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Lipstick Traces, Pt. 1 (RPF AU)

Title: Lipstick Traces, Pt. 1 (RPF AU)
Rating: R for now. Will likely increase.
Word Count: 12,800
Summary: Out of work actor and struggling musician Darren Criss believes in a lot of things, but in love more than anything else. How can he not, in a world where everyone's got the name of their one true love emblazoned on their skin? At least, that's what he thought before he met Christopher – AKA reluctant drag queen Izzy Fuhreel - who won't let anyone read his lips. For this prompt on the kink meme. Involves Darren/OFC and mentions of Chris/OMC.
Notes: Wow. Okay, so I started filling this on a whim earlier this week and it quickly spiraled into a lot more than I originally bargained for. I'm making a point of updating it at least once a day on the meme, but I've decided to clean it up and cross-post once a week until it's done. There's also a post here with some of the OCs, if you want to know what they look like.

"Hello, Gorgeous."

"Hey, Ash," Darren said, grinning as she slid behind the bar to join him. "How'm I doing?"

"Perfect," she said. "Just like I knew you would. I'm telling you, you should have taken me up on this sooner."

"You might be right, if the tip jar is anything to go by." He snapped his rag toward an elaborate fishbowl stuffed with bills. "I don't think I ever got that much at the restaurant."

"And just think," Ashley said, placing her hands on his shoulders and giving them a squeeze. "You've only been here for three hours. I'm telling you, between that smile and those cheeks, you're going to be as big of a draw as the entertainment."

"Why do I get the feeling you're not talking about the cheeks on my face?"

"Because I'm not," Ashley said, pressing a kiss to his cheek. "That little bubble butt of yours has always been your most untapped resource. It's about time you put it to work."

"I'd like to put it to work," the guy sitting directly in front of Darren said, smirking as he raised a brightly-colored drink to his lips.

Ashley took Darren's rag and swung it at the guy's head. "Anthony! How many times have I told you not to scare the newbies?"

"If he's scared by that, he has no business working here," Anthony said, rubbing the side of his head. "Did that have bleach on it? It smells like it had bleach on it."

Ashley slapped the rag against her palm a few times. "I don't know. I forget. Why don't you wait and find out?"

"You're such a bitch," Anthony said, getting up from the barstool. He picked up his drink, tossed the last of it into his mouth, and headed for the bathroom, grumbling the whole time about bad highlights and manners.

"You kind of are, you know," Darren told her.

"I know, but you sorta have to be," she said. "Some of the customers can get a little overenthusiastic. It's good to keep them in their place. Besides," she said, grinning as she leaned against the bar. "Most of them like it. It's part of the experience." The lights dimmed, and she bounced on the balls of her feet. "Speaking of experience, you're about to have one."

"Do I need to remind you where I'm from?" Darren asked her. "I have no doubt you only let the best of the best take the stage, but still – San Francisco, Ash."

"Yeah, yeah," she said, waving a hand as the stage at the far end of the club suddenly lit up in an electric blue glow.

"Beautiful, dirty dirty rich rich dirty dirty beautiful dirty rich…."

"What the-" Darren began, eyes fixed on the tall figure ascending a previously hidden set of stairs beneath the stage.

"That," Ashley said, "Is the one and only Izzy Fuhreel. He's our biggest star."

"He?" Darren asked, yelling to be heard over the increasingly loud music. "Aren't you supposed to refer to them as she when they're in costume?"

"Not Izzy," Ashley said. "He's part of the new breed. Think Ongina or Nina Flowers. Fierce. Not fish."

"I can see," Darren said, nodding as he took in the scene. Izzy was tall and lean, with hair that was cut mostly short, save for a long swath of bangs that he currently had swept and slicked to one side. The figure wasn't feminine, but the trimmings were. Shiny black hotpants and knee-high patent leather boots with spike heels made his legs look like they went on forever; a matching corset framed his pecs and kept his posture ramrod straight as he danced around the stage. "I don't recognize the track," Darren said. "I know the song is Gaga, but this recording-"

"Isn't a recording," Ashley told him. "That's all Izzy. It's part of what keeps them coming back. He doesn't have to lip-synch. Brings a lot more energy to the show."

"Wow," Darren said, blinking as Izzy flashed a grin in Ashley's direction and blew her a glitter-coated kiss. "He's"

"Like nothing you've ever seen before?"

"Or heard." Darren's eyes stayed transfixed on the stage throughout the song, barely looking away when he had to serve another customer. Not that there were many – most of them equally enthralled by the performance and not wanting to take their attention away – but there were a few who decided to seize the opportunity to get a drink from the cute new bartender before the crowd swarmed in again.

"He's really something," Darren said again as the song neared its end. "I can't believe I haven't heard of him before."

"Yeah, well," Ashley said, "the drag scene's not what it used to be. If they're not lip synching for their life on Logo, no one really knows about them unless they go looking. You could have seen him before, though. It's not like I haven't asked you to come a hundred times."

"My loss," Darren said, waving as Izzy's eyes locked on him. They were ice blue, stark and bright inside thick black lines and metallic silver shadow. Their corners crinkling as Izzy lifted a hand, forming a gun with his fingers and pointing it in Darren's direction.

