This was, like most of their more adventurous video ideas, all Ned’s fault.
And Zach isn’t on board at all, at first. Keith agrees. Eugene seems on the fence, and more than happy to watch the three of them sort it out amongst themselves—at least until they stop being productive, which is when he’ll step in and make an executive decision that suits him best. They’ve argued enough in the three years they’ve been friends that Zach knows how this will play out if they don’t make a decision before Eugene opens his mouth.
“You’re going to make me climb something again, aren’t you?” Keith grumbles.
“You don’t have to climb anything!” Ned promises.
“But it’s so much outdoors,” Zach says.
“But I thought your back was doing way better now. You have those injections and everything!”
Zach sighs. “Well… yeah…”
“It’ll be so cool, guys!” Ned insists, and really, the other three have a hard time saying no when Ned gets this excited. “Come on, the footage will be so great! It’s the Grand Canyon, you guys!”
Zach catches Keith’s eye in silent reluctance right as Eugene stands up.
Which is how, six weeks later, they’re packing up two cars and two bonus wives, and setting off on a seven and a half hour drive from California to Arizona.
“How much further is it til food?” Zach asks into the walkie talkie, holding up his phone with his other hand to vlog a bit of their drive. At this point, the camera feels like an extension of his own arm.
The walkie crackles. “Our next stop is an hour and a half from now,” comes Eugene’s reply from the other car.
“An hour and a half? How am I supposed to survive another hour and a half with my stomach grumbling this bad?” Keith protests from the driver’s seat.
Zach shoots a pointed look into the camera. “Calm down, Becky packed snacks.” He pans the phone in her direction, and she holds up a bag of apples and waves from the backseat.
“But they’re healthy,” Keith grumbles.
Becky reaches forward and smacks him on the shoulder. “I’m trying to keep you alive so you don’t die from constant fried food ingestion!”
“It’d be a delicious death. How can you deprive me of that?”
Zach holds down the side button on the walkie talkie again. “Eugene, Mom and Dad are fighting again.”
“At least you aren’t here playing third wheel on the Fulmers' second honeymoon.”
Zach can hear the eyeroll in Eugene’s voice and can’t help but laugh. “Okay, yours sounds worse.”
“I’ll let you know if we have to pull over for a bathroom break before our lunch stop,” Eugene says.
“Over and out!” Zach chirps. He drops the walkie on his lap and points at the camera on his phone. “That’s navigator talk.”
“Do you have anything other than apples back there?” Keith asks Becky hopefully, tipping his head up to look at her in the rearview mirror.
Becky rummages in her bag for a moment, and then looks up. “Trail mix?”
Keith sighs, the great injustice weighing heavily on him. “Fine. Pass it up.”
“Keeping you alive,” she reminds him firmly as she hands over the bag.
Zach shakes his head at the camera again, and then checks the clock on the dash. Only five and a half more hours of this.
Which is perfectly fine by him. His back is killing him.
“Somehow I thought a place called the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel would be a little fancier,” Zach says, eyeing the motel in front of them as he climbs out of the car.
“See, this is why you Google things before you travel instead of relying on your friends to do all the bookings for you,” Eugene says, tugging his bag out of Ned’s car. “It’s all about setting expectations.”
“Like you’d trust anyone else to book anything.”
Eugene shrugs with a little grin.
“Come on, you two. There’s a hotel buffet that isn’t getting into my stomach any faster if we keep standing out here,” Keith says. He takes Becky’s hand and leads the way into the motel, the rest of their motley crew trailing behind them.
Zach takes a moment to try and stretch out some of the knots in his back before he follows. Apparently a seven hour road trip still isn’t a piece of cake for him, injections or no injections.
By the time he’s joined everyone at the hotel desk, Ned is passing out room keys.
“Three rooms,” Ned tells them. “Ariel and me, Keith and Becky, and the boys.”
“Ah, the third wheels,” Eugene says, his tone sarcastic as he takes his key.
“Hey,” Zach protests. “You could do a lot worse than me as your roommate.”
“It’s always nice being the pretty one in a pairing.”
“For the love of god, you two.” Keith groans. “If you want to decimate each other, can you please do it after we’ve eaten? The buffet has chicken wings and a full bar. It’s a miracle I’m still here with you all right now.”
