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A/N: Full spoilery content warning in endnotes, please read if you have concerns.

 

Just to be clear, Nicki was never a hockey fan. She grew up not knowing a Stanley Cup from a damn hole in the ground, and sometimes she has to wonder how she ended up here, a hockey wife in a desert tourist trap of a town.

Okay, she’s a huge fan of Eddie, obviously, and whatever team he plays on, the Aces for now. The Aces for the foreseeable future, management willing. Eddie says not to worry, that Coach likes him, his stats are up, and he’s a good guy for the room, but…after six years with Eddie, Nicki knows there are no guarantees. It’s hockey after all.

She’s been a WAG long enough now that she speaks the language at least. She doubts she’ll ever really be fluent, she will never love it enough for that, but she’s absorbed the game by osmosis, a little begrudgingly.

Nicki knows sports, but she’s a Louisiana girl, New Orleans born and bred, and when she was a baby, there was a Green Wave flag in her nursery. Her parents hate on LSU football, and they root for the Saints when they aren’t rabidly supporting Tulane, their alma mater.

Back in the day, her dad was a Tulane star running back (on a weak roster, he always qualifies). She can talk college football with the best of them, but hockey was never on her radar. Nicki had never even been ice skating in her life before Eddie.

They met at a boozy Jazz Fest party, started talking over a tray of jello shots. It was Eddie’s first trip to New Orleans; Nicki was finishing up grad school hell and was desperate for some fun.

“I play in the AHL,” he said, when she asked what he did. When that drew a blank look, he added, “Hockey.”

Ice hockey?”  she said, and it’s pretty likely that her nose wrinkled up like she’d smelled something bad.

“Hey, New Orleans had the Brass. For like two seconds.” Eddie smiled then, a sly twist of his mouth, like he was sharing a secret.

“We did?” she said, distracted. The red jello shots had stained his lips, wet and plump. They looked soft.

 His jaw dropped open, offended, she’d thought, but then he threw his head back and laughed, and oh, my, that was it.

Nicki’s tall, a hair under six feet, but she’d had to look up to meet Eddie’s eyes. She’d never seen prettier eyes on a dude, brown like caramel, with lashes long and thick enough to make her envious. 

Six years they’ve been together now. They stuck it out together even through that awful year in Alberta, when Eddie racked up the injuries, and their IVF hopes had finally flickered out. Nicki hated everything that season. It was the cold, and feeling alien and broken, the tall ass brown girl from New Orleans drowning in a sea of Timmy’s and accents that sounded nothing like home.

Then Eddie got caught in the expansion draft, but it ended up being a change for the better. Right off the bat, Eddie and Scott clicked as a defense pair, and Nicki hit it off with Scott’s wife Jules. And then Nicki finally got some use out of her masters in marine ecology, volunteering at the Shark Reef Aquarium.

She has the education and experience now to fight for one of the paid positions, but it feels a little crass, considering NHL paychecks and everything. It’s probably some sort of cosmic irony, city of sin and all that, but Nicki’s pretty sure Las Vegas saved their marriage. It might be a fucking circus sometimes, but at least here she’s just one of its freaks.

It still hits her sometimes though, how weird it all is. She watches Eddie’s games, makes small talk with the other wives, and it’s just what the fuck. The cold dry air of the arena tugs at her lungs, and Nicki’s bundled up in three layers and an Aces beanie, trying not to feel like a wimp. Pregnant Jules sits comfortably beside her in a light sweater dress, but Jules is from Toronto and has hockey and antifreeze in her veins.

Things get ugly out on the ice, and the gentle giant that Nicki married turns into an intimidating force of nature. He never even raises his voice at home. At home, he’s Eddie, but here he’s Gonzo, like a fucking Muppet or something, and hard checks and fighting are literally part of his job. What the absolute fuck?

When she leaves the chill of the arena, the heat takes her breath away. It’s nothing like New Orleans, where the air is a heavy wet hug, languid and drenched in humidity. Here it’s dry and sharp, almost painful. It’s not quite home, but at least it’s warm, and Nicki’s smiling faintly when she slips on her sunglasses.

