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“I want a baby, Alyosha,” Kent tells him after dinner. They’re in the living room of their new, big Providence house, nursing a glass of wine, and it’s a nice night.

Until, of course, Kent opens his big mouth.

“Kenny,” Alyosha says carefully. He sets his glass down on the coffee table and leans forward, “Having a child… this is not replacement for hockey, yes?”

And yes, it hurts to wake up every morning knowing that he’s not playing in the NHL this season, that he never will again. It hurts in a different way than it hurt to get out of bed last year, joints creaking and body aching all over, facing down a knee replacement—at thirty-five—that would emphatically end his career.

And yes, he could have ground through another season or two, was tempted to time and time again. But he’d won the Cup again in June, his fourth, and had known it was time—better to go out on top, on his own terms, than fall of the scoring cliff he could see looming or be carried off the ice for the last time on a stretcher.

But making the right choice doesn’t mean it was the easy choice, doesn’t mean it doesn’t ache to watch Alyosha go to practice every day, that he doesn’t miss it with every fiber of his being.

“Fuck you, Alexei,” Kent says lowly. He hasn’t called him Alexei since… well, since the last time they were fighting, before they came out. Seven years ago, maybe. “Don’t make this about hockey. This has nothing to do with that. This is about us, and our family, and fuck you for trying to make this about my career.” He drains the last swallow in his glass, sets it down with a click. Some injured, wild part of him wants to shatter it, but he’s done enough harm with his words, he can see it in Alyosha’s face.

He’s burning, hot with a slow anger, at Alyosha, at his own weak body, at staring down a future of useless boredom. At seeing his nebulous dreams of holding his own child fade. “I’m going to bed,” he says, trying to keep his voice level and calm. If he doesn’t, he’ll yell, and things will be worse. “Can we just talk about this another time?”

Alyosha still hasn’t said anything by the time Kent stands, slowly, left knee aching.

Kent turns at the edge of the room, looks back just for a moment. Alyosha’s not watching him at all—he’s staring into the empty glass on the edge of the table, frowning deeply.

“Fuck,” Kent says quietly, and Alyosha doesn’t hear him, doesn’t even twitch. “Fuck.”

Kent assumes Alyosha thinks he’s asleep when he finally comes to bed, because he touches Kent tenderly—a finger through his hair, a gentle brush down his bicep, a soft kiss to the back of his neck. When Kent speaks, though, Alyosha doesn’t startle, doesn’t move away. He settles himself more firmly against Kent’s back when Kent says, “I’ve wanted a baby for a long time, Alyosha.”

Alyosha hums; Kent has to swallow around a hot lump in his throat before he can continue.

“I know that a kid isn’t going to replace hockey. I know that, and that’s not what I’m looking for. I just think… I still think this might be the time. It was never realistic before because we both had such crazy schedules, but I don’t, now. The only NHL players we know with kids can only do it because they have a wife with a normal schedule, and I have that now. Well, not the wife part, but.”

He feels Alyosha huff a quiet laugh against the back of his neck, but he still hasn’t said anything and it makes Kent nervous. “That’s why I think if we’re considering having a family, it’s a good time to do it. That’s all. And I’m sorry for saying those things to you. I lashed out, and it was wrong.”

“Is okay,” Alyosha says softly. “I’m being sorry, as well.”

They’re quiet for long enough that Kent’s trying to think of something else to say, staring at the far wall—“Unless you just… don’t want kids at all,” he comes up with finally, dread settling shivery in his core.

“I’m wanting family with you very much,” Alyosha says quickly. “I’m only thinking, is big decision, yes? Will change… everything?”

“Yeah,” Kent says quietly. “But maybe not for the worst.”

Alyosha crooks an arm over Kent’s waist, hand over his heart. “No,” he agrees, “Not for worse.”

“Merry Christmas!” Jess says brightly.

“Is… eggs?” Alyosha says hesitantly. He exchanges a look with Kent, but it’s not like he has a clue, either. It just looks like a carton of twelve eggs to him, the same kind they have in their fridge. “You want I make you breakfast?”

“No,” Jess says, “It’s supposed to… get it, they’re eggs?”

“Yeah,” Kent says, “I think we’re clear on that.”

“Oh my God,” Jess sighs. “No, it’s representative. I’m giving you my eggs. You want a baby but have no eggs, I have eggs and do not want a baby. Plus, we share a significant amount of genetic material, Kent, so… You know, when you find a surrogate, I’ll be your egg donor. Get it now?”

