Sidney used one hand to rub his towel against his hair, still wet from his post practice shower, as he reached forward to pull his phone out of his stall. He'd been at practice for most of the afternoon and anyone with any real interest in talking to him would know that, but several people in his life had a habit of leaving him messages despite that. Taylor liked to leave him a barrage of messages about her day, anything from pictures of the latte she'd picked up while on her way to her classes or complaints about something that had happened during practice, and his mother made up for how rarely Sidney made it home by leaving him little tidbits about their extended family when she heard something.
Even though Claude had a tendency to text Sidney the same way Taylor did, texting him little things throughout the day like quotes from books he was reading or where he was considering going for lunch that let Sidney know how things were going, Sidney wasn't expecting to find any messages from him. The Flyers had a few days off before they left for an extended roadie, so Claude was spending his break in Pittsburgh with Sidney. They didn't tend to text a whole lot when they were actually in the same city. So much of their relationship was dependent on technology, texts and phone calls and skype calls, that when they were actually together they tended to push all that to the wayside.
So when he turned his screen on and found three messages from Claude, he felt a pang of worry.
When he opened up his messages though, he found that he didn't have anything to worry about.
"Sid, are you even listening to me?"
"No," Sidney answered honestly. He sent a quick text to Claude before looking away from his phone, turning his gaze up to look at Tanger who was standing in front of him. Tanger was already dressed and had his bag thrown over his shoulder, obviously ready to head out. "What did you want?"
"A late lunch," Tanger said. "The two of us, Geno, and Flower."
"Oh." Sidney shook his head as he stood up. He tossed his towel into the bin. "I can't. Claude's home for a few days. So I'm heading over there."
"That okay," Geno said. "We just come with you instead of going out."
"What?" Sidney said, turning to look at him with a mouth dropped open in shock. Geno wasn't looking at him, instead facing his stall as he pulled his shirt over his head. "Why would you want to do that?"
"Want to meet husband."
"You've met my husband. Multiple times, actually," Sidney said, feeling lost. He had no idea why Gneo would want to come over for lunch with Claude. Geno knew Claude and he wasn't Claude's biggest fan.
"Met as hockey rivals," Geno said. "Never met as best friend's husband." As he finished pulling his shirt down, Geno looked over his shoulder and caught Sidney's eye. "Need to make sure he good enough. Would have done before wedding, but you not tell until after."
Sidney wrestled with a series of conflicting thoughts. Part of him wanted to argue that there was no world in which Claude wasn't good enough for him. After everything that had happened, Sidney was pretty sure that he was the one that wasn't good enough for Claude. On the other hand, Sidney knew that he'd hurt Geno by not telling him about Claude. Sidney was one of the guys Geno considered his family when he was so far from Russia and his blood. Geno just wanted to make sure Sidney was going to be happy in the same way that Sidney had wanted to be sure Geno was happy with Anna.
Unable to figure out exactly how to handle the situation, Sidney just said, "I have to pick shampoo up. I'm pretty sure you don't want to run errands with me."
"Nah, it's fine," Tanger said. Sidney resisted the urge to turn and glare at him, instead heaving a sigh. "Cath asked me to bring home some cleaning supplies. I can pick up everything I need while you grab shampoo, then we can head to your place for lunch."
"Fine," Sidney said, resigning himself to the fact that his teammates were going to end up at his house no matter how he felt about it. "Hurry up and finish getting ready then. I want to get out of here."
As he waited for Geno to finish gathering his stuff, Flower having stepped up to Tanger's side with his bag over his shoulder, Sidney pulled out his phone and sent Claude a quick warning message. Claude wasn't going to be particularly pleased about dealing with this sort of ambush on his day off, but the warning meant Claude wouldn't be completely taken off guard when Sidney walked in with the others.
"So." Sidney glanced back at Flower as the goalie spoke. The two of them were strolling down the shampoo aisle in Target. Geno had split off with Tanger to grab the cleaning supplies that he needed to pick up. "What's the deal with you and Claude?"
"We're married," Sidney said, turning away from Flower to focus on searching for Claude's shampoo. He didn't know why Claude was so insistent on using a specific brand, but Sidney was so used to it that he thought it'd actually be weirder if Claude were to switch it up now. "I thought you'd figured at least that much out by now. I mean, it's kind of the reason Geno decided to invite everyone to my house."
"Haha, very funny," Flower said. Sidney didn't have be looking at him to know he would be rolling his eyes. "You weren't exactly forth coming on your relationship, so I just wanted to know what happened. How'd you guys meet?"
Sidney had been in a bad mood since they'd left the locker room, exasperated with his friends inviting themselves over and a little pissed that they were interrupting his time with Claude when he had so little of it during the season, but he couldn't help smiling as he thought about it.
