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Sidney dropped his garment bag on the hotel bed with a huff. He sat down heavily next to it, sinking into the plush white sheets. Being in Philly wasn’t ideal on the best of terms. Bad blood doesn’t just disappear after a game plays out and a season is finished. After the Flyers lost in what even Sid would consider to be a heartbreaking overtime, any and every active feud between the Flyers and the rest of the NHL had grown in intensity. The location had already been selected over a month ago so there was no changing or getting out of it. Not like Sidney would try to. It was important to stand up and show the world that hockey was a league above the rest. Hockey players held themselves to a higher respect and this was supposed to be an example of that. A player from several teams were in Philly for two days to film one of the largest You Can Play promotional videos encouraging equality, respect, and safety for every athlete no matter who they are, who they love and how they identify. Over the course of the summer and before Worlds there would be press junkets, youth interactive events and more filming to be done. This was important. No matter how exhausted he was, this was something Sidney was doing to give back. If this was what helped one kid out there on a team, then Sidney was going to do it.

            He had just barely given the idea of showering some serious consideration when someone knocked heavily on his door. Three slow and loud knocks. Sidney looked up at the ceiling wondering what other player had figured out what room he was in for the duration of the shoot. Sidney stood up and ran his hands through his hair before moving to answer the door. The person who was standing on the other side the hotel door was not who Sidney was expecting at all. Giroux.

            Sidney stood with one hand on the door knob and the other stretched out resting on the door frame. Giroux looked like shit. His hair was tugged back into a mess of curls and in a bun. His eyes were dark and hollow. It looked like he had chewed his lips raw at some point and they were now trying to heal. The lingering bruise on his jaw from a bad hit in his last game didn’t help him. Starting this trip off on a bad note wasn’t the best of ideas, no matter how much he wanted to chirp Giroux for the loss because Sid knew Giroux could have played a lot better. His stick handling was sloppy. There were too many opportunities that were missed because of slow reaction time. They were all trying but no matter what they did, they couldn’t climb out of the hole they played themselves into.

For the next two days, Sidney could be nice to Giroux. “I thought you would have holed up at your place rather than in a hotel room for this. At least that’s what I would have done.”

Giroux took a step back and looked to be considering Sidney and what to say actually say. He tucked his hands into the pocket of his hoodie. “I just wanted to say, let’s not, for the next couple of days. This thing, it means the world to some people out there. We shouldn’t mess that up.”

Sidney tightened his jaw, trying his best not to let his mouth hang open in shock. Instead of asking if there was something wrong like his first instinct was screaming at him to do. He reached out to shake Giroux’s hand. Giroux eyed Sidney’s hand for a moment before reaching out to shake hands.

            “I would say check me if I forget but I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Sidney smirked and Giroux rolled his eyes. “Yeah, even I would be a fool not to take advantage of an opening like that. Get some sleep Crosby. It’s going to be a crazy couple of days.”

            “You too, Giroux.” Sidney watched as Giroux turned on his heel and made his way down the hallway. His hands were still tucked in his hoodie, and he kneed the button for the elevator. Sidney snorted to himself as he shuffled back into his room and towards the shower. This was going to go a lot differently than Sidney had imagined.

 

            Giroux was right. The next two days were hectic. Sidney was surprised by the amount of players who were participating in the You Can Play videos. A lot of the guys were rookies and took the time in between shoots to chat up the guys who had been playing hockey for more than a handful of years. Sidney found himself laughing more and more at the stories they were telling and had plenty of ammo to use on other players when the time came.

            The biggest surprise was the fact that outside of the game, Giroux, Toews, Seguin and himself got a long with each other like a house on fire. Seguin jumped on his back, first thing when Sidney walked into one of the conference rooms they had taken over.

            “Crosby!” Seguin yelled into his ear as he rode through Sidney’s stumble before hopping off of Sidney’s back. “I should have figured you’d be here.”

