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Precious and Fragile Things

Chapter Text

Sidney laid in his bed, drifting somewhere between sleep and consciousness.

He wasn't happy to be out of playoffs, but playoffs were so rough that he was ecstatic to be in his own bed. The Penguins had spent most of their series against the Rangers in New York and hotel beds weren't enough to soothe the aches caused by playoff hockey, much less the aches he'd accumulated over the season. The opportunity to lay in his own bed, to rest his head on pillows that were just the right softness and wrap himself in the familiar comfort as he sunk into his mattress, was one he cherished.

He was shifting around, trying to convince his body to let him have just a few more minutes of sleep, when he heard the sound of small feet racing down the hallway. His face was buried in his pillows, but he could still hear the muffled cry of, "Daddy!"

Sidney loved her with all of his heart and soul, but he couldn't help the way he groaned into the pillow when he heard his door open.

"Daddy!" she shouted, bursting into the room. She pushed the door open so hard that it went slamming into the wall behind it.

"Stella," Sidney said, turning his head out of the pillows so he could look at his daughter. "You know better then to open a door like that."

His five year old stood in the doorway wearing a bright pink skirt covered in red, yellow, green, and white flowers. She had a black tank top on with it, the bottom tucked into the hem of her skirt. Stella's black hair was cut short, stopping just above her chin, but it curled and twisted in the same way Sidney's had a tendency to do when he didn't keep it short. Resting on top of her curls was a flowered headband the same shade of pink as the main body of her skirt. Whatever shoes she'd been wearing had been wearing had been kicked off, leaving her feet covered in a pair of white socks covered in birds.

The fact that she looked nice, rather than like she'd been dressed in the dark, was a clear sign that Sidney's mother had dressed her before she'd taken her to the park instead of Sidney.

"I'm sorry, daddy!" Stella said, though she didn't look apologetic at all. She scrambled across the room, struggling to climb up onto the bed with him.

Sidney sat up, reaching so he could set his hands on her waist and lift her up.

Settling her at his side, he pulled her down so she was lying next to him and let one of his arms rest over her.

It had been nice to have the morning to himself, his mother had taken Stella out to breakfast with her and Taylor then to the park so she could play for a while, but he would be lying if he said he wasn't happy to be spending sometime with his daughter.

She'd stayed with her nanny in Pittsburgh while he was in New York and even though he was used to leaving her during roadtrips, it never really got any easier.

"It's okay, little star," Sidney said. "But be careful next time, okay?"

"Okay daddy," Stella said. She tilted her head up so she was looking into his eyes, "Daddy, Tay-Tay said you're going to play in Worlds. Is she telling the truth?"

Sidney let out a small sigh. Using the hand he didn't have around her he brushed one of the curls that had fallen into her face away as he nodded, Sidney said, "Yeah, sweetheart. Daddy knows you were looking forward to spending time together, but it'll only be for a little while okay?"

"Daddy," Stella said, her voice filling with excitement rather than any of the sadness he'd been expecting, "the lady on the TV said Claude Giroux was playing in Worlds! Are you gonna play with him?"

Sidney was honestly surprised he hadn't seen that coming.

He didn't know how it had happened, but somehow his daughter had ended up as the Flyers number one fan.

Stella's nanny had taken her to a Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia game to watch Sidney play when she was three, the first in her memory, and it had pretty much been love at first sight. Sidney had hoped she'd grow out of it, that maybe she'd just been entranced by the bright orange, but as other interests left the Flyers stayed. She watched every one of their games on TV, begging both him and her nanny to let her stay up just a little later so she could watch another period, and she was always ready to argue with anyone who said the Penguins were better. She liked Sidney's team just fine, but she had made sure that all of her uncles knew that while her daddy topped her list of favorite hockey players the rest of them came after all of her favorite Flyers.

And somehow the person who came right after Sidney on her list, her very favorite Flyer and her very favorite hockey player outside of her father, was Claude Giroux. She'd heard an interview he'd done once, Sidney had turned the TV onto the NHL Network while he tried to get her to nap one day because as much as she liked hockey Sportscasters put her to sleep, where he'd mentioned grilled cheese and refused to eat anything else for days. Geno had made a comment around her about the gel in Claude's hair once and Sidney had to hide every bottle of hair gel in the house to keep Stella from caking her hair in it. When Sidney had finally relented and bought her a Giroux jersey to join the Penguins one in her closet, she'd worn it every moment of every day for weeks before the nanny managed to convince her she would ruin it that way.

"Daddy," Stella said, obviously unsatisfied with his lack of answer. "Are you?"

"Yeah," Sidney said with a small nod. "I'm going to be on the same team as him."

He wasn't even surprised when she shrieked, high pitched and filled with the excitement of the situation.

Chapter Text

"What about you, Cros?"

Sidney was sitting on the locker room bench focused on tying his shoelaces when he heard his name. Glancing up he found Tyler Seguin standing at his own locker, looking over at Sidney.

Team Canada was gathered in their locker room, getting ready to leave after their final preliminary game against Austria. They weren't celebrating too hard, all aware that they still had three difficult games to go through if they wanted to win gold, but going undefeated and winning their game 10-1 had everyone in the locker room feeling loose and friendly. Conversation was flowing between everyone, grins and laughter all around the room.

Sidney had been a scratch for the game, but he'd come down to say a few words to everyone after the game. He'd decided to stick around afterwards to change out of his suit and into his regular clothes before he left. His family had flown in that morning and wearing a suit around Stella always had a certain amount of danger to it. He'd lost count of how many times he'd had to send a suit to the dry cleaners on account of her sticky fingers.

"What about me?" Sidney asked.

"Do you have family coming in for the playoff round?"

Sidney nodded as he pulled the laces of his left sneaker tight, "My parents, sister, and daughter are here. They got in this morning but it was only a prelim so I told them not to come to the game so they could sleep the flight off."

"Oh yeah, you had a little girl the year after your Stanley Cup right?" Tyler said.

"I did," Sidney answered. He tapped his foot against the ground twice, making sure the shoes were as tight as he liked them. He wasn't sure if Tyler was going to ask him any of the uncomfortable questions he got from other players, he'd had awed questions from younger players asking him if the party after a cup win was really that wild and older players that asked him how he had been that stupid even if he'd just won the cup, so he cut him off by speaking first. "I told her I'd take her out after our morning practice, but I have no idea where we're going to go. I went on a tour on our day off since that's the kind of thing she'd hate, but I haven't found anything she'd like yet."

"She's five years old right?"

Sidney's attention was drawn away from Tyler to Claude who stood next to him. While Sidney was almost completely dressed, Claude had only made it as far as his jeans. There were droplets of water running down his spine despite the towel wrapped around his shoulders.

"Yeah," Sidney said, a little surprised by Claude joining the conversation. The two of them had been getting along pretty well since the start of the tournament, but neither of them had really been going out of their way to talk to each other like this. They'd mostly been conversing when someone else dragged them both in a conversation. "She turned five in March."

"You should take her to a blacklight show," Claude said. "Jake took Schenner, Coots, and I to one back on the fifth when we all had the day off. It was pretty fantastic."

"Oh!" Couturier said. He'd had his head tipped down as he tapped at his phone screen, but now he looked up. "That was the dance show we went to see, right? That was fucking awesome."

"See," Claude said. He looked over his shoulder to face Sidney. For a moment Sidney was thrown by the way Claude looked, a small teasing smile on his face and his eyes lit up with happiness. He'd never seen Claude look like this before. Stella's nanny had once described Claude as sort of strangely attractive and reluctantly charming, a comment she'd made after a day of re-watching some of Stella's favorite interviews, but in that moment Sidney felt like he was going to have to fight her. There was nothing strange about how attractive Claude looked in that moment. "Kids love it."

"Fuck off," Couturier huffed, reaching out to push Claude with one hand.

Claude just tipped his head back, laughing as he swayed.

"Seriously though," Claude said, turning his attention back to Sidney. Easy amusement was still written into every line of his body, present in the tip of his lips and the relaxed line of his shoulders. "Take her to a blacklight show. It's a lot of amazing dancing and pretty lights and the one Jake took us to - I think WOW was the name? - had some audience interaction. You'll both have fun. Every kid that was in the audience with us was having as much fun as we were."

"I'll check it out then," Sidney said. He tipped his head a bit in gratitude. "Thanks for the suggestion."

"No problem," Claude dismissed, waving his hand. "Jake grew up pretty close to Prague. He's been showing off the city when ever he has the chance, so I've got the low-down on all the cool places around town." He pulled the towel away from his shoulders, tossing it into the bin off to the side. As he grabbed his shirt out of his locker, he added, "Let me know if you have trouble finding something in the city that she likes eating, okay? Jake's got a million restaurants around here that he wants everyone to try. I'm sure there's somewhere with something familiar enough that she'll eat it."

"She's not usually a picky eater," Sidney informed him. Without really thinking about it, he said, "I mean she'd obviously rather have a grilled cheese than vegetables, but she doesn't mind trying new things when I ask."

"Smart kid," Claude said, grin widening. Turning away from Sidney, he pulled his shirt on over his body, the back of it sticking against the still wet skin. "Grilled cheeses are infinitely better than vegetables."

"Oh my god. Please never tell my daughter that," Sidney groaned. It'd been hard enough to convince Stella that Claude did, in fact, eat things other than grilled cheese. Trying to convince her to eat vegetables if Claude even so much as suggested he disliked them? Impossible. "She'd never eat a green bean again."

Claude let out a loud laugh, "Sounds like my kind of kid."

"Coots! G!" At the sound of his nickname, Claude looked away from Sidney. Curious, Sidney looked up as well. Schenn had already left the locker room but he was poking his head back into the doorway. "Jake and Streit want to take Raffs out for ice cream. Some of kind of "sorry our teams all made quarterfinals and yours was last in the group" thing. You guys in?"

"I am," Couturier agreed. He dropped his phone into his back pocket, slamming his locker shut afterwards. "G? You coming?"

"Yeah, I'll tag along," Claude said, nodding a bit. He reached into his own locker, grabbing a sweatshirt out of it. He closed his locker after. As he passed Sidney, Claude said, "Hope your daughter likes Prague. Let me know if you need any more help figuring out what to show her. I'll ask Jake for you."

"Thanks," Sidney said. "I appreciate it."

"No problem," Claude dismissed. "We're teammates now, right?"

Sidney opened his mouth to say something, but before he got it out Couturier was stepping close to Claude and throwing an arm around his shoulders. "G, if I get chocolate ice cream are you going to lecture me about my diet?"

"Nope. I've got an entire summer before I have to be a responsible Captain again," Claude answered. He gave Sidney a small wave as he was steered away, "See you at practice tomorrow, Cros."


Sidney was careful not to wake Stella up when he picked her up from his parents room, waking his mother up with a phone call so he wouldn't have to knock on the door when he reached their room and scooping her up from the bed she was napping in with Taylor as gently as he could, but the second he went to set her down on the bed in their room she stirred.

She tightened her arms around his neck as she murmured, voice thick with sleep, "Daddy?"

She was wearing a pair of black leggings with a lavender pajama shirt that had a frilly hem and sleeves. In the middle of the shirt was a picture of Sophia the First. The clothes were comfortable enough that she'd been able to wear them on the flight from Halifax as well as to nap once his family arrived in Prague.

"Yeah sweetheart," Sidney murmured, keeping his voice low. "If you let go of me you can go back to sleep, okay? I'll wake you up when it's time for dinner."

"Okay," Stella said. She loosened her hold around Sidney, letting him set on the bed. When she was settled against the mattress, Sidney crouched down next to her. He grabbed the blanket that he'd pulled back before setting her down and pulled it over her. As she shifted around, tucking the blanket under her chin and moving her arms so they were over the blanket instead of under, she asked, "Where's Oreo?"

Sidney reached over her to grab the stuffed animal he'd set on the other pillow. Oreo was a small stuffed version of a boston oriole. Stella had latched onto birds as her favorite animal, particularly any that had orange on them. Sidney wasn't sure if it was because birds reminded her of the Flyers or if she just liked the animal.

"Here you go," he said, handing her the stuffed animal.

She wrapped her arms around it immediately, tucking it under her chin and nuzzling down against it. "Daddy, did you win?"

"We did," Sidney confirmed. He added, "But daddy didn't play today so he couldn't score any goals for you."

"That's okay," she murmured. "Did Mr. Giroux play?"

"He did," Sidney answered. "He didn't get a goal, but he got an assist."

"A goal would have been better," she said, a little petulant despite being half asleep. Sidney's lips twitched up in a small, amused smile. "But I guess an assist is okay too."

"You know," Sidney said reaching up to brush some of the hair that had fallen into her eyes away, "Mr. Giroux might not have scored, but one of the other Flyers did."

"Really? Who?"

"Schenn," Sidney said. "That's nice right? You love him."

"Yeah," Stella agreed with a small nod. "Did Jake score?"

Voracek was her favorite after Giroux and Mason, but his name was one of the ones she struggled with when she'd been a little younger. She still tripped over a bit, but not enough to bother her. Calling him Jake had just become the normal now.

"The Czech Republic hasn't played yet," Sidney answered. "Go back to sleep and when you wake up we'll watch the game together."

"Promise?"

"Promise," Sidney agreed. Leaning down, he pressed his lips against her forehead. "I love you. Sleep tight."


As Sidney was leaving the locker room after morning practice, his equipment back over one shoulder and his head tilted down as he tried to text his mother, he heard someone call out, "Sid!"

Turning towards the speaker, he found his father standing at the end of the hallway with Stella in his arms.

"Dad," Sidney said, his voice filled with surprise. "What are you doing here? I thought I was meeting up with mom and you to pick her up."

"Your mom and sister wanted to go shopping," his dad said as Sidney approached him. "And the little miss wanted to see you, so I thought I'd bring her to you instead. You didn't have anything you needed to do before you came to get her did you?"

"No, no," Sidney said with a shake of his head. "I would have let you and mom know."

"Hi daddy," Stella greeted, grinning wildly as Sidney drew closer.

"Hi little star," Sidney returned.

Stella was resting on Troy's hip in a dress with a frilly white skirt trimmed with lace. The top of the dress was a tank top with orange and white strips. In the center of the top was a large orange anchor. Resting on her feet were small white sandals. Someone, his sister he guessed, had braided two sections of Stella's hair and clipped them together at the back of her head with a large orange flower.

"You finished up quickly," Troy said. "Stella and I got here right as practice ended, but I thought we'd have to wait a bit longer for you."

"Most of the guys are still changing," Sidney said. He opened his arms up, letting his father pass Stella over to him. He settled her on his hip as his father had. "I didn't want to make you and mom watch her any longer than I needed to, though. I know the two of you wanted to go sightseeing after I grabbed her."

"Something tells me sightseeing is going to have to wait until your sister has maxed out the credit card."

Sidney let out a small laugh. Before he could make a comment though, Stella reached up and set her hand on his cheek. "Daddy."

"Yes?" Sidney said, turning his head towards her and acknowledging his daughter's obvious attempt at getting his attention.

"Do you know when Mr. Giroux will come out?" Stella asked. "Grandpa said we might see him while waiting for you."

Sidney hummed softly, considering her question.

There were players in the league that Sidney wouldn't have ever let Stella around. Nothing in their interactions since getting to Prague had Sidney feeling that way about Claude though. In fact everything he'd learned about Claude had Sidney thinking that Stella had made a pretty good choice when choosing her favorite player.

"I don't know when he's going to be coming out," Sidney said, "but what if we went inside to say hi?"

Stella's eyes went wide, her mouth dropping open in a o. Her voice was filled with awe as she asked, "Really, daddy?"

Sidney hadn't had any intention of ever letting anyone know that his daughter was a a Flyers fan, or that she was one of Claude Giroux's biggest fans, but there were very few things he wouldn't do to make Stella happy. He already endured the chirping from the Penguins, at least when they weren't too busy pouting about not being Stella's favorites, so it wasn't anything to take the same from Team Canada.

"Yup," Sidney said with a small nod. "Why don't you say goodbye to grandpa first though?"


Sidney poked his head into the locker room to make sure everyone was dressed, but once he was sure the room was clear he pushed the door open.

Stella refused to be carried into the room when her idol was there, so Sidney led her inside with his hand held in hers. He saw a few of the guys glance over at them when they walked in, but he focused on walking across the locker room to Claude.

"Hey Claude?" he called out.

"Yeah?" Claude asked. He didn't turn around as he spoke, focused instead on pulling his jacket over his shoulders.

"When your done there's someone here who would really like to meet you."

Shaking his arms out, Claude turned around already asking, "And who would that be?"

Stella was half hiding behind him, arms wrapped around Sidney's legs as she peered around him at her idol, so Sidney gestured down at her. "This is Stella. She's a really big fan of yours."

Claude raised his eyebrows, surprise coming over his face, as he glanced between them. "Is she?"

Sidney opened his mouth to answer, but before he could answer Stella started nodding enthusiastically. In what appeared to be a burst of confidence, she blurted out, "Yeah! I love the Flyers! You're my favorite hockey player after daddy!"

There was a burst of laughter around the room that had Stella shrinking back a little.

Sidney stomped down on the urge that rose up to snap at every guy in the room. He knew they were laughing at him, not her, but he couldn't help being a bit protective.

Thankfully Claude didn't laugh.

Instead he just shot Sidney an amused look as he took a few steps forward. When he was close enough, he crouched down in front of him so he was eyelevel with Stella.

"That's good," Claude said, a bright smile on his face. "Because your my favorite Crosby."

Stella let out a tiny gasp that had Sidney smiling a little. "Really?"

"Oh yeah," Claude said. He reached forward, tapping two fingers to the underside of Stella's chin. "You're far cuter than your daddy is."

Stella let out a string of ecstatic giggles, turning her face into Sidney's leg.

Claude looked up at Sidney as she did so.

When their eyes caught, Sidney mouthed 'thank you.'

Claude shook his head, shrugging his shoulders a bit.

"Mr. Giroux," Stella said after a moment, catching both of their attention. "Can we take a picture together?"

"Of course," Claude answered.

Stella looked up at Sidney, asking, "Can we daddy?"

"Yup," Sidney agreed. "You're going to have to let go of me and stand by Mr. Giroux though."

As Sidney fished his phone out of his pocket, Stella let go of his pants leg and took the few steps over to Claude.

When Sidney pulled his camera up, he found himself looking at Stella and Claude with their cheeks touching. Claude had one arm around Stella's shoulders. Both of them were grinning, but Stella's eyes were positively sparkling with happiness.

Sidney really couldn't think of this as a mistake when his daughter was so obviously ecstatic about it.

They took a few photos in that pose before doing a silly one. Stella crossed her eyes inward and stuck her tongue out while Claude puffed his cheeks out like a squirrel and widened his eyes.

When they were done, Stella said, "Thank you, Mr. Giroux."

"It's no problem sweetheart," Claude answered. He looked over at Sidney asking, "Are you two in any hurry?"

Sidney shook his head. "Not really."

"Well then," Claude said. "Ms. Stella, do you want to meet Couturier and Schenn?"

Stella nodded eagerly, "Yes please!"

"Alright then," Claude said. Looking over his shoulder, he gestured to Sean and Brayden who were watching the scene from their locker. "Guys, come over here and meet Stella."

Chapter Text

"Schenner, Coots, this is Stella," Claude introduced as the other Flyers drew close to them. Claude was crouched down to Stella's height, keeping the two of them at the same level. Sidney wasn't sure if he was doing it on purpose or subconsciously, but he appreciated it regardless. He swept his hand between the two groups. "Stella, this is Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier."

"Hi Stella," Couturier greeted. He hadn't gotten around to putting his false teeth back in yet, so when he smiled at her it was gap-toothed but genuine. He lowered himself down the same way Claude had. Being five years younger and missing the aches that came with those extra years, he did it a lot smoother than Claude had. "I like the flower in your hair. It's very pretty."

"Thank you, Mr Co-Co-Co-" Stella fumbled to get his last name out correctly. She was bilingual, speaking french much better than Sidney did with Tanger, Flower, and her nanny to guide her, but she still struggled on bigger words. Especially names which she hadn't had much practice pronouncing.

"My name is kind of a mouthful isn't it?" Couturier interrupted. Despite cutting her off, his voice was soft and kind. "You can just call me Sean okay? I think it's much easier."

"Okay, Mr. Sean!" Stella agreed with a sharp nod and a wide grin.

He laughed a little bit, obviously not having intended for her to call him that either but not bothering to correct her on it either. "It's a very pretty color. Orange is one of my favorites."

"Mine too!" Stella said. She bounced on her toes excitedly, "My dress is orange too, see?"

"I do," Couturier said. "It's a very pretty dress, isn't it Schenner?"

"It is," Schenn agreed. He smiled at Stella, a soft upturn to his lips lips rather than the wide toothy grin Couturier was sporting. It wasn't any less genuine, though. It had the same genuinely gently edge that always seemed to grace the smile of the guys in the league when there was a kid around. "Hi Stella. You're a Flyers fan?"

"Yes!" Stella said. "The Flyers are my very favorite team! Daddy plays for the Penguins and their cool, but you guys are way better."

"Oh yeah?" Schenn said. He glanced over her shoulder, flashing a look at Sidney that was entirely too smug. Sidney resisted the urge to flip his middle finger at him, aware that Stella could turn at any moment and catch him. "Who's your favorite player?"

"Mr. Giroux!" Stella said without a moments hesitation. "Then Mason because goalies are important!"

"That's true," Claude said. "It wouldn't matter how much we scored if Mason wasn't in the net to watch our backs."

"Daddy says the same thing about Uncle Flower," Stella replied.

"Your daddy's pretty smart then, eh?"

Stella hummed. She didn't sound entirely convinced when she agreed, "I guess."

Claude let out a small laugh, looking over his shoulder to catch Sidney's eye. Amusement made his eyes sparkle, deep brown flickering in the locker room lighting. His smile stretched wide, showing off the sharp white of his real teeth and the fake one he was wearing.

He looked far too amused.

Sidney found he liked the look on him.

"Stella." Claude looked away from Sidney, nudging Stella a little bit to get her attention. "Do you want to take a picture with Sean and Schenner as well?"

"Yes!"

"Stella," Sidney said, speaking up for the first time since Claude had lead his daughter away from him. She was still in his line of sight and they weren't doing anything he objected to, so he'd left them alone. He'd been content to just stand back while his daughter spoke to the men she practically idolized. All four of them looked at him. Couturier and Schenn just lifted their gazes up to him while Claude looked over his shoulder and Stella twisted her entire body towards him. "Ask properly please."

"Okay, daddy!" Turning back around, Stella clasped her hands behind her back and asked, "Mr. Sean, Mr. Schenn, would it be okay to take a picture together?"

"Sure," Schenn said. "Do you wanna take one with both of us or separately?"

Stella hummed, rocking on her heels as she thought. Finally, she decided, "Together please!"

"Together it is then," Couturier agreed.

As Stella hurried forward to get between them, Sidney pulled out his phone.

It wouldn't hurt to have a few more pictures of the Flyers on it as long as Stella was smiling like she was.


"She's a sweet kid," Claude remarked as he approached Sidney.

Somehow after Stella had taken a few pictures with Schenn and Couturier a discussion had started about the best orange foods. Schenn was really pulling for orange sherbet while Couturier was arguing in favor of cheetohs. Stella, because obsession with grilled cheese aside Sidney had raised her right, was adamant that the clear winner of the competition was tangerines.

"Thank you," Sidney answered with a slight incline of his head. The two of them were standing in the middle of the locker room, a few feet away from the three arguing. Most of the locker room had cleared out by now, so Sidney wasn't worried about being in anyone's way. "And thank you for talking to her too. It's only May and you've already made her year."

"It's fine," Claude dismissed with a slight wave of his hand. A sly grin came over his face as he said, "A Flyers fan, huh?"

"Yes," Sidney groaned. "The biggest Flyers fan."

Claude let out a small laugh. As he settled across from Sidney, shifted to the right just enough to keep from obscuring Sidney's view of Stella, he slipped his hands into his back pockets. "How did that happen?"

"I have no idea," Sidney said. "When she was three, her nanny brought her to one of our games. We'd actually gotten into a bit of an argument about it because I thought the atmosphere would be a bit too hostile, but we had a rule that if Stella filled her star chart than she could come watch daddy work. Charlotte said if I didn't let Stella go to the game, she'd end up thinking the star chart didn't mean anything and she didn't have to be good."

"And what?" Claude asked. "She just saw us and fell in love?"

"Pretty much," Sidney agreed. "She spent that entire night cheering for you guys instead of us. It was a matinee so I met up with them afterwards so we could all go to lunch together and the entire time we were out she was talking about how cool you guys were."

Claude let out a quiet chuckle, "How did your pride take that?"

"I'm fine with it. I'm still her favorite player, even if it's only because I'm her dad." Sidney said. He felt himself starting to smile as well, Claude's amusement infectious. "But I've never seen Geno look more betrayed than he did when she told him you were her second favorite and I honestly thought Tanger was going to cry when he heard."

"That's hilarious."

"It was, yeah," Sidney agreed. "Last time you guys beat us, she told Flower that it wasn't his fault that you guys were amazing."

"Ouch," Claude answered, wincing. "That had to hurt."

"He got over it pretty quickly," Sidney said, lifting one shoulder in a shrug.

"I'm sure," Claude said. "She's such a charmer that I can't imagine anyone being angry at her for more than a minute or two."

"People definitely don't stay upset with her for long," Sidney agreed. "That might be more detrimental than helpful in the long run, though."

"I think that only applies if your kid is a brat."

Claude was distracted from saying anything else by a sharp, melodic ping from his pocket. He flashed Sidney an apologetic smile as he fished it out.

As Claude looked at the message, Sidney looked over his shoulder to focus on Stella for a moment. Her mouth was twisted unhappily as she ranted, her hands flying around the air in front of her to punctuate her point. Schenn and Couturier were both listening to her with amused smiles on their faces, occasionally speaking up to argue with whatever point she was making about tangerines.

Despite the frown on her face it was clear she was having fun.

She was generally pretty isolated from people outside her family, during the regular season she and Charlotte usually traveled with Sidney, so he'd been worried about how she was going to handle school that fall. Even if they were adults rather than children her own age, seeing her interact easily with people that she didn't consider family was a huge relief to him.

"Hey," Claude said. Sidney glanced over at him. "Stella hasn't had lunch yet has she?"

Furrowing his eyebrows, Sidney shook his head. "I don't think so. Why?"

"Jake wants to meet up for lunch," Claude answered. "I thought you and Stella might like to come with. She'd have fun meeting him wouldn't she?"

"She would," Sidney agreed, "but I wouldn't want to crash your lunch."

"You wouldn't be crashing anything," Claude objected. "I told you before didn't I? Jake's been looking for an excuse to show off the city. Making him chose a kid friendly restaurant just gives him more to show us."

Sidney chewed on his lip, considering. After a moment he said, "She really would like to meet him."

"Then come with us."

Sidney hesitated another moment. As he did, he heard a foot stomp against the ground and looked over in time to see Stella explain, voice holding a certain note of finality, "But tangerines are good for you and Cheetohs and Sherbet aren't! So obviously they're the best!"

"Come on," Claude said. "Don't you want to see her school Jake like that?"

Sidney couldn't help laughing as Schenner and Couturier began to chuckle themselves.

"Okay," he agreed finally. "Stels and I will come to lunch with you guys."

Claude grinned, wide and toothy and unrestrained. Sidney felt a little bit like he was looking right at the sun. "Awesome! I'll let Jake know so he can figure out the best place to go."


Schenn, Couturier, and Claude all still needed to finish grabbing their things from their locker so after a few more minutes the group of them split apart. Stella's reaction to finding out they were all going out together was a shrill screech that had echoed off the tiles in the locker room and had all of them wincing a bit. Practically vibrating with excitement, she'd let Sidney lead her out of the locker room so they could go to the nearest women's bathroom for her to go before they got in the car for the drive. They weren't going very far, but Sidney knew he had a better chance of separating her now than he did once they added Voracek to the mix.

There was a round of "goodbyes" and "See you theres" that followed Sidney and Stella out of the room, so he wasn't expecting to find Claude standing by the entrance to the parking garage.

He was on his phone, head tilted down as he swiped his fingers across the screen, so he didn't notice Stella and Sidney until Stella squeaked, "Mr. Giroux!"

Claude looked up immediately when he heard her. A bright smile spread across his face. Slipping his phone into his pocket, he greeted, "Hey, Stella."

"Hey," Sidney greeted. In her excitement, Stella had started wiggling in his arms so Sidney bent down to set her back on the ground. When he straightened back up, he asked, "What are you doing here? I thought you'd be gone by now."

"I wanted to ask if I could catch a ride with you," Claude said. "I figured it'd make navigation and communication easier in case something came up on our way." After a second he added, "Plus I've been riding around with Schenner and Coots all week and I desperately need a break from them."

Sidney laughed a bit. He understood where Claude was coming from. As much as he loved his friends, there was a reason he kept turning down their offers to carpool. He got enough of traveling with them on buses and planes. "Yeah, that's fine. You're welcome to ride with us."

"Mr. Giroux," Stella said as she ran over to him. She managed to push her heels down just in time to avoid skidding into his legs. "Are you coming with daddy and me?"

"Yup," Claude said. He added, "As long as that's okay with you, Ms. Stella."

"It's okay," Stella assured, nodding eagerly. Bouncing on her toes, she added, "You don't have to call me, Ms. Stella though, Mr. Giroux."

"Well it's only polite to call you Ms. Stella, since you're being so polite and calling me Mr. Giroux." Squatting down to her height, Claude leaned forward and proposed, "So I'll stop calling you Ms. Stella if you stop calling me Mr. Giroux."

Stella pursed her lips. Curiously, she asked, "What should I call you instead?"

"Claude is fine," he said. "Or G if you want, but I think you probably call your Uncle Geno that don't you?"

"I don't," Stella objected. "But Daddy does, so it might be a little confusing."

"Claude it is then." Holding his hand out for her, Claude suggested, "Shake on it?"

"Mmmm....okay!"

When she and Claude locked hands, hers was almost completely swallowed by Claude's.

Sidney waited until they'd shook twice before piping in, "We should get going. We don't want to make the others wait, now do we Stella?"

"No!" Stella said with a firm shake of her head. "That would be rude!"

Claude let out a small laugh. "It would be, wouldn't it?"

"Uh huh!" Stella shifted her hand in Claude's so that she was holding on to him. Secure in her grasp, she moved to walk past him. Looking a little helpless and a little amused, Claude let himself be tugged along. “Come on, Claude! I wanna show you my carseat! It’s orange!”

Sidney would have chided Stella for being so bossy, but since Claude didn’t seem to mind the situation he didn’t say anything. It was fine to let her take control every once in a while.

“Is it?” Claude asked. He glanced behind himself at Sidney, lips tipped up in an amused smile. Sidney just shrugged his shoulder, hiking his bag further up his shoulder before following after them.

“Yeah! It’s even got tiger strips!” Stella said. “I used to have one that was pink and sparkly, but then I got too big for it. Daddy said that I could pick out my new one so Lottie took me shopping while he was gone. I was gonna get princesses, but then I saw this one.”

“You like Tigers more than princesses?”

Stella made a soft sound of affront. She turned around to face Claude and said, sounding exasperated by what she found to be a clear gap in Claude’s knowledge, “I don’t have to choose. Jasmine likes Tigers too.”

Chapter Text

"Gonna love ya, gonna love ya," Stella sung. When he glanced in the rear view mirror, Sidney could see her dancing in the backseat. She was kicking her legs and bobbing her head as she sung. The bits of her hair that hadn't been braided and pulled back flying around her face. "Like a black widow, baby."

"Should I be worried?" Claude asked. Sidney glanced over at him. He found Claude was looking at him with a wide grin on his face, amusement in his eyes. Sidney was getting used to this look on Claude. He was getting used to see Claude look happy, amused, rather than like he was ready to kill Sidney and his entire team if it meant he could get the puck in the net. "Your five year old is back there singing about murder."

"I highly doubt my five year old knows what a black widow is," Sidney said.

"She could." Claude twisted in his seat, looking back at Stella. "Hey, Stella, do you know what a black widow is?"

"Yeah!" Stella said. "She's the lady in the The Avengers! She's really pretty and way better than the others. I wanted to have red hair like her, but Lottie said that she's a spy so she has to change her color lots! So I can just keep my hair the way it is and be Black Widow."

Sidney hadn't heard about this. He made a mental note to buy Charlotte something very expensive from Prague. He'd hired her to be a nanny, but he was pretty sure she was some kind of guardian angel. She'd honestly saved his life more times than he could count. He didn't know how he'd deal with half of the things that crossed Stella's mind if Charlotte wasn't there to talk her down and intercept.

Claude glanced over at Sidney again, lips turned up just a bit in that same expression of amusement. When he looked back at Stella, he said, "Lottie's very smart."

"Yeah," Stella agreed. "She's in university."

"Oh big word," Claude said, his voice portraying exactly how impressed he was. He held out his hand, reaching forward so Stella could slap her hand against his palm. "Very nice, schatzi."

"Schatzi?" Stella repeated, tripping a little over the foreign word.

"It's German," Sidney said. He'd been glancing over intermittently, focusing on the road for a moment before looking back over to see what was happening. "I didn't know you spoke German."

"Nur ein wenig," Claude answered. The German was rough on his tongue. He wasn't tripping on the words the way Stella had, clearly familiar with the phrase, but the language was rougher sounding than French or English just in general. He added, a clear explanation, "Only a little."

"Where did you learn it?" Stella asked.

"In Germany," Claude told her. "You see while your daddy was trying to fix the lockout, I went to play hockey in Germany with a friend. We weren't there very long so we didn't learn very much, but our teammates did teach us some stuff."

"What's a lockout?"

"A lockout is when a bunch of people throw a fit about something, sometimes for a good reason and sometimes not, so the NHL stops for a while," Claude explained. Sidney couldn't help the way he snorted at the description. "For some people it's a vacation, but some of us prefer to go play hockey somewhere else."

"But..." Stella sounded so genuinely upset that Sidney risked looking back at her. She had her head cocked in confusion, a small frown on her face. "I don't want you to play for anyone except the Flyers."

Sidney opened his mouth to reassure her, but before he could get it out Claude said, "I'm always a Flyer, Stella, even when I'm playing for another team. I mean cheering for Team Canada doesn't mean that you're any less of a Flyers fan, does it?"

"No!" Stella said.

"See," Claude said. "Just like you cheering for Canada doesn't mean that you don't love the Flyers, me playing a few games with the Polar Bears doesn't mean that I'm not a Flyer."

Sidney could practically hear Stella's interest shift before she asked, voice filled with wonder, "You were on a team called the Polar Bears?"

"I did," Claude said. "Do you want to know about them?"

"Yes! Please!"


Sidney trailed behind Claude and Stella as they walked into the restaurant. After they parked, Stella had jumped out of the car and grabbed Claude's hand, insisting that he walk with her. Claude had obliged. He'd looked more amused by her behavior than bothered, so Sidney hadn't said anything about it.

"Schenner said they were here already," Claude said as they stepped into the entry way. "Do you see them?"

Stella hummed to herself, lifting up on her toes. A smile bloomed across Sidney's face as he watched his daughter try to make herself tall enough to see over the small wall that separated the waiting area from the seating. He glanced around quickly, confirming it was a family restaurant, before he reached out. He grabbed Stella by her hips, lifting her swiftly up onto his shoulder.

She squeaked as she was moved, caught off guard. "Daddy!"

"Sorry," Sidney said, though he wasn't feeling apologetic at all. He leaned his head back to see her as best he could given the way she was sitting on his shoulders. His hands rested on her shins, keeping her from tipping at all. "I thought you'd want to be a little taller so you could look for everyone."

"You could've warned me, daddy!" Stella said. Despite the complaint, her words were spoken happily.

"It wouldn't have been as fun if I did."

"Hi, can I help you?" Sidney had been focused on Stella, but when he looked back down he found that a young woman had stepped up to the small hostess podium.

"Hi," Claude greeted, stepping up. "We're just joining some friends of ours."

A hand slapped against the top of Sidney's head. "Daddy! Claude! I can see them! Sean is waving at me."

"It looks like you've found your friends," the woman said, amused. "If the little miss wants to lead you guys to your friends, I'll grab you a few menus and follow you over. Two adults and a child?"

"Yes, thank you," Sidney said with a small nod. He drummed his fingers against Stella's leg. "Okay, little star. Where am I going?"

"To the right!" Stella exclaimed.

She must have accompanied it with a hand gesture because Sidney hadn't even taken a step yet before Claude corrected, "That's the left, Stella."

"To the left!" Stella amended.

As Sidney started in the direction Stella had indicated, he heard the girl say, "She's a beautiful little girl. Just about the sweetest thing I've ever seen."

"She is," Claude agreed.

"Down this aisle, now daddy! They're right at the end to the right."

"Left," Claude corrected again.

"They're right at the end to the left!" Stella amended.

"We'll work on it," Claude said. "We've gotta make sure you can tell your right wings from your left wings."

"Oh wings are a good idea," Schenn said as they approached. The table was set up so one half of it was booth seating while the other half were chairs. Schenn, Voracek, and Couturier had taken the chairs, leaving the booth open. Schenn leaned forward so he could see Couturier, asking, asking "You want to split a plate of chicken wings Coots?"

"If your paying for them," Couturier answered.

"Fucking leech."

"That's a bad word!" Stella objected. "You shouldn't say it, Mr. Schenn."

"I think he should apologize," Couturier said, a wide grin spreading over his lips. "Don't you think so, Stella?"

"Yeah!" Stella said. "If you say mean things to your friends, you have to say sorry afterwards! Otherwise they may think you meant them and be sad."

Schenn shot Couturier a death glare. But he still said, "I'm sorry Coots."

"Good job, Mr. Schenn," Stella said. Sidney felt her leaning over, so he moved a little closer to Schenn and crouched so Stella could put her hand on Brayden's head. She messed his hair the same way Sidney did hers when she did something good. "I'm proud of you."

"Oh thank you," Schenn said. There was a small hint of sarcasm, but not enough to rouse Sidney's protective instincts.

"Stella," Claude said, grabbing both Sidney and Stella's attention. "Do you want to get off your dad's shoulders so you can say hi to Jake? I thought you liked him."

"I do! I do!" Stella insisted. Sidney couldn't help the way he winced when Stella kicked her heels, catching him right under the collarbone and digging up. "Daddy! Let me down!"

"Yeah. Okay, sweetheart," Sidney agreed. "That is definitely not going to be a problem."


A few minutes later, they finished ordering their meal.

As the group of them were thanking the waitress and passing their menus down to her, Claude asked, "Hey Sidney, do you know what you and Stella are doing tomorrow?"

Sidney turning to him, raising an eyebrow, "Are you assuming we're going to have tomorrow off when we have to win against Belarus tonight to even still be in the tournament?"

"We can beat Belarus," Schenn said.

"You shouldn't make assumptions like that," Sidney argued. "If you assume you can beat them, then you're underestimating them. They're in this tournament, they've come this far in this tournament, because they're a good team."

"Okay, new rule," Schenn said. "You can't go all Captain Canada on me when my captain is sitting on your daughters other side."

Claude was taking a drink of the beer he'd ordered, some local brew that Jake had insisted they all try when Sidney had assured them it was okay to drink around Stella as long as no one was getting plastered or doing shots, but he tipped the bottle away from his mouth to tell Schenn, "Well your captain is telling you to listen to Captain Canada."

"Please stop calling me Captain Canada," Sidney said with a small groan. "That's almost as bad as being called The Next One."

"Give it a year," Couturier suggested. "The draft class is so heavy this year I'm sure one of them will steal that nickname from you."

"Let's hope."

"Anyway," Claude interrupted. "I figured that even if we loss, which I don't think we will but acknowledge as a possibility, you would stay another day. I think most of the team was planning to stay a few days for a little vacation."

"Probably. I don't think my family booked return tickets until the day after the gold medal match," Sidney said. "I have no clue what we're going to do around the city though. I was planning on trying to take Stella to the zoo tomorrow regardless of why we get the day off, but I wasn't sure beyond that."

"The zoo is pretty big," Voracek said. "It'll probably take you a little while to go through. Stella will probably have exhausted herself by the time you finish."

"I won't!" Stella objected. "I go to the zoo at home with Uncle Flower and Estelle all the time! She always fall asleep before me."

