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There was a moment, shortly after Evgeni first heard of Sidney Crosby but long before either of them was drafted, when Evgeni cherished a small, bright hope that Crosby would be an omega. He let it warm him for a moment, and then he promptly damped it. It was too unlikely.

The hope flickered to life again when word came that Pittsburgh had won the draft lottery. Crosby would go to Pittsburgh as surely as the sun came up, and Evgeni would go, too, when he could tear himself away from Metallurg, and they’d win cups together, Pittsburgh’s two omega superstars.

By that time Evgeni knew it wasn’t to be, of course; articles had confirmed Crosby’s alpha status dozens of times over. Of course Crosby would be alpha. The vast majority of hockey players were. So two years later, when he finally came face to face with Sidney Crosby, large as life and showing his many white and possibly still natural teeth, Evgeni was momentarily confused, because there was nothing about Crosby that smelled alpha. Or omega, either, for that matter.

Evgeni took another surreptitious sniff, to be sure. There was a whiff of emotion too faint to even identify with certainty: excitement, maybe. But Crosby had about him none of the natural musk that followed every alpha like a cloud within five minutes of getting out of the shower, and no saltier omega tang, either; only the sterile, sharply medicinal scent of blockers enclosing Crosby like a second skin.

Meanwhile Crosby had gotten hold of Evgeni’s hand, and everyone else in the cavernous entryway to Mario Lemieux’s cavernous house was busy looking on benevolently, so Evgeni smiled through his exhaustion and said Crosby’s name and shook his hand.

Sergei Gonchar sat next to Evgeni at dinner and translated the conversation that babbled around them. Sergei’s calm, unhurried Russian was a balm to Evgeni’s travel-weary and English-sore soul. Eventually, when the others were distracted away from them for a moment, Evgeni asked, “Why does Crosby wear such strong blockers?”

Sergei rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “The kid’s a little strange, Evgeni. You’ll find out.”

“But he’s still alpha, right?” Because Evgeni could think of one and only one reason a person would disguise their scent that aggressively. His old, buried hope thrust a filthy hand up from its grave.

“Oh, sure. Do you think if Crosby were omega, the whole world wouldn’t have heard by now? He’d be the most famous O in hockey.”

The zombie hope collapsed again. “Yeah,” Evgeni said sourly, in disappointment and anticipatory dread. “Better him than me.”

Sergei’s eyes softened. Evgeni supposed he should be grateful; his only fellow countryman on the team could have been the kind who thought omegas should be banned from the sport. Mostly, though, the sympathy just made Evgeni grumpy. “You’re lucky,” Sergei said. “If you work things right, you won’t have to speak to the media directly for years. And we have Talbot, you know.”

Yes. Evgeni would not be alone, after all. “Tell me about Talbot,” he said, feeling marginally cheered.

--

Talbot was, it seemed, even happier to meet Evgeni than Evgeni was to meet him. He greeted Evgeni in rapid-fire English that Sergei struggled to keep up with. It hardly mattered; Talbot got impatient waiting for him to translate and skipped straight to wrapping Evgeni in a hug and a comforting omega fog.

Evgeni’s first thought was of his mama, who smelled much the same when she hugged him after good games, but then Talbot reached behind and pinched Evgeni’s ass, which didn’t remind him of his mama at all. Evgeni squawked.

Talbot grinned, and Sergei rolled his eyes, and Evgeni thought: I’m going to like it here.

Evgeni’s first two months in Pittsburgh were composed of training camp, nights out with the guys and nights in with Sergei and his family, meticulously translated conversations with Penguins PR that left him headachy and irritated, video game nights with Talbot – now Talbo – during which neither understood a word the other was saying and nobody gave a damn. A dislocated shoulder that had Evgeni gnashing his teeth while the team played its first games of the season without him. A thoroughly English nickname that would likely stick to him for life. Sidney Crosby.

“You’re staring at him again,” Sergei said.

Evgeni shifted his gaze a few degrees to the left. Now he was looking at Flower, lounging back in the booth and talking to Talbo in loose, easy French. “What’s he doing?”

“Who knows,” was Sergei’s longsuffering answer. It was a question Evgeni asked him a lot.

Because there Sidney was, inserting himself between Jordy and the omega who’d been leaning back against the bar next to Jordy for the last twenty minutes. They hadn’t made eye contact yet, but Evgeni could smell their courting scents from ten feet away. Sidney, meanwhile, had his back to the girl and seemed to be settling in for a conversation. Jordy’s scent spiked in irritation, and then he squeezed Sidney’s shoulder and stepped all the way around him to start talking to the omega, who immediately brightened. They walked out the door together less than two minutes later.

Sidney came back to the table next to Evgeni’s with a soda – Pittsburgh bars might not take alcohol out from under Sidney Crosby’s nose, but they wouldn’t sell it directly to him, either – and he scowled into it for a while. Eventually, curiosity overcame Evgeni’s discomfort with English. He scooted over to the other table and patted Crosby on the shoulder. Crosby lifted his chin in hello.

“You want her?” Evgeni asked quietly, sounding out the words as clearly as he could.

The scowl deepened. “No.”

Evgeni hesitated. His next question could get a person in trouble. Finally, even more quietly, he asked, “You want him?”

“What? No!” Sidney looked the same way he looked when someone filled his shoes with whipping cream: scandalized by the wrongness of the world, yes, but not angry. Just Sidney. Evgeni breathed a little bit easier.

“So why?” he asked, mimicking Sidney’s grumpy face.

Sidney mumbled something that Evgeni wasn’t sure he could have caught even if he knew the language. The wry smile at the end, though, crossed linguistic boundaries. Evgeni smiled back and patted Sidney’s shoulder again.

--

Evgeni played his first game. He scored his first NHL goal on his second shot. Afterwards, he found himself compared to forwards like Lemieux and Jagr as often as to Potvin, one and only omega Norris winner. He emailed all the links home to his mama.

--

Sergei hadn’t been joking; Sidney was weird. The various hockey superstitions, Evgeni could understand and sympathize with. The scent blocking was something else, he was pretty sure; Sergei assured him that Crosby used it even during the off-season. But this indifference to fundamental social signals confused Evgeni most of all. Did Sidney not have a nose?

Evgeni decided to find out. He rummaged a smelling-salt stick from equipment and snuck up behind Sidney in the locker room. He snapped the stick between his fingers and thrust it under Sidney’s nose.

Sidney punched him.

More accurately, Sidney yelled, “What the fuck!” and flailed wildly, catching Evgeni across the cheekbone with his knuckles and all his strength.

“Fuck,” said Evgeni, dropping the smelling salt to rub at his face.

“What the hell was that?” Sidney demanded, twisting to see who was tormenting him this time. His brow furrowed. “Geno?”

Talbo said something congratulatory and slapped Evgeni on the back. Sidney grumbled with all the dignity of a wet cat, trying to shake off his scowl but not quite succeeding. Evgeni couldn’t help but laugh, even if this hadn’t been his primary aim. “Ow,” he said, still gingerly poking at his cheek. It was already tender; it would bruise, he could tell. Sid said something that Evgeni couldn’t parse, but it sounded singularly unapologetic. Evgeni grinned.

So Sidney wasn’t scent-blind, at least.

--

Another home win, another bar: half the team crammed around a single corner booth. Sidney’s hip was wedged against Evgeni’s, sharp but warm, and Flower sat on Sidney’s other side, drawling something to him in that Quebecois accent Evgeni could rarely make heads or tails of. A massive basket of onion rings sat at the center of the table, and Sidney’s fingers and lips shone with grease.

Talbo strolled up to the table and asked a question. Evgeni turned to Gonch, who rolled his eyes and said, “He wants to know if you have anyone you’re planning to fuck tonight.”

“No?” Evgeni said, bewildered.

More English followed, accompanied by a filthy smirk from Talbo. In a tone dry enough to parch the Congo, Gonch said, “He says you stink of frustration.”

“I don’t sleep with alphas,” Evgeni said, still confused. Talbo of all people knew that Evgeni could not afford to pick up alphas in bars, that his career depended in no small part on his clearly broadcasted disinterest in bonding, settling down, or fattening up with an alpha’s children. Not that he hadn’t made the occasional discreet, calculated exception back in Russia, but here discretion was an entire language out of his reach.

Gonch dutifully translated to Talbo. Some of the other guys looked uncomfortable or shot Evgeni pitying, sympathetic glances. Evgeni’s cheeks burned, and he stared down into his empty beer mug.

Talbo said something else, and Jordy hooted approval. Evgeni lifted his head to find Talbo proffering his hand. “What’s he doing?” Evgeni asked Gonch.

“He says he is going to solve your problem.”

“What? How?”

“Do you think I know what goes through that man’s head? I have no idea. Go and find out, if you’re so curious.”

Once Sidney and Jordy had moved to let Evgeni out, he followed Talbo to the bar, where they settled next to a pretty blond woman that reminded Evgeni of Oksana a little. Except, this woman was omega. It took Evgeni a few moments of listening politely and uncomprehendingly to a conversation that was clearly about him before he understood what Talbo was doing. From behind the woman’s shoulder, he scowled at Talbo, which Talbo blew off with a wave of his hand. And soon enough, she was smelling interested and casting Evgeni coy glances out of the corner of her eye.

And, well. Evgeni had only ever gone that route during heat, either his or the other party’s, but it had been three fucking months since he’d gotten fucked in any capacity, and she did remind him a little of Oksana. He tried on his most winning smile, and when Talbo paused and looked expectantly at him, Evgeni stuck out his hand.

So Evgeni could get laid now and then without attracting any more attention than some bemusement on Twitter. That was pretty great.

--

Sidney Crosby remained fascinating.

On the ice, Sidney was easy; he scented hockey like he was born to it. He read all the plays, caught the tang of every deke and pass Evgeni made – sometimes, it seemed, before Evgeni planned to make it. And on those rare occasions when he didn’t, hockey was still a language Evgeni could speak. “Wheel!” and “Glass!” and “Hey hey hey!” required no fucking tenses.

It made sense that Evgeni was drawn to him, out there on the ice. Everyone was easier on skates, but Sidney was more than that; he was magic.

And even if none of that were true, Evgeni would still have stopped sometimes during practice to marvel. Sidney floated down the ice like friction and gravity had no hold on him; he flipped pucks into the net like Flower wasn’t even there. And then he’d come back around to the group and giggle with a flush high in his cheeks, and something warm would kindle at the base of Evgeni’s throat.

--

A team dinner, involving lots of steak and beer. Comfortably fed, pleasantly buzzed, Evgeni settled back in his seat listened to the rise and fall of a spirited argument between Talbo and Brooksie about where to eat in Montreal. Sidney sat next to him, unusually quiet. Evgeni could not, of course, tell if this mood was contentment or sadness or something else.

Talbo disagreed with all Brooksie’s restaurant choices. From what Evgeni could gather, there was some national pride involved; Talbo kept saying American like it was an insult.

Sidney turned to Evgeni and asked him something that, coming from Sidney, was probably about hockey. “I have no idea what the fuck you’re saying,” he told Sidney.