"I was practicing and Claude showed up," Sidney said. He remembered standing in the middle of the ice, feeling frustrated because the game that afternoon hadn't gone well. The season had only just started and people had already been talking about how he was likely to go first in the draft that year. He'd felt like he had disappointed everyone. Then Claude had shown up and he'd been so concerned with improving himself that he hadn't even cared about what Sidney was doing on the other side of the ice. He let out a small laugh as he said, "Well, Claude broke in. I didn't learn that until a few months after we met though."
"You didn't know he broke in?"
Sidney shook his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Claude's shampoo brand. As he turned to grab it, he told Flower, "He told me he'd only come in because the door was unlocked. Claude still insists that he didn't actually break into anything considering that, but he also admitted that some of his friends had told him how to get in if it was locked."
"Nice," Flower said with a small snort. "So how that was it then? He walked in on you practicing and you fell in love with him the second you laid eyes on him?"
"No. I think he'd probably been there for an hour before I even said anything to him," Sidney said. He snatched the bottle off the shelf before turning to face Flower, gesturing for him to follow him towards the check outs. "We spent a while just kind of doing our own things, you know? But after a while, I offered to help him because he was getting annoyed. We just kind of...clicked after that? We exchanged numbers and we ended up spending
"And then you fell in love with him?"
"No," Sidney said with a small shake of his head. Looking over at Flower, he asked, "Why are you so obsessed with when I fell in love with him?"
"I just don't get it," Flower said. "We just don't get it. We were there for 2012 and we saw just how angry you were. You did a damn good job of making us believe you hated him."
"I think I did back then," Sidney admitted. "Don't get me wrong, I loved him back then too. I never stopped loving him. But I think I hated him back then too. He'd broken up with me. When I look back on it, I know that I deserved it but back then I was just angry and hurt and things ended up so twisted that I hated him as much as I loved him. I think that's why I found it so easy to lash out on him."
His chest hurt, his heart aching inside it, as he thought about it. He reached up to grab the chain around his neck with the hand that wasn't holding the shampoo, gripping his wedding ring. The metal was cool against his skin and when he curled his hand it dug against his palm. It was a steady reminder that all of that was over, that they'd really gotten past it and Claude had said yes to his proposal.
"I don't know when I fell in love with him," Sidney said, wanting to think about something else. Still holding his ring, he looked up at the ceiling as he recalled, "But I remember lying on my bed talking to him about the Christmas present I had bought Taylor. He wasn't really replying to me, so I looked over at him and started bitching...and I just couldn't stop thinking about how badly I wanted to kiss him. I was already in love with him at that point, because I remember that when we kissed we kissed like we were being careful with each other. Like at that point, we'd already known we were going to spend the rest of our lives with each other and we wanted this first kiss to be good."
If he'd taken the time to look at Flower, he would have seen a soft expression on his friend's face. He would have seen Flower realizing just how deeply Claude was embedded into Sidney's being and just how fiercely the two of them had to love each other to have ended up where they were now. He would have seen Flower coming to the conclusion that Sidney was never going to leave Claude, not again, and that if Flower wanted to stay in his life he was just going to have to accept Claude the same way he accepted Anna or Catherine as part of Geno and Tanger's life, as part of the family they had created.
But there was a shout from Tanger as he emerged from the cleaning aisle and Sidney looked at him instead.
"I'm home," Sidney called out as he pushed the front door open. He stepped over to the side, holding the door open for Geno, Flower, and Tanger to slip in behind him.
"Welcome back!" Claude answered.
Following the sound of his voice, Sidney made his way through the entry way and to the kitchen. He found Claude sitting at the island with his phone in his hand. He was dressed in a pair of black sweatpants and grey shirt that Sidney knew was one of his Flyers shirts.
"Hey," Sidney said, crossing the room. He wrapped an arm around Claude's shoulders to pull him close and pressed a kiss against his temple. "It's almost four-thirty, you know?"
"Yeah," Claude agreed. He leaned against Sidney instead of pulling away immediately. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"You aren't wearing real clothes," Sidney said, reaching down to tug lightly on Claude's sweatpants. Now that he was closer to Claude, he could see the logo for one of his favorite brands on Claude's right pocket. Sidney wasn't entirely sure if Claude grabbing his sweatpants was an accident or not, but Sidney liked it. He'd always liked seeing Claude in his clothes.
"This is the only time I'm going to get off until January," Claude answered. "All I want to do is lay around in sweatpants and do absolutely nothing all day."
"Sounds like a solid plan," Sidney agreed. He pressed another kiss against Claude's temple before pulling away. "The guys are in the entry way taking their shoes off."
"Alright. I'll head upstairs for a while then."
"Nope," Sidney said with a shake of his head. "They came over with the specific purpose of meeting my husband, so you've gotta stay down here with us."
