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Causes of Blindness

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"Claude..." Brayden says, sounding uncertain, "Check this out."

Claude glances over to where Brayden's hunched over his laptop on the couch, narrowing his eyes suspiciously, "Are you watching porn in the lounge room again? We totally talked about this, dude."

"No, seriously." He's starting to look a little freaked out, so Claude sighs, hauling himself out of his chair to lean over Brayden's shoulder.

"You said you weren't looking at porn!"

"Porn's hot!" Brayden protests. "I don't even know what this is!" There's a pause as both of them stare at the laptop screen in horror. "Seriously." Brayden says. "There's porn about us on the internet."

Claude wishes he could bleach his eyeballs, fiercely making a mental note to always listen to his publicist about the internet. Always. "Fucking hell, man." He says, "Close that shit." He throws himself back into his chair. Brayden's still staring at the screen, glassy eyed. Claude hopes like hell this isn't going to require therapy.

"We're having sex on the internet." He says slowly, his expression morphing into something that's looking worryingly like awe. "Someone wrote us having sex and put it on the internet."

"Brayden-"

"That's fucking awesome." His hands move over the keyboard, "Dude, there's so much porn here. And most of it's about you."

"Shut up, Brayden."

"You and Danny." Brayden says delightedly, apparently unconcerned about his imminent death. "Aww, and they're adorable."

Claude is going to murder him. Murder him dead. He doesn't need a winger that bad. "I will smash your laptop."

Brayden clutches his laptop a little closer, an arm curling protectively around it. "I'm a millionaire, I'd just buy a new one."

There's a moment of standoff until Claude flings his arms up in defeat. "I'm going to bed." He shoves the side of Brayden's head roughly as he goes past. "No porn in the lounge room." He says, "That includes porn about yourself."

*

"Guess what I found." Brayden says the next morning, wide eyed and manic, still sitting in exactly the same place Claude left him the night before.

He groans, "I don't want to know. Did you sleep last night?"

"I don't need sleep." Brayden says, looking wired, "Coffee's better than sleep. And I have, like, over a thousand fics to read."

"Over a thousand," Claude repeats dumbly. "There can't be that many people who are writing porn about me."

"5,811 to be precise." Brayden says, looking manic, "But don't worry. Most of them aren't about you."

Claude pauses. "They're not?"

"Only about 200 are about you." Brayden says. "Most of them are about Crosby, like, a quarter of them."

Claude takes a moment to process this, irrationally annoyed. "Why the hell are they writing about him?" He demands, failing to keep the petulant tone out of his voice. "I'm better."

"Dude." Brayden fixes him with crazy-eye, "You can't be mad about people writing porn about you and then be mad that people write more about Crosby."

"Shut up and stop drinking coffee." Claude snaps, "Go to bed."

"Can't." Brayden says, "I've got five thousand more stories to read."

"Right." Claude says, "I'm going out."

*

"Brayden discovered porn on the internet." Claude whines.

Luke raises an eyebrow, "Hate to break it to you but Brayden discovered porn on the internet like a decade ago. I know because I discovered him discovering porn." He pulls a face. "Not enough brain bleach in the world, seriously."

"No," Claude protests, "I mean he discovered porn. About me."

"You did porn?"

Jesus, why are all of his teammates so stupid. "People are writing porn about me." He whines, "And they put it on the internet and now Brayden's reading it and probably sending it to everyone he knows."

"Really?" Luke pulls his phone out of his pocket, flicks over to his email. "Let me check." There's a pause as it loads, "Oh, yeah, there you go." He turns to show the screen to Claude, where he can see that there's about fifteen new emails from Brayden, all with ridiculous subject lines. 'The one where Claude cries during sex' is the top one, followed by a oddly named 'I didn't know what figging was before this but apparently Claude likes it'. "Sounds interesting." Luke says, looking far too amused for anyone's good.

"I'm going to murder him. I'm going to smother him in his sleep and then feed him to sharks."

