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"What did you think about Snowy's behaviour tonight?"

Sid stares blankly at Rossi and wills the words into making some kind of sense. He's pretty sure Snowy didn't get into any scraps, certainly none that would warrant any attention. "Erm," he hedges. "She was great, always good to have her, have the support."

He feels Snowy thump her tail happily onto his foot and gives her an affectionate nudge back, enjoying the flood of warmth through the bond.

Rossi still looks unimpressed. "I think we were surprised," he prompts. "To see her being so friendly with Giroux."

Sid just about chokes on his own tongue. "What?"

"You know," Rossi says, making a vague gesture with his hand. "The playing."

Sid wonders wildly if Rossi's having a stroke. He glances at the other reporters, but none of them look like anything out of the ordinary's going on. Potash gives him a sympathetic smile like the question's a tough one.

"I didn't— I'm not— I don't think I saw that," Sid stutters, trying for diplomatic. There's been some sort of mistake here. Maybe they mistook Giroux for Max, or maybe they misread Snowy's behaviour. "Sometimes, you know, playing and aggression, they can be pretty similar for wolves."

Rossi gives him a dubious look.

"It looked a lot like playing," someone adds helpfully from the back of the scrum.

"Well," Sid says, trying to keep his voice mild. "Because I didn't see it, I can't say for sure, but I'm— yeah. I don't think it was playing."

Rossi still looks sceptical, but something in Sid's face must convince him to drop it. "Sure," he says finally. "Thanks, Sid."

 

 

As a rule, Sid doesn't pay much attention to whatever the media's asking after. Reporters are looking for stories, and if the stories aren't there then they'll make them up. Sid doesn't resent them for that - they've all got a job to do - but he certainly doesn't have to give them a second thought.

It's a full twenty minutes after the scrum's over then, that a sliver of doubt creeps in. It was a ridiculous suggestion; Snowy's over-protective to the point of dangerous, more likely to take an opposing player's fingers off than to try to play with them. Only it's— Rossi said it was Giroux.

No. There's no way.

It wouldn't make any sense. If Snowy was going to start acting out about the whole Giroux thing surely she would have done so last season, when Sid was blushing every time he caught Giroux's eye, when every reminder of that night had him burning up with embarrassment. That was almost a year ago now. Sid's chilled out, he's moved on, he can look at Giroux without feeling the rough drag of his stubble on his neck and turning bright red.

There's no reason at all for Snowy to suddenly start being weird about it. But it's not— it's not impossible.

Sid narrows his eyes at Snowy, where she's chewing on his skate laces. She looks up innocently, sending waves of the kind of satisfied happiness that he's come to associate with a hard-earned win. Right.

 

 

When they get back to the hotel, Sid pulls up the game.

Duper pokes his head out of their bathroom, groans, and chucks a towel at him. "Sid, I'm begging you," he groans. "No more hockey. I need, like, one hour that's hockey-free."

"I wanna check something," Sid says distractedly.

"Jesus Christ, I'm asking for a new roomie," Duper grumbles, as he heads back to the bathroom. He's been saying that for months though so Sid's pretty sure either he doesn't mean it or he's had his request rejected.

It takes a while to find the game. He tries to watch it on fast-forward, but he keeps getting distracted by the Flyers' powerplay and he was missing stuff anyway so he ends up just settling in to watch the whole thing. He likes watching the Pens win anyway.

Duper mutters some more unflattering things under his breath when he makes a reappearance, but after a few half-hearted grabs at the remote, he gives up. "What are you looking at anyway?" he asks, yawning.

"Snowy," Sid say, wincing as he watches Tanger ding one off the crossbar. "Rossi said she was up to something with the Flyers."

Duper huffs a laugh and shakes his head. "You're gonna need to get her a muzzle if she doesn't calm down."

Sid frowns at him, and gives Snowy's ears a rough fondle where she has her nose mashed into his thigh. Yeah, she can be a bit aggressive, but only when the other team are crossing a line. He'd never put her in a muzzle. She slobbers on him affectionately, and Sid keeps stroking her head.