"Really?" Sidney could practically hear the disbelief in Claude's voice. "This isn't just some plan of yours to make me interact with your friends?"
"No," Sidney said with a shake of his head. "I know I've been bothering you to talk to them, but I wouldn't have set something up without talking to you first and I definitely wouldn't have set something up for the one time we get more than a day together." He pulled the refrigerator door open as he added," Geno just kind of invited everyone over without asking me. Then he pulled the 'you didn't even tell us you were seeing someone until you were married' card and I ended up giving in."
"You are such a push over," Claude said, snorting a bit in amusement.
"Yeah," Sidney agreed, because he knew it was true. When it came to the people he loved, he had a hard time saying no to them. "But I'm a push over who's going to make BLT ranch wraps for lunch in apology so."
"Feel free to continue being a pushover," Claude said. Sidney glanced over his shoulder, a smile on his lips, just in time to see Claude make a wide sweeping gesture with his hands. "I'll just sit over here and keep my mouth shut."
"Smart choice," Sidney remarked.
If he hadn't been so focused on Claude, Sidney might have noticed Tanger standing in the doorway. He might have seen the look that crossed Tanger's face as he watched the scene in front of him, remembering evenings spent teasing Catherine in a similar way. He might have seen the smile that spread across Tanger's face as he realized that he didn't need to worry because Sidney was going to be okay. Sidney was going to be happy for the rest of his life.
Knowing that was enough to soothe any doubt Tanger had had about this relationship.
"Nikita love toy you sent," Geno said. The four Penguins had been making small talk as Sidney cooked, Claude occasionally sliding something in. "He never put down. Mama take lots of pictures this summer of Nika holding tiny Penguin with Russian flag cape."
"I'm glad he likes it," Sidney said, "but Claude was actually the one who picked it out."
"No I didn't," Claude argued when Geno turned to him, raising one eyebrow.
"You told me to send him a bird," Sidney pointed out as he finished the wrap he was working on. Grabbing two plates, he turned to hand them to Tanger and Flower before turning to grab the other three on the counter.
"Penguins don't count."
"Penguins are birds," Flower said.
Sidney let out a small groan. He set Geno and Claude's plates in front of them before setting one down in front of the empty stool by Claude where he would be sitting. There was a chorus of soft thank yous. "Oh no, don't get him started on this."
"Penguins don't fly," Claude said, ignoring Sidney's obvious exhaustion with this argument. "You can call it a bird all you want, but if it doesn't fly it's not a bird. No self respecting animal would call themselves a bird when they can't fly."
"Anyway," Sidney said, speaking loudly in order to speak over Claude, "I'm glad he likes it. I was worried it might have been too cliche to send him a penguin."
"Definitely cliche," Geno said. "Nika has lots of Penguins. Sasha send Penguin four times Nika's size, but Sid's penguin his favorite."
Claude raised his eyebrows, asking, "Ovechkin sent your infant a giant Penguin?"
Geno nodded, "Sasha like to show off. Sasha also think he funny. Bad combination when Backstrom not around to control him."
"Okay then," Claude said nodding a bit as he pulled his plate closer. He glanced over at Sidney as he said, "Whenever we decide to have kids, let's make sure we put Backstrom on the registry instead of Ovechkin. We could have a nice bonfire with a giant stuffed penguin, but I'd rather our kid actually have shit they would use."
"You think Ovi couldn't convince Backstrom to buy something ridiculous?" Sidney asked, raising one eyebrow.
Claude shook his head, "Nah, I just think that it'll end up being less ridiculous. He'll pull Ovechkin further towards normalcy, even if he can't get him all the way there."
"I think you're giving Backstrom too much credit," Tanger said. He plucked a piece of bacon out of his wrap, pointing it at Claude as he said, "Don't you remember the All-Star game last year? Backstrom's his own brand of crazy."
"Yeah, but Backstrom's like...quiet crazy. Backstrom's crazy in a way where you think everything is okay, but then you wake up the next morning and he's hovering over you with a knife," Claude explained. "He's not going to send my kid a six foot Penguin."
"Was only three feet," Geno corrected.
Even as the argument continued around him, Tanger and Claude going back and fourth on exactly what brand of crazy Nicklas Backstrom was and too what extent he could control Alex's brand of crazy, Geno found a sense of tranquility coming over him. It was easy to relax when Claude was talking about babies.
Sidney might not have explained everything that had happened between the two of them, but it was obvious that whatever had separated the two of them had hurt both of them and that Sidney wanted nothing more than to stay by Claude's side now that they were back together.
Talk of babies, though, meant that Claude was planning on staying with Sidney. Claude wouldn't be leaving Sidney again and breaking his heart.
Geno found it so much easier to sit back and enjoy lunch when he wasn't so worried about Sidney's heart being broken.