The next few months are not good ones, admittedly.
The real trouble is—in every other situation in his life, a list has worked. Gunnar makes a list, follows the list, and succeeds. It's just how things are supposed to be. Except that this time, they're not.
He knows things—about death—but they're hypothetical. They're the Five Stages of Grief, and that's a list, right? That's a list to follow. That's something to do with himself instead of, well, not doing anything with himself.
He asks Vance, one night when he's curled into the other man's side, holding on tight enough for his arms to ache a bit, "How quick do you think I can get through them?"
"Through what?" Vance says, voice sleepy. And then, "Oh. Gunnar it's not—it doesn't work that way."
Gunnar shuts up him with a tongue down Vance's throat.
His list, when he makes it, is titled Grief and Efficiency Are Not Exclusive. He figures he's done with denial, but he writes it down just to cross it out—it makes him feel accomplished from the start. He gives himself two days for anger and one for bargaining (mostly because he doesn't know what that is). A week for depression and then, he pictures himself waking up on the tenth day full of acceptance.
But he finds out twenty-four days later that you don't just move from one stage into another. Because he's pretty sure he's worked himself through the whole anger-thing when he goes into work one day and Randy gets pissed that Gunnar's promoted to a waiter and the little-shit says, "It's just because Linda feels sorry for you."
And Gunnar (who, according to his list, should be like, fucking ace at acceptance right now) has to be held back by Cook from breaking a plate over Randy's head. The older man hauls Gunnar back into the kitchen and throws him into a chair in the corner, holding him down by the shoulders. "Look, kid. It's not like that asshole doesn't deserve it, but you gotta calm the fuck down."
Gunnar scowls and stews in fury for the rest of his shift.
On day thirty-seven, Gunnar can't eat anything, and spends the day in his boxers staring out the window.
On day forty-two, he punches a wall when Cara tells him his list is really for people who are dying, and not so much for people they leave behind. "But," she says, holding a cold-cloth to his knuckles, "I mean, with a little tweaking, I'm sure it'll—"
"Fuck it," he says. "And sorry about the wall."
But then on day fifty-five, Jon says, "Gunnar, d'you wanna maybe take a walk?"
Gunnar says, "Um. Sure man," mostly because Jon looks like he's about to piss himself and Gunnar thinks maybe he accidentally knocked Cara up or something.
So they go on a walk, and Jon stops in the park and sits down heavily on a bench and Gunnar can't take it anymore so he says, "When is she due?"
And Jon says, "What?" and bursts into insane laughter. "No. No. That's not. But it's—"
"I'm going to ask her to marry me."
Gunnar plunks down beside Jon and tips his head back. It's July. It's hot as hell. And his best friends are getting married.
It's the first time in a long time that he's thought of anything but James, and it knocks the wind out of him. He starts laughing so hard tears prickle in his eyes and he gasps out, "Fuck, man. That's." He squeezes Jon's knee, "That's fantastic."
Jon beams and says, "You think so?"
Gunnar says, "Yeah, it'll give me an excuse to move out of the Pink Room."
On the night it's supposed to happen, Gunnar goes to Vance's apartment with a six-pack and a pizza. He's stopped feeling anxious anytime he shows up unannounced, and (even though they don't talk about it) he's started thinking of Vance as a permanent fixture in his life. It's weird mostly, but a good kind of weird.
Vance opens the door and leans against the frame, eyebrow raised. "Just what the doctor ordered," he says.
Gunnar scoffs, "Oh god, your attempts at 'sultry' are way off."
Vance smacks his ass playfully on the way in and says, "Yeah, whatever, you love me."
Gunnar makes an "Mmm," sound because he's still not there yet. Just because he has a drawer now, and a toothbrush by the sink—it doesn't mean he's ready for that. "So," he says, flipping the cap off of a beer and taking a long draw, "tonight's the big night."
Vance clinks their bottles together, "Yeah. How're you doing?"
"Uh," Gunnar says, "Well it's not like it'll be that different."
"Alright, tough guy," Vance says, and pulls Gunnar into a kiss. It's pretty tame, considering some of the stuff they usually get up to, but it makes Gunnar's heart stammer a little in his chest, and cling on to Vance's shirt when they part, so that Vance will keep his arms around him. "You're affectionate tonight," Vance says, tightening his hold, "not that I'm complaining."
"Shut up," Gunnar says, burrowing his head under Vance's chin.
"My lease is up in August," Vance says, letting his arms fall slack a little like he's giving Gunnar an out.