            “Is that a bad thing?” Sidney asked as he trailed behind Tyler and settled into a seat next to him. They were next sitting next to a filming area. There were two stools adjacent to the white back drop. Lights were being adjusted and Sidney had to shield his eyes for a moment before the light was moved.

            “No dude,” Tyler rolled his eyes before sobering and nodding towards Giroux. In between last night and this morning he had his hair cut and styled. Sid grudgingly admitted that Giroux looked a lot better with short hair than he did with long. Tyler snapped his fingers in front of Sidney’s face to get his attention. “Did Giroux talk to you?”

            “Just to say we should let things be for this and not to cause any trouble.” Sidney answered with a shrug. Tyler whistled and shook his head. “What did he not tell me that he should have told me?”

            “The four of us,” Tyler nodded to wear Giroux talking to Toews who was getting his hair styled, “Are going to be doing the big video. The one that will be released last and is going to be the most talked about.”

            Sidney nodded. “Okay. I don’t see how that’s going to be a problem.”

            “He really didn’t talk to you like he said he would.” Tyler shook his head as if he were in on the big secret and couldn’t decide if he should let Sidney in on it or not. “Well, it’s not my place but let’s just say that all that hate? There might be a reason behind it.”

            Tyler patted Sidney’s thigh before getting up and making his way across the room towards Giroux and Toews. It was obvious that they were talking about him, if the way the three of them were looking at Sidney had anything to do with it.  Sidney waited it out though. Whatever it was that Giroux had to say, had to talk about, he’d do it at some point today. All the filming they were doing on day one was suit and tie interviews. Day two, they’d be on the ice getting action shots in their gear.

            “Mr. Crosby?” Sidney looked over his shoulder and smiled at the timid girl who was gesturing him over to the white back drop. They had removed the second chair and gestured Sidney to the remaining seat. “We just need you to go through the lines we gave you this morning. Easy to learn right?”

            Sidney smiled at the girl, “Don’t know how I can mess it up.”

            “We’ll let you know when we’re ready to film.” She added as she turned to check the lighting again. Sidney watched as several of the players who already had their turn in front of the camera gathered behind the taped off area to watch him. He repeated the lines, angled his body, tilted his head, smiled and spoke lightly, and finally added in a serious tone his finished off the echoing segment. He was about to stand up for the next person to have their go when the girl waved her hand, “We’re going to get the other gentlemen who will be doing the larger portion of the segment’s version of what you just did and then clear out the room to do the larger scene with the four of you. So don’t go too far.”

            Sid nodded before heading to the area where the rest of the players were standing in order to watch the filming. Once it was Seguin’s turn most of the guys took to making faces, miming and doing whatever they could to mess him up. Sidney felt a tap on his shoulder and glanced to see who wanted his attention. It was Toews. “What’s up?”

            “Can we talk?” He asked softly.

            “Sure.” Sidney followed him around the crowd and out the conference room. They didn’t stop until they were situated in a little corner of the lobby away from prying eyes. “What did you need to talk about?”

            “You and Giroux, I noticed you were cool.” Toews pointed out.

            “Yeah,” Sidney nodded before rubbing his chin lightly. “He came and talked to me last night, told me that this was important, more than us. I agreed.”

            “There’s nothing else going on?” Jon prompted. “He didn’t say anything else?”

            Sid shook his head, “I don’t know what everyone is worried about but no, there’s nothing else going on. We can be civilized towards each other outside of hockey. This, You Can Play, it’s important that all of us show a united front and ensure that our guys, our teams uphold this message. The only thing that matters in the league is how you play hockey.”

            Toews clapped a hand on Sidney’s shoulder. “I don’t think anyone ever doubted that when it comes to you. You’ve always been about the hockey. Nothing else matters.”

            Sidney shook his head in amusement. “Well I’m sure there’s something out there besides hockey. I just haven’t found it yet.”

            “Sometimes you just have to open up your eyes, man.” Jon stood up and nodded over Sidney’s shoulder. “I think we’re being called for.”

