“You here for me?”
Danny lingers on watching some of the younger guys skate for a moment before turning around. The sounds of blades cutting through the ice fills the air in the silence. He breathes in once, taking in the comforting smell of recycled cold air, before nodding at Claude.
“You and everyone else. Here to watch,” he adds, keeping his tone friendly. He ignores the way Claude shuffles from one skate to the other.
“You can’t adopt any of them, you know.”
Danny smiles, his gaze turning back to the gaggle of kids standing in the corner. He feels a wave of fondness rush over him as he watches TK - “Please, call me TK, it’d be weird if you didn’t!” - flits from person to person, getting in their space, making them smile and facewash him. If Danny were on the team still, he knows he’d have TK in his guest room faster than the kid could even pretend he wanted to be on his own.
“You’re right,” Danny says, observing as Hayes tries to pick TK up and seemingly suplex him. They get yelled at by AV seconds later.
He hears Claude shuffle over and stop at his elbow. Danny feels like he should be on the ice already. Practice technically started 5 minutes ago. He tells Claude so and tries not to hitch his shoulders too high when he just rolls his eyes.
“You can’t tell me what to do anymore, you know that.”
Nonetheless, Claude takes a few steps to the right after dawdling a few seconds more, and disappears onto the ice to corral his teammates. Danny sits back and watches the next hour in peace, his mind alternating between considering the sights in front of him and remembering his own time on this ice.
As he’s lost in a memory of betting Richie that Hartsy couldn’t go five-hole 3 times in a row - he absolutely couldn’t and Danny still feels embarrassed for thinking he could - he feels someone sit beside him and the faint noises of a baby whuffling.
He turns his head and sits straighter, his eyes landing on Ryanne and Gavin. Ryanne smiles at him, serene and calm, if not a bit sneaky, and just shoves Gavin into Danny’s hands. He curses his arms for lifting without his permission, but he can’t help himself. He takes the ever-growing baby in delight, gently pulling him in to nuzzle at his hair.
As he’s cooing over the wiggling Gavin in his arms, he hears Ryanne say, “So are you coming back?”
He hesitates, focusing for a moment on making noises at Gavin that make him giggle in delight. Moments later, however, he nods once and says, “I think so. Gordon wants to hire me as an assistant coach.”
“That’d be smart,” Ryanne says, her voice steady, “You were always the best at guiding them, especially when it matters.”
Danny feels warm at her words and gives her a small smile. He knows this isn’t easy, so he says so. “But I appreciate it, you and Claude being so agreeable.”
“Claude is very agreeable, actually. Too agreeable,” She tacks on, giving the man on the ice a suddenly hard look. Danny shifts uncomfortably and goes to say - what, he has no idea, but he doesn’t have to. Ryanne continues. “Listen, Danny. Things are going to be weird. You’re going to be coaching your ex-husband, who only left you because of his paranoia about his sexuality which he’s now over, and I come to most practices and games now. Let’s just deal with it now.”
“Okay,” Danny says, unsure what else to add.
“Do you still love him?”
Mon dieu , Danny thinks, his grip on Gavin alternating between tight and loose. The baby continues to wag his blanket in Danny’s face. Danny, however, is just staring at Claude, who is currently leading a drill on the ice. Every fiber of Danny’s being yearns for a previous time, years before, where a voice that sounded a lot like Hartsy’s yelled out “Mrs. Giroux, after you,” before slamming Danny playfully into the boards. A time where he, G, and Sean drove home after practice, and Sean would give them a small, knowing smile before disappearing off into his room to call Laurence. A time where Danny, his hands still gently clutching the baby in his grip, dreamed of having another baby of his own with Claude.
Sighing, wiping it all away as quickly and easily as the man in question did, he shook his head. Lying through his teeth with all the confidence he can muster, he says, “No.”
It must do the job, because Ryanne nods and looks visibly relieved. Danny tries desperately not to think about why it’s such a concern for her, why he’s such a threat to her. In that moment, they watch as Claude, just finished the drill, looks up and over at the bleachers. His face seems torn between delight and dread as he observes his ex-spouse and current spouse sitting together. Danny only smirks and uses Gavin’s little hand to send Claude a wave. It causes even Ryanne to chuckle softly, as they all watch Claude look vaguely ill for a moment before turning away, shaking his head.
As Danny looks down to adjust Gavin’s sweater, he hears Ryanne say, “You know why I asked.”
A couple hours later, Danny walks into his house and immediately stumbles over shoes. Sighing deeply and rolling his eyes, he reaches down to move them out of the way, and feels a sharp pang in his heart. He drops the wayward shoe in the box, processing it briefly as Cameron’s, and stands up straight rubbing his chest. As he takes steps toward the kitchen through the living room, pondering the feeling, he stops when he realizes he’s waiting to hear a soft voice chuckle, “They take after their father, you know.”
Danny looks up at the fridge, stopping in the doorway, and feels his heart in his throat as he doesn’t see Claude standing there, pulling out ingredients to make a post-practice meal. Past Danny would laugh, throw his wallet onto the table and ignore Claude’s huff, and reply, “They have two fathers now, we have to share the blame.”
Instead of hearing Claude’s answering laugh, soft and delighted, the kitchen is silent. Danny slowly moves forward to place his wallet carefully in the bowl he still owns on the island, one Claude bought in a fit one night towards the end, and he tries not to let his feet drag too much. He sits heavily on a bar stool and stares at the stove, trying to make his mind forget the image of Claude’s back to him, moving strong and sure underneath a soft, worn Flyers shirt as he rambles on in steady French about a practice antic.
He must have been out for a while, he realizes, as Cameron appears in the kitchen soon, throwing his own wallet into the bowl. Cam is most like Danny, in the end, even if he looks the least like him - something Claude was endlessly amused by.
“Dad, you okay?”
Danny blinks, his gaze tearing away from the bowl and the memories, and nods at his youngest. He pastes a smile on and takes in the image of his kid, sweaty and tired from lacrosse practice, and feels it become real. It was worth it, Danny thinks.
“Yeah, I’m okay. How was practice?”
Cameron hesitates for a moment, giving his dad a long look that Danny pretends is totally normal. Finally, he shrugs slightly and says, “Good,” and gives a long run-down as he makes himself a snack. Danny should get up, he thinks, and make it for him. He doesn’t quite have the energy, he realizes. Cameron must realize it too, as he slides a sandwich across the counter to Danny that matches his.
“How was your practice?” Cameron asks after a brief silence as they chew. Danny pretends not to notice his youngest son watching him so closely. Two divorces do that to a kid, he guesses.
“It was good,” Danny answers honestly. He doubles down and gives Cameron a full review after seeing his skeptic look. “And,” he continues, wiping his hands off, “ Those kids actually listen to me and respect what I say.”
Cameron smiles at that, a toothy grin, and answers, “They don’t know any better yet.”
“Maybe not,” Danny cedes, smiling himself. “TK reminds me a lot of myself. Way more annoying and immature, but I see myself in him.”
“You’re not allowed to adopt rookies as a coach, Dad.”
“He’s not a rookie,” Danny says, faintly shrill. He narrows his eyes as Cameron just cackles and grabs their paper plates, throwing them in the trash.
They go back and forth for a bit longer, cover where Carson is exactly - friend’s house - and then Cameron retreats to his room and Danny retreats to his office. As he sits down at his desk and opens his laptop, he tries not to cringe too desperately at how silent the house is. One kid off in college, another too busy to be home, and the last in his stay-in-his-room phase, plus two dogs passed on and two marriages failed, the house has never been quieter. Danny, opening his email, realizes he’s never been lonelier.
The day is rapidly approaching which Danny is moments away from recording in his calendar as “The Anniversary of the Day Where It All Fell Apart.” It speaks volumes of his life that he would have to put an asterisk to clarify what exactly fell apart this time. August 12th, however, marks the day Claude and he had their final fight, Claude told him in no uncertain terms their marriage was a mistake, and Danny put their house up for sale.
There’s practice that day.
Danny sits in his car in the lot in Voorhees a moment longer before taking a steadying breath and getting out. It’s been 6 years. They were only married for not-even 2. They spent a not insignificant amount of it apart. It’s barely even hurt since his retirement. He moved on, spent a couple years with Misha before breaking it off and another year with Greg in Maine - both without divorces even!
He keeps telling himself all of this as he takes steps into the building.
Danny supposes it just hurts a little more now, he thinks to himself as he makes his way to the offices upstairs, because Claude has a kid now. He’s married again. Part of him wonders when exactly he told Ryanne their history and why he never thought to ask Danny if he could. Danny wonders why it matters to him, since he’s the one who was comfortable with himself and ready to be out to all of their loved ones. He thinks it matters because it means Claude’s accepted himself, to some degree.
Danny’s glad he got everything he wanted. He just wishes Claude didn’t use him to discover what he didn’t.
As he is swallowing back his emotions, he raises a hand to knock on Chuck’s door. He pauses, however, as he hears him talking. A certain feeling of dread rises up in Danny as he listens more closely and hears what could only be Claude respond.
His hesitation does him no favors.
“What are you doing?”
Danny turns to see AV staring at him curiously, walking over. He gestures for Danny to knock.
“Sorry, deja vu,” Danny chuckles, trying not to let his cheeks burn too much. It seems to only amuse AV as his face washes over in fond understanding. They nod and Danny knocks, swallowing back his anxiety. He sees the other coaches approach, Yeo, Lappy, Dillabaugh, Patterson, Yula. They all seem to like him and respect him quite a bit, Lappy most overtly, of course. It pleases him, if he were being honest.
Chuck calls for them to enter and so Danny opens the door. Immediately his eyes fall on Claude, who is resolutely looking forward out the window at the ice below. Claude is dressed in casual clothes, so he probably isn’t practicing today. Danny assumes most of the veteran players are either not getting on the ice or may not even be present. He thinks they should be.
They all take their seats and Danny grimaces as the chair closest to Claude is left open for them. No one in the room except maybe Lappy knows their history, so he pretends to be comfortable and pleased by the gesture to sit by an old teammate and friend. As he sits, his eyes flit to Claude. He’s taken aback as he finds Claude staring at him with an intensity that makes his heart shudder for a moment. Claude looks away, however, before Danny can discern the gaze.
The meeting proceeds. Danny takes his notes on his iPad and chips in where necessary. He voices his opinion that all veteran players should be at every practice and he’s pleased to find AV extremely vocal in his agreement. They take the moment to bring levity and rip on Claude, who takes it good-naturedly and says, “Jake might be a hard sell.”
“If Simmer were still here, Jake would do it,” Danny says, fond. While the other coaches chuckle, Claude gives a sad smile and nods at Danny. He feels bad for a moment - Wayne wasn’t just Jake’s best friend, he was Claude’s too. He resists the overwhelming urge to reach out a hand and grip Claude’s forearm.
“Nonetheless,” AV continues, “Danny’s right. G, we’ll need you to take point there.”
“You got it,” G answers, voice steady. As the meeting continues and comes to an end, Danny admires the captain Claude has become. He was always more sure of himself then he maybe even should have been. But there’s a quiet confidence to him now that comes with age and experience. Danny swallows back his sudden grief that he couldn’t watch it bloom up close.
Once they all stand and exit the room, Danny begins making his way down to the rooms with Lappy, both of them in quick conversation about all the changes to the facility since Danny was there. Just as Lappy is rounding the corner and pointing to a large painting that’s been done of the 2010 team, they’re interrupted.
Jovially, Lappy smiles at G as he walks up and parts from them. Danny wishes he knew.
Staring up at the painting, Danny listens as Claude walks over and comes to a halt next to him. They stand there in silence for a moment before Danny says, his eyes trained on his own painted visage, “What do you think would be different if we’d won?”
It’s clearly not where Claude was mentally. He pauses for a moment after his breath hitches and answers, “I think Richie might still be in the league.”
Danny nods. It’s not where he was at mentally either, he guesses. He was just thinking of himself. Maybe that’s the problem , he thinks sadly, years of failures rushing by.
He voices this thought before he can stop himself. “Maybe I am the problem,” he continues, being as quiet as he can. Danny pretends not to hear the telling noise of Claude clenching his jaw and grinding his teeth beside him. He wouldn’t know what to make of it anymore.
“You know that’s not true,” Claude says finally.
“Don’t I?” Danny answers, turning to face him finally. Claude looks tired, he thinks. “I’m 42 years old. I have two failed marriages because of me being a hockey player and I have zero championships because I couldn’t keep my head in the game. I think at this point I’m just lucky my kids don’t hate me.” Anymore, he adds on privately.
He thinks Claude might hear it anyway. He watches as Claude clenches his jaw again and shifts on his feet.
He opens his mouth to talk but Danny speaks first. “It’s been 6 years. You’d think I’d be over it.” The sentence sits in the air and he tries not to have any sort of feeling at all at the way Claude’s face softens. “I moved on. I had a whole other relationship. I had two! Thank god I didn’t get married either time, or else it’d be yet another divorce, eh?” His chuckle falls flat. Claude’s face is now one big grimace. “Anyways. I won’t be weird if you won’t.”
“I’m not being weird,” Claude says, defensive.
Danny smiles at him, sickly and sad, “Ryanne thinks you are.”
Confusion then recognition washes over Claude’s face before it shutters to something unreadable. Danny used to be able to read every single expression he made.
“That’s none of your business,” Claude says by way of an answer.
“It wasn’t until your wife made it my business,” Danny answers, feeling old tendrils of fury flicker in him again. He guesses their fight wasn’t done after all, even after Claude slammed the door behind him. “I’m going to say this right now and I’m going to say it once. I’m trying to be adult here, but the truth is, I don’t think I ever realized how hurt I was until the universe threw me back here again.”
He tries not to grit his teeth at how Claude seems to be bracing himself.
“You left me because you weren’t ready for marriage, weren’t ready for kids, weren’t ready to accept your sexuality, and weren’t ready to continue something long-distance. I’m not finished,” Danny says, holding up a hand as Claude makes to interrupt. He looks angry now and Danny feels satisfied seeing it. “If those things aren’t true, that’s your fault for not being clear enough as you screamed at me 6 years ago today.”
Claude’s eyebrows scrunch together and his face looks hurt. Danny doesn’t want to pause to address that. The part of him that’s currently reliving that night 6 years before feels viciously pleased at seeing Claude be hurt.
“I didn’t marry you on a whim. I married you because I loved you, I thought we had a family together, and I wanted it to be that way forever. I know now I was wrong, trust me, but you can’t blame me for seeing you now with everything we could have had and not feeling hurt by it. I thought I could keep it together, but then your wife, who I don’t hate by the way,” Danny says, his voice quivering slightly but powering through, “asks me if I still love you and then says to me, after I tell her I don’t , ‘You know why I asked.’”
He pauses, his breath coming through shakily. Danny watches a cascade of emotions fall over Claude’s face. He tries to parse some of them but ultimately, he watches as Claude shuffles on his feet and looks at the ground, and he sighs at the same time Claude does.
“I don’t know why she asked, Claude. And I don’t want to. You made your decision 6 years ago. You forced me to let you go. I’m asking you, please, let me go in return. I want this job more than anything. Don’t make this harder for me, if I can have one last thing from you.”
They stand there in silence for more time than Danny thought he could. He watches as Claude keeps his eyes trained on the ground, his hands coming to his pockets before falling to his sides again. He hears some of the guys shout in the distance and wishes desperately he could go back and do it all over again. Danny doesn’t think he could stay away from Claude if he tried, though. If he’d been a better husband-
“You don’t, then.”
Danny feels his lips part as his jaw drops slightly. He catalogues the feeling of something clawing at his heart, ripping it open or holding it, he can’t tell. Mostly, though, he just feels betrayed for some reason. He swallows, clenches his teeth at the onslaught of sadness that threatens to consume him, and spits out, “No. I don’t.”
Claude, infuriatingly, just nods. He looks down again. It enrages Danny.
“And you can tell Ryanne, and your lovely son, and your perfect house, and your parents who probably still don’t even know you’re on marriage number two, and my old friend Isabel, and everyone else that I said so. Don’t worry, Claude. I wouldn’t do anything to ruin your precious happiness.”
With that, Danny doesn’t spare him a single other look, and he turns on his heel to head toward the locker room. He knows logically he can’t go in there right now or he’ll probably fist-fight one of the kids or something absurd like that. As he makes advances toward an equipment room, however, he walks straight into somebody, causing them both to stumble.
As they steady one another, his eyes meet Kevin Hayes’. It takes him all of 2 seconds to realize Kevin heard at least the tail-end of that conversation. Gritting his teeth, Danny says with all the confidence he can muster, “If you repeat a single word of what you just heard, I’ll bench you so long you retire.”
“I wouldn’t,” Kevin answers quickly. Danny’s brow furrows and his fury flickers out as he realizes the man just looks concerned and - sad? Before he gets the chance to ask, Kevin’s gaze looks in the direction he came and adds, “I’m sorry.”