"Oh? I'm sorry then, maličká. I just assumed that a girl as pretty as you had to get lots of beauty sleep," Voracek apologized. When Stella looked satisfied with his answer, he turned to Sidney and added, "If she isn't, Stromovka Park isn't far. There's a lot you can do there. I think it's late enough in the spring for the fair to be open and if it's not there's always the planetarium or the swimming pool."

"I'll be sure to check it out," Sidney said. "Thank you."

Voracek shrugged. "No problem. This is my city. I'm happy to show it off."

"Told you," Claude said, pointing the neck of his bottle towards Voracek. "He's been singing the city's praises since we found out where World's was. He's on a mission to make all of us fall in love with it."

Voracek shrugged his shoulders. "You act as though there's something wrong with that. Some of us are from places more exciting than Canada."

"Hey!" objected all four members of the team Canada gathered around the table.

"Sid, come on," Couturier said. "You're Captain Canada. Be like a superhero and defend our nations reputation."


"Can you get the door for me?" Sidney asked.

"Yeah, yeah. Where's the key?" Claude asked.

"It's in my back pocket, inside my wallet," Sidney instructed.

The two of them were standing outside Sidney's hotel room.

Lunch with the Flyers had been fun. Stella had spent the entire time chatting excitedly to one person or another. Couturier showed her pictures of his cat, a tiny rescue named Flower, and Sidney had practically seen the gears shifting in her head. Schenn had sat there playing games, tic-tac-toe as well as dots and boxes, with her while they waited for their food. Voracek had spent the dinner telling her what the Czech words she was catching from other patrons meant, happy to share and explain his language.

It hadn't even been that bad for Sidney. He'd been expecting it to be a rough hour or so given the tensions between them during the season. It hadn't been like that, though. Instead the group had been open and loose and fun, willingly accepting Sidney into their conversation just as they did his daughter. They'd all talked about hockey and politics and argued about which of their countries was better. They shared stories until they were all laughing. It was more companionable than Sidney had been expecting.

Sidney was certain, though, that part of it was Claude. What Sidney had figured out about the Flyers, both from having friends like Talbot who had played with both teams and kept in touch as well as from interacting with them, was that they were a fairly relaxed team. They weren't quite carefree, but they were relaxed and easy going. Claude had a way of pulling them together so that attitude worked for them instead of being detrimental. Sidney wasn't sure he'd have been able to do the same if it was his team.

As fun as the lunch had been, though, it had pushed Stella's nap back by a few hours and she'd fallen asleep almost as soon as Sidney had gotten her strapped into her car seat afterwards.

Which had led to now when Sidney had a sleeping five year old in his arms and now way to get the door to his hotel room open.

"Right or left?"

Sidney glanced over his shoulder, quirking one eyebrow. "You really can't tell what pocket my wallet is in?"

"Your ass is huge, Cros. I'm sorry if I can't tell how fat it's supposed to be and what's because there's something in your pocket," Claude joked.

Sidney made sure Stella was still asleep before he said, "Fuck off."

He heard Claude laughing as he reached out, his hand reaching into Sidney's pocket to grab the wallet. There was a moment as Claude opened it up before he slid it back in. He twisted around Sidney, bracing his hand against Sidney's lower back before leaning in to swipe the card. The warmth of his hand against Sidney's back had a streak of lightning pulsing up Sidney's spine.

When Claude shoved the door open, Sidney stuck his foot in to keep it from swinging closed.

"All good?" Claude asked.

"Yeah," Sidney agreed as he stepped forward. He stepped just far enough into the room to keep the door from closing, putting it against his back instead. "Thanks for your help getting up here."

"It's no problem," Claude dismissed. "I'll see you at the game tonight then?"

"Yeah," Sidney agreed.

Claude stepped back as if to leave, but then he stopped. "Hey, does Stella have her jersey here?"

"Unfortunately," Sidney said. "She insists on wearing it at least once a week."

"Can I drop by in the morning then? It's gonna be pretty hectic after tomorrow regardless of whether we make it into semifinals or not," Claude explained.

"What?"

"I told you I'd sign her jersey for her," Claude pointed out. "Remember?"

"Oh. Right." Sidney nodded, "Tomorrow morning's fine."

"Awesome. Ten o'clock work then?"

"Yeah, I probably won't take Stella to the zoo until a little after that." When Claude held both of his thumbs up, Sidney added, "Thank you. Seriously. This means a lot."

Claude shrugged, the gesture casual. "She's a great kid. I don't mind doing it for her."

"Still."

"Then you're welcome," Claude said, a bright smile on his lips as he inclined his head in Sidney's direction. "I'll see you later."

"Yeah. Yeah, I'll see you later."

Chapter Text

Sidney was standing at the small table in their hotel room, throwing things into Stella's backpack for their trip to the zoo. The backpack was a giant orange cat, including little flaps on the top for ears. The small pouch on the front had bright pink and yellow straps. The zippers were small, gray mice. He'd just packed away a small tupperware container into the front pouch, filled with fruit for her to snack on when she inevitably decided she was hungry but didn't want to go to one of the zoo restaurants when there were so many animals to see, when he heard a sharp knock on the door.

"Daddy," Stella called. She was lying on her stomach on one of the beds with Oreo clutched in her arms, still in her pajamas. Her shirt managed to be orange, red, and pink all at once. It had little frills on the sleeves and read, "Rise and Shine." Little leaves and flowers sprouted from the lettering, the I in shine was even a rabbit. The shorts that when with it were simplier, just pink and white strips. She had pulled one of the pillows from the top of the bed, propping it up under her. Sidney's laptop was open in front of her, playing episodes of Barbie Dream House since there weren't any cartoons in English on the TV. "Someone's knocking."

"I know sweetheart," Sidney answered. As he made his way to the door, he said, "Last episode, sweetheart. You've got to get dressed afterwards if you want to go to the zoo."

"Okay, daddy," Stella agreed. "Can I wear my red dress? Because it has animals and flowers on it!"

"Is it in your suitcase?"

"Uh huh!" Stella said. "Auntie Taylor and I packed it because it's red! Like Canada!"

"Then you can wear it," Sidney agreed.

The dress in question was a bit nice to be wearing to a zoo, but he figured he could have it dry cleaned for her later if it got too messy. He and Charlotte had been letting her dress herself more now days. Sometimes the combinations she chose made him cringe, she'd gone through a tutu phase recently, but most of the time her choices weren't terrible.

Reaching the door, he peered put through hole in the door.

He wasn't sure who he'd been expecting this early in the morning, it was only a little past ten, but he was surprised when he saw who it was.

"Hey," Sidney said, pulling the door open. "What are you doing here?"

"I told you I was coming by this morning," Claude said. "To sign Stella's jersey, remember? We talked about it after lunch yesterday."

Now that Claude mentioned it, Sidney had vague memories of making plans.

"Oh. Right. Sorry," Sidney said. "It's early. I'm a bit..." He waved a hand in the air around him.

"No problem," Claude said with a small shake of his head. "But do you want me to leave? We can do this some other time."

"No, no," Sidney dismissed, shaking his head. "Besides, Stella would be upset if she knew you were here and she hadn't seen-"

"Daddy! Is that Claude?" Sidney smiled a bit as his daughter cut him off, inclining his head in a way to show Claude that Stella was proving his point. He heard her get up, scrambling off their bed and towards them. There was the soft sound of her running across the hotel room. Then she exclaimed, "Claude!" and the next thing Sidney knew, Stella had launched herself past him to wrap her arms around Claude's legs.

"Hey," Claude greeted. He reached down, setting a hand on her hair.

"Hi Claude!" Stella greeted. She giggled as she craned her head up to see him, lips splitting in a wide grin. "What are you doing here? Daddy didn't tell me you were coming over!"

"Well you're daddy told me you had your jersey with you," Claude said. "So I figured I'd come and sign it for you."

"Really?"

"Really really," Claude agreed. "Unless you don't want me to sign it."

"I do!" Stella insisted. "I really really do!"

"Well okay then," Claude said. "Why don't you go get it for me?"

"Kay!"


Despite having told Stella that they had to go soon, Sidney found that forty minutes later they were still inside the hotel room.

The three of them were sitting around the tiny table, Sidney having shoved Stella's backpack into an empty chair so she could spread her jersey out on it. Stella had been standing near the table while Claude signed her jersey, but as soon as the marker had been recapped she had crawled into his lap. She was still sitting there now, one of his arms slung around her lower waist to keep her from tipping over as she spoke.

"And I wanted to dump glitter all over it because it's rainbow fish," Stella said, "but Lottie said I shouldn't do that because it'd make a mess."

"But it's rainbow fish," Claude said. Sidney raised an eyebrow at him because Claude had to know how much of a bitch it would have been to clean glitter off of his kitchen table. It would have found it's way into every meal they ate there for the rest of their lives. Claude just grinned, a little mischievous and amused. "Rainbow fish has to glitter."

"That's what I said!" Stella said. "So instead of letting me dump it, Lottie got us a paper plate and she made tiny little glitter piles. Then she covered my finger in glue and I dipped it in the glitter before tapping against the scales I wanted to put glitter on. Daddy thought it looked so good that he wanted to put it on the fridge, but I told him no."

"No?" Claude said. "Why's that?"

"Because it was for Estelle's birthday," Stella insisted. "Rainbow fish is her favorite storybook!"

"Oh yeah? That was very nice of you then," Claude said.

"Uncle Flower says I'm the best big cousin," Stella said, puffing her chest out. There was a wide smile on her face and a shine in her eyes. She was clearly proud of herself.

Sidney was proud of her too.

Sidney wasn't the first one on the Penguins to have a kid. Tanger and Flower were a different story then the other guys though. The two of them and Geno were Sidney's best friends in the entire world. Stella had been used to monopolizing their time in a way that she had never done with Kuni or Duper. When they'd had kids, Sidney had been terrified that she'd be jealous and upset about losing her uncles. Instead, though, Stella had taken to both Estelle and Alex like a duck to water. She loved playing with them when they were babies, fascinated by how they'd grab onto her own little fingers. Now she loved sitting on the floor to build towers with Alex or curling up on a couch with Estelle and trying to teach the Fleury's oldest daughter to read despite still learning herself.

"Speaking of fish," Sidney said, catching a glimpse of the alarm clock on the nightstand, "if you want to go see some at the zoo, Stella, we've got to get going."

"What? But Claude's here." Stella looked away from Claude and at Sidney. She looked so torn that Sidney almost laughed. She looked as though choosing between spending time at the zoo or spending time with Claude was the biggest decision she'd ever made. She threw her arms around Claude, leaning against him.

Claude lifted the hand around his waist to settle against the middle of her back.

"I'm flattered, Stels, but don't you wanna go see the animals?" Claude asked.

"But I wanna see you too!" Stella wailed. "Can't you just come to the zoo with us?"

Claude looked at Sidney over Stella's shoulder, expression a little lost.

Sidney shrugged, leaving the decision to Claude.

He didn't know what Claude's plans were for the day, but if he didn't mind spending the day at the zoo with Sidney and Stella than Sidney didn't mind him coming with them. Over the last few days, he'd found that he liked having Claude around. There was something warm that settled in Sidney's gut when he was with them. And with only two games left before the end of the tournament, Sidney wasn't going to keep Claude from spending anymore time with Stella. His daughter had fallen in love with Claude the previous afternoon, not just as her idol but as someone she genuinely wanted to be around, and he wanted her to have the opportunity to spend time with him before the tournament ended.

"You sure you want me to come?" Claude said. "You wouldn't rather spend time with your daddy?"

"Nooooooo," Stella said, shaking her head as she drew the word out. "I'm going to spend all summer with daddy! Spending time with him now doesn't matter."

Claude let out a loud at that.

"Well alright," Claude said, voice filled with amusement. "I'll come with you guys so that you don't have to suffer another day alone with your daddy."


Stella was standing up on a raised pathway, peering into the owl aviary. She was bouncing around on her toes as she tried to peer up into the trees at all different angles. She'd been searching for a few minutes, so Sidney anticipated that if she didn't find any owls soon she would ask him to point them out.

Sidney and Claude both stood behind her, on the edge of the main path.

"So you've found it right?" Claude said, glancing over at Sidney. "In case she doesn't?"

"Yeah," Sidney said with a small nod. "Did you?"

"Obviously." There was a beat of silence before Claude sighed. "No."

Sidney let out a quiet laugh. "You want me to show you?"

"Yes."

Sidney leaned over into Claude's space. Their shoulders were bumping together as Sidney pointed out, "There's a few up there. Sitting on the branches in that little cluster of trees."

Sidney looked over at Claude, watching him.

His face was scrunched up as he squinted, trying to find the birds that blended in with the trees. Resting high on his cheek bone, in the space under his eye, was a small little green lizard. They'd stopped at the face painting booth at the entrance of the zoo. Stella had wanted a full tiger face, but Sidney had known the paint would make her feel warm, uncomfortable, and itchy within the hour. They'd convinced her to scale down, instead getting leopard spots that wrapped around one eye, by both getting something done themselves. Sidney had gotten a small turtle on the back of his hand, but Claude had let the woman paint his face.

It'd been a little below 11 degrees when they left the hotel, so Claude was wearing a red-and-blue plaid button up with light jeans. It'd gotten hotter as the day had progressed though so he'd rolled the sleeves up to his elbows. It exposed his forearms, leaving strong muscles on display.

Sidney's eyes had been lingering on them throughout the day. He'd always had a thing for people's arms, their hands. Seeing the things Claude could do with his, watching the way he flicked a puck into the net with an easy mastery and how effortlessly he could sweep Stella into his arms, had Sidney's appreciation skyrocketing.

"You're staring at me," Claude said. He didn't look at Sidney, still looking at the trees, but pink lips turned up in a small smile.

"No I'm not," Sidney objected, but he didn't make any effort to look away.

Usually he would have gotten embarrassed over being caught like this, flushing and looking away. There was something about the way Claude had said it though that stopped him. It was soft, matter-of-fact. There was a little note of pleasure in it, like he was happy with Sidney's attention, but it wasn't so overt that Sidney found himself struggling with how to handle it.

"Yes, you are," Claude answered. He looked over at Sidney now, dark eyes alight. "Which is really unfair given that I'm actually trying to find an owl and can't stare at you."

Sidney felt his face flush. Clearing his throat, he said, "I tried showing you were they were. It's not my fault if you couldn't find them."

"It's actually a little pathetic," Claude said, laughing a bit. "I can keep track of a 3 inch puck that nine other people are chasing after, but apparently I can't differentiate a tree branch from a feather."

Sidney could help the laugh that bubbled out of his throat.

"Daddy!" Stella cried. Looking away from Claude, Sidney found that Stella had turned away from the exhibit to face them. "I can't find the owls."

"It's okay, Stella," Sidney assured. As he stepped up onto the raised platform with her, he told her, "Claude can't find them either."

"Really?" Stella asked.

"Oh yeah," Claude said. Stepping up next to her, he crouched down so he was her height. "Why don't we look together for a minute? Then if we still can't find them, we can ask your daddy."

"Okay," Stella agreed. "I really wanna find them by myself."

Sidney hummed before suggesting, "How about this, if you and Claude can find them without my help you can get a stuffed owl from the gift store? As well as whatever other thing you want to get."

"I can get two things?" Stella asked, checking that she'd heard her father correctly.

Sidney nodded. "Yup."

"Claude, Claude," Stella said. When Claude looked away from the exhibit, head having been tilted as he searched the area Sidney pointed too earlier, Stella's face went deadly serious. She reached up, setting small hands on either side of Claude's face. "We have to find those owls. Then I can get two stuffed animals."

"Right," Claude said, nodding. He kept his face still, as if he thought this mission was every bit as serious as Stella thought it was. Fondness bubbled in Sidney's chest as he watched them. "We can do this."


Several hours later, Sidney was pushing Stella's stroller through the entrance gates on their way back out to the car.

It was only five o'clock but the hours they'd spent at the zoo had knocked Stella out. She was fast asleep in the stroller with her baby blanket thrown over her, a soft yellow blanket with white polka dots and a bumblebee stitched on it, and a large stuffed owl in her arms.

Shoved into the undercarriage were a collection of bags from the souvenir shop. Sidney hadn't given in on her the item limit, she'd chosen a glass tiger figurine to go with it, but they'd also bought a mug and snow globe for Charlotte. And Claude had bought himself a sweatshirt as well as a stuffed tiger that Sidney was sure would find it's way into Stella's bag by the end of the night.

"Aaah," Claude breathed. Glancing over, Sidney found that Claude had stretched his arms up over his head. He had his fingers locked together, pushing them up towards the sky. The stretch had his shirt riding up, showing off a strip of tanned skin. "That was fun."

"Yeah?" Sidney asked. "Not regretting agreeing to come along then?"

"Course not," Claude said, giving a small shake of his head. "I like hanging out with you guys. Stella's cool." He glanced over at Sidney, lips pulling up in a small grin, "And it's not exactly a hardship to spend time with you either."

Sidney smiled a bit, looking away from Claude to focus on the parking lot in front of them.

He knew he should have been more concerned about how big his crush on Claude had grown over the past two days. The thing was, though, that Sidney had spent the entire time they'd been training for World's learning how great Claude was.

He was easy going, but that sharp contrast to Sidney's own personality meant that Sidney got a moment to breathe around him. He was funny, loving to make the people around him laugh. He was friendly and kind, drawing the rest of their teammates around him in a way that was quieter than the way Tyler Seguin did it.

He had a way of making Sidney relax, forcing him to take a breath and remember that just because international hockey was competitive didn't mean he still couldn't have fun with it.

It didn't hurt that he was attractive as well. His hair was an obnoxious shade of orange that had no right existing naturally on a human being, but Claude managed to make it work for him. And now that he'd cut it, getting rid of the long hair of his youth, it looked even better. His beard accented the sharp line of his jaw, his eyes were dark and almost always held some spark of his emotions. He wasn't as cut as Tyler Seguin was, but most of them weren't. Still a life time of sports and years of professional hockey kept him in shape.

Claude getting along with Stella was just the final nail in the proverbial coffin.

Sidney had already been on the cusp of developing an actual attraction for Claude, something more than the casual crush what could be dismissed easily, and finding out that Claude would get along with his daughter was enough for him to take that last step.

"I'm starving," Claude said. "Stella dragged us out of that cafe before I could finish my sandwich earlier."

"I tried getting her to wait," Sidney pointed out. "You're the one who waved me off."

"Monkeys are more important than chicken sandwiches," Claude answered. "Do you want to stop for something on the way back to the hotel?"

"Yeah," Sidney said with a small nod. "What do you want?"

"Pretty sure we passed a McDonalds on the way."

Sidney wrinkled his nose. "No way. We're in the middle of a major international tournament."

"She's not going to be able to stay awake long enough to do anything other than shovel chicken nuggets in her mouth."

Unwilling to admit Claude was right, but knowing he had a point, Sidney grumbled, "Maybe she orders cheeseburgers. You don't know."

"No five year old gets cheeseburgers from McDonalds," Claude answered.

Sidney didn't even have a response to that because Stella had never in her life ordered a burger when chicken nuggets were an option.

Chapter Text

"Daddy!"

The hallway outside the locker room was swamped with friends and family, everyone meeting up with their family now for congratulations, but Sidney didn't have any problem spotting his daughter in the crowd.

Stella was wearing a team Canada jersey that hung loosely around her and fell to her knees. It wasn't quite an adult size, but it wasn't her kids jersey either. The C on her chest made it clear that she was wearing his jersey. With it she wore white leggings that had red maple leafs all over them. A crown of white and red flowers, looking at them he thought they were probably fake, rested in her dark hair. Someone had used face paint to write CANADA in alternating red and white on her cheeks, three letters on each side.

They'd just come off the ice, so Sidney was still in his skates but he didn't hesitate to swoop down to grab her.

"Hi sweetheart," Sidney said, unable to keep himself from grinning widely. He had his daughter in his arms and a gold medal around his neck. He couldn't think of anything else that would make him as happy as he was in this moment.

"You won, daddy!" Stella exclaimed. She was practically screaming in his face, partially into excitement and partially in an attempt to be heard over everything else in the hallway. "You won!"

"I did," Sidney said.

He shifted her so she was on his hip. Carrying her like this was getting more difficult as she got older, but he'd never had hip surgery and she wasn't quite heavy enough for it to bother him yet. Using the hand it freed up, he wrestled the off himself and lowered it around her.

Immediately, she reached out to hold the medal with both of her hands. She'd done the same to almost every medal he'd won since being drafted. The only exception was the one he'd won at his first Olympics, only a month before Stella had been born.

Sometimes he was struck by how big she was getting and how much she was changing, but this particular thing had stayed the same.

"Can I have a congratulations kiss?" Sidney asked.

"Of course, daddy!" Stella said. She spoke with a tone that implied she thought Sidney was silly for thinking she'd forget. Dropping the medal so it flopped up against her chest, Stella leaned in and pressed a wet kiss against Sidney's cheek. When she pulled away, she said, "Mine now, daddy."

"Of course, little star," Sidney said, echoing her words. When she turned her head, he leaned in and pressed a smacking kiss against her cheek. "There you go."

Stella giggled, tightening her arms around Sidney's chest. She kicked her legs freely as she nuzzled against him. "I love you, daddy."

Sidney's chest filled with warmth as he hugged her back, tightening his arms around her as well.

"Hey! Look who it is!" At the boisterous voice, Sidney looked up to find Claude approaching them. His face was red, bitten that way by the chill of the ice and flushed from exertion, and there was a bright smile on his face. His hair stuck up in all directions, tousled from wearing his helmet. "My favorite Crosby and her father."

"Claude!" Stella cheered. "Hi!"

"Hi, Stella," Claude greeted with a wide grin.

"Congratulations!" Stella said, parts of the word coming out odd as they usually did when she used a big word she was unfamiliar with.

"Thank you, Stella."

"Kiss?" Stella said, reaching her hands out towards Claude.

"Kiss?" Claude echoed back, looking over at Sidney with confusion in his eyes.

"We give congratulation kisses," Sidney explained.

She gave them to a number of the Penguins players as well, giving Flower congratulation kisses for like the boys gave head pats and Geno congratulation kisses when he had high point games, so he wasn't particularly concerned about her offering to do the same with Claude. He'd already been her favorite hockey player and now that they'd spent so much time with him he was rapidly becoming one of her favorite people.

"Oh I see. Sure, sweetheart." Claude stepped into Sidney's space, close enough that they bumped against each other, so he was within Stella's reach. She leaned forward, smacking a wet kiss against his cheek. "Thank you."

"Mine now," Stella said, turning her head so her cheek was facing Claude.

"I have to give you a congratulations kiss?" Claude asked. "Did you sneak onto the ice when I wasn't looking?"

"Nooooo," Stella dragged out.

"Cheering is hard work," Sidney explained. "We have to thank our fans for liking us."

"Oh, of course," Claude agreed nodding his head. Leaning in, he pressed a quick kiss to Stella's cheek in return. When he pulled away he asked, "Was that okay?"

"Yup."

"Oh good," Claude said. When he stepped out of Sidney's space, Sidney found he almost missed the warmth that came with having him there. "I was worried I'd do it wrong."

"That's silly," Stella said. "You can't do congratulation kisses wrong!"

"Well that's good too know." Claude gave Stella a smile before looking at Sidney. "I should probably leave you two to say hi to the rest of your family and get back to mine."

"Your family's here?"

"Yeah," Claude said with a small nod. "Anyway, I just came over to say hi to Stella and see if you were coming out with the rest of us tonight to celebrate."

"I think so. I'm going to put this little one down for bed, but my parents are going to stay with her after that," Sidney said, jiggling Stella a bit when he talked about her. "You're coming out too? Even though you're family just got here?"

"Yeah," Claude said. "My family couldn't get time off before now, but they managed to get the next week off so we're going to stay in town for a family vacation. I'll have plenty of time to hang out with them after everyone else has left."

"Oh. That sounds fun."

"Should be. I don't get to spend holidays with them during the season, so it'll be good to spend some time with them," Claude said.

"Sidney." Looking over Claude's shoulder, Sidney found his mother and father fighting their way through the crowd towards him. Taylor trailed behind him. "Do you have Stella? She ran off on us."

"She's with me," Sidney shouted.

"Well, that's my cue to leave," Claude said. He waved at Stella, "Bye, Stella."

"Bye Claude," Stella returned.


"All ready?" Sidney said, perching himself on the edge of the bed.

Stella was already tucked in. She was wearing pink pajamas today. The shirt was a tank top with a kiwi slice and lemon slice making eyes and a watermelon making a smiley face below them. Her shorts, covered by the blanket pulled over her, were just as pink but covered in all kinds of fruits. She held Oreo in her arms, the stuffed animal tucked into the blankets with her. Her hair had been brushed out, all of the tangles worked out, and her teeth brushed.

"Ready," Stella said. Her voice was already slow, slurring with sleep. It had been almost nine o'clock by the time the game started and while the game itself had been enough to keep her awake, she'd crashed pretty quickly once the excitement wore off. Privately, Sidney was a little glad for it. He loved his daughter, but there were nights when getting her to sleep was the greatest challenge on earth and he actually wanted to leave to meet up with the guys at some point.

"Okay then."

Sidney reached out so he could grab the book on the nightstand. Now that Stella was reading herself there were certain books assigned to specific times of the day. When she wanted to read all by herself it was picture books, Doctor Seuss and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. When she wanted to read to him they tried things a little more difficult. She read books like the Magic Tree House series and the Junie B. Jones mostly by herself with him there to help her when she needed it. When she was getting ready for bed, Sidney read books that were fun but had a rhythm to them that would help her sleep.

"Daddy," Stella said, speaking up before Sidney could open the cover.

"Mm?"

"Are you leaving?"

Confused, Sidney looked over at her, "What are you talking about sweetie? I'm just grabbing your book."

"Not right now," Stella said, a soft whine in her voice despite her exhaustion. "But later! You told Claude that Grandma and Grandpa were going to watch me."

Sidney hadn't realized that she had picked up on that. He didn't believe in lying to her, so he said, "I am, yeah. Daddy's going to go out with some of his friends to celebrate winning. But not until after we've read your story and you fall asleep."

"Oh...." Stella said.

"It's not a big deal, little star," Sidney assured. He reached out, brushing some of her hair away from her face. "You know how daddy sometimes puts you to sleep and then goes out with Uncle Geno and Uncle Tanger while Charlotte stays with you? It's just like that."

Stella pressed her lips together, thinking carefully about what Sidney had said. "You'll be back when I wake up though? Just like you are when we're at home?"

"Do you want me to be here when you wake up?" Sidney asked.

His parents watching over Stella gave him a little more freedom than he got when Charlotte was watching her. He tried to give her most mornings off, letting her sleep in since she often had to work late on game days, and he had a rule that he only took that away from her when he had morning practice. His parents had offered to switch hotel keys with him if he wanted, letting him stay out a bit later and sleep a bit longer. Maybe drink a little more. But if Stella wanted him here, then he was going to be here.

Stella hummed before saying, "Grandpa will give me pancakes for breakfast, so maybe just be back by lunch."

"Okay," Sidney said, swallowing the laughter in his throat. There was something inherently ridiculous about the fact that his daughter was giving him permission to stay out later just so her grandparents could feed her sweets. "I'll be back by the time you're ready for lunch than."

Stella opened his mouth, letting out a loud yawn. Afterwards, she smacked her lips together before saying, "Story now, daddy."

"Of course," Sidney said. Settling in, he opened the book to the page they'd left off on the night before. Keeping his voice soft, he started reading, "The Crocodiles Toothache: The crocodile went to the dentist and sat in the chair, and the dentist said, "Now tell me, sir, why does it hurt and where?"


Sidney was sitting in the alleyway behind the bar, legs stretched out in front of him and his head tipped back against the wall. It wasn't exactly clean, but he couldn't really bring himself to care. He was a little too far gone for that.

He hadn't meant to end up this far gone, but some of the younger boys were monsters. Hall and Eberle were loud, rowdy, and had a spectacular ability to drag other people into their drinking contests. The number of shots Sidney had taken just to shut them up and prove he wasn't an old man was ridiculous. Then there was Seguin who seemed to be morally against beer, instead shoving fruity drinks with extremely high alcohol contents into everyone's hands.

Sidney hadn't been this drunk in a very long time.

Hearing the door open, Sidney looked over to find Claude stepped out into the back alley with him.

"Hey, capitaine," Claude said. "You feeling okay? I thought you might have come back here to puke."

"I'm fine," Sidney dismissed. Narrowing his eyes, he accused, "You aren't even slurring."

"I didn't decide to take shots with Thing One and Two," Claude said. He walked across the alley, lowering himself onto the ground with Sidney. "And I've been drinking beer instead of whatever it is Seguin's been passing out."

Sidney thought about the drinks Seguin had been handing for a moment before saying, "Vodka. Definitely vodka."

"All the best cocktails have vodka," Claude said. "And all the best bartenders know how to mix so you can't taste it."

Sidney, because he was drunk and thinking about vodka, responded with, "Fuck the Russians."

Claude tipped his head back, laughing.

Sidney couldn't help the way his eyes were drawn to Claude, watching. He fixated on the long column of Claude's neck, pale skin disappearing into the color of a dark shirt. He listened to the sharp sound of Claude's laugh, low but light.

"Last time I was this drunk I did something very stupid that turned out very well," Sidney mused.

Claude turned towards Sidney, dark eyes still lit with amusement and pale lips spread in a smile, "Yeah? What happened?"

"Had Stella," Sidney said.

"Sounds like a pretty good bad decision," Claude agreed.

"I think I'm going to make another really bad decision," Sidney said.

Reaching out, he set his hand on Claude's thigh. Claude's eyes darted down, his tongue darting out to wet his lips. The amusement had dropped from his voice, replaced by something husky and wanting. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Sidney said. He didn't know when he started whispering, but he had leaned in so close now that his lips brushed Claude's as he spoke. "I'm hoping this one turns out okay as well, though."

Before anything else could be said, Sidney ducked in to press their lips together.

Claude's personality was brash, but he let Sidney take the lead in the kiss. Sidney pressed in tighter, liking the warmth of Claude's body against his, until he'd practically climbed into Claude's lap. Claude reached up, slipping his hand under Sidney's shirt and resting it against his lower back. He didn't move move his hand further down, just spanning his fingers open. Sidney reached up, getting his hands into Claude's hair. The strands were soft in his fingertips.

It was Claude who pulled away several moments later.

Not quite wanting to move apart, Sidney leaned forward to lip their foreheads together. Looking down at Claude, he enjoyed the way he looked with his cheeks flushed and his lips plump.

"Good?" Sidney questioned. His voice came out soft and raspy.

"Yeah," Claude said. "But I don't think we should do it again."

Sidney felt his stomach drop. "Oh."

When he moved to climb off Claude, face flushed with embarrassment and gut churning with hurt, he was stopped by Claude's hand on his lower back. Claude pressed his thumb against Sidney's back, the pinprick of pressure enough to have Sidney stopping completely. "Please don't make that face. It's not because I don't want to." Claude reached up, setting the hand that he didn't have on Claude's back on his face. Sidney leaned into the touch despite himself. "Sweetheart, I would love to kiss you against, but you are completely trashed."

"But I want it," Sidney said, unable to keep the whine from his voice. He'd wanted this for weeks now, captivated by Claude since the moment they'd started practicing for world and the attraction turning into something more the more time they'd spent together. It'd been more obvious since Stella had gotten to Prague, but if Sidney was being honest he thought he'd already started wanting more before he'd seen Claude interact with her.

"Me too," Claude agreed. "But not like this."

Sidney made an unhappy noise. He'd had a reputation for being a little whiny when he was younger, both on and off the ice. He'd mostly grown out of it, but there were somethings that just brought it out in him.

"I'm sorry," Claude said. He shifted backwards so he could press a kiss against Sidney's forehead. "I'm not crossing this line though."

"You did when it was a cop though."

"I did not sleep with a drunk cop. I was very drunk and I touched a very sober cop's ass. The cop definitely did not sleep with my drunk ass given that he put it in jail for the night."" Claude corrected. There was a slight hint of amusement in his voice again as he added, "Why do you even know about that? Were you keeping tabs on me, Crosby?"

"No," Sidney objected, because it was true. "I just heard about it."

"And you remembered it?"

"I didn't like you very much back then," Sidney admitted. "You going to jail for a nice was validating."

Claude laughed, his body shaking under Sidney. "I'm sure it was."

Sidney sighed. When Claude had moved back to kiss his forehead, it'd forced Sidney's hands out of his hair and around his neck instead. Sidney tightened his grip as he mumbled, "I don't want you to go."

"I don't have anywhere to be," Claude said.

"Stay with me then?" Sidney requested.

"Sure," Claude agreed, easily. "But this is not the cleanest alleyway. Maybe I could stay with you inside?"


Sidney woke up the next morning with the worst headache he'd ever had in his life.

Groaning he turned his head into what he thought was his pillow, only to stop when he felt warm flesh under his face instead of a soft pillowcase.

There was soft, laughter above him. "I figured you were going to feel that way when you woke up."

The voice was warm and familiar.

Looking up, Sidney found himself looking up at Claude. His eyes were warm as he looked down at Sidney and a soft smile was on his lips. The light of the sun had been dampened by the curtains, but there was enough light coming through to turn Claude's hair an almost blinding halo of orange.

"Ugh," Sidney groaned, turning away. He buried his face back into Claude's chest. "Make your hair stop."

Claude laughed, the sound warm like the sunlight shining on them. He had an arm on Sidney's back that he started rubbing up and down in a soothing motion. "I can't do that." Sidney didn't say anything, just burying himself further against Claude's chest. Claude just laughed at him again before falling silent.

Sidney spent a moment enjoying the quiet and the feeling of Claude's hand on his back. He used the time to piece together the night before, trying to figure out what exactly he'd done.

"So," Sidney said at last, "I remember most of last night, but I don't remember coming back here or if I managed to convince you to fuck me in my parents hotel room."

"Well, I wouldn't fuck you when you were drunk and I definitely didn't fuck you once you reached blackout," Claude said. "And also this isn't your parents hotel room."

"No?" Sidney said. He probably should have looked up to see where they were, but he was tired and he felt like shit and Claude was warm. "Where are we?"

"Mine," Claude answered. "I booked a room separate from the one I was sharing with Tyler after my family decided we were staying here for the week."

"Same hotel?" Sidney asked.

"Yup. Just a few floors up." Claude's hand slid up Sidney's back, moving so his fingers were in Sidney's hair. Sidney let out a noise that was almost a purr as Claude played with the strands at the base of his neck. The pads of Claude's fingers were rough, but his touch was soft and Sidney enjoyed it. "It's only ten too, so you've got an hour or so before you have to go meet Stella for lunch."

"Don't remember telling you that," Sidney said.

"You mentioned it when I was getting you into bed so that I'd set an alarm," Claude said, filling in the gap in Sidney's memory.

Humming, Sidney fell silent again. He was content to daze here, draped over Claude with soft fingers playing with his hair and warm sunshine on his back. Claude gave him about two minutes to enjoy it before he spoke again.

"Hey," Claude said, voice still soft, "I know you just woke up, but I wanna talk about last night before you have to leave."

Sidney took a deep breath before he shifted so he could rest his chin against Claude's chest. Meeting Claude's eyes, he gave a small nod, "Okay."

"Okay," Claude echoed. He looked at Sidney for a moment, obviously waiting to see if Sidney would make the first move like he had last night. When Sidney didn't say anything, Claude started, "So, I want this to be something. I like you and I think this could work. But I get that you have to think about this a little more carefully than I do since if we try this and it doesn't work than it's not just going to affect you."

"Stella loves you," Sidney said.

"I like her too," Claude answered. "And I don't want to hurt her."

"Neither do I," Sidney agreed. He reached for the hand that Claude didn't have in his hair, twining their fingers together. "But no matter who I date there's going to be a chance of my daughter. And I like you and I want to try this with you. I can't let the possibility of us breaking up keep me from trying."

There was quiet for a moment. Sidney knew this probably wasn't what Claude was expecting, that Claude had probably been anticipating a bigger discussion, but it wasn't like this was the first time Sidney was considering a relationship with Claude. He'd been thinking about it for a few days now.

He'd already decided that this was a thing he wanted to do.

"Alright," Claude said. He lifted their joined hands to his mouth, pressing a kiss against them. "Do you want breakfast or do you want to wait until you eat lunch with Stella?"

"I'd rather sleep another hour," Sidney said.

"Go for it," Claude said. "I'll wake you up in time to shower before you have to leave."

Because he could, Sidney lifted up and pressed a peck against Claude's lips. "Thank you."

Chapter Text

                                                 


 Sidney couldn't help the soft sound he made as he collapsed back into his bed.

Claude laughed, the sound light and amused.

"Don't laugh at me. I spent all day getting beaten up," Sidney said. He shifted his pillows around, pushing them against his headboard so he could lean up against them. Settling against them, he moved so his cell was settled more comfortably while he talked to Claude. "You should feel sorry for me."

"You were beaten up by five year olds," Claude said, the amusement in his voice tinting with a bit of fond exasperation. Sidney could practically hear him rolling his eyes.

"You've met my five year old," Sidney pointed out. "She's vicious. And that's before you add in two other girls and all three of them coming at you with the mindset of princesses trying to defeat the evil dragon."

Stella spent most of her year in Pittsburgh, but them living on the lake meant that she made friends with the kids whose families had vacation homes on the lake near theirs. Kids who only spent a few weeks in Nova Scotia, the same way she did. He'd let her invite a two of the girls she was particularly close to, a five and six year old, over for a summer sleepover.

"Poor baby," Claude said. "Need me to kiss the bruises better?"

"Maybe," Sidney said. He'd stripped for bed, slipping into a pair of silver sleeping shorts instead. With his legs stretched out in front of him, he could see the bruises from Stella and her friends whacking him with their play swords. They were mostly foam. It was hard enough to sting, to really hurt when swung the right way, but not hard enough to do a whole lot of damage. Something about the conversation tugged at the back of his mind. "Wait. Is this how phone sex starts?"

"Sometimes, but that is definitely not what I was going for," Claude admitted. He tacked on. "Wouldn't be opposed to it either though."

"My publicist would kill me," Sidney said. With the exception of the very sudden out-of-wedlock pregnancy, he was one of her least stressful clients. He was almost never involved in any personal scandals and the professional ones were easily taken care of. Still, he got as many conversations about the dangers of phone sex and dickpics as the younger guys did. It was a staple of their media training during training camp, even in the brush up meeting, and the few other PR meetings they had throughout the year. "And I've got three girls in this house right now that I'm not really looking to traumatize."

"Don't want to explain that to the other parents when you send them home?"

"Not particularly," Sidney answered. "The only type of sword I want them mentioning to their parents are the foam ones they beat me up with."

Claude laughed, the sound bursting out of him all at once. It was loud and happy.

Despite all of the bruises, Sidney couldn't help smiling.

He'd been a little unsure how things between them would work long distance and that scared him since their careers meant that long distance was going to be most of their relationship. If they were going to stay together then this would have to work. Sidney still wasn't sure how this was going to go, their relationship still new, but he liked knowing that even like this he could make Claude laugh. Even if he hadn't meant to.

"Definitely no phone sex then," Claude agreed. "At least not tonight."

"Not ever," Sidney interrupted. "I don't want my dick pic on the table during my next contract negotiation."

"Babe, please, it's never going to matter whether or not you've taken a dick pic when your negotiating," Claude said. "As long as you want to play, their going to keep signing you."

It was flattering and Sidney understood that it was probably true. He tried to be humble, but the Penguins had always made it clear to him how deep their loyalty ran and his ran just as deep. It helped, a little bit, that Sidney had a daughter that would keep him from playing too far past his time. He wasn't going to turn into Jagr when he had a daughter that he wanted to see grow up.

"Still not happening," Sidney said.

"If you say so," Claude answered.

"I say so."

"Alright," Claude said.

Sidney shifted around, settling more comfortably against the bed. "Enough about the phone sex thing. Tell me about your day. I could use an adult conversation after the day I've had."

"Phone sex would be a very adult conversation," Claude said. Sidney couldn't help the laugh that broke out of him. Before Sidney could object again, he heard Claude shifting around on his end of the phone. "So I had a phone conference with my nutritionist the other day."

"Oh yeah? Did he tell you to cut back on the grilled cheese?"

"Of course not," Claude dismissed. "But he did tell me how thankful he was to be working for us instead of the flames."

Sidney thought about what he knew of the Flames players. Then he winced. "Gaudreau?"

"Gaudreau," Claude confirmed. "Wanna hear about how bad it is?"

