Behind him, Cameron slams the hatch of the SUV, all his gear loaded. He whines that he's hungry as he gets into the passenger seat.
"Me, too," Danny says, buckling his seatbelt and then starting the car. "If we stop, though, we'll miss the beginning of the game."
His shoulder aches - one of Cam's teammates misjudged a check and went crashing into Danny instead, sending them both sliding across the ice into the boards. It was an accident, but only one of them was wearing pads, and Danny definitely isn't as limber as he used to be.
Cam gives him an odd look, one Danny would prefer to head off at the pass. "I'm fine," he says. "Bobby didn't get me that bad."
Cam shakes his head. "Not that."
"You still don't want to miss puck drop," Cam says, with an exaggerated sigh. "It's like you don't want to be late. They're not even your team."
"Stop emphasizing every other word," Danny mutters. "And they're still my friends, Cameron."
Cam huffs - total teenager move - but doesn't argue it any more. Danny feels belligerent now on top of feeling sore, so he pulls into the next Sonic they approach, slotting the SUV up next to the speaker. Now they really are going to miss the beginning of the first period versus Detroit, all so Danny can prove to his fifteen-year-old son that he doesn't need to watch the opening faceoff.
Danny is thirty-nine years old.
His phone chirps just as they finish ordering. MIDNIGHT, reads the text from Claude, this week's "we're too superstitious to say 'good luck' but you should wish me luck anyway" word. Claude lets René pick by randomly opening a book and having him point at a word with his eyes closed. Last week it was Beezelnut - René's really into Horton Hears a Who.
Danny allows himself a quick smile and writes back, MIDNIGHT.
"Ugh, just get married already," Cameron groans next to him.
Warningly but without any heat, Danny says, "Cameron, you know better."
"Yeah, yeah. Did you get me a double order of tots?"
Before Danny can remind his son about respect and being polite and appropriate ways to talk about your father and his friends, his phone rings with the same Pittsburgh number as before. This time, he answers.
"Danny, Ray Shero calling."
The voice is vaguely familiar, and Danny only knows one Ray Shero: still the GM of the Penguins. "Uhm. Yes, what can I do for you, Mr. Shero?"
"Danny, I'm calling you personally to ask if you'd be interested in coming in to meet with me, and with my staff," Shero's voice booms down the line, smooth and confident.
"About?" he asks, confused. "You know I'm retired."
Cameron's head jerks up at that, and he mouths what is it?. Danny shrugs and affects a clueless expression. Cam rolls his eyes and goes back to his iPhone.
"We've got an opening behind the bench, and your name came up."
Coaching? He knows Granato had been up for the Ducks job, and this is making it sound like that's now a done deal. "So you'd - like me to interview?"
"Well, we'd like to start with something a little more informal than that, just for now. Come in and meet people, have a discussion, that sort of thing."
"I honestly don't know what to say," Danny replies. He rubs his palm nervously over the steering wheel for a few seconds before stopping himself and curling his fingers into a sweaty fist
Shero laughs. "You don't have to make any decisions over the phone, of course. Call me back any time."
Shero disconnects. Danny stares down at his phone.
"Well?" Cameron demands. "What is it, Dad? Was that really Ray Shero? You know his dad coached the Flyers, right?"
"I know," Danny says, as the carhop comes up with their tray. "I think the Penguins might want to offer me a job."
Want has nothing to do with business, and intellectually, Danny gets it, knows it, understands where the Flyers are coming from, one hundred percent. But that's all eclipsed in an instant when his phone rings one warm morning at home, the number belonging to Ed Snider.
At least they aren't delegating the call to some assistant in a four-desk office. Danny allows himself a second before answering.
When it's over, he realizes he's not alone in the living room, that Caelan is sitting cross-legged on the floor watching him. "You okay, Papa?" he asks quietly. Danny blinks and remembers Caelan hasn't called him that in years. He nods.
Caelan's face is solemn. It's not an expression Danny's used to seeing on his eldest. "Which was it?"
"Bought me out," Danny replies, somehow making his mouth shape the words correctly.
Caelan gets up and hugs him tightly, holding on for longer than Danny expects him to. "I don't want to move," he mumbles in Danny's ear before he steps back.
Danny shakes his head. The worst part of this has been seeing his kids upset. "No one's moving, C. At least not until you put your name in for next year. Don't think I missed those Sudbury scouts at your game last week."
That gets half a smile from Caelan. Danny squeezes his arm and says, "Would you get me a cup of coffee? You'll probably have to make a new pot. With a little sugar."
He calls Brisson with numb fingertips once Caelan's out of the room. "I'm so sorry, Danny," is how Pat answers the phone. "I know it wasn't what you wanted."
"But we all knew it was coming, so it wasn't all that much of a shock."
"Nonetheless," Pat replies firmly. "So. The next step."
Danny takes a deep breath. He's been thinking about this since the amnesty buyout options had been announced. Rehearsed it, even. "There is no next step. I don't want to go anywhere else."
Pat is quiet for a long moment; it's clearly a calculated silence. Danny waits him out. Finally, Pat says, "You want to just retire."
"Yes." There's another pause from Brisson, so Danny says calmly, "I'm going to be thirty-six years old, Pat. I know what the life expectancy is in this league, and I've already surpassed it. I'm still not at a hundred percent, physically, and it's going to be another few months before I am. No team is going to want me injured." And then he adds, "Sorry I won't be making you any more money."
That startles a laugh out of Pat. "Shut up, Danny," he says, chuckling. "If it's truly what you want to do, I'll draft the press release and email it to you."
They hash out a few more details before Danny hangs up, and turns his phone off completely. He doesn't think he can deal with the messages that are about to start flooding in. He blinks and realizes there's sweat beading his forehead. He wipes it away, quickly, and scrubs his hands over his worn t-shirt before his kids can come in and see him.
"Uh, hey. Sidney. How are you?"
"Good, I'm good." Of course two-time Cup winner Sidney Crosby is good, and no, there's not still a tiny part of Danny that's bitter. "I'm just wondering if you've given any thought to Ray's offer," Crosby says, smoothly oblivious.
To be truthful, Danny has spent the last few days pretending it hadn't happened, but Sid calling is proof that the Pens aren't kidding. "I have, of course I have. I just - I've only coached youth hockey, Crosby, it's not even junior."
"Danny, you're one of the best guys to ever put skate to ice, especially in the playoffs. At least take the meeting. I'll be there, too; I'm in your corner on this one. Can you do one o'clock, next Wednesday?"
"Um." He doesn't have a response for that request, besides: "All right, Crosby. I'll be there."
"Great, there will be a car at the airport to pick you up. See you then." The call disconnects, like Crosby couldn't wait to hang up. Danny shakes his head and leaves his phone on the kitchen island, going to check on René, who completely sacked out after Danny picked him up at Rebecca's so she could go to class. The kid's still asleep where Danny put him down, on the blanket-covered floor of the den, clutching a pillow. Sleeping just like his father, Danny has to admit. Zoey is a yard away, head on her paws, keeping an eye on René.
Danny drops onto the sofa, stretching his legs out along the cushions. He dangles his hand down for Zoey and she waddles over. He scratches behind her ears. "Watching out for the baby, hmm?" he murmurs. She snuffles softly, then licks his fingers before lying down again.
He dozes on the couch for a while, not really asleep. Zoey whines when René stirs, and Danny opens one eye. René lifts his head and sleepily mumbles Danny's name. "Right here, kiddo," Danny reassures him.
René yawns and reaches out to pet Zoey clumsily for a while, then squirms across the blankets and pulls himself up on the couch. "Daddy here?" he asks Danny, his blue eyes wide.
"Not yet. But soon."
René frowns. Danny hurries to turn on the television. He finds Curious George on Netflix Instant; his queue is half kids' shows these days, and right now, Curious George is René's favorite.
Danny gets up to get them both a snack after one episode, but René clutches at his shirt. He's an oddly solemn child at times, not prone to many tantrums, but Danny's sure he knows just how to look at an adult in order to get his way. "More George?" he asks, pointing at the television.
"Sure. I'm getting us a snack, though, aren't you hungry?"
Danny ruffles René's mop of red hair and starts another episode. Then, in a faux-stern voice, he tells Zoey to keep an eye on René while he goes to the kitchen, making René giggle until he falls over on the sofa.
He hasn't moved an inch when Danny gets back with a plate of cheese cubes and crackers, but he reaches for a cracker before Danny can sit down again. "Hungry?" Danny asks.
"Yes, please." It comes out like peas.
One of Danny's favorite things about René is how he hasn't quite figured out the right occasions to say "please", and so he tacks it on in a lot of unnecessary places. Like Danny will ask if he's tired when it's naptime and René will answer "No, please," and then cry, because he's exhausted but doesn't want to miss anything.
Claude comes in when they're almost done. Danny watches René's face light up, and then René offers Claude a smushed piece of the cheese. "Daddy, snack?"
It comes out like knack. Claude says thank you and pops the cheese in his mouth, winking at Danny.
"There's more, if you want," Danny says dryly, as René eats the last cracker, getting more crumbs down the front of his shirt.
Claude shrugs. "Let's just go out, eh, cher?" He directs the last towards René, who beams up at him. Claude ruffles his hair, then brushes the crumbs off of him. "Does Cam want to come?" he asks Danny. "I can wait if he does."
