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Lipstick Traces, Pt. 4 (RPF AU)

Author: Odd
Title: Lipstick Traces, Pt. 4 (RPF)
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 15,300
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: It's done. 45,600 words written over the course of twenty-five days. I'm tempted to post this in my "quick and dirty" tag because good lord is that a lot of words for not a lot of time. I'm going to go back and make some tweaks to the earlier parts before I do a masterpost sometime this week, but for the most part, this is it. Big thank yous to stut_ter, switch842, and pureklaination for holding my hand through the worst of it.

Dedicated to meadowlion, for the fabulous prompt that opened so many doors inside my head. Thank you.



Scout.

Scout.

Scout.

The word hit him like a hammer, knocking the air from his lungs. "Wait, what?" he asked, lifting his head from her knee and falling back onto his hands. "You-"

Ceecee's eyes went wide with panic as she took in his reaction. "I thought you knew; that you were trying to tell me you understood."

Darren rubbed his head and looked at the floor, not trusting himself to make eye contact. "I've spent most of the last year thinking we were matched. Thinking you thought we were matched. How am I supposed to understand when you tell me it was all a fucking joke?"

"Darren, please," she said, scrambling from the couch and taking him by the shoulders. "Look at me. Look at me, please." His eyes stayed resolutely away, and she sniffed as another tear fell down her cheek. "It wasn't a joke. Nothing with you has ever been a joke to me. I have always been as serious about you as I am my own heartbeat."

"Right," he said, finally looking up at her. "That's why you've been lying to me this whole time. Is your first name even Christine? Or were you lying about that, too? Jesus-" he broke off and shook his head. "How fucking stupid do you think I am?"

"I don't think you're stupid," she said pleadingly. "I think you're amazing, and I always have. You have to believe me, Darren. Do you remember when we met?"

"At the restaurant, a few months before they shut down." He sighed. "Chicken Caesar salad, unsweetened iced tea, and the biggest slice of chocolate cake in the place."

"Yeah," she said, a half-laugh, half-sigh following. "Do you know how many times I'd been there before that day?" He shrugged. "Almost every day for two months. Each time, just hoping to get seated in your section while you were on shift."

He looked up at her with a pained expression. "Ceese…why are you telling me this?"

She smiled sadly and ran a hand along his cheek. "Because I want you to know that from the moment I saw you, I knew you were someone really special."

"Special?" Darren asked. "You know, that's a euphemism for stupid in some circles. I'm not stupid."

"I know, I know," she said, burying her face in her hands. "Darren, have you ever-" she broke off and took a breath. "Have you ever wondered what happens to people who don't have matches?"

"Everyone has one," he said, his voice heavy with exasperation. "You have one."

"You don't understand," she said, shaking her head furiously. "I know you don't think it's possible, but try and imagine someone who really, truly, doesn't have one. For me? Right now?"

He crossed his arms and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, okay, so it would suck."

"Suck?" she asked, her eyes narrowing. "That's all you can say?"

He threw his arms into the air. "What do you want me to say, Ceecee?"

"I don't know; maybe that it's probably one of the loneliest and most desperate things a person can know. That there's probably nothing worse than knowing no one is ever going to love you the way you always hoped."

"You have a fucking mark!" he yelled at her. "Don't give me this fucking 'forever alone' bullshit.'

"Having a mark doesn't guarantee anything," she said bitterly.

"Jesus fuck, you sound like Christopher."

"I'll consider that a compliment." She got up and took a few steps to a nearby bookcase and retrieved a small, leather-bound photo album. "I was nineteen," she said, opening it to reveal a picture of a much younger version of herself sitting in the lap of an enormous puppy of a young man. "Sophomore year of college. I knew right away that he was the one." She traced the outline of his face with one finger and swallowed. "It was like lightning. Sudden and shocking."

"Thunder comes before lightning," Darren said, taking a perverse pleasure in the dirty look she shot him.