Sidney considered it for a second. What he knew about Gaudreau basically amounted to the kids' speed on the ice, his ability to put a puck in the net, and skittles. He thought whatever Claude had to say was probably going to be pretty horrifying, but it'd probably a little amusing as well. Plus, he was never against talking to Claude even if it was about how bad the Flames star rookie's diet was.

"Yeah, sure. Lay it on me."


 Sidney sat on the couch with his legs stretched out in front of him and his phone in his hand. Stella was sitting on the floor, between the coffee table and the couch. She was coloring a book full of sea animals that Sidney's mother had gotten for her, a collection of crayons and colored pencils spread out in front of her. Sidney was quiet attached to the coffee table, so the markers were still stored in the hollow space under the window seat. Stella's dark hair was clipped back with golden barrettes, a soft pink seashell on the golden clip, to keep it out of her face while she colored. He suspected that her choice in coloring book and hair accessories had to do with the fact that they'd spend the previous day out on the lake with Taylor. An episode of Sophia the First was playing on the TV, serving both as background noise and something that occasionally caught their attention.

He was in the middle of sending a text message to Claude when Stella said, "Daddy?"

"What's up, little star?" Sidney asked. Looking away from his phone, he saw Stella was turned towards him with a green colored pencil in her hand. He leaned forward, already anticipating a positive answer, as he asked, "Do you need me to sharpen it for you?"

"No, thank you," Stella said, stopping him in his tracks. "If it's sharper than the color won't be light enough for the seaturtle."

"Oh, of course," Sidney agreed, nodding a bit. "What is it you need then?"

"Who are you talking to?" Stella asked.

"Mm?"

She used the pencil to point at Sidney's cell. "Who are you talking to?"

"Ohhhh," Sidney said.

He considered things for a moment. It had never been his intention to hide the fact that he was talking to Claude from Stella, but at the same time he didn't necessarily want to tell her anything and then have things fall apart. Still as new as their relationship was something about it felt right. It felt good in a way that none of Sidney's previous relationships had.

"Daddy?" Stella said, drawing his attention back to her. "Am I not allowed to know? Am I not big enough yet?"

"No, that's not it sweetheart," Sidney apologized. He hadn't meant to keep her waiting for a response to her question. "Daddy was just talking to Claude."

"Claude?" Stella repeated. She perked up instantly, body straightening. Before she looked like she'd been asking just because she was curious as to what he was doing while she was coloring, but now she clearly cared because her favorite person in the world had been mentioned. "Is he going to come visit?"

"Claude's not coming for a visit right now, but he might later in the summer," Sidney said. They'd talked about that a bit. They both agreed they wanted to spend some more time together before the season started. It had seemed better for Claude to come visit him than vice-versa given that neither of them wanted to introduce Stella to an entirely new set of people before he was sure where the relationship was going.

"Really?" Stella asked. She was practically bouncing in excitement.

"Yup," Sidney said. "We're still figuring it out though, so it might be a while."

"That's okay. I can wait," Stella said. She sounded so serious about it that Sidney couldn't help laughing a bit. "Why is he coming to visit though, Daddy? Because if I have to share him with his family then I have to be really careful about what we do together so we can do all the cool stuff with us!"

"You don't have to share him," Sidney said.

Despite everything else that had floated through his head while they were talking, he didn't realize that he was okay with telling Stella about them until this moment. The main reason he would have kept it from her the way he had his past relationships, not that there had been very many since she was born, was because he didn't want her to get attached to someone. It turned out to be a good thing since those relationships hadn't really worked out. Still, Stella was already attached to Claude. It wouldn't matter if she knew they were dating or not. If something happened between them that kept them from talking, Stella would already be upset about it.

"Claude's coming to see us because Daddy and Claude are dating," Sidney explained.

"Like Sunshine and Georganna," Stella said.

"Yeah," Sidney agreed. "Do you know what means?"

"It means that you really, really like Claude and you wanna spend lots of time with him," Stella said.

"Basically."

"And someday you might wanna marry him like Uncle Tanger and Aunt Catherine did."

"I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon, but yeah." Her bouncing had knocked some of the hair that wasn't clipped back into her eyes. Reaching out to tuck it back, Sidney asked, "Are you okay with that, little star?"

Stella hummed a moment. "He's not going to move to Pittsburgh with us, right?"

"No," Sidney said. As well as their relationship was going, it was definitely too new for that. "Why?"

"Because if Claude was in Pittsburgh than he'd be my favorite Penguin and that would make you said."

Another laugh burst out of Sidney's throat. He didn't know what he'd been expecting from Stella, why he thought she'd asked that question, but whatever he'd been expecting it wasn't this.

"That would definitely make me sad," Sidney said, smiling as he tucked the strand in.

"Exactly," Stella said. "But as long as he's not coming to Pittsburgh, it's okay for you to date Claude."

"Alright. Good to know." Leaning forward, he smacked a kiss against her forehead. "Love you, baby girl."

"I love you too, Daddy."


 

                                                


"What are you making?"

Sidney glanced over at his phone.

It was propped up against the microwave with Facetime open. Claude had made fun of him for not knowing how the app worked when they'd first gotten together, but Sidney had gotten the hang of it pretty quickly once Taylor explained it to him. On the screen Claude was stretched out on his couch. He was propped up against the arm, one hand behind his head while the other held his phone in front of him.

"Chicken," Sidney said. He stirred the contents of the pot in front of him. "And mac and cheese."

"No vegetables?"

"We have a rule that she only has to eat fruit and vegetables twice a day," Sidney said. He might have been more insistent on her eating more if Stella didn't usually end up eating healthy snacks. She prefer celery and peanut butter to potato chips, tangerines and oranges to gold fish, trail mix and string cheese to cookies. She liked those things occasionally, but she was more than happy to go for the healthy alternative. "We had strawberry crepes for breakfast, so she can have a lunch without one."

"Nice. Sounds yummy regardless."

"You eat yet today?"

"A little bit," Claude said. "MDZ was around so I took him out for lunch."

"Ottawa boys sticking together?" Sidney said, laughing a bit as he poked at the chicken in the pan.

"As if you have room to talk," Claude said. "You and MacKinnon are practically attached at the hip."

Sidney wanted to object, but he had almost invited Nate to join them tonight. Taylor was over, playing with Stella in the backyard, and inviting Nate to join them for the afternoon so they could swim and mess around had seemed like a good idea. But Nate was spending the week in Quebec, spending some time with Jonathan Drouin since they were close friends from Juniors.

Before Sidney could answer, or Claude could gloat about being right, Sidney heard the sliding glass door open.

"Daddy! Is lunch almost done?"

Turning away from the stove, Sidney saw Stella running into the house. Even though he told her they weren't swimming until after lunch, she was already wearing her swimsuit. It was a soft orange two piece. The cutoff of the top was wavy with little dot flowers on the edges and throughout the top. The straps were a soft seafoam green. The bottoms were the same orange with little bow-ties on the sides in the same green as the straps, but Stella had a pair of dark shorts on over those until they could swim. Her short hair was starting to get a little longer, the curl becoming more noticeable. Taylor was following behind her at a more sedate pace. She was wearing black shorts and loose white tee-shirt with a large navy anchor in the center. It was slipped down her shoulder, showing off the bright red strap of her swimsuit.

"Not yet," Sidney said. "It will be soon, though. Why don't you sit down and wait."

"Okay!"

Reaching the kitchen, she climbed up the stool so she could get up on it.

She was quiet for a moment as she settled down, but then her eyes caught on Sidney's phone screen. "Claude!"

"Stella!" Claude exclaimed, meeting her enthusiasm.

"Hi," Stella said, reaching her arm to wave at him.

"Hi," Claude returned, giving Stella a wave of his own. "Is that your swimsuit? Are you and daddy going swimming today?"

"Aunt Taylor's coming too," Stella said. Puffing her chest out, she said, "My suits orange too. Like the Flyers."

"Yeah it is," Claude said. "What else did you do today?"

Sidney's attention was drawn from Claude and Stella by his sister tapping his arm. "You should, maybe, ogle less. The mac and cheese is about to boil over."

Not bothering to dignify her with a response since it would just end up with her teasing him, he went back to stirring the pot. Still he could hear Stella and Claude talking, Stella telling him about the crepes they'd had for breakfast and the movie she'd watched last night and the bird she'd seen when she and Taylor were outside, and he couldn't help it if his smile was a little wider than normal.

"Hey," Taylor said. Before he could look at her, she wrapped her arms around him from behind and pressed her cheek against his back. "I'm glad your happy."

"I am," Sidney said. He set his freehand on the forearm around his waist. Giving Taylor's arm a quick squeeze, he said, "I really, really am."

"Good," Taylor said, nuzzling against his back. "Love you, Squid."

"Love you too, tator tot." He twisted so he could press a kiss against her temple. When he pulled back, he said, "So Stella only eats character mac and cheese. You okay with that?"

"Hell yeah," she agreed. "Is it Spongebob? Spongebob is the best. It's the only kind we buy on campus."


"Hey," Sidney said when he pressed the button on the dashboard to answer the phone call.

Taylor had helped him get it hooked up when he'd gotten his latest phone. It helped a lot since there were so many times when he absolutely needed to answer a call, but couldn't. He didn't want to risk getting in a car crash, especially not when Stella was in the car.

He was driving back home after spending the afternoon at the park with Stella. She was asleep in her carseat, dressed in a pair of light overall shorts and a peach tank top. Running around for the last few hours had exhausted her. The second she'd finished the ice cream cone he'd promised her, she'd passed out. Her mouth was probably still a little sticky from it since Sidney had been reluctant to wipe her down too much and wake her up.

"Hey," Claude answered. "You and Stella aren't still at the park are you? I don't wanna interrupt."

"No, we're on our way home," Sidney said.

"You guys have fun?"

"Oh yeah. She ran around petting every dog in the park for like an hour before she finally let me take her to the truck we were getting lunch from."

"You ate lunch at a food truck without combusting? I'm so proud of you."

"Shut up," Sidney said, though there was a spark of amusement in his chest. "I can go off my diet occasionally. There's a reason cheat days exist."

"Something tells me you don't take your cheat days very often."

"I didn't used to," Sidney admitted. "Then I had a kid and learned that there are days when the only thing I have time to make are hot dogs." Noticing an odd amount of background noise on Claude in, he asked, "Hey, where are you?"

"Mastermind Toys," Claude answered. "I'm trying to find something to bring Stella when I visit next week. I wanted to get it now so that I don't have to leave to go get it once I'm there."

"What? Why? You don't have to get her anything," Sidney said. "I'm pretty sure she thinks you visiting is some kind of present all by itself. She's already planned out the entire two weeks you're here."

"Well I'm glad she's excited to see me, but I'm still going to bring her something." He heard Claude hum a bit before he said, "I'm thinking of getting her a crafting kit or something? She always talks about doing stuff like that with her nanny."

Sidney could've tried arguing, but he didn't really see much of a point in it. He wasn't arguing because he didn't want Claude to bring Stella something, not the way he had when his mother tried insisting on bringing Stella a gift during one of her visits even though Stella had been in trouble, but because he wanted to make sure Claude knew he didn't have to.

"If you buy her a craft kit, she's going to make you sit down and do it with her," Sidney warned.

"That's okay," Claude said. "My wardrobe could use a few more friendship bracelets."

Sidney heard a soft rustle from the backseat. A moment later Stella spoke, "Daddy? That Claude?"

"Yeah, little star," Sidney said. "Do you wanna talk to him or do you wanna go back to sleep?"

"Wanna talk," Stella insisted, even though her voice was still soft and sleepy.

"You sure?" Claude asked. "I'm going to be there next week and we can talk then if you wanna nap now."

"Still wanna talk," Stella said.

"Alright," Sidney agreed. "Why don't you tell Claude about all the cool stuff we did at the park today then?"


 

                                                

 

Chapter Text

Sidney lifted his phone up, comparing the picture that Claude had sent him to the area around him.

They'd agreed not to meet at arrivals since it would be filled with people and neither of them wanted to get caught up signing autographs, but Sidney was regretting that a little bit now. He had getting through Halifax down to a science, but he didn't spend a whole lot of time hanging around the shops so he wasn't sure exactly where stores in the picture Claude had sent him were. He was pretty sure the picture matched up with what was in front of him, but he didn't see Claude anywhere.

Frowning as he looked around, Sidney wondered whether he should just call Claude. He'd probably get mocked a bit for it, but it was better then wandering around the airport.

A few people had already recognized him and while he was usually happy to sign something, he hadn't seen Claude in ages. He just wanted to pick Claude up and then spend the rest of his day with his boyfriend. He wanted to get Claude into the car where he could take advantage of the tinted windows and wrap his arms around him, draw Claude into a few quick kisses. He wanted to pick his daughter up from his parents house and watch as she reunited with her favorite person, ecstatic and excited for the week. He wanted to take both of them home, setting them up at the island so Stella could color as she told Claude all of the stories she'd been waiting to tell him while Sidney cooked lunch. He wanted to spend the night curled into Claude's side with his daughter laid over them watching whatever Disney or Barbie movie she decided she wanted to watch before bed. He wanted to put his daughter to bed and then crawl into his own bed, falling asleep in Claude's arms instead of by himself.

He really didn't want to be stuck signing autographs in an airport.

"Over here, Clark Kent."

Looking up, Sidney found Claude walking towards him with one hand up to catch his attention. He was wearing a pair of white shorts with a black tank top that had a green dinosaur in the middle of it. While he usually gelled his hair back which made it look a dark brownish-red, but today he hadn't bothered with it. Instead it was a poofy, soft looking mess of sunshine orange. There was a bright smile on his face and his tooth wasn't in so Sidney could see a little bit of the gap.

Sidney's chest filled with warmth at the sight of him, ecstatic to see Claude himself and relieved to see at seeing how happy Claude looked to see Sidney. There was also a sharp stab of arousal that pulsed through him as he took in the healthy golden tan across Claude's skin and the way his tank top showed off the muscles in his arms.

Pushing it aside, Sidney questioned, "Clark Kent?"

"You don't know who Superman is?"

"Of course I know who Superman is," Sidney answered. Stella was more for Batman than Superman, and Wonder Woman was better than both of them, but there were only so many Batman movies and children's books in the world. A fair number of them involved Superman in one way or another. "I just don't understand why you're bringing it up now."

"Glasses can't hide the fact that he's Superman," Claude explained. Sidney had been expecting him to stop a few feet away, but instead he stepped right up into Sidney's space before stopping. He reached up, putting his hands on the arms of Sidney's sunglasses and pulled. He didn't pull them completely off, just enough that they slipped down Sidney's nose and gave him a clear view. "Sunglasses don't hide who you are, chéri. Especially not from me."

"I wasn't trying to hide from you," Sidney said. He knew he should have done something to make the interaction look like something between visiting friends, either stepped away to put an appropriate distance or stepped forward to hug Claude, but he couldn't quite bring himself to do it. Not when Claude was so close after being in a different province for so long. Sidney thought it was probably going to be a rough season if he was this effected after such a short period of time. "Just from, you know, everyone else."

"There is not a single person in this airport who has looked at you and not realized who you are. They just aren't bothering you because most of them have places to be." Sidney hummed. He wasn't really in disguise, but he didn't think he was that easily recognized either. Surely more people would have asked for something if he was. Claude's grin spread even wider, a little filthy and amused, "I mean weren't we talking a few weeks ago about how recognizable your ass is?"

"Shut up," Sidney said as a blush blazed along it's cheeks. Reaching forward he pressed a hand against Claude's chest and gave him a light shove. Claude's chest was warm, firm, under his hand and Sidney hadn't pushed nearly hard enough to actually do anything, but Claude stumbled back as his grin widened with his growing amusement. Noting the dufflebag slung over Claude's shoulder, he asked, "Did you get all your luggage?"

"Yeah," Claude said. "I was going to wait for you, but I went to get it when you said you still a few minutes out. It's why I wasn't here when you got here."

"Ready to go then?"

"Yup," Claude said with a nod. "Let's go get Stella from your parents so we can go get something to eat."

They fell into step with each other as they headed towards the parking lot, a small but noticeable space between them.

It was a fairly uneventful walk, the two of them exchanging conversation about Claude's flight and what he had packed compared to what he'd actually need, but occasionally the fingers on the hands in-between them would catch and Sidney would find his smile widening.


"She's literally pressed against the window," Claude observed.

"I'm not even a little bit surprised," Sidney answered.

The two of them were in the car, pulling up the drive to Sidney's parents house.

Stella had been so excited to see Claude that Sidney had almost been convinced to bring her to the airport with him when he went to pick Claude up. He was a sucker for her puppy dog eyes, just like everyone else who had ever had them directed at them, but he'd managed to keep from giving in this time. He was glad he hadn't since he and Claude had shared a few kisses in the car before they'd left the airport, a few that were nothing more than a peck and a few that were a bit more.

When he had pulled the car to a stop, Sidney looked over towards his front parents window.

He didn't see his daughter's face, though. All he saw was a flash of dark hair before it'd disappeared from view.

"She's going to come running out of that door," Sidney warned.

"That's okay," Claude said, shrugging a bit as he reached for the car handle. As he pushed the door open and swung his legs out, he added, "I'll catch her."

The words gave Sidney pause for a moment. Caught in the sweetness of the statement, he stared at Claude's back as he climbed out of the car.

He was snapped out of his thoughts by a sharp cry of, "Claude!"

Sidney got out of the car himself just in time to see Stella running down the steps of his parents porch, leaving the door wide open behind her.

"Stella!" Claude exclaimed. He swooped down and picked her up before she crashed into him. She wrapped her legs around his body and her arms around his neck, clinging to him. Claude didn't look bothered by Stella treating him the way a koala would treat a tree, he just wrapped his arms around her in order to keep her from falling. "There's my favorite star."

Stella was still dressed in the outfit, a white tank top made out of a light, flowy fabric with dark blue butterflies all over it and light colored jean shorts with white lace at the bottoms, that she'd been wearing when Sidney dropped her off. Her dark hair was clipped back out of her face with two navy blue butterfly shaped hair clips.

Sidney assumed she hadn't caused caused too many problems for his parents. If she had she would have gotten a little dirtier, her white shirt wouldn't be so pristine, and her hair probably would have shaken out of her clips.

"I'm your favorite?" Stella said, leaning back so she could look at Claude's face. His grip on her was just loose enough to give her the space she needed to move around when she wanted without there being any risk of her tumbling from his arms.

Claude hummed, considering. Then he nodded. "Yup, you are absolutely my favorite."

Stella gave a little giggle, obviously pleased with her new title, and tucked herself in to Claude's chest. Claude let out a small laugh of his own, smiling down at Stella as she burrowed against him.

Sidney took a moment, just watching the two of them.

Stella was an absolute darling and Sidney loved her with all of his heart, but he had never intended for her to be the only love in his life. Dating with a baby was difficult and adding his career to it had just made it that much harder.

This thing with Claude was good, though. Not just because Sidney loved him, but because Stella loved him and Claude loved Stella. She loved being around people and never had difficultly adjusting to new people in her life, but he didn't think she'd ever seen her bond with someone quite as quickly as she'd bonded with Claude.

Claude glanced away from Stella, catching Sidney's eyes. "Hey, Stella, don't you want to say hi to your daddy?"

"No," Stella objected, shaking her head. Sidney would have been offended, but even he knew that he didn't stand a chance in hell of getting a hello when Claude was right there. "I see Daddy every day! I haven't seen you in forever!"

"Well, you don't have to say hi to me," Sidney said, stepping close to the duo, "but you do have to let go of Claude and go say goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa?"

Stella let out a small sound of distress. "Can't Claude just carry me to Grandma and Grandpa?"

"No," Sidney objected. "Come on, little star. Just for a few minutes so you can say goodbye then we can go home and you can spend the rest of the day with Claude."

Stella made another distressed sound. Then she looked over her shoulder at Sidney, "Can Claude sit in the backseat with me on the way home?"

"You have to ask him if he wanted to sit in the backseat with you, not me," Sidney pointed out.

Stella turned so she was facing Claude again. "Will you get in the backseat with me on the way home, Claude?"

"Of course," Claude agreed. "I sat in the front with you dad all the way here so it's only fair I sit with you all the way home."

"Yeah! Exactly!" Stella said, as if she'd been the one to come up with the reasoning. Turning back to Sidney, she said, "Okay, daddy! I can go say bye to Grandma and Grandpa now."

Reaching out, Sidney put his hand on Stella's back and leaned in to press a kiss against her hair. "Alright then. Off you go."


Sidney sat at the dining room table, his elbow propped up and his chin on his hand as he leaned over to watch the table's other occupants.

Stella and Claude were sitting on the same side of the table as he was. Stella was seated next to Sidney with Claude on her other side.

Sitting in front of Stella was the bracelet making kit Claude had bought her as a present, one of several he'd brought with him for the visit. It was a see through pink tray shaped like a Mickey Mouse head. It was separated into multiple segments. The middle segment held a collection of different types of string while the rest were filled with differently styled beads.

Stella had already made two bracelets, both black strings covered in differing orange and and yellow beads, which were sitting near the kit. She looked about half way through the third one.

"Sweetheart," Sidney said, speaking up as Stella slipped a yellow star onto the black string in her hand. All of the bracelets had a single yellow star right in the middle. "How about we put the beads away after this one? You don't want to use them all up in one day, right?"

"Okay, daddy," Stella agreed. Sidney raised his eyebrows, a little surprised. She tended to fixate on new toys, like most kids did, so he thought he'd have to bargain with her a bit more. Sidney felt a little bit like she knew how to read minds when she added, "I only needed to make three."

"Only three?" Claude asked, joining the conversation. Stella wasn't a difficult child, but she had her moments and this situation was one that always got her. Sidney wondered if part of the reason she was being so good was because Claude was around to see if she threw a fit.

"Yup," Stella said, popping the p on the word and nodding a bit. She slipped a long, lightly colored orange bead onto string behind the star of the star. It was the same as the bead on the other side of the star. While all three of the bracelets were different, one featuring a bit more yellow and one a bit more orange while the one she was making now seemed a bit more even, they all had an amazing sort of symmetry to them. "One for you, one for Daddy, and one for me. That way even when you're really far away, you can remember me and daddy."

Sidney glanced up, watching as surprise and then warm affection flashed across Claude's face.

"You know, baby girl, Claude isn't going to forget about us just because he's far away," Sidney said, giving Claude a moment to process what Stella had said. "He didn't forget you when we left Prague and came back home, right?"

"I guess not..." Stella said. Her hands stopped as she took a moment to frown at the bracelet she'd been making.

"I'm definitely not going to forget you," Claude said, reaching out to put his hand on Stella's back. His palm caught her attention, making her look up at him. "But I'm very happy you made me a bracelet, sweetie. I won't need to look at it to remember you, but I'll look at it when I really, really miss you and your daddy. Then I can remember all the good memories, like the ones we're going to make this week."

Stella was quiet for a moment before she said, "That sounds okay too."

"I think so too," Sidney agreed. He reached for the bracelet made mostly of yellow beads. "This one is mine then?"

"No," Stella said. Setting the bracelet she'd been working on down in front of her, she took the other two bracelets from the table. Instead of what Sidney had expected, she handed Sidney the one that was mostly orange and handed Claude the one that was mostly yellow. "You get the orange one, daddy. That way when you look at the orange beads you can think of Claude! And when Claude looks at the yellow beads, he can think about you."

That...made a lot of sense actually.

"Okay, sweetheart," Sidney said. As he took bracelet that she was holding out for him, he saw Claude slipping it own over his wrist.

"Mine has yellow and orange," Stella said, picking the half finished bracelet up again. "That way I'll always have you and Claude with me."

"Oh, of course. That makes perfect sense," Claude said, nodding a bit.

Though there was amusement in his voice, when Sidney met his eyes there was something a little deeper there. The ghost of a promise to always be there for Stella. Sidney knew the promise was going to be there regardless of how his relationship with Sidney went, but he certainly wanted them to be there for Stella together.

Sidney reached behind Stella's chair so he could catch the hand that Claude had resting on the top of Stella's chair. Claude looked up at him. His smile widened when Sidney tangled their fingers together. Warm with affection, Sidney pulled their joined hands just close enough that he could lean over and press a kiss against Claude's knuckles.

Dropping Claude's hand, Sidney said, "How I go start dinner? And while I'm doing that you can finish your bracelet, little star, and then clean up. We'll put the kit up in the cabinet with the others." He kept all of the crafts in a cabinet in the kitchen that Stella couldn't reach so that she couldn't get into them when she was playing on her own.

"Okay, daddy," Stella agreed. Looking over at Claude, she asked, "Will you help me clean up, Claude?"

"Of course," Claude said. He nudged her gently with his elbow. "Go ahead and focus on finishing your bracelet first though. It'd be bad if you only finished two of the three in the set, wouldn't it?"


"I'll do it myself, daddy!"

"Oh yeah?" Sidney's voice was filled with amusement.

After the afternoon they'd had, he was certain that Stella was putting her best foot forward in order to impress Claude. He was sure it'd soothe out after a day or two and she'd go back to be her usual self, but he didn't mind it for now. Sidney found it kind of funny. More funny than the overall situation was the fact that Stella was still doing it now even though Claude wasn't in the room with them.

Sidney and Stella were in Stella's room, getting the little one for bed. Claude was in the master bath connected to Sidney's room, brushing his teeth, while Sidney and Stella were in the small bathroom off Stella's room.

"Yeah!" Stella insisted.

"Okay, go ahead," Sidney said, gesturing to the small stool in front of the sink. "But I'll sit here and wait, just in case you need help with your back teeth."

Stella was grinning as she hopped up the stool, looking more excited to brush her teeth than she ever had before.

Brushing her teeth was the last thing they needed to do before she was ready for bed. She'd already picked out her pajamas and put them on. She'd chosen a white tee-shirt shirt with a slight ruffle on the bottom that had an elephant, who wore a purple swim suit and a pair of pink sunglasses, on a teal swimming tube and the words 'drifting off to sleep' written in black. With it she wore a pair of teal shorts covered in white polka dots. They'd taken the clips out of her hair, letting her dark hair fall forward.

Watching her as she turned the faucet on, Sidney was struck by just how big his little girl was getting.

It seemed like just yesterday he'd been in the hospital holding her for the first time, staring down at this tiny red thing in his arms and wondering how in the hell he was supposed to figure this whole fatherhood thing out. Now she was picking out her own clothing and brushing her own teeth. She was going to be going to be starting kindergarten when they got back to Pittsburgh.

He was glad that her world was expanding, and his along with it, but at the same time he wished she would slow down just a bit. He wanted her to grow up and see the world and have fun, but he wanted a bit more time with her as his little star.

"Daddy," Stella said, pulling him out of his thoughts. Looking up, he found her looking over at him with her toothbrush in her hand. "I can't get the back ones. Help me?"

"Of course, little star," Sidney agreed. He'd been crouching down, having been at her level to take the clips from her hair, but now he straightened up. Her hair clips were still in his hand, so he set those down on the counter around the sink before reaching to take her toothbrush from her hand.

As he reached up, holding her chin in his fingers so he could move her when he needed to, she asked, "Can I have two bedtime stories tonight?"

Even if she'd had an ulterior motive, she had been exceptionally good today so Sidney didn't see anything wrong with rewarding her with an extra bedtime story. So instead of telling her no, he asked, "Are you sure you want to stay up for two stories? Don't you want to get up early tomorrow so you can do lots with Claude?"

"I do," Stella said, "but I want you and Claude to read me a bedtime story tonight."

Claude had read a few bedtime stories to Stella over the phone and Stella absolutely loved it when he did. She loved Sidney's stories and she hadn't stopped asking for them, but Claude was better at voices and sound effects than Sidney was. There were storybooks on her shelf that had become exclusively "Claude Stories."

"You have to ask Claude if he'll read you a bedtime story, but as long as he says yes I don't have a problem with you getting two bedtime stories today." When Stella let out a small cheer, he added, "But you aren't getting two the entire time that Claude is here."

"That's okay, daddy," Stella said. "You guys can take turns."

Sidney couldn't help letting out a small chuckle, amused with the way Stella made it sound like she was doing them a favor by letting them take turns. "Okay sweetheart. Open your mouth so we can finish brushing your teeth, then you can go ask Claude if he'll read you a story tonight."

Chapter Text

Sidney walked into the kitchen to find Stella standing on the counter in her pajamas, a long-sleeved gray shirt with a black bat symbol and pink lettering read 'Batgirl in Training' with hot pink shorts covered in black bat symbols. She was leaning forward, rummaging around in the cabinet in search of something. Claude stood behind her, shirt off but wearing a pair of red pajama pants covered in black moose.

He stood in the doorway for a minute, watching as Stella passed items down.

Claude had been in Nova Scotia for a few days now and, though it hadn't been a long time, they'd fallen in a pattern.

In the mornings, like now, Sidney and Claude woke up around the same time. Sidney got up before Claude did, leaving him to burying his face in the pillows and laze in the bed, and went for a jog. By the time he got back both Claude and Stella would be up, usually cuddling on the couch in their pajamas while they watched morning cartoons. Stella tended towards Disney and princesses, Sofia the First and Elena of Avalor were must sees every morning regardless of whether she'd already seen the episode airing, but sometimes Sidney would find them watching Paw Patrol or Nella the Princess Knight. He'd leave them to finish whatever show they were watching then the three of them would figure out what they wanted for breakfast.

It was sweet, domestic. Sidney thought it would be easy to spend every morning of his life like this.

"What are you two doing?" Sidney asked.

"Looking for vanilla," Stella said. She didn't turn to look at Sidney, focused instead on continuing her search.

"Vanilla?" Sidney echoed. He looked around, noting the flour she'd already pulled from the cabinet as well as the eggs and milk taken from the fridge. Guessing, he said, "It's a little early for cookies, isn't it?"

"We're not making cookies," Claude said. He looked over his shoulder, a smile on his face as he added, "But even if we were, it's never too early for cookies."

Sidney didn't want to give Stella to process that information, she weaseled her way into getting enough sweets, so he asked, "Then what are you making?"

"Crepes!" Stella declared. "Claude said he would make strawberry creme crepes for breakfast!"

Sidney hadn't had crepes for breakfast in ages. The idea appealed to Sidney's sweet-tooth, making his stomach rumble. As great as the idea was, he couldn't help asking, "Do we have strawberries?"

"Not right now, but I grabbed your phone off your charger and ordered some from your grocery service to be delivered asap," Claude said. He paused for a second before saying, "I hope that was okay? You said to go ahead and get anything I needed."

"It's fine," Sidney assured.

"Okay then," Claude said, smile brightening. Turning his attention back to Stella, who he'd kept his hand on even as he spoke to Sidney, he added, "That's all we needed sweetheart. Let's get you down, okay?"

"Okay," Stella echoed.

She shuffled a bit, turning around. Once she was facing him, Claude reached up and grabbed her at her hips to help her down. Instead of putting her down immediately, Claude made a noise that was a clear impersonation of an airplane or a rocket ship and spun her around in the air. Stella hadn't been expecting it anymore than Sidney was, so her face lit up in pure happiness and delight as she laughed.

Standing in the doorway watching as Claude settled his giggling daughter on his hip, a bright smile on Claude's face and Stella still giggling as she ducked her face against Claude, Sidney's chest filled with warmth.

He would gladly spend every morning for the rest of his life like this.

"Sid," Claude said, breaking through Sidney's thoughts. "Where are your mixing bowls?"

"Under the counter?" Sidney guessed. When Claude gave him a disappointed look, like he found the fact that Sidney had to guess where his dishes were a tragedy, he added, "My mom would have been the last one to use them and that's where she keeps hers?"

"That's really not any better," Claude said. Adjusting Stella on his hip, she was old enough that she was getting heavier and generally preferred walking but young enough that she still enjoyed being carried sometimes, he turned away from Sidney and looked around the kitchen. "Alright, Agent Stella, your next mission is to find where your grandmother put the mixing bowls. Do you choose to accept it?"

"Yes Captain!"


Sidney was sitting in one of the chairs on the boats deck, watching as Stella swam with Taylor and Nate.

Taking Taylor and Nathan out when he went out on the lake with Stella had become a tradition of sorts. They usually went multiple times but not too frequently, so it was a nice way to spend time with his sister as well as his friend. It was fun for all of them and a convenient excuse for Nate to go off his off-season training regiment.

It was also nice to have two people that he trusted out there with him to help keep an eye on Stella too. She could swim okay, but he made her keep with arm floaties on when they were out in open water like this instead of in a pool. She had tendency to try and pull them off, though, so having someone else there to notice when she was trying to wiggle out of them was helpful. It was also nice to have someone that would swim with Stella when Sidney wanted a break, but she wanted to stay in the water.

Nathan had been out of town the last time they'd been out on the boat, so Stella had been ecstatic to see him when he'd shown up earlier that day. There had been some pouting on Nathan's part, though, when Stella hadn't spent several minutes cuddling with him. Honestly, though, he hadn't stood a chance of being Stella's favorite when Claude was in the room with them.

He was watching as Nathan came up from underwater from beneath Stella, slipping under the large inner-tube she was using so that she was on his shoulders, when his vision was obstructed by Claude dropping into his lap. He was sitting sideways with his legs crossed at the knees. He shifted quickly, putting his arms around Sidney's neck and opening up the area in front of them so Sidney could see Stella again.

"Hey there gorgeous," Claude drew, mouth spread in a wide smile.

"Think that title applies to you more than me," Sidney said, moving to put one of his arms around Claude's waist to keep him steady. It was true too. Sitting outside with the color of his hair lightened by the sun and water dripping down his chest, having pulled himself out of the water not too long ago, Claude looked like something straight out of a tourist brochure for the lake.

"Aw, babe," Claude cooed, mirth in voice as he batted his eyes, "you think I'm pretty?"

Sidney laughed a bit. "Of course."

"Nice," Claude said.

Sidney leaned forward, meeting Claude halfway for a kiss.

He stayed close after the kiss ended, pressing his fingers into Claude's hip a bit to let him know that he wanted him there when he tried to move back. Sidney took a moment to just enjoy the closeness, the fact that Stella was in the water instead of plastered to Claude's side. He loved his daughter fiercely and he was so happy that she loved Claude so much, but there was no denying how much of a cockblock she was.

After a moment, Sidney asked, "Are you getting back in? Or are you done for the day?"

"I don't know," Claude said, shrugging a bit. His fingers played with the strands of hair against the back of Sidney's neck, wet from when he'd been in the water and curling the way Sidney's hair always did when he let it get too long. "I might get back in, but Stella seems pretty okay just playing with MacKinnon and Taylor."

"She loves Nate. She's always so excited to see him when we come back here for the summers," Sidney said. He closed his eyes, leaning forward to put his forehead against Claude's. Claude's fingers against the back of his neck were soothing, the tips of his fingers soft and gentle. "She's usually a lot more into him than she was today, but you were there and you are absolutely her favorite."

"As well I should be," Claude said, smile evident in his voice. "I am way better than anyone playing for the Avalanche." Sidney gave Claude's hip a sharp pinch. Claude jumped a bit, unwrapping one arm from Sidney's neck to press his hand tot he spot and rub it. "Hey, now."

"No hockey rivalries in the summer," Sidney chided.

"I play hockey for the sole purpose of making fun of people from other teams. Why would I ditch that just because it's summer?"

Sidney snorted. "Alright, pigeon boy."

"Fuck off," Claude said, bumping his forehead against Sidney's. "At least I know how to chirp. There are eighteen and nineteen year olds in this league that chirp better than you do."


Sidney settled himself on the edge of Stella's bed, dipping his head down under the canopy.

Her bed was made of smooth white wood with two soft pink drawers on either side of the three-step staircase meant to help her get up into it. The top of the stairs were white while the side and front were the same soft pink as the drawers. The top stair read 'Princess' in swooping silver lettering. The stairs were necessary back when they'd first switched Stella from a crib to a toddler bed since she hadn't been tall enough to get up into the bed by herself. There was white wood on the sides which kept her from rolling off the bed and hurting herself. White poles in every corner of the corner held up the canopy made up white netting and soft pink silk. The top of the canopy had portraits of Disney princesses wrapping around it.

"Hey little star," Sidney whispered, reaching out to put his hand on his daughter's hip as he gave her a gentle shake. "Time to wake up."

Usually she spent Claude's workouts with Sidney, watching cartoons and coloring and having father-daughter time, but today she'd put on a pair of hot pink shorts and a tank top and tried her best to keep up with him. They'd kept her version of the work out light, but by the time they'd finished she'd been absolutely wiped. He'd made her take a quick shower to get the sweat she'd built up, even if it wasn't very much at her age, and then changed her into a pair of pajamas for an early nap. She'd chosen a pink tank top with light blue lining around the arms and neck that right 'Donut Talk to Me'. With the shirt was a pair of light blue pants with donuts all over them.

Stella stirred at his touch, naturally a light sleeper. She shifted around a bit. When she opened her eyes, she caught sight of Sidney and let out a sleepy, "Daddy?"

"Yeah," he said. He brushed his fingers along her cheek, moving hair away from her face. "Time to wake up sweetheart."

"Noooo," she objected, dragging the word out. She clutched Oreo closer to her chest, closing her eyes again and snuggling against her pillow. "I'm sleepy, daddy."

"I know, sweetheart, but you gotta get up," Sidney said. There would be no getting her to sleep if she slept later than he'd already let her. That wouldn't be very much of a deterrent for her, but Sidney had had enough of her running around at night when she was a younger. When she'd first gotten a toddler bed, she'd loved to get up out of it and run around. He'd go to check on her thirty minutes or an hour after her bedtime only to find her giggling as she played with her tea set. They'd put those days behind them and he wasn't eager to go back to them. "Don't you wanna come out to the living room with Claude and I?"

She hummed, like she couldn't decide if Sidney and Claude were worth stopping nap-time.

"Come on, little star," Sidney said. "You wanted to watch Barbie and the Magic of Peageus with Claude didn't you? We can all watch it together before dinner."

"Can me and Oreo cuddle with Claude?" she asked, turning to look at him again.

"You have to ask Claude, but I'm sure he won't mind if you and Oreo cuddle with him." He opened his arms so she could crawl into them. After a nap she was always loose and sleepy. Sidney didn't mind carrying her out to the living room. It wouldn't be much longer before she wouldn't let him carry her at all, so he was more than happy to take advantage while he could. "Come on now, little star. If you don't get up, you won't have time to finish the movie before dinner."

"The end is the best part though," Stella said. She already sounded a bit more awake as she latched onto Sidney, arms wrapped around her father's neck and Oreo tucked between their chests. "Claude has to see the end."

"We should hurry to the living room than, shouldn't we? That way you can ask Claude if he'll watch it with you and still have enough time for the entire movie."

"And if he'll cuddle with Oreo and me," Stella added.

Sidney nodded, agreeing, "And you can ask if he'll cuddle with Oreo and you."


"What are you going to get, Stella?" Claude asked.

The three of them were walking across the parking lot, making their way towards the Dairy Queen doors.

Stella's room had been getting a bit messy, the books she'd had him and Claude reading her scattered across the nightstand and her toys strewn across the entire floor, so Sidney had made a deal with her. If she cleaned her room up, the three of them would go for ice cream after dinner. Since Stella had cleaned her room, albeit with a bit of help from Sidney and Claude, Sidney was keeping his end of the bargain.

Stella was walking between Claude and Sidney, one hand in each of theirs. She was wearing a dress. The top of the dress was a denim tank top with four golden buttons in the center and a strip of denim tied in a small bow around her waist. The bottom was a skirt covered in large pink flowers, smaller white flowers, and small green leaves. There was a straw hat on her head with a pink ribbon wrapped around it. On her feet were small wooden sandals with pink straps making a criss-cross pattern across the top.

"A chocolate cone!" Stella said. "With lots and lots and lots of sprinkles!"

"Rainbow sprinkles?" Sidney asked. "Or chocolate ones?"

Stella hummed, swinging her arms and consequently also Claude and Sidney's arms as she thought about what she wanted. "Can I have both?"

"Half and half?" Claude said.

"Yeah!"

"I think that'd be okay," Sidney agreed.

"Yes!" Stella exclaimed. She squeezed Sidney's hand tightly, jumping a bit as she did so. "Thank you, daddy."

"You're welcome," Sidney said. "Though maybe you should hold off on thanking me until you've actually gotten your ice cream, little star. There's no reason for you to thank me yet."

"It's okay, daddy. I'll just thank you again once I've gotten my ice cream," Stella said. She looked up at Claude, asking, "What are you going to get Claude?"