It's Duper who spots it.

"Woah, woah," he says, sitting up suddenly. "Back up. Right there."

"What?" Sid asks. He fumbles for the rewind button, bashing Snowy's nose in the process.

"Look," Duper says, voice caught somewhere between surprise and laughter. He's pointing unhelpfully at the television. "By the benches."

Snowy's on the ice the way she often is after a goal. It makes her hard to see, her blurry pixelated body nearly the same colour as the ice, but Duper's right, she's padding across the ice to where Giroux's doing lazy circles of the face-off dot. Giroux clearly eyes her as she approaches, but he seems relaxed as she starts snuffling happily at his hand.

Sid stares. He blinks then stares some more. Shit.

When Snowy's apparently satisfied herself that Giroux smells alright, she backs up, goes down on her front legs and thumps her tail happily. She's asking to play, Sid thinks numbly. She's asking Giroux to play. Mercifully the camera chooses that moment to pan back towards where a pixelated Sid is arguing with the ref.

Sid closes his eyes, and his heart drops, leaden, into his stomach.

"I know I'm not an expert," Duper says, barely keeping the laughter out of his voice. "But that looks like playing to me, bud."

Sid ignores Duper to turn and glare at Snowy, projecting as much hurt outrage as he can. Snowy stares back at him with large, soulful eyes, moving to nuzzle at his cheek. Sid shoves her off the pillow.

"Giroux?" Sid says, hoping the shock covers everything else that's going in his chest. "Are you kidding me?"

Snowy jumps off the bed and stalks off round to Duper, who's busy cackling like a hyena.

Sid gapes at her.

Snowy sprawls her bulk onto Duper's legs, and he begins rubbing her belly. "You're just a big softie aren't you, you baby?" he coos, still snickering. "Yes, you are. You just want to play with nice Claude Giroux."

Snowy makes a happy rumbling sound, and Sid scowls furiously. What the fuck.

"Fine then," he snaps at Snowy. "You can sleep with Duper."

She ignores him, but Duper stops laughing and heaves a sigh. "Look, Sid," he says, awkward the way he always is when he's trying to be nice in a way that doesn't involve chirps and friendly punches. "It's not a big deal. Ovi's wolf used to be all over Geno."

He did, but the Russians are just like that. It's different, and Duper knows it.

"Whatever," Sid says, hating how childish and petulant it comes out. He flicks off the television and begins getting ready for bed, throwing his clothes into his suitcase with more aggression than is necessary. He's way too worked up to sleep, but he's not in any sort of mood to talk to be talking.

It's stupid. It's not fair to be pissy at Snowy; she's smart, but she's still a wolf. She struggles with object permanence, let alone concepts like one-night-stands and feelings-that-are-best-ignored.

Somehow, though, knowing that it's not fair doesn't make the anger and the irrational betrayal any easier. Snowy's supposed to be on his side, to have his back, always. She's supposed to look after him, not embarrass him live on national television.

It's a half hour or so later when he's fuming under the cover that he hears Snowy pad over to the bed. She tries to nuzzle softly at his toes, and Sid kicks at her muzzle. It glances off harmlessly, but it's enough to have her padding back over to her cushion in the corner, whining softly and leaking sadness into the bond.

 

 

Sid wakes to cold feet. It takes him a second to remember why there isn't a large furry hot water-bottle on his legs, then it hits him with a flush of guilt.

He waits until Duper leaves for breakfast, then pats the bed next to him. "Snowy," he sing-songs quietly.

Snowy sits up, ears twitching, then bounds happily over to join him. She forgives so easily, and it only ever makes Sid feel worse about himself.

He wriggles around on the bed until they're lying face to face, Snowy's muzzle bumping gently against his nose. He props his chin up on his hands and stares at her for a few seconds, trying very hard to project what he's feeling.

She stares back, radiating sleepy contentment.

"I'm sorry," Sid says earnestly, because even if she doesn't understand, it's important that he says it. "I just wish you hadn't been all"—he pulls a disgusted face—"like that with Giroux."