Sidney responded with something that had the word English in it.

“Russian,” Evgeni corrected him. “Learn Russian, and then we’ll talk. I’ll tell you all about the best country, and you’ll explain to me how you always know exactly where I’m going to pass, and we’ll drink vodka.”

Sidney shrugged and smiled that lopsided smile of his. His next response was soft, for Evgeni alone, for all the good it did either of them.

“You’re strange,” Evgeni said. “You play beautiful hockey, but you’re very strange.”

Sidney perked up at that. He repeated hockey in abysmal Russian. Evgeni laughed. Of course that would be the one word Sidney would recognize. Sidney’s eyes crinkled in good humor, not caring that Evgeni was laughing at him. Then his gaze dropped to the table, and he said something else, even more softly. It took him a long time to say all of it, and he lifted his head for the last bit, looking Evgeni straight-on as he finished whatever earnest confession he was making. And then he waited, as for an answer that Evgeni couldn’t hope to produce.

Evgeni wished he could, though. Whatever assurance Sidney was looking for, Evgeni wished he could give it. He shrugged apologetically. In English, he said carefully, “Not understand.”

Sidney nodded, his smile wry and a little disappointed. Evgeni congratulated himself on being able to translate that particular expression, and then he patted Sidney’s arm and said, “Sidney Crosby best.”

Sidney’s grin came blinding and immediate, like a flash of lightning.

--

On the upside, Evgeni’s English had to get better sometime. On the downside, it took work. It meant sitting at the kitchen table with Ksenia Gonchar, going over the English alphabet he’d only ever bothered to make passing acquaintance with and copying the letters’ shapes until Ksenia was satisfied. It meant a language program in his headphones while he spun on the exercise bike and mumbled the vocabulary under his breath. It meant listening with both ears and all his attention to the locker room chirps and the game announcers on TV and the media people asking questions, not that Evgeni planned to admit that he understood those for a long, long time yet.

And little by little, the mysterious meaningless flow around him began to resolve into discrete pieces he could make sense of.

It was still a stupid language, and following conversations in it for too long still gave him a headache, but now when Sidney yelled at him in practice to move his feet on the breakaway, Evgeni could reply, “Need move your ass on the breakaway.” The guys thought that particular retort was hilarious, probably because it had come from Evgeni. Sidney scowled and rolled his eyes, and Evgeni grinned.

Talbo caught Evgeni as he was leaving the locker room that day. “Mario Kart,” he told Evgeni. It wasn’t a question, and anyway Evgeni had no objections; his exciting afternoon plans involved trying to follow all the conversations in Pirates of the Caribbean without subtitles.

They stopped by to get Chinese on the way to Talbo’s apartment, and once there, Evgeni had worked his way through a whole pail of sweet and sour chicken and was giving the beef and broccoli serious consideration when Talbo cleared his throat and said, “So, you like Sid.”

Evgeni lifted his head, for a moment uncomprehending. “Yes?”

“You like him,” Talbo said, this time accompanying the words with a gesture that required no translation.

Evgeni stared at him. Then he sputtered. “Fuck you,” he said. “Not true.”

But Talbo didn’t argue back, or tease. He looked serious and maybe a little sad as he said, “You’re omega. He’s alpha. And weird, but, you know, he plays fantastic hockey. Of course you like him.”

“Not of course.” Evgeni was angry for some reason he couldn’t have explained even to himself. It hardly mattered; under the brunt of his sudden wash of feeling, his fragile English failed him. “I not, not omega bitch.”

“Yo, G, look who you’re talking to.” Talbo gestured at himself. “I’ll be honest, I don’t really get why you picked Sid. Personally, I need—” and he used some word Evgeni didn’t know. Talbo must have seen it; he took a couple of obvious sniffs to clarify. “But just because we’re omegas doesn’t mean we don’t have needs. And wants,” He added, eyeing Evgeni carefully.

“Fuck you.” Evgeni hunched over his plate. He listened to Talbo breathe; took a sniff, and found that Talbo wasn’t angry, which irritated Evgeni even more.

“For example, I want a popsicle,” Talbo says, pushing to his feet. “I’ll get you one, too. Grape?”

Evgeni flipped him off. Talbo knew exactly how he felt about grape.

After Talbo had gone to the kitchen, Evgeni stared unseeingly at the coffee table. He thought about Sidney’s sheepish interview grins; about his full lips and the blush that would rise on his cheeks. He thought about Sidney’s hand, warm on Evgeni’s bare arm. He admitted to himself that yes, he liked Sidney Crosby. He liked every weird, incomprehensible thing about him.

He liked him, and he wanted him, and he couldn’t possibly have him, even supposing the feeling were mutual. The NHL already expected Evgeni to retire pregnant by age twenty-five. The last thing he needed was rumor of him pining after an alpha teammate like any omega in heat.

Shamed disappointment burned in his chest. Tears pricked at his eyelids.

He imagined a Sidney who dialed that crooked smile up full-beam when Evgeni walked into the room, who took Evgeni’s head in his hands and kissed him like he meant it. He imagined running his hands through Sidney’s hair; he wondered if Sidney would let Evgeni talk him out of the gel. He thought about curling up in the same bed with Sidney and listening to him sleep.

There was no reason, he told himself, to expect that any of those things would happen even if Evgeni could let them. He was giving up nothing, nothing at all except a possibility – a fairly unlikely one given how little interest Sidney had ever seemed to show in sex, or romance either.

“You okay?” Talbo settled next to him on the couch and handed him a bright green popsicle, which Evgeni took unthinkingly.

Evgeni swallowed back some more tears. He picked at the popsicle’s paper wrapping. “Guess you right. I am omega bitch.”

“That’s not fair,” Talbo said. Now he was angry; suddenly he reeked with it. “If anyone tells you that, I will fuck their shit up, Geno.”

“Then how you do? How you live, all these people watch you? Think omega, you can’t skate, can’t play hockey. Just go get knotted. Have kid, waste of draft pick.”

“It’s not easy,” Talbo admitted. Evgeni didn’t think he’d ever heard Talbo sound so serious. “You just can’t listen to them.”

“Don’t know how. Not want—” Evgeni snuck Talbo a glance. “Not want Pens think I not worth.”

Talbo snorted. “They picked you number two, Geno. Hell, they keep me around, right? No way they’re cutting loose their Russian superstar.”

“I great hockey player,” Evgeni conceded. Talbo huffed in outrage and shoved at Evgeni with the heel of his foot. “Not hockey I worry about. Anyway, it not matter,” he added, not sure whether he was trying to make himself feel better or worse. “Sid not care about omegas.”

Talbo was silent so long that Evgeni lifted his eyebrows. Talbo shrugged. “I think there’s more to that kid than we know.”

“What you mean?”

“Just a feeling. Look, you’re popsicle’s dripping.”

Evgeni sucked on his popsicle, showed Talbo his green tongue, and was obscurely comforted.

--

Gonch took Evgeni along for a grocery run one afternoon and paused in the scent-block aisle. “What?” Evgeni asked.

“You need something stronger than you’re using now.”

Evgeni rolled his eyes. “I don’t stink any more after we lose a game than anyone else does. Those fuckers are lying.”

“They are not lying, but that’s not why we’re here.” Gonch’s expression became more pinched. “Every time you look at Crosby, I can smell it.”

“Oh.” Evgeni’s cheeks burned. He turned to the shelves for distraction and was immediately bewildered by all the brands and labels. Gonch helped him pick out a couple of high-strength dampeners to try, ones that could mute anger and arousal both.

It wasn’t until he helped Gonch lift the grocery bags into the car that Evgeni mustered up the courage to say, “I didn’t think I was that obvious.”

“Maybe not to people who don’t live with you.”

“Fuck.”

Almost gently, Gonch said, “No one expects you to be celibate, Zhenya. And no one is surprised that an omega in a pack of half-naked alpha athletes might see something he likes. Or smell something, for that matter.”

“I am not an animal,” Evgeni said. “I am not just a bitch in fucking heat.”

“No.” Gonch patted his shoulder. “No, you are a young man who for reasons outside of his control cannot get laid often as he’d like and for reasons beyond my understanding has chosen Sidney Crosby as the object of his frustration.”

“Does everyone know?” Evgeni asked hopelessly. Talbo did, but Evgeni had chalked that up to omega intuition and Talbo being a nosy son of a bitch.

“Perhaps don’t stare at him so often,” Gonch advised, which was not an answer.

But Evgeni couldn’t keep himself from looking. Sidney was everywhere the team was, and Evgeni had precious little life outside the team. Evgeni couldn’t have, but he could look. So from the corner of his eye Evgeni caught glimpses of the dark curls at the back of Sidney’s neck, of the fall of his necklace chain over his collarbone, of Sidney’s hip bone angling sharply into his boxers. Normally he’d have agreed with Talbo that a good strong musk was essential in an alpha, but Sidney’s aggressive lack of scent only made Evgeni curious; it did nothing to stem the attraction. Evgeni looked, and he wanted.

Sid caught him looking occasionally. He didn’t seem to mind. He’d toss Evgeni a grin or flip him off or make fun of his hair – with chirps that were, Evgeni slowly gathered from the other guys’ responses, as stilted and peculiar as Evgeni’s own attempts. And Sidney didn’t have the excuse of making them in a foreign language.

It was nice, that Sidney didn’t turn self-conscious or upset; that it never seemed to occur to him that Evgeni’s motives for looking might not be entirely pure. Very convenient, as far as Evgeni was concerned. Evgeni reminded himself of that repeatedly, and each time afterwards he spent a futile half hour ignoring Sidney before he gave up.

He was in the middle of one of those half-hours, putting his street clothes on after practice, when suddenly Sidney was standing next to him. “Oh, hey,” Sidney said, reaching for the scent block sitting in Evgeni’s locker. “This is heavy duty stuff. You always use this?”

Evgeni grabbed it from him and shoved it to the back of the locker. “Not you know?” he asked, a little too sharply. He was not going to explain to Sidney of all people why he’d needed an upgrade.

“Uh.” Sidney’s fingers went to the buttons of his shirt, as yet unbuttoned. “I haven’t been paying attention, I guess.”

Evgeni stared, torn between disbelief and sickening disappointment. Surely he’d misheard.

Under his gaze, Sidney started to flush. “Never mind. If, uh. If that one doesn’t work for you, let me know. I can hook you up with something stronger.” And then he strode away and knelt to rummage in his equipment bag with all the patented Sidney Crosby focus. His ears were bright red.

Evgeni could only continue to stare. His feet were rooted to the floor. It was one thing not to chirp him for stinking up the locker room after losses, and another thing to not notice. How could Sidney not notice?

Forget the courting scent Evgeni had apparently been giving off for weeks before Gonch decided to do something about it. Sidney didn’t give a damn about any of Evgeni’s moods, platonic or otherwise. He just didn’t care.

Evgeni went off fuming to have burgers with Talbo, who scented his temper and mercifully left him alone stew in it. As Evgeni climbed into Talbo’s car afterwards, Talbo finally ventured, “Everything okay?”