"I don't know," Claude answered. "A chocolate ice cream cone dipped in rainbow and chocolate sprinklers sounds pretty good, though."

"Noooooo," Stella said, shaking her head as she drew the word out. "That's what I'm getting. You can't get the same thing, Claude."

"I can't? Why not?"

"Because if we get the same thing then we can each only have one thing," Stella explained, carefully like Claude might not understand her. "But if we both get different things than we can share and we'll both get two things!"

"Stella," Sidney said, "you have to ask Claude if he wants to share his ice cream with you. Don't just assume that he's going to."

"You always share with me," Stella said. "Why wouldn't Claude share with me?"

Sidney opened his mouth to explain, but Claude spoke up before he could.

"I don't mind sharing with you," Claude said. Sidney shot him a look over the top of Stella's head. He didn't mind if Claude wanted to share with Stella, but she had to learn that just because Sidney did something with her didn't mean Claude would as well. Claude gave him a small shrug in return. "Let's see...How do you feel about cookie dough, Stella? I could get a cookie dough blizzard for us to share."

"Cookie dough is yummy," Stella said. "But daddy says I can't eat too much of it or else I'll get sick."

"That's a good point," Claude said, nodding a bit in agreement. "But we'll be splitting it, so you'll only be eating half of the cookie dough which will definitely not be too much cookie dough."

"Oh! That makes sense!" Stella said, nodding herself. "Okay, a cookie dough blizzard sounds yummy then."

Sidney found it hard to be any sort of angry when Claude and Stella seemed so happy with the arrangement they'd made. Stella did need to learn to ask for things instead of assuming everyone would say yes just because her father did, but maybe this was a lesson he didn't have to impose quite so forcefully when it came to her interactions with Claude.

Chapter Text

"Is there anything you want for breakfast?" Sidney asked.

Usually Sidney would have been out for a run around now while Claude got Stella around for him, but today was Claude's last day in Nova Scotia. Sidney was skipping his run so they could spend a few more minutes together. They'd also decided unanimously that given how upset Stella had been about Claude leaving the night before, it was better to let her sleep a little later and avoid the impending meltdown for as long as possible.

So the two of them were sitting in the kitchen alone. Sidney was standing between the kitchen counter and island in nothing but a pair of khaki shorts. His hair was in an awkward stage between wet and dry that had it fluffed up more than usual. He hadn't really cut it since the end of playoffs, no longer concerned with how long it was once the season was over, so the edges curled at the nape of his neck and around his ears. Claude was sitting on the other side of the island, on top of one of the stools. He was wearing a pair of dark shorts with an old, faded Olympique tank top. They were loose, nice travel clothes for his plane ride later. They'd taken a shower together, wanting a few more stolen minutes together, so Claude's hair was straddling the same line between wet and dry.

"Pancakes?" Claude suggested.

Though he had already turned to start searching through the cabinets for ingredients, Sidney gave a soft hum and asked, "Are you requesting pancakes because you want pancakes or because pancakes will make Stella happy?"

"Little bit of both," Claude admitted.

"I don't think pancakes are going to make her forget you're leaving today," Sidney said.

"No, but maybe it'll make her feel a little bit better."

Sidney couldn't help the smile that spread over his face as he reached to grab the flour from the cupboard. It was a stupid, silly thing, because Claude choosing one of Stella's favorite foods for breakfast in an attempt to make her a little happier wasn't exclusively indicative of Claude caring for Stella. He could have just been doing it because he didn't want to deal with the type of complete meltdown that only five year olds were capable of having. But Sidney knew that Claude cared for Stella and he knew that the main reason Claude wanted to avoid the meltdown was because he didn't want to be the reason Stella was crying.

"Maybe a little bit," Sidney said. As he set the flour down, he glanced over his shoulder to meet Claude's eyes. "I'm almost positive she'd rather you stay than have pancakes."

"As much as I'd like to, I've got to get stuff sorted out at home before I head to Philly." Claude was sitting with one elbow on the counter, his jaw resting against his hand, while the other was folded. He reached out now, though, holding one hand out towards Sidney. "Maybe I can spend some more time out here next summer though."

Sidney's smile widened as he reached for Claude's hand. He twined their fingers together, content to spend the moment holding hands instead of searching the cabinets. "Stella would like that."

Claude raised an eyebrow, lips turning up with the smallest hint of amusement. "Just Stella?"

Sidney hummed, giving Claude's hand a small squeeze. "I might like it too."

"Might?" Claude repeated.

"Probably."

"Probably?" Claude pressed their joined hands against the counter as he lifted off his seat, leaning across the counter and into Sidney's space the best he could.

"Yup," Sidney said, popping the p childishly. There were wide grins on both of their faces, filled with amusement and affection. Between taking care of his daughter and acting as Captain for the Penguins, there weren't a whole lot of moments when he got to act like this. There were guys on the team who he could let down his barriers around, but he always felt like he needed to keep some aspect of control around them. It was easier to let go with Claude, with someone who wouldn't be looking at Sidney at the end of a rough season and wondering what had gone wrong. As Claude leaned in closer, he said, "I'd probably like it if you spent some more time here next summer. Only a little bit, though."

"I'll show you a little bit," Claude purred, voice dropping a little bit deeper.

"Oh yeah?" Sidney said. They were so close now that Sidney could feel their lips brushing together when he spoke.

"Uh huh."

Claude leaned in, tilting so their lips slotted together.

Not knowing how long it would be until he got this again, Sidney was all too happy to spend a small portion of his morning making out in his kitchen.

The pancakes could wait a little while longer.


"Daddy, I'm done," Stella said.

It was later in the morning, almost ten o'clock, and the three of them were gathered around the table. Sidney was sitting on one side of the table while Stella and Claude sat together across from him.

They'd woken Stella up a few minutes before the pancakes finished, but she hadn't changed out of her pajamas yet. She was wearing a long, sleeved pink shirt. In the center of the shirt was a black ball with planets and stars on it. Over the picture of the universe was a unicorn with a rainbow ring around it. Black lettering read, 'Unicorns are my universe.' She also had on a pair of black pajama plants covered in planets, stars, and bright blue constellations.

She hadn't said much since waking up. She'd just latched herself onto Claude and refused to move. They hadn't made many attempts to move her, but when they'd tried to get her to move her chair so she wasn't tucked under Claude's arm as he ate she'd just glared and moved closer.

Normally Sidney would have shut that kind of behavior down right-away, but he thought Stella deserved a little leeway today. While she was attached to people in her life, she wasn't really attached to them the way she was attached to Claude. There wasn't really anyone that was new the way that Claude was. The people in her life now were people that she was used to saying goodbye to for a small period of time because that's what she'd been doing for her entire life. Claude was an entirely different story, though, and Stella was clearly struggling with how to handle that.

As much as Sidney wanted to help her learn to handle that, he didn't want to push her too much either.

So instead he and Claude had just exchanged a look before Claude moved into a position that would make it easier for him to eat, even with Stella practically glued to his side.

"Really?" Sidney asked, glancing down at her plate. He'd made the apple pancakes that Stella preferred, she liked blueberry but apple was her absolute favorite, and used a mold to shape them like hearts. Claude had sliced an extra apple for her to have apple slices and given her peanut butter to dip them in since it was a bit too early for caramel. Despite the fact that it was a collection of food that she loved and rarely got, Stella had only eaten three of her apple slices and half a pancake.

"Yes," Stella said, nodding a bit. She moved to tuck her face against Claude side. Claude looked up at Sidney, concern in his eyes as he met Sidney's, before shifting so he could wrap an arm around her shoulders to keep her close. Sidney shrugged, feeling a bit at a loss himself. Her words were muffled when she continued, "'M full daddy."

"You're sure, Stels?" Claude asked. "You haven't eaten very much even though all of your food looks so good."

"I'm not hungry."

"For anything?" Claude asked. "You don't want little bit more of your pancake? You're going back to Pittsburgh soon, aren't you? You won't be able to have them very often once your dad is back on his diet."

Stella shook her head. "No thank you."

There was a moment as Claude and Sidney exchanged looks. Both of them understood that Stella needed to eat some more, but neither of them wanted to force her or push too hard.

After a minute of communicating in eyebrow waggles and subtle hand motions, Sidney said, "Why don't you eat the rest of your apple slices, little star? Then you can be done and I won't make you eat anymore."

"That sounds fair to me," Claude said. He nudged Stella a bit, gently dislodging her from his side. She made a soft, unhappy sound before she looked up at him. "Don't you?"

"Just my apple slices?" Stella asked, turning to look at Sidney.

He really wished she'd eat more than just that, but he felt like he could let her go for today. He'd just have to make sure she ate a bit more than usual at lunch that day. "Only the apple slices."

She was quiet for a moment before she nodded. "Okay, daddy."

Sidney felt a wash of relief as she reached forward, grabbing one of the slices from her plate. She dipped it in the peanut butter briefly before she put the end of the apple slice in her mouth.

He hoped everything wasn't going to be this much of a battle with her today, but he didn't exactly blame her either.

If it'd been appropriate for someone his age, he'd probably have been sulking and pouting about Claude leaving as well.


Sidney felt like his heart was breaking in his chest as he watched Claude and Stella.

The three of them were standing in a little alcove near airport security where they would have some privacy while they said goodbye.

Stella was in Claude's arms, her legs wrapped tightly around his torso and her arms locked around his neck in a vice grip. When Claude had first picked her up, he'd actually had to ask her to loosen her grip a little since she was holding on so tightly. Her face was buried in Claude's neck and her little body was shaking as she cried. Claude had looked okay with the separation right up until Stella had started crying, than he'd buried his face against her hair and wrapped his arms even tighter around her.

Sidney had a brief moment where he wondered if this relationship with Claude was a good idea. Stella adored Claude and it was clear Claude felt the same way about Stella. If she was this torn up about Claude leaving after only two weeks with them, how bad was she going to react if the relationship went on for a while before it fell apart? She'd be torn apart by the absence of Claude in her life.

The thought left as quickly as it'd come. Stella wasn't the only one who adored Claude, Sidney did too. If Sidney and Claude went their separate ways, it wasn't just going to be Stella that was torn apart by it. Sidney was going to be just as devastated as she was. Sidney didn't want to give up on something that he felt that intensely about. The potential for hurt was there, but there was also the potential for something fantastic. Stella and Sidney's lives were better with Claude in them and Sidney didn't want to give that up for nothing.

"You should go soon," Sidney said, speaking around the lump in his throat. He stepped forward, putting his hand on Stella's back where the side of his hand bumped against Claude's. "You'll need time to get through security."

"Yeah, I know," Claude said. His voice was rough. He was clearly doing his best not to cry despite wanting to. He held Stella just a little tighter before he drew away as bit. "Alright, Stella, you're gonna have to go to daddy now."

"No!" Stella cried, voice sharp and insistent. She tightened her grip around Claude, digging her heels into his lower back. "I don't want you to go!"

"Sweetheart," Sidney said, voice low. "Claude has to catch his plane."

"No! No!" Stella objected, shaking her head vehemently. "I don't want Claude to go!"

"Stella. I'd stay with you if I could, but there's stuff I have to do in Ottawa," Claude said, his voice making it clear that his heart was feeling Stella's tears just as much as Sidney's was. There was a moment before he said, sounding a little desperate for it to work, "I have to go pack so that I can go back to Philadelphia. I can't play for the Flyers if I stay here with you. You love the Flyers, don't you? Don't you want to see me playing for them?"

"No! I hate the Flyers!" Stella cried. A little jolt of surprise flashed through Sidney's system. He knew she was only saying it because she felt like the Flyers were the ones taking Claude from her, but it was still surprising to hear her say given how much she adored the team. "I hate them, I hate them, I hate them!"

Sidney and Claude's eyes met over Stella's shoulder.

They had to get Stella to calm down enough for Claude to get through security soon, but Claude looked just as lost as Sidney felt when it came to actually how to do that.


Almost half an hour later, Sidney was finally making his way out of the airport with Stella in his arms.

In the end, he'd just had to peel her off of Claude despite her kicking and screaming. He'd followed Claude to security, standing outside of the roped off area while he went through. At some point Stella had stopped her raging so she could watch Claude as he went through, still sniffling as she waved at him. When Claude had disappeared from view, she'd tucked her face against her father's chest. She wasn't sobbing anymore, but he could feel his shirt growing damp with a fresh set of tears.

He was just about to the door when he heard someone say, "Excuse me, Mr. Crosby?"

Sidney closed his eyes, exhaustion and irritation pounding through him. He was carrying a crying five year old, had no idea when he'd get to see his boyfriend again, and just wanted to get home to cuddle with his daughter until they both felt a little better. He really didn't feel like dealing with fans.

Still, he forced a smile on his face as he turned towards the voice. "Yes?"

The speaker had been a woman around his age. A young boy a few years older than Stella was standing in front of him with a lollipop in his hand, the woman's hands on his shoulders. The two of them shared the same dirty blonde hair and dark brown eyes. That combined with the similar slope of their noses made Sidney think that the boy was probably her son.

"We're sorry to bother you," she said. "But my son saw your daughter crying and wanted to give her his lollipop if that's okay."

Having been expecting a request for an autograph or a photo, all that Sidney could think was, "What?" He felt Stella looking up, pressing her cheek against his chest as she turned his head to look at the speakers.

"My wife goes on a lot of business trips. Teddy's gotten better about it, but when he was her age he'd get really upset every time she had to leave," she explained. "He saw your family saying goodbye and remembered it. He wanted to make your daughter feel a little bit better."

The little boy, Teddy, seemed to take that as his queue. He took a tiny step forward, lifting up on his toes. Even up like he was, he couldn't quite reach Stella given how tall Sidney was. There was a large lollipop in his hands, a circular one colored like a rainbow, that he lifted up towards her. It was clearly new, the candy still wrapped in plastic.

"Here. For you," he said. Stella looked up at Sidney for approval, waiting until he nodded to reach for it. He crouched down a bit so she could grab it, wrapping her hands around the stick. When Stella had a good grip on the lollipop, he stepped back towards his mom again.

"Thank you," Stella said, her voice rough and miserable sounding from all the crying she'd been doing.

"You're welcome," he said. Then he added, "Mama always comes back from her trips. I'm sure your other dad will come back too."

Stella sniffled a bit, but nodded in agreement. She pulled the lollipop closer to her, pressing it against his chest.

The woman looked down at her son and squeezed his shoulders, a small but proud smile on her lips. Looking back at Sidney, she said, "I know how difficult it can be to deal with a little one in an airport, so we'll leave you to it. Have a nice day."

Sidney was still a little shocked by the entire series of events, so all he could think to say as she steered her son away was, "Oh, thank you. You too."

 

Chapter Text

                                                  


 

"Well, that's a lot of boxes," Sidney said when Claude answered his facetime. There weren't an excessive amount. Sidney knew that he and Stella would end up having even more, given that one of them was an extremely spoiled five year old, but there were still quite a few. "Do you not have both houses set up with their own things?"

Claude glanced behind himself, looking at the stack of boxes against the wall behind him. When he turned back to Sidney, he said, "No, I pretty much just move it all. I mean both places have their own sets of furniture, but outside of that I don't really own a lot so I didn't bother."

Sidney hummed a bit in acceptance. Most of the guys that didn't live with a significant other or have kids, so usually the younger ones but some of the older players who hadn't settled down as well, lived like that. They had comfortable homes, but they spent so much time traveling for the sport that they didn't see a point in really setting down their roots the way others did.

Turning his attention away from the boxes, Sidney smiled at Claude. "Hello."

"Hello," Claude said, a small smile coming to rest on his lips. "How's your day been?"

"Well, I spent the morning trying to convince Stella to get rid of the clothes that didn't fit her," Sidney reported. He was sitting on one of the stools at the island. He set his phone against the paper towel stand before leaning backwards. "She's refusing to let me into her room, so you can guess how well thats going."

"It's barely been a month since I left. She got bigger already?"

"No, but she's gotten bigger since last year," Sidney explained. If he'd needed any more confirmation about how much Claude had come to care about Stella in the four months since they met, seeing how upset Claude looked about Stella growing without him there to see it would have been enough. "There's a bunch of winter clothing that I don't want to bother moving when it doesn't fit her anymore, you know?"

"Makes sense," Claude said.

"You should tell Stella that. Maybe hearing from you that throwing the old clothes away makes sense will end the mutiny," Sidney said. For now Claude was still someone she listened to absolutely unless the situation was dire, but he thought it would be much longer before she was going to start reacting to him the way she reacted to Sidney. Most days she would be fine, but there were sometimes when she seemed to be doing her best to find Sidney's last nerve.

"Really, Sidney? A mutiny? Is she going to throw you off the poop deck?"

Face completely straight, Sidney answered, "She would feed me to the sharks if it meant she got to keep her polar bear hoodie."

Claude let out a sharp laugh that had Sidney smiling even wider.

"What have you been up to today?" Sidney asked. "Just packing?"

"Yeah," Claude said, smile lingering on his face even after his laughter died away. "It's pretty much all put away now."

"You're heading down to Philadelphia this weekend?"

Claude nodded. "And you and Stella are in Pittsburgh the week after right?"

"Yes." While Claude and Sidney both had to be in Pennsylvania around the same time for training camp, Claude was going earlier. Sidney hated uprooting Stella and moving her to a different country like he did every season, so he did his best to spend the maximum amount of time possible in Nova Scotia before they left. "Taylor and my parents are coming over this weekend to help."

"You and Stella aren't moving much right?"

"Not really," Sidney said. "It's mostly clothes and toys. Stella didn't want to leave any of them in Pittsburgh when she might want to play with them while we're here."

"I can only imagine the type of mutiny that would have caused."


"How are you feeling, little star?"

Sidney and Stella were sitting in their seats on the plane to Pittsburgh. Sidney always talked to her once they leveled out so he could get her settled for the trip and make sure she was feeling okay. Better to deal with it right away than have a cranky kid when the plane touched down. Stella wasn't usually bad with traveling, she'd had experience with them since she was a baby, but sometimes something would happen, like her ears popping uncomfortably, that would put her in a bad mood and make their trips more difficult.

"I'm okay, daddy," Stella answered. She was wearing comfortable black shorts, one of the pairs she used when she tried to work out with Sidney, and a long sleeved pink shirt with a ballerina Hello Kitty on it. He'd had her wear a long sleeved shirt, despite how hot it would be when they landed in Pittsburgh, because she usually got cold on a plane. She could cover her legs with the throw blanket in her bag, but this way her arms would be warm too. "Can I have my blanket and coloring book, please?"

"Sure," he agreed. He leaned down, grabbing her backpack from the space near her feet. He took her baby blanket out of it and passed it to her. As she spread it over her legs, he grabbed her the Paw Patrol coloring book that she'd wanted for the trip and a pack of 24 crayons. When he went to give them to her, he found that she'd already fiddled with the handle to get the tray in front of her down. "Here you go."

"Thank you, daddy," Stella said.

She flipped through the book, looking for a page she wanted to color. Her choices were slim since she'd had this particular coloring book for a while. When she settled on a portrait of Everest, she opened the box of crayons and started coloring.

Sidney watched her quietly for a moment before he asked, "Are you excited to go back to Pittsburgh?"

They hadn't had much time to talk about the move today since he'd been busy making sure everything was sorted and that they made it to the airport on time.

"Yup," Stella agreed.

"What are you excited for?"

"Mmm," Stella hummed, thinking as she shaded in Everest's tail. "I'm excited to see Lottie again. She said that she would paint flowers on my nails. It's gonna be really pretty, daddy."

"I'm sure," Sidney agreed. He'd seen what Charlotte did to her own nails sometimes, painting them in shades that made them look like a night sky or putting little bats on them around Halloween. He'd painted Taylor's nails a few times when they were younger, but he couldn't even begin to imagine doing what she did. "What else?"

"I'm excited to go to the zoo with Alex and Estelle," Stella said, "and to meet the new baby!"

"We'll go meet Scarlet as soon as Aunt Vero and Uncle Flower are ready to have guests over," Sidney said.

"I'm excited to learn more Russian from Uncle Geno and to go to Disney World again when we're in Florida and to start kindergarten." Sidney was less excited about her starting school, not liking the reminder that she was growing up, but he nodded and hummed understandingly. "And I'm excited to see Claude more!"

Thrown off a bit by her statement, Sidney let out a simple, "What?"

"I'm excited to see Claude more," Stella repeated.

"Why would you see Claude more?"

"Because Philadelphia is closer than Ottawa," Stella reasoned. "So now Claude can come visit us more often!"

"Claude's going to be really busy playing hockey, Stella," Sidney said. "He's not always going to be in Philadelphia, just like you and I aren't always going to be in Pittsburgh."

"Nooooo," Stella said, drawing the word out, "but when he /is/ in Philadelphia we can go visit him! Or he can come visit us!"

Sidney wasn't exactly sure how to respond.

There would probably be more opportunities to visit each other once they were both in Pennsylvania, times when they both had a day off or a stretch of home games that would allow small visits, but he wasn't sure how much time Claude would want to spend traveling outside of his game schedule. He wanted to see Claude himself, but he didn't want to move Stella around all the time either. Especially not now that she was getting ready to start school.

Still, wanting to see Claude more often was a desire Sidney could empathize with.

"I'm not sure how often we'll see Claude," Sidney said, finally deciding on how to respond, "but I think it'd be nice to see Claude more often too."


 

                                                    


 

"Hi Claude!" Stella exclaimed, waving both hands at the computer screen.

Sidney was sitting on the floor with his back against the couch and his legs folded under him. Stella was sitting in his lap, one of his arms wrapped around her waist to keep her from getting too wild and crushing him. She was wearing a pair of jean shorts with a Philadelphia Flyers jersey, Claude's of course. Her hair had been pinned back on one side, two orange barrettes keeping it from falling in her face.

The computer was set up on the coffee table in front of them. Skype was open on it, Claude's face filling the screen now that he'd answered their call.

At least once a week, Claude and Sidney set up a skype call so all three of them could spend some time together. That didn't include the phone calls Sidney and Claude had every day, even if only for five or ten minutes before they had to hang up, or the times when Claude called to tell Stella her bedtime story and ended up listening to her explain everything she'd done that day.

"Hey! There's my favorite Crosby!" Claude exclaimed, a wide grin spread over his face. His gaze moved, looking at Sidney over Stella's shoulder. "And her daddy too."

"Hi," Sidney greeted, smiling as he rested his chin on Stella's shoulder.

"Look!" Stella said. She grabbed onto the front of her jersey, holding it away from her body and towards Claude. "Daddy said you started training camp today, so I wore my jersey!"

"I see that," Claude said. "Are you going to wear your daddy's jersey tomorrow since that's when his training camp starts?"

"No," Stella said.

She offered no explanation for her choice. It was as if the idea of wearing a Penguin's jersey for camp held none of the appeal that wearing the Flyers did. Sidney wasn't terribly surprised. His daughter loved him and the team, her family, but the Flyers had always been her favorite.

Claude let out a small laugh.

"How was camp?" Sidney asked.

"Fine. Fun." Claude gave a small shrug. "It's the first day, you know?

Sidney hummed, understanding. Claude knew what his teammates were like, but training camp brought rookies that were being considered for the team and any acquisitions that had been made over the summer. It wasn't a lot of people, but a few additions could make a big difference in the team chemistry.

"What about you Stella?" Claude questioned. "How was your day?"

"It was good!" Stella said. "Daddy made Lottie and I french toast! Then he took me shopping for school stuff."

"Did you get anything cool?"

"Yeah! I got pink and yellow scissors that make a really cool wave when you cut with them!" Stella explained. "And I got an orange lunchbox! It has a dinosaur on it!"

"It's orange and has a dinosaur?" Claude said. "Wow, that's cool."

"Yeah!" Stella turned to look at Sidney, "Daddy, can I go get my lunchbox? I wanna show it to Claude."

"Go ahead," Sidney said, letting his arm fall away from her waist. "It's on the kitchen counter."


"Okay so you know how we're running today?" Sidney asked as he put the lid on Stella's lunch before sliding it into her lunch box. He was going to do his best to do these things for her, taking her to school and making her lunch, when he was home. He'd been especially determined to do it today since it was her first day.

Charlotte was sitting at the kitchen island with a bowl of Captain Crunch in front of her.

Charlotte had brown skin, a medium shade, and dark brown eyes. Her black hair fell down to her shoulders in a large array of tight curls. Sidney often found himself wondering how she managed to get her hair under control when there was so much of it when Sidney couldn't even manage to get his to lay flat most days. There was a smattering of dark freckles across her cheeks and dotting her nose.

She was wearing a loose white tank top with bright pink skinny jeans. A brown belt was looped through her pants.

"Yup," Charlotte agreed. "You're going to take Stella to school. I'm going to pick her up once she's done and bring her to the arena so you can take us out for 'You-Survived-Your-First-Day-of-School!' ice cream."

"I'm pretty sure I didn't say we were going out for ice cream," Sidney said, turning a bit so he could raise an eyebrow at her.

"Sure you did," Charlotte responded. She quirked an eyebrow at him as she lifted her spoon to her lips, practically daring him to say no.

Sidney was quiet for a moment before shrugging as he turned back around to zip Stella's lunchbox up. "Alright. I guess it won't hurt to get ice cream today."

There was a quiet moment before Sidney heard the pitter-patter of a small body running through the house.

A moment later Stella shouted, "Daddy!"

Twisting again, Sidney looked behind him to find Stella standing in the entryway to the dining room. Charlotte and Stella had gone through her clothes last night to pick out an outfit for the day. Stella was already wearing the outfit they'd chosen, a dark blue dress covered in pale pink flowers, and the dark blue sandals that went with the dress. A pale pink headband was pushed into her hair, keeping it from falling in her eyes.

Her backpack was already on her back, orange straps wrapped around her shoulders.

"I'm ready for school, daddy," Stella said.

Looking at his little girl ready for her first day of kindergarten, Sidney's throat felt tight and his eyes itched with unshed tears.

"Come here," Charlotte said, drawing Stella's attention away from Sidney. Charlotte's voice made it clear she was diverting Stella's attention on purpose as she said, "I want to straighten your headband a bit."

He was glad for the opportunity. He took a deep breath to steady himself and reached up to wipe at the unshed tears.

"Once Charlotte fixes your hair," Sidney said, careful to keep his voice level, "we'll put your lunchbox in your bag and take a picture for Claude, okay?"

"Okay!"


 

                                                    

Chapter Text

Sidney had only just pulled open the door when Stella darted out from behind him, screeching, "Claude!"

Despite how suddenly she'd thrown herself at him, Claude dropped his bag and swooped down to pick her up before she crashed into his knees. He was wearing a pair of black joggers with a stark white nike check up by his pocket. With them he wore a light gray Phillies hoodie. He grinned at Stella, his smile stretched wide and his eyes sparking, as he settled her on his hip.

"Stella!" Claude greeted, voice filled with excited affection. He bounced her a bit, as if considering her weight. "You've gotten so big since I last saw you. Have you been eating your vegetables?"

"Yes!" Stella said. "All of them!"

"Some of them," Sidney corrected. Claude looked away from Stella and towards him, smile widening. "She didn't eat her peas the other day."

"That doesn't count, daddy," Stella objected. To Claude, she said, "Lottie made me carrots instead."

"Well, carrots are good," Claude said, "but peas are going to help you get taller so you should eat them too."

Stella pulled a face. "But their gross, Claude."

"I know, but you want to get taller don't you?" She nodded a little bit. "Then you've got to eat your peas too." When Stella pursed her lips unhappily, Claude added, "It's not like your the only one that's going to be eating them. Your daddy and Lottie and I are all going to eat them too."

Stella went quiet, still a little put off and unhappy.

"Little star," Sidney said, catching her attention. "Claude's probably tired from the flight. I bet if you ask he'll watch a movie with you."

Stella looked up at Claude again, excitement returning to her features. "Will you?"

"Of course," Claude agreed. "Why don't you go pick one out? Your daddy and I will put my stuff away then come join you."

"Okay!" Stella said. Claude bent down, settling her on her feet again. When she was settled, she added, "But don't take too long!"

"We won't," Sidney said.

Looking more assured, Stella turned and made her way out of the hallway.

They both watched her for a moment.

When she'd disappeared from the doorway, Sidney turned back to Claude. A small smile settled on his lips. "Hey."

"Hello," Claude returned, stepping forward and into Sidney's space. He rested his hands on Sidney's hips, slipping his thumbs under Sidney's tee-shirt to rest against his bare skin. "It's good to see you."

"It's good to see you too," Sidney said. "I missed you."

"I missed you too," Claude said. He leaned in, slotting their lips together in a kiss. It was gentle, filled with the soft affection that came with seeing someone you'd missed. When they pulled apart, Claude pecked Sidney's lips quickly before stepping away from him. Sidney missed having him close, but it wasn't exactly like they could stand their all day. Claude bent down, grabbing his bag from where he'd dropped it on the floor. "Show me your room?"

"Yeah," Sidney agreed. He reached out, grabbing Claude's hand and twining their fingers together. As they started walking through the house, he said, "I would've picked you up from the airport, you know?"

"It's fine," Claude said, shaking his head a bit. "You have a game tonight. You didn't need to drive all the way to get me and then all the way back."

"It's not that far."

"It's fine, Sid," Claude repeated. He looked around a bit, taking in the house. "Stella's nanny is named Charlotte right?"

"Yeah," Sidney said. "She went to the library for a bit so she could study and we could have some time alone with you. She should be back before I leave for the game. I'll introduce you guys when she gets here. I think you'll get along."

"I'm sure we will," Claude said. "We both love you and Stella. It's easier to get along with people who love the people you love."

Sidney felt a flush spread across his face, even as affection settled heavy in his chest. It was nice to hear that Claude loved him, even if it was an offhand way of saying it. "You're ridiculous."

"Mmm, maybe," Claude agreed. "But you like me this way."

Sidney squeezed Claude's hand. He corrected, "I love you this way."


The three of them were settled on the couch, Sidney against the left arm and Claude close by with Stella sandwiched between them, watching Barbie in the Twelve Dancing Princesses when Sidney heard the door opening.

A moment later, Charlotte called out, "I'm home!"

"Lottie!" Stella said, perking up. She stood up quickly, taking off towards the entry way. "Lottie, come meet Claude!"

Claude grabbed the remote from the cushion next to him, pausing the movie. Sidney was glad for it. Twelve Dancing Princesses was one of Stella's favorites. It was easier to pause now then to rewind later.

"Lottie, Lottie, come on!" Stella insisted, her voice growing louder as she came closer.

"I'm coming, Stella," Charlotte said, sounding amused. "You don't have to pull me along. I promise I'm following."

Sidney looked over his shoulder to find that Stella and Charlotte entering the room. Stella was gripping Charlotte's hand, pulling her into the room behind her, but Charlotte wasn't really resisting. Charlotte was wearing dark jeans with a dark purple sweater and brown boots that stopped just short of her knees. There was a dark gray scarf wrapped around her neck, a loop of light looking fabric.

"Welcome back," Sidney said, deciding that if Stella had made it this far there wasn't really a reason to stop her. Charlotte didn't seem irritated with Stella's actions, just a little exasperated.

Charlotte had been looking down at Stella, but now she looked up to Sidney. She flashed him a small smile. "Thank you."

Stella didn't stop until she and Charlotte were right behind the couch.

"Lottie, this is Claude," Stella introduced. Sidney smiled a bit as he watched her introduce to of her favorite people in the world to each other. Then she turned to Claude and said, "Claude, this is Lottie."

"Charlotte," Charlotte said. Stella had stopped moving them, but she hadn't let go of Charlotte's hand so Charlotte held her other hand out for Claude. Claude had twisted around to watch as Stella pulled Charlotte into the room, so it was easy to him to reach out his hand and grab Charlotte's. "It's nice to meet you."

"It's nice to meet you too," Claude said. Letting go, he added, "I've heard a lot about you. Stella really loves you."

A large grin spread across Charlotte's face. "Thank you. She loves you too." She glanced over at Sidney, because saying, "They both do."

"I know," Claude said.

Stella tucked on Charlotte's hand, drawing her attention back to her. She asked, "Lottie, are you gonna watch the movie with us?"

Charlotte hummed, looking up to see what they were watching. Sidney and Charlotte had spoken before about the movie. Neither of them minded it, they both preferred Stella's current tastes to the baby shows of her early years, but they'd both seen it enough times to be sick of it. Still, Charlotte didn't so much as flinch when she saw what they were watching. "I don't mind, but are you sure? Don't you want to spend time with your daddy and Claude?"

"I do! I love Daddy and Claude," Stella said, "but I love Lottie too!"

A look of soft affection and fondness settled on Charlotte's face. "Alright then."

"Yay!" Stella cheered. She tugged on Charlotte's hand again. "Come on, Lottie! We'll sit in the chair together. Daddy and Claude can have the couch."

"You're going to let us have all this space to our selves?" Claude said. "That's very nice of you."

The chair wasn't very far, so it didn't take very long for Charlotte and Stella to reach it. Charlotte sat down first and opened the footrest before Stella climbed up to squeeze herself into the small space between the arm and Charlotte.

"You're welcome," Stella said. Charlotte lifted her arm, giving Stella the space she needed to burrow into her side the way she liked. Once they were settled, Sidney reached for the remote to start the movie back up. Before he could press play, though, Stella said, "Daddy, we have to restart the movie so that Charlotte can see the whole thing."

"Oh, of course," Sidney said.

Charlotte and Sidney were well trained enough not to react to the request, but there was a look that flashed across Claude's face that made it clear he hadn't expected to have to watch the beginning of the movie again.

Claude would get used to it soon though, Sidney knew. This was a fairly normal request of Stella's and he was sure Claude would hear it plenty of times as time went on.


Sidney sat at his stall, scrolling through his phone.The game hadn't started yet, they were about five minutes from stepping out for the anthem, so Sidney was checking to make sure that everything was going okay at the house.

He'd been a little worried when he left the for the game.

This was the first time Claude and Stella had been together without him. He wasn't concerned about his daughters safety, he knew that Claude would never even dream of hurting her, but more for his own sanity. Sidney let Stella get away with a lot more than he should have, but Claude was even worse than he was. He didn't really tend to go terribly overboard, but Sidney couldn't help thinking he'd come back to a five year old that was wide awake and being read her tenth bedtime story. Charlotte was at the house as well so she'd put a stop to anything too ridiculous, but he knew she would probably be keeping her distance a bit so that Claude and Stella could spend time together.

Some of his worries were being soothed by the messages Claude had sent him since he'd left.

Claude and Sidney spoke fairly often, but it wasn't usual for Claude to send him a string of messages when he knew Sidney was busy with something. Given how many messages Claude had sent him since he'd left the house, Sidney thought that Claude had cottoned onto his nervousness and was doing his best to show him that everything was okay.

There was a video of Claude and Stella in the kitchen together, probably filmed by Charlotte on Claude's phone. Stella and Charlotte were sitting together at the kitchen counter together while Claude searched through the fridge, asking about various vegetables and if Stella wanted them for dinner. In the end, Claude decided to make peas since Stella hadn't eaten them earlier in the week. A while later there was a picture of Charlotte and Stella working together to empty fresh snap peas into a bowl. There was a message with the picture about how good of a helper Stella was as well as a note about the fact that they were having chicken, peas, and orange slices for dinner. Later there was a video of Stella spooning peas into her mouth with a grimace. Afterwards Claude, voice coming from behind the camera, telling her how proud he was of her for being a big girl and eating her vegetables. A pleased smile spread over her face before the video ended, like eating the peas was worth the compliment. Next was a picture of Claude and Stella standing at the sink, Stella standing on the little stool she had for when she was helping out in the kitchen as she dried the dishes Claude handed her. Sidney figured this picture had been taken by Charlotte. The most recent message included a picture of a coloring book, the caption telling Sidney that they'd decided to color since there wasn't enough time to watch a movie before bed.

A heavy weight draped across Sidney's shoulders. Tanger asked, voice right next to Sidney's ear, "What are you doing?"

"Just checking my messages," Sidney answered. He'd told his friends about Claude over the summer, when it'd become clear that this thing between them was becoming more serious. He didn't want to keep a secret as big as this one from them. Not that he'd really of been able to given that Stella didn't keep secrets very well.

Tanger hummed, no doubt glancing over the screen. The only thing really visible was Claude's most recent picture and message. He asked, "Claude's in town?"

"Yeah. The Flyers have a couple of days off so he came to visit," Sidney said. He tapped out a quick reply to Claude, telling him that he was sure his picture would be pretty and reminding him that it was a Thursday so he had to make sure Stella didn't convince him to let her stay up late, before pressing the button to turn the device off. "The two of us are going to take her to get her Halloween costume this weekend."

Tanger hummed again.

This time the considering note in his voice caught Sidney's attention.

He turned his head, looking at his friend. "What?"

"Nothing," Tanger said. He pushed away from Sidney, straightening back up. "I just didn't realize things were serious enough that you were leaving him alone with Stella."

Sidney gave a hum of his own. He thought about how great things had been the last few months, how much he had come to trust and care for Claude, how much he wanted them to stay this way for a long time. A smile settled on his lips. "Yeah. They've gotten pretty serious."

"That's good," Tanger answered. He patted Sidney on the upper arm. "I'm happy for you, Sid. We all are."

"Thank you."

"That being said," Tanger said, "you definitely could've done better than a Flyer."


Sidney pushed open his bedroom door. He kept his voice soft as he called out, "Claude? You still awake?"

"Yup."

The main light in the room were out, but when Sidney stepped inside he found that Claude was sitting on the bed in a pair of black briefs and a large blue tee-shirt. He had the lamp on the side-table turned on and an iPad in his hand. Sidney was fond of the way Claude looked against his sheets, but his body was heavy with the exhaustion of the game. It hadn't been a particularly difficult one, but it was the beginning of the season still and even after all these years it took Sidney's body a few weeks to get used to playing constantly at this level.

"Hey," Sidney greeted. "I thought you might be asleep already."

"I thought about it, but I slept on the plane so I'm not really tired." He set his iPad to the side, shifting around so he was on his knees. He moved along the mattress until he was the end of the bed and could reach out his hands. Sidney obliged with his silent request, shuffling forward so Claude could get his hands on his shirt. He pulled Sidney close to him, pressing their lips together in a brief kiss. "That was a good game."

"You watched it?" Sidney asked.

"Not all of it. Only the third period, really," Claude said. "Charlotte told me that Stella gets upset if she can't finish a game, so we watched some Littlest Pet Shop until it was time to brush her teeth and get ready for bed."

"And she went to bed okay?" Sidney said. Claude had sent him a few text messages after Stella had gone to sleep, things he'd seen when he'd left the locker room after the game, but he wanted to make sure anyway. "She didn't complain?"

"She did a little bit," Claude admitted. "But I talked to her a bit. I told her that I'd still be here in the morning so we could play then and that if she didn't go to sleep now then she couldn't go to school in the morning or go to buy her Halloween costume this weekend."

"I wonder how much longer that school thing is going to work," Sidney mused.

"A few years maybe? Probably not for the entirety of elementary school, though."

Sidney hummed a bit. It was easier to focus on the man in front of him now that he'd been assured that everything had gone okay with Stella. He leaned forward a bit, brushing his lips over Claude's. "Hey."

"Hello," Claude said, his lips turning up in a small smile.

"I'm so tired and it's a shame because you look really good in my bed," Sidney murmured.

Claude let out a quiet laugh. "That's okay."

"It's not," Sidney argued, aware that he was whining a bit. He reached forward, slipping his hands under Claude's shirt and holding him by the hips. His skin was soft against Sidney's palms and Sidney wanted to touch so much more of him. "I don't get to see you often enough to waste time when I do."

"There will be plenty of other times for you to fuck me into your mattress," Claude said. Sidney groaned, his fingers tightening around Claude's hips. He was really going to have to stop this aging thing. He didn't remember the start of the season being this difficult when he was in his early twenties.

"You're the worst," Sidney said. He tipped his head, catching Claude's lips for another kiss. This one was a little deeper than the last, went on a little longer. When they pulled away, he repeated, "The worst."

"I'm not," Claude objected.

"You absolutely are," Sidney argued. He pressed a quick peck against Claude's lips. He gave Claude's hips a squeeze before pulling back. "I love you anyway, though."

Claude hummed, the sound pleased and happy. He leaned forward to close the few extra inches between them and press another kiss against Sidney's mouth. "I love you too."

Chapter Text

Sidney was in the middle of reading a rant that Jonny had texted him - they'd started talking about a change in Jonny's diet plan that he thought Sidney might be interested in talking to his own nutritionist about and than it'd devolved into a story about some lady Jonny had met at Whole Foods who had him contemplating homicide - when he felt Claude shifting in the bed next to him. He sent Jonny a quick reply before locking his phone up and setting it on the nightstand.

