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come back home, back on your own now

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"You'll never guess what I managed to swing," Max cackles, dropping down into his seat. Penny opens her mouth to say something, but he doesn't care to listen; she'll probably be wrong anyway. He snatches everyone's menu out of their hands, clutching them to his chest while they all groan and curse him out. "Yeah, okay, whatever — just make sure you order my stuff. It's top shelf tonight, you cheap motherfuckers. Support your old pal Max."

"Say whaaa—," Brad sings, clutching at the edge of the table and shaking it a bit. "You talked the bar into stocking your brews? Man, that's awesome!"

"This Max talks to no man; they called me and asked if I'd be interested in letting them stock it." Brad lets out a shriek and raises his hand. Max meets him halfway as they high five.

"I cannot believe you actually managed to make this microbrewery thing work," Jane deadpans, lifting a finger and nodding at their waitress.

"I can't believe it's actually legit," Dave adds. "He's paying taxes and everything. Dude has a liquor license." Alex and Penny both gasp and turn to look at Max.

"I know, I'm awesome," Max agrees. "Anyway," Max angles his body so that he's leaning into Brad's shoulder, making sure that both he and Jane are focused on him. "It's high time that I finally realized my lifelong dream of living where I worked. You two," Max points at both of them, narrowing his eyes into a glare, "are my best bet at finding an architect to do it on the cheap, so I need you to ask around work and find me a hookup. I don't care what favors you have to promise, just make it happen."

Brad groans and lets his body go limp, sliding down in the booth until most of his body is under the table, hidden from view like a turtle startled into its shell, only his eyes and forehead visible. "Ugh, I hate owing people at work favors."

 


 

Brad comes through and a few days later has Max waiting outside the brick sorta-kinda-warehouse that currently houses his brewery and, hopefully, will house Max too in a couple of months. The architect was supposed to meet Max twenty minutes ago. Max himself was fifteen minutes late — which is totally right on time, according to l'horloge interne de Max — which means the architect is double late, since he's supposed to show up ten minutes early just to impress Max. Brad said that he's the newest hire at his coworker's best friend's step-sister's boyfriend's firm, low on the totem pole and forced to do this for Max both as a favor and to prove himself to the higher-ups. Or something. Max stopped listening at the 'step-sister' part. His NERF obsession's back with a vengeance and he may have been on Amazon when Brad had called him to tell Max the good news, stocking up on bullets.

A cab finally pulls up and Max sets his face into his most intense, disapproving frown. He ins't overly upset, though. The guy showing up late isn't all that bad of a sign, in the grand scheme of things. He's probably a super chillaxed guy who has his own schdule, which is just fine with Max, is preferable, even. They'll get along great, just so long as his workmanship is up to code. It's all fun and games until corner-cutting leads to a roof collapse and kills Max in his sleep.

"I am so sorry," Max's architect says as he practically falls out of the back of the cab. He drops a sketchpad and his bag onto the ground in a heap, freeing up his hands so that he can grab his change from the cabbie. Max freezes, because he knows that voice, could pick it out of a lineup and shit — shit, it's Grant.

"Shit," Max says. In his head he envisions running after the cab and hopping into the backseat while it's still in motion, yelling at the driver to engage the warp drive; or, maybe Max has been a vampire all this time, and if he tries hard enough he can turn into a bat and fly the fuck away before Grant realizes it's him.

"We had a meeting before this that ran long," Grant continues, scrambling to pick up his shit from where he'd dropped it, still not looking at Max. "And then it took forever for the cab to arrive. I'm sorry, I'm usually way more professional than this, I promise." Finally — fucking finally, even though the last thing Max wanted was for Grant to look at him — Grant looks up, and Max relishes in the shock that quickly flickers through Grant's eyes as he catches sight of him, and says, "Shit."

 


 

Max gives Grant a quick tour of the actual microbrewery before showing him the unused assortment of rooms in the back where he'd been hoping to have the loft built. For most of it he feels pretty smug, bragging because he's finally made something of himself, because one of his schemes actually worked out and has lead to him making decent chunk of change, money that just keeps rolling in and doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon. Every once in a while uncertainty creeps in and he feels meek, shy as he remembers that not only had Grant dumped him that first time, but that during their second try it'd been more Grant's idea than Max's own for them to take a break — Max scared out of his mind to think that Grant had a list of things he did and didn't want with Max, when all Max wanted to do was try just about anything, just as long as Grant was there to try it with him, because Grant made everything better.