Ariel laughs and wraps her arm around Ned’s. “Drop our stuff off and meet down at the buffet in ten?”
“Make it five or I’ll eat it all without you,” Keith warns them.
As they all disperse to their rooms to set down their bags, Zach twists his hips a little again. Still no relief - and while he has some painkillers to help tide him through between his injections, he doesn’t really want to take them around the other guys. They know what’s been going on with him, of course, but he also knows all too well that he has a reputation for being a bit of a complainer. And he’s kind of getting tired of people thinking that.
So he drops off his bag in the room with Eugene, leaving his pills where they are. Keith said the buffet had a bar, after all. Maybe a few beers will help him relax and none of the other guys will ever be the wiser.
But apparently medication isn’t magic. And all he wants, now, is to pass the fuck out and hopefully wake up the next morning pain-free.
“What’s going on with you?”
Zach looks up from standing over his suitcase to find Eugene standing across the room with his arms crossed, eyeing him carefully. “What?”
“You’ve been fidgeting for the last few hours,” Eugene points out. “I mean, normally you’re twitchy, but you’re not that twitchy.”
Zach breathes out a laugh, shaking his head. “And here I thought I was good at hiding it.”
“Nope. What’s going on?”
“It’s just my spine,” he says with a shrug, trying to keep his tone neutral. He doesn’t want anyone worrying about him—least of all Eugene. Eugene isn’t the nurturing, caring type. Sure, he’d be able to get Zach some Tylenol and tell him to sleep it off, but that isn’t exactly something that’ll comfort him right about now. Keith would know what to do—but now that Keith’s married, things feel a little different. Zach doesn’t feel right barging in on him and Becky to get some bro time.
Eugene’s forehead creases, sinking down on the end of the bed. Zach does the same. “I thought you had injections for that.”
“Oh, I do!” Zach reassures him quickly. “But they’re only twice a month, and my next one isn’t until next week. I just haven’t done such a long distance in a car in a while, and my body’s rebelling. It’s no big deal, seriously.”
“Don’t you have any painkillers?”
“Yeah.” Zach shrugs. “I’ll probably take one before I go to sleep."
“Where’s it hurt?”
Zach’s hand flails flippantly behind him. “Just… that whole general lumbar area. But I’m sure I can sleep it off.”
Eugene snorts. “Who are you? My friend Zach would take every opportunity he can get to wring some sympathy out of anyone he can.” He prods Zach’s knee. “Are you artificial intelligence sent here to lull me into a false sense of security and then kidnap me to do experiments on my cute body?”
“Oh my god.” Zach rolls his eyes. “Whatever, I’m fine, okay? Don’t worry about me.” His tone is maybe a little colder than he’d like—Eugene’s his roommate for the night, after all, and he doesn’t want to fight. Not when there’s no real escape. But he doesn’t love hearing the insinuation that he’s a whiny baby yet again, either.
“Hey.” To his surprise, Eugene slides a little closer. “I was just playing around, man, I’m sorry. I was trying to make you laugh.”
He can’t help but relax a little. “Your body’s not that cute, anyway.”
“Now I know you’re a liar.”
Zach laughs, and Eugene looks pleased with himself. He normally doesn’t like Smug Eugene, because Eugene is somehow good at everything, but it’s sort of sweet here. Eugene’s heart is in the right place, at least. “I’ll be okay, seriously. The pain’ll pass.”
Eugene pauses for a second, looking as if he has something to say but isn’t quite sure if he actually wants the words to leave his mouth. Which is sort of weird for Eugene. Zach has never known him to be one to censor himself.
And then— “Want me to give you a massage?”
Zach blinks. “What?”
“I mean, if your back’s really hurting you,” Eugene says with a shrug. “If it’s too weird, I won’t tell the other guys.”
“I - okay.” Zach kind of can’t believe it. It’s not that Eugene isn’t a thoughtful guy—they’ve known each other long enough now to know that they’re important to one another—but he isn’t exactly the best at comforting people. Eugene’s the guy that cracks the jokes when someone is hurting; he isn’t the guy that solves the problem. But if he’s offering…
Eugene shifts on the bed to give Zach more room. “Take your shirt off and lie on your stomach.”
What world has he entered?
“I should have known you were bossy in the bedroom,” Zach can’t help but crack as he lifts the hem of his shirt over his head.