Gunnar goes stiff for a minute, panic welling up in his chest. But his mouth says, "That's funny. So is mine."
And he thinks, Well. Maybe it'll be fine. Thinks, Maybe it'll be great.
"So I was thinking," Vance says, backing up a little and looking into Gunnar's eyes, "we've got a few options here. God knows you can't afford your own rent on what you're making at the diner. I've got a few friends you could room with."
"Do you?" Gunnar says, grinning a bit.
"Yep. But they're all. Gross and slobs and—"
"Probably not all that great in bed."
"Exactly. And I know that's like, a thing for you. You know. One of those non-negotiables in a roommate."
"That is true."
"So then I thought, hell. I'm a great lay. I mean fan-fucking-tastic in bed."
Gunnar kisses up Vance's jaw and bites his earlobe, "I've heard that."
"Well I think I should get a test-run before I commit to anything. I mean, that'd be the responsible thing to do."
Vance lets out a whoop of laughter and presses Gunnar against the wall, licking into his mouth as they go. Gunnar groans and throws his arms around Vance's neck, thrusting his hips forward instinctively. Vance drives him back against the wall with a knee between Gunnar's thighs and grips his wrists above Gunnar's head.
"Yes," Gunnar sighs.
"Is that an answer to me asking you to move in with me, or?"
Gunnar laughs, "Yes. Shut up. Take me to bed."
Gunnar goes back to the Pink Room the next day and is greeted at the door by a Cara, who throws herself at him and starts babbling incoherently.
"Wow," he says, setting her down, "I figured you'd be all no-big-deal about this. Kind of thought you'd say no."
Cara swats him on the chest, "Are you fucking kidding me?"
Gunnar laughs, "Well let's see it." He blinks, "Not that I care, really. Just that I figured you'd want to show it off."
"Oh shut up, you asshole," Cara says, holding out her ring finger.
Gunnar doesn't know anything about engagement rings, but he thinks this one's nice or whatever, so he tells her so and she hurls herself on him again. "Oh god," he says, catching sight of Jon leaning against the wall behind Cara. He grins at him. "I'm proud of you guys." He says, full of, well, pride. Crazy pride that wells up into his throat and fuck, he's obviously gone insane.
"Now listen, Gunnar," Cara is saying, "Jon told me you thought you needed to move out, but you don't have to, you know. It's not a big deal. Plus, we'll be engaged for a while before we actually get married so it's not—"
"Actually, Vance asked me to move in with him," Gunnar says, going for casual and missing it by a mile.
Cara steps back, eyebrows raised, "Wanna run that by me again?"
"Vance. He asked me to move in with him."
"And you said?"
"I said yes."
Cara lets out a shriek that sends Jon and Gunnar into a defensive crouch. "That's. Well that's fantastic, Gunnar. I didn't think you had it in you!"
"Oh, thanks so much," Gunnar says (although to be fair, even he didn't think he had it in him).
She laughs delightedly, "You know my mom's going to want to do a follow-up interview."
"Let's give the man a second to breathe," Jon says, pulling Cara to his chest. "Plus, I feel like I should get to be the center-of-attention for at least a little while. I'm the one who just proposed."
Gunnar snorts, "What a hero."
Cara grins. "You should call Vance over and we'll have a drunken-celebratory movie night."
"As long as you tell him it's me we're celebrating and not you two saps," Jon says, already making his way to the kitchen for booze.
Gunnar catches his breath, feeling the now-familiar pang of anxiety that comes with thinking of James and how if he were alive, Gunnar might tell him about Jon and Cara and the fact that for the second time in his life, he's seriously considering telling someone he loves him.
Cara touches his arm lightly and says, "He'd be proud of you."
Gunnar huffs out a laugh, because he's realizing more and more every day, "No, he wouldn't." James was only in it for himself. But Gunnar'd known that all along so, "I'd tell him anyway, though."
"Well I'm proud of you," she says softly, twisting the engagement ring on her finger.
He smiles, takes a deep breath and says, "Yeah, I'm pretty damn awesome." She rolls her eyes and follows Jon into the kitchen, and Gunnar calls out, "It's probably something to do with the good company I keep." Cara throws a wink over her shoulder.
Gunnar throws himself on his bed and calls Vance, who picks up on the first ring. "Miss me?"
"Whatever, I saw you twenty minutes ago. Want to come over to celebrate?"
"Celebrate what?" Vance says, laughing a little.
"Jon, officially. But my profound character development on the down low."
"I see you're taking all the credit?"