            “We should head in,” Sidney mumbled over his shoulder as he headed back towards the conference room. The girl who had asked him to stay put earlier looked a bit exasperated with him but chuckled as he held his hands up in apology.  “We’re clearing the room out but it’ll be just a moment before we start filming.”

 

            Sidney had barely gotten back to his room after filming to order dinner and crash for the night when there was an overly energetic knock on his bedroom door. There was only one person who that knock could belong to. Sidney opened the door to see Segs, Giroux and Toews in the hallway waiting for him. No of them had shed their suits entirely, just their jackets and ties. Segs was still in his vest and was in the process of pulling his tie loose.

            “So we thought dinner and drinks.” Segs offered as a greeting as he shoved the tie in his pocket. “Because, fuck, that shit was hard. I don’t know why I signed on for this.”

            “Because despite what the world thinks,” Jon smirked, “You’re an okay guy.”

            Segs frowned, “Just okay?”

            Sid rolled his eyes before grabbing his door key, wallet and phone. “Where are we going?”

            “I know a place. If there are fans, they won’t bother us.” Giroux offered. “Plus, I’m driving since none of you got a rental car. That means I pick.”

            “I was telling you earlier,” Jon started as they headed for the elevator, “There’s no reason for a car if you’re getting in a taxi to get to the hotel and shuttled to the arena the next day.”

            “Excuses, excuses.” Giroux sighed and shook his head. Sid turned to look over his shoulder at Giroux to see if he was a serious as he sounded but the grin on his face was enough to know he was playing. Toews reached out and shoved Giroux into the wall. “Just bring us to your car and to the food.”

            Segs draped himself over Sid’s shoulder and with wide eyes spoke as if he were ten years old. “We’re starving, aren’t we Sid?”

            Sid locked eyes with Giroux and nodded soulfully, “Starving.”

            Giroux snorted as he jabbed a finger at the elevator button. “Fuckers, I don’t know why I’m being nice to any of you.”

            Segs bounced on the soles of his feet and laughed, “It’s because that gingers aren’t as evil as you want us to believe.”

            The ride to the restaurant took far too long for any of their likings. Giroux promised that this place was worth the drive and the hunger pangs. It was too much time for Sidney to think about what they had all said during their You Can Play segments. What Giroux had said? That kind of tilted Sidney’s world on its axis. It wasn’t what he was expecting at all. Sidney doubted anyone in the league had any idea.

            Giroux was supposed to be someone he hated. They were supposed to hate each other but today was definitely proving everything Sidney knew about Claude Giroux wrong. He had to be halfway decent if Briere let Giroux live with him and his sons. Sid had always known that but he got so caught up in the rivalry, the hate between organizations, that he never stopped to think that he might have misunderstood Giroux just the same way that Giroux had misunderstood him.             

            “What are you thinking about so hard back there Crosby?” Giroux prompted as he pulled off the interstate and onto a highway.

            “I could hear the wheels spinning from here.” Segs added.

            “I was just thinking.” Sidney shrugged a shoulder. “It’s what those of us with brains do that from time to time, Giroux.”

            Giroux shook his head as the rest of the car erupted into boisterous laughter. Sidney didn’t bother explaining anything else. For all he knew that as soon as tomorrow came and went, he and Giroux would be right back where they were. Hating each other and doing whatever they could to piss each other off while they were on the ice and through the press. Everything would be back to normal.

            “Where the fuck are you taking us?” Segs broke through the laughter. He had his face pressed against the window and his eyes were wide. “Did you bring us out here to kill us? Because that’s what it’s starting to look like.”

            Sidney could see Giroux roll his eyes in the rearview mirror. “It’s a diner, I’m sure you’ve heard of those you redneck.”

            “Redneck?” Tyler sputtered and jerked against his seatbelt. “I’ll show you a fucking redneck.”

            Giroux grinned as he parked. “I promise, it looks derelict on the outside but the inside is a different story. The best fucking meatloaf you’ll ever have.”

