But I'll make my own colleague
From wood and from ivory
And reap the rewards of proximity
- Fair to Midland, "A Wolf Descends Upon The Spanish Sahara"
“Hey, Sid. You hear the news?”
Sidney sighs, continues his crouch-rummage-stand-shove crap into locker-repeat pattern that he’s been following since he got to school. All the books he’d dragged home over the break went back into the locker with military precision, homework safely tucked into folders and each folder assigned to a certain textbook.
“No, Colby,” he says after a few more seconds, once his brain is online and back with the program. “I just got back, and unless it was on a banner in the commons let’s just assume I haven’t.” He’s not talked to any of the guys since before break and it’s only first period so no, he hasn’t heard any sort of news at all. He doesn’t really like to talk to anyone this early in the morning, though apparently just because Colby is his oldest friend or something he’s determined to be an exception.
Colby blinks at him in shock—as though Sidney has ever heard any of the gossip. The thing about the locker room, though, is that it’s really just about as bad, or good, as the old folk’s home. They love to talk shit, love to have shit to talk about, and Colby is a touch better than Flower only because he keeps his mouth shut on what he hears most the time.
“Jesus, Sid. Get with the program, there’s more to life than hockey. Though this is about hockey.” He gestures Sidney closer, leaning forward as though he’s sharing a great confidence, pitching his voice low so Sidney has to lean in if he wants to hear him. He’s almost expecting a wet willie, to be honest. Certainly not what he hears.
“Nikita went home to Moscow sometime this weekend.” Colby pauses for effect, and when Sidney doesn’t much react he sighs and continues. “Jesus, Sid, show a little emotion about that. The way Geno’s talking, he’s not coming back.”
That’s enough to have him pausing, half turned and glancing down junior hall to the couple senior lockers that got exiled here. And sure enough, there’s Geno. Geno, and no Nikita, no smaller Russian trailing after the older boy like a redundant shadow.
“Are you sure?”
Colby looks completely confused, though in his defense that’s a pretty usual expression for him. “Didn’t you get his texts, Sid? He was completely out of it most of the weekend. Just kept repeating stuff in Russian and grouching any time we tried to call him.”
That explains the one message from Nikita he had gotten on Saturday. All it had said was Tell Geno I’m sorry and he hadn’t understood at the time what exactly it was that Nikita thought needed apology. He thought maybe he’d broken something that belonged to him, or maybe he was talking about his less than stellar play in their last game. “I’ll go talk to him.” He closes his locker, twisting the dial fastidiously a few times before slinging his backpack over his shoulder. “See you later.”
He gets the feeling the hand on his shoulder is meant to deter him from going after Geno, but he shrugs Colby off and jogs over. He’s slamming his locker shut with vigor when Sidney shoulder checks him lightly, making him look over.
Shit, he really does look pretty bad.
“Hey, I. I heard about Nikita, I’m really sorry.” It’s weak as hell but he’s not sure what else to say. He’s never really seen this much of a pained expression on Geno’s face; honestly, it’s throwing him off a little bit. “That’s um. That’s a major thing to happen over a weekend.”
“He friend, Sid. I miss him.” Geno’s voice is pitched too calm, too smooth and too practiced, like he’s controlling everything really strictly. Sidney begins feeling like a worse person because of course. Sometimes he forgets, though he’s not sure how, that Geno’s not from around here, that the people who come to their games with video cameras aren’t his parents, that Nikita was the only person around who spoke his language. That really Geno was the only one who could ever get Nikita to talk even though he spoke English better than some of the native speakers Sidney’s met over the years. Off ice the kid had been pretty and unpredictable and prone to taking offense, but on the ice he skated better than most guys older than him, he had been on their second line for a reason. But apparently he’d packed up, gone home and left Geno here like some sort of stranger in a strange land.
That doesn’t feel like one of his thoughts. He looks down at his book and yeah, Heinlein it was.
“I know,” he offers again, making his voice sound stronger. “I’m sorry, Geno. I know it’s gonna mess up your line, too. Does Patch know about this? We’re gonna need a team meeting, you know, decide where we want to go from this.”
“Sid . . .” Geno’s voice sounds almost threatening, certainly dark and a touch frustrated, but he cuts it off after just that one warning, and Sidney gets it. He does, eventually. If given a running start.
“If you wanna hang out after school, maybe run a few drills or some one-on-one?” He knows that for most people that’s not exactly the most comforting thing in the world, but it’s the best he has, and Geno knows how to take what Sidney has.