Luke nudges his shoulder, "Aww, come on. The fans like you best."

"They're writing porn about you too." Claude says sullenly.

Luke brightens, "Really? That's awesome!" He clicks open the browser on his phone. "What was the website?"

Claude clearly needs better friends. "I'm going to go talk to someone who isn't reading porn about me."

*

There's paper all over his stall the next morning and Claude is about nine thousand percent certain that he doesn't want to read any of it.

"You're fucking dead, Schenner." He shouts across the room, tries to keep his eyes averted the best he can. Not that it matters.

Scotty's an asshole so it only takes about five minutes before he's shouting over the din, shirtless and waving his shirt over his head in a way Claude assumes is supposed to be attractive. "Hey, G!" He's grinning, "Heard you want a piece of this."

"Oh, come on," Brayden says, "It was one story, and you were an asshole the entire time."

"Sounds about right," Claude mutters, keeping his eyes on his gear, flushing at the cat calls as he strips. "Seriously?"

Simmer grins, raises a suggestive eyebrow at him in a way that Claude assumes is supposed to be appealing but is mostly just terrifying. "According to the stories," he says, scooting a little closer. "You're a beast in the sack."

Okay, Claude is officially freaked out and he tries to shuffle away without seeming too obvious. "Um. What?"

Simmer holds the act for a moment, before cracking up, wheezing into his hands. "Your face."

"The stories are lies!" Brayden shouts, "We've all seen your dick, G."

Claude hates them. All of them. Even Vinnie, who's just watching, looking amused. "You all fucking suck." Claude announces, turns his back on them all and, oh, he'd forgotten about the fucking stories taped to his locker in bold, size 16 font and it's too late, his eyes automatically reading what's in front of him and bleach, he needs brain bleach. "Oh, God. Why am I calling Danny Daddy?"

*

It takes about twice the time to get everyone on the ice for practice, the majority of the team howling with laughter at Scotty's dramatic re-enactments of his favourite stories, and the fact his whole team is apparently exchanging pornographic stories about him is something Claude doesn't want to spend too much time dwelling on.

"Hey, Claude."

"Shouldn't you be practicing?" The grin on Scotty's face can't mean anything good and Claude flicks a puck at him, "Fuck off, off you go."

Scotty ignores him, deflecting the puck with his stick because apparently Claude's captaincy means nothing to these assholes. "I found something." He says, a dramatic pause like he's expecting Claude to be excited. "People have been writing stories about you and Crosby."

And just, no. So much no. "This is bullshit!" Come on, people can't think that he would let Crosby anywhere near his dick. "What the fuck?"

"There's this great one," Scotty continues, uncaring of the mental anguish he's causing, "Where your hatred is really just a disguise for your love."

"No fucking way."

"Are you sure," Scotty presses, grinning maniacally. "Really sure? You don't just secretly want to suck his dick?" He pulls out a folded piece of paper, tucked underneath his pads, "Let me read some of it to you."

"You're fucking dead." Practice has come to an effective halt, everyone watching Claude have a meltdown as he chases Scotty around the rink.

Right. War.

It's fucking on

*

"Danny," Claude whines, doesn't even let Danny say hello, "Brayden's reading porn about me."

A pause and Danny sounds strange when he speaks, "Yeah, I know."

Fuck. "He's even sending it to you too?"

"Claude," oh God, Danny's using the 'bad news' voice. "He's sent it to everyone."

"The team?" A telling pause. " the League? He didn't. He's dead, he is so fucking dead. I will bag skate the shit out of him." There's another stretch of silence. "Danny?"

"People are writing this stuff." Danny says, and he sounds uncertain, "About us."

"Yeah. It's fucking weird."

"No," Danny says and there's something in his voice that Claude can't quite identify. "Us. You and me."

"I know." Claude's not sure what he's getting at.

"That doesn't bother you?"

Oh. He's not sure what he's supposed to say, but he supposes the truth is really all he's got. "I'm more bothered that people are writing about Crosby fucking me." He snorts, "Like I'd let him tap this. I have fucking standards. Jesus."