"Let me call him."
Cameron's still at school, working on a biology project with his lab partner. He doesn't answer, so Danny leaves a message saying if he doesn't hear back in the next fifteen minutes, Cam is on his own for both getting home from school and for dinner.
"We can watch more George while we wait," he says to Claude once he's hung up. René claps his hands.
They watch for a few minutes without talking before Claude says, "I still miss you out there, you know?" reaching over René and letting his fingertips brush over Danny's shoulder.
"I know." It doesn't hurt like it used to, now just an ache that throbs only when someone mentions the Flyers. He smiles at Claude, who smiles back wistfully, clearly caught in whatever memory it is. Danny reaches up and squeezes Claude's fingers tightly. Then his phone vibrates in his lap; it's Cameron.
"Yes, I want dinner," Cam says, instead of hello. "Please. And can Alex come, too?"
Alex is Cam's lab partner and, Danny's pretty sure, the closest thing Cameron has to a friend who isn't also on his hockey team. "Sure, as long as it's fine with his parents," Danny answers. "We'll be there to pick you up in about twenty minutes."
Dinner is a raucous affair, with two teenagers talking loudly the whole time and a two-and-a-half-year-old constantly looking for attention. Danny's even more glad they picked a family-friendly place when René knocks all his broccoli on the floor, an innocent expression on his face.
Unsympathetic, Claude tells him, "Too bad, now you'll have to eat some of mine." He hands René a small floret and René looks crestfallen. "Come on, it's not that bad. You like broccoli," Claude continues.
René eats it, looking horrified the whole time. Danny ignores Cameron and Alex snickering behind their hands. "See, it's good!" Claude says firmly, then rolls his eyes in Danny's direction. "Now we have to tell the waitress you're sorry for spilling."
"Sorry, please," René says to the waitress who's currently bending down to pick up the broccoli. "I not do more."
"That's very nice, thank you," she replies. "I'll bring you a new dish?" This is directed more at Claude than René, and Claude shakes his head, saying they're okay.
Danny asks Cameron and Alex about their science project to distract them from laughing at René, and is treated to a surprisingly smart-seeming earful about photosynthesis and the model of a plant cell that they're going to have to build sometime in the next few weeks. It's been - a lot of years since Danny took a science class, so they could just be talking out of their asses, but Alex at least looks serious about it, and Danny figures they've actually been learning.
They taper off into a series of in-jokes; Danny figures that's his cue to drop out of the conversation. Claude drums his fingers on Danny's arm and he looks over. "What are you doing tomorrow?" Claude asks.
"I need adult company for once," Claude says, and Danny barely manages to contain his laughter.
It's Claude on the stoop, his hair a wild and frizzy halo of orange, his eyes wide and bloodshot. "What are you doing here?" Danny asks, confused, since Claude rarely comes across the river for a visit without at least checking first to see if Danny's in Gatineau.
"I -" Claude makes a despairing sort of noise and pushes past Danny into the house.
Danny gets a whiff of something alcoholic. Strong. Not just beer. "Are you - are you drunk? Did you drive?"
"Fuck no," Claude mumbles, flinging an arm behind him, pointing back out the door to the hired car pulling away from the curb.
"But you are not sober." Danny grabs Claude as he stumbles a little, and steers him toward the living room. "Sit down, and tell me what's wrong."
Claude rubs his hands over his face, then sniffs. "I have a son."
"What?" Danny sputters, after an entire minute of shocked silence. His hand tightens on Claude's shoulder. "With - with who?"
Danny thinks back. It's been nearly a year since Ryanne and Claude were together, after months of off-and-on. That doesn't - he's not sure this makes sense. He squeezes Claude's shoulder again, sweeping his thumb over the bone in what he hopes is a comforting way. "How old is the baby?"
"Six months." Claude sucks in a shaky breath and again rubs his hands over his splotchy face. "She doesn't - Danny, Ryanne doesn't want him."
"Oh." He sits there for a second, hand still on Claude's arm, and then asks, "Are you - what are you going to do?"
"What can I do? Bring him with me."
Claude nods. "What - what else can I even do, Danny?"
Danny shakes his head, because he doesn't know. "Whatever you decide to do, I'm on your side," he says quietly. He hugs Claude around the shoulders. "I'll help you figure out setting up your condo for a kid. I'll even babysit."
That makes Claude laugh, even if it sort of sounds like crying at the same time. "Thanks." Then he slumps loosely against Danny, as if all the energy has drained from his body. Danny lets him sit for a few minutes without speaking or moving, not doing anything but breathing, and then Claude takes out his phone and says, "Want to see his picture?"
Of course Danny says yes.
Max corners him almost immediately, lifting the scotch from Danny's hands before Danny even gets his coat off. "I hear you have a meeting with Shero," is the first thing out of his mouth.
"Hi, Max, good to see you, too," Danny replies.
Max waves that off. "Pittsburgh, really, Danny?"
"It's just a meeting." Danny manages to get his coat undone as he says it, and drops it over the back of the couch with everyone else's.
"What's just a meeting?" Claude asks, coming up behind Max, René in a bright green sweater clutching at his hand until he sees Danny. Then he barrels over into Danny's legs, and Danny lifts him up. Max rolls his eyes, muttering something about codependency.
"Shero," Danny says to Claude, and then, "Don't you want to play with Lucie and the other kids?" to René.
"No," René whines, pouting. He hides his face against Danny's shoulder.
Claude makes an apologetic face. "He's tired."
"Penguins," Max says, waving both hands. To Claude he says, "Please tell me you've tried to talk him out of this."
"Why would I do that? There's no - no rule that says Danny has to hate the Penguins forever. You have friends in Pittsburgh, Max, don't be extreme."
"Max doesn't think he can handle seeing me behind the Pens bench while you guys are on the ice," Danny says, making an educated guess. From the way Claude's expression falls, he also guesses that Claude hadn't thought about that.
"Did Sidney call you?" Max continues, oblivious.
Danny nods, catching another weird look flickering over Claude's face. "It's just a preliminary meeting," he says to Max. "No firm offer, nothing even close to that. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."
Max seems placated by that answer. Claude's expression has shifted into something Danny can't decipher at all, something almost aggressively, purposefully neutral.
"Want to go see the other kids?" he asks René, just to get away from the conversation.
"Okay," René mumbles. He's still clinging to Danny's neck.
"Come on, let's find Lucie. I have it on good authority that you are friends."
René seems okay with that, and they find the other kids in the rec room, watched over by Cynthia and Sean's girlfriend, who Danny barely knows but is living with Sean this year. "You can leave him with us, go get a drink," Cynthia says when Danny sets René down. She pushes Danny back out of the room. "Go, he's fine."
René's not screaming, so Danny wanders toward the kitchen, stopping to say hello to people as he goes. No one else harasses him about the Pittsburgh thing; it's all just a stream of forgettable "hey, how are you?" conversation. In the kitchen, he grabs a beer from one of the many ice-packed tubs sitting on the counters.
Someone hip-checks him lightly into the counter, and he turns to see Claude, who is holding a plate with several hot dogs on it and being trailed by Max and Cynthia's yellow lab. "Did you make a new friend?" Danny asks. "Also, it's November, why is Max grilling?"
"Hartsy's actually doing the grilling; I didn't ask. What did you do with my kid?"
"He's with everyone else's kids, doing whatever it is small children do when you get more than six of them in a room."
Claude looks skeptical at that, but holds out the plate.
"Is this a peace offering, to show you're not mad at me for talking to the Penguins?" Danny asks, in French in case someone around them is listening. He takes the hot dog that Claude had clearly done up for him.
"You said it yourself, it's only a meeting," Claude grumbles. The dog sits down at his feet and whines. "No, Peaches."
Danny smothers his laugh; he's still not over the dog's name, which Max insists was not his doing. To Claude he says, "It is only a meeting."
"I know." He doesn't look at all placated and Danny feels sort of sorry for him, in the way where he also wants to laugh at Claude at the same time.
He takes a huge bite of the hot dog before saying, "Stop looking at me like it's such a terrible betrayal," which makes Claude pout even more. "You're horrible. Go get me dessert."
He knows Claude's still put out by the way he doesn't even argue, just goes to find Danny a cupcake with Peaches trailing behind him.
"Happy to be here, Sid," he says. And he is. His kids would probably give him a load of shit for saying it, but - it's sort of cool. That the Pens would even think of him for this job is flattering.
"Come on, I'll show you around."
Show you around turns out to be a complete tour of Consol, with Sid narrating as he goes along. It's the most Danny's ever heard Crosby say - ever - and he's a remarkably good guide. "Do you give this tour often?" Danny interrupts him to ask.
Sid's face reddens. "Occasionally," he admits. "I tend to be the one to show the new guys around, it helps them to either not be terrified or me, or to get over their hero worship."
Danny laughs. "Neither of which applies to me."
"I know," Sid says, with a grin and a shrug. "It's weird, though. I guess I'm rambling. Aren't we supposed to hate each other?"
Danny mirrors the shrug. "Maybe a couple years ago, yeah."