“For eavesdropping?” Danny asks, his tone dry.
“Yeah, and for- what happened, I guess. Obviously I don’t know anything beyond what I just, uh, heard, but, like, that sucks.”
Yeah, Danny thinks, a wry smile growing on his face, it does suck.
“Thanks, Hayesy,” Danny says instead, almost amused. Kevin seems so earnest about it that Danny adds on, “It’s not his fault. It’s just sort of-”
“How it is in this league.”
Danny’s brow furrows again, taking a slight step back to look at Kevin more openly. The man’s face seems to have transitioned back to looking wistful and sad again. Before Danny can try to ask, they’re interrupted by the sound of TK singing a song - Danny thinks it might be that boy band from Britain - changing some of the lyrics to fit Kevin.
This seems to distract the man and give him his out, and he takes it, the two of them bounding off back toward the room. Danny chuckles fondly and, his mind spinning but no longer infuriated, he follows them at a much slower and calmer pace.
He doesn’t look back at Claude once.
Days later, Danny is standing in front of an animal shelter and convincing himself this is a good idea. Cameron is dancing on his two feet beside him and looks seconds away from tugging on his dad’s arm like when he was small. Finally, Danny takes steps forward and Cameron sprints for the door, opening it and ushering him through.
They go through the motions and wind up touring some of the aisles of dogs. Cameron wants another smaller dog like Zora or Zoey, but Danny would prefer a bigger dog this time around. Cameron makes cooing noises at every dog he passes.
As they round the corner, Danny’s eyes fall on a dog tucked in the corner of the kennel. He’s not the most familiar with dog breeds, but he thinks the dog might be some kind of pitbull-mix. As he approaches the gate separating them, he crouches down, ignoring how his knees crack, and watches as the dog - she, the sign says - slowly gets up and walks over to him. Through the holes, he lets her sniff his hand and gladly reaches in to scratch her snout. She closes her eyes against his ministrations and rests against the bars, as close as she can get to him.
A voice from behind him makes him jump, which makes the dog stand straight once more. “That’s Celeste, she’s a 3 year old pitbull mix, we think it might be some kind of wolfhound.” Danny can see it in her fuzzy face and wiry fur pattern. Streaks of grey cut through the black very randomly. He thinks of his own hair then. “We got her a couple months ago, she was pretty shy then, still is, but she’s sweet. She’s lonely, I think. She’s a companion dog, gets pretty anxious when she’s left alone too long.”
“Dad knows how that feels, right?”
Danny spares a moment to look away from the dog to give his son the most disbelieving look he can muster. Cameron, properly cowed, crouches quickly to greet the dog. Danny ignores the way the volunteer - Claire, Danny thinks - is hiding a chuckle.
“Anyways,” Danny says, his tone stern. “How is she with steps, a yard, a kid, overgrown as he is?”
Both of them ignore Cameron’s “Hey!” and focus on the dog. Claire explains she’s okay with steps, but she’ll need practice. She loves the yard, but hates going out in the rain - “be prepared for indoor accidents unless you build some kind of roofed in area for her” and she loves any kind of company, except-
“She doesn’t seem to like men with beards. We’re not sure why, but they make her very skittish.”
“That’s good news for Dad,” Cameron says, clearly intent on pushing his luck. His eyes are still trained on Celeste, but Danny can see the amused look on his face.
Rolling his eyes, Danny nods, standing up. He holds his hand out still, letting Celeste come back from Cameron to lick it. He smiles and asks, quietly, “Would you like to come home with me, Celeste?”
“And me,” Cameron adds, sounding put-out. Danny just nods, sighing. As he looks up to Claire, he sees her smiling fondly, looking pleased as punch.
That’s how, an hour later after several forms - way more than Danny did for any other dog - and stern discussions later, as well as several numbers for vets and trainers, he and Cameron are driving home with Celeste sitting quietly in the backseat. She wouldn’t get in the crate. Danny’s not sure how he feels about that, from a dog-owner point-of-view, but he thinks he gets it. He didn’t force it.
Cameron spends the ride home and once they get inside cooing at Celeste, showing her around gently on the leash and letting her sniff and nose at everything. They get in the backyard and let her off the leash and Danny watches as she sprints after a couple squirrels at the base of a tree. He laughs, feeling warmed at the sight, and feels his son sidle up to him. He slings an arm around him.
“I like her. But I like how much you like her more, I think.”
“Oh yeah? When did you get so wise?”
“When the wise brother wisely left to go to college and get more wise,” Cameron says, his tone dry. Danny smiles tightly, thinking of his eldest son at Alabama, who he misses more than he can say. Cameron senses this, as always, and continues, “Anyway, you need the company. I’m a grown man now, Dad, and I won’t always be home to-”
“Can it, kid,” Danny says, smiling wider now and pressing a kiss to Cameron’s head.
They stand there quietly, watching Celeste bark at the squirrels before getting distracted by the garden, sniffing everything. Danny likes the sound of her bark.
“I’m worried about you, if I’m, like, allowed to be,” Cameron says, his voice very quiet. Danny freezes, his arm still wrapped around him, and waits him out. “Like, I’m glad we’re home. But it hasn’t really been home for you in a while, I think. And I don’t think it’s fair,” Danny squeezes him a little tighter, remembering Cameron being the most hurt when Claude left, “but I think you deserve to do whatever to make it better this time, I guess. I don’t know. Does that make sense?”
“It does.” Celeste chooses that moment to return to them, walking over to nose at Danny’s hand where it was hanging at his side. He pets her rough fur, gentle, yet firm. “I’ll let you know when I figure it out. Let me worry about it until then, eh? Focus on being a kid for once in your young life, Cam.” He punctuates the admonishment with another kiss to his head, however, and he smiles for a moment thinking on how his youngest son has inherited his short height.
Celeste walks to the backdoor and stares at them expectantly. Her tail isn’t wagging just yet, but Danny’s hopeful.
“I think we should nickname her Celly.”
News of Danny’s dog adoption spreads rapidly, somehow, and he’s stuck showing everyone the pictures he took over the weekend to everyone who comes his way. He’s got a lot though. She’s a very cute, patient dog, definitely has protective and caring tendencies, but she’s generally nervous and skittish. He says as much to Lappy, which gets him a laugh.
“Remind you of anyone?”
Danny rolls his eyes, again. He’s considering telling everyone about her anti-beard feelings, just so half the Flyers organization would know they were inherently unwelcome now, when he hears gentle French behind him.
“You got a new dog, eh?”
Danny breathes deeply and smiles, nodding and facing Claude head-on. He still has his phone out, so he opens it and shows Claude. The man’s face melts and Danny’s caught by an onslaught of memories of Claude taking care of Zora and Zoey. He realizes Claude probably doesn’t know about them.
“Zora and Zoey passed away, only a few months apart. Zora went first. I guess they couldn’t be apart too long.”
Claude’s face softens even more, now tinged with sadness, and he nods, “I figured. I’m sorry, Danny.”
“It’s okay. You took care of them too, I should have told you.”
Claude’s silent in response to that, which Danny figures is the only good response at this point. He’s grateful. Eventually, after cooing and a few questions, Claude hands the phone back. Danny takes that moment to tell him about Celeste’s anti-beard policy.
He watches as Claude just laughs, bringing a hand up to scratch his extremely attractive, well-maintained beard. Danny shuffles on his feet. “That’s a shame. What are her thoughts on a laughable goatee?”
Danny smiles unwittingly at that. “I’ll let you know if you guys make it far enough in the playoffs to find out.”
“Wow,” Claude says, laughing. His eye-wrinkles deepen like that and Danny likes it a lot. “You’re one to talk, how was Colorado that year? The bench looked comfortable.”
“I wouldn’t know, I was up in the press box as the guest of honor,” Danny says, rolling his eyes. The last season still stings and he’d still fist-fight Patrick Roy given half a chance, but he’s mostly come to terms with it now. It figures Claude would know that.
“You and Roy, you and Therrien. It’s a good thing you replaced him, eh?”
“For all of us,” Danny says, feeling relaxed for once in Claude’s presence. It only figures a bit of chirping would loosen them both up. You can take the player off the ice…
“Hey, Danny B! I heard you got a puppyyyyy!”
The expression on Claude’s face, weary, tired, exhausted, drained, any would apply, and twang-y tones tell him that’s none other than TK bounding up to them. Danny can’t help but smile fondly at how Claude’s body droops. He remembers all too well when Claude was the annoying rookie who resembled a ball of chaotic, slightly evil energy.
Turning, Danny hands his phone to TK, who makes loud noises in contrast with Claude’s soft coos. Claude is currently standing there pinching the bridge of his nose and Danny laughs.
“Oh, come on, Claude. He might talk more than you did, but you were far more grating on the nerves than he’ll ever be.”
“Seriously?” TK asks, his tone serious despite the lingering wicked grin on his face. The dog is forgotten, so Danny takes his phone back. “Oh man, you probably have a fuckton of embarrassing, awful stories about G, huh?”
“That’s all of them, actually.”
“I can’t believe I never thought of this-” (Danny and TK elect to ignore Claude’s muttered I can ) “-and you gotta tell me everything. I think G’s too well-respected in the room, personally.”
Danny smiles widely, his own grin a little manic, “Yes, I agree.”
Danny takes that moment to part ways with G, who only looks betrayed now, and walks away with TK who is talking a mile-a-minute. Danny’s quickly realized the upside to TK is that you don’t have to listen, really. He doesn’t seem to notice enough to even mind. As they walk away, however, Danny can’t help but wonder at the image they paint to G.
He doesn’t have time to say anything else behind him, as G shouts, “You can’t adopt him! He’s not a rookie and you’re not even a player now!”
TK laughs loudly and says, “It wouldn’t be adoption then, eh?”
Danny’s brow furrows as he looks behind him at G’s face, which looks anguished for a moment. G responds, his tone tight, “I think a coach-player relationship would be inappropriate, then.”
Despite Danny’s face undoubtedly transforming into something incredulous and heated, TK continues on and says, “I’ll tell AV you said no, then.”
The moment’s diffused before TK even knew it was a moment. Claude rolls his eyes and stalks off and TK continues bumbling on, laughing about his “silly captain,” but Danny is distracted. That’s not fair, he thinks as TK tells him a story about practice last February, he doesn’t get to be mad, or jealous, or whatever that was. TK’s in the middle of saying, “And then G just face-washed Hayesy, out of nowhere! All because he said G was getting soft in his old age!” when Danny thinks, Maybe one day we’ll understand each other.
The problem with that, Danny’s thinking the following week, sitting in his office and trying to work, is that their vows were all about understanding each other. It was a nice little town hall wedding, all three of Danny’s kids in attendance as well as Claude sister and Richie, of all people. Mike Richards always had a soft spot for teammate marriages, Danny supposes. He probably also has advice for recovering from a divorce, he realizes.
The crux of it, Danny thinks, is that they both thought they understood the other perfectly. Danny knows for a fact they both assumed: 1, both hockey players; 2, both Flyers; 3, both love the kids; and 4, both French Canadian. Also having in common being personality-less, hobby-less, and mostly charisma-less, like most hockey players, Danny realizes they both operated under the assumption it would only go wrong if one of them dared to think critically about anything. Danny supposes Claude thinking critically about his sexuality is what got them in trouble. He guesses he should have seen that coming.
He had his own panic after the (first) divorce. Whether Sylvie ever realized it or not, it was a major component of the divorce. All of his worries were assuaged, however, when his eldest son came home and told him one of his best friends just came out as bisexual. Danny’s still a little proud of how quickly he reacted and how positive it was. But he realized then, listening to his kid talk about another teenager realizing who they were so early and so easily, that maybe it could be that easy for him, too. He knows now it’s not easy - he just wishes Claude had talked to him.
That is, assuming this was what made Claude lose faith in them. Ryanne said it - “ who only left you because of his paranoia about his sexuality which he’s now over ” - and Danny said it to Claude, who didn’t deny it - “ weren’t ready to accept your sexuality .” Danny’s no fool - he knows hockey is a sinkhole of homophobia, not including all of its other sins. He’s been subject to countless sexuality-based insults ever since he was a kid and he stopped growing, thus coming across as small and, at times, effeminate. It got worse after he and G went to the All Star Game and all their peers saw just how close they were, but he thought they could handle it. Maybe it scared Claude more than he noticed.
“Maybe I am the problem,” Danny had said in the hallway a few weeks previous.
He also knows he is more than willing to acknowledge how absurd it was for Danny to ask Claude to raise his kids with him. Claude was, whether anyone ever liked to vocalize it or not, 10 years younger than Danny. Claude could barely care for himself when he moved into Danny’s spare-room. Not to mention Danny’s hesitance for a while at anything even casual between them - it was far too much like taking advantage. He made them wait until Claude moved out, but it was only a week later. Who was he kidding? Claude probably felt pressured the entire time, agreeing to marriage only to-
“Danny, you got a sec?”
Danny blinks owlishly at the doorway, his eyes refocusing to take in the sight of Kevin Hayes. Trades are weird , Danny thinks as he nods and welcomes Kevin in. Danny looks behind him for a second to see practice ended while he was caught in all of his thoughts and memories. It was only Hartsy - the new Hartsy, younger and quieter, although just as bitchy - and G, doing some one-on-one practice.
Kevin sits down and takes a second to look around the office as Danny closes his laptop, saving his drafted email. Finally, their eyes meet, and Danny’s taken aback by how sad he looks.
“Is something wrong? You can talk to me about anything, it’ll stay in this room.”
“Yeah, I know that,” Kevin says, his tone fond. Danny wonders once more as non-narcissistically as he can manage how he inspires such fondness and reverence in people. He wishes he felt fond and reverent about himself. “I wanted to talk to you about, uh… well, I just thought I’d… you and G.”
They blink at each other.
Kevin powers through. “What I heard in the hallway. I wanted to… ask you about a couple things.”
“Uh,” Danny says, his palms sweating. “I don’t want to betray Claude’s confidence. I’m sure you understand.”
“No, yeah, for sure,” Kevin says, sitting forward in his chair, his feet tapping. “I guess it’s more about… you. And general stuff. I don’t want the details of you two, exactly, I just-”
“Kevin.” Danny cuts in, as polite and tender as he can manage. “I can tell you’re hiding something. I won’t pressure you to tell me anything you’re not ready to share, but I meant it when I said nothing leaves this room. And trust me when I say - I get it, whatever it is.”
“I’m into dudes,” Kevin says in a rush, his eyes wider than Danny’s ever seen them. He looks pale, jittery. If Danny didn’t know any better, he’d think maybe Kevin was on something, but he knows from experience that’s just how it feels to come out to someone, no matter how well they might take it.
Danny nods and keeps his face as calm and open as he can before smiling softly and saying, “Me too. I like dudes too.”
It seems to work wonders as Kevin relaxes again. He sits back in the chair, his hands still twisting together, but his shoulders falling back down once more. He quietly says awesome and nods.
“So either you’re telling me because there’s someone you’re interested in who is a teammate and you’re asking for advice or because you’ve dated a teammate in the past and you’re asking how to deal with it?” “ It’s just sort of-” “How it is in this league.”
Kevin looks sheepish now. He starts and stops a few sentences before ultimately sighing deeply and putting his hands on his thighs, calming himself. “Both.”
“Both?” Danny prompts after Kevin is silent for a bit.
“I dated someone, in college. We tried to make it work since we got drafted basically a whole country and border apart, but it didn’t. It’s taken me… a while to get over it, way longer than I thought, especially since he seems so fine with it.” Danny tries not to flinch at how sad and bitter Kevin’s tone is - he can relate entirely. Kevin’s face tells him he knows that. “But now, I’m finally, finally, over it, and I’ve kinda… I’m into someone else. Who is a teammate.”
Danny blinks and runs through the roster in his mind. With a very high eyebrow, he asks tentatively, “Is it TK?”
Danny wishes he wasn’t so openly relieved at how loudly Kevin laughs. Fortunately, it seems to be the right thing to say, as it makes Kevin loosen up again from when he tensed in his confessions. The man sits back in his chair, running a hand through his hair before replacing the cap over it.
“No, it’s definitely not fucking Teeks .”
“Kevin, with all due respect to this esteemed organization, there’s not a lot of winners out of who’s left.”
“Bold talk from the guy who tied the knot with G. ”
“ That’s how I know.”
Kevin laughs again, loud and strong. It makes Danny smile. He kind of reminds Danny of Hartsy - the first one - but maybe a little more earnest and a lot more American. As they both relax further in their chairs, Kevin’s eyes trail over to the ice. Danny turns to look again and sees G is helping pick up the pucks while Hartsy 2 - oh, fuck it, Carter - watches, helmet off and laughing at whatever his captain must have said. Danny looks back at Kevin, prepared to continue their talk, when he falters, seeing the lost, sad look on Kevin’s face.
Danny’s vaguely surprised at just how hang-dog he can look, when he already has such a long face. Pursing his lips and sighing, Danny asks, “I’m assuming it’s not my ex-husband you’re talking about.”