*

Jules and Nicki both hosted rookies last season, but Jules is about to pop, with twins no less, so Nicki’s not surprised when she and Eddie are asked to host again. Nicki doesn’t mind. She and Eddie rattle around in the ridiculously large house they’d bought just to be close to Scott and Jules. It’ll be nice to have someone besides the two of them filling the space again. All that noisy rookie energy reminds Nicki of growing up with her two baby brothers, wrestling on the living room floor and dad poking his head in to yell at them, keep it down. It’s a good thing.

Eddie tells her about their new rookie one morning when they’re having breakfast, seated side by side at the granite kitchen island. The rookie’s eighteen, first overall draft pick, and he’s expected to make the lineup right out of camp. He’s from New York by way of the Q, a lightning-fast kid with “hands to die for.” Eddie starts to reel off the kid’s stats, but Nicki interrupts, reaching over to play with his hair. She gently smooths it back from his forehead, smiling as the curls spring right back.

“And what’s his name, Eddie?” she asks, trying not to laugh.

Eddie blinks, taken aback. “It’s Parson. Kent Parson,” he says finally, his tone supplying the duh. Nicki sighs a little. Eddie sometimes forgets that not everyone fanatically tracks prospects. “We were supposed to get Bad Bob’s son, but...” Eddie trails off, his face going somber.

 “He’s the boy who--”

“Yeah,” Eddie says, cutting her off. He’s avoiding her eyes, because they’ve fought about this shit before, the way hockey can take and take and take, and just. They did their due diligence when they started getting serious, or thought they did, cards on the table time. So they talked about it before they got married, but Nicki knows damn well that she didn’t really get it until she was in the middle of it. They’ve worked it out. Mostly. Sometimes it’s a work in progress.

“Hey.” Nicki slides her right hand over the countertop to bump up against Eddie’s left. He doesn’t look over until she hooks their pinkies together, and when his eyes meet hers, she gives him a smile.  “We’re good, baby. We’re good,” she says firmly.

He nods, a little relieved. She leans into him as she grabs her Iphone and pulls up her shopping list app. “So,” she says lightly, waving the phone at Eddie. “Groceries for a hungry rookie?”

*

Helping their new rookie move in is a pretty painless task; the kid’s belongings are surprisingly few. They make a sad little pile on the floor of the guest room.

“Thanks again for the help,” the kid—Kent--says dutifully, not meeting her eyes. He’s been fidgety and tense all morning, pushing fingers through his unruly hair and messing with his phone. Nicki frowns a little. You’re not his mom, she reminds herself, but she still wants to help, wants to say something reassuring. Eddie’s warned her not to mention the Zimmermann thing, They were lineys, babe, Kent’s tight with him, he’d said, leave him be, but--

Nicki lets out a breath, then gestures at his belongings. “This isn’t all you have, is it?” she asks, struck by how forlorn it looks, boxes and duffle bags adrift on the sea of carpet. In line with the house itself, their guest room is way too huge.

“Billets,” Kent says with a shrug. He gives her a lopsided smile, but it looks brittle.

Kent’s small for a hockey player, with pretty-boy looks that likely do him no favors out on the ice. He’s bordering on too lean and is a bit shorter than Nicki. Something about that tugs at her insides, and she can’t help reaching over to ruffle his hair. He goes very still, and Nicki’s about to pull her hand away when he relaxes into it, his eyes cast down at the floor.

Nicki takes another swipe at the kid’s cowlicks, laughing as they spring back up again. Kent finally looks up at her, rolling his eyes even as he subtly nudges his head up into her palm, cat-like.

“We’ll take you shopping,” Nicki says. “Can’t live in this city without a little excess.”

“Gotta have some bling,” Eddie says amiably as he enters the room. He makes sure to flash his bulky watch when he hands Kent the keys and a printout of important info, their security codes, wifi password, phone numbers. Eddie’s watch is a Rolex Submariner that Nicki got him a few Christmases ago; she actually kind of low-key hates it but Eddie adores the damn thing.

Nicki snorts. To Kent, she says drily, “Just so you know, Twitter voted Eddie as least stylish Aces player, so don’t look to him for fashion sense. You should see his favorite suit, it’s this plaid monstrosity.”

