~~ Danny ~~
Danny had just gotten into bed, exhausted from the day of running around with the boys, when the phone rang. He was testing out the idea of retirement and had thought it would be more relaxing than still playing in the league. Now he was run ragged by three teenagers and their friends without a road trip in sight and he was tired, tired and deliriously happy. He would just let the call go to voicemail, but the shrillness of his ringtone (he is unsurprised to hear the boys have once again changed it) is irritating Emele’s ears and if that isn’t enough to get him moving her annoyed nips at his side certainly would do the trick. Foxes have sharp little teeth and Danny doesn’t particularly relish dealing with them just at the moment.
“What?” Danny winces a little at the silence that follows the brusqueness of his tone. He relaxes a little when he hears the sound of muffled laughter coming from the other end of the phone. “What do you want, Claude?”
“Well, I was going to ask how your summer was going, but from the sound of your voice I’m just going to get straight to the point.” Danny has to smile a little at the teasing sound of Claude’s voice, though there is a note of nervousness there that has him sitting up and straightening his shoulders. Claude doesn’t get nervous, not really, not about things that weren’t hockey, and hockey wouldn’t have him calling Danny when he knows damn well it’s the middle of the night.
“And that would be?”
“Crosb—Sid, Sid asked me to go to dinner with him.”
“You are on the same team this time, you know.”
Claude huffs out a laugh. “Yeah, I know, but it would be just us? And what if he’s not actually that bad?”
“Claude, tell me for the love of god you did not just call me because you are afraid you might actually be able to be friends with the man?”
The silence he gets in return has Danny rubbing his forehead in exasperation. He would never have thought that dealing with his three sons would have been where he developed some of his most important skills to help his teammates, but here he is on the phone with his former teammate, a grown man, who is afraid to go out to dinner with someone because he might end up liking him.
“Claude, vraiment ?”
“You know how I am about his hockey and, well, what if he’s not that bad a person? I can’t deal with having a goddamn crush on the fucking face of the league.”
Danny bites back the response—as far as he can tell Claude already has the crush, has had one for years—and tries to talk some sense into the man.
“Say you go with him to this dinner. What’s the worst thing that happens? You find out he’s not the devil incarnate on hockey skates? It’s not like the man is going to break your wrists over a poorly chosen entree.”
“Why do you have to be so reasonable about this?” asks Claude sullenly, and Danny can almost see the matching pout on Manon’s feline face.
“Because you are clearly not going to.”
“Rude. But you’re not entirely wrong, I guess...”
Danny snickers a little to himself at the childish tone of Claude’s response, and Emele tugs his hand down and smacks the phone with her paws to put it on speaker so she can talk.
“Dinner isn’t a marriage proposal. It’s a meal. Go to a restaurant. Eat some food with the man. Maybe have some good conversation. Maybe pout and flounce through the whole thing. I don’t give a damn. Ignore this ridiculous crush you have on the man or don’t. But stop waffling about it. And for the love of the Maker, let us go to sleep.” With that declaration she smacks her paw down on the call button, disconnecting them, and settles down curling into his side with a huff.
Danny feels like he should be sorry, should call back Claude and talk him through having feelings, but then again, it is eleven pm and he’s tired. He drops a kiss on top of Emele’s furry head and goes to sleep. Claude can have an emotional crisis just as well in the morning.
~~ Flower ~~
The win is singing in Marc’s blood as he settles back in his stall ready to answer questions. 4-1 against the Flyers in their own damn building—this was a win that had Mathilde bounding from stall to stall chirping merrily as she ruffles hair here and steals a hat there. The team accepts her squirrely glee with good humor, all of them hyped up with the adrenaline overdrive from a clear decisive victory. Even Langley sheds her stately PR persona to howl with exuberant delight.
Marc is still smiling after the media is done with him, but the game has caught up with him. After his cooldown, he searches out Mathilde among the piles of fur, feathers and scales resting throughout the locker room, but doesn’t see her distinctive reddish fur. Frowning, but not too worried (it’s not like she could have gone far) Marc goes and showers, sure that she will be back when he is done.