“No,” Kevin says, equally as quiet. “It’s not.”
“Do you want to talk about it? Openly?”
It’s quiet for a bit. Danny waits him out - he’s in no rush. Cameron is home with Celeste and AV said he could email his commentary rather than meet about it, which is a relief. Danny hates meetings. They’d be better with a dog, though. He thinks he might start bringing Celeste to work sometimes. She’d like that.
“You know him. The ex. Johnny Gaudreau,” Kevin says, with a heavy sigh. “We met in college, he was on my line. We dated for, like, a couple years. He got weird in Calgary though. Like, he did a lot of coke, we both did in college, but… I don’t know, he’s, like, super into it, or he was anyway, and he hated when I would try and talk to him about it. Every time we talked, which, like, was never, right? It was a fight. I really loved him though.”
Danny nods patiently. Sensing Kevin waiting for his commentary, he asks, “Do you doubt he loved you?”
“I think he did. He was unfaithful though. God, listen to me, I sound like my mom. He fuckin’ cheated on me, like, a lot. With girls, too, which he knew really bothered me.” Kevin looks so anguished that Danny wants to give him a big hug. It’s amusing to picture, since Kevin is 6’5” and Danny is 5’8” on a good day.
“He’s not a bad guy, though. That’s what makes it so hard. He was just…”
“Confused about what he wanted and made rash decisions to figure out the answers that hurt you more than either of you realized at the time?”
They blink at each other. Kevin’s face looks torn between relief that Danny gets it and sad at just how much Danny gets it. Danny gives him a soft, sad smile, reaching a hand out to pat the desk in lieu of patting Kevin directly.
“I get it. I don’t think Claude ever cheated, but our relationship was complicated by a lot of other factors. Nonetheless, have you ever talked to him about any of this?”
“I tried,” Kevin says, sounding exhausted and shrill at the same time. He stands up then and starts pacing, his hands clenching and unclenching wildly. “He just thought I was being dramatic, and unfair, and accusatory, and jealous, and anything else he could think of. I just wanted to be happy with him, he just wanted to be successful. No, that’s not right, that’s not fair, he just-”
“-was so obsessed with being what Calgary needed that he stopped being what I needed-”
“-and so what if he slept around? I can’t expect otherwise, right? We saw each other, like, twice during the season, and that’s shitty, and-”
Danny sighs, having stood up and now standing in front of Kevin. He takes Kevin’s hands which had come up to cross his arms and then uncross them and holds them tightly. He slowly leads him back to the chairs in front of his desk and sits them down in either one. Their knees touch and Danny feels a wave of fondness for the big man in front of him, so young still, and so loud and open, yet hiding so much about himself and just wanting to be loved.
“You’re allowed to be hurt and you’re allowed to be angry. Johnny can be a good guy but still have treated you terribly. As hard as it is, those things can and often are mutually inclusive.”
Kevin nods slowly and then says quietly, “I don’t know what that means.”
Danny smiles widely and says, “It means they’re both true. What I’m saying is, Kevin, that before you try anything with Carter, you need to accept the hurt from Johnny.”
“Okay,” Kevin says, “Consider it fuckin’ accepted.”
Danny laughs with that, how dry his tone is, and nods. He’s about to say more when another knock at his door pulls them out of conversation. Kevin shrugs at Danny’s inquisitive look and so Danny sits back as the door opens upon his “come in.”
G appears at the door, his face bland. His eyes fall on Kevin and jump back and forth between them, narrowing slightly, before he relaxes and says, “I saw your car was still in the lot, Kev, I wanted to check in on you. I see you’re in good hands.”
“The best,” Kevin says, chipper. “These babies got 116 extremely clutch points in 124 playoff games. There are no better hands in Philly.”
Danny blushes at that, not used to having this stat thrown at him like this. It’s no secret that he’s so beloved in Philly still because he showed up when it mattered most. He knows that stat better than his own birthday and he assumes most other hockey statisticians do as well. It’s still a little embarrassing though. His eyes trail to G’s and he’s surprised to see his smile looks tight, the lines around his eyes taut with tension.
“Danny’s the best,” Claude breathes out.
Kevin pauses at that and looks between them. Danny remembers then that Claude doesn’t know that Kevin knows and he gives him a weak smile. They both stand up at Danny’s behest.
“You don’t have to stop talking, I can go. Just wanted to check in,” Claude says, backing out again.
Kevin shrugs and fixes his hat again. “It’s all good, I feel better already. Thanks a ton, Danny B. G’s right - you’re the best.”
With a wink that Danny has to sigh over with how unsubtle and ugly it is, they both watch as Kevin bounces out of the room, towering over both of them as he passes. He’s whistling, Danny hears, which is probably a good sign. He doesn’t feel like he did anything, really, but maybe just listening to Kevin’s truth was enough. He knows from experience how infrequently those chances come along.
Nodding at Claude, Danny retreats behind his desk once more and sits down. Claude looks torn between commenting on what just happened and turning tail and ducking out of the room behind Kevin. He decides on both, it seems.
From the doorway, Claude says, “All good, Danny?”
Pausing, opening his laptop and preparing to finish his email to AV, thinking about now adopting lost gays instead of lost rookies, considering when exactly he’s going to get over a man who has a wife and child, he says, “I’m good.”
The season starts with a whimper instead of a bang. They seem to be on an irritating pattern of W-L-W-L-W-L and so on. The coaches keep using stats from past years where win or loss streaks mean nothing about playoffs and that they can work with this. It frustrates Danny how quickly some of the guys seem to be losing faith, and it’s only November.
October flew by. He started the month with a very quiet birthday celebration, tucked away in his house with a couple longtime Philly-area friends and his dog. Cameron bailed after their nice brunch that morning, but Danny was fine with that. He was becoming quite accustomed to being on his own. Road trips were hard, though, with no one around to really watch his child or his dog.
They’re facing some of the Southern teams in their conference - Carolina, Florida, Washington - up next on the road. Danny’s in the middle of organizing care for his child and dog, the latter of whom was curled up at his feet under the desk.
They leave the following morning around 9 for Carolina. It’s not a long flight, but Danny’s still getting used to road travel again. He remembers all his old useful habits, but his aging body doesn’t take to it as well as it used to.
The plane rides aren’t so bad though - weirdly enough, Danny has a seat on the plane beside Kevin. In front of them sits Carter, by himself, and to the right is TK and Nolan. Danny still isn’t able to get a read on Nolan. He’s the moodiest, quietest guy he’s ever met off the ice, but on the ice, he could be any other player. None of Danny’s usual tricks seem to work, and leaving him alone doesn’t work either. He watches TK quite literally bother Nolan into talking and wonders what the guy’s deal is.
As they make to get off the plane, Danny reaches above him to grab his carry-on, but he’s halted by his tight shoulder. It’s hurt since he was 29, but only in the last couple years did early onset arthritis set in. He won’t admit it to anyone, he’s too proud, but it bothers him, especially if he’s still for a while. He reaches with his other arm and stops as two arms come up to grab it. He recognizes the hands.
The man smiles at him softly and makes to carry it off. Danny rolls his eyes and grumbles, following him off. “I’m not an invalid.”
“No,” Claude says, putting his shades on against the early morning sun. “You’re just old.”
Danny’s stopped from any kind of searing retort by AV behind him asking when one of the guys is going to carry his shit off. A few guys take the opportunity to chirp him, chirp each other, chirp Danny and G.
Lappy says, of course, “Just like old times, eh? Mr. Giroux helping out Mrs. Giroux with her bags.”
Both of them tense as everyone seems to laugh, letting Lappy regale them of old stories of the old married couple. Danny avoids Claude’s gaze, who begins walking again, tense, and finds Kevin’s instead, who looks torn between laughing and fretting. He shakes his head slightly and watches in relief as Kevin turns away, telling Patty and TK that they’re the old married couple now.
As they walk across the tarmac, he feels someone else’s eyes on him. Danny looks around at the team for the errant gaze and sees Carter’s eyes glued to him, narrowed and accusatory. He raises an eyebrow, challenging him as subtly as he could. The goalie just looks at the ground, picking up the pace. Danny sighs, trailing after his secret ex-husband who is still stubbornly carrying his bag, which isn’t even heavy, it was just the reaching, Claude, honestly , and thinks to himself, “Hockey is so weird.”
They win all three games and return to Philadelphia on a high. They have a game the day after against the visiting Flames and that’s when Danny realizes why Kevin seemed to be the only one who wasn’t as amped up as he should’ve been. He wasn’t the only one who noticed - the entire team notices when Kevin is down. But he’s the only one who knows why, he thinks, eyeing the date on the calendar and watching Kevin at practice who looks both more determined and more distracted than usual.
After practice, Danny asks to talk to Kevin as quietly as he can. He mostly succeeds, except Claude overhears. They stare at each other while Kevin packs up his stuff and makes to follow Danny out of the room. Rather than go to his office, Danny asks if he’d like to grab lunch. He avoids Claude’s look as they make their way out together.
However, as they walk to Danny’s car, he notices Nolan Patrick tailing behind them. Danny looks at Kevin inquisitively, taking his lead, and the man shrugs and says, “He knows. Kind of. It’s fine.”
And so Danny finds himself sitting at lunch with Hayesy and Patty, two people at very different ends of the personality spectrum. Once more, Danny finds himself wondering what his deal is. After trying to coax any kind of commentary out of the guy for about 5 minutes at the start of their lunch, he finally gives up. He’s weird anyway, Danny thinks to himself, remembering the ridiculous pictures of Nolan’s summer life that TK had shown him once for a laugh.
Danny turns instead to Kevin, who was watching their interactions looking incredibly amused. Narrowing his eyes, Danny says, “Since you’re so amused, Kevin, by my attempts to get to know this bitchy little freak, why don’t you share what worked for you?”
“What-” Patty starts, looking offended. It only makes Kevin laughs.
“Well, I did that a lot. Nothing gets this idiot riled up like someone telling him exactly what he is.”
“Moodier than my mother-in-law was when I knocked up her 19 year old daughter? More fussy about his eyebrows than my son’s sorority sister girlfriend is?”
“My mom is an esthetic-”
“A very patient and loving woman, clearly.”
The two stare at each other, hard and unrelenting, as Kevin cackles beside them. The waitress chooses that moment to walk up and stares at all three of them, boggled. After a moment, she introduces herself, verifies their drinks are correct, and asks what they’d like. Danny politely smiles at her after, what he thinks, winning the staring contest.
“We’ll all have chicken caesar salad to start and chicken sandwiches as well.”
“But I wanted-”
“Thank you,” Danny says smoothly, handing the menus to the amused waitress - Sarah. She gives him a fond smile and seems torn for a moment, before leaning forward a little and saying, “You’re my favorite Flyer. Sorry,” she shoots at the other two. “But you are. You made me love the sport.”
Danny swallows, taken aback, the wind effectively knocked out of his sails. He nods numbly and then kicks himself in the ass, giving her a fond smile and saying, as meaningfully as he can, “Thank you, I appreciate that. I’m glad to be back.”
“Me too,” she says, looking extremely genuine as she says it. Sarah scurries away then and Danny watches as the other two’s eyes follow her.
“How much did you pay her? I’m sure a date would be more worthwhile,” Kevin says, his survey done and looking back at Danny with a raised eyebrow. Danny rolls his eyes - she barely looks 21.
“Yeah, and my date with the county clerk would be even better.”
“You’re single though, right?”
Danny stares, dumbfounded, as he realizes it’s Nolan who asks. Blinking, he nods and takes a sip of his iced tea. “I am.”
“And you’re 42. That’s not weird to you?” Nolan asks Kevin, his eyes never leaving Danny’s.
The table is silent for a moment before Danny sighs loudly, Kevin goes I’msorryI’msorryI’msorry, and Nolan laughs. A full, genuine laugh. Danny quirks an eyebrow, waiting for this annoying child to calm down. His cheeks look flushed and Danny resists the urge to mock him for it. He was told Nolan hates it. It makes him want to do it more.
Kevin speaks first and says quickly, “In my defense, he asked me if I knew why you two were so weird. He has a point! I mean, obviously we know why , but, like, you have to get why everyone thinks it’s weird. You two were, like, married! Or, well-”
“I get it, Kevin. Everyone thought we were married.”
“You were though,” Nolan says, challenging. Danny just rolls his eyes. He pauses though, processing Kevin’s words.
“Wait, what do you mean everyone ?”
So that’s how Danny discovers the entire team has a weird bet going on about him and Claude. Half the team thinks they dated and broke up, some guys think they got married and divorced, and doesn’t that make Danny squirm, some guys think one of them took the other one’s girl, which - what?, while the others, like Kevin and Nolan, stay mostly silent.
“I tried saying I thought time just made you grow apart, but the guys told me to shut up,” Kevin says, his tone a little sad. Danny looks at him with a deeply confused look and he just shrugs. “I don’t know, it seems the most practical.”
“Well, yes,” Danny says, not acknowledging how much he wishes time would have helped him out like that, “But to say it to a room of bloodthirsty gossiping hockey players?”
“Yeah, you got me there,” Kevin says, sounding genuinely gotten.
“ Anyways ,” Nolan says, having the audacity to stare at the two of them like they’re silly. “G clearly isn’t over it and neither are you. No one’s bet on you guys getting back together, but I have.”
“Nolan,” Danny says, his tone brokering no argument. He watches as the two of them sit up straighter, responding to his coach voice. He’s not trying to coach right now though, not even a little. “While I appreciate your attempt at supporting me, and G by extension, I need to make this perfectly clear to you. Our relationship was doomed from the start. I wasn’t the person Claude needed and he made that crystal clear to me. Claude and I are not ‘getting back together,’ not now, not ever. When I tell you, and I don’t want any questions, that he absolutely does not want me and that he absolutely is over it, that is final. Trust me, I’d know otherwise.”
The table is silent for a moment. Nolan looks properly chastened and shame-faced while Kevin looks torn between looking self-pitying and looking apologetic. To his surprise, however, Nolan speaks again.
“But you’re not over it.”
“Nolan-” Kevin says, sounding disbelieving.
“It’s okay, Kevin,” Danny cuts him off, holding up a hand. He should have known it was coming, if not from Nolan than from literally anyone else. Taking a small but deep breath, Danny, with all the honesty he can muster, says, “No. And I don’t know if I ever will be.”
They pause as their salads are delivered and all three of them silently begin to tuck in. Nolan looks distracted, his eyes glued to the table, while Kevin is staring at the two of them in a cycle. Danny has eyes on his phone, where he’s wishing more than anything he could call his ex-husband and somehow mend their marriage 6 years later.
Quietly, his eyes never leaving the phone, he adds, “One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn both as a person and as a player is that sometimes, you can do everything right and things can still go wrong. You can have it all right where it needs to be to win, you can even have won, and you can still lose. What that has taught me,” he adds, his voice a little stronger, “is that we can never take anything for granted.
“I know it’s easy right now, as young men, to think your world is going to be like this forever. It’s true, I never really had the life you two have, as I had a child and a wife by the time I was 20. But for all the crazy parties, attractive women, or men, all the drugs you’re gonna do, all the mistakes you’re gonna make, all the people you’re gonna piss off and all the fights you’re gonna deservedly get into, please try and remember to not take for granted the shit that matters.
“Your family won’t always be there. Your partner, no matter who they are, is a person, and they have limits and boundaries, just like you. Your team will change. You’ll move neighborhoods. You’ll miss your kid’s first steps because you’re off living your dream and you’ll start to wonder when your dream stopped being your dream and your kids’ dreams became yours instead.
“Look,” Danny says, looking at the two who are staring at him rapturously. “Enjoy it. The fame, the money, the girls and boys, the drugs, all of it. You won’t have it forever. But don’t forget the people you love along the way. You’ll regret that above anything else if you do.”
They finish their salads mostly in silence, as the two younger men are lost in their thoughts and Danny is trying to escape his. He picks up his phone eventually, cursing himself for it, but he busies himself with answering emails, watching the other follow suit. They remain silent, stuck on their phones, well into the arrival of their sandwiches, until finally they all admit defeat to eating one-handed.
Kevin is the first to speak, to no one’s surprise. “Johnny wants to meet up after the game.”
“For coffee or for sex?” Danny asks frankly. He ignores Nolan’s immature response of choking on his chicken and staring incredulously.
Kevin appreciates the frankness, it seems. “He says coffee, but he means sex. I’ve done it every time, but… I don’t know.” He pauses, staring at something elsewhere in the restaurant. Danny turns to look and sees a waiter who looks shockingly like Carter. “I never really thought I could say no before.”
“You can always say no. And you should always listen if you hear no,” he adds, kicking both of their shins. They both yelp and give him dirty looks.
“Okay, point. But I want to do it in person. But I don’t know if I, you know, can.”
“Why couldn’t you?” Nolan asks.
Danny rolls his eyes. “It’s not that simple, Nolan.”