 “Hey, that shit’s Giovanni,” Eddie says, smirking a little. “Twitter can bite my ass.”

The kid’s been following their back-and-forth, relaxing minutely. Nicki’s grinning at him when he huffs out a breath. It’s not quite a laugh, but Nicki’ll count it as a win.

*

A few weeks pass by, and Kent’s settling in well. As far as Nicki can tell, he’s working hard and keeping his nose clean.

It’s kind of a relief, especially after the cluster fuck surrounding Jules and Scott’s rookie last season. Cam was a good kid at heart, but not the sharpest tack and a little too fond of partying. He was very nearly eaten alive, in true Las Vegas style, with cellphone footage of his drunken sexual shenanigans going viral and all.

Cam survived, after a public apology, signing over all his social media accounts, and an intensive PR boot camp. The icing on the whole ridiculous Cam situation was Scott getting roped into giving his rookie a safe sex talk. He’s still a little traumatized to this day.

For real, this is their life. Sometimes Nicki doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

With Cam as the cautionary tale, Nicki and Eddie take their rookie hosting seriously. Nicki drags Kent to Ikea to personalize his empty room, and shows him how to do his laundry. Eddie trains him in the ways of his beloved Fire Magic grill, and ends up roping him into cooking now and then.

Kent freely offers to help Nicki with the grocery shopping, brushing off her surprise with a shrug that’s a little too casual. “Used to help my mom,” he mutters, ears going red.

That’s how Nicki ends up bitching to him about Jules’s baby shower, after Kent’s subpar shopping cart navigation knocks over a display of organic baby food at Whole Foods.

And seriously, Nicki’s helping organize the thing, but it’s not really her fault the baby shower is happening so late in the pregnancy. They originally planned the party for some time in Jules’s second trimester, but every tentative save-the-date Nicki sent out got shot down one after another. Family stuff or hockey stuff or vacation stuff kept pushing it further and further out until now Jules might end up going into labor during the shower itself.

She relates all this to Kent with an overdone scowl, and actually pulls a laugh out of the kid. That’s all the encouragement Nicki needs to run with it a little, so she unlocks her phone and pulls up pictures of the fancy handmade cribs that will be Eddie and Nicki’s present for Jules and Scott’s babies.

“Twins, huh?” Kent says softly, not looking up from Nicki’s phone, and somehow that’s what gets her, what makes her throat go tight and her eyes go hot.

Oh, shit, she thinks.

“Nicki?” Kent sounds spooked, and she realizes her hand is shaking, knuckles clenched white around her phone.

“Fine, I’m fine,” Nicki says, too fast, and discreetly tries to scrub at her eyes with the heel of her hand. “Happiness, you know,” she lies.

Kent doesn’t say anything to that, just looks at her with an expression on his face that’s older than his years. He doesn’t seem fooled.

*

Nicki's no slouch in the running department. She's got a shelf full of age-group trophies from local races and two Boston medals hanging on the wall. It's her thing, her happy place, it’s what kept her sane after the last miscarriage.

Running's hers and hers alone, and Eddie’s happy to come out to support Nicki for a change when his schedule allows. Eddie used to run with her, but aging knees and his trainers’ advice limit him to lower impact cardio nowadays.

She runs most mornings, and every so often Kent tags along. It’s mostly quiet when Nicki and Kent run, the neighborhood still asleep in the soft light of dawn, but they talk sometimes.

Running with someone can shade into a weird sort of intimacy, stride and breathing falling into synch, the heat of another person close by. Eyes are front, watching the ground, no need to make eye contact. If there’s talking, it’s almost like talking to yourself. Enough endorphins and it’s easier to let things slip, to show your soft underbelly in a sideways sort of confessional.

So maybe it’s not surprising that Kent opens up a little one morning on a run.

“I miss Zimms,” he says. It’s out of the blue, after a long stretch of nothing but the sound of their breathing and their footfalls. They’re alone on the fitness path that circles the golf course, but the words are so quiet she barely hears him. “I miss him so much,” he adds, his voice breaking a little.