"I loved him with everything I had," she said. "My friends told me I was wasting my time, but I didn't want to believe them. He loved me. I knew he did. He just…" she trailed off and sniffed. "He couldn't love me the way that I loved him."

"Yeah, well," Darren said; "that's what happens when you fuck around with people who should be with someone else."

"He didn't have anyone else, Darren!" Ceecee threw her head back and took a few deep breaths. "He was unmarked, and he didn't care."

Darren winced. "How could you be with someone and not care about that?"

"That's what I always asked him." She sighed and leafed through the pages. "He said it shouldn't matter, as long as we both loved each other. He didn't get it, though. How unbalanced it felt. How much it hurt to wake up every day wondering if that was going to be the day he found someone else's name on his skin and realized I was just someone he'd grow to forget."

"No one could ever forget you," Darren said, hurting for her in spite of his own pain and anger.

"I still worried," she said, eyes glued to the photographs. "Every day for almost three years; until the night of our graduation ceremony. Part of me was stupid enough to hope he was going to propose." She shut her eyes and shook her head. "He said it wasn't fair to keep me when he knew how hard it was for me to believe he could love me as much as I loved him."

She took a deep breath. "The next morning, I went for a run to try and clear my head. I was so stuck in my head thinking about him that I didn’t see the guy on the bike until we collided. All of my weight landed on my mark, and…"

"That's when you got the scar," Darren said, connecting the final dot.

"Yeah," she said quietly, looking more defeated than Darren thought he'd ever seen another person in his life. "It was the final glimmer of hope gone. No matter how much I loved him, he wasn't mine to have. I tried to be okay with it, and I almost was, for a year or so. Then I began thinking about how he'd always told me it shouldn't matter what letters we did or didn't have, as long as we really loved each other. I wished I'd been strong enough to believe him, and that's what started it. I began to look for more information, hunt down stories of people who found love with different people, or whose marks were unusual. The more I looked, the more convinced I was that it was possible they weren't the final word; that we all had the ability to find our own happiness."

She looked into his eyes. "I love you, Darren. I've never lied about that. You are the kindest and most accepting person I've ever known, and I want you to know - need you to know that I don't need to have your name on my body to know that you belong in my heart."

"Too bad you didn't meet me when you were younger," he said. "You might have learned your lesson in time to have a better chance with your real love."

"No," she said, "I'm telling you that I don't care about your mark or my mark or anyone's mark. I want you. I want this, what we have and what we could have if we're both brave enough to put how we feel before how anyone else thinks we should."

Darren shook his head. "Then why have you been asking me to tell you you're my match? What does it matter, if you don't think it matters?"

She looked down, cheeks pink and shame written across her face. "I knew it mattered to you. That's why I told you all about my mom and her crazy belief that Barbie dolls and frilly dresses would make me a subservient housewife with no dreams or ambition." Her tone was mocking, but it was clear she directed it at her mom, and not at him.

"I didn't need Oshkosh B'gosh and Tinker Toys to become a strong person. I just needed good role models. Barbie was one of the best ones I had. She was a lawyer, and an astronaut and president, and everything else she wanted to be – and she didn't have to look like a boy to do it. I graduated at the top of my class, am serving my residency at one of the top hospitals in Los Angeles, and I've never let being a woman stop me from going for anything I've wanted – including the perfect pair of Jimmy Choos when I find them on sale half-off." She threw back her head and made an inarticulate sound of frustration. "Alex Barton might be a best selling author and leading name in the field of women’s studies, but let me tell you – she kind of misses the mark when it comes to understanding her own daughter."

"That's why you started using your middle name," Darren said. "Because it was more…girly?"

She nodded. "Mom always hated it, but she couldn't fight Dad on it. He and his sister were really close, and he was pretty adamant about passing her name along." She laughed ruefully. "He wanted it to be my first name. I always wished it was, until I met you. When I saw your mark, I thought maybe I was being given a second chance. Your name was so close to his and with the scar it looked-"

"His name wasn't Darren?"