“Yes,” Geno decides after a split second of thought. “Run plays off of practice.”
It’s a testament to how well they’ve meshed off ice that Sidney doesn’t need more than a split second to place the words into context. “We can do that, too. Long as you don’t try something fancy and hurt yourself.”
“Hurt you,” Geno jokes in a big, rumbling laugh, the first touch of a smile in his face and Sidney takes that as invitation to snort, push him out of his way as he heads for his class.
“You wish,” he throws over his shoulder as he leaves Geno in the hall shaking his head at him.
First period is AP English, because Sidney knows, he just knows his body, okay? English is one of those subjects that sorta escapes him, so the earlier the better, while his mind is still fresh from waking up and he has a chance of hitting it at a dead speed.
He’s not paying much attention as he’s slipping in the door, letting it prop open while whoever is behind him grabs the upper edge to hold it, but then he freezes because there’s someone in his desk.
And, okay. They don’t have assigned seats or anything, not like they did in Elementary school, but he always takes the fourth chair back in the third row over from the door. It gives him the best view of the chalkboard, best view of the entire room, and he can see everything going on. It’s just what he does, it’s routine, only now someone’s in his desk and his fists clench uselessly for a second because that’s just rude.
The guy is big, tall and heavy with muscle big, and Sid’s a fireplug but this guy probably still outweighs him a fair amount so he forces his hands to unclench. It’s not like he was gonna fight him anyway—that wouldn’t make any sense at all—except sometimes his body does things without his brain being fully engaged, and he hates that.
Luckily it’s Jordan behind him. Jordan, who takes one hard look at the room, immediately sees what has Sid’s panties in a knot and taps his shoulder, directing him to move or he will be moved. “Sid, just sit one back.”
He says it so easy, like it’s not a joke to be telling Sidney Crosby to change his routine. It’s only one seat back, putting him behind the new guy with Jordan taking his right like always, but it still feels wrong. He doesn’t like needing to push his way past the new kid, hip hitting his shoulder as he tries to squeeze past the jumble of legs and arms suddenly sprouting out all around him. Seriously, is the new guy an octopus or something?
“Excuse me.” He tries to make his voice authoritative and must mostly fail, the guy just gives him the most completely ridiculous, gap toothed smile in the entire universe and looks at him as though he’s very much lacking, but he likes him anyway.
It’s the most schizophrenic look Sid’s ever seen and he blinks at him once, twice, before giving up and shoving past him to collapse into the chair behind the one where he always sits. His view is blocked now, the sun falls across his seat in a different way. He finds that he has to really focus beyond the norm to learn his requirements, and something must be done about this.
Jordan taps him with his foot and he looks over, sees him shaking his head quietly and determinedly. He realizes his hand has been half raised to tap the student in front of him since he sat down, and he spends the rest of the time with his hands pressed flat to his desk, eyes to the front of the room and focusing around the mop of black hair in his way while Mr. Byrns begins preparing them for the future horror of reading Shakespeare. This semester it’s Hamlet so no, they can’t copy assignments from their friends last semester, and there are a lot of groans and protests from all over the room. Byrns makes no reference to the new kid, like he’s always been there in Sidney’s seat, and he starts to wonder if he might be a little insane because usually teachers all pull that ‘introduce yourself and play nice’ bullshit.
When the bell rings it releases something painful inside his spine and he sighs relief. He can get out, but first he has to say something. He’ll never pass if he doesn’t just fucking get his seat back. He can see the long suffering sigh in Jordan’s eyes before he even starts to speak, but he ignores it.
“Excuse me.” This time around he’s not gonna be waved off by the guy’s octopus-like tendencies, and he holds his ground, looking at him as quietly as he can. “Hi, listen. I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass, but that’s where I always sit, and maybe tomorrow you’d be willing to take a seat back? Or even a seat forward, it doesn’t matter. Just. Not that one.”
“Sorry?” he says, his voice textured in ways Sidney knows, and he blinks because he was almost positive that Nikita was the only other Russian exchange student aside from Geno in their school and now all of a sudden there’s this guy.
And he’s still in his desk.
“That’s my desk,” he simplifies after a second.
“Oh, I not see names here.” He glances down at the desk, and then his face breaks into a grin, tapping a piece of graffiti with his strangely large hand, like a puppy who hasn’t achieved their whole growth yet. “Oh, wait! Is here! Your name is ‘Dick’, right? That’s good, I have not met many people yet. They tell me to make friends so I not go home like Nikisha. My name is Alexander, is good if you call me Alex.”
