Kind die Hoffning, the child of Hope,” Zachary said, “and called my mother die schtarrick Fraa, the strong woman. Mother would tell him to stop being so proud, and of course he would tell her that when his family stopped being so wonderful, he would stop being so proud.” Zach looked at the ground a bit, and Chris felt the dread start to form in his stomach as Zach’s tight-lipped expression came back. “He… was a kind man, when he was still with us.”
“He sounds amazing, Zachary,” Chris said for the second time that evening, wanting to kick himself for apparently having a penchant for bringing up Zachary’s beloved dead relatives.
“I feel bad,” Chris said suddenly with a small laugh. “I know so much about you, but I feel like I’ve told you nothing about me.”
Chris burst out laughing at Zachary’s shocked expression.
“Forgive me—I apologize—but I’m confused as to why you think you know so much of me, and at the same time wish to apologize for monopolizing our conversation,” Zach said, smiling despite the tension Chris could see in his eyes.
“You’re a widower who teaches for next to no pay,” Chris said. “Your mother cooks delicious food for a successful restaurant, your father is dead, and your brother was never baptized in the church. You’re extremely intelligent, absolutely hilarious, and pull off the hat look better than anyone I’ve seen so far.” Okay, so that last bit hadn’t exactly meant to be out loud, but Chris rolled with it. “And you’ve never monopolized the conversation, so there’s nothing to apologize for.”
In the shady light of the trees, Chris could see the flash of color on Zach’s cheeks beneath his beard, and saw the way his mouth was twisted into a reluctant and embarrassed smile. “And you are an English actor who is from a small family,” Zachary said. “You are reserved and private, but have an easy smile. Your kindness is also quite unbelievable,” Zachary said, and Chris both wanted to crawl into the ground and hug this man until the self-consciousness he could still see in the lines of Zachary’s face went away.
“Listen,” Chris said, unsure of how to broach the topic of so when can I see you again without sounding desperate or ridiculous, “I—I’m in this area for the next twelve weeks, and—“
“On second thought,” Zachary said with a thoughtful smile, “do drive me home. And whenever you wish, you are welcome to come visit.”
Chris grinned as they hopped in the car, trying very hard to ignore the bubble of warm joy that had formed in his chest when Zachary had offered his open invitation.
The next day on set was—well, awkward. John had laughed with Chris about his terrible sense of direction, Karl had just shook his head, and Chris still wasn’t sure if Zoe believed him, despite her easy smile and words of absolution. Chris couldn’t say things were back to normal, per say, but it was much better than the stony silence between takes that had permeated the set earlier in the week.
Frustrating, though, was the increase in filming that left little time for the thirty minute plus drive out to Zachary’s house. What little time Chris had off was always in the late hours of the night or wee hours of the morning, and despite his already astonishing familiarity with the man he had only met once, Chris wasn’t sure he could pop in for a 1:30 am visit without seeming like a total douche and also, possibly, a stalker. Thank the union or who-the-fuck-ever, Chris thought, that weekends were, for now, sacred.
So, on a Friday, the late afternoon sun warming his car beyond the chill of the November air, Chris found himself driving to Zachary’s house. He tried to ignore the churning in his stomach, the urge to wring his hands or bite his nails, the jittery feet—ignore all the classic symptoms of first-date nerves, because that was a completely ridiculous comparison, really.
“Chris,” Zach said with a smile as he opened the door and ushered Chris in.
“Nice place,” Chris said honestly. Zach’s house was small, of course, but homey; they were standing in the living room, with a kitchen and table situated on the far end of the house. Chris saw two doors, presumably both leading to bedrooms, and Chris felt a tug at his heart for the family Zach never got to have. Little tidbits he could see around the room made him feel slightly giddy at the physical evidence that Zach actually lived here—a Bible on a small table next to the chair in front of the fireplace, a stack of papers to grade on the kitchen table, a stack of dried lavender on the windowsill.
“It’s not a palace,” Zach said, still smiling, “but its home. Please, come in, sit down—“
Zach and Chris sat talking while Zach built up a fire in his fireplace, the small house already growing warm by the time Zach stepped away and brushed his hands off.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Zach said, “but I just finished cooking dinner, and there’s certainly enough for two if you haven’t eaten.”