"Bang bang!"

---

"I think I've found my calling," Darren said, hoisting the fishbowl into the air. "Who would have thought a Bay Area boy like me would have to go to the other end of the state to work in a drag bar?"

"No one," Ashley said, "because you didn't come here to work in a drag bar. You came here, like so many others, to become rich and famous and adored by millions. Like a few of them, you ended up here. Where you'll be adored by dozens."

"It's a living," Darren said, counting the bills into neat stacks and waving for her to double-check them. "I was hoping I could cash them in for some larger bills from the register, if that's okay."

"Sure thing," she said, counting them out and nodding as she figured his numbers correct. "It's good for the bar, too. We don't have to get change as often when we handle tips this way." She unlocked the register and pulled out the tray to reveal the larger bills Darren had slid inside during his shift. "Here you go," she said, handing him an assortment of bills. "Mostly twenties, but a few bigger ones."

"Thanks," he said, slipping them into his wallet. "It's like I'm hosting a presidential orgy in my pocket."

"What's this about an orgy? Am I invited?"

"Hey, boo," Ashley said, reaching out to wrap an arm around someone. "I was wondering when you'd show up."

"You know how it is," the stranger said. "Zipper here, lacing there…it's as much of an ordeal to get out of as it is to get into." He looked at Darren and jerked a thumb at him as he turned his attention back to Ashley. "Who's the new guy?"

Ashley waved an arm like she was working the Showcase Showdown for Bob Barker. "This fine specimen of ass and charm is Darren. You know, the neighbor I keep telling you about?"

"The musician with the loud girlfriend?" the stranger asked, eyes glinting beneath the lights.

"Guilty," Darren said, looking back at Ashley. "You can hear her?"

"You live in our building," she said. "It's the land that soundproofing forgot. Not to make this weird or anything, but I think I've heard you come more often than I've heard myself." She looked back and forth between the two and shrugged. "I'm quieter than I look."

"I find that hard to believe," the stranger said, adjusting a messenger bag over his shoulder before turning his attention to Darren. "I'm Christopher," he said. "It's nice to meet you."

"Yeah, same," Darren said, taking Christopher's hand and giving it a shake. "So what brings you here so late? Do you work in the area?"

Ashley laughed, and Christopher chuckled as he shook his head. "You could say that. Maybe I'd be easier to remember if I was still drowning in glitter and mascara." He cocked his head and mimed firing a gun, and Darren's eyes went wide.

"That was you?" he asked. "Dude. You look really different out of costume."

"That's the idea," Christopher said, knocking back the shot of tequila Ashley placed in front of him. "It's why most of my stage looks are so extreme. The contacts, too. The more artificial I look when I'm on stage, the more real I feel when I'm off it." He placed the shot glass back on the bar and burped. "Are you almost ready to go?" he asked Ashley. "I feel like a sundae. Tell me you want a sundae."

"I want a sundae," she agreed. "We're pretty much ready to go. Same time tomorrow?" she asked Darren.

"Yeah," he said, picking up Christopher's glass. "Let me just wash this one real quick." Something on the side caught his eye, and he held the glass up to the light for a better look. "Huh," he said. "It's really smudged."

"I must not have gotten all of my makeup off," Christopher said, his voice suddenly higher in pitch. "It's so impossible."

"I'm sure," Darren said, running a thumb over the flat, pink color that wasn't anything like the silver glitter shining on Izzy's lips earlier in the evening.

"Let me show you where the soap is," Ashley said, grabbing his arm and dragging him into the kitchen around the corner.

"Ashley," Darren protested. "I know where the kitchen is. What are we-"

"Lipstick," she said without preamble. "He always wears it, but he doesn't want people to notice."

"He's wearing lipstick?" Darren asked. "On purpose?"

"No, on accident. He tripped and his lips landed on a tube of Clinique." Ashley shrugged. "Where's your name? I've never seen it."

Darren took a second to catch on. "Here," he finally said, raising the sleeve of his t-shirt to reveal tall letters that formed the shape of a heart, the tail end of the S in Chris trailing from the point with a flourish. "I know, I know; heart on my sleeve. I've heard all the jokes before."

"You and me, our names are pretty boring," Ashley said, pointing to the name Declan that sat at the base of her neck in tiny type. "His is a little different." She stared at Darren, giving him a shove when he was slow to catch on. "It's on his lip, you moron."

Darren frowned. "His lip? I've never heard of anyone having it on their face before. That's…"

"Unfortunate?"

"I was going to say weird, but yeah, that too."

"True," Ashley said, taking the glass from him and tossing it into the nearby trashcan. "One glass won't kill us, but he might if I keep him waiting any longer. He's had his heart broken again. I can read the signs by now."

"Again?" Darren asked. "Does it happen often?"

"Like you wouldn't believe," she said, grabbing his wrist and dragging him behind her.


---


"Do you know what time it is?" Darren asked when he opened the door. Or would have asked, had a red lace thong not hit him in the face just as the hard T of time had sounded.

"Do you know how rude it is to leave your laundry in the machine while you sleep?" Ashley asked, hand on her hip and a basket at her feet.

