When the puck went in the Monsters’ net with two minutes left on the clock, Grady jumped to his feet with the rest of the Piranhas’ arena.
He hadn’t seen what happened. The swarm of players in front of the net had screened the shot from the audience as much as from the Monsters’ goalie. It didn’t surprise him when the call came announcing the goal would be reviewed for interference.
Grady stayed on his feet. The rest of the fans did too. The roar of them sang in his ears, and he nervously clenched and unclenched his fists. If the goal stood, the Fish—and Max—were only two minutes from winning the Stanley Cup.
A 1-0. Talk about a nail-biter.
Next to Grady, Max’s mom was shifting back and forth on her feet, watching the scoreboard with focused intensity. On her other side, Big Max was playing it a little cooler, but Grady could feel the tension oozing from him.
Come on, Grady thought, appealing to the NHL goal review gods in Toronto. Come on. Call on the ice stands. Good goal.
He wanted this for Max as badly as he wanted it for himself.
In front of the net, the Monsters players had taken exception to the presence of anyone in a home jersey, and the linesmen had their work cut out for them breaking things up. Max was in the thick of it, jawing at his former teammates, skating backward as he did, daring them to follow him. The little shit.
Finally a replay showed on the Jumbotron and the ref’s voice came over the PA system. “After video review, the call on the ice stands—”
The crowd erupted. Anything else the ref said was swallowed by the roar.
“Yes!” Grady whooped. Max’s mom high-fived him. Grady turned to his other side and swept Jess into a hug.
She laughed and let him swing her around. “Who are you and what have you done with my grumpy-ass brother?”
It took the linesmen another few minutes to clear up the incipient bloodbath. Even the Piranhas’ goalie looked like he wanted to get involved, skating toward center ice with his helmet off, until one of the zebras headed him off and sent him home.
They didn’t call any penalties.
Grady didn’t think anything of it—too busy trying to calm the butterflies in his stomach—until twenty seconds later when the goal announcement finally came over the PA. “Piranhas goal credited to number 96, Max Lockhart, unassisted.”
Max’s mom screamed. Grady couldn’t blame her; he was screaming too. That was his man. His obnoxious, charming pain-in-the-ass. Of course it was. Of course he’d found the puck in that clusterfuck and tipped it home.
Oh God, was he going to cry?
The arena volume rose again, but this time Grady could make out the words: “BEWARE THE FISH! BEWARE THE FISH!”
Oh, fuck it. Why not? “Beware the fish!” Grady chanted.
Jess looked at him in horror.
Then she shrugged and joined in.
The adrenaline didn’t let up. Facing elimination, the Monsters pulled the goalie and got three good scoring chances, but then the Piranhas regrouped and boxed them out.
The clock ticked down as the players swarmed in front of the Piranhas’ net. Grady thought he might throw up.
With a half a second left the Piranhas broke the puck free and one of them worked it toward center ice. The wild shot hit the boards beside the net just as the buzzer went.
It was over.
“They did it,” Grady said blankly. The past ten minutes barely felt real. On the ice, Max and his teammates had thrown off their gloves and helmets and were shouting and embracing each other, laughing and crying, clapping each other on the back, messing with each other’s hair. Max and Baller attempted to put the goalie on their shoulders, but it ended with the three of them in a heap on the ice.
The handshake line was hard to watch. Grady remembered being on the wrong end of it a few weeks ago, kicked out of the playoffs early after blowing a 3-1 series lead.
Then they brought the Cup out, and—
“We’re going to go down to the ice,” Linda said, touching Grady’s elbow. “Do you want to come?”
He did. He wanted to congratulate Max himself, share his joy. But he couldn’t do it without making the stupid narrative about him, somehow, so he shook his head. “I’ll catch up with him after. You go ahead.”
“I’ll give him your love,” Linda promised, because she was cheeky like that—her son had to get it from somewhere—and then she and Big Max made their way down to the VIP staging area.
When they’d gone, Jess leaned into Grady. “You’re really okay?”
“I’m great.” And—he meant it. Max deserved this, and Grady could never be selfish enough to ruin it for him with anything less than his full enthusiasm.
Of course, he reserved the right to backtrack on that if Max threepeated or something, but for now….
“You should go down to the room to wait for him,” Jess suggested. “Because otherwise you’re going to try to jump him in front of his teammates and they don’t deserve that.”
…Yeah, she was totally right. “Good idea.”
A-year-ago-Grady would have said, No, not a good idea. A-year-ago-Grady was a miserable asshole, though, so today-Grady wasn’t listening to anything he had to say.
Today-Grady wanted to do something even crazier than cheer on his boyfriend-slash-rival to winning the Stanley Cup.
The security lady fist-bumped him as he went by, flashing his badge; she rolled her eyes at him because the entire staff knew who he was. They would’ve known him even if he was only Max’s boyfriend and not an NHL player himself. Grady had spent a lot of time in the VIP area in the past few weeks.
Down here, staff were already setting up cameras, beer, and champagne, as well as a giant root beer float because one of Max’s teammates was in recovery. Grady tried to stay out of the way. Max’s win didn’t sting at all, but he wasn’t ready to celebrate the rest of the team just yet.