“Why not though? He treated you like shit, just tell him to fuck off.”
Kevin looks irked, which is a strange look to see on his face. “Gee, Patty, what a great idea, why didn’t I think of that?” He punctuates his sarcasm with a smack to the back of Nolan’s head.
“What Kevin means is,” Danny says patiently, trying to keep the exasperation out of his tone, “relationships are not that simple, especially ones like we’ve had.”
“Yeah, you guys are crazy for dating teammates,” Nolan says, sitting back in his chair and rubbing his head gingerly. Kevin and Danny share a long-suffering look, neither of them willing to admit that the kid is right. It does make Kevin’s eye catch on the waiter again, however, and he sits forward, looking guilty.
Nolan misses it, but Danny sees it. Steeling himself, he responds, “If you could pick who you fell in love with, Nolan, I don’t think the world would look quite as it does.”
“Yeah, but, like, a teammate? Like, another hockey player? We’re all so emotionally stunted and stupid and, like, traumatized in a thousand different weird ways from shit everyone thought was funny when we were younger but now we know it’s not, and I find it hard to believe I’m sitting at a table with two people who are this comfortable saying they like dudes, much less actually managed to have a relationship with another guy who somehow vocalized that he likes dudes, and it’s just…”
Danny and Kevin meet eyes once more, vaguely panicked. Danny calmly puts his chicken sandwich back on his plate whereas Kevin picks his up and nervously takes a bite. Extending a hand and placing it on the table, getting Nolan’s attention, who now looks sheepish, he sighs.
“So, that was a lot, Nolan.”
His eyes shift side to side and he sits forward, putting the hood on his sweatshirt up and turning his hands into sweater-paws. Danny shifts forward in his own seat. There’s no perfect way to tackle a topic like this with someone who’s clearly done a lot of negative thinking on the topic, but Danny’s raised three boys and a hell of a lot of other rookie boys too. He’s only had this particular conversation twice before with rookie boys, but both times worked out okay. That reminds him to give Nate a call later.
“Do you have feelings for another player?”
“I have before,” Nolan admits, quiet, after a moment.
After he seems reluctant to share more, Danny nods and says, as calmly as he can, “Did it not go well or did you not try and just got freaked out?”
Nolan sighs, sitting forward and crossing his arms on the table, putting his chin on them. “Both, I guess.”
“Hmm,” Danny muses, shaking his head at the waitress who makes to approach. Sarah raises an eyebrow but then nods, changing course for another table. Danny doesn’t want to freak Nolan out - it’s a bit like herding a wild deer.
“Well,” Danny says gently, “It’s no secret to any of us and the world either that juniors is an extremely ugly and traumatizing place for many players.”
“But it wasn’t for me though,” Nolan interrupts, anguished. “Nothing happened to me. I was, like, hockey royalty, nobody dared. But I watched it happen, and now I’m just, like, paralyzed by it, and I feel like such a fucking coward, because nothing even happened to me, and I did, like, nothing to help anyone else.
“Nolan,” Danny starts, “If I yelled at you for not helping teammates out while they were being violently hazed in juniors, I’d have to yell at most of the league. And while maybe I should, that’s not something you should take onto yourself. It’s not your job to save people, it should have been the coaches and staff.”
“But I could have spoken up for them.”
“But you still can,” Danny says, gesturing with his hands at himself and Kevin. “The kids who get absolutely brutalized for being gay or whatever, they quit, and that’s heartbreaking, because it means our sport failed them. But that’s not to say the ones who hid it or managed to get through anyway are gone. Support them, Nolan. Support us. ”
Nolan is silent, his eyes glued to the table. He seems to be absorbing this, internalizing it, but Danny can’t be sure yet. So he pauses, looking at him inquisitively. Finally, Nolan shrugs, and sighs heavily.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what I am, but it’s not safe to find out either. I told Kevin here because I wanted to know if he knew any way I could, like, safely and quietly figure it out. I tried to, like, actually try and date a guy in juniors, he didn’t even play hockey, he did music, but one of my best friends found out and he just… freaked on me. We haven’t mentioned it since, but it scared me, you know? And, like, I definitely like girls. But… I just think maybe I don’t want to end up with one.”
“That’s fine,” Danny says, patient. “Bisexuality is a spectrum and it’s fluid.”
At their raised eyebrows, he finally deflates a little and admits to doing a lot of soul-searching and googling at the ripe age of 33 during and after his divorce. In his defense, it’s very comforting to know.
“So just because I like both doesn’t mean it has to be equal?” Nolan asks, his tone skeptical. Danny nods patiently and watches him process it. He does so very quickly, it seems, but he seems reluctant to talk anymore after that.
Instead, he asks, “What about you?”
“Me? Well, I’ve had two marriages and two other serious relationships in my adult life. It’s not many, but I think it’s a good thing. They were evenly split, however. One marriage to a woman, one to a man. One partnership with a woman, one to a man.” Danny shrugs, unsure as them what to make of it, but at peace with it nonetheless.
They’re quiet as all three of them consider everything that is sexuality and hockey players. Danny wants to prod at Nolan’s brain some more, but this is the most he’s gotten out of him in months, and it was an insane amount, so he’s letting it go. He wonders if Nolan has any interest in a teammate. His mind goes to TK, but he’s so painfully straight that it makes Danny feel a little homophobic just to be in his presence. That wouldn’t stop Nolan from liking him, though, and it might explain his fatalism regarding dating teammates. It doesn’t seem right, though - while Nolan is undeniably fond of TK, Danny knows enough about closeted idiot young men that it’s not the same.
He hopes it’s not Carter, for Kevin’s sake.
Kevin, speaking of, is looking into his iced tea, lost and unsure. Danny is one second away from asking what’s on his mind when he says, “I think I’m gay. Just… gay.”
“Yeah?” Danny asks, after Kevin falls silent.
“Yeah,” he confirms. “But… like… women don’t repulse me or anything. Like, if I had to sleep with one, it’d be fine. I just don’t really like them. So can I still be gay?”
“I don’t think being gay is repulsion of women, I think it’s simply that you’d prefer to always sleep with and date men.”
The three of them are silent. Danny wishes he did more googling recently. He’s sure there’s more on the topic now. They’re, like, 3 blocks away from the Gayborhood, they should just take a walk down there and find out. The thought makes him laugh before it can even materialize.
Kevin’s somber tone pulls him out. “I’ve said and done some really homophobic shit.”
Danny hears Nolan sigh, but ignores him. “And you’re sorry?”
“Of course I am,” Kevin replies, looking offended.
“I mean, can you blame me for asking?” Danny replies, looking incredulous. “The man I married realized he hated the fact he liked men so much that he divorced me. You can be gay and still hate gay people. I think it’s kind of normal for a while, especially for us stupid shitty athletes in our stupid shitty sport.”
“Yeah,” Kevin says, his tone sad. Danny tries not to feel judgmental, thinking on whatever ‘homophobic shit’ Kevin is referring to in his past. He hopes whoever was on the receiving end is okay now. He’s so distracted by Kevin that he fails to notice Nolan dropping his hood and rubbing his eyes.
Quietly, Nolan says, “Danny, that sucks so much.”
“What Claude did. I know, I get it, I hear you. But, like, fuck. That’s just so shitty, you know?”
Danny smiles sadly, feeling wan and tired. He nods slowly and replies, “Yeah. I do. But relationships are about communication and understanding. If I had known he felt like that-”
“You’d have what? And besides, it’s two ways, isn’t it? He could have talked to you about it. I’m pretty sure he had the best resources in the entire league to find out how to deal with liking dudes and playing hockey, considering he was, uh, married to someone just like him.”
Danny’s taken aback by Nolan’s fury. It riles him up for a moment, a part of him that still aches and feels so tender and raw from that night 6 years ago flaring up to say, ‘ Yeah! Yeah, he’s right!’ But as quickly as anger fills him, it leaves. It’s hard to maintain that kind of fury for so long. There was only so much he could do, it’s true, but that’s the crux of it, he thinks. There was only so much Danny could do and be for Claude. He stopped being useful and companionable in the end. He explains as much to Nolan.
“But doesn’t that piss you off? Doesn’t that upset you?”
“Of course it does,” Danny admits, “It still does. But it’s hard to hold onto that anger for so long. I’m still hurt, but it’s a kind of hurt that won’t ever completely go away, I think. I spent a lot of time thinking we were meant for each other, until the end. Part of me still believes it. But the truth, the reality, is that he’s got a really lovely wife who I do like very much and an adorable baby who’s growing more and more every day. It’s hard to know he gave me and my kids up and still got the family I wanted for us out of life, but… it is what it is.”
“But would you take him back? If you could?”
Danny’s eyes flick to Kevin, who looks desperate to know for some reason. He furrows his brow and touches his hand to Kevin’s before speaking. “I don’t think Johnny is right for you, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“It’s not, honestly.”
Danny nods and lets go, sitting straighter. He realizes they’re waiting for his answer and he sighs, touching a hand to his iced tea, but not picking it up. He watches the condensation slip down the side of the drink onto the table and he tries to block out a random but vivid memory of Claude taking the condensation off his beer bottle and flicking it at Danny on a warm summer night.
As he stares at the glass, he hears Nolan ask, “Do you still love him?”
He takes another moment and then looks at the earnest, young faces in front of him. Mustering up all of his courage, he finally honestly answers to everything, “Yes. Toujours”
Danny mostly forgets all about the implications of the Flames game on Kevin’s love life until he’s brutally reminded. Following a striking win, Danny is sitting on his couch with his feet up, reviewing tape of the game that night and discussing what he sees on speakerphone with AV.
“I just think we’re really lucky,” Danny says, watching Sean cut through Flames’ players like butter, no matter their position, “because Sean just never seems to make a mistake. He’s always in good position, his stick work is fabulous in the defensive zone, and he’s bringing it at the other end of the ice as well. He’s a complete player against any of the top lines in the league.”
He hears AV make a pleased noise and answer, “I agree, I think maybe because he might not be as flashy or look as spectacular as some of the other guys, maybe people don’t notice him as much, or forget how much of a threat he is. We notice him though, eh, Danny?”
Danny’s in the middle of laughing and agreeing when a loud knock sounds at his door, followed by a clearly anxious ringing of his doorbell. Shushing AV gently as the man questions him, he mutes their call and stands to answer the door. Standing there before him, looking extremely frazzled, is Kevin. Swallowing back his initial feelings of concern, Danny unmutes the call and says, “AV, I’m going to talk to you tomorrow.”
“...okay. Hope whatever’s happening isn’t bad,” AV says, his tone crossed between worried and skeptical.
“We’ll see,” Danny responds, both of them saying goodbye. As soon as he hangs up, Kevin bursts into Danny’s house and begins speaking a million words a minute. Rolling his eyes after Kevin turns his back, Danny sighs and pats him as high up as he can reach and ushers him gently towards the sofa. He moves to the kitchen, listening to Kevin ramble some more, and grabs a fresh cup of coffee, bringing it back to Kevin, who takes it gratefully.
Finally, Danny sits on the coffee table opposite him, and puts a hand out. “Okay. I need you to start over and go slow.”
“Okay,” Kevin says, nodding with his mouth hanging open loosely. He looks vaguely ill. “I talked to Johnny.”
“We had a huge fight.”
“Uh, not good. Unless…?”
“No, it was good. Well, it was terrible, actually, it was complete dog-shit from start to finish, and I hate fighting like that, I’d rather just have a fist-fight and be done with it, but, like, even though he’s another hockey player, he was still my- whatever, and-”
“It’s better you talked it out, no matter the volume.”
“That’s not the worst part,” Kevin says, looking desperate. Danny realizes his eyes look vaguely glassy and he’s about to lose his shit when Kevin says, “Don’t worry, I’m mostly sober. I was crying.”
“Oh,” Danny says shortly.
“I was drunk, though, kind of. Okay, okay,” Kevin seems to be collecting himself finally and he takes a large gulp of hot coffee before setting it down. “So, I went to Johnny’s hotel room, like he asked, and obviously he wanted to fuck, but I was like, ‘I can’t do this shit anymore,’ and he was like, ‘So you said,’ which, like, super rude? So, like, obviously he knows I didn’t want to and still tried all this time? Anyways, I told him we had to be, like, done done, mostly because that’s clearly what he fuckin’ wanted, and he got angry at me and started saying I was taking it all too seriously, and I was like, ‘We dated for years, fuck me for taking it seriously, I guess,’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, fuck you!’ and we just had a lot of back and forth-”
“Did you fuck him anyway?” Danny interrupts, nervous. He’s gratified by how quickly Kevin shakes his head, looking vaguely queasy at the idea.
“No, thank fuck, because guess who called me.”
“Uh,” Danny says.
Oh boy. “Oh boy.”
“Right? So he calls, and I’m, like, furious, and I want a second to breathe, and you know how Carter makes me, like, calm, so I answer, and he’s like, ‘Uhh, I don’t know what you’re doing, but we’re goin’ out, meet us there.’ And I was like, ‘You know what? Yeah, I will.’ Which Johnny hated, but I accidentally told him where I was going, so he followed after I split, which I didn’t know, until I was making out with Carter on the dancefloor and me and Johnny locked eyes across the club like some kind of shitty ass dumb ass movie when I looked up.”
Danny just sighs. It seems to be the reaction Kevin expected, however, because his eyes go super round and he says, very emphatically, Yeah. The next part of the story is a blur, presumably because Kevin was a blur himself, but it apparently involved a lot of screaming out in the alley beside the club and Carter looking very confused and very-
“Hurt, Danny. He looked hurt. Like I hurt his feelings. How did I hurt his feelings? I don’t get it. I walked around South Street for, like, an hour, just trying to figure it all out, but I just can’t, so now I’m here. Please help me.”
Danny pinches the bridge of his nose. Before anything, however, he says, “Where’s Carter now?”
“Where’s- oh,” Kevin responds, his eyes going wide once more as he stares at the wall. “I don’t know.”
“Well, let’s find him. I think that question is best suited for Carter, especially now that you’re sober, and hopefully he is, too.”
“God, you’re so fuckin’ smart,” Kevin mutters, pulling his phone out. He stops, though, and says, “What if he doesn’t answer?”
It’s not Carter who answers, however, but Beezer, who sounds very drunk when he says, “Kev, you’re an asshole, bud.”
“What’d I DO?”
“Not the point,” Danny interrupts, taking the phone away. “Joel, this is Danny. I have Kevin. Why do you have Carter’s phone?”
“Oh, hi Coach,” he answers, trying to strangle his voice into something more presentable. Danny resists the urge to roll his eyes. Fortunately, Kevin rolls them for him. While Danny may be an old fart now, he was no stranger to partying during his younger years, and he’s positive he did a lot harder shit than these kids do. “He’s- oh. I don’t know, actually. He gave me his phone though because Hayesy’s an asshole.”
Danny feels a lick of fear run up his spine, his shoulders hunching. He eyes the clock and sees it’s late enough that it’s probably time for them to return home. With a sigh, he says, as patiently as he can, “Stay where you are. I’m coming to get you.”
“Oh, sick,” Joel answers, sounding genuinely pleased. “I hate getting Ubers this late.”
“I need you to find Carter, Joel.”
“Oh, for sure, dude,” he says, sounding unrushed as ever. Danny grips the phone tighter and shakes his head. He gets the details of their location out of Joel and verifies with Kevin that’s where they were before and hangs up.
“You stay here,” Danny says, gesturing for Kevin to stay seated. The man looks ready to object, but a stern look keeps him where he is. Celeste takes that moment to sit on the couch opposite them and give Kevin a long stare. Danny smiles, reaching over to give her a scritch behind the ear.
“She hates beards, remember,” Danny says as a goodbye, watching Kevin scratch his face in a vague panic.
As Danny drives into Philly at 1 am on a weeknight, he’s relieved it takes a relatively short amount of time. He’s even more thankful he doesn’t have to actually find parking. A part of him can’t believe he’s the one doing this shit still - he thought he retired rookie-tending after he retired proper. There’s no end to the corralling of the untethered, manic sheep, he supposes, as he sees Joel standing outside - with no Carter in sight.
He grips the wheel tightly and he’s about to park illegally just so he can get out and lose his shit at Joel when he sees Danny and makes a happy face, reaching to the ground where Danny couldn’t see to pick up Carter. With a sigh, he waves them over, and they climb in, Carter being deposited in the backseat.
Danny takes a long look at him as Joel climbs in and he asks, voice weary, “What’d he take?”
“I’unno,” Joel answers, looking back at him himself. “He got super drunk, I think maybe some coke. Standard shit.”
Danny rolls his eyes and reaches back to shift Carter onto his side. The kid groans and slaps his hand away vaguely before dozing off again. Finally, Danny puts the car in drive, and it takes everything in him to not scold Joel or mutter under his breath about damn kids today. He wonders if G ever does this for the rookies.