The whole thing ends up not quite as awkward as Danny expected. It's only Shero, Dan Bylsma, and Sid with him in the office, a late lunch in front of them, and Sid sits off to the side and lets Bylsma do most of the talking. Danny has a lot of respect for Bylsma, has since that infamous - and hilarious, after the fact - screaming match with Laviolette. He's never telling Lavvy that, though.
They lay it all out for him: what they're looking for, what their systems are, what they think Danny could bring to the organization. Danny's actually impressed, after being so sure they were only trying to pad their interview list.
"So we've got a few more people to talk to, but I think this went well," Shero says, after Danny's answered a bucketful of questions ranging from his thoughts on various coaching styles to the past season performance of the Pittsburgh Pirates. "We'll definitely give you a call in a few days, let you know what's up." He shakes Danny's hand and adds, "I think Sid will walk you out."
Danny says that he's fine, but Sid insists on driving him to the airport. "You really could have stayed overnight in the city," Sid suggests, as he waits to negotiate his car up to the drop-off. "Since I don't think I'll ever get all the way over into the departures lane here, Jesus, this is ridiculous."
Danny chuckles. "Thanks, but I've got obligations. Nice of you to offer, though."
"I hope it's not awkward for you in Philly, talking to us," Sid says with a smirk. The car inches forward.
"It very much is." Danny's mostly kidding, but Sid gives him a sort of sideways look.
"You know we play each other next month."
He ignores Sid's use of we. "I do know."
"You should come to the game. I'm sure Claude can get you a ticket."
"Yes, and I'll make one of those 'Marry me, Sidney' signs, that'll drive him wild," Danny says dryly, but Sid just laughs and wrenches the car all the way over so Danny can jump out.
He's barely to his gate when Claude texts him. so?
Danny sighs and hits the call button. "So? What happened?" Claude demands, instead of something nice like, Hi, Danny, how was the flight?
"Talked about hockey," Danny replies, earning a groan of frustration. He chuckles. "Really. Sid showed me around the arena, and then I met with Shero and Bylsma."
There's a long pause, so long Danny thinks they might have gotten disconnected, and then Claude asks quietly, "Sid showed you around?"
"How is he?"
Danny's not sure what that question means. "He's... Sidney Crosby."
Claude sniffs. "So are you taking their job?"
"Claude, I..." Danny sort of wants to punch something, just a little, but his choices are either uncomfortable waiting area chairs or his fellow passengers. "No job has been offered! Please, I haven't even had a chance to think about it, and I don't want to argue with you about this. It's stupid, you know that. To argue about this."
"Sorry," Claude sighs. "I'm not trying to fight. Don't know what's wrong with me. I'll let you go."
Danny doesn't want to end this on an angry note. Softly, he says, "It's fine. We're about to start boarding, anyway. I'll see you tomorrow."
"I'll bring you a muffin, cher."
Before Danny can reply to that, Claude's ended the call.
"No Daddy go," René wails, and Claude gives Danny a forlorn expression.
"Aww, baby, it's not for long," Danny says. "We can watch him on tv, okay?" He shifts the bag and the cup into one hand, and crouches to pick up René with his now-free arm.
"Sorry," Claude murmurs. He looks somewhat soft with sleep, even though it's noon, and a little worn around the edges.
Danny wants to tug him close and hug him until the Claude he's used to returns, but he doesn't move. "Don't worry about it."
"Bye, cher," Claude whispers to René, kissing the top of his head. He brushes his hand over Danny's arm. "See you tonight." His look says We'll talk then, and Danny thinks to himself, If you're awake enough to talk.
René stops sniffling and waves at Claude as he jogs back to the car. Danny closes the front door, then looks at René. "You want George?"
They sit on the floor of the den, and René watches Curious George in rapt attention while Danny eats his slice of quiche and sips at the mocha. It's Thursday, and the Flyers are on the road tomorrow and through the weekend, which means Rebecca will stay with René at the house in Cherry Hill. She's a religion major at the Rutgers campus in Camden, and even after a year, Danny still hasn't gotten Claude to tell him the the whole story of how she'd been hired. Someone in the front office probably knew someone else, he assumes. She's good with René, though, and he seems to really like her. Danny hardly ever gets asked to watch René during a road trip now that Rebecca's around, which is a complete waste of Caelan's old bedroom that Danny had done over to be René's.
René starts looking bored around the middle of the third episode, so Danny finds the oversized, inflated ball he'd picked up at a Target the week before. They bounce it around the room, René giggling and flinging himself on top of the ball while Zoey tries to lick his bare feet.
René zonks out after an hour of chasing the ball, and curls up next to Danny on the couch. Danny turns on CSN and listens to the pre-game show with his eyes closed. He dozes off after a while, and wakes up to Cameron shaking his shoulder. "Are you making anything for dinner?"
"Hm?" Danny sits up, then automatically looks over at René, who is still asleep. Then he looks at the clock; it's later than he was expecting. The game is in intermission. "I guess. You could cook, you know."
Cameron makes a face. "Yeah, if you want noodles."
"René would probably like noodles," Danny replies, chuckling softly. "But I can make something. How was practice?"
"Good." Cam slides off the arm of the couch, down next to René, who doesn't stir. "Hurry up so you don't miss the second period."
Danny hits him lightly on the head and gets up. "Keep an eye on the kiddo."
Cam mumbles his assent, and Danny goes into the kitchen. The best he's going to do is sandwiches and maybe some frozen stir-fry for a vegetable. He's trying to decide which cheese he wants when he sees his phone flashing on the island. The lone text is from Claude. RAINCOAT
RAINCOAT, Danny writes back, even though he's late, smiling to himself.
"Go back to sleep," Claude responds, which doesn't answer Danny's question at all, but he's too groggy to care. René is asleep on a blanket on the floor, bracketed by the dogs.
The sofa is big, but it's not that big, even with Claude squeezing himself back against the cushions. Danny shifts away for a second to let Claude get comfortable, then relaxes again, adjusting the arm he'd been resting his head on. Claude hums, breath ghosting over Danny's neck, but he doesn't say anything else, and Danny's asleep again within minutes.
"Eggs!" René shouts.
"No, no eggs," Claude groans, turning against Danny, and Danny realizes that Claude's arm is wrapped securely around his waist. It's sort of nice. He doesn't really want to move, except for how his neck is killing him.
Danny blinks his eyes open and squints at René, whose hair is sticking up wildly, and there's a red line running down his face from being pressed against a crease in the pillowcase. "Claude," Danny says. His voice is hoarse and he clears his throat. "Claude, your demon child wants breakfast."
"Ugh." Claude lets go of him and struggles to sit up. He's wearing track pants and an undershirt, and looks even sleepier than Danny feels. "Shit, what time is it?"
Danny sits up as well, and looks around René at the cable box. "Not even seven. You're good."
"That got my heart racing, for sure." Claude slumps back against the cushions, looking at René jumping up and down. His arm presses heavily against Danny's. "How are you so awake, baby?"
"I don't know if Danny has eggs. And please stop shouting."
René sticks his bottom lip forward. "Please, Danny, ekfast."
"I'll see what I have." Danny reaches out to ruffle René's already messy hair. René smiles hugely at him and Danny feels his stomach swoop; he loves this kid so much.
"Come on, baby, let's brush teeth first, okay?" Claude gets up, and scoops René up off the floor, holding him over his shoulder while he giggles. "Give Danny a minute to join the world."
They wander off, Claude's bare feet slapping against the wood floor. Danny rubs a hand over his face, then sighs. He should get up, make coffee at least. Take some Tylenol for his neck. Instead, he mostly wants to have Claude and René come back so they can all sleep for a few more hours. He'd been nice and warm, tucked against Claude with the blankets lumped at their feet, and - and he really shouldn't be sitting here thinking about how much he liked it.
Then Claude shouts from the bathroom, "Danny, make us some coffee," so Danny pushes his hair back off his face and gets up.
He's glad the coffeepot doesn't require much thought, and stands leaning against the counter next to it with his eyes closed until René runs in, smelling like toothpaste. "Ekfast?"
"Daddy can look at what's in the fridge, I'm going upstairs to brush my own teeth," Danny replies, yawning. It usually doesn't take him so long to wake up. "Be back in a minute."
When he comes back, Claude's got René set up with a small bowl of Cheerios while he pokes through Danny's refrigerator. René looks mournful; Danny assumes it's because there aren't scrambled eggs in front of him yet. "There should be at least a half-dozen eggs in there," he says to Claude.
"Yeah, I see them. Can I use up this lunchmeat?"
Claude swings around, hands full, and frowns at him. "Are you all right?"
"Crick in my neck," Danny admits, rolling his shoulders.
"Next time, we'll sleep in a bed," Claude replies, and Danny blinks, because what? But Claude has already turned to set his ingredients on the counter next to the stove. Danny focuses on his coffee for a few minutes, listening to René babble to himself about not wanting Cheerios, until a plate slides in front of him.
"Thanks. What is it?"
That sets René off again, so he and Danny share while Claude uses up the carton on another monstrous omelette, and also makes a mountain of peanut butter toast. When they're done, Claude and René really do have to go, so Danny fills a travel mug with coffee for Claude while Claude finds their shoes and René's backpack of stuff. He hands it over at the front door.
"You can thank me by winning again."
Claude grins. "René, say goodbye."