Ceecee didn't say a word as she rolled up her sleeve. She just nodded and held the arm out, elbow pointed directly toward him.

"What the-" Darren said, not believing his eyes. The small, red letters still ran over her elbow, but the scar he'd kissed so many times was gone. The letter he'd always assumed to be an e was now shown to be an a, and the two points he'd always taken for a pair of sharp rs now clearly formed an elongated, tilted v. His eyes shot up to meet hers. "When did this happen?"

She rolled down her sleeve and rubbed her elbow through the fabric. "I saw it the night I sent you all those texts."

"Out of the blue, just like that?" he asked, still reeling from the sight.

She hesitated. "Do you remember Olga?"

"The old woman," Darren said. "With Trevor. Yeah, but what does she-"

Ceecee nodded as she cut him off. "Her son came to the hospital with her in the ambulance. When we told her we couldn't save her, it just about broke him. Once we managed to sedate him, someone found his phone and called the number he had saved under ICE." She gave another half-laugh, half-sigh. "It's a good thing I was part of the team working on Trevor. I don't think I could have stayed calm if I'd known the patient I was working on."

She turned to the side and looked at Darren from the corner of her eye. "I only met her a couple of times before that night, but I'd always liked her. She was very quiet; very dignified. She and Davan were like night and day, but always very close. He told me after that she used to tell him her mark appeared so early that the rest of the family's came late to cover her debt."

"After?"

"After that night," Ceecee said, turning back to him. "I was in too much shock when he showed up at the hospital to say much to him, but he gave one of the orderlies his number and told them to have me call him."

Darren shifted and wrapped his arms around his knees. "How long did you wait?"

"About a month and a half," she said, her cheeks flushing again. "I drunk-texted him from the bar while you were helping Christopher. I thought I could handle it but I couldn't. He started talking about how much he'd missed me and how much he'd regretted losing me and then-" she pulled her phone from her pocket and swept her fingers over the screen. "He sent me this." Darren took the phone and felt a lump in his throat as he took in the sight of dainty letters spelling the name 'Cecelia' inside the crook of a beefy arm. "That's about when I gave the karaoke guy fifty bucks to throw me to the front of the line."

"I don't understand," Darren said. "If you guys are matched, why didn't you say something sooner? Why are you still talking about us?"

She took the phone back and set it aside. "Because I love you both, but one of you almost destroyed me, and the other helped put me back together. Which one would you rather be with?"

"The one who brought the lightning," Darren said without a moment's hesitation.

"Maybe," she said, eyes dampening once more. "I'm just so confused."

Darren reached out and placed his hand on hers. "I don't think you are. I think you know exactly what you want; you're just afraid of what it means."

She looked at him and sniffed. "How do you know?"

"Because," he said. "I think I've been pretty confused, myself."

---

"What are you doing here?" Christopher asked when he approached his car and found Darren leaning against it.

"I'm here to kidnap you, " Darren said. "Or give you a ride to work. I'd like it better if it was the second one, but I'm not above the first, if that's what it takes."

Christopher shifted the garment bags he was carrying and looked away. "Let me get into my car, please."

"Not until we can talk," Darren said, crossing his arms as he bent one knee to bring his foot flat against the door.

Christopher stiffened. "And if I don't want to?"

"Then we'll both be late," Darren said, taking a few steps and reaching out for the heavy, vinyl bags. "I have some things to say, and you need to hear them."

"Like?" Christopher asked, arching one eyebrow.

"Like I think you might be right," Darren said.

"About?"

Darren's tongue flicked out and over his lips. "You don't get to find out – or get these back - unless you come with me."

Christopher looked from his car to Darren and back again. "Fine," he said, frowning as Darren burst into a grin and began heading for the visitors' lot. "But this is it, do you hear me? After this, I think it's best if we stay away from each other. At least while we – you get whatever you've got in your head out of your system."