Snowy looks back at him steadily, tail thumping steadily on the bed and breath huffing out to tickle Sid's nose. It smells grim, but that's not the point.

"It's not— he's—" Sid breaks off and tries again. "I know you like him, but it makes people notice and think things and stuff. We don't want that, okay?" He pauses and swallows. "I don't want that."

There's not a hint of understanding in Snowy's golden eyes.

Sid blows out a sigh and rolls onto his back. This is his fault. Of course, this is his fault. Or maybe it's Giroux fault for being all funny and unbearably smug and making Sid's heart flip over in his chest. Whatever it is, it's hardly Snowy's fault.

Snowy leans over and licks his nose.

"Thanks, girl," he says patting weakly at the scruff of her neck.

 

 

Snowy's behaviour is perfectly normal against Dallas and Arizona, then all through their Canadian roadtrip.

In Washington, she earns Sid a fine from Player Safety for ripping a chunk out of Steckel's jersey, but that's fucking Steckel and he deserves it. Sid tells the media that they're working on Snowy's aggression, tries to at least look mildly apologetic, then goes home and feeds her a raw steak.

Snowy devours the steak with gusto then covers Sid with wet, snuffly licks. It's times like this that he wouldn't change her for the world, his totally unmanageable, monster of a wolf.

 

 

By the time they're next playing the Flyers, Sid's somewhat relaxed. He gives Snowy a firm talking-to before the game and resolves to keep a wary eye on her, but he's not too worried. Last time was probably just a one-off. Sid didn't exactly have his head on straight, adjusting to new teammates, new linemates, and halfway through a scoring drought, so it was no wonder that Snowy had struggled.

This time will be different. The Pens are finally clicking; they're cutting through the league with a six-game win streak, and now they're facing the Flyers at home. If ever there was a time for a blow-out victory, this would be it.

The Flyers slip the puck past Flower only minutes after the puck drops.

It only gets worse from there. Stevie takes a bad boarding that has him headed down the tunnel, and the game swiftly descends into chippy chaos; Kubina's cross-checking Sid every time he turns his head, the Penguins can't seem to make a pass connect, and they've spent what feels like the whole game on the backcheck.

Sid's a bit distracted then when, midway through the second period, he looks over the bench to see Snowy trotting over to Giroux. The panicked adrenaline that surges through him has him seeing the whole thing in awful slow motion: Snowy's less tentative this time, bounding happily around Giroux's legs and nuzzling amicably at his jersey. In any other situation, the look of total bewilderment that crosses Giroux's face would be hilarious, but right now, Sid's too busy being fucking mortified to find it much of anything.

"Hey," Jordy says from next to Sid. "What's Snowy doing?"

Sid opens his mouth, and nothing comes out. What Snowy is doing is rolling onto her back, fluffy belly to the roof, tongue lolling out like she's asking for scratches. Giroux's shock is beginning to look a whole lot like laughter, and Sid is going to kill his wolf.

The whole bench has noticed now, and from the laughter that's echoing across the ice from the Flyers' bench, he's pretty sure they have too. Thank fuck it's a commercial break so at least the cameras aren't rolling, but he just knows that there'll be dozens of blurry videos on YouTube.

Jordy elbows Sid. "Dude, you should probably do something," he says more urgently.

Sid nods mutely. He's not yelling for her - can't yell for her, he'd never live it down, and he's not sure he trusts his voice anyway. Instead, he screws up every jot of panicked mortification and pushes it furiously through the bond. It's the psychic equivalent of yelling in someone's ear, and Snowy jumps up like she's been stung. Mercifully, she turns tail and skitters back to Sid, paws sliding on the ice.

The moment she's within reach, Sid hauls Snowy bodily down the tunnel, as much as it's possible to haul an animal that weighs almost as much as he does. The guys are varying degrees of unhelpful, Colby clapping him awkwardly on the back while Tanger and Duper snicker together on the bench. Snowy goes willingly enough though, giving him sad eyes and pangs of - almost - wistfulness.