"Bye-bye," René sings, hugging Danny around the knees.
Danny smooths down René's still-messy hair and says, "Bye, kiddo. See you next week."
Claude hugs him, too, free hand sliding up to rhythmically squeeze the back of Danny's neck a few times. It helps, a little. Danny sways slightly and Claude chuckles. "I'll steal you a muscle relaxant, old man."
"Yes, that will do me so much good with you leaving town in two hours," Danny replies. "Score some goals."
"Goals," René repeats solemnly, hitting Claude's thigh.
"Hey, be nice to your father," Claude admonishes, and Danny just shakes his head and waves them off.
There's a missed call from Max when Danny checks his phone after practice. He sighs, but hits redial as he waits for Cameron to get his stuff together. "Why are you even answering me, don't you have a game?" he asks when Max picks up. Danny can hear people chattering in the background.
"Fuck that, are you taking the Pens job?"
"They haven't offered it," Danny insists, but it's a lie. Shero called him earlier that afternoon, saying the job was Danny's if he wanted it.
Danny's not sure if he wants it. On the one hand, it's Pittsburgh. It's Cameron going to live with Sylvie full time. It's selling his house and looking for a new one. It's seeing Claude - who has become Danny's closest friend without Danny even noticing, not to mention all the other jumbled feelings that Danny's not even up to sorting out - once a month at most. Seeing René even less.
On the other, it's as close to hockey as Danny's going to get these days.
Max interrupts his meandering train of thought by saying, "My sources tell me otherwise," and Danny scoffs.
"Maxie, when I make a decision, you will most definitely not be the first person to know."
Max's laughter is loud and ringing. "I was just calling to check in, Danny B., I gotta go play a game now."
"Yeah, yeah," Danny chuckles. "Bye."
Cam comes over to where Danny's standing, hauling his bag while he swigs from a Gatorade bottle. "I'm ready. Who was that?"
"Only Max," Danny replies, and laughs when Cameron rolls his eyes dramatically. His phone vibrates in his hand, and he looks down at it. HIPPOTOPAMUS, then shit is that even spelled right?, then miss u :-)
Danny's breath hitches. miss u too, hippopotamus. score goals, he replies, as Cam swings his bag so that it hits Danny in the side. "Dad, stop texting Claude for a minute so we can go. I'm tired."
"How - nevermind." He puts the phone away. Cameron really does look tired. He's pale under the overly bright lights, and Danny frowns. "You okay? Are you getting sick?"
He reaches out to press his hand to Cam's forehead, and Cam pulls back like the teenager he is.
"Well, tell me if you're sick, all right?"
"I'm just tired, and I have homework to finish still," Cam grumbles. He pushes past Danny, heading for the doors. Danny sighs, grabs his skate bag, and follows.
Cam stomps upstairs to his room when they get home, saying something about an English assignment. Danny lets the dogs out, then makes a couple sandwiches. As he's trying to decide if he wants to yell for Cameron or if he should just take a plate upstairs, his phone rings again. It's Caelan, wanting to talk about his last few games, about the girl in Kingston he's sort of dating, about the shenanigans of his teammates. Danny listens, humming during the appropriate pauses, as he goes up the stairs.
Cam's door is open. He looks up when Danny pauses in the doorway, makes a telephone gesture. "It's Caelan," Danny says.
"Can I quick..." Cam holds out his hand. Danny tells Caelan he'll talk to him in a little while, then passes his phone over. He sets the sandwiches on Cameron's desk.
Back in the kitchen with the tv tuned to the game, the dogs crowd around his feet as he eats his own sandwiches. Danny looks down at them. "These are mine," he says, and Zorah nudges his calf. "No, mine."
Cam brings his phone down after fifteen minutes, a sheepish expression on his face. "Sorry I snapped at you before," he mumbles.
"You want to talk about it?"
Cam looks hesitant. A flush rises in his cheeks, then he says, "It's nothing, really. I just had a stupid fight with Alex during lunch."
"What was the fight about?" Danny asks, hoping he sounds gentle, since Cameron seems like almost anything would spook him right now.
"I, um..." Cam squares his shoulders and says, "Our science project."
Danny would bet the entire contents of his bank account that they hadn't fought about their science project, but he's not going to push it. "Okay. You know you can always talk to me, right? About anything, Cam, no matter what."
Cameron squirms slightly. "I know. Me and Caelan talked a little. I'm going to email Alex later, about - stuff."
Danny bites his bottom lip so he doesn't smile. "All right. Go finish your homework, and if you want to order a movie or have a ping pong battle later, I'm game."
"Thanks, Dad." Cam darts in and hugs him. It's unexpected, but Danny hugs back tightly. Over Cam's shoulder, someone scores and the goal horn sounds. Cam turns in a hurry to look, and they both whoop as the announcer says the tally is Claude's.
"Um, yes?" Danny replies, raising his eyebrows, because he'd figured that out after the fourth time this month Claude called and asked if he'd mind watching René just for a few hours. The baby pats at his face with chubby hands, immediately trying to get Danny's attention, and Danny looks down at him. "I don't think René minds hanging out with me," he says to Claude.
"Mabahbahbah," René confirms. Danny grins at Claude.
Claude rolls his eyes and hands over the diaper bag. "We should be done in a few hours; I'll call you?"
Danny knows all about team meetings. He shrugs, shifting René a little in his arms. "Sure."
Claude looks at him for a long moment. Danny thinks he looks tired, even more than a single father should. Then Claude says, "Your hair's getting too long, old man," and tugs it lightly.
"You're kind of shaggy yourself," Danny replies, and then adds pointedly, "Bye, Claude."
Claude kisses René's forehead and runs for the doors. Danny watches him disappear into the building. The baby squirms, smacking at his face again. "Okay, okay, we'll go," Danny tells him, and buckles him into the carseat installed in his SUV, the one he in no way purchased last month just for Claude's kid, the one his own kids made fun of him for having.
He hands René one of the toys from the bag. "Bah bah bah," René babbles, showing him the squishy car-shaped thing. Danny's not sure exactly what it is.
"Yes, that," he answers, and René babbles a response before jamming the squishy thing into his mouth. Danny closes the car door and gets behind the wheel. He and René have a total routine down now: they go for a ride, Danny plays a little kids' music, René watches out the window for a while and talks to himself. Then they have a snack in the park near Danny's house, and after that, they go back to wherever Claude is.
Soon it'll be too chilly for the baby to sit in the park with his crackers, though. They'll have to find a new haunt. Danny glances up in the mirror; René is passing the toy from one hand to the other, intent. "Do you like Starbucks?" Danny asks him, and René blabbers something completely unintelligible. "Perfect."
Claude calls just over an hour later, so Danny returns to SkateZone with a drowsy kid, a tall mocha, and a muffin for Claude. "Aw, he's all worn out," Claude says as Danny passes René over. "What did you do to him?"
"Sat in the park and then got a coffee."
Claude rubs his nose against the baby's and calls him stinky while Danny tries not to grin. It's futile. Claude catches his expression and, after he's buckled René into his carseat, kicks at Danny's foot. "You can borrow him more often."
Danny laughs. "No, I'm good. I already did this." He hands Claude the Starbucks cup and bag.
"Thanks." Claude hops up into the driver's seat, sitting sideways with his legs hanging out the open door. He tilts his head at Danny. "You bored, Danny?"
"No," Danny replies instantly. Then he sighs. "Sometimes. Yes."
The look Claude gives him clearly speaks to the idea that it's Danny's own fault, but he doesn't voice it, just offers Danny a piece of the muffin. René howls something from the backseat that tapers off into a hum. "You see how my child feels about that," Claude says.
"I would throw this muffin at you if I didn't want to eat it."
Claude waggles his eyebrows, which looks ridiculous. Danny stuffs the muffin - carrot cake with pecans - in his mouth and waits him out. Sure enough, Claude says, "I'm going to need an actual, regular babysitter for Wednesdays, some Thursdays, and possibly some away games?"
"Why are you phrasing that like a question?" Danny replies, laughing at the ridiculous expression on Claude's face. "What you're really saying is, you need someone to watch René more often than you don't."
"Yeah. For a few months, at least, until I find a nanny I trust."
Danny knows how hard that is to do while playing full-time. He reaches out to steal another piece of the muffin and Claude slaps at his fingers. "Hey, I bought that," Danny complains. Claude smirks, but gives him a chunk with the sweet crumbly topping. "I guess I could watch your kid. For the right price."
"My eternal gratitude, undying love, and I'll bring you a coffee every time I drop him off?"
"I already had your undying love, but..." He shrugs. "That works."
Claude rolls his eyes and swings his legs up into the car. "See you tomorrow, then."
"Hey, Syl," Danny replies. "Didn't think you were coming to this one."
"I promised Cam I'd take him and his biology partner out for ice cream after." She grimaces. "Even though it's snowing."
Danny chuckles. As they settle onto the hard metal of the bleachers, he says, "All right, so. I have a serious question. Do you think our kids will ever speak to me again if I take the job in Pittsburgh?"
She gives him a look that says clearly he's an idiot, and adjusts her scarf. "I think the kids would get over it lightning fast. Your former teammates, on the other hand, might not."
"What?" Danny frowns. "What are you talking about?"