"Not gonna happen," Darren said as he opened the rear passenger door and laid the bags flat. "So not gonna happen."

Christopher got in and buckled his seatbelt, adjusting his seat to allow more room for his legs. "Get it over with," he said as Darren got in. "The less time we spend on this, the better it'll be for both of us."

"Okay," Darren said, pulling out of his spot. "So, like I said, I think you're right."

"Are you ever going to tell me what I'm right about?" Christopher asked with exasperation. "Or am I supposed to guess?"

"I think," Darren said, "that maybe it doesn't matter what someone's mark says. Maybe we have more choice than I thought."

Christopher eyed him with new interest. "Do I want to know what brought this on?"

Darren reached for Christopher's hand and held it tight. "You once said that if you were right, it meant you still had a chance at being happy. Well, I want you to be right, and I want you to choose me. I don't know how, and I don't know why, but I have this feeling that you're the one I'm supposed to be with, Chris. Everything feels different when I'm with you, and when we kissed-" he broke off and shook his head, a goofy grin blooming over his lips. "I've never felt like that before. I feel you here," he said, taking his other hand off the wheel for a split second to pat the spot on his upper arm where his mark lay hidden beneath his sleeve. "I know I sound crazy-"

"Nothing new," Christopher said as his eyes bugged at the unattended steering wheel.

"-but I want to see what we might be able to have." Darren returned his hand to the wheel and looked forward. "I know there's something there with us, and I think you know it, too."

Christopher looked at him and shook his head. "Have you ever even thought about being with a man, before?"

Darren looked at him out of the corner of his eye and smirked. "You're really good at hiding stuff, but I'm still pretty sure you're a dude. I'm telling you I think you're the person I've been looking for since I was seventeen and I don't plan on being celibate, so yeah, I think it's safe to say I've thought about being with a guy."

Christopher blinked. "You're really serious."

"About this? About you? Yeah." Darren pulled over to the curb and pulled the parking brake. "Look. Maybe I'm wrong; it's happened before. I'm okay with that. I'm willing to take the chance of following my gut and getting hurt because I don't think that's going to happen. I don't know what you have here," he said, leaning toward Christopher and running a thumb below his lip, "but I don't think I care, anymore."

Christopher's chest rose and fell as he looked at him. Darren could hear the shallowness of his breaths and the soft, high sound of air moving through his nose. "You really don't? You're telling me – you, mister love is destined and infallible – are telling me that you're willing to put all your chips on someone who doesn't have your mark?"

"Yeah," Darren said. "I am."

"Why?" Christopher asked, his eyes suddenly sad. "Why would you do that to yourself?"

"Because I know I could love you," Darren said. "I know you think I'm crazy, but I think you're my match, and that's almost enough for me. Knowing that you chose me would close that gap. If you choose me," he said, eyes lingering over Christopher's lips, "it makes us both right; it means we can both be happy."

"I-" Christopher said, falling into a soft "Ooompphhh," as Darren unlatched his seatbelt and stretched forward to press a kiss against his lips. He threw an arm around Darren's shoulders and clutched tight as the kiss deepened, soft moans escaping both their lips as they parted. "I don't know," he said. He shook his head. "What about Ceecee? No. We can't. Not while-"

"It's over," Darren said. "We talked. This morning." He gazed into Christopher's eyes and kissed the tip of his nose. "You don't have to worry about her, anymore."

"That simple?" Christopher asked, dumbfounded.

"Simple is not the word I would use," Darren said. "But yeah, mostly. I went over first thing this morning after I woke up. We talked a lot. Cried a lot. I think we both came away understanding a lot."

"That's…good?" Christopher asked, searching Darren's face for clues.

"Yeah," Darren said, a mask of calm over his face. "Good. Really, really good."