When he shifted back towards Claude, he found that Claude was peering at Sidney. His eyes were half closed, still sleepy and barely awake, and his hair was a mess of soft orange fluff.

"What time is it?" Claude asked.

"Little after ten," Sidney answered.

Sidney had given Charlotte the morning off and the two of them had taken Stella to school instead. Stella hadn't exactly reached the point where school was a drag, but there'd been an extra pep in her step that morning. Especially when they walked her up to the entrance, one of her hands in each of theirs. They'd lifted her off the ground, swinging her a bit much to amusement. She'd spent the entire walk to the door giggling, happy to be between two of her favorite people in the world. When they reached the area where her teacher was waiting for her students, Stella made sure to give both of them tight hugs before scampering off to play with the rest of her classmates.

When they made it back to the house, they'd gone to the bedroom to rest a while longer, but Sidney hadn't actually been able to fall back asleep. However, Claude hadn't had the same problem, flopping himself down and passing out almost immediately.

Claude hummed softly before he moved. He wrapped his arms around Sidney's waist and put his head in Sidney's lap. He nuzzled against Sidney's thigh a bit. Sidney's lips turned up a bit, a soft and affectionate smile resting on his lips. He reached out, putting his hands in Claude's hair and scratching as his scalp. Claude let out a quiet, pleased sound and pushed back against Sidney's hand. He reminded Sidney a bit of a bright orange tabby cat.

A huff of laughter escaped Sidney's lips at the though.

"Don't laugh at me," Claude objected, though his protest as half-assed at best. "It's too early for that."

"It's past ten," Sidney said. "That's a perfectly reasonable time to be up and making fun of you."

"Rude," Claude responded.

Sidney hummed instead of responding.

Today was a day off for the Penguins. They had practice tomorrow morning in preparation for their game against the Leafs tomorrow night, but they'd been given the entirety of today off to spend with their families.

Days off hadn't meant much to Sidney when he'd first entered the NHL. He'd actually been a little upset whenever they rolled around, as he'd always wanted to spend more time on the ice. That hadn't lasted very long, though, because he'd made friends with his teammates and ended up spending his days off making memories with them. Then he'd had Stella and every minute he got to spend with her was a minute he cherished.

Claude being here just made the day mean a little bit more.

"Are we staying in bed then?" Sidney asked.

"Just for another half hour or so," Claude said. "Then you're going to take me out to breakfast."

"Oh? I wasn't aware of that."

"That's unfortunate, but doesn't mean you're getting out of it," Claude answered. Sidney let out a soft laugh. "I want a breakfast burrito. Do you know somewhere we can go for really good breakfast burritos?"

Sidney let out another hum, thinking. He tended to go to breakfast places where the menu was a little sweeter since Stella always wanted pancakes or waffles or crepes when they went out for breakfast. But...

"There's a food truck downtown with some really great ones that the guy swear by," Sidney said. "I'll text Tanger and see where it usually parks."

"Sounds good," Claude agreed. He rubbed his face against Sidney's thigh again. "Now stop talking for a few minutes so I can doze a bit."


"Claude!" Stella shouted, darting out and running towards him.

Claude spent his life chasing after a tiny black puck and reacting to it's every move, so reacting to a small girl launching herself at him wasn't much of a challenge. He scooped down before she could crash into his knees. Stella wrapped her arms around Claude's neck while Claude shifted her onto his hip and one arm wrapped around her lower back to keep her up. Sidney watched as the two of them made themselves comfortable immediately, struck by how often Claude had to carry Stella for them to be so used to this.

"Stella!" Looking away, Sidney found Stella's teacher coming towards them. Leah Anderson was in her early thirties. She had long black hair that fell around her face in tight curls and dark green eyes. She was wearing a cream colored dress covered in dark red and pale pink flowers with a brown belt around her waist. Sidney got the impression that she wore flower patterned dresses quite a lot given how often Stella came home talking about them. "We don't run away from the group! You have to wait until your parents reach us!"

"I'm sorry, Ms. A," Stella said. Sidney was happy to see that she looked at least a little bit sorry, like she actually realized that running off like she had was bad. "I just got excited because Claude and Daddy came to pick me up today!"

"We told you we'd pick you up this morning," Claude said, jiggling her a little bit. "Did you think we were lying to you, sweetheart?"

"Nooooo," Stella said, shaking her head as she drew out the word. "But I was still really excited to see you! Daddy picks me up sometimes, but you never do!"

"That's true," Claude said. "How about we make a promise? I'll come pick you up every time I'm in town."

"Really? Every time?"

Claude nodded. "Yup. I mean spending time with my favorite star would be way more fun than watching your daddy and his teammates practice."

As Claude and Stella went to make a pinky promise, Sidney turned his attention to Ms. Anderson.

"Hi," Sidney greeted. "I'm sorry she ran off like that."

"Don't worry about it," she dismissed, waving a hand. "Most of the kids have nannies, so when the year first starts they all do it on the occasions that their parents can come get them. Stella's not the first and she won't be the last."

"Still, I apologize."

"It's really unnecessary, but thank you," she said. Glancing over at Claude, she said, "I'm sorry if I'm being nosy, but having heard their conversation I just want to make sure that it's okay for him to pick her up when you aren't around."

"Oh," Sidney said. He was struck, once again, by how much he liked the way things worked. He'd been worried when picking out a school for Stella, wanting to make sure she had the best education but unsure how to figure how what school would be the best for her. He'd gotten help from all kinds of people when he'd been looking at school - teammates, other Penguin's staff members, his family, and Charlotte - and it seemed like they'd ended up at one that was going to take good care of his daughter. "It is. He's-" He glanced over at Claude, suddenly worried that he'd done something that was too much considering the amount of time they'd been in a relationship. Looking at Claude and Stella, Stella counting up by three's and Claude nodding along with a proud smile every time she got a number correct, was enough to soothe the worry, though. "Claude's on all of her paperwork."

"Oh! Okay!" Ms Anderson said, nodding a bit. "Well, I'll head back to the rest of the class now that I know Stella's okay. I left my student teacher alone and I'm sure she's probably feeling a bit in over her head."

Sidney let out a small laugh. "Okay. Thank you again for making sure she was okay."

She smiled at him, giving a little nod of acknowledgement before she turned to walk back to the group of five year olds still waiting to be picked up.

"Fifty-seven, sixty, sixty-three," Stella was listing as Sidney turned his attention back to the two of them.

"Why are we counting by three's?" Sidney asked, reaching out to grab the hand Claude wasn't holding Stella with. He laced their fingers together, tugging a bit so Claude would know they were okay to go.

"Stella learned how to count to hundred-and-two by three's in class today," Claude said. As they started making their way towards the door, he asked, "Stella, do you want to restart so you can show daddy what you learned too?"

"Okay!" Stella said. She took a deep breath before she started listing, "Three, six, nine, twelve..."


"Alright, little star," Sidney said as they entered the store. It was Sunday afternoon and Claude, Sidney, and Stella were at the Halloween store so Stella could get her Halloween costume for that year. "What are you considering this year?"

Stella hummed a bit. She was practically vibrating with excitement and Sidney was sure the only reason she hadn't darted off was because he was still holding her hand. She was wearing a pair of dark, burgundy jeans with a long sleeved white shirt covered in black dots. She had a pair of light brown boots on her feet that Claude had laced up for her. She'd wanted to do it herself, but lacing boot laces up was a bit different than simply tying her tennis shoes.

"I'm going to be a princess!" Stella said.

"Oh, are you?" Claude asked.

"Yeah! I'm gonna get a tiara and everything!" Stella said. Craning her head to look up at Sidney, she asked, "Can I go look for a dress now, daddy?"

Sidney looked around the store. It was pretty big, but he could tell where the children's costumes were so he didn't think he'd lose track of where she'd went. None of the decorations seemed to be clustered around the section either, so it didn't look like she'd get spooked by any pop-ups.

"Alright," he said, letting go of her hand.

She took off like a shot, running towards the area where Sidney could see a collection of poofy, brightly colored, and glittering dresses.

"A princess huh?" Claude said as they followed after her, their pace more sedate.

"We'll see," Sidney said. "Last year she came in saying she wanted to be a ladybug. By the time we checked out, she'd decided to be Wonder Woman instead."

"That's quite a shift?" Claude said, sounding just as confused as to how that had happened as Sidney had been at the time.

"Mm, we went through quite a few other costumes on the way Wonder Woman as well," Sidney said. Thinking back on it, he listed, "A pirate, a ninja, Minnie Mouse, a fairy, a witch..."

"Oh god," Claude said. "We're going to be here forever, aren't we?"

"Nope," Sidney said, popping the p loudly. "But since we came so late, she'll get hungry in an hour or so. Then we can get her to make a decision with the promise of chicken tenders and french fries."

"Good planning, babe," Claude said. Now that Sidney wasn't holding Stella's hand, Claude reached out and caught it himself. "You're a genius."

"Just an experienced dad," Sidney answered. He didn't mention that if Claude stuck around, then he was going to learn the little things like this too. "I'm not experienced enough to avoid every problem though."

"What?"

"I'm not going to be able to take Stella trick-or-treating this year," Sidney said. Claude made a quiet, questioning noise so Sidney added, "I haven't had games on the thirty-first the past few years, but I'm going to be in Toronto that day so there's no way I can take her."

"Charlotte can take her, can't she?"

"Yeah," Sidney said. "That's fine, but going with a nanny isn't the same as going with a parent, you know?" Out of the corner of his eye, Sidney saw Claude reaching into his pocket to grab his phone. As Claude thumbed in his password, Sidney asked, "What are you doing?"

"Checking something. Give me one second," Claude said. Before Sidney could really question Claude's actions any further, Claude let out a soft, "Ah-ha! I knew it!"

"I have no idea what's going on," Sidney said, honestly.

"Sorry, I was checking my game schedule," Claude answered. He closed his phone off, slipping it back into his pocket before looking at Sidney. "I have the thirty-first off and I don't have to play until the second. I could take her." When Sidney just looked at him rather than saying anything, Claude seemed to falter a bit. He sounded a little unsure as he said, "Did I say something wrong? Was that too presumptuous?"

"No!" Sidney said. He realized he'd said it a little too forcefully when Claude jumped a bit. "I'm not upset. I just wasn't expecting you to offer." He squeezed Claude's hand tightly. "I'm happy you offered."

There was a small moment before Claude said, "So...would that be okay?"

"Yes, absolutely," Sidney said, nodding. "Charlotte's amazing, but I'd definitely prefer for Stella to get to trick or treat with one of us."

"I'll look for a flight after my game against Buffalo then," Claude said.

"My first game after Halloween is on the fourth," Sidney said. "Maybe we can get breakfast before you have to get back to Philly?"

"That sounds like a fantastic plan."


"Little star," Sidney said, poking his head into the bathroom. "Are you finished brushing your teeth?"

Stella was standing on her stool, a white two-step with elephants on the ends, so that she was at the height of the sink and mirror. Since they'd gone to buy her Halloween costume that day, Stella was in a particularly spooky mood and had busted out some of her Halloween pajamas. She wore a pair of purple pants covered in white ghosts, pumpkins, and bats with a black tee-shirt that had "Boo!" written across it in swooping letters.

"Yup," Stella said, nodding.

Sidney hummed a bit as he crossed the room. "Open your mouth."

"Daddy," Stella whined. "I'm a big girl! I did it!"

"I'm sure you did, but daddy would still like to check." Stella pouted for a moment before opening her mouth. Sidney could smell the tooth paste on her breathe, sweet and bubblegum-like, so he said, "Okay." As Stella snapped her teeth shut, Sidney reached up and ruffled her hair. "Good job doing it all by yourself."

Stella smiled, clearly pleased with the praise. She asked, "Since I cleaned my teeth all by myself, can we read an extra chapter tonight?"

They'd been reading more chapter books together since she entered kindergarten. Her teacher had recommended them since they'd have a larger vocabulary than her picture books and get her used to longer stories. Right now they were reading Sideways Stories from Wayside School and Stella couldn't get enough of it.

Sidney wondered, briefly, where his daughter had learned her manipulation tactics.

He didn't necessarily have a problem with rewarding her, especially when what she wanted was more reading time, but it was a school night and he didn't want her up too much later.

"Not an extra chapter," he said. Before she could object, he added, "But how about we read a picture book after we read today's chapter?"

Stella paused as if considering whether the new deal was up to her standards before nodding, "Okay!"

"Alright, let's get to bed then," Sidney said.

Stella jumped off her stool, leading him out of the bathroom and towards her bedroom. As she walked, swinging her arms wildly, she asked, "Can Claude going to read to me again tonight? Because he's going to be gone tomorrow! And I like when Claude reads me stories on the phone, but it's better in person."

"I'm sure he won't mind if you ask," Sidney answered. He didn't want to upset her before bed, but Claude was set to leave while she was at school the next day. He wasn't quite sure how Stella was going to react given how upset she'd been last time Claude had left them, especially given that this time she wouldn't be around to say goodbye. Tentatively, he asked, "How are you feeling about Claude leaving tomorrow, Stels?"

"Well, Claude should always be with us!" Stella said. "But it's okay that he's leaving because he's going to play for the Flyers and he'll be back to take me trick or treating really soon. So it'll just be like when daddy leaves for games!" She added, "I'm still upset that I can't say goodbye though!"

"Well, you aren't missing school just to say goodbye to Claude," Sidney answered. He felt a little more confident that tomorrow wasn't going to be a complete disaster. He expected her to still be a little low energy, but it sounded like she was coping better and it wouldn't be as big as deal. Still he and Claude were planning on dropping her off themselves and Sidney would be sure to make sure her teacher was prepared incase Stella lost it halfway through the day. "So you'll just have to say goodbye before we go to school tomorrow."

"Mmm okay!" Stella said. "I'll be sure to give him extra hugs and kisses!"

 

Chapter Text

                                              


 

"What is going on here?" Claude asked.

He'd been expecting a dark, quiet house when he arrived at Sidney's place. His flight hadn't gotten in until midnight and the ride over had pushed him getting to the house even later, so he'd anticipated Stella and Charlotte both being asleep.

Instead he'd found the two of them curled up on the couch together with one of Stella's Barbie movies - Claude thought it might have been Charm School, but it was equally likely it was one he hadn't watched with her - playing on the TV in front of them. Charlotte was sat against the arm of the couch, still awake. She wore red and black plaid pajama pants and a loose, Star Trek tank top. Stella was fast asleep. She was laid out on the couch next to Charlotte, her head pillowed on the older woman's lap. She was dressed in fuzzy pink pants covered in penguins and a white sweater with a single penguin wearing a teal scarf.

Charlotte had been watching the movie, but she looked over at him once he spoke. Between his last visit and this one, they'd become friends. They texted about Sidney behind his back and Charlotte snapped him plenty of cute photos of Stella when Claude was in Philadelphia.

She smiled. "Hi. I didn't hear you come in."

"I'm mildly concerned for your safety if you can't hear someone opening the door when you're only a few feet away from it," Claude said.

"I'm just tired," Charlotte dismissed.

"I'm not surprised. It's pretty late." He dropped his bag on the ground, content to just come back for it later or in the morning, and crossed the room towards them. He crouched down in front of the couch. "I take it she wouldn't go to sleep?"

"No. I tried around bedtime, but every time I checked up on her she'd crawled out of bed and started playing somewhere where she could see the window." She said, "I thought bringing her out here so she'd fall asleep on the couch would be better than her falling asleep on her floor."

Claude couldn't help the small smile that settle over his lips. He reached out, smoothing some stray strands of hair back so they wouldn't be in Stella's face.

He was struck by how much he loved not just Sidney, but also this precious little girl in front of him. He'd always been attracted to Sidney and something had been brewing between them when World's had first started, but it was Stella that had ultimately brought them together like this. Claude adored her with a ferocity that he hadn't been expecting and spending time with her had led to spending time with her father. That time together had turned a possible tournament fling into something meaningful and real. It hadn't been very long, but Claude already considered Sidney and Stella his family.

"When'd she finally go to sleep?" Claude asked, glancing back at Charlotte.

"Around ten, she didn't last very long," Charlotte said.

Claude raised an eyebrow. "And you just sat out here watching Barbie movies?"

Charlotte gave an embarrassed smile. "She put like five or six of them on loop and I just got sucked into it."

He let out a small laugh.

"Okay then," he said. He turned his attention back to Stella. "I'm gonna carry her to bed. You should go to sleep too, unless you're so absorbed in Barbie that you want to finish it."

"No, no. I'm definitely going to sleep," Charlotte said.

Claude got his arms under Stella and then pushed himself up.

As Charlotte pushed herself up, Stella stirred in his arms.

"Shh, shh," Claude hushed.

He barely heard her when she murmured, soft and sleepy, "Claude?"

"Yeah, it's me," Claude assured. Since she was awake and a little easier to move, he shifted so she had her arms and legs around him instead of lying rag-doll in his arms. Carrying her like that just made him worry that he was going to accidentally slam her head into a wall. "Go back to sleep, alright? I'm just gonna take you to bed."

"Okay," Stella said. She rested her head against his shoulder. "I love you, Claude."

Claude turned his head so he could press a kiss against her temple. "I love you too, princess."


"Claude," Stella said. "Will you sing for me again?"

It was Halloween night and the two of them were out trick-or-treating. Stella was wearing Belle's iconic yellow dress, completed with the full, puffy skirt. Her hair wasn't long enough to put up the way Belle had it up in the movies, but there was enough of it for Charlotte to pull up into a bun that she tied with a yellow ribbon. Claude had gone out that afternoon to buy Stella a dozen roses which he'd presented to her once they were both in costume. Stella had been absolutely ecstatic about the gift and she'd insisted on bringing one of the flowers with them when they left. Claude had made sure it was free of thorns, then tucked it up behind her ear where it had stayed all night.

One of Stella's hands held Claude's while the other held the plastic pumpkin she was carrying her candy in. She was swinging their joined hands as they walked.

"Why would you want me to do that?" Claude asked. "I'm not a very good singer."

"But you know all the words!" Stella said.

Between his sister, his mother, his cousins, his own interests, and now Stella he'd spent a lot of time watching Disney movies. Beauty and the Beast happened to have been a favorite of his mother's so he'd watched the movie and listened to the soundtrack countless times. He'd even taken his mother to see the live production of it the last time there'd been one in the US.

Still, he said, "I'll sing it if you really want, but I don't know all the lyrics so you're going to have to sing with me and help when I don't know the lyrics. Okay?"

"Okay!" Stella agreed, because she was always willing to sing. Especially if she got to sing a princess song.

"Which one do you want?"

Stella hummed in thought for a moment before saying, "Be Our Guest!"

"That's a good choice," Claude said. Especially given that she had Claude to sing it with her. There wasn't very much French in the song, or anything too advanced, but Claude singing it would sound better than anyone who didn't have his accent would have. He hummed to himself for a moment, making sure he remembered the tune and the beginning correctly, before he started. He remembered the opening to the song, so he began with, ""Ma chere Mademoiselle, it is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure that we welcome you tonight and now we invite you to relax, let us pull up a chair..."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Stella's smile grow even wider.

Claude felt a burst of pride and happiness at being the one to put that smile on her face.

He squeezed her hand and raised an eyebrow at her as he reached the beginning of the actual song.

Her voice, high pitched and a little too loud in her excitement, joined his. "Be our guest! Be our guest! Put our service to the test!"

He could see other parents on the street glancing over at them, most of the children were too busy picking out the house they were going to target next to care about someone singing. Some of them were dismissive once they figured out where the noise was coming form, some of them of them seemed annoyed, and some of them smiled at the sight.

Claude didn't really care what any of them thought.

He was just happy that Stella was happy and having a good time.


 

                                             


 

Claude was woken up by the sound of the door opening.

He stirred a bit, but before he could convince himself to sit up and see who it was, Sidney's voice filled the room. "It's just me. Go back to sleep."

"Wanna sleep less if your here," Claude mumbled.

He let his eyes open so he could see Sidney, but he burrowed himself even further under the covers instead of making any move to actually get up.

Sidney was turned away from Claude, closing the door. He was wearing a pair of soft looking, dark sweatpants and a Penguins hoodie with his number on the back. It was pretty common for guys to dress down for late night flights home. That late at night there weren't likely to be too many journalists or fans hanging around the airport. There was an image to protect before games, but after games things relaxed.

"How was your flight?" Claude asked. Having only just woken up, though, he slurred a bit and the words flowed together.

"Fine. Flower and Tanger started a contested over who's kid was dressed the cutest."

"Who won?"

Sidney looked over his shoulder, a smile on his lips. "Stella obviously."

"Well, obviously," Claude agreed. "But I was under the impression that Fleury and Letang starting it meant that Stella wasn't included."

"She wasn't at first," Sidney said. He'd dropped his back by the door before closing it. Now he peeled his sweatshirt off and tossed it on top of the bag. "But I was showing Geno the pictures you and Charlotte had sent me when they started and we got dragged into it."

"Oh well. They should've known better. Our little girl is adorable. She was obviously going to win."

Sidney let out a small, fond laugh. Sweatshirt discarded, he made his way to the bed. "Obviously."

Claude waited until Sidney had settled down and gotten comfortable. Once Sidney stopped shifting around, Claude moved so he was pressed up against him. Sidney was quick to accommodate him, wrapping an arm around him and letting their legs tangle together.

Sidney pressed a kiss against Claude's temple. "I know you said I don't have to say it, but thank you for going with Stella tonight."

Claude hummed quietly and wiggled himself even closer to Sidney.

He loved Philadelphia. He loved the city and the fans. They could be rude, but that was only because they expected so much out of them and Claude wanted nothing more than to raise to their expectations. He loved his apartment. He loved sitting on his balcony and watching the sunset over the skyline. He adored his teammates. They were loud mouthed little shits that he spent most of his time wanting to strangle, but he doubted there was a single one of them (nervous, blushing rookies aside) who didn't think the same thing about him. It was why they all worked so well and loved each other.

He loved Philadelphia, but coming to Pittsburgh was hardly a hardship. Philadelphia was amazing and beautiful, but Pittsburgh had Sidney and Stella. It was enough to make the city a little less terrible and Claude more than amendable to visiting, even if only long enough to take Stella trick or treating and spend a night wrapped in Sidney's arms.

"It's okay," Claude murmured. "I love her and I love you."

Sidney pressed another kiss against Claude's temple. "We love you too, Claude."


When Claude made his way to the kitchen the next morning, he found Sidney, Stella, and Charlotte were all in the kitchen already.

Charlotte was standing in front of the stove, cooking breakfast. Sidney and Stella were both sitting at the island. Sidney had an elbow propped up on the table and his chin resting in his palm as he looked at Stella. She was sitting next to Sidney with her candy bucket from the night before resting on the seat to her left. All of the candy she'd received was dumped across the island. Everyone was still dressed in their pajamas.

"What's going on?" Claude asked, letting out a loud yawn afterwards.

"I'm making omelets," Charlotte said. She and Sidney took turns with cooking meals whenever they were both around. Claude joined in on the rotation when he visited. "What do you want in yours?"

Claude looked at the array of ingredients spread out on the counter, than said, "Ham, cheese, and broccoli."

"Got it."

Having crossed the room, Claude stopped long enough to press a quick kiss against Sidney's lips and another against Stella's hair. He lifted the candy bucket off of the stool and set it up on the island before settling down next to Stella.

"Stella's showing me how much candy she got last night," Sidney said.

"Daddy won't let me eat any of it though," Stella said, her voice filled with every bit of childish displeasure Claude expecting from a five year old that had been told they couldn't eat their Halloween candy. "He said I have to wait until after breakfast. And then I'm only allowed two pieces until dinner!"

"You should definitely wait until after breakfast," Claude agreed. He looked over at Sidney, "But only two pieces all day seems harsh."

"She doesn't need anymore sugar than that."

"She's five and their not exactly full-sized candy bars," Claude argued. He countered, "Two pieces between each meal. Six total."

Sidney pressed his lips together, thinking about it for a moment. Then he said, "Six pieces, but no dessert. Candy bars and suckers have enough sugar without adding ice cream and brownies to them."

Claude looked down at Stella. "Does that sound okay to you, princess? Six pieces and no dessert?" Claude couldn't help the smile that took over his face when Stella pressed her lips together, just like her father had. After a moment of completion, she gave a sharp nod. He gestured towards Sidney, "Shake on it then you two."

As Stella turned towards her dad, Claude looked at Charlotte. He didn't usually ask her for things, both because he was an adult and because Charlotte's job was too help raise Stella not take care of them, but the coffee pot was right by her elbow. He asked, "Charlotte, will you get me a cup of coffee?"

She glanced down at the pot, resting on the counter next to her help, before nodding. "Yeah, sure. Just let me flip Stella's food."

"Thank you."

"No problem, no problem."

Claude leaned forward so he could rest his arms on the counter, resting his head on top of them. He was twisted so he could watch Stella as she sorted her candy again. The suckers went in a neat pile, hard and soft candies under them, the candy bars in rows depending on brand, gum in another pile.

He could see Sidney past her, watching her as well with a small smile on his lips, and hear Charlotte letting out a soft 'oop' as she flipped the omelet.

It was a good morning.


 

                                             

Chapter Text

                                          


 

Sidney tapped his knuckles against the doorway to announce his arrival before calling out, "Excuse me, Ms. Anderson?"

Stella's teacher, Leah Anderson, was sitting behind her desk with her head down as she focused on a collection of papers that were seated on her desk. Sidney couldn't see exactly what the papers were, but he could see the colors on them. It was a lot of dark brown with reds and yellows. He thought they might've been turkeys. She looked up at the sound of her name though.

"Oh! Mr. Crosby, hello," she greeted. She pushed herself to her feet, gesturing towards her desk as permission. She was wearing a white dress. The top of it was a thick-strapped tank top made of white lace while the bottom was a wide, white skirt covered in bright red flowers. "I didn't realize you were here already. Please, come and take a seat."

"It's fine," Sidney dismissed. He walked across the room, making his way to her desk. "And call me Sidney, please, Ms. Anderson."

"Then, Leah, please," she returned, smiling at him. As Sidney settled into the seat on the other side of her desk, she said, "I have to say, I'm a little confused as to why you requested this meeting. Usually the parents that come in here are ones whose kids are doing badly, but Stella's an excellent student. She's a little difficult to settle down sometimes, but she's intelligent, eager to learn, and a very kind young girl."

"Thank you," Sidney said, feeling a swell of pride in his chest. He knew how amazing his daughter was, but there was something about hearing other people compliment her that never really got old. Part of it was validation that he wasn't messing up nearly as much as he thought he would when she'd been born, but most it came from a place of just being generally proud of the person she was growing up to be and enjoying it when other people saw what he did.

"So, how can I help you?"

"Stella and I are going to be in Philadelphia from the twenty-first to the twenty-fifth," Sidney told her.

"Going away for the holiday?" Leah asked.

"Yes," Sidney said. He thought about it for a moment, then he told her, "We're going to be spending it with my partner."

"Oh! That's great," Leah said. Sidney was a little startled by how genuinely happy she sounded. He understood a bit more when she continued, "Stella obviously misses her other father, so I'm happy that she'll get to see him again. She always seems to be talking about him. She talks about you too, obviously, but she definitely talks about him more. I think it's her way of keeping him close even when he's far away."

The last time someone had referred to Claude as Stella's other father, Sidney had been too shocked by everything else happening at the moment to really be surprised about that specific bit of the conversation. It had only been a few months since then, but now Sidney didn't find it surprising because he could see the truth in the statement.

"She adores Claude," Sidney agreed. He said, "The reason for my visit though. I know that it's only kindergarten, but Stella is going to be missing two days before the school goes on Thanksgiving break and I was wondering if there was anything I should have her do while she was gone so that she doesn't fall behind."

"I wouldn't worry about her falling behind," Leah said. "She's never missed a class before, honestly you're my best parent on that front, and she's a bright girl. But I can give you some of the math worksheets we'll be doing and she can work on those."

"I'd appreciate that," Sidney said.

Sidney was sure Stella would be positively bouncing with happiness the entire time they were in Philadelphia. Math would be a good way to get her to sit down for a few minutes so he and Claude could take a breath.

He loved his daughter, but sometimes he wondered who all of her energy came form because it definitely wasn't him.


"Just some math then?"

"Mostly yeah," Sidney said. He was laid back on his bed, already changed into the soft Batman sweatpants he was wearing to sleep, with his knees up so that his phone could rest against them. "She did say that they were doing a social studies lesson about the holiday, though. She recommended a few books and movies that we should consider showing Stella if we want to do that."

"I don't mind checking some of them out," Claude said. "Send me the titles. I'll see if I can find anything around here."

Claude had read Stella her story that night. After he'd finished, Sidney had taken the FaceTime call to his bedroom so the two of them could talk for a while. While Sidney was settled in for bed, Claude was sitting in his kitchen. He'd just gotten out of the shower, having come back from a late practice with a few of his teammates, when Stella had called him, so his shirt had been discarded and a white towel was wrapped around his neck. His hair was a mess of fluffy, dark orange on the top of his head.

"Okay," Sidney agreed. "I'll email you the list after we hang up."

Claude flashed a thumbs ups before asking, "Did she have any other suggestions?"

"No," Sidney said, shaking his head a bit. Remembering something else she'd said, he added, "But she did tell me that Stella talks about you all the time at school."

"Really?" Claude said, a wide smile settling across his lips. Sidney couldn't help being a little charmed by it. Stella clearly loved and adored Claude, Sidney was sure the two of them were occupying the same space as her favorite people in the world, but the fact that Claude was so clearly happy about meaning that much to Stella was nice. It showed how much Claude cared about and loved her.

"Yeah," Sidney confirmed. "When I told her Stella was going to be missing because we were going to see you, she said that Stella is constantly telling stories and talking about you. She said that Stella clearly missed her other dad so it was a good thing that she'd get to spend the holiday with you."

Silence settled between the two.

Sidney had been expecting Claude to respond like he had before, with a wide grin and laughter. Instead, Claude's expression was more serious. It wasn't an unhappy one. Rather it was like Claude had a heavy weight on his shoulders, but one that he was happy to have, one that he was a bit awed that someone had trusted him with.

It took Sidney a moment to realize why.

"Oh," Sidney said, the one slipping from his lips.

Claude hadn't been present the first time someone had referred to him as Stella's other parent. This was the first time he'd heard someone refer to him as Stella's father in any concept.

For a moment Sidney thought about saying something, but ultimately he decided to wait the silence out. He didn't want to influence Claude's feelings about this. He wanted whatever Claude said to be a genuine reaction to being referred to as Stella's father. He wanted to know how he felt about it without Sidney saying anything to sway him towards acceptance or rejection of the idea.

It was a long moment before Claude said, "Do you really think she sees me that way?" His voice was soft and tentative, filled with all of the awe that his expression held in it. He seemed floored that Stella would see him that way, but not as if it was something he was unhappy about.

Sidney thought that the look on Claude's face now must have been similar to the one he wore when he held Stella for the first time. It was filled with that sort of amazement at being trusted with something as beautiful and fragile as a child.

"Yes," Sidney answered, feeling like he knew enough about what Claude was feeling that he didn't have to worry about swaying him.

The way that Claude lit up at Sidney's answer made it clear just how true that was.


 

                                          


 

"I picked out my shirts, daddy!" Stella said, running from her dresser to her bed where he was sitting. Her arms were filled with the shirts that she'd pulled out of her dresser.

It was Friday morning and the two of them were packing Stella's bag for their week in Philadelphia with Claude. They weren't leaving until after his game that night, but Sidney had decided she could stay out of school today so that they could pack and get ready. Since she hadn't gone to school, she was still wearing the pink emoji covered pajama pants and white tee-shirt reading "Good Morning" that she'd worn to bed the night before.

"I can see that," Sidney said, smiling at her. He patted the bed next to him. Her suitcase, a child-sized plastic case designed to look like a ladybug, sat open on the bed next to him. "Why don't you set them down here? I'll fold them and pack them for you."

"Okay!" Stella chirped. She dumped the contents of her arms down onto the bed next to her. "What do I need next?"

"Are you going to wear pants all week?" Sidney asked.

She was quiet for a moment, clearly thinking carefully about the decision, before she said, "I think so!"

"Then you need seven pairs of jeans," Sidney told her.

"Okay." She scurried back over to her dresser. The drawers were pure white and slid into a rose pink frame. The drawers had been clean when he first bought her the dresser, but now it was covered in glittery princess stickers that she'd gotten from coin machines at the grocery store. She closed the drawer that held her shirts and pulled open the drawer with her pants instead. "Can I bring one skirt too, daddy? Just in case I decide I want to wear one?"

"I think that's a good idea," Sidney said.

"And tights to go under the skirt!" Stella insisted. "Because it's really cold and Charlotte says its okay to wear skirts and dresses in the winter, but only if you wear something under them."

"That's very good advice," Sidney agreed. He encouraged Stella to choose her own outfits and wear whatever she wanted to wear but he didn't know very much about men's fashion much less girl's fashion. He let Charlotte advise her on how to make her outfits look nice and went along with whatever Stella said she'd been told. "You can pick out a pair of tights to go with your skirt when you grab socks and underwear."

"Okay!"

Sidney watched as she sorted through the contents of her drawer. She pulled out a pair of dark jeans with a swirling pattern of pink rhinestones on the front pockets, then a pair of dark jeans with some white lace detail. Then she turned back to her dresser, peering down at it with a thoughtful look on her face.

She'd picked her shirts just as carefully.

Sidney thought she was being a lot more careful about her choices than she usually was. He figured it was probably because this was a new level of responsibility for her. She was becoming a lot more fashion conscious, but they'd never let her choose outfits for an entire week by herself.

"Are you excited?" Sidney asked her.

"Yes!" Stella said. "I bet Claude will take me to practice just like you do sometimes! And I'll get to see all of the Flyers!"

Laughter burst out of Sidney's throat. Claude had been complaining about his teammates wanting to interrupt his time with Stella. He was going to be so offended that Stella wanted to spend time with them as well. "That certainly sounds like fun."

"Yes! It's going to be the best trip ever, daddy!"


"Oh, look at that," Claude said as soon as his face flooded Sidney's phone screen. "The little princess is still awake."

"She wanted to see you," Sidney told him.

Stella and Sidney were sitting in Pittsburgh's airport, waiting for their flight to Philadelphia. Sidney had driven home to pick Stella up and tell Charlotte to have a good time with her family while they were gone, then immediately driven to the airport.

Charlotte had put Stella down for a few hours while Sidney was at the game, but it hadn't been more than a quick nap and Stella was still exhausted. She was sitting in Sidney's lap now, her legs thrown over his and her arms wrapped around his neck. Her cheek was pressed against his shoulder.

"Well then," Claude said. He raised a hand, waving his fingers a little bit, "Hey there, Stels."

"Hi Claude," Stella greeted. Her voice was soft and heavy with exhaustion. She kept her head laid down, but she gave Claude a small, sleepy smile.

"You look positively exhausted," Claude told her. "Now that we've said hi, why don't you curl up with your daddy and go to sleep alright?"

Stella made a soft sound of protest, but was clearly too exhausted to put up much of a fight.

"Little star," Sidney said, rubbing his hand up and down her back. He knew the repetitive motion would help her drift off. "If you go to sleep now, then we'll probably be in Philadelphia with Claude the next time you wake up." He didn't want to promise that she'd absolutely see Claude when she woke up since it was possible she wouldn't sleep through the plane ride, but she was a frequent traveler and she'd always been calmer on planes. They'd only had a few bad flights together and most of those were the result of something else going on, like that time when she'd seen a game of his in Columbus and spent the flight home with a terrible headache from the cannons.

"Really?"

"Really," Sidney said nodding a bit.

"Okay," Stella said. She nuzzled against Sidney's chest, finally letting her eyes shut instead of fighting them. She must have been more tired than Sidney had realized. He'd expected her to fall asleep easily, but he hadn't expected it to be that easy. "Night night, daddy. Night night, Claude. I love you."

"Goodnight, Stella," Sidney said. He pressed a kiss against her hair. "I love you too."

"Night Stella," Claude echoed. "I love you." There was a small moment of silence before Claude spoke again, "What time do you two board?"

"About thirty minutes," Sidney said. "You're still in Ottawa, aren't you? What time are you leaving?"

"Any minute now," Claude answered. "A few of the guys stopped to get some food and we're just waiting on them to finish up before we leave. I just wanted to call quickly to check up on you two and make sure you got through security okay."

"It was a little rough," Sidney admitted. Most of the flying he did was charter so security was a bit different, but it probably wouldn't have been too bad if he hadn't been trying to herd a five year old through the line and deal with the fans in the airport. Luckily it was late enough that most people in the airport were just a little too exhausted and eager to get to their destination to bother him. "We got through it though."

"Alright." A noise somewhere behind him had Claude glancing over his shoulder. He listened to someone speak to a moment before turning back. "It looks like we're leaving now."

"Okay."

"I'll see you a couple of hours, okay?" Claude said. He bent down, grabbing his duffel from the ground beside him. As he stood up, he added, "And I love you."

"I'll see you then," Sidney agreed. "I love you too."


                                           

 

Chapter Text

Sidney spotted Claude as soon as he stepped out of the tunnel and into the airport.

Claude was sitting in one of the waiting chairs. He was sitting with his arms stretched out on either side of him and his head tipped backwards to stare at the ceiling. It looked like his eyes were closed. Having just gotten off a plane himself, he was dressed in a bright, gaudy orange long sleeved Flyers shirt and a pair of baggy black sweatpants. The dufflebag he used when traveling was sitting on the floor in front of him.

Despite getting jostled numerous times as Sidney got their luggage out of the overhead bins and got them off the plane, Stella was still asleep in his arms. Sidney kept his voice low as he called out, "Claude."

Claude didn't move to get up right away, but he turned his head towards them.

When he saw Sidney, a smile spread over his lips.

"Hey," Claude greeted, speaking just as softly as Sidney had. He'd been spread out across three chairs, but now he folded himself up and pushed himself up to his feet. "How was the flight?"

"It was okay," Sidney said. A crowded airport, even past midnight, wasn't the best place for a romantic reunion when they hadn't exactly announced their relationship, so Claude didn't lean in for a kiss when Sidney reached him. He did, however, lean in to press a soft kiss against Stella's hair. "She woke up for a little bit in the middle, but she watched an episode of Paw Patrol on the tablet and went right back to sleep."

"That's good." Claude went quiet, staring at Stella while his hand rested on her back. Sidney didn't say anything, allowing Claude the moment. He always ended up doing the same thing when he saw Stella for the first time after a long road trip. After a minute, Claude looked back up at Sidney. "I'm happy to see you."

"It's nice to see you too," Sidney said, smiling a bit himself.

"Let's get out of here, yeah?"

"Yes, please," Sidney agreed.

Claude leaned backwards, sweeping his bag up onto his shoulders. When Sidney moved to grab the handle of his suitcase, Stella's resting precariously on top of it so he could roll them both together, Claude shook his head. "I'll grab it. You focus on not dropping her."

"If I didn't drop her when getting off the plane then I'm not going to drop her now," Sidney argued.

"Alright," Claude said. "Then let me grab it because I want to show you how useful I am so that you'll keep me around."

"I'm going to keep you around because I love you," Sidney said as Claude reached for the handle.

"That's because I've been doing such a good job at making myself useful," Claude said. "My plan worked so excellently that you didn't even notice there was a plan until I told you two seconds ago."

"Well, congratulations on tricking an NHL player into loving you," Sidney said.

There were wide smiles on both of their faces as they started walking towards the exit. Claude had always brought a little more fun into Sidney's life, but joking with him in person was different than joking with him over the phone. It made Sidney smile a little wider and had the warmth of the jokes sitting in his chest a little longer.

"I don't think congratulations are really in order," Claude said. "I was actually aiming for a threesome with Toews and Kane since they're so co-dependent they needed huge, matching contracts, but somehow I ended up with you instead. So really, the plan was actually a pretty big failure."

"That's unfortunate," Sidney said, his voice filled with amusement and stifled laughter.

"It's not all bad," Claude said, shrugging a bit. "You might make less money than either of them, but you've also got a better ass than both of theirs. Seems like a good trade off."


"Daddy!" Sidney was sitting at Claude's kitchen table when he heard Stella shouting. He'd settled for cereal for breakfast. Claude and Stella had both been asleep when he'd first gotten up and he hadn't wanted to wake either of them up by digging around in things as he searched for a pan. "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!"