Once they actually start to talk about the in's and out's of what Max wants out of the renovation, Max starts to feel dumb, unable to answer Grant's questions about square footage, has no idea which walls are load-bearing, doesn't even really have an idea of what he wants the end-product to be. His answers get more and more sarcastic — because what the fuck, how in the hell is Max supposed to know this stuff, he's not an architect, and if he knew the answer to half the shit Grant was asking then he wouldn't need one in the first place — until he finally snaps.

"So," Max says, his voice bouncing around the room, rising all the way up to the rafters, the warehouse's high ceilings making him sound bigger than he is, more commanding, if not just as loud. "How long have you been back in town?"

Grant has the wherewithal to look chagrined, breaking eye contact. He sits down on the floor to measure something, getting the seat of his nice pants dirty. "Uh, yeah. About a month now, I've been really busy though."

"Oh?" Max sniffs. "Had the job waiting for you? Rushed back to get to work?"

"No," Grant admits. This time he actually blushes, shamefaced, setting down his tape measure and looking up at Max. "I found the job after I got back." I had more than enough time to move back, find a place to live, and get a job. I purposefully didn't let you know, is what Max hears in his head. Max had known they were broken up, that calling it a break was just a way for them to end things on good terms, but it still stings. Taking a break — what a joke.

Max swallows down all the mean things he wants to say, hums instead, walks over to a random wall and scratches at the brick with his nails. "So can you turn this dump into an apartment or what?" Max says to the wall.

"Yeah. It's — it's a really great place, Max." The echo in the room makes it hard for Max to tell if Grant's looking at him or not, so he doesn't risk turning around to find out. He isn't sure what would be worse: Grant starting at him with his stupid, horrible, amazing, perfect eyes, or Grant staring at the floor — or fuck, at his phone, completely checked out and oblivious, mindlessly giving the answer he thinks Max wants to hear, just to wrap the conversation up.

Max has always had shit self-control and he's never been good at doing what's best for him, so he turns around and lets out a huge sigh of relief when he sees that Grant is earnestly staring his way, still sitting on the ground. He quickly turns it into what he hopes passes for a resigned sigh, one that says alright I guess I'll put up with you. "And you're gonna hook me up with a super discounted rate, right?"

Grant laughs and it makes Max's gut clench: it still sounds amazing, and he still looks amazing while doing it, and Max is pretty much fucked.

"Yeah, of course."

 


 

Max wakes up to everyone crowed around his bed, staring down at him with dead shark eyes. He groans and squeezes his own eyes shut, rolls over so that he's facing the wall and doesn't have to see their faces. He blindly reaches down between his knees until he finds the box of pizza he fell asleep with last night.

"Ohemgee, Max, you can't just text us saying that Grant is back and then not pick up your fucking phone for the rest of the night!" Penny shouts, voice picking up in volume the longer she speaks, finishing on a shriek.

Max groans again and pulls out a piece of pizza, folding it in half haphazardly so that it'll fit in his mouth better. There's no way he wants to have this conversation on an empty stomach.

"It's a good thing that Dave still had keys to your place, otherwise we'd have had to let Alex break down the door," Jane says.

"I'll knock that bitch down but I'm not helping to put it back up," Alex agrees, drops down onto the bed and props herself up against Max's back, leaning over his shoulder to see his face. "So! Did he call you? How did you find out that he's back in town? Are you guys dating again?!"

Max sighs and flops onto his back. "He's the architect that Brad got for me," he says around his mouthful of food.

"Shit," Brad says quickly. "Sorry, bro. I had no idea."

"It's cool," Max sighs. "This is like the best situation for me to see him again, right? I'm my own boss, got an awesome company, and he's technically working for me with this renovation job. I'm winning in this post-breakup world, right?"

"Yeah but Grant's like completely fucking awesome," Dave says, cutting whatever Brad was getting ready to say off. "He already had a head start on the coolness chart. Now you're just like, finally his equal."

"Are you shitting me," Max shouts. He tries to lunge out of bed and claw at Dave's stupid fucking face, but his legs get tangled up in the blankets. By the time he's kicked them off, both Brad and Penny have gotten a good enough grip on his shoulders to hold him back. Dave's positioned himself behind Jane, peeking out from behind her elbow. "You didn't even like Grant!"