Maybe Baller; Baller was okay.
It was close to half an hour before the team started making their way off the ice. Grady slouched next to the wall behind a vertical bulkhead so he wouldn’t be in any of the videos. He caught a glimpse of the 96 on a sleeve and darted his hand out.
Max tumbled into him in surprise, gloveless and helmetless, his grin showing off the missing tooth he’d lost in the last round. “Well, hey, stranger. Is that a banana in your pocket—”
“Shut up,” Grady said fondly, and kissed him.
Max reeked of hard-won victory, but Grady had spent his whole life with that smell. He curled his hands into the damp fabric of Max’s jersey and held tight as Max leaned into him.
“Mmmf,” Max said a moment later, when Grady ran his thumb over the sensitive skin on his hip.
“It’s not a banana,” Grady mumbled against his lips.
Max shook with laughter. Grady shoved a hand under his breezers.
“Hey,” he said after another handful of kisses, “does this place have a hookup basement, or—”
Max blinked. His pupils were dilated and his cheeks flushed. He glanced at the open door to the locker room; the celebration had already spilled out into the hallway. “Think they’ll miss me if I’m a few minutes late?”
“Absolutely not,” Grady lied, and let Max pull him into a room full of excess A/V equipment.
It seemed like it should’ve been locked, but Grady wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Instead he concentrated on getting Max’s gear shoved down far enough to touch his dick.
“Uhhh,” Max said. He clawed at Grady’s shoulders when Grady stroked him. “Oh my God.”
True to Grady’s word, he had Max writhing and leaking in minutes. But this had a predictable effect on Grady too, and Max took advantage and pushed his palm over Grady’s cock. “If you ever tell anyone how hot I got from you winning the Cup—”
Max laughed breathlessly as Grady bit at his throat, and the sound went right to Grady’s dick. “Getting a bit of déjà vu right now, babe.”
“Want me to tell you I hate you?”
Max’s head thumped against the wall. “Maybe we could just skip—” His breath hitched. “—ah—to the good part?”
He was so easy when he was keyed up from a win. Grady loved that he knew that almost as much as he loved using it to his advantage. He pressed an openmouthed kiss to the right of Max’s Adam’s apple. “Is that the part where I tell you I love you and you come?”
“Fuck off,” Max gasped, but it worked and Grady regretted nothing except getting come on his jeans.
He had even fewer regrets when Max swayed into him and then dropped to his knees.
What had Grady done right in his life to get to have this?
“I love that you got this hard watching me win.”
“Don’t—” Max put his mouth on Grady’s cock. “—don’t let it go to your head—fuck, Max—”
Max hummed in agreement and then pulled back to mouth the head.
Grady pulled his hair and came in his mouth. No point making a bigger mess.
Max rocked back on his heels, breathing hard, and then swayed forward again and bumped his forehead against Grady’s hip. “I love you so much, you asshole.”
Marry me, Grady thought, and then almost shit his pants when he realized he absolutely meant it.
But this was the wrong moment—Max’s moment, not theirs. There would be time.
Also, Grady needed some time to digest.
“Mmmh?” Grady answered, not willing to open his mouth just yet in case he couldn’t control what came out.
“You gotta help me up, my legs are numb.”
Grady did—Max was a lot heavier in his gear—and then kissed him again and contained his freakout to the back of his brain. He kissed Max again and pulled up his breezers.
“You didn’t come down to the ice,” Max said when they’d made themselves what passed for presentable, but hadn’t quite managed to stop touching. The come from Grady’s jeans had smeared on his uniform now. Hopefully it would just look like beer foam in any videos.
He sounded wary. Grady knew he’d worried about how Grady would react. Even Grady had been only mostly sure he could handle cheering Max on to the big trophy, so he couldn’t fault Max if he’d wondered if Grady had skipped because he was sulking.
He pulled Max closer between his legs. “I didn’t want anyone talking about us when they should be talking about you.”
Max’s eyes crinkled as he smiled. “Yeah? You gonna be my hype man now?”
Yeah. That suddenly sounded like Grady’s dream job. But he pretended to think about it. “I don’t know, what’s the pay like?”
Max pinched his hip.
Before Grady could retaliate, someone knocked on the door. “Yo! Mad Max! Are you gonna leave the rest of us hanging here or what?”
Grady laughed in spite of himself. “Oh God, does he have to make it sound like you’re going to blow the whole team?”
“No, but I think he enjoys it.” Max pressed one more smacking kiss to Grady’s cheek. “I promise not to blow anyone else tonight.”
Grady hadn’t been worried. “That’s very reassuring. Thank you.”
Apparently Baller was tired of waiting; he opened the door. “Seriously, Max, Bishop wants to pour beer down your throat. Put your pants on.”
“My pants are on!” Max grumbled.
Grady swatted his ass. “Go. Have fun. Try not to get your stomach pumped.”
As the door opened fully, Baller saluted Grady with a can of Bud Light. “Don’t worry, Gabe’s babysitting.”
Oh boy. “I guess I’ll go find your parents.”
“Maybe swing by the bathroom first,” Baller suggested with a wink, and then they were gone.
Fuck. He probably had a point.