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Better Than Whatever Came Before

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Grant met Max at a Blackhawks game.

He'd never been one for spectator sports. Grant had always been more fond of the physical act of doing, getting his hands dirty, sweating through a few layers worth of fabric until it was easier to take his shirt off all together. He grew up playing everything: basketball, hockey, soccer, football, swimming, track, lacrosse, volleyball. His enjoyment came from the exertion, the camaraderie, the adrenaline rush. Watching professionals play games doesn't have any appeal to him, not when he could go out and play them himself. He's too nice to pick a favorite team, too competitive to watch professionals excel at their chosen careers. His first instinct was to suit up and join them, prove that he could hold his own amongst the big boys.

It had been the reason why he and his last boyfriend had broken up. Sean had been a player on the Hawks farm team. Grant had done everything to make the relationship work. He never pushed Sean to be more affectionate in public. He never complained about the lack of time they could spend with one another due to Sean's away games and the road trips that took him away from the city every other week. Grant had done everything, everything except pretend to care about what Sean did for a living. At first Sean had found it novel, Grant not being a big hockey fan was seen as a plus. Everyone Sean knew lived and breathed hockey. Sean felt like he need an escape. Grant provided that.

Apparently escapes weren't all they were advertised to be. It hadn't been long before Sean felt like Grant's disinterest in his career was holding their relationship back. "Hockey is everything to me," he'd told Grant. "It's my dream. It feels like you're not supporting my dream." Grant did his best to explain that he completely supported Sean's dreams, it was just that he wasn't interested in playing spectator while he happened to be at work. To Grant, it was the exact same as dating an office drone or garbage man. It was just a job, one that Grant had no particular interest in.

The conversation took a swift a nosedive after that comparison was made. Grant should have worded things better.

A few months later, Sean's hard work payed off and he was called up to the big club, a slew of injuries meaning that they had to scrape the bottom of the barrel. Sean was what they dug up. He reached out to Grant and gave him box tickets for his first game in a NHL-certified jersey. The invitation wasn't anything special. Sean invited everyone he knew, from his mailman all the way to Grant, the ex that nobody knew about. Grant told himself he was going to be polite.

Grant really went because his competitive streak left no other option, couldn't let Sean get away with thinking that Grant wasn't able to sit through a boring game that the Hawks probably wouldn't even win just to prove Sean wrong about him. If Sean had been expecting Grant to reject the tickets, he had been sorely mistaken.

Halfway through the second period the door to the room clicked open, slowly opening up just a crack. Grant's eyes drifted over to it languidly, happy for a distraction. The game was tied at zero. Grant had felt like he was losing his goddamn mind.

A man who Grant had never met before slipped inside, closing the door behind him quietly. He assumed the man to be one of Sean's friends, embarrassed to have shown up late and not wanting to draw attention to himself. The way the man's eyes darted around proved otherwise. Grant realized that he was probably a rogue fan, sneaking into a players private box to score a better view, maybe get autographs if famous friends had been inside. He'd picked the wrong room. From what Grant had been able to ascertain tell from his brief glimpses at the game's action, that night would be the first and last time Sean would ever get a call up. He'd be lucky to talk his temporary teammates into signing his jersey.

Sometimes, back when they had been dating, Grant would make an effort to go to the rink with Sean. They'd play one-on-one games. It had been more flirting that anything. It had been Grant's last ditch effort at salvaging their relationship. He wanted to show Sean that he liked hockey, that they could still bond over it, that they could share that love. It was only when Grant himself wasn't playing that his disinterest reared its head.

It had been looking like it would work. Sean was laughing, Grant was laughing. But then Grant had been able to skate faster than Sean. Grant had better shooting accuracy that Sean. Grant had a better backcheck than Sean. Sean went from amazed, to aroused, to pissed, to enraged with each thing Grant bested him at.

Sean broke up with him that day, while they were still in their gear, standing on the ice.

Grant waved the man over and asked his name, reassuring him that he wouldn't rat him out for not belonging.

"Max," the man said.

"Are you a big Blackhawks fan, Max?" Grant asked. Max kept peaking glances over Grant's shoulder, looking past Grant to watch the game below.

"Love 'em," Max told him. "What about you? Must be nice, having connections like this. The only thing better would be glass seats!"

Grant smiled and rolled his eyes. "I don't care for them at all. I'm only here to prove to my ex that I wouldn't punk out."

"That sucks," Max said. "Did she dump you for one of the players? What other non-ruined sports to you like?" Max had been distracted. His mind obviously more on the game action than his conversation with Grant. Grant's competitive streak flared again. It had him wanting to be reckless.

"He dumped me for hockey," Grant said, feeling slightly vicious. It hadn't been fair to Sean, but Grant was bored, mad at both Sean and himself for allowing himself to waste a night watching a sport he didn't care to watch. And for forcing him to sit through mediocre game at that.

"Oh?" Max asked, drawing out the sound. He looked directly at Grant, no longer tracking the game, grin affixed on his handsome face. Without realizing it, Grant had started to smile too.

"Aren't you going to watch the game?" he asked.

"Who cares," Max answered glibly. "I'll just catch the highlights later."

With Sean, Grant had lost. If it was because off a lack of shared passion, vision, Grant didn't know. He knew that it felt like being picked second best, something that would never fly with him. Grant was always everyone's first choice. He was the first person they wanted to go on a vacation with. He was the first one picked when teams were being selected. He was the first one people went to when they had a problem. He wouldn't settle for being somebody's second choice. It was why he strove so hard to please people. He never wanted to give them a reason to pick something other than them. He would make sure all their need were met.

Max put him first without Grant even asking.

It wouldn't last. Max started putting Grant second over small things. He was too self-sufficient, never responded or asked to be the center of Grant's world. Max couldn't give Grant what he needed. It was fine, Grant knew when to cut his losses.

But in that moment, when Max picked Grant over something he loved? When Max had been so in sync with Grant that their needs matched up for once, something that rarely happened after that first encounter no matter how hard Grant had tried?

Max was perfect.