“I am stupid,” Evgeni said. “I am stupid idiot.”

“As are we all, my friend.”

Evgeni played out his feelings on the ice the next night. That meant a goal that he would have been happy with in normal circumstances and penalty minutes that Therrien wouldn’t have been happy with under any circumstances. Sidney grabbed Evgeni’s shoulder as they walked down the tunnel at second intermission. “What are you doing out there, Geno?”

Evgeni shrugged off Sidney’s hand. “What the fuck you care?” Which wasn’t fair, but Evgeni was not inclined to be charitable.

Sidney’s expression clouded. “I care about this game, douchebag. And fuck you.”

Evgeni took a slashing penalty in the third, the Coyotes scored on the power play, and that was the game.

He avoided everyone’s eyes afterwards in the locker room. He was still angry, now as much at himself as Sidney. He peeled off his socks and shrugged out of his stinking Under Armour, and he stopped up his ears as much as he could. Three stalls over, media people were thrusting mics in Sidney’s face and asking him about the game, and Evgeni could not stand to hear what excuses Sidney - Sidney - might make for him. “Hey, G—” Talbo began.

“I know!” Evgeni said. “Fuck, I know. I know I stupid emotional omega, and I make lose game, and I go home and I get head straight, so leave alone.”

“Right. Okay. You do that, Geno.”

But everyone did leave him alone after that.

Evgeni went home and played Call of Duty for three hours. He’d regret it in practice the next day, but he’d regret it more if he didn’t. He couldn’t afford to stay in this funk; couldn’t have another game like the one he’d just had. He shuddered to think what the media was already saying about him. So he shot Nazis with bitter satisfaction until the sting of the loss had faded a little.

--

“Hey, Geno, pizza. You in?” Talbo asked after practice.

Evgeni gave it a moment’s thought. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m in.”

He should have asked who else was coming, maybe. It was Talbo and Army and Jordy and Flower, and he liked all those guys fine, but also Sidney, and. Well. Evgeni ignored him until they were all walking into the restaurant and Sidney sidled up next to him to say, “Hey, good practice.”

Evgeni turned to stare at him. He took a sniff, but Sidney smelled of the same sterile emotionlessness he always did. All novelty that had ever had was abruptly gone. Evgeni had no way of telling if Sidney was sincere, and he didn’t care. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was staying on professional, more or less civil terms with Pittsburgh’s star player. “You, too,” he said, and turned away.

Still, he couldn’t help pettily picking Army and Jordy’s pizza to share, despite his feelings about pineapple. Since Sid loathed the olives Flower and Talbo insisted on piling onto their pizza, Sid ended up ordering his own. He shot a betrayed look at Evgeni, which Evgeni ignored.

The talk turned inevitably to the previous night’s game. Everyone consoled Flower on the missed goalie interference call when the Coyotes scored in the first, and Army’s scrum with the Yote d-man was recounted with great relish.

“But Geno made him sorry, right?” Sidney said, elbowing Evgeni in the ribs. “That goal was a fucking beaut. Right over his stick.”

Evgeni took a sharp breath and said very carefully, “Yes. Right over his stick. And we still lose.”

Some of his feeling was clearly leaking out despite his efforts; Talbo was making a face. Sidney kept right on. “Hey, at least you pulled us even again.”

“And we still lose.” Evgeni knew he was scowling ferociously at Sidney, and he didn’t care. Sidney’s brow furrowed in confusion.

Talbo cut in, “Yeah, well, at least you upped your blockers, or we’d all have suffocated in the locker room.”

“You’re like some kind of environmental hazard,” Army agreed.

Evgeni kept on scowling for form’s sake, but this was familiar chirping territory, and the tension coiling in him began to relax. Soon enough the conversation moved on to new tweaks Therrien was making to the power play.

As they got ready to leave, Flower said, “So, games tonight at Sid’s?”

“And Thai,” Sidney added. He glanced at Evgeni. “You’re coming, right, Geno?”

Evgeni glanced at Sidney, and then at Talbo, whose eyebrow was raised knowingly, and finally at Flower and Jordy, both looking more confused the longer Evgeni failed to answer. “I say Gonch I eat dinner with him,” Evgeni said, and strode out onto the sidewalk.

--

“Your playmate is here to see you,” Gonch said the next morning.

Evgeni pulled his toothbrush out of his mouth and stared blearily at Gonch. “What?”

“Sidney Crosby is sitting at my kitchen table distracting my daughter from her breakfast.”

“Sid’s here? It’s—” Evgeni glanced at the clock. “It’s eight thirty in the morning. We have practice.”

“Yes, so perhaps you would go deal with him before we’re late.”

Evgeni rinsed out his mouth and blinked at the mirror a few times, waiting for an Evgeni to appear in it who looked awake. When that failed, he pulled on a t-shirt and tromped out to find out what the fuck Sidney Crosby wanted now.

Sidney scrambled to his feet when Evgeni appeared in the doorway. “Hey. Geno.”

Evgeni went to the cabinet and pulled out a mug. “What you want?”

“I was hoping I could talk to you?”

Evgeni shot him a glance. Sidney’s hands were wedged into his pockets, and as Evgeni looked, a flush rose in Sidney’s cheeks. Evgeni heaved a sigh out through his nose. “You want coffee?”

“Uh, no. No, that’s okay.”

Evgeni poured himself a cup. “Living room,” he said. Sidney obediently followed. He sat on the couch, so Evgeni took the recliner. He blew on his coffee and waited for an explanation. When none came, he glanced up to see Sidney staring at the carpet. “You want say something?”

“I guess I really screwed this up.” Sidney’s hands closed around his kneels, clearly bracing himself for something. Evgeni couldn’t fucking wait to find out what it was. “You remember a few days ago, when I said I didn’t know if you’d switched blockers because I wasn’t paying attention?”

Evgeni couldn’t help his scowl. “I remember.”

Sidney huffed unhappily. “I thought you probably did. Um, that was a lie.”

“What lie?” Evgeni demanded.

Sidney sent him a pleading look. Evgeni remained unmoved, and Sidney’s face fell. “It’s not that I was ignoring you, Geno. I just, I can’t smell, really.”

Evgeni blinked. “What you mean, not smell?” Vaguely he recalled that he’d wondered that very thing, months ago. But, “I check, with smelling salt.”

“Oh my god, is that what you were doing? You asshole.” Sidney rolled his eyes. “No, I mean, I’m not completely blind. I can smell, like, dinner. I just can’t scent people.”

Evgeni had to wait a few seconds for that to sink in, and even then he wasn’t sure he had it right. “You not scent any? No one?”

Sidney shrugged. It did nothing to loosen the line of his shoulders. “Not really.”

Evgeni squinted, as if that would bring what Sidney was saying into clearer focus. “Why you not say?”

“Because it’s awkward! Everyone around me, they’re all talking to each other, and I don’t know what anyone’s saying. And how would Pittsburgh like it if their hockey savior were a fucking deficient?”

“Sid.” Evgeni got up and settled next to Sidney on the sofa. “Sid, that not good word.”

But Sidney seemed to be on a roll now. “Why do you think I love hockey so much?”

Evgeni took a moment to think about that before replying dryly, “Because you best player in the world.”

Sidney made a face. “Before that, moron. When I was a kid, on the ice, it never mattered. You can’t scent on the ice. All I ever needed were eyes and ears.”

Evgeni was still trying to comprehend the full magnitude of this revelation. “In locker room, you not know what anyone feel?”

“I mean, I can see when people are unhappy. And changes of tone, that kind of thing.”

Evgeni tried to imagine navigating the locker room, a team dinner, a presser, anything on such meager information. Then he had another thought. “And bar? When Jordy court that omega, and you just interrupt. You not know.”

“Yeah. That, uh. That happens a lot.” Sidney hunched in on himself a little more. “Anyway, so. That’s why. With your scent block. I didn’t mean, um. I know I offended you.”

It was a shame Sidney couldn’t scent Evgeni right then; perhaps he could have told Evgeni what he was feeling. “It not your fault. I upset—”

“Understatement,” Sidney said, smiling slightly. “I thought you were going to kill Perreault. Good thing I was on your team.”

“Fuck you.” Evgeni’s memories of the game were still raw. He took a deep breath. “I upset, but understand now. Wish you say before.”

“Sorry,” Sidney grimaced. “I haven’t really told anyone on the team, before. Well, Army knows. So maybe don’t mention it?”

Evgeni suddenly wanted very much to take Sidney in his arms and hug him until he’d squeezed that forlorn note out of his voice. Fuck Evgeni’s omega instincts. He made do with squeezing Sidney’s shoulder instead.

“Shit,” Sidney said. “Shit, we have to get to practice. Are you riding with Gonch?” He pushed to his feet.

Evgeni stared at Sidney, still trying to fit this new piece into the Sidney puzzle. For now, he said, “I ride with you, you want.”

That grin Evgeni liked so much spread across Sidney’s face. “Yeah. Yeah, you should do that.”

--

It only occurred to Evgeni as he was lacing up his skates that none of this answered the question of why Sidney wore scent blockers.

--

Now that Evgeni knew, he saw it all the time: Sidney blithely inserting himself into fraught, only superficially polite conversations; continuing jokes past the point of everyone’s irritation; completely ignoring the omegas at the bar making scents at him. All the Sidney oddities that Evgeni had observed individually in the past were suddenly of a piece.

Evgeni joined Sidney’s table one night and stole a buffalo wing from him. “Where Jordy go?”

“There was some girl. I dunno.” Sidney flapped his hand towards the bar. “Hey, that’s my wing.”

Evgeni popped it in his mouth and then had to fight off a grimace. Sidney’s taste in sinus-burning flavors was another thing that made sense these days, but Evgeni still forgot sometimes. “No. Your wing over there, hit on bartender.”

Sidney laughed at that for several moments longer than it deserved, bathing Evgeni in beer-breath. “You’re funny.”

“More funny with beer.” Evgeni took a sip to demonstrate.

“Mm.” Sidney peered into his empty glass. “What about you, Geno? You could hit on the bartender.”

“Not nice, take from Army.”

“Okay, not the same bartender. But someone.”

Evgeni shrugged. “I hook up, sometime. You know.”

“With omegas. Because it’d look bad, if you fucked an alpha.”

Evgeni inhaled slowly through his nose. “Yes.”

“I’m sorry,” Sidney said, lifting his head to look earnestly at Evgeni. “That’s not fair. You should get to fuck any kind of person you want.”

“Nice to say,” Evgeni said, because otherwise he’d have said, I want to fuck you.

He didn’t know how to deal with his crush on Sidney anymore. Now that he was over being angry, he still wanted Sidney, when he flew across the ice or stepped damp and curly out of the shower or now, tipsy and malleable and all genial smiles. But Sidney wasn’t just his teammate now. He was a friend who’d shared something personal with Evgeni, and that felt more important than getting in Sidney’s pants, however much Evgeni did want to get into them.

Instead of confessing any of that, Evgeni said, “What about you? Who you want to fuck?”