"Do not give me that look," Sid hisses at her furiously, heart still pounding in his chest. "You're— I'm gonna get you a collar and a lead."

Snowy bares her teeth and bites irritably at his fingers, and that's just infuriating. She has absolutely no reason to be pissy.

He jerks her over to where Dana's watching nervously. "She's not allowed back on the ice," Sid says, trying not to snap. Dana doesn't deserve that, and he would probably start refusing to sew Sid's jock back together.

Dana swallows. "You got it," he says. "I'll just..." he trails off nervously when Snowy raises her hackles and pulls back black lips.

He'll be fine. Snowy wouldn't actually hurt anyone on the Pens. Sid shoots one last glare at her - she ignores him - and turns to head back over the boards, ignoring the jeers from the Flyers.

Giroux smirks at him across the faceoff, smile broad and brown eyes laughing. "Snowy missing me?" he asks, as the ref lines up.

Sid's face burns. He fumbles the puck, Giroux easily flicking it back to Timonen and taking off down the ice. Sid curses and takes off after them.

Fuck this, fuck Giroux, and fuck the fucking Flyers.

 

 

The thing is, Sid isn't totally lacking in self-awareness.

Maybe he was once, but he's had Snowy for almost five years now; it's no good ignoring your emotions when you're psychically bonded to a ninety pound wolf with no concept of self control. He'd learnt that the hard way.

"Emotional honesty," is what the trainer had called it. Sid doesn't think that's fair, because it's not like he used to be dishonest. It's just that he used to kind of tuck things away, when they were complicated or boring, or he'd just rather be focusing on hockey. Now, he has to deal with them.

So Sid knows he likes Giroux, likes him in a way that's much more than fleeting thoughts about shoulders and hard checks. It's kind of embarrassing, but at the same time he's not sure how he was supposed to avoid it.

Giroux's brilliant at hockey, fast and physical and exhilarating to play against. He's bitingly mean, quick and clever in a way that leaves Sid staring after him, flustered and swearing. He's good-looking, too, not just hockey player well-built but genuinely, stupidly handsome, with the eyes and the stubble and that smile.

No one has ever got under Sid's skin like Giroux does. It's infuriating, and it's addicting, and Sid's never known how to handle it.

He does know it was stupid to let himself find out what it feels like to have that smile all to himself, warm and laughing, to find out how Giroux sleeps with his mouth half-open, how his hands feel in Sid's hair. Alcohol-tinged and excruciating as those memories are, they're not going away anytime soon.

So yeah, Sid doesn't know why Snowy's picked now of all times, but he does know exactly why she's doing this.

 

 

They lose the game.

To really cap off a disastrous night, the Flyers score an empty-netter in the final minute. Sid watches helplessly from the bench as Giroux crushes Hartnell into the boards, face lit with triumphant laughter that's drowned out by the screams of the crowd. He tells himself he's only jealous of the win.

Sid sits through half an hour of media availability, giving increasingly strained answers until Jen takes pity on him and herds the reporters from the room. Then he begins the rounds: visiting Stevie in the trainers' room - pulled his calf but should be back after a few days' rest; checking in on Flower, slumped gloomily over his pads; and thanking Dana for taking care of Snowy.

Eventually Sid can collapse back into his locker and stare mindlessly at the logo in the centre of the floor. It's sideways from this angle, beak pointed at him accusingly. He's not sure what it's accusing him of: maybe captaining his team to another loss against the Flyers; maybe that awful turnover in the third; maybe letting his wolf slobber all over Giroux. God, Sid hates losing, and losing to the Flyers is worse than most. It shouldn't matter. Sid shouldn't let it matter.

Snowy pads over from where she's been lying in the jersey bin. She likes it there; Sid suspects she finds the smell of the team comforting, especially after a loss, when the room is full of anger and frustration.

"What am I going to do about you, eh?" he asks her, as she props her head on his thigh. Sid buries his hand in her thick winter coat and scratches gently at her neck, and she thumps her tail on the floor and rumbles in a way that probably means Sid is forgiven.