Jordan may or may not be collapsing into muffled giggles behind him like the horrible person he is, and Sidney is frozen, torn between anger and a sort of lingering horror, staring at Alexander with an expression he’s pretty sure he doesn’t want to see in a mirror. He’s grinning up at him, gap toothed and sincere, there’s something about that smile that seems weirdly familiar, like he’s seen it before even though he’s sure he’d remember someone with that sort of smile. And Sidney just walks away because he cannot deal with this so early in the morning.
“I say something wrong?” He looks at Jordan with an expression of pseudo puzzlement that has him cracking up again, messy giggles and snorts that he waves off before following Sidney, trying to explain the joke and it’s not like he didn’t get it, he’s not stupid, he just didn’t like it.
“And then he asks Sidney if his name is ‘Dick’, all normal like it might really be his name! You should have seen his face; I want that on my phone, you guys.”
Jordan is really having way too much fun with this story, embellishing it up and down until Sidney’s getting sore from all the elbows being jammed into his sides, mostly from Colby. “It was my seat,” he says, glaring when he smacks into him again. “You know what it’s like, I need that seat to focus.”
“I’m pretty sure no one knows what that’s like.” Flower’s grinning at him, shaking his head. “Our worlds don’t collapse if we have different seats.” He looks around himself as if making a point and Sidney sighs. The team always sits at this table, him always between Colby and Geno (unless one of them is sick, in which case it’s him between an empty chair and one of the two) and now the whole team is hearing about their fearless leader’s latest failed attempt at being a person. Not everyone on his team is exactly his friend, but they all love these stories no matter what.
“My world doesn’t collapse,” he insists, taking another bite of his wrap and chewing slowly. Maybe if he doesn’t respond they’ll find a new thing to focus on.
“It collapses. I saw your face; it was like you just found out your dad ran over your dog after fucking it.”
Oh god, gross. He’s grateful for the distraction when Geno pokes him silently in his opposite side, and Sidney reaches over to grab the offered pudding cup, setting it next to his spoon. “Jesus, Staaler. I just like it. I feel safer. I can focus better. I hate my routine messed with, you know that.” His voice is getting higher, dangerously close to cracking like he hasn’t already done the puberty thing a few years ago, and he can see everyone at the table trying to refrain from rolling their eyes.
“Your faces’ll get stuck that way,” he mumbles, controlling his whine at the last second.
“Geno, what do you think about him? You met him yet?”
Geno looks up, obviously confused at the attention suddenly focused on him, and he takes a second to swallow and consider before forming his words carefully. “Not think anything. Never talking yet.”
“Haven’t talked yet,” Sidney corrects absently, like he’s prone to at moments when he realizes he’s the only one who gets what Geno’s saying.
“What he say. Just cause both Russians, we know?”
“You were friends with Nikita,” Max points out mildly, and Sidney can feel Geno tense for just a second, like he has something to defend. Nikita wasn’t the easiest guy to befriend, sure. He’d been withdrawn and reckless and quietly angry, but Geno had been obviously fond of him in a protective way, and he tightens up for a second against Sidney’s side, an undirected spring, before he lets it slide. Max didn’t mean anything by it, it’s clear enough because he’s Max.
“Had time to learn him. I never meet Alex,” Geno decides after a reflexive few seconds of thinking and considering. “Motherland not make me know him like Nikisha.”
“It is sorta weird, though,” Neal mumbles into his food, voice soft and unsure. “I mean, that Nikita goes home and then like, a day later there’s another guy? Isn’t that moving fast for a weekend?”
They all pause and look at him for a few seconds.
Flower actually looks a touch worried, or maybe nauseous. “He has a point.”
“Maybe they worried we were under our daily recommended allowance of Russians with only Geno here?”
Geno flings a few French Fries at Tanger, who laughs and swats back at him. “Hey, just saying it’s weird. Like some sort of spy shit.”
“They send spies to infiltrate our prep schools?”
Geno’s rolling his eyes so hard that they might flop out of his skull at any second. “Yes, best way I learn secrets, from high school. You catch me.”
“Speak of the Devil,” Flower mutters absently, and there’s a split second where they all look at him in confusion, though Neal looks upward like he expects to see Nikita rappelling from the roof with government secrets or something. Sidney’s mostly been sitting quietly and listening, letting conversation happen around him, but he lifts his head at that. Then he makes a high pitched and completely undignified squeaking sound because he turns to look at Flower and his face ends up directly in the ass of their newest student as he forces himself between Sidney and Geno on the bench.