It’s as if Joel’s reading his mind, because he says, his voice still slurred, but quiet now, “G usually does this for us. Well, not as much these days, he’s pretty stressed lately, but, like, usually.”
Shifting in his seat, keeping his hands on the wheel and with as casual a tone he can manage, Danny says, “He’s stressed lately?”
“Yeah, dude, aren’t you guys, like, married?” Joel laughs, light-hearted and carefree. It makes Danny cringe and warm in equal parts. “He’s watching Gavin a lot more lately, anyway. I don’t know why though.”
“Oh,” Danny breathes out. He feels Joel give him a look, but trusts he won’t ask about it, judging by the weird amount of respect the kid still has for Danny. Sure enough, he remains silent, but Danny finds himself wishing someone would. For an insane moment, he feels tempted to confess the last decade of his life to this almost-child beside him, who’s probably drunk and a little coked out himself. Shaking it off as Joel yawns loudly, Danny almost wants to slap himself. Of all the players on the team to randomly drop his marriage and divorce from their captain on, the weird kid who memes a lot and is trying to be a wino at age 20 should be the last option.
The rest of the drive passes in silence, except for a brief moment where Carter starts coughing and scares the shit out of the other two. He immediately shifts and starts snoring again, however, and they relax, Danny pressing the gas again after hitting the brakes in the middle of the highway. He ignores Joel’s comment - are you supposed to do that? - and quickly makes his way to Joel’s, who’s currently rooming with Morgan Frost, an arrangement that Joel refuses to comment on and Danny is biding his time to ask about.
He waves off Joel’s offer to help with Carter and simply tells him to get some sleep. Danny realizes as he’s driving away that they live in the same complex Claude moved into in Cherry Hill after he left Danny’s. Breathing deeply as he heads home to Haddonfield, Carter passed out in his backseat, he focuses instead on how he’s going to fix Carter and Kevin. If he can’t fix his own love life, he supposes, he can at least help someone else.
Kevin’s asleep when he gets in, passed out on the couch. Danny is irked, as he hoped to have the big man’s help getting Carter in, but his old muscles seem to manage, hoistingCarter to the guest bedroom on the ground floor. He puts him to bed, not bothering with any truly tender care, as he doesn’t think Carter would appreciate it too much. He goes back to the living room to place a blanket on Kevin’s form and, after cleaning up his mess of notes, heads to bed himself.
I wonder what happened to Johnny? Danny thinks to himself, climbing into bed. He realizes Kevin probably doesn’t know either and he tries not to worry too much. Hopefully he found his way back to the hotel and didn’t make too many mistakes himself. Danny knows, for as much as he’s urging Kevin to move on, that Johnny has too much going on in his own head to try and pursue fixing things with Kevin. He has to love himself before he can ever love Kevin, Danny knows that.
He tries not to wince as he realizes the same was true for him and Claude.
The next morning, Danny immediately remembers the events of the night previous, and he quickly makes his way downstairs. The only being that greets him in the living room, however, is his dog, who makes whining noises at him for food. After gathering her breakfast and feeding it to her, Danny wanders around his own house before he hears voices in the guest bedroom.
Bracing himself, he creeps up in the hall and, scolding himself for it harshly, leans against the door to try and listen. He only gets bits and pieces.
“...liked kissing you, I’d like to more, but I understand if…”
“...going on with him, you can’t put me in the middle…”
“...swear, I didn’t know he’d follow…”
“...mean, you didn’t know…”
“...broke up with him, like, officially, and he just didn’t…”
Danny pulls his ear away. He hopes they figure it out. He really doesn’t want to get involved, as much as he resolved the night before to fix whatever crises lay between them. Walking quietly back down the hall, he settles into his office and eyes his phone as it immediately begins ringing. To his surprise, it’s-
“Danny, are Hartsy and Hayesy with you?”
Claude sounds panicked out of his mind and it almost makes Danny say ‘aww’ out loud. That would most certainly not be the answer he wants. Instead, Danny answers, “They are, I picked Carter up last night with-”
“Beezer, yeah, he said, thank you. I usually do, but-”
“You’ve been stressed lately.”
The line is silent. Danny bites his lip, his body cringing inward as he presses his forehead into his hand.
To his surprise, Claude answers calmly, “I have. Did Beezer say that?”
“Yes,” Danny says, unconcerned with ratting out a child. Claude just huffs and chuckles quietly. Danny remains silent, but it’s clear Claude is expecting him to speak for some reason. Slowly, he says, “If it’s about the team-”
“It’s not about the team and we both know it.”
Danny’s breath hitches and he feels his heart crack a little at the guilt. It’s a marvel, he thinks, how Claude can still find little ways to dig at him and hurt him all this time later. He thinks if he ever actually does move on properly from this infuriating man, he’ll still hurt anyway. He wonders why the fuck that’s the case.
His silence, however, seems to stir Claude into action and he says in a regretful tone, “I didn’t mean it like that. I meant… I’ve got a lot going on at home.”
“That doesn’t help,” Danny grits out, knowing that means it has to do with him somehow anyway. He absolutely does not want to know the excruciating details of whatever that means. Thankfully, Claude seems to realize this.
“Look, forget I said anything. It doesn’t really have anything to do with you, okay? At the end of the day, I don’t think it ever really did.” And doesn’t that give Danny pause. “I just want us to be okay. To be friendly, like before everything. ”
It takes everything in Danny not to snap at him that there was no “before everything,” they always had an insane amount of tension between them of one kind or another. It’s why they clicked so well on the ice but it’s also why they ran through the entire emotional gamut off it. Eschewing his negativity and need to be right, however, just like his old therapist taught him, he says instead, “I’d like that as well. Joel said you’ve been spending more time with Gavin. I won’t ask, but I do love babies, so you should tell me more about him sometimes.”
“I’d love to, if you want,” Claude says in a rush, sounding like that’s all he’s wanted to hear from Danny since they reunited. It makes Danny smile, despite everything. He always knew Claude would be a great father, and, if he can say so, he gave Claude a lot of practice with his own boys. It’d be nice to see it in action again.
“I do want. Your other sons, however, are unfortunately not the cute kind of babies and they are currently trying to argue out their absurd relationship in my guest bedroom.”
“I’m assuming that’s not in a fun, sexy way.”
“I feel like that’d be less helpful at this point.”
“Ah,” G says, sounding like he understands what’s happening completely. Danny wishes he did. He just feels old, tired, and sad, and he’s hoping soon he stops. As Danny goes to respond, he hears a door open, and he says, “I gotta go.”
Claude says goodbye and good luck and Danny dashes out of his office to see both Kevin and Carter standing in the hall. He freezes where he is, lest they see him, and watches as they give each other shy, tiny smiles. Kevin holds Carter by the arms and Carter seems content to place his hands firmly on Kevin’s abdomen. Danny watches with a quirked eyebrow as Kevin leans down to give Carter a small kiss before turning to leave.
Carter looks down the hall and flushes at the sight of Danny, who accidentally put a hand on his cocked hip and probably looks more like an irked father than he intended. The front door opens and closes before Danny can follow up with Kevin, so he turns on Carter instead. The kid seems to sense it, as he starts to edge down the hall, apologies and thanks falling out of his mouth, but Danny catches him before he gets too far.
“Uh-uh, we’re having a little talk. Even if it’s not about that, we have to chat about last night.”
“Fine,” Carter says, sounding like a teenager who just got his console taken away. Danny rolls his eyes and pushes Carter toward the living room and into the kitchen. Setting up to make them both omelettes, he waits Carter out. It’s silent except for the noises of Danny’s cooking.
Like clockwork, Carter breaks. “I don’t know how much Kevin told you, but we’re, like, together now. Or, we’re gonna be, I guess.”
“Going to be?” Danny says lightly, pouring him OJ. Carter takes it and gulps it.
“Yeah,” he says, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. Danny tosses him a napkin. “Like, Kevin said he needs a little time to work shit out with Johnny, and I need time to, like, get right with myself, or whatever.”
“Like,” Carter starts, grabbing the fork and knife Danny hands him. “With me, like, being into dudes, or whatever.”
“Ah,” Danny says, quirking an eyebrow from where he’s facing the stove. He’s resisting the urge to smile, although Carter’s probably so hungover and distracted he’d barely notice. He quickly passes some Gatorade to him out of the fridge, which Carter takes gratefully.
“He said I should talk to you. He wouldn’t say why.”
Danny tries not to sigh. He doesn’t know why Kevin seems to think he’s some kind of gay guru, considering he’s bisexual and he has two failed relationships with men (and women, he supposes). Nonetheless, he supposes there’s not many people to turn to. He’s trying not to think too closely about why there’s so many dudes into dudes on the Flyers specifically and wonders if it’s maybe just... Philly… ? when he realizes he hasn’t answered Carter.
He quickly turns, turning the eggs down on lower heat, and says, “Sorry, still not used to being open about it. I’m sure you understand.”
To his surprise, Carter blushes and says quietly, voice tinged with sadness, “I do.”
“But,” Danny says, stepping forward to rest his palms on the countertop. He watches Carter bring his eyes up and give Danny his full attention. His heart squeezes at the sight and at the sheer fact that over and over again, so many young players end up in that very seat, deeming him worthy of their deepest secrets and scariest fears. It’s a burden, he thinks, but a welcome one.
“I’m sure you’re realizing you’re not alone. I think the most important part of it, for you, and me, and Kevin, and whoever else,” my ex-husband, his mind traitorously supplies, “is that you give yourself a break and some room to breathe. It’s good to confide in people, no matter how scary it is. You can even confide in someone who you know is like you, but they might not be ready to say so yet, and they spurn you. Being into dudes is scary anyway, but in our sport? It’s potentially career-ending. But find comfort in the fact you’re less alone every day. It’s an awful thing to know you’re part of history, for how quiet and chaotic and terrible it feels in the moment, but you are, and I am, and so are the other guys like us.”
“But, I don’t want to be part of history. I just-”
“Want to be with someone you’re into?” Danny smiles sadly, watching Carter nod glumly. “I get it. Trust me. But there are more of us than we even know. 20 years ago, when I joined the league, I would have never, ever voiced how I felt.” Because I didn’t know. He brushes it off, feeling a wave of fondness and pride for the kid in front of him who’s already so much braver and stronger and curious than he was. “But now I know about you, and you know about me, and it’s safe here, in my kitchen. It’s safe with Kevin. And I don’t want to do anyone dirty, but you’d be safe with more guys in the room than you think.”
Carter’s eyes are like saucers. Danny smiles mischievously and wags a finger at him. “No, no, Carter, don’t go poking around. Just trust me, okay?”
He’s gratified when Carter nods eagerly. He turns to grab their food and serves it up, remaining standing as they both dig in. Carter’s silent as he eats, chewing thoughtfully, but he looks calmer, his shoulders less tense, his eyes less sad. He kind of looks how Kevin did that day in his office.
Danny thinks in a lot of ways it’s probably this simple. Knowing you’re not alone. If Carter can look at a guy like Danny, who, if he flatters himself, was pretty successful and made somewhat of a name for himself and still has some modicum of respect around the league, and know that Danny’s like him, it can bring him some peace. Danny feels the stabs of regret once more at not telling more people than Richie and Claude’s sister about their marriage. Maybe he can ask Claude to be more open about it now, since he’s remarried anyway. He thinks it’d bring peace to a lot of minds, for as much as it might suck to relive the old memories. He thinks it’ll always suck though, so might as well use it for good.
Carter disturbs him from his thoughts and asks, “Have you ever dated a teammate?”
Danny laughs. He can’t help it. Before Carter can look too disappointed or disheartened, Danny gives him a grin and shakes his head. “If I told you that, I’d have to kill you. It’s hard, I’ll tell you that much. But… I think it’s worth it, despite everything.”
Taking a bite of his omelette and watching as Carter’s eyes shine at the prospect of it maybe working or at the very least being worth it, he thinks back on the last 10 years of his life. Meeting Claude, spending nights with him, playing board games together, going to the kids’ games, their own little dates, scoring together, going to the playoffs side-by-side, getting married, he considers all of it alongside the disastrous fallout and years of heartbreak. Despite it all, remembering how good the good was, Danny feels comfortable and warm and sure as he responds, “Yeah. Totally worth it.”
Christmas break comes up on them all faster than they could have anticipated. They’ve been winning more than losing as of late which bodes well for their western road trip after the holidays. The room is a lot less tense now that they’re winning too, which helps Danny feel more at ease as he settles further and further into his role.
In the last couple weeks, he’s even successfully been having meetings with G at either of their behest. There’s only minimal awkwardness and Claude has even started showing Danny pictures and videos of Gavin. Danny feels a little bit like that’s dirty pool - Claude would know better than anyone how weak Danny is for babies. Nonetheless, things are… good, he thinks, sitting in his office after Claude leaves. Claude gave him a tight hug and pressed a box into his hand, making him promise not to open it until Christmas.
Danny smiles and tells him he’d never and Claude just smiles fondly and says, like he used to, “No, no, Danny, don’t be lying.”
That’s when Danny should have realized something was up. He tucks the box into his bag and makes to sit down at his desk again when he realizes he hears raised voices in the hallway. He stands straight again just in time for the door to his office open, revealing a very irate looking Ryanne Giroux. She shuts the door in Claude’s face, who looks outraged.
She locks it and takes a few steps forward before, with all the calmness she can muster, she says, “You lied to me.”
Danny blinks, his hands still holding the back of his chair. He feels safer, somehow, with the desk between them, even though he knows he’d win in a fistfight. He feels a little hysterical considering the very idea.
“You said you didn’t love him anymore.”
Danny stands straighter, recognition filling him. He grits his teeth and glares in the direction of the door. Despite his fury, he breathes deeply and says, “I don’t know what your husband told you, but-”
“He didn’t have to tell me anything, Danny, I’m not an idiot. I hear the way he talks about you. It’s how he’s always talked about you, but now it’s every single day.”
Danny and Ryanne stare each other down in his office long enough that both of them seem to deflate. Danny doesn’t know how to respond to that without damning either him or Claude and Ryanne doesn’t seem to be able to hold onto the anger and succumbs to sadness instead. The door bangs again and, together, the two of them yell for him to fuck off.
They hear Claude mutter outside, but no more noise comes. Danny finally takes a seat at his desk and gestures vaguely for Ryanne to do the same. She does, slumping into the chair, looking weary.
Sighing, Danny leans forward and takes in the woman opposite him. They’re so different, the two of them. They’re both petite - that’s probably their only commonality, alongside their fierceness and their love for Claude. Helplessly, Danny stares at her long blonde hair, wrapped neatly in a ponytail, and her big blue eyes, and remembers all too well how lovely her smile is, so wide and genuine. He thinks Claude is lucky. He thinks he would be luckier if he had Claude instead. Danny doesn’t know what to do with these two thoughts.
“You know,” Ryanne starts, sounding tired. “I knew when I married an NHL captain that I’d have some competition. I knew his eye might wander, I knew we might not last, I knew it wouldn’t be perfect and faithful. I’d be lying if I said my own eyes didn’t wander at times. But, you know, Danny?”
The room is still. He knows what’s coming.
“I never thought I’d lose my husband to another fucking hockey player. Especially one that he already divorced. I just didn’t think that was possible.”
Danny bites his lip and tries not to squirm. He’s 42, he’s an NHL (assistant) coach, he’s a father of three grown children, he will not cower in the face of an angry WAG.
“Ryanne,” He starts, watching her snap to attention. “I mean this with the utmost respect and with total honesty when I say… I don’t know what you’re talking about. No, let me finish,” he says, holding up a hand as she makes to protest. “It’s true. I lied to you. I still love Claude. I always will, though, you have to understand that. I didn’t want our marriage to end and if I had it my way, we’d still be married today, and tomorrow, and forever.” Toujours. “But…”
“But?” Ryanne says, sounding a little angrier again. Danny prefers the anger, he thinks. It’s much easier to deal with and respond to than the sadness or disappointment.
“But, Claude doesn’t love me. We’ve done nothing, he barely spends time with me, and I think I’d know the difference, considering I was married to him too.”
“Right, but you wouldn’t though. He dumped you, Danny, he took off without even trying to fix your marriage and divorced you, like, overnight. So first of all, excuse me for doubting whether or not you really understand him when it comes to you, and secondly, excuse me for being panicked considering his track record with divorces.”
Danny’s a little shocked, he’ll admit. When he woke up that morning, being told off by his ex-husband’s current wife was not in the planner. He woke up at 6:30 like always, walked Celeste and fed her her breakfast, woke Cam up for school and fed him real food, because he does that now, and then drove to work, sans Celeste. She was growing more independent and comfortable in their home and she was okay to be left alone now. Danny left the house this morning and got to work feeling very accomplished.
He no longer feels that way. Taking a deep breath to stabilize his emotions, shoving down all the hurt Ryanne is forcing up to the surface, and staring her down, he says, as sternly and calmly as he can, “I apologize if I did anything too forward. It won’t happen again. Yes, I lied to you, I love Claude still and I always will. If you’re truly as observant as you’re suggesting right now that you are, you should have known that. But now, I must ask you to leave. I would never do anything to come between you and your husband and I respect you too much to let you do or say anything you’d regret.