            “Why do I have a feeling that nothing in this place is going to be on any of our meal plans?” Toews said to himself as he climbed out the SUV and started towards the diner. The only indicator of this being a diner was the hand written sign taped up to the glass door. Beau’s Diner (The best damn meatloaf you’ll ever have). Toews looked over his shoulder at Giroux as if to say, ‘what the fuck?’

            “Did your mother’s ever teach you not to judge a book by its cover?” Giroux yanked the door open and everyone was eating their words. This place definitely made his mouth water. It was a lot cleaner and nicer on the inside. It was a throwback to a seventies diner, all yellows and oranges. Figured. You can’t get away from Flyers orange being around Giroux.

            There was a laminated menu taped to the end each table. They crowded in close to get a glance to figure out what was good and Sidney met Giroux’s smug look from where he was currently being squished between Segs and Toews. This place was definitely not anywhere near their meal plan. The only thing that wasn’t fried was the meatloaf or chicken pot pie. The chicken pot pie was suspect though. Sidney never trusted anything that informed you what the ingredients was the chef’s choice for a particular dish.

            Jon looked up with his lips pursed in thought. “You sure you aren’t trying to kill us?”

            “Cross my heart.” Giroux nodded.

            Once they had all ordered and had gotten their water they sat awkwardly looking from another, waiting for someone to break the ice. Sidney tapped his fingers on his thigh and looked around the diner and Giroux was right. No one was paying them any attention. They were too busy talking and eating to be bothered by them.

            “I hope this helps.” Tyler mumbled as he peeled the paper wrap on his silverware apart. “Like, I don’t care what people say about me but this, what we’re doing, should help someone out there.”

            “Of course it’ll help.” Sidney responded without thought. It was abrupt and even surprised himself. “We all know someone who has stayed in the closet because of a shitty team or friends. We aren’t like that and sometimes all it takes is for people to know that. When I took the C, I promised myself that no one would have to go through the shit that I …”

            Sidney shook his head and felt his cheeks flush with what he had almost said. “It’s about respect and how you play the game. Like we said earlier, if you can play, you can play. That’s all that matters. That’s all that should matter and if takes us to be the example of how sports should be, than bring it.”

            Tyler’s mouth dropped open and he started to slow clap. “What the fuck Crosby? They should have recorded that instead of what they got earlier.”

            Sidney tried to shrug it off but he could feel the calculating glances he was getting from Toews and Giroux. Tyler would catch his slip up sooner or later but Giroux and Toews? There was a reason they had the C. He was saved from saying anything else on the matter when their food arrived. Sidney ignored the way Giroux eyed him and focused on cutting into his meatloaf. Why the fuck did he order the meatloaf?

            The rest of dinner and the ride back to the hotel had been a lot lighter than the beginning of dinner had been. Segs had taken it upon himself to tell the craziest story that he could and had the entire table dying. Sidney had figured they had forgotten all about his fiery speech by the time he, Toews and Tyler were walking to their rooms. Apparently he was wrong though because both Tyler and Jon stopped him before he disappeared into his room.

            “Whoever you were talking about earlier?” Toews started, “Let them know we’re on their side. Anyone gives them shit, even off season?”

            “We’ll take care of it.” Tyler finished. “Seriously.”

            Sidney tried to stop himself from turning red but couldn’t help it. He brushed his cheek awkwardly on his shoulder, “I’ll be sure he knows.”

 

            Sidney had more fun than he thought he would have the next day on the ice. It reminded him of a pick-up game back home rather than a group of professionals playing hockey to be filmed for a You Can Play campaign. Segs demanded that no real life captains were actual captains for this game so that defaulted to him and Galchenyuk picking teams. With the wry grin on both of their faces Sidney had a feeling that trouble was brewing.

            “We’re picking until we run out of players and we figure out who hits the ice first.” Segs announced with glee. “So suck it up and enjoy the madness. I picked heads, so I get first dibs.”

            Gally shoved him hard, “There was no coin flip you asshat.”