Sylvie laughs. "Seriously?"
"Seriously what?" He honestly doesn't know what she's trying to say.
Sylvie reaches for his hand, where he's got his fingers curled around his phone, and turns it palm-up so she can press the button to wake up the screen. The display comes to life, showing the picture of Claude and René that's Danny's lock screen.
"Now do you get it?" Sylvie asks.
"So? Cam's lock screen is Miley Cyrus," Danny replies stupidly, because what does an adorable picture of René running after Zorah while Claude chases after him have to do with Danny staying in Philly?
"Daniel, my God. Are you really this blind? You're not just this little boy's babysitter. Claude is in love with you."
"Sylvie, come on," Danny laughs, but her expression is dead serious. He swallows hard. "What... Fuck, really?"
The look on her face softens into something sympathetic. "He's loved you for years, Daniel."
Danny stares down at his hands, a thousand things running through his mind. Why hadn't Claude ever dropped any sort of hints? Or had he, and Danny'd missed all of them because he wasn't paying attention? Is this why Claude had always been so happy just to hang and do nothing at Danny's house, when he could have been out having a social life?
Sylvie squeezes his arm. "Guess you didn't know."
"I honestly didn't."
"Did I just make it weird? I'm sorry."
Danny thinks about it for a second, then shakes his head. "No. No, not at all. He's already family -" It's completely true, why is it a shock to realize it, to say it out loud? "- it's only that I never..."
"Thought about if you want to take him to bed?" she asks with a knowing look.
He feels himself flush even more, shivering slightly. "Honestly, it never crossed my mind."
Sylvie hums a little. Danny's glad the room is filling up, getting louder, because he knows what she's going to ask next. This way she has to lean close and take care to pitch her voice so that only he can hear it. "But it's crossing your mind now, right?"
Danny shivers again, breath catching. "Um, yeah."
She thumps him in the arm with her fist, smiling, and he chuckles. He's glad they've gotten to a point where this sort of conversation isn't horribly awkward, but he still never, ever wants to think about Claude, sex, and his ex-wife all at the same time again.
"Really, though, are you okay? With - this? Honestly, Daniel, I didn't mean to -"
"Stop," he cuts her off. "No apologies. I'm glad you told me." And he is. There are so many things that make sense now, and mostly, he feels relieved. A little anticipatory, and sort of breathless with the realization that yeah, he could be into it.
He also feels like a ton of bricks fell on his head, so it's probably better to concentrate on the good feelings.
"If you feel you need to get out of here and go call Claude, I can make your excuses to Cameron," Sylvie says. She schools her features into an innocent expression that Danny's not at all fooled by.
"Thanks, but he's doing a radio interview this afternoon."
"Aww, too bad," she says. She gives him a mocking smile, then bumps their shoulders together. "You're going to talk to him, though?"
"I am," Danny says, "because I'd be a fucking idiot not to."
Sylvie slugs him again. "That might be the smartest thing you've said in years."
About what? he writes back.
The organization, anything. Just that Ray says he hasn't heard back from you.
It's been three days since the Pens offered Danny the job. He still hasn't completely made up his mind. It's - he's tempted, so tempted. Pittsburgh would be a relatively fresh start, letting him be in the NHL again, still keeping him close to hockey.
He'd been on the verge of saying yes only twenty-four hours ago, until Sylvie had brought up Claude.
No, no questions. Thx Sid, he responds.
Then he moves out of the way so one of the employees can get past his cart before he calls Claude. Who doesn't answer - a check of the time tells Danny he's probably napping - so Danny leaves a message. "I think we need to talk. Let me know if you want to get dinner some time in the next week or so, just us. Um, no hurry or anything." He pauses. "Have a good game, cher."
He has to wait for his hands to stop shaking after that, but then he calls Ray Shero. "I appreciate the offer," he says, once they've gotten past the pleasantries. "Very much so. It means a lot to me that the organization would offer."
"But you're declining."
"I am declining."
Shero hums, asks if Danny's sure, but doesn't try to talk him out of it. "You know Sid's going to call you now - he really wanted you here."
"I'm flattered, honestly," Danny replies, and Shero laughs before he says goodbye.
It takes Danny a minute to remember where he is on his shopping list. Eggs. Right, of course he needs eggs.
Claude calls him back later in the afternoon when Danny's just gotten home from a run and is trying to decide if he really wants to do the laundry, and says of course he'll go to dinner, he's free next Tuesday night, and then says, "Um, Danny, I need to ask. When you say dinner - is this like a date?"
Danny takes a deep breath. "Exactly like a date."
"Oh. I - okay. Yes."
Finally, he settles on the most well-tailored of his options, a suit that actually skims the lines of his body, instead of one of the boxier ones he used to just throw on after a game.
"Okay, wow, you weren't kidding about this being a date," is the first thing Claude says, when Danny picks him up at his house in Cherry Hill. He's wearing a thin sweater with a v-neck, slacks, and dress shoes. "Do I need to change?"
Danny clears his throat. He's still sort of stuck on how the sweater makes Claude's shoulders look, a part of him Danny had never really looked at like this before. "Uh, no. No. You're fine."
"You're going with fine?" Claude laughs as he slides into the passenger seat of the sleek sports car Danny almost never drives but felt was rather appropriate tonight.
Danny coughs to get rid of the strangled feeling in his throat, then says firmly, "You look good."
"Thank you. So do you." Claude reaches over and runs a finger down Danny's lapel. "I don't think I've seen this suit before. It's slightly more, uh, stylish than your usual."
"Thanks," Danny says dryly, relaxing a little.
At the very nice, very expensive restaurant, the maitre'd shows them immediately to a quiet corner table. Claude hums in approval, saying, "When was the last time we went to dinner, without kids?"
"I honestly can't remember."
"Or even ate somewhere without macaroni and cheese on the menu," Claude adds.
Danny laughs and orders them a bottle of wine. "You're the one who always orders a side of macaroni and cheese," he chuckles once the sommelier has departed.
Claude flashes him a wide grin before he disappears behind the tall menu.
They both decide on fish, and Danny's glad he chose a white wine. "So," Claude says, after the server has gone and they're alone again in the candle-lit corner. "Are you going to write some exposé for the Flyers Wives' newsletter? My Date with Claude Giroux." He punctuates it with a floaty hand movement, making Danny roll his eyes and kick Claude lightly under the table.
"Honestly, I should give you shit for admitting you know the newsletter still exists," he replies. "And for thinking you're so great that our date warrants an exposé."
Claude arches a brow. "I picked up Monsieur Giroux at his Cherry Hill residence. He wore his best sweater, and his best shoes. Unfortunately, I'd worn my most well-fitting suit, making Monsieur Giroux swoon, and also want to get the name of my tailor."
Danny's laughing so hard he has to muffle it with his hand. Claude looks self-satisfied, and takes a long drink of his wine. His expression is heated over the edge of the glass, and Danny shivers slightly.
They talk less once their plates arrive, busy eating, but Claude keeps catching Danny's eye and smiling. "So, uh," Danny begins, once he's finished and set down his fork, "are you glad that we officially labeled this a date?"
"Yes," Claude replies immediately.
After some deliberation, they split a dessert. Danny thinks about ordering another bottle of wine, but he has to drive, and he's not twenty-two anymore besides. He does fork-wrestle Claude for the last bite of cake, but he loses. Claude grins triumphantly and nudges Danny's foot gently under the table.
"Are we doing this again?" he asks.
Danny slides his credit card into the leather billfold without looking at the total. "I don't know; would you call this one a success?"
"Without a doubt. Besides, you need to avenge your dessert honor." He smirks, and Danny rolls his eyes.
He drives Claude back to Cherry Hill. Claude's got one hand on the door handle when he says, "I would invite you in, but I finally understand what you meant when you couldn't come out with us because of the boys."
Danny smiles. "Give René a kiss for me."
Claude lets go of the handle and reaches over to curl his fingers in the lapel of Danny's jacket. "Seriously, this suit is ridiculous," he murmurs, then tugs Danny close enough for Claude to brush their mouths together. Danny reaches up, cups his jaw, feels the stubble against his palm.
Claude pulls back slightly, just enough to look Danny in the eye, His expression is hesitant. "I really do want to invite you in."
"There's time," Danny murmurs. He hopes Claude will get what he means.
It takes him a second, but: "You're not going to Pittsburgh?"
Claude kisses him again, a little firmer this time. "I'm glad." He breathes in Danny's space a second more, then pulls back. "And I'm really glad you asked me out."
"You said that already, but. Me too."
"See you Thursday." Claude smiles at him once more and gets out of the car.
"Uh," Claude replies, his face scrunching up into his I'm thinking expression.
Danny grins and punches him lightly in the shoulder. "You don't need to give me an answer right now. Just think about it, okay?"
They're leaning against the boards and panting for breath in between drills at practice the next day, and Danny figures it can't hurt to ask again. Claude looks confused, but that could be because he's watching Richie weave a puck around a set of cones. Then his expression clears and with a guarded glance at Danny, he says, "Really, you want me to live with you?"
"Yeah." He knows Claude's apartment is on a month-to-month lease, a holdover from the days of not knowing where he'll be one week to the next. "It'll be fun," he teases, hitting Claude's shin with his stick.