Sidney really regrets turning his head. Judging from the look on his face, Flower can tell and finds that fact highly amusing. He bites into his pita harder than usual, turning to glare at the new kid, who’s currently assaulting Geno with a hail of rapid fire Russian that has the other boy blinking and staring like he doesn’t remember how to respond properly.
Sidney is itching inside, he has to look over him to see Geno and that’s just . . .
It’s not routine, is what it is. Maybe Flower is right, maybe he really does need to lighten up on this stupid routine thing that he has. He considers it, and feels vaguely ill.
Also, he doesn’t think he likes him.
“Ey, ey,” Geno mumbles after a few more minutes of excited chatter, his eyes slowly returning to normal size. “Sidney, no say it Alex Ovechkin who new! Play in Russia, one of best players in whole country!”
“One of?” he replies, as though being complimented like that by Geno isn’t quite enough for him.
“Is Great, we call. Superstar. Almost good as me.” Geno sounds only halfway facetious, like the guy really deserves that praise.
Apparently Tanger wasn’t being completely dickish in assuming every single person in Russia somehow knows every other person in Russia. And now he knows why he looked familiar, why something about that smile looked like a video clip he’d seen before.
“And you!” His fist collides with Sidney’s shoulder, hard. He winces. “You not Dick, you Sidney Crosby! Coach, he talk about you all the time in Moscow, why you let me think your name Dick?” Ovechkin is staring at him with these strange blue eyes, they don’t mesh with the rest of his face, really, and all Sidney can do is just sorta blink back because he has no idea what in the world is going on.
“I. Uh. I never said my name was . . .”
“Sidney Crosby, this excellent! Coach say you go first in few years. I not know I have best host assignment ever, I come here and find team with Evgeni and Sidney Crosby! You all same team, yes? Maybe I take Nikisha’s place.”
Geno rumbles, either from the unflattering nickname or just because Ovechkin implied such easy acceptance. Sidney just stares. A lot. More than is polite, certainly. His mother would be ashamed.
“Whoa there, you have to try out . . .” he starts, but Jordan and Max are already looking speculative, like maybe they’re really considering that the new kid they’ve never met aside from Geno’s word is somehow gonna come in and take their empty spot. Sidney bites his cheek because, yeah. If what Geno just said is real, if Ovechkin really deserves the praise the other Russian is giving him, he’d be an asset they’d be crazy to pass up. But for some reason the only response he can manage is “You can just call me Sidney, not. Not the whole thing.”
“Sidney,” Ovechkin agrees cheerfully. “Let me meet friends, eh! I already know Evgeni, he Russian so I know him since he was baby.” Which makes no more sense than anything else Ovechkin has said. Geno rolls his eyes a little, expression long suffering, so maybe it’s a weird Russian thing.
Sidney’s introductions are halting, he can’t formulate the right words with Ovechkin staring at him like that, and after he stutters over “Maxime” for the third time Geno takes over, ticking off names with a certainty he almost never shows when speaking English. Ovechkin seems to be keeping up, though he looks a little overwhelmed at the sheer number of Staals at the table, and no one has the heart to tell him there’s another one who’s already graduated and playing college hockey, too.
“And this Marc-Andre Fleury, we call like ‘Flower’ plant, yes? And Tyler Kennedy and Maxime Talbot, the one Sidney stop at.”
To their credit none of the guys look as if they’re about to suddenly start hero worshipping, though Ovechkin is looking at them like maybe he’s waiting for it before he shrugs and starts plowing into his lunch as though he hasn’t seen food since he came here. Though he does spend a lot of time being confused by his bag of milk, it’s almost funny to watch him fumble until Tanger gets it started for him.
It’s the cafeteria’s impression of Sloppy Joes, they’re no more real than the fries are actually potatoes, but Ovechkin — Alex? — Ovechkin bites into it with all signs of enthusiasm, face smearing with the sauce as he chews excitedly. Sidney’s nose wrinkles a little as he chews his veggie wrap slowly and carefully.
If anyone had asked him if he ever thought he was gonna be sharing a table with Alexander Ovechkin he would have snorted quietly and gone back to his lunch.
“It’s okay,” Colby whispers at him, stealing the last bite of his pudding. He’s the only one who can do that. “You’re still our favorite anal retentive phenom.”
He watches Colby finish the last of his food. “I. Thanks. I guess.”