Danny laughs, some of the tension dissipating from his voice and Claude's not sure when his life got so weird. Sometime around the point that Brayden discovered porn on the Internet. "Gonna get some revenge?"

"Fuck, yes."

*

When Claude opens his email, there's seventy nine emails waiting for him from Brayden and he grits his teeth, clicking the first link, helpfully titled by Brayden as 'the one where Claude likes wearing women's underwear'. It takes him to a strange website Archive Of Our Own, an apparent neverending well of stories about every book, film and celebrity known to man. Claude's pretty sure he could have happily gone his whole life without knowing of its existence, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

He’ll fight fire with fire. He’ll find the worst possible stories he can and paste them in Brayden’s locker and he’ll be so embarrassed, he’ll stop. Or something.

Yeah. Perfect.

Within the first fifteen minutes, a few problems become clear. First, he’s going to have to read this shit.

He pulls out his laptop, settling on his bed. His friends are the worst.

*

When he glances up at the clock, it takes him a moment to process what he's seeing. He sat down fifteen minutes ago and somehow he's lost four hours. He glances back at the screen, mistrustful that he hasn't even tricked into some weird time vortex of porn before snapping the lid of his laptop closed and shoving it quickly to the side like it's on fire, horrified at himself. The plan to humiliate Brayden seems to have been waylaid, instead, apparently spending four hours. Reading porn. About himself and Danny.

And the worst part is some of it was really good, an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach if he thinks about it too hard.

He needs to get out of this room. Jesus.

"What were you doing in there?" Brayden asks when he sees Claude emerge from his room. "I thought you'd died."

"Watching porn." Claude says shortly, because it'll raise the least amount of questions. He heads straight to the fridge. He's missed dinner. Fucking internet. Brayden takes a moment to consider this, before hauling his ass off the couch and following him. "All that porn will make you fat." Claude says, because Brayden's staring at him and that never means anything good. "Go get some exercise."

Brayden ignores him. "You've been in your room for hours." He says, watching Claude throw together a sandwich. "And your dick hasn't fallen off."

"So?" Claude focuses on cutting his tomato, "Some of us can last more than three minutes." Brayden reaches over, picking some tomato off Claude's sandwich, sticking it in his mouth and Claude waits a moment for Brayden to chew before adding, "I didn't wash my hands."

Brayden stops, gingerly spitting his half chewed piece of tomato into his hand, looking over at Claude, horrified. "You're fucking disgusting."

"Don't touch my food."

"My point is," Brayden says, dropping the chewed tomato on the bench and glaring at him, "Not even fuckin' Superman can jerk off for four hours. So either you're having-" He uses air quotes and Claude resists the urge to punch him in the face, "Y'know, 'problems', or you were doing something even more embarrassing than porn and you're hoping I won't ask." Claude's face must give him away because Brayden's face splits into a huge grin, "I fucking knew it! You've been reading fanfiction!"

"No, I haven't!" Claude denies. It's futile, he can feel his face burning with embarrassment, "That's not it!"

"Yes it is!" Brayden's fast when he wants to be and he darts away, toward Claude's bedroom, and fuck, the page is still open.

"Don't even think about it Schenner!" He shouts dropping the butter knife. It clatters to the floor, but Claude's not going to stop and pick it up, not when Brayden's got his laptop. He's too late, pausing in the doorway watching the moment when Brayden realises what he’s reading.

A moment of silence.

“You’re reading fic,” Brayden says slowly, “About yourself and Danny.”

Claude flushes, scowling, “Give me my fucking laptop.”

Brayden gives him a weird look, “You know that’s weird right.”

“It’s-” not what it looks like, he wants to say, only he knows it’s exactly what it fucking looks like. “It’s research.”

“What?” Brayden says mockingly, raising an eyebrow, “You gonna ask Danny to retire and come back to Philly and live with you?” He glances at the laptop screen, flicks down the page, “I’ve read this one.”