Sidney had been planning on waking Stella up himself after he ate since he didn't want her to wake up in an unfamiliar bedroom alone, but apparently she'd gotten up earlier than he'd thought she would.

Sidney started to get up, but before he could move much Stella was rushing into the room. The pajama pants he'd put her in for the plane ride were big on her and she slipped on them in her hurry to get across Claude's wooden floors. Luckily she righted herself before she hit her face, because Sidney wasn't close enough to grab her if she had tripped.

"Little star, quiet down please," Sidney told her as she reached him. He'd scooted his chair back when she came crashing into the room, giving himself room to lift her up off the floor and settle her on his lap. "Claude doesn't live in a house like we do. There are people who might hear you shouting. And even if there weren't, Claude is still asleep."

"Daddy," Stella said, shifting so she had her arms wrapped around his neck. Sidney had thought she'd been looking for him because she was frightened by the new environment she'd woken up in, but now that she was closer to him he could make out the excitement in her eyes. "The room I was in was so cool!"

"Ah."

When Sidney and Claude had first spoken about Sidney and Stella staying with Claude for the holiday, Claude had assured him that he had room for Stella in the apartment.

Sidney had been expecting Claude to just make up the guest room in his apartment.

He hadn't been expecting Claude to turn the guest room into a bedroom for Stella, complete with dark orange walls, several deep red flower shaped pillows, and shelves filled with every bedtime story Claude had ever read to her.

Sidney didn't know how to react to it last night any better than he knew how to react now. Part of him had wanted to argue that it was too much, but he'd already told Claude that Stella was their daughter. It didn't seem unreasonable for Claude to want their child to have a room in his apartment, even if she wasn't going to be in Philadelphia very frequently.

"I heard shouting. Is everything okay?"

"Claude!" Stella shouted. Sidney let go of her so she could slip off his lap and dash back towards the hallway. Claude was standing at the mouth of it, looking like he'd only just woken up and had stumbled out of bed in a hurry when he heard Stella's screaming.

"Hey sweetheart," Claude greeted. He didn't catch Stella the way he usually did, probably too tired to react quick enough to scoop her up, but when she crashed into his knees Claude reached down to rest his hand on top of her head. "Are you okay?"

"Yes!" Stella said. She tilted her head up, poking her chin into Claude's thigh as she looked up at him. Claude looked down at her, bleary eyed but completely focused on the five year old. "Did you see the room? The one I was in? It was so so so cool!"

A smile stretched over Claude's lips. "You like it?"

"Yes! Do you think Daddy will let me redo my room at home?" she asked. "Because I love princesses, but this room is so cool and the walls are orange which is my absolute favorite color!"

"I'm sure your dad would let you redo your room if you asked," Claude told her, "but that room is yours too, so if you don't change the one at home then you can have a princess room and an orange room."

Stella's eyes widened. When she spoke her voice was softer, filled with shock and awe. "Really?"

"Uh huh," Claude said, nodding a bit. "I wanted you to have a bedroom for whenever you visited."

Stella let out a loud, high pitched squeal. She pressed her face against Claude's legs, squeezing him tighter. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

"You're welcome, sweetheart," Claude said. He rested his hand back on her head. "But I really need you to quiet down a bit. My neighbors aren't used to there being screaming little girls in my apartment and they might get a little upset if you wake them up."

Sidney looked away from the two of them, turning his attention back to his cereal. He hadn't known how to respond to the room last night, but now he found that he couldn't bring himself to be upset about something that had Stella and Claude smiling so widely.


"Well, we aren't going to see her again until bedtime," Sidney said as he stepped into Claude's living room.

Stella was settled in her room now, surrounded by the few toys she'd fit in her suitcase as well as a few toys that Claude had bought her to play with while she was in Philadelphia. Sidney had played with her for a little while just to make sure she was settled in okay, but she'd practically kicked him out of the room once it was tea time. This afternoon was a girls only tea party apparently.

"I'm glad she likes it," Claude said. He was sprawled out on his couch with the TV turned on to an Eagles pre-game thing. He twisted, shifting so he was looking at Sidney as he came into the room.

"She loves everything about it," Sidney told him.

"I was a little worried she wouldn't," Claude said. "I think I had every girlfriend and wife on the team over here to look at it."

"And what'd they say?"

"They liked it," Claude said, laughing a little. "Kelsey told me I didn't have anything to worry about and Crystal told me I was being stupid because any little girl would love a room like that."

"I don't know about any girl, but our girl loves it," Sidney said. He settled down onto the couch next to Claude, shifting so he was pressed right up against him. Claude didn't seem to mind having Sidney plastered against him, just lifted his arm so Sidney could squeeze under it. "Speaking of our girl, she wants to go to the game tomorrow."

"Okay," Claude said. "I can get you tickets from the front office pretty easily, but PR is going to want to know what statement to release." He kept his voice calm and casual, like they weren't talking about something that had kept some kids out of the league, something that could ruin their careers.

Sidney didn't find that strange though. This was a big decision, but it was a discussion they had already had before. Their expectations when it came to their sexuality in regards to the media was one of the first big conversations they'd had.

Claude was at a point in his career where he didn't mind coming out, where he would have told any reporter that actually thought to ask him about it. Under other circumstances, Sidney probably would have never even considered coming out but he had a five year old who he couldn't - wouldn't - ask to keep the important people in her life secret.

"The truth," Sidney said. Now felt like the right time to Sidney. It felt like they'd had the right discussions to be taking this step, like they had reached a point in the relationship were it had to be out there. They weren't just in a relationship, they were co-parenting. Sidney couldn't hide a relationship like that, for Stella's sake as much as his own. "As long as you're ready for it."

"As long as you are, I am."


"Daddy, it's Claude!" Stella called.

The two of them were at the Flyers game and the teams had just skated out for warm-ups.

Claude had managed to get the two of them front row tickets. Stella wasn't quite tall enough to see clearly over the walls, so Sidney was holding her on his hip. She had wanted to be completely decked out for her first live Flyers game, so Claude and Sidney had taken her shopping earlier that day. She was wearing her Claude Giroux jersey with a black tutu and bright orange tights. Her hair had been pulled into pigtails with two mismatched hair-ties, one orange and one black. She'd had Sidney paint a bright orange twenty-eight on her left cheek.

With the two of them sitting in the front like this, there was no way they wouldn't be noticed.

In fact, Sidney had already seen plenty of people sitting across from them taking pictures of them. Flyers management had talked to him when he came in with Claude, avoiding the crowds by coming early with him had seemed like the best idea, and told him to let someone know if any of the fans were bothering him too much. The pictures were pretty harmless, though. Stella didn't seem bothered by it, in fact she had been waving at the girls directly across from them, so Sidney hadn't said anything about it.

"It is Claude," Sidney said, nodding a bit.

Sidney was focused on Claude who had only just stepped out of the tunnel, but his attention was drawn away by the sound of a stick tapping against the glass.

"Daddy, daddy! They're saying hi to me!"

Sidney was confused for a moment then he realized what was happening. As the Flyers skated their loop around the rink, each one of them was tapping their stick against the glass in front of Stella. Some of them just tapped and smiled at her, but the ones that she had met in Prague were a little more involved. Brayden Schenn and Couturier both waved at her and Voracek sent her a wink that had her giggling.

He didn't know when Claude and the Flyers had planned this, but there was no way they were getting around telling the media now. Not that Sidney wanted to get around it.

This was a little bit more in-your-face than Sidney had been expecting, but it wasn't a bad surprise.

Claude had been the last one out of the tunnel, so he brought up the end of the line.

He didn't bang his stick on the glass as he passed, instead choosing to blow a kiss at Sidney and Stella.

Yeah, Sidney thought as Stella brought her hands to her mouth to blow kisses back at him, there was absolutely no way Claude was getting through the media without a few questions about this.

Chapter Text

 

"Pancakes, pancakes, pancakes," Stella chanted.

"Absolutely not," Sidney said, shaking his head. "You've had pancakes for the past two days."

"Because their delicious!"

"Because Claude is a giant push over," Sidney said.

"Well, that's rude," Claude said.

"That's true," Sidney responded.

Sidney and Stella were sitting together at the kitchen table while Claude moved around the kitchen. Claude and Sidney had been up up for a while. Both of them had already taken showers and gotten dressed for the day. Stella, however, had only been up for a little while. She was still wearing the light blue nightgown she'd been wearing the night before, one with the two girls from Frozen centered on it and a dark blue ruffle at the bottom.

"It is absolutely not true," Claude argued. "In fact it's so untrue that I'm definitely not going to be making pancakes this morning." Stella barely had time to frown before Claude said, "I'm going to make french toast."

"French toast sounds yummy!" Stella exclaimed.

Today was their last full day in Philadelphia, they would be flying back to Pittsburgh early the next morning since Claude and Sidney both had games the next night. Sidney wasn't a fan of Stella eating sweets for breakfast for the third day in a row, but he could just tell Charlotte to skip to healthier options once they were home. It didn't hurt to let Claude spoil Stella a little bit.

"It does," Claude agreed. "Do you want blueberry, strawberry, or banana?"

Stella hummed, considering her choices. Then she said, "Strawberry and banana please!"

"Sure," Claude said. He'd been bent over, grabbing a few pans from the bottom cabinets. When he straightened up, he looked at Sidney. "What about you, party pooper? Blueberry, strawberry, banana? A combination of the three?"

Sidney made a face at him, something that had Claude letting out a soft laugh, before answering, "Strawberry please."

"Got it."

Sidney watched for a moment as Claude moved around the kitchen, grabbing ingredients and preparing to make breakfast for all of them.

He knew it was incredibly cheesy, but there was something about watching Claude pad around in a kitchen, dressed in a pair of loose jeans and an Eagles shirt that was at least a size to big, that had warmth ballooning in Sidney's chest. Few people had seen Claude like this, enjoying a quiet morning on a day when he had nothing to do. This was soft and domestic and Sidney was determined to the last person that got to see Claude like this.

"Claude," Stella said, "can I help?"

"If you want to," Claude agreed.

"I do!" Stella said. She scooted her chair back and hopped off of it.

"Stella, no running," Sidney chided when she took off for the kitchen. It wasn't very far, but most of Claude's apartment was done in hardwood flooring. It made it easy to clean up messes, but it also made it easy for over-excited five year olds to slip and fall flat on their faces.

"Sorry daddy," Stella answered, slowing down for the last few steps. Claude's kitchen and dining room had an open plan with the counter blocking the two areas. There was a gap in the counters set up that served as an opening between the two. Stella was still young and, consequently, short so she disappeared behind the counter space when she entered the area. Sidney could still see the top of her head and her eyes, but not much else. "Claude, I need a stool!"

"Mm, I don't think I have one," Claude told her. He had been watching as she approached and now he swooped down, gathering her in his arms. "You'll have to just sit on the counter for now, okay? I'll buy you a stool before the next time your here."

"Okay!" Stella agreed.

"Be careful," Sidney warned as Claude set Stella down on the counter.

Stella said, "Claude won't let me get hurt."

"I absolutely will not," Claude said, a smile resting on his lips. "But you should listen to your daddy and be careful anyway, okay? There might be a time when I have to look away from you to grab something."

"Okaaaaay."


Sidney stared at the giant, frozen package sitting on Claude's counter.

When a few minutes passed without his staring amounting to anything, Sidney asked, "Do you have any idea how to start cooking a turkey?"

"Nope," Claude said.

It was shortly after breakfast. They'd gotten Stella dressed for the day, she'd picked out a pair of black jeans with a pink jewel butterfly on one of the pockets and a long-sleeved white tee-shirt with two butterflies - one pink and one purple - on it, and then she'd settled down in front of the TV to watch some cartoons.

With Stella taken care of, Sidney had entered the kitchen to try and get started on cooking the turkey for their dinner that night. As far as Sidney and Claude were considered, Thanksgiving had been the previous month. However, Stella had spent most of her life living in America. So Canadian Thanksgiving tended to be when they saw Sidney's parents and Taylor while Stella and Sidney would celebrate on their own when American Thanksgiving came around. The actual date of the holiday wasn't until the twenty-sixth, a day after Stella and Sidney returned to Pittsburgh, but since Claude and Sidney both had games on either side of the day they were celebrating now while the three of them were together.

"Alright," Sidney said. While he and Stella celebrated Thanksgiving every year, Sidney had never made a turkey for it. He didn't see a reason to cook an entire bird for just the two of them, especially when one of them was a child. An entire turkey seemed like a bit of overkill for the three of them, but Claude had plans to give the extra to the Flyers rookies. Apparently most of them survived off ready made meals and junk food. "I think we're going to have to google it then."

"Staring at it didn't magically transfer the knowledge of how to prepare it into your head?"

Sidney looked up from the turkey and up at Claude. The two of them were going to be cooking most of the dinner together, but since Claude had been cooking since Sidney and Stella arrived Sidney had offered to cook the actual turkey. So while Sidney had been trying to puzzle out the turkey conundrum, Claude had been watching Paw Patrol with Stella. When Sidney had started speaking, however, Claude had looked over his shoulder and at him. Turning like he had meant that now Sidney could see the wide, stupid grin on Claude's face.

"Very funny," Sidney remarked. He glanced over at Stella, making sure she was still focused on the screen, before flipping a middle finger up in Claude's direction.

Claude let out a loud laugh. "That's not very nice, Sid."

"Claude," Stella said, turning away from the screen to look at the man sitting next to her. "I don't know what daddy did, but it's not very nice to talk when someone else it watching TV either."

Laughter burst out of Sidney's mouth.

"You're right," Claude agreed. "Sorry sweetheart."

"It's okay. I forgive you." Stella twisted so she could see Sidney, adding, "You should tell Claude sorry for whatever you did, daddy."

"Of course," Sidney said. He tipped his head at Claude, a small amused smile still resting on his lips, "I'm sorry I was rude."

"Apology accepted," Claude said. "And my laptop is in the bedroom if you want to use that to google the turkey thing."


"You know, I think everything turned out pretty okay," Claude mused.

"I'm mostly just happy that I didn't end up fucking the turkey up," Sidney said. He looked over at Stella. He was actually a little surprised she had chosen to sit next to him when sitting next to Claude was an option, but he supposed it was probably because She was in the middle of squishing her spoon against her mash potatoes, clearly preferring playing with the gravy to actually eating the vegetable. Potatoes were one of the vegetables that she didn't fight him on too much, so he had confidence that she would eat them eventually. She liked them when she didn't get caught up in the fact that they were a vegetable. "What do you think Stella? Did we do a good job?"

"It's yummy," Stella said, looking up from her plate.

"You sure about that?" Claude asked, raising one eyebrow at her. There was a small, amused smile on his lips. "Because you look like you're having more fun playing with it than you are eating it."

"It is," Stella repeated, nodding a little bit. "Gravy is just fun to squish! It's like a rain puddle!"

"Cloudy with a chance of gravy, huh?" Sidney said.

"Oh oh oh!" Stella said. "Can we watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs before bed? Please, Daddy? Please, Claude? We haven't watched it in forever!"

Sidney looked over at Claude, asking silently. Claude shrugged before saying, "I mean, I don't have a copy of it or anything but we can probably find it on the TV somewhere right?"

"I would imagine," Sidney answered. It was an older movie, Stella had only been a few months old when it had first come out, but between everything in Claude's cable plan and all of the streaming services Claude had he didn't think it would be that hard to find one with it. He turned his attention back to Stella, "Okay. You have to take a bath after dinner, but once you get out we can watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs." Giving Stella her bath first would work out well. It would give Claude time to search for the movie while Sidney helped Stella wash her hair. Warm water always made Stella drowsy, so getting her in the bath first came with the added benefit of her not fighting with him about bedtime after the movie. With their flight back to Pittsburgh being so early the next morning, he was hoping that an earlier bath would put her to sleep a little before her bedtime.

"Okaaay," Stella agreed. She turned her attention back to her plate, continuing to push the gravy on her mashed potatoes around.

"Stels," Claude said. "If you stop playing with your food and start eating it, then you'll finish your dinner sooner and get to watch the movie."

Stella seemed to war with that decision for a moment, trying to figure out if stopping was worth watching the movie sooner than she would otherwise, before scooping some of the potatoes onto her fork and into her mouth.

With that sorted out, Sidney turned to Claude and said, "So I think we're probably going to have plenty of leftover turkey to keep your rookies away from frozen food for a few weeks."

"Are you kidding me?" Claude said. "Those boys are black holes. They'll finish this off in three days."


Sidney pushed the door to Stella's bedroom open, peering inside to see if Stella had fallen asleep yet.

Stella had been struggling to stay awake at the end of the movie, but she'd still insisted on Claude putting her to bed and telling her a story. Sidney thought it was probably because they were leaving in the morning. She wanted Claude to put her to bed because she didn't know how long it would be until Claude would be there at bed time again. She wanted a story from Claude because while she knew Claude would call them tomorrow night, she didn't know when he'd be able to tell her a bedtime story in person again.

Sidney had been expecting that despite how tired she was Stella might try to stay up a little longer just so she could spend a little more time with Claude, but she'd been so tired that he hadn't thought she would last very long. So when twenty minutes had passed without Claude coming to the master bedroom, he'd gone to see if Stella had put up a fight long enough to demand a second bedtime story.

Looking into the room now, though, he found that Stella was fast asleep. She was buried under the bedspread, a mostly white blanket that was covered in large dark pink and orange flowers, with her head resting on the orange pillow cases and she was holding Oreo tightly against her chest. The choke-hold she put on her stuffed animal was one of the reasons why Sidney kept telling they couldn't get a pet. He was a little worried she'd love the animal too much and do something similar to a cat or dog.

Claude was sitting by Stella's bed, watching her sleep. There was a look in his eyes that made Sidney's heart soar at the same time that it made his stomach drop. Because that look was all love and sadness. Sidney was so happy to have Claude in this with him, but their careers meant that Claude constantly went through the pain of having to leave their daughter without knowing when he'd have a break that would allow him to see her again.

"Claude," Sidney spoke up, keeping his voice quiet so as not to wake Stella.

Claude must have heard Sidney open the door because he didn't startle at the interruption. He turned away from Stella, focusing on Sidney. A small smile settled on his lips, a little forced and sad. "Hey. She finally went to sleep a few minutes ago."

"Okay." Sidney watched him for a moment before asking, "Are you going to be okay?"

Claude gave a small sigh. "Yeah. It just sucks. I love you and I love her. I wish we could be a family without having to do all of this, you know? I wish I could spend more time with you guys than just three or four days every month or so."

"I know," Sidney agreed. "But we love you too, okay? Having those few days with you makes life better than it was before, okay?"

Claude's smile got a little more genuine, a teasing lithe entering his voice, "Cros, are you trying to tell me you weren't happy before we got together?"

"No, because I have an amazing daughter," Sidney said. "But I am telling you that I am - and Stella is - even happier now that you are a part of our lives. This situation isn't ideal, but it's one that makes us happy because we get to have you."

Claude's expression went soft and fond. "You guys make me happier too."

Sidney hummed, smiling a bit himself. "I love you."

"I love you too."

 

Chapter Text


 

"Can I speak to everyone for a minute before we head out?" Sidney said. He was standing in the center of the locker room, Anaheim's guest one, so that he could see the entire team. He'd waited until Johnston had left the locker room, their coach spent less time trying to pep them up now that it was becoming increasingly clear that he wasn't going to be working with them much longer, so almost the entire team was half or fully changed already. "It's not like...mandatory or anything, so you can go on ahead if you need to."

Everyone had turned to look at Sidney when he started speaking, but not a single of them made a move to leave. They focused on him, giving him their full attention regardless of how eager they all were to get out of the arena.

"I just wanted to apologize," Sidney said. "Everyone knows that Johnston is on his way out so we're already in the middle of a media shitstorm. My coming out right now is just going to make it worst."

He took a moment to let the team absorb that.

Before he could say anything else, though, Horny said, "We don't care about that, Sid."

"I'm just happy people are going to be too busy asking about you to ask why we're playing so badly," Kuni added.

"Your taste in men sucks," Flower put forward. "But we've known about you and the Flyer for months, so it's not like that's surprising."

Sidney felt a flash of amusement, bursting through the fondness Horny and Kuni's words had settled in him. He said, "The flyer? He doesn't have a name?"

"You're the one who has to respect him in the morning," Flower said. "Not me."

Laughter bubbled from Sidney's throat, quiet chuckles that felt nice given how much tension he'd been carrying that night. Losing always sucked, but it sucked a little more when you had to wonder if your personal life begin splashed all over tabloids was part of the reason for it. Flower grinned at him, wide and unashamed.

"Sid." Sidney looked away from Flower, shifting his attention to Geno. "You and Stella are happy with him, yes?"

"Yes," Sidney said, not even needing a moment to think about it. Having Claude around made them both so much happier than they had been before. Not because things hadn't been good when it was just Sidney and Stella, but simply because Claude was a happy addition to their lives and they were happy to have him there.

"Then you have no reason to apologize to us," Geno said. "We care about you and Stella. Answering few more questions in interview is small price to pay for your happiness."

Sidney considered how to respond for a moment. He didn't want to stomp all over the sentiment Geno was expressing, but he also felt like he couldn't just dismiss the fact that he was causing trouble for his team. He was their Captain. They were supposed to be causing him trouble, not the other way around.

Finally, he settled on, "I know and, really, thank you guys. But that doesn't mean I'm not sorry for the fact that you're going to have to deal with it."

"You really shouldn't apologize," Flower said. Sidney watched as Tanger and Flower both grinned, sly and mischievous. "Because we're going to take any opportunity an interview give us to tell embarrassing stories about how disgustingly in love you are and how often you pine for him."


"Hello?"

"Hey," Sidney greeted.

"Claude!" Stella exclaimed happily.

"Oh. Hey, you two," Claude said. He'd sounded confused when he answered the phone, but now he sounded happier and more focused.

"Are we interrupting?"

"No, no," Claude dismissed. "I just didn't check the ID before I answered and I didn't think you would have gotten home from the school already."

"We aren't home yet," Sidney said. They were actually in the car, Sidney in the drivers seat while Stella was strapped into her booster seat in the first row of the backseats. She was wearing a dark purple pea coat with black jeans. There was a deep pink scarf wrapped around her neck. Her backpack sat on the seat beside her since Sidney had picked her up from school, a rarity given how busy his commitments to the team kept him. Having the time to pick her up occasionally was something Sidney cherished. He liked being able to hear Stella's school stories right away instead of having to wait until she got home hours later. "Stella didn't want to wait until we were home to talk to you about her day, though. I hooked my phone up to the car speaker so that she could talk to you."

"Ah," Claude said, drawing the sound out. "Well then, how was school today, sweetheart?"

"It was good!" Stella exclaimed. Sidney focused more intensely on the road. He'd been keeping his eyes on it the entire time, but he knew that he hadn't been giving the road his full attention as he made sure they weren't bothering Claude. He didn't think Claude would have said anything terrible if had been bothering him, but Stella had been excited to talk to him and talking her out of her tantrum if Claude didn't have time for her at that moment would have difficult while driving. It was easier to give Claude a little bit of his attention and navigate the conversation in a way that would cut off the tantrum than to try driving while dealing with the tantrum. "We started practicing for the Christmas concert today!"

"Oh yeah?"

"Yup!" Stella chirped. "Today Mrs. Cagiano was teaching us 'All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.'"

"Mrs. Cagiano?"

"That's the schools music teacher," Sidney informed him.

"Ah, I see."

"Are you gonna come to the concert Claude?" Stella asked.

"Oh. No, I'm sorry sweetheart. I have a game that day," Claude said. When Sidney had first brought the concert up last weekend, Claude had been so excited about it despite the fact that the sound thirty kindergartens made when singing was far from the most beautiful sound in the world. Claude's mood had plummeted when Sidney told him it was on the fifteenth, the day before Stella got out of school for her Christmas break. Claude wasn't going to be out of state that day, but he had a game against Carolina at the exact same time as the concert. "But daddy is going to record it for me and I'll watch it as soon as I finish, okay?"

Stella hummed before saying, "Okay! You'll tell me how good I did the next day?"

Claude let out a loud laugh and Sidney could practically see the large, amused smile that would be settled on his face. "Oh, of course."


 

                                          


 

"Can I go now?" Stella said. She was bouncing on her toes in front of Sidney, his hands resting on her shoulders to keep her from darting forward and under the rope in front of her. She was wearing a soft pink sweater with a large polar bear on the front of it and dark jeans with little white rhinestones running up and down her thigh. Sidney had her coat hanging over his arm since Stella had been complaining about it being warm inside the building. "Can I? Can I?"

"Wait until she gets over here to let you in," Sidney said. He held her a little tighter, careful not to make his grip tight enough to hurt her but making sure that it was firm enough that she couldn't dart forward the way he was sure she was thinking about.

The two of them were at a Christmas lights show, one which had a Santa Claus out to meet the kids.

At first Stella had been content to wait in line, drinking the hot chocolate Sidney had bought her and rambling about all of her favorite displays from the light show. As they got closer to the front of the line, though, Stella had gotten more excited and now that they were next in line she was positively vibrating.

Stella let out an unhappy sound.

Sidney found her impatience a little endearing. It was a little bratty, but it was because she wanted to see Santa Claus. Sidney knew that this innocence and belief wouldn't be around forever and he was content to enjoy it for now.

A teenage girl dressed as an elf approached them, smiling softly. She reached the end of the rope in front of Stella. "Are you ready to meet Santa?"

"Yes!" Stella exclaimed, her unhappiness falling away as quickly as it came. The girl lifted the rope and Sidney let go of Stella's shoulders. She took off immediately, making her way across the small stage and practically jumping her way up the stairs leading to Santa.

Sidney watched her, making sure that she wasn't going to fall on her face. It was only once the Santa had leaned forward, letting out a hearty laugh as he did so, and lifted her into his lap that he looked towards the elf.

"Hello," Sidney greeted.

"Hello," she said, a note of well hidden awe in her voice. Sidney realized that she must have been a Penguins fan. He made a mental note to sign something for her once Stella was done. He tried to avoid getting sucked into things like that when he had Stella with him, something that most people were respectful of, but it was the holiday season and he was sure Stella wouldn't mind a few more minutes in Santa's presence. "Would you like to pay for photos?"

"Yes," he answered. He followed her over towards the photo station. As they walked, he said, "I'd like two copies of the photo too, please."

"Giving one to the grandparents?"

"No," Sidney said. He didn't hesitate to correct her, "Her other father. He couldn't come with us, but I think he'd like to have a copy too."

"That's sweet," she said. She looked over at the photographer, making sure that he had overheard the conversation. Before saying, "He must care for her a lot."

"He does," Sidney said. He thought about Claude and Stella on the phone earlier that month, watching the video of Stella's Christmas play together. He thought about Claude calling every other night to tell Stella good night, even on the nights when he had to make those calls during intermission. He thought about Claude's soft smiles and the way he always hugged Stella so tightly. "He really does."


"Maybe I'll just buy her all of them," Claude mused. "Then she'll have the complete collection."

"Do not buy her all of them," Sidney said.

He was walking through a toy store, his phone held up to his ear as he searched the aisles. Claude was doing the same thing in Philadelphia. They were both working on getting the last of their Christmas presents for Stella, wanting to make sure that all of the presents would get to Sidney's parents place before Christmas.

Stella was off with Charlotte, the two of them having a nice day together before Sidney and Stella left for Cole Harbour. Sidney wasn't exactly sure what they would be doing, but he thought Charlotte had said something about taking Stella for a spa day so he figured they'd both come back with brightly colored nails.

"Why not?" Claude said.

"Because you've already bought her a ton of stuff," Sidney said. "You don't need to buy her eleven Disney princess dolls to go with them."

"Okay, but if I wrap them all together than it's only one more-"

"No," Sidney said. "Period."

"You are so mean," Claude said. Sidney hummed instead of saying, content with the dig if it kept Claude from over doing it. He knew that Claude was going overboard because he loved Stella, because he had missed four of the Christmas' in Stella's life and wanted to make her first one with him in her life special, but there had to be a line somewhere. Stella got spoiled plenty throughout the year, by Sidney as well as by his family, the Penguins, and Charlotte. He'd always done his best to make sure that that spoiling didn't get out of control on gift giving occasions like Christmas or her birthday. Claude's intentions were good, but Sidney needed him to keep it reeled in. "Which three do you think she'll want?"

"Tiana, Rapunzel, and Jasmine," Sidney said. Aladdin had always been her favorite of the older Disney movies. She thought Belle was cool, but apparently talking tea cups weren't nearly as cool as pet tigers.

Claude hummed. Sidney heard him muttering under his breath for a moment before he said, "Okay, I found Jasmine and Tiana. Which one is Rapunzel?"

"The girl from Tangled," Sidney told him. Tangled was one of Stella's favorite Disney movies, but if she was watching a Disney movie she was far more likely to The Princess and the Frog. Claude had watched Tangled with them before, but not nearly enough to be as familiar with it's main characters as he was with Tiana and Naveen. "Blonde? Purple-pink looking dress."

"Oooooh okay." There was a quiet moment before Claude said, "Found her. Anything else?"

"Just that stupid dollhouse," Sidney said, turning into the aisle of the store that would contain the bigger items. He and Claude had both struck out in their initial searches for it, finding every store and online shop they visited sold out of the thing until after Christmas, so Sidney had gone a little further from home in his search for it. "At this rate, I think I might have to see if my mom can find one in Halifax."

"Does every girl in the country want this thing?"

Sidney looked at the space where the toy was supposed to be, completely empty, and answered, "It sure seems that way."


                                          

 

 

Chapter Text

                                          


 

"So I was talking to Charlotte earlier," Sidney said. He was walking down the sidewalk near Jonathan Toew's house in Chicago, holding his phone to his ear as he spoke to Claude.

It was early in the afternoon on the day of the Penguins and Blackhawk's game. He had gone to Jonny's place to have lunch since the two of them hadn't had much time together recently. Sidney felt a little bad for ditching the team, but Jonny was one of his closest friends and Sidney was happy to spend a little bit of time with him outside of a national tournament.

Jonny had offered to drive Sidney back to the Penguin's hotel, but Sidney had asked if Jonny minded if he went for a walk first.

He wanted to have a conversation with Claude and his hotel wasn't the best place to do that. The hotel would be filled with his teammates, who would either eavesdrop unintentionally or tease him for talking to his partner, and walking around downtown Chicago would mean getting stopped constantly. Jonny agreed, giving Sidney directions for his usual running path and telling him to just let himself back in the house when he was back from his walk.

"Okay," Claude said, sounding a little confused as to why Sidney was bringing this up. "Is Stella okay? Did she get in trouble at school or something?"

"Everything is fine," Sidney assured. "But I was thinking about what you texted me the other day and-"

"We really don't need to talk about this," Claude interrupted. Sidney's eyebrows knitted together. There was a note of something in Claude's voice that he was having a hard time identifying, something that he hadn't heard enough from Claude to pick up on right away. He wondered if Claude was trying to hurry him off the phone. Claude had sounded like he was fine to talk when Sidney had called, but was there something else going on that Sidney was interrupting? "I know that we can't take her out of school. I know that home schooling isn't really an option that we want to consider. But it just sucks when I'm home and I miss her, but I can't see her, you know?"

Oh, Sidney thought as fondness blossomed in his chest. Claude was embarrassed. He thought that what he had said was something ridiculous, something stupid that Sidney should have simply dismissed.

Sidney hadn't seen it that way. He'd seen Claude's text as an example of Claude's love for their daughter and how sad he was that she was so often ripped away from him.

"Well, we could talk about something else,but I thought you made a good point," Sidney said.

Claude was quiet for a moment before saying, "Really?"

"Yes," Sidney said.

"But she goes to school in Pittsburgh. She can't miss school just because I want her with me," Claude said.

"No," Sidney agreed. "But Charlotte and I were talking and she's willing to drive Stella up to you after she picks her up from school on Friday."

There was a quiet moment before he said, "You think this is a good idea?"

"Yes," Sidney said. "Charlotte is a part of this family and Stella and I love her, but as far I'm concerned it's better for Stella to be with her parents than to be with her nanny all the time. If there's a chance for her to be with one of us instead of alone with Charlotte, then I'd rather she be with one of us."


"Daddy!" Stella shouted as soon as the video call connected.

Claude was on the screen with her, Stella obviously sitting in his lap so that they would both be on the screen. Sidney could tell that they were sitting at the island in Claude's kitchen because he could see the living room behind them. He could see the back of Charlotte's head, tipped down to look at something in her lap.

The sight instantly brought a smile to his face.

"Hello, little star," Sidney greeted. "Hi Claude."

"Hello," Claude returned, smile widening just a bit.

"Daddy, guess what I did today!"

"I have no idea," Sidney said, since he honestly didn't. Usually when he was on a long road trip, he would speak to Stella in the afternoon as well as at bedtime, but today when he checked in with Claude over text message he'd been told that the two of them were doing something and in the end they'd decided that Sidney would just speak to them when Stella's bedtime rolled around. Sidney didn't have a problem with that. He trusted that Claude could take care of their daughter without his help and while he loved and missed his daughter, he wasn't so desperate to talk to her that he was going to ruin her time with Claude by demanding her attention. "What did you do today?"

"I got to coach the flyers today!" Stella exclaimed.

"Really?" Sidney said. He looked at Claude, asking, "Is that what you two were doing when I checked in?"

"Yeah," Claude said, nodding a bit. "She and Charlotte finished lunch up a little early, so they got to the practice rink before we finished. I was pretty focused on practice, so I'm not exactly sure how she got Dave wrapped around her finger but he let her blow the whistle and yell at us for a bit."

"Oh really?" Sidney said, amusement building. His daughter was a chatter box and a sweetheart, so people tended to fall to her charm pretty easily, but he wouldn't have imagined that Dave Hakstol would fall so easily. He supposed that was just because he hadn't interacted with the man much outside of his role as a rival's coach, however.

"Yes!" Stella said. "Claude and I led everyone in stretches too!"

"She mostly did it by herself," Claude added, sounding a little proud. "I just helped her remember what everything was called and made sure she didn't forget anything that we usually do during cool down."

"Well, it all sounds very fun."

"It was the best," Stella insisted.

"We had fun together at practice," Claude reaffirmed. "But you had fun with Charlotte before you came too practice too, didn't you? Why don't you tell Daddy what you did with Charlotte this morning?"

"Okay!" Stella said. Her easy agreement was a sign to Sidney that while whatever she and Charlotte had done probably wasn't as fun as 'coaching' the Flyers, it was still something that Stella had enjoyed. "Lottie and I went too a museum! But not a boring one, a cool one where I got to touch lots of stuff and ride on a merry-go-round!"

"Oh really? What'd you do?"

As Stella launched off on a detailed explanation of the exhibits at the hands on museum, Sidney found himself even more sure of his decision to have Stella stay with Claude this weekend. It had never really crossed his mind that two of them wouldn't enjoy the time together, but there was no one he loved as much as he loved them, save maybe his parents and sister, and seeing the two of them so happy made Sidney even happier.


 

                                          


Sidney was leaning against the boards, talking to Dumo and keeping one eye on the drills being run in front of him, when he heard Horny say, "There's a spy in our audience."

Glancing up in the direction that Horny was looking, Sidney found Stella coming down the stairs, taking each one with a bounce in her step, with a bright smile on her face. Claude was following after her, her school bag slung over one of his shoulders.

Since the Flyers had had the arena for early morning practice, Sidney and Claude had agreed that Claude would pick Stella up from school and bring her over to the arena as the Penguin's finished up practice. The two of them planned on taking her out for an early dinner, since they'd decided that Stella could come to the game despite it being a school night.

"Go ahead," Dumo said, noticing what Sidney was looking at. "Say hi before Sullivan has us run drills."

Sidney flashed him a small smile before pushing himself off the boards and towards Claude and Stella.

The two of them had reached the front row, Claude sweeping up to grab Stella and set her on his hip so she could see Sidney over the wall, so as Sidney grew close, he greeted, "Hey, you two. You're early."

"Hi daddy," Stella chirped.

"Hey," Claude said, smiling as he adjusted so Stella was settled more comfortably. "And yeah, I know we're early, but I didn't see the point in going all the way back to the house just to turn around and meet you over here."

"It's fine. I understand," Sidney dismissed. He had put Claude on the visitors list ages ago, double checking that it was okay with Johnston and then bringing it up with Sullivan when the Penguins switched coaches, precisely for occasions like this. Despite what Horny had said when he'd seen Claude, everyone had agreed that while Claude was their rival, he was also part of Sidney's family and he deserved to have the same permissions that everyone else's family had. "We're gonna be another thirty minutes or so, though. Just grab a seat until then."

"Will do," Claude said.

Sidney saw the way he looked behind him though, looking a little awkward and unsure of himself. There were a few other girlfriends and family members in the stands, people who had plans with other members of the team after practice, but Claude didn't know any of them and he'd spent plenty of time throwing fists at some of their partners. He could sit by himself, but he had Stella with him and it was likely that she would run off to speak to some of the other children anyway.

"Flower's wife is here with the girls today," Sidney said, drawing Claude's attention back to him.

"Estelle's here?" Stella said, face lighting up at the mention of the younger girl. Stella was friends with plenty of the other players kids, but Sidney's friendship with Flower and Tanger meant that she had had grown closer to their children than some of the others. "I haven't gotten to play with Estelle in forever!"

"I guess we'll go sit with them then," Claude said. He set Stella down on her feet, reaching out to grab her hand once she was settled. "Go ahead and lead the way, little star. We'll talk to daddy more once he finishes working."

"Okay!" Stella said. She didn't seem to care about Sidney at all now that playing with Estelle was on the table. "Bye daddy!"

"Bye," Sidney said, amusement in his voice.

Sidney watched as Claude let Stella pull him up the stairs, weaving her way through the seats towards the area where she could see Vero sitting with Estelle and Scarlet.

He didn't think anyone was going to be rude to Claude, but Claude was clearly nervous and Vero would be a good person to help ease those worries. Not only did Vero come with a baby that would keep her from focusing completely on Claude, but Vero and Flower were genuinely the nicest people that Sidney knew and he had no doubt that Vero would make Claude feel welcome.

"Sid!" Sullivan called out. "Get back over here! You're in."

"Coming!" Sidney answered.

He spun around, making his way back to the center of the rink so he could run his drills.


"Hey," Claude said, reaching out for Sidney's arm. The two of them were in Claude's rental, parked outside Sidney's house after lunch with Stella. She had already unbuckled the straps of her booster seat and scrambled towards the house, eager to get inside and show Charlotte the princess picture that she'd drawn. "Can we talk about something really quick?"

"Yes," Sidney said. He wasn't exactly worried about what Claude wanted to talk to him about, but he found it strange that Claude waited until Stella had left the car to bring it up. "What's going on?"

"Did you and Stella make plans for All-Star weekend?" Claude asked.

"I had a vague notion of going up to Vail," Sidney said, wondering why Claude was asking.

"Do you want to come to Nashville instead? I'm going to be there doing stuff, but it's not like I'm going to be busy the entire time I'm there," Claude said. He shrugged a bit, saying, "I just think it might be fun for the three of us to go together."

Sidney understood why Claude hadn't brought this up in front of Stella. If she had heard the offer, there would have been absolutely no turning it down. By asking without Stella around, Claude opened up the opportunity for Sidney to turn him down if he had already planned something.

It didn't matter either way given what Sidney's answer was, but he appreciated that Claude had had the forethought to take that into account.

"Nashville sounds fun," Sidney said. The smile that blossomed across Claude's face had warm affection filling Sidney's chest. He tucked forward, pressing their lips together in a quick kiss. When he pulled back and settled back in his seat, he added, "Your last game before the break is on the twenty-seventh, right?"

"Yes," Claude said. "We're in Washington."

"I'll be the done the day before," Sidney said. "Why don't you fly here when you can? Stella will still be in school so we can't come to Philadelphia, but we'll all get to spend a couple of off days together before you have to be in Nashville."

"That sounds great," Claude said.

This time it was Claude who leaned forward to slot their lips together.

Sidney would have been content to sit there kissing Claude for hours, but after a few seconds they heard a sharp, "Daddy! Are you coming inside? You can't keep Claude here just so he'll miss his nap and you'll win!"

Sidney pulled away from Claude, just enough to rest his forehead against Claude's instead. Both of them were laughing quietly. Sidney was having a hard time figuring out if he found it funnier that Stella thought Claude missing a pre-game nap was enough for the Flyers to lose or that she had so little faith in his ability to win against the Flyers without using some kind of underhanded tactic.