Sidney ends up leaving the table knowing exactly three more things about the new kid than he did: Ovechkin is loud, Ovechkin is his team’s new favorite person, and apparently Ovechkin is looking to play in their league.
“Hey, so.” TK’s sitting on the seat to the left of Sidney. He’s not sure what’s so important that it has him moving, he always sits halfway across the room. He looks really intent for some reason.
“Yes?” Sidney says after the moment of polite waiting for him to get to the point passes with nothing happening.
“Dude, what do you think? About Ovechkin,” he clarifies before Sidney can act like he has no idea what he means.
“I don’t think about it a whole lot.” He shrugs, goes back to watching the front of the room and waiting for class to start, except his ear gets flicked. “Shit, that hurts!”
“That’s not an answer, Sidney! Focus on something like you do with hockey for like, three seconds.” Kennedy leans back in his seat, stretches his legs out. “Way Geno is talking, this guy is a first round draft pick, what are the odds that he’d end up here, that he’s an exchange student in the first place?”
“It’s not so weird.” Except for how totally it is. “We’re a good school, we have a good program, and those are probably two things he requested to begin with.” He’s not thinking about Ovechkin — that’s a distraction, and it’s unnecessary. If they’re not on ice it doesn’t matter, it’s not like they’re gonna be friends or study buddies.
“Yeah, but like a day after Nikita —”
“Maybe there’s a wait list he got picked from, I don’t know.”
“But dude, if what Geno says is real . . . we need him on our team. I mean, can you imagine what him and you would do on a line?”
Sidney makes a sound and he’s not dismissive purely out of pride, but there’s certainly a corner of that. He’s back to focusing on the front of the room as soon as the bell rings, and TK stares at him for a few seconds. He can feel it on the side of his face, but he focuses on what their calc teacher is droning on about, taking notes when necessary but mostly just letting the information float over him, following the theories across the whiteboard. When the bell rings he’s out of his chair quick enough that TK can’t catch him, stalking out into the hall and to his locker without another word.
“I don’t have an opinion on Ovechkin,” Sidney says the moment he sees Geno hanging out at his locker.
He blinks at him, nods slowly in a way that looks like appeasement even from a distance. “That okay. No one expects.”
“Apparently everyone expects me to,” he snaps, twisting his lock with violent whips of his wrist.
“Tyler not everyone when I look,” Geno offers in a mild voice, like that defuses everything.
The thing, the real kicker of the whole thing, is that it sorta does defuse almost everything, because Geno has a point. He feels his shoulders unknotting almost immediately.
“Meet me at the rink if you still wanna work on off-book plays,” is all he says after five or six deep breaths. “I can only stay until 7, I have homework and Mom’ll kill me if I’m not home for supper after last week.”
When he gets to the rink Geno is already tying his skates, waiting patiently while Sidney changes into his gear. It’s not until he’s lacing his skates that he starts to relax and it’s only once he’s on the ice, stick clenched in his hands, that he feels like himself again, skating warm-ups while Geno does his own, lacing and playing around each other for a few minutes until he drops the puck and they fall into line. It’s all passes and shots and it’d be better with some defense but Geno said he wanted to just skate and pass and so Sidney’s willing to give him that without much complaint.
He’s at the blue line, focused on Geno and the puck, waiting to receive the pass that he can feel coming like a sixth sense. He has his stick out, only the puck never hits his tape because there’s another stick in the way. It’s coasting past him, and he has a second to glimpse a gap toothed smile before Ovechkin is driving the puck in the opposite direction, towards what would be their goal if they were playing a real game. He’s racing forward as fast as his legs can carry him, deep and rumbling laugh floating in his wake like a contrail.
Sidney pivots his skates and pursues, but that split second of not even knowing he was there was enough to allow Ovechkin to take possession, launching an easy slap shot into the empty net. He then proceeds to celebrate like he just scored in double overtime against Roy or something, what the hell it was an empty net. That’s not exactly something to gloat over.
Geno shouts something to him, and Ovechkin shoots back with a little laugh, skating backward like there’s no chance he’ll ever hit a divot.
The urge to trip him wells up but Sidney doesn’t want to be the Bobby Clarke in this situation, he really doesn’t, so he settles for tracking down the puck, fishing it out of the net and skating it down the center. He’s aiming right at Ovechkin like if he doesn’t move he’s gonna just go through him anyway but he dodges at the last second because that’s what he does.