Claude laughs, elbowing him lightly. "You just want someone to help drive your boys around," he chuckles, "but that's okay. I'm not doing anything else with my free time."
"Free time, what's that?" Danny asks, then pushes off the boards to take his next turn.
"Sorry, I kept him up," Claude would apologize every time. Caelan would look at him with wide eyes and add, "We were just really into it, Dad, sorry."
Danny was never that mad, but he's still use his Dad Voice. "Bed. Now."
Caelan would hurry off to brush his teeth, and Danny would pretend to glare at Claude for a few seconds before asking if he was staying. The answer was always yes, and then Claude would pout at him until Danny sprawled out on the couch to play a few a few rounds of the game before going back to bed.
So Claude being here all the time now isn't a huge change, although Danny has to make a rule about staying up past midnight that includes everyone, even the adults, even though school and the season haven't started yet. Caelan stops arguing once Claude points out he can't stay up all night, either. "But my dad's not your dad," Caelan says, looking confused.
"No, and I am very glad he's not," Claude laughs, scooping strawberry frozen yogurt into Danny's bright blue bowls, "but it is his house. And sadly, being an adult really isn't about getting to stay up late for no reason. I know I thought it was when I was a kid, but buddy, I'm tired by ten."
"Ugh," Caelan groans, and takes his ice cream into the den.
Danny does his best not to roll his eyes, and is thankful that Cam and Carson are still young enough that they almost always fall asleep within a couple hours of eating dinner. Cam's practically nodding off into his bowl right now, so Danny catches Claude's eye and says, "Don't scoop me any, I'm going to eat Cam's."
Cameron jerks upright. "What? No, it's mine," he says indignantly, curling his arm around the bowl while everyone laughs.
Claude hops onto the stool next to him and bumps Danny's shoulder with his own, grinning. "You can share mine."
"Gee, thanks." But he steals a spoonful from Claude's anyway, while Carson snickers and aims balled-up napkins at Cam's head. "Carson, seriously?"
Carson blinks innocently. "What?"
"He's asleep in his ice cream; let's save him the indignity of you bouncing napkins off his forehead."
"The indignity," Claude intones seriously. Danny kicks him under the counter. He looks around his bright, warm kitchen - one sleepy kid and one chattering about video games, Zoey and Zorah waiting to lick empty bowls, Claude bumping against him offering another bite - and has to admit he feels less lonely than he has in months.
The doorbell rings and Cameron shoots him an annoyed look. "Dad. Doorbell."
Danny puts down the Soft Scrub and the sponge and reluctantly goes to see who it is.
It's Claude, because no one else ever comes to Danny's house. "You have keys," Danny says. "Also, why are you here?"
"My mom is in town, and kicked me out of my own house so she could have time with René. And I thought keying in would be weird after we made out in the car." Claude turns pink as he says it.
"You're an idiot, it's not weird, and we weren't really making out."
Claude grins and steps toward him, because clearly he'd been planning to take that as a challenge. Danny hurries to say, "Cam's home. And his lab partner BFF is with him. In the kitchen."
"You're too old to say BFF like that," Claude counters.
Danny rolls his eyes. "Plus, you interrupted my attempts to listen in on their conversation. They had some sort of drama the other week and I desperately want to know what it is."
Claude stares at him for a second, wide-eyed. "Okay, you really need to get out of the house." Then he shouts, "Cam, I'm stealing your dad for dinner, don't burn the house down!"
"We won't!" Cameron and Alex yell back in unison. Danny sighs.
Claude grabs Danny's coat from the hook and tosses it at him. "Come on."
The place he takes Danny to is a bar-and-grill type in Pennsauken, the likes of which Danny hasn't been to in years. "Really?" he asks, as Claude maneuvers his truck into a spot by the curb.
"Gotta mix in a place that's not so fancy once in a while," Claude laughs. He leans over to squeeze Danny's knee. "And I'm having a very large burger tonight. You can't stop me."
Danny smiles and lifts his hands as if to say, I wouldn't dream of it.
The restaurant is busy, but Claude waves at the hostess and weaves through the tightly-packed tables to an empty two-seater near the back. The menus are small laminated cards stuck into wire display devices. Claude yanks theirs out and says, "Okay, tell me the Cameron drama."
"I don't even know a quarter of it," Danny groans. He drapes his coat over the back of the chair. "No, wait, I don't know any of it, because none of my kids will tell me even though they've all talked about it, and you interrupted my attempt at eavesdropping."
"Sad," Claude replies, mocking him. Danny bumps their legs together under the tiny table as he sits down, and plucks the menu card from between Claude's fingers. "So what do you think it is?" Claude asks.
"Cam tried to tell me it was about their homework, which was a total lie." Danny looks up as the waitress approaches, and after a second of deliberation with himself, orders a non-light beer. Claude grins and orders the same, and a plate of nachos for an appetizer.
"They're good, trust me," he says when he sees the face Danny's making. "So, you were saying?"
"Whatever it is, Cam told Caelan, but not me. My guess is they were either fighting about a girl, or having some sort of relationship drama. Themselves. Together."
Claude's eyebrows are nearly to his hairline. "You think Cam's gay?"
"Honestly, honestly, I have no idea."
"Didn't he have that girlfriend last summer?"
"So what?" Danny gestures at himself, and a smile flashes across Claude's face.
The waitress returns with their beers. Danny takes a sip of his before saying, "It was probably about a girl."
"Probably." Claude knocks their bottles together in a belated sort of cheers. "Are you going up to Gatineau for Christmas?"
"Cam's got a game on the twenty-third; I'm not sure it's worth trying to go," Danny admits. He gathers condensation from the bottle with his thumb, wipes it on a napkin. "And Caelan's going to his girlfriend's, and Carson's billet family sounds really excited about him staying up there. Did you make plans?"
Claude shakes his head. "You and Cam should come to our place."
"You and René should come to our place." Danny smirks as he says it, knowing Claude will give in without a fight.
Claude chuckles. "That way you don't have to bring your ancient dogs along."
"Their lives are hard, you couldn't possibly understand," Danny says, laughing, and Claude grins at him over his beer and hooks his ankle around Danny's under the table.
There's a note on the kitchen fridge from Cameron when they get back to Haddonfield, reading went to movies - back before 11 - I THINK. "I guess we have the house to ourselves," Danny says, waving it at Claude.
"Did they go as friends, or was it a date?"
"Stop," Danny groans, and Claude laughs, sliding his arm around Danny's waist and squeezing. Danny gives him a soft smile and Claude ducks in, catching his mouth in a beer-flavored kiss that's slow and steady, going on so long that Danny feels his knees start to wobble.
"Mm, come on." Claude steers him into the den and arranges them to his liking on the soft cushions of the sofa.
Danny presses his face into Claude's neck and takes a deep breath. "You still smell like nachos."
"Shut up," Claude grumbles, but he's laughing at the same time, the movement vibrating through Danny as well. "And what's this? Retirement?" Claude asks. He skims his fingers over Danny's belly, poking the tiny bit of pudge Danny's put on in the last couple years. "All our random mochas, muffins, and dinners?"
Danny squirms and smacks Claude on the arm, half annoyed and half breathless with laughter because it tickles. "Stop it, you ass. You want someone with zero percent body fat, I'll set you up with Crosby," he grumbles.
Claude freezes, his eyes wide.
"Claude?" Danny asks. His stomach does something that's a lot like a somersault, and he swallows hard.
"Um," Claude says, dumbly. His face has turned bright red.
Danny's known Claude long enough to know what that look means. "Shit, you didn't."
Claude sighs. "Yeah, I did." He moves back slightly, but Danny holds on tight with one hand and slides his fingers though Claude's hair with the other, tilting Claude's head so he can see his face when he asks Claude, softly, to tell him about it.
"I, uh." Claude clears his throat, then sniffs. He settles his head on Danny's chest. Danny pets him gently, waiting. Claude sighs. "Okay. It started during the Olympics."
"Yes, um. We - we kept going for a couple months after." He chuckles, and adds, "Still some goodwill between us at that point, I guess. But then it was more work than either one of us wanted to put into it, even for great sex."
Danny closes his mouth, because his jaw has dropped. "You went back and forth?" he asks, briefly flashing on a future where he works for the Pens, but spends weekends with Claude. But Danny wants more than that, he does, and Claude confirms this when he answers.
"For a while. A very brief while. With our schedules, really, Danny, it only worked out to a couple times after the Olympics. It just wasn't worth it." Claude lifts his head and looks at him straight on. "Are - are you all right?"
Danny swallows hard. "Only surprised." He raises a hand to tangle his fingers in Claude's hair again, and then he starts to laugh. "Really, though, Crosby?" he manages to ask, and keeps laughing as Claude's face flushes even more.
"You're not mad?"
"No, but now I have a question of my own - is this why you were so weird about the Pens offer?"
Claude shrugs. "A little, maybe? I didn't think Sid would say anything, but it was definitely a strange prospect, you know? Especially since - since Sid knows I really like you." He turns red again and Danny is completely charmed.
"I promise, I won't ask for details about the sex," he says, solely to see Claude choke. It's worth the punch that lands hard on his arm.
"I'd tell you, honestly," Claude manages, still coughing. He shifts slightly on top of Danny, settling more comfortably. His sweater is slightly scratchy.