"Alright," Claude said, voice filled with his amusement. "You should probably head inside now."

"Yeah," Sidney agreed. He leaned forward to press their lips together in a quick peck before pulling away. "I love you. I'll see you later?"

"Love you too," Claude said. "I'll see you in the face-off circle."


 

                                                

                                                

 

Chapter Text


 

"Is he coming through those doors?"

Sidney glanced in the way that Stella had indicated before shaking his head. "No."

She made a loud, unhappy sound. "I'll keep looking."

The two of them were current standing in Pittsburgh International, waiting for Claude to make his way to them. The three of them were going to be spending a few days together in Pittsburgh before they flew to Nashville for Claude to participate in the All-Star game.

"Okay," Sidney agreed. It was past Stella's bedtime, but he'd let her come to the airport with him because he knew there was absolutely no way that she was going to go to sleep when she knew that staying up meant getting to see Claude. He hadn't seen a point to leaving her home and making Charlotte deal with a toddler refusing to go to sleep when he could just bring Stella with him and wait for her to pass out in the car after she got her Claude-hugs. He was starting to regret that decision, though. It'd been so long since he'd brought her with him for something like this that he'd forgotten how terrible it was to have a five year old in a busy airport, especially one that was eager to see the person they were waiting for. "You let me know next time you think you see him okay?"

"Who are we looking for?"

Sidney startled.

"Claude!" Stella shouted, twisting so Sidney let go of her hand.

"Hey sweetheart," Claude greeted. Sidney turned around in time to see him scoop down to grab her. As Stella wound her arms around Claude's neck and nestled against his chest, Claude said, "What are you doing here? Isn't it past your bedtime?"

"She knew you were coming. She wasn't going to go to sleep even if I had left her at home," Sidney said.

"I feel so loved," Claude said.

"You are loved," Sidney said, smiling a little bit. He stepped forward so Stella was trapped between them. He rested his hand on her back and leaned in so he could press a kiss against Claude's lips. It was just a quick peck, a soft press of their lips. When Sidney pulled back, he said, "I love you."

Claude smiled. "I love you too."

"Me too!" Stella chirped. She had been content to rest against Claude, but now she straightened up a bit. Sidney took a step backwards to avoid getting headbutted. "I love you too, Claude!"

Claude looked down at Stella, his smile growing wider. "And I love you too." He leaned forward, pressing his lips against her forehead quickly. Afterwards, he looked back at Sidney, "Could you grab my bags? I can't carry them and her."

"Yeah." Sidney dipped down, scooping up the bags that Claude had dropped in order to pick Stella up. It was just a backpack and a dufflebag, so Sidney slung the straps over his shoulder then inclined his head towards one of the doors. "I'm parked out that way."

"Alright," Claude said. He shifted Stella a bit, finding a more comfortable position for both of them, before nodding. "Let's head home and get this little one to bed, yeah?"

Sidney just hummed quietly as he started walking, a feeling of warmth and contentment spreading through him now that all three of them were together again.


"Oh, oh, oh!" Stella exclaimed. Sidney didn't need to glance at the mirror to know that Stella would be bouncing eagerly in her booster seat. "Can we please turn the radio up? I like this song!"

"I like this song too," Claude said, already leaning towards the radio.

Before he could reach the dial, Sidney said, "Do we really want her having a dance party? She's up late as it is. I'd prefer she go to sleep now."

"A dance party will tire her out," Claude reasoned. He didn't wait for Sidney to respond before grabbing the volume dial and cranking it up. It wasn't too loud, but it was loud enough that Stella certainly wouldn't be going to sleep. "Plus if she's not tired, it doesn't matter what we play. She's going to stay up regardless."

As he settled back against his seat, the first lyrics of the song started flowing out of the stereo.

Stella and Claude both started singing without missing a bit, "I thought that I've been hurt before, but no one's ever left me quite this sore."

Sidney glanced over at Claude. His eyes were closed as he sung and there was a small smile on his face. Light from the street lights outside came through the widow, painting bright lines against Claude's face. Glancing up at the rear view mirror, Sidney could see Stella swaying a little bit as she sung. Her attention was focused out the window, watching the other cars on the road. There was a small smile on her face and street lights reflected off her eyes, making like twinkle.

The radio was loud, but Sidney looked at the two of them and thought that there was something soft about this moment, about driving down the freeway in the middle of the night while Stella and Claude were singing loud and happy.

"Your words cut deeper than a knife, now I need someone to breathe me back to life," Stella and Claude continued.

Sidney had only been glancing at them, but now he focused entirely on the road. With a small smile on his lips, he tapped his thumb against the steering wheel as they started the chorus, "Got a feeling that I'm going under, but I know that I'll make it out alive. If I quit calling you my lover. Move on."

"I can see you're thumb Sidney," Claude said. He reached over, setting his hand against Sidney's knee and squeezing. "You might as well give in and sing with us." Sidney felt his smile growing, amusement heavy in his chest. "You know you want too."

Sidney didn't say anything, but as the second half of the chorus started he joined in with them, "You watch me bleed until I can't breathe. Shaking, falling onto my knees. And now that I'm without your kisses, I'll be needing stitches...."


Sidney woke up to a large palm placed on his shoulder, pushing gently, and Claude's voice a soft murmur as he said, "Hey, move over so I can get back in bed."

"You shouldn't have gotten up in the first place," Sidney objected, voice soft and heavy with sleep.

"Someone had to take our kid to school," Claude said. "And considering you've been on daddy duty without me for most of the school year, I figured it was my turn."

"It was absolutely your turn," Sidney said.

He heaved a heavy sigh before wrapping his arms around his pillow and rolling to his left. The bed dipped as Claude climbed into the bed with him. Sidney gave him a moment to get settled before letting go of his pillow in favor of rolling towards Claude and wrapping himself around him instead.

"Oh hello there," Claude said, amusement filling his voice as he shifted to accommodate Sidney.

"Hello," Sidney said. Without opening his eyes, he managed to maneuver so he could rest his cheek against Claude's chest. He could hear the steady thumping of Claude's heart. It was a strange, soothing sound and, combined with the warmth of Claude's skin, it felt a little bit like a lullaby luring Sidney back to sleep. "You turned my alarm off, didn't you?"

"I told you I took Stella to school," Claude said. One of his arms was wrapped around Sidney, palm spread wide against Sidney's hip. He had it resting right on the edge of Sidney's pajama pants, fingers tucked slightly into the waistband. "I didn't see any reason for you to wake up since I had that covered."

Sidney hummed, not really disagreeing. The alarm had only been set so that he'd get up and take Stella to school. "You could've at least told me last night."

"We were a little busy last night," Claude said, chuckling a little bit. Sidney hummed again, smiling a bit even as he kicked at Claude's feet in warning. His actions just made Claude laugh more.

"Shut up," Sidney said, turning to press his smile against Claude's skin. "I want to go back to sleep."

"Okay, okay," Claude agreed. Sidney felt Claude shifting before lips pressed against Sidney's head in a soft kiss. He murmured against Sidney's hair. "Do you want me to turn the alarm back on? So you can get up for your run in a little bit?"

Sidney shook his head the best he could given how he was laying. "It can wait."

"Kay." Claude brushed another kiss against Sidney's hair. "Sleep well."

"I will," Sidney said. He tightened his grip on Claude. "I always do when you're here."


"Guys," Sidney said, poking his head into Stella's bedroom.

Stella and Claude were sitting together on the floor. They were surrounded by several Barbie dolls and so many accessories that Sidney thought Stella must have upended her entire collection onto the floor with them. Stella was currently leaning forward, hands pressed against the floor to hold herself up, and watching as Claude tried to slip a small, delicate shoe onto one of the dolls.

"Guys," Sidney repeated, a little louder now that he was in the room with them.

Claude kept his eyes on the doll, brows furrowed in frustration as the shoe refused to slid on, but Stella looked over at him. "Yes, daddy?"

"Dinners ready," Sidney said. "It's time to clean up your toys and come eat."

"But we aren't done!" Stella exclaimed. "Krystal and Allison still aren't dressed for prom!"

"Well, prom is going to have to wait," Sidney said. He wondered, vaguely, where Stella had even learned about proms. Most of the shows she watched were cartoons and he didn't remember Sophia the First having a prom. A few royal balls, yeah, but not a prom. "You need to clean up and then come out to the kitchen so you can wash your hands."

She heaved a sign before saying, "Okay. Fine."

Sidney smiled at her for a moment before turning his attention to Claude, who was still focused on the Barbie in his hand. He hadn't so much as looked up at Sidney since he entered the room.

"Claude," he said. When Claude still didn't look at him, Sidney repeated louder, "Claude."

"What?" Claude asked, still focused on the dolls foot.

"What are you doing? It's a doll shoe, not a physics problem."

"I can't get it to fit," Claude said. "I literally watched Stella take it off one of the other dolls and now it won't fit on this one. Their literally the exact same and it won't fit on this one for some reason."I've been trying to do it for like three minutes now."

"Yeah, that happens sometimes," Sidney said, who was all too familiar with the strange tricks of dolls clothing. "Stop worrying about it and come eat dinner."

"But Stella wants Allison to wear these shoes to prom," Claude said.

Sidney's lips twitched a bit at how seriously Claude was taking this. "There isn't going to be a prom until after dinner, so you can just come mess with the barbie shoes after we've eaten."

Claude must have heard some of Sidney's amusement because when he looked up at Sidney, his eyes were narrowed slightly. "Are you judging me?"

"Absolutely," Sidney said. Before Claude could say anything, he added, "But sitting on the floor and taking our daughter's games so seriously paints you in a very endearing and favorable light."

"Well, as long as you're still endeared," Claude said. He set the Barbie down before pushing himself up to his feet. Once he was standing he reached his hands down towards Stella. "Alright, come on, Stels. Let's go wash out hands so we can eat all the gross vegetables daddy made."

"Ew," Stella said, grasping Claude's hands. He pulled her upwards until she was on her feet as well. "I don't want any vegetables."

"Me either," Claude said. "But we have to eat them or else daddy is going to feel bad because we didn't like what he cooked."

Stella thought about it for a moment, glancing over at Sidney, before saying, "Okay. I guess we don't want to make daddy feel bad."

"Absolutely not," Claude agreed.


 

Chapter Text

"Alright princess, what do you want to watch?"

Sidney glanced over to find Claude holding Stella's tablet. Stella's tablet had a simple black protective case, but she had covered that case in bright pink butterflies and stickers from the quarter-machines outside of their local grocery store. Stella was lifting up on her seat, hands braced on the armrest between herself and Claude as she peered at the screen. Sidney could see that Claude had Stella's media library pulled up. He was scrolling through it, screen tilted so Stella could see the episodes as they moved past.

The three of them were on a plane to Nashville, on their way there for Claude to participate in the All-Star game. They had taken off a while ago, but the pilot had only just made the announcement that they were clear to move around the cabin and pull out larger devices.

Sidney was relieved that Claude was getting Stella settled. It was better to get her settled in and occupied as quickly as possible. If they'd had to wait much longer, Stella likely would have started kicking up a fuss out of sheer boredom. She was a good kid, but she was still a /kid/ and doing nothing for long periods of time wasn't something that made her happy.

He would have done it himself, but Claude had beaten him to it. It was nice to see Claude doing things like this without asking him, to see Claude growing more and more comfortable in his role as Stella's other father.

"Barbie!" Stella said. "I want to watch a Barbie movie, please."

"Oh, good choice," Claude said. Sidney watched him click on the search bar. When the keyboard came up, he tilted the screen towards Stella and requested, "Could you type her name in for me? I'm not sure how to spell it, but it will be easier to find your Barbie movies if we search for her."

"I can do it," Stella said. She dropped back into her seat, freeing up her hands, then twisted so she could tap at the screen with one finger. As she clicked, she spelled aloud, "B-A-R-B-E-E."

"That's not right," Sidney said. Over the top of Stella's head, Claude caught Sidney's eyes and flashed him a smile. Sidney returned the look, then leaned into Stella's space. He tapped his finger against the back button, twice so that the last two letters were erased, and then leaned back. "Try again, sweetheart."

Stella face scrunched for a moment as she thought. Then she glanced back at Sidney, tentatively suggesting, "B-A-R-B-I-E?"

"Type it in," Sidney said, nodding a little bit. Looking pleased that she had gotten it correct, Sidney twisted around to tap the last letters in. When she had finished and clicked search, Sidney pressed a kiss against the crown of her head. "Good job."

"Thank you, daddy."

"Alright," Claude said, pulling the tablet back towards himself now that Stella had finished. "What do you want to watch? What adventure should Barbie go on today?"

"Pegasus please!" Stella requested.

"Alright. Why don't you get your headphones out while I load it for you?"

"Okay," Stella said. She bent down, grabbing her backpack from where it was settled under her seat. As she pulled it into her lap, she asked, "Daddy, where did you put my headphones?"


Sidney was leaning against the check in counter, half listening to Claude's conversation with the woman checking them in and half watching as Stella walked around the lobby while trying not to step on any of the lines separating the tiles.

It was only because he was watching her that he saw the moment that Stella's attention shifted from the floor to something off in the distance. He saw as her eyes lit up. He barely had time to move towards her, trying to stop what he could already see coming, before she was running off. As she darted across the room, he heard her shout, "Hey! Hey!"

Beside him he saw Claude startle at Stella's voice, his body twisting towards her, but Sidney already darted after her.

He weaved his way through the crowd, the hotel was relatively upscale but there was a lot of media around and a lot of fans staying where the players were.

Sidney managed to push through the throng and reach the relatively open area where the elevators were just in time to see Stella crash into Geno's knees. "Uncle Geno!"

"Oh, hello there," Geno said, smiling wide. He had been turned towards the elevator, obviously waiting for it to arrive, but now he was turning to look down at Stella. Sidney wondered, vaguely, how long Geno had been in the room with them. Given Stella's reaction to seeing him, though, Sidney figured it hadn't been very long. He wondered if Geno had come in through a different door in order to avoid the crowd out front, Sid knew his plane had been earlier and that Geno was likely already checked in, and Stella had just managed to catch sight of him before he could slip into the elevator. "What are you doing here, Stella?"

"Daddy and I are on vacation with Claude," Stella said.

Geno had already known that, but he nodded as if this was new information. "I see. That sounds fun."

"Yeah! They said that if I was good while Claude was working this weekend, we can go to the zoo before we go home," Stella informed him.

"Oh, that sounds like even more fun," Geno said.

"Stella!" Sidney said, voice a little sharper than he'd meant given his heart beating in his chest. He knew that Stella had only run off because she'd seen someone she knew, that she wouldn't have taken off like that for a stranger, but she had still run off and him and worry was pulsing sharply through his chest.

"Uh oh," Geno said. "Did you do something to make your Papa angry?"

"Yes," Sidney said, reaching them before Stella could answer. "She ran away in a crowded place."

"But I saw uncle Geno," Stella said, frowning a bit as she looked up at Sidney.

"And I am very happy to see you, little one," Geno said. "But your papa didn't know that when you ran off, now did he? And you probably scared him a lot."

"You did," Sidney said. "I didn't know you were going and I was scared that I would lose you."

"Oh." Stella's frown deepened before she shifted away from Geno, moving to wrap her arms around Sidney instead. "I'm sorry I scared you, Daddy."

"Thank you," Sidney told her. He set his hand on her head. "But you're still in trouble."

"No zoo?"

"That's a little extreme," Sidney said. "Maybe just no dessert after dinner."

Stella looked like she wanted to object, but instead she just buried her face against Sidney's knees. "Okay, daddy."

Sidney looked at her for a moment before looking up at Geno. He gave his friend a small smile, "Hey, G."

"Hello, Sid," Geno said, grinning at Sidney as well. "Didn't tell me you and Stella were in same hotel."

"I didn't know," Sidney said with a small shrug.

The elevator dinged behind Geno as it reached the ground floor. Geno glanced back at it before looking at Sidney, "Need to go grab my wallet for lunch with Kuzy, but we talk later this weekend? Maybe get lunch with Tanger?"

"Claude's going to be around," Sidney warned. His teammates had been supportive of his relationship, but it was one thing for them to know about it and another for them to be around it.

"Don't matter," Geno said, shrugging a bit. "You love him. I learn to like him."

"Okay," Sidney said. A smile settled on his face, happy with the knowledge that his friends were willing to try with Claude despite all of the bad blood between their times. "We'll get lunch with Tanger sometime this weekend."

"Good." Geno looked away from Sidney, glancing down at Stella. "Bye, bye Stella. I see you later, okay?"

Stella turned so her cheek was pressed against Sidney's shin, looking at Geno instead. "Bye, bye Uncle Geno."


"Daddy," Stella said, swimming towards Sidney. He'd gotten in the pool with her since her swimming wasn't the strongest and he didn't entirely trust her to keep the floaties she wore on, but he'd been mostly content to just wade in the pool and let her do her own thing as long as she didn't go to deep. As she came close to him, Sidney opened up his arms. Stella swam between them, wrapping her arms around his neck and then her legs around his waist. Stella already didn't weigh very much, but in the water holding her took absolutely no extra effort on Sidney's part. "I don't want to swim anymore."

It was the day after their arrival in Nashville.

The family had spent most of the day before together, mostly lazing around the hotel room given how exhausting flying was, but today was media day for All-Star weekend. Claude had had to go in to give a few interviews, leaving Sidney and Stella alone for the afternoon.

"Okay," Sidney said, wrapping his arms around her. He wasn't really surprised. They'd been in the pool for a while now and Sidney could tell that she had been getting tired. Probably not tired enough to actually take a nap, but definitely tired enough to want to do something other than swim. "You wanna go upstairs and watch some cartoons?"

"I wanna see Claude," Stella said.

"Claude's working," Sidney said. "We can't bother him."

Despite Sidney's words, he found that he wanted to see Claude as well. He was so busy during the season that he usually didn't have the time to think about how much he missed having Claude around, but after spending the last few days with him and with nothing to occupy Sidney, it was harder to push those feelings away.

Stella made an unhappy sound, resting her head against his shoulder.

Sidney shifted her in his arms so he could look down at his watch as he wadded through the water, moving towards the pool stairs. It wasn't quite lunch time yet, but with the type of day Claude had it wasn't likely that he would have a normally scheduled lunch break.

"How about we go upstairs and I'll text Claude while you watch an episode of Doc McStuffins," Sidney said. "And if he's got time for a break, we can go get lunch with him okay?"

"Promise?"

"I promise we can go if he's free," Sidney said. "But if he's busy you're just going to have to wait until tonight to see him, okay?"

Sidney wasn't really expecting that Stella would agree, so he contented himself with the way she hummed. It meant that she had, at least, heard him, even if there was no way that she was really agreeing with him.


Sidney was holding Stella's hand as they stepped into the room set aside for the All-Star interviews, but the second she caught sight of Claude sitting at the interviewing table she let go and sprinted towards him, shouting, "Claude! Daddy and I are here now!"

Claude had been looking at a reporter, but at the sound of Stella's voice he looked their way.

Sidney rushed after her, hoping he could scoop her up before she made it to Claude, but Stella ran up the small steps before Sidney could grab onto her.

"Hey sweetie," Claude said. Stella rushed across the stage to him. Claude scooped her into his arms and set her down on his lap, turned so she was facing sideways instead of looking out at the cameras in front of them. "What are you doing here?"

"She wouldn't sit down and watch another episode of Doc McStuffins," Sidney said, speaking from where he stood to the side of the podium. He could practically hear the reporters inner monologues as they tried to figure out where to have their photographers look - at Claude and Stella or at Sidney himself. "So instead of waiting around the hotel, I thought I would bring her over here and she'd settle down somewhere that she could see you until your lunch break."

"But instead she ran to me?"

"But instead she ran to you," Sidney said. He looked over at Stella, who was smiling wildly as she swung her legs. He told her, "You said hi to Claude. Now come over here. We'll find someplace to sit and you can color while we wait for him to finish work, okay?"

"But I wanna stay with Claude," Stella objected, pout on her lips. She looked up at Claude, eyes wide. "Please can I stay with you? I'll be really, really quiet."

Sidney took a deep breath, because he could see Claude looking at Stella's pout and he already knew that trying to discipline her would be impossible. Stella had a lot of people wrapped around her finger, including Sidney himself most days, but no one was as susceptible to her charms as Claude was. He was genuinely glad to have Claude in their lives, but sometimes he wished he was just a little less of a pushover when it came to their daughter.

Claude looked over at him again, saying, "I'm fine with her staying, but are you okay with her being in front of the cameras? This is a little more than her just being spotted with you somewhere."

"It's fine," Sidney said. Pushover or not, he knew that Claude would protect Stella the best he could. He'd keep control of the interview and make sure no one pushed any boundaries. And if they did, Claude wouldn't hesitate to call for security to get a reporter out of the room or to just grab Stella and leave before he was supposed to. "Go ahead. I'll wait for you two."

Claude hummed, turning back to the reporters, "All of you okay with my daughter staying?"

There was a murmur of agreement from the room.

"Alright," Claude said. He jiggled his leg a bit, telling Stella, "Okay, sweetheart, you can stay."

Stella let out a loud cheer. "Yes!"

 

Chapter Text

One of the assistants on the set had brought Sidney a chair, something that Sidney had insisted wasn't necessary but which hadn't stopped the woman from insisting that he take the chair since Claude's interview was scheduled to last a while longer, so Sidney made himself comfortable while Claude continued his interview.

It was supposed to be Claude's last obligation for media day, a Q&A with reporters from various different broadcasters, which was why Sidney and Stella had come to meet Claude in the first place. Since it was All-Star weekend, the questions were lighter than usual. The hardcore questions about the Flyers season were the kinds of questions reserved for after-game interviews. Asking too many serious questions during All-Star weekend just ruined the mood of the event and questions like that tended to get swallowed up while fans were busy laughing over the rare look into their favorite players silly sides.

"You're pretty outspoken about your love of grilled cheese," one of the interviewers asked.

"It's the best sandwich," Claude said.

There was a light spattering of laughter before the interviewer continued, "So what's the best cheese to use in a grilled cheese?"

"Honestly, I don't get too fancy with it," Claude said. "I use pepper jack or provolone sometimes, but mostly I just use Kraft singles."

"Sometimes we have tomato soup with our grilled cheese," Stella said. "That's the best."

Sidney glanced around the audience of interviewers, scanning for anyone having a negative reaction to his daughter speaking. He wouldn't hesitate to talk to one of the people running around organizing the thing if he saw anyone looking even slightly annoyed by his daughter. Usually he wouldn't interfere, but Claude had asked if they were okay with her staying and no one had said anything against the idea. They had no right to get irritated with his daughter, not after they'd been asked for their opinion.

Thankfully, no one looked bothered.

"Is grilled cheese your favorite food too, Ms. Crosby?" the same interviewer asked.

"Yes!" Stella said, nodding eagerly. "Daddy used to make it for me and I liked it, but now it's my absolute favorite because we only eat it when Claude is home and I love when Claude is home!"

Sidney saw the smile that took over Claude's face, wide and filled with affection. Claude ducked his head down, burying his face in Stella's hair and pressing a kiss against it. Sidney thought he saw Claude's jaw move, like he was whispering something, but he was speaking low enough that the microphones didn't pick it up and Sidney was too far to hear it without the mic.

"A question for both of you," another interview called out, "what are your favorite things to do together?"

Claude moved his face away from Stella's hair, setting his chin on the crown of her head instead. "Oh that's a tough one."

"I like when Claude reads me bedtime stories," Stella said. "Daddy tells good stories, but Claude does lots of voices and stuff! He's my favorite person to get bedtime stories from."

"I do love telling stories," Claude said. "But I think my favorite thing to do with Stella is watch movies. I spend so much time being active, training or playing in games, that it's nice to curl up with my favorite girl and relax for a little while."

"My daughter loves when I watch Inside Out with her," a reporter said. "What movie do you two like to watch together?"

"Barbie!" Stella said. "Barbie movies are my favorite!"

"And her absolute favorite Barbie movie is Twelve Dancing Princesses," Claude said. "Isn't it?"

"Yup!" Stella said with a sharp nod. "It's the best!"

Another reporter called out a question, but Sidney was only half paying attention at that point, having dug his phone out of his pocket so that he'd have something to do while Claude and Stella finished the interview.

Sidney would keep an ear out, just in case, but the reporters were playing nice and Stella seemed to be perfectly okay with being in the spotlight.

Claude was there for her if anyone stepped out of line, so Sidney felt more comfortable relaxing and taking some of his attention from her. Sidney would have jumped in without a second thought, but he knew that Claude would do the same and he would have someone torn apart before Sidney even registered what had happened.


Sidney sat back in his chair, taking a second to lean away from the rowdiness of the table and just enjoy the fact that he was surrounded by people who he considered friends.

They had spent the day before together once Claude's media responsibilities had ended. It had been a day for the three of them. They'd gone out for lunch at a small, but pricey family restaurant near the arena. There had been music flowing from the speakers in the restaurant and every time a Carrie Underwood song came on Stella and Claude both sung it so animatedly that Sidney was torn between amusement and embarrassment. Afterwards they went to a Treetop Adventure Park where the three of them had spent the later half of the afternoon following an obstacle course through platforms on tree. There was a zip line at the end that Stella had been absolutely terrified of doing until Sidney did it first so that she would know it was safe. When Stella grew tired, they went back to their hotel room and spent the rest of the night watching movies. Neither Claude or Sidney had been in the mood for Stella's usual picks, so instead they found a few children's movies that had come out in the past few months so that they could all see something new. They even ordered room service instead of going out for dinner. Stella had eaten her chicken nuggets while sandwiched between Sidney and Claude, completely enthralled by Home. When bedtime rolled around, they'd gotten Stella settled in her bed and then read her two chapters of the book they were reading instead of one.

Today, however, wasn't so insular.

After making sure Claude was okay with it, Sidney had decided to accept Geno's invitation to get a meal together since they were all in town. It was supposed to just be the three of them, Geno, and Tanger, but then Geno had invited Kuznetsov and Kuznetsov had invited Backstrom. Backstrom wanted to invite Holtby since he didn't want to leave the only other Capital out, but had been nice enough to ask Sidney if he was okay with that since he had a young child with him that might not be comfortable with so many strangers around.

Sidney appreciated it, but he wouldn't have minded if they had all came without asking anyway. He didn't know Kuznetsov at all, but he knew that Geno wouldn't have invited Kuznetsov if he was a bad person. And he didn't know Backstrom very well, but he knew him well enough to know that he wasn't a bad guy either and that he wouldn't mind getting to know him.

"Stella," Geno said. Sidney had been looking at the entire table, but now he focused in on Geno. "You've been quiet. What are you and Claude over there whispering about?"

Sidney had been caught up in a conversation with Backstrom for most of the meal so he hadn't noticed, but now that Geno had said something, Sidney realized that his daughter was being strangely quiet considering she was sitting at a table full of strangers and her favorite people. Normally she would have been chatting up a storm in that kid of situation, wrapping the strangers around her little fingers and making the people she already knew laugh.

Instead she had been quiet for most of lunch.

And now that Geno had pointed it out, he realized that every time he had looked over to check on her, Stella had been leaned in whispering with Claude.

"Nothing," Stella said, leaning away from Claude and straightening out. Claude made a face, something similar to a grimace, that made it clear he knew exactly how bad Stella was at lying. She looked over at Kuznetsov, who was sitting on her otherside, "Mr. Kuzy, can I try speaking Russian with you? Uncle Geno's been teaching me, but Daddy's Russian is really bad and Uncle Geno knows everything I'm saying because he knows everything he's taught me!"

Kuznetsov looked over at Sidney, asking a silent question.

Sidney looked at Claude, raising an eyebrow.

Claude stared back, a wide grin splitting his face. Whatever secret Stella and Claude were keeping, he wasn't going to give it up. At least not yet. Sidney would have liked to know what was going on, but Claude would tell him if it was the kind of secret that would hurt any of them, so he was content to let the two of them keep their secrets.

Sidney looked over at Kuznetsov, shrugging.

"Конечно, маленький," Kuznetsov said, looking down at Stella with a small smile on his face. Sidney remembered hearing Geno asking Kuznetsov about his wife and her pregnancy earlier in lunch. He wondered if Kuznetsov knew what they were having and if it was a girl. "Я был бы рад помочь вам."


Sidney stood on the ice, behind the bench the players were sitting on, and wondered what the hell he was doing down here.

He'd spent most of the festivities sitting up in the arena seating with the rest of the family section. He'd been talking to Catherine, who had a sleepy Alex sitting in her lap, while Stella had been playing a game with Daniel Sedin's son and Vladimir Tarasenko's step son, both boys were a little older than her but Stella bossed them around like nobodies business and Sidney was fine with letting her since she didn't appear to be doing anything more than just taking control of the game, when somebody from the stadium had come to get them.

Sidney had been confused and cautious, but Stella had given up her game immediately and declared that they had to go or else he would be ruining everything she and Claude had planned. Sidney had hesitated a moment, but then he'd grabbed her hand and followed the worker to the locker rooms.

When they got there, he found Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns wives waiting outside. When he asked what was going on, they told him that Claude had apparently had the same idea as their husbands. Sidney went to ask what that idea was, but before he could Stella had rushed forward and shushed them. The women had looked at her, expressions filled with amusement, and then promised that they wouldn't tell Sidney anything else. They had also shooed Sidney out onto the ice, telling him that they would help Stella get ready so that she could keep her secret until it was time.

Sidney had protested a little bit, but he knew both women - had interacted with them and their husbands at more than one Team Canada function during his time in the league. Claude wouldn't have planned anything with Stella that would get her hurt and he trusted that Sarah and Susan would keep her safe while she was with them.

"Next up for Team East, Claude Giroux from the Philadelphia Flyers," roared the announcer.

Sidney frowned, glancing around as Claude skated off the bench and to the center line. He couldn't imagine that Stella would want to miss Claude's turn in the Breakaway Challenge, but there was still no sign of her.

He was just about to return to the locker room when he glanced that way and noticed Sarah standing in the tunnel. Stella was standing in front of her, decked out in everything from a helmet to a Flyers jersey to a pair of black skates with bright pink laces. Her skates, Sidney realized. He wondered when exactly Claude and Stella had gotten those, if they'd managed to pack them without him noticing or if Charlotte had mailed them.

The signal went off for Claude's shot to start, but Stella had already skated out of the tunnel.

Sidney watched as Stella darted out, sweeping the puck out from in front of Claude, and headed towards the net.

Claude made a half hearted attempt at following after her, laughing as he followed.

Sidney didn't understand why they had kept this a secret, but he imagined that Stella had probably had fun planning the entire thing with Claude and Sidney had to admit that the entire thing was absolutely adorable. Especially when Claude caught Stella, right before the net, and wrapped his arms around here just in time for them to take the shot together.

Claude scooped Stella up off the ice, mindful of her skates, and peppered her mask with kisses as he skated back towards the bench, not even a little concerned about whether or not they'd made the goal.

Quick moved to make the save, but missed. It was so obviously intentional that it looked a little absurd and made Sidney smile even wider.


"Stella," Sidney shouted, watching his daughter dart around the arena's seats, "don't run down the stairs."

The night had progressed past the skills challenge and the first of the games. A lot of the younger children were flagging, content to sit by their mother's sides quietly with bobbing heads and sleepy eyes, but Stella was still going. Sidney figured it was because her time on the ice with Claude had gotten her excited, giving her more energy than she should have had this late.

"I'll be careful, daddy!"

Sidney opened his mouth to tell her that that was not what he said, only to be cut off by someone else saying, "That's not what Daddy told you to do, Stella." Sidney turned, looking just in time to see Claude drop into the seat beside him.

"Hey," Sidney greeted. "Good game."

"Mmm, it was fun even if we lost," Claude said. He glanced around them for a moment before asking, "Do you and Stella want to stay to watch the other two games? Or are you ready to head out?"

"I'd be fine either way, but I think we're going to be better off if we stay and let Stella use up all that energy." Sidney peered at Claude for a moment before asking, "Did you want to leave though? You've been the one participating in all this nonsense. If you're tired, we can head out."

"I'm good," Claude dismissed. "Kinda tired, but not exhausted or anything, you know? It's kinda tiring, but it's mostly just been fun nonsense."

"Claude!" Sidney looked away from Claude, watching as Stella bounded across the area. When she was close enough, she practically threw herself into Claude's lap and wrapped her arms around his neck. Claude raised his arms to hug her. "I'm sorry you lost. You're still my favorite player though!"

"Thank you," Claude said. Giving Stella a light squeeze, he added, "But it's okay since I get to spend the rest of the night with you and Daddy now. Hanging out together is going to be pretty fun, yeah?"

"Yeah!"

 

Chapter Text

                                                

                                                

                                                


 

"Excuse me sir."

Sidney had been looking at Stella and Claude, his partner was sitting in the window seat and Stella was in his lap. The scene might have been cute if it wasn't for the fact that Stella had her head tucked against Claude's shoulders as she sobbed. Claude was murmuring to her in French as he rubbed her back.

Now, though, Sidney looked away from the scene and towards the flight attendant crouched down next to his seat.

"Hi," Sidney greeted, forcing a smile. "We're sorry about this. I'm sure you're getting all types of complaints."

"Don't be," the man dismissed, waving a hand. "The men complaining are men who complain anytime they have to share space with a child." Sidney's smile went just a little more genuine at that. He always flew first class to avoid getting bombarded with autograph requests and more then a few old men had complained about Stella's presence, even when she was generally a good flyer. "I just came to see if there was anything we could do to help. Bubblegum maybe?"

"No," Sidney said, shaking his head. "It's not anything like that. My partner and I live in different cities and she's having a bit of separation anxiety."

Sidney had been surprised when Stella had burst into tears in the middle of the flight. But once they'd managed to coax out of her that she didn't want Claude to leave, he found that it wasn't all that surprising.

Stella was used to her parents leaving her for a while, but that didn't mean that she was always okay with it. Some separations were harder than others. And this one had clearly burrowed under his daughter's skin and dug into her heart in a way that others hadn't.

"Well, please let me know if you do need anything," the flight attendant said.

Sidney gave a small smile and a nod.

As the flight attendant straightened up and moved away from their seats, Sidney turned back to Claude and Stella.

"Sweetheart, it's okay. I have to go back to Philadelphia for a while, but I promise we're going to see each other again soon," Claude murmured. He moved his hand in a circle along her back.

"I don't want you to go," Stella answered. It had pretty much the only thing she'd said for the last several minutes, as if saying it enough would mean that Claude could come home with them once they landed instead of driving to Philadelphia.

"I know, I know," Claude said. "But if I don't go I can't play hockey. Don't you want to play with the Flyers, darling? You love the Flyers."

Stella stubbornly shook her head, or shook her head as best she could given that she was lying with her face against Claude's neck, and said, "I love you more than the Flyers, Papa!"

Oh, Sidney thought as he felt his heartbreak in his chest.

He wasn't upset that Stella was calling Claude papa, he knew how his daughter and Claude felt about each other, but he hated that the first time Claude heard her say it was when she was crying.

"Oh," Claude said, sounding like he was feeling the same mixture of happiness and heartbreak that Sidney was. He tipped his head down, pressing his lips against Stella's hair. "I love you too, little star."


Sidney settled down on his bed, lifting the phone up so he could see the screen.

"Alright," Sidney said as he made himself comfortable. He was careful to make sure he didn't move so much in his wiggling that he wasn't looking at the screen. He wasn't as upset about the separation as Stella was, but after a nice long weekend spent with Claude and an emotionally taxing journey home, he just didn't want to stop looking at Claude. "She's asleep properly now."

"That's good," Claude said, sounding much more exhausted when he usually did this early in the night.

Sidney thought it was probably a combination of physical and emotional exhaustion. Stella had stopped crying by the time the plane landed in Pittsburgh, but she'd been quiet and clingy and unhappy. The three of them had drove home together so that Claude could grab his car from the garage and drive back to Philadelphia and the tears had started up again as Claude was moving his suitcase into his trunk.

Sidney had had to physically pull Stella off of Claude so that he could leave, something that had resulted in Stella throwing a temper tantrum and screaming so loudly that Sidney was sure the neighbors heard her. Sidney wasn't exactly unaffected by Stella's behavior, but he had dealt with her like this before. Claude had never been around for one of her tantrums and it had clearly broken his heart to be the reason she was throwing one, to be the reason she was so sad and angry.

"How are you?" Sidney asked.

Claude was quiet for a moment before letting out a heavy sigh. "I hate seeing her cry, you know? But then I wanted to be happy when she called me Papa on the plane, but she was crying and it was so hard to get excited about that when she was crying and begging me to stay with you guys."

"You should let yourself be happy about it," Sidney said. "She wouldn't have called you Papa if she didn't mean it and you should let yourself enjoy that. I know how much you care about her and how much it means to you to have her call you something like that."

"I made her cry, Sidney."

"I've made her cry before too," Sidney pointed out. "It happens. You can't give your children everything they want, so something they cry and throw tantrums. It doesn't make you a bad parent."

Claude was quiet for a moment before saying, "This is all so hard."

"Yeah, but you have me to help you," Sidney said. "And all of the difficulty is worth it, isn't it?"

"Of course it is," Claude said. "I love you two. I wouldn't give you guys up just because things are difficult sometimes."

"We love you too," Sidney said. "And we wouldn't give you up either."


Sidney held Stella's hand, letting her pull him down an aisle filled with bright pink and red boxes.

Stella's class was having a Valentines day party on Friday. The two of them had spent yesterday decorating a shoebox to serve as a mailbox, Stella had wrapped the entire thing in a red wrapping paper covered in gold hearts before covering it in stickers and letting Sidney create a slit in the top for her cards to go in. Now they were buying the cards and candy that Stella would put in her classmates boxes.

Halfway down the aisle, Stella came to a stop.

She dropped Sidney's hand in favor of resting her hands on her hips as she stared at the packages in front of them, lips pressed together as if this was the most important decision of her life.

Sidney felt a sharp stab of relief at seeing her like this. Stella had been quiet and a little withdrawn in the days since they'd gotten back from Nashville. Sidney had stood-by thinking it would be better in the long run if Stella learned how to deal with her emotions, but it had been hard to see his daughter acting so abnormally. She was always so happy, bouncing and loud and energetic.

"What are you thinking, little star?" he asked, squatting down to her height. "Any of these catching your eye?"

"Well the Sophia the First cards look cool, but the Barbie ones are holographic and that's super neat," Stella observed. "But I don't think the boys in class will like either of those."

"Why don't we get two kinds then?" Sidney suggested. "You can pick one for the girls and one for the boys. That way everyone can get something that they like."

Stella was quiet for a moment, thoughtful, before nodding, "Okay!"

"So we'll get Sophia or Barbie for the girls," Sidney said. "What are you thinking for the boys?"

Stella hummed before saying, "We should get the baseball ones. The boys always play baseball at recess, so I think they'll all like the baseball Valentines!"

"That sounds like a good plan." With Sidney's approval, Stella reached forward and plucked one of the boxes off the shelf, one with professional baseball players on the front. "Alright then, do you know if you want Barbie or Sophia for the girls yet?"

"No," Stella said, shaking her head.

"Why don't we go to art supplies then?" Sidney said. Charlotte always helped Stella make a homemade card for Sidney when Valentines day came around. Charlotte had told him that Stella had plans to make one for Claude as well, even though Claude wouldn't be around for her to give it to him in person. "You can think about whether you want Barbie or Sophia and we'll come back grab whichever you want once we have what you want to make cards with."

Stella was quiet for a moment before nodding and reaching up to grab Sidney's hand again, "Alright, daddy."


"Happy Valentines!"

Sidney choked back the urge to laugh at the expression that crossed Claude's face, obviously surprised to find Stella answering the phone so long after her bedtime and thrown off-guard by being shouted as soon as the call connected.

Claude shook off the surprise, shocked features being replaced by a soft smile. "Happy Valentines, sweetheart. What are you doing up this late?"

"I made you a card, so Daddy let me stay up so that I could give it to you," Stella said. Without waiting for Claude's response, she shifted on Sidney's lap in order to grab the card sitting on the bed beside them.

Sidney took the opportunity to look over Claude's face, trying to determine how long a phone call this was going to be. Usually their nightly phone calls were a little long since it was usually the only time they could talk alone, but Claude had had a difficult game against the Rangers - which they'd ultimately lost - and Sidney was pretty sure that he would be eager to get in bed. Claude must have noticed what he was doing, because he gave Sidney a small, exhausted smile.