Sidney wrinkled his nose. He dropped his voice to a stage whisper and said, “I can’t smell, you know.”

Evgeni blinked. “Yes, I know. And?”

“Isn’t sex all about, like, smell?” Sid inhaled sharply, throwing his head back and his chest out in a move a porn star could be proud of. Evgeni coughed in surprise, and then he shifted in his seat to relieve the sudden pressure on his crotch. It took him another few seconds for Sidney’s words to sink in.

“You...” Evgeni collected himself and continued. “You not have sex? Ever?”

“Oh, sure.” Sidney dismissed this with an unconcerned wave of his hand. “A couple of times with Jack, and Army’s found me people before.”

“Jack?”

“At Shattuck.”

Evgeni thought Jack was a male name, although he wasn’t sure. “Alpha or omega?”

“Oh, alpha. The Canes drafted him,” Sidney added, like that clarified everything.

At least, Evgeni supposed, this cleared up any lingering questions about Sidney’s opinions on same-sex relationships. “And you not like have sex with him?”

“I mean.” Sidney shrugged. “It was fine, I guess. I don’t know. Isn’t it supposed to be, like, exciting? Like you want to do it again?”

Evgeni wasn’t entirely sure how he was suddenly explaining sex to Sidney Crosby. “Sometime,” he said cautiously. “Sometime not. Depend. Maybe—” Evgeni wasn’t sure if he was making this next suggestion for Sidney’s sake or his own. “Maybe it because he alpha. Maybe you not like alphas.”

Sidney rolled his eyes. “Geno.”

“Geno, what?”

From the look Sidney was giving him, Evgeni was obviously the stupidest person alive. “I can’t smell them. I can’t tell the difference.”

“Oh.” Evgeni looked blankly down into his beer. Then he took a large gulp, as though that would take some of the shock away. Somehow, despite Evgeni’s possibly morbid fascination with Sidney’s condition and all the thought he’d given it the last couple of weeks, this had never occurred to him.

Evgeni tried to imagine a world full of people that couldn’t identify him as an omega on first sniff. Sidney couldn’t have known he was an omega if someone hadn’t told him. It was like a wall Evgeni had been leaning on had suddenly fallen over and taken him with it. Trying to rally, he said, “Jack is man? You like men?”

Sidney bit his lip, sobering enough to look a little self-conscious for the first time in the conversation. “I guess. I mean, Jack is, yeah. And maybe? But I can’t smell them, so I can’t really be attracted, right?”

Evgeni snorted. “You think people when sick, nose all sick, they not have sex?”

“Uh.” Sidney’s brow furrowed. “I didn’t really think about it.”

“Sid, there other people can’t smell, like you. They have sex. They want fuck people.”

“Probably not just like me,” Sidney mumbled.

“What?”

Sidney closed his eyes and rubbed at his forehead. When his eyes opened again, they were clearer and less happy. “I can’t, I’m. I’m too drunk for this conversation. Can we just. I’ll tell you later, if you want. Okay?”

Evgeni had no idea what conversation it was that they couldn’t have, but he said, “Sure, Sid. You want cab?”

“Yeah. Yeah, if you could, that’d be great.”

So Evgeni helped Sidney wobble out to the curb and sent him home. Then he went back in for a fresh beer that Brooksie acquired for him, and he sipped on it moodily until Talbo and the guys were ready to leave.

Sid seemed none the worse for wear at practice the next day, nor any more awkward than usual. He bumped shoulders with Evgeni when Evgeni got out onto the ice and laughed as loudly as anyone when Talbo tripped Evgeni and sent him flat on his face. If Evgeni hadn’t caught Sidney after practice taking quick, nervous glances towards Evgeni’s stall every so often, he’d wonder if Sidney remembered the conversation from the night before at all.

--

As they moved into January, Evgeni felt that itch building under his skin that always came this time of year. Soon after he arrived in Pittsburgh, he’d met with the team physician and scheduled his winter heat for the six-day break at the end of January. Now, after suffering through a complete physical with the same physician, Evgeni switched from the full suppressants to the ones that counted down to his heat.

Some omegas couldn’t tell the difference, especially at first. Evgeni envied them a little. For Evgeni, it was immediate and unmistakable: a burning in his blood and the sudden new attractiveness of all his teammates, even Sidney, whose alpha musk was buried underneath those industrial-strength blockers and who didn’t need improving in any case, and Talbo, who of course had no musk at all. Evgeni started wearing numbing balm on his upper lip to dull his nose a little and keep him from, say, unwisely cornering Brooksie in the shower - not that that wasn’t starting to sound fun on a number of different levels.

“You’re taking a heat break after the Toronto game, too, yeah?” Talbo asked one day. “Have you made any plans?”

This was the part of the ordeal Evgeni had been putting off. “I think, maybe pay?”

Talbo made a face. “A heat service alpha?”

Evgeni shrugged. He’d had the idea of asking Ksenia to help him find such a person, but had not yet worked up the nerve.

“You could do that. Or, you could crash at my place, and we could have some real fun.”

“You want?” Evgeni asked, trying not to sound too hopeful.

“Do I want to finally get my hands on this ass? Are you kidding?” Talbo grabbed a pinch of Evgeni to demonstrate. “Hell, yes.” And he fixed Evgeni with his sleaziest leer. Evgeni stuck out his tongue.

So that was all right.

A few days before the break, Evgeni sorted through his heat supply and made sure it was in order, that he had plenty of condoms and that all his dildos were clean, that his bottle of artificial alpha musk hadn’t expired. The night before the Toronto game, he dreamed of Sidney and Oksana taking turns with his ass, and he woke in the morning to a raging hard-on and sopping sheets.

He took care of both those things and showered the smell of slick off himself, and then he went to rummage something edible from the kitchen. Or a lot of somethings. He’d definitely hit the calorie-loading stage of his preheat.

Gonch’s eyebrows rose at his plate, piled with leftovers, and he said, “It’s just Toronto. You could scratch tonight.”

Evgeni bared his teeth behind his coffee mug. “I’m not scratching.”

“Will you do us any good?”

“You might be surprised,” Evgeni said, and Gonch left it at that.

Therrien took Evgeni aside at morning skate and asked him the same question, and Evgeni gave the same answer. “I play tonight. Not scratch.”

“I don’t want an incident out on the ice.”

“I fine,” Evgeni insisted. And Therrien, too, let it go.

Evgeni knew why, too. They were all waiting to see what Evgeni Malkin on the verge of heat was capable of doing. And next week, they’d want to see what Evgeni Malkin, post-heat and wrung dry, was capable of doing. Perhaps in five years, they’d know everything they could possibly want about the omega-specific habits and whims and rhythms of Evgeni Malkin, though Evgeni wasn’t counting on it.

That afternoon, Evgeni woke up from his pre-game nap to see a text from Talbo. heat early. have 2 let u have all the fun. come to my place after. kill em G!

Evgeni could feel the buzz just barely under his skin, fizzing in his belly and his chest, pulsing in his ears. The rest of the locker room clearly felt it, too, even through Evgeni’s several layers of scent block. Brooksie slapped him on the shoulder and said, “Bet the talking heads see a lot of energy tonight, huh?”

“Not just see energy,” Evgeni said loftily.

“You show ‘em, Geno,” Army said, and Jordy and Flower called their agreement.

An hour later, when Evgeni bumped helmets with Sidney, followed him onto the ice, and felt the effortless glide of it under his skates, he knew suddenly and certainly that he wouldn’t disappoint. Sometimes it went this way: the buzz under his skin focusing him so that he saw everything a little bit sooner, a little bit sharper. The fire building in his gut became an engine propelling him. Tonight, the ice belonged to him.

He got his first assist at the five minute mark, off Jordy’s wrister, his first penalty seven game minutes later. Another assist, another two minutes in the box by the end of the first period, and he couldn’t begin to care.

With five minutes to go in the third, Evgeni had five assists, Recchi had a hat trick, and the Penguins were up eight to two. A scrum sucked both teams in like a black hole, the frustrated Leafs and the jubilant Pens, and Evgeni shouted himself hoarse from the bench as Brooksie and a Leaf goaded each other to mutual game misconducts.

Evgeni stepped off the ice high on the win but losing his grip on that laser-sharp focus. He stopped Sidney on the way back from the showers and said, “You go out?” A bunch of the guys were; a decisive win and six days between games were more than sufficient excuse to get thoroughly drunk. Evgeni was sorry he was going to miss it.

Sidney said, “I was going to. Why?”

“Give ride to Talbo house, before?”

“Talbo?”

Evgeni wondered if, in Sidney’s oblivious way, he’d somehow missed what Evgeni planned to do with his six days off. “Heat break. Me and Talbo.”

“Oh. Right. Um, yeah, I can take you?” His confusion was evident.

Evgeni leaned in close to clear it up for him. Dropping his voice, he said, “More easy for you than other guys. You not know how good I smell.” Tipsy on six months of pent-up hormones, he took a stage sniff of the skin behind Sidney’s ear, just for the fun of it. Sidney startled backwards, and Evgeni grinned broadly at him.

“Okaaay,” Sidney said, slapping his shoulder bracingly. “We’ll do that, then. Let me just get my gear.”

“I wait,” Evgeni said placidly.

Sidney said their goodbyes to the team and promised to meet up with the others later. Some friendly catcalls followed Evgeni out the door, and he flipped them all of as he went. He felt too good to be irritated. He’d had a five point game, and now he was going to go have Talbo fuck him to within an inch of his life. And vice versa, obviously. Talbo would probably want to go first; he’d been waiting longer.

Sidney pulled up to the curb of Talbo’s house. Evgeni dragged himself out of his daze long enough to say, “Thanks, Sid.”

“You bet. Uh, have fun.”

“You want to come in?” Evgeni asked, suddenly, sharply hopeful.

“Uh. No... thank you?”

“Sure? More better if you there.” It was so obviously true, even if it hadn’t properly occurred to Evgeni until just now, and he tried to imbue the statement with all the earnestness and conviction he had in him.

Sidney eyed him doubtfully. “I’ll pass, thanks.”

“Too bad.” Evgeni leaned over the gap between the seats to leave a wet smack of a kiss on Sidney’s cheek. “Bye, Sid.”

“Bye.” There might have been a funny note in Sidney’s voice, but Evgeni dismissed it immediately. He had other things to think of now. He strode up the walk and knocked loudly and repeatedly on Talbo’s door.

Talbo opened it and yanked Evgeni into his darkened hallway. “Five points, you fucker,” he said, and then he kissed Evgeni into the wall.

--

In the late afternoon of – he thought – the third day, Evgeni said, “I think I ask Sid for heat break.”

Underneath him, Talbo woke up from his doze enough to say, “Heat break isn’t like Christmas, Geno. You don’t get presents. ”

“No! No, I ask him, come here.”

Talbo pushed himself up on one elbow to peer over his shoulder at Evgeni. “You asked him here? And he said no?”

Evgeni rolled carefully off of Talbo. “Hard to remember.” Kissing Sidney on the cheek, he remembered. Sidney’s words had apparently made less of an impression.