            “Crosby and Giroux.” Tyler yelled across the ice before looking back at Gally, “Too slow old man.”

            “I’m younger than you and you can’t pick two at a time!” Gally pointed out but got with the program and picked two players of his own before Tyler could skip over him and snag more players.

            They started play with far too many players on ice and it devolved into a huge game of keep away before melting even further into tag and then players started showing off for the cameras.

            Being the ice took all of Sidney’s worries from the day before away. There was something about the smell of the ice, the taste of the air and the sound of his skates against the ice. He felt his chest open, warm and every fear or worry he had disappeared. All that mattered was this singular moment in time. He could hear Segs laughing across the ice and play fighting with Toews. Gally stole a puck from someone and soared by Sid on his way to the net. His face was red and his grin was infectious.

            It took Sidney a few minutes to register that someone was skating alongside him. When he did, he wasn’t expecting whoever it was to be Giroux. That was the last person he figured would be skating quietly by his side. As they skated by Segs, he tossed out a puck and Sidney easily hooked it and began passing it back and forth with Giroux. He watched the way Giroux skated ahead without effort and turned so he was skating backwards, facing Sidney before passing the puck.

            “Thank you.” Giroux finally broke the comfortable quiet between them.

            Sidney quirked a brow in question. “For what?”

            Giroux opened his arms and gestured around him. “For this, that’s what. This wouldn’t have gone so well with the two of us at each other’s throats. I figured after yesterday, things wouldn’t be this easy.”

            “Like you said, this is more important than our rivalry.” Sidney shrugged a shoulder before stealing the puck out of Giroux’s control and took off towards the opposite net. Giroux was hot on his heels, trying his best to gain control of the puck. Sidney shot it at the goal and laughed when the rest of the guys out on the ice started cheering for his goal.

            After that score it spurred a split of players on Crosby’s side and to Giroux’s. Segs decided to ref the game and called ridiculous penalties that no one paid any attention to until he started to checking those guilty of the penalties into the boards. Sidney ignored him until he got called for flirting with the opposing team.

            “What are you talking about?” Sidney asked as he slowed on the ice. “Flirting? Who was I flirting with?”

            “That’s right,” Segs nodded seriously and herded Sidney off the ice and into the box. “That ass is a dangerous weapon. It’s not fair to the other team. Two minutes.”

            Sidney’s outrage of the call had the Giroux barking out laughter followed by a heavy tap on the glass by Toews as he skated by as if to say, ‘what can you do?’ As soon as Sidney’s time was just about up in the box, Giroux plastered himself against the glass with a huge smirk on his face and mouthed ‘mother fucker’ and nodded towards Segs who had hit the ice, already after someone else for ‘shaking that ass’ too much. It was unspoken between Sid and Claude as Sid tore out box and back on to the ice they both went for Segs. Sid wrapped his arms around Tyler’s waist and pushed as hard as he could while Claude knocked Tyler’s skates out from beneath him. The three of them went tumbling against the ice. Segs let out a gasp of air before he was laughing and fighting back. Sid’s helmet got knocked off at some point. Claude’s stick slid across the ice.

            In all honesty Sid had forgotten that they were being filmed until he saw a camera out the corner of his eye but at this point he didn’t care. He was too busy fending off Segs’ hand ruffling his hair and Claude’s accidental kick to his shin. Sid shoved Claude back and rolled to his back, trying to catch his breath. He stared up at the bright lights and grinned. The bright flash of a camera interrupted his thoughts briefly, that he had been caught so vulnerable but in seconds the thought was gone. Instead, he felt the rush of good hockey flying through his veins. The chirps, the laughter and sound of skating echoed in his head. This wasn’t supposed to happen with players on opposing teams but it had. He was glad he came, no matter how exhausted he was going to be at morning skate tomorrow. This was going to be worth it.  He tilted his head and caught the wide smiles and laughter on Tyler and Claude’s faces before they became a huge pile of hockey players celebrating a moment no one else would ever get a chance to experience.