Zach's house was empty.
Sure, his bed was there, and yes, his furniture was all still in place, it looked like no one had lived there in weeks—there was no food in the cupboards, all of Zach’s books were missing, and the small things that Chris had begun to associate with Zach (the lavender he kept in the windowsill, the stack of students’ papers on the table, shoes next to the doorway) were all gone. It was almost as if—but no, Chris thought, there was no way—no chance—
“He said you would probably stop by today,” a voice said from Zach’s bedroom, and Chris nearly jumped out of his skin before he realized it was just Joe. “Said you’d probably stop by right as you’d got back in town, in fact.”
“Yeah,” Chris said, suddenly nervous and still befuddled. “Listen, where’s—“
“He left,” Joe said, his face carefully blank, “about a week and a half after you did. He left a letter for the Elders and a separate one for my mom, and went to go stay with a great-uncle we have in Pittsburgh.”
Chris felt the bottom drop out of his stomach and the blood rush from his head. “Oh my god, Joe—“
“Mom couldn’t stop crying for at least a week,” Joe continued, stepping more into the main room and closer to Chris. “See, Zachary was all she had left of my dad—the only Amish man left in her family. The only real
man,” Joe scoffed, brushing at his eyes. “She loves me, deeply, but she and I both know that simply by virtue of our lifestyles that she was always going to be closer to Zachary, that she would be the one to help raise his kids, to go live with him once she got too old to take care of herself.”
Chris was trying to find some footing, some place of familiarity. “I had no idea, Joe—“
“Didn’t you?”Joe said suddenly, his eyes narrowing at Chris. The two stood in uncomfortable silence. “He left you this letter,” Joe said, finally, handing Chris a folded letter with a seal keeping it shut. “Seemed to think you would want to know what happened.”
Chris swallowed, looking down at the paper. “Joe, I’m sorry—“
“No, you’re not,” Joe snapped, pausing on his way out to turn and look at Chris. “Zachary lives his own life and makes his own choices, but both of us know you wanted this.”
Chris stood, speechless and alone, in Zach’s house for some time after that.
By now you will know that I have left the community, and I am sorry that there was no way to get word to you before now. I will do my best to explain myself fully to you—more fully than I am able to with anyone else in my life at this moment.
There is a young widow in our community, Hannah. Her husband died almost a year ago of a heart attack, quit unexpectedly, and she was left with a farm and a young boy to tend for. The Elders have been speaking to me of remarrying for some time—since not long after Sarah died—but until now there have been no suitable women in the community for me to marry. Hannah, however, had expressed interest in marrying me once she had proper time to mourn. The Elders had approached me not long before you left and asked if I would consider marrying Hannah. You must understand, Chris, the importance of marriage and children to us. It is everything— a single man at my age is close to unheard of, and to turn down this opportunity would be considered going against God’s will.
I thought, for a time, that I could marry Hannah and help raise her son; they are good, honest people, and I do love her like a sister. But the longer I thought, the more I realized that this was nothing like Sarah. There is no longer any question as to my proclivities and the direction God has placed in my life—with Sarah, there was hope that I was simply misguided or incorrect or any number of things, but now… to marry Hannah would be to lie to her, to myself, and to God. To marry any woman would mean all of these things. If I could find fault with Hannah, the Elders would simply find another woman, again and again. There would be no escape from this, and I could not hide myself any longer.
I had to leave, Chris. There was no option for me. And know this—the only regret I have is leaving my mother behind. I tremble, even now, to think of her being alone. But that is the only regret, Chris. You soothed my doubts and insecurities I had about myself, and taught me what it means to love, even as I am fully loved in return, for the first time in my life. You cannot know what that means to me, but I beg you to try.
Joseph is waiting for me now, so I must be quick. (He knows we are friends, but I am not sure yet if he would be better for knowing the full extent of our companionship). I am going to stay with family in Pittsburgh, and I would ask you to join me in a heartbeat if I knew that was what you needed, or even what you wanted. But I can see that you love acting as much as I love teaching—I would have resented you if you had asked me to leave, how could I not expect the same from you? I love you too much to ask you to leave something that brings you joy. I am still selfish, though, and would ask you to leave contact information with Joseph if you wish—know that I will ask him for it when the time is right.
