It starts like this: Chris is home for the weekend, a quick break from shooting due to some technical difficulties. He hasn’t slept in his own bed for longer than he can remember, so he gets on the first flight out of Canada before McG changes his mind. There is a pile of unopened mail waiting for him, mostly spam, because anything important is forwarded to his agent, but also a letter. The envelope is not unusual, but his name and address are handwritten in a loopy cursive that pings at the back of his mind.
He deals with the rest of the pile, leaving that letter till last. It’s on thin, lined paper, neatly folded in three. Chris isn’t sure what he would have expected, perhaps something with an important header, paper heavy and expensive, but not this.
That was a lie – it was a second start at best. The real beginning is stretched across many first meetings, depending on who you ask, across continents and premieres and making a pretty great movie, if he says so himself. Zach feels grateful that others - both the viewing audience and the critics - seem to agree with his rather biased assessment. Grateful and blessed, because it's a wonderful bonus to the experience itself, and more importantly, the people he’s met through it.
Zach has many friends. He may not be one to trust easily, and he is aware that he can sometimes come across as standoffish, even withdrawn to those who don’t know him, but the reality is that if one were to take a quick glance through his social calendar, they would make the correct impression that Zach has many friends. Yes, he may not trust easily, but once he lets someone through his necessary walls, that person is in there for life. He makes sure contact isn’t lost and tries to take time out in order to keep up with the people he cares for. His preferred method is always face-to-face contact, but he loves his phone, and email is a necessary evil. (Even if getting text messages from Leonard Nimoy will never stop being a little surreal.)
Then there is Chris Pine. Chris may be a fantastic conversationalist, and while he turns up on time whenever they plan to meet, he is absolutely terrible at any other method of communication. Zach really does try, but there is only so much he can do, and so what ends up happening is that they meet up whenever they happen to be in the same city and the rest of the time they have minimum to no contact.
It doesn’t really affect their friendship, because when they do meet it’s always great, and Zach is way too busy to really think about it all that much. Admittedly, when he does think about it, it annoys him, but as no clear solution presents itself, he tries to leave it alone.
More or less.
You once told me you liked letters and…
The café is small and crowded to the brim. A man holding a struggling toddler in one hand and a steaming mug of coffee in the other is giving their corner table with its empty cups a glare, which goes completely unnoticed. They were only going to pop in for a quick coffee, but Chris made an off-handed comment about theatre in New York compared to the rest of the country which rubbed Zach the wrong way, and the argument (debate, Zach would insist on) that followed was rather heated.
“You know, I would absolutely love, it if you were to dedicate an obscure tweet to how right I am about this,” Chris says after it’s all over and they’ve come to realise that they’ve been essentially arguing the same point.
It makes Zach look up sharply only to be met with Chris’ shit-eating grin – blue eyes crinkled with mirth; absurdly long fingers curled around his mug in an ‘about to take a sip’ gesture. It would be even more effective had Zach not known for a fact that there is only a little foam left at the bottom of his cup.
He shakes his head a bit, but can’t help his answering smile. “This coming from the man who told me, and I quote” – Zach pumps up a little in his chair, affecting a bored drawl that sounds nothing like Chris – “‘Twitter seems like the absolute worst waste of time, it’s vainer than acting and cultivates a culture of over-share.’”
“Yeah, well… I still stand by those words, my man, but how I was supposed to know you could bare your soul in so few characters?”
Zach kicks him under the table, but evidently not hard enough.
“It brings tears to my eyes, it really does, it’s pure poetry.” Chris wipes imaginary tears away, while failing spectacularly to keep a straight face. Zach kicks him again for good measure.
“You aren’t joining any time soon, I take it?” Zach asks some time later.
“Ah. Um, not likely, no. You know me, I’m an old-fashioned guy. Give me letters any day,” Chris says, and Zach laughs, but he also files that information away, most likely said in jest as it was.
I think this is a little classier than a late-night phone call…
When Chris calls, Zach is actually asleep: he wakes up believing it’s the alarm clock, but Chris’ name somehow registers and instead of forcefully hitting cancel, he answers. It’s a rare enough occasion to be momentous, and Zach is already awake, so.
“Captain,” Zach says in greeting. It sounds a little rough and he clears his throat after – it comes out louder than he intended in the resulting pause. It’s a silly name, sardonically meant, but Zach fears that it might be betraying some of how he is feeling and is suddenly glad Chris can’t see him.
“Zach… I,” Chris says and laughs, “how do you do it? You gotta tell me, how do you have your life so perfectly put together? Always so put together.” He laughs again, and it isn’t a happy laugh.
“What happened?” Zach asks, hoisting himself into a sitting position as he gets ready to listen.