Christopher gingerly reached out with one hand and stroked Darren's cheek. "I want to," he said. "I do, but-"

"But what?" Darren asked. "You said you wanted to let me in, I'm telling you you can." He pressed a hand to his chest, fingers splaying over his heart. "I'm right here, Chris, I'm offering you everything I can and took care of the one excuse you had. If you didn't mean what you said-"

"I meant it," Christopher said, cutting him off. "I did. I do…"

"Then let yourself," Darren said, nuzzling against Christopher's ear and taking in the scent of his cologne. Warmth flowed through him as he took the bottom of Christopher's earlobe between his teeth and tugged gently. 'I could get used to this,' he thought to himself.

Christopher took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds. "I'm going to be late," he finally said. "You're offering me something I thought I would never have. I need some time to think about it. Can you give me that time?"

Darren's face fell. "Yeah," he said, releasing the brake and pulling away from the curb. "I guess I can."

---

Darren's insides twisted as Christopher's voice washed over him, clear and sweet and full of so much emotion Darren thought he might just burst. "I'm sorry to remind you, but I'm scared of what we're creating," he sang, bathed in the brightness of the spotlight as it shone down upon him. The bodystocking he wore covered him from top to toe, leaving only an opening large enough for his face to show in a field of black shimmer and sparkle. It was like watching the night sky brought to earth, and it took Darren's every breath away.

"He's so beautiful," Darren said, transfixed on him as he sang. "So fucking beautiful."

"Look," Ashley said, and he felt the wind knocked out of him as she grabbed him and shoved him against the wall. "I don't know what you've got in your head, but you need to get it out now. You are not fucking with him the way all the others have, you got that?"

"I'm not going to!" Darren said, throwing his arms up at his sides and looking her in the eye. "It's not like that," he said. "It's really not. I know I did a shit job of explaining it before, but I promise, Ash, it's not like that, at all." He looked toward the stage and winced when he saw Christopher's eyes fall on them. "Please let me go," he said. "We're causing a scene. It's bad for business." He pointed toward the stage. "It's bad for him."

She caught sight of Christopher's reaction and let Darren go with a huff. "Fine. So tell me, how is it?"

"I think he's my match," Darren said, his chest puffing with pride as he realized he was telling another person for the first time. "This," he said, reaching a hand to swirl his fingers over the tall, curved letters on his arm. "It's him. I know it is. I don't think I've ever been so sure of anything."

She eyed him dubiously. "You are aware you're talking about someone who claims to have a bunch of gobbledygook on his face, right?"

He rested his elbows on the bar and leaned forward, beaming at Christopher as he sang.

"But the thoughts we try to deny take a toll upon our lives. We struggle on in depths of pride, tangled up in single minds…"


"Oh, Ashley," Darren said breathlessly as his eyes locked on Christopher's and he saw the flash of a smile spread over the other man's lips. "You would be surprised at how much I don't care."

He moved to leave the bar and head for the stage when the song ended, but he froze in his tracks when he saw an older man moving near the edge of the stage. The man reached up to wave at Christopher, and Darren felt a jolt as Christopher's face split into a blend of shock and joy. "Who's the chicken hawk?" he asked Ashley.

"Who?" she asked turning back to survey the scene. "Hrm," she shrugged. "No clue, but looks like they know each other."

"Be right back," Darren said, vaulting himself over the bar and squeezing through the crowd to meet up with the pair. "Hey, Chris-"

"Darren," Christopher said, snapping his attention away from the older man. "I'm sorry, but I can't talk now. Later? After you're off?"

"I was hoping I could take you somewhere and talk in private," the man said, ignoring Darren.

Christopher looked back and forth between the two and laid a hand on Darren's chest. "Soon," he said. "I promise."

"Okay," Darren said quietly, a sense of foreboding washing over him as he watched Christopher lead the man toward the hall that led to the basement. They were talking animatedly, but the loud music the DJ had begun to spin drowned out their words. "You promised."

---

Darren leaned against the stone wall of the basement hall and stared at the dressing room door. He'd been waiting for Christopher to come out for what had seemed like hours, but he couldn't exactly leave. It had taken him half the walk to his car before he remembered he'd given Christopher a ride. It was still a little unclear just what was going on between them, but Darren was still pretty confident that leaving without him wouldn't go over too well.