Danny meets his gaze and says quietly, "You could have told me about Sid before. Anytime."
Claude screws up his face into something that looks pained. "I didn't want to... I don't know. It's Crosby."
The last is almost a whine, and Danny chuckles a little. He kisses Claude firmly but says, "Well, I'm glad you told me. We should talk about that sort of stuff. But it's almost eleven, so maybe we should save it for another night."
"Ugh, I should probably go home."
Danny wishes he didn't have to. Claude must read his expression, because he thumbs Danny's bottom lip and kisses him, mouth sliding wetly over Danny's. Then he stops suddenly. "Did you say no to the Pens because of me?"
"Partly," Danny admits. Claude gives him a pointed look. "Mostly. But not just you, okay, René too."
Claude gives him another look and Danny hurries to say, "I don't want to have any more kids myself, but René's great."
"I guess," Claude replies, so clearly kidding that Danny pokes him hard in the side.
"I would miss him a lot."
Claude makes a noise that's nearly a squeak and kisses Danny hard, pressing them both down against the couch cushions again. Danny yelps himself as Claude's hand slides up his thigh, cupping his groin. "I know it sounds awful," Claude says between kisses, "but you liking my kid is a definite turn-on."
Danny laughs and twitches at the same time, because Claude's hand is hot against him, and Danny's getting turned on himself. "Okay, I guess you can come upstairs, as long as your mom won't care that you're not home."
Claude hustles him up the stairs. Danny gets groped like he hasn't in years, and has to stop three-quarters of the way up to kiss Claude messily, both of them bumping against the wall. They stumble, somehow completely uncoordinated, down the short distance of the hallway to Danny's bedroom. Claude shuts the door. "I didn't make my bed this morning," Danny mumbles against Claude's neck.
"Don't care." Claude shoves him into it, climbing on top of him a second later, his hand going to the button of Danny's jeans.
Danny grins up at him. He squeezes the back of Claude's neck. "Really?"
"I wanted to fuck on the first date," Claude reminds him.
Danny starts to chuckle, but it turns into a moan as Claude gets a hand into his briefs and around his cock. "Oh, God, I'm really too old for you to jerk me off in my jeans," he says, hearing his own voice break as Claude tightens his grip.
"Nope, never." The words are hot in his ear. Danny shudders, tries to get Claude's slacks open, but Claude moves his hips away and says, "No, hey - let me, Danny, for now."
Danny mumbles something he hopes is close to "okay", because he's definitely not going to argue, and also because Claude is stroking him exactly the way Danny likes it, and shit, how does Claude know?
"Oh, lucky guess," Claude says, which is when Danny understands he'd been talking out loud. "Relax."
"Let me take my pants off," Danny grumbles. He hasn't had sex while still dressed in, like, fifteen years. But Claude just straddles his body and laughs against his neck, the message clear. Danny slumps back against the messy sheets, at least managing to get a hand up under Claude's sweater, running his fingers along the warm skin of Claude's side. "More kissing," Danny demands, feeling breathless, pulling Claude closer with his other hand.
Claude complies, his touch slowing. Danny takes the opportunity to undo Claude's button and zipper. "Ah, sneaky," Claude gasps out as Danny thumbs the head of his cock.
"Mm," Danny agrees. He drags his fingertips down Claude's length, then back up, just to feel. Claude doesn't move beyond pressing kisses to the line of Danny's jaw, letting him touch. Danny's seen Claude minus clothes hundreds of times, but never this close. And he's never actually looked at Claude's cock before. He looks now, watching himself get a firmer grip and stroke a few times.
"Okay?" Claude breathes in his ear.
Danny remembers Claude's done this before. He arches up a little and says, "Yeah, you feel good," and Claude groans, mumbles something completely incomprehensible, and nips at Danny's earlobe. Danny sucks in a breath and tugs at Claude's sweater, wanting to feel more, touch more, everything more. Claude mumbles something else, a hot damp exhale of breath across a sensitive part of Danny's neck, making Danny moan his name and yank harder at his shirt.
"Yeah, yes, naked," Claude says. There's a flurry of clothes as they shuck almost everything, and then Claude dives down on top of Danny again. Danny groans at the slide of Claude's cock along his own.
"Wait, I -" Claude starts, then huffs against Danny's neck and turns them over, rolling Danny on top. His fingertips press hard into Danny's hips and Danny leans forward to kiss him again, skimming his mouth over Claude's first, then biting Claude's lower lip. Claude groans into the kiss, sliding a hand up to thumb Danny's nipples until it's too much and Danny has to knock his fingers away.
Claude's hand comes to his hip again, shifting them both slightly. Danny looks down, fascinated by the flush creeping along Claude's chest, and watches as another slight shift in Claude's position brings their cocks into alignment. Claude looks up with a lopsided smile and asks in a matter-of-fact voice, "Can you come like this?"
Danny has no doubt; he's finding it hard to draw full breaths and the top of his head feels like it's on fire. "Mmm, yeah," he says.
"Come down here, then." Claude rolls his hips upward and pulls Danny down by the shoulder at the same time, steady pace despite their messy and frantic kisses, Danny hears someone gasping, bitten-off sounds, and it's not until Claude also groans that Danny realizes he's the noisy one. But Claude seems to like it, his hands everywhere on Danny, cupping his ass, brushing over his cock, sliding up his back.
Danny's orgasm slams into him like he's been checked from behind without seeing the hit coming. Through the fog, he can hear Claude repeating his name. It's a dim hurried mumble at first, then louder, and then Claude's whole body goes tense for a few seconds. "Fuck, Danny," he gasps, as Danny laughs tiredly and kisses his neck.
Neither one of them moves for a minute. Then Danny lifts himself off of Claude and cleans them both up with tissues from the box on the nightstand. He tosses them away and leans against the headboard. "So. That went well?"
Claude gives him a look that says clearly, of course it did, and pushes himself up into a sitting position to kiss him. Danny slides a hand through his hair, then cups Claude's stubbled jaw, stroking Claude's cheek with his thumb.
"Oh shit, I need to go before my mom starts calling," Claude mumbles, even as he's still pressing kisses to Danny's mouth.
Danny snorts and pushes him away. "Go on then, you mess."
Claude scrambles around for his clothes, then pauses in yanking his pants back on to say, "Really, though, I knew you were sold on the baby when you kept volunteering to babysit."
"I'd rather babysit him than the Penguins," Danny says with a chuckle, wiggling down and flopping onto his back on the bed.
He hears the front door open downstairs and Cameron yells, "Dad, G., I'm home!"
"That's great, Cameron," Claude yells back. "Home from your date," he whispers, and Danny slaps at his chest.
Claude leans over and manages to kiss him through his laughter, then straightens up. "So, I'm on the road a couple days next week, but: dinner? Next Friday? Drinks, even?"
"And we need to have a discussion."
Danny raises his eyebrows. "About?"
"This." Claude gestures between them. "And what it - what it means. And um, what we should do if people find out."
Danny slides his hand behind his head to prop himself up and says, "Is that something we're expecting?"
"Maybe? Possibly, eh?" Claude shrugs. Then he grins. "What are your feelings on chairing the Carnival?"
Danny swears at him, loudly and in several languages, and Claude's laughter echoes his whole way down the stairs.
"Which jersey should I wear, yours or Claude's?"
Danny turns to look at his youngest. Cam is holding both jerseys, a conflicted expression on his face. His worry is sweet and Danny wants to give him a hug. He asks, "What do you think?"
"Wearing yours feels like it's some sort of eff-you to the Flyers, for letting you go," Cameron says. "You know? And I want them to win, not eff-off. But wearing Claude's when I could wear yours doesn't feel right, either."
"I appreciate you avoiding the word fuck," Danny chuckles, "but as the last remaining child at home, you can swear around me. Just don't tell your mother." Cameron grins. Danny continues, "I think you're too worried about what other people will think, about the jersey. Which one do you want to wear?"
"There, see? And I'll wear Claude's then. That'll save me from deciding what of this stuff to choose."
Cam passes the jersey over and Danny pulls it on over the sweater he'd worn all day. "All right?"
Cam gives him a dorky thumbs up. "Claude will get a kick out of it," he replies.
Danny lets the dogs out, makes sure he's got the tickets and his rolled-up sign, yells for Cameron to bring their coats, and then they hit the road.
Danny avoided WFC for a while after the buyout, but he's gone to a few games over the last couple years, mostly at Claude and Hartsy's insistence. He still gets the same weird feeling, though, a strange tightness in his chest and sweaty palms his first few minutes in the building. But it passes faster today, Cam keeping him distracted by chattering about his morning practice and his game tomorrow night, insisting that he needs chicken fingers and a soft pretzel at the same time.
Danny's phone vibrates in his pocket just as they find their seats. GORILLA, reads Claude's pre-game ritual. Then, happy u & Cam r here ;-)
GORILLA :-) :-) me too, Danny writes back.
He's sure the people sitting next to them recognize him, but other than glancing over a few times, they keep it to themselves. Danny takes a picture of the ice and sends it to Caelan and Carson with the caption wish you guys were here. Then he steals bites of Cam's pretzel while he waits for warm-ups to start.
"Dad, get your own," Cam mutters, slapping at Danny's fingers.