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder," Dave tuts.

It gives Max the drive he needs to breaks free, starts chasing after Dave around the apartment, hopping over the couch half a dozen times until he finally tires out and flops down onto it, fighting to catch his breath. He's too fat for this shit. "Brad," he gasps, "Brad, bring me my pizza."

Brad drops it onto to his lap and Penny follows after him with a glass and the pitcher of water Max keeps in his fridge. Max tosses the glass over the back of the couch, uncaring as it shatters. He drinks straight from the pitcher, flenching when his mouth fails to catch all of the water, half of it spilling down his front. It's cold as shit.

Jane lasts exactly a second before she's rushing to the kitchen, hunting around for a broom and dust pan so that she can sweep up the shards of broken glass.

"Seriously though, Max, Grant was ahmahzing and you totes loved him. Are you gonna try to get back together? Do you think he wants to?" Penny presses.

"Penny, you aren't fucking helping," Max huffs. He jolts again when Brad starts to slide an arm across Max's gut, reaching for the box of pizza. Max slaps his hand away in a huff. Brad sighs and pulls his hand back, reprimanded. They catch one another's eyes and Brad winks at him, smiling. Max has to try really hard not to smile back.

 


 

Grant invites Max out to lunch so that they can go over exactly what Max wants in terms of his renovation. Max is honestly surprised enough that he blurts out, "Are you fucking with me?" which in turn makes Grant fall over himself to reassure him that business lunches are a real thing and that he doesn't have any ulterior motives in mind.

Max shows up five minutes before their agreed time, first time he's been early to something in years. The maître d tells him that Grant's already been seated and Max isn't the least bit surprised to hear it. Grant does look shocked to see him though, and for half a second it makes Max wonder if Grant thought he would bail, but then Grant blatantly turns his wrist up so that it's facing him, glances at his watch, checking the time.

"You don't know me as well as you think," Max says magnanimously, dropping into the seat opposite of Grant's and picking up his menu.

"Apparently not," Grant laughs. "I should've gone into business with you a whole lot sooner; You're a whole new Max!"

Max glances up and smiles blandly, his lips pressed tight together, dropping his gaze back to his menu. Silence stretches between them, drawing itself out until a waiter comes and takes their orders, carrying off with their menus in his wake.

"So," Grant says, nervously tapping the table with his fingers. "What were you hoping for in terms of the loft?"

"I have no fucking clue," Max answers. He really wants to dig his phone out of his pocket and screw around on it. All the completely unprofessional things he wants to ask Grant are building up in his throat, jumping over themselves to break free. Max has never been good at holding his tongue and he knows that it's just a matter of time before he makes a fool of himself or causes a scene. He sits up a bit straighter, tries to focus on the sweat thats broken out on his back, feels how his shirt is slowly starting to stick to the back of his chair, registers how his lower back feels damp.

"I hope you don't find this forward," Grant hedges. "Or rude, because I really don't mean it that way. But — and this is only from what I can tell, — but it doesn't sound like you have any set plans on what you want. So, uh, would you be okay with me suggesting some things?"

Max picks up his glass of water and takes a long pull, draining half it. "Um, yeah," he says, nervously wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand, remembering just a second too late that he probably should have used one of the fancy cloth napkins instead. "Isn't that your job?" Grant raises his eyebrows and smiles at him, bemused. Max flushes, discerns that coming up with plans from scratch probably isn't a part of Grant's job description. Max instantly realizes that Grant doesn't plan on telling Max this, probably doesn't even think Max will figure it out. He's pissed, but he also sorta wants to kiss Grant until their lips bleed, which is basically how he's always felt about Grant, so it's not anything new. If anything, it helps to calm him a little bit.

They've broken up twice already, the first time making him feel like an asshole and sorta bummed out, the second completely breaking his fucking heart; but both of those times, Grant's always been Grant, and he's always been Max, and things have always sorta worked out, and it's not as if they didn't have a good time while it lasted. This shouldn't be any different. They aren't even dating, so that aspect isn't there to complicate things.

"Yeah, so — I'd appreciate it," Max says at last.

Their waiter drops off their appetizers, and Max quickly starts to shift the plates to his side of the table, freeing up room because Grant's pulling things out of his bag and spreading them out on the tabletop in front of him.