Okay, he has four weeks before they next play the Flyers, before they next play Giroux. He can work this out.

 

 

Ideally he'd just stop liking Giroux. That would solve the Snowy problem and save Sid a lot of dealing with uncomfortable feelings besides. Sadly though, Sid's been trying that for a year now, and he doesn't think he's suddenly going to figure it out in the next month.

There are leashes and collars. They were fairly common when Sid started out: sometimes requested by coaches to keep the game focussed, sometimes mandated by Player Safety,  sometimes just chosen by the player. Mario had often leashed Lawrence during chippy games. But Snowy hates being leashed, and Sid hates doing it. It's not— they're supposed to be equals. He's as much Snowy's as she is his, and leashes never feel right.

Training might be an option. He managed to housetrain Snowy just fine, or mostly fine - she's trained now anyway, and he's paid the Lemieuxs back for the carpets. How different could training her to stay away from a particular player be?

Sid explains all this to Flower, who makes unsympathetic noises and demolishes him at SOCOM.

"So your plan," Flower says, trading out his shotgun for an assault rifle. "Is to make Snowy more"—he pulls a growly face—"and hope that she goes for Giroux and not anyone else."

Sid frowns at him. "I don't want her to go for him, just not be so, you know, friendly."

"Was there not a fine?" Flower asks pointedly. "Last week? For not being friendly enough."

"C'mon, that was Steckel."

Flower shrugs. "Whatever you say," he says. "But I do not think that wolf needs to be any less friendly."

Sid watches as Flower's character jumps out from behind a wall, and little tinny gunshots ring out. Flower curses and beats a hasty retreat. The thing is, he's not wrong about Snowy. She's calmed down a lot from their first year - is long past the days of tearing up Derian Hatcher's arm - but she's still on thin ice with DoPS. The absolute last thing he wants is for her to get the wrong idea, to start being more aggressive with opposing players.

"Fine," Sid groans, slumping back into his chair and rubbing at his face. Snowy's ears prick up where she's dozing in the aisle, and she presses her head sleepily against the side of his leg. "What am I supposed to do then?"

Flower rolls his eyes, possibly at whatever's going in the game, probably at Sid. "You're overthinking this. She's, like, a smart dog. Maybe you're not giving her enough bellyrubs. Just work out what she wants and give it to her." He pauses, and his brow furrows comically in concentration.

There's another round of gunfire, and a yell from other side of the plane. "Ah, casse-toi!" yells Tanger.

Flower hoists himself up in the chair to face his foe, elbowing Sid in the process, and cackles obnoxiously.

Sid ignores them. He's got a terrible feeling that Flower might be right about this, and even worse he knows exactly what Snowy might want.

 

 

Getting Giroux's number is relatively easy. He puts up with Max laughing at him for nearly a full minute, listens to a probably exaggerated story about his new Olympian girlfriend, and promises to take him out to dinner when he's next in Philly.

Calling Giroux is harder. It's not that he can't talk to guys on other teams; he gets on fine with most of the league, even Ovechkin, and he's never really gone in for the media rivalry bullshit. It's more to do with the fact that the last time he spoke to Giroux off-ice was when he was stammering out a mangled thank-you-that-was-fun-see-you-later and tripping over himself in his haste to get out of Giroux's apartment.

That was a year ago, though, and there's no way Giroux's given it as much thought as Sid has. It's not a big deal. Or at least, if it was then it isn't anymore.

Sid keys the number in slowly and stares at the screen so long that it turns black, and he has to retype it. Fuck, he just needs to just get it over with. He presses call.

Giroux picks up fast. "Hello."

Sid swallows. "Um, hey, it's Sid—"

There's no response.

"Sidney Crosby," Sid clarifies awkwardly then winces. Why is it that the moment he's within Giroux's vicinity, he becomes incapable of communicating normally.

"Yes, I guessed that," Giroux says, tone unreadable.