Nicki keeps her eyes forward.

Since the draft, the NHL grapevine has buzzed with multiple versions of the Zimmermann story, all in flavors of tragic to sordid. Nicki’s tried to ignore it all, and until now, Kent hasn’t said a word about what happened. But his silence speaks volumes, and she can see from the corner of her eye how tightly he’s holding himself, shoulders tense and too high.

There was a deep thread of something in his voice, she thinks, in his body language, something raw and bleeding, like whatever went down with him and Zimmermann somehow cut out the heart of him.

Oh, she thinks, oh.  She must make a noise or something, because Kent looks over then. Whatever he sees in her face makes him stumble to a halt, his eyes going wide, and if she didn't know for sure before, she definitely knows now.

She stops with him, and meets his eyes. “Kent, it’s okay,” she hurries to say, because he’s gone dead pale, panicked. He’s braced like a stray dog expecting a kick, tense as a wire.

“Kent,” she says helplessly, because this feels way above her paygrade. “It’s fine, Kent. We’re fine.”

“I keep calling him,” he says, in a rush. “And I get his fucking voicemail.”

There’s a fleeting, panicked loss for words, because, oh, kiddo, but she soldiers through. “They probably took his phone away. If he’s in rehab,” she says, making sure she sounds soft, gentle.

 Kent says nothing, just jerks his head to one side, a negating tic of a movement.

After a pause, Nicki says tentatively, “I’m sure he’ll call you back, Kent. When he’s feeling better.”

“I know that.” His words come out angry and hard, and Nicki can see Kent’s hands balling into fists.

“I’m sorry,” she says, feeling helpless. Nicki knows first-hand the lack of comfort in those words.

Kent’s fists squeeze tighter, but he doesn’t say anything, his breathing too hard and too fast. Nicki reaches over to grab hold of his shoulder, shaking it to pull him out of it.

“Race you back home,” she blurts out finally, and she takes off sprinting without waiting for him.

Kent wins in the end, because youth and raw speed are on his side and because winning is what he does, who he is. Back at the house, Nicki lets them in through the side gate, and they cool off out on the deck.

Kent’s got his game face on again, fronting with such a fierce determination that she doesn’t have the heart not to play along. He’s mouthing off about winning even though Nicki cheated, crowing obnoxiously until Nicki shuts him up by pushing him into the pool. The water looks nice, so she jumps in after him.

The pool’s actually on the chilly side, and they quickly pull themselves out, shivering a little. Nicki snags a couple of towels from the pool house, tosses one at Kent’s head, and they flop down onto a pair of deck loungers.

Nicki tips her head back to bask in the sun. They’ve been sitting there long enough for their breathing to slow when Nicki offers, “You know I talk to someone, right?”

Kent’s scrubbing at his hair with his towel, but he freezes at Nicki’s words, bent over at the waist, his face hidden. He finally lets the towel fall into his lap, but he doesn’t look over at her.

“Like a shrink?” Kent’s staring down at the towel, shoulders hunched.

“A therapist. It’s not like in the movies,” Nicki says, keeping her tone light.

“You talk about the baby thing?” He’s looking over at her now, challenging, an edge to his voice, and oh, this kid’s a sharp one. Her dad and Eddie both would shake their heads at her, that she’s let herself be surprised by an athlete with brains.

Nicki takes in a deep breath, lets it out. “Yeah, Kent. I talk about the baby thing,” she says evenly, and meets his gaze without flinching.

He drops his eyes, flushing a little, but he doesn’t apologize.

She considers her next words carefully, rolling them around in her head, weighing the need to protect herself against Kent’s need for parity, shared vulnerability.

“I can’t have kids,” she says bluntly. The words gloss over the whole awful truth of it, but it’s as far as Nicki’s willing to go. It’s to spare Kent as much as herself, she tells herself. “So, yeah, I talk to someone.”

Kent looks up at her, his mouth opening to say something, but Nicki’s suddenly had enough. She’s done, done with playing at being Kent’s mom, done with wanting. Done with looking at Jules and feeling envy so sharp it hurts, done with her therapist poking at her bruises and stirring up that particular wasp’s nest.