“Yes, we get,” Alyosha says, all in a rush, and practically bowls Jess over trying to hug her.

“Watch the eggs!” Kent says, trying to snatch the carton out from under his sister, until Alyosha snakes an arm out and pulls him into the pile, too.

“It’s okay, they’re hard boiled,” Jess says from somewhere under his husband.

“Best sister,” Alyosha says fervently. “Best.”

“You win Christmas this year, Jessie,” Kent says grudgingly, and then kisses her hair.

Swoops and Alice come to visit once they’ve settled into their own post-retirement place in Alice’s childhood neighborhood outside of Boston.

“Weird, huh?” Swoops says ruefully when he claps Kent on the back at the door. Usually at this time of year, they’ve already reported to Vegas for camp, and now… “Not as weird as playing a season without you, Cap, but still.”

“Yeah,” Kent agrees. It’s been a full season, and there are mornings where he still wakes expecting to step out onto the ice, but it’s getting easier. Slowly. Swoops is only a few months post-retirement, and Kent has missed him, of course, but he also wanted to check in with him, see how he’s adjusting.

Old captaining habits die hard.

But Swoops looks relaxed, holding his youngest boy while Alice tries to talk the older one out of climbing Alyosha like a very large, very happy, Russian tree.

Not that he seems to mind. Alyosha keeps tickling the kids on the bellies and teaching them Russian words and giving them horsie rides around the house. It’s doing things to Kent.

“So my wife wants to have your baby,” Swoops says when they’ve wandered out back, leaving Alyosha to make one of his fancy Russian dinners and chatter away to Alice.

“Yeah,” Kent snorts drily. “Well, a lot of women want to have my baby, and yet.”

“Parse,” Swoops says, too seriously for the way they’re lounging on the back deck, drinking beer. “I’m serious. My wife wants to carry your baby. She wants to be your surrogate.”

Kent doesn’t drop his bottle, but it’s a close thing. He does choke on his mouthful of beer. “What the fuck?” He says.

“Okay, see?” Swoops says, “This is why I wanted to tell you before Alice does, because she’s going to be super hurt if you react this way, whereas I’m well aware that you’re just sort of a fuck up and can’t help yourself sometimes.” He looks too fond to really mean it, but Kent understands.

“Sorry, I just… was surprised. Christ, dude, that’s big.”

“Yeah, well,” Swoops says, and opens another beer on the arm of his chair. “We were talking about how you guys were thinking about starting a family and she said, ‘well, nobody’s using my uterus right now.’ Literally, she said those words to me.”

“That’s…” Kent swallows, hard. “And you’d be, like, chill with that?”

“Not like she needs my permission, dude. But yeah, I’d totally support her, and the two kids I’ve already got at home are more than enough for me, so I think I can handle any weird paternal instincts, or whatever.”

“Shit,” Kent says.

“Dude, if you’re going to cry, wait until Alice tells you, okay? Actually, do cry. She’d be flattered. And act surprised, because I was not supposed to tell you except she doesn’t know how not chill you are when someone tries to surprise you and I really don’t want her to cry, okay?”

“Yeah,” Kent rasps. He’s not crying. Really, he’s not.

Really.

“Dude,” he says after a while. “Jeff, this is…”

“Yeah, I married an angel,” Swoops sighs. “I’m well aware of this already. At least this way, you have no excuse but to stay in touch, right? Seeing as you’re going to owe her forever.”

“Right,” Kent says. Well. He’s not wrong.

“I’m going to be a terrible father,” Kent blurts mid-January, staring unseeingly at the game.

“Is too late now,” Alyosha says mildly. “Baby is coming in few months.”

Yes, Kent is very aware. The latest ultrasound is hung on the fridge and he’s been agonizing for over a month about a nursery color and there are, like, stacks of parenting books on his nightstand. He’s become his own worst nightmare.

“And I’m not ready,” Kent says half-hysterically. “I never had a dad, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I’m going to be awful. I’m going to ruin our child, Alyosha.”

Alyosha tugs him against his side—it’s tight enough to make Kent’s heart race until he slumps into the warmth of him.

“Every parent thinks this,” Alyosha soothes. “Every parent says, ‘I cannot do!’ But they all do. You will be best, Kenny. You always are best.”

“I expect you to say this again when the baby is fifteen and says they hate me,” Kent grumbles.

“I will always say,” Alyosha says loyally. “Now hush. Rangers about to score.”