“Well, he’s not here taking advantage of two delectable and needy O’s, so, his loss. Are you hungry? I’m fucking starving.”

A quick survey of Evgeni’s internal systems suggested he might be hungry. “And then fuck, after. My turn.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

--

Evgeni woke mid-morning of the fourth day starving and encrusted with bodily juices. He took himself to the shower on shaky legs, and when he stepped out again, it felt like the dawn of a new era, like the sun’s first rays after a storm.

He took a lot of deep breaths, which felt good but informed him in no uncertain terms of the state of Talbo’s bedroom. After choking on that for a couple of moments, he made his way downstairs and found Talbo sacked out on the couch. “Lazy,” Evgeni chided. Talbo didn’t so much as stir.

Evgeni ate breakfast. By the time he finished, his eyelids were drooping. One night’s sleep was not sufficient recovery for four nights’ fucking, and now that he was clean and fed, the weariness crept steadily back into his limbs.

To stave off the inevitable, he called Therrien and left a message saying he and Talbo were fine for the flight to Dallas the next evening. He scrolled through all his missed texts and felt obscurely disappointed that none of them were from Sidney, even though he and Sidney weren’t really texting buddies. Then again, Evgeni was beginning to recall some strong if fractured images of coming onto Sidney in his car, which was definitely not a thing they did, either. A knot began to twist in his stomach.

Rather than think about it – it was clearly not a situation in any way improved by thinking – he stumped back upstairs, crawled into a bed across the hall and two doors down from the one he’d spent the last four days in, and went back to sleep.

He and Talbo drove into the rink together the next day. They were greeted with catcalls and accusations that it was all a trick to get out of practice. Evgeni was grateful Sidney was away in Dallas, doing whatever people did while they were waiting to play in all-star games. It meant he didn’t have to decide whether he wanted to catch or avoid Sidney’s eye.

Instead, he kept his head down and focused on untangling his senses and instincts and muscle memory until they once again resembled those of a hockey player. He stayed after with Talbo to practice a few more drills and make up for lost time.

“Don’t wear yourselves out,” Therrien cautioned. “Game tomorrow.”

“Just practice,” Evgeni agreed.

Therrien paused. Evgeni waited, impatient to return to the shooting drill. Finally Therrien said, “That was a hell of a game you played the other night, Geno.”

“Thanks,” Evgeni said mildly. Something loosened in his chest. After Therrien had left the ice, Talbo slapped Evgeni on the ass with his stick in celebration.

The team flew to Dallas. Sidney joined them at the hotel. Evgeni caught Sidney staring at him more than once, but there was no time or privacy to find out why, even had Evgeni been sure he wanted to. They beat the Stars in a shootout, and the next night they thrashed the Coyotes seven to two, which Evgeni found moderately satisfying after the last time, even though he personally only managed three shots.

On the bench, he and Sidney were fine. In the locker room things were a little awkward, a little anxious in ways that Evgeni knew the whole team could smell – from Evgeni at least - and was quietly not commenting on. By the time they boarded their home flight, Sidney had not only stopped staring after Evgeni but stopped meeting his eyes at all. Evgeni had no idea what that meant.

--

Therrien kept the first power play squad after practice to test out a tweak he’d been saving until Evgeni got back from heat break. Evgeni scowled over that tidbit, but they ran the play a few times and got the general gist. The locker room was almost empty when Evgeni and Sidney and the others got in, and Evgeni spent extra time in the shower, trying to let the hot water sluice away his embarrassment. Yet somehow, when Evgeni came back, there was Sidney, sitting in his stall in street clothes like he’d been there all along.

“Sidney,” Evgeni said. He didn’t know what he felt, other than uncertain.

“Hey.” Sidney shoved to his feet. “Hey, I was wondering if you wanted to eat?”

Evgeni opened his mouth with the idea of excusing himself, but the uncertainty in Sidney’s face began to resolve into a scowl that Evgeni could not just now bear to be the cause of. So Evgeni said, “Yes. Lunch.”

The scowl didn’t disappear, but it did lighten a bit. “I can drive,” Sidney said, as though there were any other option.

When they were seated and waiting for their drinks to arrive, Sidney said, “You were pretty far gone when I dropped you off at Talbo’s last week.” His smile wasn’t as casual as he clearly meant it to be. “Before the break.”

“I’m fine,” Evgeni said, perhaps a little sharp.

“Yeah, but. Are you sure you should have played that night? What if something had happened on the ice?”

“I’m fine,” Evgeni bit out. “I control myself. I know when too late. Too late, I not get five points.”

Sidney shrugged. He straightened the paper placemat. “You just, you cut it really close.”

“What you know? You know lots about heat?” Despite himself, Evgeni was suddenly very interested to hear the answer.

Sidney shrugged tightly. “I’m just saying. You hit on me, for fuck’s sake. You can’t tell me you were in your right mind.” Evgeni opened his mouth, but his mind was unhelpfully blank. Sidney mouth turned down, and it was to his silverware rather than to Evgeni that he said, “I don’t even have a musk. If you think I smell like a good idea, then there can’t be a lot of functioning brain cells left, right?”

Evgeni didn’t understand what was happening here, except that the bitter tang to Sidney’s tone and expression was easily as strong as any Evgeni could have scented. Perhaps Evgeni had broken something, him and his heat. It wasn’t supposed to work like that. People were supposed to understand that it was like booze or sleeplessness, that a person might say anything on the crest of that hormonal rush. Fuck.

Cautiously, Evgeni said, “I’m sorry, Sid. I’m not mean make angry.”

“No, I know.” Sidney shrugged and looked Evgeni in the eye. “I know it didn’t mean anything. It could have happened with anyone. Right?”

“Good thing Gonch not there,” Evgeni agreed, still not sure what conversation they were having.

Sidney laughed with something like real humor. “Right? God.” He fiddled with his baseball cap and said, “I’m going to hit the head, okay? Tell the guy I want whole wheat spaghetti, extra sauce.” And then he was out of the booth and halfway down the room.

Evgeni did some thinking. He weighed the merits of honesty versus comfort. By the time Sidney came back, Evgeni had ordered for them both and also reached a decision. Once Sid was settled in his seat again, Evgeni said, “I lie.”

Sidney’s startled eyes met his. “What?”

Evgeni shrugged. “Kind of lie. If Gonch drive, I not ask him.”

Sidney blinked at him a couple of times, and then understanding seemed to dawn. “Well, because he’s old,” Sidney said, fixing his eyes on the salt shaker. “And married.”

“No. Not Army or Flower or Brooksie – I not ask him. Them.”

“What are you saying, Geno?” Sidney asked tightly.

“Heat not like you think, everyone thinks. Everyone wrong.” Evgeni swept his hand around the room, trying futilely to encompass the magnitude of the wrongness. “Heat not make me do things. Not things I don’t want.”

“Then what?” Sidney’s voice was like a croak. Evgeni didn’t know what that meant.

He took a deep breath. “Things I do on heat, I want most. Things I can’t have. Heat make me forget why I can’t.”

“Like what?”

Evgeni took his napkin in his hands. He wanted to rip it in two. “Like you.” He dared a glance at Sidney, but Sidney was staring at him, and Evgeni shied away from that blankness. “I’m sorry, Sid. Wasn’t going to say, but heat make me tell truth.” He shrugged tightly. “Omegas like alphas. I like you. Normal, right?” That last came out like a plea.

“That can’t be right.”

Evgeni dared another glance, and this time he kept looking, because Sidney’s eyes were glassy with tears. “Sid?” Evgeni never dreamed he could upset the balance so badly with just a heat-driven come-on and a single, poorly judged kiss on the cheek. He shouldn’t have said anything. Fuck honesty. “Sid, I sorry.”

“I don’t even have a musk,” Sidney hissed. “This isn’t funny. You can’t tell me that when you were on the edge of heat, I was who you wanted.”

“I’m not understand,” Evgeni said slowly. “What you mean, don’t have musk?” He’d heard Sidney say the same twenty minutes ago, but he’d assumed Sidney just meant that Evgeni couldn’t smell it, on account of the scent blockers.

Then Sidney sniffled, and Evgeni realized with dawning horror that he was making Sidney Crosby cry in public. If a Flyers fan happened through, Sidney would hear about it until the grave. “Sid. Sid, we get doggy box.”

Sidney wiped at his eyes with one hand. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”

Evgeni sent Sidney out to the car while he managed to convey their request to the waiter, paid, and waited for the styrofoam boxes in their tidy to-go bag. Then he went to find Sidney.

Sidney’s eyes appeared to have dried. Once Evgeni was in the car, passenger door shut and to-go bag tucked in the back seat, Sidney put his hand on the key and said, “You want me to take you to Gonch’s?”

Evgeni hesitated. “We go somewhere for talk?”

Sidney dropped his hands to his lap and stared at them. “I know I promised to tell you, but.”

“Sidney Crosby, secret omega?” Evgeni offered, only half joking.

But Sidney laughed humorlessly. “God, no. Close, I guess, but no.”

“Close,” Evgeni repeated, bewildered.

Sidney’s hands curled loosely. “Do you know what a beta is?”

Evgeni gave that a half-second’s thought. “Not know that word.”

“It’s. Like. It’s a person that’s not alpha or omega. Like a genetic throwback. No knot and no heat. And no scenting or musk or anything.”

The description sounded familiar. Evgeni remembered hearing about something like it in a TV program once, though he’d never heard the English word for it. Then it hit him. “That you, Sid?” He thought back for the word. “Beta?”

Sidney took an unsteady breath. “Yeah. Yeah, I can’t scent, and I don’t smell like much, so I wear the blockers so people can’t tell what’s missing, and everyone just figures I’m weird, you know? Eccentric, hockey savior weird. Not a total fucking freak.”

“Sid,” Evgeni said, too overwhelmed by this new information and by the sound of fresh sniffling to think of any real words.

“Fuck.” Sidney wiped ineffectually at his eyes. “When I asked you to lunch, I swear it wasn’t so I could puke this all over you.”

Evgeni didn’t bother to respond to that. He shifted in his seat to reach across and lay a hand on Sidney’s shoulder. Sidney bowed his head, swallowing hard and visibly trying to pull himself together. After a few moments, he straightened and smiled wryly at Evgeni. “So, Gonch’s?”

Evgeni judged Sidney had bared enough of his soul for one day. “Gonch’s,” he agreed.

--

Evgeni went to the internet in hopes that it could explain what Sidney had told him. Information was spotty; half of the links he found were to medical websites, and the other half to sites that also devoted space to UFOs. He learned there were more betas than he would have thought, given how little he’d ever heard of them, and that some of them did what Sidney did, passing for alphas or omegas by wearing blockers or artificial musks. They were recommended the same kind of training that scent-blind people took to learn how to read body language and other social cues. Evgeni wondered if Sidney had ever had anything like that. He thought maybe not.

It was a lonely picture the articles painted. Evgeni couldn’t get it out of his head. He didn’t think Sidney had told many other people. He wasn’t entirely sure why Sidney had told him. He certainly didn’t know what he was supposed to do with the information, now that he had it.