And she is, though she is vibrating with energy uncharacteristic for her this late at night even after a win. She is trying to say something but going so fast he barely understands her. There is something about a group and maybe something about Sid?
He shakes his head and scoops her up, turning back towards the changing rooms to get his things.
“ Lentement, ma cherie ,” he scolds fondly. She frowns at him but takes a deep, albeit tiny, breath and begins again.
“I was looking for that trainer, you know the one that has the nutty treats?”
“Ah yes, the one that spoils you, Jeff I think.”
“Yeah, well I was looking for him, but I ended up out in the hallways near the home locker rooms somehow—this place is a maze by the way—and there were so many people and I didn’t want to get stomped on, so I tried to retrace my steps but then I heard Langley so I went to go talk to her, maybe mess with her fur a little bit.”
Marc rolls his eyes. “Didn’t Sid ask us to stop doing that?”
“Yeah yeah, but that’s not the point.”
“And what is the point, Matty?”
“The point is, I found Langley, and guess who she was letting pet her?”
“Sid?” Marc asks mockingly.
“Very funny, but i wouldn’t have to tell you that . Giroux! She was letting Giroux pet her.”
Marc stumbles over his own feet and Mathilde laughs at him. Hockey players and their daemons were a pretty tactile group, teammates touch each others’ daemons in passing rather indiscriminately, like family members, siblings, but Langley tends to be the exception to the rule. She holds herself a little apart, and sure she hands out furry headbutts or the occasional lick here and there, but she always initiates contact. No one on the team reaches out and touches her. Even Geno waited for an invitation and those came few and far between. Marc has literally never seen anyone other than Sid pet her.
Suddenly Marc is remembering: the way that Sid starting calling Giroux “Claude” after Worlds; the way Sid had ‘other plans’ when they got into the city last night; the way his face used to get tight and his shoulders tense at the mere word Philadelphia, and the way they didn’t now. And Marc Andre is grinning, delighted with the idea that Sid, who was so very careful with his feelings, had let himself become… whatever it was he is with Giroux.
“Sid, you dog, sleeping with the enemy,” Marc mutters to himself.
Mathilde snickers. “At least he’s Canadian.”
“Hush, you,” Flower says, absentmindedly patting her head as he re-enters the now mostly empty locker room. She chitters at him and jumps down to rummage through his bag, pulling the zipper open and diving inside. She emerges moments later with the small bouncy ball they toss around to improve their reflexes.
“Fetch?” she asks, peering hopefully up at him.
He has to chuckle. “Yes, you little scam artist, fetch will do.”
Thirty or forty rounds of fetch later, the door to the locker room swings open to reveal a slightly rumpled wolf and his exceedingly rumpled human counterpoint, still in most of his game-worn gear, gross and sweaty. Flower is the only person left in the room, save a few of the equipment guys who are studiously minding their own business.
“Well, mon capitain , what kept you so late? Could it be that you had a rendez-vous with a certain ginger captain, perhaps?” Marc is not good at being subtle so he doesn’t even try to hedge around it.
Sid flushes bright red and then pales to a bloodless white. Langley tenses and growls at his feet, pacing back and forth in front of him. Protecting him, he realizes, protecting him from Marc-Andre.
“How did—how did you know I was meeting with Claude? No one knew. We were so careful...” He trails off concerningly.
“Sid, I’m sorry I wasn’t trying to freak you out, I was just teasing. It is no big deal, you know I don’t care who you sleep with, though I have to wonder about your taste if it is running towards toothless gingers these days.” He tries to infused his voice with a calm and joking tone, a locker room camaraderie tone, one that tells Sid he has his back, no matter who he spends his nights with. Based on the sour lemon look on Sid’s face and the scrunched up one on Langley’s, he isn’t sure that got through. That’s a lot of stuff to put in a tone after all.
“Sleep with? I’m not sleeping with Claude. We’re friends! Fuckbuddies at best! Jesus, why does everyone keep thinking it’s something else?”
Sid is emphatic enough that Marc believes him and almost misses the wistful little whisper of an answer Langley lets out.
“Because it could be. If we let it.”
Marc’s heart hurts for his friend, so clearly torn between what he thinks should be and what he wants. He feels old, a more and more common feeling these days. He wants to give him a hug, give him some sort of comfort, but knows it would not be welcome in this moment. Something in Sid looks fragile, and Marc knows he is going to have to tread carefully on this one even before Matty mutters “be careful” in his ear.
He approaches Sid slowly, like he would a frightened child, and raises his hand to rest on Sid’s tense shoulder.
“Sid… He was petting Langley. You let him pet Langley and he wanted to. Maybe it’s time to think about being a little more than friends, non ?” He speaks over Sid’s attempted response. “Just think about it, that’s all. No one would begrudge you someone who gets it.”
He leaves unsaid the ‘who gets you’ but it rests there in the air nonetheless.
His body is reminding him he just played a full sixty and, if it wasn’t, Mathilde’s little yawns into the collar of his shirt would have clued him in. They are tired, they are exhausted really, but he can’t leave Sid like this, looking like the world might come crashing down any second, looking like he’s not sure he would be sad if it did. Marc dispenses the only wisdom he has left in this kind of situation. He isn’t really equipped to get Sid through some sort of romantic awakening or whatever the hell this is, but he is going to do his damndest to be a good friend.
“You deserve to be happy, Sid. If he’s the one that does that? Don’t hold back on anyone’s account, not even your own. And if you ever need someone to talk to? You know where to find us.”
The Sid he leaves in the locker room doesn’t look like he’s liable to shatter into a million pieces if someone sneezes wrong, so Marc-Andre is going to count this one as some sort of OT win.
Brayden has just finished getting a massage in the trainers’ room for that annoying strain in his thigh when he almost misses the sound of laughter coming out of one of the training rooms. He would ignore it but he knows that honking giggle, and there is literally no reason for Sidney Crosby to be in this hallway. And there are even fewer reasons for the owner of the answering chuckle to be there with him. Brayden didn’t have a raccoon daemon for nothing, curiosity is practically his middle name. He creeps around until he is standing just outside the door. It is open a crack and he can see the two figures standing inside. Both are in assorted hockey gear, not quite suited up but clearly on their way. They are leaning toward each other like they are sharing a secret. Brayden has seen G act like this before, just normally that grin and the heat in his eyes is aimed at a rocket in a miniskirt, not a bow-legged dude in spandex. Brayden didn’t know G swung that way. He files the thought away for later. He has more important things to focus on, like the fact that his captain apparently has a thing for his rival.
“We don’t have much more time before someone notices we’re gone.”
“I don’t know why we have to be so secretive about this. We’re friends, why does everyone have to make such an issue out of it?”
Crosby sighs, loud and long. “You know how the media is with stuff like this.”
“If you are so worried about dealing with the media—” Claude spits, sounding almost hurt.
“Do you want to spend the next five months answering questions about being friends? Do you want to have to talk about how often we text or how you feel about this game or that? Because that’s what happens when the media knows I’m friends with you. That’s what happens when we can’t keep a secret.” The spiel sounds practiced and tired. Brayden almost feels sorry for the guy.
“Besides, they’ll ask how we became friends and we can’t exactly say ‘well we gave each other blowjobs at Worlds and it turns out we get along pretty well from our knees.’” Sid adds sarcastically and Brayden wrinkles his nose. It’s one thing to know G likes dudes a whole another thing to imagine a beej. Arti hits his ankle and mutters, “pay attention.”
“I thought we agreed that ‘that never happened’ and we ‘aren’t going to talk about it anywhere there could be other people’?” Claude retorts, words bitter and snarled. Brayden can hear the air quotes around the worst of it and winces a little. There is an uncomfortable silence.
“Claude.” Crosby says that one word, his name, with such weight, with such emotion, Brayden finds himself pulling away from the door. This is too much, this is something he has no business seeing. He’s not even sure G wants to see it. He grabs Arti by the scruff of her neck and drags her back down the hall. He never wanted to know how Claude looked when he was gutted by emotions, but he’s just going to he have to live with that image in his head now.
“Goddamn it Arti. We shouldn’t have seen that.”
Her silence lets him know he’s right. He sighs and rubs a hand over his face and prepares to cover for G all night. He’ll see what G looks like when he gets back to the room and then form a battle plan. He shouldn’t have seen what he did, but by god is he going to have G’s back on this one.
~~Sid & Claude~~
Sid’s hand is shaking as he ties his tie, something it hasn’t done in years. He isn’t sure he remembers being this nervous outside of possibly the draft or playing in his first game. He is preparing to do something that feels just as momentous as all of those things, so he guesses the feeling is fitting. Langley has been snappish and pacing for hours on end. She is at her most irritable when they are nervous.
“There is nothing to be nervous about. It’s just dinner, right?”
“Dinner is how this all started.” She snaps back and Sid winces a little. She isn’t wrong.
“Well then I guess it’s a good think that this is how it all becomes more.” Or ends. He adds to himself. Langley gives him a judgemental look, like she heard it anyway.
“Claude likes us, maybe even loves us. There is nothing to be scared of. They are going to be happy to be with us. The only thing that’s been keeping us from being more this whole time is the two of you being idiots.” Her words are comforting even in her acerbic tone.
“Alright, it’s brushing time.” Langley settles at his feet in a huff. “You want to look your best for Claude and Manon don’t you?”
“Yeah, yeah, just get on with it or we’re going to be late.”
Sid is startled to see how much time has passed since his last check of the clock. Nonetheless he takes his time brushing her, the repetitive motions soothing them both.
In the same building not far from Sid’s room, Claude is the one pacing as his daemon lounges laconically on the bed, spreading her fur all over the hotel bedspread. He was fine up until about ten minutes ago when he realized he might actually have to talk with Sid about whatever it is they have been doing over the past year, about his feelings. The idea leaves a sour taste in his mouth, in no small part because he has no idea what he is going to say, he has no real idea what he feels these days, he is so confused.
“That’s what we’re feeling, you enormous dingus.”
Claude’s knees buckle and he sits down on the floor right where he was standing. Love. He had considered being romantically interested in Crosby—Sid these days—even thought about wanting to sleep with him, in a variety of ways that would have him blushing if years in locker rooms hadn’t broken him of the habit, but Love. Love was the thing he told his mother he felt, love was something he shared with Isabelle not something he felt for people he took faceoffs against. But here he was sitting with a warm feeling in his chest and a smile creeping up onto his face just thinking about Sidney and, well, hell, he guesses that feeling might be Love or a particularly persistent bout of indigestion.
They say it at almost the same moment, talking over each other.
“I know we said we aren’t talking about feelings but I think I might be in love with you.”
“I’m in love with you and I get that you might not feel the same but I just wanted to get that out there—“
Then they fall silent as the words register.
Sid’s face breaks into a smile so wide and bright Claude can’t imagine how he didn’t know he was in love with this man. Claude feels like he is full of champagne bubbles, like he could just float away. Sure there will be media problems and guys might bring it up on the ice, but with that smile directed at him Claude isn’t sure he gives a damn.
“How the hell did I fall in love without noticing it?” The question falls out of his mouth, surprising even himself.
“It is one of your more endearing qualities.”
“I’m sure you didn’t notice either! I bet Langley had to tell you.”
“She was only confirming what I was already thinking. Manon had to come straight out and tell you so you stopped being an idiot.”
“We were both being idiots.”
“Good thing we’ve got that sorted out.”
“Yeah, good thing, I can take you back to my hotel room and make good on that phone call we had in April.” Claude knows he is probably grinning crazily, drawing attention in this restaurant, but it is so very worth it for the way Sid blushes a little as his eyes are alight with anticipation.
“Finally!” both daemons chorus from their perches under the table, and Sid and Claude’s mingled laughter rings out into the night.