“Don’t make me regret offering!”
“Sorry, sorry.” Zach hurries to lie down before the offer gets taken of the table completely. He does think a massage will help—his muscles are likely stiff from the car ride, which can’t be helping his disease much at all. And it’s nice that Eugene wants to help. So he tells himself to lie still, behave, and shut up.
And he manages it, too—for all of three seconds. That’s when Eugene’s hands press into his skin.
Eugene’s hands still. “What, am I hurting you?”
Zach can feel his skin heat up a little. “No, it—it just feels good. You’ve got good hands.”
“It took you this long to notice?” Eugene’s voice is teasing. Playful.
“Shut up.” Zach’s pretty sure he’s turning pink.
More than once, Zach has to bite back little noises as Eugene rubs his hands over his back. The massage is firm, digging deep into his muscles, and it sort of makes Zach want to melt. Eugene takes his time, not rushing things at all—like he wants to get it right. Like he really does want to help take away some of Zach’s pain.
He can’t count the number of times little goosebumps erupt on his skin in places that Eugene’s touched.
And normally, Zach’s brain would get stuck on that. He’s an anxious person by nature, and those little reactions typically would spin around in his mind for ages as he’d try to dissect them and figure out exactly what they mean. But whether it’s the exhaustion from the long drive or the relief from his loosening muscles, Zach feels too relaxed to care too much. At this point, he’s just going with it.
Which works real well until Eugene pulls his hands away and Zach has to sit up.
Because now, Zach actually has to look at him again. And he’s finding that awfully hard to do with half an erection pressed against his fly.
“How’re you feeling now?” Eugene asks.
Zach can feel Eugene’s eyes searching his face, and he’s very determined not to let them meet his own. “Good. So much better.” His mouth is dry, and he rubs his palms on his jeans. “Thank you.”
“I can do that for you again in the morning, if you want,” Eugene offers. When did he learn to be so attentive to others’ needs? “If you wake up and you’re still in pain, I mean.”
“Well, I’m not really in pain now,” Zach says, “so I’m sure I’ll be fine in the morning.” He wants to be more appreciative—really, he does—but all he can focus on is willing Eugene not to look down.
As if on cue, Eugene does.
Zach’s face has to be fire-engine red by now. He isn’t sure if he should say something—reassure him that it’s just a physical reaction from the massage, that it happens to him whenever he’s really relaxed—or if he should just get up and go to the bathroom without addressing it. But then, if he goes into the bathroom, Eugene might think he’s rubbing one out. And how awkward would that be?
Then again, sitting here in silence with Eugene’s eyes on his crotch is pretty awkward as it is.
“Please don’t tell anyone your massage gave me a boner.” Why on earth did his mouth think that was the right thing to say?
Eugene looks back up at him again, and Zach sort of wants to die. If he could melt down right here, into the beige duvet, and become one with the fabric, that would be ideal. Or there’s always the classic earth-opening-up-and-swallowing-him-whole trick. He’d gladly take that one. Or even a knock at their motel room door—an interruption from Keith or Ned would be far preferable to this new form of hell he’s found himself in. Anything, literally anything, other than this silence as Eugene stares at him.
Zach’s just opening his mouth to try and find something else to say to remedy this situation when Eugene leans forward and kisses him.
He’s so startled at first that he can’t do anything other than freeze. Eugene’s mouth is firm and certain, but he doesn’t push—he rests a hand on Zach’s side and just kisses him in a very matter-of-fact way. Which should honestly be no surprise, since everything Eugene does is purposeful. But the whole thing is so odd and so strange that Zach doesn’t know how to react.
Well, most of him doesn’t, anyway. His erection seems to know exactly how it feels about the whole thing.
When Eugene’s lips leave his own, Zach’s eyes lift to search his face. “What, uh…” Zach’s voice is hoarse. “What was that?”
Eugene shrugs. “I wanted to kiss you. So I did.” Blasé as fuck, as usual. “I’m trying not to overthink it.”
“Oh.” Yes, Zach, brilliant response, he thinks to himself. Apparently he’s no better with men than he is with women. Shocker.
“Should I not have?”