“Not at all,” Chris said, smiling. “I’m starving, and I’m sure you cook wonderfully, if your mom’s food is any indication.”
The food was, as Chris expected, delicious, and the company fantastic; dinner passed a little too quickly for Chris’s tastes, and soon they were both standing somewhat awkwardly in front of the fire, trying to say goodbye.
“Listen,” Chris started to say.
“Thank you,” Zach began at the same time, and they both laughed and flushed.
“I should be thanking you,” Chris said. “Seriously, that food was freaking amazing. I’m going to have to buy all new clothes and I’m going to make the costume people furious.”
Zach smiled wryly, and Chris felt a little guilty for telling a joke that Zach didn’t fully understand. “It’s… nice,” Zach said softly, still smiling, “to have company. I am not lonely—exactly—but your company is refreshing and welcome, nonetheless.”
Chris wondered briefly if his face was as hot as it felt, but put that thought aside once he realized it probably was. “Same here,” he said, feeling less than eloquent. “So, it’s okay, then, to stop by when I—“
“Yes,” Zach says emphatically, a little too quickly, and Chris can’t wipe the smile off his face for hours.
Somehow, in between the madness that filming had become and getting drunk on a startlingly regular basis with his costars, Chris found (or made, or begged for) the time to stop by Zachary’s as much as possible. Despite their short acquaintance, Chris felt himself settling into a familiarity he enjoyed with few family members and almost none of his friends (and never with Olivia, an insidious little voice inside Chris’s head hissed). His initial impression of Zachary had been correct—his sharp wit and biting humor left Chris alternately impressed and in stitches throughout the course of their visits. Chris did not, in any way, notice that Zachary chewed his lip when he was deep in thought, or that his hands were oddly pale compared to the rest of his body, or that his ears seemed too small for the rest of his head, or that his small smile made Chris’s stomach do flip-flops like he was a teenager again.
After one particularly grueling week, where JJ seemed to stretch the limits of everyone’s patience and the November chill and utter isolation from the L.A. social life the rest of the cast was used to was causing an almost cabin-fever like restlessness, Chris drove to Zachary’s house to find the building unoccupied. Zach had left a note on the table in his tight, neat handwriting: ‘I had to stay later than usual at school today to finish up some projects. You’re welcome to come over, as I’m afraid I won’t be getting back home until much later. Zachary.’
Chris thought about the nightstand he had seen beside Zachary’s bed, and the way the drawer was big enough to hold much more than just the Bible he knew Zachary kept there. Chris left quickly before the temptation to invade Zach’s privacy overwhelmed him.
“I might have actually paid attention in school,” Chris said, leaning on the doorframe to the one-room schoolhouse, “if you had been my teacher.”
Zach looked up, startled, from his desk and smiled at Chris. “Somehow,” Zach said teasingly, “I’m not sure I believe that.”
Chris smiled and walked fully into the room. Somehow, it was bigger than he had expected it to be; then again, his last experience of a one-room school house had been watching Little House on the Prairie reruns with his sister when he was ten. There were about thirty simple desks in the room, a chalkboard on one wall, with Zachary’s desk situated so his back was to the chalkboard when he sat down.
“Little hellions drive you to drinking yet?” Chris joked, wincing a little when Zach just raised a disdainful eyebrow in his direction.
“A highly unlikely scenario,” Zach replied, and Chris couldn’t help but crack up; he sounded so much like Mr. Spock from his mom’s favorite show that it was a little ridiculous. “Quite the opposite—as always, teaching is very rewarding for me.”
“Why’d you decide to teach instead of helping your mom run the restaurant or farming or… something else?” Chris asked, leaning against a desk in the front row.
Zach looked up, and Chris knew he was being a distraction from the work Zach had to do, but Zach said nothing about the intrusion. “When Sarah was alive, I did work at the restaurant, as we had no children to help on a farm of any size,” Zach said, “but after her death it was… difficult, for quite some time, to work at all.”