"That's not mine," he said, plucking the bit of nothing from its static-clung spot on the front of his t-shirt. "Oh, wait," he said, grinning as he gave it another look. "Never mind." He shoved it into his pocket and shook his head. "Ceecee must have forgotten it. She came over after I got home last night because the machines at her place are busted. Again."

"She came over just to do laundry and left without it?" Ashley asked him, a single eyebrow raised practically to her hairline.

"She did stuff other than her laundry," Darren said with a wink. "A lot of stuff."

"I'm sure," Ashley said, bending over to lift the basket. "Here. Take this. She'll realize she's missing her underwear sooner or later."

"Not if I do my job right," Darren said, taking the hamper from her. "As my new boss, you should know how determined I am to always do my job right."

"More talk like that, and you may find yourself needing a newer boss."

"Oh, come on," Darren said. "I'm not even being specific. Don't be such a wilting flower."

"I'm not a wilting flower," Ashley said, following him into his apartment and dropping herself onto the futon beneath his front window. "I merely think it's weird to know that much about my employee's sex lives."

"What about Christopher?" Darren asked, hefting the hamper into the crook of one arm so he could open the hall closet and stash the basket. "The way you were talking the other night, it sounds like you know a lot of his details."

"He's different. He's my best friend. We've seen each other naked. We have no secrets."

"Is that how you know about the-" Darren shut the closet door and lifted a hand to his mouth. "You know, the lip…thing?"

"Kind of," she said. "I knew he was weird about his mouth for a few months before I found out why. Poor guy's really freaked by it."

"Why?" Darren asked, joining her at the opposite side of the futon. "So, it's on his lip. What's the big deal?"

"It's more than that," she said with a shake of her head. "Got anything to drink? This is totally a drinking conversation."

"You're asking a bartender if he has something to drink?"

"I've seen you at the grocery store."

"Fine," Darren said, getting up and retrieving a bottle and two tumblers from the kitchen. "I do drink; I'm just picky about it."

"Lucky me," Ashley said, nodding approvingly at the bottle of whiskey. "Your new job must pay well, if you're keeping this around. Your boss must be a generous and beautiful person."

"She's very lovely," Darren said as he handed her a glass with two fingers of amber liquid in it. "But I work for tips. The patrons are generous."

"Can't blame a girl for tryin'," she said, raising her glass to clink against his. "Take a sip, and we'll get started."

"Are you sure?" he asked, once he'd rolled the liquor around his mouth and allowed himself to swallow. "I'm not trying to get in the guy's personal business or anything."

"No," Ashley said, taking another sip. "I should have told you before now. Christopher's amazing, but he's got his issues and I think the bar works best when everyone knows how to handle him."

"That sounds ominous."

"Worse than it is," she said, then took a deep breath. "He's a Scout." Darren sputtered at this, sending very expensive dribbles of whiskey from his lips. "Yeah," she said flatly. "That's how people usually react."


"A Scout?" Darren asked, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand. "You hear stories about them, but I've never actually met one. They're like, unicorn is so cliché, but he's like a fucking unicorn."

She nodded. "A very lonely, very angry unicorn, yes."

Darren shook his head. "How does that even work?"

Ashley finished her drink and gestured for him to pour her another. "They're more common than you think. Some of them are pretty mellow. They're not really against it, they just think the soulmate thing is too easy. All the great classic love stories are about it being tested. True love triumphs over all, you know?"

"Of course it does," Darren said. "But most of those stories were written before the names started to appear."

"Exactly," she said. "They just started appearing a few decades ago, and ours is the first generation that's just assumed they're meant to have them. The way some Scouts see it, we could be misunderstanding what they mean. It's too tricky, what with how they show up in different places and at different ages."

"But that's part of what makes it so intriguing," Darren said. "Like, why is yours so tiny? Why is mine so big? What's the difference between hand and leg? Everyone's different. Why shouldn't their placement and design be the same?"

"Preaching to the converted, here," Ashley said, holding up a hand. "I'm just telling you what he's told me and what I've seen online."

"You looked it up online?"

She shrugged. "What kind of friend would I be if I didn't try to understand?

Darren sighed. "I guess I just don't understand why anyone would want to think they're anything but the name of the person you're meant to be with. It makes things better, doesn't it? Knowing that even if you haven't met them, there's someone out there just waiting to love you?"

"That's how most people think about it," Ashley said, urging him to pour a heftier amount. "But what if you didn't want that? What if your childhood dream was to be a nun?"

"Then I'd have been pretty shit out of luck," Darren said, capping the bottle. "The Franciscans aren't exactly an equal opportunity employer."

"You know what I mean," she said. "What if Big Romance was never part of your plan? What if you had dreams that didn't fit with the idea of being tied to another person?"

Darren shifted and took another sip. "I don't know. I guess I never thought about it."

"Yeah, me neither."

"So is that it?" Darren asked. "You said he got his heart broken again. That doesn't sound like someone who wants to be alone."

Ashley stared into her drink for a long time. "Darren?" she finally asked, her voice smaller than Darren would have ever thought possible for her. "How many people do you know who've had their heart broken? Not like, 'gee, sorry, Ashley. We had a good run, but I'm almost twenty-five and your name's not Julie and mine's not Declan, so we should cut our losses before we waste any more time we could be spending with the right people," heartbreak, but deep, stinging heartbreak? The kind you don't think you can recover from?"