I love you, Christopher.
Chris found a sad sort of irony in the fact that he now had more free time than ever, as all of his scenes were filmed and the production team only needed to reshoot or wrap up a few more things, but had no Zach to spend that time with. John and Karl gave him small, sad smiles whenever they saw Chris on set—Chris still wasn’t sure exactly how much they knew and how much they were guessing at, but it was clear that they were both less clueless than Chris had originally thought. At any rate, Chris was glad that most of the cast at the very least sensed his foul mood and steered clear of his trailer.
Needless to say, Chris was pretty surprised to hear a light knock on his trailer door one afternoon, and even more shocked to see Joe walk through, looking awkward and tense. “I’m sorry to bother you—“
“No, no, it’s fine, come in,” Chris replied, hastily sitting up from his reclining position on the couch. “I’d offer you some water, but—“
“No, I’m fine,” Joe replied with a tight smile. “I just… I know this is intrusive and I’m sorry, but I wanted to apologize for the other day. I… it’s been hard,” he said, “and there’s a lot of misplaced, free-floating anger going around, but you shouldn’t have had to deal with that.”
“I appreciate the sentiment,” Chris said, “but… you were right. I would never wish what’s happening with your family on anyone, but—“ Chris shook his head and stood up, trying to resist the urge to pace.
“Chris,” Joe said again, and Chris really looked at him for the first time. Grief was written on his face and in his posture, and Chris mind snapped back to when his grandfather had died, and how his dad had walked around for weeks with a look and a posture exactly like Joe’s.
“God, is—is Zach okay? I mean, have you gotten to talk with him at all? He didn’t get hurt, did he?” Chris babbled off, suddenly concerned beyond reason.
Joe actually smiled a bit. “He’s fine, Chris—he’s living with my dad’s brother in Pittsburgh. They’re Mennonite, and their church is actually really good about helping… ex-Amish get their footing.”
Chris nodded, inexplicably relieved.
Joe opened his mouth as if he was going to say something, but thought better of it and turned to go to the door. Chris debated for a moment in his mind before speaking. “Joe?”
“Yes?” Joe responded, paused at the door.
“I don’t… know what Zach has told you,” Chris said slowly, “but if there’s anything you want or need to ask me, I owe you at least that much.”
Joe sighed, shaking his head. “He hasn’t told me anything, but Chris, I’ve known this kid his whole life, and he can’t hide anything from me. He says he doesn’t want to get married again, and I’m not an idiot, despite what my brother thinks, and I know
him, Chris,” Joe said. “I know him better than he knows himself most of the time. He’s my brother, and nothing—nothing—would change that, but that also means I’m able to hear what he isn’t saying. So I need you to tell me, honestly—would you—did—“
“Had he asked, I would have followed him anywhere,” Chris said without hesitation, shocking himself. “I… I couldn’t have asked him to leave, because he would have hated me, and I couldn’t stay with him if he had stayed. But—I would have followed him .”
Joe nodded slowly as the stance of his body relaxed tenfold. “Let me be sure to get your contact info before you go.”
Chris had prepared himself for leaving Pennsylvania—for leaving Zach—since the moment they had gotten together. He had run through every possibility, from a callous and brief affair to Zach showing up at the airport and causing a scene, and sorted through his emotional responses to each one. What Chris hadn’t counted on, he soon realized as the bus full of cast and crew pulled up to the airport, was Zach leaving first and leaving Chris to deal with this on his own.
California never really changed, Chris knew, so it was a bit of a shock to come back to his same apartment, with the same empty rooms and woefully decorated windows, and find it completely intolerable. It took him five minutes to find a realtor in the phone book, ten minutes to buy out the rest of his lease, a week to pack his things, and two days to find and move into a house in Silverlake.
It took Chris another two weeks to muster up the courage to call Joe.
“Joe Quinto,” said a professional voice on the other line.
“Hey, Joe, it’s Chris, Chris Pine,” Chris replied, pacing across his living room.
“Chris, hey,” Joe said, and Chris could hear the question in his voice. “Didn’t expect to hear from you so soon.” Or ever,
his tone seemed to imply.