Nothing, probably. Probably Sidney didn’t mean for him to do anything at all.

--

At the next team dinner, Sidney casually settled next to Evgeni. When he noticed Evgeni blinking at him, he shrugged and said, “This is okay, right?”

Evgeni shook himself out of his surprise. “Always okay,” he said. Sidney flashed him a grin, and there was something in it - or maybe just something Evgeni imagined he saw - that warmed him all through.

The talk was all of the three games they just played, of the two more still to go in this brutal eight-day stretch. It had been eleven games since a loss. Fizzing in them all was the dawning hope that this might mean something, might lead to something, although everyone was far too superstitious to say so aloud. The Penguins had been losing for a lot of years.

Still. Two shutouts for Flower in three games, two game-winners for Evgeni out of four games played: hope didn’t seem entirely unjustified anymore. Maybe that was why Sidney smiled so much that night. Winning could do that to a person.

They kept on winning. Sometimes Evgeni woke up giddy with it.

Sidney kept on sitting next to Evgeni at dinners or when they went out for pizza with the guys. It put Evgeni off balance a little. Months ago, Sidney had been the impossible quarry; now Sidney sought him out, elbowing him teasingly and bringing him in on jokes too quick or obscure for Evgeni to catch.

Evgeni had no idea what game he and Sidney were playing now. He wasn’t sure Sidney knew, either.

Maybe it wasn’t a game at all. Maybe this was just friends. Friends were good. No one could fault Evgeni for having alpha friends, at least not anymore than they already faulted for him playing in a league full of them.

It didn’t feel like friends.

“You’re not, like, old-fashioned, are you?” Talbo asked Evgeni one night on the road, as they got ready for bed.

“What?” Evgeni paused, his dirty sock hanging from his hand.

“You think the alpha always has to ask the omega?”

Evgeni blinked. “Ask what?”

“You and Sidney. Any idiot can see you scenting each other. Not literally,” he added, when Evgeni opened his mouth to protest. “Are you going to ask him out, or what?”

Evgeni didn’t know what he was going to do. He turned away, suddenly urgently in need of something from his suitcase. “I’m omega. Can’t, can’t sleep around with alphas.” Not that Sidney was one, but it turned out that didn’t help if everyone thought he was.

“Geno.” Evgeni turned to see him on the bed leaning forward on his elbows in a position Evgeni recognized. It was the posture from which Talbo dispensed life advice like Don’t go barefoot in the Islander visitor showers. “You think a year with the baby Pens, a year and a half here, I’ve never fucked a single alpha? Not that whole time?”

Evgeni hadn’t given it much thought. He’d assumed. “You did?”

Talbo shrugged. “I’m just quiet about it. And don’t give me that don’t speak the language shit, because if we’re talking about Sid then it doesn’t exactly count, does it?”

“You think I make up? Things people say if they find out? I make all up, what I hear on ice every game, what Russians say you not even understand.”

“And you don’t think I get the same from the Quebecois? I’m not saying there aren’t assholes. I’m saying...” Talbo shrugged. “You can’t let ‘em rule your life.”

“Easy to say,” said Evgeni, unmollified.

“Not any easier for me than for you.”

Evgeni looked at Talbo a long moment. Talbo met his eyes and didn’t waver. Finally, Evgeni grumbled under his breath, and then he said, “I’m think about it.”

He did think about it. About Talbo, getting a real knotting now and then with no one the wiser. About how that wasn’t even all Evgeni yearned for these days.

He didn’t come to any conclusions, but just the possibility of being able to have something long-term – with anyone - was intoxicating. And so, a little drunk with it, he grinned a little wider at Sidney when he saw him in the morning. He bumped shoulders a little more often with him in the locker room. His jokes, such as he could manage, got a little dumber, for the pleasure of seeing Sidney roll his eyes at them.

He thought, maybe.

There was a night at Sidney’s house, just Sidney and Evgeni and Flower and Colby and the Xbox 360, a couple of beers a piece, three pizzas to share. They played late, until finally Flower and Colby picked themselves up off the couch and made noises about heading home. “You want a ride?” Flower asked Evgeni.

Evgeni’s mouth was full of pizza. He hummed and shrugged his shoulders.

“I can take you home,” Sidney said from the other side of the room, where he was collecting bottles. “If you want to stay a while.”

So Evgeni waved the others goodbye, and then, once he’d finished his pizza slice, he helped Sidney gather up the rest of the trash and put the bottles in the recycling bin. Then he opened another beer, because he could. “Next time, vodka. I bring.”

Sidney laughed. “That sounds like a terrible idea.”

“Best idea.”

Sidney only shook his head. “Are you still hungry? I’ve got salsa. We could open chips.”

Evgeni wasn’t, really, but he didn’t want to go home yet, either. Because – well, he didn’t want to. “I eat some,” he agreed.

Sidney poured tortilla chips into a bowl and salsa into another, smaller bowl. Evgeni dipped a chip and stuck it in his mouth, and just about choked. He grabbed for his beer to wash it down with. “Fuck.”

“Can’t take the heat?” Sidney asked, face not quite straight.

“This reason you not smell,” Evgeni said. “Burn your nose out.”

Sidney stared at him a moment, mouth gapped open in shock, and Evgeni thought maybe he’d crossed a line. But then Sidney broke into a disbelieving grin. “Fuck you, Geno. Just. Just fuck you.”

“That what I say!” Evgeni said, half-teasing, and then paused as the words sunk in.

The skin over Sidney’s cheekbones turned red. “Um, I have some milder salsa, too.” He turned to the fridge, and he stood at its open doorway for longer than Evgeni judged strictly energy efficient. Just as Evgeni began to worry that he’d broken Sidney a little, Sidney said, “Were you serious? What you said before.”

“Say lot of things,” Evgeni said cautiously.

Sidney turned around, a salsa jar clutched in both hands. The fridge door swung shut behind him. “When you were in heat. You wanted me there? Really?”

Evgeni took a deep breath. It brought some more of the salsa aftertaste up his nose, making him cough. He swallowed some more beer. “Yes,” he said. “I say you before.”

“I know, I just. It takes some getting used to.” Sidney sat in a chair across the table and twisted the salsa jar between his hands.

“You not think people want you? You don’t sniff omegas in bars, scent for you all the time?”

Sidney slanted his gaze towards Evgeni. “You know I can’t, Geno.”

“Many,” Evgeni told him. “Bend finger, you have line of omegas. Alphas, too, you look at them right way. Sidney Crosby not need musk for pick up.”

Sidney snorted a laugh. It was an unhappy laugh. “Not for picking up, maybe. But later, I’m, you know. Kind of a disappointment.”

Evgeni could not fathom how this could be true. “Don’t believe.”

“Geno,” Sidney chided gently. “You remember the part where I don’t have a knot, right? And most people expect you to wash off your blockers first, if you wear them like I do, but I don’t have anything underneath for them to smell. I can’t get turned on just by taking a whiff of someone, either, so then they think I’m not interested.”

“Who they?” Evgeni demanded. “How many people you try?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Sidney looked away. “Three, I guess? Besides Jack.” He nodded firmly. “So it’s just better if I don’t hook up. Not that I can usually tell when people are into me anyway.”

“Me,” Evgeni said before he could think better of it. Sidney’s gaze snapped up to Evgeni’s face and fixed there. Evgeni swallowed. “I into you. Long time. Say myself no, can’t have alphas, but still want.”

“But I’m not an alpha.”

“Still want,” Evgeni repeated.

“I don’t know what to do with that,” Sidney said. His voice sounded a little scratchy.

“Could kiss me?” Evgeni said, more hopefully than he meant to. “If you want.” He was not at all sure that Sidney did. What Sidney wanted had thus far remained strictly outside of the discussion.

“Oh.” Sidney stared at Evgeni. The moment stretched out, long and slow and heavy, and Evgeni prepared himself to fold up his fragile hopes and put them away. Then Sidney pushed to his feet and came around the table, where he stood half a meter away, looking lost.

Evgeni took his wrist and tugged him down into the other chair. Sidney licked his lips, and then he lifted his hands and framed Evgeni’s face with them. He leaned in and up, and Evgeni leaned down. Sidney didn’t really know what to do with his lips, but they were warm and soft, and when Evgeni curled his hand over Sidney’s shoulder, Sidney hummed in what Evgeni thought was happy surprise.

After a few more moments, Evgeni pulled back. Sidney opened his eyes and stared at him, mouth open in a crooked, half-believing smile. Evgeni didn’t even need to ask if Sidney had liked it. Instead he said, “Better on couch.”

“Yeah,” Sidney said, star struck expression never changing. “Yeah, okay.”

So Evgeni stood up and took Sidney’s hand, and they moved to Sidney’s couch and made out like fifteen-year-olds, fumbling and uncertain and sincere. Evgeni felt like his chest could burst. Sidney’s hand cautiously began exploring him, his jaw line and his hair and the nape of his neck, and Evgeni skimmed his hands up and down Sidney’s back.

Eventually Evgeni pulled away again. As Sidney watched, Evgeni slid his palm across Sidney’s thigh and palmed his crotch. Sidney took a sharp breath. Like Evgeni, he was half hard. “I fix?” Evgeni offered, grinning wolfishly.

“I, uh. No? Not, uh. No, thank you,” Sidney said. He was more flustered than Evgeni expected, given Sidney’s avowed prior experience – sad and unsatisfying though it sounded to have been. “Not yet?”

“Is okay say no,” Evgeni assured him. He withdrew his hand and sternly told his dick it would just have to wait. “Can always say no.”

“I’m not saying no,” Sidney said, flatly contradicting himself. “I mean, I’m saying, later? Not tonight.”

“I work so hard, you waste it,” Evgeni said. Sidney stared at him until Evgeni cracked a smile, and then Sidney rolled his eyes.

“I bet you’d be willing to, uh. Work that hard again, another day. Right?” His eyes widened. “I mean, you would, right? This isn’t just one time?”

“Want do lots of times,” Evgeni said honestly.

That seemed to reassure Sidney. He relaxed against the back of the sofa. For a moment he was quiet, smoothing patterns into the microfiber upholstery. He took a deep breath and looked up. “Does this mean we’re dating now, or whatever?”

Evgeni swallowed hard. “You want?”

“I don’t want anything you don’t want. And I don’t know if I’d be any good at it, you know. I’ve never dated before. There didn’t seem like much point. And maybe it’s a bad idea, trying it first with you, of all people.”

“Why not me?” Evgeni demanded, instantly wounded and verging on angry.

“Because we’re teammates,” Sidney said. He didn’t even seem to notice Evgeni deflate. “We’ll be playing together a long time. Faces of the franchise, even, probably.”

“Oh.” Something in Evgeni’s tone must have given him away. Sidney lifted an eyebrow. “I think, maybe because I’m omega.” He was too quick to think that, maybe.

“What? No. What difference would that make?”

Evgeni laughed in disbelief. Of course Sidney would be the last person on Earth to judge Evgeni for his sex. He couldn’t even tell what it was without help. “Lot of people say big difference.”