"Good seeing you," a voice said as the door finally opened. "Lunch on Friday?"

"I'll be there with bells on," Christopher said, eyes bright and shining as the man kissed his cheek and turned to walk away. "Knowing me, that could even be literal.

"Darren," he said, finally noticing Darren standing just past the edge of the door. "What are you doing here?" Christopher winced, and Darren could almost see the light bulb going off over his head. "I'm so sorry. You didn't have to wait. I could have called a cab."

Darren shrugged. "It's okay. I don't mind." He looked down the hall as the man disappeared and worried his lip. "Who's your friend?"

"He's not a friend," Christopher said. "Not exactly."

"Then what, exactly?"

Christopher draped his arms around Darren's neck and smiled. "I could tell you, but I don't think you could handle it." Darren's eyes flicked toward the short robe he was wearing, and Christopher smirked. "That bodysuit looks great, but it's really itchy. I took it off while he waited outside." He tilted his head and brushed a kiss against Darren's lips. "Believe me - he's no one to worry about."

Darren remembered Ceecee's words about years of worry, and he did his best to push them out of his head. "Okay," he said resolutely. "If you say there's no reason to worry, I'm not going to worry. All that matters," he said, taking Christopher's hips in his hands and bringing them close "is what we talked about earlier."

"Hrmmm…" Christopher said, wrapping one calf behind Darren's legs. "I think there are some other things that matter."

"Like?"

Christopher slid a hand down Darren's chest and around his waist. "Like the fact that I have a very full bottle of lube in my dressing room and I don't think either of us has anywhere else to be."

"God bless your five o'clock shadow and addiction to latex," Darren said, practically shoving Christopher inside the room and pulling the door shut behind them.

"I have some of that around, too," Christopher said, his robe falling open at the chest as Darren pressed him against the wall. "But those are for the usual reasons."

"Don’t care," Darren said, sucking greedily at Christopher's pale throat. "Doesn't matter. All that matters is this."

"Too many clothes," Christopher said, pulling Darren's t-shirt over his head and clawing at his back once the warm skin was beneath his hands. "Clothes are stupid. Why do we wear them?"

"Because we don't want to get arrested?" Darren asked, eyes wide as he felt Christopher's hand slide over his ass. It was large, and strong, and the firm pressure of it made Darren's head swim with thoughts of everything that hand could do. Would do.

It was as that hand was about to pop open the button of Darren's jeans that he found himself yelling at his brain to shut up, and cursing the fact that it didn't listen. "Wait," he said breathlessly. "What happened to waiting? To needing time?"

"Fuck time," Christopher said with a grin, pulling down Darren's zipper and slipping his hand inside to wrap around his cock. "Or should I say, fuck-"

"Oh, fuck" Darren moaned, his knees buckling a little as Christopher's thumb ran over the head. "Yeah," he said, "okay. Waiting's stupid. It's so stupid. Stupider than clothes. Let's forget about both of them, okay?"

"Agreed," Christopher said as Darren kicked off his shoes and rushed to push his jeans off his hips and down to the floor. Christopher's eyes ran up and down Darren's body, an appreciative glint in his eye making it clear he enjoyed what he saw. "Can we trade positions?" he asked, reaching for the belt of his robe. "I need some room."

"Anything you want," Darren said, stepping back and watching as Christopher practically glided across the floor of his dressing room and untied his robe, letting it fall off of his shoulders and pool around his upper body.

"This is where the magic happens," he said as it fell to the floor and he bent forward to roll his tight panties over his thighs and onto the floor. He stepped out of them carefully, one foot at a time, and legs locked together at the knee. He looked Darren in the eye as he stood, letting his thighs spread just enough for the parts of himself he'd had tucked away to drop, revealed to Darren for the first time.

"So this is you," Darren said, stretching out on the sofa and waving Christopher to join him. "I like you."