Ovechkin’s on his tail the moment he’s past him, whatever he was chirping Geno about forgotten as Sid glides past him in a neat little evasion, all grace and speed and skill. He’s racing, pumping his legs to keep up as Sidney pots it with a careful flip of his wrist.
“Cannot pull cotton over you, eh?” Ovechkin asks with a little laugh, skating close enough that Sidney can feel him against his back before sliding around him. “We run drills now?” He pauses to lean on his stick, watching as Geno finally risks skating over, and standing slightly behind Sidney’s shoulder like a guardian.
“Geno and I were already running drills. You can do whatever you came here to do.”
“Nah, suicides not much fun. Much more fun to drill. Two on one.” Ovechkin takes off, and okay. Sidney’s not a goalie, it’s not his job to go chasing after every moving object in reach like a kitten but once he’s off he can’t resist chasing him down, trusting Geno to take his wing.
Ovechkin is an utterly different player; Sidney can tell that from the second they start playing against each other in earnest. He rushes the line, presses as far as he can go without technically going out of bounds, he’s not as fast, and he operates almost completely off of his instincts. That’s good, it means he moves before most would anticipate it, nothing to telegraph but it also means the second his instincts are wrong he falters and then Sidney is there.
They chase each other over the ice, and Sidney has the advantage of Geno on his wing but it’s like Ovechkin is reading it as a challenge, an excuse to check Geno into the boards every couple of seconds, try hooking and high sticking and basically every type of sticking he can imagine, including a few that Sidney’s never seen before and has no idea how to defend against.
He’s slowing the tempo, a clear and beautiful shot and then suddenly he’s on his back, Geno standing over him with a worried expression on his face and his head cocked slightly to the side like a curious puppy. “Sidney? You okay?”
“I. Yeah. Okay.” He sits up slowly, taking a deep breath and resting his elbows on his knees. His ribs are aching so hard they feel like they’re on fire. “I’m fine.”
Geno stares, completely unimpressed with Sidney’s skills at lying.
Fine. “I’m winded.”
“Gotta watch, Sidney. Have eyes out. He hit for real.”
Like he hasn’t just watched Ovechkin slam Geno into every available surface as much as he can. “You seem fine,” he points out.
“Russian. I know to take.”
“Like I’m such a delicate Canadian flower,” he grumbles, scrambling to his feet with the help of his stick. “Okay, he’s going down.”
“Not good idea.”
He turns to glare at Geno, feels the ice ripple under his blades a little and has to close his eyes. “It’s a great idea,” he manages once he has breath, once he’s moving over the ice with purpose instead of just randomly drifting wherever momentum takes him.
Geno turns and shouts something in Russian. It has the tone of something distinctly unflattering and also pissed off, and Ovechkin pauses, makes a face and shouts something back.
“If you two are talking about me, I’d like to know.” Sidney tries to keep his voice light, but his annoyance picks up at the corners.
“I say he break you, why he not allowed have nice things in Russia.”
“And I told him I not break nice things, I only break you. Is not the same.”
Sidney glares at him, braces his stick down and slams into Ovechkin so hard his breath is gone again for a second. He just drives him back, momentum taking the larger man backwards and forcing him to the boards where Sidney does something he’s not proud of, swipes him and takes him down underneath him. He can feel Ovechkin shaking, only that doesn’t seem right because he barely knows the guy and he doesn’t seem like the shaking sort.
It’s only when he has him pinned that he realizes the shaking isn’t shaking at all. It’s trembling, and it’s trembling because he, Ovechkin, is muffling his laughter against his glove.
“Oh, fuck you!” Sidney snaps, swatting at his head, and Ovechkin abandons pretense to laugh loudly and hard.
“You worst fighter ever, Sid!” he chirps, big dopey laughs with no sense of the self conscious about them.
Sidney sits back on his heels, letting him wriggle out from under him, except he just lays there on the ice laughing, like he’s not gonna be freezing his ass off if he keeps it up.
“Thinking, thinking! I see it, you always thinking, not acting!”
“Geno, break his nose. Again,” he decides after a moment.
“That the idea, use people who fight! Use enforce-Uph!” He grunts a little as Geno stick taps him hard enough to hurt, but he’s laughing even through that.
He’s insane, is what Sidney decides as he lets Geno help him to his feet. “You’re insane.”
“Is the endearing sort,” he announces as he scrambles to his feet unaided, shaking himself out. He skates a little semi complex footwork over the ice like he’s showing off. Sidney snorts—he could do that when he was six. “Now, stop thiiiiiinking, Sidney, and skate.”