Nicki stands, abrupt and graceless, and heads towards the house. “I’m cold,” she says over her shoulder. “I’m going inside now.”

*

Nicki kind of expects things to be awkward with Kent after that, but they’re not. It helps that Kent’s either breezily oblivious or a very good actor. Nicki suspects the latter.

She has her hands full anyway, what with Jules’s baby shower that finally happens, and then a couple of false labor scares, and then it’s time for Jules to pop, for real this time.

Kent’s at the Aces' practice facility, doing PR with their peewee team, so it’s just Nicki and Eddie in the house when they get the news. The text from Scott is short and to the point. At the hospital. Gonna be a daddy!!!

C-section? Nicki texts back, and Scott responds with a Yep.

Jules had been dead set against caesarean when her doctor first recommended it. Nicki’s relieved that she changed her mind. It’s twins, and Jules is small, narrow-hipped as a teenaged boy, and the babies are big, already taking after Scott.

When Nicki was in college, she used to mock her own curvy shape, child-bearing hips, she’d say, laughing, confident.

Nicki takes a noisy breath, then texts back a smiley face and Let us know when we can visit and hold some babies!

Will do, Scott replies.

So excited for you guys, Nicki adds after a long pause, and she tells herself it’s the truth.

Nicki relays the news to Eddie. “Awesome,” he says and gives her a sloppy kiss. Then he goes to dig out the fancy cigars he’d bought to celebrate the birth. He’s gone quiet, though, his eyebrows furrowed and he’s shooting her worried looks. Nicki ignores him. She’s fine, she’s got it together.

Nicki holds herself together all through the rest of the day. She’s fine for the drive to the hospital, she’s fine visiting Scott and Jules, who both look exhausted and wan and elated. She’s fine after seeing the twins, both girls, red and squalling and beautifully healthy. She’s fine, she’s fine, she’s fine.

Kent’s either still out or holed up in his room when they get back. They stopped off for take-out Italian on the way home, so Nicki puts Kent’s chicken parmesan in the fridge with a post-it note on top.

Nicki and Eddie turn in early that night because there’s a morning skate the next day. Eddie’s extra affectionate and attentive, hands wandering, and Nicki dives into his kiss, eager for the distraction.

They make out for a while, and Nicki’s really getting into it, starts to feel the achy heat between her legs. Eddie seems tired though, slow to rouse, so she pushes him onto his back and uses her hands and mouth to get him started. She pulls off once he’s fully erect and then slings a leg over his hips to straddle him. His eyes are dark on hers, and she quirks an eyebrow at him in a silent question.

He nods back, and that’s all she waits for, she’s sliding down onto his cock in one fast movement. His hands stroke over her ribs, up towards her breasts, but she takes his right hand in hers and directs it down to where they’re joined.

His fingers part her labia to touch where his cock slides in and out of her as she rides him. His thumb strokes her clit just right, and her quads start to burn as she moves faster over him, leaning forward so that he’s hitting her insides at the perfect angle.

She’s flushed with it, warm shivers just beginning when Eddie groans out a curse and goes off without any other warning, arching up beneath her as he comes. “Shit, sorry,” he pants. She grinds down on him but he’s already softening inside her.

“Got you, babe,” he says, eyelids fluttering. “Just a sec, don’t move.”

After a few breaths, he reaches down to lift her up by her hips. She sighs a little as he slips out of her, but he immediately pushes back into her with four fingers, filling her up again in the best sort of stretch.

“Want the vibe?” Eddie asks, soft voiced and heavy lidded from his orgasm. His hand doesn’t stop moving, fingers thrusting in and out of her.

She pauses, considering, but shakes her head. “This’ll do.”

His thumb is wet with come and fluids, but she leans over to grab the lube off the nightstand. It adds just the right slick to the mix, and oh, he’s stroking her clit with a practiced movement as he thrusts into her with his fingers.

It’s perfect, that slippery thumb on her clit and his big fingers curling inside her, lighting her up. Not so great for him, probably, the angle must be hurting Eddie’s wrist, but it’s not long before she’s right there again, warm and wet with it. She’s never been loud during sex, and it’s not one of the near-violent lightning flash orgasms that’ll make her cry out.