Claude’s not entirely sure how to dig his way out of this one, “Fuck off.” He says instead. “Give me back my laptop.” His voice doesn’t have the humour in it he needs.

Strangely enough, Brayden does what he says, dropping Claude’s laptop back onto his bed. “You’re fucking weird, man.” Brayden says, shaking his head. “I’m just sayin’.”

“You started it!” Claude shouts at Brayden’s retreating back.

*

The thing is, he’s reading it for his revenge plan, that’s it.

But now...

Does he really do that? Are he and Danny really that close?

“Hey-” Asking Brayden is possibly the least sensible thing he could possibly do. He hovers awkwardly in the doorway between the living room and the hall, trying to seem casual and failing miserably. “Those stories-” Claude breaks off. There’s no real way to ask this in a way that isn’t going to get him mocked relentlessly until the end of time, but there’s also no way that he can just leave it. “Me and Danny. Are we- were we really that weird?”

Brayden doesn’t laugh, looking up from his laptop with a strange expression on his face and that’s possibly the worst sign ever. “You guys- You don’t know?”

“That we’re weird?” Claude supplies, trying to dredge up some sort of humour about the whole situation and falling flat.

“You guys are weird.” Brayden confirms. He tilts his head slightly, “You really didn’t know?” He pauses, and a hesitation from Brayden never means anything good. “They’re not... true, are they?”

“What?” Claude’s brain is having trouble keeping up, all the jokes in the locker room, those weird newspaper articles, everything kind of slotting together to make a sick sort of sense.

Brayden shrugs, “You and Danny. You guys weren’t really-” Brayden waves a hand, to encompass his meaning, “You know.”

Claude gapes, because Brayden can’t seriously mean that, but his brain is still flipping through all the evidence, the dinners out together, the Christmas card, the way they’d cook together and curl up together to watch movies in a way that Claude and Brayden never do.

“Oh.” Brayden says, seemingly taking Claude’s silence as an answer. “Well. Fuck.”

“No-” Claude says hastily, because it’s not true. Except maybe it is. “I- fuck. I don’t know.”

“Is it something you … want?” Brayden ventures hesitantly, eyes wide.

“I… don’t know.” Claude says, possibilities stretching in front of him, the ache of missing Danny flaring in his stomach.

“Fuck.” Brayden repeats.

“Fuck.” Claude agrees.

*

The only way to know, Claude figures, is to ask. Right? His fingers shake as he calls Danny’s number, stomach in knots.

“Hey.” Claude says awkwardly.

Danny sounds cheerful. “Hey.” He replies. “What’s up?”

There’s a pause that stretches between them, Claude opening and closing his mouth a few times, not entirely sure what the hell he’s supposed to say now that he actually has Danny on the phone. He should have practiced before hand, damn it.

“Hello?” Danny says after a few minutes, “Claude? Are you there?”

“I’m here.” Claude says, and he’s at least ninety percent sure there’s no real easy way to have this conversation. “Um, do you have a few minutes to talk?”

Danny sounds amused. “Would I have answered if I didn’t?”

Claude wipes a sweaty palm on his jeans and forces a nervous laugh. “Ha, uh, I guess not.” He changes tactics. “So. Where are you?”

“I’m at PK’s.” A second delay, “Are you okay?” Danny asks, “Has something happened?”

“Everything’s fine.” Claude lies. He’s totally going to chicken out.

Danny sounds doubtful when he speaks, “Are you sure? You’re being weird.”

“What?” Claude manages, although he’s pretty certain his voice is more of a squeak than anything else. “I can’t just call up my best friend without some sort of warning?” He laughs, loud and fake and Claude can hear Danny say something to someone else on the other end of the line, the sound of footsteps and a door closing. “Oh,” Claude says, “I’m interrupting, I can call ba-”

“Alright.” Danny says firmly, “What the hell is going on? I was just letting PK know I was using his spare room to talk. I’m on my own now. Spill.”