Zach was silent for a moment. “Then, the previous schoolteacher got married, and I was young enough, single enough, and smart enough for the job.” Zach smiled. “I’ve grown to enjoy it over the years, and since there’s probably no man in town who would marry their daughter to the local schoolteacher, I have no pressure to remarry.”
Chris smiled. “So you’re not… interested in remarrying, or just there’s no one available?”
Zach colored behind his beard and at the tips of his ears, and Chris’s stomach did a turn, again, at just how adorable it was. “I… Sarah’s death was difficult,” he said, “and to most, that is reason enough to stay unmarried.”
“But what about to you?” Chris wasn’t sure why he was pushing this topic so much; maybe it was because Chris wanted to know everything about this man, or because he wanted Zach to be happy, or because the thought of Zach with anyone else made Chris want to throw up or punch something.
“Why did you decide to become an actor?” Zach asked, looking down at his paper.
Chris started a little at the uncharacteristic avoidance, but allowed the subject change with nothing more than a curious stare. “Well, most of my family is involved in some way in acting,” he began to say, but stopped himself as he felt that mask of Chris Pine, actor, slip over him, “but… I enjoy getting to bring stories to life, as terribly hackneyed as that sounds,” Chris said with a grimace, running a hand over the back of his neck. “I love getting to walk around in someone else’s skin for just a little while, getting to give voices to people who can’t speak by themselves, you know?”
Zach looked up from his papers again, and the beginnings of a sunset streamed through the window and hit his face in such a way that his eyes look amber, toffee colored, and Chris drew a quick breath. “I understand completely,” Zach said, and Chris wondered if it was possible to die for wanting.
"So you're his wedding date?" Karl asked as Chris was buttoning up a simple blue shirt to wear to Zachary's cousin's wedding.
"Didn't realize it was so serious-- you going to pop the question any day now, hmmm?"
Chris just rolled his eyes, by now used to Karl's rather unique, if offensive, sense of humor. "Not quite," Chris said wryly, straightening his cuffs. "And besides, it's not so much the wedding I've been invited to as the... 'let's eat all the leftovers from the giant lunch we made because we don't have fridges' wedding afterparty."
"But you're going anyway," Karl said, a little too knowingly, and the soft look in Karl's eyes made Chris feel fidgety, like his mom was asking him about that cute girl in his sixth grade class again.
"Yep," Chris said cheerfully, flashing him a blindingly white smile as he grabbed his keys and walked out of his trailer. "I'll see you tomorrow, don't wait up!"
Chris was already out the door by the time Karl rolled his eyes and rubbed his hands over his face, and in his car by the time he had picked up the phone to call John.
Zachary's small, one-room house was packed with people, extraordinarily warm despite the frigid temperature outside. Chris milled around, surprised that he even recognized a few familiar faces.
"Chris!" Chris turned to see Joe standing off to the side, dressed in jeans and a button-up, and looking quite out of place (not that I look any better, Chris thought). "What a surprise," Joe said as he shook Chris's hand with a smile. "Zach didn't mention if you'd be able to make it today or not."
Chris smiled back. "Yeah, things are starting to slow down since we're getting closer to our holiday break-- the timing of the film means we'll actually be working on Christmas, but we're getting three weeks off starting Friday."
"That's fantastic," Joe said. "Headed back to the wife and kids?" he joked.
Chris laughed and shook his head. "Please," he said, "like I could get a woman to agree to spend any time with my family."
"You and me both, apparently," Joe said with a wry laugh. "Amalie managed to weasel her way out of this-- not that I blame her. It's weird for me, and I grew up with this. She's never felt really... comfortable here," Joe said, looking over at Chris with an odd expression. "You know what I mean, yeah?"
Chris was surprised to find that he didn't-- quite the opposite. There was something comforting about the hustle and bustle of all the people crowded together to celebrate the start of two people's life together, something soothing about seeing smiles and hearing laughs and watching life unfold. There was something about being in Zach's life, too, that made Chris warm from the inside; here was a quiet, private man who had no small share of heartbreak in his life who was still willing to make room for someone who had been a complete stranger in a strange land. Chris bit his bottom lip as he looked across the room and saw Zach sitting at the kitchen table, talking with what looked like his mother, his aunt, and a few uncles, laughing and completely at ease.