It’s almost gentle, shivery and good, maybe her favorite kind, a rising soft tide of feeling that resonates and lasts. The muscles inside her gape and flutter around Eddie’s fingers, and she lets out a long, breathy sigh.

“Love that sound you make,” Eddie says, soft and sleepy, and she smiles down at him.

Afterwards, he drops off immediately, but Nicki doesn’t.

*

It’s not until after midnight when Nicki gives up on sleep. Her skin feels too tight; she’s still restless, needs to move, to fuck some more, but Eddie’s still out like a light, and she doesn’t want to wake him. She heads down to the treadmill in their home gym, roots around in her gym bag for her running gear. Up on the ‘mill, she haphazardly pulls up a 10K workout that kicks her ass even when it’s part of a proper training cycle.

Running mindlessly, she lets the rhythmic movement sooth her, legs and chest burning after the first interval set. She stares at the far wall, where a display of her Boston medals hangs. Eddie made the frame himself, part of her birthday present last year. It’s during the cooldown when she realizes that her face is wet. She scrubs at it with a towel and tells herself that it’s sweat.

She’s achy and sore, still restless and nowhere near sleepy. Nausea is trying to take hold, and a headache is creeping up on her. She stupidly managed to do this to herself, but it pisses her off nonetheless. She kind of wants to punch a wall or punch herself.

It’s not a recipe for stellar decision making, which is how Nicki ends up standing in their kitchen in her sweaty running clothes, drinking wine straight from the bottle. It’s the fizzy vinho verde that they keep around for pool parties, but she’s dehydrated and it’s going straight to her head.

The room lights are off, but the pool lights filter in through the French doors. It dimly washes the room in blue chiaroscuro, cool and soothing. Something in her balks at flipping on anything brighter.

She’s tipping her head back, gulping down more wine, when something catches her eye. There’s shadowy movement out on the patio, cutting through the hypnotic, watery light. Nicki grips the wine bottle more tightly, and soft foots over to the patio doors. They’re not locked. She opens the door silently, eases out onto the patio. Someone’s out by the pool.

“Who the hell?” she starts to say, but then she sees it’s Kent. He’s sprawled on one of the deck loungers, drinking from a bottle of his own. His bottle isn’t wine though, it’s liquor, and it’s going down too eagerly and too easily for a casual drinker. He salutes her with it, and she can see that he’s drinking vodka.

Nicki flashes onto the fucked-up Kent she’d glimpsed earlier and wonders if this is a habit of his, if he’s secretive and controlled enough about it not to raise any red flags, and she aches even more inside.

“Celebrating, you know? You, too, I see.” He nods at her wine bottle, his voice sardonic.

Nicki doesn’t say anything in return. She walks over to him, a little unsteadily, and sits down at the foot of his lounger. She has to shove his feet out of the way, and he laughs, almost silently.

“You gonna give me the underage drinking lecture?” he says, after a too-long silence.

Nicki takes another long pull of her wine and shakes her head. “No.”

She studies him, just drunk enough to be completely unselfconscious about it. He shifts uneasily under her gaze and finally looks away from her. The blue pool lighting gives his face a bloodless look. Cyanotic, she thinks with an odd chill, the word dredged up from some long ago biology lecture.

“Abigail and Charlotte,” Kent says abruptly, and Nicki stifles a flinch. “The twins,” he says. “Good names. My grandmother’s name is Charlotte. Should we drink to that?”

Her voice doesn’t shake at all when she says, “My therapist says that alcohol is an unhealthy coping mechanism.”

Kent lifts his vodka in a makeshift toast. “Well, here’s to your therapist.”

Tapping Kent’s bottle with her own, Nicki drinks another swallow. She takes a breath and then says, in a voice she barely recognizes, “When we lived in Alberta, we bought our house for the nursery. That’s kind of hilarious, isn’t it?”

Kent grimaces, his throat working hard as he looks down at his vodka. “When the other half of yourself picks a bottle of pills over you. Now that’s hilarious.”