“I’m be worst papa,” Alyosha whispers to him at midnight. “I’m not be here enough. Baby not even know me. And you here alone? I’m worst papa and worst husband!”

“Shh,” Kent says, and turns over in bed until he can peck Alyosha on the cheek. “All kids love you. It’s like… a super power. And I love you.”

He pats Alyosha drowsily on his bare chest. “You’ll be the best. Promise.”

She comes in April, fat and happy right before the playoffs.

“Katherine?” Jess coos at her. “That’s my middle name, you know.”

“It’s Alyosha’s grandmother’s name, bigshot,” Kent snipes at her gently, but he’s pulling her in and looking over her shoulder at his baby girl and…

“Are you crying?” Alice asks from the hospital bed. “I’m the hormonal one, I should be the one crying.”

“We all cry,” Alyosha says. He looks like he’s a few seconds from tearing his daughter from Jess and cooing at her like he’s been doing for the last hour, but he stays put. Jess had just as much to do with her as he did, after all—they all did, in their own way, Kent and Alyosha and Jess and Alice, even Swoops, posted up across the room.

It takes a village, after all.

She looks like Jess, Kent thinks, or maybe like him.

“Kate,” he says softly, and strokes the palm of her tiny hand until she clutches at his finger. Katherine’s a very big name for a very small person. “Hi, Katie.”

So Alyosha’s exhausted because he’s a month deep into the playoffs and Kent’s exhausted because he’s at home—often alone—with an infant.

And Kate’s exhausted, of course, because she’s a month old. It’s sort of her natural state.

While Alyosha’s on the road, they spend a lot of time sleeping and a lot of time watching hockey. They’re getting along pretty well, so far, and Kate falls asleep better to the sounds of raucous crowds than she does to her lullabies, which Kent figures is a good sign.

They’ll make a hockey fan of her yet.

The Falconers are knocked out in the Conference Finals, and Kent is prepared to baby Alyosha for a few weeks, as well as his actual baby.

He seems to be okay, though, once he’s spent a few hours hunkered down, cradling Kate and murmuring things in Russian that Kent only half understands.

“I think Zimmboni sad,” he says. Kent’s not watching hockey for the first time in months—the house feels very quiet without it on.

“Hmm,” Kent says, distracted by Kate’s bottle, “He’s always too hard on himself. He’ll be okay, he probably just needs a little time.”

“We have him over,” Alyosha says firmly. “Nobody is sad when holding beautiful baby.”

“Sure,” Kent agrees, because he’s holding a beautiful baby himself at the moment, and so is incapable of arguing. Not that he would—things have been good with Zimms lately, if a little distant. Kent’s not playing hockey anymore, is focused on his family, and Zimms just came out with his fiancé last year—they’re both busy and happy and it doesn’t matter, as much as Kent always thought it would, that they don’t need each other anymore. “Let’s have them over.”

Zimms is holding his baby, and it’s…

Somewhere, in the deep, repressed depths of a teenage mind that could barely have considered something so domestic at sixteen, he might have imagined this scene—Jack slumped into the couch, cradling an infant that looks like Kent.

But Jack’s fiancé is in the kitchen, baking something that smells delicious and chattering away to Kent’s husband, who easily scoops Kate away from Jack when she starts mewling and walks her into the nursery for a change.

“Katyushka,” Kent can hear him murmuring.

So his daughter is going to grow up speaking Russian instead of French, is going to have her Papa’s warm brown eyes instead of Zimm’s cool blue.

He doesn’t miss the someday, anymore. His right now is pretty damn awesome.

At Christmas, Kent steps on the ice for the first time in a long time, finally approved by his doctors. Alyosha lets him have the ice to himself for a few long moments while he gets his feet back under him.

The only thing Kent insisted on when they were picking their house was a pond in the backyard and he’s never been happier for it—Alyosha’s perched in a snow drift lacing his skates up, Jess holding Kate on the little bench that Alyosha nailed together last summer.

Kent can see the mist of his breath in the air, hear the sharp cut of his skates on the fresh ice. Kate’s wearing this stupid cute hat that Alyosha’s parents had sent over and Alyosha’s smiling at him like the night they first kissed and…

“You are looking very happy,” Alyosha says, pulling up short in front of Kent.

“Yeah,” Kent says easily. “Yeah, I am.”

“Are you happy?” Jack asks him, and he says it like a proper noun, like he would ask someone, Are you John? and the answer would be either yes or no, true or false.