"Okay, first?" Darren said. "That was a really specific example. Two," he paused. "No one, I guess. Yeah, breakups suck, but we all get over them because-"

"Because we know the right person is out there," Ashley said.

"Well, yeah," Darren said, not seeing the problem. "Like I said – it feels good to know someone out there already loves you."

She looked away, and when she turned her eyes back to him, they were damp and ringed in red. "What if you didn't know that?"

"How can you not know that?" Darren asked. "Unless you're one of the really late bloomers who doesn't show until they're in their twenties or something, but he can't be because you said he had his on his-."

"He has something," she said, "but he says it's not what it's supposed to be."

"What's that even mean?" Darren asked, taking another drink.

"I don't know," she said. "He wears the lipstick to keep anyone from seeing it, but from what he's let slip when he's been drinking, it's not a name."

"Is he destined to love a patio chair or something?" Darren asked. "Be like that woman who says she's married to the Eiffel Tower? It's got to be a name. What else would it be?"

"I told you, I don't know. All I know is that Christopher's convinced that his marking means he's not supposed to be loved."

"That's pretty fucked up," Darren said, trying to imagine a life without the promise of warm nights spent beside another person. Without whispered devotion and unspoken promises. "That's like, really fucked up."

"Tell me about it," Ashley said, knocking back a large gulp. "So he's a Scout. Refuses to believe it means what everyone says it does, because he says there's no way it can mean that for him. He chases after any cute boy who'll look at him; hoping he can prove the whole thing wrong. Says it's the only way not to give in."

"Man," Darren said, letting out a deep breath and shaking his head at the thought. "A life without love…that's terrible."

"Thank you, Ewan McGregor," Ashley said, finishing her glass and thrusting it his way. "Take this. If I'm gonna be any use at the bar tonight, I'm gonna need to sleep some of that off."

"Same," Darren said, though he was pretty sure the news about Christopher was harsh enough to stop any buzz he may have had in its tracks.

---

"Would it be overanalyzing things to take this song means he's still in sundae mode?"

"Maybe, but it's still true." Ashley said as they both stared at the stage. "I've never seen him this bad before."

Izzy stood in the center of the stage, hips crooked and knees bent as his shoulders slumped forward – the perfect image of a Tyra Banks approved broken doll pose. His legs spread as one hand cupped the left side of his chest and the other gripped himself between his legs, dancing over the smooth flat of his crotch. "I'm taking matters into my own hands," he sang, voice heavy with emotion and in stark contrast to the detached expression on his face as his body began to shake with an artificial climax. As his body shook harder, his voice took on a more desperate tone, crying out loudly and unrestrained as tears began to pool beneath the iridescent white glitter coating his eyes.

"Won't you hold me?" he half-sang, half-screamed, eyes wild as he fell to his knees. One marabou feathered high-heel slipper fell from his right foot as the stage lights went black, and Christopher – not Izzy, Darren was pretty sure – stared up at nothing in particular as his chest rose and fell in a manic rhythm for a few beats too long to be intentional.

"'S'it okay if I duck out for a few?" Darren asked, grabbing the bottle of Siete Leguas and a pair of tumblers as an after thought. "I think he might need more than ice cream, right now."

Ashley nodded and practically shoved him out from behind the bar. "Go. Now. I think he's tired of my hovering, but he might respond better to someone else."

"Let's hope," Darren said, squeezing around the corner and holding his bounty above his head as he made his way through the crowd. "Wish me luck."

"You'll need it," she yelled out as the stage lights went back up and a stripper took the stage. He winked toward the bar and wriggled his hips, his ass reflecting the light perfectly. "Then again," Ashley muttered to herself, raising an eyebrow and lifting a stack of napkins to fan herself. "I might need some, too."

---

"Hey," Darren said, knocking on the gold star with IZZY written across it in flowing script. "Can I come in?" the dressing room was in the basement, but the music upstairs was loud enough he thought he might not have been heard. "I have tequila," he offered, louder than before. No verbal response came, but when the doorknob turned and the door opened a few inches, Darren figured it was as good as an invitation. "I brought the- oh my god, you're naked."

"I'm not naked," Christopher said, dropping back into his chair and bending over to roll off his thigh-highs. "I'm still wearing everything that really matters. Why?" he asked. "Am I making you uncomfortable?"

"Not really," Darren said, sinking into the small couch opposite the dressing table. "I just wasn't expecting it. That's all."

"You said you had tequila?" Christopher asked, turning back to the mirror and leaning forward. He opened a jar of cold cream and scooped some up with a tissue, rubbing it into his forehead and cheeks.

"Yeah," Darren said, uncorking the bottle and pouring a generous amount into one of the glasses. He got up and set the glass on the table beside some false eyelashes and an open contact lens case. "You drink it straight, right?"

"About the only thing about me that is," Christopher said, taking the glass and taking a big drink. "Thanks."

"No sweat," Darren said, topping the glass off and sitting back down. "So what's with tonight's look? I thought you weren't into realism."