“Oh.” Sidney’s eyebrows pinched together. “Right.”

“But you want date me?” That was easy enough to ask; he thought maybe he knew the answer. The next was harder. “You like me? Or I just, just new thing for try?”

“Of course I like you,” Sidney replied hotly.

“Not just friends,” Evgeni added.

“Not just friends,” Sidney said. The words were addressed to his knees. A new flush bloomed across his cheeks as he inspected his fingernails. “I guess I liked you for a long time, but there didn’t seem any point in thinking about it. And then you, with the heat and stuff, what you said, I wanted it to be real. But I didn’t think it was.”

“Was. Is.” Evgeni felt an absurd flash of pride at conjugating correctly. At least, he thought he had.

“Yeah.” Sidney lifted his eyes to meet Evgeni’s, and a light dawned in them that Evgeni had never seen there before. “I guess it is.”

--

Evgeni woke up early the next morning and quietly freaked out for a while.

Sidney wasn’t something he was supposed to have – a distraction, an alpha, as far as the world knew. The beginning of the end of Evgeni Malkin’s promising career. The media would feel vindicated. His mama would be glad, except for Sidney not being Russian.

Evgeni stared at his ceiling and thought about that light in Sidney’s eyes. He couldn’t tell Sidney he’d changed his mind. He didn’t even want to. And – his heart beat harder at this thought – he shouldn’t have to. He shouldn’t have to.

He lay there, his sheets gripped in curled fists and his mind racing, until his alarm went off.

In the car, on the way to practice, Evgeni told Gonch, “Sid and I are dating now.”

Gonch turned and blinked slowly at him, once, twice. “Try not to be stupid about it.”

Evgeni wasn’t entirely sure what being stupid would entail, and just then, he didn’t want to find out.

Sidney spotted him immediately as he walked into the locker room. Once he noticed Evgeni looking back, he dropped his eyes and went back to stashing his gear away. Evgeni couldn’t have that. He walked over and bumped shoulders, and when Sidney looked up, expression guarded and eyes searching, Evgeni let out the grin that felt like it’d been trying to take over his face for most of the morning. Cautiously Sid returned it, and the sight made Evgeni feel like fireworks were going off in his chest. Probably this was what Gonch meant, but it was too late, Evgeni thought. He was thoroughly stupid for Sidney Crosby.

Not so stupid, though, that he didn’t realize he was grinning at Sidney like a lunatic in a locker room full of the nosiest people on Earth. He bumped Sidney’s shoulder again and went back to his own stall.

The next time they had an evening free, Evgeni caught Sidney after practice and said, “You want dinner? I know restaurant. Russian. You like.”

He saw in Sidney’s face the moment he realized why Evgeni was asking him. “Oh.” That wondering light returned to his eyes. “Yeah. That’d be great. Should I wear, uh, something...?”

“Should wear something,” Evgeni agreed. “Russian restaurant, you not wear, they not serve you.”

“Asshole,” Sidney said, and shoved him in the arm.

Evgeni carefully copied down the directions that Gonch gave him, since of course Evgeni had never driven there himself. Gonch didn’t ask what he wanted them for. “I might be back late,” Evgeni told him.

“I won’t wait up,” Gonch said dryly.

Sidney appeared at his door promptly at six, wearing jeans and a black button-down under his coat and an expression of cautious hope on his face. “Look very nice,” Evgeni said.

“Thanks,” Sidney said, flushing. “You, too.”

They arrived at the restaurant without incident and after only one wrong turn. The menu was in Russian and English both, but Evgeni explained the items to Sidney and made suggestions for what he might want, as a Canadian with a Canadian’s palate. Sidney took this as a challenge and insisted on trying Evgeni’s favorites.

After Evgeni had ordered for them, Sid fidgeted with his silverware until Evgeni asked about his home in Nova Scotia. Evgeni didn’t follow all of it, but Sidney showed him photos on his phone. Their food began to arrive. Evgeni had tried to talk Sidney out of any of the sour soups, but it turned out he loved the one he’d ordered. Evgeni maybe should have guessed.

Out of the blue, Sidney said, “It’s easy to tell you things.”

Evgeni looked up from his soup. “Yes?”

“Yeah. At first it was because, you know, you didn’t understand me.”

Evgeni blinked at him. Then he thought back to those parodies of conversations they’d had, Evgeni chirping Sidney for his faceoffs and his hair while Sidney answered back with confessions Evgeni couldn’t understand. Suddenly he wanted more than ever to know what those confessions had been. “What you say? When you talk.”

Sidney shrugged. “Just stuff. Family stuff. Hockey stuff. It doesn’t matter. You always listened, you know?”

Evgeni huffed a laugh at this flexible definition of listening. He’d listened to the sounds coming from Sidney’s mouth, if that counted. Watched the shapes Sidney’s lips made, caught a word here and there.

“And now it’s easier, you knowing. About me.”

Sidney should have more than one person who understood him; it wasn’t fair to Sidney or Evgeni either that Evgeni was the only one, apparently, who did. But Evgeni didn’t know how to say that without sounding disapproving. Instead he said, “Glad you tell.” He reached across the table and tucked his hand around Sidney's fingers. Sidney smiled crookedly down.

Evgeni had ideas for after dinner, but as they put their coats on, Sidney said, “You want to come back to my place? We could watch TV or something.” And suddenly there was nothing in the world that Evgeni wanted more than that.

He wondered, once he’d tugged his slushy boots off and was standing in his socks in Mario Lemieux’s guest house’s foyer, precisely what Sidney had meant by coming back to my place. He decided he didn’t care. He followed Sidney into the entertainment room and let him put on some English show with a laugh track; settled next to Sidney on the sofa and bit back a smile when Sidney allowed him to drape his arm over Sidney’s shoulder; concluded that an evening of TV he couldn’t be bothered to follow was an evening well spent so long as he could keep on feeling Sidney’s laughter against his ribs.

When the credits had rolled on the second episode and the screen had returned to the episode menu, Sidney’s hand didn’t go for the DVD remote. He was so quiet that Evgeni wondered if he’d fallen asleep, and was trying to figure out how to determine this without moving so much that he might wake Sidney up again when Sidney said, “Do you want to make out now?”

Evgeni laughed, caught off guard. “But your show so good.”

Sidney pushed himself upright, looking alarmed. “Shit, no, we can keep watching if you want.”

“Sid. Was chirp.”

Sidney blinked at him, and then he scowled in mock outrage. “Fuck you, it’s a great show.”

Evgeni held back the obvious retort about fucking. “Rather make out.” At this, Sidney looked caught between laughing and scowling and being turned on, and Evgeni saved him the dilemma by kissing him.

Sidney seemed more confident this time. His hands roamed Evgeni freely, always eventually returning to grip the back of Evgeni’s neck. He had some idea now of where he wanted Evgeni to be and wasn’t shy in positioning him to suit. Evgeni had a flash of Sidney positioning all of Evgeni to suit, and he flushed all the way down to his dick.

“Sid,” he said, pulling away. He made the move he’d tried the other night, angling his arm to cup Sidney’s crotch. Sidney inhaled sharply. Evgeni lifted his eyebrows and waited, thumbing back and forth across the seam.

“Yeah,” Sidney breathed. “Yeah, okay.” He reached down for the button of his jeans, but Evgeni slapped his hands away and did it himself. Once the button was unbuttoned and the zipper unzipped, Evgeni tugged on the waistband of Sidney’s jeans, and Sidney obligingly lifted his hips so that Evgeni could pull them off. He attention was caught, then, by the bulge of Sidney ill-disguised beneath his white cotton briefs. He closed his hand around it, and Sidney shivered.

Sidney was so easy. His fingers curled into fists as Evgeni stroked, and he moaned gratifyingly. Eventually Evgeni moved to slip his hand the waistband of Sidney’s underwear, but Sidney caught his wrist. Flushing fiercely, he said, “I liked that. Could you, uh, just keep doing that?”

Far be it from Evgeni to refuse. He kept massaging Sidney with his fingers, and it wasn’t long after that Sidney’s hips stuttered and the cotton under Evgeni’s hand was warmly damp. After a moment, Sidney’s eyes opened. He grinned wonderingly at Evgeni, though his expression turned to something like alarm when Evgeni reached inside Sidney’s briefs. “Uh. Seriously, you don’t have to...” He trailed off when Evgeni pulled his hand back out and licked it. “What are you doing?”

“Taste,” Evgeni said. “Smell.” He inhaled the faint, sharp odor of jizz. It was, he realized with some disquiet, the first time Sidney had smelled anything remotely like sex. He shoved the thought down. Sidney was what he was, and Evgeni would not allow himself for one moment to be disappointed.

Because Sidney, lounging against the back of the sofa with his eyes bright and his face still flushed, was anything but disappointing. Evgeni leaned over and kissed him again.

“Hey,” Sidney said. “You?”

So Evgeni let his legs fall open, and Sidney worked him inexpertly but thoroughly until he came, and afterwards, as Evgeni lounged in a pleasant post-orgasmic haze, Sidney said, “Do you want to spend the night?”

Neither Gretzky nor Kharlamov himself could have pried Evgeni away. “Yes,” he told Sidney.

Sidney nodded and stumbled to his feet. He looked in puzzlement down at his jeans, bunched around his thighs, and then he just shrugged, pulled them the rest of the way off, and slung them over his arm. Then he wandered away. Evgeni blinked after him, admiring his almost-bare ass, and then he followed him down the hall. Sidney brought wet paper towels from the bathroom, and once they were both cleaned off, he crawled under the covers and looked expectantly at Evgeni. Evgeni followed him in, planning to stay awake and savor Sidney lying in bed next to him.

In less than five minutes he was asleep.

--

When Evgeni’s consciousness returned to him, the room was strangely still. He lay there and tried to classify why that would be strange. Eventually he remembered Sidney, and Sidney must have gone, because Evgeni couldn’t hear him breathing. Evgeni opened his eyes and blinked. From half a meter away, on the other pillow, Sidney blinked back. “Hey.”

It was morning, Evgeni saw. Nearly time to get up, judging by the faint gray twilight at the window. “You very quiet.”

“I didn’t want to wake you up.”

“Awake now.”

“Yeah.” Sidney looked pensive but didn’t say anything else.

Evgeni found the silence unsettling. He resolved it by closing the distance to Sidney and kissing him. Sidney hummed, and he may not have been alpha but he was nonetheless everything Evgeni could possibly want, because he immediately rolled Evgeni over and crawled on top of him.

There was quite a lot of kissing after that. Kissing led to Evgeni mouthing along Sidney’s neck. He paused at the bitterness on Sidney’s skin – something left over from a spray blocker, probably – and then closed his senses to it and kept going, because Sidney was making delicious noises and starting to roll his hips against Evgeni with interest.

Evgeni sniffed, once, expecting his nose to fill with the rich wonderful smell of arousal, and was distracted for a moment when he got nothing but his own sweat. Right. Sidney. Evgeni huffed at himself and lifted up for another kiss.