“Yeah, I… changed addresses, kind of a last minute thing, and I just thought—in case—“
“Yeah,” Joe said, his voice softer somehow. “Yeah, I’d be happy to get that from you.”
Chris recited his new address (and new zip code, even), and was preparing to say goodbye when Joe interrupted him.
“I talked to Zach last week, Chris,” Joe said, “and—“
“Listen, Joe, I appreciate it,” Chris said in a strained voice. “I really do, and you have to know I care about what happens to your brother, and about his happiness. But at this point, for my sanity, I don’t think it would be best—just—let me know if something bad happens, will you?”
The line was silent for a moment, and Chris thought he heard a trace of anger in Joe’s voice when he finally replied, “Will do.”
Chris felt his eyes jump around the living room of his still relatively new house, feeling a restlessness crawl under his skin and settle there, despite the fact that it was four in the morning and he hadn’t slept more than forty-five minutes at a time for the past week. Chris felt like he needed to run, like he needed to just get out—
Chris violently shoved himself off the couch to go put some tennis shoes on, and let the rhythmic pounding of his feet against the treadmill lull him into some semblance of exhaustion.
“You look like shit,” Karl said with a sympathetic head tilt as Chris sat down for breakfast at a local coffee shop.
“And a happy Wednesday to you too,” Chris said with a wry smile, secretly pissed that the dark circles and bloodshot eyes he saw in the mirror weren’t some delusion he had invented in his sleep deprived state.
“Seriously, when’s the last time you slept?” Karl asked, glowering when Chris mumbled something under his breath. “Chris.”
“Two weeks,” Chris finally said, like it was wrenched out of him. “If you count an actual, full-night’s sleep, but I’ve had some decent naps in the past couple of days—“
Karl’s look cut Chris’s bullshitting off more effectively than anything he could have said. “Chris,” he said again, his eyes sympathetic and worried.
,” Chris said, “but I just—I’m not tired, I feel like I’m crawling out of my own skin all the time, and that’s if I don’t feel like being a vegetable and sitting on the couch for fifteen hours a day—“
“There’s someone I want you to talk to,” Karl said, pulling a card out of his wallet. “I’ve never had a tragic gay romance, but my life hasn’t exactly been all sunshine and roses—“
“I’m fine, Karl,” Chris protested, but left their breakfast with the counselor’s card in hand and, somehow, a heavier heart because he wasn’t fooling everyone half as much as he had hoped.
And, apparently, not even a quarter much as he had hoped, judging from several blogs that had surfaced in the past two weeks, all with overly dramatic titles like, NEW ABRAHMS MOVIE STAR CHRIS PINE UNDER THE WEATHER?
or CHRIS PINE SUFFERING FROM MYSTERY AILMENT?
The comments section actually had Chris laughing, with fans diagnosing him with everything from the common cold to early symptoms of HIV/AIDS.
He figured as long as none of them brought up ‘broken heart caused by improbable and torrid gay affair with an Amish man,’ he was doing just fine.
Chris wasn’t that surprised, then, to get a call from JJ.
“Chris, you feeling okay?” JJ asked. “The blogosphere is alight with tales of your soon-to-be-announced demise.”
Chris was an actor, and a damn good one—he had made his drama professor in college weep when he had effectively portrayed a flu-ridden man in a one-act play. He was also suffering from an acute case of moral ineptitude, because he only felt a slight twinge of guilt when he rasped into the phone, “Actually, I’m not dying, but it sort of feels like it? And the doctors say I should really be concerned if the fever goes above 100 again—“
“Yeah, you’re not going on the press tour,” JJ decided quickly, as if Chris’s germs could magically migrate down the phone line, and Chris had to struggle to repress a full on smile. “We’ll work something out with ET or the Today Show, and get you on some stuff around town, but you just focus on getting better before the premiere.”
“You sure the higher ups are going to be okay with this?” Chris asked, with genuine confusion and a fake rasp.
“You forget who also produced this film,” JJ said, “and if the reviews and test audiences are anything to go buy, this film will do just fine without you killing yourself to promote it.”
The premiere went surprisingly well—Chris managed to drag himself out of his house for the first time in too long, and even managed to look “appropriately and smashingly well put together,” according to the general consensus of the fashion mags. The audience loved the film, the critics were as adoring of a blockbuster as they could be without losing street cred, and Chris was able to reaffirm the fact that he wasn’t dying of cancer or the black plague or whatever the latest rumor was about his health status.