“It’s true. He has proven I don’t know him. He proved it then and he’s proving it now. However, I know the version of himself he wants me, and everyone else, to see. That’s all he’ll allow me, even now. So believe me when I say, you have nothing to worry about. The day Claude Giroux starts being honest with me about his feelings or what he’s thinking will be the day you have to worry. That day has yet to come and it never will. Are we clear?”
Ryanne looks smaller than he’s ever seen her. He stood at some point during that and he tried not to seem too intimidating, as that wasn’t completely his intention, but it didn’t seem to work. She nods slowly and stands up, her shoulders hunched. He watches as she takes a few quiet steps toward the door and pauses.
Sighing, Ryanne turns and drops her shoulders. “I know what I see. Claude’s love for you is the first thing I knew about him and I know it’s going to be the last thing, too. But I appreciate your honesty. I know you’ve always done your best by him, and by me, too.”
Danny swallows as he watches her open the door and walk away, feeling exhausted to his very core. He knew signing with the Flyers for a coaching position would dredge up old memories, old hurts, old arguments. He even knew things like this would happen, in some nebulous way. Danny and Claude are two people who can’t seem to escape each other’s orbit, always circling one another either physically or by name. Once, Danny wouldn’t have had it any other way. Once, Claude did.
What happened after Claude and Ryanne reunited, Danny could only guess. He had very little by way of clues where Claude was concerned, as the man continued to act as normal as he had been. So, Danny shoves the entire incident into the box of memories in his mind that makes up his life with G and tries to move on. He receives word from Richie that a couple of the old guys are back in town for whatever reason and the two conceive of a Christmas party for a lot of the Flyers alumni who can make it. Danny invites Carts. He knows he won’t come. Richie does too.
He’s sitting at his kitchen counter, typing away at the various text conversations regarding the party invite, when he hears the doorbell ring. He stands, thumbs still working away at his response to Hartsy, when he opens the door to see Claude standing there. The man looks torn between sheepish and pissed, and he’s holding a backpack and-
“Cameron. My lovely son. What is going on here?” Danny says, pocketing his phone, his voice tight. He stares hard at his son, who looks embarrassed and guilty.
Claude answers instead. “Your son got in a fight at school. He decided not to call you, but me.”
“You what? You- what?”
“For which part?” Danny feels vaguely hysterical as he tugs both of them inside, fussing over them. He checks Cam over, ignores his I’m fine! I’m fine! , even shuffles Claude onto the couch too. After running to the kitchen to get them drinks - water for Cam, iced tea for Claude - he sits down opposite them on the table and stares.
The two eye each other and sit forward, knees tucked, staring at the floor. Danny resists the urge to roll his eyes, although maybe he should, because the overwhelming memories and wave of fondness feels suffocating.
“This kid was saying shit about Andrew. He kept calling him names and I just, I lost it, Dad. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Danny says, and means it. “I get it. Sometimes telling teachers doesn’t help.”
“It doesn’t!” Cameron exclaims, looking anguished and lost. “I tried, I really did! It’s during gym, so I told the gym teacher, but Mr. Williams didn’t care, he was like, ‘Oh, okay, I’ll talk to him,’ and when I looked over, they were just laughing together. He probably agrees,” Cam ends his rant, looking wildly upset at the prospect.
Danny feels for him, mostly because it’s probably true. He wasn’t as young as Cam when he realized how much adults and authority figures can let you down, but it’s never easy. He sidles up beside his son and holds him close, leaning his head against him and breathing him in.
“I’m sorry, Cam. I don’t know if he agrees, but you’re going to find a lot of people in charge in your life that are just as cruel as your peers. That teacher was probably that kid once. While I’m not happy you fought, mostly for the fact that you could have gotten hurt, I can’t say I’m not proud of you for standing up for what’s right, especially in the face of a teacher who wouldn’t.”
Cam looks at him, his eyes shiny, and nods, tucking himself into his dad more fully for a hug. Danny holds him close and meets Claude’s eyes, whose expression is unreadable. He notices finally that Claude is holding Cam’s other hand. He elects not to think about that in that moment.
Celeste enters the room then and she starts to approach Cam, looking concerned, but then she freezes. Her eyes trained on Claude, she begins to bark, all of her fur rising up. Claude, usually a dog person, looks bewildered and begins the usual routine of trying to calm her. While it mostly seems to silence the barks, Celeste still growls and keeps her fur up straight, eyeing him warily.
Suddenly, Danny realizes the problem and laughs. “Sorry, Claude, she hates beards.”
With a shout of laughter, which seems to confuse Celeste who likes the sound of laughter very much, Claude shakes his head. He turns and looks fondly at Danny, as if the dog’s idiosyncrasies are the product of Danny’s training.
“Good to know, I’ll have to shave for the Christmas party then.”
“No, don’t,” Danny says, letting go of his son who seems deeply amused by whatever is transpiring before him. “I like it.”
Claude quirks an eyebrow at that, bringing a hand up to his beard and scratching it. Danny flushes as he watches Claude’s cheeks turn redder and the two look away quickly.
“Anyways,” Danny powers through, trying not to cringe at how he’s 42 and blushing over a beard compliment. “Why did you call Claude? You could have called me.”
“Because Claude said years ago to call him if I got in a fight because he’d be cooler about it,” Cam answers immediately. “In my defense, you’re way cooler now than you were, so I probably could have just called you, but, like, I wanted people to see G pick me up from the fight, too.”
Danny, who was feeling vaguely betrayed by how uncool his son thought he was and then pleased by the reversal, only laughs at the last bit. He nods, relenting the point.
Claude is smiling as he shrugs and adds, “I actually picked him up an hour ago. We got some ice cream.”
“It’s December,” Danny argues.
“You’re Canadian,” Claude responds.
Danny just rolls his eyes. He tries not to ache suddenly at how familiar this is and how desperately he misses it. If he closes his eyes, it could be 7 years previous, with his eldest son being beside him after a fight and Claude without a beard and with much uglier hair. Danny thinks, as privately as he can, that it’s unfair he never got to fuck this Claude, who’s got a great haircut, even better beard, undoubtedly a beautiful body. He blinks suddenly, forcing himself to tune back in to Cam and Claude’s conversation, who seem to have quickly moved onto the merits of ice cream year-round.
As he stares as G let loose a beautiful smile, his full set of teeth on display, his eyes crinkling in delight at Cam’s commentary, one hand on his hip and gesturing with the other, a wedding band sitting there again, he wills himself not to clam up and run away. It’d be so easy and he think it would be justified to kick Claude out in that moment. Claude himself would understand, even if Cam wouldn’t like it very much. He can’t seem to do it.
He does stand, however, and gestures to the kitchen. “Well, I’m sure you’re both full on ice cream, but I can make some lunch if anyone wants it.”
“Me, I do!” Cam says, bolting upright and making his way to the kitchen. Danny thinks he hears him rummaging around and asking for some kind of specific sandwich. Maybe roast beef, he’s been big on that lately.
Danny, however, stares at Claude, who looks torn beyond measure. The man scratches the back of his head, with Danny trying not to stare at how his muscles are tensing delightfully underneath his shirt. Finally, Claude says with a sigh, “I shouldn’t. Ryanne’s home alone with Gavin.”
It feels like he’s a balloon punctured by a needle. He deflates, whatever embers of hope that were flaring up becoming extinguished very quickly. Danny nods, however, and agrees. He’s not mine, he thinks sadly, watching Claude go into the kitchen to say goodbye to Cam. He’s not mine.
The Christmas party is kind of a blast, if Danny has anything to say about it. There’s only about 10 guys in attendance, no Cartsy of course, and everyone seems to be having a good time simply shooting the shit and getting moderately drunk. Everyone takes turns ribbing G for being the old guy on the team now, still affectionately treating him like a rookie. Timo in particular seems to delight in Celeste and, despite his beard, she delights in him in return. She spends most of her time sitting as much as she can in the laps of Timo and Simon, who looks a little too fond. Danny makes sure he knows he can get his own puppy at the shelter.
Danny catches up with Richie at some point towards the end, who offers way too graciously to help clean up afterwards. With a skeptical look, Danny agrees, watching as the man gives him a soft, sad smile and disappears back into the living room. He knows it’s hard for Richie, after everything that happened with Jeff, and with the drugs, but he seems okay now. More stable, anyway.
After a couple hours, Hartsy finally sidles up to Danny, which he had been avoiding all night. As they all sat around and relieved old memories, Danny and Claude did their utmost to move the conversation away from the old Brioux marriage jokes. Things were good between them now, but neither one of them wanted to make it awkward and painful again. Danny had to bite his tongue on how it’ll always be awkward and painful for him anyway.
With a gesture of his bottle toward Claude, Hartsy says, “What’s it like, coaching your ex-husband?”
Danny stares at him, boggled. He can’t be joking, his tone is a little too serious for that. But Danny knows Richie would never tell on them, not without express permission. He’d been on the receiving end of that kind of betrayal himself. So his eyes wander to Claude in disbelief. Noticing his distress, Hartsy smiles, small, but no less wicked, and says, “He told me after the divorce. Imagine my face on that call, eh? He goes, ‘Remember all those old marriage jokes? Well, they weren’t jokes, and now we’re divorced.’ Idiot,” he punctuates, taking a sip and shaking his head.
Danny just stares, feeling a bit like a fish left to dry out on a dock and thrown back into the cold water anyway. He blinks and chokes out, “Idiot?”
“Yeah,” Hartsy says, nodding. His eyes looks tight. “I mean, I’m not into dudes, but I can’t imagine giving up a marriage with you for anything. You’re, like, the best dude in the world. And it’s not like he wasn’t into you physically, so I don’t get it. I mean, I do, he told me about his stupid gay panic, but, like, doesn’t anyone know about bisexuality?”
Danny wisely stays quiet. He, like, did not know about bisexuality.
“Anyways,” Hartsy continues. “I love Ryanne, don’t get me wrong. But they’re gonna divorce one day. If it wasn’t you, it’d be something else. They’re just… they’re such good best friends, you know? You know those kind of people? Like Richie and Carts?”
“Yeah,” Danny says, a little hysterical, his eyes staring after Richie, who still bears the scars of a hard marriage and long divorce and even longer recovery. “Totally.”
“So, like, if you guys got back together or whatever, would that be unethical? Because you’re coach and player?”
“I have no idea,” Danny says, distracted beyond belief. Richie and G are locked in conversation now and it looks a little heated, actually. Richie seems to be emphatically pointing something out and he keeps cutting Claude off every time he tries to talk. It’s obvious how frustrated G is becoming, but Richie keeps powering through. Whatever it is, it must be important. Danny frets over his meddling teammates, feeling Hartsy poke at his side. He wishes he had Richie instead of Hartsy, honestly.
“I think it’d be cool, though. G has a baby and everything, you love babies.”
“Scott,” Danny says, his temper flaring suddenly. He lowers his voice and moves in as he notices Lappy look over inquisitively. “I need you to stop.”
“Okay,” Hartsy responds, holding up his hands in defeat. “But you’re gonna have to deal with this sooner rather than later.”
“I thought I dealt with it 6 years ago when he threw our entire marriage in my face one random night and walked out on us.”
The room was silent. Danny freezes, feeling every muscle in his body tense. His eyes are still locked with Hartsy’s, who has the good grace to look equally as panicked as he does. He slowly shifts his eyes to Claude’s, who looks furious. Richie looks pleased as punch, however, sipping his soda and quirking an eyebrow at Claude. Danny’s electing not to think about that.
To his left, however, he hears Lappy go, “I fucking knew it.”
With that, the room bursts into chaos, with everyone arguing with each other over who called it first, who called what exactly, bringing up old bets and owed settlements. Danny thinks he hears Simon say, “I know that coward would walk out on Danny,” and he takes a moment to look appalled at how easily his old friend is talking about his painful divorce. Simon barely flinches at the glare, too caught up in arguing with Timmo.
Danny startles as he sees G come into his line of sight, still looking infuriated. He hisses, “Can we talk?” and, without waiting, grabs Danny by the arm and drags him upstairs. Danny rips his arm away and tries not to flinch at how easily Claude leads them to their old room. He remembers.
They get inside and Claude shuts the door, but Danny has mustered some fury by this point as well. He opens his mouth to start yelling at Claude about embarrassing him even more, about not acting like an adult, about the fact they kept it secret to begin with, anything, when he feels Claude’s lips hit his.
Now, if Danny were a smarter, kinder, better man, he’d shove Claude away, tell him to go home to his wife and kid, and lick his wounds that are already burst wide open. However, Danny is weak, and lonely, and he misses Claude more with every year that passes, so he lets him in.
They stand there, wrapped up in each other, Danny letting Claude lick in his mouth earnestly. He wraps his arms around him, letting himself be held in return, and feels desperate at how good and right it feels to be right where he is. He knows this is a mistake, but he can’t seem to stop, his fingers touching the edges of Claude’s shirt for permission.
Claude nods, panting into his mouth, taking his own shirt off and then removing Danny’s just as quick. As soon as it’s off, he latches on to Danny’s neck, moving them slowly toward the bed.
There’s a certain efficiency to the way they undress and climb into bed together, to the point where Danny’s shocked by how instinctual and fluid it still is. Claude trails down his body and presses kisses to all the right spots, sucking in the best places, and Danny shivers. He hasn’t been a saint since returning to Philly, but there’s something undeniable about this.
It feels like coming home.
Claude whispers something into Danny’s inner thigh and he tries not to focus on it too much. His hands come up to pull Danny’s underwear down and he looks gratified to see Danny’s almost hard already. He blushes, astounded by how silly he can be at 42 still, and Claude just smiles before pressing a kiss to the tip of his cock.
“Stop it,” Danny says through a choked giggle, shoving his knee inward, hitting Claude’s bare shoulder. The man just smiles at him, his eyes crinkling in the way Danny loves so much now, and he lifts up his hips to let Claude pull his briefs all the way off. With a sigh, his hand sinking into Claude’s shorter hair, he feels his lips wrap around his cock and he groans in pleasure.
Claude is loving, but efficient, and it makes Danny smile. They got good at doing this quick and well, by the end. A few kids and even more teammates and the tight schedule forced them to practice. Danny’s in no mood to slow him down, however, too delighted in the tight, wet heat suctioning around him.
Claude gives a moan around him as Danny pulls tighter and he rolls his eyes as he tries to swirl his tongue all over. “Don’t get fancy,” he mutters through a moan, gently slapping the side of Claude’s face.
The man pops off and gives a little laugh, giving him long strokes with his other hand.
“Be nice, Danny, or I won’t let you finish on my face.”
“Oh please, you hate cum on your face.”
Claude just gives him a wan grin and whispers, “Just checking if you remember.” Danny doesn’t have time to think about that more before Claude ducks back down and makes quick work of finishing him off. Danny feels his toes curl before gently warning him but Claude persists, and swallows him down completely.
As he picks his head up and moves up Danny’s body, he wipes away some of the come that landed in his beard anyway, and laughs as Claude looks disgusted. Rolling his eyes and choosing not to mock Claude for the fact he just swallowed it all but he’s grossed out by it in his beard, he wipes it on Claude instead.
The man lets out a small yelp in outrage and bites hard at Danny’s collarbone, licking at it affectionately after Danny gently whacks him. Keeping his hand on Claude’s body, he captures his lips again and lets Claude settle on top of him as he moves a hand down to Claude’s hard, waiting cock.
He’s surprised a few seconds later when Claude’s hand joins his and they bring him off together in slow, firm strokes. Claude pulls away to tuck his face into Danny’s neck as he comes, and Danny can feel his smile as much as hear his moan when he does.
Danny just sighs, relishing in the feeling of Claude on top of him, breathing him in. He reaches over to the tissue box on the table to wipe off the mess and Claude tucks into his side, closing his eyes. They lay there, quiet, but calm, sweaty and naked, and Danny tries to relax his heart-rate.
He mostly manages, but then his eyes fly open as he remembers the party downstairs. They lay there for a while longer, neither of them seeming willing to talk or voice any kind of opinion or thought. Finally, though Claude stirs, and he slowly climbs off of Danny and out of bed.
Well, there’s no undoing that , Danny supposes, watching Claude get dressed. He suddenly feels like he should feel guiltier, or sadder, or something other than vaguely pleased. G doesn’t seem in any particular rush to leave, despite arising, just sort of carrying himself along in the way that he knows he should. As he replaces his shirt, he slows and stares at Danny, who’s still sitting on the bed, relaxed underneath the covers, watching him.
Danny watches as he walks over to the bed, puts a hand on it to balance himself, and leans in to give Danny a long, slow kiss. He brings a hand up to hold Claude’s head steady and takes in his smell one more time. Claude moves away finally and pockets his wallet from the nightstand. They continue to stare at one another, Claude’s hand coming up to run a hand through Danny’s hair. It touches at the greys around his ears and he sees a gentle smile spread on Claude’s face, but it looks wistful.