Sid flushes and is extremely glad that no one can see him. "Right, yeah," he says. He takes a breath. "Look, I've got a favour to ask." He pauses. Giroux doesn't hang up so Sid takes that as tacit permission to plough on. "Snowy likes you - my wolf, Snowy. I don't know why, but she likes you, and I think she wants to say hi off the ice." God, that sounds so stupid. This whole thing is so stupid. "Just to, like, play some ball for half an hour."

There's a long moment of staticky silence. Sid braces himself for the dial tone.

"You want me," Giroux says slowly, "to hang out with your wolf." He sounds more incredulous than hostile, which may be a cautiously good sign.

"Erm, yeah. Yeah. No more than an hour. You saw last time, I think she just— just wants to play."

There's another long silence. Sid fidgets, picking at the penguin charm on his phone. Taylor stuck it on over the summer, and Sid's been trying to get it off ever since.

Giroux huffs out something that might be a laugh, might be a sigh. "Sure," he says finally. "Why the fuck not."

"Oh," Sid says, and he doesn't know what he was expecting, but not something this easy. "Thanks. I'll— I'll text you about times."

"You do that," Giroux says then hangs up abruptly.

Sid stares at the phone. Okay, right.

 

 

The next time they're in Philly, Sid escapes from the hotel the afternoon before the game. He catches a cab with a cap pulled down low over his eyes and wearing the only non-Penguins hoodie in his wardrobe. It's hard to go incognito with a large white wolf on his heels, but if the cab driver recognises him, he doesn't say so. Maybe he thinks Sid's a veteran, maybe he just doesn't care for hockey. Either way, his eyes stay on the road and, after a brief double-take, his expression stays bored.

Sid gets out a few streets from the park Giroux suggested and walks the rest of the way. He spends most of the walk debating whether he should turn around and flee to the hotel. He probably would back out, except that Snowy's either sensed or smelled something, and she keeps trotting ahead then looking back expectantly, and Sid doesn't have the heart to let her down.

When he arrives, the park is mostly quiet. There's a small, fenced-off playground with a few children and parents milling around, but the space is large enough that Sid can keep his distance. He finds a bench, pulls down his cap, and begins half-heartedly throwing a tennis ball around for Snowy.

Apparently wolves don't usually go in for playing fetch. Mario certainly never seems that impressed by it, but by the time he found out it was too late. It's good for Snowy anyway, especially before a game, helping her get out some of that energy.

A few minutes trickle by, Snowy chasing the ball over the park, throwing up little clouds of dead leaves wherever she goes. Sid valiantly resists looking around for Giroux every ten seconds. Maybe this is the wrong park. Maybe Giroux isn't going to turn up. Maybe this is all a twisted ploy to throw Sid off his game this evening. He's just about decided to give it up as a bad job - Snowy's disappointment be damned - when a familiar figure appears on the other side of the park.

Snowy spots him first, pausing with the ball in her teeth, head cocked and ears twitching. Then she drops the ball and lopes off towards Giroux, her excitement ricocheting through the bond. Sid watches with a kind of resigned horror as she bounds up to him, jumping up to put her paws on his chest and pushing them both over in her enthusiasm.

That's actually pretty funny. Sid smothers his smile as Giroux pulls himself up and walks over, still fending off Snowy's energetic affection. He's got grass stains on his knees and looks like he's regretting the whole thing already.

"The fuck is wrong with your wolf?" Giroux asks irritably, Snowy still circling him with happy little jumps.

Sid wants to snap back that there's nothing wrong with her because fuck Giroux, but now she's nuzzling affectionately at Giroux's hands, and that's pretty clearly not normal behaviour.

"Yeah, erm," Sid begins then runs out of words. This was such an awful idea, why does he ever listen to a word Flower says. "Like I said, she likes you."

Giroux stares at him. "She likes me?"

It's kind of impressive how much disdainful disbelief he can pack into three syllables. Probably the accent helps but still.

"Yeah," Sid says. "I mean, yeah."