She can’t help picturing Eddie like that, unconscious, his face swollen and nearly unrecognizable. Cyanotic, she thinks and shivers.

“You were—“ she says, but Kent cuts her off.

“Fucking,” he says viciously. “We were fucking. And then he almost died, and now he can’t handle seeing my face or hearing my voice, and I want to hate him for it, and I can’t even pull that off.”

Kent’s hands around the vodka bottle are shaking, his breathing too hard and too fast. Nicki reaches over to grab hold of one of his ankles, shaking it slightly.

“It gets better, I promise.”

“Yeah, you seem peachy,” Kent says darkly, but at least there’s humor in it.

 “I am better,” Nicki says, because it’s true. “But there’ll always be bad days. Sometimes you’re on top of the world, and sometimes it kicks you in the teeth. It’s just the way it works.”

“That kinda sucks,” Kent says, frowning.

“I know, kiddo,” Nicki sighs. “I know.”

*

There’s a family skate early in the season, and Jules and Scott bring the twins. Nicki lets Eddie take her for a lap or two on the ice (after all these years, she’s still not that great a skater, sue her), and then they drift over to see the babies.

Two giant D-men are huddled over the baby carriers, cooing in French while Scott smiles down at them benevolently. Nicki recognizes them from one of the team parties she and Eddie hosted; she’s pretty sure they nearly came to blows over Madden NFL in her TV room. They look peaceful now, letting the babies grab hold of their fingers and muttering adorable nonsense, Elle est très forte, très jolie.

“C’mon, Butchie,” Eddie says from her side. “Drag J-P out there and show your boy a good time. Quit hogging the babies.”

Things have gotten easier. Nicki scheduled extra time with her therapist, and had a long heart-to-heart with Jules. She explained some stuff, about miscarriages and IVF and why Nicki was still a little fucked up about babies. Because Jules had maybe gotten the gist of things before, but Nicki had never felt up to talking detail. Now Jules knows that Nicki’s not up to babysitting just yet, but she thinks she will be. Jules is okay with that.

Nicki leans over one of the babies and coos out her own adorable nonsense. This one’s Charlotte, according to the personalized fleece blanket tucked around her. Charlotte, Kent’s grandmother’s name, she remembers.

Kent’s mother couldn’t be here for family skate, but he flew her in for his first NHL game. Kent got an assist and scored twice. After the first goal, he cellied so hard he fell over, laughing his ass off. His new linemates dragged him up off the ice and then nearly squashed him in a group hug. Nicki doesn’t think she’d ever seen Kent look so happy.

He’s probably still drinking, she knows. She’s not naïve, she knows it’s part of this game, this culture, always there and tempting. He’s kept it off the ice, at least, kept it out of her house, and Eddie’s going to keep an eye on him.

Kent’s mother’s isn’t here today, but he’s not alone for family skate. When she looks up from cooing at Charlotte, she can see the two of them, over in a quiet corner of the ice. Kent is skating next to Bad Bob Zimmermann, who showed up unannounced and caused quite a stir.

“Holy shit, it’s Bad Bob,” Eddie said, when he caught sight of the man. He said it right into Nicki’s ear, his voice shaking and thready.

“I see him, babe,” Nicki said, trying not to laugh.

Zimmermann and Kent have come to a standstill over in their corner of the ice. Zimmermann’s got an arm draped over Kent’s shoulders, talking quietly and unceasingly, an earnest expression on his face. A beat later, Zimmermann leans down to catch Kent up in a bear hug, nearly lifting him off his feet.

Oh, kiddo, Nicki thinks, but the thought’s soft this time, not so achy.

“We skated with Bad Bob,” Eddie’s saying to Scott in an awed voice. “I nearly wet myself, kid you not. Bad Bob. Gotta be some serious good luck mojo there.”

“I hear you, man,” Scott says, bending down to straighten one of Abigail’s socks, which she’s almost kicked right off. “I’ve got good feels about this season, Gonz. Seriously good feels.”

Nicki leans over Charlotte then, ghosts a finger over Charlotte’s chubby cheek. “Good feels this season, right, Charlotte?” she whispers. “We all got good feels.”