“What did you think I was doing?” he demands, squeaks when Ovechkin hip checks him and steals the puck, and starts chasing him down again.
By the time it’s seven they’re all near to exhausted, panting lightly and sweating as they strip off their gear and shower. Sidney is loath to admit it, but it seems like Geno was right, that Ovechkin is good, is really probably great if he’s being honest. He’s also still exactly as annoying as he’d previously thought.
“You need a ride?” he asks as he pulls on his jeans, watching Ovechkin change into the most questionable pair of sweat pants he’s ever seen. There’s a zipper on his crotch, what the hell.
He wraps his arms around Geno who sighs the most long suffering sigh Sidney has ever heard him utter before peeling Ovechkin’s arms away so that he can pull on a t-shirt over his wet hair. “No, is good! Zhenya, he offer me ride.”
They had been bantering back and forth in Russian a bit while they showered, but Sidney doesn’t miss the confused look on Geno’s face as Ovechkin announces that. He doesn’t need to speak Russian to know that actually, none of their conversation involved an offer of a ride. Geno recovers admirably though, offering just a terse nod of agreement.
“Oh, okay.” It’s not like he wanted Ovechkin to ride with him, he just knew Geno’s hosts could sometimes get really weird about him getting home at certain times. He was already behind schedule since in the process of dressing Ovechkin wouldn’t stop hanging all over him, and that put a pretty big kink in the process. Geno seemed resigned to it, though, just peeling Ovechkin off if his clinging interfered with anything he needed to do, or ignoring him if it didn’t.
Sidney found himself wondering if it was a weird Russian thing, then decided that it probably wasn’t. Nikita had always been reserved, almost aloof, off on his own and doing his own thing when he wasn’t trailing after Geno like a younger brother. That turns his mind back to Geno, back to his line, and he kicks himself for forgetting to think about it for this long. “Hey, Ovechkin?”
“Ovie,” he corrects.
Sidney pauses, continues like he didn’t hear him. “We’ll probably draw from our roster for Nikita’s spot on the team anyway, but if you want Geno and I can put in a word for you with Coach Patchett, to try out. We’d be glad to have you.”
Ovechkin pauses, makes a big deal about considering it. “Play with Sidney Crosby?” he asks, smiling wide and goofy. “That like dream come true! So, no.”
He might be blinking more than strictly necessary. “Wait. No?”
“No, but is good! Thank you, I find own team. I not need to play with you, much more fun to play against you, no? Testing.” He’s all wrapped over Geno again, glancing at Sidney over his shoulder. A kid hiding behind their parent. Geno’s holding himself tight and still, looking at Sidney with the sort of confusion he can feel inside himself.
There is absolutely nothing about any of that which makes any sense at all, so he just keeps staring. “We’re the best team in the league. You’re insane.”
“You already say that and I not deny,” he replies, loose and easy, bending to get his pack on his shoulders. “My team, we beat you. No worries about that.”
Sidney is staring. He knows that’s not polite. He doesn’t care. “You. Your team? You’ve been over here for two days! And what are you doing at our rink if you don’t wanna play with us, anyway?”
“Three,” he corrects. “Zhenya, he say team practice here. Is close, I like it.”
Sidney can tell that Geno reads his expression even across the room because he also knows that Geno looks sheepish, looks caught. “Oh, did he? This is where our team practices, it might be better if you practice where yours does these things.”
Ovechkin shrugs. “Is closer to where I stay. My host family, they not off work till late, rink close enough to school I can practice and not need bus.”
Which, okay. It makes sense, but Sidney is still gonna do something about Geno telling him it even existed, though he’d likely have found it on his own eventually.
Probably. The odds were towards him discovering it at some point, for all that he seems to have the attention span of a mildly concussed goldfish.
Sidney watches him go, turns back to Geno with what he knows is a stupid expression on his face. “What just happened?”
“He say want own team?” he offers easily, like he’s Sidney’s friend instead of the horrible traitor that he is.
His teeth are grinding so hard his head aches. “I know that, Geno. Just. Whatever, go give him a ride to wherever he’s going. And don’t tell him any trade secrets while you’re at it.”
Geno looks wounded, looks like he wants to linger, maybe hear what Sidney is thinking, but not even Sidney is really sure what he’s thinking, confusion and annoyance and everything sorta knotted up in his gut. So he waves Geno off and shoves his gear into his bag, shouldering it and snorting. “Never mind, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
That night his mom is chatty, chatty enough that even his dad starts to look a little worried. But he’s not looking worried at her, he’s got his eyes trained towards Sidney. Sidney, who’s got a bruise blossoming over his ribs that stings like hell.