"Oh," Christopher said, reaching out to finger the filmy nightie that hung from a nearby hook. "I do it from time to time. I have to be in the wrong mood."

"Don't you mean the right one?"

"No," Christopher said, shaking his head. "I don't feel like I have to be so drastic when I'm in the right one."

"Ashley told me you're a Scout," Darren said, wincing when he realized the words were out of his mouth.

"Did she?" Christopher asked, getting up from his chair. "That's nice. You should probably go now. You can leave the tequila."

"I'm sorry," Darren said. "I didn't mean to-"

"Not because of that," Christopher said, tucking a thumb into the waistband of the white satin panties he was wearing. "I need to take these off and untuck. You can stay if you want, but you'll probably want to turn around or close your eyes, if you do."

"Oh," Darren said. "Okay." He closed his eyes and lowered himself onto his back. "So how long have you been doing this?"

"About four years," Christopher said. He grunted, then gave a sigh of relief as Darren heard the swish of clothing being flung onto a nearby surface.

"Four years? How old were you when you started? Don't take this the wrong way, but you look kind of young."

"What would the wrong and right ways to take that be?" Christopher asked. "I'm twenty-two. I started when I was eighteen."

"Did you always want to be a drag queen?" Darren asked, eyes still clamped shut. "Eighteen sounds like a really early age to start."

"No, but what I really wanted didn't quite pan out." More rustling, the pull of a zipper, and Darren felt a hand on his shoulder. "You can open your eyes now."

"I don't think I'm ever going to get over how different you look offstage," Darren said, shaking his head as he took in Christopher's Henley and faded jeans. "What didn't pan out?"

"Acting," Christopher said, bending over to lace a worn boot. "All my life, it's all I ever really wanted to do. Be. Except for a ninja turtle, maybe. Anyway," he sighed. "I went on auditions for years, but none of them panned out so I figured okay, if this one doesn't work, I'm giving it up. It's not supposed to happen."

"And you didn't get it?" Darren shook his head sympathetically.

"Oh, I got it," Christopher said. "More than that, they wrote a part just for me. It was crazy, how it happened. I got the job and moved here to film the pilot a few months after I turned eighteen, and then…" He sighed, tugging on the knot with two fingers before sinking back into his chair. "It wasn't picked up. The network decided that it was too expensive and too big of a gamble. We shot thirteen episodes, and none of them have ever seen the light of day."

Christopher took another drink and stared into the distance for a moment. "The only thing I ever wanted more than to be an actor was to get out of Clovis and never go back. I had thirteen paychecks from the show; enough to carry me for a while and make for a good nest egg, but not enough to live off of indefinitely - especially not in a city like this." He shrugged. "I was eighteen, with no education and a lot of bills to pay. I did everything I could think of. I was a telemarketer, I was a pizza delivery driver, I even got a paper route. I was working more than twelve hours a day, but it wasn't enough. I still had to dip into savings to make ends meet."

"So how'd you get into this?" Darren asked, trying to wrap his head around trying to do so much at such a young age.

"The choreographer I worked with on the show is friends with the owner. He sent me a message on Facebook a few months after we got the news, and I was desperate enough to come down and check it out." He laughed. "I wore the most hideous black dress and painted my face in leftover makeup from my Halloween costume, but he liked what he heard, if not how I looked. After all, there aren't a lot of guys who can hit the high notes in 'Defying Gravity.'" He took another drink. "I've been here ever since."

"Do you like it?"

"Sometimes. Not always. It's convenient, though, and I make enough to pay the bills. That's the important thing."

"I'm an actor, too," Darren said. "Trying, at least. I don't know. I'm thinking about giving it up and focusing on my music. I haven't had a lot of luck, either."

"Have you done anything I'd have seen?" Christopher asked.

"Did you ever watch a show called 'Eastwick?'" Christopher shook his head. "Yeah," Darren said. "Neither did anyone else. It got cancelled after half a season."

"Sorry," Christopher said, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. "At least you were on the air."

"Yeah," Darren said. "There's that."

They sat in silence for a few minutes, Christopher taking the odd sip of tequila here and there while Darren did his best to keep his mouth shut and not ask any awkward questions.

"Ashley's been on her own for a while," Christopher finally said. "Do you need to get back to the bar?"

"I'm sure she's okay," Darren said. "Light crowd tonight. I think the Madonna concert took a lot of our clientele for the night."

"You're probably right," Christopher said, grabbing a messenger back and slinging it over his shoulder. "Hey, there's a great diner around the corner. It looks like hell, but the food is good and the service is friendly. I go there a lot, after work. My treat, if you want to keep talking."

"Are you sure?" Darren asked. "Don't feel like you have to talk, if you don't want to. I know I kind of barged in on you."

Christopher nodded. "I do. Like the song says, I don't really have time for friends. Ashley's great, but she can be a little-"

"I know," Darren said with a laugh. "Believe me, I know."

---

"If it isn't my favorite fancy boy," a waitress straight out of a nineteen fifties pin-up fantasy said as Christopher pushed open the door.

"Hi, Marley," Christopher said, wrapping an arm around her waist and kissing the air a millimeter from her cheek. "Has it been slow?"