There's another beat of silence. "And why does your wolf like me?"

Sid can feel himself threatening to turn red. "I don't know!" he lies. "I'd stop her if I could."

Giroux still looks unimpressed. "I thought you were all"—he waves a finger around next to his temple—“linked up. How can you not know?"

"It's not like that. Wolves are just... they do stuff sometimes."

"Wolves do stuff sometimes," Giroux repeats disbelievingly. "That's your big explanation."

Sid shrugs helplessly. There's no way he's telling Giroux the real reason.

"So nothing to do with me fucking you senseless."

"You were not that good," Sid protests.

Giroux eyes him sceptically but then he squats down now next to Snowy, rubbing his hand through her thick coat while she snuffles at him contentedly. "You know," he says, and now there's something like amusement in his voice. "This is really not my problem."

Sid sticks his hands in his pockets. "Yeah," he says weakly.

"I should turn around and let you deal with your fuckin' weirdo wolf."

That's probably what Sid would do if he were in Giroux's shoes. He shrugs and hopes he doesn't look as desperate as he feels.

Giroux rolls his eyes. "Pass the ball."

"What?"

"The tennis ball," Giroux says, holding out his hand expectantly.

"Oh, sure." Sid tosses it over, trying to hide his relief.

Giroux catches it one-handed, still petting Snowy with the other. Then he turns back to her, and she's so contagiously happy that Sid's finding it very hard not to smile. "You want it?" he asks softly, holding the ball in front of her nose. She fixes her eyes and wags her tail excitedly. "Go on then," he says and hurls the ball further into the park. Snowy leaps off, showering them both in leafy debris.

"You owe me," Giroux says, as he stands up, brushing off his jeans, and moves to join Sid on the bench. "Big time."

Sid nods grimly. He's going to have to cut down on some of the wrist slashing.

 

 

Snowy seems to calm down a little when she's established that Giroux is going to be sticking around. She stops charging about like she's being chased and settles into something more akin to her normal routine, occasionally losing interest in the ball to sniff at interesting-looking trees or to pounce on suspicious patches of grass.

"Isn't she, like, four by now?" Giroux asks archly, while she's stalking a leaf around the field.

"Four next year." Then, because Giroux is actually doing him a favour, Sid adds sheepishly, "She's always had a lot of energy."

Giroux shakes his head. "I've seen dogs that are more wolflike than that wolf." He pauses. "Though dogs are usually better trained."

"She's not that bad," Sid protests. "Just you wait."

"Wait?" Giroux snorts. "For what? 'Til you've managed to stop her going after every rookie who breathes at you wrong?"

Sid glares at him. "They're harder to train than you'd think. When you get yours, you'll see."

Immediately Giroux's face twists in a way that Sid can't begin to interpret, and Sid's stomach sinks.

"Sure," Giroux says, features settling into something like irritation. "When I've got a mine."

Sid opens his mouth to respond, then thinks better of it. He's not sure what Giroux's deal is - everyone and their mom knows Giroux's going to be captain when Pronger hangs up the jersey - but there's something brittle in his voice that Sid does not want to be poking at.

They sit in silence for a few minutes. Snowy's found something, possibly an interesting smell, and Sid's getting a low hum of contented interest through the bond. At least someone's enjoying themselves. She must sense something from Sid though, because she soon loses interest in the smell and trots back over to them to nudge hopefully at the ball.

No matter what he thinks of Sid, Giroux is clearly not immune to large amber eyes. He grabs the ball and hurls it off into the long grass.

"Baseball?" Sid guesses. It seems like a safe conversational gambit; it's very hard to mess up sports talk.

Giroux gives him a look, half still pissed, half reluctantly amused like he knows exactly what Sid is doing. "Nah," he says, then clearly decides to take mercy on Sid. "Hockey and bowling for me."

"Bowling?"

"I was great for a while," Giroux says. "Olympic standard."

Sid's ninety percent sure Giroux's fucking with him. He doesn't think they even play bowling at the Olympics. Then again, curling is kind of bowling, on ice and with more skill, and it's not like he ever pays that much attention to the Summer Olympics. He stares at Giroux suspiciously.