"I took the liberty of drafting up a couple options," Grant says, handing over a sheet of paper. "I think that will be the one you like best, but I have others in case you don't. We can mix and match, whatever."

Max nods stares at the plans, turning the paper around a few times until he's able to get it oriented right. He picks up his fork and stabs at a couple pieces of shrimp, shoveling them into his mouth.

"Oh!" Grant says, quickly extending his arm out on reflex before coming back to himself, yanking it back and dropping it down into his lap underneath the table. "Max, that's, uh, that's my plate."

"Oh shit," Max says. "Sorry — fuck."

"No, um, it's alright." Grant laughs and leans back into his seat, scratching at his cheek as he shakes his head. "I don't even know why I ordered it, you've always liked seafood more than me. I guess I'm so used to not being able to finish and letting you have the rest that I just automatically ordered something I knew you'd like."

Max knows that he's supposed to laugh, so he does. It's loud, fake.

 


 

It takes two more meet-ups for them to settle on the plans, but once they're done Max figures that Grant's part to play in his renovation will be over. Max isn't sure if it's relief or dread he's feeling when that assumption proves false.

Grant shows up bright and early the day Max's contractors are due to start work, loiters around the door as Max unlocks it and trails after him when Max goes about checking on how his brews are coming along.

The construction guys quickly realize that they should take any and all questions they have to Grant, which is just fine with Max. He keeps himself holed up on the business side of the building, letting Grant lord over the soon-to-bed residential end.

By lunch everyone knows what they're doing — cutting brick so that they can add a second door, setting things up for a bathroom and kitchen, bricking up a wall on the second floor and adding a second pair of stairs. All their hard work is Max hungry, has him starting to think about what he wants for lunch.

"Hey Max," Grant calls, taking the steps two at a time, loping his way down to where Max is working. "Are you gonna want some of this pizza I ordered?"

Max narrows his eyes, suspicious. "What kind of pizza?" He asks.

"Well I, um, I Yelped the nearest pizza joint and asked if they knew Max Blum, and after they laughed in my ear for a good five minutes, they said that they'd send over two of your usuals." Grant ducks his head, fidgets as he speaks. Max can't remember the last time he thought Grant looked so fucking cute. It's the worst. Grant's the worst.

"Oh great," Max groans, feeling disgusted with both himself and Grant. "You're still perfect."

Grant's face lights up like a fucking Christmas tree.

 


 

Brad wants to go dancing and Max wants to forget Grant, so when Jane begs out and tells them to have some man time, Brad drags him to Greg's, where they proceed to get totally shitfaced. Max winds up soaked, because of course the bar Brad just had to go out on Studs & Suds night. Guys flock to Brad each time he surfaces from the dance floor, buying him drinks left and right, anything as an excuse to grope at him through his skintight trousers and now see-through white henly.

The next morning Max wakes up alone, dick half-chubbed up from a particularly raunchy sex dream — Grant's fault — and running a fever of 102°F — Brad's fault.

 

you got me sick you son of a bitch!!!!

Max sends to Brad, dropping his phone down onto the spare pillow next to him as he gives himself a pep-talk, psyching himself up to get out of bed and use the bathroom.

By the time he crawls back into his bed, Brad's reply is waiting from him.

 

 

Whoops. Sorry Daddy!

don't Daddy me!! i almost fucking passed out on my way to the bathroom

 

Uh oh

Dave lets himself into Max's apartment ten minutes later, carrying two grocery bags worth of food.

"I thought you gave me back my spare key!" Max groans, flopping over onto his stomach so that he can watch Dave as he unloads the bags.

"I did," Dave agrees. "But that was after I made a spare spare key, for moments like this." Max scoffs a few times in a row, which only makes Dave laugh at him. "I'm gonna make you some soup, but do you want me to make you a sandwich before I start on that?"

"I love you," Max whines.

"Aw," Dave coos. "I love you too, buddy."

Dave stays with him all day, and they have a trilogy marathon: Star Wars, Die Hard, the Ocean's Eleven remakes, Austin Powers. He keeps Max hydrated and full of food and Max seriously loves him, and Brad too — even though it's all his fault that Max's sick in the first place — because Brad called Dave and told him to go take care of Max.

"I have never been attracted to you and I never, ever will be," Max stresses, pausing for both effect and to build suspense, "but, in a universe where you had a better face and body and personality, I would totally offer to raise babies with you."