"Like molasses," she said, one hand on a hip and the other waving her order pad at the mostly-empty diner. "The bars close in a couple of hours. That's when most of the night crowd starts coming in." She flicked her eyes at Darren and moistened her lips. "Who's your friend? Do I need to get the chocolate syrup?"

Chris shook his head. "Just a friend, and I think we're past the ice cream. I'll start with my usual poison."

"Diet Coke and wet fries. Got it." She looked back at Darren. "Anything to drink?"

Darren thought for a moment. "Apple juice?"

"That a question or an order?"

"A question about whether or not you have it available for ordering?"

Marley looked at Christopher and jerked a thumb in Darren's direction. "He's a funny one, isn't he?"

"He thinks he is," Christopher said with a smirk. "Enough time around me and he'll see how wrong he is."

"I'm standing right here," Darren said, looking back and forth between them.

Christopher gave Marley a squeeze. "We know."

"We just don't care," she said, reaching out to pinch his cheek. "Don't be like that. It means we like you."

Darren rubbed his cheek. "I'd hate to see what it would be like if you didn't."

"See that?" Marley asked, pointing at a corkboard behind the register. There was a snapshot in the center, the face unrecognizable for all of the darts, forks, and other assorted sharp and pointy things sticking out of it. "That's the guy responsible for the last two orders of Ben & Jerry's we went through."

Darren winced. "I don't think you'll have to worry about that. I have a girlfriend."

Marley raised an eyebrow. "Like that stopped the last one. Come on; let's get you boys seated." She led them to a booth in the back corner and slapped two cracked and faded plastic-coated menus on the table. "I'll get Jorge to do your fries and be right back with your drinks. Behave."

"You know I never do," Christopher said, a twinkle in his eyes as she kissed two fingers and pressed the bright red mark to his forehead before turning on her heel and walking away.

"She's a character."

"So's everyone, if you think about it long enough."

"I guess you're right," Darren said, stretching an arm against the back of the booth. "I never thought about it that way."

"I'm sure you've never thought about a lot of things a certain way." He plucked a straw from the glass jar on the table as Marley approached with their drinks. "That's not an insult, by the way. I wish I didn't have to think about a lot of the things I do, but I don't really have a choice."

"So tell me more about it," Darren said. "Being a Scout."

"I never got higher than a Webelo."

"You know what I mean."

"Fine," Christopher said, peeling the paper from his straw and dropping it into his Diet Coke. "Do you know why they started using that word?" Darren shook his head and took a sip of his juice. "One of the definitions of scout is to search. They call us Scouts because we're searching for the meaning behind this whole…name…thing." He waved a hand near his lips and pulled a face. "If they're even names in the first place."

"Of course they're names," Darren said. "What else would they be?"

"I don't know," Christopher said thoughtfully. "That's why I'm a Scout." He picked up his glass and carefully slid the straw into the very corner of his mouth before closing his lips and taking a drink. "Doesn't it ever bother you? The idea that some random assortment of letters is more important than your own free will?"

"They aren't random," Darren said. "It's like, fate, or something."

"Okay," Christopher said, like he was explaining to a toddler why the puppy was not meant for riding. "Doesn't it ever bother you that fate supersedes your own free will?"

Darren laughed. "There is no free will where love's concerned. You can't control your heart any more than you can control the weather or the force of gravity. It's love. It's bigger than all of us."

"So what if you loved more than one person?"

Darren shrugged. "You'd probably love one a little more than the other."

"And if you had no interest in sex?" Christopher asked as Marley dropped a plate of fries and gravy onto the table.

"If you have no interest in sex, I'm Steve Jobs."

Christopher glared at her. "Steve Jobs is dead."

"And here I stand," she said, taking out her order pad. "Decide on anything yet?"

"Chicken fried steak," Christopher said, handing the menu back to her. "You?"

Darren scanned the menu, sucking air through his teeth until he came upon something and let it all out in a whoosh. "Ah, there we go," he said, jabbing at it with a finger. "Grilled cheese. Perfect."

Christopher smirked as he took Darren's menu and handed it to Marley. "Apple juice and grilled cheese. No wonder you're such a true believer."

"What's wrong with grilled cheese and apple juice?"

"Nothing. They're just so…wholesome. Innocent."

Darren drank the last of his juice and tapped at his glass as he winked at Marley. "I'm hardly innocent, but what's so wrong with wholesome? A lot of good things are wholesome." He ticked them off on his fingers. "Puppies. Kittens. Giving your mom flowers on her birthday. Playing catch with your dad – or your kid, if you have one." He slapped the table and laughed. "It's in the word! Things that are wholesome help make the world more whole."

Christopher stared at him like he'd just sprouted another head. "You really think apple juice and grilled cheese make a difference on the world?"

"Why not?" Darren asked. "I drink apple juice and eat grilled cheese, and it makes me feel happier about the world I live in. That happiness motivates me to put more awesome into the world. That awesomeness rubs off on other people, and that makes them more awesome. It's like a beach, you know? Everyone thinks of beaches like they're these things, right? But what they really are, is millions and millions of other things that make up something pretty fantastic."