Zach’s stomach twists. Because as much as he knows he should probably tell Eugene this was a bad idea and that they should just get some sleep—that coworkers messing around is a terrible idea, that he’s never done anything with a guy before and hadn’t even thought he would want to—he can’t bring himself to actually say any of those words.
Because, surprisingly, he’s glad Eugene did.
And the best way for him to handle that, he decides, is to lean in and kiss him back.
Eugene slides a hand up to the back of his head at once, holding him there gently as they kiss. His beard feels a little weird against Zach’s cheek, but his movements are sure and certain, and he nips the bottom of Zach’s lip and it makes him groan softly.
“Well look at you, Korndiddy,” Eugene says quietly against his mouth. “You’ve got some balls after all.”
Zach rolls his eyes and nips back. “Oh, god, shut the fuck up.”
And by the time Eugene leans back and pulls him down on top of him, neither of them are talking much at all.
The thing is, Zach would have never expected it to all feel so good. He’s never fantasized about Eugene, or about any guy in general, really. This isn’t some deeply repressed side of himself that he's just now getting to indulge. This is him and one of his best friends, wrapped up in each other without thinking much about the outcome. And it’s fucking fantastic.
Zach dips his head to trail his lips over Eugene’s neck, nipping and sucking as he goes. It isn’t exactly like being with a woman, but it doesn’t feel foreign, either. And the way Eugene moans softly when he finds a spot on his collarbone is exactly what Zach is hoping to hear.
“So I guess the lie detector wasn’t wrong, after all,” Zach says with a little smirk against his skin, unable to help himself.
Eugene shifts under him, and Zach can feel his erection pressing against his abdomen. Fuck, that feels good. “Shut up and get my pants off already,” Eugene says.
Zach’s grin widens. “Gladly.”
Ned is filming a pan over the whole thing, the sun still rising and bathing the canyon in some gorgeous yellow light. It’ll look fantastic once it’s all cut together.
“It is beautiful and we’re going to spend the day exploring, and you get to come with us!” Zach adds.
Keith’s the next one to talk—giving a general rundown of their day—but Zach’s having a hard time listening to his performance. Eugene’s fingers have found Zach’s hip, pushing up the edge of his shirt just enough so they can rest against his skin. And that is way, way more interesting than whatever the hell Keith is yammering about now.
So interesting that Zach misses his cue to talk, only realizing when Keith elbows him in the ribs.
“Ow! So let’s go!”
Then the cameras are turned off, and the four of them are led away by their guides for the day. They’re going to shoot themselves white water rafting on the Colorado River, and they’ve got a safety lesson scheduled first. They follow their guides down the trail, and as they walk, it’s easy for Zach to hang back a bit and let Keith and Ned walk ahead. As he’d hoped, Eugene sidles up to him.
“You feeling better today?” he asks quietly. Eugene keeps his eyes on the path, but there’s a little smirk on his face that’s infuriating. Zach wants to kiss it off.
“You know the answer to that, you bastard.” He’s pretty sure he’s grinning.
“Well, you know.” Eugene shrugs, his tone sarcastic. “There were no roses waiting for me when I woke up this morning, so I thought maybe things weren’t as good as I thought.”
“Shit, I didn’t know you were the flowers-after-sex type.” Zach likes that they can still joke and be playful—and the added bit of flirtiness is new and exciting. Is this what it feels like to be starting something with someone? Something promising? “How about I make it up to you next time?”
Eugene’s eyes meet Zach’s for just a moment. “You’d better.”
When they make it back to the parking lot, Keith is eyeing them. “Are you guys being weird?” he asks.
“Who, us?” Zach says, his gaze darting to Eugene and trying not to look too guilty before looking back at Keith.
“We’re never weird. You’re the weird one,” Eugene says.
Keith raises an eyebrow and studies them both. “You’ve just been together a lot all morning.”
“You afraid I’m going to steal your best friend?” Eugene teases, slinging an arm over Zach’s shoulders. He feels a tingle run down his spine—which feels so much better than the pain from the day before.
“Ha, ha,” Keith says. “Get in the van, idiots.”
So they do—and, in the commotion of everyone getting settled, Eugene’s hand slides around Zach’s just for a quick moment. A squeeze, a look, and then it’s gone again.
Sure, they’re lying to their friends. They’re keeping a big secret. It’s deceptive and dishonest, and probably not the best idea.
But Zach is loving every second of it.