"Okay, first: ouch," Dave says, wincing. "And second: me too! But only if you had a vagina and stuff."

"What? Boobs aren't a prerequisite?"

"I'm more of an ass man," Dave shrugs. Max starts cackling, which leads to hacking and coughing, but he still holds up his hand, and Dave bumps their fists together quickly, making dual explosion noises, since Max is too busy choking to death to make his own. He shoves a lukewarm cup of coffee into Max's hand and Max drinks it gratefully, fighting to catch his breath.

Max's front door opens, Grant's head peaking in. His eyes flick over to Dave in the kitchen, and then over to Max, bundled up in his bed under a pile of blankets. "Knock knock."

Dave visibly perks up and says, "Hey, Grant!" before he seems to remember that he always tries to put on a cool act around him. He scrambles to shove a random pair of Max's shades onto his face, nearly blinding himself. Max's sorta pissed that Dave isn't telling Grant to get the hell out, or at least giving him the cold shoulder, but then he remembers that Penny told everyone that Max was the one who dumped Grant that second time, because things were getting too serious, and he has to groan at the situation he's made for himself.

"Does everybody have a fucking key to my place?" Max yells, his face heating. He doesn't want Grant to see him like this, gross, weak, even though Grant's seen him in way grosser and weaker moments before.

"Ah, no," Grant admits. "You didn't show up at the site today, so I wanted to come by to make sure you were alright. I heard you coughing pretty badly out in the hallway so I thought I'd try the door just in case, to save you an unnecessary trip, if I could. I know how you hate to get up, or move at all, in general," Grant rambles, trailing off.

"Oh, well, it's great that you're here. Because I have cool, important things to do. I've still got that bike," Dave informs Grant. "Been cooped up in here all day; gotta stretch my legs, feel the wind in my hair. Probably won't even wear a helmet. Safety's for nerds." He grabs his bag and strolls over to Max, ruffles his hair and dodges out of the way when Max tries to scratch his arm. Dave throws a peace sign at Grant as he passes him in the doorway, and then he's gone.

"So, um," Grant starts to say, but Max cuts him off.

"Close the damn door, will you? You're letting out all the heat." Grant steps inside and does as he's told. It makes Max feel a little more surefooted and in control.

Grant hovers around the permitter of Max's living room, starts picking up random bits of dirty laundry before freezing and dropping them back on the floor in a heap, stuffing his hands into his pockets. It's awkward as hell to watch. Max starts to feel uncomfortable from the secondhand embarrassment.

"So!" Grant says, a little too loudly. "Are you hungry? I can make you dinner."

"When am I ever not hungry, bud," Max says sarcastically, pushing his covers off and rooting around for a shirt.

"Got me there," Grant laughs, strained.

Max finally finds a shirt, half stuffed under his mattress. He doesn't bother to look at whats on it until it's already on him, and by then it's too late. It's the couples shirt they got on their last day as an actual couple, before the break, proudly proclaiming 'Max + Grant 4eva' with their stupid, caricatured faces screen printed below the text. Grant seems to notice at the same time Max does, stares hard at Max's chest, face unreadable, before shaking his head and walking over to the kitchen's island.

Grant fixes a pot of soup from scratch, because of course he does. Max watches him as he works, and Grant tells him how the renovations went that day, relaying the progress they made gives an estimation of how much longer he think's it'll be before the project wraps up.

"You're going to want to go furniture shopping soon," Grant tells him. He takes a seat in the recliner Dave dragged over to Max's bedside, handing Max his bowl of soup and resting his own bowl in his lap. "Anyway, how was your day?"

"Watched a lot of trilogies," Max garbles, spoonful of soup already in his mouth, the perfect temperature, because Grant apparently remembered that Max can't ever wait for his food too cool off, has burned his mouth more times than he cares to count, and waited for the soup to cool a bit before serving it to him. It pisses him off, a little, that Grant still gives him that much thought, consideration, when he's the reason they aren't building that loft for two, building and investing in a future together.

"Oh?" Grant says, looking excited, oblivious to the change in Max's mood.

"Yeah, we already watched Ocean's," Max says, just to watch Grant deflate, relishes in it until he starts to feel like an asshole, so he offers, "We didn't make it to Batman, Terminator, X-Men, the Johnny Depp pirate-drag movies, or Indiana Jones yet, so you can pick from one of those."