Christopher reached for a fry from the plate Marley was placing in front of him and dragged it through a pool of gravy. "I've never left the beach without a sunburn and sand in uncomfortable places."

Darren shook his head. "There's nothing you can't complain about, is there?"

Christopher contemplated this for a few seconds, carefully dropping the fry between his open lips and taking care to leave them untouched. He chewed slowly, then repeated a few times before answering. "Llamas." He nodded. "I love me some llamas."

"You're shitting me."

"What? You can make an argument for bettering the world through grilled cheese, but I can't like llamas?"

"Touché," Darren said, laughing as he twirled his straw in his glass. "So why llamas?"

Christopher shrugged and shoved another fry into his mouth. "No one knows what to do with them. I identify with that."

Darren dropped his elbow onto the table and rested his head in his hand. "You're really into this 'forever alone' deal, aren't you?"

Christopher grimaced. "It isn't a deal if you don't have a choice."

"Look, it can't be that bad. It'd be one thing if you didn't have one, but-"

Christopher's eyes darkened and he threw his fry back onto his plate. "I'm going to make this really clear for you. We're never going to see eye to eye on this. One of us is right, and one of us is wrong. End of story. If you're right, I'm predetermined for a life of misery. If I'm right, we both have a fighting chance. Who would you rather believe?"

"Myself."

"God," Christopher groaned, digging his hands into his hair. "You're so fucking-"

Darren reached out and clamped a hand over Christopher's mouth, doing his best to cup the palm around his lips. "Before you finish that, can I say something?" Christopher rolled his eyes and nodded. "The way I see it, you're only guaranteed to be miserable if you keep chasing after things you know you can't have. If I'm right – and I believe with everything I have that I am – it means there's someone out there whose biggest dream is of the day they're going to find you."

"Is that how you feel about yours?" Christopher asked, voice barely muffled inside Darren's hand.

"I did," Darren said, removing his hand and stealing one of Chris's fries. "Before I met Ceecee."

Christopher raised an eyebrow. "Your mark says Ceecee?"

"Well, no, I mean…it doesn't have to be exact, you know? It can be like, a nickname, or something. Ceese hates her first name, so she goes by that."

"So let me get this straight," Christopher said, lifting a spoon to check his lipstick and nodding when he saw it unmarred. "You're completely sold on the idea that whatever name you have on your body is the name of the person you're supposed to be with forever, and the person you think that is doesn't even like to be called by it? I know I'm the cynical one here, but isn't that a bad sign, even for you?"

Darren swallowed another fry. "People change as they get older. Once your mark shows, it's there forever. I don't think there's anything weird about finding your person after or before the name really fits."

"She has yours? You're really a matched pair?"

Darren nodded. "On her elbow. It's kind of hard to see because there's a scar over part of it, but you can still see enough of it to know what it says." A strange look flickered across Christopher's face and he became suddenly fascinated with his soda, the straw still firmly held tight in the corner. "What?" Darren asked. "You can't make a face like that and not say what you're thinking."

"It's not my place to say anything."

"Bullshit, you've been saying plenty."

"Fine," Christopher muttered. "Wish I had more of that tequila right now." He took a deep breath and shook his head. "Some people believe that the mark and the person it represents are linked. If something happens to one, something happens to the other. If the theory was right, it would mean that whoever your girlfriend's soulmate is, there's something wrong with him."

Darren frowned. "Wrong? There's nothing wrong with me."

"That's debatable," Christopher said, grinning as he took another sip. "Doesn't it make you wonder, though? She doesn't want to use the name you have, hers is damaged – it doesn't really add up, does it?"

"Ceecee's great," Darren said. "She's fun, and pretty, and I like spending time with her."

"But do you love her? Scratch that. Are you in love with her?"

Darren held his breath for a few seconds and gave Christopher a look. "Here's the part where I say 'not yet,' and you take that to mean I never will be, am I right?"

Christopher bit into a fry, eyes twinkling as he nodded his head. "If it's the real thing, why aren't you there?"

"We've only been together for six months," Darren protested. "We're still getting to know each other. You can't expect that kind of thing to just happen."

"Isn't that how they say it's supposed to happen?" Christopher said, sliding the now-empty plate to the side of the table just in time for Marley to bring their dinners. "The moment you make the connection-" he waved his hands apart, eyes wide and fingers wriggling. "BOOM Instant thing?"

Darren picked up a gooey triangle of cheese and bread and took a big bite, licking his lips after swallowing. "You know what?" he asked, dropping the sandwich back onto the plate. "I'm going to exercise my right to be awesome. I'm going to put that out into the world, and it's going to make you more awesome. You and me, we're starting a new beach of awesome."

Christopher groaned. "I told you I hate the beach."

"No, no – hear me out. This thing, it really sucks for you, right? So I'm going to help you make it suck less. I'm going to find the dude whose name you've got there. Internet's a big place. Everyone's on it. You tell me what you've got hidden underneath that stuff, and I'll track it down. I'm good at that stuff. I've won like, six scavenger hunts."

"Not on your life," Christopher said, each word harder than the last. "I put up with enough grief over it before I figured out how to keep it covered without drawing attention to it. I'm not inviting any more."

"You do know it's going to be almost impossible to find him if I don't have anything to go off of, don't you?"