Chris starts talking. The gaps between his sentences tend to be on the long side, and occasionally Zach has to ask follow-up questions, but what emerges in the end is clear enough – the sudden death of Chris’ latest relationship is the reason for this pity party. It isn’t like Chris at all, and Zach says as much.
“What happened to having no regrets? To just going with life's ebbs and flows?”
“I really liked her, you know,” Chris says, ignoring him. “We had fun and she was fantastic in bed, and…”
Zach stops him there. “All right, that’s enough.” He's a great friend, but he has his limits. “If you're done wallowing in self-pity, I’m going back to sleep.”
“Wait! Zach, I really meant what I said, you manage to have this fantastically balanced life, you pick only projects you find value in, you show calm in the face of the paparazzi, you live your life like you want, and nothing seems to ruffle you,” Chris says. It’s the most sober he’s sounded so far, but the effect is quickly ruined by Chris using his most exaggerated actor voice, to say “Tell me all your darkest secrets, Spock!”
Zach isn’t sure what to say to that. The truth is that he isn't very good at relationships. He focuses on his work, his family and friends, and there is never enough time for anyone else. He isn't celibate by any means, but it’s been longer that he cares to remember since his last bona fide relationship. He doesn’t have a secret boyfriend stashed somewhere, and he spends the majority of his time working – his secret is that there is no secret.
“I moved to New York, where no one gives a shit,” he says, because it's a light non-answer that isn’t quite a lie, and that Chris will probably buy. He is right. They both laugh, and instead of hanging up, Zach stays on the phone and breathes a sigh of relief as the conversation moves to safer topics.
You can miss a person or a play, but you can't miss a letter, even if you are late...
The sun is too hot today, but Zach is sitting in the shade with a mostly empty bottle of wine and Chris Pine. He isn’t sure what series of fortunate events have led to his current predicament, but he isn’t about to question it. It’s nice and peaceful. Really nice. Zach feels lazy and like he should be counting clouds, which is a weird thought to have. Maybe he’s had most of the wine. Chris is looking at him funny through the top of his sunglasses – Zach pretends it’s fondly for just a second.
A dog barks. Zach wishes bringing Noah back with him is at all feasible. It’s more than that he simply misses his pets: the lack of them makes his apartment feel so empty, almost foreign, that he's glad he practically lives at the theatre these days.
“Do you miss it?” Chris asks, and the question startles Zach because he's positive he hasn’t spoken any of his thoughts out loud, until he remembers that they’d been talking about La La Land, and Zach hadn’t answered yet.
He shrugs, the movement mostly lost in the grass. Sort of. It’s home in a way the City isn’t yet. Besides, distance makes it harder to be objective, and all the little day-to-day things that used to irritate him seem so petty now.
“I miss people. I miss my dog and my cat and my house. I miss things that are tangible.”
“Does that mean you're thinking of staying? Permanently, I mean,” Chris asks, lifting his head from where it was resting against the lone tree in the yard in order to look at Zach.
Zach shrugs again. The question is too serious for his state of mind, not to mention that he doesn’t have an answer to it.
“It used to be living in New York City, making it in theatre… is all I ever wanted. Funny how things change, don’t you think? Humans and our infinite desires…” Chris carries on talking when Zach doesn’t answer, eventually trailing off.
He looks happy, Zach thinks. Tired but satisfied and it looks good on him. It makes something ache in Zach's chest, and in an attempt to squash that feeling, he laughs. “Yeah, who needs serious theatre when faced with rom-coms and action flicks? It’s a no-brainer, really,” he says and pre-emptively shifts away, in anticipating of physical retaliation from Chris.
“Nah, doing it all is the mark of a true artiste,” Chris replies with a smile, no longer even remotely self-conscious about his choice of movies.
“Still. You’ll come see me, right? In Angels?” Zach asks. He really wants Chris to be there, but this is the first time he's asked and it makes him feel ridiculously exposed.
“You know I’d love to, but I'm not sure my schedule allows for even a weekend off in the next few months…” Chris sounds immediately apologetic, but Zach no longer feels like counting clouds.
You can revise a letter until it says exactly what you want it to say, and you can’t post it accidentally…
One wrong text message is all it takes. Zach doesn’t even know the exact words, because he is far too careful to ever make such a mistake. It’s Zoe, dear Zoe, whom he sees even more rarely than he sees Chris, but who is shockingly good with emails and sends him occasional random texts. Occasional random mocking texts regarding his “feeeeeelings for Chris Pine”. On one such occasion, she “completely by accident, I am so SORRY, Zach, so sorry, he might not even realise, I will fix this, okay? Xx” sends the message to Chris instead.
It’s not that he thinks Chris will mind, not really, but he knows Zoe’s style and this is not how he would have wanted Chris to find out. It’s not that Zach is a control freak, well perhaps only a little, but for something like this to be taken out of his control so forcefully – it’s a horrible paralysing feeling and Zach is not quite sure how to proceed. Ignoring or confronting, laughing it off or… well not.