Christopher grinned as he crossed the room and lowered himself on top of Darren. "I think I like you, too."

"Good," Darren said. "That makes this a lot easier. " Christopher's body was heavy above him, covering him with its heat.

"It is different," Christopher mused as he slipped one knee between Darren's and began rocking back and forth against him, his cock growing hard against Darren's thigh.

"What is?" Darren asked, looking up at him.

"Doing this with someone I know means it," Christopher said. "Someone who isn't thinking of someone else."

Darren's heart ached at the thought, and he pulled Christopher's head down so they could kiss. "No one else," he said. "Never anyone else again."

Christopher's eyes grew bright and damp with unshed tears as he looked down at him. He grabbed the bottle of lube he'd left sitting on the nearby table and lifted himself just long enough to drizzle some of it between them. He saw Darren's eyes flicker in confusion, and he ground his hips downward in an unspoken answer. From the way Darren's eyes rolled back and almost into his head, it looked like he'd gotten the point across. "Darren?" he asked a few minutes later, his voice high and breathy and on the verge of breaking.

"Yeahunnn…" Darren groaned in response as their bodies moved more urgently against each other.

Christopher ran his tongue over his lips and looked down at him in earnest. "Can you call me Chris? Right now?"

Darren's hips jerked as the implication washed over him, and he held Christopher's head down to his, the kiss wet and sloppy. "Chris, Chris, Chris," he chanted into his ear when he finally forced their lips apart. "God, you're my Chris. Tell me you'll be my Chris."

Chris buried his face in the crook of Darren's neck as the wetness grew between them. "Yes," he said. "I will."

---

"You look so pleased with yourself," Christopher said as Darren pulled out of the parking lot.

"Why shouldn't I be?" Darren asked. "There's a lot to be pleased about."

"True," Christopher said, barely able to conceal his smirk. He curled his lips inside his teeth and looked out the window. "There really is." He wrapped his arms around himself and scrunched his shoulders up, a childlike grin forming over his lips. "I can't remember ever feeling this way," he said.

"What way?" Darren asked, reaching out to place a hand on Christopher's thigh.

Christopher considered this for a moment. "Happy," he finally said. "Really happy. Like I'm not just waiting for something to disappear."

Darren turned up the volume on the stereo and grinned as he lifted his hand from Christopher's leg and gripped tightly at his shoulders, pulling him in against his chest.

"I believe in a thing called love!" Darren sang loudly. "Just listen to the rhythm of my heart."

"Why am I not surprised you own this CD?" Christopher asked, laughing and burying his face against Darren's chest as he continued to sing. "You are such a dork. The biggest dork I've ever met."

Darren stopped singing and rubbed affectionately at Christopher's upper arm. "Yeah, well, you kind of dig that about me."

"You're right," Christopher said, a peaceful smile playing about his lips. "I do."

---

Anthony was perched at the bar with his requisite glass of pink death in hand. "You look like the cat that ate the canary. You know that, right?"

"Yep," Darren said, grinning widely as Christopher moved about the stage. "Wouldn't you, if you'd inspired that?"

Christopher strutted about the stage in a transparent bodystocking that sparkled like champagne, only a few well-placed leaves between his legs and a very realistic toy snake draped over his front keeping certain parts of him covered. "Splish, smack on my lips. Apple juice kissing makes me roll my hips." His lips were crusted with chunky, red glitter, making their every movement catch the light. "Easy to love, our love is here to stay. Easy to love, our love will find a way."

Anthony pretended to be unimpressed as his head rapidly bobbed up and down. "Yeah. Okay. I think I can maybe understand."

Ashley gave a low whistle as Christopher strutted across the stage, hips shaking and legs looking even longer than usual as the light reflected off of them. "You crazy kids are really doing this, aren't you?" she asked.

"Oh, we're doing it," Darren said, winking as he knocked his hip against hers. "Every chance we get!"