Chris had drank enough by the end of the evening to even flirt with a few people, although Karl had (thankfully) shoved him into a cab before things could have been taken any further.
Chris woke the next morning with an abominable headache and a lighter spirit, feeling like something had shaken loose, if only for a moment.
Chris had just woken up from a nap the first time it happened.
He was blinking blearily into the midafternoon sun streaming in his window, wondering how long he had been asleep, when he saw an oddly familiar form walk by on the sidewalk—if it wasn’t for the purple hoodie, the dog the man was walking, and the sheer impossibility of Zach being in California, Chris would have sworn his life on the fact that it was Zachary.
Chris rolled back over, wrote the whole thing off as an odd coincidence—everyone has a doppelganger, right? – and went to get some food from his kitchen.
The second time, Chris was more than tipsy with a few friends, and somewhere in his drunken haze he cursed himself for being unable to tell wishful thinking from reality any more, for being unable to leave Zach alone, even in his own mind.
The third time, Chris had convinced himself he was going bananas. There was obviously someone who lived in Silverlake who walked his dog around the same time every day who just happened to bear a passing resemblance to the Amish man who had inadvertently broken his heart. No reason to be upset.
Chris angrily pushed himself off the couch to go do some laps on the treadmill, but the sound of a dog barking caught his attention—Not-Zach was walking up to his house, and Chris firmly told himself that this was not Zach, despite the similarities between the two, and he was not going to cry, damn it.
The sound of the doorbell jarred Chris out of his musings, and Chris made his way over to go open it.
“Hello,” the man on the other side said, “I was just wondering if—“
But Chris couldn’t think, couldn’t so much as breathe
when all his blood was rushing from his head to his feet because this was undeniably, unmistakably Zachary—he was clean shaven, but still wearing a hat, though it was much more ridiculous than anything Chris had seen him wear before; he was still tall, still with enough eyebrows for ten people.
He was still the most beautiful man Chris had ever seen, and beneath the disbelief and the anger and the confusion, Chris knew he still loved Zach just as much as he ever did.
“Chris?” Zach breathed, looking just as gobsmacked as Chris felt.
The two continued to stand in silence, staring at the other, before the dog, presumably Zach’s, barked his desire to continue on their walk.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Chris said finally, still frozen to the spot.
“I—I’m walking my dog,” Zach said, “and ran out of grocery bags to scoop up the waste, and I was wondering—“
“I mean in Los Angeles,” Chris said pointedly, finally having the presence of mind to move back inside the doorway, gesturing Zach and the dog inside the house. “I mean what are you doing not in Pennsylvania.”
“I’m teaching,” Zach said, still a little breathless, following Chris inside. “It’s at a private Christian school because I don’t technically have the accreditation or training to teach anywhere else, but I’m enrolled at a local college so I can get to the point where I can teach high schoolers—“
“But how did you even get here?” Chris asked, wondering if he was imagining the desperate tone in his voice. “It’s not like you had a reason to come all this way.”
“Didn’t I?” Zach said, looking Chris in the eye for the first time, and Chris swallowed at the sudden and familiar rush of attraction that flooded his body.
“This wasn’t the way this was supposed to go,” Zach muttered, mostly to himself, as Chris began pacing restlessly around the room before coming to an awkward stop at one of his kitchen barstools. “I was supposed to call you up in six months to let you know I had established myself in Los Angeles, that I had moved out here to start teaching again, and not run into you and make you think I’m some sort of deranged stalker—“
“So you didn’t know this was my neighborhood?” Chris said dubiously.
“No clue,” Zach said. “You have to believe me, Chris, I had no clue.” The dog, noticing Zach’s loose grip on the leash, made his way over to a corner of the room lit by sunlight to settle down for a nap, and Chris waved a hand when he saw Zach start to go after him.
“Don’t worry, he’s free to do whatever. But didn’t Joe give you my contact information?” Chris asked, still skeptical.
“Just a phone number,” Zach said. “And… Chris, he told me… that you didn’t seem to keen on me contacting you unless it was an emergency.”