"Okay!" Stella said, sitting back up. "Here it is!"

Sidney was careful to move his phone in a way that allowed the card to get in the screen.

He'd seen it enough over the last week to know what it looked liked. Sidney's had been a heart made of red construction paper, but Claude's was made out of pale pink paper. Stella had covered the edge with crumpled up white tissue paper, making an effect that reminded Sidney of frosting on a cake. In the center, Stella had written, and Sidney could tell she had taken her time with it because the letters were neat in a way her writing usually wasn't, 'Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and I love you!'

"Do you like it?" Stella asked.

"I love it," Claude said, a wide smile settling on his lips. "Thank you, Stella."

"Daddy says we can't mail it to you because it might get ruined, so he's gonna put it in a super safe place with the one I made him and give it to you next time you come see us," Stella told him.

"That sounds great."

There was a moment before Stella asked, quieter this time, "Are you going to come visit soon, Papa?"

Claude's expression went soft as he answered. "Of course I am, sweetheart. I love you and Daddy far too much to stay away for very long."


               

Chapter Text

"Oh man," Claude said, unable to help the laughter that bubbled out of his mouth as soon as Sidney picked up the video call. He took in the exhaustion that seemed to have seeped into every line of Sidney's face, the hint of irritation and annoyance sitting under all of it. He might have been a little bit more concerned about the whole thing, might have wondered if Sidney was okay or if something was going on he would want to talk about, if he hadn't known what Sidney had spent the day doing. "You are looking a little rough, cheri."

"Yeah, well, spending an entire day chasing after ten five year old girls tends to do that," Sidney said. It was late and the house was dark around him, but Claude could tell that Sidney was making his way down the hallway the bedrooms were in. He wondered if Sidney had been checking on the girls, making sure that everyone was settled in Stella's room and no one wanted to change their mind about sleeping over. Claude remembered how his sister had come home in the middle of the night when she was supposed to have her first sleepover, having been unexpectedly terrified of being so far from home so late in the night. "Just wait until summer comes. She'll have a sleepover with her friends in Cole Harbor and you'll be there to suffer with me. You'll realize exactly why I look like this."

"I don't think you're lying," he pointed out. "I know how hard it is to run after Stella when she's all by herself. I can imagine how bad it is when there's ten of her."

"It doesn't work like that. There's ten of them, yeah, but they all feed off each other and it ends up feeling like there's twenty of them instead," Sidney said, "And it was a birthday party so there was cake and ice cream and more excitement then there is during a normal slumber party. It was chaos."

Claude hummed a little bit. He asked, "Charlotte was there to lend you a hand, wasn't she?"

"Yeah," Sidney said. "I'm not sure I would have gotten through the day without her."

"Good thing she was there then," Claude said. He genuinely liked Charlotte, she was a good person and a hardworker and clearly cared a lot for Stella, but sometimes he couldn't help feeling a little jealous of her. Not because he thought she was any kind of competition for his place in Sidney and Stella's life, he understood that they occupied different places in the family and in their hearts, but because she had been around for the first five years of Stella's life and was around to see all the things that distance made Claude miss. "I'm sorry I couldn't be there."

"It's fine. It was just a party. It's not that important, it's just an excuse for her to spend sometime with her friends and get more gifts," Sidney said. "You're going to be here for her actual birthday and that's more important."


"G!" Claude tossed his back into the backseat. He straightened up and shut the door before looking over his shoulder to see who had called out for him. Couturier, Schenn, Voracek, and Simmonds were making their way across the parking garage and towards him. Couturier looked to be the one who had spoken, a wide smile on his face and one hand raised to catch Claude's attention. "I know you're in a hurry today, but do you have a second?"

"Yeah," Claude said. "I've got a few minutes."

Their game against Columbus had ended little more than half an hour ago.

Claude had rushed through his post-game routine in order to get out of the arena. He was supposed to be making the long drive to Pittsburgh tonight so that he could spend the sixth, Stella's birthday, with her. Sidney would be with them long enough to have a birthday breakfast together, but he had to catch a flight to New Jersey for the Penguins game against the Devils. Claude was going to stay with Stella until she went to bed, at which point he'd pass the reigns off to Charlotte and drive home in time to catch up on his sleep before his game against the Tampa on the seventh.

"I promise we won't take very long," Couturier said. As they drew nearer, Claude became more aware of the flush that covered the younger player's cheeks. His hair was damp from the shower, but that hadn't been enough to knock away the glow that game with winning a game 0-6. "We just wanted to give you the presents we got for Stella."

Claude glanced between them, raising an eyebrow. "You guys got her presents?"

"Of course we did," Schenn said.

"I mean you've only met her a few times."

"Yes," Jake said, "but she's your kid, Claude. She's part of the family."

A warm bubble of affection settled in Claude's chest.

He didn't dwell very much on what Stella being Sidney's daughter and living in Pittsburgh meant for him, on what it meant that his daughter didn't live close enough to be around when he had the guys over for a video-games-and-team-bonding night or what it meant that she wasn't there to play with the other kids during team barbecues. He didn't want to think about those things because the last thing he wanted was to start resenting Sidney and his place in Pittsburgh.

Hearing that his friends had been thinking about that, though, and that they were trying to treat Stella in the same way that they would treat any kids that the others had, though none of Claude's close friends had kids yet, soothed some of those thoughts, though.

"I'll take the gifts," Claude said. His friends shifted immediately, each of them moving towards the bags on their shoulders so they could reach into them. Claude hoped that they had kept the gifts away from the sweaty clothes and hockey equipment they kept on them. "What did you guys get her?"


Claude placed his keys back into his pocket, shutting the front door behind him and stepping further into the house.

Moving quietly so as not to wake any of the occupants of the house up, Claude made his way down the hallway and towards the bedrooms. Though he was exhausted from the drive and more than ready for bed, he bypassed the door leading to his and Sidney's bedroom in favor of heading to a door further down.

Twisting the door knob, he pushed the door open lightly and peeked inside.

The pink and white curtains around Stella's bed had been drawn shut since she was sleeping, but there was just enough of a gap between them for Claude to see his daughter fast asleep in her bed. She was holding tightly onto Oreo, the stuffed bird only barely visible given the death grip Stella had on it.

Claude hadn't exactly been worried about Stella, especially since he'd seen her plenty of times on face-time since they separated, but there was a worry that came with being away from one's child for any amount of time, no matter how certain you were that they were with people who would take perfectly good care of them and how certain you were that they were okay. It was the kind of worry that was only soothed by seeing his daughter and sees with his own eyes that she was perfectly fine.

Anxiety soothed, Claude stepped backwards and pulled the door shut again.

He made his way back down the way he'd come.

As soon as he opened the door, Sidney stirred on the bed. Claude wasn't really surprised, used to the fact that Sidney slept lightly.

"Hey," he said, whispering. Sidney was drifting somewhere between sleep and consciousness, vaguely aware of what was going on but not quite awake yet. He wanted to reassure Sidney that things were okay without waking him up for real. "It's just me, okay? Go back to sleep. I'm gonna change and then I'll crawl into bed with you."

Sidney hummed a little bit. Then he let out a soft, sleepy, "Mkay." He shifted a bit, pressing further into his pillows and burrowing further under the blanket, before going silent and still again.

Claude couldn't help the soft, affectionate smile that he shot at Sidney.

He loved this man, even when he was sleepy and incoherent.

He'd come to Pittsburgh in order to spend their daughter's birthday with her, but he was happy for the chance to spend a night in bed with Sidney and see him in person for a little bit, even if it would only end up being long enough to have breakfast together before Sidney ran off to catch his flight.


"Daddy? Are you awake yet?" Claude stirred, pulled out of sleep by the soft words and the knock on the bedroom door that accompanied it. There was a quiet creaking as the door was pushed open, Stella not bothering to wait for Sidney's response, "I'm hungry and it's my birthday! So will you make me birthday pan-" She cut herself off abruptly. Claude found himself worrying about what she had seen that cut her off, but before he could respond to the worry, she screeched, "Papa!"

He barely had time to register the words, to feel the sharp burst of affection and pride and happiness that came with his daughter's new form of address for him, before he heard the sharp pattering of feel against the carpet. A moment later a heavy weight dropped onto him.

"Oh!" Claude slipped out, sitting up instantly. Stella was lying on top of him in a pair of bright pink fuzzy pajama pants and a black tank top with the Flyers logo on it, having thrown herself onto the bed with them.

"Papa!" Stella cried again. She wiggled around on the bed, moving so she was sitting on his lap and wrap her arms around his neck in a tight hug. "You're here!"

"Of course I am!" Claude said. He didn't feel quite awake yet, but being awaken so abruptly made it easy to shift gears and focus his attention on her. "You didn't think I was going to miss your birthday did you? Six is a big deal!"

"Daddy didn't tell me you were coming!"

"That's because it was a surprise," Sidney said. Claude looked away from Stella, glancing sideways to find Sidney sitting him beside him. Even given the extreme wake up call they had gotten, Sidney sounded just a little too aware to have only just woken up. Claude wondered how long he'd been awake and waiting for Claude. "Since Daddy has to go to New Jersey after breakfast, Papa's going to spend the day with you."

"I get to spend my birthday with Papa?" Stella asked.

The joy that lit up her face when they nodded had Claude feeling a strange combination of joy and sadness. He was happy that she was that happy about spending time with him, but he hated that they were in a situation where getting to spend the day with him happened so rarely that it was some kind of treat in her opinion.

"Why don't we go have breakfast before you start planning your day out, though?" Sidney suggested before Claude could find the ways to respond to Stella. "You want your birthday pancakes, don't you? It's the only day of the year when you can have them."

"That's not true," Stella said. "We have birthday pancakes on your birthday and Lottie's birthday! And now we can have them on Papa's birthday as well."

"Well, that's true," Sidney said, "but today is the only day when they're your birthday pancakes."

Stella pressed her lips together. Then she looked at Claude, asking, "Will you sit by me while we eat, Papa?"

"If that's what the birthday girl wants. Why don't you tell me about your party while Daddy makes us breakfast?"

 

Chapter Text

Sidney sat on the edge of Stella's bed, close by but giving her the space she needed to be alone on the phone screen.

When the screen lit up, Stella answered the call without hesitation.

"Hello!" she said, speaking with an accent that didn't exist in any country. Sidney had to bite his lip to keep from laughing at her. There was no doubt in his mind that Claude would see through the act the second he saw Stella, but he didn't want his daughter to yell at him for giving the game up too quickly.

Even with the distance, Sidney could see the amusement taking over Claude's expression as he caught sight of Stella. She was wearing a pair of novelty glasses, the kind with a comically large nose and thick black mustache attached.

"Hello," Claude said. A wide smile was splitting his face, a bright toothy grin and warm eyes. "Who are you?"

"I am John Jacob Jingleheimer-Schmidt," Stella said. When Claude let out a little chuckle, Stella's grin widened. Sidney hadn't really thought the prank would go badly, but it was still nice to see things working out like Stella had planned. "Who are you and why are you calling me?"

"Oh, you see, I was trying to call my daughter so that I could read her a story and tell her goodnight, but I must have dialed the wrong number." Stella hummed, nodding along as if she believed him. Sidney choked down another laugh. "I must have dialed the wrong number, though. I'm terribly sorry to have bothered you, Mr. Jingleheimer-Schmidt."

"It's okay, it's okay."

"Well, I'll just go ahead and hang up on you so I can try dialing the right number."

"There's no need for that." With every bit of dramatic flare and flourish that a five year old was capable of, Stella reached up to whip her disguise off of her face. Claude let out a loud, exaggerated gasp of surprise. Giggling, Stella exclaimed, "It was me the entire time, Papa! April Fools!"

"You are such a good actress! You had me completely fooled!" Claude praised as he raised his hands and clapped for her. Stella laughed more, the smile on her face growing wide with his praise, and gave a mock bow. "Good job! Bravo!"

Sidney gave them a few more moments of laughter before shifting close to Stella.

"I am so sorry to interrupt this, but little girls named Stella have to go to bed soon," Sidney declared. "So if they want their Papa to read them a story and tell them goodnight, then they're going to have to settle down and get comfy in bed."

"Daddy's right," Claude said. "We finished Lions at Lunchtime last night, right? I'll go to your bedroom and grab Polar Bears Past Bedtime while you you lay down and daddy tucks you in, okay?"

"Okaaaay!"


"Hey." Sidney had been looking down at his phone, biting his lip between his teeth as he scrolled through text messages from the team, but now he looked up to find Claude walking out of the visitors locker room. His boyfriend was smiling at him, but it was a soft exhausted thing. There was a quiet sort of anger and defeat in the slump of his shoulders. "You ready to go?"

Releasing his lip, Sidney nodded. "Yeah. If you are."

"I've got all my stuff," Claude said, lifting the shoulder his bag was on.

There was a silent moment, neither of them moving, before Sidney asked, "Are you sure you want to come over?"

They had been with each other after games against each other before, but none of those games had been with scores like this. One of them had never won with a four goal difference. And neither of them had ever beaten the other this close to playoffs, when Sidney was carrying the weight of a city expecting him to bring them home another cup and Claude was carrying the weight of a franchise with a forty-one year cup drought.

"Yeah. I still want to come over."

"Are you sure? Because if you aren't-"

"Sid." Sidney shut his mouth immediately. The look on Claude's face was a strange mixture of obvious irritation and exasperated affection. "I don't think I can properly explain to you how much I don't want to have this conversation. I really, really don't want to do all of this. What I would rather do, is see my daughter who I haven't gotten to spend more than a few hours with since January. I want to sleep in the same bed as you for the first time in months." Some of the irritation trained from Claude's expression, exhaustion overtaking it as his shoulders slumped. "I just want to go home, okay?"

"Okay," Sidney said. He reached out, grabbing Claude's hands and slipping their fingers together. He squeezed tightly as he repeated, "Okay. Lets go home."


"Hey," Claude greeted when Sidney picked up the call. "I just dropped the boys off. I'll be heading back to the house, now."

"Alright," Sidney said. He was driving back home from the Penguins final game of the season, alone since Claude had agreed to drop some of the Flyers off at a bar near Consol since they'd wanted to celebrate a win after several rough games. The Flyers-Penguins game had left Sidney feeling exhausted and wiped. Despite it having been the Flyers they lost to, hearing Claude's voice made the weight of it a little less heavy. It wasn't enough to make him forget how he had let the team down, enough to make him forget that they'd broken an eight game winning streak just before playoffs started, but it was enough for something in him to loosen. "I'm almost home now, so I'll definitely be there before you."

"I didn't get the chance to ask before I got dragged out of the arena," Claude said. "How are you feeling?"

"I've had better days," Sidney said.

"You shouldn't beat yourself up about it. You guys have been playing well. One loss in the regular season doesn't mean losing in playoffs." There was a beat before Claude said, "Though you will lose in playoffs, because after my team stomps the Capitals into the ground we're coming for you."

"Well, that's definitely not going to happen," Sidney said. A small smile was settling on his lips as he drove, more of the pain in his chest easing away as he focused on this moment, as he focused on the orange glow of the street lights and Claude's voice filling the inside of his vehicle, as he focused on getting back home where his daughter would be sleeping but wake the second he checked on her because she always knew when Sidney got home. "Considering we're going to win the cup this year."

"You keep telling yourself that."

"Sure. It's pretty easy to tell myself the truth."

Claude let out a laugh.

He didn't object to Sidney's statement, though. Instead silence settled over them.

Sidney was content with the quiet. It seemed to fit his mood better anyway. Claude wasn't enough to erase the burdens of the Penguin's captaincy, but he was enough to melt some of them away and leave Sidney in an awkward place between happy and upset where he was hovering. It made him more aware of his surroundings, made him pay a bit more attention to the things around him as he dealt with the weird float-y feeling in his chest.

"Hey," Claude said after a few beats. "You know that I'm going to be there for you regardless of what happens, right? I can't say I'm not going to be a little upset if I get knocked out before you, whether it's by you or the Capitals or the Rangers or anyone else in our bracket. But I'm still going to be around if you knock us out. I would still come and spend time with Stella while your jettisoning around the country, I would still be there in the stands for your home games, and I would still make-out with you like a teenager on the ice if you managed to win it all."

The softness in Sidney's chest grew squishier, filling with more warmth and affection for the man he loved.

"I know," Sidney told him, because he did. Hockey meant a lot to him, but it didn't mean as much as his family did, didn't mean as much as Claude and Stella did. He knew that Claude would be there for him, because he knew that he would be there for Claude. "And I'll cheer for you and wear ugly orange if you end up going further than I do."

"Oh well now I have to go further," Claude said, the mood lightning with his teasing tone. "I can't miss the opportunity to see you in Flyers orange."


"Daddy!"

Sidney barely had time to look up from his skates, having been focused on tightening his laces the way that felt most secure to him rather than the way the equipment managers did, before Stella was crashing into his knees.

He was caught slightly off guard by her appearance, but he wasn't surprised to see her. Stella coming to see him in the locker room before the first home game of a play-off series had been a tradition since she had been born. Holding his daughter in his arms before something that was so important calmed him down, had made it easier for him to steady himself and think about something other than what the playoffs meant not only to him but to every man in the locker room with him, to every person on their coaching staff and in their front office, to every fan in around the world who used spent their time cheering for them.

A soft 'oof' escaped his mouth as she collided with him.

"Hey there, little star," he said as he managed to get his arms around her. He lifted her up, a brief thought crossing his mind about how big she was getting and how she wouldn't want to be lifted like this very much longer, and set her down on one of his knees. "Are you having a good night so far?"

"Yeah! I got to talk to Papa early today. And Papa and Lottie said that I could have as much junk food as I want while I'm here since I used ate all my vegetables all week!" She rubbed her palm against her stomach in a circle, "I'm going to eat lots of stuff! Hot chocolate and hot dogs and nachos and cotton candy and-"

"And everything else in the arena too, I'm sure," Sidney said, amusement warm in his chest. He knew she wasn't going to end up eating even half of what she wanted, would likely end up with just some hot chocolate and a pretzel and some cotton candy, but he liked seeing how excited being in the arena made her. The arena was a second home for him, a place where he spent his nights and where he experienced some of his greatest highs, and he loved that his daughter loved it as much as he did. "Are you excited for the game? Or just the food?"

"I'm excited for the game too!"

"Even though I'm not on the Flyers?" he teased.

"The Flyers are the best team!" she insisted. "But Daddy is the best player!"

"Better than Papa?"

She was quiet for a moment, pursing her lips as she thought about the question.

"Not better than Papa," she said. "But Papa isn't better than you either! Daddy and Papa are both the best!"

"I can handle that." With his chest feeling warm and his shoulders light, Sidney wrapped his arms around his daughter in a tight hug. Stella didn't hesitate to reach for him as well, doing her best to wrap small arms around him. Voice quieter, pitched so the rest of the locker room wouldn't hear their conversation, "I love you, little star."

Stella snuggled against him as she answered, "I love you too, Daddy."

Chapter Text

"So," Sidney said.

"Sidney," Claude said, voice filled with all of the exhaustion and exasperation he felt. He was finding it very hard to avoid glaring at the man sitting in front of him. "We talked about this when I got home last night."

Having been knocked out of playoffs by the Capitals two days prior, Claude had made his way to Pittsburgh the night before to spend whatever time he could with Sidney in-between the Penguins playoff games and watch over Stella while Sidney was traveling.

The two of them had taken advantage of Sidney having that morning off to take Stella to school together before going out to breakfast.

Claude was starting to wish they'd just gone home, though. He didn't want to talk about losing at all, much less over a plate of what should have been fairly delicious pancakes now that he wasn't beholden to a strict diet. Sidney's chosen conversation topic was really souring the taste of the whipped cream and strawberry sauce he'd covered his pancakes in.

"For like....three minutes at two in the morning," Sidney said. "I don't think that counts as a real discussion about-"

"It's not the type of thing we need to have a real discussion about," Claude interrupted.

Sidney was quiet for a moment, clearly debating whether to push or not. When he spoke again, it was quieter, "I just feel like we should talk about this so that it doesn't....fester between us. I don't want us to spend every year hating at each other from April to July."

Claude let out a tiny sigh, setting his fork down on his plate. He focused on Sidney. "I can't say that I'm not a little jealous that you're moving onto the second round, but I'm not upset with you. None of what I'm feeling is directed at you. I'm frustrated and annoyed, yes, but none of that is about you. I'm happy you're getting to move on, even if I'm disappointed in myself for not helping my team do the same." Before Sidney could say anything else, Claude added, "The only reason I'm irritated with you is because I don't want to keep thinking about how I let my team down. I don't want you to keep mentioning it. I want to enjoy the time I have with you and Stella. I want to stop thinking about last season and focus on our family for a little while before I start thinking about next season."

"Okay," Sidney said. "I didn't think about it like that. I'll stop bringing it up."

"Alright, good." Claude was about to pick up his fork and start eating again when something occurred to him. Looking back at Sidney, he said, "However! All of this doesn't mean that I don't want to see Ovi's dreams crushed under your skates. Understood?"

Sidney let out a soft laugh, the mood at the table lightning with the sound. "Alright. I'll be sure to avenge you."

"You damn well better."


Claude walked into the living room with a large serving bowl filled with caramel popcorn and M&Ms. Stella walked in front of him, holding a large, plain plastic cup that was holding Claude's soda and a small pink cup covered in Disney Princesses that held her own. It was a bit indulgent for a Thursday night, they tried to save desserts for weekends and rarely let Stella have soda, but he didn't see any harm and giving Stella a treat in the middle of the week for a special occasion. Especially since she'd eaten all of her dinner earlier, likely in anticipation of being able to have a snack if she was good.

"Okay, princess, why don't set the drinks on the coffee table?" Claude directed.

"Alright!" Walking slowly and carefully so as not to spill the drinks in her hand, something he appreciated since he wanted to let her help but didn't want to explain a giant stain on the carpet to Sidney, Stella made her way over to the coffee table. She set the glasses down before straightening up. "Did it, Papa!"

"Yeah, you did," Claude said, holding a hand out for her. She smacked her palm against his in a high five. As she pulled back, he moved his hand to place it on her head. Pushing a bit, he said, "Now go sit down on the couch with Oreo."

Stella grinned up at him, tiny teeth shiny white and eyes sparkling and messy hair framing her face, before doing as she was told.

"You'll sit next to me, right Papa?" Stella asked as she threw herself on the couch. She was tiny enough that she bounced a bit as she did.

"Of course." Claude waited until Stella had grabbed Oreo off of the couch cushions, he had learned just how upset Stella could get when Oreo got stepped or sat on, before settling down next to her. He leaned over to grab the remote off the arm of the couch and flip the TV on, quickly changing the channel to put Sidney's first game against the Capitals on, before settling down against the cushions. With the game on and the popcorn bowl balance in his lap, Claude lifted his arm, "You wanna cuddle while we watch Daddy destroy the Caps?"

"Yeah!" Stella immediately shifted, moving to tuck herself and Oreo into Claude's side.

Claude couldn't help the warmth that spread through his chest as he put his arm around her.

He'd come to terms with the fact that he wasn't going to have a family anytime soon several years ago. He'd been too focused on hockey. It wasn't as though he never went out and met girls, but traveling as much as he did didn't leave much room for building a relationship much less the type of serious relationship that resulted in marriage and children. It was only made that much more difficult by his position as Captain, carrying responsibility than anyone else on the team and feeling the weight of their organizations dry spell in a way that no one else on the team did.

Coming to terms with it didn't mean that he didn't still want it, though. It didn't mean that he didn't feel incredibly lucky to have found what he had found with Sidney, that he didn't feel incredibly lucky to have met Stella and reached a point where he got to call her his daughter. It didn't mean that he wasn't so incredibly grateful for having become a part of this family.


"Daddy!" Stella exclaimed as Sidney came out of the locker room. Claude hadn't wanted to loose her in the crowd of wives, girlfriends, and children waiting for their husbands after the Penguins first home game of the series, so she'd been holding her hand to keep her from running off to play with someone without telling him. He let go as soon as he saw Sidney, though, letting her run at her father.

She was wearing a large Penguins home jersey with a pair of black leggings covered in little Penguins. She had a pair of bright yellow flats on her feet. Charlotte had helped her choose the outfit as well as helping Claude put Stella's hair in pigtails without pulling her hair. He'd helped his sister with her hair as a kid, but it had been a long time since than and her hair had been nowhere near as thin as Stella's was.

Claude had asked multiple times throughout the day if Charlotte wanted to come to the game as well, but she had waved him off. She had gone with Stella to two of the games during the Penguins first series and claimed that she was done with it until the finals came around.

Sidney had to have been exhausted after such a tough game, but his eyes lit up and a smile spread wide as he caught her in a hug.

"Hey, Little Star," Sidney greeted. Claude shifted closer to them. Sidney's gaze flickered away from Stella for a second, smile growing wider when he saw him, before focusing back on her. "Did you and Papa have fun tonight?"

"Yeah! We had hot dogs and french fries for dinner and I put loooooots of ketchup on mine! And then when right before the last period started, we got hot chocolate and cotton candy!"

"Oh that all sounds delicious," he said. As he shifted to hold her more securely, Claude moved a little closer to grab Sidney's hockey bag from him. He was sure Sidney could juggle the bag and Stella, but he felt a little safer taking the bag himself. Sidney must have felt the same way because he shot Claude a small, grateful smile. They fell into step together, making their way through the crowd. Some of the players and significant others mulling around gave Sidney smiles, but everyone seemed to understand that they wanted some time together because no one tried to stop them. "Did you like the game? Or just the food?"

"I liked the game too!"

"Does that mean I've earned my congratulation kiss?"

"Yes!" Stella leaned in, smacking a loud wet kiss against Sidney's cheek. When she pulled away she said, "Congratulations on winning daddy!"

Sidney turned once she had shifted backwards to give Stella her congratulations kiss, pressing his lips against her cheek in an equally loud and smacking kiss. "Thank you for cheering so hard!"

Accustomed to the tradition in a way he hadn't been when Stella had first presented it to him at Worlds last May, Claude leaned in to press a kiss against Sidney's cheek as well. "Congratulations."

Sidney turned towards Claude, pressing their lips together in a quick peck rather than going for his cheek. "Thank you for cheering so hard."


Claude fell backwards against the mattress, laughing as his back made contact with the comforter. Sidney moved quickly, climbing onto the bed, hovering over Claude on his hands and knees. There was a wide, playful grin on his face.

It had been hours since Sidney and the Penguins had won their fourth game against the Capitals, securing their place in the third round. They had brought Stella home and tucked her in before leaving Lottie in charge so they could go out with some of Sidney's friends to celebrate.

Neither of them had drank very much, not with Stella in the house, but they'd each had a couple of few beers and Sidney had even taken a shot that Geno had bought him. It wasn't very much alcohol, but it was enough for both of them to keep both of them flushed warm.

"Well hello," Claude said as he reached up, winding his hands around Sidney's neck.

"Hello," Sidney said.

Claude could feel the wide, goofy smile that had taken over his face. He had a sneaking suspicion that the affection he felt for Sidney was painted all over his features.

For a moment they sat like that, grinning at each other.

After a moment, things between them softened.

"I know I've said this already," Claude said, sliding his hand back to play with the curls at the nap of Sidney's neck. "But congratulations. I'm proud of you."

"Thank you," Sidney said. He pressed backwards against Claude's hand for a moment, practically keening under the attention.

Claude smile grew, pleased.

"We," he said, sliding his hands down to the space between Sidney's shoulder blades, "should have sex."

A loud laugh burst out of Sidney's lips, amused and affectionate. "Oh yeah? Even though you swore I wasn't touching you until I shaved?"

"I've decided that I love you enough to have sex with you even though you are growing a grotesque swamp monster on your face."

"Your descriptions of my facial hair are getting more dramatic."

"That's because you haven't shaved it yet so it's just getting worse," Claude said.

"Uh huh." Sidney leaned a little closer to Claude, brushing their lips together. Claude hummed quietly, tightening his grip on Sidney and shifting to get more comfortable. As gross as his facial hair was, it wasn't as bad against Claude's skin as it could have been. "Well, I'm glad you've found it in your heart to have sex with me despite how disgusting you find my facial hair."

"You should be. I'm really taking one for the team here."

Sidney laughed again, softer this time. "Sure."

Before Claude could think of another quip, Sidney was leaning in to catch his lips.

Claude was more than happy to shut up and surrender himself to the kiss.

Chapter Text

"Daddy!" Claude and Sidney stood together near the front door. Sidney had his away bag slung over his shoulder, getting ready to head to Tampa Bay for the third and fourth games of the Penguins series against them. They were talking quietly about the next few days, making sure they were both on the page about everything that needed to get done. Stella's wild shouting cut smoothly into the conversation, though. It was accompanied by the sound of small feet slapping against the floors as she ran through the house. "Daddy, wait! You can't leave yet!"

"I'm still inside, little star. You don't need to rush," Sidney said.

Claude turned, catching sight of Stella as she came sliding into the front entry. She was still dressed in her pajamas, a set of fuzzy dark blue footy pajamas with stars and moons covering them. There was a small hood attached to the onesie that Stella had had pulled over her head when Claude and Sidney had left her at the dinner table eating breakfast, but it had fallen off her head at some point. Probably while she was running across the house.

"What's up, sweetie?" Claude asked. There was a small part of him that was worried about what had set her off. She had been all but asleep in her cereal bowl when they'd left the kitchen. It was strange to see her so awake so suddenly.

"I was so sleepy that I forgot to give Daddy a good luck kiss!" Stella rushed down the rest of the hallway until she was in front of Sidney. She lifted her hands, demanding, "Daddy! Pick me up! I need to give you a kiss so you can win!"

"Of course," Sidney said. He swung the bag over his shoulder around so he wouldn't smack Stella in the face with it before crouching down to grab her. A soft puff of air passed by his lips as he lifted her.

"It's a good thing you remembered, Stels," Claude said as Sidney got Stella settled on his hip. "I'm sure the rest of the guys would have been very sad if Daddy had forgotten his kiss and made them lose." Sidney shot Claude a look. Claude just grinned at him. He hadn't put his fake tooth in that morning, he had worn it the first few times he and Sidney had been around each other but he almost never did when they were just spending the day at home now, but he didn't hesitate to flash Sidney all of the teeth still in his mouth.

"Exactly!" Stella exclaimed. She leaned in, pressing her lips against Sidney's cheek with a loud smacking sound. As she pulled away, she turned her body and reached out a hand towards Claude. "You have to kiss daddy now too, Papa. Playoffs are important!"

"Oh, of course," Claude said. As he leaned in, he teased, "Daddy needs all the good luck he can get if he's going to win the cup."

Sidney's lips quirked a bit, looking amused and annoyed all at once. "Oh really?

"Uh huh." Claude pressed his lips against the cheek Stella hadn't kissed. Before he pulled away from Sidney, he dropped his voice lower and said with sincerity, "Good luck."


"Just off the shores of Never Land a hideaway at sea," Stella sung. Claude looked up into the mirror to find her feet swinging and head bobbing as she looked down at the ipad in her hands. Claude hadn't wanted her bringing the one that was usually hers with them given that she was going to be using it while in the car, so she was using his instead of the one Sidney had bought her to play on while on plane trips. His had been relatively plain up for most of the time he'd had it, but he'd allowed Stella to place a few stickers on it since he had all-but moved in with the Crosby's. Currently it had a sparkly sticker of Sleeping Beauty as well as a dolphin and unicorn. "Yo oh! Yo oh! Let's go! Let's go!"

Claude was sitting behind the wheel of Sidney's SUV. He'd brought his own car when he came to Pittsburgh since he knew he was going to be there and he loved his own car far too much to spend the entire time driving one of Sidney's. But it was easier to take the SUV when he had Stella with him, though, since the alternative was to move her booster seat around every time they switched cars.

It was early in the morning and the two of them were on the way to drop Stella off at school.

"What are you doing back there?" Claude asked, even though he already knew the answer.

"Watching Jake and the Neverland Pirates," Stella told him.

"Oh yeah? Today's a Jake day? Not a Sofia day?"

"Uh huh."

"Well, I'm super jealous," he said. "That's my favorite show." A bit of an exaggeration, but he definitely preferred watching Jake and the Neverland Pirates to watching some of the other children's shows that Stella preferred. "We'll have to watch it together this weekend, alright? Daddy should be home on Saturday. He can watch it with us."

"Yes!" Stella exclaimed. She looked up from the ipad, a bright smile on her face. "Watching cartoons with you and Daddy is fun!"

"I think so too," Claude said. Lazy mornings with Stella and Sidney were one of his favorite things. As much as he hated some of the shows Stella loved, Claude was always happy to sit on the couch with Stella sandwiched between Sidney and himself. "We'll make an entire morning out of it, okay? We'll cuddle, watch some cartoons, and eat some chocolate pancakes, okay?"

"Can I have chocolate pancakes with chocolate chips in them?"

"Daddy might not agree with that," he told her. Stella's smile flickered. Claude felt a grin spreading on his face as he told her, "But I think the two of us can pout enough to change his mind. So chocolate pancakes with chocolate chips it is."

"Yes!" she repeated. She pumped her hands in the air, Claude's eyes tracked the motion through the mirror to make sure the device wasn't going to go flying. Her excitement was adorable, but he didn't really have any desire to spend the day in an Apple store in Pittsburgh. "You're the best, Papa!"

"And don't you forget it."


Sidney took one look at Claude, standing in the doorway between the hallway and the living room, before dropping his bag and letting his shoulders slump.

Claude didn't hesitate to make his way across the dark hallway. When he was close enough, he reached out to get his arms around Sidney and pull him close. Sidney fell into him as soon as he had his arms around him, slumping against Claude and pressing his face into the crook of Claude neck.

The Penguins had finished their fifth game against the Lightning, putting them down by one in the series with the Lightning only one win away from ending it. Even though the game had been in Pittsburgh, Claude had stayed home with Stella since it was a Sunday. Getting her in bed and prepared to wake up for school the next morning had seemed more important than attending the game.

Claude was starting to wish that they'd just taken their chances with a grouchy, sleep-deprived six year old.

He knew how heavy the burden of an NHL captaincy was in moments like this, knew how tough it was to feel the weight of the organization on your shoulders when playoffs came around and especially when you lost a game during post-season. A single match was enough for an entire city to turn against you.

He wished that he had been at the game to cheer Sidney on, wished that he hadn't let Sidney drive home from the arena with so many dark thoughts swirling around his head.

"You did well," Claude murmured against the skin right behind Sidney's ear. "You didn't just let them bulldoze over you. You put up a fight the entire time."

"I didn't put up a single point," Sidney said, his voice quiet and broken.

Claude tightened his hold on him. "Hockey's a team sport, Cros. You aren't the only person responsible. You played your fucking heart out. I know it wasn't enough tonight, but it will be, okay? You'll win the next game and the one after that too."

"You don't know that."

"I do," Claude told him. He lifted his shoulder, forcing Sidney to look up and meet his eyes. "I love you. I believe in you. It's your year, Sidney."

There was a long pause before Sidney took a deep breath. He seemed a bit more steady, like some of Claude's belief in him had strengthened him just a little bit. It wasn't a lot, but it was enough for him to pull himself back together even despite the burden he still carried.

"You know," Sidney said, voice still soft but not quite as broken, "it's going to be your year eventually."

"Yup." Claude rubbed a hand down Sidney's back, pressing a kiss against Sidney's hair. "But this year is yours."


"I don't wanna go to sleep," Stella objected. Her complaints didn't hold quite as much power given the soft, sleepy quality of her voice and the way her head rested against Claude's shoulder. "I wanna stay up with you guys! I wanna celebrate!"

"We can celebrate tomorrow," Sidney said. He trailed behind Claude, Stella's backpack over one of his shoulders and her blanket folded over his arm. "Papa and I already decided that you don't have to go to school tomorrow. We can go out for breakfast and then we can go play in the park for a little bit."

It was late on the night of the 26th.

Though the Penguins final game against the Lightning had fallen on a Thursday, but considering how important the game was and how close they were to the end of the school year Sidney and Claude had decided that it wouldn't hurt to let Stella go to the game.

It had been a fun night, filled with cheering and laughter and far too much sugary food for a weekday, but now it was practically Friday and things had wound down.

Stella's bedroom was dark since Claude was too busy balancing Stella in his arms to hit the light switch and Sidney hadn't bothered with it since they were putting her to sleep, but there was a lightness in the atmosphere. It was sleepy and slow, but warm with affection and the leftover excitement of the night.

"Can I have pancakes for breakfast?" Stella asked.

"You had pancakes the other day," Sidney told her. He dropped her bag on top of her dresser before following Claude over to the bed. Stella was already wearing pajamas, having chosen to wear them to the game given that they were covered in Penguins, so Claude laid her down on the bed. "You can have waffles though."

"Mm okay, daddy." Stella shifted on the bed, grabbing Oreo and then reaching out for the blanket Sidney had put on the bed next to her. Claude smiled as she cocooned herself in it, wrapping herself tightly within it. "Kisses, please."

"Of course." Sidney leaned down, smoothing some of her hair from her forehead before placing a kiss there. "I love you, little star. Goodnight. Sleep well."

"Night night, daddy. I love you too."

Once Sidney had pulled back, Claude leaned in to brush his lips against her cheek. "Good night, baby. I love you."

"Night night, papa. I love you too."

 

Chapter Text

"Daddy!"

Sidney turned just in time for his daughter to fling herself into his arms.

Steadying himself under her weight was a little more difficult when he was on skates as opposed to solid ground, but Sidney had spent enough time on ice skates over the course of his life to be better than most. He wobbled, but managed to catch her without falling over.

"Hey little star!" Sidney said, grinning so wide his face hurt. His heart was pounding with the adrenaline that came with winning a Stanley Cup, a feeling he was familiar with from his first cup win but didn't think he would ever get sick of, but having his daughter in his arms settled something inside of him. He felt less wild and more grounded. It let him soak up the joy of the moment in a way that he hadn't been able to before.

"You won the cup! You won the cup!" Stella cheered.

"I did!" He grinned at her as he said, "And I wouldn't have been able to do it without all of your support and good luck kisses."

He thought about the first time that he'd won the cup. He thought about the older guys on the team shoving drink after drink into his hand, cheering wildly for him to chug and patting him on the back for his part in their season. He thought about the moment that he'd seen Celeste across the bar and how he'd felt brave enough to talk to her. He thought about taking her back to a hotel room with the alcohol warm in his blood and celebrating his win with her in his bed.

He thought about her coming to him weeks later, tracking him down despite how difficult that was in order to tell him she was pregnant. He thought about the long, long conversations about what to do. He thought about how he'd been lost but so excited to have a child. He thought about those months were he waited anxiously for their daughter to be born and how holding Stella in his arms had instantly pushed winning his first Stanley Cup down to his second favorite memory.

As Stella tightened her arms around his neck and pressed herself closer to him for their hug, Sidney spotted Claude picking his way across the ice. Unlike Stella, he wasn't filled with the kind of carelessness that let children run across ice without any concern for safety and he was glancing around as if he thought they were going to bring the cup out at just the right moment for Claude to trip onto it, thereby flaring one of the league's most intense paranoia and ensuring he would never win a cup of his own.

"Claude!" Sidney said. He pushed a bit to meet Claude halfway, unable to stay in one place.

"Hey," Claude said as they drew close to each other. Sidney was sure that Claude wished it was him on the ice celebrating a cup win, but there wasn't any resentment in his eyes. Instead he was smiling widely and his eyes were sparked with happiness. "Congratulations!"

"Thank you." Shifting Stella so she was settled on his hip, Sidney reached out to pull Claude close to him. Claude moved easily, tucking himself under Sidney's other arm. He leaned down the best he could, his skates made him just tall enough for him and Claude to fit together a bit more awkwardly than usual, and pressed their foreheads together. "Thank you for being here. Thank you for supporting me."

He thought of how Claude had stood beside him throughout the playoff season, had stayed by Sidney's side even though Sidney's cup run continuing meant that Claude was losing a dream of his own. He thought about how Claude had handled every snippy, stressed out, angry night that Sidney had had while trying desperate to handle the burden of the Penguins captaincy. He thought about how Claude had taken care of their daughter throughout the last few weeks while Sidney was pushed around the country.

Claude hummed a little bit. He tipped forward to press their lips together quickly before murmuring against them, "You don't have to thank me. I love you."

"I love you too."

 

He didn't think he had ever been as happy as he was in this moment, with the knowledge that all of his career goals were coming true for the second time in his life and that this time he was celebrating it with the two loves of his life - Claude and their daughter.