“It’s nothing.” Claude says, awkwardly, even as he knows that Danny’s going to pry it out of him. He always does. It’s some sort of magical power.

“Claude-”

“Look-” Claude says, and he’s glad Danny can’t see his face. “You know those stories that Brayden has been sending?” A pause. “About us.” he clarifies, unnecessary, but feeling the need to fill the silence.

“Yeah.”

Claude takes a little pleasure in the fact that Danny sounds as awkward as Claude feels right now. “Well.” There’s no real way to say this without sounding like a moron, but he forges on. “Is there-” He swallows. “Is there any truth to them?”

Danny sounds flustered. “Are you asking if I wrote them?”

“What? No. It’s-- was there any truth in the rumours?” It’s still not quite what he means, “I mean, was there- is there something there? For you-- us.”

“I don’t understand-” Danny says uncertainly.

Claude’s sure he’s lying, knows his face is beetroot red right now, and wants this conversation to be over so badly, he could die. But, he needs an answer. “Could there be? Could we-” he falters over the words, drops his voice until he’s whispering more than anything. “Could we have that?”

There’s nothing on the other end of the line.

“It’s just- the dinners and the cooking and the movies--” He babbling now, too scared to stop because then Danny’s actually going to say something, and Claude has the awful, terrible feeling that perhaps he was wrong about all this. “When we lived together, I thought maybe I didn’t see anything but then Brayden--”

“What does Brayden have to do this this?” Danny sounds confused and Claude feels frustration swell. He just wants an answer. “I don’t know what you’re asking.” Danny says. Claude’s not sure if it’s supposed to be a brush off, but he’s come too far to let it slide.

“I’m asking if you want me.” Claude says, and, fuck maybe that was too blunt. “I’m asking if there’s something else there for you. If-” he feels his bravado slip, “If you want there to be.” Silence. “Danny?”

Claude.” And there’s so much in that word that Claude’s heart feels like it lurches, hopeful and terrified. “Are you serious?” Danny sounds strangled, as terrified as Claude feels. “Are you- don’t fuck with me about this.” His voice is shaking, “You better not be playing some stupid fucking joke.”

“I’m not. I swear I’m not. I just- is that a yes?” His words are tripping over themselves and he’s not sure if he’s going to throw up.

“Of course it’s a fucking yes, you moron.” Danny snaps, and Claude would be offended if it weren’t for the fact that Danny’s voice sounds suspiciously wet. “You have no idea-- just-- You’re such an idiot.”

Claude’s heart is going to explode through his chest, hammering against his ribcage, his voice shaking. “Then come home, Danny. Please come home.”

*

The announcement of Danny’s retirement isn’t anything that’s a surprise around the NHL. Neither is Danny’s move back to Philadelphia. Claude tries his best to contain his excitement, the knowledge that there will be no more stolen weekends, sneaky clandestine meetings. Danny will be his the way it should have been five years ago when they first lived together.

Brayden is suspiciously silent about the whole thing, the fervor over the fanfiction dying down quickly, moving on to more hilarious topics. Only, Brayden is still spending a suspicious amount of time on the internet. Claude waits until Brayden is preoccupied, leaving his laptop unattended for five previous minutes. He’s still staring at the screen in horror when Brayden returns.

“Oh, come on.” Brayden protests, though he doesn’t sound surprised. “Give it back.”

“You’re writing fanfiction now. About me and Danny.”

“It’s M rated,” Brayden point out, sulkily. “I’ve faded to black. I haven’t written any porn” He snatches his laptop back. “Besides, you guys wouldn’t even be together if it wasn’t for me.”

“So you’re telling the story to the internet,” Claude points out. “That’s a really fucking dumb idea.”

Brayden shrugs, “No one believed it before. No one will believe it now.” He opens up a new tab, heads to a writer’s profile. “Besides, look how many people love me.”

Claude rolls his eyes. Whatever. He guesses he owes Brayden something after all that. “Not a word to anyone else.” He says.

“Cross my heart.” Brayden says, and clicks ‘post’.

END