"I'll share," Gunnar says, "if you're good."
"I'll be over in five."
The night devolves quickly as Gunnar realizes that things are a little different now that Cara and Jon are engaged. For instance, they've always been a little slobbery as far as PDA goes, but now they seem to have forgotten their manners completely.
Like, Jon keeps calling Cara his fiancée (not even gracefully, he just says things like "Vance, you've met my fiancée." And "Gunnar, could you get my fiancée another beer while you're up?") and every time he does, Cara throws herself at him and both of them forget about Gunnar's and Vance's existence for at least thirty grueling seconds.
"Um," Cara says finally, "I'm really sorry, you guys. Uh..."
"Relax," Vance says smoothly, tugging Gunnar to his feet, "if there's ever a good excuse to be a poor hostess, it's right after an engagement. We'll be at my place when you come up for air."
Cara blushes and burrows her face in Jon's chest, giggling embarrassedly. Jon gives them a dopey grin, "Thanks man. See you later."
"How gross," Gunnar complains as they're walking to Vance's car. "PDA is so rude." He catches Vance giving him an evil-looking grin. "What?"
"Nothing," Vance says, before throwing Gunnar against his car and kissing the daylights out of him. "PDA is so rude," he parrots, breath puffing out over Gunnar's mouth.
Gunnar makes a "gnagh," sound and angles his mouth up for another bruising kiss. "Home," he gasps finally, "let's go home. Now."
"Sure thing," Vance husks.
When he wakes up the next morning, Vance is gone, but there's a note pinned to his shirt (which is really Vance's shirt, but Gunnar's never worried about particulars) that says "Out of milk, be back...probably before you wake up even. Love you."
Gunnar gives himself a brief moment to resent the implication that he's a lazy slob before letting his heart gallop away from him at those last two words. So they're doing this now. They're going to like, say it and write it down. Fuck.
He clambers out of bed and pads to the kitchen, plunking down at the table with a piece of paper and a pen. Leaning back in his chair, he thinks, Well, I guess I ought to make a list about it.
He titles it Possible Reasons for My Current Situation
1. Caught a gay-contagion.
2. Desperate for the allure of breaking the rules.
3. Filling the void of...
But he scribbles that out furiously. Because the Vance-thing started before the...other thing and Gunnar hopes someday soon he'll be able to think James without an ache in his throat that he has to breathe around in frantic gulps.
So, 3. Mind-blowing sex every night, sometimes more than once. Sometimes not just at night.
That's closer, he thinks, but not quite it. And he puzzles over it (which really means, he already knows exactly what's going on—for as vapid as he is, he really isn't) until he hears the key in the lock and his heart starts thumping like it always does when Vance comes home (and that's part of it, too, isn't it? The Pink Room isn't home like this). Vance sets the milk on the counter and smiles at Gunnar. "What're you up to?" He says, pushing his hair back from his forehead in a way that makes Gunnar's mouth go dry.
Gunnar looks down at his notepad, thinking, oh god, I have no idea. Thinking, this is—
He takes a deep breath and says, "I'm making a list."
Vance makes a humming noise and circles behind Gunnar, leaning forward to kiss him behind the ear. As he does it, Gunnar forces his shaky hand to write one more line. Number 4. Because I love him.
He waits, breathing steadily as he can, clenching the pen in his sweaty hand. Vance is quiet for a minute (a fucking long-ass minute in Gunnar's opinion, really), and then he says, "Ah, so, just for, you know, clarity's sake or—I mean, which of those d'you think might—"
Gunnar feels a grateful laugh sweep up from his chest as he drops the pen, and takes Vance's hand instead. He turns then, looks at the man he totally, completely, unexpectedly (but really, it's been a long time coming, hasn't it?) loves, and grins.
In the end, saying it out loud isn't as difficult as he's been expecting. And if it's always going to produce a rousing hour of kitchen-table sex, hell, Gunnar's going to wear it out.
A/N: Oh god. I feel all weepy about this. Sorry. Thank you all SO FUCKING MUCH for your support. Seriously. You don't even know how much it all means. I have NEVER finished a chaptered fic before and I couldn't have finished this one without you all. I can't even. I'm just going to go like. Ummm. Sit around loving all of you. Which I don't mean to be creepy, but man, I am hormonal or something.
p.s. I have plans for another chaptered fic that'll start being posted after nanowrimo, so I hope you guys come back to visit sometime! Also, good luck on whatever stuff you're working on! You're all FANTASTIC. (emotions, shut up now please.)