“We shouldn’t have done that,” Claude says, quiet. “ I shouldn’t have, anyway.”
“I shouldn’t have either,” Danny admits. “It’ll only hurt me in the long run.”
“Maybe,” is all Claude says in return. Danny narrows his eyes at that, ready to prod at him, but Claude just shakes his head. He presses another kiss to Danny’s lips before turning around towards the door. Danny will have to get up himself - he is still hosting a party after all. He’s about to remind Claude of that when he sees the man freeze, his hand on the doorknob.
Sheepishly, he turns around and looks at Danny. The man just rolls his eyes and stands, unashamed of his nakedness, preening at how Claude’s eyes follow him as he dresses. There’s no disguising the way they look - or smell, for that matter - but there’s also no disguising what they’ve been doing up here the last hour anyway.
The two of them amble down the hallway and Danny is surprised by how relaxed it feels suddenly beside him. If he shuts his eyes, they could be back 7 years, walking down the hall in the morning on their way to breakfast together. The sounds of the party filter up the steps, however, and shatter Danny’s daydream. The reality, however, isn’t as dire as it was a couple hours ago though.
That is, he thinks, until they arrive at the landing and everyone falls silent. The faces of everyone in the room look torn between pretending to be ignorant and absolute unabashed amusement. Finally, Danny says, “You might as well say it.”
To that, Hartsy quickly answers, “Well, someone should talk, considering how little talking you guys were doing, eh?”
“-yeah, I thought your mouth was only good for talking shit, G, turns out its useful in other ways, too-”
“-you think G was taking it? He’s got Sneaky whipped, get real-”
“-there’s no way, G’s probably got some Daddy kink or something-”
“-so you heard G saying Daddy too just now-”
“I’m so glad all of you retired,” G says, looking exhausted, but fond. Danny can feel his face flaming and he’s gratified to see G’s is too.
Lappy stands up then and says, “I’m assuming this is a closely guarded secret and all that jazz?”
“Yes,” Claude says just as Danny says, “There’s nothing to keep secret.”
The two share a look and Danny tries to convey his confusion as much as Claude tries to convey his persuasion. They seem to come to an agreement that whatever this is needs to be discussed more, but clearly, this is not the venue for that, nor is it the day. They look back and Lappy looks at them in disbelief, his face morphing into one of laughter.
“You two are ridiculous, I can’t believe we never realized.”
“Hey, speak for yourself,” Hartsy says.
“I told you, Hartsy, you didn’t realize shit,” Claude says, his tone dry. The man looks smug anyway.
Kimmo speaks up then, looking concerned. Danny feels a rush of fondness for the man. “So how has it, uh, been? I mean, obviously you’ve got a bit of unresolved… uh, shit, but, you know, working together and being, well, divorced? Has it been weird?”
“I’ve been normal,” Danny says, giving Claude a hard side-eye.
That just gets him an eye-roll in return. “You have not been normal.”
“More normal than you.”
They both huff and Danny chooses to ignore the amused commentary of everyone in the room at that. His eyes meet Richie’s, who’s been silent this whole time, and he feels suddenly guilty looking at Richie’s sad eyes. He stands up straighter, and a little tenser. Claude must feel his change in mood, because he looks at him with concern. Danny just shakes his head and they both take that cue to return to the party properly.
The night wraps up quickly after that, most of the guys winding down and drinking waters. The night’s conversation doesn’t linger on Danny and Claude, mostly because no one seems keen to bring up Claude’s very real wife and child at home, or the fact they work together. Danny knows no one can talk in this room - Ryanne was right. Hockey players, like most athletes, wander. But he’s felt good about never being complicit in anything like that, until tonight.
He still doesn’t feel as guilty as he should, he thinks, as he looks at Claude’s unlocked phone in the man’s lap at the home-screen which displays Gavin proudly. He thinks Ryanne will probably know when Claude gets home. She’ll know it was him, too, which will probably hurt more than if it was someone random. He wonders why Claude doesn’t seem too worried about that.
As he wraps the party up, everyone files out, thanking him with big hugs and promises to do it again soon. Eventually, he’s standing there in his house with only Richie and G left, who seem locked in another whisper-fight. Danny clears his throat and they cease.
Claude gives Richie a long stare and then grabs his coat to head out. He gets to Danny at the door and they pause, looking at each other for a long time. It feels like a while, anyway, to Danny. In the end, Claude leans down to kiss Danny on the cheek, and whispers, “I’ll call you.” Danny says goodbye and watches him go, boggled.
As he closes the door, he hears Richie begin to clean up behind him. Jumping into action, he assists, both of them moving silently. The tension is growing and Danny feels ready to scream. He wishes Richie would just say whatever he wants to say already. He can figure what it is - that Danny’s an idiot, he’s setting himself up for a world of hurt, he’s doing exactly what Richie did. He doesn’t get why Richie’s waiting so long.
Finally, all the trash is taken care of and the house is restored. They both stand at the kitchen counter and Richie finally looks at him, his eyes trained on Danny.
“I already know what you’re gonna say,” Danny says quietly.
“Oh yeah?” Richie asks, his tone unreadable. “What’s that?”
“That I’m an idiot, I’m setting myself up to get hurt again, I’m making the same mistakes you made, I’m kidding myself, whatever.”
Richie quirks an eyebrow but stays silent. Danny doesn’t know what to do. So they just stand there, looking at each other. Celeste wanders in from her hiding spot in Danny’s office, overwhelmed by all the people and now calm once more, and pushes her nose against his hand. He pets her absently, bending down to give her a kiss. When he stands up again, Richie is much closer and he looks caught between anguished and pleased.
“I’ll be honest with you. I know you probably saw me and G arguing tonight. I shouldn’t tell you, but I’m not confident he will, so I’m going to.”
“What is it?” Danny asks, suddenly filled with anxiety. Celeste seems to sense it, because she whines and stress-yawns at his feet, tapping him with her foot. He continues to pet her absently.
Richie sighs and says, “He and Ryanne separated. A couple weeks ago.”
The kitchen is silent. Danny swallows, afraid and unsure of how to react. He feels frantic and frayed, all of his thoughts scattering in and out of his reach both. On the one hand, he’s upset because he feels like he caused that and he’s not even sure he and Claude should be together again, as much as he’d like that. On the other hand, the selfish part of him is pleased, because maybe it means Claude regrets their divorce as much as he does and he’d like to try again now that they’re older, wiser, stronger. On the third hand, the one probably attached to Richie’s body, trying again doesn’t always work, and Claude has a child to consider.
Richie is patient. He starts absent-mindedly wiping the counter. Danny sighs and moves to sit on a stool. Richie joins him and they sit in silence, both of them pondering their own marriages, he’s sure.
Finally, Danny speaks, “Claude seemed… fine. He didn’t seem guilty, I mean. I should have figured.” Richie says nothing, so Danny continues. “I need you to believe me, I would have never asked him to leave his wife.”
“I know that,” Richie says, “And so does he.”
Danny’s eyebrows knit together at that and he turns to look at Richie head-on. The man continues staring forward, but Danny keeps staring until Richie relents.
With a sigh, he explains, “I told him he’s taking advantage of you. That you always have, in a way, you’ve always been there and he’s always taken that for granted. He said he thought the divorce was mutually understood, in a way, and he didn’t realize how much he’d hurt you until recently.”
“He didn’t know how much you loved him, I guess. Still do, apparently.”
Ignoring that final jibe, Danny thinks desperately back to that conversation in the hallway.
“You don’t, then.”
Was he that selfish with his love? He thought it was painfully obvious, embarrassingly so at times. He thought he looked like a fool in love, more than anything, and he honestly thought that’s why G tucked tail and ran as quickly and easily as he did. He thinks wildly back to random memories of their marriage, of any time where he didn’t say he loved him as quickly as he should have, or as earnestly.
His parents always showed their love in little ways. Picking things up at the store, offering to make dinner, asking how each other was feeling, listening to their complaints. Part of Sylvie’s issues with him was that he could be so affectionate and intimate, but only when it was Romance Time, and not really ever else. He thought it was different with Claude - he felt like he couldn’t stop being affectionate with him, which was why Claude told him they couldn’t tell the team. But maybe he got it wrong. Again, his brain unhelpfully supplies.
Looking at Richie more clearly, he just heaves a sigh. Richie smiles, sipping the rest of his soda, and says, “Yup,” his lips popping. Danny shakes his head, leaning forward, his dog at his feet, and feels every single minute of his 42 years of age.
Christmas happens and it’s peaceful. Danny actually hosts it with Sylvie and her new husband visiting, while Caelan and Carson both return home from college. Sylvie had a new baby about 2 years previous and Danny is not proud enough to pretend he doesn’t delight over tending to her the entire time they’re over. It seems to please Mark, Sylvie’s new husband, who was always a little intimidated by Sylvie’s NHL player ex-husband.
Danny’s in the middle of showing the baby the birds flitting around in the backyard through the window when he hears his eldest son approach. His footfalls are a little lighter, a little quicker, much like his. He braces himself for what he’s been sensing coming.
Sure enough, Caelan wastes no time, and he says, “So you and G, huh?”
Danny just rolls his eyes and continues to play with the baby.
Caelen persists however. “Dad, come on. What’s the endgame there? Cam said you guys are reconnecting?”
“Caelan, if it was something to tell you, I’d have told you. In an effort to be honest with you, since you were the most aware of what happened, I’ll tell you what’s actually happened. We’ve become civil, friendly even, he and Ryanne separated, Ryanne and I had a weird little fight, and we slept together before Christmas. I don’t know what’s happening,” he says, cutting off Caelan’s line of questioning. “But here’s what I do know. I’ll be careful, because I have to be, but I do love him. I always will, you know that. But I won’t put my own happiness or you guys at risk again.”
“You didn’t put us at risk before, Dad. You loved him and he bailed. You did everything you could.” Danny is silent, his thumb gently swiping at the baby’s snotty nose. Caelen moves further into his line of sight and looks worried. “Right?”
“I don’t know,” Danny says, his eyes staying trained on the baby. She’s sweet, if a little quiet. She seems as fascinated by him as he is with her. “Maybe I didn’t.”
“I doubt that,” Caelan says, his voice sure and steady. Danny feels a wave of love for his son, so indignant at the very thought that Danny might have failed someone or something. There were a couple years where his eldest blamed him for his failed marriage with Sylvie, but those days are long gone. Sylvie was angry for a while with him, and he with her, but the years have mended their relationship. Danny should have known Claude was different just from that.
“Anyways,” Caelan continues, a hand resting on Danny’s back. “I love you, Dad. I love G, still, just like you- well, no, not just like you-”
They share a loud laugh at that, Caelan’s face transforming into something grotesque. He shakes his head and powers through.
“You know what I mean. But I love you more. That divorce sucked, as much as you pretended it didn’t. You might have fooled Cars and Cam, but you didn’t fool me.”
“I never do,” Danny says quietly, looking at his son fondly. They share a smile and Caelan squeezes him tightly, his other hand coming up to play with the baby’s fingers. They listen as the others laugh loudly at something in the living room and Danny feels calm, if not like there’s something missing. He knows what, or who, it is, as Celeste comes up to bump his knees.
His mind suddenly recalls Claude pressing a box into his hand a couple weeks before, telling him to open it on Christmas. He hands the baby off to Caelan, who takes her happily and snuggles close to his half-sister. They take Danny’s place as he makes his way to his office, opening the top right drawer where the box was sitting.
Slowly, his fingers giving the lightest tremors, he unwraps it and takes the lid off, his eyebrows crinkling. Pucks? Danny thinks, feeling slightly disappointed. As he takes them out, however, he turns them over and sees the dates. On one, it says 21/11/08 @ BUF, G DB, A CG. The other, it says 29/3/09 VS BOS, G CG, A DB. A small note at the bottom, looking surprisingly old, says, Our first collabs. Here’s to many more.
Danny has never seen these. They’re cleary old - the logos on them look old, even. He can’t believe Claude had these to begin with, much less after all this time. It’s been 12 years since the first one. He sits down heavily, both pucks sat on the desk before him and the note still clutched in his hand, and pulls out his phone, opening his text conversation with Claude. Claude never called him, like he said, but he did text him, and they’ve been texting regularly. Danny keeps getting lovely pictures of him and Gavin, and constant updates about anything Claude thinks of, hockey or otherwise, and Danny gives him the same. There’s been no mention of Ryanne and Danny is in no rush to bring her up.
The last text Danny has from Claude is the previous night, when Claude wished him goodnight and a Merry Christmas. Danny wonders if the Giroux household is holding up okay that day. It’s probably an awkward Christmas.
In lieu of texting, he hits Claude’s contact picture and calls him instead. The call is rejected, but then 2 seconds later, he receives a FaceTime call instead. Rolling his eyes at Claude’s insistence on FTing at all times, he answers, smiling immediately as the face of Gavin fills the screen. He greets the toddler, who hits the phone a couple times in recognition.
Claude’s laughter is heard behind him. “Say, ‘Merry Christmas, Danny!’”
The baby lets out a delighted yelp and they both laugh joyously. Moving the phone so it focuses mostly on his face rather than his son’s, Claude smiles warmly and says, “Merry Christmas, Danny. How is it?”
“Good,” Danny answers honestly. He gives him a short summary of the day’s events and tells him Sylvie is well. Claude scoffs at that. “What?”
“You’re much friendlier with that ex than you were with me.”
“You’re harder to get along with,” Danny chides, smiling nonetheless.
“Says the guy who invited me into his house because he was lonely after his divorce and I was easy to get along with.”
The two glare at each other before chuckling, shrugging it off. Danny’s eyes move behind Claude, but the man catches it and smiles sadly.
“Ryanne’s not here.”
“I know you know.”
Danny sighs. He had hoped they could do this in person, but since they’re here they might as well. Honestly, he’s not even completely sure what he’s looking for here. More than anything, he wants Claude to realize his choice to leave Ryanne has to be separate from anything to do with Danny directly. He knows how painful it is to be dumped by Claude, he doesn’t wish it on Ryanne, but if it has to happen, Claude has to do it right. The part of him that’s ached for 6 years for the man, however, is eager for Claude to get it over with. He thinks Claude knows.
So, he says, “Then what’s happening here, Claude?”
They’re silent. Gavin’s making quiet noises, chewing on Claude’s sweater sleeve. Danny can hear the distant sounds of his family in the living room, still chatting away. He’s moved to the office by now, shutting the door and sitting down as Celeste resumes her place in her bed in the corner. Claude looks like he’s contemplating the best way to approach whatever he’s about to say, and Danny is so, so grateful.
The memories of Claude saying whatever struck his mind that night all those years ago are still a little too vivid.
Finally, Claude takes a deep, shaky breath, and says, “Did you open my gift?”
“Yes,” Danny says, his voice cracking slightly. He thumbs the pucks, holding the first one a little tighter.
Claude pauses, clearly searching Danny’s face for something. He must find it. “I want to get back together. But I want to do it right. All of it.”
Danny lets go of the breath he was holding. A thousand thoughts rush through his mind - What about Ryanne? What about marriage? What about the team? Is it unethical? Who can know? Will they move in together? What about Gavin? - but ultimately, he just says, “Okay.”
Claude pauses again, perhaps expecting more. He blinks, but then confidently adds, like he’s thought a lot about it, “Ryanne and I are getting divorced. It’s not entirely you,” he says quickly. Danny wasn’t going to ask, but he’s glad to know. “It’s mostly me. But it’s her, too. Our dynamic works, but it’s always been… weird. We’ve both known there was an expiration date, just… when, was the question. She’s my best friend, I just hope one day we can be that again.”
Danny nods. He doesn’t feel guilty nor jealous, to his surprise. He only feels a rush of sadness and a wave of fondness for the woman in question, who knew before any of them that this was going to happen. He wonders where she is, if she’s okay.
Reading his mind, Claude smiles. “You’re always thinking of the ones who need it, eh? Ryanne’s with her best friend, Chelsea. She lives in the area with her husband. She was here this morning, don’t worry. Chelsea just had a baby, like, 3 weeks ago, and her husband is, just, like, the worst, so Ryanne’s helping out. I think-” Claude’s face clouds with something curious and skeptical. It washes away. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter what I think. I’m glad they have each other, in whatever way that is.”
“Point is, Ryanne’s staying in the area, at least for a while. So I’ll still see this little guy, and so will you.” He pauses, staring with a very pale, stony face suddenly. “That is, if you’ll have us.”
Danny smiles serenely, his fingers touching the puck he’s still got a grip on on his desk. Gavin chooses that moment to slap the screen with a huge grin and go, “Ah!” He knows then he wouldn’t say no for anything.