"That's the point."

"Okay. Fine." Darren sighed. "Alright. Plan B. If Ashley could look into this stuff for you, so can I. I'll dig around and see if I can find some stuff that might change your mind. We'll get together once a week to share a meal while I tell you what I've found. If you think what I say makes sense, you pay. If you think it's lame, I pay."

"I think you're going to end up buying me a lot of dinners," Christopher said, a bite of his steak still on the edge of his fork inches from his mouth. "But not enough to get me to put out."

Darren choked on his sandwich and fought to right himself. "Yeah, no, that's okay. Really."

"Oh my god," Christopher said, dropping his fork to the plate with a clatter. "You're such an easy target. It takes all the fun out of harassing you."

(Part 1b)



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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
mixed_berryjam
Jul. 8th, 2012 11:43 pm (UTC)
ooh I'm loving this already. Love all the characterization and the idea. So lovely.

Also just so glad that we never have to live in a world where Chris Colfer was undiscovered . It hurt my heart just to read that and think about it. So happy it's fiction :)

Off to 1b!
iwrotestuff
Jul. 9th, 2012 03:50 am (UTC)
I know I already commented on your other comment, but I wanted to say thank you for taking the time to comment on both parts. It can be nerve-wracking to put stuff out there, and it's nice to know it's enjoyed. :)
frozenphire
Jul. 10th, 2012 04:16 pm (UTC)
Just...wow. I'm reading this on my phone and it keeps freezing, but it's soooooo worth it. Such a sad idea that Chris might be undiscovered, and what an original soulmate idea! I'm excited (and nervous) to see what Chris has written on his lip.

Gorgeous story. Off to read the next bit!
iwrotestuff
Jul. 21st, 2012 03:34 pm (UTC)
My phone hates to cooperate when I'm trying to read anything on it, so I'm especially flattered by this comment. I'm glad you're enjoying it! :)
whenidance
Jul. 21st, 2012 01:39 pm (UTC)
So, I am finally getting around to reading this and didn't realize it was a fill - that'll make keeping up on it so much easier :p I looooove this, and there are maybe three people who could sell me on the whole soulmate thing, and you're one of them. so glad you're writing again and this is just brilliant.
iwrotestuff
Jul. 21st, 2012 03:33 pm (UTC)
I've been writing almost constantly since May, actually. The thing is that about 30k of that is the first three chapters of the 90's au, and they're still off for beta-ing. Just to be clear - I have pretty much the perfect beta possible for a lot of the stuff I'm doing with that story, so I'm not complaining at all about how long she's needed. Especially since I'm having so much fun with this and the main reason I hit the meme in the first place was because I was trying to think of something to write while waiting for her to catch up so I didn't toss another 10-15k at her without warning. XD Her feedback so far has been super encouraging, so that helps, too. :>

(And of course, now I want to know who the other two are. XD )
whenidance
Jul. 21st, 2012 03:51 pm (UTC)
ooh this excites me!! :D and I just sent 50k off to beta and I expect it'll be there a while so I know the feeling XD the 50k was a result of 'what can I do between things that have deadlines?' (I think I'm doing this wrong errr)

(and I bet you could guess at least one ;D)
iwrotestuff
Jul. 21st, 2012 04:13 pm (UTC)
Hahaahaha - yeah, I'm pegging the 90s au for at least 100k before all is said and done. I feel like I should figure out a way to send my beta a medal or something, once it's done. XD

(I'm going to assume my guess is right, and demand to know the other one! XD )
pushplaytobegin
Jul. 22nd, 2012 04:59 am (UTC)
yeah, just delete the anon comment - that was me
Oh my fucking god, I LOVE THIS. I know I always say I love your Ashley, so that's got to be getting old, but this Darren (and I love how you write RPF and I get to compare the different incarnations) has a callowness about him that's very interesting. He and Ashley together have a connection that feels genuine and lacks the... hmm, hardness of some of your other Ashleys. Or something.

</i>"I drink apple juice and eat grilled cheese, and it makes me feel happier about the world I live in. That happiness motivates me to put more awesome into the world. That awesomeness rubs off on other people, and that makes them more awesome.</i> *nods* Yes. Yes, it does. I love this philosophy something fierce, even though a twisted part of me is thinking, "You keep right on eating grilled cheese and being happy, DC, because Odd's gonna get her hooks into you and you're gonna be singing a different tune."

I love the worldbuilding, and I feel so protective of Christopher. I desperately want to make it all better. *sigh*
iwrotestuff
Jul. 24th, 2012 12:06 am (UTC)
Re: yeah, just delete the anon comment - that was me
No compliment you give me could *ever* get old. I value your opinion very much, and take great joy in every bit of it. :)

He is quite callow, and I say that with a lot of love for him. He's grown up with this very idealized version of what love is and how it works and that kind of thing will do a lot to color how you see the world. He may not sport his pink sunnies in this story, but he definitely begins it with a very rose-tinted view. I like to think all my major characters learn and grow over longer stories like this, and I think he might do more of that in this one than anyone has in anything else I've ever written. *wipes away a proud mama tear for her fictional version of a person she doesn't know*

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )