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It's nearly five minutes into their first full Team Canada breakfast before Claude realizes Sidney Crosby is staring at him. He's several mouthfuls into a truly delicious bacon, spinach and cheese omelette when he looks up and sees that Crosby isn't touching the equally appetizing pile of eggs on his own plate, and that instead his eyes are following Claude's hand as it lifts another forkful of savory breakfast food into his mouth.

"Your omelette not good enough for you?" he asks pointedly.

Crosby shakes his head. "No, it's fine," he says, and Claude rolls his eyes, because he doesn't actually care whether or not Sid's eggs came from a golden goose (thought if there was a golden goose, its eggs would probably be given to Sidney Crosby, Canada's golden boy, the scorer of the golden goal, wearer of black and gold, and wow there was just way too much gold associated with one man). He just wants to know why Crosby felt it appropriate to stare at him across the table.

"I'm glad to hear it then," says Claude, trying to inject as much disdain as he possibly can into the sentence. Crosby takes his tone in stride and returns to eating his own meal with a decidedly thoughtful look, and Claude's not going to lie, he's a little disappointed there's no argument forthcoming. That he understands. It would be a hell of a lot less confusing than the bland, polite persona he's been facing ever since they first arrived in Prague.

Their first practice, Claude half expects Crosby to come after him with a hard check or a slash, even though such an action would actually be counterproductive for the team. Then he remembers that Sidney Crosby is nothing if not efficient and hyper-focused; hurting someone on his team hurts the team, and in Crosby's world, such an idea is unfathomable. If anything, Crosby is too polite. During face-off drills, he appears normal to the outside eye, but Claude knows better. He knows how much venom "Sid the Kid's" stick contains, and the face-off attempts are sort of like a choked-off whimper compared to their usual growl. While Claude's wrists are grateful (they still ache in the cold Philadelphia air from time to time), his brain is just confused.

"What's up with Crosby?" he asks Seguin in their room that night.

Seguin rolls over in bed, eyes glazed with exhaustion and vague disinterest. "What about him? Is he giving you shit?"

"That's just it," Claude explains. "He's not. I feel like he's holding back on me."

Seguin snorts. "He's your captain, dude. He's not gonna start throwing punches in the locker room the first day of practice."

Segs has a point, but something about the situation still rankles him. "He hasn't said anything to me, though. I mean, besides the usual, he just seems so...professional."

Seguin sits up in bed, and his eyes lose their haziness. "Yeah, he's professional. I guess you haven't seen it before, with you being you, but this is how Crosby always treats the people he doesn't know on the team. Duchene told me there's actually a sense of humor buried somewhere there, but it doesn't usually surface that much."

Claude frowns, because this depiction of Sidney Crosby contradicts nearly all of their previous encounters. Sure, Crosby put on a good, wholesome show for the media, but deep down, Claude always assumed the front was just a thin veneer covering a rather vicious personality. He hadn't considered that maybe the golden boy persona ran deeper, that maybe his behavior around Claude was an extreme exception and not just a slight exaggeration.

When Claude doesn't respond, Seguin flops back in bed. "Whatever, G. If you want to a go at Crosby, I'm sure you'll get your chance."

Right. Because today was just the first day, and there are still weeks ahead for the other shoe to drop. With that oddly comforting thought in mind and the gentle rhythm of Seguin's snores, Claude Giroux allows himself to drift into an untroubled, restful sleep.

 

One week later, and the shoe's still hanging in the air. While Crosby and Claude certainly aren't best bros, there's no rancor in the few words they exchange, and no cloud of enmity hangs over their interactions. It's infuriating, but what's even more infuriating is the hockey. It's not bad hockey--quite the opposite. It's spectacular hockey, and though Claude's always thought Crosby was more than a touch overrated, even he can't deny how smoothly they pass together, how his feet seem fleeter on the ice, how somehow playing with Sidney Crosby is making Claude Giroux play better hockey than ever before. Some of the bitterness over Crosby's captaincy fades as well. Crosby leads them effortlessly. He never overpowers his teammates, but he maintains a firm and resolute tone when necessary. Everyone respects his skill, and he's remarkably driven and serious about the team. Claude never understood where some of the hockey robot jokes originated from (besides the awkwardness in interviews, but hey, none of them were especially good actors), but now he gets it. Crosby's brain has one setting: hockey. Anything else he brushes aside as not worthy of his time and energy. They might actually make it through the tournament intact.

Except Crosby does seem to single out Claude in one small way. It doesn't happen all the time, certainly not on ice, but in more casual settings like team meals or after practice hangouts, he'll feel Crosby's gaze weighing heavily on him or he'll catch a glimpse in his peripheral vision of Crosby's eyes following his movements as he and Seguin play NHL 13 in their room along with several other guys like Schenner and Couturier. Crosby only comes because Matt Duchene drags him along, and he never plays, of course, but he will watch, and occasionally he'll let loose the most awkward, donkey-like laugh Claude's ever heard. It's usually in response to one of Duchene's jokes--they're old teammates from the Olympics, so maybe he's one of the people who can draw out this fabled sense of humor--but as the week wears on, even Segs manages to spark a chuckle. On Friday, after Claude curses out Seguin rather violently (vas te faire foutre, you miserable piece of shit), Sidney actually smiles at him. Claude nearly drops his controller in surprise, and he ignores the Seguin's crow of victory. Video games are small fry when the world is crumbling around them.

Things come to a head halfway through week two. After yet another meal where Claude caught Crosby staring not once but three times, he chases him down. They're standing in a hallway, entirely alone, and as he shouts, "Come back here, you fucker," Claude thinks that maybe this is where things blow up. With no one else around, maybe Crosby will finally drop the act and reveal his true hatred, his true anger.

Crosby turns around with his eyebrows raised. "Can I help you?" he asks entirely too calmly.

"That depends," replies Claude sarcastically. "You want to explain why you keep looking at me?"

"You were sitting across from me at the table," responds Crosby coolly. "I wasn't aware I needed to avert my eyes the whole time."

"That's not what I'm talking about and you know it," spits out Claude. "There's a difference between making eye contact and actively staring."

Crosby doesn't respond, and whatever tension has been simmering in Claude this past week and half has begun to boil over. "Oh, great, the silent treatment. Just fucking perfect. Wouldn't want to detract from your professionalism, ruin your fucking reputation or something, not that it ever mattered before. You, you are un-fucking-believable, you know? There's got to be some on/off switch, right? For your humanity" He's practically shouting, and the noise echoes around the empty hallway. "God forbid you actually say what's on your mind for once? I don't know what your play is, but--

He stops in surprise. Crosby, instead of saying anything, has grabbed onto Claude's wrist where it hung in the air, his arm in the midst of some dramatic gesticulation. The gesture feels oddly intimate, and though what little physical contact they've had before has always been violent in nature, there's no such menace in his movement now.

"What are you doing?" asks Claude, and confusion mixes in with the anger now.

Crosby doesn't say a word, just carefully pushes down the sleeve of Claude's sweater to bare his wrist. The slight breeze over his bare skin surprises him, but not nearly as much as Crosby's thumb running over the ridge of scar tissue traversing the area just above the palm of his hand. The gesture is slow, deliberate, and there's no mistaking the intent.

"Is that all?" Claude says, and he winces at how weak his voice sounds. "Admiring your work?"

Now it's Crosby's turn to flinch. "I'd never seen it before." He stills his thumb, but doesn't remove it either. "May I see the other one?"

Automatically, Claude holds out his other arm. He's shown his scars to other people before--everyone playing hockey had scars, and occasionally they liked to compare (See this? I got this from Chara, that piece of shit)--but no one has ever touched them quite like this, like there's something important buried in the crease of his skin. Crosby holds both wrists now, and the positions feels oddly vulnerable.

"I'm happy they healed," Crosby says. "I know what it's like to feel uncertain, to feel helpless when you're hurt. I wouldn't wish it on anyone."

"You did a little more than wish it," says Claude, and he doesn't miss the scowl crossing Crosby's face.

Crosby releases both wrists, and Claude pulls them to his chest instinctively as if to protect them. "We can agree to disagree," he says quietly. "But I am sorry it happened, if nothing else."

Then Sidney Crosby walks away, leaving Claude Giroux gaping like an idiot, like a two year old watching fireworks for the first time. Had Crosby just apologized to him? Sure, it wasn't a full mea culpa admission, but it was probably the closest thing he was ever likely to get. Claude stumbles into his room, where he finds Seguin in the midst of preparing for a mid-afternoon nap.

"I think Crosby sort of apologized to me," said Claude, head still reeling from the encounter.

That alone causes Segs to pause in the middle of pulling off his hoodie. "Apologized for what?"

It's a fair question. There are a number of things each of them could apologize for--bad hits, taunts thrown directly or indirectly towards each other on the ice and off, punches from their fight. Which is what makes this particular apology so surprising. "He said he was sorry my wrists were broken."

Segs whistles. "He actually owned up to it? Fuck."

Claude shakes his head. "He didn't really own up to anything, but he said he was sorry it happened. That he never wished injury like that on someone else."

Seguin fell heavily onto the bed and looked up in awe. "That's pretty rich, don't you think? When I was in Boston, there were definitely a few times he looked murderous out on the ice." He bears his teeth in a toothy grin. "Not that he ever did anything about it."

"I don't know, man, he seemed sincere. And not just like a little polite Canadian. I mean, it's been three years. He didn't have to say anything." Or touch his wrists like that, but he'll be damned if he tells Seguin anything about that moment and how strange it was to feel your pulse beat in time with someone else's.

"Huh," says Seguin, and he actually looks pensive for once. It's a funny sight.

"Don't think too much--you might hurt yourself," chirps Claude, and Seguin flips him off before settling in for a nap.

 

After that day, things are better with Crosby, but still a far cry from perfect. Team Canada plays their first game, and while Claude doesn't want to say it was easy (because winning is never easy, and the moment you think that is the moment you start to lose), it feels good. He enjoys playing with everyone on the ice, and it's easy to hang out with Couts and Schenner and Seguin. Crosby has joined of the larger Team Canada bonding sessions after dinner one night, and things are Claude is crushing Couts at Halo, which is always nice.

"G! Hey G!" calls out the voice of Sidney Crosby.

Claude freezes. Did Crosby just call him G? He wasn't aware they were on any sort of first name/nickname basis unless you counted "fucker," "asshole" and "piece of shit" as nicknames. Only Claude's friends and teammates call him G.

"Sid, you here!" booms out another voice, and Claude looks up to see the hulking figure of none other than Evgeni Malkin standing in the doorway. Of course; Evgeni, Geno, G. Malkin's face is split into a broad, goofy grin, and Sid's expression mirrors his.

"I was wondering when you'd decide to show your face here," says Crosby, and he stands up to pull Malkin into a brief but heartfelt hug. "Scared to come over here?"

"Sid, you are scared one," says Malkin. "If you want, you show up tomorrow night, hang out with other Russians."

Crosby makes a face like he just swallowed something very sour. "I don't think that's a great idea. Besides, I only know you, Kulemin and Ovechkin, and I wouldn't put it past Ovechkin to lock me in a closet until the tournament's over."

"Nonsense. You just afraid speak Russian," laughs Malkin. Then he says something in Russian, and Claude wonders if he's simply forgotten that no one in this particular room will understand him. Much to his surprise, Crosby scowls, and stutters out something in Russian in response, albeit awkward, stilted Russian. Whatever he says makes Malkin laugh even harder, and he claps Crosby on the back and speaks again in his mother tongue.

This is too much. "I didn't know you spoke Russian, Crosby," says Claude. Both Malkin and Crosby pause in their conversation and look at him in surprise. From the look on Malkin's face, he just realized Claude was in the room, and he's not sure how to feel about this revelation. While Claude doesn't hate Malkin the way he hates Crosby, there's certainly no love lost between the two of them.

Malkin shrugs. "He speak like small baby, and he pronounce everything wrong."

"So not too different from his French then," mutters Claude, and he's not sure if anyone actually catches it until several people around him guffaw. Apparently Crosby hears him too because his scowl deepens.

"Tu sais que je parle bien," he says, and Claude claps a hand over his ears.

"Please," he says, tone mocking. "For some reason I have to tolerate you as my captain, but that does not mean I have to tolerate you butchering my language."

There's silence in the room. Suddenly, unexpectedly, Malkin says, "He have point. Maybe you just not so good with language."

Crosby glares at his fellow Penguin. "Are you actually siding with Giroux over me on this issue?"

Malkin feigns naivete. "Just speak truth, Sid."

"Whatever," mutters Crosby. He faces the rest of the room. "Geno and I are going to leave. We have a few things to discuss, it seems." His tone implies that one of those things just might be the ethics of murdering traitorous teammates.

The two of them leave, Malkin speaking in careful slow Russian and Crosby responding in English. As their voices fade down the hall, Schenner breathes out, "Damn, G. That was close."

"What," snaps Claude.

Couts shifts uncomfortably. "You've been so quiet around him, but it seemed like maybe you two would actually go at it again."

Now it's Claude's turn to scowl. "It's not my fault he speaks French like a pubescent American child."

Savard--Savvy--who's been relatively quiet throughout the whole evening, picks that moment of all moments to break his silence. "It's not that bad. I mean," he clarifies when Claude shoots him a deadly look, "It's not perfect, but it's not terrible either."

"Just, maybe keep any thoughts on the whole captain thing to yourself," says Duchene.

"Why?" snorts Claude. "His ego that fragile?" As much as he wants to deny it, and as much as he knew it was inevitable the moment Crosby announced he would be playing in Worlds, he's still a little bitter about the situation. While Claude wasn't expecting to be the captain himself, not while other players had more experience with Team Canada, he might have been able to snag an A. Once Crosby came, that was out of the question.

Duchene exchanges a look with Schenner, and Claude wonders if they've discussed this topic before. Finally, Duchene says, "You don't have to like it, but questioning his captaincy isn't going to help anyone unless there's actual cause for concern."

As much as Claude hates to admit it, all of his problems with Crosby are entirely personal and have no connection to any leadership or behavior he's displayed so far in the tournament (previous actions not withstanding). "Whatever," says Claude. "Let's get back to the game, shall we?"

Everyone nods, and some of the tension drains from the room. They relax, and Claude can resume virtually pummeling Seguin to his heart's delight. Schenner cheers when Seguin's character on screen breathes his last, and all is right with the world.

 

Until the next day, when suddenly Crosby is decidedly cool towards Claude. Not that they were friendly before, but now an iciness lurks beneath his exterior. It's not the passionate, fiery hatred previously displayed in the Pens-Flyers games--that would be unprofessional--but there's no warmth in his voice when he congratulates Claude on what was definitely a beautiful goal against Belarus. He's not sure why this bothers him, but it does, so after the third day of this behavior, Claude decides to do the unthinkable and try to make peace with Sidney Crosby.

He raps his knuckles on the door several times before the door is opened, revealing a rather sleepy-eyed, bed-headed Crosby. Presumably he was napping beforehand, and Claude just woke him up.

"Giroux?" says Crosby in mild shock. "What are you doing here?"

Claude sighs, and steels himself for what's to come. "Apologizing, if you can believe it."

"I can't, really."

"Well, I am, so shut up and listen." Claude takes a deep breath and silences all of his Flyers voices in his head screaming at him to stop. "I'm sorry about the other day. You may be an ass, but you've been a good captain, and I shouldn't have questioned that."

"That all?" asks Crosby, his lips quirking up in a ghost of a smile. "That's your sincere apology?"

"It's as sincere as yours was," says Claude, and Crosby considers this before saying, "Fair." "Anyways," continues Claude, "maybe you can drop the ice queen act then? Actually celebrate a goal when it happens?"

Crosby looks at him in disbelief. "Are you here because I didn't lose my shit when you scored that goal? Is that what this is about?"

"Of course not," snaps Claude. At Crosby's flat expression, he relents, "Okay, maybe a little bit, but it's not the big picture. The big picture is, and I cannot believe I am saying this, we actually work well on the ice together, and I want to be able to enjoy it while we're here."

Instead of accepting Claude's apology with all of the gratitude it deserves, Crosby's eyes narrow in suspicion. "Are you being filmed? Did you lose a bet? Did someone put you up to this?"

For the love of God. Crosby isn't making this easy, and Claude's already wafer-thin patience is wearing thinner by the second. "No, Crosby, no one put me up to this. I mean, a couple of the guys mentioned I shouldn't have taken a shot at you that way, but me apologizing is entirely my idea, I promise." He stamps his foot impatiently. "I think I'm starting to regret it, though."

"Fine, fine," says Sid, and Claude breathes a sigh of relief. He's not sure how much longer he can stand here practically grovelling in front of his greatest rival. "Understood."

"Good. Glad we had this talk, Crosby" says Claude and he starts to move away from the door when Crosby's hand catches his wrist again. Claude freezes, just as he did before.

Crosby's wearing a faint smile on his lips. "For what it's worth, I think you're an excellent player, one of the best, and it's a pleasure to play with you as well." He pauses, then adds, "You can call me Sid, if you want. At least while we're still in Prague."

Claude nods mutely, mostly because his tongue sits numb, heavy and entirely useless in his mouth. When Crosby releases his wrist and closes the door, he stands there for a full minute before his brain starts ticking again. As he trudges back to his room, head still reeling, he wonders if anyone would believe him if he told them what Crosby just said. Probably not.

The next time Claude scores, Crosby--Sid--thumps him on the back and says, "Beautiful shot" Claude sort of smiles in return, and the world sort of doesn't end.

They don't really see each other too much off the ice. They eat at team meals, but Claude sticks with Couts and Schenner, and Sidney does his own thing. Claude spots Malkin around the Canadian section, and he assumes that means Sid and Malkin's are talking somewhat regularly because there's no other reason for Malkin to be there. One time, Alexander Ovechkin accompanies Malkin, and the next morning something about Sid is decidedly off at their morning skate. At the post practice meal, Claude ends up sitting next to him. After Sid winces for the fifth time in as many minutes and brings a hand up to massage his temple, an epiphany strikes.

"You're shitting me," whispers Claude. "You've got to be fucking shitting me."

"What did I do this time?" asks Sid in a tired, cranky voice.

"You're hungover right now, aren't you?"

Sid glances around the table to see if anyone else has heard Claude, but he doesn't try to deny anything either.

"I can't believe you're hungover. I mean, I was beginning to think you didn't know how to drink or have fun, but this is spectacular." Sid glares at him, but Claude is rejoicing too much to really care. "Who should I tell first? Sidney Crosby, Captain Canada, shows hungover up after night of partying before the game. I didn't think you had it in you."

"Just because my fun isn't across the headlines, doesn't mean I don't have it," Sid says harshly, and some of the old anger and resentment which had slowly faded as the tournament progressed flares up again. He's not proud of the incident with the cop, and he doesn't appreciate Sidney fucking Crosby of all people dredging it up.

"Low blow," hisses Claude, and Sidney looks him straight in the eye. "Then don't bring up the hangover. It won't affect the game."

"Fine," says Claude. A small voice inside of his head warns him that what he's about to say is a terrible, terrible idea, but he ignores that voice as he does more often than not and asks, "What was the occasion? I saw Ovechkin and Malkin around yesterday, and I know you and Malkin are buds, but Ovechkin? Should I be worried about you passing on team secrets?"

Sid's expression darkens. "Geno thought it would be fun to see if my Russian improved when drunk. It didn't."

The idea of Sidney Crosby, drunkenly saying privyet (one of maybe five Russian words Claude knows) or something like it to Ovechkin strikes Claude as inordinately hilarious, and he can't hold back the snicker that escapes him. Surprisingly, though, Sid doesn't glare at him, just smiles tiredly. "It was pretty stupid. I told Geno I'm not doing anything like this again until the tournament's over."

"Good," says Claude. "We need you out there.'

Schenner chooses that moment to start paying attention, and he gives Claude an odd look before diving back into his breakfast sausage. Claude ignores him--they lived together, and they've seen each other in stranger situations.

That evening, Sid proves he's right, and they win despite the hangover this morning. They're playing the Czech in the semifinals, and Claude's never felt more ready for a hockey game in his life.

They beat the Czech 2-0, which isn't nothing, but compared to how they've been trouncing all of the other teams, it feels close, especially since they know they will need to face Russia. Malkin is nowhere to be found in the Canadian living compound, and Claude mentions this to Sidney that evening in the hallway as everyone is heading back to their rooms.

"You really think he'd be here right now?" asks Crosby, a bemused expression crossing his face.

Claude shrugs. "You two have been all buddy-buddy throughout the tournament, thought maybe you'd have one last hurrah or something."

Sid grimaces. "Malkin's a friend, but he's still playing for Russia. Neither of us would have any fun tonight."

"Didn't know you would have fun in the first place. Fun doesn't really seem like it's up your alley, Crosby," says Claude, smirking.

Sid looks at him stonily. "Never heard that one before, Claude. Very original. Hope you didn't use up all of your brainpower on that one."

Claude stares at him, still processing Sid's words. Then it hits him. "Did you just make a joke?"

"Stranger things have happened." Sid smiles.

Claude shakes his head. "I'm not sure they have."

"Well, the Flyers have won a Stanley cup, so I think it's safe to say--"

Whatever Sidney Crosby wants to say is cut off when Claude takes a flying leap and tackles him to the ground. They both land with a loud thud, Crosby on the carpeted floor, Claude on Sid the Kid himself. The two of them breathe in heavy silence for a moment, Sid trying to catch his breath beneath Claude's weight and Claude trying to figure out a way he can extract himself from this situation with grace. Eventually, Sid does it for him.

"You planning on staying here forever, or are we going to play hockey tomorrow?" says Sid a little breathlessly.

Claude can feel the beat of Sidney's heart in his chest, and he realizes that only two thin layers of fabric separate the two of them now. They've fought before on the ice, but then, bulky hockey pads lay between them and they only exchanged skin to skin contact with their fists and faces. Now, Claude's fingers rest on Sid's bare arms, and despite the tackle, their touch is devoid of violence, of ill intent.

"I'm going now," says Claude, rolling off Crosby and pulling himself to his feet. "See you tomorrow for the game."

Crosby doesn't say anything, just nods as he pushes himself to a sitting position.

Without another word, Claude marches down the hallway, leaving Sidney Crosby behind.

They don't speak a word in the locker room the next day, Sid speaks to all of them as their captain, and his eyes never meet Claude's. The lack of eye contact unsettles Claude, and he realizes he became so accustomed to Sid's starting throughout the tournament that now its absence is more disturbing than its presence. He tries not to think too much about it too much, because they're playing Russia and the Russian's never go down easy.

As it turns out, he needn't have worried. They score just once in the first period, but the second period is a blowout. Crosby scores once himself on an assist from Eberle, and forty seconds later Seguin scores on Claude's assist. They're ahead four to nil with no signs of slowing down.

In the third period, Crosby and Claude play on the same line and the chemistry between them is electric.

"Crosby! Crosby!" shouts Claude as he skates quickly down the ice. "Here, here!"

Then Crosby passes the puck in a beautiful, sweeping line and Claude only needs one touch to bury the rubber in the back of the net. There are bodies on top of him within seconds, burying him in an avalanche of hugs, back thumps and compliments. Crosby smiles at him with genuine elation, true pleasure sparkling in his eyes. For a second, Claude's heart skips a beat, but then Seguin pounds him on the back so hard his eyes water and the moment evaporates leaving behind the pure rush of hockey well played.

They beat Russia 6-1 in a blowout, and Claude isn't even bitter when most of the Russians skate off the ice almost immediately after the end of the game. One exception is Malkin, who remains long enough to exchange a short but sincere conversation with Crosby. Then it's time for Team Canada to celebrate, and the gold medal hangs sweet and light around Claude's neck. Some of the other guys here already have Olympic medals or Stanley Cups, but this is Claude's first major victory with a team, and the heady rush of it lingers long after they leave the ice. They listen with pride as the Canadian national anthem, and Claude murmurs the words in French while trying to etch every second of this moment into his brain. He needs to hold these memories at least until the Flyers finally win the Cup.

Champagne flows freely in the locker room, and even after they leave the arena, the celebration continues. Without any verbal agreement, everyone gathers in Cout's room to drink and rejoice. Claude loses track within half an hour of who's still there and who's migrated to other parts of the compound or even to the outside world, but it doesn't matter. All that matters is that they won, and the victory is enough to let him forget for a moment about the NHL and the Flyers and all of the things he still needs to accomplish.

Around 1:30 in the morning, he stumbles outside to clear his head. If he stayed in the room any longer with it's sickly sweet smell of champagne and sweat, he might have passed out (or that might just be the alcohol, it's hard to say) so he wanders to a deserted courtyard. A twisted tree hangs over a bench, and Claude practically falls onto the bench. He takes several deep breaths, allowing the fresh spring air to sweep some of the muzziness from his head. He closes his eyes.

"It feels good, doesn't it?"

Claude's eyes fly open and he stares directly into the face of Sidney Crosby who has managed to sit down on the bench next to him. Sid's face is flushed and his hair damp, but he seems calm.

"Not as good as the Olympics or the Cup, I'm sure, but yeah," agrees Claude.

"You'll get there one day," says Sid, and Claude looks on skeptically.

"I don't think I ever imagined the day I'd hear you say the Flyers would win the Cup."

"Who says it has to be with the Flyers?" Crosby flashes him a grin. "Maybe you'll come to Pittsburgh, and we'll do it that way."

"Ha," huffs out Claude. "Very funny. You'd have to stop hating me if I played for the Penguins."

Sid is quiet for a long moment. The leaves of the tree above them rustle gently in the breeze, and the faint echoes of celebration trickle through the walls. Finally, he speaks. "Do you still think I hate you?"

Claude shrugs. "Don't know what to think. You're a hard man to read, Crosby."

"Sid," says Sid, and Claude turns to face him in surprise. "Call me Sid."

"We all fly back home tomorrow. Wouldn't want to get into a bad habit now."

"You can call me Sid there too," says Sid quietly. Suddenly, without invitation, Sid grabs Claude's wrist and his thumb presses against the scar. "I don't want things to be the same."

It feels like a promise more than a wish. A promise to be forged in the sweet night air of Prague and tempered in the cold Pennsylvania winter. Sidney's eyes are dark in the shadows, and Claude's pulse is thumping loudly beneath Crosby's touch.

"I like you, Sid," he says, the words escaping his mouth before he has the chance to consider them. "God help me, but I do."

Their faces are inches apart, and Sid's breath smells like champagne when it hits Claude's nose. "How much do you like me?" asks Sid in a voice so soft the murmur of the tree nearly drowns it out.

Without thinking, Claude presses his lips against Sidney's. He lifts a hand up to cup his face, and much to his surprise, Sid is kissing back, deepening it until the only sensations Claude is aware of are warm and wonderful. It's a heady kiss, as exhilarating as a perfect goal, as a crisp day on the ice with only the puck and stick before him.

When they break apart, Crosby takes both of Claude's wrists in his hands. One by one, he presses a kiss to the scars there, lips lingering on the skin. Then he stands up.

"See you across the pond," Sid says. "It's going to be one hell of a year."

Then he leaves, the fucker, and Claude has only the jumble of his own thoughts to talk to. He wants to hate Crosby, wants to hate him for breaking his wrists and winning the cup and captaining everything like Claude wishes he could. He wants to hate Sid for not hating him, for kissing him and being so much more than Claude ever imagined he could be. He can’t. In that moment, all he feels is a low, fervent ache in his chest, a mix between pleasure and pain.

“See you in Pittsburgh,” he whispers into the air, and the promise tastes better than champagne or the gold around his neck. “I’ll see you there.”