The western road trip arrives quicker than anyone thought possible. Danny surprise himself at how little he actually thinks of Claude beyond G-as-a-hockey-player over the road trip. The last few years have seen this trip fraught with losses, however, and the attention the entire team and staff are paying to it takes over his thoughts.
Things are more comfortable with Claude, though, in a way Danny almost can’t remember them being to begin with. They don’t particularly have any kind of resolution and they don’t talk more about where they’re at, but Claude stands closer to him now, gives him softer smiles, puts his hands on Danny even in public in gentle but meaningful ways. As they stand in line for smoothies at a nice place in San Jose, Claude keeps his hand on the small of Danny’s back. He supposed at the time it’s because they had the protection of not being noticeable in such a non-hockey place. However, in LA, the day before their New Years Eve game, Claude does it again at lunch, leaning in closely to whisper in Danny’s ear, “You should talk to Nolan.”
Danny quirks an eyebrow at him and, with his face still close, Claude just smiles knowingly and presses a small kiss to Danny’s earlobe. Resisting the urge to shiver and failing miserably, they both lean back and Danny avoids the smug, all-too-pleased look of Lappy across from them.
Taking Claude’s words to heart, he seeks Nolan out in his hotel room before his mid-day nap. It’s their off day, but Nolan can always use the sleep. Danny hasn’t talked to him about his migraines yet, but he’s sort of glad - he’s not sure he can offer any advice there. Nolan probably doesn’t want it anyway.
He lets Danny in when he knocks and seems to sense why he’s here. As soon as Danny sits on the standard hotel room desk chair, Nolan says, “G send you?”
Danny smiles, amused, and says, “Perhaps. I’m assuming it must be dire if Claude noticed and I didn’t.”
“It’s-” Nolan hesitates, picking at the bedspread as he sits down again. Danny’s taken aback by his lack of a bitchy comment or unwillingness to speak. Rolling the chair closer, he gives Nolan an encouraging gaze. Nodding, he continues, “I slept with Nico. Before the break. Or, like, on Christmas Eve, whatever.”
Danny nods slowly. Oh boy. “And you… regret it?”
“No,” Nolan says, his voice slightly hysterical. His cheeks fill with color immediately. “I don’t, that’s the fucking problem, but he does.”
“And you’re sure?”
“Uh, pretty fucking sure,” Nolan snaps, pulling out his phone. He shows Danny a brief look at their text conversation and call log, showing a bit of one-sidedness. Danny bites back his comment that from what he saw, it doesn’t look like Nolan is pleased about what happened either. “He won’t answer anything.”
“Hm,” Danny says. He hesitates, but hopes Nolan’s mature enough for this conversation. “Forgive me, but were you guys drinking when you slept together?”
“No,” Nolan says, but stops. “Well, kind of, but just some eggnog. Like, a little tipsy, but we were both totally still with it. That’s why I’m so pissed, you know? Like, we’ve been dancing around it for fucking years, whether either of us wanna admit it, and now, he’s, like, totally icing me out.”
Danny nods. His mind reminds him Nolan’s maybe-lover is Nico as in Nico Hischier as in New Jersey Devils prized young forward as in teammate of an old friend of Danny’s. Raising his head, Danny says, “Would you allow me to interfere?”
Danny tries not to smile at how skeptical and wary Nolan sounds. It’s scary, he knows that. “One of my still close friends is a Devil. He’s… well, at the risk of potentially betraying his confidence, he’s a bit like us.”
“Oh,” Nolan says. He stops, though, and says snidely, “Simmer got traded again.”
With a shake of his head, faintly exasperated by just how much attitude this kid has stored in his big, boring body, Danny says, “Not him. Let me help, okay? I’ll let you know how it goes.”
Hesitating, his eyes flitting around as if running through the mental roster he has of the Devils, he finally nods. His eyes are filled with trust and weariness and Danny, like with Carter, and Kevin before him, feels a heavy but welcome burden of the trust of these young men who just want a little love and guidance after so long without it in this god-forsaken sport. With a hand on his shoulder, mostly for help to get up but also for support, Danny stands and leaves the room, drawing his phone out.
He brings up an old contact and hits dial, his foot tapping on the floor as he waits for the elevator. As he steps on, he hears a cheerful voice in his ear, and he immediately smiles.
“Hi, PK. It’s a little urgent, but… how close are you with Nico?”
It turns out PK is very close to Nico, as Danny suspected. PK, like Danny, which is a main reason why Danny was drawn to him so much, acquires younger players and takes them under his wing as much as he can. Fortunately, at the behest of Danny (out of interest at solving the love lives of everyone on the team after his seems to be coming together well, which pleases PK greatly), PK admits Nico has been troubled about Nolan and their “great Christmas Eve sex,” quoted.
PK said, sounding exasperated and like he was pacing, “I can tell he wants to, like, fly to Philly basically and do this thing for real with Nolan, but I don’t know what his hang-up is. Well, I do-” -he says before Danny can say he does know- “-but I’ll try to talk to him again. I won’t betray you or Nolan, don’t worry.”
“I know you won’t, PK,” Danny said affectionately. They spent the next little while catching up, long enough that Claude orders room service for them, as well as harassing PK into finally texting him back. Danny tries not to smile at Claude looking so put-out at being ignored.
The two are relaxing on Claude’s bed, watching TV as they eat and chat, avoiding anything too serious as per usual, when there’s a knock on the door. Danny sighs, knowing it’s most likely for him, and gets up to find out he’s correct. He opens the door to see Nolan, looking redder than he’s ever seen, a hoodie haphazardly thrown on alongside boxers and socks, but a smile wider than Danny’s ever seen it. He has barely enough time to quirk a brow before Nolan’s throwing his arms around Danny.
He stumbles back, shocked by the show of affection, but he wraps his arms around Nolan anyway, letting the kid have a moment of peace. Nonetheless, he’s let go almost immediately, and Nolan just says, “Thanks. I don’t know what you did, but thanks.”
Danny smiles, pleased as peach. He nods and says, “It’s all you at this point. If you need me, I’ll be here.”
“Yeah,” Nolan says. He looks around Danny, then, and sees Claude sitting on the bed in a t-shirt and boxers of his own. Nolan’s face turns smug and bitchy, as per usual, but before he can even make a single comment, Danny shoves him.
“Go, mind your own business,” he says, ushering Nolan out. He hears the kid laugh slightly.
“I could say the same to you. After fixing me and the other two, you finally fixed your own shit, eh?”
“I’ll tell Coach to bench you,” G says from inside the room, his tone sounding almost bored.
“I’m a coach,” Danny says indignantly, “I’LL tell AV to bench you.”
“Yeah, coach-captain relations, that’s pretty-”
“Goodbye, Nolan. Go talk to your boyfriend,” Danny hisses, feeling childish and silly and far too pleased after getting chirped so hard by his 22 year old player. He closes the door at Nolan’s laughter, louder now, and listens in relief as he hears him walking away.
Stepping back toward the bed, Claude looks tired, but pleased. Danny gives him a small smile and presses his lips to Claude’s head before climbing back onto the bed himself. As he tucks himself into Claude, an arm wrapped around him and cheek pressed to his hair, he feels calm and peaceful. He’s running out of energy, he thinks, to be fixing everyone so much. He doesn’t have much left in him, so whoever’s next better be easy.
Past-Danny has no idea , Danny thinks to himself as he stands beside Jeff Carter at a rooftop bar in Los Angeles after the Flyers won their game against the Kings. The toughest challenge of all has always been this fuckin’ guy , he adds to himself grimly, watching Jeff down another shot before ordering a beer. The man hasn’t said much, except a few snide comments about the game that Danny had the good grace to brush off, and an insistence that they spend time together right now. It’s only about a half hour till midnight.
The bar is nice, Danny supposes, really nice. He’s almost shocked by the selection some of the guys made, but supposes G probably vetted the list after years of games in LA. Even for December 31st, LA has made the rooftop accommodations very pleasant weather-wise. He’s about to remark politely on the nice lights strung up around, shifting on his sore feet, when Jeff clears his throat.
Here we go, he thinks, taking a sip of his own beer.
“You and G back together, huh? Never thought he’d dip out on his wife like that.”
Danny tenses, but relaxes just as quick. He knows Jeff, knows this is his thing. He just sighs instead, leaning in closer and staring at Jeff long and hard. It’s easier to talk quieter this way. “You know he wouldn’t. What do you want to say?”
Jeff just grits his teeth a bit and takes another sip of his beer. Danny resists the urge to shake him, so he just taps his fingers instead. The bartender meets his eyes but looks away as Danny shakes his head. The music isn’t as crazy as it would be in the club, but Danny doesn’t recognize any of it either. He almost wishes he did, since it’d at least distract him from yet another excruciating conversation with Jeff Carter.
Just as Danny meets eyes with Claude, who’s standing beside Oskar and Adrian Kempe and looking concerned, Jeff says, “How’s Richie?”
Danny knew that’s what this was about, but he’s shocked at how quickly they got there. Looking back at Jeff more seriously, he says, “He’s okay. About the same as I was.”
And doesn’t that comment hang in the air. Danny finds himself growing irritated as Jeff clenches his jaw again and looks down, moving to rest his arms against the bar and stare at the coaster beneath his beer. Turning to lean against it too, Danny moves in close enough that it feels like they’re the only two talking.
In as hushed a tone as his anger lets him, he says, “I don’t care how ‘hard’ it was for you, or how ‘rough’ it ended between you two, or whatever other bullshit you’d feed me, you’ve fed Richie, our friends, or yourself, but it’s not cutting it anymore. You left him when he needed you the most. Sure, Jeff, it was hard, because addiction is hard, because losing your career is hard, but knowing your husband is cheating on you and walking out on you because you can’t get it together is even harder.”
Danny sees him flinch and drop his head even lower. He hates how much he realizes this is probably what Jeff was looking for. He just wanted someone to scold him, to yell at him, to tell him he fucked up. He thinks Richie probably never did. Danny hates that he has to do it.
“When you get married, Carter, it’s a promise, to be there when it’s good, but be there even more when it’s not. I don’t know why you thought you were exempt from that part of your fucking vows, but you weren’t, and you still aren’t. Whether or not you still love Richie is your business, but what you did to him is mine. You hurt him, and you hurt him every day more that you don’t at least apologize and own up to it. You owe that to him.”
“I’m sorry, Danny,” Jeff says, gasping wetly. He picks his head up and his cheeks are shining with tears. Danny feels vaguely hysterical at the sight. He is so ill-equipped for this. He also hopes he isn’t monumentally fucking things up for Richie. He knows Richie from a year ago desperately wanted Jeff to at least say he was sorry for everything, but maybe Richie from today doesn’t. He thinks he does, though. He deserves it, at least.
Putting a hand on his beer, making to grab it, Danny says, “Don’t apologize to me until you give one to Richie. In person, like he deserves. Like he deserved years ago. Jeff, the Kings broke the rules to cut him loose. How could you walk out on him after that and never, ever even own up to it or apologize? Doesn’t that sit on your shoulders? Doesn’t that keep you up?”
“Yes! It does! Jesus Christ, Danny, it makes me fucking want to throw myself into the Pacific sometimes-”
“Richie would know a lot about that.” They stare at each other for a long moment before they both break. Jeff’s face crumples again, but Danny’s softens. He sighs, deep and sad, and puts a hand on Jeff’s back before saying more quietly. “I’m sorry, that was cruel. To both of you. You know you need to talk to him. Please, Jeff. Stop putting it off. It’s only going to get harder as time goes on. Both of you need to heal.”
“What if-” Jeff stops. Danny urges him to continue. He sighs, wiping his nose, and says, “What if I want him back?”
Danny’s shoulders drop. It’s no surprise, and part of Danny thinks it might even be able to happen one day, but not anytime soon. There’s a lot of growing, and healing, and talking, and, well, therapy before that happens. But Jeff knows that, Danny thinks. He tries to find the bit of goodness in his heart that’s leftover for Jeff Carter and says, “If you do, don’t say so. Jeff, you put yourself first for so long. Please, put Richie first for once. Just be what he needs you to be, whatever he says that is. And if he doesn’t say anything, give him space. Do what you should have done years ago, that’s all.”
“That’s all, eh?” Jeff says, but he sounds lighter already. His cheeks are red and he’s ducking his head again. He’s probably embarrassed, Danny thinks, so he backs off. He watches Jeff down the rest of his beer and slap some money down on the counter. He quirks an eyebrow, but Jeff just stands tall, his cheeks still shining and red, and says, “I’m going home. Gonna make a resolution or two, make some plans.”
Danny smiles, tight, but earnest, and nods. “I think that’s a good idea.”
The two manage some semblance of a hand-shake and a hug before Jeff turns to walk away. He turns back after a few steps, however, and says, “I’m happy for you, really. You guys always make it work.”
“We’ll see,” Danny says. It’s enough to Jeff, so he turns and Danny watches him go. He sips at his beer and tries to relax his still-racing heart. It’s not very often he gets so angry anymore, despite being back in NHL hockey again. He wishes it wasn’t for something so near and dear to his heart. He supposes that’s why he’s so angry, though. He and Richie clung to one another in a lot of ways in the past couple years and Danny thinks maybe he was fighting for himself too, just now, asking for Jeff to do what he wanted Claude to do years ago.
It always comes back to Claude for him, somehow. You guys always make it work.
As if sensing Danny’s thoughts, Claude turns and notices Jeff’s absence. He gestures for Danny to follow him somewhere, so Danny drains his beer and goes. As it always seems to be, he thinks, watching Claude disappear to a more secluded area of the rooftop. Danny finds him leaning against a rail with a decent view of downtown, where fireworks would most likely go off.
With a hand on Claude’s back, he sidles up alongside him and feels content. Claude looks at him curiously, but Danny just shakes his head and whispers later before pressing a kiss to his ear. Claude smiles, a faint blush on his cheeks. Danny hesitates then, realizing they’re still in pretty open view of the rest of the bar and a lot of Flyers and Kings players.
Shaking his head as Danny makes to pull away, Claude wraps an arm around Danny’s middle and holds him close. They stay silent as they listen to the joyous sounds behind them as the clock moves closer to midnight. About 30 seconds out, Claude says, “I couldn’t have predicted any of this, last New Years Eve.”
“Me either,” Danny says honestly, snorting as he speaks.
Claude grins, and Danny thinks he looks so handsome. His beard, despite Celeste’s feelings about it, is quickly becoming Danny’s new favorite thing, and he’s eager to know how it feels on his skin.
“I’m going to stop worrying so much about things I can’t control, stop letting them control me and my happiness, I think.”
Danny blinks and smiles, shuffling his feet and falling more comfortably into Claude’s side. He feels Claude press a kiss to the side of his head. Looking out over the city as the clock rapidly approaches midnight. “I’m gonna stop planning things so much, I think,” Danny says quietly, feeling warm. “Things have worked out pretty well when I just… let them work themselves out.”
“I don’t think my teammates will allow that,” Claude says with a small laugh. “But I’ll help where I can, always.”
They smile at each other as the clock hits the 10-second mark. With a slightly smug look, Claude turns more properly toward Danny, and says, “Toujours.”
As the clock strikes midnight, and the new year begins, Danny almost cringes at how corny it all feels. He can’t deny how satisfied and pleased he feels anyway, however, and he meets Claude halfway before he can allow himself to feel too much like this is a dream. It doesn’t help at all, he realizes, as Claude pulls him in close to kiss him deeper, more meaningful. He thinks he hears a teammate who sounds a lot like Sean screaming about them across the bar, but he doesn’t really care, not if Claude doesn’t. It’s been 6 long years since he’s felt like this and he wouldn’t stop Claude for anything.
As they separate, and Danny can hear the team more clearly now that he’s not as hazy and his ears aren’t rushing with pleasure as much, he smiles fondly at Claude’s red face. He looks equally as pleased, however, if not a little apprehensive. He needn’t worry, though, as Beezer bounds up and starts losing his shit right next to them about hockey fairytales and true love. Frosty gives Danny and Claude a wry look and drags Beezer off, scolding him gently but looking for all the world like he agrees, as he looks back at them wistfully.
Danny looks back at Claude, who’s already eyeing him intently, and he just smiles. Before he says anything, Claude says with no small amount of seriousness, “We shouldn’t jump back into marriage, but if you’ll have me, I’d like to get back there one day.”
With a small laugh, his cheeks pink and a little anxiety coursing through him, Danny pats his shoulder where his hand is resting. “You should dissolve your current marriage first. But,” he adds, eyeing Claude’s suddenly anxious face. “You should really know by now not to worry. I’ll be yours forever, apparently.”
Ignoring his dry tone except for allowing a small snort, Claude says, “Forever?”
Rolling his eyes, listening to the sounds of everyone exchanging bet money and yelling conspiracies behind them, hearing Kevin shout over the din, “I KNEW FIRST!”, feeling so much fondness he feels dizzy with it, and thinking intently on his own kids, how they’ll react, and being able to raise little Gavin alongside his already great parents, he says, “Toujours.”