"Let's do Batman. It's been forever since I got to hear your Christian Bale impersonation; I missed it," Grant says, setting down his bowl and reaching for the remote. Max swallows hard.

"Just the impression?" He asks, instantly hates himself for asking, wants to turn back time to when Grant's stupid head first peaked through the door and tell Grant that he isn't hungry, that he has no need for another damn bowl of soup, so he can take his perfect doting husband act elsewhere.

"Of course not," Grant answers easily. He drops the remote and shifts his bowl to the floor, grabbing Max's bowl and setting it on the floor too, slides himself onto the bed, sitting next to Max's head.

"Max, I've missed you a lot. I thought about you while I was gone. Probably thought about you too much," he shrugs, "because once I got back to Chicago I couldn't find the nerve to call you; I built everything up in my head so much that it seemed like this too-big thing that was beyond my power. Hell, I probably should have been calling you while I was gone, 'break' or no," he raises his hands as he says break, two fingers twitching into little quotations. "I liked you a lot, Max. I still like you."

It's probably because of the low-grade fever he's still running, but Max feels emboldened, reaches for Grant's shirt and tugs on it until Grant's hovering over him. Max kisses him, easy as breathing.

 


 

Their make out session leads to Grant getting sick.

He calls Max up the next morning, sounding absolutely despondent. Max does a grocery run before he heads over to Grant's house — cycles through calls to Penny, Jane, and Dave, asking them where the grocery store closest to Grant's house is, and what type of food he should get, and if hamburger soup is a thing. Grant answers the door looking absolutely pathetic, nose red enough that he could put Rudolph himself out of work, big fluffy duvet clutched 'round his shoulders, half-covering his rattiest pair of sweats and —

"You kept your shirt too?" Max asks, surprised, pleased.

"Yeah," Grant says, sounding miserable even though he's smiling like a dope. Max kisses him, right there in the hallway just inside Grant's apartment, only pulling back when Grant ducks his head to laugh out, "I'm going to get you sick again!"

Grant starts shuffling his way into the living room, too sick to actually run, blanket trailing after him like a cape. Max tackles him down onto the couch as gently as he can, grocery bags hastily deposited on the coffee table. He uses his weight to pin Grant down the cushions, kissing him sloppily.

 


 

They don't jump into things as quickly as they did the second time they got back together. Grant doesn't hang out with Max's friends; Max doesn't tell any of them that he and Grant are back together, not even Penny.

He doesn't bring up any of the things he and Grant talked about during that five hour, life shaking revelation of theirs, and neither does Grant. It freaks Max out so much that he tries not to think about it, because he still basically feels the same way as he had then, and if Grant hasn't changed his mind either then they're still stuck, and it's still probably for the best that they end things, and that's the last thing Max wants.

So, they just don't talk about it. They both show up at the brewery each morning, Max to check on his business and sort through orders, Grant to oversee the renovations. They'll leave for lunch, make out as they wait for their to-go orders to be ready, get back to work, either go out for dinner or eat at Grant's place, make out some more, maybe exchange blowjobs, and then Max will go home, lie in bed for a few extra hours, asking himself what he's doing, before passing out and starting the day all over again.

 


 

"You seriously need to go furniture shopping, Max. That place is basically shaping up to be a house; even shifting all the crap from your apartment wont fill it up," Grant nags at him for what has to be the fifth time.

Max rolls his eyes and makes a big production of pretending to throw up.

"Hire an interior decorator then! You're going to hate it if it's completely empty Max, I know you."

"Oh my god," Max groans, rolling off the couch into a heap on the floor. He keeps rolling, body flopping all over the place until his back hits the cold tile of Grant's kitchen. He wonders if he can get the fridge door open with his foot. "They'll never get it the way I want it to be."

"Then have Jane or Penny go with you," Grant suggests.

"Oh my god!" Max jumps up and throws his hands into the air. His underwear lodged itself up into his butt during his worm impersonation, the front uncomfortably twisted up in his balls. Grant sighs and puts down the knife he was using de-kernel corn from its cob, quickly wiping his hands off on a tea towel before reaching to fix Max's underwear for him, lightly slapping Max's ass once he's done. "They'd pick out dumb, girly stuff! I can't trust my tasteless friends to buy crap for my awesome loft. They'll make it dumb and tasteless."

"Well," Grant says slowly, dropping the kernels into a bowel and picking up a bottle of olive oil, passing it from hand to hand, idly toying with it. "I could go with you?"