"Yeah," was all Chris said, "totally," and Joe just gave him a small, calculated smile before moving on to speak to other guests.
Later, when most of the guests had left and Chris was hanging around mostly to help clean up and talk to Zach, an older gentleman with a rather stooped walk came up to talk to Zach, speaking in Pennsylvania German. Chris couldn't understand what he was saying, but he certainly recognized the man's angry tone and Zach's bewildered and then irate expressions. It wasn't until Zach began gesturing at Chris and waving him closer that Chris asked what was going on.
"Tell the dear Reverend this is your book," Zach said. Chris looked from the odd pleading expression in Zachary's eyes to the binding on the otherwise black hardback-- Maurice, it read in a simple silver stamp-- and then up at the Reverend's angry face.
"Yes," Chris said without hesitation. "I usually bring books with me to read, and I hadn't realized I had even left this over here, thank you, Zachary--"
But before Chris could finished, the Reverend handed the book back to Chris and left without a word. Chris got the impression he wasn't convinced of the book's true ownership, but he couldn't very well call either of the two a liar without more proof.
"I'm afraid I've got to go take care of the horses," Zach said suddenly, his voice tight with tension, and fled out the back door.
Chris flipped the book from side to side in his hands as he watched Zach go out to the fence that separated his property from the nearby farm, huddled jacket-less against the November cold. Chris sighed for a moment before grabbing Zach's coat and following him outside.
"So how popular is E.M. Forester among the Amish, exactly?" Chris asked, mostly because he was a smartass and a little peeved, but partly because of a genuine curiosity.
The sheer fear in Zach's eyes was heart wrenching. "You-- you cannot--"
"Zach, hey listen--" Chris said, lifting an arm up to calm him, feeling a little like a trainer soothing a spooked animal, "I won't tell a soul. I promise."
The fear didn't go away, but some of the tension bled out of Zachary's mouth. "You cannot know what I am risking-- what I have risked-- by doing this."
"Your whole life, right?" Chris said, placing a hand on Zach's arm for reassurance. "They'd-- shun, that's the word isn't it, they'd shun you."
"Yes," Zach said, and the tension was back in his face again. "I-- all contact would not be cut off," Zach said, "but I wouldn't be allowed to worship or to eat with my family, or with anyone within the community." Zach swallowed. "I would most certainly lose my job. They might forgive a child for this transgression, or allow leeway because of my profession if the book was innocuous or academic--"
"But gay love stories aren't exactly on the approved reading list?" Chris said.
The look of shock in Zach's widened eyes was almost comical, and Chris was struck yet again by how amber his eyes looked in the dying light. "You've also read this book?"
Chris smiled, clasping his hands together as he leaned forward on the fence. "I majored in English--" and Zach's confused look prompted him to backtrack. "In college, my studies focused entirely around books, reading and interpreting them." An odd sort of hunger was plain on Zach's face, and Chris was struck by how wasted this man's intelligence and curiosity was here. "The school I went to-- well, suffice to say I had very little choice on whether or not I read Maurice.”
"So, then," Zach said, "the—nature of the – the subject matter, that is, of this novel is not… novel… for the English?”
Chris took a minute to translate, and almost wanted to laugh once he realized what Zach was asking. "No, not at all! Well, it’s not perfectly integrated into our culture yet, and some people still take umbrage, but it’s definitely not unheard of.”
They sat in silence for a while, and Chris was acutely aware that Zach was not looking in his direction, instead gazing out onto the fields, bathed in the dim light of evening. His hand tapped incessantly on the fencepost. Chris just waited-- he knew this conversation was far from over.
"Then," Zach said suddenly, still not looking Chris in the eye, "the subject matter is-- practiced-- outside of books?"
"Yes," Chris said after a deep breath. "Not by everyone, not even by a majority, but yes."
"And they are accepted?"
Chris felt the thrum of his heart in his chest, moved by the weight of trust Zach was placing in him at this moment. "Not-- not by everyone, but by more than you’d think,” Chris replied and turned to look at Zachary. “By me.”