He hunkers down into his dinner and starts shoveling it in as quickly as he can once he’s stripped the skin off the chicken and mostly gotten the butter basil sauce off his vegetables. He wasn’t late, not strictly speaking. He got there before the food hit the table, so he doesn’t have to explain his mood to anyone, except his Mom is really excellent at pushing without looking like she’s pushing. He has to admit defeat after the fifth incarnation of “How was school/practice/your day/ice time/Geno” so halfway through he puts his fork down.
“Nikita went home over the weekend.”
His mother looks heroically unsurprised, but all she says is “I’m sorry to hear that. Why, do you suppose?”
He pauses in pushing the last of the skin off towards the edge of the plate, and he realizes what a horrible person he is because he doesn’t know. He has ideas, but he’s never actually asked, and a Captain is supposed to be better than that. He’s let himself be distracted, and that’s not allowable. “I’m not really sure, he wasn’t happy. I guess. He always had a hard time with corrections, I know. And there’s a new student. His name is Alex Ovechkin. He’s. He’s really good.”
That has his dad paying attention, has him turning his head to look at Sidney intently and he ducks his head down because it sounds so stupid, what he’s going to say.
“He’s really good, and I offered to talk to Coach about giving him a tryout for the Seabirds, but. He said he didn’t want to, that he wanted to play somewhere else so he could test himself against me?” It barely makes sense as he says it out loud, he knows he must look confused because the same expression crosses both his parent’s faces as they watch him and consider what he’s saying.
“Is he as good as you, do you think?” His dad is drinking his beer and watching Sidney, and he takes a few seconds to consider.
“Ovechkin plays a different position. He has a different style. But. Yeah, from what I saw.” He makes a non committal sound, goes back to eating his dinner. “It doesn’t matter. It’s the team, not the players. We’d have benefitted with him. We’re not going to suffer without him.”
“That’s my Sidney,” his mom says, all warm and proud and so he bites down the part of himself that wants to say ‘but it would have been really awesome to have him.’ He hates how scared he is of disappointing them sometimes, but they gave up so much so that he could play.
He pushes his plate away with a little face, sighs. “May I be excused?” But he’s already half clearing his place regardless, so they let him go.
“Homework before computer,” his mom tells him as he goes up the stairs, and he pauses for a second. Sometimes he wonders if his parents have like, scripts that they feel need using, and so they use them on him regardless of whether he needs the reminding. He doesn’t say any of that, though. He’s not ungrateful, so he just nods his agreement.
“Sure,” offered like a long fought battle because sometimes he feels like he needs to let her mother him even though he’s gonna be 17 and probably past the age where he needs more than just a nudge in the right direction. Except how basically every guy he knows needs his mom practically on his shoulders to get him to focus on school, so maybe he’s wrong about that after all. But school means hockey, so there it is.
He ends up curled in his desk chair with his books sprawled over his desk and his computer shoved to a far corner, untouched as he chews on his highlighter and carefully skims the upcoming chapters for any concepts he’ll need clarifying in class.
It’s after midnight when he wraps it up, packs his things into his bag and gets ready for bed.
He should sleep. He has a test tomorrow, he has things that he has to go over, but in his head all he can do is keep running the plays against Ovechkin, over and over. The sounds of skates on ice and the triumphant look on his face each time he stole the puck are inside head, so he gives up after close to a half hour, rolling out of bed and dragging his cell phone out of his pocket.
Did you get Ovechkin home okay?
He lies back in bed, staring at the ceiling, and the phone vibrates on his chest after a few minutes. Was okay. Hesstrange. And trust Geno to have the most massive understatement of the century when dealing with his countryman.
We gotta watch out for him he types out, then a few seconds later sends On the ice, I mean. Ovechkin seems like he’ll take care of himself just fine otherwise. Then, because he has to ask, wants to know, why did Nikita leave?
Geno doesn’t respond to that, so after another half hour Sidney turns his phone off, tosses it onto his nightstand and tries to sleep. For that to work he has to ignore the way his brain is analyzing every second of ice time with Ovechkin like it can alter the past if it just reminds him that he’s not good at responding to changes in tempo. It’s a handy observation for the future, not for what already happened, so he rolls over and sleeps even though they follow him into his dreams, a restless and unsettled sleep that feels even less restful than the short hours account for.