"You're a genius!" Max says, plastering himself to Grant's back and pressing a quick kiss to his check. Grant smiles, pleased, and Max uses his lapse in concentrator to snag one of the shrimps Grant pulled out of the steamer a minute ago, popping it into his mouth and hissing at how it burns his tongue.

 


 

After a month of renovations and two weeks of shopping — that took nine different stores and a quick day-trip to NYC — Max's place is finally ready and fully furnished. He's holding his official housewarming party tomorrow, which is why Grant's coming over tonight, their unofficial not-really-dating thing still being kept under wraps from his friends.

Max is still moving shit around when Grant lets himself in, using Max's spare key. Max knows he should ask for it back, but — the locksmith gave it to Grant, mistaking him for Max's boyfriend, and neither of them had said anything at the time, and now it feels like it's too late for Max to say anything. He's worried that if he brings it up then that'll be the end of it: Grant helped him get his house shit sorted, and now that the job's over, so are they; a fun little whatever that had its expiration date connected to the renovation's.

"I bought a bottle of red," Grant shouts behind him as he walks into the kitchen. Max shoves the side table to up next to where he's relocated his couch and follows Grant. Grant's pulling out a corkscrew and opens the bottle, tossing the cork into the recycling bin once he's wedged it out.

"I make my own beer, Grant," Max says haughtily. "We don't need some crap wine. I've basically got a bar right next door!" Grant rolls his eyes at him.

"Until you come up with a particularly fancy blend, I don't see your microbrews overtaking the wine market, Max." It's a fair point, but Max has never been one to turn down a challenge, his mind already racing with flavor combinations that'll blow wine out of its stupid, fermented waters.

Max talks Grant into fixing them frittatas for dinner, helping out in the only way he can by frying up some bacon that Grant then dices and sprinkles overtop their egg pizzas. The wines breathed enough by the time their food is done, and they head into the living room to eat. They don't speak much and it makes Max nervous, has him drinking three glasses of wine keeping his non-fork hand busy. Wine always seems to hit him harder than beer or mixed drinks, makes him bold, has him interrupting Grant sad, stuttered attempt at smalltalk, rambling on about what his next project at work will probably be.

"Are we actually dating or what?" Max demands, setting his empty plate on the table and finishing off the last dregs of the wine in his glass. "Like, you never said if any of the stuff you were super sure about has changed, or whatever? Are we still doomed? Because I don't think I can handle breaking up with you three times. That's, like, three times too many. I already pre-proposed to you, sorta, that second time. What're we even doing here, Grant?"

"I really, really want us to be," Grant says in a rush. "I fucking — Max I accidentally designed this place to be perfect for us, and then when I think back on it I realize that it wasn't even an accident. This whole time I've been imagining living here with you, I even — we picked out furniture, and art, and fucking dish sets!"

Max looks around his loft and actually, kinda sees it for what it is. Everything is to his taste, yeah, but there's a lot of Grant in there too. There are things that he wouldn't have thought to buy, like the huge area rug under his feet, his place looks better with it there, and it's in a print that he thinks is kinda cool — but the only reason he bought it was because Grant said that it would suit the living room. His eyes catch on a million tiny details like that, and he thinks about all the ones in the bedroom, bathroom, hell even the drawers in his kitchen are organized in a way that are more friendly to Grant's cooking style than Max's usual hunt-and-find takeout lifestyle.

"This past week I've honestly been losing sleep over the thought of you bringing other guys back here, Max — or, god, bringing back one guy, repeatedly. I don't think I could handle some other guy living in our —"

Max kisses him, climbs into Grant's lap and sits there, keeping their kiss up as he moves, swallowing down the huff Grant lets out when Max settles his weight in Grant's lap. Grant's arms wrap around his back, pulling him closer and keeping him steady. Max presses a few quick kisses to Grant's lips, moving up to kiss his cheek, nose, forehead before something occurs to him, makes him pause.

"Are you still one hundred percent, firmly no on the kids thing?" Max asks, squinting down Grant.

"No," Grant admits, looking dazed. "I'm at like, ninety-four? I sorta thought about how fun and disastrous trying to raise kids with you could be, in a strictly hypothetical-kinda way? It wasn't a completely terrible thought."

"Good enough for me," Max decides, after a moment, and then he's kissing Grant again.