Zach turned his head slowly away from Chris, looking back out at the fields, and nodded, his lips pursed almost painfully tight. "I… I was almost unsure that such practices even existed,” Zachary said with an air of confession, “outside the realm of fiction.”
Chris couldn't help the small grin that spread across his face. "They do," he said, "they definitely do."
Zach's brow furrowed again suddenly, and he turned to look at Chris. "Have—that is—I do not wish to presume to take advantage of your honesty, but – have… are you—familiar—with these acts?” The terror was back again in his eyes.
Chris ran his tongue over his lip before speaking. "Yes,” he said finally, “but… sometimes things aren’t so black and white. I’ve loved women before, too,” he said slowly, not wanting it to sound like a dismissal or an excuse, “but I am quite familiar with these acts.”
Zach became silent again, his expression unreadable. They both watched the fields as the night chill set in, the stars twinkling sharply against the evening sky. "Is it," he said softly, almost inaudibly, "so bad a thing? To want to know?"
Chris's heart shattered into a million pieces for this man, his friend, and replied just as softly, but with no less conviction, into the night, "No. No, it's not."
Chris couldn't see Zach's face in the dark of the evening, but he heard a quick exhalation of breath and saw his friend's head nod down to rest on his hands against the fencepost. "You are the first," Zach said, and Chris felt his heart clench with the restrained tears he heard in that voice, "that I have ever-- that--"
Chris, unable to stand withholding physical contact any longer, reached out his hands and laid them gingerly on Zach's shoulders, not wanting to scare the already terrified man. Chris was surprised when Zach sort of fell against him, wrapping his long arms around Chris's waist and burying his face in Chris's neck. Chris returned the gesture, pulling Zach close with his arms around his back. Chris realized that this was as much a familiar feeling as he had ever felt, being encompassed by Zachary in all his intelligence, in all his insecurity, in all his warmth.
Zach took a deep breath against Chris's skin, as if drawing as much of Chris into himself as possible, before pulling away, though his hands were still clasped around Chris's waist and his forehead was resting against Chris's. "If I seem too forward, or have misinterpreted-- please understand that I am not well versed in this language," he said softly, the warm puff of his breath steaming against the cold air.
"You could never be too forward with me, Zach," Chris replied, a hand coming up to stroke the hair at the nape of Zachary's neck. "If anything, I should be worried that I'm-- rushing you. If there's anything you don't want, just say so." His hand moved from the nape of Zach's neck down to the small of his back again. "And if there's anything you need," Chris continued, "be sure to let me know that, too."
Zach drew a shuddering breath. "I..." he said, as his thumb began to rub against Chris's side, slipping under his jacket to rub against the soft material of his t-shirt, "I do not know," he continued, "how to ask for what I want, or even what I need." Zach's hand came up to rest against Chris's cheek. "Especially when I have already been given so much." Zach's other hand was now completely against the skin of Chris's side, sliding across as best it could given the restriction of Chris's winter clothing. "But I know that I trust you, and I trust your judgment, and I think that you have known what I need for longer than I have."
Chris turned his head to lay a soft kiss on the palm of Zach's hand before beginning to disentangle himself from Zach. "Come with me, then," Chris said, taking Zach's hand in his and leading him inside the house.
The party-guests were long gone, and Zach's normally immaculate house was still a mess from the large gathering, but both of them ignored it as Chris lead Zach to the small, open space in front of the fireplace, roaring with the only source of heat for the house. Chris grabbed a quilt and spread it out before sitting down, gesturing for Zach to sit across from him.
"You have to promise me," Chris said as he took Zach's hands in his, "that you'll tell me if you get too scared or uncomfortable--"
"I have a sneaking suspicion this is as comfortable as I have ever been," Zach said, lifting Chris's hands to place kisses on the knuckles.
Chris swallowed around the lump in his throat as he leaned forward to press a gentle kiss against Zach's lips, pulling back quickly to make sure-- of what, Chris didn't know, but he was reassured completely when Zach let a small noise go in his throat and leaned forward to plant a kiss of his own against Chris's lips.