The decision is taken out of his hands when Chris calls him later this afternoon.
Zach picks up on the third ring and offers a falsely bright hello, feeling like the world’s biggest idiot.
It isn’t a long conversation. It isn’t even overly awkward, even as they both avoid directly discussing the issue at hand. Chris sounds odd, though not in the way Zach would have expected; more like he is frustrated with something.
“Well, bye then. Hopefully see you soon,” Zach says at the end.
“Bye… No, you know what, Zach? You could’ve just asked me to dinner.” Chris sounds almost angry.
“What? We’ve had dinner plenty of times...”
“You know what I mean,” Chris says and hangs up before Zach can tell him that he doesn’t really, but he would really like it if Chris would explain.
Chris reads through the rest of the letter. It's written in Zach's unmistakable style, and each sentence reminds Chris of occasions they've sat somewhere: talking, eating, laughing, and drinking. Countless memories of moments, each as precious as the next and rarer with time. It isn't even a long letter, less than a page in fact, though each line is filled to the very edge with Zach's surprisingly messy handwriting. It's barely legible at best, which makes Chris smile fondly.
Zach is inviting him to come see Angels in America.
This isn't the first time Zach asked, but Chris is too busy to fly to New York and there really isn't any reason for this to count more than a verbal invitation, and yet it does. Zach ends the letter with 'You owe me one,' and it makes Chris laugh and examine his schedule for a possible opening.
He tries to reply, he really does, but nothing sounds right at all. It's either too casual, too should-have-been-an-email, or too sappy, which isn't warranted. He is unable to pull off the subtext that Zach's letter is full of, and it seems easier to act, to do, to improvise. There is something so premeditated in writing a letter, which isn't Chris' style at all.
Chris feels oddly nervous as he boards the plane two weeks later. He hasn’t called in advance; he doesn’t want Zach to know he’s in the audience. He can’t explain even to himself why that is, but he carries on with his plan even after he finds out that the tickets are all sold out. Of course they are.
He calls the theatre as soon as he checks into his hotel and is informed that there is a waiting list if he wants to go a few hours earlier and wouldn't mind sitting on the stairs. Chris could probably get a ticket by calling Zach or even by just saying who he is, but something stops him.
He makes his way to the theatre straightaway. It is very early still and thankfully no one else waiting yet. It's also colder than he’d planned for, and suddenly what seemed impulsive and romantic in the warmth of his hotel room seems ridiculous when faced with the freezing reality. He's wearing a scarf, tightly wrapped around his neck, as well as a hat and shades: it leaves less than a third of his face visible, which means no knowing looks as of yet. Unfortunately this is probably the one place where he would be unable to escape recognition.
Chris comes to the conclusion that he is being an idiot in the exact moment that a woman comes out of the theatre and rescues him. Well, first she looks at him oddly and frowns for a while, but eventually promises not to say anything to Mr. Quinto and gives him an actual seat. Fifth row, towards the left. Chris thanks her and signs a program for her and tries to be as charming and calm as possible, while internally he is anything but.
After it's over, he waits in his seat until most of the theatre is empty before making his way backstage. He knows that this is only part one and Zach doesn't have very long before part two in the afternoon, but Chris has to see him.
Chris isn't usually the type of person who over-identifies with a character or tries to make a role fit his life and experiences; nevertheless, he feels a bit like he's been hit with a brick over the head. He's seen Zach act before - he's seen Zach act mere inches away from his face - but this is different. Chris knows that theatre is always different: it is for him, that's why he keeps going back, but seeing Zach on that stage makes him feel. Feel things that terrify him.
He knocks on the door of Zach's dressing room. His nails dig into the flesh of his palms, air coming out of his nose in short bursts like he ran a marathon. Like he acted on stage alongside Zach.
"Come in," Zach says through the door.
Chris does. Zach is sitting on the couch, legs folded underneath him. He's still in costume, but his face shows signs of being recently washed, and a wet strand of hair is plastered to his forehead. He is also smiling broadly and doesn't look in the least bit surprised.
"How did you know?”
Zach shrugs. "You were loitering. People saw you. You're in serious need of some sneakiness pointers, my friend."
Chris really wants to hug him, but the way Zach is sitting would make that awkward, so Chris leans against the door instead, in an attempt to ooze 'calm, confident sexiness' or whatever it is that Details photographer kept saying to him. It may even work, because Zach suddenly looks away.
There are many things Chris could say, none of which would be exactly appropriate, so he settles on a rather pressing question instead. "What time do you get off tonight?"
Zach tells him.
"Do you want to go to dinner with me?" Chris asks, and hopes Zach gets it this time.