They rolled over again and Evgeni was on top of Sidney, now, working his way down Sidney’s chest with his mouth, licking small, tickling licks as he pleased. “God, you have a huge tongue, Geno,” Sidney said. “Did anyone ever tell you? And you’re always – ah – sticking it out when you’re concentrating.”

Evgeni lifted his head long enough to say, “Not concentrate enough, you still talk.”

Sidney giggled underneath him, high and loose and joyous. “Like when you were jerking me off last night. You looked like you were taking a test or something.”

Sidney talked altogether too much. If he wanted distraction, Evgeni would give it to him. He closed on Sidney’s nipple with his teeth.

And immediately reared his head back, swallowing convulsively and trying to wash down the overwhelming bitterness in his mouth.

“Geno?”

“Nothing,” Evgeni said. He hid his grimace against Sidney’s chest. He hadn’t even been able to appreciate the gasp Sidney had made when he’d begun to nibble, and that just wasn’t fucking fair.

“What is it?”

“I say nothing,” Evgeni said, but Sidney was already wriggling out from under him.

“Geno,” Sidney repeated, his tone brooking no argument.

Evgeni sighed and propped himself up on his elbow. “Blockers,” he said. “On your...” He didn’t know the English word for nipple. He reached over and pinched gently. “Taste bad.”

“Oh.”

“Is okay,” Evgeni rushed to assure him. “Just, I not do again.”

“I have to, because of the glands, you know,” Sidney said, apparently in case Evgeni didn’t. “I could,” he began, and then trailed off. Evgeni waited. “I could take a shower?”

Evgeni stared at him, unable to think of a response, and Sidney turned slowly red. “I mean, I don’t. I don’t smell like anything. But I don’t taste bad. Probably.” Evgeni kept on staring, and Sidney kept on turning redder as he crawled out of bed in his underwear and stalked to the bathroom. The light turned on, followed a few moments later by the shower.

Evgeni tried to collect himself. He did want desperately to know what Sidney smelled like under all those blockers, but he’d promised himself he would never give Sidney any reason to feel anything less than whole. So he sat in bed with his stomach twisting in a mix of guilt and fierce anticipation.

The shower turned off. A few minutes later, Sidney appeared at the door to the bathroom, wearing a towel and white-knuckling the doorframe. “I didn’t put anything on,” he said. “This is... it’s just me.”

Cautiously Evgeni scooted over to the edge of Sidney’s bed and stood up. Sidney didn’t move, although his eyes got wider as Evgeni approached. When Evgeni was within touching distance, he said, “Okay I smell?” Jerkily Sid nodded. Evgeni laid his hands on Sidney’s shoulders and leaned in.

Sidney smelled like... soap, primarily.

“I told you,” Sidney said shakily. “There’s nothing.”

“Not nothing,” Evgeni said. He took Sidney’s hand. “No one smell anything two minutes after shower.”

Sidney chuckled, high and nervous. “So what, you want me to go work out?”

Evgeni grinned. “Yes.” He waited patiently for Sidney to get it, and once Sidney’s eyes widened again – in pleased surprise, this time – Evgeni tugged him back towards bed. Sidney wound up on top of him again, which Evgeni could not begin to say how much he approved of, and they went back to kissing. Evgeni thought he could kiss Sidney forever, and he lost himself in it, forgetting for a while that there’d ever been an interruption.

Eventually he remembered, and he relaxed back against the pillow. Sidney looked down at him, dopey and pleased and flushed, but then he, too, seemed to remember. Before Sidney could think too hard, Evgeni craned his neck to press his nose to Sidney’s skin and took a deep whiff. He laughed in surprise.

“What?” Sidney said, stiffening above him.

“You not smell nothing,” Evgeni said, and inhaled again. “Smell good.”

Sidney shifted, tucking his face in the corner between Evgeni’s neck and shoulder. “You don’t have to lie,” he mumbled.

“Silly. Not lie. Smell like... cookies.”

Sidney pushed up onto his hands, outraged. “I do not smell like cookies.”

“Shh,” Evgeni said, rubbing up and down Sidney’s arms. “Not like cookies. Like...” He stopped, frustrated. Fucking English. “Eat cookie, and after, you still taste, right?”

“...Right.”

“Like you. Not strong, but after smell, still taste you. Taste good.”

Sidney looked conflicted about this description. Evgeni tugged him back down so that he could keep smelling. Then his neck started to ache, so he rolled them over. He balanced above Sidney and kept on sticking his nose in all Sidney’s crannies, breathing him in. And no, Sidney’s scent wasn’t nearly so strong as Oksana’s, or even Talbo’s, sharp and salty with his heat and with the slick that heat brought with it, but it was delicious all the same.

“You keep breathing like that, you’re going to get light-headed,” Sidney said.

Evgeni laid his head to Sidney’s chest. Light-headedness, that must be what he felt, this soaring weightlessness behind his ribs.

“Could I,” Sidney began, and stopped. Evgeni lifted his head. “Could I smell you?”

Evgeni honestly didn’t know the answer to that question, but he crawled off Sidney and sat up. Sidney got up on his knees and balanced himself with his hands on Evgeni’s shoulders. He frowned in concentration, like he was trying to work out a new play. “Smell anywhere,” Evgeni said.

“Shh,” Sidney said. He leaned in, his nose brushing the side of Evgeni’s neck. He inhaled audibly. “Well, you do smell like something.”

“You so nice,” Evgeni began, but Sidney’s grip on him tightened, and he fell quiet. It was a peculiar feeling, being on the other side – holding still while Sidney’s nose roamed over him. Having him so close, though, meant that Evgeni could smell the sourness of Sidney’s growing frustration. “Sid.”

Sidney huffed. “I can smell that you’re here, but it doesn’t matter. I can’t tell what the hell you’re feeling, and it doesn’t turn me on, and. Fuck.”

“Sid.” Evgeni rubbed his hands up and down Sidney’s arms. “Sid, it okay.”

“It’s just, things are so different with you. I thought, maybe, I don’t know.”

“Different?”

Sid settled back on his ass. He shrugged, and he didn’t look at Evgeni. “You’re just. You’re really great, Geno. And I like sex with you. And I think you like sex with me. And you even like how I smell, which is a first.”

Evgeni leaned over and knuckled Sidney’s thigh. “No one like how you smell because you smell like medicine.”

Sidney wrinkled his nose. “I just thought maybe it would work for me, too. With you.”

Evgeni took a deep breath and didn’t let himself get distracted by the complicated suggestions of Sidney-feeling that came in with it. “Sid. You like sex last night?”

“Yes?”

“You need smell for boner?”

“Uh. No.”

“So you not broke. You not need fix. You fuck me now?”

Sidney stared at him, and then he laughed in disbelief. “You’re serious.”

“Always serious about fuck,” Evgeni told him. “Very serious.”

“That’s it? I’m, like, having a crisis over here.” Despite Sidney’s words, he began to smile.

“Enough crisis today.” Evgeni leaned over and nosed behind Sidney’s ear. The mood in the room was sweetening, lifting, and as Evgeni’s hand trailed down Sidney’s chest, he caught the first tang of Sidney’s arousal. It apparently didn’t matter that it was fainter than Evgeni was used to; the promise of it went straight to his dick and to his ass, already beginning to slick. He took another deep breath, savoring, and he said, “Want you fuck me now.”

“You know I can’t knot you.”

Evgeni would save the question of toy knots for another day. He sat back and gave Sid a withering look. “Talbo not have knot, he fuck fine.” He waited for Sidney to take the bait. It took all of two seconds for his eyes to narrow and his chin to rise in challenge.

Sidney, it turned out, also fucked just fine.

--

Talbo sniffed them out the first week; Evgeni could tell by his shit-eating grin. It took Flower another two days, and then Jordy, and then everyone knew. And there was some chirping like he expected, except not like he expected at all: not once did anyone give Evgeni shit about keeping Sidney's house or making his babies or doing anything whatsoever but playing hockey.

“We’re not allowed,” Talbo finally told him. “Our fearless leader threatened us with bag skates until our legs fell off.”

Evgeni blinked. “He did? Therrien?”

Talbo slapped him upside the head. “Not Therrien, idiot. Sid.”

They kept on winning more than they lost. The playoffs looked almost certain. Evgeni spent a lot of nights at Mario Lemeiux’s guest house. When Sidney went bare, Evgeni could sniff out all his moods now, however faint.

They went to the playoffs. They lost to Ottawa in five.

--

“But you’ll come back for the awards,” Sidney said again. “You have to.”

“Long travel from Russia,” Evgeni protested.

“But if you don’t come back, you won’t get to see me,” Sidney pointed out. “And I won’t see you.”

Evgeni adjusted the luggage strap on his shoulder and tried to hide his grin. “I think about,” he said.

--

Evgeni’s own personal Calder sat sleek and shiny on the hotel room dresser, looking like it belonged in the dining room of some grand old house. He felt he should be finding flowers to put in it.

The bathroom door opened, and Evgeni’s gaze was instantly drawn to Sidney, washed pink and wearing nothing but a towel around his hips. Evgeni stood up, closed his hands over Sidney’s shoulders, and dove in for a sniff. Sidney stiffened, but only a little. After a couple of careful, deliberate breaths, he relaxed. His laughter was a puff of air behind Evgeni’s ear. “The Calder, Geno. Even I don’t have one of those.”

“True,” Evgeni agreed thoughtfully. “But only I in world have this.” He squeezed Sidney’s shoulders lightly for emphasis and then went for a kiss.

Sidney twisted away long enough to say, “Oh my god you’re a sap.”

“Yes,” Evgeni agreed, and kissed him again.

They didn’t say much after that, for a while.

Later, as they lay lax and comfortable under the sheets and Evgeni began to form somewhat-coherent ideas about room service, Sidney said, “You’re the fifth omega to ever win it.” A pause, and then, “You deserved to win it. I hope you know.”

Evgeni hummed. He did deserve it. Nothing against Stastny or Jordy – although probably Evgeni should feel a little bit bad for Jordy - but he’d spent the last year lighting up the NHL and proving that he fucking well deserved to be there. He’d never had any doubts about his hockey. It was everyone else in the league that he’d had to convince. And he had. He had. The glorified flower vase sitting on the dresser proved it.

He rolled over to stare at the ceiling. “When I first hear about you, I hope you are omega.”

“Me? What?” Sidney propped himself up on his side to look at Evgeni. “Why?”

“First articles I read, they not say you alpha. And I think, two omega superstars, winning cups together. Nice dream, you know.”

Sidney shook his head wonderingly. “You thought I was an omega. That’s. That’s funny, I guess. Considering.”

“Not think. Hope.”

“Joke’s on you, huh?” Sidney punched him lightly in the shoulder. “Definitely not an omega.”

Evgeni caught Sidney’s wrist. He held it loosely in his fingers and lifted it up to his nose. He took a deep whiff of all the complex, organic subtleties of Sidney. “Not an omega,” he agreed. It didn’t matter; he didn’t need that old dream anymore. The new one was so much better.

[end]