The thing is… Kent isn’t happy when Alyosha leaves for days at a time to go play hockey without him. He isn’t happy when he’s been up for eighteen hours because his baby is crying even though nothing is wrong. He isn’t happy that he has to watch the Aces lose on TV and can’t do anything about it.

His happiness isn’t an absolute—some days, some moments, he’s happy, and some he’s not. But the overall impression of his life is content, full, warm.

“Yeah, I am,” Kent finally says.

“I think I want one,” Jack sighs, and Kent follows his eyes across the room, to where his mom’s bouncing Kate on her knee.

“You’d be great with kids, Zimms,” Kent says. It’s New Years’ Eve and he’s a little drunk, leaning back against Alyosha where he’s all warm and solid, chatting with Jess.

“Except neither of us have a sister,” Jack says.

“There’s more than one way to have a family,” Kent says softly, and watches Swoops kiss his wife under the sprig of mistletoe that Alyosha never took down after Christmas.

“Yeah,” Jack says, and reaches into his back pocket for his phone. He flicks through it for a few moments, shows Kent a picture of a baby with dark hair and huge eyes. “We met her the last time we were up visiting my parents in Quebec,” Jack says softly. “Her name is Amelie, she’s just about Kate’s age. I don’t know how to describe… she just feels like ours, somehow.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Kent says, because he does now, much to his own surprise—some mornings he wakes up and thinks, I’m a parent, and has to look at himself in the mirror for a long moment.

He was always good at hockey and nothing else, until his daughter was born.  Now he feels like he might be good at this, too. Just at loving her. That, he can manage.

“They could be friends, you know?” Jack asks. He’s lost in the picture, but Kent understands—he’s lost in Kate, is half tempted to go take her from his own mother just so he can hold her for a little longer. “If we get her, I mean.”

“Yeah, Zimms,” Kent says. “They would be friends, I bet.”

They’ve got five Cups between the two of them now, but when Alyosha lifts the sixth, it feels different.

Maybe because when Kent gets to him on the ice, he’s carrying their daughter; maybe because the reporters who ask him about the game all ask him about his retirement, as well.

“It’s bittersweet,” Kent acknowledges, and it is: when he touches the Cup, in a moment, it’s going to feel like greeting an old friend, and knowing that he’ll never win this for himself again is as hard now as it was the first time he saw his team take the ice without him.

But he’s going to get to put his daughter in the Cup, soon, can kiss his husband and hug Zimms and congratulate the guys on the Falconers who have become almost as close to him as his Aces once were.

“Maybe more sweet than bitter,” he says, and laughs when Kate tries to grab the microphone away from the reporter. That’s his girl.

Alyosha kisses him hard when they finally get through the throng of people, and Kent holds on because he can still remember a time when they couldn’t even look at each other for fear of being discovered. Alyosha takes Kate from him, nuzzles her face with his beard until she giggles at him.

“Am thinking maybe you were right,” Alyosha says quietly. “I’m think I am ready to retire, maybe. Am tired, am getting old. Am maybe just wanting to be home with baby Katyushka.”

“Let’s talk about it tomorrow,” Kent says, because Alyosha just won the Cup and Zimms is skating over to take Kate from them and they all deserve to just… enjoy this night.

“The adoption agency called last night,” Zimms says, and he’s in pads still and Kate looks very small on his hip. It won’t be too much longer before they can get her skates, Kent thinks. Only if she wants to, of course. He’s known Zimms for more than two decades—he knows what that kind of pressure can do to someone, and he doesn’t want to be that parent. “We’re going back up to Quebec this summer. We might be able to bring Amelie home soon.”

“Is good!” Alyosha enthuses, and Jack grins and skates off.

“So if this is the last time either of us are going to see this thing,” Kent muses, once they’re alone—or, well, as alone as they can be, surrounded by cameras and a hundred people in Falconer’s gear, “I’m thinking, let’s have a sleepover on your Cup day, you know? You, me, the Stanley Cup. Very romantic.”

Alyosha laughs. “Maybe is not last time, Kenny. Maybe she win Stanley Cup someday.” He nods at Kate, where she’s surrounded by four fully grown, fully bearded hockey players, all cooing at her. Kent really hopes that’s the picture on the front page of the paper, tomorrow.

“Yeah,” Kent says, but it’s a long way off and in the meantime, he’s got a daughter to raise and a husband to celebrate with. He’s not thinking about it, yet. “Maybe she will.”