As they unwrapped each other slowly, pulling away hats and coats and untying scarves, Chris wondered if this is what explorers felt like when they had found uncharted territory. A flick of his tongue against Zach's ear-- was Chris the first to hear that quick gasp? A suck against the nape of Zach's neck-- had anyone else felt Zach's hands running across his back in appreciation? Was Chris the first to marvel at the planes of Zach's body, the first to feel him pressed close in every way that mattered? Had anyone else bothered to notice that Zach positively writhed when his nipples were licked, or that he moaned, low and deep, when a body was thrust against his?
When Zach came, panting and gasping into Chris's hand, Chris knew that even if he wasn't the first, he wanted to be the last person who would ever see Zach like this, pale and perfect and glowing in the firelight.
The sun was just starting to come up, revealing frost-covered fields, when Chris's eyes came slowly open. Zach was already bustling about, dressed for the day and cleaning up from the night before. Chris pulled the blanket around his bare torso-- although the fire had provided enough heat from the night before, the low-burning coals weren't enough to ward off the early morning chill. Chris felt a deeper cold settle into his bones as he watched Zach work to get his things for the day together, and wondered where he was supposed to fit into Zach's life, or what exactly he was supposed to do. As it was, he didn't know what to do other than sit up and draw the blanket closer around his shoulders.
Finally, Zach stopped gathering his things and looked at Chris, running a slow hand across his beard before coming to sit next to him on the floor. "Whatever comes of this," Zach said, leaning his head on Chris's shoulder, "I'm not sorry."
Chris leaned back, closing his eyes and willing down the voice that insisted, still, that this was a bad idea, and replied, "Me either."
Chris's life took on an odd duplicity for the next week-- the cast and crew were working their asses off to stay on schedule for production before the winter break, and Chris found himself surrounded, once more, by slightly irritable costars (all of whom were looking forward to going back home to family, friends, and the warm Cali climate); but late nights and early mornings meant time spent with Zach, a time that was deceptively simple and domestic. Chris, by Saturday, had to remind himself that this was completely impossible to maintain, that they came from two different worlds, that asking Zach to leave with him and never look back was horrifically unfair--
An argument with himself he was bound to lose, so long as Zach was nuzzling his beard into Chris's neck.
Chris sighed as Zach began kissing his way, slowly, back up to Chris's mouth, like he was determined to memorize the slope of Chris's jaw before... before. Chris turned his head, impatient, and began to kiss Zach hungrily, just as desperate to know this man, to share and to give while there was time.
Chris, usually content to lie back and let Zach explore (because heaven knew the man had earned the right, and it's not like Chris had a hard time letting Zach discover the joys of giving another man pleasure), but tonight, Chris was feeling the weight of their situation anew-- a week wasn't enough time, and now they had less than that. Every kiss Chris planted onto Zach's skin became an "I'm sorry," every swipe of a hand a "don't let me go just yet." Chris nipped small marks into the thin skin on Zach's hips, begging him not to forget (gone for three weeks at Christmas, three weeks back, gone forever-- like a mantra in Chris's mind).
Chris, a little desperately, began mouthing against Zach's cock, looking up and drinking in the broken expression on Zach's face. Chris lapped slowly at the head, not breaking eye contact, and Zach was panting, nodding, letting Chris know with his body that this was okay-- more than okay. Chris didn't waste any time after that, fitting as much of Zach's not inconsiderable length into his mouth, reveling in the way Zach couldn't help but buck up, gagging Chris (three weeks away, three weeks back, gone forever, I need to remember this). All too soon, Zach was arching his back with a cry that made Chris glad, for once, that Zach's house was so isolated, and Chris swallowed as best he could, grimacing at the bitter taste (three weeks away, three weeks back, gone forever, I need to remember this).
Chris rested his head against Zach's hip, looking up into the wrecked face of the other man, and felt inexplicably tired. Once Zach had caught his breath, he wrestled Chris underneath him, and Chris arched up to kiss him, cock throbbing at the way Zach paid no mind to his own bitter taste in Chris's mouth-- if anything, he licked more enthusiastically. Zach's hand began working its way into Chris's pants as Zach leaned down to Chris's ear and said, “How do you know just what it is I want—“
Zach’s hand set a punishing pace, and Chris could only pant and thrust his hips in time as best he could; this wasn’t going to last long.