Chris didn’t realize what he was doing until Zach’s back was against the wall and Chris’s fingers were tracing Zach’s eyebrows. “I am always keen on seeing you,” Chris said, not caring about the rasp in his voice as he felt Zach’s breathing hitch. “There will never, ever be a day or a situation where I do not want to see you.”
It was hard to tell who moved first, but both of them surged into the kiss of Chris’s life. It was sloppy and both of them used too much tongue, but technique was the furthest thing from Chris’s mind as the taste of Zach flooded him for the first time in almost a year.
“Missed you—so much—“ Chris panted when they both were forced to come up for air.
Zach let out a desperate laugh when Chris took the opportunity to latch himself onto Zach’s throat. “I saw that—stupid
movie an abominable amount of times just to see your stupid face, but it was never enough—never the same—“
Chris felt frantic as his reached up Zach’s shirt, clawing for any sort of contact, like Zach was going to disappear again if he didn’t get him naked as quickly as possible. Shirts were swiftly disposed of, and Chris moaned at the feel of Zach’s hands roving over his back and Zach’s body rutting against his.
“Bed?” Zach panted, letting out a whine at a particularly hard thrust from Chris.
Chris was inclined to agree, but that meant separating from Zach for more than was strictly necessary—and that was unacceptable. Instead, Chris dropped to his knees and slid Zach’s shorts and briefs (and how odd to not have to take a moment to work with the odd buttons and unfamiliar workings of Amish clothing), taking Zach into his mouth without preamble.
“Guess not,” he heard Zach mumble.
Chris didn’t care how desperate he seemed, didn’t care that he was moments away from coming in his pants before he even touched his own dick. All that mattered was the sounds, familiar and long missed, coming from Zach’s mouth, the smell and the taste of Zach filling Chris’s senses. Zach’s hands tangled in Chris’s hair—only to reassure, not to force or to guide—and Zach’s eyes looking down at Chris for the first time in too damn long. When Zach began panting in earnest and tugging Chris’s head away in warning, Chris just sucked harder and savored the bitter flavor that soon filled his mouth.
It took all of three minutes after Chris unzipped his fly and pulled out his own dick before he was coming, moaning Zach’s name.
Zach slid down the wall as Chris scooted up next to him, cuddling against Zach’s body as best he could at the awkward angle.
“Did you really go see my movie?” Chris asked finally, causing the both of them to break into laughter.
“Yeah,” Zach admitted with a grin, “more times than I care to count. It’s embarrassing, truly, but I did miss you that much.”
Chris leaned in to kiss Zach gently, unable to wipe the grin from his face.
“So why did you come to California, anyway?” Chris asked again much, much later as the two of them cuddled in bed.
“If you have to ask, you haven’t been paying attention,” Zach said with a pointed look at their entangled bodies.
Chris let out a huff of laughter. “Well, obviously mind-blowing reunion sex, but what made you decide to come out here if you thought I—I didn’t want to see you?”
Zach was silent for a moment, his hands wandering aimlessly over Chris’s back. “Joe told me that you said you would have followed me,” he said finally, “that you would have given up what you had here to be with me wherever that was possible. It occurred to me, once I had gotten to a point where I could focus on something besides my own guilt and misgivings, that the same was true for me.”
“So you decided to pack up and go west?”
“And convince you, slowly, that the love I felt wasn’t the product of you being the first man I had slept with, or of a novel situation, or a product of anything other than me loving you,” Zach said, looking down at Chris.
“So much for the slow part,” Chris said with a snort, leaning in to peck Zach on the lips and smiling when Zach deepened the kiss.
“I do love you too, you know,” Chris whispered against Zach’s lips, and that was the last talking either of them did for quite some time.
“Oh, Noah,” Zach said suddenly, jerking Chris out of his almost-sleep.
“Whossit?” Chris muttered.
“My dog,” Zach said distractedly. “If he hasn’t relieved himself on your carpet it’ll be a miracle,” he said over his shoulder as he left the bedroom.
Chris smirked as he heard Zach yell something that sounded almost like a curse word. “No miracles for us sinners toay?” Chris shouted.
“This dog hates us,” Zach shouted back. “It’s the only excuse.”
Chris laughed, loopy from exhaustion and good sex, and burrowed deeper into the covers.