Giroux breaks into a grin, broad and smug, like he knows that Sid can't call him out on his bullshit. Whatever, at least he's not mysteriously pissed anymore. Sid's mostly just trying not to let the way his heart's flipping from showing on his face.

 

 

They hang around the park for another half an hour, until the sun's beginning to set and Snowy's lying on Sid's feet panting happily.

It's nice. They stick to sports, to hockey outside of the Atlantic Division, and Sid manages to avoid putting his foot in mouth. He hasn't spent time with Giroux before, not properly; they've talked but not like this, sober and amicable and just the two of them. It's fun, having Giroux's particular brand of acerbic commentary directed at someone else, shared with Sid rather than aimed at him; getting Giroux's eye-crinkling smile all to himself.

Maybe it's more than fun. If Sid was wanting his whole Giroux thing to go away anytime soon, this may actually have been a really bad idea, but he can't bring himself to regret it just yet.

"Thanks, for this," Sid says, when they've started the short trudge back to the edge of the park, Snowy padding at their heels, still buzzing with wolfy contentment. "I get - day before a game - you'd probably rather not be playing fetch. It was good of you."

Giroux laughs, and weirdly it sounds more like he's laughing at himself than at Sid. "To be honest," Giroux says, looking at him sideways. "When you called, I thought you wanted to fuck."

Sid trips over his own feet. "What?" he splutters. "Why would you— ?"

"Looked like you enjoyed it last time," says Giroux, looking way too amused.

"Well, yeah," Sid says, because he did and it's not like he can get any redder. "But I wouldn't— I would just ask."

Giroux arches a sceptical eyebrow, which is fair. Sid had actually planned on never mentioning or acknowledging it again unless maybe he was post-Cup blackout drunk. They reach the edge of the park, and Sid stops abruptly.

"Wait." He's been slow, but he's pretty sure he's not reading this wrong. "You thought that, and you still came out to see me."

Giroux shrugs, and he's still smirking, but for a second it looks a little less confident. "Maybe I thought you owed me a blowjob."

Sid stares at him. His throat is suddenly very dry. "Maybe I do."

Giroux goes wide-eyed then bursts out laughing. "Fuck's sake, Croz," he says, shaking his head. "You couldn't have said that an hour ago?"

Sid grins back, half relief, half anticipation. "I could—" he begins, something hot and shivery building in his stomach. "I mean, I don't need to be back at the hotel for a bit."

Giroux's eyes are big and dark, and all Sid can think about is the last time he looked like that. Then he shakes his head. "No," Giroux says, and he does at least sound rueful. "Schenner'll be back by now. After the game—?"

"For sure," Sid jumps in, over-eager even to his own ears.

That's fine, though. Giroux's smiling at him with the same stupid smile that Sid can feel on his own face, and tomorrow can't come fast enough.

"Hey," Giroux says, as he's turning to leave. "If it's good enough, is Snowy gonna refuse to leave?

"That's not how it works," Sid yells after him.

If Snowy doesn't want to leave, it won't be about the sex.

 

---

 

Claude rings in 2013 with a 'C' on his jersey and a red-brown cub slobbering on his skates.

She's a scrap of fur, not big enough to reach any of the players' knees, and she spends her first game against the Pens chasing Sid around the ice every chance she gets, making little high-pitched yips and tripping over her own paws, until she manages to latch onto Sid's skate laces.

"Might need to watch that one, Sid," chortles the ref, as Claude tries to unhook her tiny, needle-sharp teeth and the Philly crowd roars their approval. "She'll be going for your head when she can reach it."

Sid makes eye contact with a harried-looking Claude then looks away immediately, barely able to stop himself from bursting out laughing. Instead he nods agreeably along with the ref, as Claude finally detangles the cub's teeth and turns back to the Flyers bench, the cub whining sadly and giving Sid big, sad eyes.

He's going to give Claude so much shit for this.