"But I want this one."
They're on the Pens side. Cam grumbles under his breath at this, but Danny's amused. Plus, he has a plan. Crosby and Malkin pause just in front of them, perfect. Danny whips out his sign while Cameron stares at him. Sid sees it and cracks up. Malkin looks confused, his mouth hanging open. "Told you I'd do it," Danny calls.
"I'm still mad at you for turning us down," Sid calls back, then tugs a still gawking Malkin away.
"Dad, why does your sign say 'Marry me, Sidney' in giant letters?" Cameron asks, voice faint.
Danny rolls the cardstock up again. "Inside joke."
Cam narrows his eyes. "Won't Claude be mad?"
Danny has to cover his mouth with his hand to stifle his laugh. "Claude's in on the joke," he manages to say.
Cameron doesn't look entirely convinced by this explanation, but lets it go. Danny's glad, because there are still some things he doesn't need to tell his kids.
"You didn't cook this," Claude says.
"He didn't," Cam says, before Danny can even reply. "Three people in a van brought it twenty minutes ago. I hope it's not cold already."
Danny rolls his eyes to the ceiling and hopes Cam either gets drafted or goes to college. "Quit making it sound so shady, Cameron."
"That means it was expensive," Cam tells Claude.
"Please finish getting out plates and silverware," Danny says, and Cam groans and hops off the stool he'd been balancing on. René lets go of Claude and skids toward Danny in his socked feet. Danny swings him up. "Hungry, buddy?"
"Not for Christmas dinner," Danny says, chuckling. "How about ham?"
René sighs. "Okay."
"Mashed potatoes?" Danny tries. René makes a scrunched-up face. "Green beans?" René shakes his head. "Sweet potato with marshmallows?"
"Did you order everything the catering company had?" Claude asks, snagging a piece of roasted cauliflower.
Danny sets René down, then squeezes the back of Claude's neck. "I figured no one would complain about leftovers. You can take some home, if you want. Or stay here for a few days and help us eat it all."
"Huh. So how are we doing this? I mean, there's no place left to sit at the table, there's so much stuff."
"Buffet-style?" Danny suggests with a shrug. He slides his hand up into Claude's messy hair. "We can eat in the den, I DVR'ed the parade."
Claude gives him a blank look. "Parade?" he asks, just as René yells, "Eggs!" and Cameron laughs so hard he nearly falls over.
"You're all terrible, honestly. I don't know why I love you," Danny tells them, but he can't help his chuckle. Claude grins at him and scoops up René to blow a raspberry on his belly while he yells.
They do end up watching the recorded Disney parade while they eat; Danny, Claude, and Cam squished onto the couch while René sits on a towel on the floor in case he spills. Claude piles all his ham onto a dinner roll and then swipes it through mashed potatoes and gravy while Danny watches, confused and fascinated at the same time.
"What, you've never made a sandwich?" Claude asks when he realizes Danny's watching. "Here, try."
He holds it out, threatening to get gravy everywhere, so Danny takes a bite. "That's - carbs," he says lamely.
"It's good, don't make fun of me."
"I live to make fun of you," Danny replies. "René, you're supposed to eat those green beans, not play with them."
René makes a face like Danny has taken away all his toys, but stuffs a green bean in his mouth. On-screen, a giant Goofy is leading some sort of marching band. Danny has absolutely no idea what is happening. He's perfectly fine with that.
"Danny," Claude says.
"I love you."
Danny looks up from his plate at Claude's solemn face. "Love you, too."
On Claude's other side, Cameron groans dramatically. "We know, okay, just get married already!"
"Cameron," Danny admonishes, but Claude doesn't seem bothered, just smiles at Danny like Danny's some sort of revelation, and murmurs, "Merry Christmas, cher," before he leans in to kiss him softly.
Epilogue - June, 2021
Claude smiles at him, wide and happy, and reaches over to sweep his thumb across Danny's cheekbone. "Just got me all choked up, seeing you choked up."
"Oh, shut up." He slides his hand into Claude's and squeezes.
As they watch Caelan and Noelle head to the limo that will take them to the reception, Claude hooks his chin over Danny's shoulder and murmurs, "One kid married and one kid in elementary school," with laughter in his voice.
"Stop reminding me." Danny sniffs as Caelan picks up Noelle and twirls her around before they climb, laughing and smiling, into the car.
Claude kisses his cheek. "Love you."
"Love you, too."
"Come on, I'm sure we've got a ride around here somewhere. I think Cam's already run off with René, anyway."
The next hour is a whirl of getting to the reception hall, talking to so many people Danny feels like he's back in a locker room being surrounded by reporters, shaking hands and hugging and meeting all of Noelle's relatives that he hasn't been introduced to yet. Claude's right there next to him, though, beaming every time Danny says, "And this is my husband, Claude," even though everyone here already knows who they both are. Danny had laughed for several minutes straight when he'd found out Noelle's mom's side of the family was from Hearst.
Finally, they get through dinner and cake, and Danny stands up and gives his "thanks for asking your dad to be your best man" speech while managing to not get all choked up again. It doesn't help that Noelle's got tears running down her face and Caelan looks watery-eyed.
Claude holds his hand tight as they watch Caelan and Noelle drift across the dance floor to a dreamy-sounding song that Danny doesn't recognize and is perfectly happy to admit he's probably too old to care about. He leans his head on Claude's shoulder and murmurs, "Are you sad we didn't do the big wedding thing?"
"Nope. Our city hall trip was perfect."
Someone jostles Claude from the other side, and Danny looks around him to see René. "Dad, can I take my shoes off?" he asks. He looks just like a miniature version of Claude, right down to their matching suits and missing teeth. At least René's will come back in.
René heaves a sigh like his shoes had been killing him. He nudges them carefully under Claude's chair. "Thank you. Are we going to dance?"
"Caelan and Noelle have to dance a few songs first, but then you can join in if you want," Claude tells him.
René considers this for a moment. "Will you and Danny come with me?"
Claude glances over, and Danny winks in reply. Claude turns back to René and smooths his hair down where it's started to stick up. "You bet we will. Did you eat your dinner?"
"Cam finished the chicken for me. But I ate all the potatoes. And the vegetables."
"Awesome, I just didn't want you to only eat cake," Claude says, and undoes René's bowtie for him. "There, you don't have to wear this anymore."
"Oh, good. Can I go now? Please?"
René runs off in his socked feet and Danny watches him find Cameron, who has apparently been the person in charge of holding René's iPod full of games for him. "He's a good kid but in no way am I expecting him to hang out and sit still the whole day," Claude had whispered in Danny's ear when he slid the iPod into his jacket pocket this morning.
"I'm definitely not arguing that point," Danny had chuckled, before trying once again to get René's bowtie to cooperate.
The song changes, and Caelan turns around and points at Danny. "Dad, come on!" he calls.
"Oh, God," Danny groans, but gets up. Noelle's parents are also being waved out onto the floor, and Sylvie and her husband.
"Claude, you too!" Caelan shouts. Claude raises his eyebrows at Danny and stands up from the table.
Danny and Claude have danced together before, but mostly just stupid moves in their living room to entertain René, once in shabby zombie costumes. Claude must realize what he's thinking, because he says, "Come on, let's do it like we did on Halloween," making Danny laugh even as he tugs Claude close and wraps his arms around Claude's waist.
It's a slow song - Danny doesn't recognize this one, either - and the guests who are actually paying attention are clapping and whistling every so often. He can hear a few good-natured chirps, too. Claude must hear them as well, because he whispers, "Who told Caelan it was okay to invite Scotty?"
Danny cracks up, and they giggle their way through the rest of the song. Then Caelan and Noelle banish all the parents from the dance floor so the rest of their wedding party can dance, so Danny gets himself and Claude each a glass of wine, and they sit down again to watch René jump around in his best seven-year-old attempt at dancing. Claude slides his arm around Danny's shoulders. "You know you're going to have grandkids before René's even in high school."
"Please do not remind me."
"Good thing you've got that cushy nine-to-five job now."
Retirement had gotten boring once René started kindergarten. The Flyers front office was hiring at the time, and the hard feelings were long gone, so Danny put his name in. Now he spends his days arguing good-naturedly with Pronger about prospects and looking at stats until his eyes cross. "Don't lie, you like it that I'm home when you get home," he says, patting Claude's thigh with his free hand.
"I guess it's nice." Claude presses a quick kiss just in front of Danny's ear. "It would be nicer if you could cook."
Danny swats at him. "I've gotten better."
"You have." Claude gives him another lopsided smile. "And you make up for it in other ways."
"Ssh, there are kids around," Danny whispers, grinning and gently tapping their glasses together.
Claude takes a sip, then says, "You know, Cam said René could bunk with him in the hotel tonight. We could drive back to Gatineau. Have the whole house to ourselves."
Danny seriously can't remember the last time he and Claude had the entire house to themselves overnight. "As if I am going to say no to that. However. You know we'll just fall asleep immediately, because we're old."
"You're old," Claude grumbles, and stops Danny's half-hearted protests with a kiss. "You'd better stay awake," he whispers against Danny's mouth. "I'll make it worth your while."
Danny nearly drops his wine, but recovers. He tips his forehead against Claude's. "You always do."