Ashley tilted her head. "He must be quieter than Ceecee was. Wouldn't have guessed that about him. He always struck me as a screamer."

"Oh," Darren grinned. "He is. That's why we spend more time at his place. Better soundproofing and fewer friends to show up just as things are getting good."

Her mouth fell open. "You fucker!" she said, swatting at his arm. "I knew you were lying when you said he wasn't there that night!"

"I wasn't lying," Darren said. "I was using a very precise definition of here that didn't include my bed."

A sputter of laughter came from Ashley's lips as she swung her own hip back into his. "Dick."

"Yes," Darren said, smiling widely as Christopher blew him a kiss. "I have one. Wouldn't know it from most of the stuff he wears here, but so does he, and it's pretty fucking awesome."

"Really?" Anthony asked. "I would have guessed he was…" he held up a hand and wriggled his pinky.

Darren shook his head and laughed. "Pretty sure he'd kill me if I gave any details, but yeah, no. He's…" he considered his possible answers. "You would be surprised what he can do with spandex and tape."

Anthony took another sip of his drink and licked his lips. "Kinky."

Darren shook his head and grinned. "Yeah," he said. "Little bit."

The song ended, and Christopher leapt from the stage, grinning as a tall man with broad shoulders caught him. He reached for the snake's mouth and produced a tiny, bright green apple before he made the snake kiss the man's nose. "Thank you," he said. "If I see Adam, I'll put in a good word for you." He hopped from the man's arms and strode toward the bar, eyes twinkling. It was clear he wanted to look cool and unfazed by the looks he was receiving, but it was just as clear that he relished every bit of it.

"Hello," he said, leaning over the bar and batting his lashes at Darren. "Did you like the new routine?"

"I loved the new routine," Darren said, closing the distance to kiss him as a handful of patrons whooped. "Very ecclesiastical."

"You know me," Christopher said, bringing the apple to his lips. They parted to let it in, and as his teeth bit into it, a trickle of juice ran from the corner of his mouth and down to his chin. "I'm learning to be more of a believer." He held out the apple and grinned. "Care for a bite?"

Darren didn't answer; he just bent down to take a bite, eyes locked onto Christopher's as he chewed carefully and swallowed. "I feel very enlightened."

"I like it when you feel things," Christopher said, taking the last bite of the tiny fruit and pitching the core into a wastebasket that sat behind where Darren stood.

"Don't take this the wrong way," Anthony said, eyes darting back and forth between them, "but I'm surprised at how turned on I am right now." He took in their reactions and shook his head. "It's a compliment, I swear."

Darren laughed and leaned in to kiss Christopher once more. "Are we still on for dinner tomorrow?"

Christopher's face fell. "I'm so sorry," he said. "Something's come up and I don't know if I can make it."

Darren busied himself with making a drink so his disappointment wouldn't show. "When are you going to tell me what's going on?" he asked. "I know you said it's nothing to worry about, but it'd be nice to know what's got you so excited."

Christopher's enthusiasm faded. "Soon," he said. "I don't want to say anything before I know it's really going to happen. Things have been so good lately; I want to enjoy what I know I have instead of focusing on something I might not." He looked down at the glass Darren set in front of him. "What's this?"

Darren grinned. "Appletini, what else?"

"What else, indeed?" Christopher said, lifting the glass to his lips and taking a sip. "I promise," he said. "If everything works out, you'll be the first person I tell."

"I'd better be," Darren said. He pretended to pout and grabbed a bottle of whiskey, flashing Ashley an overly defiant look as he pulled out the spout and wrapped his lips around the neck.

"You're still coming over after work, right?" Christopher asked as he watched.

Darren winked as he swallowed a single mouthful and set the bottle aside. "Oh yeah," Darren said nonchalantly. "Over, under, inside, outside…" he looked at the ceiling and shrugged. "Possibilities are limitless."

"Yes," Christopher said, the light shining on his lips as he spoke. "It's really starting to feel that way."

Part 4b



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