“—when I’ve been looking for so long—“
“Zach,” Chris moaned, arching his back and hips.
“—and you’re so beautiful, Chris, Chris, Chris—“ Zach began chanting in time with the motion of his hand, like he couldn’t help himself, and Chris finally lost it, reveling in the way Zach smeared his come around his softening dick and the undiminished passion in Zach’s eyes.
Gone for three weeks, back for three weeks, Chris thought as he snuggled as close to Zach as possible, gone for good..
California was equal parts exactly what Chris was dreading and exactly what Chris needed. The warm air and familiar presence of his family was a reminder of what, exactly, his real life entailed, and why, precisely, Zach would never fully integrate.
Katie, of course, noticed something was wrong right away. “You leave some sweet young thing pining for you in Pennsylvania? Or did she leave you?” she joked as she was picking him up from the airport.
Chris tried not to notice as Karl and John looked away and pretended not to listen as he just rolled his eyes at his sister. “Always assuming that melodrama follows me around,” Chris joked.
“That wasn’t a no,” Katie said wryly, and Chris sent up a silent prayer of thanks as she was distracted by the arrival of his luggage.
Of course, the last time Chris had kept anything important from his sister, he was in utero—he knew spilling the beans about Zach was an inevitability.
But that didn’t mean he had to enjoy the conversation.
“You slept with him?” Katie practically shouted as Chris sat down on his parents’ couch and tried to will himself into a universe where he was not having this conversation.
“Well, Katherine, that’s generally what adults do when they like like each other,” Chris said bitterly, trying to find a comfortable position without spilling his hot cocoa.
Katie just shook her head and poured a splash of rum into her own mug. “Don’t pander to me, Chris, and did you ever stop to think about how this could affect him? Zachary isn’t an experiment or—or a fucking one night stand—“
“No, Katie, I didn’t think,” Chris said bitterly. “I didn’t think about the fact that both of us were never going to see each other again after I left, that this could keep him from seeing his mom ever again, and I sure as hell didn’t think about the fact that I’m goddamn in love with him at this point, and that leaving without asking him to follow me is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Your little brother is just thoughtless like that.”
The two sat in terse silence for a few minutes.
“Chris,” Katie asked softly, finally, “forgive me for sounding callous, but how did this even happen? I mean, what could you two possibly have in common? He was married, Chris, had a life completely foreign to yours. Hell, from what little I understand about Amish culture, he’ll probably get married again before he dies.”
Chris buried himself deeper in the couch, taking a sip of hot cocoa to delay his answer. “I can’t explain it,” he finally said, “as it should have been a train wreck. Well, more than it already is—but we just fit together like we’ve known each other for years. You know how introverted I can get, especially after a day on set, but he was—is—the only person I would want to see when I was done working.”
Katie looked at him, an odd mix of pity and affection written plainly on her face. “Oh little brother, you can’t do anything simply, can you?”
Chris scoffed. “No. It’s in my contract.”
“Just… you know you can’t ask him to come with you.”
Chris nodded slowly. “My brain knows that, I think,” he responded, “but the rest of me is kind of pissed about that.”
Katie grimaced. “Well, the two of you weren’t supposed to be together at all—you were living on borrowed to begin with. Just, I don’t know, appreciate what time you have?”
“Easier said than done,” Chris muttered.
As Chris boarded the plane back to Pennsylvania and tried to avoid the too-knowing looks Karl kept shooting Chris in the lulls of his conversation with John, he tried desperately to temper his growing excitement with the knowledge that he would be leaving again in three short weeks, leaving Zach to go back to his normal routine and Chris to go back to acting and LA. There was no feasible way for them to stay together, Chris kept telling himself.
Judging by the strange look the flight attendant kept giving him because of the smile threatening to take over his entire face, Chris figured he was failing pretty miserably at not getting his hopes up.
- FIC: Sun from Both Sides